House Shopping X – The Home Inspection

Annie Laurie (film)Image via Wikipedia

Now this was to me the most interesting step in the whole process so far. Since I chose an older home that was in need of updating I was very worried that the house would prove unsound structurally, that it would need huge amounts of work with systems like HVAC, plumbing and electrical.

I had already seen that the porch windows did not open (for the most part) and that they had no screens. I knew I wanted these porch windows replaced. I knew the kitchen had not been redone since the 50’s except for the linoleum and that, while functional, it could use an update. The bathroom with its blue fixtures was also usable but quite dated and there is a ding in the enamel tub that goes through to the metal beneath.

I had been in the basement, which was built in the 1860’s and has gorgeous stone and mortar walls and a new water heater, but which I knew little about. And I had been told that the roofs were between 1 and 5 years old so I felt good about them.

My inspector, Annie-Laurie, has been crawling around houses since she was very young. Her inspection was very thorough and she had me tag along and showed me everything. The roofs turned out to have been poorly done with aging soffits, little flashing, insulation sticking out and various minor (although potentially damaging) shortcuts that need to be addressed.

The furnace was the other bad news. A Bryant, 150,000 BTU model from 1975, it is rusted and on its last legs. The plumbing is functional, although some galvanized pipe should be addressed and the electrical box was perfect, no issues with this. There’s a hole through the stone wall and an open coal chute near the sump which should be addressed.

Annie-Laurie said the house was sound and would not fall down around my shoulders. The living room ceiling needs to be replaced as the cheap material that was used is now drooping, but all in all, the house is sturdy and sound with few current moisture issues except along the soffits in the rear of the house and no mold issues.

I will ask the seller to fix the roofs and I will address the rest if I can get an FHA 203K mortgage. That’s my next step – getting a mortgage company to sign on. I have a feeling I will have to address the roof issues also.

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Fighting Terrorism, or Off the Track?

Silk Road 1992Image via Wikipedia

Afghanistan is a land of dreams and nightmares for me. It’s the stuff of dreams if I think of the Silk Road winding it’s way out of the Orient, through all the steep passes and down out of the foothills through what is today Afghanistan.I imagine the caravans and the camels, carrying the silks and the tents for the silk merchants to stay in, and the bells on the camels tinkling as they travelled along. I believe that it was illegal to export silk worms from the East, so Europeans could not make their own silk. There must have been peace along the Silk Road for such a venture to be undertaken with any expectation of completion or profit.
This must have been one of the few peaceful periods for the people in the lands now called Afghanistan.

Today this seems to be a land of men. I see women in pictures but few and always covered in clothing with heads lowered, and always in the background and seemingly ignored. I picture the tiny villages, dusty and poor, very simple, often without any modern conveniences. I picture the handsome men with turbans and mustaches, who may be growing poppy crops for opium. I picture various cultural and familial groups who sometimes live in peace, and are sometimes involved in centuries old hostilities or hatreds of more recent origin. I picture such men or several such men, college-educated, perhaps in America, returning to their homeland with their hearts full of anti-American sentiment for reasons that are not necessarily clear to us.
This man and his posse hide in caves and mountains. They plan and execute an attack on America. We go to Afghanistan, to the old Silk Road, to find and destroy these men.We don’t call this seeking vengeance, it is self-defense, showing strength.

But our mission keeps gettting bigger, it becomes about rescuing people from oppression, helping them find a new business to replace opium production, teaching them about democracy, fighting a war with their oppressors, the Taliban, and perhaps yanking them into the 21st century. We are no longer just trying to save ourselves, we are trying to save Afghanistan. They are not necessarily grateful for our efforts. They are not necessarily completely against the Taliban. They like their way of life.They like opium production. They see us as arrogant, and interfering, and perhaps imperialistic. They may see it as a religious issue.

Sometimes we think, what are we doing in Afghanistan now? This is so different from our original mission. It’s exhausting to see how many people around the world and in Afghanistan seem to hate America and by extension Americans. How did we get to be so misunderstood, all our good intentions misconstrued. Is it possible that sometimes there are Americans with intentions that are not so good? And once we get ourselves in, we seem to have so much trouble getting ourselves out. I hope we start saying good-bye soon to the Silk Road or that we start seeing signs that the Afghani people want to be modernized.

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Book – My Favorite Science Fiction Stories

Robert Heinlein

Methuselah’s Children
The Day After Tomorrow
The Door into Summer
Starship Troopers
Stranger In a Strange Land*
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
I Will Fear No Evil

Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey
Childhood’s End
The Narnia Series

Isaac Asimov

Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation’s Edge
Robots and Empire
Foundation and Earth
Forward Foundation
Fantastic Voyage
I, Robot

Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five
Cat’s Cradle
Sirens of Titan
Breakfast of Champions
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Mother Night

Douglas Adams

Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long and Thanks for all the Fish
Mostly Harmless
And Another Thing . . .
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Frank Herbert – has written other books and series but the most famous and important are the Dune books

Dune Messiah
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Chapterhouse Dune

Harvesting Our Green Dream (Our Garden)

State fruit - TomatoImage via WikipediaIn the spring my sister and I grew a garden. We have spent the summer harvesting one crop after another from our very small garden. First we got butter lettuce, arugula, and field greens. Then we got our French Breakfast radishes (long, thumb-sized, red and white, and hot). We had a few salads and popped a few radishes. Our lettuce was a bit bitter, not sure why. Next we got the green beans (bush beans). They were nice and big, tough when raw, but tender and tasty once cooked.

We made some mistakes. We put too many seeds in a row and didn’t thin them enough. This ruined quite a few of the radishes and the red onions were tiny, but delicious. We lost all the cucumbers to some garden pest. We did not use any insecticide.

Today my mom and I picked 12 nice red, much anticipated, tomatoes. (Wonder Boys) We didn’t want to waste any of them so we decided to make sauce. My sister, who helped plant the garden will only eat tomatoes if they are in a totally smooth sauce so mom and I had to dip the tomatoes briefly in boiling water, then place them in ice water, then peel them. Then we had to remove the seeds from the middle. We dices the tomatoes and simmered them on the stove with some water and seasoning in a covered saucepan on low heat for about 4 hours. We blended our cooked tomatoes with a stick blender. We served the sauce (passed through a sieve) on thin spaghetti with a salad. We used all twelve tomatoes and enjoyed a delicious sauce fresh from our garden. The tomatoes continue to produce. Next, BLT’s.

The last crop we expect to enjoy from our garden is the melons. Our garden turned out to be a very productive project that interested everyone all summer long.

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A Disturbance in the Force

Our attention is called to another crisis on this embattled little planet we call home. The floods in Pakistan are epic, apparently,and once again the aid is slow in coming. It looks like the UN is there, but the Pakistani government has been in disarray. These crises have been so common lately we can barely catch our collective breath. And these events are hitting areas of the world that are relatively undeveloped and inaccessible. We all experience “a great disturbance in the force,” but, after recent experiences with all our expensive aid lolling in warehouses in Haiti, we are leery about jumping in. We are feeling pretty poor ourselves at the moment, but poverty is relative and we certainly have more than the Pakistanis. Where should we send our checks this time?

As if human sorrow was not enough we have the worry that the Taliban is nearby, organized and willing to win political advantage through geographic proximity.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Today our combat troops left Iraq. After six and a half years of fighting, teaching, protecting, dying, learning and organizing our troops are coming home.

I realize Saddam Hussein was a terrible leader. If he was just full of boast and bluster he would have been annoying, but easy to dismiss. He, however, was often vicious to his enemies and he didn’t just rattle sabers, he rattled “nukes”, something the world cannot allow. We can’t give potentially hostile nations ruled by nutburgers nuclear weapons. No one should have nuclear weapons. I know we opened that Pandora’s Box, and I know we can’t “un-invent” things, however major powers have agreements in place not to use “nukes”. But some very militant small nations have not signed on. “Nukes” could give them big-nation status. We would have to treat them differently – using fear to breed respect gives a poor, backward nation greater clout.

But the UN not only found no nukes in Iraq, they didn’t even find other “weapons of mass destruction.” So, should we have ever gone to war in Iraq? Was this like using a ring of tanks to kill a mosquito? I think so. Did any good come out of it? Maybe. We now have many thousands of Americans who know a lot more about Arabic culture, and more Iraqis with first-hand acquaintance with Americans, than we have ever had before

We don’t know what will happen in Iraq when we leave. Have Iraqis become somewhat democratized or will a new “sheik” take control for good or evil? Have we created any goodwill for America in Iraq or the opposite? Will the training given to the troops in Iraq hold and form the backbone of a stable and lawful society for all Iraqis? Whatever the outcome we are so relieved to have our troops home and we mourn everyday for those whose lives were lost and those who were injured. And we have not left Iraq without American resources as many civilian Americans still remain in Iraq to help with the transition to the “post war” Iraq.

Just for today, it’s a good day!

Slow News Day

The Death Star in A New HopeImage via WikipediaAfter I watched Luke Skywalker explode the Death Star for the 20th time I had a very enlightening conversation with my sister about Magic Erasers. She loves magic erasers. She was very happy because she found an “M. E.” that was designed specifically as a “bath scrubber”. She was ecstatic because the magic sponge was saturated with soap scum remover and Febreze. And, saving the best part for last, there were two erasers in the same package, both magic.

(This is not an advertisement, this is an actual event straight from the family living room. I did not experience the “magic”, as I did not use the product, yet.)

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The Mosque Near Ground Zero

I am torn about the Muslim Cultural Center planned for 2 !/2 blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. I don’t know many Muslim people, only Salman Rushdie who is not a typical Muslim, and who has, I believe, quite a light approach to Islam. He has, in other words, a sense of humor that helps the world connect with Islam.

I have read our Constitution and I know it guarantees freedom of religion. Obviously Muslims have the right to worship as Muslims in America. But why at that particular location in Manhattan? Did they anticipate the hullabaloo this would cause? There are apparently several viewpoints in this debate.

1. Is this a victory dance? I think we have heard that this is not so.

2. Is this an attempt to reach out to Americans of other faiths?

3. Is this just about real estate?

4. Why, now that they see how unhappy other New Yorkers are, can’t they show some sensitivity and look for a new location?

5. If they look for another location will they lose an opportunity to improve understanding and compassion between Muslims and other New Yorkers?

6. Does freedom of religion guarantee the right to locate your religious buildings anywhere you wish in America?

7. Why does the media seem to enjoy finding the worst possible interpretation of whatever Obama says and then really enjoy discussing ad infinitum how this will affect other Democrats?

8. If we want to promote greater understanding between Muslims and other Americans this move does not seem designed to bring about this result. It’s not a school, it’s a mosque. It’s not a multicultural center if only Muslims will be served.

9, Freedom of religion is one of the most basic rights of all Americans. If Muslim New Yorkers will not change their location in spite of the hurt and anger they are hearing from all sides, will it violate the Constitution to force them to choose a different property, and how much will it set back any cross cultural acceptance among religious groups?

Money, Money, Money

Wot's in my walletImage by Joits via FlickrHow are your finances? You hear that question everywhere.

Do you have reserves (which used to be called savings)?
Do you have retirement monies – a 401k perhaps?
If you have children do you have education savings?
Is your credit card debt under control?
Do you own property?
What is your debt to earnings ratio? How much should it be?
Do you keep a record of your spending?
Do you stick to a budget?
Do you have college loans?
Do you look for bargains?
Do you shop with coupons?
Do you buy store brands?
Do you have health insurance?, life insurance?
Does everyone in your family have health insurance?, life insurance?
Do you have pets?, Do you budget for them too?
Do you have investments?
What do you invest in and how do you choose your investments?
Do you use an advisor or a stock broker?
Are you very involved with your investments or do you rely on your broker?
Do you own gold?
Do you grow your money slowly but surely, or are you waiting to win the lottery?
Do you have an accountant?
Do you pay your taxes?, on time?
Do you have someone go over your taxes?

It goes on and on. Trying to be savvy about your finances is complicated and requires good habits and discipline. Some people seem to pick it up naturally. Some of us don’t. Following the steps to good financial health is essential to having a solid future but a percentage of us have trouble with this. Some of us have emotional issues around money and spending. We need financial therapy. Maybe high school would be a great place to teach this, not just in “home-ec” (do schools still have “home-ec”), but as a serious course that continues into college. Maybe we should start in elementary school. Can the everyone be financially health, or does the financial health of some depend on the financial dysfunction of others?

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Books – Sci-Fi

Search for frank herbertSearch for douglas adamsSearch for kurt vonnegutSearch for isaac asimovSearch for arthur c clarkeSearch for heinleinHave you earned your sci-fi chops? Everyone needs the classical underpinnings of a good sci-fi reading background. It must include Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert, Aldus Huxley, George Orwell, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Margaret L’Engle. It will probably also include Orson Scott Card, H. G. Wells, C. S. Lewis and L. Ron Hubbard. These are the basics.

You could then branch out into fantasy like Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” books (I thinks there are 12 so far). Harry Potter sort of fits in here also. Perhaps The Carlos Castenades ‘Don Juan” books, the “Star Wars” books and the “Star Trek” books.

These books help define where our future will go. Do books predict the future or does the future copy the books? It doesn’t matter. If you have a great sci-fi background you will be there. These books are mind-expanding, like algebra. OK, maybe you don’t like algebra. But algebra is brain training. It sets up certain pathways in your brain that you might not develop from any other discipline (although geometry also helps, and physics). In terms of helping with logical thinking I don’t think there is a more powerful tool than mathematics.

If you don’t read these books you will also fall behind the cultural curve. Certain allusions will elude you. Who are the Aes Sedai? What is a space elevator? What is a Trillium? Suspensor chairs? It will just go on and on, the number of potentially important things you will not know.

Do a search (google or other) for a list of the top 100 sci-fi titles.

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