Monthly Archives: January 2012

Super Bowl of Commercials

Unless you were living under a rock yesterday,  one of this year’s most talked about Super Bowl ads is Honda’s CR-V commercial featuring Matthew Broderick taking a “day off” (think Ferris Bueller).  If you can’t wait until Sunday, click here.   Warning!!!  Viewing this video may spoil your overall Super Bowl experience.  Watch with caution.  It’s pretty hilarious!

Why is it that this is the one day of the year that  we actually look forward to the commercials?  Is it because only a few of us are true fans of the teams that are actually playing or that we are pretty much guaranteed a blowout game (I know, add smack-talking here).  Seriously though, we fast forward through ads all the other days of the year, so why the Super Bowl?

Each year  Nielson Ratings estimates 90 million viewers watch the Super Bowl.  Also, with parties and families gathered around the TV, we are usually in good spirits.  If your team is losing, we probably can’t say the same thing for you but for the vast majority of us tuning in, we are happy.

So what makes a good Super Bowl commercial?  I know what I like and judging by the poll results and the water cooler talk that usually happens the following morning, we all seem to like the same thing.  Here are my standards for a good Super Bowl commercial.

  1. Don’t recycle your old add!!!  Make a new one!  You spent the $$ for time slot, come up with something that I haven’t seen before.  If you don’t have any money left over like Fed-Ex did one year, then a white screen with simple wording explaining how the ad folks screwed up and didn’t get the ad to the network in time because they didn’t use Fed-Ex was brilliant.  One of my all time favorites.
  2. Don’t use current talent.  Yes, I know how hot Bieber is right now, but using actors that have been out of the limelight, like say Matthew Broderick, for a while stir up nostalgic feelings and make me like Honda CR-Vs despite the fact my husband sells GMCs.  Besides Bieber is everywhere, do we really have to have him in the commercials too?
  3. Make it funny.  The funnier the better because I will talk about that commercial  for days to come.  Not to mention, the recall later down the road.
  4. Add a little tear.  Touching commercials are timeless.  The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale bowing to New York in the infamous 9/11 tribute.  Still makes me tear up today.   How about “Mean Joe” Green giving that kid, who gave him a Coke, his jersey and a smile.  Don’t get too sappy though.  Weare, after all, watching a football game.
  5. How did they do that?  Technology is a wonderful thing when you leave them guessing.  It’s great if you want me to look up your website, but it needs to be a serious, WOW!  Confuse me and I won’t give it a second thought.  Also, that website better be amazing.

Everyone have a happy and safe Super Bowl this year.  No matter how you are spending it. :0)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost In Translation

I know we have all heard the phrase, “Well, if they would just speak English, we would have had an easier time.”   I confess that even I was thinking the same thing while I was trying to talk to a resident with the help of an interpreter today.  Not because I would have had an easier time understanding him, but this resident in particular was upset and all of the tricks that I had to help calm a person down, I couldn’t use  because I didn’t want anything to get “lost in translation”.  So, here I was wondering if it would be easier if everyone should be required to speak English.

Did you know that the United States does not have an official language on a Federal level?  I didn’t know that until I went out to do some research on this topic.  Interesting, but true!  English is not our official language, it’s merely our primary language and considering on what our country was founded on, it is a bit presumptuous of us to require anyone to speak just our primary language.  English isn’t even the top language worldwide.  Actually Mandarin Chinese is the top language in the world, third in our nation (alongside Cantonese).   Spanish is the second top language both worldwide and here in the US (according to the 2000 Census).  Also, the US had the 5th largest population in the world of Spanish speaking people.

Although some states established an official language much earlier, several states in the union began adopting official state languages around the late 1980’s – early/mid 1990’s.  North Carolina adopted English as its official language in 1987.  Thirty-three states and territories in all have adopted English as their official language and only Hawaii has two official languages, English and Hawaiian.  Four states (New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington) have passed resolutions known as English Plus which is intended to promote the diversity of language through the education of English, as well as secondary languages.

According to the 2000 Census, the top 5 languages in the United States are:

  1. English (specifically American English) – 215 million
  2. Spanish – 28 million
  3. Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin) – 2 million
  4. French – 1.6 million
  5. German (including High German, Hutterite German, Texas German, Pennsylvania German and Plautdietsch)  - 1.4 million

At T. R. Lawing Realty, Inc., we speak over 175 languages through the assistance of a company called Language Line.  They are very professional and patient.  I cannot sing their praises enough. They even have an App for the iPhone that will help you with common phrases when traveling for 10 different languages, all for FREE!  If you need further assistance, you can also get a LIVE operator to help you with a simple swipe of the credit card.  If you want more information about Language Line, please click here.

The point is no matter how you say it, “Give me Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

C’mon Everybody!! Y M C A…….

It’s almost the end of January.  How have your New Year’s Resolutions been coming along?  Mine?  Well, I am not coming along like I would like but I did take one step closer to my goal a couple of weeks ago.  I joined the YMCA and I like it.

Aside from having a very catchy theme song, I am amazed how affordable the “Y” really is and I don’t know why I didn’t join sooner.   So far my favorite thing is the treadmills with the TVs in them.  All you need is a willingness to walk or run for 30 minutes and you can watch your favorite show while working out.  Couch potato problem solved.  There are other machines with this same technology but I have tried them and determined I am not quite there yet.  Confession:  Worked out on the treadmill for 30 minutes while watching Iron Chef.  I guess it would have been a greater sin if it were Paula Deen.   Here’s hoping she creates a healthy, southern cookbook.  Right?!

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte goes well beyond fitness for the body.  There programs for nutrition, art classes, water parks and more!  For more information, visit http://www.ymcacharlotte.org/.

A Child’s Place

Did you know that in 2011, 4,711 homeless children were enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? 

In 1989, a group of women who were taking a walk noticed a group of children playing in an area cemetery on what was supposed to be a school day.  When the women asked these children why they were not in school, the answer was simple, they weren’t allowed because they lacked a permanent home address.  Homeless children are at great risk because they are:

  • Less likely to graduate high school (less than 25%)
  • Twice as likely to repeat a grade
  • Three times as likely to have some form of emotional or behavioral problem
  • Four times as likely to attend school while sick

The group of women provided 27 children with a chance at an education in a one room schoolhouse provided by First Presbyterian Church and the help of a CMS teacher.  A Child’s Place was born.  Today, ACP is helping around 2,355 homeless children (2010-2011 school year) in the Charlotte area.

According to ACP, 97% of homeless children in their program are promoted to the next grade (compared to 64% nationally) and 92% are reading on grade level (compared to 48% nationally and 68% Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools).  Through donations and volunteer help, you can make a difference.  Donations for school supplies and personal hygiene products are always needed.  In fact, our staff will be creating 20 Valentine’s Day care packages for A Child’s Place.  If you are interested in helping A Child’s Place too, you can visit their website at www.achildsplace.org. The best resource that we have to end homelessness is through education.  Let’s break the cycle!

Sources:  A Child’s Place client data and National Center on Family Homelessness

To CPA or Not CPA – That IS The Quesiton

It’s TAX SEASON!!  What?!   Don’t groan.  I know that doing your taxes can rank right up there with going to the dentist or getting a traffic ticket but there are two things that are certain in this life, “death and taxes”.  So now I ask you…..to CPA or not to CPA?

Choosing to do your taxes on your own is a dilemma that I think most of have each year.  My taxes are pretty simple.  Just a couple of W-2s and itemized deductions from our interest payments and taxes on our house.  So, paying $20 for the premium online service is just fine for me.  For others whose itemized deductions are a bit more complicated or if you’re simply uneasy with doing your taxes on your own, an independent CPA or even a chain like H&R Block or Liberty Tax Service may be more your style.  So how do you choose what is right for you?

Go ahead and use the free online software available on websites like H&R Block, Tax Cut or TurboTax (I use TaxSlayer.  I will admit it; I liked the knight on the horse.  But seriously, they have treated me just fine over the years).  Almost all of these will file your Federal Taxes for FREE.  If you like the outcome, go ahead and file.  They will even file your State Return, but that will be an added cost of about $10.  I choose to pay a little higher, just so that I have access to the previous year’s return.  The term FREE does come with some eligibility requirements, like your Adjusted Gross Income will need to be $57,000.00 or less.  If your AGI is over $57,000.00, the cost is fairly nominal to file.  If you choose not to file without a professional looking it over first, at least you were able to get your things together before you took them to your Accountant and you have an idea of what you may owe on April 15th or even better, how much you can get back from Uncle Sam.

Happy Tax Season 2012 and many happy returns!!!

Acme Proof Your Pet

Today we have learned that another family pet has been lost to a coyote in the Charlotte area.  For small pet owners, like me, it really hits home because you feel kind of hopeless about the whole situation.  How can you keep your dog or cat safe from a brutal and deadly attack?  You don’t know where they live; you only know where they have been.  Coyotes were once associated as living in the prairies and deserts of the western United States and Mexico.  Today, coyotes are increasing in numbers and are now occupying almost all of North America, including well populated cities, like Charlotte.

So how can we protect our furry little friends?  Animal Control cannot do anything unless you observe the animal as having signs of rabies.  So it is up to the pet owners to educate themselves.  According to Dogtipper.com, here are helpful hints:

  • Keep your trash can and compost piles covered.  Coyotes are known to eat just about anything.  Also, decomposing garbage or compost attracts mice and mice are the preferred meat of coyotes.
  • Feed your pets indoors.  Again, coyotes will eat anything, including dog food.  Don’t give them a reason to come into your yard.  Did you know coyotes are able to scale a 6 ft fence without even trying?  Keep that in mind when feeding your dogs outside.  Not even a fence will deter them.
  • Keep your bushes and yard trimmed and cut back any overgrown brush.  Coyotes, like to have the upper hand.  If you limit their hiding places, you leave them exposed and they may not want to enter your yard.
  • Know that coyotes are scared of humans.  The North American Coyote resemble a classic German Sheppard, so they may not appear too scary at first and may even just leave you alone altogether.  If you encounter a coyote while out walking, do make a lot noise and carry a walking stick if possible.  Also, know that coyotes are creatures of habit.  They tend to walk the same trails and travel at the same time of day.  Figuring out their routine and adjusting yours, will make it much safer and less scary for you.
  • Keep small pets on leashes.  Larger pets roaming freely in a fenced back yard may be OK because coyotes rarely pick on animals their own size.  They prefer an easy target, so walking your small dog on a leash should keep them safe.  Cats should be allowed to come indoors when you are unable to supervise them while they are outside.  I know that may not have been your original pet plan, but better safe than sorry.

Imagine a World Without Wikipedia

I am going to be honest.  Until yesterday, I really didn’t know anything about SOPA or PIPA and today, I really don’t have an opinion either way.  But it seems to upset my favorite pop culture encyclopedia site and search engine enough to hold a black out.

If you haven’t noticed, today websites like Craigslist, Wikipedia and Google are protesting.  When visiting Craigslist (a site we use to help market some of our properties and services), a blacked out screen asks “Imagine a world without Craigslist, Wikipedia, Google…” then asks you to take a moment and contact your representative in Congress.  Don’t worry Craigslist shoppers, give it 30 seconds and a purple link will take you to their fully operational website.

Google is a little more cavalier about it.  Their logo is the only thing that is blacked out today.  The engine’s search bar is proudly displayed and ready to google.

Wikipedia on the other hand is much more serious.  You will have to wait until midnight tonight to get your pop culture fix.  The site is down for 24 hours in protest and in true Wikipedia fashion, you can learn more about what is SOPA and PIPA or you can just click here.

What Happened To The Food Prices?!!!

This past weekend, I like many other consumers who went to their local market, almost had heart failure in the food aisles.  What happened to the food prices?!  My phone has an app on it specially designed to keep my grocery store list and all of the prices on my staple items had to be changed.  10¢ here, $2.00 there, cereal was $6.00, meat was 20% higher than it was two weeks ago, and those Oreo cookies that my kid has seen the countless commercials for were almost $5.00 for a small package. Ugh!! Side note:  My kid wouldn’t have gotten those cookies regardless, but STILL I am outraged. 

More and more families have been cutting costs because of unemployment, taking jobs with a lower pay grade, or lack of cost of living raises.  The first thing to go was eating out.  Families were finding their dinner tables again and it was great, but there is a small catch, WE are going to have to pay for our good deed.  Demand is high for grocery items and it will cost more to supply those items to the stores, mainly because of fuel costs.  They pay more, so we pay more.

Bankrate.com put out a list of “32 Ways to Save When Grocery Shopping”.  For the full list please click  here.  However, some of my favorites and practices that I use when shopping are:

  • Comparison Shop – shop weekly announcements and shop a little each day for your bargains.  I wouldn’t advise driving out of your way to pick up your deal.  You don’t want to waste your own gas, just to get a bargain.  Defeats the purpose.
  • Plan a weekly menu – I do this.  Sticking to it is another thing.  I tend to buy versatile staples.  Don’t get caught up in one meal that requires set ingredients.  That recipe that sounded great today may not sound good three days from now and may be too time consuming to make.  Be flexible with that menu.
  • Shop ALONE – if at all possible, keep the kiddies and in my case, husband at home.  Only you know what is on that shopping list.  If you allow outside influences to veer from your plans, all hope is lost.  Also, I find it cathartic to shop by myself in a quiet peaceful store with elevator music playing in the background.
  • Coupons – Finding a store that will double or even triple your coupon is even better.  My least favorite thing, EXTREME COUPONERS.  I am not knocking your practices but you guys take all the food and then pay $20 for it.  I have to believe this is a factor in our price increases too.  I also don’t have the storage space to hoard bleach for the apocalypse.
  • Calculator – I can’t stress the importance of a calculator to keep you on budget.  It is my most important tool when I go grocery shopping.  Know what you are spending.

Prices will continue to increase, but the good news is that it won’t be as bad as 2011.  Sure there is a sense of sticker shock right now, but soon that will all die down and we will accept it as the norm.  Besides, there is good that can come from this.  We are an obese nation of people.  Convenience is important for our busy lives and it is showing in around our waistlines and our children’s waistlines.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol are rampant, but if the foods that have been killing us are too much for us to pay for…….maybe there is a silver lining here.  Nutrition experts have been beating it into our heads for a while now.  Eat less junk.  Eat more veggies.  Know where your food is coming from.  Maybe it’s time we took their advice.

Repair or Replace?

The time has come to say goodbye to an old friend, our dishwasher.  It has served our family well over the years and saved me time from having to hand-wash the large amount of dishes that come with raising three boys.  Purchasing a new major appliance is a tough pill to swallow but if you understand the life expectancy of the average household appliance, you can better prepare your pocketbook for the expense.

Estimated Appliance Life Expectancy

v  Refrigerators

  • Single Door – 19 years
  • Top Freezer – 17 years
  • Bottom Freezer and Side by Side – 14 years

v  Stoves

  • Gas – 19 years
  • Electric – 17 years
  • Microwaves – 10 years

v  Dishwashers – 10 years

v  Disposals – 10-12 years  I have replaced two disposals in the last three years.  My advice is don’t skimp. Buy a good disposal and be honest about what you send down the drain.

v  Washers

  • Top Load – 14 years
  • Front Load – 11 years

v  Dryers – 13 years

v  Water Heaters

  • Electric – 13-14 years
  • Gas – 11-13 years
  • Tankless or On Demand – 20 years

We are a disposable society.  If it’s broke, just get a new one.  The computer age has kept us wanting the latest and greatest technology.  But is replacement always the answer?  If your appliance is still under warranty and the repair is under 50% of the cost of a new appliance, it may be more cost efficient to simply repair your household appliance.  I am not going to lie; I love shiny new things in my home.  They look nicer and sleeker and more modern than that 12 year old two tone dishwasher or that avocado green refrigerator.  More importantly today’s appliances are energy efficient.

In 1992, the EPA started the Energy Star Program as a way to cut down on energy usage from computers.   Today that technology has been passed on to 50 different product categories.  In addition to saving on your power bill each year, you can also earn tax credits on your next tax return.  For more information on the benefits of energy star products, visit their website http://www.energystar.gov/.

Winter Is Coming! I Think?

So far, we have been pretty lucky with some  mild temperatures this winter.  However, it is the winter season and winter will do what it always tends to do…Get COLD! By the way, this is a recycled post from two years ago, but winter comes annually and these tips never go out of style.

As temperatures begin to drop, your home will require some low maintenance in order to keep it worry-free throughout the winter. Included are some easy tips on how to winterize your home, whether you be an owner or a tenant!

1.) Water Lines – to prevent water lines from freezing and bursting during cold weather:

  • Allow water to trickle, especially at night when the temperatures drop.
  • Disconnect and drain all garden hoses from outside faucets.
  • Always know where your water main is located in case you need to shut it off in emergencies.
  • If you go on vacation, leave the heat on, set to at least 55 degrees.
  • Open up all cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate and warm the pipes.

2.) Gutters and Downspouts:

  • Make sure that these are clear with no leaves or debris.
  • Wet leaves and debris remaining in the gutter over winter adds a significant weight and volume to the gutter when frozen and increases water build-up on the roof.

3.) Chimneys and Fireplaces:

  • If using a wood burner fireplace or vented gas logs, get a cap or screen for the top of the chimney to keep out birds and rodents.
  • Inspect the fireplace damper for the proper opening and closing.

4.) Heating and Cooling Systems:

  • Replace the a/c and furnace filters EVERY 45-60 days.
  • This ensures the most efficient economical operation of your system. Clogged filters can inhibit the operation of the system and cause costly repairs.
  • Clean the registers throughout the unit.
  • Clear obstacles from the vents so air can flow freely.

5.) Prepare an Emergency Kit:

  • Buy flashlights or battery operated lanterns for use during power shortages.

6.) If vacating (moving out) during the winter months:

  • Shut off the main water supply valve.
  • Open all hot and cold water faucets.
  • Include tubs, showers, outdoor faucets and flush all toilets
  • Mix antifreeze with water in a bucket.
  • Pour at least a quart into the sink and in the tub traps first.
  • For the toilets, pour a gallon into each toilet, then flush to dislodge the water. The antifreeze will collect in the toilet trap.
  • If you are on a well/septic system, simply drain the water tap.

* For owners, T.R. Lawing Realty offers a Winterization Service, for a fee, which handles items such as the ones listed above for vacant properties.

Following these easy tips will help ensure your home with low maintenance during the winter months. For owners, tax credits for energy-efficient insulated glass doors and windows will be ending this year, so take advantage of this while it’s available! An inexpensive heating bill can look mighty attractive to an interested tenant!