Monday, April 30, 2007

Up the Mountain No More - Mountain Top Removal

Last week, I picked up the recent issue of Vanity Fair because it featured Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover promoting his new global warming documentary, 11th Hour. I felt a little guilty, since I hadn't budgeted for it following my new TTMM lifestyle, but I decided it was a must-have for my coffee table, what with my renewed infatuation with Leo (I was completely crazy for him during the Titanic movie era) and increased concern in what's going on with our environment.

While I was going through the Green article and was flipping through the photos of all the environmental support groups, I turned to the picture of the Energy Action Coalition and there among the group was my uncle Peter. Astounded to see my uncle in Vanity Fair, I immediately picked up the phone and called him. After chiding him for not letting the family know about his brush with fame, he told me he was leaving that night to go out to Chicago where he was going to be going around to college campuses and also be taking part in a film documentary regarding the practice of Mountain Top Removal, which is the process of blowing up entire mountains to mine coal. Something we hear little about, but as you can see from the pictures, is destroying hundreds of acres of mountains across the U.S. It is not only devastating to the natural beauty of the mountainous areas, but also pollutes the rivers where they dump the sludge when they are done removing the coal.

It is outrageous and disturbing that this practice can be considered legal in the U.S.

I am very proud of my uncle and my cousin Ali, who just graduated from Western Washington, and is working with Restoring Eden, an organization founded by my uncle to focus on educating Christians to learn to love, serve, and protect God's creation, which is often overlooked and ignored when preaching about hell and condeming what is considered sin. Perhaps the evangelical leaders should focus less on the condemnation of sinners and more on the redemption of the earth in environmental terms by conservation and protection of nature. If not, we may very well find ourselves in hell on earth.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ice Cream, Ice Cream. We All Scream for Ice Cream

And the screaming gets even louder whenever Dreyers discontinues a favorite flavor, and why do they do that exactly?

I would not have really given much thought about an ice cream flavor discontinuation, that was, until this week when I encountered, what could only be described as a Dreyer's delivery person on the verge of going postal.

I went to a nearby major grocery chain to pick up some ice cream for our Friday office party, and happened upon the Dreyer's delivery guy (lets be PC and call him a frozen treat distributor, or "FTD") in the freezer section unloading the carts of ice cream. As I was making my selection, I didn't see the Nestle Toll House Cookie flavor, but did see a New flavor called Nestle toll house cookie dough. So, I casually asked the FTD, "Is this new Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough stuff replacing the old Nestle Toll House Cookie flavor?" Quite unexpectedly, he responded sharply "Yep, don't even get me started!". "???"... I thought. "Okaay" was my response. And then he began ranting about the flavors being replaced, how it wasn't right, expressing big sighs, all the while unloading the ice cream quarts with gathered intensity, until finally he chucked one of the 12 packs about three feet where it landed with a Thud!

"I better stop, before I say something I will regret" he ended. I quickly retrieved my final selections, and retreated down the freezer eisle to safety, away from the Postal FTD.

Still, reflecting back on this guy's intensity, makes me wonder, in the cold world of Dreyer's Ice Cream, is there some conspiracy story just waiting to be scooped? Maybe 48 hours should conduct an investigation as to who exactly is behind choosing the flavors, and could this be another Payola
type scheme with its cold hands around the necks of the frozen treat industry?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Not so Brave New World

Last night was a rather somber evening following the day’s events at Virginia Tech.

My sons and I had a discussion about the happenings at Virginia Tech and they wanted my explanation to why someone would do that? I told them there are just some confused people in the world who are just plain evil.

My 17 year old had an experience last year with another student making threats in his theater class at the high school. I recall my son coming home and telling me about this really strange kid in his drama class. When my son initially told me how everyone avoided this kid because he was really weird, I was sad and suggested to my son, perhaps he just needed some friends. My son only looked at me with that look and said “no, mom, I mean he’s really a freak. Then he told me how he dressed, always in black and he wore a mask to school. He refused to take the mask off when the teachers would ask him to. My son said he eventually talked to him occasionally over the weeks during the class.

About a month after the start of the semester, my son came home and told me that during class, this strange kid had whispered to him that he was going to come back to school and kill everyone. I told my son immediately to go to the office and report what the kid had said to him. He told me that he didn’t want to, because the kid would know it was him, and plus, my son didn’t’ think he was serious. I told him that he couldn’t make that determination, and regardless what he thought about the truthfulness or not, he needed to report it, period. Now reflecting back – I should have done it myself. My son, went to the office the next day and talked with his counselor and informed them. My son was treated more like a “tat o’teller”, than someone who may have helped prevent a future catastrophe, and his worst fears were realized. My son told me for the first time last night that this kid had approached him later on in school (nothing ever resulted from his threat) and said to my son “I know you were the one who told”.

This kid no longer attends the high school this year.

As I reflect back on that event, I know I would handle it differently now. I would have called up the school immediately, rather than leave it up to my son, and perhaps putting him in danger from recourse. However, it is so hard, to get anyone to take this sort of threat seriously, until after some tragedy unfolds. Whenever something seems so extraordinary, it is hard for people to listen and to believe. America has for such a long time, been viewed as a safe and secure place to live, but we are slowly evolving into a society that is accepting of more and more violence in our media, and entertainment, and as such our children are paying a price and that price could very well be their own lives.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prepare Yourself For Refinancing Warfare and Avoid the Pit of Despair- 10 Lessons I Learned

Last month I underwent a Refianance of my home. Not as horrible as having a root canal performed, but a close second.

I quickly discovered that there really is very little information available to you as a consumer to help you know what your rights are when shopping for a good rate. For the most part, I felt like Indiana Jones when he was dropped into the tomb looking for treasure, only to find a bunch of snakes.

When I searched the web for answers to my questions, I was at a loss. So, I will just share in ten steps of what I learned and hopefully, it can be of some help to someone. I am not an expert whatsoever, just a consumer who came out alive after swimming with the sharks.



3 ONCE YOU RECEIVE A GFE, contact another mortgage broker and ask if they can beat that GFE (now it gets fun).

4 ASK Mortgage Broker #2 for a GFE in writing.

5 Contact Mortgage Broker #1 and let them know how dissappointed you are that they gave you such a high rate and/or closing costs. Tell them, you have to go with what's best for your family unless they can give you a reason not to. (Make them come to the table).

6 Be bolder than I was and contact Mortgage Broker #3 and repeat steps 3 & 4.

7 If you need, take a night and sleep on it. They can wait.

8 Once you negotiate your terms with the broker of your choice (by going through every closing cost and insisting on an explanation that makes sense, proceed, and go forward with the appraisal, if necessary. (Ask the broker to pay for your appraisal or to eliminate the so-called "funding my next vacation" fees).

9 Ask for the Truth-In-Lending actual interest rate - it should only be slightly higher than your rate on the loan. If it is significantly higher, closely look at all the closing fees.

10 Ask the title company to send you a copy in advance of the final Settlement Statement. Compare it closely with your GFE. IF ANY fee is added or higher, contact your broker and request an explanation and hold them to their original GFE.

Tomorrow, I will post my Table of Loan Comparisons that I developed to compare each Good Faith Estimate.

Part II - Refinancing Tables


Origination fee

Closing Costs

Total Charges


Cash Out

Loan 1

Loan 2

Loan 3

Loan 4


Items Payable


Paid in Advance:

Items Paid in Reserve:

Title Charges:

Recording Fees:


Loan 1

Loan 2

Loan 3

Loan 4


Cost of finance per $1000

Loan 1


Loan 3


Loan 4


Current monthly payment

Home: $


Total Charges

(Col. A)

Total Savings Per Mo.

(Col. B)

Total Mos to Break Even

(Divide Col A /Col B)

Mo. Savings after Break even point

Loan 1

Loan 2

Loan 3

Loan 4

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I have discovered a new path for me and my family.

I have joined a financial revolution and I AM DEBT FREEEEEEEEEEEE (except for my mortgage-to be dealt accordingly in Baby Step Six!) Yeahhhhhh.

It all began innocently enough this summer. It was a quiet evening and I was driving back from a tour of the campus of my oldest son's soon-to-be college. Fliping the dial on the radio, I stopped when I heard some overly excited people talking and screaming about how they had paid off all their debt. This intrigued me, immediately and I was hooked. Every night at 9:00 sharp, I tuned in. Who was this guy who called himself Dave Ramsey?

I initially was intrigued because he was saying things my dad had always said. I remember my dad talking about when he and my mom were first married, he took his paycheck and budgeted for everything and placed the money into envelopes marked for each expense. When the money was gone, that was it for that expense for the month. Hearing the same plan being discussed on the radio in a way reinforced what my dad had taught me, and didn't sound as crazy as I had originally thought it to be.

The really cool thing, is that I was close to being credit card free when I first started listening. I had refinanced my unsecured debt the year prior into a (what I now know as stupid) HELOC. And actually I had tossed my new zero balanced credit card away in a box someplace in the basement. I hadn't even thought about it, that was until... college! My son was accepted to college, which meant, he needed everything in the world for his dorm. So, I remember the panic. I frantically searched and finally found buried under old photos and expired gift cards, the VISA! Still with the activation sticker in place and so, I picked up the phone.

I dropped off my son in September and it wasn't until October when it came. A $1400 VISA bill. Until then, I had not had any credit card debt since the previous November when I consolidated my $30,000 credit card debt and my auto loan of $14,000 and paid off all my medical bills, of about $4300. Which left me with a line of credit of $1700. Now I knew that I had my property taxes due in November of $2100 and so, I was in a predicament. I had been listening to Dave Ramsey now for three months, and I was feeling guilty. I now had no excuse, I knew better. So, I carried the visa bill, deciding that my property taxes were more important. With taxes paid off, guess what came next? Well, Christmas of course.

So, this is when I got Gazelle-like. I received a bonus at work - yea! I paid off the visa in December. As I paid it all off, I smiled to myself, knowing that Visa probably was expecting me to add to my balance and buy all my family a bunch of unnecessary gifts. Well, I surprised myself and didn't use it. I had enough from my bonus to pay off the visa, and only bought presents for my boys - with cash! I was so proud of myself. I swore to myself that was the last time I would ever use a credit card. And do you know what? I haven't.

It took me about six months of listening, before it actually sank in - that I could do this too! Determined, I began to take action.

My family went on a vacation for the first time over spring break - cash! I budgeted for the first time for a vacation and we came back ahead of the budget. Not only that, but my boys all agreed this was the best vacation we ever had together.

I just finished taking care of my HELOC - by refinancing my home. And, with my tax refund I have a start-up emergency fund and so, now my next step is Baby Step Three to build it up to 6 months of expenses. My goal is to have that accomplished by the end of the year.

I am so empowered now that sometimes I drive my boys crazy. They roll their eyes when we are out in public and someone asks me how I am and I answer - Better than I Deserve!

I owe so much to my Dad who took me aside and showed me a budget and did his best to instruct me on my finances and to Dave Ramsey, who reinforced those morals and gave me the tools to put a plan into action.

I recommend this plan for anyone and everyone. Go on and Change your Family Tree!