Monday, May 18, 2009

A Greener Home

Although my license is currently inactive, I am still fascinated by all things pertaining to real estate. The rise and fall of the market, current activity, foreclosure rates, and helping people find what they need has all held a deep interest for me. I can spend hours comparing houses within a specific area to determine what the current pricing should be, and I can spend just as much time studying month to month statistics to analyze trends.

My focus as a real estate agent, however, was in being what is known as an EcoBroker®. By definition, an EcoBroker® receives additional training on energy and environmental issues that relate to real estate transactions. I would discuss energy efficient housing and how that could relate to your current transaction, or I would refer interested people to the appropriate vendors for further information. Whether it was something as big as installing solar panels for your energy needs or replacing your old windows, I would work with you to obtain the most reliable information available.

The response I received was tepid, at best. Although many were open to the idea of “greening” their home, there was some confusion as to how to accomplish this without extreme expense. There was also confusion related to whether or not solar was viable for this area, and whether that was the only option. In short, there were many questions related to the practicality of energy efficiency in this area.

The main idea I taught is that energy efficiency is viable at many levels. The first way to make this happen is to change just one thing in your life, one habit. Perhaps one of your habits is to always set the thermostat at 70° in the summer and 75° in the winter. To start small, change it to 72° in the summer and 73° in the winter, and use a programmable thermostat in your house. These thermostats can be purchased relatively inexpensively, and it has been proven they will save you money in the long run.

Starting small is the key to energy efficiency. Changing one habit at a time will help you not only to make more responsible energy choices, it will also save you money.

Did You Know...

...that one of the areas of highest poverty in the United States is the Pine Ridge Reservation? The average annual income is $4,000 per year. Although the American public has recently romanticized the Native American lifestyle, there are third world issues that are being overlooked. If you are interested in more information, check out the following websites:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yorktown, VA

Yorktown, where America won the fight for independence, is crowded with ghosts. Stand quietly on any of the battlefields and they (the ghosts, that is) will speak to you. Like many places in the South, the past flows into the present, creating a culture that lives comfortably within the borders of both.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tough Times

My friends, Shelly and George (not their real names) are having some tough times right now. The three bedroom house they live in with their four children is being sold, forcing them to move. The irony in this is that the house is owned by Shelly’s father.

Apparently, twelve years ago Shelly’s father was in the throes of a deep depression caused by the death of his first wife. I can understand that, and I think anyone can understand the emotional baggage that accompanies a situation like this. Shelly’s mom died from multiple sclerosis, and since this was a while ago I have been told that without the medications that are currently available this was a very difficult and painful disease.

Shelly and George stepped in, traveling back from Washington State where they were living to move into the house her father had vacated. They took over paying the mortgage and settled quite nicely into the house that Shelly had grown up in.

About seven years ago, the furnace broke in the house. Shelly’s father told them if they wanted it fixed they would have to do it themselves. At this point, Shelly had already been diagnosed with having multiple sclerosis, just like her mom had. Shelly and George could not afford to have a new furnace installed so they settled for trying to have the old one fixed. After a good amount of money, they realized it was not fixable. They settled for space heaters and an open oven door during the winter.

Not long after that, the central air conditioning unit broke. Again, it was a matter of finances. With four children they were unable to come up with the money to put a new unit in, and Shelly’s dad refused to have the unit fixed. They have a window unit in their bedroom, since heat exacerbates the symptoms of MS.

Not too long after George’s father installed new replacement windows in the house, Shelly’s father announced he had had enough of being a landlord. He just wanted out of the whole deal. He sold the house and the closing is July 1st.

Shelly, George and the four kids are trying to find a new place to live, but times are tough. Rentals in this part of the country are not cheap, and George just got a new job after being laid off for over a month. Hopefully they will find something soon that is affordable and large enough. Although I can pretty much guarantee it will be better. At least their next home will have a working furnace.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When It's Time to Move A Parent

There comes a point in time when many of us get the phone call. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night, sometimes during the day while you are at work. In most cases, the message is the same: your parent needs help, they are sick, they cannot be left alone. If you are lucky, this is a temporary situation, perhaps a broken bone that mends easily or a cold that heals quickly. But it’s not always that simple, and sometimes we are faced with the daunting challenge: what are we going to do with our parents?

For those unfamiliar with the landscape of elder care the challenge can seem daunting. If you start your research in the area you live in, you may find a number of independent living, assisted living, and senior care facilities. Each of them is equipped to meet the unique needs of individuals and offer a variety of specific services. Perhaps the best advice I can offer is this: when it comes to relocating your parent, your best resource is yourself. Visit the facility. Don’t make an appointment, show up unexpectedly (if there’s something they’re trying to hide, they won’t have time to sweep it away before you get there). Be sure you are armed with a list of questions, and take notes. Usually these places are fairly expensive, so you want to be certain of the services, rules and regulations.

For example, if you move your parent to an independent living facility that offers cooked meals in a dining room, transportation and laundry service, you may assume that mom and dad are all set. But does the facility have a rule if your parents get sick? Will they have to leave if they need more care? Will they (or you) be able to afford a home health aide along with the cost of the facility?

Unfortunately, due to the rising number of seniors, many facilities now have a waiting list. If you visit on a Wednesday, odds are you won’t be able to move mom in on Friday. You will want to be prepared for this and have a backup plan for in-home care.

One of the most difficult challenges can be caring for our parents. Sometimes they don't want care, sometimes they don't understand that we are trying to help. Those of us in the sandwich generation are facing caregiving tasks that are sometimes thrown at us unexpectedly. With the right amount of research and a good amount of support (from family or support groups) you will be able to make a decision on what is best for your parents and your family. Remember, we can only do the best we can do, and each decision, although it may be heartbreaking, is the right one for whatever your situation may be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who Is Annie Smith?

Born in 1853, Annie Smith lived in Virginia her entire life. She was orphaned at an early age and sent to live with her grandparents on their farm in Chesterfield, VA. How do I know Annie? I know her because I have her memoirs that she wrote when she was 70 years old in 1923.

Tucked away in my father's house in Connecticut was a scuffed old brown binder, filled with pages of writing that was poorly typed, single spaced and fading. This was the story of Annie's life.

At first, I put the binder away in a closet. I did not have time to read it and I wasn't certain what to do with it. Recently I took the binder out to look at it. I decided the best thing to do would be to transcribe the document, making it easier to read and preserving it from further deterioration.

As I typed Annie's words into my computer, I wasn't certain I even liked this woman. Initially she seemed to be writing simply as a tool for preaching her faith. But as I continued, I discovered a woman who was more than one dimensional, a woman who had a number of obstacles to overcome and portrayed the truth in a stark and sometimes uncomfortable manner.

Annie was beaten as a child, she was against slavery, she was poor, she loved her family, she talked about medicines and farming and life in the 19th century. Annie has given me a valuable insight into not just my family history, but also our nation's history.

Thanks, Annie.

Suburban Destiny

If you are interested in reading one of my short stories, please visit the following website:

Click on "winners" to read the entries.

"Suburban Destiny" is a suspense story that takes place in a middle class suburb in Virginia. Although we allegedly write what we know, I can honestly say that the main character is not me and the husband in this story bears no resemblance to mine.


It's Been Over A Month...

It has been over a month since my father died. We knew he was going to die, we simply did not know the exact moment. He had a disease called Lewy Body Dementia which is a sister to Alzheimer's. I used to explain to people that it was a cross between Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, with the best of both (yes, that was sarcasm).

I think I am extremely lucky. I had the good fortune to be able to tell my father that I loved him before he died, and he was able to say goodbye to me. His good bye actually occurred the week before Thanksgiving while we were having a new washer/dryer delivered. The deliverymen were just hauling our new appliances off the truck when my father approached me.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to hang on much longer," he said, "It's just getting harder and harder, you know? Anyway, I want you to know that I love you, okay?" With that, he leaned down and kissed me.

Knowing that you are lucky does not dispel grief. I would very much like to say that I have been able to check off "grief" on my to-do list, but that would not honor my father or my family. So I am simply trying to allow the grief to happen and quietly move forward.