Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Madoff fraud effect hit my investments and could affect us all

Yes, Madoff could affect you I know this because his fraud scheme hit me and has also impacted the New York real estate market. You can read more if you click here to see more and think about how the real estate market could eventually feel the effects, too, as millions of dollars are gone, not only from the wealthy but from the economy and those the wealthy supported, including charities, middle and lower class workers and others. We'll all feel this (just my take). What is your view? Could you be the next one getting the call about how your taxes or your investments were affeted?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cheap Wrapping Paper in Indianapolis - where to find it

Why pay a fortune for gift wrap? Budget friendly gift wrap in Indianapolis, see article: Find Cheap gift wrap in Indianapolis

Monday, November 10, 2008

Indianapolis - Washer, Dryer Repair

I'd highly recommend Turner Washer, Dryer repair, info can be seen here: Washer Dryer Repair, Appliances repair, Indianapolis, review

Friday, November 7, 2008

Men's Custom Tailors in Indianapolis

While generally thrifty, my father would visit a local Indianapolis tailor, (Leon Tailoring) regularly. When I asked him why, he told me that he considered the services of a good tailor to be well worth the expense and actually cost-effective in the long run. He felt a custom made suit or professionally altered pair of pants stood the test of time, more than making up for any extra upfront payment. While he'd occasionally have suits completely custom made, he also used tailors to hem pants or alter the fit of a suit after he'd gained - or lost - a few pounds. His tailor could even update suits or shirts so that they looked in style again! He bought fewer suits and shirts because he was able to make the ones he had last even longer, thanks to his Indianapolis tailor. If you want to find a good tailor in Indianapolis, here are two that we've found to be top notch:See rest of info by clicking here

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gutter Stuff: No More Clogged Gutters

As we look ahead to chilly temperatures and the inevitable ice and snow of winter, we get our gutters in shape. This year, we're testing an innovative new product, Gutter Stuff, and find it a worthy option, compared to traditional gutter guards. Gutter stuff was recently featured on MSNBC. It is a foam product which essentially blocks debris, leaves, dirt and other items (acorns, in our case) from gutters. It has already generated a lot of interest, with homeowners hoping that it will reduce home maintenance chores, particularly the unpleasant - and even risky - task of cleaning out gutters. MORE GUTTER GUARD INFO HERE

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stop The Housing Bailout, Stopthehousingbailout.com

Although a $700 billion housing bailout has been in the works, things quickly came to a head yesterday. Even before that, angry voices could be heard from average citizens who were upset about the housing bailout. They may well be the citizens that are looking for sites like Stop The Housing Bailout (www.stopthehousingbailout.com) a website that offers citizens a chance to let their feelings, their voices, be heard.

For more,check here: click here to see rest of article

Shipping Container, Shipping Container Homes

Maybe you've never thought of a shipping container as a viable home space. After all, aren't these huge metal containers or crates primarily used to haul heavy cargo on ships? Actually, yes...they are...which means they may also be ideal as waterproof, fairly secure living spaces (with some modifications, of course), also known as shipping container homes.

To read more, check out the Blog RSS at right or go here:Click Here

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Vital and Free Tool for Selling Your Home Quickly

Selling a home in today's economic climate is a tough sell. In our own area, one where homes used to turn over fairly quickly , a house down the street sold for nearly $100K below the price paid by the former owner. Yet I've seen people with very little experience sell their homes and a friend just did so by taking advantage of a free and often overlooked tool for home sellers - the open house.

I want to be clear here, however - I'm not talking about having an open house in hopes of selling your home but the value of of going to as many open houses in your area as you can. This is a vital and free tool that home sellers may overlook. It is one we've used successfully to sell our own home and get up to speed. It took awhile for us to understand why open houses could help us sell our home.

But they can. Here's why:

Going to open houses gives you an idea of the competition in home sales

Yes, your real estate agent may be able to tell you the "comps" or competitive prices in the market. Yes, you can open a newspaper and see those prices in the real estate ads. But nothing substitutes for walking around in a home that is located near your home or priced at or above your price range. You get an instant feel for curb appeal, size of the rooms, updates and more. So take advantage of this. Nothing substitutes for this kind of personal viewing of the competition. Nothing.

After going to one, I came home and rearranged the living room furniture. Call it coincidence but we got an offer on our home the next day, from a person who saw that newly rearranged living room.

Special tips: Take along a friend or your spouse. Each of you will have a different take on the homes you see. Pay special attention to how long the home has been on the market, updates, price and how the home compares to your home. Afterwards, take a good, long look at your home, your room arrangements and home price. Think about features your home has - or needs to have - to be competitive.

Open houses allow you to see how other real estate agents work and see how your real estate agent compares.

Unless you are using an agent who is a friend or family member and are willing to wait forever to sell your home (if your friend or family member isn't a top notch agent), you probably care about how well your real estate agent sells homes. We met the agent who sold us our current home at an open house. I liked her, felt some rapport and called her later to see our home. She not only sold our old home in record time but found us the home of our dreams as well. I trusted my instincts and...yes...we dropped the real estate agent we were considering. We hadn't signed a contract with that person, thank goodness.

Special tip: Consider going to some open houses and talking to agents before signing a contract with one. Don't discount an agent's track record but also think about how you feel about a particular agent. Can you work with the person? Do you understand each other? Those are important questions, too.

Open houses allow you to collect spec sheets and keep an eye on how quickly sellers are able to sell their homes

When we were trying to sell our home, we kept a list of spec sheets (pages of information about each home, room sizes, price, features, etc) or home specification sheets. Then we simply kept track of how quickly each home sold and in what price range. You can easily find out this information by going to a local or national home sale website or by talking to a real estate company sales person. or agent. When a home sold quickly, we paid special attention to the sales price and home features.

Special tip: Spec sheets are free. Don't miss out on the chance to keep track of home specifications and sales prices. Remember, your information will be backed by personal observation.

Open houses allow you to tweak the curb appeal or home features of your house - maybe even without spending a dime

As noted, above, I rearranged the furniture in our living room after seeing a better arrangement at an open house. I've also gotten ideas for how and where to place porch and deck furniture for maximum curb appeal. During gardening season, I've gotten garden design ideas. All of these things can make or break a home sale.

Special tip: you can up your home's sales appeal without spending a dime if you pay close attention at open houses.

Open houses let you hear other potential home buyers as they comment or react to various home features, giving you extra insight into what matters to home buyers.

Maybe you assume your fireplace is a major focal point in your home. If you attend open houses and most buyers are focusing on the kitchen, no matter which home they see, that might be a clue to start updating or making your kitchen a focal point and stop obsessing about the fireplace. We certainly learned which features mattered to home buyers by going to open houses. Right now, master bedroom suites are very popular. Anything that gives a touch of luxury is also popular, from outside fire pits to sinks that accommodate large pots.

Special tip: Sometimes what you assume matters to buyers actually matters less than you think. So keep your eyes - and your ears - open and take get maximum value out of the words "open house" and sell your home in record time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland California

We all know gas prices are soaring out of sight and food prices are also rising. Even without those factors, some people want to know exactly how and where their food is produced. So they do it themselves, becoming an urban homesteader, whether on a small or larger scale. If you want to know more you can check out this article: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/798467/institute_of_urban_homesteading_helps.html?cat=7 or try this link (which will, hopefully show up here: Urban Homesteading

If you haven't heard the terms "urban homesteading" or "urban homesteaders", odds are you will. Although exact definitions of these terms can vary somewhat, the focus is clear - self-reliant and independent living, often with a hands-on approach. More and more people want to learn how to grow their own vegetables, raise chickens, learn beekeeping and other skills. Now they are doing this, even in places that would be classified as anything but rural.

Those living in the Oakland area of California can learn more about urban homesteading at the Institute of Urban Homesteading. They'll discover that it is possible to raise chickens in a backyard,even if that backyard isn't part of a farm. I know this because a relative actually raises chickens in her backyard in California. Her home looks like many traditional suburban ones founds in neighborhoods across America. The only difference? She has a chicken coop, complete with a growing brood of chickens, in her backyard. Now other people could learn how to do the same thing, perhaps by taking a class at the Institute of Urban Homesteading.

Although the school is relatively new, classes have filled up quickly and new ones have even been added in response to consumer demand. A course on Bees and Backyard Beekeeping had two sessions, both full. Another popular class? Raising chickens, a course which covered everything you'd want to know about choosing and caring for poultry. Other courses cover the art of making flower essences or working with chocolate.

Intrigued? Wondering if you could be an urban homesteader yourself? You probably could!

The Institute of Urban Homesteading: basic facts

Not surprisingly, hands-on learning is a big part of the approach there. Those with a desire to ask questions and learn (as well as learn from mistakes) are welcome at the Institute. They'll hit the ground running. This means that a group of students could be learning about various types of chickens or actually building chicken coops. Others might be discovering how to keep and protect bees or grow organic vegetables.

If you are the type that is most comfortable in a structured setting, with strong distinctions between teacher and student, you may need to get out of that mindset. Teachers and students learn together at the Institute. if you check out the website at www.sparkybeegirl.com/iuh.html you can see more about this. Although there are teachers, students and teachers do learn and teach from each other. Don't expect there to be a strict line between teacher and student.

The school is perfect for those with a renewed interest in organic gardening, herbal medicine and other aspects of independent living and back to basics activities

Ever wondered about growing your own food year round? Have you thought about herbal medicines or canning your own fruits and vegetables? These are the sort of activities you'll find at the school. Those who take urban homesteading seriously often want to know more about how and where their food is produced or be part of the entire process.

This year, we put in the largest vegetable garden we've ever had. Those with similar interests can up their learning curve at the Institute. Even photographers should have a field day here, since some classes allow students to observe native bees and take photos of them. They can watch the bees pollinate flowers and even learn about the complete life cycle of bees.

Classes offered, locations and costs

For a complete list of classes, you can simply go to the Institute website listed above. If you do, you'll be amazed at the wealth of subjects covered. You'll also see that many are already full, an indication of the school's popularity. Bees and Beekeeping, Organic Gardening 101 and Mead and Wine Making were such popular topics that they quickly filled to capacity. However, keeping with the Institute's inviting atmosphere, those who want to learn a skill can simply ask...and another session or class may be arranged. They have often done this.

I yearned to take the Canning Made Easy class, as I'd always wanted to know how to can my own tomatoes or make jelly. Similar classes focus on making fruit compotes, jellies and jams or homemade tomato sauces.

Another class, Backyard Chickens the Permaculture Way, gives students a chance to learn about every aspect of raising chickens. While this year's class is already full, there should be others offered later (popular classes often have extra sessions or sections). From picking out the right breed of chicken to feeding them and building a chicken coop - all of these aspects of raising chickens are covered.

Typical costs per class at the Institute normally range between $25 to $75. All classes are offered on a sliding scale, which means that teachers and students can work out financial arrangements that work for each. No one is turned away simply because of financial challenges. For a full listing of classes, click on the Calendar section of the Institute of Urban Homesteading website.

Class locations vary

If you want to learn how to raise chickens, you often have to go where the chickens are. The same can be true when it comes to learning other aspects of urban homesteading. As a result, many of the classes are offered "on site" or in private kitchens and backyards in or near the Oakland area of California. Addresses of teachers are not listed on the website but are given out after registration.

Classes are often kid friendly

Although students may have to be age 12 or up to take some classes, others are offered to younger students. Teachers determine whether parents can bring kids along but it is certainly a possibility. Safety is always a primary concern.

How to contact the school

Simply fill out the form at the website. You can also call (888) 292-3998. Learning how to can your vegetables or some other aspect of urban homesteading could be one of the best investments of time and money you make!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Green Hospitality and Business Space at The Democratic National Convention

If you happen to want to reach any of the 35,000 people and 15,000 members of the media who will be converging in Denver in August for the Democratic National Convention, you might want to learn more about The Green. Nope, this isn't a golf course or something like that. Instead, it is a unique Hospitality Paviillion (or a hospitality village) that will be set within a few blocks of the Democratic National Convention headquarters.

The convention itself is scheduled from August 23-29 but prime space is already at a premium. This makes The Green even more attractive to power brokers wanting to reach powerful clients - as well as to tie up lucrative business deals or lobby for important political issues. While basic questions will be answered in this article, you can check out the website for The Green right here: dncevents.com/index.cfm

What makes The Green so attractive for business leaders at the Democratic National Convention?

Basically, it may be one of the few space still open for meetings, promotions and special events. It also has a prime location and covers at least two square blocks. When convention goers leave their hotels and set out for the day, this space could attract them when not in the Pepsi Center convention headquarters. In addition, The Green will be run with the participation of MorEvents, an experienced global event planning company.

Who is most likely to want to use The Green during the Democratic National Convention in Denver?

If you can imagine it, odds are high that some similar arrangement can be created (within reason). Possibilities include business meetings, networking and meeting and greeting people, making new connections, socializing, hosting meals and arranging for entertainment to draw crowds (and potential clients). Events can be customized.

Why is the center called The Green?

Because the Democratic National Convention is trying to focus on an eco-friendly event this year, the Hospitality Paviillion in Denver is going to stress environmentally kind materials and themes. The name keeps the focus up front, particularly important during this political occasion.

What type of branding and brand name recognition opportunities will clients have if they use The Green at Denver's Democratic National Convention?

It depends on the type of sponsorship chosen. Sponsorships include Presenting, Partner, Stars and Stripes, Networking, Energy and Green Sponsorships. Each comes with their own features and benefits. As one example, a Presenting Sponsorship would get large signs at major locations in the Hospitality Village, flags attached to poles, major exposure of brands to the attendees and sponsors at The Green, press releases, a corporate logo on the DNC's list of events online (at the website), use of the Hospitality Structure for the entire week and a 20 x10 exhibit space. In addition, clients would get discounted hotel rooms.

For further information on the type of sponsorships available, check out The Green's website and information here: dncevents.com/index.cfm or simply call (303)
782-5000.

What other amenities or benefits are available to those using The Green at the Democratic National Convention in Denver?

If you can imagine a huge, two block area of structures that look a bit like tents but have all the upscale features you'd expect in any major business or convention center, that is what you'll find here. You can reserve a meeting and entertaining location within The Green for up to 150 guests or clients. There will be plenty of seating, presentation space, food and beverage seating, a Networking Center and Plasma tv broadcast, including live feed to the convention floor!

Just about anyone wanting to reach the huge crowds of people, including many business owners and corporate sponsors, who will be attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver. That includes law firms, lobbying organizations and, as always, the news media. This could be a prime opportunity to get some media coverage!

What sort of events could exhibitors arrange if they used The Green during the Democratic National Convention?

If you want to get in on major business opportunities at the Democratic National Convention, then you should definitely check out The Green while there is still space available. With at least 35,000 people expected at the Democratic Convention, prime space so close to the convention site is sure to attract visitors looking for a place to unwind, be entertained, make new contacts and even get some work done before heading back to the convention. Some may have hotel rooms far from the Pepsi Center and would welcome the chance to conduct business nearby.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Property Taxes, Recessions and Foreclosures- what YOU need to Know Now

As I write this, the latest news is that many of the Indiana Property taxes, particularly Marion County property taxes, are in for a decline. According to the latest information I got, based on a phone call to the Marion County Assessor's office (317- 327-4907) , most of the county property tax rates declined since the 2007 estimate. In our case, that means that most assessed value (and taxes) went down for homes - and homeowner property taxes. Our home's assessed value for Indiana property taxes fell about 8%. But that doesn't mean we'll necessarily pay less for Indiana property taxes on our property. Read on to find out why.

On the face of it, it would appear to be good news that we might get a refund or credit on future property taxes. If you happen to be someone who could be affected, you can check your status for your township right here: www.indygov.org/eGov/County/Assessors/home.htm

This will give you a fair idea of the odds that you'll be paying less. Those in Indiana, particularly Indianapolis, have gone through a fair bit of drama, seeing their Marion County property taxes in 2007 soar to double or triple the amount they paid the year before. All we had to do was open our bill to see the sad reality before our eyes. We were lucky compared to one friend whose property taxes doubled - for two years in a row . The sticker shock was enough to get people to wake up and start screaming like crazy, post signs in their yard saying things like "This home for sale due to high property taxes" (a strange sales strategy) and more.

If you don't live in Indiana, you might wonder what on earth any of this could have to do with you. Isn't it a good thing to pay lower property taxes and maybe even get a refund, especially during a recession?

Not necessarily. When property taxes are cut, consumers and homeowners often feel the pinch elsewhere - particularly during a recession. Schools still need funding and so do plenty of other services covered by home property taxes. Because lower property taxes often create a shortfall, potential negatives include:

1. Higher sales and income taxes, now in discussion.

2. Government employees getting fired and losing their jobs and less government services. Information about the reality of this has been researched by many, including a Purdue economist. That info can be seen here: news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008a/080109DeBoerIndiana.html

3. People in the general job market could face higher levels of unemployment. There is a ripple effect when the money isn't there.

4. If you go to the library to save money on buying books, you may be in for a shock as the budget to buy books may well be cut and there could be less librarians around to answer your questions, especially at state libraries.

5. Municipal services are cut, potholes bloom faster than spring bulbs and they get fixed slower than it takes a snail to get...well, nearly anywhere. It could take years for some roads to see improvement, while frustrated drivers pay high gas prices and watch their tires get shredded on the decomposing streets. Those lower property taxes come with a major trade-off, one that affects all of us.

But there is more for homeowners to consider than the above scenarios. For instance:

We live in the same home we did in 2007 but its "assessed value" was high even while home sales were down. Now its assessed value is lower . Plenty of homes are selling for less, from what I can see by going to open houses and Indiana homes for sale. Based on current home prices i the area, our home may still be slightly overpriced for the market. Selling a home is tough these days - not just in Indiana but in many areas of the country.

What about any connection between homeowners insurance and state property taxes during a recession?

Glad you asked. Even if your home's assessed value goes down, along with property taxes, you may end up paying the same - or more - for your home insurance premiums. You might end opt to do so.

You may still want to pay for property taxes based on the old assessment - or even a slightly higher assessment. Why? Because you want your insurance to pay most (if not all) of the replacement value of your home. While there may be a correlation between a recession and lower costs for home building or replacing your home, don't count on it. Do your research and know how much your home would cost to replace. Make sure you have appropriate insurance, especially during a recession, unless you were really looking to move into an apartment at a lower rental price than your mortgage payment, don't care a whit about home equity, etc.

Also, be prepared for your insurance company to contest your homeowners' insurance if your property taxes drop. If something happens to your "insured" home, see if they'll pay for past replacement value or the new, lower replacement value. After all, if you can't sell your home for its insured value, how much is it really worth? By the way, median Indiana home prices in our area were $220,000 in 2003 and are an alarming $160,000 now and yet our home is appraised for far more than that. Hmmmm....something seems a bit off, especially when I do comps (comparison of similar home sales in our area).

To get an idea of how much sale have fallen in your zip code, check out this site: city-data.com

You can find your city, get your zip code and see recent home sale and the average home price in your area as well as number of sales. You'll either smile - or wince. I winced. Wow, had the average price in home values gone down!

Meanwhile, our homeowners insurance has soared. Yes, we've shopped around. Apparently, many homeowners insurance companies have no trouble charging for insurance but they do have issues with paying for homes that have gone down in value. Unfortunately, they don't usually go back and refund the money people spent paying for premiums that were for a home that was valued (usually by the insurance company) at a high price. You may be able to get lower premiums by arguing that your home is worth less but research the current replacement cost for your home before you do that.

Depending on where you live, your property taxes could still soar in a recession.

Doesn't make much sense, does it? But as recently as April 2008, property tax increases occurred across the country. Spring Valley property taxes (in New York) went up about 10%. In other areas, there were also increases in property taxes. No wonder people are deserting their homes, suffering foreclosures or even having to give up homes because they can't pay homeowners association fees. For info on property tax increases across the country, you can check here:
finance.yahoo.com/real-estate/article/104940/Rising-Property-Taxes-Fill-Gaps,-Pinch- Homeowners

Bottom line - don't expect your property taxes to go down if there is a recession. Even the county assessor's office staff predicts that we could actually owe more rather than get a refund. I don't understand the complicated math about how property value could fall but we could owe more in taxes but I'm sure there is something I'm missing, something hidden in all that math. At this point, it simply isn't clear how many people will owe more and who will owe less in Indiana property taxes. So I'm still waiting for some information.

Just remember that anything your Municipal Government pays for - well, it usually comes from property taxes, as much as 40%, according to the Census Bureau.

As for us, we bought our house with hopes that it would increase in value over time, one reason we decided to buy a home rather than rent an apartment or home. These days, it feels more and more like we are renters and not homeowners. And the home we have? It is a depreciating asset, until we get that tax break we're told we'll get if and when we sell, assuming there will be any buyers around at that point.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Last minute tax tips for Indiana taxpayers

These and other tips may help busy Hoosiers when it comes to completing their Indiana tax returns For instance, did you know that at least 26 thousand Hoosier failed to file an income tax return for 2004 - but could still get their unclaimed refunds? At this point, at least $22 million dollars in unclaimed refunds are out there!

Last minute tax tip for Indiana Taxpayers: if you may be one of those eligible for a refund because of unclaimed funds, then file your 2004 returns no later than April 15, 2008.

Next, did you know about the Economic Stimulus Payment? You may have heard of it but did you know you had to have a valid Social Security number, $3000 of qualifying income and a 2007 federal tax return? If you want to know more, go to www.irs.gov for more details. Find out if you qualify.

Did you know that free tax help may be available to Indiana taxpayers preparing basic tax returns? Free help - that is absolutely correct.

Libraries, senor centers and even college campuses are being used as temporary tax centers for those needing tax help. To find one, call the IRS at (800) 906-9887.

Beware of the tax scams out there!
Yes, savvy phishers, tax rebate scam artists and other are just waiting to grab that money you may have coming. Find out about them at the IRS government website listed above.

Consider taking advantage of Free File, an option for Indiana taxpayers (and others) who earn $54,000 or less to e-file tax returns. We used this option for one member of our family this year. Last year, 57% of returns were e-filed.

Another last minute tax tip for Indiana taxpayers:

If you have a low income, see if you qualify for eligibility for an Earned Income Tax Credit.

Surprisingly, around 20 to 25 percent of those who qualify do not claim it and could be losing as much as $4716 in money they could receive.

(source: IRS media relations specialist for Indiana and Kentucky)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tips for Beginning Gardeners aka STEP AWAY FROM THE TRUMPET VINE, IVY and MINT (can you hear me now?)

Along with the joys of owning our first home came the thrill of having our first yard, complete with space for more than grass. We could actually grow plants, something we'd never been able to do in the low rent apartment with a postage stamp sized deck (yes, they DO make one person decks with barely enough room to turn around, standing up) that we had before.

I was so happy to have a garden that I eagerly searched for everything I could find about garden ideas as well as garden design. I pored through garden catalogs , too. All the descriptions were so enticing and so I bought tons of plants, including some that were utter mistakes.

They weren't mistakes because they barely grew or just puttered along, putting out a tentative leaf now and then.

No, they were mistakes because they not only grew like wildfire but they threatened to take over the entire exterior of our home, every tree we had and maybe even level our home to the ground. Perhaps you'd like to avoid that type of beginning gardening experience? I thought so.

Here are my own Gardening Tips for Beginners: learned the hard way:
look beyond the lure and plant descriptions of those garden catalogs and seed packets

Look beyond the enticing descriptions in those seed catalogs.

I sure wish I had. Instead, I picked up many garden catalogs which made plants sound quite so appealing and easy to grow that I couldn't resist buying them. If you want to see how appealing garden plants can look in their descriptions or need some ideas, check out White Flower Farms catalog. You can see it at www.whiteflowerfarms.com

I've bought many plants from them and all have thrived. I recommend their shade garden plants. All have been winners.

Unfortunately, here is one plant I did not buy from them but I DID buy them: Trumpet Vines.

Trumpet vines are known to attract hummingbirds (and bees, but that is another issue). They have a lovely red or orange-red color and they certainly do look appealing while climbing up the side of a deck, cleverly attaching themselves to the wood. How easy! What smart, resilient plants!

However, I wish I'd looked at other sites first and paid attention to this word "Invasive" , a word which is often tied to Trumpet Vines. Which brings me to the next point for beginning gardeners.

Another Gardening Tip for Beginners? Pay heed to the word, "invasive", if and when you see it anywhere in a plant's description.

You will save yourself much time, trouble and possibly even bad language (aka cursing) if you think carefully about the full implications of invasive plants. You might also heed the words of people at Gardening forums.

Our experience with invasive plants: Trumpet Vine

I ordered three of these plants from a company I've thankfully blanked out of my memory, due to post-traumatic stress. We then planted then along the outside wall of a bare wooden deck, hoping it would soon be covered with glorious flowers. Those plants grew like crazy and for awhile we were actually happy about that.

Within a few years, however, we noticed something odd....the boards on our deck walls were getting gaps in them and the vines were pushing them apart! We were also tripping over vines that were coming up from the deck floor, almost like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, seeming to double or triple in size overnight!

No problem, we thought. We'd just pull out the vines. They pulled off the wooden deck walls pretty easily, too, although they also pulled the stain and some of wood chips off the wall boards, as well as one complete board - and then we got down to the plant roots. Pulling out those roots was like trying to turn hardened cement back into a liquid again.

We used a shovel to dig through the dirt and even broke two drill bits trying to get every bit of the roots. We bought weed killer and used that. We called in experts. We spent a fair amount of money, time and even a few grumbling moments (okay, hours) trying to prove that these plants would not defeat us. Every year, it would appear that those Trumpet Vine were gone, gone, gone. Next year? They'd be back and with thicker vines and a renewed growth surge.

To be fair, we did not wedge ourselves or our miniature dachshund through the tiny opening to our deck and or dig out the roots under the deck. I believe that was our error. But our dachshund wasn't an eager volunteer, anyway.

Then we built a new deck and made sure the builders would guarantee that no Trumpet Vines would live to survive that experience. They still missed one. I guess even expert deck builders have issues with invasive plants.

Lesson learned: know the pros and cons of invasive plants. Check out gardening forums - or other sources of plant information - you find online and you will see that some people curse this plant. Others praise its power to take over everything, glad to have it help hold up their rundown home, spare them the trouble of slapping paint on exterior walls or have a sunny corner of their yard covered with a plant that is low maintenance and pretty hard to kill, even if you run over it with a lawnmower (yes , we tried this, too).

When it comes to Ivy, know the pros and cons of ivy as well as the differences between Boston Ivy and English Ivy.

Ah,ivy. Where to start? Last year, we spent a good part of one day - and then another - pulling ivy plants off one huge cottonwood tree as well as a good part of our house. We had to buy an extra large ladder to get to the top of our home. Briefly, we considered climbing on the roof and trying to reach them from that angle but we decided that was a job for nimble mountain goats, not humans who have our genes.

Besides, a neighbor had fallen off a roof with a far less steeper pitch than ours and spent time in the hospital. Since our roof is almost vertical in spots, we decided to try the ladder approach. We got out all that ivy, as well as several old bird nests. Along the way, we uncovered spiders, bees, wasps and some poison ivy. Our hair was covered in debris, enough to nearly clog our shower drain. Nearly.

Lesson learned: Ivy is a beautiful plant. It can also be invasive. You can get the facts about ivy at many sites online. Read the info carefully.


If you decide to get rid of any plants on your home or in the ground, wear old clothes, be prepared to shampoo your hair two or three times to get out all the stuff and don't do this on a sunny, humid day - like we did.

How to grow ivy safely: Be aware of the pros (lovely foliage covering wooden walls) and cons (can damage wood and take over trees). Consider placing a potted container of ivy in the ground for the summer and bring it in your home as a house plant over the winter, if you can't leave it outside year round. Even when grown as a container plant, it can become invasive if grown in the ground, container or not. However, odds of this are low if you do this for only a summer or two. My husband didn't believe this but we did grow one ivy plant, far from the tree where he'd just removed ivy.

I took it out at the end of the summer and said, "See? It didn't get anywhere near the tree."

Garden Tips for Beginners: watch out for mint plants!

Herb gardening is one of the simplest forms of growing plants. I love to do this because I have fresh basil, parsley and unusual varieties of basil and lettuce for our salads and to jazz up boring recipes, our usual standbys that could do with a change or two - like fresh herbs. We like mint, too, especially in lemonade or to create a homemade mint sauce for lamb. However, mint plants a reputation for being (gulp)....invasive. Do they ever!

This is not just my opinion. Check out the Chicago Botanic Garden website and find this info about mint: www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/q_and_a/M.html
Information there is the same as what we discovered: mint has underground runners and so it can be hard to get rid of this plant. Make sure you want the plant in an area of your garden before planting it there.

Then be prepared for it to stay there, year after year, unless it is a variety that dies out in your zone at some point. Many varieties live through the winter, based on our experience or maybe we just have them too close to our home.

Lesson learning and growing tips: we've had luck sinking a pipe or pot in the ground and growing mint that way, pulling it out at the end of the summer. The pot or pipe seems to curtail the spread of the mint. Optionally, you could grow mint in limited quantities in pot on your deck or deck planters.

Good luck, have fun gardening!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Zipskinny Give you Extra Info on Your Neighbors and Neighborhood

With the words "get the skinny on that zip" under the name Zipskinny, this site certainly can be a useful tool for people living in a neighborhood, real estate agents, buyers, sellers - or people who are curious about how a particular area is doing, even from afar. You can check on the demographics of people living in the same zip code or someone living across the country.

To see the site go to zipskinny.com, located at www.zipskinny.com/

What information does Zipskinny provide for homeowners or prospective home buyers or sellers?

I checked a couple of zip codes just to see what I could discover. In one area, not too far from us, I learned plenty about the people living there. General information, granted, but enough to come to some conclusions.

Zipskinny notes how many people have lived in their homes for 5 years or more

This was good to see. A whopping 50% had lived in their homes for five years or more. We're among those 50 percent. People tend to stay put in this area or move to homes in the same zip code. I think that 50 percent figure is actually a bit low when you consider that most people are staying in the same zip code area.

Zipskinny provides information about Social Indicators

You can quickly learn if homeowners or renters in your area have an educational achievement level below or above the U.S. average. In our area, I learned that approximately 50% of the people had at least a bachelor's degree. This was interesting because income levels were significantly higher than one might expect. I wondered how important that college degree actually was! Gee, maybe we've been shelling out money to get our kids a college degree when they could have done fine (economically) without one. Of course, there are plenty of reasons to go to college besides the degree, so I won't make too strong a case about that area.

Zipskinny provides information about Marital Status: Because this information is based on census data, it can be a bit misleading because it takes into account anyone who is 15 years old - or older. We have plenty of
people who are teens in our zip code so I wasn't surprised to see that a whopping 30% of the residents had never married. I was pleasantly surprised to see that over 50% were married, leaving the minority to be divorced or separated or widowed.

Zipskinny provides information about household income:

The site gets to be pretty interesting at this point. Most people had an income below $200,000 (this may sound low to some but in our area of the country, that income would go a long way! ) . There was a wide variance of incomes, with the median being around 47,000, a figure which actually goes a long way in our area.

Remember, this is a median income and most people do pretty well, buy nice clothes and eat out regularly in our area of town. Anyway, you can compare your own area and see if you get any surprises. I did expect to see higher incomes, considering the fact that homes that are 3000 -6000 square feet are not a rarity in our zip code but the facts were there, apparently, on Zipskinny. Unemployment was extremely low.

Zipskinny provides info about people's occupations

Again, no surprises when I checked the site. Most people were in professional, white-collar occupations with the other primarily in sales and service professions. Plenty of doctors live in the area.

Zipskinny provides information about ages of people living in a zip code area

Median age for males in our area: 33 years old. Median age for females? 35 year old, proving that women tend to live longer than men - or that a lot of older women are married to younger men since we have a high marriage rate in our area....or I could simply be interpreting the data wrong. Very few people were over 80. I guess they decided to move somewhere without winters. We call them "snowbirds".

Zipskinny provides information about race, but it is pretty vague for our zip code

The percentages fell far short of 100% so I'm guessing that many people didn't volunteer their racial identity or that the census takers took a wild guess. There was a wide variation of races listed. The vast majority were of one racial group.

Zipskinny provides some surprising information:

I'm not really sure why they included info about latitude and longitude but it is there, for any zip code you choose.

Zipskinny allows you to compare your zip code to others in your state.
I guess you can see if your friend lives in a neighborhood with less married people or if the majority of homeowners in various areas are employed or in a certain income range.

Finally, Zipskinny has an optional chart that allows you to compare your zip code to the entire United States and see where you stand in terms of education, marital status, income, occupation, racial diversity and age. You can compare your zip code to the normal range for your state, too.

Zipskinny is one tool you can use when buying or selling a home:
I don't know about you but I'd like to know if people tend to move frequently or if the vast majority are unemployed or struggling. You can often get the same information by driving through a neighborhood but what if you are doing a preliminary search from a distance? Perhaps you'd like to find neighborhoods that have lots of young kids, good schools nearby (yes, the site give school info) or find areas that meet other criteria. Zipskinny can help with that.

St Patrick's Day Events in Indianapolis

When it comes to St. Patrick's Day, it seem like everyone wants to get in on the fun, whether they are of Irish heritage or not - and that is just fine. The fun spirit of the day seem to know no bounds when it comes to including friends, family and others. If you'd like to enjoy the day with your family, try stopping by Indianapolis.

Here's what you'll find to do with the family in Indianapolis - come St. Patrick's Day:

If you are a morning person, you'll be happy to discover that the festivities start bright and early at 6:30 am. You can join the Mayor of Indianapolis for the "greening of the Canal". Yes, the waters will literally turn green (on purpose). Not only that, but there will be plenty of live entertainment, free food and lots of prizes. This is one that shouldn't be missed, truly one that the whole family can enjoy on St. Patrick's Day. You'll even get to meet the Irish Citizen of the Year in Indianapolis!

Location for this event:
the corner of Ohio and West Streets in Indianapolis. The run starts and stops at Monument Circle, right in the heart of Indianapolis
431 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204

After that, be sure and take part in the Shamrock Run and Walk
If you are worried about this one being too strenuous for the family, you don't have to be stressed about that. This is one St. Patrick's Day event which is geared to whatever level of exercise you want. Bring the family along as you stroll through the course or go all out with a major run. The pace is up to you.

Obtain registration forms and details here:
Killyberg's Irish Shop
Nora Plaza
1300 E. 86th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46240
Phone: (317) 846-9449

Highlights of the run include:
A trip to Irish Square and home of the first Irish settlers in Indianapolis, back in the 1850's. Participants will also have a chance to walk or run through some historic districts in Indianapolis. Imagine spending St Patrick's Day running or jogging or simply sauntering past Pioneer Fountain. It will be dyed green for the day.

There is an actual "St Patrick Street' which will be one landmark along the Shamrock Run and Walk. The Indianapolis Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, the historic St. Patrick's Church and many of the most historic areas in Indianapolis will also be seen. Not one to miss! If you want to be dressed just for the occasion, consider buying special long or short sleeve Shamrock Run and Walk shirts with a special log at Killyberg's Irish Shop (info above).

After the run, enjoy a party at the Columbia Club. Featured entertainment is live Irish music with the group Second Fiddle. The group will be playing throughout the day since participants of the run should be straggling in at various times. Race participants will be given prizes for the winners of both the run and walk parts of the race.

Location:
The Columbia Club
121 Monument Circle
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone (317) 767-1361

If running isn't your thing, don't miss the annual St Patrick's Day Parade. This is sponsored by Cathedral High School and will also take place downtown. There will be a tent party. Also included? Food, music and live entertainment.

Every year, the IndianapolisChildren's Museum has special activities for St. Patrick's Day. This year is sure to be no exception and the dining area generally has green foods of some sort, from cupcakes to specially dyed drinks. While the final calendar for the day is yet to be firmed up, we've never visited the museum that day without finding special St. Patrick's Day activities, history and food. So be sure and visit one of the top Children's Museums in the country, perfect for families.

Location:
Indianapolis Children's Museum or Children's Museum of Indianapolis (either name is fine)
3000 N. Meridian St
Indianapolis, In 46208
Phone (317) 334-3322

Call ahead for a list of special activities for the day.