Archive for the ‘Rock Pile’ Category

Do You Own Your Home?

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Do you have a copy of the original questionaire you filled out for each of the credit cards available for easy review?

(If not, shame on you!!! Get one! Now! In the meantime, check out one of the online offers or a recent snail mail spam you received.)

Do you see where it says, Do you Rent or Own your home?

Here’s one of the tricks that got us, collectively, in trouble during the housing boom and bust.

If you have a mortgage, you do not own your home. The bank does.

The amount of equity you have built up in your home is a percentage of ownership. Until that mortgage is paid off, in full, you only own a percentage of your home. The bank holds the deed and title to the property until then.

See, by asking you an either-or question, the lender (in this case, a credit card company) is tricking you into thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a mortgage, that means I own my home!” It’s a crock.

It is very simple: If you have a mortgage, you do NOT own your home. Any offer of credit based on you owning your home is therefore a trap… UNTIL you really do own your home.

(Yes, I know that revolving debt – like credit cards – can’t normally cost you your home if you default. However, home ownership makes you a good risk, in the credit card company’s eyes, for consumer credit. Regular, on-time, mortgage payments also make you a good risk – though not as good as home ownership – for consumer credit. It seems that the credit card companies forgot this difference, along with a significant portion of U.S. citizens.)

Now, consider the recent credit, mortgage, financial crisis. Credit was given to many people (including me) on the basis that having a mortgage = owning a home. If you own your home, you have an asset of real value. If you have a mortgage, you have a debt.

Here is one instance where Pookah was definitely smarter than I am.

Pookah thought she had a home once. Pookah lost her home. Pookah survived, but fully understands that Pookah depends on her human for comfy-nest and Pookahfood. A small tasty bird would also be nice. Pookah will now purr and entertain human with cat antics.

This is my train of thought (again, overly simplified):

1. Treat a mortgage as home ownership.

2. Offer people credit based on false home ownership.

3. Encourage people to use the credit, which they do.

4. People now have a moderate credit card bill every month IN ADDITION to a moderate mortgage bill. At this point, everything’s okay until…

5. A mistake happens – late on a payment – or life intervenes with an expensive medical or car problem; OR the continuous encouragement to buy on credit turns that moderate credit card bill into a High credit card bill.

6. People default on their payments.

7. The effect cascades as soon as enough defaults start racking up.

8. When enough people have defaulted, the credit card company’s gross income shrinks to the point where they can’t generate enough profit to pay *their* bills.

9. The credit card company can’t get any loans because the same thing is happening to other financial institutions.

10. The credit card company defaults on its loans.

11. All heck breaks loose.

Here is a case where an ounce or two of prevention are worth several metric tonnes of cure.

  • Any credit card offer that doesn’t ask about your mortgage is a trap. Don’t step in any more traps.
  • If you are already in debt, think twice – no, three times – before getting a new credit card. Borrowing more money will NOT get you out of debt.
  • If you are in debt, the only sort of credit card you should even consider is a 0% balance transfer card with a maximum 3% transfer fee. If the offer does not meet these minimums, shred it.
  • If you have any authorized users on your credit cards, cut them off. Seriously. You’ll have enough problems dealing with your own mistakes without having someone else’s mistakes bite your tail. If your kids are authorized users, it’s time to cut the financial umbilical cord. If your S.O., best friend, or business partner are authorized users, it’s time for them to be responsible for themselves. This does NOT mean that you cut your S.O. off. It does mean that you MUST contain the damage before it gets worse.

Going Green

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’m not going to talk about whether global warming is caused by humans or not, because it doesn’t matter.

Fact: The activity of any living organism changes the environment around it.

Pookah certainly thinks this is true.

Now, unless someone can come along and conclusively prove that human activity does NOT change the environment, we have a clear-cut responsibility, as caretakers of our environment, to minimize our impact on our environment. This follows the principle of do no harm. (By the way, if someone does come along and conclusively prove that human activity does not change the environment, I will laugh at them, point them back to high school basic science principles, and cordially request that they check out the gas vent pipes on top of their rock pile. Evidence either supports a theory or doesn’t.)

Are you listening to me? I’m purring. See? You should pet me.

Ethic: As intelligent beings, we are responsible for our actions and the consequences, direct or indirect, of those actions.
Ethic: As intelligent, responsible beings, we must do no harm to our environment wherever possible.
Ethic: Where harm is unavoidable, we must do the least harm possible. When harm is done, we must bend every effort to minimize or repair the effects of that harm.

Sigh. I have lost my human’s attention in favor of philsoph… philosph… head-churn-wordy-stuff.

These ethics have a very firm background: I don’t want our descendants growing up living on mountains of toxic waste. The easiest way to avoid toxic waste is NOT cleaning it up – that’s a reaction to a problem. Preventing a problem is (usually) much less expensive in the long run.

So, in our pile of rocks, we have A Plan.

Pookah will run and hide now. Human is getting power tools out.

1. Weatherstripping.

2. Air Sealing.

3. Insulation.

4. Conservation.

Here are some things we’ve done:

Those plastic containers of Welch’s Grape Juice Concentrate? Filled them with cheap marbles from the dollar store, added water, voila! Instant water brick. Dropped it into a safe portion of our toilet’s reservoir tank, and watched our monthly water bill drop by $3-$5/month. Level of effort: Very Low. Time: about 10 minutes.

Remember those plastic containers of Welch’s Grape Juice Concentrate? They also make great pen/pencil/small paintbrush holders. I had to use a nail file to smooth out the edges.

Showers have a 10-minute limit. Level of effort: Reminding young child to finish up.

Our one working showerhead was replaced with a more water-efficient model. Estimated savings, $1-$2/month. Level of effort: Low. Time: 15 minutes.

While we’re running water, waiting for it to warm up, we capture it in a bucket. This water is then used for washing the bathroom, or dumped into the clothes washer. The gain on this one isn’t much, but it does reduce our water consumption. No estimate on savings. Level of effort: Low. Time: 30-45 minutes/week.

Very important note for other cats: It is NOT a good idea to jump up on open bucket of water to use as launching platform to a higher elevation. The results are VERY unpleasant. Humans should know better.

I’ll post more details about what we’ve done going forward.

Installing A New Kitchen Faucet

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Things to keep in mind:

  • Pipe thread tape is a must, no matter what the instructions say.
  • Flexible tubing is great. The instructions suck.
  • The instructions lie.


$42 faucet
$13 tubing (flexible, flood-safe)
$20 basin wrench (useable on other projects)
$2 pipe thread tape
$5 plumber’s putty
$82 Total

Other tools:

  • Flashlights
  • Eye protection
  • 2 adjustable wrenches
  • Channel lock/Robogrip pliers
  • Masking tape
  • 8 bath towels – 2 to keep from soaking the exposed wood under the sink, 4 to cushion your back, 2 as spares
  • 1 bucket
  • 2 medium containers to catch water

Time: 1.5 hours
Skill Level: Low
Physical Requirements: Ability to contort one’s upper body to fit through under sink designed by a sadist and still get leverage on brass/copper/plastic fittings. Caution and the ability to apply steady pressure at awkward angles is a must.
Injuries: Bruises on head from falling metal parts or collision with hard immovable objects; skinned knuckles due to tight quarters.

Important Notes:

  1. Take Your Time! If you break the shutoff valves or pipes, you’re in trouble.
  2. Eye Protection Is A Must! You’re going to be on your back, looking up. Parts will break, slip, or otherwise fall on you. Don’t be the one to tell us what the corner of a brass ring nut impacting your eyeball feels like.
  3. Know where the main water shutoff valve is – just in case.
  4. Shut off the hot water at the water heater. There’s nothing like 1st or 2nd degree burns to really make your day shine.
  5. Use the extra towels as padding.
  6. Wrap a strip of masking tape around each jaw of your pliers – it’ll help keep you from scarring the crome and creating a point for corrosion to start.
  7. A pair of work gloves may be helpful. My hands are too large to have the work gloves on and still function in tight quarters.

Estimated Cost of Having a Plumber Do It (prices quoted from several in the area):
$42 faucet
$75 for the time/service
$13 for the tubing

I chose a weekday evening (Tuesday) to do it on so that, if I broke anything beyond my ability to fix, I could call a professional.

Verified at the state government permit site that I wouldn’t need a permit.

Updated the House Manual.

Related Web Sites:
Ask The Builder
Natural Handyman
Reader’s Digest – Replacing a Kitchen Faucet
Lowe’s – How To Repair a Faucet
About.Com – How To Install A Kitchen Faucet

Make A Safe Location

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

This is different from a Safe Room.

A Safe Location is a secure and safe location for important documents. Your Safe Location can be a safety deposit box at a bank, a safe (bolted to the rock pile infrastructure, of course) in your rock pile or a trusted friend’s/family member’s rock pile, or a jar buried in the back yard.

Your Safe Location needs to meet certain minimum criteria:

  1. Accessable within 72-96 hours (3-4 days).
  2. Secure from fire and flood.
  3. Locked.
  4. Immobile without significant effort.
  5. Hidden from the casual two-legged rat.
  6. Big enough to store legal-size envelopes in without folding.

You want to put sensitive documents in your Safe Location. Sensitive documents include, but are not limited to, financial information, tax information, rock pile purchase information, copy of your current will, and the like. DO NOT put items of even remotely questionable legal status in your Safe Location. The reason for that last warning is very simple: The authorities *will* find your Safe Location, even if it is carefully hidden in your pile of rocks.

While I’m on that subject, you might as well go ahead and understand right now that, if it is in your rock pile, A Motivated Two-Legged Rat Will Also Find Your Safe Location. Given enough time and determination, the bad guys WILL find it. The idea is to make it take as much time as possible, and make as much NOISE as possible to get it. Time and noise are a two-legged rat’s two worst enemies. Make them work for you.

Also understand the following principles:

  1. The easier it is to get to your Safe Location, the less safe it is.
  2. The more people who know you have a Safe Location, the less safe it is.
  3. The more people who know where your Safe Location is, the less safe it is.
  4. The more people who have a key/know the combination to your Safe Location, the less safe it is.
  5. Your Safe Location is only slightly more safe than the pile of rocks it is in.

Ideally, you will need access to your Safe Location, at most, once a month. This can make it a hard habit to get into.

Here’s a set of links that may help you pick a Safe Location, as well as other advice on how to make your pile of rocks less attractive to two-legged rats:

If you have a computer, you have both an advantage, and a potential disadvantage. Securing a computer is beyond the scope of this article – and any specific advice that I give would probably be invalid within 9 months. Some of the aforementioned links can help with securing your computer in a general sense. But here are some ways to use a computer to your advantage when it comes to your Safe Location:

  1. The biggest problems with storing documents is that they are big, flammable, and not very water resistant. If you have a scanner and a CD or DVD burner in your computer, you can scan in your sensitive documents, burn them to CD or DVD (and make a backup copy). A CD or DVD is a LOT easier to store (smaller size) and they don’t care about water. (That takes care of 2 of the 3 problems right there!) However, I do not know what the legal requirements in relation to CD/DVD storage are – talk to a lawyer for that. The main thing here is that even if the original documents are stolen, you’ve got this backup copy to help you recover or replace the originals.
  2. Taxes. There are loads of free and commercial software available to help you with your taxes, including filing them with appropriate state and federal governments.
  3. Other official documents. Lots of government branches and corporations are putting their important forms, documents, and information in digital format (images, PDF, and others). A computer can make accessing, reviewing, and keeping track of your important documents faster, easier, and cheaper (those envelopes and stamps can add up).

The above is only a small sampling of the options and advantages that a computer can give you. There are disadvantages. Let me start with the biggest one:


And put that backup in a Safe Location!!

Computers break easy and are relatively easy to steal. A backup of your data helps with both of those — If your computer breaks, the data inside it may very well be unrecoverable. But if you have trained yourself to take backups, you can recover from the breakage. If a two-legged rat wanders off with your computer, a backup can help you recover from that theft.

Pookahs like computers, too. They generate warm spots. They also keep humans’ laps, still so that Pookahs can take nice, purring naps.

Make A House Manual

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

When the S.O. and I bought our pile of rocks, we found (and are still finding) lots of little and big gotchas. These are things that the home inspector (and we) missed. Things that were not done quite right.

It would have been great if the previous owners had left a list of things they’d done to, or noticed about, the rock pile. We’d have saved a lot of trouble.

A list would also have helped *them* keep track of issues in their rock pile – such as improvements or energy savings that could have tax-writeoff benefits. The long-term project tracking is really nice, also.

So, what do you put in a House Manual?

  • Emergency Contact Information – home owners’ association (HOA), fire department, police/sherrif, plumber, electricity supplier, electrician, city/county water
  • Emergency House Information – location and pictures of the main power switch, location of the main water shutoff, location of the septic/sewer pipes
  • Copies of report from the rock pile instpector
  • Copies of all permits for work requiring such
  • Copies of all rock pile feature additions (HVAC, exhaust fans, etc.)
  • Copies of warranty cards for appliances (water heater, stove, etc.) and repairs
  • Copies of receipts for all of the above, along with the contact information for the company/person who did the repairs.
  • Log of rock pile/primordial scrub changes (Decided to put compost pile *here* and why, plans for hedge, putting vegetable garden *here* and why)
  • Copies of the HOA agreements
  • Copies of neighborhood covenants
  • Pictures of original features that were upgraded.
  • Pictures of upgraded areas, including receipts, warranties, etc.
  • Contact information for the tax assessor’s office, along with date of last assessment and the amount. (Make sure you remove/redact any social security numbers, account numbers, or similar identity theft information.)
  • Copies of your home insurance agreement and contact information for same. (Make sure you remove/redact any social security numbers, account numbers, or similar identity theft information.)

Where do you keep the House Manual?
Keep it next to a phone, with your phone books. You don’t want to spend time looking for it.

If you have a scanner, scan the pages in and keep them on your computer – you can quickly reference them when you’re searching online for information.

Also keep a copy in your Safe Location – fireproof safe, safety deposit box, trusted friend/family member.

How often do you update the House Manual?

Whenever something changes in the rock pile or primordial scrub. If nothing changes, go through it monthly (when you pay your mortgage, cable, phone, or other monthly bills) and check to see if anything needs updated or changed.

How often do you use the House Manual?
Quite often during the year. Water heater breaks – pick up the House Manual. Electricity goes out during storm – pick up the House Manual. Want to do a little landscaping – pick up the House Manual and make sure you aren’t planting a tree too close to buried pipes, and that its allowed in any contracts you have. Two-legged rats move into your neighborhood and start vandalizing your stuff – pick up the House Manual and request that the local law enforcement send a two-legged rat-catcher.

Level of effort: Low, spread out over time. Can easily be merged into general record keeping.

Cost: $7, less if you have a spare binder lying around. Cost includes binder, folders, and sheet protectors. Hole punch not included.