Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Real Estate "Slump"

It seems that every time I turn on the news, or pick up a newspaper, someone is moaning about the bursting bubble in the real estate market. Just now, one of the national news shows was covering the huge declines in real estate value in areas like Miami, Phoenix, and a few cities in California. And each news story bemoans the loss of property value for the homeowner.

Why is there such surprise over this? I don’t get it. There’s the old adage “what goes up, must come down.” Home prices in some area had been climbing to ridiculous heights. I’m sure there are plenty of cases where people continued to buy real estate using all kinds of creative – and risky – financing methods, thinking they could ride the wave to wealth by selling it a short time later. And now, some of those people are crying the blues. Some complain that a house they bought for $300,00 that the bubble raised the value to $450,000 is now “down” to $350,000. Unless the value dropped to below the original price of the house that the owner paid, I don’t see the problem here.

I don’t feel sorry for these people. Not one bit. Those who bought homes in order to resell them quickly, or fix them and flip them at an inflated price, should accept the blame for their greed. People who were not bright enough to understand that an interest-only mortgage gave them no equity in their homes probably aren’t smart enough to own a home to begin with.

So when I hear the pleas for a government bailout, I bristle. I don’t pay my tax dollars to pay for someone else’s greed or stupidity, or for the bad choices they made.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Like Fruitcake

There, I said it. I actually LIKE fruitcake. I am usually not into overly sweet desserts, but there is something about fruitcake that doesn’t offend me. I know there are all kinds of jokes this time of year about people re-gifting fruitcakes, or using them as doorstops, but not me.

I actually eat them.

When I was in my 20s, I was a customer service rep who also supported the company’s outside sales force. One year for Christmas, one of our sales reps in New Orleans, Louisiana, send me a fruitcake from the area, I recall my husband being a little dismayed, but not me. I was thrilled. And I can’t recall the name of the company who made the fruitcake, but it was THE best fruitcake I have ever had. There is something about candied cherries that I really like, and this fruitcake had tons of them.

So while people are trying to find ways to dispose of their fruitcakes, I welcome them. And I know there are others out there who are just like me but are afraid to admit it. So if anyone finds this blog and feels the same way as I, leave a comment here so I know I’m not alone in the world!

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Time Magazine's Person of the Year is...

…a joke.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Time’s “Person of the Year” thing anymore. This year, they’ve chosen Vladimir Putin. Time’s web site explained:

“TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership—bold, earth-changing leadership. Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability—stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years. Whether he becomes more like the man for whom his grandfather prepared blinis—who himself was twice TIME's Person of the Year—or like Peter the Great, the historical figure he most admires; whether he proves to be a reformer or an autocrat who takes Russia back to an era of repression—this we will know only over the next decade. At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME's 2007 Person of the Year.”

Time says it is not an honor. If this is the case, why do they make such a big deal out of it? They put the person on the cover of the magazine. They give extensive coverage to it in the magazine itself, in addition to other media coverage. For example, they announced it on the Today Show this morning. Time wants the attention, they want the controversy, so they can sell magazines.

According to its own article, Time says “But all this has a dark side. To achieve stability, Putin and his administration have dramatically curtailed freedoms. His government has shut down TV stations and newspapers, jailed businessmen whose wealth and influence challenged the Kremlin's hold on power, defanged opposition political parties and arrested those who confront his rule.” It sounds to me that this is a dictatorship in the making, and, in the long term, dictatorships don’t work for the country or for the people.

Time may say it’s not an honor, but I suspect that President Putin is pleased with the attention. Maybe it will help Time sell one more issue of their magazine.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Monday, December 17, 2007

It Snows in December – Get Over It

Living in Northeast Ohio, winter means snow, and lots of it. Especially in the areas called “The Snow Belt”, which gets “Lake Effect” snows. This means that snowfalls can be enhanced by cold air moving over an unfrozen lake, dumping increased amounts of snow on land. This has happened probably as long as bodies of water like the Great Lakes have been in existence.

Why is it then that the local newscasters always sound like it's Armageddon when the possibility of lake effect exists? Over this past weekend, when we had a large storm cut across the Midwest, one would have thought that a category 5 hurricane was coming. The grocery stores were packed with people, all loading up like they weren’t going to get out of their houses for a week, all because the weather people told them it was going to be “bad.”

But, true to form, the weather forecasters got it wrong. Well, maybe not wrong, just exaggerated. The first leg of the storm came through – as mostly rain, not with snow as they predicted. The second leg of the storm came through and brought snow and high winds, but not the massive dumping of snow predicted.

This process will repeat itself through out the winter season. The weather forecasters will hit the panic button, screaming that the end is near, and then the weather will decide to do its own thing, many times not what the forecasters predicted. We are then forced to listen to the same old weather-related news stories about how to drive in the winter, not to shovel snow if your old, how to avoid fires from space heaters and fireplaces, etc. It's as if they think that viewers either have short memories or are incredibly stupid because they repeat the same stuff - on multiple channels - every winter.

It seems like many people in this area know to take the weather forecast with a grain of salt, that is, except the weather forecasters. We have four local news channels, with several weather forecasters, and I’ve learned to watch those that temper their forecast with calm and reason, and only sound the alarm when really dangerous conditions exist.

So for those of you living in areas that usually get snow in the winter – guess what? You’re probably going to get snow again this season. Don’t panic!

Now I’m going outside to shovel 6 inches of “ it will be partly cloudy today” off my driveway.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Macy's - Out of Touch

I thought I had gotten over any loyalty to a department store years ago, after Kauffman’s bought May Company stores and Dillard’s bought Higbee's, both in the Cleveland metropolitan area. Thankfully, Higbee's has been immortalized in the movie “A Christmas Story”; May Company sadly had no such luck. But, over the years, I got over it, and shopped frequently at our local Dillard’s and Kauffman’s stores.

Well, that is, until Macy’s took over Kauffman’s. During the transition to the Macy’s name, our local Kauffman’s store seemed to slowly have less and less varied products, and what they DID have, they had less and less inventory. The quality and the style of clothing just weren’t there. Last Christmas I may have purchased one or two things from Macy’s, but this is the first year that I bought absolutely NOTHING at a Macy’s store for Christmas gifts.

Personally, I think Macy’s has completely sanitized their product offerings, and offer little in stylish clothing for men's and women's clothing. They also are really pushing the use of their credit cards, having some sort of color-coded card system that identifies cardholders by purchasing level. It completely ignores the cash customer like me (I hate credit card interest), and also makes me feel sub-human when I do use my Macy's card. A few months ago when I did make a purchase at the Clinque counter at Macy’s, the clerk glared at me when I used cash, and asked me, “Well, you DO have a Macy’s card, don’t you?” as if I was somewhat less of a person if I didn’t. When I explained why I had one but chose not to use it, she said, “Well, you’re missing out on some discounts.” (Sorry, the discounts can’t be used on items like makeup.) The sales clerks also now sign their receipts and remind you to fill out their survey to tell Macy’s about your shopping experience. I have done so in the past, but clearly my opinions of my shopping experience fell on deaf ears.

I understand in this day and age that acquisitions and mergers happen. But, they are bound to fail if the acquiring company thinks that they know what’s best for their customers. In the case of Macy’s, they clearly have tuned out their customers and have decided to present a homogenized, uninteresting product offering for all stores. This has to be translating to lower sales.

It will take more than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to make me a regular Macy’s shopper. Until Macy’s raises quality and selection – and their inventory – it looks like I’ll be shopping elsewhere.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Shopping Mall – The New Senior Center?

I’m not one to spend a lot of time at the local shopping mall. The extent of my mall visits usually take the form of stopping in one of the anchor stores (we have Dillards', Macy’s Sears, and JCPenney), and I usually enter and exit through the department store. But, on occasion, I’ll take a walk through the mall if I just feel like browsing.

After visiting the mall yesterday to do some Christmas shopping, I’ve come to the conclusion that senior citizens have overtaken the mall.

When I took a stroll past the food court, I counted 35 seniors – mostly men – sitting in the food court outside the mall coffee shop. In addition, there were at least 25 more seniors, power walking around the mall, a pair of them almost knocking me over as I walked out of a store. None of those people appeared to be shopping, as most were dressed in sweat pants and walking shoes.

My home city has a huge senior center, but considering how many of them are hanging out at the mall, many must not use it.

Our mall has very strict rules on people under the age of 18 being there without being accompanied by an adult. The implication is that unsupervised teens are rowdy, or can cause trouble when walking the mall in groups. My observation today was that the seniors in the food court were loud and disruptive, and the mall walkers seem to be under the impression that people who are there to shop are fair game to be run over.

I can understand why those under the age of 18 have their feather’s ruffled that they have restrictions placed on them, when the adults can be observed being guilty of similar behavior. I’m not saying we need to ban seniors from the mall, but maybe they should post rules for everyone there, that cover their behavior if they are using the mall for things other than shopping. For example, if they are going there to socialize, they should not be loud, they shouldn’t overtake huge sections of the food court for their gabfests, and they shouldn’t loiter. They should also use care when using the mall to exercise so as not to inconvenience shoppers.

One thing is for sure – the next time my city asks for a tax increase for the senior center, they won’t get support from me. In fact, maybe we should move the senior center to the mall? On thing I do know: in the not so distant future, I’ll be a senior citizen, and the mall is the last place I plan to hang out.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Celebrity political endorsements

There’s been a lot in the news about Oprah Winfrey endorsing Barack Obama, and their packed-house appearance in Iowa, and one coming up in South Carolina. Barbra Streisand says she’s backing Hillary Clinton. It was recently announced that Sean Penn endorsed Dennis Kucinich. Do these kinds of endorsements mean anything to you – or should they?

They don’t for me. Just because these people have some celebrity doesn’t mean that they are any more politically savvy or knowledgeable about who is the right choice. Take the example of Sean Penn. Now really, who cares what Sean Penn thinks? Since I live in the Cleveland, Ohio area, I am very well informed about the career of Dennis Kucinich, and no endorsement would make me even remotely consider voting for him, much less Sean Penn's.

And while Oprah and Streisand are both very big names in the entertainment industry, I really have no knowledge of how politically informed they really are.

I like to think that I’m able to form my own opinions about the candidates, and my opinion is only the weak minded will be swayed by a celebrity endorsement.

For local elections, I am more swayed by endorsements of newspapers. This industry deals with political and national/world events on a daily basis, so they may have better sources on which they base their endorsement. Still, even a newspaper endorsement needs to be vetted by the voters themselves.

So for Oprah, since I don’t care for her show, she carries zero weight with me. And while I grew up on Barbra’s singing, I always felt her political leanings were too obvious to be objective. As for Sean Penn, I’ve never been impressed by his movies or his acting, so his endorsement falls on deaf ears. I don’t recall hearing any republican endorsements, but since all the republican candidates fall flat for me anyway, it wouldn’t matter if The Supreme Being endorsed any of them.

I will continue to read the papers, watch TV news, and check out the Internet to get my political knowledge. There are so many ways for voters to get information these days that everyone should take the time to research the candidates, rather than being swayed by a celebrity endorsement.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Upside-Down Christmas Trees - Why?

The first time you see one, you think it’s a joke. The second time, you start to wonder. The third, you’ve concluded that someone is trying to turn the world upside-down.

It’s the upside-down Christmas tree.

It seems like every store is selling them now. What I want to know is why would anyone want one? I can’t think of any real trees that grow this way. Some say that you can fit more presents under these new trees, but I can fit plenty under my “normal” tree. Besides, I have a hard enough time keeping my right side-up tree straight and balanced, I can’t imagine what happens to one that is top heavy to begin with.

I would rather see the old aluminum fake trees – with the colored light wheel – than an upside-down tree. Somehow even a shiny fake tree like that seems more “grounded” and normal.

I suspect that some marketing people are just finding another way to separate people from their money at Christmas time. Regardless, it’s one thing that I won’t be buying this Christmas.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I Hate Cookies

No, no, not the kind you eat. The kind that web sites try to put on your computer to track you. I have my Internet browser set to prompt me to review all cookies that a web site may try to add. After having it set this way for a few years now, I’m still surprised at the number of cookies web sites want me to accept.

Cookies are not all bad. Some will help a web site to remember your log in information or your viewing preferences so you don’t have to set them every time. But a lot will track how often you visit, which pages you visit, etc. Cookies really don’t do anything except store bits of information (like your user name, your user preferences, the pages you viewed or the items you clicked) to relay back to the web site. They don’t carry viruses or malicious programs. They sound harmless, don’t they?

My opinion is that in many cases they ARE harmless, but in some cases, your cookie can help a company track you across various web sites that you visit, and target you with ads across those sites. And if you don’t know the privacy policy of the web site you’ve just allowed to put a cookie on your computer, you don’t really know what they are doing with that information.

So for me, while having my browser’s privacy policy set to prompt me to review my cookies may initially seem annoying, it has allowed me to block cookies for companies like Double Click, who can use that information to track movements to many places on the Internet. And who knows how companies will use cookies in the future?

There are some web sites that mandate you must accept their cookie in order to use the site. If you really want to use the site or feel comfortable about them, go ahead and accept the cookie. If the web site is questionable, check it out first, or just block it.

So take the time to be informed about what companies are putting cookies on your computer. It’s worth the time