It's the time of the twinkly lights again... a beautiful time worth driving slowly through town and savoring the wonderful illuminations from house to house. But especially the lights in some town centers which are turned into a veritable fairyland this season.
Many thanks to my town's merchants and stores, as well as the town's workers who string up the millions of twinkly lights for us to enjoy again this year. When the Lord said,"Let there be light." I like to think he did have the beauty of the night in mind.
Just think back a hundred years or so ago, when the only thing to be seen on a black moonless night was a candle in a distant window or a dim hearth fire. It's easy to understand why a Christmas tree with lighted candles was such a big event, because for some short moments there WAS light. Gas lights and whale oil helped a bit, but before Edison's electric the nights were dark.
The Winter Solstice (December 21) is the shortest day of the year. It gets dark a little after 4 o'clock. And dreary, especially when the sky is grey and colorless. Will the spring goddess of the harvest ever come again?
Most religions, particularly pagan ones, feared she might not. So they organized hopeful holidays and lit candles to conquer the long darkness. Customs and tales were created to comfort us .
We all know Christmas and Chanukah, but there are many others not so well known. One is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which lasts 4 or 5 days, and celebrates good over evil. So many people light candles that their light is actually visible from space. It looks like a map of India.
In Lyon, France they have a Fete de Lumieres on December 8th, and every window must have a light. It seems that in 1643, the townsfolk promised the Fete as a tribute to Mary if they were spared from the plague. They've turned it into a nice tourist festival these days. The idea has been copied by many cities and towns, who also have Festivals of Light for visitors.
In your own town, drive around and look at all the yards of creative homeowners. Enjoy the eternal icicles (which can not savor the warm kiss of the morning sun), the round cheerful Santas illuminated from within, jolly reindeer who never seem to fly very high, billions of tiny lights , and ethereal angels who guard our door.
As you drive through be surrounded by all those magical twinkly lights that will protect you from the winter solstice. The winter night garden has become a cheerful thing of beauty that staves off the goblins of darkness.
You may not know it, but your cable provider has a stranglehold on what you're watching. And they're using some nefarious means to keep you on their hook. Their methods are at the heart of the "net neutrality" war that just saw a small victory for the consumer side.
US Senator Jay Rockefeller recently introduced legislation that will encourage the growth of inline video platforms and limit the practices of "anti-competitive" behavior by the cable companies. It's called the "Consumer Choice in Online Video Act." Keep an eye on it.
Here are a couple things the bill would do:
1. Bar cable, satellite broadband and large media companies from engaging in anti-competitive practices against online distributors. Basically, the big media companies could no longer force networks to sign contracts that prevent them from distributing their content to other video platforms.
2. Limit the ability of broadband providers to degrade online video service. Are you a Comcast internet subscriber who likes to stream movies through Netflix? Guess what: there's a good chance Comcast is purposefully degrading the stream, since you are choosing to watch content via Netflix and not Comcast cable. The bill would aim to limit this practice.
Expect some push back by the rather robust cable lobby on this one.
Swedish designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi took a page out of NASA's book and created a high-tech water recycling system that claims to save up to $1300/year in energy bills.
The system is called OrbSys Shower and it works similarly to the way showers in space work. The water that falls into the shower drain is immediately purified to drinking water standard and then pumped back out through the showerhead. Since the water is already heated, very little energy must be used to get it back up to temperature.
It's a one-two punch for household savings.
According to Mahdjoubi's interview with CNN Tech, there's a 90% savings in water and an 80% savings in energy with every shower taken. For an average home, that can work out to around $1351 in yearly savings.
Keyless entry may not be futuristic, but the next generation of systems is taking convenience to another level.
Meet August, a newcomer on the scene. Designed by the same genius who brought us the Bluetooth-connected Jawbone systems, August is a wireless, keyless locking system for your door that opens through your cellphone. The locking mechanism itself is battery operated, so if your power or wireless go down, the August is still up and running.
With the August in place and the App running on your smartphone, the system can "sense" your presence and will auto-unlock. You can create temporary or permanent access for friends, family and visitors by simply extending them an invitation using the App -- the duration of their access is entirely up to you. So whether you have a contractor coming for the day or an in-law for the weekend, you can grant access over the phone and not have to worry about being there to open the door.
August will also log all events and send push notifications to your phone in real time so you can keep track of the comings and goings of those you've given access to.
Maybe best of all, August allows you to use a traditional key to unlock the mechanism, too -- just for those who want that added peace of mind.
August will go on sale later this year and will retail for $199.
We can't all afford to stage our homes, so for those of us who have to make do prior to open house day, Charter Homes put together this helpful checklist chock full of valuable advice.
A few of the tastier tips include:
Use Natural Light. Bright homes look bigger and more welcoming. Open the curtains and drapes and let the sun in. (As an add-on tip, consider scheduling the open house during hours when the sun is going to hit it just right.)
Make Yourself Scarce. Prospective buyers want to imagine themselves living in the home, not see you currently living in it. Schedule yourself to be elsewhere during the open house and stick to it. FYI this goes for everyone else in your family, too!
Odorize. Or de-odorize, if the home needs it. Smells can be powerful memory triggers, and god forbid your home triggers some trauma in your guests! Okay, that may be a bit alarmist, but you do want your home to smell pleasant. But go easy on the air fresheners and sprays -- it may seem like you're trying hard to cover something up.
Head on over to CharterHomes.com for the full list, and don't be afraid to share some of your tips below!
Are you looking for the most bang for your home improvement buck? Then you'll be interested in this recent infographic by Nationwide Insurance, which details the top 10 home improvement for getting a return on your investment.
The infographic breaks down the ROI of your classic home improvement jobs, like a kitchen or bath renovation, as well as some not-so-classic investments, such as landscaping or flooring.
So where can you get the most bang for your buck? Click the link above to find out.
It may be a wildly overused phrase, but "tipping point" applies to the Buying vs. Renting comparison, particularly as mortgage rates start to rise. And according to a finding published recently in Trulia, we're still a little ways away (nationally) from reaching that point, which is to say, it is still cheaper to buy than it is to rent.
That's the short answer, at any rate. The long answer is that while the national tipping point is somewhere around 10.5%, each local market has its own marker, influenced by the cost of renting in that location and the nature of the real estate market. In San Jose, for example, it becomes cheaper to rent than to buy when the mortgage rate rises above 5.2%. But with current rates around 4%, it is safe to say that nationally it is still cheaper to buy than to rent
Trulia's Rent vs. Buy analysis takes identical sets of properties and factors in maintenance, insurance, taxes, closing costs, down payment and sales proceeds on a 30 year fixed rate loan. It also assumes that the properties would be lived in for 7 years, with mortgage interest and property tax payments deducted.