Category Archives: Quality of Life

Rip Off Alert: Abe’s of Maine

Everything was going so well. I found a great TV that I was really excited about and I put together what I thought was an impressive deal. I bragged to a couple of my close friends about it and as far as I knew at the time my amazing TV was mere days away from my possession. Then I got a call from the seller, Abe’s of Maine. There was an issue with my order. 

My first thought was that they had sold out and that I wouldn’t be getting it in time for Christmas. A bummer, but the Bride and I could live with that, we’re adults. Perhaps they would knock some more of the price to compensate me? I was wrong and I had been wrong about a lot of things as I was about to find out. 

I called Abe’s of Maine and a rep immediately got on the phone with me. ME TVHe told me that there was an issue with my order. I had selected a TV with the Chinese made AU panel and did I want to upgrade to the TH01 Samsung made panel. He informed me that the Samsung panel, it’s a Samsung TV, is a better proposition. Now I work in TV, I know a lot about the industry and I had no idea what this guy was talking about. Still I said that I wanted the better Samsung panel. He told me it would be $200 more. 

Now right now alarm bells are going off in my head. Unfortunately I was at work and I didn’t have time to fully assess the situation. I agreed and he thanked me, he even offered to speed up my shipping and throw in white glove delivery. I got off the phone and immediately felt a growing sense of betrayal. It lingered in the back of my mind all day. 

The next morning I contacted Samsung and spoke with one of their reps. He confirmed what I suspected, the salesman was lying. He was either trying to juice up the price of the TV or he was selling non-US market models of that television. The Samsung rep asked me for the model number and when I did he told me that it was a US model TV and the panel was made by them, their was no cheaper Chinese panel. That was all I needed to hear. 

As luck would have it my credit card denied the charge, Abe’s e-mailed me asking me to contact them so the order could process. I jumped right in and told them I knew about their lie and I wanted nothing to do with them. I called my credit card company and told them not to accept any charges from “Abe’s of Maine”. To make sure they understood I sent Abe’s a second e-mail telling them not to charge my card, that I would block the charge of they did, and if they tried to deliver it I would refuse the TV and send it back. 

A trip over to Yelp confirmed my experience. Over 80 reviews and almost all of them bad and most of them sharing the same experience. A cheap price is offered, the buyer accept it and then a phone call asking to raise the price, if the buyer refuses they get an opened box item or a damaged item or some other defect. These guys are real slime, money grubbing criminals. 

But I thought you said you bought from them before? I had, several years ago. I don’t know if I was lucky them or if the site changed owners. I suspect it did as Abe’s of Maine is now located in New Jersey. Please heed my warning and stay away from these losers. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. 

I had to relearn that lesson the hard way, but I came out relatively unscathed. I apologize to you for steering you towards what I thought was a good deal. I will continue to look for another TV deal from a factory authorized Samsung dealer and share it with you when I find it. I will chalk this up as a reminder to always double check your deals. 

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My Garden Adventure – SugarBaby Watermelons

My garden is nearly complete, I am following my corn review with one for my watermelons. I planted my “sugar baby” watermelons back in mid June and harvested them in mid September. Here is what I found:

Yield: I grew about 12 melons, but only 5 of them were edible. Garden1The other 7 melons never reached full size. Some of this could be attributed to me planting them late, another factor might be the plants being planted too close to a fence that shaded them for a few hours each day. The main factor I believe was my failure to prune the plants. I should have cut back the amount of melons to allow the remaining ones the energy to grow. I would rather have 7 great big watermelons that I can enjoy rather then 4 that are good, one that was okay, and 5 that I can’t eat.

Taste: The four that I harvested first were delicious. They were so juicy and tasted fantastic.

Problems: This was probably the most problem free of all of my crops. It spread well and grew strong. It never got sick and the bugs seemed to leave it alone. It really was a treat.

Things I Would Change: Although I consider this a fairly successful crop and I think a few changes next time will go a long way. I plan to move it over one bed so it can get direct sunlight for most of the day. I will research pruning techniques to increase the size and yield of the melons. Finally I will try to fertilize the watermelons more with an organic fertilizer.

Conclusion: I give this crop a B+ based solely on yield. I will certainly plant it again next year and as I learn more about gardening techniques I hope to be able to improve on this years results. 

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My Gardening Adventure – Halfway Update

Most of the vegetables in my garden take about 90 days to reach full maturity. The tomatoes move a little quicker, the pumpkins take about a month longer. Those two aside I crossed the halfway market for my garden some time around last week. I updated you on its status two weeks ago, but the growth since them is amazing. 

From 10 days out, to a month, and finally to today.  GardenAs you can see the growth has been explosive. Other than a few minor problems, my garden has been growing like gangbusters.  Here is where each group stands:

Howden Pumpkins: Wow! That is what everyone who comes by for a second look says. These guys have left the raised bed and are traveling across my lawn. I would say the vines grow about 3-4 inches ever day. They are robust and strong, in the day they open these big yellow flowers that attract a lot of bees. Sometime I will look down into a flower and see three or four bugs just going to town. The influx of bees has really helped the other plants in the garden so the pumpkins have proven to be a real positive for my garden. 

Problems: A few days ago I notice some white fungus on some of the leaves. I read that this is fairly common after a few rainy or shady days, which we’ve had. I bought some neem oil as a cure. I will try it out on one or two leaves and see how well it works, if it is successful I will use it on the rest of the plant. 

Cucumbers: The Bride’s cucumbers live under constant threat of pumpkins. I put up fencing to protect them, but the vines are growing stronger and thicker. I am doing my best to save them. As for the plants themselves, not much to report. They are a little bigger and now have some yellow flowers. 

Golden Bantam Sweet Corn: My plants are standing about 5 feet tall, they are strong and healthy. Some of the ears have started to develop, this is the part of the plant that will turn into the actual corn. I had originally read that one plant usually produced 1-2 ear of corn per plant. I later read that it is possible to get up to 4 ears on one plant. A few of mine have developed 3 ears. It still too early to tell, but its a good sign. My initial hope was to get 10-15 cobs of corn from my corn garden. Now it seems like 25-30 might be possible. 

This week I also learned about suckers. These are corn stalk off shoots that sap away nutrients from the main plant. My initial thought was that more plants meant more corn. A youtube video form a veteran farmer showed me other wise. Two days ago I took my shears and cut off all of the suckers. It felt like I was cutting down perfectly good plants and it pained me too do so, but I know it was for the best. No suckers means more corn. 

Tomatoes - They have really broken out, they are about 3 feet tall, flowers and little tomatoes are popping up all over. I’ve had some trouble with bugs, so I will have to watch out for that. 

Sugar Baby Watermelons - These guys are the come from behind champs of my garden. They have been growing and growing. Garden1Their vines are much thinner than the pumpkin vines so they are easier to move. I have counted 7 baby watermelons and I suspect that more may be on the way. I will consider 10-15 watermelons to be a huge success. 

Looking forward my biggest concern is squirrels and rabbits. I haven’t had any problems, but I fear that once they key into my garden they might find it very inviting. I just bought some eco repellent and will be applying into around my property. All in all I am very cautious but happy with my garden project.

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My Gardening Adventure – 10 Days In

True patience is one of the traits that a good gardener must posses. I’d like to think I am patient, but when it comes to my “crops” I come up a little short. I planted them, the next day I watered and looked, then the next, nothing. By day four of this I had begun to think that I had failed as a farmer. Now I know that from everything I have read, none of my plants will emerge till at least day seven, but I just couldn’t shake my fears.

Then it happened! Corn! cornThat first set of corn leaves broke through my organic soil. The next day three more sets joined the first and some pumpkin leaves followed. Here I sit a week and a half later and I have started to see some success.

Of the 16 corn plantings, 11 have sprouted. For a healthy crop of corn, the saying goes, knee high by the forth of july. I am pretty confident that I can hit that mark or a least get pretty close to it.

All three of my pumpkin plantings have come up and they are very robust. Pumpkins grow on vines and these guys look like they are going to spread fast. With my limited amout of space it going to be a real challenge trying to wrangle them.

My “SugarBaby Watermelons” gave me a scare, they sprouted a few days after everything else. 10 DaysIt looks like both sets of plants are coming up, but neither looks strong. I don’t know if this is normal or if the plants just aren’t doing well.

Everyone said that starting tomatoes from seeds was very difficult, they were right because none of mine came up and neither did my strawberries. Its very disappointing, but fortunately for me my neighbor Bill gave us some of his fledgling tomato plants from his green house as a house warming gift. I will transfer them over tomorrow and the Bride has already claimed the empty strawberry section for her cucumber seedlings. We are making the most out of our set backs and we are pushing on.

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Moving Tips – Learn From My Mistakes

When I moved home from college everything I owned fit into my small SUV. boxesNow I have graduated up to a medium sized U-Haul, a large SUV, and a few cars. I have moved five times in the last fourteen years and for some reason I keep having to learn the same lessons over and over again. For those of you who might be moving soon and would like to learn from my mistakes here are some potentially valuable tips. 

  • If you don’t need it throw it away. Now that we have moved the Bride and I are realizing just how much stuff we don’t need. We have garbage bags full of stuff that we are either throwing out or donating. Nothing wrong with that except for one glaring fact. We moved it. We put all of that stuff in boxes, loaded them into a truck and carried it into our house. We could have saved ourselves a lot of effort if we got rid of that stuff before we moved. 
  • Many hands make light work. I figured I would need two other guys to move my stuff. I thought that because that’s how many guys it takes to move a couch. Looking back I wish I had ten other people. Even if they couldn’t carry the real heavy stuff they all could have taken a box, made three trips, and most of the moving would have been done. The more people you have to help you move the smaller amount each has to do, the less everyone involved will mind. 
  • Pack right. Like everything the more planning you put into the event the better off you will be when it get underway. The bride and I ran out of boxes so we carried a few things loose and put the rest into garbage bags. It added a lot of extra time to the move and slowed down our unpacking. 
  • If you have a full house get movers. Unless you have a huge group of strong friends you might want to consider professional movers. A small group can handle a two bedroom apartment, anything bigger might be best left to the pros. 
  • Consider a Pod. Pods are mobile storage containers that get dropped off at your house. You fill it with your items and it gets shipped to your new address. This is a type of half measure between moving yourself and hiring movers. 
  • Paint First. If you are going to paint your new place it is way easier to do when its empty. I realize that moving is a chaotic transition, but if you can it is advisable to paint before you move. 
  • Relax. Moving is stressful, it ranks right up their next to divorce and a death in the family. Some of your things may get damaged, you will get very tired, all you can do is take breaks, stay hydrated, and push on.

So there you are, a few ideas and reminders to help you get through the rigors of moving. I hope they help. 

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Renting verse Buying, the Great Debate.

I am two days away from owning a house. Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.46.59 AMNow to some this is a loaded statement. I have friends who would argue that I don’t own my house, the bank does. I have a few angry uncles who would tell you that you never own your house. Even afters its paid the mortgage off, you will have to pay taxes for the rest of time. Many life long renters believe this and hold these examples up as the reason why home ownership is not worth the hassle. Home owners tout the appreciation in value and the building of equity that home ownership provides.  Here are the main Pro’s and Con’s of each scenario:

Home Ownership:

Pros:

  • Control over your living space
  • Appreciation in the Home’s value
  • Size

Cons:

  • Taxes
  • Maintenance and repairs

Renting:

Pros:

  • Mobility, you can move very easily.
  • Cost, it’s usually cheaper
  • Repairs are the landlords responsibility. 

Cons:

  • Cost of living increases, rent hikes.
  • No equity. 

Obviously as someone who is about to buy a house you can see where I fall in the argument. I have rented and it was fine, but every month when I mailed that rent check I knew it was money out the window. I realize that there are million of people who bought homes in 2005-2007 who are under water and trapped. We live in a complex world and its hard to know what the right decision is. 

Every case is unique, many factors are involved.  To help you weigh your options I have found this calculator from the New York Times. It incorporates many variables in an effort to give your the clearest picture. In the end it calculates the cost of rental against that of home ownership. It provides you with the monthly rent amount for a comparable home in your area. If you can find a place to rent for that price then owning is probably your best move. 

I entered all of my data into this calculator and it told me that I would have to find a smilier sized house for $1500 a month rent. Where I live, this close to NYC, that is not possible. As far as this program is concerned I made the right choice.

Give it a try and see what numbers come back, you may be surprised. 

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Lessons From the Greatest Generation

As a TV news cameraman I get to meet a lot of different people. I encounter so many in a given month that it’s hard to remember them all, but every so often I meet someone who makes a lasting impact. Last Sunday I met a man that made me reevaluate certain aspects of my life.

Last sunday morning my station got a call from the daughter a WW2 veteran that was turning 95 that day. She had gotten a proclamation from their county executive and was going to present it to him in front of his entire extended family. Normally we don’t have the time or resources to cover stories like this, but as luck would have it my producer didn’t have anything else so my reporter and I went.

On the drive to this man my reporter and I expressed our main concern. This man is 95 and we have to talk to him. I’ve interviewed people in there 100’s and it can be a challenge. Almost every person over 100 that I have met was deaf. I don’t know what it is about human ears, but they tend to quit on you as you approach the century mark. Trying to talk to a deaf person is very frustrating particularly if they aren’t exactly all there. We arrived at the house with our fingers crossed.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 11.14.17 AMOnce we entered all of our concerns were erased. This man was pleasant, engaged, and he could hear pretty well. He answered all of our questions and his replies were very interesting. As I listened I could see that this man was happy and fulfilled. He had learned and lived some very simple rules that allowed him to be successful. Form his answers here is what I have deduced. 

  • Marry the right person. When we asked him about his family he began to tear up and replied “I married and angel, I couldn’t have done any better.” I realize that finding love isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle. You control who you allow into your life. This man, even after 60+ years of marriage still genuinely loved his wife. After the interview she took me aside to make sure that I was going to edit it so he would look good. She was looking out for him, she knew everyone would see it and she wanted to make sure he wasn’t embarrassed. That’s love. 
  • Work for a company that impresses you. This man worked for Pfizer, the worlds largest pharmaceutical company. He said that when I first got there he looked around at what they were doing and he was excited to be a part of it. He knew this was a good company with a bright future and he worked there until he retired. There have been times in my life when I worked for TV stations or production companies that I knew were mismanaged or performing poorly and I stayed because the money was good or because I didn’t want to switch jobs. You know what happened? The stations laid me off or closed. Now I work at a station that make a great product and is owned by a sound company and I am better off.
  • Be the decider in your life. One of the common themes of the interview was that this man made choices. When World War 2 started he enlisted, he didn’t wait to be drafted. He found a company he liked, he applied. When he came to Long Island he fell in love with the place and moved here. I believe that this also contributed to his happiness. He enjoyed his life because he choose it. How many of us work jobs we hate with long commutes, never spending time with our friends and family. It’s your life, you have to control your destiny. 
  • Invest. After only one week of working at Pfizer this man asked if he could buy stock. They told him that only executives could do so. He suggested that they change the policy arguing that employees who own stock will work harder. A week later they agreed and let him buy shares in the company. I have no idea how much he bought, but I suspect that he earned a vast sum of money as the value of those shares climbed decade after decade. Is he an extreme example? Perhaps, but he saw a valuable opportunity and he took it. This investment allowed him to elevate his standard of living and provide for his family.

In the end I got a rare opportunity to hear the story of a wonderful person. I enjoyed meeting him and his family and I will try an incorporate his life lessons into my own decisions. It impacted me so much that I decided to share them with you. I hope they help you in your own journey. 

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Five Things to Consider Before Buying a House

The Bride and I have been looking for a house for the better part of a year. house 2We first started a few months before our wedding, bad idea. The stresses of these two events should not be combined. We took a break form house hunting, got an apartment with a short term lease and started looking again last month. We are close to closing a deal, for the second time. Here are some words of wisdom from someone who has been in the trenches.

  1. Get pre-approved before you begin house hunting. Paperwork is a hassle and looking at a new house is pretty fun. The trouble comes when you find your dream house and want to put in an offer. The seller will want a pre-approval letter to show that you are serious. If you don’t already have one you will have to scramble and that might take a few days. During that time, another buyer can step in and scoop up your house. Even worse you could go to get the approval and realize that the house is out of your price range. Not only is that embarrassing, but it may also turn your realtor off to you. No one wants to waste time with a buyer that can’t get a mortgage.
  2. Don’t buy or lease a car! Loans are counted against your income. That 400 a month car loans will mean a smaller mortgage payment and a cheaper house. My realtor told me about one buyer who got a lease before closing and it cost him the house. That lease payment was the difference between him getting the mortgage and failing to qualify. Wait until after you buy the house to get a new ride.
  3. Your overtime might not count. Mortgage financing requirements changed at the beginning of this year. In an effort to prevent another housing collapse the government is trying to make sure that you can really afford that home. As a result overtime and income from second jobs is more heavily scrutinized.
  4. That new job doesn’t count. My wife got a new job about 5 moths ago. It pays much much more than her old job. Thanks again to the new mortgage requirements we were told we can’t get full credit for the income from that job. I was told that they take an average from the last two years of unemployment and that is used as your income. This is frustrating, but it could be a big obstacle for anyone who has been out of work in the last two years. This would also include a stay at home parent who leaves their job to care for their family.
  5. Your monthly payment will always be more than you expect. Mortgage calculators are great, I’ve used them dozens of times to gauge what I could afford. It’s the responsible thing to go, but the home buying equation has a lot of variables. Taxes, fees, insurance, on and on it goes. When all is said and done my monthly fee will be about 15% higher then I estimated using the calculator. 

So there you are a few pearls of wisdom to help you along your journey. As we get closer to closing I will probably have more to say about this. Stay tuned. 

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How I Stayed in a Luxury Hotel Suite for 100 Bucks

Last May I went on my Honeymoon. My wife and I stayed in luxury accommodations that would normally be out of our reach financially. To make it affordable for us I used credit card rewards to cut the cost of the trip in half. We began in Paris at the Hyatt Paris Vendome, a wonderful  five star hotel. From there we traveled to Venice and stayed in another luxury hotel that was once a nobleman’s palace. After that we ended our trip in Rome, staying in two hotels, the first was a four star place that I wasn’t crazy about.

The second place was probably our favorite of the trip. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri, we were only there for one night, but we loved every minute of it. A room at this location normally cost around $1000 a night. I knocked this down to $100 by using our Hilton Honors reward points. hilton cardHilton owns the “Waldorf Astoria” chain. I had earned 40,000 reward points when I signed up for the Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature card. All you have to do is enroll, if you are approved and spend 1000 in the first four months of membership you are rewarded the points.

Now for a thousand dollars a night you would expect the bar to be pretty high. Depending on where you stay, you could get a three or four night stay at a more moderately priced hotel. I can honestly say that staying at the Rome Cavalieri was everything you would expect it to be. Continue reading

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Simplify Your Life With Dashlane

“I know a guy…”. Whenever anyone begins a conversation or answers a question with that phrase they instantly have my full attention. Past experience has taught me that what follows that phrase is usually either good advice, some quality information, or an amazing story. In this case it will be some useful info.

I know a guy at the TV station I work at, he is our equipment manager. As his title suggest he is responsible for testing and buying almost all of the field equipment that we use. This guy doesn’t just see it all, he gets to see stuff that you can’t even buy yet. As you can imagine this guy is very hard to impress. In fact he has this annoying habit of shooting down things that I find interesting.

As you can imagine if something catches this guy’s eye then it probably deserves your attention. A month or so ago he was going on and on about this program called Dashlane.” “Have you ever heard of Dashlane?” “You have to try Dashlane”. On and on, for a few days in a row he kept mentioning it.  I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I was curious. 

dashlaneAs he would go on to tell me, in great detail, several times, Dashlane is a FREE password management program. It serves as safe secure place to keep all of your various website passwords. 

Over time I have amassed quite a large amount of passwords, many of them with different and unique requirements. Some sites want your password to have numbers and letters, others want you to have at least 8 characters in your password, while others still want at least one capital letter in your password. 

The whole thing is maddening. I often find myself having to reset me password via e-mail and go through the whole process that comes with doing so. Dashlane eliminates these headaches. It saves all of your passwords and in one click in links to the site and autofills your user name and password. Remembering all of your passwords can now be reduced to recalling a single password, the one you use to log into Dashlane with. 

I recently gave the program a try and it worked perfectly. I loaded me credit card password in Dashlane and with one click I was signed in and ready to go. Not only can this program store my password and autofill it into all of the websites that I visit, it can also generate complex highly secure password, further increasing you online security. Having unique complex passwords for each of the sites that you use will help prevent anyone from cracking your passwords and tampering with your accounts.

The reviews for Dashlane are superb, PCMag.com gave is 4.5 out of 5 stars and many sites and publications list it as their number one password managing program. The best part about it is that it is FREE. They offer a premium version, but the FREE program is so robust that I don’t see the need to upgrade. 

I have already loaded a bunch of my passwords into Dashlane. As time goes on I will add more and more and save myself the time and headaches associated with managing all of that information. Eventually I will have all of my passwords and login info in one safe secure place. If you struggle with managing all of your passwords and wants and easy FREE way to simplify your life, check out Dashlane. 

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