Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Carruth Studio Bird Feeder

Stone carving is a dying art. What was once done by a skill artisan who honed his/her craft over decades of apprenticeship is fading from history. Stone cutters are hard to find and most new construction projects avoid their services  viewing them as too slow or too expensive. Any one who visits a cathedral or palace knows the powerful impact that such artisans can make. To take a slab of rock and transform it into a piece of artwork is an awe inspiring feat. 

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I came across the “Carruth Studio” website. To find a working sculptor creating pieces that were not only beautiful but affordable was a real treat. George Carruth is a sculpture who runs a studio in Waterville Ohio. He offers an impressive assortment of products that can be placed in your home or garden.

One of his sculptures that caught my eyes is this bird feeder. Not Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.53.14 AMonly is it a beautiful sculpture but it also has a functional role as well. This attractive bird feeder will entice song bird to visit your yard or garden. It is made of hand cast stone and surprisingly comes in a variety of colors. It is an accent piece for your garden that you can own for years and years. 

It sells for $46, is about 7 inches high and about 8 inch wide. A study attractive American made sculpture created by an artisan. Please vista the “Carruth Studio” website and take a loo at their beautiful catalogue of offerings. 

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Real Sliding Hardware

Presently, I am a television news cameraman. I like being one, but there are many other things I would like to be. I am working towards some, other are just dreams. One of them is architect. The ability to create a home for someone has both my respect and awe. I still hold out the hope that one day I will design my own house or at the very least remodel a house that I bought, but the architect boat has sailed. I am fine with it, but I still like to look. I read a few home design blogs and I make note of any idea or concept that catches my eye. 

One of theses ideas is the sliding barn door. Regular doors are boring, barn doorI want something with character. I want something that will make people take notice. It is a nice touch that adds a little pop to your room. Like this sliding barn door featured in the picture. The builder could have utilized a boring traditional door, or perhaps a set of french doors. Instead they tried something new and I love it. 

To create a look like this you are going to need two things, a door, and sliding hardware. Such hardware is made in America by none other then “Real Sliding Hardware” out of the great state of Washington. They offer a nice variety of hardware as well as barn doors. 

As always quality cost, the sliding door hardware sells for around 400 bucks and the doors can climb up to 1000. Keep in mind that these are solid wood hand made doors and percision machined hardware. You buy it today and it will still be workings long after you or I have shuffled off that mortal coil. 

You could always buy the hardware and hook it up to a vintage door that you find at an antique shop or a garage sale. That might create a very unique and interesting look. The possibilities are endless but they start with some American made hardware. 

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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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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – SchoolHouse Electric and Supply Company

How many companies in the world make lamps? You don’t know? Yeah, me neither, but I’m going to say a lot. A crowded business is a tricky one. This is especially true for an American company since we all know the Chinese can do it cheaper. In a case like that you have to go the other way.

You have to make something unique. A lamp that will catch the eye and make you guests ask: “Where did you get that?” I think “Schoolhouse electric and Supply Company” has done just that. They are building products that are very interesting. Their lamps have character, they add something special to the room. A special touch that catches the eye. 

lampTake this “Orbit Chandelier” for example. The vintage looking red wires travel down from the ceiling into fixtures that look like giant incandescent light bulbs. I don’t know about you but I really like it. Depending on your selected decor this could be a very attractive accent piece for you living room or office. Kind of a mad scientist vibe. 

If that isn’t your bag, they have hundreds of other offerings. I am sure that if you look around their site you will find something that fits your sensibilities. The best part is when someone asks you where you got it, you can say that it was made in America. 

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Tracking My Prosperity

Five months ago I made the decision to invest in peer to peer lending. With many investors achieving returns of over 9% such an investment seemed like a good opportunity. To put things in perspective my savings accounts offers me about a third of one percent interest. Prosper is offering me nearly 30 times that amount and as a result investing two thousand dollars with them would yield the same amount of interest as if I had invested $60,000 into my savings account.

The trade off is risk, theses are personal loans, to people. People are not always reliable, they can default and leave you holding the bag. My credit union isn’t going to go out of business and even if it did my funds are backed my the government. Very little risk.

To their credit, Prospers vetting has been very good. ProsperI current have money invested in 22 loans and none of them have fallen behind even once. I have $900 dollars invest do far, about 20% of the way to my goal and things seem to be moving very well. Prosper offers and automating investing option, but I have chosen to select the loans myself.

I feel that it’s important to comb through the loans offerings and select ones that I believe will offer the best value. Here are some of the things I look for:

  • No past delinquencies. My thinking is that if you haven’t been late with a bill in the last 7 years it stands to reason that you will pay me on time. 
  • A steady job. Teachers and cops tend to have long consistent careers. I look at the applicants job and ask myself, “Will this person be okay if the recession worsens?”
  • Three years, not five. I prefer the shorter terms, if you can see the end of something you are more likely to finish it. With the five year loans I am concerned about the borrower getting sloppy in the final year. This might be especially true if they have gone into debt with other obligations. 

I will also try to mix in “B” “C” and “E” rated loans to chase yield. As the pie chart indicated the majority of my loans are “AA” and “A”, but they offer lower returns. My one “E” rated loan is paying me over 28%, a few months in and everything seems to be going well. If it doesn’t default it will pay me as much as five “AA” loans when its all said and done.

So as I enter my six month of investment in personal loans I can say that I am very pleased. I hope that by years end I will have between $1600 to $2000 invested. I will update you on my progress in future posts.   

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Amador Flower Farm

Spring isn’t here yet, but I assure you it is coming. We may have to endure one or two more polar vortexes, but sooner or later the snow will leave, the birds will return and the flowers will bloom. I can hardly wait and I think that this spring deserves a little something extra. How about some unique and colorful flowers? Take your garden to the next level and add some flash to your landscaping. 

Perhaps one of the hundreds of available offering from the Amador Flower Farm in California? AlexandraAs I was looking around their site this flower called “Alexandra” caught my eye. The bright billowing amber petals are quite beautiful. One of these plants will set you back 5 bucks. Of course you probably won’t buy just one, but with the right planning and placement you could create a really beautiful garden to accent your home for a relativity small amount of money. 

The names of these flowers are almost as unique and beautiful as the flowers themselves. You can buy some “Cowboys Don’t Cry” or “Paint the Town Red” or some “Lady Wu”. The variation of their flowers is almost limitless with new blooms coming on line every year. 

You can finds flowers to fit almost every temperature extreme, so thier is a good chance that you can find a flower to fit your climate.  Amador Flower Farm’s customer service seems very knowledgeable and should be able to answer most questions. 

Spring is coming, let’s welcome it with some beautiful American grow flowers.

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The “PiggyBankBuilder Investment Portfolio” – So Far

Nearly two months of 2014 have past and our investment exercise is moving right along. upFor those of you who might not be familiar, I am conducting an exercise to demonstrate the wealth building potential of stock investment. I have taken 5000 fictitious dollars and bought various fake shares in four real companies. Here are the results of that decision:

  • Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH) – Purchase Price – $47.98, number of shares 26. Current Price: $47.87, a loss of $2.86
  • Cablevision (CVC) – Purchase price – $17.96, number of shares 68. Current Price: $16.41, a loss of $105.40
  • Microsoft (MSFT) – Purchase price $37.47, number of 33. Current Price: $37.75, a gain of $9.24
  • iShares Silver Trust (SLV) – Purchase Price $18.92, number of shares 66. Current Price: $21.00, a gain of $137.28

So two months in and I am up $38.26.  Not too shabby, especially when you consider how choppy the market has been recently. I still think oil prices will rise going into the summer(OIH). With Time Warner and Comcast merging I think Cablevision is a great buyout candidate and should help its stock. Even though I was wrong about Microsofts CEO I like their selection and see blue sky a head for them. And with all the conflict and uncertainty in the world I could easily see silver rise back up to 30-40 dollars and ounce. So far, I give this experiment an A. 

*Please not that I am not and investment advisor.Please consult your investment advisors before making any financial decisions that could result in loss.

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The PiggyBankBuilder Wednesday Giveaway- You Decide

I have decided to change things up for this contest. For the first time ever you the readers will decide on what the prize will be. Giftcards You have two choices a “Darden Restaurant” gift card or a “Regal Cinemas” gift card, both for $25. You make your selection by leaving a comment for your choice. Whichever gift card has the most comments will be the prize. 

Leaving a comment is just one of several ways to earn an entry. Please try to utilize all of them to maximize your odds of winning. Best of luck to all of you. 

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Beet the Snow

Last week 49 out of 50 states in America had snow on the ground somewhere with in their borders. Florida was the lone stand out. What about Hawaii? Yes, even Hawaii had snow on the peaks of its highest volcanos. Florida got snow but it melted. This is one of the harshest winters in over a century and many of us are learning the value of preparedness. You need the right tools for the job. An old cracked shovel from that dates bank to the Clinton presidency isn’t going to get it done. 

Times change and you need to have an arsenal of snow fighting instruments at your disposal. One of these weapons is ice melt. Taking a spill as you walk out your door in the morning is no kind of fun. A few scoops of ice melt spread out the night before could prevent a nasty fall the next day and all the pleasures that come with a trip to the emergency room. 

Selecting an ice melt is a little more complex then it seems. Some ice melts can burn the paws of your dogs and cats. Others are bad for the environment. I have found an organic alternative that works in extremely low temps and will not harm your pets. 

“East End Organics” offers an ice melt thaticemelt is derived from beet juice. This organic alternative to chemical based rock salts offers a green solution to the customer. It is safer for pets and vegetation and it has a lower freeze point then traditional ice melt. Their “Natural Ice Control” has a freeze point of -40 degrees F, making it effective in even the most extreme cold. They claim  that their product will reduce your application rates by 30%.

Here in New York or municipalities have begun using beet juice to pretreat our roads before a storm. The initial results have been very strong and I expect the popularity of this alternative to grow. I have personally used this product and was very happy with the results. My wife and I went through a 25 lb bag in a bout two weeks and were very impressed at how well the “Natural Ice Control” worked.  In many instances one application lasted several days. 

We love how well it worked and were happy that it was made locally here on Long Island. This winter might seem like it’s winding down, but I would’t be surprised if we had a few more storms before it was all said and done. If you have run out you should take a look at “Natural Ice Control” from East End Organics. 

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – “All American Clothing” Belt

Today I received a shipment from “All American Clothing”. Over the last few years these guys have been my go to for jeans. If you pulled open my jeans draw you would see that 90% of them are from “All American clothing”. Their clothes are very well made and can take the daily wear and tear that the life of a news cameraman doles out to them.

JeansIn todays package was two pairs of jeans, one “All American” and one “Carhartt”. I went with Carhartt because I really like my Carhartt Detroit Jacket and I wanted to switch things up a bit. Included with my American made jeans was a 1.25 inch black belt, also made by “All American Clothing”.

This belt is a welcomed addition to my wardrobe, my old belt is warped and scratched, definetly on its way out. I have tried a few times to find a replacement, but I never liked any of the selections. Most belts I found were either ugly or way too expensive. I’m not paying $95 for a sliver of leather with a buckle on it. I just can’t do it. 

Aside from being very reasonably priced ($29.95) my new “All American Clothing” belt is well made, the leather is thick and has a nice sheen. The buckle is very simple and functional. I wouldn’t wear it with a suit, but for every day use it is fine. I expect to get years of use out of it and from my first impressions would gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a sturdy American made work belt. 

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