Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm a little depressed about my debt right now.

     Debt is not inherently bad, and in fact some would argue that it is a necessary evil, but most people will also admit that your debt has to have a realistic ratio to your income.  Lately I've been more worried about mine, but even more so about the debts that my kids have and where it will fall against their incomes. 

     You've probably guessed already that I'm not talking about personal debt, but about our portion of the National Debt.  I think we've done a good job of showing our kids how to live within their means, how to be frugal and to look for deals, to save money for a rainy day and to put off purchases until you can truly afford them.  If you know either of our 2 adult children, you've more than likely seen evidence of this.  I'm proud that we did this, but we have also taught
them to be patriotic and how great of a country the U.S. is, and in some respects, we may have done them a disservice on the latter point.  You see, if they choose to stay in this country, they will inherit a soul crushing National Debt and it's getting worse all the time.  See the chart on the right that illustrates what the National Debt is as a percentage of our GDP.  Would you have thought this was twice as bad now than during the Great Depression?  It's a sobering thought.  This morning, according to US Debt Clock
my portion of our National Debt is $50,015.  I say sobering thought because I must have been really drunk because I don't even remember borrowing that money, and yet I owe it.  It actually gets about 3 times worse than that, if I consider that that figure is my debt as a citizen, but not my debt as a taxpayer in the U.S.

     If I look at my debt as an income taxpayer, I owe $138, 187.   What ?  How in God's name did my debt go up almost three times in the space of one paragraph?  Because the U.S. income taxpayer is a dying breed
that I, unfortunately, am a part of.  Currently non-taxpayers outnumber us at a ratio of almost 2 to 1. There are approximately 313,000,000 people living in the US currently, and of those approximately 113,000,000 pay Federal Income tax.  I can see how little babies can't really contribute, I'd give them a year or two, but what about the rest of those guys, how come they are not paying something at least?  I'm sorry to say it, but it's the tax breaks that we hear so much about.  Both President Bush and President Obama have enacted legislation that have taken more and more people off the Federal income tax rolls.  Just a scant decade or so ago, only 27% of households were exempt from Federal Income taxes, and now it's 47%. mainly due to tax breaks.  Scared yet?  It gets even worse for my poor kids.

     You see they live in the US, but they also live in NY state and are subject to NY State tax laws too.  If we look at the State debt, their portion adds another $15,000 a piece to their debt, and that is as a citizen, not as
a taxpayer.  Figures weren't readily available for how many New Yorkers were State taxpayers, but I'm scared to know considering we have over 3 million food stamp recipients out of a total population of 19 million people.  My best guess puts my children's debt load now at $180,000 each right now.  Take a breath, it's not all bad, they will probably get great jobs since they both plan on finishing college, but wait, that actually is a whole new problem in itself. The student loan debt in the US has risen over 500% in the last decade.  See the chart on the left for an illustration.  What is really scary is that the blue line below it is for all other debt during that time, and it's not like a lot of folks were socking away money while the housing bubble burst.  My family has done a good job of keeping our college loan debt down, but I hear scary figures from folks all the time that make me shudder and no one seems to be keeping their eye on the ball. 

     This blog could go on all day talking about the money that my kids do get to keep and how much less it buys.  Need a quick lesson?  Go to a grocery store where some of the staples have doubled in price in the
last 10 years and will do so again in under 5.  $3 loaves of bread, $5 ground beef, $4 gallons of milk, all coming and coming quickly.  It will cost you more if you have to actually drive there.  With gas pricing at $4 a gallon and rising, the impact of the this on my kid's expendable income will be staggering.  I'm betting that they will stay home a lot.  A lot of factors go into these increases, but our support of ethanol rates right up there.  It's pricy, it's bad, it hurts our engines, and is not better for the environment, just more expensive.  Oh, and it makes all of our food cost more, but sure let's make more of that too.   I've only talked taxes in this blog, but I could write a whole other blog on the fees we pay now and their record increases.  The costs of obtaining and keeping a license have increased exorbitantly and that's just the first example.  I'd tell my kids to hunt for their food, but that's far from free now too and increasing more each year.  Drink to relax, and you'll pay more taxes, Smoke to relax and you'll pay even more.  I really need to stop before I stress myself out.  I'd highly recommend that each of you take a look at the debt clock that I attached earlier, but be quick, my debt went up $10 since I started to write this blog.  I'm sorry kids. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not to be an alarmist, but.....

     I set my alarm clock for 3:00 this morning, but I actually never heard it go off.  I've got a great sense of time and an internal clock that is pretty clued in, so I went years before I ever heard what my alarm sounded like.  I only have to think of the time I want to get up and I generally will wake up a few minutes prior to that time, and I
turn off the alarm before it rings, and then get up.  I do the same with wake up calls, but I'll sometimes not wake up prior to those coming.  I think it has something to do with the physical act of setting the alarm, and then my brain records it as the time I need to get up too.  I'm not sure how common a thing this is, and I'd love to hear from you all as to your morning routines.   I do try and maintain some type of schedule at home and this does help.  I'll generally go to bed around 10 and read for 15-30 minutes.  I don't have trouble falling asleep so I'm out a few minutes after I put my book down.  I'm a firm believer in the 90 minute REM cycle, so I'll try and set the alarm to approximate that.  So it's a fair statement to say that I've rarely heard my alarm, but I can't say the same about my wife's.

     Now, don't get the impression that my wife sleeps through her alarm or anything of that sort.  As a matter of fact the reason I started rising at 4:30 am was that it suited her work schedule at that time, and I kind of liked getting less sleep.  I find little value in it, and I am able to accomplish a lot more by adding a few extra
Yup, I sleep through this.
hours each week to my day.  She, on the other hand, likes her sleep, so it was a sacrifice that she made for the family to rise each morning, that early, and go right to work.  She generally got up shortly after her alarm went off, and I've never known her to hit the snooze and go back to bed.  I often wonder when the snooze button was added to alarm clocks?  When did we start having to give 2nd chances just for getting up in the am?  Her work schedule had changed now, so there isn't the need to get up so early, so we've both compromised and now get up around 5, but the funny thing is, when she sets the alarm, I never get up before I hear it go off, and actually have been known to sleep through it.  I find that so odd.  I'm a disciplined person, but somehow letting my wife set the alarm apparently relieves me of all responsibilities associated with it.  Weird huh?  When I was an active volunteer fireman in town, I'd awake when my pager went off and before the big siren in town did.  Now, however, I'm not on the active rolls and I've actually
Mmmm, Corn Pops.....
slept through the siren, and it's only 4 backyards away from me. It's probably not a whole lot different than when we had babies in the house.  If I knew I wasn't on the late night feeding duty, I'd never hear the baby crying.  A lot of ladies probably think that we do that kind of thing on purpose and just pretend to be sleeping, but speaking for me only, I don't.  I can't tell you the number of times I've gotten up in the am only to find out my wife had been up with a sick child.  "Really"?, I'll say, "4 times, you got up with him?" slurping my Corn Pops, "I never heard a thing".

     This weekend I went to Buffalo NY with my Scout Troop and slept on the USS Little Rock with about 17 others crammed into a small berth. As you can imagine we had the constant squeaks from the metal frames, some snoring from a few adults, whispers between the Scouts and of course, I slept through it all.  We had reveille at 06:00 and while they were wiping the sleep tears from their eyes, I decided to go down and volunteer to serve in the chow line.  If you are not a happy
The Little Rock, I highly recommend an overnight encampment
morning person, we should probably never rent a vacation house together.  I normally snap awake and start some activity pretty soon afterwards, and yes, I've been known to even whistle while doing it.  I wonder how many people reading this blog early Tuesday morning with their first cup of coffee, just groaned "Oh God !".  That's me, bringing people back to religion since 2010, you're welcome. I'm got to start to finish now and head to the airport (Well why did you think I was up at 3?, I'm not a nut you know).  It's a short flight but maybe I'll catch a cap nap during it, cuz I can sleep on planes too. Just a few weeks ago, I awoke mid-drool on a flight, I was that sound asleep (I wonder when I'll lose that ability, to awake before the drool hits my shirt?).  I'll be back in a few days, but don't bother setting an alarm, I've got that covered.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Travel Log - Getting to know Halifax Nova Scotia

     I get to Nova Scotia a few times a year, so I've had the pleasure of spending time in Halifax about half a dozen times or so now.  That's probably enough to give you an idea of what the place is like and of a few places you should go if you ever get there.

     If you fly into Halifax and have to go through an airport the first thing you are going to notice are the smiles. Our TSA manual must come with instructions on scowling and grunting, but Canadian Security doesn't feel that surliness has to go hand in hand with airport security.  It makes a big difference and people are nicer about having to have their privacy limited, if approached with a smile.  Pay attention next time you are in an airport in the U.S.  and think about how much smoother it would go, if only security acted civilly towards the flyers.  You'll notice if for sure when you go through a Canadian airport.When I make this trip I generally drive over the border and fly in country, to avoid the customs hold up at the end.  I like WestJet better than Air Canada, but they both have good service records.  The drive from the airport takes about a half hour, so the town is pretty convenient to the airport.

     If you are going to stay over, I'd recommend getting a hotel by the harbor (Canadians would spell this
The Five Fisherman
harbour).  The hotels down there tend to be higher end, like full service Marriott's and Westin's, but it's worth it for the proximity to everything.  Find the best deal you can but be prepared to spend about $200 per night.  If you stay down there most of the hot spots are walkable then.  I know my favorite restaurant is, it's called the Five Fisherman.  They have great fresh seafood, a varied menu and an unlimited mussel bar where you can enjoy fresh mussels with butter, garlic butter, marinara, or roasted red pepper sauce. I've never gone to Halifax without a stop at the Five Fisherman.  This last time they were running a menu from the original Titanic, which was pretty cool, and I learned that the building had been a funeral home 100 years ago when the Titanic sank and they helped prep the bodies for burial.  The Five Fisherman is a little pricey but I think it is worth it, I had oysters last time that were as fresh as if you dug them yourself.  They know how to cook seafood, so save up your money for a trip here. 

The Mussel bar 
     If you want a less expensive option, there are a lot of other good choices, and they are all right in the neighborhood.  The best street for these is Argyle Street which is about 2 blocks up from Upper and Lower Water Streets and runs parallel with the harbor.  There is a really unique place up there called "The Economy Shoe Shop".  The Shoe Shop is an eclectic place that is actually about 4 places in one.  The menu is simpler and be prepared for slow service, but if you want to chill for a while in a cool place, this is the spot.  It's not unusual to have celebrity sitings here, and there is always something going on.  Try a couple of the rooms out as they all have a different feel. One has cubbyholes cut into the wall and another opens up to in indoor atrium.  I always have a drink at least at this place just to see what is happening there that night.  Another happening spot is on Spring Garden Road and it's called "Your Father's Mustache" The food is decent there, and they have a rooftop bar that can be pretty fun.  I have also had drinks
The Economy Shoe Shop
and fun at the Lower Deck which is on the waterfront.  They have live music often and it's a nice spot to have a beer and relax by the water.  There probably is a bad restaurant in Halifax, but I've never found it.  You'll notice that the portions in Canada are about a third smaller than the US, which is probably why they don't have obesity issues.  Once you get used to these "right-sized" portions, you'll probably enjoy them more, but it's a little shock to get served in Canada after coming from the U.S. 

     There is a casino called Casino Nova Scotia right on the water and you can spend some time there.  There are plenty of unique shops to look through and browse.  There are parks and a Maritime museum that are all walkable from the downtown area.  I like to try the local food items and in Halifax fresh fish is king, but there is also a menu item called a Donair that is unique to the Maritimes.  It's a lot like a gyro, but it's made from beef and it is served with a sweet white sauce that I've only ever seen in Halifax.  I'm not a fan of the sauce, but try it and you may be.  The locals put the sauce on fries and other things, but I can't get over the sugar.  They carve it off the spit and then re-heat it a little and serve it on a pita, flat-bread or tortilla.  The guy that invented 
it opened up his shop and fittingly called it "The King of Donairs"  Try to get there, you might as well taste it from the original. 
My Titanic dinner, salmon, fingerling potatoes, stuffed squash
I should finish the blog now and you are probably saying, "Does this guy do anything but eat?"  Well, I really don't.  I like to check out the local culinary scenes and since I travel for work, it really doesn't leave a lot of time for sightseeing. If you go, you'll see more during the day than I ever do, but at least you know where to go now at night.  Who knows, you might even catch me out on one of my trips.  I'll buy a round if you do. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's a short one (That's what she said)

     No apologies for the length, that's not my style.  I'll just give you the best I've got this week, like always, and hope you come away satisfied... 

     It's a labor of love this blog, but as you are aware, if you are a regular reader, once I've made a commitment, I don't generally shirk from it.  I've never missed a Tuesday deadline in the almost 2 year history of this blog, and I'm not going to start now, however, this one might be shorter than the usual posts, just not a lot of time on my plate this week.  I had to start this week by traveling to Ottawa on Sunday, so that I could fly into Halifax.  I take the 4 hour drive so that I can take a direct flight and avoid customs after landing, plus it eliminates the 2 hour pre-
flight requirement for traveling internationally, well because I'm not.  I'm driving internationally and flying in country.  Unfortunately that meant I missed church on Sunday.  I don't like that. I mean, I like that they serve snacks and drinks on the plane, mid-flight, church could use that, but I don't like to miss church.   Like I said earlier, once I've made a commitment, I don't generally shirk from it, and church is both a commitment and something that I need and enjoy. Worse yet, when I went to leave I had accidentally left my lights on in the car and consequently had to leave my wife with a car with a dead battery and I took hers (Thanks Honey!).   I actually drove to Ottawa Ontario, flew to Halifax, Nova Scotia and drove to Moncton New Brunswick, so technically in a few hours I was in one US State and 3 Canadian Provinces and I missed church. Do you ever get the feeling that you are traveling, but either not going anywhere, or surely headed in the wrong direction?  Yeah, me too, but nevertheless that was Sunday the start to my week.

     I'd love to tell you about the beautiful city of Moncton, but by the time I got done traveling there, I had enough time to work out at the Hampton, and then eat at a local chain restaurant. Sometimes traveling is like that, some of the best cities look like the inside of an exercise room to me.   I saw signs for moose on the way there, but no actual ones (my two friends Daphne and Andrea just said, "Big Deal, we see them all the time").  I do know that
the city lies near the geographic center of the Maritimes in Canada so they nicknamed it "The Hub City".  Before I traveled there I had only heard of it once and that was while watching an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled "The Odyssey of Flight 33" where a plane goes back in time and Moncton is one of the airports that they try to repeatedly contact.  I've also heard the story of how they named the city after a British Colonel who took over the fort there, but due to a clerical error mis-named the city (His name was Monckton).  For future reference, if you are ever thinking of naming a city after me, it's spelled "OnGion", and I'd appreciate it if you get it right.  I worked a food show the next day there and drove the 2.5 hours back to Halifax that night.  Next time I'll spend more time there.  While at the show, I discovered that I had customers in a Province that I didn't even know on Prince Edward Island.  They finished a bridge over to there about 15 years ago, which makes it a lot easier to get products there.  They were nice folks that I met and it's no wonder that PEI is nicknamed "The Gentle Island".

     This am I am working in Halifax NS, and hope to see some more of this city. I've been here a half dozen times now and it is very pretty, although, if you've been to Northern Maine, it looks a lot like that.  The area is known for a historical event from WWI especially, and that was, it had the largest explosion in it's harbour, on the planet up until the first A-bomb was detonated.  A munitions ship ran into an aid ship in the narrow part of the harbour
The 1100 lb anchor shaft from the Mont Blanc
and the explosion that followed blew up the northern part of the town and killed 2000 residents.  An anchor shaft from the munitions ship, the Mont Blanc, was found almost 2.5 miles away from the explosion and is still there today.  It weighs over 1100 lbs.  The next day they had a blizzard and surrounding cities rushed to their aid.  The city of Boston MA helped so much, that to this day, Halifax still sends a Christmas tree to the Boston Commons each year to say thanks.  They repaid the favor on 9-11 by taking in 40 planes that had nowhere to go after we locked the country down.   Nice folks up here too. I'm not going to say anything more on this city as it's cool enough to rate it's own future blog, but that is where I'll be today.

     I'll finish this week with a simple thank you for your continued readership.  Last week's blog had 548 views, but interestingly enough not a single comment (on the blog itself).  Sometimes that function gets wonky, so I never truly know how folks feel about a particular blog or whether all the hits are accidental.    I went out Friday night in Canandaigua and was approached by 2 faithful readers (Thanks Val and Deb!), and they mentioned that week's blog and their appreciation for my efforts each week.  That answered my burning question of that week, and put a little spring in my step for the rest of the night.  Keep reading please, even if I do phone it in once in a while.