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General Interest Life Balance Technology

Pet Tech-Tastic!

Americans are crazy for their pets … and we sure have a lot of them. According to a 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, the U.S. is home to 84.6 million pet owners. That’s 68 percent of the population! Today’s pampered pets are now a central part of the family, more often than not sleeping right in mom and dad’s bedroom (if not the bed itself). No surprise, as our pets have become more “fur kids” and less outdoor pets, we’ve become increasingly concerned about their wellbeing and safety. And with the latest technology, we can keep them safer and happier then ever before.

Today, many pet owners have their pooch or cat micro-chipped. With a quick injection, a chip the size of a grain of rice is inserted under the skin. If the dog is lost, a scanner at a shelter reads the chip and helps reconnect the pup with its owner. For those who want to know their dog’s exact location if they get lost, there’s Whistle, a GPS monitor and exercise tracker in one. Owners sign up for a monthly service via a cell phone to track the device via an app. Mostly concerned about exercise? FitBark, a FitBit for dogs, will track their activity each day to see if you need to increase walk time. Both devices strap onto the collar.

Want to keep an eye on Fluffy while you’re at work? Monitors allow you to see and talk to your pup via Wi-Fi in case they are lonely. For city dwellers that want to take their pup out with them on errands, a new service called the Dog Parker allows you to leave your dog in an air-conditioned doghouse on the sidewalk, safe and secure. You can find a Dog Parker location via the app (currently only in New York City).  

For those just looking to connect with other dogs in your area, download the Bark Happy app, which maps local dogs, pet stores, and vets near you. And for the pooch that stays home alone a lot, there’s DogTV, special television programming for dogs to help them deal with boredom and stress. The company provides scientific evidence supporting the idea that dogs can benefit from the programming to help battle loneliness and separation anxiety. 

Our final doggy tech find? You can now check the DNA of your pet with a simple swab of their cheek to learn your dog’s breed and what diseases your pooch might be prone to. Now that’s something to bark about!

Categories
Entertainment General Interest Life Balance

The Magic of Music

Ever hear a song on the radio and feel your mood change almost instantly? Maybe you’re stuck in traffic and worried about being late for a big meeting. Stressful! But then a favorite tune comes on and before you know it, you’re feeling better. Ever listen to the sounds of the ocean when you’re trying to fall asleep? Setting the scene with music for whatever it is you’re doing—meditative music for yoga, upbeat music for a tough workout, or classical music for a stress-relieving soak in the tub—can be the key to helping you achieve your goal.

Music is so effective in making us feel good in everyday life, the medical community has realized the benefits and caregivers have incorporated music therapy into patient care. You can now find music being used in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospice care to help patients feel uplifted. 

And real-world applications of music therapy abound … with scientific research to back it up. First off, studies have shown that brain function actually changes when listening to music. For example, music is played for moms-to-be during labor to help decrease pain and stress. (A favorite tune is “Comfortably Numb,” by Pink Floyd!). Indeed, a 2000 study showed that listening to music during childbirth has a significant effect on the mother’s perception of pain. And unlike medications, there’s no downside to mom or baby.

Can music help us stay healthy, even during cold and flu season? Perhaps. A study at Michigan State University showed that listening to music for 15 minutes actually helped increase immunity. So next time you’re worried about catching a cold, take the time to relax with some soothing music. 

What about boosting brain power with music? Music may help improve concentration, especially beneficial for students with ADD. So if your kids need to focus on homework, put on some classical music (especially during math time). Several studies have suggested that listening to Mozart, in particular his piano sonata K448, can improve spatial skills for a short period thereafter. This phenomenon is known as “the Mozart Effect.” 

Whether scientifically proven or not, who doesn’t agree that music is beneficial in our lives? So next time you’re struggling to finish a project, fall asleep, or endure an ache or pain, tell Alexa to play something appropriate. We guarantee the tunes will at the very least put you in a better mood! 

Categories
General Interest Real Estate

Thoroughly Modern Mid-Century!

If you love the world of Don Draper and Mad Men – minus the cigarette smoke and misogyny – then you’re probably mooning over a mid-century modern aesthetic. 

The architecture and design is typically defined as the 1950s and 60s period and brings with it an unmistakable mood. The war was over, the country was in a race to the stars, and Elvis was shaking things up. Home architecture and design reflected these futuristic and fun trends with clean lines, geometric patterns, plus colors that took their cues from nature. Some key elements found in mid-century homes were large windows and sliding doors, flat planes and sharp angles, and varying elevations between rooms by utilizing small steps or partial walls.

Whether you’re lucky enough to have a home from the era and want to decorate accordingly, or you’re in love with the distinct design and hope to incorporate it into your existing 21st Century house, we’ve got you covered! The mid-century urban look has never been hotter and you’re sure to find everything from the ubiquitous Eames-style chair to a Sputnik-inspired light fixture in your favorite store or online. Here are a few tips to send you back in time:

Color – Begin with a neutral shade then make your room pop with furniture and accents in the defining hues of avocado green, burnt orange or mustard yellow. 

Patterns – Wallpaper, rugs and pillows covered in geometric designs, modern deco or those inspired by the atomic age will strike that perfect note between the past century and this one. Be as bold or subtle as your tastes run!

Furniture – How low can you go? Mid-century furniture makers went for low profile seating and tables with tapered legs and clean lines, often with an ergonomic nod to Scandinavian design.

Accents – Here’s where it’s easy to put your personal stamp on the mid-century room. Use metal, ceramic, or glass to decorate, but be careful not to clutter. Remember to include natural materials like exposed wood, succulents and plenty of natural light where possible.

Due to its ever-increasing popularity, you can find mid-20th Century furnishings in numerous home stores and amazing decorating ideas at specialty sites like Houzz.com, HGTV.com or Overstock.com. For you puritans who want a truly authentic look, get out there and hit the thrift stores and antique shops. Or perhaps a favorite aunt has your next mid-century modern treasure stashed in her basement and she doesn’t even know it! 

Categories
General Interest

Spark Joy

The new year means a new you … and a fresh take on your home. Time to organize and declutter. You know the drill! But for some of us, the ability to let go and clear our home of unnecessary objects can be, well, difficult. If you struggle to part with your possessions, consider checking out the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering and lifestyle expert.

You may have heard of Kondo’s unusual cleaning technique, called the KonMari Method: You move through your home, room by room, closet by closet, and take all of your items out (literally, you dump your stuff on the floor), and hold each possession in your hands. And here’s the key: If the item “sparks joy,” it’s a keeper. If it doesn’t spark joy, it’s time to toss it (after you thank the item for its service in your life). If this notion seems silly, all we can say is, you have to try it. Because choosing to live amidst the items you truly love is very rewarding. And after all, the millions of KonMari adherents can’t all be wrong.

Obsessed with organization since she was a small girl, Kondo has turned decluttering into a business empire. She not only has written several decluttering books, but she also offers online courses, seminars, and trains consultants who then go into homes to help people carry out the KonMari method. Of course, certain items such as computers and TVs, while they may not “spark joy,” are obviously essential to a modern home and thus do not fit into the traditional decluttering method. The book has special sections that deal with streamlining book collections (why do we keep so many?), managing endless piles of papers (Kondo says to toss them … yes, all of them!), and gifts we’ve been given by friends and family (how many of us are holding onto things we don’t love simply because a special person gave it to us?).

For those interested in giving it a try, pick up a copy of the book, head to www.konmari.com, or get the KonMari app on your smart phone. By decluttering unnecessary objects, Kondo says people are also able to see what is a priority to them in their home. The method helps bring clarity of purpose to one’s life. And what could be a better way to start off a new year?

Categories
Holidays

Blast From The Past

Holiday gift giving is fertile ground for nostalgia, especially in a world where kids no longer circle items in a catalog but simply send a URL link of their wish list. So, it’s not that surprising to see the magical, memorable toys and games of bygone days appear on those very lists. Even today’s youth, with their technology of choice seemingly soldered to their hands, find pleasure and curiosity in mom and dad’s childhood obsessions. 

You needn’t look any further than Netflix to see that vintage and retro toys are still big business. Their wildly popular documentary series “The Toys That Made Us” covers some of the most famous brands, franchises and playthings from conception into iconic toy history. 

Some toys have survived the test of time and some faded away only to roll back into our hearts like a classic Hot Wheels Camaro. Thanks to a theme park and a movie, Lego has only gotten bigger and better over the years. Barbie has had her bumps, such as divorce and anatomic impossibility, but she marches on in stilettos pursuing endless careers and licensing deals. 

Here are a few blasts from the past and perennial favorites:

GAMES

Monopoly has seen changes over the years but remains a popular way of getting out of jail for free. Twister has returned as a riotous party game for kids and adults alike. And if you dare to play The Game of Life – America’s first popular parlor game – you’ll make your way to success or bankruptcy while navigating careers, marriage, kids and you know… life!

CREATIVE TOYS

With its recognizable red frame, Etch A Sketch continues to spark creativity and imagination in all ages since its invention in 1959 – and without a USB port. Another favorite returning to the shelves is Spirograph, which combines math and art to create an endless variety of geometric designs using only plastic discs and colorful pens. 

DOLLS AND PETS

GI Joe may not have all the hot accessories Barbie does, but that hasn’t stopped grownup fans from fervently collecting the 54-year-old action figure on sites like eBay. Move forward a few decades and you’ll see a renewed buzz for Tamagotchi – the digital handheld pet of the 1990s. Cabbage Patch dolls are back up for adoption and Furby is startling parents again with unintelligible muttering.

It may be a challenge for today’s toymakers to lure 21st Century kids away from their electronic devices, but it doesn’t appear to be as difficult as solving a Rubik’s cube. And with a little help from nostalgic adults, they have a better chance. The question is, will parents love playing with the toys more than their kids? Magic 8 Ball says, “It is certain.”

Categories
Real Estate

A Master-Planned Community to Call Your Own

While the term master-planned community tends to evoke images of active seniors and golf cart traffic, the careful planning and structure of cities has been around for a millennia. Even in the United States the first such community, St. Augustine, Florida, was created in 1695. Closer to home, the city planners of 1960s Scottsdale anticipated the growth to come when they created McCormick Ranch – the Valley’s first master-planned community.

A more contemporary definition, according to BusinessDictionary.com, cites “a type of residential plan that includes an unusual number of recreational amenities such as parks, golf courses, lakes, bike paths, and jogging trails. The scope of the plan is very large scale and the number and variety of amenities clearly separates it from a normal plan for a housing subdivision.”

In fact, many such communities contain several individual subdivisions that may offer varied housing choices from multi-family properties to townhomes to large estates. Some may include age-restricted neighborhoods for 55 and older, or cater to families with extra parks and playgrounds.

In addition to recreation, many of the large communities today include their own shopping areas, neighborhood schools, healthcare resources and yes, golf courses. Planners have given great thought to the lifestyles and needs of the residents they hope to attract, be it families, singles, seniors – or all of the above. These amenities can be even more valuable when the community lies a good distance from cities and centers of commerce.

Styles of homes can vary within a community or large subdivision given the necessity of having more than one builder or developer on the project. This can give homeowners a stronger feeling of individuality, plus a more localized look and vibe to the neighborhoods.

This standard can sometimes come at a cost in the form of HOA (homeowner association) fees and CCRs (codes, covenants and restrictions), ensuring a level of quality throughout. The tradeoff , however, is usually worth it for homeowners hoping to maintain good property values.

In growing cities whose populations number in the millions, people in all demographics still seek that small town feeling. Even in the heart of Phoenix, a well-thought-out, amenity-rich, master-planned community can provide just that. 

A Few Popular Master Plans in the Valley

SOUTHEAST: Power Ranch, Ocotillo and Sun Lakes.

SOUTHWEST: Verrado, Estrella and Mountain Park Ranch.

NORTHWEST: Sun City West, Anthem and Desert Ridge.

SCOTTSDALE: DC Ranch, Gainey Ranch and Grayhawk. 

Categories
Wealth & Finances

Closing Out The Books

It’s this time of year that we all get a few extra days off to enjoy some time with friends and family. It’s also a chance to catch our breath and reflect on the end of another year. In the financial area of your life, there are a few tips to save you money that are worth considering. 

Our first tip is to pre-pay your January 2020 mortgage payment. Mortgage interest is tax deductible. If you can afford to send the payment in early it will result in an extra month’s interest that you can deduct on your taxes for the 2019 tax year. Property taxes are also tax deductible, and in both cases, make sure the payment clears by December 31st. 

Secondly, analyze how much principal you have paid down on your mortgage this year. Does it match up with your expectations? If your annual principal payments do not match your goals then perhaps it’s a good time to send in a lump sum payment to your mortgage lender to reduce the balance further. This may coincide well with year-end bonuses that many people receive this time of year. Whether you pay down your mortgage with a lump sum at year end or commit to paying down your balance by as little as $100 a month in the future, it’s a rewarding feeling to start chipping away at your balance. 

Lastly, many credit card companies send out annual account summaries at year end that detail how much and where you’ve spent. If you’re like us, reviewing year-end statements usually leaves you scratching your head in amazement of how much money was spent throughout the year. But there is a lesson to be learned in all of this and money to be saved. By reviewing your year-end credit card statements you can identify how much interest you are being charged every month. You may be surprised to find that your rates on these bills are ranging from 9% to 21%, and possibly higher. Regardless of how small your balances are on these accounts, if you’re not paying them off each month then you’re paying too much money at these rates. There are options to reduce your rates and save money such as negotiating your rate with the company. 

Good luck with your year-end review, and enjoy a happy and safe holiday season!

Categories
General Interest

Giving Well

It’s the season for giving. In light of our world’s recent tragic events – from hurricanes and earthquakes to the ever-present fear of disease and hunger – this holiday season seems like an even more important time than ever to give and help those in need. But with so much required and so many worthy charitable organizations out there, it can be hard to choose the cause or group that is a good fit for you and what you hope to achieve. After all, how do you know which charity will truly deliver the donations or funds to those who need it most? Which group is the most in need? In the end, it’s crucial to do your due diligence when it comes to researching the track record of your chosen charity. But all that research can take time…something we don’t all necessarily have.

And that’s where GiveWell (GiveWell.org) comes in. This nonprofit group researches organizations and chooses the ones that actually accomplish their stated goals. GiveWell’s mission? “To help donors have the greatest impact for every dollar donated.” Makes perfect sense to us. Based on their thoroughly researched criteria they recommend specific charities that they believe actually do the most good. Their top five nonprofits may not be ones you’ve necessarily heard of: Against Malaria Foundation (AgainstMalaria.com), The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) (Imperial.ac.uk/Schistosomiasis-Control-Initiative), The END Fund (End.org), Malaria Consortium (MalariaConsortium.org), Sightsavers (SightsaversUSA.org), and GiveDirectly (GiveDirectly.org), among others. These groups follow through on their selected and specific goals and help to save lives.

Heading over to GiveWell.org is a good place to start when deciding where your donations should go. But there are other web sites to consider as well. These include GreatNonProfits.org, which helps you easily find local charities to donate to or volunteer for; and MyPhilanthropedia.org, which rates charitable groups tackling everything from emergency response to animal welfare to climate change. This way, you can easily find the charity that does the most for your particular cause, whether that is fighting cancer, helping to feed children, ending violence against women, or supporting people with disabilities.

Experts do recommend digging deeper than just the organization’s web site, however, advising contributors to analyze annual reports and call the organization to ask questions before making an online donation. One thing we know for sure: Feeling good about making a donation really only occurs when you know your money truly made a difference in someone’s life.

Categories
Real Estate

Make Room For What Matters Most

Does your home fit your current lifestyle? Has your life changed since you purchased your home? Maybe it’s time to “right-size.”  

The concept of right-sizing is assessing what is important to you at this stage of your life. Be specific about what is essential and what you want to experience in your life. Right-sizing is the journey towards creating a lifestyle that fits your desires.

The solution may be simple. Reconfiguring your current home to better fit the space you need may be the path to a better lifestyle. Forget what the rooms are named but rather focus on what you need for useful space. As things change, homes can change too.  

Right-sizing may be working with what you have but making better use of existing space. Analyze the spaces in your home and how you currently use them. Consider the practical possibilities to adapt them to your current situation. Repurpose the dining room that only gets used three times a year. One home office might not be enough if more than one family member is working from home. Reimagine how these spaces can be used based on your family’s current needs and varied activities.

On the other hand, right-sizing may be moving from your current home to a new space – one that is more in tune with your current lifestyle and priorities. Is having the big house in the suburbs packed with amenities, and the cost to maintain all those extras, still important?

You may discover that layout and location of the house might be more significant than square footage. If you take the time to find a layout that works for you, the size is usually secondary. When the location is good and close to the people and places that matter most, then you’ve enhanced the value. 

For example, a more compact home doesn’t need to be filled with as much stuff. Take time to furnish and decorate your house with only a few things that you love and need. Another plus: A new smaller home comes with far less maintenance and utility costs. 

This process is often called “down-sizing” and that implies sacrifice or giving up something. But right-sizing is a conscious choice for a better lifestyle that fits you and your family in the best way possible. It is about finding what brings your life meaning – in your current home or a new one.

Categories
Technology

The Future of Travel

Will 2020 be the year travel changes forever? From self-driving cars and bullet trains to supersonic jets, we’re seeing lots of innovation afoot. But what can we really expect in the next few years ahead? Here’s a sneak peek. 

Many U.S. cities are already home to self-driving cars. But as we head into a new decade and beyond, more and more autonomous cars will be seen slowing navigating city streets. Google’s Waymo and Uber’s self-driving vehicles have already sprouted up in some parts of the country. The thinking is, the more the population gets used to seeing these driverless cars, the more comfortable we will be with them. Still, there are a lot of logistics and learning that needs to be done before they can be in every town across the U.S. For now, the future is clearly semi-autonomous cars that can park themselves, and offer steering, braking, and lane-changing assistance. 

Up in the sky, things may get real speedy in the decade ahead, thanks to the company Boom Supersonic, which says it will be the fastest commercial airplane in aviation history—and its 55 seats will also be affordable with prices comparable to business class on today’s commercial airlines. (They say you will be able to get anywhere in half the time.) Only drawback is many countries (including the U.S.) will not allow the plane to fly over land due to the sound of the sonic boom. Two additional airline companies are entering the fray; both Spike Aerospace and Aerion Supersonic will offer ultra-fast trips on smaller (more expensive) flights but without the sonic boom noise, opening up travel paths. Stay tuned on how this all plays out. 

And when it comes to our outdated railroad system? A new, cleaner, faster railway system is sorely needed. Just ask Elon Musk, whose Hyperloop has generated much excitement, as has Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One. Both modes of transport involve pods or capsules that float on air in tubes that rest underground or just above ground. The capsules are propelled through the tubes at high rates of speed, upwards of 760 mph, making a trip from LA to SF a mere 35 minute trek. Or how about getting from DC to NY in just 29 minutes? Although progress has been made, experts still expect it to take at least a decade for the Hyperloop to be a reality, if at all. Imagine an end to traffic? Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel.