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Mower Mainenance

by John Shultz, McClatchy Newspapers


That first taste of fall means the beginning of a big run of good-byes: so long to summer vacation, good-bye grilling season and farewell to football-free weekends.

But before you give a hasty send-off to the mowing season, be aware that there's a pretty decent checklist of prescribed fall lawn-mower maintenance tasks you might want to tackle.

Sure, most people may equate lawn-mower maintenance with early spring, but experts say fall is a fine time to do upkeep on the old reliable walk-behind.

A bit of work now will save you quite a bit of time and money when it comes time to roll the mower back out of the garage next year.

"Maintenance makes equipment easier to start," said Roy Berendsohn, senior home editor at Popular Mechanics. "That may or may not result in direct cost savings, but it certainly reduces the wear and tear on you. Few things are as frustrating as trying to start a cranky piece of outdoor power equipment. Nobody needs that frustration on a busy weekend."

When it comes to maintaining machinery, clean is important.

Before you even put the mower away for the season, one particular aspect of fall presents its own challenges for mowers: leaves.

"The best thing to do during fall use is to double-check your air filters," said Ryan Hays, manager at Rick's Lawnmower in Blue Springs, Mo. "The air filters get dirtier faster when you mulch leaves. If they get stopped up, they have to suck air from somewhere, and then they'll suck unfiltered air, and you can damage the motor. "Also, some manufacturers tell you to change the oil in the fall because the dirtier and dustier conditions from leaves can impact the oil faster."
Another key through-the-season task: Keep a sharp blade, particularly with the added strain of leaf mulching.

"You can use better than 20 percent more fuel with a dull blade," said Peter Sawchuk, program leader for home improvement with Consumer Reports. "I always recommend people buy a second blade for the mower. It's usually under $10."

Keeping the mower deck clean is also an important task - certainly before you stow away the mower for the year.

"Having clippings and debris build up on the underside cuts the air flow and dramatically impacts the effectiveness of the mower," Sawchuk said.

At the end of the season, Sawchuk recommends turning the mower on its side with the carburetor facing up and cleaning the undercarriage with a hose. "If you leave clippings under there at the end of the season, it can start to rust and corrode."

Changing the oil is more of a judgment call. Most experts recommend changing the oil frequently during the mowing season - as often as every 25 hours of mowing time. As for prior to storage, though, mower maestros are split.

"That's a tough call," said Popular Mechanics' Berendsohn. "Some people recommend an oil change at the end of the season because it prevents dirty oil and sludge from sitting around in the engine's crankcase over the winter.  "I think it's better to change the oil in the spring before beginning the next mowing season. That ensures that the oil is as fresh and clean as possible at the beginning of the season."

So far, so good. It's all pretty much the same advice passed down from dad, granddad, and, quite possibly, great-granddad.

One topic your predecessors may not have worried about - but that you absolutely need to keep in mind - is alternative fuel. And failure to do so may lead to a significant headache and a significant repair bill.

"Ethanol is creating some problems in small engines," Sawchuk said.  Explains Rick Muscoplat, contributing editor at the Family Handyman magazine: "Oxygenated gas only has a 30-day shelf life. After that, the ethanol starts to separate."  That ethanol falls to the bottom of the tank, he said. And ethanol will absorb any moisture present in the air into the gas tank.  That water can work its way into the carburetor, leading to corrosion.  "If you leave that gas in all winter, your carburetor can be toast by next spring," Muscoplat said.  And a carburetor repair job isn't cheap - anywhere from $70 and more for a walk-behind to $200 and up for a riding mower.

One fix, thankfully, is cheap: a bottle of gas stabilizer, $7.  Fuel stabilizer can accomplish several tasks, Berendsohn said: it increases the lifespan of stored gasoline, it helps it burn more cleanly and efficiently, and it can prevent the separation that leads to corrosion.

Own a riding mower? A lot of the advice is the same, but the job ahead of you is a bit bigger.
Clean the deck, naturally, watch the oil, filters and gas. Maintain the air pressure in the tires. Wheel bearings may need lubrication.

"You'll also have to charge that battery over the storage season, or you have to buy a new one every other year," Sawchuk said.

David Fittje, department manager of seasonal at the Lowe's in Kansas City, Mo., said that riding owners may want to make sure they check their belts on the rider. If it's a little worn, over the winter it can crack or break.

"Spending the 20 minutes prepping a mower for winter can save you a lot of hassle come spring."

John Deere provides these tips to ensure you're getting the best cut quality and longer life from your equipment.

Tighten all nuts and bolts.

Check all belts, filters, safety shields and guards.

Replace any damaged or missing parts, including spark plugs.

Check tire tread and pressure.

Add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank.

After adding stabilizer, run the engine for five minutes.

Change the oil (or in the spring).

Replace the filter.

Sharpen the blade, but be careful not to sharpen it to a razor's edge - it will crack, peel back and hack grass to shreds. Leave a thickness of about 1/64 of an inch to keep the blade strong.

Balance the blade to prevent vibration. Put the center hole of the blade on a nail hammered into a garage stud. If one side goes down, file it until it becomes level.

Do not store in an enclosed place where fuel fumes can accumulate or be exposed to an open flame, spark or pilot light.


By John Shultz, McClatchy Newspapers

Kingston Night Life

by Rebecca Rothbaum, The New York Times

FROM its menu of pre-Prohibition-era tipples concocted with house-made syrups to its setting in a painstakingly restored 1880s sewing machine factory, the year-and-a-half-old Stockade Tavern is the epitome of cocktail chic. But you won’t find it in downtown Manhattan or across the river in Brooklyn; instead, head about two hours north to Kingston, a modest-size city in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Although home to some of the state’s most beautiful and historic architecture, Kingston has been a mostly sleepy spot since I.B.M. closed its plant there in the mid-1990s. But that’s changing, thanks to a fresh crop of bars and restaurants inspired by the city’s old-time charms, as well as its growing population of young artists and its farm-rich location.

“We just felt like country people could use a decent drink, too,” said Giovanna Vis, who owns Stockade Tavern (313 Fair Street; 845-514-2649); with her husband, Paul Maloney, and their business partner, Don Johnson. The bar is named for the Stockade District, also called uptown, which dates back to the mid-17th century.

Another recent addition is Boitson’s (47 North Front Street; 845-339-2333), a stylish American bistro with leather banquettes and marble-topped tables, which opened uptown in June 2010. Maria Philippis, the owner, named it for its benefactor, her former Brooklyn landlord, who died in 2007 and left Ms. Philippis money to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant.

“Mr. Boitson was a sailor in World War II, and I wanted the restaurant to look like the kind of place he would have hung out in,” she said. It offers comfort foods like fried chicken and steak frites, and has an all-New York State beer list and a wide selection of American wines.
A 1927 diner in midtown is home to the recently revamped Old Trolley Kitchen (336 East Chester Street; 845-340-0797). Sylvan Perez, the chef and an owner, with Joy Roman, sees a connection between the building and his culinary mission. “We really respect the idea of local food,” he said. “When the diner first opened, the food would have tended toward the seasonal and fresh because there wasn’t any other choice back then.” (Dinner is served only a few nights a week, so it’s best to call ahead.)

Then there’s Elephant (310 Wall Street; 845-339-9310), a wine and tapas bar around the corner from the Stockade in Kingston’s uptown, and a pioneer of sorts: it opened five years ago in the former recording studio of the cult-indie band Mercury Rev. When the space became available, the landlords, Joe Concra and Denise Orzo, a couple (both are artists), called their friend Rich Reeve, a chef. At the time, it seemed like “the middle of nowhere,” recalled Mr. Reeve, who now runs the business with his wife, Maya Karrol. But the rent was low, so they took a risk. “We just decided we would do what we wanted, and play punk rock and serve beef-heart tacos and pig tails,” Ms. Karrol said.

The restaurant is kept in offal by Fleisher’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats (307 Wall Street; 845-338-6666), the locavore butcher across the street, which opened a second shop in Brooklyn last month and plans to open a burger place in Kingston called Grass next spring.
On a Saturday night last spring, Jesse Van Note, a local musician, was enjoying a drink at Elephant after a local band had finished its set. “We’re in a tapas bar where you can hear surf rock,” he said. “Where else are you going to find that?”



Three Mortgage Mistakes You Can Avoid

by Tara-Nicholle Nelson, Inman News

The mortgage market is in a state of tumult these days. Rates are bizarrely low, but many homes are worth much less than the mortgage balances they secure. People are still losing their homes left and right, but millions of mortgage applications of creditworthy borrowers are being rejected every year.

Against this backdrop, it's really no wonder that would-be buyers and homeowners alike are in a state of confusion about which end is up in the mortgage marketplace.

To shed some light into this darkness, here are three very common mortgage mistakes that you might be making as we speak -- and some strategies for avoiding or correcting them.

1. Failing to try to refinance because you're upside-down. At last count, nearly 11 million Americans were upside-down on their homes -- meaning they owe more in mortgage(s) than the home is worth -- and that's about 23 percent of all American homes. With interest rates having dropped to historic low after historic low, more than 10 million Americans have refinanced their mortgages since 2009.

But most homeowners with negative equity feel like they are trapped in their 6, 7 or even 8 percent interest mortgages, unable to save the hundreds of dollars every month of a mortgage at today's sub-4 percent rates, because no lender will refinance them.

The fact is, multiple options abound for lowering your interest rate and monthly payment if you're upside down on your home loan. Banks are increasingly amenable to simply modify existing mortgages to render them less prone to default and foreclosure -- especially when the homeowner is trying to recover from a financial hardship like interrupted income due to job loss or illness, and especially with upside-down loans (which are particularly liable to strategic default, without modification).

Also, many banks offer refis on mortgages as much as 25 percent underwater (so long as no payments have been missed) through the Obama administration's Home Affordable Refinance Program and the less widely adopted Federal Housing Administration Short Refinance Program.

Contact your own mortgage bank's loss mitigation division about a loan modification or a refi under HARP, or reach out to any mortgage broker that offers FHA loans to apply for the Short Refi Program.

2. Walking into the bank branch to get a mortgage. Not to jump on the anti-bank bandwagon, but unless your bank happens to be a neighborhood credit union or one of the few large banks that ranks highly in customer satisfaction (e.g., USAA), you'll likely not be satisfied with the speed, customer service or assertiveness of a mortgage banker you meet just walking into the branch.
If you work with a mortgage broker or a private mortgage banker you meet by referrals from your circle of friends and relatives, chances are good you'll get someone who understands that the long-term health of their business depends on you and clients like you getting a deal closed in a timely manner.

Specifically, you should request referrals from folks you know who have bought or refinanced homes relatively recently, as the mortgage pros who are still in business and closing deals successfully these days are necessarily skilled at navigating a very tricky and restrictive mortgage market.

Also, if you work with a mortgage broker whose company also has its own bank, you get the best of both worlds: a professional who will shop lots of banks' offerings to find the best options for you, and someone who can coordinate your transaction via a small pool of local, experienced appraisers. Many large banks select appraisers who don't know the area, which can kill your deal in the long run.

3. Thinking you're stuck with it for 30 years. I've heard people say they didn't want to buy a home because they were depressed by the thought of a debt that would last 30 years. I've heard others regret that they couldn't afford the payment on a 15-year mortgage and instead were stuck with a 30-year loan.

The fact is, you control when you pay your mortgage off, and it doesn't take a lottery or inheritance windfall to pay yours off sooner than later.

Some people pay half their mortgage payment every two weeks, which results in a full extra payment every year and can pay your mortgage off as much as five years early. Others just pay an extra $100 or so as often as they can, and ask their loan servicer to apply the overage to principal.

Some do much more, applying paycheck raises over the years or amounts they once paid to extinguish credit card debt toward their mortgage balances in an effort to pay them off early.
The theme is that, as a borrower, you may have much more power than you thought, from exploring little-known options for getting your upside-down mortgage's payment lowered to being aggressive about paying your home off sooner rather than later. So get clear on your personal goals for your mortgage, get educated about your options and get assertive about making them happen -- now.

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Contact Information

Photo of Laurel Sweeney Real Estate
Laurel Sweeney
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nutshell Realty
1209 State Route 213, PO Box 452
High Falls NY 12440
Office: 845-687-2200
Toll Free 877-468-5783
Fax: 845-687-4162

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