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Laurel Sweeney's Blog

Laurel Sweeney

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Bring Your Kitchen out of the Dark with Layers of Light

by Stacy Downs, McClatchy Newspapers



Lighting is often described as the jewelry of the home. But it’s more critical than that, especially in kitchens, where it’s all about slicing, dicing and reading recipes. So maybe the new catchphrase should be: “Lights are the eyes of the home.”

“Kitchen lighting is so crucial and should be one of the first things people think about when they’re designing or remodeling a kitchen, but it often gets last priority,” says lighting consultant and interior designer Lisa Duncan. “People spend tens of thousands of dollars on their kitchens, but then you can’t see the new improvements or what you’re doing if the lighting isn’t right. Then I come along, and drywall has to be ripped out.”


Instead of doing an overhaul of her decades-old kitchen, Sasha Paulsen updated the lighting in her favorite room. Her dark kitchen, with only a can light above the sink and another above the prep area, was a problem. She couldn’t always see what she had, especially in the corners under her cabinets. With Shirley Allen of the Light Shop, Paulsen rethought the types of lighting in her kitchen.

Over the sink: She swapped the can for a glass and nickel pendant that provides better illumination, which is key for washing hands and cookware (she has three racks of pots and pans). Bonus: It’s much more attractive.

Above the table: She replaced a 1960s scalloped metal fixture original to the house with a “more inspiring” metal sculptural one with white shades. The shades eliminate the glare of a bare bulb.
Under the cabinets: Lights were installed under the cabinets to illuminate the corners, making them more usable. And Paulsen sees a big difference when she’s performing prep work, such as slicing vegetables with a sharp mandolin.

“It’s changed my whole cooking and dining experience,” says Paulsen. “And the process of kneading dough and baking bread, too.” Not only do under-cabinet fixtures provide proper task lighting, they add pleasant ambience for home entertaining.

“Adding under-cabinet lighting is the No. 1 thing you could do if you want to update your kitchen and make it more functional,” says architectural and kitchen designer Billie Deatherage. Deatherage always includes dimmer switches in her remodeling and new construction plans. “They are inexpensive and can give you the control to make your kitchen go from production mode to entertainment mode quickly. And they save energy.”

Paulsen loves the difference a dimmer switch makes in her kitchen. But one of the challenges with kitchen lighting is that it adds heat. Lighting consultant George McMillen sees the problem all the time. “People will remodel their kitchen and love it in the fall and winter, but then spring and summer comes and suddenly, it’s too hot,” McMillen says.

So McMillen is using more LEDs (light-emitting diodes) — particularly under-cabinet lights versus xenon and especially halogen because LEDs don’t produce as much heat, and they’re more energy-efficient. Consumer Reports recently tested 60-watt incandescent bulbs and their energy-saving equivalents. The magazine’s conclusion: You can find a CFL or LED that will give you the brightness and light quality you like, and it will save you around $50 over the life of each CFL and anywhere from $65 to $400 over the lifetime of each LED. “The challenge with LED is the color — it can look too warm or too cool,” he says. “But the technology is getting there.” Designers and lighting consultants are steering away from the matching pendants above an island. “They’re almost like a gate,” says Allen of the Light Shop. “You want to move them out of the way so you can see what’s happening in the kitchen.”

OVER THE SINK
There’s a new focal point for lighting in the kitchen: the sink. Sasha Paulsen replaced a can light with a statement fixture. “Look how beautiful kitchen sinks have become — and functional with the built-in cutting boards and colanders,” says interior designer Dianne Boren. “You can actually see to wash your hands and the dishes.” Boren has a dimmer control for her sink light and others in the kitchen. She likes how it glows.


UNDER CABINETS
Kitchen and architectural designer Billie Deatherage in Kansas City makes sure all her kitchen projects have under-cabinet lighting. “It’s so important for task lighting,” she says. “But it’s also a great ambient light for entertaining.” She advises installing under-cabinet lighting toward the front of the bottom of a cabinet. If it’s installed in the back, the light doesn’t distribute evenly and creates bright spots and shadows.

ALL-IN-ONE
Geri Higgins is seeing more kitchen ceiling fixtures that have integrated exhaust fans — an alternative to the large range hood. Styles range from contemporary to crystal chandelier. Elica’s “Star” ventilation light is $4,265 at Portfolio.

CAN ALTERNATIVES
If you don’t like the hot spots that recessed can ceiling fixtures make on countertops, consider frosted glass fixtures. Shirley Allen advised interior designer Dianne Boren to use them in her kitchen. Boren likes the results.

ABOVE DOORS
Shirley Allen advises designers and clients to install sconces above kitchen doors exit-sign style. “They act as night lights for teens getting in at night or for late-night snackers.” Interior designer Dianne Boren’s kitchen has a sconce to the door leading outside and another to a hallway. “This is an under-the-radar lighting detail, but it’s functional and pretty.”

 

By Stacy Downs


 

Fireplace Safety Basics

by Charles Furlough, RISMEDIA




In the winter, there’s nothing as idyllic as sitting by a gently crackling fireplace with a cup of cider or hot cocoa, feeling the warmth from your toes to your soul. The essence of comfort and luxury, a fireplace is the focal point of a home. But, in order to ensure many more years of fireside moments—and to keep something beautiful from becoming potentially dangerous—some regular maintenance is required, as well as a keen eye toward safety.

When most people think of fireplaces, they recall traditional ones, found in older and classic homes. In a traditional fireplace, the fire is encased in a metal firebox lined with special firebrick. Smoke moves up a flue, which is typically a tile or metal liner inside a masonry chimney. A flue damper keeps air from escaping when the fireplace isn’t being used; and the smoke shelf, behind the damper, stops outside air from coming in and pushing harmful smoke into the living area.

Besides traditional fireplaces, though, there are plenty of other types. A heat-circulating fireplace produces some radiant heat, but mainly warms the air that circulates around the firebox; some have a fan that increases the air flow. A gas fireplace is mostly decorative and takes gas logs. By contrast, direct-vent fireplaces are like a wood-burning heat circulator—cool air enters at the bottom, is warmed, and rises out the vent at the top; the CO is expelled out the rear, so there is no need for a chimney. Finally, if you have a modern home or apartment, there’s a good chance you’ll have a modern wood stove—they’re desirable because they’re more efficient that a heat-circulating fireplace.

No matter what type of fireplace you have, maintenance is key to safety. First, before the winter, it’s essential to call in a professional to clean the chimney. Creosote can build up in the chimney and start fires. Typically, as soon as the creosote in the chimney is 1/8-inch thick, that’s an automatic sign to call in a professional who will also check the firebox and masonry and fill in potentially dangerous cracks.

Another important safety note: Chimneys must be lined with metal, or the appropriate tile. Older homes (especially those built before 1950) are typically not. If you have just moved to your home, this is something that a certified home inspector should have found during an inspection; but, if you’re not sure, call in a reputable, professional home inspector to assess the safety of the chimney. The inspector will give input on required repairs you need to have done.

Beyond professional maintenance, it’s essential for the homeowner to take safety precautions too. Here are some of the most important:

-Never burn pine or soft wood; it generally causes extremely fast creosote buildup.

-If you have a wood stove, make sure ashes don’t build up too much. One or two inches of ash is optimal; more than that, and you should remove some.

-Never burn pressure-treated or painted wood; it can cause noxious fumes.

-Never burn any kind of trash—paper, Christmas trees, anything at all—in a wood-burning fireplace. Only use logs made for wood-burning fireplaces.

-Never burn charcoal in a wood-burning fireplace.

-Even though it’s tempting to have as big a fire as possible, never overload a fireplace or wood stove; it can cause restricted air flow and dangerously high levels of combustion.

-Use logs specifically designated for your type of fireplace. If the label on the log’s packaging doesn’t detail this clear enough (which it should), ask a representative at the store you’re buying it from.

-If you have a direct-vent fireplace, make sure that it’s underwritten by Underwriters’ Laboratories (the “UL” symbol will be prominently listed on the packaging) or by the American Gas Association (AGA).

-Play it safe. If anything looks or smells out of the ordinary while you’re operating your fireplace, call a professional for servicing.

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."


FALL MOWER MAINTENANCE
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.

For a Few Weeks, Horse Shows Alter a River Town

by SARAH MASLIN, New York Times




Every year, the elite competitive equestrian circuit makes its way around the country, from Ocala, Fla., to Culpeper, Va., to Thermal, Calif. These traveling troupes of privilege and skill also take with them small armies — of trainers, grooms, farriers, veterinarians, even equine acupuncturists and masseuses.

And for the last eight years, this band of competitors and assorted adjuncts have added a somewhat surprising destination to their junket: Saugerties, N.Y., a blue-collar town on the Hudson River about 110 miles north of New York City.


Eight years ago, HITS Incorporated, a company that produces equestrian competitions, built a $15 million showground here; the riders came. More than 3,000 horses and 2,200 competitive equestrians and their entourages descend on this village every summer. And the influx of a moneyed demographic and their free-flowing cash has played a part in transforming the town.

“I feel like Saugerties has won the lottery,” says Daisy Bolle who owns Dig, a high-end clothing shop on Partition Street in the village, which has 3,971 residents, according to the 2010 United States Census.

“When we first came to town, there were a lot of empty stores,” she says. “And now it feels really vibrant. It’s like having the Hamptons in your backyard.”

The Saugerties stage of the circuit has about 300 competitive heats, or classes, at various levels for riders to compete or show in per week, and it runs in three three-week bursts, beginning May 25 and ending Sunday. Olympians like Peter Leone, Nona Garson and Anne Kursinski, as well as top amateurs like Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, have been regular competitors. Thomas G. Struzzieri, 52, the president and chief executive of HITS, has lived in Saugerties for 13 years and brought the state-of-the-art show grounds here, with its 12 giant barns equipped to hold 1,200 horses on 240 acres, five minutes from town.

“It had a charm I thought my customers might like,” he said of the town. Not to mention that it was also personally convenient. “When you run horse shows around the country, it’s nice to sleep in your own bed once in a while,” he said.

But unlike places like Culpeper, Saugerties is not traditionally horse country.

“It’s a blue-collar community for sure,” Struzzieri said, “but they’ve been really accepting of the horse clients, and they look at it as a great resource.”

But figuring out just how to roll out the welcome mat for the horse set has taken some trial and error.

At Inquiring Minds Bookstore and Cafe, Cheryl Rice, the store’s manager, set up a prominent display of books and manuals on all things equine in May. As of August, few had sold. “Maybe they didn’t have such a need for horse knowledge in book form,” she said, “because they’re already in the business.” Next year she may try horse novels.

At Dig, Bolle filled the shelves with horse-themed jewelry and equestrian print clothes her first year open. None sold, she says. “I think they don’t need the horsey stuff because they have horses,” she said. “What’s better than that?”

What did work was extending her store hours late into the night, a move followed by many other businesses, after realizing the riders’ competition schedules left little room for daytime shopping. On a particularly bustling Saturday night, she says, she has made up to an additional $10,000 from 6 to 11 p.m. “You have to make hay while the sun shines,” she said with a laugh.

The gingerbread ponies with white manes of royal icing flew off the shelves at Hudson Valley Dessert Company on Main Street at twice the rate of cookies shaped like the rest of the barnyard, Constance Bailey, the owner, said. Bailey goes through 150 of the $1 cookies on a horse show weekend, “which doesn’t exactly make us rich, but it makes us friends,” she said.
The influx of athletes, many with citified low-fat and low-carbohydrate tastes, has led her to change her menu. Bailey serves a salad with lime juice instead of dressing and whips up a cream-free soup specifically for when the riders are in town. On show weeks, she orders 300 extra pounds of flour, 45 dozen more eggs and 10 gallons of extra syrup from Breezy Maples Farms.

The riders’ presence accounts for $3,000 in extra business a week, Bailey says.
Down the street at Flanigans Cleaners, decals on the window spell out We Groom the Rider, a slogan the owner, Michael Flanigan, adopted after he realized that he too had a corner to grab in the riding market: the equestrian uniform, a dark jacket with a cotton blouse with a collar called a rat catcher, needs to be always sparkling. He dry cleans more than 2,000 of the shirts alone, at $4.50 apiece, every summer.

It would be difficult to find a business owner in town who does not sing the praises of the summer horse invasion, Flanigan said, but he acknowledged that conflicts had arisen.

Hulking pickup trucks hauling horse trailers caused knots of traffic in the early years and sparked local complaints until places like the hardware store took it upon themselves to hand out maps to the newcomers.

There are also less tangible tensions. The median per capita income in Saugerties is a little more than $20,000, and equestrian competitions are famously the sport of kings.

On a personal level, there can arise the same types of resentments that crop up between working-class residents of the Hamptons and the deep-pocketed set that goes there to play.
In October, Struzzieri plans to open Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern, a boutique hotel and conference center overlooking the Esopus Creek waterfall, which cost $12 million to $14 million to build and will charge guests up to $400 a night.

“Do I believe that the horse show changed the town? I think it’s worked well in this town,” he said, pointing to economic blows the area has weathered like the shutting in 1994 of the I.B.M. plant in nearby Kingston, N.Y., which employed around 1,500 people. “I think the horse show has been a part of this community finding its way.”

On a Saturday night this summer, clumps of women and girls in pastel polo shirts, tall polished black boots and tan britches with suede patches jammed Stella’s Station, an ice cream parlor on Partition Street. On the opposite side of the counter, a team of young female employees scooped frozen treats, sweating. In the parking lot of the fully-booked Comfort Inn on Route 32 North, off-duty grooms smoked and traded horse stories in Spanish.

Around 10 p.m. two customers lingered at Emiliani Ristorante on Ulster Avenue, huddled close over a plate of linguine, discussing the merits of a chestnut-colored mare. “People will say, Ugh, the restaurants are so crowded when they’re here,” said Bolle, the owner of Dig. “But I say, Yes, but we get to have that restaurant all year round. And if they weren’t here, I don’t know if we would or not.”

Fall is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs

by Mary Beth Breckenridge


When fall is in the air, it's time to put spring in the ground. Autumn is the time for planting the bulbs that will burst into bloom come spring. Sure, it's delayed gratification, but the cheery appearance of crocuses and daffodils at the end of a bleak winter will be worth the wait.

And here's the best part: Planting spring bulbs doesn't take a lot of effort. You dig a hole, you drop in the bulb, and you cover it with soil.


That's the message Dutch bulb growers are trying to get out with their new campaign, Dig.Drop.Done.

"They're so easy to plant. They come with everything they need for the first growing season," said Amy Dube, a flower bulb expert with the Dig.Drop.Done Foundation, an educational effort being backed by members of Holland's Royal Trade Association for Nursery Stock and Flower Bulbs. "You really can't go wrong."

Flower bulbs contain all the nutrients the plant will need to grow and bloom the first year, so there's no need to fertilize newly planted bulbs, Dube said. And because rain is usually plentiful in fall, you probably won't even need to water, other than giving the bulbs a good drink when you first plant them.

Bulb experts usually recommend planting bulbs when nighttime temperatures drop into the low 50s or 40s for two weeks. There's no real need to monitor the weather, though. When it's sweater weather, it's time to plant, said Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

 Ideally you want to plant once the soil cools but before the first hard frost, although you can even plant in December as long as you can still dig, she said.

Even if you're not ready to plant, McCulloh recommended buying bulbs as early as you can. If you wait too long, your favorites might be gone, she said. Look for bulbs that are firm, and keep them in a cool, dark place until you put them in the ground.

Don't fret if the papery skin is broken or missing, Ferguson said. It won't affect the bulb's survival.

Choose a planting spot where the soil drains well, since bulbs might rot in conditions that are too wet. Spring-flowering bulbs like sun, but you can plant under trees or shrubs that will still be bare of leaves when the flowers bloom, Dube said.

Some people like to scatter early bloomers such as crocuses on a lawn and just plant them where they drop, knowing they'll bloom well before the grass needs cutting.

The rule of thumb is the planting hole should be about three times the length of the bulb, but it's best to follow the instructions on the packaging, Dube said. You can dig individual holes for each bulb, or dig a wider hole or trench that can hold a number of bulbs.

The bulb should be planted pointy side up, but that's not crucial. The emerging shoot will find its way up and out of the soil, even if you plant the bulb upside down, Dube said.

Mulch is a good idea, but Ferguson recommended waiting until the ground gets cold before adding it. Otherwise, "you're just creating a warm bed for little voles and mice," which might snack on your bulbs, she said.

McCulloh thinks bulbs look best planted in drifts or masses rather than in lines. Plant at least 25, if you have the room, she said.

Ferguson likes to plant in a diamond shape, with the point toward the viewing area. That gives an illusion of abundance, she said.

But stay away from patterns that are too strictly geometric, McCulloh cautioned. "Guaranteed one won't come up, and it'll ruin the whole design," she said.

Consider planting with perennials that share similar growing requirements and will leaf out as the bulbs' foliage dies back, McCulloh and Dube suggested. The perennials will hide the fading leaves, which need to be left in place until they've yellowed. That allows the plants to use the sun's energy to recharge the bulbs with nutrients for the next year.

Some bulbs, such as daffodils and crocuses, can be counted on to reappear and spread year after year. Others, including most kinds of tulips, are better treated as annuals, since they get smaller with each reappearance.

Which bulbs should you plant?
Whatever flowers and colors you like, the experts say.

McCulloh, for instance, is partial to glory-of-the-show, a charming flower the blooms early and comes in pink, white and a vibrant blue she loves. Dube plan to combine pink and orange this year, but she also likes the striking combination of white and black - well, really a very dark purple.

It just depends on what says renewal to you.
Think joy. Think freshness. Think spring.


HOW TO PROTECT SPRING BULBS FROM ANIMALS
Keeping critters from digging up your bulbs or munching on your spring flowers can be a challenge. Here are some strategies for discouraging squirrels, deer and other marauders:

-Plant flowers the animals don't like. A few suggestions are daffodils, fritillaries, alliums, scilla, chionodoxa, leucojum and galanthus.

-Wear gloves when you plant. Squirrels have come to associate the scent of humans with food.

-Clean up planting debris, such as the bulbs' papery skin. The scent of that debris can attract squirrels.

-Lay an old screen, some chicken wire or some other kind of mesh over the places where you've planted to make it hard for animals to dig there. Remove it once the ground has settled or frozen. You can even lay a sheet of chicken wire right on top of the bulbs in the ground, before you cover them with soil. The shoots will grow through the wire.

-Deer love tulips. If you must grow them, plant them close to the house, where deer are less likely to feed. However, know that some deer won't be easily deterred.

Garage Fire Safety – Common Sense Minimizes Risk

by Charles Furlough


For many homeowners, a shiny new car is as integral a part of the home as the roof and the door—and it’s often right next to both. That’s because many people go to great lengths to protect the beloved car from the elements, chief of which is garaging it rather than leaving it out in the driveway.

Garaging a car keeps it safe and snug—but, if the garage is attached to the home, some risks ensue. One major risk is fire. Most folks have plenty of combustible material in their garages, from gas and oil cans to cleaning products. Combine this with all the fuel and oil in your car, and one errant leak can ignite a devastating fire.

A less obvious, but just as dangerous, concern is carbon monoxide, which is potentially deadly. (In fact, now is the perfect time to check and make sure you have a CO2 alarm in your home and that it’s working). What makes carbon monoxide so scary is that it’s invisible—odorless, colorless, and tasteless—and it’s in your car’s exhaust. Always keep not only the exterior garage door open, but keep your car door open as well, when starting the car—the goal is to have as much ventilation directly to the outdoors as possible. Also, don’t idle the car in the garage; pull the car out of the garage as quickly as possible after starting the car. It sounds basic, but it’s easy to make mistakes and get distracted as soon as you get in the car.

Luckily, there’s no need to panic over these risks—you can minimize them. Just use common sense, and rest assured that you have a whole bunch of codes on your side. Those codes, and the builders who put them into practice, can help to greatly minimize the risk. Here’s a rundown of U.S. national fire codes for attached garages in single-family homes:

-Half-inch gypsum board is required on the garage side of any walls that the garage and house share, as well as any walls that support a ceiling in the garage that is connected to the house. This gypsum board helps prevent fire from igniting wall studs and quickly spreading to the house.

-Any garage ceilings common to the house must contain fire-resistant 5/8 Type X gypsum board.

-The door from the garage into the house must be fire-resistant; it must either have a 20-minute burn rating or, if not rated, must be solid and 1 3/8 inches thick. Lastly, this door must not open onto a room used for sleeping.

-The garage floor must be non-combustible.

-No supply or return air registers or ducts may be in the garage, under any circumstance. Any duct-work that passes through the garage with no openings (the only kind, as no openings are allowed) must be sealed with fire-stop caulking. The ducting material must be 26-gauge steel.

Note that these are national codes; many local codes, which usurp national codes where applicable, are even more stringent. And if you are worried about remembering the above when buying or selling a home, don’t worry—you don’t have to. Just choose a good home inspector, who will know all the rules regarding garage safety. Your only other job, besides exercising common sense, is to drive carefully and enjoy your new wheels.

By Charles Furlough  RISMEDIA

Secrets to getting a mortgage with so-so credit

by Les Christie

Getting a mortgage can be tough these days -- even people with near-perfect credit have been rejected for loans. But for some lucky borrowers, things aren't as bad as the doom-and-gloom crowd says.

At a recent press conference, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said lending standards for mortgages have tightened so considerably that "the bottom third of people who might have qualified for a prime mortgage in terms of, say, FICO scores a few years ago -- cannot qualify today."

Indeed, roughly one-in-four mortgage applicants was denied in 2010, up from about 18% in 2003, according to data from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. And those are just the ones that apply -- many discouraged potential borrowers don't even bother to apply anymore.

Yet, there is money to lend. Bob Ryan, the acting commissioner for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, recently said that mortgage money "is flowing, it's stable, it's tightened from the boom years, but it's there."

And many of those potential home buyers sitting on the sidelines may just have a shot at it -- as long as they take a few crucial steps.

"The belief is that you can't get a mortgage at all -- but you can," Keith Gumbinger, of the mortgage information provider HSH Associates.

What you need for traditional mortgages:
Most of the major mortgage underwriters have only returned to the more prudent standards of the days before the housing bubble. Now, according to Tuck Bradford, a branch manager with lender Mortgage Master, borrowers usually must meet four criteria in order to get a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the two government-run mortgage giants:

• The ability to make a 20% down payment, plus closing costs.
• A good credit score. Borrowers usually need a minimum credit score of 620.
• Enough income to afford payments. The general rule of thumb: no more than 28% of your gross income should go toward housing costs.

• A loan-to-value ratio of 80%. Lenders want the home value to far exceed the mortgage balance because if a borrower defaults, the bank sells the home to recoup the loss.
In today's market, however, even having all four of these factors in place doesn't always guarantee that you will get a loan.

Steve Habetz, a loan officer in Westport, Conn. had a client who was seeking to refinance but he had a single blemish scarring an otherwise spotless credit report. The client had a couple million dollars in assets, high income, ample home equity -- and a strong credit score of 700.
"This guy was a Boy Scout when it came to paying debts," said Habetz. "He had never been late."

Yet, Habetz couldn't get him a mortgage. The problem: an investment property the client had owned and tried to unload but couldn't (thanks to the housing bust). He eventually resorted to a short sale -- a deal in which the proceeds of the sale are insufficient to pay the amount owed on the mortgage and the bank agrees to forgive the losses.

Not only did the short sale lop 100 points or so off his credit score, but it also resulted in an automatic rejection of his refinance application.

"It's maddening," said Habetz. "Other than that one detail, he's very low risk. Because he had the short sale, he's out of the box for two years."

But, for every client like Habertz's who gets rejected, there are those who have been much luckier at landing mortgage loans. And typically, they have turned to the Federal Housing Administration for help.

"The FHA is just about as free and easy as it was in the go-go days," said Gumbinger.

Standards for these loans, insured by the FHA and issued by regular mortgage lenders, are flexible and aimed at making mortgage borrowing easier, especially for working-class Americans.

For years, the FHA had no minimum credit score requirement at all. Now though, it requires a minimum of 580 to qualify for a 3.5%-down loan and 500 for a 10%-down mortgage.

In practice, however, some banks will impose higher standards, according to Scott Sheldon, a loan officer with First California Mortgage in Sonoma County, Calif.

"We FHA lenders have to protect ourselves and we've been going with a 640 minimum for a 3.5% mortgage," he said.

How one high-risk borrower got lucky:
Sheldon had one client who seemed like an impossible case. The client was buying a home in Healdsburg, California, the heart of Sonoma's wine country. His credit score was just over 600, he was paying alimony and child support and he only had enough money for a small down payment. And there was one additional tiny problem: He had just emerged from bankruptcy in April 2009.

In other ways, he was low-risk borrower. He grossed $10,000 a month, ample enough to satisfy debt-to-income guidelines on the $315,000 home he was buying, and he was able to document a stable work history.

The client knew he had to raise his credit score above the 600 level in order to improve his chances. So he paid a credit repair service, Lexington Law, about $500 to find and correct errors in his records. That helped boost his score above 640.

The client got the loan and closed on a home a couple weeks ago. The bankruptcy made it tough -- but not impossible.

As Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the FHA explained, the agency is willing to overlook a blemish on a credit report -- even a big one -- if other factors are favorable.
In today's unforgiving housing market, that's music to a borrower's ears.

Williamsburg on the Hudson

by Peter Applebome
google map to real pro systems

Call it the Brooklynization of the Hudson Valley, the steady hipness creep with its locavore cuisine, its Williamsburgian bars, its Gyrotonic exercise, feng shui consultants and deep clay art therapy and, most of all, its recent arrivals from New York City.

Jenifer Constantine and Trippy Thompson, bartenders in Williamsburg, found the adventurous loft life there a bit too precarious after the birth of their first child in 2007, and moved to New Paltz to open their own minimalist, Brooklynesque bar and restaurant in Rosendale, Market Market, with a locavore menu and weekly spoken-word slams.

Dave Lerner, a musician, found the Brooklyn life getting claustrophobic and moved to West Saugerties, a placed that seemed different but part of a familiar universe, where there was music and culture but you could bike, hike and breathe.
John Friedman, a lawyer who lived in Greenwich Village, fell in love with Hudson and went from making mostly telecom deals in Manhattan to making mostly agriculture deals in the Hudson Valley.

Kate Doris left her hometown of Kingston as it skidded downward after I.B.M. left in the ’90s. Now she’s back, plugged into the local art scene, amused at the number of her Brooklyn friends who have also moved up.

The greening of the Hudson Valley did not begin yesterday. It’s as revealing for what it’s not as for what it is. And given the comatose national economy, many grains of salt should be added to any rosy projections.

Still, in the best case, it adds up to more than refugees from the city, fair-trade coffeehouses in every far-flung town and unexpectedly cool places and culture — the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, the Last Bite in High Falls, the Wassaic Project arts organization in a refurbished mill and animal auction house.

Instead, you could argue, it’s a new chapter in an old story — Henry Hudson’s voyage of discovery, the Hudson Valley School’s attempt to capture an American Eden, updated for the Twitter era and based around sustainable, human-scale agriculture; manageable towns that are neither giant cities nor cookie-cutter suburbs; a $4.7 billion tourism industry; and the mountains, valleys and rivers of one of America’s unspoiled places.

“We’re in the early stages of a green economic revitalization of the Hudson Valley,” said Ned Sullivan, president of Scenic Hudson, which half a century ago was at the heart of a battle to save Storm King Mountain, spurring on modern environmentalism.

“The land is being preserved,” he said. “Waterfront parks are being created. Water supplies are being protected. There’s a green economy that’s being born.”

IN the beginning was the river, which the Indians called Muhheakantuck — “river that flows two ways” — because for about half its 315 miles it is also a tidal estuary, where salty water meets fresh.

Life on the shore has flowed two ways, too, through culture and commerce. For almost a century, beginning around 1825, the Hudson Valley was the nation’s first industrial heartland, an incessant bustle of shipbuilding, ironworks, railroad lines, shipping docks, cement, stone, iron, lumber, weaponry and even whaling industries.

The valley was also a seminal creator of American culture, from Washington Irving, who became America’s first international literary celebrity, to the Hudson Valley School and later to artist colonies and the Woodstock Festival. The factories are almost all gone. The cultural buzz remains.

You can pick your favorite current image of industrial past and creative present. The stunning Dia: Beacon collection of massive modernism in an old factory on the Hudson? The exhilarating Walkway Over the Hudson that turned an abandoned railroad bridge into the world’s longest pedestrian bridge? The industrial spaces turned into artists’ studios in uptown Kingston?

But the Basilica Hudson seems as good a snapshot as any. Built in 1884 as a foundry and forge for manufacturing steel railway wheels, it finally shut down as a glue factory using rabbit hide in the ’90s. Almost a decade ago, its 18,000 square feet were reimagined as a local gathering and performance space for ska concerts, avant-garde movies, art exhibits, filming and recording.
Like almost everything in the Hudson Valley, it’s still a work in progress. But its owners, Melissa Auf der Maur, a seriously glamorous Montreal native who has played bass for bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Hole, and Tony Stone, a filmmaker, come from central casting as exemplars of the new, hip Hudson Valley.

The Basilica is the kind of space and scene that the artist and musician Patti Smith (no stranger to Hudson) had in mind a few months ago when she advised young artists that “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling” and that they should find their futures someplace else, like Poughkeepsie.

“A bunch of my friends from Montreal came to visit and they said, ‘You told us you moved to a small town, but you didn’t tell us you moved to a magic David Lynch town. What is this place?’ ” Ms. Auf der Maur said.

Hudson, she added, has the feel of SoHo decades ago. “There’s the sense that it’s manageable, it’s beautiful, it has infrastructure that can inspire you and facilitate your needs and get you to feel like you’re part of a moment of discovery.”

Not long ago, Hudson was notorious for drugs, prostitution and post-industrial torpor. Now, Warren Street, with its antique stores, galleries and hip restaurants, is a vision of the Hudson Valley reborn. And it was the scene of perhaps the last great battle between the old industrial Hudson Valley and the new one, when a coalition of interest groups came together to defeat a proposed coal-fired cement plant with a 40-story smokestack capable of producing two million tons of cement a year. Opponents said it would be an environmental disaster that would cut off access to the river and go against everything Hudson was becoming. They made an overwhelming case. But in the housing projects and poor neighborhoods just off Warren Street, strangers in the new landscape, it doesn’t seem so clear.

Sitting in a downtown park, Calvin Wilson Sr., 63, said it was nice to see the revival on Warren Street, but it didn’t offer much for him or for young people growing up in a town whose population is almost a third black and Latino, and in which one in five residents is living below the poverty level. “All those old factory jobs, they’ve all dried up,” Mr. Wilson said. “So, where those people going to work? Me, I wished they’d built that cement plant.”

THERE is a parlor game people sometimes play, comparing Hudson Valley towns with New York neighborhoods, said Sari Botton, a freelance writer in Rosendale.

For instance, Rhinebeck might be the Upper East Side, Woodstock the West Village, New Paltz the Upper West Side, Beacon the East Village, Rosendale and High Falls different parts of Williamsburg. Tivoli could be compared to Greenpoint, Hudson to Chelsea, Catskill to Bushwick, Kingston to a mix of Fort Greene and Carroll Gardens.

The migration north began with the weekender incursions in the ’80s and ’90s, gained a more urgent and permanent tone after 9/11, stumbled during the real estate bust and is now finding its way again. But, for all the images of upstate decay, the population of the Hudson Valley is growing more than twice as fast as that of the rest of the state — 5.8 percent over the past decade, compared with 2.1 percent for New York State and New York City. (While there are no universally accepted boundaries to the Hudson Valley, this reference includes the counties north of suburban Rockland and Westchester and south of the capital region: Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia and Greene.)

Add in disparate institutions with some shared sensibilities — Bard, Vassar and SUNY New Paltz; the Culinary Institute of America and the sustainable agriculture Glynwood Institute; the New Age Omega Institute, Dia:Beacon, the Storm King Art Center, the green, hip and upscale Chronogram Magazine — you can posit a synergy that is gaining critical mass.

Some of the growth is an extension of suburban New York into Putnam and Orange Counties. The rest is an exurban phenomenon facilitated at least in part by new technology, the limitations of space and cost in the five boroughs and the natural search for something new.

For some it’s generational. The Hudson Valley seems a cooler and more affordable alternative to the suburbs. David Clark moved to Beacon seeking space for his ceramic tile business, ModCraft, in a place that felt familiar and creative. At 43, he also felt he had outgrown Williamsburg. “At some point you look around and find yourself surrounded by club kids and feel, well, maybe I’ve done this already,” he said.

For others, the Hudson Valley just seemed a natural fit. Amber Rubarth, 28, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who used to carve wood sculptures with chainsaws, figured she could make music and live a creative life just as easily in Rosendale as in Brooklyn, and more sanely. “I go into the city once or twice a week,” she said, “but there’s nothing I can’t do living here, and it’s nice to fall asleep and wake up to birds singing rather than trash trucks rolling down the street.”
Still, as with everywhere else in America, the question remains: All right, but where are the jobs? Mr. Sullivan of Scenic Hudson said one answer could be the abandoned I.B.M. complex now called Tech City in Kingston. Its 258 acres, 28 buildings and 2.5 million square feet of industrial and office space are envisioned as a state-of-the-art locale for solar, green energy and sustainable agricultural businesses, like bakeries and fish hatcheries. Across the street is the ambitious nonprofit Solar Energy Consortium, formed in 2007 to assist and incubate solar and green companies. It’s an alluring vision.

Whether it becomes reality is another matter. Todd Roberts, chief executive of one of the firms there already, Solartech Renewables, is enthusiastic about the site and the industrial solar panels his company makes, but realistic about the obstacles ahead.

“We know it’s going to take root somewhere, but if the market doesn’t grow here, and the subsidies don’t change in China, that’s where it’s going to be,” he said.

If you were an investor wagering on any Hudson Valley city, it might be Beacon, with a world-class attraction in Dia:Beacon, its walkable downtown, and an emerging art scene a 90-minute train ride from Grand Central Terminal.

But you would still be hoping for the best, as you would with almost every place in the area. Maybe the Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, a proposed 58-room hotel and spa, with a fancy restaurant and living and work space for artists, will succeed, and revitalize an area of shuttered factories and warehouses. Maybe the historic downtown theater will reopen, and the old incline railroad will be rebuilt. But maybe not.

On a summer Tuesday afternoon, it’s still a ghost town.

Tim Davis, 48, in Chicago Bulls cap and colors, has lived in Beacon almost all his life, but he is moving to Atlanta. “There’s no work here,” he said. “Basically they’ve turned this place into Antiqueworld. When we had the factories, this was a money-making town. Now it’s not. Everyone I know is moving to the South.”

At the Morphicism gallery, the proprietor, Jay Palefsky, offered a cheerful greeting: “A customer! In Beacon!”

So many people have moved to Beacon from Brooklyn that people now call it NoBro, he said. He would like to buy into the hype, but he doesn’t see it. The economy is dead. The Internet has killed downtown commerce. He has seen well over a dozen businesses come and go in the five years he has been in business. “People want the access to the city without the craziness of the city,” Mr. Palefsky said. “But this just needs a lot of variables to make it work. One is the economy, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sorry to be so negative. I just don’t grasp the optimism.”

But optimism is one thing you find in the Hudson Valley, to an extent not seen elsewhere. It is true that, even here, it takes more than art, farm stands and caffeine to make an economy work — especially for those who don’t make a living with a laptop or a paintbrush. But in a culture sometimes whipsawed between a desire to be in the middle of the storm and to be a million miles away, the Hudson Valley offers the promise of both, the upstate hills and quirky towns just 90 minutes from Manhattan, said Bradley Thomason, who moved his small technology and organizational development consultancy, Miraclelabb, from Manhattan to the mighty metropolis of Accord last year.

“This isn’t like the tech revolution,” he said. “I’d be worried if there were some big kaboom Hudson Valley moment. But I think what you’re seeing is a slow progression toward something that can sustain itself.”


 

By Peter Applebome, The New York Times

 

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