Travel Writing Work:
Experience the Ho Chi Minh Trail in a Whole New Light
(Ghost written for client)
Many lingering somber or negative thoughts come to mind for many who lived through the Vietnam War era when they think of Vietnam or the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This is to be expected, however the Vietnam that has arisen like a phoenix out of the ashes of war has become quite mesmerizing and created a completely new vacation destination industry for this small country that is very competitive with the most popular of travel destinations. One of these amazing vacation get-a-way experiences is the Ho Chi Minh Trail Motor Bike Tour.
Guided motor bike tours of the Ho Chi Minh Trail are offered by several different motor bike tour companies that offer a variety of inclusions as well as different trip lengths that range in days from 7 to 15 days to complete. These tours take you through major iconic cities such as Hanoi, Phong Nha, Dong Hoi, and Saigon to name a few. These cities not only have historical significance linked to the ever controversial Vietnam War, but also very distinct cultural influences that make them a once in a lifetime excursion.
You can expect to find tour packages that include hotel stays, motor bikes used for tour travel, and unique day stops; although different tour companies will offer different inclusions in their packages so ask what your company provides when doing your research to book your trip. You may also want to verify which actual hotels that you will be staying at so that you have a better idea of your surroundings and amenities when you arrive.
Besides all of the historic and cultural aspects of this completely unique land of rebirth, you will be witness to some of the most beautiful countryside and ocean views that you will ever find. Although Vietnam has made great strides in modernization, for the most part this country has maintained its heritage, rural farm culture, and traditions with grace and elegance, providing visitors with a spectacular look into their culture and homeland.
For anyone who may be unfamiliar with the historical significance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, this trail was the main artery of the Vietnam War for Northern Vietnam’s movement into the Southern region. This trail traverses mountains, jungles, and water ways along the Cambodian and Laos boarders that the North Vietnamese used to transport troops, artillery, supplies, and communications to South Vietnamese sympathizers and military troops during Vietnam’s civil war between the north (communist occupied) and south (anti-communist) regions.
These same trails and roadways still exits and many of them have been maintained in their original form, while other areas have been repaired and or updated to meet modern traffic and transportation needs as it is still a major route between north and South Vietnam for locals and tourists alike. This road extends from Hanoi across the 17th Parallel all the way to Saigon making it the perfect way to experience Vietnam from a local’s perspective.
Some of the activities that you can expect to come across or see are, War Monuments, the largest and claimed to be most beautiful cave in Vietnam, the Phon Nha-Ke Bang National Park which experiences massive tectonic shifts regularly that create the landscape’s geometric complexity, stunning beaches, and the Vinh Moc Tunnel. These are just a handful of the historical and natural sites provided on these motor bike tours.
Not only will you get a feel for what life was like during this country’s tumultuous time of internal battle, you will also see the many influences left behind by ally countries on both sides of the war, from countries such as Cuba, France, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States. This may be the only opportunity you will have to see some of these countries artifacts and cultural influences first hand since several of these countries are still very shut off from outside visitors or other world influences due to their political beliefs and regime.
Vietnam is proving to the world that it is a true Phoenix rising from the ashes of its past by establishing one of the world’s most unique and affordable tourist industries. As it continues to grow this new economic resource while progressing into the modern world lifestyle without forgetting its past or losing its centuries old cultures and traditions, you can have a one of a kind view of Vietnam in all of its glory when taking one of these sublime motor bike tours of the Ho Chi Ming Trail.
Travelling in Morocco on a Budget
(Ghost written for client)
Traveling abroad you will create memories that you will reflect on for many years to come. However understanding the currency and traveling on a budget can sometimes be a challenge. Here are a few tips to guide you through the Moroccan currency and how to stay on budget while in Morocco.
First you should know what currency is used in Morocco; the dirham. The dirham comes in both paper and coin denominations and the most convenient paper denomination is the Dh20. It can be very difficult to get larger denominations cashed and the taxi drivers never seem to carry change, so remember this as you make your purchases throughout the day. Knowing this up front will help keep you within your budget so that you don’t end up over tipping out of not having the right denomination. Check the currency exchange rate frequently since this does change daily and can directly affect your budget. Lastly, remember that the dirham is considered a restricted currency and is not allowed to leave the country; don’t forget to exchange any unused currency before attempting to leave the country, as it could be confiscated at departure.
Although some countries consider it an insult to tip, Morocco is not one of them. It is customary to tip for pretty much any service provided, as the workers in Morocco average less than Dh100 per day. Keep this in mind when tipping, but don’t be guilted or bullied into making a larger tip than is fair.
You are likely to find some of your best buys at the bazaars in Morocco City; however Moroccan bazaars are done on the barter system. With this in mind it is important to realize that the first price given is rarely the actual price. It is usually about twice the real price. It is best to approach with a disinterested demeanor when asking a price. Once you have been given a price, counter offer with a very low price and be willing to negotiate to a more amicable pricing agreement that lands somewhere in the middle; keep in mind what your maximum amount that you are willing to pay for the item is so that you don’t in the heat of the moment end up paying more for the item than you intended. Remember this is their livelihood and they are expert negotiators.
Use Small Local Operators
It may seem counter intuitive, but by using small local companies for tour guides, and other accommodations over larger corporations you can save substantial money while exploring this amazingly beautiful country. For safety purposes you do want to check with the local tourism agency or the Travel Guide to Morocco before willy-nilly signing up with a local travel guide; after all you don’t want to get stranded on a camel penniless in the desert some place.
Traveling abroad is one of life’s great pleasures and it can be done safely and frugally if you know where to look and what to look for. By using these basic Moroccan travel tips you will be able to get the most for your money as you explore this cultural mecca.
Your Guide to a Month in Bali, Indonesia
(Ghostwritten in April 2016 for a client; link is: http://www.thejungleprincess.com/guide-month-bali-indonesia/)
Bali, Indonesia has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth, and is the perfect extended vacation for anyone looking to re-connect with themselves and nature. If you’ve felt in need of some spiritual rejuvenation and are planning an extended Bali vacation, here are some places to see and things to do on your trip to Bali.
Tanah Lot Temple
This iconic temple sits perched on a natural rock bridge outcropping surrounded by clear blue ocean and lush indigenous vegetation. The peacefully tranquil setting provides the perfect place for meditation and contemplation. Just make sure to schedule your visit according to the tide charts, because at certain times of the day the temple is inaccessible due to the ocean rising up to cover the causeways. Also check out their calendar of events so that you can witness one of their spectacular pilgrimages that are set around the temple’s anniversary dates.
Located at cliff’s edge southwest of Bukit peninsula, Uluwatu Temple provides mesmerizing sunset views along with kecak fire dances in the nearby open amphitheater. Surrounding the temple are monkey forests for those looking to explore as they submerse themselves in nature.
The largest temple in Bali, this temple is known as ‘Mother Temple” and sits 1,000m up on Mount Agung. The three main temples of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu are encompassed by eighteen sanctuaries belonging to various caste groups. The intricate design and detailing in these temples along with their gardens and thoughtfully laid out grounds will provide you with a sense of harmony as you wander the facility reconnecting your spirit with mother earth.
Bebek Tepi Sawah
When you need a break from your site-seeing, meditating, and exploring, feed your soul as well as your belly at this famous open air restaurant located in Kuta. It provides views of the busy beach side streets along with a cozy atmosphere. Bebk Tepi Sawah is one of the most famous restaurants in Bali and offers a selection of local cuisines.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
These fabulously laid out rice patties are a “must see now” destination. Purposely designed terraces line the hillsides creating vast agricultural patterns across the landscape that resemble a work of art. As you traverse the road to Tegallalang you will find small restaurants, art galleries and curio shops lining the road. Make sure to bring your camera, because these are some sights you will want to bring home with you.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Probably the best known of all of Bali’s monkey forests, Ubud Monkey is both a scientific research location and a cultural and spiritual haven for local villagers. Home to the grey long-tailed macaque, these forests contain beautiful statues and temples that are tucked back deep within the forest; so be prepared for a bit of a hike.
Whether your method of getting centered again is yoga, meditation, exploration, or simply relaxation, Bali has the perfect location and atmosphere to enhance your self-awareness experience.
Short Blog Article Work:
Rustic Wedding Ideas with a Twist
(Ghost written for client)
Rustic elegance is what you will find at Rock Lake Ranch; the perfect setting for an outdoor or an indoor wedding, both large and small gatherings. Your options are only as limited as your imagination. If you are having difficulty putting together all the details, the event coordinator staff is ready and happy to help guide you, from the wedding to providing reception ideas customizing your wedding day to fit you. Here are just a few reception ideas:
- Waterfront Pavilion – Picture a sunset reception, with the bride and groom arriving from across the water in a hot air balloon to their waiting friends and family, Oriental lanterns and candles light the pavilion as the newlywed couple enter, with live music welcoming them in. Imagine each of your guests releasing a beautiful wish lantern over the lake after the sun has set sending a loving wish out to the universe in your names.
- Country Elegance – Maybe you prefer the small town country feel for your wedding; a nice evening reception in the Rock Lake Ranch main house, with the stone fireplace and old wood decor, decorated with wildflowers to bring a bit of the outside in. The bride and groom arrive in a horse drawn carriage, greeted by their guest’s warm wishes written on heart shaped balloons and strung along the beautiful porch banister for everyone to view.
- Casual Fun – Do you tend to be on the more casual side? Maybe an outdoor reception in one of the lawn areas. Can you see a large white professional tent for the dining and dancing area, with horse shoe accented ribbon tie backs on every chair, and Red Poppy with Queen Ann’s Lace center pieces? Outside the tent, seating areas created with hay bales stacked as chairs and lined with satin runners; off in the corner a croquet course or a horse shoes game for some added whimsical fun for your guests. Then just after the sun has set, your guests gather around by the lake to watch a specially created fireworks display in your honor, as if to announce your new life together to the world.
Wedding reception ideas don’t always have to be traditional. Your wedding is about the two of you and what you like or care about. If you are considering a rustic wedding and reception, that does not mean it has to be an old barn dance, unless that is the reception idea you prefer. Rustic weddings can also have both modern and old world elegance. The best wedding reception for you will be the wedding reception that fits who you are and what you really want.
Micro Plastics in your Toothpaste
(Ghost written for client)
The topic of plastic micro-beads being found under patients’ gums by dentists in Illinois has prompted several manufacturers to change their toothpaste formulas, as well as Illinois to pass a law making non-biodegradable plastic particles in health care products illegal in Illinois starting in 2017. Why all the fuss? Read on.
Micro-beads in toothpaste have no health benefit what-so-ever. Their sole purpose it to make the toothpaste look more appealing. The FDA deemed the use of plastic micro-beads safe for this use. However, dentists are not quite sure about this claim. Once the beads get caught under the gum line they provide an opening for food and bacteria to enter the gum line and cause infection which can lead to other dental issues. This is not the only problem with using plastic micro-beads in toothpaste and other beauty products; the non-biodegradable beads that wash down the sink also accumulate in water ways, streams, lakes, and rivers causing environmental issues.
Because of Illinois’ bringing their concerns to manufactures and the new law going into effect in the state, several main toothpaste manufacturers have agreed to remove the micro-beads from their toothpastes, some within the next 6 months, although others will take until 2016 to complete the change. The two ingredients to look for on packaging when shopping for toothpaste, in order to avoid micro-beads in your toothpaste are:
When the legislation in Illinois was being drafted, legislators contacted the three largest manufacturing companies and this is the information received and the outcome of the conversations.
- Colgate – Colgate claims that they no longer use micro-beads in their toothpaste products.
- Crest – Crest admitted that some of their brands, including the 3D White, and ProHealth products do contain micro-beads.
- Proctor and Gamble – Proctor and Gamble has said that even though their products are perfectly safe, they will have many of their products micro-bead free within the next 6 months, and all of their products will be plastic free by 2016.
Plastic micro-beads have unforeseen impacts that make using them in toothpaste and other beauty products of concern. Legislators and manufacturers agree that for the good of the environment as well as the consumer’s health, that it is prudent to remove these particles from products. However, this could take some time. So, read labels and opt for toothpastes that do not contain plastics or plastic micro-beads.
Balancing College Fun with Homework
(Ghost written for client)
College can be a stressful experience for anyone no matter their age or background. But, it does not have to be. The key to a successful college experience is in finding balance between the academic responsibilities, the social activities and life obligations. Below are some suggestions on how to achieve a successful balance and create a positive college experience for you or your student.
- Organization – Find the method of organization that works best for you, whether it is a daily planner, a bulletin board to arrange your schedule in clear view, an electric planner, or a combination of options. Being organized will help keep you on schedule and remove the stress of falling behind. Just make sure the organizational method you choose is not too complicated creating stress of its own.
- Relaxation – Don’t forget to schedule in time to relax and have fun. All work and no play is not only a clichés, but it is also unhealthy. It is important to take time for you in order to remember why you are working so hard in the first place and to do a self check on whether you are still on the path you want to be on.
- Find and Outlet – Find yourself a stress relief activity or two. Stress is a part of everyday life, but it does not have to rule your life. Find something that you can do when feeling stressed to help bring you back to center. It can be something physical like swimming or running, or something more creative, like writing poetry or painting. The only rule on this is that it is something you love and find relaxing.
Achieving a balanced college experience is possible for every student, as long as they remember to take time for them self while staying on track to eliminate unnecessary stress.
Retro Candies Bring Back Sweet Memories
(Ghost written for client)
With the present economy forcing people to tighten their purse strings by cutting out get-a-ways, and eating out less, making life’s little luxuries fewer and far between, while working more and more hours, it can sometimes be difficult to see what all the hard work is for. It is in these difficult times that it is most important to remember life’s little joys. Retro candy can be one of those happy times, remembering back to childhood and the joy that a simple piece of candy could bring. Taste and scent are directly linked to memory. So when life gets rough, why not trigger those sweet memories with a delicious bite of the heavenly past?
No one is endorsing emotional eating with this article, simply saying that an occasional treat to remember times gone by can be a good mood booster. Everyone has heard about the link between chocolate and endorphins. How about all those other sweet treats from times past? There seems to be a new candy or sugar treat on the market every week, but it is those candy treats from days gone by and their ability to lift our spirits that are the topic here. Retro candies such as:
- Boston Baked Beans
- Waxed Lips
- Candy Cigarettes
- Hot Dog Bubble Gum
- Candy Buttons
- Candy Necklaces
- Mallow Cups
- Pixie Sticks
Some of the treats like candy cigarettes from the past may not be politically correct in this day and age, but they can bring back memories of sitting on the jungle gym after a long day at school, pretending to be a secret agent waiting for his adversary. These fond memories can be just what the doctor ordered on a day when the computer crashes and looses a full week’s worth of work, or the kids are sick and you have no sick time left to stay home with them. During the rough patches in life is when those special innocent memories of childhood come forward to give that added energy to keep going. That is why it is important to take a moment to indulge from time to time.
Because of company buyouts, and some of the inappropriateness of certain candies from the past, it can be difficult to locate that special childhood treat. Not to worry, sites like http://www.NostalgicCandy.com have made it possible to locate that special candy and revive those memories linked to it.
An added bonus to taking a moment to be nostalgic is being able to reminisce about old times and share memories with loved ones. Sharing those stories of times past while enjoying a piece of that special candy with the next generation can be a wonderful bonding experience in addition to brightening what might be a troubled day. So the next time life seems to be a little too much to bear, indulge in a little piece of the sweet past.
Top 5 Places to Swim with Whale Sharks
(Ghost written for client)
Thinking of swimming with whale sharks, but not sure where to go? Check out these destinations of choice.
- Holbox Mexico – The gentle giants migrate to Holbox Island every May through September. This is not only a trip to swim with the Whale Sharks; it is a trip back through time. This peaceful island is reminiscent of LA in the 50’s, if LA had an abundance of wild life. While you relax on your yacht on your way to the Whale Sharks unspoiled habitat, you will enjoy the opportunity to view Flamingos, Sing Rays, Egrets, Chimay Birds, and many more native species.
- Utila Island, Honduras – The Whale Shark can regularly be seen in the waters off of Utila. This species is protected in Honduras making it a more relaxed natural experience. The population does increase between the months of March to April and August to September. The oceanography of this region makes it fertile feeding grounds for these giant Whale Sharks as they continue on their 8,000 mile migration.
- Georgia Aquarium – The Journey with Gentle Giants program is one of the few year round swim with the Whale shark opportunities. This is for those who are nervous about the open sea. The swim experience takes place in the aquarium and comes with an hour and a half tour of the Georgia Aquarium itself. All equipment is provided.
- Cancun (Puerto Juarez), Mexico – In addition to swimming with the Whale Sharks, you will have the chance to snorkel along one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful reefs. The tours run from May 15 thru September 15.
- Donsol and Tiaco Island, Philippines – This is a 5 day excursion that not only has a swim with the Whale Shark, in open water portion of the trip, but it also has coral reef snorkeling trips and has its main based on Miniloc Island with daily exploration of the local tropical sea life. For most of the excursions of this destination the snorkeling experience level is beginner, but since the swimming with Whale Sharks portion is in open water, the experience level for that portion is intermediate.
Whether you are new to snorkeling, or an expert diver, swimming with Whale Sharks is an experience that you will never forget. There are locations to swim with these gentle wonders throughout the Caribbean coast of Mexico in addition to the destinations listed above. The American news may make a trip to Mexico a bit scary these days, but there is no need to hesitate a trip to Holbox, Mexico to swim with the Whale Shark. Holbox is a safe destination, just waiting to fulfill your dream of swimming with the Whale Sharks. For those who want to cross swimming with Whale Sharks off their bucket list, but are not a strong swimmer, there is even an option for you at the Georgia Aquarium. So why wait? Check out these options and book your trip today.
Make Your Backyard the Envy of the Neighborhood
(Ghost written for client)
Having a backyard can be both a pleasure and drudgery for those who do not particularly like yard work, but enjoy having their own space to kick back and relax or have a few friends over for a casual bar-b-que. A person’s backyard should be their sanctuary, not their frustration which can be brought about by the thought of mowing on a hot summer day, or the best method of leaf removal. So, how does one accomplish creating this ideal space?
Creating the ideal backyard space depends on several different factors, such as:
- Area of the country
- Type of soil
- Amount of sunshine
- How intense are the winters?
- The size of the space
- How much regular maintenance does the owner care to have to perform?
The last bullet point may seem silly, as most would think that the less maintenance the better, but some people love yard work and for those who do there is a wider variety of landscaping that can be done.
Whether the space being laid out is simple or intricate the basics to an enviable backyard are the same, good planning and preparation. By having a clear image of what the final look of the yard is to be and what will be needed to achieve that look, many pitfalls can be eliminated. Start with the foundation, i.e. the lawn, patio, ground cover, etc. If starting from scratch make sure the soil is prepped and the grass variety is amicable to the climate. For those who don’t like mowing or leaf removal, there are two routes, the more manicured, less bushes and fewer flower gardens with a small lawn and lots of stone work and pathways, or the more natural indigenous flower beds with a small lawn or no lawn just walkways. If maintenance is not an issue, then shrubs, flowerbeds and conversation areas beneath trees are an option.
Once the foundation is established, then the esthetics can be laid out. Think about what the homeowner would like and what will grow well in that region. Picking plants and materials that hold up well in specific regions will both save money and time in the long run. Consider purchasing a mulching mower. This will cut maintenance by eliminating raking, and also create nutritious mulch to spread around flower beds, herb gardens, and trees.
Finally, after the landscaping is laid out, installed, and any accessories such as lawn ornaments have been put in place, it is important to keep up with lawn grooming. Something as simple as too many leaves getting compacted into the lawn or clogging drain off, can lead to dead spots and flooding issues, in turn costing time and money for repairs.
Protect your Home from Invasive Garage Fumes
(Ghost written for client)
If you have an attached garage the air in your garage may be getting into your home. Think about all the things you store in your garage, and whether you want those contaminants inside your home. We usually store things in our garage that we don’t want contaminating our living space, but if your garage is not ventilated properly, the air in your garage could be seeping into your house. What should you do to make sure your garage is not affecting your home’s air quality?
The first step is to assess your home’s situation.
- Is the barrier wall between the house and garage dry walled on the garage side?
- Do you have good insulation in the wall between the house and the garage?
- Does the door to the house from the garage have adequate weather stripping?
The answers to these questions will help you in sealing any leaks that maybe allowing the air in your garage to enter your home.
In addition to locating and repairing any leaks between the home and garage, installing a quality exhaust fan in the garage will help ventilate the garage and balance the interior pressure in the garage to the pressure in the house, keeping the air in your garage from being forced into your home. Continuous use of the garage exhaust fan will assist in removing noxious fumes from items such as stored paint cans, or stored gas cans, sending them outside instead of into your house.
Another way to minimize toxic fumes in your home and garage, is do not immediately close your garage door after pulling your car into the garage. By letting your garage air out for a few minutes after turning off your vehicle you eliminate the carbon monoxide that is released from your car as you drive in, in turn keeping these gases out of your house.
Greg at All Year has been servicing the Sacramento area since 1981. All Year is committed to providing quality customer service, and they are happy to answer any questions you may have or schedule a free estimate consultation.
How-To Article Work:
Building a Shed Roof
(Ghost written for client)
As you may know there are many different types of roof styles, ranging from flat to multi-layered or sloped. With this variety of styles also comes a variety in the degree of difficulty. One of the simplest roofing designs is the gabled roof mainly because it does not use a truss system. In this article we are going to focus on how to build a gabled roof for a shed.
Step One – Create a Stable Top Beam Base
Along the top edge of your shed’s walls, position four beams that are 1-2 inches wider than the walls, flat across the top of each wall’s edge, and bolt it in place at the corners. When each beam is in place; it should look like a rectangular or square (depending on the shape of your shed) frame when looking down at the shed. These beams need to be very securely attached as they are the supporting aspect of your roof.
Step Two Gable Construction
Measure the midline of the two end beams, making sure the measurements are accurate, because both ends need to line up. At the midline on each end, securely attach a beam perpendicular to the Tope Beam Base. The length of these two beams will determine the degree of pitch your roof will have. Once the two vertical beams have been securely attached, the Cross Beam needs to be installed. Attach the Cross Beam to the two vertical beams. This is the frame work that will support your rafters.
Step Three Cut and Install Rafters
Rafters should be 24” apart and need to be notched with a “Stopper Cut” on the bottom edge a few inches up the beam from the lower end of the rafter. This notch will rest on the Top Beam Base and is what gives the gabled roof its strength. The top end of the rafter will be angled to butt up against and attached to the Cross Beam. The angle of this cut will depend on the degree of the pitch you have chosen. It is best to create a template first for these cuts and then use it to cut each rafter, so all of the rafters fit in place identically. In addition to rafters being spaced 24” apart, each side of the roof’s rafters should line up across from each other at the Cross Beam.
Step Four Apply Roof
Once you have all of your rafters in place; you can now attach your roof. Typically plywood is used for this step, but this can be whatever material you choose to use here. When using plywood, nail it to each rafter making sure to attach it securely at the top, bottom and middle. For a more finished look roofing tiles can be layered on top of the plywood, starting at the bottom edge of the roof and working upward to insure water runs off the roof instead of in between tiles. Using roofing tiles will make your roof last longer against the elements.
Installing a roof can be quite difficult, but you don’t have to be a Master Carpenter to install a basic gable roof; with a few math skills and knowledge of angles anyone can install a gabled roof on a shed.
Building a Shed Door
(Ghost written for client)
So you have your shed built, but what do you do with that gaping hole in the front? A door, that’s what your shed needs. Here are some simple instructions to assist you in building a door for your shed.
- 1”x6” Pressure Treated Tongue and Groove Wood Slats (Enough to cover doorway when laid side by side.)
- 1”x3” Pressure Treated Wood Boards (You will need 3 of these cut 1.5” shorter than your door opening’s width, as they are going to be the braces that secure the door slats together.)
- Drill (With both Screw Driver and Wood Drill bits)
- 4” Wood Screws
- Wood Glue
- Hinges and Door Latch Hardware
Step One: Lay-Out Door
For this article we are going to presume you have your door opening already framed out, and have you have the door lumber pre-cut at your local home center or lumber yard. Measure the opening to your door twice, so that you have an accurate dimension of height and width of your door. If the measurements do not come out the same, measure again. It is important to have an accurate dimension or your door will not fit properly. Lay your tongue and groove door slats out side-by-side making sure to align tops and bottoms. It helps for this step to have a large flat surface with a straight edge, such as a wall to line the boards up along. Measure your width of the laid out door to make sure it fits the width of your door opening. It’s easier to make this adjustment now if needed, rather than after the door is completed.
Step Two: Assemble Door
Evenly place the 1”x3” boards horizontally across the door slats, with the first board starting 5” from the top and the last board 5” from the bottom. There should be a 3/4” space at each side of the three horizontal boards. Once you have your boards properly laid out, flip each cross board over and coat it with wood glue, before returning it to its proper location and attaching it to each slat with three wood screws positioned in a triangle, flipping every other triangle upside-down in an alternating pattern.
Step Three: Hang Door and Add Latch Hardware
There are a variety of different hinge and latch options available at your local hardware store. It is important to choose a sturdy hinge arrangement because the shed door will be heavy and put a lot of stress on the hinges with use. A triple hinge, where there is a hinge located at each brace is your best option for a shed. By placing the three horizontal boards on the inside of the door you eliminate water drainage issues that can occur with them on the outside of the door. Once you select your hinges, follow the directions provided with the store bought hinges and hang your door, then attach your latch.
Although, shed doors come in a variety of styles sizes and décor, this is a very basic style shed door that should be doable for any do-it-yourselfer.
How Hearing Aids Work
(Ghost written for client)
When nearly 1 in 5 people suffer from hearing loss of some sort, it is surprising to see so few people using hearing aids of some sort. Some people simply can’t afford them, and others find the devices embarrassing or uncomfortable. These reasons for avoiding hearing devices could be partially due to not understanding how hearing aid devices work, or because they are only familiar with the bulky, obvious and screechy devices of the past. Modern aids are much smaller and less screechy. They can fit comfortably inside the ear virtually hidden from site. Current technologies such as:
- Directional Microphone
have improved the strength and filtering abilities of hearing devices, giving the wearer a clearer hearing experience.
To understand how hearing devices work, a basic understanding of how we hear is needed. The ear is made up of:
- The Outer Ear – Where sound enters the ear.
- The Ear Canal – Sound waves travel down the ear canal to vibrate the ear drum.
- The ear Drum – Vibrates triggering the 3 small bones in the inner ear.
- 3 Small bones in the inner ear – The Hammer, the Anvil, and the Stirrup carry the vibrations to the cochlea.
- The Cochlea – The shell shape chamber in the inner ear.
Once sound waves reach the Cochlea they stimulate hair cells, creating an electric current to the Auditory Nerve which sends the nerve impulses to the brain.
Hearing devices amplify the vibrations that normally enter the outer ear, and convert them to electronic signals. These devices typically have four parts.
- The Microphone – collects sound from the environment, converts it to an electronic signal, then sends it to the Amplifier.
- The Amplifier – magnifies the sound received from the Microphone and sends it to the Receiver.
- The Receiver/Speaker – converts the electronic signals it receives from the Amplifier back into sound and sends it to the inner ear, where is it forwarded on to the brain.
- Battery – powers the hearing device.
Although there are different styles of hearing devices, this is the main process of how they work. These types of aids work well for people who have had hearing loss due to the inner ear becoming less sensitive, causing it not to receive and transmit vibrations as easily. By amplifying the sound vibrations with an aid, the sound is able to pass through the weaker part of the ear on to the nerve receptors.
For more severe damage a cochlear implant or a bone-anchored hearing aid may be a better option. Cochlear implants basically take over for the inner ear and convert sound to electronic signals then send those signals on to the brain. Bone-anchored hearing aids attach directly to bone in the middle ear and bypass the ear canal and inner ear stages of hearing. Instead of amplifying sound, they create vibrations via the bone and transmit those vibrations directly to the cochlea with a process called direct bone conduction.
Science has brought hearing devices a long way from the bulky, hook around the ear models of past generations. With these innovations, has also come more affordable pricing and more customized products. There is no reason to be embarrassed by wearing a hearing device any longer and cost should no longer be a prohibitive factor, with insurance covering many more options and manufacturers seeing the need to deliver these devices at an affordable cost.
Save Money by Making your own Baby Food
Being a new parent can be exhausting and stressful, especial when finances are tight. Now that formula, baby food, and diapers are part of the budget, money just doesn’t seem to go very far. How can you make it go further? How about making your own baby food? It is simpler than you might think. Plus, making your own baby food gives you control over what is in the food you are feeding your baby. Here are a few things you will need when making your own baby food.
- Baby Food Grinder – These should be available at any culinary or baby store. If you cannot find an actual baby food grinder, a meat grinder, or a spoon and medium to fine grid strainer will work. A more high tech method is a blender or a food processor that has a puree setting.
- Ice Cube Trays – These are for storing the extra servings. The cube sections are the perfect size for single portion servings, and since the food will be stored in the freezer, these will stack nicely in your freezer for future use.
- Saran Wrap – To cover the ice cube trays.
- Heavy Duty Rubber Bands – These are used to secure the Saran Wrap snugly in place over the ice cube trays.
- Labeled Zip Lock Bags – After the portioned baby food has frozen solid in the ice cube trays, remove the portions and store them in zip lock bags to avoid freezer burn.
The easiest part of making your own baby food is you can do it at the same time you are making the rest of your families dinner. The key is that you have to remove the baby food portion before you season the food. Boiling or steaming is easiest for this, since baked foods usually get seasoned before going into the over, but if you wait to season until the baked items come out of the oven, you can also do the baking method.
Start by boiling, steaming or baking your vegetable items such as broccoli, potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, peas, asparagus, carrots, etc. When they are tender enough to break apart with a fork, pull out the portion you want to use for baby food and set it aside in a plastic bowl with a tight lid. Let it continue to steam and soften as you finish dinner for the rest of the family. After you have removed the portion that is meant to be used as baby food, you can season the rest as you like.
Once the baby’s portion of the veggies has cooled enough to handle without scalding yourself, place it in the baby food grinder and puree it. If you are using a strainer and spoon, simply press the vegetable items through the strainer into a bowl. Make sure to get out all of the lumps. You want this to be as smooth and easy for your baby to swallow as possible.
When all the lumps have been removed and the vegetables are a smooth pureed consistency, spoon them into the ice cube trays, filling each cube section. After each tray has been filled cover it with saran wrap and secure the wrap with a rubber band, then place it immediately in the freezer. As mentioned above, you will want to remove the frozen food from the ice cube trays once it has hardened completely, this may take over night, and store them in zip lock bags in the freezer until you are ready to serve them. Each cube makes one serving. Make sure to label the bags with the content and the date that they were made.
Beyond the basic economical savings you will see from making your own baby food, is the health benefits. You are in control of what you are serving. You will know that there are no preservatives, sugars or dyes in the food your baby is eating. Just like what you eat, it is healthier for your baby to have fresh vegetables and fruits verses those stored with preservatives. These same processes can be done with fruit and lean meats. The key is to get them tender enough to puree them. Check with your pediatrician to see what kinds of foods are acceptable for your baby to be eating at their current growth stage, and get creative. The more flavors your baby is exposed to, the healthier their eating choices will be as they get older.
The Secret to Crispy Homemade Hash Browns
If you have ever made hash browns from scratch you know how difficult it can be to get them crispy on the outside without burning them to get them done in the middle. There are a couple of techniques that will turn your hash browns from mediocre to spectacular.
- Use the Right Potato – When making hash browns you want a sturdy potato such as the reliable go to Russet. A good second choice would be the Yukon Gold. These two varieties cooked consistency makes for the perfect has brown.
- Grate the Potatoes onto a Paper Towel – Moisture is your worst enemy when making hash browns. By grating your potatoes onto a paper towel lined plate and then placing a couple more paper towels over the top when you are done grating, then squeezing the moisture out of the potato, you will get a crispier hash brown. This is the same with French fries.
- Make Sure Your Pan is Hot, lightly oiled and Large – Overcrowding a pan with potatoes will give you the mushy raw in the middle result. To avoid this, make sure your pan is very hot and large enough to accommodate the amount of potatoes you are cooking. You want them in a thin layer in order to cook through during the time it takes for them to crisp. By lightly oiling the pan you will make the flipping process much easier.
- Leave Them Alone – It is tempting to want to flip our future hash browns frequently to see what the bottom looks like. This only breaks your hash brown and interferes with the browning process. Let them sit until you can see the edges starting to brown. Similar to waiting for the pancakes to bubble before flipping them. Once you see the edges starting to crisp you can flip your hash browns.
If you follow these four simple tips, your hash browns should come out tender, tasty and crisp. The added bonus to making your own homemade potatoes is that you get to flavor them any way you like. So, be creative, add your favorite seasonings, veggies or meat to see what kind of spectacular new breakfast treat you come up with. Just make sure that when using veggies and meat, the items are dices small enough to coo through. The other option is the pre-cook items like bacon and crumble them into the raw potatoes before putting them in the pan. Have fun experimenting and bon repast.
Financial / Global Economic / Personal Interest Work:
Ameriprise an Overview
(Ghost written for client)
Unless you are a financial expert, it can be quite confusing when considering investment options. That is why it is important to find a financial advisor with an investment company you can trust. Ameriprise Financial is one of the oldest investment companies in the country; founded in 1894 they provide a vast variety of services and products. With over $700 billion in assets, they rank in the top 10 providers of financial planning, including mutual funds, annuities and insurance products. This historic customer focused company has never taken a bailout, and continues to focus on their customer’s needs while keeping a close eye on world and domestic economics in order to stay strong and viable.
Ameriprise is not a one package fits all investment firm. The investment options Ameriprise offers are too diverse to be able to list all of them here, since each client’s needs are taken into consideration when developing their financial portfolio. Fees and interest rates vary depending on the type of investment you have and how aggressively you invest. The least aggressive and safest form of investment that Ameriprise offers is the Certificate of Deposit better known as the CD account. Ameriprise does not charge a sales fee for CD’s. Although CD’s typically earn a higher interest rate than standard savings accounts, they are still fairly low interest earning investments, and require that the funds deposited be tied up for a minimum period of time. As with any interest earning account the interest rates fluctuate with the market. But, where CD’s differentiate from savings accounts in this way is that you are locked into the interest rate you had when opening the CD for the duration of the time commitment. This is good when interest rates are high in order to lock in at the higher rate before rates fall again. As of November 27, 2013 Ameriprise’s interest rates on CD’s ranged from .25% to 1.30% depending on the term of the account and the type of account. The terms range from 3 months to 3 years. Another thing to keep in mind when considering a Certificate of Deposit, is that certain types of CD’s require a minimum deposit.
CD’s are only the beginning of the investment tree, other types of accounts that tend to be on the more cautious side of investing are the fixed annuity and money market accounts. Fixed Annuities are investments with insurance companies that work similar to CDs, but have a slightly higher return on investment due to having a slightly higher risk, because you are investing in an insurance company rather than depositing into a bank. Annuities also require your investment to be tied up for a longer period of time; the most common lengths of time being 7 or 10 years, but can either pay you a monthly dividend check or redeposit the dividend into the annuity investment for greater growth. If you choose to withdraw your money before the end of the account term there is a penalty that can range from 1% to 10% depending on the contract and the company. Money Market accounts work more like a higher interest earning checking account. Your initial investment is tied up for a period of time, but you can access it on a limited basis if needed.
Another type of investment that Ameriprise offers is the IRA. An IRA is a tax deferred plan that can encompass many types of investments from CDs to Annuities to Mutual Funds which contain Stocks and/or bonds. Rules for IRA’s are federally mandated since these are tax deferred accounts making them much more rigid in terms of locking your money up for a period of time. Although IRA’s were originally designed to be a retirement account, there are different kinds to meet different needs, such as a ROTH IRA which is more easily accessed for things such as college tuition, but there is still a limit on the amount that can be withdrawn without a penalty and the reason for the withdrawal has to meet one of the governments criteria. Currently Ameriprise’s annual fee for a standard IRA is $40 per year, but will increase to $50 in 2014.
The previously mentioned Mutual Fund is a trust account that can contain stocks and/ or bonds within its portfolio. How rapid the growth of return you receive on a Mutual Fund is depends on how aggressively you structure your Mutual Fund with stocks, bonds or the combination of both. Most Mutual Funds are structured by aggressiveness and offered to the investor in that way. The fee for Mutual funds varies depending on the fund and the size of the investment. Currently Ameriprise’s standard fee for Mutual funds is 5.75%. However, Ameriprise does offer discounts for higher volume purchases.
Ameriprise also offers direct online stock purchasing to its clients for a nominal fee of $25.95 per trade; as well as broker handled trades. Broker managed trades charge a minimum of $50 per trade and can be as much as 1.5% of the trade amount.
The types of accounts listed above barely scratch the surface of the investment options offered by Ameriprise Financial. For more detailed account information on a portfolio that might meet your needs contact an Ameriprise Financial Advisor directly.
Better Savings and Checking with Aurora Federal Credit Union
(Ghost written for client)
What’s the difference between a bank and a credit union? Both are federally regulated and protected. However while a traditional style bank is privately owned, credit unions are member owned. This means that when opening a savings account with a credit union, the individual becomes a part share holder giving them voting rights in company policies. Because of this, typically credit unions have lower and fewer fees, as well as slightly better interest rates. Now that you know what makes a credit union different from a bank, let’s discuss some of the savings and checking options that are available at Aurora Federal Credit union.
Before anyone can open any kind of account at Aurora Federal Credit Union they must have a Regular Savings Account with a minimum balance of $25 at all times. Regular Savings Accounts pay a competitive dividend and are insured by the NCUA. Currently Regular Savings Accounts are paying a dividend rate and APY of .05%.
A few of the other types of savings accounts offered by Aurora Federal Credit Union are, Club Accounts, Superhero Savings Accounts, CD’s, Health Savings Accounts, Money Market Accounts and IRA Accounts. Dividend rates vary by type of account and where applicable term commitment. Superhero Accounts are accounts specifically designed for children under 12 to help children learn about finances and to save money. As an incentive to save kids get to choose a prize each time they make a deposit into their Superhero Account, making it fun to save. For all accounts other than the Superhero Account there is a one-time $5 membership fee due at the time of enrollment.
Aurora Federal Credit Union also offers Advantage Checking accounts that require no minimum deposits or balances, and include free online banking, free Visa Debit Card, free e-statements, and free Online Bill Pay services. Overdraft Protection is also available to those with approved credit. With all accounts the first 10 ATM transactions per month are free, with a $2 per transaction fee for each ATM transaction thereafter.
As with traditional style banks, credit unions do have fees, but there are fewer of them. Aurora Federal Credit Union’s fees for savings and checking accounts are:
- There are no fees for savings accounts. But, early withdrawal penalties may apply for accounts such as CD’s and Money Markets. Make sure and verify the terms of these accounts before making early withdrawals.
- There are no monthly fees for Advantage Checking Accounts.
- Courtesy Overdraft Transfers are free of charge, excluding any overdraft fee that may have been accrued while the account was in an overdraft status.
- Insufficient Funds fees for both personal and business accounts are $27.
- Return Deposited Items for personal and business accounts are $27.
- Check Copies for personal checks are $2
- Check Copies for CU checks are $5
- Temporary Checks are $.50 each
- Self to Self RDI is $30
- Account Reconciliation and Balancing is available at a rate of $25 per hour.
- And, check orders are available at a variable rate depending on the style of check and quantity.
In addition to savings and checking accounts the Popmoney Service offered at Aurora Federal Credit Union allows members to send money to other individuals such as friends and family whether they are credit union members or not with simply using their email address or cell phone number. The other individual must have some sort of bank or credit union account though.
For those who prefer to manage their money on the go, the mobile banking options provide full access to accounts, rates and banking information. While the Telephone Teller gives members 24 hour access to their money and accounts to make transfers, check balances, and making payments.
The above services are only a few of the services provided by Aurora Federal Credit Union. They also offer Direct Deposit, Payroll Deductions, Night Drop Deposit, Money Orders, Cashier’s Checks, Wire Transfers, Notary Public Services, Signature Guarantees (free for members), Mortgage and Car loans, Student Loans, Safe Deposit Boxes and Visa Gift Cards.
To be a member of Aurora Federal Credit Union individuals have to be one of the following:
- City of Aurora Employee
- Retired Employee
- Volunteer for City of Aurora
- Relative of a City of Aurora Employee or Volunteer
- Live, work, worship or attend school in one of the original Aurora zip codes (80010 or 80011)
- Resident of Montrose and Delta counties CO
- Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming employees, volunteers and their relatives of Rural Electric CO-OP’s
Credit unions are a way to take charge of finances and banking needs by saving while paying lower and fewer fees. They give more ability to be heard with complaints or concerns, since members are considered an investor and not just a customer. They offer most of the same services as most major banks without a lot of the fees typically associated with those services at traditional banks. Each credit union has its own membership requirements, so for those interested in becoming a credit union member, make sure to check out the local credit unions in the area for membership requirements, fee charts and interest rates.
Business Brokers a Global Asset
(Ghost written for client)
In the last decade or so the unemployment rate worldwide ranged from the unheard of 0 percent in Monaco (2011), to the astronomical 70 percent in Zimbabwe (2011), 78.2 percent in Vanuatu (1999), and 90 percent in Nauru (2004), with most countries falling somewhere in the high single digits to double digit numbers in between, the U.S. and Australia falling in at 6.7 percent (2014) and 4.8 percent (2014) respectively. With unemployment at record highs globally more people than ever are striking out on their own to be self-employed as a way to be self-sufficient in the struggle to make ends meet. Self-employment does not necessarily mean starting up a business from scratch. It also includes being an independent contractor in a field that someone may already have experience and expertise in, online data entry and other types of online contract work, and buying out right or into an already existing business or franchise. There are thousands of businesses all over the world that are up for sale in all kinds of industries, so how do you find these businesses? A Business Broker is one way. Never heard of a Business Broker? Well read on.
According to Wikipedia, a Business Broker is the same as a “Business Transfer Agent” or an “Intermediary”. Their function is similar to that of a real estate agent in that they facilitate the negotiations and sales between the buyer and the seller, but in this case it is for small businesses and all that is involved within those businesses. Some of the functions involved with being a Business Broker include:
- Estimating the Value of the Business – What a business owner perceives their business’ value to be may not be the case. A Business Broker goes over the business with a fine tooth comb as a neutral party and establishes what the business’ true value is.
- Advertises the Business as For Sale – Knowing where and how to advertise a business that is up for sale takes experience and knowledge. A good Business Broker has the knowledge and expertise to advertise its listings in a way and in places that will attract buyers who are willing to buy the business at the best possible price. Advertisements may or may not omit the identity of the business in order to protect themselves from prospective buyers contacting the seller directly.
- Interview Potential Buyers – The Business Broker handles all buyer to business introductions, questions, and negotiations about the business that is for sale.
- Handles the “Due Diligence Investigation” – Before the sale is final, the Business Broker initiates and follows through to see that all aspects of the “Due Diligence Investigation” is completed in accordance with the law.
- Assist with Sale – A Business Broker handles all aspects of the sale of a business from beginning to end, when the final paperwork is signed and the change of ownership is completed.
A couple of things to keep in mind when looking for a Business Broker are:
- Most Business Brokers work for the Seller.
- Typically fees are seller paid, but make sure and verify this as well as if there are any other fees involved with the sale and operation of the business; verify qualifications as well, since some franchises and businesses may have other requirements.
- Verify your potential Business Broker’s qualifications. Are they a Certified Business Intermediary (CBI), and are they a member of the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA)? In some countries, such as certain states in the U.S., Business Brokers are also required to have a Real Estate License.
- Since Web Commerce is a vital part of most businesses, especially real estate, now days make sure your Business Broker has a good web presence. Check out their web-page and look at the number of listings they have posted. Do a web search to see how often their ads appear with a simple search using the most predominate search engines.
- How many hits does your potential Business Broker’s website receive in a month? If they are not drawing in enough traffic to their web-site your listing may be posted for a long while before the business sells, if it sells.
- Does the broker do any other type of advertising besides web ads? Web ads are an important part of advertising in modern day business; however it is also important not to put all of your eggs in one basket. By including other forms of advertising into the promotional plan a broker can reach more customers increasing the speed and likely hood of selling a business.
- What is the potential Broker’s sales track record? How many sales have they had in the past month and were there any complications with any of the sales? How were any complications handled? These are all important questions toward having a better understanding of how fast your business will potentially sell with this broker and how they will handle any issues that might arise.
- Does this broker have any complaints filed against them? If they do it is a good idea to do some research to verify if the complaint was legitimate or not. Also, it is definitely a red flag if a broker has too many complaints against them or has been sued.
- Does the broker allow “Carve Outs”? Most Business Broker agreements are an exclusive sale type agreement, meaning the business has to be sold through them. However, some brokers will agree to an exception of a specific potential buyer, if there is one already in mind that has been being worked with.
- Lastly, some brokers will agree to a fee to help with the business’ sale paperwork, without a signed broker agreement, if all that is left to do on the sale is the paperwork.
In general Business Brokers are the best way to search out a franchise opportunity, or business to buy, since they will have the business’ details and be knowledgeable about all the facts involved with the purchase or buy in of the businesses within their listings. U.S. based company IBISWorld reported in March, 2014 that sales through Business Brokers are expected to increase at an annualized rate of 3 percent between the years 2009 and 2014; that is more than $961 million. These increased sales are partially attributed to more readily available financing, economic improvements, and an increase in buyer prospects as more and more retirees look to supplement their retirement income through business ownership in an industry that they enjoy. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Business Brokers’ December 2013 Quarter “The State of the Australian Market” report states that, “The small to medium privately held business sector represent over 95% of all businesses in Australia and equates to a trillion dollar investment by individuals and Australian families in their financial future.” These statistics show that small business sales are on an increase even with the world economies in turmoil, and that Business Brokers are a growing industry on a global scale.
Since business and economic finance has expanded to a more globally interactive and interdependent format, it may be difficult to decide what the best business investment option, even with a highly skilled and knowledgeable broker is. According to Inc.com, some of the best businesses to invest in for 2014 are:
- Automated Guided Vehicles
- Mobile Health
- Health and Specialty Food
- Translation Services
- Digital Forensics Services
- Business Applications.
These industries have been picked through looking at forward looking industry trends and where business technologies seem to be headed. However, it is also important to consider what type of business you would enjoy. Owning a business is a time consuming endeavor and if it is something you do not find enjoyable, you may not be able to put the needed energies into making the business a success. Before buying any business or franchise take a good look at what is involved in the business, research multiple businesses that may be of interest and do not simply look at the current or projected profit margin. Industries and profitability change with current trends in technology, consumer interest and world changes, so just because a business is projected to make a lot of money does not mean it will happen. That is why it is important to find a business that is appealing and interesting in order to continue to grow with the business and have the ability to change with the tides making the investment grow.
If considering buying an already established business, consider using the services of a reputable and qualified Business Broker. Business Brokers are a growth industry and will provide options that may not be available otherwise or that you may not have heard of. Look at the options and do the research before settling on an industry that you may not be suited for. By using a Business Broker you can be walked through the process of buying a business, get pre-qualified, have more information to make an informed decision with, and take some of the risk out of your business venture.
Is the World Recession Over
(Ghost written for client)
The last decade has been a time of economic turmoil worldwide. Banks and investors have been struggling to catch up and meet the demands of a globally interdependent economic climate; while countries such as China flourished and became the world’s largest exporter, and the world inherited more millionaires worldwide than ever before. These statistics are deceiving however, since the gap between the financial classes rapidly increased almost eliminating the middle class in some countries. Corrupt banking and the fall of the housing market in the U.S. played a large factor in the volatile market, but cannot take full responsibility for the global condition. Greece’s overly high national debt along with Ireland, Spain, and other Eurozone countries’ failing financial structures sank the European economy deep into the global recession pulling the euro down with it. Even with so much of the world struggling to climb out of the global recession a handful of countries managed to maintain a solid economic standing.
Although the housing bubble burst in the U.S. created havoc across financial sectors around the world, it was not the only contributing factor. Many countries’ inability to maintain a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) standing high enough to offset their national debt was another key element. China’s ability to produce products at an extremely low cost due to an almost unlimited work force made them the go to for cheap products and staffing outsourcing. China’s ability to provide products and labor at a cheap price along with their willingness to buy up other countries debt has made them the world’s largest exporter and one of the strongest economies in the world. This growth has increased the number of millionaires in China moving them into the number 3 ranking for countries with the most millionaires in the world; only second to the United States. Speculators have some concerns that with China’s fast economic growth that at some point the bubble will burst, causing them to fall into an even deeper recession than the rest of the world has recently experienced. Concerns follow that since China has bought up so much of the world’s debt, that if China does sink into a recession it could take much of the world with it, if measures are not taken now to avoid this from happening.
While China moves to one of the world financial powers, other countries like the U.S. struggle to keep from losing their middle class. New government implemented banking regulations and assistance to home owners along with banking bailouts assisted in the stopping of a full blown depression in the U.S. But, inappropriate spending by bank and corporate CEO spending of bailout funds minimized the potential recession recovery. As investor confidence begins to return, so do jobs assisting in the improvement of the unemployment rate. However, long unemployed and near bankrupt labor forces are being forced to take much lower paying jobs while cutting back in order to attempt to make ends meet. Banks are frugally lending, and consumer spending is spottily increasing. All of these factors make the unemployment figures deceptive and make the U.S. economy in a fragile recovery state. Interest rates remain low in hopes of aiding banks in finding buyers for the abundance of foreclosure properties that remain on the market, but banks are still not lending enough to make a real impact. The real recovery will come in the areas of eco-friendly technologies and the United States’ redefining themselves as a world exporter in order to increase their GDP and put citizens back to work making a livable wage.
Countries such as Australia who maintain a solid GDP were able to steer clear of the Global Recession for the time being. In addition to having a high GDP standing, Australia has managed to maintain a growing housing market. Additionally, foreign investors continue to buy property within Australia increasing property values. Although speculators do expect the Australian housing bubble to burst at some point, it is expected that as long as Australia continues to establish a stable GDP that they will be able to avoid a recession when the bubble bursts; making Australia one of the most resilient economies in this global climate. This resiliency and the still growing housing market create an investment opportunity within the commercial real estate sector. Commercial property will become a sought after asset as new homes are built and communities grow. Investors with foresight will seek out these opportunities and take advantage of the growing need.
Poland is another country that avoided the Global Recession Crisis. Poland’s Foreign Investment Department sites three key factors for the country’s avoiding the recession.
- Infrastructure Improvement – A huge amount of funds received from the European Union after Poland’s joining in 2004, prior to the recession were used to improve infrastructure. Improved infrastructure and completion of projects minimized additional expenditures and eliminated the need for additional taxes as other parts of the world searched to find funding for such projects.
- Middle Class Cash – Internal consumer consumption never stopped, keeping businesses strong and attracting outside investors. Citizens continued to buy Poland made products helping support their economy while other countries found themselves dependent on imported goods.
- Foreign Investment – Poland is able to provide quality products at a lower cost than other Western European countries, making them a viable resource for other countries looking for savings on goods.
For those countries still emerging from the Global Recession, banks will have to be more stringent with doing due diligence when providing loans to those looking to purchase property or invest in businesses. These stricter requirements may make it more difficult for some to get a loan, but will make for much more secure loans in the long run which will help the world community avoid falling back into a Global Recession or worse. It is a fine line to be walked; banks must commit to loans in order to help stimulate the world’s economies, but must make sure that those loans are as risk free as possible. On the other side of the pendulum, consumers must have jobs in order to qualify for loans and to be able to repay those loans. This means as long as the unemployment rates around the world are high, that even moderate economic improvements will remain fragile.
As the EuroZone gradually climbs out of the European Recession, there are some countries such as Spain that remain in need of assistance to help their struggling banking industry. Minimal growth over recent months in France, Germany, and Portugal have aided in the Union’s inching out of recession ahead of projections. But until Spain, Greece and other member countries whose GDP is too low to support repayment of their debt begin to rebound; the recovery statistics will remain muddy. In 2012 members of the European Union completed a successful fiscal consolidation and structural reform to both aid these failing financial economies and increase global confidence in the European markets. This reform also assisted in the Eurozone’s emerging from recession status.
According the The World Banks report, “Doing Business”, the current country top 5 rankings for Best Place to Start a Business are:
- New Zealand
- Hong King SAR, China
The World Bank also states that when it comes to ease of doing business, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore, in that order, were the top three countries to do business with. The U.S. fell in at number 4 and Australia came in at number 11. Other categories within the report were: Dealing with Construction Permits, Getting Electricity, Registering Property, Getting Credit, Protecting Investors, Paying Taxes, Trading Across Borders, Enforcing Contract, and Resolving Insolvency.
As the world begins to climb out of recession and banks begin to recognize stable economies for investment, prime investment opportunities both in the residential and business sectors will emerge, making it the perfect time to invest. In general global economic conditions are gradually improving, even though some areas remain in a fragile state. But as more and more global confidence within the financial community builds and consumers find the expendable income to spend and invest, even those fragile economies that are on the rise will again become stable. The economic world has entered a new age of international interdependency, and countries will need to recognize their impact on the overall world economy working together to avoid future global recessions, by investing in new technologies and businesses that strengthen each countries’ Gross Domestic Product and trade infrastructure.
South African Economic Growth since Apartheid
(Ghost written for client)
In the 20 years since the end of apartheid South Africa has seen an abundance of positive economic change, but there is still a long way to go. The introduction of technologies into a very agricultural society has created a gap in industry; quick advancing technological industries on one end, and low paying laborers on the other. Although South Africa now has a large African middle-class, there remains a high amount of unemployment stemming from the lack of education to meet the current technologically powered world’s demands. The poor quality of education and teachers needs to be corrected in order to provide quality education to the new middle class and the large number of unemployed 35 and under age group, to maintain steady economic growth within the region. Additionally, new industry in the agricultural, mining and textile industries needs to be established in order to support the large population of African’s who are only trained in these areas. With the largest portion of unemployment being those who are 35 and under and who are considered “unemployable”, it will be vital to reeducate and train the younger generation in order to sustain economic growth. All of this reeducating needs to be done while continuing to support the technological growth that has helped make South Africa the “largest economy in the second largest continent in the world,” as Tara Kangarlou of CNN phrases it. The current growth and education cycle is providing huge business opportunities for those entrepreneurs willing to make the investment.
The comparison of today’s South Africa to that of South Africa 20 years ago is like night and day. The end of Apartheid catapulted South Africa into the cell-phone, internet, and highly technological age. They have gone from a country that barely had landline phone access in 1993 to a country that in 2013 launched a satellite into space. This expedited leap into the 21st century has helped create a large middle class that more than doubled in size amongst the ethnically African population within the first 14 years of democracy and nearly tripled South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product to more than $400 Billion in 2011. These positive economic conditions have not come without growing pains though. Since the majority of the non-white South African populous training and education has been in the industries of agriculture, mining and textiles, there is now an entire population of people who are in need of re-education to meet the current jobs that are available. To help offset this need new technology in these fields is needed that does not simply mechanize current jobs putting more people out of work, but that helps those in these industries transition to other types of jobs within these industries. Other countries have been through this same evolution of growth and industry transition. The difference is that these other countries did so at a much more gradual rate as technologies were being established, whereas South Africa has been thrown into the already tried and true world of technology without the benefit of evolution.
Five million jobs have been added in the past two decades, but in a nation of 52 million people even with that growth in employment there are still seven million people who are unemployed. That is nearly an eighth of the population is without jobs. This creates a large untapped labor force for those businesses and industries that are willing to invest in the training needed to operate a business in this region. Ironically, as the overall economy of South Africa has grown so has the unemployment rate, rising from 31.5 percent in 1994 to 35.6 percent in 2013. This growth in industry and in the unemployment rate is directly related. As new technology for industries that have in the past been all done by workers moved in, it mechanized many positions creating more efficient and cost effective production and eliminating many jobs. Since these jobs that were eliminated were blue collar untrained or those without much formal education, there was no alternative work available to these now unemployed workers.
This is where a better education structure comes in. The current education system in South Africa is severely lacking. Many of the teachers are attempting to teach subjects that they themselves can barely do or know little about. The dedication of the teaching staff to work a full five day week teaching is not there, and the materials to adequately educate the public are missing. Without a strongly educated next generation the country’s economic growth will not be sustainable. The 35 an under age group that is currently the largest portion of the unemployed is also the worker base that will have to take over when the older workers retire and can no longer fill the workforce needs. It is in this area that companies such as Deeksha Educational Consultancy are an opportunity to invest in South Africa’s future while investing in a franchise. It is an opportunity to invest in the building of quality education and training for the workforce in South Africa. More new companies focused on education and educational supplies will be needed in order to prepare the seven million unemployed citizens in South Africa as the new work force that will continue to propel South Africa into an economic dynamo.
Other franchise or business opportunities will be in the growth and expansion of current and future technologies, such as Aps Unloaded. Smart Phone Aps are a growing market place and combined with the extensive availability of South African workers, this franchise opportunity is a step forward in both boosting the South African economy and getting in on the ground floor of an expanding enterprise.
Although the South African economic growth slowed to only 1.9 percent in 2013 and is projected to be 2.8 percent in 2014, it is continuing to increase even throughout the Global Recession. For it to continue to grow and remain stable for decades to come it will require outside investment to the infrastructure by creating new business opportunities, better training and educational programs, and innovative technologies to help close the gap of types of work opportunities available with the abilities of the available work force. With that said, do not assume that South Africans are sitting on their hands waiting for jobs to come in. Their new generation of innovative thinkers are creating products that the world will soon take notice of. Some of these innovations are:
- Mellowcabs – Mellowcabs are environmentally sound high-tech electric pedicabs. They are manufactured from recycled materials, and designed for the metropolitan or suburban commuter. These come with an array of features such as human power charging, on-board tablet computers and software features. They are meant to provide gap transportation for those using public transportation by providing transportation during that first mile to the bus or train station and the last mile to the final destination.
- SavvyLoo – This is a self-contained, waterless, quick assemble toilet that in short separates and eradicates pathogens and the odor associated with them using a specially designed conical disc and the heat from the sun. Although it was invented to accommodate Informal South African settlements and rural communities, it is an ideal product for military use, other countries with extensive rural areas, and a host of other possibilities.
- The Malaria pf/PAN (pLDH) Test Kit – This test kit provides a rapid medical diagnostic that can detect all strains of malaria as well as signal within 30 minutes as to whether or not a treatment is working. Out of nine test kits globally developed this is the only one developed by a fully-owned African Company. In countries that have malaria concerns this product could change the way testing and treatments are completed.
As more and more innovative products addressing South Africa’s unique climate, terrain, cultural, and life issues arise, the better their Gross Domestic Product will become and the more business opportunities will arise.
Entrepreneurs looking for the next big growth opportunity will see South Africa as the next China or India in the aspect of potential innovations, unclaimed markets and vast labor forces. The current issue of under educated former farming, mining and textile workers provides a new untapped, trainable workforce to be molded into informed, educated, and productive personnel for whatever business venture that steps up and trains them. This will provide fiscally beneficial business opportunities, investment ventures, and stability to the South African economy.
US Bank, Steer Clear
(Ghost written for client)
US Bank, a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp, is the United States’ fifth largest commercial bank and one of the most stable banks in the country, with U.S. Bancorp having $321 billion in assets, and running 3,086 banking offices. However, their size and stability are only part of the picture. In their desire to grow and build profits they seem to have lost their connection with their customer and their customer service has become far from adequate.
According to BankTracker.com, US Bank scores only 2 stars out of 5 from their customer reviews on Customer Service, Bank Rates, Online Experience, Fees and Charges, and only one star out of 5 for Overall Satisfaction. This average is composed from 256 customer reviews. Additionally, the site itself gave US Bank a grade of “C” and an overall rating of 30%. Using BankTracker.com’s Red, Yellow and Green score system, US Bank only received a green (positive approval) mark for its Financial Health and Mobile Banking; Bank Rates received a yellow (average or subpar) mark and Customer Ratings, Bank Fees, and the Number of Locations all received red (negative) marks.
Besides US Bank’s fees that tend to be on the high end or excessive side of most banks, one of the biggest review complaints from current and former customers seems to be US Banks inaccuracies and unwillingness to correct their own errors without a fight and long dispute process. Customer reviews reflect that when dealing with these issues, the customer service representative is typically rude and unhelpful, but on the rare occasion that you do find someone personable, the problem still does not get resolved, and more phone calls, letters and time to deal with these issues is required to try and fix the problem. More often than not it seems that even within the US Bank organization they cannot agree on their own policies. It is common to be transferred between departments multiple times and have each department contradict what the other is saying. Additionally it seems to be a common theme that US Bank charges fees where fees are not due and then refuses to reverse or credit those fees. US Bank also reports these unpaid fees to credit bureaus even when the fees are in dispute, directly affecting its customer’s credit scores even when the customer is in the right, so that once the dispute is resolved, which can take months and sometimes years, the customer then has to have their credit report corrected.
US Bank’s large size makes reaching a customer service agent, who can actually help you, complicated as well; so much so that a web-site has been developed by GetHuman.com that provides US Bank customers with the best routs and contact information for dealing with the bank. The information that is contained on this site comes directly from US Bank customers who have experienced the automated runaround and found solutions.
Other issues with US Bank include their lack of timely response to reported fraudulent charges against debit and credit cards, insufficient firewalls to limit hacking, extensive holds on checks, and their inability to track internally communications with customers.
“Bait and Switch” marketing is another of US Bank’s tactics. They often advertise accounts with very tempting perks or benefits, and then once customers have signed up for these accounts and been with them a few months, a letter is sent out announcing that these benefits have been discontinued. The customer is now stuck with an account that they may not have set-up if they had not been offered the perks to do so, and the bank offers them nothing in return for these canceled benefits.
Closing an account is no piece of cake either. More than a few reviews stated that after they had closed their accounts US Bank continued to charge them a service fee for having an account, and this took weeks or months to get resolved as the fees continued to accumulate against the closed accounts and against the customer’s credit.
US Bank deals in all areas of finance, providing Savings and Checking accounts, Brokerage accounts, Insurance, Investments, Trusts, Payment Services and Mortgages to name a few of the areas they do business in. And, the negative reviews are about all of these. The most universal complaint seems to be US Bank’s inability to process direct payments correctly, and to correct errors that stem from this inability. Customers wrote on more than one web-site that US Bank had taken too much money from their account to make these payments and then refused to correct the error. Some of these errors were for thousands of dollars and took weeks or more to resolve.
According to the “Consumerist” a Georgia online paper, US Bank took billions in government bailout money and refused to provide homeowners with mortgage modifications. Judge Dennis Blackmon of Georgia openly reprimanded US Bank both in court and to the news media, for taking the bailouts and not helping their customers.
Although financial security is of vital importance to anyone looking for a bank, especially in this day of bank bailouts, trustworthiness, reasonable rates and business practices, and helpful, quality customer service are also important. US Bank does not seem to understand this even if their web-sites preach how important good customer service is to them, because their everyday business interactions do not back-up this philosophy. An effort was made to research positive reviews for this article, but those seemed to be minimal and difficult to find. All but one of the literal handful of positive reviews that were found also included at least one negative about the US Bank experience.
What You Need to Know About Franchising
(Ghost written for client)
When people think of franchises they often think of large fast food or restaurant chains, hotel chains, and convenience stores such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Applebees, Wyndham Hotels, and Carrefour. What most people do not realize is that Franchising has been around since the 1850’s and there are thousands of franchise companies in 120 different business categories worldwide ranging from accounting services to health care to shipping companies and more. Franchising is a way for someone who may not have an idea of their own or a large amount of business experience to get into an already established business for themself by selling someone else’s products using their proven business format. It also provides a business with a method of expansion without a huge outlay of capital.
The concept of franchising began with the invention of the sewing machine when Isaac Singer needed a way to get his new product out to the public. In order to reach different areas of the U.S. he developed a business plan to license people interested in selling his machine and charged them a fee for the license. Since then franchising has become a standard operating practice for companies with a solid business structure to expand their brand by selling licenses to entrepreneurs interested in selling their products. The biggest and most well-known company to take the franchise method and run with it is McDonald’s. McDonald’s started out in 1955 as a small independently owned fast food chain, and has become the world’s largest franchise with more than 33,000 franchises in 118 countries that include some of the most repressed and volatile areas of the world, such as:
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
- And Vietnam
Making McDonald’s the most successful franchise in franchise history. McDonald’s has proven by example that franchising allows a company to expand into markets that would not otherwise be possible, creating growth opportunities that would be missed otherwise.
Although franchising started out as an American concept, it has expanded to be a world business practice. On the “Top 100 Global Franchises – 2014 Rankings” published by Franchise Direct, there were nine countries including the U.S. represented. Excluding the U.S., Spain held two spots on the list at number 10 and number 41, The United Kingdom had two spots at numbers 15 and 83, France had six spots on the list ranking 29th, 34th, 38th, 63rd, 67th, and 94th, Canada also held six spots in the rankings, followed by Australia ranked at 78th and 79th, and Germany, Sweden and Japan who each had one spot on the list.
Franchise agreements vary significantly depending on the company, the type of business, what country it is located in, and the investment itself. Generally though, Franchise agreements provide the investor with product, a branded name and recognition, and a support system, that a brand new start-up company would not have. This is what makes buying into a franchise so appealing to a lot of people. These perks do not come without a cost though. Buying into a franchise can cost anywhere from the low $1,000 mark to several hundred thousand dollars depending on the company. These are just the buy-in fees though. There are also operating and start-up costs just like with any other business. Some franchises require your business to look a certain way in order to follow their format, so start-up costs could be more than you would have if starting your own business from scratch. There might also be royalty fees and franchise renewal fees involved. It is important when considering a franchise to look at all of the expenses of running the business and make sure you have enough capital to maintain the business for at least 6 months in case there are any unforeseen delays or situations that would affect your new businesses earnings. Also, consider how any on-going royalty or renewal fees would affect the bottom line of the business.
Buying a franchise is not a sure fire recipe for success, even franchises can fail if the business is not run properly, the support structure is not there, and the financial backing is not sound. Some example of this are:
- Kumon North America – An afterschool tutoring franchise has a $1,000 purchase price. However, the support system may not be there, with more than 299 franchises closing within the past five years.
- American Poolplayers Association – Although they have had only 15 closures in the past ten years and the initial buy-in is only $2,900, the ongoing 20 percent royalty fee could make keeping the doors open a struggle for someone who does not have the financial savvy or industry knowledge to run the business properly.
- 7-Eleven – The initial fee to own a 7-Eleven franchise is $31,000, but the support team is substantial and they have only had 175 closures over the past five years. This may sound like a lot, but when you put it into perspective of their currently having more than 4,300 stores, it is minimal, especially with recent economic occurrences.
- Cartridge World – This Australian ink and toner cartridge recycling franchise had more than 1,030 locations internationally in 2010, and in 2013 reported only 863 locations internationally, a loss of 169 locations in only 3 years. Although, they offer four weeks of training (two weeks at headquarters and two weeks at the franchise site), it may not be enough training to warrant the $80,800-$135,300 total investment with the added 6 percent royalty fee for a 10 year contract, to help keep investors in business.
That is why it is important to read the fine print and make sure the company you are looking into buying into provides an adequate training and support system as well as what additional fees may be involved.
New franchises are surfacing regularly creating investment and career opportunities on a global scale in just about any industry. Franchise Business.com the directory used by the Franchise Counsel of Australia, boasts listing more than 1,200 Australian franchise opportunities and offering financial, legal, and business advice to those interested in pursuing a possible franchise investment. There are many other organizations available as well to guide someone through the franchising process, whether they are a business looking to franchise, or an investor looking to buy. The Franchise Counsel of Australia (FCA) has information, services, and guidelines to assist anyone interested in franchising in Australia. Additionally they offer information and resources for “Women in Franchising”, and a “Franchise Hub” for networking.
No matter what kind of franchise investment, it is always good to have someone who knows about the business of franchising, is knowledgeable about the territory or region that the new location will be in, has knowledge on the companies that are available and is willing to explain all of the potential costs as well as the benefits of buying into any particular company or franchising an existing company. A broker will be able to do these things. Just make sure that when looking for a broker to assist with franchise investments, that they are reputable and both accredited and knowledgeable within the region of interest for expanding into. Different countries have different criteria and requirements in addition to each company having their own investment requirements. Check to see the origin of the company of interest, and what laws are applicable to that company with reference to where the new location would be. City ordinances, county regulations, state, province and country laws can all affect the start-up and long term structure of any business whether they are an established franchise or not, especially if the prospective new location is in a new region. Look at the areas cultural environment as well. The McDonald’s in china is substantially different than the McDonald’s in Australia or the U.S., greatly because of the cultural climate and food preferences. A local broker should be able to point out these nuances prior to making the investment to give the investor a more educated decision foundation.
These resources are also beneficial to those businesses looking to franchise themselves. The cost of expansion, even for one new location can be substantial. Franchising provides the opportunity for larger expansion while making money instead of a large outlay of financial resources that could ultimately put the original location in jeopardy if the new location becomes more of a drain than an income source. The potential for growth could also be substantially larger than if the individual did the expansion on their own.
The bottom line here is franchises are a viable, lower risk option for getting into business for one’s self or for expanding an already existing business. But they are not fool proof; they do come at a cost and vary widely from business to business even within the same industry, making it vital to compare franchise options before investing. It is also a good idea to have a representative that is knowledgeable within the region as well as within the franchising industry to help guide potential franchisees through the initial search and investment process. Having a solid support system and sufficient financial backing to get through the start-up phase and any other obstacles that might surface will minimize the risk of failure for any business and is a key component to a successful franchise. A franchise should simply provide the investor with more of the up-front and sustainability resources than starting an up-start company would.
The Gates Philosophy on Philanthropy, and Family
(By lined article written for in flight magazine)
Unless they live under a rock or in some remote and very isolated part of the world, most people know who Bill and Melinda Gates are; although those parts of the world are becoming less frequent largely in part to Bill and Melinda Gates. However as famous as they are for their achievements in business, technology, and philanthropic endeavors, some still may not know where the Gates family values and world responsibilities stem from.
Both Bill and Melinda were raised giving back to the community. Their families raised them with the philosophy that you are never too young to help out someone less fortunate than yourself. It is this upbringing that laid the foundation for Bill Gates and Melinda French, who became Melinda Gates in January of 1994, to become the caring philanthropists that they are today.
The drive to start the Gates Foundation was sparked after they read an article in 1997, on the millions of childhood deaths that happen every year in poor countries around the world due to inadequate living conditions, poor medical access, and the lack of immunizations. Bill and Melinda began to develop their foundation plans using the Gates family’s strong beliefs that “all lives have equal value” as a compass for the foundation’s direction. Later that year, as one of its first outreach programs, Bill Gates himself visited India helping the foundation administer polio vaccinations for the first time.
Within that same year the foundation donated $200 million to assist all U.S. Public Libraries in providing free internet access to the public. Their conviction with this venture was, and still is that technology is the future, and it needs to be easily accessible to everyone not only those who can afford to pay for it. Since then the foundation has expanded to provide global assistance in the areas of education, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and medical treatments to poverty stricken areas.
With a lifetime donation of over $30 billion, in 2006, to keep the work that Bill and Melinda were doing with their foundation continuing for many years to come, Warren Buffet doubled the foundations spending ability allowing the foundation to expand to more countries and people in need.
But, donating to the Gates foundation was not the only assistance Warren Buffet provided to the Gates family; he also offered Bill and Melinda some very insightful advice from his years of experience. He told them, “Don’t just go for safe projects. Take on the really tough problems.” They listened and incorporated this rule of thumb into their already established guidelines of only focusing on a few important issues in order to be able to have the greatest impact on the most people while helping tear down the barriers that prevent people from achieving the best lives possible.
It was not only in regards to business and philanthropic endeavors that the Gates family took the advice of Warren Buffet; they also followed his lead when it came to deciding what would happen after they died. Warren Buffet said in a letter to the Gates Foundation, “I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.” Bill and Melinda took these words to heart, and established their own will that left a mere $10 million of their estimated $76 billion worth to each of their children with the rest of their fortune being left to charity and their foundation.
Even before they met, Bill and Melinda had decided their children would be raised with the same core beliefs that volunteering and public service are an integral part of being fortunate. Their philosophies on raising children mirror the philosophies that they use when running their foundation; that education, access to life’s necessities, and having access to the tools needed to succeed are essential to living a fulfilling life.
When asked in a recent interview with Wired about his and his wife’s plans for their children’s futures Mr. Gates confirmed that his children will not be raised as “trust-fund kids”. Their goal with their children is to create a balance so that their children can do anything they set their minds to, but not provide them with so much that they have no drive to do anything. They will be provided with good educations to allow them to establish their own abilities instead of relying on their parents. Mr. Gates said, “They need to have a sense that their own work is meaningful and important.” He went on to say, “You’ve got to make sure they have a sense of their own ability and what they’re going to go and do.”
Although Bill and Melinda are typically very private when it comes to their children, they have openly discussed their beliefs in how to raise their children to be independent and productive members of the human race. Their children showed their support of their parent’s ideas, decisions, and charitable endeavors by allowing their photo to be shown to the public by Melinda Gates as she described her trip to Tanzania with her eldest daughter, for their foundation’s fight against childhood mortality and to provide a better quality of education worldwide.
In a world that constantly battles the balance between poverty and overly plentiful, it is nice to see the Gates family be role models for those who have far more than they could ever spend to make their children become productive independent individuals; instead of the paparazzi crazed “trust-fund kids” that are constantly displayed in the media for their bad behavior and made famous for doing nothing other than partying, getting into trouble, and shopping.