Monday, July 14, 2014

My Marigold Obsession

Most gardeners have a lot of favorite plants. When someone asks "What's your favorite plant?" They answer "I have so many plants I love" and then provide a moderate to long list. Asking that question won't give you an answer. Walking through their gardens will.

Starting last August I expanded our gardens to be in front of our neighbor's window. Before then, I would sit outside and look at the garden but you couldn't walk through it. Now, we have a lot more plants and a lot more space. So I walk through my garden when I am about to go to bed, am having a long phone conversation, or having a stressful moment.

I used to answer that my favorite flowers are Mums. I have a Mum addiction every year. As I walked through the garden the other day I realized what my real favorite flowers are:

Perennials: Daylilies...........ANY Daylily!!!
Shrubs: Forsythias!!!
Trees: ALL Maples!!!
Annuals: MARIGOLDS!!!

Yes, yellow is my favorite color. Orange is a really close second. It's been that way my entire life. I was the 3 year old coloring on yellow construction paper with yellow crayon.

I used to mix Marigolds and white Begonias in my garden as the base flowers from May - frost. But I decided I would make the Begonias my Mother's Day flowers. Because the main reason I have them is because my Mom has had them all of my life. They are comforting. But I wanted four different types of Marigolds for my main garden because I love them so much. I needed the space.

'Antigua Gold'



'Antigua Orange'



'Disco Flame'



Safari Yellow Fire'



I can't help but smile when I see them! It's like they are my signature! So instead of asking your friend or family member what their favorite Flower is, just look at their garden!


Front to back: Antigua Orange, Antigua Gold, Disco Flame, and Safari Fire. In the back are the Sunflowers

Add caption

Safari Fires in my Featured Extra space. They were the "Last Day of School" flowers

 
My First Garden after Zach was born. Antigua Gold and Orange Marigolds. I ALWAYS have those in my garden! The small white Begonias are Zach's first exposure to his own garden.


Below are the Marigolds at my Parent's house. The top picture are mine but the others were my Mother's Day gift for my Mom. They are gorgeous in person!  






 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

I Agree With Christie On This One

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/chris-christie-vetoes-gun-control-bill


Recently, Christie vetoed a gun control bill that would ban magazines with larger then 10 rounds of ammo. I support sensible gun control, but this isn't going to stop mass shootings. Supporters of this bill argue that smaller rounds mean a shooter has to stop and reload more saving more lives. But it wouldn't stop the massacre:

“Mass violence will not end by changing the number of bullets loaded into a gun,” Christie said in his veto message. “I will not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life, because this is not governing.” He returned the measure to the state legislature with a reform plan that deals with mental health issues, according to his office.

I agree. In order to stop mass shootings to begin with, we need to think about what makes a person think about doing them in the first place. In almost all cases the shooter has some version of a mental health issue. Mental help is expensive to get so a lot of people who need it, don't get it. But if that became accessible to them, then they are more likely to deal with their issues in a better way.

But this is all a general argument Christie is using. He's not mentioning HOW he wants to reform mental health.

Some shooters ARE getting mental help. Like James Holmes the Aurora theater shooter in Colorado.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/james-holmes-saw-three-mental-health-professionals-before-shooting/

He met with three Mental Health Professionals at the University of Colorado before the massacre. One of them warned campus police that he was dangerous. They deactivated his ID but that's all that seems to have been done.

http://www.mediaite.com/online/aurora-shooter-james-holmes-psychiatrist-warned-police-he-was-dangerous/

With that in mind, any legislation to strengthen Mental Health Access to prevent these massacres from occurring in the first place needs to include the following:

1. When a Certified Psychologist or Psychiatrist says someone poses a danger, law enforcement needs to take that seriously (backed by session notes as proof). That means involuntarily being placed in a mental hospital. By posing a danger I mean the obvious: threatening to kill more then once, obsessions with violence, strong hatred for a specific type of person, not showing emotions when someone is being harmed, severe social issues, and anything else along those lines.

2. Extra money granted to mental hospitals to cover the costs of the extra patients (yes, as a tax payer I'd rather some of my tax money goes to keeping someone who needs the help in a mental hospital as opposed to that person killing a lot of people. It's a worthy investment of our money).

3. Mandatory life-long monthly sessions with a Psychologist or Psychiatrist once released for "mental maintenance". This will help provide a source to talk through issues and deal with stress. If someone is close to snapping again, the professional would see it and report it to law enforcement.

4. Something to help lower the cost of Psychological medications, testing, and sessions. The best recommendation I can make is high tax breaks on mental health bills submitted. It covers most of the cost of mental health care so cost becomes less of an issue. We really need actual costs to come down but that's up to the Psychologist, Psychiatrist, testing companies, and medication companies. Perhaps they need tax breaks too.

It's already illegal to get a gun if you have been involuntarily put in a mental hospital. But they can still get to guns of family members. If that family member has passed the mandatory background check, then legally we can't make them get rid of their gun(s).

But I would hope for the sake of their loved one and of society, family and friends would choose to get rid of their firearms once these individuals are released from the mental hospitals. Even if they don't commit mass murders, a lot of mentally unstable people commit suicide. If they know where to get a gun, they'll use it.

I'm not a danger to society but I do have General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Occasionally, I also get Depression. It's WHY I am a Stay-At-Home-Mommy. To reduce stress so I can better deal with life. I see a fantastic Psychologist who has known me since 2002. Those monthly sessions for "mental maintenance" do make a difference! My parents and Josh are VERY supportive of me. If I am going through a rough patch, they are there for me to help me through it.

I see how important Mental Health is. A lot of people say "those who are likely to cause mass shootings wouldn't talk about that in their sessions, the sessions would be a joke!" I read a lot about these things. I was a senior in High School when Columbine happened and ever since have been interested in WHY they do it. In most cases, the shooters have told someone about their plans, have a growing obsession with violence, and/or have been stronger in their vocal opposition to their would-be targets. Even if they don't actually SAY "I want to kill _______", most will start strongly talking about how much they hate that person or group. If they have a violent look in their eye when they are talking about that person or group, there is something to be concerned about.

The first step I mentioned involves the person in question having to get to a professional in the first place. The fourth is motivation to get them there. But it starts with loved ones who pay attention and say "you need help". Very rarely does an individual recognize and get help on their own with mental issues. It starts with being able to identify the signs of mental health issues and getting them professional help. Nancy Lanza learned her lesson on this the hard way.

Christie is right, a smaller magazine will slow shooters down but not stop the massacres. But seeing someone needs help and getting them there will. But that also means everyone in every step above needs to take their roles seriously. Aurora could have been prevented if the real police had been called and they had taken him to a mental hospital. The reporting Doctor did what she was supposed to. The University should have a better rule for these things. Her job should have been to skip Campus police and report him directly to the real police.








 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fireworks

1. Fireworks
2. Red, White, and Blue
3. Stars and Stripes
4. Flags
5. Hamburgers
6. Hot Dogs
7. Grilled Chicken
8. Potato Chips
9. Potato Salad
10. Pasta Salad
11. Watermelon
12. Ice Cream
13. Kids Playing
14. Adults Socializing

I'm sure either this weekend or next weekend most Americans will celebrate the 4th of July with at least some of the above. Most will happen at a BBQ. Clothing and dishes will have fireworks, stars, stripes, flags, or be red, white and blue.

It's Independence Day. The day we adopted the Declaration of Independence. We'd love to high five it's authors and ask how they would reword the second amendment if they knew what the future of firearms would become. Long after they're gone, their legends live on. Books on them weren't written by them or people who knew them. We don't really know how they really felt about things. Did Ben Franklin even like John Adams?

http://blog.usa.gov/post/90058674497/fireworks-laws-by-state

That link is for each state's Fireworks law. Only a professionally trained Pyro Technician can use fireworks in NJ. There will probably be a good amount of illegal fireworks going off until after Labor Day. We tend to hear the occasional scattered firework go off. Ironically, I just heard three fireworks go off in the background. It's lunchtime.

 I wish they were legal but with proper regulation for safety. In my area, there are a lot of houses close together. But there are some places with open fields. I suspect there would be less dangerous firework use if they were permitted in some places. I think most people would follow the rules to be safe as long as they could use the fireworks.

I love fireworks. As a kid, I saw two firework displays each year. After we got married, I would insist on seeing fireworks ON the 4th of July. Now, I'm happy as long as I can see the town's fireworks. That will depend on when my town has them this year. I might have to miss them for Zach's bedtime. I'll definitely still hear them even if I don't see them!

I love the BIG shows some towns put on! It somehow makes the fireworks prettier with music in the background. I used to LOVE choreographing dances and I can really appreciate when just the right firework goes off at just the right moment in a song! It's the kind of moment that brings out emotions. For many of us Americans, BBQs and Fireworks are the REAL start of Summer!!!

Below is my Healthy Potato Salad recipe. Maybe you can serve it in a bowl with white stars on a blue background on a red and white striped tablecloth.

Healthy Potato Salad

Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 Cups russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tbsp Tarragon vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tbsp spicy brown mustard

1/3 C. Light mayonnaise

1/4 cup 1% milk

1 scallion

1 medium celery stalks, chopped

Directions

  1. In 4-quart saucepan, place potatoes and enough water to cover; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.
  2. Meanwhile, in large bowl, with wire whisk, mix vinegar, oil, and mustard.
  3. Drain potatoes.
  4. Add hot potatoes to bowl with vinaigrette; gently stir with rubber spatula to combine.
  5. Let stand until cool.
  6. In small bowl, with wire whisk, mix mayonnaise and milk.
  7. Add mayonnaise mixture, scallions and celery to potatoes.
  8. Gently stir with rubber spatula to combine.
  9. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

 

For a Party

4 Cups russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

¼ C  vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp spicy brown mustard

3/4 C.  mayonnaise

½  C  milk

2 scallions

2 medium celery stalks, chopped

 




Saturday, June 21, 2014

FBI Special Agent................Zach

Zach had his graduation ceremony yesterday. The teachers know the kids well. They tried to pair each child's personality with a job description. Imagine our surprise when we heard the words "we wouldn't be surprised if years from now we hear that Zach S. is a FBI Special Agent." from the Preschool Director. Most of the kids got a job title related to the media or building. But Zach had the most entertaining job prediction. I asked the teachers if they chose the job title or asked the kids what they wanted to be. They chose the title. They know him well!!! The qualifications from the website are below but my comments on Zach are in orange.

FBI Special Agent Job Description:

https://www.fbijobs.gov/11.asp

SPECIAL AGENT QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS
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Debra Serving as a Special Agent is a very demanding job with strict entry requirements. Please review closely all requirements to ensure that you qualify before you apply.
To become an FBI Special Agent you must be a U.S. citizen or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands. You must be at least 23 years of age to apply and have not reached 37 years of age upon your appointment as a Special Agent. Age waivers may be granted to preference eligible veterans who have surpassed their 37th birthday. You must possess a four-year degree from a college or university accredited by one of the regional or national institutional associations recognized by the United States Secretary of Education. You must have at least three years of professional work experience. You must also possess a valid driver's license and be completely available for assignment anywhere in the FBI's jurisdiction.
All applicants for the Special Agent position must first qualify under one of five Special Agent Entry Programs. These programs include:
  • Accounting
  • Computer Science/Information Technology
  • Language
  • Law
  • Diversified
  • I can see Zach being drawn to Accounting, Computer Science/Information Technology and Law. He has a good sense of money for a 5 year old, has a technical mind, and a fantastic understanding of the rules
More details about Special Agent Entry Programs.
After qualifying for one of the five Entry Programs, applicants will be prioritized in the hiring process based upon certain Critical Skills for which the FBI is recruiting. The FBI is currently recruiting for Special Agent candidates with one or more of the following Critical Skills:
  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Computer Science/Information Technology Expertise
  • Engineering Expertise
  • Foreign Language(s) Proficiency
  • Intelligence Experience
  • Law Experience
  • Law Enforcement/Investigative Experience
  • Military Experience
  • Physical Sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) Expertise
  • Diversified Experience

Zach is good with money for a kid his age. Finance will be a strength. He has the mind of an Engineer too. He's a smart kid and inquisitive so I can see Intelligence being a strength. He might achieve law enforcement experience but I hope not military. As a mother, that scares me. I can see him excelling in the Physical Sciences. He also loves super heroes but is only willing to be the good guy. He has more fight play then I like but he's doing things they do on our Crime dramas like Hawaii 5 - 0 more then the shows he watches. It's natural instinct. Like the character Steve McGarrett (Alex O' Loughlin) on Hawaii 5 - 0 or Jon Reese (Jim Caviezel) from Person of Interest. They look like an older version of him too!!!
Candidates with these Critical Skills are essential to address our increasingly complex responsibilities. As such, candidates with one or more of these skills will be prioritized in the hiring process.    
More details about Special Agent Critical Skills

All candidates that meet the Entry Program and Critical Skill requirements must also:

FBI SPECIAL AGENT PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS
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Serving as an FBI Special Agent is a demanding job. A Special Agent is often placed in situations that make great demands on his/her physical capacity. In these instances, physical fitness is often the factor that spells the difference between success and failure - even life and death. Therefore, all candidates for the position must be in excellent physical condition with no disabilities which would interfere in firearm use, raids, or defensive tactics. All Special Agent candidates must be able to pass several tests to gain admittance to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Physical Fitness Test
To ensure that FBI Special Agents are fully prepared to meet their responsibilities as leaders in the law enforcement community, applicants must pass a standardized Physical Fitness Test. The test consists of four mandatory events that are administered in the following order:
  1. Maximum number of sit-ups in one minute
  2. Timed 300-meter sprint
  3. Maximum number of push-ups (untimed)
  4. Timed one and one-half mile (1.5 mile) run

Applicants are required to conduct a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) self assessment using the proper PFT protocol prior to the Phase I exam. The results of the self assessment must be reported on the PFT Self Evaluation Form. This form should be completed by all applicants and submitted to the processing field office during the Phase I exam. Although a passing PFT self assessment is not required to take the Phase I exam, no applicant will be considered for Phase II testing until he/she has submitted a PFT Self Evaluation Form which reflects a passing score.
An official PFT is administered to a Special Agent applicant at his/her processing FBI field office shortly after the applicant has passed Phase II testing. An applicant will not be eligible for admission into a New Agents' Training Class until he/she has passed the PFT. An applicant will have a total of three opportunities to pass the PFT: the first will be shortly after passing Phase II testing.
  • If an applicant scores less than six points on the PFT, he/she must wait a minimum of one year before requesting a PFT retest.
  • If an applicant fails the first PFT with a score of six or more points, he/she must retest within 30-90 days. If an applicant fails the second PFT with a score of six or more points, he/she must retest within 90-120 days.
  • An applicant's processing will be discontinued if he/she fails to retest within the required time frames unless a medically documented injury or illness precludes the candidate from taking the PFT.
  • All applicants must take and pass the PFT within 60 days of reporting to New Agents' Training Class at Quantico. Therefore, it may be necessary for applicants to take and pass more than one PFT during processing.
If a passing score is not achieved on any of the three PFTs, the applicant will not be eligible for the Special Agent position in the future.
There is a strictly defined scoring scale and protocol for each event. In order to pass the PFT, Special Agent applicants must achieve a minimum cumulative score of twelve points with at least one point in each of the four events. (The PFT for Tactical Recruiting Program applicants consists of five events and an applicant must achieve twenty points to pass.) Applicants who pass the official PFT are considered sufficiently fit to safely and successfully complete the physical training and defensive tactics portion of New Agents' Training at the FBI Academy.
New Agent Trainees admitted to the FBI Academy must re-pass the Physical Fitness Test in their first week at the Academy. The test, scoring scale, and protocol are exactly the same, except a fifth event is added - standard pull-ups. The score on pull-ups is not used for pass/fail purposes, but is used by the FBI Training Division for fitness awards, including the 50-point award. Please note: some Field Offices may administer the pull-ups test during the Field Office Physical Fitness Test.

Before attempting any of these events, please review the FBI's Physical Training Guidelines in order to maximize performance and avoid injuries.

Vision Requirements
Special Agent candidates should possess uncorrected visual acuity no worse than 20/200 (Snellen) in each eye, with correction to 20/20 in one eye and at least 20/40 in the other eye. Individuals unable to meet the 20/200 minimum uncorrected acuity may be considered if they provide medical documentation of use of soft contact lenses for at least one year without significant problems or adverse events. If an applicant has had laser eye corrective surgery, a six-month waiting period is required prior to beginning New Agents' Training at the FBI Academy.

The applicant must also provide evidence of complete healing by an ophthalmology clinical evaluation. Policy for color vision allows continuation of applicant processing if those who fail initial color vision screening are able to successfully complete the Farnsworth D-15 color vision test.

Hearing Requirements
Special Agent applicants must take an audiometer test and meet specified hearing standards. Please note that no applicant will be considered who exceeds any of the following:
a) average hearing loss of 25 decibels (ANSI) at 1000, 2000, and 3000 Hertz
b) single reading of 35 decibels at 1000, 2000, and 3000 Hertz
c) single reading of 35 decibels at 500 Hertz
d) single reading of 45 decibels at 4000 Hertz


Medical Review
An applicant's medical history will be reviewed thoroughly and a determination will be made whether any medical issue (or condition) could potentially affect the applicant's ability to perform the basic functions of the Special Agent position. This medical review ensures that each candidate's situation is reviewed on an individual basis. If you have undergone a particular surgical procedure (e.g., radial keratotomy) and/or have some preexisting medical condition (e.g., hypertension), this will require careful review during the physical examination process. Issues/conditions that surface during the Medical Reviews may delay the final processing for employment. Although an applicant's doctor provides information about the applicant's medical condition, it is the FBI's Chief Medical Officer who decides if the applicant is physically able to perform the duties of the job. This decision is based on the review of the applicant's doctor's findings and the FBI's knowledge of the requirements of the job. The FBI is committed to treating all applicants fairly and equitably in all aspects of our hiring/selection process.

FBI SPECIAL AGENT CRITICAL SKILLS
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After qualifying for one of the Entry Programs, Special Agent candidates with one or more Critical Skills will be prioritized in the hiring process.

Accounting
To qualify under the Accounting Entry Program, candidates must:
  • Have been certified as a CPA; or
  • Possess, at minimum, a four-year degree with a major in Accounting and three years of progressively responsible accounting work in a professional accounting firm or comparable public setting, such as state comptroller or the General Accounting Office.


Finance
To qualify for the Finance Critical Skill, a candidate must:
  • Have a Bachelor's or advanced degree in Finance, Economics, or Business; and
  • Possess at least two years of professional financial work experience including, but not limited to: Auditor, Financial Analyst, Business Owner, Fraud Investigator, or White Collar Crime Law Enforcement; and/or
  • Possess one of the following credentials: Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).


Computer Science/Information Technology Expertise
To qualify for the Computer Science/Information Technology Critical Skill, a candidate must either:
  • Qualify under the Computer Science/Information Technology Entry Program; or
  • Have managed a corporate network; installed and maintained server operating systems; established and maintained an Internet Service Provider; maintained and monitored performance on a TCP/IP or other protocol network; or maintained and performance tuned servers or Internet Information Services.


Engineering Expertise
To qualify for the Engineering Critical Skill, a candidate must have a degree in an Engineering related discipline. A degree in Architecture would also qualify.

Foreign Language(s) Proficiency
An applicant may qualify for the Language Critical Skill by qualifying for the Language Entry Program (i.e., passing both the listening and reading portions of the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and demonstrating a proficiency of three or higher on the Speaking Proficiency Test (SPT) in a critical foreign language). For those applicants that qualify under an Entry Program, other than Language, they can qualify for the Language Critical Skill by passing the listening portion of the DLPT and demonstrating a proficiency of “2+” or higher on the SPT in a critical foreign language. The following is a list of language skills that are currently deemed critical by the FBI: Arabic, Chinese - all dialects, Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Pashtu, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Intelligence Experience
To qualify for the Intelligence Critical Skill, a candidate must possess two years of substantial, full-time work experience in an intelligence area. Those areas include foreign counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and positive intelligence. The two years of experience may include periods of training that concentrates on intelligence. Full-time work experience as an Intelligence Analyst/Specialist, FBI Special Surveillance Group member, or a supervisor over those positions is sufficient. Candidates who possess undergraduate or advanced degrees in International Studies, International Finance, or a closely related discipline would also qualify.

Law Experience
To qualify for the Law Critical Skill a candidate must qualify under the Law Entry Program (i.e., have a JD degree from a resident law school).

Law Enforcement or Other Investigative Experience
To qualify for the Law Enforcement Critical Skill, a candidate must have at least two years of full-time investigative experience in a law enforcement agency.

Military Experience
To qualify for the Military Critical Skill, a candidate must possess two years of substantial, full-time work experience in the military.

Physical Sciences Expertise
To qualify for the Science Critical Skill, a candidate must have a degree in a scientific field such as Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Forensics, Mathematics, Medical Specialties, Nursing, Physics, etc.

Diversified Experience
To qualify for the Diversified Critical Skill, a candidate must have a BS or BA degree in any discipline, plus three years of full-time work experience, or an advanced degree accompanied by two years of full-time work experience. Please note: opportunities to qualify through the Diversified Critical Skill are very limited.

It's hard to imagine what field he would land in but I can see him getting qualified for more then one. He'd be an asset. The teachers based their guess because he's "Competent" and "Friendly". I foresee either intelligence super computer wiz or so talented at going undercover he ends up with many names and identities. I think CIA might be more accurate. He makes friends with everyone and is easy to be comfortable around. Trust would easily be earned. If he becomes fluent in Irish, German, French, or Russian, I can see him being even better at undercover work. He is physically "perfectly proportioned" and can stay that way if he continues his healthy habits. That makes his physical capabilities up to him. If you watch NCIS:LA, he's either a future Eric or future Callen! As I watched him play today one thought came to mind.......................It was the right school if the teachers know him this well at graduation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NCIS:_Los_Angeles_characters


http://homewithmommy-fran.blogspot.com/2012/01/first-day-of-preschool.html

That's the post I wrote when he started Preschool. From that post:

"I don't think I'll ever forget that image from the observation window of my son standing there in school with his back to me, not participating but watching. He does that so my guess is soon he'll participate. Mommy is proud of herself for packing just the right snack and remembering that taggie. As we both adjust to this experience it will get easier. He's ready for it and that's healthy. In time, I hope to get over the feeling of pain whenever he shows signs of being bigger and a little more mature knowing I'll never experience the old stages again. I am happy for him and love watching him grow. I have always tried to enjoy every stage. I try to remind myself that he'll always be my baby."

2 1/2 years later, he still likes to make sure he knows what he's expected to do before doing it but eventually participates. I do indeed still see that image of him in that classroom, watching. He's so observant. Like a Government agent!!! Comfort is still key. We have different rules for those taggies but he needs to know they are in the car. We DID adjust to the experience. Fantastic friends will do that! I hope he continues to be so talented at choosing just the right people to be friends with!!!

I'm not over that pain when he shows signs of being bigger and more mature. For every "I can't wait for him to do this himself" there are two "he's just so big! I miss when he was little!!!" But I am proud of the kid he has become and look forward to watching him grow.

There is a song I sing to him. I started it when he was a baby but added a verse as he reached a new stage of development. Little Boy was when he started Preschool. This is the current version:

B - A - bee, you're my B - A - .bee
Zach  - a - ry you're my B - A -bee

Todd-ler you're my Todd-ler
Zach-a-ry you're my Todd-ler

Li-ttle boy you're my Litt-le boy
Zach-a-ry you're my Litt-le boy

And now................Bi-g boy you're my bi-g boy
Zach-a-ry you're my bi-g boy


I love YOU my Zach-a-ry
B-A-by you will ALWAYS be my baby!!!

It's a comforting song for him. I'm not fully sure how I feel yet. With Preschool, you try to make play dates and maintain friendships but eventually you make Kindergarten friends. The Preschool friendships drift away. The Kindergarten friendships last a long time. Sometimes forever. But when you go to school in a different town, those friendships are going to fade.

We'll try not to. Zach's Preschool friends are awesome and their parents are also awesome. I hope the Kindergarten kids and parents are just as awesome. I have met a few that are indeed awesome. But I haven't met that many parents and kids yet.

Zach and I are both experiencing the stages or mourning over graduation. He played with classmates after graduation until everyone left. I made sure to hug all of his teachers and thank them. In the Fall of 2004 I was interviewed for a job there and received an offer. But it wasn't the right job for me at the time. I thought about it but when I called to accept, she had offered the job to someone else. Then I got the job at Sylvan. A twist of fate. Part of God's plan. I knew ten years ago that I wanted my child to go to that school. At that time, I interviewed at a lot of preschools and daycares. But in September of 2011, I took him to observe a class. I asked him afterward how he felt. It's where he wanted to go. I didn't tell him it was my first choice too.

They showed a slide show. A bunch of the kids had been there for 2 - 3 years. I still remember his first day. He met N when getting out of the car at arrival. He was wearing a NJ Devils Winter cap. (January 2012) We are Devils fans. They bonded and walked in friends. They are still close. I hope we can continue that friendship forever.

When watering my parent's lawn this morning I thought of a Vitamin C song that was popular when I graduated from High School: Graduation: Friends Forever

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foyAOoVagWw

"
And so we talked all night about the rest of our lives
Where we're gonna be when we turn 25
I keep thinking times will never change
Keep on thinking things will always be the same
But when we leave this year we won't be coming back
No more hanging out cause we're on a different track
And if you got something that you need to say
You better say it right now cause you don't have another day
Cause we're moving on and we can't slow down
These memories are playing like a film without sound
And I keep thinking of that night in June
I didn't know much of love, but it came too soon
And there was me and you, and then we got real blue
Stay at home talking on the telephone with me
We'd get so excited, and we'd get so scared
Laughing at ourselves thinking life's not fair
And this is how it feels
 
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever
 
So if we get the big jobs and we make the big money
When we look back now will our jokes still be funny?
Will we still remember everything we learned in school?
Still be trying to break every single rule?
Will little brainy Bobby be the stockbroker man?
Can Heather find a job that won't interfere with her tan?
I keep, I keep thinking that it's not goodbye
Keep on thinking it's a time to fly
And this is how it feels
 
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever
 
La, la, la
Yeah, yeah, yeah
La, la, la
We will still be friends forever
 
Will we think about tomorrow like we think about now?
Can we survive it out there?
Can we make it somehow?
I guess I thought that this would never end
And suddenly it's like we're women and men
Will the past be a shadow that will follow us 'round?
Will these memories fade when I leave this town?
I keep, I keep thinking that it's not goodbye
Keep on thinking it's a time to fly
 
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever
 
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever
 
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever

http://www.metrolyrics.com/graduation-lyrics-vitamin-c.html

"Graduation" was written by Colleen Fitzpatrick;josh Deutsch.

I'm crying as I type that. It's for a High School Graduation but a lot of it applies here. Zach will never forget his time in Preschool and never forget his many friends. Even if they drift apart, they will never fully be forgotten. We don't know what is lying ahead for him. Zach and I both got comfortable at a fantastic school. Now we might never go back. That's scary for both of us!!! We're excited and scared for what lies ahead. Neither of us are really ready for it to end. But it's over. How can I help him get through something this big when it's so hard for me? I'll find a way. It's my job. He WILL remember these past 2 1/2 years. He WILL remember the great times he had and the people involved with molding him into the wonderful person he is and is becoming. We don't know what the future holds but I do hope he can maintain the friendships that mean the most to him..............because I have.

FBI Special Agent.........................................that's the most accurate job title joked about yet!!!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thanks NSA

When Edward Snowden told Americans about the NSA surveillance program, most people got upset. For me, I wasn't upset or surprised. Whenever I read about attacks that almost happen but are stopped, I know the right people found out about the plan. I think about what would have happened if they DIDN'T know about the plan and am grateful lives were saved. It makes me wonder about how many possible attacks are stopped that we don't hear about. How many more people would be dead if these attacks weren't stopped. They had to have found out about the attacks somehow. They are doing the only thing they can do.

That's the irony. If these attacks were allowed to happen, there would be outcry to find a way to stop them first. But because we don't know about these attacks, we don't think we need to by spied on to stop them. That's the real issue. We don't like the Government watching our every move but we do want them watching those who are threats. How do you expect them to identify threats if they aren't watching everyone?

They don't care if you're cheating on your wife or are pregnant but not ready to share the news yet. People aren't the ones reading everything you write on an electronic device or are saying to friends. Computers filter through everything and look for key words. If you say or write words like "bomb", they read it to determine if they should be alert. People are only paying attention to the writings and communications of those who talk about attacks.

I asked my Mom about why people are so upset. She has a friend who worked for the NSA. My Mom told me about all the interviews and steps her friend had to go through to get clearance for that level of security. It was really detailed. I felt safe knowing the people searching for threats where checked that thoroughly.

But my Mom told me that after 9/11 they started using outside contractors for some things to handle the extra threats. These contractors didn't go through the same level of clearance. It was supposed to be only for a few years but never ended. The problem is less about the spying and more about who they let see the important things. Snowden was one of these contractors.

http://www.biography.com/people/edward-snowden-21262897#aftermath&awesm=~oH0uJEBke3cLps

Still curious about the Snowden circus, I read his bio on the above link. He did illegally steal those documents. Everything he is being charged for, he did. He's a coward for running away to avoid punishment and clearly was just looking to be famous.

 "On June 14, 2013, federal prosecutors charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person."

trai·tor

 noun \ˈtrā-tər\
: a person who is not loyal to his or her own country, friends, etc. : a person who betrays a country or group of people by helping or supporting an enemy

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/traitor

Yes, by this definition, he was a traitor. Not only did the release of those files tell terrorists what threats the government was on to, but it told them they were being watched in the first place. While the theory is that this would stop them from their attacks as is the NSA goal, the result is better planned attacks that the government doesn't know about and can't stop. Just when we need this surveillance, the public wants less. So more attacks sneak through and more lives are lost that could have been prevented. But I don't think he was thinking about terrorists when he released the documents. He is a traitor but his intention was to let Americans know what was going on. He never considered how that will help terrorists.

trea·son

 noun \ˈtrē-zən\
: the crime of trying to overthrow your country's government or of helping your country's enemies during war
 
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/treason
 
I think his actions are treasonous but I don't think he did that on purpose either. Again, he wasn't realizing how he helped the enemy by his actions. I'm can't respect someone who runs like he did instead of facing the consequences. If he truly just wanted to tell the public about the NSA spying, he could have done that without running away. But running made him a celebrity. He didn't have the heroic intentions he is portrayed as having.
 
One of our favorite shows on CBS is "Person of Interest" (currently Tuesdays 10pm). It just finished season three. It's about a rich Engineer who build a super machine for the Government. It watches what everyone is doing. Social Security members appear of people that are either the perpetrator or the victim. They don't know which until they start investigating that person. The government handles the "relevant" list or the terrorist threats. The Engineer, Finch, has a team to handle the "irrelevant" list. Those are crimes against an individual.
 
Three seasons, it's a popular show. So why was it such a surprise that, in a way, it's real? In season 3 they address the NSA issue. It ends on a cliffhanger where those involved in creating a machine like the one Finch created, the Government using Finch's machine, as well as Finch, are put on trial. They were kidnapped to get there. A group named "Vigilance" had been after them, their leader has a law degree.

The Government[edit]

The following characters are tied to a government conspiracy related to the development and use of the Machine.
  • Control (Camryn Manheim): the woman who is the head of the ISA's operation (code-named Northern Lights) regarding the Machine
  • Hersh (Boris McGiver): Special Counsel's enforcer, a former member of the ISA.
  • Special Counsel (Jay O. Sanders): a shadowy figure from the Office of Special Counsel who appears to be coordinating the activity regarding the Machine and sees Reese as a threat.
  • Senator Ross Garrison (John Doman): a U.S. senator charged with overseeing Northern Lights.
  • Alicia Corwin (Elizabeth Marvel): a liaison between Ingram and the government while the Machine was being developed and a former member of the National Security Council.
  • Denton Weeks (Cotter Smith): the official who commissioned the development of the Machine while he was a deputy director at the NSA.

Decima Technologies[edit]

The following characters are involved in the Decima Technologies storyline, in which a shadowy organization attempts to gain control of the Machine.
  • John Greer (John Nolan): a mysterious British figure is a Director of Operations Decima Technologies.
  • Lambert (Julian Ovenden): an operative for Decima Technologies, and Greer's right-hand man.

Vigilance[edit]

The following character is involved in the Vigilance storyline, in which a violent organization professes to protect people's privacy.
  • Peter Collier (Leslie Odom, Jr.): a field agent whose job is to protect the organization.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person_of_Interest_(TV_series)
 
"Vigilance" speaks for a lot of people. I can understand feeling uncomfortable knowing that the government knows the things you would rather keep secret. But I see this with perspective. They aren't watching from outside your window as you do dishes and there aren't any Government-installed cameras in your bathroom mirror. A machine is seeing what you write online and type in a text. It hears what you say. But an actual person is only clued in if you are saying or writing something that could be a national threat. As long as you don't mention "bomb" and a high-profile location, you're fine. Your wife won't find out about that affair from the NSA.
 
It's a tough choice. We want our privacy but the price of privacy is death. It's selfish to not care if the attacks happen as long as you have your privacy. What if next time it's you or a loved one in an attack that could have been prevented? Is your privacy worth loosing your spouse to a bomb at an airport? If it happened, you would ask "why couldn't they stop it?" They couldn't stop it because you wouldn't let them identify the people planning it. Because you didn't want them monitoring all of us to find who is a threat.
 
Not all attacks are by Muslims. Not all Muslims come from the Middle East. You can't say "track them, they look like a terrorist" because even that quiet but nice kid next door might be converting without you knowing it. How many people aren't suspicious but are planning attacks? We don't know. But they exist. Sure, that nice IT co-worker might take a lot of trips to Yemen. You might not think anything of it if he has family there. But you also might never know the Government read his emails and found out he was learning to build bombs and stopped a threat. A threat you probably will never hear about. All you know is that he's no longer working for your company and a nice new person is sitting at their desk. You probably will never know the truth. But the NSA just saved your life by reading those emails.
 
I don't like that they don't check the backgrounds of their contractors as thoroughly as their own employees. THAT needs to be changed. But I like knowing that they are doing what they can to protect me and my loved ones from dying in attacks. I know I used enough suspicious language for a person at the NSA to actually read this. I thank them for all the lives they saved in possible attacks I will never know were being planned. Realistically, nothing on the internet is private anyway. If they are listening in on my phone calls, then it's a reminder of why they want to protect us anyway. You only have to worry if you are actually appearing to be a threat............we aren't perfect but most of us are not setting off red flags either.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mysteries

I can see how many people each day open the links for each of my blog posts. I CAN'T see WHO is reading my posts though. But there is one post that has been extremely popular since March. I wrote it last May and it's called "A Cancer Story". It's link has been open 5,722 times (as this is being written) total but it was read more when it was the newest post. It's a real mystery to me. There are so many other stories all over of people who lost someone to Cancer or who survived Cancer. It mentions loved ones I lost to Cancer but it's not the same as losing a parent or sibling. What did I say that people needed to hear?

http://homewithmommy-fran.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-cancer-story.html

Maybe what makes it special is because it's simple. I offer a prayer for those who have lost a loved one as well as to those who are survivors. I acknowledge how great survivor stories are but how painful it must be for families who have lost a loved one to read those stories.

I hope it's making a difference. I hope Cancer survivors appreciate how happy I am for their cure and my prayers for continued remission. I hope those who have lost a loved one to Cancer appreciate that I pray for them and wish I could give them a hug of support. I understand that all I can offer is a hug and my ears.

All over the internet are things you should and shouldn't say to various people or do. But there isn't anything you CAN say to those who have survived something this serious or lost someone to something this serious. You can listen, offer hugs, and offer to help with chores. But there aren't any words that can make everything all better. We WANT to make everything all better. Sometimes, that's simply not possible. Sometimes, what someone really needs is for people to understand that they CAN'T make things better but they can offer comfort. Comfort helps.

The popularity of that post is one mystery that will probably never be solved. That goes along with the "magically appearing" products from when I worked at a store. I had closed the store one night and opened it the next morning. It was a small enough store that I knew everything we carried and exactly how every section looked after closing that night. But when I opened the next morning there were products in the Art aisle that were DEFINITELY not there at closing. They had our company's name on them but I had never seen them before. That's because they had been discontinued long before I started working there.

I was a Shift Supervisor at the time and asked the Manager who claimed not to know what happened. Over the course of a couple of weeks this kept happening. That one aisle was the farthest from the door and the registers. That location is now our favorite pizza place. I told the owner about the appearing products and joked about if it was still happening. Sometimes the of the store Manager had paperwork to finish. I suspect he was sneaking them in just to mess with my head. People like messing with my head. I don't know why. I don't know where he got the products from but he may have found a box buried somewhere in the storage room.

I don't know if that blog post will continue to be popular but I hope it is. I hope it's helping. At the time, Heather said that she thought this would be a good place for it. I didn't think my blog was popular enough to make a real difference but I wanted to do anything I could to help. I have since done other posts about Heather and Mesothelioma. Those posts aren't being read. So the draw isn't about Heather's story. Either way, I hope it's popularity is leading to donations for ALL types of Cancer. In the meantime, I offer my support and prayers..............and maybe a 25 year old chalkboard eraser.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Drawing and Shopping for Josh

This Winter I picked up drawing as a hobby. Somehow we got into a routine where I draw a picture for Zach and a picture for Josh after Josh goes to bed every Friday night. Zach has:

Superheroes:
1. Superman
2. Batman
3. Green Lantern
4. The Flash
5. Aquaman
6. Spiderman
7. Iron Man
8. Captain America
9. Hulk
10. Thor
11. Wolverine

My Little Pony:
1. Twilight Sparkle
2. Pinkie Pie
3. Rarity
4. Flutter Shy
6. Apple Jack
7. Rainbow Dash
8. Spike

Littlest Pet Shop (currently working my way through):
1. Russell
2. Saneil
3. Minka

Josh has the following:

TV Shows (CBS Dramas)
1. Hawaii 5-0 surfer
2. Blue Bloods shield (NYPD shields for the three rankings of the Reagan family dripping blue blood)
3. Elementary (a flash drive with an arrow pointing down to a box with a question mark in it)
4. Intelligence (Gabriel from the show with a computer chip on his forehead)
5. Person of Interest (Camera pointed to a woman with her face on a computer screen)
6. NCIS:LA (Palm Tree with a bomb at the base of it's trunk)
7. CSI (Glass with a CSI green fingerprint on it)

Humor (the ones I can remember):
1. An arm sticking out of a pile of snow holding a shovel that looked like ours with glasses like Josh's on the ground.

That was done January 31st. Apparently, God wanted to see what it would really look like since that was followed by a February that was basically a month long snow storm. Eventually the picture DID become a reality.



2. A piggy bank with money falling in through the top and out through the bottom.

3. Cooked Meat: Steak, Chicken, Salmon, and Pork

He has a small recipe binder and I had been encouraging him to look for a couple of recipes that I don't make that he thinks he'd like to. I'm a good cook and as you know cooking is a hobby of mine in the Winter. There are a few rare occasions when I can't cook. He's nervous about making things that I make because I'm so good at it. I suggested he find his own recipes for meals I don't cook so he can have at least one meal that he LIKES cooking and isn't worried about being compared to me. This picture was to get him motivated to look for something. I didn't say anything in addition to the picture. I don't want him to feel forced into this. He liked the picture and it did make him hungry.

4 A running faucet

Yes, the first thing he did was go to the bathroom. He says he still has to do that whenever he sees this picture. I drew it because I was curious if that would be the result or not.

5 An Ant family. The Mom leads the way without carrying anything, the Dad is carrying a giant box and the little boy ant is carrying a small box

From this Friday. Ants can carry twice their body weight. Zach is going through a phase where he wants to carry things and is trying to lift heavy objects. He impressed Josh and me this morning by not just lifting but properly stacking two heavy tubs of shoes. I'm sure many families can relate to this picture.

6 An eye and eyebrow

Last weeks picture. It's what you get when you have no hobbies and keep answering the question "what do you want me to draw you a picture of?" with "I don't care" every Friday for five and a half months.

Before drawing the ants picture the conversation went like this:
Me: "What do you want me to draw a picture of?"
Josh: "I don't care. I like everything you draw me"
Me: "You might end up with a nose if you don't give me any ideas"
Josh: "You'll think of something."
Me: "You need a hobby"

He's actually tried to explore different hobbies in the past. He just hasn't found a good fit. He likes superheroes but other then the Marvel and DC Comic encyclopedias we got him for Christmas, it's a hard topic to find adult stuff for in our budget. What's left is the TV shows mentioned above that we are both fans of. It makes picture ideas hard and gift shopping hard. Once you have the underwear, socks, sneakers, Jeans, and shirts...............he's covered.

Zach had this problem when shopping for Josh. They go alone to Target all the time so we went there to shop for Josh. I have new swimsuits and Jeans for him. But Zach is old enough to choose something by himself. I asked Zach what Josh looks at when they are together and all of the things he mentioned were things for Zach. Basically, superhero books and legos. We walked up and down all the aisles just to see what would make sense. He chose a pair of Rainbow Dash lazy pants. (Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony).

I wanted to get him something else just in case he didn't like them. We asked him who his favorite My Little Pony character is while watching the show that night as a family. He did answer "Rainbow Dash". I got him a water bottle with a freeze back built it. We take a lot of walks on dates and family walks. He has a water bottle but not one with a freezer pack. You put the lid of the water bottle in the freezer and attached to it is a pack with water that freezes. It keeps the water bottle water colder for longer. Zach and I each have one.

So, is he going to get a picture of a nose next week simply because I can't think of anything else? Probably not. I just can't think of what TO draw him. I won't force him to like any particular hobby. I have always taken the approach "just try it". That worked for:

1. White vest, tie, and cumber bun for the wedding
2. Sandals
3. Mochnecks
4. Sleeveless shirts (he hates tanks but loves the sleeveless)

You can't force an interest in something. you either ARE interested or you AREN'T. The only real hobby I have seen him have is organizing his closet, his dresser, his nightstand, and all places we store food. But we don't have any more places for any new shelves.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Budgeting On The Average Household Income

The median household income is $53,063 a year. I couldn't find the average household income for 2014. My area of the country has higher salaries due to a higher cost of living. It's hard for me to tell if that is realistically close to what the average household income is. But I wanted to do a realistic budget and this doesn't sound so far off from being realistic. I did a second budget towards the bottom for $80,000 a year. Either way, this is supposed to be a basic example of a real household budget. That's to help with money management.

In the bottom of this post are links to the resources where I got my information from. I am good at budgeting. At least as good as you can be. With budgeting, you work with two sources outside of your control, income and expenses. Sometimes the expenses are more then the income. I tried to find the average monthly bills for the necessities but had trouble in some areas. That means the Comcast, Energy and Car Insurance costs are estimated. Verizon Wireless was very quick to provide the information when I asked.

This is what I had to do to make it possible to afford to live on the average household take home income of $850.55 a week. I would have loved to budget more for some things like the food budget, gas budget, loans budget, and the energy budget but that is simply not possible on the average take home income. What this amounts to is something most of us already know................the average American doesn't make enough to cover their basic expenses. The budget on the bottom is closer to what I suspect these things ACTUALLY cost. 

The budget is for a three bedroom house with a mortgage for a family with two dependents (married filing jointly). I assume there are two cars. The Comcast budget is for two TVs, two internet sources, and a home phone. I couldn't confirm the REAL budget with them. Our current bill average from Comcast for one TV and one internet source without a home phone is about $101.20. However, I know they offer discounts for the more things you add. More proof that Comcast doesn't have a realistic view about what it's okay to charge based on what the average person can afford. The Energy information I found just said it was for the average monthly electric costs so I had to estimate the additional costs for gas. We don't have any loans but I know the average household either is leasing a car and/or paying off college loans. I tried to account for property taxes under the housing expenses category. The "Other Savings" category includes, gifts, hair cuts, office supplies, clothing, entertainment, ect......

Modify this budget to fit your expenses. It was made in excel and shouldn't be hard to recreate. It's a great way to track income and expenses and plan ahead. This has been our family's lifesaver for years. I have had a bunch of people ask for budgeting advice and decided it was time to do this post. Especially with a new batch of college graduates starting their adult lives and needing a basic template for managing these expenses. I hope this helps!!!

With budgeting, it's always better to underestimate income and overestimate expenses!!!

If you can't seem to make your income be more then your expenses when you do your own budget I certainly understand!!! This is helpful for getting out of debt. It's a realistic view for what you can and can't afford. Unfortunately, that might include food. It's sad that you might not be able to eat enough sometimes because of the cost of student loans. It's just undeniable proof about how salaries have fallen behind inflation. I HOPE the average take home income is closer to the $80,000 budget then the $53,063 budget. I simply couldn't find the current information. But I read a lot about how the middle class is making a lot less then they used to and wonder if the average salary is closer to $30,000 then $50,000.


Monthly Bills
Week 1 Bank  Weekly Expenses
Paychecks $850.55 Starting $100.00 Week 1
Engergy Bills $200.00 Hostage $100.00 Food $175.00
Week 1 envelope $275.00 Total $0.00 Gas $100.00
Total $375.55 $275.00
Week 2
Week 2 Food $175.00
Paychecks plus Extra $1,226.10 Gas $100.00
Week 2 envelope $300.00 $300.00
Verizon Wireless $150.00 Week 3
Comcast $200.00 Food $175.00
Total $576.10 Gas $100.00
$275.00
Week 3
Paychecks plus Extra $1,426.65 Week 4
Week 3 envelope $275.00 Food $175.00
Car Insurance $200.00 Gas $100.00
Total $951.65 $275.00
Week 4
Paychecks plus Extra $1,802.20
Week 4 Envelope $275.00
Loans $180.00
Housing  $1,346.00
Total $1.20
Week 5
Paychecks plus Extra $851.75
Week 5 Envelope $300.00
Other Savings $350.00
Retirement/Emergency $200.00
Total $1.75
Fidelity
Starting $0.00
 

So what do I WISH the budget could look like?

Median Salary: $80,000
Take Home: $1,288.80
Hourly Before Take Home: $38.46
Hourly Take Home: $32.22

Monthly Bills
Ideal
Week 1 Bank  Weekly Expenses
Paychecks $1,288.80 Starting $100.00 Week 1
Engergy Bills $500.00 Hostage $100.00 Food $300.00
Week 1 envelope $500.00 Total $0.00 Gas $200.00
Total $288.80 $500.00
Week 2
Week 2 Food $300.00
Paychecks plus Extra $1,577.60 Gas $200.00
Week 2 envelope $300.00 $300.00
Verizon Wireless $150.00 Week 3
Comcast $300.00 Food $300.00
Total $827.60 Gas $200.00
$500.00
Week 3
Paychecks plus Extra $2,116.40 Week 4
Week 3 envelope $500.00 Food $300.00
Car Insurance $300.00 Gas $200.00
Total $1,316.40 $500.00
Week 4
Paychecks plus Extra $2,605.20
Week 4 Envelope $500.00
Loans $600.00
Housing  $1,500.00
Total $5.20
Week 5
Paychecks plus Extra $1,294.00
Week 5 Envelope $300.00
Other Savings $490.00
Retirement/Emergency $500.00
Total $4.00
Fidelity
Starting $0.00

Average Income:

http://www.sentierresearch.com/pressreleases/Sentier_Household_Income_Trends_Press_Release_February2014_03_31_14.pdf

Average Take Home:

http://us.thetaxcalculator.net/

Average Mortgage:

http://money.cnn.com/calculator/real_estate/mortgage-payment/

Average Home Sales:

http://realestate.msn.com/2014-housing-outlook-home-prices-head-higher

Average Electric Bill:

http://www.builderonline.com/housing-data/average-monthly-residential-electricity-bills-and-consumption_o.aspx