Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vampires in America

Vampires in America -
Have you been bitten?
By Kathleen Mary Andersen

reprinted from Opinion Magazine, 2004

Vampires are alive and well in America. Believe it. They are here. You could be one of them and not even know it. They could be your co worker, your boss; they could be your in law, your neighbor or, yes the worst you can imagine - you could be in love with one. Don’t laugh, I am not kidding. Before you conjure up images of Bella Lagosi or you run out in your yard looking for a wooden stake, let’s take a look at the vampires I am referring to. Vampires exist in corporate America. Vampires have always existed in business, but lately, it seems that business cannot survive in the millennium unless it hires vampires. Unfortunately, for us, vampires make wonderful bosses. They feed and are motivated by one goal - company profit. They never look in the mirror because as you know a vampire will never see a reflection of who they really are. You might remember how it starts. At first your job is enjoyable. You are new, you don’t have many obligations.
Ground work. This is the ground work that is needed to take you in. Gradually your enthusiasm is converted into the pressure called "company loyalty". Do it for the company so they say. "Hey", I ask, what about for the pay!" In today’s weakened economy and high jobless rate, fueled by global competition most companies are forced into one purpose and one purpose alone -- to make money and make money now. The dark foreboding castle on the cliff of yesterday where Dracula lived has been replaced with a store front. After all, this modern day vampire has to survive and it does with your hard work. The corporate vampire boss is caught up in titles, promises of future promotions and power and so they don’t mind selling your soul "to the company store" as Tennessee Ernie Ford sang in "Sixteen Tons". Vampires in corporate America are an epidemic. If you don’t take the bite, you are in today’s terms, "history".
Circle of Victims. Now let’s go home circle and family vampire. Yes, each time you move, you risk living right next door to a vampire. In all the years I moved around the country, I canremember a few times my neighbor turned out to be a vampire. Who knew? It’s only after you are bitten that you realize what has happened. The neighborhood vampire is the kind person and often times the first person to greet you to their social circle. They welcome you with open arms, introduce you to everyone on the block, and entice you by bringing over a plant, some home-baked cookies or even a wonderful casserole. You see, vampires really do have charm and panache. It always starts with kindness. Once you have your defenses down, they pry on every detail of your life and your background so they can focus in for the kill.
When I was younger, I had a beautiful woman who became my neighbor. She was charming, funny, and couldn’t do enough to help me feel at home in the neighborhood. Her husband was always out of town on business. She must have seen me coming. I was a trusting soul. Little did I know I was being courted by a vampire. For this she-devil didn’t really want my friendship; she wanted what I had, and what I had was a husband who was home all the time. Hers was out of the country, so mine would do in the meantime. It took me about six months to finally catch on, and I eventually did. It was a painful lesson of the bite from a neighborhood vampire. I later found out she ran off with another neighbor’s husband. Perhaps I was the lucky one to escape her clutches.
Neighbors who are vampires are not always promiscuous women looking for love with your spouse. They can be the vampire of words. The queen of the neighborhood gossip mill. These are insecure people who live in your neighborhood and get their sustenance for survival on "gossip". In order for them to get it, they must inch their way into your life and find out every small detail, so they can collate the information to their priority and pass it along to others in the neighborhood. Gossip is power, and those who know the most about the personal lives of others hold the audience in the palms of their hands. We trust these people, for often these vampires are friendly, willing to offer you help when you need it, making us drop our guard, and going along for the ride. It’s when you laugh at something they might have told you about someone else in the neighborhood that it becomes a horror of realization that "you" are the brunt of her jokes when your back is turned.
Gossip vampires don’t take pity on you. Talking about others is their drug. If someone talks incessantly about others, the odds are they are talking about you as well. If you know someone like this, think again. You may have a mark on the side of your neck! The guidelines of the neighbor vampire are synonymous with those of the co worker vampire. Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows that those friendly, smiling souls who seem so concerned with how you are each day may just be a vampire in disguise. It gives them power to keep a bag of tidbits about everyone and offer you one when you need it, those days when it’s more enjoyable to hear about someone's else’s problems than deal with your own. After all, it makes us feel just a little better when you know someone else’s life is more screwed up than yours.
Other neighborhood vampires, but sometimes called the "not so dangerous" vampires, could be the down to earth - guy next door. It might start out that Charlie wants to shoot the breeze about the recent baseball game or talk about his recent tune-up. With all vampires, it always starts out as subtle and easy. That is part of the ritual, and that is usually why we cannot see them coming. Maybe there is some common sense that to the idea that fictional vampires first flutter into your life as small bats. Chatting over the fence becomes borrowing a hammer or a screw driver, minor things that aren’t an inconvenience. And they return them so that you keep your guard down at all times. It all appears harmless. The next thing you know, they come over one day and ask if they can borrow your lawn mower, skill saw but, hopefully, not your car or your wife. Maybe this is all starting to make sense.
Home Circle of Vampires. Let’s come a little closer into our home circle and family. The rules of neighborhood vampires apply also to in-law vampires. Family gossip and relatives who borrow things fall into the same category, and we all have them in our life at one time or another. Unfortunately, in-law vampires we inherit so are harder to get rid of than our neighbor. They come with the territory called love. They can attach themselves into your personal life as painfully as a carbuncle on the side of your neck. It’s the material for mother-in- law jokes. Your vulnerability to protect yourself from these vampires isonly weakened by your mate’s attachment to their advice. When anything in your relationship goes wrong, they run to this vampire and feed the fire with more information that the vampire needs to use against you. You in exchange become a victim.
Dating Vampires. I was inspired to write this article as I had a friend who had an encounter with the worst vampire in not just America, but the entire universe! He is what is called the "love" vampire. It is a bite that you might not recover from. In coming to understand the persona of the vampire of famous novels, they don’t necessarily fly in the window and bite their victims on the neck. Vampires are charming, good looking creatures that smolder with sexuality. In real life, that is what happened to her. Her vampire didn’t flutter his wings and land at the foot of her bed. This one knocked on the door and waltzed into her life and before she knew it, he captured her soul. She knew her life would never be the same no matter how long he is gone. The bite of a love vampire can be terminal.
When she first saw this vampire, she looked into his eyes and was mesmerized by a lucid, azure pool. It was the eyes of a tormented soul who she thought was crying for love and affection. She fell right in. She was hypnotized. That is what vampires sometimes do. Little did she know that some vampires can present themselves as Prince Charming one moment and turn into Ivan the Terrible when they get you. Emotional vampires are skilled and educated. They are charismatic, and know you better than you might know yourself. These vampires are born with the ability to look over a situation quickly and summarize the weakness right at the beginning. Membership in Mensa does not qualify someone from recognizing a vampire. Think I’m kidding? Love vampires are also known as emotional vampires, and they are the subject of many studies and analysis of psychologists. They can be male or female and once they steal your heart, the rest is history. This vampire whisked her off my feet within weeks, he succeeded in killing her off from her friends and relatives and she was his. This was after, of course, he got rid of the last victim…his wife.
She was there at the castle, stunned like a deer in the headlights, she threw away any practicality. Vampires are like chameleons because they can change quicker than you can say abracadabra. Either way, once she was there wrapped in the cape it is not easy to escape. It’s a game and the vampire then moves on to the next victim, sometimes before the body is even cold. This story just doesn’t apply to female victims. It can happen to a man as well. Do you know anyone who has met a sweet woman, only to find out later that Snow White and the wicked witch are really one in the same once they have you? Those first little things they do for you because they "love" you vanish faster than a rabbit in a magic act. Not only that, you find the situation reversed, and you are doing double the duty to keep them happy. The comments of "I love your shirt, your dress, how you look" changes into "you aren’t going out of the house dressed like that, are you"?
The emotional vampire lives on what they can take from your emotions. It’s about control; and vampires, whether it is in real life or in that fictional account of Count Dracula, live on control. Control over you. They are people who have no self esteem or control over their own life, so they must feed on yours. In reality, we are all emotional vampires in one way or another. To fall victim, do we have be insecure to fall into this trap, or was are we sometimes just not educated to recognize human psychology when it bites you in the neck? Love vampires play on our emotions but capture our essence and sometimes our soul. Isn’t that what the underlying theme of all the vampire movies are about?
The lesson here is not just to recognize a vampire in your life but to stop yourself from being a vampire. It’s a chain of creation from one bite to another. It’s easy to become bitter, lose your self esteem, become like them after you’ve had the very life sucked out of you. Perhaps vampires are children of vampires. Their childhood forces them to go through life looking for what is missing in themselves. Don’t despair, there is hope. Understanding that this is what human nature is about is one step to a healthier future. Protecting yourself by not taking part intheir activities can be more potent than a necklace of garlic around your neck.
No matter how old we are, we must get to the stage that we can laugh at the lessons we have learned when dealing with vampires. The evil Count Dracula of the past can be replaced in the future by the funny George Hamilton Dracula as in the movie First Bite. Make no mistake, take a look around you, vampires are alive and well in America.

Steps to Finding the Best Interest Rate

How to Get the Best Interest Rate
(Or should that be the best “program”
for your home mortgage)
by: Kathleen Mary Andersen

Mortgage lenders. You can’t escape them. Whether you turn on your television, your radio, get a call from a telemarketer and just about every website, you are promised the best deal in town.
Claims about the lowest interest rate, no closing costs or hidden fees, can confuse the best of us. The question remains, how do you find the right one? More importantly, how do you find not just the best rate but the best program to meet your financial needs?

Shopping for a mortgage can be confusing. We must first understand that a home mortgage is simply a tool in your financial future. Your home needs a financial plan. How long do you plan on keeping your home? What much can you afford a month? There are easily over 50 different mortgage programs available on the market today and interest rates do begin at 1.25% . But is this for you? Is there a catch? How do you choose?

After you determine your goal, the rest is easy. Is a 30 year fixed rate best for you if you plan on selling the home within 5 years? Is this your first home or your last home? Will your house need to grow with your future family and your future income? The American Realtor Association survey has shown that 90% of all homeowners sell within the first 7 years.

The lowest or best interest rate today can be either 1.25% or it can be 9% depending on what type of program, your credit worthiness or simply what your financials goals may be. If you do not see yourself living in your home in the year 2037, then a 30 year fixed rate might not make sense to your plan. If your credit is not so hot, then 9% might look terrific if you are set on owning a home of your own. There are many right rates for many people.

Let’s go shopping. Three phone calls can determine what company and product can work for you. Every company has a variety of different mortgage products. A loan representative can show you an amortization of different plans and different rates.

Do adjustable rates make you dizzy? Over 65% of all home mortgages held by banks are adjustable rate mortgages. And there are many adjustable rate programs. Some are based on fast moving indexes, some carry teaser rates and some based on the slower indexes such as savings. There are also lower rates fixed at a shorter term such as a 5 year note or 7 year note.
If this is your first home, your job will be on the upswing over the next 5 years, an alternative is to look at three options.

A 30 Year Fixed Rate at 5.75%. Payments are $ 567.00 without taxes and insurance. In 5 years you will have paid the bank 12,560.00 in interest and earned $4,500 in equity. It’s called the “banker’s secret”. Is this enough equity to buy a new home considering the market appreciation in 5 years.

A 5 Year Fixed Adjustable Rate Mortgage: Payments are fixed for 5 years at 4.50%. A lower rate but you felt comfortable making that 30 year fixed rate payment above and you do plan to move up in the housing market. Take advantage of a lower rate but make payments as if it was that 30 year program above. The overage goes to your principle and you have earned a whopping 10,000 in equity over 5 years.

A Savings adjustable (COFI) has an option rate beginning at 1.95% or an actual rate of 5.50%. You can make a payment of either 450.00 per month on a 150,000 loan or the actual payment of 650.00 Why would someone want this program? Savings rates are not as volatile as other index. The rate may go up but what goes up also comes down over a 5 year period. Secondly, this program allows you to make a payment in between the 1.95 and the 5.50. The major benefit is that any principle you add each year is credited every 12 month period. It is automatically deducted from the balance you owe. That alone can bring your equity up almost to 3 times the amount of a fixed mortgage.

Bankers sell many types of programs because they know that there are many types of home owners and that each home owner has a particular plan in mind. ‘No’ closing costs usually means a higher rate. The costs are built into the rate. Over a 5 year period, you pay more than if you have taken the closing costs up front. Lower interest rates with some closing costs added to the loan might be a better option for paying less interest. If you pay points or origination, can you recover that over the time you will keep the house?

The goal is to find not only someone who can show you different options but someone that you can feel comfortable with handling the biggest investment we make in our lives: our home. Trust, product knowledge and making it your choice is important. After all, the key is that when the transaction closes, it is you, the homeowner that must be happy in making the payment each month.

The Real Cowboys

The Real Cowboys

by: Kathleen Mary Andersen

Reprinted from Western Chronicles Magazine, 2004

Their heyday was only a small piece of history, but their folklore and spirit has lasted many generations. The myth and mystery lasted from around 1850 to the early 1880s and created a hero that was larger in our memories than in the actual life he had lead. They had a dream and a vision.
These are the cowboys.

In September of 2003, I went to the Idaho Panhandlers Cowboy Action Shoot at Faragutt State Park. I am always in awe of the outfits and the spirit at these events. As I sat on this clear Saturday watching the mounted shoorting event, I thought back to my childhood at the Saturday afternoon matinee. I was mesmerized with the dashing men, singing their way down the trail, fighting for truth and justice in the old west. They came to the rescue of a fair damsel, forever upholding the code of the west. I wanted to leap onto that screen and ride off into the sunset with them. But here I was in the reality of this modern affair complaining about my frozen toes and fingers wondering how these brave souls of the past carried on without all the comforts we now have..

The miles I had traveled in my car to get here as hardly a “spit in the bucket” in comparison to the long and arduous journey that the real cowboy had to take. While I traveled I-90 the American cowboy traveled routes called “The Chisholm Trail” The Goodnight Loving Trail” and “The Western Trail”. All leading from the Texas coast into Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Montana they roamed the limitless land, earning a couple of hundred dollars to take this property that was not even something they owned to its final market place in cities like Cheyenne and Dodge City. I thought that the true American cowboy was the epitome of masculinity. I imagined him riding the rugged countryside, yodeling as the sun went over the horizon and his name would be Gus or Woodrow McCall as in the movie Lonesome Dove. His life was carefree, adventurous and happy. He carried his bedroll, sat by a campfire drinking his coffee and pondered life under the stars. Could life be any better?

Anyway, this is how I saw it. In reality, who was the real American cowboy? Fact or fiction suddenly starts to merge into a portrait of a unique hero of our culture. The “cowboy” was truly just a boy; his average age was only 24 years old. The term “cowboy” came about during the Revolutionary War when the Tories would tinkle a cow’s bell to lure the unsuspecting Patriots into an ambush. It was only later that it became a popular name for Texas rustlers who stole cattle from the Mexicans and after the Civil War it came to signify anyone who tended cattle in the West. I guess that would include rounding up horses as well.

One out of 3 cowboys was actually either black or Mexican. Most were uneducatedorphans, slaves and immigrants who came to seek a living in the west. If they worked an average of 7 years with hopes and some good financial management, they could have enough for their own ranch and their own herd. Most only worked during the warmer months taking handyman jobs in town during the winter months. Some of these adventurous young men never even knew how to ride before signing on as a cowhand.

"In person the cowboys were mostly medium-sized men... quick and wiry, and as a rule very good-natured; in fact, it did not pay to be anything else. In character, their like never was or will be again." Teddy Blue Abbott. “They Pointed Them North”

Exit John Wayne, Gene Audrey and all those romantic figures on the saddle. The average cowboy didn’t sit on his horse, totting his gun, playing his guitar down the range. Even the rough and tumble photos portraying the cowboy covered up a self conscience young man trying to earn a living. Life was not easy on the prairie. The cowboys would have to endure the extreme Texas heat, the bitter winds of spring in Colorado and the early snows of Wyoming and Montana to get their cattle to its final destination. Contrary to popular depiction, guns were not encouragedby the ranchers nor city officials in the in the towns the cowboys passed. Guns were only used to protect and to ensure the safe passage up the trails that became the focal point of many cowboy songs. It was in those songs, and the Old West shows that gave the cowboys a bit of romance.

The model for the American cowboy was the “vaqueros”, a professional breed of horseman who set the style, had mastered the equipment and technique of horses and even set the vocabulary that would later become the trademark of the cowboy. The came with the Spaniards to settle the west. The early cowboy wore typically wool paints, often times with buckskin sown in the seat and inner legs to prevent chaffing and wear from the saddle, no belt, a large wool hat usually with the brim held in place with thorns, no suspenders but tight fitting pants that could stay up while he worked in the saddle all day. Vests with long pockets became an asset for carrying items like tobacco or a small tally book. Northern cowboys often wore long fur lined coats to protect them from the weather. Gloves were a matter of choice. “Chaparreras”, the thick pants the Spanish wore was later simplified to “chaps”. The term “vaqueros”, “vaca” meaning cow later was simplifed to “buckaroos” during cowboy times.

Unlike the flashy and professional vaqueros, the cowboys were generally good natured, striving to save some money for something of their own. Early boots were actually those that soldiers brought home from the Civil War and were with a traditional flat heel. The Spaniards brought with them the mastery of the saddle. A cowboy usually owned his own and the horse was often the possession of the cattle baron. or rancher that the cowboy worked for. The Western saddle is actually a descendant of the 16th Century Spanish saddle that the conquistadorsrode into Mexico. The Spanish saddle being copied from the Moors.

The prommel at the front was curved to prevent the rider from sliding off. The saddle changed when it came to cattle country. The curved was tilted well backward for the rider’s comfort. If the saddle fit properly, not only to the horse but to the horseman, he could easily travel 70 miles a day. Modifications throughout the years were made to the riggings but the major design used in the mission saddle is still prevalent today. Later when chaps and a different style of hats emerged, a large belt buckle had a purpose to protect the cowboy during the rough interaction with the cow. It was easy to lose his balance and the buckle served to save him from busting a gut on the horn.

The cowboy’s canvas was the open and unsettled land of the west. The lush green pastures rose to the Rockies. But along with this magnificent scenery came the extreme weather conditions of hot and cold. Texas was dry and dusty while the Montana territory could be chilling and windy. These elements shaped the character of the cowboy. Writers such as Teddy Blue Abbott wrote stories of the cowboy adventure. His most famous tale “They Pointed Them North” brings to life the saga of the cattle drive from Texas to Montana. The artist Charlie Russell immortalized the cowboy on many of his western paintings. It was thru these men that we catch a glimpse of the real American cowboy.

The cowboy’s horse was his equipment. Most cow ponies were normally a crossbetween a Cavalry horse and a mustang. The cowboys thought it was best to leave the horse to roam for the first 4 years of his life before he would be trained. Then the poor animal went thru a 4 day breaking process to prepare him for his new task. These horses were much shorter than today’s stock, standing about 12 to 14 hands. The lariat was introduced to the cowboy by the vaqueros who used braided rawhide but the cowboys evolved this into a grass rope usually about 40 feet long.

A cowboy’s work was never done. He saddled up at daybreak and tended his herd until sunset. On the open range, predators such as wolves and bear prevented the cowboys from a peaceful nights sleep. While he was on a drive he could hope for a chuck wagon and some decent food to help compensate for the many hours in the saddle. But most of the time as the song goes “eat bacon and beans most every day” was the common food fare along with coffee and a fresh loaf of bread.

The long cattle drives drove boys into men. Four or five months in the saddle, wearing the same clothes, no companionship other than your fellow cowboys and a whole lot of cattle built character. Friendships were important. When the cowboy did get into town he allowed himself the comforts of a hot bath, a shave, a woman, a deck of cards and a good bottle of whiskey. Towns catering to the cattle industry thrived.

The cowboy lived by the golden rule of the Code of the West. Good behavior might entail rules such as never borrowing a horse without permission, never grabbing another horseman’s bridle as it was considered an intrusion on the other man’s control of his horse, never waving at a passing horseman but simple giving a simple node or verbal greeting as not to spook the other man’s horse. A wave was considered bad form. If one man dismounted, another would as dismount as a courtesy. Cowboys were expected to respect the property of the ranch. The cowboy’s code was one of honesty. But like all good things, times were about to change.

Along with good times, the arrival of the cattle drives meant more settlers and of course arguments about land rights. The open range now had limitations and those limitations were protected. There were the fencers and the fence cutters. Barb wire was the downfall of the freedom of the west. With one man’s possessions came another man’s envy. Cattle rustling made its way into the open prairie. Confrontations erupted over fencing, water rights and land boundaries. Gunplay and gunfights became the most popular symbol of the cowboy. Mythology paints a portrait where a man would ultimately have to face life or death for his good name in a dual. The reality was that most gunfights were not between cowboys but the underground of professional gamblers and criminals that followed the money west.

The romance of the cowboy was boosted when a businessman realized he could capitalize the lore of the west. The entrepreneur Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1870s began his Wild West Show featuring prizes for events of skill such as cow roping, target shooting, bronc riding, and a program built around the cowboys. He hoped to attract 100 cowboys to enter but he received over 1,000 participants. It fueled the myth that made headlines around the world.

Riding your horse under the stars, a gentle breeze blowing in your hair. Thinking about the American cowboy brings out something in me that is magical. It was the era of no computers, no phones, no traffic, and no pollution. Whether it is watching the sunset over the mountains or sitting by a campfire singing a song, the cowboys brought to us that romantic lore of the good and honest hero who lended his support to the powerless and weak. Brave, honest and true the American cowboy will forever remain in our hearts and the symbol of America’s past. Although he is gone, in my mind he will never be forgotten.