Reposted with thanks from the groundhog.org official website!

Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates. Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives. It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.

If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole.

If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.

The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.

According to an old English song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

According to an old Scotch couplet:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be twa (two) winters in the year.

Another variation of the Scottish rhyme:

If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair,
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter’s gone at Yule.

The Roman legions, during the conquest of the northern country, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the “Second Winter.”

Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs to in profusion in many parts of the state. They determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal and therefore decided that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.

The Germans recited:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.

This passage may be the one most closely represented by the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances because there were references to the length of shadows in early Groundhog Day predictions.

 Another February 2nd belief, used by American 19th century farmers, was:

Groundhog Day – Half your hay.

New England farmers knew that we were not close to the end of winter, no matter how cloudy February 2nd was. Indeed, February 2nd is often the heart of winter. If the farmer didn’t have half his hay remaining, there may have been lean times for the cows before spring and fresh grass arrived.

The ancient Candlemas legend and similar belief continue to be recognized annually on February 2nd due to the efforts of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Growing Fame

From offering support of political events, to rooting for area sports teams, to becoming the star of a Hollywood movie, Punxsutawney Phil has increasingly been in the public eye.

Early observances of Phil’s predictions were conducted privately in the wooded areas that neighbor the town. Today’s celebration sees tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world as revelers await Phil’s appearance as most fans wait to see their favorite rock stars.

The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first observance in 1886 (one year before the first legendary trek to Gobbler’s Knob):

“Today is groundhog day, and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen his shadow.”

Over the course of Phil’s appearances, Phil has had numerous noteworthy highlights:

  • During Prohibition Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.
  • In 1958 Phil announced that it was a “United States Chucknik,” rather than a Soviet Sputnik or Muttnik that became the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth.
  • In 1981 Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran.
  • Phil traveled to Washington DC in 1986 to meet with President Reagan. He was joined by Groundhog Club President Jim Means, Al Anthony and Bill Null.
  • Phil met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburg in 1987.
  • In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray.
  • Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1995.
  • In the years following the release of the movie, record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney!
  • In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell attended the ceremonies, making him the first sitting governor ever to do so.



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Clinton NJ Hunterdon County Halloween 2015: The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows

With thanks from the Library of Congress and Jack Santino.

Having grown up in New Jersey and now living in Clinton NJ in Hunterdon County, I try to pass to my clients and friends and neighbors some interesting tidbits. Halloween is so much more than knocking on doors for candy. Here is a great history.

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle.

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons–all part of the dark and dread.

Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers.

As a result of their efforts to wipe out “pagan” holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples’ customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.

In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John’s Day was set on the summer solstice.

Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion’s supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.

The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches.

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions.

The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day–a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises.

All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe’en–an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year’s Day in contemporary dress.

Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called “Allison Gross” tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch’s spell on Halloween.

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower
the ugliest witch int he North Country…
She’s turned me into an ugly worm
and gard me toddle around a tree…

But as it fell out last Hallow even
When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,
the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank
Not far from the tree where I wont to lie…
She’s change me again to my own proper shape
And I no more toddle about the tree.

In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went “a’ soulin’” for these “soul cakes.” Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover.

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day.

Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o’lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendence. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.

Now.. while there might be haunted houses for sale, you maybe more interested in something that doesn’t go bump in the night. For great homes in Clinton, Pittstown and all around Hunterdon, visit my website at


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The History of Mother’s Day – Dark Start to the Holiday

Before the brunches, before the gifts and greeting cards, Mother’s Day was a time for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace.

When the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium. Of course, Mother’s Day marched on without her and is today celebrated, in various forms, on a global scale.

As early as the 1850s, West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

The groups also tended wounded soldiers of both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865, she added.

In the postwar years Jarvis and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist events uniting former foes. Julia Ward Howe, for one—best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—issued a widely read “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.

Around the same time, Jarvis had initiated a Mothers’ Friendship Day for Union and Confederate loyalists across her state. But it was her daughter Anna who was most responsible for what we call Mother’s Day—and who would spend most of her later life fighting what it had become.

“Mother’s Day,” Not “Mothers’ Day”

Moved by the 1905 death of her own mother, Anna Jarvis, who never had children of her own, was the driving force behind the first Mother’s Day observances in 1908.

On May 10 of that year, families gathered at events in Jarvis’s hometown of Grafton, West Virginia—at a church now renamed the International Mother’s Day Shrine—as well as in Philadelphia, where Jarvis lived at the time, and in several other cities.

Largely through Jarvis’s efforts, Mother’s Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday.

“For Jarvis it was a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she did,” said West Virginia Wesleyan’s Antolini, who wrote “Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Defense of Her Mother’s Day” as her Ph.D. dissertation.

“It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter.” That’s why Jarvis stressed the singular “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” Antolini explained.

But Jarvis’s success soon turned to failure, at least in her own eyes.

Storming Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis’s idea of an intimate Mother’s Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development which deeply disturbed Jarvis. She set about dedicating herself and her sizable inheritance to returning Mother’s Day to its reverent roots.

Jarvis incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association and tried to retain some control of the holiday. She organized boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.

“In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia,” Antolini said.

A similar protest followed two years later. “The American War Mothers, which still exists, used Mother’s Day for fundraising and sold carnations every year,” Antolini said. “Anna resented that, so she crashed their 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace.”

Jarvis’s fervent attempts to reform Mother’s Day continued until at least the early 1940s. In 1948 she died at 84 in Philadelphia’s Marshall Square Sanitarium.

“This woman, who died penniless in a sanitarium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother’s Day if she wanted to,” Antolini said.

“But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything, financially and physically.”

Mother’s Day Gifts Today: Brunch, Bouquets, Bling

Today, of course, Mother’s Day continues to roll on as an engine of consumerism.

In the U.S. alone, Mother’s Day 2012 spending will reach $18.6 billion—with the average adult spending more than $152.52 on gifts, the National Retail Federation estimates.

Sixty-six percent of Americans celebrating Mother’s Day will treat their mothers to flowers, the federation reports, and more than 30 percent of the surveyed celebrants plan to give their mothers gifts of jewelry.

The U.S. National Restaurant Association reports that Mother’s Day is the year’s most popular holiday for dining out. Last year the association estimated that some 75 million U.S. adults woud do just that on the holiday.

As for Mother’s Day being a Hallmark holiday, there’s no denying it, strictly speaking.

Hallmark Cards itself, which sold its first Mother’s Day cards in the early 1920s, reports that Mother’s Day is the number three holiday for card exchange in the United States, behind Christmas and Valentine’s Day—another apparent affront to the memory of the mother of Mother’s Day.

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Jarvis once said, according to the book Women Who Made a Difference.

“And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Mother’s Day Gone Global

The holiday Anna Jarvis launched has spread around much of the world, though it’s celebrated with varying enthusiasm, in various ways, and on various days—though more often than not on the second Sunday in May.

In much of the Arab world, Mother’s Day is on March 21, which happens to loosely coincide with the start of spring. In Panama the day is celebrated on December 8, when the Catholic Church honors perhaps the most famous of mothers, the Virgin Mary. In Thailand mothers are honored on August 12, the birthday of Queen Sirikit, who has reigned since 1956 and is considered by many to be a mother to all Thais.

Britain’s centuries-old Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, began as a spring Sunday designated for people to visit their area’s main cathedral, or mother church, rather than their local parish.

Mothering Sunday church travel led to family reunions, which in turn led to Britain’s version of Mother’s Day.

This article reprinted with thanks to National Geographic.


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The Five Year Rule for Home Owners

When you purchase a house, the general rule is that you want to be sure you’ll be in the same location for at least five years. Otherwise, you’re probably going to take a hit financially.

The first hit is your closing costs. Every time you go through closing — buying and selling — money hits the table. Depending on where your house happens to be, the buyers and sellers pay different amounts, but everyone pays something. This can easily add up to thousands of dollars, and limiting how often you have to pay that kind of money is always a good idea.

And you take a second hit when you look at your mortgage statement to see exactly where your monthly payments are going. The way mortgages are structured, you pay much more interest in the first few years that you own a house. Usually, it isn’t until you’re about five years into paying down your mortgage that you’ve made enough progress on the principal to make it a better deal than paying rent each month.

When you take out a mortgage, you are paying an interest rate on what you owe. So, in the first year, when the principal is highest, the interest you need to pay is also the highest. However, since the monthly payment is the same throughout the term of the loan (at least with a fixed rate mortgage), more of the payment will be used to cover the interest payments, meaning less is going towards the principal. As your principal goes down, your interest payments will go down, leaving more of your check to go towards the principal.

If you can wait at least five years to move, you’re in a better position to be ahead of the game.

Defeating the Five Year Rule

Five years is a generality. If you add in a couple of other factors, you can make buying a house that you don’t plan to stay in long-term a better choice.

The biggest factor is how much you’re going to pay on your mortgage. A lot of people buy as much house as they can afford, according to what lenders offer them. That’s usually the upper end of what you can financially manage. If, however, you buy at the lower end of what you can afford and make extra payments, you can pay off a bigger chunk of the principal. You need to run the numbers for the specific house you’ve got your eye on, but you can often come out ahead.

Bottom line: if you know you’re going to buy a house based on what the bank says you can afford, and you don’t want to think about renting it out, don’t purchase a house until you’re ready to spend at least five years in it.

Here’s a quick and dirty formula that you can use to help you figure out whether it’s better to buy or rent, which works with any duration of ownership. Try to calculate: Seller and Buyer Agent Fees When You Sell + Purchase Price + Maintenance Cost for the Time of Occupancy + Interest Paid on Mortgage + Investment Gains from Your Down Payment + Taxes Paid (Such as Property Tax) + Closing Costs – Selling Price. This number could come out negative or positive, but if it’s lower than the rent you would have paid during the same time frame, then you would be better off buying. If the number is higher, meaning that the selling price wasn’t high enough to cover all those costs, then renting would be the more cost-effective choice.


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Five Ways To A Great Spring Landscape

It’s easy to let your yard lose its luster. It doesn’t take long for leaves and twigs to pile up, shrubs to regrow their shoots unevenly, sharply defined lines to become a little blurry, once brilliant grass to start looking dull, and your overall color palette looking a little washed out. Luckily, there are five simple tips that will have you on your way to making big progress in your landscape this Spring.

Clean up leaves and debris. Even if you cleaned up well in the fall, winter can still take a toll on your landscape. This winter was especially harsh in temperatures and wind. Trees continue to lose leaves throughout the season, branches snap, and the neighbors who have not kept up with their yards contribute leaves and other blown debris from their properties. If you had a choice between painting on a clean, blank canvas or one with black marks already on it, which one would you pick? That idea is what renders this an ideal first step for any yard in need of improvement. Once your yard is clean and free of dead leaves, then you’ll be better able to envision the next four steps.

Trim your shrubbery. As you’ve surely noticed, shrubbery naturally grows different shoots at various speeds which produces shoots of different lengths. While beautiful in nature, shrubs used as part of a landscaping arrangement are typically made to have uniform length all around, which can help to achieve a clean look that enhances the sense of order in your design. Some varieties of shrubbery are naturally more consistent in their growth than others, so researching the different varieties can be to your benefit if you don’t want to be trimming frequently.

Create crisply defined lines between beds and turf. Smooth, flowing lines facilitate relaxation and ease, probably because they look so much better. Applying mulch once the edge is strongly defined will create an impressive and pleasant sight. Dark mulch creates a more subtle and relaxed effect, which I always recommend over light mulch.

Now an important note. While I suggest crisply defined lines, I don’t mean they should be straight. When you are creating your shrub beds, keep this thought in mind. Your property should look as though the home was built within the shrubbery, not the other way around. Don’t square things off and have equal numbers and sizes of shrubs on either side of your front door. Make the beds free-form.

Fertilize generously. Simply by applying the proper amount of fertilizer, you could make you neighbors jealous with your vibrant green turf. Home improvement and hardware stores typically have basic plans for homeowners, otherwise there are certainly smaller-scale solutions. If you need exceptional results and you’re not sure exactly where to begin, you could consult an expert on the best course of action for your property.

Use color (wisely). Color can be the most powerful tool in your garden, make sure to utilize it. The blooms available to you will vary by season and the amount of sunlight available to the area, but there are outstanding choices no matter how your property is situated. The possible color combinations are many and varied, and many homeowners don’t think to match flowers with shutters, doors, interior curtains that can be seen from outside, and even the color of the siding or roof. If you don’t want to attract bees with sweet-smelling flowers, you can opt for a decorative plant like coleus, which comes in an incredible number of color combinations that span from burgundy and magenta all the way to lime green and yellow.

Wherever your landscaping is falling short, simple solutions are not far from your reach. Start by cleaning up, then continue by manicuring any shrubs that need it, redefining lines between turf and bed, fertilizing liberally, and, finally, adding thoughtful use of color through flowers and/or decorative plants. Follow these tips, and you’ll be sure to impress your neighbors come summer.

If you need any tips or help, please just give me a call. You can reach me through my website at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com



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Spring 2014! Bring Color Into Your Home

Spring is the time of the year when we no longer think in terms of black, white & gray. We shrug off the winter blahs and start thinking in color. Let’s bring the color into our homes. Every space has a life of its own and creates a response within us. You can craft the desired feeling in your home or office by the color palette you select. As a Home Staging Professional, I follow the practice of Feng Shui. From time to time I send an article that I think my readers would find helpful.

The Five Elements of Feng Shui are Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. These elements are symbolic of the forces at work within the universe and impact our minds, our bodies and our lives. Each element represents a component of nature and each element is represented by a color. Like the elements, each color has an energy associated with it and a feeling. Think of expressions that we commonly use like, “she saw red!” or “I feel blue.” These are examples of how subconsciously we know that colors can express and influence our emotions. The colors we choose to live with affect our mood, our ability to focus, to heal and even influence the decisions that we make!

Earth is Yellow
Yellow is the color of sunshine and washes us with optimism and clear thinking. Paint your kitchen yellow and guests will gather there and be very talkative. Conversation will flow and there will be a general feeling of well-being. Color your home office with yellow and it will help you focus and keep you organized and disciplined.

Metal is White
White has the fastest vibration of all the colors in the spectrum. White symbolizes purity and holds the power to transform. It is also like a blank canvas which gives us the ability to create and boosts imagination. White can be used in any room successfully however if the room is completely decorated in white it will feel sterile and uncomfortable.

Water is Black
Black symbolizes going within. Deep, dark and quiet-it is like winter. In some cultures black is the color of mourning and often the color worn by spiritual leaders who explore the inner world. Black is a wonderful choice when used as an accessory or accent however a black room would be too dark and overwhelming for most people.

Wood is Green
Green is the color of rebirth and growth. It is a fresh start, a new day, an opportunity to begin again. Think of it as a pillow for the eyes as it is the most restful color for us to look at. Green works for any room and is often used in hospitals because of its healing properties. Like a walk through a forest, it fosters feelings of balance, harmony and hope.

Fire is Red
Red, is the color of passion but beware! If you use too much red in a bedroom you may find it difficult to sleep. Any room washed in red will be exciting but it also can ignite temper tantrums and arguments. A red dining room will intensify your appetite. In an exercise room it can increase strength and in a living room it will bring lots of activity. If you are at a lethargic point in your life or feeling fearful, red can bring you the power you are looking for and propel you into action.
Give careful consideration to the energies of color when designing your space because your space designs your life!

I’m always available if you’d like help in setting the color tone in your home. Better yet, I’m here to help you find a NEW home to fill with color. You can find me at http://www.NormaSellsNJHomes.com

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10 Cheap & Simple Ways to Add Curb Appeal

If you’re getting ready to sell your home, you want it to make a good first impression on potential buyers. You may have an updated, modern kitchen and an amazing spa bathroom, but no buyer will see either without first getting through your front door. Your home needs curb appeal.

 Of course, if you’ve spent a pretty penny for updates throughout your home, you may not have the budget or desire to spend big on that first impression. Luckily, curb appeal can come cheap.

 Here are the top 10 tips for inexpensive — and often free — curb appeal from real-estate agents, lawn-and-garden professionals and other curb-appeal experts (like me).

 1. Add a layer of mulch
A fresh layer of mulch was mentioned the most as a cheap way to improve the look of your yard.

Mulch will cover up a multitude of sins, and the darker it is, the more effective it looks. But steer clear of reddish-orange mulch, which looks horrendous in a garden, especially next to a lawn. Mulch makes an area look freshly landscaped, and it also saves water by reducing runoff and conserving soil moisture.

 2. Focus on your front door
Updating your door’s handle and deadbolt set with a modern-looking option is a great visual upgrade, and it can be a practical improvement, too.

I can’t tell you how many times as a real-estate agent I have fumbled and wrangled with the key in a rusty or stripped keyhole. That’s not the energy you want buyers to start viewing your house with.

While you’re at it, see if your doorbell, light fixtures and the door’s kick plate could be replaced. And be sure to glance up to check for cobwebs on the front porch. 

Also, make sure the path to your door is accessible. You might use your garage or side door to enter your house, but buyers won’t.  Cut back overgrown hedges so there’s plenty of space to maneuver, and fix any uneven pavement or broken pieces that could create a trip hazard.

A nicely scented, potted plant by the front door can make a good impression on potential buyers. Homebuyers make decisions with all five senses., But scent is almost always overlooked.

 3. Don’t forget your fence
A homeowner may get used to looking at the back fence and not notice discoloration from water and sun. People don’t pay enough attention to fences, but they are the biggest constructed element in your yard.

Use a semitransparent stain to even out signs of repairs and to cover stains and discoloration. Pull together the look of the yard by using that same stain to upgrade other wood structures on your property, including benches, rails, decks, steps,  sheds and playhouses.  

 4. Use some elbow grease
Stand at the end of the driveway and try to view the home as a buyer would. Are there oils stains in the driveway? Is there mold on the mailbox? Grime on the front door?

Rent or borrow a pressure washer and thoroughly clean your home’s exterior. You can use the pressure washer to clean your siding, foundation, patio, walkways, driveways, stairs, decks and porch. Take a bucket and scrub brush to your front door, mailbox and any other areas that need gentler cleaning.

 5. Add a color to your home’s palette
If your home’s paint job is decent but a little boring, see if you can add a second accent color to the window casements, shutters and/or front door. The typical house has only two paint colors, one of which is usually white, but a designer or color specialist often creates a three- or four-color palette.

Pick up one of those color-scheme cards that the big paint manufacturers put out if you are at all unsure how to do this well.

6. Fill in empty spaces in the yard
Look for gaps in your beds and borders and fill them with annual flowers. It’s generally a good idea to buy larger flowers, unless you have time to wait for them to grow. Replace any plants that aren’t doing well.

If you’re using large, potted plants to cover up eyesores such as an ugly wall or utility line,  place the purchased plant and its container directly into a large, empty pot rather than actually planting it in the pot. Sometimes, those kinds of plants can die for no particular reason, and then you are stuck with that eyesore. It’s better to just take the nursery container out and put another one in.

 7. Use plants in cool colors, and keep them low-maintenance
Many people will react in a visceral, emotional way to hot colors, such as reds and yellows, and that it’s best to stick with a cool palette. Use blues, purples, light pinks and whites. Those colors will also make the home look cooler in the summer.

Have a color theme going into your curb-appeal planning. Go with all one color or complementary colors. One of the things you don’t want to do is do mixed colors. It’s better to plant six pink petunias than a mixed flat of petunias. That makes a disorganized riot of color and does not say ‘peaceful’ to the eye.

Cost-saving tip:  big-box home-improvement stores often sell plats of plants almost at cost because they’re set on selling you the soil and fences to go with them. But you must know what you’re looking for. Sometimes, if you don’t know your plants, you might pick up the wrong thing. If you’re not sure what you need to buy, try your local nursery instead.  The nursery is going to have the knowledgeable experts working there. Free design advice is practically priceless.

 8. Mow, trim, prune and weed
A manicured lawn and weeded garden beds send a strong, positive message to the buyer. This gesture shows you care and take pride in your home.  The translation in the buyer’s mind is that the whole house must be well-cared-for, too.

A little thinning of the trees and shrubs will open up the house and make the good areas more visible. There is nothing worse than a house that looks overgrown.

 9. Give your yard a nightlife
Add some path lighting that highlights the best plants in your yard. You never know when people are going to drive by.

 10. Mailbox

My pet peeve. If your mailbox is broken, battered, dirty or leaning. REPLACE IT! Add a few plants around it to blend it in as part of your curb appeal!

If you have questions, call me! As a certified Home Staging Professional, I am happy to help with ideas and tips!




Posted in Home Maintenance, Hunterdon County & Clinton NJ, Selling a Home, Thoughts From a Realtor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 10 Cheap & Simple Ways to Add Curb Appeal

Real Estate Outlook – Spring 2014

I’ve read a very interesting opinion about the real estate market, and I love the analogy. The current real estate recovery is like a marathon. Last year, buyers and sellers sprinted out of the gates at full speed, fueled by low interest rates and affordable home prices. The press and social media were full of stories about limited housing inventories, bidding wars and multiple offers. In 2013, real estate was sexy and headline-worthy (much like me!).

As we are well into 2014, it’s clear we’ve only run the first few miles of this marathon. Last year’s excitement will surely wear off, and there will be a lot less flashy magazine covers, posts, tweets or evening news stories about real estate. Most experts predict a slower, steadier, more even “pace” this year in most of the country, even as interest rates and home values inch up.

This doesn’t mean 2014 won’t be as good a time to buy real estate. It helps to look at the bigger picture and not get caught up in the micro stats or the latest headlines. Sure, we likely won’t see interest rates as low in 2014 as we did in 2013. But to put that into perspectiveinterest rates were as high as 18 percent in the 1980s, yet people still bought homes.

As you approach buying a home this year, it helps to focus on the long term by keeping the following five best practices in mind. These were best practices for home buying a generation ago. And they’ll most likely still be practical when the next generation of home buyers sprints out of the gate.

Buy when you’re ready

Just because you didn’t buy last year when the market was getting hot doesn’t mean you’ve missed out. Could you have gotten in when the rates were at their lowest and values near the bottom? Sure. But were you ready to buy then? Maybe not. The main thing to remember is that you should buy a home when you can afford it, you have your financing and you’ve found a home that meets your needs. That will always be the best time to buy.

Home buying is a journey

Despite how quickly the world works today, you can’t force a home purchase. It’s not like buying a television or a laptop. A home is a much more expensive and complicated purchase. It’s where you can feel safe and calm from the outside world, a place you can customize to your needs, and where you will make lasting memories. Because of this, buying a home comes with emotional and practical implications on top of the financial ones. Remember that a home is your place to live first and an investment second. Take the time you need to find the right home.

Real estate is local

The national real estate news headlines may be about multiple offers and bidding wars. But that situation may only be relevant to one part of the country or even to just a handful of cities. Even down to certain styles of homes!

Meanwhile, the neighborhood where you want to buy a home still has distressed sales and is more of a buyers’ market.

All that really matters in real estate is what’s happening in your own community. If you’re interested in getting into the market, follow the local economy and housing markets. Get connected to a real estate agent who has “feet on the street.”

Go with your Mind and Not With Your Heart

You know your financial situation better than anyone. You know your down payment amount, credit score, amount of savings and the upper limits of what you can afford to put toward homeownership every month.

You should also speak with a mortgage lender to find out what you REALLY can afford

Stay focused on what you know, stay local, take your time and don’t let outside forces sway your decision to buy a home. A good Realtor will not pressure you, but lead you to homes you might love AND can afford. People have bought and sold homes for years, at higher prices and with higher interest rates.

If done right, you’ll be the winner of this marathon. To speak with a winning Realtor, look no further. Call, click or email and let me find you the right home.




Posted in Buying a Home, Family Matters, Hunterdon County & Clinton NJ, Selling a Home, Thoughts From a Realtor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Real Estate Outlook – Spring 2014

Get Rid of Road Salt Stains

Our roads and sidewalks are covered with salt and de-icers that help us trudge through the winter weather. But those snow and ice-busters can take a toll on your shoes, clothing, and floors. Cleaning up the salt needn’t involve specialized solvents or expensive services that are full of potentially toxic chemicals. With a moist rag, a dry brush, and a dab of distilled white vinegar, you can easily removed dried on salt before it does serious damage. Here’s how.

Floors: Salt crystals can act like sandpaper underfoot, dulling a floor’s surface or damaging a finish. And once the surface is damaged, the underlying materials can be damaged or stained by water and other foreign matter that soaks in. First line of defense: Immediately remove water droplets that may contain salt. For that, I keep a Swiffer-type mop handy, outfitted with rectangles of old terry-cloth towel, which I can launder and reuse. To pick up salt that’s dried onto floors without scratching the finish, you’ll first need to spray the floor with warm water, or water mixed with a splash of vinegar. Let the liquid sit for a minute or two, and wipe it up with a dry towel on your trusty mop.

Cars: Dried road salt and de-icer stains look nasty, and can actually damage your car. Wipe off spots and thin coatings with a soft cloth dipped in water or a solution of half water and half vinegar. In the event that your car is too dirty to spot clean, take it to a car wash rather than wash the car in your driveway. Car washes send oily, polluted water off to the treatment plant, rather than letting it run off into storm drains and into streams.

Clothing: Anything that’s weather-resistant, such as snow boots or water-repellent jackets, can be cleaned a soft cloth dipped in water or a water&vinegar mix (experiment with amounts. Start with 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a quart of water, and gradually add more vinegar if needed). Then wipe them clean with a dry cloth. For everything else, just let the salt dry and then brush it off, either with a specialized clothes brush or an inexpensive hairbrush with soft bristles. It’s incredibly fast and easy! Make sure beforehand that any mud is completely dry, too, or you will work it in rather than remove it. If the mud is ground into the fabric, start by brushing off what you can, and then toss the item into the laundry. If laundering is not an option, sponge the dirty areas with a moist cloth, and pat off the dirty water with a dry cloth (test the method in a small, hidden area of the clothing if you have any concern the fabric might get damaged). Move on to a water-vinegar mixture if plain water doesn’t quite do the trick.

Leather: Salt can damage leather, so to preserve leather shoes it’s a good idea to clean it off as quickly as possible. Dip a clean, soft rag in a one-to-one solution of water and vinegar and wipe away salt or dirt (you may need to do this repeatedly to get out all the salt). Saddle soap is also good for cleaning leather items, and is usually made from ecofriendly, natural ingredients. Rub the saddle soap onto a moist sponge then apply it to the leather in a circular motion, and buff it with a dry cloth. If you can’t find saddle soap, make your own by melting two tablespoons of beeswax in a shallow, wide-mouthed Mason jar set in a saucepan of simmering water (do not heat the beeswax directly on the stove, as it can ignite if overheated). After the wax has melted, remove the jar from the water and stir in ½ cup of olive oil until blended, and stir in 1 cup of grated castile or Ivory soap and ¼ teaspoon of lavender or tea tree oil until blended (the oils are optional, but they offer some protection from mold, in addition to smelling nice). Store covered at room temperature.

If a misstep into a deep puddle of snowmelt leaves your shoes soaked through, remove any unattached insoles, dump out any water, and clean as above. Then stuff the shoes full of crumpled newspaper and allow them to dry. Avoid the temptation to put them near a heat source (and certainly not in the clothes dryer), as high heat may damage the leather more than getting it wet does. To speed the drying process, replace damp newspaper with dry as it soaks up the moisture.

After cleaning leather, and especially if it has gotten soaked, it’s a good idea to apply some sort of conditioner. The simplest and safest is plain old olive oil: Rub on the oil with a soft rag, and allow the leather to absorb it (test a bit in an inconspicuous place first to see you like the effect or not). Continue to wipe on a thin layer of oil every few hours until it no longer seems to disappear into the leather. Buff off any excess oil with a dry, soft cloth. Another option: You can rub a beeswax-based leather conditioner onto your dry shoes or jacket to condition and protect them.

Suede: To get mud or salt stains out of suede, blot the suede item with a cloth dipped in undiluted white vinegar then blot the material until dry using a dry, soft cloth. Afterwards, brush the suede with a clean terry-cloth towel or soft suede brush in circular motions, raising the nap so the fabric looks clean and new.


Posted in Baby Boomers & Silver Collars, Family Matters, Home Maintenance, Thoughts From a Realtor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Get Rid of Road Salt Stains

Is It Time To Buy A Home Now in 2014??

You can be sure even in the face of uncertainty.

Pundits and professionals can’t agree on the state of real estate markets and whether prices are on the way down, but if you’re sure you want to become a homeowner, or to sell and move into the next “best place,” go for it.

That’s not encouragement to jump in over “your financial head,” or to go against obvious warning signs in your local real estate market. This is encouragement to take a close look at exactly what is more uncertain than usual, and how you can protect yourself against often-overlooked real estate problems.

Remorse-avoidance is to use the professional to learn about local market and sales patterns for the past few years. With professional advice, become your own best advocate since you don’t want to be a sheep led to the deal, but an active force in making an informed decision.

Avoid Buyer’s Remorse Using Foresight

1. No one knows for sure

Whenever you, or anyone you rely on, thinks they know for sure what is happening in the real estate market, you’re in trouble. Everyone is smart about real estate in hindsight. Beforehand, success with real estate is less about knowing you’re right, and more about foresight – taking steps to be sure you’re not proven dangerously wrong after the deal. Be reasonably sure going in – more sure, than unsure – and cover your financial vulnerability. Then, you’ve got a good chance things will work out and that you can recover quickly if they’re off a bit.

2. Whose market is it anyway?

Online and off, economists and real estate pundits make sweeping statements about “the real estate market.” Some identify the location their statistics refer to; others speak in sweeping regional or national terms. Either way, these experts speak in generalities. You must deal in specifics – a specific real estate property. In reality, the real estate market is as local as one side of the street over the other, or one end of a street over the other; one condominium building over another, or condominium floor over another. The more you learn about the specific side and end of the street you want to buy on, or about the specific condominium building or floor where you want to live, the better off you’ll be. What happens to real estate prices in your preferred neighborhood and community may be very different from what economists are generalizing about. What experts say about real estate in Flemington, or any other city is not equally true for all properties, and may not be reflected in the selling price of the one you want to buy.

3. Invest, Don’t Win

Multiple offers and bidding wars are “no win” situations for buyers. The “winning” buyers have not won, because they are not investing in real estate, they’re spending on emotion. Keep your emotional distance from real estate until you own it.

4. Beyond interest rates

Before you step into a house or condominium unit, talk to a mortgage broker about exactly how much money you can borrow and what that will cost you. Also discuss the range of contract terms, like early repayment, that are offered by various lenders in the area. Not only do you want to understand what you’ll be pre-approved for, but you also want to know what that mortgage will cost you each month and each year in interest. Thanks to computers, these figures are easy to calculate. You’ll also benefit from a preview of costs if interest rates double or hit double digit in the first ten years. What alternatives will you have for paying down the mortgage more quickly than the standard 25 years, and how much will that cost and save you each month? These figures will give you a clear idea of how tight to your buying maximum you can go for long-term value. Living “house poor” is not easy, but getting into this situation is.

5. Inspect inspectors

Too often a home inspection is a last minute, “merely a formality” detail. Buyers pay for this sloppy approach after they move in and unreported problems pop up. Start your list of inspection questions now. What do you need to know to make the most of all eventualities, positive and negative? Arrange questions by room or function, so you can cover all your quandaries while you go through the inspection as the inspector’s new side-kick. Be there with your measuring tape, camera, and flashlight to discover problems before they get expensive. Bring your contractor if you plan renovations, so you can get two professional points of view at once. You’re paying for this. If the investigation is not thorough, you’ll be paying for the errors and omissions after you move in. Check the inspection guarantee to learn if you have any recourse if the inspector is wrong (usually little). Search out a reputable, knowledgeable inspector beforehand.

6. My Must Haves

Know why you must have your “must haves.” If granite counters and stainless steel appliances are in fashion, that does not make them “must haves,” just current cosmetic fads. “Must haves” should be features and benefits of the property that withstand fashion. Location is still the prime “must have” as it cannot be changed. Know whether corner lots and swimming pools add value or not in your chosen area. What construction styles and sides of the street (South facing? West facing?) are prized? How do you intend to use the property and for how long? That knowledge dictates what must be in place when you buy, and what you can afford to do later.

7. Pro Parking

However you feel about cars, invest in real estate with parking. In most areas, parking is a valuable commodity and becoming scarce. Onsite parking makes it easier for visitors and gives you more room to spread out.

8. Square footage standards

Square footage is based on measurement of the exterior of houses, and cannot be accurately calculated by extrapolating inside measurements. If figures are quoted, what do they really mean to you? To give yourself a frame of reference, measure your rooms and three of your largest pieces of furniture. Now you can compare with something you understand.

9. Once is not enough

Arrange for a second visit so you can see how accurate your first impression was. Bring a contractor or knowledgeable friend, so you can look beyond the obvious to see the true pros and cons of the real estate. Measure to see if your furniture will fit and to estimate replacement costs for flooring or drapes if you didn’t do that earlier. You’ll probably notice things you missed the first time. Hopefully, this will make you like the property more so an offer will be the next step. If problems are now visible, you’ve saved yourself some serious buyer’s remorse.

Your choice – buy with foresight or you might experience remorse in hindsight. Or, there’s the other choice – don’t get into the real estate market. Then you may remorsefully realize in hindsight how smart you would have been if you’d bought with foresight. Your choice again.

Posted in Baby Boomers & Silver Collars, Buying a Home, Home Maintenance, Thoughts From a Realtor, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is It Time To Buy A Home Now in 2014??