Monthly Archive: April 2015

My God! I Love Chocolate!

With a few of my best friends, I am currently involved in a competition informally to find the world finest chocolate. You would think that judging the worlds finest chocolate would be beyond most people. After all, it is such a subjective decision. Are the worlds finest chocolates white chocolates, dark chocolates, milk chocolates, or some other variety? Do truffles and the other fancy kinds of chocolate candies count, or is the competition between straight chocolate bars? We never formally resolved this problem, but we seem to come to agreement a remarkable amount of the time. We haven’t decided on the worlds finest chocolates yet, but we are getting closer.

Of course, we have only recently started to discover gourmet chocolate. That is part of the reason that we had this competition. All of us grew up in a small, rural town where all you could get were Hershey’s, and Mars bars. The world finest chocolate never made its way there at all. I thought milk chocolate was as good as it got, and it could get pretty good. Nevertheless, I was unaware of what luxuries I was missing. That is, until one day I tried a Belgian chocolate. I practically started shaking. It was really that good. I thought I had discovered the world finest chocolates at that point, but I didn’t know what delicious treasures still awaited me.

We have decided to rule out a white chocolate from the world finest chocolate competition. After all, white chocolate is not really chocolate at all. Nonetheless, we haven’t really made up our mind on the chocolate truffles. On the one hand, keeping chocolate truffles out of the world finest chocolate competition seems like a real shame. The whole point, after all, is to get to try out all kinds of delicious gourmet chocolate candies. On the other hand, they seem to have an unfair advantage because they are filled with all kinds of other delicious goodies. This can obscure the quality of the chocolate and make the competition difficult to judge.

In all likelihood, what we will eventually do is to have separate categories in our worlds finest chocolates ranking. That will allow us to stop comparing apples and oranges. It seems like the only fair way to do things, and it will give us even more to talk about. God I love chocolate – it is probably the best part of my life.

Treasure Hunters Are So Cool

I think that hunting treasure must be one of the most universal fantasies in our culture. Treasure hunters are glorified in movies, video games, novels, and every other medium there is. After all, what could be better than finding buried treasure. It combines history, mystery, archeology, danger, and all the other adventurous attributes into one seamless whole.

I have been a sort of amateur treasure hunter for most of my life. I started off with a metal detector like many geeky kids do. Most metal detecting treasure hunters don’t find much besides a little bit of spare change, but some people actually strike it rich. I had a friend who bought a metal detector and found a stash of Roman coins near an excavation site. In the end he made hundreds of dollars off it – not a fortune, but more than enough to recoup his expenses. Best of all, he had quite an adventure.

Of course for amateur treasure hunters, sometimes the treasure doesn’t even have to be real. If you have never had a treasure hunting party and you’re interested in buried riches, you should consider holding one. It’s basically a scavenger hunt for grown-ups, only a bit more intellectual. The clues will involve riddles, anagrams, and other sophisticated word games for adults. There are even some private companies that hold parties for the would-be treasure hunter. If you can get invited to one of these events or sign up for one, it is certainly worth it to do so.

Still, my favorite thing is reading about the famous archaeological expeditions that have happened over the centuries. I love hearing the story of the discovery of King Tutankhamen, for example, or reading about the excavation of Mayan ruins in Latin America. Although my job doesn’t allow me to go on these treasure hunts, I can always dream. Through the books I read, I can certainly live them vicariously.

Of course, if you want to be a real-life treasure hunter, you can always get an education in archeology. Although some archaeologists work in far tamer occupations, quite a few are treasure hunters. They get to dig up excavation sites looking for any signs of ancient civilizations. I know a few people who do this professionally, and they say that it is a lot of fun. It is not all excitement – there’s certainly no gun play involved like in Indiana Jones – but the work is every bit as rewarding.

Five great tips for first time home buyers

The housing market is fraught with danger these days. Foreclosures are at a record high. Many people entered into the first time home buyer market a few years ago, with hopes of attaining the American dream, only to have their hopes dashed when those higher interest rates translated into mortgage payments they could not pay.

Unscrupulous lenders approved loans to families that didn’t foresee the mortgage ballooning to an untenable amount. Lenders quickly sold the mortgage and the new homeowner was left to deal with the fine print and an income which would not meet the obligation. Today, home prices have fallen by as much as 20%. Here are five solid tips for first time home buyers in today’s market.

The number one tip for first time home buyers is to be sure your income is secure. This is challenging indeed. Virtually none of us can be sure that the job we have today will be there tomorrow. If you’re buying a first home, make sure your down payment is significant and your mortgage payment can be met for the foreseeable future. Don’t buy into an agreement that allows for a higher payment requirement than you can afford within the next three years. Time flies.

Next on the list of tips for first time home buyers is the type of loan you accept. If you’re a vet, go for a VA, federally insured loan. VA loans are guaranteed. VA loans require that the home you’re purchasing meets a higher standard of construction. Should you become unable to pay the mortgage, the VA guarantees that the mortgage will be paid by the government.

Among the list of tips for first time home buyers: gather all of the insurance policy guarantees applicable to your situation. Read the fine print. Remember what happened to the victims of Katrina. Many of these homeowners are now homeless. Protect yourself with ironclad insurance.

Perhaps the most important tip for first time home buyers is to have a savings account which will cover those situations in which you may be called upon to cough up some cash unexpectedly. In the excitement of owning your first home, it’s easy to discount the possibility of a natural disaster, a medical emergency or any number of unexpected repairs. Any of these eventualities can spell disaster in meeting your mortgage.

Last, but not least in our list of tips for first time home buyers: You are setting a precedent for your future credit. Buy your home when the price is right. Don’t be tempted by a real estate agent’s word that prices have hit rock bottom. You may find that the housing market has not bottomed out, and your mortgage may be overpriced. You’ll still be responsible for the monthly payment and end up selling your first home at a loss. Buy smart. Wait for the time that’s right for your income.