Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is Tahoe A Good Leading Economic Indicator?

If so, it is this writer's opinion that the economy is turning around.
Okay, so maybe I'm influenced by the huge number of cars coming into Tahoe on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Photo - Lake Tahoe
Maybe I'm also influenced by the number of shoppers at the local supermarket last Wednesday. It's a big parking lot, but the only space we found was at the far corner.
There are other signs to suggest that Tahoe activity should be added to the “Leading Economic Indicators” so often mentioned in the media.
One is the number of unfamiliar vehicles turning down our street, heading for vacation homes that rarely see people outside of the summer months. In a booming economy, the vacation homes get a lot of use, and their owners spend lots on upgrades and remodels and landscaping. In bust years, those same vacation home owners sit on their wallets. They probably aren't poor. If so, they would be unlikely to own a vacation home. But they are conservative when the economy is sluggish.
In our neighborhood, as with most in Tahoe, there are a mix of cabins and bigger homes along with a few of the fancy spreads that sport numerous extra bedrooms and bathrooms and decks. One of them, the one with the indoor swimming pool, languished empty and lonely and for sale for a long time, another victim of the Great Recession. Few shoppers ever came to look at it despite its relatively low price.
But last winter that house acquired new owners from the Bay Area. It's nice to see them come up frequently, enjoying their views of mountains and forest. By itself, that's a good hint of what's to come in the economy. Better yet in the indicator world, this past summer they had a massive landscape project installed.
A realtor will tell you that thoughtful landscaping can enhance a home's value and is right behind kitchen and bathroom remodels in terms of return on investment. A realtor will also tell you that huge landscaping projects can be like a big boat, a great opportunity to spend a lot of money that you'll never get back when you sell. Yet I believe these Bay Area people are very savvy about their landscaping. They know that Tahoe property values have begun what will likely be a long ride up a big slope. In the not-too-distant future, their big, beautifully-landscaped home will be worth twice or three times what they paid for it, and their landscape investment will be perfectly in line with that coming value.
I close this post with my best Tahoe Insider tip. If you've ever wanted a place in Tahoe, now is the time to buy. It won't be long before everybody is talking about the Tahoe real estate turn-around of 2012. Prices are still low. Perhaps for the rest of our lives, we'll be thinking about what could have been, the house we wanted that might have been purchased for a song and a ski lesson.
South Lake Tahoe Real Estate Blog

 You don't want to be joining the chorus singing the lament about the one that got away. Best to come up to Tahoe ASAP and start looking for the play-venue of your future.
The indicators are clear. The economy is coming back.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Believe it, Guys Still Read!

Everyone in the book business will tell you the same thing.
Most readers are women. Most books are purchased by women. Among kid readers, girls vastly outnumber boys. Media reports often claim that boys prefer video games and that many men admit that they've read no books in the last twelve months.
This is harsh news for people in my line of work. While I'm glad for my female readers, I hate to think of all those men missing out on the pleasures of a novel.
I'm exhibiting my books at the San Mateo Harvest Festival (just south of San Francisco) as I write this. A good-sized crowd of people are strolling the aisles. Like shoppers everywhere (outside of hunting and fishing stores), a majority of them are women. Many people, including men, have read my books and stop to pick up the latest title.
"Back To School" by my wife Kit Night
(scroll down to "September 21, 2011" - be patient, it takes a bit to load)

Yet I'm still thinking about guys who never read anything except the sports section.
A few minutes ago, something happened that gives me hope. Diana Millitello and her son Aaron came by. Turns out that Aaron got one of my books a year ago at the Pleasanton Harvest Festival (the east part of the East Bay and 50 miles from where we are now on the peninsula). Aaron liked my book so much that he read five of my books over the last year (They brought them all for me to sign). Today, they drove all that distance just to buy the other 5 of my titles.
What a dramatic demonstration of how much some young men love to read. And what a dramatic sign of support from a woman who is willing to drive her son that distance to support his love of reading! My hat is off to Diana! They weren't watching TV. They weren't shopping for clothes. They were focused on books!
Later, I thought about the advantages that Aaron will have as he grows up in a family that focuses on books.
There was a big study in the news a year or so ago. The study demonstrated that most measures of future success directly correlate with how many books were in a child's home. The study didn't establish causality. (Although certainly causality lurks in there,. i.e., it may be that it isn't the books that make a child do well, but the focus of parents who promote books that makes a child do well. But it's likely that books develop kids' brains in a way that TV doesn't, and that gives children who read significant advantages.) Either way, the correlation in the study was dramatic, and it wasn't just about which homes had books and which didn't. It also showed that how many books in a child's life matters, too. The more the better.
Regarding every measure of success, a person's education, job success, personal satisfaction, income, etc., the more books that were in the childhood home, the better the child did as an adult.
Many young men still read, and they, like Aaron, will have some big advantages as they grow up. My congratulations to Aaron, his mother Diana, and all parents and kids out there who recognize the value of books.
(50 miles one way to get books for your kid. Wow.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Basic Food Groups: Sugar, Salt, Fat, Beer, Wine, and Coffee

Owen McKenna, the ex-cop PI protagonist in my books likes regular food. Give him a diner over an upscale restaurant any day. Owen would rather eat food cooked by a cook than food cooked by a chef.
A model for this comes from fond memories of a restaurant we discovered in San Francisco back in the '80s. It was in that triangle-shaped building in North Beach on Columbus near Chestnut, and it was called “Hal's.” The catch phrase on the menu was classic: “Food you can recognize, at prices you can afford.” Hal's, as I remember it, was McKenna's kind of place. Even though McKenna, a 20-year SFPD veteran, is originally from Boston, he's not into oysters, and he doesn't eat sushi. He knows no more about East Coast cuisine than he does about California dining trends. In fact, McKenna doesn't even eat “cuisine.” He just eats food. McKenna's diet is closer to that of a farmer from Kansas. Steak and potatoes and a glass of beer. Although, perhaps the Kansas farmer would drink Bud, while McKenna enjoys Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
McKenna's brew

In another departure from some Midwestern diets, McKenna drinks red wine. “Red wine is health food, right?” he would say. He would probably add, “I just drink it because it's good for me.” Same for chocolate.
Owen readily admits that he loves, and sometimes lives on, French fries and cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes. And of course McKenna can inhale donuts like any other ex-cop.

Krispy Kreme

I'm happy to report that McKenna is trying to eat better, however. He's tried Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt potato chips. (Sorry, the guilty version tastes better.) He once bought low-fat cupcakes. He's attempted breakfast with only one egg, two strips of bacon, and a side of oatmeal, the oatmeal made enticing by sugar and salt, of course. At a recent social gathering he even tried snacking on the carrots and broccoli instead of the crackers and cheese.
The dip saved him.
McKenna can't escape the simple fact that the foods he likes best have lots of sugar, salt, and fat, and they all go well with beer, wine and coffee. 

Basic food groups, right?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Photo from the New York Daily News website
Photo from Huffington Post
New York Subway

I keep thinking about the millions of people on the East Coast who are still trying to cope with the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, loved ones lost, homes lost, businesses lost, entire neighborhoods and towns lost, lives changed forever.

Please know that all of us on the West Coast and the rest of the country are thinking of you. Other than supporting the Red Cross, most of us don't know how to help, but we send you our best wishes, and our hearts are with you during this time of unimaginable stress.