A Curtain of Memories

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

When I recall growing up on my dad’s farm in Cambridge, I recognize some of my youthful experiences as rites of passage, like smoking corn silk behind the barn (bad idea), kissing a girl behind the sugar house (good idea), driving Dad’s car for the first time with my new license in my wallet (exhilarating idea).

One rite of passage was life changing: the curtain of memories.

The curtain hung in the Jeffersonville Town Hall. At the front of the stage, this huge magnificent curtain was rolled up and down for every play and minstrel show- and countless movies over a span of decades.

My rite of passage occurred in 1950 during my senior year, when our class produced the school’s traditional senior play. After the last performance, each senior was allowed to sign his or her name on the back of the curtain. The play was near the end of the school year and I remember thinking as I wrote my name, “this is it: I am out of high school, I will be leaving home in the fall and will soon be involved in a new life.” It was an ending and at the same time a beginning. I felt emancipated—scary idea.

Over the years, I sometimes wondered what had happened to the old curtain. Recently, I found out.

I located the curtain in the Cambridge Elementary School’s gymnasium. With the help of John, the maintenance man, we saw it hanging above the stage at the end of the gym. John unrolled it and there it hung, just as I had remembered it.

When the Town Hall became the post office and town clerk’s office, the curtain was taken down and stored for many years. It was painted by Charles Huiesp in Troy, N.Y. sometime in the mid-1800s. Restoration was completed by Chris Hansel of Curtains Without Boarders. Chris repaired the tears and restored the water-based paints to their original vibrant colors. It was exciting to once again view that` beautiful sailing vessel as it makes its way over the waves and away from the castle on the shore.

Then I wondered, could my signature still be on the back? As I searched for my name, wonderful memories returned. There appeared the names of my teenage friends: Phila, Melba, Barbara, Dick and Rodney. And then I saw it: “BILL SKIFF ‘50.” I had written it with Claudia’s red lipstick—the same lipstick that used to mysteriously appear on my shirt collars, much to my mothers dismay.

I saw the names of my brother Bob, ‘60, and sister Carol, ‘62. It would have been nice if some of those names could have spoken to me. I would like to have heard their voices again. In a way, they did speak to me – as I saw their names, I remembered the great times we had together.

As I searched more carefully, I found other names and dates written in fading pencil—Kenneth Potter, class of 1920 and Eric Trash, class of 1918. One name was so faded I could not read it, but under it was written, “Brigham Academy Minstrel Show 1917.”

How many times has the old curtain been rolled up for an opening night? How many people have enjoyed a play in its presence? For its many viewers, I wish it well and thank it for its many years of service—and the fond memories it leaves behind.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

Vermont Watercolor Society Awards Exhibition

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

‘Winged Hollyhocks’ by Monique Dewyea

The South End Arts and Business Association (SEABA) is hosting the Vermont Watercolor Society’s annual juried awards exhibition of watercolor paintings by members of the Vermont Watercolor Society through June 28.

The Vermont Watercolor Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995, is dedicated to promoting the awareness and appreciation of watercolor to its membership at all levels of ability and to the community by providing opportunities and venues for participation, education, fellowship and exhibitions. More information about the Vermont Watercolor Society can be found on the society’s website: www.vermontwatercolorsociety.com.

‘Jericho Country Store’ by Peter Hontoon

'Recycled’ by Robert O’Brien

‘Companionship’ by Susan Bull Riley

'A Watchful Eye' by Annelein Beukenkamp

Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Boasting a diverse lineup of premium comedians, the Just for Laughs Festival will be held in Montreal July 10-28. (Contributed photo)

Sarah Silverman, Seth Meyers, Joan Rivers, Eddie Izzard, Taran Killam & Bobby Moynihan, Nick Kroll, Amy Schumer, Colin Quinn, Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood, Kristen Schaal, Bo Burnham, Hannibal Buress, Danny Bhoy, Marc Maron, Pete Holmes, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, and Judah Friedlander highlight the opening lineup for the 31st annual Just For Laughs Festival to be held in Montreal from July 10-28.

Comedy’s past, present and future will converge at this year’s comedy galas, as four of the most famous comedy voices of the past half-century take to the stage at Place des Arts: Eddie Izzard; Seth Meyers; Sarah Silverman; and Joan Rivers.

Talk Of The Fest features a different host every night, including Saturday Night Live lynchpins Taran Killam & Bobby Moynihan, and 30 Rock and Daily Show scene-stealer Kristen Schaal.

For more information on all the offerings, visit www.hahaha.com or call the Just For Laughs box office at 514-845-2322.

Help for the Hair-Challenged

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Phyl Newbeck

The human body undergoes some annoying reversals during the aging process. Where you once had a luxurious head of hair, you suddenly find yourself with shiny spots of scalp, while hair insists on appearing in places it has no business growing. Men find themselves sprouting from their ears and noses while women are amazed to find whiskers growing out of their chins. For some, the solution is vigilant tweezing, but as eyesight begins to fade, sometimes professional help is in order.

Chelsea Carmichael, the lead medical aesthetician at Dorset Street Dermatology in South Burlington, said inappropriate hair growth comes from hormonal changes. Everyone is born with a certain amount of hair follicles. You don’t produce more as you age, but the type of hair that grows may change over time from vellus hairs — which are the equivalent of peach fuzz — to terminal hairs, which are darker and coarser.

Laser Therapy

If you are looking for help in removing unwanted hair, you have two main options: laser treatment or electrolysis. Carmichael is a proponent of laser therapy, which uses light energy to target the pigment at the follicle to destroy the follicle. Unlike electrolysis, which targets one follicle at a time, laser treatment can cover a larger area. Hair can come back, albeit in a lighter form, so multiple treatments are generally required. Carmichael explained that hair growth occurs in three stages: anagen, catagen and telogen. The anagen phase is the growth phase, catagen is transitional, and telogen is a period of dormancy, after which the anagen phase starts up again. Because of these different phases, Carmichael recommends patients set up a cycle of six treatments, four weeks apart. “You don’t know where hair is in the growth cycle until you pull it out,” she said.

Carmichael said there is virtually no pain to laser treatment. “It’s like a rubber band snapping on your skin,” she said. “There is only mild discomfort.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions that side effects of laser hair removal can include blistering, discoloration after treatment, swelling, redness and scarring. It recommends that sunlight be avoided during the healing process. Carmichael explained that the sunlight prohibition is due to the fact that the laser reads pigment, and sun will darken skin and lighten hairs, lessening the contrast between the two. However, she noted that there are different kinds of laser treatments, with some more suitable for those with melanin-rich skin like African-Americans. Since those individuals have less contrast between skin and hair color, they may need more treatments. Carmichael added that although one shouldn’t tweeze, wax or bleach hair during treatments, one can resume normal activity including wearing make-up. The procedure itself takes seconds, but appointments are generally for fifteen minute intervals unless there is a large area to be covered.


Leslie Cody of the Burlington Studio of Electrolysis in Essex Junction explained that electrolysis, in contrast to laser removal, is permanent, a fact confirmed by the FDA. She believes another advantage to electrolysis is that there is no limit on hair or skin color, although different forms of electrolysis may be used for different complexions.

Electrolysis appointments are generally in the 15 minute to half hour range, although they can be longer for larger surfaces. Like laser treatment, multiple appointments are required because of the three phases of hair growth. “It’s very addicting,” said Cody “because you see the results and the smooth, clear skin.”

The thicker the hair, the more treatments are required until the hair becomes lighter and lighter and finally gone. Cody said patients will feel an irritating heat sensation that subsides within an hour.

Hair Replacement

Of course, for some, the problem isn’t excess hair, but lack thereof. Women, as well as men, can be subject to thinning hair. Agnes Perellie of HairBuilders said there are three ways to combat genetic hair loss (which is almost always inherited from the maternal side of the family): surgical; topical; and cosmetic.

Surgical hair replacement is done in a doctor’s office on referral from Perellie. It involves transplanting hair from the back of the head to the top of the head and requires between one and four sessions, depending on the amount of hair loss. Patients are given local anesthesia, but remain awake and alert during the procedure, which essentially involves the harvesting of hair follicles. Staples, which are required to complete the procedure, are removed after ten days. After the transplant, the hair falls out because the follicles have been traumatized and for six to eight weeks the hair is in a period of dormancy before it begins to grow. There is some scabbing after surgery, but that goes away after 10 to 14 days. Perellie said transplant patients shouldn’t perform any heavy lifting during that period or take part in any vigorous sports.

Topical solutions are those which can be ingested or rubbed on. Perellie said the downside to those products is they only work for as long as you are using them. The products limit the speed of hair loss progression and regenerate some new hair, but they are not permanent solutions. Also in this category are forms of laser therapy and certain kinds of shampoos and conditioners which contain a compound called Dihydrotestosterone or DHT.

The last option – cosmetic – is one which Perellie and her staff perform at their offices in Williston and involves augmentation, integration and replication of hair. Perellie takes a mold of a client’s head and some hair samples from which she can create hair that is indistinguishable from the client’s own hair. The initial appointment, which can also include a haircut and coloring, takes two hours, but subsequent appointments are generally only an hour. Women come in for additional treatments between one and four times a year, but men often have to come in more often because, as Perellie stated “they are harder on their hair.”

There are no restrictions on activities after cosmetic treatment, but clients are advised to only use shampoos and conditioners with a particular pH balance.

So there you have it. Whether your problem is too much or too little, you don’t have to face the mirror and wince. Help is just a phone call away.

Lyme Disease On the Rise in Vermont

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Sufferers share their stories, urge vigilance

By Phyl Newbeck

Lyme disease is heading north. The debilitating condition caused by bites from deer ticks got its name from the Connecticut town where it was first identified. For years, Vermonters thought they didn’t have to worry about this “southern New England” disease, but according to the Vermont Department of Health, the number of cases in the Green Mountain State has increased steadily since 2005. In 2011, the most recent year for which numbers exist, there were 500 people who had likely contracted the disease in Vermont.

Deer ticks live in wooded or brushy areas. They burrow into the skin, often on warmer parts of the human anatomy and can be removed with tweezers. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but if a bullseye-shaped rash appears after a bite, there’s a good chance the tick was a carrier.

There is some controversy regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the disease and many believe they have been “failed” by the medical profession.

Susan Chinnock of Underhill leads the Lyme Support Group of Northern Vermont, which has roughly 120 members and meets every six weeks. She said her daughter, Alice Levitt, developed the disease in the 1990s and was unable to walk, talk or sit up without assistance. Chinnock said it took 22 doctors and six years before the condition was properly diagnosed. After that, Levitt went through 3½ years of intravenous antibiotics and another 3 ½ years of oral antibiotics, followed by a regimen of intravenous internal globulin treatment. After losing what Chinnock estimates to be eight years of her life, Levitt is finally healthy.

Chinnock believes the Vermont Department of Health’s estimation of the number of cases in Vermont is vastly understated. She worries that people think Lyme disease is a seasonal disorder, noting that ticks are only dormant in the winter, not dead, and can be roused from their stupor if brought into a house on fireplace logs or a Christmas tree. Chinnock said Lyme disease mimics the symptoms of other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, ALS and fibromyalgia because it affects virtually all body systems. She said the telltale bullseye rash is quite rare — only 16 percent of the people in her group saw a rash and many had no idea they had been bitten. Chinnock warns those who know they have been bitten to immediately seek medical attention, but she believes testing is highly inaccurate and says many sufferers are sent to the psychiatric ward instead of the infectious disease ward.

Jackson Whelan of Pittsford considers himself one of the lucky ones. He was able to undergo a year’s worth of oral antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease from a Brandon-based doctor. His wife was not so lucky. According to Whelan, she was dropped as a patient in the middle of her treatment when the practice decided to stop seeing “consultive” patients. Although her doctor has since joined another practice, he has not contacted the couple to resume treatment. “I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy,” said Whelan. “It’s so preventable and so treatable if we don’t deny its existence. There is a climate of fear. Doctors are afraid to risk their license. Patients are stuck in the middle. If you catch Lyme early, it’s easier to treat. It’s appalling how undereducated people are about this.”

Melinda Moulton of Huntington remembers finding a little black dot on her stomach and pulling it out. The area around the spot turned slightly red and eventually grew to the size of a quarter and then a fifty-cent piece. When Moulton visited a doctor, she was told they were unsure whether or not it was Lyme disease, but she wanted to err on the side of caution. The area around the spot was itchy and had a leathery feel so upon Moulton’s insistence the doctor prescribed a 25-day regimen of antibiotics. The spot continued to grow until Moulton’s entire side was red and she thought she could discern a bullseye rash. In search of a second opinion, she went to a local hospital where she said a doctor told her it looked like Lyme disease and it was good she was on antibiotics. No tests were done at either location.

Moulton continued taking antibiotics, but the rash seemed to change size and move slightly so she visited a dermatologist who, again, ordered no tests but said it was possible she had Lyme disease and gave her a powerful steroid cream which eliminated the rash in one day. Moulton worries about what would have happened if she hadn’t caught the problem right away. “They didn’t know,” she said of the physicians she visited. “There was no determination; just hemming and hawing. It didn’t make me feel very confident.”

Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Harry Chen agrees that Lyme disease is a growing problem in Vermont. When he moved to the state 25 years ago as an emergency physician, Lyme had not travelled this far north, but now it is a regular occurrence. Chen said the two most important factors in Lyme disease are prevention and early diagnosis. He recommends long sleeves, long pants, insect repellent and body checks for anyone spending time outdoors. Chen also noted that patients who find the bullseye rash and immediately see their doctors can be treated successfully with antibiotics. He holds educational sessions with Vermont physicians every year to help them diagnose and treat the disease.

Chen agreed that if not recognized and treated, Lyme disease can lead to chronic symptoms and noted that the condition can be misdiagnosed. However, he believes many patients who continue to display symptoms after treatment with antibiotics are showing the effect of previous infections.

Chen said there is some controversy about the efficacy of long-term antibiotic therapy. Most physicians will treat Lyme disease with antibiotics from a minimum of 10 days to an absolute maximum of two months. Chen said those are the guidelines used by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health and most European nations. Although physicians need to be flexible in their practice, Chen said the literature does not support the need for longer-term antibiotic treatment.

Chen said when patients display the telltale rash there is no need for testing, but for those who don’t, there is a two-tiered blood test. The first test will almost always have a positive result so the second test is needed to determine whether that positive comes from Lyme disease or something else. He noted that some doctors will call for a higher number of tests which will lead to a greater likelihood of false positives. “Medicine changes all the time,” said Chen “but to make changes we need good evidence and real science.”

Both Chinnock and Moulton believe veterinarians do a better job of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease than human physicians. Not only are dogs routinely tested for the disease, but there is a vaccine created for canines while none exists for humans. “This is scary stuff,” said Moulton. “This is something the size of a poppy seed that can cause you chronic problems for the rest of your life.”

Envisioning a New Vermont Health Care System

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Al Gobeille

At 14, I worked a summer job as a dishwasher for the hefty sum of $1.85 per hour.  I loved the people I worked with, the fast pace, and the check I received each Friday.  When I returned to work the following summer, I was promoted to prep cook and received a raise in pay to $2.50 per hour.

While this seems like a small amount of money today, it meant a lot to me.  I quickly realized that hard work paid off.  I’ve had plenty of jobs since, but the lesson is ingrained in everything I have ever done.  Work hard, learn fast and be committed, and good things will happen. I used these lessons to build a business, raise a family and try to help my community.

Unfortunately, today this connection is not clear for many Vermonters.  Vermonters work very hard, remain some of the most creative people in our country, and possess a level of commitment most companies would cherish.  So what has changed?  The link between hard work and higher wages has been broken for many by the tremendous impact of rising health care costs.  Simply put, almost every penny workers gained in wage growth in recent years was consumed by health care cost increases.  A recent report in the journal Health Affairs found that, while workers’ paychecks steadily increased between 1999 and 2009, the additional pay went almost entirely to cover the rising cost of health care.  By 2009, a worker whose paycheck should have provided an additional $650 per month due to wage inflation instead had only $95 left after paying for increased costs of health care.

Many Vermonters who have the benefit of employer-provided health insurance have been working hard simply to maintain that benefit, and have foregone wage increases as a result.  Others have seen the quality of their health insurance erode, through higher out-of-pocket costs, as their employers struggle to maintain health insurance and increase wages.  Vermont taxpayers have paid more to assure that those without work-based health insurance have coverage through Medicaid and other state programs.

As a member of the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB), it is my job to help solve this problem.  The GMCB is working to bring health care cost growth in line with growth in our economy so that Vermonters can once again enjoy wage growth without giving up health insurance.  This is essential to the vitality of Vermont’s economy.

I have great faith that we can achieve this goal, but it will not be easy.  This is not a simple problem waiting for an easy fix.  Our current system has evolved over decades, and it will take time and tremendous effort to make the fundamental changes needed to improve the patient experience, focus on quality and outcomes and control costs.  I see great promise in the leadership of our physicians, nurses and other health care providers who are actually reforming the system we have today.  Conversations that would not have happened in the past are now occurring between institutions, government agencies, and among health professionals. More importantly, this dialogue is actually changing the way care is delivered.

It will take the courage and tenacity of our health care leaders to make these efforts have a lasting impact.  We cannot miss this opportunity.

Al Gobeille is a member of the Green Mountain Care Board.

The Green Mountain Care Board was created by the Vermont Legislature in 2011 to:

  • improve the health of Vermonters
  • oversee a new health system designed to improve quality while reducing the rate of growth in costs
  • regulate hospital budgets and major capital expenditures as well as health insurance rates
  • approve plans for health insurance benefits in Vermont’s new “exchange” program as well as plan to recruit and retain health professionals and
  • build and maintain electronic health information systems.

The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) is an independent group of Vermonters charged with ensuring that changes in the health system improve quality while stabilizing costs. Nominated by a broad-based committee and recommended by Governor Peter Shumlin, the Board is led by chair Anya Rader Wallack, a long-time leader in Vermont health reform, and includes two doctors, Karen Hein, M.D. and Allan Ramsay, M.D.; a business owner, Alfred Gobeille; and former Vermont Secretary of Human Services Cornelius Hogan. The current members of the Board serve terms ranging from three to six years.

The most unique thing about Vermont’s Board is that the Legislature assigned it unprecedented responsibility for all the major factors influencing the cost of health care. This includes hospital budgets, health insurance rates, benefit decisions and major expenses, rates paid by insurance companies and Medicaid, and plans to ensure Vermont has enough of the right health professionals and uses health technology to decrease costs. While in other states responsibility for oversight of these different parts of the health system is split among different agencies, Vermont’s Legislature created one Board to consider all the variables.

The Board has focused on reviewing insurance rates, approving an insurance benefits package, regulating hospital budgets, and launching “pilot projects” that test different methods for paying for health care to improve quality and minimize costs. This work lays the groundwork for moving in a careful, deliberate way toward the broader goals of Act 48: to provide all Vermonters with health coverage, increase the quality of care, keep costs sustainable, cut the link between employment and health insurance, build a publicly financed health care system, and improve the health of Vermonters.

The Board wants to hear from Vermonters and continues to travel around the state to listen to questions, ideas and concerns.

Source: www.gmcboard.vermont.gov.

For more information, visit www.hcr.vermont.gov.

What Will Your Legacy Be?

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Money

By Harland Goodwin

For many, the focus of estate planning is what or how much to leave the children and/or relatives, health care directives, who will have power of attorney, etc. Few of us truly consider what we want or will leave as a personal legacy. Most believe that sort of legacy planning is only for the wealthy. However, it’s a myth. Each and every one of us has the ability to make the world and our community a better place when we involve giving as an active part of our estate and financial planning.

Tax Benefits

When making gift planning an active part of your estate and financial planning, you may also be able to realize tax benefits, supplement retirement income, provide financial support for loved ones and even pass along significant assets without worry of estate and transfer taxes. You also create a statement about who you are and what you hold dear within your community and your world when you involve charities in your planning. And you may find you can make a more generous gift than you ever thought possible.

The ‘Why’ of Gift Planning

When approaching gift planning, it is important to look first at your goals or the “why.”  The “why” of gift planning considers questions such as: What charities do I hold dear?; What charities do I currently support financially and why?; What keeps me awake at night?; If I could solve one problem in my community, my state, the world, what would it be?

The ‘How’ of Gift Planning

Once you have your goal(s) in sight, there are many avenues and vehicles, simple and complex to get there. They are the “how” of gift planning. There are gifts that cost you nothing, such as bequests in a will or trust or naming a charity as beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance. There are gift opportunities that pay you and/or another loved one income such as Charitable Gift Annuities or Charitable Remainder Trusts. Gifts can also protect your assets such as Charitable Lead Trusts and Retained Life Estates.

A Gift Planner

A gift planner can help you focus your thoughts about the “why” and, along with other professional advisors, can help you achieve the “how” to enable you to come up with a plan for your own legacy. Call your favorite charity or trusted advisor to learn more about the opportunities to make a difference through your estate plan. Remember, your legacy plan will be a permanent reflection of your values as well as your love and concern for family, friends and community.

Harland Goodwin, CAP® is the Planned Giving Director for the Northern New England Division of The Salvation Army.

It’s All in Black and White

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Blogs

By Sharon Moseley

It couldn’t get any easier than this. When it comes to getting dressed this spring and summer, it’s all in black and white. Whether you check it out with a graphic mod mood or tango with the smoking hot tuxedo, the way to keep it simple and sophisticated this year is to give your wardrobe a dose of stark contrast. These are opposites that really do attract an instant sense of style.

Start with the basics — a black pencil skirt or pair of slim pants. Most of us already have these pieces in our closet. Yes, the miniskirt was a hit in the ‘60s, but if you wore it then, you might want to stick to more of a knee-covering style this time around. You can still rock this classic look that never seems to go out of style with just a bit of tweaking of the hemline.

Ditto for black pants. Yes, the silhouettes do change, but that’s a good thing for most of us whose bodies also change through the years. Pick the style that fits you best.

Then balance out the top with a feminine white blouse. The button-down is another classic workhorse for most of us. The new poet-inspired organza blouse is one way to dress up the old favorite. Or opt for a black and white top to change things up.

A white blouse can also do double duty after hours when it’s dressed up with a black suit. The boxier jackets are competing with the slimmer-cut blazers and sleeveless vests, but the tuxedo-inspired looks are at the forefront of the black and white trend.

Don’t forget that you can easily do black and white in reverse, too. That pair of white jeans that many of us have had in our closets for a year or so can make the transition as the neutral foundation for a new black tunic top or structured jacket.

The graphic black and white print is another winner for this easy to assemble wardrobe too. These new bold patterns are not for the shy of fashion heart. However, they are a great way to transform those other basic black and white items that we’ve had in our wardrobes for years.

Designers have created a wide variety of these new patterned pieces for us this year—the bigger the better.

If you’ve decided to rethink your favorite black and white basics, but you find that a little boring—just add accessories! Give those classics a lift with a chunky gold choker, a pair of sparkling silver earrings, or a bold black and white striped handbag. And for a little more fun, slip on a pair of op-art sunglasses. — CNS

Vets Get Mortgage Deal

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Business

By Terry Savage

Veterans can get a very special deal on mortgages through the VA loan program.

If they meet the qualifications, a vet can get a home mortgage with ZERO down payment — a rarity in this day of extreme bank scrutiny of mortgage applications.

And the current fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage is 3.625 percent (3.713 percent APR), also a very good deal.

The VA does not “make” the loans. Instead it guarantees the loan, up to 100 percent of the appraised value of the property. And there is no mortgage insurance payment. In essence, the VA is guaranteeing the loan payments to the lender on your behalf, as a reward for serving your country. A VA loan can only be used for a personal residence, not an investment property.

So if you know someone who served a minimum of 90 days service active duty in wartime, or 181 continuous days of service during peacetime, and was honorably discharged, you should encourage them to look into getting a VA loan — either for a purchase or a refinance. (There is a two-year requirement for enlisted vets who began service after Sept. 7, 1980, or for officers who began service after Oct. 16, 1981. And there is a six-year requirement for National Guard and reservists.)

There are some other key criteria:

  • Credit Score above 640
  • Demonstrate steady income, or a two-year history of self-employment, or a stream of retirement benefits.
  • Spousal income can help qualify, and some spouses of deceased vets can qualify if the spouse died of a service-related disability.
  • Total debt payments cannot be more than 43 percent of total income.
  • No unpaid liens or judgments.
  • Must wait two years after a bankruptcy to apply.

Since there is no age limit to apply, even older vets can use this program. And if you have previously used this benefit, there may be some remaining eligibility left.

A VA loan can also be used to take cash out of your home. Since the mortgage is guaranteed up to 100 percent of the home’s value, many vets choose to refinance even non-VA loans into a new VA loan in order to withdraw much needed cash from home equity.

To get started on a VA loan for either a new purchase or a refinance, you need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). This certificate may be used to purchase a property with no down payment, refinance an existing conventional loan up to 100 percent of the home’s value or streamline refinance an existing VA loan into a lower rate. Once you have that certificate, most lenders work with the VA to get the loan guarantee and process your mortgage.

The place to start is at the Veterans Affairs website, in the section that explains the home loan guaranty program. Or go directly to the VA eBenefits portal. Or you can call the eBenefits Help Desk at 800-983-0937, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern.

If you’re already registered with the VA, your lender may be able to get you an immediate certificate of eligibility (COE) through this online portal. Many lenders specialize in VA loans.

Even if it takes a little extra effort, it’s a shame to lose out on this special opportunity to finance (or refinance) your home.

The VA guarantees an average of 2,400 home loans every working day of the year. In fact, there were 20 times as many refinances in 2012 than in 2007. And with increasing numbers of vets returning from worldwide conflicts, the number of VA home loans is expected to continue rising. The benefit is justified: Vets have a superior record of repayments on their home loans.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. She is the author of the new book, “The New Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Really Need to Retire?”  — CNS

Time for Bed

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Joseph Pubillones

The type of bed you live with can actually affect your health. While most believe that headboards and footboards are merely decorative, they can affect your overall well-being and the attitude with which you wake up every morning. My advice is for you to buy the very best bed and mattress you can afford. By all means, don’t be afraid to take off your shoes and lie down on the mattress of your choice at your local furniture store or mattress outlet. This truly will be the only way to evaluate what type of mattress is comfortable to you. Flipping your mattress at least once a month will prolong its life — at least to the average eight to 10 years they are supposed to last.

There are many types of bed accessories: headboards, footboards, bed frames. What you choose is strictly a personal choice and an important decorative one. Read the tips below to make sure your selection is the right one for you.

Upholstered headboards and upholstered beds provide a great deal of comfort. Due to the all-around padding, there are no sharp edges on which to get hurt. Today’s designs are eye-catching, because the headboard can be quite tall, giving your room an immediate focal point and so much upholstery adds to a cozy feeling. Some of these backdrop headboards can be custom-made to accommodate almost any type of decor from contemporary to Moroccan. One drawback to a fully upholstered headboard is that fabric does collect dust, and so it needs to be vacuumed often. This bed is not perfect for someone with allergies. Additionally, this type of bed will need to be reupholstered every so often, as the fabric will wear.

Wood headboards are pretty much the standard in most homes. They are easy to maintain with a duster and a bit of furniture polish. A great variety of designs are available from traditional to contemporary. The cost of your headboard will be directly related to the type of wood used and the craftsmanship. Rest assured, there is a wood headboard for every budget.

Four-poster and canopy beds are the grande dames of beds. They are majestic due to the architectural presence they afford the simplest of rooms. These three-dimensional structures can be made of almost any material: rustic wood slats, iron, finely crafted wood and upholstery. These beds are great for large rooms because they help create a room within a room. Some people choose to drape this kind of frame in fabric. Originally, these beds were draped with fabrics to diminish drafts and cold nights, and in warmer climates, netting was used to keep insects and bugs away from those sleeping. Others choose to leave the frame bare, which allows one to appreciate the design. Make sure to measure your ceiling heights before you buy this type of bed, as you will need some space — ideally a minimum of 12 inches above the four posters or canopy — for visual relief.  –CNS

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