Which Home Improvements Add the Most Value?

During difficult times of economic slowdown and falling home prices, each and every penny spent on home improvement should be well planned and thought out. It might not be the best idea to over invest on home renovation and improvement given that the return on this investment is not going to be commensurate with the value of the investment that you make towards home renovation. Data suggests that the average return on home improvement has been showing a declining trend. Last year figures suggest that the return on home improvement had dropped to app. 70% which indicates that for every 1 USD spent on home improvement, the appreciation in your property would be to the tune of 70 cents.However, there still seems to be several reasons to go for home improvement. There are several home renovation options available but the ones that seem to be the most preferred ones for the investors based on the return on their investment are Upscale siding replacement, Adding a wooden deck, Minor kitchen remodeling, Replacing windows, Midrange bathroom remodeling, Renovating an attic into a bedroom, Finishing a basement, Adding a second room, Adding a garage and Adding an upscale bathroomThe home renovation ideas may broadly be classified into minor, mid-range and major investments depending on the amount required for the task. A minor facelift would typically cover things such as charging the flooring, tiling work, shower doors, replacing faucets, and fitting new doors and windows. The mid-range changes would include remodeling the bathroom, installing a new counter top with sink and putting a new toilet with a new tub surround.If however, you are someone who shall be staying in this for the rest of your life and have always dreamt of those high end home improvements, more often than not you are likely to go by your heart and desires rather than your head. You very well know that you are not going to gain any return but you don’t care less. Be it that extra stylish gourmet kitchen, a hot tub, building a pool, an outdoor kitchen or fire space, these ideas certainly make s style statement.Home improvement ideas that make your home more energy efficient, beautiful and comfortable would make your living even more enjoyable. Fuel efficiency and energy saving measures have always been in the top performing home improvement ideas because of the associated “green” factor. Simple ways to make your home more eco friendly and energy efficiency measures like fitting UPVC windows and wall insulation would go a long way in reducing your energy bill. The other home improvement idea that is a hit with most people includes home security measures. This is one aspect most people consider a necessity and yet provides a good return on investment. There are plenty of options to finance your home renovation. The rates charged by various lenders towards home improvement usually move in line with home loan rates.

Meeting Wayan From Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love"

The book Eat, Pray, Love, topped the New York Times best seller list for a year. Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her quest to ‘find herself’ after a devastating divorce. She spends four months in Italy eating fabulous food, four months in India meditating in an ashram and four months in Bali finding love and contentment. I read Eat, Pray, Love just before my trip to Bali.

Wayan was my favorite character in the book. She’s the proprietor of a small healing shop and restaurant in the city of Ubud. Elizabeth Gilbert is riding her bicycle in Ubud and falls injuring her knee. She goes to the shop for some ointment to heal her wound and ends up making friends with Wayan and her cute, irrepressible daughter, Tutti. Wayan has left an abusive husband and is having difficulty surviving on her own, since in Balinese culture divorce carries such a strong stigma. Wayan is often forced to move her business from one rental site to another and so has trouble holding onto enough established clients to be financially successful. Elizabeth Gilbert puts out an appeal to American friends to donate money to buy Wayan her own shop. It doesn’t take Gilbert long to collect $18,000. Before she leaves Bali, Gilbert sees Wayan established in a mortgage free two-storey building.

It isn’t hard to find Wayan’s shop. Gilbert’s book says it is a few doors up the road from the Ubud post office and that is exactly where my friend Kathy and I found it. The hand painted sign out front invited us in to have a massage, learn Balinese dance, buy medicinal plants, eat a healthy Vitamin Lunch or be healed of whatever ailed us. Huge pots on the shop’s front patio contained various herbs like ginseng, jasmine and aloe vera. Each pot had a sign that told you what illnesses that particular plant could help to cure.

We wandered inside. The restaurant had three tables. Wayan met us and after escorting us to the one table available asked if we had come to eat or be healed. We told her we were hungry after a morning of wandering the shops and galleries of Ubud and so she and her assistant began bringing food to our table. They grated tumeric and mixed it with ginger, honey and water to make a delicious juice. They brought us three kinds of seaweed, each flavored in a different way. We ate uniquely spiced melon and tomato served on banana leaves. We had rice and salad. As each dish came to the table Wayan told us whether it was good for our stomach, kidneys, hearts or love lives.

Wayan said for only a small, added cost we could have a healthy body check at the end of the meal, but she was very busy when we finished eating doing body checks for a group of French women sitting at another table. I noted one of them had a French copy of Eat, Pray, Love tucked into her bag. The book has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Since Kathy and I knew our husbands would already be waiting for us back at our hotel we decided to leave. We bid Wayan farewell.

One of the things I like to do whenever I travel is read a book set in the country I’m visiting. It makes the place come alive for me. I don’t always get a chance to actually step into the pages of the books and meet one of the characters I’ve read about. Happily I was able to do that in Bali.

Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma by Tilar Mazzeo

“Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find” – William Least Heat Moon

Tilar Mazzeo’s new book – the charming Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma – has made your wine adventures that much easier. This book simply whets one’s appetite for wine travels along the backroads of Sonoma County in search of hard to find, and, yes, adventurous wineries.

The layout of Mazzeo’s Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma is straightforward and easy-to-use. It is divided into five sections (six if you count the Intro/How to Use section) highlighting Sonoma County’s revered wine regions: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Healdsburg, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Carneros. The wines that are written about in this smart little travelogue are the remarkable hand-crafted wines that herald from family-run operations and that, with few exceptions, see only local distribution. (Mazzeo doesn’t spend any time writing about the big dogs of Sonoma). For each chapter, Mazzeo throws in favorite restaurants, cafes, and picnic spots.

It’s not only lesser-known winemakers and wineries represented here. Some wines see a broader distribution than others. Iron Hill, Unti, Robert Young, and Dutton Goldfield, for instance. But keep in mind that these wineries are producing less than 35,000 cases a year. And though it seems a big number, consider that the output of commercial operations is closer to 5 million cases a year.

Most of the wineries presented in Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma produce less than 10,000 cases yearly. Some less than 1000. Most of these wines can only be found and purchased locally. Take Bacar Vineyards in Healdsburg. “One-man wonder” Trace Nunes produces only one wine, a Burgundy-style Pinot Noir that retails for $100. He fairly eschews advertising his wine, favoring working the fields instead. His is an appointment only operation, and Mazzeo makes it clear that it is worth one’s time to make said appointment, as Nunes’ wines are little known and worth the while.

And then there is Nalle Winery, where the Nalle family has been producing small-lot wines in the Dry Creek Valley since the 1980s. It is easy to become enchanted by this family of winemakers who believe that ‘wine makes you smart’ and whose approach to wine is described as “laidback and fun-loving”.

With just over 65 wineries included, Mazzeo’s guide is chockfull of similarly tempting anecdotes, so one must not forget to give certain props where props are due. For how else could one learn of some of these lesser-known wineries – and the producers so single-mindedly passionate about wine – without Ms. Mazzeo’s having travelled these backroads, explored the wineries, and written this book.

Tilar Mazzeo is a cultural historian, biographer, and assistant professor of English at Colby College. This may well explain her depth as a curious human being: in Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma she not only seeks out world class wines, she also seek out the people behind the wines, the stories behind the people. And in her conversational manner, she conveys her considerable wine knowledge. It is like listening to one’s best friend, home from a wine holiday, still giddy with excitement, still full of all those sights and tastes.

With over 7 million tourists – connoisseurs and beginning enthusiasts alike – visiting Sonoma Wine Country annually, it’s not such a bad idea to take to the back roads and experience a wine tasting or two from these smaller wineries. Not to mention, meeting the producers themselves. Most certainly don’t forget to pack Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma. This little gem of a guide, thanks to Tilar Mazzeo, just made your Sonoma adventure ridiculously easier. And remarkably tastier, at that.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Back Lane Wineries of Napa by Tilar Mazzeo, coming 2010.

Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma by Tilar Mazzeo

published by The Little Bookroom 2009