Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Plastic confuses my food issues

So I was raised by relatively "Earth Mother" type parents. We had a huge garden every summer, we ate mostly home cooked meals (from my memory at least), we camped in tents, we recycled everything possible... overall, I think my parents passed on a healthy love for all types foods: meats, dairy, nuts and all types of produce - fruit and veg alike. Kudos to them for what is now considered amazing.

I'm a mom of two, gently passing on these same loves for all foods healthy and delish. Now scientists have realized that there are troubles involved in our current reliance on all things plastic. All sorts of hormone-disrupting, indigestible chemical compounds have been found leached into all types of foods.

I'm one who uses general common sense when purchasing food. I seek out organic fresh fruits and vegetables, since they provide the safest, and most potent nutritional addition to my family's diet. I buy processed grain products that are free of trans fats (found whenever partially or fully hydrogenated fats are used). I seek out dairy products that are either organic or sourced from dairy cows that are not treated with the recombinant growth hormone, to at least avoid the effects of added hormones. I have to stick to a modest budget, but feel that these measures are important for the lifelong health and well-being of each of us.

That said, I'm feeling like I'm on the edge of an abyss of obsessive worry. If you look at almost everything found at the grocery store, each thing is packaged in plastic. Studies done on cheeses wrapped in plastic found varying but noticeable amounts of plasticizer DEHA [di(2-ethylhexyl)adipate]. I'm not sure what foods your kids love to eat, or what you love too, but cheese is one of our family favorites. While I seek out safer food choices, I wonder how much the plastics wrapping them are actually hurting our bodies.

Yikes. Way back in 1987, researchers in the UK found this problem and it was essentially eliminated by changing the plastic make up, removing the DEHA from the content. In 1998, researchers here in the US shared this info with our government, and it's only been minimally regulated.

My husband eats many frozen lunch foods, which are heated in plastic trays in the microwave. *Concerning. Milk comes in plastic jugs. *Concerning. Cereal is first packaged in plastic bags, then protected in cardboard. *Concerning. Fruit snacks, candy, chips, frozen vegetables and fruits, ... pretty much anything available to heat and eat is wrapped in plastic, even with the opportunity to then cook/ steam the foods in the plastic packaging it came in.

I've heard many say that they are just thankful they have food, and leave it at that. But then, I think of all the people who trusted the FDA to protect them from the most obvious and harmful items that were never intended to be a part of foods like peanut butter, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, etc. and who suffered severe health problems and even death. Okay, so maybe plastics leaching chemical compounds into otherwise safe and healthy foods won't show serious harms to us in any immediate way. But then, I think of all the autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological abnormalities that seem to be spreading like wild fire, and I wonder if I shouldn't just push for glass, paper and aluminum packaging instead.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Financial Freedom compiled by Me

As anyone who has known my awesome financial expertise, or those nice bill collectors who used to phone me during college, can attest to - I know a bit about financial freedom. I don't have it, and will take years to get there, but I know something about it.

As I've shared previously, I'm a reader. So to learn more about being more financially sound or savvy, I've read a LOT of books. And I've come to an amazing conclusion. You can sum up the main tactics of almost every financial guru out there. And I'll share it here with you, for free. You will never need to send me $19.95 for a free trial, or sign up for an online service that bills you quarterly. THAT tactic is how those toting their expertise on financial freedom actually got there so fast and have "grown their wealth" so greatly. I hate the idea of using the hope of those struggling to make money, but love their main ideas.

First, look at where you are spending your money, and do everything you can to cut back on incidentals. I love organic foods, but have learned that when grains are processed, the parts of the grain most affected by any chemicals have been taken away. So go for whatever bread or cracker product you can find without trans fats. No worries (plus a savings). Plan your restaurant trips, and stick to the budget laid out for them. Seek out cheaper hair cuts. Shop consignment shops & donate your unwanted clothes, small appliances and other items for a GREAT tax break.

Second, commit as a couple to a budget. I hate this part. How should I know if there is going to be a fabulous sale on the things we use every day? Well, I'm learning that I CAN buy SOME things from those great sales, just not so much that it sends our budget out of whack. Committing to a budget together gives you someone to be accountable to, and someone to lean on when you really want to buy something silly.

Third, list your debts. Not your monthly bills like groceries and gas, but your credit payments that CAN be paid off someday. Figure out how long it will take you to pay off each amount using only the minimum monthly payments. You may need a flow chart or graph to keep the numbers organized. Put them in order of least amount of time to greatest amount of time. Go to step four.

Fourth, look over your income for the month, and try to use as close to 10% of that number as you can, and add it to the payment for the debt that you can pay off the fastest. Even if you add $25 to that payment, you'll save $$ on interest and pay off the debt faster than you would be doing otherwise. Oh, keep paying the minimum monthly payments on everything else on your list. Those bill collectors aren't so friendly at 2am.

Fifth, when this debt is paid off, add the $$ you've been paying on this debt to the debt that can be paid off next fastest. Say you just finished paying off your Target card, with a payment of $200 a month. The next debt on your list is for your car. You take your minimum payment to your car loan, and add that $200 you've been paying to Target (which is now paid off, and you are not going to use again). Now your car will be paid off $200 a month faster than you've been paying before. You go through each debt on your list doing this. Adding the money you've been paying to each debt to the next one. The payments snow ball into really huge payments by the time you reach the bottom of your list.

**Lots of people will feel safe using their credit sources again once things are paid off, or feel better closing the accounts. Don't do either one. Having "paid off debt" looks great on your record, and having "unused, available credit" also looks wonderful. Your credit score will reflect your responsible new life.

The Hub & I are working on this ourselves, and will hopefully have ALL OUR DEBTS, MORTGAGE INCLUDED, paid off in 15 years. On one income plus my little bit added, I would never have thought it possible. We'll see how strictly we can stick to this, but knowing it's possible is so encouraging. I hope this helps you, and keeps you from spending $100's on someone else's "system".

No one ever told me about how much parenthood can blow.

I love being a mom. Really. The thought of being a childless me is seriously difficult. Not only because I love my two kids passionately, but also, because I think I was designed by God to be a great mom. I've gone through years of college and graduate school classes on child psychology, development, education, and all that. I've helped raise the children of two families while being their nanny, and helped hundreds of other families though my work as a child care teacher and early childhood public school teacher. (Which also means I've made a thousand and more mistakes on other people's kids before I had my own... thanks for that chance!)
So really, if anyone out there would have a good understanding of what being a parent would probably be like, I would think that person would be me.
But then, my husband and I had our children. We began to understand all those references to the idea of not having the energy for even a quickie. How the thought of going out together can seem a lofty goal, filled with the endless task of securing safe and fun people to take care of the kids while we were out, while balancing the limited budget available to pay for that care AND provide some sort of recreational activity for ourselves.
So I read a lot of books while I'm here at home. Not to the detriment of my little peoples, but during my down times at night, I read.
I found an amazing book, "Sleep is for the Weak" edited by Rita Arens. A compilation of the best work from a bunch of great mommy bloggers, the book shines a light on what REALLY happens to you when you become a mother. (Love and kisses and long, reliable bouts of sleep deprivation included.)

I wanted to share a favorite segment written by Rita Arens. Found as an intro to chapter 9, it's called, "Personal Growth Blows." How true. Here it is, I hope you like it too.
"When my daughter was born, my father-in-law, patriarch of eight children, told me, 'The hardest part about being a parent is having to give up what you really want to do.' I thought he meant going to bars, staying up late, and eating cereal for dinner.
As my daughter got older, I realized what he meant was bigger than that. He meant having to give up, put off, or squeeze into the wee hours my writing. He meant having to take jobs that could provide health insurance. He meant choosing between private school and staying in our beautiful, old house in the city or living in the suburbs with a great, free school district. He meant missing the fireworks on the Fourth of July because the baby was sleeping. He meant not having time to work on my marriage right when it needed the work.
He meant learning to use my free time for things that needed to be done, not things I wanted to do.
I didn't get pregnant until I was twenty-nine. I know many women, some of them contributors to this book, who are having babies well into their late thirties and beyond. We spent years indulging our own preferences only to have to learn in the course of twenty-four hours, some of which may have been spent screaming in pain, how to put another human being's needs and development first. I'm not going to lie to you, it's hard. Really hard.
There is a bright side, though - growth. Becoming a parent teaches you who you are and helps you to correct character flaws you didn't even realize you had. Teaching a little person how the world works inserts "please" back into your language, forces you to call your mother more often, and insists you confront personal demons before they are passed along. Personal growth hurts, but you emerge a better human being."

So true, so well written. Thanks for letting me share.