Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flu vaccine locations on Google Maps

Google has created a flu shot finder at www.google.com/flushot. To quote their Website,
The same tool will also be available shortly on www.flu.gov and the American Lung Association websites. It's important to note that this project is just beginning and we have not yet received information about flu shot clinics for many locations. In addition, many locations that are shown are currently out of stock. We launched this service now in order to help disseminate information about locations where vaccines are available, and also to make more vaccine providers aware of the project so that they can contribute.
Presently, they have about 20 states mapped, but the number will increase rapidly to cover the entire U.S. Today, you'll find results from chains such as Walgreens, CVS and PDX participants, such as Kmart, Duane Reade, WinnDixie and Giant Eagle.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are you ready for the Flu? Its everywhere

Look at the graph above from FluView, a weekly influenza surveillance report prepared by the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All but two of the states are now reporting widespread influenza activity. Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.

As you can see from the next graph, the tests for H1N1 Flu is rising extremely rapidly. Here is a summary of those most susceptible to the disease:

Early empiric treatment should be considered for persons with suspected or confirmed influenza who are at higher risk for complications, even if not hospitalized, including:

Children younger than 2 years old

Adults 65 years and older

Pregnant women

Persons with the following conditions:

  • Chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, hematological (including sickle cell disease), or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus);
  • Disorders that that can compromise respiratory function or the handling of respiratory secretions or that can increase the risk for aspiration (e.g., cognitive dysfunction, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other neuromuscular disorders)
  • Immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV;
  • Persons younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy, because of an increased risk for Reye syndrome.
Stay tuned for more information on this serious health threat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Update on tracking the H1N1 swine flu

The amount of mis-information on the H1N1 Swine Flu is monumental. It is extremely important to find accurate and up-to-date information free of political and governmental bias. In that regard, there are sources online that graphically provide that kind of information.

The most impressive and current Website is FluTracker. This map and the data behind it were compiled by Dr. Henry Niman, a biomedical researcher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, using technology provided by Rhiza Labs and Google. The map is compiled using data from official sources, news reports and user-contributions and updated multiple times per day.

One thing you can see immediately is that the flu is a serious concern. As of October 25, 2009, my own state, Arizona had 2736 confirmed or probable cases of the flu with 21 deaths, so far. However, in Pennsylvania there have been 22,503 cases with 12 deaths and only 1 negative.

Now what can you do about it? Wash your hand frequently. Avoid crowds (yeah). It might be helpful to know the percentage of hospitalizations for the flu. Here is a recent assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
The percentage of hospitalizations for 2009 H1N1 flu in the United States varies by age group. From August 30, 2009 through October 10, 2009, states reported 4,958 laboratory-confirmed 2009 H1N1 hospitalizations to CDC. The percentage of 2009 H1N1 related hospitalizations that occurred among those 0 to 4 years old was 19%; among those 5 years to 18 years was 25%; among people 19 years to 24 years was 9%; among those 25 years to 49 years was 24%; among people 50 to 64 years was 15%; and among people 65 years and older was 7%.
You can see that there is a distinct advantage to being old.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Accurate information on the spread of Inluenza

One of the hardest things to judge from the news is the actual threat of the H1N1 Flu virus, also known as Swine Flu. What is apparent is that the Swine Flu is no more virulent or fatal than many other flu strains. Nevertheless, inflammatory news articles sell so they are starting to appear more and more regularly. Google has announced the expansion of Google Flu Trends. To quote their recent blog post,
Last November, we launched Google Flu Trends in the United States after finding a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. By tracking the popularity of certain Google search queries, we are able to estimate the level of flu, in near real-time. While some traditional flu surveillance systems may take days or weeks to collect and release data, Google search queries can be counted immediately. Google Flu Trends provides an additional surveillance tool that may help public health officials and the public make more informed decisions about preparing for the flu season.
Here is the Google video on the subject.

How well does this work? They claim that their analysis of the data has a .92 correlation with official U.S. flu data. OK so where do you go to get official data? Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a weekly update.

Don't panic, get accurate information. You may wish to pass this post along to friends and family to help stop the flood of misinformation that will undoubtedly start coming in the media.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How do you spend your day? Compared to everyone

Sleeping, eating, working and watching television take up about two-thirds of the average day according to an interesting interactive graph from the New York Times. Quoting from the article, "The American Time Use Survey asks thousands of American residents to recall every minute of a day." I found the graph interesting because of the huge amount of time the average American spends watching TV and movies. For those over 65, the TV and movies segment of their daily lives, almost becomes the most dominant activity. The TV and movies sector seems to be consistent over all of the population categories. The only groups that seem to be somewhat resistant to the lure of the TV are those with advanced degrees and/or with larger families.

It is also interesting to note the difference in the activities of the unemployed vs. the employed. Again to quote, "
On an average weekday, the unemployed sleep an hour more than their employed peers. They tidy the house, do laundry and yard work for more than two hours, twice as much as the employed. The unemployed also spend an extra hour in the classroom and an additional 70 minutes in front of the television." So much for the theory that they might spend some time looking for work.

How do you stack up?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reacting vs. Acting

Do you react to crisis or do you act in advance of crisis? The current classic example is the so-called 72 hour kit. This is a box, pack or duffel bag of necessities that can be quickly used in case of evacuation from your home. There are hundreds of Websites with suggested contents for these emergency supplies and some that sell the entire bag complete.

But reacting vs. acting go much deeper than just being ready to leave your home on a minute's notice. Some of the categories of areas that require proactive response are:

Planning for retirement
Medical challenges

Not to mention the usual natural disasters such as floods, storms and earthquakes or any other circumstance that might force you out of your home.

In today's precarious economic conditions, far more people are likely to suffer from challenges in finances from employment issues than will be affected by natural disasters. Acting in the area of employment includes continuing education and contingency planning, always thinking about what would happen if you were to lose your job and then thinking of the possible causes, i.e. illness, plant shut downs, etc.

It is now time to take control of you life and begin to act rather than react.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Living within your means

There is a lot of buzz today about global warming, sustainable agriculture, the green revolution and other world issues. When it comes right down to it, living within your means includes all of these issues and a lot more. Unfortunately, living within your means has gained an association with poverty. But you do not have to be poor to live within your means. Simply put, living within your means involves spending less than you make. It does not mean that you have to live on a farm or grow your own food, it just means having a budget and having some control over your spending habits.

Most of the ways I read about to save money are really marginal. If you really want to save money, you need to know how much you are presently spending. That means you track every penny of your expenditures. You need to know exactly, not approximately, and not a ball park figure. Once you know your present rate of spending and obligations, you have to continue to track spending for many months and years. There are some expenses that are annual, like real estate taxes, and others that may only come up after years, like the cost of replacing the roof on your house. But all of these costs need to be considered.

Once you know what it costs to live, you can start making adjustments to your spending based on realistic evaluations of your actual needs. Do you really need the air conditioning set to 72 degrees in the summer? Do you really need to buy a case of water every week? Could you save money by buying a different car? Do you really need to eat out two or three times a week? Once you answer these questions you are ready to live within your means.

Let's get some definitions down, if you owe debts and are paying interest, by definition you are not living within your means. If you were living within your means you would have no interest payments. There is an argument that if you have a piece of property that generates income, you can carry the interest as a cost of doing business, but most consumer debt is not offset by specific income.

Living within your means is not an issue as to how you spend your money. It is an issue about whether or not to spend money at all. Fundamentally, it addresses the problem of owning things or being owned by them. Let me give an example. One of the most common big ticket item purchases in Arizona is some kind of outdoor motor vehicle; a boat, an ATV, a jet ski, a motor home or something similar. I have no problem with spending money on any of these items. What I think is the problem, is purchasing a _________ [fill in the blank] when you have a burden of consumer debt. How many of the people in my neighborhood who have lost their homes to foreclosure have one or more of these outdoor vehicles? By observation, I would say quite a few.

I have no argument with someone who chooses to purchase any one or more of the items listed above, what I do have an argument with is purchasing a consumer toy at the expense of borrowing money to purchase a house or to pay for necessities. This example applies at all income levels. It is just as difficult for a person making a lot of money to live within their means as it is for a person living below the poverty level.

Unless and until we achieve a balance between what we need and can afford and what we purchase, we will never live within our means.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

National news coverage of food storage

It is apparent that the national economic difficulties have finally resulted in some national news coverage of the welfare system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a major article dated July 8, 2009, The Washington Post ran a story entitled "The Mission: Put Up in Bulk." As the author of the article notes, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints runs 101 dry-pack canneries, which are housed in multi-function home storage centers (see sidebar). The church doesn't intend the facilities to be public but won't turn away nonmembers. It wants everyone to have a three-month supply and be working toward a year's stockpile."

I suggest you read the entire article. Link. As the author notes the Church canning facilities "people are allowed to package only dry food stocked by the center. (It's possible to buy in bulk from the center as well without processing the food at the cannery. And food can be packed in pouches as well as cans.)"

The author also found out that dry-pack canning is not free. She says, "And then, slight sticker shock hit me: I had canned $217 worth of dried goods. In choosing foods my family uses frequently, I hadn't kept track of how many cans there were. Each of the six 4.3-pound cans of spaghetti cost me $4.05. My 15 cans of apple slices came to $73.50."

Despite the price paid by the author, dry-pack canning is highly economical and a good way to increase your food storage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

High tech cheating in children

More than 1/3 of teens with cell phones admit to cheating in school at least once. This is one of the conclusions of a newer study of the interaction of teenagers with cell phones, iPods and PDAs. The study from Common Sense Media and the Benenson Strategy Group conducted a poll of teenagers and parents on the use of digital media for cheating in school. Two-thirds of teenagers today own cell phones*, and most 8- to 12-year-olds will own a cell phone in the next three years**. And those numbers are only a small representation of our kids’ 24/7 media world. The study is called "Hi-Tech Cheating: Cell Phones and Cheating in Schools."

In looking at the Common Sense Media Website, may have a laudable goal, but their level of acceptance of modern media surely exceeds mine or my childrens' level of acceptance. The Benenson Strategy Group appears to be a strategic research and consulting firm.

The study also found that half (52%) of teens admitted to using some form of cheating involving the Internet. In fact, two-thirds of all teens say others in their school cheat with cell phones. Nearly 1 in 4 students think that acts like accessing notes on their cell phone during a test, texting friends with answers during a test and using their cell to search the internet for answers during a test aren't cheating at all! To quote the survey:
For example, only 41% say that storing notes on a cell phone to access during a test is cheating and a “serious offense.” And almost 1 in 4 (23%) don’t think it’s cheating at all. Similarly, only 45% say texting friends about answers during tests is cheating and a serious offense, while 20% say it’s not cheating at all. More than a third (36%) say that downloading a paper from the Internet to turn in isn’t a serious cheating offense, and almost 1 in 5 (19%) say it isn’t cheating at all.
On the other hand their parents are in total denial: The study shows, again quoting:
Parents are quite realistic when it comes to the frequency of cheating in schools – they just don’t believe it happens in their own backyard. 76% say cell phone cheating happens at their child’s school. But perhaps not surprisingly, just 3% of parents say their child has ever cheated with cell phones. Similarly, 79% say teens at their child’s school download papers from the Internet to turn in as their own work, but only 7% say their child has done this.
Here are some quotes from students in the study:

[I don’t cheat] that often, just
when I think the test is unfair…
the teacher gives questions
that are too hard or they did not
prepare us for… I guess it’s
cheating… using work that isn’t
your own is cheating, but I don’t
really think about it.” – student

I only [downloaded a paper or
report from the Internet] once
when I was in 6th grade because
my teacher had us do a project
that I knew nothing about…
I tried to find information, but it
was taking too long as it had to
be five pages and I started the
night before. So I decided I
should turn that in instead of
nothing.” – student

If someone is texting during
a test and looks suspicious, it’s
obvious they are cheating…
the teachers don’t really see
because the person texting
looks for them and hides their
phone when the teacher comes
by.” – student.

Cheating harms both society and the cheater. Is it any wonder that students fail to learn?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where are we in 2009?

Each of us might ask where we are, financially speaking, in 2009? Here are a few observations primarily from the Statistical Abstract of the United States, unless otherwise noted:

It is estimated that in 2009 there may be as many as 1.4 million personal bankruptcies filed. However, in 2003 there were 1,650,279 personal bankruptcies filed.

Back in 1953, 31.1 percent of the U.S. population lived at or below 125% of the poverty level. By 2006 that number had dropped to 16.8 percent.

In constant 2006 U.S. dollars, the median income for all families in 1949 was $39,303. By 2006 the median income for all families had grown to $78,454.

Based on the value of the 1982 dollar, the value of that dollar had fallen by more than half by 2007.

Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures undergone by women aged 15–44 in the United States and in 2005 there were an estimated 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States. This number exceeds, by a large margin, the death rate from any other cause in the U.S.

From these, and many other statistics, we may better ask, where are morally in 2009?

My conclusion is that we are consistently better off today economically than ever before. Despite the hand wringing going on about our economy, however, there should be hand wringing going on about the morality of the country. We are in a terrible state morally and should we continue in our decline, we will ultimately lose our way financially also.

Remember the words of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon: " And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers. Mosiah 1:7

Monday, June 22, 2009

A decline in literacy?

Historically, learning to read and write were considered the mark of education. How well are we doing in teaching our students to read? According to the U.S. Department of Education, literacy is defined "as the knowledge and skills needed by adults, in life and at work, to use information from various texts (e.g., news stories, editorials, manuals, brochures) in various formats (e.g., texts, maps, tables, charts, forms, time tables)" Unfortunately, there has been almost uniform steady decline in literacy rates for those 24 years of age and younger from 1992 to the most recent studies in 2003. Even among college students there has been a decline and there is even a decline among graduate students.

By definition in our modern society, we cannot be prepared if we do not know how to read.

Some of the results of the survey in 2003 are in the category of things I wish some one would pay me to find out. Like, "In 2003, adults with higher literacy levels were more likely to be employed full-time and less likely to be out of the labor force than adults with lower literacy levels. Adults with lower literacy levels also generally earned lower incomes."

Even if the differences in literacy levels are considered to be statistically insignificant, it is significant the we have made no progress in increasing literacy for many years. Additionally, adults in the U.S. were outperformed by adults in Norway, Bermuda, Canada, and Switzerland. Adults in Bermuda, Norway, and Canada had higher literacy scores than U.S. adults at both the high and low ends of the score distribution. The highest performers (the top 10 percent of adults) had literacy scores of 353 or higher in Bermuda, 348 or higher in Norway, and 344 or higher in Canada, compared with 333 or higher in the United States. The lowest performers (those in the bottom 10 percent) in Bermuda had literacy scores of 213 or lower, 233 or lower in Norway, and 209 or lower in Canada, compared with 201 or lower in the United States. The lowest performers in Switzerland also outperformed their U.S. counterparts in literacy, scoring 216 or lower.

One thing this study does show is that literacy is directly correlated to income levels.

Over the years I have encountered a significant number of adults that did not know how to read or whose reading skills were so low as to be embarrassing to the individual. Obviously, if you were illiterate you would not be reading this blog post, but if you know someone who is illiterate, the time to take action is now. There are many national, state and local organizations dedicated to helping adults learn to read. You might want to start with the Department of Labor, Adult Literacy and Education Initiative.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where are we going with unemployment?


Many people identify so completely with their work, losing a job is more than a disaster, it is a loss of identity. Statistics can identify that we have a problem with unemployment, but unless you are personally involved. Nationally, we see that in May, employment only increased in one state and decreased in 48 states and the District of Columbia. There was one state that had no change in the rate of unemployment. Michigan had the highest unemployment rate, 14.1 percent, while Nebraska and North Dakota had the lowest rates at 4.4 percent.

If you are unemployed, you are 100% unemployed, so the national and state percentages have little meaning to the individual.

It is unrealistic to compare jobless rates too far into the past, since many of the jobs measured today, did not even exist a few years ago. But even in recent years, the unemployment rate has been higher, for example, in December, 1982 it reached a high of 10.8 percent. There has also been a continued shift from farming and ranching to an almost entirely urban population trend. As with all statistics, if you look at a different source the numbers seem to change.

Again, viewing a related issue on a national level, I find it interesting that the last Federal Government budget surplus was during the Johnson presidency in 1969.

Although there seems to be a present consensus that the rising unemployment rate can be attributed to the economy, there are a lot of other factors, including the flight of jobs overseas, immigrant labor and the fact that many U.S. industries have not kept up with technological changes. However, it is important to remember Okun's Law which predicts a natural rate of unemployment.

Whatever the causes and whatever the national effects, the unemployed will continue to struggle with loss of income, loss of personal esteem and possible depression.

Next-- Where do we go for help to find a job?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hospital Compare -- It makes a difference

Would you like to know if your hospital will give you the recommended treatment? Do you think your life might depend on it? Would you like to know about the performance of hospitals in your area? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has on online service called Hospital Compare. On the home page it states:
In this tool you will find information on how well hospitals care for patients with certain medical conditions or surgical procedures, and results from a survey of patients about the quality of care they received during a recent hospital stay. This information will help you compare the quality of care hospitals provide. Talk to your doctor about this information to help you, your family and your friends make your best hospital care decisions.
So, to get started, I clicked on search and compare. I put in my zip code and began to look a the ratings of nearby hospitals. I was asked to chose up to three hospitals to compare. I chose the three I had been to most frequently for friends and family members. Very interesting.

For example, here was one category: Percent of patients who got treatment at the right time (within 24 hours before or after their surgery) to help prevent blood clots after certain types of surgery. What do you think the percentages were? As a matter of fact the percentages went from a low of 69% to a high of only 81%. That means that almost twenty to thirty percent of all patients at those hospitals did not get the right treatment at the right time!!! Now you know, you might be in that thirty percent.

Here is another example: the Percent of Heart Failure Patients Given Discharge Instructions. In one hospital this figure was only 61%. Do I really want to go there if I have a heart attack?

Here's another good one, Percent of patients who reported that their room and bathroom were "Always" clean. What do you think this come out? a low of 60%. Yuck.

After looking at this Website, you just might decide to change hospitals.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Where you can save money

Most recommendations I have read about spending seem to vastly over estimate the percentage of income that should be spent on entertainment and hobbies. A recent study of the percentage of income spent by Americans on various categories does show some interesting facts:

The amount of money spent on housing, food and transportation rise dramatically with increased income. Obviously, taxes rise but the greatest increase is in financial payments such as private pension contributions and mortgage principal. People across the board purchase a large number of consumer items, such as microwaves, VCRs, cellphones, computers, color TVs, and air conditioning. Virtually everyone in America now has a telephone, a car, a radio (or six or seven), a refrigerator, a clothes washer and a dryer.

So, looking at these spending habits, how can someone best save money? Unless you fall in the lowest income level, it appears that there is a lot of money needlessly spent on food. Housing is one of the biggest expenses and is likely an area where some could save a lot of money, if they are willing to downsize. Transportation is also an area where significant cuts can be made. It is likely that as income rises people buy more expensive automobiles and spend more money on traveling. Both of these are areas that can be cut without a major adjustment in life style. None of the other areas of consumption including things like entertainment, health care, charitable contributions, education or apparel and services, seem to be areas where increases in income result in extraordinary increases in spending.

It is a fact of life that those who make more money spend more money. To increase savings and to cut expenditures, it is absolutely necessary to know how much is being spent and where. None of the decisions concerning decreased spending can be made without information on which to base decisions.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Is there a grain shortage?

Doing a Google search on "wheat shortage" will give you something to think about. But what do you need think? Is there a growing wheat shortage? What about the other grain products? In my last post I discussed the general market forces that influence commodity pricing. As an illustration, here is a quote from a commodities blogger back in June of 2008:
We mentioned in the spring that after the historic rise in wheat [Feb 8: Wheat is the new Corn], farmers would be planting a ton of this product in 2008 to take advantage of those prices, and moving away from corn. [Mar 31: USDA Crop Report] That's exactly how things played out [Apr 3: Corn Jumps to $6 - Start Stocking up on Soda Pop]... and wheat prices dipped (dipped is being kind, it's more like shellacked) on expectations of a huge crop later this year. Since both ETFs/ETNs above have wheat and soybeans in their holdings they have returned only 7-8% in the trailing 6 month period (mostly due to the pain from wheat since its spike). So 43%.... vs 7-8%. That makes a huge difference.With that said, wheat has been cut nearly in half from its "bubble" highs and really is it that hard to guess whats going to happen next spring?
So if you look closely at the results of your Google search, you will see that the myriad of articles on wheat shortages date from 2008 or before. If you keep looking you will not find anything on a current, that is, 2009 shortage. Why? Because as the trader pointed out, farmers reacted to the increased prices and planted more wheat. You can see another updated chart at the beginning of this post. The contract size for wheat is 5,000 bushels which is appx. 136 metric tons. The pricing unit is cents per bushel. The settlement procedure is physical delivery, (so unless you really want tons of wheat delivered to your door, you had better know what you are doing).

So, is there a current wheat shortage? The answer is a simple one -- No. Is wheat more expensive than it has been in the past? Probably yes depending on the time frame. Online sources for wheat are running about $40 to $50 a bucket. For us locally, Costco had wheat in 40 lb. buckets for $30.

It is easy to get caught up in reacting to problems that don't really exist. Take your time and search out the facts.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where are the food shortages?

Where are the food shortages? How will shortages affect us in the near future? Is there a shortage of corn? wheat? any other food crops?

Most basic food items, such as corn, wheat, and soybeans are bought and sold as "commodities" on international commodity exchanges. The price paid on these commodity markets is subject to the same market forces that drive the other commodity markets, such as oil, cotton, gold and silver. Speculation in any one of these markets can drive prices up, over supply can drive prices down and a shortage of any of the commodities generally means the price will go up. Not only do the commodity exchanges (where commodities are bought and sold in very large amounts) sell actual products for delivery, they also sell contracts for delivery at various dates in the future. So, the price of future contracts gives an idea of where all of the buyers on the world markets think the price (supply, speculation, or shortages) will go.

That said, if you want to know if any product's price will either go up or down in the future, one major indication of the price can come from the commodities markets. The futures' price will also give you an idea of the trend of the prices into the future. However, just like any market, the price of the commodity might be going up at the same time the supply is increasing and also the opposite might be true. You can only get an accurate idea of the supply of any given commodity by studying the market over a long period of time.

Spot shortages, that is, shortages in any given locality, like India or Africa or China, do not indicate the overall supply of the specific commodity since spot shortages may be caused by very local conditions or even the lack of adequate transportation. Also, any time there is a shortage of a given commodity and a resultant price rise, there is a greater incentive for the producers to plant, harvest, pump or dig for the commodity and therefore the price will eventually go back to whatever level the market can support.

Just a note about items outside the commodities markets altogether. Although I mentioned oil as a commodity, it is actually not subject to the same market forces as other commodities since the producers can get together and agree to manipulate the price. Another example of a controlled commodity is diamonds, the supply is closely controlled by the biggest producers so that their are very few market swings.

OK, now we can look at the current market conditions for various commodities and see if there are any shortages or future shortages. Where are these markets? Everything is on the Internet.
For example, today gold is at $954.6 and ounce and is down $25.80 cents. The price is close to a ten year high. Crude oil was at $68.44 a barrel down $.37. Over the past five years, oil is at or below its average.

You can do the same thing for almost all food items. Here is one site, Agriculture Online. Let's look at wheat. At the beginning of this post there is the current chart for wheat. One thing you can see immediately is seasonal fluctuations. If you look at other futures prices, like for 2011 delivery, you will see a correlation with the prices of the most current chart. It appears that the price of wheat is rising, which could come from an increase in the price of oil or from any of a huge number of other possible reasons, none of which have anything to do with supply.

I will continue this discussion in a subsequent post.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Meltdown or a slow decline?

There is always a background issue in all preparedness discussions; what happens if the whole society falls apart and we are left without water, electricity, and even toilet paper? This apocalyptic view of preparedness is a good bogey man, but almost entirely unproductive in facing the actual likely challenges of our modern society. What is entirely more likely to happen, is that very local circumstances will put you or your family under extreme stress. Although I do not discount the fact that the world will end some day, the end will not likely save us from having to survive in the short term.

What are the real circumstances that could put your family in extreme stress or danger? You may wish to analyze the possibilities. Is it weather related? Hurricanes? Tornadoes? Floods? Is the threat from economic issues? Layoff? Down turns in the economy? What about health issues? Heart attacks? Cancer? These types of threats to our family's survival are much more likely than a collapse of the entire society.

But because these real possibilities are less dramatic, they also are less persuasive in convincing us to be prepared. It is too easy to put off preparation when the threat is a layoff that may never come or a heart attack that can't happen to me.

Even though our neighborhood has not suffered a catastrophe from weather, civil unrest or war, we have had many lose their houses due to the economy. Which is worse, losing your home through foreclosure or having it blown away in a tornado? Think about it.

Now, what are you going to do about it?

Self-reliance can help survive tough times

A recent article in the Kansas City Star points out the fundamentals of surviving in hard times:

Plant a vegetable garden.

Store food and water.

Avoid debt.

Build up savings.

Does this sound familiar? It should. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been encouraging everyone to take these steps to self-reliance for years and years.

Quoting from the article;

“This lifestyle brings peace of mind.”

The Mormon church traces its principle of provident living to Jesus’ teachings on helping others and serving the poor.

“The idea is trying to live selflessly and think about other’s needs and being self-reliant and taking care of oneself, family and neighbors,”

I would ask a question to those who persecute religion and decry religion's involvement in the community and in the world; what are you doing to live selflessly and think about other’s needs and to be self-reliant?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Self-reliance is a principle of service

My grandmother used to say that charity begins at home. I would also add that so does self-reliance. In a recent news article in the Mormon Times, writer Michael De Groote said it well, when he said, "Being self-reliant means that people set their own course and solve their own problems. Once they do this, they can help others get on their feet."

Quoting Dennis R. Lifferth, managing director of welfare services for the LDS Church, the article goes on to state, "To truly be a servant to others, ... we must have some discretionary time and the ability to serve others. This means we have a responsibility to be educated, have our own food storage, put our financial affairs in order and be employed. "

With unemployment nearing doubly digits in most of the United States, it is likely that all of us will be affected, either directly by losing our own job or indirectly through a member of our family or a friend losing their job. I am reminded of a story told to me recently of a family faced with the unemployment of both the parents. They got together and went out into the fields surrounding their community and picked corn on the cob, bringing it back into town to sell. By the time the father was able to find work, the family actually had more money in the bank than they had before the job loss. All because of their hard work at selling corn.

Some people find it too easy to coast when faced with adversity. True self-reliance means using whatever resources we have to keep going. About the time I heard the story about the family surviving on the sale of corn, I listened to a news account about a Marine facing the end of his enlistment. He wanted to go to school and realized that he had saved no money during his enlistment. He tried a job delivering pizzas. However, he couldn't face the prospect of the image of a Marine delivering pizzas and quit his job after one day. He basically decided that he would rather spend his money on drinking with his buddies than preparing to go to school.

How many of us make the same decision, we would rather keep up appearances that work at a job we believe to be beneath us. Work is work and all work is valuable. If I think I am worth $100 an hour and therefore cannot work for $10 an hour, I must remember that I am only worth what someone will pay me today.

Being self-reliant means, in part, developing a positive attitude towards work and then serving others as our time and resources allow.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Do the job with the right tools

It is difficult, but not impossible, to pound a nail with a screwdriver. I speak from experience. Unfortunately, many of today's products, including many items found around the average home or apartment, can only be fixed with very specialized tools. Making a part or product dependent on specialized tools accomplishes a number of things for the manufacturer. It provides motivation to have the product repaired only at authorized repair facilities and a makes it possible to charge a much higher price for the repairs made.

Having a special tool for a repair, is not the same as manufacturers tying in their consumables to the original manufacturer. For example, if you buy a new car, the manufacturer will specify that a certain brand of oil filter, air filter or other consumable be used exclusively. Not that the manufacturer's brand is superior to third party products (they usually are rather average) but that the manufacturer can get a higher margin of profit off of each item or vehicle.

The number of specialized tools is endless, all you have to do is watch the New Yankee Workshop and count the number of tools used by Norm Abram. But are all of those tools really necessary? Some yes, some no. If you are producing a TV show to sell tools they are, if you are actually trying to build something, you can do without most of them.

In trying to fix a faucet a while ago, my son-in-law decided to help me. Thankfully. He immediately got in his car and drove to Home Depot and purchased the replacement cartridge and the special tool to replace the cartridge. With the special tool, the job took five minutes. Without the tool, it would have never happened. Now what do I do with the tool? Guess what? I have another faucet to repair and now all I have to do is buy a new faucet. I already have the tool.

Eventually, or maybe even at the beginning of life, you end up prizing room more that having the right tool. Unfortunately, at those times of life, is when you most need to save money and when having the tools would be the most useful. When you have enough money to pay for someone else to do the repairs, you have too much money.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A fundamental need for tools

One night I was called by a friend for an emergency. A leak had developed in a bathroom faucet and the leak was so great that the water was literally running into the sink. When I arrived, I found that the family did not own so much as a wrench or pair of pliers, not even a screw driver. One of the ingredients in gaining control of your life and your finances is to acquire basic home and car repair skills and a simple set of tools to do the jobs. However, the tools must be cared for, clean, and accessible. Likewise, the tools must be of high enough quality to be useful. Many of the so-called discount tools are not strong enough for even simple household or car repair jobs.

Whenever I have a repair job I first calculate the cost of hiring a repair person to do the job. Then I find out what the tools would cost. Inevitably, it is far cheaper to purchase the tools and do the job myself than to hire it done. There are a few qualifications however. First is whether or not the job can be done at all without the special experience necessary. For this reason, I seldom do plumbing jobs. But if I can see it done once, I can usually do the job myself the second time the repair comes up.

Second there is the consideration of time. I could do almost any job given enough time. But time is money and unless you are retired or out of work, some jobs just take too long to justify doing the work yourself. Like painting your house. One summer we hired one of our daughters to paint the outside of our house. She did the job in stages and took a few weeks to finish. When we hired the job out to a painter, we paid about the same, but had the job done in two or three days. (Note: our daughter did a better job than the painters).

A rusty or broken tool is no tool at all. It breaks my heart to see good quality tools rusting in the grass or lying broken on the garage floor. The job the tool can do is only as good as the condition and quality of the tool. Cheap screw drivers are just that; cheap. I usually end up using them as pry bars or to open cans.

There is a huge "do it yourself" trend in the U.S. but many young people have had no exposure at all to simple home or car repairs. Schools used to teach "shop" and "home economics" but neither of these subjects are taught in today's modern school system. If the students are allowed to take a "shop" class they seldom make anything more complicated than a napkin holder.

Fortunately, many of the larger chains of home repair sales, like Home Depot or Loew's have classes on how to do things, with hands on help. It is sometimes amazing was a few tools and a good attitude will do to save money.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mormon Times begins four part series on church welfare

Mormon Times is a supplement of the Deseret News, a local Salt Lake City, Utah newspaper. Published weekly the supplement brings news and commentary relevant to the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon). The LDS Church has just recently published a new guide for leaders in the Church. The most recent article quotes Dennis R. Lifferth, managing director of Welfare Services for the church:
The welfare department began working on "Providing in the Lord’s Way: A Leader's Guide to Welfare." According to Lifferth, the guide and its summary booklet were meant to summarize the basic principles of welfare in such a clear, straightforward way that there would be no misunderstanding. The hope was that the guide’s principles would be "a real blessing for these bishops as they face the increasing problems that we are facing in the world."
According to Mormon Times, the English versions of the "Leader’s Guide" and the "Basic Principles" presentation were sent out worldwide on Feb. 22. "Basic Principles" was translated into 16 languages, while the "Leader’s Guide" was translated into 28 languages. More translations are planned.

The "Leader’s Guide" summary booklet is available online.

The Mormon Times will have three more articles on this important development in the Church's Welfare system. Next week's article will be "Self-reliance isn't selfish."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Most useful and needed self-reliance skills

In a recently released Church DVD "Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasized the path to self-reliance lies through obtaining "sufficient knowledge, education and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being." (Quoting Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President).

Here is an exceptional video on the history of the Church's Welfare System:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Checking out Urban Legends

It is truly amazing how many unfounded stories circulate on the Internet in the form of chain E-mails. How do you know if the latest threat to society or heart rending loss is real? Larry Richman at LDS Media Talk has provided a list of ways to check the validity of a source before you pass it along to the your entire E-mail list.

To quote Mr. Richman, in part,
Check the facts on a fact-checking site. The following are the big four: Snopes.com is the grand-daddy of all fact-checking sites. Some of the worst chain spams even quote Snopes with an embedded link to give their e-mail an added level of authenticity. TruthOrFiction.com is an excellent site from Rich Buhler. About Urban Legends is an about.com subsite that has been hosted for ten years by David Emery, who is passionate about finding and debunking rumors, myths, pranks, and odd stories. Break The Chain has been around since 1999 and is an authoritative source on stupid chain mails.
We usually call this type of story or news article an "alligator story" after the reference to alligators in the New York sewers. Don't fall for alligator stories. Check your facts.

You might want to be prepared to have a lot of popups if you follow some of the above links.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The recession is over -- we can all go out and spend money

Yeah, sure. Recent news articles paint a rosy picture of the end of the current recession. According to the New York Federal Reserve "there is almost no possibility that the economy will be in recession by the middle of this year according to the Fed's model, which has accurately predicted the last 7 recessions, back to 1960."

Without going to the "experts" what do the most relevant statistics say?

Although the next release of the Employment Situation is scheduled for May 8th, 2009, as of April 3, 2009, nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline sharply in March (-663,000), and the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 to 8.5 percent. Payroll employment has decreased by 3.3 million over the past 5 months. In March, job losses were large and widespread across the major industry sectors. There were 13.2 million unemployed workers in the U.S.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U decreased 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.4 percent in February. The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.2 percent in March, the same increase as in February. So despite the current recession, we still have a small increase in inflation. The housing price index continued to decline in March.

Bankruptcy filings in the federal courts rose 31 percent in calendar year 2008, according to data released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The number of bankruptcies filed in the twelve-month period ending December 31, 2008, totaled 1,117,771, up from 850,912 bankruptcies filed in CY 2007.

I don't want to paint a totally gloomy picture. But it is unreasonable to suppose that this long standing problem will not be resolved in one or two more months. It is time to be prepared and continue to avoid debt, prepare for emergencies and rely on counsel from the Prophets of God.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gardening in containers

As suggested by the Provident Living Website, "You can plant in almost any kind of container. Try using plastic jugs, garbage cans, milk cartons, cans, plastic bags, baskets, a wagon bed, kitchen canisters, or clay pots. The bottom of the container should have several small drain holes and be lined with 2 to 3 inches of small gravel before you put in the topsoil. Hang containers from windows, put them on windowsills or in window wells; line your sidewalk or driveway with them, or hang them from your ceiling."

There are an abundance of resources on container gardening. Try some of the following:

Vegetable Gardening in Containers
, Texas A&M University

Guide to Container Gardening

Vegetable Gardening in Containers, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Container GardeningTips.com

You can even grow plants upside down on grow poles.

There are even places to grow a garden in the center of large cities. On a recent trip to New York, we looked out our hotel window into a rooftop garden. Here is an article on one in Vancouver.

"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."-- Thomas Cooper

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What to do about Swine Flu

Straight from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, here are their suggestions for avoiding problems with the Swine Flu outbreak:

What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

  • Stay informed. This website will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
  • Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • Take everyday actions to stay healthy.
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
    • Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Develop a family emergency plan as a precaution. This should include storing a supply of food, medicines, facemasks, alcohol-based hand rubs and other essential supplies.
  • Call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.
The number one way to avoid infection is to wash your hands frequently. This is from my own personal experience. Since I spend my days around people all the time, I wash my hands every time I get a chance and every time I come home.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gardening with the priciples learned from the panqar huyu

The Panqar Huyus is a system of agriculture developed by the Benson Agriculture and Food Institute of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. To quote the Manual for the Construction and Management of Panqar Huyus,

The panqar huyu is a small semi-subterraneous green house. The top assembly onsists of a polythene covering commercially known as "Agrofilm", which is partially opened during the day as a lid. The plants germinate and grow inside due to the warm temperature maintained inside because of the specially prepared floor and walls. In this way, the panqar huyu allows the cultivation of species that are normally not produced in the Altiplano. Crops can be harvested multiple times in a year, and the crop cycle can be shortened accordingly. This allows families to produce and consume more vegetables that are rich in nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to families in the high altitude regions and during certain seasons of the year.

In other words, this is an extreme variation on the grow box method of gardening.

The point of this illustration is to show that there are innovative methods of growing plants for high production at a minimal cost. If you meticulously calculate the cost of home production and compare it to the purchased cost for processed foods, you will find that it is nearly always less expensive to grow your own food. This is especially true if you grow herbs and vegetables that are less popular. One limitation on the cost of growing your own food, is for field crops, such as corn, potatoes, wheat and other similar plants. In the case of wheat, for example, it is difficult to crow enough to make a difference and the harvested seed is usually more expensive than purchased seed because of economies of scale.

Click here for a detailed discussion of the cost of canning tomatoes. If you do a search on the Internet on store bought vs. home grown, you will find hundreds of thousands of hits.

It is absolutely important in today's world of instant gratification that we return to the basics and one of those basics is knowing how to grow plants. By utilizing one of the many high production methods, you could feed yourself and your whole family on a very small sized garden plot. Even if you live in an apartment, you can still grow a sizable amount of produce and herbs in boxes and pots.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The reality of unemployment

One of the products of the recent economic downturn is an increase in "unemployment." At least once a month we get new unemployment figures and collectively wring our hands over the increase. News reporters and magazine writers give us interviews with the recently unemployed and how they are coping with their "unemployment." I submit that we do not have a consistent concept of the components of the unemployment statistics and have no consistent idea or definition of what it means to be unemployed.

Usually, the person interviewed as recently losing their job, is cited as having worked for the same company or in the same type of business for a long period of time. What is ignored in the news accounts is the underlying problem associated with employment in the best of times. The graph above, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates the problem. The bottom line of the graph is 4% unemployment. In other words, 4% of the population is always unemployed.

In most cases, the newly unemployed are just joining those who lost their jobs during even boom times. The present unemployment rate is about 2% higher than the jobless rate in 2003. The actual unemployment rate topped out at 6.3% in 2003 and the last figure for March, 2009 was 8.5% a difference of 2.2%.

Why this observation? Losing your job is a fact of life in America today. If you do not prepare for the event, you will suffer. The time to think about upgrading your job skills is right now. Go to school. Learn a new trade. Take an on-line class. Do yourself and your family a favor, don't wait for the pink slip, retool right now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gardening for self reliance

Lessons learned through revolutionary microfarming techniques in third world countries are also applicable to home gardens in the United States. Just as learning to grow a productive garden can improve the quality of life of the impoverished people of the earth, returning to basic agricultural practices can improve the quality of life of anyone, willing to put forth the effort.

One of the earliest proponents of the gardening revolution is Dr. Jacob Mittleider, world-renowned international agricultural consultant. Beginning in 1964, as a result of working with Lima Linda University in California, Dr. Mittleider developed the Mittleider Method of grow box gardening.

This early method of mixing hydroponics with grow boxes has evolved into a number of more recent iterations. The most popular of these is the "All New Square Foot Gardening" from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.

It is debatable whether the organizations propounding the various gardening methods are more interested in the money to be made from the gardeners by selling books and supplies, or whether they are actually dedicated to improving home gardens.

Whether or not you subscribe to one (or more) of the popular types of gardens, it is the actual activity of planting and caring for your garden, not to mention the food, that creates the benefits. As stated by President Thomas S. Monson, “Guiding Principles of Personal and Family Welfare,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 3: “Self-reliance is a product of our work and undergirds all other welfare practices. It is an essential element in our spiritual as well as our temporal well-being.”

Quoting from the Provident Living Website, "Planting a garden, even a small one, allows for a greater degree of self-reliance. With the right information and a little practice, individuals and entire families can enjoy the many benefits of planting and tending a garden."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Brand names and advertising

This last week we took one of our periodic trips to Costco. In the entrance to the store, they had two shopping baskets overflowing with various items. On one side they had "brand name" products, and on the other side, the Costco "house brands." The point of the display was to show the "savings" achieved from purchasing the Costco brands versus the nationally recognized name brands. First of all, this comparison is entirely fictitious. Remember the one important detail not set out on the comparison lists; Costco sets the prices. It is extremely easy for Costco, or any other retailer for that matter, to give a price advantage to their own house brands, all they need to do is set the price lower, often only by a few cents, than the national brands.

Here are three questions to ask yourself before you automatically purchase either a national brand or house brand, based on the price in the store:

1. What is the comparison price to other stores? Just because the generic breakfast cereal is cheaper than the name brand in any particular store does not mean that the price is good compared to those same items in another store.

2. How do the two products, name brand versus house brand, compare in ingredients, size of container and the amount of product in the container? A can or jar containing an ounce or two less per container is not a fair comparison.

3. Does the house brand have the same taste, quality or consistency as the national brand? You may actually prefer the house brand to the national brand, in fact, they may be exactly the same product with merely a different label.

One thing that happens with purchases at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club, is that both the house brands and the national brands come in significantly larger quantities. This may or may not be an advantage. If you only eat one container of a product a year, having two large ones with a limited shelf life may not be a savings at all, but may be a waste of money and shelf space in your own home.

Buy wise and shop sanely.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reconizing an addictive spending habit

Many things can become addictive, including the obvious drugs, alcoholism, gambling, pornography and other equally harming substances or activities. It is well documented, that unfortunately, spending is also addicting. The same types of brain activity and the rush of the incredibly satisfying neurotransmitters called serotonins that occurs when a person is addicted to drugs, occur to the person addicted to spending.

One of the hallmarks of an addictive behavior is denial. The first step, as in conquering all addictions is a detailed review of all of your spending habits. The question to ask is how is the spending affecting my finances? My work? My family and my personal life? Indiana University gives the following description of a shopping addict:
Shopoholics, when they are feeling "out of sorts, shop for a " pick-me-up." They go out and buy, to get a high, or get a "rush" just like a drug or alcohol addict. Shopping addiction tends to affect more women than men. They often buy things they do not need. Holiday seasons can trigger shopping binges among those who are not compulsive the rest of the year. Many shopping addicts go on binges all year long and may be compulsive about buying certain items, such as shoes, kitchen items or clothing; some will buy anything.
There is actually an organization for addicted shoppers called Debtors Anonymous. You can take their debt quiz to see if you have a problem. They describe their organization as follows:
"Debtors Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from compulsive debting. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop incurring unsecured debt. There are no dues or fees for D.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.

D.A.is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stop debting one day at a time and to help other compulsive debtors to stop incurring unsecured debt."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Living within your means

It is inevitable that just as you begin to get your finances in order, along comes an emergency and you are right back where you started, in debt! If that is the story of your life, you need to be even more realistic about your needs and wants. Most crisis are highly predictable.

For example, if you have deferred maintenance on your car or truck, you will one day pay the price in expensive repairs. Having your car break down should not be an emergency that puts you into a panic and spending money you do not have. Every item we own has an overhead of maintenance, storage and cost of use. In the case of something like a pencil, the cost may be insignificant or even free and there may be no maintenance at all other than sharpening the pencil periodically. But even pencils become a product in need of replacement.

Cars and computers are at the other end of the spectrum. Whenever I teach about a computer program, which I do frequently, I am always asked about the cost of upgrades. Upgrades and periodic hardware replacements are a cost of computing, just like gas and oil for your car. You can try to defer the costs out into the future, but you will pay then with a great degree of anguish through the loss of data, or save now with planning and foresight.

If you intend to keep your appliances and mechanical devices, from air conditioners to blenders, operating and useful, you must always budget for the time the item must be repaired or replaced. It may seem too obvious, but car tires wear out and you can expect the tires to need replacing. To do this without going into debt, you must budget an amount sufficient each month to pay the pro rata cost of replacement when it is needed. The same could be said for medical expenses, and other "unexpected" but certain expenses.

Use your head, think ahead and plan for the maintenance of all of the things that might break or wear out, everything from clothes to paint for the house. Without a budget, everything that happens will turn into an emergency.

If you think about repairing an item, such as a washing machine or dryer, you may look at the cost of a new item before spending hundreds of dollars on repairs. Sometimes the cumulative cost of repairing an old item outweighs the advantage. If you determine, through tracking your expenses that there are things you don't need, like cable TV, then cut then out of your budget and save the cost.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The first step to breaking the cycle of debt

In a talk given at the April 4, 2009 General Conference of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Robert D. Hales counseled members to break the cycle of debt and other uncontrolled wants. This is good advice for all, whether members or not of the Church. Elder Hales said, "Learn to say, 'We can't afford it, even though we want it.' Or, 'We can afford it, but we don't need it.' "

Provident living is about separating those things we need and can afford from those we don't need and can't afford. Don't be too anxious to put something into the category of a "need," For most, especially those living in the United States, we can usually save and live on less. The trick is living on less in good times, not just in bad times. As Elder Hales said, "Our challenges, including those we create by our own decisions, are part of our test in mortality. Let me assure you that your situation is not beyond the reach of our Savior. Each temptation we overcome strengthens us, not destroys us. The Lord will never allow us to suffer beyond what we can endure."

The first step in breaking the cycle of any addiction, including the cycle of debt, is to recognize that we have a problem that needs to be solved and then immediately beginning to focus on the things we do that lead us to the unwanted behavior. We cannot do this alone, again quoting from Elder Hales, "Our success is never measured by how strongly we are tempted, but by how faithfully we respond. We must ask for help from our Heavenly Father and seek strength through the atonement of his Son, Jesus Christ. In both temporal and spiritual things, obtaining this divine assistance enables us to become provident providers for ourselves and for others."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Urban Survival

I was reading parts of a book lately, McNab, Chris. Living Off the Land. Guilford, Conn: Lyons Press, 2002. Not that I plan on doing that anytime soon, but one of the chapters caught my eye; Urban Survival. One of the things the author advocated was an "emergency food stockpile." His suggestions include (see pages 179-180):
  • One or two large sacks of rice.
  • Several bags of pasta.
  • Copious amounts of canned meat, fruit and vegetables.
  • Cartons of long-life milk.
  • At least 2 litres of bottled water per person per day for a minimum of seven days.
  • A good selection of durable energy foods, such as chocolate and nuts.
  • Plenty of pack of dehydrated survival food, as used by campers.
Now, the idea has merit but the methodology is all wrong. Food storage is for an emergency, but acquiring the food is not an emergency and should be done in a systematic way, using both short-term storage items, which should be used and thereby rotated on a regular basis and long term storage items, which should also be used but kept in sufficient quantities to act as a long term maintenance food supply.

For example, white rice, if kept cool and dry, has a shelf life of over thirty years, as does macaroni or spaghetti, but the so-called long-life milk has a shelf life of only six months without refrigeration. Likewise the shelf life of chocolate is generally a year. Ingredients such as nuts will shorten the shelf life. Chocolate kept beyond 1 year may suffer flavor loss or texture changes. On the other hand, non-fat dry milk has a shelf life of 20 years.

One other major concern is the number and age of people dependent on the food storage. The suggested list has no quantities suggested other than "plenty" and "copious." Neither of these suggested amounts have any relationship to reality or to what the family or individual may actually use. For example, we have "energy bars" which I just checked have expired dates. I found some salsa in the pantry with expired dates more than three or fours years old. If you aren't going to use it, don't count on the food being good past its self-life date.

The last item on the list, dehydrated food, is fine, but you also need to be aware that without water it isn't much good. If you are going to depend on dehydrated food in a storage system, make sure you take into account the water needed to process the food.

Food storage is an attitude and a way of life, although it is good to have food stored for an emergency, it is better to have food stored all the time in a systematic and usable way.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Home Storage Food Online

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Provident Living Website has a form for ordering food from the Church's Home Storage Centers. Generally, the centers are located in areas with a larger concentration of the Church's members. If you are interested in visiting a center, you can contact a member of the Church and ask them to accompany you to a local center.

Although you may not be located near to a Home Storage Center, the form itself provides a way to compare prices and to see what foods can safely be stored for extended periods of time. The Provident Living Website also provides valuable help in all areas of preparedness, not just food storage.

The members of the Church believe that a cardinal principle of the gospel is to prepare for the day of scarcity. Work, industry, frugality are part of the royal order of life. Remember these words from Paul: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (As quoted from Keith B. McMullin, “Lay Up in Store,” Ensign, May 2007, 51–53)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Education Pays

There is a inverse relationship between the unemployment rate in 2008 and a person's level of education. A graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows annual average for the unemployment rate for people with doctoral degrees was only 2%, while those with less than a high school diploma were at 9%. If you need any more incentive for staying in school, the same graph shows the median weekly earnings in 2008 for those with a doctoral degree was $1,555 while those with less than a high school education earned only $426 a week. That means half of all the people in the U.S. with less than a high school degree earn less than $426 a week. Those people with professional degrees made less but had a lower unemployment rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported another monthly increase throughout the U.S. in unemployment. The national unemployment rate rose from 7.6 percent in January to 8.1 percent in February, which was 3.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier. The only state to increase employment was Louisiana. However, Michigan has a jobless rate of 12%.

Despite the clear message that staying in school or going back can pay significant dividends, this rule may not always be the case. In looking at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, out of the top twenty jobs expected to have the greatest increases in numbers over the next seven years, only four of the twenty involved a graduate or professional degree.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Life is like a journey in a wagon

In the pioneer days, my ancestors traveled long distances, across the continent and from Utah to Arizona, in horse or ox drawn wagons. These pioneers had to make hard decisions about what to take with them and what to leave behind. In a talk given on 13 November 1990, Ardeth G. Kapp said, "We read about the pioneers who, in the early history of the Church, left their possessions, "their things," and headed west. Those who were with the handcart company who would push or pull their carts into the wilderness would give much thought to what they would make room for in their wagons and what they would be willing to leave behind. Even after the journey began, some things had to be unloaded along the way for people to reach their destination."

She went on to say, "In our season of abundance and excess, even while we are counseled to reduce and simplify, there will be a high level of frustration until we understand the value of pruning. When someone asks the question, "How do you do it all?" our answer should be, "We don't." We must be willing to let go of many things but defend with our lives the essentials."

What if you had to leave tomorrow and all you could take with you had to fit in your car. What would you take and what would you leave? If there are things that you would leave, why do you keep them? If you fear the lose of things, then maybe things are more important to you than peace of mind and security. Preparation involves making decisions about what is really necessary and important and discarding the unneeded and the unnecessary.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Riding out the storm

“Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their . . . supply of food . . . and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year’s supply of debt and are food-free.” President Thomas S. Monson, “That Noble Gift— Love at Home,” Church News, May 12, 2001, 7.

Being debt free and having a supply of food is good start, but one of the most important preparations we can make in the present hard times, is for the loss of our employment. Life has no guarantees except that it will end. We cannot assume that the job we now have will continue. Companies go out of business, government budgets are cut, partners disagree, the ways that employment can end are themselves endless.

What can we do to prepare for the loss of a job? Unfortunately, many people strongly identify their self worth with their employment. This is evident when people are asked to introduce themselves, in the great majority of times (especially men) define themselves by the type of work they do. Reference is repeatedly made to the fact that men who retire suffer more physical and mental illness than those who continue working. This is especially true for professionals, whose lives are wrapped up their work. Coping with the loss can be overwhelming.

The starting point for an assessment of our job capabilities is a realistic inventory of our actual job skills. It is also important to evaluate whether or not your particular skills are needed in the geographic area in which you are presently employed.

Although I have been employed as an attorney most of my life, I left the profession voluntarily for more than six years to work in computer businesses. I distinctly remember driving home from the law office one day, thinking about my skills and possible job opportunities and realizing that I didn't have to be a lawyer. I think that this realization never comes to those who make no effort to broaden their skills and interests. I am constantly reminded of this when I see friends spending months and months pursuing replacement employment with the exact same job description and in the exact same geographic area.

An important part of our preparedness is broadening our job skills and becoming more adaptable to changing times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Short term vs. long term food storage

Most food products lose nutrients over time. Prepared foods come with a date stamped expiration, after which the manufacturer does not recommend use. Notwithstanding the date stamp, many foods will still be edible long after that date. The reason for following the guidelines, is that knowing which foods fall into the category of extended shelf life is very difficult to predict.

However, there is a whole category of foods that have tested to extra long shelf life. As quoted from the Provident Living Website, "While there is a decline in nutritional quality and taste over time, depending on the original quality of food and how it was processed, packaged, and stored, the studies show that even after being stored long-term, the food will help sustain life in an emergency."

Those foods that store well for as long as 30 years, so long as they are kept dry and free from pest infestation, are wheat, white rice, corn, sugar, pinto beans, rolled oats, pasta, potato flakes and apple slices. Both non-fat powdered milk and dehydrated carrots can last as long as 20 years. Some other staples that have a long shelf life include items like salt, baking soda, and Vitamin C.

Foods high in oil and vegetable oil itself may only last one or two years.

Short term storage works well with a system of rotation, putting the newly purchased items in the back in a first in-first out system of management. If you inventory your food supply and find items that are older and have not been consumed, you can draw the conclusion that your particular needs do not include that item.

In all food storage situations, local laws and ordinances concerning food should be observed. Although in the U.S. food storage is somewhat unusual, it is not bizarre or strange to have a adequate food supply for times of need or emergency.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What a sacrifice!

A recent news article on the impact of the downturn in the economy quoted a young married woman as claiming that her concern about her job and her husband's job had her purchasing generic paper towels over a brand name. I was struck by this person's efforts to get back to the basics, regular no-name paper towels. What a sacrifice! But it did get me thinking about the impact our purchasing choices have on our own personal cost of living.

I really don't know whether the reporters who use this kind of example are serious or not. But look at the difference in cost between a generic or house brand of paper towels and the high end brand names and you will see significant differences in price per sheet or price per use, however you want to look at it. Underlying this concern about paper towels is another more serious issue. The notion that you have to use a consumable. A Swifter instead of a mop. A paper towel instead of a wash cloth. A disposable duster rather than a dust cloth.

Modern advertising has convinced the younger generation of middle class educated people that they can only be clean and sanitary if they use the "disposable" product instead of the germy old fashioned re-usable cloth. This attitude of disposable commodities permeates our society to such an extent that most people never even see the alternative, which in most cases is much less expensive (and has less of an environmental impact).

You may not spend much on paper products, but you could probably spend less. Using less expensive options is not so much an exercise in frugality as it is an exercise in realizing that paying to dust your home may not be the best overall solution. It is impossible to imagine how a person caught up in the spend to clean mode could understand the real issue of living providently. Next time there is a "spill" unlike the TV ads, try using a reusable wash cloth instead of a paper towel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Learning to manage your money

Whatever your income level, you can always do a better job of managing the resources you have. Unless you are faced with a catastrophic loss due to injury, illness or death, how you manage your resources determines whether or not you survive or go into debt. Controlling your expenditures is definitely the first level of concern. but many people lose money through ignorance of their rights and knowing their options.

The U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission (the government has a commission for everything) has an extensive Website called "Mymoney." They have resources on budgeting and taxes, credit, financial planning, home ownership, paying for education, children, privacy, fraud, scams, responding to life events, retirement planning, saving and investing and starting a small business.

Education is the first step to enlightenment. Use the resources available to educate yourself as to the best ways to avoid debt and survive these hard times.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I find it sad

I read more and more stories in the news about older people losing their jobs. Now, that may be a sad state of affairs, but not as sad as the aftermath. So many of these people are quoted as not knowing what to do with their time. The loss of human productivity through lack of alternatives is appalling. It doesn't seem to occur to these people to volunteer at a local charity, or library, or homeless shelter, or volunteer at the local school.

What about learning? There are always hundreds of free classes, on-line, off-line or from schools, community colleges or universities. What about learning a new trade, a new language, a new way of life? What about starting a new business? Or just getting out and exercising and enjoying nature?

There are the exceptions. One man in our neighborhood, upon losing his job, has turned his whole back yard into a productive garden, growing fruit and vegetables to feed his family. Personally, if I were to lose my job (not likely, by the way unless through illness or senility) I have so many projects in place, lined up, that it would be years before I ever had a day off.

The tragedy of life isn't in the things we lose, but in what we do or do not do with what is left.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Some thoughts on the financial crisis

A recent article in USA Today highlighted the anxiety and need for second jobs of those impacted by the recent economic woes. Using the example of a bank manager whose wife was laid off by Anheuser-Busch. "There's definitely anxiety," says the husband, whose employer is cutting his salary by 5% this year. Now, if you have read any of my past posts, you can probably guess what is coming: (names omitted)

The family's income dropped from about $93,000 to $47,000 a year. After paying their $1,700 mortgage and some of their roughly $50,000 in credit card debt each month, the husband says, there's barely $200 left.

So they tap their savings, and weigh every expenditure — from an ice cream cone to a haircut.

"Sometimes you can't afford to get food," he says. "We just scrape whatever's in (the pantry)."

The wife remains unemployed, but is searching for a job.

In February, the husband tried to get food stamps and make payment arrangements with his credit card companies. But he was turned down for both — because he earned too much money to qualify for food aid, and he already had the lowest interest rates offered on his cards.

What is wrong with this picture? $50,000 in credit card debt on the previous income of $93,000 a year!!! Not only that, on an income of $47,000 a year he tries to get food stamps. Why aren't I sympathetic to this scenario? What happened to thrift, provident living and food storage? And we expect the U.S. Government to bail out these people?

The article also mentions a 39-year-old lawyer, who has three children and is concerned about her family's financial security. She fears her husband's job could be cut. What happened to savings and paying off debt? Why not use some of that $93,000 to pay off all those credit cards and the house too?

Now, someone is going to say, they probably got all that debt from medical bills. Not likely, with a job at Anheuser-Busch and medical coverage.

It is really time not just to think about the basics of provident living, but to do something about it. Get out of debt. Build up your food storage to have a three month's supply of food and other necessities, put off purchasing anything that you cannot afford. Live frugally and survive. What is more prosper in hard times.