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. 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.