December 1, 2011

Book Review: Shiny Objects by James A. Roberts

There are those that will shelve Jim Roberts' new book Shiny Objects next to Levitt and Dubner's Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, and they wouldn't be wrong -- Roberts is also contributing to a growing number of books being published these days that are looking around at the state of things in America and asking what the heck is going on here.

I think it's good to see these books getting published.  I like the idea that people are buying books to read and consider reevaluating where our society is today, how we got here, and where we're going.

So why bother with this one?  What Shiny Objects brings to the table is something that seems almost like a whistleblower at work: Roberts, as a marketing expert (and professor of consumer behavior at Baylor University), brings a marketing perspective to the table.

The promise of the book's subtitle: to explain "why we spend money we don't have in search of happiness we can't buy."  Roberts does this in a series of chapters that range from consideration of the Christian Megachurches (e.g., Joel Osteen's Lakewood) to the impact of our increasingly cashless society (i.e., using credit or debit cards) and psychological discussions of self-worth and self-control.

It's a fascinating read, and you'll learn a lot here.  I don't know that we'll all learn the same thing, though.

Dr. Roberts covers a lot of territory and asks a lot of hard questions: why are we so materialistic? What amount of  responsibility do home owners have to bear for the housing crisis (as opposed to big banks, mortgage servicers, or slippery appraisers)?  Things like that.

His book has lots of quizzes, fun ones too, and I always consider it as a sign of excellence when a problem is not only identified but a solution (or two) are offered.  Roberts does this.  Roberts guides the reader into contemplating personal goals and implementing change.

For this reason alone, this book is worth your time and I recommend that you read it.  

However, I don't know that consumer behavior alone is sufficient to explain what has happened to America today.  We need to read and understand what Professor Roberts provides us in Shiny Objects, but it's not the whole answer here.

Recognizing the irony of participating in his Word of Mouth marketing campaign in providing this review on a simplicity blog (I did get the book for free, see my earlier post), I don't know that marketing alone gives us the entire answer.

Reminds me of the old poem, one of my favorites, by John Godfrey Saxe about The Blind Men and the Elephant.  Roberts gives us important information here, if we as a country are to change and recover; however, while Shiny Objects reads as if it alone can provide all the change that each of us needs, I don't think this is possible.

As a Christian, I would suggest that only the Holy Bible can do that job.  That's one book too few people are pondering today.
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November 14, 2011

Plastic and Food Safety: Is It Dangerous to Store Food in Plastic Containers? Are Plastics Poisoning Our Food?

Putting your food in plastic containers to store in the fridge, or to heat (or cook) in the microwave: is it safe?  What about buying food that has been packaged in plastic - has that food been compromised?  Does plastic poison food and make the food toxic or carcinogenic?

1.  Answer:  No One Knows - But Some Are Worried

It's pretty much a given among those in both the food and packaging industries that any food that is put into plastic (wrapped, boxed, whatever) will have some of that plastic "leach" or "migrate" into the food.  It's even got a name:  "inevitable transfer."

Doesn't that make you feel safe already?  


In a quote on WebMD, a researcher from Tufts University is quoted, explaining that "virtually all" food that is put into plastic will have trace amounts of plastic leach or migrate into the food.  Heat the food, and this increases.  Also, put certain types of food in plastic and there will be more transfer than with other types of food:  fats, acids, and salts boost the transfer dance.

When asked how much gets from the plastic to the food to our bodies, the Tufts researcher replied that no one really knows -- no research exists to give us an answer to that question.

It gets better.  According to the senior scientist with the EnvironmentalWorking Group, also quoted by WebMD, when food containers are considered "safe" these days, it's not because they have been proved to be safe, but because they have not been proven to be dangerous.  That's a big difference. 

BPA Is Scary

BPA is found in lots and lots of plastic food packaging, and (surprise) it was considered safe until some folk looked a little deeper into the issue and decided that maybe BPA isn't so safe after all.

Scientists are already warning that BPA may be toxic to humans - and while lots of warnings have gone out about water bottles made with BPA, the bigger issue is the BPA that is found in canned foods.  These days, lots of cans are lined with plastic and then food is put in them.  The BPA in that plastic can lining is already known to leach into the food AND into the human body.  What happens then?  No one knows the whole story yet but it is known that BPA will mess with human hormones, particularly estrogen.

Phthalates Are Scary, Too

Phthalates is a name given to a bunch of chemicals used in all sorts of stuff, and today it's sad but true that these phthalates ("THAL-ates") float around in the indoor dust we breathe.  Already, most Americans have phthalates in their bodies according to research studies by the Center for Disease Control, and they are serious even that they've been banned in Europe for several years now.

How does this stuff get into our bodies?  Get this:  it's not clear.  Some think it comes through what we eat, from plastic packaging for example.

What is known is that phthalates also mess with human hormones, in this case, testosterone.

Oh, and cooking in Teflon?  While I was reading up on this, I ran across a warning on WebMD that warns to never cook on non-stick cookware with a pet bird in the kitchen, because the fumes from overheated non-stick cookware can kill the bird "in seconds."

Oh, that makes me feel safe. 

2  What to Do?  Avoid Plastic as Much as Possible, Of Course.


Here are some 15 tips to get Plastics Out of Your Food:

1.  cook in cast iron
2.  avoid a microwave
3.  if you must use a microwave, then wrap your food in paper towels when heating and place on a real plate, not a plastic one
4.  use wax paper to wrap food for storing in the fridge (get some rubber bands, it helps)
5.  save glass jars and reuse them for food storage
6.  eat off of glass plates
7.  drink out of glassware not plastic
8. use metal forks, knives, and spoons (or wooden ones for cooking)
9. throw out your plastic stuff
10.  don't use parchment paper -- it's covered with a "Non-Stick"coating and that is silicon and it's sometimes got some sulfuric acid, too.  It's not just paper. 
11. buy fresh food as much as possible
12. observe how food is packaged and avoid plastic packaging as much as possible, especially plastic bottles
13. once home, store all food in non-plastic containers
14. do not cook with plastic stuff (microwave plates, plastic spoons, nonstick ware)
15.  do not eat with plastic stuff (plastic plates, glasses, etc.) - get paper plates if you don't want to wash dishes!

Sources (in addition to the above hyperlinks):

WebMD (and links therein)
FDA
Harvard.edu (and links therein)
Univ of Houston (and links therein)
NIH


November 8, 2011

Ufollow - Cool New Site and I'm Honored to have Everyday Simplicity Included as a "Leading Blog" in their Chosen Reading Library

UFollow is a cool, new site that is getting favorable reviews as a free service that helps folk surfing the web to cull through content and locate articles based upon a single topic or a single author.

UFollow is free,"indexing more than 100,000 bloggers and columnists from over 4,500 leading blogs, magazines, and newspapers on the web."  Sign up and uFollow sends you a stream of  content organized by your chosen sources, favorite authors, etc.

It's looking to be a popular site.  For example, HackStacks found uFollow to be helpful, describing uFollow back in August 2011 as one of the best sites on the web for organizing and providing content to the reader according to the readers' likes.

I discovered uFollow when I noticed folk were coming to visit Everyday Simplicity via UFollow.  When I went to uFollow to investigate, I was delighted to find that Everyday Simplicity is a publication listed among such notables as The New York Times, Huffington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor, and that my name is listed as one of the top authors, in the area of "simplicity."

I'm second, first place going to Merlin Mann of 43 Folders and third place to Darren Murph of Engadget. That's some nice company.  Of course, ranking will change as uFollow grows -- but it's a nice thing to think about today. 

I'm honored to be included by the folk at uFollow and I'm happy to think that this means that living a simple life is something that more people are interested in investigating, even if they aren't ready to make a big lifestyle change.

Thought I'd share this with you, Dear Reader (and Fellow Simplifier).


November 7, 2011

Blog Tour for Baylor Prof Jim Roberts New Book, Shiny Objects

I was recently invited to join a blog tour for a new book that has just been published by HarperOne this fall entitled Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy.  
Written by James A. Roberts, professor of marketing at Baylor University (which is about three hours due north from me on Interstate 35, up in Waco, Texas), it sounds like a great read from someone who has been studying consumerism and consumer behavior for awhile now.  (Check out his online bio here.)

I agreed to read and review the book because I liked the idea of learning what a noted academic with a reputation for studying the "dark side" of American consumerism / marketing had found.  Will Dr. Roberts have anything nice to say about voluntary simplicity?  Will he have any interesting facts and figures about all that ridiculous excess we see everyday (yes, Kim Kardashian was in the news again).

My review will be posted here on December 1, 2011.  It's part of the November 2011 TLC Blog Tour. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Roberts has a blog too, if you're interested ....



November 2, 2011

Really Easy, Really Cheap, Really Fast, and Really Good Recipes - No. 1: Cheese Dip

Easy, fast, cheap, and good food.  That you make at home.  It's possible.  Here, my first in a series of recipes with instructions for those on a budget, who hate to cook but are tired of fast food:

Chili con Queso

This isn't very healthy in its simplest form but there are lots of ways to make it better for you.  It's never going to make Dr. Mercola really happy, but it will sure make everyone around the TV happy on movie night, or game time, etc.

Basic version (and the one that my ex-husband swore made him fall for me):

  • 1 box of Velvetta (the box about the size of a textbook cut in half lengthwise)
  • 1 can of Rotel tomatoes (canned diced tomatoes with hot chili peppers)
  • chips of some sort

Cut the Velvetta into little squares so it heats up faster and easier.  Throw in the canned tomatoes.  Heat until the cheese melts (in the microwave, in a pot, on a campfire, wherever) and stir.  Serve with tortilla chips or Fritos, whatever you like.


Other ways to eat this stuff:

You can add cilantro to this.
Take away the canned tomatoes and use fresh Pico de Gallo instead (cut up tomatoes, onion, and chili peppers, usually jalapeno or serano)
Use real cheese instead of the Velvetta, add a little milk as needed as it melts
Add beans and use less cheese
Add chili and use less cheese
Pour this stuff over lettuce and eat cheesy salad
Pour over grilled chicken
Pour over sliced avocado

November 1, 2011

The Sweet Story of the 89 Year Old Bride

Here's a sweet story:  Miss Laura Odenbaugh married her sweetheart, Melvin Martin, last month up in Dallas.  He was 91, she was 89.  It was his third marriage and her first.

The story is covered here and in the Dallas Morning News.  Made me smile, thought I would share it with you, Dear Reader. 

October 31, 2011

Angel Food Ministries Is No More - And There's No Ready Replacement

Angel Food Ministries did a great service for a lot of people all over the country, and it's sad to learn that Angel Food has stopped operations.  They provided great, restaurant-quality food to folk at a very reasonable price, no questions asked. 

I personally saw Angel Food make a difference in the holiday meals of several families when I worked with abused and neglected kids at the local CPS Children's Court.  Single moms were particularly happy with the chicken nuggets, as I recall -- the kids loved them.  Loved them.  And, another great thing about Angel Food is that distribution routed all around town, via local churches and a network of volunteers, so it was never that difficult for the moms to get to the monthly pickup with their baskets and Styrofoam coolers. 

There was a pride thing, too.  Angel Food didn't ask for income information or stuff like that -- if you wanted to participate, then you were welcome to do so.  For example, I knew of several school teachers that took advantage of the Angel Food packages as times got tight and tighter, especially their holiday packages. 

I swayed more than one CPS teen mom to try Angel Food after sharing that they wouldn't be asked money questions and that they might be in line next to a teacher.  No, not all these CPS parents are strung-out druggies: some are just young, uneducated, alone, and overwhelmed, and with some pride to protect.  Angel Food was top of the line stuff, at about half the price of retail. 

So, today, I'm sad to hear that Angel Food is no more and I'm hopeful that something just like it will pop up to serve the community; Angel Food wasn't the same as the food bank,  it would have been much more difficult to get those teen moms to go to the food bank than to the local church for Angel Food. 

There's talk of another organization filling this gap:  One Harvest Food Ministeries.  They are planning on starting food distribution akin to Angel Food next month (November 19th) and hope to go national within the year. 

Let's hope and pray that One Harvest Food has great success. 



October 9, 2011

Great List of 20 Healthiest Foods - Why They're Great, How To Prepare Them

Getting my feet wet over at Stumble Upon, and this article just popped up (I supposed I have "stumbled upon" it): "The 29 Healthiest Foods on the Planet," and boy is it a handy little list.  It gives you, in alpha order, lists of foods that you can find in your local grocery as well as why they're so great for you, and a hint or two about how to eat them. 

Not the only list out there, of course.  What I like about this list is that it is so short and sweet, and still stuffed with great info.  Worth a looksie, Dear Reader. 




, , ,

October 7, 2011

99 Money Saving Tips Featured by Time Magazine: Frugal is So Trendy

Today you can read an article online entitled, "99 Money Tips: Save on Concerts, Smartphone Plans, Auto Expenses, DIY Projects, and Debt Collector Confrontations," written by Brad Tuttle for Time Magazine.  It's got some good stuff in it, such as:

  • a higher price doesn't mean better quality, so research at places like Consumer Reports
  • never get cash advances on your credit card (that money is too expensive)
  • fix things that break (if you can), don't just dump them and run to the store
  • get the cheapest phone service you can
Another thing altogether -- this article is a part of Time's Smart Spending section.  So, frugal really is trendy.  Sure, the bad economy has a lot to do with this, but it's nice to think that Americans are being more frugal with their money because, from a simplifier's point of view, there's a lot of good stuff that comes from this.  Like:

  • Cook at home, it's relaxing. 
  • Family meal time, good for all. 
  • Family game night, even better. 
  • Walk instead of drive, great. 
  • Borrow books at the library, you discover treasures. 
  • Discover free adventures: geocaching, free museum nights, nearby trails and all that wildlife ....

These are a few examples of all the good good stuff that no one will ever find, shopping at the mall or eating at their local restaurant (or driving in between).

There's a lot of good to be found in this bad economy. 


October 6, 2011

WSJ Writes of "Forever Frugal" Trend - But Misses the Point That Many Choose Frugal as a Better Lifestyle

In the Wall Street Journal today, there's an article written by Ann Zimmerman entitled, "Frontier of Frugality: Retailers Face Reality That Many People Can't Trade Back Up," and it's filled with information from the American retailers' perspective.  WalMart is experiencing lots of shopping tied to when folk get their paychecks; retailers are seeing lots of shopping with coupons; people aren't jumping to buy premium labels like they used to do.

I find it interesting that there's something missing here (though they tip their hat to this at the end of the piece):  the reality that living simply is a lifestyle choice for many.  For others that have had to change their lifestyles because of unemployment, illness, or just fear that their stock prices are going to crater, it can come as a very nice surprise that living differently is not so bad.  There are people in this country who were forced into frugality by a sudden change in circumstances and are sold on not going back to their old ways, even when they can do so. 

Couponing feels good for those who do it.  It's a rush to save a buck - today on Coupon Mom's email, for example, I saw free Colgate toothpaste and free Cover Girl cosmetics at Target; 6 freebies worth $41 at RiteAid; and 5 freebies worth $52 at Walgreens (she's got lots more deals if you're interested). 

Heck, I want my free Colgate toothpaste at Target -- and it's not because I'm scrimping pennies here, it's because it's FREE.  It's like a little gift, a little treat.  To Reba, From Target.  I like this. 

I like free.  You probably do, too. 

I also like the idea of saving money on my food budget.  But I'm not doing this because of the money.  Long ago, I would spend a shocking amount of my disposable income on fast food or restaurant fare.  It was not good for my pocketbook.  More importantly, it was not good for my BODY.  Now, I shop with a list and a menu planned out -- and I save lots of dough.  Bigger deal: I know what I'm eating.  I'm eating organic, I'm not cooking in aluminum, and I'm washing my lettuce. 

If I do this near a payday, are retailers thinking that I'm cutting back because of the economy?  Maybe.  And, sure, some folk are. Times are tough, and there are lots of people in financial distress in this country.

I don't know that they are all setting around, depressed that they can't buy retail, though.  Which is part of the tone that I read in the retailers' discussion. 

I have changed the way that I spend money because I have found a higher quality of life by doing so.  I am not alone.  My grocery bill is less, not because I'm money-motivated, but because I'm eating fresh food, I'm cooking at home, and I'm not falling prey to advertising siren songs. 


Does this make me "forever frugal"?  Yes, I think so.  Does this mean that maybe Americans are sick and tired of being endoctrinated into materialism?  We'll see. 


October 3, 2011

William Shatner Sings Iron Man - He's 80. What Are You Doing Today?

Simplifying your life means changing the way you live.  That's not easy, if you are doing it right.  No matter who you are, what your age, or why you've decided to simplify.  So, here's some encouragement for you.

Whenever you get bummed or think you're too old for something, or think it's too late to pursue your dream, or change your life: think on this ....

Go to YouTube to watch a video of William Shatner, 80 years old, in a studio, recording Iron Man by Black Sabbath.  80.  Born, according to IMDb, on March 22, 1931.

If you haven't read Shatner's biography, then maybe you don't know about how he has been down for the count more than once and picked himself back up again.  With a smile on his face.  He's been homeless, living out of a pickup truck.  He's come home to find his wife has drown in their swimming pool.  Serious stuff - and yet, here he is.

I find this encouraging and it puts a smile on my face.  Hope it encourages you, too, Dear Reader.

October 2, 2011

Amazon's Top 100 Free EBooks - There are Some Great Bargains Here

You don't have to own a Kindle to read an electronic book: you can download the free Kindle software and read the books on your phone or computer (which I prefer at times, actually).  This is great news for those living simple or frugal lives because ebooks cost less than paper books, hardback or softback: however, it's even better when the book is free.

Over at Amazon, you can check out free ebooks that have been vetted by readers already, in case you are worried about "free ebook" translating into, well, "horrible."  Go here and surf through the top 100 in sales at any given time: Amazon Best Sellers: Best Kindle eBooks

Look through the list and you'll find cookbooks -- like Stonybrook's Dinners Made Easy  and Circle of Friends' 25 Burger Recipes along with classics, like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice as well as some great reads that don't cost you a dime. 

Heck, you can get the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible for free (it's no 14 on the top 100 today).  That's amazing.  Especially when you consider that it's searchable once you download it.  Wow, that's great when you're studying.

The free books at Amazon bring new author discoveries, as well.  For example, it was through freebies at Amazon that I learned of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead (a hilarious true story of a couple expatriating from England to Spain).   It's a great book: charming, funny -- and I'm excited to read Twead's new book once it's released, giving another blow by blow account of her adventures: this time, about the year that she and her husband spent teaching in Bahrain and got themselves into predicaments like sandstorms and house arrest. 

Which brings up another tip:  there are authors that promote their work by temporarily placing it as a free ebook on Amazon, to generate interest.  Like Twead did.  The book that I got for free costs you money now.  So, it's a good idea to surf the Amazon Top 100 Free periodically, to see what gems you may find there. 

Free books on Kindle: a great deal any time, but especially these days.  I think you'll like what you find, Dear Reader.   




September 10, 2011

Four New Blog Finds That I Really Like, Think You Will, Too

You'd think I never get anything done, what with walking the dogs; doing my own writing; helping others with their writing; reading and going to the book store and the library and Amazon.com for more books; meeting up with friends for tacos or coffee; piddling my way to a clean house; or debating whether or not I'm right (I am) that the mole on The Closer is Chief Pope.

I surf the web, too.  And today I thought I would share with you some blogs that I think are wonderful and unique and powerful in what they have to share with us, each in their own individual way: 

Long Hollow -- a pretty blog with substance by fellow Texan Barbara Shallue. (Thanks to Barbara's sister for the heads up on this great find!)  Nice pix, honest and forthright in her words, and she's a reader, too. 


The Pioneer Woman -- kinda famous now, Ree Drumond's blog on her transition to life on a Montana cattle ranch.  The food photos are so wonderful, always make me want to go cook something.  And for some reason, reading the stuff here always reminds me of my mother's family and all their tall tales: Mama's cousins Mary Beth and Nummies, along with Spider and Pie (Pie was known for her, well, pies ... can't remember how Spider got that nickname). 

The Daily Coyote -- Shreve Stockton posts daily photos of the coyote she adopted as a baby, sharing much more than that on her blog about living in rural Wyoming.  She has been disciplined about these daily posts for a long time now.  Charlie the coyote makes me smile, and my pups like this blog a lot because it always warms my heart, reminds me how beloved my dogs are, and makes me go to the Treat Jar for them.  It's like clockwork.  And they talk about Pavlov's dog ....

Adventures in Writing on the Road -- Natasha Fondren sold her stuff and bought a jeep and an RV and headed out into a new life; she's got a bigger RV now, but she's still living very simply and she shares how she's doing and where she's going on her blog. 

She's doing what lots of people just dream about.  Like me.  Did you ever read Travels With Charlie by John Steinbeck



September 8, 2011

William J. Dawson's The Quest for a Simple Life is a Free Read

Right now, you can get a free copy of William J. Dawson's The Quest for a Simple Life as an e-book over at Amazon.com -- I took advantage of this freebie, and I enjoyed his story.  It's also available online for free to read on your screen at Project Gutenberg

This isn't a new book.

William J. Dawson wrote this book long ago; it was originally published in 1907, and some of the language as well as his attitudes may seem well, ... dated.  (Feminists, take note.)

However, it's a small book and an interesting read, the language alone is entrancing (sometimes, Dawson can be a real hoot) -- and it's a nice thing to think about:  back in London, over a hundred years ago, human beings were pondering how to make life simpler. 

Well, I guess people like Thoreau were too, come to think about it. 

Okay, this isn't Walden but it's a good read nevertheless.  I liked it, thought I'd share it with you, Dear Reader.

September 7, 2011

Simplifying Your Thoughts: Simple Living Means Fighting Against Stress and the Thoughts that Cause It

Tonight, there's the big Republican debate between the presidential candidates and tomorrow, President Obama is going to address the nation on the unemployment crisis - and media rumors are that this will include spending more money.  Lots more money.

Next week, we honor the 10 year anniversary of 9-11.  Last week, we had hurricanes on the East Coast and earthquakes on the West Coast, and even as I type this, hundreds of thousands of areas of beautiful, piney hillsides near Bastrop, Texas (not that far from me, as the crow flies) are burning in an uncontrolled fire.  Was it caused by the drought? By arson?  What about all the wildlife and the homes and the families?

The Scream - Edvard Munch


It's all cause for stress.  

Stress, big stress.  And that's before you take it down a notch and start wondering about your own circumstances.  Finances, health, relationships, savings, investments, rising prices, what the future might hold.

There is a lot to think about, and lots of people are swirling those thoughts around in their minds without realizing that you have the power to decide what you will think about -- and that you need to do this.

It's accepted by most everyone these days that stress will make you sick.  Keep it up, and it can kill you.  (For details, check out lots about acute stress and chronic stress at WebMD.)


And what is stress?  It's your body reacting to what you are thinking.

Simplifying your life involves more than being frugal with your purchases or going green with your environment or becoming vegetarian in your diet ... simple living means having peace and joy and strength in your attitude.

How do you do that?  You become proactive about what you are thinking about and you stop letting your mind run willy-nilly over whatever scary things it wants to ponder.  Yes, you can do this and it doesn't mean that you become brainwashed or live a zombie's existence.

Simple Living Between Your Ears:  How to Fight Stress With Simplicity

I don't do this as well as I'd like, but I'm much better at it than I was long ago.  Here are some of the things that have worked for me:

1.  I stop myself every so often, and pay attention to the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head.  Am I worrying about something?  Am I angry about something?  Am I afraid?  Then, I take hold of those thoughts and resolve them.

2.  I speak out loud to myself if this is needed.  For example, I forgot to mail in my car registration and here it was, September, and I've suddenly got an expired tag on my windshield.  My thoughts just baked themselves into a big pie of pressure, and once I realized that I was fretting about this in my head, it all stopped when I said to myself, "I will not get a ticket on the way to getting my car sticker, and if I do, then I'll just pay it.  This isn't worth getting upset over, I'll just deal with it - whatever happens." 

3.  I don't watch TV news, I read my news online.  Maybe it's still inflated and spun, but it's less stressful for me than all those talking heads who seem to vie for who can be more thrilling, for lack of a better word, as they ramble on about the latest horrific event.

4.  I pray and I read my Bible, renewing my mind with scripture.  There's a reason why so many have read this book for so long, there is true comfort and strength in its pages.  I think even non-believers can find good counsel in words like these:  "[a]nd now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." (Phil 4:8 NLT).

5.  I read about stress and thoughts to learn more about how thoughts do impact my physical health.  There's lots on this:  medical research (see this UCLA study); books on brain function and stress (see Who Switched off My Brain by Dr. Carolyn Leaf); and books on how diet and exercise are powerful tools against stress, promoting clear thinking and proper hormone balance (see the Hormone Diet by Natasha Turner ND).

One of the great things about living simply is knowing that you can control your lifestyle - even if there are others that don't understand why you are choosing that different drummer.  A big part of that change is internal, becoming a person of independent thought.

Some Days Will Eat You, Some Days You'll Eat the Bear.  

As Jane Armatrading once sang (listen here), some days the bear will eat you, some days you'll eat the bear.  We're all a work in process.

Hang in there, fight that stress, and if you need to see it on the screen, remember this:

Everything is going to be alright.  

(image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)


July 8, 2011

Homemade Dog Food Tip - Sneaking Veggies Into Their Diet

I've already posted about homemade dog food recipes (here) so I won't go into recipes here ... though from the number of hits that post has received since it was published, it's clear that a whole lotta people prefer to make their own dog food rather than buy the stuff in cans or bags at the local store (no matter how organic or natural or nutritious it claims to be).

I prepare homemade dog food for these reasons:  
  1. I know exactly what my dogs are getting in their food,  no corn byproducts or rancid meat that the producers okay for pets but would not legally be allowed to serve to humans;
  2. I can combat against the bad food allergies for one of my pets, keeping my pup happier and healthier and lessening those trips to the vet; and 
  3. I pay less for dog food this way - a lot less.
Of course, this all sounds great until you deal with the reality of the Picky Pup.  I have one.  I've seen Mr. Finicky Eater turn his nose up to white chicken breast just as much as avocado or green peas.  Very, very frustrating.

However, I've found the secret to getting all the good things that he wants to avoid into his bowl and down the hatch, so to speak.

It's the Food Processor.  

Yes, call my dogs spoiled if you want - I don't care.  I think I have healthier dogs for it, and I know I'm paying less in food costs and vet bills.  You cannot imagine unless you've been there how fast vet bills can climb when your dog has severe allergies.

Rant over.

Here's what I do.  I take the fiber left from the juicer (carrots, apples, beets, spinach) and I freeze it until Dog Food Day.  If I don't have this readily available, or I want to add veggies that I haven't juiced - say green beans or peas - then I just use fresh.  Whatever is at the Farmer's Market - I just get a couple more handfuls while I'm there, thinking of the Dog Mash.

Once I have my veggies collected, I grab a huge pot (some might call it a cauldron of sorts) and throw those raw veggies in there with what I like to call "stinky meat."  These are cheap meats at the grocery - our local store serves a pretty big Asian community as well as an Hispanic one, so browsing around the meat department, I can find interesting meat -- Chicken Hearts, Beef Liver, Sweetmeats  -- that's going to be tough and strong.  With big flavor and aroma, this is key.

Not for every human palate, these choices, and something that needs to cook for awhile at a low heat to get tender.  (I saw chicken feet last week, but I couldn't go that far.  Too VooDoo-ey for me, and besides - not much meat there, right?)

Whatever looks good and has a good price, that's what I go with - and usually this stuff is free range, organic to boot.  (Reading that last phrase, fine.  At this point, I'm not going to be offended if you tell me that my dogs are spoiled.  LOL.  I love them, and I'm making no excuses here.  I think what I'm doing here is wise, not silly.)

This stuff goes into the pot with the fresh veggies.  No salt.  No pepper.  No spices.  Slow, slow boil.  Covered.  (No to the slow cooker, unless you like this meaty aroma wafting through your home.)

Once it's done, you're not.

Next step:  let it cool (or not, it's just easier on your hands if it's cooled off), and then throw this stuff into the Food Processor.  Let it rumble until you've got a puree that looks similar in consistency to the dog food they sell in cans.  You may need to do several batches, depends upon the size of the machine.

Store this stuff in an airtight container in the fridge -- it's really convenient for feeding the dogs during the week, and they don't know all those veggies are in there.

Extra tip:  if your finicky dog doesn't fall for this, then here's your secret weapon:  bacon.  Not a lot - but take a couple of strips and bake them till the bacon is soft, not crispy.  You want some of that fat on there.  Then, cut it into little bits and stir it thru the Dog Mash.  That ought to do it - and yes, it is a balance of bad old bacon versus good veggies....
 

June 27, 2011

More on Sitting All Day Being Harmful for Your Health

Just read a great article with lots of information on research done regarding the dangers of sitting all day rather than standing or moving.  Written by Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the article is entitled, "The Extreme Dangers of Sitting," and it's worth the read.

One big thing that stuck with me:  you will spend THREE times the energy standing instead of sitting.  So, using that standing desk without anything more means you're tripling your energy output.

So, even if you're not into a standing desk because it's fun or it's cool (remember, Ernest Hemingway wrote from a standing desk), think about this:  you might just lose some lbs and never have to go to the gym, never have to break a sweat.

Now, that's a scoop, right?

Oh, and one other thing from this study that stuck with me:  a nice evening constitutional for an hour, where you walk to enjoy the scenery and let the dog sniff the tree trunks, will expend the same amount of calories as if you were to take a ramped-up 30 minute power walk. Sweet. 

I'm off to walk the dog!

June 20, 2011

Alice's Bucket List - You Need to Follow This Blog

Alice is 15 years old and dying from cancer, and it's not a fake story or something from LifetimeTV. 

It's real, it's happening, and to read the posts from this optimistic, courageous, and wonderful child is something from which we can all benefit.

And her mom is pretty darn impressive, too. 

Alice's Bucket List. 

June 17, 2011

The Dangers of Sitting Too Much - It Can Kill You

This graphic demonstrates the dangers of sitting at your desk too much and too long.


I've started using a standing desk for a least a part of my work day, and I really enjoy it.  A friend told me that Ernest Hemingway always used as standing desk and I found this photo of Hemingway posing next to his standing desk (here) - cool, right? 

Me, I wasn't influenced by Ernest Hemingway.  It was much more basic:  I got the standing desk because I didn't like sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time (in the words of author Robin Lee Hatcher, I was getting "numb butt"). 

I also appreciate the warnings that are now coming out like this one at Boing Boing:  sitting without getting up for breaks is bad for your body. As in, sitting for many hours at a time, as a routine practice, is extremely bad for you and causes all sorts of problems with your gastrointestinal system, your heart, and other things.  Beware.

So, standing desk or not, get up if you're at a computer right now and move - or at least, stand. 

June 14, 2011

Juicing for Health: Carrot Beet Apple Spinach Juice Tastes Good. Really.

I've had a great juicer for years - high powered motor, easy to clean - but I had stored it in a cabinet awhile back and just forgotten about it. And juicing.

Then, I was surfing around and there was this discussion about the nutrients that are available in raw vegetables and fruits, things that get lost by the time they get into bottles or cartons or cans or bags. That's right, I remembered: I own a really nice juicer - why aren't I using that thing? (Slap of forehead.)

So, this week I pulled that puppy out and went to the store and bought organic beets, carrots, Fuji apples, and baby spinach. Some cilantro, too - but I also made pico de gallo, and the cilantro escaped the juice machine.

Today, I'm back in a routine of juicing daily and I feel the better for it. I've posted on this before (Food as Medicine: Juicing) and you can find links for lots of detailed information there. Right now, I just want to share how easy and fun this is, and here's my recipe (and a couple of tips):

Reba's Daily Raw Carrot Apple Beet Spinach Juice

8 small carrots or 6 regular/medium size
2 big handfuls of baby spinach leaves (don't skimp)
2 medium sized Fuji apples
1 medium sized beet (about the same size as one of the apples)

Wrap the spinach around the carrots to juice, it works better (the leaves can be hard to juice). Keep your working area clear and clean as you go: that beet juice will stain stuff (including your tee shirt).

I drink this over ice and with a straw. It's a pretty purple color.

For more on what this provides, read the links given with the ingredients above.

June 8, 2011

Great Non-Dairy, Natural Sweetener Banana Smoothie (Stevia Recipe)

This is a fast and cheap recipe for a smoothie that tastes great.  Really great.  Doesn't cost much, doesn't take much time, and it uses up all those bananas before they go bad.  Bananas are so cheap, I like finding different ways of using them (like this post).

Reba's Banana n Stevia Smoothie

Night before: 
Break up bananas into chunks, about the size of a water bottle cap, and freeze them (a Ziploc works well here, because they tend to freeze into a blob, and you can bang that freezer bag on the counter to break the pieces apart).  These will last awhile in the freezer, so I have started storing a big bag of banana bits - just for this smoothie recipe.

Ready to go:

Take your Magic Bullet (or blender, whatever machine you prefer) and for a single serving put about 1/2 a banana's worth of frozen banana pieces into the container - it's best to put in the bananas first
Next, fill up the container with Unsweetened Almond Milk
Add a generous helping of Pumpkin Pie Spice (I always buy too much of this stuff, so it's great to find ways to use it up)
Add stevia to taste (I always use the KAL Organic brand).

Whirrrrr that thing until you've got pure liquid.

Drink up!  It's just soooo good, the almond and the banana and the spices.  No sugar, no dairy, just good stuff.

May 25, 2011

The Refrigerator List : Birds, Bats, and the Occasional Beast

The old man next door, so old that his skin is almost translucent and his hands look like gnarled twigs, loves his back yard.  When he's not sitting outside on his porch, you can see his long white head watching things as he sits, drinking forbidden coffee, at his kitchen table.  An Albert Einstein haircut, a quiet smile.

A great neighbor. 

It's nice to see him roaming around early each morning, refilling his hummingbird bottles and squirrel feeders and putting out food for the feral cats.  Yes, even though we all know that that feral cat food also attracts our neighborhood raccoons and possums - when they're not dining on finds in the alley garbage cans.  (I've heard that mice and rats like this stuff, but our herd of wild Tom Cats keeps us from having that problem.) 

It's because of our neighbor that our family has found another fun experience in simple living.  We've become aware of nature in a new way.  Not from growing our own little veggies or waiting for rain, but from all the creatures that routinely come to visit our white-haired neighbor.

We've created a Refrigerator List.  Rules are you have to see something at least three times before it gets to go on the List; however, you can note sightings of which you're keeping track.  (Right now, we've seen a black bird with a yellow beak, but we're not sure what it is.)

It's got the kids on alert in the evenings after dinner and it's fun to researching some strange birds and things we've spotted (escapees from the zoo?); and we're listening in the quiet to all the small sounds that are really there in the dusk.  It's not really all that quiet, if you take the time to listen.

May 24, 2011 List

Red-shouldered Hawk (we see this guy so often we've named him Harry)
Mockingbird
White-winged Dove
Pigeon
Sparrow
Cardinal
Blue Jay
Grackel
Bell's Vireo songbird
Raccoon
Yellow-headed Verdin
Scissortail
Hummingbird
Mexican Freetail Bat
Thrasher
Squirrel
Robin
Western Kingbird
Feral Cat
Ladder-Backed Woodpecker

looking at: black bird with yellow beak, white birds (big) that fly overhead in pairs, brown noisy squirrel-like animal - chipmunk?

April 12, 2011

How Much is Too Much for a Purse? $280,000 Comes to Mind

Hermes Birkin Handbag
in Pink Leather
(not the blue croc w/diamonds
model described in the ad)
source: Wikimedia Commons
public domain
It's been a long, long time since I've posted anything under the category "examples of excess," and that's been intentional.  After posting a couple of times on things I found to be the total opposite of voluntary simplicity and simple living, I thought it brought a negative vibe to things.  Simple living is about positive, happy, peaceful, quality living.  No time for a negative attitude.

However, there's always an exception to the rule -- and today, while doing research for an article, I stumbled upon the following and just had to share this.  Not as criticism - it goes past that.  Really.

This is just laughable:  an online ad for a special deal (that's right, it's a bargain) on a Hermes bag, made of crocodile dyed blue and lots of little diamonds -- the "Queen of all Handbags," the reader is informed.

It's being sold for Two Hundred Eighty Thousand and No/100 Dollars ($280,000.00).  I have written this sum in the way that we always did in our legal documentation back in my lawyer days just to make it clear that I really do mean 280,000 smackeroos.

Check out the ad here for the "Hermes Birkin Handbag 35cm Blue Sahphire Diamond Porosous Crocodile," which is available for shipping the next business day after purchase!!!

Example of Excess.  Sure.

Good laugh, too.   The next time I'm debating with myself whether or not to spend cash on a purse (because I am a sucker for purses and shoes), I may still be questioning the price.  One thing's for sure, though:  $280,000 is definitely too much for a purse. 

What kind of person thinks this is acceptable?  I really really wonder about that.  Betcha Hermes doesn't ask too many questions, though.  Hee Hee.

I'm still laughing. 

March 30, 2011

Food Packaging Gets Tricky: Smaller Packaging for the Same Price

Food packages
Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain
A couple of weeks ago, I roamed around my local grocery with a list of items that I had purchased in January 2008 and compared what the prices were today, in 2011.

You can read that comparison for yourself here.

At the time, I thought "tricky, tricky" when I discovered the can of diced tomatoes and the box of pasta were both packaged in smaller amounts.  Not a huge difference, but it would add up fast enough if you were the manufacturer/supplier. 

Today, while surfing the web, I discovered that I'm not the only one wondering about this little trick.  At the New York Times, Stephanie Clifford and Catherine Rampell have written an article published today, "Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags," where they've investigated this national trend -- something that isn't new, they've been doing this for decades -- and its current guises:  companies are going green, offering more portability, etc.

No company wants to flat out admit that they're trying to keep that price on the can or box or bag from rising, and they'll just change that container before they'll up the price -- because maybe you'll choose not to buy their goods if you see that number rise.

Maybe you will, maybe you won't.  Truth is, food is food - and if you're needing two cups of tomato sauce for your recipe, you'll buy accordingly.  Some folk will be fooled by this trick.  Savvy shoppers won't.

Here's the reality.  The dollar is worth less, and things are costing more.  We're impacted by things like the rising cost of oil much more than in our gas tank.  (See my earlier post listing lots of products made by petroleum to get an idea.)

Times are tough, and getting tougher.  Which just makes living a life of voluntary simplicity that much smarter, IMHO. The fun, peace, quality of life -- that's just an added bonus or three ....

FYI:  I did another price comparison in August 2017.  You can read about it here.  

March 21, 2011

Preventing Alzheimer's Disease: Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Stop Alzheimer's

Double Whammy:
one cup of green tea each day can help
fight against getting Alzheimer's Disease
in two ways.
pix: Public Domain Photos
This weekend, a friend of mine talked with me for a long time about how hard it was to watch a friend of hers suffer from Alzheimer's Disease, and now that the disease had progressed to a certain point, her friend's husband was forced to face the fact that his wife would be safer in a 24/7 nursing facility than at home with him.

So this Saturday, my friend supported her two friends, this husband and wife, as they separated after living together for many, many years.  She'll sleep near nurses who can lift her.  He'll make his morning coffee for himself.

My friend cried and cried after leaving them.  Alone in her car.  It's something with which we can all empathize.

Avoiding Alzheimer's Disease: Can We Do It?  It's Worth a Try, Right?

Perhaps a failing brain is something that some of us must face because it's in our genes.  It's a tragic destiny that cannot be avoided.  Maybe.

However, many argue that there are ways to stop Alzheimer's Disease - or at least delay it.  In fact, more and more research is being done on ways to prevent this horrific disease, fueled in no small part due to the aging Baby Boomer generation and the skyrocketing care costs that the American economy will face if a cure or prevention isn't found. 

Is this a global threat?  Not really.  In India, for example, Alzheimer's Disease is rarely seen.  Many believe this is because turmeric is the national spice of India -- as prevalent as salt or black pepper is here in the United States. 

Five Ways to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease - Supported by Research Studies, Easy to Implement

You aren't doomed.  There are a great many easy things that you can do right now - things that research studies have confirmed, that will fight against Alzheimer's Disease in your future, including: 
1.  Caffeine.  I've already written about the studies on one cup of coffee each day.  Really, it's a daily dose of caffeine that is key here. 
2.  Red Wine. There's also a post about having one glass of red wine every week.  Seems research shows that this will cut the chance of dementia in women by 70%.  That's a big deal, and so easy to do, right? 
3.  Exercise.  A little bit of exercise will fight against dementia in your old age, too.  Fifteen minutes of exercise, just three times a week, will do the trick of lowering your risk by 30%.  That's nothing.  Walking the dog regularly gets you there. 
Other things that you can incorporate into your lifestyle, if you aren't doing this already:
4.   Green Tea.  Every day, drink green tea.  New research is revealing that green tea prevents Alzheimer's disease from developing.  Drink it without the caffeine taken out, and you've also covered the first tip on this list, as well. 
5.   Turmeric.  Eat lots of curry spiced with turmeric.  (Or tons of yellow mustard -- turmeric is what makes hot dog mustard so yellow.) Seems this yellow spice contains a chemical that may block a necessary component of Alzheimer's Disease -- studies continue to be done here, based in part upon the reality that India has 400 times less incidence of Alzheimer's disease than the United States.  You can check out the top 20 recipes using turmeric at AllRecipes.com, or maybe take it in a pill form. 

There's still more.  At the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation, they offer a three pillar fight against getting this terrible disease (their fourth pillar, medicines, deals with treatment after onset):

March 15, 2011

Raw Kale in a Salad? Yep. Tastes Great.

Kale is great for you.  Kale ranks as one of the "world's healthiest foods" primarily because it lowers cholesterol, fights cancer, and helps the body to detox.  Among other things.

I've always had kale steamed or well, ... steamed.  It's cabbage and I've always had it cooked the same way that I grew up with cabbage being cooked.  Which meant throw it in a pot or pan and basically boil it with some salt pork or bacon or something akin thrown into the pot for flavor.  Sometimes, some onion and garlic got in there. 

As I typed this, a light went off in my brain and I do recall using kale in a chinese-y sort of chicken soup awhile back.  Worked well, looked pretty. 

Raw Kale in a Salad Works Great

However, once again I was watching one of those televised cooking shows, and I stumbled upon someone using raw kale in a salad.  Now, they had to chop it into small shreds and then shruch it with their hands awhile to help break the cabbage down ... but it worked.

Now, a new and delicious way to make a salad, eat some kale.  Thought I'd share it with you:

1.  The recipe that got me started on this road:  Food Network Star Aarti Sequiera's Massaged Kale Salad.
(As of this post, this recipe has over 460 reviews and it's got a five star rating.  Guess other folk like this recipe as much as I do.)

2.  I also liked this raw kale salad from Epicurious, maybe it's the pine nuts -- and maybe it's the dried cranberries that I substituted for the currants b/c I didn't have any currants at the time. 

3.  Finally, I tried my own.  Did the marinade with lemon juice and EVOO like Aarti's recipe and the hands-on schmuching of the kale (julianned this time), then I added a touch of honey, along with a perfectly ripe avocado, a bit of red bell pepper, chopped in some scallions too.  Thru in some chopped walnuts because I had them.  This was addicting it was so good.   

Kale is really great stuff, I must admit.  It's colorful, it's good for you, it's cheap.    

March 9, 2011

Grocery Prices Going Up: What I Found Out Here in San Antonio About Food Costs

In January 2008, I wrote about how much I paid for certain items here in San Antonio (you can read that post here).

This past weekend, three years and one month later, I went back to the same store and priced the same list of items. Here is what I found in what admittedly is based only on my curiosity and isn't any formal statistical analysis at all:

[Prices that rose in red; prices that fell in blue.]

1. Dole Yellow Bananas .39/lb in 2008; in 2011, .38/lb.
2. Small Limes - 5/$1.00 in 2008; in 2011, 4/$1.00
3. Store Brand Cage Free Brown Eggs - 1 Dozen $1.99 in 2008; in 2011, $4.10
4. Silk Unsweetened SoyMilk 1/2 Gallon - $2.79 in 2008; in 2011,$2.76
5. Store Brand 98% Fat Free Cream of Mushroom Soup - $0.75 in 2008; in 2011, $0.72
6. Store Brand Diced Tomatoes Canned 15 oz. - $.59 in 2008; in 2011, for a 14.50 oz., $.75
7. Regular Ground Beef Chuck 70/30 16 oz. - $2.08 in 2008; in 2011, $2.38
8. Suave Invisible Solid Powder Deodorant - $1.48 in 2008; in 2011, $1.72
9. Store Brand Frozen Green Sweet Peas 16 oz. - $0.92 in 2008; in 2011, $1.07
10. Barilla Plus MultiGrain Rotini Pasta 16 oz. box - $1.65. in 2008; in 2011, for a 14.50 oz box, $1.98

Of note: 

1.  some of the packaging had changed:  both the pasta and the tomatoes were in smaller packaging. 
2.  none of the items were on sale - either back in 2008 or this week - when I did my little survey.

March 2, 2011

Expatriating to Mexico: Is It Safe to Go?

Combine a scary U.S. economy with a cheaper one in Mexico, which has the largest American expatriate population in the world, and it's no surprise that many are considering picking up and moving south of the border in the near future - for a least part of the time.  The health care is so much cheaper; it doesn't snow there; it's got all those beautiful beaches and tasty tropical drinks. 

However, the news these days is filled with beheadings, kidnappings, and Mexican police being gunned down on what seems like a daily basis.  Names of Mexican drug cartels are known to us now:  the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas.

Is Mexico safe for Americans now?

The State of Texas' Department of Public Safety has just issued a warning that no one should plan on taking their Spring Break in Mexico this year - it's just too dangerous, the state officials warn, what with all those drug cartels running amuk. 

Over at the U.S. Department of State, there is a long list of instructions and advice for students considering a vacation in Mexico, even giving information on various sites (Cancun, etc.).

Earlier this year, a similar release was issued by Texas against "Winter Texans" going to Mexico in 2011.  (Read the full release here.)  This warning was issued shortly after drug cartel gunfire killed a 59 year old Texas missionary, Nancy Davis, as she and her husband attempted to circumvent the cartel's road block on a Northern Mexico roadway not far from the Texas border. 

Review the U.S. Department of State website, and you will discover that there are "travel alerts" and "travel warnings."  Warnings are more serious:
  • Travel alerts "... disseminate information about short-term conditions, either transnational or within a particular country, that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert."
  • Travel warnings advise of "... long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff." 
Mexico got a State Department travel warning back in September 2010. 

So, both federal and state officials are warning Americans that traveling is Mexico is dangerous - so dangerous, in fact, that it's not worth the risk.  However, this isn't the same information that you will find if you investigate the forums and blogs that deal with Mexico expatriating.

What the Mexico Expats Are Reporting About Being an American Traveling in Mexico

The Ajijic Real Estate News covers the region surrounding Mexico's Lake Chapala, where the largest American expatriate community in Mexico resides.  According to Daniel Steele in his post dated January 26, 2011, "Safety in Lake Chapala and Ajijic Mexico," everything is fine - Mexico has its "pockets" that you need to avoid, just like other countries do.  Of course, most of his post is suspect: he's trying to sell you Mexican real estate. 

There is a website dedicated to tracking criminal activity in this area:  the Lake Chapala Crime Watch.  Read it today, and you'll find that burglary and to some extent, robbery (where you're there when the criminal wants to take your stuff - burglary means he waits till you've gone), seems pretty high in the area.  Homes, cars.  The most serious thing I found there: a recent report of a man shooting a rifle with a silencer from a rooftop - not at any living thing, apparently. 

Barbie, who is responsible for RetireInLuxury.com, has a fact sheet for her fellow expats in Mexico, filled with tips and references.  She discusses the difference between tourist spots and other locations, as well as the US-Mexico border as a hotspot for cartel activity.  Barbie advises lots of common sense things, like don't throw money around so everyone knows you've got some; don't wear lots of bling; and don't drive on roads that aren't tourist-friendly - and don't drive at night.  You can follow Barbie's blog and contact her directly at MoneySavingMexico.com

So, bottom line: is Mexico safe? Not entirely.  It's not the same as living in San Antonio, that's for sure. We don't have men shooting rifles from (yet).  I'm not worried about running up to the grocery store late in the evening here -  but I do notice there are signs on the lampposts warning me not to leave my valuables in my car. 

Crime is everywhere.  You have to evaluate the risk for yourself.  However, if my teenager were pondering where to spend Spring Break 2011, I'd be pushing for the Texas Gulf Coast, anywhere from Corpus to Galveston and steering clear of South Padre Island and its temptation to cross the border into Mexico.

March 1, 2011

Life Lesson: Look for Quality No Matter the Price

One lesson I've learned during my 5+ years of living simply is that free or cheap sounds great at first -- recycle, reuse, etc. -- but this is not always true. 

There's something to be said for quality. 

When I first began this lifestyle, it was all about keeping a budget and appreciating things that I had ignored in the past.  Smell the roses sort of thing.

I learned some great life lessons from this.  The beauty of the sun rising over my back yard as the birds begin to sing.  DollarTree is a great place to buy onion powder, hair clips, and gift bags.  You can bring coffee into the San Antonio Public Library. 

I also learned from some mistakes.  Buying a cheap bookcase may seem like a great idea - but those cheapo bookshelves can't take the weight, and they'll break after a year or two.  Flip flops are fun and don't cost much: but I loved them into plantar facsiitis, a very painful (very) foot problem. 

Over time, I've learned to balance being frugal and living simply with being wise about what I buy or make or use.  This takes many forms. 

  1. I only have so much time given to me by God, so I'm not wasting it on bad writing.  I read quality books or magazines or newspapers - covering a wide gamut of genres, etc. 
  2. I have researched and learned a great appreciation for older products, when things were made to last or to be refurbished and reused.  Buying old kitchenware at a garage sale doesn't bring just a great bargain, it also provides you with a better quality mixing bowl/garlic press/ pastry cutter than what you can buy new.  Just pick your sale carefully, and estate sales are better for this sort of thing.
  3. Ditto for older furniture.  If it's really funky, then spray it white and call it Shabby Chic.  It's amazing how something sprayed solid white (or I suppose black would work as well) blends into your room.  Take a piece of sandpaper to it, and get that distressed look if you want.
  4. Don't use coupons just for the sake of coupons.  Buy quality food for your family.  Too often, coupons offer you a great deal on something that you would never have bought in the first place -- and it's something filled with chemicals.  Ewww.
  5. I also look for quality in relationships. Life is short, and living a simple life means being observant and appreciative of those around you.  I like to think of the people I know as all being part of a big zoo:  some are giraffes, some are chimps, some are puppies.  I try and avoid the snakes, of course.  All of us with gifts and talents, flaws and faults.  Living a simple life may mean a small social circle but it's a better quality of living now. 

February 28, 2011

Book to Read: The 100 Thing Challenge by Dave Bruno

There are more and more books becoming available that deal with aspects of simplifying one's life, and here's one that is worth your time to read:  The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul by Dave Bruno - less than ten bucks as a paperback or via Kindle, or borrow it for free, like I did, from your local library. 

Here's how the publisher describes it:

In 2008, average American family man Dave Bruno decided to unhook himself from the intravenous drip of consumerism that fueled his life by winnowing all his personal possessions down to just 100 things. Little did he realize that he would be igniting a grassroots movement—soon after Dave embarked on his journey, media around the world took notice and others started to follow his lead.


A cause for pause, The 100 Thing Challenge is a response to the culture of materialism in America, one that has filled our lives with the constant and unsatisfactory desire for "more." Dave Bruno offers compelling anecdotes and practical advice to help readers live more meaningfully, simply by casting off the unnecessary "stuff" that clutters their lives. The 100 Thing Challenge is a golden opportunity to experience the positive changes that occur as you defiantly hop off the treadmill of consumerism.

Here's Why I Recommend This Book: 

If you want to simplify, there are lots of books out there with tips and tricks to get there - but following one man's personal experience really brings the message home.  Dave Bruno takes you through his process of changing his lifestyle and in doing so, challenges you to do the same.

As someone who's been living a simple life for several years now, more power to him.  And to you.

February 21, 2011

Protecting Your EMail from Hackers - Free Sometimes Comes With a Price

More and more, I'm communicating online.  You are, too.  Even those holding on with clinched fists to old school ways -- snail mail, faxes, land line phones -- are recognizing the ease of some web tools.  Especially when they are FREE ....

At the top of this list, email.  Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail ... all are free.  In this day and age, you probably need to have a least one email account, right?  Then comes the next question, how to be safe online.

Earlier this month, a nice and easy to follow synopsis of what you can do to protect your email from being hacked was published by WikiHow - it's worth your read.

However, maybe one of the best bits of advice to keep your email safe (and other online accounts, as well) is to use really strong passwords and then change them on a routine basis.  Remember to use letters and numbers, lower case and upper case, and to see how tough your new password is against a hacker, get it checked online. 

For more help, check out the advice given by TheGeekStuff.  For those that understand that many of us need not only strong passwords, but ones that are easy to remember - read what LifeHack suggests.

Got a new password ready to go? There are lots of free password checkers online (and your security software may provide this service, too).  One you'll recognize:  Microsoft's Password Checker. 

February 16, 2011

In Search of the Best Ever Chicken Salad Recipe: What I've Found

Chicken salad sandwich for lunch
Source: Wikimedia - public domain.
I love Chicken Salad, and unlike some of my friends, I'm not committed to a single version (with grapes vs never with grapes; only white meat; chopped vs. torn; etc.) in my dedication to Chicken Salad as one of the best sandwich fixings on the planet.  However, there are some truly horrible versions of Chicken Salad out there.  You know; you've had that muck, too. 

So, I've begun my search for the Best Ever Chicken Salad Recipe (or five).

1.  The first one that I've decided must be on the list is Ina Garten's Curried Chicken Salad.  It's high in calories, and it's got chutney in it.  This, good bread, chilled white wine.  Wonderful stuff. 

2.  Another that I've found to be addicting is this mock restaurant chicken salad recipe from Real Restaurant Recipes.  Maybe part of the reason for this is its revelation of a bit of whipped cream getting thrown in the bowl -- but this tastes exactly like the stuff that I pay way-too-much for at the Ladies Who Lunch place downtown.  You know the place, you've got one near you.  Nice little breads in linen napkins appear as soon as you set down.  Mint leaves in your iced tea.  Lots of floral prints in the decor.  Clashing scents of expensive perfumes in the ladies' room.  This chicken salad is easy to make, and tastes great after it has had a chance to set awhile in the fridge.  I want some right now, just thinking about it. 

That's it for now.  As my search continues, I'll update this post till I have five recipes to share.

February 12, 2011

pH Balance in Your Body: Should You Care About Your Internal Acid - Base Balance?

I'm hearing more and more about the pH balance of the human body and how maintaining a proper pH balance is important to your health. 

 
What is pH balance?

 
It's the balance between acid and alkaline.  Water is neutral.  When your pH balance goes wacky, then you have physical consequences.  Things like acidosis can occur.  After that, really bad things can happen: cancer, kidney disease, things like that.  Turns out, pH balance is really, really important. 

 
What's acidosis?

 
Acidosis results when your body is too acidic and therefore internally promotes the growth of bacteria, viruses, mold, and other bad things that can make you sick. 

 
Acidosis is a state where your body lacks sufficient calcium and oxygen to keep an internal balance that keeps these nasty things in check.  It's not like you don't always have bacteria, mold, etc., inside your body.  It's just that when you get out of balance, then they have an environment conducive to their growth. 

 
Not only does this mean that you can suffer from gas, bloating, headaches, and other rather minor symptoms, but as these things continue to thrive, things get more serious.  Intestinal disorders -- and get this, I learned that osteoporosis is the result of chronic acidosis.  In order to grab the calcium it needs to fight off the pH imbalance, the body will suck out calcium from its own bones and teeth to try and get a better alkaline level - and win the war against the bacterial growth.  Less bone mass, that's osteoporosis.

 
You can monitor your pH balance by buying cute color-coded gauges at your nearby health food store, or online at places like The Wolfe Clinic

 
How to get yourself back in a balanced pH state?

 
First of all, there's no magic pill here.  Simply put, you have to eat right - the same kind of thing that you are supposed to be doing anyway.  Avoid sugar, fast foods, caffeine.  Eat lots of raw veggies and fresh fruit.  Drink water.  (Here's a nice chart for you.)   Apple cider vinegar is supposed to be helpful, too.  Get calcium inside of you, along with water and potassium. 

For more information, check out these articles: