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 ....

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.