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Friday, April 18, 2014

Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem

I share from time to time here about my personal life, things I have recovered from and where I wish to go, but I do keep some things guarded and always will.  On occasion I feel the need to vent, rant or just ramble about nonsensical things that for some reason or another are meaningful to me at a specific time.  Today I am tired of sitting back and not saying anything about the fact that Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem.  This time I am stepping into controversial waters and may end up with a headache for it, but I feel it is worth saying from my vantage point because I know I am not alone.

Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem

I see it constantly on every social media I am a part of, within my own extended family conversations, on news channels, on blogs, in churches, from the pulpit and even within some schools.  People are every day blaming those who are on government assistance (i.e. Food Stamps (SNAP) or similar) for the problems we have economically.  People are consistently saying those people just need to "get a damn job", or "get off their lazy ass".  While I will never deny that there are many people out there who do abuse the system, I must insist that we look at the real issue at hand.  The average employed person lives below poverty level.  Many of those people are also working multiple jobs.  While abuse is too prevalent for any persons standards, it is not the only issue at hand.  The real issue is the fact that most people are struggling just to maintain a very basic existence without the help of government assistance or enormous credit card debt.

Let's look at facts first to explain why I feel this way.  I am using local to me pricing (Central Arkansas) since there is such a high percentage of middle income to poverty level income in my area.  I am going to lay out an example taken from a family in my community that I personally know.  These are college educated and hard working people who in this community are still struggling and couldn't feed their children if they did not have assistance.  If you suggest they should seek better jobs, let me tell you for fact that they have.  There are no better jobs to be had in this area.  Move you say?  Sure, they would, but they are unable to find jobs outside this area that would pay enough for them to make the trek hundreds or thousands of miles away, uproot, pay deposits and/or buy a new home and keep their heads above water.  To put it simply, they are stuck.

Family of 4.  Mom works retail 40 hours per week.  Dad works in the service industry 40 hours per week.  They have 2 children ages 2 and 13.  They live in a 3 bedroom 1 bath mobile home in a trailer park outside the city.  It's a clean but fairly run down neighborhood.  They currently rent because although they are not in debt, they do not have the means to buy a home.  They currently are buying through a local used car lot a vehicle that is 6 years old.  They also own another vehicle that is 10 years old and has routine mechanical issues.  They live moderately, rarely eat out and don't go to movies, amusement parks or other costly forms of entertainment.

Mom's Income:
40 hours per week at $8.25 per hour =$330 per week before taxes
After taxes = $280 take home per week

Dad's Income: 
40 hours per week at $9.25 per hour = $370.00 per week before taxes
After taxes and medical insurance deduction for himself & wife = $269 take home per week

Notice how Dad makes more per hour but due to the medical insurance copayment he brings home less?  And yes, insurance through his employer was lower than the Affordable Care Act options available this year and is necessary to cover his pre-existing diabetes and her high blood pressure. 

Monthly Income: $2196

Sounds like a decent amount right?  Think again.

Monthly Bills OWED: 
Rent: $550
Electric: $150 (average over year and level billing)
Water: $40
Gas: $35
Garbage Pickup: $17
Renters Insurance: $40 
Car Payment: $300
Car Insurance: $140
Telephone: $60 (covers a cell phone for both adults using Straight Talk limited plans - no home phone)
Cable/Internet: $35 (used for school assignments for teen)
Child Care For 2 Year Old: $340
Gas For Vehicle: $125
Monthly Prescription Costs: $65
Life Insurance: $45 (for both parents)
Student Loan Repayments: $145

This brings their monthly expenses to:$2087

This leaves them with $109.  But that total above doesn't include the following monthly needs that fluctuate

Household Supplies: $25 (toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies)
Toiletries: $40 (traditional toiletries plus diapers for 2 year old)
Vehicle Maintenance: $40 (budgeted at this but often much more due to older vehicle issues)
Food: $300 (mom menu plans and uses coupons)

Total Left After All Expenses: -$296

So you look over the expenses and you say, "Drop the life insurance, renters insurance, phones and cable/internet they aren't necessary", but aren't they?

I don't care who you are or how healthy you are, life insurance and medical insurance are not options in my book and they shouldn't be to anyone.  If you can't afford to pay for medical expenses outright should an emergency happen, then you should have medical insurance and their costs are very low compared to most.  Renters insurance protects their belongings should something happen to the home they are renting.  Did you know that many rentals do not provide insurance to protect the renters belongings, but only provide structure replacement?  One fire and they lose everything with no chance or replacement without this insurance.  Cable and internet are privileges for sure, but their teen daughter is also in many advanced programs and since they don't live close to a wifi location or the library (about 20 miles away from "town") it is actually cheaper to pay for this than to drive her back and forth 2-3 times a week when she needs to use it for school. 

They don't have credit cards.  They don't spend frivolously.  This true list of their current bills and expenses doesn't even include savings for a rainy day, clothing expenses or those little things like birthdays or holidays.  While there are many people who are in far worse shape than they are, this is reality.  This is what a family of 4 with parents who both work full time jobs and leave moderately looks like.  This is the face of many people who as a last resort turn to government assistance to just feed their families.  This is the face of 2 people who went to college, got degrees and still can't find  job that pays better.  Both of them got bachelors degrees in business thinking it would be flexible and allow them to get jobs in many fields.  In fact it has ended up being worse than not having a degree at all in this area.  They are deemed overqualified for many positions or their degree is not specific enough for others.

You could say, "get a second job" or "sell stuff to make ends meet", and you would be correct that those are great ways and means to make things work.  The problem is, there are no jobs here.  Oh, there are jobs, but to get one takes a miracle.  Have you been in the job market lately?  In our area the help wanted section of the newspaper may have 50 jobs listed for a community of over 35,000 people.  Go to the local Department of Workforce Services or look online and you see maybe 100-150 more.  A few odd ball random jobs pop up here and there and are heard about through the grapevine.  So in a community with at somewhere in the range of 5,000 people at minimum out of work currently, how are at most 500 jobs going to be enough?  Don't forget that at least half of those jobs are very specific to skill sets, degrees or special training.

Work online, do surveys, create a blog, sew or craft and sell things online are all great options too, but how does one do so when working a 40 hour a week job, caring for a family and trying to get at least 3-4 hours of sleep a night?  Is it possible? Yes, but results are typically so minimal that the wear and tear on the individual ends up making it not worth it.  Think about lack of sleep and family relations being destroyed to the point you end up losing either your spouse, your current job or your health in the process.  Think I am being extreme? Think again.  While there are thousands of ways to make extra money working online or from home, very few are truly successful and those that are have invested years to be so.  Trust me, I have spent the last 4 years busting my ass to make ends meet working online.  That meant working 16-18 hour days for years to get to a point where I can now set my schedule "normal" and still manage to pay my bills, and even then sometimes I end up working extra to cover added expenses.

What is the answer?  We need better jobs, more jobs and higher paying jobs.  We need child care available for everyone so mothers who wish to can get back into the work force without feeling they are paying for the privilege.  Child Care Assistance is great but when there are so few slots per state available, it doesn't help the majority.  We need to bring more jobs back home and export less jobs overseas.  There is no set answer.  There is no one stop solution to this problem.  I have no special formula to fix what is wrong with our society.  What I do have is sympathy and understanding and knowledge that many of the individuals who have EBT cards in their wallet right now have one because they are working as hard as they truly can and still cannot feed their families.

Don't contribute to the problem by perpetuating lies, slander and half truths.  While there is a percentage of truth to the words used, there is a lot more exaggeration.  While the words may have a grain of truth to them and we have all met more than our share of abusers of the system, Food Stamp Abuse Is Not The Problem - Cost Of Living Is The Problem.  Until we change the minimum wage, create jobs that are needed and help get rid of things like debt from education (yes I believe basic college education should be free to anyone) this cycle is going to continue.

Stop complaining about the people that abuse the system and start doing something to show our government that we need better jobs, higher wages and more opportunities for growth in our communities.

Rockin Green Laundry Product Review #GreenClean

When I think of "Going Green" I honestly don't think about things like my laundry detergent.  My auto response is to think of using reusable napkins, recycling what we can and to use natural cleansers like vinegar, etc. Somehow in my head my laundry is sectioned off into an area that doesn't fall under "able to be green".  I was given a chance to review some samples of Rockin Green Laundry Products recently as part of a #GreenClean program and asked to share my experience with my readers.  It caught me by surprise as a product to think of in terms of being green and I knew I wanted to test it out and see if it would be another area we could work to improve and change in our home. 

Rockin Green Laundry Product Review #GreenClean

We received a sample pack of a few of their products to test out.  Included was a laundry pre-treatment that is supposed to help with built up soap, stains and the like.  We also received a couple of packets of their scented detergent.  While the sample packs were fairly small, their instructions stated you only needed a small amount so they should go farther. 

About Rockin Green Soaps:
  • Biodegradable
  • Recyclable Packaging
  • No Phosphates
  • Gluten and Vegan Friendly
  • No SLS or Parabens
  • No Optical Brighteners

We set out with a particularly dirty load of laundry, set our washer to soak and tried out the pre-treatment first.  I honestly didn't see any difference in our clothing.  Over the course of a few weeks we did about 5-6 loads with the pre-treat in hopes of noticing a change or stains disappearing but we were rather underwhelmed.  While I know some of the built up soap, etc. in your clothing isn't visible I had hoped some of the fresh stains would come out easily with this product.  It in fact took our regular stain remover to get rid of them after the fact.  So my first experience wasn't particularly great but not bad either.  It was honestly hard to prove if it was effective at getting rid of built up soap. 

The detergents themselves both had a very mild scent that after washing and drying didn't even appear on our clothing.  Were our clothes clean? Yes, they were clean but they didn't have the fresh smell we are use to with our typical laundry detergent.  I wasn't disappointed in the laundry detergent, it worked fine for cleaning purposes, but it just didn't have the smell that to me means clean.  Yes, I realize that smell is no indication that the laundry is actually clean but for my own comfort I prefer to put on clothing that smells pleasant and not musty or like chemicals.  The clothes from those loads of laundry ended up smelling a bit on the musty side after a few days in the closet.  

At the end of the day here is how I feel about the products: 
  • They offer a safer alternative to our traditional purchased laundry detergents as they are better for our bodies and the earth. 
  • They did not stand up to my needs as a stain remover or scent for my clothing
  • I would use them again for basic laundry needs, but would be hesitant to pay the price when I would have to add an additional scent to my laundry as well as use an additional pre-treatment for stains.  
There are other less expensive alternatives to going green when it comes to my laundry that I have since looked into and feel would be a better fit for my family.  While I believe that Rockin Green is a quality product overall it is just simply not a product my family feels good about using.

If you would like more information about Rockin Green Soaps and their product line make sure to visit their website, Facebook or Twitter pages. 

I received a sample of the product mentioned above to facilitate my review here.  Thanks to Rockin Green Soaps for the opportunity to test and review your product.  The opinions listed within this review are my and my families experience with this product and company and not affected by compensation of product.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How To Exercise When Your Have Chronic Pain

One of the biggest challenges I have faced this year in trying to lose weight and improve my health is the pain involved.  Not just the pain of the exercise in general, but dealing with How To Exercise When You Have Chronic Pain from other ailments.  For me, being overweight has caused added stress on already sensitive joints and muscles.  I have had issues with sciatic and lower back pain for years and with my large chest my upper back is almost always in some kind of pain or discomfort no matter what the rest of my bodies health is like. While most will have some amount of pain while exercising and perhaps afterwards if they work hard, most people don't start out in pain.  For those people out there like myself who have to start out in pain, here are a few tips that I have found help me to stay motivated and not give up when the pain is there.

Note: Before beginning any exercise regimen check with your physician(s) to make sure you don't have any conditions that require you to modify exercises or avoid certain movements.  Your overall health is the goal, so taking chances and aggravating a condition are not recommended.


Don't Skip Proper Stretching.  This is so important when exercising.  Whether you are only going for a short walk, taking a bike ride or just a swim at your local community pool it is imperative to loosen your muscles properly.  Here is a great list with slides put out by the Mayo Clinic that gives you a good idea of starter stretches.  If you have specific areas of pain make sure to check with your physician before stretching to see what is recommended by them for your condition.

Check out Physical Therapy First.  There are many cases where your physical condition and diagnosis will be enough for your insurance to pay for you to have some physical therapy.  Before starting an exercise regimen that could exasperate your pain levels check with your physician about possible physical therapy.  The benefit is dual purpose.  Not only will you have some added pain relief, but the therapists can also coach you and show you what exercises will be best for you to increase your movement without aggrevating your pain.  Specifically look for someone who specializes in sports therapy as they deal more directly with how to continue exercise while healing.

Head to the pool.  One of the best ways to exercise when you have pain issues is to head to the local pool.  The buoyancy of your body in the water allows for less stress on your joints and muscles. Simple water walking or slow laps can increase movement, burn calories and help raise your heart rate while offering a low impact version of exercise.

Start Slowly.  Running 5 miles would be wonderful and surely jump start your weight loss but when you are overweight and have chronic pain you need to start slowly and work your way up.  Depending on your level of pain and ability you can start as slowly as jut doing stretching for a few days, then adding a 10 minute routine of exercise (swim, walk, bicycle) then slowly add to that 10 minutes in 2-5 minute increments until you are doing 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week consistently.  Going slow will help prevent injury, burnout and frustration.  It will also help you build endurance for longer sessions.

Have Proper Equipment.  Okay, this one can be tough on those of us who hate spending money but it is your health and it is worth it.  Make sure you buy proper shoes and support gear.  If your doctor suggest a wrist, knee or back brace then invest in something quality.  Check out good shoes that fit well, offer support and are appropriate for your specific exercise.  If doing stretching, yoga, pilates or other floor exercises check out proper yoga and exercise mats that are thicker and offer full support.  They do make some varieties that are wider to accommodate those of us who are plus sized as well.

Don't Give Up.  There are going to be days when it just hurts too much and you don't feel like you can continue.  Sometimes your body is telling you to take a break, change your pace, do something different but not give up.  Don't give up.  Pause, take a break, seek out an additional round of physical therapy, soak in the hot tub, get a massage, use prescribed anti-inflammatory medication as needed, but don't give up.  Get up the next day and try again.

Chronic pain exists for a lot of people.  Sometimes it is caused by obesity (like my case), and other times it is truly unexplained (like those with Fibromyalgia).  It isn't to be taken lightly, but it isn't an excuse to not work toward health either.  There are always options for your body, your condition, your pain level.  Talk to your physician or set up an appointment with a personal trainer to discuss how to exercise when you have chronic pain.  One of the greatest benefits you will see is your pain level decreasing as your overall health improves.  There are many physical conditions that cause pain that exercise can actually eliminate or help prevent flare ups of.  No matter your size, physical condition or financial ability you can always find a way to exercise something in some way to increase your heart rate, burn calories and better your physical condition.  I am living proof. 

Experience SEALife Aquarium In Grapevine Texas With The Whole Family

As a homeschool mom I am always looking for things that are both fun and educational for us to do with the wee child.  When I was given the opportunity to share with you about SEALife Aquarium in Grapevine Texas and receive tickets for my family to head over and check it out, I knew it was a perfect match.  Not only are we all interested in sea life, but it would fit perfectly into some of the lessons we have been doing with the wee child about natural ocean habitats. 

A few weeks ago we set out to spend a weekend in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to hang out with my sister and take in SEALife and a few other local attractions.  For a chilly but beautiful Saturday afternoon this was a great way to spend a few hours together as a family.

Some of the great SEALife Aquarium exhibits and attractions we encountered were:
  • Rescued Turtles that have been injured and now have a home at SEALife for safety
  • Sting Ray's & Manta Rays up close in large pools and the 360 degree tunnel
  • 360 degree Underwater Tunnel totally amazing views of fish and sea creatures from all angles. 
  • Interactive Rockpool {Touch Starfish, Urchins and more}
  • Tons of Shark Species & a Great Interactive Shark Game/Display with Q&A
  • A fun tunnel/tube play zone for restless kiddos
We spent a few hours looking at all of the displays, learning about some of the species we have seen on TV but not n person like Seahorses and Shrimp (very cool & so tiny) and of course staring at sharks up close.  The wee child really enjoyed seeing all of them up close and the Man and myself enjoyed learning a few new things while having fun with our son.

SEALife Aquarium is a great place to head out with your family on a cold or rainy day for some fun educational time together.  Not only do they have scheduled "talks" at designated areas throughout the day that teach you more about the animals, their displays do change from time to time with new creatures arriving and special events happening.  We loved the fact that they have a great "Education Room" upstairs with projectors and movies going about different displays at all times.  It's a great place to sit down and rest for a few minutes will continuing to learn.

With plenty of benches throughout, water fountains and restrooms at easy access and a fun gift shop full of sea creature gifts this was a great family friendly, clean and fun way to spend an afternoon.  My only complaint was a lack of hand sanitizer or areas to wash hands in convenient locations after playing in the hands on interactive rockpool.  

Head over and check out SEALife's website for a location near you or head to the Grapevine, Texas location near Dallas/Fort Worth today.

Thanks to SEALife Aquarium and US Family Bloggers for the chance to visit the Grapevine location in exchange for my honest review on this blog.