Saturday, February 23, 2008

Businesses Be Good, You Never Know Who's Watching

In this day, where everybody is blogging about their experiences, one embarrassing move could go viral on YouTube, places like Planet Feedback are there to take your complaints, and Mystery Shoppers abound, it's amazing how often people still get terrible service. I suppose that it would be understandable in an economic downturn where businesses are cutting costs and people are flocking to whatever is cheapest, but this has been going on for many years.

People are often quick to complain, but they don't compliment as readily. Perhaps if people complimented and spread the word about how good a company was, more people would go to the good places in favor of the bad places.

In this case, I have a compliment. I won a $100 gift certificate to Lickety Split Scrapbooks about a month ago. I won it off a blog site that gives away prizes, I think primarily from small businesses that are trying to get promotions by giving out prizes. Anyway, I think Lickety Split Scrapbooks is a small business that is probably run out of the home of some enterprising mom. I'm not sure, but that's the impression that I get.

Anyway, I won the gift certificate on a Saturday. When I won, I was given an email address from someone at the company and she was supposed to give me the coupon code to get the $100 in products. She responded that day with my coupon code, and I had the fun of ordering from her that day.

When I received the order, her products were wonderful. I've had a lot of fun with them.

Just today I had a question about a monthly page kit that I had ordered, and once again, she emailed me back... on a Saturday. Now, I don't expect someone to be sitting at her email answering business emails on a Saturday, but I'm quite impressed that she did.

Anyway, I've been an author at for the past 7 1/2 years. I go through periods where I don't write very much, but then there are times when I'll write a lot. Right now they have a promotion going on where for every 10 reviews you write, they'll give you $10, and if all 10 are very helpful reviews, they'll give you another $10. They also pay income share every month, which isn't a whole lot of money, but it's something. Maybe if I don't win a Wii I can buy one with the Epinions money I make in about a year.

I've been trying to think of things that I can write reviews on. I always strive to write very helpful reviews, based on the ratings that people that read your reviews give you. I end up writing quite a lot about a product, which seems to usually give me a very helpful rating, but I can't exactly write about every topic in as much depth.

They have an online stores and services category, and you can suggest an online store to be added to their database to review. While I don't exactly have the disposable income right now to shop from this great store, I figure the least that I could do for her providing me with such a great prize and having such terrific customer service is to write about my experiences. Hopefully I can drive some business her way.

For good or for bad, in this day of the internet, you never know who is watching. And lots of people love to tell others of their experiences.

Local Governments Running Out Of Money...

Arizona has a law where they are supposed to keep their budget balanced. Right now, there is a $1.3 billion budget deficit, which has prompted governor Janet Napolitano to initiate a state hiring freeze.

This is not really a great surprise to me. My husband was hired by the state early last year, and before he got past his probationary period where they can't fire you without an act of legislation, they started letting go of people left and right in the office he was working in (a lot of the employees were hired under a rule that allowed them to be let go). Every day there was somebody else going, and my husband started looking for a job before they gave him his two weeks notice. To hear that they are not going to hire any new people (except in some critical areas like health care) is not a surprise.

The amount of children enrolling in Arizona schools is less than expected however, which people believe is due to the new law that punishes businesses for knowingly hiring illegal aliens, so that should help, as there is not as great a need for teachers, and they may even have to cut staff.

Another local government running out of money is the city of Vallejo, California. Reuters is reporting that they are considering filing for bankruptcy. I suppose I can see how a Southern California town could be headed for financial problems right about now. Housing prices have been through the roof for years, and I'm sure that Vallejo received a lot of money in property taxes especially, because it is a very nice town with some very nice houses (I used to live in nearby San Diego). Vallejo could have easily gotten used to receiving a certain amount of revenues in property taxes, and as property values fall, revenues fall. Also, with people spending less, there would be less money in sales taxes coming in.

I wonder how many other local governments are having trouble balancing their budgets right about now? Vallejo is not the only city in the country that has seen astronomical housing values plummet. Just recently, interest rates for bonds have gone up, which will cause more strain to some of these locations.

When your local government runs low on money, the effect can trickle down to everybody in the area. Will they have to make pay cuts? Raise taxes? Delay replacing items that wear out like fire trucks? Cut back the library hours?

I don't live in Vallejo, and as far as I know, Arizona is not making any other cutbacks that might affect me, but this could be a sign of things to come. I hope not. Hopefully the city, state, and county governments in this country will take a close look at their budget and make the proactive cutbacks needed so they can balance their budget.

After Katrina, many people were left with the feeling that you can't depend on the government for help at all times, and you need to try to be prepared. That is still a good goal, especially when the resources of government are tapped.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm Starting To See Why They Killed Themselves During The Great Depression...

Not that I'm planning on doing that or anything... but I can understand their frustration.

Some days you can wake up with no money in your pocket and be thankful that there's nobody in the hospital, you have food in the pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, and that you're alive. Other days you wake up with total frustration over the emergency room bills from last year that you have no clue how you are ever going to come up with even money to make payments on them, the mortgage that's 20 days late and you can't pay until the federal income tax return comes back, the unemployment people that say that there's a problem with your application and are always busy no matter what time of day you call them, three job losses in the last year, two months of unemployment and no prospects in site, and five years of barely being able to afford to pay the bills because even when dh has a job, it's usually not enough to pay for luxuries like new clothes or trips to McDonald's.

The last 4 jobs my husband has had (if you don't count the emergency job at GoDaddy last year because we needed money and dh couldn't find a job and it was better than nothing) was working as an executive assistant. As in, assisting CEOs of small companies, department heads, etc. When he was employed in those jobs, money was decent. Not great, but we could pay our bills and have a little left over. We were even planning on going to Disneyland and putting dd into gymnastics classes. His first executive assistant jobs that he took were 12 years ago.

Before that, he had jobs as an Administrative Assistant. That's the step down from the Executive Assistant. It's a perfectly great job if you're 22. It's not a great job if you've been working as an Executive Assistant for 12 years.

My husband just said earlier today that he's going to start applying for Administrative Assistant Job. Might as well start applying for jobs where you wear a hat and say "Do you want fries with that?" as well. It's a good thing that they raised the minimum wage.

It's just frustrating. Last year, every time dh would lose a job, it would only take about 2 or 3 weeks to get another one. This time, it's already been 2 months, and I'm starting to feel that we'll be lucky if he has a job again in another 3 months. And Ben Bernanke says that there's no recession. Well, maybe the economy doesn't meet the technical definition of a recession, where there is a decline in the Gross Domestic Product for two successive quarters (6 months), but I'm not seeing any signs of things going great around here.

I was talking to my mom yesterday, and she says that a friend of hers has a daughter that works for Macy's, and they let go of an entire marketing department there. So evidently things aren't going well in Seattle either. I talk to people on the internet all the time that can hardly make ends meet. Yes, things in the economy are just going along swimmingly...

I normally try to be positive but sometimes it's hard to be positive all the time. Yes, God has always swept in at the very last moment and provided us with the things that we need. He helped my mother-in-law find a brand new crib for just $15 at Wal-Mart, that doesn't happen every day. But sometimes you just wish for some semblance of... stability. A job... anything that will give you the impression that the next month's mortgage will be taken care of. Nowadays I suppose not even a job is going to give stability, but it's better than no job.

I guess this must be something like how the Israelites felt while they were wandering around in the wilderness. Yes, God provided them with food every day, but there was absolutely no stability there. What if I wake up one morning and God doesn't put the manna there? Similarly, I've been thinking What if dh can't find a job and we can't make the mortgage payment? The Israelites did not see a light at the end of the tunnel, and right now, neither do I.

But then again, David spent several years living in caves and forests while being chased by King Saul. Eventually Saul was killed and he became king and things weren't so bad (until he sinned with Bathsheba, then everything went downhill from there). The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years, but after that they had the promised land and things were good. Even my parents... my dad used to work for my grandpa, but he barely paid enough to live. I remember we were always broke. One day my dad got mad at grandpa and quit... but when he got a job after that, it was a really good job and now they're doing pretty well.

I'm just waiting for the second, happy half of the story. Even the people that lived through the Great Depression, and then World War II, did pretty well in the 1950s. If they lived through it without jumping off a skyscraper in frustration.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michigan Suspends Student Loans -- Listen To Dave Ramsey

If you are a student in college or have a family member in college right now... you may end up being affected by the nation's current credit crunch. If you live in Michigan, you may be affected next semester.

As reported on, Michigan's MI-LOAN program, which was often used to close the gap between loans made by the federal government and the actual cost of education, has been suspended for the time being, because the program was unable to borrow enough money needed to in turn, lend the money to it's borrowers. The cost of credit is going up... and it's quite likely that in the future, more than just student loans will be affected.

Thinking about buying a new car? On credit? While for years many people have just been able to walk to the dealership and walk away with a brand-new car for no money down, in a credit crunch, like the one that's just beginning, that might be a thing of the past... even if you have stellar credit. It will be harder to get a credit card, harder for businesses to get loans... and it's already harder for home buyers to get loans.

A tightening credit market is not entirely a bad thing. While it is a bad thing that some students might not be able to go to college without the MI-LOAN program, our country as a whole relies too much on debt. I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey. He lives in a world where "debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid off home mortgage replaces the BMW as the status symbol of choice". I like that. If only my husband could get a job so we could pay off our student, car, and home loans, LOL.

Living in the world of credit sacrifices tomorrow in order to live it up today. We see that in both personal finance and government finance (think national debt/trade deficit). There's absolutely no reason to finance a vacation. While it might be important to finance a trip to great-grandma Smith while she lies on her deathbed, nobody needs to borrow money to go to Disneyland. Or to buy a Hummer. But people do it every day. There are people out there paying more in car payments than we do for our home mortgage. Hope you like that car, because you may end up living in it if things go south.

The days of credit cards loaning wads of cash to everyone and their dog (and dead grandma) are probably drying up. Perhaps this means that people will start learning to live within their means? One could only hope. It's not easy to adjust to a lower income level, or an effective lower income level because there is no credit to go out and borrow, but it can be done. We took a 66% pay cut when I left the Navy and my husband went to work. I had to learn to use coupons effectively and hunt out bargains. Now it's like a game to me... see how much food you can haul home from the grocery store for the least amount of money. Today I came home with 20 pounds of ground beef, 9 Tombstone pizzas, and 1 box of Velveeta Shells and Cheese for $36. I was in bargain lover's heaven.

America as a nation tends to be a resilient nation (or at least it used to be). We will live through this credit crunch and any residual effects, and hopefully come out of it as a people much wiser and a little more thrifty.

Is Customized Education The Future?

My daughter is 5, and I'm starting to teach her double-column addition. She also is progressing pretty well with her reading. Today she read a story that included the passage "One day Gray Fox and Trapper Joe rode into the camp. The men were not surprised to see Father in bed."

My daughter is not a genius. Far from it. When she was 13 months old, we had her tested for learning deficiencies. In some areas, she tested at the level of a 3 month old. In most areas, she tested right around that of a 6-9 month old. I could have pursued state help for her, but we were moving from Italy to Arizona at the time, so I never got around to it. I still have the paperwork though, more for a good laugh now than anything else.

At 26 months, I started taking her to Kindercare. She started to catch up, but she was still behind most of the other kids. While most of the other kids in her class learned their colors several months before they turned 3, I was beginning to think that she wouldn't learn her colors until after she moved into the 3 year old classroom. A couple of weeks before she turned 3, she figured out her colors.

When she was 3, she started learning her letter sounds, like all the other kids. But then at 3 1/2, we started doing something that would eventually lead her to learn adding 2 column addition and reading simple paragraphs before she left what would normally be her Kindergarten year... I started teaching her individual instruction and letting her learn more at her own pace.

A lot of kids stall at letters, numbers, shapes, and colors until they're most of the way through Kindergarten. Towards the end of Kindergarten, they often start blending and learn sight words. In your typical Public School model, it's necessary to do this. Not every kid comes to Kindergarten learning colors, shapes, numbers, and letters, and so the whole class needs to be taught all these things, even if they learned all of this back when they were 3 years old.

At four years old, I left Kindercare and my daughter was being taught full time. We went through a Kindergarten math book. We skipped past several lessons because they covered things that my daughter already knew, and I didn't see the point of reteaching it. Before she turned 5, we started the 1st Grade Math book. She wasn't really ready to read words yet, but we worked on some Now I'm Reading books... these are really great. By the time last fall arrived, she was already 30 lessons into her 1st grade math book, and was ready to start the 1st grade reading book.

So what was the difference between a 13 month old that was testing in some areas as a 3 month old, and a 5 1/2 year old getting ready to finish a year of 1st grade work? Customized education. As a homeschooling student, she is able to move ahead when she is ready, and spend extra time in areas that she has trouble on. With our current public school model, customized education isn't exactly feasable. All the kids in a particular class move at the same pace, doing the same lesson on the same day for the entire year.

In the early days of public education, children could learn at their own pace. The one-room schoolhouse would have several different grades in one room, and they would do a lot of learning at a pace that suited them. Most homeschools with more than one school-aged child use the same model today.

Although public schools currently move everybody along at the same pace, they don't necessarily have to. And sometimes they don't. When I was a kid, they had one classroom that was a grade 2/3 classroom, where the exceptionally bright 2nd grade students went to the same grade along with the 3rd graders that needed more help. We all went to different classrooms, based on levels, for our reading classes. We even had individual reading times where we read booklets at our own pace, and moved up in levels. As children get older, they might find themselves in remedial classes, gifted classes, honors classes, or AP Classes. In high school many students pick and choose their courses, and might find themselves, in their senior year, taking Calculus 1, or Algebra II. Some high schools have programs where you can be dual-enrolled at a local community college, and you might even be able to finish your associate's degree before you reach age 18, if you are motivated enough.

All those programs, for all those different classes, cost money. Today technology can make learning even more customized in a more cost-effective way. As a Senior in high school, I took Russian via satellite. Our school also offered Japanese this way. Back then, it cost $5500 per student that enrolled in these programs, but prices have probably gone down. There were only a couple of students in the class, and we took the class in a little room in the library. Our librarian made sure that we showed up, but our primary teacher was the satellite teacher that lived a couple hundred miles away. I also took an independent study course in high school, where I would write computer programs at one computer while everybody else in the room was being taught something else by my teacher. In that class, my teacher would check in with me periodically to make sure that I was learning and my work was progressing.

Public schools could make customized education possible for everyone with advances in technology and the internet. There are DVD courses, satellite courses, and internet courses that homeschool students can take. Often that can be a good choice for a parent that has several children that are at several different levels. Children can now even take public school classes in their own homes. Some of these programs have to follow a pace directed by an overseeing teacher of the whole program, but there's no reason that they can't be allowed to advance at a faster pace if they are able.

Currently, 4% of school-aged students are being homeschooled, and that is a growing number. The public schools are in competition with private schools and homeschools for students. While some (like my kids) will always stay in private and/or home schools because of the religious aspect, customized education could potentially raise interest in public schools. The public school could combine individualized instruction in reading, math, and spelling, while teaching classes like history and science as a group. They would still be able to do things like show-and-tell and art classes as a group as well. During individualized instruction, the teacher could oversee the group of students to make sure that they were not goofing off, that they were actually progressing, and answer any questions and troubleshoot technical difficulties.

While I'm not a big fan of public schools and think that there's a lot more problems than just the kids not being able to work at their own pace, using technology to customize a child's education might help a lot to boost the educational level of kids in our country. Imagine if kids that were math whizzes could start taking pre-algebra in grade 5 if they were ready. Or perhaps a child was really good with languages and was able to learn Spanish, German, and Arabic before they got out of high school. All of this could be done with the technology of today, if schools were willing to think outside of the box a little.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Squatters Flocking to Foreclosed Homes

Last month I wrote about how some banks were trying to sell their foreclosed homes at auction, but they weren't getting the prices that they wanted for them, so they'd just let them sit. In a declining housing market, I thought that was a bonehead move (they're not going to get any more valuable, but today on there was an article about squatters living in foreclosed homes. Yet another reason that the banks should be selling their foreclosure inventory rather than sitting on them.

Not all of these people occupying foreclosed homes are nice families who just got down on their luck one day and lost their places to live. Some of these vacant homes are being taken over by prostitutes and drug dealers. Just what your average suburban family wants living next door, right? One person interviewed for the article said that she was living in abandoned homes because she kept getting kicked out of shelters for violating the rules of the shelter (i.e. no drugs).

I don't have a problem with the homeless in general. I've met some very nice people who were previously homeless. My brother was once friends with some nice boys that were homeless. The church that I used to go to had homeless dinners.

However nice the homeless people are that are occupying these houses, it can't exactly be a good thing for the value of the home. Is having a crack-house operating out of a home going to make you want to jump for joy and bid up the price of a house at auction? I don't think so. Even if you get a nice person squatting in the house, there is the potential for damage to the house, as people try to keep warm by lighting fires, or have light by lighting candles. Homeless people also don't have as much access to things like curbside trash pickup. While I'm sure many clean up after themselves and don't make a mess, the likelihood is that many squatters don't pick up the trash before they move on to another home.

The sad thing is, there are more foreclosed homes in some areas than there are homeless people. In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, there is an estimated 4,000 homeless people, yet 15,000 foreclosed homes remain vacant.

So it leaves me scratching my head wondering why businesses won't sell these homes at what the market will bear for them. They're probably just being greedy, don't really want to cut their losses, but if it's greed, it's not helping them. Houses do not increase in value when they are occupied by homeless people, whether they are nice, or whether they are operating a crack house out of it. Neighborhoods do not increase in value when someone is running a prostitution ring out of a nearby abandoned house. Homes do not increase in value during a declining market. It's common sense.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ebay Boycott Planned

Ebay recently announced that it was planning on changing its rules, and a lot of people, myself included, are not too happy about it. Many people are planning a boycott of Ebay from February 11-25th.

Ebay is announcing that their fees have been reduced, but that is only a half-truth. While they are reducing their listing fees slightly, they are increasing the percentage that they take from the final purchase, which will make it more costly to the seller, not less.

Ebay is changing the feedback system as well. I've heard two conflicting reports... one person is saying that sellers won't be able to leave negative feedback for buyers, another person I heard from said that sellers won't be able to leave buyers any feedback at all. At any rate, this hurts the honest buyer by not giving them the opportunity to build up any feedback. This is the part that I am most upset about in how it may affect me, but for sellers, there is more bad news.

If a seller has below a 95% satisfaction rating on Ebay, they won't appear on the Ebay search engines. Sellers are more likely to get negative feedback under the new system, because there are some jerks that just like to complain... and since they can't get negative feedback in return, they are more likely to leave less-than-positive feedback. While this might be a good thing for bargain hunters that are willing to comb through all the auctions to find someone with 95% feedback that nobody else is bidding on, it's bad for the sellers.

If all this wasn't bad enough, if you have less than 100 feedback and you want to sell your item using Paypal, Paypal can hold your money for 21 days! This won't hurt the power-sellers, but small-time people trying to get rid of some clutter in their house are going to suffer. Who ever heard of selling something before you get paid for it? Even though you most likely will get the money eventually (as long as the buyer is honest and doesn't try to get Paypal to refund them their money because they say they are not satisfied), people with under 100 feedback would still have to pay for shipping costs out of their own pocket. If they were selling something large like a computer monitor, that could be quite a bit of money.

I have issues with Paypal anyway... Paypal has personally stolen $300 from me. If you want to read some horror stories about using Paypal, visit I do not use them unless I have to, and I will never give them my bank account information... the reason I lost $300 was because they decided to take it out of my bank account without my permission, froze my account, and then told me I had to send in documents that I did not have to get my money back (I was living overseas in military housing, they wanted a utility bill, and the military doesn't give you utility bills). So people are smart not to use Paypal to begin with, <100 feedback or not.

Ebay has instituted "Seller rewards"... but it's not really a great deal. Only 7 Ebay powersellers (out of all the people selling on Ebay) even qualify.

Ebay started a new policy last year where they won't let people sell teacher's editions of textbooks. They say they don't want students cheating, but you can get these same books from the manufacturer's web sites anyway... I think they're just kowtowing to the textbook manufacturers who'd rather be selling new books. People still sneak in "Parent Editions," but there aren't as many TEs for sale as there used to be. So Ebay is already less valuable to a homeschool teacher.

Hopefully a lot of people will honor this strike/boycott and perhaps Ebay will back down. They have a monopoly in the online auctions market, and they think that they can do whatever they want as a result. Well, I don't have to be their customer either.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

DD's Friend is Out of the Hospital and is E-Coli Free!

I posted earlier this month about my daughter's 7 year old friend Shadiyah who was in the hospital with e-coli. She ended up on kidney dialysis things were going so poorly. When I got the initial call at 6:40 in the morning that she went to the hospital, it sounded like she wasn't going to make it. She recovered much faster than the doctor's expected, and I attribute it to the power of many prayers. Shadiyah had 2 churches, 7 message boards, this blog, and a radio station prayer ministry praying for her. So thank you if you were one of them.

End of the Homeschool Year in Sight

About this time of year, my dd starts getting towards the back of her textbooks, and I start to wonder when we'll be done for the year. I put together a lesson plan for the remainder of the school year this week, and it looks like we'll be done with everything (except reading) somewhere around May 21st or so. We won't be finishing the reading textbook... I'll be ending that book at the beginning of June after completing lesson 141. I doubt that I ever got to lesson 141 in any of my public school textbooks when I was in school, so I figure that's good enough. All the other subjects I will be completing the entire book. Something that we NEVER did in public school.

Since my daughter is 5, if we were in Public School, she would be in Kindergarten. I remember a little bit about Kindergarten. I remember some things that happened in Kindergarten. With my daughter this age, I am able to see differences in her life up to this point compared to my life at age 5. I'm pretty happy with how she's turning out so far.

She still likes relatively innocent TV shows like Dora The Explorer and Wonderpets. Considering what some kids her age are watching, I'm pretty happy with that. She has lost a lot of interest in Sesame Street and Calliou. She likes to play games on children's web sites.

I remember counting to 100 with my mom in Kindergarten. My dd can count to 100 as well. She can read a lot of words, and add and subtract some numbers. So I feel that academically she's doing pretty well as well.

There are some things with homeschooling that don't translate very well to the public or private schools. Such as doing schoolwork at the dining room table with your baby brother in the room. Sometimes she gets distracted from her school work and will play with him while she's supposed to be doing something else, or she'll be fiddling with a toy when she's supposed to be listening... but she's 5. That's something I suppose I can live with.

She does get the practice of having to sit quietly in a group setting... although sitting quietly has always been a challenge for her. She likes to talk with her friends, even when she's supposed to be quiet. That's another big difference between her and I. It's hard for me to find friends, but she's always meeting new friends. You could say that it's a downside to homeschooling to not be able to socialize with her friends all day every day, but it's probably a positive. She probably would get in trouble a lot in the regular schools for talking, and would probably listen less in class as well.

I remember when I was in Kindergarten I had a boyfriend. He got held back for hyperactivity, so that was the end of that. My daughter doesn't seem to have any interest for now. While I know the time will come eventually, I think that it's good that she doesn't think of boyfriends now. I think that public school often places a great importance on that, and I'm glad that my dd is away from the pressures to get involved with boys before she is actually genuinely interested.

So the school year only has about three months left and I think it has been a success. Next year there will be more work for her to do, but she'll be able to have a little more independence than she has right now as well. I'm looking forward to the break... but I'm also looking forward to this fall and seeing my daughter learn and grow more.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our National Debt

The other day, I started reading America The Broke. Even though it's four years old, it's just as relevant as ever... perhaps even more so. Me and my husband are seriously considering taking $1000 of our tax returns this year and investing in gold. It's not a new idea from this book... I asked my grandma earlier this year if she'd consider moving my inheritance from Microsoft to gold because I'm a little bit wary of what might happen to the stock market... but this book paints quite a scary picture. Especially chapter 3. If you can't afford to buy the book and your library doesn't have a copy, go down to Barnes and Noble and read just that. It's something that could happen.

I remember as a kid I didn't care very much for Ronald Reagan. I now know more about him and I respect him as a Christian, but he did a very bad thing with our national debt and deficit. Even as a kid I knew it. I was quite happy in the Clinton years when we started to have a surplus (don't get me wrong though, there were plenty of things he did wrong)... and I'm pretty nervous now as Homeland Security and the Iraq war continue to rack up the debt today.

I know more than I want to about being in debt. All we have right now is a car loan, mortgage, and a student loan... that and the medical bills from when my kids had to go to the ER last summer when we were waiting to get approved for health insurance, but there was a point in my life when I had more debt.

Back then, I was making a lot of money. The debt was manageable, but we were still trying to pay it down. We could have saved a lot more and spent a lot less, and sometimes I want to kick myself for not being more financially frugal back then. Because when I got out of the military and my husband became the breadwinner, we took a 66% pay cut. And the debt was swallowing us alive. I couldn't imagine if today we had credit card bills to pay right now, with no job and living off temporary assignments and unemployment (if it ever comes through).

After learning of Dave Ramsey, I grew to hate debt. I realized how much of our income every month was being wasted in interest. I imagined how much cash we could have freed up if only we didn't have a mountain of debt in front of us. We have since tried to keep an emergency fund... which is a good thing because almost every time we got one last year, dh would lose his job again.

This book talks a lot about our national debt. While it's not the same as personal debt, we still have to pay interest on it. A lot of interest. This book says that on average, every person in America pays $1000 a year to pay interest alone. I don't know about you, but I would rather have that money go towards something useful like roads, or even the schools... or you could always put that into the taxpayer's pockets.

The problem is, our country thinks that it can buy whatever it wants, pay for whatever it wants, and we'll be okay. It doesn't work that way. In my personal budget, I have to make choices as to whether I buy clothes, take the kids to Jamba Juice, or buy something else. I can't buy everything that I want. And neither can the government. Our politicians think that they can, but we pay for it... and will continue to pay for it until it gets fixed.

We want to pay for an expensive war, give senior citizens social security, give medical help in the forms of Medicare and Medicaid (which I currently receive), pay for the roads, pay for education, pay for welfare, prisons, farm subsidies, and on and on. Many of these are noble things. Who doesn't want to help the poor? Who doesn't want to help the elderly? But the problem is, we can't afford everything that we want to fund.

This book is a quick read and I'm just starting the last couple of chapters where it gives suggestions on what we can do to improve the situation, but right now, this book is scary. It's no wonder that foreigners are buying up our assets, when we have this massive debt. It's no wonder that so many other countries of the world hold us in contempt. We're like some lazy cousin who is mooching off everybody else, promising to pay them back later, while they are working hard and loaning money to us.

We used to be a nation that loaned to other nations. Even the Bible says that you should be one who lends to others, and not one who borrows. We used to be more self-reliant as a people. Now we're a people that builds houses on barrier islands known for hurricanes, and expect the government to bail us out when it gets destroyed. Now lenders get the government to bail them out, after they gave out bad loans that they probably shouldn't have been giving out in the first place.

Perhaps one day something will happen to make us a nation of people that rely on ourselves and try to foresee circumstances in which we might need to be prepared. Until then, wanna buy some gold? Just in case we end up with runaway inflation... you never know. Wouldn't be a bad idea to stock up that pantry with food, just in case the prices start skyrocketing as well.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Romney Drops Out?

This election is getting stranger and stranger... the headline on right now reads "Mitt Quits Race". Mitt Romney is dropping out of the presidential race, which is quite shocking to me. Although I do find the subtitle under it a little wrong... "Road Clear For McCain To Capture GOP Nod."

Perhaps not. With a 3-way race between McCain, Romney, and Huckabee (I know Ron Paul is in it but he's not in it to win it, he's probably just in to get his message out), I think that McCain probably would have been the clear winner. BUT... there's a lot of conservatives that don't see McCain as a conservative and wouldn't consider voting for him. I personally see little difference between him and Hilary Clinton.

A lot of people don't see Huckabee as a conservative either, and I suppose that he isn't in some areas. But there's no doubt that he's a social conservative.

Anyway, with the choice now between McCain and not-McCain, it will be interesting to see how things turn out. I happen to like Huckabee myself, so I'm rooting for the not-McCain. I don't think that in a two-way race, McCain is necessarily the victor. 60% of voters have been voting not-McCain already... they've just been split as to whether they liked Romney or Huckabee.

Should be interesting to see what goes on in the next primary.

Should It Be A Secret When Cows are Hormone-Free?

I saw this article on this morning regarding hormone-free cows:

Ben & Jerry's in food-safety fight

Evidently, Montesanto doesn't want you to know whether the cows that make the milk you drink (or in this case, eat in ice cream) are pumped up with recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH. They say that rBGH is perfectly safe, and cows that use this hormone make milk that is just as safe as cows that do not.

Shouldn't the consumer be the one to decide? If we think that it is safe, then we'll buy the milk. If we don't we won't. I remember when Nutrasweet came out, and they used to put out these commercials that Nutrasweet was so great because it came from nature, or something like that. More than 20 years later, many people have serious doubts about its safety (do a google search on Nutrasweet, or even look it up on YouTube). I personally have discovered that it makes my memory go, and I avoid it when at all possible. Since I discovered the connection between Nutrasweet and my memory a few years ago, I've had about 2 sodas that had Nutrasweet in them, and I love soda.

There are a lot of people out there that will pay a premium for organic. They'll pay extra for organic carrots, hormone-free meat, and I've even talked to some people who buy a share in a cow so they can have non-pasteurized milk. I can't afford too much of that myself, but I think that people should have the right to choose what they will and will not eat, and part of that choice includes whether I want pesticides sprayed on my food, AND whether I want to drink milk that comes from a cow that took hormones.

A representative from Montesanto said "We need to stand up for our technology or we're going to lose it." It's not a matter of technology and whether you would lose it or not. It's a matter of whether rBGH is something that the consumer wants or not. Just because the technology exists doesn't mean that you should use it. We have the technology to make atomic bombs, but that doesn't mean we want to use them. We have the technology to clone human embryos, but that doesn't mean that we should do it. It's a little like comparing apples to oranges, but a technology should be used (or not used) based on it's own merits. And people should decide whether they want to go along with it or not.

I don't know whether I'd avoid these cow's milk or not. I can't really afford milk as it is, which is why we get WIC. But if I had the choice between hormone milk and not hormone milk, I'll choose not hormone milk every time. Which is what Montesanto fears... BUT we should have the choice anyway. And there will be people that can't afford the non-hormone milk if it's more expensive anyway.

Maybe Montesanto should stick to making stain repellent for carpets.

For now, I'm glad to know that Ben & Jerry's make ice cream from the non-hormone cows. Makes me more likely to choose their ice cream.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Super Tuesday?

Well, today is Super Tuesday, and the country is waiting for the results to come in. My state is voting, and although this is an open primary state, today is not a primary, it is a "Presidential Preference Election". Since I refuse to be identified as a Republican or a Democrat (I identify myself with the Constitution Party), I was not eligible to vote today. Which is a shame because I really like Huckabee, but I guess it wouldn't matter much since John McCain is going to win in Arizona anyway.

The media seems to think that John McCain and Hilary Clinton seem to have the lock on the nominations at this point. Oh boy. Could we have picked anybody worse? I suppose that Giuliani probably would have been worse, but not by much.

So I suppose that unless something miraculous happens tonight, we'll be stuck for another 4 years with the illegal immigration mess, because I don't think that either Clinton or McCain will do anything about it. Not sure what McCain's take on the issue is, but if Hilary wins we'll probably be stuck getting taxed through the nose to pay for crummy health care coverage.

I'm not sure how we got into this situation. Are these really the best two people that we have that were running for president? I suppose that the Democrats had some pretty slim pickings, but there were plenty of better candidates on the Republican side. Mitt Romney, Duncan Hunter, Fred Thompson, and my favorite, Huckabee, were all far more conservative in many areas. I'm not really a true fan of any of those, but McCain? Blech. I know he comes from my state and all, but he might as well be a Democrat with all the bills he tries to pass.

Why is it that we're always stuck with two choices that are nearly identical? Last election we had Curious George running against John Kerry... I voted third party because out of the two of them, it didn't really matter to me who would win... both of them, in my opinion, would run the county equally poorly. I know so many people that were huge Bush backers several years ago that can't stand him now.

If these are the two candidates that we end up with, I just may end up voting Constitution party again. I know they won't win, but if the choice is between McCain and Clinton, does it really matter who wins? Not really. So I'll just vote for who I truly like, even if they don't have a chance. I heard rumors that one of the leaders from the Minutemen were running under the Constitution party. I can vote for them.

Another thing about voting third party... some people say that voting third party takes away votes from somebody who otherwise might win. When I voted Constitution party, people said I was taking votes away from Curious George. Really? You can't take away votes from someone that you'd never consider voting for in the first place. If I were given the opportunity to vote today, I would have voted for Huckabee. Does that mean that I took a vote away from Mitt Romney? No, because I wouldn't have voted for him.

I've heard several News commentary shows say that whoever the Republican candidate is, the Republicans will "rally around" him. Do you really think so? I guess my comment doesn't hold too much weight since I'm not a Republican, but I certainly wouldn't rally around John McCain. How about rallying around None Of The Above? It's too bad that the Unity08 movement ran out of money, perhaps they could have picked a decent candidate.

Maybe we'll see some surprises tonight. I hope so.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Fragility Of Life

Good news, it looks like my daughter's friend/husband's friend's daughter is going to be okay. Her kidneys did stop working, but today they installed a catheter so she can do dialysis. She might be in the hospital for up to 2 weeks, but it's certainly better than the alternative.

This day has shown me how fragile this existence we call life is. One day your daughter's friend is just a normal 7 year old, the next day she has bloody diarrhea, and a week later you get a call at 6:40 in the morning with what sounds like you're going to need a miracle to ever see her again. We just take it for granted that tomorrow will come... that your child will grow up and get married someday (if the rapture doesn't happen first)... that when we visit friends and relatives that live far away, they'll be okay and we'll see them a year or two later when we return.

Fortunately, this little girl will probably be okay. But it just makes me think about how no tomorrow is ever guaranteed. How everything can fall apart in one moment.

My cousin died of cancer when he was 7. One day he was a playful little 5 year old boy, and then he was limping. Turned out to be cancer. We thought that he was going to be in remission and was going to be healthy enough for a transplant, the next thing you know, he was gone.

If You're Up Reading This, Please Pray

My husband's friend's daughter and one of my daughter's good friends has e-coli. She hasn't been able to keep down food for about a week now. Tonight things went really downhill and we just got a call saying that she's on dialysis and her body is shutting down.

We really need your prayers. Thank you. Her name is Shadiyah.