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Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Short Review of Beer: Redd's Apple Ale

Hello again, dear readers.

The website I found this pic on calls Redd's "a golden ale with hints of apple"

After a brief warm snap, the weather is starting to get cold again. While my husband experiments with various rum concoctions for hot toddies, I decided to crack open a Redd's Apple Ale beer after my husband tried to use it for a toddy but it didn't work as well as he'd intended it to.

While I was pleased to see that the top twists off as opposed to a traditional pop-top bottle, I was surprised by how watery the cider tasted. It was definitely not as sour as some of the other apple beers I've tasted, but it wasn't as sweet either; just neutral with an ever so slight hit of sour. Of all the apple ciders I've tried so far, Redd's tastes the most like apple juice (not a good apple juice, though). I was really surprised by how watery this brew is, but it could be because it's brewed like ale beer and not like typical apple cider.

At 5% alcohol by volume, it won't get you buzzed right away, but I can see somebody getting trashed after having a few of these in a short period of time. That being said, I have seen an 8% ABV brew of Redd's, which I will sample when I have the money to buy some.

Of note-Redd's also makes brews of other fruits, like green apple ale, strawberry ale and mango ale. I will be trying and reviewing these other varieties of fruity beer when I have the funds.

As for what sorts of foods pair well with Redd's, I'd say pork, barbecue and anything with onions. It's pretty neutral, so I don't expect the flavor of the ale to mess with your dish too much.

I guess my overall impression of Redd's Apple Ale is kinda blah. I wasn't especially impressed by it because I didn't like how watery it tasted. I don't think I will be buying this particular brew again.

For more information about Redd's Apple Ale, check out the brewery's website.

As always, please drink responsibly.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Defining Characteristics of A Good Prepaid Cell Phone Carrier

Greetings, dear readers!

My computer is almost back to normal! My hard drive was not on the fritz after all and it is now safely back in my computer again. Unfortunately, it's not all fixed because now my UEFI boot loader won't work without a stick (in non-Linux speak, this is the startup program that engages the operating system when I turn on the computer). If it's not one thing that's fucked up, it's something else. Is this the price I pay for leaving Windows and opting for a version of Linux where I control every damn aspect of the software? Maybe. But, like ads on websites, it's just another cost of doing business. Maybe I should have made my husband give me a more user friendly distro of Linux that's a bit more automated... But on the other hand, my function keys and number pad on the keyboard all work! It's been over a year since they could because an update severely screwed up some configurations in my keyboard.

Soon, this bullshit will be done with and I can resume blogging regularly again!

Anyway, on to Day 16 of the 21 day blog challenge. This prompt called for a description of some good product or service that could be of use to you. In light of my technological woes of late, I figured this would be a good time to discuss a service that has been of use to me as a low income individual: prepaid cellphone service.

Having worked in a call center that handled customer service for Verizon Wireless, I learned a few things about what makes a cell phone service good as opposed to expensive. I will share what I learned below. I hated working in the call center, but it wasn't a total waste of time.

The big thing for me was a carrier which offered a phone with good camera resolution (at least 8MP) so that I could take pictures, especially of my cat, Pest, in his bathtub domain...

  • No long term commitments!
    • When I was looking to get a smartphone, I knew right off I was not going to go with a company that made me sign a contract to get a phone. Being a low income individual, my financial situation can change on a dime and suddenly that monthly cell phone bill can become overwhelming. Termination fees are quite hefty, but so are device payment agreements and just about every major carrier has fees that it uses to gouge customers for making changes on their accounts. Basically, I was looking for a service where I could get a decent phone for a decent price, but if I couldn't afford my bill for a month or so, I could finish out the billing cycle and the charges wouldn't roll over into the next month. I didn't mind going out of service for a while, I just didn't want to owe a cell phone company alot of money. A good phone service will let you go offline if your situation requires, and come back on again when needed without fees or penalties.
  • Decent variety of phones with desirable features
    • The big hangup that alot of people, myself included, have with prepaid phone service is that while the phones don't cost much, they lack many desirable features like high-pixel cameras or durability and are hard to shop for accessories. In my case, I wanted a phone with a good camera as I take lots of pictures, and a well known model so that accessories like cases and screen protectors wouldn't be hard to find (I wound up settling on a Samsung Galaxy SIII). A good phone service will have phones with models you recognize and with features you want.
  • Flexible plans and features
    • Since I rarely talk on the phone, but text and surf the net alot, I was looking for plans where I didn't have many minutes, but had unlimited messaging and data. This actually proved to be the most challenging part of my search for a decent prepaid phone service because just about all the carriers I looked at included unlimited minutes, which in turn, jacked the price of the plan up! I eventually found one that gave me a set amount of minutes each month with unlimited texting and data, just like I asked. There were other plans which included unlimited minutes, but also some which restricted data usage to just WiFi. My carrier also listed some extra features, like device insurance or hotspot, which carried monthly charges, but there were plenty of free features too, like caller ID, unlimited streaming music and international messaging. A good prepaid cellphone service gives you plenty of useful free features, and for features you must pay for, the monthly charge isn't outrageous.
  • Coverage where you need it
    • This goes without saying, but a good prepaid cellphone carrier has service coverage in your area.
  • Unlimited data is included
    • It may seem like a rather frivolous characteristic, but since most of our daily activities are moving online and given the proliferation of apps for just about everything under the sun, cellular data is becoming a more crucial aspect of our phone's functionality. Many carriers offer a set amount of data, and then charge overages when the user uses more than their allotted amount. Others do away with limits, but throttle the cellular speed after a certain amount of data is used. Do examine your usage habits, as well as the availability of WiFi spots you can connect to, to determine how much data you will use. Generally speaking, a good prepaid carrier has unlimited data, but throttles the speed after a high level of use. It's better to be slow after 4GB than to be hit with monster overage charges.
  • Offer good customer perks
    • See if the carrier offers perks to customers, like special plans or discounts off of devices. My carrier upgraded me to unlimited minutes for the same price as my old set minute plan, but kept my data level and messaging the same. They did that as a courtesy because I've been a customer for so long. It was notable because of the plans they had available, my data level was not offered anymore. I occasionally get a free month of service from time to time too. A good prepaid cellphone company will have plenty of perks to reward customers who've been with them for a while.
Can you think of anything else I should add to this list? Write them in the comments below.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why You Need To Be Religious

Hello readers!

I'm back after yet another computer freakout. I seriously think my hard drive is on the fritz. My husband has the drive now and is currently working on it to backup the data on it and try fixing it. For now, he has my computer running off of a USB boot stick he made using a custom build of the Slackware 4.4 kernel, which seems to be working fairly well. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that my laptop fan actually works again and I don't have to bungle with the large computer fan I'd been using for the past year or so to keep my computer cool. I don't know how my fan started working again, but I have my behemoth on standby just in case it conks out for a prolonged period of time again.

It's Day 15 of the 21 day blogging challenge. Today's prompt also dealt with a need. While I'm by no means a religious blogger, I thought this would be a good time to address the need of religion in the life of an impoverished individual.

Rockwell-style painting of a man teaching his son to pray. Pic found here
As a low income parent and wife, religion plays a large role in my life. My husband and I try and live out our Catholic faith as authentically as possible. Are we perfect? No, but the Church has means of dealing with humanity's various glitches so that we can become closer to God. It may sound weird to the average American who has been educated in our secular public schools and immersed in our secular media culture, but being religious and going to church regularly actually has made me less stressed about my socioeconomic status than I otherwise would be. Call it faith, call it a placebo effect, call it adaptation or whatever you want, but in my experience, the more I go to church and participate in the Sacraments, the more I feel like I can listen better to God and what His Will is for me. It's like He is telling me "don't worry, I got your back" when it comes to stressful situations in my life. It's a strangely liberating feeling, but what is even more profound is that I don't think I could have learned this lesson in religiosity without plunging off the socioeconomic ladder in the first place.

Religion has a way of serving as a psychological cushion. In one form or another, people have turned to religion as a means of solace from life's difficulties and for understanding their world. Some might deride this as a superstitious way of living, but one of humanity's most defining characteristics is the belief that there is something greater than us out there which plays a significant role in our lives. Even if one formally rejects the idea of an omnipresent deity, that vacancy is replaced by something else (money, political ideology, etc). Pascal's Wager says that it's better to believe in God than not because even if God turns out not to exist, you're not gonna wind up someplace worse than where you already are.

Lent is coming soon. If you've been away from church for a long time, the upcoming penitential season is presenting a good opportunity for you to come back and get back in touch with God. You don't have to become a fanatic, but it's good to have a relationship with God and Jesus. They can help you out in lots of ways, which is a huge stress reliever on your mind.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

My Top Picks for Summer 2016: 4 Cheap Beauty Must-Haves

Happy Sunday, dear readers! I hope your favorite football teams have won their respective games (don't ask about my local Arizona Cardinals...)

For Day 14 of the 21 day blogging challenge, I'm prompted to bring out my forecasting skills. With my other vice being beauty, I figured I'd share some low budget must haves for beauties this upcoming summer!

Hot stuff for the summer. Pic found here

1. Coconut oil

I have previously written about this highly useful cosmetic (and culinary) item a number of times. Expect it to become more mainstream this summer, especially as a conditioner and moisturizer.

2. Toilet paper

This may come as a surprise, but toilet paper is actually a great makeup remover sheet. It's cheap, it's easily disposed of, and it's multipurpose (it's a great blotting paper and tissue, in addition to wiping your bottom). I use toilet paper and coconut oil to take my makeup off, and then just flush the used sheets down the toilet. Why bother spending money on expensive wipes or cotton pads when you have something just as good already in your bathroom!

3. DIY brushes

This was actually inspired by a video tutorial I stumbled across online somewhere (I can't remember if it was on Facebook or Buzzfeed). The products aren't expensive, and I think the results look better than the expensive MAC brushes.

4. Natural makeup

On a recent trip to Sephora, I came across bronzers from Too Faced being made with cocoa powder. As people, and millenials like myself, are becoming more and more aware of what products go in and on our bodies, expect more and more companies to start producing cosmetics with fewer chemical components and more natural ingredients.

What do you forsee becoming hot stuff this coming summer?

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Favorite Quotes About Education

Hello dear readers, and welcome back to my blog.

I'm really sorry I haven't been posting more regularly. It's been tough this week with my health AND my computer taking a shit at the same time (note to self: don't ever use beta ware. The developers need to get the kinks worked out FIRST and make it an official release). It's hard to maintain a regular blog schedule when you physically can't post anything for one reason or another. On the other hand, I finally got my RAM doubled, something I'd been needing done for a while.

I went to Linux to get away from the bugs of Windows, and I still can't get a problem-free computer!

I meant to post this yesterday, but for Day 13 of the 21 day challenge, I was asked to include some quotes. This was a bit of a tough one because my favorite quotes range from education to politics to love and sports. But, since most of my favorite quotes which I have listed on my Facebook page pertain to education, I will include those.

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing."-Hypatia of Alexandria, on quality of education

I was something of an atheist at the time I posted my quotes from this illustrious intellectual of the past, but while I am quite religious now, there are still some lessons to be learned.

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all."-Hypatia of Alexandria, on free speech

"No brain, no headache"-Morgan Ensberg, favorite quote

Morgan Ensberg was a baseball player for the Houston Astros. I don't remember when exactly it was I heard this, but I do remember it was relayed by a baseball announcer during a game. It might even have been during a World Series championship. Either way, I was struck by its simplicity and truth-when you don't think about something, your brain doesn't hurt.

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is as well to remember that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."- Oscar Wilde

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Update: The Latest Changes To My Blog

Hello again, dear readers!

Day 12 of the challenge calls for an update. Since I keep up to date with my life on here fairly regularly, there are not many changes that you need to be alerted to. As for my blog, that has undergone some changes this past year.

Like housework, some changes need to be done

Since I'm still new to the whole "blogging for money" thing, I've been experimenting with affiliate links (those are the banners at the top of my page) and ad revenue. I will change banners from time to time if there is something I think you may be interested in. Blogging for money is not an easy thing and it will be a while before I see any substantial income, if at all. However, I believe there are lessons to be learned on this journey of mine as I figure out what works, what doesn't, and how much is the hit/windfall going to cost me.

I'm also trying to tighten things up so that not only will Google see my page and make it easier for you to find me. That, and make things so that when you're here, your experience is not a horrible one with ad eyesores and popups that get in the way of scrolling.

Finally, the layout has changed a bit since I resumed blogging. I found a background with fonts that I liked and rearranged a few things in the layout. I haven't ruled out changing the background again, but I don't see any point in doing so for the time being.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How To Be More Patient With Children

Hello dear readers. I'm sorry I haven't written for a few days. I got really sick with the flu and while I was fortunate to avoid a hospital trip, I could barely get out of bed, much less pile up the pillows and sit in front of my computer. I'm still sick, but feel better enough to write. Before I got pregnant, I hadn't had a flu shot in more than four years and never once came down with the flu. Each year I've gotten a flu shot since then, I've gotten sick. So much for preventative medicine...

At this point, I'm not going to double or triple up my posts in a day because, healthy or not, I simply cannot do that and care for an infant at the same time. So, I will finish the challenge as I am able to, however many days behind I may be.

The prompt for Day 11 was a how-to, and this took a bit of thinking since I'm not normally a how-to sort of writer. But, I've given it my best shot.

Baby and Daddy, March for Life 2016

Since I write quite a bit about parenthood, I figured I'd share a tip I've learned when it comes to dealing with children, specifically, patience with them. Having come fresh off this Saturday's March for Life, I got a refresher on how tragic it is that we live in a culture where it's acceptable to openly hate children and despise those who care for them by denying their caregivers opportunities to form healthy bonds with their offspring (like paid leave for new mothers and higher wages which would allow mothers who choose to stay home be able to make ends meet with their husbands/partner's incomes). Be that as it may, for now, children still make up a significant part of our daily encounters, whether it be in school, at the store, restaurants, etc. Prior to pregnancy, seeing kids running around in the store would make me strongly resist the urge to smack the little monsters. Now that I have a child of my own, I more or less ignore the running children because alot of times, they can't help themselves.

The biggest, and hardest, bit of advice I have to give with regard to becoming more patient with children of any sort is to try getting into their heads. Try to see the world as they do and how they feel about it. When my daughter starts babbling loudly in church or a small child in the pews further back is playing with toys, it's because they simply don't have the attention span to sit still and be quiet during Mass. We as parents try to instill in our children that certain behaviors are not allowed in some places, but it takes some doing because each child learns at a different pace. Now when I encounter running children in the stores, I realize they do this because at that age, the world is still a giant game. With their naturally high energy levels, combined with the various stimuli of the store, there might well be a giant neon sign on the building flashing "COME PLAY HERE!!" When my daughter has a tantrum when I take the computer mouse or my cellphone away from her reach, it's because she thinks the object in my hand is a toy for her to play with or chew on. The key here is empathy. It's hard to empathize sometimes, but like anything else, it's easier with practice.

Is it annoying when kids run around in church or at the store? Yes, it still is. But when you understand why they do it, it makes their presence more bearable for everyone.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

What People Can Learn From Babies

Hello again, dear readers,

While tonight's Republican shitshow *ahem* presidential debate is streaming in the background, I needed some distractions to keep sober and positive. It was while remarking to my husband that the baby's full diapers have more intelligence than these fools put together that I was inspired to write this post in line with the prompt for Day 10 of the 21 day blogging challenge. Thankfully, the stream crashed and I went back to binge watching Ghost Adventures for a bit.

Send in the clowns...

My short time as a parent has taught me a number of things about children that I never would otherwise have learned. Given the astounding level of hatred directed towards children and their caregivers by the culture at large (reducing children down to an object of "choice" will do that), here are a few redeeming qualities I've observed about the little ones which even biggers like us can stand to learn from.

  • They're resilient
    • Children are incredibly resilient. A small bump on the head or a minor cold won't slow them down, whereas someone like me would be cooped up in bed. Even after enduring major traumas, children try to bounce back as best as they can. That's a lesson in endurance everyone can benefit from.
  • Kids have a great bullshit detector
    • When my daughter was a newborn, if she didn't like somebody, she would cry and raise a fuss. Though she is less apt to act up now, if she still has misgivings about somebody, she will fuss. I've also observed that older children are not likely to hold back about their impressions of people. Just like pets, babies are great indicators of someone's character. Those gut feelings aren't totally worthless.
  • They take joy in simple things
    • Playing with a makeup brush pouch. Future MUA like mommy?
    • Toys are overrated. Give my daughter some paper or cloth and she will play with that. She has some toys, but she gets bored with those after a while. She definitely prefers the grown up stuff. We biggers can learn to appreciate the imagination once more instead of having an app do our thinking for us.
  • Little brains are always learning
    • The first three years of a human's life are of an unparalleled explosion in brain growth and learning. At 2-4 months, my daughter would yell, pause, and resume yelling as if she were imitating the pattern of conversations my husband and I would have around her and each other. At 6 months, she had learned to sit up with some assistance and when stood up, her balance was developing. Now at 8 months, she babbles, but can say "dada" ("daddy") and "ayo" ("cat"; imitating their meows). The big lesson here is that learning should never stop. School can help, but so can our friends, family, and the internet.
I may not be able to change our cultural views surrounding children, but I hope this is a good start.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How To Make the Perfect Marinade in 5 Easy Steps

Greetings, dear readers!

Day 9 of the 21 day blogging challenge was a bit of a challenging topic, since I previously considered these sorts of listicles to be insipid at best, overplayed at most. But, since this particular prompt of "easy steps" arrived in my inbox, I'd give it a spin and see what came of it.

One skill I've come to appreciate from my impoverished lifestyle is making cheap but delicious meals. Food is essential to life and should always be enjoyed regardless of socioeconomic status. While my husband does most of the cooking, he leaves any marinating work to me and making a good marinade is something I take great pride in. Having learned this skill from my husband's guidance, here's how you too can make a great marinade in five easy steps.

Carne asada

1. Know what kind of dish you are making

This is the first step towards any kind of kitchen endeavor, whether it's a marinade or a meal. Decide on what you want and buy accordingly.

2. Know your ingredients

This is by far the most challenging part of any culinary endeavor, especially for novices like me. But, it doesn't have to be hopeless. A general rule of thumb is to use complementary flavors with your meats or vegetables when making a marinade to enhance the flavor of the end product. For example, in a pork or chicken marinade, use sour and sweet ingredients like citrus or vinegar, brown sugar, and some spices. Beef requires some acidity but you want to aim for a savory marinade using some citrus but more oils and spices. Vegetables can be marinated in something sour, like an oil and vinegar salad dressing. If you lack some ingredients, try and find the next similar ingredients to substitute for. When using fruits for marinades, like citrus, use all of the fruit, including the peel. This way, nothing is wasted.

My specialty, ginger-lime marinated pork chops

3. Don't skimp on the acids

This is especially true when making a marinade for a tough cut of meat like flap steaks or pork chops. The purpose of marinade is to tenderize the meat while imparting some flavor to it. Whenever I make my famous ginger-lime marinade, I use lots of limes and the peels to make sure the meat gets extra tender before cooking. The more acidic the marinate, the less you need to cook the meat. Do be mindful, though, that this works better on some meats as opposed to others. Most of the time, you don't need a battery acid-level marinade for something like beef.

4. Use fresh ingredients whenever possible

In my marinades, I try to use fresh herbs from the garden and whatever ingredients I have on hand that are not pickled, freeze-dried, or canned first. It really makes a difference in taste when fresh ingredients are utilized, and it really isn't that much more time to prepare.

5. Always let the marinade sit overnight before cooking

While some recipes I've encountered call for letting the meat marinade for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, I would always advise letting the marinade do its work overnight. It's not overkill because you want the marinade to really penetrate whatever meat or vegetable you're working on. The results are worth the wait, and it's less cooking time for you.

What are some of your tips for a perfect marinade? Please share in the comments below.

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4 Reasons to Use Coconut Oil

Happy Tuesday, dear readers!

While the main focus of this blog is about life as an impoverished parent, there are other avenues I like to write about on here as well such as food and drink, religion, and beauty. Call it escapism, call it educating, call it whatever you want. My blog, my rules.

Day 8 of the 21 day blogging challenge asks to list reasons to do something. Since I need a break from writing about poverty and I'm sure you do too, here is an opportunity for me to do just that. Today, I will write about a cheap and effective beauty treatment that anyone can use, not just upper-middle class crunchy granola yuppies. This wonderful elixir is simply coconut oil, and lest you think I'm a wannabe crunchy granola yuppie, let me explain in four points my experience with using coconut oil and why you should try it too.

1. You can buy it with EBT

Unless your state puts some serious-to-the-point-of-mockery restrictions on purchasing certain food items with food stamps, coconut oil can be bought using your EBT allotment. Aside from its cosmetic uses, coconut oil is, after all, an oil used in cooking food. The best part is, the cheap stuff works just as well as the high-dollar NON GMO, ORGANIC, ULTRA VIRGIN, NATURALLY REFINED AND SERVED IN A BIODEGRADABLE JAR coconut oil. Skip the coconut oil moisturizer in the health and beauty section and head straight for the cooking oils aisle at the store. Even if you don't bother using it for cosmetic purposes, it is a cooking oil too.

Here we see the ghetto blogger in her natural environment, going on a beauty adventure

2. It's a fantastic hair conditioner.

This is my primary use of coconut oil and my big reason for even wanting to try it out in the first place. I had seen a number of homemade conditioner recipes calling for coconut oil, but I could not bring myself to try it because of the bourgeois stigma surrounding it. As a longtime lover of India and all things Indian, I was intrigued by an article I found detailing some common Indian beauty treatments and it was after reading that article that I figured I'd give the coconut oil conditioning treatment a try for a month and see if I saw any results. I am pleased to say that I have. Now, about two months later, I can definitely say there is a noticeable improvement in the quality and texture of my hair. It's definitely smoother, shinier, easier to comb, and there is much less breakage after I run my brush through it. My ends are less dry and frazzled too, though the conditioning won't save them from the yearly trim. All I do is on the morning of wash day, I section and grease up my hair with coconut oil from root to tip, making sure my ends are extra coated. Once I'm done, I gather the hair on top of my head and place my du-rag (conditioning cap) on. If my du-rag is in the wash, I will cut up some plastic grocery bags and use that instead. A knit cap goes over this whole ensemble, and off I go to do my normal day's activities. Later that night, after at least 8 hours post application, I wash it out as I normally would do. I do this twice a week, though if I were working, I would have to put the oil in before I go to bed and leave it in overnight, washing it out in the morning.

3. It's a great skin moisturizer.

This was a secondary byproduct from my use of coconut oil as a conditioner. I've always had oily skin, which was why I was reluctant to use any sort of moisturizer because with my face being acne prone as it were, I did not want to be afflicted with the dreaded "pizza face". But with a resurgent interest in beauty, cheap but effective skin care entered my radar. It also helped that winter came and made dry Arizona even drier. After about two months of using coconut oil as a bedtime facial moisturizer, my face is definitely more hydrated and it actually helped cut back production on the oil fields in my face! I had a bit of breakout at first, which I expected because I was starting a new beauty regimen, but it went away and my skin remains remarkably clear. The trick is to go lightly on the application of the oil
I went hiking right after church this past Sunday and while I'm still wearing my church makeup, you can see that my skin is clear

4. There are many uses for coconut oil

I alluded to its culinary uses when buying it, but the reality is that coconut oil can be put towards a wide range of uses. Cosmetic use aside, my daughter's pediatrician recommended using coconut oil to soothe sore nipples if the baby chomped on them while nursing, and my neighbor's daughter used some coconut oil on her baby's bottom when she ran out out of vaseline one time with no ill effect. I use my coconut oil as a makeup remover. A friend of mine also recommended using coconut oil as a personal lube, but I have yet to try that one out. Wikipedia lists some more uses for coconut oil as well.

Despite its many practical uses, do be aware that coconut oil is high in fat and should be limited in culinary use. This is why I primarily stick to using it cosmetically. Also of note, the plants which process coconut oil may also process other allergen-inducing products like tree nuts, so shop carefully.

You can use coconut oil too. Don't let bourgeois buttholes stigmatize something as practical as coconut oil.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why Poverty Will Make You a Better Person

A pleasant Monday to you all, dear readers. Like many around the world, I too am mourning the death of David Bowie. His cancer diagnosis and death were sudden and shocking to all of us. Here at home, we've been playing his music all afternoon as tribute to his life and talents.

Day 7 of the 21 day blogging challenge is an interesting prompt. I expect this will be something of a controversial post since poverty is seriously stigmatized here in America. But as with anything else on this blog, it is from MY perspective that I write about life as an impoverished parent with a family to care for. This includes the hardships of being low income, but also the joys that come with it.

When I arrived in Arizona in 2008, I didn't have the slightest inkling that in a few short years, I would be living in poverty. I grew up middle-class in a bourgeois suburb of Chicago, IL and figured that once I graduated from college and got started on my career, I would retain my middle-class status shortly thereafter. Like a lot of America's petite-bourgeoisie, I had been indoctrinated from childhood that poor people were Others. Poor people were the fly-covered starving children in Africa or dirty slum dwellers in Latin America and the Indian subcontinent. If there were domestic poors, they got that way by being stupid and/or lazy, fit for menial tasks like flipping burgers at McDonald's or mowing lawns. It never crossed my mind that my also seemingly-middle class neighbors might be living paycheck to paycheck or relying on handouts for help.

My graduation, 2012

Unfortunately, life has a way of throwing wrenches into even the best-laid plans. I had a sinking suspicion that after the market crashed in 2008, I would have to live in poverty for a while. The right-wing squawkers I devoted myself to listening to between classes at school all said as much. I knew that because the job market was shattered, I would have to take whatever job I could find, regardless of what the pay was.

Meeting my husband that fateful October morning in 2011 cemented my foreseeable impoverished future. It was strange, here was a man who was quite intelligent with education to match, and yet he was practically homeless, heavily reliant on what sparse government benefits he qualified for to get by! Even stranger, he was genuinely happy with his life despite the crushing poverty he lived under. How could this be so?

The one picture I have of me at the hoarded out junkyard camp my hubby lived in when we met. I would come over here to play with and get familiar with kittens.

I have come a long way since that morning, both in my understanding of poverty in America and in how I cope with its existence in my life. My Catholic faith has played a crucial role in my impoverished existence by both bringing me into a deeper, more dependent relationship with the Lord and connecting me with the various charities founded by the Church to carry out its social justice mission. When I became a Catholic, I instinctively knew that I was going to slip significantly down the economic ladder because Catholicism is traditionally the most despised religion of largely protestant America (in the post 9-11 world, Islam became the recent addition to that list and has superseded Catholicism as America's most hated religion for the time being), and I accepted this fate because I knew this was what God wanted for me. Poverty can either make someone a true believer or an atheist, but not without instilling a degree of humility first. I began to appreciate why Jesus called upon people to give up their earthly wealth and follow Him, and why many Orders in the Church take vows of material poverty. With less material wealth to deal with, the less bullshit you have to put up with like the work-a-jerk mentality in which we work at jobs we hate for money we spend on stuff to please people we don't care about. You not only learn to appreciate charity, but you also begin to have empathy. In this absurdly hypercompetitive world, empathy is something that is critically lacking, relegated only to the weak willed and weak minded.

For the record, I must state that compared to the poverty of places like Africa, Latin America, India, etc. Americans have it good. Generally speaking, though exceptions exist, our homes have electricity, running water, and a means of seasonably-appropriate climate control. Electronics like TVs, cell phones, and computers are cheap with impoverished homes having at least one or more of such items. Clothes are cheap and easy to come by, but hunger still persists despite food being available nearly everywhere and with food pantries struggling to try and bridge the gap. As it stands, even the crumbs of society's wealth which trickle down to the bottom feeders like me tend to be pretty good.

Poverty can also make you a more resourceful person. Since your funds are limited, you search high and low for the best deals you can find on needed essentials or the occasional splurge. I can state with honesty that I've become a better homeowner through poverty because I've had to help my husband fix things around the trailer and I also have a better understanding of how the inner workings of a car function because we have to do our own repairs and maintenance. I've begun learning how to make cheap foods edible, thanks to poverty. To be put back into my old life where I would have had to contact contractors for home repair jobs or mechanics to change my oil would make me feel very awkward and wasteful.

My husband relayed to me a saying he heard once about how only the very wealthy and the very poor understand how the world works while everyone else in the middle is clueless. This is a tragic consequence of the deliberate concealment of the class struggle. America tried to make its society classless, and indeed in school, we were taught how we were all "equals" because our society had no ancien regime. Truth be told, America DID have its classes. It had its upper crust elite (plantation owners, powerful political families), its petite-bourgeoisie (small business shopkeepers, merchants, urban dwellers), working families, slaves (later, freed men), and untouchables at the very bottom (catch-all for anyone who didn't fit anywhere else in the society, like criminals, the extremely impoverished, Catholics, "white trash", etc) with the appropriate opportunities (or lack thereof) available for each strata of society. Just like in the Old World, those who had money flaunted it to remake society in their image, and the extremely impoverished at the bottom could see right through their tricks and refuse to have anything to do with the reconstruction.

Scene from the old trailer. Started from the bottom...

The impoverished life also makes one appreciate the little things. When my hubby and I first got married and were looking for a place to begin our married life together, we found a rotten trailer in a tucked away trailer park in an impoverished part of town. The trailer had a rotten roof that leaked when it rained, there was no working heat or cooling, no refrigerator and water could only be turned on at certain times because the RV toilet would overflow from running water due to a faulty valve. We had no hot water and when we needed to bathe, a large pot of wat

My husband relayed to me a saying he heard once about how only the very wealthy and the very poor understand how the world works while eveer had to be boiled on the stove and poured into the tub. You would not let a dog you cared about live in there, much less human beings. However, it was either move into this rotten beer can trailer cuz it's all you can afford, or sleep out in the desert and become coyote food. Under normal circumstances, my hubby, who had been housed from homelessness for about six months at that point, would have said screw it and gone into the desert. But, he did not want to subject me to that life since he knew I was not prepared to live that way. So, we took the trailer, moved in, and as I began working and saving money, we fixed up what we could to try and make our rotten beer can a bit more habitable. Friends and associates hooked us up with some small fridges, a propane water heater, food and water, a swamp cooler for the summer months, lumber, and a heater. My parents even bought the PEX pipe plumbing for the trailer, though it was presented as a bribe.

Even with all this generous help and periodic cleanings, there was only so much we could do to the trailer because it was in such poor shape. It really never should have left the junkyard it was pulled from. When my family bought this current trailer for us just prior to the baby being born, it felt like we moved into a real house! I'd all but forgotten what it was like to have working appliances and a roof that didn't leak! We also had more space in the new trailer and we could even fit a couch into the living room, something unimaginable in the old trailer. But the two years spent living in the rotten trailer taught me that I really did not need much space to live comfortably. It could get crowded with stuff, but I was never claustrophobic at any point in the trailer. All I needed was my spot on the bed, a clear path to the bathroom, a certain minimum of closet space and a place to plop my shoes and backpack when I came home from work. This was a huge accomplishment, coming from somebody who'd grown up in a two-story four bedroom, four bathroom suburban home. Even now as I write this, I'm filled with gratitude and appreciation for having a better place to raise my child.

Now we here. Taken when we viewed the new trailer for the first time just prior to our moving in

When you live in an impoverished neighborhood, an interesting dichotomy emerges. Yes, there can be high crime rates because people who have little lash out either at those who have something worth taking or out of frustration because they can't escape their socioeconomic status, but at the same time, there is a stronger sense of community. You don't see that kind of community vibe in wealthier neighborhoods where everyone's home is set up like a fortress to keep others out. When people who don't have much material wealth share a common living area, neighbors tend to look out for each other. Unusual visitors are noted and disputes are settled as well as concern raised when someone fails to come home from work or school at the usual time.

Humans are an adaptable species. From the natives in South America's jungles to the Inuits in the Arctic, humans can adapt to a variety of extreme living conditions. Life in poverty in America is hard because just like in the old days, money determines your placement in life both in terms of education and what sorts of opportunities are available for you to advance in society in addition to what products are available for you to use in life. It has always been that way. But just because life in poverty is hard doesn't mean that it has to be unpleasant. Like everyone else, you just get used to things and do the best you can with what you have available to work with. By taking advantage of what aid programs and charities we can, in addition to some strategic hoarding, we have been able to build up a comfortable existence for ourselves here. I'm not glamorizing poverty, as there's nothing glamorous about wondering whether you'll have a roof over your head next month. I'm just shining some dignity on my life as an impoverished woman because there are many lessons to be learned from poverty, both good and bad.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

6 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Food Stamps

Happy Sunday, dear readers! I hope your favorite football teams won their respective games today.

I will try and publish Day 7 and Day 8 tomorrow so that by Tuesday, I'll be all caught up and can finish the 21 day blogging challenge on time. That said, on to the show!

Chili and Encharitos, a meal made entirely of foods purchased on food stamps

For Day 6's challenge, I must preface this by saying my experience with food stamps is limited to Arizona. I am aware that other states have different rules/restrictions regarding food stamp use, but I hope my experience will enlighten you about this crucially beneficial subsidy program for the common individual.

1. Applying for them can be a pain in the ass.

Anyone who has ever applied for any sort of government benefit program like food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, etc, knows the feeling of overwhelming dread that comes with having to dig up all your important papers and financial statements for a bureaucrat to scrutinize. It's like baring your soul to a bean counter. What makes this experience all the more nerve wracking is that if your income exceeds a certain level even by a few pennies, you will not be eligible to receive food stamps to feed yourself and your family. As part of President Bill Clinton's Welfare Reform regulations in 1996, the number of hoops applicants must jump through, whether it be verifying income levels or work requirements, as a condition of receiving benefits skyrocketed. I found this out the hard way the first time I tried applying for food stamps on my own. Having just returned to Arizona, I wanted to try and get food stamps until I could start working and building up my financial reserves. I was showing as eligible online when I applied, but when I went to the office for the interview, I brought all the documents I had with me and thought I would need, and the case worker STILL wanted more stuff to "verify". I wound up being denied benefits because I couldn't provide all the information the caseworker wanted. It was only when my husband and I got married and he added me to his account as a household member that I could get food stamps because he was already getting them.

2. You can use them to buy almost any kind of food.

Almost. As per regulations, food stamp recipients cannot use their allotment at restaurants (or at least ones that aren't authorized to do so), to buy hot foods at the grocery store, and for alcohol purchases. I used to wonder about the hot foods restriction, since I viewed it as poor shaming. However, my husband informed me that the hot foods prohibition was actually a safeguard put in place to keep impoverished recipients of SNAP (the formal name for food stamps) from being exploited by unscrupulous restaurateurs who might charge them more for a meal simply because they were using food stamps. Hot food also requires taxable fuel to keep warm, which means here in Arizona, it is taxed at a different rate than cold foods are. As for the alcohol prohibition, I'm not entirely sure of the reason for that ban. I tried doing some research to find the answer to that question, but I was unsuccessful at finding an answer. I believe it has to do with the Prohibition-era moral holdover stigma of alcohol being a devil's brew that made the the government not authorize it for purchase. Also, to my knowledge, I think you can buy certain live animals like lobster for eating, but not bunnies or chickens.

3. Your allotment is income and/or dependent based

This stands as a given, though if you have dependents like children or elderly/disabled relatives, this also factors into whether or not you get benefits. As such, when your income changes due to work or the arrival/departure of a household member, your benefit level adjusts as such. This can either be a huge source of stress or a huge relief.

4. It has some of the lowest fraud of any social safety net program in the country.

In spite of the undeniably racially-tinged rhetoric aimed at people who use food stamps and other government services, SNAP has been proven to be one of the least fraud-ridden government programs in America. Compared with the military contracts and the corporate welfare provided to CEOs of major companies which are so greased with nepotism the ooze floods the streets of DC, the fraud rate for SNAP consistently clocks in at less than 4% annually. The USDA, which issues food stamps, is pretty rigorous about making sure the benefits they issue are used appropriately. Of course, there are people out there who sell their food stamps for money and make illicit purchases with their funds, but the number of perpetrators has consistently been proven tiny compared to the vast number of recipients. Not bad for government work.

5. The food stamp allotment can be used nationwide.

Unlike its previous incarnation of actual stamp booklets, latter-day food stamps are issued electronically via state-issued debit cards, known as EBT. While the cards are issued by the state, the funds can be used nationwide due to SNAP being a federal program.

6. Your taxes pay for it.

This is obviously how food stamps are funded, but I wanted to include this point because I pay taxes on whatever measly income I make AND I benefit from the programs they subsidize! When I realized that correlation, it blew away any stigma I was indoctrinated with regarding food stamps. After all, as a taxpayer, I pay into this system. Why shouldn't I be taking advantage of these social programs? I honestly believe that if more people could see past the racial tainting of our piddly social safety net by the politicians who yell "ONLY *insert preferred brown Other here* use food stamps to buy lobster and steak!", they too would want to take advantage of it. After all, our humanity appeals to us to make resources available for impoverished people to get what they need to survive. At least I hope it does...

If there are any other facts I should know about food stamps, let me know in the comments.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

The One Mistake I'm Glad I Made

Hello dear readers! Sorry I'm a bit late with posting this entry. I normally write ahead of time and schedule when the post goes live, but yesterday, which would have been Day 5 of the challenge, I was not feeling well and couldn't finish writing. Thus, I'm a day behind, but not out of the running!

Day 5 of the 21 day blogging challenge was also a bit of a tough topic, mainly because I couldn't think of anything right off! After some introspection, I can point to one huge mistake I made which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It's longer than what I usually write about, but it's an intensely personal incident that has ramifications that are continually felt up to this present day.

This epic error happened in 2012 when I returned to Illinois from Arizona. Actually, I was forceably removed from Arizona against my wishes because my family freaked out at the possibility that by me staying in Arizona, the money they spent on educating me in college would go to waste if I did not find a job that they approved of which utilized my degree. I, on the other hand, had built up a network of friends and a community for myself in the four years I spent living here in Arizona and I did not want to leave it behind. I was grateful for the material support my parents provided to me during my college years, but now it was time for me to start living my own life and doing my own thing. I knew that the days of finding decently paid work were long gone, so I didn't mind taking shitty, low paying jobs because it was something I could use to establish residency and build a resume. Yes, southern Arizona is economically depressed compared with places like Phoenix or Chicago, IL, but I came to enjoy living in this part of the state because the weather was good, the cost of living was low, and I valued the sense of community I felt. If I left Arizona, it would be on my terms and no one else's. This conflict, my independence vs. my family's plans for my future, would be the spark which set off an explosive family feud.

When my dad broke the news to me that he and my mom were coming to Arizona with a return ticket for me, I threw at him every justification I knew to try and convince both of them to call it off. Instead of acknowledging my independence as an adult, the call devolved into a screaming match and at that point, I felt like my life was over. I had always been an obedient child, always doing what my parents told me to do whether I agreed with their orders or not, but now that I wanted to exercise my independence and make my own way in life, I was met with tremendous resistance which I felt was completely unjustified given my age (I was 22 at the time). I didn't know how to respond to this, so I G-chatted my then-boyfriend now husband for help. He agreed that what was happening to me was unjustified, and advised me to hide out until they left. I was shocked by this suggestion, since the idea of running away was unthinkable. I considered running away cowardly and was looking more for debate pointers, but he advised me not to go that route cuz my parents would emotionally manipulate me into compliance again and that ghosting them was the best way to make them see the light.

My bedroom in the seedy weekly motel

As departure day got closer, I gathered my things together and my boyfriend helped find me a seedy weekly motel to camp out in and I remained there when my family came down to get me. I left behind my cell phone, my credit cards, and anything else that could be used to trace me. Unfortunately, the emotional toll was too much for me to bear and I eventually cracked. I let my guilt take over and let my location be known to my parents after the emotional blackmail and guilt layered emails finally got to me. They got me and whisked me off first to Phoenix, and then back to Illinois.

Despite the promises of open communication and greater freedom, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by going with my parents as my guilt began to wear off and doubts began to arise. I wanted very much to believe my family had my best interests at heart. After all, they bore me, raised me, educated me, it was only right that they wanted me to be better off than they were. My boyfriend warned me that I was making a mistake, as decades earlier he too caved to family pressure and returned to Texas from a brief stay in Arizona. In Texas, he endured years of misery and chaos before fleeing back to Arizona in 1988 to begin a fresh start. He wanted to use his experience to try and save me from the same fate that befell him.

Downtown Chicago, as seen from the Dan Ryan Expressway, on the way back from ICK Chicago

In the meantime, I was put to work in my dad's dental office doing clerical duty. I honestly didn't mind helping out in the family business; it was easy money and I could chill on Facebook in between patients and phone calls. However, the pressure was on for me to find work that actually utilized my degree. It began to wear on my nerves, in addition to the religious persecution I endured since I had made my Catholic intentions known to my Orthodox family. It also didn't help that everywhere I went, whether it was to church or the mall, I had to be accompanied by a family member as though I was still a kid. My complaints about the constant supervision fell on deaf ears, and arguments were becoming more frequent. I was not allowed to hang out with any of the friends I had in Illinois whom I'd known from high school because that was wasting time and I was supposed to be looking for work and getting started on a career. The unspoken truth behind my parents treatment of me was that they were scared I'd run off from them again, which is why they had to constantly keep me in sight. I felt like I was in prison.

One of the few means of relief from this torment was the internet. I could G-chat my boyfriend to let him know what was going on in Illinois, and Facebook so that I could keep up with friends. I was careful not to let too many people know what was going on at home because I wanted to preserve my family's reputation as upstanding members of the church community. Anyone who grew up in a tight-knit, close environment can relate to the isolation I felt during this time period. I could never be grateful enough for the fact that my parents are technophobes and don't understand computers.

Slights like this have a way of adding up (writing says "see you don't know the truth")
There were two breaking points that occurred which finally pushed me over the edge. The first came when I finally was hired by Vector Marketing, an MLM company pushing cutlery which I would later learn was a pyramid scam, and my family forced me to quit before I ever started working because they didn't want me going to people's houses to sell stuff. Though we were all unaware of what Vector Marketing really was, this was the second job they'd made me quit, as the first one was at a call center in Arizona. Then as now, I had just been hired and was about to begin work when they pulled the plug on me because they disapproved of the job choice. Since I was now 0-2 in the job department, my parents deemed me incapable of finding suitable work. I backhanded this insult by telling my parents to find me a job, knowing full well that the horrible job market would sooner or later prove my point about the situation. Sure enough, they never found me a job.

The second breaking point came days later during an argument with my mom in which she admitted that she regretted letting me go to college in Arizona because now she had lost control over me. It was as though I was still a 12 year old teenager and not a 22 year old adult! It was clear to me now that my family really did not have my best interests at heart. All their platitudes about "independence" were for naught. They simply wanted to use me as an extension of themselves; a cash cow to start paying back on all the money they'd spent investing in raising and educating me. No matter the cost, I was to be stuffed kicking and screaming back into the mold of being the obedient daughter who did whatever mommy and daddy told her to do. I now knew that an impoverished, struggling existence in Arizona was far more preferable to the gilded cage I had been stuffed into in Illinois. I acknowledged to my boyfriend that he was right about what would happen to me and asked him to help me escape from Illinois, which he happily agreed to do. When my parents were not in the house or within range of hearing, I began to pack up my most valued and essential items as well as gathering my important documents. Through G-chat, my boyfriend helped me arrange for housing. Some internet shopping revealed that Amtrak had the cheapest one-way tickets to Arizona. I would look for employment once I got settled. My boyfriend also proposed to me online, and we agreed to get married as soon as possible when I got back.

Me in my work uniform. Underneath my sweatshirt is a pair of scrubs appropriate for use in a dentist's office

The day before my escape, my feelings of guilt began to weigh on me again. Everything was in place for me to go, all I needed to do was leave. It also didn't help that I was dragged to a job fair at Navy Pier, which set my escape plans off for a few days. I was not impressed by the jobs offered there, but my dad noticed how I was dragging myself along. He asked me about it, and I told him it was because I didn't want to be there. It was not a total lie, I really didn't want to be at Navy Pier looking at jobs and being told to apply online. The real reason for my lack of energy and enthusiasm was because I was about to leave them again, and the guilt I was suffering from was because I knew my escape would tear the family apart. I tried telling myself that my family brought this calamity down on themselves for the way they treated me to mitigate the guilt, and it helped some, but for an always obedient child to strike back and say no is a huge and intimidating step. That night, I turned off the computer, packed it up and wiped my phone clean to hide the evidence of my communications. I also removed my credit cards, bank cards, anything that could be used to trace me. This was it. A month that started off so promising had rapidly devolved into a living hell. Communication had utterly failed and the feud was getting worse by the day. I had to get out or something bad was gonna happen either to me or I would do something bad to the family.

Early in the morning, before dawn even broke, I quickly and quietly got dressed and grabbed my backpack and computer bag. I made my way quietly down the hall and down the stairs, careful not to wake my light-sleeping mom. I finally exited out the garage and as I closed the door behind me, I kept repeating to myself "don't look back". I knew that if I looked back at the house I grew up in as I was leaving, I would fail in my resolve. As I walked down the driveway and out on the sidewalks to get to the downtown train station and to freedom, I forced myself to face forward and kept repeating to myself not to look back.

I did not look back.

Safe in the hostel

When I got to the train station, I purchased a one-way ticket to downtown Chicago. Once there, I would buy my ticket at Union Station for Arizona, and hopefully soon be on my way. I arrived, but the direct route train would not be leaving for another two days. Not wanting to make a two-day layover in Texas, I decided to holdout those two days in Chicago. By this time, Chicago's sky-high murder rate and gang violence were beginning to make national headlines, but I knew Chicago better than Texas. I bought a disposable basic cell phone at a Walmart not far from Union Station, and went to go hang out at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus not far away to use the internet. With some help from the computer nerds in charge of the computer lab, I finally got online and messaged my fiancee to let him know I was safely out of my family's home. He was relieved and conveyed to me that my parents had been bombarding his inbox with the news of what I'd done. Having dealt with insane parents many times before, it was not a big deal for him to play along. My inbox had a few emails from family, but I would not answer them until I got back to Arizona. I didn't want anyone tracing my movements while I was returning. Since I would not be departing for another two days, I sought out cheap accommodations at a nearby hostel. I spent that first night relaxing, and during the second day I walked around downtown Chicago. I took lots of pictures cuz I knew I would not be back for a long time and I wanted to say good bye to my home city.

Me at Buckingham Fountain

As I settled into my seat on the train the next day, I felt a bit of homesickness mixed with relief. I would miss Chicago, but I was now on my way to freedom; to be with people who actually cared about me and valued me for who I was. I took many pictures of the train ride and at each station we stopped at. The trip took two days before I was back in southern Arizona. At my pre-arranged safe house, I finally emailed my family back and told them I was in Arizona. I also told them to leave me alone or risk legal action.

Good bye Chicago. It'll be a while before I get to see you again. Taken from the train as it was leaving Union Station

With my fiancee's help, I began to settle and get established in Arizona again. Those first few months were hard as I was basically couch surfing and with sporadic employment, no money, and no familial support, I was really on my own. God and I had alot of conversations during that time period, but I knew that this hardscrabble life was far preferable to the middle-class family life I left behind. After my family began enlisting spies to keep tabs on me, my fiancee and I got married for legal reasons and my safety, though we had to do it in court thanks to the money-minded priest who refused to marry us. We then moved into a rotten trailer in a run-down trailer park and not long after that, I got hired at a call center where I would work for the next two years. Life settled down and was good.

As for my family, they continued to harass me and even showed up unannounced to look for me. To this day, they deny any wrongdoing but continue to harp on me finding a job that makes lots of money. We both continue to recover from the traumas inflicted on us, I by a lifetime of control and oppression, and them with the shattering of that parental bond. I really didn't want to do what I did, but I had no other choice. Though relations have improved somewhat, they are still not good and I do not want my children being in contact with my family any more than is necessary, lest they endure what I had to.

My ill-fated return to Illinois proved to be a blessing in disguise because it showed me that no matter what they say, not all families have their children's best interests at heart. They may think they do, but actions have a way of speaking louder than words. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but there was no other way I could have seen it. The other lesson I learned from my mistake was when it came time for me to have children, I would always work hard to accept them for who they were and to respect the choices they make as adults. My job as a parent is to provide my children with the skills they need to function in society, not turn them into extensions of me. At some point, they will grow up and leave me to begin living their lives and making their way in the world. It will be hard, but I have to let them go eventually.

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A Short Review of Beer: Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider

Hello again, dear readers!

I have not forgotten about the apple ciders I bought all those months back in my mix-n-match six pack! Tonight, I decided to break out one of those apple ciders to warm me from the chill in the air.

Fresh out of the fridge, Johnny Appleseed!

Since it was the easiest bottle in the back of the fridge to reach, I grabbed the one labeled Johnny Appleseed. Named for the illustrious apple farmer and transient storyteller of American folklore, the brew caught my attention on many previous trips to the grocery store, but I never bought a six pack to try. Thanks to that sampler six pack, I now had an opportunity to do so at minimal cost.

Having sampled previous apple ciders, I've become accustomed to the sour taste that accompanies them. That being said, Johnny Appleseed is less sour and more sweet. In fact, the first thought that popped into my head as the cider hit my palette was how the taste reminded me of a green apple Jolly Rancher candy. This is soon followed by the sour, vinegar like taste of hard cider. Its pale yellow color brings to mind apple juice, and with just a 5.5% alcohol content, it might well be juice!

As for what would pair well with Johnny Appleseed, I would stick with pork or fruity desserts. I've written in previous reviews of cider that pork and apples go well together, and by keeping the desserts fruity, there won't be too much conflict of taste. In this regard, I would not recommend drinking this cider if your meal has either beef, something acidic like spaghetti and red sauces (meat, marinara, etc), or has chocolate in it. The taste combination will make you gag!

Of note, as the cider warmed up to room temperature, it tasted less sour and more sweet. My husband took a sip and noted how sweet it was. However, he deemed it too fruity for his liking.

Overall, Johnny Appleseed cider is ok, but I didn't find anything remarkable about it that stood out. This is the sort of brew that I would buy only if it was in either a sampler pack or if it was on steep discount. It's not bad, but it's not exceptional. I've had better ciders.

For more information about Johnny Appleseed brewery, check out their website here.

As always, please drink responsibly

Thursday, January 7, 2016

5 Socioeconomic Trends Poor People Can Expect in 2016

Welcome back again, dear readers!

Social media-I don't know what I would do without it. Pic found here

It's Day 4 of the 21 day blogging challenge. Admittedly, this particular prompt was a bit of a tough one for me since poverty makes it hard to keep up and participate in many modern trends. However, I've given my best shot at predicting what will be hot stuff for those of us on the low end of the socioeconomic ladder this coming year.

1. The expansion of restaurant chains accepting EBT
My introduction last year to Papa Murphy's Pizza got me thinking about how if this restaurant chain could take advantage of the huge federally-subsidized food stamp market to sell their pizza, how many other restaurants will follow their lead? Since wages don't show any sign of increasing to anywhere near a livable level in the near future ($15/hr is a good start, but it's still not close enough to the $20-$25/hr that the cost of living currently runs), I expect the number of food stamp recipients to steadily increase. Grocery stores do a pretty good job of offering cold foods that can be purchased with food stamps, but given the convenience which restaurant chains offer in terms of already prepared meals, I expect to see more chains offering food items for EBT purchase in the coming year.
2. Increased illegal immigration out of America
Here's one most people don't see coming-the tables have turned! Americans are risking their lives and fleeing from the poverty, violence and oppression at home, swamping places like Mexico and Canada. This scenario will depend on who wins the Presidential elections this year, so I don't expect to see masses of people teeming at the border fences or paying smugglers until late in the year if at all. Since the "shining city on a hill" that Ronald Reagan so eloquently postulated about has gone dark, succumbed to its own madness, it may well take a mass exodus of people before our government decides to do anything about improving the standard of living. Then again, maybe not. They'll crack down on whoever is left, just because they can.
3. Bartering
With wages at an all time low, the black market rises up to meet the needs of people. Since money buys so little, people will barter for their goods and services. I personally have witnessed a barter economy developing here in my very own trailer park. Neighbors will exchange goods and services, much like it was done in the Middle Ages or in parts of Mexico. For those instances where money is required, people try and negotiate to the lowest possible dollar. Just like in the Middle Ages, a barter economy signifies the collapse of a money-based economic system since trading goods and services isn't an effective way to grow an economy and it shows that people don't trust money anymore. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since bartering for your goods and services is a good way to build up a sense of community.
4. A shift in the sharing economy
Sharing services like Uber, AirBNB, etc will collapse because federal regulators have cracked down on their exploitation of "independent contractors". Rising up as a response to the economic recession, these sharing services can be likened to the MLM/pyramid scams profiled on sites like Pink Truth because top management reaps all the profits and benefits of a corporation while shunning things like FICA and offloading all responsibility back onto the employees. This collapse, however, is also not necessarily a bad thing. By classifying its drivers/homes/what have you as employees/hotels/etc and regulating them as such, it creates a more stable workforce and a safer environment for customers. People can still use their cars/homes/etc, but now the companies are on the hook for more than just their names and apps.
5. Online free schools
Education, the salvation or bete-noir of many a politician's platform, will undergo a change as well. The proliferation of the internet and portable devices would give families an alternative to sending their kids to a failing school or an expensive private school. Online schools already exist, but what I am foreshadowing is the rise of free online schools. No tuition, no risking sending your children into a dangerous or poorly performing environment, and you and your children can work together to create a curriculum so that they're actually taking classes with subjects they're interested in. It's like YouTube, but for school! Given the horrible student loan debt burden many millenials like myself are burdened with, these online free schools would be an accredited and affordable means of pursuing an education. As for how these online schools would support themselves, it would be through purchasing ad space and using affiliate links, much like how many online businesses support themselves right now. It will take some doing to figure out the kinks and come up with a working model, but it's not impossible.
What trends, good or bad, do you forsee happening this coming year?

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Christ is Born! Indeed He is Born!

Hristos se Rodi! Vaistinu se Rodi! Srecan Bozic svima! (Christ is Born! Indeed He is Born! Merry Christmas everyone!)

"Peace of Christ, Christ is Born!" Pic found here

I would like to take a moment to wish all of my Eastern Orthodox readers and family members a Merry Christmas. Having grown up Serbian Orthodox, I remember the burning of the Badnjak (Yule Log) on Christmas Eve and then going to church on Christmas morning before going over to either my grandma's cousin's home or my grandma's home for lunch. With the exception of Christmas 2010 when my mom was hospitalized following a minor accident, Christmas always held fond memories for me. And yes, we would open our presents on this day too.

Even though I am no longer Serbian Orthodox, I will continue to observe Orthodox Christmas because of the traditions surrounding it. My fervent Serbian nationalism couldn't keep me in the Orthodox Church anymore, but it didn't die when I became Catholic either.

In honor of Orthodox Christmas, I'll post a few traditional Serbian Christmas songs I remember singing as a youth. Enjoy!

"Oh Yule Log, Oh Yule Log" traditionally sung while the Badnjak is being burned

Traditional Christmas hymn praising the birth of Jesus

"Christmas Christmas Blessed Day"

Serbian rendition of "Jingle Bells". Not exactly traditional, but I remember singing a version of this at a church Christmas concert as part of the Sunday School kids choir

"Silent Night". The song is actually of German/Austrian origin, but I too recall singing a version of it as a kid in the Sunday School choir. I don't remember whether this was the same version I sang or not, but we did a rendition of it.

Have a blessed holiday and please don't forget to share, comment, and subscribe!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why I'll Never Be an Unscrupulous Promoter

Greetings, dear readers!

Today is Day 3 of the 21 day blogging challenge. I must say, I'm starting to like this little pursuit.

As my blogging venture expands, I may have to occasionally promote products from time to time for marketing purposes. I used to think this was crass, but I've come to accept ads, product promotions and affiliate links as just another cost of doing business. After all, blogging can be a rather lucrative business. These kinds of promotion tactics are fine and dandy, except that alot of the time, the products being promoted are either impractical for my sort of low-income lifestyle, or too expensive for the tight, shoestring budget I keep.

Coconut oil, not just for hippies. Pic found here
Take for example, coconut oil. During my online adventures, I will occasionally come across a granola/yuppie blog promoting coconut oil and its various uses. Yes, it is a highly useful cosmetic agent and of significant culinary use, but am I going to take the trouble to promote an ORGANIC, NON-GMO, SUPER REFINED AND SERVED IN A BIODEGRADABLE JAR brand of coconut oil? Absolutely not. While it's nice that the coconut oil might have those things, it would also be quite pricey. Even if your local grocery store stocked such a brand, EBT/food stamp restrictions might not make it worth buying. Online retailers don't even accept food stamps, so that option is clean off the table too.

TL;DR: if I wouldn't buy or use such a product, I wouldn't push it on you.

Prior to resuming my blogging activities, I worked in a call center selling cable tv/internet/phone packages to customers of Verizon Communications. I hated the call center I worked in for various reasons, but I hated selling even more because being a good salesperson requires knowing how to lie to people. By nature, I am a terrible liar. It also didn't help that Verizon's services were centered in the northeastern part of the US and the East Coast, as well as parts of Texas, Florida, and California. Living in Arizona, we had no means of knowing what quality of service Verizon provided for the prices it was listing. I also famously avoid TV and phone service like the plague, relying solely on the internet for my means of entertainment and communication. As such, my sales weren't especially great and I was eventually moved to a different project, but the dark lessons I learned about the nature of sales stuck with me and I vowed to do a more honest job if I ever had to sell stuff again.

My policy of promotions also extends to services. As it stands right now, I have no subscriptions to any sort of streaming entertainment services like Netflix or Hulu, no extended product warranties, nothing like that. I do, however, make use of whatever free services I can find like Hangouts for VoIP and the various platforms offered by Google for use in communication and entertainment. Basically, if I can find a free alternative to a paid service, I will take that route. It's not a matter of being a cheapass, I legitimately can't afford anything else!

If I am going to promote anything, I will promote the things or services which I feel would legitimately improve your life. As much abuse as it has taken in the millenia since it was first formulated, I try and make it a point to hold to the Golden Rule when it comes to sales because nobody likes being lied to and nobody likes being pushed to buy something they can't afford or use.

What's something you vow never to do? Please share in the comments below.

Thank you for reading and please share, comment, and subscribe to my blog.