Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ideas to change the world

I really think that we, the people of the world, need to think outside the box to find solutions to all sorts of problems. Here are just a few thoughts on some current issues:
1) The current cover story in Time is about how this recession (depression, whatever) is actually a good thing. I haven't read the story yet, but just seeing the cover and hearing a story on the radio about gas prices rising back above $2/gal. sparked a discussion. 
We both agree that gas prices should be higher, more in line with the rest of the world. I know that isn't popular, but the best way to alter behavior is to make other options more attractive. "But that will hit poor people hardest" is always the rebuttal. Here's my proposal for a solution to that problem:
Transportation credits on taxes similar to the Earned Income Credit, which is on a sliding scale based on income. As a transportation credit, it wouldn't just address gas prices but would help offset public transportation costs, bicycle costs, new shoes or whatever for those who don't drive. Yes, the tax code is already too complex. So why not use it? 
If gas went back to $4/gal., it would hurt and a lot of people would alter their behavior by bundling errands, driving less, maybe using mass transit more. They might think twice about moving further from their jobs into a sprawling suburb where they have to drive everywhere. Maybe more people would buy fuel efficient cars and dump gas guzzlers, just like they did last summer. Yes, there would be griping. But we survived the high gas prices and got creative. We started doing things better. 
It hurt, but we could afford to drive. Folks who live in poverty were hurt more. But they are hurt by transportation costs already. Here's how a transportation tax credit could work:
12,000 mi./yr. is an average amount of driving I've heard, so if you figure 12,000 mi./yr. divided by a reasonable 25 mi./gal., that is 480 gal./yr. If a tax credit were figured on gas costing $4/gal., consider a $2/gal. credit = $960 maximum credit, then adjust that to a sliding scale on income, maybe with the maximum up to the federal poverty level (fpl), then 75% up to 1.5x fpl, then 50% up to 2x fpl, then phasing out. 
2008 federal poverty level for a family of 4 in the 48 contiguous states is $21,200.
2) The cover story in Parade Magazine this week is about our prison system and how it needs rethinking. Once again, I haven't yet read the article, which is by Senator Jim Webb, but the headline and stories I've recently read or heard got me to thinking. New York is currently revamping drug laws to try to keep people out of prison. A quote I heard in regards to that story was to the effect that we should lock up people we are afraid of, not people we are mad at. 
Think about that. How many people are in prison for crimes that maybe shouldn't involve jail time? How many are in prison because we are mad at them?
So, here's an idea. In parenting books, they always recommend suiting the punishment to the crime. How about if our penal system did the same? Violent criminals would still be imprisoned, but a lot of people would not be. From what I've read, a lot of people agree that a lot of drug crimes have excessive penalties dating back to the 70's and 80's. How about rehab and community service? White collar criminals could be sentenced to years of community service along with reparation. For example, 6 years of working 8 hours a day at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter would give something back, maybe teach a lesson, and would keep tax payers from footing the bill of sending someone to prison. Think about folks sentenced to prison for tax evasion. Not only are they not making money to pay their back taxes, but the tax payers are footing the bill for their living expenses. 
Why are we looking to  build new jails because our current ones are overcrowded? Why are we looking to spend more money when jail has not been proven to deter crime? Think about the cost savings. Think about this as well: defense lawyers are required at the trial for any crime that involves the possibility of prison but are not required for lesser punishments. Would this help our clogged up justice system work faster? Maybe. 
I'd love to hear and read other ideas and even thoughts on my ideas. The point is to start getting creative to find solutions.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Peace Man

Wil is exploding with new words every day, although his pronunciation is still lacking. Sometimes I don't understand what he is saying even though he clearly knows the right word. Once I figure it out, it makes a little sense. 
One of his mispronunciations that I really like is 'peece (peace) car' for police car. And, of course, that makes the person in it a 'peace man (or woman)'. Getting beyond 2 year old diction and putting an idea behind his words, I think it's an awesome idea that the police are 'peace officers' and drive 'peace cars'. That's the ultimate goal of the police, isn't it - to maintain peace.
So from the mouths of babes, a reminder.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Meal time

I'm not the greatest cook. I have to give Chris credit for eating some of the stuff I've made. But I've been trying lately to plan meals, so here are a few of the meals I've made lately. They are fairly easy, generally kid-friendly, and usually inexpensive. I won't claim they are necessarily the most nutritious.
Pizza - Pillsbury makes a pretty good refrigerated pizza dough - I recommend the thin crust. Pretty easy to make: I roll out the dough and bake it first so it's a little crispier, use store-bought pizza sauce (Kroger's store brand is actually pretty good), add 4 cheese Mexican blend shredded cheese and whatever toppings we might want. Usually we make cheese, pepperoni or spinach.
Hamburger Helper - I can cook when it comes out of a box, and HH has some really good Italian and Mexican meals. I've even taken to mixing 1/2 ground beef 1/2 ground turkey (all turkey is a little dry for Chris). 
Pasta - always a staple, I can boil water. Of course, we must have garlic bread with our pasta, so lots of carbs, but yummmmmm!
Beans & rice - This has become a staple and favorite. Our neighbor who doesn't cook introduced us to this when we used to do dinners on Wednesdays. Heat a can of seasoned black beans, make the rice of your choice. We've made it with Rice-a-Roni, plain white rice and will try brown rice next. To mix it up, we sometimes put the beans and rice in a tortilla with sour cream and cheese.
Meatball sandwiches - Is there anything better than a good meatball sandwich? I highly recommend getting a good crusty bread, although a hoagy roll will work in a pinch. 
Meatloaf - I can't believe I hadn't made meatloaf in ages, but it's one of the first things I learned to make, modifying (yes, I modified a recipe and made it my own) the Disney cookbook version.
Jambalaya - another good boxed meal, Zatarain's. Cut up some beef smokies, only 1/2 lb. is really necessary. Excellent with cornbread (last time I made it, it was not good, so we've been buying the fresh made from Kroger's deli.)
Gyoza - I got saucy and actually made (frozen, packaged) gyoza last night. Amazingly, it turned out. Served with ramen last night, but also good with rice.
Jenn's cheesy pasta bake - Ok, this one is a little pricy because of the cheese, but it's soooo good!
Grilled cheese - I'm a sandwich master. I have now mastered the grilled cheese. My secret is to frequently flip so as not to burn the bread.
Ham - Only as a treat, but the best way to cook a juicy ham is in the crock pot. I usually use the 8 hour setting, but only for 4-5 hours. Water works fine, but for extra flavor try apple juice or apple cider. Egg noodles as a side. 
Corned beef - Another treat, but 'tis the season. Once again, the crock pot is a really easy way to make corned beef.
Burgers - I don't grill, but the Forman is just my speed. I don't do burgers often, but I have to say I was pleased with the results when I made them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

If I had a little money - it's a rich man's world!

We've been reading a blog, Get Rich Slowly, plus our horoscopes (yeah, I know, but they are fun to read) have had a lot to do with money lately. Yesterday's horoscope: What you are lacking in financial discipline you won't make up for in hard work. Unfortunately, it is much easier to spend than it is to accumulate what it takes to replace wastefulness. Today's horoscope: Although you'll be quite good at helping others sort out confusing financial issues in ways they can make a profit, you may not be so great figuring out your own affairs. (Not sure where the horoscopes are syndicated from, but they were published in the Herald-Times.)
I think we're finally getting smarter with our money and following through on saving better, although there is still the car loan and a balance on the credit card to pay down. But, we used our tax refund to pay off the window loan. The rest is going to saving toward a new refrigerator and car maintenance. While we know to pay ourselves first, which we do, we really need to get better on not making dumb purchases that we then need to pay off later. 
Goal #4 on my original list - we're getting there. Here's what we've been doing to work on paying off debt and becoming more financially secure:
1) As mentioned above, we've paid off one loan.
2) We've set up separate savings accounts for different goals - rainy day/long term, home improvement - plus each of the boys has an account to save for college.
3) We've been opening cd's when possible for long term savings. This way, we get a higher rate of return and the money is less liquid, but still accessible if we absolutely need it. Our goal is to have 12 1 year cd's, one maturing each month, so we can always add funds to one. So far we have two. The rate doesn't change much from 12 months up - the big jump is from savings to cd.
4) I should have money coming in soon that we will put aside to pay for Wil's preschool next year. While IU didn't re-fund the project I was working on, the bookseller I was working for before needs someone to package and ship books again, so I will be doing that. This time, I will keep supplies here, go over to pull orders each morning, and work from home.
Overall, I think we are getting smarter. We're lucky that we live in an area lightly touched by current economic conditions. Higher education is somewhat recession resistant since a lot of people go back to school when they lose their jobs. And Bloomington didn't have a huge housing bubble, so the small price corrections here haven't hit as hard. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March has come in like a lamb

It was near 80 yesterday, after several days in the 60's and a few more nice days ahead. Yes, we're supposed to get some rain, but this is fabulous March weather - much better than more snow!
The boys and I have been enjoying lots of walks outside, a few trips to the park, and no snowsuits! It is amazing how much faster we get out of the house when I don't have to bundle everyone up. 
Sam tried his first ice cream yesterday. He seemed to kind of like it (I even gave him a little chocolate ice cream, bad mommy). Wil still isn't so sure, although he tried some of Chris's blast. Maybe because that came on a spoon as opposed to trying to lick a cone. 
We've had a few cranky days lately, probably from not sleeping well. When Wil seems to just need to cry, I've taken a page from Ramla's book and I set him on his bed and tell him he can cry if he needs to. When he's done, he comes down and finds me. The trick is to not make it a punishment but just a comforting place for him to cry, calm down, relax. We've only done it a few times, but he seems to get the idea.
Sam is getting better at army crawling and is still trying to crawl on his knees. He's going to get it soon. Meanwhile, he has emotionally outgrown the bouncy seat and jumperoo, so they have been added to the garage sale pile. Lots of baby stuff will be going away when we have our sale this spring/summer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Moving forward

Sam figured out how to move forward Monday. He either wriggles like a snake or pulls himself, but he's happy to be able to get to toys on his own. He's still working on the crawling, rocking on his knees and doing downward dog. 
We've got the gates up now, which is taking some getting used to. Wil is frustrated by that. He is used to wandering from room to room at will. But he'll adjust.