Saturday, August 29, 2015

WIC pains

I was at the grocery store today, picking up a few staples. As I went through the checkout, I spotted a sweet family. They had two carts, not because they had that much food, but to contain their four adorable blond boys. Dad was busy keeping the oldest three occupied, though they were making it pretty easy that day (I'm sure it's not always like that). The baby was contentedly chewing his toes in his car seat. Mom was managing the conveyor belt. None of the kids looked older than 4. All were clean, well dressed, well behaved, and the toddler looked up at his dad with an adoring expression that took my breath away. This was a close knit, loving family.

After a moment, I looked over again. Their transaction seemed to be taking a while, and then I spotted the reason why. Dad was holding the WIC folder. That explained it.

The Women, Infants and Children program is meant to provide healthy foods to pregnant and nursing mothers, and to babies and children up to age 5. They weigh and measure everyone every 3 months, and check their blood iron level for anemia. It's a program with good intentions, but many flaws.

When you shop with WIC, you can't just buy what you want. The WIC checks (which are only redeemable for certain weeks, to make sure you can't use them all at once) tell you you can get, for example, 24 oz of approved cereal, 6 half gallons of milk (yes, they phrase it that way), a 12 oz loaf of approved bread, a dozen eggs, a 16 oz jar or smaller of approved peanut butter OR 1 lb of d"ried beans OR one can of approved canned beans, and x amount of powdered OR x amount of liquid concentrated formula (not sure, since I always breastfed).

Approved is a word used a lot in this program. Granted, this is a NUTRITION program, and they want to make sure that the healthy peanut butter isn't swapped out for Nutella. But knowing which products are approved and which aren't, and doing the math to maximize that 24 oz of cereal between 3 boxes, left me in tears more than once during checkout. Things that can derail a WIC purchase include getting the wrong flavor of cereal, choosing baked beans instead of pork and beans, or assuming that since the generic product is cheaper, it would be the money saving option for the WIC program and it would be allowed. (No.) Then you have to leave the line, fix you order, and come back to face the music.

Because that's the worst part - at checkout, you have to group your items into separate orders for each WIC check, and the manager on duty has to come over and approve each transaction. There's no "quick stop for milk" with WIC checks. It's a slow, laborious process. Every item has to be checked against the WIC list, and sometimes it scans as "not approved" even though it's right there on your list, and you have to explain that there's something wrong on their end. The cashier has to do math (I understand, it's not a job where you usually have to use that part of your brain, but adding cereal ounces isn't that hard). And invariably, that was when my children would start to make a fuss in line, wanting to go, to get candy, to see if the gumball machine had anything new, because it was just as tedious for them. Then I would feel the eyes on me, and hear the judging voices. Sometimes they were speaking out loud, but usually it was angry eye rolling and arm folding.

"Oh, she's one of THOSE."

"No wonder her kids are such brats. She probably pumps them full of junk and plops them in front of the TV all day. *snort* Trailer trash."

"Why did she have those kids if she can't even afford to feed them?"

"This is taking forever because of some Welfare mom."

"I wonder how many of those kids have the same dad."

I'm guessing that if you've read this blog for long, you get that most of those things are way off about me. (I do allow more TV and junk food than I should, but we eat healthy things too!) I received WIC benefits after the birth of each of my kids, because for one reason or another, something had gone awry financially during my pregnancy. I was grateful for the milk and eggs, but I rarely stuck with the program for more than one round of refills on the checks (6 months). It was humiliating and difficult. It made me feel an inch tall.

So as that family walked by, all four little boys smiling and chatting with their parents, I wanted to say something encouraging to them. Something to let them know that they were doing things right, that I knew how difficult it was, but that it would get better. But then I thought that it might make them self conscious, knowing that I saw what they were dealing with, so all I could muster was a soft "Beautiful family!" as they passed.

I wish I could tell them more. And to have a constant stream of support and empathy flowing into every grocery store for every family that has to use support programs to help feed their families. Because next month, next year, it could be you needing help.

EDITED TO NOTE - It's been brought to my attention that different states and even different counties within a state manage WIC differently. Some use plastic cards loaded with their benefits, others still use the paper checks, like here in PA. This is only meant to reflect my experience in my area, and that of some of my friends. If you use WIC, and they make it easier for you than this, thank your local office on your next visit!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Busy busy busy


I haven't forgotten about this little corner of the web, I've just been really busy.

Catie goes back to school on Monday, so there have been the usual preparations. Daniel starts his homeschooling work on Monday too, and we're using a new, more rigorous curriculum this year. I'm excited, but also getting ready to tweak things so he can understand them. Tristan is Tristan - 2 years old, willful, grabby, MINE, MOMMY!, and also the sweetest little guy on two legs. So, clearly the school year will affect him too. This may be the year that he needs "school" to do too, so he doesn't feel left out.

The mighty cargo bike with e-assist is running beautifully. I am well on the way to getting spoiled by the assist - getting across wide, busy roads used to be nerve wracking. Now, with a minor throttle boost, I'm across the street almost as fast as if I had been driving! I try to keep the power use only to when I really need it, like when I'm going uphill, crossing streets, or.... let's be honest - flying down the road just to hear the kids yell "Wheeeeee!"!

Something funny happened a week after the assist was up and working. A mom on the "Less Car, More Go" Facebook group said she was curious about box trikes and other cargo bikes, but she lived in Harrisburg and wasn't sure about how they worked around here. I piped up and said "I ride around Harrisburg in my cargo trike!" As it happens, we live less than a mile apart (!), and I was able to give her a chance to test ride the trike. Now she wants one too! And what's more, another mom in ANOTHER Harrisburg FB group was asking about the Virtue Schoolbus (my trike), and wanted to know if there was anyone in the area who had one she could test ride.

I wonder if I could get a commission out of all this?  ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It's ON, baby!

At last! At long, long last, my electric assist on my trike is up and running!!!

Many thanks to my long-suffering husband and our friend Kirby - it's finally working! And Buster, the TORQUE on that thing is surprising. My bike weighs (with the kit) a solid 145 lbs. Even with the added cargo and riders, that thing will take OFF at sudden starts if I'm not careful.

I'm going to try it out on the big hill on the busy road the next cool-ish day with low traffic. (We get those - usually Sundays)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sprucing up old clothes

With Catie attending Catholic school, uniforms are a part of our annual back-to-school expenses. Thankfully, our school, like many other private schools in the area, offers an annual used uniform consignment sale. We were able to score all of her uniform pieces that way last year, but this year she's grown enough that there weren't any used skirts in her size. Instead, we got two pairs of solid navy girls slacks and two pairs of navy girls shorts - unfortunately, all looked a little faded and worn. We also were able to get enough of the regulation embroidered white polo shirts, but after I got them home, I realized that some of them were dingy, with yellow underarm stains.

So I set to work! The white tops were soaked in Oxyclean, which helped some of the dinginess. Apparently the best way to get rid of the underarm stains is one I haven't tried yet - a mix of blue Dawn dish soap and hydrogen peroxide applied directly to the stained area. The soap releases the oils from the combined sweat and deodorant, and the peroxide lightens the fabric - I'll tell you how that works.

But meanwhile, the navy slacks and shorts were looking really faded. I pondered this a while, and remembered Rit dye! Rit fabric dye is available at all craft stores and many grocery stores, and is a great way to freshen up dark colored clothes. Let's say you like to wear black clothes, but over the years they've faded to a charcoal grey. If you give them a round in the wash with black dye, they'll look nearly new again! It's not the first time I've used Rit - I got a lovely long white skirt once, but I simply can't be trusted in white - not with three kids and a dog. So I dyed it a nice medium blue, and I get much more use out of it now.

So I put the navy bottoms in the washing machine on hot with a full bottle of the liquid navy dye, let it sit for 2 hours, and rinsed it about 8 times on cold until the water ran clear. And it helped a lot! The slacks and shorts look much fresher, and though some of the worn areas still looked lighter than the rest of the garment, they were clearly less noticeable. It was especially helpful with the fading at the waistband and edges of the pockets.

So if you have a favorite shirt or skirt that just isn't looking as fresh anymore, why not try giving it a new lease on life with a dye bath?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Clothesline Clique

Like Katy at The Non Consumer Advocate, I like my clothesline a lot. However, I confess that before my dryer decided to stop heating, I didn't use the clothesline as much as I could. (BTW, my husband offered to have the dryer fixed, but I chose to put that money toward repairing the A/C in the van instead. Staying cool is VERY important to me.) After all, it's so easy to just chuck clothes from one machine to the next - and line dried clothes get so stiff and crunchy!

So now I hang all the laundry, and it's making me rethink some of my laundry habits. I already switched from prefold diapers to flour sack towels, because the FSTs wash and dry so well, and the prefolds were drying hard, scratchy, and they took a day and a half to fully dry. But after a few rounds of washing and line drying, I began to notice that the FST diapers - and all the laundry, for that matter - were drying really stiff and crunchy.

So I thought about this for a bit. I did a little reading about moms in the 1940s and 1950s, and the ads from that era would tout Ivory Snow Soap Flakes as THE laundry soap to use when you wanted your clothes soft. Ah ha! They didn't HAVE tumble dryers back then - so that meant that those soaps were meant to leave line dried clothes soft to the touch!

Sadly, I learned that Ivory Snow is no longer being made (at least not that formula - there's a new Ivory Snow that doesn't perform the same way). So I thought about this further, and realized that I needed a laundry soap that was meant for people who hand wash their clothes, because they also hang those clothes to dry - it would be formulated to wash clean and dry soft!

Then, my DUH moment - I already had that in the house! I had part of a bar of Zote Soap left from pre-treating some stains. Zote Soap is made in Mexico, where more people presumably wash their clothes by hand. It is gentler to my hands than Fels Naptha (which is also good for laundry, but a bit harsh), and has a pleasant Citronella scent, which makes sense if you think about it. If you're hand washing your laundry and hanging it outside, it would be nice if the scent scared away the mosquitoes too! And if you're washing by hand, of course you'd want to use a bar of soap rather than liquid or powder, so you could see just where it's going. Soap flakes, powders, and liquids are all more convenient for machine washing, but our great grandmothers would have lathered up their clothes against a big bar of soap before scrubbing them on the washboard.

So I shaved a bit of the soap into the next wash load instead of using my Tide free and clear, and lathered up a few items in the wash tub for good measure. And to my delight, the clothes came off the line noticeably softer - even the diapers!
So I bought another bar (the Indian Grocery next to my house sells them for only $1.29). Just look at the size of that thing! I plan to shave it up and make the powdered laundry mix that includes borax and washing soda.

Yes, it's upside down. Oops.
Some people don't care for Zote because it has optical brighteners and citronella oil, making it less than all natural. In that case, Dr Bronner's soap (either bar form or liquid) would be a great choice. It's even good to use if you have to dump your wash water outside, since Dr Bronners is all natural and non-toxic. Charlie's Soap is also a good, all natural, clean rinsing laundry soap - i just can't afford Dr Bronners or Charlie's right now! But any of those options will leave your line dried clothes softer than "standard" detergents.

What, you say? Just use fabric softener? YUCK!

Not a fan of fabric softener - it leaves the towels non-absorbent, and everything feels and smells chemically-sticky when I use it.

And since Katy challenged her readers to share their clothesline selfies, here you go!

Forgive the frizz - it's humid here!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bikes in emergencies

For various reasons, I've been thinking a lot about disaster preparedness lately. What would we do if a Greek or Argentina-style economic disaster would happen, or if a solar flare disabled electronics (including car computers)? What about a prolonged blackout after heavy storms?

Obviously, storing water and food is just smart - FEMA even says to store enough supplies to get through the first 72 hours on your own, because it will take at least that long to get disaster relief to a stricken region. Keeping your car's gas tank at least half full at all times is smart too - if a crisis occurs and the power is out, gas pumps may not even work.

So what if, for whatever reason, your car won't be operable - no gas, circuits are fried, the police have asked that cars stay off the roads for a time - how will you get around? If your children are stuck at school 8 miles away, or you ran out of water, but you heard that FEMA set up a relief station 3 or 4 miles away - getting there might not be that hard, but getting BACK with your child or supplies could prove exhausting. That's where a well-equipped bike could save you hours and loads of precious energy.

Honestly, any bike in good repair will do the job of moving YOU around. It's when you need to use that bike to pick up people or supplies that it becomes a challenge. So here are a few ideas about how to move people and supplies by bike in an emergency.

The cheapest way to move people on your bike is to install a set of trick feet pegs on your rear axle, and let your passenger stand behind you. I live near the city, and I've seen as many as 3 kids riding a single bike with front and rear pegs. Not very safe, but effective. Another method, if your passenger is small and you ride a "men's style" bike is to mount an extra saddle to your top tube in front of your standard saddle.

If your kids are small, consider investing in a bike trailer. In general I'm not a big fan of how they handle, but the fact is that for $80 - $200 you can haul 2 small kids and supplies with a minimum of fuss and rigging. In fact, the baby trailer is an outstanding grocery hauler, so it may be worth keeping it around long after your kids are too big to use it.

A link to the instep trailer on Amazon - but look on craigslist first! ;)

But if you are riding to pick up your 5+ foot tall kid from school and have a distance to bring them, you may want to look at other options. For $150 the Companion Bike Seat will mount above your rear wheel, and will support a 200 lb load!
The seat back costs extra, but it looks like it would be worth it.
As a bonus, that seat will also carry pannier bags on the side, making it good for more than just carrying passengers.

For a bit more money ($375 - $515) you could get a Caddyrack from - they turn most standard issue bikes into a cargo bike capable of hauling people, stuff, and even two rider-less bikes! I'm eyeballing this rack for my Wicked Witch 3 speed, since I would be able to carry a bike to a stranded kid and then they could follow me home, or if one gets too tired on a ride I could hitch the bike to mine, and they could ride on the deck.

See the panels at the bottom? You stick the front wheel of the other bike in there, and bungee to the deck.
All these are reasonable items that don't peg you as a prepper or psycho cyclist - just nice add-ons that have utility in everyday life. If you want to go full bore and get a longtail cargo bike like the Yuba Mundo or Bike Friday Haul-a-day, or a bakfiets like the CETMA Largo or my own Virtue Schoolbus trike, good for you! You'll get a lot of use out of it anytime, and feel especially smug  when the gas pumps are down. But if you're not ready for that big of a step, those other options are good to have on hand.

Oooo - just spotted this folding bike with a bonus seat on aliexpress -

Seriously neat! I need to investigate further!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bike pump repair

It's BEAUTIFUL weather here right now - the kind that just begs you to lace up your shoes or hop on your bike and GO.

So yesterday I was about to take advantage of this weather and bike over to my local pharmacy to get my pills, but my bike tires seemed a little low. So I got out my trusty bike pump - the floor model that reminds me of a dynamite plunger. I hooked up the pump, got a few pumps in, and heard a sudden hissing sound.

Horrified that I had blown a tube, I stopped to check - it wasn't the tube. At least, not the INNER tube. It was the tube or rubber hose that led from the pump to the tire. It had sheered away right next to the pump, and I couldn't figure out how to fix it fast enough to pump my tire, get to the pharmacy, and get back before Tristan's nap. So I drove, grumbling the whole way, griping that I might have to buy another pump when this one was otherwise perfectly good.

When I got home, Jake pointed out that there was a screw-on clamp that held the hose to the base of the pump. I grabbed a pair of pliers, unscrewed the clamp, and pulled the remaining bits of the hose off of the metal nipple that fed the air in. Then I cut the existing hose so the end was straight across again, fitted it onto the nipple, screwed the clamp back on, and by gum the pump worked again!!!

(I'll add pictures later)

That saved us not only $20 on a new pump, but also the hassle of having to go to the store and buy a replacement.