Monday, September 22, 2014

(Mostly) Environmentally Friendly

It seems as though I have started veering off toward that crunchy trail known as being “green”.  It really wasn’t an intentional turn down that fork in the road, I’m not a granola head or a tree hugger (I don’t think I am, anyway and no hate to those who are).  Standing on the precipice of turning 40 next year, my skin has decided to go from “kinda” sensitive to “OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PUTTING ON ME….IT BUUUURRRNNNS” sensitive.  Maybe that was a little extreme but that’s how it feels.  Everything makes me itch.  I have ruled out my first fear, none of the animals have fleas (whew).  It all started back when my armpits decided that they were just too good for Teen Spirit.  I’m using that to date the experience, I have no idea if they even still sell Teen Spirit, but that was the “fun” version of Lady Speed Stick with awesome flavors like Orchard Blossom and Sweet Strawberry because, well, doesn’t every girl want her pits to smell like fruit?  When I started itching from that, I moved on to the grown up Lady Speed Stick.  I had relief for a while and when the itch returned, I changed again, this time to Mitchum for Women gel.  All in all, as long as I switched it up every few months (basically, when I emptied a stick, it was time to change brands) my pits seems appeased.  Until a few years ago.

It no longer mattered which brand of anti-perspirant I slathered under my arms.  They rebelled with a fiery itchiness that I can only assume is the equivalent of keeping tarantulas in your pits…oh, and the tarantulas are carrying poison ivy, that defies all nature by staying at a consistent temperature of around 112°.  So I switched to deodorant.  What do you mean, isn’t that what normal people use, you may be asking?  That’s what I thought.  Normally, the crap we buy to stop our pit-stank is anti-perspirant/deodorant.  It’s the anti-perspirant that stops the sweating and it does that by using magical aluminum.  And my underarms hate magic.  I started using Crystal Essence Liquid roll-on in Pomegranate flavor, because, again…fruit.  That worked for a couple years.  Oh, and in between new products, I always had to use a combination of anti-itch lotion and medicated powder to calm Cthulhu, the petulant elder god that had taken up residence under my arms….which works great for healing, not so much in the not-smelling-bad arena.

A word about having to stop using anti-perspirant in favor or deodorant.  You will sweat.  It is inevitable.  Unless you live in a perpetual frozen wasteland, dress lightly and move very little….you will sweat.  When you find a deodorant that works for you, even though you sweat, you don’t stink.  But therein lies the problem, finding one that works with your own body chemistry.  And apparently my body’s chemistry is along the lines of some poorly trained meth cook that indulges in his own creations: irritable, unstable and sometimes vulgarly explosive.  When the liquid crystal crap stopped preventing malodor, I tried a battery of other natural deodorants and let me tell you, they can get pretty pricey.  I tried Tom’s, The Body Shop, Kiss My Face, some weird brand I’d never heard of from the health food store…none of them lasted the day.  I found LaVanila – The Health Deodorant, and it comes in nice scents like vanilla lavender, vanilla lemon and vanilla summer (kind of coconutty-mango..yeah, fruit again).  But it’s expensive at $14.00 for a 1.7 oz. stick…..and it only works intermittently for me.  Damn.

So I took to the interwebz and found a recipe for DIY deodorant.  I was skeptical about covering my irrational underarm skin with a product whose base is extra virgin coconut oil.  Quick side fact for anyone who isn’t familiar with coconut oil, at lower temperatures (like room temperature), it’s solid with the consistency of really, really cold Country Crock buttery spread or all-natural almond butter if that’s more your thing.  This homemade deodorant consisted of the coconut oil, arrowroot powder, organic baking soda and, if you were brave, essential oils of your choice for fragrance.  I traipsed over to the health food market and picked up the ingredients and bravely selected two different bottles of essential oils – tea tree for its antiseptic properties and sweet tangerine (damn it all, why do I always want to smell like fruit?!).  Got home and got to makin’ me some sweet deodorant.  It was easy to make and, guess what, it actually worked.  And it kept on working….except…..yes, there’s always a but, isn’t there.  It was turning my formerly red and angry-looking pits a sad shade of taupey-gray.  And the skin was becoming akin to something I once saw on a TLC special called Half Man, Half Tree….and I could take my fingernail and scrape off the top layer.  Too much information?  Deal with it, it was gross, I know….moving on.

So, I went back to the LaVanila alternating with Anti-Monkey Butt powder and Lady Anti-Monkey Butt powder, which has calamine in it so it’s soothing yet it somehow stops the stink, most of the time.  I was clicking around the interwebz when I found myself on a blog by a young woman who also has very sensitive skin and tried every natural deodorant known to woman (just like me!), including her own very similar DYI recipe.  She was ecstatic when she found Soapwalla’s line of natural body care products and now swore by their deodorant cream (find it HERE and HERE).  So, despite the $14 price tag for 2 oz, I ordered it.  It arrived three days ago and, so far, so good.  It smells slightly of lavender, is easy to apply and works all day – even into the next morning.  I will continue to use it, crossing my fingers that it doesn’t lose its efficacy like some of the previous brands I’ve tried and doesn’t make my pit skin go all cadaver.  But I kind of got lost in my armpits there, let me get back to my accidental journey into the environmentally conscious.

I've been buying nothing but organic, gluten-free pet foods for years.  They cost more but they have afforded my pets excellent health, bright eyes and extremely shiny coats (my eldest cat is almost 16 and shows no signs of slowing down).  I only use local, unpasteurized honey in my tea.  I love to make my own salad dressing and really love it when I can buy produce from the nearby farmer's market.  Along with exchanging my traditional anti-perspirant for tree-hugging….oops, I mean…natural deodorant, I also found myself pitching my body wash (citrus mango, did you really have to ask?) and laundry detergent for their hypoallergenic cousins.  I haven’t ventured too far into the world of hippy…dang it, sorry again…natural body cleansers because I seem to do alright with plain old Ivory bar soap and I’ve learned, if you find something that works and doesn’t infuriate your skin, stick with it until something changes on either front.  I’m still struggling to find a laundry detergent that doesn’t cause the itchies yet isn’t priced according to the current value of a troy ounce of platinum.  I am trying to be frugal and finish out my luxury purchase of Caldrea Lavender and Pine dryer sheets but I fear that they are now the cause of my current skin crawlies.  The dryer sheets and the All Free and Clear which is clearly poison to my pores despite its benign, colorless appearance.  I did just crack open a new tub of Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder which boasts its non-toxic, bio-degradable cleaning prowess but as I’ve learned in the past, just because something is all-natural, doesn’t mean my skin won’t violently reject it.  The boy commented that it “looks generic”, probably because the packaging is white with minimal colors and graphics but I’ll use it and see if it makes a difference.  I am also curious to see what soap nuts and felted wool dryer balls are all about.  They seem intriguing but I’m afraid.  Maybe once the tub of Charlie’s is empty.  I’ll let you know.
I think it’s great to do things that can reduce my carbon footprint, especially if it benefits me in other ways and ends up costing less in the long run (the DYI deodorant was cheap to make and if the soap nuts and dryer balls end up to be effective, they are less costly than even store brands of detergent and fabric softener).  I did enjoy my veggie garden this summer even though the cucumbers weren’t very fruitful.  So it doesn’t seem too far off that I’ll soon be posting my latest blog entry about dreadlocks from my tree, above my compost bin/toilet hole, baking crickets in my solar oven and drinking my own distilled urine.  Ok, maybe I took it too far, I would never have dreadlocks.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Documentaries, Entitlement and Hurt Feelings

I have always been a fan of documentaries but I have to be in the right mood.  Most documentaries are just flat-out depressing (see Waiting for Superman, The Cove, basically anything from Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore….) yet I find myself drawn to them.  HBO has a great series of documentaries and I most recently watched what was an actual uplifting and heart-warming film called Miss You Can Do It.  It does have some bits and pieces that were sad, but the overall focus and message was really nice.  But that’s not why we’re today.  I want to talk about a different HBO documentary, Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.

This one left a bad taste I my mouth…more so than the typical downtrodden story featuring a sad soul.  This one didn’t leave me depressed, it left me angry.  Angry at the producer and a bit miffed at the story’s protagonist.  Now I try really hard not to be judgmental, but sometimes it happens anyway.  If this woman’s story is really what the producer thinks is an accurate representation of a single, American woman who is living paycheck to paycheck, then Mrs. Arnold Schwarzenegger is so far out of touch with reality, it’s a bit sad.  Did this woman featured in this film have it easy?  Oh, hell no….she worked for living and was raising three children with little help from their father….there are plenty of women that live that same struggle.  She had a mediocre paying job and aspirations of returning to school to get a degree.  So….where’s my problem?  Some of the choices just didn’t seem to jive with someone who truly is what is referred to as the “working poor”.  She chose to have pets, which is a luxury.  Yes, she had to sell the puppy she bought for her kids, but perhaps that was a pet that would’ve have been best placed somewhere else to begin with if it wasn’t an addition she could afford to support.  She also didn’t bother to spay her cat, which was routinely let outside… of course came the kittens (which she shooed outside in the rainy cold…she lost BIG points with me on that one).  Her children drank soda rather than water or milk.  She opted to spend quite a bit at the salon (for her birthday) after getting what was likely a very hefty tax refund (thanks earned income credit!) rather than paying off bills like she intended (*please note, the part about not paying off her bills as she intended was implied by the content of the program but never stated as fact.  If she did, in fact, pay off those bills in addition to her salon indulgence, well, kudos to her!).  I could go on and on, but I digress.  She was lucky enough to qualify for subsidized child care, which enabled her to work but beyond that, it didn’t appear as though she was receiving any other public assistance.  She and her family had a home, she had a car and there was always food on the table.

This brings me to point number two….according to

identity theft  <noun>

: the illegal use of someone else's personal identifying information (such as a Social Security number) in order to get money or credit

fraud <noun> \ˈfrȯd\

: the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

: a person who pretends to be what he or she is not in order to trick people

How does one segue from a documentary about living paycheck to paycheck to identity theft and fraud?  Well, when you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck, or worse, where is the line between doing something legally ambiguous out of a perceived need and breaking the law?  Let’s talk in generalities and see where it goes…..

Public assistance is a hot button issue for a lot of people.  I do not judge, this is one subject where my attitude is “mind my business”.  I’ve been on public assistance.  At the ripe of old age of 18, I found myself pregnant and working a part time job that didn’t qualify me for health insurance.  Before the dawn of Health Care Reform (a.k.a. ObamaCare or whatever catch phrase you know it by), once you turned 18, if you weren’t a full time student, you were booted off of your parents’ health insurance.  As a newly formed adult, what did I know about health insurance….what did I care about it?  Until I turned up knocked up.  Earning minimum wage ($4.25 at the time) is only an advantage when you need public assistance.  My wages were low enough for me to qualify for the Wisconsin Healthy Start program and with that, came state health insurance.  I didn’t have to pay anything for the coverage and I had no out of pocket expenses for any of my medical care as long as I found a doctor that accepted the plan.  After the boy was born, we were eligible to remain on that insurance as well as receive food benefits through Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.  WIC is a little different than traditional food stamps, or SNAP benefits as they are known today.  WIC provided me with checks that were pre-printed with food items rather than a monetary value.  I had a list of WIC approved foods and brands I could select from and, as long as I shopped at stores that accepted it, things like cereal, cheese, milk and juice were compliments of the state.  I was appreciative and after a shopping trip or two, I got over my false pride and felt no shame in using those checks.  When my little family was in better financial shape and eligible for health insurance through work, it was a seamless transition off of public assistance and I feel incredibly fortunate to have never needed it again.  I will never look down on anyone who needs public assistance.  I see memes and online heated comments like “So you need food stamps but you got yourself a new iPhone and Gucci purse”.  Yeah, well, you have no idea what that person’s circumstances were or are at the present.  Things tend to snowball and can go downhill fast, financially speaking.  What was once middle class can turn into the edge of the poverty level in a matter of months – why should they give up the nice things that they previously worked so hard to purchase?  Again…not the exact point of my rant, so….I digress.

Back to those dictionary definitions cited above.  Where is that line?

You’re living in an apartment you can just barely afford but the school system in your area leaves a lot to be desired.  Your aunt lives in a neighboring suburb with schools rated in the top of the state.  So, you say you’re living at her address in order for your kid to attend those elite suburban schools.  Your aunt thinks it’s great and she’s glad to be able to help.  Who’s gonna know….you aren’t hurting anyone, after all….are you?

You find yourself working a job that you love but it doesn’t pay very well.  To help make ends meet, you do a little cleaning on the side and the guy you clean for is more than happy to pay in cash.  That way, he isn’t technically your employer, you don’t have to claim that additional income for tax purposes….it’s a win-win, right?

You lose your job through no fault of your own and immediately fall ill to a chronic disease.  Your spouse has a job but it’s only part time, doesn’t pay much and you don’t qualify for health insurance.  Because you technically aren’t “able” to work, you can’t collect unemployment compensation.  Thankfully, you qualify for government insurance for yourself, your spouse and your child but what about living expenses?  Although you meet the financial criteria for the health insurance, you “make too much money” to quality for SNAP food benefits.  Your mother has been retired for some time and she’s doing just fine, financially, but not well enough to help out.  She suggests that you say that she is living with you, just so you have another qualifying household member because her meager social security is little enough so that you would then be able to collect SNAP food benefits.  You get the financial help you so desperately need, your mom offered, there’s no harm in that… there?

Your car just completely died.  You have no savings and your credit is in the toilet.  Your kid, who is 24, has held a steady job and has excellent credit and will never know if you get a car loan in her name.  I mean, you’re going to pay the bill every month, you can afford it, you just can’t get the credit on your own.  She’ll never know so you’re really not doing anything wrong….are you?

Let’s put another spin on all of those.  Let’s say that your aunt doesn’t know that you’re using her address to send your kid to that suburban school.  And your friend doesn’t know that you aren’t reporting that money he pays you to clean his house as income, because he uses it as a tax write off on his taxes as a business expense since he works from home.  You never bothered to tell you mom that you reported her as a member of your household in order to qualify for public assistance.  Your daughter has a membership to a credit monitoring service and knows exactly when you got that car loan in her name.

Does all of that make those scenarios feel a little different?  I’ll bet so.  But ultimately, they are the same.  It’s all fraud (and/or identity theft) and it’s all illegal.  If you put the “down on your luck/doing what you have to do” spin on things, you can make anything sound legitimate or at least excusable.  But let’s extrapolate further….

What happens when the district finds out that your child doesn’t live at the address on his enrollment form?  When your aunt has had enough of your mail coming to her house, she takes it upon herself to call the school and “correct” their mistake.  Now what?  Now you have to not only explain yourself but find you kid a new school to go to.  Or when that guy gets audited and shows proof that he’s been paying you to clean his house, he’s cleared and gets to the business of relieving you of your duties and all it has cost him was the time and aggravation of the audit.  But where does that leave you, legally?  Your mom cashed out her retirement account, had to file a tax return and now the government has sent her a notice that she was overpaid for public assistance benefits that she now has to pay back.  She’s confused and now, after speaking with the agency, really angry at you for using her name.  You fall behind on that car loan and now the collection agency has been harassing your daughter, threatening wage garnishment.

In all of those situations, not only are you legally in the wrong, you have hurt your family and friends in a way that is near irreparable.  Was it worth it?  Did you honestly believe that it would all go unnoticed and no one would ever be the wiser?  Maybe sometimes people do get away with that kind of activity but the only person they end up cheating is themselves.  Always having to be vigilant to maintain whatever façade they have built, probably to the point of believing it themselves.  I have to believe that people who take advantage like that have developed a skewed sense of entitlement.  Almost like whatever they are doing to get that end result was warranted because they deserve it.
Well, I can only hope that karma is real because I really do try and maintain that “mind my business” outlook.  I try and stay on the right path, as difficult as that can be sometimes.  I obey the law….ok, so sometimes I speed and don’t wear my seatbelt….but otherwise….ok, sometimes I throw a plastic bottle in the trash.  You get what I mean, right?