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Controlling Debt

finances

Most everyone now has to manage a monthly budget. Wages and income are not increasing for most people and the cost of living continues to go up. If a family has ongoing debts such as a mortgage or loan payments, there needs to be a way to save money on theses debts if possible.

There is an internet financial program that was developed by the Utah State University Cooperative Extension called Power Pay. This program is free to use and you can go online and find it under powerpay.org. You can do a monthly budget on this site and it will tell you what percentage that you are spending on housing, transportation and other household expenses. There are calculators that can help you compare mortgage loans or car loans. The most important calculator will help you determine when a loan will be paid off if you add an additional payment or payments.

More and more people are trying to get out of debt and pay off their mortgage sooner rather than later. As a general rule, the longer the term of the loan will determine the greater savings for paying extra payments. For instance, paying an extra mortgage payment per year will reduce years off of the end of the mortgage loan. If your loan permits extra payments, all that you have to do is take one payment and divide that number by 12. Take that amount and add it to your monthly payment principal. This will yield one extra payment per year. Check with your loan provider and see if they have any penalties for pre-payment. You can use the power pay calculator to see just how much you will save and how early the loan will be paid off.

You can also use this web-site to determine savings. Just think how much money we can have if we pay off our debts early and commit that money to a savings or retirement account. One of the most underrated sources of financial information is your local banker. Banks and Credit Unions have financial products that everyone can use and most of these products are insured by FDIC. As a general rule, the older the age of the investor, the lesser amount of risk that they should assume because they do not have as many years to recover from a bad investment. This is where your banker can really come in and helps you develop a safe savings strategy. Americas Saves Week starts on February 23rd, 2015. You can sign up for free resources on their web-site.

Congratulations Graduates!

Congratulations Graduates!

We would like to extend our congratulations to ALL graduates reaching this milestone.  We wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Memory Boosting Foods

If you’re feeling forgetful, it could be due to a lack of sleep or a number of other reasons including genetics, level of physical activity, and lifestyle and environmental factors. However, there’s no doubt that diet plays a major role in brain health.

The best menu for boosting memory and brain function encourages good blood flow to the brain — much like what you’d eat to nourish and protect your heart. A recent study found that the Mediterranean Diet helps in keeping aging brains sharp, and a growing body of evidence links foods like those in the Mediterranean Diet with better cognitive function, memory and alertness.

Strengthen Recall by Adding These Foods to the Rotation

Eat your veggies. You’re not likely to forget this message. Getting adequate vegetables, especially cruciferous ones including broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens, may help improve memory. Try a raw kale salad or substitute collard greens for the tortilla in your next sandwich wrap. Broccoli stir-fry is also an excellent option for lunch or dinner.

Be sweet on berries and cherries. Berries — especially dark ones such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries — are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function. Enjoy a handful of berries for a snack, mixed into cereal or baked into an antioxidant-rich dessert. You can reap these benefits from fresh, frozen or dried berries and cherries.

Get adequate omega-3 fatty acids. Essential for good brain health, omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular, may help improve memory in healthy young adults. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. It makes sense that if you have higher levels of DHA in the blood, then the brain will operate more efficiently.

Seafood, algae and fatty fish — including salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines and herring — are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Substitute fish for meat a couple of times each week to get a healthy dose. Grill, bake or broil fish for ultimate flavor and health. Try salmon tacos with red cabbage slaw, snack on sardines or enjoy seared tuna on salad greens for dinner. If you don’t eat fish, discuss supplementation with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, seaweed or microalgae supplements.

Work in walnuts. Well known for a positive impact on heart health, walnuts also may improve working memory. Snack on a handful of walnuts to satisfy midday hunger, add them to oatmeal or salad for crunch or mix them into a vegetable stir-fry for extra protein.

These foods are not just good for the brain; they also sustain a healthy heart and all parts of the body. While there’s no guarantee that these foods will help you remember where you put your keys tomorrow, over time they can support lifelong good health. Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

For more information, please contact Carolyn Bivins.

 

Don’t Get Taken By Travel and Vacation Scams

beach

Don’t get taken on your vacation. Before you do business with a travel company, check it out with the Better Business Bureau.

Travel and vacation scams usually are characterized by free or exclusive offers or unrealistic low prices.

Often these scams are linked to prize promotions or sweepstakes offers.

“Regardless of how they are offered, these types of scams have common elements, they fail to disclose certain fees, conditions and restrictions apply; and they misrepresent the nature or quality of the travel and hotel accommodations,” said Rick Zapata, an Alabama Extension regional agent  in consumer science and personal financial management. “You might have to spend one of the two free days in Florida attending a time-share presentation or else pay for your hotel. A cruise to the Bahamas may turn out to be a short ferry ride,” Zapata added.

Most travel and vacation scams also misrepresent a consumer’s ability to book the offered package. For example, a discount travel package may require reservations be made within a year and 90 days before the requested travel dates, or require three alternative travel dates. A fraudulent company fails to reply to the travel reservation requests consumers submit, replies too late for consumers to make personal travel arrangements, determines the reservations were not submitted within the 90-day period or determines the requested travel dates are fully booked.

In the worst case, the fraudulent company confirms the reservations with the consumer and doesn’t deliver the promised airline tickets. The consumer, who had made the necessary personal travel arrangements, arrives at the airport or hotel to find there are no reservations.

“The consequences of most, if not all, travel and vacation scams are consumers don’t receive the represented goods or services and can’t recover their money from the companies perpetrating these scams. Consumers routinely lose hundreds of dollars in these scams,” said Zapata.

If you can pay for the service with a company like Pay Pal, you might have some added protections if the services offered are really a scam.

For free information about avoiding travel and vacation scams, contact the Federal Trade Commission  or the National Fraud Information Center.

 

Planning the Garden to Preserve the Harvest

iStock_000017358071_MediumSpring is on its way and now is the time to plan what produce you may want to plant in your garden. In order to get the most out of your garden space, it’s important to plan what to put in the ground, and also plan how to preserve the bountiful harvest. Careful planning and careful attention throughout the growing season can provide your family with delicious home grown fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

Two resources can help with your planning. The first is the Alabama Extension publication “The Alabama Vegetable Gardener”. It gives vegetable yields per 100 feet of land – an essential planning tool for the home food producer. For example, 100 feet of tomatoes should yield 100 pounds of tomatoes. The publication also contains information about planting, soil fertility, weed control, disease control, and insect control.

Based on what is planted, plans can be made to preserve the produce. To can the tomatoes in the above example, the 100 pounds of tomatoes will make about 35 quarts of whole canned tomatoes. A yield chart, canning recipes, and freezing instructions can be found in the Alabama Extension Home Food Preservation book. More information on canning and home food preservation can be found in ACES Publications or by visiting the ACES Food Safety website, including food storage charts showing how long you can safely keep different foods in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Additionally, there are recipes and resources can be found online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation hosted by the University of Georgia.

Want to plant more and provide your local community with fresh fruits and vegetables?  Think about selling some of your excess at a Farmers Market?  It’s a great way to earn a little extra money this summer and help build our local food system. Farmers markets are located throughout the state. For more information on farmers markets, for both farmers and consumers, or to find a farmers market near you, visit the ACES Farmers Market website. If you are interested in selling prepared foods such as baked goods, sauces, jams & jellies, etc., see our publication on Cottage Food Law in Alabama.

For more gardening and food preservation information, or call Amelia Mitchell, Regional Extension Agent, at 251-574-8445 or mcgreaj@aces.edu.

Youth and the Media it’s Time to Talk

Tragic news seems to be everywhere lately. Adults have the capacity to sort through the many news events we watch on television and read on social media, but what about our most vulnerable population our precious gifts, our children. Have you taken the time to really talk with your children about the events that are happening all around the community, state and nation?

We are all over exposed to news involving tragic events and this can lead to added anxiety, fear, stress and uncertainty for our children and ourselves. Take time now to sit with your children and try and reassure them that you are here for them and they can talk to you about any fears they may have.

National advocates suggest that we be mindful of age and appropriateness of the talk for each child and their maturity level. Listen actively by acknowledging each child’s thoughts and the concerns they express. Let children tell you what they have heard and what it means to them. Reassure children by repeating what they have stated and let them know you understand their concerns, but use discretion in trying to explain complex topics. Age and maturity are the factors to consider whether you can go into an honest portrayal of your understanding of events and the amount of details needed.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers resources that you can view on our website that offers information that can help parents and the community to develop a meaningful conversation about family well-being and communication with children and youth at different age levels.

Positive youth development activities are available through 4-H, our umbrella for all youth activities through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. On June 23-25, 2015 Alabama youth are invited to be a part of the Teens and Tweens Making Impact Empowerment Conference on the campus of Alabama A&M University. For more information on this event and other summer activities, contact Amanda Outlaw, Urban Regional Extension Agent, at 251-574-8445 or outlaac@aces.edu for more details.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System a Ready Partner for 2015

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) currently has a respected presence in the state and will continue to provide research-based education to Alabamians. Our belief is that establishing and maintaining community partnerships will empower community members to make better health and wellness related choices that will enhance their quality of life.

Alabama’s high percentage of uninsured and/or unemployed residents, large minority population, and environmental concerns are external factors that may affect outcomes. The uninsured are less likely to address preventive health concerns. Health disparities are influenced by the level of knowledge, access to healthcare, and the ability to manage overall health and wellness. Chronic disease, health disparities, and healthcare access are major concerns for the state of Alabama.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s goal is to reach children as well as parents, caretakers and other adults, including seniors, in rural and urban populations through participation in workshops, targeted PPT programs, enrichment meetings, faith-based organizations, 4-H Club meetings, health fairs, conferences, social networking, media exposure, websites, partnerships, and curricula.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers educational programs to help increase awareness of how one’s actions affect health and wellness. We also want to increase knowledge of the benefits for consuming fruits and vegetables and increase understanding of the value of health across the lifespan and the multiple dimensions of health.

Health disparities focus on identifying, understanding, preventing, diagnosing, and treating health conditions such as diseases, disorders, and other conditions that are unique to, more serious, or more prevalent in subpopulations in socioeconomically disadvantaged (i.e., low education level, live in poverty) and medically underserved, rural, and urban communities.

Educational programs are being offered in the Baldwin and Mobile county areas that will hopefully provide our citizens with the research based information that will help them make informed decisions for their families. The Successful Aging Conference was held in Bay Minette in October 15, 2014 and provided the community with the opportunity to learn about basic estate planning, food safety, home safety, health literacy and financial management strategies. This was the second conference for the Baldwin County area that focused on the Successful Aging Initiative (SAI), a statewide effort of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs. The program is designed to meet the needs of the growing population of Alabama’s senior citizens. Through the SAI, we direct our efforts to address issues that meet the needs of seniors at various stages of life. The Face of Aging is changing each year and seniors have to think, adapt, and succeed during each stage of life.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease and low literacy is linked to higher rates of hospitalization and less frequent use of preventive services (National Center for Education Statistics). In the past five years, the rate of preventable hospitalizations decreased from 94.8 to 80.1 discharges per 1,000 Medicare enrollees. In the last year, the infant mortality rate declined from 9.7 to 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. With all of these facts there are Extension programs that are available to empower citizens to make informed decisions which include Health Rocks, Successful Aging Conferences, A Gift to Your Family, PREP (Promoting Readiness for Employment Possibilities), TMI (Teens Making Impact), Making Money Count, Welcome to the Real World, Home A*Syst, and many more. Contact Amanda Outlaw at 251-654-5934 oroutlaac@aces.edu to schedule a program or for more information about the programs listed. Resources for this article are from Alabama Cooperative Extension System Strategic Program Initiative 2014-2018 Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan.

Recognizing Volunteers

During the spring, we like to recognize how important volunteers are to the Baldwin County Extension Office.  We appreciate each person that volunteers with our office.  Volunteers help us reach more families with research- based information.  We have volunteer programs that include 4-H Volunteers, Baldwin County Master Gardeners and the Master Environmental Educators.  In addition to these three programs, we have volunteers that serve as advisory members, judges for special events, guest speakers, fair volunteers and more.

Many of our 4-H volunteers are leaders of our local 4-H clubs.  They are helping youth learn how to conduct a meeting, speak before a group, prepare for a competitive event, give back to their community through service projects and learn life skills.  Our 4-H members have been busy with events such as State Archery Competition, State Livestock Show and County Competitive Event and the volunteer leaders have been at each of these events to support and encourage our 4-H’ers.

MGSpringWorkshopVolunteers

Baldwin County Master Gardeners have been very busy.  You may have met some of our volunteers at Arbor Day events, the plant sale or at the spring gardening workshops.  This time of year, Master Gardeners are answering lots of Home Gardening questions at the Master Gardener Helpline (1-877-252-GROW). This is a toll free line that provides answers about home gardens and home grounds for our region.

The Master Environmental Educators have presented information at Earth Day events this month as well as school programs. For this school year, a total of 171 lessons have been taught at 27 schools for approximately 5,200 students.  These program topics include aquatic nuisance species, backyard wildlife habitat, energy, groundwater pollution, invasive plants, nonpoint source pollution, recycling, and the water cycle.

A special thank you to all our 2015 volunteers!  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer in any of these program areas, please contact the Baldwin County Extension Office at 251-937-7176 or 928-3002/943-5061, ext. 2222.

Hay Quality

Hay! While it may be on livestock producers’ minds right now, they are probably thinking more about feeding it rather than producing it.  Hopefully, the winter-grazing will bust out before long and hay feeding can come to a halt, but in the meantime, I would like for hay producers to begin thinking about growing good quality hay.

I would like to challenge anyone producing hay to strive for producing good quality hay this year instead of quantity.  Here in L.A. (lower Alabama) we are blessed in the way that we can grow forages nearly year round, but due to our warmer climate, typically, the forages we grow are of lesser quality.  This doesn’t mean that we cannot produce good quality forage and hay; we just have to do a better job of management.

The biggest influence hay producers can have on hay quality is harvesting at the proper stage of maturity.  Most often, hay is harvested past the optimum stage and this greatly reduces quality.  Reduced quality means less of the hay can be digested by the animal, which leads to the animal eating less hay, which in turn means decreased animal performance, which leads to needing more supplemental feeds, which in turn increases expenses.  All in all, poor quality hay costs more.

I would dare to say that most hay producers in Alabama know that animals perform better on good quality hay, but producers really don’t know the quality of hay they are producing.  I say this based on the low number of hay samples being tested every year at Auburn University’s lab.  Sampling hay for analysis, or in other terms, having a “hay test” done can give a producer valuable information about their hay.  For example, a hay test will tell you the crude protein and digestibility of the hay.  Knowing this along with the nutritional needs of your animals can help a person design a more effective and economical supplemental feeding program, which can improve animal performance, which translates into more $$$.

For more information on how to collect hay samples, please visit our website http://www.aces.edu/anr/forages/ and click on the link “Collecting Forage Samples for Laboratory Analysis”.  There is a lot of other useful forage information at this website as well, so please check it out.

I would also like to encourage any hay producers that are raising good quality hay to enter the Southeastern Hay Contest.  The contest has been spot lighting high quality hay and forage production in the Southeast and is run in conjunction with the Sunbelt Ag Expo.  Alabama has been under represented in years past and I would like for that to change.  So, please participate if you can. Besides, they have some really nice prizes for the winners.  To find out more details about the contest along with how to enter, please visit their website at https://sehaycontest.wordpress.com.

Proper Disposal of Unused Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products

Medication

As April begins to fade into May, it’s time to do a little spring cleaning around the house. This includes the removal and proper disposal of any old or unused medications that may be stored in medicine cabinets or in other areas of your home.  Overtime, we all seem to accumulate outdated pharmaceuticals, personal care products, or over-the-counter medications that are well beyond their expiration dates or no longer prescribed for use.  Ensuring the safe disposal of these pharmaceuticals and personal care products is a growing environmental concern in the United States for a variety of reasons.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines pharmaceuticals and personal care products, often referred to as PPCPs, as any of the following:

  • Prescription, over-the-counter drugs, and illegal drugs: These drugs include antidepressants, tranquilizers, psychiatric drugs, cancer drugs, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, blood pressure medications, antiseptics, lipid regulators, oral contraceptives, synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and many other classes and types of drugs.
  • Veterinary drugs
  • Perfume or cologne
  • Cosmetic beauty aids, including sun-screen products
  • Detergents
  • Vitamins or other dietary supplements (also called nutraceuticals)

While PPCP’s are available from a variety of sources and are marketed for use by humans, pets, or livestock, it is their improper disposal that threatens our health and community.  Many unused drugs and personal care products are often poured down drains, flushed down toilets, or simply thrown away by consumers who are unaware of the dangers these chemicals pose to our environment.  The harm comes when these chemicals end up in our water supplies, including surface and ground water resources, wastewater treatment systems, or in our public landfills.  In some municipalities where consumers are directly connected to wastewater treatment plants, PPCPs that are poured down sinks or flushed down toilets may pass through some type of pre-treatment before they are discharged into the surrounding rivers or lakes. However, according to the EPA, not all wastewater treatment plants are equipped to remove trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and other household chemicals on a routine basis.  The presence of PPCP’s in our water resources can also have adverse effects on wildlife as well, especially in aquatic ecosystems.

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends avoiding the flushing of expired or unwanted drugs down toilets or sink drains. Instead the EPA encourages consumers to take advantage of drug take back opportunities that may be offered in their local communities.  Over the last 4 years, National Pharmaceutical Drug Take Back Days have been held across the United States. These nationwide events sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in partnership with local law enforcement agencies, have collected and disposed of a total of 2,411 tons of discarded prescription drugs in accordance with environmentally approved methods.  According to the DEA, “Unused prescription medications in homes create a public health and safety concern, because they can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused.”  In fact, the majority of prescription drugs abused today, especially among teenagers, are found no further than the medicine cabinets of family or friends.

In Baldwin County, the Sheriff’s Department’s main office located in Bay Minette and its satellite office in Fairhope, maintain a 24 hour/7 days a week drop box in the lobby for the disposal of outdated or unused pharmaceuticals.  Citizens are encouraged to take advantage of this quick and convenient means of disposing old and outdated medications safely.  For security purposes, it is recommended that you remove the labels or scratch out any personal information on the containers before disposing of them.  You may also wish to check with a national pharmacy chain located in your area to see if they offer any type of drug disposal program.

The Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs unit of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers educational resources and workshops that enable citizens to safeguard their home and environment from the dangers associated with the management and disposal of expired or unwanted pharmaceutical drugs. One such program, Synergistic Efforts to Reduce Pharmaceutical Impacts on the Environmental Program (SerPIE) outlines these dangers and offers the consumer information regarding alternatives to disposing of PPCP’s directly into sink drains or toilets. For more information regarding the safe disposal of outdated or unused pharmaceuticals or the SerPIE Program’s outreach activities, please contact Denise Heubach, an Urban Regional Extension Agent II with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at 251-574-8445 or dhh0006@auburn.edu .

Dangers of Texting and Driving

dangers of texting and driving

We hear about texting and driving all the time.  Law enforcement is taking notice of drivers who are texting.  Parents warn their children………children warn their parents.  Have you ever thought about the real dangers of being distracted? The following numbers are very alarming!!

Here’s a scary statistic:

If you text and drive, you are 23 times more likely to have a car crash.  Texting while driving has become the number one driving distraction for many people. Drivers need to be aware of the dangers and keep their attention on the road, not on their cell phones or other mobile devices.

In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in addition to 421,000 people being injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.  Each day in the United States, more than 9 people are killed and more than 1,153 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.  Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road;
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel;
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving.

Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting, and eating. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be sources of distraction. While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction.

CDC Distracted Driving Study

A CDC study analyzed 2011 data on distracted driving, including talking on a cell phone or reading or sending texts or emails behind the wheel.

  • 69% of drivers in the United States ages 18-64 reported that they had talked on their cell phone while driving within the 30 days before they were surveyed
  • 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving at least once within the 30 days before they were surveyed.

For more information on Family & Child Development programs, contact me atodommar@auburn.edu or 251-604-5226.