Holy Grass-Fed Cow

I just wanted to put a quick post out there to comment on the most incredible milk I have ever had. I realize that may sound a little…odd, but there it is.

Let me explain.

Last September I was visiting a friend out of town and, while waiting for her in some doctor’s office lobby, I had picked up a health magazine and had started reading a fascinating article on the benefits being found in dairy products from grass-fed cows. You mean organic? No, grass-fed. And yes, there is a difference.

In brief, cows that are raised on pure-pasture diets (read: absolutely no grain or horomones – in other words, the way God intended) create much less milk than the average giant corporate dairy farm cow, but everything coming out of what the grass-fed cow produces (cheese, milk, butter, and yogurt) is far healthier. Grass-fed dairy products contain more beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E for starters. They also have less fat, fewer calories, more balanced output of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, and carry as much as 500% more CLA than grain-fed cow products.

CLA stands for Conjugated Linoleic Acid which, studies are showing, may lower the risk of cancer as well as heart disease. And if that isn’t enough, they’re also finding it helps reduce body fat. Most of the references out there are highlighting the weight-loss benefits – let’s face it, there’s big money in peddling products to help burn fat – but I think the other two far outweigh.

Tack onto all of this that to support the grass-fed dairy industry is to support sustainable farming which, in our green-conscious society, makes for a nice side benefit.

Okay, so back to my story about the amazing milk that I started off this longer-than-intended post…

So I read this article and immediately set out to see what I could find out about possible grass-fed dairy products in my area. Naturally there are no products on the shelves in the grocery stores, so I started looking for dairy farms. I live in Bucks County, after all – there must be a dairy farm still in existence around here.

Sure enough, I found one. Birchwood Farm Dairy is located in Newtown not 15 minutes from my house and they supply a full-range of grass-fed products from their Jersey cows which munch happily on the pastures covering the farm. Thrilled, I headed over there to buy some milk only to discover that I had to be put on a waiting list! On one hand, I thought this is great because it shows that their supply isn’t as great as their demand and high-demand is a good thing. On the other hand, I wanted some milk.

Instead, I went on the waiting list.

My waiting ended last week when I got a call from the farm saying that they could move me onto their pick-up list if I was still interested. Yay!

So last Saturday I went over to pick up my first gallon of insanely fresh, grass-fed milk. Let me tell you – this milk is the most incredible milk I have ever tasted. It’s almost sweet and dessert-like…and yellow! Yeah, apparently milk isn’t supposed to be that pure white color we’ve all gotten used to. Who knew that cows raised on genetically engineered corn and dried hay would produce milk that’s less nutritious, less tasty, and then also be the wrong color?

Anyway, I can’t say enough good things about this milk. It’s a little more expensive, but man, is it worth it. And of course it’s just me, so it’s not like I go through milk that quickly – a gallon will likely last me a good 2 weeks so I’m set for a twice-a-month pick-up. Incidentally, I also tried some of their cheese. Double-yum.

A quick word of advice – if like most of America, milk is a staple in your fridge, check out Eat Wild – their site is filled with interested facts about grass-fed products as well as a directory of farms by state. If there’s one near you, go check it out. You’ll be doing your health, the environment, and a local business good.

Resident Mr. Murphy

It’s true what Dave Ramsey says – as soon as you start working to get on top of your budget and spending, Murphy does what he can to try and move into your spare room. Thankfully I already rent out my second bedroom so there really is no space for him, but he’s a persistent bugger.

First, it started with my having to get new tires for my car. While this would have been no big event had I been on the Dave Ramsey plan for several months, I was just starting out and therefore had very little built up in my Car Service envelope to cover such a major expense. I say “major” partly because my car apparently has performance tires on it meaning that I couldn’t replace them with just any ol’ tire. Rather, they needed to either have two new “full” performance tires (read: exactly what came on the car). These tires would have run me nearly $200 each. The second (and far more appealing) option was to replace all 4 tires with less-pricey, all-weather tires of a slightly different size. The job still ended up running me about $400 total with installation, etc. but caused me to dip into my starter emergency fund to make up the difference between what I had and what I needed and kicked Murphy out.

But like I said, he’s persistent.

No sooner had I gotten my emergency fund replenished than I started having leaking issues with my 21-year-old roof. Again, not something that would have been a problem had I enough time on the DR plan to fully save up for the roof replacement, but the leaks caused me to have the roof replaced sooner…MUCH sooner…than expected. The job was completed this past weekend which thrilled me since we had some serious rain yesterday, still it’s not only an expense I’m having to tackle sooner than my budget allowed. I haven’t gotten the final bill yet, but due to additional plywood replacements that they hadn’t originally thought they’d have to do, it may completely wipe out my emergency fund and then some… Murphy strikes again.

I know that once I have my fully funded emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses), Murphy will be almost completely repelled – it’s just this interim time where I feel like he’s sitting on my front porch that gets discouraging.

I know he’ll be gone eventually – I just need to stick with the plan. If only I could sic Chena on him in the meantime.

I should probably also mention that, although having to dip into and subsequently replenish my emergency fund, while annoying, has been a key part of my staying on-track and on-plan.  In my pre-Dave Ramsey life, I would have reached for the credit cards faster than you could say, “stupid tax.”  In other words, the emergency fund – while still only in the starter stages – is doing its job, and doing it well.

The Rainbow Connection

Just HAD to share this with everyone. Took this picture from my front yard. We were having some crazy weather (rapid-fire rain mixed with sunshine) and right after a mini cloud burst where the sun was still shining bright, this brilliant rainbow appeared. Wow. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture the one I saw about an hour earlier – twice the size of this one…and brighter, if you can believe that.

Brush With Fame

Well, maybe not fame exactly, but sort of.  Off-broadway type fame, I guess you could say.

My company’s new cafeteria management has changed up the food choices and other features of the cafeteria in my building. For the most part this translates into slightly better, but more expensive food. Just to give you an example, it now costs more to buy a grande Starbucks coffee in the cafeteria than it does to go to Starbucks and get it.

Thus, I typically have been avoiding the cafeteria as my budget will typically not allow me to spend upwards of $10 on lunch. Yesterday I made an exception.

While getting myself some “free” coffee in the pantry kitchen, I was looking at the board which provides us with the weekly menu from the cafeteria and noticed that they were hosting a chef from Cooking Light magazine down there yesterday preparing the cover dish from the May 2008 Cooking Light. Cool.

Being on Weight Watchers and a fan of Cooking Light in general, I decided to go and get me some of that.

Chai-Brined Shrimp Skewers is what he was making…with a few variations.  First, they weren’t skewered.  Not sure if they didn’t have skewers in the cafeteria, but it may just be that it was easier (and a little safer) to serve without sharp sticks of bamboo.  The other addition was a lovely side of lentils and then the shrimp and mango were served on a bed of rice and topped with the lovely chai sauce. (WW Points: 6)

Yum.

So you can visit the link above for the recipe so you can try it at home if you like.  I would definitely recommend it…and clearly you don’t need to let a lack of skewers stop you.

My Beef With Banks

I have received a very rude awakening recently when it comes to banks. Please understand first of all that, primarily due to my job, for the past 10 years I have always done all of my “banking” through a brokerage firm. So my checking, my savings, my investing, everything has been handled by a non-bank entity. What I am finding is that I’ve had it good.

Last October this all changed. The branch office which had been located in my work building for the brokerage was moved so it suddenly became less convenient to make deposits into my account because it would a drive and could only be done during regular business hours. If my only source of deposits were paychecks, this would not be a big deal, but I also have rental income. So I decided that, rather than be forced to visit the branch office, I would just open a local bank account so I could easily make deposits through the ATM and on weekends. Sounds like a good plan, right?

So I shopped around a bit and decided to open an account with Bank of America. They were conveniently located all across the country as well as around the corner. All was well for the first few months and then I made a deposit – my regular monthly deposit, I might add – and inexplicably, they put a delay on the funds for 10 business days. That’s 10 BUSINESS days which is otherwise known as 2 weeks! What the heck?! I called to protest and request information as to why they put such a delay on, but they couldn’t tell me. “This was an ATM deposit,” I was told, “and so we can’t see why there was a delay added to those funds, but you should be receiving a letter in the mail explaining.” (Incidentally, I did receive the letter AFTER the delay was lifted and still it gave no reason for the delay).

After that (and a few other minor infractions), I decided that I was going to close my B of A account. I removed all funds and opened an account instead with PNC (which so far has been a pleasant experience). All I had left to do with B of A was actually go in and close the thing. And then yesterday happened.

There is a recurring charge that hits my account every quarter. I thought – in fact, I’m sure – that I changed the card for the charge to my brokerage debit from my B of A debit, but apparently it didn’t take. Since I had not yet closed the B of A account, the charge hit yesterday causing my flat account to go into an overdraft.

First off, I was completely aggravated by the fact that B of A would approve a charge coming through on an account that had no money in it. Why on earth would that do that? What kind of business sense does that make? I called. I complained. I was met with bizarre excuses such as, “The card machines have no way of knowing how much money you have in your account.” Um…what? Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? You’re joking, right? What do you mean they don’t know? You mean I could run over to the ATM and pull up my account balance electronically, but that the electronic machine at the vendor doesn’t have access to that same data? Ridiculous. It’s not like it was a paper check that came through – it was a charge on a card with a $0 account balance that had been $0 for at LEAST 3 weeks.

The rudest part of my awakening came in discussing this whole debacle with my sister last night. “All banks do that, Deb,” she told me. “They make a ton of money off fees and that’s how they do it – by approving things they shouldn’t approve so your account gets thrown into overdraft and then they can charge you $35 or whatever. It’s also how they sell overdraft protection through a savings account…or better yet, a credit card.” (Danger, Will Robinson!)

I was dumbstruck. Seriously. I had no idea. MY “bank” (read: brokerage) doesn’t do that. In fact, even if you were about to go into an overdraft, they’ll call you first and see if you can bring a deposit in. If you can, they’ll go ahead and pass the check or charge or whatever it is coming through. No fees.

I wish I could say the saga ends there, but alas.

So I had a wire transfer sent FROM my primary brokerage account over to B of A so that the freakish-never-should-have-happened overdraft would be covered immediately and would you believe that B of A has managed to charged me AGAIN – $12 for an INCOMING wire transfer!!! I mean COME ON people! Why on EARTH would they charge me for INCOMING transfers? WHY? Is that standard bank practice across the board too? I’ve NEVER heard of such a thing. Ever. I would expect to be charged when SENDING a wire transfer – that makes sense. But RECEIVING one?! What kind of insane business model is that?

That’s it for me. I’m done with banks.