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Editors Note:  I realize that this is a controversial and touchy subject for some.  I ask that you read this with an open mind, and that if you feel the need to comment, comments are thoughtful, backed by truth and facts, and not accusatory.

I’m saddened by the recent news that, under the new GOP spending plan, $327 million would be cut from Title X.

To those of you that read news snippets, this proposal to cut federal funding for Title X is aimed at Planned Parenthood of America.

Title X, in short, is a government program that provides family planning services.  Priority for services such as contraception, supplies, and information is given to low income families.  Planned Parenthood is not the only place that receives benefits from Title X.

I know many people already know this, but I feel as if this fact gets lost whenever family planning and Planned Parenthood come to the forefront of debate:  people use Planned Parenthood for services other than abortion. Each year 3 million Americans rely on Planned Parenthood for health care.  Yes, health care.  Planned Parenthood spends 90 percent of its budget on preventive care and education, performing over one million cervical cancer screenings and 830,000 breast exams annually.  Nearly 2.5 million Americans receive contraception from Planned Parenthood, and 4 million are tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections at clinics.

In fact, I used it myself when I moved down to Washington, DC as a cheaper alternative for preventative screening and birth control.  And I’m not ashamed to say that.  No woman should be ashamed of the fact that she needs to take care of herself, and those with lower incomes or no health insurance should have safe options to do so.  Just like the rest of us.

Conservatives are looking to use the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortion services to strip them of all federal funding.  I’m not about to go out on a limb and say that every organization is perfect,nor am I about to say whether or not I agree with abortion, but cutting all funding based on one service provided is disheartening to me and dangerous for women and their families that rely on the millions of other services offered.

I remember during one visit for an annual check up at Planned Parenthood in the Silver Spring area of DC, I had to be escorted into the building because of protesters outside.  As I sat in the office looking at the other women there with me, I became very angry about this.  Since when is it a crime to take care of yourself?  I had half a mind to go outside and talk to the people out there, to let them know that just because I was sitting in this office did not mean I was looking into abortion options. I was simply taking care of myself.  I can’t speak for the other women there, but let’s remember that Planned Parenthood provides cancer screening, HIV testing, and other forms of preventative care that are a MUST for women of every age-not a luxury.

Title X was a huge step forward for women and men all over the country.  Before we go about cutting funding to places like Planned Parenthood and other safe clinics around the country, I hope that as a nation we can remember that, for those less fortunate, Planned Parenthood may be the only option they have to take care of themselves.  Lower income women and families are already struggling to be able to find affordable health care options given our current economy, and I feel like this just puts the knife in the coffin when it comes to the health care debate.

 

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Just when you thought I was finished writing about online discount sites…..

As we all know by now, I’m a bit addicted to online shopping and deals, so I LOVE when emails from sites like Groupon and Living Social show up in my Inbox.  Even if I don’t buy anything, I just like having the option.  A friend of mine recently posted a link on her Facebook profile to Eversave.  Since I always post links to the sites I belong to, and want people to sign up so I can get referral bonuses, I thought I might as well help her out!

There aren’t too many differences among Eversave and the other coupon sites out there.  The referral program seems a bit better (just for signing up I got a $2 credit toward a purchase), but other than that, it’s the same theme:  sign up, get daily emails, buy, and save.  If you refer friends, you get $10 once they make their first purchase.  Pretty decent reward, if your friends remember they signed up for it….

I’m signed up for Eversave NYC, and the deals I’ve gotten so far have all been discounts for e-tailers, which is actually better for me than any NYC deals, since it’s highly unlikely I’d go to the city to take advantage of them.  The sites are all pretty unique and botique-like, so it’s been fun reading through and seeing what they have to offer.

From a location perspective, Eversave has some work to do.  As of today, there were only about 55 locations across the United States, most of them focused around cities.  This hasn’t seemed to matter yet, as I haven’t seen too many deals that can’t be redeemed online, but it would be nice for one site to penetrate the rural areas a bit better than the other sites have done.  It would certainly set them apart.

Another way Eversave is trying to differentiate itself is through the Savings Center, which lists coupons and other deals and integrates with Coupon.com.  I’ve personally never used Coupon.com, because you have to install this special print application, but I might consider doing it just to get some variety in my off-line coupon clipping.  I’d like this feature better if I could add the coupons to my store card and have the deals deducted automatically at check out.  But I won’t judge.

Besides printable coupons, the Savings Center gives you the opportunity to sign up to take surveys, get discounts from clothing stores, and some cool contests and giveaways.  I’m a bit leery of signing up for anything yet, but it might tempt me eventually….

I know what you’re thinking-there’s only so many emails with deals I can stand, Valarie.  That’s ok.  But for those of us that really love to shop, and really love to save, what’s one more discount to browse through each morning?

Sign up here, and start saving!

 

I recently saw in a Hungry Girl newsletter that the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services had announced new dietary guidelines to “help Americans make healthier food choices and confront the obesity epidemic”.   As a direct result of the fact that one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the US are overweight or obese, the Dietary Guidelines place stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

The press release I found stated that additional consumer-friendly advice and tools would be relased in the coming months, and gave a snapshot of some of the advice found in the Dietary Guidelines:

  • Avoid oversized portions
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Compare sodium in foods and choose the foods with lower numbers
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

While this advice seems almost too elementary for those of us that subscribe to an overall healthy lifestyle, my biggest question for the USDA and HHS is how they plan to ensure this message reaches those in lower-income levels who may not have access to the same resources we have.  It is no secret that underprivileged children often have unhealthier diets, and honestly, I can see why.  Eating healthy is not cheap, and to be honest, it’s not often convenient.  Ensuring that Jared and I are eating healthy does take a bit of planning, and our grocery bill certainly isn’t cheap.

Although it’s nice to have these dietary guidelines that talk about the benefits of exercise and a balanced diet, I hope that the government plans to do more than issue a press release and a downloadable guide.  I admire the work our First Lady is doing in this regard, and only hope that the message can be spread to more areas in a fashion that is reachable and achievable for those less fortunate than us.

 

Surprisingly enough, Weight Watchers is actually living up to its claims as far as weight loss is concerned.  So far, I’ve lost about 7 pounds, which is more than I’ve been able to lose before simply by working out more and tracking calories.  While I didn’t lose any weight this week and still have not met the original goal I set, I’m confident that if I’m a bit more careful over the weekends, I’ll be able to meet my goal soon.

Two weeks ago, I talked about how the Points system worked.  I’m still working on striking a balance between daily points and weekly points, meaning that I’m still working up to convincing myself that it’s ok to use those weekly points when I need to.  So, let’s talk about some of the food and recipe sources available through the plan.

My biggest problem with most weight loss plans in the past has been finding food that I can eat, and that Jared will still enjoy.  While we certainly aren’t gluttons, we do appreciate fine foods, and have so many cookbooks at our disposal,  it should be illegal.  I very cautiously and carefully started adding some Weight Watchers recipes into our weekly menu, and to my delight, they have been a hit.

The Food & Recipes section of Weight Watchers is so full of content it’s almost overwhelming.  While recipes are broken down into several categories, I do sometimes struggle with organizing the information in a way I can handle.  They feature one or two recipes on the side bar of the home page, which usually offers simple solutions for dinner or dessert ideas.  Since the database is so big, I’ve been going through from time to time and saving recipes I want to try to my favorites, so I remember to come back to them when I’m not sure what I want.

We’ve had the Barley Risotto with Sausage and a pulled pork type sandwich, both of which were very good, and husband approved.  I feel as if all of the recipes keep in mind that some people might be feeding a family, or others who may not be on Weight Watchers, so the food is filling without making you feel like you ate a diet food.  They are also easy to modify.  the risotto called for mushrooms, which I can’t stand, but it was easy to eliminate them without making the meal unhealthy.  As a note, I would link to these recipes, but I do not think you can access them unless you are a subscriber.  If anyone wants one, let me know 🙂

Another great aspect of the food section are the cheat sheets.  The site features interactive guides for eating everything from pizza to pasta to salad to Chinese food.  Super helpful for eating out, and learning a bit more about how to manage parties and other non-database foods.

Unlike other healthy recipes I’ve seen in the past, I really feel as if Weight Watchers provides a nice balance between healthy and delicious.  I don’t feel deprived at all, and it’s kind of an exciting adventure to plan meals and other plan-friendly activities.  As I try more recipes, I’ll be sure to share!

We all know how this goes.  Things are running smoothly with your diet and exercise plan-you’re losing weight, working out more than ever before, and just feeling fantastic.

Then Friday sneaks up on you.  One look at the weekend’s calendar, and you know trouble is looming.  After all, Happy Hour, followed by a dinner party followed by Sunday brunch with your in-laws can’t possibly be doing you any good.

If you’re anything like Jared and I, you typically spend an average of 3 waking hours at home over the course of any given weekend, making it hard to control what you’re eating.  After all, all of our social activities with friends simply can’t revolve around my dietary needs.  So, how do you strike a balance between losing weight and keeping up with an active social life?

Fitness Magazine recently ran an article called “Weekend-Proof Your Diet“.  Here are some of the main takeaways I took from reading this:

1.)  The more you drink, the more you munch. I’ve always known this to be true.  I mean, who doesn’t remember carrying pretzels in our bags in college to fend off the munchies?  The same holds true for an evening out with the girls, or simply drinks with my husband at a nice lounge.  My main goal on the weekends is to work toward enjoying a single glass of red or white wine without eating everything in sight or having a second round.

2.)  Stick to my guns. I’ve found that I’m embarassed to tell people that I’m on Weight Watchers.  Why?  Well, having suffered from some disordered eating, any time someone I’m dining with mentions they are on a diet, I instantly feel guilty for eating whatever it is I’m about to order.  The article recommended finding a partner in crime, who was following the same plan as you, or simply ordering first so that you’re not swayed by the decisions of others.  Self control plays a big role in this, and that’s something I need to focus on heavily over these next 6 weeks of weekend trips.

3.)  Plan Accordingly.  My survival strategy when I know we’re going to be heading off to a calorie fest, whether it’s a restaurant or a friend’s party, is to eat like a rabbit alll day, to allow myself the extra calories later.  I can’t say this ever works out well, though, because then I just end up over indulging because I’m hungry.  By sticking to my regular schedule, the article suggests that I’ll avoid arriving ravenous and over indulging on things that may not fit into my plan.

4.)  Share and indulge. When discussing Sunday brunch, the article mentions that it’s ok to order something that you really want, like chocolate chip pancakes, that the table can share.  By having a few bites, you satisfy your craving without giving in to a poor food choice.  That cupcake I may want to have?  As long as I don’t eat hte whole thing, it should satisfy my need for sweets.

How do you fend off temptation and stay healthy when you’re out of your routine?

With all the discount sites available out there these days, who ever wants to pay full price for anything?  Certainly not me.  My latest obsession in the land of online discount shopping revolves around Rue La La.

My sister sent me an invitation to Rue La La before I got married, and to be honest, I kind of ignored it.  Designer clothes?  Who needed those anyway.  More recently, my cousin sent me an invitation, and out of sheer boredom one afternoon, I signed up.  After all, people have signed up for all sorts of things for me, I might as well give this another try, right?

Obsessed.  I’m not a label freak, by any means.  I just like nice things.  Rue La La is like an emporium of nice things at prices that normal people can afford.

Here’s how it works:  once you join, you receive access to premier brand, private sale boutiques that are open for a limited amount of time.  Rue La La seeks to provide members with a “well-edited collection of sought-after offerings from the best brand names in the world.”  The best way to make sure you take advantage of the great sales right away is to receive the daily email that lists the featured “Boutiques” of the day.  Recent boutiques have included Elie Tahari, L.A.M.B, Calvin Klein and La Perla.

So are you really getting a discount?  In my opinion, yes.  For instance, today there is an L.A.M.B crossboy originally priced at $158 marked down to $79.90.  I’m sure if I knew more about designers and brands, I’d have more to say about the discounts, but in my opinion, it’s a great way to shop luxury on a mid-career budget.

But, to my surprise and delight, Rue La La is not just for clothes.  They are expanding their local deals section, which so far has included restaurant deals and spa services.  Additionally, I’ve seen some great deals on gourmet treats and wines, as well as vacations and home decor items.  So, even if you’re not a label hog, there’s still something for everyone!

While I haven’t bought anything yet and can’t speak to the service element of Rue La La, I have heard great things about it so far.  Why haven’t I bought yet?  Well, I’m on a budget, for sure, so I’ve been waiting for the perfect thing.  Also, I have to admit, I’m always leery of buying clothes online, due to my figure.  But, one of these days, maybe I’ll find that perfect thing!

Wanna get in?  You can!  Visit http://www.ruelala.com/invite/vberger06 and let the “Ohh la la” begin!

My boss and I have become pretty obsessed with working out and eating better.  In fact, I think the men in our office are sick of hearing about Jackie Warner, and Smart Ones, and snack time.

One of them mentioned to us a few weeks back that he had heard on the radio that essentially, unless you moved around frequently during the day, working out wouldn’t really be that effective.  Impossible, I thought.  I mean, I know sitting for long periods at a time is not good for you, but seriously, how are people with office jobs ever supposed to be healthy?  This can’t be true.

Then Jared sent me this article from USA Today that confirms the entire story.  The study confirmed what we already know:  that people who sit for long periods of time are at a higher risk of heart disease than those who take frequent breaks.  The study then goes on to say that “the negative effects of lengthy bouts of inactivity seem to apply even to those who go to the gym.”

In summary, in order to stem off negative side effects like bigger waistlines, high blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol, we need to accumulate activity throughout the day.  The good news is that the study saw positive results for those that took frequent breaks, even if they did spend a lot of time sitting (i.e., all of us office workers).

So how do we incorporate more activity into our daily work routines?  Most suggestions include parking a bit further from the building, taking the stairs, getting up to talk to a colleague instead of emailing them.  Some studies even suggest taking a short walk during “lunch” or standing while on the phone.  While it can be difficult to add things like a walk to some routines, just remember that no matter what you chose to do, every little bit helps.  So, get up and go!

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