Category Archive: Professional

In-home childcare provider achieves a 5-star rating

Childcare provider Dana Smith leads a dance session.

By Alicia Barnes
MSU School of Human Sciences

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Nine years after starting her own business, Dana Smith is living her dream.

As a former kindergarten teacher and librarian in Tennessee, Smith combined her love of education with her business goals and began a small childcare program in her home. After relocating to Olive Branch, she furthered her goals by opening Busy Bundles of Joy Learning Center, an in-home family childcare program that was recently certified as one of the finest in the state.

“I strive to provide the best professional care to my parents and children,” she said. “This certification challenged me to go higher not only with the requirements of the five-star, but also furthering my education in childcare.”

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Parents can prevent deadly heatstroke

A mirror allows parents to see a child in a backwards facing carseat.

By Alicia Barnes
School of Human Sciences

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Distractions, fatigue and stress have contributed to the vehicular heatstroke deaths of an estimated 610 children over the past 21 years.

With fatalities occurring in the spring, summer, and fall every year, the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network at the Mississippi State University Extension Service wants parents and caregivers to be aware of the danger of children being left in vehicles.

While some children are injured playing inside unlocked cars, most fatal accidents happen when a parent or caregiver who does not normally take the child to childcare inadvertently leaves him or her inside the vehicle.

“Structure is important for children and adults. When you do a task day after day, like driving to work, those steps become automatic. That is why a change in routine can be dangerous,” Melissa Tenhet, a project director for the MSCCR&R Network said.

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My current full-time gig

While writing grants and promotional materials may not be exactly what I hope to do with my life, my current job is the best I’ve had in terms of both management and program quality. I recently shot some photos and wrote this feature story to build awareness for the program to help it expand.

MSU program improves childcare quality

Chloe Gray, 4, a student at Train up a Child Christian Learning Center in Clinton, takes a leap during physical development activities as part of the Nurturing Homes Initiative, an MSU Extension Service and Mississippi Department of Human Services project.

If home is where the heart is, then it’s no wonder that 54 percent of Mississippi children attend unlicensed home childcare programs.

Known by a variety of names, these businesses whether called “family childcare,” “in-home childcare,” or “family home care,” are places where caregivers open their homes to create safe learning environments. As part of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Nurturing Homes Initiative (NHI) partners with these businesses to increase the quality of care.

As the only employees of their own small business, home care providers often operate with limited access to materials that encourage emotional, social, physical, and intellectual growth in children. To fill that void, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Early Childhood Care and Development, funds NHI to teach best practices and provide supplies.

NHI has worked with over 1,200 in-home child caregivers to improve learning opportunities for over 6,000 children. By meeting with providers in their homes, NHI field technicians provide one-on-one, hands-on mentoring by reviewing lesson materials, discussing challenges and concerns, and modeling age-appropriate activities. While the state requires child caregivers at licensed centers to earn 15 hours of staff development each year, home providers have no state-mandated education requirements and can face challenges accessing education. Continue Reading »


The nagging of uncertainty

Happy St. Patty’s!

Though I’m wearing green, I’m not quite in the green yet as my latest ING blog explains.

The prompt: Is there a single event that turned retirement from a far-off to-do into a real, stark reality? We asked our Customer Bloggers to weigh in. Here’s what Alicia, a 27-year old Mississippian, had to say.

Ever get about halfway down the road and suddenly can’t remember if you locked the door?

That feeling of uncertainty.

The feeling of if I didn’t lock it, what are the chances that of today of all days someone will break in, and hey if they’re coming today, they’ll just break in whether my door is locked or unlocked, and maybe since my door might be unlocked, they’ll just walk in instead of breaking a window I’ll have to replace.

Yet before I can take that right turn to work, I turn around because regardless of the chances of someone actually getting in, I don’t want to think about my door being unlocked all day, making it easier to get robbed.

That nagging moment between the uncertainty of wondering if I locked my door and the decision to turn around: that’s my current relationship with retirement. Yes, it’s important. Yes, I know I should be actively contributing. Yes, I know it’s for my safety and ease of mind, but really I just want keep driving down the road and worry about it later.

You can read the rest at

It’s not a habit. It’s cool.

While I thought I had finished blogging for ING in December, they’re carrying us through until March, so here is the third to last blog. I hope you enjoy it.

We asked our Customer Bloggers to weigh in on their financial inconsistencies—instances in which they’ve been penny wise and pound foolish.

Frozen Treat in L.A.

Sugar-coated confessions from a dessert enthusiast

Times come and go that I have to get a running start to leap off my bed and jump into a pair of my jeans my husband holds open for me. During these times, my pants button only by the grace of gravity.

The binges that lead to such capers can go on for weeks, only ending when my wallet is as empty as a scoopless waffle cone.

When I went to Europe to study Spanish, I ate ice cream every day. The first phrase I conquered was, “One scoop of vanilla, please.”

After six weeks in Spain with a long weekend in Rome, my fondest memories are not from witnessing great works of art like the Sistine Chapel.

No, the best times are not from sampling various European wines in cozy neighborhood bars.

Even though I was awed by ruins being excavated less than a foot from me and even though I dipped my toes in the Mediterranean Sea, it was not any architecture or geography that left the strongest impact upon me.

The memories that creep into my dreams are always the same: me standing in line in the plaza mayor deciding what flavor. Ice cream, my European lover, was sweet, sinful, and in whatever size I wanted.

Even stateside, my obsession with frozen goodness knows few limits. I love sundae cones, frozen fruit bars, frozen smoothee bars, fresh-churned specialty ice cream, frozen custard, gelato, and my latest obsession: frozen yogurt or simply froyo.

Froyo is not the bland vanilla and chocolate swirled together stuff from my childhood. No, this beast is tart, tangy, kiwi, cheesecake, red velvet, coconut, mango flavored goodness that you pump yourself, select from over 40 toppings to heap on yourself, and pay by the ounce unfortunately yourself…

Read the rest and vote and comment at

* K’s Choice – Not an Addict

‘Locavore’ movement reconnects consumers, farmers

‘Locavore’ movement reconnects consumers, farmers

By Alicia Barnes
For MSU’s Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Until a few weeks ago, Jason Edmonds had not eaten beef in nearly three years.

Citing concerns over animal welfare, his personal impact on the planet, and added hormones and antibiotics, Edmonds adopted a vegetarian lifestyle for years, until finding access to local farmers who share his concerns.

Now the Starkville resident is a locavore, choosing to eat vegetables and meat produced locally. Locavores are part of a growing movement of consumers who purchase food from local food producers and have a knowledge of and a voice in the production process.

This movement provides small farms a way to market goods directly to consumers who are willing to pay higher prices if they know exactly what they are buying.

“Information is worth money,” said Jane Parish, Mississippi State University Extension Service’s beef cattle specialist. “People are willing to pay for it.”

These direct-selling relationships can prove profitable for farmers, according to MSUExtension’s Direct Marketing Beef publication.

“Selling beef directly to consumers enables beef cattle producers to set prices that cover costs and provide profits if there are enough buyers at these price levels. Many consumers are willing to pay premiums for freezer beef from cattle producers who develop relationships with them and share information about cattle management practices,” the publication explains.

Farmers can be freed from the often fluctuating fed-cattle markets by maintaining a waiting list of customers for animals. Farmers can thus limit their stock to their local demand.

“Many cattle producers are interested in direct marketing. It’s value-added,” Parish said “Consumers can feel good that it’s local beef.”

Many producers already keep some of their own stock for personal use, and expanding this option to the public adds value to existing practices. Consumers can also work directly with farms to achieve specialty beef, such as organic, grass-fed, or hormone- and antibiotic-free, if they pay a deposit for the animal.

Buying a side of beef, however, differs from purchasing a packaged meat from a grocery store. While consumers may be lured in by better-quality beef at wholesale prices, they must consider the amount of beef in a steer.

“When they harvest the animal, it is the whole animal,” Parish said. “It’s really important people understand how much meat they’re getting.”

A side of beef contains about 263 pounds of useable beef. A whole carcass includes a range of high- and low-priced cuts. As a rule of thumb, one cubic foot of freezer space stores about 35 to 40 pounds of cut and wrapped meat. Oddly shaped meat takes up more space.

Edmonds is sharing his side of beef with five friends, as he lacks the space to store a side on his own. The friends reserved a side for $2.45 per pound from Cackleberry Farms in Prairie, Miss.

To prepare for the beef, they spoke to older family members who had at some point bought large quantities of beef. On the Internet, they learned about aging the beef to change its flavor, uncommon cuts, and high quality cuts that were ordinarily too expensive for them to buy.

This additional work on the consumer end is worthwhile to Edmonds, who looks forward to supporting a local business.

“Working with a local producer lets you actually put a face and a story with the food you are putting into your body,” he said. “I think we Americans have lost that connection to our food as something vital, vibrant and sustaining in our lives. When we don’t interact with those who grow our food, we lose that connection to food as history, culture and enjoyment. Food becomes more a product to be consumed than an experience.”

But Edmonds enjoys knowing more than just the production practices of farms; he also enjoys knowing who receives his money. He likes knowing that it is staying in the local economy.

He explained that smaller-scale, local farms help reduce the amount of energy required to ship food from the farm to the table, which is a major source of carbon emissions. Because he can buy it locally, he has added not only beef back to his diet but also locally produced poultry.

People interested in buying a side of beef or other local products should visit the local county Extension office or contact the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association. In addition, the Mississippi MarketMaker website provides an interactive mapping system for locating businesses and agricultural products in Mississippi at The Direct Marketing Beef publication is available at

On holiday restraint

christmas card 2007

Our card for Christmas 2007.

Before I start my holiday shopping, I make a list. I decide who I am buying presents for. Then, next to their name, I put the max dollar amount I am willing to spend. Next I jot down some gift ideas within that range. Then I ask the person if they have any particular wants. Finally I with my budget, my ideas, and their ideas, I start shopping.
Basically I’m a mutant.

The only things I overindulge on during the holidays are ham and stuffing.
Oh, and ridiculous Christmas cards.

I’m thinking more about this year’s card than anything else right now. I’m not sure what the theme is going to be, but somehow it needs to incorporate the chickens, the rabbits, the dogs, and us. I have some ideas, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Holiday surprises are fun. I’m definitely no Scrooge. Retail is a passion that sends my heart aflutter. I love seeing what styles, gadgets, trends will dominate the holiday season.

Without question, I’ll definitely be joining the millions out on Black Friday. We won’t head out too early, though we’re sure to catch the sales that end around noon.

Personally, I’ll be hunting for boots and sweaters for our upcoming trip to NYC, where I suspect it will be colder there than it is in Mississippi. I won’t spend too much because I know I want to shop there. It’s definitely at the top of my shopping bucket list. Funds are limited, so I have to keep in mind presents for others, presents for myself, and those troublesome bills.

Luckily, having this trip in mind all year has been like a shopping chastity belt. I’ve been deleting unopened emails from retailers announcing great online sales. I even turned down membership to sample sales sites. I haven’t been to Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, or Memphis in months all in anticipation for this trip. I keep joking that I’m going to bring an empty suitcase to fill while I’m there. I’m pretty sure I’m joking.

Hopefully, the bit of side shopping (one store, one bag – not overflowing) I did during a work trip to Los Angeles will keep me grounded on Black Friday and in NYC.

I’m not worried. Everything’s planned. Now just to focus on that card.

christmas 2007


Thanks to my friend Adam,, for helping me take these photos from concept to reality. 

Off course three and a half years later

The prompt: Columbus Day is a celebration of discovery & new beginnings. Tell us about a single event, good or bad, that opened up a new world for you & your finances.

Like Columbus, we often think we know where we’re headed. After years as a student, my first full-time job seemed like welcomed dry land, and not just any land, but a new world rich inherit resources like a salary with benefits.

While not quite the spices that lured Columbus from Europe, giving up the health department for my own regular doctor called to me like a siren singing promises of debt relief and a diet not based on spaghetti noodles and rice.

At this point, I was in my second master’s program, getting a degree that I thought would help me reach my then career goal of becoming a professor. Despite what I thought might happen, the one thing I was sure of was it was helping me build debt. My assistantship did not cover my living expenses, so I was tutoring athletes after long days being in classes (taking and teaching) and taking out loans to make up the difference, two increasingly burdensome compromises. So I decided with 2.5 degrees to get a real fulltime job and to just finish the second masters slowly as I worked and paid off debt.

I thought naively I would work, making more money than ever, saving more than ever. I figured if I could go from the tuppence of a graduate stipend to a fulltime check, I’d be debt free and neck deep in savings for the future in long before my then fiancé would surely be graduating no later than 2009.

Two years to work and save. That was the plan, though it’s funny how that works. For unbeknownst to me, when your income increases, so do your expenses. I’m certain this can be scientifically proven.

With increasing expenses instead of the savings boom I expected, I found myself making excuses such as:

I work hard so I deserve to (a) eat out (b) buy this dress (c) go on this trip (d) all of the above at once.


After the wedding and honeymoon are paid for I’ll save more.


After my student loans are paid off, I’ll work on my investment and retirement funds.


When I get my first real job, with a real paycheck, not this starting off at the bottom during the worse recession potentially since the 30s, then I’ll really save.

Yes, excuses. Excuses I never had before. It was a new world I had no idea I was entering until this year I looked at my financial goals and realized while I had made some ground, I had made many more excuses.

Sure I had taken care of the basics: loans paid, emergency savings built, IRA started. But I hardly contributed to my IRA, and the closest I had come to investing was thinking, “I should really think about investing.”

Yes, three years and half years after that decision, I have new demands like paying for my first MRI. I would have loved to have put that money toward savings or even a trip, but no, that went to the county hospital. It seems it’s always something comes up when trying to save money, trying to plan the future.

And back then I thought getting a job would make life easier. I’m pretty sure Biggie and Puff Daddy had it right when they sang about “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Getting a job definitely allowed me to pay for things and avoid more debt, but it hasn’t been as easy a road as I expected. Work is often hard, and in the time of pay freezes and low staffing, underemployment has resulted in underwhelming paychecks that don’t stretch as far as I imagined or needed.

I still haven’t finished that degree. Class and work at the same time is much more difficult than it’s given credit for.

While we’ve been saving more in preparation for replacing our aging cars, planned trips, relocating after my husband finishes his degree, I definitely haven’t done half of what I thought I’d do not only with my finances but in every aspect of my life.

At times I do feel like I’m in a strange land, not at all where I expected or wanted to be.

* This post was written for ING but was not posted.

“I learned that money came as a result of work.”

This originally appeared at ING’s

Coming soon from me: Your child can save.

These commercials touting “Your baby can read” crack me up. I’m not sure of the average six month old’s ability to analyze a sonnet, much less a few rhymes of Dr. Suess.

I wonder if parents should maybe focus on teaching their children other things.

My parents didn’t teach me to read via DVD or whatever is standard child-raising practice these days, but they certainly did right by me in the financial situation.

It was the 80s then, and I practically learned to walk in the mall, where my mother worked and my teenage sister introduced me to neon-colored consumerism, complete with air brushed shirts, slap bracelets, footless tights and all other related fashion tragedies.

Twelve years younger than my sister, eight years younger than my brother, I was the family baby. I imagine it would have been easy to spoil me, but I’m grateful I was not, as least not with money. As I mentioned in my first blog, I’ve had a savings account for nearly two decades now.

With my siblings I did chores, like wall washing. For these duties, my parents paid me a few dollars a week. I learned that money came as a result of work, the kind that left your hands smelling of bleach and your arms achy.

Each week, when I added a new bill to my Kaboodle hidden stash, I felt lucky to have an allowance. I’d often sit and examine the money. I’d count it out. I’d smell it. I’d look at the dates, patterns, where it was printed, then I’d put it up back in my room. Sometimes I washed it in the sink and left it to dry in my window sill. If it was very wrinkled, I’d iron it flat.

Though I’d occasionally spend 36 cents on Skittles (then my favorite candy), I could not imagine blowing all of my money on sweets. Thus, after my first few weeks of earning my own money, I became curious about what should be done with this accumulating amount of green.

My mother told me I should save it in case I needed it, and once I had saved enough, she’d take me to the bank to open my own savings account where I could earn interest. She showed me how my money could make money, and I became obsessed, opening my first savings account with $81.

I can’t say this method is 100% foolproof (in fact, it only had a 33% success rate for my parents—I’m the one out of three children). But I can’t imagine a better way. I learned to save for future need and I learned to be proud of choosing to save than to spend.

Now I just need to figure out how to make a DVD program out of this method: I’ll show toddlers making perfect change, and kindergarteners shopping around for the best CD rate.

My inspiration:

August, not April, is the cruelest month

This originally appeared at ING’s blog.

The prompt: We asked our Customer Bloggers to share how often they think about money and saving. Alicia reflects on the August heat and its slow drain on her savings.

How often do you think about money and saving? Do you ever escape it, or is it always lodged in your subconscious?

August is always the worst. Not only is it the hottest month of the year. I’m seriously sitting here hoping for a heat index of less than 105 degrees so I can go for an evening run tonight.

It’s also the worst bill month. It’s the one regular time of year I transfer money from savings into checking as the deluge of needs knocks our increasingly less adequate income mercilessly down.

August means:

  • $800: The start of school, otherwise known as the 29% of my husband’s tuition and fees not covered by his assistantship.
  • $1100: The “it seems inexpensive until you’re writing a lump sum check for it” student insurance
  • $300: Car insurance
  • $790: Rent, utilities, cell, and internet

To be brief: August is really a thirsty vampire fang deep in my finances. Even more so this year, with involuntary increases to the retirement plan (20 bucks a paycheck) and yet another increase to the parking decals for campus ($190).

I start dreading August in April for all the known and unknown bills waiting for me. I think about it all summer. I decline trips because I have to save for August. I check my account balances and think, will we be ready for August? I don’t even count the money in my savings for August as money. August expenses not including gas, food, or entertainment are coming close to exceeding our take home pay.

Despite all my good work, planning and saving and being able to pay all we need to pay in August, I always feel really terrible about money from our income to our savings. I find myself looking at want ads, wondering how much longer my husband’s PhD can really take. I become very superstitious, knocking on wood, tossing salt, carrying around pictures of my rabbit’s feet, hoping that nothing will go wrong with the cars and that there are no emergency surgeries, like when my husband’s appendix became very angry in 2007.

I curse that we will never be able to have children living like this, well not if we want to clothed, eating, or alive. Those silly details.

Oh August, you’re definitely the cruelest month, despite what T.S. Eliot thinks. My tomatoes are dying. The chickens think it’s much too hot to do anything other than sit in the shade under the coop. And me, the supersaver I am, just wants to drink lemonade in the shade and wait for September.

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