Monday, December 29, 2008

VegCooking Update: Cilantro-Lime Tofu Skewers with Avocado Cream

Tonight for dinner I made a delicious recipe that I found on

Cilantro-Lime Tofu Skewers With Avocado Cream

For the Avocado Cream:
3 large avocados
1/2 cup Vegenaise
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

• Peel and core the avocados, then mash. Place in a food processor with the other ingredients and blend until smooth.
• Adjust the seasonings with salt and lime juice.
• Place in squeeze bottles and refrigerate.

For the Skewers:
1 1/2 lbs. extra-firm tofu
2 large onions, cut into 3/4-inch dice
3 yellow peppers, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 1/2 lbs. whole cherry tomatoes
1 lb. whole crimini mushrooms
15 Mexican fiesta or bamboo skewers
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 oz. tequila (optional)
1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
3 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin slices
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt

• Thread the tofu, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms on the skewers.
• Stir together all the other ingredients and pour over the skewers to marinate for 2 hours.
• Remove from the marinade and grill for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until the vegetables are softened and browned.
• Serve with the avocado cream.

Makes 15 skewers

I only used two yellow peppers, one onion, 1 1/2 packs of tofu, and half of the tomatoes that the recipe called for and this was more than enough for the two of us. I have to confess that I did use non-vegan light mayonnaise, so my dinner wasn't officially vegan, but it was still a delicious, low-fat recipe that didn't include meat. My husband and I served our veggies and tofu over rice, topped them with the avocado cream and stirred it all together. It had a great flavor, and the texture was nice too. I'm still learning to love tofu, but this recipe was an easy to make, flavorful, and filling meal.

My mother was found to have unacceptable cholesterol counts this year and rather than using medication, has chosen to transition immediately to a vegan diet. While the effects of the many and varied cholesterol medications are yet unproven, a vegan diet has been proven to reverse heart disease. I did bake my mother a vegan chocolate cake and a few types of vegan cookies for Christmas and have been inspired to incorporate more vegan recipes into my regular rotation. Vegan dishes aren't difficult to prepare and are quite tasty. While browsing the web for tonight's dinner I found this site which looks promising. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Typically I buy my Stevia from Whole Foods and it is costly, about $7.00 for a box of packets and the liquid is similarly priced. I tend to prefer the liquid, because the powder often left a residue that collected at the bottom of my tea cup, leaving the last sip or two rather unpleasant. I was in the baking aisle at Safeway yesterday and noticed a product called Truvia. At just over $4.50 I decided to try it. I've used it several times since yesterday and found that the flavor is very similar to my Whole Foods stevia packets, and while it does cloud up on the last few sips, if I give it a quick swirl it does fully dissolve. The verdict, just as good and much less expensive; a rare occurrence. They also have an interesting article on their website stating that they have just recieved FDA approval to use Truvia Rebiana as a general purpose sweetener and that it has been found safe for consumption through conducting lots of research. I'm very glad to hear that we may be closer to finding something safer and more healthy to sweeten our food than high fructose corn-syrup that won't break the bank, but I believe that we still need to focus on eating anything sweet in moderation, even if it is calorie free.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Blinded by the light

When I was around 12 years old I began to have many hormonal fluctuations which brought on terrible migraine headaches. I am given a diuretic which doesn't ease the vomiting or the extreme light sensitivity and my pediatrician makes the decision to put me on birth control pills to regulate my changing hormones. Fast forward to age 29... The day after Valentine's day I have terrible pain in my abdomen and a fever. I head over to the emergency room where after many, many tests it is determined that my gall bladder needs to go. While they were reviewing my scans they found small lesions on my liver. They are unable to determine whether they are harmless lesions caused by the hormones in my birth control pills, or something more sinister being fed by the hormones in my birth control pills. They decide to follow me every three months with MRI's (with contrast and without) to figure out whether or not they are continuing to grow and merit further investigation. Fast forward another years they have grown, but no one is doing anything about it, but my doctor orders me off of the birth controls pills. A year later, beginning in October of this year, my debilitating migraines come back. I go to my doctor who thinks that it could be hormone or stress related, "difficult to tell the trigger", he says. He prescribes me 10mg Maxalt tablets to "break the cycle" and acupuncture for 6 weeks to cure the chronic condition. He explains that they believe it to be a neurological disorder, but don't have much additional information to provide. I travel to my mother's for a much needed massage which helps my headache immediately, while I await my acupuncturist appointment. I'm really hoping that the acupuncture is successful, because the side effects from my migraine medication make it unsafe for me to drive. I'll continue to post on my progress and any new and interesting research related to migraine headaches. Perhaps I'll donate money in my own name to a reputable migraine foundation as a Christmas present to myself :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Credit Card Rate-Jacking

Credit card holders livid about 'rate-jacking'

Story Highlights

  • One man's rate went from 9.5% to 16.99%: "It almost borders on loan-sharking"
  • Citigroup, recipient of bailout funds, seems to be the target of most bloggers' ire
  • U.S. House passes "bill of rights" for customers, but legislation stalls in Senate
  • Citi says anyone unhappy with rate can opt out and close account when card expires

From Drew Griffin and Kathleen JohnstonCNN Special Investigations Unit
(CNN) --

It arrived in Rich Stevens' mailbox a few weeks ago: the notice that Citibank had "rate-jacked" the Visa cards belonging to him and his wife. "In my case, from 9.5 percent to 16.99," the 54-year-old nurse from the Long Island hamlet of Merrick, New York, told CNN. And his wife's rate zoomed from 7.95 percent to 16.99 percent, he said. Stevens said he did not know why the rates had soared; his credit rating is great. But, like thousands of other credit card customers around the nation, he has been notified his rate is skyrocketing. "It almost borders on loan-sharking, from my perspective," he said. In the blogosphere, writers are livid at the instant rate hikes -- called "rate-jacking." Citigroup seems to be the target of most bloggers' venom -- partly because Citigroup issues so many credit cards and partly because Citi began sending the notices at about the same time it was getting a $20 billion, taxpayer-financed government bailout.
No one at Citigroupwould talk on camera to CNN about the matter. Instead, the company issued a written statement, which said: "To continue funding in this difficult credit and funding environment, Citi is repricing a group of customers." Citi told CNN that anyone unhappy with the new rates can opt out and continue paying the lower interest, but they must close their account when their card expires. It's all in the fine print. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said she is sick of the fine print. She agreed that credit card companies get away with whatever they want, as long at they put their desires into the fine print. "They have this provision that says they can raise the rate -- any time, any reason," she said. In September, Maloney got the House to pass by an overwhelming margin of 200 votes the "credit card holders' bill of rights," which would have stopped rate-jacking and the imposition of other fees by banks.
But the bill has languished in the Senate since September. "There's a lot of pushback from the financial industry," she said.

Critics say that pushback is linked to donations from the banking industry to the politicians responsible for regulating credit cards.
The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee is Christopher Dodd. His staff said the Connecticut Democrat has his own credit card bill containing tough language to stop things like rate-jacking and shortening of billing cycles -- two issues that anger consumers.
But even Dodd's own bill has failed to gain traction -- it has sat since July.
Dodd himself received more than $4 million from the financial sector during the last campaign, according to campaign records. His office did not respond to CNN's questions about that.
It did say that he has tried repeatedly to protect consumers, but added, "legislation has been met with stiff opposition by the credit card industry."
On Thursday, the Federal Reserve is expected to vote on its own new rules regarding credit cards, rules in the works for four years that could clamp down on rate-jacking.
Whatever is passed, Maloney said, probably would not take effect until 2010.

Find this article at:

I'm posting this story because Citibank has done the same thing to me repeatedly for two years. The first time, they jacked-up my rate to 35%. 35%?!? How is that even legal. Luckily, I called and complained because I had not gone over my limit, had not made any late payments, and the amount charged on my cards was only about 15% of the limit and they lowered the rate again. What if I hadn't been responsible though, what about in these difficult economic times where people are losing their jobs left and right and need credit to buy medicine, shoes for their kids, or dinner? Should they be forced to pay rates that should be considered criminal? More recently, as my debt has crept up again due my recent wedding which included a trip to Las Vegas, NV Citibank has once again jacked my rates up. What's most interesting is that I have two of the exact same card, which they have refused to merge into a single cards since I opened the account. Interestingly, there is a different rate on both cards. When I called and asked the rate to be lowered on one to meet the other, they indicated that I already had the lowest rate possible on that card. When I explained that I have another of the exam same card and provided my account number, they simply replied "oh, well there is nothing more that I can do". I would close the account, but I've learned my lesson doing that too...I once had a card in which the rate continued to climb, so I called and cancelled so that they couldn't raise the rate any more while I continued to pay it off. Let's just say, that doesn't work. They jacked-up the rate to the maximum. Anyway, as Citi is currently raising my rates for absolutely no reason whatsoever...again...I am using my lessons learned. I am transferring my balances to my local credit union who provides me with sane credit limits, low interest rates, and fair treatment...just as they always have. I'm doing my best to live within my means, pay down my debt, and continue to learn from my mistakes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Shopping/Baking/Prep

Well, I decided to take my own advice and slim down on some of the gift giving this year. We are notorious for overspending during the holidays and this year my grandmother and mother both said no more clothes :) They also said no more books, which is unfortunate because I had already picked some up at Goodwill, so they'll just have to take them and like them, or pass them on. So, to add to their gifts I decided to use the BBB website and find some reputable charities to which I could donate money in their names. My grandmother has recently been hospitalized due to COPD, so I have donated $25.00 in her name to the American Lung Association. My mother is now eating a vegan diet after years of down home cooking have caused her cholesterol to shoot through the roof, so in her name goes $25.00 to the American Heart Association. I am posting it here because notices have already gone to their homes, so it won't be much of a Christmas surprise anyway, but the intent is there. Finally, I am doing some baking as gifts and found a yummy vegan chocolate cake recipe that I wanted to share with you here:

Rich Chocolate Bundt Cake

Publication Date: 03/01/2007
The following chocolate cake recipe was created for PARADE by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, co-author of “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule” (Marlowe & Company, 2006) and host of the public access/podcast vegan cooking show “Post Punk Kitchen.”

1 3/4 cups freshly brewed coffee
2/3 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (like Droste)

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour or all-purpose white flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray an 8- to 10-inch Bundt pan with cooking spray.

2. Over medium heat, bring the coffee to a simmer in a sauce pot. Once simmering, lower the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to bring to room temperature.

3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, canola oil, apple sauce and cornstarch until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved, about 2 minutes. Mix in the extracts. Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, mix that in as well.

4. Sift in the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Beat until relatively smooth, about 1 minute with a hand mixer or 2 minutes with a whisk.

5. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick or butter knife inserted through it comes out clean. If your Bundt pan is on the smaller side, it could take up to 55 minutes.

6. Let cool for about 20 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate to cool completely. Once cool, sift powdered sugar over the top and enjoy.

Serves 12. Per serving: calories: 250, total fat: 7g, saturated fat: 1g, total carbohydrate: 47g, cholesterol: 0mg, fiber: 4g, protein: 3g

* If you can’t find whole-wheat pastry flour, then regular all-purpose flour will do. Don’t substitute regular whole-wheat flour; it is different and will result in a rough and chewy texture.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

ABC News: Stevia: The \'Holy Grail\' of Sweeteners?

ABC News: Stevia: The 'Holy Grail' of Sweeteners?

Posted using ShareThis

The Better Business Bureau Gives Advice on a Green Holiday

BBB Advice on Going Green this Holiday Season

Bing Crosby may have dreamed of a white Christmas but as many Americans adjust their lifestyles to become more environmentally friendly, some will be looking forward to a green Christmas this year. Your Better Business Bureau has advice to help families go green this holiday season and maybe even save some green in the process.

According to a survey by Plow and Hearth, half of Americans plan to purchase an environmentally friendly gift this holiday season. Among those going green this year, two-thirds say they are willing to spend between 10 and 25 percent more on green holiday gifts.
“The holidays tend to focus on kindness and sharing, but unfortunately, most of us aren’t very kind to the environment during the season of giving, and from an eco-friendly perspective, this period usually ends up being one of the most wasteful times of the year,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “Consumers actually have a chance to save some green in more ways than one this season, from using candles and wreaths with recycled materials to homemade gifts and creative gift wrap, people can help themselves and the environment.”

Aside from buying gifts with the environment in mind, there are many other ways consumers can lessen the impact of their holiday cheer on Mother Nature. Following are a few ways consumers can aim for a more environmentally friendly holiday season:

Decorate with Care

There are many ways consumers can decorate “in green” this year. LED Christmas tree lights are a pricier option to conventional lights, but they require about 80-90 percent less energy and last much longer—up to 200,000 hours—compared to conventional lights’ 2,000 hours.
Rather than buying an artificial tree or a fresh tree that will end up on the sidewalk come January 1, consumers can opt to buy a live tree that they can later plant. When it comes to decorating that tree, making ornaments and garlands from gingerbread, Christmas cards, popcorn and cranberries is a great family craft project and better for the environment than plastic tinsel and ornaments.

Give Money to a Charity in Someone’s Honor

Charities are expecting a lean season of giving this year as the result of the downturn in the economy. Donating to a charity in a loved one’s name is a great way to further a worthy cause and it doesn’t have any negative impact on the environment. In fact, if the gift goes to a charity that deals in conservation, the gift will have a doubly good impact on the environment. To make sure donations are going to credible, conscientious organizations, donors should always research charities first with BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance – and can do so at

Give Green

Many stores, both online and brick-and-mortar, specialize in green products, such as organic foods and gifts made from recycled goods. When shopping online, consumers should always look for the BBBOnline seal. The seal tells the shopper that the company adheres to BBB Standards for Trust and operates a secure Web site for financial transactions.

Get Crafty

For do-it-yourselfers, there are many Web sites and online communities dedicated to making new and useful items from things most consumers consider normal household “clutter.” Skill levels for craft projects range from easy to expert. Homemade gifts, such as baked goods and handmade gifts are also a lot easier on the wallet—and potentially the environment—and often bring much more meaning to recipients.

Dispose of the Old…

With CareElectronics such as cell phones, TVs and computers contain toxic materials that should be disposed of carefully and not just tossed out with the trash. Many companies will take back and recycle their products for free. Some retailers also accept trade-ins. Consumers can search for company policies and recycling locations online, and a good place to start is at

For more trustworthy consumer advice on “going green” this holiday season, and for many other tips on saving money this year, go to

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Goodwill Hunting

So, I was inspired by my own blog yesterday, because I'm just that kind of nerd. So... I rushed off to Goodwill to see what kind of cool fabrics I could use to make gift bags, etc. Well, it turns out that it doesn't even require that level of effort. First, they have tons of new stuff with tags on it for Christmas and its like 75 - 80% off. It's like an after Christmas clearance, with none of the fighting over scraps. I bought lots of cute Christmas stockings that I can put gifts in (instead of wrapping paper). It's almost like a gift in itself; just think, if we all started doing this, no one would ever have to buy wrapping paper or bags again! Save money on the wrapping that everyone tosses into the garbage (or hopefully recycling bin at a minimum) and spend it on the gift..what a novel idea!?! I then looked around and found lots of cute Christmas, and non-Christmas baskets, and finally I got an idea. I bought lots of cute mugs and plates (its cheaper than the dollar store) and decided to give the gift of baked goods and chai tea. When you don't have a lot of money to spend on friends and coworkers, I say don't buy the cheap trinkets, give them something tasty! This way I can present the baked treats on something pretty that they can keep. Who knows, maybe they'll return the favor next year! Third, I found at least 25 new books at 3 for $6.00! Wow, I'm beginning to see a theme, books, mugs and warm drinks, plates and baked goods... what a great way to give a thoughtful and environmentally-friendly gift that will warm the heart and the tummy :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Greening up the holidays

Every year I pout around like scrooge and eschew the holidays grumbling about rampant commercialism. However, my daughter and I always love making gifts for friends and family, like soap, decorations, or baked goods. This year as I begin thinking about how I can do something inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and fun for the family I have come up with two good ideas on my own, and borrowed one from someone else. Here we are:

1. Homemade wrapping paper and gift bags

This year I plan to use clothes that have been handed down, and I will search the thrift stores for holiday prints to make gift bags. They are fun, reusable, and a gift in themselves. Next, I plan to use boxes and paper grocery bags to make wrapping supplies. I'll be purchasing a cool Christmas themed rubber stamp to do the decorations and jazz it up a bit.

2. I learned of Global Goods Partners, an online retailer of sorts, who is "Dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting social justice by strenghtening women-led development initiatives and creating access to the US market for marginalized communities in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. If you are going to buy a gift, get something cute and include the story about where the gift came from in your packaging.

My pick from the website:

7 Turns Bracelet
Available in brown or green, this coiled bracelet from southern India combines a rich combination of glass, bone, metal, and wood beads in a creative swirling design. The vibrant colors derive from a unique and age-old technique of using natural vegetable dyes. Look beautiful while knowing that your purchase supports the Shambhal and Amroha communities, and is vital to preserving traditional Indian artistry.
Fully adjustable. Fits all Wrists.1 ¾" high

3. Recycle Christmas cards from last year by cutting out the pictures and making gift bag tags, or making a collage on recycled paper for a new card. This is such a cute way to personalize your gifts and its inexpensive!
So, enjoy the holidays and feel good about the gifts that you give, without getting yourself into hock.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Flu Shot and Yogi Tea

Today I had my very first flu shot.  I've always been wary of unnecessary vaccinations and have avoided getting my yearly free shot.  However, last January I go the flu.  I've had it twice in my lifetime and pray that it will never happen again each time.  So today, as my coworkers began lining up I thought, "Why not"?  First, I was surprised at the amount of pain one little shot could cause when injected into your shoulder.  (Why don't they put it in a meatier spot I wondered to myself).  Then within hours I began to develop a headache, sore throat, fever, and aches.  My body appears to be reacting to something, hopefully my immune system will win.  To combat the virus I made a very healthy dinner including citrus glazed carrots and wild rice.  That'll show 'em who's boss.  I did a little research on the flu shot and it turns out that I was right to avoid it after all. Only three strains are used, which were guessed at my researches many, many moons ago.  It's level of effecitiveness isn't great even if you do get the exact strain covered by the immunization. So in short, its a lot of discomfort for no reward.  Not to mention that they put all kinds of bad things in those shots and I'm not talking about the virus either.  So to ease my achiness and fight off whatever is bearing down on my immune system I stopped at the store and picked up some yogi tea.  Their immunity tea has everything except the kitchen sink (including echniacea) and is quite tasty.  It was not very expensive, readily available, and full of good things.  I'll keep you posted on my battle with the bug. 

Here is some information on the tea I am drinking (on the website you can click the links to learn more about the herbs and their uses:
Echinacea Immune Support 
Tea for your body – Defense

Our blend of astragalus, elderberry and several species of echinacea can strengthen your defenses by stimulating production of immune system proteins. We complement this wellness formula with lively lemongrass and peppermint to help promote clear breathing while adding a fragrant essence and exquisite taste. It is sure to become an all-season favorite!*

When your immune system needs support, drink 2 to 3 cups per day. For a stronger effect, use 2 tea bags. For increased immune stimulation, drink up to 5 cups per day.*


Organic Peppermint LeafOrganic LemongrassOrganic Echinacea Root (Angustifolia, Purpurea, Pallida), Organic Cinnamon BarkOrganic Licorice RootOrganic Spearmint Leaf,Organic Fennel SeedOrganic Lemon FlavorOrganic Cardamom SeedEchinacea Purpurea Root Extract (Phenols 12%), Organic Rose HipOrganic Ginger RootOrganic 
Burdock Root
Organic Clove BudOrganic Mullein LeafStevia LeafOrganic Black PepperAstragalus Root ExtractEuropean Elderberry Extract (Anthocyanins 30%), Natural Cinnamon Oil,Natural Cardamom OilNatural Ginger Oil

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Switching gears with salad dressing

I love salads. I love them all year long.  I do really enjoy eating seasonal foods though, so this always prompts a change in salad dressings with the change in weather.  In spring, I loved anything covered with my dressing made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, salt + pepper.  I just eyeball and mix, its good on everything but is divine with feta or goat cheese, grapes, and walnuts.  In summer, as my basil comes in, I add a pinch of that and its heavenly on tomatoes and avocado.  My official dressing of summer however involves cilantro.  I take cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, jalapeno, salt, and pepper.  There is nothing better on a salad filled with grilled shrimp, grilled corn, and avocado.  Now that its fall I've made a new dressing.  I love apples on my salad in fall, especially paired with walnuts.  This combination screams for tangy goodness.  Tonight I made a dressing with olive oil, honey, apple cider vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper.  It was simple, easy to make and delicious.  I tossed in a handful of dried cherries too and everyone enjoyed a simple, quick, and healthy dinner.

Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar:

Scientific Evidence of Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits

But there are some medical uses of vinegar that do have promise, at least according to a few studies.  Here's a rundown of some more recent ones.

  • Diabetes.  The effect of vinegar on blood glucose levels is perhaps the best-researched and the most promising of apple cider vinegar's possible health benefits.  Several studies have found that vinegar may help lower glucose levels. For instance, one 2007 study of 11 people with type 2 diabetes found that taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by 4%-6%.
  • High cholesterol.  A 2006 study showed evidence that vinegar could lower cholesterol. However, the study was done in rats, so it's too early to know how it might work in people.
  • Blood pressure and heart health.  Another study in rats found that vinegar could lower high blood pressure.  A large epidemiological study also found that people who ate oil and vinegar dressing on salads five to six times a week had lower rates of heart disease than people who didn't.  However, it's far from clear that the vinegar was the reason.
  • Cancer.  A few laboratory studies have found that vinegar may be able to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.  Epidemiological studies of people have been confusing. One found that eating vinegar was associated with a decreased risk of esophageal cancer.  Another associated it with an increased risk of bladder cancer.
  • Weight Loss.  For thousands of years, vinegar has been used for weight loss.  White vinegar (and perhaps other types) might help people feel full.  A 2005 study of 12 people found that those who ate a piece of bread along with small amounts of white vinegar felt fuller and more satisfied than those who just ate the bread.  
  • Read the benefits here

Monday, October 20, 2008


So I realize that my posts have been sparse as the summer has transitioned into fall. I've had a bit going on :) I am now married, have just reached the mid-point of this semester, have been working way too many hours, and my grandmother is very, very ill. However, let there be no more excuses and I offer you photos in exchange for my neglect. I have many more posted on facebook and hope to have them all loaded on shutterfly within the next week. I'll be splitting my time between work, school, my daughter, and visiting my grandmother in the ICU but I promise to write about my homemade bridesmaid gifts with photos in short order. Here are a few pics until then:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chai Tea Oatmeal? Totally!

So my husband purchased some Chai tea powder and didn't work out. I hate to waste things though, so I tried to figure out some new and interesting way to use it. It has the consistency of cocoa powder, so it seems like a good option for cooking with. I keep a huge tub of plain oatmeal that I flavor myself depending on my mood. I have used apples, bananas, brown sugar & cinammon, nuts, dried fruit and peanut butter. So get creative and use those last little bits of whatever you have tasty lying around and eat some oatmeal!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Garden Update

So, as you all know this year I decided to grow my own veggies. I planted some in containers and some directly into the ground. I have had mixed success... My zucchini, which I did a direct sow, into my herb garden is doing very well. I have harvested 3 small zucchini and am looking forward to the next one. My container garden is not fairing as well. Many of my plants were crowded and not getting enough water. My two suggestions are: self-watering containers (I saw them at my garden center) and thinning out the plants. I think next year I'll try transplanting the seedlings to the ground and keeping some in the container and see how that works. I pulled my eggplant plants out of the container and put them in my herb garden in hopes that they might develop more. I haven't harvested a single tomato, but luckily my friend is sharing hers (and her cucumbers) with me. I promise to hand over my next tasty zucchini. The herbs continue to do well in the containers, although I have never succesfully grown and harvested cilantro (which is a shame, because its the herb I use most in summer). My flowers, trees, and shrubs are all doing fabulous, so I'm including pictures of those here as well. Happy weeding!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Readymade Contest : The Macgyver Challenge : Prescription Bottles

MacGyver Challenge: Prescription Bottles

{Deadline: September 22, 2008}by Anthony Discenza

Increasingly, stealing a peak into the average American’s medicine cabinet reveals a rainbow galaxy of brightly colored pills nestled in little orange bottles. You name it, we’re taking it, most likely three times a day, before meals. That’s a whole lot of little receptacles piling up, and we’re always on the lookout for unnecessarily disposable objects, especially plastic ones. So while we cannot provide a cure for your high blood pressure, restore your memory, or whisk away your excess cholesterol, we can provide some incentives for you to call upon such non-prescription substances as a little elbow grease and gray matter. Come up with your prescription for the re-use of pill bottles, and the most creative Rx will be featured in the pages of the magazine, winning you eternal glory and a ReadyMade T-shirt, if not a remedy for your acid reflux.
Send photos or projects to ReadyMade, 817 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94710, or

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gone Fishin'

After my salmonellaosis I began to eat again and moved from clear liquid, to jello-o, on to soup, fruits, veggies, fish, and then I tried to get to meat. Actually, let me preface this whole story with a brief history...I've had digestive issues for years and my doctor went as far as handing me a pamphlet on irritable bowel sydrome and told me to increase my fiber intake, but stopped short of actually diagnosing me or giving me any real help or advice. My mom purchased a book that really helped me begin to understand how food affects the way I feel, for better or worse "Eating for IBS" Eventually I learned to pay attention to what foods my body liked and made me feel good and which ones it didn't. Sometimes my body followed the book, sometimes I didn't, but I think that is to be expected with anyone. Now, fast forward again to post salmonellaosis... some food types that have always causes me issue are fats. This includes, oils, butter, fried foods, animal products, etc. My friends have even been so kind as to name my condition Elizabutt :) So, as I began to work my way back up the foodchain I thought about why I was trying to force myself to eat meat and decided that maybe that's not a good idea. I don't plan to eliminate seafood (at least not anytime soon), but I've been enjoying my new pescatarian diet and it seems to be working well for me. I feel like I have more energy and my digestive issues seem to have disappeared. I'm beginning to track my food intake so that I can keep an eye on fats, calories, and nutrition. See what I'm eating here:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Jalapeno Peppers Recalled - Contaminated with Salmonella Saintpaul

Agricola Zaragoza, Inc. Recalls Jalapeno Peppers Because of Possible Health Risk (July 21)
Mon, 21 Jul 2008 17:11:00 -0500

The recall is a result of sampling by FDA, which revealed that these Jalapeno Peppers were contaminated with the same strain of Salmonella Saintpaul responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak. It is unknown at this time which, if any, of the more than 1,200 illnesses reported to date are related to this particular product or to the grower who supplied this product. Distribution of these products has been suspended while FDA, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company continue their investigation as to the source of the problem.

Recall -- Firm Press Release

FDA posts press releases and other notices of recalls and market withdrawals from the firms involved as a service to consumers, the media, and other interested parties. FDA does not endorse either the product or the company.

Agricola Zaragoza, Inc. Recalls Jalapeno Peppers Because of Possible Health Risk

Raymundo Cavazos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- June 21, 2008 -- Agricola Zaragoza, Inc. of McAllen, TX is recalling Jalapeno Peppers distributed since June 30th, 2008 because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

The Jalapeno Peppers were distributed to customers in GA and TX.

The Jalapeno Peppers being recalled were shipped in 35lb. plastic crates and in 50lb. bags with no brand name or label.

The recall is a result of sampling by FDA, which revealed that these Jalapeno Peppers were contaminated with the same strain of Salmonella Saintpaul responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak. It is unknown at this time which, if any, of the more than 1,200 illnesses reported to date are related to this particular product or to the grower who supplied this product. Distribution of these products has been suspended while FDA, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company continue their investigation as to the source of the problem.

Consumers and retailers who purchased Jalapeno Peppers should contact their supplier to determine if their products are involved in the recall. Commercial manufacturers that have used these recalled Jalapeno Peppers as an ingredient in other products (i.e. salsas, etc.) are encouraged to contact their local FDA office to determine if these products should be recalled. Additionally, restaurants, retail food stores, and similar retail institutions that have used these Jalapeno Peppers as a garnish or as an ingredient to prepare entrees, salsas or other products are asked to dispose of these products making sure that all such peppers are not inadvertently made available for purchase, salvage or donation and therefore preventing any possibility for human or animal consumption.. Consumers with questions may contact the company at (956)-631-6405.

Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers, and Avocados Recalled for Salmonella

Grande Produce, LTD.CO Recalls Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers, and Avocados Because of Possible Health Risk (July 19)Mon, 21 Jul 2008 09:00:00 -0500The Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers and Avocados were distributed to the following states: TX, DE, NC, GA, OK, IA, MN, IL, FL, IN, MD, NY, MS, AR, KS, and KY. The avocados being recalled were shipped in boxes labeled "Frutas Finas de Tancitaro HASS Avocados, Produce of Mexico," all sizes, with lot number HUE08160090889. The Jalapeno Peppers and Serrano peppers being recalled were shipped in 35lb. plastic crates with no brand name or label.

NOTE: "According to the Texas and North Carolina Departments of Health, the strain of Salmonella found in this company's jalapeño and serrano peppers and in its avocado is not Salmonella Saintpaul, and is not believed to be related to the current Salmonella outbreak.

The recall is a result of sampling not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but by the Texas Department of State Health Services (Texas Health) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (North Carolina Health ) which revealed that these products contained the bacteria.
The company has voluntarily initiated a recall of its already distributed products and has stopped future distribution while the FDA, Texas Health, North Carolina Health and the company continue to investigate to determine the source of the problem."
Recall -- Firm Press Release
FDA posts press releases and other notices of recalls and market withdrawals from the firms involved as a service to consumers, the media, and other interested parties. FDA does not endorse either the product or the company.
Grande Produce, LTD.CO Recalls Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers, and Avocados Because of Possible Health Risk
Contact:Raul Cano956- 843-8575
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- July 19, 2008 -- Grande Produce, LTD. CO of Hidalgo, Texas (hereinafter referred to as Grande Produce) is recalling Jalepeno Peppers and Serrano Peppers distributed between May 17th and July 17th, 2008; and Avocados, all sizes, with lot #HUE08160090889 because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.
The Jalapeno Peppers, Serrano Peppers and Avocados were distributed to the following states: TX, DE, NC, GA, OK, IA, MN, IL, FL, IN, MD, NY, MS, AR, KS, and KY.
The avocados being recalled were shipped in boxes labeled "Frutas Finas de Tancitaro HASS Avocados, Produce of Mexico," all sizes, with lot number HUE08160090889. The Jalapeno Peppers and Serrano peppers being recalled were shipped in 35lb. plastic crates with no brand name or label.
No illnesses associated with this recall have been reported to date.
The recall is a result of sampling by the Texas Department of State Health Services and The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which revealed that these products contained the bacteria. Distribution of these products has been suspended while FDA, the Texas Department of State Health Services, The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the company continue their investigation as to the source of the problem.
Consumers who purchased Avocados, Jalapeno Peppers and Serrano Peppers should contact their supplier to determine if their products are involved in the recall. Consumers with questions may contact the company at (956) 843-8575.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Organic Raw Kombucha Experiment

My friend invited me to join her at Whole Foods at lunch today. While walking down the aisles checking out the latest tasty products I ran into something that looked really interesting...Organic Raw Kombucha. It's a fermented tea that is cultured for 30 days with probiotics and vareity of other good for you things, like algae. We chuckled, broke out the Stevia powder and prepped. I shook mine, which by the way, don't do. Its naturally effervescent and so overflows (just like when some jerk bangs their beer bottle on top of yours at a party). I took the first swig and discovered that it tastes exactly like you would imagine the vinegar and food color combination I use each year when my daughter and I color our Easter eggs. I decided to try the Stevia, but its fermented and the natural bubbles were even more excited by the Stevia and it began to bubble over again. It tasted a little better, but its sharp acidic taste will definately require some adjustment. I sure hope that this is good for me, because it sure does taste healthy....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The triumph of feminism has served the culture of capitalism

The fruits of the feminist revolution? Sisterhood, empowerment, and eight hours a day in a cubicle by Sandra Tsing Loh

I Choose My Choice!

As you may have heard, some 50 years after Betty Friedan sprang us from domestic jail, we women … seem to have made a mess of it. What do we want? Not to be men (wrong again, Freud!), at least not businessmen—although slacker men, sans futon and bong, might appeal. In these post-Lisa-Belkin-New-York-Times-Magazine-“Opt-Out” years, we’ve now learned the worst: even female Harvard graduates are fleeing high-powered careers for a kinder, gentler Martha Stewart Living. Not only does the Problem Have a Name, it has its own line of Fiestaware!
And what are our fallen M.B.A. sisters of Crimson doing? Kvells one Harvard-grad-turned-stay-at-home-mom, on the subject of her days:
I dance and sing and play the guitar and listen to NPR. I write letters to my family, my congressional representatives, and to newspaper editors. My kids and I play tag and catch, we paint, we explore, we climb trees and plant gardens together. We bike instead of using the car. We read, we talk, we laugh. Life is good. I never dust.
Is the mass media to blame (again!) for pushing women out of the workplace? Not so much. On our zeitgeist-setting TV shows, it’s only the housewives who are desperate. Work is fun! The Manhattan working gals of Sex and the City, whose days revolve chiefly around dishing over cocktails, are essentially ’50s suburban housewives, trophy wives of (in this case) glamorous if emotionally distant New York jobs—skyscraper-housed entities with good addresses and doormen that handsomely fund their lifestyles while requiring that they show up to service them only infrequently, in bustiers and heels. I want a vague job like the one Charlotte has, in the art gallery she never goes to; or the lawyer job Miranda has (charcoal suits and plenty o’ time for lunch with the gals); or Samantha’s PR gig, throwing SoHo loft parties and giving blow jobs to freakishly endowed men (actually, that’s the one job I don’t want); I want to spend my days like “writer” Carrie, lolling in bed in her underwear, smoking and occasionally updating her quasi-bohemian equivalent of a My­Space page.
In real life, female journalists (particularly sex columnists) have frightening stalkers, dour editors who begin phone conversations with “This is not your best,” and paychecks so thin they trigger not just an amusing episode in which some Jimmy Choos must be returned but years of fluorescent-lit subway rides to a part-time job teaching ESL at some community college on Long Island. In an ugly if typical turn, one’s column is suddenly moved from the Manhattan section to the North Jersey “auto buy” section because of the arrival of a younger, hotter writer. In real life, workmen would unceremoniously peel Carrie’s ad off the side of the bus and replace it with an ad touting the peppy new relationship blog of Miley Cyrus.
An assault on the flaccid, pastel-hued Real Simple values of today’s overeducated, underperforming homebound women, Linda Hirshman’s marvelously cranky Get to Work … And Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late drew an Internet hailstorm. (Those stay-at-home mothers—like AARP members, they’ve got time to type.) Short, biting, funny, and deliciously quotable (Hirshman is like an old-guard feminist Huckabee), Get to Work is a great value in terms of making the most of your limited reading hours. (Susan Faludi’s Stiffed ran 672 pages; my galley of Get was a slim 94.)
Hirshman’s thumbnail review of recent feminist history makes for prickly, entertaining reading. “Just over thirty years ago,” she rails, “the feminist movement turned from Betty Friedan, the big-nosed, razor-tongued moralist,” to Gloria Steinem. Not only did the honey-tressed blonde clearly have a smaller nose, as Hirsh­man implies, but “Gloria was nicer than Betty.” The pliant undercover Bunny shepherded in a “useless choice feminism” of soft convictions and “I gotta be me” moral relativism. Hirshman quotes Sex and the City’s hapless Charlotte, who, when given flak for quitting her job to please her smug first husband, can only wail plaintively, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!”
Hirshman fires with both barrels (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) at today’s mommies, who are so busy sniffing the Martha Stewart paint chips that they have forgotten Friedan’s exhortation to get out and change the world. In reference to the NPR-listening, tree-climbing Harvard grad quoted above, Hirshman acidly notes:
Assuming she is telling the truth, and she does live in the perfect land of a Walgreens’ ad, is not all this biking and tree climbing a bit too much of the inner child for any normal adult? Although child rearing, unlike housework, is important and can be difficult, it does not take well-developed political skills to rule over creatures smaller than you are, weaker than you are, and completely dependent upon you for survival or thriving. Certainly, it’s not using your reason to do repetitive, physical tasks, whether it’s cleaning or driving the car pool. My correspondent’s life does have a certain Tom Sawyerish quality to it, but she has no power in the world. Why would the congressmen she writes to listen to someone whose life so resembles that of a toddler’s, Harvard degree or no?
Not afraid, in her own big-nosed, razor-tongued way, to alienate everyone (or at least half of everyone), Hirshman considers all stay-at-home mothers fish in her barrel (think fish pedaling tiny aquatic bicycles). No target is too small: Hirshman even tears mercilessly into the sleep-deprived new mothers who’ve made the unfortunate decision to share their rambling thoughts on something called (Really, aren’t there any blogs over which the Web should draw its gentle curtain? Apparently not.) But in fact, Hirshman insists, the problem starts well before mother­hood. It begins when young women enter college and violate Hirshman’s No. 1 rule of female emancipation: “Don’t study art.”
Why aren’t the women who are outnumbering men in undergraduate institutions leading the information economy? “Because they’re dabbling,” she snaps. Here’s yet another Problem That Has a Name: Frida Kahlo.
Everybody loves Frida Kahlo. Half Jewish, half Mexican, tragically injured when young, sexually linked to men and women, abused by a famous genius husband. Oh, and a brilliantly talented painter. If I was a feminazi, the first thing I’d ban would be books about Frida Kahlo. Because Frida Kahlo’s life is not a model for women’s lives. And if you’re not Frida Kahlo and you major in art, you’re going to wind up answering the phones at some gallery in Chelsea, hoping a rich male collector comes to rescue you.
As Woody Allen’s own Whore of Mensa would sigh and pencil in the margin, “Yes, very true!” And don’t we all know them, those defiant, dreadlocked young lovelies with their useless degrees in studio art, experimental fiction, modern dance, and gender studies, lactose-intolerant and unemployable: “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!”
Of course, Hirshman, with that somewhat unlovely, censorious tone, is being a tad simplistic. She leaves aside the matter of whether women driven to make piles of money are the same ones likely to incite meaningful social change. If the Harvard stay-at-home mom walked away from an attack-dog corporate-lawyer job with Exxon, I, for one, would rather see her playing tag and climbing trees. And although Hirsh­man did work as a lawyer (lawyer, along with doctor and judge, is the kind of high-degree, socially relevant job she approves of), she then became a professor of philosophy and women’s studies. (Call the White House! We have a professor of philosophy on the line!)
Not that being an academic isn’t a hell of a lot of fun; in fact, its very pleasantness contributes to a bias peculiar to members of the thinktankerati. So argues Neil Gilbert, a renowned Berkeley sociologist, in A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life. According to Gilbert, the debate over the value of women’s work has been framed by those with a too-rosy view of employment,
mainly because the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have “real” jobs—professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities.
Many of them can set their own hours, choose their own workspace, get paid for thinking about issues that interest them, and, as a bonus, get to feel, by virtue of their career, important in the world. The professor admits that his own job in “university teaching is by and large divorced from the normal discipline of everyday life in the marketplace. It bears only the faintest resemblance to most work in the real world.” In other words, for the “occupational elite” (as Gilbert calls this group), unlike for most people, going to work is not a drag.
Indeed, what does Linda Hirshman know about “work”? (It’s a veritable WWE Smackdown of Academics!) Parries Gilbert:
Linda Hirshman claims that “the family—with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks—is a necessary part of life, but allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government.” Many people would no doubt find unpaid household chores less interesting than Professor Hirshman’s job … But walking up and down the super­market aisle selecting food for a family dinner is a job that has more variety and autonomy than the paid work being done by the supermarket employees who stack the same shelves with the same food day after day, and those who stand in a narrow corner at the checkout counter all day tallying up the costs of purchases, and the workers next to them who pack the purchases into paper or plastic bags. That space in the market is a bit cramped for human flourishing.
To be sure, attacking feminist criticism as being the extended whine of a privileged, educated upper class is as old as … well, as bell hooks’s 1984 critique of Friedan’s Feminine Mystique: “[Friedan] did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute than to be a leisure-class housewife.” It’s a point that keeps having to be made, though. And hooks’s list doesn’t even include the legions of colorless office jobs that most women endure, “real” jobs that trap them from eight to five in a cramped cubicle under hideous lighting. During the course of a Sex and the City workday you’re likely to encounter Mr. Big, but at a “real” job you’re far more likely to be thrown in with the pimply, fright-wigged characters of Dilbert or with Dwight Shrute from The Office, the show whose name is synonymous with tedium, idiocy, and despair.
The eight-to-five routine entails quite a few repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks (think Rob Schneider’s Richmeister on Saturday Night Live: “Makin’ kahpies!”). Research suggests that such drudge work holds no special lure even for (free at last!) females. Citing a survey of 909 employed women on how they had felt during 16 different daily activities, Gilbert notes:
Employed women expressed a higher degree of enjoyment for shopping, preparing food, taking care of their children, and doing housework than for working at their jobs—an activity that was ranked at the next-to-lowest level of enjoyment, just above commuting to work.
Further, in a development that would shock only today’s most radical feminists (where are those last two hiding? Buffalo?):
When it came to interactions with different partners, the women ranked interactions with their children as more enjoyable than those with clients/customers, coworkers, and bosses.
But aren’t women at home subject to the oppression of their chauvinistic, soul-crushing husbands? As if a mere human could compete with clogged freeways and Sisyphean paper pushing (or its more up-to-date equivalent, paperless pushing) and burnt-coffee-laced afternoons counting the acoustic tiles in stale conference rooms, and the hours spent arguing over the wording of a memo that within minutes after its dissemination will be dragged into the now-two-dimensional circular file. Unless he’s an abusive alcoholic or something similar, to be more oppressive than a “real” job, a husband would have to possess tireless text-messaging thumbs: “Where’s my dry cleaning?” “Did you pick up my dry cleaning?” “Where are you shopping right now?” “No! No! I told you—no butter lettuce from Safeway, only Whole Foods!” (Come to think of it, this may be a fairly accurate bit of communication between a privileged mother and a micromanaged nanny.) Even providing a chilled martini at six o’clock and roast beef at seven to the legendary suburban alpha male of yore allowed most of one’s day to be fairly flexible. As for today’s poorer husbands, many of them are likely too tired from their job’s repetitious, socially invisible physical tasks—such as makin’ kahpies!—to continually oppress their wives.
But surely women’s economic independence is worth it? Oy. Wrong again. Here Gilbert launches into an exhaustive and rather depressing analysis of how far we’ve come since the 1970s. It’s a long way, baby … if chiefly in terms of the accessibility of appliances. Seventies luxuries—air conditioners and clothes dryers—are of course the new millennium’s necessities. Although more than half of all households were hanging their clothes on a line or schlepping them to a laundromat in 1971, for instance, by 2001, the majority of even poor households owned dryers. And now we all require goodies like cell phones and 900 channels of cable unheard-of 30 years ago—by 2001, eight out of 10 low-income households owned VCRs/DVD players. No question, getting moms a paycheck has been very good for the U.S. consumer-electronics market, not to mention fast-food vendors, child-care providers, and—despite all those clothes dryers—the dry-cleaning industry.
However, while the economy benefits, for working-class families with young children, so much of a second income is eaten up by child care and taxes and other costs related to holding down a job that, after purchasing the microwave—now necessary to produce hot meals in the 10 minutes left for food preparation—and the de rigueur DVD player, the second wage earner might as well have stayed at home. Gilbert concludes, then, that financial need is not the force behind women’s shift in the past 50 years from work in the home to work in the market­place; rather, it is the desires of those who have made out like bandits in this new order, the tiny minority (3.5 percent in 2003) of women who earn $75,000 or more. Members of this occupational elite have created a host of cultural norms by which their far less privileged sisters—who, again, make up the vast majority of working women—feel they must abide. For Hirsh­man’s doctors, lawyers, judges, and professors, work has been terrific, so it’s no wonder they’ve advocated social change, imposing on society between the 1960s and the mid-1990s “new expectations about modern life, self-fulfillment, and the joys of work outside the home.”
They’ve gotten results: fathers in the U.S. now spend more time with their children and do more of the household tasks than their counterparts did, and Congress and employers both have made market-friendly provisions, such as parental leave, designed to encourage mothers of young children to take up paid employment. The society that has emerged, in which equality between men and women supersedes equality between social classes, may therefore be seen as “the triumph of feminism over socialism.” Never mind the social costs, we now have an army of consumers and a vast labor pool—what could be more market-friendly? Indeed, since the late 1990s, so-called family-friendly policies in Europe have been, as the Oxford sociologist Jane Lewis observes, “explicitly linked to the promotion of women’s employment in order to further the economic growth and competition agenda.” Women have achieved the freedom to join men on a more or less equal footing in the market­place, which strengthens the notion that the only thing ultimately of value is one’s ability to turn a buck. The triumph of feminism, Gilbert reminds us (echoing those socially conservative men of the left, George Orwell and Christopher Lasch), has served the culture of capitalism. As he sums up the whole darn tangle:
The capitalist ethos underrates the economic value and social utility of domestic labor in family life, particularly during the early years of childhood; the prevailing expectations of gender feminists place too high a value on the social and psychological satisfactions of work; and the typical package of family-friendly benefits delivered by the state creates incentives that essentially reinforce the devaluations of motherhood prompted by the capitalist ethos and feminist expectations.
All of which brings us, finally, to Sweden. (And doesn’t a shot of raspberry Absolut sound good at this point?) The debate about mothers and work: it always ends—doesn’t it?—with Sweden. Oh, if America could only be like Sweden—such a humane society, with its free day care for working mothers and its government subsidies of up to $11,900 per child per year. The problem? One hates to be Mrs. Red-State Republican Bringdown, but yes … the taxes. Currently, the top marginal income-tax rate in Sweden is nearly 60 percent (down from its peak in 1979 of 87 percent). Government spending amounts to more than half of Sweden’s GDP. (And it doesn’t all go to children, given Sweden’s low fertility rate.) On the upside, government spending creates jobs: from 1970 to 1990, a whopping 75 percent of Swedish jobs created were in the public sector … providing social welfare services … almost all of which were filled by women. Uh-oh. In short, as Gilbert points out, because of the 40 percent tax rate on her husband’s job, a new mother may be forced to take that second, highly taxed job to supplement the family’s finances; in other words, she leaves her toddlers behind from eight to five (in that convenient universal day care) so she can go take care of other people’s toddlers or empty the bedpans of elderly strangers. (As Alan Wolfe has pointed out, “the Scandinavian welfare states which express so well a sense of obligation to distant strangers, are beginning to make it more difficult to express a sense of obligation to those with whom one shares family ties.”)
I’m pretty sure that changing diapers of all sizes isn’t the kind of women’s work Betty Friedan had in mind, nor Linda Hirshman. The bottom line (and this fact will become more so as humans live longer): there’s a whole lot of caregivin’ goin’ on. We all fantasize about work that uses our creativity, is self-directed, happens during the hours we choose, and occurs in an attractively lit setting with fascinating people—you know, jobs like women have on TV. Oprah’s job! However, since in reality—even in Sweden—so many roads lead to a wet wipe, I myself feel grateful and lucky to be here in California while I type this essay … which I am actually doing in bed, clad in my sweatpants rather than in high heels and a bustier (as, fortunately, I am not a fantasy character on television—not unless they did a Sex and the City “lumberjack” edition). Later, I will feed the cats for my single, working-gal neighbor, who has a real office schedule, complete with commute. Perhaps I’ll also fling Popsicles at my latchkey children in the next room, mesmerized by a Princess video. (How much money have I earned while running Princess videos? I should pay Disney! Well, maybe not.)
Work … family—I’m doing it all. But here’s the secret I share with so many other nanny- and housekeeper-less mothers I see working the same balance: my house is trashed. It is strewn with socks and tutus. My minivan is awash in paper wrappers (I can’t lie—several are evidence of our visits to McDonald’s Playland, otherwise known as “my second office”). My girls went to school today in the T-shirts they slept in. But so what? My children and I spend 70 hours a week of high-to-poor quality time together. We enjoy ourselves. As that NPR-listening, tree-climbing mother said: “We read, we talk, we laugh. Life is good. I never dust.” Perhaps our generation of mothers can at least offer an innovation that the early radical feminists never had. I think of Linda Hirshman approvingly quoting Pat Mainardi’s angry political analysis of the hidden tally of unrewarded “women’s” housework:
Here’s my list of dirty chores: buying groceries, carting them home and putting them away; cooking meals and washing dishes and pots; doing the laundry; digging out the place when things get out of control; washing floors. The list could go on but the sheer necessities are bad enough.
Wait … she washed the floor?! Time to redefine “necessities,” Pat. Say what you will about them, those radical feminists were tidy housekeepers. What I’d say to them over a distance of 30 years is (Ching! There’s the microwave!) … you can have it all—if you run your house like a man.
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

One More Reason to Demand Efficient and Affordable Public Transportation

New Virginia Toll Lanes Designed to Create Congestion
Illegal political donations helped give Australian company full control over Virginia transportation until the year 2087.

BeltwayIllegal political contributions helped an Australian firm land a lucrative toll road deal that grants the company unprecedented power over Northern Virginia's transportation future. Last week, Transurban wrote and asked state lawmakers to return checks that the Melbourne-based toll road operator had written in violation of federal campaign laws (details). But the deal these contributions helped bring about has already been finalized.

In June, the US Department of Transportation created a first-of-its-kind $1.6 billion financing package that consisted of tax-free bonds, loans and state taxpayer grants to support the project that will add a pair of High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway just outside of Washington, DC. To this amount, Transurban only added $349 million of its own capital -- less than the cost of interest -- toward the construction of the toll lanes (details).

In return for that small investment, Transurban received from Virginia officials the right to demand payment from state taxpayers any time that improvements are made to a number of free roads near the Beltway. In effect, the contract between the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Transurban is designed to ensure the area remains sufficiently congested so that motorists will have an incentive to pay to use the toll lanes.

For example, VDOT can make no changes, expansion or improvements to the free lanes on the Beltway until the year 2087 unless the agency first consults Transurban. VDOT agreed that if any such changes were made to the general purpose lanes without Transurban's explicit approval, they would at least be made in such a way as to guarantee the company maintained a high level of profit.

"If the department [VDOT] determines that additional traffic lanes on the Capital Beltway Corridor are in the state's best interests, the department shall consult with the concessionaire [Transurban] as to an appropriate strategy to implement such additional traffic lanes," the contract states. "At the department's sole discretion, [it shall] permit the construction of additional lanes as part of the project with a view to minimizing any detrimental impact on the project or its ability to generate revenues..."

In the past, most toll road deals included "non-compete" clauses that strictly prohibited transportation departments from making improvements to nearby, competing roads. They did so because free-flowing traffic on alternative routes would hit the toll road's bottom line. Simply put: why take a toll road, when there's a free alternative?

Explicit non-compete provisions have become politically controversial, and as a result companies have recently embraced a more subtle approach that accomplishes the same goal. For example, the contract for the State Highway 130 toll road in Austin, Texas included a provision giving the Texas Department of Transportation a financial incentive to lower the speed limit on the nearby Interstate 35 freeway. As first reported by TheNewspaper last year that, this provision was designed to create congestion and inconvenience for the motorists who choose the free alternative route (details).

For the Beltway project, improvements such as adding additional free lanes to the highway are absolutely permitted -- for a price. The contract considers any improvement to the Beltway to be a "Department Project Enhancement" which means that Virginia taxpayers must pay Transurban for the right to improve the free portion of the highway. Given VDOT's stated lack of funding, adding an extra monetary premium to the cost of any improvements effectively gives the foreign company the ability to prevent such projects from happening.

The effect is not limited to the Beltway. The contract specifies that payments called "compensation events" must be made in the event that the state decides to improve the connections between the Beltway's general purpose lanes and the Dulles Toll Road or any "improvements to I-66 outside the Capital Beltway Corridor" made over the course of the next eighty years.

An "independent engineer" determines how much compensation Transurban will receive by calculating an expected traffic impact. This means that the more the public is likely to use a free alternative, the more Transurban is paid. In Sydney, Australia, for example, the Lane Cove Tunnel toll project contained a provision requiring the state government to narrow the lanes of a nearby free road to generate congestion that would drive motorists into the tunnel. After the state decided to postpone the narrowing until after an election, the toll road concession was paid A$25 million (US $24 million) for that compensation event.

Transurban's control goes beyond lane improvements. Although the stated purpose of the "high occupancy" part of the toll lane project is to encourage motorists to carpool, the contract contains a provision directly designed to discourage any increase in the number of motorists sharing rides.

"The department agrees to pay the concessionaire, subject to Section 20.18, amounts equal to 70% of the average toll applicable to vehicles paying tolls for the number of High Occupancy Vehicles exceeding a threshold of 24% of the total flow of all permitted vehicles that are then using such toll section going in the same direction for the first 30 consecutive minutes during any day, and any additional 15 consecutive minute periods in such day, during which average traffic for a toll section going in the same direction exceeds a rate of 3,200 vehicles per hour based on two lanes," the contract states.

This means if carpooling becomes popular on the Beltway, taxpayers could end up making multi-million dollar annual payments to Transurban.

Finally, the contract insists that if any homes happen to lie in the way of the the construction of the new lanes, Transurban will pay no more than the current market value to purchase the land in question. If the owner refuses to move, VDOT will condemn the property and confiscate it for the use of the private, for-profit company through eminent domain. The Beltway project, however, was designed to be built within existing VDOT right-of-way to ensure the exercise of this power would not be needed.

Transurban shares on the Australian Stock Exchange jumped 15 cents to A$4.60 today after the company announced quarterly earnings results. On Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, the company reported a 7.8 percent increase in revenue over the same quarter last year, despite a 6.9 percent drop in the number of motorists using the toll road. It credited the positive performance to an 11 percent toll hike in January and the cancellation of the discount previously given to transponder users.

Relevant excerpts from the Transurban contract are available in a 260k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Comprehensive Agreement Relating to Route 495 HOT Lanes - Excerpts (Virginia Department of Transportation and Capital Beltway Express, 12/19/2007)

Chronicling my adventures in proving that less is more. I'll learn to refashion/recycle clothes, prepare gourmet meals using as many natural/basic/raw ingredients as possible. I'll learn to spend less, live more, and reclaim those things that are truly valuable in my life.


Below are feeds from websites that I find to be interesting and from a similar vein.


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