Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Follies (aka dogblogging)

Now that Christmas day is over, renewed shopping frenzy begins--which is why I'm avoiding the store today, even the grocery. (I forgot how bad it could be when I decided to venture to the grocery store midday Christmas Eve--in addition to the crowded roads and lots, I saw a driver pull a dangerous stunt that I'd never seen before, and hope never to see again--Speed Racer streaked down the wrong side of the street to make a left turn [on the other side of the concrete median], to ignore an established left-turn signal lane that was within the proper side of the median strip, and barely missed being hit broadside by traffic coming down Pennsylvania Avenue. Unreal.)

Now, I'm trying to avoid being all judgmental about excessive consumptive behavior (too late!), I can't help but notice that it's so much running amok.

Joy to the world

The Christmas eats have been gobbled, the music and games have been played (and played), when Mr. Christmas begs the crew to visit, for the first time in many years, the national Christmas tree near the White House. Being a not-too-cold night, and needing to keep encroaching blubber at bay, the answer was yes.

We weren't the only ones by a long shot--it was a challenge finding parking, and the immediate area was packed, many families with children, and some families with their dogs--some very large ones, one very fat one, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that tried to butt into the following nativity scene:

Nativity sceneThe tree itself was spectacular in an odd way (all its ornaments were gold-colored), and looked even more so close up, surrounded by smaller trees from each state and territory.

National Christmas tree
As giddy as all the decked trees made me feel, I was impressed by the menorah, which was stately, and larger than I previously thought.

Giant menorah with Washington Monument in background
Fitting, as the crowd was as international as the seasonal symbols present. Joy to the world indeed!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve was a blast, again, with relatives and friends, good food, did I mention the food? The best ending ever, with auntie's homemade sweet potato pie, and another humongous, moist, delicious cake from Gerard.

The only truly questionable thing was, not one, but two sweatshirts of the following (neither of which belongs to me):

sweatshirt with image of Barack Obama as SantaObama as Santa? Ay ya ya...

* * *

Christmas day was the day to bake the sugar cookies, which came out great. The only thing that bugs me about cookie recipes is that they always specify a baking time that's entirely too long. Trust, if you leave cookies in the oven for more than six minutes, you basically have volcanic ash, not a dessert.

sugar cookies being cut
Rolling the cookies on lightly floured waxed paper made moving the cookies to the baking pan very easy--just peel back the paper, and off come the cookies.

The final result--

baked Christmas cookies Yummy! It's time to run over to eat, and give some of the above tempting treats away, as I've already had my stash.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Tis the season...

I love the holidays--the singing, special food and drink, decorations, cards, gifts, the whole shebang.

While there's little money for gifts this year, it's an excuse to make yummy homemade gifts to take to party hosts. The best part about this is that there are always leftovers! In addition to Christmas cookies (which will be baking tomorrow), I tackled, as it were, a criminally easy fudge, a bit of which will go to auntie as a present, some for a present tomorrow, and some to remain at home.

This fudge is absurdly easy because there's no candy thermometer to fiddle with, no baking, and takes, oh, ten minutes to prepare in all. Honest! (Recipe adapted from Shmooed Food.)

Vegan Fudge (makes one 9-inch x 9-inch pan)

4 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 nondairy milk
2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated margarine (e.g., Earth Spread or Soy Garden)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond (or other flavored) extract, optional
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Lightly oil or spray the baking pan and set aside.

Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together into a large mixing bowl. (For my purposes, "sift" can mean stir around with a fork until the lumps are out, the ingredients are nicely mixed, and are lightly fluffed.) Add the chocolate chips, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the nondairy milk and margarine to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. When the milk is at a steady, strong boil, pour it over the powdered sugar mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined and the heat has melted the chocolate chips.

Stir in the vanilla (and other extracts, if using), and the nuts, if using.

Spread the fudge into the prepared pan and refrigerate overnight to solidify.

Enjoy (a little at a time--this stuff is rich!), preferably with hot liquid refreshment.

cup of coffee with fudge * * *

Surviving the holidays...

An unfortunate side-effect of modern life is that many of us eat like the holidays much of the time, with high-sugar, high-fat diets year round. For many, this results in devastating conditions like strokes.

There is treatment available for strokes, when they are detected early. An easy way to detect if someone might be having a stroke is ask someone the following questions (STR):

S -- ask the individual to SMILE

T -- ask the person to TALK and SPEAK (coherently) a simple sentence

R -- ask the person to RAISE BOTH ARMS

If the person has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 immediately, and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Other warning signs can be found in Don Hazen's Alternet article, Want to Save Some Lives? Here is a Simple Formula for Identifying Strokes.

Please don't ignore the signs--I have a friend on the Hill who is alive and well today because her stroke was treated in time.

To paraphrase the old saying, a sign in time saves lives!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From the top...

It seems like everything about the Obamas creates buzz, even the possibility of the stylist who might become Mrs. Obama's hairdresser during her time in Washington. I'm hoping it's Barry Fletcher, for a variety of reasons.

For one, he's also a black first--the first black hairdresser to represent the USA in the Hair Olympics, and the first to represent using a black model. In addition to styling celebrities such as Halle Berry and Chaka Khan, he has had salons catering to non-celebrities as well.

I remember well splurging to visit his old salon in DC, near CBS News' Washington bureau office. Not only did my hair look great (although he was not the best stylist I've personally had--the best one, Crystal, unfortunately had a strong attraction to her inanimate namesakes, liking to ingest them nasally way too often), but best of all, my hair felt fantastic, in the best condition it had ever been in up to that time. I can't recall the name of the stylist at his salon, but whatever "system" Fletcher's stylists use is the best.

So, you can imagine my delight when I found out that Mr. Fletcher now has an entire hair care product line. Not only do his products make your hair clean and soft, they're not ridiculously expensive, considering that he leans toward using essential oils and other natural ingredients. I'm glad that I'm not the only one thrilled with them--blogger Spoiled Pretty has a soft spot for them as well. They're available from his website, or at his store in Maryland.

Now, if Mrs. Obama can only ignore Fletcher's penchant for publicity, because he's probably the only hair stylist who could ever come close to upstaging the future First Lady...

Getting it together?

A group of Washington area bloggers had a meetup last week, at RFD. Nice to know that even in tough times, mid-priced places will still be around, if only so folks can escape from their caves once in a while.

Anyhoo, although the gathering was small, nine or so (a few couldn't make it), there was still a diversity of ages present and topics bandied about, with a showing from native Washingtonians to the new in town. Their blogs include:, a DC blogroll on steroids, with commentary, old-school views on politics and life in DC, a bicycling blog from a regular ramblin' man, a quirky observational blog from the untragically hip, scenes from the life of the young and the restless, funny, infuriating, and scary tales from behind the pharmacy counter

The last guy, like many of us, wrings his hands about aspects of America's crazy quilt of a health care "system." A wild tale of mine was years ago, at a company meeting, when the then-CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the National Capital Area (Guiliani, I believe Ben was his first name) answered a question from silly me, about how health care would be affected with the Clinton plan. His answer was, to put it politely, surreal, as for some reason he mentioned health care in Jamaica, of all places. When a presumably educated person wants to compare the American health care system, such as it is, with that of a Caribbean country, that's nothing but willful ignorance in action, to a frightening degree.

* * *

Those who still scoff at Obama's inclusion of infrastructure repair in his economic stimulus program, doubting the need to pay for increased infrastructure spending, must not have been watching today's news of the huge water main break in Bethesda (on River Road, ironically), making that street resemble a raging tributary of the Potomac.

Who's doubting now?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everybody was kung fu fighting...

Wow, seems the world's in a fighting mood, although W, for once, is trying to keep the economic peace by today's announcement of an auto industry rescue package. For the very short term, that should keep some southern lawmakers quiet. I'm sure he's wanting a little holiday peace, after a true surprise during his unannounced trip to Iraq:

Further south however, say in Mexico, lawmakers are even less able to peacefully agree (on infrastructure legislation), and let fists fly:

There is still youth (and other) unrest in Greece, and South Korean lawmakers apparently can't all just get along either.

Such recent events seem to suggest that many folks are having a difficult time behaving better than animals, since we're fighting worse than cats and dogs, whose fights are usually akin to insignificant scraps like this:

Collection Of Fights Between Our Corgi And Our Kitty - The best bloopers are here

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas sparkle, green edition...

The Internet is brimming with tips on green gifts, entertaining, and the like. Of course, it helps to have your place decked out, the better to get in the mood for seasonal festivities. There's no need to empty an already-thin wallet or further foul the planet to make your abode all sparkly for the season.


I was walking, walking down the street...and spied something nice on the ground--a lovely winterberry branch--which I promptly took home to stick in a vase.

winterberry branches in vase
[Cost=zero, or the cost of picking up the branch off of the ground.] Also free for the snipping, boughs of (evergreen) holly which I have in the yard. Both the wintergreen and other hollies will keep about a week or so indoors.

holly branches over china cabinet It doesn't hurt to retrieve a few free finds left over from the year before (or the year before that), such as:

fall decoration of dried leaves, pine cones, and acorns[Cost=zero. However, my chances of finding the above (hickory?) nuts this season would also be zero, because they have been AWOL in this part of Maryland this year!] (Neither have I seen the usually plentiful acorns.)


A live tree for a small house--the solution--a small tree! You get the pine aroma throughout the house, but in a size where you can get the tree in the house. (And have a choice as to where in the house to place it.)

When the holiday season is over, this little pine will be broken into small pieces and scattered over the ground to decompose.

mini pine tree with Christmas decorations

[Cost=$10, at Whole Foods. Because I had my own decorations, I was able to stay away from Whole Paycheck's obvious sucker bait, such as the bags of cinnamon-scented pine cones.] However, I wish the store had the little rosemary trees, which appear fuller.

The tiny decorations were purchased last year, from Dollar Tree, which is cheaper than too-chinchy-to-pay-for-security Walmart. (Also, while both chains sell scads of made-in-China trinkets, Dollar Tree has a larger selection of Christmas decorations). Go figure.

All other decorations were saved from the year before--purchased at Target the day after Christmas, at a massive discount, so I spent no more than $6.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sign of the times...

Now, I've seen all manner of feathered critters in the Washington area over the years--the blue heron (at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and perched over the Suitland Parkway), heard and saw a woodpecker here and there (Capitol Hill and Bethesda), as well as the ubiquitous comeback kid, the crow, a wild turkey, off I-295, a thrush, and even a hawk, right near the playground.

But, today was the first time I've ever seen vultures. And not one or two, but about six or seven, on the side of the road heading to FedEx Field, eating from a red fox carcass. Ugh! Of course, I had to look (but not too close, because who wants to get close to vultures?), so an attempt at document their roadside uniqueness (also a bit scary because they seemed persistent--I mean, as soon as a car zoomed past, they resumed their meal--nothing was going to keep them from that!) was less than successful, trying to keep my distance and all:

vultures not far from FedEx Field That black spot in the street near the curb was one of the crafty critters. (The others jumped over the guard rail for a bit.) Again, ughhhhh.

Figures I'd see one of these buggers for the first time during this economic downturn, when industries such as banks and financial services firms have been ravaging the economy for years!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Follies (aka dogblogging)

With the refusal of southern Republicans in the Senate to ratify the auto industry bailout loan package, snarling about the high wages of its unionized workforce (while not complaining about the humongous Wall Street bailout approved previously on top of those extravagant executive salaries), it really makes you wonder, as Hale "Bonddad" Stewart muses in the Huffington Post, whether "The Republicans Want a Depression."

Visible proof of such ridiculous, circular behavior, also exists in the canine kingdom (which at least has the virtue of being humorous when practiced in the house):

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What--no white Christmas?

The adorable little snowflakes that plinked down last night were, admittedly, a lovely distraction, at least once I got off the road. (Hmm, how do folks not realize to slow down in blowing snow? Thankfully, it didn't last long, but still.)

Sadly, today's wind was enough to blow much of that little bit of snow away, although there was still a bit on some plants close to home, such as this beauty:

snow on holly

That (ill?) wind, however, apparently blew the wind off some lovely winterberry plants, which I am dying to see covered with snow, as they are the only deciduous holly plants--that's right, their leaves drop off in the fall, leaving clusters of beautiful red berries on the stalks, for people to view and birds to eat.

The beauty below, a winterberry, is showing off, as its leaves have dropped, so those berries seem almost huddled together--

winterberry from Oikos Tree Crops
Hope there's a chance of another dusting before Christmas. It would do Washington's landscape a world of good!

(The above winterberry photo is from Oikos Tree Crops.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Attacking the air? (aka dogblogging)

Perhaps the holiday season is a slow news time, particularly in the transition between presidents--not that that's stopped criticism of a President-elect who's not even in office yet. An apt visual interpretation of such sniping is rendered in the video below, only the perpetrator of its foolishness is cuter than most.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

For a few dollars more (about the Walmart trampling tragedy)

Still struggling to think what could possess grown folk to first stand in line, in the cold, in the dark, to save money on, exactly what? Toys for the children, and just as often, shiny electronic toys for the adults. Because, let's face it, the Black Friday sales, like the one where the temporary worker at the Walmart was trampled, are not for boring necessities like food, diapers, or other sundry items. No!

This frenzied crowd behavior is all the more disgusting because it's in contrast to recent events, such as the giveaway of Thanksgiving turkeys and toys at FedEx Field, where, as far as I'm aware, people were behaving civilly, although there weren't even enough turkeys for everyone, because of increased turnout this year. And yes, although apparently there was also a higher than average turnout at the Washington DC Convention Center for its Feast of Sharing this year, there were no reports of beastly behavior there, either.

How sad. Americans have come to the point where we seem unable to distinguish between wants and needs--and will fight to the death over them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday Tips (the real deal!)

In trying to be environmentally minded today, I not only took a hot drink with me today in a Starbucks tumbler, then I used the same mug for another cup of tea at a vendor--I asked him to fill the mug up instead of using a paper cup, and he knocked 25 cents off the price of the tea, making it an even buck! Now, this was not at Whole Foods or some other organic emporium, but at the kiosk at a medical center. Small victories!

* * *

Accompanying a relative for a medical procedure, an MRI, I knew that everything metal had to be removed, etc.

What I was unaware of, and even the staff, cordial and helpful as they were, didn't clue me in on just how loud the noises coming out from this modern marvel would be--even with the soft foam ear protection that's provided.

Wikipedia gently alludes to the noise potential in its MRI entry, but I was in the room with the Thing as it was doing its thing (and the lights were on in the room--I might have sworn that I saw fireworks if the lights had been turned off) and, whoa, the noise level was similar to a construction site, with jackhammer sounds, firecracker-like loud popping sounds (the fire swamp, anyone?), and other sound effects, for ten minutes of eternity! Of course, the patient must keep still through this Universal Studios theme park ride, but even I was exhausted after that, and I was there for moral support! (It would seem that anyone with a heart condition shouldn't even be considered for such a test.)

Oh, all's well...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving "Feed" (aka dogblogging)

Yesterday's yummy Thanksgiving feast (followed this morning by the greatest breakfast in the world, a slice of sweet potato pie!) just might mean that today becomes a small timeout from the gorging, a mini-detox, if you will, for the system.

Of course, any true detox course will include plenty of water--assuming that you drink most of it! (Shorty below seems have forgotten the basic need to drink for a few moments. Oh well...)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Pre-Thanksgiving put some pep your holiday step!

Having people for Thanksgiving--been there, done that. Actually, I enjoyed having people over, but then, I planned ahead. Probably what kills many people is trying to do everything in too short a period of time, like the day before as well as Thanksgiving. A more rigid schedule for cooking on Thanksgiving week is listed on FoodieView, but my less structured schedule is below.

Note: One type of modern technology that comes in handy, particularly when cooking on Thanksgiving itself, is the alarm clock feature on your cell phone!

If I'm a cookin' for Thanksgiving, my (extremely rough) schedule resembles:
  • Sunday--the bulk of the shopping is done today; the only Thanksgiving cooking to be done this evening is making the cranberry sauce. Even if I'm not hosting Thanksgiving dinner, I'm making the sauce tonight to take to the host!
  • Monday--if having homemade rolls, make them today, and refrigerate them until the big day. (Storebrought bread for that day already be refrigerated [if yeast bread] or frozen if some other type of bread.)
  • Tuesday--purchase or make desserts today. The great thing about desserts (besides the yum factor) is that they can be stored away from the other foods--in a cake pan or something, as most pies don't require refrigeration for a couple of days--so they don't take up refrigerator space, which will be at a premium this week! If cooking a turkey carcass, you should have bought it by now, so that you can begin to defrost it in the fridge.
  • Wednesday--prep day! This is the day to either bake most of your side dishes (except for mashed potatoes and greens), or cut up vegetables for dishes to put together quickly for tomorrow. For instance, roasting and cutting up pumpkin if making, say, a pumpkin soup (and cleaning out the seeds beforehand to have roasted pumpkin seeds--umm, umm, good!), making macaroni and cheese, which can then be cooled and reheated on Thursday. If cooking turkey, the deceased critter should be in the process of thawing out by now. Any non-turkey entree should be in the process of being prepared today (thawing out overnight in the fridge, if necessary, etc.).
  • Thanksgiving Thursday! Begin cooking at around 10:30 am--preheating the oven, preparing the main event, setting out the desserts and decorations, etc. If cooking greens, they should be in the pot on top of the stove while the entree is in the oven. After the turkey or other entree comes out of the oven, the other baked items should be put in the oven. Also, cut potatoes should be put in boiling water during this time, so that they can be ready to be mashed in 20 to 30 minutes, as fresh mashed potatoes are best made soon before eating. Begin to make the gravy around this time, as well. (This is where your cell phone's alarm clock feature comes in extra handy--to allow you to nap during the time the entree is resting and the sides are baking!)
Whew! What an accomplishment--a great feast, good company, as well as some rest and sanity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Easy pre-holiday prep..the sauce!

homemade cranberry sauce
Homemade cranberry sauce is akin to a chutney, and is just as versatile, post-Thanksgiving, because it's easy to handle--just spoon away! It's also easy to make (takes only about an hour to prepare, then let it cool off), doesn't require precision, and is even better after sitting overnight in the fridge. This makes it great if you are doing the holiday cooking, because you can make it a couple days ahead, sparing yourself much aggravation. If you're going to someone else's home, it makes a great gift for the host. Its jewel-like appearance, with chunks of fruit, makes it a grown-up holiday delight!

* * *

Um, thus is born this cranberry sauce "recipe," if you will...a new family favorite! The following makes enough to take some to your host, and some to keep for yourself as well.
  • 2 12-ounce bags cranberries (it's OK if you froze them beforehand; no need to defrost frozen ones before cooking, but give a quick rinse first, to remove any stems)
  • 1/2 cup or more juice
  • an orange, lime, grapefruit, or lemon (zest the fruit first; add the rest of the fruit to the sauce, if you prefer)
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (may need to add more after tasting)
  • ground coriander (or ground ginger, ground cardamom, or ground nutmeg--cinnamon, allspice, or cloves are too overpowering to fruit flavors, in my opinion)
  • one pear or apple
In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, over medium heat, add the juice, the rinsed cranberries, sugar, then stir. If mixture seems a bit dry, add more juice--any juice is fine.

Add the citrus zest, then chop up the rest of the fruit, and add it to the sauce, if using the entire citrus fruit, then add the spice(s), and stir some more. Finally, chop the pear or apple and add it to the sauce, and stir again.

Stir the pot occasionally to keep it from sticking. The sugar should soon begin to melt within the sauce; after you see this, the berries should soon start simmering, and popping open. (You can assist the process of popping those berries with a wooden spoon, if you're impatient!) Turn down the heat a bit, to keep the sauce from spilling out of the pot.

The sauce is done when it's noticeably thicker than when you began; dip a spoon in it--some of the sauce should remain on the spoon. Taste it at this point; if you think it needs more sugar, add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup, and stir again until this sugar is fully melted into the sauce.

After turning off the heat, let the sauce cool in the pot another hour before spooning it into glass jars and refrigerating; theoretically, it keeps a few weeks, although it's usually eaten up within a couple of weeks!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fall's last stand

Today's windy, practically freezing chill amidst flurries, seemed the perfect day to go gleaning some of the leftovers from the harvest at Clagett. It seems surprising which crops do last as long as they do, such as:

broccoli raab field
This broccoli raab looks quite good, as did some of the kale and collards also left, in addition to the mixed lettuces. I can't wait to cook down all those greens!

* * *

Although many herbs are quite weather hardy, I was unaware that so many could, and do, survive chilly weather. This is quite fortunate for the coming holiday season, as it means that many fresh herbs will be available for holiday cooking and decor, such as sage, that favorite for dressing and other fall dishes:

sage in the herb garden
Note the parsley field behind the sage; both the flat-leaf and curly parsley were out in force! It's great that highly nutritious parsley lasts so long during the growing season, as it comes in handy for making soups. (The dried version of this herb is so tasteless as to defy explanation as to why anyone thinks it's worth the effort to dessicate.)

The big surprise in the herb field, because this herb had previously died out, and has apparently come back to life (but not before I harvested some tasty seeds!), is--

cilantro in herb garden
This is most surprising, because I assumed the cilantro would be as dead as the basil (which suddenly passed after the first frost) at this time of year, but it recently rebounded (as did the dill). I suddenly hear fresh salsa calling me...

* * *
In addition to the other volunteers and staff at the farm, I will also miss Clagett's canine mascot Cassie, always ready for a belly rub (after running alongside us in the truck or van).

Cassie the farm dog

Friday Folly (aka dogblogging, Where's the Love?)

While many people misunderstood Bush's non-public glad handling of other world leaders at the recent G20 summit (because it sure 'nough did LOOK like a snub, even if the reality is different; I mean, how else is not publicly shaking folks' hands going to be perceived? Duh!).

Of course, there is minor miscommunication as well, not just between people. For instance, how did this guy manage to have his dog only respond to him when he's doing a bad Ringo Starr impersonation? Funny though it is, it can't bode well for order at his home...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More good news from the Obama camp!

Today's news about Obama makes me feel even better about our next President. According to the Wall Street Journal online, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has apparently accepted the position as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Daschle, a confidant of Obama's with a strong interest in and commitment to health care reform (he's co-author this year of a book on health care titled, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis) as well as a Hill veteran, is an excellent choice for the job.

* * *

Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is stepping up to the plate, as well. He recently challenged business leaders to support the new administration's efforts toward universal health care, at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council last Tuesday night. Video below of some of Rahm's remarks:

What more is there to say other than: Go Team O!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We'll be in good hands...

Over a month ago, in the second debate with John McCain, now President-elect Obama stated that health care should be a "right," not a privilege. (Video from The Nation.) That alone is a great reason to breathe a sigh of relief that Obama is our next President, because with an incoming Democratic Congress, there's now a window of opportunity to pass universal health care legislation in the U.S.

To that end, Sen. Ted Kennedy said that he will advance a bill in early 2009 calling for universal health care, according to today's Washington Post. For some reason, however, the article's writer seems to believe that health care legislation is unrelated to our economic woes. Wrong!

The lack of universal health coverage in the U.S. is a prime reason for the cashflow problems that the auto industry is experiencing--and its executives have known this for years! Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington state, a physician and longtime proponent of universal healthcare, has put in the public record, as well as on his website, a 2002 letter sent separately by Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and the auto workers union to the Canadian government, imploring that government to keep its public healthcare system strong! Makes you wonder why the lavishly paid upper echelon of Detroit hasn't been lobbying the U.S. government for universal health care along with bailout cash, when it knows that healthcare costs are one of the reasons for its current mess. (In addition to their outrageous salaries, and unwillingness to build a wide enough selection of high quality fuel efficient cars, that is.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Follies (dogblogging)

Now that we have a new President-elect, we still have folks attacking him in a nonconstructive manner, with tired, specious arguments (exhibit A: Ms. Palin's comments at a Republican governor's conference, showing that she's still bitter). Such behavior is about as useful as:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Folly (more dogblogging)

Unfortunately, too many of our Republican friends have forgotten that we are one America, and instead of being proud of our country and happy for our President-elect, are engaging in pointless infighting and other behavior, instead of joining with us in solving our many ongoing problems.

Hence, their failure to be constructive is similar to the odd doggie behavior below--and this guy isn't even the current Presidential pooch:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mind-Blowing Post-Election "Advice"

If the reality of our new President, Barack Obama, hasn't yet settled in, please take some advice (with tongue firmly in cheek) from David Rees, in his most recent Huffington Post piece, "What To Do When It Finally Hits You and Your Mind: A Safety Guide."

In the meantime, enjoy a classic from the ever-cool (like the new President) Delfonics! That is, if Obama didn't blow your mind already!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Time to celebrate the new President!

Woo hoo! He did it! We did it! America did it! We have a new president, President O--and it won't take a lawsuit to settle it, either! The race is over!

I almost feel as jubilant as the little guy below!

Monday, November 03, 2008

This one's for "Toot"!

So sad to hear that Obama's grandmother (aka "Toot") passed away late yesterday. From what the Senator himself relates, he got much of his practicality and steadfastness from her. What a tribute to her, and to the country, to make sure that her dearest grandson makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2009.


In ongoing paranoia to make sure that my vote will count, I went to the Maryland board of elections site to find a sample ballot, as the state was too cheap to mail more than one this year. (And none were to be found at the library, either.) At least the website makes a sample easy to obtain, as its Frequently Asked Questions section has a question, Where can I see a sample of my ballot? After clicking it, it has prompts for first name, last name, zip code of registered address, and date of birth, after which you click on the "Find voter registration information" button; a PDF of an appropriate sample ballot will appear, ready to be printed and taken along to the polls for handy reference. (And in my case, to be signed and dated tomorrow, along with the votes filled out. Just in case, the camera phone is coming along, as well.)

The other two local jurisdiction board of election sites, Virginia and DC, don't make it easy to find a sample ballot. (Perhaps considering the problems that DC is having with its early voting, maybe it's just as well.)

* * *

Remember to get your post-voting tall coffee from Starbucks on the 4th--good for staying wired through the upcoming tense night! (Thanks to for this and other good freebie tips!)

Time to get some shut-eye, for the potentially dragging, er, long day and night ahead.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Making sure your vote counts...

The Internet is chock-a-block with tips on how to make sure that your vote is counted, whether you vote early or on November 4. (Sorry, no early voting for Marylanders, but the issue of whether to allow early voting for future elections will be on the ballot.) Some solid advice comes via Myra Armstrong's Huffington Post article, "Easy Steps to Ensure Your Vote is Counted."

One thing this and others have noted is that you should take a camera with you, if possible, to record possible problems; even Oprah thought she had a problem having her vote recorded, and her bff Gayle intends to take a snapshot of her vote just in case. Because many camera phones have video function, this tip could really come in handy; if you notice any problems, you can then upload the video to or youtube.

An extra piece of security to consider is to get a sample ballot (I'm getting an extra from the library), mark in ink how you intend to vote, and date and sign it--preferably in the presence of a witness. But I'm just paranoid that way...

Wear comfortable shoes, take a good book and music with you to the polls (if you haven't voted already), and have a great 4th no matter what!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pre-election jitters got you down? (Friday Follies dogblogging)

Like many people, you may be suffering from pre-election anxiety, which is, surprise, affecting African-American women particularly hard, according to Diane Tucker in Huffington Post's Off the Bus, a background nervousness to which I can testify. My current coping mechanism is to turn off the tv, so that I can avoid the ubiquitous political ads.

Because the election is almost here, so close you can almost smell it, I'm almost as frustrated as the cute critters in the video below--

(I think the dog's saying, "Is it over now?")

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


In these tough, tense times, it's nice to know there are easy ways to calm down, to simply relax. One that I enjoy, and which tastes great, is to sip a tisane (hot infusion) made from lemon balm leaves, such as these:

lemon balm leaves
Not only is this herb lemony and delicious, if you decide to grow the weedy visitor (related to mint), know that if you cut or pinch off leaves, the plant will grow back! Laidback yet tenacious--I like it better already!

Moreover, according to the authoritative University of Maryland Complementary and Alternative Medicine Index (CAM) lemon balm (aka melissa officinalis) may also be good for much that ails you, as it is antiviral [perhaps a plus in the coming cold season], calming yet increases alertness.

Time to make a cup right now!

More Tuesday Treasures

This last week in October is the one that launches a full-frontal fall assault. The wind! The rain! The cold! It's enough to make you stay under the covers...but I pressed on (after the rain stopped, that is). Went a-farming, and left with a few seasonal-transition treats, including the following--one is the last of a summer crop, the other a fall favorite:

bell peppers and greens from Clagett Farm
The peppers are itching for me to make that feisty spread known as ajvar. (I've also got enough garlic to make it worthwhile. Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipe (linked above) turned out well, and should be even better with enough of the accompanying allium to make a vampire faint!)

The spicy salad mix, a fall favorite, is a tasty, quick side to throw together with an entree. It doesn't keep very long, but it's just as well, as I never let it stick around long enough to spoil!

It was worth the hard work (and the chill) to occasionally peer up to get a view such as this!

road out of Clagett Farm

Monday, October 27, 2008

The power of true green...

blue sky over Clagett Farm eggplant field
In today's New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope reports research that anyone--adults as well as children--can benefit from the restorative powers of nature, that even children in public housing perform better when they have access to a green view.

Of course, this is nothing new. There has long been research to show that even for hospital patients, those who had a window view of the outdoors from their rooms had need for less medication, etc., than patients who only had a view of, say, a brick wall.

Would this make nature the second best medicine?

In these tough times...

P.G. County is taking extreme measures to attempt to make up its budget shortfall, such as furloughs for county employees, including paramedics! 9News Now obtained a (verified) list of county medic units, which contains many of the dates that furloughs will be taking place. (I assume this means that those units are down one or more persons for those stretches. This means no newbies need cook on those days!)

This is seriously scary--although it appears that at least all units will be at full capacity for Halloween, which, I presume, must be a time when all emergency hands are needed on deck. However, one unit will have furloughs taking place Christmas week, which means don't drink too much eggnog that week if you live or party in the Largo area!

* * *

Speaking of needing to cut back on expenses, I've been able to cut down ~$40 last month on my electric bill, and $40 the month before that, as well as money on the gas bill, dough which has come in handy.

How did I do it? (And yes, I do use lights in the house when needed.) For one, I've become more careful about how lights are used--not every room needs to be lit in the evening; maybe one room in the front, another in the back, but not both back rooms--just the one that I happen to be using.

I also turn off the computer when leaving for extended periods, which means turning off the monitor as well (which people seem to forget to do in business settings), and switching to the "off" position on the PC's power strip.

When cooking, I often partially or fully cook something, like potatoes, in the microwave, then transfer the goods to the toaster oven to crisp. For a household of two, this greatly cuts both time and gas used! I've used that toaster oven to make a small tray of homemade biscuits, homemade cornbread, and other things that I couldn't be bothered to warm up a large over for. Apparently, other folk have latched onto the wonders of the little appliance that could. I consider the toaster oven a wonder of the modern green kitchen...

However, I'm not about to give up the microwave, not when I can use it to make a five-minute miracle like the aptly-named Absolutely Divine Microwave Chocolate Cake. This deliciously rich, yet dairyfree dessert has a permanent place in my culinary repetoire, if only because you can whip it up from scratch from what you may already have at home, and is perfect for any time of year, as there is no need to heat up an oven to make this small cake. (My only gripe is that after the initial 1 minute heating, you need to cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, so that overall cooking time is about 5 minutes. Overall preparation time should be 15 minutes or less.) Yum!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Follies (aka dogblogging)

With the presidential election coming up within two weeks, it can't come soon enough, so that we can finally be done with it! All of this tension, being on pins and needles, can't be good for the nervous system, et al.

However, the following behavior is NOT recommended for dealing with the stress, tempting though it is...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Say What? John McCain has black relatives?

Yes, you read that right. Yesterday's South Florida Times had an article about the absence of John McCain from ongoing reunions between his family and their black relatives. Sadly, it notes that the only person invited who has neither bothered to respond nor attended is, you guessed it, Senator John Sidney McCain himself. (The photo is of John's brother Joe and one of their relatives.)

Is this the October surprise?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saving Green, Two Ways!

Comfort 38 push mower

Running errands, my Staples Rewards coupons come in handy. Today, they effectively enabled me to purchase an inkjet cartridge for free! Even better is that you get rewards points two ways--by making a purchase, of course, or when you return used ink cartridges for recycling. Actually, I think you get more rewards points for turning in the used cartridges, as you get three rewards points each.

Best of all, the quarterly rewards coupons can be used toward the purchase of practically any type of office supply at Staples. Woo hoo!

* * *

I had stopped using a trusty push lawn mower a few years ago, after a screw fell out. However, in desperation, I tried the old Handy 38 comfort mower again a few weeks ago, in hopes that it might do something. Although it had not only a screw gone, but a wheel had (recently) fallen off, like a Timex watch, it kept going and going! I've used it again a few times since, and am impressed with its toughness, and pleased that I don't have to worry about electrical outlets or batteries for this device, or gas fumes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Time to Choose Civility?

Today's Oprah show featured the topic of civility and rudeness in society. After various audience members swapped horror stories of bratty behavior, one of Oprah's guest's was Dr. P. M. Forni of Johns Hopkins, who wrote Choosing Civility. (Hmm, this might explain the two Choose Civility bumper stickers I saw this weekend; perhaps these people were coming from such a workshop in Howard County.) An unspoken undercurrent of Dr. Forni's soothing words is the implication that without civility, society itself unravels.

* * *

An odd coincidence is that the final presidential debate is tonight--a forum that will be a referendum, in part, on John McCain's civility toward Barack Obama in particular, and the American public in general (or lack thereof). Apparently, McCain's rudeness toward Obama--in the previous debates, ads, and stump speeches--has come back to bite him, as today's New York Times reports, "Poll Says McCain Is Hurting His Bid by Using Attacks."

Let's see which McCain comes out tonight--for if he behaves like McNasty, he will lose, whether or not he wins the election. (Thank you, Wonkette!)

Political season silliness...more polling place shenanigans!

I was under the impression that locally only DC residents were restricted from wearing and carrying election paraphernalia to the polls. But no, Virginia election officials decided to join in the silliness and ban its residents from carrying or wearing campaign paraphernalia (clothing, buttons, stickers) as well. Ugggggghhh!!

Nonetheless, although Maryland residents are allowed to have such items, as it is not considered to be electioneering, I wouldn't--you never know if a poll worker might be able to tamper with your vote, knowing that you plan to vote for ???

* * *

Regardless of your state's polling regulations, make sure to get there on November 4, as part of your own anti-poverty initiative--especially if you're voting for That One!

A small step in the fight against poverty...

The issue of poverty has become even more serious as of late, here in America and around the world, as we have all been blindsided by high food prices lately, and increasing numbers of Americans are using food pantries and food stamps. It's bad enough in the US of A, so it's distressing to hear about the poor in other countries, who have it even worse--in Haiti (where the poor are reduced to eating clay cakes), Afghanistan, etc.

Such bad news is enough to make someone feel depressed and helpless. So, one small way that you can help alleviate hunger in countries around the globe is by playing a game. That's right--something you already do, can helps someone else as well. FreeRice was developed by someone who wanted to help a child improve vocabulary; the game has the added twist of contributing 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program every time you correctly guess the meaning of a word! Woo hoo!

Of course, the more you play, the more you contribute to that UN program, and you become smarter in the process as well--a true win-win situation!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Treasure(s)

Clagett Farm field
Time to go up the road, to do the hard work of helping with the harvest at Clagett; of course hard work has its rewards, such as this view!

Oddly enough, there has been abundant eggplant this month, odd because eggplant is generally considered a warm weather crop. (There were also a few string beans to be had, and the tomatoes are on the way out. Boo!)

* * *
A quick, tasty side dish to make with those string beans and tomatoes: boil the string beans in salted water for as long as you wish, then drain in a colander or strainer. Toss with salt, chopped tomatoes, and torn fresh basil, then eat. Simply delicious!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away"--Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Seeing the most recent presidential "debate" brought MacArthur's aphorism to mind, because if recent actions and non-actions are any indication, such as the pulling of his campaign out of Michigan, we are seeing John McCain beginning to fade into the political twilight.

Another example of this possible pullback is the (blessed!) lack of television campaign ads from the McCain camp in the last few days; considering that Virginia is now also known as a battleground state, you'd think the DC airwaves would be inundated with Republican mendacity, but there's been relative silence.

Thus, I can see why even moderate and conservative political insiders are now whispering that McCain may have effectively given up the campaign ghost. (Via the Guardian's Michael Tomasky, reporting from Washington.)

There's only one thing left --to go to the polls in November to put the nails in the coffin of McCain's presidential bid!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dressing the part for the polling place?

Like wildfire, rumors have been spreading--via the radio as well as the Internet--that voters wearing candidate paraphernalia--Obama t-shirts, political buttons--may be turned away from the polls for electioneering. This debate-within-a-debate, to dress up or not, has more legs than a centipede. In fact, the Maryland Board of Elections had to put a "Rumor Control" section on its website in order to address such speculation!

So, in Maryland, voters CAN wear all manner of campaign paraphernalia to, and into, the polling place. However, once you are done voting, you cannot loiter or linger behind the polling place. The vagueness of the election law as written is probably what gave rise to such rumors, as it does not define "electioneering." Also, commentors on the DailyKos website have commented that sometimes they have been hassled for wearing campaign articles to polling places. I wouldn't want to take a chance that a poll worker might find a way to tamper with my vote somehow, after having broadcast my intended choice via my clothing.

Maryland's elections website has also had to inform voters via rumor control that foreclosure does not keep one from voting. (However, such voters will need to update registration before October 14 in order to vote in this year's general election, as that is the deadline to be registered to vote in Maryland.) Folks voting by absentee ballot need to have a request in by mail or fax before October 28.

The last day for Virginia residents to register to vote is the close of business October 6. An application for an absentee must be received by the voter registration office by October 28.

However, DC voters should watch themselves! Not only is the DC board of elections' website woefully vague regarding registration deadline dates (or has buried them deep undercover), according to the ruling, Marlin v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, 236 F. 3d 716 (D.C. Cir. 2001), DC voters CAN be stopped from voting if wearing any kind of campaign paraphernalia. The gentleman at question in the above court case, David Marlin, was a DC resident who went to his polling place to vote wearing his sticker in support of mayor candidate Anthony Williams, but was informed by a poll worker that he "could not cast his ballot while wearing the sticker." He was told that he would not be permitted to vote in the general election if wearing "any sticker, button, emblem, or clothing that showed support for a candidate." Whoa!

Unfortunately for Mr. Marlin, the court ruled in favor of the Board of Elections.

* * *

Skip the drama, vote for Obama, but don't let your clothing do the talking for you!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rockin' that Vote...

It's crunch time for real in the election cycle. I mean, the storied young people who are supposed to be turning out in droves for the upcoming election--do they know that not only should they be registered, or register NOW--but they should also, if in college, ask about getting an absentee ballot? That way, even students who are unsure of whether they might be able to make it home to vote on that Tuesday can still vote, with plenty of time left over to continue studying. (That would be a benefit, right?)

The one caveat is that absentee ballots must be completed and mailed back two weeks or so before the general election in November, if I remember correctly (having voted via absentee ballot back in the dark ages), so you have to get the process started of getting the absentee ballot sent to you NOW. The life you save may be your own.

Saving More Lives?

While there has been much recent promotion of a new website,, a site designed to help people find which streets in their region have the most collisions, and their causes of said crashes, an admirable aim, the public might be unaware of the shortcomings of the data compiled, possibly leading to a skewed view of the factors most likely to cause, and contribute to, collisions in the first place.

Kent Sepkowitz of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City recently opined that speed as a factor in automobile fatalities is grossly underestimated, as states analyze auto fatalities in differing ways, often leading to low-balling of speed as a factor in these crashes.


Another day, another collision into a building (the third within the past month in the Washington area)--this time, into a townhouse in Clinton. It's believed that the driver may have fallen asleep while driving--a common, dangerous practice--which may have caused the driver to lose control. Unfortunately, this person seems to have been badly injured, in addition to making the house uninhabitable.

Also unfortunate is that there seemed to be quite a bit of yard in front of the townhouse before it was plowed into, enough that if the driver had been driving the speed limit for a residential area before nodding off (you know, 35 miles per hour or so), the car might have simply rolled a few feet onto the grass, and been well clear of the house when it finally stopped.

I am convinced that speed is a contributing, if not causal, factor in many of these crashes, which seem to be more frequent. (They seem to have been fairly rare before the middle of the 1990s.) Not so much because people occasionally lose control when they drive, but that they seem to hit something, or someone, hard when this happens, which is inevitable at high rates of speed. Just sayin'...

Going Dutch...

Now, you'd think that the Dutch Village Farmers' Market in Upper Marlboro would be an odd place to find culinary bargains, and you'd be right. However, there are deals to be found there, as there are at any other store. (However, the most dangerous bargain was the most heavily promoted--the giveaway of two free glazed donuts with any purchase from the bakery!)

While it's true that there were pricey canned goods, such as specialty jellies and conserves, my attention was captured by healthy cheap eats, as well as cheap sugar traps.

As for the healthy stuff, there was a surprisingly large selection of flours, seeds, etc., in bulk sizes. There were bags of both regular and golden flax seeds for less than $3, a true find, as well as tubs of natural peanut butter for about $2.50. Of course, around the corner from the healthy goodies were all the candies you remember from childhood--pixie sticks, giant swirly lollipops, twizzlers in all flavors (grape, orange), as well as fudge, chocolates, and caramel (some pieces for 35 cents each).

The lines for the various prepared hot foods snaked around inside the building, so I avoided them; the bakery was my real goal in the first place, and it did not disappoint. The prices for the goods was quite reasonable, and would make a good place to pick up rolls for the holidays, or a nice pie or layer cake. The bakery also offers many half-cakes and pies for sale, which is great for small households; apparently, caramel icing is a specialty, as there were many signs proclaiming "caramel frosting" and such on the layer cakes. Yum...

Oh, and the market has good-looking fresh produce as well as meats, so greens were on the menu again (rape greens, a hard-to-find delicacy ever since a local health food store was forced out of business by its landlord).

Had I known that such a commercial item existed at the time, I would have looked for Vrapple, vegan scrapple, when I was there. Oh well...


Regarding meat and the environment, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, an economist who is the chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore), said that people should have at least one meat-free day a week, as one effective, yet relatively easy action (among many) to help curb global warming. (The Observer, via The Guardian.) Unlike Al Gore, however, Dr. Pachauri is a vegetarian, so he at least practices what he promotes.

Pachauri's views are confirmed by a study put out by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in late 2007, Livestock's Long Shadow, a 407-page report detailing the stresses that commercial livestock agriculture places on the environment, in terms of methane emissions, etc. (Methane is an even more drastic global warming agent than carbon.)

To quote Dr. Pachauri, "In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive possibility. Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there."

Even the UK's chief scientific advisor for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Professor Robert Watson, said that his government could do more to help educate the public about the benefits of eating less meat, in that "Eating less meat would help, there's no question about that, but there are other things."

Food for thought.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Make It Stop!

I'm as keen as the next person to have intelligence and sanity restored to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next January, so I look forward to Barack Obama taking the oath of office of President. (It would be doubly great if John Edwards also was to be sworn in as VP.)

However, our money-driven campaign finance "system" has one immediate effect--nudging me ever more closely to not watching television, so as to get away from the omnipresent political commercials, which pop up multiple times during every commercial break!

Can you say, campaign finance reform with teeth?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bang, Bang?

On one hand, it's gratifying that some gun shops near DC (as there are none in the city proper, nor has there been for decades) are finally verifying whether potential handgun customers are from the District, at least until the DC City Council passes legislation specifying the conditions under DC residents can lawfully own the weapons.

However, why the heightened sense of responsiblity now? The DC handgun ban was in effect for thirty years, as everyone is well aware. Why didn't suburban gunshop owners feel a civic duty to verify customers' residence while the ban was effect, before it was struck down by the Supreme Court? This conscience-come-lately stance is hypocritical, at the very least, if not downright disgusting.

* * *

It's hard to figure out which is more worrisome--the manner in which the DC handgun ban was overturned (the fact that it was DC's law which made it to the Supreme Court suggests that DC is being made an experiment, yet again), or the reasoning underlying much of the public support for overturning the ban. The fact that some of the many groups which filed amici briefs in the case (District of Columbia v. Heller) believe that a person holding a handgun would be able dial 911 with the opposite hand, means that like much of the general public, ostensibly educated people place too much faith in the ability of handguns alone for self defense.

While it is true that under the right circumstances, you can defend yourself adequately with a handgun, there are too many caveats with gun possession to make it a first line of self defense.

For instance, late last year, a gun store in the region was robbed. Sadly and shockingly, such a situation is not that unusual, as many of the guns used in crimes are stolen; however, before that robbery, I was previously unaware that many guns are stolen from gun stores as well as from homes. Such a state of affairs would seem to suggest that if you sense a need to acquire a gun to protect yourself at home, you should take other measures first, such as having an alarm system installed, and using that alarm system; unfortunately, only half of homeowners having such systems actually turn them on, negating the purpose! Of course, other preventive security measures should be used as well, with any thought of acquiring a handgun as a last resort.

In the words of Ice-T's song, the best lethal weapon is your mind.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Get the Lead Out...

If you need another reason to convince you to slow down while driving, how about so that you don't end up driving into someone's house?

A man's car hit a house at the corner of Wheeler and Alabama Ave., SE, finally perching in the living room, after also hitting a pedestrian. The driver had to be cut out of his vehicle, the pedestrian also was rushed to the hospital, and one of the home's resident's was trapped in the living room by the errant auto for a while.

Just how fast must you be driving to go airborne and land in someone's home? You can bet the driver was zipping along faster than the typical 30 mile per hour speed limit for urban residential areas! In recent years, with increasingly depressing regularity, there seems to be a spate of drivers slamming into buildings, residential and commercial, at least once a month somewhere in the US. I wouldn't doubt that distracted drivers play a large part in this dubious uptick of a trend, but excessive speed would be the main culprit. After all, if you're driving the speed limit, it's hard for your vehicle to go much past the curb, much less fly like the General Lee of the Dukes of Hazzard. Just saying...

* * *

Back to the Future?

According to WUSA9, Virginia Senator John Warner (Republican) has recently written to the Department of Energy (DOE) to ask the Bush administration to support possible congressional efforts to re-establish a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour.

Warner noted that the potential petroleum savings would be greater now than back in 1974, when a national speed limit was first enacted (and remained in effect until 1995).

Sadly but unsurprisingly, a DOE spokeswoman repeated the administration's position that Congress should expand domestic oil production.

W--the American Nero.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Green Your Ride...

If you must drive in these gas-conscious times, please drive at or below the speed limit --it's one thing you can do--today--to easily and significantly reduce the amount of gas you consume. Driving the speed limit also makes it easier to do one of the other things that save mucho gas while driving, as it's easier to avoid jackrabbit starts and just-in-time braking if you're already driving at a reasonable speed.

* * *

In the meantime, let's hope that Metro gets the sorely needed increased funding for maintenance and better communications, sooner rather than later, as our public transportation options are needed now more than ever. Perhaps the phrase "dedicated funding source" should become a new Metro mantra. (One small victory--Metro has ditched its boneheaded plan of converting the seating on the trains to bench style! Woo hoo!)

Also on the local public transport front, Metro has recently rolled out the senior SmarTrip card (a bright yellow, as opposed to the blue SmarTrip cards), an easier way for seniors to get their discount when riding the bus, rail, or both. All SmarTrip passengers can add value to the card at any Metrorail station or on any Metrobus; however, the latter option, loading value to your card as you board the bus, seems challenging if there are other passengers behind you, also trying to board.

In one respect, Metro is getting savvier. For the first time, I heard a Metro radio spot last month highlighting the benefits of using a prepaid card like SmarTrip for commuting. What a way to go!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pamper Yourself for Earth Day...

It's easy to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle without a great cash outlay, and be good to yourself at the same time!

Looking good

Zuzu Luxe Cosmetics (found online and at Pangea in Rockville) and Ecco Bella (online and at Whole Foods Markets) make high-quality cosmetics which are equivalent in cost to what you'll find at the grocery store or drugstore, as makeup isn't exactly cheap anymore. The lipstick from both brands glide smoothly and have a wide range of colors for all complexions.

Smelling good

You can smell good and save serious cash by switching the type of fragrance you purchase, from a commercial brand to a fragrance oil. Aromas set in oil last longer than those set in alcohol, as the commercial ones are, so a little goes a long way. The Attar Bazaar line of fragrance oils, available online and at Whole Foods, comes in tiny vials at $8 apiece, but then you only need a drop at a time. You can even try them at the store to see which one(s) you like before you buy. What a deal!

Feeling good

If you enjoy scented container candles, particularly the environmentally responsible soy or beeswax container candles, you can be both frugal and pamper yourself. When the wick is almost burned down to the metal wickholder, where you can almost see it through the wax, light the wick, blow it out, then quickly fish out the wickholder before the wax turns cold; soywax tends to be warm, but not burning hot, so this is OK. [Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to re-use the wickholder.] Put the wax in another container, like your mother did back in the day when she saved bacon grease. Use this wax on your hands for a personal, paraffin-free hand treatment! Of course, other parts of your body would appreciate this spa treatment, particularly when the weather turns cold, as candlewax softens the skin like nobody's business yet is not greasy like baby oil. You can do this with many candle brands, such as Method (whose grapefruit pear scent is now, unfortunately, only available online), not just particular brands touted as being massage oil candles.

This is Earth Day done right: kicking back, sitting pretty, and saving bucks!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Here he comes...

Pope Benedict XVI, that is. While it's not the Pope's intention to tie up traffic on the streets and byways in and around Washington this week, it's a natural consequence of his visit. (His arrival inadvertently proves the usefulness of getting around town on Metro.)

Although G.W. Bush claims that he greeted Pope Benedict at Andrews as a sign of "respect" for the pontiff, it's interesting how W has ignored both the current pope's views on the Iraq war, as well as those of Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II. What would constitute disrespect on W's part, if this is how he treats people he claims to respect?

* * *

Just in time for Earth Day comes word that the Vatican is making efforts to become greener, by such measures as installing 1,000 solar panels in the Paul VI Audience Hall (Vatican City's main auditorium), and providing prayer books made with recycled paper at a youth festival. I hope such efforts mean that Catholics can breathe easier, in that the Vatican is taking seriously the major issues of the day, the environment as well as the child sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church in the past few years. One can only hope...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years of Foolishness

What a tragic anniversary--that today marks five years of war-for-nothing. Sure, today's protests in downtown DC opposing our involvement in Iraq will get slightly more than the usual scant coverage on the evening news, but after that, what?

A recent article in The Nation, "The Iraq War is Killing Our Economy," (via Alternet) describes the sickening siphoning of money down this war drain, which makes me wonder whether the cynical intent of the our involvement there is to shrink the non-military sector of the government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub, to paraphrase conservative ultra-strategist Grover Norquist.

Unfortunately, inducing anorexia in the federal government is having the side effect of putting the rest of the economy out of kilter, because the relationship between government and the private sector, which conservatives are loathe to admit, has been a symbiotic one in the years following World War II, as have all Western nations since that time, as Richard Nixon aptly (but reluctantly) remarked, "We are all Keynesians now." Conservatives have been trying to sidestep that truth ever since, to the detriment of American society, and subsequently, the economy.

* * *

A recent local example of conservative meddling, in unfortunate opposition to the public good, concerns the stalling of the extension of Metro to Dulles, in the Washington Post article, "Letting the Market Drive Transportation," (via Today's protests, and the traffic conundrums they create, perfectly demonstrate, if inadvertently, the great need for increased infrastructure investment in public transport. The article details the lengths to which upper level political bureaucrats, motivated by a desire to increasingly privatize the transportation sytem as a way to decrease congestion, rather than upgrading public transportation.

* * *

Where could the frenzy of privatization lead us? How far can a nation fall when services that used to be considered a public trust become privatized? One unfortunate answer comes from Patrick Elie, in an interview with a Canadian journalist in Haiti Analysis, describing the extreme extent of privatization in that country, of formerly public resources being turned to private hands. Suffice it to say that Haiti's situation is so dire that dirt cakes are actually on the menu for many people in that nation.