What I've Been Reading Instead of Cleaning My House

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Energy Crisis Solved!

My 10-year-old daughter Frances plops down next to me and says:

"I'm thinking of inventing a fart-powered car. I'm calling it "The Real Natural Gas." I just hope that farts have power. I also haven't figured out how to harness the power of the farts. When you fart in the car, I can have something in the seats that takes them to the engine, but what about when you fart and you're not in the car? That's just a waste of energy. I think I'll have to invent some kind of fart-absorbing tampon."

Then she just gets up and goes out to play.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Adventures in Preparedness

Recently we bought Alice-Grace her own 72-hour emergency preparedness kit (she's in Kindergarten now, that's plenty big enough to lug around a 20-pound backpack in case of fire, flood or earthquake).

Of course, she was way excited and had to pull everything out of her pack. This made Frances and Jeffrey want to empty out their 72-hour kits. Which eventually led to them unloading mine and Nigel's emergency packs.

Now our already messy living room was even more cluttered with candles, MREs, matches, toilet paper, water packets, first aid kits, flashlights, hand warmers, light sticks, solar radios, etc.

The next morning I go to get something in the living room, trip over an empty backpack and fall on something. CRACK! Oh no, what emergency tool did I just crush?


I quickly found it. I had broken open the ammonia capsule you use to wake up people who have fainted. Let's just say that those things really do work.

I (heart) Joe Biden

Can I just say that I am so looking forward to the vice presidential debate!?!

I'll admit it. I love Joe Biden. I love his inability to form a coherent thought. As Mo Rocca puts it, "His sentences are undiagrammable."

Here's an example from a September 7th "Meet the Press" interview:

"I didn't call anybody. I didn't--I happened to be--I didn't get her--I didn't see her speech, I saw part of it, I--we were, we were flying to--from Florida to Virginia, and I caught the tail end of it. And--oh, I guess I--actually, I called my wife. I called my wife."

What? It's like having a conversation with Boomhauer from "King of the Hill." I can't wait!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What? What???

As reported by Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes" (speaking to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson):

'In e-mails uncovered by federal investigators, analysts for the credit rating agencies on Wall Street wrote this about these lousy investments. One of the e-mails said, quote, "It could be structured by cows and we would still rate it." And this one, this is my personal favorite. One Wall Street analyst to another wrote, quote, "Let's hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time that this house of cards falters." They were writing these e-mails nearly two years ago. Why are we bailing these people out?'

Just a thought...

Jeff Greenfield's commentary about the presidential debate as seen on CBS' "Sunday Morning" today:

"Now imagine a candidate who is trying to level with the voters. What might he decide to say? Well, maybe our health care costs are rising so fast that we might have to ask ourselves a tough question: why should everyone over 65, including folks with seven figure incomes, get federally-funded health care? How about this: the only way to really free ourselves from our energy dependence, so costly, so dangerous, is to push the price of gasoline much higher to make alternatives to fossil fuel and the internal combustion engine attractive. Or maybe this: we can no longer assume that we will enjoy the levels of comfort and abundance that we have assumed was our birthright for more than half a century."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Speaking of lawns...

A great book to read if you're interested in lawns is:
"American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn"
by Ted Steinberg.
It's kind of the "Fast Food Nation" of lawn care.

I found this book fascinating and I don't even own a lawn! It goes into the history of lawns, the inside scoop on how the lawncare industry works, etc.

Of course, growing up we just had a front dirt. Since our backyard was totally overtaken by my mother's gardening, we could only play in the front yard. Thus, our poor lawn was soon turned into a baseball diamond (complete with dirt area for the pitcher's mound) and a golf course (including empty tuna fish cans sunk into the ground for holes). I'm still surprised that the neighbors didn't run us out of town (or that my mother didn't drown us at birth).

Maybe we were just ahead of our time with showing how ridiculous people can be about their lawns.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Slow the flow, save H2O

We were going out to eat with my nephew, Vorquel (who's starting his freshman year at a nearby college), and I asked him if he noticed any differences between the incredibly arid state he just left and the very arid state he's now living in.

He mentioned that he thought it was odd how often people watered their grass.

Yes, isn't that strange? This is a desert people, not New England.

Of course, I was raised in another arid state where you get fined for watering your lawn or even washing your car.

Just to prove his point, yesterday I was taking my kids to school and the sprinklers were on at the playground. They had been left on ALL NIGHT. The yard duty lady said that the city runs them and they forget to turn them off. When I picked up Alice-Grace from Kindergarten at noon, they were STILL ON!

Oh, did I mention that it was also RAINING that day?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quote of the Year

In a story this morning on CBS' "The Early Show" about the Bush administration calling on Congress to quickly approve the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street, Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute said:

"Capitalism without bankruptcy is like religion without hell. You're going to remove one of the incentives that makes people behave wisely."

Amen, brother.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Speaking of apricots...

Why is it that when an individual or small business files for bankruptcy, they're horrible people and we look at them with disdain? They keep it a secret, but people still whisper things like "in over their heads," "living way beyond their means," "poor judgment," etc. In fact, we create new laws to make it harder to file for bankruptcy because "they got what they deserve and now need to face the music."

But when a huge corporation goes bankrupt (and I'm betting it's not because of a major medical expense or losing one's job), the government swoops in to save them. Of course, it helps if you REALLY screw up (as Lehman Brothers found out -- they were NOT bailed out by the government because they didn't fail as badly as Bear Stearns or Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae did).

People on welfare are "lazy," but corporations that receive millions in government subsidies are to be lauded?

I guess that if you're really poor or really rich, you can depend on the government to help you out (but you're looked down upon if you're poor, you're admired if you're rich).

Again, all of this is being paid for by the American middle class. No wonder the divide between rich and poor is widening in the US -- who can afford to be in the middle?

Note: A recent report showed that people making less than $30,000 a year would benefit under Barack Obama's proposed tax plan, people making more than $250,000 a year would benefit under John McCain's proposed tax plan -- neither plan helped out the middle class one bit.

You can bank on it

The story is told that on the day of my great aunt Nelly's funeral it was overheard that some people were wondering why the bank was closed. A person answered their inquiry with "Don't you know? Miss Nelly has passed away. They have closed it in her honor." "Yes," the others replied. "She must have been a big shareholder of the bank."

It was really Washington's birthday.

When I was a young college student, I had gone to a different state for the summer to work. I diligently mailed all my paychecks to my bank. What I didn't know is that this was the time of the Savings & Loan debacle and my bank had gone under.

Luckily, a larger bank had bought out my smaller one, taken over all the accounts and I didn't lose a penny.

I'm hoping this is what's going to happen now with all these businesses and banks failing.

Maybe all the financial wizards and political pundits are going on and on about various dooms day scenarios when in actuality, it's just Washington's birthday.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Maybe greed is just...greed

Gordon Gecko* was wrong.

All we hear about now is how the banks are failing, foreclosures are rampant, investment firms are belly-up, etc. It's gloom and doom as far as the eye can see.

Why? What does it all stem from? I'm putting my money on greed (pun intended).

I remember when Frances was a baby and I got the umpteenth phone call about some guy trying to get me to buy a cookie-cutter home in some horrible subdivision way out in the boonies. Tired of fending off these guys (all apartment renters must be on a list somewhere), I decided to go out there and PROVE that I couldn't afford it so that once and for all they would stop bugging me.

Well, they ran the figures and I COULD afford it! Maybe not that house, maybe not that subdivision, but maybe something, somewhere.

That got my little brain a moving. Before I knew it, I had a whole new group of friends--an army of mortgage brokers and Realtors--who were trying to help me get my own little piece of the American dream.

I soon learned that my new found "friends" wanted me to buy the biggest house possible, even though we ALL knew that I couldn't afford it.

"Smart people buy the most house for the most money"
"The bank is willing to lend you that amount, so you should take out a loan for the entire amount"
"You can get a much bigger house if you do an interest only loan"
"Adjustable rate mortgages are the way to go, interest rates will only go down and if they don't, just sell it and make a profit!"

I stuck to my guns and bought a modest little condo for well below what the bank was willing to loan me at a fixed interest rate.

My Realtor thought I was making a huge mistake (was he really for my best interest, or mad that he didn't make as much commission?) and my mortgage broker thought I was an idiot (because he cared for me or because he gets more money for selling the "creative" loans?). Did I make the wrong decision?

One year after we bought our condo as I returned to work after taking my maternity leave (with Jeffrey), I was laid off of my job. I knew that we could live off of one income and still easily pay our mortgage. I got another job and then a few years later Nigel was out of a job. Again, we didn't have to worry because I had planned for that while house hunting.

Sure, I WANT a huge house with a big yard and a garage, but I don't NEED it and more importantly, I can't afford it.

Now all of us Americans are paying for the greed of others.

Do I blame the homeowners for getting in too far over their heads? Were they too greedy? Possibly. But I also know how hard it is to stick to your principles when everyone is telling you to do something else and that you're dumb for not following their advice.

Do I blame the mortgage brokers and banks? Possibly. They certainly did know what they were doing.

I think I blame Gordon Gecko. Maybe greed doesn't work. Maybe greed isn't good. Maybe greed is just...greed. Maybe that's why it's one of the seven deadly sins.

*Character from the movie "Wall Street."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'll admit I'm frugal, but this is getting ridiculous!

Yesterday in the mail I got a notice that it's time to renew my driver's license. No doing it by mail this time, I have to go in, get my eyes checked and get a new photo.

I did NOT make the same mistake I made last time.

It was 10 years ago, I was standing in line getting ready to get my picture taken and I look down at my old driver's license...

OH MY GOODNESS!!! I was wearing the EXACT same turtleneck and shirt I was wearing in my OLD driver's license photo!

Everyone knows that I try my best to be frugal, but wearing the same outfit 10 years later? That's ridiculous even for me.

So today, I made sure to wear a different shirt. I also did my hair and even put on makeup (which is totally ridiculous because now I won't look anything like my picture when I get stopped by the cops -- I should've renewed my license with my hair uncombed, ruddy complexion, blouse buttoned wrong and drunk*).

*Note to my mother: I'm just kidding, I'm not a drunk. Oh, and are you proud of me that I got the notice for renewal yesterday and I went in and did it today? Bad dresser, yes. Procrastinator, no way.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I'm just having so much fun with James Lipton's book, I had to do some more. This time, I'll supply the collective noun and you have to come up with the term. Here goes:

A rush of...

A crush of...

An ugliness of...

A penance of...

A bliss of...

Friday, September 12, 2008

James Lipton -- "Marvelous!"

I mostly know James Lipton from those Geico commercials and Will Ferrell making fun of his "Inside the Actor's Studio" on "Saturday Night Live," but I recently found out that he has some other claims to fame.

Such as, he's married to the woman who was the original "Miss Scarlet" in the game of "Clue."
Also, I just discovered that he's written a book on collective nouns called "An Exaltation of Larks." If you're grammar-challenged like I am, a collective noun is what you call a group of things. Some of the most common ones are...
...a school of fish...
...a gaggle of geese...
...and a murder of crows (one of my favorites).

The first part of the book is what you would expect -- a boring treatise on the origins of collective nouns. But then it gets fun. It turns out that a lot of these terms came about through a game played by 15th century well-to-dos (with obviously a lot of time on their hands) who just sat around and came up with these sayings.

In that spirit, James Lipton fills up the remainder of the book with such delightful phrases as:

A pound of Englishmen, a pint of Irishmen, a fifth of Scots, a smorgasbord of Swedes.

A wave of Hawaiians, a mass of Bostonians, a spread of Texans, and a mush of Alaskans.

An unemployment of graduates, a charge of shoppers, and a flush of plumbers.

An ingratitude of children, a consternation of mothers, and a distraction of fathers.

A rash of dermatologists, a void of urologists, and a plague of epidemiologists.

An immersion of Baptists, a visit of Jehovah's Witnesses, and a book of Mormons.

Now it's your turn. What would you call a group of:

Firefighters? Hummingbirds? Unicorns? Shopping carts? Clowns?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"He's such an apricot"

What could possibly top my yummy pancakes? Why, some delicious home-made apricot syrup, of course! This recipe is compliments of Shirley Fraser (again, whoever that is).

Apricot Syrup
Apricots (enough to make 4 cups when pureed)
1 cup water
3 Tb lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Puree apricots in a blender (can add some of the 1 cup water to make it easier to blend). Put pureed apricots and remaining water in a pan. Mix. Add in lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil 5 minutes, continuing to stir.

Put in jars.* Put jars in canner with hot water. Make sure water covers an inch above jars. Bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

*I don't do canning, so I just put half of it in my fridge and the other half in the freezer. We eat a lot of pancakes/French toast/waffles, so we went through it pretty fast.

Note: The title of this post comes from my college roommate who was from China. She was complaining about someone and said, "He's such an apricot." Sensing something was lost in the translation, I asked her what an "apricot" meant. She said, "You know, two faces." I was thinking, oh, I guess an apricot could look like it had two faces. Then as she continued to talk, I realized she was trying to say "hypocrite"! Now I always call hypocrites "apricots."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


In my quest to be frugal and save money, I've stopped giving my kids cold cereal (though they can have it on weekends -- and Jeffrey can have it in place of dinner since the boy hates everything) and try to make a nice, hot, healthy, home-made breakfast every morning.

Here is a super healthy pancake recipe from Mavis Diment (whoever she is, but thank you!) that I love (and more importantly, my KIDS love it):

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 cups finely crushed cornflakes**
1 cup old-fashioned oats***
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. Yield: 5 batches.

*My kids love grinding wheat into flour -- they feel so "Little House on the Prairie"!
**I used Total cereal -- makes the pancakes even more nutritious.
***I didn't have old-fashioned oats, so I used quick oats -- I can't tell the difference.

1 1/2 cups hearty pancake mix
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

In a bowl combine mix, milk, egg and oil. Whisk until just moistened. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a lightly greased hot griddle. Turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Yield: 10 pancakes.

Caution: These are very filling, so one or two is usually the most any of us can eat.