2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 8

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Did better this week!

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished the Blum audiobook and have moved on to Jennifer Traig's new one, about her hypocondria (I think?). I am excited about it, because I really enjoyed her first book. I also gave up on the newest Toni Morrison. It's excrutiating to read.

#2: See one movie per week.
Watched Patton. Wow, that was long. Also Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo. Sometimes you just need junk food, and Harold & Kumar are freaking hysterical.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
I've done pretty well with my eating this week. Not perfect, but a big increase in veggies and fiber, and I'm down a few pounds.

#5: Exercise regularly.
Been to the gym twice this week. Starting w/ 3 30-minute cardio sessions/week and moving up from there. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
I've made over $1,000 in extra CC payments this month. Which has really only gotten me back to where I was before I started losing ground at Christmas time, but at least I'm on the right track again now. I'm playing to pay off at least $1,500/month now.

#9: Journal and blog regularly.
The journal has fallen completely by the wayside, but I've gotten back into the blogging groove this week, and as well as taken steps to insure I start prioritizing blogging a bit more (see the ads post),

Good week!

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A word on the ads

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See that ad over there? That's my new addition. I am now a member of the BlogHer ad network. After blogging for over 5 years and spending the whole time swearing I am going to stay ad-free.

So, why? Well, not for the reason you think. For me, it's got nothing to do with money--as low as my readership is, I hardly think it's going to bring in the big bucks, and whatever I get from it is going straight to charity. But, after observing and hearing about them for so long, I wanted to be part of the network. Under that ad are links to posts from other blogs in my group, and I am exicted as heck about that--both finding new things to read that way and having my own work featured in those links in the future. So there's that reason.

The other reason is that my blogging has been falling off lately, and it's largely because I am not making time for it when I have so many other projects to do. Projects that I am responsible for, because someone is paying me for them, or at least expecting them of me. Joining the network puts my blog on the list of those projects--paid projects for which I am responsible, not things I just do for myself. Since it's a major goal this year to blog daily or near-daily, getting my blog on that list was an important step.

So that's why they are there. Have you thoughts? Tell me.

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Fast food on a diet

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As I have mentioned here before, I love fast food. As I've also mentioned, I am on Weight Watchers. And I'm doing fairly well. The issue, however, is that my lunch options while at work are mostly of the fast food variety. I know, I should just bring my lunch, and I am trying, but even when I'm doing well I am never more than 50% or so reliable with that. Which leaves me with the other half of the days, making the best choices I can in fast food land.

So, what are the best choices? Sometimes, they aren't what you'd think, and as this is one more area where I am learning by doing, I thought I'd share what I've found so far.

McDonald's
Obviously burgers and fries and shakes are out. Any of the salads are OK, though. The Premium Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken has 430 calories (9 pts), but the same salad with grilled chicken has 320 calories (6 pts) and without chicken it has only 140 calories (2 pts). The lowest point option in the chickenless Caesar Salad, which as only 90 calories (1 pt). All of those values are without dressing, however. Dressing will add from 190 calories (5 pts) for a packet of Newman's Own Caesar to 40 calories (1 pt) for the Lowfat Balsalmic Vinagrette.

If you can't stand one more damn salad, the next best McDonald's option is the Grilled Chicken and Honey Mustard Snack Wrap, with 260 calories (6 pts).

So if I have a snack wrap and a chickenless Ceasar with vinagrette, and trade my usual soda for unsweetened tea, I can get out of a Mickey D's lunch having only spent 9 points (and probably full, too). Not terrible.

Burger King
I don't ever really eat at BK, but again, lowering the points value there would have to start with ditching the burgers and fries. And again, the best bets are the salads. The Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad is only 220 calories (4 pts). BK doesn't have the low-point salad dressing options McDonald's does, though--the best you can do is 120 calorie (3 pt) Light Italian Dressing. For a non-salad option, the best choice seems to be the Spicy Chick'n Crisp sandwich, which is 290 calories (6 pts) without mayo.

Taco Bell
When it comes to calorie-conscious fast food, Taco Bell is my favorite. Why? Because of the Fresco option. Fresco items have the cheese and sour cream replaced with fresh salsa (and I don't miss them!). Crunchy Beef Fresco Tacos are just 150 calories (4 pts) each. A Fresco Burrito Supreme is 330 calories (7 pts). I've often had an 8 pt lunch of two tacos and been very happy.

Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box is my closest option at work. My first thought there was that the Teriyaki Bowls would be good, but they have 580 calories (11 pts; chicken) and 650 calories (13 pts, steak)! Plus they aren't very good and it isn't very much food. A better option is the Asian Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken, which has only 160 calories (3 pts). The Asian Sesame Dressing that goes with it has 190 calories (5 pts), but you can replace it with a lowfat Balsalmic alternative for only 35 calories (1 pt). Jack in the Box also has Grilled Chicken Strips--four of them total 180 calories (3 pts), and the Barbeque or Sweet and Sour dipping sauce only adds 45 calories (1 pt).

Arby's
I love the original Arby's roast beef sandwich. So gross, yet so good. The regular size is 320 calories (7 pts). Nothing at Arby's, however, is all that low calorie--and some of the healthier seeming options are even worse than the roast beef! The Market Fresh sandwiches might look healthy, but they range from the 293 calorie (9 pt) BLT to the 365 calorie (10 pt) Roast Turkey, Ranch, and Bacon. Even Arby's salads pack a wallop, with the best option being the Chopped Turkey or the Grilled Chopped Southern Chicken salads, each of which have 292 calories (6 pts) before you add another 230 calories (7 pts) in Buttermilk Ranch dressing. The lowest calorie dressing option is the Balsalmic Vinagrette, and even it adds 130 calories (4 pts).

So...avoid Arby's.

Kentucky Fried Chicken
I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but I love the Mashed Potato Famous Bowl at KFC. It has 700 calories (16 pts). So...not gonna be eating that again anytime soon. Featuring, as they do, fried chicken, the KFC salads aren't a great option either. The best you are going to do is the Roasted Chicken Ceasar, which has 190 calories (4 pts) before you dress it and without crutons (they do have a 1 pt/45 calorie light Italian dressing option, though). You could, at least in theory, make a meal out of KFC sides. The green beans have only 25 calories (1 pt) per serving; the "Mean Greens" are also 1 pt with 30 calories; and the high fiber 70 calorie 3 Bean Salad has only 1 pt as well.

Gotta skip the biscuit, though. 180 calories and 4 pts.

Wendy's
I generally don't like Wendy's, but as far as diet friendly fast food goes, they are a step ahead. They suggest several full meals under 550 calories (about 11 pts) on their website. If you need to go lower than that, though, the Mandarin Chicken Salad is only 180 calories (3 pts) without the almonds and wonton strips. The sesame dressing adds 170 calories (4 pts), but can be replaced with the 70 calorie/1 pt nonfat French or the 100 calorie/1 pt Honey Dijon. The baked potato seems like a good idea, but at 270 calories (5 pts) before you put anything on it, I'll pass. The Ultimate Grilled Chicken Fillet sandwich is another possibility, though--it's 235 calories (5 pts) if you leave off the mayo.

Panda Express
This is another option that's close by for me. Orange Chicken is my favorite, but it has 545 calories (13 pts) before you even count the rice! So instead, I'll be having Mushroom Chicken(150 calories, 3 pts), Broccoli Beef (170 calories, 3 pts), Tangy Shrimp (160 calories, 3 pts), or the Mixed Veggie Entree (140 calories, 3 pts). Just as importannt, though, I've got start asking for half portions of rice! The steamed rice packs on 430 calories (8 pts) for a full serving!

And so there you have it--the halfassed dieter's guide to fast food. Please do not mistake any of this information for dietary advice--I'm hardly the right person to be giving that. These are just my impressions, and the nutritional info is all gleaned straight from the restuarants' website and the WW site.

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TLC Families

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I will admit it. I am a huge, huge sucker for TLC "family" shows. I've written before about the Duggars, but it's not just them. I've not watched a ton of the Gosslins (Jon & Kate Plus Eight), but I did spend most of one day watching a marathon of their second season. And I stop on that channel when they are on now. More than the others, though, I love, love, love the Roloffs (Little People, Big World).

Obviously, these are popular shows, so I'm not alone in watching them. The thing is, unlike much of the rest of the American viewing audience, I've never really been into reality television. I stopped watching Survivor after the first season (and I didn't like it all that much then), and never watched any of the similar shows. I recently saw my very first episode of American Idol (and I don't see myself watching another one). I just don't like those shows.

So what makes these family shows on TLC different? Why, when reality television has been irritating me for like ten years, can I not get enough of them?

I think it has a lot to do with the way TLC makes television versus the way the networks who have run the majority of the more popular reality shows do it. The TLC shows don't have a contest aspect. The folks featured are families, they aren't competitors. And that underlying feeling you have when watching shows like American Idol, that you are watching someone else's humiliation for entertainment, isn't there. Instead, you are watching people who, more or less, seem to be average.

Of course, they aren't average. If they were, they wouldn't be on TV. The Duggars have 18 kids. The Gosslins have eight, and six of them were born at the same time. And the Roloffs are little people, as is one of their four children. I think, actually, this is one of the reasons I like LPBW even more than the other shows--other than being little people, which isn't really the point of the show most of the time, the Roloffs are pretty normal. Partially they seem normal to me because they live near where I'm from, but it's something beyond that, as well. They aren't well-dressed, they have bad skin, they don't speak all that well--they fuck up and they talk about it and they fight and they laugh and they just seem like a really nice family to me.

The three TLC families have quite a bit in common: though the difference between 18 and 4 is pretty large, they all have lots of kids; all three shows center around families and family life; etc. Another thing they all have in common, though, that is a bit (though only a bit...) less obvious is that all three families are Christian.

Obviously, the Duggars are Christian. Their fundamentalist Christianity is the force that shapes their lives, and nothing about their show ever gets far from that. The Gosslins and the Roloffs are less overt, but both shows feature the families going to church, both sets of parents mention God when they are interviewed, the Roloff kids go to Christian private school, etc. I wonder if that's not part of what I find so fascinating about these shows--the image they present of serious Christians, and the spectrum they represent (it's a long way from upstanding patriarch Jim Bob Duggar to hairbrained schemer Matt Roloff).

Sometimes, the TLC family shows take me back to the first reality show I remember watching--MTV's Real World. Not the later season, in which strange contests and challenged and plots were imposed, but the original New York season, where it was just divergent people living together and trying to get along. I loved that show, and I loved it mostly because it was about people I could both recognize as real and recognize as not a damn thing like me. The same is true of all of the TLC families. Whether I like them as the characters of theirselves they are playing or not, I can recognize them. And maybe that's part of what makes good TV, from family-friendly reality TV to sci-fi to cop dramas--being to recognize something familiar in characters who are living lives completely different that ours?

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Products

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This pains me to admit, but I've really started to love makeup lately.

Seriously. Almost 30 years old and finally I've come to appreciate the joy of makeup.

The trouble is that there is SO much to choose from! And such a range of price points. So it's a definite trial-by-error process deciding what I like. And not a cheap one.

In the hope that my trials and errors might help somebody else, I thought maybe I'd share what I've liked so far, as well as what hasn't worked so well.

Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer: ($36) This stuff is expensive, and at first seemed redundant (what, exactly, does it do?). However, it is a miracle. It takes me from looking like I have makeup on to looking like I just have really nice skin. It somehow magically fills in all the little imperfections before you put on anything else, so there is no unevenness or makeup stuck in little lines and marks. Love it.

Smashbox Photo Op Under Eye Brightener: ($18) I can't see that this does a damn thing. Fail.

Smashbox Lip Enhancing Gloss in Crystal: ($18) This is really nice lip gloss. It is just the right amount of shiny, stays on, and isn't tacky or sweet tasting. It does smell kind of weird, though.

Physician's Formula Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin Tinted Moisturizer: ($12) I don't love this stuff. I do love tinted moisturizer conceptually, and this is wearable, but the color doesn't quite work for me, and it's a little greasier than I'd like. I'm going to be trying something else.

Physician's Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Mineral Face Powder: ($13) Again, not crazy about it. Same complaints as the tinted moisturizer really--not quite the right color, a little heavy.

Physician's Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Matte Finishing Veil: ($13) Hate it. Makes me look dead.

Physician's Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Mineral Blush in Pink Glow: ($12) For something that is supposed to be pink and glowy, this stuff looks awfully orange on. And it just feels heavy.

Physician's Formula Magic Cube Concealer in Light: ($6) This sort of works--it comes out liquidish and goes on powderish, which is cool--but the color is too light on me. My skin is apparently darker than I think it is.

Almay Truly Lasting Color Lipstick in Roseberry: ($8) I love the color, I love the separate gloss coat so you can choose your own level of glossiness, but I hate that it leaves my lips looking stained all day. It does stay on, but it doesn't stay nice.

Almay Hydracolor Lipstick in Dusk: ($8) I feel like this would be pretty nice lipstick in another color. However, this color is just beige. There may be someone out there on whom beige lipstick looks good, but it's sure as hell not me.

Almay Nearly Naked Touch Pad Liquid Blush in Revealing Raisin: I think has been discontinued, because I can't find it anywhere. I bought mine for $3 at Big Lots. I really like it, too, so I am going to go and get some more while they are still there. It's this very light blush you put on with your fingers. Doesn't work over or under powder, really, but it's great for when you just want a little tiny bit of color.

L'Oreal Bare Naturale Mineral Blush in Pinched Pink: ($15) I don't know if I'd like this in a different color, but I hate it in this one. It makes me look clownish. And I don't like the applicator (reminds me of a shaving brush) or the container, either. It sort of works if I put on a really, really tiny amount.

Maybelline Mineral Power Natural Perfecting Concealer in Fair: ($13) Again, I may just have the wrong color, but I don't like this stuff. It's hard to blend in effectively, and once it is blended, I don't think it conceals much.

Maybelline Mineral Power Naturally Luminous Blush in Original Rose: ($9) Once again, a horrible, clown-like color. Also, "naturally luminous" apparently means "shiny." Ew.

Neutrogena Weightless Volume Wax-Free Mascara in Rich Black: ($7) This is nice mascara--really light and not annoying to have on. But it doesn't do anything miraculous to my lashes. They look better, but not as fantastic as I'd like.

That's about all I've tried so far. I'm going to be trying some more high end stuff (Nars blush, Clinique powder, Buxom lip gloss), so I'll let you know how it goes.

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Tiny Shiny Things

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Tiny Shiny Things JarsRemember when I found the Jar of Whimsies at the Bins and was all excited about making my own? Well, I've finally started doing it. And it's just as much fun as I'd thought it would be.

First, I spent a couple of weeks gathering up stuff at the Bins. Each trip, I'd grab a Ziploc bag (there are always some around there) and start shoving all the tiny, shiny things I find into it. Like what? Small toys, especially old or interesting ones; tiny paper goods; bouncy balls; doll clothes and furniture; game pieces; rubber duckies; bells; marbles; dice--whatever strikes my fancy that is small enough to fit in a jar.

Next, I separated all my stuff into bags. I thought about doing it by color, so insure having a good color mix in the jars, but decided to do it by type instead. So I have one bag of marbles and bells, one of bouncy balls, a couple different ones of toys, one of small pine cones, one of vintage pieces, one of beads...etc.

Now I needed jars. As luck would have it, I have a vast collection of thrifted jars (aren't you shocked?). Most of them, however, are canning style jars that I have writing or ornamentation on them. For this, something plainer is better, so I choose some plain Ikea jars (these) that came from the GW a bit ago.

Then I put the pieces together. I did it without a plan. I just picked a few things from each bag, tossed them in, then took a look at the jar. Then I added, subtracted, moved things around, and shook the jar until I was satisfied.

This is my kind of craft--more time spent thrifting, less time spent with glue or a sewing machine. And the result is so great. It's this joyful little package. And, the best part? 100% recycled. There is nothing new in any of the jars I've made, and I don't see any reason why there would need to be anything new in any I'll make in the future. I can't feel a bit bad about that!

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An elegant man

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In his acceptance speech last night (for his Best Actor nod in "Milk"), Sean Penn referred to President Obama as "an elegant man." He said something about being proud of this country for having the nerve to elect an elegant man as president. This struck me, and I have been thinking about it since. What does it mean to be an "elegant man"? Why choose that term, over any of the probably thousands of other possibilities, to describe Mr. Obama?

In an aesthetic sense, I get what Penn could have meant--our president is physically elegant. He's tall and slim and extraordinarily well-dressed and moves in a smooth, controlled way. This is, like so many other things, in opposition to our former president, who, no matter how high quality the suit he was in, always seemed a bit out of place being dressed up and trotted out, and struck me as sort of inherently clumsy physically as well as verbally. It is, doubtlessly, a shallow reason to be proud of having Mr. Obama as our president, but he does indeed make the country look good as a physical representative. Though elegant is not synonymous with attractive, I can't imagine that hurts either. I mean, how long has it been since we've had an attractive president? I know some people thought Bill Clinton was attractive, but he certainly never had this kind of style Mr. Obama has.

I don't think aesthetics were what Sean Penn was referring to last night, though. Looking at a room full of the (supposed) most beautiful people in the world, I don't think he was using his 30 seconds or however long they're supposed to get to comment on Mr. Obama's physique or his fashion choices. It could have been, though, a comment on finally having a president who is elegant of thought and speech. After eight years of listening to George W. Bush bumble his way through every press conference, it is a welcome change to listen to real oration again. Lyrical, powerful, elegant oration. I can also see how this would be of special value to people like those in the Oscar audience, who make their livings on words--either writing them, saying other people's and making audiences believe them, or building up the story around them.

Still, though, as politically charged as Penn is (he did spend the majority of his acceptance speech putting in a plug for same-sex marriage), I don't think he was just referring to elegance of speech, either. However, I can't make an argument, at this point, that Mr. Obama's presidency has been politically elegant. Nor am I sure I would want it to be--politics, when they are working, aren't smooth and classy. Politics that work dirty. Politics that work are scrappy and testy and brutish. Politics that work aren't elegant. And though President Obama's campaigning may have been elegant, and may be appreciated as such, I don't think his actual administration will be, at least not for a long time yet.

What, then, is it that made Penn refer to Mr. Obama as an elegant man? If it's not (or at least is only partially) his aesthetic and his oration, and it's not his politics, what is it? What does "elegant" mean in this context? Given that Penn said he was proud of his country for electing elegance, the implication is that elegance is something the country was afraid of, or had trepidation towards. Can elegance, here, refer to President Obama's education and intelligence? In another direct contrast to George W. Bush, President Obama wears his education proudly. In this sense, his elegance is that of an Old World orator, maybe not born into the privileged class, but educated in it. Thinking big thoughts, communicating big ideas, and not pretending that he prefers physical labor to intellectual (I'm remembering, here, eight years of news stories of GW Bush chopping wood in Texas when he should have been in the Oval Office doing his real job).

This, maybe as much as race, is a place where many Americans have had trouble stomaching Mr. Obama--he's just not a good ole boy. Instead, he's an elegant man. And he's the first elegant man to be president in my memory. It's not just GW who put on a fa├žade (in his case, I think it may actually have been at least somewhat real) of preferring to be a "regular person." Clinton did it. The first Bush did it. Reagan and Carter both did it. Nixon did it. LBJ certainly did it. Going backwards, the last elegant president I can find it the one to whom Mr. Obama is so often (I think too often) compared--Kennedy. President Kennedy was an elegant man who didn't pretend not to be. He didn't chop wood on vacation, he sailed. But the America who elected Kennedy was a lot less romantic about being working class than the one who elected Mr. Obama. In electing President Obama, the voters had to overcome the fear that has been instilled in recent years of too much education and too much style. For my entire adult life, and even before that, the middle class has been taught to respect the false working man while looking down on the real one. Now that we've finally elected elegance to our highest office, is it too much to hope that the corresponding condescension towards the people our past few presidents were pretending to be will go away as well? Probably. But still, like Sean Penn, I am proud of my country for finally choosing someone to represent us who makes us look good. My president is, indeed, an elegant man.

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Blogger's block

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I think it's possible that my mind is just fried.

I keep opening new post windows to write posts and then just staring at them. I have blogger's block. I can't think of anything to post.

So, um, if you have any questions...?

Oh, here's a really quick and tasty apple crisp recipe:

1. Peel apples and slice thin. You want however many it takes to get your pan full about halfway up or a little more. Put them in a baking dish of some sort. I use an 8X8 brownie pan, which takes 3-4 apples.

2. Mix up a cup of oatmeal, about 2/3 cup of brown sugar, about 2-3 tsp cinnamon, a pinch of cloves, and about 1/2 tsp nutmeg. If you have one, put this all in a food processor, then pulse in about 1/2 stick of butter, cut into chunks. If you don't have a food processor, you can work the butter in with your hands. Stop when it's crumbly. Don't melt the butter. Pour this mixture on top of the apples and spread it out over the pan. Obviously if you use more apples/bigger pan, you'll need to scale this up some.

3. Put in 375 oven for about 30 minutes--until it's crispy and browned on top.

Enjoy!

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 7

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OK, another one-day late progress report.

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished the Nafizi book, and it never really worked for me. I have since moved on to Howard Blum's American Lightening, which I'm not loving either, but is OK. Again, I haven't actually read a book (rather than listening to it) for weeks.

#2: See one movie per week.
I saw The Wrestler last weekend. Wow. Fantastic. Really, really fantastic.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
I've rejoined WW and am paying attention again. I hate it. That's all I'm going to say right now.

#9: Journal and blog regularly.
Obviously I haven't done well with this. Gotta make this a priority for next week.

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Plinky

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Are any of you using Plinky? I love the concept--somewhere between blogs and Twitter, but with prompts! But so far I haven't been very good about integrating it into my current online schedule. So, if you use it, how? And can I follow you?

I'm here, BTW.

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Stimulus 2: what's in it for me?

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So I'm not actually done with the stimulus subject. One question I keep hearing is "what's in it for me?" First off, I think that's the wrong question. I am a member of a society. If (and I realize some people think this is a big if) this plan helps my society, then it helps me. But self-interest is also in human nature, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about whether this plan would benefit me personally. I'm white, young, educated, healthy, and upper middle-class. This plan probably shouldn't benefit me. But you know what? Turns out it just might. These are the things that stick out to me:

1. Increased Broadband access could benefit me, if only because I'm a Broadband user and better access is better access.

2. I have an uncle who is in the moderate stages of Parkinson's and gets his care at the VA. VA funding aids my family, for sure.

3. I drive. Highway investments help me. Not a lot to say there.

4. As I mentioned before, Mark's funding has come/will in the future come from the NSF and NIH, so more money for them means less competition for scarce resources for him, which is good for me.

5. More money for schools keeps the small rural ones I went to open, which keeps my mom employed. Again, direct benefit to my family.

6. Dislocated worker training has benefited members of my family in the past. I have no reason to think it couldn't do so again in the future.

7. There are members of my family on food stamps and other government aid. Their kids need to keep eating. I am a supporter of those programs.

I'm a single woman with no dependents who makes a pretty good living. I am NOT in a low tax bracket. But still, I'm in. Raise my taxes President Obama, I'm with you.

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Step by step through the stimulus bill

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I haven't had a lot to say about politics recently, mostly due to not knowing much about what is going on. I've had my head so far down with everything I have been working on personally that I haven't been paying any attention to the national/international picture. But that's changing, since one of the perks my new job (referred to from here on out as "Cubeland") is a coworker and friend of a decidedly and proudly conservative bent who likes to talk politics. He didn't waste more than a day or two before he started quizzing me on Obama's first few weeks, and in particular the stimulus bill. About which I could say very little, as I haven't kept at all with what is actually in it.

So...I decided to devote a few precious moments and actually read an outline of the package, so I'll be a bit better informed. I got my summary here. And I'm just going to try to tackle it point by point:

Investments in Infrastructure and Science

Infrastructure Improvements
- $7.2 billion for Broadband to increase broadband access and usage in unserved and underserved areas of the Nation, which will better position the U.S. for economic growth, innovation, and job creation.
I have no problem here. I think this is a good idea.
- $2.75 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to secure the homeland and promote economic activity, including $1 billion for airport baggage and checkpoint security, $430 million for construction of border points of entry, $210 million for construction of fire stations, $300 million for port, transit, and rail security, $280 million for border security technology and communication, and $240 million for the Coast Guard.
I don't really think this is necessary, honestly, but whatever, no skin off my nose.
- $4.6 billion in funding for the Corps of Engineers.
I believe this is for things like dams and bridges, right? Isn't that what even the very conservative want government to do?
- $1.2 billion for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements, long-term care facilities for veterans, and improvements at VA national cemeteries.
This isn't enough, frankly. But it's a start. All for it.
- $3.1 billion for repair, restoration and improvement of public facilities at on public and tribal lands.
This one I'd need to dig on a bit. What types of facilities? What types of restoration and improvement? This is maybe not the time to spend on things like that, but it really depends what in specific this means.
- $4.2 billion for Facilities Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization to be used to invest in energy efficiency projects and to improve the repair and modernization of Department of Defense facilities to include Defense Health facilities.
For it. Energy efficiency in public buildings of all kinds should be an immediate priority.
- $2.33 billion for Department of Defense Facilities including quality of life and family-friendly military improvement projects such as family housing, hospitals, and child care centers.
Again, probably not enough, but on the right track. We treat the people we expect to die for us pretty damn badly in this country. I'm for anything that improves that.
- $2.25 billion through HOME and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill financing gaps caused by the credit freeze and get stalled housing development projects moving.
Makes total sense, don't see what there is to argue with here.
- $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program for community and economic development projects including housing and services for those hit hard by tough economic times.
Again, makes total sense. Unless, of course, you just hate poor people...
- $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.
Yeah, not a lot to argue with here either.

Transportation
- $27.5 billion is included for highway investments
This seems like a lot, frankly. Is the highway really that terrible? How many people will this employ?
- $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
Yep. Absolutely.
- $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation investments.
How is this different that the previous two? Confused here.
- $1.3 billion for investments in our air transportation system.
Huh. Is this airline bailout money? Cuz I start to take issue there.
- $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity Rail.
Probably a good idea, but right now? I don't know. Again, aren't these private companies? Why do they need $9.3 billion in government money?

Public Housing
- $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs -- especially those improving energy efficiency in aging buildings.
Absolutely yes.
- $2 billion for full-year payments to owners receiving Section 8 project-based rental assistance.
Yep.
- $2 billion for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes.
Not sure on this one. Maybe not the most efficient use of housing funds in a recession.
- $1.5 billion for homeless prevention activities, which will be sent out to states, cities and local governments through the emergency shelter grant formula.
Sure, seems prudent given the economy.
- $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects.
See previous opinions on the necessity of increased green energy. It's long past time.

Environmental Clean-Up/Clean Water
- $6 billion is directed towards environmental cleanup of former weapon production and energy research sites.
This makes me nervous. What happens if this doesn't happen? Are these places a hazard? If so, why isn't clean-up already budgeted? Geez.
- $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements.
Sure.
- $1.2 billion for EPA's nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.
I'm not sure what this refers to. But if it's a way to get the government to pay for environmental clean-up that businesses should be doing themselves, then it makes me grouchy.
- $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas.
Seems necessary, but I'd need to see more specifics here.

Science
- $1 billion total for NASA.
Screw this one. NASA can bite me.
- $3 billion total for National Science Foundation (NSF).
Yay!!
- $2 billion total for Science at the Department of Energy including $400 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency--Energy (ARPA-E).
Needed investment, though it may be too little and too late.
- $830 million total for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Again, probably needed investment.

Investments in Health

- $19 billion, including $2 billion in discretionary funds and $17 billion for investments and incentives through Medicare and Medicaid to ensure widespread adoption and use of interoperable health information technology (IT). This provision will grow jobs in the information technology sector, and will jumpstart efforts to increase the use of health IT in doctors' offices, hospitals and other medical facilities. This will reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health care for all Americans.
Huh. Well, depending on job increase, maybe. But this seems kind of large for right now.
- $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs to fight preventable diseases and conditions with evidence-based strategies.
Good plan.
- $10 billion to conduct biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease and stem cells, and to improve NIH facilities.
This stuff funds Mark and those like him. I don't knock this stuff, especially given the cuts NIH has faced in recent years.
- $1.1 billion to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, NIH and the HHS Office of the Secretary to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different health care services and treatment options.
I'm not 100% sure what this means.

Investments in Education and Training
- $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, including $39.5 billion to local school districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, or other purposes; $5 billion to states as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures in education; and $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education and for modernization, renovation and repairs of public school facilities and institutions of higher education facilities.
This is, from what I know and have seen, absolutely a good idea and a necessary expenditure.
- $13 billion for Title 1 to help close the achievement gap and enable disadvantaged students to reach their potential.
Need specifics here.
- $12.2 billion for Special Education/IDEA to improve educational outcomes for disabled children. This level of funding will increase the Federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.
Seems to make sense to lighten burden on local districts given low property taxes right now.
- $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500. This aid will help 7 million students pursue postsecondary education.
Absolutely, though I'd like to see this go a lot farther.
- $3.95 billion for job training including State formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth programs (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth).
Can't argue with job training in a recession.

Investments in Energy

- $4.5 billion for repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology.
As previously stated, all for it.
- $3.4 billion for Fossil Energy research and development.
Hmmm...not sure about this one.
- $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid.
Seems a like a big investment for this right now. Is there any impact on jobs?
- $6.3 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants.
Sure.
- $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Not sure what this is.
- $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research.
Sure. Absolutely. Doesn't even seem like enough.
- $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced batteries systems and components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States.
Hrm. Shouldn't this be privately funded research?
- $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects.
Necessary evil.
- $1 billion for other energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses, transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances.
Again, probably a good investment.

Help for Workers and Families Hardest Hit by the Economic Crisis

- $19.9 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, to increase the benefit by 13.6 percent.
Absolutely.
- Child Care Development Block Grant: $2 billion to provide quality child care services for an additional 300,000 children in low-income families who increasingly are unable to afford the high cost of day care.
I'm in.
- Head Start & Early Head Start: $2.1 billion to allow an additional 124,000 children to participate in this program, which provides development, educational, health, nutritional, social and other activities that prepare children to succeed in school.
Had me at hello.
- State and Local Law Enforcement: $4 billion total to support law enforcement efforts.
Huh. Is this necessary?
- $555 million to expand the Department of Defense Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP) during the national mortgage crisis.
Probably necessary, but makes me cranky.

So, as predicted, this doesn't look too bad to my little tax and spend heart. Some of it I absolutely think is a good idea. I'm a little bit taken aback at the lack of emphasis on job creation and re-employment, but other than that nothing here bothers me much at all.

So tell me, folks, why exactly is everyone hating on this thing? Just because it costs too much?

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 6

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I'm not all that proud of myself this week...

#1: Read one book per week.
I'm about halfway through listening to Azar Nafisi's "Things I've Been Silent About," which is just OK. I haven't even picked up either the Abzug book or the Morrison book all week. Life has been in the way, folks.

#2: See one movie per week.
Continued the Oscar project with "The French Connection" this week, which I liked, but didn't love. I think "Patton" is next, but I'm on-hold now and trying desperately to find time to see this year's nominees before next weekend.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
I haven't made any extra payments yet, and am in fact still behind from last month, but I am down to one balance holding card, and it's at 0% for six months, so I ought to be able to keep from paying any interest (beyond the balance transfer fees I already had to pay), so at least I did something. I am thinking I will be able to toss a few extra dollars that way at the end of the month, too, as I'll be getting two paychecks.

Yep. Not a ton of progress. But I was really focused elsewhere this week. Next week will be better.

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Cubephobe

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You all, I am tired. I was at my last job for almost three years and I totally forgot how exhausting it is to have a new job. I am so tired.

But part of it isn't the learning new stuff and figuring out where things are and all that. Part of it, my friends--maybe most of it--is the cube.

I have never worked in a cubicle before. I've worked in shared offices and single offices, restaurants, locker rooms...other places, I'm sure. But never a cube. And I had no idea how it would effect me.

I had this idea coming in that I wasn't going to "decorate." Due to some politics that are way too complicated to go into here (plus just not all that important), it's really essential that I appear to be very professional in this position. And frankly, my previous office decor (mostly pictures and political posters) was not professional. So for this job I was just going to keep things undecorated.

Wow. I was wrong. I spent 15 minutes surrounded by blue-gray fabric walls and was seriously contemplating suicide. It's just not tolerable. Not only is it depressing, but it feels like an actual energy suck. Sitting in there makes me feel duller, stupider, tireder. It's awful.

So, a conundrum: how do I decorate the cube enough to make it a positive and efficient workspace, without it turning from a professional space to a middle school locker?

So far, I've ordered this calendar, which I plan to hang up sequentially on the cube wall and brought in my mouse pad with the picture of Leo and Ata on it. Other ideas that have been offered include putting a nice place mat under my monitor and finding fun supplies like a cool pen holder. What else can I do that will remain professional, but still make this cube into a place where I can spend 40 hours a week plus without turning into a drooling puddle? Ideas welcome!

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 5

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I'm late, but I'm keeping up!

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished listening to "Sacred Time," which I enjoyed. I am still barely into the Bella Abzug book and have also started Toni Morrison's newest, "A Mercy." I'm still doing a lot better listening than I am actually reading. Hopefully it's just a phase.

#2: See one movie per week.
I finished "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," but haven't seen anything since then. I really want to watch all the major Oscar nominees, but I'd better get to it if I'm going to get that done.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
I actually ended up spending more than I paid last month, which sucked, but I've already paid $1,200 this month (got my tax refund!). So I'm still working on it.

#7: Save $100/month.
Done.

#13: Build my freelance resume.
This is where I've made the biggest progress this week--I met with three new grant-writing clients in Oregon, as well as taking on an unpaid assingment editing a school charter application. It's all good stuff,

Once again, not great, but not too bad either.

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What does a small household buy at Costco?

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I've been asked before if Costco is cost-effective for a two-person household. Though my impression is that it definitely is, I've never done the math before. Given the current emphasis on saving money, I thought I'd do that exercise now.

Today, I went to Costco. I bought most of the staples we buy there regularly, as we hadn't been in months. This is what I came home with:

Costco

Here you see:


  • Two whole organic fryer chickens, $21.25

  • Three Amy's Organics spinach pizzas, $13.99

  • Two large jars of Jif peanut butter, $8.99

  • A dozen Einstein's cinnamon raisin bagels, $4.99

  • A dozen organic Jonagold apples, $6.79

  • A bag of mini tricolor sweet peppers, $3.79

  • A 190-ct bottle of glucosamine condtroitin, $23.45

  • A large jar of pesto, $7.49

  • A large tub of Sabra hummus, $5.99

  • A big jug of white vinegar, $3.29

  • A two pack of organic spinach ravioli, $8.89

  • Two big bags of Stacy's pita chips, $5.69 each

  • A four-pack of organic chicken broth, $9.99

  • A block of sharp Tillamook cheddar, $7.49

  • Two pounds of Parmesan, $17.97

  • A five-pack of celebration crackers, $7.69

  • A 25 lb bag of cat food (not pictured), $14.69

  • A 10 lb bag of baking soda (not pictured), $5.69

Was my trip cost-effective? Well, if I'm comparing it to not buying convenience items at all, probably not. But frankly, we're gonna eat some convenience foods. So let's compare some of those:

The cheapest I've seen Amy's spinach pizzas is about $6 at Target, and they are much more than that at our regular co-op. 3 for $13.99 makes them less than $5 each.

Costco's pesto is marvelously cheap for the quality. I've paid that much or close to it for 1/4 that much or less before, and Costco's quality is better. Same thing with hummus. Sabra is my favorite brand, and it costs about 1/2 what that giant tub costs to get 1/4 that much in a regular grocery store.

The prices on basics are pretty good, too. Cheapest vinegar and baking soda I've found, and definitely the cheapest-for-the-quality cat food.

Yep. My two-person household gets their money's worth at Costco. What about you?

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