Archive for September, 2010

The Tale of the Black Bean

September 30, 2010

One website described this as “the poor man’s protein”. I disagree. While the protein itself is low-priced, the benefits of the black bean is far more than a financial substitute as it includes a low-fat (less than 1% of saturated fat per serving), high in iron and packed with essential B complex vitamins and minerals.

The price of a pound of dried black beans is roughly $1.09 pound in the Boston area.  Dried black beans (soak overnight in water) provide an excellent base for soups, casseroles and for the more adventurous Gluten Free Brownies.  No, I haven’t tried the GF brownies yet…but I am thinking about it!

The dried versus canned argument is one that has a banter in the blog-o-sphere world. I preferred dried because it is generally lower in sodium (some types of canned black beans contain 50% of the USDA recommended dose of sodium) and is often not processed in canneries that may cross contaminate with other allergens. The pro-side is that you can skip the overnight soaking, cooking and quicken cooking time.

I’ll often cook a pound of black beans and then keep them in the fridge for a week providing a quick protein source for throw together meals such as:

1)      Add a few to a salad combined with tomatoes, avocado, fresh corn and a dash of salsa for a spicy salad.

2)      In a crock pot, I’ll add a few with chicken broth (or water), onion and kale.

3)      Rice, beans and cheese: a perfect meal!

With fall emerging, add some black beans into your diet. Not only are they a low-priced alternative, they provide amazing health benefits 

The dried versus canned argument is one that has a banter back and forth in the blog-o-sphere world. I preferred dried because it is generally lower in sodium (some types of canned black beans contain 50% of the USDA recommended dose of sodium) and is often not processed in canneries that may cross contaminate with other allergens. The pro-side is that you can skip the overnight soaking, cooking and quicken cooking time.

I’ll often cook a pound of black beans and then keep them in the fridge for a week providing a quick protein source for throw together meals such as:

1)      Add a few to a salad combined with tomatoes, avocado, fresh corn and a dash of salsa for a spicy salad.

2)      In a crock pot, I’ll add a few with chicken broth (or water), onion and kale.

3)      Rice, beans and cheese: a perfect meal!

With fall emerging, add some black beans into your diet. Not only are they a low-priced alternative, they provide amazing health benefits. From chilli, to nachos, to soups, the black bean is a great way to both save money AND improve nutrition!

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Making a dollar act like ten dollars in the year 2010.

September 30, 2010

There has been so much debate over the price of health insurance especially as related to income. I’m not going to beat on the health care drum, I’m tired of it.  Instead I’m going to simply offer some tips that I’ve found to “magically” stretch my too few dollars into to trying to survive in this economy: you know, the recession that’s over with 10-15% true unemployment. I’m rattling off a few of my favorites that I’ve discovered during the past year of unemployment.

1)      Before the price of your health care insurance goes up or if you’ve met your deductible, renew any medications that have either a high co-pay or you use in frequently but keep on hand. For example, I have a non-narcotic pain patch that I use about 20 a month of on my back. My former insurance had a maximum out of pocket that included prescriptions. My new insurance does not: I renewed the prescription twice as I had met the maximum out of pocket (thanks ankle surgery!) saving $50 a renewal on the new prescription.

2)      It’s been said a ton: ask if there is a generic option for prescriptions. Check into local pharmacies to see if they have options: many offer free antibiotics (so you’ll shop at the grocery store) on some types of antibiotic prescriptions. Some have savings programs that are lower priced than insurance co-payment. Ask your doctor if they have samples: many do.

3)      If you are in an area with a dental school and don’t have dental insurance, check to see if there is a student clinic. Boston University has one for students as well as people without insurance. It is like a residency for dentists: the work is overseen and at a much lower rate than a private dentist.

4)      Eat ethnic. Seriously. Many, if not most, cuisines from developing nations can be both nutritious, better for you and cheaper. I purchase many groceries from local “ethnic” grocery stores.  I’ve picked up a few words of Portuguese thanks to the Brazilian grocery, a bit of Hmong thanks to the Cambodian market saved money as well as put money back into locally owned businesses in my community. Black beans, brown rice and a myriad of interesting foods wait: with recipes abounding all over the internet!

5)      Soup really is good food. It’s easy to make from scratch and a great way to stretch out meals.

6)      Do the math. Remember in the 8th grade when you thought “I’ll never use this”: well, now you need it. Basic calculations: is that “on sale” item really cheaper? Price divided by quantity. Some are bargains: some are smoke screens.

7)      Recycle! Bringing your own bags to many retailers earns $.10-.25 off per bag. In states where you pay a bottle deposit, return them. I’m stunned at the number of people who toss the bottles they paid a deposit on in Massachusetts.

8)      Did you know that you save 10% on purchases from www.target.com if you are a member of AAA?

9)      All those crazy, batty loyalty programs do add up. It’s back to doing the math: especially some of the grocery shopping = gas discount.

10)   Consolidate errands.

11)   Click and ship from USPS: not only do you NOT have to stand in line from the airport, there is a discount for printing your postage at home and having them pick it up. Go figure!

12)   Do you really need the cell phone and land line? With most smart phones and advanced 911 systems, you can dial 911 from your home and be connected to YOUR 911 system.

13)   Think those on-line surveys are a waste? Depending on your family, you can earn $50 or so a month by taking surveys while watching TV.

14)   Shop online? www.ebates.com – you receive a percentage of the purchase price as a refund. You can still take advantage of coupon offers, etc. The retailers set the rebate but places like www.drugstore.com and www.target.com participate! You receive a rebate check once every 6 weeks based on what you have purchased.  Between the Ebate refund, a drugstore.com coupon and free shipping: I was able to buy Luna Bars for .50 each versus the .99 at my local grocery.

15)   Create a budget. You don’t need fancy budgeting software: Excel works just as well (although MS Money is also good and comes preinstalled on most windows based systems). Write down everything you spend money on: it’s an eye opening experience.

16)   Know what is tax-deductible if you itemize. Keep track of expenditures for medical bills including mileage and parking! If you met the deductible for medical expenses, this is additional expenditure you can “write off”.

17)   Remember the lesson you probably learned from kindergarten: there are things you need and things you want.

18)   There are times you do need that want just to pamper yourself either emotionally or physically and just have some fun.

19)   Utility budget payments: many utilities have an equal payment plan. While it’s not so much of a savings plan, it does make budgeting easier!

20)   Did you know if you divide your house payment into 2 equal payments during the month, you save on the overall price of the house due to the reduction in principle?

I’ve learned more about myself in the past year: I actually can make it through life without some of the things I thought were necessary. I’ve been humbled into saying “I need help.” It’s humbling: it’s not shameful. There are times when just admitting I’m worried about finances takes a bit of the stress off. There are days when I let myself be upset: it does hurt. Collectively, we place so much of our identity on our occupation: having that go awry robs us of a construct.  I am frustrated equally with the economy and the hate. Maybe just finding a few ways we can all help each other out will improve the situation over all.  I can dream, right?

The proof is in the pudding

September 26, 2010

Ok, so I spent most of my childhood HIDING during canning season. The kitchen was too hot. The pressure cooker terrified me (it still does). And the thought of picking, washing and cutting corn, tomatoes, green beans made me SWEAR I’d NEVER can/freeze or in any way shape or form preserve food that could be purchased. I kept that promise for about 25 years. How did I wind up domesticated?

Cake, please.

September 25, 2010

I remember reading an introduction in a book written by James Cone, an African-American theologian, where he described the exhaustion of the civil rights movement, the ensuing application of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the summer of hatred of 1968.  I thought, at the time, what can take such a toll? I hit that wall today.

A news report out of a Knoxville suburb detailed how a lesbian couple, after enduring five years of harassment (including the poisoning of their lab puppy), had their home burned to the ground with the word “queer” spray painted on the detached garage. Fortunately, they were not home at the time. I’ve spent the day staring at my ceiling. These women were simply living their lives. They moved to east Tennessee by choice: for the beauty, the lower cost of living and probably a host of other reasons. They were greeted with hatred for being “the other.”

I can’t speak for every member of the gay community – just like I wouldn’t be brazen to speak for every woman, college graduate, left handed or green eyed person. I can only speak for me. What this couple endured as others watched: what they are going through now is my greatest fear. What happens if somebody decides to harm me because they find out I’m gay? How can I survive living in that terror?

The courage to publically say “I’m gay” is one that drives many to destructive paths. In essence, it’s the embracement of accepting adding to ones minority status or becoming a minority. As a college educated, white woman, I had a life that had its normal twists, turns, bumps and peaks. As soon as I said I was gay, friends fell away. As Ellen DeGeneres famously said on her show Ellen, “I mean, you never see a cake that says ‘Good for you, you’re gay’”. You become the object of hatred in its most vile forms and in the far subtler ones that seem to hurt much more.

I stared at the ceiling and thought of all the people who are dipping their toes out of the closet and hear stories like this and shrink back. I wonder where the courage is of leaders, athletes, actors to say “I’m gay. Cope.” I fail to understand how Barak Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain and Sarah Palin could only agree on one thing: they don’t want me to have the right to be legally married with the benefits extended by the federal government and protection under the law. I will let priests, rabbis, ministers, imams debate on the religious angle. With respect to all but Sen. McCain, the other 3 individuals all are barely a generation removed from legalized oppression based on race, religion or gender. How can the President of the United States, a product of the brilliance of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, say he believes marriage is between a man and a woman and continue to expect many of his supporters to sit in the back of bus?

I remember vividly asking a supervisor to ask a co-worker not to shout that she wanted to “go out with the gays and do gay things.” (Actually, really, I wanted to know what ‘gay things’ were).  I was told she had lots of gay friends and that wasn’t objectionable: I outed myself in the work place. I was offended. If anybody shouted those same words but using an ethnic minority? There would not have been laughter and I wouldn’t have been told to get over it, it wasn’t offensive.

I don’t want special treatment because I’m gay. I want the rights afforded my citizenship: to marry whom I choose, to live in my home without fear of harassment by neighbors, the right to openly serve my country in the military (ok, that is so not happening, but I’d like to at least have the right to do so.).  I was watching The West Wing earlier this week. They had an exchange from an episode that first aired in 2000 about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

“FITZWALLACE – You just don’t want to see them serving in the Armed Forces?

MAJOR TATE – No sir, I don’t.

FITZWALLACE – ‘Cause they oppose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion.

MAJOR TATE – Yes sir.

FITZWALLACE – That’s what I think too. I also think the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change.

MAJOR TATE – Yes sir.

FITZWALLACE – The problem with that is that what they were saying to me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn’t serve with Whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the U.S. Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff…Beat that with a stick.”

We aren’t the same nation that was founded over 200 years ago: we have improved in so many ways. The underlying foundation of this country is all men are created equal: we legislated the changes for women to vote, provide the civil rights for racial minorities and have judiciary enforcement of desegregation all over this nation.

I don’t want that. It is exhausting. It spreads hate, fear, violence. We have not learned from our history.

I want somebody who dislikes me or any other gay person to look me in the face and say why without drawing upon religious texts. I want somebody to tell me why I can’t be afforded the rights given to me by the constitution.  

Until then, I’d just settle for some cake.

My response to Dr. Jones and the Facebook letter

September 23, 2010

For roughly a week or so, there has been a letter floating about Facebook that has been attributed to Dr. Starner Jones.  Dr. Jones’ letter to the editor has been verified by Snopes.  I don’t want to get into the more racial overtones of the letter (and let’s face it, aside from the gold tooth remark, it could apply to any group) and the discussion of shoes or tattoos as they could have been gifted or done before a change in economic status.

I’ve long held that health care reform is critical for the long-term economic recovery of this country. I spend $500 month on health insurance for me. Insurance companies are the nightmare that created the health care crisis. I spent several weeks trying to get my insurance company not to pay for a bill regarding a metal plate that was not put into my ankle: the surgeon, hospital and (not done) x-ray on my ankle would show the lack of a metal plate. After approximately 10 hours, I “saved” my insurance company close to $1,000 for another individual’s error. I’m sure my rates will go up this year. Unlike car insurance, health insurance doesn’t reward people for “good behavior”.

Dr. Jones’ letter raised some issues that need to be discussed: maybe his patient in question could not purchase health insurance and was forced to rely on the system. In many states, individuals cannot purchase health insurance with a pre-existing condition. I am not going to defend smoking or drinking beer but let’s collectively look at some of the ways in which the insurance and medical communities can encourage (and reward) behaviors that would reduce the over burdened and costly medical system.

1)      I recently stopped taking my preventative migraine medication.  After going through a careful, detailed food journal, my doctor and I noticed that processed food and those that have a higher percentage of pesticides associated with them triggered migraines. My answer? I’ve gone green when it comes to food. I buy as much as I can from local farmers markets’, community supported agriculture for both produce and meat and eliminated as much “artificial” preservatives as possible. The result? I no longer need to take a prescription which my insurance pays the manufacturer $72.96 per month.  The project to untangle my migraines was started by me and my doctor.  Cost savings to my insurance company? $875.52 per year. Reward from my insurance? Zero. No, I’m not saying my insurance company should just write me a check, discount my policy or something LIKE that: what I am saying is that my insurance company was willing to go with the quick fix of handing me a pill instead of encouraging me to find alternative means (i.e., non-chemical) to resolve an issue. The out of pocket cost to me, to eat this way, is far more than the savings to my insurance company. But, in the long run? It’s much healthier for me.

2)      Participation in something like a CSA provides a fixed cost for food (you pay for a share). As part of developing a way to combat the growing obesity problem in the US, what about allowing CSA programs to accept SNAP vouchers nationwide at an incentive reimbursement rate? It would create a growth in local economies; provide fresh food to those in need (instead on relying on processed foods which only contribute to poor eating habits and the continuing cycle). Not only would people then have access to healthier foods which decreases the risks of many diseases co-morbid with obesity, it is a way of providing a first level change on the dietary habits.

3)      Eliminate pre-existing conditions. Period. Life is a pre-existing condition. I am fortunate enough to live in a state which as eliminated pre-existing conditions by law. Removing the pre-existing conditions, might allow individuals who are otherwise forced into Medicaid to be able to secure insurance through other avenues.

4)      With respect to Dr. Jones, life can be hard. I hold a graduate degree and have been unemployed for over a year. I’ve destroyed my savings account. I did not “reap what I sowed”: I became trapped in an economy and because of a pre-existing condition I am limited to one state where I can seek employment due to the ability to secure health insurance. It isn’t anybody’s “fault”. It is a systemic flaw that has recently impacted many Americans.

5)      There is an element of personal responsibility and budgeting. There are far too many pages on Facebook that start with the following “if you have to take a drug test for a job. . . “Instead of spreading hate: how about a shift in culture. Provide mandated nutrition courses for those on SNAP.  Provide mandated preventative health education courses for those on Medicaid. Both of these can improve the health and well being of those needing aid. If you can teach a course on budgeting, healthy eating, and job skills: DO IT. All of these contribute to both the growth of the economy and reducing the liability of an unhealthy nation. Contact a local house of worship, food pantry or homeless shelter and offer your services.

The letter written was sent to a Jackson, Mississippi paper. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. In addition to raising valid points on how people do need to take ownership of their own bodies, perhaps Dr. Jones’ also should have addressed increasing economic opportunities, educational facilities and presented solutions. Instead, he provided an us versus them: and the sad reality? Many of us are a few months away from being judged as harshly as Dr. Jones’ patient by a health care provider. One group can’t fix the system: everybody needs to contribute.

Not NOW and probably not ever. . .

September 18, 2010

Or, why you won’t catch me signing the NOW petition. Every few years, an “equal pay for equal work” petition circulates. I won’t sign it. Many people are surprised that I am against such legislation. I do believe equal pay for equal work, experience and education. For me, that is the trio that needs to be examined when looking at pay differential. It isn’t just about gender, race or a list of other things that groups point to when circulating petitions.

I worked for a major company and won the highest sales award available. Why? I worked hard. I sacrificed my personal time; I worked nights, weekends and a few times overnight to complete projects. Other individuals in the organization said “men make more than women here.” I knew that was false.

In many districts, school teachers are paid on a matrix of years of experience plus education. Looking at how an individual contributes: education, experience ability to perceive and resolve issues is far more important in determining pay that “equal pay for equal work”. There are few professions where equality is able to be able to be determined. Dr. X is has a better result in performing ACL repair surgery than Dr. Y: lower infection rates, shorter recovery time for patients. However, both are probably paid the same based on our arcane physician reimbursement system.

If I hold a college degree, 5 years experience in a field and the person next to me has a high school diploma and no experience in the field, who do you think should be paid more? Should that matter?

Think about it: really think about it. What happens if the HS graduate has a better aptitude in the area than I do? Should we be paid the same? Does experience equal competency?

We should be paid a fair and equitable wage for our contribution to an organization. Contributions to organizations general are formed through education, experience and depending on the job social location.

When NOW and other organizations can demonstrate quantifiable data to show that an equal comparison is being made regarding salary, I’ll listen to their argument. Until then, please don’t send me a petition to electronically sign. My gender doesn’t play as much of a role in my paycheck as my personal choices in career, education and willingness to make sacrifices. And sometimes, gender might factor in: but until individuals are willing to question the data, we continue to recycle the culture of economic victimization. We are above that. I learned that at the women’s college that granted my degree.

And what have we learned?

September 11, 2010

Of course you remember where you where: in class, at work, in your car, watching TV.  The pictures from that day are etched in several generations.  The ramifications are still unraveling.

And this year? The memories hurt. There was a spirit in the year that followed of bended but not broken; together we can build a better world. I took the first regularly scheduled flight out of the Colorado Springs airport when the airports re-opened. It was an early morning flight to Salt Lake City.  I often think of that flight as “unzipping” the morning.  It often brings the sunrise into Salt Lake.  I remember everybody nervously glancing at each other – probably all a bit grateful that we were on a regional jet. 

My friends had asked me to reconsider my trip.  I couldn’t. I remember arguing “If I don’t fly; they win”. I made it to Salt Lake for a 3 hour layover (to fly east to Oklahoma City) and wandered through the chaos. Armed guards, dogs and people.  Everybody, it seemed, was trying to fly east. People begged for flights to anywhere on the I-95 corridor. Richmond instead of Philly? Fine, I can take the train.  The chaos, panic and sheer desire to want to be home was palpable.  I had a fleeting thought of “why am I on a plane…I could go see my sister next week.”

The stress that was etched on the travelers heading to DC, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston showed the emotions that had been so unspoken in the Colorado mountains earlier that week.  These were people heading home: to what, many didn’t know. I remember speaking to a guy from NYC. He had driven from LA to Salt Lake to get a plane to NY. I stood to watch the National Prayer service amid a group of strangers. A rabbi or minister or imam asked the congregation to pray. It was instinctive: a group of strangers, in an airport restaurant bowed and began to link hands.  Tears fell. Strangers hugged. Nobody had words.  It seemed so insurmountable and so necessary: we can’t let them win. Not a fight on mentality but a let us build a better world. Let us remember that the actions of a handful are not indicative of many.

I remember my oldest nephew always needing to know where I changed planes until we finally put it together.  I remember my brother’s wedding later that year and thinkin the one thing I don’t want to see the hole in the Pentagon: and seeing it. I was in France in early 2002: the outpouring of love for simply being an American.  I stood by the gargoyles atop Notre Dame and had a conversation with a Palestinian about the world and where this all would leave. A random conversation in a new world.

We had the love of the world holding us.

And we blew it.

I feel like they won.

Pundits, historians, politicians can all debate what the “purpose” of the 9/11 attacks were. For me, it was to disrupt the “American way of life”. They have. We have people threatening to burn holy texts. We have a leading real estate mogul making statements about “riots” if a cultural center is built.

We are a different nation. We are not a better nation. We have become us versus them. Good versus bad. We are polarized. We point fingers instead of linking hands. It wasn’t just Americans who died. It wasn’t just Christians. People from 112 nations, of faith or no faith died. People survived amidst great odds.

And now? We shout. We argue. Over things that can so easily be fixed. Why?

Nine years later, our way of life has changed. We blame. We point fingers. We would rather stand apart than find the common thread.

We let our fears win.

And now, it’s time to remember what we stand for: equality, freedom and compassion. If the hate wins in the end, they win.  If they win? It will be our fault. We can disagree on policies and politics. But we cannot hate.  We lost far too much and it is never what we stood for.