Wednesday, February 23, 2011

While I'm on the topic of food...

I made the decision several weeks ago that I would cook my heart out on the weekends and just do the heat and serve thing during the work week. I figure doing so would accomplish a number of things.

1) I wouldn’t have to think about what to cook every day,

2) I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I actually had the required ingredients on that particular day,

3) I wouldn’t be spending an hour after work preparing a meal, and

4) Simple nuke and serve eliminates all those pots, pans, and prep tools that would have to be cleaned up after dinner.

So far, it’s worked out pretty well. I’ve made large batches of a number of dishes including tuna noodle casserole, chili, black bean soup, lentil soup, navy bean and ham soup, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, hunter’s delight, beef stew, chicken parisienne, etc. It’s been great. So what’s the problem? I’m running out of ideas.

If you have any suggestions, I will readily accept them!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Just Blame it on the Baked Beans!

As the self-proclaimed queen of multi-tasking, I’m often running around like a chicken with its head lopped off while burning a candle at both ends AND in the middle. Today was one of those days, in typical Saturday fashion, as I tried to get a week’s worth of errands stuffed into the one hour I had to run while Mom was at the beauty shop getting her weekly hair-do.

First stop was Sam’s Club, where I stocked up on some essentials to the tune of $120. I was in a bit of a hurry to get in and out, until I ran into the new guy at work, only two weeks here from France, wandering about the place like a lost puppy. His English is not particularly good, but after about 10 minutes, I had explained to him that he had to pay to join Sam’s and the prices were good if you wanted to buy in bulk. I told him smaller quantities were more affordable at Marc’s. Then I realized what he was really looking for was someplace to take his laptop that had been invaded by a virus. I drew him a map from Sam’s to Staples, where they have people who fix those sorts of issues.

I raced out of there, packed the haul in the hatchback, stopped at BP to fill my tank, and then made a quick stop at McDonald’s, not because I was hungry, but because my diuretic kicked in and I was nowhere near anyplace else I could stop. This was followed by a run to the local health food store to see if my order of Yogi Tea had arrived…no such luck.

Then I delayed picking up Mom so that I could stop at Marc’s and get the few items I hadn’t gotten at Sam’s. This was a mistake. I grabbed a cart and raced up one aisle and down the next, only hitting the ones containing items I needed. I found an empty check-out line and started loading the conveyor belt with my purchases, when a 40-ounce can of Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans slid out of the cart and landed on my right foot. In spite of the fact that I had on heavy leather shoes, the darn thing broke my little toe.

Now, I’m limping around on a very sensitive foot with a toe that is swollen, bruised, and unable to bend at all without excruciating pain. All because of a can of baked beans! Whoever came up with the saying “Cool Beans” never had a 40-ounce can fall on their foot!

Worse is the fact that they can’t do anything for it. Other than taping it to the next toe for support, you just have to let it alone. Why I continue to break bones that can’t be “fixed” or “casted” is beyond me, but since I have to blame something, Bush’s Beans takes the hit!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mubarak's Billions...Yet we keep supporting these despots?

Someone was arguing with me the other day about how we need to keep Mubarak in power because he is our friend. I think that when the populace of a nation rises up against its leader, heads usually roll; and in this case, justifiably so. Elections should be held in Egypt as planned and should be monitored, but even in our country, those who shout loudest often get their way as the silent majority stays silent.

When our helping a foreign country involves providing them with money, weapons, and tourism and the result is that a small percentage of those in power reap the benefit while the majority of the population suffers from physical and financial deprivation, it is only reasonable to assume that majority will see the U.S. as the same type of oppressor as their own government. We have been guilty of this behavior time and again; Egypt is not the first non-democratic government we have supported in this fashion, only to have things blow up in our face. We have repeatedly made greedy, evil despots rich and powerful when they have agreed to represent our interests in their regions.

This has been borne out once again with the disclosure of Mubarak’s billions. He has amassed a huge fortune with our help, whether witting or unwitting, while the populace of his country became progressively more impoverished and desperate. The people are not stupid. They are acutely aware of their conditions while they watch a small group of government leaders live lavishly, buy extravagant homes, and travel in luxury with impunity. Because we backed Mubarak’s regime, we will have little or no influence in ensuring that a “friendly” government takes over that country. I have to admit, if I was Egyptian, I wouldn’t trust the U.S. any farther than I could toss Mubarak.

Someone said to me, “Only the angry people are demonstrating there. Millions more are sitting at home quietly supporting us.” I wonder at the stupidity of that statement. Complacency is common until people are personally affected by events. Unfortunately, they then follow whoever shouts the loudest or makes the boldest promises, and they do it without verifying the facts, doing any research, or questioning the integrity or experience of the person or persons they decide to back. We are easy to blame because in many instances they are correct about the results of our questionable involvement. We cannot control the corruption in other governments, so when we try to help, the people in those countries see us as corrupt government supporters. The Egyptian people will need someone to blame, so don’t be surprised when they follow anyone shouting "down with America." The complacent, silent majority tends to follow blindly, and history is filled with the disasters that resulted when populations did just that. Remember Hitler? If you don’t, go read your history books.

As hard as it may seem, whether here, or in Egypt, or in any other country, we need to remove ourselves from the rhetoric, put aside our anger and our disagreements, and work together toward solutions that will return us to peace and sanity. I know this is not always possible. If we, as a country, are attacked, we need to respond in kind. But until that happens again, we need to be the voice of reason and re-assess our position in the global reality we are confronted with as a nation. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Since the strategies of the past are not achieving the results we want, we need to rethink our foreign policies until we find ones that work. And we need to rethink those policies with NO influence from special interest groups.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Palin on Obama and the situation in Egypt...

This past weekend, Lisa Ling commented on Sarah Palin’s attack on President Obama’s stance on the wholesale unrest in Egypt by asking on Facebook, “Sarah, do you know where Egypt is?” This was followed by many opinions both for and against Sarah Palin. I listened to her interview, which in typical Palin fashion was mostly unintelligible.

This is a transcript, provided by the network, of Ms. Palin’s response to Mr. Brody’s question about how she believes the president has handled the situation in Egypt:

“And nobody yet has, nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and no, not, not real enthused about what it is that that’s being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt. And, in these areas that are so volatile right now, because obviously it’s not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And, we do not have all that information yet.”

I proceeded to join the conversation by posting the following:

“Frankly, I do not believe that the success or failure of our country to pull itself out of our present situation depends on what type of government comes to power in Egypt. As a global leader, we will have to deal with whatever entity takes over in that country, and diplomacy is the name of the game. It is also a word that is not in Palin's vocabulary. Obviously, Sarah Palin has the same right to free speech as the rest of us. The thing that makes her version of free speech dangerous is that there are people out there that actually buy into anything she spouts. She is like a charismatic leader of a cult, feeding her followers the rhetoric they seem to live on. I find it frightening that such a huge number of people seem to think she's brilliant. She has not only never had an original idea, she can't string together an intelligible sentence! She has yet to fulfill a term of office to which she has been elected. When was the last time the governor of any state left office for a reason less serious than illness or a scandal that made it impossible for them to govern? Every time she quits an elected post, she violates the trust of the public that voted her into office. I think her followers should wake up and smell the coffee!

A rabid Palin supporter immediately went into attack mode. This included such gems as:

“Yes of course, you can say what you want that was my point. Even the dumb asses here have a right to respond so immaturely!” and

"But to constantly berate a strong willed woman, who leads, wants to do something for this country and could do a better job than most, not all. Still the fact that anyone would even want to take the challenge on."

"Seriously, she can't string together a intelligent sentence? My GOD your statements are completely ignorant!" and

"Issues! not childish junior high name calling" as well as:

“On the other hand Chris Rock was right. Early in the 2012 campaign, before Palin was in the picture, he joked that Hillary would never be elected president. Nor would any white woman be elected which was sad since white women are the majority in this nation - 52% right? But as Chris pointed out 'Who hates a white woman more than another white woman?' Sad, but that is exactly how you woman take on the issue of Sarah Palin - exactly - you make HER the issue and instead ignore the real solutions and the real issues.” Then there’s:

“If she REALLY WAS stupid, a clown, etc...etc... then she would have faded away by now. The fact is that she had more women rallying for her than any other candidate. She is a REAL mother and career woman.”

I responded to this claptrap with a restatement of my original post, including lengthy explanations of each point, backing the validity of my statements. After a few more exchanges, I posted the following:

"You write that the U.S. stands for freedom and has interests in many parts of the world as though the very idea of it was sprung from Ms. Palin's loins. I have to tell you, that statement or something quite similar has been made by every political figure in this country since WW1. Just because she has stated the obvious, and it is something that every in this country agrees with, doesn't make it a reason for me to consider her to be qualified to be in the political spotlight or to hold national office."

His response to that was:

“She is more qualified than most of us simply because of all the heat she has taken over the past 2 years. The job dictates that.”

I finished off with:

I think that shouldering bad publicity does not qualify anyone for a run for president. Criticism comes with the territory, but having experience with criticism does not automatically qualify a person to make life and death decisions for 300 million Americans."

Then I gave up and went downstairs to watch the Super Bowl. At least there was a clear winner and a clear loser in that argument!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reprise of the Malinchak Contest Blog

As promised, and for those who didn't zip over to the contest site to read it, the blog entry is below. I didn't win, but the contest was more about who had the largest network to vote for them, not who wrote the best blog. But it was fun to compete!

What's the biggest difference between a truly dynamic and memorable speaker and one who is, well, not? From my seat in the 22nd row, I would say that it is the speaker's ability to engage the audience. The most interesting topic in the world can put you to sleep if the speaker does not engage you in his or her presentation.

Think of the typical conversations you have on any given day. How much of a conversation do you remember when the person you are speaking with is talking at you, rather than engaging you in discourse? We would all prefer having someone talk with us, not at us. Engaging speakers have learned how to speak with their audience. They pull you into their topic, often asking rhetorical questions designed to make you feel that you're a part of a conversation. Even though the question is not answered by you directly, you begin think about what your answer would be, instantly involving you in the presentation.

What other methods can you use to engage your audience? Visual aids are sometimes effective, but you should try large, colorful types of aids and refrain from using boring power point presentations. If you've ever been lulled into la-la-land by a speaker who read from his text-filled power point, you already know why that's not the way to go. Try doing or saying something startling or unexpected. It doesn't have to be loud, but it should be abrupt. I once began singing in the middle of speech, which really inspired the audience to pay attention to what I was saying. Demonstrations are also attention getting, especially if you choose someone from the audience to help you. Humor is a great way to jump start interest in your speech, but you should practice the funny stories or punch lines. Nothing kills your speech faster than a poorly delivered or distasteful joke.

There are numerous ways to encourage your audience to become involved in what you're presenting. For more ideas, watch recorded speeches and pay close attention to the methods those speakers use to keep your attention. If you have a fear of speaking in public, join a speaking group, like Toastmasters International, where you can practice until speaking to a group becomes less frightening. Remember that the ability to present your ideas and products to an audience can be your number one marketing tool. Don't you think it's worth the time and effort to improve your speaking skills and techniques?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl hosts horrid rendition of the National Anthem...

I saw an article the other day about the "10 Worst Renditions of the National Anthem" and was surprised that Macy Gray didn't make the list. Not only was her performance at the Hall of Fame game lousy, but she actually did not know the words! A similar event occurred tonight at the Super Bowl, where Christina Aguilera made it up as she went along. I can only say I'm sorry that the dome wasn't open so that the fly over could have drowned out her sour notes, over-affected style, and lack of the correct lyrics.

And before anyone says "Well, Betsy, singing the anthem is difficult and doing it in a stadium just isn't the same as singing it in your car," I will say that I haven't sung it in the Super Dome, but I have sung it at a stadium. If I can do it, then someone who makes millions singing should be able to do it. And they should darn well know the lyrics. It is disgraceful to get out there and sing our National Anthem incorrectly.

While we're on the subject of the Super Bowl, I give my most hearty congratulations to the Green Bay Packers. You've just become one of my favorite teams. I may be a Browns fan, but I will root my heart out for anyone who can stick it to the Steelers! You gave me a few minutes of worry there at the end, but you prevailed and that is what counts. Way to go, Packers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Not Ominously Quiet...

I just have not had much to say for the last few weeks! I know how hard that is to believe, but it is true. I was watching House Hunters International, where this beleaguered family of 6 was desperate to buy a vacation home in Fiji so they could have a place to relax. It ranks right up there with the hog farmer from Minnesota and his accountant wife who needed to get away to a vacation home in coastal Ecuador that cost a cool half mil! I’m definitely in the wrong line of work, but I just can’t see myself as a hog farmer! What can I say? How about “buy my kindle books”. It won’t get me a half-mil house in a tropical paradise, but it might help pay the mortgage.

Current events have people talking. The unrest in Egypt is quite disturbing. Hopefully it will not precipitate complete chaos in every country in the Middle East. The shooting of Gabby Giffords and the other victims of that tragic event was equally disturbing to me. The shooter was an obvious mental case, but hopefully that will not prevent the courts from putting him away for life as he is an obvious danger to himself and others. I think it is nice that Gabby’s husband is commanding the shuttle flight. He seems to be handling her rehab and the unwanted publicity with a huge amount of common sense. If I went up in the shuttle, I would want him flying it!

On other fronts, like everyone in the Eastern half of the U.S., I’m ready for spring, but there is so much to do. With a wedding shower in April and the wedding in May, I’m sure the time will go much faster than I would like. Once again, I am faced with a weight loss deadline. It’s either that or accept that I will once again look like Shamu in sequins in the wedding photos. Only time will tell.

The amarone and the blackberry cabernet are cooking in the back room at The Vine. Although I’ll be bottling both vintages in mid-March, the amarone won’t be drinkable until at least October, and I may resist opening the first bottle until Thanksgiving. The blackberry cab will be drinkable at bottling time. I am anxious to see what it tastes like.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me in the blog contest. I didn’t win, but it was a fun column to write. I will reproduce the column here in a few days.