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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Location, location, location!

So, I'm now looking at Condominiums in the Main-South area of Worcester. Some people familiar with Worcester may initially think, "eek!" But, Main South is becoming more progressive and upscale in a lot of places and I spent a lot of time there growing up, volunteering and working in the community.

One of the catches of living in the Main-South area of Worcester is that Clark University will let you go to school there for free. This is a ridiculous deal as Clark is quite expensive and prestigious. It also shows the commitment that Clark University has for Worcester’s Main-South community. They’ve always been known for buying up lots of property for dorms and administrative buildings in the past. I like Clark University a lot because the give and take with the neighborhood is pretty even. I don’t feel that Holy Cross gives much to the neighborhood it’s situated in which happens to be where I grew up. WPI does quite a bit in the community from what I hear, but the specifics are lost on me.

I feel an article or expose coming on. What are Worcester’s colleges doing in the community? There is a lot of controversy to whether Universities pay enough taxes and fees, so I’d like to add my two cents and see what I can dig up.

On a side note, still in Maine, eating, fat and happy! What’s going on for your weekend?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wrapping Up The Week

I may not blog for the rest of the week as I'll be all over New England getting down with my family. So, I'll drop by and give a few updates now just in case:

1) I got accepted to Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Graduate Program of Management in the Marketing Innovative Technology program. Not an MBA, this program offers all of the classes, resources and perspectives I could ever want for a marketing and technology based degree.

2) Although I am accepted, my status as a non-matriculated (not full time) student has left me in-eligible for financial aid of any kind. I cannot secure a federal loan and a private loan is my only option to pay for the classes. Anyone who knows me is aware of what I think of private loans, so I won't elaborate. In short: I can't pay for my classes and as of now, I will not be starting them in January.

3) I'm going to take the GRE and/or GMAT's and enroll in the fall and try to get a full fledged financial aide package. Whatever I've got to do to get through this red tape is what I'm going to do. Grad school and starting my own business are my next steps.

4) I'm still looking and saving for a condo. This priority fluctuates up and down my list. I've looked at my situation from many angles and realize that I need to do a few things before buying a condo is actually beneficial to my financial situation. It is not out of reach though. Not by any means.

Monday, November 24, 2008

How To Talk About Your Job And Not Bore People

By day, I work for a software company, which sounds very 1990's if you ask me. Sometimes I like to just leave it at that in conversation, but if I feel the person I'm speaking to is sharp or interested I'll delve in a little deeper about what the software actually does (and why I'm qualified to work on it). I've been here a little less than a year and it was a seriously difficult thing to get people to understand or care about what the product I support actually does. The 100 character blurb that describes my position is terribly boring and obtuse.
I support front and back-end aspects of Company X's proprietary marketing and public relations analytics solutions.

Doesn't make you want to jump out of your seat and demand an explanation, no? This is why I can't be a sales person. I'd never be able grab someone's attention in 30 seconds unless I lied and exaggerated until I was struck down by powers above.
Instead, I break it down to a simple and applicable description that goes like this,
So, you know how companies have like, brands? Yeah, well they market those brands to certain parts of the population that they think might buy them. Our software measures what people say about this brand campaigns in blogs, message forums, newspaper articles, etc. Basically we hear everything that goes on within the web and we're able to analyze the tonality and frequency of when and how it's mentioned.

Usually when I break it down like that, I get a "that's really cool" and I smile and say, "yeah it is."

Other times I'll mention that I'm a freelancer on the side. That always gets a good amount of interest, especially when I say my topics of choice to write about are the environment, renewable energy, career development and the economy. Often times I don't even need to overtly network with people because they'll ask me for a card or my website.

I suppose talking about yourself quite a bit comes of as narcissistic, but I'm convinced the only real way that people can understand you in a meaningful way is if you articulate what you do and what you care about when they're listening. When you have a captive audience, don't waste it!

More importantly, be a good listener when it's their turn to talk about their lives and work. If people think you're uninterested in hearing them speak, they'll never really open up to what you have to say.

All this being said, does anyone have any good suggestions for business cards that are nice looking yet easy on the wallet? Any other creative ideas for handing out your info?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I've Exhausted All My Private Student Loan Options

After this week's stint of futilely trying to explain to my student loan lender that I paid them everything I owe them, I've finally resigned myself to the fact that I need to suck up whatever customer service and interest rate issues are at hand for a little while. I figure there has got to be some sort of resolution to the issues that people such as myself are having trying to pay back their student loans at high interest while also trying to buy homes, cars, more education, etc...

I called a credit counseling company that was mentioned on NBC. I won't put their link on here because they weren't helpful and I'm going to try and refrain from giving companies any undue good PR unless they want to pay me for it. The company I called is the largest in America when it comes to renegotiating credit card debt and bank loans. My grandfather suggested I give them a call and see what they think about student loans.

The gentleman I spoke with on the phone was stumped. He said that even though private student loans are lent by private banks, they are still backed and protected by federal law which keeps third parties from negotiating interest rates and repayment terms. Essentially, private student loan companies that make big bucks off of my loan get essentially the same protection that Stafford and Perkins loans do, with none of the interest rate restrictions and less than half of the repayment options. The phone call ended with the associate wishing me good luck and saying there's nothing anyone can do for me under the current laws.

Encouraging, no?

On a whim I applied for a pre-approved private student loan refinance and as I had suspected would happen; I got rejected without a co-signor. I have fair to good credit, but not enough to even get my foot in the door to negotiate a lower rate without dragging a co-signor into this mess. What a joke.

So, I look to the federal government to smarten up and help people such as myself out. These banks have padded their pockets enough with my overly high interest rates. The ROI on my education has been null because of this.

I feel like I've hit a dead end with this. Has anyone had any success in this arena? I am always curious to hear input on other people struggling to fight the "man."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Private Student Loan Customer Servicing: Hearing It From The Source

I got in touch with the Executive Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage today and he offered an apology for bad customer service. He said he had come across my blog and explained to the best of his ability the disconnect between the billing and servicing departments because one is in Massachusetts and the other is in Texas. While I'm still not completely certain that things like this won't happen again, it was interesting and encouraging that an executive from a company called me directly and offered to deal with any issues I had moving forward.

The power of social media. Cool, eh? I guess Graduate Leverage kept a customer because their management listened and was concerned about their image. That's a good thing.

On a side note, I talked to my grandfather about some of the current legislation going through about private student loan lenders and how bankruptcy may be the only answer to overwhelming debt (a road I refuse to go down). I wonder; if the federal government bails out private loan companies with the bailout package, does that suddenly turn all those private loans affected into Federally backed loans? Would that in essence change the structure of those loans, including interest rates, forgiveness and repayment options? I am VERY curious about that!

Do you think if these loans are propped up by the government then they should have to change inherently?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It Is Amazing To Be Listened To

Let me preface this that I just received a non-descript voice mail from the Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage saying he wants to speak with me. About what? I wonder...

This morning I got an email asking me to sign a petition to Mr. Paulson, the Treasury Secretary saying that student loan companies should not be bailed out as planned. The email alienated me somewhat though because they said:

"Most students and families do not use private student loans to pay for college, nor should they. Private loans are risky and expensive, and they lack the important consumer protections and repayment options that come with federal student loans. Providers of private student loans already receive special treatment in bankruptcy at borrowers’ expense. Taxpayer dollars should not go towards helping lenders make these high-risk loans."

I responded with:

"I was fooled into getting private student loans as a first generation college student. They're ruining my financial situation. What happens to me in all this? My interest rates keep going up and I don't know what to do. Just because I'm not in the majority of people who paid for their college with federal loans (I used as much as I could) doesn't mean I should be left out in the cold."

Shortly after I recieve this email:

Dear James,

Thank you for responding. I couldn’t agree more that borrowers like you who have already taken out private loans need better options for repayment. This issue is addressed briefly in our letter to Paulson, where we say that existing private loan borrowers should be able to renegotiate the terms of their loans. We have also been fighting for over a year to allow private loans to be discharged in bankruptcy like other consumer debt. We know that folks like you face major issues with the repayment of private loans, and we will continue to do what we can to expand your options while minimizing the risks and burdens of private loans for future students.

Take care,

Edie Irons

Communications Director

The Institute for College Access & Success

Now that is the sort of response that I am looking for! No more blank stares or silence. I want to live my life the way a college graduate should, not the way someone working minimum wage does.

Now I await the call back from this gentleman at Graduate Leverage...I am VERY interested in how this will go and what it will be about.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Green Website To Shop From Online

The Green Loop

So I've come upon another website that has his and her goodies for people who like to shop with their conscience. The goods are nice looking and have high quality, but are a little pricey. There is a 15% first buyers discount if you sign up for the mailing list, so if you're interested in shopping there, be sure to sign up for a deal!

I'm dreading Christmas this year. Money is so tight and I always feel obligated to spend more than I have. It's like I have all these allocated savings funds for a house, my start-up, travel, etc and I don't have anything set aside for buying gifts. I REALLY do not want to tap into my savings at all. That may be selfish, but seriously, we're in a damn recession and I've got plans for this money!

Can I opt out this year? How about I make everyone home made cards with Elmer's glue and glitter like in the old days?

Okay, never mind. I'll get back to my eco-shopping.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We're In A Recession of Corporate Brainpower

After getting several harassing calls about money I've already paid, I have truly fallen out of love with my student loan lender, Graduate Leverage.

In 2004 I was swamped with a horrible student debt burden. My interest rates had soared to 14% under Sallie Mae, which at one time was touted as the people's champion for private student loans. My private loan payments alone were over $1000 a month. I literally didn't know what to do or where to turn. I confided in a co-worker while at my state job who was finishing Law School and asked her how she dealt with her student loans. She raved about Graduate Leverage and how they were owned by local Harvard MBA grads. I thought, cool, I'll give them a shot. So I called them up and they were able to offer me a variable interest rate loan that would never go above 7.9% interest. Granted, that's still not an awesome rate by most standards, especially when you owe over 100k, but it was far less than the 14% I was paying with Sallie Mae, so I went for it. The process was complicated but I felt the associates at Graduate Leverage were helpful.

Fast forward about 5 years later and I'm still with Graduate Leverage. I have the same amount taken out of my bank account every month. It's not affordable, but I don't have a choice in paying and it seems no matter where I look nobody else knows where I can get a better rate. So goes the doling out of my hard earned money until one day someone stole my identity and in getting my checking account funds back from the people who took them, I closed my checking account. I had to re-open a new account and re-establish all of my direct withdrawals, including my student loan payments. No problem, right? There should be a protocol involved, right?


Upon telling them that my checking account was hacked into and hundred of dollars were stolen the first thing the confused representative advised me of was that if I didn't have funds in my account that I was going to be charged fees for being late. She really didn't care to work with me to make sure my payments were made on time and I decided at the end of the phone call to just cancel my direct withdrawal and send in my payment checks directly. That's reasonable right? Well, according to Graduate Leverage's "computer records" I was 30 days delinquent with my payment and action was going to be taken. I was furious and confused after my identity ordeal that these people couldn't get it right even when I was trying my hardest to work with them. So, while I had the representative on the phone I logged onto my online checking and told her the exact check numbers and dates when they cleared (which were 5 days before they were due). I got the repealing "ohhhhh" on the other line and she reassured me that my account would be updated but she couldn't do it and would need someone from operations to do it manually. Seeing as I work in an operations/support department, that sounded strange to me but I agreed because I was ready to start yelling.

Since that phone call I've received 3 calls saying they never received my funds and I've had to explain to each rep again and again that the checks cleared and I owe them nothing until next month. They apologize and say they understand my frustration upon which they assure me will not happen again.

Me being frustrated with a less-than-stellar loan rate is one thing, but dealing with awful customer service again and again like this, especially from someone whom I'm sending thousands of dollars to a year, is beyond my realm of acceptance. As of right now, I am vowing to find another student loan company with better customer service and a lower interest rate. I will not settle for this shit any longer, especially when I will be paying them over 100k in interest over the term of my loan. Screw them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Diversifying Where and How I Buy Food

I've been out of my own for what seems forever these days. I made quite a few errors in judgment back in the days when I was 19 in Boston shopping at the Uber-chic Back Bay Shaw's supermarket. Have you ever seen a $160 shopping bill after getting a little careless with whatever you were throwing on your shopping cart? I sure have. But, since there I have developed a keen taste for where I can find good deals on certain types of foods and home goods. I've had good teachers, most of whom were broke like me and needed a cheap place to shop.

For the past two years I've been a steady supporter of Trader Joe's. They do have absolutely everything I need and usually at reasonable prices. I've written before that buying out of season or non-Trader Joe's brand goods can rack up a high bill, but otherwise the deals are there waiting to be scooped up.

I've been hearing rumblings of locals who really like Russo's in Watertown. It's sort of like a farmer's market that is open year round. I went once with my old boss to buy flowers and I was drooling the whole time, but I never went back because I got lost every time I tried to find it. This morning I mapped it out and I've decided to go there sometime today on a break and stock up on whatever produce and meats they have on sale. I'm kind of excited because I've been having bad luck with produce at TJ's lately and if I can find a new place to get veggies and fruits on the cheap I'll be a happy man. Also, I've heard they have great cold cuts and breads.

I'll keep y'all updated. Maybe I'll even let you in on what I'm cooking with my new Russo's food.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gen Y's Career Reaction: Fight or Flight

So much has been said about Generation Y's tendency to hop scotch from job to job and how it is becoming an accepted annoyance by employers. Coming from someone who has had more jobs than he can count since graduating college, I feel strange about this new normality.

First off, the reason I had lots of jobs after graduating college was because no one would hire me. For whatever reason, my experience and persona didn't fit the type of jobs that I was applying to and I was forced to work freelance and odd gigs whenever and however I could. Whenever an interviewer asked me why I hadn't stayed anywhere very long I wanted to slap him and her and scream "do you think I had a choice in that?"

That being said, today I find myself in a pretty good, fast paced job that is giving me progressive responsibility and learning potential. I am making it work and I don't feel the need to run out of the door tearing out my hair every day (how about that?). I have been here since April and come next month that will have been 8 months on the job. My last job which was in human services was easy but the lack of challenge left me unhappy. I spent 9 months there before my employer and I had just about enough of each other. Now I am starting grad school with tuition reimbursement from work and I see promise for my position within this particular company. I hope to stay for a few years and put some time in.

When I was going from job to job, it wasn't a pleasant experience at all. I craved some sort of stability. Although I know some people my age thrive off a challenge and a frantic lifestyle, I feel there is a certain quality that people who leave jobs often are missing. Not that you need to be a lifer at any given company, but I feel true experience and mastery can only come with several years of exposure to a topic and task.

That being said, I am an opportunist as many folks I know are. So nothing is out of bounds career wise, but having a steady job sure beats going on an interview every few weeks and having to answer the question "so I see you have jumped around from job to job a lot. Why is that?"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

College Graduates Are Being Ignored and We Hate It

I calculated what I'd need to make for a yearly income to healthily afford my student debt. It's about 15 thousand more than what I'm making now. WTF? This calculator doesn't need to tell me that I have a hell of a time making ends meet every month, but seriously, I've never thought that you need so much money just to afford an education.

I've said before, my student debt burden equals that of a small house or condo. Why do people in my situation get ignored when it comes to cutting privately loaned interest rates? Congress and Senate bills are being pushed through that will lower interest on mortgage loans to 3% and allow people to stay in their homes even if they default.

I'm working, paying my loans back (barely) and I haven't heard anything about these people coming to help me out. Working in public service roles for 10 years and having federal loans forgiven is a nice thought, but public service jobs are either ridiculously low paying or bureaucratically stifling creativity killers.

My generation graduated into a shit (excuse my language) economy. I had a terrible time finding a job. I know previous generations (not the past two though) had it tougher and made it through. I'm making it work and constantly scheming how to do better, but there's got to be a better way out there, no?

I feel a literary piece coming out of this.

What do my readers think? I'll listen to those of you who have student debt, whether little or small and even to those of you who didn't have to borrow for college. I just want to know that I'm not crazy for being bitter about getting fleeced each month.

Student Debt and Your Life

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Lot Of Good Stuff Going On

So, my 40 hour work week has turned into 50 hours has turned into 60 hours has turned.... you get the point. I'm working like a silly boy at my day job. It's good though as we've got lots of exciting projects crackling at once and I'm making myself to be the go to guy as much as possible. That being said, I've been getting to work at 8:30AM and leaving closed to 7PM mostly every day. Plus nights and weekends usually consist of at least a few hours of me putting in work for the following day. None of this is a complaint as I am quite resolved to rise up and master all things surrounding my job description and so fourth.

I've also lost 15 lbs. I've been eating healthier and walking a lot. All last week I was sick as a dog though and didn't work out at all. I have a natural tendency to avoid going to the gym because I work so late. Getting home after the gym at 8:30 is a weary feeling. But I do it anyways.

To top it all off, my internet at home hasn't worked all week. So, I need to stay extra late to get my work done because I cannot work from home. Otherwise as soon as I get home and get some food in my stomach I head out immediately to a cafe to finish whatever needs finishing.

Being busy is grand and all, but I'm looking forward to leveraging my skills and diversifying my time for the holiday season. I want to find people who need writing and research work outsourced. Working an extra 10 to 15 hours over the week and on the weekends to supplement my income is going to get me into a home of my own sooner and that's what I want.

I may be pushing myself, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to see how far my endurance will take me. So far I'm quite surprised at what I've been able to keep up.

Whatever I do and no matter how much more I work, I just need to keep up my health habits so I can keep the lbs coming off and keep healthy through the winter.

Also, I was told to register for classes by the head of HR. I'm finally getting to start my Master's degree! :-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hello Mr. Mac, Let's Co-Exist

Here's a little anecdote for those who subscribe to the Mac - PC wars. I was in Starbucks for my break today reading and writing to clear my mind (only for the lack of a better place to chill) and a woman decided she liked my laptop. She may have been slightly handicapped but she was very friendly. She told me it was the smallest computer she's ever seen and that she liked it very much but that she liked Mac's better. I conceded that Mac's are indeed great computers but far too expensive. As I said that the woman looked behind me and there was a man (a clear regular of this particular S'bucks) using his $2,000+ Mac. He started passive aggressively defending his consumer choice to this woman and said "he's obviously over-exaggerating about the price." Then he packed his stuff and left.

I was only stating a clear, non-subjective fact that Macs are very expensive. They're probably worth it, but they're still expensive! There was no reason for him to take offense. I thought about apologizing, but my sense of manhood and commonsense wouldn't allow it. Talk about awkward.

To Mrs. T Ronda, I know this will strike a chord with you. To any other Mac users, what do you think about this dude's reaction? Does he watch too much TV and in turn too many Mac commercials with the skinny emo guy dissing on PC's?

On top of that, I feel people are gunning for me on the road. Is paranoia settling in? Probably. It's the holidays. This is when I need my Hemingway style cabin in the woods to stay safe and sane.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Good Wind Blows In Worcester

This article was published in The Valley Patriot as well as on

A Good Wind Blows in Worcester

[Every month the Innovation Valley column explores an economic innovation that either takes place in the Merrimack Valley or is relevant to it. The following article by my colleague James Moreau explores an important achievement in Worcester we can all learn from. - sji]

"In addition to the economic benefits that wind power affords, the installation of this wind turbine is an opportunity to implement our responsibility to be a good steward of the earth."
- Holy Name High School President, Mary E. Riordan

Driving North on Route 146 into Worcester an unusual site has residents talking about the one of the city's newest renewable energy developments located on the property of Holy Name High School. The 242 foot tall, 600-kilowatt wind turbine is visible for miles from many parts of the city. Currently operational, the wind turbine is expected to provide most of Holy Name's electric power year-round, making Holy Name one of the most energy neutral schools in the world. During the winter, some electricity may be purchased off of the grid, but during the summer the school is expected to sell electricity back to the grid. Tax credits will also be sold to individuals and organizations whose contributions have helped fund the project. The massive wind turbine on a hill serves as a beacon for the Central Massachusetts region attempting to make a turn towards the new, sustainable economy that other parts of the country have already begun embracing.

The President of Holy Name High School, Mary Riordan, was faced with a problem many Americans are familiar with; the rising cost of fuel and energy. Crude oil and gasoline prices have forced many to drive less and will probably force those who use oil to heat their homes to keep a cooler house during the winter. Even electricity costs are bound to continue to rise due to the inefficient coal fired power plants producing much of the country’s energy. The financial squeeze is officially on and there is a wave of innovators in the United States as well as around the world who are thinking up ways to confront the conundrum of fueling our lives with non-renewable, dirty, carbon-based chemicals.

Natural resources and enthusiasm are good starting points for a solid renewable energy economy to take foot, but with the high initial cost of establishing and growing a business, strong public awareness and policy are necessary to fund good ideas. Each state, including Massachusetts has a particular geographic or social asset that can be exploited with renewable energy. People associate places like California and Arizona with a lot of sun and heat, but Massachusetts is currently having a wave of solar manufacturers and installers set up shop and open themselves up to the Northeast energy market. There are also certain parts of Massachusetts, as well as most other East Coast states that have a great proximity to wind patterns that are perfect for wind turbine electricity generation, such as hilly Worcester.

The proliferation of windmills in Denmark and solar cells in California are examples of proven policy and business models that have inspired communities around the world to explore their own suitability for renewable power. Worcester's main apparent strength lies in its location within a relatively windy and hilly geographic area. Additionally, Worcester has 11 colleges and universities within its county limits - a concentration of academic resources in the Northeast region is second only to Boston.

Mary Riordan's vision of erecting a wind turbine would not have been as easy without the students of WPI helping to assess the project's feasibility. Additionally, the $575,000 in grants that were secured from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative was only a fraction of the total cost. The rest of the money was donated or loaned at low interest by the local municipality, individuals or non-profits supporting Holy Name.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has made way for tax incentives to be offered to more renewable energy companies than ever before. Residential tax incentives have also been extended to homeowners who wish to use solar or wind power in whichever ways they can. These sorts of tax programs that encourage economic development in the green sectors help everybody in the long run. Businesses such as Borrego Solar, originally operating out of California have come to the east coast to set up shop and opened their first regional office in Chelmsford.

These business opportunities are also leading to exciting job training and educational opportunities. The massive shift in infrastructures and skill base will need to be met with a whole new force of “green collar” workers. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is currently working with vocational high schools and community colleges across the state to develop and support green technology and renewable energy curriculum.

A decade ago, few Worcester residents would have imagined a wind turbine being erected on one of its high schools campuses to lower energy costs in a clean and efficient way. Now with business and individual interest peaking, legislators must get to work to make way for a renewable energy economy. Marybeth Campbell, the Public Education Coordinator at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative believes there are a lot of exciting instances of renewable technology happening in Massachusetts but also stressed, “policy plays a major role in attracting renewable companies to Massachusetts.”

[To contact the author, email]

New Savings Funds

To all my personal finance blogging peeps, I set up two separate accounts with ING. One is a house fund for the down payment I will surely need for any decent mortgage when it comes to buy a house or condo. The second account is a Europe vacation fund. I feel like I'm becoming one of those workers who will never take a vacation unless I am either forced or unless I make it a point. So I've decided to save a bit of money so I can go back to Europe sometime in the next few years and see the things I missed while studying abroad. I'm pretty good about saving money when I put my mind to it. With my expenses dropping considerably at my new apartment I feel that money saved will go to good use in these savings accounts.

I also invested a little money in the stock market as well. That may be a less wise move, but I really have faith in this stock. I still think there is money to be made in the market, even when it's down! Keep and eye on Evergreen Solar (stock symbol: ESLR). It's a local solar panel manufacturer and if they're plans flesh out as they're planning, they're going to be huge. I've also got a couple financials on deck for investment that have performed well for me as well. They didn't buy that poison bad mortgage paper like banks like Lehman and insurers like AIG. I believe in their fundamentals. They're names are ING Group (ING) and Anally Mortgage (NLY).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Family Heath Rocks

Since moving back to my hometown my sister and I have been cooking dinner together a bit. She still lives at home and my mom never buys fresh food (or food at all really). So, when I go grocery shopping I'll pick-up for two and she'll split the bill with me. She's a fitness freak and measures out her food and counts calories every day. So, now I'm buying lots of high quality ingredients that she's not used to having around so she's learning new recipes and trying new things.

Her newest flavor interest is tofu (although it has a distinct lack of flavor on its own). She always attested that it made her gag and that the texture was too gross. So, I marinated some and cooked a vegetable stir fry with it. I made sure to fry the tofu well done so that it wasn't so mushy. She loved it. Now instead of buying expensive meat all the time, which we both still love, we're going to eat more soy and tofu products. They're healthy and MUCH cheaper. A pound of tofu at Trader Joe's costs about 1.50. You'd need to find a real sale to have chicken or beef at that price!

My cousin who I share an apartment with likes me and my sister's cooking too and I think he's trying to learn. He surprised me when he said he tried to go vegetarian. I think it'll be an interesting journey helping him learn to cook and discover what he likes for recipes.

Now all I need to work on is getting my mother to eat better. That could prove A LOT harder.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Messy Earth

I'm beginning to think of the Earth along the lines of my home. After all, I do live on it. In that regard I think the concepts of global warming and pollution have become somewhat lost or diluted to most humans living on this fabulous rock. We've made a bit of a mess, no? How does one deal with a mess in their home?

The first step to cleaning house is admitting that there is a mess in the first place. Complacency is the result of people acquiring a tolerance for inhospitable conditions that they usually would not. Until a situation becomes bad, the status quo or proverbial "bar" is usually lower instead of raised. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Gosh, doesn't that sound familiar?

Once people are aware and nervous about their actions, it is time to assess the damage in relation to what is taking place. If you suddenly came home to discover a sink full of dishes, empty bottles of beer and wine everywhere and confetti and silly hats scattered about, chances are a party of some sort went down. People got a little loose and messy and didn't pick up after themselves. The result of this is that you will not be able to conduct your life normally in these sorts of conditions and must take some action to correct matters.

Earth, the gem of our solar system, the most special life-bearing celestial object (that we know of) is being made a mess. Some individuals see the affects of hundred of years of modern, post-industrial civilization has had on the Earth's ecosystems. Some people's ideas of their relative impact on the planet allow them to easily write off anything they do in their relatively short lifespans. After all, one person cannot do much in the way of fixing or creating a major problem on the scale of our planet's existence. But, the exponential growth of our population and the technology that we have harbored and developed for so long is making a deeper impact on the world than anyone would have ever thought possible 100 years ago.

We have taken carbon based chemicals through various sources and burned them to create energy. That energy has fueled the growth of our societies and our innovation. We as humans discovered fuel and used our big brains with unprecedented foresight to build and maintain scientific marvels that over the course of our existance had never been dreamed of and in a relatively short time.

The point that humans are at currently is causing a shift of paradigm that will almost certainly guide the evolution of what we consider to be progress. Human beings are aware of their existence and of that which surrounds them. We want to continue to live and despite certain death that all of us face at some point in our life, a common sense of legacy is instilled in our biological and societal make up.

All of the carbon based fuels that we have burned are not being naturally processed as they may have been over the course of our Earth's existence. We are putting carbon and other chemicals in the air far faster than our planet is meant to handle. Because of our carbon habits, residual climate change and chemical disturbances are happening in our air, our land, our oceans, our food chains and even in our bodies.

The warnings of scientists and stewards of the land and ocean have been warning us of our ways for decades. Some say that moving away from nature is a move away from what sustains us. Other soothsayers believe that the answer is to live less and reduce carbon emissions and toxic chemical production.

There is also the belief that our damage of the Earth's stasis is too far gone to be fixed by inaction or simply reducing the fuel that we burn. They believe that taking carbon out of the air and restoring biodiversity are intertwined that the only route to a sustainable human presence on the earth is by learning to take care of it and letting it do the same for us.

Waking up with a hangover and a messy home isn't necessarily a message that the parties and fun of your life are over, but that you must take stock in the damage done and the lifestyle that you are living. Being conscious and courteous of your environment, no matter what scale of environment you are thinking of is neccesary to maintain a balanced and healthy life. If the Earth is happy then it shall provide and we will be happy too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Holding My Breath Until November 5th

I voted a while back via absentee ballot so I won't be standing in line today. I'm a bit melancholy at the thought though. I can imagine a sense of excitement and comradery while waiting in line amongst fellow Americans to vote.

I've read and listened to several people state their opinions regarding the option to not vote at all. Some are truly convinced the Illuminati or central bank are in control of everything no matter what. I believe this to an extent, but I feel a sense of defeat in choosing to go belly up and no voice my opinion despite controversy and cynicism.

I've written before that I do not believe either candidate is going to turn the country around 180 degrees in their first four or even eight years. But I do believe that Obama represents a rebelliousness against the paternalistic style of government that has been forced upon America for the last 8 years. I want to feel like I live in a community, rather than an isolated state of being. I want a good job for myself (I am lucky enough to have that right now) and good jobs for my neighbors and family. I want opportunities to be available for all Americans who want to work hard, not just those who were born into fortunate circumstances of wealth and power.

Spread the wealth. Spread the happiness. Help others in their times of need and you too shall be helped in your time of need.

I'm going to lay low at home and try to kick this awful cold or whatever I have. Once the poll numbers start coming in I'll be glued to CNN and MSNBC all day.

I hope everyone is having a good election day today! Despite feeling physically sick, I feel energized and good knowing that George W. Bush will be out of work soon. Hopefully he finds a job elsewhere where he can do less damage.