Friday, December 17, 2010

Stop and Thank a Smoker

So, since it's the holidays, and it's best time of year to stop and reflect on life, and the gift of Jesus Christ, I thought it was time to bring up one group of people who should be thanked.


Have you ever stopped to consider how many programs are funded by their voluntary purchase of a product? I don't think this is an exhaustive list, just a list of recent programs that don't have much to do with tobacco use. We here in Arizona have a lot of our own. For every pack of cigarettes, the consumer pays $2.00 to the State.

1. 1% goes to Smoke Free Arizona. A public information campaign. Don't Smoke. Yet, it's funded by smokers. So if everyone followed the advice of the Smoke Free movement, how would they be funded? Do you think they really want people to stop smoking? I doubt it...

3. 40% Early Childhood Education fund which funds any number of early childhood education programs, whatever that means.

4. 30% to the Tobacco Products Tax Fund, in my opinion, is the most nefarious of the overall tax. Here's what it does.
Forty-two cents of each $1.00 in the fund is deposited in the Proposition 204 Protection Account which helps fund health insurance coverage for more uninsured residents ; five cents of each $1.00 is deposited in the Health Research Fund to be used for research into tobacco-related diseases; 27 cents of each $1.00 is deposited in the Medically Needy Account, which is used to provide health insurance for low-income residents; 20 cents of each $1.00 is deposited in the Emergency Health Services Account where it is to be used for reimbursement of uncompensated care, primary care services and trauma center readiness costs as appropriated by the legislature; four cents of each $1.00 is deposited in a health care adjustment account; and two cents of each $1.00 goes to the Health Education Account for tobacco prevention programs. This increase in the cigarette tax was passed by voters in 2002.
So, this portion funds everything. From the uninsured to the trauma centers to the Health Education Account! Bureaucracy! Don't you love it? Everyone's got an interest in this pot.

4. 20% goes to Tobacco Tax and Health Care fund which partially funds the Health Education Account, and also funds the Medically Needy Account.

The remaining 9% of the cigarette tax is distributed as follows: 19.44 percent to state school aid, until June 30, 2015 - 11.11 percent to the corrections fund and the remainder to the general fund.

If you have children, thank a smoker. If your child goes to school, thank a smoker. If your child attends some sort of government funded school, or before/after care programs, thank a smoker. If you or your child has ever gone to urgent care of the hospital, thank a smoker. If you or someone you love is on Medicare, thank a smoker.

There is also a federal tax ($1 per pack) on cigarettes which goes to fund SCHIP, or the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which gives medical coverage to any child and illegal immigrant. Thank a smoker for partially funding this.

All in all, I think we owe smokers a huge debt of gratitude for basically keeping us all knowledgeable about the dangers of their behavior and helping to keep us healthy. Instead we make them out to be the villains of this country; the great Satans of society.

I, for one, stand up and say thank you to smokers everywhere in this great country.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So This is Love...

So, this is the miracle that I've been dreaming of... my new washer and dryer... I swear this song has been in my head since they were installed yesterday... So, this is love!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Peoria & Deer Valley S.D. Overrides

I cannot put this post off any longer. We need to discuss a.) economics, b.) budgets, and c.) voting.

This should come as no surprise, but the state of Arizona is in some pretty serious financial trouble. There is not enough revenue for the services we provide. We are in the red. There is no more money.

And yet here's the school districts needing more money! The Peoria and Deer Valley districts recently voted to pass the overrides, which means that they can spend 10% more than what the State has deemed necessary for the operation of their budgets.

The overrides allow the districts to collect 10 percent more than the state provides to their budgets, a sum that covers teacher salaries and other operating costs. Failure would have meant the districts would have lost a third of override funding next school year, $5.5 million in Deer Valley and $6 million in Peoria.

Read more:
I have a couple of issues, specifically, with this. One, failure would mean that the districts had to stick to the original cap of expenditures, not LOSSES as the article says. And 10% more spending means $5.5 million in Deer Valley and $6 million in Peoria, MORE! Their budgets are already $50.5 million a year and $60 million a year, respectively. And the voters said they should spend more! And guess who's paying for that? All of us. I have no idea where they are going to get the money...but maybe I do.

When your revenue goes down, your expenses should follow suit. This is what's called budgeting. But the school districts don't want to follow a budget. They want to be able to increase their expenditures without regard to what is actually happening in the world around them. I ask you, why should school districts be any different than any other company or individual? Why do they get to spend whatever they want for "needs" when just a little bit of money-sense would help?

Every company, entity, household or person is looking at their diminished income and determining what areas can be trimmed. I think the same standard should be expected of our school districts.

"But what about cuts to sports? But what about cuts to the arts? What about teacher's salaries?"

Believe me, I am a HUGE fan of sports and I love all things artistic and don't want these programs to go away. But why must tax-payers pick up the tab for these things? In most cases parents can afford to pay-to-play (hello extra-curricular activities, i.e. CCV Stars...) and also there is the possibility that students could possibly 1) raise the moneys as a team and 2) ask locals for scholarships.

This is the heart of my frustration. When we agree to raise taxes to pay for things like sports, arts, early education we are letting the government become our charitable institution of choice. People no longer look to non-profit organizations for filling these voids, we now expect the government to do this.

I think voters, especially Christian voters, are missing the boat on this one. When the government begins to take the place of charity, people are less inclined to be charitable with anything, especially since we think, "Well, I already pay my taxes." Taxes are not charity, and there would be more charitable giving if fewer taxes were required.

I read about a middle school who needed to cut athletic programs, and decided to go with a pay-to-play format, which was administered through Young America, for only $50. Why is that so bad? Wouldn't some parents be willing to pick up the tab for another kid if that kid couldn't afford it?

The proponents of the overrides used fear of the future and they played up the cuts to athletics and arts. They didn't even bother to explore other avenues of keeping these programs.

I am comforted by the fact that the overrides passed with VERY slim margins (253 D.V., and 824 Peoria) which I hope means that more and more people are waking up to the subtle encroachments of our government.

Recent Recipes

I have tried a couple of good recipes lately that I feel compelled to share. I love cooking Asian and I love making soup, so these two recipes are right up my alley!

I made Chicken Satay Stir-Fry with Orange Jasmine Rice last week. It does have peanut butter in the sauce so I scooped out some of the chicken stir-fry mixture before coating with the peanut butter sauce for Jack, my cute little allergen...

This was great! I was thrilled with how it turned out. I pretty much love all of Rachel Ray's recipes, but this was great. It was an easy recipe and best of all didn't call for Hoisin Sauce, which can be kind of pricey. It wasn't very spicy which I appreciated because I'm not sure the girls would go for it, and besides I have Chili Sauce that can easily spice things up. I think this is one of my new go-to's. I found that you could probably mix in a bag of stir-fry veggies in lieu of cutting the fresh veggies, but I happened to have all the veggies on hand so I chopped and cooked.

Then on Sunday I made Minestrone Soup from the Food Network Page. They had a list of 50 easy soups, and they did not exaggerate. None of the soups on this list seem intimidating to me. I may just make all of them! For Sunday meal, though, I made the Minestrone Soup because we had all ingredients on hand and also it seemed healthy.

If you make this soup I would add half more liquid to the cooking. It didn't have enough soupy-ness to it, in my opinion. I think this could easily be crock-potted, which I may try in a pinch, but really, it came together so fast that I'm not sure a crock-pot would be necessary.

However, I'm not sure I'll be making this soup again since the link to the 50 easy weeknight soups recipes is not working on the site! Ugh!

Well, anyways, the soup was good. I sauteed carrot, onion, celery, garlic and cabbage in olive oil, then added 4 cups of chicken broth, a rind from Parmesan cheese, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of garbanzo beans (the recipe called for cannelini beans, but I didn't have those on hand), salt & pepper, brought it to a boil, and then simmered for 20 minutes. I added some Orzo pasta and cooked for another 8 minutes until the pasta was done. Before serving I removed the rind.

I probably added too mush pasta, which I realize now that I type this out. But next time I will add about 6 cups of water/chicken broth. The girls liked it, especially the garbanzo beans, and Jack liked it too. I was happy to discover that he didn't have a reaction to the Parmesan rind.

I would love to encourage you to pick up Parmesan cheese the next time you're at Costco. Freshly grating my cheese has made a WORLD of difference taste wise, and as for cost it seems to be less expensive to buy and grate your own. And then you have this delicious cooking spice!

All in all, a great simple soup with not a lot of allergens. It's terrific as leftovers, too! I love soup!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Egg Free Oatmeal Cookies

Last week I made egg-free Oatmeal Cookies with the hope of being able to share them with the littlest buddy, Jack. I made the Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies from the back of the Quaker Oats Box, substituting two tablespoons of Flax Seed Meal with 6 tablespoons of water, for the two eggs the recipe called for.

Anyways, the cookies turned out pretty darn good. And also, I ate more than my fair share of cookie dough since it didn't have raw eggs in it I figured it was totally safe!

I was worried that the cookies, upon baking, wouldn't hold together, though. And to some extent I was right. When I pulled the cookies out at 8 minutes, my usual time for cookies, they were still pretty doughy, so I put them back in the oven.

However, I may have just been paranoid.

All in all, the cookies were a lot denser, however they did taste good. They kids have been eating them, so that's good.

But I realized that I didn't sub out the butter, so they're a no-go for Jack! I can't believe I blanked on that! So, really, I need to be finding vegan recipes for Oatmeal Cookies. I'm back to the drawing board...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Water Into Wine?

Finding this egg substitute is kind of like turning water into wine, except I'm not Jesus and I like wine more than I like eggs.

However, this substitute is pretty darn close to the Miracle at the Wedding. If you are ever in a pinch for eggs, and have flax seeds around, then I recommend my new favorite cooking and baking go-to. Per one egg, take one tablespoon of flax seeds, grind them up, and then mix three tablespoons of water to make a paste. This will give you the emulsifying agent that eggs bring to baked goods.

I have used this in pancakes and a quick pumpkin bread recipe. I was thrilled with the way my pancakes turned out. I adapted this quasi-vegan recipe from Katie's Buttermilk Pancake recipe.

2 tablespoons flax seed, ground, mixed with 6 tablespoons water.
2.5 cups soy milk (Or any non-dairy milk that you prefer to cook with.)
4 T. canola oil
2.5 cups flour (I used a mixture of whole wheat & a.p.)
2 T. sugar
3 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt

Mix the dry ingredients, then slowly add in the wet ingredients. Don't overbeat or the pancakes will turn out tough - some lumps are fine. Cook on a hot griddle until bubbles form on top, then flip.

The pancakes came out beautifully. They were puffy, tasty, and everyone loved them! This is my favorite pancake recipe by far especially since Jack can eat them and they make great portable snacks.

A few things I've noticed about using flax seeds. One is that you really do need to grind pretty thoroughly. I made the mistake of not grinding long enough and had a few rouge seeds hanging about at the end of the batter. But the consistency of the batter was unaffected so it turned out okay. I just don't like to waste...

Another thing is that I think it's probably better, meaning more nutritious, to freshly grind your seeds as needed. But I'm not a nutritional analyst, so if you don't have a grinder and are buying the meal, then it's probably fine. I'm just suggesting that the fresher the grind the more nutritious the seed.

Thirdly, when using flax seed meal rather than eggs in baked goods, you may notice that you don't need to cook the goodie as long. I have been using my nose, and then testing with a toothpick. If it comes out dry then the goodie is done! With the pancakes I waited until the edges were nice and firm, because I didn't see too many bubbles. I think that may be a property of using the flax seed meal.

Lastly, I think it's beneficial to try and mix in whole-wheat flour for your baked goods when using flax seed as an egg substitute because whole-wheat flour hides the look of the flax seed meal scattered throughout your baked good. (The amazing Erik always notices color and specks...) Also, using flax seed meal gives a nutty flavor, slight in my opinion, but that flavor won't come through if you use whole wheat flour.

Today I may attempt oatmeal raisin cookies with flax seed meal. I'll let you know!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Digestive Nightmare

Many of my friends have asked how Jack is doing, and I've started to lovingly refer to him as my Little Digestive Nightmare. In May he was diagnosed with allergies to Milk, Eggs and Peanuts and was forced to put him on Alimentum Formula. I kept him on that liquid gold, and I do mean gold, as in it was costing us $250 a month to feed just Jack, until September. At that point I decided to put him on soy formula and then soy milk. He didn't show any negative effects to the formula switch, so I thought we were good.

Of course I did have my concerns about putting Jack on so much soy, but I weighed my options. Keep him on Alimentum and go broke or take my chances with premature puberty and elevated levels of estrogen because of soy. I went with soy and decided to trust God with puberty.

I also like to wait to see if the Dr. brings things up. Whenever I hear something I default to, "I'm probably being paranoid so I should wait and see what other evidence comes up." And I really trust my pediatrician so I waited till Jack's one year appointment to see if she brought up the whole estrogen thing, and SHE DID! So I immediately took him off soy milk and switched him to rice milk, er, rice drink.

But that wasn't the only thing we may have discovered at his appointment. He only gained 13 ounces in three months. So, now we're looking at whether or not he's allergic to soy. I go back in a few weeks to see if he's gained much weight. If not I'll have to do another allergy test and then probably eliminate all soy from his life.

In the meantime, I'm supposed to give Jack anything he wants to eat, except of course anything with dairy, eggs or peanuts! Quite the dilemma. I have been making lots of meats and I've also been adjusting many of my recipes to egg-free and dairy-free. Peanuts aren't too prevalent in our menu, so that hasn't been too difficult to eliminate.

The best find came this week when I was told that flax seed can be an egg substitute by dear Katie. It has helped tremendously. Muffins and pancakes this week! Yeah! And the biggest blessing in all of this is that Mati and Reagan haven't noticed anything different! I'm thrilled!

And so the nightmare may not be so bad..."Here comes the sun, little darling..."

Monday, October 18, 2010

And The Props Keep Coming! 300's

Prop 301

Prop 301 would move public money from the Land Conservation Fund to the state general fund. There is about $20 million in the Land Conservation Fund. This money was both publicly funded and privately donated specifically for the conservation of state trust land and for implementation of conservations management.

I do not think that now is the right time to be concerned with the conservation of land. Land and environmental issues are a luxury; issues for times of plenty. We are not in those times. It is time to trim the fat and get serious about cutting budgets. And while this prop does not deal with cutting the state budget, it at least moves in the direction of using what we have rather than saving this for conservation purposes, which benefits very few. The environmentalists have a strong hold on this state and I think we should be honest about what’s important right now; environmental issues are not.

Also, I find it suspect that the Arizona Educations Association is against this proposition. What dog does the NEA have in this fight? I can only think of one reason the NEA would want this to fail is that they love taxes and fear that any cut to a budget would come from the education budget. Not that this a long-shot; bureaucrats love to threaten cuts to education so that the people will cry out uniformly, “NO!” and say yes to taxes. Nevertheless, if the NEA is against it, I’m for it.

I’m going to vote Yes on this proposition. The Arizona Tax Research Associations, the state’s only taxpayer organization, supports this prop because it would guard against higher income taxes since the money from the Fund would be accessible for the general fund. I’m for anything that moves in the direction of fewer taxes.

Prop 302

This proposition would terminate the Early Childhood Education Board, which oversees the spending of money collected by an $.80 tax on tobacco products. The money that is currently in the fund would be redirected to the general fund and specifically appropriated for health and human services for children.

As unpopular as this is, I’m voting Yes.

I think there is far too much spending on early childhood education. Although this proposition does not repeal the $.80 tax on tobacco product (which I would love!), it does repeal and terminate the AZ Early Childhood Development and Health Board. I’m always for less government and fewer bureaucrats.

There are several pages of “against” letters on this one. And as far as I can tell they are all people who have a financial interest in keeping the Early Childhood Education and Health Board going. I just can’t help but be dismayed by how much dependence the state government has created with this, and other, programs. It’s sad.

And I’m still voting yes.

With that, I’ve worked through the state level propositions. You’re on your own for judges! I really hope this has helped a few of you.

Let's Talk About Pot: Prop 203

Prop 203 is the Legalization of Medical Marijuana proposition to the Arizona constitution.

I have been weighing this for at least the last 10 years, and most recently for the last 24 hours.

Do I believe that it is wrong to smoke pot? Yes. It is an illegal substance.

But I am of two minds about that. I'm not convinced that marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol, of which I am a willing consumer during non-gestating periods of my life. My concerns with marijuana are that it is a gateway drug, and that it has not been proven to be any more effective at actual pain relief than the multitude of FDA approved pain killers. And pain management is the question at hand.

Pain is a tricky, completely individual feeling. I just don't think it's right to legalize a substance on so subjective a feeling like pain.

I have a couple moral points about the legalization of marijuana. For one, I hate that the government would collect tax revenue off of someone's vices. I find it abhorrent that the government, on the one hand tells a consumer to stop smoking and on the other raises the taxes on cigarettes so as to keep the revenue flowing for social projects. The government has a vested interest, then, in keeping the addiction going. This is the same for gambling, in my opinion. The government loves to tax people's vices, even if those vices are self-damaging.

The other point is that it does, as CAP said, send a very "dangerous message to our children that illegal drugs are not only acceptable, but beneficial." This is perhaps the most damaging by-product of legalizing "medical" marijuana.

I will be voting No on this proposition. Marijuana has not been proven to be a more effective pain manager than any of the other medications. And I believe that this proposition is simply an attempt to mainstream the use of pot so as to normalize the behavior.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let’s Talk About Props Baby! The 100's

Absentee ballots have arrived and the political nirvana is about to come to a climax! I just love voting. It’s the essence of America: getting to choose for oneself our elected officials and it’s also the opportunity for the voters to choose laws directly.

Arizona has one of the most liberal, as in liberty, means of making laws. We have propositions and referendums. A proposition is a law that is passed by means of a general election. Referendums are the recalling or changing of laws through a general election. Both bypass state legislatures and are started and funded directly by the people, or interest groups. It is a true democratic effort. And I love it.

However, the tricky part of propositions is that the wording can be confusing. A lot of the groups who write these props do their best to construe the language so that the voter will not quite understand which way they are voting.

I thought it would be beneficial for me, as well as for you, my loyal reader, to go through the props and tell you how I interpret them and how I will vote.

Prop 106

The Healthcare Prop-This proposition allows Arizonans the right to opt out of Universal Healthcare, a.k.a. ObamaCare. It protects a person’s right to choose for themselves what their healthcare coverage will be, and furthermore, allows a person to choose not to be covered by insurance and pay privately for medical services, without threat of penalty or fine. It also allows the companies of Arizona to opt out of Universal Healthcare without penalty or fine.

I am for this proposition and will be voting yes. ObamaCare is unconstitutional because it coerces an INDIVIDUAL to belong to and pay into a health care system. You cannot, according to the U.S. Constitution force someone to buy something. This proposition puts into law the ability for the citizens of Arizona to opt out of ObamaCare. This is very similar to what Missouri did in August by passing a referendum against ObamaCare, saying that ObamaCare shall have no effect on Missourians.

Prop 107

Prohibiting Affirmative Action in the State of Arizona-This proposition suspends affirmative action in the State of Arizona. It would ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to or discriminate against any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. It does not prohibit persons who have met the discrimination threshold to pursue legal recourse.

I am voting Yes on this proposition, surprise, surprise. I think affirmative action is a disaster for this country. To discriminate against a perfectly qualified person just because that person does not look or believe a certain way is utterly despicable and to have it state sponsored is outrageous.

Also, the fact that the Arizona chapter of the National Organization for Women and Phil Gordon are against this is reason enough for me to vote for it!

Prop 109

Wildlife and Hunting Conservation-This proposition makes wildlife in the state in trust for the citizens; says citizens have a legal right to hunt and hunting is the preferred method of wildlife management; and prohibits the legislature from enacting any rules that unreasonably restrict hunting, fishing or harvesting wildlife. This prop does not affect any laws relating to trespass or property rights.

I am voting Yes for this proposition. I do agree that hunting is a natural and scientifically-proven preferred method for wildlife management. This prop will prevent the legislature from passing laws that restrict hunting unnecessarily. This is important when you consider the dismal situation in the San Joaquin-Sacramento delta area, where the California judges have cut water off from this important farming community in favor of a tiny fish-the smelt, virtually destroying an entire industry, and where they now enjoy a 20% unemployment and cannot grow the crops that a lot of the country rely on.

Prop 110

Ability for the state to sell or lease public trust land-This proposition allows the state to lease or sell the public trust land for use, as long as it is in the public interest.

I have no problem with this prop and will be voting Yes. This is especially important to the military installations and the protection of the land it utilizes.

Prop 111

Amend the Arizona Constitution to rename the Secretary of State to Lieutenant Governor.

I have no problem with this one and will vote Yes. This is for all those people who don’t understand that the Secretary of State is the successor to the Governor, mostly out-of-staters and people who don’t remember their Arizona Constitution.

Prop 112

Provide for a six month period before a general election to put Propositions or Referendums on the ballot, instead of the current four month period.

I am voting Yes on this prop. The Center For Arizona Policy is for this, and that’s good enough for me. They say that four months is too short a time period to verify signatures and to make any necessary legal challenges, and to properly craft ballot language. I’ll go with that.

Prop 113

Protecting the Secret Ballot-This prop guarantees the right to a secret ballot during all elections, and most importantly, during union elections. This is the infamous “card check”. Card Check is the opportunity for unions to coerce their members into voting a certain way since the ballot will not be secret. There is lots of talk of this at the national level, which is why this is on the ballot.

I will be voting Yes on this prop. I believe that a person should be allowed a secret ballot and it should be protected by the law.