Friday, March 30, 2012

Is There "Pink Slime" Filler in Your Hamburger?

Do you really want to know what's in that beef?
Not since reading Michael Pollan's 2006 The Omnivore's Dilemma have I been so moved by a story. So much that it impacts what I buy at the market. Do you really know what's in your hamburger? I'll admit that the whole process of creating ground beef is gross enough, but why do they have to add a "pink slime" filler to the ground beef? 

The latest stories about the "pink slime" additive to American ground beef may be one of the most disgusting food additives I've seen. If you haven't already heard about this "pink slime" filler, google it for yourself. Very few news reports or books will dramatically change my eating habits but this is one that makes me change where I shop and attempt to be more aware of what's in the beef I serve to my kids.

This was all started when Jaimie Oliver's Food Revolution, a British celebrity chef, aired a TV show that showcased a beef additive that looks like pink slime. The beef industry refers to this filler as "lean, finely textured beef." It is actually a beef filler that is made up of the waste from butchering a cow, specifically the part that's not fit for human consumption. These scraps are then ground up, treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill any E coli bacteria, and then added to beef. Up to 15% of this "pink slime" can be legally put into ground beef and sold in grocery stores. Up to 70% of supermarket beef contains this "pink slime."

The worst part is that the ground beef labels do not say "15% pink slime additive". You have no idea if the ground beef from your local grocery store or the fast food hamburger you are buying contains "pink slime." However since this story exploded in the news media McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell have stopped using ground beef that contains "pink slime." Also Safeway, Krogers, and Costco have pulled this ground beef with this additive from their shelves. Also USDA organic beef cannot contain any fillers so there is not (or ever has been) any "pink slime" additive.

Will this drive up the cost of beef? Yes because 1.5 million more head of cattle will be needed to compensate for that 15% of "pink slime" additive currently in ground beef. I don't mind paying more for beef if it's "pink slime" free. Yet another reason to buy USDA organic beef.

The Omnivore's Dilemma moved me to completely stop drinking soda pop, give up fast food, and attempt to completely cut out corn syrup and corn from my diet. Although it may end up as a complete scare tactic targeting ground beef, it is effective. It's made me think twice about buying beef, and I'm now doing all that I can to avoid that "pink slime" beef additive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Indoor Trampoline Gyms: Hours of Fun or Hours in the ER

I'm completely ignoring that nagging voice inside my head and that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I delve ahead and book Jack's birthday party at an indoor trampoline gym. Never mind that this party will be held nearly 3 months after his birthday—sometimes life just gets in the way—I figure better late than never. Jack wanted a jumping party so my guilt kicked in and he's getting his wish.

Over the last few days, the warning signs keep popping up. A friend's daughter tore her ACL while jumping at a trampoline gym. A trip to the orthopedic surgeon will confirm if it's completely torn away from the bone as well. Of course her injury happened at a birthday party. The New York Yankees relief pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, completely dislocated his right ankle while jumping on a trampoline with his young son. This resulted in emergency surgery to his open flesh wound (meaning his ankle bone was completely sticking out of his foot). Ouch!

Then there's my own experience with one of my son's friends on a group outing with other 12-year old boys. His friend ended up fracturing his ankle within the first few minutes of a 90 minute jump session. As expected, this happened on my watch. I still feel horrible about his injury. I guess that's why these places won't let you through the door without a signed waiver form.

So yes I'm throwing all caution to the wind. My guilt over not having Jack's birthday party sooner is clearly overriding any safety concerns. Chances are his 9-year old friends will be just fine and completely tired out after their 2-hour trampoline jump on Friday afternoon. That's a good thing!

I'm just hoping I won't have to write a follow-up post about an ER visit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reform at the Polls: Voter ID Makes Sense

Add your name and photo to eliminate voter fraud
At the forefront of debate in the Minnesota legislature this week is a bill that would require all voters to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. I've been a huge advocate of this idea for years and now it seems headed toward the ballot in November, asking Minnesota voters to amend the state Constitution to include a provision requiring a photo ID for voters. This is already a law in 30 states. And sorry, I don't buy the arguments that the elderly, disabled, and college students would have difficulties getting a photo-ID. In one word, here is why not only Minnesota needs a voter ID provision: FRAUD.

Do you remember the Norm Coleman and Al Franken recount of 2008? I think that recount dragged on for over six months and dug deep into taxpayer pockets for financing. Norm Coleman eventually conceded the race for many dubious reasons that I'll not drag out now. Let's just say that it was interesting to learn in July 2010 that 341 convicted felons had voted for Al Franken in the 2008 election. Which is completely ILLEGAL in case you've forgotten! Franken ended up winning his US Senate seat by 312 votes. Perhaps we need a voting system that truly doesn't allow convicted felons to vote in the first place.

Maybe you remember Florida's "hanging-chads" of the 2000 Presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore with the Presidential outcome teetering back and forth for weeks.

Instead of adding to the growing list of election recounts and spending millions of dollars on lawyers for the recounts, have a voter photo ID system in place. Use your drivers license, your state ID card, your military ID, or even your library card (if it has your picture on it) as your voting card. Before you rule this out as impossible or too "big brotherish", hear me out. Think of all of the information that a bank or credit card company has on us when we swipe our debit or credit cards or type in the number on-line. Do we mind that credit card companies know our spending patterns, our social security numbers, and other critical data? No, we seem to happily hand that over when we apply for a credit card or apply for a bank loan. Why can't the same idea be applied to our drivers licenses?

Each drivers license or national ID card already has a magnetic strip on the back. This could be swiped at a polling place to verify that you yourself has voted once. Show your photo ID, swipe, and vote at some sort of digital or computerized voting booth that simply and automatically tabulates the data. (Theoretically, this voting system could be the same all across the United States.) Say you make a mistake and vote twice, it is red-flagged and you correct your mistake. At the bottom of your ballot would be a big red button stating "VOTE" with a disclaimer stating that you have reviewed your ballot and this is your final vote. It would be very simple and user-friendly for the elderly and confused.  Once the polls close, the results are tabulated efficiently with no room for error or fraud.

Voting with your drivers license or other government issued ID would virtually eliminate the need for a recount and totally abolish the archaic vote-by-mail systems currently found in Oregon and Washington State. It would also eliminate different precincts counting votes many different ways. Too expensive to implement such a system nationwide? Well, look at how much the past recounts have cost. Then add up how many spending increases Al Franken has voted for that have been implemented during his four years in the US Senate. Maybe a one-time investment in a national voting system isn't the worst idea. 

Regardless of your political persuasion, I think we can all agree that the current voting system desperately needs an overhaul. Sending this voter photo ID issue to the ballot box in November and letting Minnesotans decide is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paul Ryan's Budget: An Alternative Choice for All Americans

Nothing impacts life in suburbia and the fiscal health of my checkbook more than economic growth and stability. Realizing that I'm delving into political waters here, I'm venturing out on budget policy limb because right now America's fiscal viability is clearly at stake. Congress has a choice to make: status quo or supporting Paul Ryan's 2012 GOP budget that offers Americans of all tax code levels meaningful solutions to our fiscal woes.

Having worked with Paul Ryan as a Congressional staffer back in the mid-1990's when we seemingly lived up on the sixth floor of Longworth House Office Building, his true concern for Americans and his brilliance always impresses me. His climb to Congressional success comes as no surprise: Budget Committee staffer to Member of Congress from Wisconsin to Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Paul was amazingly smart with those budget numbers back in 1995 and now proves that he knows what he is talking about as he unveils the GOP 2012 Path to Prosperity Budget today.

President Obama has done his fair share to try to change America's fiscal direction with both good and bad results. I truly believe that if something isn't working (like our budget pitfalls), then it's time to look at other options to fix the obvious problem. I am far from a math whizz, but even I can see that when our publicly held debt is projected to climb to 73% of the US economy something really must be done. Congress must act soon!

I know that some of you support President Obama's budget; I just want to highlight a few details of Paul Ryan's budget that make clear sense to me as a chic (but clumsy) suburban Mom.

  1. Cuts economic share of the debt by 15% over the next decade, putting US finances back toward balancing.
  2. Patient-centered Medicare reforms that will kick in over the next 10 years, offering retirees "guaranteed coverage options financed by a premium-support payment". (This means offering a fee-for-service option and forcing health plans to compete against each other for your Medicare dollars.) Seniors currently on Medicare and those about to retire will see no changes to their Medicare.
  3. Bold tax reform to ignite economic growth by unifying the current six tax brackets into a mere two brackets set at 10 and 25%.
  4. Close special-interest loopholes that notoriously plague federal budgets and levels the playing field for all American taxpayers.
  5. Reduce the corporate tax rate (now at 35%) down to a more competitive 25%.

But before you write off Congressman Ryan's proposal as purely Republican rhetoric, note that he has solid and now growing support from many Democratic Members of Congress. This is truly a bi-partisan solution to an escalating national debt problem. By implementing Paul Ryan's 2012 Path to Prosperity budget, Washington can make a wise choice and the right choice to set Americans back on the path toward economic prosperity.

Want to do something about this? Here lies the beauty of being an American citizen. You can actually call your Member of Congress and they actually do keep track of your call and your opinion. I know this true. As a Congressional staffer, these calls from the public really consumed a vast amount of hours when I worked on Capitol Hill.

Call your Member of Congress to voice your support (or opposition) to Paul Ryan's budget at: http://www.house.gov/ Just enter in your zip code and you are directed to your Member of Congress' website where their local and DC phone numbers are listed. You can call in or e-mail your opinion. At the very least, be informed about this significant budget issue and America's future.

Sources: Office of Management and Budget, Congressional Budget Office, Wall Street Journal 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How to Break Your Nose Without Really Trying

My nose looks like I've had a bar fight with someone dressed up as a leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day night or took a header off of a St. Patrick's Day parade float right onto the pavement. But no, my story isn't nearly that exciting. I broke my nose doing the laundry. I think my laundry is trying to send me a not-so-subtle message: "I'm going to cause you nothing but trouble and bodily harm!"

If it seems like this is something that could only happen to me, I agree! But then 57% of nonfatal injuries do occur in the home. I learned a valuable lesson—fuzzy socks on a very clean and slippery spot of hardwood floor do not mix. Especially when your arms are filled with a load of laundry fresh from the dryer. My right foot slipped, and I thought I could balance myself with my left foot until that foot slipped out from under me as well. Instead of dropping the clean laundry and perhaps catching myself, I landed right on the bridge of my nose: a direct hit on those Brazilian cherry floorboards. The horrible crunching sound my nose made on impact and the steady stream of blood immediately clued me in that my nose was broken. But you will be happy to hear that the laundry stayed clean and I didn't even spurt any blood onto it!

So instead of celebrating St. Patrick's Day with my friends I ended up at home lying on my bed catching up on episodes of Survivor and Project Runway All Stars and numbing the pain with ice, Advil and a glass of Chardonnay. As the swelling recedes today, there is one good thing that came out of all of this—the diamond-like bump on my nose from an earlier break is gone. Only I could manage to break my nose twice in my 43 years and end up inadvertently straightening it with a second break.

Perhaps I do need to ease up on my domestic goddess role and hire a laundress before my laundry really does kill me!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Birthday Girl Left Behind at Chuckie Cheese

Sometimes I think that CNN Headline News exists solely to showcase "news of the weird." But this bizarre story caught my eye as it scrolled across the TV monitor at the gym this morning. 5-Year Old Left At Birthday Party. My initial thought was that's really not a big deal. Who doesn't just drop off their child at a birthday party for the duration of the party and then come back to retrieve them afterward?

Turns out that this birthday party was actually for this little 5-year old little girl and her mother didn't realize she was missing until the next day! That is what makes this story so bizarre. The mother has 10 children and 19 kids were attending the party. I'll not even commenting on why this woman has 10 children in the first place. Now having 19 kids at a Chuckie Cheese birthday party would probably push me over the edge and leave me a bit frazzled at the end of the evening. But wouldn't you notice that the birthday girl was missing when everyone got loaded up into the car. Or when you tucked all 10 kids into bed?!

The restaurant notified police around 11 pm about the little girl left hanging out at Chuckie Cheese. The mother didn't realize her daughter was missing until around 8 am the next morning when she was getting the gang ready for school. Okay, I can be tired and clueless and even a bit manic after hosting a birthday party, but I have yet to leave any of my kids or anyone else's kids behind. The worst part is that this mother had two other adult relatives along at the party to help her out and sadly no one noticed the 5-year old was missing.

I didn't even realize that Chuckie Cheese was even still around. I remember it as sort of a dark and somewhat dingy kid fantasy land where the kids could run free, feast on greasy pizza, and play kiddie arcade games. After having one horrible birthday experience at Chuckie Cheese where my son was terrified of Chuckie (man dressed up in somewhat scary mouse costume) and spent the entire party screaming and running away from Chuckie, I never returned.

My bad Chuckie Cheese birthday party experience pales in comparison. The mother put herself in an incredibly bad situation. I do feel bad for her and hope that she gets some help. But I feel worse for the little girl left abandoned at Chuckie Cheese after her party.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rising to New Heights: A Short Girl in a Tall, Tall World

"You're going to be short and fat someday just like your Grandma!" I'm not sure whether or not my German grandmother meant this as compliment or a curse. As a young girl, it became a goal I vowed I would never achieve. My Grandmother (whom I miss and love dearly) always seemingly threatened me with these words. In defiance, I always claimed I would be tall and skinny. Well the skinny part is always with me, but so is being short.

I've always wondered what it would be like to venture through life taller than my 5' 2 1/2". That extra half an inch is vital when you're my height. So I never leave it off! It probably didn't help that I inadvertently decided to stunt my own growth during my adolescence. Between the ages of 11 and 12, I only ate foods that were white. So much for those leafy greens and broccoli that Michelle Obama so boisterously promotes. Lots and lots of white food. I remember loving Saltine crackers, Cream of Wheat cereal, and feasting on fresh crab while visiting my aunt and uncle in Vancouver, Canada. The "white diet" applied to drinks as well. At least I got lots of calcium out of all of that milk.

BEFORE
My usual 5'2 1/2"
I do not recommend this diet to anyone much less a preteen girl during those crucial growing years. Somehow my poor parents put up with this without attempting to cram hamburgers down my throat. In hindsight, my white diet really did not help me achieve any extra inches. Once I came to my senses and added color back into my diet guess what happened? I finally started to grow in so many ways!

But all of that is too late for me now and I have to resort to stashing step stools all around the house. I keep one in the kitchen to help boost me up onto the counter tops so I can reach my spice cabinet looming above the stove. I keep one in my closet to reach my cashmere sweaters and purses stored away on the top shelves. Some days it's hard to even reach the top row of clothing hanging in the closet. Step stool time! I even inherited my grandmother's step stool that I keep out in the garage. How else could I put up the flag and reach my flower pots?

AFTER
Towering at 5'8" with the platform wedges
But what happens when I venture out and away from my step stool collection? I've gotten used to people bending down to my level to chat. I'm used to my feet dangling childlike off of chairs and bar stools. I've sat on my share of phone books to boost me up to the table. And I long ago started ignoring all short jokes. The only time I ever felt tall was when I visited Japan—a country where people are actually shorter than me!

Now I don't need to travel to Japan just to get my tall fix. I've recently made a simple, but amazing discover:  platform, wedge heels. Why didn't I think of this years ago?! A visit to one of my favorite boutiques—La Rue Marche in Hudson, WI—solved my short problem. My new black suede Betsey Johnson platform wedge boots have changed my life! I wear them constantly. So much that my family wonders if I will ever take them off. Not only do they add inches but the design makes my huge size 8 feet look tiny and even, dare I say, dainty. Now I have to track down some Betsey Johnson platform wedge sandals for the summer!

My grandmother's prophesy is now completely laid to rest. I've grown into a skinny and tall girl (with a little help from Betsey)!
My infamous Betsey Johnson boots




Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pinterest Obsession Hits


Yes, I Pinterest. Do you? Let me start off by saying that I do not scrapbook. I have no time or patience for all of that collecting, cutting, and gluing pictures and mementos into place. I'm lucky if I manage to download the pictures off of my digital camera and onto my iMac. But I've gotten incredibly (and incurably) hooked on a new website that takes elements of scrapbooking, digital images, and bulletin boards: Pinterest. Thank you to my friend Gretchen for introducing me!

A sample Pinterest board
Pinterest is a social media website that hosts a collection of virtual bulletin boards. The idea is to create bulletin boards on any topic and add corresponding images. By using a special "Pin It" button (mine is right on my Bookmark Bar), you can easily Pin images off the Web or repin other people's images onto a specific pinboard. Other pinners can follow your board collection, repin images off of your board, and comment on the images.

I use it for organizing ideas that are floating around in my head. Some of my Pinterest pin boards include: garden ideas, favorite quotes, products I love, favorite places, and Duran Duran (of course). I even have a pin board devoted to this blog. The possibilities truly are endless, and it's supposedly growing faster than Facebook ever grew. Not surprisingly, it's most popular among women in the Midwest. Hmm, who does that sound like?


Yet another Pinterest board
My Pinterest account sat idle for nearly a year until those long, cold January nights hit. For me, it's a great way to idle away some dreary winter evenings. It certainly does waste time, but in a way I do feel like I'm accomplishing something. I have all of these interesting visual pinboards bursting with creativity so I don't see it as a complete black hole for my free time. I'm loving this new venue of social media!

There is one catch though . . . you cannot just sign up for Pinterest you must be invited. If you are interested in joining or just exploring Pinterest possibilities, I'll be happy to send you an invitation. Just shoot me an e-mail at: chris6829@gmail.com. Or you can take a peek at some of my boards: http://pinterest.com/chris29

Happy Pinning!