Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blowfish Testicles Can Kill You

It would seem the human appetite for adventure and risk-taking outweigh certain dangers (such as death); a thing which is tried and tested on a pretty regular basis.
Tuesday’s online MSNBC news included an article detailing how 7 diners experienced “limb paralysis, trouble breathing and started losing consciousness” after ingesting improperly cooked Blowfish testicles at a Tokyo restaurant with an unlicensed chef. Blowfish is reportedly 100 times more poisonous than potassium cyanide. Eating it wrong can kill you in 30 minutes.
Apparently blowfish don’t want you to chop off and eat their testicles.

On a recent episode of ‘CSI- New York’ a vindictive chef murders a dissatisfied customer with a small live (and quite toxic) octopus. An online casting call for this particular episode stated those interested in being extras in the film must actually eat real exotic “gourmet” bug and critter appetizers and “act like they enjoy them”. It was incidentally, a paid gig.

Shows like “Fear Factor” have capitalized on the average person’s phobias and horrors of the eight legged, bloody or slimy kind and parts of animals typically not eaten here in the United States. But that doesn’t stop people from signing up, gagging down the pig’s tongue or sheep uterus, bobbing for objects in a vat of 50 gallons of cows blood or whatever can be described as revolting and the show producers can legally get away with “serving”. Contestants hope to avoid the embarrassment of vomiting on national television and possibly go home from $25,000 to $50,000 richer. Either way, win or lose, there is a good chance their stomachs and bowels will give them an ass chewing afterwards.

In certain countries the demand for frog legs is potentially wrecking havoc on local and distant habitats and perhaps causing some species of the amphibians to boarder on extinction. Get that? Frogs are being eaten to death.

France and then (surprisingly) the US are the two largest importers of this particular delicatessen. Apparently though, what high-brow eaters consider fine dining is a staple dish in various Asian countries. A New Scientists Environment Internet article credits Indonesia as the world’s largest exporter of frog meat. 5,000 tons of frog meat finds it’s way from their lands to kitchens in France, Belgium and Luxemburg each and every year. That’s just Indonesia’s exporting number. Who knows how many frogs get chopped, fried, baked and buttered by their locals every year. The amount of frogs ingested internationally is closer to between 200 million and 1 billion frogs every year. Holy crap. That’s a lot of frogs.

The thing is, people all over the world do actually eat them, along with an assortment of other creepy crawlies, predators (snakes, sharks, etc.) and rodents. Ick. I’d rather leave those parts of the food chain to predators you typically see on “Wild Kingdom” or “The Discovery Channel”.

While this past year has been a fairly cuisine exploratory one for me, what I’ve been “experimenting” with sounds down right dull compared to the cuisine other’s don’t think twice about eating. My list for the year:

Deep-fried Alligator Tail
(AJ Gators, Virginia Beach)

Glazed Duck, Seaweed Salad
(Empire Bar and Bistro, Norfolk)

Elk Steaks
(Central Meats, Chesapeake)

Scallops
(Mai, Mai, Virginia Beach)

Crab cakes
(at a Military party, Virginia Beach)

Calamari
(Cheesecake Factory, Virginia Beach)

She-Crab soup, Lobster
( , Virginia Beach)

Pretty tame huh? Although I’ve had ample opportunities, I’m still leery about trying sushi, anything overly spicy and anything I can’t pronounce. But I think I’m making HUGE strides, given that my idea of daring eating used to be ordering the grilled chicken with mango salsa instead of the grilled rosemary chicken.

Seriously.

A bout of food poisoning when I was 18 from an undercook lamb chop stifled my interest in anything more exciting than beef or chicken. For a very long time afterwards I place meat orders as: “Well Done please. A-little-charred-is-fine-and-no-I-don’t-mind-waiting.”

If you’ve ever had food poisoning and have experienced the total body rejection of all your stomach contents, possibly even losing a few chunks of your intestines or a misplaced scrap of something you ate four years ago, you know the agony of retching all hours of the night every 15 minutes until you’ve gone long past the stinky canary yellow stomach acids and reach the point of dry heaving that you hit an almost meditative, almost out-of-body experience and wonder if this might be what a death by dehydration feel like.

According to the American Medical Association, about 76 million people get food-related illness in the USA alone, killing on average 5,000 people and hospitalizing another 300,000. There is no information on how many of these were exotic food related.

An article written by Joe Sharkey for The New York Times quotes food safety specialists that recommend when eating while traveling or possibly eating cuisine your body isn’t used to (think critters most people buy pesticides to eradiate from their lives) or meats that are undercooked (aka: not Well Done) you should avoid drinking milk or eating dairies and pass on medications that reduce the acid from the stomach.

Taking medications like Prilosec, Nexium, Aciphex or Prevacid might help with ulcers and gastro esophageal reflux disease, but they might also increase your odds of getting food poisoning since they reduce the stomach acids that are intended to kill and break down anything that finds it's way into your stomach.

Also, when eating overseas the recommendation is to avoid buffets and to wash and peel fruits and cook vegetables before eating them. And of course, wash your hands since there is a good chance you’ve picked up some creepy crawlies of the microscopic variety during your traveling. A tiny bottle of hand sanitizer can spare you a night of a night of cozying up to the nearest available plumbing.

Anyway, whether you’re into exotic dining, just want to enjoy an evening out, or find yourself eating forgien fare during your travels, Bon Appetite.

Oh, and just one more suggestion…

I’d pass on the Blowfish Testicles.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slick Plastic Bondage

It feels great. Actually, it feels amazing. I have to take one more peek, just to make sure it’s real. It is. And I’m thrilled. I’m so proud of myself.

The neat column of zeros stare back at me like blank eyes off my Microsoft Excel spread sheet. I click back to my online banking page and note with satisfaction that the final payments are set up already to execute my final burden of credit debt in the next 14 days. Then the one row glaring out red numbers of credit card bondage that mar a page of otherwise satisfied debtors, will be reduced to impotent, tidy black zero eyes too.

Sweet.

I started 2008 off with seven credit cards; each with a hefty balance on them. A couple cards were completely maxed out. Unchecked spending during marriage, a drastic cut in income after separation and the tumultuous times following a divorce can do that to you.

Today, I paid off my sixth credit card. In two more weeks, I will have paid off all my cards. Given the unpredictable flux in my income over the past year, unexpected expenses, the inevitable holidays, birthdays and special occasions, and the temptation to supplant my actual ‘needs’ with more than the occasional ‘wants’, that’s a bit of a feat.

But then, I started my radical financial changes even before the media and stock markets indicated a needed shift in America’s spending habits. I didn’t have much say in the way the financial end of my co-household was ran pre-singledom, but it’s exclusively my decision now. I’m downright aggressive when I want something. And I want to be debt free, a.s.a.p. Sometimes just throwing money at the problem really IS the answer.

Credit cards are a magical thing. They appear to instantly give you hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of buying power you didn’t have to previously earn.
But that tricky interest rate and the deceptive minimum payments will do a serious hocus-pocus on your future income and lifestyle if you allow your account statements do a disappearing act after receiving them every month.

That’s why I set up bill-pay through my bank that offers on-line banking. No more trying to keep up on current postage. No more bouncing checks or wondering why money miraculously vanished from my account (after forgetting about writing a check). And no more hoping my account balance will be the same as the last time I called or received a statement when I’m planning a grocery shop or a big purchase.

I put all my accounts under a “favorites” category called Bills and created log in accounts with each of them. It was surprisingly easy. It's great to be able to check my bank account from a computer with Internet access anywhere in the country, even if I'm no where near my bank and don't have access to a phone to call them.

I also set up an Excel spreadsheet for keeping track of my credit card balances, and budgeting estimates for all my monthly expenditures (including gasoline, bills, grocery shops, entertainment, etc.) One row shows the average for the year, the one next to it shows how much I owe that month. That way I can see what my overall cost of living is at the end of a year (or season), but I also can compare my income that month to the cost of living for that month.

I created an interactive page set up to automatically adjust for the amount of money I make per month so I can decide which category of “extras” to pay towards when all the bills are covered. For about the last year, I’ve tackled my credit cards with the highest interest rates first, then going after the ones with the lowest balances, until I’ve whittled them down to nada.

I used to avoid the realities of money when I was married and (Mistakenly. Stupidly. Regrettably.) allowed my ex full rein in all money making decisions. But I find now that checking my slowly diminishing credit card balances, adjusting my budget, and queuing up future payments is not only fun, it’s highly addictive.

Seriously.

At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I sometimes check my bank account online and my household budget two or three times a day. My ex, who couldn’t get me near the computer to look at (then) mostly meaningless figures, and my best friend who knows numbers and I have had a tumultuous relationship all my life- would probably be stunned.

It turns out though, that I’m addicted to progress and change. And the progress towards a more financially stable me, and the change in how I view money as a possibility for greatness and not just a means to an end or a source of serious vexation- is nothing short of miraculous. Listen to me. I start talking money and suddenly three syllable words just roll off my tongue. Or fingers.

Plus, I've caught numerous errors that the credit card companies have made; corrected online stores that have over-charged me accidentally and noticed before getting the snail mail indication that my interest rate changed or they had new account policies.

Going from “ruefully na├»ve” to “functionally efficient” has taken about a year. A year of developing massive amounts of self-empowerment that I wouldn’t trade for all plastic in a Tupperware factory.

Anyway, after I hear the glorious words ‘Your balance is zero. There is no payment due at this time,” spoken by the ever efficient sounding automated woman’s voice from seven different customer service financial lenders- (I’m going to call them all just for the sake of fully enjoying a year’s effort reduced to repetitive instant gratification) I plan to celebrate. That woman, whoever she is, has no inkling that her pre-recorded words are for the first time, music to my ears.

A couple ridiculously old student loans from my early college days will take me another month or two to slash to smithereens, but then aside from my house mortgage, I will be 100% debt free.

Oh. Well. That is, after I pay the public library $32.78 in overdue library fees.

What a wonderful reality THAT will be.
Yay for me!

It’s been a long road with more than a few tough obstacles (like my stubbornness) to overcome. Learning to curb certain tendencies (like buying sale items I love in every available color), modifying my budget through the lean times and keeping my resolve during times of a little more excess.

But I’ve been getting excellent advice from incredibly smart and successful people and surrounding myself with moral bolstering literature that promise great things if I but ignore the consumer urge and dig deep for the clever and wealthy person I know I am truly becoming.

I subscribed to Smart Money magazine and Entrepreneur in 2007. I also started reading books about financial freedom, getting out of debt and staying out, and building wealth. The book titles read like a “Who’s who” list of some of the best financial advice books on the market.

“Rich Dad, Poor Dad” – Robert T. Klyosaki
“The Richest Man in Babylon” – George S. Clason
“The Laws of Money”- Suz Orman
“The Automatic Millionaire”- David Bach
“The Power of Less” – Leo Babauta


I have a list of other great books on money to check out, and I’ll share insights about them as I read them. It’s been pretty exciting though, to see my debt melt away. I’m sure I could have done this faster with just a little more self-control, but I recognize that I’m human with a few minor materialistic needs.

Like dropping $260 at Ambercromi & Fitch, $145 at Baker Shoes, and $198 at Barnes and Noble.

Okay. So maybe those *aren’t* in fact needs; but those adorable hoodies, dazzling stilettos and glossy paged books sure wanted to come home with me badly! At least I was excellent about staying away from my guilty pleasure stores most of the time, and being sensible about eating out only when I was making an event of it with people I care about.

And let’s be honest. Any plan ~for anything~ that doesn’t allow a person to enjoy life to some degree AND feel like their efforts are paying off, is never going to work.

Besides, I’ve had a wonderful year of good times and superb memories all while successfully hacking away at years of bad habits manifested in slick plastic bondage. (My credit cards of course!)

So- Watch closely, for after that amazing spectacle of sheer self-restraint, my next trick will be…

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Naked Chicks on Snowboards is NOT Cool


Apparently the latest thing to hit the slopes this year are images of naked playgirls on snowboards.

There are obvious reasons why this is striking a sour note with many. You don’t have to be severely conservative, a religious fanatic or even a puritan to find this offensive, and realize it’s inappropriate for many of the people who may be sharing the slopes. Debating what age a guy is old enough for a parent to not be concerned about their choice of visual aids or recreational habits aside, there is something that I find the most disturbing.

Men of all ages, bundled up in winter sports wear plan to slide and cruise down the chilly slopes, standing on the nearly life-sized image of a naked woman’s body. Male’s boot clad feet will be tromping on the bare boobs, hips and faces of coquettish, pouting- and very naked- women.

Is this just one more way to drive home purported male dominance over the female population? Is it not enough that men congratulate themselves on their superiority over women in the winter athletics play ground? Now they also have to do it tromping around on the bodies of naked women?

What gets me is how this particular new product is called their “Love” line. Are you freakin’ kidding me?? Standing on a naked woman is somehow related to love??

Wow. THAT is seriously frightening!

I understand that men are visual creatures. Many find viewing pictures of naked women’s bodies, uh, pleasing. But at least in the magazines, on posters and in most other visual formats the women are viewed vertically. They’re hung on a wall or in a locker. The guys aren’t tromping on life-sized images. The way that translates into the perception of appropriate treatment of women is shocking.

Fortunately consumers everywhere aren’t taking this lying down. Kudos to the protesters and ski resorts that have banned their employees from using these monstrosities called snowboard.

I am truly amazed that the company founder Jake Burton Carpenter is supposedly “scratching” his head over this. And while his wife Donna Carpenter who heads their company’s “women initiatives program" may concede to this disgraceful abuse of women, I’m disappointed that she concluded it’s "tongue-in-check and harmless”.

Oh really?

Well would anyone really have the same confusion about blatant sexual exploitation if say a female owned bowling pin company put pictures of naked men on a new line of bowling pins so all-women leagues can fling bowling balls at them?

Calling THAT their “Love” line would be just as fitting!

Or maybe women’s hair salons could retile their floors with pictures of naked men, so women every where could enjoy the satisfactory experience of walking with high hills all over the faces and private parts of young, sexy naked male models.

I challenge Donna Carpenter’s husband to consider THAT “tongue-in-cheek and harmless.”


To read the msnbc.com article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28518878/