Thursday, October 03, 2013

Letter to Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) Kansas

October 3, 2013
Representative Lynn Jenkins
1027 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Jenkins:

We moved to Kansas late last year. Apparently you “represent” us. So far, we don’t believe you have done one thing that has represented what we believe is in the best interest of Kansas or of the United States.
Your support of the government shutdown is the latest insult. We implore you to urge Speaker Boehner to bring a clean funding bill to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. This will immediately end the shutdown, which is harming the livelihoods of almost two million federal workers, leaving preschool children at home rather than in vital Head Start programs, and, most importantly, jeopardizing the security of our nation and its citizens. Many other programs have been shut down, and we know you are well aware of the harm this is doing to your constituents.
Seventy-two percent of Americans and 49 percent of Republicans believe the shutdown is wrong for this country, according to a new CBS News poll. Clearly, reasonable Americans want Republicans to end the shutdown now.

We support the Affordable Care Act. Understanding that you have always opposed Obamacare, we ask you to please accept the fact that Republicans have lost on this issue. The ACA was voted into law through regular order, signed by the president, deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, and affirmed by the American citizens, who overwhelmingly reelected President Obama. Enthusiasm for Obamacare, since people have been able to sign up for it, has been very high. We are thrilled at its successes.
Rather than believing that Obamacare is a government takeover of healthcare and puts big government between doctors and patients, a large number of citizens, including us, believe that Obamacare will give wider access to healthcare and ultimately lower medical costs by bringing young, healthy people into the system.
The ACA is the law of the land. You and conservative Republicans cannot alter that fact. You cannot will it to be defunded. You need the votes to do that and you do not have them.
We have heard you claim to be a “No-Labels Problem Solver.” However, all we have seen is that you have been front and center among representatives who cause problems, rather than solve them. The problems include the sequester and the government shutdown. You also appear to be among those who believe that the United States doesn’t have to pay its bills, at least if a minority of representatives’ demands are not met. All of this amounts to more than just a problem; it amounts to anarchy. If you are a problem solver, you have the responsibility to fund the government and pay the debts of the United States. To further at least one of these goals, we encourage you to help convince Speaker Boehner to bring a clean funding bill to a vote.
Thank you for your time,

Laura and Andrew McGowan

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rah Rah Rah College Hill Old House Magazine online has designated my little neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas, adjacent to Washburn University, one of the "Best Old House Neighborhoods 2013" for the midwest region. 

Quite an honor for this humble place in a humble city in a state that is often misunderstood.

The magazine's write-up mentions that the standard joke about Topeka is "how boring is it"?

Well that's just silly. How boring is any midwestern city? Topeka ranks right in the middle, I'd say. We have live theater, a good university with a wonderful art museum and amazing classical music festival, a state capitol with all sorts of interesting protests and events, a large farmers market, rainbow-colored Equality House across the street from Fred Phelps' anti-gay compound, and, in the heart of the city, an Expo Center that hosts dog shows, horse shows, garden shows, and a fabulous annual library book sale. We have our random violence and our random wonderfulness. We have amazing architecture, Topeka High School or the State Capitol, for example.

In all, it turns out to be a pretty interesting place. If you live here you should definitely subscribe to the print version of the Topeka Capital Journal. It isn't comprehensive but it does open up views into the city. And the carriers throw the paper near the sidewalk, so you (or your dog) get some exercise retrieving it each morning. The paper highlights what a "small town" Topeka really is. Four days ago a family with special needs lost their house in a fire. For the past three days the paper has highlighted things that they need to help get their life back together. The community seems to be pitching in.

As for the the College Hill neighborhood, the article mentions that professors, law students, and young families taking advantage of the affordable housing prices, populate the neighborhood. True. But many other people live here. 

I live next door to a retired widower who lives alone with his cute little dog. On the other side is a grandmother who balances taking care of her grandchildren with her job as remedial education teacher. Across the street is a family with lots of active children. Next door to them a retired couple. Across the street from them is a woman who is caring for an extended family.

Down the street, a law student who has stayed and is now a lawyer. Across the street from him, a family who attended the university and had children in the meantime. They are moving out and the house (a rental) will soon be up for sale. Next door to them a similar house, an American Four Square, was recently purchased by a young family. 

People in this neighborhood love dogs. I estimate that one dog lives in College Hill for about every two people.

At Boswell Park, across the street from my house, dogs rule. They love its big open field. "Frisbee Dog" comes every afternoon and amazes the children on the adjacent swings with his acrobatic catches. 

Throughout the day, many dogs, small and large, get to run in the big field, which unfortunately is not completely fenced in. The well-mannered dog owners generally heed the signs to "pick up after your dog" and never interfere with baseball or soccer practice or a karate dojo. 

I estimate that for every five or six well-maintained College Hill properties, a blighted house exists. I define a blighted house as one with seriously overgrown weeds or trees (such as trees of heaven or mulberry seedlings sprouting up in the yard and next to the foundation), inoperable, unlicensed vehicles sinking into the ground on the property, or trash and other inappropriate items, such as an old sink or deteriorated upholstered furniture in the yard or on the porch.

Kansas is not quite the boring place that postcards and cliches might lead you to believe.

If you like to observe migrating birds and butterflies Kansas lies right in a major avenue.  Also, many wonderful birds make Kansas their year-round home.

The University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Washburn University all make their home here, and their influence reverberates far beyond the state's boundaries.

Just as Kansas is more interesting than most people realize, the architecture of College Hill is also more diverse than the This Old House write-up mentions. Yes, we have our share of lovely bungalows and airplane bungalows, but stately American Four Squares are numerous, as are Georgians, cottages, and other structures of quite unique character. For more information about the architecture of College Hill, visit the College Hill Topeka Historical Site.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

taco salad

One of my favorite lunches is a healthy taco salad that goes together quickly.

  • White corn tortilla chips (I make my own)
  • No-fat refried beans, seasoned to taste (I like chili powder, cumin, and taco seasoning)
  • 1 100-calorie package guacamole
  • 2 cups of greens (lettuce, kale, or spinach)
  • 1 small ripe tomato
I have a tray designed to make potato chips in the microwave. (It allows you to enjoy oil free chips that are just as crispy as the grocery store ones.) I use this to crisp up white corn tortillas. I have a tiny microwave so each one takes about 2  minutes.

While the chips are crisping up, I mix up some spicy refried beans. After reading all the labels in the Mexican food aisle, I can usually find refried beans with no added oil. I love the texture of the La Preferida black beans.

I scoop out enough for my salad -- about 1/2 cup -- and stir in chili powder, cumin and packaged taco seasoning. This gets microwaved for about 30 seconds. While cooking more chips, I chop up a couple handfuls of greens -- Romaine, kale, and spinach -- with a nice juicy tomato.

Guacamole comes in handy individual serving packs -- so I can always have some of this delicious stuff fresh and ready for my salad.

To construct the salad, I put the greens and tomato on a plate and surround them with crispy tortilla chips. I add the beans and guacamole and enjoy a delicious lunch.

Monday, June 10, 2013

my sayings

I'm an optimist. I always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge.

Just because the phone rings doesn't mean you have to answer it.

"Just remember there'll be days like this." — from Van Morrison's song "Days Like This."

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Porch curtains in windy Kansas

Well every week I try to do several things around the house to make it more to my liking. Our upstairs sunroom is yellow and had some heavy cotton green-striped curtains in it. Not a look I am partial to. But, I realized the green in the curtains would look nice against the house green, so I followed an idea I had found online and hung the curtains around the front porch. I realize the picture I saw, however, was probably not from a house in always-windy Kansas, so we'll see how these hold up. We even added a flag for Memorial Day!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Let's create a national "Write-a-Letter Day."

I recently posted a petition on encouraging the administration to establish a national "Write-a-Letter Day."

I hope you'll consider signing it and passing this on.

I am shocked that so many young people no longer know how to create and mail a handwritten correspondence. I believe the Post Office is a great institution that should be preserved. "Write-a-Letter Day" is meant to promote personal connections through handwritten correspondence and help the P.O. by increasing the number of first-class mailings.

You can view and sign the petition here:

Here's some more information about this petition: Create "Write a Letter Day." Teach youngsters to write and address a letter. Promote stamps and save the Post Office. The Post Office, one of our national treasures, is losing money due to declining first-class letter mailings. Many young people today have never written a letter by hand and do not know how to properly address an envelope. Our Post Office designs and prints many beautiful and meaningful stamps each year. Postal employees often offer amazing customer service. For these reasons, we should declare a national "Write-a-Letter Day." It should be sometime during the school year so teachers could incorporate it into their curriculum when appropriate. The tradition of handwritten cards and letters is quickly fading. This day would support the P.O. and this great tradition. It would encourage people to buy stamps and visit their local P.O. And it would promote connections with friends or relatives.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Concealed Carry in Kansas and US Gun Laws - Disturbing

I'm a recent Kansas transplant and admit to a bit of culture shock.

Yesterday I went to one of Topeka's prominent greenhouses. The place was overflowing with beautiful perennials, annuals, and veggies. Too many to choose from really. Out front you can get a bale of straw or a whimsical garden ornament made out of old tools and scrap metals. I browsed the plants for a long time and found some beautiful specimens. I then found the lush racks of seeds and picked out several packets. I was enjoying my experience but when I stepped up to the counter to pay I was confronted. Behind the counter they displayed several large metal yard ornaments. One was about 5 feet in length, with pistols jauntily adorning each end. The letters connecting these emblems spelled a chilling message: "We don't call 911."

I had reason today to visit the Shawnee County Sheriff's website. I noticed a pdf download of a no-gun sign. (It's an image of pistol with the familiar circular red strike-through placed over it.) Instinctively, I printed it out. I thought, I'll make one for my car, post it on my front door, and maybe even get a t-shirt made. Then, I thought, "Wait, this is Kansas. That might not be a good idea."

Kelly Ayotte, seemingly mild-mannered Republican senator from New Hampshire, recently held a town hall. A daughter of one of the teachers massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School confronted her about her recent vote against the bill that would create universal background checks for gun purchases. Ayotte had a stumbling response. The daughter defiantly walked out and deliberately turned her back on the senator.

Ayotte should have just said: "I need NRA support to win reelection. I would be primaried by Tea Party candidates if I voted against this bill. I had no choice. Surely you understand."

No, Senator Ayotte and all you other weak-kneed senators. We do not understand. Strengthen your spines. Stand up straight for what is right.

Not only do we need universal background checks, and you know it, we also need to confiscate all military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. These instruments of massacre have no place in civil society and are not needed for self defense. Police officers don't even carry them.

Elected officials need to grow up and stand up for what is right. If the NRA abandons you the American people will be there to prop you up.
Video of the Ayotte town hall:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Salt Sugar Fat" by Michael Moss is the first step

Michael Moss, in his book Salt Sugar Fat, exposes how the food industry has sucked us in with these three "bliss" ingredients. They have extensive scientific data that lets them manipulate us in unbelievable ways.

I haven't yet to read the book, but the interviews I have heard are very convincing. We all need to be better consumers. We need to read labels. We need to enter our supermarkets ready to do battle. We can look for the more nutritious products at the top and bottom shelves and not be sucked in by the salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden products at eye level.

But in these interviews Moss doesn't address a point I feel strongly about: we must also realize that the meat and dairy industries are also doing us in. They have convinced us that 1) if we don't eat meat we won't get enough protein and 2) if we don't eat dairy we will lack calcium. The truth is that these products are unhealthy and contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and, probably, cancer. They contain much more fat than is healthy for any human being. Cost-effective production means torturing the animals by keeping them in confined spaces and pumping them full of antibiotics and hormones that we then ingest.

What happens to them once they are transported to and reach the slaughterhouse is beyond civil discussion. The accounts I have read describe hideous, sadistic torture. I can't imagine that most workers in these slaughterhouses would abuse animals, but apparently some do and their actions have drawn attention to a crisis. If we continue to consume chicken, beef, and pork, we are condoning torture.

I have recently tried to eat a diet that is meat and dairy free, and I try to avoid any added oils. Proponents of this type of diet prefer the term "plant based."

This makes eating out rather difficult, so we prepare many home-made meals of beans and rice, with added veggies.

I have learned to love kale, collard greens, chard, and rapini. I came to love broccoli and spinach years ago. Potatoes are one of my favorite foods.

We usually just chop the greens up and eat them in salad. Husband Andy can just douse them in vinegar and be happy. I am still loving ranch dressing, which is an aberration for this diet, I know. Oh well! I figure if I eat lots of vitamin- and mineral-rich greens in the process I am doing good things. Potatoes can be cooked a thousand different ways. One of my favorites is to take cooked whole potatoes and slice them into "steak fry" sized pieces. I heat the oven and my baking stone to about 450, while I sprinkle the potatoes with seasoning. My favorite is garlic pepper. Chilli powder is also good. Once the stone is good and hot I put the fries on and cook till they are crispy brown. Delicious with a nice black bean burger!

We have also purchased Calphalon non-stick pans that let us sautee veggies without adding any oil. It works. Every chef will tell you to add oil but they are wrong. You can make delicious dishes without adding oil. Follow the recipe, use a non-stick pan, and skip the oil. If things get "sticky" keep some water or vegetable broth on stand by. Add as needed. You'll be fine.