Friday, August 31, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 5

This is the final installment of challenge no. 4. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here

Here they are. My final two procedural reforms that will "help move Congress and the executive office back to being a government of the people and for the people." The next and final step in this challenge is to print and distribute these ten reforms, which I am TOTALLY looking forward to since New Yorkers are always kind and receptive to people handing them things on the street.

Ready? Let's do this.


Advertising is evil, amiright? Ok, so the advertising I do isn't evil (although I do feel slightly guilty for touting Velveeta as food), but political advertising is on another level. I recently read this article, and henceforth everything in italics is a direct lift from it. These ads are supposed to sway public opinion. But these aren’t actually opinions being targeted — they’re emotions. Most Americans have less of an opinion when it comes to politics and more of a visceral reaction to issues. 

But doesn't banning political advertising violate the right of free speech?

First off, television is not an unregulated utopia of free speech. Television, like it or not, doesn’t allow everything to be broadcast. There are standards on television. Our mores may have changed over time, but generally we’re still okay with decency standards for television. Speaking is speech. Broadcast is regulated. We don’t allow tobacco companies, for example, to advertise on television. Why? Because their products are poisonous and harmful to our citizenry.

It would be one thing if these political ads were 100% fact-checked and transparent. But they're not. And it’s worth noting that 99% of Americans have televisions in their homes. It’s still the broadest, most viewed medium we have. Which is why candidates and advocates for candidates invest billions into blanketing it. Yes, BILLIONS. Around $10 billion to be exact. I can think of a billion better uses for that money.

And there’s no better example of where to start hysteria than in 30-second fear and loathing campaign spots. Does this elevate political discourse? Civic engagement? Sound policy? Hardly. These ads are doing what tobacco does: producing a carcinogenic cloud.


The majority of our representatives (you know, those who are supposed to be representing the American people) are lawyers and businessmen. What they actually "represent" is a very small percentage of our population, in terms of their day-to-day life experience and salary bucket. They've become insulated and out of touch with the American people. Some argue that the current era of political careerism and unlimited congressional incumbency are largely to blame for government ineffectiveness and people's dissatisfaction with Washington.

I think that if our representatives are to more accurately represent the population, we need to stop electing the same type of person over and over and over. Stop choosing politicians to be our politicians.

This idea is the definition of the phrase "easier said than done," but if we may allow ourselves to think big for a second and imagine a congress filled with teachers, doctors, small business owners, writers, chefs, and scientists. Yeah, it would probably be a shit-show. But a fairer shit-show.

Congratulations! You made it through all ten government procedural reforms.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No, Really! Soup!

I was a bit nervous when I saw that the title of this soup was "It's Really Soup!", partly because of the infuriating use of an exclamation point but mostly because it does that equally infuriating thing that raw vegan recipes do -- try to cover up the fact that you're eating something raw vegan.

This recipe comes from the only raw food book I own, clearly purchased because of the rave review from Vegetarian Journal:

Despite all of this, onward I went with a basket full of fresh produce. And I have to admit - this was hearty and tasty. Provided a lovely lunch today for challenge no. 20 (make and bring your lunch two out of five days per week).

Once again I forgot to snap a picture, but just imagine the vegetable section of any grocery store and it pretty much looked the same. Just in a bowl. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Water Challenge

Per challenge no. 19, I've rowed across a lake (Central Park), flown across an ocean (Atlantic), waded across a stream (actually did this late last year in Tennessee). Now I have swam (swum?) across a pool, officially completed this past weekend in Charleston, SC:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Peacock for the Win

It only took me nine months, but I have officially sold one of my photos (via Etsy).

Slow clap.

A 16x20 Mr. Creep E. Cock (the creepy peacock) will now hang on someone's wall for all eternity.

And with that, I delightfully cross challenge no. 18 off. the. list.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Nine Months In: Progress Report

75% done. Days are flying by like minutes. Weeks like hours. Months like days. Let's see how I'm doing:

The challenges in blue are the ones I'm actively working on. The challenges in green are the ones that are completed. The challenges in purple are the ones that I haven't started but are "in the works" or being planned out.
  1. Do yoga three days a week.
  2. Give a stranger $100. Film it and post it on YouTube.
  3. Eat 29 cupcakes in 29 days and write a review of each. 
  4. Research and identify 10 procedural reforms that would help move congress and the executive office back to being a government of the people and for the people. Print these 10 reforms on handout cards and distribute to anyone and everyone you know. Post them on your Facebook page and website. 
  5. Travel overseas, ride trains only, and put together a collection of photos titled "Window Seat."
  6. Sit in silence and stillness each morning for 15 minutes before you start your day.
  7. Write and direct your own short film and submit it to a film festival.
  8. Spend one night in a women's shelter, make a connection and offer to take family portraits.
  9. Make and bottle your own wine. Save it for a future birthday.
  10. Lie down on your back in a NYC street and pretend to be a dead bug. 
  11. Write a sad story about a girl who gets the things she always wanted -- on your typewriter.  
  12. Make a conceptual photo series, preferably a book. 
  13. Your 27th and 28th years were characterized by massive life changes that included a move and job change; my challenge is make one more life change. I'm not going to define it, but some suggestions would be: take another step with Austin, get a friend for Dagmar, get involved with something you care about in an incredibly inconvenient capacity.
  14. Take flying lessons.
  15. Do 200 crunches and three 1-minute planks every other day. And assist your scared, almost-grad cousin in finding a job in Atlanta. 
  16. End every day by writing down one positive thing that happened in the previous 24 hours.
  17. Learn how to perform an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.
  18. Get a photo (or photos) into a gallery/showing AND/OR sell one of your photos.
  19. A year-long water challenge: Drink 1 liter of water per day, wade across a stream, swim across a pool, row across a lake or pond, and fly across an ocean.
  20. Make and bring your lunch 2 out of 5 days a week.
  21. Manifest yourself in an act of humanitarianism that permanently and positively enriches the life of a child. The act may not be accomplished with direct financial, but must involve sacrifice of your time and attention.
  22. Research your Jewish heritage going back at least four generations. 
  23. Pay one compliment to a different person every day.
  24. Raise a basil plant and name it Kyle.
  25. Take an art class and create an original painting.
  26. Keep a Smash Book (scrapbook) for the year.
  27. Write words (the grouping of letters that hints of story and promise), even if it's only one line or thought or idea, in a momentary embrace of lapse of reason, everyday, and incorporate these words into a future novel.
  28. Learn to sew, design an outfit, make it, do a self-portrait in it.
  29. Attend 10 religious services. Record your impression of each.  
  30. Write the first chapter of your first novel and the outline. Submit to a publisher.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Short Progress

With the help of Sara from The Sewing Studio NYC, I am very close to a pair of shorts (challenge no. 28). Shorts! I've almost made shorts! They have pockets and a place for each leg and a crotch and everything! Here is photographic proof of my sewing progress:

A work station at the Sewing Studio.

Me, doing very important/difficult sewing-relating things.

Two panels that will eventually have the honor of covering my butt.

And...shorts! Almost. 

 Successful crotch.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Go Turds!

Some Smash Book tomfoolery (challenge no. 26):

Inside-joke illustration done by our other intern, Mika. Sloth vs. manatee.

Random postcard found while our office was moving.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Little Help

Going from sewing curtains and throws (which require nothing more than sewing the ends so they're not ragged edges) to making a pair of tailored shorts somehow, in my tiny human brain, seemed a hundred percent possible. Then I realized that I am still a complete amateur and raised an angry fist in the air at my inability to instantly be awesome at something.

I am enlisting the help of The Sewing Studio in NYC ( via a private lesson. Details to come, but I feel this is the best way to make my outfit vision a reality (challenge no. 28).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Liquid Lunch

This protein stuff + one banana + ice + water = challenge no. 20 (barely).

Challenge no. 20 is to make and bring my own lunch two out of five days per week.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 4

This is a continuation of challenge no. 4. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Continuing on, my next two procedural reforms that will "help move Congress and the executive office back to being a government of the people and for the people" are related to government spending. I don't know if you guys know this, but our nation is, like, sooo in debt. My calculator doesn't even go that high. It's pretty disturbing. So, here are reforms #7 and #8 out of ten, reforms that could potentially keep our country's representatives from acting like a bunch of teenage girls at the mall with their parents' credit card:


The most basic responsibility Congress has is deciding how much money the government takes in and how much it spends (and no one can argue that our spending and debt is spiraling out of control). Congress has passed its spending bills on time only four times since 1952. In the last 14 years, annual spending bills have been submitted an average of four months late.

The upshot is more wasteful and inefficient government. When Congress fails to pass spending bills on time, it relies on temporary spending measures called continuing resolutions – which provide the money federal agencies need to operate based roughly on what they spent the previous year. What continuing resolutions don't provide is any chance for Congress to debate the most fundamental question of all: Why are we spending this money?

Congress spends first and asks question later when it should instead be spending only after figuring out what goals it's trying to achieve. Meanwhile, Congress' constant stop-and-go budgeting creates havoc for government agencies, and the citizens who depend on them.

What if you had to decide whether to buy a new car or go on vacation without having any idea what your salary was or even how much money you had? That would be almost impossible. But this is the situation facing federal agencies that often don't know how much money they're getting or when it's coming. This uncertainty has severe consequences. Congress' failure to pass a timely budget in early 2011 led to the Federal Aviation Administration delaying hiring of new air traffic controllers as well as the National Institutes of Health postponing grants for cutting-edge medical research.

The reform solution: If Congress can't make spending and budget decisions on time, they shouldn't get paid on time either. Every government fiscal year begins October 1. If the congressional appropriations (spending) process is not completed by that date, congressional pay ceases as of October 1, and isn't restored until appropriations are completed. This is the only No Labels solution that requires a new law, which could be passed in 2012, and would take effect when the new Congress is seated in 2013.


Non-defense discretionary spending has expanded 21 percent faster than inflation over the past THREE years. Returning to 2008 levels still leaves typical programs nearly one-third larger than they were in 2000 (adjusted for inflation). Freezing this spending at 2008 levels through 2015 and then capping subsequent growth at the inflation rate would save more than $2 TRILLION in the first decade and even more thereafter.

Many of these savings are achieved by reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy, overhauling the federal pay system, permanently eliminating many earmarked accounts, and consolidating duplicate functions. Yet not all programs are affected equally. For example, Coast Guard and other important security spending, such as subsidies to public broadcasting, AmeriCorps, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is left to the private sector. 

Today's reward for reading this far:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Club

I have nothing to blog about today, so here is a list of other people and things that are 30 this year:

 Jessica Biel

Seth Rogan

 That chick from Mad Men (a copywriter!)

Anne Hathaway

Bearded Prince William

The CD player (and CDs, I'm assuming)

The Weather Channel



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

And The Winner Is

I have ordered the wine labels for my blackberry wine (challenge no. 9) and patiently await the end of fermentation. Thank you to Abby for naming my wine (she took the letters of my name and rearranged them to form something that hints at both writing and wine sipping, which I thought was genius). As long as it's drinkable, you'll be receiving a bottle. If the whole batch goes bust, I will try again.

The runner up was TIPSY CHIGGER (thank you Uncle Richard; I had a difficult time choosing). When I attempt to make blueberry wine, this name will have its day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 3

This is a continuation of challenge no. 4. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here.

I won't start this off with a bunch of jibber-jabber because trying to make politics interesting is like trying to make Dagmar look dangerous. So let's get on with my next two procedural reforms that will "help move Congress and the executive office back to being a government of the people and for the people" (challenge no. 4): 


Perhaps the chief obstacle to fixing America's finances is that no one agrees what's really on our balance sheet. When leaders in Washington debate our budget, they routinely use different baselines, projections and assumptions, which often conveniently support whatever policy they are pushing at the moment. To quote an old Scottish writer, many Washington leaders "use statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts - for support rather than for illumination."

The American people deserve to know what's really happening with our nation's finances, and we believe Congress should at least be able to work off the same set of numbers. That's why every year, a nonpartisan leader, such as the comptroller general, should deliver a televised fiscal update in-person to a joint session of Congress. The president, vice president, all cabinet members, senators and congressmen must attend this fiscal update session and take individual responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the comptroller general's report by signing the report, just as CEOs are required to affirm the accuracy of their company's financial reporting.


In January 2010, President Obama attended a House Republican retreat to publicly debate the merits of the president's proposed healthcare law. For a few hours at least, the American public got to see our leaders engage and truly debate with one another.

We haven't seen anything like it since. Today the president and members of Congress can more often be found talking past one another through the media. The issues facing our country are too important to be decided by a war of partisan talking points. Let's get the ideas on the table, debate them and let the American people decide.

We should take a cue from the British Parliament's regular questioning of the prime minister to create question time for the president and Congress. These meetings occasionally may be contentious, but at least they force leaders to actually debate one another and defend their ideas. Here's how it would work: on a rotating basis the House and Senate would issue monthly invitations to the president to appear in the respective chamber for questions and discussion. Each question period would last for 90 minutes and would be televised. The majority and minority would alternate questions. The president could, at his discretion, bring one or more cabinet members to the question period and refer specific questions to them.

Reforms #7 and #8 will make their debut next week. I know! You can't hardly stand to wait that long! My apologies. Here, have another puppy:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book of Mormon

Yesterday I attended my ninth religious service (only one more to go!) for challenge no. 29. This time I paid a visit to the Mormons at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Harlem.

I'm going to let this Wikipedia article do the heavy lifting of explaining Mormonism, if you're interested or in some sort of emergency boredom situation.

And by the way, because I know you're curious, it was EXACTLY like the Book of Mormon on Broadway. Except there were no dance numbers, no references to Africa (or Orlando), no laughing, no plot twists, and no complete and utter disregard for the sacredness of the religion. Also I wasn't mildly drunk.

After tossing my coffee in the trash a block away from the church, I showed up at 1:00 for the YSA or "Young Single Adult" service (a friend from work attends, so I opted to join her). The structure of the service was pretty expected: hymn, invocation, sacrament, hymn, speakers, hymn.

Instead of some sort of preacher, there were three "speakers" (a young woman, a young man, and an older gentleman who serves on the High Council) who addressed the attendees on the day's topic: the importance of family. Appropriate topic, as most of the young brothers and sisters listening were probably dating or thinking of dating and having to come to terms with a lot of the Mormon rules when it comes to dating or thinking of dating.

Each speech was very personal. They spoke of their backgrounds, relayed childhood anecdotes, and cried. The third speaker gave the most sermon-esque address, telling the young and single members of the church that it is their duty as Mormons to uphold the family as the foundation and core of the church. Go find a mate, create Mormon babies, and pray together as a family. Oh, and engage in wholesome activities, like camping. This will keep the Mormon religion alive and thriving.

Mild sarcasm aside, I did take some very positive messages away from the experience:

The third speaker (who, by the way, had a very interesting story of being born in a hippie commune and then adopted by Mormons) asked, "Think of your happiest memory. Were you with family?" I realized that most of my happiest times have indeed involved family.

Then he said, "If you love someone, tell them frequently and sincerely that you love them."

I left dripping with gratefulness that I have such an amazing family (and future family). Seriously, they are incredible. So to my family (yes, even you McBrides): I love you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Whine, No Wine

May this be a lesson in reading the directions all the way through before you do something. 

I thought the third step in making blackberry wine (challenge no. 9) would be to bottle it and do an achievement jig. But I have to wait a bit longer until it stops fermenting for a second time.

Here is what I did last night:

1. Siphon out the wine from the jug into a spare pot or jar. Clean out the sediment from the jug and sanitize it. Put the wine back in the jug.

2. Add 1 3/4 cups of sugar to a pint of boiling water and let it dissolve. Let it cool to room temperature.

3. Add the cooled simple syrup to the jar, reattach the airlock and wait until it stops bubbling.

It was still bubbling this morning, but hopefully we are just days away from this:


In the meantime, I'm still hunting for a name for my wine. Feel free to submit your suggestions. Whoever comes up with the winning name will receive a bottle of my first batch, whether it tastes like s**t or not.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recipe Resources

While I wait for some equipment to sanitize in preparation for tonight's bottling and corking of my blackberry wine (challenge no. 9)...

...I thought I'd share a few websites that I frequent for lunch recipes (challenge no. 20):

Despite the name, not all of the recipes are raw. But they're consistently creative, well-balanced, and tasty. Also my go-to resource for smoothies.

I like this one because it provides all of the nutritional information, and it has a pretty good search feature. Plus the recipes are reliably delicious.

This site belongs to a friend from college, so I see her posts via Facebook regularly. She is big on working out, so her recipes support that kind of lifestyle.

Side note (just because I get this question a lot): I'm not vegan. I'm not raw vegan. I'm not anything. I eat what I like and what makes me feel good (good being more energized and "cleaner"). Most of the time it ends up being vegan or raw. So there. Stop freaking out if you see me eat an effing cupcake.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hump Day Smash

Just a few details from some recent Smash Book entries (challenge no. 26):

 Wise words, which I painstakingly cut out for no reason whatsoever. 

 An in-progress sketch by my intern, Devon. Yes, I am ordering my intern to help me with my challenges. And yes, that is a crowd of cats cheering us on.

Someone got pulled over by the NYPD while riding her bike. Someone has to pay $90. Someone shouldn't copy what other bikers do. I can't tell you who this someone is, but her name rhymes with Oh-Well Dots.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Government Procedural Reforms: Part 2

This is a continuation of challenge no. 4. Part 1 can be found here.

My next two procedural reforms are inspired by a recent exciting find, a year-and-a-half-old group who calls itself No Labels. It all started with a speech I read somewhere deep inside the Internet (read the whole speech here), given by one of the founders of that group, William Galston, at the hearing on "Raising the bar for Congress: Reform Proposals for the 21st Century" in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

In that speech, Will got my attention quickly, by saying poignant things such as, "Our mission can be stated in a single sentence: we want to help move our country from the old politics of point-scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving," AND, "In our view, our elected representatives are public-spirited individuals trapped in an increasingly obsolete and dysfunctional system of congressional rules and procedures designed for a very different era. The correct response, No Labels believes, is to fix the system."

Ambitious, yes. I may know nothing about this man or this group (and who knows, they very well might be evil and proposing preposterous things) but initially I am on board with what they believe the problem is. So I dig further. Following the path of political crumbs led me to a booklet called "Make Congress Work," which outlines a very easy to understand 12-point plan.

Out of this comes my next two procedural reforms:


"Flip on cable news and it quickly becomes clear that Democrats and Republicans in Congress don't like each other. Even more troubling is that they barely even know one another. After the Super Committee failed last November, another Republican member said he couldn't have picked one of his Democratic colleagues 'out of a lineup' before the negotiation process started. Although partisanship has always been and always will be a part of Congress, there was a time when members actually made an effort to build relationships with people from the other party. Today, they're more likely to glare at each other from the comfort of their partisan bunkers. It's easy to demonize and hard to compromise with someone you barely know."

This reform is simple: bring members of each party together, socially.

"Like any workplace, Congress depends on good human relationships to function. When there are no relationships, there's dysfunction. To get members talking to one another, both the House and Senate should institute monthly bipartisan gatherings. The gatherings would be off the record and not be televised. If both sides agreed, outside experts could be invited in to brief members on topics of concern."


"A not-so-hidden secret about Congress is that much of the legislation it considers is designed to embarrass the other party or score political points. Legislation can be considered by the full House or Senate only if it's first sent there by leadership or committee chairs, who often see political benefit in keeping Democrats and Republicans at one another's throats. One member says flatly, 'The leaders [of Congress] often don't want us to work together.' Meanwhile, legislation that is supported by a sensible bipartisan majority often dies in a leader's office or in committee.

We need to democratize decision-making in Congress to break the gridlock. If a bipartisan majority wants to get something done, they shouldn't be held back by party leaders who prefer to organize Congress into warring clans. That's why the House should allow members to anonymously sign discharge petitions, which allow a majority of members to override a leader or committee chair's refusal to bring a bill to the floor. Once a majority of members have signed, the names of the signers would be made public. Under current rules, discharge petitions are allowed, but signers are made public from the start. Members are reluctant to buck party leaders who may retaliate by pulling members off of important committees, bottling up legislation they support or withholding critical campaign help. Our reform would allow members to sign a discharge petition knowing at least half their colleagues are in the same boat with them. A similar reform could be undertaken in the Senate."

Reforms #5 and #6 will be posted next Monday. And since maybe 2% of you have actually read to this point, you get a reward:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Style Inspiration

Structured shorts. A casual, draped top. Below are some of my inspiration photos for the outfit that I will be putting together as soon as I figure out exactly how (challenge no. 28). I already have my fabric:

Now it's just a matter of sewing it, and more importantly, sewing it correctly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tea Kettles: For Winners Only

One of the most vital pieces of a Japanese tea ceremony (challenge no. 17) is the kettle that heats the water for the tea, or a "tea kettle" for those of us in the know. When you think of a tea kettle, you probably think of something with a handle and a spout. However, for a tea ceremony of the traditional Japanese awesome style, I needed a kettle without these things, one with just a lid on the top.

My shopping options were quickly limited to eBay, where I learned that these things cost a small fortune. And if the kettle didn't cost a fortune, the shipping was half my monthly salary.

THEN I came across this beauty, with a low bid and just a few days left on the auction block, a shipping cost of only $17 to boot:

I sleepily won the auction (because I'm a winner) at 1:15 a.m. last night, quite happy with my purchase and knowing that I got a great deal.

Oh, and it will arrive in just a few short MONTHS.


I'll have to wait until September to do my ceremony, which at least gives me enough time to collect the rest of the essentials: A kimono, a brazier, a square silk cloth known as Fukusa, and all of my decorative items for the ceremony (aesthetics are a big part and change seasonally).

If anyone has a Japanese scroll or a kimono I can borrow, let me know. I will let you borrow something of mine in return. Not Dagmar.