This is merely my opinion, and everyone has to decide this issue for themselves. Many are outraged about having to pay taxes in the United States, but it is no secret that the tax code favors the wealthiest citizens of our country, whereas the IRS has recently implemented electronic systems that will primarily monitor the activities of many lower income workers who do not have sophisticated knowledge of the tax code.
Taxes are not any fun to pay, and sure we would all love to have more money for stuff we want, but as a civilized society it would be next to impossible to function. We have public roads, school, and transportation systems, and these will continue to be heavily funded by the public. Rather than over taxing the less wealthy Americans, it would be more conducive to tax those who can afford to pay more of their fair share. Does that sound left leaning to you? Well it is, and if you can afford to buy a yacht, then you are in a better position than many families in this country who can barely afford to buy a loaf of bread for their families.
Recently, there has been a great deal of outrage on the conservative side of the aisle regarding the perceived biased the IRS has towards Tea Party organizations applying for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status, but that is not even really the major crux of the problem.
With all the talk of cutting social security and medicare in this country, why are we even giving political organizations, or religious organizations for that matter, tax exempt status? These groups are usually composed of people who have extra funds to operate these organizations, and why do they get a special benefit over other citizens of our country? Many of us are not members of a particular political organization or religious group, and it has always been unfair that these groups are considered tax exempt because they are considered charitable, even if the amount of charity they are conducting may vary. Also, why does charity always have to be a tax exempt activity? If it is a truly charitable cause that is helping many this makes sense, but whatever happened to doing something out of the kindness or your heart? Does everything have to be monetarily rewarded?
If a political and or a religious organization is doing something useful for the community, such as running a school, hospital, or soup kitchen, then I could see giving special tax exempt status to these groups. However, there are many tax exempt organizations that could do more to give back to the community. I think we need to be a little bit more strict about how we give out tax exempt status to any group that just applies for it. Was the former IRS director biased by being skeptical of Tea Party groups applying for 501(c)(4) status? I think he was right to be skeptical, but perhaps should have made his approach a bit more comprehensive.
Yes there is a need for certain 501(c)'s to get this status, but do all deserve it? What about organizations that are not as doing as much for the community as they could. If an organization does achieve 501(c), then what transparency is put in place so that we the people can view the charitable contributions a group is making to the community?
The word charity evokes thoughts of helping others, but even when an organization has the best intentions at heart, the way they disperse their funds might not be the best. I remember years ago being a teacher at an isolated low income school where one charitable group donated school supplies to all the students just because the school was low income. This was a nice gesture, but a few of the teachers felt this approach was not the best because some of the kids who obtained a box of free school supplies already had these, and some even vandalized the free dictionaries and tore these apart. There were pages of dictionaries strewn along the sidewalk at the end of the school day, and this was quite disheartening to see. The feeling among some of the teachers was it might have been preferable if the money had been used to help some of the truly needy students rather than just giving all free supplies. This is one of the few examples I have seen where a charitable contribution did not go as plan, but it does bring certain questions to mind.
Why are we giving charity tax exempt status so many religious and political organizations, and are they all being held accountable to the community for how they use their funds? The average citizen will not get special tax exempt status for buying a homeless man a burrito or a burger in downtown San Bernardino, so if a group is applying for special status, it is only understandable they should be open to public scrutiny about it. If you want to run your own business then of course you can decide how to spend money as you wish, but if you are running a non-profit organization, then you should be subject to a bit more scrutiny. Perhaps it just needs to be more equally applied to all groups rather than just one category. Also, it just does not sit well with so many Americans that many organizations are getting tax exemptions for political activities with all this talk of cutting social safety nets.
It is actually time to take a lot of the money out of politics.
Here in the US we are quickly approaching the time of year when high school and college students start thinking about graduation. I remember back when I was a college senior looking at graduation announcements, and I felt like the options were very limited. There was only one company selling graduation announcements on our campus, and that was the only choice we had at the time. The grad invites that I purchased were quite expensive, and I did not even get to choose the picture I would have liked to be on the cards. It was simply a generic etching of the bell tower on our campus, and I was not all that keen on how the paper on the cards was torn on the bottom. The person selling the graduation announcements said that this torn look helped to show the quality of the "handmade paper," but I was not impressed.
Fortunately, today graduates have other options for purchasing their announcements, such as print on demand companies like Zazzle. As an artist I have created some graduation announcements
that have already sold on the site, and these feature my original colored pencil illustration of the San Bernardino Mountains with the view of Hesperia. The graduation invites available for purchase over on Zazzle are quite affordable compared to what vendors on campus will charge, and the print on demand companies allow you to buy as little or as many cards as desired. Back when I purchased my graduation announcements we had to buy an entire box of 25, and this was a high number for me. So check out the the graduation announcement I have created if you are looking for something personalized and arty. It is a better deal than going with the generic grad invites everyone else on campus will be sending out to family and friends. Plus, Zazzle has a discount going at the moment if you purchase grad invites.
Grad invites here
I cannot tell a lie, and I must admit that I absolutely love apple pie! People preach about how you really should not eat dessert, but I find I am able to eat sweet treats when I make these myself. When you are baking and cooking at home you can cut down on the amount of sugar and salt that is used for making a pie crust and filling, which is what I do. My preference is to make an oil pie crust, so I do not have to use butter or margarine. People say that oil crust does not taste as good as a butter crust, but I think it actually tastes better because I use milk in place of water in my oil pie crust recipe, which gives the pastry shell more flavor. I also add a tablespoon of sugar and some cinnamon, which adds the flavor in the pie crust.
I understand many people like to make a pie crust with butter, but I think it is helpful to know that there is an oil crust alternative
, especially since some people do not like butter, and it is often more expensive than canola oil. Also, vegans could use almond milk in place of water when making a pie crust, which would definitely improve the flavor of the oil crust. So rather than just write off oil crusts as being bland, try to keep in mind these can be whatever you want them to be. Besides, once start using other types of ingredients, your tastes will change over time. Experimental cooks can even cut down on the amount of oil used, but that is not the way I am going when I make pies. A little bit of oil is actually good in our diets, but an any alternative to butter is what I prefer. Besides fresh butter is very expensive at the supermarket, and canola oil is a nice substitute in many recipes that call for it.
To make the pie filling I chopped up two cups of apples, which I mixed with a half cup of brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cut down on the amount of sugar if you are looking to make a healthier pie. Also, I spread a teaspoon of cinnamon and sugar on the top of the pie to make the caramelized crust. The apple pie was lovely as a nice sweet treat, and this is so much cheaper than buy a pie at the store. The last time I looked most of the apple pies at the store cost around five dollars, and these are not even as fresh as one that is homemade. Actually, for about five dollars you could make four or five homemade pies. So which choice is a winner? I think homemade pie wins the race every day of the week.
How can you keep dish sponges clean? This might seem like a funny question, but it is an important one for people on a budget. Many people simply throw sponges away when a bit of food cannot wash out, or when the sponge is over a couple of months old, but this can be avoided by throwing sponges in the dishwasher. I have extended the life of my sponges up to six plus months, and this is a trick I learned from a friend after discovered I did not like microwaving sponges to get these clean. Also, storing sponges in the dishwasher is a way to save space on the sink, and allows for easy access to these scrubbing devices. So the next time you are going to run that water consumptive dishwasher, why not throw the sponges in so they can have a bath as well? I like to cook a lot, so I am always thinking of more economically efficient way to take care of my sponges.
In Southern California Mexican food is very popular, and one thing people love to eat is salsa. Socializing over a giant bowl of chips and salsa brings back so many fond memories, and it tastes so much better when you make it at home. There is a lot of buzz lately about raw food diets, and whereas I never could go for a straight raw food diet, one thing I do enjoy is a raw salsa. There is no need to cook the salsa or add salt to it because the spiciness of the chili pepper, garlic, and onions will provide all the flavor that is needed. Whereas restaurant Mexican food can be high in fat and calories, a homemade raw salsa can be very low in calories and fat because all it contains is fresh tomatoes, chili powder, bell peppers, garlic, herbs like cilantro, and lemon juice. I change-up the ingredients I use to make salsa each time, but today I decided to make another avocado salsa like I did yesterday. Here are the ingredients I used:
- half an avocado
- two diced tomatoes
- half a diced onion
- a finely chopped green bell pepper
- two teaspoons of lemon juice
- a teaspoon or rosemary
- four teaspoons of chili pepper
- two cloves of minced garlic
I blended the ingredients into a smooth slasa and enjoyed these with lovely tortilla chips. If you want to cut down on carbs then use cut up vegetables to dip in the salsa. There is just something so exciting about avocado salsa, and it is something I shall be making a lot of this winter with all the delicious ripe Mexican avocados in the produce section of the supermarket.
Usually I fry salmon patties, but I remembered how my mom used to bake salmon loaves when I was younger, so I decided to try baking salmon patties to cut down on the amount of oil used in the cooking process. Recently I have opted for baking most of my food in a glass plate because I have become tired of the non-stick lining coming off every metal pan I purchase. Also, I purchased this really cute reusable oil sprayer, which I use to spray the glass plate with so food does not stick to the bottom. To make the salmon patties I do not follow an exact recipe, but I remove all the bones from the salmon, and then I add a couple of eggs, about a half cup of corn bread mix that I have on hand, rosemary, and some crushed red chili peppers. I mix this up until it is well combined, and then I form patties that I bake in the oven. The first batch I made in a metal tin, but as I noted I have stopped using that, and I am now baking these in a glass plate. It takes about ten minutes to assembled the salmon patties, and these bake while I do other stuff around the house. I allow the salmon patties to bake for about twenty minutes at 400 degree for about twenty minutes, or until the patties are golden brown. So if you like fish then baking salmon patties might be another dinner idea for the table tonight.
Applesauce is the secret ingredients bakers can add to any cake when trying down on butter. Also, when making a cake for vegans, using apple sauce and a bit of oil will make the cake moist. Personally I love making an applesauce chocolate cake because the flavors are very complimentary, and the oil content is very low. So if you are feeling a bit adventurous, then try making a chocolate cake with applesauce rather than butter.
View of the San Gorgonio Mountains from the Rim of the World Highway
The Rim of the World Highway is one of the more scenic highways in Southern California, and the primary route motorists use to drive from San Bernardino to the mountains communities of Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs, and Big Bear. I grew up in the San Bernardino Mountains, so I have many memories of driving up and down the Rim. Honestly, I suggest to avoid driving the Rim on foggy days, of which there and many. When the Rim is foggy drivers can barely see a few feet in front of their windshield, and often have to rely on the tail lights of others to keep from going off the road. There were times when I was a passenger in a car when it took about four hours to drive up and/or down this twenty mile stretch of road because it was foggy and snowy, so I highly recommend only experienced drivers navigate this road under such conditions. However, I am a pedestrian and not keen on driving, so that is just my take on driving the Rim. If you do not want to drive up and down the Rim of the World Highway, there is a little bus operated by MARTA that provides public transportation in the San Bernardino Mountains. For those who are driving the Rim of the World Highway for the first few times, it is preferable to drive it on clear days.
The video above shows the drive down the Rim of the World Highway.
The map above will help motorists plan their route driving up and down the Rim of the World Highway.
Above is a slideshow of some photographs I have taken during drives down the Rim of the World Highway. Also, I have embedded a few videos below of the drive down the Rim, and my artwork inspired by this stretch of road.
People often think the only way they can get good deep dish pizza is to order one from a pizza place, but you can actually make better deep dish pizza at home yourself. One day I experimented by making pizza in a brownie tin, and I discovered you can make an excellent deep dish pizza this way. Making your own pizza dough from scratch is also quite easy.
First, I dissolve an envelope of Fleischmann's Active Dry yeast into a cup of warm water. I let it sit until it is frothy, and then I slowly mix in about 1 1/2 cups of flour. I add a little bit of oil as I am mixing, and then I add crushed chili pepper, garlic, and dried rosemary to my bread dough. I do not add salt or sugar my dough because there is enough sodium in prepackaged food we eat everyday, and I do not see the point of adding any extra. You will find sodium in the tomato sauce, or the turkey pepperoni topping, so there is no need to add it to the crust of the pizza. After I mix together my dough, I allow it to rise in a covered bowl for about an hour. After the dough has risen, I use my fingers and a rubber spatula to stretch it out into the brownie tin. Now I get to add more toppings.
Yes, I am not a giant cheese fan, so I only shred a little bit of mozzarella cheese. It is fresher to buy a block of mozzarella cheese, or whatever kind of cheese you like on pizza, and then shred it yourself. You can even buy soy cheese if you are lactose intolerant, or if that is just your preference. For my pizza I used turkey pepperoni, which has less fat and cholesterol than the real stuff, but you can even use the soy variety. I love turkey sausage, and I have had good results using that on homemade pizza before. After I shred a little bit of cheese, I open a can of tomato sauce and spread it over the pizza dough I have flattened into the pan.
Sometimes I bake the pizza dough for about ten minutes before add in the toppings, but I do not always follow that step. Often I just prefer to spread out the dough, and then smooth the tomato sauce on top of it with my rubber spatula. You can always make your own pizza sauce, but I just buy a few cans of the cheapest kind at the store, and it is usually flavored with garlic and spices. If you really want to make this a gourmet deep dish pizza, you could slice up a large tomato into thin slices, and place this over the pizza dough rather than using sauce. After I put on my tomato sauce I add the shredded cheese, and then I put on my toppings. The ones below were from the pizza I made with cut up mushrooms, sweet bell peppers, and turkey pepperoni.
A deep dish pizza needs to bake for about thirty minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 218 degree Celsius.
The next pizza I created was with turkey pepperoni, onions, organic crushed mint, and some dried basil.
For this deep dish pizza I chopped up fresh onions to put on the top of the pizza. Making a deep dish pizza is easier, and more delicious than ordering one. Try it sometime! Okay, people who think pizza comes in a box or via the phone will probably not buy my argument, but my pocket book pays less for my pizza by making it myself.
Here I am making Christmas ornaments by painting holiday pictures on lids.
There is no need to go out and spend lots of money on Christmas ornaments, especially when you can make these yourself. I like to make a few Christmas ornaments out of lids that would have been thrown away from canning jars. Lids to canning jars are not reusable, so upcycling these into fun ornaments is a fun holiday craft.
To make the ornament I used a hammer and a push pin to poke a hole in the top of the lid. Next, I made a loop to hang the ornament with using some nylon jewelry floss, but anything could be used for this.
I painted the ornaments with acrylic paint and allowed these to thoroughly dry. Ornaments are easy and festive to make when you only have a few supplies, so I highly suggest trying this craft.