Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Becoming a Hippie

My husband is slightly startled by the fact that I've become more and more of a hippie since I moved to California. I know that many consider California to be this liberal, granola-inspired land of sunshine, but I haven't moved to San Francisco. I've moved to San Diego. And I moved from Oregon. Prior to living in Oregon, I lived in Montana. And now that I live in SoCal, I've started making my own cleaning products. Go figure!

I have long suspected, for instance, that my shower does not need to be bleached. Yes, my husband gets very dirty at work, but it's dirt. We're not surgeons. We're not eating off the shower floor, and even if we were, I'm pretty crazy about being clean, so it's probably not any dirtier than the kitchen table...assuming you're eating off the floor sometime in between my most recent cleaning and the time my dirty hubby rinses off. But now I'm totally digressing! Many people live under that huge misconception that bleach cleans things. All it does, really, is bleach stuff (if you've ever tried to bleach the deodorant stains in the armpits of white shirts, you'll find that this doesn't work. Why? Bleach doesn't get out the deodorant, which is causing your shirt's armpits to turn yellow when it mixes with your sweat...if you're trying to get oil, of any kind, out of fabric, a good first bet is regular shampoo. Why? Shampoo is designed to get oil out of your hair). Ok, so bleach doesn't clean things. It also doesn't remove soap scum or mildew from the shower walls or hair from the drain. It does kill mold, but so does elbow grease. So all bleaching my shower (or using a product containing bleach) did was harm my lungs. Brilliant!

I'm trying to walk the line between becoming A TOTALLY INSANE HIPPIE NUTJOB and A COMPLETELY NARCISSISTIC AMERICAN CONSUMER. I'm hoping to end up in the range of environmentally concerned person who's paying attention! Conveniently, I have a coworker who's reasonably normal (she's smart, she's funny, she bathes, but she was also appalled at the idea of high fructose corn syrup in her baby food, so she started making her own baby food, which can't be that hard, right? Directions: mash banana! and she just went from there).

So here's a short list of the environmentally friendly changes I'm trying to impose on my life (and therefore the life of my husband, who, so far, has been a good sport about all of this...probably because we have beer and sports center):
  1. Use reusable grocery bags (although I have to remember to bring them other places, like Target).
  2. Use natural cleaning products (which is sort of what prompted this particular rant, although hubby really likes Windex, which contains ammonia).
  3. Buy more produce from the farmers market...the downside of this is that it's expensive, and while organic foods frequently tastes a lot better, they don't last as long.
  4. Eat less meat...meat sits high on the food chain, so it uses a lot of energy to be produced...in fact, I'm thinking about becoming a part-time vegetarian, but this will take some work, namely because hubby burns through about 5000 calories a day (by my estimate), and, well, meat is tasty. However, I've read about "faceless Friday" in which on Friday, you don't eat anything that had a face. That might be a good place to start.
  5. Using less plastic, because, well, if you haven't read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, you need to go google it right now.

I'm pretty sure that this short list will keep me busy for a while. But if not, I can already think of about a dozen things I can add to it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Really Sucky Immigration Situation

October 12's issue of Businessweek includes an article entitled "America's High-Tech Sweatshops." America has a number of immigration problems that are fairly well-know; however, this one was new to me. Evidently I'm just not that deviant of a person.

The basic situation is that someone outside of the US, in, say, India, accepts a job with a US tech firm. That person from India will pay the tech firm various fees to secure their visa, which the tech firm then holds. This person is then farmed out to work as a consultant. The company hiring the consultant in all likelihood has no idea about this person's visa status. Many times this consultant doesn't end up getting the job for which they had originally applied. So a bunch of people pay a bunch of fees to come to the US and then don't end up with the jobs they thought they had, and often have to go find work on their own. This income is then channeled back through the tech firm, which takes additional fees, so that it looks like the immigrant is actually working for the company holding their visa. And finally, when some of these immigrants decide to press charges or otherwise seek out their rights, they find out that they're not even here legally.

I'm not sure if the bit about having the immigrant pay the visa fees is legal or not, and quite frankly I don't feel like researching a bunch of immigration laws and policies to find out, but it is definitely not legal to channel someone's income back through a company they don't work for, and then have that company take a cut of that pay as "processing fees" or any other kind of fee.

My company hires a number of tech consultants (as well as other temporary employees). It's a good way to manage costs. I've temped before, and it's really not a bad gig, if you know what you're getting yourself into. However, when you don't know that you're going to be a temp, that's a big problem. And the end companies (like mine) frequently don't know what's going on, even when the temp agency signs a form saying that all of their temps can legally work in the US. If we hire TechInc to supply our tech consultants, and they get their consultants from various sources, who may or may not be fabricating documentation, etc, how would we verify this?

Additionally, as these consultants are coming from other countries, they are in all likelihood unfamiliar with US labor laws. They may not know they have the right to assert their rights, let alone how to go about doing so. And if they're new here, they may not have a network of friends and family to help them sort though these problems.

After reading this article, I was half-tempted to ask our IT consultants how they got here and who was paying their salary. Then I realized that there was no way for me to show them that I was concerned about this situation without also appearing a bit psychotic. I certainly don't want to scare off the IT staff...I depend on them too much.

I'm not really sure how to remedy this situation. The US definitely needs these educated, intelligent tech employees, but we also need a better system of monitoring our visa holders. I'm not currently in a position in which I do any hiring, so I can't directly prevent this from happening, but I can bring this issue up in conversations and make people aware that this sort of thing happens. Hey, if you've read this blog, you're already listening.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some Thoughts on Turning 30

Since I was about 28 1/2, I had been DREADING! turning 30. I mean absolutely dreading it. Sometime during my undergrad years, when career counselors started prepping us for interviews with questions such as "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I had created a mental list of Things to Do by 30 that would, in my mind, establish that I was an accomplished and capable individual. Where do I even come up with these ideas? Needless to say, that by the time I reached 30, I had only accomplished 1 of my 3 goals (yes, I actually only had 3 goals). Shortly after turning 30, my husband and I purchased a house, thereby knocking #2 off the list, and single-handedly decreasing my pathetic-ness status.

Right. So now I have turned to pondering the value of these goals. I once read about a man who sat down when he was about 18 and made a list of 100 or so things he wanted to do before he died, including climb the highest mountain on each continent, swim in all of the oceans, blah, blah, blah. In about his 30s or 40s he went back to revisit the list and crossed off "starring in a Tarzan movie," having decided that that was really just a silly boyhood dream.

At what point should one dismiss a goal as no longer attainable, or unrealistic, or just plain silly? This is a big problem for me, as I am that sort of person who, when making a to do list, will follow through with that list even if the item on the list is no longer reasonable or applicable. I just hate not having accomplished something for no good reason.

Apparently, either because I'm trying to stubbornly avoid getting old (by having too many things to do to have time to age?) or because I'm annoyed that I am actually getting older, I've been thinking a lot about the goals I made for myself in my 20s. Because, interestingly enough, I hadn't given one iota of thought at to what I would do after 30. That's because I thought that would be the age when I would start having babies and basically my life would no longer belong to me. And then I realized that I don't actually have to have babies. Whew! And now my life still belongs to me. What am I going to do with it?

Looking back (which is always dangerous, given the 20/20 nature of hindsight), in many ways, my life felt a lot more organized in my mid-twenties than it does now. When I was about 25, I was single (little did I know I was about to meet my future sweetie!), I had a great roommate (fabulous, phantasmagorical, actually), and a pretty good job. Oh, yes, and I was 25, so I could still eat pretty much whatever I wanted. I miss that.

Now, at 30, I have a wonderful husband, a pretty good job, a nice little house (with a big mortgage), and a bunch of student loan debt from my MBA (which is actually just annoying and not really cause for alarm). If I wanted to be practical, the goals for 40 would include paying off my student loans, and decreasing the amount we owe on our house. I guess I better say something self-reflective-ish, such as: and continue to work on being a decent person so hubby #1 stays hubby #1.

Other goals to reach before I turn 40? I'd like to become an author, and I'd really like to visit the Antarctic before it all melts away. So check back with me in five or 10 years to see if I've actually accomplished anything!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Blue Corn Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've apparently missed my calling. I LOVE to bake. Fortunately, I'm also pretty fond of exercise, otherwise I'd be about 700 pounds by now. Tonight I made Blue Corn Chocolate Chip Cookies. They are very easy, except for the finding the blue corn bit. I found mine at Henry's. The blue cornmeal adds this sort of gritty crunch to the cookies--the same texture you find in real cornbread. I don't taste any corn flavor in the cookies, but that's probably due to the vanilla, butter, and chocolate chips; however, my mother, who hates corn, probably would not enjoy these cookies. She prefers Oreos anyway.

Ok, so now I'm going to provide you with the recipe, which I got off a website that credited Bob's Redmill. They actually probably sell blue cornmeal, but I didn't check.

1 egg
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup blue cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnut halves

A couple of things on recipes:
  • why do some recipes list the ingredients in an order other than the one in which they're used?
  • why do recipes always say brown sugar, packed?...you ALWAYS pack brown sugar!
  • don't bother measuring the chocolate chips--just dump a bunch in!
  • if you're chopping the walnuts, whether they're halves, whole, or pieces shouldn't matter...I omitted this--I don't know why people put nuts into things

Anyway, back to the recipe...

Preheat the oven to 350

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla and egg. Next, add the blue cornmeal and flour. Mix all of this well, and fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Drop cookies in round tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

This recipe makes a dozen cookies, and they're a pretty good size. Start to finish, it took me about 30 minutes.