Thursday, January 22, 2009

My New Favorite Holiday

The other day as R and I were cooking dinner, the subject of Valentine's Day came up. I asked him what we were going to to for the holiday and he told me not to worry about it.

"That's my job," he said.

It's kind of strange to think that this will be our second Valentine's Day together. I've never spent two Valentine's Days with anyone before, so that in itself is exciting. And I know whatever we do, it will be great. Last year he bought me a dozen roses and took me out for sushi. (Yeah, he's good.)

A couple of days later, I noticed that he had written down some of his recent credit card purchases on the white board in his kitchen. One of them "Roses - $60." I couldn't believe it. I told him, seriously, that he shouldn't have spent the money. Of course, I appreciated the gesture (and I still have the dried flowers), but I told him that was just too much money. He wouldn't hear of it.

"It was Valentine's Day. You have to have red roses on Valentine's Day."

Later, he admitted that he had waited until the last minute and bought them at a pricey flower shop. I hope this year he plans ahead and does some comparison shopping. I'm sure online retailers like 1-800-flowers are already running specials. I love that he was thoughtful enough to buy me flowers, but I don't want him spending a lot of money needlessly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mohammed Babangida's Reflections on African Music

When I lived in Africa, I had the great opportunity to experience many different forms of African music firsthand. While Mali has its share of well-known singers who play traditional Malian music, such as Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita, there are many others who borrow from different styles of music, especially reggae. In his blog about music, Mohammed Babangida discusses the influences of African music on other musical styles and famous musicians. Mohammed Babangida is a Nigerian with a great love of jazz music. He examines how jazz’s West African roots are evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopations, and swing notes.

To learn more about Mohammed Babangida, visit

Monday, January 19, 2009

Consolidated Resorts Offers Luxurious Vacation Options

With more than 29 years of vacation ownership development, Consolidated Resorts provides premium vacation destinations at 13 vacation ownership properties in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Florida. Consolidated Resorts’ owners enjoy many benefits of vacation ownership, including cost savings, vacation flexibility, and access to luxurious vacation around the world. Through the Interval International exchange network, Consolidated Resorts’ owners can trade vacation time for vacations at hundreds of resorts in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, making affordable worldwide travel a reality. Consolidated Resorts properties include the paradisiacal Kauai Sands Hotel located on a mile-long, white sand beach of Kauai, Hawaii.

To learn more about Consolidated Resorts, visit

United American Insurance Company Offers Affordable Health Care

In business since 1947, United American Insurance Company specializes in individual health coverage, with a special emphasis on health plans for seniors. United American Insurance Company offers plans including health insurance, life insurance, cancer/critical illness insurance, Medicare supplement plans, and Medicare Part D plans. UAIC offers flexible, affordable plans that come with a guaranteed renewal, meaning the policy cannot be cancelled as long as premiums are paid on time. The company has received an A+ (Superior) rating for financial strength from A.M. Best for more than 30 years in a row.

To learn more about United American Insurance Company, visit

Amos Tamam Develops Wireless Technology for Cab Drivers

I’ve often wondered why cab drivers can’t accept credit cards. I never carry cash, so if I ever have to take a cab, usually when I'm on vacation, I have to make sure to hit the ATM first. But apparently some taxi drivers are now making use of wireless technology that enables them to accept credit cards. Develop by Amos Tamam, the new technology is now being offered in New York City and Philadelphia. Not only does this make transportation more convenient, but the cab drivers are able to carry less cash, making them less likely to be targeted for robbery. After studying electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University in Israel, Amos Tamam came to the United States and began servicing taxicabs in New York and is now the CEO of Verifone Transportation Systems, Inc.

To learn more about Amos Tamam, visit

K Designers Awarded for Excellence in Service

K Designers has been in the home remodeling business for more than 30 years and has received more than 15 national awards for expert design, premium products, and quality craftsmanship, including the Revere Premium Renovator of the Year for Excellence in Service, Workmanship, and Professional Business Ethics for 7 years in a row.

K Designers specializes in siding, windows, and doors — including garage doors, storm and security doors, entry doors, and patio doors. The company also offers a wide variety of flexible financing options in order to make the remodeling process affordable and comfortable for everyone. To learn more about K Designers, visit the company’s Web site at

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Innovative Water Features from Shasta Pools

Shopping centers with innovative outdoor water features are becoming increasingly popular. Shasta Pools and Spas Commercial Division is just one of the companies building impressive water features for retail spaces. Often incorporating various elements such as a splash area for kids, waterfalls, and elaborate lighting, these water features can be highly complicated construction projects. For Tempe Marketplace in Arizona, Shasta Pools created an "urban stream" that wraps around a long fireplace, creating an inviting atmosphere for shoppers. The Marketplace's splash pad is a popular destination for families after a day of shopping, and Shasta Pools even offers a smaller backyard version for customers who wish to create a similar "spraygound" at home.

Fuel Conservation Tips from Nachshon Draiman

In my other blog, I've written about hypermiling, the practice of applying deliberate driving techniques in order to conserve fuel. There are several other things you can do to reduce your fuel consumption, particulary when you're at the gas pump. In his blog, Nachshon Draiman offers several tips to keep in mind when refueling your vehicle.

The first piece of advice Nachshon Draiman gives is to fill up your car in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cool. This is because gasoline, which is typically stored underground, is more dense when the ground is cold. If you fill up when it is warmer outside, the gasoline will be thinner and you will actually receive less for the same price.

Nachshon Draiman also cautions against pumping your gas too quickly, as this will release more vapors into the air, wasting fuel (which you are paying for!) Keep the trigger on the lowest setting to reduce vapor release.

Also remember to fill up when your tank is half full. Have you ever noticed that the needle on your gas gauge seems to fall more quickly when it's below half a tank? You're not imagining things. The less gasoline in the tank, the more air is present, which speeds up the rate of evaporation. Keeping your tank relatively full will slow down the evaporation.

Keep these tips in mind when you're at the pump and your actions will have a positive effect on your fuel consumption — and your wallet.

Power Properties Offers High-End Amenities

While reading up on home and apartment renovation, I looked a little more at the work of Power Properties (see last blog). Their properties feature a lot of the amenities R and I both eventually want to have in our own home: hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances. We'd like to one day build our own home and we are in the process of collecting ideas. The French doors and European cabinetry offered in Power Properties condominiums are nice touches as well. I also love the indoor-outdoor feel that Power Properties creates with lush landscaping and livable courtyard spaces. R loves the outdoors and gardening, so those types of features are going to be high on his list when we eventually start looking for a new home (or looking at designs!).

Braden Power Offers Affordable Renovations in East Dallas

I've become addicted to HGTV lately. I love old buildings, and I love seeing old houses renovated into modern, attractive living spaces that retain the character and charm of their original architecture. This is exactly what Dallas developer Braden Power is doing in an effort to revitalize run-down neighborhoods. Braden Power and his brother Craig founded Power Properties in 1990 to rehabilitate apartment buildings in the East Dallas area.

Power Properties apartments cater to young professionals. The homes typically feature tropical garden settings and lavish courtyards with pools and coffee bars. Because they are renovating old buildings instead of building new ones, Braden and Craig are able to keep rents affordable and still offer various amenities.

To learn more about Braden Power, visit

A Faith-Based Look at Finances from Frank Hanna

In his book, What Your Money Means and How to Use it Well, entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Hanna presents a unique faith-based approach to money management. "Money is a gift from God," he says, "that is frequently abused because of our lack of understanding of its proper use." In addition to examining the questions of what having money means and how much money is enough, Hanna cautions against developing an unhealthy attachment to money. One of the main themes in Frank Hanna's book is the importance of giving money to worthy causes, and how to determine the best ways of giving to those in need.

Frank Hanna is CEO of Hanna Capital in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent speaker on issues of faith and their relevance in the business world.

Tax Debt Relief from American Tax Relief

Did you know the IRS is offering a one-time opportunity to settle delinquent tax liabilities for a fraction of the amount owed? Even though millions of taxpayers may be eligible for this settlement — known as an offer in compromise — few people are approved because of a lack of knowledge about the laws or a failure to properly complete the paperwork.

You can find out how to properly file for an offer in compromise settlement with the help of American Tax Relief. American Tax Relief specializes in settling tax debts, removing penalties and interest, and stopping wage garnishments. If you owe back taxes, American Tax Relief can help you get a handle on your payments and resolve your tax debt once and for all.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Linus Gitahi's Runners of Kenya

I used to have a doctor who drove me crazy. Every year when I went in to see him he would say "Hey, you were in Africa! How was that?" Never mind that I had been home from Africa six or seven years already and he’d already asked me this question multiple times. Then without even waiting for an answer he would say "Where were you? Mali? Is that where they jump really high? Don’t they jump really high over there?"

"You asked her that last time," his assistant said once. Even she remembered we’d been through this routine before.

Nobody jumped really high in Mali, to my knowledge. I can only assume he was referring to the 1994 Kevin Bacon movie, The Air Up There, about a team of basketball players from Africa. I never saw it, but I believe the movie was shot in Kenya, where Maasai warriors are commonly over six feet tall. So maybe the premise of the movie wasn’t that they were such good jumpers, but that they were just tall. This probably also accounts for the fact that Kenya produces a lot of world-champion runners, including Kip Keino, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. According to Linus Gitahi, in his blog The Runners of Kenya, Kenyan men hold six of the top 10 fastest recorded times in the marathon. Linus Gitahi also posits that running up and down the steep mountains of Kenya have conditioned the athletes there to lean forward and use gravity to their advantage. They also use a unique hop-like foot strike that allegedly expends less energy while running. So while I’m not sure about their jumping ability, they certainly do seem to have an edge in running.

Linus Gitahi is the CEO of Nation Media Group, the largest media firm in East and Central Africa.

Wangethi Mwangi’s Kenyan Recipes

People are always interested in what kind of food I ate when I lived in Africa. I guess they expect African food to be exotic and flavorful, but where I lived, people subsisted mainly on rice and millet, so the food was generally pretty bland. The main staple for much of the year was a millet paste that had the consistency of play-doh made from bird seed. It’s definitely not something I would make now that I am back in the US.

If you’re interested in trying new ethnic foods, this blog of recipes from Kenya by Wangethi Mwangi features foods that sound a little more palatable. Wangethi Mwangi’s recipes look like an easy option you can prepare at home yourself. Many of them include fresh ingredients like corn, beans, and potatoes, and he also provides some background into Kenyan culture and describes how the foods are traditionally eaten. Stay away from the millet paste and try some of his Githeri instead.

Wangethi Mwangi is the Editorial Director for Nation Media Group, the largest media company in Kenya.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Troubled Relationship with Sleep

I have never been what you would call a morning person. My whole life, I have had difficulty getting up in the morning. I will hit the snooze button for an hour until the alarm shuts itself off. I use two alarms and it still doesn’t help. I’ve tried sunrise simulators, clock radios, and alarms that sound like birds chirping. In high school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to sleep until noon on the weekends. I sometimes nap during the day. I’m sure if I brought a pillow to work, I could easily crawl under my desk and fall asleep in the afternoon. I maintain a healthy diet and work out, but none of it seems to affect my need for sleep. I constantly beat myself up over it, since I feel like I am wasting time that I could be using for other things. R says not to worry so much about it; some people just need more sleep than others. But I still feel lazy. What’s more, I feel like crap if I allow myself to sleep as much as I want. I rarely wake up feeling rested. I suppose I could suffer from clinical hypersomnolence, although I’ve never been officially diagnosed.

Since I have a job where it doesn’t really matter what time I get to work, it only exacerbates my problem. I know I don’t really need to get up at a certain time, so I’m not very motivated. Even though I know getting to work late will force me to stay late in the evening, cutting into my personal time, I can’t seem to drag myself out of bed most mornings. I arrive at work at 10:00 or even 10:30, feeling guilty. Sometimes I wish my laissez-faire boss would actually be more authoritative. Sometimes I wonder if it would make a difference if I had a job that was a little more interesting. Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off working from home and adapting my work schedule to my natural rhythms.

Two years ago, I had a bout of insomnia that lasted for about a month. It was inexplicable and devastating. The inability to sleep was completely foreign to me. Being sleep-deprived left me emotionally fragile and mentally scattered. I had to quit my part-time serving job. I saw a sleep specialist, briefly tried medication, and came close to enrolling in a sleep study. Eventually, the insomnia went away, as mysteriously as it had begun. I hope I never have to experience it again. As lazy as I sometimes feel, I’d much rather be a hypersomniac than suffer through that again. But still, since my sleep habits leave me feeling like a slacker, it would be nice to find some balance. Maybe I should check into another sleep study. I certainly wouldn’t want to be dependent on medication to regulate my routine, but if there is something that can help me wake up feeling refreshed, I’d be willing to give it a try.