Several states have passed or are looking at passing texting laws that would forbid using the text message feature on cell phones while driving. Some cell phones like Blackberries have a small but complete keyboard, some cell phones assign 3 letters and a number to each regular keypad key.California is on board. As of July 1 of last year, driving while using a handheld cell phone in California is against the law. Starting January 1 of this year, the same is true of text messaging. Anyone stopped for using a text messaging device while driving will face a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for any further violations, which is the same as for using a handheld cell phone.North Carolina, in it’s typical logic, has stripped a bill of regulating emailing but will make texting illegal. Huh?I have no problem identifying people just talking on a cell phone. Their speed is slower or they tailgate, they’re usually unaware of activity around them. If you think you can talk and drive with affect you’re wrong. Please use cell phones sparingly and pull over if it’s an emotional issues.
Buying vanilla in day trips to Tijuana is an old tradition. This is an interesting warning put out by the FDA.
Mexican “Vanilla” With Coumarin: No Bargain
Tourists tempted to pick up bargains south of the border should beware of one bargain that isn’t always a good buy—so-called Mexican “vanilla.” This flavoring product may smell like vanilla, taste like vanilla, and be offered at a cheap price. But it’s often made with coumarin, a toxic substance banned in food in the United States.
In addition to being sold in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the coumarin-containing product has appeared on the shelves of some U.S. stores. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers not to purchase this product.
Pure vanilla is made with the extract of beans from the vanilla plant, a type of orchid that grows as a vine. Mexican vanilla is frequently made with the extract of beans from the tonka tree, an entirely different plant that belongs to the pea family. Tonka bean extract contains coumarin, a compound related to warfarin, which is in some blood-thinning medications. Eating food containing coumarin may be especially risky for people taking blood-thinning drugs because the interaction of coumarin and blood thinners can increase the likelihood of bleeding.
Since 1954, FDA has banned coumarin from all food products sold in the United States. Yet the agency has found Mexican vanilla with coumarin in some ethnic food stores and Mexican restaurants in the United States. These products usually have been improperly brought into the country.
If vanilla products that were suspected of containing coumarin were shipped through regular commercial channels, FDA and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would stop them at the border because these products are listed on an import alert. An import alert document identifies manufacturers and products that have a history of—or are suspected of—violating the law so that federal agents can keep the products from entering the United States. It is important to note that not all vanilla from Latin American countries contains coumarin. (See the list of manufacturers in the Import Alert under “For More Information.”)
FDA standards specify that only vanilla beans can be used to make vanilla for use in any food product. Vanilla-like flavors that don’t meet the standard must be labeled as “imitation” vanilla and must be made from safe ingredients that are permitted for that use.
FDA does not allow tonka bean extract even in imitation vanilla. Because they contain coumarin, tonka beans do not meet the food safety requirements for sale in the United States under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
- Be wary about buying vanilla in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Look for “vanilla bean” in the ingredient list on the label. If it has “tonka bean” or if there is no ingredient list or a vague one, avoid this product.
- Don’t risk your health to save a few dollars. Vanilla with coumarin is generally sold at a lower price than pure vanilla because tonka beans are cheaper to grow than vanilla beans. If the price sounds too good to be true, pass it up.
- Don’t buy a food product in the United States that is not labeled in English. Products may have Spanish or other non-English labeling, but they must also have complete English labeling to meet U.S. Government standards. (Products sold only in Puerto Rico are an exception—they are not required to be labeled in English.)
- Call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for your geographic area if you suspect that a food product sold in the United States has been imported illegally. (See list of contacts at www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html.)
This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Health Information Web page (www.fda.gov/consumer), which features the latest updates on FDA-regulated products. Sign up for free e-mail subscriptions at www.fda.gov/consumer/consumerenews.html.
For More Information
Import Alert on Coumarin in Vanilla Products
Know Before You Go: Rules for Bringing Items Back From Your Trip
I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do in life. A few really big things that I would like to do but are getting a lot less likely. Be there at my child’s birth, giving my daughter away at her wedding, the family things I gave up chasing the great adventure.
My life has been very good. God has taken good care of me, just enough hardship to keep me challenged. Yet there are still a few things left to see.
St. Patrick’s Day in Boston.
New Years in New York (though I think Las Vegas was better)
New Years Day on the beach in Rio (it’s summer down there)
Sail the Caribbean
Dive the Red Sea
The British Ale Festival
Munich Beer Festival
The Mountains of Switzerland
The Northern Lights
Paria Canyon - Coyote Butte - Vermillion Cliffs
Yellowstone in the Winter
A train ride through the Rockies after a fresh snow
There are a few more. I’ll be posting some of the places I’ve been in the Southeast here soon
A quick test. We’re moving to Wordpress. At that time you’ll need to change your subscriptions to the new directory. I’ll let you know what that will be soon.
Canyon De Chelly may be one of Arizona’s best kept secrets.
Arizona is a beautiful state, in a dry, geological kind of way. Famous for the Grand Canyon, Phoenix,and, well, rocks, there are just absolutely incredible formations around the state. Another great, if not grand, canyon is Canyon De Chelly (pronounced de shay) up in the less famous northeast corner of the state.
This could be because it’s on Navajo land. The native Americans live at the top of the canyon in the winter, then migrate down to the cooler canyon in the summer. Rich in culture, I met young men that didn’t seem to speak English, or were at least more comfortable speaking Navajo. Navajo speakers have become famous as code talkers in WWII, putting together an unbreakable code to pass messages.
There’s a nice visitors center at the entrance just east of Chinle, where the road forks to the north and the south. The gentleman at the visitors recommended I take the south fork to get the best late day photos. And they were indeed great.
The canyon walls are sheer, I’m not sure how deep but I crept up to the edge and looked down. It’s a long way. The red rock has been shaped by the years into different formations, many of which have names given them by the Navajo.
There are pull-outs that take any length vehicle. At each one there’s usually a few Navajo selling gifts, hand carved, sometimes while they wait patiently for tourists.
One took me to a good spot and pointed out the rocks and their names, giving me a glimpse into the Navajo folklore.
There’s no fee at the park and they have a first come, first serve rv park. There’s a commercial park along the south rim. If you don’t have your motorhomes with you, there’s also the
Thunderbird Lodge at the park entrance and several motels just a few miles away in Chinle.
Some areas require a Navajo guide to go into, there’s one trail that doesn’t. Check at the visitor’s station for the latest.
Now that Autumn seems to be in the air, I was thinking of the late Autumn I visited and snapped this photo of the cottonwoods at the bottom of the canyon. Wishful thinking, it’s still quite warm here. One day I’ll be on the road again.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is usually near the top of the list for visitors planning a trip to Los Angeles. The foot and hand prints are famous the world over. But coming to
Grauman’s Chinese Theater is more than just going to the building you see in the photo. Hollywood Blvd, or Hollyweird Blvd as locals call it is a place where you really never know what you’re going to see.
Struggling actors and street performers dress up in a variety of costumes in hopes of applause and a large tip. You can walk the sidewalk seeing the stars of the stars embedded in the concrete. Just down the street Scientologists plague the sidewalk offering to take your blood pressure so that they have a captive audience to pitch their religion to.
Head up into the hills and you’ll see the Hollywood sign. No, you can’t get to it and it has surveillance cameras on it 24 hours a day with horns that blast if you get too close. Griffith Park, or what’s left of it after the fires, has great hiking, and of course there’s the famous ‘Batcave’ from the 1960s television show.
The theatre’s grand opening was on May 18, 1927. It was owned by Sid Grauman, Howard Schenck, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Names well known to film buffs. Premiering that night was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings”.
It’s still a popular place for movie premieres and brings out some of the biggest names in movies on these nights. During the day you can see the latest movies. Tickets are available online.
It’s hard to find a good RV spot in the area. I usually stayed at one of the parks up in Valencia. Up there you’ll find a less crowded area to stay with a local reservoir and pull-thru’s for large motorhomes.
I drove down from there though traffic down the I-5 can be bad. You could take the metro also.
It’s well worth the day. Other local attractions include the La Brea Tar Pits, Universal Studios, and the Hollywood Bowl. My favorite is to hop over a block and take Sunset Blvd. down to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a beautiful drive, just make sure you time it to miss rush hour traffic.
We always seem to be in such a hurry here in the US. Perhaps with no real sense of history we have no sense of time, or that there is plenty more of it available.
Yellowstone is a lot like the Grand Canyon but goes the other way. While in the Grand Canyon a small river wore away rock over time to create a great canyon, in Yellowstone you can see how a small drip of water, laden with minerals, slowly builds up incredible foundations over the millennia.
Here we see a small sample from Mammoth Hot Springs. Steam rising from below the surface brings a variety of pigmented minerals which flow out clinging to their brothers to create a
chiaroscuro of shades in the mound.
I was there during elk bugling season. I’m still kicking myself for not bringing my video camera. The transmission in my RV had gone out and was being replaced by a very generous policy from Good Sams. While it was in the garage I grabbed an overnight bag, my camera, and a rental car. There’s easy parking for an RV around the park but I might not have gone that far east if it weren’t for the required repairs.
I was there on a chilly October morning and the park was a backdrop to the wraps and swirls of the vented steam. Perfect for the video camera, especially as it can’t pick up the associated sulfurous smell.
My goal one day is to go back during the winter. You can pick up your snowmobile from the motel parking lot and ride into the park to explore it’s many natural wonders. Best thing about going in winter? No bears.
A magical spot with rising mists and colored leaves. It’s not Terabithia, it’s Gaviota Hot Springs. Unlike Nojoqui, there’s a nice state campground, in fact several, just south of here. I’d gotten my RV stuck there, but that’s another story.
This area was home to many volcanoes, is part of the Pacific rim, is active geologically, and is the site of many earthquakes and hot springs up and down the coast.
South of Gaviota pass in Santa Barbara County, California is a rest stop, and the first exit on the north side says something like Lompoc. Take that, but head east to the dead end, not west to the town. There’s a nice little parking area and a trail up into the hills. On cold days you can see steam rising in the hills from a couple of sites.
The first stop is this little pond. Don’t go if you’re easily embarrassed, it’s not unusual to see naked people taking an impromptu dip. Otherwise, feel free to join in. Just look out for the sudden appearance of magical creatures.
This is a fun area to explore. See the Santa Barbara section of my site for more.
It’s easy to miss the turn-off to Santa Barbara County’s Nojoqui Falls in California. The turnoffs are out in the middle of nowhere off of Highway 101 or as you drive into Solvang. Bring a map, it’s a great day park and worth the effort.
There’s plenty of picnicking, play areas, and when I was there a small amateur horse arena.
What Nojoqui is really known for is the falls. They say you should go there late Winter to early Spring to see the water flow. I like to watch the trickle come down the large rock wall moving under the moss.
I see the name Nojoqui has become the name for a type of wall mounted fountain. The back of the fountain is a piece of slate, perhaps those who know more about geology can tell me what the rock of the waterfalls is. Is it slate? I don’t know, but the colors are beautiful.
It just seems like Winter is coming later every year. That Fall was a glorious Indian Summer in Northern California. On a whim I made a couple of stops at Shasta Lake. The first was at the visitors center, which convinced me to stop by the lake and the caverns.
The dam is immense, with over 6 million cubic yards of concrete. Remember that number.
There’s fishing, boating, a recreational vehicle area, and caverns to explore. There’s 365 miles of shoreline and 22 campgrounds, including boat-in campgrounds. Water contact is allowed, sometime rare in water deprived California, which means swimming and water skiing. There’s hiking, wake boarding, picnicking, hiking, and just relaxing.
The temperatures were just right for touring the lake. I stopped further north and took the boat over to tour the caverns. These are privately owned so it’s a bit expensive, but well worth it with the excellent narrative you get.
Now remember that 6 million cubic yards of concrete? The second most ridiculous assertion of Department of Homeland Insecurity I’ve ever seen occurs here. The first is stopping visitors from walking outside at the bottom of the Hoover Dam. The second silliest is the restrictions for visitors of the Dam tour. Surrounded by tons of concrete, ”
Please leave behind the following restricted items: cell phones and pagers, cameras, purses or bags of any kind, weapons of any kind (including pocket knives). ” was visible on signs at the start of the tour. No cameras? Drivers across the dam to the recreational vehicle area have to pre-apply at least 72 hours prior for a pass to get across and must pass a background check.
I asked a security guard if they were afraid someone would sabotage the spillway gates. From his answer it was obvious they weren’t. Maybe a stray signal from a hand held cell phone would be used to help terrorists find the dam. Yeah, right.
So go, enjoy, be careful of the summer heat. Just be afraid. Very, very, afraid. The Department of Homeland Security is doing its job.