Monday, January 28, 2013

Promises; What an Outdated Concept

Back in 2012, when people still believed words that came out of Mr. Morsi's mouth, he had this to say:

In which he promises that the Emergency Law in Egypt would never be imposed again. (Remember the Muslim Brotherhood MP who feigned passing out after hearing Mubarak re-instated the Emergency Law?)

But who cares what we said in the past, the MB don't remember what they've said so why should we! After days of violence throughout Egypt, Morsi re-instated the Emergency law in cities along the Suez (but not in Port Said ... go figure). The reaction has been, well, expected. Of course people are pissed off. Here are the condensed responses of the opposition:

"The National Salvation Front said that the decision is disappointing as it ignored the reality as usual. The Front added that if the president had really wanted to protect the lives of Egyptians, he would have instructed his government to take strict security measures in the city of Port Said before the verdict which instigated such deadly reactions.
The Popular Current said that the dialogue is unacceptable as the decision came as a collective punishment against the people in the cities of the Canal. Adding that "we refuse dialogue with the continuing bloodshed, crimes against protesters and the ongoing disregard for the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people."

The Dostour Party, founded by Mohamed ElBaradei, said that any dialogue would be a a waste of time since the president did not take responsibility for the bloody events or pledge to form a national salvation government and a new committee to amend the constitution.

The Revolutionary Socialists commented that Mursi declared war on all Egyptians and his speech is an incitement to murder, saying, "How can we hold dialogue with a regime that kills people and threatens that the worst is yet to come?" 
The Egyptian Mo'tamar Party did not comment on Mursi's speech, but stressed on the need to "stop non-productive dialogues" and renewed its call for the formation of a national coalition government." (Source)  
And in typical Egyptian current-events style, where laws can be passed in a heartbeat and long-standing legal doctrines trampled all over in the space of a few minutes, the National Salvation Front have threatened to hold an early presidential elections if Morsi does not respond to their demands. You can't make this up.

And an aside because really I am tired of hearing about it in the media:

 For any foreigners reading this blog, WE IN THE RED SEA ARE NOT SEEING ANY VIOLENCE THUS FAR DESPITE WHAT THE MEDIA WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE. The violence in Egypt is limited to a few cities, and although I do not want to undermine the seriousness of the situation, the entire country is not out in the streets shooting each other!!!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Egypt on a Precipice

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary since the January 25th Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of Mubarak's regime and the installation of "real" democracy in Egypt (or at least that's what  many would have you believe).

The Revolution has been a great success, if you happen to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or at least a supporter of an Islamic regime. Western observers look on and say "This is democracy, Egypt has to find it's way." I agree, to an extent, as Egyptians never really had a fair start to begin with.

The anger that preceded the 2011 Revolution is again bubbling back up to the surface. Tomorrow is set to be a day of massive demonstrations throughout the country. Some have already started protesting in the past few days, most notably the group known as the "Ultras," famous for their involvement in the Football Riots of 2012 in Port Said. Many who have closely followed the developing Egyptian democracy have warned that should the Ultras threaten to arm themselves, it may push Egypt over the precipice it is so precariously dangling on.

The Ultras anger is ebbed on by the pending announcement on the 26th of January, where the verdict on the football riots, or the case known as the "Port Said Massacre" will be announced. Among their demands are that the 70+ deaths be included in lists of the martyrs of the Egyptian Revolution. The group themselves consider the current regime and the SCAF of being responsible for inciting the deaths, and want to see justice served. (For more read here)

As we draw closer to the 25th, headlines are dominated by the actions already being carried out by the Ultras and demonstrators. Between blocking roads and bringing traffic to a standstill in Cairo, causing a halt in the metro services, and ripping down the wall in Kasr al-Aini street, it seems tomorrow may be an interesting day for all, and may end up being the straw that breaks the camels back, again.

In addition to calls made by the Ultras, the liberal party Revolution Youth Union announced that the 25th of January would be a "revolution not a celebration," adding: "Mubarak's rule is not different from the military rule or the rule of the Supreme Guide (leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is said to be the real president of the country). As they all ruled Egypt according to their personal interested amid more disasters, negligence and bloodshed of Egyptian youth."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Update on Mobile Phone Charges

With news yesterday circulating about the price increases in mobile phone cards and services in Egypt, the Egyptian government in their usual gusto was quick to deny reports linking the price spikes to tax hikes.

Mamdouh Omar, the head of the Egyptian Tax Authority, said that the price hikes were all a result of "internal decisions" made by the three telecommunication companies (Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat) and that it had no relation to tax hikes from within the government. He stressed that charge cards have taxes included in their prices, and it's up to the mobile operators to set their own taxes incurred on the card.

Omar noted that the proposed tax hikes to the telecommunications sector have been placed "on hold," and that nothing has changed in their status.

So obviously, it's just a huge coincidence that all three operators upped their prices by 15% at the same time. Is this another word game being played by the Egyptian Government to push an additional 15% sales tax down the consumer's throats? It wouldn't surprise me in the least.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Egypt's New Norm: Befudlement

Egypt's economic and political landscape is an ever-changing one, perhaps now more so than ever. Daily reports of new laws and / or fatwas are announced - to the point where the distinction between what is real and possible and what is merely extremist rhetoric is becoming extremely hard to define. Take for example the announcement made yesterday on how people will be able to procure subsidized bread, posted on the April 6 Democratic Front of the Red Sea's page.

Papers required for the extraction of bread card:

1 - image of the national ID card for the pair
2 - image of the national ID card for wife
3 - electronic images of birth certificates for children
And 3 loaves per capita per day.

[Note: there's no mention of how girls are meant to get bread - but of course it seems the standard now is that girls aren't meant to be out in the street buying bread on their own.]

Aside from the story posted on April 6's site, I have not found anything in English publications about this, but that's not surprising. With the slew of "is this news or not?" coming out of Egypt, it makes an editor's decisions on what to publish and what not to publish very difficult. However I would like to quote a New York Times article from 2008, far before the Revolution, quoting a bread maker in Cairo: "What has not changed in Egypt for 50 years is not going to change now," Muhammad said, though it was unclear if he meant the chaos in front of him or the cheap bread cooking behind him."

I wonder what Muhammed would have to say now. 

Also in recent news are the property taxes that are set to be implemented in 2013. Or they're meant to be right? Well it all depends on where you go, and who you talk to. The property taxes that are scheduled to come into play this year were drafted in 2008, specifically as part of the Property Tax Law. The past few years the taxes have been waived as either A) there was no Parliament in Egypt and this law cannot be ratified until there is, or B) they cannot charge because they need a new law, or C) [insert whatever excuse you fancy here]

If you're like me, you'll spot the first problem immediately here. These tax laws went into effect this week (presumably as part of Egypt trying to show the IMF that they can bring money in from somewhere) yet there is still no Parliament in Egypt. Meaning if the law was previously suspended due to an absence of Parliament, how is it possible to now implement it? 

Second problem, and this comes from first-hand accounts of property owners in the Red Sea. If you go to pay your property tax, you'd better hope the person you're dealing with is having a good day. The current system defines your taxes based on space, be it a studio flat, half villa, villa, etc. However one person may be told they owe 30,000 LE for a flat in one building, while the next person to approach - who lives in the same building and has the same specs on their property - will be told they own nothing. 

A second property owner in Hurghada has not seen the tax man since 2007. At that time, he used to walk around the neighborhood and approach individual properties, collect the tax and move on. This individual owner happened to be out when the tax man came by. The property was immediately marked as an "investment property." Last time they went to pay the tax, it required providing some paperwork and everything was fine. This owner has resided in this property for 6.5 years, yet when they went to pay their property tax they were told they owed 9000 LE, and no record of any previous visits to the property could be found. To reduce the prices, they need to prove that they have resided there for the time they've specified. Yet without simple things like utility bills made out in your name in Egypt, there's really no way to prove that you've been living where you say you've been living for X number of years. 

A third property owner has been paying 350 LE for the past few years. Yet according to the new calculations on how much to pay in property taxes (see below), she should not have been paying more than 54 LE. 

"The tax indicates that a progressive burden will be imposed on properties with a market value of LE500,000 (approximately $83,000) or more, and a annual rent value exceeding LE6,000 (approximately $1,000).
The law stipulates that local committees are to be formed to estimate the rent value of properties. From this figure, 30 per cent will be deducted to cover maintenance expenses, and then LE6,000 or less exempted.
The remaining figure will be taxed at a rate of 10 per cent. The following example illustrates how properties will be taxed."
                                              Annual Rent                                               LE24,000
                                             Less: Maintenance (30%)                            LE 16,800
                                             Less: Exemption Amount (LE6,000)            LE10,800
                                             Tax amount (10%)                                    LE1,080

Are you seeing the dilemma here? This is our daily life in Egypt now. Never is there a clear indication of how things will run, what will come into play next, and how our very favourite comedian Mr. Morsi plans to try and appease the public next. I'm not even going to touch on the possibility that Mr. Mobarak may end up being able to walk free... I'll wait with bated breath (although not really) to see what this Friday brings! 

Mobile Charge Card Prices Go Up

It wasn't long ago when Mr. Morsi rolled out his proposed tax hikes to secure the future of the IMF loan to Egypt. Included among these proposed tax hikes was a dramatic increase in the cost of 'commodities,' which included cigarettes, sheisha, alcohol, and the charge cards and lines for mobile phones.

For anyone who went to re-charge with Vodafone yesterday, you may have been met with a shock at the increase in the price. I know if I walk into a Kiosk and ask for a Vodafone card for 50 LE, and they try to charge me 55 LE, I always assume that the Kiosk is charging a 'tax' on the cards for their own services. Now however, the overall cost of mobile phone charge cards with Vodafone has gone up...a whopping 15%.

These charges are not exclusive to Vodafone, Etisalat and Mobinil will also be increasing their prices. The Egyptian Ministry of Finance has denied reports that the price increase is a result of Mr. Morsi's tax hikes, which specified a minimum of 3% up to a maximum of 18% increase in the telecommunications sector. These blanket hikes will also fall to industries such as electricity and power, water, and so on.

There are, however, concerns that these increases will negatively impact the mobile phone operators. Ihab Said, of the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce, was quoted saying that these increases are expected to cause drops in the sale of mobile cards by "not less" than 30%. Dr. Amr Badawi, the head of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has said to try to avoid any declines in sales, the increased costs in mobile phone cards must be offset by "attractive offers" and better performance in the providers' service.

Egyptians are already in uproar about the increase in prices. With a flailing economy, unemployment on the rise, and salaries not keeping up with the rising costs, calls for a boycott of the three main mobile providers have already begun. In 2011, Vodafone, Etisalat, and Mobinil all suspended their mobile phone services on January 28th, in the midst of the revolution. Activists believe that this day and the suspension of all phone services resulted in many lives that could have been saved. In a symbolic gesture, activists have launched appeals for a boycott of the mobile providers on January 28th of this year.

From their Facebook page, they ask: No phone calls unless absolutely necessary (so-called emergency calls), no balance transfers, no purchase of scratch cards, no access to the service provider's internet page.

Having already boycotted Google with little to no effect, it will be interesting to see how these planned boycotts play out. Of course, being that they are scheduled to come after the 25th, we could be talking about an entirely different ball-game by that time.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Absent Mind

I haven't actually sat down to write a proper blog on here in a while, because to be quite frank I'm not quite sure what to say. Sitting every day watching the Egyptian politics unfold in front of yours eyes, you're left with this sour taste in your mouth and a complete disbelief. I frequently find myself asking "really? I mean REALLY?" and just when you think that it can't get any worse, you read about Egyptian police arresting a pigeon. O_o

Between the political sphere here, and the changing economic environment, it's just been difficult for me to sit down and pinpoint one thing in particular that I would like to comment on and blog about. But I figure I may as well as least let my jargon spill over on to the page, because who knows who may find value in it. So I will start updating the blog more regularly, and bring you the hilarious, yet utterly depressing, updates from in and around Egypt.

Happy Weekend! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The 8 People You'll Meet in Egypt's Gyms

What a gem of an article, and how very true. From The Scenario, read on.

The 8 People You Meet in Egypt’s Gyms

It’s that time of year again. The gym is overrun by the post-New Year’s crowds. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy for people to make resolutions and try to fulfill them. It’s just that we all know they’ll be out of there by February. In the meantime, they’re ruining my workout routine by being fucking annoying. Here are a few of the characters you’ll find in any Egyptian gym. Avoid them and, more importantly, avoid being one of them:
The Grunters
I realize that lifting weights can be a bit strenuous, but for fucks’ sake, what’s with the scary noises? Seriously. You might fancy yourself a bit of a stud, but these bedroom noises should stay there.
The Snoozers
I am not a violent person but sometimes I just want to slap them upside their heads! I mean, really, unless the gym has a machine for every person, please take your naps at home and move along quickly.
The Posers
I remember the good old days when people went to the gym to actually workout in workout clothes. I don’t know who told these boys and girls that fashionable outfits burn more calories. There are parts of the male anatomy that are more suitably covered by loose, draped fabric. If it looks like you’re hiding a floatie in your shorts, then it’s too bloody tight. And ladies, proper undergarments are a MUST. Please purchase and use them. And may I just point out that the thong-over-spandex look disappeared for a reason? And while we’re at it: make-up, girls? Really? Unless you want to provide some amusement as your foundation and eyeliner melt down your face, you need to get a grip on this situation.
The Gawkers
By this, I don’t mean the sneak-a-peek-at-my-ass type. I am referring to the creepy men staring and ogling the women. I know boys will boys (even when they’re fully grown), and they are going to look, but can you do it discreetly? I see so many men nearly drop heavy weights by becoming distracted by a female that walks by. Wipe the drool off your chin and move along, buddy. We see you and trust me, it’s not attractive.
The Stinkers
The gym is full of sweaty people. Sweaty people smell bad and there’s nothing we can do about. But I’m not talking about your average sweaty stink. I’m talking about STINK. The kind of smell that will cause your lungs to seize up and your eyes to water. I believe it was comedian John Fox who described something as smelling of “ass and cat food.”  That’s the smell.  If you smell like that, do something about it. But before you go running to your Old Spice, Chanel No. 5 or your trusty White Diamonds, please be aware that these are not for the gym. When mixed with sweat, the result induces asthmatic symptoms. Just don’t do it. Please.
The Hulk
One of the benefits of actually working out at the gym (other than hooking up and annoying other people) is to build a healthy and attractive body. But apparently, for one type of gym-goer, this isn’t enough. They need to go beyond that. Waaaaaaay beyond. They needs to make sure everyone in the gym, especially the chicks, notice their broad shoulders, pumped biceps, and fragile egos. You may also notice that it generally takes them five minutes to cross the room, simply because they’re too busy looking at themselves in the mirror.
The Shrunken Jane Fonda
I love them. I truly love the brashness of old women. The“ I’m going to show all you tight-skinned bitches what’s in store for you!” attitude is my favourite part. And thanks to them, I now know exactly which parts of my body will become disturbingly lower as time passes and why old ladies wear the granny panties that they do. Simply put, your average bikini-style panties just aren’t going to be able to contain all that droopage.
The Sexy Stretchers
Watching these people “stretch” is just downright uncomfortable. It looks more like a warm-up for some seriously kinky shit. I’m talking about moves taken straight from the Kama Sutra. Guys and girls, could you save the fitness foreplay for the privacy of your bedrooms, please?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Buy Local in Egypt

Below is a great article on why people should consider buying locally wherever you may reside, but in Egypt in particular. With more and more corporations taking over the market in Egypt, and offering the lower more "competitive" pricing, the question is how much do these cheaper prices benefit your home economy? In the case of the article below, purchasing Almarai products (a name frequently seen now with milk and cheese products), you'll be sending minimal amounts of revenue back into the Egyptian market.

One of the largest dairy producers in Egypt are Dina Farms, who have fantastic organic milk - a bit expensive but well worth it. In addition there are a lot of smaller farms in Egypt such as Mirhom Farag Farm.  Many local supermarkets will have fresh eggs and cheese from smaller producers around the country too, so there are a huge number of ways that you as a consumer can ensure your cash cycles back into Egypt. From, here's the article. 

Hidden Billionaire Milking Saudi Dairy Fortune in Desert

The herd is one of hundreds owned by Almarai Co. (ALMARAI), the biggest food producer in the Persian Gulf, which processed about 235 million gallons of milk in 2012. The Riyadh-based company’s revenue has almost tripled in the past five years to 7.95 billion riyals ($2.12 billion) as demand for its products -- milk, cheese, processed chicken, baked goods and juices -- has surged with the nation’s population. Its shares are up 125 percent since its 2005 initial public offering.
Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer
Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer. Source: Almarai Co. via Bloomberg
The gain has made Prince Sultan bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer, Almarai’s 59-year-old founder and largest individual shareholder, a billionaire. His 28.6 percent stake in the operation, plus other investments, has helped him amass a fortune of at least $2.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has never appeared on an international wealth ranking.
“Establishing a dairy farm in the middle of the desert is not that easy,” said Alaa Ghanem, a senior equity analyst at Audi Saradar Investment Bank in a phone interview from his office in Beirut. Almarai, he said, “is an example for anyone who wants to succeed.”

Stud Farm

Retail sales have increased throughout the Middle East as rulers boost spending to ensure their populations get a bigger share of state energy wealth. Saudi’s King Abdullah declared $130 billion of extra spending in February and March of 2011 in response to popular movements that ousted leaders from Tunisia to Yemen. According to data from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agencyconsumer spending reached an all-time high of 176.9 billion riyals last May.
Al Kabeer is a descendant of Saud Al Kabeer, a cousin of King Abdulaziz, the first Saudi monarch. His family line is considered one of the most senior and influential branches of the royal family, according to Sharaf Sabri, author of the 2001 book “The House of Saud in Commerce: A Study of Royal Entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia.”
In addition to his stake in Almarai, which is valued at more than $2 billion, Al Kabeer owns 14.3 percent of Arabian Shield (SHIELD), a Saudi insurance firm, and a 7.8 percent stake inYamamah Saudi Cement Company (YACCO), Saudi stock exchange filings show. Based on an analysis of dividends, insider transactions and market performance, he probably has a portfolio of investable assets worth at least $500 million, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Undisclosed Assets

Al Kabeer may also control undisclosed assets. He is the chairman of five companies and one of the founders of 15 others, including Bahrain’s Arcapita Bank and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates-based Dana Gas PJSC, according to his corporate biography. He also owns a stud farm outside Riyadh, where he has about 100 thoroughbred racehorses in training, according to his profile on the website for the Breeders’ Cup, one of the world’s most influential horse racing events.
“The Al Kabeer are one of the premium merchant families affiliated with the Al Saud,” saidTheodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, in a Jan. 8 e-mail describing their relationship to the royal family. “As such, they receive special perks for business investments.”

Reverse Boycotts

Those perks could include preferential access to business ventures or handouts in the form of land or money, he said. Hussam Abdul Qader, a spokesman for Almarai in Riyadh, did not respond to e-mails and phone messages requesting comment.
In 1977, Al Kabeer founded Almarai -- whose name derives from the Arabic word for pasture -- with Masstock Group Holdings, an Irish farming-systems company owned by two brothers, Paddy and Alistair McGuckian. The company was created amid soaring oil prices, leading the Saudi government to fear the possibility of reverse boycotts by farming superpowers such as the U.S. and Europe, according to Nada Amin, an analyst at investment bank EFG-Hermes in Cairo.
“Almarai was established as part of a general movement in Saudi Arabia during the 1970s to achieve food security through self-sufficiency,” said Amin in an e-mail on Jan. 8. “Since then it’s flourished, transforming from a local fresh dairy producer to a diversified regional giant.”

Joint Venture

Masstock sold the last of its stake in Almarai to Saudi shareholders in 2004, a year before the company listed its shares on the Saudi stock exchange. Almarai controls 44 percent of the dairy market in the Gulf region, according to Riyadh- based investment bank NCB Capital. Since 2007, it’s spent more than $3 billion adding new business lines, such as infant formula and baked goods.
In 2009, Almarai formed a joint venture with PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) to invest in dairy and juice makers in southeast Asia, Africa and Middle Eastern countries outside of the Gulf. In 2011, 98.8 percent of Almarai’s revenues came from Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf nations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The company’s main competitive advantage, according to NCB, lies in its four desert dairy farms, which house more than 60,000 cows. The farms include feeding areas that shelter the animals from heat that can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
The desert climate has turned out to be a benefit for Gulf state dairy farmers. Almarai cows each produce about 12,400 liters of milk per year, which the company says is double the European average. Cows at the Al Ain Dairy Farm, the largest dairy company in the United Arab Emirates and an Almarai competitor, produce more than 10,000 liters of milk per year, according to a video about the company posted on YouTube in March 2010.

Argentine Alfalfa

The reason for the extra output: desert cows are force fed.
“Where I come from in Ireland, typical yields would be 5,000 liters a year, but their production system is based on pastoral grazing,” said Patrick O’Dwyer, an Al-Ain representative in the video. In the desert, “we bring the feed into the cows every day. There is no grass for the cows to eat.”
Much of Almarai’s feedstock comes from South America. In 2011, it bought Argentine farm operator Fondomonte SA for 312 million riyal. Today, the company ships alfalfa and other feed staples 7,900 miles from Argentina to support its cattle.
Almarai’s ownership of dairies, two processing plants and a distribution system comprised of 1,000 vehicles, makes it more profitable than its local and global peers. The operation’s earnings before interest and taxes margin is at least 30 percent bigger than Paris-basedDanone SA (BN), Switzerland’s Nestle SA (NESN) and Jeddah-based Savola AB (SAVOLA), which is also Almarai’s largest institutional shareholder.
“The chairman and the board play a very significant role in determining the strategic direction of the company,” said Asjad Yahya, vice president of research at Shuaa Capital in Dubai in an e-mail on Jan. 10. Al Kabeer, he said, “is an important source of direction for the company.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Start Your Day With a Laugh

A friend posted a version of this video to her Facebook this morning. I had to find it to re-post here. I'd seen this ages ago, but it got loss in the tangle of inter-webs, and this has got to be one of the best "animals talking" videos I've ever seen. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 Tips to Start Your New Years Right

If you're like me, you're always looking for those tips that help save a little extra time and effort in the long run. Time is money right? So here are 5 tips that you can really employ in 2013 that will help make your life around the house just a little bit easier.

1 - Red Wine Stains. 
They can be the worst. When you see that glass of red wine go flying, you just know you're going to have a lovely forever reminder on your carpet in the form of a nice, red, blotch. Many cleaners claim to be able to remove the stain, but most require 'immediate application' to be successful. So here's a tip that you'll find really useful. If you spill red wine on your carpet, throw some regular table salt on top of the stain. Cover the stain with the salt. The salt works to pull out the pigment in the red wine that causes it to stain. Once it's soaked it up, you can hoover up the salt, and dab the remaining wine up with a damp cloth. I've tried this before, and it really is a fabulous tip.

2 - Spaghetti Orange Tupperware 
So you decided to make spaghetti sauce for the family, and have plenty of left overs. I'm sure you've been there, putting the left over sauce into a tupperware, and then wondering how in the world you are going to get that orange stain off from the side. Ultimately it's a nigh-on impossible task, so rather than worry about stain removal, why not worry about stain prevention! Before sticking your spaghetti sauce into the tupperware, spray a little bit of PAM non-stick spray around the sides. When it comes time to clean out those dishes, you'll be amazed at how easily they clean up.

3 - Splitting Garlic Bulbs
There's nothing quite like fresh garlic in a recipe. But trying to crack open that bulb of garlic to get at the cloves inside can be extremely frustrating, and then trying to peel the cloves to boot! It's no wonder we often resort to the far easier garlic powder in a bottle alternative. So for all those fresh garlic lovers, here's a tip you must try out. Next time you're ready to throw in some fresh garlic into your recipe, nuke the garlic in your microwave for a few seconds. The heat helps to split the garlic clove from the outer edges, making the skinning and breaking apart of the bulbs much less time-consuming. Bon appetit!

4 - Watering Plants
I've never been blesseed with a green thumb. Ask K, and he'll be quick to tell you I'm lucky if plants in my house last a few weeks, let alone a few months. My biggest issue was A - too much watering, and B - too much light. (Turns out my mother also lacks a green thumb, must be genetic :p). If you purchase a plant, you'll be told "Water on X, Y, and Z days." Most will recommend a schedule. To me, that means on Wednesday, I'll go and water all the plants in my house. And then watch them start getting droopy. So I'd put them in the balcony. Which would cause them to burn. So I'd add more water. It was a vicious cycle, and my plants would always end up the victim. Turns out the main cause was actually root-rot from over-watering, compounded by me placing house-plants in direct sunlight. If you're like me and you're lacking a green thumb, here's a tip that will always let you know when your plants are thirsty or not. Grab a wooden toothpick, and insert into the soil around the base of the plant's stem. Push the toothpick into the dirt about 3/4 of the way down. When you pull it out, if dirt is stuck to your pick, your plant does not need watering. If it is "clean," water your plant until you see water run through the bottom, and stop! Repeat this procedure for every plant in your house, and you'll quickly notice that they will all have different watering requirements. Since learning this nifty trick, I've been able to discover my greener side.

5 - Whitening your Clothes without Bleach
I have terrible luck with bleach, I really do. I'm the idiot that will go to throw bleach into the wash, and someone, inexplicably, end up getting it all over the clothes I'm wearing. I've lost more than a few good shirts to the infamous bleach stains. Arg! So I was more than happy to find out that there's an alternative to using bleach which will still get your white sheets and shirts sparkingly white. Baking Soda. Yes, regular old baking soda. Throw in a tablespoon with a load of your whites, and you'll see how they whiten your clothes without any of the risks of bleaching items you do not want bleached. - Incidentally, baking soda also works great as a tooth whitener, you can throw a little bit on top of your toothpaste while brushing, and have instantly whiter teeth at home, without the cost of over-the-counter tooth whiteners.

So there you have it, 5 of my do-it faster and save yourself time tips. Here's to a happy and prosperous 2013!