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The Philadelphia Phillies Backend of the Bullpen is Among the Best It’s Ever Been

The Philadelphia Phillies have a good problem at the back end of the bullpen.

They have four legitimate relief pitchers with the ability to close out a game.

When the game gets to the ninth inning, manager Rob Thomson can go to right-handers Seranthony Dominguez and Craig Kimbrel along with left-handers José Alvarado and Gregory Soto.

Thomson proved his mettle last season in how to run a team.

There will be games which call for righties vs. lefties. There will be injury issues and times to rest certain players.

The good news is this: the back end of the bullpen is as strong as it has ever been.

Dominguez had nine saves last season and showed signs of becoming of a full-time closer with a nasty array of pitches.

Alvarado became of the top left-handed relievers in all of Major League Baseball. While Alvarado had only two saves, he pitched mostly in high-leverage situations.

Kimbrel and his 394 career saves came aboard on a one-year deal worth $10 million. Even during a subpar year with a 3.75 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kimbrel still came up with 22 saves.

Soto had 30 saves a season ago for the scuffling Detroit Tigers.

With these four relievers, anything is possible. Soto could pitch the sixth, Alvarado the seventh, Kimbrel the eighth and Dominguez the ninth. Two days later, it could be a completely different scenario.

It will be a fluid situation all season.

A good problem indeed.

More From SI’s Inside The Phillies:

  1. Phillies Star Bryce Harper Doesn’t Hold Back on Thoughts About Joe Girardi
  2. How Mike Trout Will Join the Phillies
  3. Could Bryce Harper’s Favorite MLB Player Join the Philadelphia Phillies in 2023?
  4. Could The Phillies Soon Be Playing in Wawa Park?
  5. Bryce Harper-Obsessed Japanese Baseball Star Wants to Play for Phillies
  6. Six Philadelphia Phillies Declare Free Agency
  7. Rumored Phillies Free Agent Target Just Opted Out of Contract
  8. Jimmy Rollins Describes Disrespectful Treatment by Ryne Sandberg
  9. Phillies Release 2023 Regular Season Schedule
  10. Picking the Phillies’ All-Time Single Season Lineup

Make sure to follow Inside the Phillies on Substack and Twitter!




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Sisters set to make $4million with their business Scrub Lab offering stylish and comfortable scrubs

Two sisters are set to make $4million in 2023 with their business offering healthcare and veterinary workers stylish and comfortable scrubs. 

Linh and Van Nguyen are the brains behind Scrub Lab which makes comfortable, breathable and flattering scrubs that don’t look like a ‘potato sack’ so those in the medical field don’t have to sacrifice style at work. 

The idea came to the siblings when Linh said nurse Van looked ‘hideous’ after a shift when they were at their mother’s house for dinner in 2019. 

‘I said, “what are you wearing?” I didn’t even know they were scrubs, they were hideous looking. Van never dresses like that,’ Linh told 9Honey

Sisters Van and Lihn (pictured) are set to make $4million in 2023 with their business Scrub Lab which offers comfortable and stylish scrubs for healthcare worker

Sisters Van and Lihn (pictured) are set to make $4million in 2023 with their business Scrub Lab which offers comfortable and stylish scrubs for healthcare worker 

Fashion lover Linh thought Van, who is normally very stylish, didn’t look good or comfortable and wondered how scrubs could be changed. 

The comment planted the seed for Scrub Lab and the sisters noticed there was nowhere in Australia that offered scrubs that weren’t ‘ugly’ or ‘impractical’.

‘They’re hot, you are sweaty, you’re putting on extra PPE (personal protective equipment)… and you’re on your feet running around for a 16 hour shift,’ Van said. 

‘It was very uncomfortable and you would smell, no matter how much deodorant you put on.’ 

The nurse said her old scrubs would be stained with sweat patches within hours while her co-workers complained they would appear see-through after a few wash cycles. 

The idea came to the siblings when Linh said nurse Van looked 'hideous' after a shift when they were at their mother's house for dinner in 2019

The idea came to the siblings when Linh said nurse Van looked ‘hideous’ after a shift when they were at their mother’s house for dinner in 2019

The nurse said her old scrubs would be stained with sweat patches after only a few hours while her co-workers complained they were appear see-through after a few wash cycles

The nurse said her old scrubs would be stained with sweat patches after only a few hours while her co-workers complained they were appear see-through after a few wash cycles

Their mother, who had worked as a seamstress for more than 30 years, helped her daughters hatch the plan and create the first ‘prototype’ the very night of Linh’s offhand comment. 

After a trip to Spotlight to buy fabric, they designed and created the first set of scrubs which they admitted ‘weren’t great’.

However, they knew they were onto something when Van wore them to the hospital and had other nurses asking where she got her new scrubs from.

Linh converted her living room into an office where the sisters started Scrub Lab using money their own savings, but with no business experience they were met with ‘challenges’ and felt like ‘fish out of water’. 

Despite friends in the health industry calling their idea ‘crazy’, and after months of trial and error and choosing a manufacturer – Linh and Van copped their first costly blow.

With healthcare workers strained throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and scrubs were harder to come by so the sisters launched the business four months ahead of schedule in June 2020

With healthcare workers strained throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and scrubs were harder to come by so the sisters launched the business four months ahead of schedule in June 2020

The first 800 sets of scrubs they received were ‘completely see-through’ sending the sisters into a ‘panic’ and they wondered if they were cut out for business. 

Shortly after, they accidentally ordered a huge supply of hot pink pants in the men’s style rather than women’s. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were sunk into the business and Linh and Van had many moments of doubts and tears but they persisted. 

With healthcare workers strained and pulling long, strenuous shifts throughout the Covid-19 pandemic scrubs were getting harder to come by so the sisters launched the business four months ahead of schedule in June 2020.

Scrub Lab took off as doctors, nurses, vets and vet nurses scrambled to get their hands on the workwear and Linh and Van were suddenly struggling to keep up with demand

 Scrub Lab took off as doctors, nurses, vets and vet nurses scrambled to get their hands on the workwear and Linh and Van were suddenly struggling to keep up with demand

Scrub Lab took off as doctors, nurses, vets and vet nurses scrambled to get their hands on the workwear and Linh and Van were suddenly struggling to keep up with demand. 

Van was still working as a nurse and would return from 16-hour hospital shifts to work on the business ‘looking like a zombie’ while Linh said she had constant ‘anxiety’ trying to run Scrub Lab when her sister was at work. 

Their hard work paid off and in the first 18 months Scrub Lab made $400,000. 

Linh and Van are dedicating their lives to making the lives of healthcare worker easier saying they deserve recognition after a challenging few years

Linh and Van are dedicating their lives to making the lives of healthcare worker easier saying they deserve recognition after a challenging few years

Three years later, Linh and Van now work on the business full-time but say they’re putting most of the revenue back into Scrub Labs and are paying themselves a ‘minimum wage’. 

Linh and Van, who still picks up occasional casual nursing shifts, are dedicating their lives to making the lives of healthcare workers easier, saying they deserve recognition after a challenging few years. 

They have been flooded with messages and emails from customers thanking them for developing practical and fashionable scrubs.  


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Did Sean McVay’s return to the Rams inspire quarterback Matthew Stafford to stay?

It’s not often you see a team go from Super Bowl winner to embarrassing in just a single season, but that’s what the Rams managed after failing to qualify for the post season. With many expecting a clear-out, it’s interesting to see that the team has opted for stability in the face of adversity rather than drastic change. Their quarterback’s extension is testament to that fact.

Matthew Stafford commits as Sean McVay returns

For a moment there, it looked as though the Los Angeles Rams were heading for a rebuild, but with head coach Sean McVay dispelling any speculation about possible retirement and making it clear that he will return, the team can also count on their quarterback. According to reports, The Rams are now set to retain starter Matthew Stafford for at least one more season. It is also understood that the franchise intends to guarantee a combined $62 million due to the signal-caller over the next two years.

The details of Matthew Stafford’s deal

As we all know, Stafford was a key part of the Rams team that won the Super Bowl back in February and it was his first season with the team. Sadly, this most recent campaign was not nearly as stellar with Los Angeles failing to clinch a playoff spot and worse yet, Stafford was sidelined for the last seven games of the season due to injury. As things stand, he is under contract through 2026 after signing a four-year, $160M extension during the last offseason.

It’s worth noting, however, that there would have been no shock if the Rams had designated him as a post-June 1st release this offseason, in an effort to fast forward the process of change. Indeed, there would have been a 2023 roster bonus of $31 million, as well as a 2024 base salary of $31 million which would have been fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year this March. Ultimately, the gang is getting back together and with that one can only hope that the renewed relationship between team and quarterback will bear fruit. It also couldn’t hurt, if the Rams can maintain better health this coming season, with the likes of Joe Noteboom and star wide receiver Kooper Kupp missing the majority of the season. Where Stafford himself was concerned, the signal caller missed time on two separate occasions due to a concussion, before finally succumbing to a spinal cord contusion.

Did Sean McVay’s decision have an effect on Matthew Stafford?

It’s interesting to note, that Stafford has taken questions on many occasions about his possible retirement, albeit to then state that he would be returning in 2023. Yet, given the season the Rams just had it’s quite likely he did give it some thought. That’s where Sean McVay comes in. In 2021 – their first year together – Stafford found himself in the MVP conversation with a more than impressive career high 41 touchdown passes. Could it be that the return of his coach inspired him to stay? While we can’t say for sure, we imagine it didn’t hurt.




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2022 Highlights Of N3B Los Alamos’ Legacy Environmental Waste Cleanup At LANL – Los Alamos Reporter

A truck carrying LANL legacy environmental waste off the hill. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

N3B LOS ALAMOS NEWS RELEASE

In its fourth year addressing environmental impacts from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) Manhattan Project- and Cold War-era operations, N3B made significant progress as the contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office (DOE EM-LA). Here’s a snapshot of a few key N3B accomplishments during fiscal year 2022:

Ship Waste Off-Site

1.     Surpassed goal for shipping legacy radioactive waste from historical LANL operations to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) by over 70 percent, with 52 shipments. N3B comingles shipments with Triad National Security, LLC — LANL’s management and operating contractor — to maximize efficiency and reduce the number of trucks on the roads to WIPP. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

CMP Retrieval

2.     Commenced below-ground retrieval of pipes filled with cemented radioactive liquid waste, buried underground at Technical Area (TA) 54, Area G since 1986. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

Protect Water Quality

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3.     Continued to characterize, control and treat the hexavalent chromium plume in groundwater beneath LANL, a key environmental remediation project. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

Los Alamos Canyon Gaging Station 3

4.     Installed a real-time gaging station to monitor streamflow from LANL’s nearby Los Alamos and Pueblo canyons into the Rio Grande. The project entailed collaboration with Buckman Direct Diversion Board representatives and the Pueblo de San Ildefonso. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

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5.     Began operating under a new permit, issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that reflects updated water quality standards for monitoring and managing storm water that runs through sites potentially contaminated from historical LANL operations. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

Clean Up the Land                                                                            

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6.     Continued investigating and remediating contaminated soil at Los Alamos County-owned land along Middle DP Road. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

Twomile Canyon Soil Sampling

7.     Accelerated the investigation of potentially contaminated soil in Twomile, Starmer/Upper Pajarito and North Ancho canyons outside Los Alamos. Photo Courtesy N3B Low Alamos

Soil Sampling

8.     Requested Certificates of Completion from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) for 59 sites across LANL property that were investigated for soil contamination and remediated as necessary.

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9.     Completed all 18 milestones under the Compliance Order on Consent, the agreement between DOE and NMED that governs a significant portion of N3B’s work.  

Support Services

Ike White Tour

10.  Hosted 12 tours of LANL legacy sites, consisting of 135 visitors, to increase awareness of N3B’s environmental cleanup projects. Visitors included U.S. congressional staffers; Los Alamos County representatives; a Pueblo governor, lieutenant governor and Pueblo environment department staff; state elected officials; regulators and top DOE officials.

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11.  Sponsored three regional job fairs, which resulted in 26 new hires to assist in N3B’s environmental cleanup mission, and accepted 24 students into our apprenticeship program and boot camps, all of whom received an all-expenses paid education at local colleges and universities. Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

12.  Committed $120 million in subcontracts to small businesses, advancing the federal government’s goal of encouraging greater economic opportunity for socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Photo Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

UWNNM Donation

13.  Donated approximately $370,000 to regional non-profit organizations, scholarships, and other entities through our Community Commitment program. Courtesy N3B Los Alamos

Clean up the Environment, Protect Our Future

Fiscal year 2022 ended with N3B receiving DOE’s intent to award N3B the three-year extension option period of the contract, which will begin in April 2023. N3B looks forward to continuing its mission to address the legacy environmental impacts at LANL from Manhattan Project- and Cold War-era operations, and to securing a safe environment for generations to come. Stay tuned for N3B’s accomplishments in FY23.

About N3B Los Alamos

N3B Los Alamos is an HII Nuclear-led company with BWX Technologies, with critical subcontractors Longenecker & Associates and Tech2 Solutions. N3B implements the $1.7 billion 10-year Los Alamos Legacy Cleanup Contract.




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Broomfield City Council approves several gun laws, sends message on violence prevention

There were over 280 gun homicides in the state last year and there have already been 10 just two weeks into this year, according to Colorado Ceasefire.

In Broomfield and in the state capitol, stricter gun laws are being introduced, but pro-gun groups say they won’t pass without legal challenge. 

Gun violence prevention advocates are applauding Broomfield City Council for approving several new gun laws. 

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“I think it’s great that they are taking a step and I would say cautiously taking the step to protect the people of their community and begin to lead the way in Colorado,” said Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire. 

The laws include prohibiting open carry in public places and concealed carry in city-owned places, requiring additional signage where guns are sold, regulating ghost guns, and banning rapid fire trigger activators. 

“Trigger activators turn regular guns into machine guns,” McCarron said. 

Two other measures were tabled until after the legislative session. One that would increase the age to buy a firearm to 21, and another that would require a 10-day waiting period and proof of training to buy one. 

“Upon our country’s founding many young kids, I mean 13-year-olds, were able to possess and own rifles so raising that age to 21 certainly wouldn’t be under the text history and tradition of the 2nd amendment,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director with the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. 

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CBS


The gun lobby plans to challenge the new laws in court later this year. 

“We still are looking at litigation against Broomfield, but it will likely come after the legislative session is over because we could potentially combine those suits,” Rhodes said. 

Rhodes is waiting to learn more about a leaked draft of a bill that would ban assault weapons statewide. 

The bill has not been introduced yet and is only a draft. It would reportedly ban the sale of certain classifications of guns, but not affect those who already own them. 

“This would make Colorado the most restrictive place in America to buy a firearm,” Rhodes said. 

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CBS


As the legislative session begins, the debate over Colorado’s guns continues. 

“Gun control is not working at all,” Rhodes said. 

“We need to end the scourge of what guns are creating in our communities,” McCarron said. 


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Live music returns to Beijing as COVID-19 restrictions ease

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Since the easing of COVID-19 measures in China, musicians and performers have roared back into action, offering shows, open-mic nights and jam sessions. A variety of performances were staged across the city during the New Year break, with more on the way ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. Let’s follow CGTN reporter Shen Li to find out how the return of live music is playing out, and what aficionados of local music can look forward to.


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Gas Prices Drop in New Jersey, Dip Across Nation at Large

A sign shows the price for a gallon of regular gas at a station in Chevy Chase, Md., on Jan. 12, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

TRENTON, N.J.—Gas prices dropped in New Jersey and also ticked down across the nation at large, analysts said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price of a gallon of regular gas in New Jersey on Friday was $3.27, down four cents from last week. Drivers were paying $3.37 a gallon on average a year ago at this time.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.28, down a penny from last week. Drivers were paying $3.30 a gallon on average a year ago at this time.

Analysts say the recent surge in gas prices due to frigid weather and holiday travel may be ending as the weather improves and demand decreases. They expect prices at the pump to decline heading toward February but believe the national averages before Christmas will likely turn out to have been the lows for this winter.

The Associated Press


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Capitals again stumble vs. Flyers in 3-1 home loss

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The Washington Capitals were all over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, throwing shot after shot at the team that had gotten the best of them three nights prior. But Washington failed over and over to beat goalie Carter Hart, and the Flyers came away with another win, this time by a 3-1 margin.

The game turned when the Flyers scored twice in 49 seconds in the second period. Washington made a push by pelting Hart with 19 shots in the third but never got the puck past him. He finished with 39 saves.

The mostly healthy but suddenly fading Capitals (23-16-6) have lost three of four. The Flyers (18-18-7), among the bottom feeders in the Eastern Conference, have won seven of eight, including Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the Capitals in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “Obviously, losing two in a row to the same team doesn’t sit well with us, but we’ve got a big back-to-back coming up, and that’s got to be our focus.”

“There’s no panic,” forward Tom Wilson added. “It’s maybe a little bit of frustration. … This group is feeling each other out a little bit.”

Sonny Milano, coming off a downer of a summer, is on the rise with Capitals

James van Riemsdyk put the Flyers up 2-1 at 4:51 of the second. After Kuemper (22 saves) gave the puck away, two Philadelphia passes set up van Riemsdyk, who was wide open on the right side with only an empty net in front of him.

Wade Allison gave the Flyers a 3-1 lead at 5:40. Shortly after a defensive-zone faceoff, the Capitals were scrambling around their net as Allison found the puck in the slot and beat Kuemper, whose diving effort went for naught.

Washington, which went 0 for 3 on the power play, returns to action Monday at the New York Islanders before hosting Minnesota on Tuesday. After Saturday’s rough performance, Coach Peter Laviolette is likely to tinker with his lines again.

The Capitals have struggled since Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom returned to the lineup Sunday for an underwhelming 1-0 win over last-place Columbus. Their availability forced combinations that had been working for Washington all season to be broken up, and the Capitals have scuffled since, managing five goals in three games. Those changes continued Saturday when center Dylan Strome was a healthy scratch in favor of winger Anthony Mantha.

“Guys, when they get the opportunity, they’re going to go in there and play hard,” Laviolette said. “But when they come out, it’s not necessarily because they needed to come out.”

Despite some good early chances, Washington found itself in a 1-0 hole when the Flyers’ Scott Laughton opened the scoring with 6:44 left in the first period. His deflection of a shot from the point came with the Capitals shorthanded following a questionable tripping call that sent Lars Eller to the penalty box.

Alex Ovechkin had what would be the lone Washington goal, tying the score at 1 with 2:04 left in the period on a rebound. It was his 30th goal of the season; this is the 17th time he has reached that total in his 18-year NHL career, matching longtime Capitals star Mike Gartner for the most 30-goal seasons in NHL history. (Ovechkin had 24 goals in 45 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.)

Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ loss:

Strome being a healthy scratch was a surprise and the first time he was out of the lineup this season. He was a key contributor in the season’s first half, filling the void left by Backstrom as he rehabbed his surgically repaired hip. Strome is Washington’s third-leading scorer with 31 points in 44 games, but he had failed to record a point in the previous three games.

“Dylan’s played great for us, so he’ll be back in there,” Laviolette said. “These are tough decisions. I have to keep a balanced lineup in there. I’ve got to keep faceoff guys in there. I’ve got to keep penalty kill guys in there. He’s done a good job — he’ll be back in.”

Following the returns of Backstrom and Wilson, Mantha was a healthy scratch for two games. He has struggled with consistency and blamed his work ethic for being sidelined. Against the Flyers, Mantha had a big hit on his first shift and got time on the second power-play unit. He had a breakaway midway through the first period, but Hart got a piece of his shot. He had another good look on the rush midway through the third but couldn’t slip the puck past Hart then, either. He finished with four shots on goal in 17:10.

“I felt good,” Mantha said. “I think I was moving my feet. I think I had a couple opportunities — one breakaway I wish I had back. But, yeah, I felt good.”

Laviolette split up center Nic Dowd and winger Garnet Hathaway, placing Dowd on the third line with Mantha and T.J. Oshie while keeping Hathaway on the fourth line with Eller and Marcus Johansson. Laviolette has praised the chemistry Dowd and Hathaway have built over the past few seasons, making this shake-up a surprising change, too.

“They’ve been good,” Laviolette said Saturday morning. “They’re not only good defensively but chipping in with big goals offensively at the right time.”

Laviolette gave the first significant update on injured forward Connor Brown on Saturday morning. Brown had surgery to repair a torn ACL in early November and is expected to be out for the season while facing six to eight months of recovery time. He had no points in four games this season, his first with Washington.

“He’s doing more — still being watched and maintained to make sure that he’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Laviolette said. “But I think that there’s a page that you turn once you get past the first month of an injury like that. So he’s down that road now, doing good.”


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Spectacular, vintage-inspired cakes are a piping hot social media smash

Self-taught cake decorators are leading the industry into a hyper-feminine new era of layer cakes, over-piped with neon buttercream ruffles and topped with glittering maraschino cherries. 

The visually spectacular desserts have captured the attention of Instagram users across Australia, turning small scale cake decorating businesses into social media success stories. 

Avid home baker Javi Cerda put her corporate career on hold to open custom cake store Javi Bakes at Rushcutters Bay in June, after online demand outstripped the capacity of her small share house kitchen. 

Her Instagram account @javi.bakes has amassed over 20,000 followers, propelled by social media influencers such as Sydney’s Lillian Ahenkan (@flexmami). 

“When I realised I could make more money baking cakes full time, I thought I’d take the leap of faith,” Cerda explains.

Sydney psychology graduate Natasha Mavros picked up cake decorating during COVID lockdown as a way to pass time and lighten the mood with hand-piped messages (‘F— COVID’, says one heart-shaped cake with neon purple and orange ruffles). 

The intricately decorated cakes usually sell for $180-$300 per cake.
The intricately decorated cakes usually sell for $180-$300 per cake. Photo: Wolter Peeters

After a little trial and error and a lot of YouTube tutorials, Mavros started the Instagram account Baked in Space (@bakedinspace). Private messages began rolling in, requesting cakes for birthdays, weddings and even divorce parties. 

“I wasn’t trying to start a business … but it just blew up,” Mavros says.

“I had tens of thousands of followers within just five months, it was insane.

“When it was time to go back to work I realised I couldn’t, because I was fully booked with cake orders for the next month.”

Gen Z and millennial women make up the bulk of orders, which are usually priced between $180-$300 per cake, more for custom designs.

Cerda, who also began decorating during lockdown, taught herself how to pipe buttercream in the vintage style of renowned British pastry chef Joseph Lambeth.

"I wasn't trying to start a business … but it just blew up," Mavros says of her cake making venture Baked in Space.
“I wasn’t trying to start a business … but it just blew up,” Mavros says of her cake making venture Baked in Space. Photo: Wolter Peeters

In his 1934 cookbook, Lambeth Method of Cake Decoration and Practical Pastries, Lambeth popularised a centuries-old method of over-piping. The style returned to favour in the ’70s and ’80s, in part due to The Wilton School cookbooks. 

“There’s something very nostalgic about it,” says Cerda, referencing the wedding cakes of her parents’ generation. 

The cakes tap into society’s post-COVID attraction to nostalgia, explains Anna Le of Ginger Loves Cake.

“I remember seeing those cakes when I was growing up in the ’80s,” she says.

“If you were getting a wedding cake in that era, the piping was really over the top.”

Le, a freelance hair and makeup stylist, began decorating cakes for her daughter Ginger as a way to get out of a ‘creative rut’.

“I taught myself by watching Instagram reels,” she says.

“I thought I might do it for fun as a side hustle but … I didn’t realise it would be as popular as it is.”

Her Instagram-based cake decorating business @gingerlovescake quickly expanded. Operating out of her home kitchen in Marrickville, Le can only decorate up to 10 cakes each week. 

“I went from one or two orders each week to doubling, and quadrupling that,” she says.

“It’s all through Instagram … Decorating these cakes is an over the top artform that really captures peoples’ attention.”

FIVE VINTAGE-INSPIRED CAKES TO TRY




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FG interested in oil revenue, not environmental protection – INC boss

President of Ijaw National Congress, Prof Benjamin Okaba, shares his thoughts with DANIELS IGONI on oil spill in the Niger Delta and the clean-up of Ogoniland, among other issues

Shell recently announced that it would pay €15m to farmers in three Niger Delta communities as compensation for damages to their farms as a result of oil spill in compliance with a Dutch Court ruling. What do you make of this decision?

In the first place, we had expected more as a result of the damages done to our environment resulting from the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas over the years. No matter how little, this amount, for me, could be a starting point so that as many communities that are involved, the shift in focus and paradigm should be away from agitation to taking legal actions. I think it paid off in the Ogoni matter. This is also another case. The lesson for the Niger Delta people is that the use of arms is no longer providing the necessary result; instead, people should approach the court with application of due diligence. From our local courts to international courts, when judgments are passed, we will not be damaging our environment further. There had been talks about people who felt that one way of attracting justice is to get involved in illegal bunkering business and that kills the environment even faster than the activities of the oil companies. So, for me, the judgment is very good; it is a feat that should be emulated by communities affected by the same degree of damages over the years.

When will Nigerian courts also deliver judgments concerning oil pollution in favour of farmers and oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta?

The Dutch court ruling should also be a lesson to the Nigerian judiciary. This is what they should have done over the years. But again, it speaks volumes of the independence of the judiciary in this country. If you do an evaluation of oil matters, political matters and all that, you cannot beat your chest and say that our judiciary is as independent as expected. But if foreign countries can stand up and do the right thing, I think Nigerian courts should be bold enough to do the same thing. For me, such judgments show that the judicial system in this country needs to buckle up and do the needful.

But in all of these, it appears that communities in the region that bear the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation are the ones that initiate legal actions against multinational oil companies in foreign courts instead of the federal and state governments. Is it supposed to be so?

It is borne out of frustration when there is a high level of connivance and compromises on the part of the state and federal governments. In fact, when you talk about operations of oil multinationals in the Niger Delta and the various levels of deprivation and oppression, you will see the involvement of the state, particularly using the apparatus of state in cowing communities that come up to express their displeasure over the years with the oil companies not even meeting up with the conditions spelt out in Memoranda of Understanding that are agreed upon. These are communities that lack electricity, potable water and are heavily degraded. But over the years, it shows that the Federal Government is only interested in the revenues that they make from oil and gas and not really protecting the fundamental human rights and environmental rights of the people and the communities.

So, ab initio, they know that the government is not protecting them, and they have to take their destiny in their hands. Even when communities protest against the excesses of oil companies, the government or the state tend to openly support the oil companies and suppress the oil-producing communities instead of backing them. So, approaching the government to resolve any issue is just a waste of time, and they (communities) have decided to take up matters by themselves. Although it is capital intensive, at the end of the day, they will see results. For the same reason too, they don’t approach those courts that are under the influence of the Nigerian government, because they (courts) can even influence judgment against a community instead of an oil company. It is as bad as that.

What is the way forward for the oil-spill impacted communities that do not have confidence in the state?

For instance, there are international best practices in terms of oil operations and whether you like it or not, these operations are domesticated; and the kind of environments the oil companies find themselves in will actually influence the way they operate. These companies, if they have good intentions based on international rules and guidelines, when they come into a state or a country where the state officials, for selfish reasons, for what they will get out of these operations, will reduce standards to cut cost and tell them that certain things can be avoided in as much as benefits are accruing to them.

Look at our laws concerning gas flaring and environmental impact assessment and others. They are so cheap that they can be easily circumvented. So, the oil companies prefer to go and pay ahead of time. Even when there are infractions on those laws and policies, the state apparatus, instead of effecting arrest and ensuring compliance with the rules, through some compromises, they allow them to go. Look at what happened recently about the oil theft where a vessel that is as big as three football fields left the Nigerian waters and was only intercepted in Equatorial Guinea. When the naval commander raised the alarm, it was very obvious that this vessel left because there was high level connivance from the key actors; people that should have ensured that the correct papers were available and due diligence was applied were all compromised. It took the intervention of some foreign agencies and maybe the seriousness of the Federal Government, at least for once, to bring those persons to book.

So, these are things that affect the entire operations of what we do in this country, and that is why what is obtainable elsewhere can be easily abused in our clime. Nigerians go to China even as individual businessmen; a quantum of medicine that can cure an ailment, Nigerians pay extra money or pay less, not minding the impact of what they are doing; and bring highly diminished doses. That is the kind of clime we find ourselves in. The only solution is for the government to sit up, be truly patriotic and have the interest of the citizenry at heart and not think of what they will gain as individuals. We also have corrupt people internationally. But in countries like Singapore, you don’t go and do those things; they will kill you. But in Nigeria, such corrupt people have their local allies and at the end of the day, they get away with their crime and only the citizens suffer.

The Niger Delta has been described as the most polluted wetland in the world and the Federal Government is alleged not to be doing much in terms of protecting the region’s environment and the oil-producing communities. It’s been said that in some decades to come, the losses in terms of flora and fauna, and health hazards to the people will be massive. What is the fate of the people in the region?

For the past three or four decades, the cry against oil spill and environmental pollution has been ongoing. From Ken Saro-Wiwa, and even before him, Isaac Adaka Boro, and many Niger Delta struggles have been based on oil exploration and the degradation of the environment. For this number of years, people have been talking about a very bleak future for the Niger Delta people. As we speak, we are no longer talking about what to expect, the symptoms of the degradation on land, water and air are already being felt. There are health hazards. The Bayelsa State Government recently made a shocking declaration where it said that many people had been flown out of the country and about 90 per cent of these are people who have heart-related, pollution-related and cancer-related diseases.

You also know about the soot problem in Rivers State; look at the phenomenon of climate change, flooding patterns and encroachment of the ocean. These are things we have started seeing and economically speaking, they have made life so bad and horrible for the people; farmlands are not as productive as they used to be, our fishing ponds are no longer dependable to the extent that riverine communities that were exporting fishes now import iced fish to survive. We have to now survive on meat, foreign products; we have rivers all over the place, but they are not good enough. I am talking about contaminated water because most of our communities do not have potable water; they still depend on the badly polluted waters.

In fact, if you go to the Forcados and Gbaramatu areas, you will see the river almost overtaken by pollutants. To get clean water there is very difficult. So, we have started having the full impact of the oil spills, gas flares and all the various types of environmental degradation. We have started experiencing them full scale. Unless something drastic is done, in five to 10 generations from now, I don’t see them being able to live a normal life. Except there will be some miracle from heaven. That is the situation about massive oil spills and pollution in the Niger Delta. It is that bad. We have gone beyond the warning signals; we have started experiencing those dark ages we have been talking about befalling our people if urgent steps are not taken to mitigate the process.

Talking about oil spills, the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland has been rather very slow. What implication does this portend for the comprehensive clean-up of the Niger Delta?

When the INC delegation met with the Federal Government in 2021, this point was also made. I happen to be one of the consultants on socio-economic impacts. So, I know the areas impacted in Ogoni and they are massive, no doubt. But it cannot be compared with other parts of the Niger Delta like Bayelsa State. Yes, Ogoni is massively polluted, but we know that it is infinitesimal when compared to the degrees of pollution suffered in other areas in Bayelsa and other places. People applauded the UNEP intervention because we saw it as a stepping stone into what could happen from Ogoni to other areas. That is why Niger Delta leaders outside Ogoni did not say, ‘Come and start here’; or ‘Why not take all of us together’.

We just felt that let us use Ogoni as a test case, and with the seriousness that will be devoted to the clean-up and remediation process, something true can get to other places in the region. Unfortunately, the same Nigerian factor seems to be affecting the Ogoni clean-up. Now, the exercise is highly politicised and it is slowing down the process. It’s just that we don’t have a serious government. When we made these points to the Federal Government, saying, ‘You are starting with Ogoni, you will get to other places’, we thought that by now, the government would keep its promise and stand by it. Today, if we do an evaluation of what we have in Ogoniland, and in terms of the extent of compliance, it is nothing to write home about and there is no pretence of any hope for the rest of the Niger Delta. After several years with so much money pumped in, we cannot say that the environmental clean-up in Ogoni has attained 20 per cent. Then how do you talk about other places that you have not started at all. So, it is as bad as that.

In your view, has the Petroleum Industry Act made any significant difference in the conduct of oil and gas business in the country?

It does not look like the PIA is in existence. From inception, we were against it because we saw it as another obnoxious piece of legislation that was recklessly pushed down the throats of Nigerians. If you look at the manner in which it was pushed through in the National Assembly, it was clear that it was another way of providing an environment for oil companies in business to further exploit the resources of the Niger Delta to the extent that a call for just 10 per cent to the host communities, to at least address some of the impacts, because 10 per cent will not do anything; they gave the host communities a paltry three per cent. It is an insult, and we will continue to say that it is an insult. We have never believed that the PIA will work; that it will change anything.

Does it not surprise you that the PIA has not changed anything?

That the PIA has not changed anything is not a surprise to me. I do not expect that the PIA will change anything. It will even be a waste of time to do any evaluation on it. Nothing has changed. It is just that it has provided a legal framework for the oil companies to now make more lucrative gains, though they have been making such before, but now, they have a legal framework and all those community boards that are also structured in a manner that the communities have little or no control are just put in there to serve the interest of the state and not of the communities. The state governments that are in the constitution and have responsibility of ensuring peace and order are not even considered in the PIA. That is to tell you that it is confusion and confusion all the way. For me, we thank God that we still have some peace in the region in spite of all these.

The Federal Government has eventually constituted a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission. Does the INC have confidence in the new board?

Well, talking about confidence in the new board of the NDDC, the fact that with or without the so-called forensic audit, the board has been constituted and the era of sole administrator as the head of the commission is over. It is just a step further. Secondly, when you talk about the board’s capacity to perform, it depends on the individuals appointed and their sponsors, the Nigerian factor and the time in which they want to operate. We have a few weeks to the conduct of the general elections and the result of the election has a way of actually affecting the performance of the board.

The demands of the political party in charge, too, will also define the focus of the board. Is it there to link money to election funds? Are they there to actually address the developmental challenges of the Niger Delta or the political actors who have truly nominated them? They are people linked to one political actor or another. We must not fail to say this. So, what is the interest of the godfather? Those are a whole lot of considerations we have to do before somebody goes to clap hands and say, ‘Wonders will happen with this board’. However, it is better late than never and half bread, they say, is better than none. At least we have a board, but I don’t have much faith in any serious thing happening. That’s the truth.

The NDDC is alleged to be one of the most politicised federal agencies. What do you suggest should be the solution to the problem?

When you talk about politicisation, there is hardly anything that has to do with an appointment that is not politicised. If you say we want an NDDC with seasoned technocrats, these technocrats have to be nominated and appointed by the political class. So, you now have seasoned technocrats who are also politically appointed for political reasons, and it is not an agency that you say you grow as a career administrator and you get to the apex. Even at that level, maybe you get to the position of director and you say that one of the directors becomes this and that. We also have directors who are politicians and the appointment to the apex level will also be politicised. Therefore, political interference by the state is the major challenge. The major challenge they face is over-politicisation; if not every appointment is politicised. The vice-chancellorship appointment is politicised. There is a process that produces three persons, and the President chooses any out of the three. In as much as the issue of choice is made, it is politics.

So, political interference, not allowing people to do their job is a major challenge. Appoint the person and let him go and do his job. Don’t interfere; don’t set selfish targets. That is our bane and until it is addressed, it will be very difficult not only with the NDDC, but with all agencies, particularly those that are money-spinning; we will not have it right.

The pipeline surveillance contract has led to the discovery of huge oil theft locations in the Niger Delta. What is your impression about the revelations so far made?

We are expecting more discoveries and revelations on the large-scale oil theft in the region. Again, when the Nigerian people were made to believe that Niger Delta people, through oil bunkering, are the major oil thieves; in fact (former President) Obasanjo described us as ‘economic saboteurs’; we kept on saying that oil theft is capital intensive and the volume of oil theft we are talking about cannot be managed by local boys in these communities, and that there is heavy collaboration. Some of us went into the creeks and saw what was going on under the watch of military personnel, where boats were being loaded with crude oil in broad daylight under the supervision of military personnel; where about N500,000 then was paid as bribe for loading a boat; we also saw the involvement of international oil thieves.

All these things are not possible without the connivance of top-class military and intelligence officers because for those people to operate in and out of your continental shelf without the permission of the various naval and intelligence agencies is very difficult. So, the revelations, to a large extent, have vindicated the people of the Niger Delta that they are not the ones stealing crude oil. Secondly, records have shown that stealing of crude oil in offices is even heavier; those 800 barges that were found in foreign countries and unaccounted for; the stealing of crude oil in offices is more than what happens in the creeks. More discoveries, I believe, are on the way.

But federal troops have been seizing and destroying vessels caught with suspected stolen crude oil? What is the implication of this?

That is another disturbing dimension; why are they destroying evidence? Yes, some major vessels were caught and suddenly set ablaze. Why will they destroy the evidence? That in itself is further degradation to our environment. This is an issue that Niger Delta lawyers are beginning to put their heads together to see how they can sue the Federal Government, because those vessels are owned by people. When you find them with, maybe, tank farms, they should be intercepted and interrogated. Why the deliberate effort to destroy evidence? That tells us that people in top positions are involved in the sabotage.

The Federal Government has inaugurated an 11-man special investigative panel on oil theft headed by the Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Major General Barry Tariye Ndiomu. Is the INC going to present a memorandum to the panel?

Before now, we have had discussions with Ndiomu when he had some initial hiccups as to if the amnesty programme be shut down and what we need to do to sustain the peace in the Niger Delta. We had suggested to him that if the militants are engaged in ensuring that oil theft is reduced because they understand the terrain, the needed result will be achieved. I am sure he presented the same position to the Federal Government, and that was part of why they took this initiative that is paying off. If the Ndiomu committee demands memoranda from stakeholders, we will make our presentation to them. We will do deeper investigations and give them facts and figures as far as we know, because oil theft to a large extent is polluting our environment; there is no doubt about this. Secondly, it is economic sabotage, and thirdly, it has painted us in a very bad light. So, if we have the opportunity to change the narrative, why not?


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