The Science Nerd

My Facebook Fast

April 3, 2014

Last week, I decided to take a break from Facebook. I had Gayle create a new password so I couldn’t even log in if I wanted to. I took the app off my phone and spent an entire week completely unconnected from Facebook. And, after a few uncomfortable moments, I loved it.  I decided to do this because I felt I was spending too much time and too much energy interested in what other people were saying and doing. I rarely posted anything myself, but I was spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling through reading everybody else’s posts; afraid that I might miss something.

After the first 24 hours of my “fast” I stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing. I stopped worrying that I was missing something. I was able to spend that time doing other things. Things that actually meant something.

image

I decided last night to return to Facebook, but with a few restrictions. I will not put the Facebook app back on my phone so I can avoid that easy any minute of any day check. And I am only going to check from my desktop once a day. I’m not sure anyone noticed that I was missing for a week and I’m pretty sure they won’t notice that I’m not on all the time. The person it will make a difference for is me.

So what did I learn from this experience? I learned that I don’t need Facebook. In fact I think it detracts from me being more alert as I go through my day. I learned that Facebook didn’t miss me. It’s not necessary for everyone to know everything I’m doing every moment of every day. Nor is it necessary for me to know everything about other people. And lastly I learned that it’s a whole lot better to live for myself than to live vicariously through other people and their Facebook postings.

I survived the Facebook fasting experience, even thrived! And I’m a better person for it.

See you in the real world!

People think I’m crazy, but I don’t like using the dishwasher. It always seemed like no matter how much I rinsed and scrubbed the dishes, at least half of them came back out dirty. And then, washing them was even more of a chore because of the baked on junk. It just wasn’t worth it! I would rather wash them by hand the first time then have to rinse them, put them in the dishwasher, take them out of the dishwasher and then wash them.

That is – until I found these!

image

In case you don’t recognize the picture, it is a Cascade Complete Action Pac. I’m not sure why I bought them – probably because they were on sale and I had a coupon. I most likely got them for free, or at least close. Now I’m pretty sure I would sell a kidney for them!

I decided to try the dishwasher again with the new dish washing detergent and much to my amazement, the dishes actually came out clean. I didn’t have to re-wash everything. In fact, I didn’t have to re-wash anything! And it wasn’t just a one time fluke either. I have been using these Cascade Acton Pacs for a few months now, and the results are always the same – super clean dishes!

This is not an affiliate post or anything. Its just me, letting all of you know about something that removed a lot of frustration from my life. If you have trouble with your dishwasher, try some. They might make all the difference.

Homemade Pretzels

April 29, 2013

First attempt at making pretzels

I love pretzels!  I’m partial to salty snacks anyway, but there is just something about that flavor, it’s one of my favorites.  So, when Gayle told me that Friday was “National Pretzel Day” I knew we had to try to make pretzels.

I went Friday afternoon and purchased the ingredients we would need, which wasn’t difficult – the ingredients were things like flour, oil, salt, milk and yeast.

The first step was to add the yeast to some warm milk and let it sit.

Ready to make the dough

While the yeast was activating, I mixed the flour and salt.  Then I added water and oil to the yeast mixture and mixed it all together.

Needs more flour

The dough was very sticky, so I needed to add more flour, in fact, I added more than I thought I would need to, but it all worked out.  I placed a towel over the bowl and let it rise.

(Im)patiently waiting

 

After an hour, I kneaded the dough for a minute or so and then formed it into 8 balls.  Gayle came to check out the progress and decided that the balls were boring, so she made a circle and a pretzel shape.  We let the dough rise for another 15 minutes.  While waiting, I got the hot water bath together by mixing salt and baking soda in a pot of water and set it on the stove.

Pretzel ring in boiling salt water

When the water was boiling, I added the dough 2 or 3 balls at a time and let them boil for about a minute, then placed them on a greased cookie sheet.  Each pretzel was scored with a knife and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

Adding salt to the pretzels before baking

After they had all been boiled, they were placed in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but they looked great – and tasted great too. Just like soft pretzels!

Fresh from the oven

The balls were a bit doughy because they were so thick, so next time we will probably roll them all out into shapes so there is more outside surface area.  The recipe I used made 8 large pretzels, and we only ate two of them.  We placed the rest in a Ziploc bag, but by the next day, they were soggy and not very good.

The next time we make them we will just make enough to eat right then and freeze the rest of the dough or make them when we are having people over to help eat them.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

The Dough

3 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups milk, slightly warmed

1/2 cup water, slightly warmed

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

The “Bath”

3 1/2 cups water

1/2 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons baking soda

In a small container, mix yeast with warmed milk and let rest for 10 minutes. Whisk 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add canola oil and warmed water to yeast mixture. Pour into bowl with flour and salt. Knead in the bowl until dough is mostly smooth. Only add more flour if your dough cannot be easily handled.  The dough will be somewhat stiff. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and put in a warm place to rise for one hour.

Punch down dough and knead in bowl for one minute. Cut dough into 8 pieces. (Cut more pieces if you would like smaller size rolls.) Shape the dough as desired. Place on a well-greased surface. Let the dough balls rise for 15 minutes.

While the dough balls are rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get the pretzel “bath” ready. In a large pot, bring water, salt, and baking soda to a rolling boil. Plunge three dough balls into the water and let them “poach” for 1 minute total. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a well-greased baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut 2-3 lines across each roll and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pretzels are a rich brown.

Tonight was “try something new in the kitchen” night and I had a recipe I was eager to test out. It involved chicken, mushrooms and sherry so you know it had to be good. And without further ado…here it is.

Ingredients

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
Salt
Pepper
1/3 cup flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small can mushrooms
1/2 cup sherry
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Directions

1.  Coat both sides of the chicken breasts with flour.

2.  Place oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat.  Brown chicken on both sides.  (The chicken doesn’t need to be fully cooked as it will finish cooking in the oven.)

3.  Transfer chicken to a casserole dish.

4.  Place butter in the same pan, add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook while stirring until mushrooms are heated through.  Add sherry and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Add cream of mushroom soup and cook until hot.

5.  Pour soup mixture over chicken and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

I served the chicken with mashed potatoes and green peas.   It tasted great.  Both Gayle and I decided it should be added in to the rotation.  And as a bonus, it was not difficult to make.  You could serve it with rice or noodles, there was  plenty of gravy to put over whatever your side is….it was very good over the potatoes.  Next time, I might saute some onions to add in the gravy.

We will definitely have this one again…..and I’ll try to remember to take a picture!

 

Get Paid to Shop

March 4, 2013

A few weeks ago, I saw a Facebook post about a coupon for a free 2 liter Coke at Lowe’s Foods.  The coupon came from Aisle 50 (affiliate link), an online coupon site that puts deals directly on your Lowe’s Rewards card.  Most of the deals offered on Aisle 50 have to be purchased.  For example – a buy one get one coupon off Folgers Gourmet coffee.  You pay $5.98 at the Aisle 50 website and a coupon for 2 bags of coffee is added to your rewards card.  When you get the coffee and swipe your card, $11.98 is discounted from your order (the price of both bags).  There are not many deals on the website yet, but there were two free ones that I took advantage of.

The first deal was the 2 L of Coke that I discovered on Facebook.  The other was a coupon for a free box of Martha White muffin mix.  I loaded both deals on my card. The next day, i was out running errands and decided to stop by Lowe’s and get my free items. It didn’t hurt that we had people coming over for dinner and I knew the Coke would be good to have that evening.

I picked up my Coke and a Lemon Poppy Seed muffin mix and headed for the Self Checkout aisle.  The Coke rang up at $1.79 and the muffin mix was a dollar.  What I didn’t realize was that the soda was on sale and the coupon discounted the regular price.

So, here is a summary of the deal:

2 L Coke $1.79

Muffin Mix $1.00

Tax $0.16

Total $2.95

Coke coupon -$2.00

Muffin Mix coupon -$1.00

Total cost (-$0.05)

The register was not too happy that my total was negative, and I needed a cashier to help.  Even the cashier wasn’t sure what was going on and had to call a manager.  The manager was able to give me my groceries and a nickel.

I knew my two items were going to be free, but I assumed I was going to have to pay tax.  I was thrilled to find that the coupon was for more than the sale price of the soda which made this deal a money maker for me.  I was pleasantly surprised!

I can see, with careful planning how buying some of the deals would work out the same way.  For example, the coffee deal.  If you paid the $5.98 for two bags and they were on sale or BOGO the deal would be even better and possibly free.

If there is a Lowe’s Foods near you, check out Aisle 50.  (It works at a few other stores, but I didn’t recognize any of them.)  At the very least you can get a free soda and some muffin mix.

Peeking Out of the PK Box

January 25, 2013

In the past, I have mentioned that I grew up in a home that was religious, but not particularly spiritual.  My father was a Baptist minister (hence the PK in the title – I was a Preacher’s Kid) and everything we did revolved around the church.  When I was very young, the house we lived in was basically in the church parking lot.  Our living room was used for Sunday School classes and people had no hesitation dropping in if my dad wasn’t in the church office.

Jr High Me (and the fam)

My Junior High years were spent in Tacoma, WA where my dad took a job as a fundraiser for the local Seminary.  This meant he preached in a different church every Sunday all while raising money for the school.  If he was speaking in a church close by, we all went with him.  Which meant a new church with new people pretty much every week.  My brother and I hated it.  We would beg to just sit in the car and have our own church.  We promised to sing hymns, read the Bible and even take up an offering – just so we didn’t have to face a new set of kids in a strange Sunday School class.  As a 13 year old this was particularly horrible – Jr High…well, they aren’t always the most friendly group.

This was also the time that we attended Tacoma Baptist Schools, a particularly rigid institution where free thinking was STRICTLY FORBIDDEN.  I actually thrived in the rigid setting because I am great at taking in information and spitting it back out.  Don’t ask me to analyze it or come up with an opinion though, that gives me great stress.

During this time, I remember driving many miles to go see a movie – “Return of the Jedi” I believe it was.  We couldn’t risk being seen by anyone we knew…..movies were a big no-no.

We moved to California when I started High School, and I went to the local public school, but 98% of my friends were from church and I stayed far far away from trouble.

When it came time to choose a college, I received information from schools all over the country.  There was a school in Maine that intrigued me, but  I really wanted to go to UCLA.  My parents just assumed that I would go to The Master’s College, a school in Los Angeles formerly named Los Angeles Baptist College.  And even though it wasn’t my first choice, because of who I was, I didn’t want to make waves or disappoint them so I never said different, and off I went.  It probably suited my personality best, the small school with the code of conduct, discouraging outside the box thinking, but sometimes I wonder how far I could have gone if I went to a place with more opportunities.

This is the box I grew up in.  The religious box, never drifting from what you were taught.  Never questioning, just believing.  Never thinking for yourself, but blindly following what your minister, teachers or parents told you was right.

It took me a long time to even realize there was a box, and even longer still to pop my head out of it.  And still to this day I spend a lot of time in the box…forgetting that I can have my own opinions about things.  I can believe in evolution AND creation.  I don’t have to choose.  i can know that Jesus is real and so is global warming!  I can go to church because I want to, not because it’s required by my parents, or by the school that I chose to attend.

Peeking out of the box is exhilarating and scary…and the feelings change minute by minute.  The one thing I am sure of, and it’s true for everyone, is that you aren’t really living if you are trapped in a box someone else has created for you.  It could be a religious box, not allowing you the freedom to question what you believe because you are afraid that you might change your beliefs.  It could be a gender box.  ”Girls don’t wash the car.” was a frequent comment I heard growing up when I wanted to help with that chore.  It could be a marriage and family box.  You might feel pressured to get married and have kids when you have no desire for that.  (I have friends who are constantly talking about their grown daughter and how “her life would be complete” if she found a man and got married.  It drives me crazy!)  It doesn’t matter what you believe or want or wish for, just make sure it’s yours and not another’s.

I frequently feel saddened because I spent so long in a box and not really living.  

What opportunities did I miss?  There was a time I wanted desperately to be a veterinarian.  I think my choice of college and my fear of challenging the box that was created for me caused me to miss that opportunity.  I loved playing music, but again, my fear of doing anything that would put me out there for people to see caused me to put away my trumpet and give up.

Living with those regrets isn’t living either.  I can’t change the past.  I have to decide from today to really live….taking each minute as a gift and not squandering any more of the precious life I have.  Now, I’m not saying that I have never jumped outside this box.  I have done things that have been at odds with those who wanted me to stay in the box.  I’ve taken chances and done what I wanted to do instead of what I was expected to do.  As I look back, those decisions made (and in most cases continue to make) me very happy.  They were the right decisions.  But unfortunately, I hopped back in the box – never daring to venture out for long (even to give an opinion).  Until now….

That is my quest for the future.  Hopefully there will be many more blog posts about my journey as I climb from the box.  Expect to hear the struggles and joys and hopefully find encouragement to peek out of the box you might be hiding in – the real world is a great place!

 

 

Review: Rummikub

December 21, 2012

“We can’t do it Wednesday night, that’s game night.  And game night is sacred.”  This sentence is spoken pretty regularly in our world.  About a year ago, we began hosting game night at our house.  It’s a small group of people, usually 4-5 and we start off the evening with dinner, eaten family style at the table.  After we eat, we move to the living room to play a game.  The game varies each week-  we will play card games, board games and sometimes we even pull out the Wii for some video game action.  And no topic of conversation is off limits.  We will discuss religion, politics or just the silly things that happened in the past week.  And even though our views may differ – we can all talk freely without anger or hurt feelings.

One game that we play frequently is Rummikub.  It is kind of like Gin Rummy, but played with colored and numbered tiles instead of cards.

The game is played by laying down tiles in sets of the same number (3-3-3) or runs with the same color (4-5-6).  All sets must a  group of at least three.  It sounds easy, but the best part – which is also the hardest part comes when a lot of tiles have been played.

You see, in Rummikub, you can mix and match tiles in an infinite number of ways as long as you follow the rules which are pretty simple – leave three tiles in each set and a run must be of the same color and stay in numerical order.

So, in order to get rid of one tile in your hand, you might make 5 manipulations of the board.  And one move by the person before you can completely throw off your entire game plan.  There can be a large amount of strategy involved and you definitely must think outside the box in order to win.  The instructions do place a time limit of two minutes on someones turn, so there isn’t that one person that monopolizes the game looking for a move for 10 minutes.

We really enjoy this game because it involves lots of thinking, but isn’t “in the box” thinking like some other games.  There is always more than one answer, and the possibilities are almost limitless.

 

So, if you are a game lover, or you know someone who is – try Rummikub.  It’s a fun game for all ages.

Hearty Meal – Beef Stew

December 6, 2012

Sometimes you just want a hearty dinner.  And even though it was a warm December day,  (temp was in the 70′s, no kidding!) it just felt like the perfect day for beef stew or stroganoff.   So, knowing that we needed to eat fairly early so I could go to my knitting group and then on to choir practice, I began searching for a beef stew recipe that could be made in the crock pot.  (I love my crock pot!  It makes dinner, or even lunch, super easy!)  After searching around a little bit, I found something that sounded good and used stuff we already had in the house.  A trip to the grocery store for one little ingredient would have thrown off my whole day!

So, while I was fixing lunch (OK – heating up leftover pizza) I also worked on dinner.  I defrosted half a roast we had frozen.  We like to buy a pretty good sized roast when they are on sale and cut it into two or three pieces.  One gets cooked right away while the others get frozen (the other kitchen gadget that I really love is my Seal-A-Meal.  I am able to vacuum seal leftovers or meat or whatever and it lasts so much longer.)  Anyway, I defrosted a roast, cut it into bite sized pieces, covered it with flour and placed it in a skillet with a small amount of oil.   While the meat was browning, I cut up 4 small potatoes, 2 carrots (I’m the only one in our house that likes carrots, so I didn’t put many in there) and one large onion and put them all in the crock pot.  When the meat was browned on all sides I added it to the crock pot and then added one cup of beer.  Finally, I put a cup of water into the pan that browned the meat, scraped up all the browned pieces from the pan and added it all to the crock pot as well.  I set the crock pot on medium ( which says 8 hours, but the food is usually ready in half that time with this particular model) and let it get to work.  All in all this took about 15 minutes.

After lunch, I pulled out the bread machine, added everything to make a loaf of bread and let it get to work too.  It wasn’t long before the house was smelling wonderful!

And Voila! at 5:00, dinner was ready –  and it tasted great too!  The beef stew was not as soupy as I’m used to, but it hit the spot.  And fresh bread is rarely a bad addition to a meal.

We decided that this was definitely a keeper meal.  The only thing we might do next time is add some mushrooms.  I could also get everything ready days in advance, seal it and freeze it for a quick easy meal with no prep – just defrost, place in the crock pot and hit start.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 1-2 pounds beef roast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • flour
  • 4 small potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup beer
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 hours

 

I want to write.  I want to post on this blog, and also on my other blog, Fat2Triathlete, which details my quest to complete an IronMan triathlon.  I have great intentions….but really poor follow through.

I start on a post, get distracted and then never finish it.  I think about things that would make terrific blog posts, but then never get them typed out.

While meeting with a group of fellow bloggers the other day, we were talking about the difficulty in writing consistently and the conversation turned to keeping an editorial calendar.  I knew that some bloggers kept a schedule of things they wanted to post and when they would post them, but it all seemed to “business like” for my blog.  After all, I’m not writing for Better Homes & Gardens, this is just my blog.

However, the more we talked about it, the more it seemed like a really good idea.  It should help keep me organized, give me a goal and a plan, and eliminate some of the “what do I write about” issues that I seem to have.  I’m also working on organizing other areas of my life.

SIDE NOTE: I own a small business, and there are so many things that need to be accomplished every day, it’s easy to let things fall through the cracks.  I was trying to think of ways to organize myself that made sense to me.  There are tons of things out there about organization, but if it isn’t something I can really grab hold of, it’s hard for me to follow through.   And then it hit me – Lesson Plans!  I was a teacher for 8 years and every Friday I created lesson plans for what was coming the next week.  It was required, but it was also very helpful in scheduling and organizing my days.  And I thought, why wouldn’t that work now?  So, starting last  Sunday I now create a TO DO Lesson plan –  schedule out all the things need to get done.  That way, I don’t feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to begin – I have a plan.  It, so far, has been very freeing – my mind isn’t worried about what has to get done, it’s all written down and waiting for me.  And I have had a very productive week – including getting some little tasks done that before would have been forgotten until it was too late.

Now, back to my blog lesson plan.  The first thing to be done was find an editorial calendar template.  I looked at lots of them and finally settled on a basic monthly calendar.

My next step was to create categories – the areas I’d like to write about.  If you are wondering what I came up with, here they are -

  • Monday – Susie Homemaker – my “mom” posts (I know I’m only mom to two wonderful dalmatians, but I still like to do all those homey things usually associated with moms and why not share them) – recipes, crafts, gardening, etc.
  • Tuesday – Personal Growth – when I started this blog, I wanted a place to record my journey, a journey away from life with my head in the sand and toward a more awakened mentality.  I’ve moved away from writing about my struggles in this area, and am interested in sharing more of this journey.
  • Wednesday – Reviews – this will be the day that I share with my readers my opinions on different things.  I’ll review products, movies, books, any items that I think are worth sharing with you.
  • Thursday – Educational – As I said earlier, I was a teacher for many years and I still do some math and science tutoring because I just love it!  This teaching thing is in my blood and impossible to get away from, so even thought I’m not sure where exactly this one is going, it will most likely be posts about something I’ve learned that I think is valuable.
  • Friday – Spirituality – I grew up in a Baptist ministers home.  There was plenty of religion, but hardly any spirituality.  I grew up believing everything I was taught without questioning or thinking and deciding for myself.  Coming out of that box, finding my own path and discovering what I truly believe is a difficult but important step on my journey and worthy to be discussed here.

I probably won’t write something everyday, heck I’ve had trouble writing something once a month, so don’t expect miracles! I am looking forward to having a plan and a direction.  We shall see where it leads!

As a bonus – I already have three weeks worth of stuff to write about.  See, I knew it was in there…I just needed a good way to get it out.

Today I am thankful for the ability to cook good meals at home.  I’m not the greatest cook in the world, but I do enjoy finding and trying new recipes.  I also don’t make anything super fancy or complicated.  I try to stick to more basic things that taste good (hopefully)

Steak au Poivre - one of the more popular meals made at home (photo by Gayle Tabor)

.

Gayle says that she will try just about anything once, and there have been a few recipes that we have only made once and then they had to be tossed out, never to be made again.  But there have been those recipes that were a home run the first time and get added into the meal rotation.  There have also been those that were ok, but with a little tweak became great.

The Steak au Poivre was one of those that became a hit right away.  Everyone loved it and we have had it a few times since that first occasion.  I try to blog about things I’m cooking on occasion, just to share what has worked or not worked for us.

I sometimes wish I was more creative or inventive, but mostly I am thankful for the ability to put good food on the table.