This summer I took up a new hobby. I write for a living and you would think that would be sufficient left-brain activity to balance my right-brain analytical self. But no, technical writing involves zero creativity and 100% analysis of language. So I desperately needed to find something creative to do, especially since I’m semi-retired and have a lot of spare time. The problem is, I am not particularly creative. I can’t draw; I tried coloring books and quickly got bored; I painted enough ceramic coffee mugs to last me a lifetime; and my eyesight doesn’t support handcrafts like embroidery. Plus, I have absolutely no use for anything that I might create (other than the four coffee mugs I painted). I do not support dust-collectors.
My local library often has interesting workshops, and I attended one on rock painting. It had an immediate appeal because I have an unlimited supply of rocks for my canvasses, and I figured that I could toss my completed masterpieces back into the flowerbeds where I would be freshly surprised by their loveliness. In searching for ideas of what to paint on rocks (remember, I am NOT creative and thus have limited original ideas), I discovered dot mandalas. Oh. My. Goodness. Experienced dotters produce exquisite work, but honestly, even newbies’ rocks look good. Dot mandalas don’t require a lot of artistic skill, but they do require a good eye for geometric symmetry and a sense of color balance. I have both of those skills.
So I have been dotting away in my spare time and have found my zen. I had great fun purchasing 100+ small bottles of brightly colored acrylic paint and some inexpensive dotting tools. Here are some of the things that kept me busy this summer:
First I experimented using surplus ceramic tiles that I had on hand (God forbid, I wouldn’t want to mess up one of my expensive field rocks!). First tile on the left had blobby dots, but the symmetry wasn’t too bad. Second one on the right had better (but not perfect) dots, but I could have done a better job defining some kind of geometric pattern. But I liked the colors in both.
That went well, so I dared some rock art, on the left. Then I braved a little non-mandala art inspired by designs I found online. It was a lot of fun. Next week I will coat the rocks in resin and toss them out into the garden where they hopefully will age well and make me smile as I walk by.
Why is this important? You are never too old to try something new. But you don’t find passion; it finds you.
My kitchen scale died. I use it every morning to measure out my coffee beans and the weight of water I pour over the ground coffee, so this was a small crisis. I purchased the highest-ranked scale on Amazon for a mere $10, and although it was a nice scale, it automatically turned off after a mere 2 minutes of non-use. For people who constantly monitor their morning coffee’s pour-over operation, that might not be a problem. But I pour in three stages and do other things for breakfast preparation while each stage drips through. 2 minutes is far too short an interval for my needs. The scale kept turning off before I got back to add more water. So I returned it.
I spent hours searching a zillion Amazon-answered questions trying to figure out if a scale did or did not have an auto-off feature. At the end of this effort, I had six scales to choose from that were affordable and had a long or able-to-be-disabled auto-off feature. Hopefully this list will save you some time the next time your scale dies.
Best Overall Functionality Plus AC Adapter
- Auto-off can be disabled
- Comes with AC adapter, so you don’t have to mess with batteries (not helpful if you don’t have a convenient outlet)
- FastCompany found it to consistently read 0.5g too high.
Best Looking—9 Cool Colors
- I really liked the dark red color, but it comes in 9 very comes in 9 very cool colors
- 5000 g (11 lb) capacity
- 4-minute auto-off
- 10-year warranty
Although all of the American Weigh scales have auto-off, there is a button under the scale that can completely disable the feature.
- An AC adapter can be purchased separately
- Uses one 9V battery
- 10-year warranty
- 9.5 × 7.5 × 2.62 in. footprint
- 13-lb capacity
- 2 AAA batteries
- 10-year warranty
- 5.31 × 4.75 × 1.19 in. footprint
Added Functionality—A Timer
- Auto-off in 4 minutes
- 6.6 lb (3000 g) capacity
- Two AAA batteries
- 1-year warranty
- Glass top
- 5-year warranty
- 10 × 6 × 0.8 in. footprint
- Has a lock button that allows screen to stay on for 5 minutes without movement; else will go into sleep mode after 30 seconds and will shut off in 3 minutes
I am a huge fan of really good coffee. But I live 10 miles from a Starbucks, and I’m too frugal to pay Starbucks prices for my daily cups of joe. I had seen Pueblo’s local Solar Roast Coffee guys offer samples of their brewed coffee in SamsClub using a pour-over method, so I knew that a really good cup of coffee didn’t require huge sophisticated equipment. So I decided to knock off one of my New Year’s resolutions: learn to make a really good cup of coffee.
I drink decaf coffee and have been buying relatively good beans for a long time and grinding a week’s supply in a good quality burr grinder. Good decaf beans that are affordable are hard to source, and I wanted a regular supply to appear magically in my mailbox every month. So I set up a Subscribe & Save order with Amazon for 2 lb of San Francisco Bay decaf espresso roast coffee.
But that didn’t yield a really good cup of coffee using my trusty Mr. Coffee 4-cup coffee maker. So I needed to change the way I make coffee in addition to the coffee itself. I needed to brew coffee manually.
I researched different pour-over methods of making coffee, including French Press and Chemex. I already had a French Press from bygone years, and I still couldn’t get a good-tasting, non-gritty cup of coffee from it. Chemex machines were expensive, even the knock-offs. One of the comments in a Chemex review suggested that all I needed was a porcelain dripper and an understanding of the v60 brewing method.
I now have a perfect set-up and am producing 3 cups of rich, mellow coffee every morning without much more work and in about the same time it took the automatic coffee maker. Here are the ingredients:
I am adjusting the method described in the v60 Pourover Brew Guide to suit my preferred coffee strength. The whole process takes only 4 minutes. Here is my method:
- Put the electric teapot on to boil.
- Grind the coffee—just enough for one batch.
- Pre-warm the thermos with hot water from the tap.
- Insert a filter into the porcelain dripper.
- Use the water from the thermos to pre-wet the filter.
- Place the dripper over the wide-mouth thermos. The thermos will keep the brewed coffee hot all morning.
- Put the dripper and thermos on the scale.
- Add the ground coffee to the filter.
- Tare the scale to zero.
- Pour about 100 g of just-off-the-boil water over the coffee in the filter and wait 30 seconds to allow the coffee to “bloom.”
- Pour the rest of the water into the filter, in 100-g batches, using a steady circling motion.
- After all of the coffee has dripped through (it takes about 3 minutes), remove the porcelain dripper, pour your first cup, and cap the thermos.
I’ve had more reasons to deal with doctors this year, unfortunately. Very expensive. Very frustrating. And not particularly helpful. I finally chose to look beyond what is currently offered by traditional health care and insurance and I am thrilled and excited at the results!
I’m sure most of us are paying sky-high health insurance premiums with equally sky-high deductibles. When we actually DO need to see a doctor, we wait forever in a room full of sick people until we get our very brief 8 minutes to talk to the doc. I discovered a new breed of doctors who are using a health care model called “Direct Primary Care.” Participating doctors basically have divorced themselves from the insurance model of medicine and have gone back to the way doctoring used to be done.
My new doctor makes himself available 24/7 by phone, email, and text, and he gives me whatever time is required for my appointment, usually 30-60 minutes. For this he charges a low $65 monthly fee. In addition, he has an in-office pharmacy where he dispenses common medicines at greatly reduced rates. He also performs in-office labs and procedures for free.
At last I feel I can get good medical care from a doctor I trust without an insurance company standing in my way. I still have to keep my $800/month insurance, but my medical care is back to being something that I and my doctor control and my pre-deductible, out-of-pocket expenses are much lower. And now with a doctor who listens, who provides quality care, and who is there for me when I need him, I stand a much better chance of staying healthy.
If you’re interested, Google “direct primary care” and see if there are any participating doctors in your area. If you live in Pueblo, CO, I highly recommend Dr. John Thomas, On Point Primary Care,
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed the default colors in the Excel color palette to more subtle, pastel shades. And then I do it again a couple months later. And then again.
Today, when I once again yearned for a way to import pastel colors from a convenient template found somewhere on the Interworld, I realized that no such template exists.
I must be either the only person in the world who would want a pastel color palette in Excel or the only person in the world who is willing to take the tedious time to create one and then share it.
Here you go.
Excel Pastel Color Palette with RGB Values
To import this palette into your Excel program (I’m using the old Excel 2003, so you may need to adapt these steps to your application),
- Open the file you just downloaded, “Excel_Pastel_Color_Palette.xls.”
- Open the Excel workbook that you want to import the color palette into.
- On the Excel menu, select Tools->Options.
- In the drop-down box under Copy colors from, select the pastel color palette file name.
- Click OK.
One of the best things about June on my farm is mulberries. I have an ancient mulberry tree; I have picked its fruit since I was old enough to walk. But up until a few years ago, the joys of this tree were limited to the few short weeks where the goal was to stuff as many handfuls of the sweet purple berries into my mouth as possible every time I walked by the tree. A couple years ago I started eating the fruit every morning atop my granola and kefir. Serious yumm!
Mulberries are an odd fruit. They are so mildly flavored that they are overpowered in most dishes. They don’t make a particularly good jelly and I would despair having to pick enough of them to make 5 gallons of wine. I have a recipe for a nice mulberry and rhubarb pie, but the main role of the mulberry is to sweeten the rhubarb. One doesn’t bite into this pie and exclaim “Mulberries!”
A couple years ago I tried dehydrating them. After all, dehydrated strawberries and blueberries are good when ground into a coarse meal and added to cereal or ice cream. Not so with mulberries. They dehydrate into dried little balls of tastelessness. Even the chickens weren’t even sure what to do with them.
This year I’ve discovered the joy of fruit smoothies. A little yogurt, some whey or kefir, and a cup of mango or bananas make a flavorful lunch. Then it occurred to me to try mulberries. Oh. My. Goodness! Such a delight.
So now I am freezing about 7 cups of mulberries every evening (the only sensible time to pick in 99°F heat). I’ll be able to enjoy mulberries for many months of fall and winter. With no purple fingers!
Lynda.com is the BEST online tutorial service available. They’ve been around since 1995 and offer outstanding video tutorials on software, creative, and business skills. A couple years ago I gave up my monthly subscription to Lynda.com because although it was worth it, I just didn’t have time to view the tutorials and didn’t want to waste my money. A few months ago I had more free time and was searching around for video tutorials and discovered something amazing…
NOW you can get a FREE Lynda.com subscription via your local library. The Pueblo Library is not very large so I was absolutely amazed that it subscribes to Lynda.com. What a tremendous service! If you have a Pueblo library card, you are automatically eligible to use Lynda.com.
To get started (and probably the easiest way to learn if your library offers this) is to type the following URL into your browser and replace “your librarys URL” with your library’s URL:
http://lynda.com/portal/sip?org=your librarys URL
For instance, Pueblo access is at http://lynda.com/portal/sip?org=pueblolibrary.org
Colorado Springs access is at http://lynda.com/portal/sip?org=ppld.org
I can’t say enough good stuff about Lynda.com. They’ve helped me develop my business skills, learn new software programs, learn Web design (right now I’m learning how to master WordPress). Whenever my business is a little slow, I fill the time watching Lynda.com video courses. They have over 4,326 of them available.
Want to learn something new? Let your library help you learn from Lynda.com
I’m always looking for ways to reduce household expenses and eliminate unnecessary chemicals from my life. For the past several months, I’ve been making my own dryer sheets. Goodbye Bounce fabric sheets! These homemade sheets are so easy to make and totally sustainable—use them over and over again.
- Locate a tight-sealing plastic container about 6 in. x 9 in. (but size really doesn’t matter). I use a RubberMaid one. A baby-wipes container works, too.
- Cut up an old-t-shirt or other scrap fabric into rectangles that, when folded in half or in thirds, will stack neatly in the plastic container. I cut mine 9 in. x 9 in. with pinking shears to reduce edge fraying.
- In a measuring cup, mix 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 15-20 drops of your favorite essential oil. I tried orange oil first but it didn’t smell very strong. I next tried lavender essential oil and I like it a lot. You can try grapefruit seed or tea tree oil as well.
- Stack 1/3 of the pieces of cloth in the container. Pour 1/3 of the vinegar mixture over the stacked fabric pieces. Repeat these layers twice with the remaining fabric and vinegar mix. This will evenly saturate the cloth with the vinegar.
- Put container lid on securely.
The vinegar will freshen the laundry, combat static cling (but not entirely win), and soften the cloth. The essential oils will make everything smell good and some oils will kill any bacteria and germs found in the laundry. The clothes stay surprisingly moist in the sealed container. I stack the used clothes on a shelf above the washing machine and repeat the process when the ones in the container are all used.
You’ve bookmarked a zillion Web sites, but how often do you REALLY go back to see what is new? Maybe you have a dozen sites that you semi-regularly check for new content. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could just tell those sites to send you their new content automatically so you don’t have to remember to do anything? And wouldn’t it be great if all of the new content from all of your favorite sites could arrive in a beautiful daily online magazine? Oh, and FREE would be nice, too.
Feedly does all of this.
Referred to as a “news aggregator,” Feedly does much more than grab the headlines of your favorite newspapers. You can customize Feedly to gather content about ALL the things that interest you. Most blogs and sites that provide consumable information are coded so that Feedly recognizes their “feeds.” For instance, I keep abreast of new technology by reading posts from Lifehacker and several technical writing blogs; I read daily homesteading posts from Backwoods Home Magazine and Mother Earth News. I track sites that address the various medical problems I live with. I get daily recipes from several foodie blogs that I enjoy. Feedly streams content from YouTube channels that I follow. Wired Magazine always posts terrific daily content even if you don’t subscribe to the magazine. And of course, my day wouldn’t be complete without reading a dozen or so LOL Cats.
Whatever interests you, you can find content for Feedly to bring to you. Feedly has a desktop program for your computer and Android and IOS apps for your mobile. Feedly itself operates from the “cloud,” so you can read your stuff wherever you are.
But it is the reading experience itself that makes Feedly so enjoyable. Most sites provide big, beautiful banner graphics that Feedly will display along with the story, making it easy to visually scan the day’s collection to decide which stories you want to read in more detail.
I let Feedly bring the world to me every day. I never worry about forgetting to check a Web site or missing an important news story. I would not want to be without this tool. Of all the apps that I have on my devices, Feedly is my daily go-to app. Give it a try.
Get it here: http://feedly.com/i/welcome