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Those who know, know.

Yes, for those who know, you know.  This is, indeed, the final countdown.  I am excited.

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2014 in Advice, Projects/Activities

 

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ALS: Ice bucket challenge

If you’re on the internet much or have any access to social media, you’ve probably seen dozens of videos of people dumping buckets of icy water over themselves.  This has all been a part of a campaign to raise awareness and generate donations for the ALS Association.  The campaign to generate money to the cause has gone viral and has been quite successful, reportedly over $70million has been donated in just over a month’s time.

ALS is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, as he was one of the first big-name individuals in the US to bring attention to it.  Here is the blurb from the ALS website describing the condition: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

The rules of the ice bucket challenge are fairly simple.  You are challenged or nominated by a friend (usually through social media), and you have 24 hours to either donate money to the cause or record yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over yourself. [Many people, including us, have elected to do both - dump the ice water over yourself and donate to the cause.]  You then are responsible for nominating/challenging a few of your friends to participate.  This strategy of nominating others was obviously very successful in having the challenge spread rapidly.

It has actually been an interesting illustration of the “six degrees of separation” idea (sometimes referred to as the six degrees of Kevin Bacon).  This is the idea that you can connect any two random people in the world with 6 connections or fewer (i.e. friend of a friend of a friend…6 times).  This comes from experiments done by Stanley Milgram in the 1950s who sent letters to random people in the midwest asking them to get a packet to a named individual somewhere on the east coast. (See: “small world problem“) The packet contained rules that they were not to look up the individual and they were to pass the packet along to one individual who they thought would be able to get it to that person, or at least in a better position to get it to that person (e.g. “I know someone in New York, maybe they will be able to get it to that person” or “I know someone in Indianapolis who has family in Boston, maybe that will work”).  They found the average number of stops for the packets that made it was between 5-6.  Thus, they concluded that everyone was, on average, connected through six connections or fewer (though Milgram never referred to it at “six degrees of separation”).

Experement_Small_World_(possible_option)

In the Kevin Bacon example, it’s the idea that you can connect any random actor to Kevin Bacon using 6 or fewer films that people have worked in together.  There is even a web site that will give you the shortest path possible to Kevin Bacon.  Updated network theory will tell you that the magic number of connections in the US are closer to 3, in order to connect any two random people.

With widespread social media use by so many individuals, I’m not even a little surprised.  And this ALS challenge that has gone viral and been completed by so many people bears that out.  Here’s ours:

 

And how about one in slow motion just for fun:

 

While this movement has been wildly successful in garnering attention and raising lots of money, it has also not gone without critique.  The lines of criticism that I have noticed are things like “people don’t even know what ALS really is, they are just doing this because it’s popular”, “there are worse diseases and more worthy causes to donate to right now such as ebola or poverty, people shouldn’t just care about ALS”, “people are wasting good, clean drinking water for this campaign”.

To these critiques I would say this: ALS is a good cause.  It is a campaign that was fun and catchy and spread like wildfire; don’t be mad because it worked so well.  Yes, there are absolutely other pressing issues and causes that deserve money and attention as well, but that doesn’t mean that ALS should feel guilty about their successful campaign. Donations and causes are not a zero-sum game where if I donate to one thing or care about one thing, then I can’t donate or care about something else too.  It also should not be some sort of hierarchy where we rank causes and only the most important should receive our donations or attention. And the fact is that for many (myself included) if I wouldn’t have donated the money that I donated to ALS, I probably would not have put that money towards a different cause.  It was a bit of money that would’ve gone to paying a bill, putting in savings, or maybe getting a drink at a bar.  It’s better for ALS to get that money than no cause at all.  And even if I didn’t know a thing about ALS, the donation was still sent and will hopefully be used effectively to advance research and treatment options.  Plus, that ice cold water was actually kind of refreshing down here in South Florida after the initial shock!

 

 

 

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Breakfast Treat: Cook This, Not That!

I recently blogged aboutCook This, Not That!, a combination cook/health book which I’ve been reading.  I remarked how pleased I was with the amount of information and underlying philosophy with respect to cooking and eating.  I also said that I would try to post a few good meals that were inspired from this book.  So here’s a breakfast that I recently made, inspired by one of their “instant breakfast” ideas.

 

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What I did:

~1/2 cup of salsa in the bottom of an oven safe bowl

2 eggs cracked on top

Sprinkle bit of shredded cheese on top, season with salt and pepper

Put in the oven ~12 mins, until the eggs are cooked

Top with a couple slices of avocado and a dollop of Greek yogurt (my additions to their recipe)

The Verdict: It was pretty delicious, and loaded with a good amount of protein.  It was also quite filling.  In fact, if I were to do it again, I would probably do it just about the same, except that Em and I would split it.  (She also requested a bit less salsa on the bottom, so I’d do slightly less if we were splitting.)  If I were to do it again for myself, I’d probably do everything in about the same proportion, but halve it (only one egg).  All in all, however, it was very easy, very tasty, and relatively quick (the prep time was very minimal, although it did take the egg ~12 minutes to cook).  I give it two thumbs up!

As Always: Eat. Be Happy.

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Budget/$$, Food, Uncategorized

 

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Wedding DIY: Name Tags

As loyal readers probably know, Em and I enjoy a good DIY project every now and then.  This has been no different with respect to our wedding celebration that we have been planning for months.  We’ve taken on several different wedding projects that we have decided to do ourselves.  When it comes to DIY projects, 1) we enjoy doing them together, 2) we develop a connection to whatever project/product we are working on and a good story to tell, and 3) it often ends up being more cost-effective than if we would purchase it.

Here is one particular project that we have done for the wedding – name tags (or “escort cards” as Em likes to say).  We decided to use wine corks as name tag holders for all of our guests.  Our centerpieces will have empty wine bottles that will hold the table number cards, surrounded by 2-3 glass jars with flowers in them.  Thus, the wine corks work well with the wine bottle theme.

Here’s what I did: 1) cut a slit lengthwise down the middle of a wine cork with a knife. This was actually kind of difficult, in part because our knives are getting a bit too dull, but also because the corks will roll on you.  You’ve got to get a good grip on the cork, and be very careful.  And 2) use a hot glue gun to attach a penny to the bottom of the cork.  This is to help stabilize and weight the corks so that they will stand up with the actual name tags in them.

shout out to indiana's finest!

shout out to indiana’s finest! oliver winery!

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There’s nothing too glamorous or tricky about this project, but it does require you to be very careful and pay attention to what you’re doing and it’s a bit time consuming.  It also ends up looking very nice, and adds a personal touch with some wine and good times that we’ve shared.  And again, on a budget.  The only money we spent on this was going to the bank and asking for $1 in pennies.  Hint: If you don’t have the wine corks yourself, try going to a winery or establishment and asking them if they have some corks to spare or if they would mind collecting some for you (it worked for us!).

amassing an army of name tags

amassing an army of name tags

 

We are excited to debut them at the wedding.  I imagine that they will look very nice overall, especially with our centerpieces.  I’m sure I will have more pictures to share with how these corks look, and the wedding in general, in the coming weeks.

 
 

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Cook This, Not That!

About a week ago, I started reading a book – Cook This, Not That! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, two editors of Men’s Health magazine.  As the title suggests, it is a cook book.  But it’s not just filled with a bunch of recipes; it’s a cookbook with lots of advice and suggestions regarding how to eat and cook healthy(er) and what kinds of things to eat more generally.

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I’m generally fairly interested in health and fitness stuff, and I love to cook (and eat)!  What I have really really enjoyed about this book, is their underlying philosophy towards healthy eating and cooking, which is largely aligned with my own personal philosophy.  The main thrust of the philosophy is this (in my own words) – it’s nearly always both healthier and cheaper to cook your own food. (And with practice, you can probably learn to cook your own food pretty well!)  It’s also not the case that you have to limit yourself to only eating certain foods or wholesale dismiss others in order to be healthy*. A person can eat a wide variety of delicious foods and still maintain a quite healthy diet, as long as you are paying attention and using moderation and some common sense (not always so common, I guess!).  They also seek to help dispel some of the myths or “conventional wisdom” that we have come to believe when it comes to food.

 

"the carb scorecard"

“the carb scorecard” (click to enlarge)

So with that philosophy in mind, they set out to educate people how to eat great food reasonably healthy and on a budget.  The book is divided into 12 chapters covering different categories of foods (i.e. breakfast, appetizers, sandwiches and burgers, pasta, etc.).  Each chapter begins with a couple of pages of information on that category – usually a brief history and some reasons explaining why you should cook it yourself. They then usually give some “instant” recipes or ideas for quick meals within that particular category, followed by several pages of actual recipes.  Throughout the book, they compare homemade meals to actual restaurants and food chains in terms of price and calories – very interesting, but probably not surprising to those who are health (or budget!) conscious.  When you see these real comparisons, it becomes even more compelling to cook for yourself!

The book reads very conversationally, using a good mix of stories, humor, anecdotes, and interesting information to keep you engaged as a reader.  They also use lots of infographics throughout the book, which can help to visualize and digest the information for those who don’t want to sit down and read. (It’s also becoming one of the most common ways that we now consume information.)

Some interesting nuggets so far:

Never use margarine (if possible)!  The trans-fats are terrible for you; you’re much better off using a whipped butter.  (Fats are not bad for you, you just need to be aware and use them in moderation!)

According  to a 2002 study, the USDA found the following portion problem for average restaurant sized entrees:

  • Pasta: 480% oversized
  • Muffins: 333% oversized
  • Steak: 224% oversized
  • Bagels: 195% oversized
  • Hamburgers: 112% oversized

Best Food for surviving flu season: Red Bell Pepper.  They have twice as much vitamin C as an orange, and three times as much vitamin A as a tomato!

Best Food post workout: Greek Yogurt.  This has 2-3 times the amount of protein as regular yogurt and is also high in amino acids which are helpful to rebuild muscles after a workout.

Between 10-30% of the calories you burn every day get burned by the act of eating and digesting food.  As they say, that’s like making a third of your money by shopping!

The average veggie burger contains five times the amount of sodium as the average beef burger.

Frozen produce often has a higher nutrient density than fresh.

Coffee is by far the richest source of antioxidents in the American diet.  (But watch out for the amount of cream and sugar you add to your coffee!)

“Yoplait 99% Fat Free” strawberry yogurt has nearly as much sugar as a Snickers bar.

Every time you eat quinoa instead of brown rice, you are getting double the protein and eight times the fiber!

Do not store tomatoes, peaches, onions, potatoes, or garlic in the fridge!

Six of the seven salads on TGI Friday’s menu have over 900 calories (showing that you’re not always better off going for what appears to be the “healthy” option when it comes to eating out).

 

their quesadilla vs Chilis

their quesadilla vs Chilis

As you can tell, I am enjoying the book quite a bit.  We are fairly health (and budget!) conscious and do our own cooking almost all of the time, but it’s still fun to see a credible source pushing a similar philosophy, and stating that it really is much better for you and your wallet! Some of the information is new, some is not…but it’s all put together in an interesting and engaging way in this particular book.  I highly recommend it, and may try to post some more interesting tidbits of information or even particular foods that are inspired from some of the recipes.

 As Always: Eat. Be Happy!

 

*For example, it has always bugged me when people try to wholesale dismiss certain foods as unhealthy, such as pasta. (“You should cut pasta out of your diet completely, it’s loaded with carbs!”)  Sure, you shouldn’t eat pounds of pasta everyday, but to write it off entirely as a “bad food” is also a bit silly.  The story is a bit more complex than that…walk around Italy where there’s pasta galore and you probably won’t find a whole lot of morbidly obese or overweight people.  It’s not just “pasta’s fault” that people are overweight, and just cutting that out entirely isn’t a surefire solution either. Similar stories apply to other foods as well.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Budget/$$, Food, Uncategorized

 

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FIFA Fun: The US, the World Cup, and Soccer more generally

We are in the midst of one of the world’s biggest sporting events – the World Cup.  This is an event that only happens every four years, and it is a huge deal.  Thirty-two teams from various countries are divided into eight groups of four.  Each group plays all of the teams in their group, and the top two teams from each group make it into the round of sixteen which is set up as a single elimination bracket for those sixteen teams.  The winner takes home the cup to their country.

world cup

It’s always a spectacular event worldwide, and this year, it has been especially huge in the US as well, as ratings seem to indicate a flash of “soccer fever.”  This was partly due to Team USA’s unexpected success as they managed to win their first match against Ghana, which allowed them to move out of the “Group of Death” and into the round play with a loss and a tie against Portugal and Germany.  [A point system and goal differential is often a critical factor in getting out of a group - not just wins and losses.]  Regardless of the US’s 1-1-1 record, they generated interest and excitement that was unprecedented** in this country when it comes to soccer.

However, soccer in the US has not generally been viewed with much interest.  Here, I offer a few reasons why soccer in the US has lagged so far behind the rest of the world in terms of popularity:

 

Litigious / Precision / Rules:

In the US we tend to be a very litigious people obsessed with rules (though often looking for loopholes in the rules that will give us an advantage).  I often hear complaints about the running clock and stoppage time (how can you be so imprecise!?).  There is only one field official and sometimes calls are missed, and there is no instant replay to resolve discrepancies (who did the ball go out on from there!?).  There is a bit of leeway given and certain flow to the game that is not meant to be interrupted and challenged by the letter of the law on every play.  If the ball is kicked out, throw it in from that general area…there is no need for a referee to place you in a specific spot and tell you it must be from there (unless a player is truly egregious in taking advantage – a judgment call by the referee).  As Americans, I think we tend to crave a final ruling that is the “right” ruling, backed up by specific rules.  We don’t like judgement calls.  And we want to make sure that every play and every call is exactly right every time (thus, more and more emphasis on instant replay in most of our major sports).  Sometimes soccer is too free form for this for our taste.

 

Flopping

This could have fallen within the first category, but since I believe it is perhaps the biggest factor, I am giving it its own space.  I can’t even count the number of times or people who I have heard complain about the excessive “flopping” that goes on in a given match.  This relates to above in that it’s not precise and is left up to the judgement of a particular official.  A foul in soccer is often not called if a player does not go down.  Therefore it becomes a catch-22 that if a player is fouled but doesn’t go down, he may not get the call.  It has since turned into players falling at the slightest touch (and sometimes no touch at all) to draw fouls and free kicks.

I will give the benefit of the doubt to the players not flopping on most occasions.  When you have been running several miles throughout the course of the game and get clipped on the achilles or the shin by another individual at full speed, you will probably take a tumble.  But yes, flopping does happen. Yes, it is annoying if becomes excessive.  It is a part of the game, and it becomes a bit easier for players to embellish with only one official on the field.  And generally speaking, I think we exaggerate just how much “flopping” actually goes on during a match.

 

Advertising Revenue

Soccer games don’t lend themselves all that well to advertising revenue, as far as television broadcasts compared to other popular sports here.  The nature of a soccer game is constant action for 45 minutes with a short halftime break followed by 45 more minutes of constant action.  At any point during that action the winning play could occur – you can’t tune in for the 4th quarter or final few minutes and expect to see the most important plays.  There are not team time-outs or tv time-outs or multiple breaks throughout the game where stations cut to advertising breaks. (I think this is a huge positive as a fan, though I’m not sure that those concerned about revenue see it the same.)  Sure, the Europeans and South Americans have obviously gotten huge corporations to invest largely in teams and have figured out a way to make it work.  We will see if think it can work here.

 

History / Tradition / Infrastructure

We just don’t have a long standing history with soccer…we’re still getting to know one another.  We don’t have a rich tradition of great (men’s) teams that we all remember fondly or players who were huge stars that we collectively idolize (or perhaps villainize).  We don’t have a long standing professional league with deep roots in cities where we go spend an afternoon or an evening watching a sport that we all know and love. Nor do we tune in to the television for regular season or tournament games.  There’s no emphasis to direct our finest athletes in that direction to achieve greatness.  As soccer begins to grow in popularity among youth, we will begin to develop an infrastructure with more leagues and opportunities to develop players…and perhaps some of the best athletes will be enticed to stay and develop within the game of soccer instead of leaving for more valued sports.  Who knows…this year’s World Cup may be a turning point; one that we look back at as a cornerstone that becomes an integral part of our collective sports history and tradition.

 

We Love to Win

Building on the above, we really haven’t had much success as a country when it comes to soccer.  And, as a nation, we really like to win.  We pride ourselves on being the best at everything (even when we are not).  Soccer is perhaps one sport where we couldn’t fool ourselves into believing that we were good, probably because the gap between us and superpower teams was so obvious.  There really hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer for or get interested in up until this point.  Even just a little bit of success in this World Cup spiked interest pretty drastically.  I imagine that if we continue to show signs of success and the capability to win (or advance with a 1-1-1 record), the love will follow.

 

For this World Cup, however, I’ll leave the winning up to Argentina!  That is the team I am always pulling for – and it happens to be a nice bonus that we have the best player on the planet in Messi.  Germany versus Argentina for the World Cup Champion should be a great match.  I think that the Germans are probably a bit better overall, but with Messi on the field anything is possible.  !Para adelante…Vamos ya!

with my host parents in argentina circa 2007

with my host parents in argentina circa 2007

 

 

**It is certainly the case that in recent years, interest in soccer has been steadily growing in the US – youth leagues here, a growing MLS, and viewership of European soccer leagues.  I am not trying to suggest that there was zero interest before this World Cup, but I do think this World Cup did help to generate an unprecedented interest and excitement about the sport. 

 

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DIY project: pallet coffee table

What happens when you give a crafty children’s librarian some free time, tools, and a new place to decorate?  The answer: A  whole lot of DIY projects!  The first month that we were in our new place, Em was waiting for her new job to process paperwork and get everything lined up for her to start.  This led to quite a bit of free time, and she certainly took advantage of it by taking on several DIY projects to make the new house feel beachy!

Today’s featured project: a wood pallet coffee table.  There are all kinds of wood pallet items that have become popularized via Pinterest and other DIY website, and Em decided to do her own version.  This was actually a complete surprise to me…she hadn’t mentioned it to me, but one day I came home from work to a nearly completed pallet table that has since replaced our old table.

the pallet

the pallet

Truth be told, I had kind of forgotten that we even had a pallet.  When we first moved in, I had used an old pallet that we found leaning up against the house as a platform on which to set my grill.  However, Em saw some raw potential and plucked the pallet from underneath the grill.  Table-town, here we come!

Em assured me that one of the most difficult parts of the entire process was pulling the pallet apart.  This was probably partly due to the fact that the pallet was quite old and weathered (thus stuck together pretty well), and also partly due to the fact that she was essentially working with only a crowbar and a hammer to get the whole thing disassembled.  The fact is, I’m happy I wasn’t around to watch the whole process, because I probably would have been worried sick about her losing an eye or stepping on a rusty nail and getting tetanus. Eventually, she did get the pallet apart.

photo 2 (1)

When she got the boards apart, the object was then to put them back together (in a table-like fashion).  She lined up the longer boards alongside one another and then attached them to two shorter boards running perpendicular at each end of the table.  Once you have this base assembled, you can begin assembling the table rather quickly.

photo 3

This base (top) of the pallet table still left a fair amount of wood to work with, and Em was able to make the legs with the extra wood.  This was the only point that we received any outside help…Em went to Home Depot and they made a few cuts in the 2×4’s for her to make them even.  They did it for free, so that was a nice bonus!  She then attached the legs with the nails that she had saved when taking apart the pallet, so I came home to a standing table.  (We later put in screws in the legs to help reinforce the sturdiness of the table – not quite as rustic as the old rusty nails, but necessary.  This was my first contribution to the table.)  Just like that we had a standing table.

photo 4

After this, we went through several rounds of sanding the table – starting with a more coarse paper and moving to a finer paper.  This was my second contribution to the project – some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease.  After the sanding, we added two layers of a stain/finish combination that we got.  We followed that up with two layers of a polycrylic satin finish.

photo 3 (1)

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Finally, after a pretty decent amount of work, we had a finished coffee table.  The only thing we paid for the entire project was the stain/finish and polycrylic (and we needed the polycrylic for other projects anyway!).  You really can’t beat that…especially when it turns out well and you get a new coffee table to enjoy on a daily basis.

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Wendy approves.

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All in all, a very successful project that has thus far proved to be very sturdy as well.  The lighter colored wood and the slatted style is a much nicer fit with our beachy style than our former coffee table that was a shiny, darker wood.  All of that added to the fact that it was completely free (aside from the small can of finish/stain that we bought), make it an even more impressive project.  We’ve even had friends who have told us that we could peddle these guys for $100+….maybe after another practice round or two!  So kudos to Em, who saw the potential in the old, weathered pallet, and decided to go for it!

 

 

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