Saturday, July 28, 2012

Letters to My World: Candy and Barbies







Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oven Baked Kale Chips


In our house, we like to eat pretty clean. We eat whole grains, little refined sugar and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, or we did. We have spent the last three weeks at my mom's house in Utah, while we get settled. Now my parents don't eat bad meals, there is just lots of excess sugar laying around the house. After two weeks of stuffing our faces with Oreos and feeling sick all the time, we decided it was time to introduce healthy eating at Grandma's house.

Kale is a pretty amazing food. It is one of the healthiest vegetables out there, but it also tastes like one the healthiest. It is one of those vegetables that I am always looking for a new way to prepare. Its health benefits make spending the time to make it delicious worth it. These Kale Chips are tasty, crunchy and there is absolutely no guilt associated with them whatsoever.

These chips are so easy to make, I always let my three-year-old help with the process.

You will need:
a bunch of kale, washed and dried
olive oil
sea salt


Remove the stems from the kale. This is the hard part in the middle of each leave. Chop or rip the leaves into pieces about the size of a tortilla chip. Drizzle with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 300 degrees for 12-15 minutes until the kale is dry and crunchy.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

WotW: Why You Should Use Google Plus - Part 2

Last week we explored the basics of Google+, getting you started and comparing and contrasting it with Facebook. If you'll recall, Google+ is the college experience of social networking, so last week's lesson could be considered Google+ 101.

Today, we're going to dive deeper into the features that truly make Google+ a most impressive social network.



Explore

This is my favorite section of Google+ and where I spend more time than anywhere else. The explore section is full of what's hot on Google+. Because Google is all knowing, it tracks posts that are becoming popular with many comments (usually in the hundreds or thousands range), which typically means you get quality, interesting posts to read. I've also found that there are a handful of people and organizations that are frequently featured. I'm amazed at the funny, thought-provoking and useful things I find in this section.

In the top-right corner of the Explore stream is an adjustment bar that allows you to control how much of the Explore section naturally shows up in your Home page. You also get this feature for each person or organization you follow. This really allows you to take control of your social networking experience. I'm sure you've had the experience of feeling like you're being constantly spammed by something you follow and wish you only received a small portion of what they post. Now you can.

Navigating the Stream

One of the things that annoys me about social network feeds is how long they are and how much time I spend scrolling. Google+ simplifies this process with keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the letter "J" will automatically jump to the next post, while the letter "K" goes to the previous post. It wouldn't seem like that big of a feature until you try it. Try it, you'll like it. It's awesome how quickly you can get through the posts and get to the stuff that matters to you.



Following

It wouldn't be a social network if there weren't a way to follow things that other people and organizations post, and Google+ makes following a piece of cake. In the search bar, do a search for anything that interests you. For instance, try it out on Food Network (your stomach will thank me). When the results come in, you'll see the little Follow button to the right of the Food Network result.



To begin following, simply click the Follow button and assign it to a circle. You can add it to your existing circles or you can make a new circle just for things you follow.


I would actually recommend making different circles for different categories of things you follow, similar to the way you make different boards on Pinterest. This will make it really easy for you to view only posts by a certain interest at a time.

What do I mean by this? Well, if you go back to your home tab, you'll notice the area above where you type your status update that you have a few buttons.


These buttons allow you to filter your feed by certain circles you have. So, if you've created a circle for things you follow (example: favorite TV shows) then you can select that and see only posts by things you've selected as fitting in that category. Cool, right?

Photos

Google has played with their photo features a lot over the years and have decided to merge it all in your Google+ account. If you formerly uploaded your photos to Picasa Online or use Blogger to blog, you will probably feel right at home here as all your previously uploaded content should be automatically transferred over.

Google+ has done a nice job making their photo area really nice – much better than anything you have in any other social network.


When you click on any album, you'll see images you've uploaded. Of course, it's a piece of cake to upload your own new images to Google+ as well. Once you're inside an album, click on any image and you get a number of options. Refer to the image above as you read the descriptions.
1. Here you can add your own caption to the picture, which is nice. You can also tag people, similar to Facebook.
2. You can add your own comment and see comments others have added. You can also view photo details below, such as when the image was taken, with what camera, at what focal length, etc.
3. There are other options for photos as well, including downloading the full-size image (if you enabled that ability when you uploaded the image).
4. Here's how to share an image. You can +1, comment or share the image. Refer to the previous post for the difference between these three options.

By the way, this photo viewer is not only available for your own photos, but also when you view any other users' images.

But viewing images isn't the only fun thing in the photo area. Anybody a fan of Picnik? Wonder where it went and wish you could still use it? You still can! Google+ absorbed Picnik and incorporated many of their best features into Google+. You can find all sorts of fun ways to edit your images and do it all online.



Chat

Gmail and iGoogle have long had the ability to allow you to chat with your friends, and Google+ is no different. In fact, the chatting experience on Google+ is identical to that of Gmail and iGoogle. I won't spend too much time on this other than to let you know you can and it's nice to do text and/or video chat while you're playing around on Google+.

Events

One of the things that drives me crazy on Facebook is the plethora of "We're Getting Married, Join Our Facebook Group" event invites I get. I usually just delete them. Facebook has a very dry events feature. Not so with Google+. You can create your own custom events on Google+.

There are a number of fun themes you can choose from that spruce up an otherwise boring date and time reminder. You can control when the event happens, where and with whom by inviting specific friends or entire circles. This is a relatively new feature, but really pretty nice.




Once you've created an event, a whole event page is created that helps you manage your invites, reservations, photos, updates, comments, etc.

Local

Have you ever wondered what's good to eat or what there is to do around where you live? Or what if you're on vacation? Google+ simplifies this for you with their Local section. Simply type in the location you want to search and what it is you're looking for.


In my example, I search for Mexican restaurants in Salt Lake City, Utah.


I get a number of results. By clicking on any result I can get more information, such as location, hours, directions, approximate cost and most importantly – reviews! Nothing is more aggravating than trying somewhere new and being disappointed. You can minimize this by reading through the reviews. Of course, they are all just amateur user reviews, but since Google+ is a social network and everyone is feeling social, you can get a feel for a place before you even go. You can also write your own reviews for places you've been, adding to the Google+ experience.


Games

Like Facebook, Google+ has a plethora of online games. I don't play these myself, but if you're into online gaming and socializing with others while you play, then Google+ is perfect for this. They have games like Angry Birds, Green Farm, Mafia Wars 2 and many more. I know many a person who has lost hours of their life to this section. Maybe that's why I'm scared to dive in...

Hangouts

And last, but definitely not least, is the feature that is the most unique and powerful to Google+: Hangouts. One of the great advantages of the Internet is the ability to communicate through video. Skype made this easy and common, but you're limited to one person at a time (unless you want to pay, and really, who does?). Google+ provides an online video chat service with up to 10 people, for FREE! Yep, you heard me.

To start a hangout, go to your Home page and look over to the top-right corner. Right underneath your name, you will see a Start a hangout button. Click on it.


A Hangout invite screen will appear. Here you can select with whom you would like to hangout. They have to be on Google+ themselves, so if your friends aren't already on, maybe this is the perfect opportunity to get them on. You can also name your hangout whatever you want. Example: Exciting News.



One other option you have is Hangouts on Air. If you select this option, your hangout becomes public to the world and anybody can tune in. Maybe you're having a party with a live band and want to show it off. Here you go. There's a lot of potential here for companies and individuals to do online lectures, concerts, and communicate with fans. Maybe you can do your own Hangout on Air for your blog audience.

Once you launch a hangout, you need to wait for all your participants to join. You will see them line up at the bottom. In the big main area, you will see whomever is talking at the time. Google+ automatically jumps to the current speaker, which is kind of nice. You can override it any time by clicking on the thumbnail of a participant and they will take center stage.



Beyond just video chatting, you can also share your screen, which is great for showing somebody how to do something technical. You can also hangout over a document you've created in Google Docs, which is great for school projects and work.

The video and sound quality is really quite good, especially if you and all your participants have a decent Internet connection. Sometimes you'll run into a situation where someone's microphone is a bit hyperactive and they'll have to mute their microphone until they're ready to speak, but usually it works without a hitch.

Hangouts are a blast. One of the best uses we've had for them is getting together as a family. My wife's family is spread out across the country and the only way we can really get together is digitally. Google+ has made this a piece of cake and it's truly enjoyable. It's as close as you can get to being together without actually being there.

So, if you're not excited about using Google+ by now, I don't know what it's going to take to persuade you. Really, give it a try. I think you'll be surprised and may find yourself using the best designed social network out there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wooden Toy Band-Aids

If there is something my daughter loves in this world, it is Band-Aids. Every little ouchie needs to be covered. When I was making her doctor kit, I considered putting real Band-Aids inside, but I knew within a day they would all be used up and probably on a wall somewhere. These Band-Aids she can play with again and again and there are no tiny little papers to always be picking up.
 You will need:
Large Popsicle Sticks
A pot of boiling water
cups
brown paint
a black marker
 Boil the Popsicle sticks in water for about 30 minutes. Allow the water to sit for another five to ten minutes. Fish the Popsicle sticks out of the water one at a time, you don't want to pull the sticks out before you need to, because once they dry they won't bend. Slowly working them with your fingers, bend the sticks into a half circle. Place the sticks in the opening of a glass. Allow the sticks to dry overnight.
 When the Popsicle sticks are dry sand them and then paint them brown or tan. You want to use as little paint as possible, because rewetting the sticks can cause them to open up a little.
Use a black marker to draw the square and dots of a Band-Aid on each one. Then, if your child is anything like mine, prepare to become a patient about a hundred times. Tip Junkie handmade projects

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Letters to My World: Birthdays and Tantrums

Shh, don't tell my wife, but I've hijacked her blog for a minute. I'm sure this will only last as long as she's out shopping, but I wanted to let you all know it's her birthday today! She is an amazing woman whose talents continually amaze me. She's the sweetest, funniest person in the world and I'm a lucky man to be married to her. Thank you to all you who support her and her blog.








Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tips for Capturing a Memorable Vacation

Summer is in full swing and that means vacation time. Whether you go on road trips, take a flight or go on a cruise, vacations are one of the most memorable experiences you will have with your family. Sometimes that's for good and sometimes you have vacation horror stories.

Whatever your vacation ends up being, you'll want something to remember it by. In my mind, that means pictures and lots of them.

I still love looking at pictures from vacations I took with my family growing up. A picture really does say a thousand words and a thousand more memories can be tied up with any one picture.

One thing I've noticed while looking at old vacation photos is how some of them really describe the events well and others I can't even tell where we were, what we were doing or when it happened. That's unfortunate.

I've got a few photo tips that can help you preserve your vacation memories for years to come.

1. Have multiple cameras
In my family, I am the designated photographer. I take all the pictures and everything is from my view, which is great for me, but not everybody has the same view or experience. Having multiple photographers provides a more comprehensive view of the vacation. I saw this when I went to Disneyland with my in-laws a few years back. I took a slew of pictures, but my father-in-law also took a bunch and captured things I didn't. It's great to add his pictures to my collection.

Another benefit of having multiple photographers is it gives your family something to do at all times – even the "boring" parts like driving or waiting in line. Plus, it's fun to get together after the day is over and share pictures, which is so easy with digital cameras and the plethora of mobile devices. Even just having your family take their own pictures with camera phones is beneficial.

2. Capture the Scenery AND the people
I am definitely a people photographer. I love getting great pictures of people having a good time. My husband, on the other hand, is a scenery person. If I let him have the camera, the only thing he captures is the surroundings, devoid of all people if he can help it. To be fair, he says I focus too much on the people and don't capture enough of the setting. A great vacation picture gets some of both. If you go to Disneyland, for example, get the family picture in front of the castle or the Matterhorn. Those are big, easy to recognize backdrops. Of course, there's nothing saying you can't get a good picture of people and another one of the scenery, but shooting from angles that combine both provide for the best memories.


3. Keep it Candid
While posed family pictures on vacation are nice, they don't necessarily describe the fun. Candid pictures are the best. Capture your kids doing something funny or screaming their heads off when they experience something they've never done before. Get a picture of the giant pillow fight at the hotel at night. It's these little captured moments that provide for the best memories because it's you and your family in your element.

4. Do NOT Instagram
I know many people love Instagram, and it's a great service, but please don't use it for all your vacation photos. Sure, it doesn't hurt to take a few pictures with the effects on Instagram, but taking them all with Instagram will only date your photos and years from now you'll wish you had just taken a clean shot.

5. Backup Your Photos
Nothing is more exhausting than returning home from a vacation. It always feels like you need another vacation to recover from your vacation, no matter how wonderful it was. It's at times like these that you just want to hurry and unpack and get back to everyday life. But before you get too far along, make sure to backup your photos. It doesn't take long, but it will be a great peace of mind. Save them to your computer, an external hard drive and online if you can. I personally love Shutterfly because it allows you to store an unlimited number of photos and it's so easy to share your digital albums with others, print photos or convert it all into a photo book.

So go out and have a blast, but don't forget to capture all your memorable moments to enjoy for years to come.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

WotW: Why You Should Use Google Plus – Part 1

Ever wanted to visit a ghost town? Then stop on over to Google+. At least, that's how the now cliche joke goes. But, have you taken the time to really check out Google+? If not, you're missing out on one of social networking's greatest hot spots.

Google+ was the highly anticipated social network platform that was launched just over a year ago and was projected to be the Facebook killer. While it has gained more users faster than any other social network, it is no Facebook killer and still by and large misunderstood and underused.


But wait, surely that has to mean there's something wrong with it, right? Wrong. Google+ is by far the most rich social network experience available and the reason it's not being used is because of what I call the Apple Effect.

The Apple Effect refers to Apple's strangehold on the portable media and tablet markets. There are scores of other products out there, many of which do the same things and in some cases better, but because Apple was there first and is big and flashy, they win.

In the world of social media, Facebook has the Apple Effect. It has been around longer and really moved the social networking experience mainstream. Many of us have "grown up" with Facebook as it evolved from one form to another. So, when a new service, like Google+, comes along, we put up our defensive shields and wonder if we need another social network.

My answer is yes, yes you do. Here's why.

Google+ is the most content-rich social networking experience available. I find myself spending more time on Google+ than I do on Facebook in a day because there are more interesting things on there. That being said, there are some key differences between Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Facebook is really only good for one thing: stalking your friends. Be honest, what do you go on Facebook to do? Stalk. Maybe play a few games. Post status updates about how life is so hard, etc. That's it. So basically it's high school digitized. When you think of it that way, it's a wonder any of us do it, and yet we're all addicted. I'm guilty too. I find myself going on Facebook multiple times a day to see what my friends are up to. Twitter is used to stalk famous people saying really weird things in short tweets.

Google+ is different. While it has the capacity to do the same things that Facebook and Twitter can, the experience is much different. Very few of my friends are on Google+ and even fewer post anything. But that's not why I use it. Hardly any of my friends are on Twitter either, but I still use that service too.

If Facebook is like high school online, Google+ is the college experience. You're moving away from the comfortable experience of everything you've known and get to carve out a new niche for yourself. You discover new things and new people you didn't even know were out there. Oh, and you have the time of your life.



Let's look at some of the features of Google+ and why you should use this great social network.

If you haven't already signed up for a Google+ account, it's a piece of cake. If you have an existing Gmail or Google account, you just have to click on the little icon in the top-left corner that says your name with a + sign. This takes you to Google+. Setting up Google+ is similar to any other social networking account, including adding info about yourself and your likes, etc. I don't want to get bogged down in that.

Once you're signed up, you need to find your friends. Since Google+ is a Google service, it will scour your Gmail address book to find friends that are already on Google+ and gives you the chance to invite others to join as well. So let's say you find 30 of your friends on Google+. Now it's time to organize them into circles. This is similar to the categories on Facebook (close friends, best friends, family, etc), but Facebook stole that idea from Google+ and it works so much better in Google+.

At the top of the page, you will have a list of your friends. At the bottom of the page are little circles. You can create as many of these circles as you want. Then you drag a friend into a circle and they now belong to that circle. The purpose of a circle is to have a group that you can easily and specifically share certain things with. For instance, I have a lot of extended family that are friends with me on Facebook, but I don't necessarily want to share certain things with them, so I want to only share it with relevant people. That's what a circle does. When you post a status update or share something, you can select which circles you want to share it with. Facebook does this too, but it's more of a pain than it's worth. With Google+ it's a piece of cake.

OK, so now you've got your Circles done. Let's jump to the main page of Google+, also called your Home page. It looks like this.

We'll refer back to this image frequently to explore each part.

1. Navigation Panel
Along the left edge of the page are all your navigation options. The Home page, which you see above, is also called the Stream. It shows what's happening, similar to the Facebook News Feed. I'll get into each of the little options in this panel in next week's post.

2. Status update
Similar to Facebook, you post whatever you want here. However, it's much easier to post on Google+ than on Facebook. You can see the little icons to the right which give you the options of adding pictures, videos, events and links.

Once you start typing, the share box looks like this:
You type your status update as normal. Then you choose who to share it with. This is where your circles come in handy. By default, my post included Public and my circles. Public really means public and will pull up in Google search results. Maybe that's what you want, maybe it's not. You may be thinking, "Who on earth would want their stuff public?" Google+ is really powered by that public feature. One of the greatest honors on Google+ is to have something you post become hot and shown to other people. Now, if you're posting about your child's first steps, that's probably not a good public event, but if you come across a funny meme you want to share then why not make it public? Remember, Google+ is the college experience of social networks. Share and make new friends.

Let's say you don't want it to go Public and you only want to share your post with a few of your circles. Simply click the little X next to the existing Public option and then select which circles you want. Easy as that.

3. The Stream
The stream will show you posts from people in your circles and people/organizations you are following. Like I said before, not many of my friends post on Google+, so my stream is mostly dominated by things shared from people and organizations I follow, such as The Onion, Food Network (you have no idea how delicious everything they share looks) and some of my favorite bands. Because Google+ allows for easier sharing of content and more of it, things shared from my followed groups are really enjoyable to read. On Facebook, I find myself skipping over these things, almost treating them like junk posts. But on Google+, that's the whole reason I come.

4. Search
Come on, it's Google, you have to have a search bar. You can search for anything here and Google+ will pull up all relevant posts on the topic and suggest people for you to follow. This is kind of like the Discover feature on Twitter but SO much easier to use. It's a great way to really get involved with what other people are saying out there and to make new friends. Again, think college parties.

5. People You May Know
Google+ wants you to find your friends, so they suggest people for you to add. If you do know them and want to add them, simply click the add button and then a pop-up will appear that will let you add them to whatever circle you want.

6. Trending on Google+
Because Google is so powerful, it can monitor what topics are popular and trending at any given time. They post these for you so you can jump in on the conversation by clicking on the trending link.

The up arrows mean the topic is becoming more popular, the bullets mean it is staying the same and the down arrows mean it's losing popularity. The fun with these topics is because they are popular you get to see the ridiculous things people are saying about them.

7. Sharing options
Google+ is a social network and is thus centered around sharing. There are different ways you can get involved with things others post.
The +1 is similar to the Like button on Facebook. It's just a quick acknowledgement that you appreciate a post. Your +1s are not tracked though, so you can't go back and see everything you've given a +1 to.

The arrow is for sharing. This means you will re-share whatever is in the current post along with whatever comments you have. The purpose of sharing is to give your take on something to people in your circles. Let's say you found something funny on a page you follow. Chances are friends in your circles may not be following that, so they will never see it unless you share it with them.

The video icon is to start a hangout about that topic. We'll discuss hangouts next week, but basically a hangout is a video chat with multiple people.

Finally, there's a comment. This works similar to leaving a comment on Facebook.

So, after going through the basic uses of Google+, hopefully you're feeling a little more comfortable with it and will give it a try. If you're thinking, "OK, I get it, but why is it so cool?" then just wait until next week when I really dive into all the amazing Google+ features.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eggplant Rollatini

Normally the word eggplant scares me away from just about any recipe, but when I started my health kick a few months ago, I also made a goal to try new things. I found this recipe at Walking on Sunshine, (delightful blog, take a peek) and decided to give it a try. Not only did I like this dish, but it is also husband approved. Impressive I know.
I changed a few minor things including adding more of both types of cheese and using spaghetti sauce instead of tomato sauce, because adding herbs and more cheese always makes my husband more likely to try a dish. Who doesn't love cheese?

1 Eggplant
Ricotta Cheese ( I used about half a container)
An Egg
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, I used a couple of cups, I like things cheesy.
Spaghetti Sauce

Peel your eggplant, then cut in very thin slices lengthwise. I have found the thinner the eggplant the better the rollatini, so make sure to cut them very thin.

Fry the slices of eggplant in a little bit of olive oil for a minute or so on each side. This softens the eggplant enough for you to be able to stuff and roll it. Spread some ricotta on each slice and then sprinkle some mozzarella cheese in the center. Roll up the eggplant and place in a baking dish that has a thin layer of spaghetti sauce in the bottom of it. Cover the eggplant with more spaghetti sauce and then add mozzarella cheese. This is were I always double the cheese. Bake at 375 until bubbly, in my oven this takes about 25 minutes to a half an hour.