Techy, Minimalist, Business Owner, Writer | #100Days
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https://carefreecabinshockinghills.com/

Uncle Lou's Kitchen

#100Days (Day 8/100)

Today is random stream of consciousness day. I have no particular topic to write about, so I'm just writing. On days like this, I'm happy to get 750 words or more on the page.

We have friends visiting for the weekend, Marnie & Lou, from the Toledo area. Michele has known Marnie since grade school and they grew up together. Lou and I obviously became friends through that relationship after Michele & I started dating and eventually got married. They are some of the few friends we still get together with on a regular basis, at least a few times each year. They either come to stay with us, or we go to stay with them.

So it's currently 6:38am on Saturday morning, and I'm the only one awake in the house. Well, except for cats and probably the dogs. Marnie & Lou brought their dog, Gage, and I'm sure he's probably awake laying on the floor of the guest bedroom with his nose pressed against the bottom of the door. He's trying to pick up a scent that will tell him what's going on in the rest of the house.

I figure this is the only time I will have for some quiet writing time. Once everyone wakes up, we have a day planned. Marnie & Lou will probably make breakfast, they always do. Then we're going to the Athens Farmers Market to look around and get some produce and grass-fed steaks. After that, we might be going to one of the parks for a short hike. Lou has bad feet so we need to keep the hikes short & easy.

Marnie & Lou are what I like to call, "Cookin' Fools". They are always cooking something. When they come to stay with us, they always bring a ton of food & snacks. Once they unpack, one of them typically whips up a tray of hors d'oeuvres, and the other one starts prepping for the next meal.

Yesterday was no different. They showed up at our house around 1:30pm. I was still working downstairs in my office, but I went upstairs to greet them. Within a few minutes, the food started appearing all over our kitchen counter.

I had to keep working, so I left everyone to fend for themselves for a while. Eventually, they all left and went for a drive around Hocking Hills. Lou loves to go sightseeing and take in the beauty of the area we live in.

It was getting close to dinner time and Lou started working on some of his famous fish. He brought a bunch of Walleye and Perch from Lake Erie. He has a special way of making Walleye on the grill with onions, green peppers, spices, and beer. Yes, beer. He spreads the fish out on a foil covered pan, covers it all with salt, pepper, garlic and other secret spices. He cuts up a bunch of onions & peppers that get mingled among the fish, and then he dumps beer over the entire thing until there is enough to cover the fish. Then it goes on a grill until all the fish turns from pink to white. It's the only way Michele will eat Walleye. She doesn't like fish if it actually tasks like fish. 🤔 Lou's grilled Walleye special is amazing, and doesn't taste fishy at all.

Aside from the Walleye, he also breaded a bunch of Perch and jumbo shrimp and fried those in a pan. There was so much fish & shrimp last night, we didn't know what to do with it all. Well, I figured it out pretty well... I'm the one who ended up killing ALL of the remaining shrimp & perch. I just kept going back and picking at it all evening until it was gone.

We all sat around talking last night for hours. It was a beautiful night, so Lou and I sat on the front porch next to the propane fire pit for a while and enjoyed a couple drinks and lots of laughs. I felt like I was literally going to burst from all the food I ate. It wasn't just the fish. I also tore into the mini-Snickers bars they brought, and then Marnie even made up a plate of Doritos with cheese melted on top. I would have needed a stomach pump to feel any better. 🤢 Ya ever wonder why we do this to ourselves? Ugh!

I'm pretty sure Lou could open a restaurant and be very successful at it. He's like a wizard in the kitchen. I've never seen him actually follow a recipe either. It's all in his head, and he has a natural ability to just figure it out on the fly. He grew up cooking. I think his parents ran a restaurant at some point too. So I tease him all the time that he should start a restaurant or get a food truck and start going to events.

He could call it Uncle Lou's Kitchen, and I guarantee it would be a huge success! I would eat there every chance I got. 😋 He doesn't seem interested in my great idea.

Achieve Financial Freedom in 30 Minutes!

#100Days (Day 7/100)

Did you click that headline hoping to learn a secret method for obtaining financial independence in only 30 minutes? Well, I tricked you. I took advantage of basic human nature and your desire for a quick fix. Sorry.

Unfortunately, we live in a "microwave society" and we all want instant gratification. I get it. If only it were really that easy. But here's the truth about my click-bait headline...

We all struggle at times with money. Some more than others. There are many factors at play such as income, skill level, education, societal pressures, who you surround yourself with (that's a BIG one), mental attitude, and many more. So many people today are literally living paycheck-to-paycheck and can't survive a small financial emergency. I've been there and I get it.

Remembering back to when I first got married, I was a student making only $4.25 per hour working a job at the college I was attending. I knew next to nothing about budgeting, getting out of debt, or investing. Let me tell you, times were tough! We argued and fought a lot about money our first year together as a married couple. But eventually, we started doing the things in this article, and our financial situation began to change for the better.

Our turning point was seeing an infomercial on TV for the "Charles J Givens Financial Library" and deciding to attend a free seminar. That's a topic for another post. But suffice it to say, it was the best thing we ever did because it got us working together and put us on the correct path to financial wellness.

My point is this... If you're going to improve your financial situation, you have to start somewhere, and you must take consistent daily action toward your goals. One of my favorite quotes is:

"If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always got."

So let’s start now to create some positive changes in your financial life.

What I'm suggesting doesn't have to be any more difficult or painful than simply spending about 30 minutes every day doing something different. If you make a handful of very minor course corrections in your life now, the effect on your financial future will be staggering.

Here are a several things you can start doing right now...

Spend 30 minutes per day educating yourself about money

Take some time each day to pour some knowledge into your brain by reading money oriented books, websites, magazines, listening to podcasts, radio shows, or watching documentaries.

The more you understand about money and how it works, the more empowered you will be to take control of it. If you are “financially ignorant”, then money is going to control YOU vs YOU controlling your money.

Spend 30 minutes per day, for at least 1 month, tracking your spending

Here's another useful quote I learned from Corporate America:

"If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

This is as true about your money as it is anything else. How are you going to get a handle on your personal finances, get out of debt, get on a budget, and start a successful investing plan if you have no idea where all your money is going?

So start tracking every penny you spend for a period of at least 30 days. Get a small notebook, or use your smartphone if you prefer. But each time you purchase something, anything, write it down. I don’t care if it’s a pack of gum and a bottle of water at the gas station -- record it!

This should only take a few seconds each time you spend money. Throughout the entire day, the time spent recording your spending habits should total no more than 30 minutes.

I think you’ll find this to be a very eye-opening experience as you start to discover where all your pennies (and dollars) are going!

Spend 30 minutes per week organizing and categorizing your financial transactions

This one sort of goes hand in hand with tracking your spending habits for 30 days. Organizing and categorizing your transactions is going to finally give you a really solid picture of the inflows and outflows in your life. This is a critical step in creating a budget as well, since a budget is based on the flow of money into and out of your bank account.

It may sound daunting at first, all this categorizing and organizing, but it doesn’t have to be. Believe me, I’m lazy! I’m also a big advocate for working smarter, not harder. For that reason, I recommend tools that make your life simpler, not more complicated.

I cannot think of a better tool than You Need a Budget (YNAB). It is hands down the BEST money management & budgeting software I've ever used. And believe me, I've tried a few! Quicken, Mint, Mvelopes, etc... None of them can hold a candle to YNAB.

Some days I literally believe YNAB has the ability to make extra money appear in our checking account. It's like magic. 🤑

But seriously, YNAB is awesome. It's basically an electronic envelope budgeting system, and it uses zero-based budgeting. In other words, you budget every dollar you have, and no more, to your various categories, and then you spend from those categories. Sounds simple, right? It is, but it's a mental shift and takes some getting used to. But once you get it, your life will change forever.

I plan to write a much more in-depth review of YNAB later. But for now, I invite you to check it out using my referral link: You Need a Budget (YNAB)

You'll get a FREE 34-day trial which is more than enough time to discover the power of the system. They have an amazing team at YNAB, and their training is top-notch. All the training is free and will walk you through exactly how to get setup and using YNAB successfully.

I've been using YNAB for about 15 years, since back in the day when it was an Excel spreadsheet. So I know a thing or two about it. 😎 If you have questions, feel free to reach out via the contact info on my About page.

2FA or Not 2FA... There is No Question

#100Days (Day 6/100)

Two-Factor Authentication. That's what 2FA stands for in case you were wondering. Some may refer to it as Multi-factor authentication (MFA), but it's really just a component of that. If you're not using 2FA, you are wrong. Sorry, that's just a fact. Let's get into it...

In laymen terms, 2FA is a digital authentication method in which a user is granted access to a computer, website, or application only after successfully presenting two or more pieces of "evidence" (or factors). This is typically something the user knows, such as a username & password or PIN, and something the user has such as a security token, a phone, USB stick, key, etc.

If you are not currently using 2FA for all systems and services that offer it, you are leaving yourself exposed to hackers and other digital attackers. Passwords are no longer enough by themselves. Even complex passwords won't stop a determined hacker.

I certainly hope you aren't using passwords like '2020sucked" or "qwerty". A novice hacker can thwart those in about 2.3 seconds. According to security experts, some of the most common passwords used are "Password" and "123456". I'm not even kidding. If you have passwords like that, and you're not using 2FA, you are begging to be hacked. It's just a matter of time.

Don't misunderstand me... Even with 2FA, please do NOT use passwords like that!

I urge everyone to use strong passwords as well as 2FA. And where 2FA is not offered, you better be using an extremely strong password. That means a minimum of 14-16 positions long, with upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters. Then ask yourself why you are doing business with a company that doesn't offer 2FA. 🤔 Unsure about your password strength? Check it here.

So how does this 2FA thing work anyway?

Let's go with a basic example... Your bank. Hopefully they offer 2FA for your account, but they do it via SMS text messaging to your phone. Assuming it's already enabled, you go to the bank website and click Login. You enter your username and password, and click Next. The bank then sends a text message to your mobile phone with a random 6-digit number and waits for you to enter it on their website. If you enter the correct number, you're in.

So a hacker attempting to break into your online bank account would need your username, password, AND your mobile phone in order to retrieve the random 6-digit code sent by the bank. They might be able to get your username & password as part of a data breach or brute force attack, but it's not very likely they will also have access to your phone.

Or is it?

My SMS text message example is a bad one. Using SMS for 2FA is the least secure method of 2FA. Why? Because mobile phone numbers can easily be stolen, or copied, through a hack called a SIM swap. Google it.

A stronger 2FA method is to use something called an Authenticator app. This is an application typically installed on your mobile device or computer. When you enable 2FA on one of your accounts, if an authenticator is offered as an option, you will go through steps to register your account with your authenticator app of choice. Often, this is as simple as scanning a QR code with the camera on your phone. Then you will be asked to enter the next 6-digit code generated by your authenticator app into your account settings. If everything matches up, you now have 2FA enabled on your account. The next time you login to your account, you'll be asked to enter the random 6-digit code currently displayed on your app. Typically the number changes every 60 seconds.

Be careful when setting up 2FA and carefully read the instructions. If you do something wrong and lock yourself out of your account, it can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to get back in!

There are many authenticator applications out there. Some are free, some cost money or are built into other apps such as password managers. One very popular option you've probably seen mentioned is Google Authenticator. Unfortunately, I would not recommend you use this one anymore. Although Google was a pioneer in this space, the development of their authenticator app has fallen behind in features and functionality, and it is no longer considered a safe choice.

My recommendation is to always look for open source software, so I recommend any of the following authenticator apps:

Personally, I use Bitwarden, Aegis, and Standard Notes. There is method to my madness. I may write a future post on my setup and why I choose to use multiple 2FA methods.

I realize this article is just scratching the surface regarding online digital security and 2FA. There are many more methods of Multi-factor authentication that are much more secure. Some even involve location data, voice pattern recognition, and other forms of bio-metrics. But with each layer of security added, complexity increases and convenience decreases dramatically.

My fear is, once quantum computers become mainstream, our whole world changes. Passwords and multi-factor authentication, as we know it today, will become a thing of the past. Quantum computers will be able to do in seconds, what would normally take experienced hackers days, weeks, months, or even years to accomplish. I'm not sure what our digital lives will look like then, but it will be vastly different. Who knows, we may end up having to prove our identities using DNA.

In the meantime, please consider enabling 2FA on all your accounts that offer it. If you're unsure, check your account security settings, search the online help, or ask customer support. Generally, most banks and other financial institutions now offer it. But it's also widely available across all major online services. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Apple
  • Dropbox
  • Ebay
  • PayPal
  • Venmo
  • Cash App
  • Coinbase
  • Standard Notes
  • Evernote
  • Every password manager worth using
  • Any many more...

For a much deeper dive on 2FA, check out this Two Factor Auth handbook from BrainStation.

BONUS: How Big is Your Haystack? - This is a very interesting read with a neat trick to make your passwords incredibly strong while also being easier to remember. 🤓

Learning to Cook After 52+ Years

#100Days (Day 5/100)

The extent of my cooking ability is making breakfast. Your basic eggs, bacon (or sausage), and toast. In a pinch, I can even make a pretty decent omelet. In, fact, when I was in the Navy and had to do my 8-week "kitchen duty" on the ship, I got promoted up to the officers mess, and would run the skillet most mornings. It was fun cooking breakfast for all the officers.

But whipping up some eggs & bacon is a far cry from actually cooking.

In late 2020, several months into the COVID19 pandemic, our daughter suggested we try one of those meal kit food delivery services. We'd seen one on Shark Tank before (I think it was Plated), but never really considered trying one. She was using Home Chef and raved about it. She helped my wife setup an account, ordered our first box of meals, enrolled in auto-ship, and then we waited.

Several days later, a small nice looking box arrived on our front porch. We were pleasantly surprised to find everything neatly packaged and labeled, along with easy instructions and recipe cards for each meal. Any meat that was needed for the recipes was individually packaged at the bottom of the box under some insulated packing material. Everything was surround by ice packs. So far, we were impressed and ready to try out the meals.

I don't recall the first recipe my wife decided to make. Most of them take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to prepare. Everything is pre-portioned, sometimes pre-cut, and there is a simple recipe card to follow. When you order your meals, they give you the overall prep time so you can decide how much work you're willing to put in. 😋

Anyway, back to that first recipe... It was amazing! Hands down better than most meals we would get in a restaurant! We were both a bit surprised, in a good way! This could work, and it would definitely help lower our restaurant budget category which was out of control!

So, fast forward a few months and we've been using Home Chef for approximately four dinner meals per week, give or take. Honestly, we've not had a single bad meal yet. Each recipe is different so there is a lot of variety, and they are all delicious! I'm not exaggerating either, the meals are really really good!

One day when my son & his family were over visiting, they mentioned a meal kit service they were using called Hello Fresh. They had a referral code that would give us $70 off our first order, so we decided to give that one a try too! I setup the account and ordered our first box of 8 meals (4 meals per week for 2 people). When the order arrived, my wife made one of the recipes for dinner that night. Again, AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS!

Up until this point, my wife had been making all the recipes herself. I would just sit in the living room watching TV or playing on my laptop like a useless lump of goo, while she worked in the kitchen making our dinner.

Then Valentine's Day rolled around... I suggested I could make our next meal all by myself as a Valentine's Day gift for her. She loved the idea! I wasn't so sure yet.

Dinner time was approaching. I checked the refrigerator and looked through the recipe cards. Thai Coconut Chicken Curry looked like a winner. She was in agreement. Game on!

I'm not going to lie, it felt like a lot of work. Even with a well written recipe, giving me step-by-step instructions, it was a lot to coordinate since there were several things all going on at once. I would be cutting/slicing/dicing some ingredients, while cooking meat in a frying pan, and making some sort of sauce in another pan. I know, I know... Those of you who cook a lot are probably laughing at me right now. My wife was definitely laughing at me!

The more I got into it though, and as things progressed along toward the final dish, I realized I was actually having a lot of fun. Cooking felt good to me. I especially loved that I knew every ingredient going into the meal we were about to enjoy. There weren't any chemicals I couldn't pronounce either. Just good wholesome real food. Hey, look honey, I'm actually cooking! 😁

Well, I'm happy to report, that meal was a huge hit! I knocked it out of the park. We both savored every bite. I'm sure my wife enjoyed it even more than I did since she didn't have to prepare it that night.

Since that meal, we have prepared every subsequent recipe together. We've worked side-by-side as a team in the kitchen. I mainly prep (cut/peel/chop/dice/etc) and I make the sauces. It's really been a lot of fun for both of us, and I feel like it's actually bringing us closer together. Is that even possible after 32 years of marriage?? I think it is!

And after 52 years on this earth (turning 53 in June), I'm finally learning how to cook. Sure, everything is pre-selected, portioned and packaged for each meal, I get it. But I'm learning what goes into a recipe and how to put it all together in the correct order. Also, the recipes can be used again and again if you simply buy the same ingredients at the grocery store.

I'm learning how simple it is to combine a lot of the same basic ingredients in different ways to make very different things. Take sauces for instance. I've been amazed at how easy it is to whip up some really delicious sauces with a few very basic ingredients. Who knew?!?

Needless to say, I've been having having a lot of fun doing it, and I'm really enjoying this new quality time with my wife.

After trying a few more meals from Hello Fresh, my wife decided she likes Home Chef better. It's not about the quality of the food or recipes, they are both top-notch. But we don't need two meal kit services, and she just prefers the recipe choices from Home Chef. They have more selections that are almost "oven ready" and don't require as much prep time as the ones from Hello Fresh. So, I cancelled Hello Fresh after two boxes (8 meals) and we are continuing with Home Chef.

If you're interested in trying it out, we have a Home Chef referral link that will get you $35 off your first box. It also gives us $35 off our next order, so that's a pretty nice bonus they give all their customers.

Let me know what you think, and happy cooking!

Dinner Time Update: Michele fell asleep watching the evening news, so I decided to surprise her and make another meal by myself. Firecracker Meatballs over a bed of jasmine rise with a side of roasted carrots. Damn, it was good!

Struggling to Find My Inner Writer

#100Days (Day 4/100)

Writing feels really difficult right now. I'm only on day 4 of the writing challenge I committed to and I'm already struggling. I spend way too much time thinking about what I might write about, and not enough time actually writing. 😖

I don't seem to have any trouble generating topic ideas. There is a list I keep adding stuff to every time a good idea pops into my head. But when it comes time to actually sit down and write, I look through my idea list and nothing speaks to me. Somehow I decide they are all too hard, too involved, require too much research, or I convince myself nobody will care if I write about that topic.

<sigh>

This is what I do to myself....all...the...time.

I'm sure I need to just stop overthinking it. Some days, I guess I need to sit down and simply write about whatever is on my mind. Like I'm doing now. I had a topic all picked out and I was ready to write about it today. But then my attention started to drift. I found myself doing other things like checking email and fiddling with my blog settings.

I'm a master procrastinator.

Hey, I could write about that! 😁

So I guess for today, this is all I've got. And therefore, this is all you get. Apologies...

Nah! I take back the apology. This is who I am right now and I'm trying to change it. I'm trying to be better. I'm not going to apologize for that. Struggling to find my voice, my inner writer, again is a process I just need to go through. Hopefully I'll come out the other end better for it. I believe I will, and that's why I'm doing this.

Enjoy the process, and Embrace the Suck!

How to Protect Yourself Online With Free OpenVPN

#100Days (Day 3/100)

If you travel around at all and connect your laptop, phone, or tablet to public WiFi, you need to be using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). At the most basic level, a VPN is an encrypted tunnel that links your device to the world via the Internet. It also makes it appear as if you are somewhere else in the world based on the location of the VPN server you are connected through.

This is very important to your online digital safety. You need to be sure the sensitive information you enter online (phone numbers, addresses, passwords, banking & financial information, and more) are protected from hackers, scammers, and other prying eyes.

This is also essential to your digital privacy because a VPN allows you to bypass government censorship, avoid corporate surveillance, and thwart monitoring by various ISP's providing those public access roads onto the Internet. Not to mention the hackers, scammers, and identity thieves who use software and/or hardware devices to intercept public Internet traffic and sift through it for information they can exploit.

Trust me, you NEVER want to connect to public WiFi, such as in a restaurant, coffee shop, hotel, or anywhere else without using a VPN.

There are dozens of free and paid VPN services out there. Most of the free ones offered by for-profit companies usually have a lot of "gotchas" such as bandwidth limitations, speed throttling, and/or they collect and log information that could comprimise your security & privacy. The paid ones can get pretty costly. Many folks have a hard time justifying the cost if they only need to use a VPN a few times a month, or if they don't truly understand the importance of using a VPN.

The other thing is, if you work for a company and perform any of your work remotely, you probably already have a VPN service provided by the company for connecting into the office. However, it's usually not a good idea to use the company VPN for personal business such as banking, social media, or just general Internet surfing. This is often against company policy and could get you into hot water with your manager.

For those times when you need a reliable, secure VPN service to conduct some personal business on a public network, consider using OpenVPN. It's one of the best and most recommended open-source VPN solutions out there. The free OpenVPN software, paired with free VPN servers from VPNBOOK, is easy to setup, fast enough for general day-to-day use, and of course, very easy on the budget. They also don't do any logging and there is no sign-up or registration required. Bonus! 👍

Here's what you need to do to set this up on Windows 10 (instructions for other Operatings Systems and mobile devices will be linked at the end):

  1. Visit the Community Downloads page at openvpn.net and download either the 32-bit or 64-bit installer for Windows.

    • Most newer Windows 10 computers should support the 64-bit version. If you're unsure, check with your computer vendor or ask your most techy family member. Run the installer as you would any other Windows application. It should create a shortcut icon on your desktop.
  2. Next, visit VPNBOOK.com and download one of the VPNBook OpenVPN profile bundles. If you're unsure, I would recommend one of the US bundles for starters.

    • You can download more than one bundle if you'd like several VPN server (geographical location) options.
    • Note the Username and Password listed on that same page. You will need those later.
  3. Unzip the OpenVPN bundle(s) you downloaded and copy the files contained within to the C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config folder on your computer.

  4. Launch the OpenVPN client software. There should be a shortcut on your desktop. If not, click your Start button and look for the OpenVPN program group in your application menu.

  5. Right-click the OpenVPN GUI icon in your system tray (lower right corner near the clock), and select one of the profiles. Click Connect.

    • I would recommend selecting the UDP25000 profile, but if you have trouble with that one connecting, try one of the TCP profiles (tcp443 as a first choice, and then tcp80 as a second choice).
  6. Enter the username and password you recorded from step 2 above. It's OK to click the "save password" option here.

    • The vpnbook password changes regularly. So if you try to connect and it won't accept the saved password, visit vpnbook.com again to obtain the current password.
  7. A connection dialog box should pop up showing some status messages. Eventually you will see a message that vpnbook is now connected, and the OpenVPN icon in your system tray will turn green.

Congratulations -- You've now have a secure & private connection to the Internet!

You will probably notice browsing is a bit slower than you are used to. This is because your Internet traffic is being routed through a VPN server somewhere else in the world based on the profile you selected. If you're curious, you can visit ShowIP.net to see what your current IP address is and your current "virtual" geographic location in the world.

To disconnect from the VPN, simply right-click the OpenVPN GUI icon in your system tray, select the profile that is connected (has checkmark next to it), and select Disconnect.

For screenshots of the above steps, you can visit this page.

For instructions on setting up OpenVPN for other Operating Systems such as MacOS, Linux, or for mobile devices, you can visit this page.

I use a VPN 100% of the time when I'm on the road and have to connect to public WiFi for anything. Whether it is from my phone or laptop, I'm always going to be protected as much as possible.

When I'm at home on my own private WiFi network, I don't use a VPN service. But I do protect myself a bit by using Cloudflare's 1.1.1.1 DNS service to give myself a bit of privacy and protect all my devices from malware.

Here's to Happy, Safe, and Private Computing!

My Daily Coffee Ritual ☕

#100Days (Day 2/100)

Java. Joe. Brew. Café. Coffee. Whatever you want to call it, it's the Nectar of The Gods, and I love it. Let me qualify that statement... I love a really great cup of coffee. I'm not talking about Folgers, Maxwell House, or that sludge they usually serve in restaurants & hotels. And I'm definitely not talking about Starbucks (not a fan).

No, I'm referring to a high quality organic whole bean that is ground fresh every day and brewed properly. Sorry folks, a drip coffee maker does not qualify.

Coffee has been part of my regular daily routine for pretty much my entire adult life. It's the one thing I really look forward to after I wake up and take care of the essentials. You know, let the dog out to pee, and usually shave, shower & get dressed for the day. 😜 Once those items are out of the way, I'm ready...

Let me step back for a moment and first explain how I got to this point. For many years, I literally drank junk coffee. It's the stuff you buy in the grocery store that is pre-ground and sits on the shelf for who knows how long. Then you put it through a standard drip coffee maker. It's basically swamp water. I didn't even know what a good cup of coffee was until 2014. It was during our first trip out to Colorado to visit our son & his family after he decided to move there from Ohio a year or so earlier.

We affectionately referred to them as the "Vegan Hippies" because after he and his girlfriend (now wife) moved out there, they became minimalist vegans who would only eat organic and would not use plastic of any sort. Yea, they got over it after having kids.

Anyway, shortly after we arrived, my son asked if I wanted a "french press" coffee. I was like, huh? What's a french press? He just smiled and said he would make me one. I didn't even bother to go watch what he was doing, but several minutes later, he appeared from the kitchen and handed me a steaming mug. Immediately, I could smell the most satisfying aroma of coffee I'd ever experienced. I took a long deep inhale over the mug and I was mesmerized. Ahhhh.... It smelled heavenly!

The first sip was amazing! I'd never tasted anything like it. The flavor was deep, rich, and smooth. I wanted to savor every moment. Truly one of life's simple pleasures that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and mindfully. So THIS is what coffee is supposed to taste like!

After snapping back into reality, I asked my son what in the world he'd just handed to me. What magical elixer did he concoct in such a short amount of time, and how did he do it? We went to the kitchen and he showed me the bag of organically grown coffeee beans, the grinder, and the strange looking glass device with a metal plunger - a French press.

I was fascinated, and hooked. I vowed to never drink a cup of cheapo junk coffee again unless I was desperate and it was the only swill I could find.

Skipping ahead... We had a wonderful visit and I enjoyed amazing coffee every day with my son. I'd already started researching what I was going to buy when I got home so I could develop a new morning coffee ritual for myself.

My research into "how to brew a perfect cup of coffee" led me to the French Press as well. But I also learned about other brewing methods such as a pour-over and the Aeropress. The Aeropress is very similar to a French press, but it uses air pressure to push the brew through a filter in the bottom. Whereas as a French press uses a plunger to push the grounds to the bottom of the container, leaving only the brewed coffee on top.

It will make more sense if you see the Aeropress in action. Here's the inventor of the Aeropress demonstrating the device. There are a couple other varations on the method that I have found produce an even better cup of Joe, but this video will give you the general idea:

I read dozens of reviews & articles on how to brew the best cup of coffee. Among the three methods mentioned above, the concensus seemed to be that the Aeropress did the best job. It also won several different national coffee brewing competitions. Yes, those are actually a thing. Who knew?!

So I set out to find me an Aeropress. I wanted to actually see and touch one before I made the purchase, so online wasn't an option. Thankfully, Bed, Bath & Beyond carries them and there was a store close to my house.

If only it was as simple as just buying an Aeropress. Oh no... You also need a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder so you don't "burn" the beans. And of course, you need a high quality organic whole bean coffee. My son bought his coffee at Costco, and I was able to find a similar bean at my local Costco. Dark roast, of course (better flavor and more antioxidants).

My new morning coffee ritual was born. It didn't even take much practice because the Aeropress is pretty much fool proof. I did learn a couple variations on the brewing method, and settled on one that starts with the device upside down and the plunger partially inserted into the brewing chamber. You put in your ground coffee, pour in the hot water, allow it to "bloom", and then stir gently for about 10 seconds. After that, place a slightly dampened paper filter disc in the end cap, twist it on, and flip the entire thing upside down onto your coffee mug. Finally, press slowly as the heavenly liquid is forced through the filter into your cup.

You can drink it just like that if you like a very strong brew, like Espresso. Or simply top off your mug with hot water, and you have an Americano. Either way, it promises to be one of the best cups of coffee you've ever tasted. Assuming, of course, you purchased a high quality organic coffee bean! But as long as you've done that, you really can't screw it up using an Aeropress. Please don't get caught up in measuring & weighing the exact right amount of coffee, or worrying about getting your water to the "perfect" temperature. I found it's simply not worth the extra hassle.

Clean up is easy peasy... Twist the end cap off and shake the filter in to the trash bin. Then press the plunger the rest of the way in to pop the compressed "coffee puck" into the trash bin as well. Rinse in the sink and set aside to dry. Done, until the next cup. 😋

With fresh mug of deliciousness in hand, I settle into my comfy chair, laptop in lap, and proceed to check email and do the daily processing for our log cabin rental business. That is my morning coffee ritual, every morning almost without fail or exception. This entire process typically happens between 6:45-7am and 8am. Once 8am rolls around, unless it's the weekend, I'm ready to start the day for my regular job. I'm blessed to work from home, so I usually brew a second cup of coffee and head downstairs to my office. On the weekends, I'll stay in my comfy chair, have some conversation with my wife after she wakes up, and usually brew a third cup of coffee to round out the morning.

My wife drinks decaf brewed in a drip-coffee maker. 🤮 At least she uses organic beans.

A quick note about grinding the coffee. As I eluded to earlier, it's best to grind your beans fresh every day just before brewing. However, since I'm often the first one awake, and coffee grinders are loud, I will sometimes grind enough for a few days and seal it in a mason jar. For the times I forget to do that, I actually have a hand-held manual burr grinder that is pretty quiet, and takes less than 1 minute to grind enough beans for a single cup.

I've decribed this entire process verbally to many people if/when conversation turns to coffee. Usually they roll their eyes and look at me like I have three heads. Most people think it sounds way too elaborate and time consuming and say they would never do it. But honestly, it takes less than 5 minutes to brew a mug of coffee using the process I described in this article. It takes almost that long to get a drip coffee maker setup and press the button. I'm just being a little more mindful and deliberate about my coffee ritual, and the payoff is huge. It really is.

If your typical coffee drinking experience involves pre-ground budget coffee brewed in a drip coffee maker, or a Keurig, you really don't know what you're missing. Even if you don't want to go the Aeropress, French press, or pour-over routes, please consider leveling up your coffee game by buying organic whole bean coffee and a burr grinder. Then go ahead and use your standard drip coffee maker if you must. It will be a much better experience, and you'll thank me for it later.

Now, what about when I'm traveling and staying in hotels? I used to take my entire Aeropress rig with me, along with the hand-held grinder and some beans. That didn't last long. I admit, it was way too much hassle. Now I just have to sacrifice and drink the hotel coffee, Or I'll look for a Tim Horton's or a Dunkin Donuts, which aren't too bad in a pinch.

Cheers!

Sincerely,
The Coffee Snob

The Pale Blue Dot 🌎

This inspires me and makes me think about the current state of the world and our society...

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The #100Days "Cure" for Writers Analysis Paralysis ✍

#100Days (Day 1/100)

Analysis paralysis. It's the best term I can think of to describe what I've been feeling for quite some time. I used to be a writer, and a pretty decent one at that. I was even nationally syndicated! But somewhere along the line, I lost my voice. I lost my ability to generate new topic ideas. I lost my desire. The spark was gone. At some point, I decided nobody out there really cared about what I had to say, or wanted to read any of my writing.

That was years ago, and since then the itch to write has been ever present and very persistent. But instead of actually writing, I spend much of my spare time reading articles, listening to podcasts, or watching videos about daily writing habits, routines, and tools people use to write. That, my friends, is what I call analysis paralysis. This is not what writers do, this is what wannabe writers do. Writers actually write.

For several years, roughly 2015-2019, I wrote very sporadically using a web service called 750words.com. I love the website, but what I wrote was mostly feckless brain drizzle, and nothing I would ever share with anyone else. Some days, when I couldn't think of anything else, I would literaly write, "I don't know what to write today... Blah, blah, blah", or something to that effect. 🤷‍♂️

I really want, no I need, to find my voice again. I want to once again feel like I have something to say.

So, my plan, starting today, is to join Listed's #100Days writing challenge. I've been using Standard Notes for over a year now, and I really like it. I've just started playing around with their blogging platform, Listed, and I've decided to start using it for something productive.

I'll be going way outside my comfort zone here because I'm actually going to commit to publishing my writing each day of the challenge. Even if it's just a few sentences, I'll be posting something to my Listed blog each day.

Stay tuned for more to come....tomorrow! 😎

Carefree Cabins in Hocking Hills, Ohio

Our first marketing video...

No Better Than Your Dog 🐶

  • If you can start the day without caffeine,
  • If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
  • If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
  • If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
  • If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
  • If you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
  • If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
  • If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
  • If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
  • If you can conquer tension without medical help,
  • If you can relax without liquor,
  • If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
  • If you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics, THEN, you have reached the same level of development as your dog.