Tips for Making a Great Cup of Coffee

January 28th, 2012 by Clifford

sb10063626az-001Coffee is that instant pick-me-up that people use to balance their busy online college and work lives. Many people assume that a good cup of coffee simply involves tossing some coffee grounds into a filter and brewing them with a coffee maker. However, when you want an outstanding cup of coffee, a little more effort needs to go into making your brew.

Starting with the Beans

A good cup of coffee starts with the beans. If you want a fresher tasting cup of coffee, you should consider getting a coffee grinder and grinding your beans before you brew each pot or cup of coffee. Pre-ground coffee beans go stale faster than if you grind the beans fresh. Whether you grind your coffee beans yourself or purchase pre-ground beans, store your coffee in the freezer or the refrigerator. The cooler temperature will keep your coffee fresher for longer, which means you get a better tasting cup of coffee each time you brew a pot.

When you want to make a good cup of coffee, you need to measure your coffee grounds correctly. For stronger coffee, you need more coffee grounds. Typically, for optimum taste, you should measure around 2 tablespoons of coffee grounds per cup of coffee. If you want a stronger taste, use more grounds, for a lighter taste, use less than 2 tablespoons of grounds per cup.

Brewing Options

The kind of coffee brewer you use will depend entirely on your preferences. Some people prefer single cup brewers, while others prefer coffee pots that yield four to six cups of coffee per brew. However, you must remember that the longer you leave coffee on the burner, the more it will burn and change tastes. For a good cup of coffee, immediately pour yourself a cup as soon as it is done brewing.

Another option for making a superior cup of coffee is to use a French press. With a French press, you must use coarsely ground coffee. You put the coffee into the French press along with the water. The coffee slowly plunges down through the water. This method allows the water and coffee to properly combine. Many people believe that this is the best way to make a cup of coffee. However, with a French press, it can take practice to find the perfect taste for you.

Many people prefer to add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar per 8 ounces of coffee. For the richest taste, use heavy cream or liquid half and half. Certain people also put a dollop of whipped cream on top of the coffee and simply mix it in. Using whipped cream gives you a slight hint of sweetness and richness without overwhelming the taste of the coffee.

Getting started and relaxing can both be very difficult when balancing life, work and online schools. So using something as everyday as coffee and making it yours by understanding your personal taste preferences, can quickly and easily make a good cup of coffee an important and fun part of your day.

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4 Fun Family Alternatives To TV & Your New iPad

January 26th, 2012 by Clifford

shutterstock_88351867Today’s high-tech society has many of us staring at digital screens most of the day, instead of talking to each other. We are so consumed with texting, FaceBooking, and Tweeting, that speaking out loud is almost unnecessary. Most of us carry full loads at an online college or work and home, making alone time the equivalent of finding gold. Still, most of us choose sitting in front of the TV, or playing online, over spending time with family when we finally get a chance.

This New Year’s Eve, make it the year you vow to spend less time staring at screens, and more time playing with the kids. Turn off the TV, cell phone, and laptop. Turn up family, fun, and laughter! If you’re short on ideas, try one of the following:

1. Games
Have board games gone the way of the dinosaur? Dust off your copy of Monopoly or CandyLand and gather around the family table. Pull out your old Twister mat and get ready for some laughs- and exercise! Family game nights should be a weekly event, bringing everyone together to reconnect and have fun.

2. Exercise
Rather than retiring to the couch after dinner, leash the dog and head out the door for a family walk. Burn off those dinner calories and get some exercise, and fresh air, all at the same time. Use this opportunity to teach your kids the importance of keeping fit. Too many children today spend more time in front of video games than they do on bikes. This has led to an alarming number of child obesity cases. Stop the cycle before it starts by demonstrating healthy habits.

3. Local Attractions
Sure you’ve been to the local museum, and you’ve hit up the amusement park down the street, but have you really experienced the city you live in? Spend a day in your city’s Old Town district, hike the mountain behind your house, or buy tickets for the local Elk’s Lodge play. Take the roads less travelled around town and I’m willing to bet you will find something unique and interesting, opening up the opportunity to teach kids about history and tradition.

4. Class Time
Sign up for a dance class, cooking class, or cake decorating class together as a family. Interested in Martial Arts? Many schools offer family classes that are suitable for all ages and athletic abilities. Can’t get everyone to agree on which class to take? Have everyone pick something they like, and then rotate monthly, to make it fair.

Spending time as a family is one of life’s precious gifts that is not guaranteed to last forever. Take advantage of free time by spending it together, making memories that last a lifetime.

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Foods to Keep You Warm in Winter

January 21st, 2012 by Clifford

dv030978During the cold winter months, we all long for ways to stay warmer, especially when we are constantly on the run or studying hard for our next online final on the couch. But did you know there are actually a number of foods that can help the body warm itself, naturally, from the inside? The next time you find yourself longing to cuddle up with a blanket and a laptop, try fixing a meal using some of these ingredients to get your body running in a warmer gear.

1. Pepper

This might seem like a no-brainer, but try adding more pepper to your meals. In addition to warming you up, pepper can spice up nearly any bland food.

2. Onions

Few things are more comforting on a cold winter night than a big batch of French onion soup. You can also add fresh raw onions to your sandwiches for extra bite and heat.

3. Garlic

Garlic is a great go-to herb. It not only heats your body, but it also has antibacterial properties to help you stay healthy.

4. Ginger

The zing of ginger is a great warming flavor. Try adding it to some of your favorite baked goods, or fix yourself a tasty — and healthy — stir-fry.

5. Fennel

Fennel is soothing to your stomach and has a unique licorice-like flavor. It is delicious roasted with carrots and potatoes or sliced fresh into salads.

6. Cumin

The flavor of cumin is often associated with Tex-Mex dishes like chili or tacos. For a great dinner to warm you up, fix a huge pot of chili using additional ingredients from this list like onions and garlic.

7. Sesame seeds

Sesame seeds can be added to almost anything. How about that stir-fry? You can also try sesame seeds as tasty tahini paste. Hummus uses tahini paste and is a delicious protein-rich snack on a cold day.

8. Cinnamon

As if hot cocoa wasn’t warming and soothing enough, try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon to your next steaming mug for a flavor boost. Another great warming cinnamon trick is to shake cinnamon over your coffee grounds before you brew. This will add a wonderful aroma and flavor to your next pot of coffee.

9. Almonds

Almonds can be eaten raw or added to just about anything. Try adding sliced almonds to your salad or cereal. For an extra warming treat, mix them into a bowl of oatmeal. They will add extra flavor and texture to an otherwise boring food.

10. Fruit and veggies

Fresh fruit and vegetables help your body warm up and are good for you any time of year. Make a fresh vegetable salad, with radishes for a little extra heat, or serve sliced fruit. Combine some of the other ingredients listed above for more warming power, like sprinkling fresh apple slices with cinnamon.

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Ten Ways to Make More Time for Your Kids

January 19th, 2012 by Clifford

shutterstock_45942820One of the most difficult challenges of juggling school and family life is making sure everyone who loves you still gets quality time — especially your kids. Try these tips to find extra time to spend with your kids.

1. Turn off the TV.

For many families, TV is a major time suck. People get home from their activities, the TV goes on and nothing is said for the rest of the evening. Shut off the TV, and you might be surprised how much you suddenly have to say to each other.

2. Cook meals together.

Dinner has to be made, and kids love to help. Invite the kids into your kitchen, and give them small tasks they can accomplish. Enjoy this time, talk about the food you are making and find out about your child’s day.

3. Eat meals together.

This is a biggie. A lot of research has been done that shows that kids in families that eat meals together are less likely to get in trouble and have healthier habits. Pick a meal when everyone can be together, breakfast or dinner, and sit down at the table to enjoy each other’s company.

4. Get enough sleep.

It’s hard to enjoy your kids when you are stressed and exhausted. Although it might not seem like there are enough hours in the day, plan to get your full eight hours of sleep, and you will make the remaining 16 hours far more productive.

5. Don’t overschedule your kids.

Soccer, ballet, art, play dates — you’ll run yourself ragged trying to keep up. If your kids want to do activities, that’s great. Just pick one, and stick to it.

6. Don’t overschedule yourself.

The same goes for you. Choose your “extracurricular activity,” and don’t try to pile on a bunch of others. Choose a class at the gym or a book club, but not both.

7. Relish Sunday mornings.

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast or brunch on a quiet Sunday morning with your family. If your family goes to church, plan for a fun outing or quiet time afterwards.

8. Enjoy special story time.

Before bed is a great time to really connect with your kids. Read stories to them — or have them read stories to you. Either way, it’s great quality time.

9. Plan for family fun night.

Save Friday night as family fun night. Play board games, go out to dinner or have a monster tickle fight — whatever your family likes to do.

10. Start new traditions.

Plan special fun outings on the weekends. Maybe you can start a Saturday afternoon picnic or a walk around the lake. Check out local farms to pick fresh produce. Explore your hometown. Find something that appeals to everyone in your family.

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Hurdles Of The Non-Traditional Student

January 18th, 2012 by admin

ts-200288438-001Written by featured guest author .

As an older student, the thought of going back to school, especially to a school where you have to physically attend classes, can be very scary. As the saying goes, “the longer you are out of school, the harder it is to go back.” I have found this to be true for several reasons.

Apprehension related to what other people are going to think of you, the entire process of enrolling and signing up for financial aid and having the energy to work a full day and then attend classes in the evening. Not to mention, this means time away from my family, which understand and encourage this venture, but that doesn’t mean I am not going to miss them any less.

The first thing I had to do was decide where I wanted to get my degree. There aren’t many colleges around my home, so choosing a school wasn’t difficult. Then, I had to take some time off work in order to go to the college, fill out an application and pay the application fee. After acceptance, I called the financial aid office in order to fill out my financial aid forms. After that was done, I had to wait.

While I was waiting for the financial aid forms to go through the system, I took it upon myself to call the school and get assigned to an academic counselor. I met with this counselor and got some information about easing back into school. He suggested I only take one course the first semester, just to get used to studying, and so I can slowly take more time away from the family.

As an adult, I already knew what I wanted to do, so taking a pre-admission career track test wouldn’t have been accurate. These generalized tests are designed to be helpful to students who are undecided on a major, but offer no help to those who are already decided. If you know what you want to do, don’t waste your time with this test as it is going to tell you what you already know.

As a non-traditional student, I found it was easier to go to a technical college. I could only go as high as an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, but at least I could immediately work in the field. Besides, after you have earned that first degree, taking courses through online schools is acceptable, and it’s what I did to get my Bachelor Degree. I am doing it for my Master’s Degree as well.

Knowing what you want to do and where you want to go to school are the first steps in going back to college. Non-traditional students may have more obstacles to overcome, but with a little determination and help from an academic counselor, easing back into the structure of school can be accomplished with ease. The most important thing to remember is this: you are doing this to better yourself and your family.

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Keeping Warm in January and How To Make Tea

January 14th, 2012 by AmyH

ts-78033207Few things are more soothing after a long day of classes than a cup of hot tea. Whether I’m curled up on the couch relaxing with a mindless magazine, or I’m working my way through my online school homework for the night, a cup of tea can help calm me down and ease the stress of my busy day.

Some people have told me that they don’t much care for tea, saying that it’s bitter or not flavorful enough. My answer to them? You’re doing it wrong! Although it might seem like there isn’t much more to making tea than dunking a bag of leaves in a cup of hot water, the truth is that knowing the proper way to make tea will enhance your tea-drinking experience and help you get all the health and stress-relieving benefits available.

1: Choosing the Perfect Tea

Do you prefer an aromatic green tea? A strong and flavorful black tea? Delicate herbal teas? Whichever tea you prefer, purchase your leaves from a reputable brand and retailer. You don’t want old, musty leaves that have spent too long in a box on a shelf. You want your tea to be fresh to get the best flavor. While tea bags are fine, loose leaf tea tends to be fresher and more flavorful. Look for tea that is finely ground, for the best aroma and flavor.

2: Prepping the Water

If you live in an area with chlorinated tap water, use filtered water to avoid tasting the chemicals. Boil the water in a kettle. Both electric kettles and kettles on the stove will work well. Don’t microwave your water because it heats unevenly, which means your tea won’t steep properly. If you are making herbal tea, you want your water to be just slightly below boiling, otherwise you will cook the herbs and flowers, and they won’t infuse well.

3: Making the Tea

If you are making an individual cup of tea, measure out an appropriate amount of leaves, about 1 teaspoon per 6 ounces of water. If you are brewing tea in a pot, add 1 teaspoonful of leaves per cup to the pot, plus an additional teaspoon. Now pour your boiling water over the leaves. Allow your tea to steep for about three to five minutes for the best taste. If you brew for too short a time, your tea will be weak and watery. If you brew for too long, it becomes bitter. Remove your tea bag or strain out your leaves, and enjoy the best tea you’ve ever tasted.

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4 Ways Being Organized Equals More Family Time

January 12th, 2012 by AmyH

ts-75461543Do you find yourself running from home to work to your college class to home again, never catching a breath in between? Sometimes it might feel like your family is a legend: something you’ve only heard of but have never actually seen. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just because you have a busy schedule doesn’t mean you never have to see your family again. I’ve found that careful organization can help me have much more time to spend with my husband and kids. Try out these tricks to find more minutes and hours in your day.

1. Your phone could be your best friend.

Do you use a smartphone? Take advantage of its countless features to help organize your time. Use the calendar, so you never have to miss an important appointment or project due date, and keep your contacts up-to-date, so you don’t have to waste time trying to track down loose pieces of paper. You can also download several apps to help you organize your thoughts, and keep them all in one place. Check out the marketplace for your style of phone, and look for organization and planning apps.

2. Plan out your day.

Each night before you go to bed, take a moment to look at what you need to do the next day. You might be surprised by how much open space there actually is. Have you ever heard the saying “Projects expand to fit the time allotted”? If you schedule a solid chunk of time to get work done, you can schedule playtime to follow. Take advantage of this time; it’s precious and just as important to your well-being as any other activity you might schedule.

3. Enlist your family’s help.

When the house is picked up and dishes are done, you have more time to play and just be with each other. Find a moment to talk to your family about the problem, and ask them to brainstorm ways they can help get the work done so you don’t get stuck with it. Who wants to come home from a grueling exam to a sink full of dirty dishes? When everyone in your family is working together to keep the house in good shape, it gives you more time to spend together.

4. Cook ahead of time.

Schedule an hour or two on the weekend and cook up a few meals that can stay in the freezer until dinnertime later in the week. Having an extra casserole or meatloaf on hand will free up some time on an otherwise busy night and will also prevent you from spending precious minutes in the drive-thru! Your family’s health and your budget will thank you.

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Top 5 Ways To Manage School & Work

January 11th, 2012 by Clifford

ts-75676975Written by featured guest author .

Working full-time and carrying a full load of coursework in school is tough. Scratch that, it’s more than tough. It’s more like crazy. However, completing your college degree is a smart choice and well worth the sacrifice. Finding balance and scheduling your time is essential, otherwise you’ll become overwhelmed. I know from experience that is easier said than done. I can also attest to the fact that I got more accomplished during my college years when I made a point of managing my time effectively, and scheduled in time for myself.

If you are working full-time and carrying a full load of any online colleges coursework, keep the following 5 Tips in mind:

1. Two Tops
Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking more than two courses at any given time. Some people may be able to carry more than that, but many find themselves overwhelmed. Only take on as much as you can honestly see yourself handling.

2. Time Management
Schedule everything. This goes for work, school, and family life! Having a family calendar you can easily refer to will help keep you on top of things, and lessens the chance of forgetting something along the way. Schedule time for studying and homework, as well as time with friends and family. Actually, you will find if you schedule all of the important things, you will automatically find extra time to spend on others.

3. Family Time/You Time
If you’re not like me, Miss Type A Scheduler, you’ll need that calendar to remind yourself to take it easy every once in awhile. Don’t forget the things that make you happy, and don’t place family on the back burner. Make time for things you enjoy. Otherwise, you will burn out at some point in time.

4. Diet & Exercise
It’s easy to forget about proper diet when you’re always on the run. This can actually work against you. Fatty foods give you a temporary high, but always end in a completely un-productive crash. Choose foods low in fat and calories, up your intake of fruits and veggies, and always remember to have healthy snacks on hand. Don’t neglect exercise- use it to your advantage! Burn off the stress you are carrying in a healthy way. You’ll actually find you have more energy, and are better able to concentrate, after you’ve exercised.

5. Time Off
When you’re done at work, leave it at work. When you’re done studying, put away the books. Limit work and school commitments to certain days of the week, and always allow yourself one full day off.

Managing a full-time job and a full load of coursework is not impossible. Just remember to schedule your time well, and take time to breathe!

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Two Tips To Make More Family Time

January 5th, 2012 by Clifford

more-family-time - ts-86487690Written by featured guest author .

Time seems to be the one thing we all wish we had more of. Busy work and school schedules encompass most of our lives, leaving little time to enjoy anything else. This often means that family time is placed on the back burner. Since you probably schedule every other minute of your day onto your day-planner, why not schedule in “time with the family” as well? I know from experience how hard it is to manage a family’s day-to-day schedule. This is why I highly recommend everyone purchase a calendar for the sole use of family activity scheduling. At the same time, use it to schedule in Family Dates. In addition, I’ve found it helpful to make a rule in my home that breakfast, and at least 2 dinners per week, are eaten together.

1. Family Meals
Let’s start with the easiest way to spend time together. By making sure that a certain number of meals are always eaten together at the dinner table, you will give yourself, and your family, a chance to reconnect. Family meals offer the opportunity to talk about one’s day, problems or accomplishments, and what is new in everyone’s life. This is especially important for families with children in school. As a parent, you might just find out things you didn’t know were going on that you should’ve known about. If you, or your partner, is a die-hard workaholic, commit to a minimum of one or two dinners during the work week- and don’t cancel at the last minute!

2. Family Dates
Since you probably schedule extra-curricular activities, school meetings, and miscellaneous appointments, take the time to schedule Family Dates at the same time. Instead of sitting by yourself at the beginning of every month, bring the calendar to the dinner table the next time everyone is scheduled to eat together and complete the task then. Discuss how many days are available for Family Dates that month and then decide what everyone wants to do and when. Some ideas for Family Dates include a family game night, pizza and a movie at home, or a family outing to the zoo.

Kids grow up and move away, leaving only memories. Don’t let those be filled with busy schedules and driving back and forth, day after day. Instead, make sure you can look back and remember quality time spent doing things you loved together as a family.

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A Classic American Family Favorite – Mac and Cheese

December 28th, 2011 by Christina

Photo by fritishWritten by featured guest author .

If you are looking for the perfect quick and easy dish that everyone can enjoy, why not check out the classic macaroni and cheese? Everyone can get in on making this all time favorite dish. It doesn’t matter how young or how old you are because almost everyone loves macaroni and cheese, especially when it is homemade. Also, when you are trying to find extra time from balancing college and family time, this recipe is one the kids will love helping to make it as much as they love eating it.

You don’t need any special cooking skills or loads of classes to help you know how to cook up this simple dish. All it takes is about a half hour to prepare and then 20 minutes in the oven and you are cooking up a great quick meal. You may have some ingredients already in your home but, if not here is what you are going to need to prepare this entree: 2 cans of cheddar cheese soup, 1 pound box of macaroni noodles, townhouse crackers, butter, milk, and sharp cheddar cheese in a block.

You can begin by heating your oven to 350 degrees. Next, you are going to boil your macaroni noodles for about 10 minutes, or until they are tender. While you are cooking your macaroni noodles you can begin cutting the block cheese into small pieces. You need to use at least half of the block but, it is best if you use the entire block to make it nice and cheesy. After you noodles are done cooking you can drain them and put them into a big baking dish or roaster, whatever one you have in your home.

Now, you need to take your two cans of cheddar cheese soup and place it into a saucepan to cook. Add in 2 cans of milk and whisk into the soup until they are blended nicely. Bring the soup mixture to a boil. Once it has reached a boil remove from heat and stir into the macaroni. Then you need to add in all of your pieces of block cheese that you have cut up. Make sure you mix everything together thoroughly.

Once everything is mixed you top it off with crushed townhouse crackers. How little or how much you add is completely up to you. Your finishing touch is sliced butter over the crackers so they brown while cooking. Place it in the oven for about 20 minutes and you are good to go. The perfect family meal that everyone will enjoy!

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