3 Smart Kitchen Appliances to Make You More Efficient

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Ready to make your kitchen more efficient? These will save you time and effort in ways that I didn’t expect when we first got them.

In our house, weeknight dinners can be a scramble. We’re DINKs and my husband and I both have full-time jobs. When we get home after work, we are both exhausted and hungry. It can get a little too easy to reply on unhealthy convenience foods.

Well, believe it or not, there are kitchen gadgets that can make it easier to make quick and healthy meals.

Once upon a time, I cooked instant 5-minute rice in bags regularly. It’s easy, but you get rice that is a solid OK. Fine to eat, but nothing to write home about.

If you haven’t had fresh rice from a rice cooker yet, go have some now. I know I’ll sound like an ad, but you’ll get rice that’s fragrant, fluffy, and perfect every single time.

Zojirushi’s Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer is a smart appliance. It’s from their Micom line of rice cookers. The word “Micom” in the name is short for “Microcomputer chip” which is uses to help consistently cook delectable rice. This product uses “fuzzy logic” to make small adjustments to the temperature and cooking time. There are settings for cooking many types of rice, and even porridge.

Bonus tip: You can use the timer and set it for when you want your rice ready. It also automatically switches to the “Keep Warm” setting when it’s done.

 

As I’ve become more of a tea drinker, this boiler is indispensible! Tea is very good for you and is especially great during the long gray winters here in Seattle.

This Micom Water Boiler and Warmer has a myriad of culinary uses. It’s convenient for sure. The micom boiler keeps the water in the tank hot and ready to go at the push of a button. If you hever have tea, or instant noodles, you’ll love this.

This Zojirushi boiler (can you tell we’re fans of Zojirushi?) has 4 temperature setttings, since different temperatuers work well for different teas and otheruses. Like the rice cooker, it uses a microcomputer chip to regulate the temperature of the water, so that it’s always ready when you are. Don’t worry about the amount of electricity though—you can save energy with the timer function!

We use our toaster oven every day. We make toast, bagels, bake cookies, and reheat leftovers.

This toaster oven uses convection to bake everything, and has preset menu functions with suggested temperatures and cook times. This will also remember the time and temperature you used last time. According to the Breville website, “Convection can speed the cooking time by 30%”. This is a fast, energy- efficient way to cook.

 

I tend to be an appliance minimalist, so I’m often skeptical when Nathaniel has a new kitchen toy in mind. However, these kitchen gadgets in our house have stood the test of time and become some of our favorite things. What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?

 

PRK Surgery Recovery: Day 5

4Day 5: Saturday

Nathaniel definitely seems “back to normal” today. He’s much more able to enjoy the sunshine… We got him out of the apartment for the first time!

He’s seeing pretty well today, and just feels like he has old contacts in his eyes… probably because he does.

Overall, he’s feeling great and is very happy with how his week of recovery has gone. Today he’s used a LOT of the artificial tears because the contacts in his eyes are drying out, and he has been watching a lot of TV.

 

PRK Surgery Recovery: Day 4

3Day 4: Friday

Today, Nathaniel had his follow-up appointment with the eye doctor, and was hopeful that he would get his bandage contacts out.

He was feeling a bit blurry, especially in one eye. He was much more comfortable though, and able to look at screens. He actually felt more eye dryness and was using the drops more often because he was comfortable reading and watching tv more.

At his appointment, he learned that his eyes were healing well. They were healthy! While his right eye had a smooth and complete surface healed, his left eye still had a small patch that had not yet healed over. He will have to wait to have his contacts taken out until next week. Other than that, it was all good news.

Today is also the last day for one of the eye drops, so tomorrow, we’ll be down to 2! Yay!

PRK Surgery Recovery: Day 1-3

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Day 1 Post-Surgery: Tuesday

Nathaniel slept straight through the night and woke up this morning feeling much better. I guess when you rest for 20 hours, it gives your eyes a little time to heal. He had a series of three drops to take 4 times a day, and then moisturizing tears as often as needed. He takes an antibiotic, and 2 anti-inflammatories.

We had our check-up with the doctor, who tested Nathaniel’s vision and looked to make sure things weren’t infected. Later in the week, he’ll check to make sure Nathaniel’s cornea is healing correctly.

The doctor seemed pleasantly surprised at both Nathaniel’s vision and his lack-of-pain. Nathaniel is seeing 20/25 in one eye, and 20/20 in the other, which is better than most people at this point in the process!

I’m pleasantly surprised too. Nathaniel has been rather comfortable all day. He’s been taking it easy, and still prefers to close his eyes and rest, but mostly because his eyes get tired. They’re busy trying to heal. This afternoon he napped, and listened to music and baseball games. He hasn’t needed painkillers at all!

We’re feeling hopeful that this week won’t be as bad as we thought!

Day 2: Wednesday

This morning, Nathaniel woke up with his eyelid “glued” shut. All the gunk and build-up from his numerous eye drops had caused his eyelashes to stick together. We had to use some eyedrops to loosen things up!

This was a more blurry day for him, and he was feeling a bit uncomfortable and scratchy all day. His right eye was more irritated, and looked red.

We are noticing that he seems to generally wake up feeling pretty good, but things tend to deteriorate in the evenings. His eyes probably get tired!

Day 3: Thursday

Today was SO blurry! Nathaniel woke up feeling a bit more uncomfortable, but it improved as the day went on. He is experiencing lots of ghosting, and rings around lights.

It was still a good day of recovery overall. He felt pretty comfortable, just wasn’t able to read or see screens very well. He’s hopeful that the doctor will take out his contacts tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

 

 

PRK Surgery Day-Of: Monday

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With lots of anticipation (read: terror), Nathaniel and I went in to the UW Eye Institute this morning for his procedure. They started with a quick consultation to go over the procedure and answer last-minute questions. They went ahead and explained the eye drop regimen Nathaniel would be on after surgery. then they brought us into the room. Nathaniel laid down on a table and they gave him lots of numbing eye drops. Then they tested the laser. They taped back and clamped his eye lids. Then, they slid the table he was on so it was positioned underneath the laser, and I could see his his eye under a microscope/camera device  displayed on a TV on the wall.

From Nathaniel’s point of view, once his eyes were open, it felt a bit like he was on stage, with a ring light straight ahead, and then three lights fanned out below his eye.

Surgery

1:05-1:22

I was able to watch the whole thing on the TV screen in the room, with the image of Nathaniel’s eye under the microscope. This screen had markings like cross hairs on it, I suppose for positioning the laser machine. I saw them rinse and prep his eye, and then put a small round circle of a spongy material in the middle of his eye. This contained an alcohol solution to break down the outer layer of his eye. (Different doctors have different methods for achieving this, so don’t assume this is how your doctor would do it.)

After the sponge sat on his eye for 20 seconds, it was removed and a small spatula-like tool was used to gently scrape the layer of skin off his eye. To be honest, I didn’t know what the sponge was until I saw them scrape the skin off. (which was as gross as it sounds… yet, oddly fascinating)

Next, they fine-tuned Nathaniel’s position under the laser (which was this gigantic machine that took up half the room). They asked him to look at a red light. Then they told him to stay still, and the laser did its thing. This makes quite a noise… like a loud thumping sound.Nathaniel heard a capacitive popping noise, like a bug zapper, while seeing flashes of UV purplish-blue light, and seeing a flashing orange dot drifting out of focus. This was maybe 15 seconds per eye.

After that, they moved him and did the same things to his other eye.

Return Home

1:30-2:30

Immediately after surgery, Nathaniel looked up and his eyes weren’t nearly as red as I expected! He said things looked kinda hazy. He glanced at a clock in the room. It was a red digital clock, and he said he saw “quadruple” images fanned out to the bottom right of the clock. The doctor said this was normal and would improve with healing.

Nathaniel felt completely pain-free, and it was just weird that the world looked foggy or dusty.

Pain Sets In

3:00- 7:00 

You know how when the dentist tells you “You’re going to feel a little pressure” and that means it’s going to hurt? Well, the literature that tells you that there will be “discomfort” after eye surgery is the same way. It’s going to be painful!

It took about an hour for Nathaniel’s numbing drops from the procedure to wear off. After that, he felt pain in his eyes and developed a headache. He didn’t want to open his eyes, and when he did, tears would roll down his cheeks. Pain and tearing is normal at this step of the recovery process.

We were very glad that we had “blacked out” our bedroom, and Nathaniel laid in pain in the dark, trying to sleep, for hours. No joke—this part sucked. He didn’t feel like listening to any of the audio books or podcasts he had prepared, but he was also in too much pain to sleep. It took several hours for his Tylenol-Codeine prescription to gradually make him feel better.

Feeling Better

10:00 through the night!

Later in the evening, Nathaniel was able to nap a little, and got up around 10:00 to look around. He was finally feeling more comfortable, and was pleased that he could see pretty clearly around the apartment. The ghosting from earlier was gone, and he was excited to be able to see the stars and the small digital clock on our oven, from across the room! He could see the clock even better than I could with my glasses. But we both knew his vision would get worse before it would get better again. And we hoped the next few days would be less painful than this afternoon!

 

Nathaniel’s Laser Eye Surgery Countdown: 2 days left!

Well folks, there’s no turning back now. Nathaniel is signed up, and has paid for, PRK Laser Eye surgery.

For those of you rusty on your eye surgery knowledge, there are two main types of Laser eye surgery for improving nearsightedness. One is called PRK, and the other is LASIK. I had heard of LASIK before, as I’m sure you have. PRK was new to me.

Here’s the difference:

LASIK: Procedure involves cutting a flap in the outer “skin” layer of your eye, laser on the cornea to correct your vision, and then closing the flap. Done. Better vision overnight. Possible risk of flap complications if you get hit in the face in the future. So don’t be a boxer or a football player.

PRK: No flap. Instead, the doctor will scrape, brush, or wipe away the outer layer of your eye (removing less material than a flap), and then laser as well as the amount of cornea needed to improve your vision. Requires 5 days off work, and  a painful recovery as your eye has to heal the entire epidermal layer. No risk of flap complications.

They both have the same outcomes; our doctor couldn’t recommend one over the other. LASIK is more popular because of its friendly recovery time (like 1 day), but both have great outcomes for your vision.

Nathaniel chose PRK.

The advantage for him is no risk of the same possible complications that LASIK has, since your eye has a flap cut in the cornea. PRK doesn’t leave a flap, but instead, it takes at least a week for you to go back to work, function again, and hopefully, not be in pain.

Recovery from PRK is supposed to be painful. And your result will fluctuate. Your vision will improve, then get worse/fuzzy/blurry, then improve, then get worse, and so on. At least until it stabilizes….which could take months. It might be fast, it might take longer, and there’s really no way to predict how your eyes will heal.

We will be recording a video and writing blog posts to document his recovery. Stay tuned.

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Favorite Things: PUG Muddler

A muddler is an essential bar tool used to smash ingredients for cocktails, releasing the essential oils and/or juices of fruits, herbs, and spices. The PUG version is larger than what you might find in the local store, which gives a little more purchase and leverage for your muddling efforts. It’s also made from solid treated hardwood that cleans up nicely without absorbing what you’re smashing, and without any sketchy coatings that might chip off.

Each PUG muddler (PUG stands for “Pick Up Gallagher’s”) is hand-turned on a lathe by craftsman Chris Gallagher in Cornwall, NY using one of a variety of hardwoods including maple, cherry, and jatoba. The beautiful woods and craftsmanship combine for a tool that is both functional and elegant, a pleasure to look at, hold, and use.

Our muddler sees the most use doing the summer months – Mojito season!

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Owning one of Chris’ muddlers is an investment that should last a lifetime with care. Maintenance is similar to that for a wood butcher block, with just an occasional coat of a mineral oil based conditioner like the John Taylor Butcher Block Conditioner to keep the wood from drying out.

Chris’ website is still under construction, so in the meantime, please feel free to direct any inquiries and orders to Chris’ email: jcgallagher08@hotmail.com

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PUG Muddler Reviews:

worldwidedrinks.com

spiritsreview.com

scofflawsden.com

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Cheers and happy muddling!

5 Easy Steps to Win the Credit Card Game

If you’re like me, you may be able to think back to a time when driving was a different experience than it is for you today. Maybe backing out of the driveway or merging onto the freeway got your heart rate up, knuckles white, and palms sweating. Or maybe you thought you were the “king of the road”, driving fast and furious until one day you pushed beyond your limits. Replacing worn tires, brakes, belts, and fluids was probably far from your concern.

Today you might have a more complete understanding of the responsibility that comes with driving and car ownership. You are probably more aware of your surroundings on the road, and more diligent to protect your investment (and your passengers) with safe driving habits and preventative maintenance.

Similar to driving, a credit card brings with it real risks and dangers, but, used responsibly, it can be an important tool to save money and build credit. When done right, using a credit card costs nothing and offers huge benefits, saving you thousands of dollars through both rewards on your spending today and lower interest rates for large purchases in the future.

Here are the 5 Easy Steps to Win the Credit Card Game:

  1. Don’t Carry a Balance; Auto-Pay your Bill in Full
  2. Avoid Paying Fees and Interest
  3. Choose a Card with the Best Rewards
  4. Build Your Credit (On Purpose)
  5. Go Forth and Prosper!

Credit card companies make money in three ways. The first is by charging merchants a fee (up to 5%) to process transactions. This fee is essentially built-in to prices for most of the things we buy, and it is the reason you may sometimes see “cash discount” prices at smaller merchants or the gas pump. The second way is by charging a (super-high) interest rate on balances. While the processing fee is mostly invisible and out of your control (it is already built-in to prices everywhere), carrying a balance is an avoidable direct cost to you. The last way is by charging you fees, such as an annual fee or cash advance fee. These are generally a bad deal and worth avoiding too.

Step 1: Don’t Carry a Balance; Auto-Pay your Bill in Full

One way to help avoid the possibility of carrying a balance is to set up auto-pay for all of your credit cards. All cards offer this option, so that the full amount of the bill will be automatically paid off each month. Don’t swipe your first transaction before you know that this is set up. This step eliminates the risk of late payment (which can damage your credit score, raise your interest rate, and reduce your eligibility for the best cards), and of course it also ensures you won’t be paying the credit card company any interest.

Does setting up auto-pay for your credit card sound scary? Are you worried that your credit card bill will overdraft your checking account? Having a credit card might not be the right choice for you right now. Risking late payment by manually paying your bills, and carrying a balance when you don’t have enough money for your purchases will quickly outweigh the benefits of building credit and getting rewards. Keep it simple with a debit card until you have stable footing to win the credit card game.

Step 2: Avoid Paying Fees and Interest

Since you’ve already set up your account with Auto-Pay, credit card interest is a thing of the past. The next step is to make sure you’re minimizing fees. This generally means getting rid of any cards with an annual fee, and also avoiding services like cash advances that carry an extra fee. Call your credit card provider and ask them to put you on their “do not solicit” list so they stop sending you “blank checks” for cash advances and other services that carry an extra fee. After all, you don’t use your credit card like an ATM, you use it like a debit card.

Step 3: Choose a Card with the Best Rewards

Once you have settled on automatically paying your full balance every month, the next step is to find the best card to maximize your benefits (rewards), while also remembering to minimize your costs (fees). There are many websites that can help you find the right card for you. Since you have already settled on paying your full balance each month, the cards that emphasize low interest rates, balance transfers, etc. will be less interesting to you. You want the best rewards, which at the time of this writing is probably something similar to the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express, a 2% cash rewards card with no annual fee.

American Express charges the highest transaction fees, which means these cards often include the best rewards. However, many small businesses won’t accept AmEx due to the high fees, meaning you probably want to carry a Visa or MasterCard as well. In addition, you may find that some cards offer better rewards on certain categories of spending (e.g. Groceries or Gas). If you spend a lot on these buckets you may want a designated card to maximize your rewards.

Step 4: Build Your Credit (On Purpose)

You may not have enough credit to get one of the very best rewards cards at first, or even to get a credit card at all. If this is the case for you a “secured card” may be your first step. These cards are “secured” by a deposit of your money with the bank, and the amount deposited will become your credit limit. After using one of these cards for a few months, you will have enough credit to get a “real” credit card, ideally one with at least 1% rewards and no annual fee.

As you continue to build credit by paying your credit card bill on time, you can track your progress building your credit with a site like creditkarma.com or creditsesame.com. These sites offer free monthly updates on your progress, using information from the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. These free services are funded by advertising, so it is worth taking their recommended credit cards for you with a grain of salt, but they offer valuable info on your credit score progress every month.

You may find you receive feedback that your credit utilization is too high. If you have a strong credit score and good history of on-time payment, but high utilization, you might consider asking your credit card provider for an increase in your credit line. Keep in mind that asking for more credit is a “hard inquiry” that will have a short term negative impact on your credit score, but in the long run having more credit on tap reduces your utilization and boosts your score. Credit providers generally prefer to lend to customers who don’t need a loan; this is because they want to be sure they’ll be paid back. Maximizing your credit score is a tightrope act to get as much credit as you can without looking like you’re trying too hard.

Step 5: Go Forth and Prosper

By using your credit card responsibly and automatically paying the full balance each month, using your credit card will save you money with rewards on the spending you would have done anyways, all while helping you build credit that will help you save even more money when you need financing for a large purchase down the road.

Take the time to look into the other benefits that your credit cards may provide. Many credit cards offer perks like extended warranties on the items you buy with the card, insurance for rental cars, free flights or hotel stays, airport lounge access, etc. Know your perks and use them!

Use Autopay: Get Rid of your Bills

Here’s a quick and easy way to improve your life: stop paying your bills! Surely you’ve heard someone mention that life was so much simpler when they were a kid and didn’t have bills to pay!

Well, of course, your bills still have to get paid if you want to enjoy modern conveniences like electricity, running water, and the internet in the comfort of your own home. But, are you still mailing checks or manually paying your bills each month? I can’t imagine why you would bother to do this yourself when nearly every reoccurring bill there is these days can be paid automatically with bill pay.

Say your landlord doesn’t offer it? Payment amounts that are the same each month or known in advance can be set up through your bank’s bill pay service – many banks offer this service for free and can even mail a physical check each month for you at no extra charge.

Why go through the hassle of setting up auto-pay for each of your bills? The most obvious reason is that a little upfront setup will likely save you time in the long run, but there are some less obvious benefits too. It’s one less thing that will wind up on your (ever-growing) to-do list each month, so it just might help save you some stress down the line. Automating your payments also eliminates the risk of paying late, which can have negative impacts ranging from late fees to even damaging your credit score.

Of course, for many there’s some discomfort about knowing your bills will come out of your account without your go-ahead. If overdraft is a real risk, then you’ll need to address that first, but you may find it really does simplify your life to have bills getting paid on their own, leaving you to just manage your balance.

Already have all of your bills on auto-pay? Take the next step and go paperless! Each physical bill and statement that you bring into your home is just one more thing for you to process, sort, file, and dispose of. Save yourself the effort and physical clutter by going paperless and reviewing these online.

So, you may not really be able to get rid of your bills. But with Auto-Pay and Paperless statements you can manage your expenses on your own terms, without having them constantly barging in on your precious personal time and space. Take control and make your bills work for you!

What do you think – are you an auto-pay fanboy or are you a check-writing purist? Leave your thoughts in the comments.