White Chocolate Covered Pretzels

19 12 2015

2015-12-13 09.37.42Ingredients:

1 pkg almond bark style white chocolate

3oz Bakers white chocolate

1/2 lb small pretzels

If desired: seedless sunflower seeds

1. In a double boiler, on low, melt the almond bark and white chocolate together.

2. In small batches, coat the pretzels – lift out with a fork and tap excess coating back into the double boiler

3. Place on wax paper to cool

4. After all pretzels have been coated, pour seedless sunflower seeds into remaining coating and drop by spoonful onto wax paper to cool

Lukken Waffles (Belgian Cookies)

12 12 2015

Last year, I made pizzelles – but, they were more like bread and less like cookies.  This year I found a lukken recipe – they turned out more like my grandma’s “Belgian cookies”. However, this is definitely a “cookie level: expert” job.  Making these takes a steady hand, patience, and an openness to a lack of perfection.  These cookies come off the press floppy and tear very easily.  However, they quickly dry stiff and are full of buttery sugary goodness.

The original recipe called for whiskey, but I substituted vanilla.  Also, the cookies shown in the picture contain a mistake – I was in a rush when making the dough and forgot to double the flour (I only used 3.67 cups).  So, they ended up extremely fragile (but still very crisp and yummy).  Next year, I’ll fix the flour issue and see how that alters the outcome.  I may end up using only 5 cups of flour to up the crispness.  Definitely a recipe to experiment with!

I used the PizzellePro brand of iron from QVC.


2c butter

6 eggs

2tbsp vanilla

2 1/3c brown sugar

2 1/4c white sugar

6c flour

1/2 tsp salt

2015-12-10 12.38.00

  1. Beat sugar and butter together until creamed
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, beat
  3. Add dry ingredients and mix well
  4. Roll out logs of dough about 1″ in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap
  5. Refrigerate overnight
  6. Warm the iron
  7. Slice small section of dough and cook in iron (the exact amount will require experimentation for the particular iron you have)
  8. Remove cooked waffles with a small spatula and cool – they will firm up as they cool

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

12 12 2015

2015-12-06 12.40.13


1 1/4c brown sugar (firmly packed)

1c butter

1tsp vanilla

2 large eggs

2c flour

6tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2/3c dark chocolate chips

For dipping:

Bowl of granulated sugar

Bowl of powdered sugar

1. Beat together brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until creamed

2. Beat in eggs

3. Add dry ingredients and then chocolate chips and mix well

4. Roll dough into logs, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap each log in plastic wrap

5. Refrigerate dough logs overnight

6. Preheat oven to 350F

7. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices

8. Coat each slice completely in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar (do not skip the granulated sugar step or the cookies will not “crackle”)

9. Bake 10-12 minutes

Recipe adapted from a Crisco brand recipe


5 12 2015

My first twelve years of computer ownership involved Commodore products. Twenty years ago I got my first Windows PC, in order to crunch my grad school data on Excel.  At the time, I was fluent in Commodore-speak, Mac-speak, DOS-speak, and the emerging Windows-speak.  I knew how to program in BASIC, and later in C++. My military training school included a month of DOS, and I could work my way around the C drive with the best of them.  When I arrived at my first assignment, it was during the shift to Windows, and I was an early adopter.

sad faceNow, twenty years after getting my first Windows PC, I spent three hours yesterday trying to do one simple thing – boot into safe mode to uninstall Windows 10.  Never got it to work.  So, my only-three-year-old laptop is a blue screen brick with a big old “bad_system_config” unhappy face icon screen message.  I want to punch it in its unhappy icon face.  But, I doubt that would fix anything.  And, I’d probably get some sort of toxic screen chemicals in the cuts.

When did this happen?  When did tech become so bloated and confusing?  Why can’t I even get to a Format C: anymore?  (I tried it in desperation, but the computer refused to even let me go there).  And, trying Google for help?  Basically two camps – too simple, or too complicated.  Yes, I tried rebooting.  No, I don’t want to rebuild the machine.

I’ve decided it’s a planned obsolescence plot.  Sure, Macs cost more than PCs – but, the six-year-old Macs in the house are running without a glitch while we seem to be stockpiling broken PCs in every closet.  Since PCs are cheaper, they must have terminate code somewhere to cause us to give up and buy new every few years, right?  So frustrating.

It’s all a nefarious plot.  I’m sure of it.

Facing the post-Thanksgiving massive holiday to-do list

28 11 2015

I’m an organized person.  Not a neat and tidy uber-clean person, but organized.  One of those people who makes lists of lists.  Color coded and dated lists.  Lists that aren’t procrastination – I get the items finished and checked off.  I’m motivated by checking items off lists.

But, even as an organized person, I have a secret to confess – I dread the day after Thanksgiving.  It’s not the shopping – that’s all done and stashed (accomplished online, of course).  It’s because the day after Thanksgiving is when all of my holiday and end of fall term/start of spring term lists are programmed to start alerting.  “Assemble lab kits”, “Inventory cookie baking ingredient spreadsheet”, “Program course updates – spring (sublist: 87 tasks)”, and on and on.  Since I take a school “computer break” from Christmas to New Years, and since I have a far-flung cookie-loving family, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my marathon.  It’s exhausting, but being organized helps. Sort of.  Some days I wonder if I might not be better off not seeing the massive day after Thanksgiving lists?  But, I try to look at it as a delayed gratification kind of thing.  If I get my list done before Christmas, then I know that I’ll have fall classes done, spring classes ready to go, and cookies to eat by Christmas Day.

Through the years, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to accomplish what is important to me and my family – and to cut the things that aren’t.

  1. We don’t do many gifts. I pick up little things here or there, but I don’t stress over what to get for whom. I have a huge family – most people get cookies.
  1. Cookies. The list takes days to bake. I have no idea how many dozen I make – certainly more than I could estimate off the top of my head.  I am cutting back this year on the cookies and ramping up on the white chocolate covered pretzels – they are usually the first to get pounced on. (Side note: if I could buy the cookies, I totally would – can’t, peanut allergies, don’t trust anyone else to make cookies.  Plus, it’s something my grandma did, and she’s no longer here to do it).
  1. I make lists for the next year as soon as a finish a project each year. trello 1115The lists are programmed to alert the day after Thanksgiving the next year. As I said above, it’s overwhelming to see them all pop up – but at least I know I won’t forget something – and, I’ll get the sense of accomplishment that comes with marking things off a list.  I make lists of things like which cookies were the last to go from the plate (eliminate them from the line up) and who has which favorites.  I track cookie ingredients and recipes on Excel to make it easy to adjust batch sizes and to consolidate ingredients for a shopping list.  This year I’ve also started to use Trello to track my tasks.  Trello lets me color code task cards and either give each card a due date, or not.  Trello allows me to drag and drop and/or copy cards from list to list so that I can make a working copy without disrupting my original master copy list.  It allows multiple boards, each holding multiple lists with multiple cards per list.  Trello has allowed me to consolidate my holiday and school prep/grading lists from OneNote and Wunderlist to just Trello.  Anything that combines the functionality of two apps into one is a winner for me.  Plus, it’s universally accessible (phone, web).  I’m still faced with a massive list, but at least it’s one that’s both pretty and functional.

And, the things I don’t do?

  1. I very rarely do holiday cards. If people want to know how my year went, there is Facebook. Or, they can email me and ask.  One year I sent out holiday cards June 1st (start of summer vacation – my “new year”).  That was a hit – lots of good feedback on that, but that was before Facebook was a thing.
  1. I don’t put up a tree. We have a small pre-lit shrub somewhere we put on a table. Our kids are 20-somethings now so the tree isn’t really a must-do.  Plus, the kids still live at home (with all their stuff) so there isn’t actually room anywhere for a tree.
  1. I don’t worry about cooking traditions. On Thanksgiving this week our “poultry and potatoes” meal was chicken tenders and fries. Christmas will be pizza (actually, the Papa Murphy’s folks tell me Dec 24th is one of their busiest days of the year so we may be on tradition there).

For me, the holidays are a time of family and faith.  I’ve learned as I age that it’s not about the obligations, or the turkey or the tree, it’s about spending time with the ones you love and relaxing.  The holidays don’t have to match the Norman Rockwell pictures to be valid experiences.

Now, on to that to-do list…

Moving toward content immersion

21 11 2015

Over the past 15 years, online learning has experienced a paradox.  As video streaming speeds have increased and bandwidth limitations have decreased, students are increasingly less likely to watch long instructional videos.  In fact, data gathered from the viewing habits of thousands of MOOC students show that the average time students stick with an instructional video is six minutes – regardless of the length of the video.

In 2007, advances in streaming speeds made it feasible for me to start creating and sharing “lecture tidbit” videos with my online students.  I had a (then) cutting edge (and expensive) home set-up with a microphone headset, wired Wacom tablet, white board drawing program, and Camtasia screencasting program.  My videos averaged 15-20 minutes long.  Students told me they watched them over and over.  Those videos are still accessible and active.  The last time a student told me they watched one of them “over and over”?  At least three or four years ago.

It’s time for a change.

I’ve started to replace the videos.  I’m shooting for concentrated bursts of information, no more than two minutes long.  I’m making the videos part of narratives – more of an immersive experience – embedded within storyline presentations, allowing for not only instruction – but also practice and self-assessment activities.  My first overhaul has been my pharmacology med math activities.  Formerly, the activities were static Power Point and worksheet based.  Now, they are dynamic.

2015-11-17 11.59.10The new activities use video and practice embedded into Articulate Storyline presentations.  Storyline is a pricy program, but Office Mix, a free Power Point add-on, has some of the same rudimentary functions (including self-assessment quizzing).  Other than Storyline, the tools of the screencasting trade have decreased in cost and increased in ease of use and access.  I record video on my phone, using the native camera app.  I have a small flexible tripod for demos.  For whiteboard videos, I use the Vittle video app on my iPad – no dedicated drawing tablet required.  Both Vittle feed and camera app videos upload seamlessly into Storyline. And Storyline, an HTML 5 publishing product, avoids the device limitations of Flash.

Once published, students can access the activities from both desktop and mobile devices. My old Camtasia videos, uploaded to the LMS, were only available on LMS-compatible devices.  Since my college uses an outdated non-mobile  LMS, that was a limitation.  Over time, I had transferred some of the videos to YouTube to increase accessibility. But, YouTube does not allow for interactivity. Storyline activities can be hosted both within and outside of the LMS.  I maintain my own domain and website for maximum flexibility, but most schools will also provide server space to host the activities.

Online education is a field where the only constant is change.  One of the things I love most about working in this area is exploring all of the ways to help maximize student learning.  Moving from text to video in 2007 increased student engagement.  I anticipate that moving to an interactive video/skills mix will provide even greater levels of immersion.

Autumn Images

14 11 2015
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Copper Reflections

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Spiderwebs in Dew

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New Life

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