Happy Belated Birthday, Crock-Pot!

Join me in wishing your crock-pot a happy belated birthday. About a week ago, this slow cooking device turned 50. Well, technically the device itself is a little over 80, but its incarnation with the name crock-pot began in 1971.

I’ll confess that I primarily use my crock-pot for parties. I’ve owned the brand name and something similar that doubled as a griddle. Both work similarly. They cook food at a slow pace.

My first crock pot lived in my college dorm room. We used it to make cheese dip out of cheddar cheese soup and RotelR tomatoes and peppers that we greedily dipped original Doritos into. While the thought of that cheese dip now makes me cringe, I miss the buttery flavor of those original tortilla chips.

Next, came the wedding gift crock pots. I think I received three. One was huge. I still have it. As much as I like one pot meals, you’d think I would have put a lot of miles on these pots through the years. I haven’t, which seems odd since I love one pot meals. I think it’s because I view one pot meals as something quick I can throw together last minute. Crock-pot cooking requires forethought.

Perhaps that’s why many of us opt for the convenience of fast food rather than the convenience of a crock-pot. But there’s no question that crock-pot cooking can be healthy and easily adapted to any dietary restriction.

As a recent convert to braised beef, which I’ve discovered is much like my grandmother’s pressure-cooked beef, I increasingly appreciate slow cooking. It’s great for pulled pork, ham & beans, chili, and vegetable soup. The home economists who developed recipes for the crock-pot swear it’s the best way to bake cheesecake.

It can also be used to bake pineapple upside down cake, chocolate lava cake, banana nut cake, and breakfast foods like cinnamon rolls, French toast casserole, and scrambled or boiled eggs. Clearly, I have not allowed my crock-pot to fulfill its potential.

Like any small electric appliance, part of that is due to access. A crock-pot is the kind of thing that needs a place to live that’s convenient or I forget to use it. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess and mine lives near the back of a shelf in a closet in the dining room.

It seems fitting to attempt a cake in the crock-pot to celebrate its birthday. Although I’d love to test that claim that it makes the best cheesecake. And I used to ask for lemon meringue pie for my birthday, so birthday cake doesn’t have to be birthday cake!

Anyway, I’d like to salute Irving Naxon who patented the Naxon Beanery that became the crock-pot. He created an efficient way to slow-cook food that costs only pennies a day to operate and does not heat up the house. His machine may not have been a commercial success until it was bought by Rival, but without him we might not be able to buy one of the 12 million units that are still sold each year – 50 years later.

So, thank you Irving Naxon and happy belated birthday, crock-pot!

Tomato Tomato

Tomato tomato – when I type it you can’t hear tomato tomahto. Same with aunt aunt or either either or neither neither. And when I use jk or ftw in a text, it can be easily misconstrued. (As can that b I end up typing instead of a period at the end of LOTS of texts without realizing it before I hit send. No, I didn’t call you a b! I swear, I didn’t – even though you have it in writing.) Communication these days may be faster, but it’s not necessarily more clear.

The truth is, I can often understand the raise of a two-year-old’s eyebrow above a mask more clearly than I can comprehend the intent of a tweet or the meaning of some texts. Sometimes even essays and news stories leave me wondering.

Context helps. If I know the sender, my initial response will be tempered by our previous interactions. Length helps. The more full the exposition, the greater the chance I’ll grasp an idea in its entirety. Precise word selection helps. But tomato or tomahto, I’m going to rely on my experience to interpret what you attempt to communicate.

As a listener, I can try to gain a greater understanding by putting myself in your shoes. But there’s a limit in that my experience and yours may be similar, but they will never be the same. If I overstep and insert too much of myself, I may miss your point entirely.

So, there will be misunderstandings. So what?

It’s true. There will always be misinterpretation, miscommunication, and misunderstanding. We can’t eliminate them entirely. But an attempt to grasp as much of another’s experience as possible accomplishes many positive things that contribute to thriving.

As we become better listeners, we find more common ground. I don’t think there’s any question we need to rediscover our common ground these days.

Feeling heard and accepted is easier when we share common ground. And those feelings make me more likely to hear and cooperate with you.

Experiencing your acceptance of me makes me more likely to accept and empathize with you.

We continue to live through a pandemic that’s pulling us further and further into opposing camps. It’s also highlighting systemic problems that need to be fixed.

Every day, we face choices that can have the effect of improving the future or tearing it down. What we do matters. It has an effect. We may not feel we can change the world, but we can certainly change someone’s day. And each person we touch will affect many others.

Sometimes, we may feel we must fight to defend our position. Fighting can contribute to the improvement of society. But we must be clear on our values, see our flaws realistically, and be able to envision the long-term effect of the battle we’re fighting. Knowing which battles to choose and how to wage them requires opening our minds and our hearts, listening carefully, gaining insight, and exercising courage.

Condemning, othering, labeling, dismissing, and jumping to conclusions based on today’s hurried, abbreviated communication is dangerous territory. Appallingly, I see some form of those every day.

As a culture, we’re precariously balanced. A fight over the pronunciation of tomato will not move us forward.

Putting in the effort to communicate well and consciously consider the effect of our words can help us thrive.

I Want To Be The Minority

We listened to a lot of Green Day when my sons were in high school. The song Minority was always in the mix. I think about that song off and on. I’m not sure I WANT to be the minority, but I often feel like I am.

I used to think I was just a contrarian. Now, I don’t think that’s really a fair assessment even though it’s not unusual for me to see things differently from most of the people with whom I interact. Lots of days feel like opposite day in my world.

On car rides, my dad liked to choose a current event and ask my opinion about it. Whatever I said, he’d express the opposite opinion and we’d discuss at length. It was immaterial whether I agreed with what I was saying. What was important was that I be able to think through an issue thoroughly.

That became my habit. Look at something. Explore. Look at it from the other side. Explore. Come up with arguments that support each point of view.

I’m not always sure where I’ll land on an issue, but I routinely have an opportunity to see things from a different perspective before I figure that out. I love it that this became an ingrained habit. I also feel like a sore thumb sometimes.

We are all unique and even if you are more mainstream than I, there will be times you feel different, misunderstood or like your opinion is not valued.

How can you feel good when that happens?

There may be no avoiding feelings of frustration, irritation, annoyance, or anger in the moment. Sometimes, you may momentarily feel less than. However you feel is okay. The key is for those feelings to move through without affecting how you view yourself.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

Set boundaries – There are times you may want to avoid sharing what you think or feel. You’re under no obligation to share if doing so will harm you.

Recognize the power of your voice – When you’re standing alone, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by opposing voices. This can make you feel torn between staying silent and offering your view.

The truth is, you are not as alone as you believe. You may be the only person in a particular room who sees what you see, but there will be many more in other rooms whose voice may not be heard unless you speak up.

Understand the value of your opinion – When others in a discussion have a greater volume of wealth, education, status, position, or force, it’s easy to tell yourself their thoughts matter more than yours.

The interesting thing is that those things may, in fact, limit their knowledge in some areas. That is where you can fill in the gaps.

And even when there is no gap, you may have a take on a situation no one else has considered. If you don’t speak out, no one will benefit from what you have to offer.

Bounce ideas off someone else – Call a friend whose opinion you respect and give your ideas a test run. Sometimes just saying something out loud helps cement your passion for it.

Forgive yourself – If you end up feeling like you’ve spoken when you shouldn’t or held back when you should have spoken, forgive yourself. Decide whether you will revisit the issue or let it go.

You cannot undo what’s been done. You’ll gain nothing from beating yourself up. That same energy can be redirected to exploring what you learned, how you hope to handle things in the future, or practicing gratitude for the opportunity to make a choice.

I have no doubt that I’ll soon be back in a situation in which I want to be the minority. I’m thinking that’s a good thing.


Grocery Delivery Update

In 2018, I was eagerly awaiting availability; today, I have a grocery delivery update.

Delivery finally became available in my zip code just before the pandemic. Ordering was easy. It was a natural extension of the grocery pick-up I’d been doing for a couple of years. The first available service was Walmart. Next came Kroger® via Instacart®.  Then Whole Foods Market entered the picture.

My first delivery order with Walmart went smoothly and the merchandise was consistent with my pick-up experience. Whether you choose Walmart, Instacart, or Whole Foods, the ordering experience is similar. Each interface has a feature that shows items previously ordered, allows for substitutions, and has a space for special delivery instructions. The look is different for each, and the items captured by a search will vary in range.

Walmart’s search captures a wider group of products than I would prefer. A search for gluten-free cereal yields many varieties that aren’t gluten-free. That’s annoying, but okay. I want search results to be wide. The problem is that the gluten-free items aren’t always grouped together at the top of the list. Instacart works similarly. Whole Foods captures items beyond gluten-free cereal but seems to group and prioritize better.

September 13, 2021 update: I feel compelled to note that Walmart recently updated its website. Now you must choose pickup, delivery, and (for most items) shipping for each item before you add it to the cart. It’s cumbersome. It’s easy to accidentally end up choosing multiple delivery methods. And it feels like there are less products available for delivery. I don’t know if there are fewer, but it seems that way. Because of additional delivery problems and this website update, I have subscribed to Imperfect Foods. My first order will be delivered this week. We’ll see how that goes.

Online shopping carts have taken the place of my grocery lists. When I recognize the need for an ingredient or cleaning product, I add it to the cart. I also add personal care products, flowerpots, potting soil, garden trellis, tools, hardware, RV supplies, and toys when shopping Walmart grocery delivery. At the end of the week, I review the cart and place my order.

Walmart, Whole Foods, and Kroger carry basic grocery items and store brands. And all three rotate through other offerings. During the pandemic, it’s sometimes been hard to tell if an item has been discontinued or will be back when inventory is available. We all experienced the shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, and disinfecting wipes. Laundry sanitizer, rice, beans, and other staples were also in sort supply. That has gradually improved.

But while some things have gotten better, the Walmart produce quality has continued to deteriorate to the point some items are now spoiled upon delivery. The good news is that my garden, the farmers market, and Whole Foods have filled the gap.

Whole Foods delivers cold food in insulated bags. Some frozen items come in additional wrapping. I recently threw away a pint of ice cream that was so well wrapped I missed it. (Oops.) Today, I received some pre-washed lettuce from Whole Foods that has some browning on the stems, but still smells fresh. The sugar snap peas and raspberries in my order are perfect.

Occasionally, I try ordering produce from Walmart to see if they have fixed the freshness problem, but last week, the stench of spoiled vegetables greeted me when I opened a bag of sugar snap peas minutes after they were delivered. I empathize with the difficulties working around a pandemic brings, but I’d rather not have to throw away food the minute it arrives at the door.

For the past month or two, I’ve been splitting each week’s groceries between Walmart and Whole Foods. I order the majority of my produce from Whole Foods along with Imagine Chicken Stock and raw nuts.*  While I sometimes supplement with a Kroger order, those instances are limited. I don’t enjoy the voluminous number of texts included in the Instacart experience. I also feel like there are always more substitutions from Kroger.

There are rare exceptions, but most orders arrive within my chosen time frame no matter which store I choose. Walmart sometimes sends me surplus items or doesn’t deliver my whole order. I haven’t had this problem with Whole Foods or Kroger.

For the past year, I’ve relied on three vendors. I now have more options. Natural Grocers, The Fresh Market, Costco, and another locally owned franchise recently joined the mix of available delivery. Drugstore delivery choices have also multiplied along with discount and big-box warehouse stores.

I’m happy the choices are increasing because I like grocery delivery as much as I believed I would. It’s allowing me to stay in when the heat index is 110⁰ and that feels good.

For younger moms, it can mean shopping while the kids are asleep or working on virtual school. And it eliminates the need for putting a toddler in a hot car seat.

There are so many pluses to this service, grocery delivery will remain my primary means of shopping when in-person purchasing becomes safer. If you live in a location where it’s available, I recommend giving it a try.

*Raw nuts from Walmart are another item that’s become questionable. If I need a variety of gluten-free flours as well as nuts and/or dried fruit, I order from Nuts.com. My whole family gets excited when they see a bright colored bag from Nuts.com. It’s one place I can find dried mango and papaya without added sugar.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”