Restore a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet

The Original Non-Stick Cookware That Will Last a Lifetime With Proper Care

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

A freshly seasoned cast iron skillet
A freshly seasoned cast iron skillet
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Cast iron cookware originated in China during the Han Dynasty, was adopted by Europeans, and eventually made its way to America. The use of iron for many other purposes predates cookware because the process of casting had yet to be invented. Once that process was developed, it was used for water pipes, cannons, and other objects.

Many cast iron skillets on the market today are Chinese schlock (surprise, surprise). The really good ones, which are what you want, can be quite expensive if they are new. To get a deal though, obtain an older one and restore it to its pristine condition. Have a look at garage sales, estate sales, or Goodwill. The degree to which it needs to be refinished, the less of a financial investment you will likely have to make. Once you find your prize, it’s time to restore it to a useable condition.



Remove the Cast Iron Skillet Rust

Most of the sites on the internet will tell you to remove rust with steel wool and this is fine if you have a very mild case of oxidation. But let me tell you, this will take a long time and will work you to the bone if it is worse than that. Instead, I use a grinding wheel attached to my Ryobi cordless drill to expidite the job. Work smarter, not harder, as Gramps used to opine.

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Grinding wheel on a Ryobi Cordless drill
Grinding wheel on a Ryobi Cordless drill

The grinder in the image above came straight from Home Depot and worked out just right for attacking both the bottom and sides of my skillet as well as the inside corners. Keep even but light pressure.

It’s likely that the outside will need some work as well. In my case, I had some flakes that needed to be chipped off before applying the grinder. For this, I used a old flat-blade screwdriver and my trusty 16 oz. hammer, which I bought at the beginning of my carpenter apprenticeship back in 1979. Still going strong. That was when Craftsman was the premier brand for hand tools. That’s a bit of America we’ll never get back. Sigh.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron

Seasoning your cookware is the most important maintenance step; this is what gives it a non-stick cooking surface. After following the steps above and you have a good surface (it does not have to be shiny, just rust-free and smooth) it’s time to season it.

  • For the first seasoning, apply a thin coat of peanut oil on the entire surfaces of your skillet including the handle.
  • Pre-heat your oven to 350℉.
  • Put your skillet in and let it bake for an hour.
  • Turn off the oven an allow it to cool

That’s all there is to it! Do it at least twice before cooking in it. The handle and outside only need to be done the first time. This is done as a rust-inhibitor. Ideally, you should season your skillet after each washing, but you can judge when it is due by the level of non-stickiness.

Properties of Cast Iron Cookware

  • It is an easy way to more of the mineral iron into your diet. One cup of foods like applesauce, chili, tomato sauce, stew, and scrambled eggs will gain about six to eight milligrams of iron after being cooked in cast iron cookware. This is important for all of us but especially us avid runners and other workoutaholics.
  • It will last a looooong time. In this age of planned obsolescence, it is nice to have something you can pass on to your offspring.
  • It is very heavy.
  • It conducts, distributes, and holds heat well.
  • Unlike some other materials, it won’t develop a convex bottom over time, casing wobble and uneven cooking.

That’s about all there is to restoring a rusty cast iron skillet. With proper upkeep, it will not just serve you well, but it will outlast you.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Creamy Turkey Mushroom Couscous Recipe

This Pasta and Lean Meat Dish is a Real Crowd-Pleaser

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Creamy turkey mushroom
Creamy turkey mushroom couscous
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I’ve long wanted to try a couscous recipe just because the word sounds cool. How shallow, right? But, anything pasta is tickety-boo here in the Smith abode. Pasta forms the basis of many recipes that I keep going back to again and again. Who doesn’t like Beef Stroganoff, for example?

But hey, you are here for a more specific recipe, right? I looked at a lot of different recipes that were similar but not. quite. right. So, here we go!



Ingredient List (Organic When Possible)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. Turkey sausage
  • 8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced and chopped, cremini or baby bella
  • 3/4 cup onion
  • 3/4 cup bell pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup), plus more for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried pearl couscous pasta (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 cups packed baby spinach (about 4 ounces)


Preparation Steps

Creamy turkey mushroom couscous  preparation
Creamy turkey mushroom couscous preparation
  1. Finely grate the Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup), mince the garlic, and slice the mushrooms 1/4-inch thick.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or similar pot using medium-high heat until shimmering. Add in the sausage meat and brown it. Add in the mushrooms, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the pink salt, the onion, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are slightly browned and tender. This should take 5 to 8 minutes. Next, add in the garlic, the and the dried pearl couscous pasta (about 2 1/2 cups) and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the 2 cups of broth and the 2 cups of whole milk and bring it all to a boil. Next, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently to keep the orzo from sticking, until the orzo is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed and has formed a creamy sauce, about 10 minutes or according to package instructions.
  4. Remove your pot from the heat. Add the eggs, packed baby spinach, the bell pepper. and the Parmesan. Stir it until the spinach is just barely wilted and the cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Serve topped with more grated Parmesan cheese.


I hope you found this creamy turkey mushroom couscous recipe as delicious as we did! I love experimenting in the kitchen and this was somehow my first time cooking with couscous and now I’m a fan.

More Favorite Recipes and Nutrition Info


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Crustless Tomato Pie Recipe

Combine the Goodness of Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, and Lots of Cheese

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Crustless tomato pie right out of the oven
Crustless tomato pie right out of the oven
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I love to come up with new recipes. I’m especially partial to baking bread and comfort food casserole-type dishes. This tomato pie recipe was prompted by the fact that the tomatoes in my garden are coming in fast and furious, like a profitable jackpot from a slot machine. No complaints about that, but it’s use ’em or lose ’em; am I right? This year my vegetable garden is home to red and yellow tomatoes as well as herbs like basil and lemon balm, which not only makes great tea but has medicinal benefits. Using as many ingredients from my own garden means I can be sure they are organic. Anyhow, on to the recipe.



Crustless Tomato Pie Ingredients

  • 4 tomatoes sliced, about 1/4 inch
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup onion (I like red ones)
  • 3/4 cup bell pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped (that’s right out of my garden as well)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, plus extra for sprinkling over top
  • 4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Tomato Pie Preparation
Tomato Pie Preparation

Preparation Steps

  1. Slice the tomatoes and lay them out on plates. Sprinkle lightly with pink Himalayan salt and let them rest for 30 minutes. This step is important to leech out excess water.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onions, and saute until they are soft.
  3. Transfer mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  4. Mix in the eggs, cheese, bell pepper, pepper, and cilantro.
  5. This is a good time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Spray cooking spray on your casserole dish. I used my 2 1/2 quart Corningware.
  7. Tilt your plates to spill off the excess water. Then, lightly press down with paper towels to remove even more water.
  8. Line the bottom of the dish with tomato slices and spoon a thin layer of the mixture on them. Keep going, in like fashion, building up layers. Spread a final thin layer of cheese across the final, top layer.
  9. Bake for 30-40 minutes. It’s done when lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool a bit before serving.

And there you have it. There are other versions but this is my crustless tomato pie recipe. Are there other possible ingredients? Sure, depending on your taste. Try serving it with something like a raw Tuscan kale salad.

More Recipes to Try (and Some Nutrition Info Thrown In)


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Why Grow Sage in Your Garden?

This Medicinal Herb is a Must-Have in Your Garden or Flower Bed

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

The many health benefits of sage
The many health benefits of sage
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Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a medicinal herb that offers a powerful effect against both viruses and microbes which makes it important in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been used for centuries by herbalists worldwide. The name Salvia comes from the Latin word “salvus” which can be translated as “I save” or “I heal.”

Many plants in your garden perform more than just providing food. Whether you are a prepper or not, you likely grow some of these plants to repel mosquitos, for example. Some herbs, like mint, do double-duty. Sage is primarily medicinal. The Romans were the people who began using sage extensively so it has a long history.

The Medicinal Benefits of Sage

  • A Powerful Disinfectant. A sage decoction (boiling in water to extract the benefits) and gargle to clean your mouth and treat various inflammation of the mouth. Use it externally to treat skin wounds and inflammation. Rub it on or add it to your bath.
  • Sage as an Anti-Inflammatory. It can treat inflamed gums, mouth ulcers, and many other irritations. Chew fresh leaves or make a poultice and apply it to your cold sores on your lips or nose. It’s no wonder that sage is one of the most common ingredients in toothpaste.


  • Use it to Eliminate Indigestion. Do you suffer from indigestion? Like the medicinal herb lemon balm, sage is your friend. Just add it to your line-up of bread baking ingredients or to your cooking.
  • Gallbladder Booster. Adding sage to your daily meals will stimulate the gallbladder.
  • Sage Tea for Cleansing. Some believe that half of a gallon of a mild sage decoction can cleanse your intestinal wall, helps cure polyps, and kills harmful parasites. That’s a lot of curative power. Some believe it is effective as a liver detox method.
  • Cell Protection. Sage can help protect your body’s cells from damage resulting from free radicals due to its high antioxidant capacity. Free radicals often cause cells to die and can lead to impaired immunity and chronic disease. They can be formed either naturally in your body by means of your normal metabolic processes or from external factors like X-rays, cigarette smoke, air pollutants, and exposure to industrial chemicals.


  • Alzheimer’s Treatment. An article in the US National Library of Medicine reports, “In vitro and animal studies have confirmed that several Salvia species contain a large array of active compounds that may enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease.” It goes on to say, “In this 4-month study, participants allocated to the active-drug condition (60 drops of S. officinalis daily) experienced significantly greater improvements in cognitive function as measured by the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale, and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale.”
  • Lowers Blood Glucose and Cholesterol. Another article in the US National Library of Medicine reported, “Conclusions: S. officinalis leaves may be safe and have anti-hyperglycemic and lipid profile improving effects in hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients.”

Growing Sage

  • Sage is resistant to both cold and heat; its cold hardy to -30°.
  • It flowers during the summer.
  • Plant it in full sun; it will tolerate partial shade but the flavor will be reduced.
  • Cultivate it in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is preferable but it will grow in average soil too. It prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • You can start sage seed indoors as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date in your growing zone.
  • Or, sow seed in your garden during late spring after the last frost. Sow seed shallowly, ¼ inch deep.
  • For companion planting, grow sage with chives and calendula, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, and tomatoes. It is believed to deter cabbage-family pests such as imported cabbage worms and root maggot flies. The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden. Sage will stunt the growth of cucumbers and has a negative effect on onions.

It’s easy to see why you should grow sage in your garden. Whether you plan to use it for natural medicine, as an ornamental, or for companion planting, it will enhance your property. Always grow organically; what you put in your soil ends up in your body.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Lemon Balm: Uses, Benefits, Growing

A Medicinal Herb That Does Double-Duty as a Pest Control

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
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Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the mint family. It is a perennial and its leaves have a light lemon fragrance. The herb is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, but it’s cultivated around the world today. As with many popular herbs, it is highly regarded for its medicinal qualities. But don’t worry, you won’t need a shaman to administer it. Keeping a plant in your garden provides a steady supply of tea.

Here’s another important use — it doesn’t just have to be relegated to your herb garden, it can be planted anywhere because it offers a fringe benefit. In addition to its health properties, it acts as pest control because it repels mosquitos. Hello, outdoor barbeque!

Benefits of Lemon Balm

  • Stress Relief. Lemon balm is said to soothe symptoms of stress, boost your mood, and help you to relax. Just the thing after a day of dealing with proponents of Critical Race Theory. In a study, the National Library of Medicine found that, “The results showed that the 600-mg dose of Melissa ameliorated the negative mood effects of the DISS, with significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness.”1
  • Treating Insomnia. Combining lemon balm with valerian may help alliviate restlessness and sleep disorders such as insomnia. In addition, drinking lemon balm tea can help with disturbing dreams such as Corona Virus dreams.
  • It May Boost Cognitive Function. MDPI.com published a study that concluded, “active lemon balm treatments were generally associated with improvements in mood and/or cognitive performance, though there were some behavioral “costs” at other doses and these effects depended to some degree on the delivery matrix. The results indicate that Lemon balm delivered in foodstuffs can have positive behavioural effects which may be used in applied health settings.”2

  • Healing Cold Sores. According to WebMD.com, “Lemon balm ointments have been found to help heal cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).”3 Using lemon balm cream may help prolong the intervals between cold sore outbreaks.
  • Soothing Digestive Problems. Compounds in lemon balm may help with gastrointestinal problems like bloating and indigestion. Try adding 1 teaspoon (tsp) of lemon balm powder to a bowl of ice cream or smoothie.
  • Help With Menstrual Cramps. A study reported in the US National Library of Medicine concluded that, “the results of the current study showed that M. officinalis capsules were effective to reduce the intensity of PMS symptoms.”4


Health Risks

Although lemon balm is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook lists lemon balm as a “class 1” herbal product. Some sources recommend limiting it to 3 weeks use, 1 week off. Here are some interactions:

  • HIV Medication. Lemon balm may interact with HIV medications, but sufficient studies have not been conducted.
  • Sedatives and Thyroid Medication. There may be some interaction; consult with your doctor.
  • Glaucoma. Some reports say that lemon balm may increase eye pressure, impacting glaucoma.

Growing Lemon Balm

Plant lemon balm during the warm weather of late spring, once all chances of frost have passed. Space plants 20 to 24 inches apart in an area with partial shade and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. I only have one plant so spacing is not an issue.

Begin by mixing several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil. Check your soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch becomes dry. You’ll be doing your garden a favor if you install and use a foliar feeding with compost juice or Medina Hasta Gro. Harvest the leaves once your plant is 6 to 8 inches tall; avoid harvesting any more than one-third of the plant at a time.

Lemon balm is a must-have plant in your herb garden (in my opinion). For a small purchase price, you will reap a wealth of health benefits. It is so easy to grow, like other members of the mint family, that not green thumb is necessary.

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

References

  1. David O. Kennedy, Wendy Little, Andrew B. Scholey, National Library of Medicine, Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15272110/
  2. Andrew Scholey, et al., MDPI, Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/11/4805/htm
  3. WebMD.com, Health Benefits of Lemon Balm, https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-lemon-balm#1
  4. Marzieh Akbarzadeh, US National Library of Medicine, Effect of Melissa officinalis Capsule on the Intensity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms in High School Girl Students, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557408/

Common Causes of Mood Swings

An Abrupt Change in Your Emotional State Could Signal a Lifestyle Issue

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Mood swings, sad to glad
Mood swings, sad to glad
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We all experience mood swings at one time or another; that’s just part of life. But when these emotional roller coasters begin to take over our lives, it’s time for answers. We need answers and solutions. Some things are due to unusual situations; for example, many people swing into depression manifested in isolation loneliness due to the COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing. There are many other reasons; let’s look at some of them.

Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder experience emotional highs and lows that are much more intense and longer-lasting than usual mood swings. This is a treatable mental illness estimated to affect 3% of adult Americans each year. The manic phase is the “up” time. Things are going great and everything is upbeat. It can last several days or weeks. Then comes the depressed phase; that’s the “down” time. The good news? Your doctor can prescribe medications to control the situation.

Sleep Deprivation

Anyone with a hectic lifestyle knows the effects of this pace of living. But did you know it can be the source of your mood swings? You need your shut-eye so your brain and body can fully recover from the events of the day. That’s why they call it downtime. To exacerbate the situation, if you work long hours at the computer screen, that will further restrict your quality of sleep because of the effects of blue light. While you might not be able to lower your work hours, you can wear blue-light-blocking glasses. I wear them all day as I work.

Low Blood Sugar

Going too long between meals can make you feel angry, upset, lonely, or confused. If you’ve gone on an intermittent fasting plan recently for weight loss, and are experiencing these symptoms, you may want to consider another approach. Choose one of these popular diet plans.



Stressful Situations

Too much stress can cause many health issues including feeling sad, angry, or bitter. You may lose sleep, as mentioned above, which can affect your mood. We all handle stress differently. The important thing is to find ways to cope with it that work for you. For example, running works for me. Yoga might work for you.

Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome

This condition is not yet understood and although difficult to diagnose, symptoms include persistent, overwhelming, and debilitating fatigue. It comes as no surprise that results in mood swings. Exercise can lower the symptoms. The elimination of certain things from your diet may also minimize the symptoms. The list includes caffeine, alcohol, and highly refined flour and sugar.

Medications

Certain medications can cause mood swings as a side effect. For example, high-dose steroids. If you take them, you can become angry more easily than usual. You also might have a hard time sleeping, as well. Compounding the problem, that can make your mood even worse. Whenever you start a new medication, carefully note any changes. If your mood worsens, consult with your doctor. He might be able to try something different.

Hormone Therapy

When you take hormone therapy for any reason, you might begin to feel upset or angry for no reason. Why? Because whenever your body experiences hormones in greater or smaller amounts than is customary, your mood stands a good chance of rising or falling. The same situation can occur when your body produces surges of hormones as you experience puberty.



There are many causes of mood swings. To further complicate the situation, it is not uncommon to have more than one factor working in conjunction. Fortunately, by careful consideration and the process of elimination, there is a very high probability of getting back on track again.

Further Reading


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

6 Plants That Repel Mosquitos

How to Design Your Garden and Landscaping to Get Rid of Pests

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm in the garden
Lemon balm in the garden
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Here in South Texas, mosquitos are just a fact of life. They are bad for people; they’re bad for pet dogs and cats, and they’re just pests. Dennis Prager once said when he gets to heaven he’s going to ask God, “Why?” Good point. But, while we have to live with them, we will talk about 6 plants that do a good job of repelling mosquitos whether you are having a barbeque or just enjoying your backyard deck. For best results, stick with an organic feeding program.

  • Lemon balm. As you can see in the picture above, this is a fine-looking plant. This is a member of the mint family that gets its distinct scent from citronellal. This is an oil that has some of the same properties as citronella, one of which is the ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s an easy species to grow. Lemon balm is a perennial (more bang for your buck) that, like mint, can become invasive and take over your whole flower bed or vegetable garden. It likes full sun to part shade and adequate water. The leaves can be used as a tea.
  • Citronella grass. The active ingredient here is the essential oil that’s used to make insect-repellent candles. Be sure you’re planting the tall spiky grass Cymbopogon nardus, and not “citronella plant” (Pelargonium citrosum), which is a kind of geranium that smells similar but doesn’t offer the same mosquito-repelling oils. It likes partial sun and moist, loamy dirt, so water it every day, especially if you’re growing it as a container species. It’s a perennial in tropical climates but it still can be grown as an annual in colder places.


  • Basil. The anecdotal evidence says it helps control mosquitoes but the studies are on-going. If you like pesto but veer away from grocery store prices, keep several basil plants in your garden and prune them regularly to keep them from going to seed. Also, why not whip up some Creamy Parmesan Basil Chicken? Basil thrives in full sun and moist soil.
  • Catnip. The active ingredient here is nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives catnip its smell. It’s also a member of the mint family and grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate partial sun and almost any type of soil if that’s what you are working with.


  • Lavender. Who doesn’t love lavender? Anecdotal evidence and tests on lavender essential oil indicate that mosquitoes shun this plant. Some people dry the flowers and make or buy lavender and cedar sachets to ward off mosquitos and moths. Grow it in full sun and drier soil. You only need to water it once or twice weekly in the growing season. It is a perennial species, so expect it to come back yearly.
  • Peppermint. Yet another member of the wonderful mint family. It’s the essential oil that works the mosquito magic. It is related to the lemon balm and has essentially the same care requirements. It likes lots of sun and water. It does well in a pot; in your flower bed, it will want to take over. I like it in tea and add it to my freshly-ground coffee. What a way to start the day!

So there you have it; 6 plants that repel mosquitos, look good, and serve other purposes. They won’t eliminate these outdoor pests completely but you can certainly cut down on those toxic insecticides.

Further Reading


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Richard Feynman Learning Method

How to Learn Anything Quickly and Commit it to Memory

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Richard Feynman, physicist
Richard Feynman, physicist
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Richard Phillips Feynman, ForMemRS (Foreign Member of the Royal Society), was an American theoretical physicist who was well known for his classic work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. For the random layman, he was as well known as Einstein and Hawking. He was a very colorful fellow who had a penchant for his logic and thinking out of the box. If all that isn’t enough, he also came up with his signature learning method, which we will look at here.

The Problem With Traditional Learning Methods

Most people learn by rote, meaning we simply repeat something enough times to memorize it. Next, we are tested on it. The problem is that if we don’t use it, we lose it. It simply doesn’t remain in our memory. Another way is to associate a fact with something else, like using mnemonics to remember someone’s name. So, what’s missing here? These traditional learning methods don’t address understanding a subject.

This is at the core of Feynman’s method. Don’t be that guy that simply spouts jargon. When you really learn something, internalize it, you’ll have acquired a tool that you can use for the remainder of your life. The more you really know, the fewer surprises you will encounter, because most new things will connect to something you already understand.



Feynman’s Learning Technique: 4 Easy Steps

The beauty of this method is its simplicity. Well, that, and the logic of it. You’ll wonder why nobody nailed this sooner. How much can we really commit to memory? Like the limit of human sports endurance, we don’t really know. Someone always moves the goal post.

Step 1. Define your topic and conceptualize teaching it to a child. Start with the topic you want to absorb. Write it down. Then write down everything you know about it, noting any gaps in your knowledge as you imagine explaining to a child, with, say, a sixth grade education. This will ensure that you get it in simple terms.

Step 2. Fill in the gaps in your understanding. If you don’t have gaps after explaining things to your imaginary friend, you’re not doing it right. You are running the risk of being the jargon and trendy catchword phrases-spouting guy. Check other sources. Investigate definitions. Keep it up until you can explain everything in basic terms. Continue to write it down and keep it simple. If you need nerdy terms to explain what you know, you are lacking in flexibility. When someone questions your understanding, you can only regurgitate what it is that you’ve already said.



Step 3. Compile all your notes and simplify them. Now that you’ve got a firm grasp on all the finer points of your topic, re-write them into a single document that you can file away. This isn’t just make-work; this step will aid in understanding and retention. A lot of people find it helpful to keep a permanent binder of all researched topics, ready to review at any time.

Step 4. Put your new expertise to the test. You’ve done the work; it’s time to spread your wings. Find a willing friend and communicate your knowledge of your topic. Encourage questions. Not only will this solidify your knowledge, it will most likely generate further topics of interest.

How Feynman Saw In-Depth Knowledge

Feynman didn’t just wonder about things; he wanted to know what made them tick. Unlike many scientists, he did not embrace jargon-spewing. He put it this way:

“See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling, and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people: what they call the bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.”

Richard Feynman

That’s how Feynman saw knowledge. Life is not just an encyclopedia. To really understand something and have that knowledge in usable terms, it is necessary to break it down in simple terms that can be used in real-life ways. He gave us that with the Richard Feynman learning method.


Further Reading


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Running in the Heat & Humidity

Working Out in Hot Weather Can Lead to Dehydration and Heat Stroke

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Running in the summer heat
Running in the summer heat
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If there’s one thing runners in Texas understand, it’s heat. Some seem to tolerate it more than others, but too much of it can be deadly. Have you ever wondered exactly how and why it affects you like it does? OK; let’s look into that. It’s a completely different animal than cold weather running. Here are factors to focus on.

  • Thermoregulation. This concept involves maintaining adequate heat production and sufficient heat dissipation; a balancing act, essentially. Your normal skin temp: 33°C (91°F), range 32-35°C. MedlinePlus.gov says, “Some studies have shown that the “normal” body temperature can have a wide range, from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C). A temperature over 100.4°F (38°C) most often means you have a fever caused by an infection or illness.”1 But during strenuous exercise the body’s heat production may exceed 1000 W. Some of the heat produced is stored, raising body core temperature by a few degrees. Evaporation of your sweat and an increased skin blood flow are highly-effective mechanisms for the dissipation of heat from the body, however dehydration hampers your ability to sweat and lose body heat.
  • Exercise. Your core temperature increases during exercise in relationship to exercise intensity. Obviously, a slow, easy run will have less effect than speedwork. Heat production is 15-20 times greater than when you are at rest. It has been said that it’s a blessing in the wintertime, and a curse in the summer. Why is it harder to get a head of steam up on hot days? As much as 70% of energy produced is released as heat instead of energy for muscles. This causes an increase in core body temperature by 1°C for every 5 minutes of exercise without heat loss.
  • Heat and humidity. Your heart rate increases up to 10 beats per minute when the temperature is in the range 75-90°F. Your heart rate increases up to additional 10 bpm when humidity is 50-90% because of decreased evaporation. Your performance can decrease by ~20% when temps are above 80°F.


  • Heat dissipation. What areas of body are most important for heat dissipation? Your forehead for one Do you wear a bandana or a cap? Your upper limbs, trunk, and lower limbs are next in line. I’m a big fan of going shirtless or wearing a wicking or cooling shirt like the one below.

Heat is transported by blood from muscles to skin primarily by sweating. This is the first step in the cooling, evaporation process. 75% of evaporated fluids comes from your skin and 25% from respiration (breathing). ScienceDirect.com tells us, “In humans, roughly 1.6 to 5 million sweat glands are found in the skin, and the amount varies between individuals as well as anatomic sites. The region with greatest sweat gland density is the palms and soles of the feet, which contain 600–700 sweat glands/cm2. The primary function of sweat glands is to keep the core body temperature at approximately 37 °C by releasing sweat in a hot environment or during physical activity.”2 So, your soles don’t help matters much. We sweat an average of 1.4 L/hr (max 3 L/hr). Don’t forget to re-hydrate. By the time you get thirsty you are already behind the ball. Use a large water bottle; fill it with filtered water before you leave home.

Your body also dissipates heat by increased skin blood flow (convection). It transfers heat from your core to your skin and stimulates the sweat response.



  • Heat related illnesses. According to the CDC, “Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. Despite this fact, more than 600 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year.”3 There are 3 main types of heat-related illness that get progressively more serious. The first is heat cramps-sharp stabbing pain typically in legs or diaphragm. This is caused by electrolyte deficiencies/imbalances. The common treatment is to stop running, ingest a sports drink to replace fluids/electrolytes, and cool your body. The second illness is exertional hyperthermia. Symptoms are a core temp 39-40°C (102.2-104.0°F); excess sweating causing fluid volume loss of 6-10% of your body weight; headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and an elevated heart rate (a real issue for those with high blood pressure). The treatment? all the things mentioned above plus cooling the body via immersion and elevating feet above level of the heart. The third illness is exertional heatstroke. This is characterized by all of the symptoms mentioned above plus core body temperature greater than 40.5°C (104.9°F), mental changes such as confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness. Seizures and coma are also likely, and in especially bad cases, death. Treatment includes all of the above but do not take fluids if unconscious/severely disoriented/seizing, etc.
  • Are there risks factors for developing a heat related illness? You bet! These include low fitness level, dehydration, being unacclimated to heat and humidity, overweight/obese (BMI or Body Mass Index greater than 27), medications or supplements, and even lack of sleep.
  • Prevention methods. The first thing to do is be realistic and adjust your pace. Refer to this chart.
Running pace adjustment due to heat and humidity
Running pace adjustment due to heat and humidity

Take walking breaks regularly and often, especially during your weekend long run. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Thirst is not an accurate indicator of dehydration but increased HR and dark urine are. Your body absorbs liquids best when they’re cold (40℉ is ideal); cold fluids will also help reduce your core temperature. Take liquids with electrolytes, eat small amounts of foods w/sodium 12 hrs before running. Acclimate yourself to warmer weather beginning in the spring. 2 weeks of moderate intensity exercise, 30-100 min in duration in the heat, is a good rule of thumb. Keep to a regular schedule; adaptations can be lost in as little as 10 days. Trade in your hat for a visor.

These are the basics of running in the heat and humidity. A little common sense and precautions can go a long way. Above all, have fun; running is good for the soul!

References

  1. MedlinePlus.gov, Body temperature norms, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001982.htm
  2. ScienceDirect.com, Sweat Gland, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/sweat-gland
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Extreme Heat, https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html

Further Reading


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Oatmeal Coconut Flour Bread Recipe

A Hearty New Combination of Baking Ingredients

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Oatmeal coconut flour bread
Oatmeal coconut flour bread
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Developing this recipe the other day, I started with the oatmeal, which I usually do for its fiber and cholesterol-lowering properties. Then I decided to have a go with the coconut flour, having heard so much about it. The result is this interesting oatmeal coconut flour bread recipe.

Why Coconut Flour?

It’s gaining popularity among the low-carb diet crowd and those who have a gluten intolerance. It has an impressive nutrition profile and may offer several additional health benefits. These include increasing blood sugar stability, better gut digestion, heart health, and even weight loss.

Ingredient List

  • 3 cups coconut flour
  • Whole wheat flour as needed
  • 1 cup quick steel cut oats; I used the HEB brand but any will do.
  • 1 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pure cane sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1/3 cup wheat bran
  • 1 tablespoon gluten (optional)
  • 3 cups water, heated
  • 1/2 cup nuts of your choice, chopped (optional)
  • 1 packet yeast

Preparation Steps

  1. If using fast-rising yeast, preheat oven to 425℉.
  2. Combine the oatmeal and 1 cup of very hot water in your mixing bowl. Allow 15 minutes for the oatmeal to soften.
  3. Mix in the remaining cups of warm water and the yeast.
  4. Mix in the egg, salt, sugar, flaxseed meal, wheat bran, gluten, and nuts.
  5. Mix in the coconut flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will look a bit different that what you are used to with just wheat.
  6. Begin adding in the whole wheat flour and mixing until you have a nice, workable dough ball.
  7. Turn the dough ball out onto your whole wheat floured kneading surface. I’ve become a big fan of silicone baking mats.
  8. Continue to add whole wheat flour as needed as you knead. I do about 30 folds.
  9. If you did not use fast-rising yeast, let it rise for a couple of hours, and punch it down. If you did, just preheat the oven and proceed.
  10. Gently shape and press the dough into a rice flour dusted Banneton proofing basket.
  11. Turn it out onto a prepared (I use spray olive oil; butter will do as well) baking sheet (I use a pizza sheet).
  12. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Start checking at 30 minutes.
  13. Let the loaf cool on a rack and enjoy!

So that’s it for the oatmeal coconut flour bread recipe. It makes a very heavy, compact loaf. If you take a look a the picture at the top of the loaf you’ll notice a very unusual texture, not porous at all. Take that, wimpy store-bought white bread!



Additional Reading


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.