Posted by: Kirk Gleason | January 5, 2010

Money for nothing

The american dream isn’t it? Getting something for nothing at all. It seems so real, and yet so unattainable all at the same time. Why is that? Why does it seem like we just can’t get something for nothing? I ask myself this all of the time, but lately I have come to a realization.

However, before I get there, I need to ask you, my dedicated reader, how do you define the word “something” when you hear the phrase “something for nothing?” Working under the assumption that I am not as abnormal as everyone makes me out to be, then I am probably safe in saying that when you think of all of this, you probably think of something large — a car, or may a million dollars. I know that that is what it used to mean to me.

The realization that I have come to is that something doesn’t have to be something. I can get something for nothing simply by looking at the way I live. We buy a lot of stuff. Lots. And a lot of this stuff is just stuff that I never really thought too much about. Taco seasoning is a great example …

Obviously, if you are going to make tacos, and if your tacos are going to have some sort of ground meat in them, then you will likely want some sort of taco seasoning. But what are you really paying for when you shell out $1 for that little envelope of seasoning. Maltodextrin? Salt? Corn Starch? If you look at an average list of ingredients on taco seasoning, there are probably only 2 ingredients out of the top 6 in your pantry: chili powder and salt. All of those silly ingredients don’t make that taco seasoning more valuable — just the opposite.

In fact, how much taco seasoning do you think you get for $10? Maybe a 1/2 of a cup? Maybe? Now what if you could make a full cup of the stuff for $15? And what if you needed less seasoning per pound of meat? I haven’t actually measured any of these things, so this is all based on estimate; but I have made my own taco seasoning. I figure I made enough for 20 meals, and it probably only cost me $6. I figure that I dropped the price per meal (for this portion of the meal) down to maybe $0.15 — that’s a 85% saving just for throwing together a few spices (I have a load of spices in my pantry) in about 5 minutes.

Too small of a scale you say? Who cares about $0.85 you ask? Well, how about we look at something more substantial. Shampoo. (Yep, I’m going there). Most people’s immediate reaction is “ewww.” But ask yourself this … have you ever seen a toddler wake up from a fitful nap all sweaty and nasty? Have you ever felt that kids hair 30 minutes after they wake up? Most of the time, their hair is not all nasty and greasy. Yet you, nasty reader, probably has disgusting greasy hair most mornings when you wake up. Why is that?

Biology is an amazing thing, and we as a society to not give our bodies enough credit. Our scalps produce oil to protect our hair. That oil keeps our hair moist, and healthy; and when our scalp is functioning normally, it produces oil at a normal rate, and effectively keeps your hair clean. Yes you read that right — the oil produced by your scalp keeps your hair clean. Your body expects you hair to have a certain amount of oil in it.

Enter shampoo. Any idea why shampoo burns when you get it in your eyes? Because it is a detergent, a degreaser if you will. You wouldn’t squirt WD40 on your head, but you put shampoo in it multiple time a week. The shampoo effectively strips the natural oil our of your hair, thereby leaving it dry and brittle. Conditioner was invented to put moisture back in your hair that shampoo takes away. Since the shampoo strips all of the moisture out of your hair, your scalp figures out that your hair is dry, and goes into overdrive producing oil. By the time you wake up in the morning, your scalp has overproduced oil, your hair feels greasy, and you shampoo it — making the cycle even more vicious.

That toddler up there with the surprisingly clean hair has a scalp that still has some sense of balance, and their hair isn’t dry to the core — don’t let that feeling that the conditioner gives you fool you, you hair is dry.

I discovered all of this accidentally (and it is actually related to taco seasoning), along with an old timey solution that works amazingly well — baking soda. I don’t have a ton of hair, and I figure that I was probably spending about $2 a month on shampoo just for me. Now I did have to invest a few bucks in spray bottles, but here is how it worked for me.

In one spray bottle, I mixed 2 cups of hot water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. In the other spray bottle, I mixed 3 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. About 2x a week I spray the baking soda solution on my head and massage it in. Then I rinse it out. About every 3 or 4 times I do that (so somewhere about once every other week), I finish with a vinegar rinse (and rinse that out with cold water). That’s it. I haven’t put shampoo on my head since mid-october (I think), and my hair has never felt better. But the best part is that I have probably spent $0.35 on hair care since then (not counting the spray bottles).

So what difference does a dollar here or there make? Who knows? I guess it is up to you. But, some experts would contend that $1 per month invested in a 401K starting at the age of 25 would be worth more at 65 years old than $5 per month invested in a 401K starting at the age of 30. But if you start adding these things up (look into laundry detergent sometime), then you might just have a few more dollars at the end of the month than you used to have. Some might call that money for nothing. I call it good sense.

Posted by: Kirk Gleason | October 21, 2009

Le Grand Meaulnes

Pancakes, flu shots, and now some French thing? You may be asking yourself what gives? Well if you didn’t notice, the title of this post is the same as my blog’s name @ WordPress. It is also my Twitter account name. It used to be my IRC nickname (and still is on the occasion that I jump on).

I would hazard a guess that most of the people reading this have probably not heard of this book. I read this book during one of my final semesters of being a graduate student in French Literature. It was after I had received my Masters, during my coursework for the PhD. It may have been the semester that I decided to stop pursuing my PhD.

Le Grand Meaulnes was written by a French author named Alain-Fournier. It was published in 1913 (for those who want to know, the 20th Century was my favorite period in French literature). The book has been translated into English a couple of times. While modern translations, tend to not translate the title; one of the older ones translated it as The Wanderer. It should be (but maybe not) somewhat apparent that Le Grand Meaulnes does not translate to The Wanderer — it translates the The Big Meaulnes, which doesn’t mean anything.

In any case, when I first read this book it spoke to me. To summarize (very grotesquely) the book, it was essentially about a boy who was trying to figure out how to become a man (not in some sexual sense) while still remaining a child. He had a tendency to meander as he progressed down the path. For those that know me, I hope that it is apparent why this book spoke to me.

For those of you that do not, I also seem to be all over the board sometimes. Just see my previous 2 posts. Watch my twitter feed. I have eclectic interests. Stayed tuned you will see. Also, as the character Meaulnes, I too strive to be as childlike as possible. I am not going to explain that comment, at least not for now. I am going to see if it explains itself as I continue to write here over the next few weeks. What I will say about it though is that people who say that they don’t like or want kids have never experienced the sheer joy that they can deliver to the worst of situations.

This will be my shortest post to date, and may well end up being my shortest one ever — I am thinking of naming my next post Loquaciousness. However, I thought that I should take a moment to explain how someone who is almost perfectly sane can go from pontificating about pancakes to waxing philosophic about flu vaccines and expect to be taken seriously. It is really all about the online persona that I have been using for just about 10 years now. It is significant. Be thankful that I didn’t choose Stay-Puft …

Posted by: Kirk Gleason | October 20, 2009

Sucker’s bet

I hate watching the news. Not because it is depressing, or because it is too violent. Mostly because it makes me sad that so many people believe everything they hear on there without questioning or attempting to determine if what they are being told is true or not.

Recently, every time I turn on the local news, there is something about H1N1. There are flu shots (not H1N1) galore at work. People are seriously scared … of the flu. The FLU!

Yes, the flu is a fatal virus, and it is unfortunate that it kills as many people as it does every year.  It is also unfortunate that science does not look for some other way to deal with the flu than through a vaccine.

Now, let me start by stating that I am not a doctor, microbiologist, or any type of scientist at all. So what? My experience has been that scientists that focus in on one teeny tiny area tend to lose sight of the big picture quickly. Linguists that cannot speak the language they study but understand the morphology of that language inside-and-out are useless.

The human body is intended to be a balanced system. It is designed to fight off foreign attackers. So when you look at a disease that does not easily mutate (smallpox or polio), a vaccination makes perfect sense, and can save lots of lives. However, trying to vaccinate against a virus that mutates almost at will, and already exists in innumerable different variations is a Sisyphean task at best. (Don’t even get me started on hand sanitizer — that is a different article).

Of course, I wouldn’t be saying all of this if there weren’t something to back it up. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, there is also history: a couple of years ago it was avian flu. Before that it was SARS. Or was it West Nile Virus that came before bird flu? Of course there is the entire mad cow scare as well.

Well there is my rant. But ranting doesn’t do anyone any good. So, just like in the pancake post, I am going to bring this back to the future. Even though they don’t get it yet, I discourage my kids from getting focused on their grades. What I want them to get out of school is an education, which for me is the ability to think for myself, not necessarily the ability to recite a bunch of inane and useless facts (even though I am pretty good at that as well).

The good Lord blessed us all with a brain, and the ability to use it. Of all of the things that probably make God reconsider renigging on the covenant of the Flood; I would hazard a guess to say that people not using their intellect is the one that sets him off the most. I intend to use mine, and I am doing my best to teach my kids to use theirs.

So how does all of this relate to H1N1 (or the regular flu shot for that matter)? Simple, just because the CDC, or CNN, or Jon Stewart, or whoever you prefer comes out and says you should get a flu shot; the decision is still mine. Yes there many be consequences to the decision (I have 2 tickets for not wearing a seatbelt that can attest to that). But in the end, we will all need to think for ourselves.

What I can promise is that if one of my kids came to me, and asked for H1N1 vaccine, and was able to present a thought-out and logical argument, then I would willingly let them get the vaccine.

So again, I end with a message for all of the parents out there. Encourage your kids to think and question the authority in their lives. The questioning of authority does not need to be disrespectful — that would be the challenging of authority, and that is another article. Any authority figure that deserves to be in authority should be able to be questioned. It is OK to ask your doctor questions — you absolutely should. The next time you go to the doctor with flu-like symptoms, and he offers to give you an antibiotic; question it. Why would you need an antibiotic for the flu? The next time your clergyman says something that sounds biblical, but doesn’t seem quite right, ask him about it. The nest time your computer dude of preference tells you to reboot, ask him why rebooting is almost always the first solution.

By doing all of this properly, you will help your kids learn to think for themselves, make their own decisions, and be resepctful of the authority in their lives.

However, be prepared. Eventually they will call you on something you say (it has happened to me, and Ross is only 10). No one ever said raising intelligent kids would be easy. But it is worthwhile. If you don’t believe me, then just wait for my posting on why Idiocracy is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen.

Posted by: Kirk Gleason | October 18, 2009


So my first blog post is going to be about pancakes. When I was a kid, my Dad would occasionally make pancakes from scratch, but more often than not, we would make them from a store-bought mix. Well when we moved to Indiana, my Mom would bring us some of that mix from time to time, and we tried a few different mixes that we would find at Kroger, but none of them were quite up to snuff.

I suppose that I should point out here, that there is a huge long list of food that I am kind of a snob about (someday I will post about Vodka). Pancakes are one of them. There is no good-enough pancake. Either they are awesome or inedible.

Well I was about to give up on pancakes. We had found an awesome recipe for waffles, but waffles are a bit of a pain to make; and as Alton Brown would say, waffles are a different article. But then it was Alton Brown to the rescue.

Again, I think a little bit of back-story may be necessary. I watch the food network. A lot. There are a lot of personalities on that network that I like, and even more that I don’t like (Tyler Florence). But Alton Brown has never let me down — I have never tried one of his recipes and been disappointed. Never. Ever.

So one night when I saw that Good Eats was about pancakes, I could barely contain my excitement. The best part of all of this was that he didn’t just make pancakes. He made pancake mix — a dry mix that I could keep on the shelf ready to make pancakes whenever the mood hit. Now for the right time to try them out.

Enter Anthony. When he turned 6, we asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday. In typical Anthony style, he says “I want pancakes.” Well, it was his birthday, so I decided the best way to try out this new pancake recipe was on a bunch of 6 year old kids. In the end, I think it was a stroke of genius because Jen ended up spending the entire 2 hours with all of the kids at the party, while I stayed in the kitchen and made pancake after pancake after pancake.

Turns out, they were the best pancakes I had ever had. As I recall everyone at the party agreed. We made them again a few months later while we were camping. Turns out that they taste even better when cooked over an open fire.

I hope by now you are wondering where the recipe is. Well it is here.

But before you click there … in my opinion, that recipe is a little thick. I end up adding about 1/2 cup of 2% milk to thin them out just a little.

Now, I am not just some nut job that decides to write a blog post about pancakes just because I really like pancakes (I do). I recently spent the afternoon at the kids school, and I have been paying attention to my kids and their friend’s attitudes about food. What I am seeing is disturbing, and it is making me rethink some of my attitudes about food. Now I know that I have some unhealthy habits when it comes to eating (to which my spare tire will gladly attest). But that isn’t what is really bugging me. I think the best way to explain it is with an anecdote.

I remember being excited when I left for college, and a little intimidated (to be honest). I also remember that after a couple of weeks, I wanted to get home. The main reason to see Jen, who was still finishing up her last year of high school. But there was also the food. I remember not realizing it until I sat down to eat on Sunday afternoon. I can’t remember what we had, but I remember thinking that it was the best thing I had eaten in a while.

Now I see my kids, and even moreso with their friends, who think that the pancakes at Denny’s are good (FYI, they are not), or that hamburger helper is a decent meal (again, it is not). This trend makes me sad. What is there to look forward to when you leave home if the cookies you are used to are from Subway, or the freezer section of the grocery store? Sure there is lots of new stuff to experience when you leave home, but that is what makes the food of home all that more important. Afterall, who wants to be nostalgic for Spaghetti-Os the way Mom used to make them? I don’t know about you, but I want something better for my kids.

I will admit that I have been accused of being an elitist in the past, so I need to be clear here: sometimes we have to settle when it comes to our food. Nothing esle could explain the existence of Taco Bell. We just have to. But it should be the exception to the rule. Are our kids really benefiting from a hurried fast food meal so that they can get to <insert your sport of choice here> practice?

This weekend, Anthony & I made peanut butter cookies. From scratch. Only 3 ingredients (thanks Paula Dean!), since chocolate is always optional. They were awesome. Last weekend Sydney & I made pancakes (yep the ones that started this whole thing), and they were great. Ross & I have a special meatloaf that we make from time to time.

So, for me, I think the moral of the story is that we should all take some time and cook with our kids — it’s good for us, it’s good for them — and we should try to teach our kids that we should never, ever settle for mediocrity. If we settle for mediocre food, what else are we settling for?