Coursera, Code Academy, and Why I Love MOOCs

I’m two weeks from finishing my third Coursera course. Even though it’s meant extra time management, I’ve had a lot of fun. This most recent course, Music’s Big Bang: The Genesis of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has turned me on to a lot of music and taught me some interesting history. I found out that I’m not a fan of old, guttural blues, but Fats Domino is pleasing to my ear. I know why Chess and Sun records were such big deals, and I realize that Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands, owes a great deal of their catalog to artists who predated them by a few decades.

Before this, I took a course about nutrition and diet trends. Before that, my first course was one about irrational behavior. From each of these, I came away with knowledge that changed some of my thinking and some of my behaviors. I took the classes at my own pace, and it didn’t cost a thing.

I love MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

I have no desire to go back to school, but I like to learn new things. The structure of weekly lessons, videos, tests, and the occasional assignment is just my speed. Coursera has certified options for those looking to have something more official, but you can receive a certificate of accomplishment just for taking the tests. Different classes have different requirements for earning a certificate. You can do as little or as much work as you want.

Coursera also offers message boards where you can interact with other students, and some classes count your interactions as part of your final grade. Because I’m not a message board person, I generally opt for just watching the videos and the taking the tests. For people who tend to be group learners, this feature is awesome.

Another learning opportunity I’ve recently started is Code Academy. Jon clued me in to this site when I told him I wanted to learn more about coding. I’m not the best at wrapping my mind around tech concepts, but I think if I focused and put time into it, I could be. In fact, were I to go back to school, it would probably be to get a degree in coding or programming.

Code Academy gives you points and badges for getting through step-by-step lessons and learning the building blocks of code. I did three fun ones before starting the actual course. It’s fun, though it’s a little bit harder for me than the Coursera courses.

There are other sites on the web that allow you to sign up for courses and lessons. Some are free, some have a fee, and some are a mix of both. If you’re looking for an actual degree, you still have look into classes from an accredited school, but I think the implications of MOOCs as other avenues of learning are exciting.

Plus, if you’re a geek like me, learning for the sake of learning is a blast.

Question: Have you ever tried a MOOC?
Bonus question: Do you think MOOCs could ever replace a college classroom setting?

*I haven’t been asked by either Coursera or Code Academy to do this post. I really just wanted to share something cool with my readers. 

A.

Royal Bunny Tracs 5K

Today we walked the Royal Bunny Tracs 5k. This was our third 5k, but the last one we walked was about four years ago.  Considering how far I’ve come with walking in the past year, this was an exciting milestone for me.

This was a local event put on by Manhattan Running Company and the Kiwanis to raise money for foster kids to go to summer camps and participate in school year mentoring programs. The race started at 8:30 with registration opening at 7:30. We were there around 7:15. In hindsight, we probably could have slept in a little, but I like to be prepared and ready.

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Before we even signed up, I asked a friend to see if they had a time limit. I knew I wasn’t going to finish in less than an hour, and at the time, I was planning for more like an hour and a half. When we went to pick up our race packets, one of the organizers knew our name and reassured us that we could take as long as we needed. I love that we were on the radar and getting support before it even started.

We each got a Bunny Tracs T-shirt and a race number. I put my t-shirt on over the one I was already wearing and didn’t have a problem with fit. This was refreshing. Not only were plus sizes offered, but they fit like a plus size and not a medium with the wrong tag.

The race started at exactly 8:30. Jon and I stayed in the back so the runners and fast walkers could breeze past us. I wanted to enjoy the walk, not hurt myself at the beginning. I walked my normal pace on the first lap, tried to pick up the pace on the second, then started losing momentum on the third. I jogged a couple times, including the last few yards over the finish line. By the time we started the second lap, we were pretty much on the track by ourselves.

The volunteers were awesome, waiting for our laggy butts to make it to their stations and being super nice and supportive. All kinds of people threw words of encouragement at us. I wasn’t expecting that. In hindsight, I probably should have thrown some back, but all I could think to say was thanks. Which is probably okay, since someday maybe I can encourage people walking a 5k for the first time.

They had already taken down the finish line arch, but the ground line was still there, so our finish felt official. We didn’t get timed. The organizer at the beginning asked if we cared about time. We didn’t. Jon timed us on his phone though. We finished in one hour and fifteen minutes.

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We made the last part of the awards ceremony and chatted with people before leaving. There were other events happening, but we were wiped and still had laundry to do.

I’m planning to sign us up for another one, and we’re going to continue training to build speed and distance. I haven’t given up plans to maybe run one someday, but I’m going to get some walks under my belt first.

Achievement unlocked. The day has been a success.

A.

Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole

This past week was a banner week in our household. I cooked dinner twice!

Even better than the sour cream noodle bake was the tuna noodle casserole I made on Tuesday night. I love TNC. It was one of my favorites when I was a kid, but I’ve only had it a handful of times as an adult. In my normal aversion to cooking, I always thought the dish was too complicated. So many ingredients, so much to do, so much kitchen drama!

That’s not the case. This was easy to make, and while I wasn’t as super suave in the kitchen as I had been with the first casserole, I still managed to put it all together without setting anything on fire. I used bits and pieces of old recipes I’d been given to hodge podge this together. Now it’s probably going to be one of my go-to recipes.

Under that layer of chips is cheesy tuna goodness.

Under that layer of chips is cheesy tuna goodness.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Ingredients
6 ounces egg noodles
2 tablespoons butter
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/2-1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste, I use 1 teaspoon)
3 -4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4-1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
onion powder
1 (6 1/2 ounce) can tuna, drained and flaked
Shredded cheddar cheese
Potato chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.

2. Cook the egg noodles in boiling water; drain and toss with 2 tablespoons butter.

3. In a sauce pan, mix together undiluted mushroom soup, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, and onion powder. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 15 minutes.

4. Stir in tuna to sauce mix.

5. Combine the mixture with the cooked egg noodles.

6. Pour everything into casserole dish.

7. Sprinkle the top with shredded cheddar cheese, then with crushed potato chips

8. Bake for about 25 minutes.

I was surprised at how easy this was and how delicious it tasted. Jon likes his things spiced up, so he added hot sauce to his. The recipe is versatile, so you can add whatever spices or sauces you want to give it some kick.

This coming Sunday I’m trying two recipes: crockpot cheeseburgers and crockpot dump cake. Wish me luck!

A.

Packing Procrastination

A few weeks ago, we were really gung ho about packing and purging the apartment. You know what we haven’t done much of? Packing and purging the apartment.

I don’t know if it’s because the whole thing feels overwhelming or what, but after we squared away the back bedroom and pulled some stuff off the walls in the living room, our evenings have reverted back to complete laziness and lack of any progress. There are no good excuses. We have plenty of boxes and storage tubs.

At some point, we actually have to go through those storage tubs and do some repacking. Maybe that’s part of our problem. That alone feels like a big task.

We also have several things to list for sale, and I’m not sure which route I want to go. I’m part of a local Buy/Trade/Sell Facebook group, but I haven’t been super active. I’ve had decent luck with Craigslist in the past, so I may try that first. We don’t have a lot to sell, but enough that we should get rolling if we don’t want to haul those things.

I also have the fear that we’re going to pack something we’ll need later. I also don’t think I’m ready for bare walls. The decor gives me that sense of comfort at the end of the day. I’m worried that the lack of “stuff” will be unsettling. Then again, I think I need to decide which is more important: bare walls, or running around at the last minute trying to get things done.

We haven’t completely gone off track. We have several boxes packed and we’ve “staged” the back room to make the process easier. I’ve been through one of the totes to see if there’s anything to purge. That brought about a whole new question: do I throw away my old journals or not? I have a ton of them and they’re heavy. That’s probably a subject in itself.

In my head, I have the perfect scene of how this move will go. Everything will be packed and ready. We’ll have enough people to assemble a moving line and enough trucks to haul everything in one trip. We’ll finish clearing the apartment in record time, and we’ll use the same amount of time to take everything into the new apartment. We’ll celebrate with pizza, then we’ll dance under a shower of glitter and rainbows.

I’m sure none of that is actually going to happen. Except the pizza. We’re definitely thanking our helpers with pizza (hint hint, MHK friends…).

Question: What tips do you have for a smooth, drama-free move?

Bonus question: How do you counter procrastination?

A.

Book Review – Everything But the Posts: Tips, Advice, and Templates from a Blogger Who Has Been in Your Shoes

I’ve had this blog for a few years now, and I keep debating what I want to do with it.

Does it need more photos?
Does it need more focus?
Should I try to pare down my topics to one or two?
Do I want to monetize?

The problem with trying to answer these is that the second I think about making changes, I become overwhelmed and then do absolutely nothing.  One of my main concerns is the focus of my blog.  Other blogs have a main theme or a few main topics. My topics are all over the place.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d won a copy of Becca Ludlum’s Everything But the Posts: Tips, Advice, and Templates from a Blogger Who Has Been in Your Shoes. It arrived a few days ago, and I finished my first read-through last night. However, this isn’t the kind of book you can read, then set aside and never think about again. It’s a reference book for anyone who wants to blog or is currently blogging and wants to take it further.

Posts

Everything But the Posts is easy-to-follow and engaging. Ludlum starts with information on popular blog sites and how to choose/find a name and layout. From there, she discusses making connections with other bloggers, social media marketing, and monetizing. There are even tips about what to do when you attend a blog convention. I didn’t even know there were blog conventions.

There were aspects of blogging I didn’t even know existed, including rules regarding compensation and how to build a media kit. Though there are several things I’m not yet doing with my blog, this knowledge is good to have. I particularly liked her information regarding contests and giveaways. It seems like every blogger out there is doing them, so it’s good to know that there is some small print to pay attention to if I ever get to that point.

One of my favorite aspects of this guide is that the author doesn’t talk down to the you. Being a blogger herself (you can find her at My Crazy Good Life), Ludlum uses language that’s clear and conversational. She emphasizes keeping a blog because you enjoy it, and she shares templates she uses for reaching out for partnerships and sponsorships.

Did the book answer my focus problem? No, but that’s not its purpose. It gave me the tools I need to make my blog bigger, if I so choose, and it highlighted some things I can do with my blog, regardless of content. It also made me feel okay to keep doing what I’ve been doing (re: blog for enjoyment!).  Everything But the Posts gave me some technical savvy while leaving the creative process all up to me.

You can order Becca’s book through her blog. My copy is going into into my reference library, and I highly recommend this book to any blogger. Even if you’re not looking to advance now, this book will be perfect for when you are.

All opinions are my own. I won the book via Becca Ludlum and FitFluential but received no monetary compensation for this review.

A.

Knitters are Yarn Magnets

I’m happy to report that I’m still picking up my needles daily, and the progress I lost from frogging my project has been made up. My decision was a good one. Knitting a project with no glaring mistakes makes a difference. 

Last week, a coworker asked if I wanted some yarn she’d inherited. Logically, I realize this is the exact opposite of the paring down I’m supposed to be doing, but as a knitter, I can’t say no.What if I declined and later found out I missed out on some prize yarn?

Being a yarn magnet is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you’re always well stocked in stash yarn. It’s a curse for the same reason, unless you’re blessed with unlimited storage space. I already have two totes and a bag full of yarn, and my efforts at stash busting have been weak. Since we’re moving into a smaller apartment, storage is going to be a challenge.

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This gift also came with several pairs of straight needles, some circulars, and a set of metal DPNs. I think I might be more excited about the tools in this case, not because I need them personally but because I want to share them.  

I’ve had a few people ask me to teach them to knit, and one of my plans after moving back into town is to hold a monthly knitting get together. I like having extra yarn and tools on hand because the idea of letting someone take them as their beginner’s tools is appealing. They’ll upgrade eventually, but this gives them the chance to try it out without having to buy their own tools.

Plus, it has a “share the love” feel to it.

As for the yarn, some of it will be donated and passed on, but there is some nice acrylic yarn I’m keeping for frou frou projects (I’m  a fan of softer acrylics).

Now I just need to figure out where I’m going to store it.

Questions for my fellow yarncrafters: do you ever find yourself becoming a yarn magnet? Do you tend to accept or decline? Why? 

A.

Recipe: Sour Cream Noodle Bake

Any time I actually make dinner, it’s a pretty big event. Being in the kitchen makes me uncomfortable. I don’t multi-task around hot items well, and I don’t have the flair for seasoning and eyeballing amounts like Jon does. Therefore, he does pretty much all the cooking (even though I’m in charge of finding new recipes).

I pinned this recipe to my meal board awhile back (the original one from the Pioneer Woman can be found here). It looked easy enough, so I gave it a shot with a couple minor changes. The information below includes my changes, so refer to the links for the full, original recipe.

Sour Cream Noodle Bake

Ingredients (I was able to pick up everything at Aldi, which is the cheapest grocery store in our area)

  • roll of ground turkey
  • 2 8 oz cans Tomato Sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Egg Noodles (I cooked a whole 16 oz bag. It made alot. Half the bag would have been fine)
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 1-1/4 cup Small Curd Cottage Cheese
  • Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Brown ground turkey in a large skillet. Drain fat (my turkey was lean, so I skipped this step), then add tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper. Stir, then simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.

Cook egg noodles until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine sour cream and cottage cheese. Add pepper. Add to noodles and stir.

To assemble, add half of the noodles to a baking dish. Top with half the meat mixture, then sprinkle on some cheese. Repeat with noodles, meat, then a final layer of cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until all cheese is melted.

My food pics never look as pretty as the originals, but the food tasted good anyway!

My food pics never look as pretty as the originals, but the food tasted good anyway!

The original recipe says to pair with some bread, but I figured the noodles would be starchy enough. Though they are egg noodles. Still a starch, right? I don’t know. The meal was really filling without the bread.

Next time I’ll even out the noodle to sauce ratio by using only half a bag of noodles as instructed. Even with that little oversight, this turned out really well. I’m proud! Also, I managed to keep all kitchen anxiety at bay. I took my time, managed to do a few things at once, and even (sort of) cleaned up as I went.

My next mission? Tuna noodle casserole.

A.