Introduction to the secrets of adulthood

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To the uninitiated, there is a mystique to the unflappable, multi-tasker persona that comes to mind when we think about what it is to “adult.” So when does that feeling of having arrived begin? There has to be some switch or button, right? I mean, you look at adults who do responsible, grown-up-people things like balance their check-books, separate their laundry, and know how to change their own oil. Then you look at yourself, over 18 and still feeling like a child but wanting to break through that wall of adolescence into the rarified space of adulthood. When does that sensation of being an adult take place? It seems each age milestone leaves you feeling a little underwhelmed. Adulthood always feels like it is just over the horizon.

I have read countless social media posts of people lamenting that they were taught useless subjects in school instead of practical lessons for thriving in the real world. So many people leave the kiddie-pool of life that is usually marked by being a student where they thought they were really swimming, only to find the waters of the real world to be turbulent and deep. At this point, many realize they know so much less than they thought they did   and wonder why nobody taught them simple adulting techniques. Good point and good question!

My name is Lindsey. I’m a mom of 2 and as I am writing this, I am 35 years old. (Yeesh! It sounds so much older than it feels!) My goal is to demystify adulthood. With this blog I would like to help teach you some little things that it seems like most grown-ups already know how to do.

 

 

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Car Smarts

*Disclaimer! I am not a professional mechanic. My advice and tutorial here is based on things I learned in driving school, from my father, and from personal experience. I assume no responsibility in case something goes wrong.

Cars are machines, and machines require maintenance. “Duh, Lindsey,” you say. “That’s common knowledge.” Au contraire, says I. Things are only common knowledge if you’ve already learned them.  Let me share an anecdote with you. A guy I knew in college, he had gotten a car his freshman year of high school. He put gas in it and drove it until his senior year of high school. And then it stopped running. Three guesses as to why. Give up? Oil. He never had his oil changed.

Now, when your car stops running because you never changed your oil, you might as well put it out to pasture because the only cure for that, as far as I am aware, is a whole new engine. There are other fluids you might not have thought about needing to be checked or replaced as well.

This entry isn’t going to show you how to give your car a full oil change. I will save that for another entry. What we’re going to talk about today, instead, is checking your fluids. I have to take a moment to tell everyone, Do not work on a hot engine! Let it cool down completely before trying to check or replace your fluids. Have your vehicle OFF. Follow warning labels on the fluid containers and owner’s manual.

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A sticker placed at the top right of your windshield (here in the states, anyway) tells when the oil should be changed next and what type of oil was used last. A car can usually go longer than suggested but just to be safe, follow the guidelines here or in your car’s owner manual on oil type and oil change intervals. To check the mileage, look on your odometer located near yor speedometer.

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The first step is popping the hood. Inside the car, near the driver side door on most models is a handle with a picture of a car with an open hood. Mine is a bit worn off but you get the idea.

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This releases the lock but there is a hidden latch under the lip of the hood. Feel in the middle until you find it. Press it and lift up on the hood at the same time. Near the front of the engine is the dipstick and oil cap. The dipstick is a long, thin, metal stick that you use to check the oil level. The oil cap will be near the dipstick. This is what you open to add new oil.

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To check your oil, first pull out the dipstick and wipe it off on a paper towel or a shop rag. Then reinsert the dipstick and pull it back out again. Look to the very bottom of the stick. There will be marks labeled F for full and L for low.

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Mine is indicating that it is a little on the low side. Unscrew the oil cap. A funnel makes pouring the oil easier. Choose the right oil for your car and add a little at a time until the dipstick indicates your level is full. Oil bottles tend to be an unusual shape. This is to make adding oil easier so you can tip the bottle without spilling it everywhere. Pour with the spout at the top. If you do spill any, make sure to wipe it up.

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Another important fluid to make sure you check is your engine coolant. It is also called antifreeze. Did you ever watch a cartoon where a car overheated and stopped, so the driver gets out, pops a steaming hood, and pours water into the radiator? Don’t do this. Besides the fact that engine coolant does its job much better than water, it isn’t called antifreeze for no reason. Water in your system can freeze in cold weather and that’s bad, mmkay?

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The place for the coolant has lines on the side with an F for full and an L for low. You can see that mine is low.

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It doesn’t take much and unless you have a leak, a gallon jug will last you a while. You don’t need to add that much at a time either so be watchful as you pour so you don’t over fill it.

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On my car, the power steering fluid is right in front of the coolant.

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This has 4 lines to indicate the minimum and maximum fill levels depending on the temperature. Mine, again, is a bit on the low side.

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It can come in different sized or shaped bottles, but this is the one I see the most. Make sure this goes in the power steering fluid section and not the brake fluid reservoir. This can damage your brake system.

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And speaking about brake systems, you may want to know how to check and replace your brake fluid. On my car, the reservoir is located to the back of the engine. On the side is the markings to indicate the fluid level. Some cars have brake fluid caps that say what type of brake fluid to use. If not, refer to the owner’s manual. It will be Dot-something like Dot 3 or Dot 4.

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You may not even need to change brake fluid unless you have a leak. You can generally tell if you are in need of break fluid if you have to press the brakes fairly firmly to get your car to stop.

Brake fluid is toxic and corrosive, so wearing gloves and covering the area around the reservoir with paper towels or shop rags is a good idea in case you accidentally spill some.

If you take your car to a shop to have the oil changed, you can often choose a service option to have your fluids checked and refilled. It typically costs extra but you may feel it is worth it. Honestly, though, knowing how to check and replace the fluids in your vehicle is pretty important and it can save you money. Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly when you are all finished.

 

 

You Gotta Eat!

Now this isn’t a cooking blog, but if you want to adult, you’ve got to be able to feed yourself and ramen and Cheetos do not count. Some people take following a recipe for granted, but there are some things that are only common knowledge if you’ve already been taught how to do it. As a teaching tool, I will be using a very simple recipe. Biscuits are quick, easy, and cheap to make and you don’t need much in the house to make them.

First, just a note for anyone outside the U.S. trying to make this along with me: over here in our homes we typically measure volumetrically instead of by weight. It isn’t terribly accurate, I know. Bear with me.

I am going to take a moment to teach you some kitchen basics. When reading a recipe, the word Tablespoon is almost always written with an upper case “T” and sometimes it is abbreviated Tbsp. or simply T. The word teaspoon is usually written with a lower case “t” and sometimes it is abbreviated tsp. or simply t. The word “cup” is sometimes abbreviated with just a letter C.

Okay, when you have several dry ingredients such as the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour, you want to mix those together before you add any liquid to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

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This particular recipe calls for buttermilk instead of regular milk because of the baking soda in the recipe. The acidic buttermilk will react with the alkaline baking soda to add  leavening. But what if you don’t have buttermilk? Take a Tablespoon of white vinegar and put it in a measuring cup. Then add enough milk to equal one cup. Give it a stir, then let it sit to sour a bit.

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Speaking of baking soda, we have to talk about how similar it sounds to baking powder. These are not interchangeable. Baking powder does contain baking soda, but it contains other things as well. When reading a recipe, don’t get these two confused.

A good tip when baking is to get all of your ingredients out and together so you know you have everything you need. This is called mise en place (pronounced miz on place).

You need:

2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of buttermilk (or 1 cup of regular milk and 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar)
1/3 cup shortening, lard, or vegetable oil

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit before anything else. Most bread products bake at a very high temperature and it takes the oven a while to heat up.

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Take the shortening and add it to the dry mixture. Using your fingers, break it up into the flour until the texture looks a little sandy.

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Add your buttermilk slowly and stir gently. Wheat protein, which is called gluten, creates a rubbery texture the more it is mixed. That’s great for yeast bread but it makes a bad biscuit. Remember that music video “Cups,” also called “When I’m Gone”? Do not make biscuits like that girl does! The way she’s kneading that dough and how dry it is! Those would be terrible biscuits! That music video drives me crazy every time I see it. You want your dough to be kind of goopy, very soft.

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Turn it out onto liberally floured surface. Put a good amount of flour on top so your hands don’t stick to the dough. Pat it down to about 3/4 of an inch thick. A lot of people use a cup to cut out their biscuits. It really doesn’t matter. You want them about 3 inches or so across. If you don’t want to mess with the hassle of patting and cutting the dough, you can always just drop heaping spoonfulls right into your greased pan. These kinds of biscuits are called “drop biscuits” or “uglies.”

For biscuits to rise well, they need the support of the other biscuits. This recipe makes about 10 biscuits which will fit really crammed together into a 9 inch cake pan. Make sure your pan is very well oiled. You don’t want your biscuits to be swimming, though, because the bread will absorb the oil and you’ll end up with very rich biscuits. It sounds like a good thing but trust me, it’s not. I do like to brush oil on the tops of the biscuits too, though.

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Bake at 450 for about 10 to 12 minutes. Don’t put the biscuits in the oven before it has preheated and for Heaven’s sake, do not open the oven door to check on your food constantly. Opening the oven door releases the heat and it takes a bit for the oven to heat back up. This can slow cooking time and for some types of food, it can really mess them up. Do check your food at about 10 minutes, though, to see if it is done. The tops will be golden brown when they are ready. If they’re a little too light, just leave them for another 2 minutes or so, then check again.

Voila! You just adulted yourself up a scrummy, yummy baked-good! If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer it as best as I can. 🙂

 

 

The (checkbook) Balancing Act

When I was a teenager, my parents got me my very first checking account for my 17th birthday. I had written checks for my mom before at the grocery store but I’d never had my own checkbook. With those little paper I.O.U.’s comes great responsibility and my dad sat me down to teach me just that.

Balancing your checkbook probably seems less necessary now days than back then. Up to the minute account information is available to most bank customers online. However, with debit cards, it can be very easy to spend without keeping track of how much you’ve spent or how much you have left. Additionally, with identity theft as rampant as it is, it is vital to keep up with your spending so you can spot a problem right away.

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First, let’s talk about the check itself. Most of you will know this stuff, but just so everyone is on the same page, bear with me. The top left is where the account holder and/or authorized user’s name will be. You can opt to have your address, phone number, and even your driver’s license number in that section. Some people choose not to for security purposes. However, many businesses require that information in order to take the check, so as a matter of convenience, many people have it included.

At the very bottom is a string of numbers like this:

|:#########|:  ########”| ####

That is your routing number on the left. This is like the numerical identification of the bank. The next number is your account number. The top right and bottom right of the check both have the same number on them. That is your check number. The “date” and “signature” sections are self-explanatory. The part that says “pay to the order of” is obviously the name of the person or business you are writing the check to. Next to it is a little box with a dollar sign. Write the payment amount there in numerical form. For example: $20.00.

Under that is a blank line with the word Dollars at the end. There you must write the payment amount out in words. If there is change, write that numerically as a fraction over 100. For example: Three hundred five and 68/100. The word dollars is included at the end so you do not have to write it. Many people do, though, and that is okay. Such as: Three hundred five dollars and 68/100. Most mark a line after what they’ve written to fill the space to the end of the section to prevent someone from writing in that space.

At the bottom left is a space marked “Memo.” If you are paying a bill, it is a good idea to write your account number there. If the payment is to go to a certain part of your bill (i.e. principle payment and not interest) you would write that specification there.

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When ordering checks, you have the option of getting carbon copy leafs under each check. It costs extra but I feel it is worth it – especially if you are not terribly fastidious. The memo, date, recipient, and amount get filled out just by the pressure of your pen while writing your check. You have the option of filling out the additional information for your own records.

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Your checkbook should come with a little booklet with pages like this in it. From left to right you would fill out check number, date, a brief description of the transaction, how much the payment was (or how much you deposited into your account on the next space) and the running balance. Most of these books have alternating grey and white rows. The intention, I’m sure, is to make things easier to see and rows easier to differentiate. I was taught to use both the white and grey for a single transaction for additional room to write.

You should include every transaction in order. That is, payments by check, transactions with your debit card, and deposits into the bank, including direct deposits. Now for each debit, subtract from the balance. For every deposit, add to the balance. But what about pending transactions? What about uncashed checks you’ve written? Include those too! If you go to buy something and suddenly a pending transaction clears, you’d be out of luck and caught off guard.

Balancing your checkbook is important for a few reasons. It can keep you aware of your spending habits, help you budget, and make you aware of unauthorized activity in you account. Keeping track of your money can feel tedious but like most boring grownup activities, they can become second nature and very easy if you keep up with it.