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Weekly Eating: Labor Day 9/4

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!


Hope y’all had a nice long weekend, and made it through the short week! I know I had a great time, a friend’s wedding on Sunday was so much fun! It is nice to be part of such a joyful day in someone’s life. Plus, the food was phenomenal! Brisket, pulled pork, duck, the world’s most to-die-for creamy mac n cheese… mmm! Wedding calories don’t count, right?


Brunch – since we had the day off, we slept in a little. Then I made a sausage and pepper breakfast strata with black beans.

Dinner – We decided to go exploring nearby, and ended up in the town of Pittsboro. It is a tiny little quaint main street southwest of Chapel Hill, in the middle of some beautiful country. We stopped and walked around the downtown, and had some sandwiches; I had a Reuben. It was huge and I only finished half, so hooray leftovers!

I also cooked a whole chicken in the crock pot overnight, and in the morning shredded it all into a container in the fridge for dinners / lunches this week.


Breakfast – breakfast strata

Lunch – leftover sausage & peppers, black beans, mixed with some water and rice to make soup

Dinner – Ham & Potato soup (freezer to crock pot meal!)

Snack – sliced apple


Breakfast – breakfast strata

Lunch – Leftover 1/2 Reuben sandwich, pickle, edamame

Dinner – Buffalo Chicken Potato Bake, one of my all-time favorites. I used Ranch instead of sour cream, and added frozen (thawed) cauliflower and broccoli. Winning!

Snack – 1/2 a cucumber sliced


Breakfast – granola bar

Lunch – Chicken salad w grapes, avocado, edamame; this was a very ‘green’ lunch   🙂

Dinner – Crock Pot Chocolate Chili. I tried a crazy new idea, and added a few tbsp of Hershey’s syrup to the chili, along with some coffee and hot sauce. It came out complex and delicious! We also stir in a bit of plain Greek yogurt, I’m a big fan of the flavor.

Snack – mint chocolate chip yogurt


Breakfast – chocolate coco loco yogurt

Lunch – Turkey sandwich, sunchips, mozzarella stick. I packed my sandwich in the bread bag because I’d used the last 2 slices, and waste not want not right??

Dinner – Tyler’s Taproom pulled pork mac n cheese & garlic fries (I stole a few from my dining companions 😉 ) I should write a review on this place, they had great atmosphere, great service, and the food was OUTSTANDING! Highly recommend.

The Weekend

My dad was in town (a trip to the Georgia coast got cancelled due to Hurricane Irma) so we hung out. Walked around downtown Durham and found some cool new hangout spots, watched The Office on Netflix, and had a miracle berry tasting party!

If you’ve never heard of Miracle Berry, check it out. It coats your taste buds, so that anything sour or acidic tastes sweet! It’s pretty weird, a great mind game. We tried pickles, sauerkarut, cranberries, lemons and lime juice, wines, and straight shots of vinegar! It was quite fun.

Total: $0!

My goal is to keep this number under $100 all the time, and eventually get down to $75/week for food.

We did not spend any money at the grocery store this week which is awesome! However we did spend some money out. Since my dad came for a spontaneous visit, we had to treat him to a few meals. We also did a fun ghost walking tour of downtown Durham, which stopped at a few pubs along the way, so we had a few drinks as well. It was so fun, we heard some great stories about Durham’s past, and found several great places that we want to come back to in the future.

Lessons Learned

It’s good to keep your grocery budget and your ‘eating out’ budget seperate! If you do well not spending on one, you can always boost the other. But to me, they are very different things, as eating out is a social occasion. Groceries are to have in stock in the home. And we also try not to eat out very often, about 90% of our food is all cooked at home. This also helps me to not feel at all guilty when we do indulge!

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Thank you to the stranger on the bus


Sometimes, the world gets you down. Every day we hear of new shootings, stabbings, bombings, hate crimes. It seems everywhere we turn, there is political dissent, unrest, dissatisfaction, and anger. People cut you off in traffic, break into a parked car, or lie in their online dating profiles.

But then, there are other days that give me hope.

Let me start by saying, if you pay for a parking pass, probably don’t ever remove it. Even if you think you’ll remember to put it back. Because you won’t. (or is that just me?)

So I went somewhere and cannot recall why at the moment but I took down my hanging parking pass. Just for the day. I swear I will put it back up on Monday.

Nope, totally forgot it at home.

I do pay for it, and am allowed to park in my lot. So I just followed my normal pattern and parked. I got lucky, and nothing happened. Ok, I’ll put it in my work bag, and remember to put it in the car on Tuesday.

Nope. Still forgot.

On the bus back to the lot, it’s in my bag, in the front pocket. Surely I will remember, because I have to go into that pocket to get my keys out. Well, that is also where my phone lives, and naturally I had to check my phone and play games on the bus.

Almost to the lot, the guy a row of seats behind me is talking. I’m reading my kindle, not paying attention. But the end of the conversation finally drills through my laser-like reading focus “…parking pass, guess I’ll turn it in if no one claims it…”

Uh oh

Check my bag, yup, sure enough the pass is gone. Must have fallen out when I checked my phone.

Everyone is filing off the now stopped bus, and in a panic, I whip around and raise my hand, like a kid in school. THAT’s MINE! I wave my hand around too, for good measure. He looks a bit startled, and then smiles and hands it over. I thanked him about a dozen times. As we walked down the steps he made some comment about “good thing, those are expensive to replace if you lose them!”

I put that bad boy up on the mirror the second I sat down.

It didn’t hit me until later, how sweet of this stranger to not just ignore it. Pretend he didn’t see it, say “it’s not my problem”. Or worse, take it and keep it, or throw it away.

The simple act of seeing it, knowing the significance, and pointing it out loudly hoping to find the owner, saved me a huge hassle and probably a large fee. I also had a warning ticket on my car, for “improper display of permit”. So I surely would have also had to pay a ticket in addition to a replacement fee if I hadn’t put the permit back up the next day. This stranger’s minute of time saved me potentially a hundred dollars.

I will likely not see that guy ever again, but I want to send out a THANK YOU to the universe. For every small, quiet, kind act. For every door held open for someone with their hands full. For every toll or cup of coffee you pay for a stranger behind you. For every smile, friendly hello, lending a quarter for the Aldi’s shopping cart.

We need more of these little moments of humanity, to restore the faith that we are a planet of kind people, who care about others, even if we don’t know them and never will. They are people just like us.

What can you do today, to make someone else’s day a little better?

The best cold remedy: A Hot Toddy


We all know the feeling, the scratchy throat, the headaches, the general malaise and fatigue. Oh no, here comes a cold! Even if you get a flu shot, exercise regularly, eat well, always wash your hands, and avoid human contact, sometimes you’re going to get sick.

There are oodles of home recipes and remedies, some of which do help (boiling water and tea tree oil, breathing in that steam is the best!) and some that are totally bogus (I don’t know if chewing garlic actually works but it tastes awful). If you are able to make chicken soup, there really is something about it that’s magic.

But when you can hardly leave bed, and DayQuil just isn’t working, this may help you out: A Hot Toddy. As old fashioned as it sounds, it’s a classic for a reason. Honey is soothing to a sore throat, and may be an effective cough suppressant. Lemon juice is antibacterial and antiviral, which may help reduce the time you’re sick by weakening the bug that’s weakening you.

Cold & Flu Fix: Hot Toddy

And as for whiskey, alcohol helps dilate blood vessels, making your membranes better able to deal with the mucus. Of course, alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it pulls water from your body, so be sure to limit yourself to ONE per day, and also keep drinking plenty of other hydrating fluids (see: soup.) like water, tea, or sports drinks with electrolytes.

Hot Toddies: The Best Cold & Flu Remedy


  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 oz whiskey
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 4 oz hot water

Hot Toddy Ingredients

Step 1: Put the lemon juice and honey in a glass. Heat the water to not quite boiling, and pour over. Mix until honey dissolves. Add whiskey and enjoy warm*.

*Obviously, please drink responsibly. Of course, if you have a serious cold or the flu, you likely aren’t leaving the house, let alone driving heavy machinery. Hope this helps you feel better soon!


Italian Pork Chops


Everyone who is a fan of recipes that are cheap, and quick, and take less than 5 ingredients, raise your hand!

Ok now put your hand back on your mouse or keyboard, so you can keep scrolling and read your newest favorite weeknight recipe.

Italian Pork and Veggies

This recipe kind of just happened one day; I had a bottle of Italian dressing in my refrigerator, as I often do. I had also picked up a “family pack” of boneless pork chops and separated them into 2-per-bag zip locks. (HUGE money saving tip if you’re cooking for one or two! Buy in bulk to save $/per pound, then parcel it out into meal-sized bags and freeze.)

Since I also always keep cans of diced tomatoes in the pantry, and bags of frozen veggies in the freezer, this meal came together in a snap! With supreme flexibility (Green beans and zucchini, no? How about broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, or onions? Boneless, bone in, doesn’t matter. Or use chicken! Or shrimp. Or tofu, why not), healthy options galore, and a very low price point (I’d estimate $2 per meal for 4 meals), this is a go-to recipe in my repertoire.

Italian Pork Over Rice


  • 2 pork chops
  • 1 cup vegetables of choice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup italian dressing

Italian Dressing Pork Chops

Step 1: Put the pork chops and the Italian dressing in a frying pan, and cook on medium heat for 7-9 minutes, until browned on one side.  Flip and cook 5-7 minutes until brown on the other side. You will have to decide when to add the vegetables based on whether you use fresh crispy ones (broccoli, carrots) vs softer or frozen ones (peas, fresh green beans, zucchini).

Easy Weeknight Pork and Veggies

Step 2: Add the canned tomatoes with juice and any other vegetables at this point. Simmer for 4-6 minutes, until heated through. Serve like this for a low-carb meal, or serve over rice or with baked potatoes on the side.




Quick & Easy “Cheater” Pad Thai + Peanut Sauce


Sometimes you just want something different, but also cheap, and sorta healthy. Oh, and really easy to make. Sounds like so many recipes you know right? If you’re laughing like I was while writing that, you’re in the right place. Finding recipes that hit the “sweet spot” of the trifecta: price, time, health, is a tall order.

Luckily, this recipe is one of them!

Pad Thai is probably the most famous dish outside of Thailand, and for good reason. Thailand is snack in the middle of the indochina peninsula, with a tropical climate and a lot of ocean front property. (Which comes with a lot of hurricanes and water damage, so don’t jump on that time share just yet…) This warm climate and water access combines to create a very healthy ethnic cuisine based around coconut, fish, rice, chilies, tons of spices, and tropical fruits like lemons and limes.

Authentic Pad Thai involves homemade rice noodles, hours of stewing and many ingredients common on the mainland but sometimes difficult to find and/or pricey elsewhere. This recipe is for the “cheater” who loves the flavors of Thai but doesn’t want to shell out for take-out, or spend hours in the kitchen.

You can expand this recipe to include other protein sources like tofu, chicken, or shrimp. You can also add any fresh herbs like mint or cilantro or basil, or change up the vegetables to ones that you like. You can add chilies or Thai chili paste or Sriracha to get to your preferred level of spice.

This recipe is the simplest you can make it, multiply the ingredients by the number of people you want to feed. You can easily cook for one, or for twenty. Take this bare bones recipe, try it once or twice until you’re comfortable, then make it your own! And tell me all about it in the comments.

Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce

Ingredients (per person):

  • 1/4 package rice or soba noodles (or linguini)
  • 1/4 small cabbage, shredded
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 egg, scrambled or not
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce and/or fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice or vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil / coconut oil
  • Optional: green onion, cilantro, sriracha, chopped cilantro, chilie slices, crushed peanuts, bean sprouts

Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce and Egg

Step 1: Cook the noodles according to the package, rinse and drain and set aside.

Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce

Step 2: Shred the carrot and cabbage, and add to a frying pan with a tbsp olive oil and/or stock. Cover and cook on low for 10-15 minutes, until cabbage is wilted and opaque.

Pad Thai with Peanut Sauce

Step 3: In a bowl, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime juice. Cook the egg as you like, whether you want it scrambled or with the yolk still dippy.

Step 4: Put some noodles on a plate, add a scoop of cooked veggies, and drizzle with the sauce. If you like, add optional toppings, and your egg. Enjoy!


How do you make this recipe yours?



Homemade Whole Wheat Crackers


Do you know what’s in a typical box of crackers?


Anyone else stop reading pretty much by the fifth word?  Me too.  I try to be balanced in all things.  Yes, I love eating healthy.  But I also don’t want to overload my brain with a big long list of “eat this, don’t eat that” ingredients.  Generally speaking, if the list of ingredients is 80% things you recognize and under five ingredients, you’re good to go.  So I started researching just a bit.  And guess what?

Crackers are insanely simple to make.  Like, 3 ingredients simple.  Water, flour, sea salt.  Done.  That’s a basic cracker.  Then you can get crazy and try different flour types, add oils, different flavors or seasoning, adding seeds or nuts.  Since I already had whole wheat flour, and those black sesame seeds I had been meaning to use since Christmas, I decided it was time.

Whole Wheat Cracker Dough


  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds

Whole Wheat Cracker Rolled Out With Seeds

Step 1: Warm the coconut oil (stove top, microwave, your hands) and add the flour.  Mix with your hands, adding a little more water if needed to make a dough.  IF you’re adding chia and / or flax, add a little more water to compensate because those both will absorb.

Whole Wheat Cracker Dough Rolled Out

Step 2: Mix in all your other ingredients.  On a floured surface, roll or press the dough into a big thin sheet.  If you want to get fancy, you can use a cup to cup your crackers into rounds or use a knife to make them into squares.  If you want extra texture, sprinkle more seeds or grind some salt on top before baking.

Healthy Whole Foods Lunch

Step 3: Bake the crackers on a cookie sheet at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until crispy but not burnt.  Break or cut into pieces of the size you want, and enjoy!

Now that I know how quick and easy it is to make crackers with ingredients I can control, I will be experimenting with different seasonings for sure!  Let me know if you make your own crackers and if you have any seasoning recipes you love.

Homemade Pickled Ginger


If you’re a sushi fan like me, you are familiar with the paper-thin, spicy yet sweet pickled ginger sushi usually comes with.  If you want an authentic at-home sushi experience (you can even try making your own! It’s probably easier than you think), you could buy it in a jar.  Or, for far less, you can make it yourself!

Ginger is a unique and strong flavor that is unmistakable and irreplaceable.  Ginger is delicious in ale, beer, tea, stir fry… you get the picture.  A few thin slices added to steamed veggies takes dinner from “meh” to “did you get this from a restaurant?”

A few slivers of ginger elevates a cup of plain green tea to something decadent and exotic.  A few pieces of root or some ginger juice in soup adds layers of flavor and depth.  And in good times and bad, ginger ale soothes and refreshes.


Not only does ginger taste delicious, it is also known to have hosts of health promoting effects on the body.  From head to toe, ginger has seemingly magical properties to aid and ease all kinds of complaints.

From ancient times to modern homeopaths, midwives and housewives, ginger in fresh, powdered, or pill form is useful for many health purposes.  Here are just a few:

The Benefits of Ginger

  1. Anti-Nausea: Ginger is a known remedy for motion sickness, morning sickness, and any other sickness which makes you feel like you need a trash can, stat.
  2. Cold & Flu Prevention: When you or a loved one starts to feel a little under the weather, some nice ginger tea may be just what the doctor ordered. Or at least, just the thing to keep you from needing to go to the doctor. This may also help with allergies!
  3. Reduces Inflammation: Ginger is a known anti-inflammatory, and some studies show it may even be just as effective as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin & ibuprofen.
    Ginger Heart
  4. Strengthens Immunity: Ginger helps to stimulate your body’s immune system, to build up new cells and make you more able to resist microscopic invaders on a day to day basis. It also decreases bacterial infections in the stomach.
  5. Prevents Cancer: Studies have shown that chemicals present in ginger help inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells.  It also induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells.  Who knows what else this powerful plant can do!
  6. Stimulates Appetite: If you haven’t been feeling hungry, try a piece of ginger 10-30 minutes before a meal.  Ginger can help stimulate appetite and get your digestive juices flowing.
  7. Assists Digestion/Absorption: Ginger has many healing properties all along the digestive tract, from stimulating digestive juices in the mouth, to the stomach, to the intestines.  Ginger with a meal or in tea helps you get the most out of the nutrients in the foods.

Jar of Fresh Pickled Ginger Slices

The best news of all is that it is super easy to make your own pickled ginger and have it around all the time!  Ginger keeps well in the refrigerator for a week or more, and even longer in the freezer.  But if you pickle the ginger, you can store it for months in the fridge.

All you need is a nice big chunk of ginger root, some vinegar (rice vinegar is best, but honestly you can use just about any kind), and sugar.  A tiny dash of salt helps too.

This recipe makes about one pint jar worth, feel free to multiply it for larger batches, or halve it for just a single meal’s worth.

Slice of Homemade Pickled Ginger


  • 1 large fresh ginger root (about 8 oz)
  • 1 cup vinegar (rice wine or apple cider are best)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 – 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup water to fill jar

Sliced Ginger Root Ready to Be Pickled

Step 1: Peel the ginger using a sharp knife, butter knife, or a table spoon.  (Honest, it works!)  Using a mandoline or very sharp knife, slice the ginger as thinly as possible.

My mandoline, even on the thinnest setting, still sliced these super thick, so I won’t be eating these slices alone.  Most likely they will get diced into stir fry or a strip or two tossed into a cup of tea.

Step 2: Pour the vinegar, sugar, salt, and water into a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Place the slices into a glass container (such as a canning jar, or clean pasta jar) and pour the hot liquid over, using a funnel if needed.  Cap it tight, and let cool overnight.

Big Piece of Pickled Ginger

And that’s all there is to it!  Put the jar in the refrigerator, and let it sit for at least 2 hours, but the longer it sits the more pickled it will become.  It also may turn pink over time, due to the enzymes in the ginger, this is nothing to be concerned about.  Use more or less sugar and salt to your tastes, or experiment with the types of vinegar.

Let me know in what recipes you use your ginger!



Sweet & Sour Brussels Sprouts Salad


Ahhh the tiny but mighty Brussels sprout.  The divider of nations.  The cruciferous ruiner of relationships.  You get the idea.

Brussels sprouts tend to be a very polarizing vegetable.  For as many veggie lovers that swear by the carmelized candy that is roasted sprouts, there are another 1-2 sad souls who have been turned off by less-than-ideal preparations of boiled, rubbery, or wilty sprouts and swear off these delicate nutrition-packed powerhouses.

Brussels sprouts grow on stalks up to three feet tall, and each bud resembles a miniature cabbage, with a diameter of 1/2 -2 inches.  Typically sold in grocery stores removed from the stalk, they can be found in farmers markets and some specialty stores still attached.  They also are offered canned or frozen, though I cannot vouch for their nutrient content or flavor in such preparations.


Brussels sprouts are members of the family which includes broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, known as Brassicas.  These vegetables are lauded in nutrition circles for their hefty doses of vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and anti-inflammatory and potentially cancer-preventing compounds.

Taken from the website “world’s healthiest foods” (, Brussels sprouts have a whole host of healthful benefits:

“What’s New and Beneficial About Brussels Sprouts

  • Brussels sprouts can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you will use a steaming method when cooking them. The fiber-related components in Brussels sprouts do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they’ve been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it’s easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels. Raw Brussels sprouts still have cholesterol-lowering ability — just not as much as steamed Brussels sprouts.
  • Brussels sprouts may have unique health benefits in the area of DNA protection. A recent study has shown improved stability of DNA inside of our white blood cells after daily consumption of Brussels sprouts in the amount of 1.25 cups. Interestingly, it’s the ability of certain compounds in Brussels sprouts to block the activity of sulphotransferase enzymes that researchers believe to be responsible for these DNA-protective benefits.
  • For total glucosinolate content, Brussels sprouts are now known to top the list of commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. Their total glucosinolate content has been shown to be greater than the amount found in mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, or broccoli. In Germany, Brussels sprouts account for more glucosinolate intake than any other food except broccoli. Glucosinolates are important phytonutrients for our health because they are the chemical starting points for a variety of cancer-protective substances. All cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates and have great health benefits for this reason. But it’s recent research that’s made us realize how especially valuable Brussels sprouts are in this regard.
  • The cancer protection we get from Brussels sprouts is largely related to four specific glucosinolates found in this cruciferous vegetable: glucoraphanin, glucobrassicin, sinigrin, and gluconasturtiian. Research has shown that Brussels sprouts offer these cancer-preventive components in special combination.
  • Brussels sprouts have been used to determine the potential impact of cruciferous vegetables on thyroid function. In a recent study, 5 ounces of Brussels sprouts were consumed on a daily basis for 4 consecutive weeks by a small group of healthy adults and not found to have an unwanted impact on their thyroid function. Although follow-up studies are needed, this study puts at least one large stamp of approval on Brussels sprouts as a food that can provide fantastic health benefits without putting the thyroid gland at risk.”  READ MORE HERE


For those who are wary of Brussels sprouts, from past experience or a lack of experience, try this salad to introduce them.  Finely shaved sprouts are mixed with naturally sweet fruit (apples and raisins) and coated in a mixture of sweet and tangy dressing to produce a side salad, or even main dish, of healthy intent sneakily hiding under the guise of almost-dessert.  Everyone can feel good about eating this.  Try it at your next picnic, potluck, as a Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish, or just because it’s Tuesday night.

Brussels sprouts salad ingredients


  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded or diced very finely
  • 1 apple, diced very thin
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp raisins


Step 1: Rinse your sprouts, and either use a shredder or a sharp knife to finely dice them, and put in a large bowl.


Step 2: In a separate bowl, mix the lemon juice, honey, mustard, vinegar and olive oil.  Use as high quality an oil as you are able.


Step 3: Very finely dice and slice the apple.  The best & quickest way is to rinse the apple, then slice into fourths.  Cut out the middle core & seeds and discard.  Then lay each quarter on a side, and thinly slice.  Slice each of those in half and you should have very thin, bite-sized slivers of apple.


Step 4: Mix the shredded sprouts, apple slivers, and raisins in a bowl.  Pour on the liquid dressing mixture, and toss well to coat.  You can serve hot, cold, or room temperature.  You can serve immediately, or let it sit in the refrigerator up to three days for the flavors to mix.



Password management & Online safety

Password Management

If you’re reading this blog, then you know how to use the internet. At the very least you have figured out some sort of browser (Google, Firefox, Explorer…) and how to navigate to different web pages. Good for you! Now it is highly likely you also use the internet for other things, like email, entertainment, gaming, news, information gathering, and maybe banking/finances. And it is also likely that you are a member of at least one website that requires a password. Maybe your computer itself requires a password before you can unlock it to use it. As promised in “How to Set up an Online Bank Account“, here is my limited knowledge and copious research on internet safety & password management.

The ‘Do’ List

It is highly recommended to use both upper and lower case letters, as well as sprinkling in some numbers and symbols. The more characters, generally the safer the password, because it will take even a computer program a longer time to figure out. Although, according to the comic by XKCD, this may be a flawed recommendation…

Image from the fantastic comic, XKCD

The ‘Do-Not’ List

Hopefully by now, all savvy internet users have hear that the most commonly used passwords are super easy for cyber-criminals to guess. Using something like “Password” “123456” or “ABCDEFG”, even with some variations like Pa$sw0rd” or “AbC123” is a terrible idea. It is also not great to use names (of anyone, real or fictional), really any proper nouns, common numbers (like pi) or important dates. These types of things are easily guessed, especially if the person wanting your data is acquainted with you. You should also avoid common phrases like “a penny saved a penny earned”, any keyboard patterns (like qwerty) or passwords someone could easily guess should they see you type it. The MIT computer science department has a great page all about the dos and don’ts of good password creation. And NetForBeginners has some good extra links to different sites that offer more tips and safety features.

Image from DoingFamilyRight

As Gina Trapani of Geek to Live said: “A secure, memorable password is easy for you to remember, and hard for others to guess.” Ms. Trapani also wrote an article about how to “Secure Your Saved Passwords in Firefox” which allows folks with terrible memories (like yours truly) to save passwords to commonly visited sites so the site automatically fills them in for you. More helpful sites the Geek to Live article pointed to is the password generator bookmarklet which generates passwords for individual sites based on a ‘master’ password you give it, and a video from John Udell on how to use this application.   

Online Safety

Everyone locks their door when they get out of the car. Everyone locks their apartment or home when they are elsewhere. We all probably have a passcode on our smart phone, a lock on our bike, overdraft protection, life insurance, home-owners insurance, and on and on. It’s a human instinct to want to feel safe, secure, protected. However, since the internet has become so ubiquitous, it is easy to be lulled into a sense of security. We use the internet every day, to check email, sports updates, weather, GPS, find a restaurant, connect with friends and family, and much more. It’s easy to forget that these multiplicitous devices leave us vulnerable to internet security problems like phishing, malware, and identity theft. The National Cyber Security Alliance has a great website,, you can check out for detailed information.


“Phishing” is the term for hackers trying to get your passwords directly from you by using deception. Internet criminals have become very knowledgeable about forging legitimate-looking emails. The email may look like it came from a financial institution, claiming something has gone wrong with your account, or a feature will expire if you don’t act now. They get you to click on a link or go to a site and input your login information. You think this site is legitimate, not knowing that now your private information is in someone else’s hands until it is too late. 

Image from Hoax-Slayer

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from these types of scams. 
1. Do not open any email attachments from addresses you do not recognize
2. Enable filters and spam-detection in your email box
3. NEVER give passwords or login information over email to anyone
4. Report any spam or phishing to the site or email provider it happens on
5. Check the URL. If it’s anything confidential or financial, it should be “HTTPS” for “secure”

If anything from a financial institution ever seems fishy, call up the bank or investment house directly and ask if it is legitimate. Far better to ask them and get confirmation that your account does in fact need attention than to lose control of your account.


Malware is a smash-up of “malicious” and “software” and is exactly what it sounds like. Malicious software gets onto your computer and goes about wrecking everything. Most often they are designed to give the creator some sort of access to your machine or its contents. A virus is simply a piece of code that you have to “catch” from an unsafe source or USB drive. It then spreads to any other internet devices your computer talks to. 

Image from Hyphenet

The next level above a virus is “spyware” or “adware”. These programs can download themselves onto your computer, even without you being aware of it. All you have to do is visit an unsafe site without a spyware blocker program installed, and Ta-Da! Adware. These programs can be as harmless as forcing your computer to open ads you don’t want, or as dangerous as stealing your passwords and compromising your accounts. 

The final level is “botnets”. This is a network of computers infected by malware that are being controlled remotely by the creators of that malware. Sometimes called “zombies”, these infected computers can be used to launch attacks on other computers or websites without the machine’s owner knowing. The infected zombie computers receive commands from the cyber-criminals, and do whatever they are told. Most often this is for financial gain and/or to harvest information like credit cards, passwords, social security numbers, etc. This data is then used for further malware distribution, spamming, fraud, and identity theft. For more information on botnets, visit the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Keep a Clean Machine Campaign.

ID Theft

Speaking of identity theft… it’s an awful thing to happen, it can wreck your credit score, keep you from obtaining car or home loans, cause doubt from financial institutions, and in general is a big headache. Don’t let it happen to you. 

Image from Dunwoody Police Department

1. Instal protective software like virus protection, malware detection, etc.
2. Collect any and all evidence, like receipts, checks, emails, etc.
3. If cybercrime happens to you, report it (see below)

Who to tell? 
First of all, the local police department is obligated to assist you, write up a report, and involve other agencies if appropriate. Many areas also have a local victim’s service provider, which can provide information, advocacy, and even emotional support. You can check HERE to see if there is one near you. On a higher level, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) will review complaints of any degree and refer it to the appropriate level of law enforcement or regulatory agency that can help. IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center. Complaints may be filed online at

Finally, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) does not evaluate individual complains, but they operate the Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database used by law enforcement agencies worldwide. File your complaint at Victims of identity crime may receive additional help through the FTC hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4388); or the FTC website.

For more information and specific advice for situations involving fraud and ID theft, go to StaySafeOnline. You can also check out this LinkedIN article from Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer.

This is not to discourage you from using the internet. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” sure rings true here. All it takes is some common ‘net smarts and maybe an anti-virus software to ensure the basics of protection for your devices. Hope you learned a little something, now be safe and get out there surfin’!