23 February 2016

Try-it Tuesday: Kindle Unlimited

TheOccasionalGenealogist.com Try-it Tuesday For this Try-it Tuesday, I want to suggest Kindle Unlimited. Initially, this was a general post about any Kindle genealogy books, but it turns out to be a massive topic if I include links to some of the best and cheapest Kindle books (yes, this is about "Kindle" books, not just any ebook). So, I'm splitting this topic up. Today I'll tell you about Kindle Unlimited (what it is, what it costs) and give you a few links to the top genealogy books available for free through Kindle Unlimited. In a later post, I'll provide a more general "Kindle for Genealogy" overview and links to cheap or free books. Note: This post contains affiliate links (click the link---you pay the same, I make a commission).
Do you have a home genealogy library? If you had one (or a larger one) would it make it easier for you to research? If you're an Occasional Genealogist (OG), it probably would.

A Home Genealogy Library?

Have you ever had to move your home genealogy library? If not, let me assure you, you don't want to. When we moved from Virginia to Georgia a few years ago, one of the major categories of items that didn't make it was books. Almost all of my fiction books were donated so I could move my genealogy books. Most of these are not available as ebooks but I'm finding more and more genealogy titles I'm interested in, are. I've also discovered there are a lot of genealogy books I wouldn't be willing to buy that I can read for free as a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.
If you aren't familiar with Kindle Unlimited, I'll tell you a little about it. There are probably a lot of genealogists out there who would like this service because I know a lot of genealogists that like books. Kindle Unlimited is a paid subscription. Currently, it's $9.99 per month (it's been that price for a while). As you'd guess by the name, for the price you get unlimited reading. That isn't to say you can get every Kindle book for free, but it's a pretty impressive selection.

A Home Library?

I treat my subscription like a very convenient library. I get cookbooks, children's books for my daughter, classic novels, and occasionally genealogy books. I'm not a big reader of "best sellers" so I can't tell you how robust that selection is. Also, I wouldn't tell you to get this just for the genealogy books. If you like the ease of Kindle books (I find them much easier to access than other types of ebooks) and you buy $10 worth of books a month, on average, you should consider it.

Narrated Books

In addition to the Kindle books, you get unlimited listening to books with narration. Now that I work from home, this isn't a huge draw for me. This would have been a huge benefit when I used to commute, both by car and train. I could read a book on the DC Metro but I almost missed my stop several times and of course, you can only read while on the train, not while walking to your final destination. I did a lot more reading when I rode Metro. As an OG, you might find the books with narration a huge benefit.


Household Sharing?

The one aspect of Kindle Unlimited I'm not clear on is the household sharing. We have Amazon Prime and part of that is setting up a "household." It appears we can share Kindle Unlimited with our household, but I can't find anything on Amazon's website that says this ($10 per month for the whole household is a great deal, but I don't want to sell you on that since I don't know the specifics).

No Kindle Needed!

Also, you don't have to have a Kindle device to use this service. I usually get my Kindle books on my iPad, but I've accessed them on my Android phone, my laptop, and desktop computer---as well as my Kindle.

The official FAQs are here.

The Free Trial

If you aren't sure if the selection of books is worth the monthly cost, you can sign-up for a free 30-day trial. Go crazy and try all kinds of books during your free 30-days. I have a small Kindle library of business books for various software programs and general business "self-help" guides, even writing aids. Try out cookbooks, crochet books, the classics you always meant to read; anything you can think of. Here's the link again, Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

Search and Browse

Make sure you search for books you might be interested in and try browsing the selection of Kindle Unlimited titles. I find different books browsing because I see titles I wouldn't have searched for. Some books you might consider "genealogy" may not be listed under genealogy, as well.

Use Common Sense

Lastly, remember, many ebooks are self-published. Genealogists have always needed to analyze the skill of abstractors and transcribers. We mostly trust works published by major publishing companies because they received professional editing, though (think of the genealogy section at your local Barnes and Noble). Buying an ebook is often similar to the self-published books in a genealogy collection, not the big name printed books at B&N. Use common sense.

A Sampling of Genealogy Titles

Here is a very short list of genealogy titles available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. "Genealogy" is found under "Education & Reference" when you want to browse the category.
The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy (3rd ed.) by Kimberly Powell
Family Photo Detective by Maureen A. Taylor
The Family Tree [Magazine] Historical Maps Book -- U.S. or Europe
assorted titles from the series "A Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your Ancestors" including Irish, German, Scottish
more titles from the editors of Family Tree Magazine

There are pages and pages of "genealogy" books free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. This is just an idea of some of the books you might be interested in. There are also abstracted records and more specific guides. Try-it, it's free (for thirty days, at least).
12 February 2016

Freebie Friday: Evernote Research Plan with Analysis

In my post "Evernote for Occasional Genealogists," I gave you a brief overview of some of the ideas for genealogical "everything else" you could keep in Evernote. Today's freebie doesn't fall into an "everything else" category. It's part of the core cycle of genealogy, plan, research, report, repeat. This is a research planning form that includes analysis.

I'll be honest. I don't always create a research plan (keep reading, this is a pretty specific situation). When I start a family tree for a client, I don't usually start with a plan. When I say "start a family tree," I mean start from scratch. If the client has never done research, I don't really need a plan for the first phase of research. I can almost guarantee you I will check U.S. federal census records and marriage and death records available on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. When that's done, regardless of the outcome, I will probably need a plan. Any problem more specific than starting a family tree needs a plan.

If you're reading this, I doubt you are so new to genealogy your research would qualify as "starting a family tree." You've probably poked around Ancestry.com and need to take it up a notch, or you may be in the thick of a problem. Grease your research wheels with a plan. If this is a new research problem, this Evernote form, the "Developing Genealogical Research Plan with Analysis" form, might be just right for you.
08 February 2016

Time-saving Bonus: Highlights from the Recipes on the Time-saving Thursday Tips Pinterest Board

Time-saving recipes, cookbooks, and more
Last Thursday I introduced you to The Occasional Genealogist (OG) Pinterest boards. I had a lot more to say about recipes than the other types of pins (because I like to cook, I don't like to clean). Today I'm going to highlight a few of my favorite recipe pins as well as some cooking related products I really like for saving time. Some links are affiliate links; some are just links. If you find any of them broken, here or on my Pinterest pins, please email me so I can fix them or remove them. I save my recipes to Evernote so sometimes I don't realize a recipe link no longer works even when I make the recipe often.

Casserole Comfort... on a Diet

Two of the pinned recipes are frequent go-to recipes for our family. Light King Ranch Chicken Casserole is one of our favorites. This is absolutely a meal you can eat on a diet despite being comfort food. It is very forgiving if you want to pack in lots of extra veggies. I usually add extra onion and bell pepper, maybe even corn or extra tomatoes, and fresh mushrooms. Fresh or frozen (except mushrooms) works since this is a casserole (but make sure your tomatoes don't add extra liquid). Note: I've found Campbell's Healthy Request soups are lower fat than the low-fat. They are also low sodium so you may need to add salt.

This casserole can be frozen and/or made in the slow cooker.We like it with one noticeable change (and this may be why it freezes so well for us). We don't put tortillas in it. Instead, we serve it over corn chips. Ideally, the casserole should cover the chips like cheese covers a pizza, leaving a crust. The covered chips should be allowed to get soggy while the "crust" stays crunchy. I normally make this in the crockpot without the cheese on top. I then plate-up, add the cheese, and microwave to melt the cheese. The chips get soggy while microwaving. You can obviously defrost a frozen casserole and microwave it instead of baking it for the same results. Either way is fast and a very satisfying meal. The left-overs are just as good, so the time-savings just keep adding up.

Healthy Splurge

My other "light" go-to favorite is Kraft's low-fat alfredo recipe. Make it alfredo primavera (or use spiralized veggies instead of noodles) for a healthier meal. We have this spiralizer, but I understand some great handheld ones have come out since we bought it. You can use a veggie peeler to make pappardelle style noodles if a spiralizer is an impractical purchase. This recipe is very forgiving, too. I don't actually use a recipe anymore. I just use up whatever blob of Neufchatel cheese I have. I haven't tried EathingWell's quick alfredo, yet. I'm looking forward to trying it soon to see how it compares.

A Fast Splurge and a Bonus Link

The perhaps "odd" inclusion on a board about time-saving is the Pin to the Craftsy class "Artisan Bread in Minutes." If you're happy with a bag of bread from the store, this won't save you time. If you want to make homemade bread, this class is amazing. My sister refuses to try it because she insists what she likes about making bread is the process (i.e. the time it takes). I just like bread, especially fresh, hot, bread. The method taught in the class is almost the only way I can manage to make bread. If a class isn't for you, it is based on a book, available from Amazon.

FYI, Craftsy also has a great FREE mini-class on pizza making. The dough can be frozen (we get three crusts per recipe, one fresh, two frozen). You can make pizza dough from the "Artisan Bread in Minutes" recipe, but the pizza class can help you with your overall technique. I always struggled with the sauce part. I now just buy a can of San Marzano tomatoes, smash them up a bit, and freeze them in tiny plastic bowls (yes, I use these storage bowls for freezing, for tomatoes it works just fine, and the size is just right). The bowls are also great for freezing one to two uses of fat-free refried beans for nacho night. I add a little water to the beans and "sling" them on the chips instead of dolloping larger blobs of beans. The 4-ounce size seems to be a good amount for two adults and a picky kid, depending on if I add sauteed onion and peppers.

Back to the pizza, though. Although a frozen pizza would be faster, that seems like a meal we've settled for rather than want. Homemade pizza also allows your picky eaters to make their own pizza. My preschooler makes her own mini-pizza which I count as an activity rather than making dinner so to me, that saves time. Considering the activity aspect, the satisfaction level, and the cost, homemade pizza isn't literally the fastest but is well worth the extra time versus frozen pizza (it's faster than most stove-top meals, too).

Cookbooks

I don't have one way I save time in the kitchen. Since I like to cook, sometimes I want to cook. Lots of times, I'm just too tired to make a traditional dinner (prep the ingredients, stand over the stove, possibly finish it in the oven). So, to try and "cook" most meals, I've sought out a variety of cookbooks on different time-saving techniques. Here are my top picks for time-saving cookbooks.
  • Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition and Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution both from American's Test Kitchen (you will see a theme with my love for ATK cookbooks. I am a loyal Cook's Illustrated subscriber, too). It is very important you get volume two (that's the Easy-Prep volume) of Slow Cooker Revolution if you are really short on time. I have never browned a cut of meat for the slow cooker, and I don't plan to start now. SCR2 will teach you how to get flavor without the browning. These recipes also don't come out like mush like many slow cooker recipes I've tried. Some of the "tricks" are fantastic. As with pretty much any cookbook from ATK, you need to read the text at the start of the book and preferably the introduction to the recipe you are making. That is where the magic comes from (they also warn you about substitutes you can't make and why). Also, after reading all this, you can apply the techniques to other recipes or make up your own. And when I say, make-up your own, I don't mean meticulous planning, I mean stone soup; throw what you have in the crock and get something delicious out at dinner time. I've included the Healthy SCR because lower-fat options don't traditionally do as well in the crock pot. If you read this book, you will be better equipped to make healthier slow cooker meals.
  • Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. I have successfully used this book to semi-stock the freezer several times, and it is a life saver (I'm struggling to accept how much it will cost to buy several types of meat during one trip to Costco, one package of meat will semi-stock the freezer). There are some issues you may or may not be aware of when adapting a recipe for the freezer. You also need to put some thought into the organization of a bulk cooking day and freezer storage/organization. This book covers all of it, so you don't spend all day on Pinterest looking for ideas. If you have the time, yes, you can find similar information on blogs for free. The Kindle book is currently $2.99 and my time is worth more than that, so I went with a cookbook. 
  • The Make-Ahead Cook from America's Test Kitchen. What I like about this book is the variety. Not the variety of recipes, the variety of methods. The subtitle is "8 Smart Strategies for Dinner Tonight." Usually, a cookbook is for your slow cooker or buy-in-bulk and freeze (see the above recommendations). This provides different options (on Amazon you can "Look Inside" so I won't describe them). 
  • Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. Like the pin to "Artisan Bread in Minutes," this is a book that only sort of belongs in "time-saving." If you want to make more of your kitchen staples, this is a great book to help you consider both the cost and time it takes. I made a number of the recipes from this and The Homemade Pantry after I first bought the books. Then I moved and had a second child. I haven't been able to use either book lately (aside from one batch of homemade tortillas, yum). I'm hoping to get back to both as I really did enjoy making some of my pantry staples or other items I had never considered making instead of buying (e.g. yogurt, without a yogurt maker; ricotta cheese). If you're toying with this idea but aren't sure about the time or the budget aspect, I highly recommend Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. You may save yourself from finding out the hard way that you don't have time (and just wasted a lot of money on ingredients). If you're perfectly happy with what you pick up at the grocery store, this isn't going to save you any time. [update, Alana Chernila has a Craftsy class similar to The Homemade Pantry called The From-Scratch Kitchen if you've been curious about yogurt from a slow cooker-- yeah, that's right, slow cooker-- this is a way to see how it's done. I've made several batches without a problem].
I got started with these cookbooks after my daughter was born because I suddenly had so much less free time (and a whole lot of baby weight I wanted gone). To keep from wasting money buying cookbooks I didn't like, I hit the library. If I really love a cookbook, I need to buy it to refer to much later. I don't want to deal with trying to copy what I want (tried it, it didn't work). I only need to buy cookbooks I love, though. I suspect most libraries have a lot of cookbooks aimed at saving time versus gourmet cooking, or they should. Just like in business where you have to spend money to make money, you probably need to spend some time to save some time. Get a selection of cookbooks from the local library. See what works for you before you buy. Don't forget about inter-library loan. You can use it for genealogy; you can use it for cookbooks. I can do a lot more genealogy when dinner's in the slow cooker. I've got more money to order records if dinner's in the freezer instead of at the local Chinese restaurant.

I'd love to hear your suggestions for cookbooks, kitchen products, or websites you've found help you save time in the kitchen. I saw this bag holder, and this freezer cookbook on Amazon and considered getting them to help me stock my freezer (falling bags have been a problem in past). [update: I bought the bag holders. They work great but I haven't done a marathon of pre-made food with them yet. Very easy to store, though.] The reviews are good and the price right on both but do you have a better suggestion? Have you organized your freezer meals with Evernote? Leave a comment if you've got suggestions or questions about saving time in the kitchen. 
04 February 2016

Time-saving Thursday: Where to Go for More Tips

Time-saving Tips for Occasional Genealogists
In a previous Time-saving Thursday post, I mentioned some posts would be genealogy related and some not. I'm always looking for ways to save time. One of my favorite ways to find a variety of tips, suggestions, and ideas is Pinterest. I've collected some of my favorite personal Pins onto a "Time-saving Thursday Tips" board. You knew The Occasional Genealogist (OG) had a Pinterest account, right? You didn't! You can check out all the OG boards, here.

All of the boards are always a work in progress (if you aren't familiar with Pinterest). You can leave a comment below if you have suggestions for the types of pins you'd like to see on any of the boards. I've found many of the actual research sites make it really hard to pin. They just don't have their images, even the "advertising" ones, set-up for pinning--that's obviously not their purpose. You may be looking for some genealogical pinspiration and can't find it for that reason. I'm always interested in what OGs are looking for.

Since Pins don't leave a lot of room for explanations, I wanted to provide a little extra explanation of what you can expect to find on the Time-saving board.

Recipes

This will be the main place I share recipes. Sometimes I might write a post featuring several linked recipes but for the most part, I'm not creating recipes, so they don't warrant a full post. However, you have to eat every day. Saving time in the kitchen can be major savings. This will mostly be a mix of my favorite recipes that somehow save time (slow cooker, freezable, bulk, or just quick).

There may also be some recipes-to-go. Since I work from home, I don't normally have to pack a lunch. When I do, it's not always pretty (or healthy!). I waste too much time fumbling around the kitchen trying to pack a lunch when I'm not prepared.

Also, packing a lunch when you're going to a repository is sometimes a must but will definitely save you time. Don't waste your precious research time leaving the repository to eat, especially somewhere like McDonalds--or whatever you could go from home (I have to confess here, I sometimes intentionally plan to visit a local restaurant for lunch. I'm on a life journey of trying as many chicken salad sandwiches as possible. It does have to be a local restaurant, though).

FYI, I've tried most of these recipes, but a few just look like a good idea.

As a final note on the recipes, I love to eat. That means I have to be careful what I'm eating because eating less just doesn't work for me (trust me, that's the first thing I figured out on WeightWatchers several years ago). I've tossed in some of my favorite light or lightened up recipes that are still pretty simple. Some of the recipes, like "Ultimate Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes" are very similar to many pins but are a lighter recipe.

Uses

Some pins are how to use something. These are quintessential "Pins." You get the whole idea just from the photo. The time-savings I see here is how the use keeps you from hunting for something. It's organizing, but it's really simple organizing. There may also be "uses" that will save you time cleaning. I love the one about using plastic tubing for the gap between the counter and an appliance. I've done this for both ends of our counter, one by the fridge and the other by the double ovens. It really works and is so simple.

Organization

There are also Pins related to more systematic organizing. I've included a variety. Some are cleaning related; some are planning related. My favorites of these are the two menu planner ones (here and here). However, I've now incorporated my menu planning into my planner (see this Time-saving Thursday about planners) so I'm still deciding how I want to adapt this. The initial tweak I made to the suggestions was getting a cheap, small, soft-sided photo album at Wal-Mart. It holds a half sheet of letter paper. This fit in my purse, unlike a 3-ring binder.

So that's a quick introduction to the "Time-saving Thursday Tips" board on Pinterest. On Monday, there will be a bonus post featuring some of my favorite recipes.

Once again, check out all of The OG boards on Pinterest and leave a comment if you have suggestions for types of pins you'd like to see.
02 February 2016

Free Online Genealogy Lectures This Weekend!

RootsTech starts tomorrow. Don't know about RootsTech? It's one of the three major national genealogy conferences (read more about national conferences, here). If you can't guess, it has a technology focus. It's not necessarily advanced technology, though. Using Ancestry.com is considered technology for the purposes of RootsTech.

Why should an Occasional Genealogist (OG) care about RootsTech starting? Every year RootsTech offers a selection of free lectures streamed live from the conference. These sessions will also be posted online if you can't watch them live (but they are only online for an undisclosed limited time). Depending on your skill level, you might get a lot out of some of the available lectures. Here are the titles of a few sessions I think might be of interest to OGs. You can see the complete list on the RootsTech website. Live streaming doesn't start until Thursday, so you have time to clear your schedule.
  • 7 Unique Technologies for Genealogy Discoveries
  • Proven Methodology for Using Google for Genealogy
  • Finding Elusive Records on FamilySearch.org
  • Become a Master Searcher on Ancestry
  • Homespun and Calico: Researching our Foremothers
  • Using the Genealogical Proof Standard for Success
If you've considered taking a genealogy vacation, going to RootsTech in person could be a great option for you. It is held in Salt Lake City each winter at the Salt Palace Convention Center, just down the street from the Family History Library (FHL). You can squeeze in a lot of genealogy learning at the conference as well as some research time at the FHL. The dates for 2017 are February 8-11.

If you could use a little genealogy education or just need some inspiration to get you back into research, consider RootsTech's live streaming lecture, try-it.