Friday, May 29, 2009

Getting that Ring Out of the Drain

I wish I would of known about his neat hack long ago. At any rate, I know it now!

I'm sure we all can recall the frustration and accompanying hysteria of loosing an item down the drain. Well, here's a great way to retrieve it without calling the plumber or getting too gunky. All you need is a vacuum and pantyhose. This'll make you a humdrum hero for sure! Check out the video here:

http://www.familyhack.com/2007/08/29/drain-tip/


Tiling

Getting the Hang of it
...Tiling continued...



I'm going to venture to guess that tiling a horizontal surface is easier than a vertical one. I had read that I should wait a few hours before I tiled the next row above the base, so that the base had time to set. But, I'd also heard from others that it didn't matter. It didn't matter for me. I just went right a long; the tile didn't move after it was placed. By the way, I used 1/8 inch spacers.

The shelf wasn't too bad--Just a lot of precise measuring and cutting involved.

Here I am working on the shelf.


They say to position any decorative tile at about eye level. So, here we go. I used stuff with mesh backing. It was expensive, but a breeze to lay.


Ta-da!


Cutting for the plumbing took creativity. Our contractor friend said to mark the opening on the tile and then cut a bunch of lines where you want the hole to be and then snap those cuts . Here's what we came up with. It worked well.

For the other hole, it was bit more tricky. With porcelain, you can't just drill whole. So, we opted to cut the tile in half like above and then use the above mentioned technique to break away an opening.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Tile a Shower Surround Like an Amateur

My husband and I have had all the tools, mortar, tile and fixtures to remodel our shower purchased and sitting in the garage for a about two months. We really wanted to get the tiling done, but with six month old babies and two active older kids... it seemed like a daunting task. It was. This Memorial Day we decided to tackle the job. We did all the tiling in one day. It took about three hours to do each wall. . . factor taking care of kids and feeding them, it took a lot longer. We started at 8:30 AM and finished at 2:30 AM the next morning.

What follows are the details of our tiling adventure with a few tips for us (and anyone else) to remember in case we ever do anything like this again. Please know that neither of us had tiled before. We consulted professionals, books, internet web sites, and the hit and miss advice from the employees at Home Depot.

We had a 32X34 inch opening for our shower. It's nearly impossible to find a 32X34 inch shower pan. Believe me, I tried. And, when you do find one, you get really excited and then you see the price tag. Suddenly a 32X32 inch base doesn't seem so bad after all.

In The Beginning


We prepped our area with backer board and a fiber glass shower base. It's 32X32. As you can see, we didn't want to loose those extra inches, so my hubby and a friend framed a 2 inch shelf with 2X4's. This way, we have elbow room of 32X334 inches.

Mixing the Mortar


  • Lesson 1, that flimsy little wooden stick lasted about two seconds. We got smart quickly and used a our kid's metal shovel. This did a much better job. If you aren't as cheap as we are, I'm sure you could go out and buy one. You can also use a drill if you have all the fancy attachments for that. Naturally, we don't have those attachments. Besides, we were afraid we'd burn out the motor of our drill, so we used elbow grease instead. Cheap, yes, I know.
  • We mixed the mortar according to the directions. We were at least smart enough to mix a little at a time, since mortar dries fast enough. The lady at home depot said the mortar should have a consistency like peanut butter. That's pretty close to what it's like. But, don't try to stick in on your bread.
  • Some say to cut all your tile before you start laying it. In a perfect world, that would be great. But, nothing is as square as your plans on a graph paper. We chose to cut as we went. This was a very wise choice. My husband cut the tile using a wet saw we borrowed from a friend. I laid the tile.
Spreading the Mortar


I started on the wall with the shelf at the very bottom. All the sources we consulted advised finding and marking the middle line of the wall first. We did this. Next, we had to decide if we wanted our tiles to lay on either side of the line, or just one tile in the middle of the line. It's basically an aesthetic judgment. I wanted the wanted the tile to balance the mid line.

  • It's nice to have a putty knife as well as a trowel (size of trowel depends on size of tile) to help spread and handle the mortar. It's a pretty dirty job, so a few disposable (rather than reusable since the mortar dries hard) gloves would be advised.
  • Smooth the mortar with the smooth end of the trowel at about a 45 degree angle with even pressure. Next, score the mortar with the notched end of the trowel, same angle, even pressure.
Lay the Tile




  • I positioned the tile in the center of the line we marked and gave it a twist to make sure it made contact with the mortar. The pros advise taking off your first tile to check for even distribution of the mortar. I tried this. I couldn't get the thing off the wall. So, I figure the mortar was distributed evenly enough!
  • We used 12 inch porcelain tiles. Why did we choose porcelain over ceramic? They were on clearance for 99 cents a piece. Notice a theme here?
Stay tuned for more . . .

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strawberry Jam Sans Pectin

Strawberries were on sale this week. So, naturally, I stocked up to make some jam. I made jam three different ways. It was an experiment. I don't like really lumpy jam, and neither do my husband or children, so I wanted to try making it less lumpy; contrary to the pectin's directions. The pectin's directions say to mash it with a potato masher. I don't even own one of those. I put my fruit in the blender and then set it on pulse, chopping it into little pieces so that it was a step away from being pureed. I made freezer jam and cooked jam like this with the pectin. Both turned out just fine. . . but I wasn't completely satisfied. . .


Cooked jam is always a little too solid for my liking... even my less lumpy jam. I was hoping for a more spreadable jam. And why not try making it without pectin? A Google search later and I came up with a recipe for Strawberry Jam from allrecipes.com. This recipe seemed to be almost perfect for me, except the sugar content. The recipe calls for equal parts of sugar and fruit.

I made the jam according to the recipe except I left out one cup of sugar. The results were perfect: smooth, spreadable, and delicious! At first I didn't think the jam would set because it was quite runny. I stuck it in the fridge cool. After cooling, it set to a nice, soft set.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

1984 and Other Classics I Don't Like

I think there is something terribly wrong with me. I never read 1984 in high school or in college. Somehow I escaped it. I never tried to. So, when my husband brought home some books from the library book sale, with the intent that we read them and keep what we like, 1984 was among them. It being the shortest of the pile, it was among the first that I read.

The whole time I read it, I kept coming back to the same question: I'm sure that George Orwell (I know that's just a pen name) is a great guy, so what provoked him to think of such horrid things? If you're expecting a scholarly review of this book, you're in the wrong place. I just wanted to say that I didn't like it. I enjoy political thought and the political thought in this book is pretty deep, if you can get passed all the gore and immorality.

Anyway, The list of books I have read and don't like is rather short because I normally will quit a book I don't like rather than finish it. It's not worth my time to torture myself in that way. I tortured myself with 1984. It's a classic, so I figured that it would be worth it. But there just ended up being too much immorality and violence for me that it really made it hard for me to focus on the actual point of the book. I kept reading because I kept hoping that there would be something good in it, some glimmer of hope. I came up with nothing, right down to the last sentence. I do have to hand it to Mr. Orwell, I did keep reading it.

So, the thing that's terribly wrong with me is that I read and did not like 1984. It goes on my:

LIST OF BOOKS I HAVE READ AND DON'T LIKE
1. The Great Gatsby
2. Of Mice and Men
3. 1984

*These are in no particular order.

You see? There is something wrong with me. I think I'm going to read Empire Express next.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Make a Font With Your Own Handwriting!

One of my favorite blogs, Lifehacker.com put me onto this neat website where you can make your own font. It's really quite simple. All you need is an internet connection (obviously), a printer and scanner, paper and a black pen. It only takes about 30 mins to make your own font, using your own handwriting.

Simply navigate your way to Yourfonts.com and download the .pdf used to create your font. All you have to do is write each letter of the alphabet in each of the boxes, taking care to place your letters within the guides on each of the boxes. You don't have to fill out both pages; the first page is good enough for most uses. After you have filled out the page(s), you scan it upload it to yourfonts.com and in a few minutes, you'll have your own font to download and stick on your computer. The instructions on the website are all pretty good. But, if you have questions, I can help you out.

Have fun making a personalized font!

Update October 20, 2009:
Yourfonts.com is no longer free. To find other free alternatives, read this post: Make Your Own Free Font Revisited.




Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slowing Down the Junk Mail


I'm not a fanatical environmentalist, but I would like to think that I certainly try to do what I can, within reason to take care of this world I live in. We live in a place that doesn't have many options for recycling; I have to hunt down places that will take my paper and cardboard to recycle. Plastic recycling isn't even an option. So, it's not easy for me to recycle. I do it anyway. I don't like throwing things out, so I try not to get things into my possession that I might not use long.

... Which brings me to junk mail. We used to get a ton of pre-screen credit offers. I hated receiving this wasted paper, not to mention the wasted time it takes to get rid of it. So, I opted out of the pre-screened credit offers and had my husband do the same. At optoutprescreen.com, you can opt out of these offers one of two ways: online (keeps you off the list for five years) or via snail mail (opt out forever, or until you opt back in). We opted out via mail. It took a couple of months before we noticed a reduction in our junk mail. We no longer receive credit offers in the mail.

I have to admit, I hesitated to opt out because I have applied for credit once using an offer that did come in the mail. So, what if I missed another great offer? And, I know this is really silly, but I'd much rather see my mail box filled with a few lame credit offers than completely empty. Alas, many a days my mail box is now empty. As far as missing a great credit offer, if I ever really want to get back on the pre-screen credit list, I can just opt back in, using the same website. I doubt I ever will.

So, opt out, save paper, save time, and you may even save yourself some money (think of the credit you never used!). Now, if I could just figure out how to stop Direct TV from sending me offers...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stain Remover

Ever pulled out a bunch of baby clothes from storage and found them all yellowed even when you were sure that you had washed them before you put them in storage? Ever been upset that you'd have to retire a nice tablecloth because of a chocolate stain? Ketchup? Dirt? Grass? You get the picture. I found the recipe for this stain removing concoction years ago from some online forum. I used to use Shout for my stain removing, but this is better.

Best Stain Remover

1 part Dawn Ultra (dish soap)
1 part any regular liquid detergent
1/4 part water

Directions: Mix the above ingredients in a bottle and shake to mix. Don't put it in a spray bottle, as it will get clogged. Try a squirt type of bottle, like an old dish soap container.

To treat stains: treat the stain by squirting some remover directly on the stain and rub. If the stain is especially stubborn, add a bit of COLD water and rub. Don't use hot water, as that can set stains. Once treated, you can throw it in the laundry basket and launder as usual when you get around to it.

* Take caution when using on khaki clothing. Khaki seems to be very sensitive to any stain remover.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dealing With Those Medical Bills

I just got done dealing with a slew of medical billing from the birth of my twins. I use the term "done" loosely, because I never know when another bill will go through... could be two years from now! (I've had that happen before!) Anyway, I have a few tips to offer from my experience. I'll get to that now. If you want to enjoy some rants on healthcare/insurance angst, read on past the tips.

Tips for dealing with Medical Bills and Insurance Companies
  • Start making the phone calls as soon as you get the bills.
  • You can almost always get a discount for paying your bill off in one payment, so ask for a discount.
  • Document everything! Get a scratch paper(s) and record the date, time and person that you talk with each time you call.
  • When you find someone who is nice and actually willing to help you, get their extension and keep working with that person through the whole process. This saves time so you don't have to rehash your story every time you call.
  • When someone doesn't return your call, call them back every day until they do.
  • Don't get nasty. Be nice and a bit aloof so they don't feel threatened. (It must be awful to have a job like that, afterall.)
  • Ask lots of questions so that you understand every charge perfectly.

I'm very grateful that we can afford health insurance. That said, I will now whine about the system. There are layers upon layers of bureaucracy that make it very difficult to receive the service I think I deserve since I'm paying the premiums.

Without going into too much detail (because what could be more boring that reading about a medical billing error in your spare time?), I received two bills, one for each baby, that detailed pre-certification penalties to the tune of some $1000. After hours on the phone with the insurance company and the hospital, the case has been mostly solved, no thanks to my insurance company.

Get this, my insurance company Cofinity delegates its claims processing to a company called Meritain. Layers of bureaucracy. So, I called Meritain some 15-20 times and nearly every person I talked to must have been trained to get me off the phone. Most offered trite reasons for the penalty and every time I tried to challenge them, they came up with some new story. In my last ditch effort to deal with Meritain, I contacted a supervisor, whose first name was Eric. He seemed nice enough, listened to my issue and told me he'd work on it and get back to me in a couple of days. That was over a month ago. Yeah right. What about "get back to me in a couple of days" did he not understand? I even called him back a few times and each time, got his machine.

At the same time that I was dealing with Meritain, I had called the hospital's billing department and basically demanded that they start a dialog with Meritain since they had the records of the pre-certification process and knew the jargon. They did. It took 6 months to get to the bottom of the mess. I called and check up on them all the while. It ended up being an error on the part of the hospital. They hadn't pre-certified my twins in accordance with the requirement outlined in my policy. Picky, picky, picky. They appologized and waived the penalty.

Now what would have happened if I had accepted this penality? My savings account would have been $1000 lighter. How many times to errors like this happen? I think too much. This isn't the first time (or the second or third) I've encountered an error like this. It happens far too often. And no one is watching it. If we consumers don't watch, we'll get hosed without even knowing it.

There is no industry quite like the health insurance industry. It stinks. It needs an overhaul. Don't think I'm about to advocate government health care. I have done the medicaide thing while me husband was in school and that system is riddled with problems... among other things, it encourages this empty sense of entitlement that isn't good for anyone.

I think the insurance revolution starts with consumers. We have to say no to silly fees and penalties. We need to hold these companies accountable for the service they are supposed to provide.

Lindi is now stepping off her soap box.


Friday, May 15, 2009

That Clutter in the Entry Way

Our front door entry is always nice and clean. There isn't so much as a pair of shoes there. Impressive, huh? My secret is this: we don't use our front door very much. It's just the door we use to let visitors in.

My patio door... now that is another story. There are 4 people in my home who who walk and wear shoes in our house. And on any day, there are at least 6-8 pairs of shoes by the patio door. Ugh. I hate this clutter. So, I wanted to know what solutions exist. Seems like there isn't really a whole lot to choose from. I like the idea of finding a nice basket to place by the door, fill it and then empty. I think this could be a good chore for my kids. I'll have to give it a try.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Twin Pack 'n' Play?

I'm a parent of twin girls. I recently wrote an eHow article on how to go about acquiring all those baby things. The main premise is that one won't necessarily need two of everything. And it got me thinking...

There is quite a market for twins out there. I assume manufacturers are making a killing off of twin gear. When I was trying decide what sort of bassinet to do for my babies, I spotted some twin pack 'n' plays. They were huge, which to me, defeats the purpose of a pack 'n' play. Plus, it's something you'd only want for twins. So, use it for a few months and then sell it? It's not like you'd want to keep it hanging around. I put both my babies in a regular pack 'n' play for the first three months. It worked just fine. They slept well together. As they started to grow and become more active sleepers, it became necessary to separate them in different cribs. So, to me, a twin pack 'n' play is unnecessary.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Safer Surfing -AVG Link Scanner vs. The Web of Trust

I use AVG free for my virus protection which is great. They recently (okay, it's been months now) started offering a link scanner which scans the links that come up in search results. It scans each link and assigns it an icon: green, yellow, or red depending on its safety. I liked the idea of this, but it slowed down the loading of search results for me. I have 256K DSL . . . so speed is rather important.

I decided to try the Firefox addon Web of Trust (WOT), which is similar to AVG, in that it rates links in search results. The difference is that where AVG's link scanner actually scans each link, WOT rates links based on actual human review of the site. Who does this reviewing? People like you and I. When you download the WOT Firefox addon, you sign up to become a member of the WOT community. You can rate websites you come upon that have or have not been reviewed. One thing I really like about WOT is that when you do click on a site that is rated as potentially dangerous, rather than going directly to the site, you take a detour through WOT where you can give permission to continue on or stop. We all miss-click, so I like this feature.

So, I know that these two applications aren't completely anologous, but they have a similar goal: to help the user surf the internet with increased safety. The applications go about this goal in two very different ways. AVG has the advangtage of scanning in real time, which means that it can pick up threats that may not have been at a particular site a minute ago. WOT, on the other hand relys soley on the ratings of other computer users. So, there is a degree of human error here. But, because it is open to many users, errors can be caught and fixed. Humans can also recognize unsafe sites that a computer may not. For instance, a website may not have any spyware or virus threat, but may be potentially dangerous in another way, like practicing illegal or deceptive business practices. This is where WOT is helpful.

I currently use WOT. It fits my current needs. It doesn't take long to load a search with the WOT ratings as well. As, I specified earlier, AVG's link scan did take too long for my internet connection. I think both applications are great. Any computer with an internet connection should have protection like this to aid users in safe surfing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Use White Vinegar Instead of Rinse Aid

I think it's been over a year since I bought a gigantic bottle of Jet Dry from Sam's Club. I hate how expensive the stuff is, so buying it in bulk is definitely the way to go. My Jet Dry is almost gone, and I'm a bit frugal when it comes to consumables. So, I'm looking around online and happen upon message boards where people are saying they just white vinegar instead of rinse aid. Okay, vinegar is good for a lot of things. I use it in my laundry on occasion. So, I'm thinking I'm going to have to try this. I'll do a follow-up post and let you know if I notice a difference.

Use Mason Jar with Blender


This is nothing revolutionary... unless of course you've never done it. I've had my blender for over six years now. It wasn't until just recently though, that I tried using my canning jar on the blender since I didn't want to use the big container that it comes with to do a small chopping job. Wahoo! I wish this thought would have dawned on me ages ago. This trick is especially handy when I'm doing multiple blender jobs because I need only to rinse off the blades and then stick it on another mason jar to keep chopping. My blender, and most out there fit the regular size mason jars (not wide mouth). I use the little jam jars to chop or puree stuff I hide in food-like onions or peppers. The regular quart size ones are nice for making a smoothie that will serve two. Plus, when I want to store blended food in the fridge, I just stick a Mason lid on the jar rather than putting my blender out of commision by storing my food in the original container (with blade) the blender came with. Handy dandy, no?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nutrition Facts for Homemade Dishes



So next time you serve up dinner, consider dazzling your family/guest with a sheet of paper, detailing the Nutrition Facts of the meal. It would make for an out of the ordinary dinner conversation. Or, maybe you are like me and wonder how your homemade bread stacks up the the store bought stuff. You can find all that and more at:

Being a humdrum hero

My mind is daily plagued with random thoughts and questions. Here's a snippet:
  • How do I keep those meddling cats out of my yard?
  • No offense, Mr. Gore, but who really invented the internet?
  • What's an inexpensive, battery-free gift for a kid?
  • How can I make citrus oil?
  • Is my six-year-old enough to young to mow the lawn for me? Does it count if he really wants to learn?
  • Is there a way to get rid of mushrooms in my rock garden?
In order to quell this insanity, I turn to the internet. I Google my topic and sift through the mess of results. And sometimes I find some really cool things . . . tidbits, that make me feel like a hero. This blog is a compilation of the good things I find online--so I don't forget I found them, and so they may be shared. Hopefully, you too, can take something you find here, do something with it, and become a humdrum hero. May everyone be a humdrum hero!