Friday, December 31, 2010

Get the Stink out of Towels and Dishcloths

I don't have this problem near as often as I did when I lived in a more humid environment, but it does still happen on occasion. The problem? Stinky, mildewy towels, and dishcloths. And it doesn't matter how much you wash them, the stink doesn't leave. Know what I'm talking about?

So, I found something that works years ago and thought I'd share: Lysol, all purpose cleaner. You can buy the stuff at most stores for $3-4. Lysol promises to disinfect and kill badcteria and viruses. I buy the bottle without the trigger on the end because it makes for easier pouring. I usually get lemon scent because it's one of the few scents I can handle.

Here's what you do:

1. Fill washer with hot water and about a cup of Lysol all purpose cleaner.
2. Add offending laundry.
3. Allow the laundry to agitate for a minute and then let it soak for at least an hour before resuming the laundry cycle.
4. Dry laundry as usual.
5. Enjoy better-smelling towels.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Touch up Wood Furniture with Shoe Polish

While I was polishing some shoes with brown shoe polish (probably the first time in over a year), I found myself reading the label of the shoe polish container. It said it could be used to touch up wood furniture. In the past I've used Old English Furniture polish to touch up wood. It's expensive, can be messy (it's a liquid) and stain anything you spill it on. But it's okay. I've also heard of using a brown crayon to touch up furniture. This I don't like because it leaves a waxy residue.

So, I first tried applying some brown shoe polish to our armoire door in a place where the wood stain was worn off. It blended very nicely. Happy with the fix, I decided to try something a little more drastic. We have a light colored Target special chest of drawers that got scratched pretty badly during our last move. Every time I walk past it, my eyes notice the deep gouge. It's not real wood, just particle board, so I wanted to see how the shoe polish would take to it. It did a pretty good job. At least now when I walk past the chest, I don't notice any blaring imperfection.

Before


After


Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Change the Default OS on a Dual Boot System

Okay, not a lot of people will have interest in this, but of the few who might, and for my own good, I'm going to document this.

I recently got a new computer that came with Windows 7. I like it well enough, but I really like the Ubuntu and had wanted it on my next computer. I was initially planning on buying a computer without an OS so I could put Ubuntu on it, but then I found this great deal of a computer that came with Windows 7. So, here I am with a computer with Windows 7... and I still want Ubuntu, so I decided I'd just do a dual boot system. The dual boot thing was working just fine, expect that the default OS was Ubuntu and since my webcam (Microsoft lifecam) doesn't work with Ubuntu, I wanted the default boot to be Windows 7 until I get a webcam that will play nicely with both operating systems.

To change the default boot means to change the GRUB. And here's the best instructions I have found on how to do it: http://www.hackourlives.com/change-default-boot-order-ubuntu-10-04-lucid/ You have to get into the terminal in Unbuntu, type in some fancy commands and change the boot order number, but It's all well written. It worked for me... and when I get a good webcam, I'll be changing the boot order again, probably back to Ubuntu... But that's a topic for a whole "nother" post: Windows7 vs Ubuntu. :)

Feb 03 2011 Update:
My boot order changes worked great until my Ubuntu system updated and a new kernel was downloaded. The new kernel goes in the GRUB menu, the old one doesn't get replaced, so it pushes everything in the GRUB menu down. I figured this was going to be a mess to stay on top of. (One reason why Ubuntu isn't quite for everyone yet.) But, I found a hack that will be easy for me to keep on top of my GRUB menu. Ubuntu Tweak. And use these directions to clean up old kernels you don't want. The nice thing about Ubuntu Tweak is that it won't let you accidentally remove the kernel you are using because it doesn't list the current kernel on the list of kernels available to delete. Works for now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Free 411 after Google 411

I recently wrote that Google 411 was throwing in the towel. So, I had to find a new 411 service.

Why not just use a phone book, you ask? Because I have three different ones with different results in each and it is a pain to compare the results of each one. It's just easier to have a service look the number up for me. Plus, I hate looking things up because I don't like to think alphabetically, okay?

After trying out the list of free 411 services I blogged about earlier, I choose two services that will likely end up on my cell and/or my home phone's speed dial.

DEX- 1-800-Call-Dex : Many free 411 services are loaded with ads that make it hard to navigate and even harder to remember why I was even making the 411 call in the first place. Dex has no ads, unless you count the Dex greeting at the beginning which is short and painless. This service can understand voice quite well.

1-800-Call-411: This is probably my favorite service. When I first tried this, the company phone it connected me to was busy so they gave me the the company's phone number so I could call on my own later. That was nice. The voice recognition is nice, but if you have a lot of background noise, you also have the option to type the zip code of the business you are looking up. You can also get the business address and have it texted to your cell. And of course, no ads! Only hook on this is that it is Microsoft based... so if you have issues with them, you might have to work through them before you can comfortably use it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Undelete! Undelete!- Recuva!

Okay, I only learned about Recuva because I deleted some seriously important files from a USB drive. But, I'm glad I know about Recuva.

Recuva is Windows freeware, but I understand it can work on Ubuntu through WINE. With Recuva, you can "undelete" files from your external memory widgets like an mp3 player or USB or other memory card. According to their website, you can also permanently delete files using Recuva.

My experience:
I used Recuva to recover files that were accidentally deleted on a USB drive. Downloading and installing Recuva software is easy. (You can also download a portable version so you can have it with you wherever you go.) I had no need to use Recuva's documentation in order to get to work on undeleting my files. You simply select the drive you would like Recuva to scan and recover. After the scan is performed, Recuva displays a list of the files found. There were a lot. This thing recovered probably everything ever put on the USB drive (in my case over 1000 files). Some files no longer had the correct file names, but had numbers assigned to them instead. The actual organization that the files existed under was gone. For instance, if you have your files in folders, Recuva isn't going to recover the same organization scheme... no folders, just the files. That's really all that matters anyway. From this list I selected the files I wanted recovered. Then, I choose to recover them. At this point Recuva prompted me to select a location to save the recovered files. From there, Recuva recovered the files! Now the real work comes to go through it all, organize them and find out what is needed, and what isn't. Unfortunately, no computer program can do this... yet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Manage Computer Time with a Timer

I recently downloaded Cool Timer (free) to help control the time my family spends on the computer. It's all to easy to sit down to a task and end up getting distracted with news, email, games or whatever and find that the original task took a whole lot longer and anticipated to complete.

Cool Timer is a simple, straight-forward timer that even my kids can use. I have them set it before they start on the computer. It is understood that when the "fog horn" (my son's favorite alarm sound) goes off, time's up. One less thing I have to keep track of.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Good to Know: Zamzar Converts Files


I had the need to convert a Microsoft Publisher file to something else so I could actually view it. Note to self: If you can use something other than Publisher to create a file, do it!

Enter Zamzar.com. Zamzar is a very helpful free service that allows you to convert a wide variety of files to any one of another wide variety of files. The site is very straight forward and easy to use with no need to set up an account. Wahoo! All you do is select the file you wish to convert, and select the type of file you'd like it to be converted to, type in your email address, and click "convert." Within minutes you will receive an email from Zamzar which contains a link to your converted file. From there, you download the file for keeps.

I first converted my Publisher file to MS Word. The conversion went quite well. The only thing different was the font. No biggie. Since Word and OpenOffice are "compatible," I tried opening this new Word file in OpenOffice Writer. Yuck. It was an indistinguishable mess. So, I used Zamzar to convert my original Publisher file to OpenOffice Writer (.odt). It did a great job. The converted Word file and the converted Writer file looked identical.

Zamzar also offers image, video, music, and e-book conversions...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bagels!

Last year I tried to make bagels. I used this recipe from allrecipes.com. Given the couple hundred quite positive reviews, I figured I could whip these out with no problem. Afterall, bagels are just a form of bread and I've been making bread for over 10 years.

Sadly, I did not succeed with this recipe. I tried making it again 4-5 times before I gave up and just tried to accept the fact that I couldn't conquer bagels. The problem was, my bagels turned out flat and doughy. It was irritating because some, of the same batch, would turn out not as doughy as others. I had no idea what was going on, but I blamed it on high altitude since I live at over 5000 feet.

Well, this year I tried again. But not without thinking very hard about what I was going to try different. The basic method to make bagels is to mix the dough, let it rise, form into bagels, let rise, broil, boil and then bake. Somewhere in this process my risen bagels would fall (that's why they turned out flat and doughy). I figured it had to do with the broiling since I noticed that they often started to go flat when I moved the broiled bagels into to boiling water. Previously, I had broiled them too far away from the heat. I also hadn't really given the oven a chance to heat up before I broiled the bagels. And last, the recipe I used said to broil them on an ungreased baking sheet. When I tried that, the bagels stuck to the pan, making them hard to turn turn over to broil the other side. And too much handling will make a risen bagel fall.

So, for success with the bagel recipe, I formed the bagels by taking a bit of dough, and forming a ball. Then I just poked a whole in it and tried to make it look pretty. I set them to rise on a greased pan. Like so:


Once risen (about30 mins), I set my oven on broil and allowed 5 mins for it to heat up. I placed my bagels on the highest rack about 5 inches under the heat. Broiled them for 1.5-2 mins on each side. It's the consistency that's important here. I found that the you need a good, toasted bagel. If it's too soft, it'll fall. And obviously you have to watch this part because it wouldn't be nice to burn them this early in the game!


Next, Boiling. After broiling in the oven, it's time to boil in some water. I did as the recipe suggested here. I boiled them in a big pan of water with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (you can do white sugar or honey too) for 6-7 mins on each side.



After boiling, I transferred the bagels to a wire rack with a towel under it to drain off excess water. After draining, I transferred the bagels to a greased pan and cooked them for 20 mins. at 375 degrees. And the finished product:



Yeah, I know, pretty exhaustive process... but they are good and It's kinda fun to know how to do.

One other tip: I didn't make my bagels plain. Mine are cinnamon. I waited to add a tablespoon of cinnamon and reserved about 2 teaspoons of the sugar called for in the recipe until the dough was all mixed. Adding the the cinnamon last gives it a swirled look (which I prefer)... if I'd have added it first, I would have given the bagels a brown look... but I'm sure would have tasted just as good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bye, Bye Google 411...

Last time I placed a call using Google's free directory assistance, I was informed by the automated recording that Google will suspend the service on November 12th this year. Boo hoo. Seriously, I know that Google wasn't offering this free service out of the kindness it's big cooperate heart...They had ulterior motives.

I enjoyed free 411 service so much I figured I needed to find another one. I found this list of free 411 services. Some even have live operators (if you find humans helpful as opposed to computers)! It's too early for me to test them and decide which one is going to get programed into my phone, but it's a start. The list is a big dated, written back in 2008... but, like I said, it's a start. I'll be giving them a try.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Learning Web Design

I have had this crazy interest in learning to design web pages (probably cuz mine stinks). It's not like I have oodles of free time, but I decided I'd start at my own pace and maybe someday I'll like how my website looks... Plus, I figure web design would be a great skill to have.

So, right now I'm taking a free XHTML class from about.com. It's got 10 lessons that I can do at my own pace. At the end there is a test that if I pass, I'll feel happy about. It's not like a college degree or anything, but really if someone wants you to design their web page, I think they care more about whether or not you can do it, not that you went to Harvard to learn how to do it.

Next I plan on going to Google Code University (free too) to learn more about programming languages for web design: JAVA, CSS...

And this is the beauty of the internet: Information at your fingertips!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Get Your Sample Ballot Now

I think a lot of people don't bother voting because they feel like it's a test that they don't get to see in full until they are in the voting booth. Then, you're standing there reading all the wordy political mumbo-jumbo, feeling like the world depends on your "right" answer, but you don't have the resources available in that booth to make the best decision. But, it doesn't have to be that way. Make your vote an open book test. Get a sample ballot.

How? For most places, you can Google your county's name along with "sample ballot." And, if your county is tech savvy enough (I sure hope so) they have it available from the clerk and recorder's website for download. If not, call your clerk and recorder's office and request one. Many newspapers also put out an election issue which sometimes includes a sample ballot as well. But who subscribes to those anymore? (I'm joking here. I know a lot of people still do, but I don't.)

I like to print off a sample ballot a couple of weeks before an election and fill it in as I research anything I'm not sure about. The internet is a great way to help me find in formation for and against different proposals. After I fill in the ballot, I take my cheat sheet with me on election day and use it to fill in the real ballot. No more walking out of the election booth feeling unsure about my "answers."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oil, a Goo-Gone Alternative

I like Goo-Gone. But it's pretty flammable. And since I ran out of it and haven't bothered to buy more, I started using olive oil instead. Back when I was reading up on the many uses of olive oil, I learned that you can use it to clean sticky residue off many surfaces. I've tried it quite a few times and have found that it does quite well. The only draw back is the oily residue you are left with. But to remedy that, I just spritz the area with some 50/50 vinegar water solution (handy cleaning solution) and wipe it off. You can use other cooking oils for this purpose as well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Block Ads in Google Chrome

I have three different web browsers on my computer. I use all three. In order of preference, they are: Firefox, Chrome, and Explorer (I only use the last one when I am forced to). Since I use Firefox the most, I have the AdBlock Plus add-on installed. I love it because I hate ads and it just does such an excellent job blocking them. That's my plug for Adblock Plus.

But we're talking about Chrome. I'm starting to like Chrome more and more (it's fast, fast, fast), hence I'm using it more and more. For Chrome, the ad block add-on of choice is Adsweep. (But it also works for Firefox and Opera browsers, though I haven't bothered installing it on my Firefox.) It's super-simple to install. Open your Chrome web browser and follow this link.

Now, my blog has text ads on it. So I'm sure I sound like a hypocrite. But close to no one reads this blog anyway (been blogging for 1.5 years and have made a measly $9)... so it's not like I care. I just like to get out useful information. But, hey, Google lives off of ads and they are allowing Adsweep. So, I'm not that crazy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cooking Bacon on the Waffle Iron

A few months ago I watched a video where Chef Alton Brown cooked his bacon on a waffle iron. I figured this was a pretty ingenious idea. I tried it.

Previously, I had been cooking my bacon in the oven on a roll pan/cookie sheet. The downside to this method is that you have to have a pretty hot oven (heats up the whole house, which is not ideal in the summer) and you have to turn the bacon over half way through cooking it. The more contact I have with a hot oven, the more likely I am to burn myself somehow. Oh, and while the bacon cooks, it wallows in its own fat. Turns out pretty tasty, but I was open to finding a better way to cook bacon.

So, the first time I tried cooking bacon with Alton's waffle iron method, I used my Black & Decker Waffle Iron/Grill. I didn't put the grill on a cookie sheet when I cooked the bacon as Alton Brown does in his video... and my counter wasn't exactly 100% level, so the grease went the path of least resistance and made a mess all over my counter, not to mention making a huge mess out of my waffle iron! I figured I'd go back to cooking bacon in the oven.


But, my stubborn streak forced me to try it again a while later. This time, I placed a cookie sheet under my grill and securely propped up the grill in the back against the rim of the cookie sheet so that the grease would collect in the right direction. My results were much better. Good enough that this is now my preferred bacon cooking method. I think this would work great with a George Foreman Grill as well. Though I don't have one, so I don't know. In the above pictures I'm cooking turkey bacon so there is minimal fat. I can cook about 4 strips at a time and it only takes about 2-3 minutes to cook.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What CAN I Drink Out Of?


Once plastic was seen as a miracle invention. Now with news of BPA and other harmful substances that can leach out of plastics the consumer is left to wonder what to do next. Buy the latest miracle invention?... And in 20 years they'll find something bad about that. It's just how it is. There is a side effect to every great advance.

As a result of rearing four children, I recently found my supply of mugs and glasses running low. Tired of cleaning up the remnants of broken beverage containers too often, I was really hoping to buy something a bit more kid-proof this time around. I figured I'd go with plastic, but with the recent buzz over BPA, I was having second thoughts. Yeah, I know that living causes cancer, but if I can try to prevent it with the knowledge available, provided it won't break the bank, I'll do it. So I searched for PBA-free plastic tumblers. There is BPA free plastic... but the cost is relatively steep, in my opinion for something that hasn't withstood the test of time yet.

Then I revisited tried and true glass. I had written glass off initially because, well, it breaks. But, not all glass does. And it has withstood the test of time. My answer? Duralex Glasses. French. Heat treated/tempered. Very durable. I Ordered twelve 8.75 oz. cups. They are nice and heavy. Great for everyday. Love how they are shaped- good for dunking cookies. Easy to hold. I'm going to order some 12 oz. ones too. They are great in the dishwasher, come out dry and without any little pools of water on the bottom. Duralex makes bowls and plates too...

Also check out: http://www.zoebonline.com/kidishes-kid-friendly-tempered-glass-duralex.html

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My First Summer of Charcoal Grilling

Our grilled pizza over a campfire on a family vacation.
Unconfirmed sources say that 75% of Americans own an outdoor grill. Until this year, I was part of that 25% who didn't own a grill. I was never very interested in grilling because I always thought that grilling was for people who eat a lot of meat and we just don't a tone of meat. Guess you could say we're flexitarians if you want to put a name to it.

But then I got to reading about how cooking your meals on an outdoor grill can help keep utility costs down in the summer. Since I hate heating up the house with the oven on a hot day, I was interested. Naturally, I read up on it. I learned that you can cook just about anything on a grill.

Next thing, I bought a cheapie charcoal grill from Home Depot just to give it a whirl. The first meal I did with the grill was grilled cheese and chicken sanwiches. They took forever to cook (like an hour). Stubborn little me had to figure out how to regulate temperature so that I could cook just about anything on a grill! I found this website most helpful when it comes to learning how to figure out if your grill is hot enough to cook with (it's a dutch oven cooking site, but the principles are similar):
http://www.dutchovendude.com/campfire-cooking.shtml

The basic idea is obvious, but new to me: if it feels as hot as the oven where you normally cook it, it's ready for the grill. If it's not hot enough, add more charcoal. Just stick your hand over the heated charcoal/fire. Closing the air vents or the grill lid will decrease the temperature. It's a lot the same for a campfire too. Only, with a campfire, it's easier to add wood to make it hotter than it is to make it cooler. Obvious, like I said, but brilliant to a newbie like me.

And then I started cooking. Yum. I've cooked with our dutch oven, aluminum foil, my regular pots, pans and casserole dishes and straight on the grill itself. Pizza is by far our most favorite thing to grill. And I've discovered what 75% of Americans already know. Not only does food taste wonderful from the grill, but it's also so much fun to cook.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making Lotion

I decided to make my own lotion for a number of reasons.
1. It sounded fun.
2. My daughters all have varying degrees of eczema, so we go through A LOT of lotion.
3. I like expensive, smelly lotion.

There is more than enough information on the internet for making lotion. It can be confusing... to the point that I just about shied away from trying. All I wanted was a simple, basic recipe and maybe a bit of background info on all the ingredients and the process (but not TOO much!)

Here's the simple, basic recipe and tutorial I found, compliments of the Soap Queen: http://soap-queen.blogspot.com/2008/11/gift-series-lotion-tutorial-from.html I've used this recipe and tutorial a few times now with success every time.

Lotions recipes are quite involved when it comes to ingredients... so if you want to make something moisturizing that is very simple and only uses two main ingredients, perhaps this easy whipped shea butter should do the trick (also from the Soap Queen): http://soap-queen.blogspot.com/2010/01/easy-whipped-shea-butter.html

So, where to buy all the ingredients? I buy from Brambleberry.com but there are loads of other places online or perhaps you are lucky enough to live near an actual brick and mortar store!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Share Your Screen Using Skype

I often try to help out my mom with her computer questions. But she lives far enough from me that I can't just drive over and check out her computer. Hence, we often use Skype to communicate. If you've ever tried to help someone with a computer long distance you know that it can be very confusing for both parties, no matter how wonderful your communication may be. Well, my mom taught me about this really cool feature Skype has that allows you to share your screen. Once my mom shared her screen with me, it was a lot easier to walk her through her computer issue. It's great. It works with Mac OSX and Windows as well as Linux (you have to download the most recent Linux beta version 2.1).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Makings of an Inexpensive Family Vacation

Yeah, the economy has got a lot of people talking about stay-cations and not taking a vacation at all. But I think it's even possible to take a vacation... just on less. We gave it a try. I'd like to share the strategy we used.

Guidelines for Planning an Inexpensive Vacation:
  • Decide how far you are willing to drive. (This decision should take into account your sanity and as well as your budget.) Check out this gas calculator from AAA.
  • Get a map and check out what places of interest there might be within your appointed travel radius.
  • Research your options. This is the exciting part. Bet you never knew how many unique things there are just within a few hours of your own home! Look for National Parks and Stake Parks (they have very reasonable admission rates) and free things to see and do.
  • Plan Lodging. Now, if you've got more than 1 kid, I don't suggest cramming yourselves into a hotel room. They are expensive and there is little room to play. Instead, check out camping options. Even if you are not much of a camper, there are some great campgrounds all over the country that rent out modest cabins (with bathrooms) for $45-150 a night. The benefit here is that your kids have a place to play (outside) and you can cook your own meals (over a fire or grill). Check reviews of the places you would like to stay before you make a decision. Reserve your lodging.
  • Food. You can bring a cooler or just buy it once you get to your destination. We do a combination of both. We planned to eat out for a couple of meals, but also made a menu of simple and tasty meals we could cook on a grill.
  • Lists: Make lots of lists. Type them up and save them so you won't have to come up with them again next year. If camping, make a list of cooking supplies you'll need, including groceries. Have a list of any bedding or toiletries you might need as well.
  • Budget Money for the sites you'd like to see, the trinkets you'll likely pick up along the way... and anything else.
CASE IN POINT
We just got back from our family vacation few weeks ago. We decided that we could stand to drive 8 hours each way. That took us to Mt. Rushmore. The admission is $10 a carload. Not bad for a family of six, huh? We camped at Rafter J Bar Ranch for about $93 a night (four nights). The cabin slept six people and had a kitchenette as well as grills and picnic table outside. We took a day to drive to Rapid City (30 min drive) to take in some free attractions there: Storybook Island (highly recommended- the kids could have stayed there all day, no joke) and Dinosaur Park (fun for the kids, but only a 20 min visit, really). Groceries cost us $80 for the trip. Gas cost us about $110. In total our trip was $650. For five fun days with the family, this was totally worth it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remove Permanent Marker from Microfiber Couch

This title might lead you to infer that I, a mother of four, might have had to clean permanent marker from my microfiber couch recently. My first reaction might have been: AHHH! But, knowing that rubbing alcohol is a gentle, yet effective cleaning agent, I tried it and had success. Dab some rubbing alcohol on a lint free rag and blot the area. I followed the procedure with a light water rinse of the area. This works on a lot of different surfaces: walls, carpet, even the dust jacket of a book (not that I've had to). . . Not that anyone would ever need to remove permanent marker from anything of value.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Driving Through Wyoming ... Again

Wyoming is a nice state. It has some really neat scenery... but it's not exactly a vacation destination. Let face it, when traveling, Wyoming is normally the means to an end. Having driven through Wyoming enough to know this, I try to plan pit stops that will be fun for the kids because stopping at a gas station in the middle of Pringle, WY just isn't very exciting.

This year we drove through Wyoming on our way to Mt. Rushmore. (I'll write more on why that's such a family-friendly vacation on another post). Before we left, I looked up parks in Cheyenne, WY that would be right off the interstate, so as not to delay us anymore than necessary. I figured we could have a picnic lunch at the park and let the kids blow off some steam at the playground. The first park we stopped at was Pioneer Park. It wasn't very well maintained. Although the city's website said the park had public bathrooms, they were all locked up. The play area was nice enough, but we weren't really impressed with the park. So, if you are driving through Cheyenne, don't stop there.

Instead, stop at Lions Park. It's a great park just off the I-25 interstate with a few different play areas, picnic tables and restrooms. They have the coolest playground I have ever been to. Playgrounds these days have really been dumbed down for safety reasons, taking a lot of the fun out of playing outside. I'm not against safety, it's just a shame we haven't figured out how to let our kids have fun and be safe. That's why I wanted to write about this park. I wish we would have taken pictures, but we were all too busy having fun. Sometimes that's more important anyway. There was a merry-go-round with climbing rope shaped like a cone on it. So a child could climb up and sit inside the rope while riding around. They also had quite a bit of equipment that used centripetal force. All you had to do was sit or climb or hang on and the equipment would start to spin. Anyway, all of us, from 30 year-olds to 2 year-olds enjoyed this place. So, next time you are driving through Cheyenne, Wyoming, check it out!

Here's a picture I found online that helps explain the merry-go-round. The one at Lions Park wasn't quite like this, but you get the idea:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Learning More About Making Yogurt

I've been making my own yogurt on and off for several years. But just recently I learned to make vanilla yogurt in a way that my family particularly likes. So, I've been making it even more.

And I started to have some questions:
  • How is yogurt culture made to begin with?
  • Why does my yogurt start only last for 4-5 batches of yogurt... and then other times it lasts much longer?
  • Can I freeze yogurt start and then use it later?
And I have found some answers:
  • How is yogurt culture made to begin with? Well, I did a few Google searches on this and I have no idea still. If anyone actually knows, please comment!
  • I learned that the reason my start sometimes lasted longer than other times had to do with how often I was making yogurt/"feeding" the start. When I make it daily, the start lasts a long, long time. When I make it every other day, it lasts about 2 weeks.
  • Yes, you can freeze your yogurt start for up to a month or so. I froze mine while we were off on vacation and made yogurt with it after we got home. I let it thaw and then made yogurt as usual. It turned out great.
I've got terrible allergies this time of year and learned that milk products don't help. So, I've been cutting back on my dairy consumption. But I learned that yogurt is something I don't want to give up. Here's an informative article about the health benefits (which are many) for yogurt.

And here's a really good article about yogurt making, complete with troubleshooting tips:

Why Yogurt

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Store Emergency Numbers in Cell Phone

Today I was driving in the grocery store parking lot when I saw a truck with no one at the wheel but a Golden Retriever rolling backwards, crossing my path, headed straight for a tree and a natural gas meter thingy. And of course, the truck hit the meter first, and the smell of natural gas began to fill the air. I parked my car. I figured I should call someone. I didn't have the police dept phone number handy. So I called 911 from my cell. Not really an emergency, I would have rather called the police. But, I figured that because it was a gas leak in a public area, it could easily get out of control, so it wasn't too crazy of me to call 911.

But the experience got me to thinking. At home I have a nice phone list that I can go to with all sorts of handy numbers, including emergencies. I should at least have emergency numbers on my cell phone. Well, they are there now! Police, Fire, Gas and Electric. Because, in emergencies, the mind is the first thing to go, it helps to have them on speed-dial.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Adjust Your Own Glasses

As quirky as it may sound to learn to adjust your own eyeglasses, there are some definite advantages to this skill. Glasses almost always get bent out of shape on a weekend or sometime when you can't get to the eye doctor to get them fixed. Or, sometimes even though you have had your glasses professionally adjusted, they just don't fit right. Wouldn't it be great to know how to do it yourself? Sure.

Here's how I did it:

First, I Googled "how to adjust eyeglasses." From my reading I learned that metal frames are the easiest to adjust on your own. That's what I have. I also learned that a hair dryer comes in handy when adjusting the plastic coated ear pieces. Holding the ear piece under a hair dryer for a few seconds (10-15) can help soften the plastic so that it will bend without cracking.

Here are the tools needed:
  • Needle nose pliers
  • screw driver (small ones... you can buy small screwdriver kits at many dollar stores)
  • soft cloth (fleece worked great for me)
  • hair dryer
  • Your old glasses to use as a guide
1. If you have a pair of old glasses that fit right, compare them to your new glasses to determine where the adjustments need to be made.

2. Generally speaking, with metal frames, you can make them wider or narrower by carefully adjusting them with your hands.

3. For the nose pieces, you may feel most comfortable removing the plastic pads with a screw so you won't have to worry about breaking them while you adjust the metal piece of the nose pieces. For the metal pieces, I used a small fleece scrap and put it in between the needle nose pliers and the glasses so that I would protect the glasses' paint job. After adjusting the metal part of the nose piece, put the plastic nose pads in. (I didn't remove my nose pads to do this adjustment because I was willing to take a risk...)

4. For the ear pieces, which are often coated with a plastic coating, hold them under a hair dryer (on, of course) for a few seconds until the plastic is warm. Adjust as needed.

This being my first time adjusting my own glasses, it took me a few tries to get them just how I wanted them. There was a lot of trying on and taking off. But now, if I had to do it again, I could be much faster.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bought My Eyeglasses Online!

Yes, as crazy as it seems, I bought my prescription eyeglasses online. And it only cost me $33.90 It all started when I read an article about it from my favorite blog lifehacker. Very interesting, I thought. I'll have to remember that when I need new glasses. At the time, I just had reading glasses and wasn't in need of anymore. So, I just put the idea in the back of my head.

But my eyes started to change. I headed to the eye doctor. I learned that I could now "graduate" from reading glasses to wearing glasses all the time! Okay, not really that exciting. Doc said that I didn't really need to wear them all the time, but I could if I wanted to. I have a great doctor who doesn't pressure me to buy glasses from them. She offered to write me a prescription since I didn't quite know what I wanted to do at the moment. I took her up on it.

After leaving the doctor's office I remembered that lifehacker article about buying glasses online. I figured now was as good a time as any. If my online eyeglasses ended up making me look like a fashion misfit I only really needed them for reading anyway and I usually do that out of the public view. Plus, why spend $300 on glasses that I didn't need all the time anyway? I'd convinced myself to give it a try.

I chose to order my glasses from Zennioptical.com (there are lots of other places that sell glasses online). My main reason was price and selection. They have a lot of selection for very low prices. Quality was not the main issue for me, cost was. Zenni's website is pretty easy to use. It's a little busy for me, though. I really like their search options. You can search for glasses based on a number of different factors, including temple distance. I used my old glasses as a guide to figure out what measurements I would like in my new set of glasses. I ordered the ones pictured above.

To order your own glasses, you need to know your pupilary distance (PD). If I had been thinking, I would have asked my eye doctor for this. She didn't include it on my prescription. But, it's really not that hard to figure out with the help of someone else. It's basically the distance between the center of each of your pupils, measured in mm. My hubby measured mine. Mine is 56.

Ordering was easy. The total came to $33.90. Prescription glasses with clip on sunglasses. Not bad, eh?

I messed up when inputting my address. Instead of selecting "US" in the country drop down box, I accidentally selected: "US-Virgin Islands" ( I don't even know where that is. Someone get me a map!). I didn't notice this mistake until after I had waited three weeks for my order. I called customer service. All operators were busy so I left a message. I had serious doubts that they would call me back. But they did! The very next day I received a call. The service representative explained my error. She said it happens a lot. (Thanks, but I still feel dunce-y.) She said she'd have it shipped to me as soon as they could locate the package. Within a week and a half, my glasses arrived. Zenni communicated with me via email to let me know that they had found my package and when it would be mailed to me. This was a positive customer service experience for me.

My glasses arrived well-packaged in a hard case. The clip on sunglasses aren't real classy, but I wear them occasionally anyway since I guess I am a bit of a fashion misfit. I don't really recommend them, but they work. They also came with a cleaning cloth. Handy dandy.

I'll write about adjusting my eyeglasses in my next post.

BTW: The Virgin Islands are by Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yoga for Runners

A Bit of Background

I'm a recreational runner. I've been in a few races, but I really don't like to race and have no intention of ever doing a marathon. I just like to run. I usually run about 3 miles 3-4 times a week as one part of my exercise routine.

Three years ago I started having pain on the outer side of my knee about a mile into my run. I learned that this was (ITBS) ilio-tibial band syndrome after I had really hurt myself, hoping that I could "run" the pain off. I took a whole year off from running hoping things would heal on their own. But, when I started to run again, I had the same problem of knee pain early on in my run. I learned some exercises and stretches I could do for my ITB and learned to slowly increase my distance over a few days. That helped. Then I got a bike to incorporate cycling into my exercise. Not long after I started cycling, I started having pain on the same ITBS knee, but this time it felt like it was under my knee cap. I found that it was all part of ITBS.

Rather than let the problem continue, I decided to turn to Yoga for some help. I have shared some of Esther's yoga videos before. They are excellent! Here are some particularly helpful videos for ITBS and running. I have been doing them on the days I'm not running or biking and so far I haven't had any pain. I hope this will continue!

First, a general yoga video for runners:


This one is targeted for opening hips so that you don't strain your knees to begin with, but is also helpful in correcting the problem once it has started.


And this one is for the knees.


As I have learned, coming back from an injury takes patience as well as persistence. Patience, to keep yourself from doing too much too soon. Persistence, to continue with the therapy to help correct the injury. Hope this helps other runners/cyclists out there.

Update: August 12, 2010
For the past year, my husband has been having knee pain when he rides his bike. He decided to give the above yoga techniques a try and he too noticed improvement. He stretches before he goes out on his bike now with the knee and hip opening techniques. It's really helped!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Thoughts on Ooma

With Ooma, I'm now basically in charge of my phone service. So, there are some preventative measures I will have to take to ensure that I have continued, reliable service.

Ooma won't work if:
  • The power goes out
  • My internet service is interrupted
  • My modem konks out
  • My Ooma device dies on me
As you can see, there are a few different factors that play into having Ooma work. Here's my plan to protect myself if any of the above senarios does in fact take place.

Power:
This is a relatively easy fix. I should have this anyway: A battery back-up for my computer (aka uinterrupted power supply or UPS). They are just fancy surge protectors that give you some extra time to shut off your computer when the power is out. Prices start at $40 and go up. Ooma doesn't suck much power, so it could run on one of these for the duration of most power outages.

Internet Service Interrupted:
I'm not too worried about this. Typically when this has happened, it's only been for a couple of hours at the longest. I have a cell phone, so I could get calls out. IF I had Ooma premier, I could set it up so that my calls got forwarded to my cell phone or another number. (If someone called while my Ooma isn't hooked up, they would just get dead air, no voice mail or anything.) I don't get enough phone calls to worry about this. More than likely, I'd just miss a couple of political calls. :) If this outtage were expected to go on longer, I'd find a place (library or something) that had internet and get signed up for Ooma Premier and then just cancel it when my internet service resumed.

Modem Breaks:
Here's another thing that would be smart to have. An extra modem. If you've ever had one break on you, you know that it's a pain to wait 3-5 days for a replacement to be delivered to you. However, if I were fortunate enough to live in a place that had stores nearby that sell modems, I don't think I'd worry about having an extra modem on hand.

Ooma Breaks:
It's not very cost effective to have an extra Telo on hand ($299). What I would do instead is sign up right away for Ooma Premier ($9.99 per month) so I could have my calls forwarded to a cell phone. I would go ahead and buy another Telo and once recieved, cancel Ooma Premier. This is of course assuming that my current Telo lasts a good long time. (Telos do a have a one year warranty.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Major Crib Recall: Now What?

I'm sure that many are aware of the most recent, sweeping crib recall. When I heard about it on the news, I was pretty sure that the cribs my twins are using would be involved in the recall. I got onto Evenflo's website and sure enough, they were.

Our cribs have worked fine for us and one of them was used with two of my other children, so I wasn't really worried about having a recalled crib, but I did figure it would be sensible to go ahead and order the kit to fix the cribs. I was able to locate the model number and date of manufacture on my cribs with no problem (they are on the headboard.) The Evenflo website states how to find this info and says that you can order repair kits on their website or you could call their phone number. Well, it's hard to find where on that website you can order the repair kits. The link is not anywhere handy. So, I called the toll-free hotline. No help. It just tells you to order the repair kit online. So, I go back to the website, this time looking very carefully for the info. Found it. After scrolling down to the bottom of the long webpage, I found the link "Register for Recall." Don't know why they didn't put this link in a better place.

Anyhow, from there it was easy. Entered my crib's model and date of manufacture and address. Now I'm waiting for my parts. We'll see how easy the repair kits will be to install...

Update as of August 27, 2010
I received one of the repair kits yesterday in the the mail. I'm trusting my second kit is on its way since I registered for them on the same day. My husband installed the kit on one of the cribs last night. It consists of four metal pieces, 4 screws, and 4 wing nuts if I remember correctly. My husband described the fix as a bit "chintzy" but it does do the job of keeping the crib side from sliding down. In my book it's not a particularly pretty fix. Once installed, the metal pieces (rather large) are quite visible. But, It'll do. Here's a pix of the fix:


Update as of October 20, 2010:
I received the repair kit for my second Jenny Lind crib about a week and a half ago. Yeah, it took a while. This repair kit is even worse than the above one. It consists of some heavy duty straps, a couple of metal rods and some "locking rings" (for locking the mattress in the lowest position). I put this repair kit on myself. It was easy to get the straps and the metal rods on, but the locking rings? Forget it. I got one on after too much work and decided not to put the rest on since my daughter will be moving to another bed soon and I didn't want to have to remove the locking rings from all four sides when I have to take the crib apart. Of course, I'm sure the companies don't care how dorky these repair kits make the crib look because they want us to buy another crib. I think pack 'n' plays are looking better and better (price and all). Here's a pix of the least aesthetically pleasing part of the fix. (This crib doesn't have hidden hardware.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ooma, Free VOIP Phone Service: Part 4

I've only been using Ooma exclusively for a month now. Not long enough to know if it was worth my money. (I'll break even in six months, taking into account what my phone bill would have been.) In the previous posts I've attempted to explain the process I went through to setup Ooma with my DSL internet. It was not without hassle. I expected this, however because I see Ooma as a do-it-yourself phone service. So, I'm mostly happy with the system because it works.

Call Quality

I'd like to focus on my experiences with call quality today. First, Ooma has a distinct dial tone which is sort of fun but might freak out visitors who pick up your phone. No biggie. The vast majority of the calls I have made with Ooma have been just as good as those that I had made with my land line and they were hands-down better than calls I make with my cell phone.

But, I have had some weird issues. My husband and I have both experienced a strange connection a handful of times. It has only happened when we have dialed the number and connect to voice mail/answering machine. We hear a jumbled, computery, train wreck sound. So, we hang up and dial again and it works better. I don't know what this is about. Like I said, this has only happened when we get connected to voice mail, no other time.

I have not, as of yet, experienced any dropped calls. I'll be sure to post any experience I may have with that in the future right here on this post.

Ooma gives new users a 60 day trial of their Premier service. I'm not going to list all of the features of Ooma Premier, but one of them is anonymous call blocking. This sounds nice, but you'd be surprised how many numbers are anonymous that come from people you know. My husband's work phone, for instance, could not get through. So, I should have changed that feature, but I figured that soon my trial period would be up and I would lose that feature. I'm pretty sure that I should have. However, a couple days after my trial expired, my husband still could not get through. I decided to wait on it before I called costumer service. I had my hubby try to call me this morning and he got through. So, I'm thinking there was a bit of lag on the suspension of my trial period.

In a nutshell: Ooma is not worry-free, not hassle-free, and not effort-free. I am still liking it though. Must be my do-it-yourself leanings that make me like it. I would like to see Ooma improve on customer support and fix some of the other funky issues they seem to have.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ooma, Free VOIP Phone Service: Part 3

So, I've got my phone number ported to Ooma. My phone company has closed my account associated with my phone service. I'm ready to distribute the Ooma dial-tone to all the phone jacks in my house.

DISCLAIMER: The easiest way to use Ooma on multiple phones would be to buy a phone with multiple handsets (if you don't have one already). Hook the base phone up to Ooma and put your other handsets where you need them. No wiring issues and line splitters. But, if you are stubborn like me and want the phone jacks to work with Ooma, read on:

First, Ooma has very little information on this issue. Here is a link to their official support on this. I do suggest that Ooma users/future users look at this first so they can formulate what questions they will yet have.

As I have said in other posts, I have DSL for my internet. Ooma doesn't offer a lot of help to someone on this. I don't recommend trying to call customer service for this issue. The Ooma forums are much better. Real Ooma users who speak and write English can help there. It's quite helpful.

In the end, My husband invited his tech-savvy friend over to open our phone box and mess with the wires to get it to work. We had a home-run line straight from our phone box (outside) to our computer. So, we had to do some wiring in our phone box and I don't get how they did it. Sorry. But it works now!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ooma, Free VOIP Phone Service: Part 2

Today I'll talk about the process of porting my existing phone number with Ooma. It took just about 5 weeks for my port to complete from the time I initiated the request. That was longer than I had expected. And I expect it would have taken longer if I had not contacted customer service. Here's my story:

Porting My Existing Phone Number With Ooma

In theory, porting your phone number should be a rather simple process, and for many it is. Check Amazon.com for reviews. For some reason, I had some issues. I couldn't get any customer rep to explain why either. I suspect this was because of the language barrier.

Porting can be done online, once you sign on to your "My Ooma" account. You simply fill in some information about you phone company that you currently have and make sure Ooma has your correct address. Because a customer rep had inputted my address incorrectly during the setup process, I had to stop here and try to change my address via "My Ooma." For some reason, each time I made the change, it didn't show up on my account. So, I called customer service. They manually changed my address so I could proceed with the port request.

At one point in the request, I was asked to check a box saying that my DSL internet was not associated with my phone line. This is something Ooma requires, I think, so that they are not held responsible for complications that could arise from this. Well, my DSL and my phone number are on the same line. So, I chatted with a Qwest customer service rep and asked them how porting works from their end. I asked them if I would need to separate my lines and get "dry loop" internet before the port. The rep told me I did not need to separate the lines, and that Qwest would separate the lines on the day of the port. So, I went ahead and checked the box that said my DSL and phone line were not associated... even though they were.

After submitting my online request for a port, I received an email (same day) from Ooma with LOA (letter of agreement) attached which I was instructed to fill out and sign and either fax or scan and email back along with a copy of a recent phone bill from my current phone company. No problem. I was just giddy that they didn't require that everything be faxed. Talk about 21 century! I sent back the necessary documentation right away. I received an automated email confirming that they had received my information.

The next morning I received another email from Ooma the same as the first, asking for the LOA and copy of a phone bill. Even though I had already done this, I sent it again, writing that I had already sent this information... and received confirmation. Minutes later I received another automatic confirmation of receipt.

At this point, I got to wait for emails telling me of the status of my port. After one month of not receiving anything, I called customer service. I asked the rep of my status and why I had not heard anything from them. He put me on hold for a while. Once off hold, the rep told me that my port was in process and I should be receiving an email soon. I was skeptical since I had read this before a month ago in one of the confirmation emails. How soon should I expect it? He said within five days.

Later that same day, I received an email from Ooma informing me of the scheduled port date. Coincidence? I doubt it. My port was to happen in two weeks.

Got to say, at this point I wasn't sure how smooth the actual port would go since I'd had all these issues leading up to it. I continued to monitor the status of my port online via "My Ooma" account. As my port date came closer, it was pushed back one day. No biggie.

On the day of the port, I was expecting to have internet issues and phone issues. In the morning, I received phone calls via Qwest with no problem. Early in the day I had to go out of the house for about an hour. I called home with my cell while I was out just to see if I could get though. I could... My Ooma voice mail greeting picked up. That was fast!

So, in the end, I was pleasantly suprised with how well the port went. I experienced no down time to my knowledge (since I wasn't home during the port). But even if it were just an hour, that would have been fine by me. My DSL was working fine too.

Next Post: Distributing the Ooma Dial tone through out my house.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ooma, Free VOIP Phone Service: Part 1


Okay, now that I am all done setting up my new Ooma Telo and have been using it for a bit over a month, I'd like to share info about my experience. I'll do this in a few different posts because there is A LOT to say about it.

Ooma is a free* phone service you can use with your existing internet connection. I put the asterisk by "free" because while you do have to pay a one-time fee for the equipment ($199-$250), you also have to pay an on-going monthly tax to Big Brother. Mine is $3.74 a month. And if you want the added bells and whistles Ooma offers, you need to subscribe to their Premier service which is $9.99 a month (still better than a landline, in most cases).

PART 1: Ordering, Setting It Up

I ordered Ooma from Amazon.com because I love Amazon. They had the lowest price too and shipping was free. I paid $199 for my Ooma Telo. It arrived in a timely fashion (about 5 days). Here's what it looks like straight out of the box:




You get the Telo device, a phone cord, power cord, and manual. Upon opening the package, I was impressed with the packaging itself, and the sleek look of the Telo. I was shocked at the owner's manual. It is very short, and lacking in detail to the point that I had more questions after reading it than I did to begin with. Here's a link to that manual so you can see for yourself. Besides that, the manual is nicely designed and isn't full of editing errors, so that is comforting.

I set up the Telo as soon as I had a kid-free moment. Getting back behind my computer with the owner's manual, my new Telo and two new cords, I marveled at my cord plantation already growing freakishly well without water or light in such a dark corner. *Shrug* The thing must be plugged in, so proceeded to plant the new cords in their new home.

I have DSL for my internet. It seems as though Ooma assumes that most people have cable internet. They don't provide a lot of information on how to set up the Telo with DSL. I found that I needed a splitter (not explained in the documentation) since I needed two phone jacks at the wall (one for my DSL modem and one for the Telo). Luckily, we had a splitter sitting in the garage. I stuck it into the wall jack. I had my modem/router plugged into my computer, but because Ooma advises to plug the Telo directly into the computer for the best sound quality, I did so. So, essentially, my Telo is connected to my computer with the ethernet cable, and my DSL modem is connected to my Telo via another ethernet cable. I was concerned that this might affect my modem's performance with speed, but I have tested it since then and I have not found any speed difference with my modem being plugged into my computer vs. being plugged into the the Telo and then to the wall jack.

Next, I plugged the power cord into my surge protector (or better yet, an uninterrupted power supply, which I hope to be getting soon). I plugged the phone cable that came with the Telo from the jack labeled "wall" on the Telo to the jack in my wall (remember, I had a splitter here so it could share with DSL) and plugged a phone into the jack labeled "phone" on the Telo. After plugging things in, I was ready to get my product activated.

To activate, I went to Ooma.com and clicked on the "Activate" link. I'm a pretty savvy person when it comes to technology, so I was pretty confident that I could handle the activation process. I think I could have... But... The first thing you are asked to input is your activation code found on the back of the Telo device. It's supposed to be a seven digit code. Mine was six. So, naturally, the system could not activate my Telo. Great! I get to call customer service, which, from reading reviews on Amazon, I am aware is outsourced. Yippee for language barriers in customer service!

I didn't have to wait long to get on the phone with someone. The service rep was nice enough, but because of that language barrier, she had a hard time understanding my trying to explain to her that my activation code was only six digits. I tried to ask her why, but she didn't understand my question. She just went ahead and activated my Telo for me from her end. This meant that she input my address, my name and other account info herself as I dictated it. Hahahah. When I signed into my account after I hung up with Ooma, I saw that my address was incorrect. So, I had to fix that. Anyhow, once my Telo was activated, I picked up my phone and heard the unique Ooma dial-tone. I set up voice-mail and other preferences from my Telo next. That's pretty step-by-step and easy, so I'm not going to talk much about it here.

Normally, if you are planning on using your current phone number with Ooma, you have to get it ported and during that port, Ooma assigns you a temporary number. The service rep didn't do this for me and I didn't ask. This didn't make my Telo unsuable, but it did mean that any number I dialed from my phone connected to Ooma had to be dialed 1+ area code+ number. (Note that I still had my landline service and all other phones in my house ran off the landline phone company. If I stopped here, It'd be like having two phone lines: Make calles on Ooma phone and still be able to receive calls through my landline.)

Anyway, I made a few calls with my phone that I had connected to the Ooma device and didn't notice any difference in call quality from that of my land line... so I figured I should take the plunge and get my landline number ported.

Next post I'll talk about porting my number. Fun, fun, fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

No Spill Miracle Bubbles

I was in Walmart the other day, doing some browsing. I rarely venture into the toy section, but since I was sans children, I did. For $2 I got an 80z. bottle of Miracle Bubbles in a no-spill container. I figured if it worked, it'd be worth it because my little ones spill more than $2 of bubbles every summer.

We tried the new bubble container out on my spill-happy four-year-old last night. Okay, this really works for the generally stable child who knows how to use bubbles. Sure, it gets a little messy around the slit in the lid where you pull the wand in and out, but my daughter hasn't spilled the first half of the bottle (like she routinely does with new bubbles). And sure we have had a few spills when my 20 month old twins go crazy with it, but it's still much cleaner than the regular container.

The bubbles can be stored with the no-spill lid on. The wand snaps onto the appendage sticking out from the lid. (Directions say not to store bubble wand in lid.) This is totally worth the $2. I don't say that very often.Align Center

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Dutch Rubber Mop For Wet or Dry Messes

I really don't like traditional brooms. They get all messy and are absolutely disgusting to clean. And hair? They don't really sweep up hair. All the hair just sticks to all the other yucky stuff already sticking to the ends of the broom. And we live with it.

But, I first came across the dutch rubber mop while reading an article in Parents magazine (not an endorsement). I was intrigued. I looked it up on amazon. I watched this dorky video.



At just about $10 (price fluctuates), I figured it was worth the risk. I've had my rubber mop/broom for over a month now. I use it all the time. I haven't used my regular broom at all. In fact, I haven't used my mop at all (I used a Swiffer with a homemade fleece cover for mopping). I mop like the guy in the video above. But I have read that others take an old kitchen towel and attach it to the mop head with rubber bands for mopping. I'm sure it would be very easy to attach elastic to some terry cloth to make a cover for the rubber mop. I haven't bothered yet. I used this mop to scrub and clean my exterior windows too. I just love being able to rinse off the rubber broom head and always have a clean broom/mop. I cut my family member's hair and it does a very, very good job of cleaning that mess up. I would think that for someone who has wood floors and/or pets, a rubber mop would be better than a Swiffer because there are no refills to buy and it picks up everything! This mop is also advertised to pick up pet hair and dirt from carpets when vacuuming isn't enough. I haven't really tried that. I understand that it's quite an exercise. I do enough of that.

The only thing I don't like about it is that since it is 12 inches wide, it doesn't fit into my regular dustpan very well. So, I'll have to look for a 12 inch wide dustpan.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Still Paying to Make Long Distance Calls?

I think we're on the brink of an era in which the term "long distance" with regard to phone service will be a thing of the past. Why do I say this? Cell phones let you call anywhere in the US. Only thing you pay extra for is international calls. If you use Skype, it's a similar thing. Many VOIP phone services don't charge extra for long distance either: Phone Power, Ooma, & Vonage to name a few... And then there is even Google Voice.

For this post I want to focus on Google Voice. You no longer need an invitation to hop on the band-wagon. Just click on the link and set up an account. If you already have a Google account, just sign in with that to start your Google Voice account.

Just what is Google Voice? It's not a substitute for your current phone company, but it can offer you a lot of things that your current phone company charges you for... like free long distance calls (over your phone).

When you set up your account, you can pick your own phone number. Next you set up what phones you want the Google Voice number to ring to. For example: cell phones, home phones, work phones... (You can give this number out to people rather than your home number or vice versa.) You can set up your own voice mail, block calls, and listen to your voice mail from your inbox. Cool? Well, if those features aren't enticing to you, the ability to make free long distance calls should. This is how you make one. Log onto your Google Voice account. Input the number you would like to call and which phone you would like to make the call with (home, cell, work). Google voice will call the phone you selected, you pick up, and wait for Google Voice to connect you. Easy. Oh, and they have really inexpensive international rates too.

To learn more about Google Voice, visit their YouTube channel.

I told you-- They (Google) are taking over the world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

You Can Try Linux!

It started when someone was talking to me about having an old computer and wondering what do with it since the it had so little memory (256 RAM). Well, I told her I thought a Linux operating system (OS) would be a viable option, but that I'd have look into it since I didn't know any off the top of my head.

And so I did a lot of looking, because I confess: this stuff is insanely interesting to me.

Here's what I learned:
  • Did you know you can try a Linux operating system on your computer without having to actually install it?
  • Did you know that there are some pocket size Linux operating systems that you can literally carry with you and use in any computer? --You can basically leave no trace on the computer you used. (Not that I need to be that stealthy, but it's cool).
  • Say your PC crashed and you need to get onto the internet. If you have a Linux OS image on a cd, you can, in many cases boot up your computer with it since it runs off of RAM, not the hard disk (where a virus is).
  • You can run a Linux OS without even having a hard drive on the computer too!
  • You don't even need anti-virus software for Linux! Talk about freedom.
Okay, that's all very cool and intriguing to me. If you aren't intrigued, read no further. If you are, here are the tiny Linux OS images I burned to CD and tried out this week:
You don't really need much to try these out. If you have a CD-R disc or a USB drive, you've got what you need. Now, of course, your computer has to be able to boot from either of these devices as well... so it can't be too ancient. But most computers born within the last 10 years can do this. Each website (Slax and Puppy Linux) have good documentation on how to download and burn the images to a CD or put on the USB drive.

The only really important thing that I ran into was burning the image to my CD. I have XP and it gives you only the option to write the file to a cd, which as I learned, is not the same as burning an image. To do that, I had to download a tiny file called ISO Recorder. It literally took less than a second to download. I used the handy tutorial to copy the image to a CD.

From there, it was just cool. I stuck the CD in my drive, restarted my computer and at the prompt hit F12 (different for different computers) to access the boot menu, chose option 4 (boot from CD). It took about 30 seconds for the Linux OS to boot.

At first glance, both Slax and Puppy Linux are great. Slax recognized my internet connection right away. Puppy Linux did not, but it was easy to set up. I just had to manually tell the OS to probe my computer for a connection. I haven't used either OS a whole lot, right now I think they are both great, though there is something about Puppy Linux I like more... I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's just the cute puppy. :)

Other Thoughts: I was thinking about what this new knowledge does for me. Well, I'll be less hesitant to throw out a computer. Putting a Linux OS on a older computer for my kids would be a very viable option. For someone just needing a computer with just an internet connection and an open source office suite, why spend money on and operating system when there are so many free Linux distributions out there?

Update, April 26, 2011: Since posting this, I have had a few opportunities to help other people with their computers using these live CDs. On the whole, I started to favor Slax over Puppy because it is so good at automatically recognizing an internet connection. That just makes it more user-friendly since most people that have a compromised computer are just dying to have their internet access back. Also worthy of note, if you are trying to use either of these live CDs with a computer that has a wireless connection to the internet, it can get harry. Linux doesn't play really well with wireless connections yet. I say YET. Linux will get there as the demand increases, I am sure.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The ATM Ate My Money...


Ever wonder just how secure your money is once you stick in and envelope and pass it on through the ATM? I have. But it's just an unknown that I'd learned to live with. And I will try to continue to trust that it usually works without kinks... but it might take some time to get over my latest mishap.

A few weeks ago I lost $80 in cash in/at/around/though an ATM. I had gone to an ATM to deposit the money one day and found the ATM under maintenance. I decided not to go into the bank to do the transaction because I had three little children in tow and just didn't want to deal with that. So, I came back the next day instead. I remember pulling my money out, looking around to make sure that no one was watching me, and sticking it in the deposit envelope. I distinctly remember thinking that it was quite interesting that I could just put money in there and it would go to my account without any real evidence that I actually put the money in there. And how does my envelope stay with my transaction info? Oh well, finished the transaction and left.

The Story
About a week later I received a letter from my bank telling me that the deposit envelope was empty and that $80 was deducted from my account. What?! Why didn't they call me before the $80 was deducted? That would have been nice. I felt robbed. As I should. I don't have those $80 anymore. So who does? I figured I had a responsibility to report it. After all, what if this was happening to others? But, I knew that I had no evidence that I put money in the envelope, so the chances were slim that I would get my money back.

I called my local bank branch and they went ahead and credited my account $80 while they conducted an investigation. About a week and a half later I received a letter from the Bank (this is a large bank, so it was from headquarters) telling me that the investigation had been conducted and that the deposit envelope was indeed empty. Therefore, they would be withdrawing the $80 from my account on a future date (in two days... would have been nice to have that warning the first time they took money out!). If I wanted to look at the documentation used in the investigation, the letter said, I could just call their 24 hour number.

At this point, I was consigned to the fact that I'd been robbed and that I would most likely not be getting the money back. But, I was very intrigued as to how such an investigation was conducted so I called the Bank. This is were the fun started. The nice customer service representative told me he had no idea how I could get the investigation documentation and that he didn't know how they investigated these things. He told me to call my local branch. I asked the rep, "What is a person to do? How can they trust ATMs? How can I make sure this didn't happen to me again?" His answer: "Don't use ATMs to deposit money." Okay, I thought that was one of their purposes. Oh well.

I call my local branch. The assistant manager tells me that they don't know anything about the letter that I received and that they don't know how the investigation was conducted either. The lady who was handling my case is on vacation... so they didn't even know that an investigation had been initiated. They tell me they'll call me back. "Wait," I ask, "how often does this happen? Can I trust an ATM again? I was talking to a rep at the 24 hour hotline and he said not to use ATMs to deposit money. Would you agree with that?" Her response: "Absolutely not. Just get to know me." What is that supposed to mean? That would require that I go into the bank to do my transactions, therefore defeating the convenience of an ATM. I didn't press her anymore. She did go on to say that empty envelopes happen quite a bit. Okay... (I'm feeling less and less sure of either my bank branch or ATMs. I'm not sure which.)

I get a call back from the branch manager. She is just as confused as everyone else. I go through the whole story from start to finish. I just tell her that I've come to grips with the fact that I won't get my money, but that I am very curious to know about how the investigation was conducted. She didn't know... after all, she didn't even know that it had been conducted. But, in order to stop spending time on this, I suppose, she called it a loss for the Bank and said she'd make sure the $80 stayed in my account because I'm a "long-time customer" in "good standing." I told her that I had lost my confidence in ATMs and wondered how often this sort of thing happens. She told me that this was the second time she's seen it happen in 23 years. But the the assistant manager said it happens all the time... I didn't tell her that.

The End
I have my $80. I still have no idea how the investigation was conducted... and will probably never know. I have decided that for me personally, I will limit my ATM use because now I'm paranoid. Maybe I'll start using it all the time like I have for the last 13 years once I get over the paranoia.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ironing Large Items Like Drapes


Next time you have a big thing to iron, you might try doing it on the floor instead of an ironing board...

I bought a nice set of drapes for my patio door. I made sure they were machine washable since I didn't want to worry about sending them to the cleaners. The washing part has been fine and dandy, but the ironing part is something I dread. If you've ever tried to iron a large item using a conventional ironing board, you know what I mean. Every bit of newly iron fabric inevitably falls to the floor and gets wrinkled again. Frustrating! Last time I ironed my drapes on the ironing board I timed it. It took over an hour! Sheesh. So, needless to say, when it came time to clean my drapes this year, I was really not looking forward to over an hour of ironing. Then I got smart:

Made sure the kids were out of the way first (napping), and then I spread my drapes on the floor. Just right onto the carpet. I went ahead and set my iron to the correct fabric setting and just ironed the whole thing right on the floor. I had to move the iron to a plug on the other side of the room halfway though since the cord wasn't long enough. But, since I wasn't having to move the fabric over an ironing board, the finished product produced far fewer wrinkles than my original method. My drapes are thick enough, I wasn't worried about melting my carpet underneath. I suppose I could have put down a large cotton sheet between the carpet and the drapes if I felt the need. And the biggest advantage of it all, ironing on the floor took about half the time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Housework on Auto-Pilot


Six months ago I made a New Years Resolution to get the house more organized. Little did I know what a lofty goal this would be... only because it has opened my eyes. I started with little things like organizing the kids toys, the flow of everyday paperwork, and most recently housework.

I have often heard friends of mine describe an elaborate system for keeping their homes clean. It seemed so daunting. I'm not a messy person. I like things clean, but I've never had much of a system for it. I just cleaned as needed. This approach has worked for years. But, I started to notice that some things fell through the cracks. Things like cleaning out the garage, that happen yearly, can easily be forgotten altogether. And when my husband asks what he can do to help, caught of guard, I don't usually have a good answer. And, knowing that the summer is approaching and I'll have four children at home during the day, I wanted to make sure I was equipped to have them help me with the workload. So, I figured it was time to think about housework so that I could stop thinking about it.

Here's what I did:
  • Wrote a list of chores that need to be done regularly, acknowledging that the list would never be complete, but that trying is better than nothing!
  • Separated the tasks into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and semi-annual, and annual categories.
  • Sat at the computer and typed up my "Grand Chore Chart."
    I assigned weekly chores a certain day of the week, taking into account my schedule, and what I can actually do on any given day. For less frequent chores, I took into account, weather, and our family schedule as I assigned certain months for certain tasks.
Here's what I ended up with:
The Grand Chore Chart

I know, a lot of work. But I have heard it said, "the busier you are, the more time you should spend planning." This is true here. I've been running off this chore chart for about three months now. The benefits have converted me.

Benefits:
  • Weekends aren't filled with cleaning because I've taken care of so much of it over the week. Therefore, I'm finding more time to spend with my family.
  • When my husband asks what needs to be done or my children want to earn the right to play the computer or something else, I can quickly tell them what needs to be done.
  • I feel like the time during my day is freed up because I'm not having to think about what I might be forgetting.
  • The kitchen disposal isn't near as disgusting to clean when I do it weekly!
Of course, there are some days when I don't get the allotted tasks done. No biggie. I just catch up or leave them out altogether for the week. After all, since I'm doing them weekly, it's okay if I miss a week.