Thursday, April 29, 2010

Baby Books in a Snap

I've been pretty diligent at keeping a history for my children, so they have something to enjoy when they are older. With my first son, back in 35 mm camera days, I just used a three-ring binder, card stock in sheet protectors, and photo corners for his baby book. I just attached certain pictures to pages, wrote a bit if a caption and done. No scrap booking for me. I not into it. the process was still more time consuming than I would have like, though. Then, with my second child, a friend of mine who was really, really into scrapbooking, made a scrapbook for me. All I had to do was cut out pictures, glue them in and write a caption. It was easy enough.

With my twins, we finally got a digital camera. I found that as a result, I was printing fewer photos. But, I was uploading photos to my computer, typing in captions and organizing them. I started to wonder how I would handle their baby books. Since there were two to worry about, it had to be easier than anything I'd done.

So I turned to online photo services: Snapfish and Shutterfly. I ended up ordering my photobooks through Snapfish because the price was less and I liked the whole story board set up better. Just a matter of personal preference, I guess. I had both books done and ordered in a day and a half. It was simple. I went through my archive of photos for the first year of their lives, selected the ones I wanted to include, put them in a folder and uploaded them to Snapfish. My biggest complaint here is that neither Snapfish nor Shutterfly (I chatted with costumer service reps from both companies) manages to keep the Picasa captions associated with pictures after the upload. This is a huge drawback to me since I use the desktop Picasa app to edit and organize my photos before I upload them anywhere. So, I had to retype captions for the pictures, which is my only complaint with the whole process.

$40 for two 20-page photobooks later, I waited for the books to arrive in the mail. About a week and a half later, they came. The moment of truth! And I was happy with the books, the print quality, the quality of the cover and binding, everything.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Finding the Cheapest Land-line Available

I am getting dangerously close to ditching my land-line completely. :) You know, going the VOIP route for my phone service. But, while I am still in the research phase, thought I'd share something I learned. If the idea of going land-line free makes you queezy, there is the option of having your land-line for a backup at lower rate than even the basic service. Normally, you have to call your phone company up to get the details and rates since it's not something they advertise. I did this just because I was curious.

Case in point: My phone company is Qwest. Their advertised basic phone package (unlimited local calls, with hefty long distance fees) is currently $16.95 a month. When I talked with a customer service rep, I learned that I could get measured service for $10.52 a month, with free inbound calls. Out bound calls would be 5 cents a minute for the first minute and 2 cents a minute for every minute thereafter. Of course there are still all the ridiculously high federal taxes and surcharges too which would probably add another $15-20 onto the bill (even more than your phone line! Insane?).

Conclusion: It's still really, really expensive to have a land-line.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to Email a Text Message to a Tracfone

I find texting tedious. I think that thumbs are for the space bar, not every key on a cell phone's key pad. Be that as it may, texting is a useful thing. Sometimes I find that it is easier to type up an email and then send it to my phone (directions, shopping list, etc.). These days sending a text via email is getting pretty easy to do. For instance, in Yahoo! Mail you can send a text message just by clicking on the drop down box by "New" and select "Text Message." From there, you simply type in the 10 digit cell phone number you want to text, write your message and hit send. EASY! Unless you have a Tracfone (I do, by the way, and I really like it!) . . . I tried just typing in my Tracfone's number, writing a quick message and sending it. It could not be delivered. Well, I could not stand for this, so I found a way around it.

Tracfone uses a bunch of different carriers, depending on which part of the country you are and this is why my messages couldn't be delivered with just my number. But, all is not lost. This handy-dandy web site allows you to find out what carrier your Tracfone uses. Simply click on the link by "Tracfone," enter the Tracfone number you wish to learn about. The results will likely be some big carrier like Verizon, or in my case, AT&T. Now, knowing that, I go back to the said website to find out what my address is. Under AT&T, I find that the my address would be: This means, you basically have an email address for the cell phone. A handy thing to know, I think.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lemon Bars That Still Taste Wonderful

I snagged this recipe from Prevention Magazine (made a few minor changes, of course!). I think it's a pretty lame magazine on the whole (sorry, I do) but I do like one section where they take a recipe and make it healthier. They did this with Lemon Bars. I'm a sucker for these. So, I had to try it. And yes, it is good. It's got half the sugar and half the fat of regular Lemon Bars. Would have taken a picture, but they were gone too fast.

Lemon Bars

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 sugar
1/4 tea salt
1/2 cup butter

3 eggs
1/2 lemon juice
1/4 tea baking powder
1/4 cup flour

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For crust mix flour, sugar, salt and cut in butter until a crumbly dough forms. Press into 9 X 13 inch greased pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients for filling. Pour lemon mixture onto the lightly cooled crust. Bake for 20 minutes or until filling is lightly firm and not liquid. Allow to cool and cut into bars. Dust lightly with confectioner sugar if desired.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Course, Another Child With Trigger Thumb!

Just call us the Poster Trigger Thumb Family. My oldest daughter has just finished much of her recovery from her bilateral trigger thumb surgery (both thumbs). I also have fraternal twin daughters. 18 months ago, when they were born, my husband and I jokingly checked the thumbs of the twins to make sure that they were both straight. Because really, what were the odds that we'd have another child with the same problem? Hee hee. Ha ha. Ho ho.

Fast forward 18 months later. I'm clipping one of the twin's fingernails. I noticed a bit of a pop when I try to get my daughter to hold her right thumb still. She cries a bit. Oh no! I thought. Could this be trigger thumb? I checked her left thumb. It was locked in a bent position, going nowhere. I felt the bases of each thumb and sure enough, they both have the tell-tale knob on the tendon. What of the other twin? She's good; no little knob-ies. I like to think she takes after me.

You'd think that because I have already gone through this with one daughter, it wouldn't really be a big deal to me. And it really isn't. It's not life threatening. It's no emergency. But... I start thinking: Am I producing genetically inferior children? I've got four and 50% of them have trigger thumb! Oh well, they are really super cute, so I can get over the fact that we don't have designer children.

So, I call my eldest daughter's orthopedic surgeon. I just want to know if there is anything we can do, or if we just wait. Really, I know the answer. In many cases, trigger thumb can correct itself by age two. But since my daughter has a left thumb that is already locked and the right thumb that is well on its way to becoming locked (I'll be surprised if it doesn't), surgery will be the only option for her if I want her to be able to straighten her thumbs. And depending on the surgeon, they don't like to do it until 2-4 years of age. So, for now, we wait.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Self Opening Scissors For Kids

I was visiting with my daughter's occupational therapist the other day. I asked about the difficulty my daughter has with opening scissors. The therapist suggested I purchase some self opening scissors to help her out. Because my daughter's ligaments are very loose, self opening scissors will protect her from hyper-extending her joints. I never knew self opening scissors existed.

Pictured above: Fiskars spring action scissors for preschoolers for $3.50 at Amazon. I will be ordering some and we'll give it a try.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to Preheat Oven Faster

Ideally we preheat our ovens while we're mixing or preparing the food. But there are those times when we just forget and/or are short on time. So, here's a tip to cut oven preheat time in half... at least.

1. Turn on oven to broil.
2. Set timer for 3-5 minutes. (depends on your oven and how hot you want it to get)
3. After timer goes off, take off broil and set oven at desired temperature. Oven should give you the signal (beeping, or a light) within a few seconds to let you know that it is preheated.

Easy as that. My oven preheats in about 10-15 minutes depending on the temperature, so using the above preheat method, I can cut the preheat time to 3-4 minutes. Of course, I'd rather just remember to preheat while I'm cooking, but this trick can come in handy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making Vanilla Yogurt

I've been making yogurt on and off for some years now. I would like to say I'm a pro at it, but I keep learning something new. So what's new now? I finally made a premixed flavored yogurt using a start other than plain yogurt. Now, normally I use plain yogurt as my start (with active cultures, of course) because that is what the recipe says to use. The grocery store that I currently shop at only carries plain yogurt in a large container. That sort of bugged me since all I really need is about 1/2 cup for a start. So, I got to thinking, why can't I get a small container of the flavored stuff and use it as a start?

Not only do most yogurt recipes say to use plain yogurt for a start, they also say to flavor the yogurt after it has incubated and then been refrigerated. Well, I really wanted to try to make a premixed yogurt just like you can get at the store. And, in short, I found that it can be done! My picture above is proof. It's vanilla yogurt with chopped strawberries.

First, I tried making vanilla yogurt with a vanilla yogurt start. It worked wonderfully. Then I got adventurous and used the vanilla start to make blueberry yogurt (using 1/4 cup crushed blueberries) and that turned out lovely! So, now I'm going crazy with yogurt experiments. There are plenty of yogurt lovers in the house, so this works for us.

Vanilla yogurt recipe:

3.5 cups milk (skim, 1%, 2% or whole)
1/3 cups powdered milk
1/4 cup sugar or other sweetener
1-2 teaspoons vanilla (depends on how much flavor you like)
1/2 cup yogurt (plain or any flavor, just has to have active cultures)


Combine milk, powdered milk, and sugar in a microwave safe container. Stir. Microwave on high for 7-9 minutes (depends on the microwave) until mixture is about 185 degrees (Fahrenheit). This doesn't have to be exact, but just has to be below 212 degrees (boiling point). Stir the mixture once half-way through heating. **It's pretty important when heating milk to stir it and make sure you don't let it get too hot. Once I took my hot milk out of the microwave after microwaving it a bit too long and put a spoon in it and the hot milk blew up at me and burned my hand. So please be careful!** Let mixture cool to 100-110 degrees. This takes about 15 minutes when I put it in a sink of cold water. I set the timer... if you let it get too cool, just stick in the microwave to get the temperature back up in the right place. In your yogurt container, stir in vanilla flavoring and yogurt start. Add a bit of warm milk, whisk away lumps and add the rest of the milk. Whisk until smooth. It's important make sure the yogurt is blended fully, no lumps. Now it's time to incubate. I have a Salton yogurt maker that I use. You can also use an oven at 100 degrees. There are other incubation methods too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An Anti-Virus Switch: AVG to AVAST!

Ever since AVG 9 came out, I've been having problems. First thing I noticed was that my web searches were at a crawl with the AVG link scanner. So, I disabled link scanner. That fixed it. After another AVG update I noticed that I couldn't get on Twitter or Gmail. Each time I tried, Firefox crashed. Now I was getting a bit irritate. I have liked AVG for a quite a few years... but loyalty is a funny thing in the tech world. I can turn on anything if it starts to decrease my productivity. So the seeds of disloyalty were sewn.

Now, I did try to look for help on AVG forums and other tech forums on the web. Others were having similar problems. They seemed to be related to a Firefox ad-on or a ZoneAlarm issue. But, it was never really pinpointed. I got tired of waiting for a fix from AVG.

I made the switch to AVAST! Why? Because its name is also a really cool pirate term, of course. That, and it's free and has positive user reviews. I've been using AVAST! for a week now. I really like its user interface. It is far more customizable than AVG was with scans and other settings. The program even talks. Said something about how my "virus definitions were up to date." The first time it did it, I was pretty weird-ed out, but I got over it. AVAST! does real-time scans too. It's pretty nice. My biggest beef with AVAST! is that it hogs system resources more than AVG did. This wouldn't be a big deal if I didn't have a 7 year-old computer! So, I guess the time is coming closer that I will break down and get another computer. Anyway, AVAST doesn't slow things down near as bad as Norton did, but I there is still a noticeable slowing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Not An April Fools Joke, But Funny Anyway

Rep. Hank Johnson for Georgia's Fourth Congressional District worries that Guam might "tip over." Now, to his credit, he said he wasn't being literal, but it's a funny clip. How was no one not laughing?