Things Mom Never Told You, Vol VII.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post on putting together a drip irrigation system for your patio or flower garden to help ensure your flowers and/or vegetables stay watered, even if you’re not around to do it. Well one of the lessons I learned last year is that there IS a limit to what you can do with a very basic set-up and 1/4″ tubing, but fortunately, there is a solution.

I ran into a problem last year that didn’t make itself known right away. It wasn’t until we had transplanted several hosta from our backyard where they weren’t doing much of anything, to the front yard landscaped area next to our sidewalk where our 15-year old shrubs had finally given up the ghost. After pulling out a lot of old, tenacious roots, we added in some lovely soil amendments to break up all the clay we have to deal with, and planted the hosta. I then set about putting my drip irrigation together.

I wanted to really make certain they were well watered, so rather than just use a button dripper with about a 0.5-1.0 gallon per hour (GPH) flow rate, I brought my big guns – the adjustable dripper on a spike that has a flow rate of 0-10 GPH. Sounds really great, doesn’t it? The hanging pot next to our front door already had one, as did the elephant ear plant on the other side of the door. After adding in the new hosta on the right side of the sidewalk, and the 5 new hostas on the left side, for the life of me, I could NOT figure out why I wasn’t getting anything more than a trickle for the last 3 or so hostas, despite having the flow rate on the drippers wide open. It wasn’t until I did some basic math that it all made sense. 8 heads at up to 10 GPH – on tubing that has a max flow rate of 35 GPH – I’d have to turn the rate so low on the plants on either side of the door that they would barely even get watered at all. As my husband is fond of saying, it’s an insurmountable problem, and nothing I could ever do on that setup was going to fix it. I had a similar situation on my patio, with too many drippers for the tubing, and barely being able to get all of my plants watered.

This year, however, I decided to upgrade, and for a small investment and a little planning, I’ve got a far superior set up. I switched over to the DIG products and am running 1/2″ tubing rather than 1/4″. The flow rate for that is 220 GPH.

For a quick visual reference, check out the difference between the two lines. In this picture, coming off the left side of the timer first is the pressure reducer and filter, followed by the new 1/2″ black tubing at the bottom. On the right side of the timer right after the pressure reducer is the original 1/4″ tubing. It really makes it easy to see the difference in the amount of the water that can move through the tubing!

I ran that all the way around the periphery of the patio and then plugged the individual lines for the pots into the tubing. It was so simple to do; all you need is a punch to make the hole in the tubing and the connectors. One end of the connector goes into the 1/4″ tubing, the other into the 1/2″ tubing. On the other side of the 1/4″ I put the appropriate watering head. At the end of the 1/2″ tubing run, I just looped the tubing over on itself and put a zip tie on it to securely kink it closed rather than buy the special gadget they sell for this purpose.

So how small of an investment you wonder? Well I had a lot of the smaller tubing and connections, but the larger tubing and head unit, plus a few connection pieces that I needed cost me around $30. I set it up in an evening, everything went together really quickly. The only problem I had with it, was I got a little carried away on one punch and went out the other side. Fortunately DIG has a solution for that with something called a “goof plug”. It looks like a standard connection plug but it’s solid. You just push it into the spot where you made the mistake and it’s plugged up.

Another addition this year are some micro-spray mister heads from Rain Bird for some of my hanging pots. If I used the adjustable sprayers, it seemed like they got watered, but a lot of the water was also just running through the pot and out the bottom. With the sprayer head it seems now like it’s more evenly dispersed over the whole plant and takes longer before I have run-off of the extra.

The plants are happy, getting watered consistently every day, and I don’t have to run around filling up my watering can. We even buried some PVC pipe under the grass about 4 inches down, with an elbow on each end to bring the pipe up above ground so that I can run 1/4″ tubing from the patio area through that, under the grass and into a different area that we have landscaped. In there I have a couple of other pots to water as well, and they’re now connected to the irrigation system too. So even on really hot days, if I get busy or just don’t want to be outside like last week when the heat index hit 114 degrees, it won’t matter: my system is on a timer and my plants stay happy. Can’t beat that!

It’s the Clock’s Fault!

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed as I’ve been out driving that I seem to be having more near misses when it comes to car accidents. I really don’t think my driving habits have changed significantly, or if they have, I would say I might be driving slightly more “old lady-ish” but that would be about all, and by that I only mean I’m more prone to following the speed limit, not running yellow lights, that sort of thing. But over the last several months I’ve had several close calls where I’ve almost been side swiped (twice), rear-ended at high speeds (twice), lane drifters, and all kinds of other stuff. It’s taken me a while, but I think I am finally figuring out the problem.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that “oh we’re all so busy and in a hurry”, and that might be partly true, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Nor do I think that distracted driving is completely to blame either, although it certainly can take the lion’s share of it. So, my analytical little brain has sat and thought, and thought, and thought about this one.

Having a background in Quality Improvement is interesting. You start to look at things in a different way. For example, in the past you might have thought to yourself “I wonder how my favorite bakery decides on a new cookie to bake?” but now it’s all part of a process. You start with this step, move to the next, then next and voila, new cookie in the market! Or you overanalyze things to find root cause, because you can’t just let ordinary things go – you are compelled to keep asking why.

You know, there’s a new trend in interviewing in business, called Behavioral Based Interviewing and the rationale behind it is that past actions are the best predictor of future behavior. Well, apparently, it’s true, just ask my mom, because I’m fairly certain she’ll tell you I was one of those annoying two-year olds that ran around behind her always asking “why, why, why, why, why?” Of course, in hindsight, perhaps she should have known I’d go into Quality, since the key to doing root cause analysis on a problem is asking “why” 5 times! (Parents, take heart – if you have a toddler like this, quality analysis is a great career field!)

So, as I’ve pondered why I seem to be seeing more near misses, I think I have found the answer. The reason why we’re do busy, why we’re so distracted, is the digital clock. Think about it for a moment. Back when all we used were analog clocks, we were much more likely to live on -ish time. You know what I mean…”what time is it honey?” “It’s 3:30-ish”. Or “when do you think you’ll be leaving work?” “5-ish”. We’d glance at the clock to find out what time it was, respond in relative time frames. You’d see it was getting close to a time you’d need to do something, so you’d act accordingly. If you needed to leave by 4 to get somewhere and you saw this:

You’d think “I’d better get going” and off you’d go. But now, we think in terms of this:

and immediately think “Oh, it’s only 3:54, it takes me maybe 30 minutes to get there and if I push it, I can do it in 28. I’m good, ” and then we dawdle until suddenly it’s this:

…and the next thing you know you’re flying down the road, not paying attention, running nearly red lights and almost sideswiping unsuspecting motorists who are doing the right thing at stoplights by waiting until after the light turns green before preceding into the intersection, when you come along and make a right turn on red without stopping because you dawdled. Again.

When I got an Apple watch, one of the first things I did was to set up a watch face that was analog. I like it so much better than digital, as I really do prefer that sense of “-ish time.” You know what I’m talking about when I use that term, we still have it in our lives, just not as much as we used to. “What time will your party start?” “Oh, 6-ish or so.” Or, “What time is dinner?” “Probably 7-ish”. Better yet, I like the even more vague dark-thirty, as in “the party really got going around dark-thirty”. (Don’t overthink it. If I have to explain it to you, we probably wouldn’t have much fun together at a party anyway.)

I know I won’t change the world and get everyone back to an analog life, but it sure would be lovely if we could figure out how to slow down just a little, and not be so urgent all of the time. Maybe get a little more “ish” back into our lives – in the good way.

Reading and Chasing Squirrels

I’m a voracious reader, always have been. Just ask my mom, she’ll happily tell you about any number of occasions where she had to call my name multiple times to get my nose out of a book and do my chores when I was a kid, and I can honestly say all these years later, not much has changed. Sometimes I read fast, sometimes I go slowly, savoring every word. Recently, I read something written in a style that I’d not tried before, and wow, what an experience it was.

For Christmas this year, I told my husband I wanted “Pioneer Girl”, which is an autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder edited by Pamela Smith Hill, and more specifically, it’s an annotated autobiography. Having never read something annotated before, I didn’t really understand what precisely, that meant.

Now, I’m rather curious and inquisitive by nature. I love learning things, solving puzzles, and am quite certain that I was a child that said “why” far too many times and probably drove my mother crazy. You’d think that reading something annotated would be right up my alley, right? Well yes – and no, and I’ll tell you why.

If you’ve never cracked open a book that is annotated, I’ll tell you what makes it unique. Rather than having the footnotes at the end of the book, they are included throughout the entire text, so that the reader has the additional information about that particular thing that has a notation attached to it, right when you’re reading it. This is good, in that you have the benefit of more context at that moment in time. It’s also bad, because if you’re like me, it can be a little distracting, like when you’re trying to look for a butterfly, and then suddenly I yell “squirrel!!” and all of a sudden, I’m off down the proverbial rabbit trail. Here’s a great example.

One morning I started reading about the family’s move back to De Smet, SD, in 1879. As I saw some maps and photos, I got to wondering how different it looked today as compared to then, and what might still be around, because of course I wasn’t just content to read the book and annotations. Nope, I had to ALSO open Google maps, pull up De Smet on the map, put it in satellite view and start zooming in, then put the little yellow man on the streets and walk around. I had to zoom out again and find the Big Slough, Silver Lake, find out where the Ingalls homestead was, was anything still there? Where was Almanzo’s homestead, is there a marker there? Zoom in, zoom out, fiddle around. Search Google for historical De Smet photos, find ones from the period, was Pa Ingalls store on there? Is it still around? Good grief!!

I’ve done the same thing with other historical places. I think it’s wonderful to be able to find these old photos on the internet, and see what used to be, and how things have changed. I even caught myself doing it again yesterday when we finished watching a wonderful documentary from Ken Burns on the Great Plains in the time of the dust bowl. In the show was narration from a book written by Caroline Henderson, who had purchased land and homesteaded in the early 1900’s before she married (what a woman!). She then married, and she and her husband lived on that land and farmed in the heart of the dust bowl, and she wrote about life during that time. Of course, at the end of the documentary, there I am on Google maps, searching for the Henderson homestead in Oklahoma. Yes, it’s still there but unfortunately, it’s just far enough off main roads that the Google camera hasn’t photographed it.

Did you also know that you can get a “what was there” view using Google Earth Pro? It won’t work with regular Google Maps, you need to use the Google Earth Pro app. Once you find an address, you can use the imagery date slider bar to go back in time to see earlier satellite images of the area. Or course, the older they are, the poorer the imagery is because they didn’t have high resolution satellite photography years ago. You also can’t drop the little yellow Google guy on the street for a street view of yesteryear – it will change to a street view of the most current year’s image. But it’s still fun. I’ve also gotten lost in our state historical society’s online photographic collection, Facebook’s Old Minneapolis page, and a site called Minnesota Reflections. I find that as I dig around one site, I will stumble on something else, and then another and another and suddenly I’ve killed an entire morning, my eyes are blurry from staring at the computer screen and I can’t feel my rear end because I’ve sat for too long. But dang, I sure had fun!

Say What????

When was the last time you really listened to song lyrics from “oldies” songs? No really…truly listened to them? My sister recently had a post on Facebook, referencing the song “Hot Stuff” from Donna Summer, and commented that if our parents had truly listened to those words, well, the high school pep band would NEVER have been allowed to play it. That got me to thinking, what other songs might have lyrics that we never really thought about (maybe because we misheard them, and didn’t have Google at our fingertips to look them up?) So I went in search of lyrics of some of the songs I’ve listened to. Keep in mind I’m a child of the 70’s, I LOVE that music. Oh boy, did I find some online gold!music-notes-clip-art-musical_note_3_clip_art_12287

Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” always was so innocuous, until I heard a station play the album cut of the song, which was not the general radio play version. I about drove off the road when I heard “I had a taste of the real world, when I went down on you girl”. No wonder stations didn’t play the album cut! Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” isn’t much better either.

“Moonight Feels Right” by Starbuck always sounded like he was singing about having sex, although apparently he wrote the song about a woman he wanted to date. He fell for her photo and registered at the college she attended to meet her. After asking her out for the third time, she accepted and that’s when “the wind blew some luck in my direction” Bruce Blackman, the songwriter says. The little novelty song took off in 1976. Yet, when I hear the end of the second verse, it sounds anything but innocent. Next time you hear it, see what you think. I guess he was successful as he married her. But “Afternoon Delight”? Yeah, no way was that innocent.

On the other hand, the guys in Supertramp sang about not getting anything in “Breakfast in America”, with “Take a look at my girlfriend, She’s the only one I got, Not much of a girlfriend, Never seem to get a lot”. Poor guys. I really feel for you.

Back in high school, we drove 8 miles to be able to go roller skating in the next town over. (I realize there are probably a few of you reading this thinking “roller skates? What’s that?” Well, think Roller Blades, but in a rectangular shape instead of in-line.) I can still remember one of our favorite skating songs was Foghat’s “Slow Ride”. Um yeah, about that? The chorus goes like this: “Slow down, go down”. Heck, it was so popular that years later it made it into the soundtrack of “Dazed and Confused”, which is a hoot of a movie about the last day of school in 1975. Not only is it’s soundtrack incredible, but it has up and coming young stars Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey, but I digress. If our parents knew we were skating to that song, we’d probably never have been let out of the house.

“NIght Moves” by Bob Seger is exactly what it sounds like, but I didn’t always quite catch all of that first verse so I looked it up. For those of you who weren’t exactly sure what he was singing about, here ya go:

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants point hardly renowned
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

Journey and Steve Perry (yep, I’m cheating, they’re the 80’s. ) “Anyway You Want It”. Nuff said. But I still love listening to Perry, no matter what.

I know, if you go looking for trouble you surely will find it, right? Kind of like “Lookin’ for Love in all the Wrong Places”.

How about The Partridge Family? I have to admit I had a crush on David Cassidy as a teen, and maybe even a little still as an adult too in spite of his problems as an adult. But completely clean, innocent lyrics that were family friendly? Here’s “Summer Days”:

David_Cassidy

Photo source  Wikimedia Commons 

I feel the sunlight on my face
When I just close my eyes and I trace
The footpath to your daddy’s summer place
Where we spent our early summer days

The hill we climbed that went on forever
We reached the top of the world together

Yeah, you gave your love to me and I remember perfectly
High above all time and space and I remember summer days

Um, yeah. Innocent. Or maybe it’s me. No matter, I’ll still sing this and other Patridge Family songs, or any of the ones I mentioned above out at the top of my lungs, and have fun doing it.

What are your favorite old guilty pleasure songs? Share some of them with me, I’d love to hear some other examples!

 

 

Saving on Prescriptions

No matter which side of the political aisle you sit on, and regardless of whether or not you support or want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, one thing that I think most everyone seems to be in agreement on is that the cost of many of our prescription drugs has gotten out of hand. If you listen to the drug companies, they’ll give you dozens of reasons why that is, and while one or two may have some (and I use some very loosely) validity, most hold water about as well as your grandmother’s colander.

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Illustration courtesy of www.wellnesscorporatesolutions.com

What amazes me however, is that for all of our ability to jump on the internet and rant about it, or tell heart wrenching stories about knowing someone who is rationing medication because they can’t afford it or worse, that someone died because they couldn’t afford their medication, there is still a gap in getting information out to the general public on how to find help to pay for medications. This is an issue that affects so many people, regardless of the kind of job you have, or your insurance because today so many employer driven health plans are high deductible plans, meaning deductibles need to be paid before the co-pays kick in and medications are a part of paying deductibles. I don’t know if it’s just that people don’t think there is anything out there for assistance, or it just doesn’t occur to them to look, but there are a number of ways that you may be able to find help with paying for medications, and I’ll share a few of them here that I’ve learned about. Please understand that this list isn’t an exhaustive list, nor am I receiving any kind of remuneration for mentioning any resources. Rather I’m an RN and former case manager, and want to try to share a little of what I’ve learned over the past months and years.

One of my “go-to” resources is GoodRx. This is a free site/app that is available to anyone, and you may have even seen one of their displays in your doctor’s office (their cards have a yellow strip across the top). While GoodRx will tell you it’s not insurance, for most of us out here it sort of acts a lot like it. To get an ID number than can be used by everyone in the family, just grab one of the cards, or go to their website and sign up for free. Once you sign up you can download the app and log into that and you’re all set to go, it will link to the account you signed up to online and provide the ID number back to the app. Show the number on your app to your pharmacy. They will run your prescription through GoodRx and apply any discounts. Some are more substantial than others, and you should only have to do it the first time you fill a prescription with it. I generally ask if the price of the drugs seems higher than I expect, just to be sure as once in a while they forget, but most of the time they do it automatically as it’s in the system.

After downloading the app on your phone, you can enter the name and dose of any drug, add your zip code and it will look up the cost of the drug at pharmacies in your area (you can also do this on the website). Where that can be helpful is if you’re sitting in your doctor’s office, and you know you have something that’s expensive, your doctor can send that prescription to the pharmacy where you’ll get the deepest discount.

Two others that you can try are SingleCare.com and Easydrugcard.com. While I haven’t used either of these, I do know they are out there. An internet search on “discount pharmacy cards” or “discount prescription program” will bring up others as well. One caveat to using GoodRx, and I suspect the other programs, is that you can only use them in conjunction with commercial insurance (meaning, you need to be insured with your employer). If you have some sort of state plan like Medical Assistance or Medicare, you generally can’t use the discount cards.

Another way you may be able to save on the cost of medication is directly from the manufacturer. I recently wanted to refill a medication that I knew would cost me over $600 with the discount card! Since that was cost-prohibitive for us right now, I went to the manufacturer’s website, and found a coupon there that would allow me to get the medication for $15!  If I remember correctly, there was a limit on the number of refills per year, but that was fine as I don’t refill it frequently so I would have been able to work with that. (I ended up not using it, as we had an insurance change before I could fill it.)

A final possibility is with your pharmacy directly, and this was a new one to me. You can’t turn on television, radio or hop on the internet these days without hearing about the Opioid crisis, and some of the steps that are being taken to combat it are moving closer to our everyday lives. Some pharmacies are now not honoring the discount cards for any drugs that would fall into what the FDA has classified as a “scheduled” drug, meaning they watch how it’s dispensed more closely as it has some level of potential for abuse. There are five levels of scheduled drugs, with things like Heroin and Ecstasy being Level I and Robitussin with Codeine being Level V, to give you an idea. However, I know of at least one pharmacy that developed their own discount coupon so that their clients would still be able to afford the medication.

I know that this isn’t an exhaustive help list, and folks are still likely to fall through the giant crevices in our healthcare system. But please, share this with everyone you know, so that if it helps just a few people better afford their medication, it’s worth it.

Winter Driving Delights

If you’ve been reading this for any length of time, you know that I live in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, 12 million mosquitos and snow. Depending on the year, we might get a little, or maybe like ocean waves, every 7th year or so, a lot. (I don’t know, I made that up. Don’t look it up.) But whether it’s a little or a lot, we always get some, and one thing is always a given: the first few snowfalls will always confound drivers, because of course none of us can remember how to drive in snow from the last time we did 6 or 8 months ago. In a typical year, however, after those first few snowfalls, we usually settle in nicely and have figured it out.

Something is different about this year, and I’m not sure what. I don’t know if it’s because we’re getting higher than usual amounts of late season storms, or if it’s because when it’s not snowing it’s been absurdly cold. You may have even seen stories of folks who ended up in the ER because they tried to turn boiling water into snow. Apparently everyone has seen the beautiful photo or video someone shot of a woman doing this while she was backlit against either a sunrise or sunset, throwing the boiling water over her head in an arc. Now everyone wants to do this and get a photo. The problem with it is, when not done properly it’s a wonderful way to get first, and even second degree burns. Take a note: DON’T DO THIS!! AND DON’T LET YOUR KIDS DO THIS, NOT MATTER HOW MUCH THEY BEG!! Throw the water away from you. It’s still a really cool science experiment.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 8.06.56 AMI also wonder if we suddenly have had a bumper crop of idiots that have moved here, or if I’m just becoming an old fuddy duddy, but it seems to me with each new storm, I see really stupid people out who have no business driving. With all due respect to Bill Engvall, I really want to say to them, “Here’s your sign”.

I started a part time job last fall and work Friday nights until 9. It seems like there have been several storms on those nights, and so I as I’m cautiously driving home, appropriately slowing down on snow-packed roads, there are cars whizzing by me at normal highway speeds. I have all-wheel drive in my car and I’m not comfortable going that fast on a snow-packed road, because I don’t know where there may be a slippery or icy spot, and even though I have anti-lock brakes, who the heck wants to use them? Last Friday, in the midst of yet another storm, I counted at least 6 places where I could see cars had either gone into a ditch or crossed the median. 6! What is wrong with people? This isn’t rocket science, as my husband says, it’s just understanding the co-efficient of friction. When he said that I had about the same reaction you likely just did, so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, “The coefficient of friction depends on the objects that are causing friction. The value is usually between 0 and 1 but can be greater than 1. A value of 0 means there is no friction at all between the objects.”  In this case the objects are the rubber tires on your car, and the ice on the road. Rubber on dry asphalt has a value of 0.7, and rubber on ice has a value of 0.15, meaning there is a lot less friction, i.e. no flipping ability to stop when it’s icy out! (Here ends your physics lesson for the day.)

I think what seems so odd, is that this is normally what we see in the first weeks of winter, not in the last gasps of it. By this time we’re typically have learned to play nice on the winter roads, and not act like grade school brats. I do get it; we’re all impatient for spring. I’ve ordered my tomato plant seeds and am already planning for getting those started, and am trialing landscaping software so that I can start planning some new areas in our yard as well. But I want to be alive and healthy to enjoy those things. I’m chomping at the bit to get flowers on my patio again this year, and last year for my birthday hubby bought me a hammock. This year I’m getting a stand for it, and I can’t wait to just lay there with a good book, a glass of wine and chill out. If you kill me, and deprive me of those pleasures, I will seriously haunt you and your family for eternity.

Crack Goes the House!

It’s been a weird couple of days here in the Midwest, with the coldest temperatures and wind chills in memory testing even the heartiest of souls. “Stay inside!” the meteorologists all implored. “Don’t go anywhere unless you absolutely must!” Well alrighty then, all good Minnesotans replied, as we essentially shut down our state for about 40 hours. Starting last week Tuesday afternoon, as the mercury fell and wind chills began hitting -30 to -40 degree below zero (yes, you’re reading that correctly),  businesses closed and sent employees home, posting notices on websites and Facebook pages that they would’t reopen until Thursday morning. Schoolchildren got another winter day off from school as parents who were considered essential workers and didn’t get to stay home from work scrambled to make arrangements for what to do with their kids. School bus drivers in rural areas breathed a sigh of relief that they were given one less white knuckle driving day with high winds and poor visibility.

If you’ve never experienced this bone biting cold, consider yourself lucky. Going out to get the garbage can is an adventure, necessitating multiple layers of fleece, wool, down and other protective gear. I take care of my neighbor’s dogs several days a week, letting them out midday, and I have to selfishly say getting texts from them saying they were working from home this week and there wasn’t a need for me to run over was a gift!

There is a really interesting phenomenon that happens with temperature drops, something my husband and I discovered a few years ago. It seems to only happen when the temperature get below about -20, so it’s infrequent, and if you’ve never had this happen before, it can scare the daylights, or in our case nightlights, out of you. The first time it happened, it was probably around midnight, and we’d just been asleep a short time when there was this loud “crack”! that startled us both out of sleep. Asking each other “did you hear that?” and “what the hell?” we got up, looked around and found nothing. A short while later it happend again…and again. About a half dozen times during the night, scaring us half to death each time. It was so loud, if you can imagine someone throwing a baseball at the side of your house, that’s about how it sounded. At the time we didn’t have any idea what it was.

Since then, I’ve learned that it’s something that happens when it gets very cold in winter.

From an article at CBS Local:

Joe Nelson owns Twin City Home Remodeling. He says our houses are made of all different materials — steel, concrete, vinyl – and all of these materials expands and contract as the temperatures change.

Huge temperature drop-offs like we’ve seen recently cause all those materials to contract.

“When they rub up against each other or misplace, they’re going to pop,” Nelson said.

Well, this week with the dropping temps it happened again. Fortunately it was during the day this time, but startling nonetheless.

I also read that one of the major fuel suppliers in the state had so much difficulty keeping up with the demand for natural gas that they had to ask customers all over the state to reduce consumption and keep their homes at 63 degrees this week. Folks, that’s NOT very warm. To remain comfortable at that temperature, you’ll need sweaters, blankets, warm socks and slippers and even then you might be chilled. But we Minnesotans are tough and hearty, and we do what we must. So we lower our thermostats, and bundle up a bit more. It’s a darn good thing we did, too, because the wind chill was as cold as I’ve seen it since I was much, much younger. Here’s how cold:

IMG_2904Note that the actual temperature was probably ONLY about -32 degrees. It just felt like -52 with the wind chills. Just. Brrrr. What’s really bizarre was that the next day was  24 degrees. Above zero. That’s a 50 degree swing in two days, and wow, it hit 36 on Sunday!

I also heard that the Governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin declared that he thinks we’re getting soft (the country, not necessarily Minnesota) because “school districts were being too “soft” on kids when they canceled classes due to chilly weather.” He later said he was being only “slightly facetious”. Well @govmattbevin, feel free to join us up here any time in January, in your bermuda shorts and flip flops, since you seem to think that it’s not so very cold. Personally, I think you spoke on a topic that you have little to no knowledge on. But I’m sure someone here could take you ice fishing (without an ice house!), teach you about the great outdoors in Minnesota in winter. We’ll see who’s soft. I’m guessing Governer Bevin lasts less than the time it takes a fish to bite.

 

Selling on eBay, or How to Make Some Pocket Change

About a year ago, I was looking at some of the stuff we had laying around the house that didn’t sell after a garage sale. I was thinking to myself what a metric crap-ton of work holding a garage sale is, and surely there must be an easier way to get rid of stuff and still make money at it, when it dawned on me…

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I started doing a bit of research, and since then have sold quite a few things on the site. I didn’t find a lot of helpful info on eBay’s site, nor did I stumble on a blog like this one so much of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error. So I thought I’d put down some of my lessons learned, and hopefully a few folks will find them helpful.

  1. Do Your Homework on Pricing. When I say this, I absolutely DO NOT mean just find out what items like yours are listed for. You need to find items that are a) identical to yours (or as close to it as possible),  b) compare what condition they are in, c) check the box on the left side of the page that says SOLD and d) be aware if the seller offered free shipping or not. Why are all of these important? Well, first you need to compare like to like, and find out if the site is oversaturated with items like yours. If so, you might have a tougher time selling. And it really doesn’t matter if someone is asking $49.95 for something just like yours, when all the others are selling for $15.00, and they’re in better condition than the item you have, or if everyone else offered free shipping. These are things you’ll need to factor into setting your price point.
  2. Be Honest With Yourself (And Your Buyers) About the Condition of the Item. If everyone else is selling something that is in an original box, and yours isn’t, you won’t get the same price. The same goes for scratches, tears, chips, etc.
  3. Take Excellent Photographs. For the love of God, I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen people put items up for sale with out of focus photos. Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 8.20.21 AMYou can see an example of one on the right that I copied from eBay (with all apologies to the photo owner). What’s that supposed to show me? The background competes with the item, so that’s the first problem, and the camera focused on the background so the watch is blurred. If I’m going to ask a complete and total stranger to put their faith in me, and buy something they can only see in photos, the least I can do is take decent ones for them to see what they are getting. What works best for me, is that I set up a small area in my house when I’m getting things ready for sale, and depending on what they are, or how much detail is needed, I might even set up some studio type lighting or put a macro lens and ring flash on my camera so that I can take really good close ups. Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 8.26.26 AM                             Here is one of mine:  Notice how you can see all the detail on the back of the watch, including that there are minimal scractches?  I realize not everyone has the capabilities for the same set up I do, but everyone should be able to find a way to take a photo that is sharp and clear. Also, remember to take pictures from different perspectives: front and back, sides, underside, etc. Show brand names, model numbers, anything that shows specifics about your item.
  4. Give Details in the Description. Tell folks what you’re selling – provide sizes, measurements, colors, even year it was made. I bought an inexpensive digital calipers from Harbor Freight, and have used that to measure things like case depth and lug width on watches.  Think about what makes your item different or stand out, and include that in the listing.
  5. Consider Shipping Options. Are you offering free shipping? If so, that means you’re paying the postage for the item, which means depending on which option you select for shipping for them could be costly. I knew I wasn’t going to do this full time, and was only going to sell a little bit, so free shipping wasn’t a good option for me. I elected to have my buyers pay, but I offer them 2 options. The first is USPS Parcel Select, which is the cheapest, and the second is UPS Ground. In order to do this, however, you need to have your item pre-packaged and weighed BEFORE you list it for sale. I’m lucky in that my husband has access to boxes in a wide variety of sizes that would be otherwise tossed out, so we recycle them for shipping. He also has access to bubble wrap that would be recycled as well. Both of those have allowed us to not have to purchase shipping containers. If you do, you either need to know that cuts into what you make on your sales, or you’ll have to estimate those costs and add to the sale of your item as a fee. NOTE: When I weigh my items, I just use a kitchen/food scale. I enter the weight into the eBay listing tool as a range, so if something weighs 2 lb 4 oz, I enter it as 2-3 lb. You also need to know the dimensions of your box as you’ll have to put that in as well. If you don’t, the system puts in a default and if your item is larger, then you’ll eat the cost when you get to the post office.
  6. Auction vs Buy It Now. It depends. I go back and forth, and it just depends on what other items like mine have been when they sold. If most were Buy It Now, then I list mine like that. If you decide to do Auction, you have several options for the length of time to leave your auction open. If you set up items as Buy It Now, and you notice they aren’t selling, you can always drop the price.
  7. Offering Returns. I generally don’t for a couple of reasons. First, I want the darn thing out of my house and don’t want it back. Second, I know that what I’ve sold will work as I have stated it will, and I know that I pack things to not break during shipping. That being said, there have been a few times I have offered it, and when I do I add a disclaimer that says “If you wish to return an item, please reach out to me directly first and let me know the reason for the return. All items must be returned in the same condition in which they were shipped out in order to receive a refund. Return shipping to be paid by buyer.” 
  8. Don’t Wait to Ship. I try to ship orders out within 24 hours of purchase, and have a 100% satisfaction rating from my buyers. They trusted me enough to buy from me and send me money, the least I can do is to ship out their purchase timely.
  9. Watch Your Messages. If you’re selling lots of things you’ll find that the 30 free listings that eBay allows you each month can go quickly, however they will periodically send out a time limited offer with additional free listings. If you don’t respond to the email fast enough to claim the offer, it’s gone. So far I haven’t figured out how to auto forward messages from my eBay inbox to my regular email provider, so I need to just log into eBay and look there.
  10. eBay vs Goodwill. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The challenge with eBay is figuring out when to stop relisting items that didn’t sell, and just give it to Goodwill (or some other appropriate charitable organization.) Just because it didn’t sell the first time, doesn’t mean it won’t. I just sold something after about the 4th or 5th relist…yes, I had to drop the price a few times on it, but it did finally sell. On the other hand, I have stoneware dishes that aren’t selling after 5 relists. It’s probably time to quit relisting those, take them to Goodwill and get the tax deduction instead.
  11. Documentation. I didn’t make a spreadsheet initially, and discovered that once the listing is done after a short period of time you can’t go back and find it if you wanted to copy the info you had in it, like a really clever description. So now I have everything on a spreadsheet including descriptions, and what the size and weight of the boxes are as I keep my items stored in a crawl space until they sell. It’s a lot easier to reference the spreadsheet to relist items than it is to crawl around in the crawl space. I also have a regular document that includes statements like the return items disclaimer that I can copy and paste into listings, such as a statement to link listings with similar items.

A couple of final thoughts…most of us aren’t going to get rich selling things on eBay. If you go into this thinking you will, you’ll get frustrated very quickly. What you will get is a little pocket change, and a cleaner house as you get rid of that stuff that’s been hanging around forever, for God knows what reason. Have fun with it, but stay realistic.

Things Mom Never Told You, Vol VI.

Reusing Razor Blades…

Have you ever used a single edged razor blade around the house for projects? I do all the time, from scraping my glass top stove to scraping paint off woodwork, and in the past I’ve used a razor until it seems dull, then tucked it into the plastic container it came in, on the “dispose” side until it was full and then tossed it. But I got to thinking, “isn’t that a waste? Can’t I sharpen them?” Guess what, it turns out you can! IMG_2542Get a blade sharpening kit, or if you already have a whetstone then get honing oil. You can see in the photo to the left, my whetstone with oil on it after I had sharpened a few blades along with my razor blade collection. (I managed to pull them back out of the plastic container with a tweezers. Carefully.)

After putting some oil on the stone I took the blade, and swirled it on the stone in the oil a bit, then held the blade at about a 20-30 degree angle, and pulled it backwards against the stone.IMG_2543 In the photo to the right, that would be pulling the blade from right to left. I did that on each side about 6-8 times, then wiped off the oil and  tested it by pulling it against the edge of a piece of paper. After all were sharpened, I put them back in the storage container, and labeled it so I knew they were sharpened but not new.  Now I’m all set with 14 freshly sharpened blades, and all it took was a kit we already had, and maybe 30 minutes to do all of them. And if you’re really in a rush, you can just pull them against some sandpaper. I used some 100 grit, that worked pretty well too.

Sparkling Porcelain…

Ever wondered how to get stains out of the toilet bowl, especially those under the rim? Pumice stones are apparently an insider trick of the housecleaning trade, according to the folks at Real Simple Magazine, who compiled a great list of 12 Things Only Professional Cleaners Know.  I’ve been using these for a while now, and they really do get the nasty stains out of the bowl, making it sparkling white again. Just make sure you get the stone wet first, or you can scratch the bowl. The article has some other really helpful tricks, well worth a read.

Winter Over Plants…

If you’re like me, you have plants that move from outside to inside over the winter, and of course that means a big adjustment for those poor plants in terms of available sunlight. Even if you have plants that stay inside year round, as we move through the months into winter, there is less available sunlight, and plants can get starved for sun (and really, who can’t, for the love of Pete, which is a different issue that can be solved with a plane ticket to Key West, but I digress). After a few weeks, plants can start to look pretty pathetic. An easy solution is to get grow lights for them, and the ones that are out now are so much better than the old ones that we used to use. Back in the day we used to get cool and warm fluorescent lights, which would cover the spectrum of light wavelengths needed to best simulate sunlight. Then they came up with a bulb that was in the shape of a floodlamp that was specifically for plants and had the right spectrum in one bulb. You can still get the floodlamp bulb in an LED style, which is really great and saves money, but even better you can now get one in a regular light bulb shape, which, if you’re geeky like me is known as an E26. There are a number of different brands, Feit is the one I have, which is what I’ve shown here with the green base.

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You can see it looks like a regular light bulb, which is nice if you have some sort of directional light like one that clamps on, that you can put it into and aim it at the plant.

 

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I took a picture of the bulb from the top (not quite centered, hence it looks slightly skewed) so you can see how they get the spectrum of both cool and warm light covered. It’s amazing what a difference it makes on my plants, and I can even keep my hibiscus blooming most of the winter with this. Add in a timer, and you’re good to go!

 

My promise: I will never share something with you that I haven’t personally tried. I won’t tell you it works if I can’t prove it. Where possible I will share photos or a video. If something is an epic fail, well I’ll tell you that too as I think that is just as valuable, even if I end up looking ridiculous doing it.

Spoooook-takular Delights

My husband is rather clever and creative, and when it comes to Halloween has a little bit of a kid left in him. Last year he started building a nifty little decoration, and this year he was able to get it completed.  I can’t wait until it’s dark tonight, and the kiddos start coming around and see this:

 

Next year I may try to paint a backdrop of a ship’s deck for it too, and add one of those fog machines. Maybe some old spooky music too!

Of course we also have a talking pirate skeleton with a parrot on it’s shoulder, one that has a sensor that make it talk when someone walks by. It scares the devil out of the little ones, and I know at least one kid will leave our front step crying tonight. Then they’ll just be getting over that trauma, and go to the next door neighbor’s where a giant spider will leap out at them. Maybe we ought to be handing out kleenex and diapers with the candy. Between 75 and 85 kids will be here soon, and at least one will bawl.

Isn’t Halloween great?