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!

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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.

Things Mom Never Told You, Vol IV

…How to Cheaply Make Homemade Magic Erasers!

It seemed like every time I turned around, I was seeing another use for Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser sponge. “Get marks off your walls!” “mystery marks on cabinets? No problem!” and best of all, “scuff marks on patent leather go away so easily with the Magic Eraser” (it’s true, they do. When I was traveling for business I kept a small one in my wheeled computer bag for my work shoes.) But if you use these, you also know they can get expensive, as they also magically disintegrate and disappear with use.  At Target, Walmart, and Amazon, a 4 pack of the “original but 2x stronger” (if it’s 2x stronger, then how is that the original, but i digress) costs .87¢ a sponge. That adds up fast! So when I stumbled on an article about making your own for a whole lot cheaper, I thought I’d give it a try. I ordered melamine sponges from Amazon, and then made up a solution of warm water, Borax and baking soda. (1/2 cup warm water, 1 tsp Borax and 1 Tbsp baking soda.) After those were mostly dissolved in the water I dunked the sponge in the water, let it absorb the liquid then squeezed most of it out and tested it on some marks I found on a lamp. This is a free standing gooseneck floorlamp that I use for crafting, and my husband looked at it yesterday and wanted to know how I’d scratched it so badly.

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After using my homemade magic eraser:

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Estimated cost for my eraser? .59¢ for the sponge, 1.2¢ for the baking soda and <1¢ (.006 actually!) for the Borax for a total of under 61¢. Now I can guess what you’re thinking…20¢ isn’t a huge amount to save, and you could be right, especially if you’re a fanatic about coupons. But here’s the thing about that. I only bought a small bag of them because I didn’t want to be stuck with a huge container if this was a fail. I’ll keep working with them a bit but so far I’m happy with it. Assuming it does work well, you can get a bag of 100 for 7.59, which comes out to 7.5¢ per sponge, bringing your total cost per sponge, soda and Borax to less than 9¢. (And you can get more than one sponge saturated with the amount of liquid, so it’s really even cheaper than that!) As my husband and I like to joke around with each other, “How do ya like me now?”

…How to Clean Grippy Rubber

 Note: Includes an update on the homemade magic eraser. Have you ever had something with black rubber grippy stuff on it that has gotten really nasty? We had a remote control that was just plain gunky, covered with dust, cat hair and lord knows what else. After a fair amound of research, it seemed the best thing to use to clean it was WD40. So I tried putting that on my finger, then rubbing it on the rubber. I tried first wiping it off with a soft cloth, that didn’t work. I reapplied it and let it sit for a while, then wiping it off, that didn’t work either, still gunky. Third time I reapplied and let it sit, then came back and cleaned it off with my magic eraser. It completely removed the gunk. Disclaimer, it also did remove the grippiness of the rubber, which is probably from the abrasive action of the sponge. But you have to ask yourself if the trade-off was worth it, and for me the answer is “yes”. The alternative was not touching the remote, as the “eww” factor was getting up there.  (I also have tried cleaning grippy black rubber on something else with a store bought magic eraser and no WD40, didn’t work well at all.)

Extra notes of caution: Anytime you’re cleaning electronics, whether it’s a floor lamp, a remote control unit or anything else, just remember a couple of things. 1. Never spray anything directly onto your item. For the WD40, I applied it to my finger first, then used my finger to put it on the remote. Even though WD40 displaces water, and some people use it in electronics, my feeling is that it’s better to be safe. 2. Water is also not a friend of electronics. Squeeze out that sponge as if your life depends on it, and have paper towels close by to wipe off drips quickly. You really don’t want water getting inside the cases of things you’re working on. 

…How to Clean White Crusty Water Stains Off Things

You know the white crust that you get on things, like around your sink, or maybe on the drip tray for your ice maker, or even the floor mats of your car? I’m a great believer in less manual effort and more “find an easier way” if I can, and for that stuff I have. I soak it in some white vinegar. Usually about a 10% solution will do, but if it’s particularly stubborn I’ve gone stronger, even up to full strength. Yesterday I took the winter floor mats out of my car and poured some into them and let them soak for about an hour to get the salt residue loosened up. Worked like a charm! After I rinsed that off, I gave em a quick soap scrub and then they were done.  For sinks, I take an old rag and soak it, wrap it around the base of the faucet and let it soak for thirty minutes or so, then check and see if the crust has softened enough to either wipe off or scrape (gently and carefully) with a razor blade. We have a recirculating water fountain for our cats water dish, made of stainless steel that I’ll take apart and soak in vinegar as well. Again, why spend time scrubbing when I can soak that crap off? Put some in a spray bottle and spray down your shower, especially if you have glass doors. Let it sit for a bit then wipe off and it will help to get the built up soap scum off. If it’s really bad you might have to do it a few times.

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.

Word of Advice

Note: Since first publishing this blog article back in March of 2016, I’ve found myself back in the job market. Today I was looking at my own advice for job interviewees, and found it needed some updates that I had missed, probably because applying for jobs and interviewing has changed a lot over the years.  I’ve also done more with Craig’s List/Ebay etc, and am updating those sections as well.

Job Interviewee – Take a shower, groom yourself for Pete’s sake. Put on professional clothes and shine your shoes, lose the gum and brush your teeth. It really IS true, you never have a second chance to make a good first impression. This advice applies whether your interview is in person, or is a video interview. What’s that, you say? A video interview? Yes, Virginia, a video interview. Today’s businesses are beginning to use video interviews as initial screening interviews. The HR representative can record themselves asking a series of questions, and then the interviewee has a predetermined amount of time to respond. It saves the HR rep a lot of time, by not having to schedule the calls or bring people into their offices. You do, however, need to treat it as if it’s a true face-to-face interview. Test your system first, make sure your lighting is good, that you don’t have a distracting background behind you. I invested in an inexpensive photography backdrop that I hang up behind me, and put that up. If you set yourself up facing a window you’ll get nice, diffuse light that is flattering, but if that’s not available make sure you at least have enough light that your face can be seen.

For in person interviews, learn how to shake hands. Do you have any idea how many people I’ve shaken hands with that don’t know how? If you aren’t sure how to, then you probably don’t do it well. Go ask someone you know that is a confident business person to evaluate yours and help you improve because a limp handshake is horrible, and look people in the eye when you shake their hand.

Drive the route to the interview BEFORE you need to do it so that you know how long it takes. Don’t be late. If you’re going to be late, call. If possible, send a handwritten, yes, I said handwritten thank you note, and if your handwriting is illegible (you know who you are) then print. If you only had a phone interview or video screening, you may only be able to send a thank you via e-mail, and then you should do it that way, but that’s only if you don’t know an address for your interviewer. If you have an actual address, a handwritten note is always better etiquette.

Craig’s List/Ebay Buyers – Have you ever sold anything on Craig’s List or Ebay? If you have, then you know what an adventure it can be, but it can just as easily be a pointless exercise in futility. We’ve been cleaning out our crawl space, trying to get rid of a few things, make a little money, you know the drill. I’ve learned a few phrases that are rather helpful. “Cash is king” and “cash talks, bullshit walks” are my two favorites that my husband is continually beating into my brain. Now I started out being a Craig’s List softie…”oh, you need a day or two, sure, get back to me, I’ll hold it for you…”, or negotiating simultaneously with one buyer who then couldn’t deliver on time, going with a second who could then feeling bad when the first wanted more time because “I promised him he could buy the item, even though he didn’t have the money right then” or feeling like I needed to answer every email, and telling people that I had other buyers and what the conditions were. However, after being taken advantage of a few times, I’ve changed, become a radical hardliner. Gavel down, BAM! “SOLD to the first one at the neutral (and safe) meeting place with paper money that passes the counterfeit test wins the prize.”  For all you potential buyers on Craig’s List out there, here are some helpful tips.

1.Don’t email me to tell me “I’m interested.” I’m tempted to reply “that’s nice, so what?” Because I don’t care if you’re merely interested, I only really care if you want to BUY IT.  So if you really want to buy my item, tell me you want to buy it and when you want to meet, otherwise stop wasting my time.

2. Read the dang ad AND look at the pictures. I took the time to take photos, at different angles, to show you lots of information. I also said in the ad that the item a) works, b) does or does not have scratches c) is new or is used, etc. Now if you want more information about it that I didn’t put in the ad, that’s a different story, please go ahead and ask for it.  But don’t waste my time asking about what’s already there.

3. Don’t contact me unless you’re interested and plan to follow through. This week I had someone tell me she wanted something, we exchanged messages about connecting, then she dropped off the face of the earth. Meanwhile I had another person waiting to see if the item was still available.  I mean really, did you want it or not? If you changed your mind, I don’t care, you’re not hurting my feelings, just say so. Stop wasting my time for the love of…(are you seeing the theme?)

4. If you ask me to ship you the item because you’ve decided you don’t want to drive to me, realize it’s an inconvenience for me, act accordingly. Don’t dictate terms of this to me, I’ll choose my shipping agent, thanks.

5. And here is the kicker. If you ask me to accept money through PayPal, then you pay the fees to transfer! You came to me knobhead. I’m not taking a loss in my profit as a convenience to you.

Ebay Buyers – There isn’t as much to say here, probably because it’s an online bidding process and Ebay has already taken a lot of the guesswork out of it for you. The best advice I can give is to just pay promptly, because I won’t ship anything until your payment has come through. So any delays on your part will result in a delay in receiving your item.

Grocery shoppers – it’s just like driving (assuming you’re in a country that drives on the right side of the road). Carts on the right please, although I’d love to know if it’s opposite across the pond, where they drive on the wrong side of the road.  Do they move grocery carts on the left side of the aisles as well? : ) But how hard is it really, to get your cart out of the middle of the aisle. When you stop to get something off the shelf, just move to the side. Don’t stop in the middle. Look around. The aisles aren’t 3 carts wide. If you’re in the middle, ain’t nobody getting around. My parents brought me up to be polite, Minnesota nice, to say a gentle “please”, and “thank you”, and “excuse me”, and to cover my mouth when I burped in public. I am SO over that in the grocery store now (The Minnesota nice part. I’ll still cover my mouth when I burp in public, I promise Mom), it’s a firm and vocal “Excuse Me” that’s a whole lot closer to East Coast than the Midwest.

Anyone under the age of 35 – chronologically or mentally. Remove the phrase “I deserve” and “entitled” from your vocabulary and attitude. You don’t, you aren’t. Period. The world owes you NOTHING, you have to earn it. When you act like they do, you not only show your immaturity, but I really want to swat you off my shoulder like a gnat. Scat, go away!

Just sayin’.

 

Things Mom Never Told You, Vol 1

From time to time I find these little helps referred to as “lifehacks” by many, a term my husband detests. I’ve put a couple of them together to share with you, and over time as I come across more I will keep doing so. I want to make you all a promise right out of the gate – 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. So with that, I bring you the inaugural edition of “Things Mom Never Told You”.

Have you ever wondered…

…What to do with old toothbrushes?

Bet you always wondered what to do with a) your old nasty squished toothbrush or b) the free toothbrush you get from the dentist that you don’t like/use because you have an electric one. Well stash em all over your house, because they’re amazing cleaning tools. They’ll get the dust out of little crevices on your appliances, in grout and corners, in windows, in your car. Firm bristles scrub well too, and aren’t just for getting light cleaning done. We have them everywhere! I’ll even wrap a sanitizing wipe around one for some of the cleaning, like when I’m cleaning the caulk around the sink to get into the tiny crevices.

…New use for old flannel sheets

I cut mine up into small pieces, and I’ve used some as dusting rags or glasses cleaners as they don’t give off lint, others for wrapping up delicate items before packing away like china or other breakables. If you cut off the edges that have the elastic on the bottom sheets you can use those too. They also work well for staining and painting rags.

…Breathe new life into old plastic flower pots (or other plastic stuff)

Get a large bucket that you don’t mind ruining. I use a Homer bucket – you know the ones I’m talking about, from Home Depot, the big orange project buckets. You’ll also want plastic or latex gloves you can wreck, just get a cheap pair of the dishwashing kind. Next select 2 (or more) colors of spray paint that you like and want to have together on an object. Finally, choose the item you want to work with for this project. For this project I picked a plastic flower pot.

IMG_1287I’m doing this one with the color it is, which is the mock terra cotta, but I’ve also done it by first spray painting it with white primer so that my base was white. IMG_1288

You can also see this pot wasn’t new to start with, and was pretty sun bleached and dirty. I did scrub it up with some simple green but you don’t need a new one, just a well cleaned object.

 

 

Step 1. Fill up your bucket with cold water, deep enough to fully submerge the item. Take the bucket outside and put it on the ground, either in the grass, or on something that protects the area underneath it.

Step 2: Set up some method for drying the item you’re going to cover. You may want to hang it to drip dry, if possible. I have several large “S” shaped hangers that were originally used to suspend birdhouses or birdfeeders from trees, and I now use them as hangers from trees to spraypaint items or as my dryers. If you don’t have a way to suspend outside, you can hang the item from a garage track with something underneath, or even inside as long as you have something underneath to catch drips.

Step 3: Take your spray paint and spray on the surface of the water, alternating colors. You can spray in concentric circles, or vary it up. Do a bunch of concentric circles, then start a new set next to that. You’ll need quite a bit on the water’s surface though. (I know, in your mind you’re thinking “that much?” Sorry I can’t be more specific. It’s a learning process.) After you spray on what you think you need (add more for good measure), take a popsicle stick or tooth pick and with the tip lightly pull a bit through the paint, so you’re creating a bit of a pattern on the surface. You don’t need to do much, and if you try to do too much you’ll get paint sticking to the stick and start pulling it out of the water.

Step 4: Put on your gloves, then pick up your item and SLOWLY immerse it into the water. I recommend starting with the top of your item, so if you run out of paint, and have to respray and resubmerge it will be toward the bottom of it, not the top. For the first time, however, dunk the item all the way under water and hold it there for about 30 seconds, which helps the paint to start setting up and harden.

Step 5: Remove it from the water, hang it up and let it drip dry. Voila! You have a crazy new painted pot!IMG_1745

IMG_1245Here are a couple of other things that I’ve done as well. The table was originally black, we then spray painted it a light blue. I decided to try the two colors but it was too big for the bucket.

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In a flash of inspiration (and sheer stubbornness because my husband didn’t think I would be able to find anything large enough to dunk it in), I lined our wheelbarrow with plastic and then filled that with water, and took the table apart into two pieces, dipping those separately.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1259The shell was a plain white/cream. I did that in a magenta/pale pink to accent in our bathroom. In hindsight the pale pink barely shows through, it almost looks like it’s the white, so I could have selected a different color for more of an accent. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, and can tell the difference between the pink and the white, it’s just subtle.

 

…Remove Old Stain

OK I admit this one isn’t something most of us run across too often, but the need we had and product we found for the job was such a revelation that I have to show it to you. We had an old aluminum canoe that was under a deck when the deck was restained, so the canoe had oil-based stain that dripped onto it. We didn’t notice it right away…or even later…we saw it probably a year later. Ugh. Fast forward to about 18 months later when some friends asked if they could borrow the canoe. Now it’s not a new canoe, it’s probably 30-40 years old, and has gotten banged around on rocks a fair bit, so it’s scratched, dinged etc. But stain? So I did a little research and found on something called Motsenbacher’s Lift-Off #4, Spray Paint and Graffitti Remover. It doesn’t dissolve the paint, it breaks the chemical bonds between the paint and the surface it’s on. Here are some initial before and after shots:

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In the top photo I had already started to remove stain when I realized I’d better get a posterity photo so I quick shot one, hence the little gap on that middle spike. On the bottom photo you can see the left spike of stain is gone. I literally sprayed on the Lift-Off, waited 2 minutes, then used a plastic scraper (like the ones you get from Pampered Chef) and just a tiny bit of elbow grease to get it started. Once it started to come off, it truly peeled off. Once my husband saw how well it worked he said he’d finish it up, then decided he would also give the canoe a good overall scrubbing. Here is how it looks now:IMG_1424.JPG

Crazy, aint it? I linked to a YouTube video on the product name above so you can learn more about it if you would like.

 

I hope you found this fun, informative and/or helpful. Volume 2  is already underway, packed full of more great tidbits!    

You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

Eight little words that are pearls, words of wisdom from my mother regarding salt in cooking but applicable to so many things in life. As I was learning to cook when I was quite young, I had asked about salt in particular one day and I can still hear her voice so clearly saying to me, “you don’t know it’s there until it’s not”. That resonated with me then, and stayed with me all these years (and don’t ask me how many years that is, I shan’t tell you!)

The inverse is also true about encounters and experiences that we have, we often don’t realize something was missing until we’ve seen it, heard it or felt it. Where we live in the Twin Cities we got a new chain of Hy-Vee grocery stores last year that brought some much needed competition to our cities. From the incredible variety of types of produce, fresh artisan breads, cheeses, an incredible specialty bakery, to fresh, onsite fast food and a restaurant, shopping there is nothing less than an event. Going there one needs plenty of time, because you’ll want to browse and browse and browse…it keeps going on and on and it’s just plain fun.

I’m also fascinated by the attitudes there. First, the store motto is “there’s a smile in every aisle”, and while it’s a little corny, it’s also true. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been greeted warmly and multiple times in the same visit, people always asking me if there is anything I need help finding or have questions about. The second thing was the one that really stood out for me, which was it almost felt like the team members were trained in the art of people pleasing, or anticipating needs. One day I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a bag that was designed to stand up in the trunk of the car. I asked the checker if it was designed to hold 2 grocery bags side by side when open. He didn’t know, nor did the young lady bagging my groceries (yes, they bag your groceries there!!) I went ahead and bought it anyway, and turned back to the register and ran my card through to pay for my groceries. Suddenly the young lady bagging them said “yep! It does!” I turned and she had opened up the bag and filled my paper sacks then put them both in the new trunk bag to make sure they easily fit in there, so I would know right then and there. She didn’t need to do that, but it was really nice that she did, and it really made me wonder, “do they teach ‘Never miss an opportunity to delight a customer and try to anticipate needs’ as part of new employee orientation? “ I’ve had other unexpected experiences at the store as well. When I haven’t been able to find something I’m looking for, they don’t tell me where to find it; they bring me to it (“Here, let me show you where that is.”)  If they don’t know where it is, the staff will look it up on the computer and then come back to where you are to update you (“If you wait here, I’ll go and look that up for you and I’ll be right back.”). I’ve never had such a complete and satisfying experience, and didn’t realize it until I actually experienced it. I figured that wasn’t happening by accident so a few days ago when I was there I stopped a manager and asked about it. He confirmed it for me and said that yes, they train all employees that way, to basically “fall all over themselves being helpful” (my words, not his, but the intent is the same) and that they have secret shoppers who actually come in watching for it. I told him it’s why I kept coming back, that I loved being treated like that and really appreciated the service. He thanked me, and his smile really said it all. 

I’ve decided I’m old enough and have paid my dues; I deserve to be treated well. I want to shop at places that treat me as if I’m special, even if I have to pay a little more. (I honestly don’t think I do pay more here, I’m just saying I’m willing to.) I’ll go to a nicer restaurant, go to better retail shops if I’m treated with more kindness, given a bit more help, a smile, or going the extra mile. What I won’t do, is shop at places that treat me like I don’t exist, which is what happened at Sur le table in Edina a few years back. I had shopped at one of their other stores in California in the past and really liked them, and was happy when a new store opened in Minnesota. I went there on a Saturday morning shortly after the store opened. It was quiet; I was maybe the third customer there. If you aren’t from here, you need this for your backstory: Edina is a ritzy, wealthy suburb and the local rumor has it that the letters stand for “Every Day I Need Attention”. While that isn’t really true, there certainly is plenty of attitude there to go around. So I walked in in jeans, a flannel shirt and baseball cap – and after 20 min not one sales person had greeted me, made eye contact with me or approached me in any way. So I walked out, walked a half block down the street to another kitchen store called Cooks of Crocus Hill (where they are MUCH nicer), was immediately greeted, spent a lot of my hard earned money and told them how much nicer they were. The saleswoman replies and said they heard that a lot. As I left it was all I could do not to walk back to Sur le table and walk in like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “you know, I was in here a little bit ago and you wouldn’t help me, big mistake. HUGE.” But I figured I’d be the grown up and go home.

That’s the funny thing about customer service. We all recognize really lousy service when we experience it, because it unfortunately slaps us in the head and it makes us want to tell everyone about it. So-so customer or adequate customer service, that’s not so simple. Perhaps we’ve become complacent, or have adjusted, even lowered some standards a bit, but whatever the reason is we are no longer bothered by middle of the road because we didn’t realize it wasn’t there, until it something truly stellar comes along. 

A Moment in Time

Looking back…the moment lost…we forget….

How often do we think back to something and think “I wish I had a picture of that?” Back in the day, we had the convenient excuse of forgetting to bring our camera,  but since most of us now have smart phones, we have a camera all the time . So that old excuse really doesn’t work so much anymore, does it (unless you’re like I was the other day and completely forgot to even bring my phone along)?We have no excuse to miss that moment. So what’s the problem?

I was glancing back through our pictures of our trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota last fall, and a hike we took up to Harney Peak. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s not a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a lot of climbing, some of it over roots, trees, rocks, boulders, sand, and goes from about 6100-7100 feet of elevation. And in the middle, you actually go downhill, just to have to go back uphill again.

At the summit is a stone lookout tower that was used for fires, and the view is incredible. You can see a long distance view of the tower in the photo at the lower right…yep, we had a LONG climb to get there! As you can see, we had cameras along and took pictures. Word to the wise, if you do this hike, do it on a cool day, take snacks and plenty of water, and start early in the day. If you’re in good shape, this is under a 4 hour hike. Shape not so good? Plan on 6 hours. We made it in about 4.5 hours, although I have no idea how. (Sheer stubbornness would be my best guess. )

As we neared the top, we met larger groups of people coming down with what seemed like ridiculously happy grins on their faces – which I would understand a short time later – and they all were saying things like “you can do it” and “you’re almost there”. I can remember I was so tired and feeling like I couldn’t do it, that I wanted to slap that stupid grin right off their faces. Then we started to notice that the boulders were different, more like big smooth slabs, and all of a sudden we were ducking under a big stone archway, before turning and seeing the end, and _MG_3004then there it was, with only about 50 more steps to go. The end. Still steep, but doable.

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I got a lovely little screen shot of my “What’s My Altitude” app too! While it didn’t show the air temperature, I remember it was a bit cooler, and you can see that the boiling point of water was lower.

 

You know, two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even do an hour of this climb, let alone the whole thing. I remember going to Scottsdale, AZ, and sitting down partway up the “easy side” of Camelback, waiting for my husband while he climbed to the top, because I was so overweight then, and there was no way I could do it. But this trip, being healthier, thinner and in much better shape, I knew I could make it, and was determined to get to the top, stopping periodically for water breaks and snack breaks, but that was it. When we got there, oh, the view.

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Isn’t that amazing? It looks out over 4 states, and if you walk around the station, you can see the backside of Mt Rushmore. We took photos of that, of some great big bird soaring around, all kinds of stuff. You know what view we don’t have? The one of me standing there, tears in my eyes, being completely overwhelmed with elation that I did it! I think hubby was going to and I seem to recall I didn’t want him to but I don’t remember why not. In retrospect, I wish he would have anyway. I would have loved to have captured that moment of energy and triumph shining through. Particularly because when I think back to that moment, that’s the feeling that I remember having…that my best self, right then, was completely and totally shining through. The tears, messy hair, sweaty skin and red face – those were badges of honor to be worn proudly, not hidden away. Silly me. What a missed Kodak moment, but a lesson learned, nonetheless.

So next time you want to push someone away when they want your picture, think twice about it. So what if you’re all sweaty, hair is a mess, face is covered in dirt. Maybe you don’t have on makeup, or your mascara is running down your cheeks…or your eyes are puffy…or your shirt is torn, or whatever. Who cares? Freeze that moment before it’s gone, because remember you can’t capture lightning in a bottle.

Projects One-O-WTH

We’ve all done it. Started projects with the very best of intentions and plans, right? Scripted them to within an inch of their lives, laid out everything to the nanometer, knew exactly what we wanted, where we wanted it and when we wanted it, so that when we did it, it went as planned, and then we all lived happily ever after…I’m sorry, did you just  hear my snort of derision through the computer? Because if you’re anything like me, the end of one project brings about a strange euphoria that somehow erased much of the pain associated with it, so that you’re foolishly willing to take on the next one. When my husband let me know he was planning to go out of town for several days last month, I thought, “aha! here’s my chance to take a couple of days off work and paint our master bathroom! I hate the mustard color it is now, why not get it done?” And into full scale planning mode I went.

First, selecting paint, which as anyone with a half of a brain knows, is painful. I mean, we’re long past the days of merely light blue, or light green. Nope, there are now thousands of colors and shades to choose from. It’s positively mind numbing, and while the ability to get the little sample jars is certainly a help, it’s not without it’s own drawbacks, but more on that later. For now, I get the little cards in the colors I think I want which is a pale turquoise. My husband and I talk over which we like, I went back and get the sample jars in a couple of colors, and get them on the walls in the bathroom in a couple of spots so he can see it before he leaves town, and in different light during the day and at night. We agree on one of the samples, and I’m thinking nice, we found our color! (I should have known it was too easy, I got a little cocky there.)

Next, a light fixture. Currently we have light bars over the top of our mirror and detest them. You know the ones…4 light bulbs on a metal holder, which resemble the ones that are found on the sides of theatrical mirrors. I really liked one a friend had, found it came from Menards, internet check says one left on clearance. I’ve got a good feeling…and the next morning I run up there to get it. The one left is the display model, so they have to remove it from the wall for me, but it’s worth it to get it more than 50% off, right?  While they were taking it off the wall it was raining so hard we couldn’t see across the parking lot, and a neighbor told me later that his wife reported their widows actually sucked inward during the storm! I didn’t recognize the storm going on outside as on omen of destruction or the voice of doom, as it were.

Husband leaves town, time for me to get to work. Out comes the spackle, I start fixing dings and divots, scraping old, old, old paint off the woodwork. (Lesson #1 for everyone…do the free world a favor. USE FRICKING PAINTERS TAPE AROUND WOODWORK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE. I don’t care if you like the blue or green. Really I don’t. I DO care that as the new owner of your former home, because you were a lazy ba***rd I have to scrape 3 layers off my lovely oak woodwork.) (Lesson #2, if you spray it first with Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner, and let it soak for 3-5 seconds, then scrape with your razor blade, it helps to soften the paint. Don’t ask me why I tried this out, I haven’t a clue, but it works.) Finally it’s time to paint. Get the light down, paint the walls around our sink and the ceiling over it. I wanted to do that first so I could get the new light up right away, then I wouldn’t be without a light in the bathroom for more than a few hours. As I bring the new light fixture into the bathroom, I realize my next problem.

Remember I mentioned that the old light was a light bar, therefore it’s very lightweight, and mounted on the wall with two screws. The wiring merely came out of the hole in the wall. No mounting box. Lovely new fixture needs a mounting box. Sounds simple enough, right? Just call the handy dandy electrician down the street to put one in? Which I did…only to find that the lovely little pipe I could see next to the hole in the wall where the wires came out would mean that the mounting box would be mounted to the right of center…and subsequently all light fixtures thereafter would be too. So now we get to have him split the wiring and put up sconces. Sigh. So back up went the old fixture until husband can get home and I can break the bad news that a) we ‘get’ to spend more money on rewiring and b) we ‘get’ to buy more lights.

Continue painting….and why am I not getting the same lovely warm fuzzy about the color that I did about the sample? As I studied it, it didn’t look at all the same to me. It didn’t look anything like calm and restful. Not even close…it looked more like 1968 turquoise! Now I’m starting to feel my WTH moment begin…what happened? Remember earlier  when I said I’d come back to the samples? Well, the paint samples were in eggshell…and the paint I bought was semi-gloss. It went on a completely different color in semi-gloss, and suddenly was intense! I thought maybe it was me, but figured I’d better wait for my husband to validate, so I held off any more painting until he got home from his trip, which I felt awful about since my goal was to present him with a finished bathroom, not one still covered in paint swatches. He agreed, however, it was too intense and we went back to the drawing board on paint. Hopefully I’ll finish before his next vacation.

Oh yeah, and the caulk has to be chiseled out too.

 

Driving 101

As many of you know, I’m the lucky recipient of a brand spanking new hip, which, for a number of reasons, has put me in a slightly different frame of mind over the last several weeks. Residual effects of anesthesia (which I’m told can mess with your brain for up to a year), pain dulling to annoying discomfort, a very slow moving body and forced down time I had all made me see things a little differently.

Among those things are the driving habits of about 75% of the general population, most of whom have forgotten what they learned only long enough to pass their driver’s test, apparently. So, how many of the following will each of you get right? Let’s see. (These are for Minnesota Driving Regulations only, I can’t speak to any other states.)

  1. Right turn on red is: a) never allowed. b) allowed unless otherwise posted, with a rolling stop  c) allowed unless otherwise posted, but only after coming to a complete stop d) always allowed
  2. A stop sign a) only requires a complete stop if there are other vehicles in visible line of sight  b) only requires a complete stop if there are police vehicles in visible line of sight  c) requires a complete stop at all times   d) what’s a stop sign?
  3. After stopping at a stop sign, you can proceed a) through the crosswalk as long as there are no pedestrians in it  b) through the crosswalk assuming you can get through ahead of the pedestrians c) the pedestrians have to stop for vehicles of course, drive on through!
  4. The Move Over Law  a) states all vehicles traveling slower than the posted speed limit need to move to the far right lane on a multi-lane road, or pull to the shoulder on a two-lane road if traffic is unable to safely pass on the left side  b)that you move to the lane farthest away from emergency vehicles, if possible to do so safely  c) we have a Move Over Law?
  5. Correctly identify the sign below:   a) Wheelchair parking only  b) Parking for vehicles with the appropriate disability plates or permits only   c) For use by anyone as long as they aren’t caught.

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The answers are (in case you didn’t know) 1c, 2c, 33a, 4b, 5b.  How many did you get wrong? I hope none, but over the past weeks since I resumed driving after surgery, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen most of these violated, the exception being the last one. Given adequate time, even that too will happen, sadly. Why am I more sensitive about this? Probably because the speed at which I had been moving much more closely resembled that of the proverbial tortoise, rather than the hare. At Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, I had just parked my car in one of the spots denoted with the sign above (and yes, I have my permit), and got out of my car, proceeding toward the store slowly using my cane. As I approached the crosswalk, a woman came from my right side, briefly glanced at the stop sign (see question #2) decided that red octagonal signs with white outlines were optional and proceeded through the crosswalk – which I had already entered – without stopping (see question #3).

Perhaps I had my cloaking device on again. That had to be it, because that’s the only rational explanation I can come up with for the sheer stupidity exhibited by this apparently adult woman who appeared to be in her 40’s. Not a teen, not anyone talking on their cell phone, and apparently in command of all of her faculties although that is up for debate from my perspective.

I do know that most insurance companies offer discounts to drivers over a certain age if they take a defensive driving course, and in Minnesota it’s 55 years of age. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an entirely dumb idea to offer that discount earlier? Start it at age 30, then boost the value at age 55 from 10% to 15%. State Farm, are you listening? Because apparently people are stupid WAY earlier than at age 55. News flash: yellow lights aren’t for fun, they are to alert you that the red is coming so you can try to stop, not speed up, dumbass! And if you’re climbing up my tailpipe when I’m going the speed limit, knock it the hell off, I’m not speeding up just to make you happy. Ain’t happening, and all you’re gonna get by tailgating me is a) more pissed off, b) a possible ticket for tailgating  c) a possible bigger ticket for the accident you caused when you rear ended me, because in Minnesota if you rear end someone, it IS your fault and d) a lawsuit for rear ending me, dumbass.

If you recognized yourself in any of the above scenarios, perhaps a refresher in Driving 101 is right up your alley.