Saturday, December 29, 2007

Watch This, Thief!

Neighborhood watch signs aren't quite perfected for the benefit of the thief. They're mass-produced and if you're on foot, you can read them from a short distance of about 5-6 feet. The graphic is a bit indeterminable at any distance outside of that, too. I'm not sure how a burglar is going to take the time to slow down - pause, even - to snag all that copy. He or she surely has other things going on that requires greater attention.

These signs may make your neighbors feel more secure, knowing that a warning is posted stating someone will call the local law. Would this make you feel safe?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Maybe They DO Want a Gift Card

In years past, it was rather "not done" to give gift cards or cash. Etiquette mavens squashed anyone who even so much as passed that thought through their heads. Today, things are different. It's no longer a stigma to spend 10 minutes on-line or dashing into a store to snag a card. No matter what you buy, if someone wants to find how much it cost, they will. So, keeping that little secret has gone right out the door with the Internet and probably Amazon in particular.

So, whether you're stuck or just want to make it quick, it's OK. Go ahead and pick out that gift card. Teens in particular like cash, but a debit card from a credit card company might also be useful. Just be sure and read the fine print - it's not easy wading through all the charges - not to mention the ones they don't exactly tell you about. There are other sites that do that.

If you live away, shipping costs are also an issue - so that's another great reason to spend more money for the gift card and not put the extra cash into getting it there.

You have my blessing.

Who's giving gift cards this year? And where are they coming from?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New LCD TV in a Blur?

You just got home with a new LCD TV. Turn it on and - oh, my! - the picture's all blurry! You start fiddling with all the adjustments: contrast, brightness, color, etc. Nothing seems to work - it's still fuzzy.

Ready to take it back for an upgrade? Not so fast. Read the manual, first. On some of the lower end models, it can take about 30 minutes for warmup and getting past the "newness." Some instruction manuals state to wait that long before you even start messing with the controls. In most cases, you'll soon have a clear, sharp picture.

If you haven't brought that special new LCD or plasma TV home, yet, here's a basic buying guide.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

GE Fridge Water Woes

Apparently, you're supposed to change the water filter every six months. If you don't, sooner or later, the water widget in the door will stop working. Don't be alarmed unless the entire panel goes out. We've covered that already - here. If the icemaker button is still working, then you simply need to replace the filter in the fridge side. It's going to cost about $30-$40. Buy in bulk if you can - they don't go bad.

Read the instructions - on some GEs, you need to fill the filter with tap water first. Give it a little while to cycle through. The water button may not work immediately, especially if air is trapped in the line. In an hour or so, a bit of water will spurt out and you're good to go.

One last thing - there are some issues, it seems, with the water line in the freezer side actually freezing inside the door. This is a flaw that GE has not yet officially addressed. If you think it's frozen, leave the door open, clean out the freezer (good a time as any, right?) and see if that helps.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Those Newfangled TVs

Whether you're deciding on a big fat DLP television or looking for a skinner plasma or LCD model, it pays to do some physical research in addition to checking out internet sites and reviews. For one, each has its own quirks regarding viewing from the side. It's best to check out a few models at the store for that. You don't want a screen that goes totally black when you're looking at it from the side (some LCDs and DLPs). Others lose their color tones from the side, too (some DLPs). You probably want one that's already HD-ready, instead of HD "compatible." (If you're a satellite subscriber, that'll be another ten smackeroos a month, thank you very much.)

Plasmas are more touchy and if you watch a lot of sports with fixed scores showing, there could be some burn-in issues. Manufacturers assure us that those problems are fixed, but you need to know there's a possibility. Plasmas are also kind of fussy about handling - lay them incorrectly on their sides and you could destroy them for good.

If you're narrowing down your search between plasma and LCD, here are two biggies:
-Plasma looks better in a dim room, according to the expert reviewers.
-LCD has a better picture in a brighter space.

If you have a theater setting without too many windows, you might want to consider plasma. Based on the units selling at Wal-Mart, though, LCD seems to be leader in choice. The Supercenters feature less than a handful of plasmas as compared to an entire wall full of LCDs. While you may not want to darken their doors for a truly enjoyable shopping experience, we can assume they've done their homework in that department.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Propagating Dieffenbachia: Putting the Dumb in Dumbcane

Sooner or later, a dieffenbachia may develop twisty stems that simply fall over or break. You can propagate by wrapping the saved portion in sphagnum. Keep it damp and inside a plastic bag - just the bottom part of the stem. You can also just start over - by trimming the plant stems back to about 2-3 inches above the soil. They'll develop new leaf growth in time.

Dieffenbachia is also called dumbcane - and there's a reason for that. The sap is poisonous and if it touches your lips or mouth area, it can cause the tongue to swell. In severe reactions, the swelling can close off the throat. If you own curious pets or have equally adventurous children, it's probably best to bypass this plant.

At the very least, when handling dieffenbachia, wear gloves or wash thoroughly afterward. That includes handling the leaves or when trimming any portion of the plant.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shampoo and Blood Do Mix

Got a little cut and didn't realize it was leaving a trail of blood on your clothes? Quick, grab the shampoo. Be sure it doesn't contain conditioner. Rub it in really good and it should disappear. Then, you can wash or even soak in cold water. I highly recommend you not dry anything until you're sure the stain is gone.

Now, if you have a gusher and larger areas are involved, you'll have to get a bucket and try a saltwater solution. First, though, you may want to head to emergency and get treatment.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Poor Man's Propane Gas Gauge

If you're running that 20-lb propane tank and wondering when it's going to come up empty, here's an easy way to ballpark it. Just use your bathroom scales. Granted, it's not the most convenient thing to do in the middle of a cookout, but until you find a gauge that works, this'll do. The down side is - there are no leak detection alarms, so you have to that the old-fashioned way, too. Check the connections with this solution: one-half cup water; one-half teaspoon liquid hand soap.

A 20-lb tank will run about 18 pounds when it's empty. When full, it can weigh about 38 pounds. Weigh yours when it's full, so you can have a starting point. OR, run it completely out and then weigh it.

Now, if you're cooking at home, it's just as convenient and a darn sight more useful to just invest in a second tank.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Getting a Credit on your Credit Card

Catching and fixing a mistake on your credit card is not always easy. In fact, if you browse through card company web sites, there very little there in the way of fixing things that go wrong. On the merchant end, you are just as likely to come up empty.

Here's the situation:
-You purchase an item that is marked 50% off, but cashier rings it up at full price (a good reason to check those readouts, right?)
-You pay be credit card without noticing the error.
-You check the slip as you walk away and return to the counter.
-Cashier re-inputs info and tells you everything will be all right when you're billed.
-A couple of days later, you check your billing online and find the merchant has double billed you - once for the original purchase and again for the corrected purchase.

What do you do?

-Call the merchant/particular store directly. Surely you kept your sales slip for a few days.
-You'll be transferred to customer billing.
-Easy fix - it takes about 48 hours for the correction to actually be processed. That means the charge will disappear from your online statement if all goes well.

Now that you have this handy information, you can wait the full 48 hours before calling to complain, right?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Diamond Matches-No More Dumping

Kitchen matchboxes should have a top design that's different from the bottom. Who hasn't nearly dumped all the matches on the floor by flipping the wrong side of the box over and opening it? Diamond Matches got it right the first time; Forster matches by the Universal Corporation does not get this fine point.

Sure, there's that little cardboard spine inside that saves most of us. Unless someone in the house takes it out in the interest of neatness - or whatever. So, I see this one coming. You switch to Diamond. For fun, the kids will set the box up with the top on the bottom and there you go again.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kitchenaid Bakeware - The Dings and the Dents

The Kitchenaid brand has certainly been around and is respected, too. However, the bakeware might be a different deal. A recent purchase arrived all nicely boxed - very securely wrapped and no option for shaking around inside. The box was in excellent shape - no signs of dings or drops.

However, once the bakeware set was removed, it was loaded with dings and scratches. The pie tins have lipped handles. One of them was already scratched and the surrounding surface coating could be removed with a fingernail. That one went in the trash - the other was in good shape. The baking sheet showed a handful of dings along the edge and in the bottom part of the tray. These did not have broken surfaces, so was good to go.

Return it? Well, here's the deal. If it hadn't been damaged in the shipping process, how would that guarantee getting a good set the next time? In this case, not worth it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sow Bugs - Terrestrial Crustaceans

These little critters are related to shrimp and they can invade your home when rains are heavy. You'll see them moving slowly along the floor, then all of a sudden, they pick up speed and dash off. Sometimes mistaken for roly-polies, these are a "cousin," the sow bug.

Sow bugs are also called wood lice, but they cause no harm. Invasions don't last long as they die unless they can find a moist spot to hang out. And that's the kicker. They can sometimes be indicators that something dire is happening inside your home. Here are the basics on sow bugs (did you know they have gills?) and ways to reduce their presence.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Kinky - the Expert Gardener Hose

All bright and yellow - and a great price, too. Until you hook up this garden hose from Expert Gardener at the faucet. It's full of kinks that twist and turn, cutting off the water supply, the more you try to straighten it out. Unless you're trying to conserve water, get yourself a better hose. And if you already bought one of these, I hope you kept the receipt.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Target In-Store or Real Credit Card

Make a big purchase - or any purchase - at Target and you'll get swarmed with the opportunity to sign up for their store credit card (if you don't have one already). There's a tiny-little-catch. Target has an "in-store" card as well as a Visa credit card. If you don't know to ask, you "get" the credit card, need it or not. No annual fees, and you do get extra benefits, plus an instant discount on your purchase. That's nice.

What would be nice is if they explain to you that there are options. Now you know.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hurray for Poly-Wood (Furniture)

Who would have thought? Your milk jug becoming someone's seat. The Poly-Wood company has come up with this unique and environmentally ingenious approach to outdoor furniture. Made from plastic milk jugs and claiming to be impervious to the weather. No painting ever, no splintering, no worries about salt spray - just leave them out all year long if you like.

You get a choice of colors and styles in Poly-Wood furniture, including Adirondack and Mission. Choose bar sets, tables, loungers and casual chairs. Set up a Poly-Porch, a Poly-Patio or Poly-Poolside. Now, go order and relax. (Oh, even better: USA made.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Attack of the GE Refrigerator Ice Cube Drawer

The GE folks left this little incident out of the manual. You're getting ice through the widget in the door and the whole bin busts outward - forcefully enough to pop the door open. What? OK, next you pull the bin out and try to push it back in. No luck.

Here's the fix. A propeller type apparatus runs through the middle of the ice cube drawer. You can remove the entire bin or just slide it out and feel around on the back side. Careful - don't cut yourself. Turn the back of the propeller at least a quarter to a half turn and it should slide right back in. Otherwise, it simply won't go.

Now, if those ice cubes get really aggressive, the tray will jump its tracks in the process. This can create a jam on one side. That's a little trickier and takes some "gentle" force to dislodge it. Don't pull so hard that you break any of those plastic parts. Be patient, it'll come loose. Then twist that propeller and you're set.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Attack of the GE Refrigerator Ice Cube Drawer

The GE folks left this little incident out of the manual. You're getting ice through the widget in the door and the whole bin busts outward - forcefully enough to pop the door open. What? OK, next you pull the bin out and try to push it back in. No luck.

Here's the fix. A propeller type apparatus runs through the middle of the ice cube drawer. You can remove the entire bin or just slide it out and feel around on the back side. Careful - don't cut yourself. Turn the back of the propeller at least a quarter to a half turn and it should slide right back in. Otherwise, it simply won't go.

Now, if those ice cubes get really aggressive, the tray will jump its tracks in the process. This can create a jam on one side. That's a little trickier and takes some "gentle" force to dislodge it. Don't pull so hard that you break any of those plastic parts. Be patient, it'll come loose. Then twist that propeller and you're set.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

(Not) Good Spatula from Good Cook

One would hope that a spatula meant for cooking wouldn't melt. As you can see, this is not the case with this particular model from the folks at the Good Cook company. After the first use, a strip could be peeled off the tip, where it had melted (kinda like that rubber strip you peel off a notepad after some of the pages are removed-a compulsion for some).

Of course, why shouldn't you be able to rest the spatula on the edge of the skillet while you're cooking? Um, no - not with this (not good at all) spatula from the above-mentioned company.

I do believe this is a first - not sure who tested this one before putting it out there. Look at those melted marks along the side. I've already peeled off the tip a couple of times.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kingsford Briquets - Price Up, Weight Down

Good ol' Kingsford. Gotta love 'em for this bit of marketing. They've raised the price and lowered the weight per bag on their "regular" briquets. However, at their web site, they state that the bags are still the same size. Huh?

On top of that, they've changed the formula. You know how people hate change. The new briquets have "Sure Fire" grooves, which "they" say makes them burn longer. Haven't noticed any difference, there. That pretty much depends on the size and shape of the grill, the diehards will say.

Next, the web site encourages indirect cooking, because the briquets might get too hot. Excuse me? Direct heat is the whole point of grilling for some foods. Although, babybacks with indirect heat are mighty tasty. (Is this their way of acknowledging that direct cooking over briquets "may" contribute to cancer?)

In some parts of the country, Kingsford has felt it necessary to provide Spanish translations. To their credit, they're incorporated the foreign language under each American tagline. That way, you don't have to turn the bag around to get to the part you can interpret.

Will continue to use Kingsford briquets. Regularly. Fanatically. Rain, shine, or snow. In spite of the fact that they probably should have left well enough alone. If you're new to charcoaling, here's a great beginner's step-by-step guide to getting that grill going.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Weber Grill Review: Goin' for the Smokey Joe Gold

If you're a grill lover, you can't live without this little Weber. It's become an important family member in our own group: standard size charcoaler, electric emergency backup, and a 450-pound smoker. Our first little Smokey Joe lasted about 3 years, but that's partly our fault. We left it outside in all sorts of weather and it began to rust around the attachment points. When the lid flew off during a storm, it was forever out of kilter and would no longer preserve the briquets or extinguish the heat. Over time, the legs (not our fault) got a little out of whack - they're the lightweights of this whole package.

The 40020 model includes a lid locker bar that slides over the top handle. Great for traveling, but better for keeping the lid intact. The kettle style design is a favorite feature - we're getting more use out of used briquettes than ever before. A marathon four grillings on four different days, as a matter of fact. Just add a few fresh ones, if needed and it's good to go. It's also a fine size with a 14.5 inch cooking surface. That will get you six good-sized hamburgers.

There's minor assembly required. However, there are a few hundred less pieces to put together than our little electric jobber required. Quick and quite painless, actually.

While the lock-down handle is really terrific, it's also quite difficult to use or remove. Guys won't have a problem, but women may be struggling a bit with that.

The price is right, too. Ours was $34.99 at Amazon.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blow Off Your Mower

Be gentle, but it's probably time to blow off your mower. After all, your trusty steed, whether it's a push or riding model, gives you a nice, big beautiful lawn. Don't you want your equipment to look as good as that? When those grass clippings cling stubbornly to that shiny metal, it can be pretty ugly. Even worse after they dry.

Use your leaf blower to get rid of the unsightly mess that mars the beauty of your mower. It's much easier than trying to hose it down and won't get anything waterlogged, either. Just don't aim it at the neighbor's yard - and for goodness sake, don't clog up those city drains.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Big, Beautiful Bloomers - Amaryllis

Amaryllis are right up there with poinsettias for the holidays. Many folks are opting for amaryllis because they're really hard to kill as opposed to those other red bloomers, that are a bit wimpy when it comes to neglect. They're also elegant and a delight to look at through January or beyond. When you're shopping for amaryllis, look for a budding one; if it's already in full bloom, you won't have as much time with it, before you must let it have a dormant period. You'll also find "Christmas" bloomers and "winter" bloomers. The latter can bud at varying times throughout the year.

They also make beautiful gifts and you can create a masterful centerpiece with a grouping. While we now know that poinsettias don't cause all that much harm when chewed on by animals and children, amaryllis are a true threat. If you're gifting, make sure the new owner's pets can withstand the appeal of a plant appetizer.

Find out how easy it is to grow these big beautiful bloomers here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

As Luck Would Have It - Goin' for the Green

While you're out there chasing rainbows and looking for a lucky leprechaun, perhaps this is a good day to think about going' green. Environmentally, that is. Here are just a few little tips and reminders about becoming green-friendly every day. They're easy enough to do and every little bit makes a difference!

At the Computer - get rid of those fun screensavers and put your screen straight to sleep. Experts say that sleep mode can save about 10 times the energy it takes to run those aquarium fish or other cleverly designed screen saver programs.

In the Garden - choose plants that are native to your area. They'll be more tolerant of less watering, will take hold and prevent soil washout, and you won't need as many fertilizers or pesticides. While you're at it, avoid fertilizing or applying pesticides when it's raining - it flows into the water supply.

At the Store - Reuse those plastic or paper grocery bags. The plastic ones wad up nicely and are easy to transport. Ask the checker to avoid bagging larger items such as laundry detergent and coffee cans. That'll save only a bag or two, but if everyone did it - see? Remember, though, they have to bag that beer. Must protect innocent eyes from getting a glimpse of sinful vices.

Now, go ahead and down a green beer or two at the local pub. You deserve to celebrate.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Grandfather Clocks: A Timely Heirloom

If you haven't shopped for grandfather clocks, later, maybe it's time to make a timely investment. If you're into hearing Ave Maria or the Westminster chimes, then there are some amazing beauties out there. Some are quite ornate and look there was a crash (or clash) of a 1930s boudoir and a discothèque. Others are even more moderately and even modern styled.

The nice part is that the mechanisms remain the same – if you want – but you can give the silent treatment as well. Some feature a nighttime shutoff as well as manual switches when you want to be quiet as a mouse during the daytime hours. Remember, if it features the pendulum, then it's a grandfather clock. If that hangy-downy thing is missing, then it's a mere "floor" clock. For a more detailed overview, check this out.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The art of re-gifting seems to be an ancient custom, albeit one of which I disapprove. However, Emily Post says it's acceptable and I don't dare question that. However, my thoughts lean more toward not getting caught doing it, rather than the act itself.

Be thorough in record-keeping. Make a list of who gave you what, so it doesn't accidentally go back to the original purchaser (at least from you). When you re-gift, don't use the original package if it's from a "name" store. If someone decides to return it, they're going to find out that it was probably not purchased all that recently.

Duplicates can be another matter, and if you absolutely don't have room to keep it as a backup, think about a charitable donation. Or, tell the gift-giver that you loved it so much you already bought one for yourself. They'll be flattered and perhaps suggest a solution of their own.

The bottom etiquette line is: don't get busted. Just remember it's a small world after all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Give and Someone Will Return

Yes, give a gift and sooner or later someone will want to exchange it for something else. The post-holiday lines are filled with those people. Wrong size, bad color, or just horrible. When you're buying, you can avoid putting the giftee on the spot by making it easier for them to slink behind your back and get rid of the darn thing.

Keep the receipt, but also ask for a "gift" receipt and enclose it with the package. This doesn't list the purchase price, so if they do keep it, they don't need to know how much you spent. Additionally, if the item goes on sale, that's the price that gets refunded, unless you have a record of your purchase.

Always ask about the return policies. Read the fine print when making an on-line purchase. Know if you'll have two weeks, one month, or more to make that return. Many of the major electronics stores offer two weeks, while most major discounters allow for ninety days. There's more to the etiquette of making things easy on the giftee here.