Archive for August, 2014

August 31, 2014

Staying Put For Now

This month would have been the end of the lease had we not renewed. I was reminded of this fact when I got an email notification reminding me of the increase rent payment – a whopping 24%! (Thank you Silicon Valley housing crises…) While a large part of me wanted to say “thanks, but no thanks!” to this apartment community, it really would have been terrible timing. I’m tired. Bone tired. I can’t imagine trying to find a new home at ~28 weeks pregnant while working, let alone actually move.

Besides, we only just finished unpacking this weekend. The last few moving boxes have been flattened and are waiting to be taken down to the bin. We also pretty much finished our primary organization.

We want from this:

boxes
Piles of boxes hiding in corners behind couches

To this:

bins
Closets full of organizational bins.

I have a bin for college memorabilia, one for work memorabilia (yes I do have some!), one for old photos – all things that I’ll probably rarely pull out, but I’m not ready to part with. There are also the seasonal tins, such as fall decorations and Christmas ornaments. When the time comes to move, we’ll load up the moving truck with them, but we’re not expecting to actually unpack them. At least not permanently.

This is the most organized we’ve ever been. We even organized our vacuum parts.

vaccumparts
I am not kidding.

There’s still a little more to do in the master bedroom, and with a toddler around our home may be organized but it’s never tidy. One step at a time. I plan to take it easy for a week or so, and do my best to not dwell on the rent increase. We’re planning to start housing hunting in the spring, so at least we shouldn’t be stuck with it for too long.

Price watches and price histories are some of my favorite tools for online shopping. I use price histories to verify deals are actually deals, and price watches when I expect the price of something I want to drop in the coming months. The most common things I would price watch were electronics, kid’s toys, and kitchen gadgets – all of which tended to be expensive, and thus a small percentage differences could make a big difference. Lately I’ve found additional ways to save.

Requesting After Purchase Price Adjustments: I used to remove my price watches as soon as I made a purchase. After all, I hate finding out I could have paid even less. Then last Black Friday shopping season baby cheapskate posted a deal on the play kitchen I had just purchased a day or two earlier. The new price was $5 cheaper. Five dollars isn’t much in the grad scheme of things, but it wounded my frugal shopper pride. I decided to call the company I had purchased from to ask if they’d price match themselves. Sure enough they refunded the difference without hassle.

It seems so obvious to me now to ask for price adjustments. I was still within the return window, the kitchen was even still in the box as it was intended to be a Christmas present. I could have returned and repurchased the play kitchen in order to get the better price. (Not that I would have, given how hectic the holidays can be, but I could have.) It would have cost the company more in terms of shipping and restocking, than simply refunding a few dollars. Price adjustments also helps garner customer good will, and makes me more likely to be a repeat customer.

Now I continue to price watch items for a few weeks after I make the purchase. Yesterday we switched Nicki to a twin bed while my parents were visiting. Wouldn’t you know it, the price dropped nearly $30 since I purchased it a week ago! I called up, and got the refund of the price difference. Easy Peasy.

Replenishing Non Perishables akin to a Subscription Service: I am a fan of subscription services – especially subscription services that give a discount! Alas not everything is available through subscriptions, or runs out in predictable intervals. And sometimes the price of an item will drop lower than the subscription price for a brief window.

I started price watching diaper pail refill bags, and have recently added printer ink to my price watches. (We can easily shoot through 2 or 3 ink refills cartridges when printing photos ahead of Grandma’s visits every couple of months – have I mentioned I take a lot of photos?) If I get a price drop alert when my supply is starting to run low, I’ll make an additional purchase.

To get the best possible deal I’ll set up a couple of price watches for the same product, either for different stores, different variations (XL or regular) or different quantities (single or double pack). Usually buying in bulk is better, but not always. Likewise some stores tend to have better every day prices, and others sometimes have better sale prices. The more individual instances of a product I’m price watching the better the chance I’ll get a great deal.

August 18, 2014

Battery Storage Box

battery storage box
Battery Storage Box

I’ve been in love with this idea since I saw it on pinterest: A box with removable compartment dividers to store all your batteries. I had previously looked into buying battery boxes off of amazon or the container store, but they were all fixed sizes boxes. If I was running low on C batteries, that space would be wasted. We also had some non standard batteries for toys & camera equipment that I wanted to accommodate.

Every website I saw that described this particular image referred to the box as a “tackle box”. The box they used may have been a tackle box, but I spent enough time in JoAnn’s and Micheal’s to know a standard craft box would suffice. For the kinds of batteries we have, we needed something roughly 2.5 inches tall (About the size of a standing D battery 2.5 inches). I settled on the Creative Options brand, “deep utility box“. Regularly $8.99 on sale for $5.39 at Micheal’s. Online prices for the box are rather ridiculous. I recommend visiting your local craft stores and seeing what they have. If you don’t have a local craft store, you might have luck at a office supply store, Target or Walmart. Just make sure what ever box you do get is tall enough for your batteries, or at least has wide enough compartments for them to lie flat.

battery storage box

This particular box has three rows, the first row (closest to the latches) cannot be compartmentalized. I’m using that space to house the extra dividers and odd shaped batteries.

I had thought we had a ton of AA batteries. A while back when we had a Costco membership (6? 7? years ago) we bought one of those mega packs. Turns out we’re down to our last seven! I thought we also had AAA batteries. It wasn’t until I was putting together the box that I had a vague recollection of maybe using the last ones on a toy. Now I know what I need to stock up on so hopefully we won’t be caught off guard again!

battery storage box
Nicole investigating the box

Another big win? It’s defacto child proof. Or at least more baby proofed than the previous method of leaving batteries in the packaging. When I was taking the photos of the box she came up to investigate. She couldn’t open the box she grew bored with it and ignored it.

August 16, 2014

The Cost of Organization

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

We’re getting closer and closer to finish our organizational quest. It’s a very good thing since we’re getting closer and closer to running out of closet space! Now that we’re almost done and I don’t think I’ll be buying much more, I like to do what I always do – crunch the numbers!

Storage Tins: $90.24, roughly $8.20 per tin
Pasta containers: $76.95
Toy Chest: $62.99
Other (Diploma frame, “wedding proof” album, etc): $53.97
Total = $284.15

WOWZA.

The tins were mostly a necessity. I did get some specialty tins (like an anti-tarnish craft box for my hand made jewelry), though surprisingly the specialty tins tended to be the cheaper ones. I guess the price is more a function of volume of plastic more than anything else!

The pasta containers were a bit of a splurge. We go through a lot of pasta with a toddler in the house. It’s also easy for me to forget what I have, and we sometimes end up with multiple open boxes of the same pasta shape. I wanted to combine the half used boxes into something air tight so I could more easily see what pasta I do have, and what I needed to pick up at the store. Also they’re pretty. I ended up going Oxo pop top brand. Only I purchased them in the store rather than online and paid a bit more. Dang it!

We ended up getting the Little Tikes toy chest. We had previously been using a bookshelf to keep Nicki’s toys organized, but Nicki’s become quite the climber and managed to topple the book shelf once. She wasn’t hurt, but I wasn’t going to risk it. Much like the crib, once she deemed the shelf “climbable” she wasn’t going to let one spill stop her from trying again. As a result, Nicki’s toys are all over our living room. (We really don’t need any more tripping hazards…)

The stuff in the other category is really superfluous. I don’t need a diploma frame, especially if I’m not planning on hanging my diploma.

Overall I’m happy with my purchases, even if I did overspend on a couple of occasions. I look forward to seeing those pasta containers on the counter in our new home one day.

August 12, 2014

It’s the Network

I’ve been watching the file transfers in my home cloud a little more closely, and now I can definitively say the bottle neck is the network. Oh sure, the hardware is slow too, but faster hardware won’t make much of a difference. On a very good day I can get about as much as 2 MB/s (roughly 1% of the theoretical max the hardware can do.) On a bad day I may not even get 100 KB/s. More typically I get maybe 300 KB/s.

In retrospect this should have been obvious. I’ve been really cranky with our internet speeds. The lines are so congested here that it’s not uncommon to be without internet all together a few times a week. (I blame both high density housing, and the fact that we’re currently living in Silicon Valley. I’m sure there are at least 3 start-ups within 50 feet of me as I write this blog post.) We’ve even had days were the wireless signal is so saturated our baby monitor – which doesn’t run over the internet – looses it’s signal! Thankfully things have been better, at least in terms of up time, maybe not in terms of speed.

On slow days even accessing my cloud can be painful. If I need to browse the photo directory to find a photo to show grandma? Not going to happen unless I go use the computer physically attached to the hard drive. Our network is just too slow.

My options:

  • Set up a wired connection. Get a large (50 ft? 75 ft?) ethernet cable and plug our cloud computer directly into the modem. I’d also need a shorter cable for my laptop. This will at least cut down on the wireless interference, and help with the weak signal. The fairly obvious con is now we have a cable running the lengthwise of our apartment. We don’t need additional tripping hazards. Believe me, we have plenty as it is.
  • Move the modem. It’s right now in the Living room since it’s cable and internet in one box. I kind of want to pitch cable, but I’m not sure I’m ready to. Besides, then I’d have the opposite problem of having very poor signal in the living room, instead of the office.
  • Purchase a repeater. A repeater can boost the wireless signal, but it can’t do much to combat the saturated line.
  • Live with it. I can avoid backing up my memory card during peek hours. I even joked with Domingo that not having immediate access to my photos might help with my photo separation anxiety.

“Live with it” is the option I’m leaning towards. We’re planning on moving in (hopefully) no more than 9 months, so I’m reluctant to buy a cable or repeater to fix a short term problem. I know, I know, they’re cheap, but so am I!

This week is the tipping point. If Ziggy was born today she’d have a 50% chance of survival. As I was filling out the paper work for maternity leave this weekend, I kept thinking about how extra special this holiday season will be. I also couldn’t help but think about all the things I want to accomplish in advance of the holidays. So this week I decided to get a head start on some of those items.

Holiday Card

Every year I design and send out a Christmas Card. Since we’re working on a compress time frame, I thought I would get a head start designing this years card. Now. In August. In actuality I used to have several years worth of card layouts done, but I’ve since burned through my stash. I suspect one of these years I will recycle a card layout, but I am determined for that year not to be this year.

So far I’ve covered the standard Christmas & winter basic colors (red, green (x2), blue, & white.) To mix it up a little I thought I’d challenge myself with a gold theme card. Since I print the cards from home, that means creating the illusion of a metallic sheen from standard RBG colors. I followed this tutorial, adapting the instructions to paint shop pro. I really love how it turned out!

Happy Holidays
A sneak peak at the gold lettering.

It’s usually my preference to have all family members on the card. I also prefer to have them all in the same shot if doable. In order to get the cards out in a timely manner, I’ll need to have a family photo taken no later than early to mid December, possibly just days after Ziggy’s arrival. That’s going to cause the protectionist in me a great deal of stress. I think for my own sanity we’ll just have a photo of the girls this time around. Having too people look good is much easier to accomplish than having four. And really, kids are pretty much always adorable, even when they’re messy and not cooperating. I’m sure everyone will be more interested in the girls than Domingo and I anyway.

Birth Announcement

Another high priority in my mind is creating birth announcement ornament. In order to create the ornament, I first need the birth announcement! While I can wait until December 25th for this one, it will be much more convenient to send it with the holiday cards, so this week I finished the layout.

I decided to go with a three photo layout. That could back fire on me. I designed our 2012 card with a four photo layout long before taking our Christmas photos, than took one of my most favorite photos ever. Alas, the photo didn’t really work with the multi-photo layout. I like the photos I ultimately choose, but it’s hard not to look at the card and remember how much more I like the photo that never made it onto the card.

Ziggy’s Stocking

We’re only about 80% settled on a name, but I did the very unfruggle thing of going ahead and purchasing a stocking.

When I purchased the stockings last year I didn’t realize how badly I was over paying. It turns out I was going through a middle man. I made this discovery when two of the three stockings came back with the names off center. My stocking was just off center enough to annoy a perfectionists. Nicole’s stocking was ridiculously off center.

Stockings
Off Center Stockings.
A 3 inch margin on the left, 1.5 on the right.

When I contacted customer support to request a replacement stocking for Nicki, the company I ordered forwarded my request to the supplier, whom I could have ordered the stocking directly from myself. Of course I couldn’t help but look up the price – $10 less than what I had paid per stocking!

Lesson learned: Next time do a reverse image source on the item I’m considering purchasing. The search will bring up all other retailers using the same stock photo. Then I can do a true price comparison.

The new stocking came in time for Christmas, but not before the milk & cookies photos by the tree. At least you can’t tell in the photos.

I am hoping to make stockings for the girls. I have a notion of using seed beads to spell out their names, but I’m not sure how to pull it off. Since I’m not sure I will figure it out in time, I wanted to have a personalized set complete with one for Ziggy.

August 3, 2014

DIY Bath Toy Organizer

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.
DIY Bath Toy Organizer
DIY Bath Toy Organizer

I thought I was really clever with this one. That is, until I checked pinterest this afternoon and noticed many others had come up with the same idea I had. Oh well. At least I can rest assured I’m in good company.

We had two issues when it came to bath time: (1) too many toys, and (2) a safety beam that’s just begging to be a concussion instrument.

When Nicki was young she had a bunch of bath squirters. We could fit most of them into the stacking buckets her aunt bought her. Recently, we also bought her bath letters set since she can’t get enough of the ABCs. Suddenly we had too many bath toys to store even remotely neatly. We’re in a two bathroom apartment, and Nicki’s bathtub is the one that’s shared whenever grandparents stay over. We needed a quick way to remove the toys so the shower was usable for adults.

The other concern was the safety bar. Nicki is generally good about sitting in the tub, but the bar is a little too inviting, and she occasionally likes to investigate it. It’s also at the wrong height so sometimes when she stands up to signal she’s ready for out she comes pretty close to clonking her head on it. We needed some sort of padding to keep her away from the bar.

That’s when I got the idea to attach plastic buckets to the bar to act as a buffer. Now if Nicki stands up, she’ll bump into the far-less-likely-to-cause-a-concussion bucket long before she bumps into the bar, and we have a place to store all those toys. We needed very deep buckets to both hold all the toys, and to hang mostly even since the bar’s a good 1.25″ from the wall.

Diagram
The deeper the bucket (side ‘A‘ of the triangle) the shallower the angle to the wall (θ)

We found these at Target for $5.99 a piece. They’re not exactly the most fetching baskets, but they’re plastic so they won’t rust and have holes so they’ll drain water. We attached them with left over shower curtain hooks.

DIY Bath Toy Organizer Buckets
The Buckets

From pinterest it seems that dollar tree buckets are much more popular. They’re a bit shallower than what we used, but if you put a tension shower curtain rod close to the wall, would work great and be a bit cheaper. I suspect when we move we’ll go this route. At least I hope we don’t have another safety bar in our kids’ bathroom.

Nicki had a blast taking all the toys out at bath time. She was so enamored with the baskets, she even put the toys away when it was time to get out!


Addendum: Looks like I am not as clever as I thought I was. Nicki loves her basket, but now she wants to stand in the tub to inspect all the toys! We ended up buying a shower curtain rod after all.

Second Addendum: The shower curtain rod is gone. Just 3 months after we started using it I noticed it was beginning to rust on the inside. I’m not normally a super crunchy, no chemicals type, but rust is pretty high up their on the bad list. We’re back to using the safety bar. Nicki stands occasionally, but the tub at least has a no slip liner and we’re working with her to stay seated.