Archive for the ‘For the Home’ Category

December 29, 2017

Toward A Better Heating System

Our nest went haywire again last night. It only happens when in heat mode, and hasn’t happened since we got the replacement a year ago, but it’s still exceedingly disappointing to be happening again. The problem? Nest’s temperature sensor gets confused. As a result, Nest sometimes forgets to turn the furnace off. We woke up in the middle of the night to 80 degree temperatures and the heater still running. That’s wasted energy (and money) not to mentioned a lost night of sleep for no reason.

Part of the challenge of heating our house is that it’s a dual zone system. Both thermostats are in relatively the same location (the hallway by the stairs), just on different floors. Heat rises, so how often the downstairs zone is running effects how warm the upstairs hallway is, which in turn effects how frequently the upstairs zone runs. The upstairs zone is the only zone that effects the bedroom. There’s a lot of guess work involved to figure out the optimal settings so the bedrooms remain comfortable overnight. (Quite frankly, the goal is the kids room. I’m happy to suffer if it means the kids sleep through the room.) It reminds me of how the first refrigerators with freezers were designed.

When I first heard about Keen Home Smart Vents over a year ago I thought it was the answer to our problems. If the vents open and close automatically, then we in theory won’t cook the kids over night. Problem was “smart” at that point meant automatically opening and closing based on a predefined schedule or the app on your phone, not the current temperature of the room. Since we usually don’t wake up until it’s too late, that wouldn’t work for us.

Since our heater went haywire last night I decided to look into smart vents again. Keen is now coming out with temperature sensors! Even better, there are competitors in the smart vent space. In another year or so the technology will mature and we may finally be able to get a more temperature balanced house!

I have been slow to put up Halloween decorations this year. At first I blamed the wild life, as it was ripping up our lawn and wreaking havoc in our flower beds. Why risk the Halloween decorations being knocked over and damaged, I told myself. But as the weeks progressed I realized I’m just not that happy with our current set of Halloween decorations.

Most of our outdoor decorations just don’t work for our current home. There’s the “Welcome” orange street lamp that worked well on our town home front stoop, what with the non-existent front yard. At our home, it all but disappears from view on our porch. After nine years years the finish is coming off, it’s starting to rust, and it’s barely up right. There are the skulls and scattered bones that look cool, but you can only see them up close. Lastly there’s the posable spider which ended up being a huge mistake as it sheds like crazy and is hard to find a good spot for it.

We’ve been in our home now for two years, and plan to stay throughout the kids’ high school years. I thought it was time to do away with the decorations that just aren’t cutting it. Alexis has been a little fearful of some of the more animated and scary decorations, so I wanted something friendly and approachable while still being appropriate for the season.

My first concern was to light the walkway. I wanted to use luminaries, but rather than use traditional paper bag luminaries with LED tealights, I decided to go with candles. I found these. Ironically the reviewers chief complaint (that they’re too orange) made them ideal for me. It ended up being a bit pricey for luminaries ($24 for the candle holders, $10 for the tea lights), but they should last for years.

In the corner on the other side of our walk way I plan to put a non-animatronic stone statue and a lit pumpkin. I envision something made out of grapevine with twinkle lights. This would be perfect, if it was weather resistent. Alas, a carved pumpkin doesn’t work too well here. Last year our jack-o-lantern liquefied in 36 hours thanks to the intense UV rays.

I have my eye on a statue that will work, and am just waiting for the right sale. (I’ve waited this long, might as well wait a few more days.) The grapevine pumpkin is proving to be a bit more difficult. It seems to be a popular in door only decoration. Still, I’m nothing if not persistent. And frugal. Most of the time.

I always assumed the girls would prefer to be in their own room, but Nicole recently confided in me that she’d prefer to have someone sleep in her room with her. (She requested Mommy, and then pointed out that Daddy gets to share a room with Mommy when I said Mommy had to sleep in her own room.) I realize I’ve been projecting late childhood and early teenage sensibilities onto the girls. It’s totally reasonable that a four year old and two year old would prefer company to privacy.

The timing seemed ideal. Domingo has been on travel a lot lately, which gives us a built in excuse should our shared room experience go awry and I need to abort. I could tell the kids Alexis was sleeping over in Nicole’s room as a special treat while Daddy was away. If things worked out, we would keep the arrangement permanently. If not, and the kids kept each other awake, well they were expecting to go back to their own rooms in a few days anyway. Alexis had moved to a toddler bed at the end of March, so all I needed to do was move the crib mattress into Nicole’s room.

The first night was not really as rocky as I expected. Alexis did wake up Nicole, but both girls were emphatic about wanting to staying together and try again the next night. Alexis also settled down quickly under the threat of needing to return to her room, otherwise. Now that it’s been a few weeks, it’s safe to say this arrangement is our new normal. (And also that occasionally waking each other up is our new normal as well.)

To celebrate, I decided to redo the room to accommodate both girls. My favorite part? The die cut blackout curtains (pictured above). They let in just enough light to appear like twinkling stars and are so super soft. Usually I don’t trust my decorating skills and shoot for neutral, safe, colors. This time I went with turquoise and I love the splash of color. Ignore the color in the photo, that has to do with shutter speed and the abundance of sunlight sneaking in through the side of the open curtain. The true color is much closer to the one shown on Amazon. The girls’ favorite part? The princess canvas wall art. Cinderella is currently Alexis’ favorite, and Belle is Nicole’s so it works out nicely. Personally I could have done without the glitter and rhinestones, but I like the subtle design in the negative space, and really it’s their room so it’s okay that it’s not quite my style. Bonus it was 10% off.

In the coming days we’ll purchase a twin mattress for Alexis. We’re thinking about bunk beds for the girls when we’re sure we can trust Alexis to stay stationary in bed. Their room is large, but an awkward shape. I’m not sure two twin beds will fit comfortable otherwise.

March 15, 2017

Let there be LEDs

We lost another ceiling fan. That’s the third one to die in under two years. I suspect it’s another issue with the ceiling fan controller. That’s the issue claimed the previous two fans. So we’ll be making our third call to an electrician in less than a year. le sigh. Could be worse I suppose.

There’s a part of me that wonders if the problems we’ve been having may be a wattage issue. We noticed our outside bulbs had a ridiculously short half life until we went with a lower wattage. Could lower wattages help the ceiling fans last longer? Either way, it seems like a good excuse to finally make that switch to LEDs that we’ve been considering.

Of course I first thought of our experience with Hue light strips. I recently learned that Hue is making a line of white bulbs that let you choose the warmth/cool color level of the light which is appealing. You can set the light color temperature to what’s appropriate for time of day or activity, like photography. On the other hand I spent a lot of money on those light strips that are still in the closet, yet to find a good place in our new home. Then there’s the bulb size issue. Hue is coming out with a candelabra/candle but it won’t be available until later this year. Given all the grief I’ve gone with other new to market products, I have lost my desire to be an early adopter to anything. I decided to pass on Hue and it’s customobility… for now.

Instead I went with a lower wattage yellow light LEDs that bathes the room in an inviting glow. It’s not perfect for photography, but as long as the lighting temperature is consistent, I simple white balance adjustment will be fine. I opted to go with replacement bulbs in the recesses fixtures, rather than new recesses fixtures to give me the flexibility to change my mind on the color temperature later.

I started with the first floor, candelabra ($2-9 per depending on the shape) for the living room and dinning room and recessed lighting bulbs ($4.28 per bulb) for the kitchen. Hue is more typically $30 a bulb, but can range from $25-50 depending on a number of factors. I paid a lot more than that when the technology was brand new.

As for shopping, there wasn’t much of a selection in brick and mortar stores for the candelabra base. I had one option with each globe shape and couldn’t choose the color warmth. Online offered a way better selection, but prices varied wildly. It can also be really hard to gage whether it’s the right size bulb. It helped that the only non-medium (the standard household bulb base) base I needed was that candelabra.

To keep the price down, I bought in bulk and didn’t worry too much whether I was getting a “low quality” LED. From my research, quality in the LED world corresponds to longevity of the bulb. Even cheap LED are supposed to have something like 10 times the life of traditional bulbs. Good quality LEDs might have twice that life span. Either way, it’ll be a long time before I need to replace any of them. Given that, I set some extremely low price watches on CamelCamelCamel for replacement bulbs. That way I can be thrifty, and prepared at the same time.

Cheaper LED bulbs that last longer and require less energy than traditional bulbs. It’s the hat trick of saving!

One last tip which may sound kind of nutty: I separated my bulbs based on color temperature. Warm light bulbs are on one shelf, cool light bulbs on another. That way I can easily replace a burnt out bulb for another like bulb. I cannot stand mixed warmth lighting.

September 17, 2016

Hello, Alexa!


Technically it’s “Hello, Echo!” We had to change the wake word since ‘Alexa’ and ‘Alexis’ are too phonetically similar.

Last Amazon Prime day I purchased the Echo. It’s sat in it’s box until now. I clearly have not learned my lesson. At least this time I didn’t buy two.

I admit I wasn’t sure how much use case we’d get out of Echo. With our push for a smart home, it seemed like a tool that would one day control everything. At the time I didn’t realize that it could talk to our new irrigation system at the time of purchase. I did think it would be nice to ask Echo about the weather while busy trying to dress the kids in the morning. It’s not often I have a hand free to crack open my laptop or check my mobile device. It would also be nice to have a way of playing Christmas music. We gave up the only stereo we had when we downsized, and laptop speakers don’t work as well.

When Amazon had its sale we figured we’d grow into Echo.

Now that it’s set up I can say it’s worth it now.

Nicole is constantly asking it to play songs, only she doesn’t know their titles so her request of “please play Elsa” falls on confused digital ears. Domingo has been referring to Echo as “the robot” and now Nicole is eager to build a robot of her own. That makes this engineering Mama extremely happy to hear.

Alexis, for her part, runs around chanting “Ek-oh! Ek-oh!” When Alexis woke up from her nap this afternoon I asked her if she wanted to play with Nicole. She only blinked at my groggily. I asked if she wanted to play with Echo? “Ek-oh!” She puts too much of a pause between the syllables for Echo to understand her, but I’m sure she’ll get the hang of it in no time.

It took the girls less than 20 minutes to figure out they could add crackers to Mommy’s shopping list. That may be off putting to some. Had it not been possible to disable voice purchasing I would have been annoyed too. Since I can, and don’t need to worry about spurious photos, I’m eager to see my kids learn how to interact with all kinds of technology. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to hire Nicole as an App developer. She’s already inspired enough to build a robot.

So that’s speakers, future proofing for our smart home, a toy for the kids and fostering our love of robotics all for just $141 (with tax). Well, and an additional $7.74 so Nicole could listen to the full songs from Frozen, and not just the 30 second free samples.

August 8, 2016

Dress-up Dresser


I’ve been thinking about updating our dress-up corner ever since the girls had a vintage style photo session at their school at the beginning of the year. (Vintage preschool photos are all the range around here, two of the three preschools we’ve gone to have done them.) I loved the idea of hanging one of their photos in the dress-up corner, which had turned into a pile of clothes since the coat hanger really isn’t enough storage space any more.

For the makeshift dresser I used a cheap, two tiered bookshelf. Cheap was an important criteria as I knew I’d be destroying it in the process of converting it into a dresser and I hate to destroy anything I spend money on.

I lowered the shelves and converted them into a two tiered shoe rack, attached hooks to the side of the bookshelf for accessories and strung a tension rode strung across to hold the clothes. Easy Peasy.


I had intended to use the pre-drilled holes the bookshelf came with, but they were two high for the shoe rack. The second shelf (obscured partially by the clothes) was at the lowest set of pre-drilled holes. Even as it is, that shelf is a bit high for four year old clothes, really. Many of the capes especially hang over the edge of that shelf. To create the holders for the second, lower, shelf I screwed four wood screws into the wood, leaving them to protrude about a quarter inch for the shelf to rest on. I picked screws with heads about the same width as the pegs, so the shelf grooves would fit over them. I didn’t bother doing a very thorough job of the placement of the shelf. I lined it up where I wanted it to go, and used one of Nick’s crayons to mark the shelf grooves before screwing in the screws.


To hold the superhero masks (because every child needs a super hero mask or 10!) I used wall hooks. The screws that came with the wall hooks were far too long for thin bookshelf wood, so I just glued ’em on (E6100, my trusty standby). I used masking tape to help hold the hooks steady while the glue was drying. Not the most elegant solution, but it works well enough.

The picture that started it all. Aside: If you want to take a photo of a picture frame, but your reflection keeps getting in the way, get a longer lens and stand further back. From a distance you can stand slightly to the side of the frame rather than directly in front and have minimal distortions.

I’m very happy with the way this project turned out. It got the dressup clothes off the floor is a nice, organized manner and looks nice. Now if only I could find a simple solution for the rest of my house…

Dresser Material Costs:
2 Foot Wide Black Bookshelf – $17.99
2 Sets of Wall Hooks – $3.99 (x2)
Tension Rode – $2.97
Total: $28.94

Oval Picture Frame ($18)

Painting the playroom is still on my todo list.

April 29, 2016

Electrical Fixes

It suddenly dawned on me that in a few weeks we’ll have been in our new home a full year. After the electrician ended up not being nearly as expensive as I feared, we decided to hire him back and fix a few more issues for us.

Most critical was the fire alarms. Shortly after moving in the fire alarm above the stair case went off in the middle of the night, thoroughly freaking out Nicole. A fresh pair of batteries and it would still occasionally chirp, reigniting Nicole’s fears each time. The alarm was probably past it’s prime and needed to be replaced. The alarms in our home are interconnected, so the simplest solution was to purchase the same brand as the faulty alarm and just switch out the alarm leaving the harness in tact. But I couldn’t find a replacement. It turns out the manufacturer of the fault alarm had gone out of business ten years ago. (The National Fire Protection Association recommends replacing fire alarms every ten years.) All five of the fire alarms we had in our home from that manufacturer were likely past their prime. Not only would the harnesses need to be replaced, but it would need to be re-wired.

State law requires a fire alarm in each bedroom and in the nearby vicinity outside the bedrooms. With the layout of our home, that means four fire alarms (including the faulty one) within 6 feet of each other. Two of which looked brand new, the others needed to be replaced but still appeared to be functional. I didn’t see much harm in leaving this one disconnected this past year. The problem arises should we ever decide to sell the house. Besides, those other old fire alarms felt like a ticking time bomb. They were functional now, but how long until age caused them to go off randomly in the middle of the night?

Original office ceiling fan, most definitely not my style

The second issue we had was the ceiling fans. The ceiling fan in the office was original to the house, and the light could no longer be turned on. It was a minor annoyance since we could use a lamp. The previous occupant of Alexis’ room had held a broom up to the fan, damaging one of the blades. Although it was still fully functional, the damaged fans was one of the eye sores I noted when I first toured the house. Fixing it would drastically increase the visual appeal of the room.

Much more my style, and – bonus! – it works!

The electrician has been recommending we switch out our lighting fixtures to more energy efficient ones. It’s an appealing idea. The LEDs require less energy and create a whiter light better for photography. I’d love to get those eyelights I’ve been wanting, and a more modern chandelier in the dinning room would be nice. That’s the problem with home improvements. There’s always something else that can be improved upon.

For now I’m moving on from the electrical improvements. Alexis’ room is still purple, except for one two foot splash of cream from when I thought I’d try out a new color. From July. I should probably actually, you know, paint.

When we moved from our apartment to our home, we more than doubled the square footage. The trade off was closet space. We have one major closet, the one in the master bedroom. It’s huge. So huge, in fact, that I fit a desk in it and now have a crafting nook. A desk. In the closet. Along the narrow wall. Yet we have no entryway closet, no linen closet, no mud room storage. It’s a good thing we live in a temperate climate because our coat closet is barely wide enough for a door.

My mission right now is to find a way to organize everything so it doesn’t look like a preschool exploded in our home. Because, quite frankly, that’s a generous description of our home.

Getting rid of some media clutter

First up, is getting rid of those DVDs. Right now I have a 2 ft, by 3 ft by 1 ft stack of DVDs in the entrance way. I’m leaning towards Vudu’s DVD to Digital service. Basically you prove you own the DVD, and they sell you a digital copy for cheap. We have, by my estimate, around 300 DVDs. We’re unlikely to ever watch them, but I hate to part with things that are still functional, especially those still in the shrink wrap.

Yes, I realize I’m being somewhat irrational. Or at least not frugal. Those DVDs are a sunk cost, and it’s silly to throw more money at the problem, but it will make me feel better and I can donate the physical copies. I’ve convinced myself that by converting it to digital we’ll be more likely to actually watch them, and they’ll take up less space.

Speaking of DVDs, do you know it’s 2016 and Domingo and I still don’t own a device capable of playing a BluRay? We learned that (and fixed that) this weekend.

Those shoes!

Shoes. Shoes all over the floor. And not just our current ones but the ones Nicole & Alexis just grew out of. No entrance way closet means no shoe rack. This is another case of large space, no storage. We have a large enough wall that we can fit a storage bench.

I’d like to find something comfortable to sit on while taking off your shoes that has storage to hold said shoes. This isn’t the best solution, as we usually come in through the garage and not the entrance way, but it’ll beat leaving shoes strewn about the floor.

Toys, Toys and More Toys!

Finally we need to come up with a storage idea for the toys. What I really need is a way to easily separate and store the toys for both kids. There have been a few toys that Alexis would have enjoyed, but were buried and not unearthed until she had out grown them. We’re also now collecting quite a few sets of toys with multiple parts, (e.g. building blocks, puzzles, magnets, etc), which work best when you know where all the parts are. I had been using individual draw string bags, but they become difficult to see through and we tend to forget about some beloved toys that way. I suspect a toy purge is in order.

After not finding anything to my taste, I’ve decided to 3D print our ‘New Home 2015’ ornament. I found an on demand printing company, so all I need to do is create a CAD file. The design will be a key, with the bow resembling our house. Kind of like this. My intuition is that it will be a fairly easy first 3D project, since it’s mostly a 2D design with beveling.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of mixing 3d printing with my ornaments. I have a lot of ornaments. Some are pretty durable, others not. I have back up copies of all the important milestone representations: new home, just married, babies first Christmas, etc. But it would be really nice to back them all up in electronic form. Electronic files require less storage space than physical copies, and I could create as many copies as I need. No more purchasing spares because something might break.

I thought surely this must be a violation of some law. After all, I cannot create a digital copy of a DVD to store as backup – and that’s an electronic medium to start with! It doesn’t seem ethical to buy an item and make copies, if I would have otherwise bought two. I did some digging and at least in terms of trademark law, it’s fine as long as my copies or electronic files are never exposed to potential consumers, it seems I’d be safe. Copyright law is another matter. This use case may fall under fair use, but given how new 3D printing is, there isn’t a lot of case law on it.

Some companies are embrace 3D printing. Hasbro did with it’s My Little Pony brand, and they similarly have large fan base of collectors. They benefit from a licencing fee, without much fear that it will damper interest in their original merchandise. After all die hard collectors will still want the original. Lego, too, is considering allowing users to print their own blocks. Maybe Hallmark will fallow suit. Then again, if my experience with their keepsake club website is any indication, Hallmark is less technologically savvy. We’ll just have to wait what happens.


Domingo and I have this notion of turning our home into a smart home. We’ve been thinking about it ever since I started playing with Hue. So before I left Google I wanted to take advantage of my employee discount and purchase a pair of nest thermostats. During the check out process, Nest wanted me to confirm our HVAC system was compatible with their thermostats. Trouble was, our offer had only just been accepted. We were a month away from closing, and days away from leaving Google and my discount. I decided to chance it.

That wasn’t a good gamble on my part.

Two weeks after taking ownership of the home I took the old thermostats off the wall to discover there was no way to power the one for the upstairs zone. I brought someone out who confirmed my fears. Nest was simply not compatible with our dual zone system. I asked if it made sense to update the dual zone system. He said it would cost thousands of dollars, definitely not worth it for a thermostat, even a cool one like the nest. Wait for the old one to die, was his advice.

Waiting for it to die took 2 months and 6 days apparently.

I got the distinct impression he thought the death of our zoning system would take longer.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just our zoning system knocking on death’s door. The AC and heater were being brought down with it. That was not a fun discovery, but if there’s a bright side to this rain cloud, it’s that I got to use my nest after all.

Older Posts »