Archive for the ‘For the Home’ Category

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!

echo

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

dressupcorner

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.

dresser

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.

hooks

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.

vintagedressup
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?

originalfan
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.

replacementfan
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.

nest

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.

June 20, 2015

Handy

“Is your husband handy?” was the question posed to me in the middle of Home Depot this afternoon while I was talking to the sales associate about flooring. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she figured I must be since I was the one standing there with the shopping cart full of goodies. That unspoken “also” was clearly implied.

Here’s my project list for the new home:

Flooring
Flooring is my primary issue with our new home, from the carpeting to the linoleum. The former owners had a small dog. As a pet owner myself I recognize the tall tale signs of animal tummy troubles in the carpet. It happens. Even without the spots, the carpet is also super old and the padding has no more give. In the laundry room the linoleum is stained, ripped and coming up.

I’m sure I’ll be hiring a contractor for this one.

Painting
The only thing holding me back from carpeting the upstairs right away is the painting. Our closets are, umm, interesting colors. Nicki’s closet is Orange, Alexis’ is deep blue and ours is a kind of pinkish Mauve. The purple in Alexis’ room also needs to go. It’s too dark and absorbs too much light making it difficult to take photos in it. (I’m sure as a six month old she doesn’t care what color her room is, so Mommy gets to pick and mommy likes neutral, light colors.) Since I’m doing her room, I figured I’d do Nicole’s as well. For the rest of the house I plan to leave the colors the same. I think I’d like to paint the kitchen green instead of blue, but the current paint job looks pretty good, so it’s on my ‘some-day’ list.

The painting I was thinking of attempting myself. At least I figure I cannot make it worse. If I hire a professional it will cost the same, whether or not I tried to paint first myself.

I also purchased some touch up paint for the master, hallway and office. Everyone keeps telling me I can’t match paint. I disbelieve. I am hopeful. Again, I figure it can’t hurt to try.

Blinds
Most of the house has wood blinds, but there are still aluminum blinds in the kitchen, master and master bath. The kitchen and master bedroom blinds are in good shape, but old. The master bathroom blinds, on the other hand, were in horrible condition. They were badly bent and the valance had fallen half off of one of them.

I replaced the master bath blinds with faux wood ones. It ended up being super easy once I got the old mounts off. They had been painted to the wall with three coats of paint, and remained quite affixed, even after the mounting screws were removed. I want to replace the rest of the aluminum ones as well, but I need to find the right sizes first. I also want to see if I can match the kitchen blinds to the family room blinds.

Fans
The fan in Alexis’ room is in sad shape. The blades are actually ripped. The fans in Nicki’s room and the playroom are also not in fabulous shape, but if I’m going to replace one I will probably replace them all.

I am scarred to do anything electrical myself.

June 2, 2015

Coming Together

Despite all that effort getting organized, it’s clear packing is going to take longer that our previous moves. Between the two kids there’s we often lack set of free hands unpack boxes during the day, and we can’t work much at night for fear of disturbing their sleep. Still, it is nice to have a few boxes that can go right into storage in our garage or in the storage space under the stairs. I shutter to think how far behind we’d be had I not spent the time organizing before our move.

Slow and steady is the goal. Thankfully the one thing I can always do at night is shop, and look for deals!

dressup
Nicki exploring her dress up clothes.
A coat rack from target. It was on clearance sale since our local target is reducing the home section to make more room for seasonal gifts. Win for me! It comes in 3 sections, I put together two, skipping the middle so it would be the perfect toddler height for dress up clothes. Double win.

One of the big areas we’re lacking in right now is furniture. We purged most of our previous stuff in the move to Sunnyvale. I miss our end tables. I wasn’t super found of them, so I’m surprised to hear myself say that. What I am found of is not spending money. It also turns out I’m super picky.

Our first thought on the furniture front was to buy ‘nice’ things to match our ‘nice’ new home, but I’ve since changed my mind. My new goal is stuff-that-will-survive-the-kids. If our new kitchen table makes it to Alexis’ fourth birthday I will be thrilled.

This week I ordered 2 dressers, 3 desks, a dinning room table and chairs. Still to go: a curio/tv stand of some kind, computer chairs, and a place to sit in the family room. Call me crazy, but I’m actually looking forward to assembling the furniture while the kids are at daycare! Now if only I could motivate myself to unpack during that time.

This place doesn’t feel like home yet. I’m hoping once we’re out of boxes that changes.

January 13, 2015

Framing Ideas

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.

The bloom has come off the rose of our apartment. To keep from feeling completely cramped and closed in, I’ve taken to thinking of our next home – the place we hope to start look for in a few months and ideally like to live for a few decades – and imaging how I’d like to decorate it.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’d like to frame and hang photos.

Watercolors

Ever since I discovered the waterlouge app I have been in love with the idea of a water color photo print. I’ve been playing with various photos to see what works best and have decided on a beach photo for the girls’ future bathroom.

nickiwatercolor
Nicole (14 months) while visiting relatives in Florida

Of course the photo I will actually use will have both girls in it. Luckily for me there’s a nice beach near by. Watch out Alexis, we’ll be making a visit as soon as you learn to sit!

The one potential hiccup is the humidity. High humidity plus rapid changes in temperature equals condensation, which can get into the frame and damage the photo. I’ve read some home improvement websites that say don’t worry about it, and others that advocate specialized frames. I’d like to save myself the time and cost of reprinting the photo, especially if I end up wanting a print larger than what can be done with a home printer. I got this specialized water resistent frame during a price drop as an experiment. We’re still a few months (at least) from buying, so in the mean time I’ll hang the above photo in our bathroom and see if it suffers any water damage.

watercolors
Test frame up. Love the look of watercolors on resume paper. It looks like an actual watercoloring!

Teddy Bear Shelf

I was recently going over old photos and rediscovered this one of Nicki, taken right around the time she turned two.

nickibear

There’s nothing special about the bear. I can’t even remember where I got it (other than a vague feeling it was once my moms). Yet when I was looking for a stuffed animal for Alexis’ newborn photos, I serendipitously grabbed the same bear. Wouldn’t it be nice to have two photos, one of each of the girls, with the same toy, and the toy itself preserved for posterity?

bearshelf
The Concept

Although I already have photos of Alexis and the bear, I’m thinking about taking a few more with the bear towards camera and Alexis turned away like the above photo (though not the same pose!). Maybe when when she’s around one. I like the idea of Nicole being older in her photo than Alexis in hers, and that way if we have a third child I can extend the concept to include him/her. I’ll be out of luck if we have four or more, but if we have four or more I’m sure I’ll never be able to keep up with these kinds of photos anyway!

The only question is where to put something like this. The laundry room? The guest bed room? (I’m not sure if we’ll have a guestroom, but I allow myself to splurge on a huge house complete with a craftroom, finished basement, and tons and tons of closet space.)

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