A Bit of This and A Bit of That

Lots of little things to share this week starting with:

Cats

Do you ever take your cats for a drive? We did. This week we traveled back to the mountains. And this time we brought the cats! Our cats don’t leave the house, in fact nine year old Socks hasn’t been outside since the time he got lost for a month when he was still a kitten, finally finding his way home scared and scraggly. The Black Cat, sometimes known as Spooky thinks she would like to be outside but scares herself so much that she won’t go three feet beyond the door. The cats are content in their home but they are my cats and they are so particular about even being seen by others I feel guilty being gone too long, hence the plan to take them on an adventure.

Sophie checking on her friends.

Sophie checking on her friends.

 

First goal accomplished when we managed to catch both and stuff them into the kennel.

The guard dog.

The guard dog.

The ride was not as noisy as I expected, little meowing or crying and fortunately, nobody threw up. But two days later they are still hiding underneath the bed. Of course, it doesn’t help that the little dog thinks she needs to greet them any time one starts tiptoeing out of the room or that she feels the need to show them compassion by crawling under the bed and lying next to them, thumping tail and all.

In no rush to venture out from under the bed.

In no rush to venture out from under the bed.

Puzzleman

Matthew has been recovering this month from major dental surgery complete with bone grafts in his jaw. He finds this is a great excuse to not do anything too strenuous (any excuse in a pinch…) So when we are inside he has been working his old puzzles. Some are pretty simple and he gets them together in fifteen minutes, some he hasn’t quite got memorized and they take a little more time. This picture is from his marathon afternoon working three puzzles simultaneously.

Puzzleman!

Puzzleman!

Matthew and the Soldiers

Speaking of Matthew, we have started a new web page featuring Matthew. Over the years we have taken a fair number of pictures of Matthew and his heroes including soldiers, veterans, and first responders and now we are sharing them with everyone. If you want to follow along it’s easy to sign up and receive a notice of a new posting. If you know of a hero who wouldn’t mind posing with Matthew please let me know. MatthewAndTheSoldiers

The New Cheerios

Here’s my nutrition pointer this month… With a strong family history of diabetes and one person hovering at the borderline of diabetes (I’ll not mention who but it is not me and it is not Matthew) we have been paying attention to our carbohydrates. You know how it works, eat more vegetables, especially green ones and less grains, especially processed and you’ll be healthier. The other day we saw an ad for Cheerios. Cereal is often a source of high carbohydrates so when I saw the ‘Protein Cheerios’ I was hopeful that it would be a better alternative food. But I had my suspicions because I have looked at cereal labels and remember how Bran Flakes and the like often use extra sugar to cover up the cardboard flavor. Anyway, we bought a box of the new Cheerios to check them out. The flavor is good but…Yikes! One serving has DOUBLE the carbohydrates of the already sweetened Honey Nut version. A major disappointment…and a good reminder why it helps to read the labels.

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Our Med Student Update

And finally, you have been asking about Rebecca. She is already into her third year of medical school. Time sure flies. The break between second and third year was officially only seven days because they had to take a major test before continuing and as you can imagine the students studied up until the very last minute. I am pleased to report that Rebecca and all of her friends passed this challenging test and now they are into rotations. She is absolutely enjoying the actual hands-on portion of school now. She also thanks you all for your prayers and support. If you are planning to come for graduation you better start making plans since it will be here before you know it.

Just checking in...

Just checking in…

Next Week…a tale of harrowing fright, when my life flashed before my eyes… Don’t miss it!

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Texas Jeans—Try ‘Em!

Sometimes I am asked to try a product and write a review. It’s a fun job and like you I enjoy getting and trying free stuff. But sometimes I just try a product that really impresses me and I want to share it with you. Today is one of those latter days.

If you know Bob you know that he loves wearing jeans. When he is out in the field working he prefers the sturdiness of denim. At the same time he needs to look good. There is also no doubt he is hard on his clothes requiring regular updating of his wardrobe.

Over the years I have noticed a trend with the rising cost of jeans with an inconsistent fit and quality of material and no matter what brand I bought they were made in a third world factory.

Enter Texas Jeans.

Texas Jeans has been around since the late 1970’s. Their products are manufactured in a plant in North Carolina. They advertise that they are 100% made the USA. I loved the idea of promoting an American industry.

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The website is pretty typical for clothing. Their jeans have a one year warranty against defects for normal wear and a common return policy.

When I was checking out their website the company had a special for free shipping with three items. It didn’t matter that the jeans were on sale. Of course,  I ordered three different pair of jeans, I mean really, under $30 for a pair of jeans, made in America?!? The very reasonable prices, especially the sales, helped me feel comfortable buying sight unseen. While I did not receive a tracking number the items all arrived on the promised date. One pair of jeans appeared to be mismarked for size and didn’t fit but when I called the customer service department they sent a postage paid return and in another week the replacement arrived.

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I managed to snag Bob on his way to work one morning for the above pictures. I don’t do anything special when washing or drying them but they still look new with no obvious fading. We got Bob’s standard size, in the original style and I think they fit well but there are other style options. The pants have double stitching everywhere you’d expect, including the inside of the pockets. Where ever there is a stress point there is a rivet. I love the detailing on the pockets and the little Texas Jeans logo brass rivets. Bob likes the Texas Longhorn emblem on the back pocket. He also said he got many compliments from the guys at the shop. It’s now been more than three months since we ordered the jeans and I love them!

So that’s my review. I’m impressed enough that we will buy more soon. In fact, I just saw that the jeans are on sale again so it may be very soon!

Visit Texas Jeans website at www.texasjeans.com  and if you try them let me know what you think.

Paring Down Christmas

christmas tree 11013I meant to share this post after Christmas last year but as soon as the decorations were down I forgot. Today’s post is not about remembering the real meaning of Christmas. There are plenty of others who will write about that. Instead, today I want to tell you how our family lowered the cost and reduced the stress of Christmas.

Are your holiday credit charges now coming due? Maybe you’ll want to put some of these ideas next year to work in your family.

A few years ago after we all opened ALL our packages and began the clean up my mom asked me what everyone had gotten. It was then I realized everyone had gotten so much stuff that nothing really stood out. And it’s no wonder. Like many of you we have gotten used to just picking up things the kids or family needs during the year so by the time Christmas rolls around they really don’t have one particular wish. And because they don’t want one specific thing we made up by just buying all sorts of stuff.

It’s a good thing; a real first world problem, but we parents often are pulled into feeling that we need to buy more and more–just because.

So after Mom and I talked about it I decided our family most likely didn’t need all the stuff we got and most likely we didn’t need to spend all that money.

It all kind of fell into place when talking to the poor college student daughter, she was trying to figure out what to buy for different members of the family. At our next family gathering I shared my revelation and announced that we would pick a maximum dollar amount per person and everyone had to agree to stick to it. Our family picked $20…for no other reason than it was a good round number. To get the family more enthused I explained I would be judging their gifts for cleverness and there would be prizes.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar from Grandma along with popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some crocheted pot holders made by the poor college student.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar made by Grandma, popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some pot holders hand crocheted by the poor college student.

I was surprised at the family reaction. What would have been just an ordinary Christmas suddenly turned into a challenge. We had to really think about what the other person would want or could use. Some in the family decided to make gifts. The poor college student embroidered Christmas designs on towels. Bob made a cookie sheet holder for the cupboard. Some choose to buy food items, the kind that you might want but just put back on the shelf because it costs more than you think you should pay for such a product. Grandma got Bob a giant jar of peanut butter while I got the college student a case of mac & cheese. We put the dehydrator to good use and Grandma got a box of dried vegetables ready to throw in her famous soup. To no one’s surprise Matthew received hero themed presents including coloring books and colored pencils. But even better, Matthew was able to be part of the planning as he crushed a box of soda cans for Grandpa’s recycling project.

Do note that thinking of these ideas might take more time then just buying off the shelf at your local megamart. We started in November the first year and now enjoying having the whole year to plan and shop with these limitations in mind.

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My most useful present? According to the family it is a new keyboard with actual letters…

Opening the gifts was fun for all. We laughed at our own cleverness and talked about why we were inspired to give each present. Prizes were awarded for most unique, most homemade, most regifting, etc. I don’t remember what was handed out for prizes but it seems like they were coupons for coffee at McDonalds and the like… something small but fun and usable. Now as the January bills roll around we’re not having to re-budget and eat beans the rest of the month. We’ve discovered a meaningful and fun Christmas does not have to be an extravagant Christmas.

If you decide to try this be sure to let me know how it works for your family. I bet you’ll be as surprised as we were at how much fun it can be.

A Valuable DIY Project!

This week I made a button! And it wasn’t that hard.

Well, I didn’t actually make a button; but I made a button replacement for a recliner. Maybe you have lost a button from an overstuffed chair, you too, can repair it yourself.

I tried to get a cloth covered button made for my chair after reading that any upholsterer could/would do this for a buck or so. But, at least in my area, there was no one willing to take on this simple task. After looking at the local fabric store I decided this project was not worth the $10 plus it would cost for the cover button kit. But. I did have possible makings for such a repair in my stash of stuff.

Ingredients: 1 1inch button, stiff wire, dental floss, a piece of matching fabric twice the size of the button and assorted tools, including needles, pliers, and you might need a staple gun. (You don’t have to use dental floss, you can use a very strong thread but I happen to have plenty of packages of floss just waiting for a good use.)

Some chairs come with a small swatch of matching fabric attached to the underside of the chair. Mine did not, but there were several areas where I could cut a piece that would not be visible and that’s what I did.  Look for a piece on the underside, like at a corner, or where it there are plackets, again at the back corners. 100_1932First, I pulled the wire through the button looping it through twice and then using needle-nose pliers twisting the ends round so that it was secure and no sharp ends were sticking out. I discovered that the wire needed to stick out almost 1/4 inch because of the cloth thickness. 100_1933

Then, I sewed around the button with a simple stitch and when the circle was complete I pulled the thread tight, gathering the cloth around the button and secured it.

100_1935The gathers were thicker than I anticipated so the wire is barely visible. Still, it only has to be enough to be threaded with a needle.

If you have the original button you can just reattach it starting at this point.

This next step calls for a long needle. You could buy an upholstery needle which is like eight inches long and very wicked or you could be cheap like me and use a yarn needle that you have lying around. The needle I had is about four inches long. I don’t know where it came from but before buying ask your crafty friends if they might have one. Or your mother.

I threaded the needle with three lengths of the dental floss. Make sure you use more than enough to thread all the way through the chair and back out with enough to tie off. Don’t skimp on this length…you’ll thank me later.

100_1936Thread the button onto your thread, holding on to the end and then push it into the chair. I was able to recline the chair back and fit my hand to the back without removing the backing. You might not be so lucky and have to remove the fabric then re-staple it. If you have a second pair of hands this part would be easier. Thread it through and then back out to the front and through the button again.  Holding both ends pull the the button into the fabric, tightening it so that it’s the same depth as the other buttons. Then tie it off securely. Do not be a dummy and use a granny knot or you’ll have to repeat this step.

Do not go all the way through the back material or your project will look like a doofus did it.

I was worried that I would pull the thread all the way through but there was so much fiberfill that this does not seem to be a problem. Still, if you are worried about this you could easily add a button on the inside that would hold your thread in place.  So, thread button from top through upholstery material, add simple back button and then pass needle back to front. The back button will help hold the thread in place.

And, voila! 100_1940There you have it. The chair is good as new and does not have that obvious hole. It took less than an hour and didn’t cost anything.

Now. Time for a nap in my recliner.

Ziploc Space Bag: A True Space Saver

Note: Today’s post is a product review. Nobody paid me to try this and I purchased it just as you might. As with everything in life, your experience might be different.

My little house in the mountains has limited closet space, especially when it comes to storage for blankets which we need plenty of when there’s two feet of snow on the ground. You’ve had this happen: every time I open the linen closet to find a wash cloth I have to use one hand to push the blankets back in when I shut the door. The attack of the big bulky blankets!

Like you, I’ve seen the commercials for those space bags but they always seemed to be too pricey for their use. When we took our trip last summer I picked up a pack of the generic bags to keep the pillows clean and out of the way. They were definitely cheap but they immediately lost their vacuum caps and became pierced with holes. Still, while a small consolation, they did keep the pillows clean for the trip.ziplock bags

This week I heard an ad for the “Original Space Bag” indicating they now carry the Ziploc Brand. I wondered if they might be more sturdy and zip together better. So when we were shopping at our local Big-Mart store I picked up a box. There are many assorted sizes. This box cost me $8.94 and included two big bags and one travel size.

If a person was packing small items like sweaters or easily squishable ones like pillows I think loading the bags would be very simple. But we found getting the blankets and comforters pushed in to be a two person job. On the plus side, I felt like the sides of the bag were strong enough to handle a fair amount of pushing and tugging. There is a dashed line just below the zipper on the bag and we discovered if you fill above it (as in the picture below) there may be some cussing and swearing as you struggle to close the bag. But. I was able to just push the blankets down further and then the zipper worked fairly easily.

ziploc 1

One electric blanket and two comforters stuffed in the bag. See the little line about four inches from the top? That is as full as it’s supposed to be.

These big bags have a vacuum hole which is a one way flap to suck all the air out. It worked just like on TV. In less than a minute the bag was shrunk to less than half its original size.

So are they worth the money? At the same store I found an 18 gallon plastic tub with lid on sale for less than $5. I know I could have packed all the blankets into two tubs for the same price. However, I couldn’t put one tub, let alone two in the tiny closet. I was able to easily stack the two bags in the space. The bags could also be stored under beds which would be a very good use of space.

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No, I did not take out anything. That’s how much it shrunk.

My experience with the generic bags proved that in this case the brand name was much better quality and worth the additional cost. There will always be pros and cons but for sure I am going to be watching for these Space Bags to be on sale.