Archive | June 2015

Look, I’m Growing Something!

Our new house came with no flower beds or garden of any kind. We have four different surfaces:

  1. Rocks
  2. Concrete
  3. Questionable grass
  4. Rubber mulch
  5. More rocks

And did I mention the rocks? So many rocks.Trying to keep the rocks out the rubber mulch and the mulch out of the rocks and both of them out of the grass is my new part-time job.

An experienced gardener would probably not have been deterred by this obstacle, but I am anything but an experienced gardener. The only thing I have ever planted in the ground is knockout roses. And if you live in the Deep South, as I did, knockout roses are pretty much the easiest thing you can possibly plant. They look nice and live forever.

So, no time this spring to create a garden. The whole backyard needs some kind of master plan involving a garden, a garage and many fewer rocks.

But I still wanted to try growing something, so I took over some of the containers that were already set up by the side of our house. The swamp cooler is already set up to drain into them, so less watering!

I have a rosemary plant that I bought at Sprouts, two basil plants (same) and several green onions (also, actually, from Sprouts). I cut off the green tips for use in a recipe, replanted the white bulbs, and they really did come back up!

On the left, you can see the little hose that runs from the swamp cooler up through the bottom of the container.

On the left, you can see the little hose that runs from the swamp cooler up through the bottom of the container.

And for decoration, the coneflowers I received for Mother’s Day. These are not super-healthy looking, but they are technically alive, so I’m calling it a win.

I'm such a newbie that I thought the plant was dead the first time the blossoms died. Then they returned.

I’m such a newbie that I thought the plant was dead the first time the blossoms died. Then they returned.

Maybe it will all die off. Maybe not. I am enjoying seeing things grow, but I’m honestly not prepared to get emotionally invested right now. I’m a person who likes to operate by baby steps, so the goal for this year was really just to get my hands dirty and enjoy some summer color and flavors.

Do you garden? Did it come naturally to you? How did you get started?

FP 1, Disposable Culture 2

As you might imagine for someone who sometimes carries drinking water in an old jam jar, I do not like throwing things away. (The only exception is pens. I feel a great sense of accomplishment if I manage not to lose a pen long enough that it runs out of ink, as opposed to ending its life in the dust bin at the grocery store, as I suspect most of my pens do.)

Avoiding throwing things away is hard in a culture, like ours, that makes things easy to replace and hard to fix, and Mr. FP and I have had a run of bad luck over the last month or so:

  1. He dropped his phone and broke the screen.
  2. My phone suddenly went dead.
  3. The TV also suddenly went dead.
  4. The printer went from working “intermittently” to “never.”

Mr. FP called Motorola to ask about having his phone repaired. We don’t do that, they said, but for $100 we’ll send you a brand-new phone. Reasonably good deal for us, sure. But one point for disposable culture.

My phone was an HTC Evo 4G LTE from 2012. About three years old. Turns out that the battery is integrated and can’t be replaced. (Things I wish I’d known before I bought it.) I actually bought a special set of tiny screwdrivers and tried taking the thing apart anyway, but I failed. HTC told me that the phone was “end of life.” Really? I have a kid as old as that phone, and he still wets his pants. But off to the recycling center with the phone. Another point for disposable culture.

I did, however, learn from the experience. I ordered a replacement phone from Glyde (of course) and this time was more careful. I decided that I do not need the LTE capability because I almost never use data anyway, and then usually for email, and that opened up some options. I settled on a Samsung Galaxy S3. You can actually still buy that one new, so I figure there will be a longer period of support as far as being able to get replacement parts and Android updates. And yes, the battery can be replaced. So maybe I can keep this one out of the jaws of disposable culture for a few years. I opted for “Good” rather than “Excellent” condition to keep the total cost under $100 and I’m glad I did. There are some scratches to the case but none to the screen, and the case scratches (a) are not very bad and (b) are hidden by the protective case anyway. One point for the FPs.

Then, the TV, which is at most three years old. Mr. FP took it to a local repair shop and was quoted $250 to repair it because the job requires replacing one giant, integrated board–disposable culture trying to make us buy a new one. Now, that gave us pause, because you can buy a new 40-inch LCD TV for less than that (albeit not from quite such a good brand as we have, evidently). We agonized for a few days while huddling around one laptop to watch Game of Thrones (HBO comes free with our cable Internet for reasons best known to ComCast).

Then we decided to just cough up the money. Here’s why we opted for repair over replacement:

  1. Enrich a local business instead of the businesses making junky TVs.
  2. Avoid having to learn a new TV, program a new remote, and all that nonsense.
  3. Save the time researching a new TV purchase.
  4. Keep our old TV out of the landfill.
  5. Save a few bucks ($30-$50) over a comparable replacement.

I would say that we beat disposable culture on that one, but only sort of–we did get stuck with the hefty repair bill because the TV was designed to be hard to repair. So let’s call that one a draw.

The printer’s death  was less distressing because it’s at least ten years old, maybe twelve, so it had a good run. It was a multifunction color inkjet, but here’s the thing about color printing: 90% of the time when we printed in color, it was an accident. After enough accidents, we would have to replace the (expensive) color cartridge. Then, guess what part of the printer broke? The color cartridge compartment. The printer lost the ability to recognize it and, for reasons of its own, declined to print even in black and white on the grounds that it could not feel the color cartridge.

So for a replacement, we went with this multifunction laser printer. Laser printing is cheaper than inkjet, we won’t have to worry about color cartridges, and laser printers have a reputation for being less temperamental, so we hope it will be easier to own. Let’s call this one another draw.

Well, everything is up and running now at a total cost of $600. Now, if we were REALLY frugal, we would have saved the whole $600. Every single thing that broke is a luxury item.

How do you decide whether to replace something, repair it–or just not have it anymore?

Thank Goodness It’s Shorts Season, or My War with Preschooler Pants

As of mid-May, Big Brother (age 4) owned zero pairs of pants that were his current size and had no holes in them. That’s not even counting pants with patches–all his patched pants had new holes. Even the pants that I bought brand-new for him in January had holes. Fortunately, then the sun came out.

Now, I’m not a sewing expert, but I’m learning and willing to try new things. The stakes are a little lower with clothes for preschoolers because tots just aren’t that picky, so it’s a great place to practice! Grandpa FP always used to say, “It’s already broken,” meaning I couldn’t make things worse. So in that spirit, I get out the sewing machine and the special sharp scissors and I just Google some tutorials and go for it!

I have tried a variety of methods for dealing with holes in the knees, starting with patching. The problem here is that the pants kept springing holes AROUND the patches. My patches, accordingly, kept getting bigger and bigger as the winter went on. I have also discovered that self-adhesive patches must be sewn on as well. I could do this by hand, but no. I hate hand-sewing with a fiery and intense passion, and also I am terrible at it. So I do it on my machine, even though I often accidentally sew the front of the pants to the back of the pants and have to start over (not much room to work in a pair of jeans worn by a 42 pound preschooler).

I tried to patch/sew up the small hole above the patch separately, but that didn't work. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

…but that was a fail. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

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I tried to patch and sew up a small hole that appeared in these jeans above the patch…

Then there are pants not suitable for patching. First, a pair of sweatpants (not pictured)–it just seemed like a patch would look strange. But as it happens, now that the weather’s warm, Big Brother desperately needed shorts! I measured a pair of shorts that fit him to figure out a good inseam. There was plenty of length to work with here, so I just did a traditional finished hem (double fold). Because the fabric was a little stretchy, the hem came out a little wobbly, but, well, I didn’t make them to enter in a hemming contest! Big Brother was delighted to see his favorite “running pants” come back to life as “running shorts.”

Next up, black cargo pants. With these, the hole was awkwardly high, close to the pocket–not much extra length. So I tried a new trick and used hem tape. I’d never done it before, but I remember Grandma FP using it, rather indulgently, when I was a teenager and insisted that my favorite dress had grown too short and needed to be let down.

I cut off the pants right at the rip and zig-zag stitched the cut edge, then sewed the hem tape as close as possible to that edge. (Actually it was self-adhesive hem tape, so I pressed it down first). Then I just barely folded over the hem tape, and sewed it down. The idea with using hem tape this way is that it lets you fold over just a tiny bit of the fabric, instead of losing the full half-inch minimum required by a proper hem.

Hem tape sewn in place.

Hem tape sewn in place.

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Hem tape pinned down, ready for sewing.

I was thinking that the color of the tape was not important, since it will be on the inside, but of course it is sometimes visible–these are shorts. Fortunately, the neutral beige looks fine, almost like it’s an intentional embellishment. Good thing I didn’t use pink lace or something!

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Lastly, we have the unsalvageable. One pair of khaki cargo pants ripped right up to the pocket, leaving no room for repair. Then a pair of jeans which ripped underneath the large patches (not pictured). I was thinking of making shorts of the jeans, but Grandma FP pronounced them unworthy (too threadbare in the butt). I am saving both of these to cut up for future patches. (See my upcoming post on Adult Pants Problems for how I have already used these!)

Cargo pants are always tricky--the pockets limit one's options.

Cargo pants are always tricky–the pockets limit one’s options.

I feel like I spent all winter trying to keep Big Brother in pants, so I am very glad that part of the year is over. No word yet on whether he will be allowed to have patches on his uniform pants at his new school next year–I hope so, or it could be an expensive winter!

How are your mending skills coming along?

Well, My Time with Leapforce at Home Is Done

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been doing just the minimum to get by with Leapforce at Home–frankly, mostly to try to keep getting referral bonuses–but then my smart phone died and “minimum” became “nothing all month.”

I received a notice this week that I am no longer an active agent and would need to re-take the qualification exam. (No word on whether if I did so, I would retain my preferred agent status and pay rate.)

I was actively trying to keep myself alive with Leapforce, but now that they’ve let me go, I have no plans to try to get back in. With my new job, I have barely been keeping up with my other, better side gig (fact-checking trivia questions) and don’t need the money as much.

It’s a bit of a relief, really. Besides having to steal the time from other projects,  I haven’t been performing very well on the new rating tasks using one’s smart phone, so that was an added source of stress. No one likes to get unsatisfactory performance ratings from anonymous algorithms. Now, since I have already failed, I don’t have to worry about it any more! What I feared has already come to pass, so I’m free.

I was active with Leapforce at Home for over four and a half years, and I continue to recommend it for at-home parents and others who want to make a little extra money with not too much commitment.

It gave me something to do during naptime and (back when I was doing more hours and thus performing better) let me feel like I was still pretty good at something besides deodorizing cloth diapers and loading babies into back carriers without assistance. It kept my brain active and introduced me to some funny YouTube series and a few interesting factoids. (Did you know there’s a part of the human spine that looks like a Scottie dog?)

I might have more free time in the fall if we succeed in getting Little Brother into our local public preschool. But if I do, I’d like to use that time for more creative, productive endeavours, like sewing or getting back into writing fiction.

Have you ever felt immediate relief upon “failing”? What have you trimmed from your life recently?

Why I Spent More To DIY My Bike Chain

Before we go any further, a clarification: This is not a post about HOW to replace your bike chain. I’ve only done it once and there are many sets of directions out there on the interwebs. This is a post about why I did it–even though in the short run, it was actually more expensive. It’s also meant to be encouraging, as I am inexperienced, lacking in upper body strength, notoriously uncoordinated, and responsible for supervising two preschool boys simultaneously with any repair attempts, so if I can, you can!

A few months back, I had my bike at the local bike shop for a gear problem I couldn’t resolve myself. The bike mechanic mentioned that my chain was near the end of its life. I had two options:

  1. Pay them to replace it. This costs $15, and they give you 15% off the chain.
  2. Replace it myself. This would require a $15 tool, and I would have to pay full price for the chain. The total was thus slightly higher.

Well, I bought the chain and the chain tool (the mechanic called it a “chain breaker,” which sounds awesomer, so I’m going to call it that, too). A chain breaker is a unitasker. It does only one thing–push connecting pins in and out of bike chains. But without it, you simply can’t do the job. Fortunately, it is small and not too expensive.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Obviously, I will save money next time I need a new chain, because I already have the tool. But to save $15 every year or so, was it really worth learning a new skill and, well, getting my hands filthy? Obviously, I think so. For one thing, there are four people in my family. If I replace four chains a year, that’s $60 a year, not $15. I already worked out, back when I learned to wax my own eyebrows, that saving $15 four times per year, with compound interest, works out to $904 over ten years.

Then there’s the one-more-thing factor. I’ve realized that I probably actually save more money than I thought by doing my own eyebrows because inevitably, I got my hair cut at the same time. So sometimes I was getting my hair cut because my eyebrows were a mess, and sometimes vice versa.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won't need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won’t need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I imagine it would be much the same thing with a bike chain. Go in to get the chain replaced, wind up with a couple new gadgets (rear view mirror? clearance bike shorts?) and some additional services you only kind of need.

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

It’s a pretty easy job. There were a few points of challenge:

  1. Turning the chain breaker to push out a rivet is surprisingly difficult. Those little pins are in tight.
  2. Re-winding the chain was tricky. I took a photo (see above) of the chain path, but the harder part was getting the chain under the little metal guards. Then it was hard to hold the ends together and shove in the closing pin at the same time.
  3. The special closing pin had a guide portion that, once the chain was joined, had to be broken off with plyers. This took several tries.
  4. The trickiest part of all: The kids kept running away with the chain breaker.
I used old dishwashing gloves--the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet--and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

I used old dishwashing gloves–the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet–and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

How are your bicycle mechanic skills coming along? Am I the only one making slooooow progress?