Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WotW: Be Careful What You Text For...

I blame it all on Ryan Seacrest.

No, it's not just because he has hair that's the prized jewel of California, or the fact that he hasn't aged a second since he turned 21. It's because of what he did. It's that show: American Idol. They made texting useless drivel to five-digit phone numbers popular. And now it's causing me grief.

About a week ago, I looked on my Manilla account to see what my cell phone bill was this month. I was expecting the typical amount, but you can never be too careful. I'm glad I looked because my bill was $10 more than usual. Granted, $10 isn't a lot, but anytime I get charged extra, I sure want to know why so it never happens again. 



As I looked through my itemized bill, I came across a $9.99 Premium Service charge. It didn't tell me anything besides that. I called up T-Mobile and talked to the nicest rep ever. She looked it up and discovered it came from random business called Jesta. They had sent my wife one of those obnoxious spam text messages from a 5-digit number. Seeing it was a junk message, she didn't do anything with it, though I'm sure they promised her a million dollars if she texted, "I <3 data-blogger-escaped-66249.="" data-blogger-escaped-div="" data-blogger-escaped-monkeys="" data-blogger-escaped-to="">

What this message actually did was automatically enroll her in a premium service subscription plan that would charge her phone bill $9.99 every month. That's right, by not doing ANYTHING, she was automatically enrolled in something she didn't want, didn't know about and didn't need, and it was charging her for it. Sounds an awful lot like Congress...

I asked the service rep what we had to do to get out of this. Her answer shocked me. It was against everything I had ever believed with spam messages. She said to simply text: "STOP" to the number and that would remove the service. That's right, actually respond to the junk text. The very thought of it made me cringe.

Then I had to call up the company and demand they remove the charges, which they did, though the refund could take about as long to arrive as it will take a Twinkie to decompose.

The reason I'm going through this whole story is to make you aware of something I didn't even know was out there until I called T-Mobile. There are plenty of companies out there like this Jesta service. Every 5 or 6-digit phone number is considered a short code and most of them charge your cell phone bill as premium services, regardless of which phone service you are with. This includes TV text contests (like American Idol), text contests at sporting events, spam messages and even some charitable donation groups.



If you are like me and just ignore these messages, they can automatically enroll you in their service and charge you until you text STOP and call them. This is not only annoying, it's criminal. It's like walking down the aisles of Wal-Mart and charging people $9.99 every time I say hi to them, just because I said hi.

Thankfully, most phone providers have a service that will allow you to block all 5 or 6-digit short code numbers. This means you won't be able to vote for your favorite American Idol contestant (darn, what a loss), but it will sure save you a lot of grief. Call your phone service and enroll in this service. It's usually free.

In the meantime, look through your text messages and make sure you haven't received any of these lately. If you have, check your phone bill, call your cell provider and make sure you aren't being charged. Also, this would be a worthwhile cause to lobby your local congressperson about. Let's make this criminal practice illegal.

What's frightening to me about this is the potential for viruses to be transmitted. As more and more people use smartphones, we'll start to see viruses appear like they do on traditional computers. Texting could be a way to transmit those viruses. But you can't always control who texts you, and when you send a response, you're opening yourself up for potential viruses. This bothers me a great deal, which is why I feel it's important we bring awareness to this issue now before things get out of hand.

So the moral of the story? American Idol owes me $9.99. And I want Ryan Seacrest's hair.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cookie Dough Balls (Meant To Be Eaten Raw)

 I love cookie dough. In an ideal world, there would be no cookies, just dough. I love all kinds of cookie dough and if I am making cookies and my husband isn't home, only about half the cookies ever make it to the oven. I don't really see a problem with this, my husband on the other hand is completely grossed out by my love of cookie dough. To appease him, I started making these  freezer Cookie Dough Balls, they are delicious, satisfy the cookie dough craving and have no raw eggs in them to gross out my husband.

You will need:
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour

Mix the first two ingredients for a couple of minutes, until well blended. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Roll into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour. Remove the cookie dough from the cookie sheet and place in an airtight container. Keep in the freezer. You can also keep them in the fridge if you like your cookie dough a little softer, but they won't last as long.
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Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Make Reusable Swiffer Cloths

 I love my Swiffer Sweeper Vac, but I didn't love having to buy new cloths for it every couple of weeks, so I set out to make a simple alternative. My chenille socks seemed to attract every piece of dirt on the floor whenever I was wearing them, so the idea to use them to clean the floor was born.

You will need:
a pair of old socks
scissors
I have made these a couple of ways. First slice the sock down the middle. It makes most sense to slice it down the bottom of the sock so you can easily slice off the heel, but isn't really a problem in the function of the cloth, so it is up to you.
 Then, sew up the side of the sock where you put your foot.
 If you didn't slice off the heel before, this is the time to do it if you want. Lay the sock flat and snip the heel off.
 Sew a seam down the side where the heel was and you have the perfect reusable sweeper cloth.
These take all of about five minutes to whip out and they have worked great for our family! 

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Jane Austen, Magic and Chocolate Pots (a book review)

What happens when you mix Jane Austen and a little bit of the wizard world? You get Sorcery and Cecelia. Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer is about two cousins,Cecelia  is left behind in the country while Kate, gets to experience her season in London. It starts out as any period piece, but you soon get the idea that there might be a little bit more to their version of England, including wizards, spells and enchanted chocolate pots.

 The book is written as a series of letters back and forth, which is how the book was actually written, a series of letters back and forth between the authors. A kind of writing exercise. I was impressed with the way the two authors were able to weave together a complete story that has two main characters that aren't even in the same city.

I'll admit, I had a hard time with the beginning of this book. It was pretty slow and about 25 pages in, I gave up and picked up another book. After finishing two other books, I came back to it, and I am glad that I did. Although the beginning part of the book seems very much like the authors are trying to gain their footing (which they probably were because of the way it was written), the last two-thirds of the book are delightful and full of action.

Although the two main characters are never in the same room during the course of the book, many of the other characters travel back and forth between the city and country, allowing the main plot of the story to be the same. In true regency fashion there is a romance for each main character that seems doomed at many times in the book but wraps itself up neatly.

If you are looking for a fun, light read, this is a great choice, especially if you love a little Jane Austen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

No-Sew Doll Scarf (Sized for Bitty Baby)

It has been freezing here and the air is gross. We haven't been out in days because I don't want to breathe the nastiness. Even though we have spent the days indoors, my daughter has become suddenly very concerned that her beloved baby doll is freezing. She begged me to make her a scarf and so I made a simple one out of fleece. 
I originally didn't intend to blog about this simple craft, but after mentioning it, I have had lots of questions of the measurements I used, so I though a post was in order. 

You will need: 
A piece of fleece approximately 29 inches long by 2.5 inches wide
scissors

After cutting several lengths of fleece, this is the one that seemed to work the best. After cutting the strip, I added simple fringe to the ends by making one inch cuts into the fleece about half and inch apart. 

It took me less than five minutes and if my daughter was a little bit older, I would have had her make it. Easy, simple and now my daughter thinks I am super mom for making her doll a scarf. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WotW: Access and Control Your Computer from Anywhere

First-world problem: You get to a public computer or find yourself at a friend's computer and realize you didn't bring that file with you. Oh, and you forgot your thumb drive too. Sounds really lame when put that way, but it's a problem we've all faced.

I've discussed many cloud-based solutions before, but today I'm going to share one of my favorite pieces of software that I've used for a couple years now to make sure I never forget a file.



It's called TeamViewer. It's a powerful piece of software that allows you to remotely control your computer, and/or transfer files between computers. So, if you find yourself without a file, no worries. Simply remotely control your home computer and transfer over the file you need to whatever computer you're on.

While it's designed for business meetings and IT tech support teams, TeamViewer offers a free version to the public with nearly all the same features. The only catch with the free version is you can't use it for commercial use.

To get started, visit www.teamviewer.com and download a copy of their free install. You can get it for Windows, Macs, Linux and Mobile devices. All for free.

Once the software is installed, it will ask you to create an account. While this is not required, I highly recommend you do so because it will create a list of all the computers you've registered under your account, allowing you to easily remote control and transfer files between the computers.



To make TeamViewer really effective, you should install TeamViewer on each computer, giving each computer a name that you can easily identify. You'll notice in the image above that I have three computers currently powered on and five that are offline.

Now, for the good stuff. Let's say you just want to do a simple file transfer. Open TeamViewer (it hides in the bottom-right corner of your taskbar in Windows). Sign in to your account. You will see your computers listed to the right. Right-click on the computer you want to transfer files between and select File Transfer.



A new window appears with two columns. The left column is the files on the computer you're on (local computer). The right column is the files on the computer you're transferring files between (remote computer).



Let's say I want to transfer files from the remote computer (not your current computer) to your current computer (the local computer). You would go to the right column and navigate to the file you want. Click once on that file and press the Receive button above the column. The file will be transferred to wherever you designated on your computer (the left column). The same works the other way around (transferring from your computer to a remote computer), except you press the Send button instead. Always remember which column represents which computer and where you're transferring files from and to.

Besides file sharing, you also have the option of remotely controlling another computer. Why would this be useful? Let's say your mom is pretty computer illiterate and she has done something wrong and needs help. If you had TeamViewer installed on her computer, you could remotely control her computer, see what's going on and try to fix it. Or, maybe you want to show someone something on your remote computer without transferring a file over. There are a number of possibilities.

To remote control a computer, go to your TeamViewer computers panel and double-click on the computer you want to remote control. A new window will appear and inside it will be your other computer.



From here, you will feel like you're on that computer, because you are remotely controlling it. The graphics are a bit poorer, but that's by design to keep the streaming remote control session going.

One thing to remember about TeamViewer is to make sure you've installed it on all your computers and that you've registered it under your TeamViewer account. Also, the remote computer must be turned on in order for you to remotely control or do a file transfer. If you're on a public computer without TeamViewer installed, you can visit TeamViewer.com, login and remotely control from within your browser (though this is slower).

This has gotten me out of a jam in so many situations. I love the remote control feature, which is so nice. The other day my wife was out of town and had taken my laptop with her. I needed a file on that computer. I loaded TeamViewer on my home desktop, remotely controlled the laptop she had, found the file I was looking for and transferred it over. The whole process took less than a minute and we were hundreds of miles apart.

Give it a try. It's one free piece of software every computer should have.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Very Hungry Caterpillar Kids Birthday Party

This cute birthday party was my twin nephew's first birthday. It was the perfect combination of whimsy and fun. Perfect for a first birthday. 
 The invitations. The invitations were pom-pom caterpillars in baby food jars. The actual information for the party was on a circle of paper glued to the top.
The decorations. A large caterpillar hung form the ceiling made of blow up beach balls and hand traced paper food was on the walls. 

 The smash cakes. Since this was a first birthday, the twins each had their own apple smash cake to eat.
The cake for everyone else. A cake pop caterpillar on a bed of cake grass. 
 The spread of food. Different foods that the caterpillar ate through in the book were featured. Like the little cherry pies in the beginning of the post.
The craft was a caterpillar to decorate made from an egg carton. 
The party favor, a bag full of gummy worms. 

I think this might be one of my favorite birthday parties ever. So cute and full of good food and bright colors. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Simplified Pillow Case Mattress

When our daughter was a newborn, I can count on one hand the number of times she slept more than 2 hours at a time. We had such a hard time getting her into a sleep routine. She was almost nine months old when she finally started sleeping through the night. After we hit that milestone, she was an excellent sleeper, until she turned three. Her third year was one of constant shake-ups and her sleep routine went out the window. She was waking up two to three times a night and climbing in bed with us and while I love snuggling my little one close, all the waking up and squishing three people in one bed was aggravating my migraines. Something had to change and quick! 

I had seen pillow case mattresses floating around Pinterest and Facebook but was really against the idea of sewing it from scratch, it seemed like a pillowcase mattress should be just that, made from pillowcases. I talked to my Mother-in-law and we came up with probably the easiest solution ever. It is so easy, I didn't even take step-by-step photos. 

You will need:
3-4 pillow cases (3 is long enough for my 4-year-old)
Pins
An Iron
A Serger
Pillows

First iron the pillow cases flat and then lay two on top of each other. Pin one edge together and serge the pillows together. Do the same thing on the other side of one of the pillow cases. When serging the pillow cases together, you want to serge on the inside of the existing pillowcase seams. This will cut off the extra seams and reduce the bulk and make the cases slightly smaller, holding the pillows in place better. Add the pillows and you have a mattress in less than 10 minutes. 

This little mattress has quite literally saved my sanity. It lays on the floor next to my bed and if my little girl wakes up in the middle of the night now, she lays down next to the bed and goes to sleep without waking anybody up. It is magical. Totally worth 10 minutes. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In the Seven Kingdoms, some children are born just a little bit different. Some can swim or juggle better than anybody else and some are blessed with fighting or in the case of Katsa killing. These special abilities are called Graces and although these people are a benefit to many the Graced are shunned and even feared by most people.

Graces are practically impossible to hide, as they cause the eyes of the Graced to turn two different colors. As soon as a child's eyes change, they are given to the king of their land to serve him as he sees fit. Katsa discovers what her Grace is when she is 8-year-old and easily kills a man. She is immediately put to work as her uncle King Randa's enforcer sent to torture and kill those who defy the king.

While Katsa doesn't openly defy the king, she secretly creates the Council carrying out missions to bring justice and safety to the people of the Seven Kingdoms. On one such Katsa meets Po, a prince from one of the other Seven Kingdoms Graced fighter, and the first person to be able to match her in a fight. Soon Katsa and Po, discover a secret that puts the fate of the Seven Kingdoms in their hands and the fight that ensues will make it impossible for Katsa to use her Grace.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore is kind of a polarizing book. It seems to be one of those books you either love or you hate and I honestly? I loved it. The main character, Katsa, is incredibly flawed and because of this you get to see her learn and grow throughout the whole book. I love the setting of the book, the whole premise fascinated me. The idea of Graces and finding out that some Graces are not what they seem was intriguing and page turning.

There is nothing slow about this book. It starts right in with a mission for the Council and keeps going all the way to the end. The characters are fun and engaging. I love the dynamic between Po and Katsa and I love that they are both strong separately and together. I also kind of just love Po.

There is a lot of criticism for the adult themes in this book and to a point I agree. I wouldn't let my young teen read this. Since Kasta is Graced with killing, it can be a very violent book and there is also some sexual content. I wouldn't recommend it to people who offend easily because of a couple of scenes, but the book is not saturated with graphic material.

I think the biggest criticism people have for this book is they don't like a decision that Katsa makes at the end of the book. Honestly? The decision wasn't my favorite either, it wasn't the decision that I would have made, but I didn't hate the character for it, as some did. It stayed in sync with what we knew about her from the beginning and while I was a bit stumped by her decision, it didn't ruin the story for me.

In conclusion, I love this book. I loved the flaws and the failures, as well as the triumphs of the characters. It is a book I will read again.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jake and The Neverland Pirates Birthday Party

 Did you just love the my sister's Lego party that I shared last week? I am back with another one of her parties this week, this one is her Jack and the Neverland Pirates Party. The invitations are above, pirate maps in a bottle (IBC bottles to be exact).
 The craft involved the kids coloring a Scully the Parrot, made from a toilet paper roll.
 The birthday ship..er...cake.
 The snacks all had a water theme, Swedish Fish, Goldfish Crackers and slices of orange floating on a Jello sea.
 The cupcakes. My sister always does cupcakes and a cake for the party, because cupcakes are usually easier to serve to children.
 They played pin the hook on Captain Hook. She drew this Captain hook on a poster than cut hooks from cardboard and covered them in tinfoil.
Instead of treat bags, there were little treasure chests full of booty!
All of her amazing parties make me wish I was a kid again!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WotW: Show Off Your Best Self with Vizify

Here on Wednesdays on the Web, we've shown you some neat ways to show off. When it comes to resumes, there is CVMaker. And if you want to brag about your Facebook usage, you can use Wolfram Alpha's data processing power.

Today, I'm going to share with you a site that's a cross between a real-life resume and a social media resume. Are you ready for it? It's called Vizify.


As you might guess from the name, it's a visual representation of yourself. But unlike other resume websites, like LinkedIn, this doesn't require you to input any new information. All you have to do is link up your existing social media accounts, and it builds a profile for you.



I've embedded my Vizify profile in this post. As you can see, it uses trendy circles to show off information about yourself. So, in one quick glance you can see a picture of me, where I live, where I work, my experience, where I went to school, my personal websites, my most popular posts and what I most commonly tweet about. Besides being visual elements, each of these circles links to a specific page dedicated to the topic.

For instance, if you click on the career, you get a quick glimpse of my career with a nice timeline. Any ideas where it got this information? You got it, my LinkedIn profile.



Here's how it works. You go to Vizify.com and sign up for an account. Here, you can sign up for their waiting list and wait to be approved, or you can be impatient like me and tweet about it (they even write the tweet for you) to get instant access. Because I like telling people about cool things, I went for that option and was instantly signed up for the account.

From there, I went through and signed in each of my social networks:
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • FourSquare
You don't have to register any social network you're not comfortable with and you can disable any if you change your mind later. All the sign-up processes are through the social network's API and you are actually taken to each site to register. I chose not to register my FourSquare because I don't use it that much to begin with.

In seconds, Vizify builds your profile. You can look through the pages and be amazed with how much it knows about you. This may seem creepy, but when you realize you posted all this information about yourself, it's not so weird after all. It may even serve as a wake-up call for you to get online and edit what you're putting out there.

One thing I really like is the ability to customize your profile. You can change the background image and the theme colors.

You can also rearrange the page order and/or remove pages you don't want.


Or you can add new pages. One of the cool page options is the Factoid page, which allows you to post facts about yourself.

For instance, if you want to use this site as an online resume (and why not, it looks great!), you can make a Factoid about your skill sets. For instance, I created a 6 skills in which I excel page. Now, doesn't this look nicer than a traditional resume? Plus, it's more interactive and engaging.


Also, you can change any of the images on the pre-populated image pages to anything you've uploaded to your social media accounts.

So why should you use Vizify?
  1. It's a great way to see what you're really portraying about yourself in your online world.
  2. It's neat to look at (and you can make it private if you don't want to share it with anyone else).
  3. It's a great resume tool (especially since you get a unique URL for your page to share).
  4. It's a fantastic way to network with other people and put your best foot forward.
I'll admit, I've known about this site for some time now and have been hesitant to try it, but I'm glad I did. I find it very useful and will be putting together my ideal Vizify. Join me and see what your online world looks like visually.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Peanut Butter Sugar Cookies- My Favorite Cookie


These have been my absolute favorite cookies, ever since I was a little kid. I begged my mom to make them and then would usually hide them and eat the entire plate. Before Christmas I hadn't eaten one in years. My little girl was deathly allergic to peanuts and then miracles of all miracles, outgrew the allergy. To celebrate my mom made a huge batch for Christmas, which I think I ate most of.

You will need:
1/2 C. Granulated Sugar + extra for rolling
1/2 C. Brown Sugar
1/2 C. Peanut Butter
1/4 C. Shortening
1/4 C. Butter
1 egg
1 1/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder


Mix the brown sugar, sugar, peanut butter, shortening, butter and egg together. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Roll into 1-inch balls and then roll balls in granulated sugar. Bake at 375 for 9-10 minutes or until the edges brown. Allow to cool.

The hardest part of this recipe is try and not eat the entire thing by yourself. I have never succeeded. I wish you better luck. ;)