Twin antennas.

We cut the cord a few years back, and have been watching TV since then using over-the-air (OTA) antennas, which can pick up a number of local HD television broadcasts.  That, in addition to a few online streaming sources, works well for us.

We aren’t big TV watchers.  But, we do have a large TV in our game room.  And I have a small one in my office over the treadmill.  Last year Monte found a design online showing how to make an antenna that might give better reception than ones we’ve tried.   He made one for the big TV and christened it the HD3000.  It works great, much better than any of the others we’ve bought over the years, and it nearly doubled the local channels picked up.  I’ve been waiting patiently for mine, and this week Monte made one for my office TV.  We installed it up in the attic right next to the first one.  We simply screwed the coax cable from each antenna into the existing coax cable that was already run through the attic into the room of the TV to be connected.   It works great!  Now I can reliably tune in KXAN to watch the weather alerts during severe weather, which we’ve had much of, lately.  Yay!

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If you’d like to know how many (and which) channels you can receive where you live, check out this website:  antennaweb.org.

 

All in a day’s work.

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During this prolonged shelter-in-place, when people ask me “what did you do today?” I usually go blank.  But I have been busy!  Aside from the household chores, cooking, and yard work, I have found contentment in these online diversions, which fill my day.

Photography

Nikon is offering their curriculum of 10 online photography classes to be streamed for free until the end of April.  How cool is that?  Link here.

Birding

High Island on the Texas Gulf Coast is one of my very favorite birding destinations during migration in April.  But not only is travel not in line with the current stay-at-home order, but the sanctuaries are also closed.  Thankfully, Houston Audubon, who owns and runs the High Island sanctuaries, is live streaming video footage from their Facebook page at 8AM and 3:30PM every Thursday through Monday.  Their Facebook link here.

Guitar

Fender is offering a 90-day free trial of their online guitar, bass, and ukelele lessons.   I’m a poorly self-taught guitar player of nearly 30 years and I’m learning new things by following their lesson progression, and more importantly, practicing again.  Link here.

Exercise

Lori recommended some beginner yoga sessions on YouTube, from “Yoga with Adriene.” I’m a yoga-newbie and am enjoying them very much.  Link here.

I use an app called “30Days” to help me to do higher and higher reps of traditional strength exercises like plank, situps, pushups, etc.  You pick the exercises, set your starting point, and for 30 days the app will gradually increase the reps, giving you days-off every few days.  I’ve used their app for years, on and off.  I’m 27 days into my latest 30-day stint and am back up to planking for 3 minutes.  🙂   The app isn’t fancy, there are prettier ones out there, but it’s free and it works for me when I use it.  Link here.

Amy recommended an app she used to train herself from couch-surfer to running a 5K over the course of 8 weeks.  They also have a 10K version which takes you from couch to 10K in 14 weeks, which is the one I’m using.  I’m on week 4 and am still enjoying it. They are both free to try for 7 days, and then you have to pay to upgrade to unlimited access.  The provider, Fitness22, actually has an entire collection of fitness apps.  Link here.

After 6 years, I am still wearing my fitbit One tracker every day.  I need to upgrade to a watch soon.  Either way, I use their app daily to track my activity and food.   Link here.

Things to listen to

Amazon Music, one of the perks of Prime membership, has a great selection of music; 2 million songs from their 50 million song library are free to listen to for Prime members.  You can search by song, album, artist, or listen to existing playlists and curated stations for something that floats your boat.  Keeto enjoys George Winston.  Link here.

Amazon Music has a channel on twitch.tv where they are hosting live-streamed webcasts.  Look for #togetherathome hashtag.  I listened to Hayes Carll play live for an hour on his patio last night.  The audio was very well done.  Link here.

I’ve gone overboard subscribing to and listening to podcasts, true crime is my addiction.  I have new content to listen to each day.  I use the Stitcher app to listen.   Link here.

Foreign Language Learning

I still use the free app Duolingo to practice my Spanish every day or so.  Link here.

Things to watch

The British National Theatre is streaming previously recorded theater performances every Thursday in April, on their YouTube channel.  We watched the first one, a comedy called One Man, Two Guvnors, last week and really enjoyed it.  Link here.

The Metropolitan Opera is streaming videos of previously recorded opera performances, a new one every day.  Link here.

Acorn.tv is offering a 30-day free trial of their British TV shows’ episodes (which we enjoy very much) for new subscribers, instead of their normal 7-day free trial.  Use the code FREE30 when signing up.  Link here.

Videochat

Ok, hands down, I’ve adopted Zoom for video chat.  The free version allows unlimited video meetings with a 40-minute time limit on each, which works for me.   Link here.

Online multiplayer games

We have spent many hours playing online games with friends and family.  I think that trickstercards.com and boardgamearena.com are both well done for this.  We combine them with a zoom video chat.

Food & Drink

Virtual wine tasting from Becker Vineyards.  What’s a virtual wine tasting?  Well, Becker is selling different 3 pack bottles of different varietals each week, which you can order to be shipped to your home.  And then a few days later, you tune into their Facebook Live sessions to participate in a group tasting of each bottle with experts from the vineyard.  I just bought the 3rd tasting pack.  It should be good!  Link here.

I posted previously about my ongoing on-line grocery shopping adventures for delivery and/or curbside pickup.  I’ve been pretty good at keeping an order scheduled a week to 10 days ahead of time, to keep fresh food in the house.  Let me say, again, HEB is awesome!  Link to my previous post here.

 

 

 

 

Distantialism.

Distantialism; a word I made up to capture the way of life we have all been suddently asked to embrace due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Keeping in touch via technology:  We have been keeping to the house for the last week or so, even before the City of Austin declared a shelter-in-place order last night for the next 2-3 weeks.

I’ve been using video chat apps like zoom and skype to keep in touch with multiple groups of friends and family at a time.  Alternatives didn’t meet my needs; Facetime doesn’t run on non-Apple platforms, and WhatsApp only supports chats amongst 4 people at a time.

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My niece introduced me to the marco polo app, which I can only describe as a group texting app, except instead of just asynchronously texting eachother, you can send video clips to eachother which can be viewed by the recipient(s) at their leisure, and then subsequently responded to.  You can also use it for real-time communication, though, in which case, as my niece describes it, it works kind of like a video “walkie-talkie” where each person takes turns “talking” by sending small video clips.

Grocery shopping without going to the grocery store:  I have tried using our local grocery chain (HEB’s) delivery and curbside services.  I can’t say how that has gone, though, since the first delivery slot available when I placed my order 8 days ago, was for tomorrow.  So I get to wait another day and see what actually gets delivered.   Their curbside pickup/delivery timeslots are booked 10 days to two weeks ahead of time now, so I’m not sure how much more experience I’ll get with them.

I signed up for Shipt.com, in the hopes that I could schedule a much sooner grocery delivery.  The membership fee is about $99 for a year, or $15/month.  They had an opening for the next day, so I decided to try it out.   It actually worked well.  My shopper texted me when an item that I wanted wasn’t available, so I could pick a substitute from the available items.  There was a bit of a snag on the delivery end, but it all worked out in the end.  🙂

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Entertaining myself:  I’ve been taking walks in the neighborhood and nearby parks, streaming TV shows and movies, watching the many now live-streamed instead of in-person events, gardening, and whatever else my heart desires (that I can do in the confines of my house and/or yard).

I hope you are all faring well.  Take care.

Uber oops.

When I was catching up with Lori in Charleston, one of the things she mentioned was that Mike had left his phone in their Uber on their last trip.  I sympathized as I listened, thinking what a pain it would have been to try to get it back.  Well, as luck would have it, I ended up doing the exact same thing three days later!!

We had just tied up at the marina in Savannah.  I took a quick shower and tidied up.  Then we all bundled into an Uber in the rain to get to Amy Lee’s office to meet up with her and Chris.   We enjoyed a really great tour of the historic building that they had restored in Savannah.  Then Amy Lee drove us around, giving us a wonderful car-tour that only a decades-long Savannah resident could conduct.  Eventually, I patted my jacket pocket, dug through the day-pack that I brought from the boat, only to realize that… I couldn’t find my phone.  Lori called my number.  We didn’t hear it ring.  It wasn’t in our car.   Most likely scenario… it probably fell out in the Uber that I had summoned with my phone an hour or two prior.

How was I going to get my phone back?

– Amy Lee called her offices to see if I had dropped it there.   Nope.  And then she graciously continued our car-tour, while I tried to figure out how to locate my phone from the back seat, and get it back before we had to depart for Brunswick the next day.

– I borrowed Monte’s phone and installed the Uber app, and tried to logon to my account, but I couldn’t recall my password (seriously?!).

–  Then I tried to logon to my gmail account via Monte’s phone to see if I had received a message from Uber about my phone.  But I couldn’t recall my gmail password (OMG!).

– In the meantime, I sent my phone a text from Monte’s phone saying that if someone found my phone, to please call Monte’s number.

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– Then, Lori asked me if I had Find-my-iphone service installed on my phone.  Yes, I did!   A quick google search told me that I could use icloud.com/find to logon to my apple ID via a web browser and it would help me locate my device.  Mercifully, I was able to remember the correct password to my Apple ID.  So I was able to logon and quickly saw that my iPhone was in the vicinity but on the move.  Brilliant!  We tried to track down my phone’s Uber based on the phone’s location, but it was moving faster than we were.  So, I used the iCloud.com find-my-phone utility to ping my phone, which sounded an audible alarm on my phone, wherever it was.

Within 5 minutes Monte’s phone rang.  A person in the Uber had heard the alarm, found my phone wedged between the backseat and the door, picked it up, saw the text message I had sent, and called Monte’s phone from their own phone.   A few minutes later we met up at an agreed-to location for me to get my phone back.   I was very lucky.  And I was oh so thankful for the outcome. The ordeal had lasted about 30 minutes.  I tipped the Uber driver again when she handed me my phone, and we went our separate ways.

Take from this story what you will.  Turn on your phone’s find utility if you have one.  commit a few passwords to memory.  Make sure your phone is secure in your pocket or bag.  And travel with a friend with a phone.  🙂

 

 

In hot water.

We have been talking about it for quite some time. Today we sprang into action! We replaced an old water heater before it failed and flooded the house.

After two trips to Home Depot (you can never, ever take one trip), draining the old tank, some heavy lifting, and a few choice phrases, we are back in business.

Thanks Sweetie!

Score!

I’m so excited!  I have several custom searches saved in my profile on craigslist that I check every few days to see if THAT-ONE-THING ever comes up for sale at a crazy good price.   Today something popped up in my gardening & outdoors search that I just couldn’t pass up.  I was all over it within minutes of its posting and swooped in for the sale.  I picked up all of these ceramic pots & pavers for a song (plus a couple big sago palms and succulents as a bonus).  And it ALL fit in the back of my SUV.

I’m one happy girl with dirty fingernails.  🙂

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Sterling silver jewelry cleaning technique.

I’ve read about an easy do it yourself way to clean up tarnished sterling silver jewelry. I finally got around to trying it today.

You’ll need:

– a piece of aluminum foil
– bowl
– boiling water, 1-2 cups
– baking soda, 1 Tablespoon per cup of boiling water
– some tarnished silver jewelry to clean

Crumple up the foil really well, place in an empty bowl, and nestle each piece of jewelry into the foil so it is making good contact with the foil. This is really important to ensure the electrochemical reaction required to clean the silver.

Boil the water, add baking soda, stir well and then pour into the bowl with jewelry and foil. The chemical reaction to remove the tarnish from the silver will bubble while it’s happening.

Wait 15 minutes or so. Remove jewelry and rinse well.

Tarnish results from silver reacting with sulfur-laden substances in the air, forming black silver sulfide on the surface of the silver. This technique reverses that reaction, causing the sulfur to instead move to the aluminum in the foil.

Before:

After:

Wasn’t that easy?! 🙂

Apps to pack.

I enjoyed my Italy trip immensely. On this trip I graduated to the realm of the connected-passenger, relying on technology to assist my travels. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I found useful (and a couple I didn’t). Also, note that I have an iPhone, so I can’t comment on the availability of the apps for other phone types.

International data plan: Before setting off, do take the time to research your wireless phone provider’s international plan options. Mine has a day-pass for $10/day which essentially extends the already generous cellular voice/data limits of my existing plan to use while connected in other covered countries. Free wifi is generally widely available in Europe, but I found it could be a bit spotty. I didn’t want to worry about data caps, and Italy and the U.K. are included in my provider’s per-day international plan, so I went with that. You may choose differently, but decide before you leave.

Airline apps: This trip I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle and easyJet. You’ll want your airlines’ apps on your phone, too. Online check-in may help you avoid some lines, and online boarding passes can make connections and terminal transfers a bit easier without having to find a kiosk or person to print out a paper boarding pass for you.

Lodging: I booked my lodging through Airbnb. The Airbnb app makes for easy communication with hosts for directions, check-in times, and handling any questions or problems that come up during your stay. If your hotel has an app, you may want to install it for the same reasons.

Itinerary management: Instead of printing out a dozen or so reservation details, I opted to use GoogleTrips to integrate them all together. Once installed, you can login and have it pull details from emails in your inbox relating to travel reservations, and it will organize them all neatly by trip, date, and destination. And you can have it download the itinerary for offline viewing. This puts times, flight numbers, locations, reservation codes, contact details in one easy to reach place.

Train schedules: Following a tip from Rick Steve’s Europe website, I installed the Deutsche Bahn’s app DB Navigator for online rail timetables. It was awesome. Though it is the German rail’s app, it includes very current schedules for all of Europe for online viewing. The Italian rail information was accurate and I used this app exclusively to plan my train travel. I didn’t use it to purchase tickets, just to figure out which train I wanted to catch. I highly recommend it.

Currency conversion: The Xe currency app works online, or offline if needed, using the last exchange rate it downloaded. Not necessary but nice to have if you don’t know how much that thing is really going to cost you.

Foreign language help: My English and Spanish get me by in most places, but I don’t know much Italian. So, I used the Google Translate app. It will translate individual words or phrases for you. But it can also use the camera on your phone and will translate entire paragraphs of text in an image for you. This was awesome for translating text from tour brochures. Plus it was just kind of fun to use.

I also recommend Duolingo for learning a new language. I always have it on my phone, to sharpen my Spanish, and I used it for a few weeks ahead of my recent trip to learn a bit of Italian. It definitely helped. They also make a flash card-based app called Tinycards that is a nice companion to the original Duolingo app. And they are both free.

What to see: I installed the Trip Advisor app, and downloaded ahead of time the info they have on Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra. I used it to look for ideas on new things to see and places to visit. Google Trips also has a “things to do” category, but I found Trip Advisor was the one I used more.

Finally, I recommend installing Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app. It has audio walking tour and museum audio tours for several destinations in Europe. You can download ahead of time the ones you want to listen to.

Entertainment: I always tote my kindle e-reader around, but I also downloaded some free audiobooks and videos using Hoopla and Overdrive apps. If your city library participates with them, you can checkout several titles for free each month. I loaded up a few for the plane and train rides.

I never leave home without my Geocaching app. If you want to see more than a few caches you’ll have to sign up for a premium membership, which I find very reasonable. You can download ahead of time collections of caches in different places that you are going to visit. I earned my Italy badge on this trip. Woohoo! I carry a real compass in my backpack, but an electronic version is handy, too.

I left my binoculars and big camera at home this trip. So I didn’t think I’d get much birding in, and that was correct. I could hear many birds, but I was hard-pressed to get a good look at most. Before I left, I paid $15 for a European birding field guide app called Collin’s Bird Guide, as the European bird species are different from those in North America. Turns out I didn’t use that app at all. It has beautiful content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It didn’t have a function to guide me in identifying a bird by color, size, etc. Good old Google search did the trick; I’d search, for example, on “Italy large black and grey bird” and just scroll through pictures until I found the one I was looking for. A website called world-birds.com turned up often with helpful info.

Navigating: I prefer paper maps, but for electronic aid I just used Google Maps to plot walking directions ahead of time, or if I had a “where the heck am I” moment. I wasn’t worried about my data usage as my data plan has high limits. But if you are, you can look up a route and directions while on wifi and take a series of screen shots ahead of time for viewing later. There are a couple other map/navigation apps I’ve seen recommended, but I didn’t use them: navmii and CityMaps2Go. If you really are trying to limit your data usage while traveling, download these ahead of time to see how helpful they are and practice with them before you leave.

Check out these and other apps to make your trip more enjoyable.

What other apps would you recommend?

Homeward.

I spent last night in a very funky hotel in the South Terminal of Gatwick airport. It’s called bloc hotel and they market their rooms as “yacht-style;” think tiny, as in a cabin on a cruise ship. But it was modern, comfy, cheap and EASY, which makes it worthwhile for me. The airline check-in counter was literally 2 minutes away from my room.

This is the smallest room, they have bigger ones for more $$.

I’m looking forward to getting home. But I sure had a great week!

Thanks Nikon!

I like to share when I have a great customer service experience; they are so rare these days.

I’ve owned a much-used pair of binoculars that were originally bought for the boat, but have also accompanied me on many miles of rainy, dusty and sweaty birding hikes. Unfortunately the adjustable eye cups both broke, making them less than ideal to use. Right when I was going to retire them, I remembered that Nikon has a lifetime warranty on their optic products.

So I looked up how to get a service return authorization, which was easy to do online, then shipped them off. I only had to pay for shipping to Nikon.

It took a little over 3 months, but yesterday I received a brand new replacement pair in the mail (postage-paid)!

It’s nice to know there are still companies out there that follow through on their quality promises.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

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Saturday evening, right around 7pm, the predicted “artic blast” arrived with 30 mph winds in our part of Austin, quickly dropping temperatures from the upper 70’s (Farenheit) during the afternoon to an overnight low in the low 20’s in just a few hours.   Sunday stayed right at freezing at our place all day, and then temperatures last night again hit the low 20s.  Tonight will probably freeze again.   Things will warm up a bit before Christmas Day.  Then we can put away our woolies until the next cold front comes through.

A few years back we had an outside spigot and pipe freeze, flooding one of our back rooms and making a cold mess when the ice thawed.   This year, Monte designed a wooden box to house a 25w incandescent light bulb for each of our exterior spigots to keep them warm and avert disaster this time around.   He cut out the pieces.  I assembled them, while he wired a light socket and lamp cord for each of them.  They worked great!  We can put them away later this week, until the next deep freeze heads our way.

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Superglue #lifehack.

Every once in a while I stumble across a tip that someone shared that is amazingly simple yet solves a problem that has forever bugged me.

When I find one, I’ll share in the event you find it useful, too.

Here’s one that I appreciate every time I open my kitchen drawer to get out the superglue.

Problem:  A tube of superglue, once opened, dries up before I can use it a second time.

I must have bought a hundred tubes of superglue over my lifetime.   You know, the tiny tubes that come in packs of 2 or 3 (for this very reason!).

Then, one day, someone told me that the reason superglue dries up so quickly is that the way it works to create a bond is that it reacts with moisture in the air.  So, essentially, as soon as you open it, it starts hardening inside the tube.

Hack:  Save those packets of silicon that you may sometimes find in a bottle of aspirin, a new pair of shoes, etc.    The next time you are done using a newly opened tube of superglue, store it in a ziploc baggie along with a packet or two of silicon.  The packet will act as a desiccant and absorb the water in the air; preventing the superglue from hardening in the tube.

This hack has kept my current, open, tube of superglue usable for almost a year.  I just pulled it out to mend a broken Christmas ornament.

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