Monday, May 1, 2017

Ring Video Doorbell Pro Review

Note: this is not a sponsored post - we purchased the Ring Pro Video Doorbell ourselves and were not compensated in any way :)





Over the past several months, I'd started noticing that more and more of our neighbors had upgraded their doorbells to Ring video doorbells.  Posts about stolen packages and suspicious solicitors on our neighborhood Next Door app had also started including video footage, rather than just descriptions.  Although we have an alarm system, we didn't have any security cameras and decided that since we both work during the day, it might be nice to have additional video security.  

My parents gifted us a Ring doorbell for Christmas this year, but unfortunately, our front door features window sidelights and there is only a narrow strip of wood where our existing doorbell was installed.  The Ring was too wide for the wood, and although the Ring can run on battery power (rather than being hard-wired where the existing doorbell is located), we didn't want to commit to recharging or replacing doorbell batteries regularly and decided to return it.  

Luckily, a couple of months later, Ring released the Ring Pro doorbell, which (among other upgrades) is narrower than the original Ring doorbell at less than 2 inches wide!  It also features higher resolution video footage (1080p vs 720p on the original Ring), interchangeable face plates to match your wall color/preferences, and customized alert zones.  Since we live a few houses down from the elementary school, the sidewalk in front of our house gets heavy foot traffic in the mornings and afternoons with parents walking their kids to and from school; the customized alert zone feature is handy because we can exclude being notified about motion on the sidewalk, instead limiting our alerts to motion on our actual property (yard + front walkway).  These features, and the narrower profile, were well worth the additional $50(ish) price tag of the Ring Pro over the original Ring model.

The Ring Pro can only be hardwired to the existing doorbell wiring (unlike the original Ring, which has the option to run off battery power), but we prefer the hardwired setup so we don't have to worry about recharging the battery.  It was super quick to install - maybe 10-15 minutes to connect the wires and screw it into the wall.  It has a 160-degree range of view, so we are able to capture activity on our entire front porch and a large part of our front yard.  It uses our home's wifi to alert us and record a video anytime there is motion detected or someone rings the doorbell.

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Anytime there is motion detected in the defined alert zone, the Ring Pro notifies us on our iPhones and begins recording a video (it also works on Androids and Windows smartphones).  We can access the video straight from the notification or go back and view (or rewatch) it later (e.g., middle of the night motion alerts or alerts that pop up when it's not convenient to access our phones).  

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The videos are good quality, include sound, and are generally about 30 seconds long (from the beginning of the detected motion until the motion ends, which is usually about 30 seconds for someone crossing our yard or approaching our front door).  We now know exactly when our mail or packages are delivered each day!  The videos are stored via Ring's cloud technology, which is free for the first 30 days and then $30 per year (so only $2.50 per month).  There is also a "live view" option, which allows you to see a live view from the Ring at any time (whether or not motion has been detected).  

The Ring Pro also has doorbell functionality and rings our existing doorbell in the house, as well as alerting us on our iPhones that someone has rung the doorbell.  From our iPhones, we have the capability to "answer" the doorbell by seeing a live view of the person on our porch and speaking through the Ring directly to them.  This allows us to answer the doorbell whether we are in our house (and just don't want to open the front door / get out off the couch) or away from home.  So few people ring our doorbell (other than the UPS delivery guy!) that this hasn't been a major feature for us yet.  I'm sure it varies depending on the speed of your wifi internet connection, but our doorbell and video appears to be on less than a one-second delay from real-time.  

We've only had it installed for a couple of weeks, but so far we are loving the additional security of knowing who is entering our yard or approaching our house and when packages are delivered.  I hope we never have a theft or other incident that requires using the Ring's videos for anything further, but it is nice knowing that option is available should we need to use it.  After my non-stop demonstration of the motion notifications at work, several of my co-workers are ordering one too!  The original Ring runs just under $200, while the Ring Pro is around $250 (often slightly less expensive on Amazon than purchasing from Ring directly).  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Toddler 101: FREE Home Depot Kids' Workshops


Did you know that Home Depot offers a FREE Kids' Workshop on the first Saturday of every month?  I am so excited that C is old enough to participate in the Home Depot Kids' Workshops now!  In my opinion, 2.5 years old and up is age-appropriate for this activity (with a parent's help!)

The Kids' Workshops are generally held from 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM on Saturday mornings, but check with your local Home Depot to verify the schedule.  At our Home Depot, they are held in the lumber section of the store, although when the weather is nice I have also seen them set up outside the front of the store, too.  Some Home Depots request that you register online for the Kids' Workshop, but at ours, you just show up.  


Check in at the table, where they'll give each child a (FREE) Home Depot orange apron and project kit. Home Depot sets up a super long, low table with upside-down 5-gallon buckets to use as stools.  Grab a spot and open the project kit, which contains the supplies needed to make each project - instructions, wood, nails, stickers, etc.  Hammers, paint, wood glue, and other shareable supplies are available on the table to use.  It is so cute seeing all the kids in their orange aprons hammering away (many with their dads)!  If you don't have time to do the project (or finish), you can take the project kit home - as long as you have some basic tools and supplies (hammer, paint, etc.), most of the other supplies are included.

One of my favorite parts is that each kid gets a lapel pin unique to each monthly project they create; they can put these pins on their orange apron for the following month to show their Kids' Workshop "street cred". :)  Some of the elementary school-aged kids had dozens and dozens of pins on their aprons from past months!  

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C has participated the past two months and loved it both times!  He made a birdhouse-shaped rain gauge in March and a bunny-shaped box in April.  The first Saturday of the month coincides with my moms' Bible study, so it is a great activity to occupy C and daddy while I'm out!


If you're interested in the schedule for the rest of 2017, here it is (and a terrible photocopy of the project pictures):

May 6, 2017 - Flower PlanterJune 3, 2017 - Tic Tac Toe GameJuly 1, 2017 - Bug HouseAugust 5, 2017 - PENSKE TruckSeptember 2, 2017 - Pencil HolderOctober 7, 2017 - Fire House BankNovember 4, 2017 - HumveeNovember 25, 2017 - Christmas Tree OrnamentDecember 2, 2017 - Gingerbread HouseJanuary 6, 2018 - Block Calendar

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Monday, April 24, 2017

From the Kitchen: Easy Quiche

This easy quiche is one of my go-tos for an easy breakfast, lunch, or dinner; I frequently bring it to new moms when I'm delivering dinner as a bonus breakfast item (since I thought breakfast was the hardest meal to pull off after C was born).  It's nothing special since hardly any part of it is homemade - but it takes less than 10 minutes to assemble and pop in the oven, and less than an hour later, you have a finished quiche on your hands!



The recipe is super flexible in that you can use whatever cheese, meat, and/or vegetables you prefer (or, if you're like me, have on hand and need to get rid of).  It is a great way to use up leftovers, especially since eggs and milk are almost always on hand!  Except for the eggs and milk, the specifics and the quantity of the other ingredients (cheese, meat, vegetables) is flexible!  My go-to is to use frozen chopped spinach, which I microwave to thaw it and then squeeze out the extra water, along with turkey breakfast sausage.  When in a pinch, I use the Jimmy Dean precooked turkey sausage crumbles, which you can find with the packaged lunch meat and hot dogs at the grocery store.

I use frozen deep-dish pie crusts if I'm taking the quiche to someone else, just for the convenience of the disposable pie pan that they come in; if I'm making it for my own family, I usually use a refrigerated pie crust in a deep dish pie plate.  I find that regular-depth pie plates come too close to overflowing!

Easy Quiche


Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50-60 minutes

Ingredients:


1 pie crust (frozen deep-dish pie crust or refrigerated pie crust)
3/4 cup (more or less) grated cheese (my go-to is cheddar, but anything works!)
(optional) 1 cup (more or less) chopped meat (e.g., ham, bacon, breakfast sausage)
(optional) 1/2 cup (more or less) chopped vegetables (e.g., spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, green onion; thaw and drain excess water if using frozen)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If using a refrigerated pie crust, press into the bottom of a deep dish pie plate.  If using a frozen deep dish pie crust, no need to thaw.  Evenly spread the chopped meat and/or vegetables around the bottom of the pie crust.  Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the meat and/or vegetables.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the 4 eggs, milk, and salt and pepper until well blended; pour into the pie crust on top of the meat, vegetables, and cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until no longer liquid in the center (it will still appear slightly jiggly but should be firm when pressed).  Let cool at least 5 minutes before cutting into 6-8 slices.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

DIY (Affordable!) Backyard Mosquito Control

A Texas winter without a good freeze means two things: no snow days from work and terrible mosquitoes come summertime!  I don't know what it is, but our backyard is a mosquito haven.  I think it has something to do with the massive quantity of plants and trees relative to the size of our yard, but the mosquitoes get BAD!  Since it has been a fairly warm spring, they've already started to emerge.  

We routinely use bug spray when we're outside, but with me being pregnant (Zika!) and a toddler who spends tons of time outside (and reacts terribly to bug bites), we really need a way to eliminate the mosquitoes in our yard.  We've tried the tiki torches with citronella fuel in the past, and they didn't make a dent in our mosquito problem!  Last year we considered various options to control the mosquitoes - everything from paying a regular professional mosquito spraying service (which runs $150-200/month in our area) to having a mosquito misting system installed (starting around $1,500-2,000, plus $200-300/month in misting solution).  Given the sizeable price tags of these options, we decided to start with a cheaper DIY option to see how it worked - and luckily, it worked out great and we saved a bunch of money over the professional options.  

I've already stocked up on supplies for this year, and we did our first application last weekend.  Here's what we use:




1. Cutter Backyard Spray Concentrate
I think this spray makes the biggest overall difference in the number of mosquitoes in our yard - and luckily, it is easy to apply and super affordable.  The bottle of concentrated spray screws onto the end of a garden hose and you simply spray it around your yard - grass, plants, flower beds, even the patio surface.  We have a fairly small yard and one bottle is enough to do both our front and back yards.  Make sure to do it AFTER mowing the grass so maximize the effectiveness.  We do try to avoid spraying the plastic Little Tikes/Fisher Price toys in our yard (water table, picnic table, slide, etc.) to limit the direct contact our toddler has with the solution. 

It runs less than $9 per bottle and we re-apply every 2-3 weeks - every 3 weeks in spring/early fall; every 2 weeks in peak summer mosquito season.  We notice a HUGE difference once we pass the 3-week mark.  I just ordered 6 bottles on Amazon, which I expect should last us through most of this year's mosquito season.  $50-60 for the whole summer is much more affordable than the other options we considered!!

2.  Skeeter Screen Patio Egg Diffuser
We have 4 of these patio eggs around our back patio (where we spend the most time outside).  One of our favorite local restaurants has one of these on every single table on their outdoor patio!  Although these do not actually kill mosquitoes like the spray above, it does a good job of repelling them from the immediate surrounding area.  It comes with a ceramic egg-shaped diffuser, a hanging net, and a bottle of the diffuser oil.  You simply pour the designated amount of diffuser oil into the top of the egg (using the measuring cup provided) and it is slowly absorbed into the porous material of the egg.  The oil smells kind of like citronella - it doesn't bother us.  The bottom of the egg is coated with something to allow you to place it on furniture without the oil leaking through, but we use the (included) hanging net to hang the eggs from the eaves of our patio so they're out of reach of our toddler (both from a breaking-the-egg and a drinking-the-oil perspective).  When you stop smelling the oil, it's time to refill - in the heat of Texas summers, this is once every 2 weeks.  

We invested in the diffuser kits last summer, which run about $15-16 each, so this year we will just have to buy refill oil for our existing eggs.  The bottles of refill oil are 8 oz, which is twice the size of the bottle that comes in the kit, so they last a while (about 10 individual egg refills).  For some reason both the patio eggs and refill oil are hard to find locally (only a specialty garden store by my house sells it), so I tend to order on Amazon to save a special errand.  This was a $60-70 upfront investment for the 4 patio eggs last summer, and I expect that we'll spend $30-40 on refill oil this summer.

3.  Bug Spray
In addition to the preventative measures above, we also use bug spray when we're going to be outside.  I initially liked the OFF Family Care Smooth and Dry spray since it goes on dry and non-greasy (and smells good!), but then I had several bottles that clogged up after the first use and had to be thrown away - and bug spray isn't cheap!  It turns out the "dry" feature involves cornstarch, which frequently clogs up the whole container and renders it useless (I tried lots of methods to unclog it to no avail!)  Since then, I've switched to unscented OFF Family Care in the non-aerosol bottle, which goes on wet but is (mostly) unscented and the bottle doesn't clog!  It's only 7% DEET (compared to the 15% DEET in the Smooth and Dry format), so I use it when we're only going to be outside for an hour or so (drawing with chalk, playing with the water table, swinging).  I like the non-aerosol bottle for the diaper bag since it has a cap and won't accidentally spray the inside of your bag like the aerosol can will (speaking from experience!)

If we're going to be outside for an extended period of time (backyard dinner party, playing outside all afternoon), I use OFF Active (15% DEET), which goes on wet AND has the typical insect-repellent smell (which I'm not a fan of), but it is effective :)  We have tried lots of "natural"/essential-oil-based bug sprays and they are just not as effective as those with DEET (our pediatrician and the AAP agree).  Although DEET use is controversial, we make sure to always bathe and wash it off our skin before going to bed and avoid spraying it directly on hands that might end up in mouths!

For baby:
Since we're expecting a summer baby this year and bug sprays shouldn't be used on infants, we're relying on the preventative measures outlined above and mosquito netting to keep the baby bite-free.  We bought this stroller mosquito net a few years back and it has worked well on our BOB jogging stroller.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Free Printable: "O-FISH-ally" Goldfish Preschool Valentines

Last year, I was the clueless mom that didn't realize that 18-month-olds exchanged valentines at school until C came home with a list of names the night before - when Blair was out of town - cue panic mode.  

This year, I was prepared!  I can't stand the thought of giving other toddlers candy or sweets with their valentines, and most of the pre-packaged varieties were for characters C had never heard of.  I decided to go with Goldfish, C's favorite snack.  These cards would also work well with Goldfish Grahams or Swedish Fish if you have older kids or just don't mind the sugar :)


Note: I bought a box of 30 bags of Goldfish at Sam's, not noticing that they were 1.5-ounce bags instead of the normal 1-ounce bags they sell at the grocery store.  The bags are huge (but were still cheaper than buying multiple packages of the 1-ounce grocery store Goldfish).  I noticed that in the Valentine's Day section at Target, there were little mini bags of Goldfish Grahams that are the perfect size for a valentine (why don't they have tiny bags of regular Goldfish too?!)  So, you might want to pay attention to the size of the bag if you don't want huge ones like mine :)


Click here to download a PDF file of the printable "O-FISH-ally" Valentine's cards.  I tweaked the colors after I printed mine to make them a bit brighter.  There is one page of mixed colors, and one page of each of the five colors - so you can decide which page(s) to print for your kiddo's Valentine's color preferences.  I chose to print a variety of colors (on plain white cardstock) and let C choose which color to give to each friend.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Surviving the Stomach Bug

We made it over a year without a round of the stomach bug in our house, but...the jig is up.  As awful as it is, at least we know what we're doing now and can hopefully prevent it spreading to the rest of the family!  I got a call from school this morning that C was sick, so I made a quick stop by CVS on my way to pick him up to pick up the missing supplies in our go-to stomach bug arsenal:




CVS-brand Dye-Free Strawberry Pediatric Electrolyte (aka generic Pedialyte)


I'm not sure why, but the actual Pedialyte brand does not make a flavored (strawberry/grape/whatever) version that is dye-free.  C is not interested in drinking the unflavored variety, which is the only dye-free version that Pedialyte makes, and since the whole point is to ensure he stays hydrated...I buy the flavored kind.  The flavored Pedialyte brand products are all dyed purple or pink, and when I have a pukey kiddo, the last thing I need is dye making the clean-up/stain removal process even harder.


Cheerios


Bland, starchy, easy on the stomach.  I think toast or saltines are the more conventional choices, but C isn't interested in eating those.  When he was a baby, I used puffs as our stomach bug starch of choice, but now it's plain Cheerios.


Applesauce Pouches


Another easy-on-the-stomach (and hydrating) food to try once it seems like his little stomach can handle some food.  These are from Costco, but they sell them pretty much everywhere now.  Normally, I buy the single-serve applesauce cups for snacks (since they are cheaper), but for stomach bugs, I buy applesauce pouches.    It's one less utensil contaminated with stomach bug germs, and they're mess-free for him to eat on his little sick-bed pallet on the floor.


Bleach solution


I learned this the hard way with the first stomach bug that ravaged our house -- many "disinfecting" products do not kill norovirus, which is the common culprit of stomach bugs.  Lysol and Clorox wipes, as convenient as they are, do NOT kill norovirus.  The spray version of Lysol says it kills stomach bugs, but the surface has to remain wet for 5 minutes for it to be effective, and the fine aerosol Lysol mist usually dries before that. 


The best bet is plain old bleach, diluted with water in a spray bottle.  I use "concentrated" household bleach and a ratio of 1 part bleach to 20 parts water (I generally use 1 tablespoon of bleach to 20 tablespoons, or 1.25 cups, of water).  Bleach deteriorates over time, so if your bleach is old, you might consider investing in a new bottle for maximum effectiveness - bleach is cheap!  I spray this on EVERY hard surface that may have been touched, breathed on, or vomited on - floors, counters, cabinets, light switches, TV remotes, door handles, toilets, tubs, sinks, toys, etc.  Again, you want to make sure the bleach solution has ~5 minutes to work its magic, so I douse things with the solution -- it's not a light spray, I make sure the surface is totally wet.  If it's something that will come in direct contact with food or someone's mouth, I rinse with water (AFTER the solution has dried) before using it to eat or drink.


Since the bleach solution can't be used on fabrics or other soft surfaces, I try to minimize the contact C has with non-washable soft surfaces (e.g., area rugs, carpet, furniture).  I make him a pallet on the floor of multiple layers of blankets and/or towels to try to contain the contaminated area....that way, I can throw them all in the washer (on hot! Maximum length cycle! and machine dry!) along with any clothes, stuffed animals, rags, or other bedding, if they get soiled.  I make his pallet setup directly in front of the TV to entice him to stay on it (a a kid who gets very little screen time, he will stay glued to the TV on sick days!)


I'm crossing my fingers that this stomach bug will pass quickly and that no one else will catch it!  I've heard tips on drinking 100% concord grape juice and/or raw apple cider vinegar to neutralize the virus in your stomach if you've been exposed but not yet showing symptoms....so those may be next on my shopping list!
 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Toddler Stocking Stuffers

I had a hard time coming up with stocking stuffers for C this year, since at 2.5 he is still too young for candy but I also don't want a bunch of tiny junky toys coming into my house!  Maybe I'm lame, but I am all about the practical / useful stocking stuffers, even for toddlers.  Here's what C is getting in his stocking this year:

Burt's Bees Baby Shampoo - we'd been using Aveeno baby shampoo, but I wanted a bottle with a pump and Burt's Bees is rated slightly higher on the EWG scale.

Finding Nemo underwear - because potty training is happening soon.  Eek.

Crayola Bath Dropz - C demands a "color bath" every night.  He loves picking out the color tablet, throwing it into the water, and watching it dissolve.  I'm not sure he even remembers that taking a bath in clear water is a thing.

Christmas socks - I got these in the dollar section at Target.  

Busy Day sticker book - A friend gave C the ABC version of this sticker book for his birthday, and he loved it!  They're super cheap on Amazon (like $3) and provided several hours of entertainment while he matched all the stickers to their designated spots.  The stickers are technically reusable, although he has some trouble getting them off the page, so I have to help with that part.  Still, for $3, even if you only use it once, this is cheap entertainment!  It is a thin book so perfect for your purse for a doctor's appointment or airplane ride.

Safari Water Wow! Book - this is another great doctor's office or car activity, since it is mess-free (paint with water) and the 4 cardboard paintable pages are reusable after they dry.  C has the vehicles version of this and I thought a second version would mix it up some, since the first book gets so much use!  Again, cheap ($5) fun.

Christmas Play Pack - I got this in the Target dollar section; it has a little coloring book, crayons, and Christmas stickers.  A friend got C a Finding Dory version of this play pack for our summer trip to Maine, and it was great on the airplane (and we still keep it in his backpack for entertainment while waiting at restaurants, etc.)  You can't beat it for $1!

Christmas stickers - These were also from the Target dollar section.  "More stickers please" was the only thing C asked Santa for......done x 500!



I'll add in a small bag of Goldfish and some mandarin oranges (am I the only one who grew up always getting oranges in your stocking?!) and call it a day!  I know these items will all get used and were pretty budget-friendly!