Tuesday, September 16, 2008

200 Pounds

For anyone who's still following this blog, I reached my goal of weighing 200 pounds today. The spurt of weight loss was mostly caused by some sort of sickness. My throat has been too sore to swallow much for the last three days, and for the three days before that I had a high fever and no appetite.

Still, that's 40 pounds lost in 9 1/2 months. That's approximately 38 weeks, so just over a pound a week. That doesn't seem too extreme does it?

Now I just need to hold myself to my new weight till New Years.


Financially we're still budgeting and saving. We've kind of hit the planes of persistence, where nothing exciting happens. We're happy to have our finances under control, but that means that I'm not actively learning new things about money. And that means I won't be updating this blog again.

Thanks for reading!

The End

Friday, August 22, 2008

Best Breadmachine White Bread

We got a bread machine for free from Freecycle a month or so back and have been playing with different recipes. We've finally got it down to the best white bread recipe, but we're still looking for a reliable good whole wheat recipe.

Making your own bread can save money, can be fun (depending on your definition of fun) and can be a lot of work. A bread machine is a good way to reduce the amount of work it takes.

We have a 1 1/2 pound (1.5 lbs.) bread machine, but we make a one pound loaf. We like our bread to be cut right side up, instead of sideways, and our bread pan is vertical...so we just make it shorter.

1 pound basic white bread

3/4 c. warm water
2 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. vegetable oil
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast

Add the ingredients in the oder listed to the bread machine pan, then set it to run a basic cycle. As soon as it's done, pop it out and eat it! Let it cool before you put it in a plastic bag or it will get soggy.

The bread this makes is really fluffy and light. It's so fluffy that you need to cut 1 inch slices for it to stay together. This means it's great for eating with dinner or on it's own, or as toast, but not so much for sandwiches (who wants two inches of bread in a sandwich?!).

Sandwich Bread Modification

For sandwich bread, we want something a little denser so we can make thinner slices. When we want sandwich bread, we add 1 tbsp. of Vital Wheat Gluten to the mix, right after adding the flour. The bread still rises to the same size, but it's more firm and can be sliced in about 1/2 inch thick slices.

Other Tips

We mix up the dry ingredients (except the yeast) for 5 batches all at once and store them in plastic containers.

You can use the same recipe with whole wheat flour, but it won't rise as much and will be quite dense (though still tasty). Occasionally with whole wheat flour the loaf will rise up high and then collapse. It's still edible, it just looks funny and is disapointing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wells Fargo is Dumb

I check my on line accounts nearly daily, except for the Wells Fargo account which I check about weekly. We've had poor experiences with Wells Fargo in the past, so we don't actually use the account. We're keeping it open till we get a mortgage though since credit scores include the length of time you've had credit cards open, and our Wells Fargo has several years seniority compared to our other cards.

Today when I went to check my Wells Fargo account, I found an unexpected surprise.

Two new accounts were opened in my name. I was the co-signer, my social security number was tied to them and everything. And the one account had a negative balance.

I was initially concerned about identity theft, but it seemed odd since I don't think we haven't used checks, the credit card or the debit cards associated with this account in a year or more.

I called Wells Fargo of course, and they had no idea what was going on. They did tell me the name of the other person on my account, and where the account was opened. I've driven through the city where the account was opened, it's only an hour or so north of where we live, but we don't really do business with anyone up there. I'd never heard the name of the other person on my account. I was told to go to a local branch, which I dutifully did.

It turns out that when Mrs. A and Mr. X when to open the joint business account, instead of checking Mr. X's ID to see that they'd found the right person, the Wells Fargo banker just searched for Mr. X's name in this state. Now, our names are the same and the state we live in is the same, but that's where the similarities end. Our addresses are different, our Social Security numbers are different, our phone numbers are different, and he's over 30 years older than I.

It took the banker I spoke with 20 minutes and 10 or so phone calls to get everything sorted out.

Although the situation is supposed to be completely resolved now, I'm going to order a credit report in a week or so to see if there are any side effects of this screw up.

Note to self: Wells Fargo still isn't somewhere you want to keep your money.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Freeish TV : MythTV + Miro

I have posted previously about how we use the internet to watch shows for free. Recently I've been adding polish to that setup by setting up a computer in the living room with MythTV. The computer hooks up to the TV, can be controlled with a Wiimote and is completely free.

What Do We Watch?

Home Videos!

The longer term goal is to get all of our home videos and photos easily accessible. We want our kids favorite movies to be our family movies, which means it needs to be as easy to start "Our Family at the Beach, 2005" as it does Finding Nemo.

We only have a couple of our home videos ripped from VHS so far, but we'll be doing more shortly.

Free Downloads!

We use Miro to subscribe to video podcasts we are interested in. Although they are called a subscriptions, they are all free. Miro has over 2,500 channels covering almost any subject.

If you've looked at video podcasts in the past, you might want to look again. It's not just independent content anymore. We subscribe to shows from Nick Jr., Seasame Street, CNN and PBS to name a few.

All of these shows are automatically downloaded when there are updates, and we can pick which videos to watch when we choose. While Miro doesn't have all the mainstream shows your local cable provider does, Miro does have the advantages of being free, allowing us to choose exactly which programs to subscribe to and allowing us to watch them on our schedule.

I'll post the full list of shows we subscribe to in a comment.

Online Streaming

Most TV companies have already realized that people want to watch shows online. While most won't let you download their shows, nearly all of the popular networks have some way streaming their shows to your computer.

Hulu.com is probably the best known location for watching commercial TV online ondemand. They typically have the last two weeks of a show available for your viewing pleasure. While owned by NBS and News Corp, they carry shows from "
Hulu carries shows from other networks such as Comedy Central, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, Fuel TV, FX, SPEED Channel, Sci Fi, Style, Sundance, E!, G4, Versus and Oxygen." (according to Wikipedia). The Simpsons, House, Psych, The Office...yeah, they're all there.

Cartoon Network's site is less refined, but still usable. We use it to get Powerpuff girls, Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory.

Both Hulu's and Cartoon Network's sites allow you to make the video player fullscreen. Remember that this is being played on our TV (through the computer). Once we start the show, it's almost exactly the same as watching regular TV...except that there aren't as many ads.

More Features of MythTV

MythTV has some other neat features. It's got a dedicated weather 'channel' where we can see the 1, 3 and 7 day forcasts for our area. A decent built in jukebox with visual effects for playing music, and an image gallery / slideshow program for viewing family photos.

There are lots of other plugins available (Net Phone, TV recording, Recipe manager, Games, more...) which we don't use, but which you might be interested in.


Getting MythTV up and running smoothly has cost us about $150 so far. Our wireless wasn't fast enough to play the videos, so that required a network upgrade. I wanted to be able to use the Wiimote to control MythTV so we needed a Bluetooth adapter, and the machine doesn't have enough RAM to play high-def videos smoothly (it only had 384M of RAM).

The computer we used was one that we acquired two or three years ago and were using as our 2 year old's kid-computer. He still gets to use it, but now his screen is the TV. Before I ordered the extra parts, I set up MythTV and ran some tests to make sure that the system would be capable of doing the things we wanted it to.


The $150 or so that we spent getting MythTV set up will quickly be recouped compared to the alternative of Cable TV. It will be even more quickly recouped when compared to a full out commercial media center that can do slideshows, be a jukebox etc.

MythTV takes a bit of tinkering to get set up correctly, but if you have the skills and the time, it can be a financially good decision, and a fun one too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I made $780 an hour yesterday

Yesterday we got our insurance statements for the dental checkups and fillings we had done last month. With the insurance that we had at the time, preventative work is covered 100%, and we were only going to have to pay $127 for $488 worth of fillings. Except that my two year old's preventative services weren't covered for some reason, and I was going to have to pay the $78 for it.

Instead of sighing and just assuming that it was for some clause in the insurance agreement (as I might have done in times past), I called the insurance company and asked why it wasn't covered. They said that the flouride treatment (preventative work!) had been billed with an incorrect code from the dentist's office. That call took about three minutes to make.

Of course I called the dentist's office next, the checked and sure enough, they had used the wrong code for that service. They agreed to resubmit the insurance claim, and I assume that next month I'll get an insurance statement saying that the fluoride was covered in full. That took another three minutes.

Even though I hate making calls, the 6 minutes spent chasing down the $78 were well worth it. Too bad I can't always make that good of use of my time.