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 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. 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.

Weight Loss Update -- New Low 206 lbs!


When I stepped on the scale over Christmas holidays in 2007 I weighed 240 pounds. I decided that I wanted to get to a healthy weight. BMI charts indicate that 200 lbs. is the very top of 'Normal Weight' for my height. My goal is to reach 200 lbs. by New Years Eve, 2008.

206 Pounds!

On both Thursday and Friday last week the scale said '206' when I woke up. During the day I've gone up to about 209 or so with eating (yeah, I still do that) and drinking lots of water (it's been hot).

Squashing my Weight

I attribute the last few pounds I've lost to us having a garden. Not due to me weeding it -- I haven't stuck with my 3 x weekly goal at all -- but because the crook-necked squashes are out of control.

Every 3 or 4 days we can go pick four or five more foot long squashes that are ready to eat. Now, we have absolutely no intentions of becoming vegetarians, but we feel bad letting food go to waste. As a result, we leave the pork chops and burgers in the fridge and have been having squash everything.

In the last two of weeks we've had :

Squash and veggies with noodles (2x)
Squash with rice and beans (2x)
Veggie noodle soup, staring Squash (2x, plus lunches)
Tin foil dinners, staring Squash (ok, there was some meat in this one)
Veggie stir fry, staring squash (2x)

That's nine of our dinners in the last two weeks. Good news though, we've got four and a half more squashes on the counter! If we're lucky, we'll get to pick some more squash by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Our garden hasn't been making just squash of course, tomatoes are starting to come in, green beans are on their second bloom, cucumbers, peppers and corn have also started to make a showing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pros and Cons of Working From Home

I've been working from home for nearly a month now. I've been liking it so far, but it has definitely been an adjustment. In fact, the adjustment process isn't over yet, I don't think.

Here are some things I've learned so far

* I like working from home.
* The length of time I work without a break reflects how deep the problem is I am working on. If it's a tough problem and I get down inside it I might go for 4 hours without getting up. If I have a bunch of short problems, I'll get up between problems.
* I feel an obligation to provide 40 hours worth of work...even if it takes me 50 hours to do that (I'm not as good at the Ruby programming language as I should be).
* I can't work in a cluttered environment. I find myself picking up and organizing periodically throughout the day. I feel incredibly antsy that my desk and office still aren't all tidy.

Here are some pros and cons I've noticed

Pro of working at home

* I can be here to watch the kids if my wife has an exam or something
* I can wear the same clothes three days in a row and no one complains (hey, they're still clean)
* I can set my own hours
* I control the thermostat (my last office was cold!)
* If my 3.5 month old is being cute, I can take a break to see him
* No commute and no gas
* I don't have to remember to bring a snack or lunch. I've got all sorts of good food here at home.
* I can just take off early on Friday and go camping without asking anyone

Con of working at home

* Kids and Spouse often want attention when I'm working
* Personal time and space boundaries are pretty blurry (I'm working to fix that though)
* The computer isn't as much of a 'fun-place' as it has been. When I'm not working I don't feel inclined to blog (have you noticed?), draw or do my own programming
* The fridge and cupboards call my name with tempting snacks and treats
* My 3.5 month old is cute a lot and can distract me
* I have to be responsible enough to get my hours in each day
* If no one else is online, I don't have anyone to ask questions to.
* Projects I do want to do are here distracting me

I'm still feeling my way through this whole working from home thing, so I'm sure I'll learn more. Anyone else out there working from home?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The never ending process of de-cluttering

Decluttering seems to be a never ending process. I'm not really sure where we get all the *stuff* that we have, but it just keeps piling up.

Bathroom Surplus

Somewhere near the bottom of the list of rooms I thought would have clutter was the bathroom. How much extra bathroom stuff can you possibly have?

For starter we threw out a large grocery bag full of frebee pre-natal vitamins, nasty smelling (think cranberry cinnamon) lotions and various low quality cosmetic bags. We kept both open floss containers, both of the chloraseptic bottles, and all three of our deodorants (three each!).

The extra new toothbrushes were a surprise to find, as was the whole bag of disposable razors. Less surprising were the countless fruity and girly smelling hand lotions that my wife has received as gifts over the years.

Product Rotation

Besides organizing our bathroom supplies better, we've put the smallest and most used containers near the front. We'll be using the small face wash and small lotions before moving on to the big ones. And we're not buying any more chloraseptic until the two we have a gone.

Monday, August 4, 2008

July Budget Blown

We were terrible with our budget in July, though not quite as bad as the raw numbers below suggest.


I'll try to explain a couple of the highest budget overruns here. The biggest reason is that we're pretty new to budgeting and may take a few months to get the hang of it.

Double Rent

We started paying rent electronically in July. Previously we would pay with a check by the fifth, which meant that the payment was processed in the month the rent was for. With electronic processing I wanted to make sure the rent wasn't late and sent August's rent at the end of technically it was spent in July, but it's for August.

Post-tax Babysitting

With my new job we suddenly didn't have the Flexible Spending Account available. Previously whatever we spent on babysitting was taken from that pre-tax account and we didn't include it in the budget.

Last Run On Costco

We decided not to renew our Costco membership next month. We're hopefully moving in January and don't know if there will be a Costco nearby. We decided to buy enough of bulk supplied to last us till January, including 50 lbs of rice and flour, 25 lbs of sugar, lots of diapers and toilet paper.


I'll finish this post with charts, percentages and a budget for August tonight after we finish making the budget!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

...and We're back!

This week I put in 58 hours at work. I've rarely reached, much less passed 40 hours on the job before. I realize that 60 hours isn't that many for some people (hi dad!) and that there are many people who work much harder than I do (hi dad!) on a regular basis, but for me, this was a first.

Wednesday to Thursday went like this : Woke up at 5 AM and worked till 7. I took an hour to get my kids ready for the day before the baby sitter came. I then worked from 8 to noon, had a 1/2 hour lunch with my wife and my trainer and then got back to work. After a quick dinner (1/2 hour, maybe) I worked till around 4AM when my eyes started acting funny. At 6:30 Thursday morning I was back in the chair again and worked till 11 or so that night.

Enough excuses. I'll be back to my normal once daily postings again on Monday. Thanks for the patience.