Lee Recommends Good Things
There are a lot of things that help make my life better. Of course, I like toys, but here I list the things that honestly make life better.
Purely Cotton facial tissues – (1-28-08) They have them at Rainbow Grocery. Made by Purely Cotton. I thought I was going to get crunchy-granola-scratch-your-face-off tissues when I bought these but they really are softer, stronger and less linty than any other tissue I’ve seen. Since they’re so strong AND soft, they don’t need to be gooped up with aloe or whatever. When I have a cold, these are the “heavy duty strength” tissues I use because they’re easier on my nose AND they can take multiple (yuck) nose-blows. They are also my preferred tissue for everyday use. 12-17-09 update: Rainbow doesn’t carry them any more. I can’t find them :-(
Flat whisk from Williams Sonoma – The guy at the store politely frowned when I said I wanted a flat whisk to make washing the whisk easier but he went and got one from the back. It’s great. It works very well. I actually like having the additional control of a flat whisk; with a regular one, all of the material tends to clump in the center of the tines but not with this one. And yes it’s much easier to clean in the sink
Sharpie retractable markers – no more dried up sharpies! Yay! No more lost sharpie caps! Yay!
Ikea Hasselback bed – It cost $400 which is 1/2 to 1/5th the price of other beds I was looking at buying. Charlotte keeps telling me she doesn’t like the bed because “it has tendrils”. It is so comfortable that it pulls her in. I’ve got to say that she’s right. I love the bed too. I also like very much that it doesn’t need a mattress pad; that gives me a lot of space under the bed for storage. It has to be flipped every 2 months or it gets divots where I sleep. But so far after more than a year, the divots have gone away as long as I flip it. Update: a 3rd party has confirmed the evil tentacle hypothesis. More studies are ongoing.
Update 12-21-07 on Ikea Hasselback bed: The bed is starting to develop some serious divots after only 1 1/2 years of sleeping on it. Charlotte says she doesn’t notice them but if I don’t flip the bed regularly and sleep in different spots, it gives me a backache. Hmmm. 12-17-09 update: I got rid of the bed and went through a series of other beds… a full-size Aerobed was great but too small… a Coleman airbed was ok but kept losing air. I’m now trying another Ikea bed, it’s too hard because the demo model in the store was on a box spring and I don’t have one at home :-(… grrr
Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread. Hey wudjalookatthat. Someone has finally come up with a “not butter” that (I personally believe) is as good as butter. It goes on the toast a little harder than butter unless it’s warmed up a bit out of the fridge. But then it warms up to look very pretty and taste good. I mention this because I have made joke of “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” for… well as long as the product has existed because, as my mom has heard a hundred times, “Could you pass the ‘It’s no Stretch of the Imagination to Believe that it is Not Butter’?” If I eat this instead of butter, will I live forever please? 12-17-09 update: Charlotte never eats the stuff, it’s butter all the way for her so I haven’t had any in the house in a while.
Breadman Ultimate – I go through phases, sometimes I make 2 loaves/week, sometimes it’ll go 6 months without use. But I’ve had the thing for 10 years now and it’s made me several hundred loaves of bread! It has well paid for itself in cost savings and in sheer satisfaction.
Some notes on breadmakers:
Get one that makes loaves that look like rectangular loaves, not tall cylinders. Cylinders just don’t look like bread! It should make up to 2 lb loaves. Stainless steel is pretty and all but it will be a bane to keep clean forever :-(
I see that some new bread makers have -hundreds- of options. I’m a geek and I never use any of them. The features I use are:
- “White Bread”
- “White Bread / Dark” cooks a little longer, browning a little more.
- Rapid cycle (shortens the cooking time to make a 2 hr loaf instead of 3… the crumb is a tiny bit less smooth but it’s quicker (honestly, I can’t tell the difference))
- “Nuts” (drops nuts into the bread from a bin 30 seconds before the end of the mixing cycle, sometimes I use the delay timer to wake up to fresh bread (but only with recipes I’ve made many times before)
I make all my bread recipes from those settings. For a while I fiddled with the manual settings but with all the trial and error, it rarely got me anywhere useful. I see that Amazon doesn’t sell my breadmaker anymore with it’s 4 3/4 stars on 340 customer reviews. 12-17-09 update: I’ve been making bread without a machine now for over a year. It’s so much easier WITHOUT the machine. Follow along.
Dawn Direct Foam dish soap. It’s one of those new foaming soap dispensers. The dispenser is “scientifically designed” to only work with Dawn Direct Foam ™ (Patent Pending) soap. But if you follow these complicated steps, you can fool their phizo-engineered bottle into allowing your favorite soap into it’s world.
- Step 1: mix my regular dish soap 4 to 1 with water directly in the bottle
- Step 2: shake bottle
- Step 3: use
But really, it is -soooo- much better having foaming soap at the sink. Dish washing used to go like this: Put a little squirt of soap on the sponge. Wet the sponge just so and squeeze it a few times. Wash the first item with the sponge. Rinse. Rinse again. Rinse again. Washing my hands with dish soap used to be more an exercise in getting the soap off my hands than anything else. With the foamy soap, everything goes much faster. And I use about 1/5th as much soap as I used to. Yes, soap lasts 5 times as long! I think I bought dish soap a total of two times in the last year. 12-17-09 update: I now use the Method foam soap dispenser, it’s a nicer shape. I still do this… I recently bought a medium size container of Palmolive and drained it into a 1/2 gallon jug, diluted it with just the right amount of water and… I’ve got soap for centuries now.
The list below hasn’t changed since my last update on 1-20-06
Colored Staples. I get a tiny happy thrill every time I use my stapler. (yeah, I already knew I was weird, you don’t have to repeat it). I use colored staples. They’re cheap and they personalize your stapling experience.
Utili-Key multi-function tool. I got worried that one day I’d try to cut open a box with my car keys and I’d break my key, stranding me. So I got this. I use it all the time. I own a Leatherman Wave multi-function tool but that stays in the car because it’s too heavy at 8.5 oz. This thing is just a tiny bit bigger than a key, weighs as much and lives on my keychain very comfortably. I got mine (and the replacement when I lost my first one) at Brookstone for $15. I see that Thinkgeek has them for $10… I smell Christmas present!
Home Safe. A few years ago I bought a safe from BJ’s. I spoke so well of it at family gatherings that my mom asked me to get her one for Christmas. Now we’re all very happy with them. The safe is a bit bigger than a microwave oven, 1.2 cubic feet of space inside it, it’s fireproof for 1 hr, and has an electronic lock.
I originally got cool looking Brinks safes with a 4 digit tumbler but after 15 minutes of struggling with the dial, I realized that the tumbler thing was way too cumbersome to be useful. If you can’t get into it easily, then you aren’t going to use it! If you get a tumbler safe, you’ll immediately regret it. Get one with an electronic lock!
I really like that it keeps me organized. I know that all my “valuables” are in one place… my good watch… the title to my car… an extra couple hundred bucks… etc… And of course the safe offers terrific peace of mind that you can’t get from anything else, not even a safe deposit box. Open the door – get your stuff. Close the door – NOBODY gets in! MUHA!! If my apartment burns or is looted, I’ll loose a lot of stuff but it’s really doubtful that I’ll lose what’s in the safe.
Green Mountain Energy for electricity – Every electric company is required to have an Environmental Disclosure Label, sort of the ingredients list of how they make their electricity. PSE&G’s disclosure label shows them using coal, oil and nuclear (1.3% hydro, 1.2% biomass, 47.3% coal, 37.1% nuclear, 8.7% natural gas, 4.5% oil) while Green Mountain uses hydro, and methane from landfills (50% hydro, 47% methane, 3% wind) . Green Mountain costs about 5-10% more than PSE&G, so for about $3 a month, I am encouraging the development of renewable electricity (by my vote and my dollars) and actually reducing pollution. And it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling of saving the world a little. Another company that does environmentally sound electricity is Community Energy. They are heavy into using wind power. Another good resource is CleanYourAir.org.
Twist Ties – I bought a box of 2,000 twist ties from Uline (an excellent shipping supply company) and use them for lots of little things around the house. I was always looking for garbage bag twist ties to hold together coiled cables, shorten electrical cords, straighten up the cables at my desk, etc… and then I found that I could buy a lifetime supply of shiny NEW twist ties for about $10. What a boon!
Electric Razors – It honestly shaves closer than a blade, and in 10 20 years, I have never received a single nick or razor burn. I can shave in the car on the way to work. I can shave multiple times a day without risk of razor burn. Setting up my beard is faster, just wash and dry my face. Shaving is faster. The only time I have ever had any problem with my razor is in hot, humid weather when I can’t get my face dry. The razor doesn’t glide smoothly over my skin when it’s damp with water or sweat. I suppose that might not like this razors so much if I lived in a hot climate. I have a Norelco 5825 XL.
Tivo – It’s 1/2 toy, 1/2 good thing. It lets me watch the TV I want to watch, when I want to watch it. Of course, if I were a TV addict, Tivo would be the flame that crystallizes coke into crack.
A good laser printer – About 5 years ago (1997?), I got an HP LaserJet 6MP laser printer and the ONLY maintenance I’ve ever given it in all that time is adding paper and one RAM upgrade (and that took 10 minutes). Only 2 weeks ago (in Aug, 2002) did I have to change the printer cartridge. I got it on eBay for $30, and I know that I can now look forward to ANOTHER 5 years of uninterrupted service. update 9-05: when I moved to San Francisco, I gave this printer away because it was too heavy to ship. I purchased an HP 1020 for about $140 and am very happy with it. See this new post about color laser printers!
Don’t buy an inkjet printer! Friends of mine with ink-jet printers are always fussing with the paper feeder. They are always replacing their ink cartridges, and those things ain’t cheap! They’re like $35 for 500 pages or 1 year, whichever comes first… the darn things dry out. My LaserJet 6MP was more expensive than any inkjet printer, at about $400 but it has paid for itself many times over with it’s incredible reliability and low operating cost. I got over 3000 pages and 6 years out of my first cartridge. You should make sure to get one with a good paper feeder… the kind you see in office laser printers, where it starts from the bottom and the printed paper gets dumped on top of the printer. The guy at Staples says that HP has a patent on the mechanism. My mom got a $200 HP LaserJet 4L (which has a crappy paper feeder) and it was NOTHING but trouble. Now I’m starting to want a color printer, so I can print digital photos and custom greeting cards. Color laser printers are very expensive so maybe I’ll eventually get a color inkjet just for printing pictures. 12-19-09 update: I’ve had an HP 2605dn color laser printer for about a year and I’m quite happy with it. It’s quite a bit larger on my desk than the HP 1020 printer but it does excellent color for $0.12/page. I refilled it and the color is almost as good as before. Sometimes I yearn for the HP 1020 but I really like being able to print double sided.
Binder Clips – You know, those things you use at the office to hold your 50 page report together, the big ones. Well, they’re great for holding together bags of potato chips, a bag of half-finished frozen veggies, or a coil of cable. And they’re free! (oop, don’t let my office hear I said that!)
Snap-Blade Utility Knives – Not the kind with a razor blade size blade, the blade is 5″ long and retractable. Like this one. I used to use a fancy (and cool) Spiderco 1/2 serrated knife for cutting boxes and tape and other sharp-thing needs but then I realized how much of a bother it is to sharpen the thing, and how versatile, cheap, and long-lasting the utility knife blades are. Now the Spiderco knife just sits in a drawer looking cool.
Compact Fluorescent lighting – I’ve had a like/dislike relationship with compact fluorescents for a long time. They save electricity, last a very long time, and burn cooler, but their light isn’t quite as good as an incandescent. So here are my recommendations about them:
– They are great for places that are hard to reach, or where the light is on all the time and you’re just passing through a lot… like back-room hallways, night-light type applications. Many don’t work in cold outdoor environments, but some do, check the box first!
– They are great where you need a lamp that isn’t physically hot. Like a reading lamp that sits really close to your head. It won’t heat up the side of your face!
– They are pretty good as support lighting… as one light in a bank of two or three. That way, the moderately poor color of the light is masked by the other incandescents. This configuration also masks how most take 30 seconds to warm up to full brightness and color.
– They are generally bad at being the sole light source for a room. Their flat color is unflattering.
– Only buy a particular brand after you’ve seen it lit up at the store. Some of them have a horrid pale light. Hold your hand next to the light and see how it colors your skin.
Did you know that the modern fluorescent light was invented by a Filipino named Agapito Flores?
Telephone Account Codes – It’s much easier figuring out who’s long distance calls belong to who with account codes. I asked my phone company for this service, which cost $5 to install but is free. I dial the phone number I want and then I hear a tone. I dial my account code and the call goes through. My housemate has a different account code. At the end of the month, the calls are sorted nicely by account code.
Eyeglasses with bendy hooks earpieces to hold them on – Sorry, but after browsing 20 eyeglass makers websites, I can’t figure out what exactly they are called! They wrap most of the way around your ear to hold your glasses in place. They look like little shepard’s crooks. Your glasses will rarely slip and they’ll never fall off accidentally… a recent dip into a class 5 whitewater rapid reminded me of that! And besides, they’re ‘different’. And everyone knows that different is cool. If you’d care to spend the money for it, (about $30) I’d also recommend anti-glare coating and ($25) anti-scratch coating. They’re your eyes, treat ’em every now and then. 12-17-09 update: You can probably buy glasses online quite inexpensively.
Scotch Packing tape in their compact dispenser. Staples sells “Scotch Box-Sealing Tape with Built-In Dispenser, Clear, 1.89″ x 54.7YD”. It’s great. The tape itself is great for packing & laminating, it doesn’t leave a sticky residue, even after several weeks (after a few months, it gets hard to remove). And you can see through it. The dispenser is great… it fits in my drawer, tends not to slice my fingers, and it doesn’t lose the tape to the roll. Staples and some other folks sells a similar looking dispenser under their own brand name. They -suck-. Don’t buy them. Only buy the Scotch brand compact dispenser
A radio that plugs into my computer. The D-Link DSB-R100 is this tiny little $25 radio that plugs into a USB port and Line-in jack on my computer. The software it comes with sucks, but I got terrific freeware called Radiator. I have used this instead of a stereo for several years now and it’s terrific.
After a little tweaking, I was even able to record radio programs like on a VCR. That’s cool. If I ever get my act together, I’ll regularly download that music onto my Pocket PC… Now that’s tech. On my computer, I’ve found that streaming radio just isn’t as reliable as good old-fashioned airwaves. And it doesn’t suck up bandwidth. Now I have two, one for home, and one for the office. It’s great reliable listening! Of course, you need to have good computer speakers, but most computers come with good ones these days. 12-17-09 update: I’m using this radio with Radiator RIGHT NOW.
Get off telemarketers and paper junk mail lists. DoNotCall.gov. Go there. Wait 3 months. Smile. This service really works. Previously, I would have told you: The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail and Telephone Preference Services allow you to opt out of receiving direct mail marketing and telemarketing calls from many national companies for five years. When you register with these services, your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail and telephone marketers. However, your registration will not stop mailings or calls from organizations not registered with the DMA’s Mail and Telephone Preference Services. About 4 months after I signed up, the amount of paper junk mail and telemarketing I got fell off dramatically! Now if we could only do the same for Spam. Here’s the DMA’s main site.