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Laminating project – Playdough mat

Y’all ready for a laminator project? How about a Playdough mat for your little ones?

I was on Pinterest one day and found a girl’s blog, who is much more creative than me. She had some cute pictures to print out to make a Playdough book. All of the pages are already scaled to an 8×11 size and print perfectly from your home printer. I chose about 20 different pictures from her collection and printed them out.

Next, I ran them through my awesome new laminator that I bought off Amazon. (It is such a fun little thing to have, and borderline addicting to use!)

Warm up takes just a few minutes…

While I was waiting for the green light, I opened up my new package of laminating pouches.

The sleeve has two parts, and they are stuck together on one end. Be careful not to separate them.

I got the green light, we are ready to go! (Sorry the camera made it hard to see the green light, but trust me, it was ready.)

Just lay the paper in between the sleeve and gently put down on the top, so it’s nice and smooth.

Then insert the page into the laminator, seam side first. **To save on laminator sheets, I WISH I had been smart enough to put two pieces of paper in each pouch, back-to-back. Live and learn!**

Just gently guide it in, and you will feel the laminator grab it. Then wait for it to come out the bottom, and remove from the machine. I was quite impressed, actually, like that time when saw the Magicard ID card printers producing cards in my neph’s school (don’t ask me why I’d be watching that).

My last step was to punch holes in the sheets and put them in an old binder I had lying around. That was it! An easy project that will give our daughter hours of entertainment when using her Playdough, or even dry/erase markers.



Building a Baby Crib

When we first got news that we were going to have a baby back in 2009 I really wanted to do something special for our child. So, after much thought I decided to build a crib. Building a baby crib sounded like a fun challenge and would be something that could stay around for a while. I had very limited experience in carpentry and didn’t have any tools. After talking to several people about my idea, an awesome coworker of mine offered his hobbyist carpentry shop as a place to build it. I bought plans and hardware online which included everything but the wood.

The wood was a whole different animal. I really wanted nice materials but not anything too exotic, mainly just a hardwood. I quoted several places and found that all hardwood was pretty expensive; anywhere from $500-$1000. At that rate the crib was turning into something way more expensive than I could afford. Naturally, I turned to Craigslist. After a few days of monitoring new posts I saw one titled “free cherry wood”. Turns out it was free because a guy was cutting a tree down in his backyard. I ended up picking up the wood and bringing it to my in-laws home because I had nowhere to store it at our apartment.

For weeks afterwards I was doing serious research online about what I needed to do next to get this wood to a point where I could work with it. First thing that needed to happen was the wood needed milling or sliced into boards. I was able to find a guy on Craigslist that owned a wood miser saw mill that was willing to cut wood for people. I have to give credit to my father in law for helping me get the wood up there in his truck. Unfortunately, the wood shifted while driving and broke his rear window… Sorry.

The wood cutter was very experienced and suggested cutting the boards in 1 inch thick slabs. He charged me about $150 to cut all the wood. The next problem was getting the wood dried. For wood to be dry enough for furniture building, it needs to be at about 8% moisture content. Moisture content can be measured by a moisture meter. Getting wood to 8% moisture content takes a long time unless you have a kiln. Getting access to a kiln proved to be the most difficult part of the process. Lumber mills usually will not allow you to put in your own wood, it’s seen as a liability because disease can cause problems between wood types in a kiln.

Luckily the guy that milled my wood was able to put me in touch with a friend of his that owned a kiln. It cost me $150 to get the wood dried to 8% moisture content. Now we are at about 4 months since I got the wood.

Getting the wood to the size I needed was very time consuming. It involved planing one side of the board then using a planer to cut the other side. Once planed I had to edge one side so that I could cut the other side straight.If I tried to elaborate on everything I had to learn to do the build the crib this would be a super long post.  There are several techniques and tricks used in carpentry. Luckily my coworker was an excellent resource for all of this information.

One part of the process that was painstakingly long and repetitive was making the mortise and tenon joints for all the slats on the side of the crib.

There is a special square bit used to make the mortise and we just used the table saw to make the tenon.

Once the mortise is cut, you have to use a small chisel and clean out the hole. Doing to each hole on both sides of the slat took forever.

For doing the Tenons we just used a jig on the table saw.

Finally got to a point where it started looking like a crib!

It was almost exactly one full year before the crib was done. I recommend anyone attempting such a project, make sure you learn to measure down to 1/32 of an inch and be sure to account for the width of the blade when you are cutting. Also, if you are trying to save money by building a crib, be aware that you will only save money when you compare the costs to an identical crib made with the same materials and craftsmanship. In other words it’s much cheaper to just buy a crib.

It was a very rewarding experience and one thing that was pretty cool was that both my Dad and Janna’s Dad helped me in building the crib. Unfortunately a few months after building the crib, a new law was passed banning drop gate cribs (I think manufacturers started making them too cheap). I guess I have no choice but to keep it in the family. : ) If you are highly motivated and have access to several carpentry tools this type of project could be a fun way to spend your time. If you have any questions along the way, there are plenty of informative videos on YouTube to help you. Have you ever attempted to make a piece of furniture? Share a picture and a description of it. I’d love to see.



Check Engine Light Came On

 So as most of you know we recently purchased a used 2007 Chevrolet Suburban. Unfortunately, not even a week after we purchased it the check engine light came on; which was then followed by the smell of gas in the passenger compartment.

I was able to use my code reader to read what code it was giving. It turned out to be a code for a vacuum leak in the fuel tank. I’ve learned that this can sometimes mean your gas cap is either defective or not screwed on all the way but, upon further investigation I found a wet spot at the bottom of fuel tank that was about 10-12 in diameter.

I immediately took it to the dealership to see if they knew anything about this particular problem. They ended up giving me a quote to drop the fuel tank for $600 to find out the source of the leak!

I was not willing to give them $600 in labor to just drop the tank! I didn’t have a manual for the suburban yet nor did I think I would need one this soon. I checked out the local auto parts store but they didn’t have my model year in stock.

ALLDATAdiy - Diagnose, Repair, ResearchLuckily after doing a little research on the internet I found that Alldata (a manual that professionals use online) has a do-it-yourself version where you can subscribe to a particular year, make and model vehicle manual. Sometimes your local library may subscribe to Alldata, then you can use it for free. I subscribed for ease of use. I was able to print the entire process which included pictures; and have it with me under the car during the entire process.

Unfortunately, I had just filled up the tank; which meant I had to siphon out all 31 gallons…not fun. I was able to carefully lower the tank to the ground using jack stands, wood blocks and some upper body strength (could be improved : ).

Once on the ground the first thing that caught my eye was a little sensor that was not plugged into it’s hole all the way. The sensor had rubber fins which broke off in some areas; so I made a trip to the parts store again and found a sealant that would stand up to gas. I put the sealant on the sensors fins and plugged it back in.

I was able to get everything done in about 4 hours. I was able the clear the code for the check engine light with my code reader which has not come on since then. Oh yeah! I’m good! : )

FYI, the code readers that plug into your laptop computer are high functioning and don’t cost much. They will save you a bunch of trips to the mechanic or the auto parts store.

What repairs have you made to your car? Anyone tried the windshield chip repair in Sewell, NJ yet?



Cooking Meat in Bulk

Have you ever looked at a recipe you planned on making for dinner at about 5pm? Just to realize that you should have thawed out your frozen chicken several hours ago. I have done this more times than I can count, it puts me up the creek without a paddle. Or dinner.

After this happened to me about eight times, I decided to start doing things differently. Now, when I buy meat at the grocery store, (in bulk) I bring it home, put it in the crockpot with some water and seasonings for a few hours, then drain, separate, and bag it for the freezer. One afternoon of work will save me a lot of time over the next couple of weeks, and I am gonna show you exactly how!

Let’s start with chicken.

One thing everyone should know about cooking chicken in the crockpot, is that the longer it cooks, the tougher it becomes. Unlike other meats, chicken doesn’t have the same tendons that soften over a long period of cooking. So remember to cook it long enough that there’s no pink, and not much more than that. Crock pot times vary, but with mine, frozen chicken is ready in about four hours and fresh chicken is done in about two.

Moving on.

I just bought this chicken at Kroger. It is ready for some cookin!


Lay the breasts in the bottom of your crock pot.

Fill up a glass of water and pour over the chicken so the bottom of the pot is covered with water. If you want more chicken broth, fill the cup again and pour in.

Next, pick out some seasonings if you would like. I always use garlic powder, onion powder, and season all, but you could do any combo that strikes your fancy. I season the chicken for two reasons. 1) I hate the smell of plain chicken. 2) I save the broth and want it to have some flavor for when I cook with it later.

Then put the lid on, and turn the pot on high. My highest setting is four hours, but the chicken will be done before then.

About two hours later, the house is smellin’ good and I check on the chicken. When there is no pink in the middle, they’re done!

After the chicken cools a bit, or whenever I have a minute, I shred the chicken on a cutting board and put it inside a quart sized freezer bag. Usually about 2-3 breasts per bag.

It’s not a bad idea to label the bag with something like, “cooked/shredded August 2012” in case the bag gets lost in freezer never-land.

When it’s time to use it, the chicken thaws much faster than whole breasts. Since you are going to be cooking with it anyway, it can still be a little cold when you are putting together enchiladas, pot pie, or pretty much whatever you will be baking.

As for the broth that’s in the bottom of your crock pot, pour it into a couple of glass jars. (spaghetti jars are great) Make sure you leave a little room in the top of the jar due to the liquid expansion when frozen. Close the lid on tight, label with a sharpie and put in the freezer.

I do the same thing for ground beef or turkey. Except for saving the broth. Gross. That gets poured into jars and thrown in the garbage. Here’s a look at the meat as its cooking.

When it’s done, spoon it into a strainer to drain the grease, then spoon into freezer bags.

I love to eliminate the step in my recipe that says, “first, cook meat and drain”. With that part out of the way, it’s time to just throw it all together and make a meal!

What helps you get dinner together?