WAZE Is the Best GPS App (and It’s Free)

Full disclosure – I want you to start using the Waze app on your phone while you’re driving to get directions, because maybe someday I’ll be on the highway a little distance behind you and you’ll be adding to the crowd-sourced speed and traffic information provided to everyone.

WAZE Screen WAZE Is the Best GPS App (and Its Free)

Waze harnesses the real-time location information from all its users and distributes it to everyone, so as soon as traffic begins to build up, the word gets out. It will start to route drivers around the jam, so the jam starts to shrink. Or you can be a little more hands-on – when you start to see the brake lights go on ahead, Waze will tell you whether you’ll be past it all soon or whether the road is blocked all the way to your destination. Get off the highway and Waze will direct you to the quickest new route.

To get the maximum benefit, it’s best to have a copilot/navigator handle the Wazing. There is too much information on the screen to digest while driving, and posting information is a little too distracting (although you can do it with voice commands). To just use navigation, the information is spoken through the Bluetooth connection, politely interrupting the music. The speech can be set on one of the voices that tells you everything: right, left and the full name of the exit or street. Or have the voice of Elvis tell you when to go left or right.

Waze also warns you of objects in the road, vehicles parked on the shoulder, red light cameras and police cars. Its maps are constantly being updated by the Waze user community.

We just priced a new car – the absolute top of the line loaded model differed from the next one down mostly because of the navigation system. That’s $3,500 worth of vehicle navigation that will ultimately be obsolete. We decided to go with Waze instead – it’s free.

Learn more and get it here.

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A Mallory Snow Brush, and You’ll Be Ready

If you don’t have a Mallory snow brush (or any snow brush) after it snows, that’s just too bad. You can’t drive to the local auto parts store right then and pick one up without brushing the snow off your windshield, and after that’s done, you don’t need the brush anymore. Until it snows again.

Mallory Snow Brush A Mallory Snow Brush, and Youll Be Ready

A snow brush is a simple tool, but so much better than using just your (hopefully gloved ) hands. So get one now, before the next snow. They are cheap and light, and you can put one in your trunk or just on the floor in the back seat. There’s no predicting when it’s going to snow again – even the weather forecasters seem to get it wrong about half the time. All we know for sure is that it WILL snow again. Especially in Canada, where the Mallory snow brush company is located. A Canadian snow brush just makes sense, and things made in North America are usually better quality than things made in factories in the Far East. They don’t have to be shipped as far, either, so less fossil fuel is used. If you want something even more environmentally friendly, check out the Mallory 203, a sturdy wooden model that has probably looked the same since Eisenhower was President.

If you want something a little more modern, and/or one that will easily reach all the windows on your monster truck or Chevy Suburban, Mallory makes many different models of brushes with plastic handles, plus they have scrapers and shovels. There’s one only 16″ long to please the owners of Smart cars, and there’s one that extends to 53″, which seems like it would be long enough to reach just about anywhere.

They have the integrated ice scraper and the handle is padded and notched for that all-important hand comfort. The next time it snows on your car, you’ll be totally ready.

Available from Amazon.

Posted in Gifts for Anyone, Outdoors, Tools, Transportation | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Luxury

Here’s a repost from two years ago:

Ten Best Examples of Thanksgiving Luxury

I live in the Northeastern United States for a reason:  I love the seasons (and I’m holding onto them as long as climate change will let me).  I especially love autumn, though — the colorful leaves, the comfort food, the football, the holidays.  All the best holidays occur in the fall; the winter Monday holidays are mostly for quick getaways or shopping bargains, and Memorial Day is a great excuse for a cookout . . . as is July 4th . . . and Labor Day . . . so you see my point?  Easter and Passover have their solemn traditions, but for three quarters of the year, nearly all of the holidays we celebrate are both redundant and fairly insignificant.  But Thanksgiving . . . Thanksgiving is the middle and best of three holidays that celebrate this part of the year:

Mickey Scrooge Thanksgiving Dinner1 Thanksgiving Luxury

1. You’ll Never See So Much Food (until next year) - Of course I started with the food!  What greater luxury could exist than a holiday dedicated to EATING?  Whether you roast your turkey or smoke it, serve mac-and-cheese or mashed potatoes, garnish with cranberry sauce or gravy, prefer Russets or yams, cornbread or Parker House rolls . . . see?  That’s eight options and I haven’t even reached actual vegetables, salad, soup or dessert.  The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it’s all about the meal.  You don’t even have to make these choices.  You can eat some of everything on the table, make Aunt Edythe happy that you like her cooking, and still have the weekend to work it all off, because Thanksgiving also offers . . .

2. You Have An Extra-Long Weekend - Stay up late watching holiday movies.  Go to Best Buy at 4 a.m. (why?  I don’t know . . .).  Spend your days and nights doing whatever you want.  You have three full days — literally 72 hours — to catch up on your sleep, make lots of cookies, overdose on college football, find endless ways to serve turkey and stuffing.  And that’s not including the actual holiday, which is, as I said, all about those things anyway.

3. No Presents - Can’t figure out what to get Cousin Martha to match her gingham wardrobe?  Don’t know Grandpa’s shirt size?  Save all that worry for . . . well, Friday, maybe, but you can put it off for the weekend if you want.  Thanksgiving requires no gifts.  Just show up with your appetite, good manners (please), and maybe a pie as a contribution to the National Day of Pot Luck.  No trees, no ribbons, no packages required.

4. There’s Football - If you’re a football fan, Thanksgiving is your weekend.  With two pro games on Thursday (and this year the Detroit Lions are actually winning), at least two college games on Friday, and the usual line-up of both on Saturday and Sunday, you’ll barely need to leave the couch except to refresh the snack bowl.  Even a sad Penn State fan might find something to cheer about.

5. It’s the Beginning of Extended Holiday Shopping Hours – I have never figured out why, but some people — including some I love dearly — like to line up at midnight to catch super-early holiday sales. Really, I don’t understand this desire on a weekend that is built around so much lazy luxuriating, but if dawn at Target is your thing, start napping to prepare.  The stores try to make this activity even more appealing by offering deals like plasma TVs for $1; if you go, try not to mow anyone down with your shopping cart. People have been trampled at these sales.  Be careful, and enjoy!

6. Black Friday - The original post-Thanksgiving shopping tradition, Black Friday is the shopping day on which retailers plan to return their ledgers to the black, hence the name, “Black Friday.”  In this endless recession (that allegedly ended in February of 2010), the stores need us more than ever, and who are we not to help them out?  After all, consumer confidence is a leading indicator of economic recovery.  So come on; it’s Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus!  Go out and get more stuff for those nice friends of yours who already have too much stuff.  They’ll thank you for it with some new stuff for you!

7. Santa is at the Mall - Okay, okay, he’s already been at some malls for two weeks.  But respect Thanksgiving, and treat the day AFTER as the start of the Christmas season.  Use the weekend to get those holiday photos of the kids — or you and your best friends — on Santa’s lap.

8. Holiday Movies and Animated Specials - As I said above, you can spend all weekend watching them, because they start now.  Cable television has an endless supply of channels with nothing to broadcast, and many of them start their holiday programming on Thanksgiving Day.  Check your local listings, and I bet you’ll find at least one showing of “The Christmas Story,” with Peter Billingsley.  I don’t know how or when it became a classic, but it did, and it really is funny.  There’ll be more.  Take a look.

9. It Has Parades – Macy’s is, of course, the Thanksgiving Day Parade to end all Thanksgiving Day Parades, but if you live in a major city, chances are yours has its own turkey trotting down the center of town, with bands, dancers and floats leading and trailing behind.  Your local high school glee club, cheerleading squad or marching band may even be participating.

10. It’s Ecumenical - Thanksgiving — thank goodness! — is the one holiday celebrated by all of us.  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist; any racial or ethnic group; in America we all have something for which to be grateful to a higher power than our own. You can wish everyone “Happy Thanksgiving” with no fear of the PC police. Whether it’s for the opportunity to gather, the people with whom to gather, the food we’re overeating, or just the day off, Thanksgiving is the day when all of us, whoever we are, can take a breath and acknowledge that whatever else may be wrong, we at least have THIS.  And that’s enough.

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Joseph Joseph Index Advance Cutting Boards (MOMA Approved)

I love to cook.  I love to cook almost anything, in fact, so much so that we can’t eat the leftovers fast enough.  As a practical matter, what that means is that I spend a lot of time chopping things — garlic, onions, dried fruit, nuts, ginger, potatoes, bite-size pieces of chicken or beef . . . and that’s where the problem arises.  For years I have used the same wooden cutting board for everything, which means that after I chop, say, onions and garlic I have to wash it off and try to deodorize it (good luck with that) before cutting fruit for the same recipe, or scour and sanitize it after chopping chicken before chopping other ingredients to add to that.  All of this interim cleaning makes for very inefficient cooking, I’ve found, but recently I discovered a streamlined and organized solution: the Joseph Joseph Index Advance cutting boards.
Joseph Joseph Cutting Boards.jpg 1024x768 Joseph Joseph Index Advance Cutting Boards (MOMA Approved)
They’re both tabbed and color-coded, so there’s no confusion about which cutting board you’ll use for which task.  The boards are store in a stainless steel file bin, and the boards are tabbed — one each for vegetables, fish, meat, and hot foods — so you know at a glance which one to grab and can reach for a new one after you’ve chopped the smelly garlic, before you start slicing something sweet for dessert.  The non-slip feet at the corners on both sides keep the boards in place while you’re slicing and chopping. More importantly, you won’t have to worry that you’ve not sufficiently removed the potentially-germy chicken residue from a board you’ll need for other items.  The boards’ compact storage file is another advantage; they occupy no more than a couple inches of depth on your counter, so they minimize clutter and needn’t hog precious drawer capacity.
They are one of the products so stylish that they are offered in the New York Museum of Modern Art catalog, but they are also available from Amazon.
Posted in Gifts for Women, Kitchen | Leave a comment

Anco Winter Wiper Blades Will Help You Through Winter Storms

One thing I knew my winter beater needed was the best winter wiper blades – Anco winter wiper blades. I love to drive my vintage Mercedes convertible in warm weather, but in the winter, it’s a bad idea. Snow, salt on the roads, bad visibility, other cars skidding – it’s time to park it.

The winter beater (love that phrase – a “beater” for the winter, or a machine that beats the winter?) turned out to be a battered 1994 Honda Accord EX on Craigslist with very few miles and a remarkably clean interior. Four pretty new M+S tires, rubber floor mats and a newly repaired ABS braking system were a good start. Plus the heat and defrost were toasty. A few dents were already there, so any new dents would fit right in and not be lonely.

Anco Winter Blade Anco Winter Wiper Blades Will Help You Through Winter Storms
Visibility was a prime consideration. There are few things more stressful than trying to drive on slick snowy or icy roads while more of the same stuff is falling down and accumulating on your windshield. Turn the defroster blower on high and have the washer fluid tank topped off with Rain-X, then you only need one more thing – wiper blades on the outside that won’t streak and don’t clog.

Anco winter wiper blades are formulated with rubber that will stay flexible at low temperatures. The most distinctive feature, though, is the rubber boot that covers up all the openings and moving parts that can get jammed up with ice too far from the windshield for the fluid or the defroster inside to do much. If the wiper is freezing up or just flopping an icy arm from side to side, your windshield will not stay clear.

Anco wiper blades have been around for nearly a hundred years, produced by the Michigan, USA -based Federal-Mogul Corporation. They cost less than twenty bucks a pair and right now there’s a mail-in rebate.

Available from Amazon.

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Halloween Luxury

Here’s a repost from two years ago:

Ten Most “Luxurious” Things About Halloween

I’ve thought for a long time that “the holidays” are what helps us North Americans (and others in the Northern Hemisphere) fight back against Seasonal Affective Disorder – the holiday lights keep us from getting depressed after the summer sunshine is gone. The holidays start with Halloween, and that’s one of the things I like about it (although there are at least ten more):

 Halloween Luxury

1. Jack o’ Lantern as an art form - Here’s an art genre for you: carve a hollow vegetable into a work of art that involves light from the inside and typically has a theme of horror, and will start to rot within a week or so. I like to use power tools, like a jigsaw and an electric drill, to add an element of drama (and loud noise).

 Halloween Luxury

2. Children in costumes - Halloween is most definitely a holiday for children, but they will come right to your door to show you their costumes (whether you want them to or not).

3. Costumes as an art form - Those of us who have children, or are invited to masquerade parties, get another opportunity to express our creativity. My idea for an adult costume, a bicycle racer with syringes and blood bags hanging off of his arms, has not gone over too well …

4. Candy - Yes, candy.

5. Halloween videos - Can’t, absolutely can’t write this post without mentioning “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Just can’t. On the big screen, there are movies like “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

6. Seasonal beers - For those of you who are fans of craft beers, you can be almost 100% sure that your local brewery will have a seasonal pumpkin ale or something similar to get you in the holiday spirit.

7. No gifts.  Even department stores haven’t yet started pre-pre-pre-holiday sales, or mounted holiday decorations before you’ve gotten the artificial cobwebs out of your trees.  Your only obligation, should you choose to accept it, is to dole out piles of candy to those sweet little goblins, Avengers, and Spidermen that appear at your door.

8. It’s ecumenical.  Like Thanksgiving, Halloween is a holiday that can be celebrated by everyone.  Though some consider it Satanic, I fail to understand how streets or parties full of children and adults dressed, often badly, as their favorite superhero or Presidential candidate could possibly reflect the worship of evil to any serious person.  Halloween is all in fun.  Try to take it that way.

9. There’s no snow on the ground – at least, not usually.  Hallow’en is celebrated while the air is crisp but, typically, still mild enough not to require a parka or boots.  Leaves are still on the trees, you can just begin to smell wood burning in neighborhood fireplaces.  It offers no lyrical waxing about sleigh bells, silver bells, or jingle bells — just hayrides through scarecrow-guarded fields and an occasional bob for apples.

10. Haunted houses, prisons, or mental hospitals.  Halloween provides innumerable opportunities to have the bejeezus frightened out of you.  If you like to be terrified, now’s your chance, and you can often do it in the most unpleasant surroundings imaginable.  Creaky old mansions, converted penal institutions, places with straightjackets and handcuffs and maniacs — oh, my!  – have been repurposed into sites where ordinary people dress up as zombies, monsters, vampires, and mummies to frighten other ordinary people for a small fee.

 

 

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Meyer Lemons Will Keep Some Summer Inside

The days are getting shorter and colder in a lot of places (North America, Europe, etc.), so could it be time to grow  a Meyer lemon tree in your home? OK, maybe you hadn’t thought of that, but every time you put some citrus seeds in the garbage you wonder what might have been. You could put any orange, lemon or lime seeds in a pot of soil, but it requires some patience before you get much of a plant that way. They have layers of coating that the seedlings have to work their way through. If you are going to wait that long, use the right seeds – Meyer lemons.

Meyer lemon Meyer Lemons Will Keep Some Summer Inside

Growing Meyer Lemons

Meyer lemons are dwarf lemons to begin with, so they are the right size for a house plant. You will get some fruit, and Meyer lemons are very useful – they are half lemon and half mandarin orange, so they are sweeter than ordinary lemons and therefore more versatile for cooking. They are available in stores during the cold months, so go ahead and try them to see if you like them. They will have seeds inside, of course, so you can try growing some. Keep them moist, and follow one of the many available growing guides. You will need a sunny location and some potting soil with very good drainage.

Better yet, order one that’s already a few feet tall. You won’t want to wait any longer than you have to for fragrant flowers that will soon turn into lemons. Meyer lemons are self-pollinating, so one is enough. You order one, and it miraculously makes its way through the mail from its warm tropical home in the nursery to its new home in the cold, dark North.

Or do both. Try rooting some seeds, and at the same time order its big brother. Then you’ll have more than one.

Available from Amazon.

Posted in Food, Household, Kitchen | Leave a comment

LastPass Remembers Passwords So You Don’t Have To

Pick a password that’s impossible to remember, but don’t write it down. Say what? And use a different, impossible to remember password for every site. There’s no way. So what happens? If you’re like I was, you use the same password for everything, cleverly substituting numbers for letters, or maybe adding an exclamation point. Good luck with that. Some day soon, one of those sites WILL get hacked, and you’ll have to go to all the other sites and change your password.

LastPass LastPass Remembers Passwords So You Dont Have To

LastPass frees you from all that. It even frees you from typing them in (especially helpful for the elderly or disabled). Set it up with a master password, and it will enter all your passwords automatically. It will even generate nearly uncrackable passwords for you, and then remember them. If you get nervous, it will let you go back look up all these passwords and see what they are. Put it on all your browsers and it will cost you … nothing. It’s free. It also fills in forms for you with your address and credit card numbers.

Better yet, spend $25 to get a YubiKey and another $12 a year for LastPass Premium and you’ll have the ultimate in security. The Yubikey is a little device for your keychain that generates a unique password each time, that you plug into a USB port. LastPass Premium lets you use LastPass on your smartphone; that alone is worth $1 a month. It makes a great gift, especially for someone you feel might be a little more vulnerable to being hacked than the rest of us.

LastPass also has an export feature, in case you want to switch to something else or just know that you can down the road. Try it – remember, it’s free, and see how you like liberation from worrying about passwords.

Posted in Gifts for Anyone, Office | Leave a comment

Strike Anywhere Matches for Lighting Candles

First things first – keep Strike Anywhere Matches away from children! They are fun to play with, but they are not a toy. Only adults should be able to reach them.

Now that’s out of the way, back to how great they are. Safety matches, either wood in tiny boxes from restaurants or paper matchbooks, can be hard to light. After the first try or two, the stuff wears off the end or the striker, or or you push too hard and snap its little head off. Or even worse, it lights when you least expect it and there’s 1100° of fire an inch or so from your fingers – how quickly can you move it over to the candle and get the wick to light?

Strike Anywhere Matches 1024x768 Strike Anywhere Matches for Lighting Candles 

Strike anywhere matches are longer, sturdier and almost always light on the first try. That first try can be on any rough surface (even on the sides of the box!) and only requires one hand. You could be already holding the candle in your other hand for maximum efficiency.

In old movies, you see matches lit on shoe soles, zippers, with the nail of one finger or even on teeth. Obviously, there may be unnecessary risks in using any of those surfaces, and there is always a better rough surface available, especially outdoors. Strike anywhere matches are great for fireplaces, campfires and barbecues. We use ours most often for lighting candles in the bathroom. No lesser authority than the Mythbusters have confirmed that just striking one reduces by 50% the dreaded odor of methyl mercaptan, and that’s even before they have been used to light the scented candle of your choice.

They are getting harder to find, and you can’t take them on planes, but if you see a box in your local hardware store, pick it up and give it a try.

Posted in Household, Outdoors | Leave a comment

Closet Auger Saves the Cost of One Plumber Visit

We try not to think about clogged toilets, an unpleasant subject,
until it happens to us. I don’t know why plungers became the default
household tool for unclogging toilets, because they don’t work 100% of
the time. Closet augers do, and they don’t require bending over a
smelly mess and splashing the foul water up and down, either. That’s
why plumbers use them when you pay them hundreds of dollars for a
house call. Augers are cheap ($30), very easy to use and also easy to
store (they’re called closet augers, after all). So get one, now,
before you need it. Then when you do, leave the bathroom, and take a
few deep breaths to relax while you watch one of the short how-to
videos on YouTube. You pull the handle out so the bulb is right up
against the curved tube, protected by no-scratch plastic. Then put the
auger into the bowl (no need to bend over), and push and spin at the
same time until the handle is all the way down. The most gratifying
part is the moment when you actually break through the clog – whoosh,
the toilet flushes just like it’s supposed to. A few more normal
flushes to rinse the toilet and the auger, pull it out to dry, and put
it back … in the closet.

Posted in Gifts for Men, Household, Tools | 1 Comment