Saturday, November 29, 2014

Removing Coins from a Toyota Sienna Stereo

A few weeks ago, my youngest (2-years-old) decided to do something really, really cute.  She put some change into the CD player of our van, a 2005 Toyota Sienna.  Once again, real life gave me some great blog material.

Of course, after she deposited her pennies and dimes and quarters into my stereo, it would no longer play CDs.  (Let's just say that this was certainly one of those "you're really lucky you're so cute" moments.)  My first attempt at fixing it was to poke around in the CD player a little bit, but it quickly became clear that this was going nowhere.  I couldn't get any visibility inside the CD player with a flashlight.  This was not looking good.

I should also mention that we have had some trouble with the stereo in the past couple of years.  Sometimes the controls don't work correctly and the display looks garbled.  Knowing that the stereo isn't in great shape made the choice easy… it was time to remove it and shake the life out of it like a penny bank and see if those babies would fall out.

What You Will Need:

  • 10 mm socket wrench with extender (or something similar, I made 7/16 work even though it was slightly too big)
  • Raccoon mask
  • Plastic knife or flathead screwdriver

The first thing you need to do is pry off those plastic "wooden" looking panels on either side of the stereo.  I used a plastic knife, because I wanted to minimize the risk of scratching the panels around it.  You could use a flathead screwdriver or something similar, but do this carefully.  The surrounding panels are rather soft and scratch easily.

These literally just pray loose and you can pull them out with your hands.  Be gentle so be sure you don't break anything.

Now both panels are removed.

The next step is to remove the cover on the tweeter that is just above the stereo.  It took some firm pulling with both hands on either side of it, but it eventually just pops off.

The "back" of it (closest to the very dirty windshield), pops up first.  Then just pull it straight up.

Now you need to remove 4 bolts on the sides of the stereo.  This is where you use your 10 mm socket.  You can see the top bolt above my hand and then the second bolt further back.  (I'm pointing at it with my very dry hand.  Note to self:  apply hand cream.)  You'll take two out on the right and two out on the left (a total of 4 bolts).

Here are the bolts removed from the right side.

Now you can literally slide the stereo right out.  Here you can see all the wires that connect to the stereo.  The power and antenna are on the left (just pull these straight out), and then there are three other connections on the right.  The white connectors require you to push in a little trigger and then slide them out.  Luckily, these are all different sizes, so you don't have to keep track of which plug goes where.

And here is the sad (and exciting!) photo of my van stereo missing.

At this point, I took the stereo inside to figure out how to get those coins out.  Unfortunately, no amount of shaking and rattling was going to get them out.  Here's where your raccoon mask comes in.

After some Googling, I decided to try the "put double-sided tape on a popsicle stick" method.  The only popsicle stick I could find around here was on my oldest daughter's raccoon mask.  So be it.  But, unfortunately again, this did not work.

Well, I had come this far, and I was not going back.  So it was clearly time to start dismantling the stereo unit itself.  I removed 5 small screws from the back of the stereo and removed the metal plate.

After about 10 seconds of jiggling, those little suckers finally came out.  I wasn't sure whether the stereo was going to work or not, but at least I got my 35 cents back.  One quarter and a dime.

Back out to the van I went (I strongly suggest you do this on a day when the weather is nice).  Put the stereo back in place and replace the bolts.  Be careful not to drop them into the abyss of your dashboard.

Replace the plastic cover on the tweeter by sliding the plastic clips into place and then pushing it down.

Cross your fingers.  Put the keys in the ignition.  Insert your favorite CD of children's songs.

SUCCESS!  It works!  Now go do something about those dry hands.

And don't let your 2-year-old play in the front seat while you vacuum out the van EVER AGAIN.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plastic Jar Lids

I like to store broths, soups, nut butters and sauces in canning jars, but the standard lids with rings have always frustrated me.

Maybe I'm the only mom out there that didn't know that these existed, but I recently discovered that they make plastic lids for jars.  You can find these in Walmart (I think they even have a generic brand) or any general store and even Amazon.  They're usually in the kitchen section right beside the canning jars.

These are much more convenient than the standard canning metal jars and bands.  These don't rust.  They are one piece (hallelujah!).  They are easy to wash.

They come in two sizes (regular and wide mouth), so be sure that you pick up the right size to match your jars.

I'm kicking myself for not finding these sooner.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Child-Proof Door Lock

When our twins were around 2 years old, it became clear that we needed a way to lock the front door (in addition to the deadbolt and door knob, which they could reach).  I wanted something cheap, effective, easy to install and discreet (not a huge deadbolt).  From a friend's recommendation, I bought this lock.  It has been a lifesaver.

Of course, I taught my kids not to leave the house without me.  But with a partner in crime (aren't twins fun?), they always found a way to get the door open (working together, using chairs, etc).  I needed to be sure that they didn't open the door when I was occupied… you know, with such frivolous things as using the restroom.  I was also worried that they might open the door for a stranger.

This lock is perfect for a lot of reasons.  First, it is affordable, currently under $3.  You can't beat that.

Secondly, you can barely see it.  It's hard to even find it in the photo below.  It's on the right-hand side, a little more than a foot down from the top of the door.  It blends in like a charm (or like a jaguar in the jungle, as Diego would say).

Another great thing about this lock is that it screws into the door jamb.  This is great for homeowners and renters alike, because you can remove it with minimal damage.  Just fill a couple holes, add some paint if you want to get fancy, and you won't even be able to tell it was there.

The only negative that I have found with this lock is that the screws aren't great.  I stripped one when installing it.  But, honestly, I didn't even get another screw (aren't you impressed with my follow-through?) and it has held up with the one screw for two years and counting.

This is what is looks like in the unlocked position.

To lock the door, you slide it over to the left.

And then it drops down about a millimeter and is held in place.  You just lift it slightly and pivot to the right to unlock the door.

Of course, to really child-proof this, you want to install it high enough that the kids can't reach it (even with a chair).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fixing a Clogged Sink

When I talked to my husband about starting this blog, he asked, "Won't you run out of things to post?"  He didn't see it, but it was clear to me that this wouldn't be a problem.  I want to pull my posts from my real life.  And today, Real Life really stepped up to the plate.

After my husband left for work, I noticed that his bathroom sink stopper was sitting on the side of his sink (on a Kleenex… kudos to him for tidiness).  Clearly, his sink wasn't draining well.  I have noticed his sink (and mine) draining slowly in the past but just decided to ignore it until we had to deal with it.  Today was that day.

So instead of messing with Drain-o or a drain snake, which might help but probably won't solve the problem in the long run, I decided to do it the right way and thoroughly clean the trap under the sink.  We have lived in this house for about 7 years and have never done this.  I think it's overdue.


The "trap" of the sink is that u-shaped or j-shaped or p-sheped (depending on how you see it) tubing in the cabinets under your sink.  (I know that this will not be life-changing information for some of you, but others might have never dived into sink traps before.  Actually, now that I think of it, I don't think I would ever recommend "diving into a sink trap".)

The sink trap is actually designed to prevent sewer fumes from entering your house.  When you remove it, you will see that it is (hopefully!) full of water.  That water is what prevents the fumes from coming up through the drain and into your house.

As a side note, some traps actually have little plugs on the bottom of them that you can use to access them instead of removing them completely.  If you ever lose something (hopefully none of you have dropped jewelry down your sink), the first thing to do is to check the trap (after turning the water off, of  course).

What You Will Need

  • Small bucket (that you don't mind getting very dirty)
  • Cleaning towels
  • Toothbrushes (old ones, obviously) , clothes hangers or any other object that will help you clean out the tubing
Fix It

And now for the fun part.

My sink trap is freakishly close to the bottom of my cabinets.  If I had the clearance, I would put a bucket or container directly below it to trap all the water.  As you can see in the photo above, there just isn't the space.  So, I used our old cloth diapers to line the bottom of the cabinet and catch the drips.

In my assembly, there are 3 slip nuts (those round parts with the little nubs all the way around to grip).  Loosen those by hand.  You really shouldn't need a tool for this unless Hercules tightened them last time.

This is pretty obvious, but do not turn on the water after you have removed the trap.  (I have been known to do such things on occasion.)

Remember, righty tighty, lefty loosy.   Here I have loosened two of the slip nuts.  You can see that they will move completely off of the junction when they are fully loosened.  Now you should be able to remove the trap completely.  It may take a little wiggle, but it will come off.

A word of caution:  this is going to be nasty.  Have a bucket or something to dump this disgusting sludge in after you take it off.  You may want to wear gloves, but I live dangerously, so this isn't an issue for me.

This job got much, MUCH more disgusting after this photo was taken, but I decided, in the interest of decency, not to show you a photo of the aftermath.

Dump the trap water (and sludge and hairballs and whatever else you find), into your Bucket of Disgust.  If you are the optimistic type, check this sludge for lost engagement rings.

I also cleaned the sink trap out with an old toothbrush.  There was a film all along the inside of it, which impedes the flow of the water over time, so I got all that gunk out.  I also stuck the toothbrush down the drain from the sink side to clean out hair and gunk and nastiness.  Like I said, this just isn't pretty, so no photos.

Once everything is cleaned out, put the trap back in place and tighten the slip nuts.  Then, run the water and check the trap for any leaks (if you didn't tighten the nuts sufficiently) and also to refill the trap with water (to catch those noxious fumes, remember).  I also like to take a peek under the sink for every few days after doing this, just be sure that there are no drips or slow leaks.

I also have to say that no amount of hand washing can make me feel clean after this.  It's like touching raw chicken.  It's like my hands are forever tainted now.  Maybe I should reconsider that glove thing.

Installing Baby Gate Without Drilling

This was my first "fix it" blog that I posted on my personal blog.  It got many thousands of hits after people started pinning it on Pinterest and other sites.  The response to this post served as the inspiration for this blog.  So, it only seems fitting for this to be my first tutorial.  If you would like to learn how to install a baby gate cheaply, quickly and without drilling your bannister (or newel, if you want to be technically correct), just keep reading.

(Also, I posted a video on YouTube if that's more helpful:

Our twins are almost 4 years old, and this gate is still going strong (and with the addition of a third child as well).  So, this has stood the test of time... or at least the test of 3 years.

And now for the original post:

Now that our twins are crawling, we have become past due to install our baby gates.  Over the past week, we finally decided to go for it.  So here is a little tutorial on how we did this without drilling into our banisters.  You can purchase kits to do this, but they're pretty expensive and unnecessary, in my opinion.  This is an easy do-it-yourself solution.

First of all, some information on our gates.  We got some great gates from our friends who no longer needed them - Evenflo Top of Stair gate.  I like the way the latch works, and you can open and close it with one hand and it is virtually silent (which is great for sleeping babies).  They are also completely removable (in that you can detach the gate from the hinges and put it away if you don't need it for some period of time).  This is useful for us, because the babies can't climb the stairs yet.  Once they learn to climb the steps, we can just pop the gate on, and we're ready to go.

The bottom of our stairs originally looked like this:

We have a banister on either side with a very irregularly shaped bottom section (lots of different thicknesses of wood meeting).  I really didn't want to drill into the banister.  Even though you could fill the holes someday with wood putty, you would definitely be able to see where the gate had been.  So we decided to go for a heavy duty zip tie solution.

We went to Lowe's and purchased a 2 x 4 and heavy duty zip ties.  These are the zip ties that we bought:

They are 2 feet long, and they are rated for 175 pounds each.  I figure with 4 of these securing each of our 2x4s, surely the babies will not be able to pull these off (unless they can pull with 700 lbs of force).  Miles is strong, but he's not that strong.

We cut the 2x4 into to pieces that are about the same height as the widest section of the banister.  Here is what they looked like in the raw wood form:

Notice the cat, who is not excited about an additional barrier to escaping up the stairs.

Not bad, but I know that these will be up for quite a while, so I decided to paint them white.  After a couple coats of white semi-gloss, they looked much better.

We attached the boards to the banisters using 4 zip ties on each of them (2 at the top and 2 at the bottom).  We pulled these ties very tight.  It's imperative that these ties be as tight as you can get them so that the 2x4 pieces can't move.

Then, Jason installed the brackets directly onto the 2 x 4s.

Vivienne is ensuring that he is installing the gates correctly.
Here is what the finished product looks like:

It doesn't look bad at all.  In fact, I would almost go as far as to say that this looks pretty.  =)  We didn't have to drill a single hold into our existing structure, and it was an extremely easy task.  The entire project cost us less than $10 (for the wood and the zip ties), because we got the gate for free (thanks, Eddie and Rhonda!).

And, finally, here is a baby's-eye view.

"I can dream of walking up these stairs unhindered someday.  Someday..."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Things First

First things first, I should introduce myself.  I am a wife and stay-at-home mom to three kids, 4-year-old twins (boy/girl) and a 2-year-old girl.  By training, I am an engineer.  I hold a bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and a masters degree in Aeronautics from Caltech.

I was in the working world for almost ten years, starting in Los Angeles and eventually moving to North Carolina.  Soon after moving here, I found out I was expecting.  And soon after that, I found out I was expecting TWINS!  Now, that's a game changer.  Since then, we have added three wonderful kids to our family, and our lives have been forever changed.

While I transitioned from being a full-time working woman to a stay-at-home mom (and new homeowner!), I realized that I have a love for fixing and building things.  Whether it be a door jamb, washing machine, Halloween costume or something to do with our minivan (I used to be cool, I swear), I love to use tools and fix things.

I also love finding ways to save money for my family.  Our income cut in half when I stopped working.  We quickly found that we needed to find ways to live more economically.  Some ways that I save money are making my own laundry detergent, baking my own bread, cutting my husband's and kids' hair and using cloth diapers.

Along this journey, I thought, "Surely there are other moms out there like me.  I wonder how I could connect from them."  So I started this blog so that I can share some of what I have learned with you (and so that I can learn from you as well!).

Thanks for stopping by.  Now pick up your hard hats, ladies.  Let's get started.