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Archive for January, 2010

Apple’s MobileMe service is a beautiful thing.  For $100/year, all my contacts, emails, calendars and browser bookmarks are completely and instantly synchronized on any PC I happen to be running Microsoft Outlook on, as well as on my iPhone.  And it’s worked splendidly for almost the past year that I’ve been using it.  That is, until most recently when suddenly and inexplicably I started to receive the following error message during the automatic sync process:

“Calendars could not be synced due to inconsistent data.”

This was annoying when it first happened to my Vista desktop but I soon learned that the problem does not discriminate operating systems as it also spread to my XP desktop and then finally to my Vista laptop.  Now all 3 of my PCs could no longer sync Calendars with MobileMe (it’s my understanding that this problem could also happen with Contacts). 

Forget any help from Apple.  Unless you own a Mac, you can’t speak to anyone or even chat with anyone that could help.  The various technical forums offered no viable solutions as each one of the suggestions I tried failed miserably including blowing away my Outlook Calendar completely and trying to sync down from the MobileMe cloud.  I spent countless hours trying to troubleshoot this now intensely aggravating problem. 

Here’s the solution that finally worked for me:

  1. I unregistered all my PCs from MobileMe via the MobileMe Control Panel installed on my PCs.
  2. Before blowing away any of my PC’s Outlook calendars, I determined which one was the most current and exported it to a file on my hard drive.  Then I exited Outlook, renamed the exported calendar file (because sometimes Outlook automatically grabs it and opens it) and re-launched Outlook.
  3. Since I had previously ascertained during my troubleshooting trials that starting with a completely blank calendar in Outlook and syncing down from the MobileMe cloud proved unsuccessful, I reasoned that there was some sort of corrupt data in the calendar in the MobileMe cloud.  I wasn’t able to figure out how to delete the calendar from the cloud except to overwrite it from my blank Outlook calendar so that’s exactly what I did.   I deleted the entire contents of my Outlook calendar.  I did this by changing the view: View->Arrange by->Current view->By category then selected all the events and hit delete.
  4. I re-registered the PC I was working on back with MobileMe (via the MobileMe Control Panel) and only selected Calendars to sync and selected Sync with MobileMe Manually.
  5. I clicked on the Advance button and selected Reset Sync Data.  From here, I selected Replace Calendars “on MobileMe with sync info from this computer” then hit the Replace button.  This cleared out my MobileMe calendar.
  6. Now that I had a blank calendar in the MobileMe cloud and in Outlook, I then imported my Outlook calendar file that I had previously exported.   Once it was imported, I then repeated steps 4 & 5 thereby populating my calendar data up to the MobileMe cloud.
  7. From my other PCs, I re-registered them back with MobileMe (again via the MobileMe Control Panel) and resumed the normal syncing options.

And thus ended my syncing problems with MobileMe.  I still would like to know how the data became corrupted up in the cloud to begin with but for now I am content just to be able to sync again.

Doing the Snoopy Happy-Sync-Dance,

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I have a thing about socks: they must match one another, they must match the outfit and absolutely, positively must not have ANY HOLES. Not just on myself, but on my kids and husband, too. It’s one of those rare things that really embarrasses me because I feel if my kids and spouse are wearing mismatched and holey socks then that is somehow a direct reflection on me and my ability to present my family in public. And the ironic thing is…they could absolutely care less what is on their respective feet. Even more ironic is that I don’t feel any embarrassment if they wear wrinkled, stained or ripped clothing…just the socks.

Anyway, yesterday a friend stopped by to return something we loaned out and my husband and I were enjoying casual conversation with him in our family room. To my horror, I noticed that my husband had two toes happily sticking out of his right sock while the heel of his left foot was clearly seen from the 2-inch diameter hole of it’s sock. Not only that…but one sock had a Champion logo on it and the other had a Hanes logo. AAAUUUGGGHHHHH! I couldn’t believe my eyes so I got up from the couch to inspect the incredulous sight at closer range because I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand how they even ended up in his sock drawer. Standard practice while I fold clothes is to sift out all the ripped socks and clearly mark them with the word “DUST” in permanent black marker and move them to their new “dust pile” home elsewhere in the laundry room. Here’s what I found when I got a closer look:

Uh-huh.  See that?

He started out his day barefoot then at some point decided he needed to put socks on and rather than go aaaaaaall the way up 11 stairs to retrieve a pair from his sock drawer, he would see what was more handily available out of the much closer laundry room.  So he grabbed two random socks from the laundry room “dust pile” and blindly put them on his feet.  His ADD brain gave no consideration whatsoever to the holes OR to the very clearly marked word “DUST” on them.  And even after the revelation, as I pulled the socks off his feet, he simply laughed at his goofiness.  As did I. 

This ADD moment ranks right up there with the time he went to the grocery store for just one gallon of milk and returned home without it after paying for it at the store (he left it on the counter).  And also the time he came out of the shower exclaiming how WONDERFUL my new battery-operated exfoliator was when, in fact, it was my Black & Decker Scum Buster that I left in there because I didn’t finish busting the scum out of the shower.

Living with an ADD spouse does has it challenges…but it also provides it’s share of levity.   Love ya, Honey!!!

Trying to work on the sock thing…

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There’s a saying about homeschooling: “The hardest part of homeschooling is staying home”. It’s true! Especially when you’re plugged into a local homeschool support group as big as ours. We belong to Living Water Home Educators (www.lwhe.org) which currently has 175 member families with well over 300 kids. Between the co-ops & classes, sports, field trips, clubs, parties, gatherings, competitions and fellowship opportunities, add to that some non-homeschool related activities from church and other extra-curricular activities, and then pile on some library visits and various doctor appointments, we find ourselves hard-pressed to find any time for schooling at home! That statement assumes that we sign up for ALL of it which, of course, is an impossibility as much as we’d like to be able to do it all.

I discovered early on that it was waaaaaaay to easy to sign up for things as they became known. I use my computer for just about everything including keeping my calendar so I would check my online calendar (I use Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar feature which also syncs with my iPhone nicely) and if there was an opening that day I’d sign us up for it! That was all well and good until I realized that week after week we were signed up for something just about every day of the week and sometimes even two events per day if there was a doctor or therapy appointment. It got so bad that my kids would whine “Again??? Do we have to?!?!” whenever I excitedly announced our plans for the day. So the first challenge quickly became how to maintain some of the “white space” in our busy calendar so we could get some of the basics covered in our homeschool as well as temper our schedule so that we could enjoy some much needed down time.

The second challenge was keeping my husband informed on where we were on any given day. Since he runs his business right next door to us, he has the flexibility to pop in at any given time, hang out for a bit, or take the kids to lunch, bowling or to a movie, as his erratic business schedule permits. Often times he would come home and not know where on earth we were!

The solution to both challenges turned out to be a really simple idea that a fellow homeschool mom shared with me in scheduling her weeks: a large desk pad calendar hung prominently on a wall that is easily seen by everyone. For us, that prominent wall happens to be our coat closet door next to our home’s entrance. I hang it with a series of four velcro dots lined at both the top and bottom edges of the backside of the calendar.

The desk pad calendar we use is BIG: about 22″ wide by 17″ tall. You can get them from any office supply store for $5-$6, although this year we’re using one that was given to our business by one of our vendors. Each page covers the entire month so the squares for each of the days is sufficiently large enough to write multiple appointments in them. For each month, I pencil in (it’s important to use a pencil – NOT A PEN) all of our existing recurring activities (eg. the kid’s program at church on Wednesday night) as well as any known doctor appointments and birthday parties. Then, before I would commit to participating in any other activities, I FIRST consult my computer’s daily calendar to see if the timeslot is available and, if it was, I would THEN consult my prominently hung desk pad calendar to see if there is adequate “white space” left in that week. If there is, then I sign us up for the activity but if there isn’t, then I don’t commit to the activity and the balance of our homeschool universe is preserved.

My husband loves consulting the calendar on his way out the door in the morning to give him a better idea of what our homeschool day is going to look like…and when he forgets to consult it and unexpectedly pops in during the day to find no one is at home, the calendar reminds him of where we are.

This method of keeping everyone in the know and balancing weekly schedules isn’t just for homeschooling families; it can be used for public- or private-schooled families as well. For those families, the crunch time begins immediately AFTER school lets out in trying to fit in all those appointments and extra-curricular activities before the kids have to get to bed. It’s equally important for EVERY family to maintain a healthy balance of down-time and keep everyone on the same page, as it were.

Wishing you and yours adequate white space!

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Every night my 9 year old tries desperately to escape the grasp of my 5 year old who, equally desperately, tries to kiss his older brother good night. If only the 9 year old would realize that by acquiescing for one second would negate the need for 10 minutes of struggling with the little (but strong) squirt!

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I love free stuff.  It doesn’t matter if it’s new, used, re-gifted or re-purposed.  I also have a passion for being green: recycling, reusing, repurposing, and conserving whenever possible. When I found Freecycle I hit the jackpot on both counts!  

What is Freecycle?  The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,873 groups with 6,885,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.   It’s simple to join:  

  1. Go to www.freecycle.org and search for the nearest “region” near you.
  2. You will be prompted to sign up for your local freecycle email list via Yahoo’s Discussion Group.  This is how all Freecycle offers are posted and will land in your specified email inbox.  If you don’t already have a Yahoo ID you will be prompted to create one.  But don’t worry, you need never check it because you can specify the email address of your choice in which to receive your Freecycle messages.

After that, just start perusing the Freecycle postings in your email’s inbox every day and if something shows up that you are interested in, respond to the poster by email and if they pick you, designate a day/time to pick up that item from them.  It’s that easy.  

Freecycle isn’t really junk.  Some people refer to it as junk but you know the saying: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure”.  Just in the past 6 months, our family has been blessed with the following “treasures” from Freecycle:  

  1. Clothes for my kids (I haven’t had to buy any clothes for my oldest this way)
  2. Linksys Wireless-G Router
  3. A live dove with a cage
  4. Brand new queen size mattress
  5. New Iced Tea Maker
  6. Pottery Barn Toddler Bed
  7. 6′ long computer table (that I use as a utility table in my laundry room)
  8. Nerf guns
  9. Tiki torches
  10. Wood & Wrought Iron Garden bench
  11. Water cooler (heats & cools water)
  12. 11 boxes of mason jars
  13. Boxes and boxes of books & curriculum
  14. National Geographic magazines
  15. Boxes of pinecones
  16. Cross-stitch supplies
  17. Knitting supplies
  18. Sewing supplies
  19. 60 wooden hangers; hundreds of plastic hangers
  20. Azalea bushes
  21. Interlocking foam pieces for the cushioning the floor
  22. Soccer cleats
  23. Candles
  24. Beach chairs
  25. Various coupons
  26. Cork boards
  27. White boards
  28. Photo albums
  29. Metal lockers
  30. Free-standing wooden bench swing

Our Freecycled Dove

It’s been amazing.  These treasures, some new and some used,  would otherwise just be left at the curb to take space in our landfills.  And my list doesn’t even cover 90% of what’s offered on Freecycle:  computers, perfumes, jewelry, furniture, household items (dishes, sheets, fixtures, etc.), trampolines, baby items, TVs, stereos, tires, appliances to name a few.  Even “junk” junk, like chicken wire, scrap metal, piles of wood decking, and old lumber!  And weird stuff like live beehives and a ton of coal! And it ALL goes to SOMEONE because there’s always SOMEONE that is looking for that precise item!  

Freecycle allows you to find a specific item. The other nice feature of Freecycle is if you never come across that certain item you have been wanting and waiting for, you can post a “Wanted” listing for that item.  I was looking for canning jars and within a few hours of posting my request I was offered 11 boxes of canning jars from 3 different freecyclers.  

Freecycle is better than having a yard sale.  Getting rid of stuff on Freecycle is better for our family than having a yard sale because we’re not particularly fond of accumulating junk all year long only to have to label, sort, organize, advertise & get up early to brave the heat for only a few bucks at the end of the day.   With Freecycle, as you come across something that’s of no longer any use, you just post it, pick someone, and set it out for pickup.  

Freecycle lets you unload stuff you have long forgotten about.  Sometimes you don’t realize you have stuff to get rid of until someone makes a “Wanted” posting for it.  Just the other day someone requested Wiggles DVDs & VHS tapes.  I have dozens of Wiggles titles that I had forgotten all about because my kids have long outgrown them.  So I passed on the blessing.  

Best of all, Freecycle makes you feel good about keeping unnecessary items from ending up in our landfills.  Not much more to be said about that.  

Make the most of Freecycle.  Many people join the Freecycle list then end up removing themselves from the list because the many emails in their email inbox makes it unmanageable for them.  Here are some tips to help manage the deluge:  

  1. Create an email just for using Freecycle’s email list (ex. MyFreecycleEmail@gmail.com) and check that email’s inbox frequently throughout the day.  In this way, you keep your Freecycle emails separate from your regular emails.  The downside to this option is that you have to check more than one email account throughout the day.
  2. Select Yahoo’s Daily Digest mode of email delivery versus the Individual Emails.  This way, you will get one email a day with all the postings from that day.  The downside to this is that because you won’t be getting the individual emails as soon as they are posted, you will likely miss out on the opportunity to get the treasure.
  3. Create an email rule.  The best thing to do is if you use Outlook, or another feature-rich email client, add your separate Freecycle email account to your existing list of email accounts then create an “rule” specifying that any email incoming from your Freecycle email address gets automatically filed into a specified inbox folder (ex. I call my folder “Freecycle”).  In this manner, I don’t have to bounce between different email accounts; they all come into my Outlook and I can see whenever a new message has arrived in my Freecycle folder and be able to respond to it quickly.

Now that you know the ins and outs of Freecycling, what are you waiting for?  Go sign up!  You’ll feel so good about getting free stuff that in no time at all you’ll be singing “I’m a Freecycler…I’m a Freecycler” (sung to the tune of “I’m a Girl Watcher”) on the way to the pick-ups!  

Wishing you lots of Freecycle jackpots!  

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Remember the old Bell Telephone marketing slogan “Reach out and touch someone”?  Or “Long Distance – the next best thing to being there”?

My brother, his wife, and our four beloved nieces recently moved from being 20 minutes away to being 6 hours away.  It was and remains a difficult adjustment for us emotionally.  So, sorry to disagree but picking up the phone to call long distance ISN’T the next best thing to being there.  But thankfully, with today’s technology, being able to Skype someone really is!

Skype is an application that offers voice and video calls over the internet (so it’s assumed you have an internet connection before using it).  The video calling portion of the application is FREEEEEEE! 

The first thing you need is the Skype application.  Go to www.skype.com and download it to your computer.  It’s FREEEEEEE!  During the installation process you’ll be asked to create a Skype account in which you will select a Skype ID and password.  The Skype ID doesn’t have to be your real name but it does make it easier for friends and family to find you if it is.  My Skype ID is irene.taschek.  

The second thing you’ll need in order to fully use the video calling feature of Skype is a webcam which, if your computer didn’t already come with one installed in the monitor, you can purchase an external webcam from Best Buy, Amazon, even Walmart starting as low as $30.   

Once those two are up and running, the only other thing you need is another person to Skype with!  It’s so easy to use, even my parents (both of whom are about to turn 70), can use it.  

The kids and I use it to Skype daddy when he’s out of town.  I can’t describe the joy in being able to talk to and SEE the person you are talking to at the same time while being separated by an enormous geographic distance.   Heck, we even use it to Skype not-so-distant loved ones just because…well, just because we can!  We love being able to stay in touch with friends and family in this manner.   Check Skype out…you won’t be sorry you did.      

Cousins Skyping One Another

 Skyping out,

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  1. Start ’em out young.
  2. Dress ’em up in warm Carhartts.
  3. Don’t let ’em leave without safety glasses on.
  4. Stuff their pockets with grandpa’s beef jerky.
  5. Kick ’em in the butt to stop their whining on the way out the door.
  6. Gather. Thaw. Repeat.

 Keep those fires burning!

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