Thursday, January 19, 2017

Make a lamp shade for your thrift store lamp for about $2

So, a few days ago, I was trying to figure out what to do with a broken IKEA floor lamp. Could the pieces be recycled, or could someone use it for something? The hollow threaded part that connected the bottom section of the, uh, stalk? Stem? Post? Pole? to the base (I think this part is called a nipple. Seriously.) had broken off and broken in half, and of course it was an unusual size, because IKEA. I actually had a package of these in graduated sizes, because I once fixed a ceiling fixture I got from a thrift store, so 1) I was able to try them and see that this fixture was in between two adjacent standard sizes and 2) while they were no longer in the original package, I'm pretty sure they're called nipples. Hurr hurr.

I eventually realized I could just take out two of the three sections and make a table lamp. How would I do that though, when the post sections are threaded onto the cord? Oh, easy. Unwire the whole thing, reassemble, and then rewire! Some friends on social media were placing bets as to whether it would work and whether they would need to call 911. Assholes.

It did work, and on the first try. But then I needed a lamp shade. Of course lamp shades often cost more than the lamp, when we're taking about basic stuff like this, and thrift stores never have shades because lamps last longer than the shade. I started looking around for something I could make a lampshade out of. I was thinking I could probably use poster board and reinforce it with coat hangers or something, but then I saw this wastebasket that I got for a dollar at Dollar Tree.

The lampshade was the perfect shape and size, was lightweight, and the mesh made it even easier to sew fabric to it than it would have been with a cardboard shade. So, what I did was:

1) Cut the bottom out of the wastebasket. I guess you could actually leave it on if you like, as it wouldn't be in the way and light can of course pass through it. I cut mine off because lampshades don't typically have a top, and it made it easier to attach fabric later on. I used wire cutters. Heavy-duty scissors or a utility knife would work well too.

2) Find something that has a hole in it that is slightly larger than a lightbulb base. This seems to be the most secure way to attach a lampshade to a lamp, and is what IKEA lamps use. It also allows for any type of bulb. I used a closet pole socket like this one, since I had one lying around in a drawer. Mine were cheaper, I think $1 for the pair. You could also make something similar out of a fairly sturdy piece of plastic, like a plastic lid out of the recycling. It just needs to fit around the bulb and be able to have holes drilled in it. The closet rod hardware was perfect, since it already had three holes. If I were building it from scratch, I'd probably put four so it would be easier to get it centered and taut. 

3) Attach the middle part to the basket. I used wire to do this. The wire I had is thin craft-type wire, so I twisted it and wrapped it until it was fairly rigid. If I were purchasing wire, I'd probably use something a bit heavier, but not quite as hard to bend as, say, a coat hanger. The basket made it easy to get centered and level, because I could just count how many diamonds down from the edge and count how many diamonds were around the basket and divide by three. Measuring would also work, but that would involve getting up and finding one more thing, so I didn't do it.

4) Find fabric to cover the basket with. I unfortunately didn't take measurements or photograph every step, but you'll need roughly a foot by three feet maybe of fabric. If you wrap it around the basket and it fully covers it, you're good. Any material should work. If you aren't the type to own fabric waiting to be used for projects, use a good part of a worn sheet/blanket/pillowcase, or a shirt you don't need any longer.

5) Attach the fabric to the basket. The easiest and most secure way by far is with a needle and thread. Wrap the fabric around the basket so it covers the whole thing, trim it so you have a seam that runs straight up the shade (parallel to the pole), and then sew it to the basket. This part will be hidden, so no need to stitch neatly. Then, once one end is attached, stretch the fabric all the way around until it overlaps where you just sewed. Trim it so you have a straight edge with about an inch overlap. Fold the fabric under to make a nice seam. Then stitch through all three layers of fabric and around the basket wires. I did one diagonal stitch around each diamond.

6) Next, trim the top and bottom of the fabric so it barely overlaps the basket. If your fabric has pretty much no stretch to it, overlap about half an inch. Fold the fabric over the basket. Go around the edge and stitch it so the basket is between both layers of fabric, stretching it taut as you go. A whipstitch/overcast stitch/whatever you want to call it (shown in the picture) is going to work best at holding the fabric taut and looking the best. The sewing involved here requires really no skill; it's basically the same as those wooden sewing cards my kids had when they were preschoolers. The equipment needed is just a needle and thread, found in any drugstore sewing kit. If you're really opposed to sewing though, it should be possible to do this with hot glue or duct tape or something, or ribbons covering the edges, or whatever works for you.

Have I mentioned that the cat is an asshole?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Banana French toast

This was a surprisingly easy recipe I invented. Fair Foods gave us two bunches of slightly bruised/browning bananas and a loaf of what I thought was sandwich bread when I took it, but ended up being cranberry walnut bread. None of us are particularly crazy about the nuts-and-dried-fruits category of foods, so I tried to think of things I could do with it. I figured it would be improved if it were sweet, and this led me to French toast.

I knew bananas are often used by themselves as a binder/thickener in a lot of vegan cooking, so I figured this would work. I blended the bananas using an immersion blender, then added some vanilla and pumpkin pie spice. If using fresher bananas, you'd probably need to add some liquid to get it to a thinner consistency, but this was correct since these were rescued bananas. I then soaked the slices of bread in the stuff and fried them in a nonstick pan with a little oil. The result was normal textured French toast with a bit of a banana/fruit/nut flavor. We served it with maple syrup (Amazon has the best prices usually, FYI) and everyone enjoyed it. It's probably one of the simplest things I've ever cooked. Will definitely make again.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Heads up for people who use the MA DOR free webfile for income tax

Apparently the state's own tax website is no longer active. They now are publishing a list of sites that will file your taxes for free based on income.

OLT will file them for free if you make between $13,000 and $62,000 AGI. However, if you've already filed your federal taxes elsewhere, you can't use this site; it only will file federal and state at the same time. You can pay $7.95 to file your state return alone on this site though. If you make more than $62,000 AGI, I'm not sure why you're reading my site*, but they will file it for $7.95 for state and $7.95 for federal.

1040NOW will file just the state return (or both, if you don't file federal elsewhere) for free if you make under $32,000 AGI. Be sure to use the link with "freefileMA" in it.

MA Department of Revenue doesn't list them, but Turbotax will also file for free if you are eligible to file 1040A or 1040EZ (income under $100,000, don't itemize deductions, no self-employment, no unusual credits or deductions besides the common ones like Earned Income Tax Credit and child credit.)

If you google free e-filing and your situation, you will find more companies that do free e-filing for students, people with disability income, military families, or whatever your case may be.

You can also print out the form and mail it for free. It takes longer to get your refund, but it's free. If you want to make sure you don't make any errors, most of the commercial tax websites (TaxSlayer, etc.) will let you do everything but file the return without paying. You can let it do all the calculations for the credits and everything and then transfer it to a paper form.

(*That's a joke. I realize of course that there are people with high incomes on paper who are supporting relatives, have high disability expenses, are trying to save a failing home business, and so forth.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

About that "Save $70 by opening a credit card" thing

I've been getting this Amazon promo every time I buy something, and have been ignoring it. First, I already have the Amazon Store Card, which I got about a few years ago. It gave me $50 off my first purchase, which is why I opened it, and no interest for six months on purchases over some amount, which I also why I purchased it. (At the time I needed car seats that would fit three-across in a compact car.)

I was assuming this offer was the same thing, and would reject me since I already had one. But then today I went to purchase something and a full-screen ad came up on the way to checkout, showing an image of an Amazon Visa Card, with an actual credit card. (The store card only works on Amazon and is a floppy membership-type card with no chip or strip, since you wouldn't be swiping it anywhere.) Hey Amazon, good advertising there. This actually got it through my thick skull that it's a different product, and I applied.

I was approved in 60 seconds, and it credited the $70 to my Amazon gift card balance without me having made the purchase yet. Even better, since this means I can just take the free stuff and throw the card in a drawer when it gets here and never use it.

For reference, if you're wondering if your credit score is sufficient, I have a lot of debt, but no negative items. I generally qualify for store cards with a low limit, but my unused Visa/Mastercard accounts also send me letters saying they're lowering my credit line due to high amount of total debt. I got the lowest interest rate they offer and a limit in the mid-four figures, so I'm thinking this card is probably a good one for people without great credit to try.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trying out this Wikibuy thing that supposedly gives you better prices than Amazon

I accidentally stumbled across this on one of those sponsored Facebook posts, and it looks worth giving a try. So far I've installed it and poked around a bit. I haven't found a price that's better than Amazon, but I haven't had it installed very long. So far it seems more legit and less gimmicky than things like the Swagbucks toolbar. I'll update once I've used it more. Does anyone else use it and have any reviews or tips?