Category Archives: Create

Voice Controlled Home Automation (Video included)

Although I have tons of interests, I am a tech geek at heart.  I love playing with new gadgets to see how they can make our lives “easier”.   After combining several gadgets together, some DIY electrical work, and configuration settings, we were able to make our house do some cool tricks just with the sound of our voice.

We started small and  mainly used home automation to off turn off our master bedroom lights from our phone so we wouldn’t have to argue about who should get up!  But after some more pieces, the possibilities seemed endless.

Devices (everything is under $200!):

SmartThings is a neat home device product because there is no monthly fee and is compatible with both ZigBee and Zwave protocols which are the 2 most common.  You start off connecting it to your Wi-Fi and downloading an app on your smart phone.   There are 3 ways to connect lights for home automation.

  1. Outlet – plug a wireless communicating outlet into the wall and plug your lamp into the outlet.
  2. Bulb – Replace bulbs with a wireless communicating Bulb
  3. Switch – Replace the wall switch with a zwave switch.

We mainly used switches.  If you know how to turn off the control panel, use a screwdriver and move 3 wires from your old switch to the new one, you don’t need to hire an electrician.

Tip: Zwave switches require neutral wire so if you don’t have one in your box, check the box next to it and you can fish a wire through after verifying it works. If there isn’t one, use a Zwave dimmer switch.

Harmony Hub integrates with SmartThings and can control your entertainment system.  It also allows your phone to function as a universal remote.  Since our hub was on the other side of the house from the router and behind a cabinet, we needed to add a Wi-Fi extender to give it a stable connection.

Amazon Echo is a cool device on it’s own.  Think of Siri but better and for your house.  Integrating it with SmartThings broadens it’s possibilities tremendously.  Sonos also works with SmartThings to allow you to turn on and off playlists.

It’s not perfect, for example, you have to say “turn off good night” but nonetheless pretty cool.

Next on the list, garage door control that senses your proximity based on your phone’s GPS location.  If only I could make it move the elf!

How to Share Christmas Wishlists

Everyone knows that my girls are into crafts.  They have been for years.  That means that for years, our family has gifted every single type of craft kit available.  Many times a 3rd or 4th of the same type of kit.  My girls LOVE them.  The problem is now we have so many kits that we still have not had a chance to complete, that we have completely run out of storage room.

In order to avoid trying to find more room in the house to store all their thoughtful kits I create an amazon wish list.  I have trouble coming up with enough unique ideas to give a couple to each family member so this way I don’t have to and still avoid duplicates.  If the item is not on amazon (or you found it cheaper somewhere else), you can easily add items from other websites to the list as well.  You can even add ideas but let family shop for it themselves.

Watch this video to learn how to:

  1. Create a New Wish List
  2. Add Amazon Items to the List
  3. Add Ideas to the List
  4. Add the “Add Item to List” button (I am using IE 10 in the example)
  5. Add an Item from Another Site
  6. Share the list (I copy the link)
  7. How your friends and family mark items bought for other websites.

Happy Shopping!

Young Entrepreneurs – Rani’s Treasures

My daughters have been begging me for years to let them sell something.  They enjoyed reading the book, The Lemonade War, and loved the idea of opening up their own stand.  We live on a tucked away cul-de-sac so waiting on foot traffic seemed pointless.  Then they learned how to make rainbow loom bands, along with 2 million other kids in America and wanted to sell that crap.  No thank you.  My kids have been so enthralled with starting their own business, that if I said no this time, it would just be crushing their spirit.

For my daughters 9th birthday party, each guest learned how to make a custom tote bag.  The girls enjoyed making the totes, they look phenomenal, and are extremely practical.  The girls finally found the right product.

First came picking a name.  Combining Avani and Aria gave us Avia and Arani.  Rani means princess in Hindi which seemed like a perfect fit and Rani’s Treasures was born.

Then the girls had to come up with their own ad and model the product.  Since they are too young to have social media accounts, I have been posting it for them.

Hi our names are Avani and Aria Bharadwa. Maybe you need something pretty to hold your stuff to dance, or swim, or anything else. You should check out Rani’s Treasures then. We are selling totes from November through December. They are also awesome gifts to give to your loved ones for Christmas. There are different colors and designs. The colors of the tote are different tones of purple. Thank you for reading, please tell us if you want one at avanibharadwa@gmail.com.

IMG_0050Guess what?  The girls got their first few orders.  Time to get to work.  The girls are quickly learning what it means to have their own business.  First step is buying their materials, including paying for supplies that we already have in house since this is a business after all.  The girls have been using all of their allowance money as their investment to get their business off the ground.

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My younger daughter has not been too thrilled giving away the money and not getting anything back (yet).  My older daughter is learning the ups and downs of hoping business comes in, getting an order, and then all the work you have to do to actually come through!

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Since I don’t want the girls to bite off more than they (or I since I am ultimately responsible for them) can chew, I told them they can only accept up to 10 orders.  Interested?

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*Mom’s Notes – Rani’s Totes are made from 12.5 x 13.5 x 6 professionally manufactured canvas totes that my girls tastefully decorate.  Most notably reviewed as a great grocery bag or library bag and is durable enough to hold several books.  The girls are charging $20 per tote and $30 with initials.  Additional customization options are available.

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10 Steps to Hosting a Sleepover Birthday Party

My baby girl turned 9 yesterday.  While I try not to spoil her, I also would do anything to make her happy.  For my oldest daughter, Avani, it is actually easy because she is an EXACT copy of me.  From our looks to our personality/interests and everything in between.  Good and bad, she is my mini-me.  So to determine what I could do to make her feel special for her special day, I just thought about what I would have wanted for my 9th birthday and did that.

Follow these steps to throw your daughter a birthday sleepover she will always remember!

1- Pick a Theme – Anytime up until a week before the party.  Do you need one?  No but it makes it easy to decide on the rest of the stuff like invites, décor or cake when you have one.  For her 9th Birthday, we didn’t want anything too babyish but still pretty and pink so went with roses based on one of crafts (see #4).

2- Pick a Date – 6 weeks pre party.  Make sure she doesn’t have a big event the next day as she will probably be half asleep.  Check the school calendar to ensure there are no school events.  (Unfortunately my daughter’s soccer game was moved up last minute so we had to leave at the same time the girls were supposed to be picked up in the morning….oh boy).

 3- Invite her closest friends – 6 weeks pre-party.  Try to get your invitations out well in advance.  That way her BFFs (as there may be multiple of them) are more likely to be available to share that special day with her.  I would recommend 6 weeks in advance.  Don’t invite too many, there is a possibility that everyone can come so you don’t want more than you can handle.  Don’t invite any “trouble makers” as they will be in your house over night, so you don’t want to have to be on constant alert.

4- Plan an activity – Anytime up to 2 weeks before the party (to order supplies online)  If this is not your forte, hire this out.  There are plenty of professionals out there (artists, chefs, nail techs, etc) that you can pay to do all the heavy lifting for you.  If you are a little braver, you can plan the activity and hire your babysitter to run it.  You can save yourself some money this way but have help at the same time.  If you are really brave (aka crazy like me) you can do it on your own.

I selected 2 activities that I thought would be pretty simple for the girls who would be attending (ages 7-11) would be able to do.

Apple Roses – I saw this posted on one of my friend’s Facebook wall and although I really can’t cook, it looked simple enough that even I could do it.

I broke them up into 4 groups to work together.  It was actually pretty easy and even the ones that weren’t perfectly shaped, tasted delicious. (see results below)

No-Sew Tote Bags – I have always put a lot of thought into what guests take home from a party.  I hate giving out junk.  Junk costs the host money that the guest ends up tossing or cluttering up their home unnecessarily.  For the last 2 birthday parties we did for my younger daughter, Aria, she choose to donate the money we would have spent on the junk instead.  Avani is really into crafting so we spend the goody bag money into making a fantastic craft.  Something that is useable, you don’t through away, unique for this event, and cool!  These DIY tote bags are beautiful and just required some cutting and gluing, easy peasy. (results below)

Supplies Needed for Project

Relax…you don’t have to worry about this for a while..

5- Order Cake – 1 week pre party.  Honestly, the kids don’t really care where you bought your cake.  Cake is cake so if you want to make it easy on yourself, just go the local grocery store.  I went with Jewel where you can order as little as 24 hours in advance.  Some bakers require a longer lead time so check with where you plan on ordering before procrastinating to the last minute.  If you live in the Chicago burbs, several of my friends swear by Jarosch Bakery and will go out of their way for it.  I have also used some local moms who bake from their home for some truly unique cakes.

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6 – Order Food – 1 day pre party.  Pizza?  Yes, simple.  If you ever get tired of pizza, there are also lots of other easy other options as well.  I have used Noodles & Company, Portillos,  Potbellys, Qdoba, and Panda Express which are all just a bit more and pretty easy.

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7 – Decorate – Day of Party – Using some stuff you already have in the house you can actually make something pretty special.  Concentrate your decorations into one area instead of spreading them out.  Then you have one spectacular area instead of just a piece here and there.  I just to decorate the basement where the girls would be sleeping.   I used some Christmas lights, bed canopy, quilts, hanging lanterns that I already had.  Buy a couple packs of command hooks, which are pretty awesome, to hang things up and you have instant setting.

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8 – Don’t Forget Snacks!  – Day of Party – While out buying tableware, plates, candles, bagels, and juice  (notice the grocery list), don’t forget a late night snack for those hungry girls who will no doubt be raiding your kitchen in the wee-hours.

9 – Monitor – Day of Party – Where did I put that baby monitor???  Well you better figure it out because it comes in handy.  Instead of having to sleep near the kids, or trek up and down the stairs 10 times, stick your baby monitor down there.  Let the kids know that it is there and if there is any misbehaving, you will not hesitate to call their parents to have them picked up.  Luckily I have never had to make a call but the threat enough seems to do the trick ’cause who would want to leave this awesome party?

10 – Bedtime – Night of Party– After all the activities have completed.  Have them wind down by watching a movie after changing into their PJs, brushing teeth, and in their sleeping bags.  Arrange their sleeping bags for them in a circle, heads in, so no one feels left out.  At a reasonable time, let them know its lights out and time for bed.  Expect some chatting after you leave.  30 minutes later, enforce by staying there until a few are sleeping, they will be so exhausted it shouldn’t take long.  Quietly leave while the rest of the girls follow suit.  Don’t forget to check your monitor!

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Good luck!

Pictures from Apple Roses and Tote Bags:

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Donating Goody Bag Budget

Goody Bags have been taken to a whole new level, especially in our community.  Some of the most extravagant goody bags have included books, stuffed animals, sports bags, etc.  I have spent countless hours ordering supplies and putting goody bags together.  For my kids first few birthday parties, I even went as far as personalizing them.

Personalized Piggy Banks for Aria's 1st Birthday Party
Personalized Piggy Banks for Aria’s 1st Birthday Party

I quickly had to put a stop to that after several no-shows and last minute add-ons.  Goody Bags can be a lot of fun and add to the décor but clearly take a lot of time, money, and energy to create.  My kids love them for the 20 minute car ride home …. then usually they are forgotten.

I realized things were out of control a few years ago when we were leaving a great party and the mom hands me 1 goody bag for my 2 daughters.  When we got to the car, the water works started.  “How come she only gave us one?”  “Where is my goody bag?”  Admittedly, I was a little annoyed at first.  Clearly this mom of 1 did not realize that sharing a goody bag between 2 siblings is easier said than done.

Then it hit me.  How did my kids get so spoiled that they think they are due a gift at the end of every party?  I realized that we needed to make a change immediately.

The next birthday party we threw was my daughter Aria’s 6th.  First I had to explain charity to her.  I told her that there are kids in the world, that aren’t getting goody bags or birthday parties or any of the nice things that they have.  I told her that some children don’t have a house to live in or food to eat everyday.  A charity helps these people.  Then I gave her a choice.  Do you want to buy supplies for a rainbow birthday goody bag or would you like to give the money that we would spend on those goody bags to a charity instead?  I was going to remind her that most of the goody bags she had received have ended up in the garbage to gently encourage her.  Proudly, she didn’t need the encouragement.  She quickly choose to donate the money to charity.

Arias goody bags
Goody Bag Notes for Aria’s 6th Birthday

I reviewed many charities with her.  The two things that touch my heart the most are kids and education.  Given our heritage, we love helping kids in India especially so we looked at CRY, Child Rights and You.  We wanted to make sure that they money we donated was well spent in a way that we could see who the money was helping.  I let Aria make the decision of where she wanted to donate the money,  so she choose AWASSA Children’s Project since we knew someone on the Board of Directors who had physically volunteered her time there.  The nicest part was that she received a little booklet of the kids in the project which she loves to look at before bed, thinking about the kids she helped.

AWASSA's Childrens Project
AWASSA Children’s Project

I am proud to say that tomorrow for her 7th birthday, Aria didn’t hesitate.  She asked me which charity we are going to donate to this year.  We found Kids for Peace, an organization focused on kids helping other kids through cross cultural experiences.  We were so impressed with what we found, we donated her goody bag money and have started the process to start a local chapter.  Stay tuned!

Turn iPhone into Personal Hotspot

Have you seen this commercial where the group of kids get into the Chevy Malibu and are able to play on their devices due to the built in WiFi?  While I am not a fan of having devices raise my children, I am absolutely all for them when it comes to long distance travel.

We were on our 1st road trip today as a family since I am not a huge road trip fan.  Aria kept on asking “Are we there yet?” while every few minutes I heard Avani get frustrated to not have an internet connection.  After thinking about that commercial, I was thinking that our 1 year old car will be technologically behind as we assume most cars will have the wifi built in in a few years.  Then I remembered that you can make your iPhone a personal hotspot.  A hotspot provides a connection to devices with in a small range so they can connect to the internet through your cellular plan.  I thought it was a some what complicated process so I told the girls that I would have to research it and have it ready for the way back.  Luckily, Anjay actually already knew how and it was incredibly easy.

  1. Go to the settings on your iPhone.
  2. Choose Cellular and turn on Personal Hotspot.  Be sure to add a password for the wifi connection.IMG_9134
  3. On your device, go setting and select the iPhone from settings – wifi.
  4. Type in your password and you are ready to go!  Once a device is connected it will show the status on your cell phone.IMG_9135

 

Surprisingly, there are no apps to download and takes less than one minute. Quick solution to having devices without cellular connection.  It works so well, that I continued to use the hotspot to write this post!

Back Up Your Photos to “The Cloud”

On July 4, 1998 my parents’ house burned down.  I drove home with my friend to a huge, beautiful, pink, and orange cloud in the sky. I only realized it’s source as I drove closer.  Luckily my family all made it out safe but whatever didn’t burn was lost to soot and water damage.  The next day we were instructed to carefully try to collect any possessions that we wanted to try to salvage.  The only thing that was worth saving was an armful of photo albums.

Photo album saved from house fire in 1998.
Photo album saved from house fire in 1998.

1998 was before the digital picture era.  “The Cloud” didn’t’ even exist.  The only way to save my memories was take the soot covered albums and be grateful that it wasn’t worse.  Luckily times have changed.  Everything is now digital and there are simple ways to preserve your data.

As a mom, my pictures are even more important to me as they are the chronicles of my children’s lives.  The majority of pictures are taken on my phone like everyone else.  I also have my DSLR SD cards and old photos that are on CDs from the early 2000s.  If my house were to burn down today and the only copy I had of those pictures were destroyed, I would be absolutely crushed.

“The Cloud” changes all that.  If you ever heard people talk about it, “The Cloud” is a big company’s data center where you can store all of your data.  As a Windows user, I choose OneDrive.   OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive are all the same thing.  Just different companies with different plans and features.  Microsoft not only stores your data, but they also have another back up of your data at another geographic location just incase. I would also recommend keeping a local back up also just in case.

Now, not only am I backing up all the pictures from my phone but I am also backing up everything else.  My most precious commodities are safe.  What is really neat is now I can actually access all the pictures, including the DSLR and old pictures, and show them to someone on my phone!IMG_9121

Follow these simple steps to protect your precious commodities too:

  1. Sign up for OneDrive.  It is free and you get 15GB just for signing up.  You can buy more data storage if you need it
  2. Download the App to your cell phone
  3. Sign into the app and turn ON the setting to back up the camera.IMG_9122
  4. If you want to also get access to your iphone pictures on your PC or add other files to OneDrive, download OneDrive to your PC.
  5. You will now have your files synced between your PC and the cloud.  You can add files to OneDrive through Windows Explorer.One Drive in Windows Explorer

 

Digitally Design a Picture Wall

A beautiful way to display your favorite art and pictures is on a well laid out picture wall.  Personally I love having my walls filled with pictures of the things that matter to me the most, my children.  It gives personality to a home and tells a story.

According to my husband, we have too many pictures on our walls.  He also wanted to bedazzle our entire kitchen take all feedback cautiously.  If you are anything like me, you have thousands of pictures digitally saved but not printed out.  Worse yet, still only on your phone.  Half the challenge is figuring out which pictures to print out and which size to print them. In order to determine how a group of pictures will look together on the wall, you can easily simulate the picture wall digitally.  If you have a PC, you already have the software you need; PAINT!  Photoshop and other software packages that offers layers are much better if you have them.  If you don’t and don’t want to bother installing anything, Paint will do the trick.

Open Paint from Windows and turn rulers on by selecting View –  Rulers.  You do want to draw things to scale to see how things will look together.  I found using 1 inch = 10 pixels works well.  If there is enough interest, I will put together a video to show you how this is done step by step.   Please comment on the post and let me know!

If you already have frames selected measure the outside of the frame and make rectangles for each frame.   If you don’t, then go straight to picking pictures.  I had already picked out the Pottery Barn Studio Wall Easel system with discounted frames from the craft store.  You can also layout the frames on the floor to see if you can find the right layout before adding them to the design. option 1 picture wall Option 1 Option 2 Option 2

Once you have added determined the right layout,  it is time to start selecting pictures.  For each picture you are considering use Windows Snipping Tool, also already installed, copy the picture and paste it into Paint.  Resize the rectangle until it is to scale of your wall.  You want to look at the wall as a whole and not as individual pictures.  Move frames around until you find a design that appeals to you. add picture to option 1 Just by looking at my wall digitally, I quickly realized that my layouts were too crowded for the space and needed to be scaled down.  I had to remove half the frames and reduce the overall size before I found the perfect design. Final Picture Wall Once I was comfortable that the right pictures were the correct size, I could purchase appropriate frames if needed.  I am ready to print my pictures!  If you aren’t using a wall easel, put down wrapping paper on the floor and put the frames on top.  Trace the outline of each frame onto the wrapping paper.  Remove the frames and transfer the wrapping paper to the wall, secured with painters tape.  Hang the frames directly into the traced boxes and you can easily rip out the wrapping paper after the frames are up.

Picture Wall

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Here is an example of how I used the same method on a different wall:

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kitchen picture wall actual

Lifestyle vs Niche Blogging

After being inspired by my brother to start blogging more, I decided that if I was going to dedicate time to it, I might as well do it properly.  While persuaded to pick a single theme to post about, there is way more to know about me than just my passion for interior design.  I also enjoy making crafts, throwing parties, I am an active member of the community, I was learning how to cook (that one isn’t going so well), learning photography and most importantly a mom.

Here are some pros of a lifestyle blog.

  1. You are not confined to blogging about only topic.
  2. You don’t get bored of it as easily.
  3. You are establishing yourself as a brand.
  4. It is easier to come up with content.

Here are the cons.

  1. You are not establishing yourself as an expert as you would in a niche.
  2. Potential subscribers need to be interested in most of your topics
  3. Chances of monetizing your blog is lower.
  4. You aren’t forced to expand your own knowledge.

Julie Neidlinger says that “Niche blogs give you an audience that you understand, and that understands you.” in her blog “How to Start a Niche Blog (And Why You Should)”.


After weighing the pros and cons, I decided that a lifestyle blog is more appropriate for someone like me, not to mention very trendy at the moment.  Not only will I be able to share my knowledge with the world, but it will serve as my own therapeutic release and my online journal.  Certainly a lot cheaper than laying on someone’s couch!

To help me get inspired and get my wheels turning, I looked for who are some of the top lifestyle bloggers.  I heard one of the most famous was www.cupofjo.com.   After cruising her site I quickly realized that she is like me.  A woman with lots to offer to the world and if people were interested in her, they could be interested in me.

The free blog with long name had to go.  I needed something catchy, easy to say, and easy to type.  This blog had some tips that seemed natural to me.  I played with Realty and Reality but it didn’t feel right.  After thinking about what I am all about, the word “live” stood out.  You live everyday, you live in a house, you live for your family.  Hence birthed Live Like Anj.

I did need to do some research on how to make a proper blog and I found Amy Lynn Andrew’s blog  on how to make blogs the most helpful.  I don’t expect for this to be my new career path, despite my brother’s faith in me, I did find her how to make money blogging interesting.  I might hold off on that for now, and just try to see if anyone is interested in hearing what I have to say!