Category Archives: Organisation

Possibly the best phone ever for older people. Plus how to really crack down on spam/phishing callers.

I don’t really get spam/phishing calls. At least, not yet. This is possibly because I’ve never been in the phone directory, I have a landline that is, primarily there for my internet, and I am very tech savvy at blocking such calls on my mobile if I get them.

However, whenever I was round at my mum and dad’s their phone would regularly ring with phishing/spam calls. They would be annoying, and of course I registered them for the Telephone Preference Service but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Some of the calls were simply annoying “do you want double glazing” etc. Some so obviously scam calls as to be not a threat. But all meant my mum had to stop what she was doing and go and answer the phone.

The obvious thing is to to get an answerphone and screen calls. But here’s the thing. Getting a separate, mechanical answering machine that works with an existing phone and is not hugely expensive, is virtually impossible – I’ve tried. You can get integrated answering machines, with cordless phones, but this would mean a change of phone for my mum, which is okay, but the phones that come with integrated answer-machines tend to have small fiddly numbers; and my mum likes a corded phone so it can’t get lost/run out of charge.

BT’s Call Minder, which you access via your handset and is ‘remote’ is an option, but she didn’t like that as it’s too confusing for her. So an answer machine or an answering service wasn’t really an option. And anyway, a very sophisticated caller, such as she eventually came across, would have not been put off by such a device and they would have left a message, lending credibility to their call.

(Anyway I think even a fairly simple answering machine would have been frustrating for my mum to master and why make her feel crap about not being able to do something when she is so good at so many other things?)

Because, one day, my mum got a call of a very different kind. Very sophisticated, believable and distressing; I won’t go into the details here but, thankfully, at the last minute my mum pulled a blinder (you can take the girl out of Naples but…) and a very serious crisis was averted. (We reported it to Action Fraud.) But it got me thinking just how vulnerable some people are and I realised that something needed to be done. When I started telling people what had happened to my mum, the stories that came out were terrifying. I learned that someone I knew, with graduate parents (English their first language, quite unlike my mum), had been scammed of £5K.  Then another similar story, and so it went on.

My mum is not tech savvy. If you need to feed fifteen people with one stick of celery and a tomato, she’s your woman. Her vigour, energy, hospitality and inventiveness is gob-smacking, but she is a technophobe. So whatever I did had to be low-tech at her end and the tech burden had to be mine alone.  I also needed something I could monitor and tweak remotely. It was no use asking her to press button 1 to stop the last caller calling her again. She needed a phone, pretty much like her old phone, with buttons to press to dial someone.

This is what I did. It’s in two parts – the remote part and the actual phone.

First, BT launched something called BT Call Protect earlier this year. I knew about this but again though it would not work for my mum, but, with her permission I took over control of her account. It’s free, but you have to be a  BT customer (your phone service may offer something similar) and how it works is that, once activated, it has a pre-set list of known spam numbers, these are automatically blocked. But there’s more.

You can see who’s calling via the website or a phone app, and you can VIP these numbers – and name them so you recognise them again when you next log on – or block them. So now my mum only has to make a rough note of the time someone called if it was a bad call and I can, via my computer or the BT app, forever more block that number.

You can also set it so that it blocks all, eg. with-held or international calls. And of course if you fall out with someone, you can put them from the VIP list to the Blocked list. Imagine the power.

With VIP numbers you can control which times someone can call you, so that, eg, you don’t get disturbed at night, or so that they can ring you 24/7 – you decide. Useful if you have a relative who keeps different hours to you or you don’t want to be disturbed at night.

All of this I can do remotely for her and with her knowledge.

If you block a number, it goes to junk voicemail (which you access via pressing 1572 on the handset although, see below, I eventually got my mum Call Minder so I access this for her now) so there’s s safety net there in case it does turn out to be genuine (there was one casualty which was a long-lost friend from Rome, but, thanks to this I was able to get her message and let her know and what’s more, VIP her number for future calls).

Since I did this my mum’s spam calls have dropped to: zero. So far.

Then there’s the phone. It was long overdue that she be able to see who is ringing her. I also wanted her to be able to access important numbers really easily.

I’ve mentioned before that I got a mobile phone for my aunt from Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) so I turned to them for a phone for my mum and found this one.

It is really excellent and here’s why:

It has a caller display which lots of phones do (although they tend to be cordless) but with this one, you can tilt it up for maximum visibility and also change the contrast* – it displays the number and, if you’ve input the person into the phone’s phone book, their name will also show. (You need a subscription to a Caller Display service for this to work.)

*Someone visually impaired would still struggle to see this however, so look at the RNIB’s shop for phones for them.

The call buttons are large and illuminate when you pick up the phone.

There are four photo-buttons so you can either put people’s photos or write their name in LARGE TYPE. You programme these so that you can simply press them to dial someone but not only that: THEY ILLUMINATE WHEN THAT PERSON RINGS. Which is really like Thunderbirds!

I programmed as many numbers in as I could for my mum, no mean feat when you consider the size of our family. This you have to do with the phone in front of you but once done no further teccy-input necessary.

The phone plugs in and also needs 4 AAA batteries as back up. This it needs for the illumination/phone box storage features. It is otherwise a corded phone.

Although you can use the phone book to ring people – i.e. without having to manually press the number-keys, my mum doesn’t do this as she likes to use the number keys to ring people. There’s a volume control and also a boost in case someone is hard of hearing. So it’s packed with really useful features, but otherwise it’s a normal low-tech phone.

So now, as an added safe-guard, if my mum doesn’t recognise a number, she doesn’t have to pick it up. I’ve also put Call Minder on her line so that if she doesn’t pick up a call and it’s genuine, the people calling have the option of leaving her a message.  I control this remotely for her by ringing into it once a day (you have to set a PIN on the actual phone, but once you’ve done this you can ring in remotely). I can also hear if any spam callers who have called and left a message or not left a message.

There are other options available for protecting vulnerable relatives, such as True Call Blocker, which has rave reviews and Fuss Free Phones, which sound like a great idea but would have involved too many changes for my mum.

Some other option may work for you. This is so far what’s worked for us. I did a lot of research to come to these conclusions and what is the point of it if it doesn’t also benefit others?

 

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Pressure/Slow cooker

Earlier this year, just as we were emerging from the shuck of winter and blinking in the spring sunshine, with thoughts turning to light, easy lunches involving salads and grilled things, I decided to I needed to buy a slow cooker to cook stews in.

A slow cooker is actually a very good idea for someone like me, because I am a natural early riser and I am at my best, my most industrious, early in the morning. It’s all down hill from there. I am often too tired of an evening to cook, or think about cooking. In Italy, at least in my family, it is customary to largely prepare the main meal of the day (whether that be taken at mezzogiorno or a cena) in the morning. This is when people visit and the cook can chat, catch up with the latest gossip and prep a substantial meal. I would watch many such occasions as a child and marvel at how organised and easy it seemed.

(I would also marvel at just how much bitching would go on.)

But, I never managed this level of organisation and I thought the slow cooker would help. As these things go, I started looking at entry level slow cookers and before I knew what I was doing, I had ordered a top of the range slow cooker and pressure cooker combined – a huge hulk of a stainless steel beast, the Fast Slow Pro by Heston for Sage (before anyone thinks I am on a salary from them, I am not, this is literally only one of two Sage appliances I own, the other one being an insanely priced waffle maker which is brilliant but I don’t recommend anyone buy because no-one can like waffles that much.)

It is an electric model, so you can use it anywhere there is a plug (no need for a stove top).

Of course, the purchase of lots of books on slow cooking and pressure cooking followed and I realised that most people were either evangelical about one type of cooking, or another. But you can be a fan of both and this lets you be.

Slow cooking, in case you don’t know, is just like cooking something on a stove top or in an oven at a very low temperature for a very long time. The difference is, because the slow cooker is sealed, no moisture gets out so things stay very moist. I have done the best ‘roast’ chicken in this ever, you then reduce down the gravy, in the same slow cooker pot, using the reduce function which is the equivalent of a pan on the hob simmering away.

Moist is not a bad word.

Pressure cooking cooks things under, er, very high pressure so it cooks things very very fast. It is particularly good for cooking dried pulses etc.

The beauty with either is that you just put it in the pot, turn the lid and leave it. I can’t comment on other appliances but mine is all digital and you set a timer and it does it all for you.

I mostly use mine for making stock and bolognese, which is brilliant cos I chuck everything in and do it on a slow cooker 12 hour timer overnight. I use the pressure cooker for things like ribs (does them in an hour * they are literally falling off the bone when they come out which may not be to everyone’s liking) and pulses.  But you can cook loads and loads of things in it, I am only just starting.

*The pressure cooker takes time to come up to pressure and also to release the pressure so if it says it does it in an hour remember to factor in these things.

It’s also brilliant at reducing (you leave the lid up) as you can reduce, say, a stock on a timer and leave it whilst you do other stuff. Obvs you can do this with an ordinary sauce pan, on the hob, but you don’t have to worry about going back and switching it off.

It has a ‘keep warm’ function so once it has finished its main cooking, it will keep things warm for two hours. Great if you are a bit nebulous about a coming home time.

In short this is a brilliant bit of kit – huge so think about where you’re going to put it – and I’ve had it for several months now and I really rate it.

Post script, summer 2017. I have had this for about 18 months now and it is easily one of the best bits of kitchen kit I’ve ever bought. I use it loads and it is a marvel. Buy it.

Tab grabber, aka a clever way to keep hold bits of paper

Tab grabber. Just one small section..

Tab grabbers are those things you see in restaurants. You place an order, the waiter writes it on a piece of paper and then s/he sticks it into a tab grabber for the kitchen staff.

Well they’re also a great way of holding other bits of paper in the home. I have an entire run of them under my window sill, right by my desk. And although a part of it is used to keep drawings that my children do for me, I use them largely to hold invites to forthcoming work events.

You can get them in all different lengths, or obviously use more than one. They’re like metal bars with marbles inside, and it’s the marbles that hold the bits of paper up.. Bit hard to explain unless you know what I’m talking about…No sticky tape or drawing pins are needed so it’s a great way to just hold stuff and because of this especially easy and safe for children to use. Purposeful, industrious, totally unmarking. You can stick them on the wall – they come with sticky pads – or screw them in, I strongly recommend the latter.

We also have one on the back of the front door for things to remember: shopping lists, letters to post, those bits of paper you have to return to school. Note: you can also use them for photographs, but you lose about an eighth of the photo in the marble bit.

They cost from about £10. Just put Tab Grabber into Google. You can get them from various places on line that don’t pay their taxes. Or try commercial kitchen shops.

Stylus pens for iPad and iPhone

Stylus pens for use with iPhone and iPad.  Incredibly, they work.

Years ago, when electronic organisers first started making an appearance, you could get stylus pens to write on said appliances with. I always thought they were a bit wankerish. I mean, if I want to write with a pen, I’ll write with a pen.

I’ve got an iPhone and an iPad. My children regularly use the iPad (I don’t let them near my iPhone). I’m really not one of those people freaked by the thought of children and technology; but then, I’m a total technophile. I know how to control my technology and I’m not afraid of screens, and my children use them as part of a very balanced life.

But then, I got sent some sort of iPad magazine recently and in it were various ads for iPad/iPhone pens (I’m sure they work on other tablets/smart screens, but I don’t know, we’re an Apple household). This piqued my interest, since I thought they’d be really good for some apps on the iPad and  my partner has got really bad tendonitis from using his iPhone. So I reappraised my thoughts on stylus pens.

(Just to really smother myself in smugness, let me tell you that I taught myself to use my left hand – not naturally my dominant hand – to use my mouse ‘n’ stuff some years ago when I got such bad RSI I couldn’t turn the pages of a magazine. As I was a fashion editor at the time, not being able to turn the pages of a magazine was a really Big Bad Thing.)

Anyway I bought one that had good reviews from Amazon and weren’t too expensive: some are really dear. The one I bought is the Universal Capacitive Stylus Pen and it cost £5.99 for two. I wouldn’t really pay more than that: no need as you’re bound to lose it. Plus it may stop working in a few weeks: I’ll report back.

Thus far it’s really good. Great if you suffer from fat finger syndrome on the iPhone, but really comes into its own on the iPad for some of the apps that involve writing and drawing. Much more intuitive than using a finger. I don’t think I’d take it out with me but for around the house/on the iPad it really helps keep your hands in a more natural position that that swipe thing you have to do. Of course I’m NOT A DOCTOR and its use may lead to even worse injuries. But I trust the Daily Mail will keep us informed of those.

There is a lead that you plug into the headphone socket to keep it safe, but you have to unplug it to use it.

The Flour cupboard

We re-did our kitchen last year. Where once there was carved, dark oak cabinet doors there is stainless steel. Where once there was a dark brown (yes) sink with dark brown tap (yes) there is stainless steel. Where once there was the ‘smashy floor’ as my eldest called it (tiled and mean) there is wood. Where once there were three rooms: kitchen, loo, my study, there is now just one great, big muthaloving kitchen.

I joke that, had I got into bread baking before the kitchen was done, I’d probably have had an entire bakery area. It’s only part-joke since if I had the space, I’d surely do this. But I don’t do too badly. I have an entire cupboard dedicated to flour, all labelled. People laugh when they see this except they don’t seem to understand I do all this cos I’m lazy. I’m too lazy to be faffing around searching through identical-looking packets of flour, held chaste with Klip-its. I find organisation comforting, or as I often say to my boyfyhusband:

Organisation brings you freedom.

I find nothing odd in Monica from Friends behaviour. I have a labeller, too. With a labeller chaos is tamed.

Organisational beauty.

So anyway. I have these Lock and Lock Counter Top boxes which store about two bags of flour . I have four of these, for the four flours I use most and keep a stainless steel scoop inside to make life even simpler (do you have ANY idea how hard it is to find stainless steel scoops these days?). And then for the flours I use less frequently, such as rye and barley, I have the 1.8 Lock and Lock, which is incidentally, also the size I keep my sugars in. But they’re all in the Sugar Cupboard, which has no place here.

If you think I’m mad, have a look at this:

These are Martha Stewart’s ‘Creative Containers’.
You think these scissors ever get out of control? On the right are small spice jars containing glitter. Imagine IMAGINE if someone spilled any.

If you’d like to see more of Martha’s Craft Room, and believe me you do, then go here. If ever I feel like the world is too big and things are getting on top of me, I go and look at pictures of Martha Stewart’s estate and it makes me feel better knowing that in a large corner of Connecticut, a staff of 127 can keep order. Don’t forget to check out the ‘equipment barn’ whilst you’re there.

Moo mini cards

I’ve been meaning to write about Moo cards for ages. I love them. Specifically the mini cards. Since I first discovered them about two years ago, they’ve gone up two whole pounds in price, and they now cost £11.99 for one hundred.

What are they? They’re tiny cards which you can either customise with one hundred different photos (good luck uploading all of them!) or one photo one hundred times, or two photos fifty times…you get the idea.  Or you can buy the ready made packs and just customize the text at the back.

You can also customize the front with text

 
Sorry can’t work out how to flip image. You get the idea though.  
(All images © moo.com.)

I use them as business cards (you can also buy a holder that fits onto your keyring) and also as family cards, which double up as gift-tags (I am so clever!)

 
These are the design on my business cards, cos I love a sixties pattern.
 
These are the ones we used for Christmas.
 
They also do packs – this one is for “little girls”

For our little girl’s fifth birthday we got her the little girl pack above with her name on the back. She felt very grown up but promptly lost them somewhere in the house.

Need I point out that if you do put them in a holder that attaches to your keys, do NOT have the cards printed with your address on them.

Moo does other, excellent products and the service is superb. If I ever get married, I’m going to have our wedding invitations printed out on the Moo mini cards. Imagine: 100 invites for just £12. Obviously no good if you like to faff about the denier of tissue paper covering your invitation. But I’m not that girl.