Preventing Cellphone/Smartphone Robocalls

This week is National Consumer Protection Week which makes this the perfect time to talk about ways to protect yourself from those annoying automated telemarketing calls, known as Robocalls, which have long been a landline nuisance and now are the bane of cellphone users.  With consumers discontinuing use of landlines, those shady marketers are making those same calls to our private cell phones/smartphones.  The FTC says it is the number one consumer complaint the agency receives.   Not only are the calls a nuisance, Consumer Reports that deceptive marketers use robocalls to commit fraud and rip off vulnerable consumers to the tune of an estimated $350 million every year.

With  VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or in more common terms, phone service over the internet, marketers, scammers, and phony agents can make millions of calls a day at no charge.  The DO NOT CALL Registry does not stop VOIP calls.  Making it worse, is that these fraudsters can spoof their number to make it appear as a call from your neighbor, family, FBI, IRS, or any other legitimate source.

While the cell phone companies say they are working on the problem, they do not agree on an immediate solution to solving the problem even though the technology exists to bring it to an end.  Therefore, it is up to the consumer to protect themselves.

There are ways to fight back and the good news is that there are several apps that will block these calls.  As always, only use apps provided by your phone manufacturer such as the ITunes store or Google Play.  CITA (Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Assn, a Washington DC, non-profit, advocacy group representing the wireless communications industry that enables Americans to lead a 21st century connected life) offers a listing of apps for Android, Blackberry, iOS (Apple) and Windows.  Some top rated apps from these services include:


Mr Number

Privacy Star

Calls Blacklist

True Caller


Hiya (formerly Whitepages)

Before downloading/installing an app to your research.  Be sure to read carefully to understand how the app works, make sure it meets your needs, understand costs, if any, and know what personal information may be requested from your phone.

Trying one of these apps on your smartphone may well add more ‘smartness’ to your phone.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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New Guidelines for Screen Time

Screen timeMany children probably received gifts with screens on them last Christmas. Digital media can have both positive and negative effects on healthy development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced new recommendations for children’s media use. Research is still too new on the devices and their content, however educational, and how they could affect a young brain’s emotional and cognitive development but there are some basic guidelines to consider. What is most important is that parents monitor the media use and talk to children about it.

Here are the basics of the new recommendations:

Under 18 months ~ limit screen time to “video chatting” with family and friends and with a parent present

18 months to 5 years ~ One hour of “high quality” programing per day. It is best to have parent involvement watching along with their child to reinforce what they are seeing on the screen

6 years plus ~ balance media use with other healthy behaviors

Problems arise when children are allowed screen time in place of other activities such as physical activity, social face-to-face interaction, and sleeping. Communication and role modeling are key to the healthy use of screen time for children.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Need a new password?

Closeup of Password Box in Internet Browser

There have been a number of stories in the news recently about security breaches in large companies. Usually, these are companies that we would assume are safe.  The message at the end of all these stories is usually about the importance of changing your password regularly.  It can be difficult to follow the suggestion to regularly update your password for each account.  If we think about the number of passwords the average person has, it can be a bit overwhelming to think about regular updates.

I know that I struggle with having enough different passwords for all my different accounts. The internet experts advise us not to use the same password on multiple accounts and not to write those passwords down on paper.

Here are a few more tips for keeping your accounts safe:

  • Never share your password with anyone.
  • Choose a password that is easy for you to remember.
  • Choose a password that is difficult for others to guess.
  • Don’t use a password on multiple accounts.
  • Stay away from using your name or other family member or pet’s names.


Here are some suggestions for choosing a difficult to guess but easy to remember password.

  • Longer passwords are better than short passwords. Try to use at least 8 characters.
  • Use the first letters of the words in a sentence that is easy for you to remember but hard for anyone else to guess. My First Car Was ­A Green Chevy.
  • Use punctuation in those sentence passwords to get to 8 characters. Remember that the punctuation does not necessarily need to be placed at the end of the sentence. Your password could look like this. MFCW!AGC. You can use additional punctuation and numbers to reduce the chance that anyone could guess your password.
  • Choose several words that do not typically go together, or choose a short phrase.

I plan to use some of these ideas to revise passwords on many of my accounts as the new year begins.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Electric Pressure Cookers


Recently one of AnswerLine’s Facebook followers asked about electric pressure cookers and Instant Pot.  Not knowing much about either myself, I promised to do some research and share what I learned.  This is a timely question as Electric Programmable Pressure Cookers (EPPCs) have increased in popularity in recent years and Consumer Reports has included an electric pressure cooker in its Holiday Gifts for the Family Chef  article. With anything new, there comes lots of questions:  are EPPCs safe, is pressure cooked food nutritious, does cost equate quality, and are these cookers/pots all they are cracked up to be? The noted promise of an EPPC is to save you time so you can eat well.  So if you are thinking about putting an electric pressure cooker on your holiday list, here are some things you will want to know.

Pressure cookers have long been noted to decrease cooking time, reduce energy consumption, and retain nutrient quality equal to or higher than that of foods cooked by other methods.  In today’s world, the consumer has a wide choice of pressure cookers ranging from the conventional stovetop pot to the EPPCs known as the Third Generation of pressure cookers which are safer and easier to use with the big advantage of convenience over stovetop models—you don’t have to watch the pot!  A Cook’s Illustrated article points out some disadvantages of EPPCs to stove top models which included capacity, non-stick coatings, inadequate handles, weaker heating elements, and storage issues.

Nearly all EPPCs these days are multi-cookers that include slow-cooking, searing, sautéing, simmering, steaming, yogurt making, and warming functions.  An Instant Pot is simply one of many multi-cookers designed to replace a slow cooker, EPPC, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot.   These cookers may be touted as “6 in 1” or “7 in 1” which really mean very little.  The multi-cooker that does what you want it to do is the most important consideration.  While there are many websites that provide information and/or recommendations on EPPCs or multi-cookers, Utah State University Extension tested five different cookers and compared several consumer considerations including safety features, ease of operation, cleaning, and special features.  Based on their tests, the following features were deemed the most important to consider before purchasing an EPCC:

  1. Look for a safety valve that locks the appliance while still under pressure.
  2. A spring-loaded venting system (quick-release vent) delivers the best and most consistent performance.
  3. Look for a pressure setting of 10psi or above.
  4. Detailed trouble shooting/safety sections and thorough instructions on use and care in the User’s Manuel is a must.

Last, but not least, I must address the difference between a pressure cooker whether it is a stove top  model, an EPPC, or a multi-cooker AND a pressure canner.  A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner and should NEVER be used for canning.  Often, the two are used interchangeably in conversation and I want to make it clear that they are NOT!  A pressure canner is designed to CAN  low-acid foods for storage in canning jars at a temperature higher than boiling water.  Pressure cookers are designed to cook everyday foods and as such heat up and cool too quickly to adequately process canned food safely.  Articles by Oregon State University Extension Service, Michigan State University Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preseration provide great and detailed information on the difference between pressure cookers and canners and why cookers cannot be used as canners.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for disposing of your old cell phone!

If your cell phone isn’t the “latest and greatest”, you are likely thinking about replacing it. If it is the “latest and greatest” you are probably wondering how to dispose of the old phone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you have several choices.

The first thing you want to do is to remove all private and sensitive information that is on the FullSizeRenderphone. Old phone numbers, passwords, account numbers, voicemails, and text messages.  It is important not to let anyone have access to your information.

Some devices have a “restore factory settings” option. If you do use this option, be sure that YOU have all the information, passwords, texts, and pictures that you want to keep before resetting your phone.  Your owner’s manual or online owner’s manual may have detailed instructions for resetting your phone.  Follow them carefully.  You will also want to remove any apps that you downloaded to your phone.  They too can contain sensitive information.

You may also need to remove or clear the SIM or SD card in your phone. Your provider may help you transfer the SIM card or the information on the card to your new phone.  SD cards can hold pictures or other information that you would like to protect.  You may need to remove both cards physically from the phone to be sure your information is protected.

Be sure to double check that you have, in fact, removed the date after your reset. Look at your

  • phone book
  • logs for both dialed and received calls
  • voicemails
  • sent and received emails and text messages
  • downloads and other folders
  • search histories
  • personal photos

Now that your phone is “clean”. You have several options for disposal. The phone can be recycled or donated to a charitable group. Check with your phone carrier for options available locally.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Cleaning Electronic Screens

Cleaning monitorsI am amazed at the number of electronic screens in my household. Between the computer screens, television screens, I Pad screens, and I Phone screens, I seem to have a great many finger prints to remove on a regular basis!  Here are a few simple steps to keep in mind when cleaning electronic screens:

  1. Use a microfiber cloth or soft, lint-free cloth that has been slightly moistened with plain water. Never use paper towels, as they can scratch the surface of the screen. Wipe the screen gently to remove dust and fingerprints.
  2. For glass CRT (television-style) monitors, use an ordinary household glass-cleaning solution and a soft, lint-free cloth or microfiber cloth. Never spray the cleaner directly onto the screen. Instead, spray the cloth, then use on the screen.
  3. Do not use alcohol or ammonia-based cleaners on the monitor unless the manufacturer recommends differently. They can possibly damage the anti-glare coatings. Follow the same instructions on television screens.

Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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