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Shop ’til You Drop… Dead

Posted on May 27th, 2020

Dave!Last night I stayed up until 1:30am working, so I decided I deserved to leave work early today. So at 1:30pm I gathered my things... I hopped in my car... I screamed at the world... I sucked it up... and went grocery shopping.

This is most decidedly not something I wanted to do. If you remember last time I did this one month ago, it did not go well. I could have probably held out for another week... perhaps two... but I didn't like the consequences of doing so. At the end of that second week, I'd be eating saltines with ketchup or something.

As an added incentive? My Safeway Monopoly Instant Winner prize tickets expire tomorrow, and I will absolutely risk COVID-19 (and dealing with assholes) for $44 in free stuff.

Little did I know that 2/3 of my tickets could not be redeemed. So many of the things I was supposed to get for free or at discount were out-of-stock. Free bottle of hand-sanitizer? Don't make me laugh. Discount on Vlassic pickles? Nope. No Vlassic pickles to be had. Discount on chocolate milk? Denied. What I estimated to be $44 in savings ended up being... $17 total. Wheeee. My biggest score was a bottle of aspirin that I will never use. I only take Ibuprofen. But it was free, and who knows? Maybe one day I'll need it.

One hour and $200 in groceries later, I escaped no worse for wear.

That I know of, anyway.

I'd estimate that less than half of the people shopping with me were wearing masks. Which is not surprising. A lot of people here still think that the pandemic is a hoax, masks will kill you with carbon monoxide poisoning, and a litany of other nonsensical things. Logic has gone right out the window.

Which is why I'm more than a little worried about Washington State starting to open up again. Don't get me wrong, I certainly hope that we can reopen safely and not get a second bigger wave of COVID-19 infections, but it wouldn't surprise me after observing how some people are acting. If everybody was observing proper distancing, wearing masks, and generally giving a shit about other people, I'd feel a lot better about it.

Oh well. Not much I can do about it... except protect myself as best I can, look after others as best I can, and listen to people calling me names because of it.

   

Life Amongst the Assholes

Posted on April 28th, 2020

Dave!My allergies are not improving. In previous years my body manages to adjust after Spring starts springing. As I get older, it takes longer. But usually in early April I start to feel better. It's almost May and I am feeling worse. And last night in the middle of my geek documentary marathon, I ran out of the only thing that works... Benadryl.

I thought perhaps I could make it until I was done with work, but at 10am I couldn't take my running nose and itchy eyes any more and decided to put on my mask and head to the grocery store for more. While there I picked up some groceries which, much to my surprise, included toilet paper, paper towels, and flour! The only thing on my list I couldn't get was yeast and Comet cleanser scrub. I forgot to check and see if rice noodles were available this time (last time I found it strange that they were out of stock).

Grocery shopping was a horrific experience thanks to one dumbass who was proudly proclaiming that he was an asshole who wasn't going to wear a mask. Which, fine, whatever, you do you. Right now there's no law here about masks being required even though they help halt the spread of the Coronavirus, so be an idiot if you want to. But then he leaned into me as he was passing and said "You know, it's okay if you catch it!" which was rage-inducing. THIS is the kind of thing I worry about when forced to leave my home. There is ALWAYS going to be something out there... now it's COVID-19, later it will be something else... and some people are just going to be fucking assholes when it comes to the greater good and protecting their fellow citizens, friends, family, and neighbors. Just like drunk drivers, their stupidity hurts us all.

I did not react well to this particular asshole and said something I really shouldn't have. It was all downhill from there as I attempted to curb my allergies by taking way too much Benadryl. Not a fun day to be sure.

And so... $190 spent restocking my pantry, refrigerator, and shelves for another month or two.

At which point I'll have to go out amongst the assholes again. Wheee.

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Groceries in the Face of Armageddon

Posted on March 31st, 2020

Dave!I have enough groceries to last another two or three weeks. Probably longer. I may be eating pasta with frozen vegetables and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but I will survive just fine. My cats have enough prescription food for another month. I also have two bags of "regular" dry food with a year left on the expiration date (which I keep on-hand for emergencies), so Jake and Jenny are good.

Because I've got food for a while I hadn't planned on a grocery store run... until I got a call from a friend in Seattle. They were wondering if I was headed to the store any time soon and, if I was, could I please pick up some things for their elderly mother who can't risk going to the store due to health concerns in our new COVID-19 Reality. I could drop them on her back porch and they would happily Venmo me money to cover the cost.

And so... off to the grocery store for me.

I figured that since I was going, I might as well cash in a bunch of Safeway Monopoly Instant Winner Free Product Tickets and Instant Winner Discount Coupons I won before they expire. I would also pick up ingredients I need to make more of my mom's Applesauce Bread...

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Applesauce
  • Walnuts

Well, silly me, the four things I needed were all out of stock. They did have applesauce and walnuts, but they were the tiny containers which cost a fortune, so I passed.

The lack of flour had me concerned about not being able to bake bread for much longer, so I ended up buying a loaf that I could freeze. I also bought Coke Zero, Lay's Potato Chips, and Quaker Brand Chocolate Rice Cakes. They are not things I need, but they are things I want. Surprisingly, produce was in good supply so I picked up some onion, garlic, cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, and tomatillos to add some nice variety to my meal planning.

Plus I bought two apples, just because it would be nice to have a fresh fruit treat in the face of armageddon.

The store had everything on my friend's mom's list except paper towels and toilet paper, of course, but I had some extra rolls to stick in with her groceries so it was all good. Most of the things she wanted were prepared foods like soups and boxed/frozen meals, all of which were in good supply.

Atmosphere at the store was generally cheery. People didn't seem overly-angsty or angry. A few people with facemasks and gloves and everybody trying to keep their distance... but otherwise it was just like any other shopping day.

Except I won free AAA batteries, free cooking spray, and a free sesame bagel playing Safeway Monopoly, so that was a bonus. And these days I'll take as many bonuses as I can get, thanks.

Tonight I continued my Quentin Tarantino movie marathon, but I watched only one Tarantino film, Jackie Brown. That way I can have Kill Bill parts 1 and 2 as a double feature tomorrow night...

Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown Movie Poster.

Jackie Brown is an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, a book I ran out and bought immediately after finding out it was the basis for this amazing movie. Surprisingly, the movie follows the book fairly closely. There's some elements jettisoned from the secondary characters out of necessity, but Jackie's story is pretty much left intact. She's an airline flight attendant running drugs for the wrong people and just trying to get by in life and get out of a life of crime. It's really smart and surprisingly funny in spots. What's nice about reading the book after seeing the movie is that you can imagine Tarantino's version of the characters while you read plus get additional details as to everybody's back-story and motivations. Rum Punch is a sequel to another Elmore Leonard novel called The Switch, which is also very much worth reading (which could be said of most everything Leonard ever wrote).

And because the prequel to Jackie Brown was The Switch and because that book had been adapted into a movie called Life of Crime (starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins), I decided to watch it to complete my double feature since I hadn't seen it before (iTunes $7.99)...

Life of Crime Movie Poster.

Surprisingly, it's a decent movie! I mean, not Jackie-Brown-level-great, but still worth a look. The plot is the same as Ruthless People in that a wealthy woman is kidnapped and held for ransom only to have an adulterer husband who wants her dead anyway and refuses to pay. Ordell Robie is played by Mos Def instead of Samuel L. Jackson... and Louis Gara is played by John Hawkes instead of Robert DeNiro... so there's a considerable adjustment you have to make mentally, and yet there are certainly worse actors you could have cast as younger versions of the originals! The movie is definitely worth a watch if you're a fan of Elmore Leonard and Jackie Brown (though I thought Ruthless People was more entertaining).

And now I think it's time for a crisp apple and a Quaker Brand Chocolate Rice Cake to top off my evening's events. Good thing I ended up at the grocery store today.

   

Bullet Sunday 647

Posted on January 26th, 2020

Dave!I may be ankle-deep in sawdust, but here I am... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Push Back. The impeachment trial is absurd. There is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in a number of areas, and it's clear the president is exploiting his office for personal gain at every possible opportunity. But because Republicans in The Senate are 100% willing to enable his abhorrent behavior, he's going to remain in office. Which is why This post from Dan Rather is so important. "As many of us focus on the news out of Washington, let us not forget on these cold, winter nights, many are struggling with hunger and hopelessness. There are the lonely, the homeless, the sick, and scared. Service to others is a way to push back at the cynicism of our times."

   
• TEMPORARY! OH MAN! TIME TO STOCK UP MY FREEZER! YOU SIMPLY CANNOT BEAT THESE SAVINGS!!!

Mission Street Taco pricing... regular $1.89, NOW JUST $1.88!!!

As I've made known many, many times, I rarely buy anything at the grocery store that's not on sale. I build my meals around what I can find that's inexpensive. I very nearly grabbed these for taco night until I was like "Wait a minute! Aren't these usually about $2?!?" Stores are pretty devious. They expect people will grab something on sale without looking for how much it's on sale.

   
• Dance Dance Dance. A new bird has been discovered. It's feathers are like a black hole, absorbing most light. This results in a very cool mating dance you gotta see...

It's amazing that we keep discovering new animals as scores of others are going extinct.

   
• Scraps. It's hard to complain about working on the weekend when I get to set up my wood shop and build displays! I cut the pieces for a rack display I will assemble tomorrow, and now I am building a half-dozen little fruit-crate-inspired booklet displays. They will have a small standee sitting next to them with info and pricing...

Wooden display stands for small booklets.

As thrifty as I am for my own projects, I've doubly so when spending money for work. The stands had to be heavy so they wouldn't move... and deep so they wouldn't tip over. I made the tray part look nice, then used whatever scraps I had laying around for the back-stops since they don't show. Works like a charm, and they ended up costing a whopping $2.20 each. =sigh= Designing and building displays is the best part of my job. Wish I got to do more of it.

   
• Peanut Hell. Killing time until 10:00 so I can fire up the power tools... I'm watching SNL from last night with Adam Driver. The cold open takes place in hell where Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials is visiting. She sold her soul to the devil so she could be on television forever. THEN can you guess what commercial comes on? Just guess! I hope that was planned and SNL contacted Progressive to have it happen, because that's genius.

Flo from Progressive in hell with Mr. Peanut and the guy who rote Baby Shark song in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

In other news... POOR MR. PEANUT! Guess he shouldn't have killed all those kids with peanut allergies!

   
• Art. I recently read a Facebook post by Rachael Eliot Barker that's so important to me that I am reprinting it in its entirety...

"Recently, there was a dust-up over The Comedian, a piece in which Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana to the wall of a gallery and sold it for $120,000. A gallery patron made additional news by pulling the banana off the wall and eating it. Interviews made it clear that everyone involved was trolling. The saga was catnip to people who believe that conceptual art is full of shit.

Maurizio Cattelan is clearly full of shit, but his work begs the question: could an artist ever walk into a gallery with some snacks, say 'This may look like something I picked up at the bodega on the way here, but it is in fact my Art, behold my Art,' and NOT be full of shit?

In my opinion, the answer is yes.

My opinion is heavily informed by this 1991 piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is a pile of free candy. Visitors are invited to take one piece of candy. Frivolous, right? The piece may be staged in any gallery that follows a few simple rules. The most important rule is that the pile should weigh 175 pounds.

175 pounds was the healthy weight of Gonzalez-Torres’ partner Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS.

González-Torres had a Roman Catholic background, and taking the candy is meant to be an act of communion. The patron partakes in the “sweetness” of Ross while participating in his diminishment and torturous death.

The decision to use candy has political significance. In 1991, public funding for the arts and public funding for AIDS research were both the hottest of hot-button issues. HIV positive gay male artists were being targeted for censorship. González-Torres was desperate to be heard, and part of the logic of Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) was that you can’t censor free candy without looking ridiculous. The replicability of the piece makes it indestructible; González-Torres had an intuitive, ahead-of-its-time understanding of virality that came from dealing with an actual virus rather than the internet.

I’ve never seen this piece staged, but I think about it all the time. The artist, sadly, is no longer with us. But we will always have the most brilliant, heartbreaking free candy to ever be heaped in a corner. The key to conceptual art is storytelling — how well can you tell a story without words OR a “proper” picture? The banana on the wall sucks because it doesn’t tell a story about anything but attention-seeking and greed. I can’t stand Banana Guy or the media coverage surrounding him because stunts like that make people close their minds to unconventional art and storytelling, which can be just as sophisticated and moving as conventional art and storytelling."

A corner in a white-walled art gallery. There is a large mound of multicolored candy piled up in the corner.

I always assume that there's a story like this behind every artistic endeavor. I may not understand it... I may dismiss it... I may not like it... I may disagree with it... and all that is okay. So long as it means something to the artist and not just a stunt, I can at least respect them putting themselves out there like this.

   
And that's it for Sunday bullets.

   

Soles of a Traveler

Posted on December 2nd, 2019

Dave!My boots and half of my Black Friday shopping spree bounty showed up today.

I have to say I'm more than a little sad to let my old boots go. I've literally been around the world in them (and the bottom of the world as well), so I am thinking of taking them to the local shoe shop to see if something can be done (they've been around these parts for 99 years!). With exception of the badly-worn soles they're in perfect shape and still look great. My new boots are nice too, I just think it's a genuine waste to toss out something if they can be repaired...

A photo of my new boots that look rugged in their forest green and balck... plus my old shoes which look nice except for the soles which are literally falling off the boot!

I gave up on wearing tennis shoes decades ago, much preferring a light hiking boot. They're more comfortable, easy to slip in and out of when you tie the laces low, and can be quickly laced up for those times you need good protection for your feet. For a traveler who can end up anywhere and everywhere they're everything I need. The last pair of non-dress-shoe shoes that I bought 25-30 years ago sit in my closet barely used.

As I mentioned, I had a few bucks left over from everything I was saving to buy, so I got a copy of the LEGO Jurassic World video game. I was surprised to see that when you order something LEGO, Amazon will put it in a cool LEGO Star Wars box...

An Amazon box with LEGO Darth Vader using The Force to lift LEGO bricks over a LEGO Stormtrooper!

An Amazon box with LEGO Darth Vader has imprisoned the LEGO Stormtrooper in a jail cell made of the LEGO bricks!

So clever!

In sadder news, the world received notice that BUB had passed.

She was such a sweet cat who faced a difficult life with an optimism that inspired a lot of people... and raised a lot of money and awareness for homeless pets. It was so very hard to follow along with her latest health crisis knowing that she was probably nearing her end... but, as always, she was doing her best to be happy and live her best life...

BUB the cat with her Dude... both when he got her in June of 2011 as a kitten, and before he lost her on December 1, 2019... she has a large growth on the side of her face that musy be painful, but she still looks happy!

I cannot fathom my life without Jake and Jenny, so my heart goes out to Mike Bridavsky and the loss he is suffering. I find it amazing how he was so dedicated to such a special cat, and grateful for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he worked tirelessly to raise in support of animals.

Rest in peace, BUB, you will be missed by a great many people.

   

In Blackest Friday

Posted on November 29th, 2019

Dave!And... my one shopping day of the year is here! Every month I put aside $100 for clothes and "other stuff" then wait until Black Friday to buy all the clothes and "other stuff" I need. $100 a month is quite a chunk of cash to not have in my pocket, but worth it when I end up with $1200 in November that magically becomes $2400 (or more!) on Black Friday thanks to all the sales and savings.

Below I refer to "Rakuten Cash Back" in a lot. Rakuten bought out eBates and have taken over their cashback operations. It's a pretty easy way to save even more money on Black Friday (or any other day) and you can sign up to get $10 right off the bat with my referral link right here.

And now? On with my Black Friday scores...

   
AKASO DASH CAM! • Reg. $66, Paid $38 (after Amazon cash back)
My previous dash cam was $20 and has lasted for four years before falling apart and going glitchy. As I mentioned, I am afraid to drive without one given how crazy distracted drivers are, so I was hoping hoping hoping I could get a nice one on sale. I was going to buy another $20 camera, but the cheap ones force you to remove the tiny memory card every time you want the footage. With a WiFi model like this you can just connect with your iPhone and grab the video directly. Handy! Plus... GPS! Worth the additional $18.

The AKASO dash cam which is a small wedge-shaped plastic doohickey with a small screen and some buttons.

   
SHOES! • Reg. $170, Paid $128
I should have bought shoes last Black Friday, but I thought I could get one more year out of the pair I have. I'm not rough on shoes... they usually last me four or five years... so a little Shoe Goo will keep them together right? They still look great... it's just the soles that are falling apart. But back in August the soles fell complete apart. My plan was to buy a cheap pair of $20 shoes, rip the soles off, then glue them on mine. This seemed extreme. Instead I used more Shoe Goo to piece everything together. It worked surprisingly well. But I needed new shoes. I would have loved to have found the same model I had before... but of course shoe companies don't do that. I also would have loved to have spent under $100... but of course the shoes I found that I liked weren't under $100. Oh well. It's still 25% off, which is better than nothing.

My bad-ass new shoes being all black and forest green.

   
ALEXA! Reg. $99 • Paid $33 (with trade-in and Amazon cash back)
I bought a SONOS One for my bedroom. It's absolutely fantastic, and fills the room with amazing sound. Problem is, the AirPlay 2 on it is glitchy as hell, which means the audio has constant drop-outs when I'm playing content from my Apple TV. And Apple TV keeps "forgetting" that the SONOS exists, so I am having to reconnect several times a week. It's maddening, because 95% of the time I'm using it for my television. And so I decided to get an Echo (3rd Gen.) which has a 3.5mm audio line-in that I can run directly from my television. I traded in the old Amazon Echo I have in the bathroom for $25, so it ends up being a $35 spend. No, the sound won't be as good as my SONOS One, but it's gotten good reviews for its quality and will be good enough... plus I can transfer the SONOS One to my upstairs bathroom, which will be amazing for listening to music each morning while I shower and get ready.

An Amazon Echo cylidner plus a cutaway view showing the speaker array inside.

   
iTUNES! GIFT CARD • Reg. $100, Paid $70 (with Rakuten Sign-up Bonus)
As is my custom every year, I buy a $100 iTunes gift card at 20% off to cover the Marvel movies and sale movies I buy each year. I joined Rakuten and they gave me $10 cash back for my first purchase, so this year it was an especially sweet 30% off!

   
OUTDOOR NEST CAM! • Reg. $199, Paid $159
I have two camera systems. A wired system with local recording that has a battery backup and will run even with no power or internet... and a Nest cloud system which is constantly uploading footage to the internet. The Nest cameras are fantastic, but I was ready to ditch them all because the per-camera cloud service cost was absurdly expensive. But they made an announcement a while back that this would be changing to a much cheaper "bulk plan" where all cameras would be covered for one price. Given this, I decided to keep all my Nest cameras and replace a failed outdoor camera with another Nest. But not the new "Nest Cam IQ" which has the stupidest mounting requirements (DRILL A HOLE THROUGH YOUR HOUSE!), I got the original Nest Cam Outdoor. I budgeted to get it for $129, but the savings ended up being less steep than I had hoped.

The Nest Outdoor Cam which is a sexy white thing with a lens on it... and a butterfly on top.

   
HELLO! • Reg. $229, Paid $149
The first smart doorbell I had was the original "Ring" model. It was huge, but it worked well. Then Ring sent me an offer I couldn't refuse... a 4th generation smaller "Ring Pro" model upgrade for a fraction of the retail price. Sadly, it has never worked as well. But an even bigger problem with Ring is that it is SO slow. By the time they notify you that somebody has rang your doorbell, they've long gone. And trying to review the cloud footage is futile because it takes forever for it to upload and be available. Since my Nest cloud cameras are always available instantly and very quick to notify, I've wanted to get a Nest Hello doorbell replacement. Now that Google Nest is having a bulk deal on cloud services for multiple devices come 2020, this was a no-brainer.

The Nest Hello Smart Doorbell... looks like a small device with a button at the bottom and a camera lens at top.

   
PRESSURE COOKER! • Reg. $120, Paid $35 (after Rakuten cash back)
I already mentioned this one earlier this week. Thanks to a goof by a website (they switched the sale prices of the 6-quart and 8-quart for half-a-day) I finally got an Instant Pot (or, to be more accurate, an Instant Pot knock-off) for $35. SCORE! I bought this as a flawless egg cooker, but have ended up using it for lots of stuff. Not something I had planned on buying (or had budgeted for) but I was happy to find it.

My Best Buy Pressure Cooker Instant Pot Knock-Off.

   
UNDERWEAR! • Reg. $102, Paid $46 (after Rakuten cash back)
Half of my skivvies are literally falling apart. But I keep wearing them and repairing them because I need enough that I can do full loads of laundry. Fortunately, Old Navy had an EVERYTHING IS 50% OFF SALE plus free shipping on orders of $50 or more. I was able to get 10 pair of quality underwear, some socks, and a couple pair of touch-screen-friendly gloves for $51. Old Navy tends to hold up pretty good, so that was money well-spent. Especially since I earned $40 in SuperCash I can spend on more Old Navy, plus $5 cash-back from Rakuten, which means I am essentially getting all this for $6?!? (assuming I spend the $40).

Some cool Banana Republic underwear and socks!

   
CLOTHES! • Reg. $947, Paid $367 (after Rakuten cash back)
My favorite jeans, hands down, are Banana Republic slim-fit. They are comfortable, look good, and (most importantly) they last forever. Seriously, I have jeans from four years ago that look new. Unfortunately, my American Eagle jeans do not hold up as well and are needing to be replaced. I took Banana Republic up on their 50% off Black Friday offer and buy four pair. With the Rakuten cash back, they're knocked down to $41.25 a pair! SCORE! Then I headed over to The Gap and Banana Republic Factory for some dress shirts, T-Shirts, casuals, and gloves at 60% off off $480 plus $20-something in Rakuten cash back. Not too shabby.

Banana Republic slim-fit jeans on some guy with brown boots and a sweater shirt. And a long-sleeved poplin shirt on some other guy.

   
Grand total? $1025 spent for $2032 in merchandise. Or almost exactly 50% in savings. With tax adding $82, my total spend this year was $1107. So... woohoo! I've got $93 left!

I should keep it in the bank and roll it over for next year... but... the LEGO Jurassic World video game for Nintendo Switch is on sale for twenty bucks!

A scene from the LEGO Jurassic World video game showing LEGO characters in cars and motorcycles running from a LEGO T-Rex.

   
I guess I'll just blow the remainder on cocaine and hookers. Does anybody know where I can find cocaine and hookers for $70?

And so there it goes. I now have enough new clothes and toys to last me until next Black Friday. And until then... time to start squirreling away another $100 a month. Which never seems like much fun until today.

   

More Than You Want to Read About Tomatoes

Posted on October 18th, 2019

Dave!Tuesday was payday, so last night I fired up my grocery store app and went to work. I don't buy stuff that's not on sale (if I can help it) so carefully shopping the "member savings" and the "in-store specials" and the "weekly ad" sections are how I buy food. If what I want isn't on sale, then I adjust my meal planning around stuff that is. Because if I'm not saving at least 25% (and ideally 40%) on my groceries, then I'm doing it wrong.

One thing I wanted quite badly was some whole, peeled, Italian tomatoes packed in purée. I use them to make my own pizza and pasta sauces. Naturally, what you want are authentic San Marzano tomatoes for their superior flavor compared to "regular" plum tomatoes... and, yes, you can tastes a difference. The flavor is more robust, the acidity is lower, and they've got a sweeter "vibe" to them. But finding them is always a crap-shoot. Most of the time you'll see "San Marzano STYLE" tomatoes, which aren't the same thing. And even when you find authentic DOP-certified San Marzanos, there's no guarantee that they're packed in San Marzano purée. In fact, you can almost count on them to not be. That, and rampant fraud in the industry where the can will say San Marzano but the tomatoes inside are not, is what makes them so tough to shop for... unless you are willing to pay big to get them from a reputable source and importer.

Take, for example, these fuckers...

A can of fake fucking San Marzano tomatoes.

Two things. First of all, they're crushed. Authentic DOP San Marzanos can only be sold "peeled whole." Second of all, despite bearing the name "San Marzano," a look at the fine print shows that they are grown domestically in the USA. The Italian language on the can is just for decoration. The way the assholes who sell these get away with it is because they claim to be using authentic seeds from San Marzano tomatoes. Except that doesn't mean shit, because it's not just the plant which produces superior tomatoes, it's the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius and the climate of the Naples region which makes them taste the way they do. Alas, that region is rather small, so true and authentic tomatoes from there are expensive and rare.

I don't have the money to be picky, so I just look at the three or four brands that I rely on to taste good and grab the one that's on sale. A couple of them come from the USA and are just fine. Indeed, I often end up with RedPack tomatoes which are terrific... and a product of Indiana. When I taste-tested them against a can of expensive imported authentic DOP San Marzanos, they hold up just fine.

Canned tomatoes are kinda a weird thing to be buying in the first place though.

To begin with, most stores won't have them stocked with the vegetables or the fruits (yeah, I know there's some confusion there but, technically, they're both). Canned tomatoes are in a section entirely unto themselves. That's how important a staple that tomatoes are to American consumers, I guess. When I was on my own, I just bought ready-made sauces or frozen meals. When I was taking care of my mom and wanted to try eating healthier, it took me forever looking at the canned foods aisle to realize they weren't with everything else. Most likely they were the next aisle over.

And what tomatoes did I end up with this time? Turns out that Tutta Bella Pomodoro di Napoli cans were on sale 2 for $7 (regular $3.99 each)...

Cans of Tutta Bella tomatoes in somebody's cupboard.
Image from Tutta Bella

Tutta Bella is a famous Certified Neapolitan pizzeria out of Seattle. They don't use authentic San Marzano's but instead a choice tomato from a nearby region of Southern Italy with the same properties. I like them a lot for cooking, but their price is pretty high... almost double the price for a can of RedPack... but I know they'll taste great in my pizza sauce, so I splurge when I find them on sale.

So now I can finally make some pizza!

But not really.

My rolling pin broke and so I have to wait for my new one to arrive. This time I am taking no prisoners and buying a metal pipe type rolling pin. No handles to break off!

Until I can afford a $2,500 pizza dough sheeter that will roll it out for me, it will have to do.

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The Cookie Conundrum

Posted on August 16th, 2019

Dave!Yesterday on my way back across the mountains I stopped at the grocery store. Braving the crowds while food shopping was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do after five hours of travel, but I didn't have much choice. My cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer were all bare.

Before I went to Maine back in July, I made sure to eat all the food that could spoil so none of it would be wasted. Then I got called to Las Vegas, still didn't want to buy any new food that would go bad, so I just kept eating absolutely everything I already had. The night before my flight, I shit you not, I had pickles and saltine crackers for dinner. Not something I was interested in repeating any time soon. And so... a stop at the grocery store it was.

My shopping strategy is simple. Never buy anything unless it's on sale.

I am not terribly picky about what I eat, so this makes it easy to buy ingredients or prepared meals only when they are cheap. Except... groceries are never cheap any more, so I guess I should say "cheaper than normal." Fortunately my local grocery store has an iPhone app with all their coupons, specials, and discounts, so I also save money by making my list ahead of time and only buying what's on the list. I never "browse" at a store because then I'll just end up buying stuff I want instead of what I need.

And so... I made my list on the plane and was ready to go when I got back home. This time I scored big because a lot of key ingredients I needed were on sale. Flour so I can make bread. Tomato sauce and tortillas so I can make enchiladas. Veggie dogs so I can make veggie dogs. That kind of thing.

Another reason I like a list? It keeps me from buying things I should not be eating.

There I was at the store looking for "Sargento Balanced Breaks" healthy snack packs (on sale plus I had a 75¢ off coupon for club members!) when I saw a package of "break and bake" raw cookie dough. Something I absolutely, positively, should NOT be eating. Usually it's easy to resist cookies... I just avoid that aisle in the grocery store, and am not terribly fond of cookies any more anyway... BUT FRESH-OUT-OF-THE-OVEN COOKIES?!? How could I NOT buy that? They weren't on sale, but the generic brand was so much cheaper than the name-brand version that they were practically on sale! Close enough! And since they are crappy generic, they probably taste awful and I'll just end up throwing them in the garbage anyway, right? Sold!

Tonight I gave them a try. Not so appetizing out of the bag...

Raw cookie dough cube that have been broken off.

But then? OH HELL NO! THESE THINGS ARE FRICKIN' MAGIC!!!

Gorgeous fresh overn-baked cookies from a bag of dough.

I'm not joking. These things are phenomenal. Probably because I haven't had a fresh out-of-the-oven cookie in a decade or more.

This is terrible.

I'm thinking I can restrain myself by baking no more than three at a time... and only baking them when I already have the oven heated from cooking something else. The loophole being that I can cook up a second batch of cookies because the oven will still be warm from cooking the first batch of three cookies.

At least I think that's how that works.

And now it's time for the new Invader Zim movie on Netflix! I am so psyched I can't even stand it.

   

Ultimate Cheddar Cheese Bagel

Posted on May 28th, 2019

Dave!Today was the last day to redeem coupons from Safeway's "Monopoly Shop Play Win" game. Whenever I was asked if I am playing, I always said "yes" even though I never played the actual game. I just wanted the free stuff and discounts from the coupons you get in the game piece tickets.*

And so... against my better judgement... I drove the 20 minutes to Safeway to claim my booty...

  • Free bagel or donut (4 of them).
  • Free sour cream (2 of them).
  • Free yogurt (2 of them).
  • Free pasta sauce.
  • Free Taco Seasoning.
  • Free $5 Safeway Gift Card (2 of them).
  • Discount coupons for Almond Milk, Doritos, and a half-dozen other things I actually eat.

A part of me was just going to skip the trip because I did not feel like going grocery shopping after the tough day I had... but... free stuff.

And call me crazy, but the prize I was most excited about getting was not the $10 in gift cards... it was the free bagels.

When it comes to bagels, I always buy the packages of Franz bagels when they go on sale for around $2.50. They are perfectly serviceable and delicious bagels, and I buy extra so I can freeze them for times there are no sales going.

But the bagel I crave is the Ultimate Cheddar Cheese bagel from the Safeway bakery. Not as good as an Asiago Cheese bagel, but I do love them so very, very much. Problem is, they are almost as expensive as four Franz bagels on sale, so I rarely have the opportunity to buy them. And here I am getting four of them for free!

There was no way I was passing up on that!

It was close enough to payday that I could buy my monthly groceries as well. Which goes something like this... 1) Is it on sale or do I get "Just 4U" club card savings? And 2) Is it something I will eat or want to try? If the answer to both of those are "yes" then it goes in my shopping cart. These days I don't buy anything that's not on sale... unless an emergency dictates otherwise (hey, sometimes you have to buy toilet paper, even if it's not on sale).

At the bottom of the receipt Safeway always tells you how much money you saved and I average 20%-30%. Today, thanks to Monopoly coupons, I reached 38%. That's pretty great. Though I should have cashed in all my free stuff on a separate transaction so I could have reached 100% savings. Then I could have framed the receipt.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's double Ultimate Cheddar Cheese bagels for dinner up in here...

Ultimate Cheddar Cheese Bages!

   
*The grand prize is something like $250 million, so I probably should play the main game... but it's such a huge amount of work with all those little pieces, and I never even got a game board to stick them on.

   

Gray Friday

Posted on November 23rd, 2018

Dave!Black Friday is the one day of the year I set aside to shop for clothes. Not in stores, of course... never in stores... but online. I put aside money every month so that when today arrives I can buy my clothes for the following year at 40% to 80% off. This year all my savings went to pay for vet bills, so I didn't end up buying a stitch of clothing. But it wasn't a big deal. I have a pile of summer clothes I bought for my Hawaii vacation (but didn't get to use because Jake got sick) and I still have loads of winter clothes left from the stuff I bought for Antarctica last year.

Guess I'll be wearing a lot of Hawaiian prints next year at Summertime. I rather like Hawaiian though, so I'll survive.

And so... no new clothes. But that doesn't mean I didn't purchase anything for Black Friday. On the contrary, I just blew my tax refund before I even have it! Something I try very hard not to do... but there were some bargains I could not refuse...

   
SONOS SUB
Ever since investing in the SONOS wireless speaker ecosystem (which I love, for the most part) I've been saving money for the subwoofer to complete my Dolby 5.1 setup. My existing SONOS speakers already have pretty good bass, but I miss that punch you can feel when watching movies. Problem is, the thing is SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!! The amount I've managed to save? $120. Which means buying a SUB was a few years off yet. And then SONOS went and had a Black Friday sale for $100 off the regular price...

SONOS Sub Speaker

I could not pass up $100 savings, even though I only had a fraction of the remaining $599 I needed. And so... there goes a huge chunk of my tax refund!

   
Philips Hue LED Smart Bulb Starter Kit
I was set against the Hue LED lights because they were hideously expensive and require a hub. Instead I went with hub-less bulbs that were a fraction of the price. And... you get what you pay for. The cheaper bulbs I bought are crap, and refuse to stay connected to the internet (even though they are practically sitting on top of my Google WiFi router). They also refuse to change color via IFTTT, which is what I use to remind me when it's recycle day. So I made up my mind that I'd invest in the Gold Standard of smart-bulbs (Hue) next year. But then Amazon had the $149.99 starter kit on sale for a ridiculous $79.99, and I couldn't pass that up...

Hue Hub Lighting Kit

The side-benefit of investing in Hue is that Alexa can control them directly, which is kinda nice. I probably won't be turning my porch lights on manually (they're programmed to turn off/on automatically based on sunrise/sunset times), but it's nice to know I could tell Alexa to do it if I needed her to.

   
iTunes $100 Gift Card
I buy all my apps, movies, music, and TV shows from Apple. Which is why I wait for Amazon to put their $100 iTunes cards on sale for $80, because it's like getting free money... money I'd end up spending anyway. I do this every year. Sometimes I get lucky and manage to find a different store (like Best Buy) who put theirs on sale as well. $200 covers the bulk of the stuff I buy at Apple in a year, so paying $160 is a no-brainer...

iTunes Card

UPDATE: I kept checking all day to see if Best Buy dropped their price. They just did. Not on the $100 card, but $10 off their $50 cards, so I got two of them. Sweet!

   
Dyson V7 Animal Absolute Vacuum
I am not a fan of Dyson. Their technology is great, but their construction is cheap. I still have the one I bought my mom sitting in the garage with a burnt out motor (which I really need to have fixed one of these days since it's still under warranty). So when I wanted to buy a cordless "stick" vacuum to replace the dying vacuum I use to clean my hardwood, it was not going to buy a Dyson. But when I did the research, the Dyson models came out on top every time. And so I bit the bullet and bought the model they make for pet hair (V7 Animal) because it was on sale for $240 (regular $399)...

Dyson V7 Animal Vacuum

I am really hoping that this last longer than my mom's upright, which didn't even make it a year. I'll only use it once or twice a month (Carl the RoboVac does the day-to-day cleaning) so fingers crossed.

UPDATE: I received a notice from Dyson that the V7 "Absolute" which also comes with a fluffy head for better cleaning on hardwood (which is all I have) was on sale for $238 (regular $450)... two dollars less than the "Animal" I bought that doesn't have the fluffy head! So, essentially I'm getting the $100 head for free, PLUS a "deep clean kit" that retails for $80... plus everything that comes with the "Animal" version. This is pretty shitty... why didn't Dyson offer this deal yesterday with all the other deals? And so... I ordered one of those and will just refuse delivery of the original shipment. If you buy direct you get a money-back guarantee, and I am definitely taking advantage of that.

   
What I Spent
My grand total for the day? $1078. Factoring in the $120 I had saved up for my SONOS SUB, I ended up putting $958 on my credit card (probably close to $1000 once tax is added). I loathe, loathe, loathe having credit card debt, but I'm trying to be okay with it since I'll be able to pay it off with my tax refund next year. Given that the full price of all the crap I bought was $1580, I can't complain about getting 1/3 off.

   
What I Didn't Buy
There were a few things I had in the back of my head to purchase. Stuff I want... not need. But once I ended up getting the SONOS SUB, everything else was taken off the table because that ate up way more money than I was wanting to spend. Guess these Black Friday deals will have to wait until next year...

  • Nintendo Switch Games — Probably wouldn't have time to play them much anyway, so I'm good.
  • Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones — I have a nice pair of wired headphones, so I'm good.
  • Cookware Set — The old stuff I inherited from my mom works fine, so I'm good.
  • Cat Tree — Jake and Jenny's cat tree is getting pretty raggedy. My ultimate goal is to build one that doesn't look crappy (like most all cat trees do). But, in the meanwhile, I was going to get a fresh replacement. Theirs still works just fine though, so they're good.

And so... until next year then...

   

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