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Retail Therapy, Baby

Posted on August 7th, 2020

Dave!In the middle of the Subprime Mortgage Crisis fiasco back in 2008 I was visiting with my sister over the mountains. As you may... or may not... remember, it was a horrific time to be alive. Thanks to Wall Street fucking over the American people (not to mention a financial crisis enveloping the world), there were a lot of people hurting. My retirement savings lost a huge amount of its value, and most all of my freelance work had dried up. After going to the grocery store my sister had to go to the mall for some reason and I tagged along. When we got there, I was shocked that the parking lot was jam-packed.

ME: "What are all these people doing here? Aren't we in the middle of a financial crisis?"
HER: "Retail therapy, baby."

I know it's a thing, but it's something I never understood. If I don't have money, I don't spend money. It's a novel concept to be sure, but once I climbed out of crushing credit card debt I decided I would do whatever I could to not get sucked back in again. If I go on vacation, I save for it. If I want to buy something, I save for it. If I have an emergency, I dip into the money I'm saving. The interest rate trap built into credit cards is a killer.

And now we're in the middle of another recession... one which makes the Subprime Mortgage Crisis look like a cakewalk.

And my way of dealing with all the uncertainty and horrors that plague us right now? Retail therapy, baby!

I bought a pricey new WiFi router last month and took the money out of my Annual Black Friday Shopping Savings. Probably could have saved some money if I had waited until Black Friday to buy it, but I needed higher speeds from my internet to make it so I can work from home more easily.

Yesterday was a pretty bad day and so I... uhhh... went a little retail therapy crazy.

Since my vacation to Amsterdam and London was canceled, I've been dipping into my Travel Savings. And why not? I may never get to travel again, so might as well do something with that money before I die. I ordered a new floor steamer. I ordered a bunch of exotic spices for cooking. I bought a bunch of movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store that were on sale. I ordered memory for my media server. I ordered materials for the kitchen remodel I'm working on. I ordered stuff to re-stock my medicine cabinet. I ordered some foods I like but don't normally buy to save money (Dutch Mayo FTW!). I even ordered some online storage to back up more of my travel photos! I didn't go into debt since this was all purchased with my savings, but it did feel weird spending money in a way I usually wouldn't dream of spending it.

And so... yeah. Blowing through Benjamins like there's no tomrrow here. I don't know that it makes me feel any better, but it did give me something to do.

And, at the rate we're going, there might not be a tomorrow anyway.

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Simply White and Artificially Flavoured

Posted on August 4th, 2020

Dave!My favorite paper towels are Brawny brand. But Brawny is owned by the Koch Brothers, so I buy Bounty brand.

I've been trying to use less paper towels in an attempt to live more sustainably, but there are some times that it's the perfect tool for the task at hand so I still buy them on occasion. Thanks to the pandemic, that's a hit-or-miss proposition lately. My small-town grocery had no name-brands available when I last went shopping so I ended up getting something called Simply White which totally sounds like a resort for white supremacists or something, but it was my only option...

   
And now... perhaps somebody can answer a simple question for me?

Why is it that cheaper brands can't make a paper towel which tears off the roll properly?

Because I've had to buy other cheap brands when I was on location for work... or I was too poor for name brands... or couldn't find anything else... and they ALL have one thing in common. THEY DON'T FUCKING RIP AS ADVERTISED! You go to rip one off the roll and it doesn't tear along the perforation, it tears everywhere except the fucking perforation!

So what is it? The major brands are the only ones who can afford perforating blades that are worth a shit? Cheap brands are manufactured by major brands who want them to suck so you won't buy them? The laws of time and space don't allow cheap brands to exist any other way? I don't get it.

The mind boggles.

And speaking of mind-boggling stuff... I just found out last night that most of the sourdough you buy in a store is not made from an actual sourdough culture. It's just regular old bread that has a sourdough flavoring. I was video-chatting with a friend and complained that the sourdough I bought tastes like it was made from chemicals.

"Probably because it was. Most mass-market sourdoughs you find at the grocery store are just flavored that way."

A few minutes Googling that shit and, sure enough, that's a thing.

Products are apparently designed to disappoint. On top of not being built to last.

Typical.

   

The Banana Flashback

Posted on June 5th, 2020

Dave!When I was a kid, we'd climb into our big Chevy Blazer each month after payday and head into the nearby Big City for dinner out (hopefully at Pizza Inn, my favorite)... then head to Prairie Market for groceries.

Prairie Market doesn't exist any more (neither does Pizza Inn, at least not here), but it was a discount warehouse grocer from the 60's which was most notable for all the inexpensive generic foods they sold. Black and white boxes. Black and white labels on cans and bottles. Black and white signs on the big bulk food bins. It was nothing like the "generic" foods sold today, which are essentially re-branded in-house store brands, these were generic-generic. And it all came rushing back to me when I removed the sleeve from my tub of Feta Cheese and saw this...

The lid of a tub of feta cheese which says CRUMBLED FETA CHEESE - KEEP REFRIGERATED on top in generic black lettering.

All of a sudden I was 4th grade again.

Just like shopping for groceries today, nothing at Prairie Market had prices on it. But unlike today, where things are rung up by their UPC bar code, at Prairie Market you grabbed a grease pencil and wrote the price on every item. My mom would pick out what she wanted. My dad would write the price on it with his impeccably perfect handwriting, then my brother and I would stack it on the giant slab cart (like you find at Home Depot) before heading to the next item.

It was a really smart way to shop, because the food was just as good as the name-brands you could buy (probably because the name-brand companies manufactured it) but cheaper because every aspect of the experience was done as cheaply as possible. In addition to not paying to price-sticker stuff, they didn't stock anything on the shelves. They just cut the face off the case and threw it on a rack. There were checkers to ring you up, but they had to key-in every item. And they were fast. You bagged your own groceries, of course (in real paper bags, natch).

I don't remember when Prairie Market closed. I think in the late 70's or early 80's maybe? Probably when all the grocery chains started consolidating and developed their own name-brand alternatives. And UPC code scanners came along.

The giant cement building that Prairie Market built is now a toy store-slash-sporting goods store. I shop there once or twice a year, and I'm able to remember exactly how it used to be every time. The ghost of all those generic packages still haunt me.

As do the banana chips.

One hot summer day we ended up buying a big bag of dried bulk banana chips. Then my brother and I ate them all the way back home. In a hot car. For twenty minutes. Not long after we pulled into the driveway I was puking my guts out and everything tasted... and smelled... like bananas to me for days. It was years before I could eat banana chips again. And I still can't eat them alone, even to this day. Only if they're scattered in a trail mix or something. And even then I have unpleasant flashbacks.

If only food prices were as cheap now as they were at Prairie Market back then.

Holy crap are things expensive now. Even when adjusted for inflation, food in 1970's was crazy cheap compared to today. Vegetables for 15¢ to 20¢ a can? I think only meat and dairy are cheaper now (with adjusted pricing) than they used to be... and that's thanks to government subsidies artificially making them cheaper. Without it, I'm sure they'd have massive price tags like everything else.

But, hey, the packaging is prettier, so there's that.

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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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