Category Archives: Life

Journal-ish entries about my journey through this world

Make Better Coffee

So this post is going to border on “pretentious,” but not because I *want* to be pretentious about coffee. I just think the Bean Of Life™ deserves utmost respect and honor.

Also, we made coffee wrong for YEARS. I’m here to help you avoid my mistake – and up your coffee game to 💯.
via GIPHY

Hey! Good coffee is affordable

Great coffee has to start at the bean. You know that, I know that — but probably neither of us can afford to buy free range artisanal locally roasted coffee.  Granted, when I’m down for a splurge, we go for our local roaster‘s Tanzanian Peaberry.  But that’s special.

Our daily coffee is Trader Joe’s Dark Roast – we buy it whole-bean in the can when we’re at the store 45 minutes away (we go biweekly to stock up on bacon, chocolate, coffee, wine, and cheese – lol).

  • Grinding it ourselves means it’s fresher than pre-ground. If you ignore everything else in this post, buy yourself a grinder and whole-bean coffee of any kind. It’ll be an improvement.
  • TJ’s offers a 14oz can for about $8. It lasts us a week or so, depending on our coffee consumption.  We usually pick up one of the others and alternate for variety’s sake. (We drink coffee every morning and about every other afternoon, two sizable mugs.)
  • Joe’s Dark is consistently an even, solid flavor. It’s not complex. This isn’t the $40 wine kind of coffee, it’s the $5 Chianti that consistently tastes good with whatever you put on the table, and it’s cheap enough that you don’t mind drinking it every day.  It never tastes “sour” or bitter when we make it,  and is pretty forgiving if you add too much or too little.

Most of the coffee snobs on the internet (eg: Thrillist) disagree with us on this one, but oh well.  We know what we know, morning after morning.

You can buy TJ’s Dark Roast or any of their coffees at Trader Joe’s of course, but Amazon somehow carries this too?  – but it’s more expensive than in the store

Other good coffees we often use:

  • Komodo Dragon by Starbucks is consistently tasty. It doesn’t seem to have the “burnt” taste so common for Starbucks beans, and it’s delicious made through our quick pour-over method below.  If I get a Starbucks coupon, I use it on this or maybe blonde roast or Verona – we have good luck with those. Ditto the Christmas blend.
  • DazBog is a Western coffee roaster that nails it with great, bold flavor!  We have friends in Denver who spoil us by sending us DB coffee at Christmas, and let me tell you, we make every single bean count!
  • Counter Culture coffee is a hit in our local area, and we enjoy their brews at local shops. They ship nationwide and you can find their coffees in many places.
Make better coffee
Making Dazbog thanks to friends who shipped us some beans from Denver! You can see our Bodum in the back left, behind our faithful coffee grinder.

A better process for your morning brew

Here’s where you’re going to fight me. “I don’t have time for this! I need the coffee maker to click on by itself in the morning and run on its own!”

I get it; it’s hard to get rolling at 6am. Lord knows I haven’t willingly worked jobs that demand such a schedule unless I had my arm twisted. But YOU CAN DO THIS.

We use a Bodum, the filter that came with it (reusable), and a coffee grinder.  You’ll also need a water kettle.  Our picks are below.

Our Process: Perfect coffee every time

Step 1: Boil water – a couple minutes. I can eyeball it on the carafe, but you can pour water into your coffee mug and then from the mug into the water-pot or teapot until you get the knack.  And you’ve got a few minutes during this step to finish packing your lunch or whatever …. or start Step 2 (which is what I do).

Step 2: Grind coffee – 15 seconds.  We have learned that it takes “enough coffee beans to cover the center post and the silver edges of our grinder” to get the right amount. You’ll learn to eyeball it too.  Then dump your fresh, wonderful-smelling grounds into the Bodum’s filter, and swipe the inside clean with your brush (below).

Step 3: Bloom — 30 seconds. Slowly pour a couple tablespoons of water over the coffee grounds in the filter, just enough to wet them. Let the aromatics from the coffee punch you in the face. It’s a wake-up call from your sinuses outward.

Click the button on your water pot to keep the water hot (or put the teakettle back on the burner).  Take a 30-second break to stretch high and low. 

Step 4: Pour over — 1 minute.  Slowly pour the nearly-boiling water over the grounds in a slow circle motion. Breathe deeply. Meditate on the good things in your life and what you’re going to get accomplished today after injecting this caffeine into your bloodstream.  You don’t have to pour toooooo slowly, but also, give the water some time to contact with the grounds.

Step 5: Drain – 1 minute.  Get your coffee mug ready, put on your shoes. Once all the coffee has drained through, you have black gold ready for your vessel of choice.

Was that hard?  NO.  

We stumbled on the flavor and excellence of pour-over coffee apart from the hipsters; our coffee pot died and we were desperate one morning. A quick Google search revealed that only Americans use a percolating machine for morning juice. Everyone else (who isn’t making espresso) does some version of a pour over or French press.   And it’s 574738475747 times better! 

Coffee Equipment – our setup

We bought a Bodum, a water boiler, and a coffee grinder. Apart from actual coffee, this is all you need! The Bodum is easy to clean; the water pot is handy for other kitchen uses, and theoretically you could grind spices in the grinder if you keep it clean.

I eventually added a natural bristle brush to use when tapping the ground coffee out of our grinder.  Some coffees are more oily than others, and a brush lets you a) get all the good coffee grains into your filter for brewing and b) clean the grinder with a few quick swipes while you wait for the coffee to drain.

Bodum 34 oz Pour Over Coffee Maker with Permanent Filter

You can often find this Bodum on sale at Starbucks or Target or Amazon for $20 or less, so keep an eye out.  It’s a beautiful shape on its own; the mouth is wide enough to get a brush down in there and clean the thing out; the filter has never let us down and rinses quickly.

You can make 2 huge mugs of coffee in this or 4 small “after dinner” dainty cups of coffee. It holds 1 liter below the collar.

Better Coffee - Bodum

Coffee Grinder

We use the Krups F203 pictured here, but there are many affordable electric grinders available at multiple stores. Heck, wait till Bed Bath & Beyond sends you one of their incessant 20% off coupons through the mail and go pick one out.  Check site reviews first. Our little Krups has performed consistently well for us.

Krups F203 coffee grinder

Electric Kettle

Again, there are a million of these. Read the reviews, use a coupon, wait for an Amazon sale — whatever. We have a B&D model that we like, but anything that boils water quickly will do.  Stovetop teakettles are perfectly fine, though it takes longer to boil the water than with an electric kettle, and the electric models have an auto-shutoff that prevents you from worrying you’ll burn the house down.

Black & Decker electric kettle - make better coffee

Bristle Brush

Look, this costs $4. Buy a brush; it’ll make your life easier and keep your grinder clean.  This one is easy to wash with a little dish soap and water once a week; good as new.

Make better coffee - brush to clean your grinder

 

 


“But what if….”

This looks like work. Why should I buy into this method?

Look. Are you still eating ramen noodles out of a foam container or Kraft Shells & Cheez?  If you answered No, then grow up and make better coffee. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. You waste 5 minutes trying to find your keys.

This looks like a hipster conspiracy.

I know, and I don’t disagree. But if you were a true hipster, you’d be using a Chemex and one of those swan-necked teapots and s l o w l y pouring water over a paper cone filter using only organic locally roasted beans ground by a $200 burr grinder by a Brandon in a beard. Go to your hipster hangout to get that. What I’m suggesting is pouring water over fresh grounds yourself instead of letting some sad machine do it for you and murder all the flavor in the process.

No, really, this is too much.

For goodness sake, buy a French press then!  Throw grounds in the bottom, pour boiling water in, wander off (maybe tell Alexa to set a 4 minute timer).  Come back, plunge, drink. IS THAT STILL TOO HARD?

But I need to make coffee for a small army!

Buy two French presses or Bodums then? Your tea kettle can likely boil 2 quarts, so mass production simply requires twice as much coffee (two batches of grounds) and two vessels. On a busy morning or hectic dinner party, I’d probably go with 1 or 2 of the big French presses instead. Grind, pour, walk away.

I really like my Keurig.

You’re dead to me.    Reason #1   Reason #2

Recipe: Monday Night Fast Whole Grain & Protein Bowls

I don’t remember where I originally got this idea, but I think it was the lucky cross-pollination of one too many Bon Appetit magazines and the discovery of quick-cooking faro at the grocery store, combined with a goal to eat better whole grains and lean proteins in 2019. 

We make these grain bowls on busy weeknights because they come together fast – in less than 30 minutes. If you’re using a leftover protein (literally anything could work here), then you could be done in less than 15.

The secret: this dressing! It packs a lot of flavor and punch. Print off the recipe and take it to the store with you this weekend. You’ll have to invest in some ingredients initially, but they’ll last you for several weeks, bringing the total cost of this recipe into what i consider “great quality food for way less than I’d pay at a restaurant” – and that’s good eats!

Also, you can swap freely — use an oil you have on hand, use a different vinegar, try a new flavor. If it tastes good after you shake it, you’re good to go!

Monday Night Grain Bowl | RameyLady cooks
This grain bowl was made with leftover pork, but we usually go with salmon or another “healthy” fish when we can catch some on sale. This bowl includes quick-cooking faro, fresh spinach and tomatoes, roasted red peppers (from a jar), edamame and cashews, orange slices, and avocado with leftover roast pork loin from the previous day.

Lori’s Monday Night Grain Bowl

Here’s the basic outline:

  1. Start cooking the protein or pull out leftovers
  2. Start cooking the grain (farro, brown rice, etc)
  3. Make the dressing – maybe double it for use again next week
  4. Prep the fresh vegetables, fruit, garnishes
  5. Assemble! Pour a little dressing over every layer, especially the grains so they soak up that flavor!

The Dressing

Make extra and leave it in the frig for next week’s bowl. 

These are proportions, not measurements. Taste and see if it’s good; adjust as needed. If you aren’t sure where to start, try going with 1-2 Tablespoons as your “1” in the 2:1:1 ratio and multiply accordingly.  You’re going to need enough to dress the vegetables, the grain, and the meat, so make enough!

  • SECRET WEAPON OF GOODNESS:  2 parts toasted sesame oil
  • 1 part  flavored olive oil – we use chile oil
  • 1 part sherry vinegar or rice wine vinegar or …use what you’ve got; taste and adjust until it’s tangy and flavorful without being obnoxious
  • 1 part orange or lemon juice – fresh squeezed is nice
  • ½ part srirachaoptional  (lighten up on this if you don’t like hot) – can use any hot sauce that carries flavor as well as heat
  • a few dashes soy sauce or fish sauce or other salty but flavorful dark liquid
  • dash of minced or ground or grated garlic and/or ginger or use a paste that combines both!
  • pinch of salt (if you didn’t use soy sauce)
  • pinch of pepper (fresh ground of course, if you can)
  • pinch of dry aromatic herb- optional — I like oregano or thyme

Tool: Salad dressing shaker — OXO makes an inexpensive one; I use a Tupperware shaker that’s been in my kitchen forever.  Perk: Double the recipe and store the rest for next week. If sealed, it’ll keep for a couple weeks easily.

Cook a Grain

Here’s how we do it: Put ½ cup dried quick-cooking farro* per person (maybe ⅓ cup if you need to stretch it) into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1 Tablespoon of Mexican adobo seasoning* or chicken bullion granules.  Cook for 10-12 minutes (per package directions) once it comes to boil. Drain and divide among bowls – we usually pile it in the center, near the spinach.

*We use quick-cooking 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. It cooks in 10-12 minutes and it’s done! Costs about $2 a bag at TJ.  Link goes to Amazon; you can buy quick-cooking faro in most grocery stores for WAY cheaper than what you’ll pay on Amazon, but at least you’ll see the packaging.

*My store carries Adobo seasoning in the Mexican shelf, but the standard Goya brand is reaaaally salty (which is partly why I use it when cooking the farro).  You can buy organic adobo blends that are less salty, but don’t forget to salt the farro or rice while it cooks.

Assemble your Bowl!

Again, use what you’ve got!  Swap in other fresh salad ingredients or proteins.  We build up from greens to grains to protein, adding a little dressing on every layer, parking produce, citrus, and avocado around the sides of the bowl, then garnishing.

  • 3-5 oz per person of cooked protein – *see below for ideas
  • handful of kale, spinach, arugula or other sturdy fresh green – no iceberg lettuce!
  • ½ cup per person cooked “quick” farro or brown rice (or any cooked, hearty grain)  *see above for notes
  • fresh produce:  we use cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), thin-sliced red or green onion, sliced bell peppers or jarred roasted peppers — pretend you’re making the best salad of snacking vegetables and go at it
  • orange segments or other citrus, optional
  • edamame and/or roasted nuts (almonds or cashews) really add a crunchy punch
  • sliced avocado – also helps cool off the heat from the chile oil and sriracha

*Proteins – We sometimes roast a piece of salmon and split it into 3-4 oz portions for the top of the bowl.  Or pan-sear shrimp.  Or used cooked chicken, pork, or steak that’s been reheated.  You can pan-fry or bake tilapia.  Consider cooking a little extra next time you’re making supper, and plan to use the left-overs in the grain bowl the next day.  If you’re vegetarian, maybe fry an egg on top – that would be delicious!

The key is to think ahead just enough that you have a leftover ready to go or a fast-cooking protein, or maybe a rotisserie chicken from the store on your way home.  And you could make things even faster by cooking rice or wheat berries or farro ahead of time and having them in the frig, ready to reheat, dress, and eat!

Monday Night Grain Bowl | RameyLady cooks

 

2019’s good discoveries

Sometimes in the course of my day I stop and realize that I’ve been enjoying something good which others should probably hear about so they can enjoy it to. Those moments spark these kinds of posts. 😉 Enjoy this laundry list of things that have been bringing us joy…..


Wingspan – board game, 2019

Buy it: Amazon | publisher

We just came back from a board game conference where game designers are working to refine games-in-development and pitch them to publishers. Probably should post about that elsewhere; it was a fascinating weekend in many ways. But I mention it here to note that there still aren’t many women or minorities in the roomful of board game designers — it’s predominantly full of white guys between 28 and 50.

Thus, Wingspan stands out not only for its excellent game design and beauty on the table, but also as a game designed by a woman – Elizabeth Hargraves – and developed by Stonemaier Games.  She loves birds and loves games, and found a way to take her real knowledge of birds and their habits and habitats, and translate it into something that plays well as an actual game.

Read more about Elizabeth in this NYT article.

Wingspan is an “engine-builder” game about, well, birds.  In other words, as the game progresses, you’ll collect various birds and add them to your board, increasing the number of things you can do each turn because individual bird cards have different abilities.  It’s also a “point salad” type of game, where you can earn points toward your score in a whole bunch of ways, and it won’t be obvious till you add everything up at the end who’s won.

The watercolor aesthetic is just gorgeous, and the bird drawings remind me of the color plates in my parents’ well-worn Audobon bird-watching guide that sat near the back patio window in our house so they could identify unusual birds when they stopped by our bird feeder. My parents were avid bird watchers (out our window, at least) and I kind of wish I had a similar spot outside my window too.

Give Wingspan a try. If we’re friends IRL, stop by the house and we’ll play it!

You might have trouble putting your hands on a copy before July — the demand exploded and the first couple print runs sold out before the shipment even reached the US.  (!)

Buy it: Amazon | publisher


Native deodorant

Native DeodeerantI know deodorant is a weird thing to recommend, but personal care is important, and not swabbing aluminum  on your body every day is probably a good change given the link between it an Alzheimer’s disease.

I tried a sample of Native deodorant last year on a lark, and it was such a great experience that our household has switched over.  It’s a transition, for sure, because the consistency is different. But they offer a range of really lovely scents, and it’s extremely comfortable.

Native’s product is a genuine “de-oderant” more than an antiperspirant, so this product may not be for you if you’re really adamant about not sweating at all. (But, I mean, sweat is healthy so maybe reconsider?)  But Native works great in keeping me spelling fresh, and it doesn’t irritate my skin the way some of the other “natural” deodorant products do.  Also, it doesn’t make a mess on clothes, and it easily washes out of fabrics since it’s made of natural waxes and moisturizers. I think my shirts are going to write me a thank-you note.  (see below for more on this)

Last thing – Native is more expensive than deodorant in the store, but it’s also lasting me  longer than a stick of Degree ever did. And it shows up at my house every several months (I do a subscription), meaning I always have one on the way before I run out. You can grab 1 oz testers if you don’t want to commit.

They offer scents for women or men or very neutral scents that would make anyone happy.

Buy it:  Amazon (singles) | website (singles or subscription)

BONUSDollar Shave Club — if you’re still buying razors in the store, you are 100% wasting a lot of money (or using super crappy $1 razors).

C& I share DSC monthly – we bought two of the mid-grade handles (for $5 each) and spend $5 a month to get blades delivered. I change blades every 7-10 days (I don’t shave my legs every day) and C swaps his every couple weeks since he doesn’t shave daily.  He also loves their shave butter, so we get a tube of that about every other month.

Anyway, $5 a month for razors is hard to beat, and they show up without me having to remember them. Now that CVS puts razor cartridges behind Fort Knox *AND* charges like $15 for refills, I don’t understand why everyone isn’t a member of DSC or Harry’s or similar.  Seriously.  Make this change for yourself.

Dollar Shave Club (our sharing link)


Arcadia Power

A couple years ago, I stumbled across an ad for Arcadia Power and did quite a bit of research to make sure it wasn’t a scam.

It sounded too good to be true: Arcadia Power takes over your power bill (ie: they pay it on your behalf) and you pay a small upcharge (between 5-10% more) to allow Arcadia to buy renewable energy certificates on your behalf to offset your electricity usage.

In other words, you pay your power bill, but you also pay a little more to ensure that the equivalent renewable energy is put into the grid to offset your coal or nuclear or natural gas power.

Why bother?   Two reasons:  One, we need to make renewable power more of a thing. Climate change is going to hit us all (it already is) and this is a small way to make a difference in your own power usage if you can’t afford your own solar or alternate methods.

Second, the energy industry and our politicians don’t believe people will pay for renewables. Pretty soon, I don’t think we’ll have a choice, but for now, Arcadia offers a way for you to put your power bill toward renewables to help prove that you at least give a care.

We have a referral link. You’ll get $25 off your first bill and we’ll get a few bucks off next month too if you sign up.  Check them out:  Arcadia Power


Make better coffee

So vital, I’m going to turn this into its own post!  


Piri-piri

Before reading an issue of Milk Street magazine, I’d never heard of this Portuguese spice until one of the recipes in the magazine mentioned it. A few days later, we ran into a small jar of this spicy-yet-not-too-hot blend plus a bottle of it in liquid “hot sauce” form. Bought both.  LOVE THEM.

It’s spicy without being overpowering.  Hot without taking out your sinuses or causing weeping.  It pairs super well with red meats or BBQ, but I’ve used it in nearly everything — I put the dried blend into marinades and rubs for chicken, pork, and steak; we stir both kinds into a big pot of pinto beans (which I try to work into our household eats at least twice a month).  And into our grain bowls, which I will describe in a minute.

You can buy piri piri at a lot of spice shops, or hit up Amazon for the liquid stuff or the dry variety, available from many sellers — or like me, get both and use them liberally.  By the way, this is the brand we are currently using of the dry spice.


Grain bowls

This is like the home-run of the Ramey kitchen in 2019. I’m going to post the recipe as a separate post and link it here.

Monday Nights – Fast Whole Grain & Protein Bowls | RameyLady

If you’re making a shopping list and live in Upstate SC, hit Ingles for affordable sesame oil (check the Asian food aisle) and the downtown olive oil store for spiced Moroccan chili oil and sherry vinegar — and piri piri (mentioned above).


Chocolate-covered Blueberries | Trader Joe’s

I know it sounds weird to combine blueberries and chocolate–at least, it was to me– but I promise this is a delicious combo!  We regularly grab chocolate for snacking at Trader Joe’s because  it’s a good quality chocolate at an affordable price, and we rotate through a winner’s list for end-table snacking:  dark-chocolate almonds or caramels or the shockingly good peanut butter cups.

(seriously, the dark chocolate PB cups will ruin Reese’s for you, forever)

But if you’re trying to “be good” with your snacking habits, and especially if you make hot cereal in the mornings, the chocolate covered blueberries are an unusual and delicious addition.

Buy them at Trader Joe’s, of course, — but if you need an online supplier, I was slightly surprised to find that you can purchase them on Amazon


She-Ra and the Princesses of Power | Netflix
The Dragon Prince | Netflix
Castlevania | Netflix

Look, I know that I’m not 9 years old and we aren’t in the 80s anymore. But if you also remember rushing home after school to catch She-Ra or ˆ cartoons, then take a minute to watch the Netflix reboot of the series which drops the exhausting moralizing in favor of good, solid episodic cartoon stories — child-friendly but enjoyable by adults too.  It’s happy and bright and carries a great message of empowering women to be all they can be. We’ve devoured both available seasons.

The creator of the animated series The Last Airbender (one of our absolute faves) has returned with a new series on Netflix called The Dragon Prince. The storytelling has been great, and it’s a nice reminder of how good Aaron Ehasz stories are. The characters confront difficult choices regarding family, friendships, and loyalty, and the series is poised to investigate the cost of grasping after power, even in hopes of using it for good. One of the key supporting characters is deaf – and I wish that weren’t so rare in media as to be notable here.

Finally, it’s worth noting the Castlevania short sereies on Netflix, if you’re in the animated mood. This builds on the lore from the beloved Playstation games, retelling Dracula’s story (kind of) and exploring the dark consequences of human tribalism, xenophobia, and power abuses.


Cowboy Bebop

I don’t know why it took us THIS LONG to watch Cowboy Bebop. It’d been recommended to us numerous times by friends who love ainme, but we didn’t start watching until earlier this year — and it’s been a delight. We’re savoring the episodes, watching them slowly because you can experience something “the first time” only once, and we want it to last.

Take the best atmospheric storytelling you’ve ever seen on TV and move it to space.  Take the most beautiful framing in cinematography and make it anime. Hand the score to a blues + jazz group who assembled just for this soundtrack. Cap the story at the end of a single season so there’s an actual arc to the story (rather than dragging things out like Lost or nearly any other anime).  Offer some of the most singular characters I’ve ever seen on TV. Make your opening title season sizzle with graphic design hott enough to match the opening theme song (below). Steal style from mid-century Modern and marry it to film noir and pulp detective fiction. Throw it into the future.

That’s Cowboy Bebop

You can watch it right now on Hulu as part of your subscription, buy it on Prime, or watch on DVD/Blueray (Amazon).


Better cleaning, fewer headaches

All three of these products hit my radar thanks to those random Buzzfeed articles usually titled “25 products you can’t live without” or “15 ways to make your life easier.”  Don’t roll your eyes; I often find  gems that way.

I hate the chemical smell of strong cleaning products; they give me a headache.  I can’t even be near the bathroom if my hubby is using one of the strong tub cleaners, meaning he was always on tub duty.

So there was much rejoicing when I ordered Better Life Tub & Tile Cleaner from Amazon and gave it a try.  Short review: It’s fantastic.  Spray it on after a shower, give it 15-20 minutes to work, come back and rinse the tub; scrub if needed. We think the cleaner works even after you rinse it off; I swear the tub continued to brighten after the first time we used it.  And the smell is much less “chemical” than the typical cleaner. It’s not scent-free, but it’s bearable (open a window, turn on the fan) and I don’t get headaches

Better Life – Tub & Tile Cleaner – Amazon

Second, someone in one of those Buzzfeed articles said they’ve been mixing Castille soap with distilled water (5:1 water to soap) in a clean foaming soap dispenser, saving them quit a bit from buying hand soap.  Why not? I thought.  Ordered soap and dispensers (below) and set them up upon arrival.  The soap spells very nice and it foams well. It’s not as “sudsy” as what we were used to, but I’ll take the 75% savings over high-end soaps from BBW or the increase in quality and scent over cheap stuff from Walmart.

Quinn’s Pure Castille Soap with Peppermint Oil, 32oz from Amazon

mDesign modern square glass refillable soap dispensers – set of 2, from Amazon

I fill the soap dispensers about every other month in the kitchen and bathrooms. My bottle of castille soap is going to last for the year AT LEAST.

Finally, in my search for a better laundry detergent (and I don’t have the patience to make my own), I stumbled across Charlie’s Soap, which is apparently a favorite among the community of folks who can’t handle artificial scents. We don’t have that issue, but some of our friends do and it’s made me more conscious of the sheer number of chemicals dumped into my life from all sources -for no good reason, really.

Charlie’s Soap is a simple white powder. A tablespoon or so will handle an entire load in our washer. Clothes come out sparkly clean (we wash in cold nearly all the time) and smelling “clean” without any added scents.  It’s been fantastic.

Charlie’s Soap – Natural Washing Detergent, Amazon

Also worth mentioning that since I’ve switched to Native deodorant, I don’t have to scrub white residue off my clothes before (or after) the wash.  Makes Native worth the extra dollars.


I’d love to hear what you’re currently enjoying in 2019 — whether media, food, good reads, or household helpers. Drop me a comment!

In Memory of Nancy

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Nancy,
I cannot believe that you are gone. I’m sure everyone is saying that, but it’s because we’re all genuinely shocked and angry and sad that this is how it ended. I know you’re rejoicing in our Father’s house, but the rest of us are poorer for having to truck on through life without you.

I didn’t know you well but we became friends thanks to Melinda, and I always felt that our shared career teaching English kept us connected. That, and A.F.I.

Your fervent advocacy for your students inspired me to be better and do better for those who often lack the knowledge or voice of privilege. When Mel told me that you’d passed away last week, my thoughts immediately went to your students. Your loss is going to affect them so much. I hope someone else steps into your shoes of giving a damn about kids that so many other adults have written off.

I’m glad we got to see you as often as we did, though it was never often enough.

May your friends and family rest in God’s comfort and peace, and be joyful in their memories of how awesome a person you were.

Nancy Vasquez, 1974-2019

A saga of cinema, 2018 style: MoviePass, Sinemia, and beyond

 

Because 2018 has to be #extra in every way, today’s post centers on the rise and fall of the cinema discount services….as experienced by me. 😉

A Saga of Cinema,
OR How I Wish MoviePass Had Actually Worked because Sinemia is Trash

donewiththis

ACT I: MoviePass, Enter Stage Left

Oh, MoviePass! How you stole our hearts a year ago with your discounted dreams and your completely unrealistic, unsustainable business model!

netflix-for-movie-theaters-f8018310f6279e8dThe wonder of an idea truly too good to be true: $9.99 a month for all the movies you could see (1 per day, with no repeats). The promise held for the first half of 2018. We saw 10 movies in January alone, most of them Oscar contenders. It was a new age of cinema in our little corner of South Carolina!  We saw art films, indie films, action movies, cheap thrillers, and stupid comedies I would have never set foot in a theater to see.

Vice ran a really neat farewell piece a few months ago, offering anecdotes from MoviePass subscribers who detailed how they’d used the service to fill lonely times in their lives or escape the crushing poverty of urban life in an expensive city.  The stories resonated with me as I scrolled down the page on my iPhone during a late evening media binge.

Vice: MoviePass is dead but not forgotten

I remember the thrill of seeing that red, shiny card when it appeared in my mailbox after an excruciatingly long wait. (Seriously, it took like 2 weeks to get the thing.)  The app was a bit fiddly, but when it was ON, it was great.

Our local Regal regarded us with suspicion, demanding a driver’s license for any ticket purchase. Why? We were handing the theater $16-20 in ticket sales every time we went to see a movie, and that money was 90% coming from MoviePass rather than my pocket. In fact, we bought more beer and popcorn at that Regal in 6 months than I’ve ever bought (or ever will) because we weren’t dropping $20 just to walk in the door of a theater.

If American cinema chains die off in the next 10 years, it won’t be due solely to Netflix and home theater installations. Chains will die because they refuse to lower the costs of entry.  MoviePass proved that people will come see movies in droves if you make the ticket affordable. The profit margin on popcorn and soda is IMMENSE compared to the profit on an individual movie ticket.

A few theater chains realized they could adapt this model for themselves, but one of the joys of MoviePass was its agnosticism. It didn’t matter if the movie I wanted to see was playing at Regal or AMC or the oddball local chain with three theaters in North Georgia. As long as it was on the app, I had only one thing to manage. And for the most part, MovePass’s app and card worked well.  Until….

Act II: Exit MoviePass, carried on a stretcher

Nothing gold can stay, as Emily Dickinson wisely observed.

MoviePass’s demise this summer was one of my favorite social media disasters.

Perhaps the only good entertainment given to us in 2018 comes from watching angry Twitter users light companies on fire for poor customer service. And so it was with MoviePass, when the pile of cash finally burned down (seriously, I didn’t know there was so much money to burn, and I don’t know why I can’t get access to it for my own business ventures, you know?) and they had to cut people’s options.

This went about as well as you’d expect, and at least we all got to laugh about it…..while crying a bit, because the days of “all you can eat movies for $10/mo” was coming to the exact conclusion we all foretold.

Our movie binge slowed down in July, which was ok since honestly, nearly everything playing in the theaters was crap. And we had lots of Netflix to catch up with…..

Act III: Sinemia, maybe to the rescue?

So what is a MoviePass lover to do after the breakup? How do we assuage the sadness of bleeding $9 a ticket for any local movie showing, unless you happen to be free at 2pm on a Tuesday?

There aren’t many other subscription options out there, but after doing some research, we decided to try Sinemia.  The Family Plan offered 12 months of service, 3 pairs of tickets to any movie at nearly any theater (2D), for about $22 a month. That’s $3.67 a ticket plus surcharges (which, turns out, are $2-3 per ticket every time). Still a bit cheaper than our local theater for evening showings, and definitely cheaper than big-city prices when we roll up to Greenville for movies that don’t open near us.

Cool.

Except…..

My Sinemia Experience: A Side Story

Round 1: September Signup

Basically simple. Downloaded the app. Bought a subscription plan. Logged in, set up account, checked theater listing.

Can’t use the service till I’m set up for Sinemia “Cardless,” so we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

waiting_cat

It took like TWO WEEKS for Sinemia to set up our account for careless use, which is the only option provided for subscribers these days. (I think. It’s pretty hard to get real information from Sinemia due to general disorganization in the app and a shocking lack of detail on their website.)

Round 2: Let’s try it out!

Early October.  Movie #1 of three goes down just fine, and we watched something….can’t remember what….hadn’t been to the theater since mid-August.

The user experience was clunky, but it worked. You buy a ticket in advance using one of the other ticket services (atom, Fandango) and Sinemia generates a one-time-use credit card number for the transaction, then bills your card on file for the “convenience fees” and “service charges.”

I’m beginning to realize the pain of advance ticketing. Is it really worth $2-5 just to buy a ticket on my phone instead of with cold, hard cash at the theater? Why is convenience so damn expensive? Get with it, America!

Round 3: I knew that was going too well …

And then it all went to hell. lol

IMG_0145In late October, I tried to buy tickets for movie #2 of the month (we had to use our 3 pairs of tickets by 11/2 or they’d expire). No ticket service would accept my Sinemia number, and my own credit card company panicked when a bank in Turkey tried to charge $3 (for the convenience fees).

Wait. Why is Sinemia using a bank in Turkey?

Um, no. International charges are death. My bank and credit card companies would rather lower my interest rate than ever let me buy something with an international origin. You should see the gymnastics I go through if I back a non-US project on Kickstarter.

Email #1: late October

There’s no Sinemia support. It’s laughable, really. If you click the “Premium Support” button in the app, a pop up tells you to email their support account. It’s not even a live email ink!  Hilarious AND infuriating AND incompetent -all at once!

IMG_D63C3A5B1D57-1

So I emailed them and asked for a refund. I’m not paying for a service I can’t use, and their app is a literal mess.

Crickets.

Email #2: The Saga Continues

A month later (last week), I emailed again with a firm “refund the rest of my annual subscription because your service and app are crap.”  THAT got a response. (I was nicer in the actual email, but my patience is wearing thin.)

The CSR explained a couple things to try and I decided to give it another whirl for some movies last weekend. (I gotta see Ralph Wrecks the Internet!)

Round 4: A continued failure

We tried twice last weekend to use the Sinemia Cardless option to buy tickets in advance (because that’s really our only option, since I don’t have a physical Sinemia card).  In both cases, we got a payment-not-accepted error at the vendor sites.

This was happening to a bunch of people this weekend – Twitter was full of folks trying to reach out to Sinemia for support.  Sinemia emailed back to me (and said on Twitter), “wait 20 minutes before using your virtual card number.”

What? 

I’m in another round of emails with support….because this just isn’t working.

Update, 12/5: Sinemia just announced the return of their physical debit card, thanks to subscriber outrage over the failures of their careless system.  Downside, it costs $15 to order one of those cards, so it’ll take about 5 movies before subscribers see the savings (from convenience fees at atom or Fandango). Also, given the snail-pace that Sinemia support seems to follow, I can’t imagine having this card in my hand anytime before January. :/

Still, if their card will work like the MoviePass card did, this might make Sinemia a valid option for us – though I’m not sure the savings are worth the hassle.

Epilogue: After Sinemia & MoviePass

With MoviePass dead and Sinemia a hateful mess with poor customer support, what’s an aspiring moviegoer to do as we head into a new year? What lessons can we learn?

  1. I wish MoviePass and Sinemia would merge. Sinemia should run the subscription models – because they’re not bad – and broker contracts with theaters.   MoviePass should take over the app and card/payment management.  I know MoviePass had some outages, but overall their app and user experience were 10,000x better than the Sinemia app.
  2. App designers and UI/UX professionals should study the Sinemia app as an example of horrific user interface design.  It’s some of the worst I’ve dealt with.
  3. The market is ripe for discounted theater ticket subscriptions. If anything, the MoviePass social experiment proved that we common folk are tired of shelling out $10-$16 PER TICKET to see a film at the box office.  I would love to sit in a theater full of people, sharing an experience and laughing (or cringing) together. But I’m not going to sacrifice the grocery budget (or future vacation funds) to do so.   Takeaway:  MoviePass put a lot more butts in seats at the theater in the first half of 2018, and theaters should take note and lower prices
  4. The TomatoMeter — which distributors hate — is more important than ever. Under MoviePass, I saw all kinds of films that I wouldn’t have paid full price for.  I didn’t care if the Rotten Tomatoes score was meh, because I wasn’t out a wad of cash. Theaters should learn from this – maybe offer bigger discounts on movies entering their last release days.  Seriously, the theater industry deserves whatever pummeling they get.  MoviePass was a gift and they reacted with acrimony.  And film production companies should note that RT isn’t responsible if their movie is too crappy to earn my dollars. *coughs* Robin Hood *coughs*

 

As for us, we’ve pared back our theater expenditures again and I’m likely going to fight Sinemia for a refund unless their service improves.

And sigh a sad sigh about the one good thing that happened in the first half of 2018 that we lost anyway.

Update: February 2019

We’ve had another run-in with Sinemia’s “customer service,” though I use that term lightly. It’s painful to use that term for an email address that no one seems to check.

We ended up keeping Sinemia in November because they finally updated their app and the service sort-of worked.  It all went to hell again a couple weeks ago when I checked in for a movie in the app (as requested) and saw it confirm. The WiFi/reception was spotty because it’s a theater, but I did check in.

Cue my surprise two weeks later when I’ve been charged a $22 penalty for not checking into a movie. WTF.  I *did* check in.  And even moviePass with its ridiculous “take a photo of your ticket” ploy to annoy people out of using their service (I’m not kidding; they admitted it) issued a warning in the app if you didn’t upload the stub. They didn’t slap you with the equivalent of a month’s service charge. This is bullshit.

Fighting again for a refund of the charge and/or the service. Pretty sure anything we save through Sinemia is not worth the effort.

Exit: Voting

This is a short entry in the series I’m writing about my breakup with Evangelicalism.  You can find the first entry here

Yesterday I posted a Voter’s Manifesto – mine.  You can read it here.


Morning after in America

It’s the morning after an election in America, and the pundits have only just begun to wag their jaws about the implications of yesterday’s voting. Blue wave? Red wave? Referendum on Trump?

I’m not here to discuss it, y’all. I’m done.

I’m at the stage in the breakup with Evangelicalism where all the ways in which my former lover acts like an ass confront me. Especially when I’m trying not to think about it.

It’s like when you run into the friend of an ex, and he tries to make the argument that “Bobby is a great guy, you know?” as if that made Bobby’s douchey behavior toward you irrelevant. “I mean, he’s trying, ok?”

As if rampant nationalism, racism, xenophobia, a lust for power, and idolatry of individualism and the “self-made man” and capitalism weren’t warts on the face of the Gospel.  “Evangelical” literally derives from the Greek word that we translate “Gospel,” euangelion. What’s sad is that I see the clear connection between evangelicals’ theology and their actions at the voting booth, arising from deep-seated racial and cultural fears, and from long-standing racism that’s buried so deep into evangelical culture that it’s hard to notice unless you tune your eyes to see it.

I’ve realized that I’m well and truly over this breakup.  I have nothing against “Bobby’s” friends. I’m not severing ties with anybody.  I don’t need other people to agree with me or follow me out. You do you, and stand before God with a clear conscience for your own actions.


I’m still puzzled, though I’ve given up trying to understand.

Like how the hell Evangelical women can feel like this for a man who belittles and demeans women almost  non-stop:

White Evangelical women Republican vote November 2018
From NBC News https://www.nbcnews.com/card/nbc-news-exit-poll-white-evangelical-women-stand-squarely-republicans-0n933236

I don’t need my Evangelical friends to explain why they picked the side of the “culture war” that makes as its goal the disenfranchisement of non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people….. or rejection of people seeking asylum and respite from oppressive regimes whose origin is closely tied to over-zealous American foreign policy…. or an absolute loyalty to an anti-abortion stance above actual policies that reduce abortion.

Or how the combination of these Culture War factors drive intense support for a president whose “base” is energized by race-baiting and xenophobia.

Vox headline Evangelicals
From Vox
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/29/18015400/2018-midterm-elections-evangelical-christians-trump-approval

Fear is ugly

“There is no fear in Love, for perfect love casts out fear,” as the Apostle John wrote.  I can’t sanction refusing to see beyond apparent moral infractions to take care of people in need.

“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shut down that sanctimonious shit from the Pharisees. You can’t play games with the great commandments. Love God and Love your neighbor.  You don’t get to choose not to love because you’re afraid of who they are, because they got pregnant without being married first, because you don’t approve of gay love, because you don’t like their atheism or Islam, because you think they’re lazy and unmotivated.

"Is your neighbor worth loving?" ~ Fred Rogers
When asked about hate crimes, Fred Rogers asked this question.

The quote above comes from a great interview with a National Geographic photographer who was asked to document the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting last week. She’s from Pittsburgh, so she had initially resisted the assignment to work in her hometown. But she went out anyway and captured powerful images.

Her graduate thesis focused on hate crimes, and she interviewed Fred Rogers as part of her research.  He asked her this question: “Is your neighbor worth loving?”

Cuts to the heart of the issue, methinks.


I live in one of the reddest states in the South. South Carolina Republicans won nearly every race yesterday, with only a couple exceptions.  (Article)

It’s hard to believe in change when the momentum around uniting Jesus with the GOP is like digging something out of cured concrete.

But I have faith.

My faith in the core tenets of Christianity informs my priorities, and voting is actually about priorities rather than moral absolutes.  I believe that many Americans can learn to see a way to vote for priorities that don’t disenfranchise others in our nation.

Maybe I’m a fool, I don’t know. One can hope.