Tag Archives: reviews

Corona living: a few things we’ve come to appreciate

What a bizarre world. As I’ve told many of my colleagues, this isn’t the spring we wanted, with so many canceled trips and weddings and live classes. But it’s the spring we got. And so here we are.

Covid 19 sucks.

Let’s get that out right away.  Let’s find a few silver linings. 

We’ve stumbled into a few good things this spring that made corona quarantine a little better. My writing brain (and working brain in general) has struggled, but at least these things work ok!  Raise your hand if you can’t keep two thoughts together right now. 

Sharing these in case you might benefit. Adding my affiliate links so you can find each service; sometimes with coupons or referral bonuses for you.

Eat without going to the store as much

My husband laughs at my accidental Covid-19 planning — I’d ordered cat food, litter, a huge box of toilet paper, and paper towels back in February before the quarantine surge stripped grocery stores of so many essential items. We got lucky. 

I also signed us up for HelloFresh with our first box delivered the week everything blew apart in March and shut down pretty much American life.  Turns out, not having to go to the grocery store as much during a pandemic is a nice perk. 

We’ve been doing HelloFresh for about 2 months now and will try a box from Gobble this coming week. 

HelloFresh mini review

*Use this link to save $40 off your first box from HelloFresh!

The meal box services are all pretty similar, and you can find multitudes of reviews online. I wrote a longer review of HelloFresh here. 

In brief, HelloFresh dropped a box of 3-4 good meals including a solid protein, a good carb, and a vegetable at our door every week during the worst of the quarantine for about $80-90 a week. We supplemented with our own sandwich food (for lunch) and breakfasts, and we even did the 4-person HelloFresh for a while to ensure we had some leftover food for lunches as we transitioned to eating entirely at home.

HelloFresh meal kit review May 2020

HF and other box services aren’t cheap. On average, a box costs $70-100 a week depending on how many meals you order and whether you’re doing the 2-person or 4-person size. You can also upgrade some meals by choosing a nice steal or salmon meal instead of their standard weekly fare. 

But there are intangible benefits to having someone else plan your menu and just hand you everything you need to cook. Put your brain on autopilot (if you’re skilled in the kitchen) and follow the recipe.  The food tastes good. Or throw out their recipes and make your own. Either way, someone else did the shopping for you, and if you aren’t in an area doing grocery delivery, this can be a lifesaver.

Avoid the toilet paper scramble – get a bidet!

Bidet living, man.  It’s a thing!   I’ve always been a bit afraid of bidets, because the installed ones I saw in Europe were so bizarre.  

Happily, there’s a whole market now of bidet attachments that you can install on your toilet with minimal fuss and get a clean butt without using toilet paper.  Our box box of Charmin that I ordered in February won’t last far into June, but we’re definitely using a lot less since installing the bidet. 

Luxe Bidet 185 - quick review

The model we purchased is the Luxe Bidet model 185, which offers both hot and cold water for your bum and a variety of nozzle positions so you can clean [whatever] — a handy thing for us ladies.  Amazon link

Installation was … mixed.  No complaint against Luxe; they did a good job with their directions and all the hardware they sent for installation was high quality. Plumbing is just a bitch.  

We experienced a few leaks in the 2-3 days after installation, requiring some trips to YouTube, Google, and Reddit to figure out what we’d messed up.  Everything boils down to tightening every connection enough but not too much. The bidet’s hot water line popped off its under-sink nozzle, spewing hot water throughout the vanity and requiring me to throw out a lot of expired cold medicine that got soaked.  I guess I can’t complain? It was exciting, that’s for sure. lol

Eventually, we got it sorted out, and since then not a problem at all.  The hot water hookup for the bidet (which sits to the right of the toilet if you’re doing your business) runs behind our toilet and the vanity to connect to the hot water behind our bathroom sink. The cold water comes from the same line as the toilet water supply (clean water, obviously).  The nozzles have a self-cleaning feature, so you can set the water to warm and run it for a few seconds to warm it up, then hit your bum. 

And boy does it give you all the fresh tingly clean feelings you could ever want. 

Cannot, will not ever go back to wiping my bum with paper.  Nope.  Can’t do it.  We’re hooked on bidet living now!

Good accessory:  Put a basket of clean, cheap washcloths next to your toilet plus a spare trash can or basket.  Dry off after washing yourself, and throw the cloth into the bin for washing later. One use per cloth; wash each week.  You might try these inexpensive, soft cloths  And grab a trash can that’ll fit small spaces, like this one

Drink better coffee – from small roasters

Nobody is saying a good cup of coffee can downplay 100,000 dead Americans lost to Covid-19.   But supporting small local roasters right now is important too. We’re going to lose so many independent businesses through the economic downturn. Did I mention how much this all sucks? 

I saw an ad for Trade coffee and decided to give them a shot.  For a reasonable fee ($15-20), they’ll ship a pound of good, fresh-roasted coffee to your house. You can go for a subscription and get a new bag to try every couple weeks (a cool surprise to look forward to!) or just order coffee from them.  

Everything is sourced by local roasters across the country, and you can pick your order to ship the day after coffee is fresh roasted.  They offer good blog posts too about various ways to make a better cup of joe.  We’re huge fans of our bodum, as I’ve explained here.

Verdict?  Delicious!  We’ve gotten 3-4 coffees from Trade in the past month (some by subscription and mostly ones I’ve ordered to keep us resupplied), and they’ve all been good.  I could even order Methodical coffee!  We’ll keep running down to E-City for Tanzanian Peaberry, but if you’re trying to reduce errands and exposure, Trade is filling that niche well without forcing all your dollars to Starbucks.

DrinkTrade.com

Buy used books

I’m worried about our independent bookstores. They were already on the precipice before everything closed in March. Amazon relentlessly chews up everything in its path, so I’ve begun looking for alternatives. 

I’ve been searching at Thrift Books before resorting to Amazon. They carry a decent range of used and new books, and I was able to get about half of my recent books from them.

Some of their prices are better than Amazon’s and some are worse. Free shipping helps soften the blow of not using Prime.  

You can stockpile points to get free books as well, but the freebies have to be cheap ones, so maybe not as useful if you’re using Thrive only to purchase particular books (which is what I tend to do).

*Coupon for 15% off your first ThriftBooks order

Play games at a distance

No surprise to those of you already in the board game or TTRPG hobby, but it’s worth discussing tools to let you get some game time in even if you aren’t spending time around people in person.

Roll20 is a web-based service that allows people to share the same virtual space as a map for RPGs in place of a tabletop map.  Most folks combine this with a phone call or Discord voice server, but Roll20 does offer video and audio connection options. I have found them a bit unreliable, personally, so my group uses Discord. 

https://roll20.net

Tabletop Simulator has been around for a while, and board game designers are getting better and better about porting their game designs into TTS for remote / online play.  We recently played Iniš with a friend, and it was a great experience.  We used Discord for voice, but you could do any conference call / video call / group call option for audio.  You can also just play online if the game doesn’t require personal interaction (like some Euro games).

Tabletop Simulator runs within STEAM. 

Bonus recommendation: Iniš

By the way, Iniš is an incredible game, and I give it a 10/10.  Gorgeous game in print, absolutely glorious art by a Hugo-nominated fantasy artist, and a fantastic game set in a fantasy-style Ireland.  Plays 2-4 people.

The gameplay is so tight! You’ll be trying to claim territory or control areas with your limited clans. Strategy is key. The amazing artwork brings huge tarot-sized cards in your hand to life, and these cards generate the actions you can take during the round. Special cards introduce crazy powers that can suddenly change the course of a whole turn.  We’ve played it once on TTs and once in person, and both times everyone came within a few moves of each other of winning the game. 

Buy Iniš (Amazon link) 

Inis board game

 

Review: HelloFresh

I accidentally kept us from having to forage for food during the pandemic!  On a whim in early March, I signed up for HelloFresh using a great $90 off coupon (spread over 4 boxes).  Our first box was nearly free, and I figured at the time it might inject some variety into our supper routine.

Who knew that within a few days of our first box arriving, nearly everything in America would shut down?

What started as a simple experiment became a grocery lifeline for us. We even tried it out for an elderly relative (too much meal prep for her to handle, so we’re going to try TopChef next).

*Get $40 off your first HelloFresh box with this link

HelloFresh: The good stuff

  • Someone else answers the wearying question of “what’s for supper tonight!”  This ended up being a genuine benefit, as we’ve eaten so much at home for the past two months of quarantine that we would have been really bored with our usual supper routine, good as it was.
  • Each meal includes a good shot of protein, vegetables, and a relatively healthy carb.  The quality of the meat is quite good.  Also, some items like finely ground beef or chopped raw chicken really speed up meal prep, far more than standard ground beef or having to dice something yourself before you start cooking.
  • You can throw extra groceries into your box. You’re already getting it shipped to your door, so might as well add some extra ground beef or chicken, a salad kit, or some garlic bread to round out a meal or knock out a quick lunch.
  • Replaces curb-side pickup for major meals.  My area isn’t urban enough for Instacart and other door-delivery grocery services, so this gets us more than halfway through a week.  This goes along with being able to get food to your house without having to go out shopping, and we really appreciated how much this helped us keep quarantine when Covid19 was on the rise in our county. 
  • The portions are large enough that we are full after eating a HelloFresh meal. For me, anyway. You aren’t going to get anything extra from a 2-person meal for 2 people, but you won’t go hungry either unless you’re a really big eater.
  • Meal variety is good.  We started seeing repeat recipes in about 4 weeks, but they tend to have 20+ recipes up at any one time, and we’ve hardly found anything we genuinely didn’t like.  There are always at least 3 vegetarian options, plus several meals using chicken, beef, pork, and fish.  You pay extra for steak, salmon, and other higher-cost items (optional recipes).
  • Interface is easy.  The phone app is great; the web login works great too.  I had no problems figuring out how to add meals, subtract them, pause my box for the week, etc.
  • Options for pausing or canceling subscription.  Although you do need to remember to set up your meals several days in advance (otherwise, you’ll get the standard recipes, and we always want to swap some out), you can easily push “pause” on HelloFresh for many weeks at a time.  So if you wanted just one week a month of planned meals but be on your own the rest of the month, you could manage your deliveries to accomplish this.
  • The recipes are easy to follow, even if you aren’t an experienced cook. If you’re helping to launch a teen or young adult into their own living space, you might consider giving them a few weeks of HelloFresh along with a good cutting board, a sturdy knife set, and a couple key pots and pans. They’d be eating well and learning while doing it!
  • The random stuff you never have in your pantry is included in the meal package.  I don’t have a knob of ginger around or a squirt of concentrated chicken stock when I need just a tablespoon.  The only stuff you need to add to HelloFresh recipes are butter or oil (nearly all the time), salt & pepper (all the time), and occasionally sugar.
  • The delivery box really does keep the food cold for 24 hours or more.  Those freezer packs and box liners really work!  We also saved a couple and re-froze them to use as a day cooler recently, with zero conscience about throwing out the box instead of hauling it back home (as if it were our actual cooler).
  • Customer Service has been good.  I had an issue with a box early in our subscription.  I couldn’t get through the phone line (this was at the height of the Covid19 outbreak, so things were nuts). I used the chat feature online and rapidly got an agent, and help with my problem. They fixed the delivery issue, sent out a new box ASAP, and credited my account to boot.

Nice perk:  Aside from just the sheer variety of food and reduced mental load of planning meals — which has been much more valuable  during corona-living than I’d expected — HelloFresh makes it easy to experiment with international foods and flavors (Thai, Korean, Mexican) in your own kitchen without dropping $100 extra bucks in the international foods section to pick up the side items required for less-common recipes.

So – is HelloFresh the perfect solution? Well, no. Everything brings tradeoffs, and I’d say there are a few key downsides. 

HelloFresh: The downsides

  • The cost:  Our average box of 3-5 meals for 2 people runs $75-100 per week.  Granted, sometimes that box has 4 or 5 meals in it.  And food prices have really shot up lately, so you’d have to hit 3 or 4 store sales plus have a really well stocked pantry to cook the same menu for much less.  So I don’t think HelloFresh prices are at all unreasonable given the convenience you’re paying for.  But this is not cheap eating.
    **You do end up with a more cost-effective box if you’re buying for 4 people. The meals aren’t double the cost when you double the size.  We did 4-person meals for a few weeks, and it was nice to have leftovers or have a friend over for dinner (pre-corona) and know we’d have enough. 
  • The packaging waste: HelloFresh works hard to use only recyclable packaging, and you can fully recycle their boxes, liners, and freezer packs (if you first pour out the gel).  But every week you’re getting 1-2 big boxes and all the interior packaging.  It’s a little overwhelming.  Also, every individual meal item (aside from vegetables) is packed in its own little wrapper. You will use your kitchen scissors 100 times (that’s what it feels like) to cook any given meal.
      HelloFresh says there’s less overall climate impact from having a box of groceries delivered than what you spend in gas and packaging buying stuff from grocery stores yourself.  That’s probably true, but it doesn’t change the shift in responsibility. You’re going to be throwing out a lot of packaging.
  • The freshness of the vegetables is hit or miss:  While I have been very happy with the protein and spices and accessories as well as the customer service for HelloFresh, I’m sometimes really disappointed by the quality of the vegetables. Carrots in particular seem to expire much faster than any carrots I buy myself.  Also, if you decide to stock up on 3-4 meals in a given week but aren’t planning to eat some of them for 4-6 days, you should strategically plan to eat meals with tender herbs (cilantro) and perishable vegetables before others which can hold out longer (like potatoes).
          Also have to note that HF tomatoes are just the saddest thing. If you’re out and about and can hit a farmer’s market for a fresh summer tomato, plan on swapping out the HF tomatoes for ones with actual flavor, at least in the summer!
  • You have to cook.  There are days when I’m tired from work and my spouse has been busy all day too, and we just aren’t in the mood for 10 minutes of chopping plus 20-30 minutes of cooking.  If we get too reliant on HF, we end up having to do takeout because we don’t have the supplies for a quick weeknight supper. Moral of the story: HF is not going to turn you into a supper-cooker if you aren’t already willing to cook. Also, keep some food in your pantry!
  • Recipe prep: If you’ve got two people to split up the work, it goes much faster.  But every recipe starts with several things to chop and prep, and once you’re into the cooking, sometimes you need three hands.  I do think HelloFresh has streamlined their recipes and I always know what to do. But … you need to be up for it.
  • Calorie counts are high if you aren’t picking low-cal recipes. You can control this if you pay attention to the recipes, but EVERYTHING uses oil and 1-2 T of butter. Those calories are really adding up.  I can’t blame HF entirely for my quarantine weight gain, but it’s definitely a factor.

None of these are deal-breakers to me.  The fact that we’ve done HelloFresh for over two months is testament to the quality of their meals.  But we recognize that we are lucky enough to have the privilege of extra income right now to do a meal box service, as we’re both still employed.

Bottom line

This was the best time to try a meal box service.  Little did we know.  I am going to try Gobble this week (we paused HF) and see how they compare.  We could probably run through all the meal service options using their coupons, but HelloFresh is one of the least expensive on the market, and we’ve liked the mix of flavor and quality.

If you want to give HelloFresh a shot after reading this, my link will give you $40 off your first box. It’s easy to cancel — set yourself a reminder to manage your HF account after you’ve gotten your first box and decide if you want to keep going.

HelloFresh meal kit review May 2020
May 2020 review of HelloFresh meal kit delivery service

January Reads

A quick rundown of what I’ve been reading in case you too are looking for a book to add to your pile in 2020.

Links are to my Goodreads reviews (where they exist) and Amazon (if you want a copy):


Non-fiction

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

Bettina Love | Nonfiction – Education, Race

Review on Goodreads | Amazon link

review of Bettina Love We Want to do More than SurviveI wanted to like this book. Really did. Hits the intersection of issues I care about (critical theory, education, freedom) and I was hoping it would be as helpful as Chris Emdin’s For White Folks who Teach in the Hood (Amazon link)

Spoiler: It wasn’t.

Super disappointed. Now more than ever, we need good discussions of how race and poverty and systems intersect to cut off non-white folks from power and influence in America. I’ve been reading on this topic for 10-15 years now and still have so much to learn. Really wanted this book to be something I could pass on to others and say “Read this! It helped me understand things.”

The book did help me understand stuff, but not in a way most people would find helpful.  If you’re a teacher, read Emdin’s book.  If you’re just generally interested, I found Ta Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power (Amazon) to be one of my favorite (and painful) reads of 2019.

Others:

  •  The Washington War is on my list, continuing my journey through WW2 and General George C Marshall that I worked through last fall
  • American Warlords – ditto; started reading this before handing it off to someone a few weeks ago. Need to find another copy so I can finish it!

Science Fiction & Fantasy – in progress

Enjoying all three of these enough to mention them; will post reviews once I’m done. 

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker

Amazon 
Song New Day PinskerI love Sarah’s short fiction – her Hugo-nominated story “The Winds Will Rove” about a teacher / musician on a generational starship was one of my favorite things in 2018. This is her first novel. Imagine you’re the band who played the last show before The Thing Happened that ended civilization as we now know it, a Thing that forced people into their homes and ended public gatherings for good…. and you’re trying to find an underground music scene so you don’t shrivel up and die inside.  Great so far!

Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard

Amazon
I found Aliette De Bodard’s short fiction in the Hugo nomination packets and fell in love with her gorgeous prose.  Her novella “The Tea Master and the Detective” (2018) is delightful and I highly recommend it.  This novel is the first in her Aztec-inspired series, exploring the murder of a priestess and a priest’s journey to find the killer. It’s like NCIS in history with Aztec magic! lol  I’ve enjoyed the book, and I’m going to read the next one, though I don’t find her novel prose as rich as her short fiction writing.  Still, this is a rare opportunity to see Aztec culture in fiction and I have learned a lot!

Seven Blades in Black, Sam Sykes

Amazon
I’ve been following Sam on twitter for a while now and he cracks me up! One of my favorite twitter personalities, especially his 2018 series of painful tweets about trying to get up every day and work on his novel. So when I ran into the hefty Seven Blades book at B&N, I bought a copy and started reading.   It’s been a fun read with strong lead characters. I’d say Sal the Cacophony is one of my favorite female leads in all of speculative fiction. She’s brassy and mysterious and brutally honest.  I haven’t entirely love the prosaic style of the novel. So. Many. Short. Sentences.  But the action is pulling me along and the world is interesting and I genuinely enjoy the characters.


Professional Reading

I’m working on my doctorate in education / professional leadership, and I’m trying to identify my research agenda. Been reading a lot about adaptive leadership (giving a presentation on it at work next week). Also looking into scholarship on followership (it’s a thing) as well as critical theorists’ critiques of leadership theory in general (I dig what they’re saying).

When I have something more interesting to say here, I’ll say it.

 

So – what are you reading?  What should be on my list? 

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!

*Update: There’s a new edition available that includes a “starter pack” to get your first game off the ground quickly if you’re a new player. If you’re very familiar with Euro-style, recent board games and like learning from rules or let’s play videos, you may not need that scaffold, but if you’re buying Wingspan for a less-experienced gamer, definitely get the one with the starter set. 

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. We found it at the olive oil store on north Main Street in downtown Greenville (near the Starbucks at the base of the Hyatt).

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).


Sriracha & Honey

We’re dumb. We didn’t hop on the sriracha train till, like, last year.  *sigh*  But we’re on it now! Yeah, boy!

Use it: Sriracha-Honey glazed chicken with roasted brussel sprouts


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.

she-ra-and-the-princessess-of-power-main


 

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!

George C Marshall – the leader we needed – and still need

I’ve been reading a lot lately about General George C. Marshall. If you’ve heard of him, either 1) you grew up with me in Fayette County, PA and saw his name on the highway sign but didn’t know why, and/or 2) you have heard of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe in 1947-49 in the wake of total destruction from the war.

George C Marshall
Source: VMI

What I didn’t know (but Coart did, and he put me on to reading more about Marshall) is just how integral General Marshall was in creating the US military organization we have today, and establishing a US foreign policy for the Cold War era that might avoid hawkish bloodlust for destruction.

As Army Chief of Staff, Marshall transformed the US Military in 5 years from a woefully underfunded and unprepared force to the global powerhouse that punched the Nazis in the face. To list his accomplishments would require more words than you’re probably willing to read right now.

What really matters is that General Marshall was apparently one of the most incredible people. His unmatched personal integrity allowed him to unite a viciously divided Congress behind urgent causes like drafting men into the army in 1940 when most of America wanted nothing to do with Europe’s war (but Marshall knew it would come for us), or getting $2 billion in funding for the Manhattan Project (atomic bomb) despite not being able to tell the congressmen what the money would be for, or convincing Congress to spend half a BILLION dollars a month in 1947-48 to enact the recovery program for Europe. His personal integrity anchored his reputation and people trusted him.

He was probably the finest organizational leader, personnel developer, and military strategist of the 20th century…maybe in America’s history. Churchill called him the architect of Allied victory in WW2. Time put him on the cover of Man of the Year twice in the 40s. He is likely the only active military commander to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He trained or mentored 150 of the WW2 field commanders (and higher) who supervised multiple field armies and led millions of men to victory.

Some viewed him as austere and aloof; his close peers saw his kindness, generosity toward others, deep concern for human life, love for the front-line soldier, and dry humor. The more I’ve read, the more impressed I am, and the more I wish we had leaders around right now who could muster even a slice of his strength of character, dedication to the Constitution, and wisdom.
I’ll post a couple recommended reads below, if you want to put a book on your Christmas list.
PS. For my hometown peeps – Marshall’s dad founded coke ovens in Dunbar, Fairchance, and Cheat Lake, and built his brickworks on what became the Pechins parking lot. His family lived just off the National Pike near the historic inn, not far from Jumonville / Fort Necessity, and they summered up in the mountains nearby. He did survey work on Chestnut Ridge and fished the Yough (maybe near Ohiopyle?) He left PA to attend VMI and never really returned except for a couple visits, but I feel like he’s got the stamp of Western PA all over him. Go listen to a video clip of him testifying before Congress….. I know that accent. 😉

Jumonville, PA was near Marshall’s home place and he fished, hunted, and played in this vicinity during his boyhood years from 1880-1898, when he left to attend VMI.

Recommended Marshall Reads (and Watches)

An excellent 90-min overview of Marshall that really highlights both his brilliance as well as his humanness.

The Marshall Foundation & Library offers a wealth of excellent resources. You can read plenty about Marshall’s work and biography, watch recorded lectures from visiting historians, and access quite a bit about Marshall’s life.

Ed Cray wrote a solid and informative one-volume biography of Marshall using many of the sources assembled by Forrest Pogue, Marshall’s official biographer who wrote four volumes. I don’t have time to read 5,000 pages. If you don’t either, then I recommend this one. It’s clear and easy to follow.

Jonathan Jordan is an amateur historian and practicing lawyer in Georgia who loves to write well-respected historical accounts.  Go, Jonathan!  This is the book I ordered my father-in-law for Christmas. It’s very very readable — almost to the point it would make career historians a wee bit nervous by how he leans hard into the storytelling part of history, and maybe filling in some details in between the facts.  But it’s a really good read about how FDR, Marshall, CNO King, and Sec. of War Stimson found a way through the infighting and bureaucracy to hold the Allies together during the darkest years of the 20th century.   I think you’ll like it, whether you’re a “history person” or not.

-Coart recommends Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn * if you want to read a more holistic discussion of just how completely unprepared America was in 1939 for a global war.  (Again! That’s what Marshall complains about in his WW1 memoir! We learned nothing!)  Atkinson’s first of three volumes (the other two are out as well) covers the North Africa campaign.

Marshall & His Generals * by Stephen Taaffe — I watched Taaffe give an excellent lecture on how Marshall selected top commanders for the European & Pacific theaters, and how well those men performed overall during the war.  Taaffe’s book is a combination of individual biography and overview of the major campaigns of World War II. Along the way, he offers analysis of how well each commander performed his duties in advancing the war effort and the interpersonal drama that surrounded some of them. It’s a neat lens if you’re interested in leadership studies.

Check your library for these:

Marshall —  Memoirs of World War I (1917-1919) — he asked that this manuscript be destroyed because he was so careful to remain politically neutral, and any military decision is eventually political or politicized. But his stepdaughter found this in the attic in the 70s and published it.  If you’re into WW1 history, you’ll find it interesting.  Young Marshall (he was a Captain when he went over; left as a Colonel I think) cut his teeth on the incredibly difficult logistical and organizational problems of making the US military a modern fighting force in the midst of trench warfare and horrible fighting. He would do that all again in 1939, and this shows you how he took in information, made decisions, experienced the war.

-Katherine Marshall – Together: Annals of an Army Wife — George’s second wife Katherine was his companion throughout the difficult 1930s-50s (his first wife died after they were married like 25 years). I really like her short book; it’s a nice window into a man who was so private and self-disciplined that people thought he was cold.  Nope. Marshall had a great sense of humor and was really personable to all types of people — all while being a rather imposing military commander. Her account is very sweet.

Forrest Pogue wrote 4 volumes of Marshall biography; the library will probably have them.  Overkill?  I prefer a more condensed analysis, but he’s got a billon details if you want them.
       I did read through much of the one-volume transcripts of Pogue’s Marshall interviews, and enjoyed seeing Marshall tell his own memories in his own words.  You’ll get all of the best bits in any of the standard biographies, but academic libraries probably have this work.
*These links go to Amazon. I get like a fraction of a penny from affiliate links, so click ’em if you want to tip me. 😉