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Sunday 2024.5.19

Temptations

Here's the thing: I don't really like LEGO. I've built a few kits. I've attempted some of those LEGO-like made-in-China knock-offs of LEGO kits. They're usually not made as well, but if all the parts are there, the assembly can be completed. The most recent kit was that ugly pink race car.

When I see a kit on Amazon Vine, it's difficult to say No. Do I need it? No. Do I have a place to store it? No. The pink race car ended up in the trash when I was done with it. I kind of wish I had placed it on top of my recycling bin when I put it out for pickup. Some kid might have grabbed it, and I was fine with that. It would certainly disappear if I put a "FREE" sign on it.

This past week three more kits appeared on Vine. One was a WW2 military tank that looked good. I requested it. It was followed a day or two later by a helicopter and a propeller fighter plane, also WW2 era. I ordered those too. The tank will arrive on Tuesday.

I Ching

When I was in college I was into a lot of that Eastern religious philosophy, or whatever it's called. I read a couple books written by Ram Das, who recently passed away.

I was very much into the I Ching, which some regard is a Chinese oracle for predicting the future, but it's really a book of wisdom. The idea is to help a person think about something a little differently, maybe from another perspective, to understand the situation better and therefore know how to proceed.

I mention the I Ching because there was a male pendant on Vine that had the yin yang symbol on it along with the eight trigrams that make up the 64 I Ching hexagrams. I ordered it, not as something to wear, but I thought it might be a good way to keep my I Ching coins.

And Speaking of Chinese…

I received a very nice compliment on one of my YouTube videos. It was also a pleasant reminder to make more. So, I did a video of the shrimp I cook on my new portable BBQ grill.

You can watch the video with this link: CLICK HERE.

I call them Chinese Shrimp only because I season them lightly with a spice mix called Chinese Five Spices. It's available in many grocery stores, or you can blend your own. Search the internet for recipes.

There isn't a recipe for the shrimp because it's only a simple procedure — season and grill.

Wednesday 2024.5.15

Good News, Sort of

I previously blogged about my primary care physician noticing a small lump in my right ear. He recommended I see a dermatologist about it, in case it was cancer. I did, and he sent a biopsy to a lab for analysis. I received a phone call on Monday. It's benign, just a "dilated sebaceous oil gland."

Wouldn't a qualified dermatologist be able to recognize a sebaceous oil gland on sight? Was a biopsy really necessary? Well, yes, if you have good medical insurance. I saw a news article recently that said finding quality medical care is a gamble these days. From the billable procedures treadmill to possibly unnecessary biopsies, medical care is far more about revenue than patient care.

I saw something in the local news yesterday. Someone asked why some primary care physicians are now requiring their patients to pay a monthly $50 fee, regardless of any, if any, office visits. One person responded, saying it is because this is Santa Barbara and many doctors believe they are entitled to an expensive lifestyle. My urologist lives in Montecito. What does that tell you?

It reminds me of the time I cauterized my own nose in a Kitchen Vlog video (https://youtu.be/LUa3gvGFEvU). That was back in November of 2017. It has been 6½ years and I haven't had a single nosebleed since. And I didn't need to see a doctor.

Don't Do This

I wanted a place to store the charcoal briquettes I bought for my grill. The bag has been in the back of my SUV, which was okay. They were dry, if a little inconvenient.

I've had a white five-gallon bucket I used for disolving water softener salt pellets to make brine for killing weeks. It works great. Salt kills everything. But now there are very few weeds in my yard. I thought I might use the bucket for briquettes. But when I opened it the liquid inside looked a little too weird. It's difficult to describe. I should have taken a photo. How best to clean it?

I poured out the salt water and took the bucket into the bathroom to wash out in the tub. That was the first mistake. It's a small enclosed space. Next I poured in a little bleach and some toilet bowl cleaner.

I knew the risk — chlorine gas, which is caustic and possibly deadly. I ran out of the bathroom quickly and turned on some window fans. When I did go into the bathroom, it was for only a few seconds at a time.

I eventually got the bucket cleaned and rinsed, and the gas out, but not before I slightly burned my throat. It wasn't bad. By evening it was hardly noticeable. Was it worth the risk? Definitely not.

I could have cleaned the bucket outdoors using only one cleaning fluid at a time. Brush and rinse before adding another fluid. It would have been much safer. I feel like I dodged a bullet, but I also learned a lesson. Don't do that again.

Meanwhile, my briquettes are in my clean bucket, with a proper lid to keep them dry and stored next to where I use my grill. Although rain is unlikely here in this part of SoCal, the weather report as been predicting days and nights of drizzle.

Sunday 2024.5.12

Happy Mother's Day

If you have a mother, or are a mother, I wish you the best this day has to offer.

More Vine

In the Amazon Vine Voices rules and regulations there is one convenient provision I hadn't noticed before. Under Disposal of Vine Products it says:

All right, title and interest in Vine Products will pass to you when the Vine Product is delivered to the common carrier for delivery to you. You may keep or destroy the Vine Product at your discretion at any time.

That's a little confusing because elsewhere the rules say I cannot give away or sell items I obtain through Vine. If "all right and title" pass to me, doesn't "all" cover everything, such as gifting others with items I don't want to keep for myself? But does it matter? No, not really. I don't sell items on places like Ebay and I rarely give away something.

As I've said before, most of my requests are for disposable items, such as coffee filters, napkins, paper towels and rubber gloves. Obviously, those eventually end up in the trash.

According to the rules, I am supposed to review at least 80 items during each six-month evaluation period. I need to review at least 90% of the items I request.

I don't want to be wasteful, but what if there is nothing I really want or need? I'm running into that problem already. I already have boxes of rubber gloves, napkins / paper towels and coffee filters. What stops me from requesting really inexpensive items solely to discard when they arrive? With that in mind, I ordered a set of silicone straw toppers at $3.99. There are dozens to choose from. I could probably fulfill my review quota on straw toppers alone.

How do you review something you won't ever use? It's easy. Read other reviews for ideas.

I mentioned in an earlier blog the taxable nature of these items. They're regarded as income. So, to prevent my having to pay a lot in taxes next year, the trick seems to be to request the least expensive items.

It's worth it to stay in Vine because occasionally an item is offered I really want, such as that little portable grill I use often. I plan to grill more shrimp this week.

Shrinkflation

Wasn't it President Biden who drew our attention the shrinkflation recently — package downsizing, the process of items shrinking in size or quantity while the prices remain the same?

I shopped at Costco yesterday. There was a time when a package of Kirkland Signature Italian sausages contained 24 links. Several years ago that number was reduced to 20. The latest package contains 14.

While in Costco I tried to order a pepperoni pizza to go. I called the food court several times. They never answered the phone. Instead, I bought a box of frozen pizzas. Those cost less than $3.50 each and I can dress them up with a little additional mozzarella cheese and oregano.

And, surprisingly, this morning's blood glucose level was the lowest in the past two weeks, despite eating an entire pizza yesterday.

How Goes the LEGO-ish Kit Build?

I believe I am in the final stretch of building this ugly pink race car. If I were to buy a Ferrari, it wouldn't be pink. I can accept the challenge of tailoring and wearing a pink shirt, but I draw the line at automobiles.

The Tomato Chronicles

The new tomato plants are doing well. They look like they're thriving in the new soil. I pruned off a few flowers to encourage more plant growth. They will eventually be strong enough to support tomatoes. And, as usual, I'll tie the branches to the tomato cage to provide additional support.

My sister-in-law emailed me this past week. She and my twin brother have already harvested 21 tomatoes from their plants. That's encouraging. Their plants did not do well last year.

Wednesday 2024.5.8

First, Some Bad News

I'll get this one out of the way. On Sunday the US Postal System supposedly delivered the camping chair I wanted to use while grilling outdoors. No package was left at my front door (we do not have problems with "porch bandits," people who steal items off front porches) and there was no parcel locker key in my mailbox.

I put a note on my mail box and on Monday I spoke with a postal worker. He said he'd check. Still, no parcel and no key, but he removed my note. I am left with assuming that a neighbor got the key, opened the package and thought it was worth stealing. I am very disappointed.

I spoke with the same postal worker again yesterday. Without actually saying it, he fairly well confirmed my suspicion. And also without actually saying it he suggested Sunday deliveries are usually sketchy because the postal worker that day is not very intelligent.

Meanwhile, I tried to get a replacement on Amazon. There is no option for specifying an item was never received. I did what I could and I saw this morning they are shipping me another chair. I should have it by Friday. So, the story ends well.

Now, Some Good News

On Monday I was notified by Amazon I had completed my six-month evaluation period for Vine Voices. My account would be evaluated to determine if I qualify to be upgraded to the Gold Tier. Evaluation can take up to four days.

However, the following day, on Tuesday, I received notice my account was promoted into Gold.

In the Gold Program I can request up to ten items per day and there isn't a $100 item value limit. I should probably explain that the items are not 100% free. They are regarded as taxable income. If my tax rate is 22%, a $100 item will actually cost me $22 when I pay my taxes next year. I don't mind. Nearly 80% off retail is a bargain.

To remain in the Gold Tier I need to review a minimum of 80 items during the next evaluation period (also six months) and at least 90% of my orders. That might be a challenge because I already have most of what I want. Now I typically request disposable items, such as rubber gloves (used when cathing), coffee filters, napkins and paper towels.

LEGO-ish

I know better than to attempt a fake LEGO kit made in China. I tried once before and the pieces didn't fit together correctly after I had completed most of the build. But, I was tempted to try again.

This time it's a race car. I ordered it from Vine. Unlike LEGO, the parts are not organized in a logical way. I spend way more time searching for parts than I do actually assembling them. However, so far so good. I've completed 59 of 295 steps.

The pieces snap together well. They're snug and the fit is correct — no gaps or misalignments. When done, it will be an ugly pink car. Who thought pink would be a good color for a race car? Well, it's made in China and they like garish colors.

Sunday 2024.5.5

Another Year, Another Doctor

I think I mentioned a while ago I had another "wellness exam" with my primary care physician. It went well, except he saw something in my right ear that concerned him. It looked like it might be a small cancerous tumor. He recommended I let a dermatologist look at it.

I waited a while. I've had cancer issues before, but they've always been benign, something I don't need to worry about. When I saw my urologist on Tuesday I noticed a dermatologist office in the same building with a sign out front, "Accepting new patients." I went inside.

Due to a recent cancellation he was able to see me two days later. He examined my ear and did a biopsy to send to a lab. He said the result would come back in one to two weeks. And so I wait.

Some Perspective

Alas, o woe is me. Sometimes it's easy to feel sorry about ourselves. And then we learn something that tells us life could be worse — a lot worse.

A friend called me. He was called upon to help a former girlfriend's mother. She had a broken foot. Evidently, it was something she'd had for a while. It wasn't getting any better. He talked her into going to the hospital. The physician found maggots in the wound. As disgusting as that sounds, they might have spared her from gangrene and saved her foot.

What had she been doing? Lying in the sun with an open wound on her foot? Maggots don't happen unless flies get on there and lay eggs.

Something More Positive

I have really been enjoying my portable grill. It is way easier to use than the large Weber kettle grill I bought several years ago to do cooking videos. It only takes minutes to start a dozen briquettes, which reach their full heat potential in about half an hour. That gives me time to prepare my food to grill.

There has been one negative. I want to sit outside while the food is cooking, but there is nowhere to sit, except on my porch steps, which isn't comfortable. If I wait long enough on Vine, something will eventually show up. This past week I ordered a folding camping chair. The reviews were good and I liked the way it fits into a pouch for storage. That should store easily in my shed. So, I ordered it.

A beverage holder would have been nice, but I'm not going to complain about something I got for free. It will be here later today. The web site says it's "out for delivery." I'll test it this afternoon when I grill more chicken.

I found something else I wanted. A few years ago America's Test Kitchen reviewed automatic hands-free liquid soap dispensers. You hold your hand near the front of it. It detects your hand and dispenses soap. I put one on my wish list, but I never got around to ordering it. One showed up on Vine this week. I quickly requested it.

And for those who might be unfamiliar with the Amazon Vine Voices program, selected items are made available for free. We can request them at no cost. Our only obligation is to write an honest review. Although there might be more than 50,000 items to choose from, most are schlock I wouldn't want in my home. I might request one item per day, if any at all.

Tomorrow I will have completed my evaluation period. I met all the requirements. I expect to be promoted into the Gold Level. In the Silver Level I could request a maximum of three items per day and they are priced below $100. In Gold there is no price limit and I can request up to ten items per day. I doubt I will request more items — most will still be schlock — but it will be interesting to see what is available at the higher prices.

Finally, Blood Glucose

It was 7.5 mmol/L this morning, which is encouraging.

Wednesday 2024.5.1

Charcoal Starters Revisited

As expected, the cardboard tubes arrived on Sunday afternoon. While I was waiting I thought about how I might cut them and assemble my starters. Obviously, I couldn't cut across the tubes with scissors, but a hacksaw blade works very well.

Each tube is slightly more than three inches in length. Cutting one into three pieces seemed like the best choice. I'll call those mini-tubes. To seal the mini-tubes for holding the wax mixture, I glued a piece of paper to one end using a little white glue, like Elmer's.

I mixed shredded paper and paraffin in roughly even portions. I then filled each mini-tube with the mixture and pressed it in fairly well. Then I glued another piece of paper on top. That gave me handy little starters that should store well until I need them.

Another configuration I tested was cutting the tube in half lengthwise. This makes slightly larger starters because I get two from each roll rather than three. And probably worth mentioning: If I were using a chimney to start a lot of briquettes to use in my large Weber kettle grill, I'd make starters using the entire tube.

Sunday's weather was typical SoCal glorious. It was a good opportunity to test one of my new starters. It lit the coals well enough. I was a bit concerned at first because the fire from the starter was small. However, within the usual amound of time — about half an hour — all the charcoal briquettes were white. I don't need a conflagration.

I have one of those IR thermometers. The temperature of the coals beneath the chicken ranged from 800 to 1,000°F — plenty hot enough to cook my chicken, which was two boneless thighs with the skin still on. I bought them bone in, but I prepared them specifically for grilling.

After grilling them to an internal temperature around 170°F, I mopped them with some barbecue sauce and cooked them a few minutes longer. Then they were ready to eat. As usual, they were delicious.

The Tomato Chronicles

I gave up. I'm not sure what I did wrong with those two tomato plants, but after two months they looked awful. The leaves were small and there was almost no new growth. I uprooted them and tossed them in the trash. Then I dug out the soil mixture in the pot and discarded that too.

Meanwhile, I went to Home Depot and bought two new plants. These, however, were well along with their growth. I also bought another large bag of potting mix.

The plants were more expensive — the larger one was $20 — but I'll just assume that is the cost of making a mistake. And speaking of mistakes, I thought I bought an Early Girl. It's a Celebrity and it's a determinate. I drove back to the store and bought an Early Girl. So once again I'll have three tomato plants in my planter — an Early Girl, a Big Beef and a Celebrity. I hope to have my first tomatoes by the end of July.

And this also gave me confidence my outdoor soil sensors are working. The meter in my home said the soil was moist. When I dug out the old planting mix it was indeed moist.

Finally, A1C

I learned something new this week. I saw my urologist yesterday and I mentioned my A1C. He said the number is not a daily figure but an average over two or three months. It's better to track my mmol/L, which is a daily measure of my blood glucose. The goal is 5.6. Yesterday it was 8.6. It needs work.