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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: ClickList

***I was not compensated for this post and my opinions are my own. Kroger's ClickList is free the first three times you use it and I'm writing this after using two of my free trial purchases.***

Apologies to the people who don't have Kroger in their area. They're not up in Minnesota where I used to live, so I'm sure a lot of you don't have a store in your area. I want to talk about their ClickList anyway because I hate grocery shopping.

When I lived in Minnesota, there was an online grocery store that delivered to my house. I used it a few times and was a bit frustrated by the narrow choices offered. Still, when you loathe grocery shopping to the extent that I do, sometimes you grin and bear it and learn to like what they had available. :-) My greatest disappointment upon moving to Atlanta was learning that they had zero online grocery options down here.

Recently, however, the Kroger store near me opened ClickList in beta testing. What you do is order your groceries online and pick them up at Kroger, usually the next day. My heart rejoiced!

Creating the list was easy. The items I frequently buy were on my ClickList home page and I was able to simply click them to add them to my cart. The items I didn't buy were easily found by searching, and as far as I could tell, anything I could find in the store was available to buy online, too. Much better than the narrow assortment I had from the home delivery online grocery store in Minnesota.

The first time I used the ClickList service, I wasn't able to pick up during the hour window that I wanted to choose. That's what I get for waiting until late the night before, I guess, but who'd have thought that my time would be that popular? I ended up with the hour following the one I wanted.

You pull up to the specially marked parking area, choose a slot, and call the phone number on the sign. Both times my call was answered on the first ring. In a few minutes, a Kroger employee wheeled out a cart with my groceries. They spend some time telling you what wasn't available and required substitution. My first visit (ordered late the night before) had quite a few substitutes or not available items. My second visit had only one, but the second time I put together my order about four or five days before I wanted to pickup. More on this in a minute.

After they run your credit card, the Kroger employee loads your car for you. No need to even get out of the car. That's so cool! And that's it. After they load your car, you can take your groceries home. Both times it was less than 10 minutes. The first visit--when I ordered fewer groceries--was maybe around five minutes. This sure beats 45 minutes to an hour in the grocery store.

Putting in my order early had some pluses and some minuses. On the plus side was that I only had one substitution. I'm attributing this to the fact that they had more time to assemble the order, but I'm guessing on this. They might not assemble any orders early because of space considerations. This also allowed me to get my chosen hour for pickup. I really like mid-morning because it lets me sleep in and not waste the entire day killing time until my slot opens up.

The minus side was that I remembered things later that I wanted to get and decided to not get other things I'd already chosen. I was able to edit my order, so this wasn't a huge minus, but I was unfamiliar with the process and it took me a little bit of time to figure out how to add more than one new item to the existing cart. I'm sure if I use the service more, this problem will fade.

How'd they do on my order? Well, part of it was my learning curve on order one. I wanted 5 apples, but Kroger's ClickList wanted me to order in pounds! Gah! So I guessed three pounds for 5 apples on the theory that if I received more apples, it would be no big deal. As it turned out, I was given four apples weighing 1 pound and 13 ounces. This was a fail for me. The second time, I added in the comments field exactly how many apples I wanted. This worked perfectly! Mostly.

I said I wanted one potato in the comment field on that item. I received two, which I'm guessing weigh one pound. Maybe they couldn't believe I only wanted a single potato! :-)

One last thought--I believed that I'd prefer home grocery delivery, but as it turns out, it's super convenient to pick it up at the store myself. For one thing, I'm not chained to my house, waiting for the delivery guy to show up. And that window could be half the day. Kroger gives me a one hour window that I picked myself and I can show up anytime within that hour that's convenient for me. The first time I used the service, I was there exactly at the start of my hour. The second time, I got there about 20 minutes after the hour. Perfect each time.

Picking up at the store also let me stop and get gas at the same time and swing by the UPS store that was in the same shopping strip.

I have one more free trial pickup and then the $4.95 charge kicks in. Personally, it's worth $5 to me to save nearly an hour out of my life. Plus, when I go grocery shopping, I do my best to avoid the crowds and that means dragging my butt out of bed on Saturday super early. With the pick up, I didn't have to worry about crowds or lines in the checkout. This frees me because I can pick up groceries any time or day that's convenient and I can sleep in since I don't deal with parking issues or long checkout lines with ClickList.

It's not perfect because some things are open to interpretation (For example, my "little green" desire for bananas yielded a bunch of bananas that were mostly yellow in my opinion.), but it's pretty darn close and I'd love to continue to use it. The wrench in this desire is my dad. He lives with me now and he loves grocery shopping. It's also his big outing of the week and I'm not sure I'll be able to convince him to give it up.

So my rating of Kroger's ClickList is two thumbs up, five stars, super rave. I love it and highly recommend it to anyone with 1) a Kroger store that offers the service and 2) dislikes grocery shopping as much as I do. Highly recommended!

***I was not compensated for this post and my opinions are my own. Kroger's ClickList is free the first three times you use it and I'm writing this after using two of my free trial purchases.***

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Adventures With Rice

Since I talked about my cooking win, it's only fair that I talk about my cooking...not loss because it didn't turn out badly, but it was a lesson. I wanted to say lesson learned, but this isn't the first time I've made a mistake like this so I have no hope that I've learned it this time either.

I have this slow cooker dish that I've made a few times--successfully! It's a riff on a stove top recipe that I really like. I call it Chicken Salsa Verde. What I do is put in about 4 pounds of chicken (usually a combination of breast and thigh meat), a can of chicken broth mixed with corn starch, and a jar or two of salsa verde. I cook on high for about 5.5 hours, then I add a can of sliced olives and cook for another half an hour. It's always turned out yummy.

This time, though, I had a brainstorm. Why don't I add rice to the slow cooker? That way, I can have my Chicken Salsa Verde with rice and not have to cook it on the stove. Brilliant, I decided.

At about the five hour mark this time, I added rice. I had it all figured out. I'd put in 3/4 of a cup of rice. It might be too much, but I wasn't sure half a cup would be enough. Only after I added the amount of rice I'd decided on, it didn't look like enough. I added another quarter cup. Hmm. It still didn't look like much. I added more. Without measuring.

Um, yeah.

When I came back an hour later, there was no sauce left in the slow cooker. The rice had sucked up every inch of moisture. I added more salsa verde mixed with some water. And then added more water. I had a pretty solid mass.

I was able to get it mixed up enough to lose the clay-like consistency, but I had a hell of a big container of leftover Chicken Salsa Verde with Rice in the refrigerator. It's going to be a long time before I make this one again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Word of the Year

There are a number of planners and goal-setting books that suggest picking a word or short phrase as your theme for the year. I was a little skeptical of this idea, but decided to think about it anyway. After all, it wouldn't hurt anything.

2016 was a horrible year, one that left me feeling overwhelmed and worn out. I think my word for last year was probably something like ENDURE, although I never really thought about it.

But 2017 was a new year and I gave the word/phrase thing some consideration.  My first thought was to go with the word PERSEVERE. Like just continue slogging through all the muck and eventually get to the other side of the fire swamp. That one stuck with me for three or four days and I was feeling confident that was my word.

And then there was a goal-setting webinar someone posted about on Facebook and I attended. One of the exercises was to pick a word or phrase for 2017. :-) Yeah, sometimes fate is just telling you to do something. I'd never heard of this idea before and suddenly everywhere I turn, this is popping up.

As I worked through the exercise in the webinar, though, I decided my word wasn't persevere like I thought it was. My word was actually TRANSFORMATION.

I'm not sure exactly why this is my word or what it means yet, but I'm going with it. It seems like a really good word.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

On Tuesday when I blogged about cooking, I mentioned that I'd do a post about my shopping adventures. It was not what I expected when I started out.

To preface the whole story, I had to make a run up to the airport early in the morning to drop someone off on Saturday. On my way home, I decided to do my grocery shopping and get it out of the way. It was nearly 7am when I pulled into Kroger, but they're open 24 hours, so I didn't think much of it. I used to go grocery shopping in Minnesota at 6am on Saturdays all the time to avoid the craziness that started later in the day and the experience was no different than shopping at 2pm.

I expected the same thing in Georgia. That's not what I got.

I parked my car in the nearly deserted parking lot and didn't think anything of it. Mornings seem to start later in Atlanta than they did in Minneapolis. I walked up to the doors, but they didn't open. I tried the other set next to them. Nope. I checked the sign on the door. Open 24 hours, it said.

There are two entrances to this store, so I walked the length of the store and those automatic doors worked. I don't like using this set of doors because I like to shop produce first and it's on the other side of the store, but hey, whatever. I grabbed a cart and entered the store. I hesitated. It was sort of dark because not all the lights were on. Huh?

Still, no one told me they weren't open, so I headed down to produce and discovered that the section for the apples I wanted to buy was almost completely empty. There were two sad, scarred apples there, but there was no way I was buying them. And there was no asparagus for my fish either. 

I decided to do the rest of my shopping and come back to produce. Maybe things would be out by then. As I was in the whole foods section, the lights came on. It was 7am. After I finished picking up what I had on the list, I headed back to produce, but no, the vegetables and fruits had no magically appeared. When I was ready to leave, I had to use the self-service checkout because not one register was open. WTF? This isn't open 24 hours to me.

My next stop was Publix. They open at 7am and by now it was 7:45 or so. Here, I found the apples I wanted (yea!), but they didn't have the chunks of cantaloupe I wanted to get, at least not in the small container. They had some big ones out, but those are too big for me.

But everything else seemed to be out and ready for purchase. This was much better, I decided.

My happiness deflated when I went to buy fish and saw that it was closed up. There wasn't a single piece in the case. Empty and the case was dark. No fresh tilapia for me. I ended up picking up a bag of the frozen fish they sell. Much disappointment, but I wasn't leaving without the ingredients I needed for my recipe.

The lesson here? Don't go grocery shopping in Atlanta too early in the morning. They're not prepared for it the way they are in Minnesota.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fish in the Slow Cooker

I'm not much of a cook. I admit that readily. I hate it and it hates me back, but the one thing I can usually do well is use my slow cooker. Except for turkey breast, which I can't seem to master. Anyway, I wanted fish, but I didn't want to risk cooking it on the stove or in the oven, so I did a search online and discovered a recipe for Lemon Pepper Tilapia with Asparagus. I decided to give it a try.

When I went grocery shopping, I picked up asparagus and tilapia. (Although the fish proved to be an issue. More about my grocery shopping issues on Thursday.) If you check out the recipe, you'll see the fish needed to be wrapped in tinfoil. This proved a little problematic too.

The first tinfoil problem arose during the wrapping stage. I had to fold the edges to keep the lemon juice in while I finished putting the packet together. I had one that started leaking even after being carefully wrapped and I had to double up with a second sheet of tinfoil, but at last everything was wrapped and put in the slow cooker.

It was when I took the fish out that problem two surfaced. Leakage. The bottom of the crockery was filled with lemony sauce. I'd figured there'd be a small amount seeping out, but I wasn't prepared for the volume. My culprit was the fish on the bottom. The heat must of ripped a gash the length of the packet. Can a slow cooker do that to tinfoil? It was super torn, not like a hole.

But the big question was how did it taste?

Yummy! The asparagus was so soft and I loved that. The fish was slightly dryish. (but not bad!) I think the problem was that the fish was half frozen because I'd had it in the refrigerator overnight. I decided to cook it as if it were frozen. I probably should have split the difference and done 2.5 hours instead.

I'm not a food photographer or professional chef who knows how to plate food, but here's a picture of my dinner. I served with a quarter cup of brown rice.

Lessons learned: I'm not a fan of pepper, so I would cut back a little on the lemon pepper seasoning the next time I make it. It was a little bit too peppery for me, but not by much.

Buy more asparagus. I picked up a small bundle and it wasn't enough for four fillets.

Double wrap all the fish packets and put a liner in the slow cooker. I always, always line my slow cooker before using it, but I didn't this time. Next time I will.

I'd do the fish frozen. The pieces that were more solid were easier to work with while I built the packets. The fillets that were partially thawed were messier and just a pain.

I give the recipe two thumbs up. It was super good. Prep time was relatively quick and even for me, someone who hates to cook with a passion, it was an easy meal to put together. Certainly worth the effort for the results I got. :-) Recommended if you like lemon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Miss Old-Style Movies

My original plan was to blog today about how my crochet class is going (okay), but I changed my mind after watching White Christmas.

Over the holidays I watched some movies with my dad. It's so hard to find things he enjoys so  a lot of the movies were old--from the 40s, 50s or early 60s. Among these movies were musicals. Delightful songs, dancing, sweet stories.

As we were watching White Christmas on Saturday I started thinking about how they don't make movies like this anymore and haven't for decades. Oh, sure, there's an occasional musical now and then, but once upon a time these were released all the time. Actors and actresses could sing and dance as a matter of course. Now I'm not so sure they can do anything except act. Which is fine, but still I can't help thinking we're missing something special.

There are no words for how sick I am of comic book movies. Marvel Universe, DC Universe, I just don't care. I'm tired of Batman and the Joker and X-Men.

Part of my problem no doubt is related to what I consider the poor offerings Hollywood has released in the last ten or fifteen years. It's all the same and it's part of their chasing the blockbuster and that they're gearing movies to the foreign audience. They now make more money overseas than in the US and this has meant we've lost dialogue-heavy films, especially if there's subtlety involved. I do love action and adventure, but I also love witty banter.

And I love singing and dancing. I loved White Christmas. I never get tired of The Sound of Music. I heard there's a new musical out right now and that it's not bad. I'll have to make a point of seeing it at some point, but I kind of doubt it will have the same magic as the old musicals.

Edited to add: Not that White Christmas is by any means a perfect movie. The conflict in the romance part is the Big Misunderstanding which could be resolved with one conversation and the secondary romance is pretty much non-existent. The characters aren't really well fleshed out either. I look at the movie as more of a vehicle for the singing and dancing and that I enjoyed tremendously.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Snowmageddon That Wasn't

The weather service predicted snow for Atlanta last Friday. I don't know if you all remember the last time it snowed in Georgia, but people were trapped on the roads for 24 hours and longer. It made the national news. I think it was December 2014.

I didn't have the problems getting home in the last snowfall, but it did take me 3.5 hours. That would be an hour longer than my worst ever snow commute in Minnesota. That includes snowfalls of two feet, not the meager 2.5 inches that fell in Atlanta, but as I'm continually reminded, the south isn't used to snow like the north is and doesn't have the equipment to remove it.

So with 2-4 inches of snow in the forecast for Friday into Saturday, I was naturally concerned. This is almost double what fell during Snowmageddon 2014.

It started raining early in the day right on schedule according the the weather people. The temperature hovered in the mid thirties. We watched and waited. And waited. And waited, but finally it was late enough to go to bed.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I expected to see a blanket of white covering the ground. I opened the blinds to brown. Brown leaves, brown grass, brown pine needles.

The snow forecast had apparently been changed to ice, although I missed that little announcement. There wasn't much ice either that I could see. That was a huge relief, but when I think of the time we spent getting ready and worrying about the weather, it's a little frustrating too. Still, I'll always take them being wrong this way than to have them be wrong the other way and have surprise snow.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Crochet Class

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know that I've signed up for an online crochet class. I've always been craft challenged, so this is a major undertaking for me. These wonderful crafty people who can pick up a new skill easily amaze me. I've always struggled.

What prompted my desire was those kitchen towels with the crocheted tops that fasten to stoves and whatnot. I have one my mom gave me that I love, but it's getting old and replacing it is difficult. The first problem is the towel itself. A lot of the people who make these towels use ones that are worthless to wipe your hands on--they're strictly decorative. I don't want this.

I did find some on Etsy that used a pretty good towel, but that led me to problem two. The drop was too long. The towel I have and love has a short drop, no button, and a wide enough button hole that I can push it around the knob on my cabinets and have it hang that way. Basically, I want the exact same towel I already have, but new and refreshed. It seemed easier to make my own than try to describe what I want to someone else.

There's another crocheted item that I'd love to learn how to make, too. Those dragon scale fingerless gloves. It's cold in my office and they're super cute! I already have a pair favorited on Etsy, but I haven't quite managed to hit the buy button yet. Surely, I can become good enough to make them?

The other reason I'd like to learn crochet is to have another creative outlet aside from writing. What I found while I was actively scrapbooking was that ideas for the story I was working on would come while I was working on a page. It was a nice zone to fall into and I'm hoping something similar will happen once I get okay enough at crochet that I'm nothing thinking about where my fingers are and the tension on the yarn and yadda, yadda, yadda.

And the final thing I'm looking for is a way to keep myself off the computer. Between my day job and writing, I spend far too much time on the PC/Mac. My default while I'm watching television is fingers on the keyboard. I'd like less time online, but I can't just sit and watch TV. I get too restless. I'm looking for crochet to take the place of surfing the net.

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll also know that I finished lesson one. The chain stitch. Holding the hook hasn't been difficult to grab, but it's been a lot harder to figure out a way to hold the yarn. Even worse for me has been yarn tension. It seems as if all my stitches have either been too tight or too loose, but I can't seem to hit the sweet spot. The only thing I can do is to continue to practice and hope that eventually I can grasp it, so that I can attempt lesson two.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

No Resolutions

I don't make New Year's resolutions and haven't in a very long time. My experience has been--at least when it comes to me--that whenever I make them, they quickly fall by the wayside. That's not to say that I don't have goals for the year. I do. But goals are different.

Resolutions (and I make the caveat that I speak only for myself) are rather vague and difficult to quantify. This year I'm going to exercise more. Okay, great, but how do you do anything with "more?" Goals, on the other hand, should be measurable. My goal is to walk 3 miles five days a week. This is so much more doable. Of course, the actual doing requires forcing new habits, but there's a measurable target here.

This year I bought three different goal-setting workbooks in addition to the goals section in the front of my Start Planner. I know, overkill, but that's just me. :-) I have an Author Life planner, Powersheets, and Your Best Year 2017. One is for writing, one for personal, and the third more business oriented.

Of course, making time to work on these three different systems is a problem. Life is busy and time to think hard to come by sometimes. I'm determined, though, to use them and get myself on track for 2017. Some of the questions aren't easy, but maybe that's what I need.

And I did manage to make one of my 2017 goals early. Like I did it in December 2016 early. I wanted to do a 5K race this year and there was one particular race I was interested in. Lots of pink stuff for entrants and it looks like it's for people who want to have fun. I'd hate to end up in a group of serious runners. :-) Anyway, I thought this 5K would be in Atlanta in fall of 2017, so I set my goal (with measurable milestones) and then found out they weren't coming until spring 2018.

Very disappointing. Then they offered a virtual race! I still received some pink stuff for entering, although not everything I'd get for a live race, and I needed to complete the 5K by Dec 31, 2016. I finished on Dec 18th. Yea! And I did my 5K in 37 minutes which is average for a beginner which is a huge achievement for me. Of course, I did it on a treadmill, so if I'd been outside, I probably wouldn't have gone that fast, but hey, now I have my first goal for 2018!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Wishing everyone a healthy, happy 2017. Let's hope it's a better year than 2016.