Monday, February 6, 2017

A Constant Supply of Fresh Spices

Time, light, oxygen, and heat are enemies of spices.

The Problem
I suspect the typical spice rack harbors spices from the last millennium.
  • Buy tiny quantities, use within one year.
  • For spices you use rarely, buy enough for one meal.
Spice jars are usually transparent and sit on a rack on the counter or wall.
  • Store in a dark place.
Eventually a spice jar contains more oxygen than spice.
  • Store in small plastic bags, squeeze out any air.
  • Buy whole rather than ground spices. This greatly reduces the exposed surface area.
A warm place (e.g., next to an oven or above a range) might be seen as a convenient spot for storing spices.
  • Store spices away from heat sources.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When Fear Rules

January 1990: I flew back home to Minneapolis after attending my father's funeral in England. As the plane descended over Minneapolis my anxiety level rose, as it always did at this point in my journey back to the USA.

Flying doesn't bother me in the least. It was the thought of being questioned by an immigration official and being denied entry to the USA. I'd be forced onto the next flight back to the UK, separated from my partner, my home, my job, my life.

As I walked towards Immigration Control, my pulse would race, I would try not to shake. I rehearsed the upcoming encounter in my head:
Immigration Official: Are you a homosexual?
Me: I have nothing to say.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day 2017

Today, Inauguration Day 2017, I did my bit to support artistic expression and local beer.

Artistic expression is constitutionally protected speech. Art can express compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, but it can be annoying, uncomfortable, nihilistic. A crucifix immersed in the artist's urine is not my go-to artistic experience, but neither is mind-numbing kitsch.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to Dispose of Unwanted Money

Tomorrow I'll be stopping at the post office to drop off a box filled with foreign coins and banknotes.

Last year, at Newcastle International Airport, I showed my nephews an easier way to dispose of foreign currency. I led them to a big, bubble-shaped currency donation bin, then handed them some UK coins. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, they were happy to perform The Disposal. 

They didn't think to rush over to a concession to buy candy with their new-found wealth. I'm grateful they want to help others.

I was thinking about this coin-drop the other day as I was sorting through my collection of leftover foreign currency. I always tell myself the money will be useful "the next time I go."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Freakin' Cheap: Almost-Free Flights

How about an almost-free flight to Tokyo?

How about applying for a credit card with a 70,000 airline frequent flyer (FF) mile signup bonus, using the card for three months, then cutting up the card? 70,000 miles can buy a round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to Tokyo.

Flying is not always the best way to accumulate FF miles. Airlines are moving to price-based loyalty schemes. Instead of awarding one or more FF miles per mile traveled, Delta Airlines awards between 5 and 11 FF miles for each dollar spent on the ticket. If I'm lucky enough to find a really cheap fare, I'm not going to get so many FF miles.

These days, credit cards are a lucrative source of miles. It's not too hard to find signup bonuses ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 FF miles. Sign up for an airline-affiliated credit card, spend a minimum amount in the first two or three months, then get tens of thousands of miles credited to your airline FF account.

The key to collecting miles is to churn credit cards: apply for an airline-affiliated card, use the card for the required time period, get the bonus miles, then cancel the card. We've found that credit card issuers won't accept another application for about two years. So, two years later, reapply for the card and repeat the process.

70,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at. United Airlines has excellent availability in Economy between Minneapolis and Tokyo round-trip in the next few months for 70,000 FF miles.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Red Solo Cup

This morning I read that the developer of the red Solo cup, Robert Hulseman, had died.

The cup was first produced in the 1970's and is known to generations of students as the cup of choice for keggers. It's also the preferred growing container for cannabis.

I took the photograph at the top of this post in 2009 at the headwaters of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. My partner's dad had passed away a few months earlier. We all knew him as Chub and we dearly missed him, his simple approach to life, and his cheeky humor.

Now, the family was gathered at the headwaters to perform a simple ritual that we once discussed with Chub: we were going to send a few ounces of his ashes down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Maybe ocean currents would carry him to Greenland where he served in the military.

Needless to say we did not ask permission, as it would have been denied. We realized we needed a discreet way to introduce the ashes to the water without catching the attention of park rangers.

We found a red Solo cup in the trunk of our car. It smelled vaguely of stale wine, which would have reduced Chub to giggles had he been there in person. The oldest grandson introduced the contents of the cup to the Mississippi.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My America

Today I waited at Cedar Riverside light rail station for a friend. We were going to walk and chat about our memories of the area. He, and his father before him, had attended the nearby Augsburg College. [See his blog post.]

100 years ago, the Cedar Riverside area of Minneapolis was the first American home for waves of Scandinavians. Augsburg College, with its Norwegian/Lutheran roots was well situated here.

Back then, the prevailing culture sometimes stereotyped the newcomers as dumb, clumsy, heavy drinkers who talked with a funny accent.