Meal Kit Updates, Games, Pandemic, and Thou (or really Moi)

We’ve been getting a meal kit every week or two for quite a few months now (since before my summary of meal kit experiences post), and now that the novelty factor has worn off a bit, and I’ve gotten at least three boxes from each of Dinnerly, EveryPlate, Martha Stewart, and Hello Fresh, I think it’s time for a small update.

First and foremost: The lack of in-box recipe cards from Dinnerly has proven to be somewhat of a pain. It’s remedied by printing them ourselves, but it’s still an extra step that involves copying files to the computer hooked up to the printer. I’ve also encountered a couple recipes from Dinnerly now that seemed extremely poorly thought through, including a lentil-based meatless loaf that was the first meal kit meal I had to throw out. So I think a bit of the “this is the cheapest of all the meal kits” has really started to show.

Along those lines, the second cheapest, EveryPlate, has not suffered from the “bad recipe” problem, but instead has fallen victim to the “these are not interesting recipes” problem. There’re been many weeks now where I’ve looked through the recipe selections and nothing stands out to me as something I want to make and eat. There’s only so many times you can toss potatoes in olive oil and bake them, or so many ways to chop onions/garlic and cook with orzo/rice, or so many times you can season a chicken breast and pan fry it.

On the other hand, I’ve grown increasingly fond of Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh, despite their higher prices. One thing I’ve found from having had 6 different meal kit company subscriptions over the past 5 months is that many of them will send you “come back and try us again” savings, so I’ve been cycling through these to never pay full price for any box. From that standpoint, Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh have been significantly more worthwhile.

Of the two, I would call Martha Stewart’s meals more unusual (but slightly more expensive) while Hello Fresh’s are a little more straightforward while remaining interesting.

So I think, given discounts exist, I’d probably recommend Martha Stewart or Hello Fresh the most, even though I still think these kits are not worthwhile at full price. We’ve generally settled on each “for four people” kit making 3 servings for the two of us, although some of those (for example the plum/ginger pork below) require a supplemental second dinner afterward.

In entertainment-y life, my new gaming laptop kicked off some semi-regular video gaming nights thanks to Austin. We worked our way through a few games like Biped, Escape Room Simulator, and Moving Out. We also got into a couple more open-ended games in Unrailed, Risk of Rain 2, and Don’t Starve Together. The latter, in particular, has been nice because I’ve managed to get Ben and Steve and Seth involved as well. I think I’m finding that my video gaming life is really driven by a desire for social activity over anything else, which is perhaps unsurprising given the pandemic.

Along those same lines, however, I’ve grown strangely sick of trying to wrangle people for activities, which in many cases have meant they just… don’t happen. The Among Us groups I was running last year fizzled out because people stopped attending after RSVPing or expressing interest, making larger games difficult. General non-Thursday (virtual) board gaming has fizzled out because people generally don’t seem to be interested. I think maybe this is the pandemic again just lowering my threshhold for dealing with “less than super straightforward” stuff in my life… normally I’d love arranging events. I just haven’t felt it for the past many months.

That leaves just the regularly-scheduled recurring stuff: Thursday virtual board games, Sunday night Jackbox, and monthly virtual get-togethers. At least those are nice to have.


Speaking of the pandemic and my life… I think the best way to describe my mental state at the moment is “I’m tired”. I’m tired of feeling like I’m the only person taking the risk of disease seriously still, with everyone else going maskless everywhere and filling gyms and attending conventions and taking international vacations. I’m tired of variant after variant because people can’t do their part when needed to lower transmissibility. I’m tired of trying to figure out where my “acceptable” risk levels are because the world’s continuing on without me whether I like it or not even though I’m terrified of getting sick due to my increased health risk and the prospect of long covid.

It’s honestly hard to see anything positive in the future at the moment, either politically (hooray the far left is going to make us lose congress again this year and set us back another couple decades!), ecologically (hooray climate change is accelerating and we’re all going to burn and/or drown and/or starve!), societally (hooray divisions between people have never been greater such that even a pandemic couldn’t bring us together!), socially (hooray I still feel weird seeing people for non-outdoor/non-virtual activities because the pandemic is a thing!), professionally (hooray I feel stuck in a rut and burnt out work-wise and don’t know what to do about it!), or creatively (hooray I haven’t really been interested in photography or card game design in years now!).

At least my personal/romantic life continues positively. It often feels like it’s the only thing that is, these days.

I just wish I could find things to do in the rest of my life that make me feel even a tenth as fulfilled as and that I care about even a tenth as much as that. Maybe that means “I’m apathetic” is a better descriptor than “I’m tired”. Maybe I’m both.

Maybe hanging all your happiness on one other person is a terrible idea, and ultimately fairly unfair to them.

Maybe I just don’t have the energy to care, these days.

So life goes, I suppose.

Life and the Universe and Everything

Well, it’s 2022. That means that my photo journal and photo stats pages have been updated.

It’s been an odd year, with a summer of “things are starting to get normal again” promptly followed by a return to the usual pandemic mess, but with a few small changes: we’re allowing ourselves grocery store trips again, and trips to see the niblings and in-laws are facilitated by at-home COVID tests (and both being triple-vaxxed).


The end of the year was also marked by some new electronics, that are rare enough that they’re noteworthy. I bought a new laptop from Dell as a pre-Black Friday special for use when I eventually return to business travel (because our work laptops are now so locked down that we can’t run anything on them but work stuff) and was forced to buy a new phone because T-Mobile is phasing out 2G and my old flip phone would soon stop working. Both of these purchases are interesting for very different reasons.

As far as the laptop goes, I intentionally picked the slowest shipping possible (even though I qualified for free 2-day shipping) so it wouldn’t arrive while we were traveling for Thanksgiving. (I generally try not to buy things before we’ll be traveling, but in this case, the deal was limited in its time window.) And of course Dell promptly shipped the laptop the same day and it arrived exactly while we were gone, AND it didn’t require signature confirmation (for an $800 laptop!). I had to have a friend retrieve it for us.

I really wish that companies would have options for “don’t deliver before this date” delivery options, especially around holidays. This happened a few years back with my camera order for Black Friday as well, but Amazon support was much more helpful (mostly because they were actually working over the holidays and were able to tell the FedEx to hold off delivery for a few days… no such ability with Dell, who shipped the laptop late in the day and then had no support the next few days because of the holidays).

The phone was interesting mostly because I just wanted another flip phone… but the cheapest option they had was $126. The moto g pure was available for $186, and I figured the extra $60 was worth it just so I could have the camera and not have to carry my work iPhone around for photos all the time. So… I now have an Android phone, and it has been an adventure because its UI (and the entire OS’ general philosophy) is so different from Apple’s. I don’t think I like Android, but I’ll deal with it because, hey, $60 camera. :)

(It’s also interesting because the phone plan I’m on is so old it doesn’t have data, so I now have a smartphone with no data. But that’s really not much different than the iPod touch I used to carry around with me anyway, so that’s fine.)

Otherwise, that’s really been it? Here’s hoping that 2022 actually starts to represent a return to normalcy.

Life, Bleh

My photo journal and stats page have both been updated. With an attempt at returning to normalcy in May, including eating (outside) at restaurants and having people over for board games, we actually have a reasonable number of photos: 2292 in the past 4 months. It’s still lower than the pre-pandemic 3417 since we weren’t doing weekly games or the usual weekend social things, but it’s still nice. (There are also some board game photos on photos, for the first time since the pandemic started. Woo.)

But of course, it’s all just in time for us to have to start being super cautious again, thanks to delta, and particularly thanks to all the people who refuse to vaccinate. I expect the next four months will be depressingly low in photos again, as we curtail in-person things. So that’s bleh #1.

Bleh #2 is work… I don’t think I’ve ever felt this utterly dejected in my professional life, and the worst part is that there isn’t even a reason for it. It’s probably just a ton of burnout, brought on by a combination of things in work and the world at large (because hooray the world is continuing to fall apart). I’m trying to push through it, like always, but I wonder if I actually need to find some more concrete changes I can make, like offloading some of the teams I work with to other people.

So of course, bleh #3 (and probably the biggest one) is the world in general right now. Politics is still an endless mess of poop, states are still doing horrible things (looking at you in particular, Texas and Florida), and the fact that we can’t even come together as a country in the face of an obvious, immediate threat (Covid) really doesn’t bode well for us being able to do anything about climate change.

Speaking of climate change, bleh #4 is that our basement flooded again, thanks to Ida. We’d been expecting for years that the flooding was due to the gutters being clogged and/or was coming from the walls. But this year… gutters were cleaned and cleared, and the water barriers we’d set up maybe suggest that the water is actually coming up through the concrete foundation, given the walls were actually relatively dry, and the wet patch in the middle of the carpet kept getting wetter as we cleaned it up, despite everything around it already being cleared. So that’s going to be some more house fun, and continue to curse the people who finished a Pittsburgh basement without proper consideration for the fact that basements of 100-year-old houses get wet.

Maybe the one “interesting” thing is that our food apathy and indecisiveness have led us to try some meal kits. After the arguably terrible experience we had with Blue Apron a few years back (“Let’s use every plate and pot and utensil and take 2 hours to make this overly-elaborate dinner that is supposed to serve four but barely serves the two of us!”), I didn’t have high hopes. But it turns out there’s a ton of meal box services now, all of which seem to be running specials. So…

Our first attempt this time around is Dinnerly. We got a 6-meals-for-4-people box and, to my surprise, the servings actually seem relatively well-sized. Some of the meals (pulled pork bowls) seem like they’re actually more like 3 servings instead of 4, but others (stir-fried eggplant) are more like 5 servings than 4. It’s also not a huge pain to cook… the things are more elaborate than I would usually make, but not unreasonably so. If it wasn’t for the fact that the meals also felt a bit plain (like things I could easily plan myself, such as grilled portabella with quinoa), it feels like it might be a good way to help with the food issue.

Next up, we’re trying Hello Fresh. They had some interesting-looking dishes up next week (particularly mushroom gnocchi and mushroom cavatappi), so we’ll see how that goes.

So other than the food, that’s a lot of bleh. Not much is going well in life right now, all things considered.

Yay life?

Musings

I logged in to write a post, and I’m not quite sure what to write, but I suppose that’s pretty representative of my state of mind at the moment.

Let’s start with this WIP entry from May 9, 2017 that I never posted, after seeing Ghost In The Shell with Maja, just so I can clean out my journal drafts. It also feels like an appropriate glimpse back into when the world was normal and we could actually do things.

I see movies so rarely that I feel like I have to write a post every time I do.

Last night I went to dinner with Maja and we saw Ghost in the Shell. I went into it not really knowing much about the film or its original manga other than, “They whitewashed this movie it’s terrible.”

Also, it’s weird that people have issues with the protagonist being white when most of the rest of the cast was white. :P It only makes sense that a company headed by a white guy and a team of white scientists would build a white robotic shell, even if the brain they’re putting into it was from an Asian girl. Meh?

But in any case, the movie itself was pretty good. Had all of the obligatory fight sequences and big CG effects and plot twists that you’d expect from a big film.

The world, and particularly the US, continue to fall further into viral despair. I think we’re officially cancelling our Phoenix trip this year, since cases are trending up again and we never actually hit a low enough level where we’d be comfortable with a cross-country drive and plane trip.

But while I could rant about anti-vaxxers and Republicans for hours, I want to talk about some other interesting things that have come out of the pandemic, instead.

I used to be a huge couponer, and even after I stopped cutting coupons, I would always watch sales and plan at least some purchases around sales… only get the sale cereals, only get the fruit-of-the-week, buy the bread or buns that are on sale. The pandemic’s condensing of grocery trips, combined with a switch to Aldi’s as our primary grocer, kind of put a stop to that. But it’s interesting to note as we’ve started going to Giant Eagle again that I haven’t switched back into it. We made a trip today where we just kind of grabbed the things we wanted, without regard for price, which was similar to the last trip where I bought a full-price pack of Milano cookies because I wanted them. I suppose it’s yet another indicator of how financially fortunate we are.

The housing market has also been crazy, probably thanks to the pandemic simultaneously keeping people at home (and therefore looking to upgrade where possible) and causing people to move to cheaper areas (since they’re not going into an office anyway). This is particularly true in Pittsburgh, where we started looking at house listings because Yubin was looking at buying a house, to find that none of the prices made sense to us anymore. If we were looking at buying a house today, there are barely any houses available in our neighborhood (and those that are available are huge), not to mention they’d cost between 25% and 50% more than what we’d be expecting.

Social arrangements are also… odd. While it’s been really nice seeing people in person (and playing outdoor board games with them) again, it also just feels strange to arrange disjoint plans (and gaming sessions) with different people to keep group size reasonable. We haven’t gotten the usual large games group fully back together (and probably won’t this year, if cases continue to go up), which makes some of the larger games I’ve been wanting to play a bit more difficult to manage, as well.

Work has been busy, as always, but I’ve just been having an increasingly hard time concentrating lately. I think it’s a confluence of a bunch of things, such as recent changes around work culture, my ever-fragmented jumping around between teams and topics, and the same general sense of “What do I actually want to be doing?” that I think has been on the minds of many people I know during the pandemic.

All of this is generally just giving me a sense of restlessness, where I feels like I need to be doing something different in my life, but having no idea what it is. I wonder how much of that was the itching to return to normalcy combined with what currently feels like any chance of that being ripped away from us again.

Anyway, this has been a huge wall of text. Boo pandemic. Boo another wave.

Card Games and Board Games and (Keith) Bares, Oh My

I’ve been on a bit of a defunct TCG kick lately, purchasing several new defunct TCGs and doing a bunch of card sorting. Things I’ve picked up include the Bleach TCG, the third starter I was missing for the Young Jedi TCG, the Power Rangers TCG, Force of Will, My Little Pony TCG, Dicemasters, Highlander TCG, Epic Battles, and some more Star Trek CCG and VS system. It’s also made me revisit (and reorganize) a lot of the TCGs I already have, such as .hack, Buffy, Megaman, Hecatomb, World of Warcraft, Fullmetal Alchemist, DBZ (CCG, TCG, and new Panini CCG), Yu Yu Hakusho, X-Files, Neopets, Simpsons, UFS, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars TCG (by Wizards, not to be confused with the CCG from Decipher).

Behold, my sorted and labelled collection!

I’ve also been dumping starter deck card lists (at least for the games with fixed starter contents) over at randomjunk, mostly so I can reconstruct decks in the future if needed. Some of them (like .hack) required quite a bit of reconstruction (since I didn’t want to open new, unopened decks to confirm), so I hope I have it all correct.

In any case, it’s interesting how TCGs have changed over the past decade or so. Some thoughts in no particular order:

  • A lot of the older games are much more low-frills: the starter deck boxes contain little more than the deck and some rules and are often sized exactly for the contents, and the games usually don’t require components other than the cards themselves. Newer games have dice and tokens and counters and come in huge boxes with plastic inserts that have to be discarded. (Power Rangers and Force of Will are particularly bad at this, but World of Warcraft also comes in huge cases which are at least functional.)
  • A surprising number of starter decks are not actually tournament-legal decks. World of Warcraft is especially bad at this (would it kill you to give us a full 60 card deck rather than a half-sized one?), but things like Buffy, Star Wars’ theme decks, and Power Rangers also offer starter decks that are less than the necessary number of cards.
  • Many games have two-player starter deck variants, which is nice, but those almost always have fewer cards than required for a legal deck. (See: Young Jedi, Star Wars TCG.) Still, I blame this less than the above, since you’re not forcing each player to buy a deck to play.
  • It’s interesting how TCGs went through a “starters must be randomized” phase, and then split into either theme decks or semi-randomized setups. Star Trek, X-Files, and Highlander are good examples of games with starters that are actually not only not tournament legal, but are often outright not playable out of the box due to the randomization. Some games then turned to preconstructed decks, often with randomized selection or portions of decks in opaque boxes (such as Bleach, Buffy, World of Warcraft, DBZ [both CCG and TCG], and Yu Yu Hakusho), while others took a more consumer-friendly approach of preconstructed decks indicated by the box (such as Simpsons, Megaman, .hack, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neopets, VS, and UFS) so you could select which deck you wanted.
  • Duplicate cards are an expected part of any starter, but some games take this to an extreme. I think Decipher’s 2-player starter decks (Young Jedi, Austin Powers) are especially egregious examples of this, but even things like the Star Trek 2E Starters duplicate cards for no good reason between decks (and even between decks in different expansion sets).
  • I wish more games did the “starter deck” rarities, especially across all cards in a starter deck. It’s extremely frustrating to open boosters and get a “rare” that you already have a few copies of from a starter (the DBZ TCG was particularly bad at this, with both the decks having two copies of one card as the only rare), but WoW does this too. Huge kudos to things like DBZ Panini for having only starter-rarity cards in their starters, but thanks to things like Megaman and .hack for at least trying via starter-only “rares”. (Alternately, randomizing only the rares works too, like LoTR or Buffy.)
  • I wish more games would include a booster pack or two in the starter deck. It’s a good way to give a taste of the collecting and customizing experience to newbies, but also increases the value of purchasing multiple starters. Bleach and WoW are probably the top here (two boosters per starter) but other games like Terminator at least make an effort.

I keep thinking it could be fun to start a blog/podcast/youtube channel on defunct TCGs, giving a general summary of their format (starter randomization, thoughts on packaging and collectability), gameplay, history, and my thoughts on the game. But like most things, I’ll probably never find the time to do it.

It’ll also be interesting to potentially try out playing some of these in the future. Which is actually a reasonable segue into the next subject…

We’ve started in-person games again, albeit outdoors (on our backyard deck) and with a very small number of other people at a time (1-3). Still, that means photos has gotten its first update with photos since the pandemic began (the last galleries, despite being posted in August, were from a February trip).

This is mostly thanks to Ben, who was in town for an unexpected visit. We hung out and played some games on the deck a couple of times (including some of my new pickups from the pandemic, such as Shadows in Kyoto), and it felt okay enough that we had Keith and Austin over for some more serious games this past weekend. I think we’re not ready for games (or generally groups of people visiting) inside the house yet, but outdoors seems fine.

We also had lunch at Emiliano’s with Keith (sitting outdoors, of course), which was our first restaurant meal with someone else since the pandemic started.

Baby steps :)