Haven’t bought an e-reader yet? Well, this is the week to take the plunge — Amazon’s Black Friday Week has Kindles on sale at great prices.
I love reading, whether it’s a paper book or on my Kindle. I know some people think it’s an “either/or”, but imho, the more ways to read and enjoy my favorite books, the better. The Kindle stores hundreds and hundreds of books — more books than I own, alas — and is incredibly portable. I love having my library with me everywhere I go. Speaking of libraries, borrowing e-books from your local library and reading them on your Kindle is a snap.
One last note: I tell everyone I know to buy the Kindle versions with Special Offers. It lowers your price by $30, and it’s completely unobtrusive — advertisements appear on just the screensaver and the very bottom of your home screen. There are NO ads in your books. So why not save a little money?
Black Friday Deals Week: Kindle e-readers
$30 off Kindle — $49.99 (normally $79.99)
The entry-level Kindle is a great choice and this is the lowest price I’ve ever seen it. Don’t miss this deal!
$20 off Kindle Paperwhite — $99.99 (normally $119.99)
This is the Kindle I currently use. The higher-resolution display and built in adjustable light is terrific for reading anywhere (at night in bed, on planes, etc.)
So, we ordered an Amazon Echo in February. It finally came about two weeks ago.
First, I should explain what the Amazon Echo is. Basically, it’s Siri (or OK Google) for your house. You plug it in, and ask it things, and it responds. It also can coordinate with smart home devices, so once you’ve got those all hooked up, you can walk around feeling a little like Jean-Luc Picard. (“Alexa, lights. Lower. Damn you, Alexa, that tea is cold!”)
Second, the wait. Amazon released the Echo in 2014, but on an invitation-only basis. In other words, you had to request an invitation to buy one. I’d claim it was a marketing ploy, but I honestly think they haven’t got that many of them manufactured yet. As a Prime member, I requested my invitation sometime last year, and was finally able to place an order in February. It arrived in the first week of June, which was about two weeks sooner than had been predicted. The question is, was it worth the wait? And, was it worth the price? The Echo was initially $99 for Prime members, but that deal has ended. Currently the the Amazon Echo can be ordered by anyone for $179. (estimated ship date as of this writing: July 14th)
Setting the Echo up is ludicrously easy. You plug it in — and as an aside, the plugging in is kind of nice. As in, there’s no battery concerns with this thing, because it doesn’t run on batteries. You need an outlet, but most homes still have those, so it’s actually nice for once to not be worrying about one more thing to recharge. There’s a quick wireless setup via an app you download (iOS, Fire, and Android both available, or the desktop). And that was it. Again, I appreciate that there weren’t a lot of hoops to jump through.
Questions and Answers
In order to talk to the Echo, you use a “wake word”, which is not at all like a safe word for robots though it sounds like it is. Your “wake word” choices are limited to “Alexa” (the default) and “Amazon”. It’s impractical for us, at least, to use “Amazon”, since we talk about Amazon all the time (as in, whether an order arrived, or whether a movie we want is on there, and so on). They’ve said something about adding new “wake words” eventually, and we very much wish they would. I’d prefer something like “Agnes” or “Beelzebub”.
So, the Echo hears the “wake word” and then listens to what you ask it, and replies. Simple, but not really, because — look, this thing is new. There’s stuff it can do, and stuff it can’t. It can tell you the weather and the news and what year “Avatar” was released, but it can’t tell you when “Jurassic World” is playing in your area, and it can’t tell you when the Tony Awards are on. It can read you entire Wikipedia articles, can tell you knock knock jokes, and has a few smart answers to some trick questions. It can sync with your Google calendar and add things to it, but can’t tell you if you’ve got something scheduled on the 19th. You can order things from Amazon that you’ve ordered before (and you can turn that function off, if it seems too fraught with possibilities for error, which it does to me — “Who ordered fifty jugs of cat litter?!”). You can make lists, you can get traffic updates, you can get recipe help, set timers, and hear sports scores. But there’s a lot, a lot, a lot it can’t answer. Which is kind of a pain, but because all of the Echo’s technology is in the Cloud, I’m willing to be patient about it.
There’s one other advantage for the truly lazy among us. With Siri, my iPhone has to be plugged in for it to automatically answer “Hey Siri” queries. Either that or I have to, ugh, actually pick it up and touch a button. So tiring. But truthfully, sometimes my phone’s in another room, not plugged in. The Echo takes all of that out of the equation.
The Echo is a Bluetooth speak, so you can pair devices — your iPhone, for example — with it and listen to music that way. To be frank, I don’t have any use for this feature. We have other speakers we already use. I’m told that in the world of Bluetooth speakers, the Echo’s sound quality is so-so. You’d be silly to buy it for just that reason, though.
We have used it to listen to Prime music, though. As Amazon Prime members, we have free access to the Prime music library. While there are some glaring omissions (no Prince! no Maroon 5!), there’s a lot of great music there. I can say, “Alexa, play George Michael” and she’ll shuffle through his catalog. There are some ready-prepared stations and playlists, too. It’s Amazon’s version of Pandora, essentially, and since we’re getting it for free as Prime members already, it’s a nice feature.
(Side note: You can upload all of your music to Amazon, too, and listen to it through the Echo. But right now you’re limited to 250 songs for free, and $24.99 a year for 250,000 songs. Frankly, that’s crazy. I’m not paying a yearly fee to listen to my own music. Google Play lets you upload all your music for free. Amazon, get with the times on this one.)
Supposedly you can shop through the Echo. On Amazon, of course, and (I think) items you’ve ordered before. I can’t say that’s too useful for me, since we don’t tend to order the same things over and over again on Amazon (or if we do, we subscribe to them).
But you *can* make a shopping list through the Echo. Any time you say, “Alexa, add Fiddle-Faddle to the shopping list”, she does. You can access that list through the app. You wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, but it’s a good 75% of what we use the Echo for. Running low on eggs? Tell Alexa. Need to add more mushrooms to the FreshDirect order? Tell Alexa. Realize that you’re about to eat the last Hostess cupcake? Tell Alexa. She won’t judge. Seriously, it sounds stupid, but this is hugely useful for us. We tried keeping a plain old pen & paper list in the kitchen, but half the time when I realize I’m out of something, I’m busy cooking, or just on the couch and too lazy to move. And since Dave and I both have the app on our phones, when we’re at the store, one or both of us, we’ve always got the list with us.
Things to Come
The Echo really is just a slightly stupider Siri for your house, at this point. But the reason I’m still a fan is that since its hardware is basic and all of its functionality comes from the cloud, there’s no knowing what it’ll be able to do in the future. Since it was released last year, they added voice control for Pandora, Spotify and iTunes, a funny Simon says feature, and integration with home automation devices. Rumor has it they’re releasing an SDK for third-party developers, and at that point, things could get really interesting.
When All is Said and Done…
I like our Amazon Echo. It’s a fun gadget. The problem, though, is that I can’t recommend it at the price. $179 is just too steep for something like this — at least now. Maybe when home automation become more prevalent, then I could see it being justifiable. But I wouldn’t have paid $179 for this. I’m not sure I would have shelled out $99 for this — I bought the Echo myself, but used some gift cards I had to do so, so it wasn’t like shelling out hard-earned doubloons. Still, a hundred bucks for something to keep a shopping list on and tell us whether or not tomorrow is going to be a pool day? That seems silly. Basically I’m saying it was a great thing to get, as a gift, but I wouldn’t in good conscience say — as it is now — it’s worth the price tag.
It’s not true, of course. I’m not a hermit. I leave the house for work, for food, for movies, for friends, for family, for the pool. I might be willing to give up a few of those, but not all. Definitely not the pool. Or Chipotle. So I’ll leave the house again, and again, but one thing I almost never leave the house for anymore is shopping.
This is what we’ve bought from Amazon in the past two months: a mouse (the computer kind), dog shampoo (for a friend, or rather his dog), cat food, safety strips for the tub, a dustbuster, a hand mixer, cat litter, cake pans, garbage bags, a book, a step stool, an extension cord, socks, a hubcap, and batteries. We have Amazon Prime, and everything gets here about as quickly as the drones can bring it. The hand mixer arrived, regular shipping, 19 hours after we ordered it.
From Target, with the RedCard’s free shipping: clothes, a picture frame, Tide pods, gift cards, screening for the porch, a humidifier, a pillow, a phone, a bathing suit, and a baby gate for the cats.
And from Fresh Direct? Foods, foods, and more foods.
You have to understand: I just hate shopping. Unless it’s Wegmans, just the very idea of milling about in a store makes me exhausted. I don’t know what part of it is the worst (well, yes, I do) but it’s some combination of the huge, overheated stores, the lines, the people, the parking, the flourescent lighting, the people, the Muzak, the noise, and the people. Shopping online is so much easier, so much quieter, so much more pleasant. I click and a short time later it arrives, all without waiting in line, driving anywhere, parking, or even talking to anyone else. It’s wonderful.
I’m not a hermit, but I confess I wish I could at least play one on TV.
I waste a lot of time online. On my phone, on my iPad, the computer. While I’m watching TV, while we’re eating dinner, whatever. I’m using surfing around aimlessly, in between more vitally important tasks like refreshing my Facebook feed.
A couple months ago I was obsessed with playing QuizUp. Like, constantly. I was as focused as I was back in 1993, when my friend Paula and I spent countless hours playing Yahtzee on her Apple II (high scorers forever!). And after awhile, it started seeming pointless. All these hours answering questions about “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother”, and nothing to show for it. Surely my time futzing around online could be put to better use.
As a side note, right around then, I learned to great sadness that we wouldn’t be getting $200 of onboard credit on our next Disney Cruise (maybe 2016, maybe 2017). You used to get this, along with a discount, any time you booked a return cruise while still on the ship, and then you could just keep moving the reservation until you were ready to cruise again, even for years and years. Well, Disney doesn’t let you do that anymore — you have to actually take the cruise within 18 months, or you lose the 200 bucks of ship credit. Bummer.
So, I decided to put my online time to better use. Without making a chore of it, without spending much more time online than I used to anyhow, I started spending time on Swagbucks. I had an account there already but had never really tried to make much of it. The theory is, you do surveys, watch videos and ads, maybe sign up for special offiers (I never do those, though, as they often cost money, which defeats the purpose), and earn Swagbucks. And you can trade Swagbucks in for gift cards, to places like Target and Amazon, or even for straight-out money, through your PayPal account.
I’ve been “Swagbucking” for just short of 2 months now, and I’ve earned $100. Yep, that’s 100 bucks! 🙂 Yay! My goal was to at least replace that $200 onboard credit for our future cruise, and I’m half-way there already. Now I’m going to see how much we can put towards the cruise altogether, since it’s years away it might be a nice tidy sum.
But, it’s not a job. Some days I spend more time on it than I do on others. Sometimes I rack up a lot of Swagbucks, and sometimes just a 100 or so (cash equivalent: one dollar). I refuse to make it a chore. And it’s probably not worth your time if you don’t surf as aimlessly as I do, or if you don’t have the spare time I admittedly do. But for me, it’s a far better way to spend my aimless time online than anything else I’ve done.
A couple of days ago, I hurt my back. You know, as a side note, once upon a time I foolishly thought having rather serious back surgery would mean that I would stop saying things like “I hurt my back”. Silly me. Especially when the full sentence is, “I hurt my back cuddling kitties on the bed, and lying on my stomach for more than five minutes.”
Anyhow, as a result, I’m mostly down for the count this weekend, resting up with the heating pad and subsisting on Ibuprofen and Lortab. And watching a seemingly endless marathon of Game of Thrones episodes on HBO. I had a few bloodhtirsty dreams last night, as a result. And one about dragons. I’m okay, pain-wise, and I can get around okay if I’m careful. Rest is best, though.
I’m very grateful to have been able to order groceries from Fresh Direct; easy to order, and they should be delivered in an hour or so. It’s handy. We’re not crazy about using them in general; one bad delivery experience out of three so far isn’t good odds. It’s handy, especially on a day like today. Given my druthers, though, I’d rather do the shopping myself.
The worst part is, though, that what I really wish is that we had Wegmans. I mean, obviously, I always wish that. But this weekend especially — because I could do the shopping, if we had Wegmans. I’m up to walking the aisles — sometimes walking is good for my back. But I can’t bend, or lift, or carry. At Wegmans, I wouldn’t have to. I could use a motorized shopping cart, if I wasn’t up to walking. I could ask for help reaching anything — there are always employees everywhere in the aisles, and they’re always happy to help. I could count on the cashier to bag my groceries without comment, which never happens here. I could get the Helping Hands to load them into my car. True, they can’t follow me home, but Dave could bring most things up there, later. Here, there’s no help anywhere in the stores. Finding an employee is near impossible. The other day I stopped in Waldbaums and all of their freezers were broken — the thermometer on the one I was looking at was at 65 degrees — and I spent ten minutes finding anyone who worked there that cared. There’s just no one interested in doing anything above and beyond. That’s not a Long Island thing, though — it’s a non-Wegmans thing. At Wegmans, they don’t think helping their customers out is “above and beyond”. They think it’s the least they can do.
I joined Weight Watchers last January. Overall, I have only good things to say about the program. I think it’s healthy, and I think it focuses on good eating habits for life. I like that they teach moderation, not deprivation. I think the program is simple to follow, and I think they have a lot of great ideas. It’s a little expensive, and I sometimes think a little too corporate, but I recommend it, I really do. I worked hard for 11 months, recovering after my surgery, sometimes in pain, sometimes not. The exercise I used to like hasn’t been a possibility, so I focused on eating well instead. And while WW didn’t give me dramatic results, it did start moving the scale in the right direction, instead of the scary wrong one it had been headed in. But having said all of that, I’m officially on hiatus for a little while. It’s a good program, and one I know I’ll go back to when I’m ready, but it’s just not working for me right now.
I wish I wasn’t the kind of person who gets comfort from food, though, honestly, I’m not sure I know anyone who could really claim they don’t either. And I’ve got a lot to be happy about: I’m married to a wonderful guy, and we had a beautiful wedding. The move went more or less well, and we’re here, in an apartment I love, in a nice town. But despite all that, this isn’t the easiest time for me. I’m still sad sometimes. I miss home. And it’s been a lot to get used to in a short period of time. As my very wise friend Amybeth said, leaving everything I was familiar with and moving here has been a little like Dorothy waking up in Oz. It’s amazing here, but it’s different. I don’t want to go home — this is home — but I’m adjusting. I need time. It’s like the boys — George came around fast, but Freddie has been slower to adjust. He likes it here, but he still seems confused sometimes, unsure. I guess I’m more like Fred and I just need a little longer to get used to it.
So I thought about it, and I came to some conclusions — about things in general, not just Weight Watchers. I feel like while I’m adjusting, I need to cut myself a little slack, whether it’s not worrying about my lack of employment just yet, not freaking out over how much more everything is here, or putting down the WW Points Calculator for a little while. I’ll try not to go crazy with foods and I’ll try to keep acclimating, I’ll keep looking for bargains and we’ll keep our eyes open for opportunities. But for now, I think I need a time out from making any other demands on myself other than just shifting gears and being kind to myself while I do it.
I’m not a car person. I don’t spend much time looking at nice cars, or even knowing the difference between them. Maybe I notice the color of a car, but that’s about it. I’ve driven an SUV, and it didn’t do much for me. Dave’s convertible is very nice, I admit, but in general the whole car thing is low on my radar. I don’t even like to drive. If my only car was a limo, I’d be content. Alas, I’m still waiting for that day.
Having said that, I bought my car in 2009, a Nissan Versa, and I’ve been very fond of it. I love the color, which is a lovely bright Superman blue. I love the hatchback, which I find very convenient — great for shopping. I made sure it had a jack for my iPhone, and that was all I really cared about stereo-wise. It was incredibly affordable, too — downright cheap, as far as new cars go. A win all around.
Except this week, it needed about $1,000 in repairs, and I find I’m a little annoyed. Let’s just say that as a result, I’m not feeling the love as much.
I mean, Supes, didn’t we have a deal? I would say nice things about you, and on average I’d only put a mere 7,500 miles or so a year on you. Not demanding at all. In return, you would go from point A to point B without, you know, breaking down. That’s my only real request from you, as a vehicle. But starting last Friday, you haven’t been holding up your end of the deal. First, muffler. Honestly, did it have to be something so embarrassingly noisy? For a day I was that car that, when you’re at a stoplight and you think, “Wow that’s a loud noise, is it me? No, it’s that poor guy over there, good”, well, I’m that guy. Then for inspection, you needed tires and brakes. Come on, now. Greedy, much? It’s not like I worked you especially hard, took you on long trips or taxed your resources. The occasional jaunt to Canada does not count as above and beyond the call of duty, even if it is another country. You like Canadia, anyhow.
Well, what’s done is done. You’re fixed and back home and we can just put this behind us. Just, you know, don’t press your luck and ask for anything, any time soon. Not even wiper fluid. Just lay low and give it a little time, please. It’s temporary, I promise.
This weekend I went to buy wedding shoes. I drove myself over to a local place called “Dyed to Match”, based on a shoe I’d seen on their web site. I don’t like heels and my dress is the perfect length right now, so I wanted ballet flats. I tried them on in my size, and those were tight; going up a size, they fit fine. Five minutes and too many $$ later (put “wedding” in the name of anything and it costs twice as much, apparently) and I was done. Some people might think they’re a little plain, but they’re comfortable, and honestly, if my shoes are what anyone’s looking at that day, I’m not doing something right.
But something about buying the shoes got me thinking. It feels different now, somehow. I realized today it’s that I finally feel like a bride. Oh, not about marrying Dave — I knew I wanted to do that by the end of our first date. But the wedding part. The bride part. I don’t think I felt like it was really happening until now.
It’s weird because it’s not like this was a significant step (pun intended) or anything. We’ve been planning for a while now. We’ve done tons. I’ve been to bridal shows, read bridal magazines, spent too much time on The Knot. We’ve got a place, a judge, food, music, a photographer, a huge wedding party with tuxes and dresses (and shoes, come to think of it), flowers, a cake. We have a pianist, invitations, a finished guest list. I have a dress hanging in my closet, a tiara on the shelf, and a veil on order (why is it taking so long?). We have a spreadsheet that lists in meticulous detail every last thing we need to do for the wedding (it’s Dave, of course there’s a spreadsheet) and it’s not that long anymore. So why is it that buying this shoe (well, two shoes, really) is the thing that finally made me realize it’s not all just a fairy tale? We’re not just talking about what-ifs. We’re not making up a nice story. On that day in November we really are having that wedding, at that hotel, with all our friends and family, and the flowers and the dresses and the foods. I really will be walking down that aisle to that wonderful man, and having a first dance, and cutting the cake, and hearing toasts. Me. I’m getting married.
I never, ever thought I’d be the girl in the pretty white dress, and I never thought I could be this lucky, but I get it now — I really am. Who needs a glass slipper? Apparently my plain white shoes have magic powers too.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been focused on finding Black Friday deals today. Although I wasn’t willing to drag myself out at 4 AM, I did head off to Target around 7. The line was LONG, but moved fast. I also found most people to be friendly & in a good mood, so it was a pleasant experience, really, overall. After that, I went over to Bed, Bath & Beyond (20 percent off everything, before 10 AM) where I got some great gifts. That was it, though, for the in-store shopping, for me. The rest I plan to do online.
If you don’t know about this already, Amazon has had Black Friday deals all week, continuing today. New “lightning deals” start every 45 minutes or so; items do sell out. I bought one while I was standing in line at Target, via iPhone. There are some good deals — too many GPS devices, unless of course that’s what you’re looking for, but lots of other movies, housewares, etc. Still going the rest of the day — check it out.
For Barnes & Noble, spend $100 online, get a $10 gift card. Not a bad deal, if you’ve got some planned book purchases already. Other items, including DVDs and books, on sale but — to be frank — I found their offers in general to be very disappointing. Today especially, you’re likely to be able to find a better price on most of the items in B&N’s “holiday gift guide” somewhere else.