I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

First Time In A Trader Joe’s

I went to Trader Joe’s today for the first time ever.  I’ve heard people raving about this store for years, but the big expansions into South Florida didn’t’ take place until I was already in Germany.

It’s kind of funny that I never had a chance to try any Trader Joe’s food until now, because some Trader Joe’s food is sold in Aldi stores in Germany.  (A quick history:  Trader Joe’s started out as a California-only store under a different name in the 1950s.  It was renamed Trader Joe’s around 1967, and was American-owned until Theo Albrecht purchased the chain in 1979.  Theo Albrecht is the owner of Aldi Nord.)

I digress.  Amelie and I were trying to go to Target today, not realizing that all of the Target stores would be closed for Easter Sunday.  It’s astonishing how quickly I have forgotten about everything being closed on Sundays now that I’m back in the United States.  The Target we were trying to visit was only a mile or so from the Trader Joe’s, and it seemed like as good a time as any to have my inaugural visit.

I totally stole the next two photos from Yelp because I didn’t know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store. I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I’ve heard many people say that the Trader Joe’s aesthetic is very similar to the Aldi experience, but I think that Trader Joe’s is much closer to a Whole Foods type of store than Aldi.  Still, the pricing of all the Trader Joe branded items is much closer to Aldi levels than Whole Foods.  I was expecting Trader Joe’s to be more upscale than it was.

I liked the bag they put our stuff in.  It’s been ages since I’ve been given a paper bag at any kind of a grocer.

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We originally went to the store in search of some body wash for Amelie, and we found one that she likes in the store.  The cookie butter cookies and the power-berry juice blend were total impulse buys.

It is not for nothing that they call cookie-butter “cookie crack.”  That stuff is super-delicious.  Some of you will know it as Speculoos or Spekulatius.  It’s the same stuff.  It is delicious, delicious stuff.  The juice is also really tasty.

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We also decided that we’re going to try some not-at-a-restaurant Indian food for dinner.  We’ll probably trade rice- Amelie wants the Paneer Tikka Masala but doesn’t want the spinach basmati rice.   We both want the naan though.   I have been known to make a meal out of just naan and a mango lassi.

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I don’t really have a well rounded closing for this post, so I’ll just show you a picture of this amazing dog we saw in Boca Raton today.  He was so tiny, and he looked kind of badass with his tiny sunglasses on.

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Have you been to Trader Joe’s?  What do you think of it?

A rare post about my job.

I don’t usually talk about my job online for a bunch of different reasons.  For one thing, I deal with confidential data.  For another, I think that “what do you do?” is the least interesting question anyone can ask me when they first meet me.  For the two or three of you who don’t actually know what I do, I’m a Systems Administrator for a hosting company.  When most people ask me what I do for a living, I usually just say, “computers.”

Despite the low frequency of my work-related posts, my job is an incredibly large part of my life.  I’ve worked at Mr. Company1 for almost thirteen years, starting in the summer of 2002.  I was 29 when I started working for the company.  When I started working there, my cell phone was new and large and awkward, and I still had a pager for emergencies.  (Remember pagers?)

The company sent me to Hong Kong for two weeks in 2008.  This was my first trip outside of the United States other than Canada and the Bahamas.  My employment there is the very reason that I lived in Germany for three years, working for our European office in Germany.  Working for Mr. Company is what allowed me to travel all over Europe for the last few years.

In a week’s time, however, the company won’t exist.  Not in its current form, anyway.  We’re being merged into our sister company, and we’re taking their name.  My health benefits are switching companies.  We’ll have a new CEO.   I’ll be given a new e-mail address.

On the first of April, the name of my employer will cease to exist in North America.  That’s a hell of a thing.

I’m excited though.  So far, the changes coming down from on high have been good ones- they’ve separated our different offices into separate product lines, which means that our Utah office gets my least favorite platform, while I still get to play with my favorite products every day.   My department has also gone from a 24/7 schedule to a 24/5 schedule, with nobody in the office on Saturday or Sunday.

Since my return from Germany, my responsibilities and workload at my job have increased a great deal.  The company keeps me very, very busy, and that’s going to continue.  Some time in the next few months, the newly merged and re-named Mr. Company will be sending me to Tokyo for about a month.  In theory, I’ll go in May or June-  the schedule isn’t fixed yet, so it could be later.   Alas, it will likely be far too late to see the famous cherry blossoms.  It will be my first trip to Japan.  It will also be my first trip to another country for the new-and-improved Mr. Company, and I think that’s going to be pretty nifty.

In just five more days, it will be time to say goodbye to the company that I’ve always known, and hello to more or less the same company in a newer, shinier form.  More or less.

Mr. Company is dead.  Long live Mr. Company.


1I always refer to my current employer as Mr. Company online. Always.

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Drinking Soylent

I’ve been drinking Soylent for a few months now, and I’ve been meaning to write about it because many of my friends have expressed curiosity about it.  After the breakfast talk in last week’s post, I think this is a good time to post about my Soylent experience.

Let me start by saying that the first person to make a Charlton Heston “It’s made of people!” joke will get a swift kick to the shins.  I’ve heard it before, and it wasn’t funny the first, third, or eighth times.

Soylent, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a meal replacement product.  It was created by software engineer Rob Rhinehart, because he hated how much time he was losing to the preparation and consumption of food.  He decided to try to put all the nutrients the human body needs into a single liquid product, and when his initial trials worked out pretty well, he crowdfunded a larger run.    That was back in 2013.

Much like a software release, Soylent has had versions, with the number incrementing as the formula changes.  By the time I got into Soylent, it was at version 1.3.  The instruction booklet that comes with your shipment is labeled “Release Notes,” which made me chuckle.

Some people use Soylent to replace most of their meals, but I simply use it to fill in for breakfast.  Before this product, I almost never had breakfast.  I’m not a morning person, and my tendency has always been to crawl out of bed, throw on the next outfit in line in the closet, and crawl into the office.  Eating breakfast is something that takes time, and I will always choose more sleep over a full stomach.  This is a terribly unhealthy way to go, so I was very happy to find a way to include a breakfast that I could do without losing more than a minute or so.

My first few shipments of Soylent came this way- a single pouch is supposed to be three servings.  The little bottle of oil blend has to be mixed in to complete the nutrition profile-  there are some things included which the body won’t absorb without oil added.

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Inside the pouch, the Soylent is a very fine powder which gets everywhere if you’re not careful.

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So the basic instructions, without getting into too much detail are that you mix water and powder, shake for a bit, add the oil, add more water, shake it a bit more, chill the whole shebang, and enjoy.   This photo is halfway through the mixing, just before I added the oil.

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The fully mixed thing looks pretty decent.  It will separate a little bit over time, but shake it again before you drink it and it’s all good.

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The flavor is very neutral, and the release notes even provide suggestions for ways to change up the flavor by mixing in peanut butter or Hershey’s chocolate syrup or bananas.   Drinking a glass of this is the equivalent to a full meal, and it’s quite effective at squashing my hunger.

Some people find it a little bit gritty-  version 1.3 tends to leave a little on the sides of the glass, as you can see here.  It’s not unpleasant, and I’ve gotten used to it.  You just have to remember to rinse your glass as soon as possible after you finish your drink.

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The next iteration of Soylent, Soylent 1.4, was just announced.  They have changed from the liquid oil to a powdered oil form, so there are no more oil bottles included.  I haven’t had 1.4 yet, but those who have generally say that it’s a little bit sweeter, smoother, and more like a nutrition shake in consistency.  One reviewer called the texture of 1.4 “velvety,” which is kind of intriguing.  Apparently the 1.0 version tasted a little bit like cake batter.  I’m kind of sorry I missed that one.  Still, they strive for a neutral flavor profile, and I’m all for that.   I think that any strong flavor would get old really fast.

There are critics of Soylent’s nutritional balance.  I agree that it’s not necessarily the best nutrition out there.  Soylent will never replace a meal out with friends or family.  It’s better than going without breakfast, though, and that’s good enough for me right now.

Have you tried Soylent?  Would you?  What do you think about meal replacement drinks?

Vaping, Flavored Water, and Too Much Damn Choice

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It’s been just over five months since I moved back to the US, and the wonderful Itchy Feet comic above is spot on.  I feel like I’m mostly re-acculturated, but there are still things that take me aback.

For example, the Vaping trend is out of control here.  Before I moved back,  I had no idea what Vaping was, but it’s everywhere now.   There are stand-alone stores, and an entire industry has popped up around electronic cigarettes.  The technology has evolved to the point where people are charging their cigarettes with USB ports and changing out modules to reduce the amount of nicotine or flavor their smoke with applewood or whatever.  Some people claim they want to use this to quit smoking altogether, but this seems to me like the opposite of that.  To me, this looks like they’ve simply designed a more efficient nicotine delivery system.

That’s not the only trend that surprised me.  There has also been an exponential growth in the flavored water market.  I’m not talking about the pre-bottled flavored waters that I was used to before I left.  No, this is an entirely new market segment filled with people who simply can’t bear the taste of regular old water.  When I was a child, we had Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Light, and those brands still exist.  But there’s also all of this now:

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At least we’ve decided as a people to hydrate properly.

For the first four months I was here, I still shopped for groceries as if I were still living in Germany.  This was partly because I was living with my brother and I didn’t have a full kitchen or pantry to fill, but some of it was simply habit.  I had spent three years shopping with my own canvas bags and only buying as much as I could carry in one go because I would have to walk it back home.   Now that I have a car with a hatchback, my quantity has increased, but I’m still not shopping quite like a person who lives here.  I blame Cheerios for that.

You heard me.  I said I blame Cheerios.

When I left, there were three Cheerios flavors.    There was Honey-Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios, and plain old infants-love-’em plain flavored Cheerios.  Not so, now.  If you look closely in the picture below, you’ll see Multi-Grain with peanut butter.  You’ll see chocolate cheerios.  There’s apple-cinnamon Cheerios and Cheerios with protein added.  In one store, I counted twelve separate varieties of Cheerios.

The breakfast cereal aisle has become the Cheerio-verse.  When did this all become so complicated?

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Grocery shopping in the US has always been an exercise in overwhelming choice-  remember when I posted the picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle?  It’s gone over the top, now.  Even something as simple and ordinary as Matzos suddenly has at least a dozen possible varieties.

::sigh::

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I also still feel like I’m boiling inside my skin any time the temperatures crests above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (or 24C,) but that’s a gripe for another post.

What’s your favorite breakfast food?  Is it double-chocolate protein Cheerios?

Blank Canvas

Hello, old bloggy friend.  I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long.  I thought I would be able to maintain my previous rate of bloggery, but then things just went sort of sideways.

January was kind of crazed.  My responsibilities at work increased in a pretty massive way.  My apartment hunt occupied much of my time.   Amelie and I took a brief trip to California to see Information Society and Book of Love.  We spent a day at the Magic City Comic-con in Miami.

And then, in the first weekend of February, I moved into my new apartment.   A bed was purchased.  Belongings were moved.  We took a detour to Orlando for our anniversary, and spent the day in both Universal Studios theme parks- Spider-Man, Optimus Prime, Homer Simpson, and Harry Potter were all in attendance.

On the fourteenth of February, we emptied my storage unit.  For the first time since early 2011, everything I own was in one place, under one roof.  I was finally able to unpack everything and inventory.  I finally see just what survived the various downsizing runs that occurred during my time in Germany.

Now that I know what I still have, I can see much more clearly what I still need.   On the day that I moved in, I brought the stuff that was with me at my brother’s house, along with a brand new bed, couch, and two bar stools.

After the storage unit was emptied, I had my Muppet-fur carpet from Germany, along with my beloved coffee table.   That coffee table is the only piece of furniture from my old house to survive the four years of storage and downsizing.

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My new apartment is 617 square feet, with a tiny balcony suitable for a pair of chairs.  For my German friends, that converts to just over 57 square meters- larger than my German apartment even though it doesn’t feel like it.

I love moving into a new place-  the apartment is a blank page at first, waiting to be filled and personalized.    I get to make decisions about which cabinet to put my dishes into, and which wall is best for a bookshelf.  I get rid of still more of the things that I have stored because I will never use them again, and I purchase a few new things because I don’t own them any more.

When I moved in, some of the first mundane home-making purchases I needed to make were a front door mat, a cookie sheet, a shower curtain, and a toaster.  I love purchasing that sort of ordinary stuff to round out a new house.

So that’s where I’ve been for the last two months, bloggy friend.  I’ve still got more stuff to say about the repatriation process, and I promise to write more often as we go forward.  Now that I have my own lovely quiet apartment again, I feel like I’m starting to get caught up on things.

It’s a marvelous feeling.