I don’t think I can really pull a tech angle out of this idea but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. Like many people, we only meet our friends in video these days. Six of us decided to get together for a glass of wine and a chat every Wednesday. Because we’re clever that way, we named it Wine Wednesday. Because group FaceTime chats are a dumpster fire, we chose Zoom as our video chat platform.
Now for the problem to be solved. Have you noticed that nearly every conversation you get into, no matter how benign at the beginning, eventually devolves into talking about the pandemic? Seriously, you can call someone to ask if they’ve seen the latest episode of Ted Lasso and you’ll end up talking about infection rates.
Just in case it slipped past your notice, I like to control things around me, including my interactions with people. When we started Wine Wednesday I wanted desperately to make it the one spot in my week where for 45 minutes or so I wouldn’t have to think about the virus. I decided that we should have a written agenda for Wine Wednesday.
The rules are as follows:
- Agenda items are to be submitted to me by noon on Wednesday.
- Late submissions are to be arbitrated by the entire committee before acceptance to the agenda for that evening.
- The agenda will be typed in Comic Sans font, just to be annoying
- No subjects even obliquely concerning the virus will be allowed
The result is that for 21 weeks we have had a glass of wine and chatted about some really interesting subjects, a couple of which have actually saved some of us some real money. I cannot recommend this idea enough. I will try to convince you by listing off some of the more enjoyable, interesting, and time-saving subjects we’ve covered on Wine Wednesday.
Some Good News
Wine Wednesday started on April 22nd, 2020 and back then, the terrific YouTube show, Some Good News with John Krasinski, was still being produced. We had required homework that first week to play the episode where John hosted an online prom for kids who weren’t going to get to have theirs this year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQLi2GYVULc&feature=youtu.be. The headline in the agenda was entitled, “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying.”
One member had a squirrel scale the wall on the front of his house and he described the odd situation of having a squirrel stuck on your balcony and no way to help it get back down. There was no redeeming value to this discussion but it was pretty entertaining.
The most productive discussion we had was when one member asked to add an agenda item to discuss how to decide whether to have earthquake insurance. Now this specific type of insurance may not apply to you, but you can replace earthquake with flood, fire, tornado, whatever natural disaster is likely to take down your house.
As we discussed the logic each of us had applied to the problem, our squirrel house owner explained that since the dwelling on his property was only assessed as being around 30-40% of the value of his entire property, he figured it probably was better to self insure.
That percentage seemed logical since the property values in California beach cities are driven mostly by the land and it’s proximity to the ocean, but Steve and I were pretty sure our percentage was much higher. We reviewed our policy and discovered that our policy had the dwelling at more like 85% of the value of the entire property. Steve called our insurance adjuster, who is not really the sharpest spoon in the drawer if you know what I mean, and luckily got his brother instead. The brother reviewed the numbers and said he agreed, that this was not right at all. He gave us a way to describe a lot of details about the dwelling so he could give us a new quote.
The price for our earthquake insurance came down $600/year! And get this – our home owner’s insurance dropped another $600/year.
I bought three really nice bottles of red wine and delivered them to the homes of the members of Wine Wednesday in appreciation.
The MooBag Arch of Play Doh
This was a play on words from a game of charades we played over 40 years ago. Steve and I were supposed to be keeping an eye on his much younger sister while his parents were away on a vacation. We were friends with a couple of the members of Wine Wednesday way back then, so we invited them over to keep us company. We played charades, the boys against the girls, and the clues had to be written out ahead of time.
One of the guys put in the book, “The Gulag Archipelago” and Steve’s 12-year old sister drew that card. Of course she had no idea that these were even real words, but darn it if she didn’t sound it out syllable by syllable until we guessed the answer! It took about 30 minutes but it was pretty hilarous
On Wine Wednesday, the MooBag Arch of Play Doh was a request for each of us to give a 1-minute review of a book we’d read recently.
Another great cost savings discussion came when one member showed off her new glasses, and told us about Zenni Optical. You may remember me doing a review of Zenni Optical and how I got glasses for less than 1/6th the price of my normal glasses. This idea, like the insurance changes, will be a gift that keeps on giving. Would we ever have learned about these things if we’d been allowed to talk about the pandemic? I submit that we would not.
Nuts or Not?
We had a heated debate one week on the merits of zucchini bread vs. banana bread, and the merits of nuts in our fruit or vegetable breads. I think in the end a compromise was reached and we all agreed on chocolate chips as what should be in any kind of tasty bread.
Old People Corner
As we are an aged bunch, one week we discussed how to decide when to take Social Security. Of course there’s the fear of whether it will go away before we get our grubby hands on the money, but there’s also the math on making the decision. Luckily one of our members is a mathematician/engineer and she had modeled the various age options with assumptions for likely investment percentages, and was able to advise us on how to make our own model. For privacy reasons I won’t discuss our decision but it was very helpful to have people against whom to bounce these ideas, and to test our own assumptions.
Perhaps this next subject danced a bit close to discussing the pandemic but it was in a very productive context. We shared our thoughts and concerns on when it was safe to go back to having preventive medical checkups. This was in June, and back then none of us had the nerve to go to a physical, well-woman, ophthalmology, colonoscopy or dentist appointments.
I don’t know if it would have been safe back then but again having other people with science backgrounds with whom we could discuss the risks, benefits and what questions to ask before agreeing to go in was great.
Comets We Have Seen and Loved
Being science-minded, we all love a good comet. When Comet NEOWISE came by, we all went out to watch on the same night at the same time, and texted each other while we were watching it. It was a wonderful shared experience even if we weren’t technically standing next to each other.
It was important to us to share this experience because we’d seen Comet Kahoutek, Halley’s Comet and Hale-bopp together over the years.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things
Maybe it’s because I’ve been locked up in my house for a long time with nowhere to go, but I find myself thinking about my favorite appliance, tools, and kitchen gadgets. We’ve had a few discussions where we each pick a favorite in a category. Probably the most enjoyable one was when our Squirrel-housing friend showed us his new microwave popcorn bowl, the Popco.
Popco is a flexible silocone bowl that collapses down to be only about 2 inches tall so it’s easy to put away. It has a lid that you drop inside, and which slowly rises as the popcorn pops. This was such a popular topic that we all bought our own Popcos, all in different colors! $14 was a small price to pay to find a new way to make popcorn.
The instructions say that it doesn’t need any oil to pop. While that’s true, I find that without the oil, it’s hard to get the salt to stick. I tried olive oil and it worked just fine. I still like making popcorn with olive oil in a pot on the stove better, but I took my Popco to Lindsay’s where she has an electric stove. Now Forbes and I can make popcorn any time we want!
How Fast Can You Go
After listening to Tom Merritt’s awesome episode of Know a Little More when he explained 5G, I was able to give a report to the group on which is better, LTE or 5G. No, I’m not going to tell you the answer, you should go listen to Tom explain it because it’s fascinating and surprising. I don’t know a little more about 5G, I know a lot more now.
One of our members is a sort of futurist, big-thinker type. One week he talked to us about connected pool tables where you’d be able to play pool with someone in a different location. Sounds pretty far-fetched but he described the technologies behind the idea pretty well.
One week he brought up the idea of whether electric vehicles could be made to buffer home electricity needs. His idea is that you charge up your EV during off-peak hours and then the house uses that battery to run during on-peak hours. Maybe even it’s available to you as a power source for the house during a power outage. Heck, the Tesla Power Wall is basically one of their car batteries up on the side of your house, right?
Tesla Battery Day
When Elon Musk had his Battery Day announcements, Wine Wednesday asked Steve to attend the virtual event and do a report back to the group. Steve took his assignment very seriously and came prepared with photos and charts to explain what he learned. I guess you can’t take the program manager out of the boy.
Science of Sous Vide
One of the risks of having other people shop for you when you’re old farts like us is that you can’t really control the volume of food the shopper chooses. When we asked for thick-cut pork chops one week, they bought us SIX! One each was actually gluttony they were so big, so we asked the group if anyone wanted some. Two of the members said they’d love to eat them, but only if someone cooked them for them. It turns out that one of our members is a master of sous vide. This is the technology that allows you to very slowly cook meat at a very low temperature, which is supposed to make it super tender.
When we heard that one of our members was such a master, that became a discussion topic for a session of Wine Wednesday where we discussed important topics like how come you don’t die of eating meet that’s been cooked at only 250°F?
After our discussion, Steve borrowed hers, and he’s cooked a few tasty treats for me, and was delighted enough that we bought the Anova Precision Cooker Nano from Best Buy after following a link from the Wirecutter who recommended it highly. It was only $130, and it’s a pretty small cylinder and it’s even app enabled. He’s going to make me filet mignon this week and I can’t wait!
Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica
One of our members (the one with the squirrel on deck) has become obsessed with the Fat Bear contest going on at the Katmai National Park right now. Evidently they’ve been running this contest for quite some time. The deal is that these bears go to the river and eat salmon to fatten up for the winter. This year there are an enormous number of salmon and the bears are really getting huge! Our friend keeps the live video feed going on while he’s working, just watching these animals open their mouths and wait for the fish to jump in!
Anyway the contest is at explore.org/fat-bear-week if you want to join in the fun and vote. By the way, there were 1359 people watching the live video feed of the bears in the river while I was working on this article!
Planned Pumpkin Parenthood
I think my single favorite subject for Wine Wednesday was when one of our members asked for an agenda item entitled Planned Pumpkin Parenthood. She has a small plot of land in a community garden area here which she has named, “The Farm”.
In her presentation, she showed us that there are actually girl pumpkins, and boy pumpkins. She explained that if you want to have baby pumpkins, the boy pumpkin has to get his pumpkin flower near the girl pumpkin to make the magic happen. In subsequent meetings of Wine Wednesday, she has shown us her rapidly-growing baby pumpkins as a result of her meddling in nature.
You can just imagine how silly we all got while she described the whole process.
The bottom line is just what I said up front. If you’re finding that your conversations always go down the path of doom and gloom, maybe you want to start making agendas for your video calls with your friends. I’ve learned a lot, laughed a lot, and even saved money as a result. Also, we drink wine.