How We’re Saving $6,500+ on a Trip to the UK and Ireland

Well, we finally did it.  After a little bit of heartbreak, and a little bit of confusion, we finally booked a trip for early next year with all those points we’d transferred over to Singapore Airlines a couple months back.

To recap: after earning more than 200,000 points across our Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards accounts, largely thanks in part to credit card bonuses and strategic bonus-category spending, we’d earned enough transferrable points to book a first class trip on Singapore Airlines Houston – Moscow route. Unfortunately, just as we were ready to book, Singapore Airlines discontinued the route, leaving us scrambling to find an alternative destination for a similar amount of points.

In the end, we’ve booked a trip to Manchester, England, which will be our jumping off point for a trip across central England and Ireland. We’ve had to settle for business class instead of First (at least, for now) but Singapore’s business class still comes with lie-flat seats, their famous “Book the Cook” feature, and all the champagne we can drink both pre- and mid-flight.

So what will this fancy trip set us back, you might ask? If we’d been paying out of pocket, quite a bit:

singaporeair

But luckily, thanks to our points, we ONLY paid the taxes and fees – in other words, the two of us will get a full trip to Europe, in business class on the world’s top-rated airline, for only about $1,200.

We didn’t stop there, though. We put the taxes & fees on our brand new Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives us a $300 statement credit each year for travel-related purchases. So the total cost of the flights out of pocket was just $941, or ~$235 per person, per flight. That’s less than many domestic economy flights!

Putting the purchase on that card will also help us earn more points — namely  the 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards we can use towards hotels, positioning flights or activities, by meeting our spending requirement for the bonus offer on that card. And since this was a travel purchase, we’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the spend, or an additional 3,600 UR points, worth roughly $54 in future trips, as well.

As we continue planning, I’ll post about how we’re also saving money on our positioning flights, hotels, and activities as well, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, if you have any recommendations, especially in Manchester, Liverpool or Dublin, let us know in the comments!

Header image by Flickr user autumnal_fires under a Creative Commons license. Image has been cropped.

Introducing the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card!

We just got a new credit card! It’s always exciting in the miles and points game when you’re approved for a new card and can start dreaming about all the benefits that go along with it.

Today, it was the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The card comes with a $450 annual fee, which is quite hefty, but look at all you get:

  • 100,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points for spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months of card ownership. This benefit is made even more attractive by the fact that cardholders will receive a value of 1.5 cents per point in the Ultimate Reward travel portal (as opposed to 1 cents for most Chase cards, or 1.25 cents for the Chase Sapphire Preferred), making this benefit worth AT LEAST $1,500 in travel benefits.  Of course, through transferring to travel partners, you can get even more value here.
  • $300 statement credit for travel expenses per calendar year.  Yes, calendar year, not cardholder year. Meaning you can get it now, and then again in January, without needing to pay another annual fee.
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry. We already have Global Entry, but it makes a great gift, meaning we can save $100 from our Christmas budget
  • Priority Pass lounge access.  This was pretty much the only remaining useful benefit on the Citi Prestige card, which we’ll be cancelling as soon as we close out this whole Singapore Airlines booking debacle. But now we’ll still have that access as well. I value this at around $60 a year in value for us.
  • Lots of other consumer & travel protection benefits and concierge type services.

So, we’re going to pay $450 for this card, and get a minimum of $2,260 in value.  This is why we travel hack!

One worthwhile side note though – this card, like all Chase and Citi cards – is governed by the 5/24 rule.  This rule states that they’ll only approve you for a new card if you have less than 5 cards opened in any 24 month period with that bank. So if you’re already pretty heavy into travel hacking…this may not be an option for you.

For anyone just starting out though, these are pretty amazing benefits. Just remember to cancel the card before your 1-year mark, or be prepared to pay the $450 annual fee once again. Happy travels!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying (About Botulism) and Love to Can

Long-time blog readers will remember my first foray into home canning last year, and the crash course I ended up receiving in pectin.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable using waterbath canning to help preserve items from my garden, and have gotten a “feel” for when things are going well, and when I need to make a couple mid-process adjustments to make sure I get the result I’m looking for.

However, if you were to just do a quick internet search about how to get started in canning, you would find many articles that would tell you that I’m an idiot for EVER making adjustments to a “standard tested canning recipe” and that I am risking a painful death by botulism for myself and anyone else I’ve ever bestowed my homecanned goods on.

And I was worried too, at first. The articles sounds so scary! But after a while, I began to get more skeptical…if you can only ever use long-tested canning recipes, then how do people ever come up with new recipes? How come I’ve never heard of anyone – a friend, or a friend of a friend – coming down with botulism poisoning even though I know a lot of people who home can?

So I looked up the statistics.  In 2014, the most recent year in which a study is available, the CDC reported that there were:

  • 161 laboratory-confirmed and 16 probable cases of botulism
    • Infant botulism accounted for 128 (80%) of the lab confirmed cases
    • Lab confirmed wound botulism caused 16 (10%) of the lab confirmed cases
    • Probable would botulism accounted for 11 (69%) of the probable cases

So that leaves us with 22 cases of confirmed or probable food-borne botulism a year. (And 2014 wasn’t an outlier, these numbers are pretty average.)  Of food-borne cases, home-canning actually accounts for an even smaller percentage of the cases (in 2014, only 2 of the 22 cases were blamed on home-canning.)

But let’s go ahead and say, for purposes of exaggeration, that ALL the reported cases were caused by home canning.  According to the Center for Food Security and Public Health, the mortality rate for food borne botulism cases in developed countries is between 5-10%. That means, even if ALL the food borne botulism was caused by home canning, only 2 people in the ENTIRE country would be like to encounter a fatal dose of botulism from home canned food. That’s out of a population of roughly 320 million. Or a 0.00000000625% chance.

This means, you have a better chance of:

  • being struck by lightning (source)
  • being trampled by cows (source)
  • being killed by a falling icicle (source)
  • drowning in your own bath tub (source)

…than you do of being killed from botulism in home-canned goods.

Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t take precautions when canning. Understanding how ph levels work, and that you need to stay below a certain range (4.4 or so) for waterbath canned goods, is important (and helps keep these overall statistics so low).

But minor variations to existing recipes is not likely to hurt anyone, and so if fear of poisoning your whole family is what’s keeping you from canning, I’m happy to tell you that’s no longer an excuse.

The Singapore Airlines Booking Saga Continues…

About a month ago, I posted about how after transferring all the points we’d saved over a 2-year period over to Singapore Airlines, they did away with the route that we were planning on booking.

Since then, I looked up EVERY single route that Singapore Airlines flies out of the US for the March – June 2017 time frame.  After considering our options, it seemed like the newly announced IAH – MAN flights that replaced our original route (IAH – DAM) were probably going to be our best option.

Only one issue: Singapore Airlines doesn’t seem aware this route even exists. You know you’re not going to have good booking luck when you’re having to educate customer service about their own press releases…

singapore

Le sigh. Still no trip planned for us.

It’s Ladybug Time: How to Use Ladybugs for Organic Aphid Control

Ladybugs are so cute with their shiny red coats and polkadot bodies.  It’s no surprise people love to put them on kids clothing, they’re just so adorable. But you may not know that these sweet little insects are also cold-hearted killers.

Aphid killers, in particular. This time of year, when the honeydew starts to cling to cars and everything from pecan trees to crepe myrtles to pepper plants are mobbed with the tiny green sap-sucking creatures, ladybugs can be your garden’s best defense.

In particular, we use ladybugs on our serrano pepper plants. We purchase the bugs in 1,000-count mesh bags from our local organic nursery, though you can also order them through Amazon or other garden supply stores. Once received, they go directly into the refrigerator, where they can stay dormant for up to a few months, until you’re ready to use.

You want to release ladybugs in the evening, after the sun has already set.  Because the bugs use the sun to navigate, this will give them time to adapt and find their aphid feast before immediately flying off.  Spritz them with some water as they come out of the fridge, then dump them directly onto your most infected plants.

Additionally, if you happen to notice rain in your forecast it’s WONDERFUL to put the ladybugs out just before it rains. Without needing to leave to find water and/or not wanting to fly through a storm, they’ll stay close to where you release them longer, helping to get rid of tons of your pesky aphids.

I’ll usually do a full bag for a first treatment, and then followup 3-4 days later (once I no longer see any ladybugs hanging around) with half a bag as a second dose, and a final half bag dose 3-4 days after that. It’s an inexpensive and completely organic way to deal with aphids, and it’s saved many of my plants over the years.

Are you having aphid issues? Leave your questions in the comments.

How to Cook Perfectly Roasted Potatoes

Let’s be honest: I don’t think there’s a form of potatoes that I don’t like. French fries, mashed potatoes, hashbrowns; I don’t care. They’re all excellent.

But for a fancy meal? There’s nothing like perfectly roasted potatoes, with a crispy outer skin and soft and tender middle. But getting that perfect “bite” and making the outside crispy without drying out the middle can be a bit tricky.  Here’s how I do it every time, without question.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb new potatoes (about 6-8 medium sized ones)
  • 1 tbsp cooled bacon grease
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. Cut your potatoes into about 1/2″ cubes, leaving the skin on. Try to get a uniformity in the pieces so that they’ll cook evenly.
  2. Put your potatoes in a tupperware dish, and add all remaining ingredients.  If you don’t keep a countertop container of bacon grease with bacon drippings from whenever you cook bacon…you should start…but you can also fry up come bacon and add the oil directly.
  3. Close the lid of the tupperware, and shake vigorously until all the potato pieces are coated in fat and spices. Then, take off the lid and dump the contents onto a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet, taking care to make sure no potato pieces are stuck together.
  4. Put the cookie sheet in a COLD oven, and then set the heat to 425. Starting with the oven cool lets the potatoes dehydrate gradually as the temp comes up, helping to draw the moisture out of the potatoes more gradually.
  5. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring once.

Voila!  Let cool for a couple minutes and these are absolutely PERFECT potatoes.  Enjoy!

Let’s talk about all the ways Harry Potter and the Cursed Child doesn’t make sense

Hey y’all! It’s apparently my 2-year blogiversary today! And while it probably would make more sense to post a new recipe or travel tip, there’s something I just have to say.

I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last night, guys. And…..um…

It sucked.

Like, I legitimately feel offended that J.K. Rowling would be involved in this project, it sucked so bad. Granted, it’s not entirely her fault; this work is a play, it’s meant to be performed. But she got so much flack for creating new canon that only a select entitled group (rich London theatergoers) would be able to see, that she caved and released the rehearsal script as a new work.

And it just…fails miserably. So, as a means of trying to forgive my beloved J.K., I decided I would create a list of all the MASSIVE problems I have with this new work. Maybe in the comments you guys can help me understand what went so horribly, horribly wrong here.

 

 

!!!CAUTION: HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

 

 

Let me try to take these in the order they come up in the play…

  1. Why would the Sorting Hat, which so carefully took Harry’s choice into account, not take Albus’s choice into account?
  2. Why does Rose say “Thank Dubmbledore” after being sorted? The sorting hat is not Dumbledore’s creation…unless this is meant to be a substitute for “Thank Goodness”, which is still weird and not likely something linguistically that would take root in just a single generation since Dumbledore’s death. It’s not like we go around saying “Thank FDR” for getting rid of Hitler…
  3. Why would Harry think that after giving his oldest son James his invisibility cloak as a back to school present- which is not only just a damn cool magical artifact but also a priceless piece of magical history – that giving Albus his old baby blanket would elicit anything OTHER than scorn? A blanket? Seriously? I’d be pissed too.
  4. Why would Harry give James his invisibility cloak anyways? All it could possibly do would be to get him into trouble. Surely it would be better used by Harry as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement?
  5. Why does Harry’s scar starts hurting again/why can he re-understand Parseltongue? This happened in the past because he was literally part Voldemort. So even if there are little Voldemorts out there running around, that doesn’t change the fact that the part of Voldemort that resided in Harry is no longer, and so his scar shouldn’t hurt. You could argue that it’s because there are alternate realities in which Voldemort still exists, because of the time turners.  But that would be true regardless of this specific plot with Harry’s son, which would mean that Harry’s scar-hurting should have never stopped in the first place. So for it to have stopped, then suddenly restarted is ludicrous. Does he know that people get headaches? Maybe he just thinks every time he gets a headache that it’s his scar ominously hurting.
  6. Why would Albus Potter want to help “rescue” Cedric in the first place? He’s got angst, we get it. But the whole convoluted thing about stealing a ministry-guarded time turner and using it to bring back Cedric Digory, a man he has no connection to and has barely even heard of, even if it’s to impress a girl, doesn’t make any sense. When teenagers get surly and mad at their parents, they usually go shoplift a bottle of Boone’s Farm, not attempt to heroically rewrite a key piece of history.
  7. THE MOTHER-FLIPPIN’ TROLLEY WITCH ATTACK. This is just a moment of OMG fuckery that is COMPLETELY non-supported by any realm of Harry Potter canon. First, she’s apparently more than 190 years old.  Um, what? Does she have a Philosopher’s Stone? Secondly, why does she start throwing PUMPKIN PASTY GRENADES at them as a way to get them to STAY on the train??? I don’t know about you, but if someone started throwing grenades of any sort in my direction, yeah, I’d run away from that too. Third, she’s a witch, right? So how, about, instead of throwing pastry-based bombs at children, just use a stunning charm or Petrificus Totalis to get them to not jump off the train.  Fourth, her “hands transfigure into very sharp spikes.” Again, WHAT? Why would that encourage anyone to stay ON the train? And why haven’t we EVER seen another person in Harry Potter lore spontaneously transfigure themselves into a monster (werewolf transformations, aside)? And after they’ve jumped, why doesn’t she tell the conductor to stop the train so they can go pick them back up? This whole scene is just utterly bizarre. It reminded me more of a scene out of the Percy Jackson series, only without as much humor. It doesn’t advance the plot, it doesn’t conform to the magical world we’ve come to know and love, and it just doesn’t make any frigging sense.
  8. Albus & Scorpius are supposed to be in their fourth year, so about 15. Which means they’d still have “the Trace” on them. Hermione is the MINISTER OF MAGIC.  Why doesn’t she just use that to find them after they leave the train?
  9. So Delphi has convinced Amos Diggory that she’s his niece, and they later surmise that this is done with a Confundus Charm. But why? That’s like the most bizarre meandering route to try to bring Voldemort back ever. We can only assume, as we find out later, that Delphi seized on this particular plot because of the prophecy of “spares will be spared” and Cedric Diggory was the spare. But why would she need to befriend Amos Diggory to make that happen anyways? His role is utterly inconsequential.
  10. Hermione calls an “Extraordinary General Meeting”, whatever that is, and asks anyone if they know or feel anything dark happening, and McGonnical says the Hogwarts potion stores are missing Boomslang skin and lacewing flies. EVERY HARRY POTTER FAN EVER knows those two ingredients mean that someone is brewing Polyjuice Potion. And neither Hermione nor McGonnigal, two of the smartest witches ever, seem to think anything of this. Conveniently, we find out in a couple scenes that Delphi has a crap-ton of Polyjuice potion. And since we know it takes a whole month to brew, this means she was stealing from the Hogwarts potions stores in the summer when no students were there for her to blend in with. Don’t you think someone might have noticed her doing that? A painting, a ghost, someone?
  11. McGonnigal sends an owl to alert Harry/Ginny and Draco that their children never made it to Hogwarts. Umm, perhaps, choose a faster method of communication there McGonnical? An owl? Really? Not to mention, she was just in a meeting with Harry, why didn’t she mention it then?
  12. So Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi use Polyjuice Potion to turn into Ron, Harry, and Hermione respectively. But how did they get the hair from them to customize the potion? I guess you could assume maybe Albus had one of his father’s hair on some of his clothing or something, from when he hugged him at the train. But how did he get Hermione and Ron’s hair? No explanation? Just a gaping plot hole there? Mmmkay.
  13. Why would Hermione decide to hide the time turner with riddles in her bookcase? After all her experience as Minister of Magic, she really thinks *thats* the way to go? Why doesn’t she keep it at Gringotts where the only people that have ever broken in are essentially her, Harry, and Ron? (well, and Quirrel, who is dead, but still). Wouldn’t that have been a lot more secure?
  14. During the bookshelf attack, it’s mentioned that the Polyjuice Potion has worn off.  But they never address how the trio gets out of the Ministry without disguise.
  15. Harry sees Albus in a dream wearing Durmstrang robes, and so decides to go looking for him in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. Um…what? Wouldn’t a more logical place to go be DURMSTRANG? Seeing as how they don’t know that the timeturner has been stolen yet, they would have no reason to believe he’s going back in time to the Triwizard Tournament competition in the Forbidden Forest. So why are they there?
  16. Where did Delphi get Durmstrang robes anyhow?
  17. When you disarm someone, their wand generally flies towards the disarmer. So how come no one seemed to notice that Albus & Scorpius disarmed Cedric at the tournament, nor the fact that they disappeared shortly after doing it?
  18. What broke Albus’s arm? This is never explained.
  19. How do Albus and Scorpius fit through the pipe in the girls bathroom that dumps them in the Lake?
  20. Is Hogwarts plubming really so shitty (no pun intended) that they are dumping their brown water and grey water directly into the lake without some sort of filtration? Gross.
  21. Where did Albus get the gillyweed? When did Albus get the gillyweed?
  22. The boys take the gillyweed, which we know from the Goblet of Fire, gives you gills and fins for about an hour. But when Scorpius reappears, like, a minute later, he doesn’t appear to still have gills or fins.
  23. When Scorpius gets out of the lake, he’s informed it’s “Voldemort Day”, apparently some sort of holiday. But, um, why? Why would this date have been consequential to Voldemort? It’s not the anniversary of when he killed Harry’s parents, or of when he came back to life, or of when he “defeated” Harry (in this universe, at least) in the Battle of Hogwarts. Why is this random day Voldemort Day?
  24. We find out at the start of Act 3, Scene 4 that in this alternative universe, Cedric Diggory has lived and became a Death Eater, but not how Scorpius came to learn this little fact. Did someone tell him? It’s unclear.
  25. So Scorpius goes back in time twice more, blocks Albus’s earlier tomfoolery messing with Cedric. But it says nothing of the Ron loves Hermione fireworks that were also set off when they went back to the second challenge. Did those still happen? Unresolved.
  26. Why would Scorpius not offer up the time turner immediately to the grownups when he just realized how horribly it can change the past? Why would he hide it? He goes to Albus and asks for help destroying it, so if he was just going to destroy it anyways, why would he make some big lie about losing it?
  27. Where are Albus’s roommates? Harry sure seems to be spending a whole lot of time at Hogwarts, which is pretty damn weird. No other parents ever did that. And he goes in and pulls back Albus’s bed curtains in the middle of the night at one point and no other students are there? Huh?
  28. Who the hell is this Craig guy?? In alternate universe #2, he was a fellow student who did Scorpius’s homework. But now in real universe, he’s like, ratting out Harry Potter for walking down the halls of Hogwarts?  Weird.
  29. So, they discover Albus and Scorpius are missing again. Why don’t they use the Marauders Map to find them this time? Instead they “turn over” Hogwarts looking for them? They’re on the map, idiots.
  30. Ron “saw” Albus and Delphi in the Owlery while walking back from Hogsmeade? Does he have like, super-vision now? Are we now completely ignoring how big Hogwarts has been in every movie?
  31. So, now we’re back to Amos Diggory, who is suddenly totally lucid. If he was confounded by Delphi, then why is he suddenly un-confounded when Harry and gang show up?
  32. So Delphi has painted this prophecy around her room in fluorescent paint. Where did the prophecy come from? Who made it? How did she come by it?
  33. AND THEN THE BIG REVEAL: Delphi is Voldemort’s daughter by Bellatrix Lestrange, born at Malfoy Manor just before the Battle of Hogwarts. UMMMMM….B’ESCUSE ME MOTHERFUCKER? That doesn’t make ANY sense. When was Belatrix pregnant? She certainly never looked pregnant when she was trying to chase Harry all over the friggin’ United Kingdom. Did Voldemort know? And if all of this was happening at Malfoy Manor WHICH IS WHERE DRACO ALSO LIVED then why did he never volunteer this crucial piece of information, especially when there were rumors going around about his own son being Voldemort’s son? This is one of the biggest, stupidest flaws in this whole thing, quickly followed by:
  34. So Malfoy just HAPPENS to have a time turner? And you waited to save this information until this point in time? How convenient. But if all the death eaters had secret time turners that Nott made them, how come no one went back and killed Harry beforehand? Why is this Delphi the only one to get around to it?
  35. Once Harry figures out where in time the boys are, he again tells Ginny to “send an owl” to Hermione and Draco. Ummmm….again with the owls? That’s gonna take days, idiot. Surely, you’d just apparate there, or do the face in the floo network thing, or send your Patronus announcement, or HERE’S AN IDEA: use a friggin’ cellphone.
  36. Why doesn’t the transfiguration they do to Harry hold? Are the top ministry wizards really that bad at transfiguring things that it only lasts for a couple minutes? Guess they should have had the Trolley Witch to come along, apparently she’s great at transfiguration…
  37. Delphi and Harry fight. And despite being like, the greatest wizard ever, Harry is overcome by a girl that has had no formal wizarding training at all? She doesn’t even appear to use a spell, it just says “Harry’s wand ascends upwards towards her.” That’s…um….uncharacteristic, let’s say. But then, despite the fact that he no longer has a wand, it tells us that “they fire bolts mercilessly at each other”.  Did Harry Potter learn that fingertip lightning thing from Emperor Palpatine? What’s he even firing bolts with?
  38. Oh, and Harry’s afraid of pigeons and the dark. Actually, I’ll let them have this one.  Nasty-ass street birds, all.

So there you have it. 37 ridiculous plot holes that I just can’t get past. This whole thing read like badly-planned, badly-executed fan fiction. I’ve been told it “works better as a live play.” Which is good, because IT COULDN’T GET ANY WORSE as a written manuscript.

If anyone would like a copy of this piece of crap, please officially consider mine for sale.