It has been four years since I wrote Stuff I love. Today’s post adds to my list of products and services that genuinely make life a little better.
Home Theater Systems
As many of you know, Kim and I bought a new home in January. It came pre-wired for speakers and we decided to put in surround sound to enhance our T.V. and movie experience. I was clueless. I thought a good system was going to cost at least $3,000. I had no idea what a banana clip was or what the difference between a 5.1 and a 7.1 receiver were.
A friend convinced me that most people can’t tell the difference between a great system and a good system. He recommended Klipsch speakers and a Marantz or Denon receiver. A 5.1 system has a front left, right and center speaker along with a base and rear left and right speaker for a total of six speakers. A 7.1 system has two extra side speakers for a total of eight. Unless you are in a giant room, you are better off with the 5.1, six-speaker-set-up. I found a package deal of six Klipsch speakers and a Marantz receiver for only $1,000 on Amazon shown below. You can see the wireless, down-firing, bass in the corner of the room along with two small left and right speakers and larger middle speaker. The rear two speakers are mounted in the ceiling behind the couch.
I am embarrassed that I have lived 42 years without even considering upgrading the sound a skinny T.V. puts out. Movies, sports, and video games are so much more enjoyable with this upgrade. The New Amazon Fire Stick T.V. turns on my Marantz receiver and our T.V. together and I am able to adjust the volume with my phone or the Fire Stick T.V. Now that I know how great your T.V. can sound, I would recommend this set up even if you have the rear wire speakers visible along your wall.
I am a novice and can share that I love my setup that I expect to last more than the life of the next two T.V.s we buy. There are probably many great brands that I am not aware of and a good sound bar that provides your left, right, and center speaker with a sub woofer could make a great upgrade. This is an investment worth considering.
My first Weber Grill was a hand-me-down about eighth years ago. I had never used charcoal or wood and didn’t think I would like it. I was wrong and now am a proud practitioner of “low and slow.” The tenderness and extra flavor of the charcoal are worth the effort. I thoroughly enjoy reading outside next to the aroma of smoking meat.
The standard Weber Kettle grill is excellent for most applications. You can even put the charcoal on one side of the meat on the other for smoking as seen below.
I owned a Weber Kettle, but replaced it with the Smokey Mountain Barrel Smoker. I removed the water bowel because it was too much of a pain to clean the water after it was full of fat drippings. I now just let the fat burn once it hits the charcoal.
The grills are made with steel that is coated with porcelain enamel that will last for years. This keeps the heat in and prevents them from rusting. Our new home came with a gas line outside and there was no question which brand of gas grill to buy. After a little research; we decided to get the Weber Genesis II, the Cadillac of grills, and it is built like a tank. You can burn wood chips to get a smokey flavor and turn off the center burner to smoke meat over several hours. While it costs $850 when you can get an OK one for $350, I think it is worth it. I like how the grease all flows into a disposable pan and the 10 year warranty on everything.
I decided to break up with my bank of 19 years this year. It was annoying that they charged me $15 to receive wires that were free to send from T.D. Ameritrade. They also shut down my debit card last Summer even though I told them I would be traveling. The final straw was the annoying $1,500 limit on depositing checks via the app.
I did some research online and decided to move my personal and business accounts to NBKC or the National Bank of Kansas City. I chose them because they were paying .75% on CHECKING and they offered a business money market that paid 1%; something very few banks offer. After the Fed dropped the Fed Funds Rate to zero this year, they dropped my business money market down to .8% and actually RAISED my checking interest to .8%.
Far too many of the big banks charge you 20% interest on your credit card and crush people with minimum balance fees. You also need like a million dollars to get a high-yield .2% interest rate on your savings account. NBKC hasn’t been perfect, but their customer service has always fixed my problems. They don’t have a limit to how much I can deposit through the app, almost everything is free, and I love seeing $10 or so deposited every month into my accounts.
8/10th% is higher than the 10 year U.S. Treasury Bond is paying! If you are tired of your bank consider looking at NBKC.com
Paso Robles Wine
I visited my parents’ wine club a few years ago and was given a master’s class on the superiority of this wine region. In 2018, I had the opportunity to visit about 15 vineyards and I couldn’t believe that I could give a five-star-rating to almost every wine I tried. White or red, almost everything was exceptional.
Paso Robles is in the center of California near the coast. It gets extremely hot during the days and cools off every night. They experience huge fluctuations in temperatures. The high was 82 one day when I was there and the next day it got up to 100. These extreme changes torture the grape vines and this affliction makes the best grapes in the world.
J. Lohr and Josh are two of my favorite vineyards in the region. While J. Lohr makes one of the best wines you can get for $12, it was special to try several of their higher-end wines that you can only buy from the vineyard. To this day, I am still a proud member of the Pear Valley Wine Club. If you aren’t familiar with this region, give them a try. Paso Robles makes great Cabs, Merlots, Malbecs, and blends. You should also try their GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.
Cheapdfw.com, EscapeHouston.com and Scottscheapflights.com
These websites have genuinely made my life better. The first two are regional sites and Scott’s is international. All offer a free subscription that is sufficient for almost everyone. I am a premium member of Scott’s for $40 per year because I want to support their great work and I often help friends and clients find deals.
When you enter your email into these sites, you will receive about three emails per week with mistake fares or sales. You generally have a day to book the flight, but most of the deals are three months to ten months in the future. Here are some of the deals I have booked: Kona $362, Anchorage $400, Reykjavic $400, Budapest $337, Spain $600, and Copenhagen $370. Steals like these remove a big barrier to traveling.
Even when there isn’t time to travel, I enjoy receiving these deals because it is nice to dream about far-away destinations that you will one day be able to visit. I have found that my life is better if I always have at least one flight booked to look forward to. The anticipation alone enhances the value of the trip.
Scribd is the Netflix of e-books and audio books. For $9 per month or $85 a year, you have access to an enormous selection of content. I used to pay Audible.com about $18 per month to be able to listen to just one audio book.
While scribd doesn’t offer every book I want, I find it has about 80% of what I am looking for. If I listen to more than five audio books per year, I come out ahead over Audible.com. You can start a 30 day free trial here.