At Home with Tech

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Tag: online grocery shopping

4 Ways to Upgrade your Day during COVID-19 with Technology

I put my technology to work and made these tweaks to help improve my family’s experience while spending more time at home.

Isn’t the promise of technology to improve the quality of your life? Well, now is certainly the perfect opportunity to make sure your tech is working overtime to help get you through COVID-19.

Here are four ways that technology helps me to maintain comfort at home and some sense of normalcy.

Continue Ordering Groceries Online
Yes, I was one of those people who didn’t want to visit supermarkets while COVID-19 was spiking in the greater New York City area.

Sure, it was difficult to find open delivery slots from the usual online grocery choices, but I was able to hunt down enough openings between FreshDirect, Whole Foods/Amazon and Peapod to keep our refrigerator sufficiently stocked from March to June.

When news of COVID-19 began leading the headlines elsewhere in the country, more grocery delivery times in our neck of the woods gradually appeared.

And I kept ordering.

No, I didn’t like the idea of someone else picking out my food, but I was willing to ignore my ‘hunting and gathering’ instincts because of the extraordinary circumstances. But a funny thing happened along the way… I realized that I was indeed able to get the majority of what I wanted without showing up to a market. And it didn’t really cost that much more.

Other than the original challenge of finding open delivery slots, online grocery delivery has become an amazingly convenient way to stock our house.

I know it’s not like this shopping option hasn’t been available for years. But I never gave it a chance. (I considered it an unnecessary luxury.)

But the truth is… it’s a real time saver. And you know what they say about time…

Buy a Chair with Ergonomic Support
Sitting all day can be a punishing experience for your body, especially your back. In the early days of COVID-19, I found that my lower back was stiff and achy. And I knew that the culprit was my old home-office chair, which wasn’t designed to provide sufficient ergonomic support. And it clearly wasn’t made to sit in all day.

So I decided that it was time to upgrade.

The choices for a better chair are endless, and they can get crazy expensive. (A Herman Miller Aeron, the gold standard, can set you back $1,400.) While the opposite side of the shopping spectrum is under $200, you should consider that you get what you pay for.

That said, there are solid chairs out there at more reasonable price points. I eventually zeroed in on the well-reviewed $349 Autonomous ErgoChair 2, which I bought direct. (Autonomous began in 2015 on Kickstarter.)

Compared to my old chair, it’s a dream to sit in! It provides all of the right supports to help keep me aligned throughout my day. And my lower back is incredibly happy with the proper lumbar support. (You can’t put a price on that!)

Set Up an Outdoor Movie Night for your Friends
You may recall that I launched the Lester backyard movie night series earlier in the summer, which mimics the idea of a drive-in movie, but without any cars parked in the middle of my backyard!

I bought a Nebula Mars II Pro, which is a small but powerful battery-run projector. I popped it on a tripod and taped a white sheet onto our backyard fence.

Then, it’s showtime!

You can stream Netflix directly from the Mars II Pro or you can hard wire it to your smartphone to access an almost endless supply of movie choices. You can also connect to the Mars II Pro via Bluetooth, but not all movie services will let you stream through to the Mars II Pro via a smartphone.
(Once you figure out these irregularities, you’ll look like a wizard having so easily turned your backyard into a movie theater!)

The Mars II Pro has two 10-watt speakers, which is impressive for this product category. That said, I’ve found that the summer nights have become increasingly noisy with various insect beasts proclaiming their existence. The last time we tried our outdoor movie night, the roar of crickets overwhelmed the entire experience. So, it was clear that I needed a louder portable sound system to work with.

So, I bought the AOMAIS Go Bluetooth speaker ($70.99 on Amazon) which projects 40 watts of power, and you can really appreciate the boost in sound.

It’s simple to pair the AOMAIS Go to the Mars II Pro. And even though it’s easy to carry the speaker around, it ironic that it’s about twice the size of the projector.

There are more powerful portable speakers out there, but they’re more expensive. The AOMAIS Go has enough oomph to do the trick for me.

Order More Bandwidth for your Family’s Streaming Needs
I imagine that you too may have faced a barrage of complaints from family members that your home Wi-Fi network can’t handle the increased load of endless Zoom meetings, online learning and Netflix streaming.

It’s probably not your Wi-Fi. It’s your Internet service plan. So, go check it and then upgrade your bandwidth to the next level. That should do the trick!

I was paying for the base plan of 100 Mbps. So I spent $10 more a month to double it to 200 Mbps. That stabilized things really quick.
(There are faster plans, but I say only buy what you need.)

As part of my review of our Internet plan, I also decided to buy a compatible modem with my Optimum service. Then, I returned the modem that I was renting, which will save us $10 a month.

I’ve effectively doubled our bandwidth without spending more on a monthly basis! Now, everyone at home is having a better online experience throughout their day.

Make those Tech Tweaks
Sure, our world is feeling a bit out of control these days. It’s more important than ever to do what you can to maintain a smooth home operation. Used most effectively, your technology can help you to do exactly that!

Seven Tips for Online Food Shopping during COVID-19

The coronavirus has affected how we need to shop. I’ve got a few suggestions on how to get what you want delivered to your doorstep as quickly as possible.

I think it’s clear that if you’re able to stay at home during this COVID-19 pandemic, then you absolutely should. And for me, that includes an ongoing attempt NOT to go to the supermarket to buy food and supplies. I know you could debate whether my choice is too extreme, but it certainly isn’t hurting the larger problem. In fact, in my small way, I’m happy that I’m doing my part to help flatten the curve.

My wife and I successfully stocked up on our essential needs three weeks back before the coronavirus in the U.S. changed life as we knew it. And I felt great that we had enough food and toilet paper to keep us comfortable for over a month.

You may recall the original social distancing recommendation was for a two-week window. In hindsight, of course that was way too short.

Navigating the New Uncertainty of Online Shopping
Over the past days, I’ve come to the realization that since our new reality is going to last some number of months, the only way to access ongoing essential supplies without visiting brick-and-mortar stores is to buy your food online.

But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that finding an open home delivery slot is really difficult and a lot of perishable inventory is sold out. I’ve also found this to be true for important non-perishable items that can simply be shipped out.

The other variable when shopping online is whether the items you’ve successfully ordered are still going to be available when it’s time to deliver them.

There are many unknowns, and the situation is likely to remain extremely fluid.

Extend your Supply Chain
So, it’s clear me after considering all of this, that you’ve really got to plan ahead! And that means rethinking how you’ll go about buying your food.

I’ve quickly come to the realization that this challenge is similar to how a company might source and manage its own supply chain. In fact, I think that’s exactly what it all boils down to… how to extend and maintain your own personal supply chain.

So, if you’re using online ordering as your primary method to bring in your home supplies, here are seven tips to help improve your haul.

Set Up Several Home Delivery Choices for your Perishable Foods
I’ve put in place:

  • Peapod
  • FreshDirect
  • Instacart (a couple of markets I use rely on this service)
  • Whole Foods Market (Amazon)

Maintain Multiple Website Vendors to Ship Non-Perishable Items
I’ve got:

  • Amazon
  • Jet
  • Costco
  • Boxed

Snag Your Delivery Timeslot!
Finding an open delivery slot is the most important piece of the equation. You can usually adjust your order up until the day before your delivery. But if you can’t claim a specific day, your food will just sit in your cart.

Expect Inventory to Vanish at the Last Minute
So, to avoid disappointment, you should order the same items across your different supply chains. The worst that can happen is you’ll receive more than you need. If it’s perishable and you can freeze your extra inventory, great. If not, then you’ll just need to figure it out. It’s a better problem to handle than not having enough food, right?

Plan Out 2-4 Weeks
I’ve found that delivery windows are usually booked solid and only show availability 1-2 weeks out. So, to keep your supplies stocked, you’ve got to think further into the future than that. For me, it’s an entirely new way to ‘hunt and gather.’
(Yes, what’s old is new again.)

Check Available Delivery Slots Several Times a Day
You’ve got to catch new slots shortly after they become available and before they’re scooped up. Keep trying!

Remain Flexible and Tenacious
Today, I happen to be a bit annoyed with Fresh Direct, because I’ve not been able to find a delivery slot for two days. And I’m also pleasantly surprised that I was able to catch a same-day delivery opportunity from Whole Foods Market via Amazon. That said, I couldn’t find most of the produce I wanted. Still, I received part of what we needed in three hours, not two weeks.

It’s all relative. We’ve simply got to apply a different mindset to shopping now. Forget about ‘one-stop-shopping’ convenience. That’s so 2019.

When I was a kid, my mom would proudly talk about visiting several supermarkets in our New York City neighborhood until she was able to find everything she was looking for… exactly the way she liked it. I’m not sure I’m going to be getting anything exactly the way I like it, but applying my mother’s mindset of ‘tenacious search’ should serve me and my family well in the months to come.

Specialty Food Companies
Another supply-chain option is identifying online businesses that specialize in sourcing and selling specific foods direct to you.
(Think seafood or fresh produce.)

I’m still exploring this. More thoughts soon…

So, I know there’s a ‘slight’ ethical snag to this whole system. It’s all based on someone else going shopping for me or working onsite at a company that’s shipping me my supplies. And that means they’re not at home protecting themselves and their families like I’m trying to do. By taking less risk, I’m necessarily transferring some of that to someone else.

It opens up huge economic and social questions. I’m doing my part to flatten the curve, but I know my actions will still create ripples into a much larger pond with endless repercussions I will never know about.

What’s for Dinner?
These are scary times, and there are few easy answers. Considering everything we’re dealing with, if we can take advantage of technology to help us put food on the table while keeping us and our loved ones away from the coronavirus, I think that’s essentially a good practice.

You’ve just got to put together a dependable supply chain online with multiple sources and keep track of it all!

And then stay tenacious… like my mom.

Now, it’s time to get to work.

Fighting the Hunting/Gathering Instinct with a Peapod Click

Is Peapod’s $10 delivery fee worth the convenience of preventing Empty Cupboard Syndrome? It is, if you can get over your DNA-induced guilt trip to go out there and hunt down the five food groups yourself!

Is Peapod’s $10 delivery fee worth the convenience of preventing Empty Cupboard Syndrome? It is, if you can get over your DNA-induced guilt trip to go out there and hunt down the five food groups yourself!

Let’s face it.
We’re hardwired to be hunters and gatherers.
Without it, our species wouldn’t have survived in the early years.

And even today, you’ve got to put something on the dinner table most nights.
Otherwise, you’ll probably have a hard time continuing the family lineage.

Combine that with our commercialized culture of acquiring ‘stuff,’ and you’ve created a pretty powerful universal impulse in our society to go out there and get it!

Slowly but surely, technology has been chipping away at the need to physically do all that.
Once upon a time, a few simple phone calls to The Home Shopping Network could fill up your house.
Now the purchasing power of the click is well known.
Who really needs to leave the comfort of home anymore to buy what you need?

All this said, it’s still difficult to entirely rewire your shopping habits in the space of a few short years.

The Serengeti in Aisle 6
One holdout for me has been visiting the grocery store.
At a primordial level, it just feels right to venture out to get your food yourself.
Plus, there is some definite skill required to get exactly what you need in the perishables department.

Case in point: Here’s a clip from the hidden microphone on me last week in the supermarket:

“No, not that piece of sad-looking salmon!
The other piece next to it that looks fresher.
To the left…
No, down…
Yes, that one!”

Plus, I like my oranges to sport a skin that’s not too thin and not too thick.
I’m looking for that perfect ‘peel.’
Because as much as I love my oranges, trying to eat the wrong one can result in a juicy mess with more of the fruit on the floor than in your mouth.

So sure, there are some foods you need to go out there and get yourself. But I think the reality is most of what you need to keep your kitchen going can be acquired with a click.

I’ve already crossed that line with non-food supplies like paper towels and
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Soap (98% naturally derived).

But my wife and I have really been having a hard time clicking for our food.

Peapod Redux
I got an email the other day from Peapod, Stop & Shop’s online shopping interface
inviting us back.
I had given the website a try when our son was first born, because…well…
you know, things get a little crazy right after the stork arrives.
(To date, Peapod has delivered 23 million orders across 24 U.S. markets.
So we’re clearly not alone.)

And honestly, Peapod was just fine.
Our food was delivered to our front door, and the Lester family thrived.
The introductory offer gave us free shipping. So there was really no down side.

A month later though, my latent Neanderthal genes started guilt tripping me.
(grunt…”Must go into wilderness and find food”…grunt)
Plus, I started thinking about the lazy ‘wastefulness’ of future home delivery charges.

So I let the whole thing lapse.

Fast forward to the present…almost four years into parenthood.
And as all you parents know, the ‘schedule’ doesn’t get any easier.
(In fact, I hear it gets worse!)

I ran into the kitchen and took a peek in the cupboard.
It looked like we could hunker down and survive a short apocalypse or zombie attack. (no brains here)
But there were definitely a few ‘ECS’ gaps on the shelves.
(Empty Cupboard Syndrome)

It was time to ask myself the question again.
Is the extra $7 or $10 Peapod delivery charge (depending on how much you spend) plus a $1 fuel surcharge really that onerous a fee to simplify the supermarket experience?

And is there really so much food that can’t be remotely selected without a major sacrifice in quality?

It was time to find out…

Hello, Again
To no surprise, the whole experience was almost easier than buying
my favorite brown rice snaps on Amazon:

  • Boneless chicken breasts… check
  • Green bananas… well at least they won’t be overripe
  • Bread…No worries as long as they’re not buried on the bottom of the packaging
  • Red grapes….on sale… sweet!
  • Onions… how bad could they be?
  • Yukon potatoes….same risk as the onions
  • Yogurt…always good to have a few more on hand
  • Eggs…. Well at least the brand isn’t ‘Humpty Dumpty’
  • Ice Cream…Hey, shouldn’t there be a reward for all this (non) effort?

Faster Than Being in the Express Line
I found myself quickly at the end of my virtual grocery-shopping excursion, and I looked up…
The sun had not yet woken up.
I felt so industrious. I hurried onto the page to schedule my delivery.

But I had done all this on Saturday morning.
I quickly realized I couldn’t schedule a delivery until Monday.
(I was hoping for next day delivery.)

So being somewhat impatient, (and wanting to reach the finish line so I could complete this post) I decided on a slightly different route.

I scheduled the free ‘pick up’ option for Sunday.
(Free is always good, right?)

It wasn’t really that big a deal.
I had some errands to run near the market in the morning anyway.
(Not to mention my DNA was pleased I still had to venture out into the ‘wilderness.’)


And after the deal had been completed, a message popped up informing me that Peapod could add to my order all the way up to 4:01pm that afternoon.
(Now, isn’t that convenient?!)

The Hunt Succeeds
The next morning, I eagerly jumped in the car and headed over to Stop & Shop.
(When was the last time you heard yourself thinking that?!)

I drove up to the Peapod pick-up ‘zone’ and found a Stop & Shop greeter.
She said, “Are you the 8-9am pick up?”
It was 9:30.

“I am.”

I was just going to give you a call to make sure you didn’t forget.
(Isn’t that nice?)

So we loaded up my car, and I drove off.

When I got home, everything looked great.
The chicken was fresh.
The bread was in it’s original shape, and yes the eggs were still intact.

Based on my happy experience, I’ve updated my internal preferences database:
The next time when I have to spend an extra sawbuck for Peapod home delivery, the convenience will indeed be worth it…

Today… Peapod. Tomorrow…Barrett-bot!
Now, I know this all isn’t rocket science.
People have been to the moon and back on this one many times.
I bet many of you keep the Peapod link high up in your URL bookmark’s folder, right?

Last year, a friend of mine demonstrated how to use Peapod as a real time saver on the first day of a beach vacation.
(Who wants to stop and shop when you could be soaking up some rays?)

Maybe sometimes it just takes a bit more time to get comfortable with technology taking over yet another life task we grew up thinking we were supposed to handle.

Yes, technically, you’re still doing the shopping with Peapod.
You’re just not bringing home the bacon anymore.

Wait a minute…
If technology could actually pull that trick off for me,
I bet I’d really be one happy camper!

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