Shopping online done much smarter; earning cashback on purchases

As I have been doing a lot of my shopping online for the parts, gear, and supplies I will need for the Alaska trip, it dawned on me that many people don’t know the “secret” to saving a few bucks with most purchases.  Many companies and retailers partner with coupon and online cash back sites to drive business towards their stores.  These companies have large marketing budgets, and actually pay some sites to work as referrals to bring the customer to them.  In return, these referral sites offer customers either coupons or cash back for each purchase that they make.

Some people think that this is a scam or rip off, but it’s not.  I’ve been using such sites for years, and every year end up receiving hundreds of dollars back from the online purchases I make through dozens, if not hundreds, of famous online retailers.

So, what’s the catch?  There is none…other than remembering to go to the website, log in to your free account, and then clicking on their links to the famous retailers whenever you want to do some online shopping.  By registering for one of the free accounts, you actually have access to some of their coupons, discussion forums, and even some better sales.  It’s not unusual to get 10-60% and more off at stores like Target, Kmart, LL Bean, GAP, and hundreds of other famous online stores.

Anyways, lately I’ve picked up a decent camera, riding gear, and some motorcycle parts.  Won’t go into what all of this cost me, but the past couple of weeks allowed me to save money AND get over $300 in cashback.  With Christmas shopping coming up, this is a no-brainer to at least look at the sites, and setup a free account (which won’t send you tons of spam either).

One of my favorite sites is (click the graphic):

If you click the Ebates graphic above, you’ll get taken to one of the biggest cashback sites. You get cashback really quickly using their links, and it has become one of my most used sites.

Anyways, don’t take my word for it…give it a shot.  Who doesn’t love to save money?  Every dollar saved can go for more chrome, more gas, or towards another two-wheel vacation.

If you find that you like these sites and want to easily share…or even if you want to share this blog with others, just click the Share This Blog links at the top right of this window or the same link buttons just below this paragraph.


Alaska Countdown: Eight Months

Eight months from today is the set Alaska journey departure date.  It seems so far away, until I realize it only seemed like days ago when I was nine months away.  The older we get, the faster time goes by it seems; and I realize that I’ll be pulling out of the driveway to head north towards the Arctic soon enough.

Time for an evaluation of the trip preparation needs and where things stand.  If I don’t stay on top of this, I will miss something until it becomes too late to deal with it before departure.

Bike Maintenance Needs

Got all the parts that I have previously mentioned as needed in stock, sitting in the garage.  The only thing that is stopping the work from beginning is the fact that Indiana weather refuses to give up summertime.  It’s been very nice riding weather lately, and I am still finding opportunities to go out and ride the asphalt a little longer in the warm sunshine.  Another month or so and I expect to be dropping the bike off over at a friend’s place, where we will do all the needed upgrades over the colder, snowy months.  I’ll make sure to do some entries here with photos as the work begins on the Harley.

Gear – Clothing

Pretty much now set in this area, which gives me time to break it all in over the winter and during the spring months when the bike is able to go out and not be impeded by snow, ice, and road salt all over the ground.

The older I get, the more mortal I feel.  For most of my riding years, I have always been in the camp of refusing to wear a helmet due to weight, sight reduction, screwed up tan lines, and whatever else I could think of to prevent the wearing of such.  Over the last several years, and especially this current riding season, I have been wearing helmets more and more.  I still say “to each their own”, but I know that I am not going to heal as good as a twenty year old any longer if something bad happens.  Actually did a group ride yesterday for a “Bikers for Boobies” breast cancer charity event, and a crotch-rocket rider about four bikes ahead of me went down in a busy round-about in loose gravel.  You just never know when its your turn to get the golden ticket for a wipe-out.

Been evaluating modular helmets, and have been looking for a specific design of the Shark Evoline 3 series to add to the growing noggin protection devices on the shelf.  Rumor has it that this manufacturer may be coming out with an upgraded series over the winter months, so I am not in a hurry to purchase one yet just in case.

Shark Evoline 3 ST

Currently own some half helmets and 3/4 helmets.  Due to the expected bad road and weather conditions, I would like to get something offering full-face protection when needed.  It’s a pain carrying two helmets now when I decide to wear one; a half for those hot summer days, and the 3/4 for when it rains.  A modular would be usable on the sunny days with the front open…and the chin bar down offers all of the safety of a full-faced helmet.  But in reality, I still have days where I do enjoy a ride without wearing a brain bucket.

Gear – Electronics

The trip of a lifetime to Alaska warrants that I upgrade some of my electronics, both on the Harley and off of it.  I currently have a Garmin 765T GPS that has worked very well for me over the years, but it is not a waterproof device.  I’ve used sandwich bags, and eventually a clear waterproofing case, over it to keep it from dying from the rain I sometimes I get caught in.  It’a s big pain protecting it this way, as it fogs up from the humidity and takes time pulled off on the side of the road to continually put the protection on and take it off repeatedly.  So, I’m looking to acquire a waterproofed GPS for the trip up north, which guarantees me many miles of riding in inclement weather conditions.

I also want to be able to document the trip through still photography and video recording; both of the actual riding as well as the scenery.  There aren’t a lot of “touristy” stops planned along the way due to time and money constraints, but there a few sights that I just cannot miss.  I have created video journals of past rides, and it is especially nice to watch when it’s cold and snowing outside and the Harley is in the garage hibernating the winter away.  In the past, I have use a Drift HD 170 video camera in which I recorded the actual ride while traveling, which has done an “OK” job. However, it is not up to the quality I wish to capture on such a journey.  I am looking at the Drift Ghost, as well as the latest GoPro offering, the Hero 3+ Black.  Still evaluating and waiting for newest reviews before making up my mind.

Looking around, I did come across an awesome point and shoot camera, that actually provides equal or better photography than most professional series DSLR cameras; and does a wonderful job of video as well that I will be using when not actually riding.  It’s the Sony RX100, has a unbelievably large 1″ sensor, and it is very small in the hand.  I’ve not had the chance to play with it yet, but eventually will get some test shots with it and spend the winter trying to learn the hundreds of manual controls that comes with it (it also had two very good automatic controls to take a picture without even thinking…and the quality of those shots are nearly as good as manually setting up a shot in the camera.)  There are lots of reviews of this camera online, and although expensive, it gives a result that blows away all other small, portable point and shoot cameras (and even many expensive DSLR cameras).  They actually have a newer version out, the II, but for the $200 savings I was able to get from just buying last year’s model, I’ll be able to nearly purchase the GoPro or Drift to record video on the bike.

Sony RX100

Finding extra batteries and memory cards at a great price was easy on Amazon.  All I need to fully outfit the camera is find a small, portable tripod, and a weatherproof case to carry the camera.

I really hate expending so much money for this trip, but I consider all of these things investments into being able to use the equipment to document so many other future journeys on the motorcycle.  Now, if I can just talk my employer into allowing me to do that bucket list trip down to the tip of South America for six months, and find a way to pay for it, I would be able to really get some experience using this equipment.

Health

Past the one month, tobacco-free milestone several days ago.  The headaches caused by nicotine deprivation have stopped, and like all non-smokers, can really smell the “ashtray odor” on anybody that still partakes in tobacco.  A few friends of mine still smoke, and I have seen those in public that smoke…but neither really seem to provoke me into really craving the opportunity to light up.  Occasionally I get a flash of desire, but it is easily controlled and put aside.  The cravings are nowhere near as bad as when I have previously quit.  Again, each person just needs to find that one thing that makes it easier for them to quit, and have to be at that place in their life to beat any addiction that they face.

Food still does not taste good to me any longer.  I continue to eat of course out of the usual hunger, but instead of heightening my taste buds awareness by stopping the smoking, it has actually decreased my sensitivity.  The greasy Whopper, a sausage and mushroom pizza, or the spicy Sichuan-flavored Chinese food that I use to crave does not seem to do it for me any longer….all seem to be without flavor now.

Talked to a work friend, and we have both decided to make the effort to improving our general wellness by linking up and trying to motivate each other by working out together.  He prefers to go after work, but I prefer to do it before work since I am more of a morning person and the fact that the fitness center we will be using doesn’t appear to get too crowed that early.  Still putting the final touches on the work out plan, and hope to get started with this by the end of October.  At least give me the chance to lose a few pounds before the large Thanksgiving and Christmas meals comes about and really forces me to get serious with eating better in preparation for the upcoming trip.

Anything Else

Did I say Christmas?  Just a shade over two months away!  Feels like just yesterday that 2013 came upon us….and now 2014 is right around the corner. Yikes!


Some advice for helping somebody in need

A lot of people do not know what to do when a friend loses a loved one.  So, from somebody that just went through a very personal loss, here’s some recommendations of how to provide a little support and strength to somebody that you know that is currently going through a tough time.

It’s easy to say “if you need anything, call me”.  We had literally dozens of our friends and our mom’s acquaintances says this to all of us.  But, we all know that the statement is hollow…because nobody is going to pick up the phone, call you, and ask you to come over and do their dishes because they just don’t feel like doing them.  Who would call and say that they aren’t eating very well because they don’t have the energy to cook…or that they haven’t taken their dogs out for a long walk because they can’t bare the solitude of being alone?  It takes a while to get life going again when it’s halted by the death or serious illness of a loved one; and sometimes, a person runs out of bread or milk and just doesn’t feel like going shopping to replenish.

We actually had three people call and say that they would make it a point to stop by, and drag us out for some time with friends.  One did stop by, and took my wife out to a movie to allow her a chance to think about something else for a change.  The other two people never came by…guess they got busy with life problems of their own.  I had a couple people say “we should have a drink in memory of…”, but then never follow up to do such.

Hey, I am not complaining.  Most people will offer to be there, but they don’t know how “to be there”.  There hearts are in the right place, but they don’t know what to do.  So, in the future, here’s some things you can do to be there for somebody who faces something like the loss of a very close loved one:

  • Give them a few days to grieve in private…then call them.  Believe me, it’s hard to talk at times, but sometimes the person grieving just needs somebody different to talk to about things.  Just listen to them; they will guide the conversation.
  • There is nothing wrong with sending somebody flowers, a condolences card, or even a hand written note through the mail.  It means the world to get something like this, knowing that somebody else took some time out of their lives to actually show you they were thinking about you for a few minutes.
  • If you have the chance…stop by!  Bringing somebody a casserole, some home made cookies, or even trying to drag them out for a bite to eat does wonders.  Maybe they won’t be home when you get there…leave it on their porch, and tape a note to the door.  Heck, it’s not about the food.  Stop by and hang out with them for awhile to watch TV or have some coffee together.  It’s about the company, and being there to allow a conversation to blossom.
  • Don’t make statements you aren’t going to follow up on.  If you say “we should grab a drink” or “a movie would do you good” or whatever, then follow up.  The other person may be waiting for this exact chance to get some separation from those things that they are currently enduring.  The worst they can say is “no thank you”…but they will appreciate the offer, even if they aren’t ready yet to join you.

We have all been there, wishing to be the support to somebody that needs it, but being too nervous to actually take the initiative to do something due to the thought we may be offending the person(s) that are grieving.

So, in short…don’t say “if you need anything, call me”.  Because that’s not going to happen.  Instead, give them a few days, and then you should reach out to them.  Be the support that they need, because they are going to need you to step up when they cannot make the call first.  And…they will always remember that you were actually there for them when they needed you most.


Trip Preparation Math: 1 + 3 = 1

As I have previously written, I have been planning (lightly) a motorcycle trip to Alaska for many years as one of my bucket list items.  The recent illness and passing of my mother kicked this into primary focus for next year, and I find myself excited with the accomplishment of knocking off another check box in a very long trip preparation schedule.

All of the desired motorcycle parts to upgrade my Ultra or to replace worn out parts is now sitting in my garage; awaiting the end of the normal riding season so that weeks can be spent doing the needed work while the temperatures continue to drop outside.  I have divided up my list of “need to do things” into major sections, and the first of them, parts acquisition, is finished.  One of six major things have been accomplished, and a celebratory Hostess cupcake and a glass of milk was the award this evening.

I started this preparation for the ride to Alaska by myself, and had every intention to go up there solo.  However, word got out regarding the journey to the local HOG chapter and its hundreds of members, and questions started getting asked.  Of course, a number of people believe I am nuts for undertaking such an adventure, but others have shown their support.  In fact, three people approached me with the desire to accompany me to the largest state in the union; each of them showing excitement about participating in such an epic life adventure.

Within two weeks, the first person dropped out.  He quickly realized that there was a possibility for too much wear and tear on his bike (his wife warned me there was no way he would go, regardless of the interest that he expressed).  No problem.  It’s an adventure that will be long miles ridden every day, in weather that must be endured regardless of intensity due to the time restraints I face, and over roads less than in ideal shape for many miles.

The next person is a person that I did not know who approached me with the desire to come along.  Once they were given the preliminary information about what I was planning for the three weeks away from home, he disappeared from contact.  No problem…again, it’s easy to express interest in doing something, but it’s totally different to actually sit down and realize what the commitment requires.  But to not respond to repeated emails…well, I guess that’s a good indication of reliability.  Not a good trait for somebody you would be traveling with for weeks and having in close proximity.

The third person is LJ, the first person to approach me with an interest in going, and the last person to back out.  He was kind enough to approach me today at one of the HOG meetings, and pull me aside to let me know he would not be able to tag along.  He had been looking forward to doing it, but life got in the way for him, which is understandable.  We had a good talk, and I respect the guy for seeking me out to chat in person.  Perhaps down the road, opportunity will arise and I’ll be able to give him some pointers or even accompany him on a trip that he may plan.

Yesterday, it was a month since my mom’s passing.  Amazing how a “milestone” can mean so much more than any other “regular” day.  It was a hard day for my wife and I yesterday, and even today she was having a bad day.  Life continues on, but we both know that the tough memory days will always be there in the future.  With the outpouring of verbal support at mom’s passing, we set up a memorial fund in her name sicne people said they wanted to do something in her memory, but very few of the people that knew her or us actually participated.  I did have a very close friend come up to me and tell me that he was moved about reading about my mom’s life from her memorial page, and that he appreciated getting to know a little more about her.  That meant the world to me, and it was nice to see her recognized by the comments of another person.

Life continues on.  One day at a time.  And each day gets me closer to the journey of a lifetime.

Oh…over three weeks now, no tobacco.  Put off the exercise and dieting plan a while longer until I acclimate to the most recent body-changing event of not smoking.  Haven’t gained a ton of weight…but that’s because food actually does not taste very good to me now, so I’m not having as many second helpings as I previously have as a smoker.  Not sure why this is.