a brief gadget-buying frenzy

earbudsI decided to buy a pair of earbuds for my iPad. My hearing aid connects to my iPad, but sometimes the iPad insists that my hearing aid is connected to my iPhone (even though the iPhone might be off). Rather than be aggravated, I thought that a new pair of Bluetooth earbuds would be a good solution. (You may know a pair of earbuds will only connect to a single device.) Terry said she liked them because they light up when in use, so she could tell when I was listening to something. That was not the case when I was in the kitchen, for example, and listening to an audiobook or podcast on my iPhone with my hearing aid or the smaller, non-illuminated earbuds I was using with my iPhone. So I bought a similar pair for my iPhone. I selected white, since the first pair was black.

Alexa routine screen shotWhen they arrived, however, I liked the original pair better, since the black case allowed me to see the charging data even when the case was closed, which the white one did not. Since I use the earbuds on my iPhone much more often than on my iPad, I paired the original black pair with my iPhone and the new white pair with my iPad. They’re very comfortable and I love the digital power level display.

Thinking about gadgets, I was looking at the digital timer connected to the lamp in our living space and thinking about what a pain it is to adjust when the clocks change in the spring and fall or when the seasons and changing light required an adjustment. That’s when I had one of those “I could’ve had a V8!” moments. We have two smart plugs that work with Amazon Alexa, one for the light in the dining area and another for the table fountain in the bedroom. Why not, I suddenly realized, get a third for the light in the living area? So I did. The initial setup was a bit tricky, but now that I have done it adjustments will be simple. And no more drift. The digital timer would run fast, so when the light was set to turn on at 6:30 p.m. it would eventually turn on at 6:27. And we’re also no longer constrained to two on/off cycles a day, nor does the cycle need to be the same every day of the week, both limitations of the digital timer.

watchThen there’s the story of the watch. I had two solar-powered digital watches, which, on account of the pandemic I didn’t wear much. They both stopped working and so they now sit in the box for the next household hazardous waste drop-off event. But now that Terry and I feel more comfortable going out to eat again, and now that I am back attending church in person, I decided it was time to have a functioning watch. (It’s bad form to pull out your iPhone to check the time when in church.) I looked on Amazon for solar-powered watches and was surprised to discover that they were all well over $100.00. I realized that a watch with a standard battery would do and found a Casio that syncs to the time signal out of Ft. Collins, Colorado for around a third of the price of the solar watches. The Q&A on Amazon suggested the battery would last five years or longer, which I found reassuring. A quick trip to the local watch shop for a new band and I’m set. (Casio makes quality watches with crummy bands.)

All right. That’s enough. I’m in good shape gadget-wise for quite a while now.

a week to leave behind

I was on call for jury duty last week. It’s not something I like, but I respect my civic duty. However, since the height of the pandemic and lockdown I have been sleeping later and when I need to get up early I am not functioning well by early afternoon. Add to that the fact that the courthouse is twenty miles and thirty-five minutes away. That’s not bad in and of itself, but to get there I have to take a country highway through a pass in the hills in the early morning light in order to arrive at the courthouse by the 8:00 a.m. start time. Given that would be before the sun was fully up, and given that my night vision is not what it once was, I did not feel safe or comfortable making that drive.

calendarI asked my doctor to excuse me from jury duty, and he generated a document that did just that. The court, however, ignored the document, perhaps because he didn’t provide any reason for my being excused. So I was still on call.

This meant checking the web site each afternoon to see if I needed to go in the next day. Fortunately, I had a high group number and remained on standby. When I checked the web site on Thursday afternoon it showed my status as “Ended.” I was delighted about that, but geez Riverside County, not even a “thank you” for being available all week?

Then there was Friday. A day of interruptions and disruptions.

My calendar told me I needed to change the air filter in our HVAC system. I went into the garage to get a new filter and there was no filter. So I made a trip to Home Depot. We took care of that, but then checking my email I had a bill from Kaiser for some outrageous amount for my shingles vaccine. Seems that was entered as though I was not on a Kaiser plan, even though I am. So to resolve that I called the phone number on the bill. Turns out that number was for people who use Kaiser but are not on a Kaiser plan. I then had to call Kaiser directly to get the error taken care of. Of course I spent a lot of time on hold, but I finally got that worked out.

After that, I was sitting at my computer minding my own business composing an email when the doorbell rang. There was a guy from our electric utility, Southern California Edison, who said that our power meter had stopped transmitting data and needed to be replaced. The power was off for only a minute or so, but when the Wi-Fi router came back online our iPhones and two of our Amazon Echo devices did not like the connection. So I had to do another power cycle on the router to resolve that problem. Finally it all worked out.

But it’s a new week. Yesterday Terry and I had a marvelous Easter dinner of pressure cooker pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. We used china Terry inherited from her granny and silverware that my grandparents and great aunt and uncle gave to my great grandparents for their fifty-ninth wedding anniversary. A wonderful start to a week that we expect to be much more normal than last week.

when a home improvement project is more complicated than expected

Some time back Terry and I decided we wanted to replace our sliding glass door with a French door. The slider was clunky and unwieldy, and we really liked the French door we had installed in Gilroy. Last fall we decided it was time to get it done. It turned out to be a more complex task than we expected.

Our first action was to contact our local general contractor, who had done such a good job for us on other projects, such as upgrading our kitchen sink and counters. Turns out French doors are not in his wheelhouse. He would have installed an off-the-shelf French door from Home Depot. That would not work.

Our next move was to contact a national company that advertises regularly in the newspaper. The salesman came out and gave us a dog and pony show that included setting up a heat lamp and a pane of glass to demonstrate how good his product was at deflecting heat. He then had us sit through two videos that did nothing to help us in our decision-making process. When he finally got around to giving us a quote it was, well, sticker shock.

French doorWe then called a company that advertised in our Four Seasons community magazine. The salesman started out by telling us why we didn’t want to get solar for our house right then. Say what? We wanted a French door; we weren’t asking him about solar. From there he had his own dog and pony show. The quote came in on the high side, and when we looked at his company’s reviews on Yelp the firm did not fare well.

Undeterred, we called a company that advertises in the local monthly advertising magazine. The salesperson came out, took measurements, and gave us a quote. The price was reasonable and within a couple of days we decided to proceed. He came back to complete the paperwork, pick up our check for the deposit, and confirm the measurements. The office manager emailed us a drawing to confirm that the door opened the way we wanted it to.

It was a twelve week wait (supply chain issues, you know) but the installers arrived last Monday. They were here right at 8:00 a.m. and did a thorough and meticulous job. They were done and out of here in less than three hours. The door looks great and functions smoothly.

Sometimes you just need to walk through the process to get to the desired end.

an unfinished story

Both Terry and I want to support the monarch butterfly population. There was a shrub In the front yard near the front porch that was there when we moved in. It eventually died. We replaced it with a mock orange that also died. Finally, in our quest to support the butterflies, we put a butterfly bush there, but that died as well. I think there must be something toxic in the soil there.

caterpillarWe continued our quest. A while back Terry went to our locally owned garden shop and bought a milkweed plant. She put it in a container in the backyard, right at the edge of the patio where we could keep a close eye on it. In short order we had three monarch caterpillars munching away. We’ve had some good rains and winds this winter, but the caterpillars hung in there. If the weather was inclement they sheltered beneath one of the leaves. If the weather was nice they sunned themselves on top of a leaf. They kept eating and getting bigger. We were looking forward to their achieving their chrysalis state and eventually becoming butterflies. I wanted to get some pictures and write about the process.

caterpillar plantAt one point one caterpillar disappeared, but we still had two eating the plant and getting bigger. We maintained our hope of seeing the full cycle. Then, after some stormy weather we were down to one caterpillar. That lone survivor moved from the milkweed, now pretty much stripped of its leaves, to a frost cloth that we used to protect our plants in the winter. It was not in use at the time and was draped over a patio chair. Our caterpillar spent several days on the frost cloth before it, the last of the three, disappeared.

My spiritual director suggested that perhaps the last caterpillar did not leave of its own volition. That’s entirely possible. It would certainly be easy prey for a bird in the neighborhood.

So there you have it. I wanted to have a story to tell, and I suppose I do. But it’s not the complete story I wanted to be able to share.

All is not lost, though. I was out on my walk one day shortly after the disappearance of our last caterpillar and I came across a beautiful monarch. Sadly, it flitted away before I could switch from the exercise app to the camera on my iPhone.

Terry and I did not contribute to the cause in the way in which we would like to have done, but the butterflies are out there. That’s reassuring to know.

our home improvements continue

As part of our home improvement process we decided we wanted to replace our unwieldy sliding glass door (pictured here) with a French door. We did that in Gilroy and we really loved it. What we thought would be a straightforward process, however, turned out to be more complicated than we expected.

patio doorWe started with our go-to general contractor, who took care of the artificial turf in the front yard, our kitchen and bathroom counters, and, most recently, our kitchen track lighting. It turned out that it was not a straightforward task for him, and that he would be using an off-the-shelf unit from Home Depot. That wouldn’t work.

Renewal by Andersen does some heavy advertising in the area, so we called them and made an appointment. We spent two hours getting details we didn’t need to have and watching videos we didn’t want to see. The meeting ended with sticker shock.

We called a (more-or-less) local company which places ads in an advertising magazine that arrives in the mail. The guy came out, took some measurements, and promised to get back to us with a quote. We didn’t hear from him.

We then called a company that advertises in the Four Seasons monthly magazine. Again, we got far more detail than we needed and a somewhat high-pressure sales approach. The price was better than Andersen, but we thought it best to do some checking. We looked at their reviews on Yelp and the Better Business Bureau web site. Yikes! Deal breaker.

So I called the previous company and asked about the status of the quote. They were back to me in twenty-four hours with a price that was entirely reasonable. The Yelp and BBB reviews were excellent. The rep was here the next day, took final measurements, had us sign the paperwork, and he was on his way.

The lead time is perhaps six weeks, so it will be after the holidays and into the new year before we see our new French door, but the process has begun. We’re pleased and looking forward to seeing it installed.

Time keeps on slippin’ into the future

We talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, but relativity is a scientific reality. We have to adjust for relativity in our timekeeping and GPS devices.

time imageIt’s not relativity in the scientific sense, but on a personal level we experience time at different speeds. I can stare at a digital clock display and it can seem to take forever for the clock to click over to the next minute. On the other hand, I can be focused on a task on my computer and an hour can be gone in what seems like no time.

Time can become relative when we look at the past as well. Someone on LinkedIn quoted another person’s tweet:

quoteSomeone said, “Thirty years ago,” and my mind went, yes! The 1970s, but they meant 1992, and now I need to lie down.

I feel exactly the same way. I look back fondly on the seventies. I still listen to seventies music regularly. I was at my hair stylist’s shop the other day and she was streaming seventies music on her Amazon Echo. I said, “I like your taste in music.” She replied, “I really love it. My dad used to listen to this music.” Make me feel old why don’t you? I have trouble accepting the fact that I graduated from high school fifty-one years ago. Can’t be? Can it? Yes, it can.

Thirty years ago I was working in Silicon Valley and Terry and I had been (back) together for a year. We moved to Gilroy when we bought our house there in 1997 and we moved to Hemet in 2105 after I had been laid off for a year. That meant we spent eighteen years in Gilroy. Sure didn’t seem like it.

Sometimes it all simply seems out of control.

We have the Steve Miller band to remind us that:

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’
Into the future

That’s for sure.

rating hamburgers

I have been eating hamburgers since I was old enough to make my own choices from the menu at a restaurant. I suppose that’s true of many males my age. So when writer Lucas Kwan Peterson ranked twenty-three hamburger brands in a two-page spread in the Weekend section of last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, I felt qualified to respond.

I question Peterson’s taste in hamburgers.

Peterson ranked Burger King #23, dead last. Are you kidding me? Lower than Wienerschnitzel? (#21) Lower than Del Taco? (#18) Lower than White Castle? (#17) Burger King is not my favorite burger, but if location and circumstance facilitate, I can certainly enjoy a Whopper with cheese. (I’ve always wondered why the default Whopper comes without cheese.)

hamburger and friesAs for Del Taco, I admit to not having had their burger, but I don’t trust a fast food taco chain that also sells fries and burgers. If I’m going to Wienerschnitzel, I’m not going to get a burger. I doubt they put much effort into their hamburgers, and Peterson says as much.

I’m not sure where Peterson went for White Castle. There aren’t any in Southern California, so he would have to have made a trip to Nevada unless he had visited the East Coast. Of course, you could buy a box of White Castle sliders in the freezer section at the grocery store, heat a couple up in the microwave, and then ask yourself why you did it. I’ve done that.

Peterson ranked Jack in the Box at #15, which is about right in my estimation. They went through a phase of emphasizing their snack food in their TV ads recently, and I believe that their Sourdough Jack, which I used to really enjoy (and which Peterson lists as his recommended burger for Jack in the Box), has gone downhill of late.

The chain Habit Burger Peterson ranks at #13. Terry and I got takeout there shortly after they opened here in Hemet. We received two identical burgers, neither one of which was what we ordered. Terry couldn’t eat hers because it had onions, to which she is allergic. I ate mine, but I wasn’t terribly impressed.

Five Guys comes in at #8 which makes sense. When we lived in Gilroy there was a Five Guys one town up the road from us and Terry and I went there once. We enjoyed it, but not enough to go back. Plus, from Terry’s perspective the Five Guys burger was way more Weight Watchers points than In-n-Out because of the higher fat content in their burgers.

Speaking of In-n-Out, Peterson ranks it at #5. He lists Carl’s Jr. as #2. To list In-n-Out lower than Carl’s is just not acceptable in my mind. Carl’s has quality burgers, no question, and I enjoy them, but I went to college in Los Angeles County in the seventies and In-n-Out has a special place in my palate. And to rank In-n-Out lower than McDonald’s (#4) is simply insane.

Peterson’s #1 hamburger? Fatburger. I know they have a good reputation, but I haven’t eaten there so I can’t comment.

Peterson makes one glaring omission. While he includes establishments where burgers are secondary to their mission, he fails to mention one prominent restaurant chain: Red Robin, where hamburgers are front and center. Terry and I both love their burgers. The wait staff there is competent and attentive. If you still have COVID concerns (as we both do) they offer both curbside pickup and home delivery. Red Robin is a bit on the expensive side, but their burgers are well worth the price.

Peterson got some things right in his rankings, but I believe he was way off target in others. As a hamburger connoisseur since I was five years old I feel entitled to make up my own mind.

on quality work

I have written about how we have done a sort of incremental kitchen remodel in the seven plus years we have been here. (I still can’t fathom that it’s been over seven years.)

We have replaced all the built-in kitchen appliances that were here when we bought the house. We moved here in 2015 and the house was built in 2006, so the appliances were nine years old when we got here. Our final built-in replacement was the dishwasher. We are still getting the hang of the new one, but we really like it.

new track lightsOne addition we made when we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy was to add track lighting over the kitchen counter. We have good lighting in our kitchen, but it was not optimal when doing prep work on the counter or when washing pots and pans in the sink.

That’s why we asked our contractor to install track lighting over the sink and prep counter. His electrician did that, and the result is marvelous. We love it.

But to do so he had to cut two holes into the wall in the dining area. So our contractor sent over his painter, who patched, textured, and painted. You would never know that the electrician had cut into the wall. There is no evidence.

There’s no point in showing you a photo of a wall on which it looks like nothing was done, so I’ll simply offer you a picture of our new track lights.

Terry and I are pleased.

honoring Pete Seeger (and more)

When I buy postage stamps I make a point of buying commemorative stamps rather than the plain vanilla generic stamps. I have noticed, however, that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has not offered any terribly interesting stamps during the past couple of years.

Pete Seeger StampsThat changed earlier this summer, however. The USPS issued a Pete Seeger commemorative stamp. I have long been a fan of Pete Seeger and admired his conscience and social activism (never mind his powerful folk music). Now, like most of us, I don’t put things in the mail much anymore. And at the time I was really in pretty good shape as far as postage stamps went. But Pete Seeger? I bought two twenty stamp panes because… Well, because Pete Seeger.

And now the postal service is making things interesting again. They issued a Hubble Space Telescope stamp on September 8 and there will be a set coming out on September 30 honoring Charles Schulz and his Peanuts comic strip.

But I don’t have anyone to whom I need to send mail.

Maybe our Christmas cards this year will have Hubble or Peanuts stamps on them.

taking a break from baking bread

We needed to replace our stove in 2019, and we used the opportunity to get a stove with a convection oven. Having that new convection oven, I resumed my habit of baking bread, something I did regularly after our kitchen remodel in Gilroy.

sourdough loafIn early August I realized I was getting tired of my own bread, even though I always have a variety of flours on hand (from King Arthur, of course) and even though I bake with different combinations from one week to the next. I keep a batch of sourdough starter going, and I also alternate loaves with and without sourdough.

Nonetheless, I was getting tired of my own bread, so I decided it was time for a break. I needed to get away from my own work for a while, and besides it has been just too damned hot to have the oven going. I have taken the opportunity to explore different varieties of store-bought bread, and there are some good ones out there. In particular there are some seriously tasty brands of sourdough that provide a flavor that I simply can’t replicate.

So it’s a nice change. I’ll get back to bread baking when the weather cools off. In the meantime I’m enjoying the work of other bakers.