haircuts in a time of pandemic

When Terry and I moved to Hemet six years ago (that meant I had returned to Hemet after forty-one years away), I obviously needed to find a new hair stylist. The logical first choice was to find someone at the salon in the lodge here at Four Seasons, which I did. I was happy with the results I got from Stephanie and so followed her to her nearby salon when she stopped working at Four Seasons. When the shop sold Stephanie moved to a salon almost half an hour away. Too far for me. I found a shop on Florida Avenue, Hemet’s main street, and made an appointment with Taylor. I was not happy with the two haircuts I got from him.

new haircutI looked around and found a salon near downtown Hemet run by a woman named Sonja. I stayed with her for a while, but then I got a couple of bad haircuts in a row. About that time the pandemic hit, and Sonja was not taking any precautions in her shop. No masks. Nothing. I decided that the best approach was to cut my own hair with some help from Terry, who took care of the back.

I did that for more than a year. Once we were both vaccinated and protocols were in place for hair salons I decided it was time to venture out. Terry had a stylist in the local Ulta store with whom she was happy, and Ulta was implementing protocols, so I went to see her. Two haircuts. Not happy.

Time to research. I posted to the San Jacinto Valley Facebook page twice asking for recommendations on salons that both did men’s hair and followed COVID protocols. The first time someone responded and asked another person to post information on a particular salon, but that never happened. The second time the only response was someone who recommended Super Cuts near Walmart. Super Cuts? Sharing a parking lot with Walmart? I don’t think so.

So I went to Yelp. There were plenty of salon listings. One reviewer wrote about a shop with a sign saying, “masks not required.” There were several photos of unmasked stylists and clients. Then I saw a small shop with a photo of a properly masked male client. I stopped by and the owner, Sandra, seemed to follow proper protocols. I went there for my haircut this week and she did a nice job. Not ideal, but good enough.

Sandra gave me a hand mirror so I could see the back of my head. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at the back of my head. Seems that I’m losing hair back there. Yikes! What’s with that?

It’s nice to have a decent haircut after so long. Even if I am losing hair on the back of my head.


our full freezer

freezer contentsIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written about cooking here, but Terry and I continue to cook dinner at home several nights a week. We watch our favorite cooking shows on television and we subscribe to three cooking magazines: Food & Wine, Food Network Magazine, and Bon Appétit.

The problem we face is that it’s hard to cook for just two people. Or maybe it’s easy to cook for two and I just don’t know how. In either case we have lots of leftovers and quantities of meat that we bought but didn’t use in the original dish. Both get vacuum sealed using our trusty FoodSaver and put in the freezer.

freezer listLast week we were having new counters installed in the master bathroom and the installer’s truck and trailer were blocking our driveway. So instead of going to the grocery store I ordered delivery from Instacart. For Saturday dinner we had planned a surf and turf evening. That means halibut for me and steak for Terry. I asked Terry what she wanted, and she selected a London Broil.

It turned out that the London Broil was more than two-and-a-half pounds, a lot heavier than Terry expected. She cut it up into five pieces, one for Saturday and four for the freezer. Now the freezer was already full, and I needed to do some serious rearranging. Besides leftovers and cuts of meat our freezer contains frozen lunches, frozen fruit for breakfast, vegetables, and ice cubes made from water out of our reverse osmosis filter (which gives us beautiful, clear cubes in which we can see the crystals).

I took the opportunity to do an inventory of what we had in the way of leftovers and saved cuts of meat. You can see that we have built up quite a stash. We obviously need to go through our inventory for a while and make use of those ingredients and leftovers rather than buying new ingredients and cooking from scratch.

A few years ago we bought a new refrigerator with a larger capacity than our previous refrigerator. I guess it’s a good thing that we did.


just the two of us

We said goodbye to Tasha on February 8. It was a Monday. The vet was busy, but they fit us in because they understood the circumstances. So it’s been over five months, and both of us still miss our child.

TashaRecently I asked Terry if we couldn’t get a new set of bath towels. The ones we had were old and were starting to feel like sandpaper. Terry agreed and bought us a nice new set of plush, luxurious towels at Kohl’s. She then took the old towels to the animal shelter. I knew the residents there would appreciate them and that for them the towels wouldn’t feel at all like sandpaper.

Terry said she went back to where the dogs were, but they were all big ones. There was no small dog shouting, “Hey you! Over here. Pay attention,” as Tasha did to Terry back in the fall of 2005 at the San Martin animal shelter just north of Gilroy.

For now that’s OK. We know that we’ll never find another Tasha, and we’re not ready for another dog. Not now. Not yet.

Right now it’s just the two of us. And that’s fine.


a nutty situation

I have been very fond of our kitchen since we had a new sink and countertops installed last November. It’s a really nice place to cook and bake. It’s unsettling then when something isn’t working right.

That was the case recently when the garbage disposal started making a grating metal-on-metal clanging sound like a fork or spoon had fallen into it. But there was no fork or spoon down there. I put my hand down there several times hoping I could locate what was causing the problem, but I came up with nothing. (In retrospect I should have shown a flashlight down there, but I didn’t.)

nutOne evening Terry said that I really needed to call our contractor about that, as it had only been seven months since the new garbage disposal had been installed as part of our upgrade. In fact, I had been debating whether to call him and ask about the length of any warranty, or to simply call our regular plumber. However, just a few minutes later I turned on the disposal and it tossed up a tiny nut. The metal kind that screws on to a bolt, not the kind you eat. How it got down there I have no idea.

So our garbage disposal is now working fine again, for which I am grateful.


new things around the house

We have some new items to make things simpler and easier around home.

Swedish Sponge ClothsI first saw these Swedish cellulose sponge cloths in Bon Appétit magazine. They looked as if they made a lot of sense, and Amazon had them in a variety of packaging configurations. The best way to describe them is to say that they are large, flat sponges. They work really well and can be thrown in the washing machine and reused. The best thing about them is that they have allowed us to cut back drastically on our paper towel usage. That is a Good Thing.

Compost BucketThen there’s our new compost bucket. A few years ago our trash and recycling company allowed us to include food waste in our yard waste Toter when they opened a new state-of-the-art facility that turned all of that stuff into natural gas and fertilizer. (Another Good Thing.) At the time they provided food waste buckets for the kitchen counter. Ours worked serviceably but was always somewhat awkward and unwieldy.  It finally reached the point where the lid would not stay upright as we were scraping food into it. I found this composting bucket on Amazon and bought it along with a roll of one hundred compostable liner bags. Simpler, cleaner, and easier.

LED Floor LampFinally, there was that floor lamp in the bedroom. It had two circular fluorescent tubes which were a pain to replace, and it was not always easy to find the replacement tubes. When one burned out recently Terry suggested we replace the lamp. There was no argument from me. I found this LED floor lamp on Amazon which has a remote control and allows me to control both the brightness and the warmth of the light. It produces a brighter, cleaner light than the old fluorescent unit. I really love it.

A few little things that make domestic life easier and a little more pleasant here at home.


putting Alexa to work

One of the cool features of our Amazon Echo devices is the ability to create routines, where you can use a single command to have Alexa perform multiple actions. The first time I tried to set up a routine I couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work. But I went back to my iOS Alexa app and took another look. That time it all made sense. And then I was on a roll.

Fourth Generation EchoI now have a command that says, “Alexa, it’s dinner time.” Alexa then turns on the light  in the dining area (which is connected to a smart plug), tells us “Enjoy your dinner,” and then turns on KCSM, our favorite jazz radio station.

When we’re done with dinner I tell Alexa, “We’re done with dinner.” Alexa turns off the light and KCSM, then tells us, “It’s time to put your feet up.”

When we head into the bedroom to put our feet up, read the paper, and enjoy our respective apéritifs, we tell Alexa, “Good evening.” Alexa turns on our table-top fountain, also connected to a smart plug, plays KCSM on the Echo in the bedroom and tells us, “Enjoy your jazz and reading.”

When we say, “Alexa, good night,” Alexa shuts everything off and wishes us a good night.

How much fun is that?


our newest Echo device

I have written about our Amazon Echo devices and about how much we enjoyed having two of them, one in the kitchen and dining area, and one in the bedroom. I also wrote that I was content to continue enjoying the trusty internet radio in my office until I learned that the service that powered it was going away, making it for the most part useless.

Amazon Echo ShowI wrote that I thought about getting a new internet radio that would be powered by a newer service, but as I considered the matter I decided that an Amazon Echo could play all the stations and streaming services that an internet radio could, and that it could do a lot more. With the Echo I can ask Alexa to play the NPR hourly news or to give me the weather forecast. I can ask it to play my current audio book or give me the score of yesterday’s Dodger game.

Deciding to buy a new Echo, it only made sense to go for quality. I wanted an Echo Show so I could have the visual element as well. I bought a third generation Echo Show 10. It’s pretty amazing. It has excellent speakers and the screen is sharp and clear. I like seeing the artist and song title on KNX-FM 93 (clearer and more easily readable than on my internet radio) and that information plus a nice image of the album cover on my Pandora stations. I recently signed up for Amazon Music and am amazed at the breadth of choices available. I can ask Alexa to play just about any classical work, and when I play popular songs most of them display the lyrics.

Echo Show MusicOf course it’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s easier to punch a button than give a verbal command, and sometimes Alexa doesn’t understand what you want. Podcasts are a particular problem. If I ask Alexa to play either of the two astronomy podcasts, StarDate or Earth and Sky, I get something Star Trek related for StarDate and a mystical podcast of the same name for Earth and Sky. But then Alexa has no problem bringing up John McWhorter’s podcast on linguistics, Lexicon Valley. Too bad he’s going to stop doing it.

Still, though, for the most part all three of our Echo devices work very well.

The new Echo Show was an indulgence, to be sure, but given the income I’ve been getting from my contract writing work, I decided I could use some of that money for fun stuff. And this is really fun stuff.


Our Anniversary

Terry and I celebrate our twenty-seventh anniversary today, and we’re still as crazy about each other as ever.

decadent dessertCelebrating our anniversary the last couple of years has been interesting. Two years ago, for our twenty-fifth, I had just gotten out of the hospital after a setback following my surgery, and was very limited in what I was allowed to eat. Last year we were in the early days of the pandemic, but as I recall what got in our way was the weather. We had planned on going to Dattilo’s, the first-class Italian restaurant on the other side of town. We had ben hit with some heavy rain, however, and didn’t want to drive across town with flooded streets and intersections. So we had dinner at the bistro in the lodge here at Four Seasons. It was a Thursday, which just happens to be their Italian night, so that worked out.

This year, still in the midst of the pandemic, we are limited to outdoor dining if we want dinner in a restaurant, and it’s too wet and cold for that. Our plan is to have dinner from Dattilo’s at home courtesy of Grubhub. Terry found a marvelous decadent dessert at the grocery store. That will work well.

The Jewish Passover Seder contains the words, “Next year in Jerusalem!” My thought for our anniversary: “Next year in Cambria!” (With dinner at the Sea Chest, of course.)


getting acquainted with Alexa

Terry and I have for many years listened to music in the bedroom while the source of the music was elsewhere in the house. We use a Recoton 900 MHz transmitter with a compatible speaker. The transmitter is connected to the internet radio in my office. We listen to jazz on KCSM in San Mateo six nights a week and a station serving up NPR’s Classical 24 on Sunday evenings. The speaker, obviously, is in the bedroom.

Now this is not exactly new technology. It was, in fact, old technology twenty years ago. Back in Gilroy, around 2001 or so, I had to scrounge around on eBay to find additional speakers and transmitters. So replacing components these days is hardly an option.

I had been following the rise of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo for a while, but never had felt the need to buy one. My brother, who was at least at one time a self-admitted Luddite, had two Echo devices when we were at his house for Thanksgiving in 2019. Apparently my dad (we miss him) bought at least one of them for him. Why Dad bought Brian an Echo and not me I have no idea. But that’s another matter.

Fourth Generation EchoIn any case, I was getting along quite well without a smart speaker. But the Recoton speaker in the bedroom had its problems. It would make awful static noises when I would try to adjust the volume, and I would have to spray the knob with contact cleaner, making something of a mess. That worked for a while, but at some point I would have to repeat the process. Then, one recent Saturday evening I really got tired of the snapping and popping which we would experience periodically. I opened the Amazon app on my iPad and started searching for Echo devices. There were cheaper models, but I wanted quality sound in the bedroom, so I ordered a fourth generation Echo with premium sound, and, of course, Alexa.

It has been a genuine delight. It recognizes all of our favorite radio stations, and I can ask Alexa to play the NPR hourly news or Writer’s Almanac. I can ask for a local weather forecast and get it. I have even connected my SiriusXM account so I can listen to The Bridge, which is where my car radio is set most of the time. I can also listen to my Pandora channels. The sound quality is impressive, and the device on the table in the bedroom is much less ubiquitous than that big honkin’ black speaker we had for so long (and still have in the dining area).

Of course, once you have one Echo device…

Amazon Echo DotAfter enjoying our Echo in the bedroom it occurred to me that it would be useful to have an echo in the kitchen. (Naturally Amazon reinforced that idea with the many “ways you can use Echo” emails that they kept sending me.) But I thought that when I’m in the kitchen fixing dinner or emptying the dishwasher it would be nice to have an Echo so I can listen to NPR or music or continue with my audiobook.

So I did, I bought a second echo for the kitchen. It is a third-generation Echo Dot, smaller and a lot less expensive than the fourth-generation model in the bedroom, but perfect for the kitchen. One review I read said that the only difference between the third and fourth generation Dot models is the design. That’s fine. I much prefer the smaller third-generation disc design in the kitchen as opposed to the globe design in the bedroom.

I often listened to my audiobooks with my iPhone in the kitchen, but since the sound went through my hearing aid, Terry didn’t know when I was listening and would start to talk to me. She would then get irritated when I asked her to wait a second so I could pause the audio book. Now, listening to my audiobooks in the kitchen with the Echo Dot, that’s no longer a problem.

Of course Amazon can’t stop there. They kept trying to tempt me with a $24.99 smart plug at a “new Echo owner” price of ninety-nine cents. I finally gave in, so now when we sit down to dinner we can tell Alexa to turn on the floor lamp in the dining area.

We have even connected Alexa to our Shark robot vacuum cleaner and I have it set up so I can ask Alexa to play the radio broadcast of a Dodgers game. We’ll see if that latter works: the first spring training game is Sunday.

It’s all a bit unnerving, but wonderfully convenient and enjoyable. I think the millennials are correct when surveys say that they have no expectation of privacy, but I guess that’s the price we pay for convenience and instant access, Amazon’s claims about privacy with the Echo notwithstanding.


farewell to a family home

My dad’s house went on the market recently and we quickly received an offer. On the same day that we said goodbye to Tasha I learned the buyer had accepted the counteroffer that my brother, as co-executor of our dad’s estate, had submitted. That is good news for many reasons, of course, but it is sad to think that a house that contains so many memories will no longer be in the family.

Dads houseMy Grandma and Grandpa Monaghan, my mother’s parents, built it. They moved into the house in 1958, the year I turned five. When I was young the greatest treat I could have was staying overnight with them. I called it staying “all day and all night,” but it really was just late afternoon on Friday to midmorning on Saturday. Grandma would fix my favorite foods for dinner and breakfast. Grandpa would give me a lot of attention.

The house was the site of many family gatherings over many years. We would have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday celebrations there. It has a medium-sized family room and a big living room, so it could accommodate a lot of people. We had some pretty large Christmas and Thanksgiving events with family members coming in from out of town. I had many birthday celebrations there with more immediate, local family. Those events generally included Broasted chicken and spice cake with chocolate frosting.

Grandpa died in 1980, and when Grandma eventually moved into an independent living community my mom and dad moved into the house. Dad stayed there after my mother’s death in 1989 and remained in the house until his own passing last August.

The house is on a corner, with the front door facing north and the driveway on the other side of the house facing west. Next to the driveway is a gate onto the patio, which takes you directly to the family room via a sliding glass door. Local family and friends always came into the house that way. Out-of-town extended family and less frequent guests might use the front door. One time when Terry and I lived in the Bay Area and were visiting Hemet we went out to see Dad. For reasons I don’t recall we went to the front door. My dad’s greeting: “You think you’re so special coming in the front door?”

So many memories, indeed.