I used to have a little trick for lifting my spirits. No matter how I was feeling – whether I was going through a break-up, or a bad patch at work, or depressed over my losing battle with my weight – I knew that I could check in with a hairdresser, experience a little pampering, and walk out feeling somewhat beautiful.
And because I was blessed my mother’s olive complexion, I appeared younger than my years for a very long time.
There’s Nothing Graceful About It
Today, I look in the mirror and I see my mother’s face – and she passed away four years ago. I know I always vowed to grow old gracefully, but now that I’m in my 60s, I realize there’s nothing graceful about it.
I don’t just look older – I look OLD. A little while ago, I noticed a new sharpness to my cheekbones and thought it indicated that my latest weight loss regimen was working. But when I looked more carefully, I saw something more skeletal there and realized it had nothing to do with diet. I’m losing the fat in my cheeks due to age.
I’ve always fought dark circles under my eyes, but now they’re compounded with bags that will not go away. There’s just no amount of makeup that will conceal those black half-moons on either side of my face. And don’t get me started on the little lines that have become crevices on the sides of my mouth.
The thing is, I expected all of that stuff. The part that has really hurt has been hair loss that began in my 30s and is now progressed to the point of near-baldness at the hairline. It’s the reason I have worn bangs for the last 25 years (even though I HATE bangs). They’re my version of a combover. And the current bane of my existence.
I just got back from the hairdresser, where I dropped a pretty nice sum of money for color and a cut. I was in the mood for something a little different, so I went kind of red today, and I’m happy with the color.
I’m actually pretty easy about these things, but the one thing I don’t want to see is bald skin peeking out at the top of my head. I explain that. I explain it a lot. I let my hairdressers know that I don’t care if the resulting look isn’t fashionable. The only thing I really care about is creating the illusion of a full head of hair. And yet — I don’t think most hairdressers actually believe me.
The Inevitable Upsell
First, they try to sell me shampoos that promise to thicken the hair. Sometimes the sales pitch works. Always, the product proves disappointing.
Since these formulas really only add texture and don’t re-grow hair, they’re a waste of my money. So then I am asked if I’ve tried minoxidil. That was the first thing I tried to do when the hair loss began decades ago. It didn’t work.
I even once had a hairdresser suggest I get Topik — you know, the spray-on fibers they sell on cheesy TV ads at 3 AM,. I think the resulting eyeroll has prevented him from ever making that suggestion again.
Few hairdressers give me the bangs I ask for. Instead, of the thick little fringe of my dreams, I get left thin, spiky little strands that barely cover my forehead, and it doesn’t work. And maybe I’ve just gotten to the point of no return, where I need to invest in a nice wig or at least, a lot of cute scarves and hats (which sounds like it would be just ducky to wear during a hot San Fernando Valley summer).
That’s what today’s hairdresser gave me this afternoon and I made him re-cut the bangs. I wasn’t super happy with the result, but they looked better and I was tired. But by the time I got home and the effect of the blow dry had worn off, the fringe still looked… thin.
So I took the scissors into my own hands, combed more hair in front of my eyes and cut some additional bangs myself.
They’re not all that even. But at least, they cover my bald spot. And I (weirdly) realized that I now have something in common with Donald Trump, who surely wears his hair that way in defiance of his hairdresser.
I am useless until I’ve had my first cup of coffee.
I’m sleepy. I’m slow. I cannot focus. I start to do something and then drift off to do something else.
I simply do not function until I’ve used my coffee maker, and I tell people that all the time.
My family thinks it’s a joke, because they truly don’t comprehend how fuzzy I am until I get that glorious hit of caffeine – and that I NEED it. They make fun of me for guzzling it down and asking for another.
But thanks to the DNA analysis I got from 23AndMe, I now have a genetic excuse:
My Beloved Nespresso Coffee Maker
I’m telling you all of this so you understand the urgency I felt last Thursday, when I fired up my beloved Nespresso machine and Aeroccino… and went to pour my heated almond milk on top of my espresso…
…only to discover that my cup was devoid of its usual shot of coffee.
OK, there have been times when the machine has hiccuped. After all, I’ve had it for several years now.
The pod – which usually drops into receptacle designed for that purpose – was still in place. I tapped the brew button again, and this time, I watched as the machine went through the brewing process, but did not drip any of the precious coffee into my cup.
Instead, I saw vapor rising from the machine itself. All the hot water from the two brewing attempts had collected in the spill tray. I used oven mitts to grab the tray and empty it into the sink and drove to Starbucks.
I thought I remembered this happening before. “It just needs to be descaled,” I decided.
But I could not descale the machine as long as that pod was stubbornly stuck in there.
Nespresso vs. Keurig
I also began Friday and Saturday with a Starbucks visit. On Sunday, I settled for a lesser cup of coffee from the Keurig (a gift from my mother, which I keep because my husband thinks espresso cups are too tiny and lattes are too fancy, and he insists he’s incapable of making a pot of coffee with a drip coffee maker.)
(Note: That post on my original SoCal Mom blog links to a post on this site’s predecessor, InQuestOf – which no longer exists. So my review of the machine has disappeared. Suffice to say: it was a positive one.)
I have a lot of reasons for preferring the Nespresso to the Keurig:
I like to drink lattes, so I want an espresso base.
The quality of the coffee in the Nespresso pods is better.
Nespresso’s aluminum pods are fully recyclable, and Nespresso makes it easy to do by accepting the used pods by mail.
My husband enjoys a challenge, so he attempted to remove the stuck Nespresso pod. This task led him to Home Depot a European style screwdriver he could use to take it apart.
“Well, this thing is knackered,” he said, as he showed me the plastic parts that broke off when he was taking the machine apart.
RIP, my trusty Nespresso machine. It served me well.
My NEW Nespresso Coffee Maker
And say hello to my new and improved Nespresso Vertuo Plus. I ordered it immediately after learning that the old machine could not be put together again. It was delivered last night.
(Another note: I should probably mention that while my original review of my old Nespresso was a sponsored post, today I am neither an employee nor an affiliate of Nestle or Nespresso, and am receiving no compensation for writing about this now.)
My old coffee maker could only brew espresso in a couple of sizes. My usual morning cup of Joe was a latte that consisted of two shots and about 4 oz of steamed almond milk. But a few years ago, Nespresso put out new models that produce beverages in five different sizes.
And these machines brew the coffee in a revolutionary new way: not by percolating, or dripping, or pouring over – but with a built-in centrifuge. The result is a mug of coffee that has about an inch of foamy crema, (like a good espresso), and it’s so rich and foamy that you almost don’t need to add any milk.
The thick crema is what impressed me most about the newer Nespresso machines, and why I vowed that I would buy one when one of the old machines died. I always thought that would be the Keurig, but I hadn’t counted on having a mishap with a stuck Nespresso pod.
The Vertuo retailed for about $300 when it first debuted, but the cost has come down to the $150-$200 range. There were issues with water temperature on earlier models, but I’ve made two cups today and both were sufficiently hot.
Best of all, since this machine makes both espresso and regular mug-sized coffee, we can get rid of the Keurig and free up some counter space for another appliance.
Timing is everything, and the year our daughter was born, the Los Angeles real estate market was in a slump. It was the first time in my adult life that home prices had actually gone DOWN…
…and we took advantage of that by purchasing a bank-owned home whose previous owners had defaulted. The bank had made it move-in ready, with fresh paint and new carpets everywhere.
I remember thinking the house was perfect for our young family, and the only thing I wanted to change were the ugly bathrooms, which are small, featured 50-year-old formica sinks and counters, linoleum floors, and very little storage space.
That was 23 years ago. We never got around to doing anything about the bathrooms. Until this month.
The Sad Truth About Home Ownership
Let’s just say that during all those years I was lamenting on how tough it is to afford a house in Southern California, I never appreciated how tough it is to pay for the upkeep on one.
I now understand that homeownership is just a series of improvement projects that have to be taken one at a time, as your budget allows.
And the sad truth is – we often made hard choices that delayed home improvements until they were absolutely necessary. My husband’s family lives in the UK. Money that could have been plowed back into home improvements was instead used to visit my daughter’s grandparents.
I don’t regret that choice for a nano-second. My daughter is close to her grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of the Atlantic. I call that a success – even if I’m ashamed to let anyone see where I live.
The Dreaded Ugly Bathroom
Several years ago, the shower in our master bathroom sprung a leak. The easiest way to deal with it was to simply stop using it. The shower in the guest bathroom tub works just fine.
A couple of years later, the toilet in the master bathroom broke, too. And then the plumbing in the sinks. The master bathroom became the place where we kept the cat box, and he was perfectly happy to have that space to himself.
This was not as hard as it sounds – especially after our daughter moved away, there were just the two of us. The only person who ever complained about it was my sister, who decided that a house with so many plumbing issues needed a second working toilet.
At one point, we did look into replacing all the broken bits and bringing the bathroom up to date.
We figured the project would cost about $10K.
The estimate came in at twice that amount.
For one thing, the entire room needed to be taken down to the studs. The space is small and the built-in vanity was about 5″ narrower than the prefab units on the market, and non-standard sizes cost more. New construction means bringing plumbing and electrical up to current building codes.
Half the cost of the estimate was for the demolition, so my husband vowed to do it himself. But he works long hours during the week, and when the weekend comes, all we want to do is relax. (This is one of those hard choices I mentioned earlier).
Before we knew it, another five years had passed.
Biting the Bullet
A couple of months ago, we came to the conclusion that we were never going to do the demo on the bathroom ourselves. We called a half a dozen contractors with 5-star ratings on Yelp and invited them in to bid on our bathroom project.
We had a rapport with one of them who gave us a quote we could live with. I spent the next several weeks obsessed with shopping for the components of a new, working, modern bathroom. Demolition commenced on July 8, and this last Saturday, we took our first shower in our new space.
I won’t show you pictures of the mess it was before (I was too ashamed to keep the evidence). And I’ll save the messy details of our renovation for a future post. But I’m here to announce that our ugly master bathroom is downright beautiful now:
We still have one more ugly bathroom to renovate, and I can’t wait. Hopefully, this time around, we’ll have the resources get it done sooner rather than later.
Is there a better summer cocktail than a classic margarita? The combination of citrus, ice, and tequila is super refreshing on hot summer days (and nights).
Our usual July 4 routine is to stick with chilled sparkling wine… but then my daughter’s boyfriend showed up at Linda’s house with a ginormous bottle of tequila. And you know the old saying: When God gives you tequila, you have to make margaritas.
I confess: I’m not much of a bartender. I don’t often drink margaritas outside of Mexican restaurants. If I really want one at home, I go to the supermarket for a pre-mixed Jose Cuervo (when I don’t care about the calories) or Skinny Girl (when I do).
But lately, I’ve been trying to cut out commercially made foods with stuff like high fructose corn syrup (one of the main ingredients in that Cuervo margarita mix). I’m also enough of a food snob to appreciate a good craft cocktail, even if I don’t have the patience to make one myself.
But Linda’s got tons of kitchen confidence, and she spurred me on to work together on finding a margarita recipe we could call our own. The result is a story I like to call:
Goldilocks and the Three Margaritas
Like all good 21st-century people looking for obscure information, our mission began on the Internet. We did a search and perused about a dozen recipes, and picked three to try.
And we had to do a little tweaking before we arrived at the one that was Just Right.
The most important qualification for picking a recipe was that we had to have all the ingredients: Besides the tequila, that meant fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, and some kind of sweetener.
The first recipe called for agave syrup, which Linda already had in her pantry. But the agave didn’t dissolve very well; I ended up having to clean most of it out of the shaker, where it had stuck.
The resulting cocktail was too tart for Linda’s taste. I liked the flavor, but admitted it didn’t really taste like a margarita.
We were intrigued by the second recipe we tried, because it called for angostura bitters. It also included agave, but I wasn’t going to try that again. So I omitted the sweetener entirely and doubled up on the Cointreau.
That margarita tasted OK – but it wasn’t great. And we wanted a margarita that tastes great.
The One That Was Just Right
For the final recipe, we decided to whip up a batch of simple syrup to replace the agave (1 cup of sugar dissolved into 1 cup of water, which we brought to a simmer and then cooled).
I dutifully added the ingredients. But the resulting drink was a lighter color than the previous one. So I poured it back into the shaker and added in more tequila.
That’s when I realized that the darker color of the previous cocktail was because of the bitters. So this one ended up with double the tequila.
And of course: this was the one that tasted the most like an actual margarita.
I also found it too sweet, so I added in a couple of dashes of angostura bitter – plus an extra dash of Scrappy’s orange bitter for taste.
And that’s how we made a margarita that was Just Right.
Two Drinks Away Just Right Margaritas
(yields 2 cocktails)
6 oz. tequila 2 oz. Cointreau 2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice 2 oz. simple syrup Angostura bitters Scrappy Orange bitters
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup and shake for about 15 seconds. Pour into a couple of glasses and swirl in bitters to taste (we added two dashes of Angostura and one dash of Scrappy Orange).
Although I like a good salt rim on my glass, it’s not necessary – these margaritas were great without it.
Also, most of the recipes we saw online were adamant about using premium tequila – which is a great way to sell expensive booze. The brand we were using doesn’t cost much, and the result was great.
It’s possible that dipping into a $30 bottle of Patron or Chinaco would yield a better drink… but I seriously doubt that the difference would be all that noticeable. Then again, the Cointreau we used costs a lot more than your average Curacao.
Maybe the next time, we’ll experiment with switching out the tequila and orange liqueur. That could be our next mission.
Last year, Linda and I hatched a vague plan to celebrate her birthday in Italy. And then we forgot – until I received this email:
Subject: LAX or SFO to Rome: $200-$300 Round Trip
I forwarded the email to Linda. Five minutes later, she called.
“Is this for real?” she asked.
I’d been receiving the Scott’s Cheap Flights daily newsletter for over a year, – but never had the guts to actually book one of their deals.
“I think we have to do this,” she said.
To Book or Not to Book?
I had to admit: A round trip flight from the West Coast to anywhere in Europe for under $1000 is really hard to find. Scott’s regularly features flights in the $500-$600 range. $300 sounded unreal.
“Is there a catch?” Linda asked.
There was no catch.
“Is it a legitimate airline?” The deal was offered on Lufthansa – but the actual flight would be on their partner airline, Swiss Air, which Conde Nast readers named one of their favorite airlines last year. So yeah – it seemed legit.
We looked at the fine print: Other than a short layover in Zurich, everything seemed kosher. And there was no nonsense about paying more to bring some luggage: both a checked bag and carry-on were included.
And did I mention that the price was under $300?
The deals on Scott’s sometimes disappear within hours, so we had to decide quickly.
We booked our tickets that night. Mine came in at $287 from LAX, and Linda’s was $289 from SFO. A friend of hers also jumped on it.
The one thing I did not think when I woke up that morning was, “I think I’ll buy a ticket to Italy.” Sometimes, life surprises you.
It Was All a Mistake – And That’s a Good Thing
The folks at Scott’s told me that what we got was a mistake fare: “when an airline or online travel agency (OTA) sells a ticket for significantly less than they intended.” If you book one, they recommend you give it a week before you spend any additional money on your trip – just in case the airline doesn’t honor it.
But Lufthansa was good as gold. Our tickets were issued right away. And that’s when we discovered that most of the cost went to taxes. The actual round trip flight from LAX to Rome was just $36.
So tonight, I’m taking off and meeting my sister tomorrow in Zurich. Then, we’re off to Rome.