Requiem for a Coffee Maker

Requiem for a Coffee Maker

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:

Coffee Consumption

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.)

My original Nespresso coffee maker was a premium I received in my days as a mom blogger. At the time, I determined it was the most life-changing device I’d ever owned.

(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.

Nespresso Vertuo Plus

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.

It’s a win-win.

The Tale of the Ugly Bathroom

The Tale of the Ugly Bathroom

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.

The Estimate

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.

Don’t Say Cava Bar When You Really Mean Kava Bar

Don’t Say Cava Bar When You Really Mean Kava Bar

I came home and sat on the couch. It was only about 4:30 in the afternoon, but I really didn’t feel like doing anything. I just experienced my first drink of kava and I was tired.

I tried to remember the conversation I had with my sister in the morning, when told her I was planning to check out a kava bar in my neighborhood.

“That sounds like fun,” she said. “I wonder if any of it will be like the wine you brought back from Barcelona.”

OK, that was a non sequitur. It took me some time to realize that she was talking about cava (sparkling Spanish wine).

My husband had a similar reaction when I mentioned that I was kava-curious. He cheerfully replied that his brother used to drink instant Kava back in the 70s. (He was talking about a classic brand of reduced-acid coffee.)

Auto-correct on my iPhone is also confused. It thinks I really want lava.

(Kava, lava, java… what difference does it really all make?)

What Exactly Is Kava?

My son was the one who originally told me about this new (to me) beverage. He drinks it regularly in Austin (where he lives), especially when he’s doing his “sober months.”

Sober months is an activity (or lack of activity) which seems to be growing in popularity with his age group.

I can honestly say anyone who decides to stop drinking alcohol at my age does so permanently. We are past the “temporary” stage of quitting. You’re either all-in or all-out.

The kava drink is brewed from the root of a plant (Piper methysticum) that grows in the Pacific Islands. Kava means “bitter” in the Tongan language, and there’s truth in advertising there, because the beverage I drank was very bitter.

Polynesian cultures have imbibed kava for over 1,500 years as a medicinal and spiritual libation. It’s now being touted in western societies as a non-weed, non-alcoholic way to relax, mellow-out, and feel groovy.

Kava bars have long been a fixture in Hawaii, with the first one that opened in the continental United States being in 2002. In the early 2000’s there was some concern about kava’s safety, such as possible liver damage.

It appears to have been found to be safe for most people, but I’m very cautious and strive to do everything in moderation. As with taking any drug or supplement the general rules apply: Do your homework first.

My Kava Bar Experience

An online search turned up two venues near my home where I could sample some kava. The first one was a hookah lounge, so I chose to go to the one that was strictly a kava bar. I drove there shortly after their 3:00 opening, bravely opened the door and walked in.

It had a low-light kind of ambiance, which I understand is not unusual, and the background music was unremarkable. It wasn’t classic rock, wasn’t jazz, not country or hip hop. I don’t know what it was, and it didn’t impress me.

However, the rest of the place did surprise me. It was actually kind of nice.

The room was dominated by a long, wood top bar with comfortable bar chairs, and it had maybe a dozen booths. There was a young guy behind the counter (who was the owner), and a younger guy behind the bar (who was an employee). Younger guided me to my first kava drink.

He handed me what appeared to be an 8-ounce serving, with the flavoring of my choice: Irish Cream – much like the creamer I use in my coffee. But this didn’t taste anything like coffee.

He told me to drink it fast, which I easily obliged to get it over with, because this stuff must be an acquired taste. Younger suggested I suck on a lime chaser to help with bitterness, but I think I’ll pass on that the next time.

He instructed me to sit and relax to get the full effect.

Within a minute or two, my mouth got numb, kind of like a Novocain feeling. (Eh, not sure that’s something I like.)

Young and Younger behind the bar assured me that was normal.

A couple of minutes later, I started to feel dizzy. Then really dizzy.

I told Younger and he said to drink water, since kava can be dehydrating. So, I got up and clumsily walked to the bar to get a cup of water and bring it back to my booth.

In the meantime, four also-younger guys had entered the joint and were sitting a couple of booths away. They were having a good time and were obvious regulars. A 20-something woman walked in for her regular order. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and people were stopping in to relax and socialize after work – like what my friends and I call “happy hour.”

I think Young and Younger were a little worried about me. Without prompting, Young brought me a glass of tea, which he said would help me. I wasn’t feeling sick, but who knows what I looked like. I sipped the cold tea.

After about 45 minutes, I thanked them and walked out to my car.

And to be entirely honest, I’m not sure I should have driven. My mind was OK. I didn’t feel drunk or stoned or high. I hadn’t attained some cool alternative mindset (which would have been fantastic). My reflexes felt normal enough and the dizziness had passed. However, my head felt… heavy. It was a weird sensation.

When I got home, I sat on the couch, turned on the TV, and called my son.

“You should drink it slowly,” he said. That’s not what Young and Younger had advised.

I felt tired the rest of the evening, but unfortunately, that didn’t translate to better sleep that night. The effects of kava apparently wear off within 30-90 minutes.

I’m thinking I’m going to try it again. I’m not afraid of it, but as I am a lightweight with drugs, I’ll ask for a weaker brew.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s “go slow.” Buyer beware, but don’t be afraid to try new things.

I was kind of proud of myself for doing something like this on my own. It’s been a while.

Playdates Are Not Just for Kids Any More

Playdates Are Not Just for Kids Any More

In late middle age, I’ve come to a realization: Playdates are not just for children.

From the day my daughter was born, I lived my life according to her needs: Up by 7:00, race to daycare/school, get a few hours of work in or grab a coffee with the other moms, back for pick-up in the afternoon, then on to after school activities/shopping/meal prep. Day after day after day.

It was predictable. And comfortable. And it all changed four years ago: She went off to college – and I lost my moorings.

This is not one of those posts where I’m complaining about my suddenly empty nest. I’m proud of the fact that I raised a young adult who is taking care of herself, and we’ve found a nice balance.  My husband and I find plenty to do together on weekends. We’re all good.

But I have had to figure out some new personal weekday rhythms.

With no reason to get up early, I often sleep in. Since I work at home, I don’t need to leave the house —   so there are weeks when I go Monday through Friday without stepping outside to do more than get the mail or take out the trash. I have been known to do my grocery shopping online… because I can. If it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter and email, there are days when I’d have no interactions with the outside world at all.

I don’t have to be a scientist to understand that this isn’t healthy.

By “Playdates” I Mean “Meeting for Coffee.” Or Cocktails.

So I now start each week combing my contacts and reaching out to local friends who might be amenable to meeting me for lunch or coffee or cocktails or dinner IRL.

And it occurs to me that this is a skill I developed 20 years ago, when I was anxious to set up playdates for my only child, so she wouldn’t grow up lonely and anti-social.

Only this time,  the playdates are for ME. And they are absolutely necessary.

I’ve talked about this with a few of these friends, who are amused by the playdate analogy.

“But you and your husband are always going out and doing interesting things,” they tell me. They know this because I post the photos to Instagram and Facebook. But those activities take place on the weekend… and besides, we all know that we curate our social media feeds so that we only share the interesting stuff. If I posted what my life is really like, it would look something like this:

I need coffee.

Why doesn't Starbucks deliver?

I should probably shower.I could go on, but you get the picture. The highlight of the day comes at the end, when I realize my cat didn’t leave me any hairballs to clean.

My “playdates” on social media may look like just a picture of a coffee cup or martini glass, but they have given me laughter… connection… and sanity. And so I’m off to schedule a few more.

Adults Need Playdates, too.

Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Five Ideas, One Menu, 15 Movies and  a Couple of Other Odds and Ends You Can Do (No Kids Required)

Celebrate the Fourth of JulyI wasn’t happy when I realized that the Fourth of July this year falls on a Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but I think the greatest decision of the late 20th century was the one that turned holidays like Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day into 3-day weekends. It is unfortunate they did not make a similar decision with Independence Day. I suppose “First Monday in July” is just not as much fun as “Fourth of July.”

At any rate, it can be challenging to entertain on the Fourth in years when it falls on a Wednesday “hump day.” Most people I know are hanging around town rather than taking extra days off from work. What will you do? If you want simple, but good ideas (kids optional), read below. If you want really creative time consuming ideas, go to Pinterest.

The Fireworks

This is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think of this holiday. (What? The Declaration of Independence? Who are you people?)

If you live each year for the fireworks, you’ll want to either take advantage of a big display in your community OR blow some up in your front yard (but only if it’s legal – unless you crave the extra excitement and flashing lights that come from breaking local laws).

This is a true American way of literally letting your money go up in smoke –  and who doesn’t love that?

I always make sure there are at least a few whistlers in my fireworks package. The reason is practical: For years, my son used the 4th of July fireworks to blow up fruit and vegetables. This bit was a hit with the other neighborhood kids. Now that he’s all grown up and isn’t home on the 4th, our fruit is relatively safe — but I admit to missing the chaos and excitement that always came with this holiday.

Food and Drink

We’re lucky to live in an area where ”safe and sane” fireworks are legal to set off in the street, and our street always makes a big show of it. I’ve discovered that you can buy your way into your neighbors’ hearts by bringing out some sparkling wine to share with them. (The other way is to make sure you pick up your dog’s poop on their lawns. Better yet, mow their lawn once in a while.)

Be sure to purchase a couple of extra bottles of bubbles and some $1.92 champagne flutes to share. You can’t go wrong.

Most large cities and many smaller ones have their own large fireworks displays. This usually means getting in the car and driving to a park with a lot of people. Meet your friends there, bring a picnic dinner (don’t forget the bubbly) and enjoy the show.

To make it even more festive, you can add a hibiscus flower to the bottom of the glass for a very pretty look. I like adding four or five pomegranate seeds to bounce in the glass as I drink.

Invite your friends for an early dinner/BBQ. with the fireworks as the grand finale (which also works as a hint that it’s time to go home — DO make sure you serve your dessert before the fireworks).

SIMPLE MENU for Midweek Fourth of July BBQ

(This is especially easy if you have to work Tuesday and Thursday.) It is so easy, yet satifsying, you’ll actually be able to enjoy yourself and everyone will be happy:

  • Your favorite protein to BBQ (chicken, steak, salmon, etc.)
  • Cut up vegetables for grilling in a basket (cauliflower, mushrooms, squash, onion). Marinate in some olive oil and seasoned salt.
  • Small red potatoes, cut in half, seasoned with olive oil, crushed garlic, and seasoned salt. Grill in a basket.
  • Edamame salad: One bag frozen shelled edamame, one bag frozen corn, red chopped red onion to taste,  a lot of cilantro, and your choice of dressing (I use a Trader Joe’s cilantro salad dressing).
  • Egg salad with tarragon (keep mayo to a minimum, add some salt to taste)
  • Good bread
  • Purchased cake and berries, and/or ice cream

Watch a Movie

With scorching July temperatures, people clamor for a place where they can chill for a while – like an air conditioned theater. So it’s no wonder that the studios release blockbuster movies for Independence Day.  I’m more of a stay-at-home-on the-holidays kind of person, so binging on movies at home is good for me. Here are some patriotic movie suggestions for the holiday:

CH-AR-GE IT!

Go shopping – I hear that is a patriotic thing to do! Purchase a flag if you don’t have one or if yours is in bad shape. Check out the traditional patriotic shirts that are sold every year at Old Navy. There’s also this red, white and blue heart shaped necklace that is fun, or this very cool Sunnydaze hammock you can buy online.

Do Your Part

Research your community to see where volunteers are needed, either for clean-up, helping with a large event, or donations of food. If your parent is in a senior living residence, check to see if they need  Fourth of July help (or any other day). Giving to others in our community is one of the most patriotic activities we can perform.

Please leave any other ideas you have for how to spend the Fourth of July on a Wednesday. And remember, two drinks away is a good place to be.

A Good Day’s Work May Never End

A Good Day’s Work May Never End

Boy_I_Sure_Did_a_Good_Days_Work_WW_II_United_StatesI kind of hope I’ll always work. Let me clarify. I hope I’ll always want to work and be healthy to work as long as I want.

The idea of working forever, or at least a long time, has always appealed to me and makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s always nicer if you have the option to work rather than need to work because of finances. Delayed retirement has grown significantly as described in this article from the NY Times, Of Retirement Age, but Remaining in the Work Force.

Work doesn’t have to mean a paycheck. Organizations of all interests are available if one wants to volunteer their time. Helping your own family with tasks such babysitting and taking care of elderly parents, qualifies as “work” in that it is productive and serves a need. Taking care of one’s family not only strengthens the family, but also strengthens society.

So, keep your fingers crossed for me and I’ll keep them for you however you want to live your life in retirement, or maybe no retirement.