Pandemic Journal, Day 419

It was Mother’s Day, and the yellow rose bush in our backyard was happy to join in the celebration.


It was also the first day this year that fresh wild local king salmon was available at the Farmers’ Market – naturally, we indulged.

This afternoon, we went to our first wine tasting in at least 419 days. It was a pickup party at Silver Mountain Vineyards, the first wine club we ever joined. Things were a little different, of course – everything was outside and we had to select a pre-designated flight of wines instead of bellying up to the bar at will. I took the Bordeaux flight and Diane had the French Sampler, which gave us six distinct wines to try.


The views from the deck were as good as ever.


They also provided us with a fruit and cheese box and some tastes of library wines, including a 1991 Merlot (pleasant, but definitely past its prime).

It was a nice way to spend Sunday.

Pandemic Journal, Day 418

This morning, we attended services at Shir Hadash. We had our typical group of participants, including regular attendees in South Carolina and Indiana. We, of course, were sitting on our couch.

This afternoon, we attended a house concert featuring Rod McDonald, playing from his house in Delray Beach, FL. The hosts were in Westchester County, New York, and the attendees were scattered across the country, chatting and applauding between songs as if we were in one room.

This evening, we took a walk and saw a neighbor mowing his lawn – his lawn mower, naturally, was electric and had headlights.

If you’d told me sixteen months ago that I’d be writing this today, I would have thought you were crazy. Well, maybe not about the lawnmower, but certainly about the other two things.

It will be wonderful to be able to be with people in person again, but I have to admit I’ll miss being able to “go places” without going anywhere.

Pandemic Journal, Day 417

Frequent Flyer Magazine CoverBack in the late 1980s, I flew a lot and accumulated many frequent flyer miles. I never quite reached the point of taking a mileage run just to qualify for higher status the next year, but I was an avid reader of the copy of Frequent Flyer magazine that was included in our departmental subscription to the Official Airline Guide.

We were able to take advantage of those miles over the years to travel overseas for free and to upgrade almost at will.

But as the airlines gave us more and more ways to earn frequent flyer miles, they also made it harder and harder to redeem them – and they kept increasing the number of miles you needed for a trip. The glory days of getting 10 cents/mile ended a long time ago – these days, you’re lucky if you can get 2 cents/mile when you redeem, and even luckier if you can get a route that isn’t insane.

Today, we were lucky. We booked the Boston to San Jose leg of our upcoming trip on Delta and got better than 2 cents/mile in value. I didn’t have quite enough Delta miles to buy the tickets, but I was able to convert a few Amex points into Delta miles to close the gap.

Airline miles are a depreciating asset – the airlines can, and do, change the redemption rate any time they want, so it’s better to hold as few of them as possible – after today, I’m down to under 1000 Delta miles and under 100 United miles. Instead, I do most of my spending on cards that give me points that I can transfer to many different airlines or hotels, or even turn into gift cards or cash.

And these days, I use my Apple Card for most in-person purchases – it gives me back 2% in cash, which is easy to understand!

Pandemic Journal, Day 416

Today was surprisingly productive.

I’d been hearing odd sounds from one of the toilets for a couple of days, as though water was leaking, but they were very intermittent. Until this morning, when the toilet didn’t stop after filling the tank. I was afraid it meant that the fill valve or float had failed, but it turned out that the flapper valve wasn’t closing properly. A quick trip to Ace Hardware got me a universal genuine Toto flapper, and replacing it was easy, even for someone as ambi-sinister as me.

The spreadsheet I’d built to help the Toastmaster of the Day create and manage the agenda for our meetings had developed problems – today’s Toastmaster told me that there were cells that had #REF in them instead bringing in information from elsewhere on the spreadsheet. It turns out that deleting a cell in a Google spreadsheet (or in Excel) makes all references to that cell become undefined – any formula which used the cell has the cell address replaced by #REF. I’d been deleting the cells containing the member list whenever I had to download a new roster – and thereby destroyed pieces of the spreadsheet. I won’t do that again.

And Intuit finally fixed their TurboTax problem, so I was able to resubmit our taxes without having to fiddle any of the numbers – and both the IRS and the FTB accepted them today.

We even got good news about our planned trip to southern Africa later this year – AmaWaterways expects to be able to start operating their cruises in late July, well before we will be there. It’s not quite time for us to book tickets, but things are looking up!

Pandemic Journal, Day 415

Lots of doctor visits today – Diane had her mammogram, and I visited the dentist and the ENT.

The trip to the dentist was to let them scan my mouth and order a crown, which will be installed in about three weeks – I don’t understand how the scanner, which is hand-held, is able to merge its images accurately, since the process takes several minutes, which means that the dentist is moving her hand and I’m moving my mouth. Clarke’s Third Law must be at work!

The ENT was a follow-up visit – the miraculous recovery of my sense of smell didn’t last very long. I saw the ENT for the first time last month and he confirmed that I had sinusitis (as well as a deviated septum) and put me on a short course of antibiotics, along with a new regimen of nasal irrigation, Flonase, Mucinex, and Sudafed. Since then, my sense of smell has come and gone randomly – that’s good news, in that it indicates the system is working, but it’s also bad news, because it’s not clear what will get it working all the time. He’s put me on a different antibiotic for the next 10 days to see if that can clear out the sinusitis.

But even without the new antibiotic, I was able to smell the star jasmine just outside our door today – and it looks pretty good, too!

Star Jasmine

Pandemic Journal, Day 414

My chiropractor surprised me this morning. Last week, we’d talked about barbecuing and baking, including the pretzels I’ve been making. He was interested, so I sent him the recipe and mentioned that I hadn’t tried making them with the diastatic malt powder that was listed as an optional ingredient.

We went there this morning, and he handed me a small bag of powder. It was diastatic malt – he’d ordered a jar the day we’d talked! He clearly takes his food preparation seriously.

Naturally, I wanted to make pretzels as soon as we got home to see if I could detect a difference with the malt powder. I did a few things differently this time (beyond using the malt powder). I leveled the flour in the bowl instead of letting it pile up; I added the other dry ingredients except the yeast before the water (instead of putting the water in right after the flour); I put the yeast in the water and added them together as the final step before mixing.

The dough seemed to form more quickly than usual, but, as usual, there was a lot of flour that didn’t get incorporated. I added some water – perhaps 3 or 4 ounces – and kept mixing; I wound up with a moist lump of dough that came off the dough hooks and the side of the bowl much more easily than usual.

The dough rose; when I went to fold it, it seemed stickier than normal, but not unreasonably so. But when I tried to shape it into logs, it was almost too sticky to deal with – I had to put a lot of flour on my hands and on the board to get it to work.

It rose a lot in the 20 minutes that I let it rest before making the pretzels – and it was still very very sticky. But I persevered.

When it came time to boil the pretzels, I had more problems – several of them fell apart in the water. And they were sticking to the parchment paper. And some of them seemed to retain liquid. But I got them done and put them on two sheet pans and into the oven.

The pretzels on the top sheet pan looked properly baked after 14 minutes so I took them out of the oven and moved the bottom pan to the top – usually, I have to bake the bottom pretzels for an extra two minutes. Today, though, they didn’t look brown even after three minutes – I finally took them out and let them all cool.

When I cut into one of the pretzels from the bottom batch, the inside looked weird and felt gooey. We didn’t eat it. Nor either of the next two I tested.

I don’t know what happened – my guess is that I added far too much water at the start of the process when I wanted to incorporate all of the flour. Maybe I should ignore the surplus flour next time? Advice welcome!

I’m not sure if I could tell the difference in flavor from the malt, but the pretzel we did eat was good. And we have half the batch left to try.

Pandemic Journal, Day 413

When I checked my mail this morning, I had two alarming messages from TurboTax telling me that our tax return submissions had been rejected by the IRS and the FTB. The message about the Federal return said that it had been rejected for having a duplicate Form 1099-R; the State message said they’d rejected the return because the Feds had done so. Both messages told me to start up TurboTax for more details, so I did.

TurboTax told me to check and make sure I hadn’t accidentally duplicated a Form 1099-R – I hadn’t, but we did have two forms from the same payer with the exact same amount. I checked their “help” site and discovered a lot of discussion of this issue – it appears to be new this year. The message claims that the IRS rejected the submission, but the discussion seems to indicate that the problem is with TurboTax; people have been getting around the problem by adding one cent to the amount on one form (since the IRS rounds to the nearest dollar, this shouldn’t be an issue, but it makes everyone nervous). There was also a pointer to a page on the TurboTax site where you could add yourself to a notification of any updates to the problem – but that page claimed that the problem had been solved today. So I submitted the return again with no changes and will see what happens overnight.

On a more cheerful note, we booked our flights to Iceland and Boston for our summer trip. The travel agent is only booking fully-refundable tickets for clients this year. I was surprised to see that the difference in price between refundable and non-refundable fares was less than 10% instead of the doubled or tripled fare that was typical in the Before Times – of course we bought the refundable tickets!

It was the hottest day of the year, so we didn’t go out walking until after dinner. Diane takes a lot of the flower photos she posts to Facebook on our neighborhood walks – sometimes I take flowers, too, but tonight, my eye was caught by something rather different.

Pandemic Journal, Day 412

As usual, we went to the Farmers’ Market this morning – our fish vendor told us that local king salmon season had started yesterday and she hoped to have fresh salmon next week! For today, though, our choice was halibut and lingcod – we’ve already eaten the halibut. :-)

With the advent of warmer weather, we’re drinking more iced tea – Diane makes sun tea using three different kinds of tea, and we ran out of one, PG Tips. Fortunately, we don’t have to go to England to buy more – it’s available at Cost Plus. While we were there, I (unsurprisingly) spent some time looking through the candy department, and I found a few bars of Icelandic chocolate. Most were fairly low in cacao, but they did have a dark chocolate with mint, so I bought one and we had a few squares for dessert. It’s pretty good – I wonder if it’ll be less expensive in Iceland (it was $8 for 7 ounces here). They also had Icelandic beer, but I decided to defer that piece of research for a later date.

Pandemic Journal, Day 411

We started the day at Shir Hadash (via Zoom) with Torah Study and Shir Shabbat services; we ended it at the Shir Hadash Gala (via Zoom) with a performance by ComedySportz San Jose.

In between, we walked, cooked, and ate – it was a restful Shabbat.

Well, it was until I wanted to add an image to this entry and have that image show up on Facebook as the preview of this entry. Adding the image worked, but then I discovered I’d used the wrong aspect ratio and only part of one word showed up on Facebook.

Correcting that problem required me to delete this entry…twice, as well as deleting the post on Facebook that referred to it; I also had to change the URL of this entry. And even that wasn’t sufficient – Facebook is still showing the wrong image. C’est la vie!

Pandemic Journal, Day 410

I finished the Almaniac and sent in my answers this afternoon; I have hopes of having done well, but I’ve been fooled before. I’ll find out next week.

We started seriously looking at flights for our upcoming trip to Iceland and ordered Rick Steves’ Iceland book. The tour doesn’t include a lot of time in Reykjavik (we do go out to the Golden Circle for a full day), so we’re thinking of staying two or three days after the tour and exploring the city. After that, we’ll fly to Boston to visit our son – this is all, of course, assuming that the COVID-19 situation remains good in the US and Iceland. The horrifying news from India makes me wonder, but I can hope.