Ask most where you can find the best pizza and you likely would hear Chicago, New York, or Italy. Phoenix would likely never cross your mind, and you’d be forgiven for being skeptical that the best pizza might be found there.
However, James Beard Award-Winning Chef Chris Bianco produces pizza worthy of such praise. He is featured in episode one of the Netflix series, “Chef’s Table: Pizza.”
Be warned, there are no reservations and waits can be up to two hours. However, after putting your name on the waitlist, go next door to the bar and enjoy a cocktail or a cold one indoors or out while you wait.
Handmade mozzarella cheese, impossibly thin, yet crispy and flavorful crust, the salads and pizzas are a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
The same chef who perfected the aforementioned pizza has another restaurant just a mile away. Salads, pastas, meat dishes and more with ingredients sourced from local farmers and ranchers will equally delight the eyes, mouth, and stomach.
Every single bite was full of beautiful and complex flavors.
I would rate this meal one of the top 5 restaurant meals I’ve had in my life (so far).
Of course there is no shortage of Mexican restaurants in the greater Phoenix area, and I only tried a couple. But this one really stood out.
Great cocktails, a salsa bar with a dozen salsas and sauces for your chips, and handmade tortillas, accompany dishes with complex and rich flavors, including some of the best mole I’ve tasted. Casa Corazon is worth a visit.
Friday, I saw a brief glimpse of my father when I looked in the mirror.
I’ve never seen my father in my own face — in my uncle and occasionally in one of my brothers, but never in me. I might detect a familiar pose or shape of the mouth in pictures of myself, but never more.
Although he’s been gone for 27 years, there’s a good reason he’s constantly been in my mind, especially this last month.
Saturday, April 15, I will be a featured storyteller at the “I Am An American Live” event hosted by The Immigrant Story, a non-profit whose mission is “to document, narrate, and curate stories about immigrants in order to promote empathy and advance an inclusive community.”
For nearly a half year I have been working with a dedicated team of compassionate, encouraging, and skilled story editors and story tellers to develop my story, which will be about me coming to terms with my mixed-race heritage. Some very personal moments from my relationship with my father feature prominently, and I am pleased to share with the world how he impacted and still influences me today.
When I was 4 years old, he launched me on a joyful lifetime musical journey placing a small violin in my hands. He encouraged and supported me as I took private lessons on three instruments, and when I was in junior high and high school, we played live music every week in a local restaurant. That was the period during which we played the most music constantly together.
One of the sweetest memories, and one I return to several times in my story, is the feeling I felt when we’d be playing, our eyes would meet, and we’d smile:
It’s bittersweet to realize I am now the age he was when we were playing music together in the restaurant.
He died after having been hit by a drunk driver. Although it’s been nearly 3 decades’ past, it still stings. But out of that tragedy, I found a new musical outlet, one which brings me more musical joy and happiness than ever in my life.
I’m humbled to be included with three other outstanding speakers with gripping and emotional stories of their own. Although I’ve struggled with self-doubt whether I belong, they have been encouraging me and I’m pleased with my story.
Then, a week ago, I got very sick. Sore throat, headaches, loss of appetite, and malaise, I suffered for four days eating and drinking very little and losing an alarming amount of weight. I worried whether I would be safe to tell my story. I tested for COVID and Strep Throat — thankfully both came back negative.
Happily, I’ve begun eating again, my symptoms are lessoning, and my strength and stamina are creeping back. I am confident I will be able to tell my story but will exercise caution so as to minimize possible exposure to others as well as not overtaxing myself.
Maybe the glimpse of my father I saw was due to the severity of weight loss and dehydration from which I’m recovering. Regardless, I feel his kind, silent reassurance and am proud to share some of my personal moments with him with you all.
Another site I haven’t visited in many months is a Facebook series hosted by Glamour called, You Sang My Song.
Don’t worry. Even if you have sworn off Facebook (as I have attempted) or don’t even have a Facebook account, you can still watch it.
In this series, successful musicians and music groups watch videos of fans playing and singing covers of their songs. The pros give their positive feedback, and then their fans are contacted. We get to see their reactions to the pro’s feedback.
Although there have been no new videos posted in over a year, there are over 40 videos — plenty to visit and revisit again and again.
It’s heartwarming and moving. The professionals are generous with their praise, and watching the fans’ reactions — shock and surprise that their idols are seeing their covers, trepidation as they await the feedback, and effusive gratitude once received — really warms the heart.
Those anxious moments remind me of the powerful scene at the end of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” when his formerly blind beloved realizes who he is, and he nervously awaits her reaction:
Admittedly, many of the artists were unknown to me, but I am nonetheless always buoyed by the music, the initial reactions, and the secondary reactions. I suspect you will too.
If you have sites to recommend, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Two years ago I wrote a two-part blog series about saving on your prescription drug costs using GoodRx or buying from Canada.
I heard from many friends and family members who were already using both methods. I was surprised to hear how many were buying from Canada.
Today, I’m happy to share a third method that may save you significantly on your prescription drugs. It is Cost Plus Drug Company.
A year ago, I started hearing news reports about billionaire Mark Cuban starting a new pharmacy with the goal of offering drugs with the lowest prices around. I hadn’t looked into until today, when I learned about a friend who was facing costs of $350 – $650 for a one-month supply of a single medication.
In the case of my friend, their particular medication was not listed on Cost Plus. You can sign up for a notification when a medication you need is added (which is what they did).
I decided to do a simple lookup on Restasis (Cyclosporine), which prompted my search and the original blog posts two years ago. Here’s what I found.
$156.70 – $205.39
Your Canada Drug Store
$111.24 – $163.80
Cost Plus Drug Company
Cost Plus Drug Store is only a year old, but it is saving some people a lot of money. Do your homework and compare options. Note the generic vs. name-brand drugs are listed, so you are comparing apples to apples.
Your results may vary, but it is definitely an option worth considering when looking to save money on your prescription drugs.
Goodbye ads and hello significant network speed improvement!
So, I set up a Raspberry Pi-Hole yesterday. Well, actually I did much less than that. I purchased a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole and installed it into my home network.
Why did I do this? I wanted a clean and efficient way to block annoying ads, pop-ups, and trackers so many websites attempt to download to your devices. I also expected some improvement in network speed. It turned out to be a significant speed improvement loading webpages. For that reason alone, I would recommend a Raspberry Pi-Hole.
1. What is a Raspberry Pi and what is a Pi-Hole?
A Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Hobbyists love to tinker with these devices, building and configuring them for any of a number tasks (home digital juke box, attic temperature and humidity monitor, robotic applications, home automation, music and digital sound effects, games, and much more).
Raspberry Pi computers can be purchased for as little as US$40 for a bare bones circuit board to up to US$150-$200 for more features such as a power supply, enclosure, cables, and more. Numerous accessories are also available (touch screens, cameras, sensors, etc.).
So, what is a Pi-Hole?
A Pi-Hole (pronounced “pie hole”), is software run on a computer which filters out advertisements and trackers. For the network savvy, it acts as a DNS sinkhole, a DNS Cache, and can be configured to block adult content.
A Pi-Hole has significant advantages over typical software solutions (e.g., pop-up blockers, etc.). It works faster, more efficiently, and blocks ads on not just from reaching your computer, but also your cell phone (when using Wi-Fi), your smart TV, and other devices on your home network.
Normally, internet traffic, including all the ads and tracking software, etc., comes through your main internet connection, through your router, and gets propagated through your network cables and Wi-Fi network to your computer, mobile device, etc. Once there, you might have a pop-up blocker or some ad-blocking software on your local device attempt to filter out those ads. But those programs take time and computer resources.
With a Pi-Hole, those ads and trackers are filtered out way upstream, before your router can send them to your computer, mobile device, etc. Not only can you avoid the annoying ads, it can also result in significant speed improvements when surfing the web, watching videos, etc. Additionally, your local device doesn’t have to work so hard blocking the ads using its local software (e.g. a pop-up blocker).
2. Can you install a Raspberry Pi-Hole yourself?
To install and configure a Raspberry Pi-Hole, there will be some network configuration skills required:
I. Ability to log into your router’s Admin page
You must make configuration changes to your router to use a Pi-Hole. You need to know your router admin login credentials and how to log directly into the admin page of your router. Once on your router admin page, you need to be able to:
View attached network devices – You need to see if your Raspberry Pi is on your network, and if so, what is its IP Address.
Set a static IP address – Although routers typically grant the same IP address to various network-enabled devices on your home network, the Raspberry Pi must have its own dedicated (aka “static”) IP address.
Change DNS settings – After your Pi-Hole is set up, you will need to redirect your router to use the Pi-Hole IP Address instead of standard DNS servers.
II. (Optional) Build a Raspberry Pi-Hole
There are many documents and videos that explain how to install Pi-Hole on your little Raspberry Pi. But I was lazy and found a ready-built Raspberry Pi-Hole for about US$125.
2. Obtaining and Building a Pi-Hole
Pi-Hole is software which can run on a Raspberry Pi or on a computer running Linux. At this point, anyone without some computer software skills may be tempted to tune out. However, if you know how to log into your router and make the configuration changes listed above, you can still do this!
Those interested in tinkering will find countless websites and YouTube videos walking you through the process of installing and setting up your Pi-Hole. The Pi-Hole software is completely free, although donations are recommended to keep the software updated and continuing to improve.
If you want to build your own Pi-Hole, you will need, at minimum:
USB Keyboard and USB Mouse
HDMI cable to connect to an external monitor
Not comfortable with or interested in building your own Pi-Hole?
Although I was confident I could build one myself, I had neither the interest nor the time (i.e., I was feeling lazy), and decided to buy a ready-to-install Raspberry Pi-Hole. I found one on eBay for $125. I ordered it and it arrived a week later. I already owned a USB keyboard and mouse, and the Raspberry Pi-Hole came with an HDMI cable which I connected to my TV.
So I finally tested positive for COVID last month.
I have taken the pandemic seriously from the start. I got my vaccines as soon as they were available (I’ve received 5 so far). I continue to exercise caution, wearing a mask while I am out shopping, and taking tests before and after symphony rehearsals. I usually self-test before large get-togethers.
So nearly three years after the start of the global pandemic, I finally caught and tested positive for COVID.
Information about the virus has been changing and confusing. Different strains of the virus have caused consternation with an ever-changing array of symptoms, varying levels of contagiousness, and rare unknown and troubling long-term effects for some.
People have understandably become fatigued by the restrictions, the social isolation, and impact to commerce, and so much more.
In that kind of environment, it is understandable there are many skeptics, deniers, and even protests regarding safety protocols. This piece does not intend to persuade or convince anyone. It is merely to tell my story, what I have learned, and what conclusions I draw.
1. Getting Infected
I started to develop a really bad headache. Bad headaches are rare for me, so I decided to take a nap. For safety’s sake, I took a rapid at-home COVID test. The initial control line darkened, and then I saw the dreaded second line appear. I was positive for COVID.
I immediately contacted everyone I had seen recently, and they all tested. Out of the group of a dozen, one other person was shocked to find they were also positive. They had no symptoms.
Although my symptoms ended up being mild, this first day was the worst. My sinuses were completely blocked and I had a splitting headache. Over-the-counter decongestants and painkillers made it bearable.
Days 1 – 5
I stayed in bed, hydrated, and isolated. My headache wasn’t bad, and I suffered mostly a runny nose and some coughing. I had no fever, and I didn’t suffer any body aches, difficulty breathing, or other more serious symptoms. I did partially lose my sense of smell.
I contacted my healthcare provider about getting antiviral drugs, but given my age, relatively good health, and mild symptoms, I was told such drugs were not suggested. I was instructed to just continue to rest, hydrate, isolate, mask, and wash my hands frequently. I was also told not to start testing again until day 5.
However, on about Day 2 I was feeling really good, suffering only a runny nose. For the heck of it, I tested, and the second line on the COVID test immediately appeared, dark and bold.
I started testing on Day 5, and I was still positive. Testing subsequent days, the 2nd line on the COVID rapid tests grew gradually fainter. Finally, on Day 11, no trace of the second line was visible. My sense of smell gradually returned, too.
I was happy to finally be testing negative, but I continued to isolate, mask, and wash my hands religiously. I decided to sign up for a drive-through PCR test. Two days later I received my result: Inconclusive.
I scheduled another PCR test, and two days later I again received “Inconclusive.” Frustrated, I signed up for a third PCR test, and after waiting again a couple days, the result came back: POSITIVE!
2. Confusing Instructions
Frustrated and confused, I started contacting various healthcare professionals to find out what I should do.
Various articles from reputable sources suggested that I would only be contagious the first 5 days of my infection, or if I still had serious symptoms. I learned that PCR tests are much more sensitive, and that you can test positive up to 3 months after your infection.
The CDC’s website states “Any positive COVID-19 test means the virus was detected and you have an infection.” It continues that you should isolate, take precautions, tell people you recently contacted and monitor your symptoms.
Elsewhere on the CDC website it says “You may end isolation after day 5” if you have no symptoms after day 5. You are instructed to wear your mask through Day 10. You may remove your earlier mask if you have two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart. Of course, if your symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart isolation and talk to a healthcare professional.
So what to do with negative antigen (rapid at-home) test results and a positive PCR test result?
With consistent negative antigen test results, I should be okay to relax my isolation and masking protocols (although I’ve never stopped masking while going out shopping, etc., nor to I intend to). But with a positive PCR test result, the CDC says I should assume I have an infection and take precautions.
Calling the Red Cross
I am a frequent blood platelet donor. I wanted to know when I would be eligible and safe to donate again. Calling their donor line, I was told I would not be eligible to donate if I have symptoms, or if I tested positive in the last 10 days.
I protested that I was symptom-free and consistently getting negative results from my antigen rapid at-home tests, but got a positive result from a PCR test. They repeated that as long as any test was positive, I should wait 10 days. Conclusion, don’t test for 10 days (unless my symptoms return or worsen). After that, I should be eligible.
This did not reassure me.
Calling My Physician
Although it was a long holiday weekend, I decided to call my physician’s office and speak to the on-call nurse. I received a callback late in the evening. Here is what the nurse told me.
1. Unless your symptoms remain or get worse, you are only contagious for the first 5 days of infection
2. You should only test when you have symptoms or if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID
3. After getting infected, your immunity against reinfection is very high for the first three months
She reiterated that rapid at-home tests can often detect COVID and report positive up to a couple weeks after infection, and that the more sensitive PCR tests can test you as positive up to 3 months after infection.
Her message was that testing should be used to a) verify you have COVID, and b) try to determine the start of your infection. From that point, you can start counting the days. 5 days later, you can assume you are no longer contagious. 10 days later you can decide to stop masking. What COVID tests are not good at is for determining the end of your infection.
3. My Conclusions
As I said before, given the conflicting and changing information about this virus, it is unsurprising people are confused and will draw very different conclusions. These are the conclusions I have drawn:
1. I will continue to mask when I am in public indoors even when I feel completely healthy. Two people I know who felt no symptoms tested positive in the last month. So rather than risk either infecting people unknowingly, or exposing myself to possible infection from people who are asymptomatic, I will continue to mask.
2. I will rely more on rapid tests for the next three months, then try PCR testing after. Previously, I had signed up for PCR tests often. I would test before and after symphony rehearsals, and before big in-person get-togethers. Since I may test positive for 3 months, I will rely more on rapid tests until this spring.
3. Stay informed. Information continues to come out, new strains of COVID may come out, and recommendations will change. It’s tiring and confusing, but I’ll try to stay informed on the latest recommendations. I encourage you to do so as well.
Preparing for Thanksgiving week, I bought a bit too much food. One item was a loaf of delicious seeded multigrain whole wheat bread from Grand Central Bakery.
The loaf was untouched for several days and became predictably so hard it would have been difficult to slice. The interior no doubt now was also quite tough.
A professional chef friend told me that it is possible to rejuvenate a stale loaf of bread by running a water faucet all over the loaf and briefly baking it! I was skeptical, but what did I have to lose?
Note 1: Do not attempt this with moldy bread. If your bread has mold, compost or toss it.
Note 2: This works best with fully intact loaves of bread. But Bon Appetit says even if the interior of the bread gets wet, it still can be rejuvenated.
How to Rejuvenate Stale Bread
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F
Step 2: Hold the bread under running water. Completely soak the surface. Soak the bottom of the loaf more, since it is usually thicker and tougher. If the bread has been sliced, position the exposed portion of bread away from the faucet to minimize getting that part wet.
Step 3: Place the soaked bread loaf on the bare oven racks and set your timer for 10 minutes.
Step 4: Remove and inspect the loaf. If the loaf is large and/or still dry and hard, repeat the rinse and bake once more.
Step 5: Remove the loaf, slice, and enjoy!
You may need to adjust the temperature and length of baking time depending on the size and type of loaf you are rejuvenating. Just keep an eye on the bread while it is in the oven. You will be surprised how well this can work!
Update: I was able to successfully rejuvenate a baguette as well! Also, I attempted re-rejuvenating a loaf that had been sliced, and it worked as well!
Summary: A story of unexpected connection and history borne out of a selfless act
A year ago this month a friend was visiting from out of state and booked a cute AirBnB in the neighborhood. Surrounded by a garden of flowers and herbs, the quaint cottage was cozy, well appointed, and included a fire stove.
The fire stove door had a detachable wooden handle. You connected the handle to the door when you needed to open or close the door, and removed it to prevent it from getting too hot.
The handle had seen better days. Bite marks, probably from an enthusiastic pooch, pockmarked the wood, and one side was singed black. Worst of all, nearly half of the handle had cracked off and was completely missing.
The house was lovely and the AirBnB host kind and helpful. I thought it would be a nice gesture to see if I could repair or replace the stove handle.
I knew of a woodworking store in the area and I thought, maybe they have wood handles ready to buy to easily replace this broken one.
I took the handle to the store, and a kind gentlemen working there took a look at it. No, they did not sell any ready-made replacement handles that would work.
I suggested that anyone with a lathe and basic wood turning skills could probably whip one out in less than an hour. Did anyone in the store offer such services? Not usually, he answered, but said he’d be willing to do it himself. He thought the job would take a day or two and suggested — in my opinion — a too low price for the job. We shook hands to seal the bargain.
He began carefully taking measurements of the handle and writing them down on a sheet of paper. Then he asked me for my name and contact information.
“Toby Loftus,” I answered, and gave him my phone and email address.
“Loftus,” he repeated, spelling it out. “You know, my sister took piano lessons from a Loftus when she was a child…”.
“Where, and in what decade?” I asked.
“This would have been in Eugene during the ’60s,” he responded.
“That had to be my dad, Don Loftus!” I answered. “Although Dad passed away over 20 years ago, Mom is living in Ashland, and I’ll bet she remembers her!”
“Ashland?” he responded with equal surprise. “My sister lives in Ashland and still plays piano today!”
Indeed, not only did mom remember his sister as a piano student of my late father, but she remembered their father, too. She recalled him being owner of a wood working or furniture business in Eugene.
A few days later I returned to the woodworking store to pick up the new stove handle. It looked beautiful, perfectly proportioned and fitting comfortably in the hand, stained a deep walnut hue, and shiny with a fresh coat of clear lacquer. I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Pleased, too, was the AirBnB host, once she saw the new handle. She couldn’t believe I had it done and was so grateful.
The satisfaction replacing the burnt and broken handle was far outweighed by the delight the wood turner, his sister, and my mother experienced at the unexpected reconnection.
I don’t believe one should commit selfless acts and expect additional rewards — that rather defeats the whole purpose. Whether it is fate, karma, or mere coincidence, I do not know, but it seems like selfless acts beget more selfless acts and unexpected joys.
Regardless, there is no shortage of opportunity to, or need for acts of kindness and generosity.
Last weekend I used a manual typewriter for the first time in my life — and was hooked.
I learned to type on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter. I hated the class, but in one semester learned touch typing, a valuable skill that served me well through high school, college, and to the present. Only a couple years after my initial typing lesson, all typewriters were removed and replaced with computers and keyboards. Typing classes were renamed, “keyboarding classes.”
Beyond my semester of typing class, my exposure to typewriters was limited to an Adler brand manual typewriter in the home where I grew up. My mom typed the initial manuscript of her book on it, but I never used it.
A high school classmate told me about this store a couple weeks ago. The way she and her father lit up describing the different typewriters captured my imagination and I decided I had to go see it myself. The store is owned by her partner.
Sure enough, last weekend I visited Type Space, a SE Portland business that is manual typewriter showroom, museum, repair shop, and writer’s space rolled into one.
Located at SE 49th and Division, Type Space is open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 6pm. People are welcome to come in, look at the vast array of typewriters, and sit down and try them. The typewriters are very affordably priced should you decide you must have one (like I unexpected did).
I was doubtful I could type accustomed as I am to easy to press, fast, and tightly clustered keys of a computer keyboard. But with just a few pointers from the owner, Anthony “Tony” Valoppi, I was off and running.
I started with a German typewriter. The Z and Y keys swapped, which initially threw me off. Additional keys provided the German vowels with umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and the sharp S, “Eszett,” β.
I then moved to a sleek, portable typewriter. At the owner’s invitation, I typed a letter, addressed the envelope on the typewriter, and was provided a stamp. The postal carrier dropped by within the hour and my letter was off on its way.
I spent three hours at Type Space and those hours flew by! I got to see a variety of old and new typewriters, including a Russian typewriter with Cyrillic keys, a Hungarian typewriter, and a Japanese typewriter.
The Japanese typewriter had a grid with over 1900 kanji characters, numbers, letters, and symbols. Using a stylus, you choose the desired character and press a lever, typing one character at a time.
Everything in the showroom is available to take down, place on the common table and try out. This is a museum with manual typewriters dating back over a century, but one in which you are invited to touch and try out everything!
Valoppi, a professional chef, opened Type Space early in the pandemic. The idea seemed crazy to many, but his business has taken off. It has been featured on a couple local TV broadcasts:
While I was there, a steady stream of customers came in, picking up recently serviced and tuned-up typewriters, dropping in to browse and try out various models, or bringing in a typewriter for service or just to learn how it worked.
Personally, I came to see the beautiful variety of typewriters, learn about their various designs and mechanisms, and maybe try my hand at a little manual typing. I didn’t expect to enjoy the latter so much!
The Typewriter Mystique
There is something magical and visceral about a typewriter that is lost on a computer keyboard. With computers, deleting a word or phrase or rearranging whole sentences and paragraphs is effortless.
With typewriters, more thought and determination is put into each word choice and turn of phrase. No spellchecker will immediately flag your mistakes — you are left to leave them be or correct them and leave unmistakable artifacts of the evolution of your work.
Varying levels of speed, confidence, and finger strength result in uneven darkness between letters and words. These variances transmit clues to the writer’s emotion and intention invisible on the laser-printed page.
The spaces inside letters may not be completely clear. Shadows inside an “a” or “o” instill texture, depth, and color to typed letters.
There is also the aural and tactile experience — the satisfying “snap” as each letter strikes the page, the “ding” of the margin warning bell, and the pleasing ratchet and metallic skid of the carriage sliding down its track to make way for a new line of text. These sounds and the physical feedback through the fingers and hands makes typing a much more sensory-rich experience.
I expected to be delighted by what I saw and learned, but I did not expect to be captivated by the typewriters. But I was. I fully plan to pick out and purchase a manual typewriter from Type Space soon.
Whether you are a writer, an avid reader, are into museums, are intrigued by mechanical gadgets, whatever, I highly recommend you pay Type Space a visit. I am pretty sure you will be delighted — and you might get hooked too!
In order to vote in the November 8, 2022 general election, you must be registered to Vote.
You should register or update your registration if you move, change your name, or want to change your party affiliation. I don’t know for certain, but I assume for most states you can also request absentee ballots in this manner (definitely true for Oregon).
If you are not yet 18, but will turn 18 by election day, definitely register! You will receive your ballot either on or after your birthday, or when the election occurs.
In Oregon, the last day to register is October 18, 2022, and it’s really easy to do online.