COVID Confidential: Adventures in Quarantine Self-Sufficiency, Or How I Learned to Cut My Own Hair… Among Other Things

Even though I live in the biggest city in the U.S., 2020 has made me channel my inner Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. From mid-March until early June, New York City was in lockdown. Everything that came into my apartment arrived via Amazon, Chewy’s or delivery from our two neighborhood grocery stores and the local wine shop. Take-out from nearby eateries fell by the wayside, not that we were big on that during the “before times.” I couldn’t go to the gym, shop in stores, have my nails done, get my hair cut. Much of life now existed online, including FaceTime calls and Zoom meetings. 

On one of those meetings, staring at my dark circles, floppy mop and lack of make-up, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Literally. I ordered the best pair of hair scissors I could find on Amazon, a German stainless steel number promising lifetime ability to snip cleanly. When they arrived about two weeks later (lots of other people had apparently had the same idea, creating a backorder situation) I went to YouTube University to figure out how to use them. Several informative videos later I felt ready. 

I hopped in the shower, shampooed and conditioned, dried off and stood in front of the bathroom sink, instrument of makeover in hand. “What could go wrong? Hair grows back,”  said my confident better angel in a reassuring voice. “Lots could go wrong, Trish. But who cares, since you have no life anyway and no one will notice,” said her evil twin, perched on my other shoulder. 

silver and black skeleton key on brown wooden table
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I fastened my locks in clumps as the video had taught me to do and began to hack away at the split ends and wayward strands. I was reminded of the time sixty years ago when my father tried to level a small dining table whose wobbles had irked him. It ended up as a coffee table. As I wielded the scissors, trying to angle them as I remembered my stylist always did, my hair got shorter and shorter. I guess I am more like my father than I would like to admit. Eventually my husband verified that both sides were even. My chin length do, ready for its blow dry, made me feel lighter, prettier, maybe even a tad younger? That hag of an hour before was no more.

On my next family FaceTime both daughters agreed that my cut made the cut. “Think of all the money you will save, mom! No need to go back to the salon!” said E. “Did you do highlights too?” asked B. “Nope. My hair hasn’t seen a foil or a dye in over two years. Maybe this self-sufficiency kick has indeed made me younger.”

Now that salons are open in the city (but who knows for how long since we are surging again) I still cut my own hair. Why not? I like my hairdo, and I like the money I’m saving, too. More cash for random online shopping impulses, not that I need things, since I am still not really going anywhere but the grocery store.

And what a pleasure that is. I hated having groceries delivered. I don’t menu plan because I like to survey the produce, the fish counter, the cheese bar, and determine which things inspire me, which things are on special, which things look freshest. I am a seasoned cook used to buying ingredients first and thinking about how to prep them second. Those essential workers, bless their hearts, who shopped for me, often didn’t seem to know the difference between an overripe avocado and one that was more akin to a lacrosse ball. 

I had time on my hands during lockdown without errands to run, time that I spent working on the research for my book, writing blog posts, and, let’s face it, wasting a lot of time “doomscrolling.” When my girls were growing up I baked bread and cookies and pies (but not cakes) on the regular. But it had been years since I had made bread; the convenience of fresh baguettes and New York bagels and provisioning for two rather than four had made that unnecessary. My Larousse bread book, once a bible, sat forlornly on the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet. But what better way to brighten up imprisonment than pounding dough and filling the apartment with yeasty smells?

I discovered that a whole new way to bake bread called “no knead” had been popularized since my last loaf left the oven. No need to stand at the counter manhandling dough, always unsure about whether the gluten was cooperating due to high humidity, low humidity, whatever on a particular day. No need, indeed! Now one used instant yeast and let the dough rise on its own for 18 to 24 hours before baking it in a pot at high temperature. Easy peasy.

Except, once again, just as with the scissors, everyone else in America seems to have had the same idea. The usual places to buy yeast and flour were sold out. Thus began my deep dive into artisan flour mills in places like Nebraska, normally catering to the local farmers who, unlike us city slickers, never stopped baking their own bread, putting up their own jams, pickles and compotes, stocking their freezers with cuts of meat and pounds of butter. Here I was, out on the prairie, just like Ma Ingalls. I bought yeast, many kinds of specialty organic flour, something called a bread lame (a razor for scoring the top to let the bread rise its highest), a scale, a bench scraper and a ceramic bread pot. 

And, just like my barbering success, my bread baking was a hit. Crusty artisan white loaves, oatmeal bread, whole wheat bread, rye bread … you name it, I made it. It was easy, requiring only being home enough to prep the dough and then bake it the next day. It was incredibly satisfying. Now that I can buy bread at the store again I do, but I’m always comparing it unfavorably to my own loaves. This afternoon, since my larder is once again empty, I’m going to make my own bread again. It feels great to be self-sufficient, and anyway, I need to use up the pounds of flour I still have. 

Speaking of which, its time to use that special blend semolina I acquired for making pasta. Lockdown was the perfect time to learn how to make fettuccine, ravioli, spaghetti and lasagna noodles with my KitchenAid mixer attachments. Back to YouTube University I went, and discovered the Pasta Grannies, my favorite of whom is Letizia, a 100 year old nonna you can watch here. They even have a cookbook, #1 on Amazon in the pasta/noodles category. I am a nana (a nonna if I lived in Italy) so maybe instead of Ma Ingalls I am channeling my inner Letizia. Which isn’t a bad idea, because at 100, she doesn’t look a day over 80, and at this rate I may be that old when this COVID thing is over. 

34 thoughts on “COVID Confidential: Adventures in Quarantine Self-Sufficiency, Or How I Learned to Cut My Own Hair… Among Other Things”

  1. I love this post. I always cut my own hair. It’s curly and the best cut has always been the 70s “shag” which I learned to do from Seventeen Magazine. During my working years, I spent a lot of money on my hair, color and cut. It was wonderful, but now? It’s hard to find anyone in my town who can cut my hair and why? I just make a pony tail on top, and cut it off. As for bread…our stores ran out of yeast, too. I wasn’t going to bake bread, but my friends do. It was so strange to me that yeast, flour and toilet paper vanished from the shelves.

    But…the tone of your post reflects my feelings about daily life right now. I might miss the Pandemic though not the sadness and tragedy of it. It’s definitely simplified life.

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    1. I spent too much on my hair when teaching too. And guess what, it looks just fine now! I hope I don’t slide back into my old normal entirely, some parts of this so-called new normal are great!

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  2. I think a lot of people, men in particular, are done with the salon/barber. A decent set of clippers cost the same price as one hair cut, and personally, I’ve been using the same set for five years. MY daughter and her friends have all been cutting each others’ hair in the dorm, they’re unlikely to start spending their money on hair cuts again as well. Years ago, I wrote a blog post about cutting my own hair titled ‘the hair wiz’ named after an ‘as seen on tv’ product from the seventies. During the first three months of lockdown, that post was viewed over a thousand times, with many readers emailing me to find out if I know where to buy a hair wiz.

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    1. Oh my gosh that’s so pandemic! I don’t remember the hair wiz but now I have to read that post. I used to cut my girls’ hair and when E was still home she cut mine, but that was eons ago. Now all three of us cut our own hair.

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  3. Haha! This is fabulous. (And does the famed Latizia cut her own hair?) I am giving you a follow too (thank you for following me). And I can’t wait to explore more during pandemic school breaks. (Oh man, they are calling me back from lunch. Already?!?!)

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  4. I, too, went to YouTube U to learn to cut my own hair. April, I think. I figured it couldn’t be that hard, since mine is long (and was getting too long), straight, and all the same length except the bangs which I’d already decided to grow out because I hated trying to trim them myself. I discovered it’s easy to trim long hair, evenly. The procedure was a surprise but I was delighted with the results. I’ll never pay for a trim again! I’m still using clips to keep the bangs at bay, they’re not yet long enough to join the rest of my hair in a ponytail. But that’s okay, no one sees me these days.

    You’ve inspired me to try baking bread, if it really is that easy… 🙂

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    1. It is! Again YouTube helped! There’s a lovely fellow with a ton of videos on no knead bread. I followed his oatmeal bread recipe first and then branched out. Just be sure to get saf-instant yeast. I still am thinking about that post about the hunters and will get back to it tomorrow…

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  5. This is a great and informative column. I, however, will not be cutting my own hair or having my wife do it. Don’t want to break my barber’s rice bowl.
    However, this COVID disaster has gotten all of out out of our old habits and into new approaches, and that’s probably a good thing.

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  6. Great post! You’re making some great lemonade there. I can’t imagine having someone select my produce for me – avocados or anything else.

    I’ve been cutting and coloring my own hair forever, but quit coloring over a year ago because of all the gray. I’ve rarely been happy with a salon cut. But it’s interesting to see my true hair color for the first time since I was 17!

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    1. I think many people are quitting hair coloring because of the maintenance issue. I see many folks with solid gray now who just a year ago were gray free. Maybe this will free us from the ageism that made us feel we needed to hide our gray. It always bothered me that gray haired men were distinguished and gray haired women were over the hill!

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  7. I have not had my hair cut since the middle of March 2020. It’s now the longest it’s been since high school, and alas the ends are starting to look poorly. So I’ve been debating going to YouTube school as well, but I’m not quite ready yet!

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  8. What a lovely silver lining here – a successful do-it-yourself haircut! I never attempted that as mine is stick straight and needs to be layered or I end up looking like I did in 7th grade (plus wrinkles!). Except I did reach around and trim the back, so it didn’t flip up into a mullet. I remember my mother cutting my bangs when I was little and how they got shorter and shorter as she tried to get them even. The salon is open now – one person plus the stylist in a room, so it works.

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    1. My hair was stick straight until I had babies. Now it has just a teensy bit of body, at the bottom really. Not really wavy, just a different texture. I used to have bangs as a child — no more. I don’t really do layers, just what they call feathering at the bottom!

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  9. I finally had the chance to grow my hair out from the age appropriate short to a much more enjoyable shoulder length. I was able to sneak in a hair cut when the positivity rate dropped to around 1% and got the ends trimmed. My hair dresser said all sorts of people had quit coloring their hair. As for flour, I have always baked and was dismayed by my failure to find flour. I did buy great stuff from a Heritage Park or some such in Texas. Five times my usual cost, but did the trick.

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  10. I have acquired the job of cutting my husbands hair…now he won’t go to the barber any longer….I did watch on youtube how to cut mens’ hair…and got myself a set of tail combs, and I had barber scissors for a long time…have a black apron and am set…next time he asks, Im ready to go.

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