Coffee heat rising

The Wine Stash gambit

Okay, tell me what you think of this.

It may be crazy. Hevvin only knows, I am crazy. But what heaven really does know, I personally know not. Soo…tell me if this sounds sane to you, or like yet another variety of madness.

I like a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. Indeed, I like that so much that I ain’t a-doin’ without it.

However, Costco, where I usually supply my stash, has decreed that delivery services such as the beloved Instacart may no longer purchase alcoholic beverages for delivery to customers. I was able to snag a couple bottles and a box of KiltLifter (presently the preferred brew) from Total Wine, but frankly, having to order this, that and the other product from this, that, and the other retailer is what we call a damn nuisance.

It occurs to me that if I’d had a decently stocked wine cellar (or stash, since this house has no cellar… 🙂 ), the bar services would present much less of a problem.

It being never too late to start…here’s my plan:

1. From Total Wine, I order up one box (12 bottles, I believe) of my favorite cheap red and one box of my favorite cheap white.

Note that at this point I now have a lifetime supply of booze. Two crates of wine would, if never replenished, last me a good three or four months.

2. Each time I consume a bottle of this priceless hoard, I order or (one day, I hope, purchase in person) a new bottle, only in a finer vintage than the $8 specials I favor.

3. Keep drinking the cheap stuff, unless guests are here. After a period, all of the plonk will be consumed, and it will all be replaced better wines!

Et voilà! A stash of fancy wines!

My life is improved. The wine industry is supported. And when the next catastrophe hits, I will never feel deprived.

Is that or is that not a brilliant scheme? And what positive changes has the covid bug brought about in your life?

Amazon Reviews: Take ’em with a grain of salt

A few weeks ago, I ordered up a handsomely reviewed mosquito zapper from Amazon. Even though lovely Arizona has relatively few little biters, they do come up in the spring, a nuisance when you often have the doors and windows open to take advantage of the lovely weather. A squadron of the little F-16s had taken up residence in the family room, where I like to lounge in comfort to work on client projects.

So I bought this gadget that’s supposed to electrocute the little ladies by luring them into its trap with a blue light. Must work, because all those reviewers said so, right ?

Soon as the thing arrives, I plug it into a socket in Mosquito Central and await, with delicious anticipation, the wholesale slaughter of the marauders.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait….

Nary a zap. Left the thing on all day and into the night. Got another few bites. But no zapped skeeters.

Having over-anticipated the delights of this device, I’d thrown out the package, so returning it to Amazon was not an option. But I did post a one-star review describing this buggy débâcle. Tossed the thing in the trash. And didn’t think much more about it.

Until… Along came this communiqué from one Paul Bernthal, regarding “Compensation 21,71+20$ for your Bug Zapper Amazon Order!”:

Hello, Victoria. I’m Paul. I heard that our Bug Zapper didn’t work out for you.

We want to get you a compensation for a few minutes of your time:

1) I send you a Full Refund: 21,71$ via Amazon and kindly ask you to Delete your review.
2) I can send you a Full Refund + 20$ Amazon Gift Card, for changing your review to 5 Star Rating.

No need to change the Text. We don’t have a problem with objective opinions of our customers.

Our problem lies in the system of rating on Amazon, so I’m asking for your help

We’re trying to improve our product. But my main task is to get in touch with you and smooth out the “lemon product” situation, at least by providing a nice customer service

Please, choose one of the options and let me know. We can nail it really fast without wasting your time!

Your Review if you’d like to help us:

Hmm… Suspicions confirmed, eh? If you’ve ever wondered if some of those rave reviews on Amazon are bought & paid for, this shoos away any cloud of doubt, no?

Well, no: Not for love nor money would I recommend this useless piece of junk to any other hopeful mosquito assassins. I ignored this message and went on about my business.

But this guy was not to be put off. Couple days later, a follow-up hits the in-box

Hello, Victoria. Need help with changing or can we propose a better deal?🙂

And he pastes in his original offer.

Persistent little bug, isn’t he?

My reply?

Sorry. My ethics are not for sale.

Well. Explains all the rave reviews for the piece of junk, anyway.

Though this is the first incontrovertible proof I’ve seen that Amazon reviews are bought and paid for behind the scenes, it’s something I’ve quietly assumed to be the case. And therein lies the reason that I always start with the one-star reviews when considering what product to buy from that worthy monopolist.

First step in evaluating Amazon reviews is to look at the proportion of positive and negative reviews, as compared with the total number. There will always be complainers, malcontents, and whiners, and so you have to take what they say with the proverbial grain. I figure about 6 percent  negative is normal in the “can’t please all the customers all the time” department. If much more than 6 percent of shoppers have posted one-star reviews, that’s a red flag. Anything less than 6 percent? meh!

Next I look at the five-star and sometimes the four-star reviews, trying to discern what people claim to like about the thing. I tend to take these raves with a large grain of salt. Obviously, it has to be pretty easy to acquire positive reviews — you probably can hire people on Fiverr to write them for you, if you’re too embarrassed to put your friends up to it. Finally I go to the three-star reviews. Here, I expect to find honest remarks that haven’t been bought and paid for, and that are not influenced by excessive delight or by frustration and annoyance.

It was one thing for this guy to email me an offer of a bribe. But to keep pestering me was  beyond the pale. I tried to forward his email to Amazon but found a) it’s now impossible to reach a human there (didn’t use to be!) and b) Amazon’s management apparently doesn’t give a damn.

So the message here is what you always knew, of course: a fair number of the reviews you see on Amazon are fake. Buyer beware.

Learned from the Covid Plague…

So…what have you learned from your experience with the Covid Confinement and Overall Hysteria? Hereabouts, I have learned a lot these past couple of months, locked up in my house as though I were in Leavenworth’s solitary confinement row. Other than to walk the dog, I’ve been out of my house…what? twice? maybe three times since the first of April.

You wouldn’t think an inmate would gain much insight from just sitting around for day after day after day. But…to the contrary: a number of revelations have dawned, some small but a few large enough to make significant lifestyle changes.

For example…

  • Very possibly we gad around a lot more than we need to. I’ve bought a third of a tank of gas since the first of March. We’re eight days into June — more than three months later! — and my car does not need a refill.

Normally I buy gas about once every 10 days to two weeks.

  • The prepper strategy of storing up to a year’s worth of food and household supplies is not so crazy, after all.

As things get back to normal (if they ever do), I intend to store up at least three months’ worth and preferably more like six months’ to a year’s worth of nonperishable and frozen food, wine, and cleaning supplies.

Also, buy a case of your favorite wine, beer, soda pop, bottled water, or whatever. Keep it full: as you use one bottle, buy another to replace it.

  • Delivery services such as Instacart are awesomely wonderful, despite occasional lapses. If you plan your shopping carefully, these folks could help you to avoid boring trudges to grocery stores and Costco altogether once life returns to normal.

Their main drawback, for people who like to cook and to eat healthy foods, is that their runners apparently eat like most Americans do — out of boxes, cans, bags, and jars, or largely at restaurants — and so they have no clue how to select fresh produce.

A secondary drawback is that Instacart charges you more than in-store prices. Thus the privilege of having someone trudge through a store and then drive your purchases to your front door costs you a whole lot more than just the cost of Instacart’s chintzy tip to employees. There are times when this cost is richly worth it: if entering a grocery store entails risking your life, obviously a few extra bucks is not a barrier. And when you reach your dotage and are in no condition to traipse around a store that covers more than an acre — such as Costco — you would be well served by spending a bit more to get someone else to do the chore. It’s still a lot cheaper than selling everything you own to buy into a life-care community… But do be prepared to slip the runner an extra tip: they are not paid enough!

  • Use caution with Amazon.

Many of the vendors on Amazon gouge during a panicky period, even when the products they’re selling are plentiful and easy enough to buy in brick-and-mortar stores.

  • In a prolonged shopping panic, your pet’s favorite food is likely to be in short supply.

Especially if you have a picky cat, always have a substantial store of your pet’s food on hand.

  • So are basic products needed for at-home cooking, such as flour, yeast, salt, coffee, tea, chicken or beef broth, and the like.

Always have an ample supply of these on hand. Keep flour and yeast in the freezer. If you usually have one box, bag, or package of these, you should have two on hand.

  • Keep twice as much of any given staple as you would ordinarily buy.

For example, your pantry should have two boxes of salt, not one; two bags of flour, not one; two packages of pasta, not one…and so on to infinity. As soon as you run out of the first box and open the second box of, say, salt, buy a new second box next time you run to the store…so that you always have an extra supply of any staple product.

  • Same is true for household maintenance supplies.

Keep an ample supply of paper towels, toilet paper, dish detergent, laundry detergent, dishwasher tabs, window cleaner, toilet cleaner, and hand soap on hand at all times. Do not wait for these things to run out before restocking.

  • Keep your car’s gas tank topped up at all times, emergency or no emergency.

Never let it get below about 1/3 full.

  • If you cook on a propane grill, always have on hand at least three bottles of propane, and keep them full. Remember that if power fails, a backyard grill or hibachi may be the only way to cook food.

Don’t leave a bottle sitting around empty waiting to be refilled whenever you get around to it. Schlep it to the propane place as soon as it’s empty.

  • Keep fit with regular exercise, whether it’s walking, running, in-home workouts, or yoga.

If you’re allowed out of the house, bicycling and roller-skating are good strategies, too.

  • Be sure to keep adequate supplies of OTC meds on hand, as well as bandages, antiseptics, and antibiotic ointments. Same with medicaments for your pet.

You don’t want to run out of aspirin, Band-Aids, antacids, or allergy pills during a time of shortage.

  • You really should have a vegetable garden, no matter how minimal.

This does not have to be a big production. A few medium-sized pots on an apartment balcony will allow you to grow tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and chard. If you have room, a two- or three-foot deep box will accommodate carrots, beets, turnips, even potatoes.

  • Have a hair style that doesn’t have to be trimmed frequently.

How can I count the ways that that I’m glad I let my hair grow long? When shoulder-length hair grows halfway down your back, what happens is…nothing. You just have long, spectacular hair.

There are going to be some serious changes in the way day-to-day business is done here at the Funny Farm. None of them, on its own, will be earth-changing. But taken together, they should add security and make life a lot simpler the next time a crisis lands on us.

What changes are you making, long-term, based on your covid-19 adventures?

The Great Freezer Renovation Project…

Welp, yesterday I spent the afternoon shoveling out and cleaning the Funny Farm’s two freezers and inventorying the existing store of frozen foods. The stocking-up project has worked pretty well, so far. Got both the refrigerator freezer cabinet and the big chest freezer in the back of the house emptied out, cleaned through and through, and then repacked and organized sanely.

There was a lot more stuff in there than I realized. My son had bought a pork shoulder from Costco when I asked him to retrieve dog food makings. Lordie! HUGE!!! Once this was cut up and a chunk of it converted into dog food, I still was left with at least seven pounds of pork. Alas, though, only one package of boned chicken thighs remains, so somehow I’ll have to extract three more double-packets of those from Costco…or find a way to fake it. In addition, there’s one roll remaining of Freshpet dog food — figure I’d better get two more of those, which I can raid from Fry’s or AJ’s.

The dog food also contains a Costco “Normandy style” veggie mix and a cup of oatmeal — only about 1/3 package each of those remains. These, though, are easy to retrieve from Costco. Apparently the rationing applies mostly to paper goods and meats.

The situation with the human protein sources looks much better:

  • 7 pieces of steak
  • 2 1/2-racks of barbecued spare-ribs
  • 1 piece frozen cod
  • 12 pieces frozen salmon
  • 5 servings frozen shrimp
  • 3 servings frozen scallops
  • and a package of frozen mussels that, when steamed, will probably make at least two and possibly even four servings.

So that stash represents the backbone of 31 or 32 main meals. If I follow through with my plan to alternate vegetarian days with meat/fish days, said stash could in theory last about two months.

Then we have…

  • 3 pounds of butter, frozen
  • 12 pounds(!!!!!) of white and whole-wheat flour, plus about 1/3 pound imported Italian flour
  • much, much, MUCH more frozen veggies than I thought could possibly be in those freezers

Turns out there’s a small bonanza of frozen spinach, scattered among several packages. Dumped it all into one large Ziplock bag, and it just about filled the thing chuckablock full. There’s also about 8 to 10 servings, all told, of corn and peas, plus about 1/3 bag chard. To say nothing of the chard and lettuce and tomatoes growing in the yard…

LOL! I also found a treasure trove of home-made ice packs. Apparently every time I sprain something, I make a new ice pack, rather than bestirring myself to search for one that’s already in the freezer. Whenever I stumble back to normalcy, I toss the new ice pack into the back of the freezer. 😀

What can I say??? Some of these, I threw out (or, if they contained washcloths, deconstructed and laundered). Just put away enough to cope with the next little disaster.

So. There was whole lot more stuff in there than I expected. On Wednesday I’ll make a Costco run and hit the front door as they open (Costco restocks on Mondays and Tuesdays, meaning Wednesday is the optimal shopping day there). I’ll grab what I can to try to bring the dog-food makings up to snuff, and also try to score at least a rack of lamb, if nothing else. I understand they’re rationing paper supplies and meat. Then at the Fry’s on the way home, I’ll try to grab two or three more large rolls of Freshpet dog food for the hound…one of those lasts her about 12 days, so a total of three in the freezer would be almost 40 days’ worth of Fake Food for her, not counting about 7 weeks’ worth of real food (…assuming I can snab 3 double-packages of chicken from Costco). Even if I can’t, that kind of low-end chicken cut is the sort of thing you find in Mexican markets, so I may be able to nail the chicken from El Rancho.

Okay, that will give me about three months’ worth of meals for myself, about…what?…eight or ten bread loaves for myself, and during the summer when things are growing, easily three to four months’ worth of veggies.

So it looks like in the short run, rather than perishable foods what I really need to stash are beans, rice, pasta, and household goods (paper products, cleaning solutions, shampoo & conditioner, soap, and the like).

LOL! Don’t Get Old, Kids!

Do not do what I have done
In the house of the setting sun…

😀 Whatever you say about dotage, you do have to allow that it gets funnier and funnier the the further you journey into the House of the Setting Sun.

Yesterday I wrote an entire post about the corvid  [SQUACK!!] virus. That would the the one that looks a lot like this fella…



Lockdown Learning: Hacks from the Covid Confinement

So here we still are: the Body Politick getting mighty restless after a good two months’ of confinement to our homes. This has turned into one helluva journey. But from my point of view, a number of things have presented themselves as valuable clues for the future project of Aging in Place.

Because of course that’s what I intend to do, with a little luck: stay in my home until I croak over from old age. Being stuck in your house because you dare not venture out into a contagion is much the same, in many ways, as being stuck because you can’t or should not drive or because you’ve gone too lame to hike around supermarkets and big-box stores.

Here are some little discoveries that have come about from the great Covid Confinement Event, discoveries that can be applied now or in the future:

  • When I’m not darting off to the grocery store or the vet or the church or the Walmart or the Costco whenever the whim so moves me, gasoline consumption drops to almost nil. Literally. After two months, that car sitting in the garage still has half a tank of gas in it. And it wasn’t full when the quarantine fiasco started.
  • The insurance companies having registered this, my insurer dropped my auto premiums by 15 percent.
  • Savings on gasoline (to say nothing of savings on car insurance) would easily cover the cost of several Instacart or Amazon deliveries each month.
  • For the nonce, the cleaning lady could go. Or at least be cut from every two weeks to once a month. Much as I’m…well..Not Fond of housecleaning, I’m having no problem keeping up with it. And it’s kind of pleasant not to have a visitor show up and bang around for four or five hours every couple of weeks. The house would be fine if WonderCleaningLady surfaced just once a month, and I would save 50% on that onerous bill. In the age-in-place department though: obviously as I get older I’d have to increase the frequency of the cleaning visits. But that time, apparently, has not yet arrived.
  • Having groceries delivered may actually save on grocery bills, because sending someone out with a list eliminates impulse buys.
  • Instacart runners know little about selecting certain kinds of groceries, especially produce and ingredients for cooking from scratch. Ordering groceries through Instacart is, to put it mildly, a learning experience.
  • Therefore the Ager-in-Place will need to visit markets in person about once a month, even if it means using Uber or Lyft to get there.
  • Amazon vendors gouge spectacularly when given any excuse to do so.
  • Mormons are scary-smart during a national emergency. And they don’t stint on the generosity.
  • Ways to exercise need to be found and engaged. Sitting and playing with a computer all day leaves you with your joints frozen up. 😀
  • You could save a w-h-o-o-l-e lotta money on groceries and probably eat healthier by making every second day a Veggie Day. That is, eat meat one day, and the next day have all vegetarian meals. This will extend your supply of meat during the present crisis. But if you made it a regular habit, now and evermore, it also would cut your grocery bills and much reduce your cholesterol levels.

So there are some life-lessons one could apply to daily existence, now and evermore. How many will stick remains to be seen. But I intend to adapt at least some of them to Life After Covid, willy-nilly.

Meditations in the Time of Plague

So how long have we been officially locked down? Nigh unto a month? And a couple weeks before that we who had any brains were wary enough that we were effectively self-locked down. How long, all told? I’ve lost track.

Over the past home-bound weeks, I’ve slipped into a kind of goofy daze. Have managed to keep the house reasonably clean — that’s something. But otherwise have loafed, loafed, and loafed some more.

Consequently, I’ve put on 10 pounds!

So as of today, it’s back on the diet. The dog and I walked, briskly, for an hour this morning, and will do it again this evening. And tomorrow morning and evening…and the next day’s morning and evening…and the next day’s…

Who would think you burn 10 pounds’ worth of calories driving around town, walking across parking lots, climbing into the choir loft once a week? How?

On the other hand, I haven’t purchased gasoline since March 1st! Today is April 18, and the car still has 2/3 of a tank of gas. I normally buy gas once or twice a month. At this rate, I certainly won’t have to get a fill-up before the end of the month, and probably not then.

A tank of gas that lasts two months? Wow!

The main reason for this has little to do with my own desire to hunker down and everything to do with my son’s request that I not leave the house, especially not to go into retail stores. I’ve honored that, especially since he’s willing to do the shopping. It also, in theory, gives me an opportunity to experiment with merchandise delivery services, though so far I haven’t done so because my son is doing all the running around.

So this is one of several little revelations: if I’m not running to AJ’s whenever I happen to be at the church or in the mood, if I’m not trotting hither, thither, and yon for no very good reason but instead organize trips to serve specific needs, not impulses, probably there’s no need to buy gasoline more than about once every two months. Indeed, if I were to have groceries delivered, most of my driving would be mooted. And since a tank of gas costs about $30, that could represent a considerable savings.

Next revelation: Halellujah brothers and sisters, and thank God for Costco!

Because of my habit of shopping at Costco, which pretty much forces you to buy lifetime supplies of staples and household goods, I was bloody well not about to run out of anything that mattered. Except, of course, for toilet paper. I happened to have a half-dozen rolls of Walmart’s Best in the house, but since I prefer the Kirkland brand, it was by sheer chance that I wandered into the Deer Valley Costco on a Friday just as the TP frenzy started. And sheer luck that I happened to walk into the paper goods department in time to grab the third-to-last package of the stuff.

Thirty rolls will, as they always do, last me for several months. So will the nine rolls of paper towels that I happened to have remaining from some earlier Costco run.

Those paper towels will last me even longer now that the next little revelation has dawned:

Why am I using paper towels all the time, anyway? Yeah. Why???? When I was growing up, my mother and I didn’t have paper towels. We used dishrags. Anyone remember those? You had a square rag for kitchen and bathroom cleanup, and for washing the dishes. You didn’t throw it away when you were done using it. No. Hang onto your hats, young folks: you washed it!

You used paper — newsprint, actually — to wash windows and to wrap garbage. That was about it. Oh — and to write on, of course. In those days, people could write. With pens and pencils.

Well, I happen to have about 30 microfiber towels just about the size of a classic dishrag, courtesy of Costco. Thank God for Costco! So I tried using one in place of the wads of paper towels I pull off the roll, swab around, and then toss into the trash. And lo! It works. It doesn’t just work, it works handsomely. It absorbs more moisture. It cleans the counter better. It shines the brightwork better. And…should I say it again? It goes into the washer, not into the landfill.

Revelation the Fourth: Life in These United States is one hell of a lot more precarious than we think it is. (Why do these things seem so obvious to me now?) The present public health horror could not have happened at a worse time, with an ignoramus in the White House play-acting at being President — or Emperor, or King, or Tsar, or Führer, or whateverthehell he imagines he is — while craven interests that do not have the public’s welfare at heart work behind the scenes.

In the absence of good leadership, the covid-19 contagion has brought our country damn near to its knees. We’re looking at a recession that will at best rival but more likely exceed the Great Depression.

Do I really need to point out that Europe is not on its knees? And neither is China. A failure of leadership at this juncture — at just the wrong time — is likely to prove catastrophic.

And that is not an exaggeration, my friends.

Revelation the Fifth: The Mormons had it right. Stemming, as it does, from a rural culture, the Mormon church urges its followers always to be prepared and stocked up for a rainy day. What’s a rainy day? Could be just about anything: a year when the crops fail…a tornado that takes out the farmhouse and barn…death of a breadwinner…loss of a mother…a lost job…a Great Depression…a flood…a drought…a tornado…a Civil War…a devastating contagion…a moron in the White House… The message appears to be that you need to make yourself, at least to a credible degree, ready for hard times.

My dear ex-husband had a law partner, Monroe McKay, an extraordinary man, who, after a stint directing the Peace Corps in Malawi went on to become a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals justice. Monroe was a good Mormon boy — on steroids. One of the interesting things we learned from him is that he and his wife always had a year’s worth of supplies stocked in for themselves and their nine children.

They had a pantry closet in which Monroe had installed shelving on a slight angle, slanting downward toward the front of the closet, with a lip at the bottom to serve as a block. At all times, they kept a year’s worth of canned goods on these shelves, the cans arranged on their sides in rows, so they would roll forward when a can in front was removed. Thus if you took out, say, a can of tomatoes, a dozen more cans behind it would roll down behind that can. When you next went to the store, you would buy a new can of tomatoes and put it in the back, up at the top of the row. In addition, they kept large bags of pinto beans and rice.

So you understand: when this latest panic happened, these folks didn’t have to go running around frantically stocking up on whatever they imagined might keep body and soul together. They had already thought it through. And they already had their stockpile.

What do you bet they also had a generator, should the power fail? What do you bet they kept a rotating stock of gasoline, should the country run short of fuel? What do you bet they had a propane stove on which to cook those beans and canned veggies, if push came to shove?

The time has come, my friends, to pay attention to this institutional wisdom. The time has come to get prepared.

You should not have to run around frantically trying to buy toilet paper: you should always have enough in the house to last several weeks or, better, several months.

You should not have to wonder what will happen if the power goes down for a long while: you should have a generator and enough propane to suffice until a major failure can be repaired.

You should not fear running out of food if you have to hunker down in your house for a period of weeks: you should have enough staple foods to last you and your family for a bare minimum of two or three months.

You should not go to the grocery store and find there’s no yeast and no flour on the shelves, to say nothing of no bread. You should have yeast and flour stored in the freezer.

You should not be in a position to run out of clean water should the water processing plants fail or be attacked: you should always have several five-gallon jugs full of fresh water. Once a month, pour one out onto your garden, refill it, and move it to the back, so that you regularly refresh your supply with new water.

You should never run out of detergent and soap and shampoo. You should always have enough in a closet or washroom to last your family several months.

And, let’s be completely frank about this: You should not fear roving mobs of “patriots” rioting to demand that the government shut down or open up under the most irrational circumstances. You should be armed and prepared to defend yourself and your family. And I don’t mean with a baseball bat.