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.

I Are a English Major…

…I are not a accountant! Gaaaahhhhhh!!!!!

Ugh. And Yuch! At the end of last year (that would be about four weeks ago, no?), after I downloaded and itemized an entire year’s worth of data from three credit-union accounts (each of which had several sub-accounts) and two American Express accounts, then itemized the tax-related entries, a halcyon idea fluttered into my by-then dangerously fevered little brain:

If I were to download this garbage once each month, the task would be a LOT less annoying, less exhausting, and less frustrating. Then  come next January 3 or so, the job would be done! I wouldn’t have to sit here for hour after hour after un-fuckingENDING hour struggling with that brainbanging tedious job.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Even, we might say, sensible.

Yes?

Well.

No.

This morning I sat down to whip out the January transactions.

Three hours later…

Y’know…this stuff shouldn’t be that hard. But it is. It is, because anything that is touched by computer technology is fucked up.

Example: It should be simple — right? — to download a month’s worth of data from the credit union into a boring Excel spreadsheet, the avatar of simplicity.

And it is…if you like your data bass-ackwards. For reasons utterly incomprehensible to the 20th-century mind, the credit union insists on presenting transactions in reverse chronological order. There’s no way to make the things appear in a sane order online. So you have to download all that crap into an Excel spreadsheet and then have Excel flip the order.

Not very hard. Annoying, but not hard. EXCEPT…when you’re dealing with half a dozen accounts. Then you have six times the annoyance factor, and that does present a problem.

American Express, which used to present data in normal chronological order, as I recall, has decided it must do the same.: bass-ackward So…there, too: an extra layer of hassle. Extra layer x 2, for two accounts.

The last time I did the annual tax-prep task, I had no trouble downloading data from the AMEX site. Today…no chance. I could NOT see a simple way to download the current statement to disk. Asked their customer service bot or whatever she/he/it is. Got an endless, brain-banging series of ditzy instructions. Told it that I thought life would be much easier if I simply typed the data from the printed statements into Excel. Which is exactly what I did.

Took about 10 or 15 minutes, less than the amount of time I spent grinding my teeth and wrestling with AMEX’s inscrutable website.

Unstuck in time, is what we are. Sorry, young pups: but this 21st-century world you’ve inherited is some precinct of Hell.

How Much Time, Lord…

…is freaking wasted wrestling with computer software?

This afternoon, in one tiny household in the middle of one faceless city parked in the middle of a far-flung desert: three hours. That’s this afternoon alone.

I’ve lost track of the number of hours I’ve spent on the phone with Apple Support, to say nothing of the number of hours consumed by driving back and forth to Apple stores, by trying to figure out a problem by myself, by reconstructing lost data…ohhhh good grief.

Seriously: the Apple Support folks are a godsend. Without them, by now I would have picked up a number of expensive gadgets and thrown them across the room, to collide at a high velocity with a wall.

Which, one might speculate, would be counterproductive.

These computers we all have, all the manifold devices most of us tote around with us: they’re wonderful devices. They allow us to perform feats of data entry and calculation that would have consumed our lives had we tried to do them with a typewriter or an adding machine or a spreadsheet. This is because they do these tasks at outrageous speed, with little need for thought from the user.

So….why does riding herd on the damn things still consume our lives?

It is Saturday evening. A weekend. Remember those? Do you remember them as “free times”? I sure do: once upon a time you didn’t spend your weekends working.

Today I was on the phone with Apple from 3 in the afternoon until 6 — three hours — trying to figure out why Apple’s iCloud keeps nagging me that something is wrong. Wrong? Wrong with a password, we surmise. Between me and the two excellent gents I worked with, we changed my passwords at least three times, in three different venues. Finally we got online and got iCloud to accept the result…only to find that iCloud decided to quit sending my email to my computers.

The second of said gents, gazing upon the little mystery through a direct connection to my computer, quietly performed a bit of prestidigitation and…zap! Undid whatever was done and disappeared both the conundrum and the endlessly nagging, pointless messages.

In the course of this, I lost track of what we were doing, became hopelessly confused, thought I had lost the new passwords, discovered they were not lost after all, and then realized…waitaminit…these passwords we’re using that are now magically working? They’re the same damn passwords we started out with! And yea verily, they’re still all different.

That’s right. We spent three hours farting around and ended up right where we were at the outset. Only with the software inexplicably working.

For the nonce. We’ll see what it’s doing by the break of day.

Here’s what I think about this:

Yes. The 21st century’s astonishing technology does speed our work miraculously. Makes it easier to perform, by far. Makes our product look far more professional than most of us used to be able to produce with a typewriter and a photocopier and a calculator. BUT….no savings in work time ensues.

Vast numbers of hours may be saved in the performance of routine and mind-numbing tasks. But do we use that saved time in worthwhile pursuits like watching soap operas and shopping for underwear? Nooooo….

Hell, no! Any and all free time is devoured by learning new and unnecessary changes in the software and hardware, by trying to keep the software running, and by figuring out and fixing whateverthefuck is wrong when the damn things go down. In fact, I’d venture to say most of us spend more time working, when you add in the time required to learn, relearn, and re-relearn the endlessly morphing technology and in keeping it running, than we ever did at work with our antediluvian tools.

So confusing and baffling are these ubiquitous devices that even the experts get confused. Two of them, over the past few weeks, have told me that the reason for the mysterious nuisance messages from iCloud was that the passwords on my two Mac computers are different. The key, they felt, lay in syncing passwords. Ideally, I gathered, the same password should be used for both computers. And possibly it should be used for iCloud, too.

After all that wrestling to make this happen, after finding a gigantic glowing golden FAIL at the end of that rainbow, this evening the guy who answered the phone at Apple said…well…noooo… The computers’ passwords do not have to be the same.

Make up your minds, guys!

This one, it appears, was right. We ended up with different passwords for the MacBook, the aging iMac, and iCloud…and with the click of a couple of buttons on his ends, he magically disappeared the iCloud problem.

What the problem ultimately was, I have no clue. Nor do I want to have a clue.

THIS is not what I got a Ph.D. in English literature and history for…