Staying Healthy in Third-World America

This fine warning comes to us regarding fresh peaches purchased in Aldi stores.

We don’t yet have Aldi here in lovely Arizona, though the chain is planning four discount emporia in our garden state. Doesn’t matter though: the principle applies across the board: We’re not in Kansas anymore…

It’s unclear from this opaque article whether we’re talking about fresh whole peaches sold in bags, or sliced refrigerated or frozen peaches. However, it looks like probably they’re talking about fresh whole peaches. So, here’s a message from 1955, courtesy of US citizens living in lovely Saudi Arabia, where ALL fresh produce was assumed to be contaminated with this, that, or the ’tother fecal bacteria. It applies now as it did then, back before the US was a Third-World country:

Before bringing any fresh produce into the house, fill a kitchen sink (or, if you have it, MUCH better: a garage or workroom sink) with soapy water. Dawn is really good: a generous squirt of Dawn in a sinkful of cold water.  But any dish detergent or laundry detergent will do the job.

Gently submerge the produce in the soapy water. Let the produce sit there while you go on about your business for a few minutes; videlicet:

a) In another sink, wash your hands in soap and water

b) Bring in the rest of the groceries.

c) As needed, wash other (non-produce) groceries in the kitchen sink, using soap and water.

d) Drain the kitchen sink, rinse off groceries, and place them to drain dry or wipe them dry with towels. Toss towels in washer.

e) Put these groceries away.

f) Return to the sink where the produce is soaking. Wash each piece with soap and water (that is: your produce is sitting in detergent water — say, Dawn or Ivory + water — and now you take a bar of good strong soap and wash each piece with the soap under running water.

g) Rinse well, and set these aside to drain dry

h) After 15 or 20 minutes or so, to the extent the produce is still damp, wipe it dry with clean toweling.

i) Then, and only then, put it away in the refrigerator or in whatever cool place where you store it.

Got it? Wash produce in detergent, bar soap, and water; wash your hands in soap and water; rinse produce well; drain produce dry; refrigerate produce. Pray for the best.

Ideally, items that have tough skins — such as citrus and melons — should be doused briefly with dilute Clorox and rinsed well before storing.

If it is revealed to us moderns that we’re talkin’ about refrigerated or frozen processed peaches: cook the damn things before eating them. 

This was what we had to do with when my family and I lived in Saudi Arabia, where the produce we bought in the local commissary was likely to have been grown in fields fertilized with human waste. Very little that was brought into camp from nearby Middle Eastern countries was safe to eat, at least not by “Western” standards. By the 1950s, most produce and meat you bought stateside, in ordinary U.S. grocery stores and supermarkets, was safe enough to eat that consumers did not typically obsess about sanitizing every bite. But once you were outside the industrialized world…well…you took your life in by your hands if you chose to get careless about any detail of sanitation.

Who would think that half a century later, we here in the Good Ole USofA would find ourselves living in a Third-World Country?

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 Coconut Furniture Oil Jamboree

Couple of days ago, I’m sitting here on the bed, reach for a glass of water, and wap! knock over a container of coconut oil that’s sitting there.

Dayum! Coconut oil is usually more like butter, congealed into a soft, greasy solid. But in this heat, the stuff melts and turns to liquid, kind of like olive oil. Only sweet-smelling. Naturally, the lid was loose (wouldn’tcha know it) and so oil spilled all over the top of the nightstand.

Jump up, haul the lamp and phone off the table, and run for the paper towels! I was, as you might imagine, pissed. But…after the mess was cleaned up, I thought…waitaminit here! This old nightstand looks great!

“Old” is the operative word for this piece. My mother bought it as part of a set when we came back to the States after 10 years in lovely Saudi Arabia, living with steel company furniture. That was in 1958: sixty-two years ago. It was nice furniture and it’s been reasonably well cared for, but as you can imagine, it’s got some wear & tear on it.

Was it greasy? No, not after I buffed the oil off. It was very nicely polished.

Huh. Who’d’ve thunk it?

Well, not surprisingly, plenty of folks have thunk it: naturally, I google this phenomenon and discover any number of websites describing the use of coconut oil as furniture polish. Many of them suggest adding lemon juice, whose purpose escapes me. Some even suggest it can be used to oil raw wood.

So this morning I took it into my feeble little head to take on a major project: re-oil all the kitchen cabinets.

Tried the coconut oil scheme in an unobtrusive corner. Darned if it didn’t…look pretty darned good. Oiled the whole cabinet: hot diggety!!!!!!!  Gorgeous, and it doesn’t stink! So launched into the project (which needs to be done once or twice a year, willy nilly) of oiling all the kitchen cabinets.

This coconut oil idea is inspired. When the stuff slopped on the nightstand, I was a) surprised it didn’t ruin the finish and b) impressed at the result of wiping it off and polishing. Coconut oil smells good (as opposed to the scary petrochemical odor of furniture polishes and waxes), and it’s good for your hands. The odor doesn’t linger after you’ve buffed the wood dry.

Now I’ve got the hang of it.

  • Clean the table or cabinetry first.
  • Rub on the oil with a soft rag — actually, I used a pad made with medical gauze.
  • Then wipe it off and buff vigorously with a clean rag…in this case, an old washcloth.

I ended up spending a nice slab of the day polishing the kitchen cabinets, quite the little project. The result? It looks really nice…well worth the work.

How to Sanitize Fresh Produce: Kill those Corvid Germs!

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So there you are in the grocery store, one of the few moments when desperation drives you to enter a public place, and you buy a bunch of lettuce and apples and oranges and melons and whatnot… Things that you would normally eat without cooking them. But what if another shopper or three has breathed on the stuff? God help us, what if someone has even coughed on it?

Well, you know, in a time when a contagion spread by contact with surfaces holds forth, that is a real concern.

When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, back in the Dark Ages, I learned a method for sanitizing fruit and salad produce, a technique that was taught to all the women in camp.

All produce sold through the camp commissary was farmed in the Middle East. At the time, fields there were fertilized with human waste, and so any scrap of fresh lettuce, veggies, or fruit was likely contaminated with amoebic dysentery organisms. The way to sanitize this produce was as follows:

Rinse your produce first and set it aside. Fill a large pot or the kitchen sink with dilute Clorox — about a tablespoon of chlorine bleach per gallon to a sink full or kettle full of cold water. (My mother used more Clorox than that, she being she.) The water should have a slight chlorine odor. Do not used fancified variants of Clorox: no scented version, no Splashless, no High Efficiency, no other b.s. You want just plain old-fashioned Clorox. Submerge the produce in the chlorinated water and let it set for 20 minutes to an hour. Drain the sink, refill, and slosh all the produce around in clean water; drain again and then refill and rinse again. Finally  rinse each item well under running water before letting it drain dry and putting it away in the refrigerator.

This method does not work safely on items that are porous, such as strawberries. Consequently we couldn’t buy things like strawberries and raspberries in the commissary. Also, leafy greens, such as lettuce, will wilt quickly after being treated with Clorox, so you need to eat them within a few hours after sanitizing them.

An alternative to Clorox is iodine water sanitizing pills for campers. You can use common household iodine for this purpose, too: about 5 drops per quart. If you’re using the tablets, which you can get at sporting goods store & probably at Amazon, as I recall it’s 2 tablets per quart. It takes about 30 minutes to disinfect.

Better yet: cook everything before you eat it. 😉

Updates: Bleach and Bugs

Item: The no-chlorine, oxygen laundry bleach.

Holy mackerel. Since the stuff seems to have disappeared from the nearby grocery stores’ shelves and I couldn’t even get it from Amazon, I dropped by a Fry’s Marketplace (Kroger’s) on the way home from an appointment with Young Dr. Kildare. And yes: I did find it there. Try to guess the price…

SIXTEEN BUCKS for 88 ounces! That’s 16 cents an ounce….

So pretty clearly this is a product that’s being taken off the market. I was going to buy two bottles of it, but thought I really couldn’t afford that.

I’ve already looked at Target — they don’t have the stuff, in any brand.

Tomorrow morning I’ll go over to the Walmart — the full-service Walmart, not the grocery-store version, which we already know doesn’t carry it. Failing that, I may drive back halfway to the White Tanks to grab another bottle of it at the astonishing price. Which is, we may say in glorious understatement, not what I want to do just now.

Once the stuff is no longer available, though, it looks like you can use plain hydrogen peroxide in its place. And in the glorious tradition of the great Trent Hamm, the grand-daddy of all personal finance bloggers, you could combine the H2O2 with washing soda, fifty-fifty, to make your own DIY knockoff.

Personally, I feel washing soda is, as chemicals go, a little harsher than I want to use on my clothing and sheets, especially in the new-fangled washers that don’t do a very good job of rinsing the laundry. So I think once actual laundry-quality O2 bleach is gone, I’ll be using just plain hydrogen peroxide, available in gay abandon from Costco.

At any rate…it’s annoying. Personally, I’m damn tired of seeing every product that works taken out of our sticky little hands.

Item: Pounding on Death’s Door

The bastards still aren’t letting me in!

Source: Merck Manual

Schlepped across the Valley to see Young Dr. Kildare, with whom I had a long-standing appointment. He was less than thrilled with some of my reports from the battle scene at the Mayo.

To start with, he reviewed the contents of this year’s annual physical from the Mayo and was surprised that my assigned doc there did not flag what he believes to be unacceptably high cholesterol levels. That, I think, is arguable: some might say they’re marginally high but do not yet need medication. He would put me on a med right now.

We compromised: I agreed to lay off the booze (pretty easy, since I haven’t even been able to look at a bottle of beer or wine since this damn bug set in), and he agreed to stand by for four months. Silently, I also decided to replace my regular breakfast fare of several pieces of high-quality cheese with something a little less…rich. He doesn’t know about the roquefort, the cheddar, and the assorted other spectacular dairy products with which I regularly start my days, and he ain’t about to know. 😉

Nor was he pleased to learn that the Mayo had scheduled no follow-up testing for the UTI. He felt I should head for a lab in a few weeks for another urinalysis, to be sure the E. coli in question is really, truly GONE gone.

Although this is somewhat questionable, given my age and the fact that the antibiotic made me so sick I couldn’t take an entire course uninterrupted, it made sense to me. And one good thing about doing this through his office is that he uses labs that are close to my house, as opposed to demanding that I schlep 15 miles across the Valley to use the Mayo’s facilities.

As for the present respiratory ailment that still has me barking like a sea lion, he characterized that not as a “cold” (Mayo’s diagnosis) but as bronchitis, no doubt viral. When I said I’d never had a stuffy nose with the thing, that was what elicited his present opinion. He wants to keep an eye on that, too.

Well, I think the respiratory thing is on the way out, though I’m still so exhausted that at this very moment I can barely type these words. The cough and the fatigue will, if prior experience speaks truth, continue for another four to six weeks, at which point the whole mess should start to pass.

I hope.

Household Laziness

Dog-hair-in-vacuumSo…what with the dental surgery coming along just as two large paying projects landed on my desk, I’ve allowed my laziness about household chores to get completely out of hand. The chore-a-day scheme worked exceptionally well until I let it go, not feeling well enough to be bothered with scrubbing bathrooms and mopping floors.

Beloved Cleaning Lady stopped coming regularly quite some time ago, which was fine by me, first because spreading the chores out over seven days a week makes the housecleaning plenty manageable and second because I can’t afford to have her show up here very often. She proposed to come by once a month, but as a practical matter, she’s not getting here that often.

However, in the absence of Cassie the (Long-Haired!) Corgi, cleaning help is scarcely needed. Cassie shed a lot of hair. Ruby hardly sheds at all. The dog dunes have disappeared, and if it’s not raining the floors actually can be maintained simply by swiffering and light mopping, since the house is completely tiled. Two dogs track in a lot more dirt than one: Ruby hardly makes any mess on the floors. And since I do most of my cooking on the barbecue these days, the kitchen doesn’t get very dirty, either.

This means each of the proposed daily chores is pretty lightweight.

That notwithstanding…letting it go does pose a problem. After two weeks of loafing, the place needed to be cleaned, even if not very desperately.

Conveniently and out of the blue, though, Beloved Cleaning Lady emailed and said she wanted to come tomorrow for a major housecleaning frenzy. Great! said I. She does a lot better job with these chores than I do, and so if she comes in and gets the place shoveled out, I’ll be able to keep the mess at bay for another month or two.

But then yesterday she emailed to say she’s not feeling well and isn’t coming in as scheduled.

Alas.

Meanwhile, though, I had weaseled out of SDXB’s planned day-waster, so — with the exception of needing to finish a chapter in one of the current client’s books — that left today and tomorrow to do the work myself.

😀

And then some…

The pool is hazing up again. This, it develops, is symptomatic of algae growth…and yup…a test this afternoon showed the chlorine level was again down to nil. This, even though I’ve returned to using the big tablets in the floater.

With this new surface, I guess, I’m going to have to test the water every day. That is what we call a nuisance. Of (heh!) the first water. The pool seems to run out of chlorine very quickly.

As soon as the sun is low enough this evening, I’ll add a couple gallons of liquid chlorine. That seems to do the trick, where the granulated chlorine and the tabs fail. Have to wait until the sun is no longer shining on the surface — sunlight quickly degrades chlorine. And of course, I’ll have to let the pump run overnight, jacking up the power bill again. pbhthpbhthpbhthph

The weather has been so bizarrely cool this spring, the water is still too cold to swim in — and it’s the end of May! That is weird!

Did get into it for a few minutes this afternoon, but it’s pretty bracing. And of course now I won’t be able to go in again until the chlorine levels drop to a more or less safe level.

At any rate, the problem pretty surely is that I’ve been letting it go. I need to set a time each day to go out there and check and adjust the chemicals. That — can you imagine? — would resolve the problem.

But in the meantime: today in BCL’s absence I changed the sheets and ran the laundry, so now will get to spend the evening ironing in front of streaming Amazon shows. Wheee!