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How to Sanitize Fresh Produce: Kill those Corvid Germs!


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.


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!



The Mattress and the Housework

Wow! MattressFirm was on the ball when it came to delivering the new sack I bought a couple of days ago. They would have delivered it over the weekend, except that I had other plans. They were here bright and early this morning to tote out the tired but still vast and still ridiculously heavy number and bring in the new one.

Pleased to get it, and not bad at-tall! It’s a little firmer than the old one, but that may be because the old one was fifteen years old. And sagging. This one is sag-free. To my surprise, it’s not significantly thinner than the defunct mattress, which when I bought it was pitched as miraculously extra-thick (meaning: you can’t fit your sheets on this thing!) Still not easy to get the sheets on, but there they are now. Even though it’s a little less squishy than I’m used to, it’s very comfortable and restful. So: this is good.

A new addition to the things that have to be taken care of around the house. 😀

The scheme to clean the house one chore at a time, one day at a time is working. Today I cleaned the outdoor furniture, swept the porches and deck, and washed the windows.

Notice that this caused rain to fall. Uncanny power, eh?

Over the past week the floors have been cleaned, the kitchen has been cleaned, the bathrooms have been scrubbed, the bed has been changed and the sheets & laundry washed, the furniture has been dusted, the windows washed, the outdoor living areas cleaned…and I have not knocked myself out even once! Most of these chores take all of about 20 minutes. And interestingly, the house has stayed clean-looking. Steadily neat, tidy, and clean.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before!

More to the point, I don’t know why my mother never thought of it.

Of course, housework and laundering were much bigger, harder jobs in her day. Floors were not covered with tile: they were covered with ugly brown rugs (to match the color of the dirt that would get ground into them over time). A vacuum cleaner…oh, ugh! What a monster machine. Ours was an Electrolux that scooted around on metal runners. It was heavy and clumsy and loud and messy and altogether unpleasant to use. You dragged it from room to room, scrubbing at the carpets with an attachment at the end of a long hose. And if you were unfortunate enough to live in a place with stairs…oh, God!

To clean the toilets you donned rubber gloves and scoured with Comet, a chlorinated powdered cleanser.

There were no dishwashers. You washed, scrubbed, and scoured every dish, pot, and pan by hand, arrayed them in a drainer next to the sink, and then poured a potful of boiling water over them to sanitize. Then you dried them by hand and put them away. There were no clothes dryers: you hung everything on clotheslines in the backyard, including the sheets and blankets (to the extent that you laundered blankets, which for most people was not at all: they were dry-cleaned in toxic chemicals). My mother had a wringer washer that miraculously ran on electricity. You’d drop a load of clothes in it with some detergent; it would fill with warm water and slosh around for awhile. Then you took each piece of  clothing out and ran it through the electrically driven wringer…VERY carefully, lest you catch your fingers or hand in the damn thing. This dropped the clothes into a big concrete tub of cold water, in which you manually sloshed the soap out; then you ran each piece back through the wringer again to squeeze out the rinse water. Then you hauled every damn piece of wet clothing and bedding and table linens into the backyard, where you hung them on clotheslines.

Everything had to be ironed: there was no such thing as no-iron clothing. My mother had a giant table press to iron the sheets, and every week we had to stand at an ironing board to press my father’s khakis, all our own blouses and skirts and slacks, all the table linens…you name it, we ironed it. Some women even ironed their husbands’ BVDs. Men’s shirts were starched: you boiled up a starch solution on the stove, dipped the shirts in that, hung them up to dry, and ironed them crisp. Windows were cleaned with water and newsprint…and lemme tellya, that was a laborious job.

Ah, halcyon days.

My mother had a cleaning day and a washing day and an ironing day. Cleaning house took the better part of a day. Doing it right today does, too, for that matter — only without breaking your back. Laundry was also a half-day project or more. Ironing? Shit, she made me iron until I was blue in the face! But I’m very good at it, to this day.

When we lived in Arabia, we had Pakistani, Goanese, or Indian houseboys. Although my mother still washed and ironed the clothes, Dominic cleaned the house every week. In fact, I think he came around more often than that.

When we came back to the States, my mother must have decided that with a 13-year-old in tow, she was not going to do housework again. So once we got to San Francisco, she made me do all the cleaning. She did the laundry, because that entailed a trip to a coin-op laundry room in the basement of our apartment towers, and I expect she figured it wasn’t safe to send me down there by myself. Sometimes she did make me come along to help, but I was not required to do that job alone.

You had a specific day of the week when you cleaned and another specific day when you did the laundry and another specific day when you ironed clothes. Why, I do not know. Possibly it was the easiest way to force a kid to do it. Or it may simply have been the custom: women cleaned on a given day each week.

Whatever. I will say it did teach me to do housework. And to abominate it. I cannot tell you how much I dislike cleaning house.

But the thing is, it never occurred to me — as I’m sure it never occurred to her — not to do all the house-cleaning on a single day. If it had crossed her mind, I don’t know whether she would have done it. Or if it would have been practical to do so. With lighter, easier-to-use vacuum cleaners and less laborious flooring, vacuuming is a much faster and easier job today. Chemicals that you pour in the toilet and leave to do their job change the nature of bathroom-cleaning, in a big way. Dishwashers transformed women’s lives — truly. You could spend a good two hours a day washing dishes, especially if you had a big family…ah, the good old days. Microwaves worked a similar transformation, freeing women from daily scrubbing of heavy, gunky, greasy pots and pans. And fabrics that don’t have to be ironed? Holey moley!

The mind-set remained though: This is Monday, must be time to clean the house.

But as a practical matter, when you don’t have to work yourself into a sweat to do any one of the apposite chores, it actually makes better sense to spread them evenly over five or six days. It’s easier, it’s less tiring, and it doesn’t spoil an entire day of your life.

Everything you never wanted to know about mattresses and would have preferred not to ask…


Receipt Eradication…

So as you know if you’re been around here long, the ‘Hood is not the most halcyon corner of Lovely Uptown Phoenix. The area is richly decorated with homeless drug addicts, most of whom are harmless. More alarmingly, it’s frequented by burglars, car thieves, porch pirates, and assorted other interesting wildlife. One species of these is the identity thief. These creatures scavenge in the garbage and recycling bins, searching for pieces of paper bearing someone’s identifying information. About 95 percent of the junkmail that the postman brings — just about all that he brings these days, by the bushel — fills that bill. But it can easily be disposed of with my current crook-repellent scheme: drop it in a plastic bag with some dog mounds and a little water and let it marinate for awhile before throwing it in the garbage. That’s fine for the usual junk mail and credit-card offers…but credit- and debit-card receipts are a different critter altogether.

And by this time of year, I’ve got a lot of them. I like to hang onto receipts for awhile, lest I need to return something, confirm that a charge was actually made, or ask some question about a purchase. After a year of stashing random pieces of paper into storage, there’s enough kindling there to set fire to the Parthenon.

Getting rid represents what we call, in capital letters, A Nuisance. My paper shredder will only handle a few at a time. Sitting there running fistful after fistful of receipts through that thing is a time-consuming, eye-glazing hassle. But it’s also a hassle to drive the junk down to the annual community Shred-Fest, stand in line, and keep an eye on the proceedings to be sure whatever you put in there actually does get ground up.

T’other day an INSIGHT visited me: the stuff that’s used to print receipts isn’t actually ink. It’s a sort of powdery substance that’s shot on the (interestingly health-threatening) paper in the shape of letters and numbers. Maybe…just maybe the stuff would rinse off in water. If it would…well! Then you could take the whole pile of debris, toss it in a bucket, pour some water and detergent and maybe a shot of Clorox over it, and voilà! Problem solved.

A brief experiment with this idea showed that, amazingly enough, it works. You don’t even have to swish the paper scraps around in the water: get them wet, and the printout (not the ads on the backsides) fades right away.

Hm. No grinding. No schlepping. No burning. Nice!

Now, there’s one thing you should be aware of, and that is that cash-register receipts are printed on paper that contains toxins: BPA and BPS. This stuff, you don’t want to get on your hands…or inside your pockets, or inside your wallet. But of course you can’t help that unless you decline to accept a receipt or ask for an emailed receipt (creating yet another time-sucking hassle). At any rate, you certainly don’t want to burn these things in the family-room fireplace.

Wot the hell: after seven decades of wallowing in cash-register receipts, I have yet to die. But still: knowing about yet another health hazard, you’ll want to minimize your fiddling with the things — maybe use rubber gloves during the elimination process.

So here’s how this went:

  1. I dumped the collected receipts in a plastic scrub bucket.
  2. Then poured in just enough water to cover them — added a squirt of Dawn detergent.
  3. Let it set while I went on about my business.
  4. Couple hours later, came back to find a bucketful of blank receipts.
  5. These I poured into a sturdy black lawn bag (new, leak-free) set down inside a plastic trash can so as to simplify holding it open.
  6. Dumped the last few days’ collection of dog mounds in on top of the slurry and quickly tied off the top.
  7. Dropped the package into the alley garbage bin.

The papers were already dissolving, so except for the plastic bag (and the BPA…and the BPS…), this stuff should biodegrade fairly fast. You can buy compostable plastic lawn bags at the Depot and at Amazon, and those would be the things to use for this purpose. And for just about any other bagging purpose.

Finally, step 8: wash out the scrub bucket.

Since this bucket is used for mopping the floors, obviously I didn’t want the BPA and the BPS smeared all over the house. It probably would be better to use an old paint can and reserve it just for this purpose. But not having one around…  I placed the bucket in the garage work sink (do not clean out the bucket in a bathroom or kitchen sink or tub, or in any sink that’s likely to be used for cleaning clothes or washing dishes). Dumped in some more Dawn and filled it with the hottest water I could draw out of the tap.

Went off and let it set for another couple of hours. Then came back, scrubbed the bucket with a brush, and poured the contaminated water down the drain.

Rinse out the bucket well after this step, obviously.

Do I like dealing with contaminated paper and contaminated water? Hell, no. But in terms of my own health, it’s probably safer to get it wet than to grind it up and spew powdery BPA/BPS dust into the house’s or the garage’s air. For future reference: to avoid exposure to the stuff through this avenue, ask for an emailed receipt or decline to accept a receipt unless it’s for something you might want to return.

Skeeters! How to keep mosquitoes out of your potted plants

The ’Hood is overrun with mosquitoes after the recent rains. Despite harangues from the County Health Department about cleaning up standing water in the backyard, it seems like we’re enjoying a LOT more skeeters than usual. The City’s clever alley-paving project contributes handsomely to the problem: wherever the workers left low spots, rainwater collects into long-lasting puddles…and in Arizona mosquito eggs can hatch and the babes fly off to chew on their victims in just two or three days. Nor is the situation helped by the guy who lives catty-corner across the alley: not the type to run around dumping water out of standing containers and old tires. Inside the house, though, a less obvious hatchery lurks: the drip dishes under your potted plants.

When you water the plant, of course, excess moisture drains into the dish…and conveniently not onto your floor or tabletop. If the bottom of the pot pretty well covers the bottom of the dish, you may not notice that water can collect there for quite some time — plenty of time for the little ladies to spawn a few dozen flying, biting babes. The other day a friend remarked that there seemed to be more skeeters in the family room than anywhere else in the Funny Farm. Hmmm…we have four potted plants in here, two of them too heavy for me to budge.

With her helping out, the two of us lifted the larger ones out of their pottery nests and LO! there were icky, stagnant puddles beneath both of them. Even though I’d salted the plants’ soil with crumbled-up Bacillus thuringiensis dunk, it seems not to have done the trick.

So: here’s the not-so-very-damned-uselessly-PC trick:

First, clean out the drip dishes. Wash well, removing any mold and algae growing in there. Dry them well.

Next: sprinkle in a layer of coarse gravel. I happen to have a whole front yard full of this stuff, thanks to the xeric landscaping. But you can buy some, if need be, at an aquarium supply store, a big box store, or the ever-present Amazon. (Wouldn’cha know? Amazon has 35 pages of the stuff!) Pat the gravel down to make it level.

Now: you want to saturate these stones with non-organic, non-environmentally friendly dish detergent. Dawn is a sure bet. Dawn detergent kills bugs on contact. Dilute it well with water in a spray bottle, and squirt the diluted detergent onto the gravel layer. This  strategy makes the stuff easy to apply to the gravel and unlikely to harm most houseplants.

And finally: set the plants back in the clean dishes, on top of the layer of soapy gravel.

Et voilà! This accomplishes two purposes with…heh…one stone. First, the Dawn in there will kill any baby mosquitoes that get deposited in the drip water. And second, by lifting the pot up a fraction of an inch, the gravel allows more air to circulate so that drip water evaporates faster and is less given to lingering long enough for mosquito eggs to hatch.