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?

Of Retail, Runners, Recession, and…Birds?

Yesterday I ordered a few things from Costco via Instacart. One of these was a 50# bag of birdseed. I’d sent them a message that I’d have a wheelbarrow ready, so we could just slide the bag out of the runner’s car into that and I’d roll it into the backyard — with the exception of one young male, most of their runners seem to be willowy young women.

What shows up at the door are not one but two joyous, hefty, and energetic lesbians. I say, I’ll bring round the wheel barrow. One of the women says no problem, I’ll carry it…where do you want it? 

So I let them in the back gate and the gal lifts that massive, inert sack of bird seed and strolls into the backyard with it like it weighed about as much as a three-month-old. The other one is the chatty type, and so she and I are having a good time yakking. I end up thanking them mightily for the hauling job (and giving them a generous tip). The chatty one says they just moved down here from Vegas because they couldn’t make a living up there. They got laid off their jobs in those gilded precincts and started working for Instacart to keep food on the table…and not much food. She said Instacart has a minimum payment to their runners of $7 per trip. But time after time, they — the two wymmen — would get orders for something in the range of seven bucks. So that means that if Suzie Q orders $7 worth of goods from Sprouts, Instacart makes nothing on the transaction.

Nothing!!! Think o’ that!

And think of what it implies for the runner: Here in lovely Phoenix, it takes me about 10 minutes to drive to Costco…5 to park and hike into the store. A typical Costco store covers about three acres. Let’s see…hmmmm… You trot to the far end of the store and you buy a bag of toilet paper (if you can find it), picking up stuff along the way: 15 minutes. Now go back out, 5 minutes to the car, after standing in the check-out line about 8 minutes. Now another 15 minutes to get to the customer’s house… That’s almost an hour. Seven bucks an hour…and you pay for gas, wear & tear on your vehicle, and car insurance out of that. If I’m not mistaken, you’re now deep in negative territory…

Here Instacart has a minimum order of $35…or at least, that was what I understood. Maybe that’s a local policy? She said they were already doing better here than  they were in Vegas, anyway.

§ § §

A-A-A-N-D this morning it’s another amazing adventure here at the Funny Farm! 😀

Ruby wanders out into the front courtyard where what should she find but a baby bird on the ground. Looks like an infant mockingbird. Or thrasher, maybe. The bird panics when Ruby goes over and sniffs at it. I call the dog off and pick up the babe, literally seconds before the watering system kicks in.

It’s frantic.

Bring it into the house and tuck it into an old checkbook box.

My neighbor Joel is out in front, teaching his high-school kids online. I annoy him by breaking into whatever he’s doing — because I know he and his kids have rescued wild birds before and think maybe the high-school has some kind of program for said rescue. He says no, he took the last bird down to Liberty Wildlife… South of two freeways. South of the river. Deep in one of the dankest slums this side of Albuquerque.

Ohhhhkayyyyy…. I try to figure out if there’s an alternative.

…Not so much.

Secure the nestling inside the box with a loosely wrapped paper towel, so air can get in and (i hope…) the bird can’t get out. Fortunately, it’s too exhausted and terrorized to try to escape. Climb in the tank, tune in the cowboy station, and start drivin’ drivin’ drivin’…..

Ohhhhh dear God, i hate driving in Phoenix….

But it’s not the usual teeth-jarring horrible drive. Only two morons cut in front of me. One idiot marches purposefully against the red light across a major intersection. Two construction zones. One really sad, heartbreaking bum, so, sooooooo stoned, one would say stoned out of his head but he apparently was out of his head to begin with, and so skinny, like either he never eats or the meth really burns the calories for him or maybe a bit of both. One pimp, dressed to the nines with his hair dyed orange, strolling past a strip club. Two railroad crossings, thank God neither of them occupied by stalled freight trains. Only one 737 shriekin’ in low across south 24th Street. Traffic relatively light. All in all, not a bad day for a drive.

Get down there and find the place with no problem. There’s only one person in front of me at the drop-off window, also turning in a lost baby bird.

Chat with the staff. The front desk supervisor told me they’d probably take in a hundred baby birds today.

Why? There hasn’t been any wind to knock them out of their nests…whaaa?

“It’s just the season,” says he. This happens every spring. And, he added, Liberty Wildlife takes in TEN THOUSAND BABY BIRDS A YEAR!

Holy mackerel!

It’s a huge facility. I gave them a little donation.

And drivin’ away thought…..hhhhmmmmmm….. If I have to drop out of choir because of the covid sh*t, that would be a place to volunteer.

So I’ll keep that in mind.

10,000 lost chicks a year. Think of that!

Planning Ahead: The NEXT Covid Epidemic

So…as all of us already knew (except apparently the eager beavers intent on turning a few bucks by lifting the quarantine before it made sense to do so), we’re being told that by this fall we can expect a second wave of the covid-19 plague. From the git-go, epidemiologists have been predicting this — and suggesting it’s likely to be even worse than what we’ve seen so far.

While the dust is partly settled, anyone with half a brain should be preparing for this. A new flare-up will entail even more frantic stockpiling and hoarding, and even worse shortages of food and household goods than we’re already seeing. Now is the time to learn some lessons from the Mormons and build a stash of frozen and nonperishable foods to last at least three and preferably six months.

Basically, what they suggest is that you build up your cache a little at a time: when you go to the grocery store, buy what your family needs…and then some. In other words, if you would normally buy one week’s worth of food, buy two weeks’ worth. That is, buy an extra month’s worth of storeable rations every 30 days. Once you have enough to cover a year, keep it fresh by using a little and then replacing it with each shopping trip.

I think this is a good idea, but…we don’t have that much time.

What we here at the Funny Farm do have is $1200 stuffed in our pocket from Uncle Sam. I propose to use that money to begin building a store of food and necessaries that will last at least six months.

First off, it seems to me we have two categories of goods in this department: one is household items, and one is food items.

We know that when the panic buying began a couple months ago, the first thing people ran for was paper towels and toilet paper. Soooo…. Now that those things are available again, clearly they should be at the top of the list of things to stash in the storage closet. To that I would add batteries, propane, laundry detergent, dish detergent, window cleaner, soap, shampoo, disinfectant.

So, calculate how much you use over, say, a month, and buy six times that much. I personally don’t use all that much of these goods, so a single Costco junket could fill up the garage storage closet with enough  to last for half a year. If something is being rationed, then it’s a matter of visiting several stores a number of times, accruing as much as you can and stashing it in storage.

Don’t have enough room in your home to hold a six- to twelve-month supply of household goods? Well…what’s to stop you from renting a storage unit? Paper towels don’t have to be refrigerated, and neither do foods that are not fresh or frozen — that is, canned goods and dried foods such as rice, pasta, and beans. Find the space to keep the stuff you know you’re going to need in the near- and middling future, and get it now, while things are relatively quiet.

Now…food is somewhat more problematic. I have a chest freezer that, organized properly, will hold a fair amount of stuff, and of course the refrigerator in the kitchen also has a small freezer. I would be surprised if these two, together, would hold six months worth of meat, vegetables, and other perishables. But I sure intend to try. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll buy another freezer. Better to spend a chunk of your government dole on food ahead of time than have to thrash around to get your hands on enough to provide a decent diet. Or enough toilet paper… 😀

Too, consider that you don’t need perishable foods to create meals that provide protein and nutrients to keep you healthy, especially if you supplement your stores with some salad greens & veggies from the garden. A combination of legumes (such as beans or lentils) with rice produces the complete protein that you get from meat, chicken, or fish. My plan is to continue doing exactly what I’m doing now: alternate vegetarian days with meat-eating days. This means that instead of having to buy 180 days’ worth of meat and fish, I’ll only need 60 days’ worth, which even my small trunk freezer will hold. Creative vegetarian dishes are good to eat and usually cost a fraction of a meal with a meat entrée.

Especially now that the cost of meat has gone through the roof. At one local grocer here, I saw beefsteak on offer for $22 a pound!

Pet food would also need to be stashed. Early on in the covid panic, I made a grocery-store run for friends who were in their 90s. They were concerned, among other things, about getting their cat’s preferred chow.

Couldn’t find even a tiny can of it on the shelves of two supermarkets. Had to substitute…and with cats, heaven only knows if the critter will eat it. Soo…. In the course of stockpiling human food, it would be wise to build a store of pet food, too.

To feed the corgi for six months (she eats just under 1/2 pound a day), I’d need 13 or 14 large rolls of fancy commercial dog food….or 6 to 12 packages of Costco pork shoulder (depending on the package size) and 12 packages of boneless chicken thighs.  If you feed your dog kibble, you’d need to extrapolate 6 months’ worth from the amount you feed per day. I use kibble as treats, and so would probably need only one small bag.

So. This is going to be a project. Obviously I can’t bring that much stuff into the house in one swell foop. I’ll have to buy a little at a time over the next few weeks. Costco is rationing meat, so I may have to put my son up to buying pork shoulder and chicken thighs for the dog food.

A-n-n-n-d….just as I get this all figured out and a long-term list organized, Excel goes into a Spinning Mandala of Death! Dayum. I hate computers!


Recovered most of it.

This is a project I need to start very soon. Step one, though, will be to clean out and organize the freezers!



Gasoline in the Age of Covid

Wow! Just ran down to the Costco to fill up on gas, the word from On High being that the state will “re-open” in two days. That is much, much too soon. It’s as if our honored governor is saying, “Please, God, give us a resurgence! Maybe it’ll kill off my political rivals.” But whatever: it is what it is. Or will be…

So I figured I’d better get gas now, before a) the endless waits in line are back and b) the prices go soaring back up.

Cruised right up to a pump — no wait, zero-point-zero zero! Hot dang…a first in the history of Costco shopping.

The car needed less than half a tankful. It was 2/3 full when the covid quarantine came crashing down on us. Over the past two months, I’ve burned less than 1/8 of a tank driving down to my son’s house and making a verboten run on AJ’s. That’s it. No drivey, no buyee gasolinee.

Price? A dollar a gallon less than I paid the last time I filled up. From $2.85 down to $1.85.

You can be sure they’ll raise the price at least back to what it was before the shut-down. Probably higher.

Have you looked at food prices in your favorite grocery stores? I’m not usually very sensitive to prices — I tend to buy what I need and not worry about what it costs. But… $22 a pound for beefsteak did get my attention.

One of the weirdnesses of being locked up for two months is that you forget routine stuff that previously was so internalized it was like breathing.

For example, I failed to recall that Costco does not take American Express anymore, no way no how. Because Costco is a membership deal, to buy gas there you have to insert your membership card in the pump before you insert your credit card. First time I went by there, a few days ago, I forgot the membership card annoyance and so, in disgust, left without pumping gas. Today I dutifully ran the card through the reader (twice…). Then stuck in a charge card.

“Get lost! We don’t take American Express,” quoth the gas pump.

This negated the transaction, so now I had to drag out the membership card and jump through that hoop…again. Then stick in a debit card.

The fill-up cost $17.

Refilling that vehicle normally costs just upwards of $30. That is, yes, about $60 a month for the privilege of driving around the crazy-making streets of Phoenix.

It occurs to me that some important penny-pinching lessons are to be learnt from the covid adventure. One is pretty  obvious:

The less you drive around, the less you’ll spend on gasoline.

Okay. But there’s a corollary.

The less you drive around, the less you’ll spend on anything.

The less you spend on groceries, for example. Why? Because if you can spare only a limited number of trips, then you will plan your meals and your grocery lists more carefully. You’ll diddle away a whole lot less on impulse buys and afterthoughts at the grocery store. And you’ll spend lots less on restaurants if you have some reason not to go driving around to get a meal that can easily be prepared in your kitchen.

You’ll ask yourself things like Do I really need a haircut right this minute? Can I go for a week or two without it? Or can I wait a few days or a week before running to the [grocery store] [drugstore] [Target] [Costco] [whatEVER]? Or Why am I schlepping to a restaurant when I can get a delivery service to pick it up for me? Or Do I really need to drive to a movie theater when I have a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription?

I suspect the shape of America’s economy will indeed be changed permanently, as some pundits speculate. And that will happen because we will have figured out or remembered truths that we have forgotten.