Steel yourself — May 27, 2020

Steel yourself

As you might recall, dear readers, I recently devote this space to the saga of a mouse that had chosen the back of my stove as his/her final resting place. Well, a few weeks later, I opened the door that leads from the house to the garage, only to be greeted by an odor that I recognized as dead vermin.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to find the dead mouse, which had chosen an aging, blue plastic trash can as his/her final resting place. I held a private service for the departed vermin and, in the ensuing days, I wondered about the mouse’s cause of death. It couldn’t have died at the hands of the cat army. They’re not allowed out of the main house. Had it suffered a heart attack? Do mice have heart attacks?

Regardless, I eventually quit thinking about the matter. That is, I did until the morning I found another dead mouse in the aging, blue plastic trash can.

Of course, I didn’t have much time to consider that two mice had chosen that particular household item as their final resting place. Why’s that? Because a few hours later, I found a snake sleeping in my garage.

I reacted as any sensible person would – I screamed, jumped into my car, and fled the garage. As I did so, I could hear words of wisdom spoken by my mom – “If a mouse can get in, a snake can get in.”

Vowing to avoid the garage until I had backup, I returned the next day with an expert who pointed out a few holes and advised that I fill those holes with steel wool and foam.

After I procured the supplies, a few helpers and I braved the garage. Luckily, we found no vermin or snakes, dead or alive. We did find remnants of vermin visits as well as additional holes. We spent dozens of minutes plugging holes in that scorching garage.

We eventually finished our task – or so we had thought – and my helpers left. As I was collecting my supplies, I decided to gaze upward. There, I spied several holes around the garage door brackets. I also spied two fractured electrical outlets – one on the ceiling and one on the wall – that needed to be replaced.

I eventually finished my task, but not before learning a valuable lesson – it’s not a good idea to mix steel wool and electricity. Let’s just say sparks flew.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

There’s an app for that for a reason — May 26, 2020

There’s an app for that for a reason

If you read this-here space last week, you might remember that I left you with a cliffhanger. Due to my own actions, I had lost my Walmart Grocery Pickup timeslot. Thus, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to procure a Barbie for my great-niece’s kindergarten graduation or bananas for a nanner pudding.

As it turns out, my sister had scheduled a pickup time (no surprise there), so she added the Barbie to her order and my great-niece squealed with delight when she received her surprise. And as it turns out, I had already scheduled a trip to the Food City, so I added bananas to that list.

But what of the third part of my cliffhanger? Did I obtain a replacement time slot?

Yes.

You might be saying to yourself, “Self, I wonder how it went?”

Wonder no longer. Overall, I had a pleasant pickup experience and plan to use the service again. Indeed, I still can’t believe that all I had to do was zip into a parking space, wait a few minutes, and then leave with a backseat full of groceries and supplies.

Of course, I do have a couple quibbles. For starters, if they don’t have an item, they make substitutions. I had no problem with three of their four substitutions. But my taste buds had been looking forward to enjoying the Supercenter’s bakery fresh shortbread cookies. So, imagine their disappointment when they received sugar cookies.

We live to learn, and I learned that we can refuse substitutions. (By the way, I found a good home for the sugar cookies.)

My other quibble involves cereal. One of my first tasks was to add two boxes of generic cereal to my cart. But when I checked the cart a few days later, I saw that the cereal was no longer available. So, I added one box of brand cereal.

So, imagine my surprise when I spied three boxes of cereal in my car. (On an unrelated topic…I also ended up with enough spaghetti to feed a family of 12 for a year, but that’s on me.)

Anyway, I close with a few words on the Grocery Pickup app. When I announced my pickup plans to my family, I received a message from my niece. Knowing that my slight paranoia prevents me from embracing too many apps, she asked how I planned to proceed with my order.

“Through the website,” answered I.

“Hmm,” responded she.

On the morning of my pickup, I received an email from the Supercenter, advising me that my order was ready and asking me to let them know when I was on my way.

It took me about three seconds to realize I would need to download the app to proceed with my order. I sent my niece a message that read, in part, “I have to install that expletive app. Are you happy?”

She must have been overjoyed because she sent me a laughing-until-you-cry emoji. So, my pickup experience was pleasant for her, too.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Pickup line — May 13, 2020

Pickup line

I have been borderline obsessed with Walmart’s grocery pickup since it came into existence last year. Firstly, I couldn’t understand why the company considered it good business sense to pay someone to shop for customers. (I eventually learned that the service represents another way they’re trying to stay competitive with Amazon.) Secondly, I’ve been on the verge of placing a pickup order too many times to count, only to  waller on the idea for so long that I eventually ran out of time and supplies, necessitating trips to the store.

Of course, my needs dictate that I go to the Supercenter only once every six weeks. So, it’s not like the grocery pickup would save me dozens of hours. Besides, I enjoy my occasional treks to the store.

But that was before the coronavirus. Nowadays, entering buildings not my own generates too much stress. Thus, it seemed like the perfect time to place my first pickup order.

Before doing so, I consulted my sister and nieces for advice. After all, they are grocery pickup experts and keep those associates busy. Then, I logged on, selected a pickup time, and started adding to my shopping cart.

Let’s start with the good news. I appreciate that I can instantly learn which items are on the shelves and instantly see the total of my selected items. You might be thinking to yourself, “Self, has she never before done ‘online’ shopping? Is she not familiar with the process?”

No, this is not my first foray into online shopping. But I’ve never before purchased groceries via a device. And as I saw the order total rise, I asked myself questions like, “Do I really need food?”

Anyway, here’s the not as good news. I’m not sure this process has saved time. That is not meant as a criticism of the Supercenter. It’s my fault for wallering over which box of lens wipes to add to the cart and comparing and contrasting the merits of various brands and sizes of crushed pineapples. Besides, at least I was able to do my shopping from the comfort of my home whilst watching TV and wearing pajamas.

Regardless, the grocery pickup did save me from outfitting myself with clothing, mask, and gloves/old socks, so all’s well. Right?

Not so fast.

I started my grocery shopping on a Sunday and selected a pickup time for the following Saturday. But I misunderstood my sister’s instructions. I thought she said I didn’t have to check out until a few hours before my selected time.

Wrong.

So, imagine my surprise when I clicked checkout Friday evening and received a message that I had lost my pickup time.

Questions flooded my confused mind: Would I be able to select another time that fit my schedule? How would I get bananas for the nanner pudding I had planned to make? And, most importantly, how would I procure the Barbie I had ordered for my great-niece’s kindergarten “graduation?”

Tune in next week for the answers to those questions and more.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Watching the wheels — April 29, 2020

Watching the wheels

If my TV was on in the 7 p.m. hour during my pre-pandemic existence, then it was usually tuned to some sort of sporting event. Alas, just as with not being able to see my great-niece and great-nephew or make random trips to Dollar General and Big Lots, sports represents something else I’ve had to learn to live without. Well, sort of. I’ve taken advantage of a free subscription to NFL’s Game Pass and I’ve devoted dozens of hours to classic Olympics coverage. What’s more, as of this writing, my TV is tuned to a classic Major League Baseball game.

But during the aforementioned 7 p.m. hour, I’ve returned to two old favorites – “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

Indeed, for decades I had a nightly date with “Jeopardy!” The show was also a favorite of my dad, who pronounced it as Jefferdee. At some point, though, I fell out of the habit of watching every evening. Oh, I would watch both game shows here and there and sometimes for several nights in a row, but I can’t say that either resumed being part of my daily routine.

That is, they weren’t until the coronavirus.

One evening, with no sports on and with “Magnum, P.I.” airing an episode I had seen a couple weeks prior, I decided to flip the flicker to “Wheel.” It comforted me to see that Vanna White was still lovely and sweet and that Pat Sajak was still ingratiatingly sarcastic.

But I have two complaints with the show. Firstly, it has too many toss-up puzzles. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, it means the puzzle is revealed one letter at a time and the contestant who correctly guesses wins $1,000 or $2,000.

To the best of my recollection, the last time I watched they had only three toss-up puzzles, which was already excessive. Sure, toss-ups throw money at the contestants, who don’t have to spin the wheel and, thus, run the risk of hitting a bankrupt or lose a turn. But it also reduces the drama because viewers know the contestants won’t lose any money or turns.

Secondly, the rules regarding winning $1 million make me borderline angry. In order to win the million bucks, a contestant must hit the million dollar wedge, call a letter, successfully solve that puzzle, win that round, and win the game without hitting bankrupt.

If you assume that the contestant will then win $1 million if he or she successfully solves the bonus round puzzle, you would be wrong. If you haven’t watched in several seasons, during the bonus round the winning contestant spins another wheel containing envelopes that represent money and prizes. If the contestant has hit and held onto the million dollar wedge, the envelope that usually represents $100,000 is replaced with a million. This means that the contestant still has to correctly solve the puzzle, which I endorse, and hit the million dollar envelope to win the big bucks.

I do not endorse that nonsense. If a contestant makes it that far and still has the million dollar wedge, he or she shouldn’t even have to spin the second wheel.

Somehow, this extra hurdle has not rendered it impossible to win a million on “Wheel.” In fact, three contestants have done so.

Of course, I guess I should just be happy that they’re not throwing a million dollars at contestants who solve those ridiculous toss-up puzzles.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Shed light on — April 22, 2020

Shed light on

Due to the coronavirus, I’ve had to make adjustments to my life including, but not limited to, working remotely, wearing masks to the store, and staying healthy at home.

Oh, and I’ve been doing a little something called cooking.

As I’ve mentioned before in this-here space, it’s not that I’m a bad cook. It’s just that I don’t cook much, basically, because I don’t need to cook. At least I didn’t need to cook. After all, until recently, I took most of my lunches in a cafeteria that provided me with salads, various selections of meats and vegetables, and pastas. For dinner, I subsisted on cereal, frozen foodstuff, or leftovers. Take it from me, being a picky eater whose food choices mimic a child’s has its advantages.

But a couple days into working remotely, it suddenly occurred to me that my cupboards and fridge contained no vegetables. Or much food at all for that matter. I created a list and braved a trip to the store. I’m happy to report that I’ve become adept at steaming veggies. I’ve also been experimenting with marinades and expanding beyond grilling meats to baking them.

Indeed, I’ve created many yummy meals comprising such delicacies as baked chops, mashed potatoes, and steamed mixed veggies.

Yet no matter how good the meals taste, I always experience pangs of guilt when I gaze upon the stacks of dirty dishes crowding the sink and counters.

Except for the post-meal cleanups for big meals served on days like Thanksgiving or Easter, I’ve never dreaded washing the dishes. I always made a deal with my sisters and nieces. If they would clean off the counters, put the leftovers into Cool Whip bowls, and take care of the grease and drippings then I would wash the dishes. What’s more, even though my house came equipped with an electronic dishwasher, I usually washed by hand and didn’t regret this decision.

But that was before what my 6-year-old great-niece, with whom I’m only communicating via FaceTime, refers to as the corona. Since the corona, I’ve washed so many dishes in such a short period of time that my hands have started peeling. In fact, my hands have shed so much skin that I expect a couple reptiles to crawl from my arms at any moment.

The frequent dishwashing has also led me to realize that instead of toilet paper, people should be stockpiling dishwashing detergent and lotion.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A mask gathering — April 15, 2020

A mask gathering

In case you haven’t heard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends we wear face coverings when we go to the store for sundries and supplies. Of course, we shouldn’t be wearing hospital-grade personal protective equipment (PPE). Indeed, if you have any PPE, might I suggest you donate it to a hospital or a long-term health care facility.

There are oodles of tutorials that demonstrate how to make cloth masks. I needed to run to the grocery for provisions, so I watched a tutorial that a friend shared. It’s fairly basic and involves putting elastic hair ties on each end on a strip of cloth (e.g. a handkerchief or bandanna), fitting one end of the cloth into the other, and then placing the mask around your face and the hair ties over your ears.

After retrieving a lovely blue scarf from my bureau, I attempted to make a mask. I wouldn’t describe my effort as an abject failure, but it certainly fell short of success. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t fit one end into the other, so I wrapped the scarf around the lower half of my face and tied it to my hair with an elastic hair band.

These days, no trip to the grocery store is complete without a pair of gloves or, in a pinch, a pair of old socks slipped over your hands. I know that some people advise not to wear gloves because of cross-contamination. That is, if you grab a bag of chips and then a pack of candy, you’re contaminating the candy with the chips’ germs. But wouldn’t your bare hands contaminate them as well?

Regardless, I’ve been wearing gloves for more than a month. And during my three most recent trips to the store(s), I’ve worn the plastic gloves I used a few weeks ago to color my hair. After each use, I’ve washed the gloves. I’m not an infectious disease expert, however, so please do not adopt my practices as your own.

92505799_684244409007070_168426468202774528_nSo, with half my head covered by a makeshift mask and my hands covered with hair-coloring gloves, I went shopping. I’m happy to report that most of my fellow shoppers were also donning masks. Of course, I was the only one who looked like she was fixing to rob a stagecoach.

What’s more, since my mask wasn’t firmly attached to my head, it kept trying to slide down my face. So, I kept pushing the mask up my face, no doubt contaminating the outside of said mask with various germs the gloves had picked up in the store. Fortunately, the mask never succeeded in sliding off my face. Unfortunately, a hole materialized in the gloves just as I finished shopping.

No worries, though. I’m sure I’ll need to color my hair again soon.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Tulip fever — April 8, 2020

Tulip fever

For the most part, I’ve never been the type of gal who cultivates flowers. Sure, I bought a few hanging baskets the first spring I lived in my house, but that experience confirmed what I had always suspected about flowers – that you expend time, money and energy toward something that lives for only a few weeks.

92282445_217515545999820_4288322135484530688_nWhat’s more, unless the flowers reside outside a window, you can’t enjoy their beauty. So, for that reason and others, I decided it was easier to enjoy my neighbors’ flowers than to go to the trouble of planting my own. (Yes, this philosophy also applies to exterior Christmas decorations.)

But after my dog, the lovely and talented Mia Frances Goff, died, I decided to plant a wildflower garden in her memory. The garden, which also honored the lovely and talented Tom Petty, grew in front of my porch and was visible from my living room window.

The wildflower garden didn’t turn out to be as magnificent as I had hoped. In fact, a guest remarked that my flower garden resembled a marijuana patch. So, I pulled up the weeds, which left a rectangle of dirt enclosed by decorative edging.

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the trouble I’d gone through to obtain those decorative edges, I might have grown a garden of dirt. But I remembered the broken nails, bloody knuckles and dozen of trips from the car to the rectangle to transport said edges, and I said to myself, “Self, you’ve always admired the beauty of tulips.”

So, I bought tulips and received tremendous help planting them last fall. Due to our mild winter, I spied the bulbs pushing green leaves through the dirt in late February. Every day, I inspected the garden and noted slight additions. By mid-March, the rectangle was resplendent in yellow, light purple and dark purple tulips.

There’s no other way to put this – I became obsessed with the tulips and momentarily considered planting them throughout my yards. I snapped photos of the tulips from various angles and at various times of the day. I took photos of the tulips in the shade, in the late evening, in the full glory of the sun. I took photos of individual tulips and groups of tulips representing all three stunning colors. I shared so many photos with friends and family and on social media that I probably caused people to say to themselves, “Self, if I see one more expletive picture of those expletive tulips…”

But I knew my time with the tulips was finite and, alas, it is with great regret that I report the tulips are wilting.

Although this expected development has given me a case of the sads, I’m already studying on ways to improve next year’s harvest. I plan to buy more soil as well as additional bulbs to replace the few that didn’t yield this spring. And I have a phone full of photos to remind me of the beauty of this year’s tulips as well as the compliment from a visitor who assumed the near flawless flowers were fake.

Take it from me, that’s much better than hearing that your flowers look like weed(s).

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

That smell — April 1, 2020

That smell

A couple weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen and found Cady, the general of my cat army, staring at the stove as if she expected it to move. I’ve spent enough years with the cat army to realize this behavior typically means a vermin intruder has penetrated the perimeter, so I checked the previous points of entry. I didn’t see any evidence of vermin, though. What’s more, the rags I had stuffed inside holes remained there and my makeshift spackling jobs had held. Nonetheless, I moved the food from the pantry and to the oven, the refrigerator and the microwave.

We went on with our lives and, a few evenings later, I heard a scratching noise underneath the bathtub. The next evening, the cat army and I gathered around the wall between the bathroom and hallway and listened to what sounded like a rhinoceros crawling up the wall. A few nights later, I heard a ruckus that sounded like a crash of rhinos galloping throughout the house.

I didn’t want to interfere, so I returned to slumber. The next morning, I didn’t see evidence of foul play, so I assumed the cats had spent the night engaged in paw-to-paw combat with one another.

That brings us to last weekend. Whilst cleaning, I moved a box so that I could sweep. That’s when I spotted vermin droppings. They were few in number and concentrated in a small area near a corner.

I was perplexed.

I asked myself, “Self, why did the vermin only poo here? And how did it get in?” I returned to previous points of entry, but once again found nothing. But this time I also checked the cabinet above the stove, where I found a few droppings. That made sense because the cabinet was in the general location of the smell…

Oh, wait, I had forgotten to mention the smell that had been offending my nostrils for three or four days. I assumed it was coming from a rhino that had somehow lost its life in the wall behind the stove.

As I had no plans to tear down the wall, I also assumed I would have to live with the smell, which at times took my breath away. And not in a good way. Regardless, I went on with my life, cleaning the cabinet above the stove and stuffing old rags and spackle into holes.

After I cleaned my mess, I attempted to return the stove to his usual locale, but I quickly stopped, backed away from the stove and gasped. The smell overwhelmed me. Apparently, the offensive odor was coming from inside the stove. Specifically, from the top right corner of the back of the stove.

Whatever had died in there wasn’t going to get itself out, so I borrowed a tool from my neighbor and removed the stove’s back panel. When I saw a dead mouse staring at me, I backed away from the stove and gasped.

For moral support, I called to Cady, who quickly joined me in the kitchen. But she gave me a look that suggested she felt the cat army had done their job and now it was my turn.

So, I used napkins and a tool to dislodge the mouse. That’s when I noticed the trail of dried blood. I’ve watched dern-near every episode of “CSI,” so I reconstructed the scene. Apparently, the cat army had corned the mouse, which accounted for the droppings, and then chased it to its death, perhaps even fatally wounding it, on the night of the ruckus.

Either way, the cat army had done their job. So I showered them with praise and treats, and then we held a private service for the mouse.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Half-baked idea — March 24, 2020

Half-baked idea

Due to the coronavirus, I’ve been working from home for a week. And that means I’ve also been lunching from home for a week.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve been required to BMOL (bring my own lunch). Indeed, earlier this month, with the cafeteria closed for spring break, I was responsible for furnishing my midday meals.

For two of those days, I decided to take Red Baron French bread pizza. I discovered the product last year and quickly became a fan of the five cheese and garlic offering. As is their way, however, the stores quit carrying that product soon thereafter.

Alas, life is filled with disappointments, but what matters is how we react to said disappointments. With that in mind, I decided to take a chance on the pepperoni French bread pizza and tossed a box into my shopping cart. I figured I could toss the individual pizzas into the microwave at work and take care of two days’ worth of lunches.

Luckily for me, there was a memory bobbing on the waves of my consciousness, which directed me to check the back of the pizza box. As I read the directions, it all came back to me and I uttered an expletive.

Why? Because there are two ways to prepare the pizzas. The recommended method involves baking the pizzas in an oven for 20 to 23 minutes. The other method involves microwaving the pizzas for one to two minutes and then baking them in an oven for eight to 10 minutes.

Unless you’re so hungry that you’re on the verge of passing out or dying, why would you choose the second method? Either way, you’ll need to use a conventional or toaster oven, so why would you bring the microwave into the relationship? The way I see it, you’d be taking the unnecessary risk of making a mess in the microwave and, as everyone knows, microwaves are dern-near impossible to clean.

The second method also includes an extra step. You’d need to put the pizzas in the microwave and remove them only to then put them in the oven. I’m exhausted even thinking about it.

Clearly, the recommended method represents the only logical way to prepare the pizzas. That’s what I did during spring break. I baked the pizzas one evening and warmed them in the microwave at work for my next two consecutive midday meals.

In spite of the confusing baking directions, I’m happy to describe the pizzas as tasty and filling. In fact, you might have recently seen me standing in my grocer’s freezer so that I could retrieve the last box of said pizzas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Hand to mouth — March 10, 2020

Hand to mouth

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of a worrier. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I’m devoting most of my current worrying minutes to the coronavirus. Sure, I’ve heard and read that a healthy non-elderly person such as myself should be just fine. But I’ve also heard and read that folks can have the virus yet be symptom free. In other words, I could contract the virus and unknowingly infect scores of unhealthy and/or elderly people.

Although I can’t stop the coronavirus from spreading faster than a rumor at a family reunion, I can take precautions to keep the virus from infecting me. Indeed, that’s why you might have seen me strolling through the Super Dollar with gloves on hands like an extra in a Joan Crawford movie.

I’m also washing my hands with more enthusiasm. This doesn’t mean I’ve just now started practicing good hygiene. It just means that before last week, I squirted the minimum amount of soap on my hands and then rubbed my sort of soapy hands together and under water for approximately three seconds before calling it good.

But since I’ve commenced washing my hands for the amount of time it would take “Free Bird” or in a pinch, “American Pie,” to play, my hands are quickly becoming dry. This, of course, means that I also need to put lotion on my hands more often. Thankfully, I convinced my mom to offer me a bottle of lotion, so now I have enough for home and work.

Unfortunately, though, I have some bad habits that might increase my chances of contracting the coronavirus, or any bug for that matter. I touch my face dozens of times an hour and I rub my eyes scores of times a day. In fact, in the past 45 seconds, I’ve scratched my nose twice and my forehead once and covered my mouth with my hand 14 times. The only reason I haven’t rubbed my eyes is because, now that I’ve written about these habits, I’m super conscious of them and concentrating on not putting hand to face.

I’d like to think that the threat of death would cure me of these habits, but a similar threat hasn’t kept me away from carbs. Regardless, just in case I’m forced to self isolate, I’ve stocked up on supplies. In fact, you might have seen me strolling through the store, with gloves on hands, purchasing chips, candy, and crackers. You know, the essentials.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.