Sunday, September 30, 2018

My first food recall

The voicemail was a little disheartening.

And a little late.

The phone rang the other day while I was watching TV, and the caller ID that pops up on my TV screen gave me a number that I didn't recognize. So I didn't jump to answer the land line phone located two rooms away. If I don't know the number, I'm not answering. So there.

But whomever called left a message. I eventually listened to the message a couple hours later, after Kim got home from work. It was from Harris Teeter, where we do our grocery shopping. We usually do our shopping on Sundays. The voicemail arrived late Monday afternoon.

A pleasant sounding feminine voice, recorded and without showing any sense of alarm or urgency, politely informed me that their records indicated that we had recently purchased the store brand Low Fat Cookies and Cream Frozen Yogurt. They were calling to tell me that the product was being recalled.

"Recalled" was the only word I think I heard, if I recall. That rattles your cage a little bit, especially when it's about a food product. I thought they only recalled cars. I started thinking in terms of e coli or salmonella and started wondering if I'd live to see the next sunset.

And to think I was worried about my AFib.

So we listened to the message again. The voice ticked off the numbers on the yogurt's bar code: 7, 2, 0, 3, 6, 9, 8, 1...

Yep. That's me. Every number matched. Wouldn't you know it? This is the only lottery I've ever won.

Then it hit me – I'd already eaten half of the yogurt. I'm a goner.

The message continued. The product was being recalled because apparently it might contain some peanut agent. If anyone in our house had a peanut allergy, I should return the product ASAP.

Whew. That was close. Kim and I eat peanuts (and peanut butter) like it's the last food on earth. No allergy here. We had dodged a peanut.

But all of this got me to wondering. How did Harris Teeter know I'd purchased their yogurt? How did they know my home phone number? How'd they get peanuts in their cookies and cream yogurt?

I guess all the information is located in the store's nerve center, which for us is the check-out lane. The cash registers are basically computers, just like everything else we own: our cars, our TVs (our TVs are watching us, you know), everything.

I actually took comfort in that knowledge, realizing the store's cash register had the potential to save my life. Knowing that, I happily finished off the rest of my cookies and cream frozen yogurt.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Bug off

Not too long ago I wrote a blog piece about the marvels of WD-40, an industrial lubricant which apparently can be used for everything from removing chewing gum from your hair to acting as a primer to start jet engines (I'm making that last one up right there. But you get the point.)

So the other day, as I was getting ready to mow the lawn, I was wondering what I could do to reduce my chances of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, which seem to be in overabundance this year.

No, I didn't cover myself in WD-40.

But I was getting a little leery of spraying myself with Off! or Repel or anything else that contained deet. You know. Because of the chemicals.

Why should I worry about chemicals now, you may ask. After all, back in the 1950s, I was part of the neighborhood band of kids that frolicked behind the city DDT truck as it slowly drove down the street spraying clouds of carcinogenic chemicals into the air. It was almost as much fun as chasing after the Mister Softee ice cream truck.

We also did Duck and Cover exercises in school in case of nuclear attack. Ahhh, the 1950s.

Anyway, I recently tried this one organic spray called Repel Natural, which does not contain deet. It was more of a liquid than an aerosol, and as far as I was concerned, it didn't work for me. The 32 mosquitoes that landed on me after my application showed me that.

Then Kim remembered something.

"I think I read once that if you take a fabric softener sheet and put it in your pocket, it keeps the mosquitoes away," she said.

"Yeah, right," I thought, and tried it anyway.

I took a sheet of fabric softener, rubbed it on my exposed arms and legs, stuck the sheet in my pocket and happily went to mow the yard.

I only got bit once.

Wow. This stuff really works.

I told Kim about it, and she tried it when she went out to water her garden. She came back into the house a half hour later complaining about all the mosquitoes that bit her.

I don't know what happened. The only difference between us is that I'm male and she's female. I hate to think that there's a gender bias involved, but maybe fabric softeners don't work well when mingled with estrogen. I don't know.

It got me to thinking what chemicals were hidden in the fabric softener. So I looked at the ingredients and it told me a sheet "contains fabric softening agents (cationic types)..."

Uh-oh. What does "cationic" mean? It's not a word that comes up in sports writing very often.

I googled it: "An ion or group of ions having a positive charge and characteristically moving toward the negative electrode in electrolysis."

Well, that certainly cleared that up. I could see mosquitoes dying by the millions. Probably of laughter.

I told Kim. Her backup plan is to spray herself with Avon's Skin So Soft, which she also heard is a good mosquito repellent.

Hmm, maybe. I wonder how it mingles with testosterone?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Slo-mo Flo

Hurricane Florence just might be one of the strangest storms that I can remember.

What I do remember is Hugo.

Hugo was back in 1989. I was a sports writer for The Dispatch and a 13-year resident of Lexington by that time. Having originally moved in from Pennsylvania, I'd never really been in a hurricane before.

But Hugo scared the bejeezus out of me. Kim and I lived in a wooded parcel at the south end of town with tall trees looming everywhere. It's amazing how much bigger 100-foot tall trees get when they're swaying over your house.

Hugo, if I recall, made landfall near Charleston, then traveled inland up through Charlotte. I don't know if it was still technically a hurricane at that point, or downgraded to a tropical storm, but it brought fierce winds and wind gusts as it skirted through Lexington.

Trees toppled. Power was lost. We still put out a paper, but it had to be printed at The Salisbury Post.

Florence, by comparison, looked to be a similar threat. It was huge. And it was tracking straight for our house.

But not before hitting our beach house in Cherry Grove, SC, first. Man, a double whammy.

Then strange stuff started happening. Further north, Wrightsville Beach became ground zero. New Bern took a horrible hit. Wilmington was in the cross hairs.

Our beach house is on the left. Did we dodge a bullet?
And then Florence curiously went from a wind event (100+ mph winds to 70 mph) to a rain event. It's traveling velocity slowed to three miles per hour, indicating this hurricane perhaps really was in no hurry at all. It headed south along the coast before going inland. Huh? Against the grain? Against the gulf stream? Against the jet stream? How does that happen?

For some reason, Cherry Grove seems to have dodged a bullet, if not an artillery shell. A random photographic image taken by the City of North Myrtle Beach and posted on Facebook Saturday shows our beach house with water perhaps ankle deep in the streets, but not much debris floating around. It's not raining. Lucky?

The rain is supposed to continue today as the storm, now a tropical depression, heads northwest around Charlotte before looping northeast into Pennsylvania. Around here, the winds have abated somewhat, although I don't think they were ever Hugo-like in the first place. We never lost power at our house. We even went out to eat Saturday evening.

According to the forecast, rain will fall all day today as Florence continues her slow trek through the Piedmont. Maybe I should have seeded my lawn?

Anyway, those tall trees in my neighborhood seem to be looming less as the storm passes through. Let's hope so. There's still a lot of rain to come.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Bank on it

About a month or so ago, I was purging my mailbox of all my spam emails for the day.

There were quite a few. Click, click, click, whoosh...

Then I came across one from Chase that sounded pretty official, warning me that it looked like some unusual activity had been detected in my online statement.

Uh oh. I hate when that happens. It usually means passwords need to be changed. Phone calls need to be made. Anxiety needs to be abated. I'm not a computer nerd. When anything out of the ordinary shows up, like spinning beach balls or popup alerts, I start to sweat (see my recent 'No sweat' blog).

I wondered what I should do.

Then it occurred to me: I don't have an account with Chase. What the heck? How can there be unusual activity in an account that I don't have?

Click. Whoosh.

A few days later, I got an email from Wells Fargo, warning me that there had been some unusual activity detected in my online account.

Uh oh. How did that hap... Oh, wait a minute. I don't have an account with Wells Fargo. What the heck?

Click. Whoosh.

 A few days later, I received another email from yet another financial corporation. As soon as I read "Unusual activity," I hit click. Whoosh.

All through this, I'm pretty sure none of these emails had corresponding corporation logos on them. Not that a logo on the email would be a qualifier for me, but it does send something of a shiver through you if you think your finances have been tampered with.

Getting all these emails reminds of the good ol' days when I used to get emails from third world royalty, telling me that I qualified for massive sums of money from their dead uncle if only I would make contact with them.

Click. Whoosh.

Even this morning, I got an email from an address that read "stergios3," claiming he was a physician in Sydney, Australia, and he was looking for nurses, doctors, laboratory managers, engineers, etc, willing to relocate for the duration of a three-year contract.

Not sure how the scam works on this one, but, c'mon. Do your due diligence, buddy. I don't even speak Australian.

And then there's this: Lately I've gotten phone calls on my land line from somebody that is using my phone number to call me. Huh? I know this because of the caller ID feature I have that tells me I'm calling myself. I'm pretty sure that I'm not so bored that I have to call myself for entertainment.

Kim, out of curiosity, answered one of those calls, and she got a recorded message that suggested our licensing with Microsoft had expired.

We don't use Microsoft.

Hang up. Bzzzzzz.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

On service

When I was a young child, I once thought about about joining the military. I'd been reading books on the Civil War, and later, on World War II, and they had my attention. I was entranced by the pictures and news reels of shiny military machines without much considering why they were needed in the first place, or what they could do when utilized.

By the time I was in junior high school (we didn't have middle schools then), I kept hearing about a war in a place called Vietnam. By the time I graduated from high school in 1969, the war was still going on. And escalating. People my age were being drafted to fight in steamy, forgotten jungles, and for what? To protect the Constitution? To staunch communism? To feed the military-industrial complex? I don't know.

So I went to college. And guess what? Four years later, the war is still raging. People my age were dying. Somehow, I'd lucked out with a ridiculously high lottery number that kept me out of the draft. I didn't have to burn my draft card. I didn't have to run off to Canada.

So I never made the decision to enlist, and didn't think much about it afterwards.

The family tree doesn't show much in the way of military service anyway. I had some great uncles who served in the Union Army in the Civil War, along with a great, great grandfather. There was an uncle who saw combat in World War II. And one of my brothers, David, enlisted when he came of age. Although he was stationed mostly in the icicle jungles of Alaska, he is considered a Vietnam-era vet, having volunteered before the war ended in 1975. If there are other family members who served, I don't know about them.

The way I see it, once you make the decision to enlist and wear the uniform, you're a hero. I've had some debates about this. Some think heroism is defined by physical sacrifice and honor, and while I agree, I think the moment you put on that uniform and have your picture made with the American flag behind you, you've already made a life-altering decision. You sacrifice certain rights (especially in basic training) that you've taken an oath to protect and defend.

Even clerk-typists, or cooks, or support troops, might be called upon to take up arms at any moment. You never know. Enlisting is an amazing step to take.

But not all of us are meant to be warriors. That needs to be understood, too.

I thought about this a lot this weekend, watching the memorial services for Senator John McCain, and the sacrifices he made. Could I have endured what he endured as a prisoner of war? Made the decisions he made? Unlikely.

As the years passed, as I read my Civil War books, or watched World War II on the History Channel, or, significantly in my lifetime, videos of Vietnam, what it means to be military takes on its own clarity and sense of purpose.

Sometimes it's good to get a refresher course on what it all means. And requires.