Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Visit with the Old Broad

Here’s a snapshot of me and Mom from my visit with her last month. We did little except hang out together, which was exactly what each of us wanted to do. We did make a visit to the local mortuary/crematorium to talk with the experts about what to do when…. Oddly reassuring for both of us (in a chilling sort of way).

The visit was instructive in another sense as well. Mom lives in a federally-subsidized housing complex occupied mostly by old women. There’s the expected bickering and gossip common to any closed community, but more pervasive was a sense of the residents living in the moment, taking contentment from the small pleasures their limited lifestyles afforded. They seemed satisfied with what they had because, I think, they were simply happy to be alive.

Mom showed me off to her friends by having me join a Nintendo Wii bowling tournament. (Wii is that virtual bowling game.) While my arm didn’t ache the next day as it would have if I’d actually been lofting an 11-pound ball, my sciatica killed me for days afterward!

How to Be Happier

Mom raised me on a rewinding loop of incantations taken from her own childhood, the same charms she knew -- Pennsylvania Dutch wards calculated to avert bad luck: meandering black cats, walking under ladders, open umbrellas, hats on beds.

Perhaps that’s why I’m attracted to simple rules that help govern life. If that's so, I have found a treasure trove of such resources in a web log called “The Happiness Project.” Written by a former high-powered lawyer named Gretchen Rubin, the blog is a memoir of the year she spent “test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study” she could find on rules for improving one’s life and increasing happiness.

The strategies range from the practical (e.g., the one minute rule: If it takes one minute or less to do something that needs to be done, DO IT) to well-reasoned arguments encouraging wholesale changes in lifestyles, habits and attitudes. (I confess, one of the tips from The Happiness Project, is helping me defeat a lifetime habit of cynicism.)

Making fruits and veggies safe to eat

More than twenty years ago, one of the publications I maintained in my small town library was a wonderfully readable little science and technology magazine called Science News. One of the articles I read from a mid-1990s issue detailed the discovery of a simple, cheap and effective way to disinfect fruits and vegetables at home. A food scientist named Susan Sumner found that squirting produce with three percent hydrogen peroxide (what’s sold at the drugstore) and then squirting it with vinegar (or doing it the other way around – it doesn’t matter) killed the organisms that give you gastroenteritis: E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella. Furthermore, added Sumner, the resultant spray sterilizes the sink, the cutting board (even wooden ones), and all the surfaces that come in contact with the mists. (n.b., this spray is protective against surface bacteria; nothing will protect you from systemic or absorbed contaminants.)

You can’t mix the two solutions together in a single bottle but must keep them separate. What I do is use a nozzle from another spray bottle and plug it into the hydrogen peroxide and keep the vinegar in a cute little sprayer I found at the dollar store. I keep the peroxide under the sink as it is light sensitive and will loose its efficacy when exposed.

My question, however, is this: The spray works, so why isn’t it widely known and hugely popular? Is it because you have to spray twice and Americans want something even more convenient? Or, and this is what I believe, Sumner simply let the public know about her discovery without any patent or copyright compensation for herself. As a result, no big corporations and their attendant high-dollar marketing agencies could come along and make big bucks from the formula.

Yes, I know, I know…I’m supposed to be getting over my cynicism. But surely I’m right.

E-you later, darlings.

Aunt Rose

Links of interest from this posting:

A typical article on Wii bowling:,0,2755896.story

The Happiness Project:

Science News is still in print and has a fun and informative web site as well:

The story behind the nifty disinfectant spray discovery: