PATHS TO BETTER LIVING

FENDING OFF MOCTEZUMA AND OTHER BIOTIC AVENGERS

If it happens in the country where you live, you have an upset stomach. If you are in Mexico, it is Moctezuma’s Revenge, also known as turista. Experiencing new foods, some of them grown with classic compost (aka “caca”), travel nerves and excitement, and adjustments in your normal intestinal flora and fauna can leave you vulnerable to bacteria that are everywhere, especially on fresh fruits and vegetables.

My Mexican mother-in-law taught me how to clean fruits and vegetables to cut down on some of that bacteria. The truth is, even if you’re not vacationing or adjusting to life in a foreign country, you should be careful with all food, especially if it’s fresh. From time to time, there are warnings in the United States about contaminated foods, with accompanying admonitions to be sure to wash your lettuce, strawberries, or whatever. That admonition should not be necessary. Purifying your fruits and vegetables should be as habitual as brushing your teeth–maybe more so.

In addition to the age-old germs, modern agriculture has further contaminated our foods with pesticides and waxy enhancers. A healthy immune system is the best defense against all kinds of illnesses, but some germs and chemicals are strong enough to break through even a healthy system, so it is wise to do what you can to keep them at bay.

  1. Wash your hands often, but certainly before you handle food.
  2. If you are going to eat raw fruit or vegetables like apples, pears, or cucumbers, peeling and all, rinse in lukewarm water to soften up wax enhancers, then scrub well with a vegetable brush and rinse again in tap water. It is usually not necessary to use detergent or other cleaning agents. If I’m very concerned about contaminants, I just peel them. Some good fiber and nutrients are lost, so it’s a toss-up.
  3. If you are going to peel or cook fruits and vegetables, a good rinse is enough to get rid of surface dirt. If you are peeling a banana or a tangerine, remember that you can contaminate the edible part with your hands. Using a brush for gritty foods like potatoes or carrots is a good idea to get rid of plain old dirt that might cling to them. Cooking will kill the bacteria.
  4. If you are cutting something with a knife, like an avocado, cantaloupe or watermelon, rinse the outside well, and be sure the knife and cutting board are clean.
  5. Opinions vary about the best way to purify porous foods that are eaten as they are: lettuce, celery, all kinds of berries, especially strawberries, and so on. My choice is this: rinse, soak for at least five minutes in a solution of water with a tablespoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, rinse again, preferably with bottled water if you don’t drink water from the tap. I have seen recommendations for baking soda as well as salt for the soaking process, but I haven’t tried them. Vinegar has worked well for me for a long time.
  6. Always be careful to clean and sterilize surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat of any kind before cleaning or peeling fruits and vegetables with them.

No one wants to live in a sterile bubble, avoid travel, and never taste anything new or different, so you are sure to have a tummy ache once in awhile, but if you live healthily and take these precautions, you can keep sick days at a minimum.

HOW TO BE ON TIME ALL THE TIME

Making a habit of punctuality is one of the easy things you can do to give yourself time and tranquility to meet more complex skill-intensive challenges. There are a couple of facts that can’t be changed, so facing them is the best way to start dealing with them.


Fact #1: Getting out of bed is hard.

It is harder for some people than for others. It is harder at some hours than at others, but five, ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty extra minutes in bed will not make it easier. Those extra minutes will, however, take a heavy toll on your peace of mind and effectiveness for the rest of the day. Getting enough sleep the night before goes a long way toward taking the edge off, but even if you’ve had a short and unsatisfactory night, you still must do what you have to do.


Fact #2: If you can get to where you need to be at any certain time, you can get there at another, earlier time.


Once you have faced and accepted those facts, here are some simple steps to take that will get you almost anywhere you need to be at a time that will help you accomplish everything else you want to do with a minimum amount of stress.


  1. Plan to get there a half-hour before the appointed time. If your check-in time is 8:00, tell yourself it is 7:30. If you must be at the airport at 4:00 for a 6:00 am flight, plan to be there at 3:30. (For me, 3:30, 4:00, and 6:00 are all dreadful times to be anywhere except in my warm bed, but the earlier hour gives me the advantage of peace of mind.)
  2. Be honest about how much time it takes you to feel comfortably and peacefully ready for the task ahead. Some people like to get up slowly, drink their coffee, have a leisurely shower and take their time getting groomed and dressed for every occasion. Others are crisp and quick and just as happy to take a five-minute shower and get breakfast on the way. My personal get-ready time is two hours. I like to enter the day slowly and take my time about everything. Plan for whatever feels better for you, and be honest with yourself.
  3. Plan your time on the road. Be realistic and even pessimistic about things like traffic jams or extra time that might be spent waiting for public transportation. Add fifteen minutes or more for unexpected complications such as a flat tire.
  4. Focus on the time you need to leave your starting point, NOT on the time you are supposed to be at your destination. Set your alarm accordingly, allowing yourself a generous amount of time to get ready and get there.

Getting out of bed at 3:00 am to board a 7:00 am flight or setting my alarm for 5:00 am so I can get ready to teach a 7:30 am class is hard, and I don’t like it one bit. However, choosing an On-Time Schedule makes it much easier than dealing with a Will-I-Make-It Schedule whenever I have a deadline to meet.

Being punctual won’t guarantee success, but it will enhance your reputation and free you from mishaps like discovering you left an important paper at home or, like a friend of mine, seeing too late that your shoes don’t match. (Fortunately, my friend was blessed with a great sense of humor.) With less stress about getting to work on time, you can focus on more challenging things.


Packing Wisdom from a Veteran Stand-by

Packing can be stressful. What should I take? What if I forget something? I can’t guarantee that all stress will disappear if you follow these packing guidelines, but they should help. They have been gleaned from years of traveling, including a lot of stand-by travel as the fortunate relative of an airline employee. A lot of my own stress and a few mishaps have made me think about ways to avoid unpleasantries.

Don’t worry too much about forgetting things

Make sure you have your passport and tickets and your money and credit cards. You can buy a toothbrush! The same friend who gave me that advice also suggested this: when you think you are all ready, take twice as much money and half as many clothes! Not always possible, especially the money part, but worth thinking about.

If you travel often, keep your packing supplies–travel sizes of toiletries, plastic bags, shoe bags, and so on in your favorite suitcase ready to organize for your next trip.

Invest in a really sturdy rolling carry-on and a large-capacity personal item

I like a backpack as my personal item so that I can have my hands free when I need them and because I can carry more weight comfortably on my back than on my arm. My purse is packed away until I arrive. For short trips these should be all you need. You can always check the rolling carry-on if you want to, but you have to check a big suitcase or leave it behind. Ask your airline about rules, limitations, and extra charges for checked bags before you buy, pack, or check that bag. A foldable extra carry-on or suitcase is very useful if you find that your luggage expands during trips because of rushed-up packing or souvenir purchases at your destination.

Having to riffle through everything in the suitcase when you need one item is annoying, so I put things that are alike together to save time. The zippered compartments on the outside and inside of luggage are helpful, but I have never found a suitcase that has enough organizing pockets, so I use mesh laundry bags for different categories of clothing–one for underwear and socks, one for pants, one for tops, one for accessories. I include an extra one for bringing dirty clothes back home. A thick sealable plastic bag for a wet swimsuit or sweaty shirt is also a good idea. Shoes should have their own bag, so you don’t mix shoe sole street germs with your nice clothes. I have a big zippered plastic pouch for toiletries with smaller pouches inside for bath things, hair things, and make-up.

Airline standbys have to be prepared for an overnight stay if they don’t get on a flight, but regular passengers can also experience delays or get separated temporarily from their checked baggage. (I learned this after an uncomfortable night in La Quinta, sleeping in the buff and heading out the next day without face cream or makeup.) So…

Always carry these items in your carry-on or personal item

  1. change of underwear
  2. comfortable sleepwear
  3. small sizes of indispensable toiletries, including a toothbrush and small toothpaste
  4. swimsuit (opportunities to swim can happen unexpectedly when you get the standby bump)
  5. socks, and a light jacket or wrap for the flight. Airplanes can be cold even in the hottest weather.

Limit what you pack as much as your fashion needs will allow

You may want to re-think your fashion needs in exchange for more freedom, but that’s your choice. Making a day-by-day wardrobe plan helps me make choices while I’m still at home, not on the road so I avoid hauling unnecessary articles around. Here are my personal basics:

  1. underwear for every day of the trip if possible. It doesn’t take a lot of space, and it is the one item that I want fresh every day. Laundering in a bathroom sink or a relative’s washing machine is a possibility but not something I want to spend my valued vacation time doing.
  2. comfortable walking shoes to wear on the trip and just ONE pair of presentable shoes in a go-with-everything color. Shoes take up valuable packing space. A really special occasion like a wedding might call for one more pair of shoes.
  3. sleepwear, already packed in your carry-on. A bath robe takes a lot of space, so I choose pajamas or a nightgown with a light robe decent enough for sharing coffee on leisurely mornings.
  4. bottoms (pants, skirts, shorts) in neutral colors, maximum of four. For short trips, limit of two or three. My preferred tone is black, but if you like white or tan, go for it.
  5. no-iron tops, the fewer the better. It’s okay to repeat. Four or five work for me, with multiple uses on longer trips. It gets boring, but the freedom is worth it.
  6. an easy-to-wear outfit for an unexpected dressy occasion. For men, a sports jacket that can pass for a suit.
  7. accessories, as needed
  8. make-up, bath needs, and hair tools and products. A hair style that can be air-dried is a great asset when traveling. I stopped carrying a hair dryer when hotels started to include them as standard equipment, but if you must have one, invest in the smallest and lightest one that will do the job.

Happy Travels!

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