COVID-19; The Intro…

How life in North Carolina went from ho-hum to ho-ly shit in just 15 days…

January 25, 2020 was the day the hot water heater blew on date night. It was also about that time that I’d started sort of paying attention to the viral mess over in Wuhan, China.

Coronavirus COVID-19Johnny and I had planned dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants and were still deciding what we wanted to eat once we got there. It was a sunny day and not too chilly, so I was perusing the online menu out in the outdoor space when he went to get a shower.

After what seemed like the appropriate shower-time, Johnny emerged out the back door in the same clothes he’d worn on the way in 20 minutes prior. His mouth had to be dirtier, based on what was coming out of it. 🙂 He was upset, and with good reason!

He’d turned on the water, went to jump in, and the water in the shower was still cold. He went to check the heater, which sits to the far right of our washer and dryer in an awkward recess of our “laundry room” (an oversized closet that housed all three) and found water and *%#!* tons of it! Out came the towels, out came the shop-vac and in came Dominos pizza. Woohoo!

The next day, we picked up a new heather, a pan for said appliance, and got to installing, with the help of my youngest son and his roommate. My son noticed a spongy spot in the year old dining room flooring, which we’d noticed a few days prior.

Side note: After Hurricane Florence in September 2018, we had a lot of moisture damage and had to replace the subfloor in the hall, living room, dining room and kitchen and it was a hot mess for several months. We hired a well known contractor to do the flooring and it was a nightmare from the first installation day until the final completion, three and a half months later. I don’t think I’ve left more negative reviews on the contractor site, Consumer Affairs and the BBB in my life. This company was beyond bad customer service after they took thousands of our hard earned dollars, and I kind of wished we didn’t get flooring with a lifetime warranty. I never wanted to deal with them again!

The day after the new heater was installed, Johnny called the company that had put down our floors and it was almost a week before we heard back from them. Meanwhile, this coronavirus was making bigger and bigger headlines in the news, as that was when the Washington State outbreak was in most of our feeds.

WsWIzgxwQESWfgwivL6ooAFebruary 18 was when the contractors came out and said that yes, this was definitely an installation error, which was warranted, so they commenced to fixing it. As the floor panels came up, the water underneath them became more and more apparent, starting at the wall that separated our dining room from the laundry area and encroached the middle of the dining area. They pulled out our refrigerator and tore those panels up, too. Before too long we had a mess.

The contractor said he couldn’t fix over moisture like this and recommended we call our insurance company. Long story short? We had another contractor come out on March 3 on the recommendation of our insurance adjuster. This was the day my reality shifted just a bit; almost imperceptible, but it was there. This was the same day North Carolina reported its first case of COVID-19.

For the rest of that day, all night, rinse & repeat until mid-day March 6th, we had industrial-strength fans and humidifiers going 24/7 in the dining room and the newly gutted guest bath. It’s been a bit Jeff Foxworthy-esque. (If you have had a commode sitting on your front porch for more than a month…you might be a redneck…) This gave us plenty of time to sit in the outdoor space with the heat on reading the news, BECAUSE IT WAS SO DARNED LOUD YOU COULDN’T EVEN HEAR YOURSELF THINK IN THE HOUSE, EVEN IN THE BEDROOM WITH THE DOOR CLOSED!

After the first week or so went by after the fans came out and we didn’t hear anything from either the contractor or the insurance company, Johnny started making phone calls to both. Seems the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. This was really a major face-palm moment for both of us. Having your home look and feel like a disaster area for weeks on end is not comfortable, nor is it fun, not to mention we’d just gone through months of this just over a year ago. What does this have to do with COVID-19, you might be wondering? Read on, and you will find out. 🙂

I’ve been kind of haphazardly journaling since March 14. Once I get you caught up? I’ll keep going weekly (or as needed) with journal excerpts from what may end up reading like a sci-fi story gone horribly realistic…

Written March 18, 2020…

March 3. While home watching the contractors pull up dining room flooring and gut our guest bathroom (damage from blown water heater), the news broke that the first presumptive positive Coronavirus case was discovered in Wake County, where Raleigh (and also my 80 year old mom) are located.

The days passed, with another case popping up here and there.

March 9. This was a week ago last Monday, and the day our hospital, part of a larger system in the state, tightened up the already tight flu-based visitor restrictions. If memory serves, each patient was only allowed two visitors at any one time. Okay, fair enough.

At this point it was still pretty much business as usual for us. I was still using my morning routine to get a leisurely walk from my car, to my desk, then right to our morning safety huddle, taking the stairs, each way, back to the office to write stats for the day on the department whiteboard before walking to the other side of the building to get breakfast and walk my mini-meal to get the mail, then back to my desk. A good 10-20 minute stroll, depending on where I parked and which set of stairs I chose to use to get to Huddle and back.

By 10:00, I’d be doing my often My Fitness Pal logged “Oxygen  Inventory.” This is where I hit every clean and soiled supply room in the building, excepting OR and ED, counting and documenting the tanks in each area, making sure there was no cross contamination. I figured out a way to climb the stairs going up to each area from the ground floor to maximize calorie burn and not create a time suck. When I finished on 7th, instead of elevators, I took all the stairs down to the ground floor. Some days it took forty minutes, sometimes up to an hour, depending on what kind of SNAFU I’d run into.

Lunch with my one of my besties, who works in Surgical Services sometime between 11-noon in the cafeteria.

At 2pm, she’d be getting off from shift and I would take my break so we could get 15-20 minutes of brisk walking around the building or on the campus, if the weather was nice.

March 11. I think this was the pivot point, for me, anyway, of what was to come. My walking partner wasn’t walking because she had a 2:00 meeting, so I was in the office when one of my team flew in and announced she’d just heard we had a CASE (we all knew what she meant) in our ED. I texted my boss, who is over Emergency Management as part of the regular things he gets paid for, to ask if he could confirm or squash this piece of panic-inducing (mis)information. Totally false!

But here’s the thing; the girl who thought in her heart of hearts that this thing wasn’t going to touch us, felt that same heart drop somewhere into the pit of her stomach. It’s me. I’m that girl. It kind of shook me to be honest.

March 12. This was the day I got a reality check. I had delayed inventory to go look for some much needed wheelchairs. I was standing in the middle of the ED and I got a call from my boss, which I can’t share here, right now, but it raised some red flags for my Spidey Sense. I rushed back to my office, ran the reports and texted him the info he was needing. Then sent another text: “What’s happening?” The reply? “Standby.” So I did. Delegated my inventory to one of my team, and waited for a text or call that didn’t come, keeping busy by importing stats into Excel.

I got back from my regularly scheduled lunch date to my team, who were gearing up for a freak out. They were told by some nurses on a couple of specific floors that there were two cases in-house. Again, I texted my boss, asking if he could confirm or deny. He responded, “Deny.” I replied that nurses were talking and I had a team really on edge. He said that more info was coming.

Long story short, zero cases in the building and the county.

March 13. This was the day that the system restricted visitors even further! Two visitors per patient to one! At this point, I hadn’t heard of “social distancing,” but I thought it prudent, if not a little on the paranoid side, to postpone my husband’s birthday dinner out with his daughter, her boyfriend and our 4 year old grandson the following day.

About an hour after I texted her, our county reported the first confirmed case. I felt a little better about postponing plans to go out the following evening.

When I went to bed the number in our state was 17.

March 14. When I woke up, my news alerts stated that the number had jumped from 17 to 23.

That day, my husband’s birthday, I was going to make him a steak dinner, as I’d warily stopped at the supermarket on the way home (they still had meat, less ground beef), and some yummy veggies, since I knew we were going to be postponing dinner out.

Late that morning, one of my weekend crew called to ask if I’d heard any news regarding the situation they were involved in on Thursday. I am hoping it’s okay for me to go ahead and post this, as I am big on as much transparency as I can be as long as I’m not putting my facility in the limelight and/or compromizing PHI (Protected Health Information) of any of our patients.

Four of our team had been in contact with a patient that was being tested for the virus and CDC mandates the masking of anyone having come in contact with said patient. We were told results would come 48+ hours later. This was the report my boss had asked me for; who had transported said patient.

I texted my boss (yes, on a Saturday) to check in on this. Still no news.

A few hours later, my boss texted me that two more of my team were being masked due to a second patient being tested. I reached out to both of them, knowing one is a germaphobe and the other is going through a lot in their life right now. I cried as we texted back and forth, and I think that is when my stress hit a fever-pitch.

Meanwhile, I’d been following a chat thread on My Fitness Pal on Coronavirus Prep, and one member had been (and still is) posting from Italy. I was starting to grasp the importance of social distancing. Evidentally, I learn quickly.

This was also the day that our governor declared all public schools close, statewide, for at least 2 weeks.

At quarter of ten that night, I received the all clear to call the first four of my masked team and tell them they could ditch the masks. I happily made those calls.

March 15. My youngest son works at the Super Walmart just up the road from the house. He said the GM (Genereal Merch) side was all but empty, but the grocery side was a freaking zoo! He said it was less than orderly. He texted me a picture of pallets of TP and paper goods and figured they would be gone within an hour of placement. Still on edge!

March 16. Posted the following on the Coronavirus Prep thread:

Leave work Friday and come back to a whole different world Monday morning! 

I work at the hospital, so no WFH for me, which is okay, because right now? I feel like I am sitting in the safest place in the county.

Friday afternoon they tightened the visitor restrictions system-wide for the second time last week. Shortly after I got home I learned about our county’s first case (and, as of this moment, the only one). 

The halls are basically empty, today. Usually they are butstling with staff and vsitors. Zero patients lining the walls in the diagnostics areas. 

No self-serve of any kind in the cafeteria, and siverware is sealed in plastic instead of in the dispensers. The ice and water dispensers are being manned by gloved employees. The dining area where I usually have lunch with friends was a ghost town. I ate at my desk.

Places like Radiology and our Information desk have blue painter’s tape on the floors six feet away from the nearest contact person behind the desk. Nobody should be stepping over those lines.

The entrance I use is now badge access only. We were, up until today, just pulling it open. Visitors are directed to the main entrance.

I went up to the vacant 7th floor, that we had been in the process of turning into obeservation rooms and see walls going up around the nurse’s station. Seems they are building isoltion rooms.

I am happy and relieved to see our organization beng so proactive about getting ahead of this!

One of the guys I work with told me his wife is packing her stuff (computer, files, etc.) and will be workig from home, effective tomorrow. This is at the county level, if I underestand correctly. 

It’s definatelly a different vibe, here, today. Cheerful, but cautious. With one positive case, I think we are all just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

March 17. I had to take my lunch break to go pick up some meds for my husband at the local drug store. I’d tried to hit the drive-through the evening before, but the line was over ten cars deep, so I figured I could go the next day. I arrived fifth car in line at 10:55 am.

I texted my bestie, AKA my standing lunch date, to let her know that I wasn’t going to be able to meet her. She said she did’t know when she was going to get lunch. Elective surgeries had been cancelled effectice the 18th and she was waiting to hear about her job status and had hoped to be farmed out to Matrials Management.

While waiting, I got a text from my husband. He said his cough was beyond ugh and felt like crap. I asked if he had a fever and he said he hadn’t taken his temp, due to still drinking coffee, and that he was so chilled. I told him to wait about 20 minutes after drinking anything to take his temp.

By noon, he said his temp was over 100 degrees, so I asked him if his cough was dry or juicy. Of course it was dry. I told him to call his PCP and turn himself in. He wanted to wait and I asked him not to, because if he was going to be quarantined, I needed to know, because I would have to be, too, and I would need to make arrangments at work before going out.

They saw him within the hour and masked him upon arrival. Did both a flu and COVID tests on him. Thankfully he tested positive for flu, type A. A second trip to the drive-through at the drugstore. Ugh!

Isn’t it weird that we live in a world where we hope and pray our spouse “just” has the flu?

In other news, at our office, I ordered a pump sanitizer for the person at the admitting desk and received none. Ordered 10 disenfecting cloth tubs, and received 4. Ordered 5 boxes of Medium nitrile gloves and received 3. Ordered and received ten boxes of tissue, because it’s so thin and rough, probably nobody wants it, anyway.

March 18. My bestie texted me before work this morning to tell me that she will be off today and tomorrow and should be working the next two scheduled days. She’s in Surgical Services and as mentioned earlier, elective surgeries had been cancelled. She and her counterpart are now working two days on, two days off, alternately.

I got to work and Webexed into Safety Huddle. Yesterday’s tight crowd was too close for comfort for me, and as I had a flu positive spouse at home, I felt it was safer to avoid whatever crowd might be in the conference room (workout #1, leisurely walk, cancelled).

They always report census and number of flu cases in-house. Today they started reporting COVID pending cases.

I’ve adapted my Oxygen Inventory workout to get from 7th to ground in the fastest way possible, using the least amount of elevators possilble.

My walks with my bestie are postponed due to social disancing.

They are going to start scanning empoyees coming in to work tomorrow. I, like most everyone reading this, has never seen anything like this!

We are now at 70+ cases in NC, and right now I can’t find an accurate count.

I have been stressed (which is bad for immunity) for days over the worst case scenario.

Tomorrow? I walk into work and think of just one day; that one. I refuse to continue to visualize worst case scenarios, running out of food, or God forbid, toilet paper. We have easily 2 weeks or more of food and TP. Between the hubs and I? We always keep week’s worth of butt wipes on hand. Worst caee scenario? Wash cloths and water. (Thanks for the reminder, Brenda!)

Just saying.

*~*~*~*~*~*~

Coming next? The Current Week.

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Melt & Pour Versus Cold Process Soap

Hi, Guys!

I’ve had a few people ask me, recently, about some of the soaps that I’ve been making and why some take so much longer to package.

Here is my answer, which I posted in one of my FaceBook groups, but I thought that this might shed some light on this for some of my newer followers:

I just wanted to take a few minutes to explain the different types of soaps that I make; melt & pour and cold process.
 
Melt & pour is to cold process what digital photography is to film photography; instant gratification! 🤣
 
I started out doing melt & pour because it’s fast. There. It’s out. I said it. If you look up the word, “impatience” in the dictionary, you’ll likely see my photo. It’s why I went from film photography to digital, and why I gravitated to melt & pour soaps before jumping into cold process with the big kids.
With melt & pour you select the type of base you want (glycerine, goat milk and shea butter are my go-to’s) and it comes in blocks. Two pound blocks are common, but I’ve cut up a 25 pound block, as well. The base is melted in a double boiler or microwave until no solids remain. Colorant and fragrance are added, mixed and the soap is then poured into molds. I use molds from 2 ounce shapes to 3 pound loaves. Small bars are ready to pop out of the molds and be wrapped within a few hours. A loaf mold can take as long as 8 hours to become solid enough to un-mold, slice and wrap. Melt & pour also makes it easy to weigh out extra to pour into my little sample molds.
The photos below illustrate fancy melt & pour, loaf slices and bars.
 
Cold process, on the other hand, is a whole different animal.
 
You select the types of oils and percentages of each you want to use, based on the characteristics of your desired bar outcome, then run your selected oils through a lye calculator. This requires knowing your yield. In my case, I use 3 pound loaf molds. This calculator then tells you the measurements of each oil, the amount of lye mixed into the correct amount of water, how much fragrance to use, etc. You have the option of tweaking your soap’s hardness, lather and pH. There are ideal ranges for all of these things.
 
Once your batter is mixed, you separate it to add different colorants for whichever look you’re going for, mix, then add fragrance. Then the batter is poured. The mold is then wrapped in towels to insulate to ensure the soap works its chemical magic. It then sits, insulated, for 24 hours. For harder soaps (soaps with larger percentages of harder oils like coconut or palm, shea butter or cocoa butter) you may be able to un-mold and slice after 24 hours. Recipes with more liquid oils (olive, sunflower, castor, grape seed, etc.) can sit in the molds, uninsulated for up to four days before you take them out to cut them. Small bar molds can be used, but the same rules apply.
 
Once sliced or popped out of smaller molds, cold process soaps need to cure anywhere from four weeks to a couple of months or more. Curing is the soap sitting in a cool, dry place while the water content evaporates from the bars or slices. The more water evaporated, the longer your bar will last in the shower, and let’s be honest. If I am paying for an artisan, hand crafted soap, I want it to last more than a week in the showe or tub, so I imagine you all feel the same.
 
Because the cold process recipes are calculated to the capacity of the molds used, it is much more difficult to get samples from them. If a loaf happens to come out with a wonky or irregular slice, I can (and will) cut samples at that time, but they will still need to have that cure time.
Below I’ve pictured a Mocha swirl and our Ocean Breeze “in the pot” swirl.
 
The current plan is to try to put out a cold process loaf once a week, while doing melt & pour in between so that we have the best selection of bars and slices to offer. After the cure of last week’s first cold process batch, we hope to be rolling out a new cured batch once a week within the next four weeks or so.
 
Let me know if y’all have any questions!
Be happy, be well, and at the very least, go make somebody smile, today!
Until next time…
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Getting Over My Fear of Lye…

Anyone who knows anything about soap knows that it can’t be made without lye (aka sodium hydroxide or caustic soda).

I’ve been doing melt & pour soaps for many, many moons because of my fear of lye. Okay, and also because I’ve read so very many horror stories of things that can go wrong while making cold process soap; acceleration (the batter thickening too quickly), ricing (little rice-like globules of soap in the batter) and the most terrifying of all; seizing (when the batter thickens so fast you can’t get it out of the pot).

I tried a new melt & pour swirling technique early last week that I was so anxious to try, because the video of said technique showed an absolutely lovely, defined swirl in the loaf slices. I was so excited to un-mold and slice that loaf. I mean, y’all have NO idea! That soap turned out okay. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have been raving about it, but it did not have the defined colors that I’d had in my mind’s eye:

Black Raspberry Vanilla Whipped

Black Raspberry Vanilla with goat milk with whipped topping loaf slices.

There is very little definition in this swirl. Yes, it’s pretty, but it wasn’t what I was going for, so I ended up spending the majority of the rest of my evening pouring over YouTube videos looking for a beginner-type cold process soap recipe. I found one, only it wasn’t exactly beginner level. It was called “in the pot swirl” and I decided to try it, because most of the beginner recipes were one color mold pours, and one color is something I can do all day with melt & pour.

The next night, Johnny and I went to our local home improvement store on our “meth run” to get the protective gear we’d need to do this soap. And the lye. Had to get the lye, because without lye, there is just oil, am I right? I grabbed what I needed and Johnny asked, “You’re getting drain cleaner to put in something people are going to put on their skin???” Well…yeah. I could pay more, plus shipping, to wait for something in prettier packaging online that contained less of the same thing, or I could grab what was right there in front of me. Total no-brainer.

I could get into the science now, but I won’t. I just told him to trust me, and we went home with our purchases (plus herb plants to soften our meth-maker-look, lol). I now have rosemary and an additional lavender planted in the herb garden, and we’ll sink the mint sometime this week.

Fast forward to Friday, when I was going to make the first batch. I got an order that I needed to deliver at 6pm that evening, and it was also the day my LLC came through, so I decided to wait until Saturday to make that batch, because chillaxing and celebrating were on the list, plus I was beat after a long week on the day job. I wanted to be fresh, mentally, when dealing with something that could eat my skin off. Can ya blame me?

So, on Saturday afternoon, after having spent my sleep-time the night before plagued with nightmares about lye solution exploding in my kitchen and covering our new flooring and making my dogs sick, I went about getting my stuff together. Johnny had to make a grocery run for Mother’s Day dinner, so I assembled everything I needed for the entire process, except for the lye. Having never worked with it before, I wanted to make sure I had someone in the house in case of … well, the worst case scenario. After all, somebody needed to be left to explain what happened.

So, Johnny got home, we got the groceries put up around the ingredient fiasco I had covered the counters and stove top with.

I donned my Breaking Bad goggles (that fit beautifully over my own spectacles, I might add), put on the rubber gloves, turned on the exhaust fan over the stove and opened the lye. It was granules. Simple, easy to pour, easy to measure granules. I don’t know if I expected hellfire to come shooting out of the bottle, or what, but nothing of the sort happened. I slowly added it to the pre-measured water. The more I poured and stirred to the room temperature water, the hotter it got, which I could feel through the gloves. I could also see the vapor coming out of the cup, as well. The fan took that right up. Once dissolved, I took a temp reading. 195 degrees!

So here was the first patience test; waiting for that lye water to cool to about 125 degrees. That was the longest part of the entire “making” process. It took about an hour.

Once it reached temp, I added it, slowly, to the coconut and almond oil that I’d melted and mixed. Johnny was a safe twenty feet across the room, LOL! “How’s it going over there?” he asked. So far, so good! I used my stick blender (not my good one that I use for food, but one Johnny had gotten for me for soaping-never use your soaping tools for food prep) to stir, then mix the batter.

Nothing got burned, nothing blew up, nothing happened, at all. It took a few minutes to get to trace, and I’d read so many stories about batter never reaching trace that I started to worry, but that was for nothing. The further along I got, the closer Johnny got to see what was going on. I picked up my five quart bucket to start pouring the batter into two smaller one-quart buckets to create colors. He was a little freaked out by that, but at the right consistency? Soap batter pours beautifully without splashing.

I got my colors mixed and commenced to pouring high at first, then pouring low to ensure the colors went to the bottom and stayed at the top and took my spatula to do the “in the pot swirl.”

I then poured into my first three pound mold, and filled it up. I still had more batter, so grabbed another mold and poured the remaining batter into it. By this time, the batter was thickening up, so I was able to make a nice swirl on the top of the full mold:

fresh pour 1

Full loaf swirl.

By the time I was done swirling the top of the full mold, the second mold was good and thick, so I could take a spoon to make a texture on the top:

fresh pour 2

It looked like waves!

This is where patience comes into play. You can un-mold a melt & pour 3 pound loaf within about 8 hours. Cold process? Not so much. At least 24-48 hours need to go by to allow everything to go through gel-phase and hardening.

Just shy of the 48 hour mark, I un-molded that half-loaf, thinking it would be the most firm out of the two. Not so much. Go figure. I still haven’t researched why that is. I had a good little bit of soap stick to the mold. The full mold came out much better, with no residual batter stuck to the mold. I inverted both, to let the undersides get some air and harden a little bit for a couple of hours, then I sliced.

To say that I was pleased with the swirl (especially being my first time) is an understatement. I was beyond thrilled! See why below:

ocean breeze cps

Full loaf tall, thin slices.

half loaf

The half-mold bars are definitely chunkier, but still really pretty!

So…I am really impressed with my first go at cold process. Now, I just have to flex my patience muscle for the next 4-6 weeks so these beauties can finish curing.

One of the girls at my day job told me that she will be really interested in getting some of these once I can show her that I can wash with one and not have exposed bone. I’m pretty sure she’s going to love a bar or two.

In case you are wondering how you can see all of the neat things I’m having such a blast creating, you can check out my Facebook page. I’m going to hold off sharing my web site until it goes completely live. It’s bare bones right now, given that the store needs a commercial PayPal account to get it configured, and since I am waiting on the PayPal folks to finish the process, I’m going to wait to share that with you when it’s fully functional.

So that’s all I’ve got for you guys this evening. I hope you enjoyed reading this, and also, if you are thinking about making cold process soap, but are freaked out by that whole lye-thing, that I’ve dispelled some of your fears.

Be well, be blessed, and go out there and spread some love!

Until next time…

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