Friday, June 26, 2009

Flashback Friday: The importance of airtight containers

Sometimes I get annoyed with the ants getting into our food all the time. One day I think I have everything they could possibly want packed away in air tight containers and the next day I see that they have gotten into something else I thought was safe from their prying and pinching.

It's like when I was baby proofing the house. One day I thought I have everything moved out of Rachel's reach and the next day she learned to climb the shelf and I had to rework our system once again.

The other day Andrew had grabbed a package of saltine crackers to put in his pocket to take to work iwth him. Just as he was going to put said crackers in said pocket, he realized the package was swarming with ants. There was a tiny hole, hardly even visible, and the ants were marching through that to get to the crackers. Luckily Andrew noticed and didn't end up with ants in his pants. Equally luckily the other packages in the big package (Egypt is all about over packaging, perhaps due to ants) are airtight and ant-free, at least as far as we can tell.

As bad as things are, though, I need to remember that things could always be worse.

Before the Olsons lived next door to us in High River, they lived on an acreage out by the hamlet of Aldersyde,* complete with a barn, some horses, hay and everything. I guess when they decided to go back to school, they moved into town to save money. They moved their family of seven into a little duplex with two small bedrooms, a master bedroom, and an unfinished basement. They hung up sheets to sequester little private areas for some of the kids (at least for Tacy and I think for Benton, too) down there, between food storage and a play area.

They must have felt a little cramped, moving from a nice, big house on an acreage to a little duplex with a tiny strip of lawn. I know our family felt a little cramped when my parents moved us from our big house in PoCo to a little duplex in Calgary, squeezing our family of eight into a living area built for 3 or 4.

The Olsons didn't live in those conditions long, though, before they were off on a grad-school adventure of their own. As I mentioned before, I helped them pack a lot. One day Trina gave Tacy and me the job of dumping the burlap sacks of wheat into big buckets. They had had the wheat for several years now and were working their way through it slowly, but figured that it would keep better in buckets than in porous sacks in a place as humid as Oklahoma (I don't know firsthand that Oklahoma is humid, but almost anywhere could be considered humid when compared to Alberta).

The first few bags of wheat went a little slowly. We'd open one up, dump it into the bucket, and pound the lid on. It took both of us working together to be able to lift the 25 kg bags of wheat high enough to dump them and it was sweaty, dusty work. Wheat dust, similar to what you get when you grind wheat, would puff up around us while we poured.

After a while we perfected our system and started working pretty fast. Open, dump, pound. Open, dump, pound. Open, dump, pound.

When we were a significant way through the stack of wheat bags, we ran across a "special" bag. There was nothing telling about the exterior of the bag. It looked identical to every other bag of wheat that we had transferred that day. When we opened it and started pouring, however, it was obvious that this bag was different.

Instead of the regular cloud of wheaty air we had been expecting, a putrid smelling, sickly grey plume of dust erupted from the bag when we started pouring.

Unfortunately we had reached the point of no return in our system of wheat-transfer. Tacy and I were so small that once we had lifted the huge bag of wheat high enough to start dumping it into the bucket there was no way we could put it down until we had emptied it that didn't involve losing our balance and spilling the nasty, smelly stuff all over the floor or getting in closer contact than we wanted to be with that sac of wheat. At least, there wasn't anything that we could think of to do. So instead we stood there, pouring the wheat and holding our breath.

While we were pouring, we saw the cause of all the stench fall into the bucket. Riding the wave of golden wheat was a very dead, little, grey field mouse.

We abruptly ended our task by heaving the bottom of the sack into the bucket along with the wheat without bothering to dump it out and ran to get Tacy's dad. He took the bucket outside, dumped it into a garbage bag, and left that in the alley to wait for garbage day. Tacy and I were excused from our task until the basement aired out.

So things could always be worse. Instead of ants milling around my kitchen, I could have mice.

I should mention that they formerly kept their wheat out in the barn so the mouse is probably from then and not from when they were living in town. Upon further inspection, there was a small tear in the burlap sack, which is probably how the mouse got in. It's amazing how something so small can lead to such a big (and stinky) problem!

Needless to say, I had no problem investing money in airtight containers when Andrew and I started our food storage after we were married. No problem at all!

* In Alberta, a hamlet is a community which has more than four dwellings, a specified boundary, a name, and land used for non-residential purposes. (from wikipedia)


  1. Oh, that's gross. Your poor kid self. Ew.

  2. My story involves oatmeal, and I know it was in a good, airtight container. But one day while I was tending Jenna and Lance, so with Kelli and Abbi I had four little kids all gathered around to make cookies. We mixed the sugar and butter and eggs, etc. Then I opened the oatmeal container. All the little heads leaned in to have a closer look at what was going into the batter. "Auntie Myrna!" exclaimed Jenna, "The oatmeal is MOVING!" And indeed, it was. It was FULL of moving insect life! Gross.

  3. Yuck! We get mealworms and other icky things in our grain all the time here. It just can't be helped. Putting the oatmeal/flour in the freezer for a few days, though, kills all the eggs so they won't hatch in your airtight container later. At least, that's what I read online and it's worked so far, except for with our couscous--Andrew dumped some "inherited" couscous in our container of couscous and contaminated it with larvae. So now there are little brown things crawling around in there.

    We need to get rid of that, too. Sigh.

  4. oh man... i do not miss the bugs in egypt at all!!!