Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pee in the Public Interest

My New Thing is pee. Well, not actually a new thing. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know it comes up … frequently. But never in quite this pee-as-a-public-service way.

It all started with a camping trip to the new K’esugi Ken Campground in Denali State Park. The individual campsites are so luxurious, the tent sites are carpeted in beautiful grass. Imagine sleeping on grass instead of pebbles and gravel!

Our friend Bruce came by, looked at the grass, and muttered, “Great outhouses, and they couldn’t go there to pee.” I didn’t understand until he pointed out the greener circles of grass, polka dots of bright green.

“I thought pee killed grass.”

“No,” Bruce said. “In the summer, it fertilizes the grass. See, they just got out of their tents and peed nearby.”

If your brain hovers in the sewer, this starts the gears turning. What about that little patch of grass that Tim says just won’t grow because of shade? What if I gave it a little boost?

So I got a paper cup, hid it in the bathroom, and (when Tim wasn’t home) secretly peed into the cup, ran outside, poured it over the unhappy patch of grass, ran back inside, rinsed the cup and hid it. I did this a lot.

I didn’t tell anyone, but I secretly watched as the grass began to turn green and thrive.

I still didn’t tell anyone. But then my friend Sarah told me about a Planet Money episode on NPR.  Apparently, fertilizer requires phosphorus, and most phosphorus comes from Morocco, and there’s concern we could run out. So in Vermont, the Rich Earth Institute launched the Urine Brigade to collect pee, pasteurize it, and take it to a hay farm – where it doubled the yield of hay!

They say we each pee about 125 gallons a year, enough to grow 325 pounds of wheat. It’s recycling!

So I told Tim. Then I moved on from his patch of grass to my phlox, which just won’t grow as extravagantly as my friend Robin’s. I poured my pee on a part of it, still a little worried I might kill it. It grew denser and puffier in that spot!

So now I’m back at it. (Are these things you’re supposed to announce in public? Yes, if it encourages people to recycle their phosphorus back into Nature!)

Anyhow, in the meantime, Tim had to repair the innards of our toilet with a new mechanism. The new parts said I couldn’t use the cleaner I usually use on the toilet. Over time, my immaculate, spic-and-span toilet began to develop limescale, and it looked totally gross in the little back areas of the bowl where my brush couldn’t reach.

I attacked it with my pumice stone. I attacked it with vinegar. I attacked it with a scouring pad, with a brush. I attacked it with Comet. With baking soda. I fought the scale, but the scale was winning.

Then I turned to Google: they recommended Coca-Cola. So I now pour Coca-Cola into my toilet bowl.

Tim turned to me and said, “You’ll pour Coca-Cola into our toilet but you won’t pee into it because you’re pouring your pee on our garden. Do you think other people live like this?”

Why wouldn’t they?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Errands: A Love/Hate Relationship

I had a whole Third Third afternoon free to do what I wanted; I just had a couple of errands. Just a couple, but you know how this goes: the errands ate the whole afternoon. The trip to the grocery store got compounded by an out-of-stock item; the trip to pick up compost put me at the end of the line of pickups unloading at the dump; the simple birthday card wasn’t so simple (if you want just the right birthday card). One afternoon vaporized.

Yet there are Good Errands and Bad Errands.

This is a Good Errand:
  • It happens conveniently, maybe even while you’re doing something else and the errand is close by or related.
  • It may involve a bit of serendipitous good fortune: running into a friend or finding some other thing along the way.
  • It’s intrinsically good: recycling, a volunteer task or delivery, a trip to the library
  • It takes the time you thought it would take or less.
  • It’s interesting.
  • You have a good attitude.
This is a Bad Errand:
  • It’s imperative even if you don’t have the available time so you end up rushing or feeling rushed.
  • It involves cancellations, misprinted phone numbers, malfunctioning equipment, bad directions, and assorted other kinks in the universe.
  • You have a bad attitude.
There is movement between Good Errands and Bad Errands:
  • Good Errands are still Bad Errands if there are simply too many of them.
  • A Bad Errand can be recharacterized as a Good Errand if you feel cooped up in the house and the errand is a way to Get Out of the House. Or if you can do the Bad Errand on a bicycle.
  • Even a Bad Errand has the opportunity to transform itself into a Good Errand if it encounters a lot of appreciation, gratitude, and courtesy. It can even elevate itself to a Mission!
What’s a Mission? A unique self-motivating errand that launches a search for solution.

Self-motivating means that finding a dress for a particular occasion is only a Mission if you like clothes-shopping, dressing-up, and attending banquets; otherwise, it’s an errand. My missions involve crafts. The search for the perfect butter dish consumed me for a few years, as did the teapot quest.

There’s a BIG difference between an Errand and a Mission.

How an Errand Became a Mission: A True-Life Account
  1. You bought an oil pourer on sale at the Corning Museum of Glass and schlepped it back to Alaska because you were really proud of your purchase. It was perfect for drizzling oil over vegetables before roasting.
  2. Somehow the ridges on the pouring nozzle got smaller and the cork-thing became loose and now oil spills all over the place.
  3. The usual grocery store doesn’t sell cork-like nozzle things. The whole contraption sits on the kitchen counter for months, reminding you of the necessary Bad Errand. Every time you roast vegetables, you glare at it.
  4. Finally, one day, you’re in the mood to deal with it as an interesting Good Errand. You go to the bottling store you’d discovered once.
  5. Except that the road the bottling store is on is under construction and you are detoured all over the stupid area and besides, they don’t have it anyway, and this is now a Really Bad Errand.
  6. The bottling store directs you to a restaurant supply store. You have never been to a restaurant supply store before. Hmm, things are looking up: before you were a go-fer, now you’re an investigator … on a Mission!
  7. The restaurant supply store has nozzles; they have packs of 12 nozzles! They have lots of startling things; this is a New Thing, a new discovery. The solution is taking shape; things are looking do-able. Now you need a gadget store for one nozzle.
  8. That means a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, the kind of store that’s good for about two visits a year to gape at the sheer variety of things that exist to buy. And there it is, a package of two!
  9. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

You can go home again.

Yes, it is possible to go home again. It’s just littler.

I remember the first winter break I came home from college. I’d left my dormitory shower room, with its wall of sinks and room of showers and came home to my parents’ house … with its single, tiny, little sink and shower. The counter seemed made for midgets as I had to stoop over to brush my teeth. Were college counters higher because there were no children there? The whole return home experience seemed like a voyage to Lilliput.

In our last visit to New York, my sister Elizabeth and I decided to explore New Jersey. I lived there from age four to eight, and she was born there. We actually drove up to our old address. We had not been back there since 1962. 56 years.

Yet I knew the curve in the street! I knew where my friend Karen used to live! I knew this place!

Except that almost all the houses had sprouted second floors or additions. They were bigger, swollen over their lots. But not ours. Ours was the little ranch house I remembered. From the outside.

The current owner, Jen, let us in.

How could a family of six have lived in that house? Where did we eat? In the itsy-bitsy kitchen?? I do remember we couldn’t open cabinets or the refrigerator when we were all seated at supper, but how did we even walk through the kitchen? How did my mother cook in there? Did we ever have relatives over for Thanksgiving or Passover? There was no way a single other person could have sat at our kitchen table.

How did we ever fit? The dining room was our living room. That’s where the couch, TV, and Dad’s chair was. How did it all fit??? Even Jen couldn’t imagine it. I’m pretty sure I watched TV from the floor.

No wonder our main play area was outside or in the basement.

The full basement was acres and acres of interesting stuff to play with. My father’s workshop, my mother’s laundry area (with her ironing mangle!), the place where old interests died (the fish tank, for example), and my own personal area: under the stairs, with my father’s old electronics (an oscilloscope!). The basement was our domain.

If you asked me, I’d say we had to go down twenty steps to get way, way down to the basement.

At Jen’s house, there were seven steps.

I can still describe the bookshelves with the Golden Book Encyclopedias in the living room, the pink cement patio we used to chalk whole cities on (which is still there, under Jen’s deck), the Book of Knowledge bookcase behind the couch, my mother’s philodendrons climbing to the ceiling and serving as a room divider. I can close my eyes and remember Home.

So I sat on my couch, in my Anchorage living room, and looked around. I looked at the bookshelf full of books and the other full of games. At the pottery from Mexico, the painting from a silent auction, the flea market couch that’s been reupholstered twice. The lamps that fall over, the beanbag chairs and pillows I made years ago, the ivy that climbs up the fireplace wall. The three different colors I picked for the walls.

“Guess what I’m thinking,” I said to Tim.

“That our home is homey,” he said.

How did he know that? That was exactly what I was thinking.

It must have been the smile on my face.

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