Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Great Fall to Come

Nothing witty. Nothing clever. Just another day, like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. The heat has finally arrived so we are restricted to the confines of the one air conditioned room in our rat cage. Every well-appointed cage has an exercise wheel. Ours is the treadmill. It stops us from climbing the walls, but it is by no means a substitute for the great outdoors. Folks refer to it as the dreadmill for a reason. I long for the coolness of fall.

Google Photos keeps sending me reminders of European vacations taken 5 and 10 years ago. Thanks, Google. (I mean that sarcastically.) I anxiously await the arrival of a vaccine and release from the confines of our borders. I wish it would come in the fall, but I am doubtful.

The U.S. has gone insane since I last posted. I know better than to read the news, but it is hard to look away when the entire country seems to be breaking apart and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. The new term “doomscrolling” refers to our mindless hours spent swiping through news feeds, consuming the latest in a never-ending diet of soul-sucking poison. I think we keep scrolling in hopes of finding the light at the end of the tunnel, but I think it is just an oncoming train. Maybe this fall will provide relief from the chaos that surrounds us presently. Meanwhile, I must look for the good in order to maintain my sanity.

Thank you Disney+ for not waiting for fall to release the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” for a meager $6.99 for a 30-day pass. This original cast production recorded on Broadway is fantastic! Lin Manuel Miranda’s fast-paced, clever lyrics deliver a condensed version of Ron Chernow’s book of the same title. Brilliant. We will watch it a few times before the 30 days end. Disney+ is also home to most of the Marvel superhero movies and we have now watched them all.

Speaking of superheroes...Bill Gates is a gift to us all. He and his phenomenal wife, Melinda, formed The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which provides incalculable benefit for literally millions of people. King Rat and I were lucky enough to spend an afternoon in their visitor center in Seattle (pre-COVID) and were astounded by what they have been able to do. https://www.gatesfoundation.org/ A visit to their facility (or website) gives hope where there is seemingly none. These are the heroes we need in every season.

Bill Gates is also a prolific reader and a gifted “book-talker”. He can make any book sound fascinating in just one paragraph. https://www.gatesnotes.com/Books

Thank heavens for public libraries and ebooks. Stepping into others’ shoes for a while provides a necessary distraction from the crapfest that is 2020. What a gift talented authors give us. I feel sorry for people who cannot or do not read. They may not open in the fall, but libraries offer free ebooks all the time.

The arrival of fall cannot guarantee anything more than cooler weather. In this time of uncertainty, I will settle for that.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Does anybody know what day it is?

Gerd Altmann - Pixabay
Many decades ago, when I worked at the public library, we would get many reference questions by telephone.  This was my favorite part of the job. It was pre-internet and required searching various reference books.

Who was the first US President born in the US?

Who lives at 123 Elm Street?

Who makes thermoplastic couplings?

Why is the sky blue? (That one popped up regularly.)

A neighborhood bartender called frequently with some of the most interesting questions. The stakes were high as there was often a bet on the answer. The best question was, “Why does pot give you the munchies?”

There was one reference call that always brought a tear to my eye. It was from an elderly lady who would ask in a kindly, shaky voice, “Hello, honey. Could you tell me what day it is?” I tear up even now thinking of her. During quarantine, I think of her often.

While we are staying home, King Rat and I will regularly ask each other, “Is today ____?” Neither is sure of the answer. Going by memory at this point is ill advised. Today we have phones, computers, tablets, TVs, and thermometers that all give us the day, date, and time. It is easy to check and we feel a bit silly each time do this. (Often, more than once a day.)

The only thing that has been a constant throughout quarantine is garbage day. It has been Friday for over 20 years. Why, oh why, would our garbage hauler choose this time to change our pick up day?? Now it is Thursday. The bins must be hauled out on Wednesday evening, or as we call it “Whensday?”

When thinking of rats, we often associate them with garbage piles. A bit unfair, but honest. This is one of the many reasons we do not allow garbage to pile up at home. We are diligent garbage people. Last week, or month, or whenever, I heard the familiar sound of King Rat hauling the bins to the curb. I checked my phone. It was Tuesday. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. It would be garbage day someday.




Friday, May 1, 2020

Space Invaders

Capri23auto Pixabay
There are many reasons for the dislike of rats. They invade our storage areas and gardens, they are hard to get rid of, and many are invasive species that threaten our native species. They are kind of like ivy.

We have a very steep yard. Visitors often discover when pulling up our driveway, their seatbelts lock in and they can’t get out of the car. 

When we moved in over twenty years ago, we were concerned about the stability of the land, but the folks who lived here before us had planted English ivy in the back yard to hold the hill in place. Yay! Years passed and the ivy continued to cover the entire back hillside.

Each spring we would tackle the miserable job of scaling the hill, me with a string trimmer, King Rat with hedge trimmers, and we would hack the height down to a couple of inches. 

At a garden show, we picked up a flyer from the “No Ivy League” and read how this plant is invasive and contrary to popular belief, does not do a good job of stabilizing steep slopes. We slightly pooh-poohed the idea, knowing that our hill had been stable for years. We had been very good at keeping it off the trees and not letting it go to seed, but it had begun to spread to the adjacent greenbelt.

Then I read Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope both by Douglas W. Tallamy. The premise of Tallamy’s books was how embracing native plants can restore ecosystems that have been damaged by the introduction of non-native species. He offered that if homeowners return a portion of our landscape to natives, we can create a kind of personal land refuge that provides habitat and migratory paths for various species. This is more effective for species protection than large isolated refuges. 

I looked at our backyard and all that English ivy and “Yay!” Became “Yikes!” Not only is ivy invasive, as we age, containing the ivy and maintaining the hill will be hazardous to our health.

Last spring we began the removal process. We wanted to work while the clay was damp as it would be easier to pull the ivy. What a mess! Every day we would chop, dig, yank, slip and slide and coat ourselves in clay while fighting the beast. Our back plot of 60x100’ felt like acres of ivy. Just when we thought a patch was clear, a runner from the next patch would reach twenty feet back through the cleared section and be woven through myriad other runners buried even deeper.

The rains stopped early and the clay began to dry. As we pulled, the dried clay became earthen marbles that either sent us sliding, or they rolled to the bottom of the hill and bounced onto the patio leaving a trail of clay debris behind. 

A friend warned us that she had developed devastating carpal tunnel from her ivy removal project. Every evening we massaged our forearms in hopes of calming the tingling hands and twingy elbows that would later wake us up at night. The joints on my fingers swelled to the point I couldn’t wear my rings. My Achilles’ tendons and hips ached from being overstretched while trying to stay upright on the hill. We reached the steepest 10x70’ swath that met our terraced patio, and it was time to stop for the summer. 

We removed 40 yard carts of ivy, finely chopped to maximize the amount that would fit into each cart. We burned up a hedge trimmer in the process of all the chopping. 

When the fall rains resumed, we shopped our yard looking for natives we could move to the denuded backyard. We planted sword ferns, mahonias, and fringe cups.

During the first few weeks of quarantine, I removed the final, most difficult swath. 

I planted 23 kinnickinnik plants - a low-growing, flowering and fruiting native ground cover - on the recently exposed face. With a deep feeling of satisfaction, I rejoiced in the completion of the project. Hallelujah!

The next day, I was disheartened to discover some plants unearthed by voles and other plants broken off at the trunk by squirrels. WTF? To deter the foraging, I carefully sprinkled copious amounts of cayenne pepper on each plant. That evening, after a too-brief rain shower, all of the pepper was gone.

Frustration turned to anger and then to resignation. As I stuffed the remaining sprigs back in their holes, I envisioned how I will spend the remainder of quarantine, and probably my life.

Swear. Sigh. Gather. Replant. Repeat.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

I Smell a Rat...

Image by SARA REESE from Pixabay
Rats have a very keen sense of smell. Rats in Africa have been trained to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis. Queen Rat has had a remarkable sense of smell, even as a child. Often, this ability to smell food from afar, resulted in her being referred to as Yogi Bear.  Remember his most famous line, “I smell a pic-a-nic basket!?”

This sense of smell has not diminished over the years. It is a blessing when in a garden or bakery, and a curse when behind a car with smokers or in a crowd of the great unwashed. Remember the 1990s and all the perfume? Toxic to a rat with allergies.

A few weeks ago, Queen Rat’s nose detected a foul smell in the laundry room. It smelled a bit like backed up sewage or something decaying. King Rat was called in to assess the situation. “It is natural gas,” he replied with confidence.

“I know the smell of natural gas. This is the smell of something dead,” Queen Rat countered.

“Nope. Natural gas.”

Later in the week while working on the patio near the exterior dryer vent, Queen Rat’s sniffy sense was alerted once again. “I smell something dead near the dryer vent.”

“Natural gas,” replied King Rat dismissively.

About ten days later, Queen Rat spotted a huge fly in the house. “How did we get a fly? The house is closed up tight, and this is not fly season?”

King Rat dispensed with the fly using his favorite toy, the battery operated fly swatter from Harbor Freight. It electrocutes the insect upon contact. Nothing is more joyous than sparking a yellow jacket to death.

Yesterday, Queen Rat was doing laundry. Wet laundry in hand, she opened the dryer and was set upon by a swarm of flies. It was like a bad horror movie. Mere words cannot describe the experience.

Queen Rat has watched enough detective show to know that maggots eat dead bodies and then develop into flies about ten days later. “THERE IS SOMETHING DEAD IN THE DRYER VENT!!!” Queen Rat retreated to the safety of the main house.

King Rat reluctantly reopened the dryer door and released the remaining flies. He vacuumed the lint from the outside vent, then disassembled the dryer connection. Nothing in the vent. He removed the vertical metal pipe that went straight up from the bottom of the dryer to the opening higher up the wall only to discover the remains of a chipmunk. He surreptitiously carried the cadaver to the final resting spot in the trash can, knowing that Queen Rat would not want to bear witness.

“Well? What did you find?”

“You were right. There was a dead chipmunk. I didn’t want to tell you” he offered sheepishly.

“Because I was right or because it was a cute little chipmunk?”

Being the wise rat he is, King Rat just smiled and said, “Yes.”




Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Looking a Little Ratty?

Image by fashionate from Pixabay 
Rats are fastidious groomers. In fact, they often groom more frequently than cats. They will often groom other rats. Rats have even been known to set hairstyle trends. Do you remember the rattail hairstyle trend in the 80s? It was a short haircut, but at the nape of the neck, a tail was left. Some were very skinny, some were fat and they came in different lengths.

In these “Stay at home, stay safe” times, many of us are missing our groomers. We are beginning

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Rat-ional Thinking

Maddy Mazur- Pixabay
Rats are flourishing during the Coronavirus. Our behavior patterns have changed and it has affected rats. They don’t complain or worry, they just adapt. (Yahoo/BBC New Article)

As we are self-quarantining these days, it is easy to become a bit stir-crazy. We need to adapt.

Without our regular routines and social interactions, many of us

Monday, April 6, 2020

Rats Do This Up to 30 Times a Day!

Jasmin_Sessler - Pixabay
Poop!

What were you thinking?

Rats can drop 10-30 turds a day.  We all poop. Some, more than others. Hopefully, none of us as often as rats! Since rats have firm, clean pellet-like poop, they have no need to wipe. Most humans are not so blessed hence, the need for toilet paper.

The media keep reassuring us that we do not have a TP shortage. Then why are the shelves empty? Hoarders are making it difficult for everyone. Supposedly, it is human nature to hoard TP in times of crisis, because it gives us a feeling of control.  No matter how bad things get, at least we have toilet paper!

It used to be that most households would have a 4-pack or maybe even a 6-pack in the closet to supply all the bathrooms in the house. This seemed like plenty. Then along came Costco, the land of 30-48 super-sized rolls per case. Rolls so large, that the first sheets off the roll require deft maneuvering to get them off the normal-sized holder. Rolls equal to two TP rolls of yore.

As we peel the last shredded square, exposing the naked brown cardboard tube, we being to panic. We dash to the closet and survey the stash.  We only have one case! Add that to the shopping list! Plan the next Costco run as we only have 29-47 rolls in reserve.  Crazy, right?

Recently, on a NYC subway ride, we sat across from a man with one roll of toilet paper nestled in a sack between his feet. After he left, we had quite the conversation. Who buys a single roll of toilet paper? Did he not have storage space? Could he only afford one roll? Was he trying to quit?

Nothing else can replace toilet paper. Technically, it is toilet tissue. Thin tissue paper. It is made to dissolve quickly. This is important for the health of your house’s plumbing. Facial tissue (aka Kleenex), paper towels, and so-called “flushable” wipes are not made to dissolve quickly, but they can quickly clog and back up plumbing. Check out this video from “Adam Ruins Everything”. These wipes are causing major clogs (called “fatbergs”) in plumbing systems everywhere.

There are varying grades of toilet tissue. At the low end, institutional tissue is usually 1-ply. It is supposedly cheaper, but given that one needs three times as much to do half the job, I question that premise. I remember one kind our school district used actually had visible wood fibers. Maybe they assumed the threat of sphincter splinters would discourage waste. High-end tissue can have as many as 3-ply with clouds, ripples, or squeegees.

Most tissue is made from non-recycled wood fiber which is crazy to think that we are clearing forests to clean our rears. Recycled pulp tissue hasn’t ranked high on the toilet tissue scale. It isn’t soft, doesn’t have pillows, but it does dissolve quickly...sometime in your hand.

How to avoid all this ecological devastation, plugged plumbing and TP tension? I give you...the bidet.
Bidets come in all sizes shapes and iterations. From the Japanese TOTO which has warm water, warm air, and soothing music, to the Turkish water jug for rinsing, to the easy-install toilet seat bidet.

Think about it. If you got fecal matter on your arm, would you wipe it off with a dry paper towel and call it good? How is cleaning your rear any different?

Bidets supply a clean water rinse to your nether regions that enable a thorough gentle clean to which no TP can compare. (Wiki How provides instructions on how to use various types of bidets.) The $30 toilet seat models that can be ordered online enable human rats to achieve a glorious level of clean with minimal use of TP and no need for a costly nonflushable-flushable wipe. Once adapted to the bidet, TP use will seem as barbaric as it actually is.