Modern magic

I love living at a time, and in a place, where I just have to point my finger and KAZAM! – magic happens. Take this evening, for example. In fact, take just the last 15 minutes.

First, by way of context, a word picture. I am sitting at the dinner table, refusing to make eye contact with a deeply apologetic (if you’ll believe one wag of it, which I frankly don’t) small shithead mongrel. In the mudroom is a punctured hen, trembling and panting in a crate. I have cleaned her up and wrapped her in a warm towel, and she’s resting on a cushion of fresh hay. I think she will probably be dead by morning, and I’m very much inclined to insist that Himself put her out of her misery. Himself is very much inclined to “see if she makes it”. I lack the moral or intestinal fortitude to haul out an ax and Do The Deed myself. As the designated Mother Earth figure around here (you learn to make do with what you have, and I’m the only member of the household with both opposing thumbs and mammaries), it falls to me to ensure that any “making it” is achieved as effectively and with as little suffering as possible. “Fuck it,” I say in motherly tones, directing another unloving glare at the mongrel.

CeCe the shithead mongrel chicken-chomper thinks that if she doesn’t look at me I can’t see her, and therefore I won’t be mad. She’s our current foster dog, and I’m thinking her forever family better not have chickens…
At that moment my glance falls upon my magic wand phone, and suddenly I know what I need to do. I point my finger and KAZAM! – there’s Google.

Right, yes, I know, most people would have thought of Google immediately – but I grew up in a different era, okay? I remember the day my parents bought a brand new, hot-off-the-press, late 60s edition set of Encyclopedia Britannica, from an actual human salesman who came to our home. They and he and 11-year-old I sat around the dinner table my great-uncle made (the very table that I now sit at, clear on the other side of the planet), and the salesman covered the table with brightly colored glossy brochures. They were full of snippets of information and they had an amazing shiny-glossy-paper smell, and I was only vaguely aware of the salesman periodically inviting my parents to notice how much their brilliant firstborn was enjoying the opportunity to LEARN. Then he went outside to his car, and came back in with a big box and a free bookcase. And inside that box, good friends, was all the knowledge in the world.

I loved those encyclopedias and spent hours browsing through them during the ensuing years, and I can tell you with no shadow of doubt that nowhere in the lengthy, comprehensive, very-small-print index was there a category for “how to treat an injured chicken”.

I started out to tell you about a 15 minute snippet of my day, and I seem somehow to have wandered more than 40 years off course. Let me get back to the point.

Via my phone, Google told me I could give the hen aspirin – five regular aspirins in a gallon of water. It told me how many milligrams of aspirin were in a regular aspirin (325). It told me how many ounces of water were in a gallon (128). My phone helped me calculate how much water I needed for one baby aspirin (about a cup). Then Google told me I could give the chicken sugar for shock, and how much (3 Tbsp per gallon of water), and also that I should flush out the wounds with hydrogen peroxide and cover them with Neosporin, and that I should continue to do this for several days, and that there was every chance she would survive. Google even provided numerous anecdotes from people whose chickens had survived an astonishing array of injuries, and it comforted me greatly to know that there are real live people out there who will put a splint on a chicken with a broken leg instead of … well, say for example, eating it.

I did everything Google and my phone told me to do, and tucked the hen back into bed, using the same phone to record the occasion. KAZAM! (Seriously, guys – pictures. Taken with a phone that fits inside my pocket. And the pictures – which are in full color – are already available to be shared … with you … wherever you live, anywhere in the world. Do you know how amazing this is? Or is the amazement limited to people whose first camera was a Box Brownie?)

Hurt hen
You can’t see it here, but she’s been well-basted with antibiotic ointment, as well as generously dosed with aspirin in sugar water.
Hurt hen
Tucked up for the night. I still don’t really expect her still to be with us tomorrow … but we’ll see. I’ve done the best I can. (Feel free to chip in here with advice, Mother Hen…)
Argos would SO love to get inside the mudroom… and finish what CeCe started…

So is it just me, or are you also sometimes sideswiped with amazement at this brave new world we live in?

Reeking but undefeated

I think I’ve mentioned, once or twice before, that I’m a little obsessive about compost. So when I told Himself the other day that he could stop putting every bit of unwanted peel, core, leaf, or mysterious-squishy-thing-from-the-fridge-veggie-drawer into a special bucket next to the sink, for subsequent emptying onto the compost pile, that was a Big Deal.

Himself, as a believer in better living through chemistry who just doesn’t get the Magic Of Decomposition, was rendered exceedingly happy by this change in house rules. But for me it was an admission of defeat. The thing is, my meticulously planned and sweatily planted veggie garden has exploded. Every time I venture into it, I hear this theme song.

I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.
I took this three weeks ago. Those pretty yellow ones are now taller than I am.

It’s not that there aren’t vegetables – they’re out there. Lurking. But fetching them in involves a machete, and a compass to find the way back to civilization, and one should probably be armed against lurking predators. (There’s a lot of lurking going on, and it scares me.) Meanwhile, that whole self-sufficiency trip just ain’t happening this year.

So anyway, recognizing that (a) the soil is apparently not in urgent need of anything to encourage stuff to grow, and (b) I can’t find the compost heap anyway, we now throw away kitchen waste instead of recycling it. And the only downside is that doing so makes me feel like a huge failure in Permaculture World.

Until the other day, when it dawned on me that, if I were to send all this vegetable matter down through the garbage disposal, it would end up underground, decaying peacefully in the septic tank and slowly seeping back into the soil. (I’m a little foggy regarding the design details of our septic system, but I’m reasonably sure seeping happens.) I was happy again! Plus, for the first time, I could see the sense in having a garbage disposal. I had never encountered one before moving to the US … In South Africa, kitchen waste goes on the compost heap. Or if you aren’t into compost, you can put it on the elephant table.

Okay, I’m kidding, outside of the zoo there aren’t actually elephants in Johannesburg. But if there were, you could totally feed them whatever green, crunchy stuff you didn’t want to eat yourself.

Getting back to the point of this story, this evening I got a chance to use our garbage disposal as a compost alternative on a grand scale, because I went to fry up some onions and every bloody onion in the pantry was nasty in its middle. (I didn’t grow these onions. The onions I planted appear to be experiencing jungle shock and are refusing to bulb out.)

As I chopped each one open and it oozed at me I shoved it into the garbage disposal, and listened to the chomping, roaring noises with a frankly savage satisfaction. Himself wandered into the kitchen, expressed a contrarian opinion, and was sent packing. Two minutes later, the chomping and roaring gave way to glutinous bubbling, a moaning noise came from the guts of the machine, and a greasy mix of chopped onion and brown water bubbled up into the sink. Basically, the garbage disposal reacted pretty much as I would have done if I’d crammed four icky onions down my own gullet.

There was NO WAY I was going to tuck my tail between my legs and ask His Engineership to rescue me, so I got myself under the sink and took apart as much of the plumbing as I dared. (I have been known to be handy under duress, even if I do have to mutter “lefty loosey, righty tighty” every time I have to twist something.)

Nothing happened. I googled it. Do you know, there’s a whole library of how-to-fix-your-garbage-disposal on Youtube! So clearly this is a universal problem. I am not alone! I watched half of one, which instructed me to press the red button, so I pressed it. Still nothing happened.

You know what happened, don’t you? In the end, Himself took apart the plumbing, which did vomit forth, and then I cleaned up. It was completely disgusting, and I still smell like onions.

What else could I do but share the story with the whole world?

Do you ever set goals, and then find that reality is a whole lot more complicated than you’ve planned for? 

Look out!

You know that feeling you get directly after you leap from the penthouse suite of a really tall hotel? Well, okay, nor do I – I have zero experience of penthouses. But efforts to impress aside, I’m talking about that feeling you have as you’re plummeting gracefully toward the planet, and you wonder whether this was really what you wanted to do.

And then you think, “Oh heck YEAH – because I … can … FLY!”  And you do, and it’s just totally wonderful.

That’s how I feel right now – the plummeting part, that is; I haven’t quite got the hang of flying yet, but I will. Any minute now.

This particular leap of faith actually began about a week ago, when our annual lightning storm took out my laptop and left it disheveled, drunk and disorderly. I, being no stranger to CID (catastrophic interruption of deadline), very calmly went all to pieces, until it occurred to me that I should maybe contact the technological genius who rescued me the last time this happened, if only I could remember his name. As it happens, at the beginning of this year I quit doing that thing you do with your fingers to ward off the evil eye every time someone said “You need a smartphone”, and went out and got one. So I didn’t need to remember his name – all I needed to remember was how I might have described him. I typed “Geek” into my clever little Android and up he popped, in all his Transylvanian mysteriousness. (Well, I think it’s Transylvania. Somewhere in the Balkans, anyway. Of course, now he lives downtown in Smallville Eww Ess Aye, and he wears jeans and stained tee-shirts instead of a black cape – but he still speaks in strange tongues and performs arcane works of magic.)

To cut a long story short – mainly because I don’t know the words required to tell it in any detail – he took Ye Olde Laptoppe apart, sneered at its inferior Lenovoness, pronounced it not worth saving, and presented me with his old Dell Latitude, loaded for bear with the full Office Professional suite, and Windows 8.1.

Which brings me to the point of this story. The thing is, I am what marketers term a “slow adopter”.

And I am cool with that. In my world, blackberries are for eating, and wii is spelled with two Es (and never in polite company). I still remember pouring contempt upon the wild-eyed dreamer who tried to tell me I would ever need anything more than the 11MB on my first hard drive computer. Don’t get me wrong – I love science fiction, and I have no doubt that matter transmitters, antigravity and fat-dissolving chocolate are just sitting in a forgotten petri dish somewhere waiting to be discovered. But I don’t necessarily need to own the latest marvel of technology. (I mean I don’t need to own much of the stuff anyone has discovered so far. I do in fact rather urgently need either a matter transmitter or a time machine.) You can keep your Nook and your satellite TV and your Hybrid. As long as I have a good book, a tree to sit under, and a broomstick to get me where I need to be, I’m fine.

Except when techno-magic whomps me upside the head … oh man, that is a whole other story.

Enter 8.1, hot on the heels of my new smartphone. Scatter some fairy dust and show me The Wonder That Is Outlook. And I get it! I do! I can get my shit together! I can be organized! I can become someone who is on time, never forgets a bill, and has a pristine filing cabinet instead of a heap of cardboard boxes stuffed with unopened envelopes and bits of things that need to be fixed. I too can have an office that looks like this…


or this…


instead of this…

Not the Oval Office

So, being a woman of action, I started Outlook up, patted it on the butt, and told it to get its little old self busy synchronizing my email accounts.

Three-and-a-half minutes later, Himself blasted into the study, demanding to know just what I was doing to consume an entire gigabyte of whatever it is that keeps us online and hurl us over our monthly limit. “Oops!” I said, and hastily turned off my computer – that being the only way I could think of to shut Outlook down. It turns out that when Outlook syncs one’s email accounts, it downloads the entire contents of said accounts onto one’s computer.

And you thought the mess on my desk looked bad.

Well, that’s when I did it. I jumped. I finally, once and for all, acknowledged that there was absolutely no way I was ever, ever, EVER going to answer all of those emails. Or file them. Or, in fact, do anything at all except pile more emails on top of them. And yes, there may have been treasures in there – love letters, even, for all I know – but they are gone, gone, GONE. I spotted a few folders that looked as though they had chunks of good stuff in them so I saved those, which brought me down to maybe 1000-or-so emails. I don’t know how many I dusted off into the space between pixels, but it was something between 10,000 and 25,000.

Who needs anti-gravity? I have thrown off my chain and I’m flying!