Monday, April 26, 2010

Put Down the Seat AND the Lid!

I can't believe I'm really blogging about this, but sometimes life is stranger than fiction. When several people in a row ask me the same question over the course of a few days, I figure it's some kind of divine intervention pointing me toward that subject. This time the question is, "Why should I bother putting the toilet seat down?" And yes, I do think the gods have quite a sense of humor.
Of course, we all know that the toilet seat issue is a sticking point in personal relationships. Over the century or so since the commode became commonplace in people's bathrooms I'm sure it has acted as the last straw in numerous marriages and, since the Enlightenment of the Sixties, quite a few live-in partnerships as well.

Instead of berating men for not bothering to put the seat back down, I'm here to thank them for lifting it in the first place so I don't have to use a bespattered toilet seat afterward. In addition, I'm going to instruct EVERYONE in proper toilet etiquette. Yes, really. It doesn't have to do with manners so much as with hygiene. Seriously.

First, let's have a little physics lesson here. Everyone knows what a tornado looks like. It's a swirling vortex in the air, which sucks things up into it and spews them out the top. That's how you end up with the living room sofa balanced on top of the neighbor's chimney once the tornado is gone. Well, guess what? A toilet makes a vortex, too. When you flush and the water pours into the bowl from the tank, it swirls around in a watery vortex before it goes down the drain. The toilet's vortex acts exactly like a tornado: It picks up things from within the toilet bowl and spews them out the top. I kid you not.

If you're really brave, flush a clean toilet and put your hand over the bowl, level with the seat. You'll feel a cool spray. Those tiny droplets have been flung into the air by the vortex in the toilet bowl. Now, if you've just used the toilet and it's not so clean, the swirling water is going to pick up tiny bits of whatever you just deposited and spray them out. Eeeeeew. So what should you do?

Put both the seat AND the lid down BEFORE you flush. That will contain the spewing droplets of you-don't-want-to-know-what so they don't fly up into the air and blanket your bathroom (yes, they're light enough to float quite some distance before landing). Putting the lid down is also a handy way to keep the dog from drinking out of the toilet bowl, and it tends to limit unpleasant accidents like the time you were fussing with your favorite earring and it popped off, landing you-know-where.

So there you have it, etiquette and hygiene all in one. Everyone puts the lid down, everyone's happy, the bathroom doesn't look like a giant petri dish.

Oh yes, and make sure you finish up before you pass out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eaters of the Dead

I'm a fan of Michael Crichton but he's such a productive writer, I have to admit I haven't read all his books. This week I finally got around to reading Eaters of the Dead. It was originally published in 1976, before I even knew who Michael Crichton was, but a reprint was issued last year for all of us who are still discovering the vast range of his writings. The niftiest thing about this book is that it's a retelling of the story of Beowulf from the point of view of an outsider: an Arab diplomat who is kidnapped by a band of Vikings while on a mission to the king of the Bulgars.

I read Beowulf for the first time in 9th grade. I remember thinking, "This would be a great story if it were told well." Translation is a hard thing in any case, and the poetry of the original Anglo-Saxon (yes, it really is poetic) is generally lost in the rock-em-sock-em versions in modern English. I read two more translations before diving into the original Anglo-Saxon version in grad school. Yeah, I'm a glutton for punishment, but it was really marvelous to read it out loud, as it would originally have been performed, and hear the sounds the language made, how they colored the story itself. Modern English never quite cut it after that. At least, not until I read Michael Crichton's version.

I love reading stories of cultures encountered by outsiders - a different point of view does wonders for the texture and depth of a tale. One of my favorites is Creation by Gore Vidal, and Crichton's work definitely measures up. Imagine being an urbane, educated, cultured Arab at the height of Arab civilization. You're a diplomat, used to courtly manners and world-class cuisine. Then you're kidnapped by a gang of Vikings and dragged along with them on a quest to save a Scandinavian settlement from a horrendous enemy.

Sure, there's blood and gore, but the narrator spends rather a lot of time commenting on the Viking warriors' personal cleanliness, table manners (or lack thereof) and sexual practices as well. I'm sure such a person in real life would have been continually appalled at his circumstances, but in the book his reactions act effectively as comic relief to an otherwise incredibly heavy story.

Besides the outsider-narrator, Crichton's other twist on the traditional tale is to identify the Viking settlement's attackers (the monster Grendel, his mother and a dragon in the original tale) as members of a proto-human group of cannibals living in the area at the same time. There were, indeed, many stories of 'not quite human' hominids living in proximity to human settlements throughout Europe and Asia for centuries, many of them antagonistic to the humans. There is some reason to believe that we Homo sapiens were not the sole survivors of the hominid line, at least for a while, so I don't find this plot device at all far-fetched. I am, however, uncomfortable with his association of the aggressive, filthy, primitive, cannibalistic proto-humans with the well-known headless female figurines like the Willendorf Goddess.

Maybe it's just my romantic notion of the kind of culture that would create such works of art, but I have to wonder whether a hominid group could do such a thing. Neanderthals, sure, I wouldn't be surprised if they made sculptures like that - they're really not the brutish creatures so long caricatured by modern society. But hominids? Hmmmm.

I do like that he brings up the issue of cannibalism. It's one of the more 'squirmy' bits of our very human past, something we don't like to look at. Did you ever wonder why every group's name for itself means 'The People'? You see, very early in human prehistory, each little collective considered itself to be People and everyone else to be Not People, or Animals. Fair prey. Most cultures moved away from cannibalism early on in an effort to increase cooperation with other groups of people. A few maintained at least token cannibalism into the 19th and early 20th centuries. It's not something we like to think about. Heck, even the pagan Romans thought the early Christians were disgusting with their 'symbolic cannibalism' communion ritual.

So I guess I'll go back and read the original Beowulf again. I have to, now, to compare it to Crichton's version. I'm itching to do it. That's one thing I love about his writing. It weaves so many threads into a single story, I often find myself closing his books only to open others, to follow a few of those threads further. Then I'll go back to the list and see what else he's written that I haven't had the chance to enjoy yet.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Renewal

Even though Spring actually begins at Imbolc by the Old Calendar (regardless of uneducated meteorologists who seem to think the Equinoxes and Solstices are the starting points of the seasons) it hasn't really felt like spring until the past week or two. For most of February and March it was cold and rainy. The buds stayed tightly furled on their branches. Birds shivered and shook off the frost. Even my plantings of cold-weather-loving veggies refused to sprout. Then someone flipped a switch and suddenly it's SPRING!! This is the flowering quince hedge along the front of our property, home to a very happy year-round resident mockingbird and his new bride:
And suddenly I'm bouncing around the house like a little kid again, with my own child letting me know in no uncertain terms exactly how 'seriously grown-up' I had been all winter. I guess the energy of the seasons really gets to us more than most of us care to admit.

In the past week I have found innumerable excuses to be outside. We've moved our home schooling out to the deck. The laptop works just as well in the fresh air as it does in my four-walled office. I find it necessary to check on the garden several times a day. Heck, I'll even empty the trash cans throughout the house just to be able to take the garbage out to the big can by the driveway.

I have yet to figure out how to cook dinner outside, though, since our gas grill met its demise a year ago. We're toying with the idea of a cob-built combination barbecue and bread oven out back - getting back to our primitive roots with this ancient building technique. I've had Becky Bee's book (The Cob Builder's Handbook) for years but never actually started a project. Now that my daughter is pushing to do something with cob, I think we'll give it a try. Of course, I'll post a write-up of the project here. If you're interested in finding out more, google the phrase 'cob building' and you'll be amazed.

But for now, that's too organized and responsible a project. I'm still feeling springy...still buoyed by the amazing appearance on Easter morning of four beautiful does in our back yard, grazing on the chickweed and deadnettle that have grown up in the unweeded garden beds. We stood and watched them for quite some time as they enjoyed their breakfast. I ached to reach out and touch the soft fur on their ears, the cool dampness of their black noses. Eventually they trotted back toward the pond in the woods, had a quick drink and bounded over the fence into the field with our farmer-neighbor's cattle.

Later inspection divulged that these particular deer are also quite fond of dandelion flowers, since they managed to nip off every single one of them in the entire garden area! Oddly enough, though, they didn't bother any of the purpose-planted veggies in the garden. I've got English peas, broccoli and broccoli raab seedlings, and full-grown kale, collards and lettuce out there. They didn't touch a bit of it - just the weeds. A little Spring miracle, maybe?
It's slated to get up to 90 degrees F today, so my outside time will definitely involve shade. And these lovely little lavender flowers, which have decided to sprinkle themselves all over the front yard. They're sneaky, too - just short enough that the lawn mower doesn't touch them, so the yard has lovely little pale purple speckles all over it.

Time to head into the back yard and peruse possible cob oven/barbecue sites. And listen to the birds sing. And inhale the marvelous perfume of crabapple blossoms. I'll get to work eventually, I promise. But not just yet.