Tidbits XI

by Donna Schoenkopf


Spring Is Here

Trees are leafing out. The oaks seem to be the last to push out their green leaf buds, but I can see beginnings of them now. My giant cottonwood began unfolding its leaves a week after tight red leaf buds appeared all over the branches.

My tiny cottonwoods are beginning to leaf out too. I spray them with a diluted milk solution every day after I water them because last year they were covered with rust. Not the iron oxidation kind, the fungus kind. It seems rust proliferates after the leaves of the affected plant are wet. So all those times I watered them lovingly and let the spray rain down on them like a gentle shower, I gave the rust a great opportunity to totally total my trees. Last year I cut them all back. A few weeks ago I went online to find a natural, organic way to defeat the rust. I liked the advice one woman wrote about. She said to spray the affected trees with a much diluted milk solution. This attracts and feeds the microbes which eats the rust. Sorta like Jerry Brown releasing sterile medflies instead of spraying everything with pesticide. I love those kinds of solutions. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Gentle breezes waft through my house. Green grass is beginning to fill in the dirt patches and under the dried brown grass remnants from last winter. There’s tons of clover, the results of seeds I strewed haphazardly last summer. I imagine all the nitrogen being fixed in the soil and smile a great big smile.


Plants Love Pee!

So I went on the Internet and looked up natural fertilizers and lo and behold! Human urine was mentioned.


I had always thought urine burned plant life. Ever see a backyard that a family dog inhabited? Ever see all those brown spots in the grass? Yup. Urine.

Well, says this clever lady, you dilute it.


So I decided to give it a try. I mean, maybe it was worth its weight in gold. Maybe I was flushing gold down the toilet, overburdening my dear little septic system.

I collected a supply, mixed it with water according to directions, and filled my watering can. “Hmmmmm,” I thought. “What plant can I sacrifice to science?” I looked at my available subjects and decided on the scrawny, half dead shrubs that I planted two years ago that had actually shrunk in size and decided they would be my guinea pigs. I poured a little on each of them, having to refill the can with additional “fertilizer.”

The next day I went out and every single one of those shrubs had sprouted dozens and dozens and dozens of new, glossy leaves.

I smiled a wicked smile. More pee was called for. So almost every day (and sometimes twice a day) I fill my watering can with my special solution. I was warned by the woman on the Internet that I should not let it stand for more than three days because it will ferment. But last week I forgot to use it and when I remembered the pee was still in the can, I discovered it was unbelievably powerful. It was as though my pee had multiplied, like Jesus’ loaves and fishes.

I used it anyway, just to see what would happen.

The plants loved it. These plants: cottonwoods, red-tipped photinia, lilacs, apple trees, geraniums, lavender, bougainvillea, house plants of all types.

This the plant I am not sure about: rosemary. It isn’t rebounding. Of course, it was practically decimated by the winter and the drought we’ve been having.


The Drought and the Wind

Okay. I know California has had a lot of rain (maybe the most ever) this year. But you guys must have taken all of ours. It is being said around the neighborhood that this is the worst drought since 1927.

You remember the Dust Bowl, right? Well, it’s beginning to feel edgy, in that regard.

My pond is really nothing but a mud hole, right now. The fish are hunkered down in the depression which allows for a little depth. Angela Davis the Dog loves walking through the mud and then edging into the “deep” end and then coming home and shaking all that nastiness all over everything.


No wonder I call it Chigger Lake.

And true to what happened during those horrendous Dust Bowl years, the wind has begun to blow and blow. Hard. A few minutes ago, because I had some of the sliding glass doors open, the wind literally blew the magnets and what they were holding (postcards of the Obama family) off my refrigerator. All of them.



The Deck

If you are a person who must have an affordable house, you try to make or build as much as you can by yourself. For instance, my sainted sister Annie drove all the way up from Dallas and she (mostly) and I built the deck that runs on three sides of my house. Well, I didn’t treat it with Thompson’s sealer because the guy at Lowes said that the wood was already treated and would last several years as is and that the biggest culprit in deck wood’s warping was hot sun.

So I water my deck as much as I water my plants.

But that wasn’t enough, it turns out, for my poor western deck. It gets the hottest sun and one day I came out to discover one of the boards had popped up on one end. I thought, “I’ll just screw it in later.” One thing led to another and before I knew it a couple of weeks had gone by and when I finally got my fat ass out there with my electric drill and screws and all, I found the board had become permanently warped.

Who knew????

So another month or so went by before I finally got my fat ass down to Lowes to buy another deck board and two days ago I removed the old and put in the new. It looks real purdy amongst the other boards. It’s that lovely light pine color. I can’t wait to replace whatever other board pops its head up.



The hot, warping boards in my deck lead me to the topic of arbors. Which I will have to do by myself, although Annie has said she wants to do them.

Arbors will shade the decks in the summer and cool my house, too. But I have decided I don’t want arbors. I have decided I want to plant fast-growing trees near the decks. Deciduous trees. Leaves on for summer, leaves off for winter. I think that’s more aesthetically pleasing and waaaaayyyy easier, even though digging deep enough and wide enough holes is going to be a real project.

I am thinking of fruit trees. Peaches? Or tulip trees. Or dogwoods. Redbuds are nice, too.

Heck. Maybe I’ll plant them all.


The Best Tool Ever

Ever since the mold guy told me dust was fodder for mold, I have been eying the dust on top of my exposed and silvery air conditioning/heating duct and the steel girder rafters that run the length of my house.

And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, affordability means I have to do it myself.

The thought of dragging my ladder out of the shed and balancing on top of it to dust every nook and cranny of my housie was not something I relished. But spring cleaning was on my mind and my Puritan self would not be silenced.

So I went to Lowes and found the tool of my dreams. I’m telling you I love this thing. I think I’ll name it ... Dusty.

It’s a long, long expandable pole with a really great dusting thingy on the end that you can bend! It fits around everything ... the rounded ducts, the straight and angled rafters. And it’s FUN! Very little of the crap fell down on me because the duster part was so efficient, but man oh man, did I ever get a lot of stuff out of the upper regions of my house.

It was so fun, I’m going to do it every week!


Painting the Floor

So I got my tax refund back. $912. I was so very, very happy. (Last year I had to pay, and that was not fun.)

What to do with this mountain of cash?

Do something with this fershlugginer floor! I am sick of the clay and splatters and spilled coffee and spilled salad dressing and every trace of everything dropped on it being exposed forever to the world in general. Sick of it, I tell you!

So I thought of hiring two guys to help put everything out on the deck and then help clean the floor and then help stain it and then seal it and then bring all the furniture back in, hopefully minus snakes and ticks. That would take about a week. And cost way more than $912, because I refuse to pay them less than $100 a day, which is just about what a person can barely survive on these days.

So I just waited out my impulses and came up with another idea.

I am going to paint the floor with high gloss concrete paint, $25 a gallon. The guy at Lowes said I needed about three gallons. $75!! I can do it a little at a time, moving things by myself. I am going to paint it three colors in a kind of art deco design.

Now to figure out what colors.


And Finally . . .

Diego the Dog, my companion of the heart, is so terribly crippled from injured rear knees that he can barely walk, and that is after having him on Rimadyl for two months now. He can’t eat much anymore. His face is sad and full of pain. There is no remedy outside of surgery, which is $4,000 and is only good until he re-injures his knees, which he will do because he loves, loves, loves his life as a woodsman, squirrel hunter, runner, armadillo killer, turkey chaser, moon yodeler, companion of Angela Davis the Dog, and general gadabout.

I have gotten two opinions. Both gave me the same sad news. To delay his decline I have kept him inside as much as humanly possible, but his yearning for the world finally beat me down after two weeks and now I let him out, when he tells me to, to follow his heart. He limps off on three legs, following his love, Angela Davis, up the hills and down.

Today he treed some wild turkeys and came home with a great big smile on his face.

Everybody in the neighborhood loves him, especially Neighbor Jim, who said he’s never known a dog like Diego. Diego lies on the floor of Jim’s workshop while Jim builds stuff out of wood. He loves listening to Jim’s country western music and watches everything he does.

So I talked to Neighbor Jim about me thinking of putting Diego down. And asked if he could help me bring him home from the vets afterward. He is a big dog. And would he help me with a hole?

“Yes,” he said.

He took me out to his forest to a patch of deep, fallen leaves, and brushed them aside with his foot, exposing a piece of white corrugated steel.

“That’s my dog’s grave,” he said. “The best dog I ever had.”

And we both looked at Diego, the sweetest dog in the world, and loved him deeply.

“Would you give me your opinion about when I should put him down, if it seems like I’ve let it go on too long?”


But not yet.

Not yet.


A Little Song to Go Out on a Happy Note

I have loved this song by John Prine since 1973. I think it’s the reason I moved to the country. And thinking of planting peach trees reminded me of it.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


Whoa,  my first ever view of Chigger Lake.  Sad.  Think Ill wait awhile to visit.

2011-04-4 by ed hurt

What’s WRONG with me?  I think it’s BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!
Diego is romping with health and happiness through our hearts, Donna…
What a GREAT friend!
Love, me

2011-04-4 by carole

We just spent a few days in New Mexico and came back to Kansas grateful for every single blade of green that we encountered.  Our cousins ranch near Albuquerque and absolutely nothing is greening up!  Farm ponds are totally dry; rivers and creekbeds aren’t even muddy!  It’s really grim.  And the wind gusted up to 60 mph on our way home (sure improved our gas mileage, though!).  When you choose trees to shade your deck, be sure to think about drippy trees that shed stuff that’d stain your deck.  Those tulip trees are messy.  I love the painting your floor idea.  I see high-gloss painted floors with diagonal designs in modern office buildings and they look good and wear well.  Finally, so sorry about Diego.  What a wonderful life he’s had!  That’s all we can hope for for our pets (and ourselves).

2011-04-5 by Betsy

Dear Folks,

Thought I’d include a little something friend Darlene sent me. 

  haha—saving your pee—- you know during the civil war, women’s pee was saved for gun powder—now what was the chemical is pee that was used… forgot…
  maybe you could make an outside pee place like a training potty that has a bowl that can be pulled out from underneath…Angel

2011-04-5 by donna

And here is the rest of the story. . . (Thanks, Darlene!)

I copied this from an article… it was saltpeter and they did collect it in the outhouses… funny huh???

    “Saltpeter, the chemical that produces the oxygen for the other ingredients when lit off, can he made by putting urine and manure of any kind in a big cement tank mixed with water until you have about three hundred gallons mixed up. Then you put on a tight lid and let it sit for about ten months. You have to have a drain pipe and valve at the bottom, and a stainless steel filter screen installed beforehand or you’ll have one big mess on your hands. At the end of that time, you run the liquid that drains off through ashes into shallow wooden trays lined with plastic sheeting and let them stand for evaporation in the sun. When the water evaporates, potassium nitrate crystals (saltpeter) will form in the bottom of the trays.”

  “In the old days in cities, most outhouses were fitted with trays or drawers under the seats that could be pulled out from behind the building. They had night-soil collectors who were paid so much every month by the outhouse owners to keep those drawers emptied, and they’d come around with a special wagon into which they dumped the contents. When the wagon was full, it was hauled out to where another fellow bought the contents and dumped it into concrete tanks where the bacteria works it just like yeast works wine or bread dough. Then the liquid was run through ashes into shallow tiled or plain concrete evaporating trays or basins to recover the saltpeter.”

2011-04-5 by donna

Be aware that April 19th is National Pee Outside Day.  Check out peeoutside.org.

2011-04-7 by John Reese

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