Alum is a chemical used in pickling. In its many forms it also
has uses in water purification, deodorants, antiseptics, freckle
removal, baking soda, toothpastes, hemorrhoidal treatment, to name
a few.
In my last column which included the care of hydrangea flowers
cut for bouquets, I instructed readers to treat the hydrangea
cuttings with either a boiling water method or an alum method. This
would preserve the vase life of the flower.
The boiling water method involved placing the cut hydrangea
immediately into a pail of water followed by a stem-dip into
boiling water for about thirty seconds, then into its vase
The alum method was accomplished simply by placing the end of
the cutting into the powdered alum and then into the vase, even if
they were wilted after a few days, the procedures could be repeated
with success.
Since then a problem arose. There isn’t any alum in this town
that I could find. Neither the pharmacy, nor the hardware or
grocery store sold any, with all sales personnel appearing
perplexed when I made the inquiry.
To the internet! I have now ordered the alum from My Spice Sage
Company and look forward to seeing with my own eyes a perky
hydrangea in our house within a bouquet.
And speaking of our house, we are currently sharing the kitchen
with an amazing rodent whom I have tried to catch, even in a mean,
nasty rat trap, to no avail.
He is a very clever fellow whom I suspect is a she because she
is always cleaning out her nest. She is obsessed with clearing and
cleaning which ordinarily is an admirable quality except that her
collections are shoved through a small hole under our kitchen
cabinet onto the floor where it accumulates into a sizable mound of
The first time I saw the pile I was equally alarmed and amazed.
What was in that horrible mess? I put off cleaning it up until the
rest of the family observed it, whether or not they would be as
interested in it as I was (an irritating habit of mine).
It turned out to be rather harmless – some wood frass and a
bunch of empty acorn shells. I swept them up, relieved it wasn’t
something awful, like old chicken gizzards. The next morning it
returned, and the next, and the next – always the same material –
wood fluff and empty acorns. Where is she getting all this from and
where is her nest?
I cleaned out the cupboard and vacuumed any trace of crumbs. I
stuffed the hole under the cabinet with Reynold’s foil and set a
modern rat trap with cheddar cheese. Walking away, I was satisfied
that everything had been done while suspecting that the rat would
continue her house cleaning in just a short while.
The next morning – no pile! Pleased with myself and my efforts,
I left for Wednesday’s Santa Rosa market. Upon my return that
afternoon, in the same corner of the kitchen she had successfully
deposited her usual collection, this time with bits of foil
“We heard lots of scratching in the cupboard during lunch,” my
daughter said.
I cannot help but understand and admire the rat’s need to tidy
things up and get organized. Of what use are empty acorn shells?
And how much harm is she doing compared to us humans with the tons
of empty cartons, boxes, bottles that we no longer need,
necessitating the creation of recycle centers, refuse yards,
transfer stations, garbage barges, trucks with trailers, dumpsters,
cans, and all manner of trans-oceanic shipping of cardboard in
order to make more cardboard?
Upset by a small pile of acorn shells every morning by a rat
just trying to be clean? She might be the Jonathan Livingston
Seagull of rats and I am trying to entice her to eat a bit of
cheese so that she will be killed!
I would rather spend time discovering how to keep beautiful
flowers from wilting, enjoying fresh bouquets on the table while on
the other side of the wall Mrs. Rat works her little paws
collecting all those undesirables, stuffing them out the hole into
our kitchen.
Renee Kiff weeds and writes at her family farm in Alexander


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