Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Zen

The hours are ticking down until we move Tinpalace II from storage to a lot her in the park, and start working on her. I can hardly wait!

I've made several buying trips... eeek... but we have most of the basics in hand now, primer and paint, some wallpaper, new bedding since the bed is a queen-size and we got rid of all our queen-size bedding ages ago.

Today we worked very hard organizing the several boxes of loose hardware we have accumulated. You know, when you have a box of 100 3/4" wood screws, but can't remember where, so you buy another box of 100? Well, I got one of those 60 drawer plastic hardware organizers and we spent several hours separating the various types of hardware, putting them in drawers and labeling them. Now, unless we lose the entire cabinet, we are organized.

I packed about half our books into a couple of boxes and got rid of a stack of old magazines. What possessed me to buy a copy of "Hobby Farmer" do you suppose? I have no idea. I have neither a hobby or a farm.

All around us neighbours are preparing to move. One couple has bought a home in a nearby town. Another lost her husband a month ago, and is doing the clean-out and pitch routine in preparation to move to a condo near her children back east, others are just thinking ahead a few weeks, when they will be pulling out and heading for the "summer" home.

This means a lot of stuff is changing hands. "Could you use this?" is a phrase heard frequently. I am the owner of a brand-new and very expensive French "Plein-Air" easel, as a neighbour had two and prefers the other one. I've drooled over these easels for years but never had the $200-$300 to spend on so frivolous a purchase. But it is a beauty and I will enjoy using it! It may motivate me to take up my pastels again.

The other thing I'm dreaming about is the potential gardening in the new site. It's a tiny site. My space for gardening is probably no more than eight feet wide and 35 feet deep. It's sure to have deep shade much of the day, as we have two large trees in the site and a third right behind us. Not many flowers thrive in such deep shade, but for years I've longed to build a Japanese garden, primarily moss, stone, raked gravel and a few specimen plants. This ought to be just the ticket.

I had to have been a Japanese monk in a former life. There is nothing else that evokes in me the profound sense of recognition I find in old Japanese houses and gardens. I guess Buddhism was an eventuality, although it took me almost 60 years to come to that point, though I began to study it while still in high school about 1000 years ago.

Anyway my garden plans will almost certainly be a challenge. There's nothing any less architecturally "appropriate" to a Zen garden than a travel trailer parked on a tiny lot in an RV park. But I can't wait to get there and sit down to design the whole thing. Oh, this promises to be a fun summer!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Moving Post

I hate to jinx anything, but I think we may have turned the corner on winter and are heading into spring! Hooray!

It was warm yesterday, not just not so cold if you are bundled up and walking briskly, but warm enough to sit on the bench outside in the sun and enjoy it. Along the wall of the cabin next door the daffodils are poking little green blades up through the ground.

A week from today we move the new trailer over from storage and begin working on it. We will paint, paper, install new flooring, put in shelving and have a washer and dryer installed. We have three weeks to complete the redo, then we start moving our stuff from here to there. Once it is empty we will touch up and clean Tinpalace I and get it ready for its new owner. March will be a very busy month!

I feel like Sal's expression in this photo of him. While the idea of being in the new trailer is enticing, the idea of moving is less so. I have to admit it. We're losers. We put things away and lose them, sometimes for years at a time, especially when we move. Our favorite trick is to so efficiently put something away that we have to buy a replacement for it. This is usually a sure-fire way of finding a lost item.

So this time we did something we've often threatened to do, but have never had time for. We bought a photo album with plastic sleeves, the kind you slide the photos into. We assigned each drawer, cabinet, cupboard, closet and cubby in Tinpalace II with a number, and made up an index card for each one.

The theory is that we will make a note of what is stored in each spot, and mark it on the corresponding card, so that instead of unloading every closet and cupboard every time we misplace something, all we will need do is look at the index cards. I hope this works.

I'm not sure what to do at this point. Thinking about it gives me a headache. I know there are things that need to be done, but doing them is a bit of a challenge. I'm thinking boxes - pack things we don't need right now (like extra towels, linens, books, etc.) into boxes, in categories, noting where each item should go into in the new trailer. Where to start? (You would ask!) I don't know. Maybe I'll go into retreat until this is all over, but if I did that it would never be over.

I bought a very brightly coloured photo album, so I'm less likely to lose it. (Or so the theory goes.) Check back in six months to see if the system works.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Eagle Eyes

The last few days have been good ones for birding. Even though it's still way too early for nesting the snarky little purple finches have begun to scrap over girlfriends. We were treated a spectacular aerial dogfight yesterday morning as three bright red male finches vied for the attention of a lone female.

Right now there's a male English sparrow doing his darndest to have a dust bath in the frozen ground. For a few hours, as the snow melted, there was a small puddle in the garden. The water must have been a near-freezing, but you'd have thought it was a world-class spa. There was pushing and shoving as sparrows and finches fought for splashing space.

We have an orange house finch. He is a beautiful clear orange, almost orange sherbert colour. House finches are usually red and look much like the purple finch. The orange colour is a variant, apparently rare, caused by a lack of carotenoids in the diet. Researchers studying House Finches in captivity found the red feathers were replaced by yellow ones unless a carotenoid pigment was mixed in with their food during molt. The pigment was mixed in to determine the cause of the color variation. House finch females are supposed to prefer red males over orange ones, but I can't see why. This guy is a stunner!

The day begins with the dark-eyed Oregon juncos showing up as the sky lightens. They are early risers and begin feeding as soon as you can see. Flickers are back and forth daily. We see their vibrant golden-red wings as they fly over. Chickadees come and go as well. They dart in, grab a sunflower seed from the feeder and dart away.

The Canada geese have been doing fly-overs several times a day, in groups of three or four to 50 or more. Wednesday I watched two trumpeter swans sail past side-by-side, huge white wings doing a slow downbeat. They winter on nearby Vaseaux Lake.

Newcomers to the garden this week have been a red-winged blackbird and two Townsend's solitaires birds I'd never seen before. They sat for a very long time on the brush pile, giving me plenty of time to get the bird glass and take a very close look.

On our way to Penticton on Tuesday we saw a bald eagle flying low over the lake, probably doing a spot of fishing. And just as you enter Penticton, on the beach, sat either an immature bald eagle or golden eagle. Huge, but brown-headed. It was sitting on a thin ice-sheet just beyond the water's edge, with a few gulls. No doubt all looking for a fish dinner.

I am already thinking about what I can do to make my new garden in Summerland attractive to birds. Water - maybe a small birdbath with a circulating fountain, cover - I think a lattice shelter, sort of a cube set on the ground beneath the feeder, would serve both as a landing spot and refuge from predators. Flowers and grasses which hang onto their seed for winter. Something fragrant for hummers and butterflies... I'm having fun in my mind. Lots easier than the hard work of actually building a new garden.

Speaking of work...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Susan and Things That Go Bump in the Night

My friend Susan at A Thousand Wordsworth mused in her latest post about the friendly spirit that seemed to live in their previous home, and her encounter with him.

It's a nice story, and brought to mind my own propensity for seeing things which aren't (technically speaking) actually there.

This little quirk of mine began in childhood, and it's happened quite a few times, but this story happened one bitterly cold February night in Calgary. I was sitting in the living room in my rocker, reading. The living room and dining room were one long space, there was an arched doorway about midway down the wall leading to a short passageway, with stairs going up to the left to the upstairs bedrooms. The other side of the passageway opened into the kitchen, where Tony and the boys were at the table working on some kind of project. The kitchen door opened onto a set of stairs which went down to the garage level, where the outside door was.

I looked up from my book to see a boy of six or seven standing in the archway, one hand on the door frame. He was dressed in woolen pants which buckled just below the knee, dark socks and high-topped brown shoes, a short woolen suit jacket, a white shirt and a sort of "pork-pie" billed hat.

He was not dressed for the -30 temperatures outside and my first thought was he was a neighborhood child who'd found himself locked out and had come to our house for shelter. But he was dressed so strangely. And he hadn't come through the front door to my left, so he must have come through the kitchen, yet Tony and the boys hadn't said anything.

He just stood there looking back at me with steady dark eyes. I laid my book down and stood up, I don't remember exactly what I said to him, something like, "Are you okay?" or "Are you cold?" because I thought he must have come in from outside.

I began to walk toward him, a distance of some 10 feet. But with each step he seemed to grow more transparent until by the time I reached the spot where he'd been standing he was entirely gone! I flipped on the light to the stairs and went up to the bedrooms, but he wasn't there. I went into the kitchen, where Tony and the boys said they hadn't seen him, and he certainly hadn't come through the kitchen door.

It was years later when a cousin dropped off an old suitcase she'd found in her mother's attic. In it were photos from the 1860s onward. In one, taken about 1912 my father and his brothers were dressed exactly as that little boy had been. I can't say that the child in the doorway was my father, who had passed away the previous November, but it certainly looked like him.

That house was a duplex. We were in one side and Tony's mother was in the other. It certainly had its share of spooks. One morning my mother-in-law got up and reported that Tony's father, dead 20 years, had come into her room in the night, sat on the bed and talked to her, telling her they'd be together again soon.

And another winter evening I was in my rocker, this time working on a quilt, when I saw Tony's mother's cat Hobo run the length of the dining room, run past me in the living room, jump onto the fireplace mantle and disappear through the wall. I looked up at the clock and it was 7:30.

The only thing that made this remarkable, aside from the fact that Hobo jumped into the wall and went right through, was the fact that he'd died the previous summer. He was a sweet little guy, a blue-eyed white cat and deaf as a post. Tony's mom felt so badly about his death. He caught his collar on the top of the fence and hung himself.

The morning after I saw Hobo's ghost, with his little blue collar, I went over to see Tony's mom, as I often did. We had a cup of tea and chatted, then she said, "You won't believe me, but I was lying here on the sofa last night with a book, and suddenly Hobo jumped right out of the wall over the mantelpiece, jumped down, ran across the room, jumped onto the dining room table, to the buffet and right out through the wall!"

I asked her what time, and she said, "7:30." I told I had no trouble believing her, because he'd run through our place first.

Years later we lived in an apartment in a high-rise. We had two cats, the smaller Freddy and larger (dominant) Patches. Tony was going through a difficult time and tended to have violent seizure-like attacks during sleep. So we slept in separate beds. Freddy liked to sleep with Tony but Patches took exception to that, and would chase Freddy out of the bedroom.

But in the night I'd often feel a soft little bounce as Freddy jumped on my bed and nestled in the crook of my knees, purring and kneading the covers. I thought nothing of this until one early morning when I awoke to find Patches curled up at my side, and saw Freddy nestled next to Tony in his bed.

With a bit of a start I realized that "Freddy", or a cat I'd taken to be Freddy, was stilled curled into the crook of my knees. I reached down and though I could feel the weight against the covers, and the purring, there was no cat there.

This happened so regularly I lost count. The little invisible cat would come to sleep in the curl of my knees several nights a week, and we soon called it "spirit cat". I felt kind of bad when we moved, and hoped the next tenants wouldn't mind being snuggled by a spirit.


When Freddy was a kitten and young cat he loved anything red. Red flowers were his favorite thing. He would pull a flower from a bouquet and carry it around for hours, crooning to it, licking it, batting it back and forth. To save my flower arrangements I finally bought a spray of red silk rosebuds. I plucked them off the stem and when he'd love one to pieces I'd give him a new one. He never seemed to tire of red flowers.

But time passed and he grew older and a great deal more serious. His red flower days were left behind. When he was 14 he got lymphoma and with great sadness we had to say goodbye to this sweet boy. I was devastated by his loss. I get really very attached to my animal companions and losing them is very hard.

The morning after his death I came out of the bathroom and there sat Freddy in the doorway to our bedroom, sleek and healthy, young and beautiful as he'd ever been. He was there for only a second, then he vanished.

But in the spot where he'd been sitting was a single red silk rosebud.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Courage in the Face of Teeth

Yesterday was sunny, warm and quite lovely. Predictably the marmalade-colored cat asked to go for a walk, so I put his harness and leash on and out we went. He was interested primarily in his own space, so he went from place to place in the front garden - sniff sniff sniff.

Then my neighbour Florence came along, walking another neighbour's very large mutt, a dubious combo of German Shepard and visitor-in-the-night named "Tex". This is a huge, young and very hard-to-control animal, and the neighbour is 74 and small.

Salvadore had been investigating a tree, in front of our truck, at the front end of the trailer, and was out of sight of the dog and Florence. So Flo came over for a chat.

"I've got the cat here," I said to her several times. "Don't bring the dog over! Don't let the dog get closer, don't bring the dog....."

At this point Tex saw Salvador and bolted for him. Now there are some things in this world that are just plain stupid, one of them tiny dog leashes the diameter of a pencil lead. These may be fine for a four-pound poodle, but they are not appropriate restraints for 100 pounds of excited dog.

Flo had these wee leash wrapped around her right hand, and a loop of it caught around the little finger and sliced as effectively as a knife. It wasn't so much a matter of her holding onto him, as not being able to let go.

Tex ran to within a foot of Salvadore, who had inflated like a blowfish and was wild-eyed and growling, fangs showing. Tex bared his teeth but stopped to consider his options. This cat-thing wasn't running, it was standing its ground and threatening him!

In that instant I grabbed the dog's collar, and while I struggled to restrain him Flo untangled herself, holding up a blood-filled palm, dripping. While I held the dog Salvador backed away, still puffed and spiky. When he'd reached the far side of the trailer her turned and ran. A few seconds later he reappeared at the other end of the trailer, obviously trying to make it to the door and safety.

Tony had come out by this time and, at my urging, calmed Sal a bit then picked him up and took him inside. With the cat gone Tex relaxed. Flo ran for a towel and we surveyed the damage. Her pinky finger was open to the glistening white tendons for three-quarters of its circumference. I offered to drive her to the hospital but another neighbour had just come home from town and the car was out and ready.

In the ER she was given a tetanus shot, but the wound wasn't stitched closed. It would have been hard to do, as it was right in the crease of the joint. She has gone back to have the wound checked, to make sure there's no infection. We'll see how it goes. It was pretty sore last night.

Salvadore was visibly upset by this encounter, and required a lot of mama-time afterwards. He didn't ask to go out today. He was content to watch out the window while I filled the bird feeders this morning.

Later in the day Tony and I took the wallpaper books I'd brought home from the decorating center over to Tinpalace II and held each one up to the walls and furniture. We didn't like the one we thought we wanted, a charcoal grey and white stripe, or the two alternatives, a pale beige pattern, or a blue pattern, but chose this one. The background is varying mocha and caramel, the branches sort of a weak coffee colour, the blossoms white with pink-to-cranberry specks in the center and teal leaves. Since the furniture is teal with a pinkish pattern it pulls in those colours well.

We'll put this paper on the bottom of the walls, which are now reddish fake paneling. We'll paint the chair rail (and all the woodwork and cabinetry) white, and replace the nasty teal carpet with dark plank flooring. The oatmeal-coloured linen above the chair rail will stay.

We have a fair amount of work ahead of us, but it will be really nice once it's done. Completely unlike the dark interior the trailer has now.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mama Said There'd be Days....

Thankfully I don't have this kind of day often or I'd just go out and find a sidewalk to leap from. I feel like I've eaten a peck of cockleburrs.

It's laughable really. We live quite successfully in a very tiny space but some days it seems all we do is knock each other around like a couple of billiard balls. Both of us are slightly weak today, which in practical terms means we tend to lose our balance easily, trip over shadows, fall into anything we look at, and drop anything we pick up.

Usually it's one or the other of us that is like this, which creates a sort of manageable chaos. Today it's both of us, and it's more like a carnival of the addled. My poor husband has been veering from pillar to post all morning, like the proverbial bull in the china shop, and since I have been too we have collided more than once. Things have been spilled, crashes have occurred and there's been some blood shed while wrestling with overzealous packaging.

I went to town first thing this morning. I wanted to take advantage of a very good sale to buy two nightstands for the new trailer. Pretty little things which will fit in the tight spot available on either side of the bed. Each has four square drawers which will be handy for the flotsam and jetsam you can't seem to live without.

Then I went to the grocery store and filled a cart. Although we run out of many things we never seem to run out of appetite! We could do with less of that actually. Time to think about calories and portion control - sigh.

But even with my padding I am still an attractive woman, or so it would seem. As I loaded my groceries the man in the truck adjacent climbed out, came over and struck up a conversation. He was a voluminously bearded Russian and said he really liked my haircut. He wanted to know how old I was, and said I didn't look a day over 50! (That was a letdown I'll tell you. No woman under 95 wants to be told she doesn't look a day over 50!)

Well, turns out the gentleman (a very spry 84) was very much interested in acquiring a girlfriend. (Apparently old ain't dead.) He showed me his all-original though not in mint condition teeth. He assured me he was easy to take care of as he cut his own hair and would eat almost anything. He talked about how nice he was, although it was a little hard to understand him, as I was growing dizzy from the vodka fumes.

I felt like a deer caught in a crossbeam. I told him he looked young for 84, but I was a married lady, and I bolted for my truck. I have never mastered the graceful exit.

When I told this little tale to Tony he reminded me that when I was in my late 30s and spending a lot of time in the library researching a book I was followed around the library by a man day after day. I finally grew anxious about it and asked the librarians to keep an eye on me. He kept ducking behind shelves and peering at me through the stacks. After four or five days of this we eventually met face-to-face in an aisle and I realized he was just a boy, no more than 14 or 15.

He stammered, "Wanna go onna date?"

I was dumbfounded. I blurted out, "I have kids older than you!"

He sort of yelped, "Oh Jezuz, I thought you was 14!" and turned and ran. The poor thing. (But at least he said I didn't look a day over 14 - not 50!) I have a devastating effect on men, and not in the "Hollywood" sense. Loose cannon comes to mind.

Oh well, I think the cockleburrs are subsiding, and if I can get up and get to the sink without knocking Tony down, or being knocked down by him, I'll do the dishes and get on with the day.