Thursday, October 23, 2008

Now I Can Die

Andy Warhol said, "In the future everyone will have 15 minutes of fame."

I think this may be more like 15 seconds, but who's counting? Knowing of my avid interest in the subject, Ian sent me a link about a CNN story on tiny homes. Included in the interview was our old friend Jay Shafer, head of Tumbleweed Homes and a couple who had been forced by economics to give up their big, expensive and anxiety-ridden mortgage to move into a tiny house on wheels.

The CNN story included a request for experiences from those who "live small". Does that fit us or what? So I wrote a short piece about our experience living the small and simple lifestyle and posted it. Surprisingly a very nice young woman named Lila called from CNN today, and the "Beach House" is slated to be included in a story on tiny homes in November. Here's the article I wrote. Nothing my faithful readers haven't seen before, but not on CNN. LOL

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Native

I have every intention of expanding my garden next spring. We are surrounded by some spectacular native plants, and I've been waiting until fall when I could gather seed from my favorites. Zak is visiting so today we took a long walk and gathered seeds, as well as cut some willow whips to plant at the back of our site.

My plans are somewhat ambitious and will probably be tempered by my physical limitations, but at the moment I am considering adding a small shallow pond to attract birds, more vegetables in large pots at the sunny back end of the trailer, the addition of several native plants to the garden, a seating area, and some "vertical" gardening.

I started out thinking I'd concoct a shelf-like apparatus at the front end of the trailer and another on the side, so I could put potted plants in those mostly sunny areas. Over a period of several days I have looked at a whole range of vertical gardening ideas and have worked out a plan I think will work. My idea is to plant them with fast-growing food crops, like mesclun, spinach, Chinese greens, plus a variety of herbs and flowers.

My basic plan is to begin with one of two structures; I am not certain which would work best. It may come down to which is easiest to build. Plan number one would be to use sturdy bamboo or plastic reed fencing (standing upright) as the base, secured into the ground with rebar. I would cover the fencing with heavy plastic sheeting. Over the sheeting I'd staple a layer of thick, porous material like inch-thick polyester quilt batting or the furnace filter material you can buy by the roll. What I want is an open cell structure, through which small roots can grow. A second layer of batting would be stapled over the first. I'd cut openings in this layer just large enough to slip a seedling into. The second plan would be to build a frame, secure plastic signboard to it and proceed as above with the porous fabric.

This is basically a hydroponic system. Nutrients will be supplied with each watering cycle. I thought about water reservoirs or drip systems but decided that the simplest thing is just to buy a hose-end sprayer attachment and water that way. If it becomes too difficult to keep up I might install reservoirs or soaker hoses.

The advantage of these vertical walls is that they would take up very little space. I could basically have a living fence. Of course it might not work, but the idea that something might not work hasn't stopped me from trying other hair-brained ideas I've dreamed up over the years. This idea will have to wait until spring. In the meantime I have planted the seeds we gathered yesterday, without a clue as to whether they need stratification or any other special treatment. I plopped them in small compost-filled pots, watered them and set them up against the skirt of the trailer to face winter.

On our walk Zak and I gathered seeds or berries from a variety of shade-loving plants which should grow well in my garden:

Solanum dulcamara which is commonly called climbing nightshade. This is a slender shade-loving vine which has purple flowers in spring and brilliant red berries in the fall. Gorgeous, though some say it is invasive. Perhaps in a milder climate, but it doesn't appear so in our wooly wilds.

Mahonia [Berberis] aquifolium commonly called Oregon Grape. Beautiful evergreen foliage which turns bronze in the fall, loads of yellow flowers in the spring and edible (though sour) blue berries in the late summer and early fall.

Symphoricarpos albus, the Common Snowberry, which is grown for its blue foliage and attractive (though inedible) white berries.

Rosa acicularis, the Prickly Wild Rose. This is a shrub found all over Alberta and BC. It ranges in size from a couple of feet high to big 10-12 foot hillocks of thorny branches. Lovely flowers and attractive bright red seed pods ("hips") which can hang on through the entire winter, if the birds don't eat them all.

Verbascum thapsus, the Great or Common Mullein is an introduced species which is native to Europe. Early European colonists brought it with them, probably due to its value as a medicinal plant, as well as its beauty in the garden. It is a hairy biennial which forms a dense rosette the first year and can easily grow to six feet in its second year. It has small yellow flowers which are densely grouped on the tall stem.

Arctium lappa, the Great Burdock. Seasoned readers will remember that this past spring I puzzled over an attractive rhubarb-like plant found growing along the path near the lake. It had huge ruffled leaves. I recently discovered this was a member of the much dreaded "cockleburr" family of my childhood. The seed pods are covered with barbed spines which are the very devil to get out of your dog's coat, or your clothing. But it's a biennial plant, which only produces flowers (and burrs) the second year. I will grow it in a pot and turn the root out after the first summer. That way I should get the nice big tropical-appearing leaves without spreading burdock around the neighbourhood. Or, if I feel adventurous I might allow it to develop flower stalks, which are eaten as a vegetable. They taste like another member of the thistle family, artichoke.

Sedum integrifolium commonly called Rose Root. This little succulent sedum propagates with runners. We found some growing in loose sand which were easy to pick out. We took half a dozen teeny plants, and I re-sited them in my garden this morning.

Salix lucida, the Pacific willow. These are found along the lakeshore in thickets. With their slender bare trunks and long delicate leaves they resemble bamboo. I thought a few of them might make a nice screen at the back of the site. I stuck them in a big pot for the winter, and if they root I'll transplant them to the garden in spring.

The great thing about gardening is that there's always some new project or plant to keep you buzzing. And the farther away spring is the more grandiose the projects. LOL

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Soft Weather...

Today we had what is called "soft weather" on the coast, grey, still and misty. Autumn arrives in the Okanagan. We've had a brilliant fall so far, clear, sunny days with just enough briskness in the air to pinken your cheeks and make you want to breathe as deeply as your lungs will allow. Walking under the trees I feel as if I walk in a cone of peace. The mist absorbs and muffles any sound and it is extraordinarily quiet.

The only sounds which break through are a pair of Canada Geese flying over the adjacent field. They converse in honks and bleats. A crow adds a note of coarse laughter. These only act as punctuation - they don't disturb the silence.

With the shelter of high cliffs to the north and west and the moderating influence of the lake in front of us, we have not yet had a frost. The flowers in the garden continue to bloom, though lacking some of the brilliance and vigor they displayed at summer's height. The mums are mounds of blossom, the toad lily is adorned with fragile blooms. The flowering kale is at its best though its purple and pink leaves clash wildly with the orange leaves surrounding it. Inside this colour combination would be nauseating at best, but here the raw colours feed off each other with a confidence designers could never get right.

Orange and yellow leaves drop steadily from the mock cherry trees, and are at the moment almost as colorful as the blooms they are slowly burying. I don't know whether to rake the leaves up or allow them to cover (and shelter) the plants as they die back for winter. They'd make great compost material, if my laundry basket composter weren't already full to the brim. Maybe I'll pull the finished compost from the basket, scatter it in the garden and start a new batch with my harvest of leaves.

The cycle of life is all around us. In the leaves, the flowers and even in our own bodies. Each season has its own unique beauty. Spring moves to summer and on to autumn. Winter overtakes and for a time it looks as if death has triumphed. But spring has never failed to follow winter, and it is from this eternal spring that we draw our hope.

Friday, October 10, 2008

When I Leave This World Behind

I recently bought a CD which included Irving Berlin's 1915 song, When I Leave the World Behind. Because I wanted to share this lovely old song and its sentiment with my faithful readers I looked it up on Youtube and found a version by a men's choral group. Bonus! I love choral music, so it couldn't get much better than that.

1st verse:]
I know a millionaire
Who's burdened down with care
A load is on his mind
He's thinking of the day
When he must pass away
And leave his wealth behind
I haven't any gold
To leave when I grow old
Somehow it passed me by
I'm very poor but still
I'll leave a precious will
When I must say good-bye

I'll leave the sunshine to the flowers
I'll leave the springtime to the trees

And to the old folks, I'll leave the mem'ries
Of a baby upon their knees

I'll leave the night time to the dreamers
I'll leave the songbirds to the blind

I'll leave the moon above
To those in love
When I leave the world behind

The Long and the Short of a Miracle

I was scheduled for some surgery this afternoon. I wasn't supposed to drive afterwards so a friend took me to the hospital and picked me up. I had to be there at noon, though my turn in the OR wasn't booked until 2:00.

No food after midnight, so I was bit hungry by noon. I checked in and was told to strip and put on a wrap-around gown, a kimono-style robe and some weird paper booties that were twice as long as they needed to be. The gown and robe were ginormous and hung over the tops of my feet. I felt like Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The waiting room was full of people like me, gowned and robed and waiting. Directly across from me sat a man in his 60s. He had NO written in marker on his right knee. His gown barely covered the essentials. It was so short he kept tugging at it while looking furtively around, as if feeling guilty for exposing so much white thigh.

There was a guy with a huge grizzled beard and long hair who was peeping around the corner at me almost every time I looked up from my magazine. I don't know why but I seem to attract the attention of old hippies of the infrequently washed variety. Maybe it's my cat-clipper "do" and comfy shoes. They take one look and think, "Now there's a low-maintainence gal!" (They'd change their minds if they saw how much I eat.)

Anyway, here I am in the Day Surgery Waiting Room, with about 10 other apprehensive souls, shuffling through antique magazines. No one has a watch. Watches are contraband in surgical waiting rooms. What feels like an hour ticks by. One woman is called, and then the nurse calls my name. I start to gather my belongings and she waves me back into the chair.

"There's been an emergency. You've been pushed back to 3:00."

The room visibly exhales. I pick up my magazine and go back to looking at an article which assures me that I can stay young and beautiful well into my 30's. (That train left me at the station about 30 years ago.)

Why are there never any clocks in waiting rooms? Do they think the "waiters" would riot, seeing that time moves only at half-speed? I turn the pages of my magazine half-heartedly, one at a time, examining every page. The models all have long springy hair like burnished polyester rope, unnaturally white smiles, perkier than possible breasts and tight, taut, little bums. Their legs start just beneath the ribcage and go alllll the way to the ground. They are airbrushed and photoshopped, molded like so much hot plastic.

Now here are some really good articles which promise I can lose 10 pounds by the weekend, or look like a supermodel by flattening that tummy. Nothing said about the 50 extra pounds that has crept up on me with the stealth of a hungry cat, or what I should have done when I quit growing a full 14 inches short of "supermodel" height. It's enough to make a short, fat lady wear comfy shoes and cut her hair with the cat's clippers. And not give a flying flip if anyone likes it or not.

Hairy Man peeps around the corner and smiles. I duck my head and find myself reading about the juice of the miraculous purple Brazilian foo-foo ($135.50 for a 30 day supply.) If I had a pencil I could write down the address and order some. Hey! It promises a miracle, okay? If I could grow eight inches it would not only be a miracle but I'd only be 25 pounds overweight!

As I am trying to memorize the address to write for the Miraculous Brazilian Foo-Foo the nurse sticks her head in the door and calls my name again, "You're cancelled," she says. "Someone will call to rebook you."

Everyone looks at me with narrowed eyes. Are they envious, as they sit there waiting the slice of scalpel? I have been reprieved. Temporarily. Modern medicine is wonderful.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Thought Elvis Loved Me

Our neighbours A & E took off a couple of weeks ago for a trip to Newfoundland. I volunteered to care for their cats and the many flowers in A's garden while they were gone. Elvis is a big, burly guy. Very handsome in his long blackish-grey coat, white ruff and white paws. He and his cattly sister Priscilla are the official park mousers. He's the cat who brought Sal the gift of a dead mouse a few weeks back.

Pris is a one-woman cat. No one but A can touch her. The entire two weeks I barely saw her. As soon as I came up the walk she dove out of sight and no amount of coaxing could entice her out.

On the other hand Elvis flew to me as soon as he heard my feet hit the porch. He wanted his daily dose of belly rubs and after a couple of days he turned into a fuzzy kiss dispenser. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wanted cat food and plenty of it. I gave him a meal of canned food every morning and left enough dry food for the two of them for the day. He said his Mama fed him canned food in the afternoon too, but I knew he was stretching the truth as freely as politicians do when describing tax cuts they've given seniors.

Well, A & E returned home yesterday afternoon. Priscilla was so glad to see her very own Mama that she abandoned her usual aloofness. She hung onto A, cried and snuggled with her for several minutes. Elvis was less enthusiastic and today he apparently decided he was going to move in with us!

He stood outside and yelled. "Can I come in?" till he must have been hoarse. He laid in the garden and talked to Sal. He stood on the step and scratched on the door. He gave me vigorous loving any time I went outside. He was soooo charming. He even tried to get into Sal's enclosure by squeezing between the frame and the wall but both he and Sal are far too fat to compress themselves through a two-inch opening.

At any rate, while Sal and Elvis are friends, territorial sovereignty is always at the forefront of any cat's brain. Sal was not enthusiastic about the prospect of Elvis invading his outdoor room. A bit of name calling and some soft slapping ensued, but they didn't unsheath their claws.

I had taken Elvis home three times before I realized what he wanted. We walked down the street, Elvis leading the way, tail high, and a big bounce in his step. I asked Anita if she'd given him his canned food for the day. She said she'd just gotten home from shopping and hadn't thought of it.

Well! She took out a can of food and a saucer. He danced and waved his front paws while she dished the food out, and he fell to as if he hadn't eaten for a month. There were two full bowls of kibble only steps away but hey...

A and I talked, he ate. Then he wrapped himself around her legs and gave her a nuzzle. He didn't follow me home. Turns out his "admiration" was just a bad case of cupboard love.