Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ch ch ch ch changes...

Arg.... it's been that kind of week. Tony was hospitalized from Monday 'til Friday, weak, in pain and hallucinating from the morphine they were pumping into him.

I spent my time driving back and forth to the hospital (15 miles one way), bathing and shaving him because they had a full house of even sicker people than him, and they never seemed to get around to bathing him. I was am pooped.

Ian arrived Thursday (YAY IAN!) to aid and abet his old mother. He did the driving after that, and once we had Tony home Ian started some reno work which we've wanted to do for a long time.

The person or persons unknown who decided it was a good idea to put a banquette in an RV kitchen had never tried to use one. They are impossible to get in and out of, horribly uncomfortable and take up huge amounts of space. The slight amount of storage they offer is difficult to get at under any circumstance, especially with the eager "assistance" of a large cat who wants to explore any open space he is not usually able to get into.

So, Ian did his old mother a world of good by ripping out the banquette table and benches. This left a large (by RV standards) open area. I sketched up a cupboard and shelving unit that would stretch along the now empty wall, and while I painted the wall white he started carpentering. Unfortunately he ran out of time before he got the moldings and doors on, but I think I can get the moldings cut and on. The doors will have to wait 'til his next visit.

No matter. I now have accessible storage I don't have to crawl into, climb a ladder to get at, or unearth like King Tut's Tomb every time I need a can of tomatoes or a skillet.

I've been wanting to paint since we bought this place. The brown-linen pattern paneling on the top part of the walls and the dark fake wood on the bottom half makes me feel like I have moved into a somewhat commodious coffin. The one white wall and shelves makes a huge difference in the light of the interior. It's fantastic! I will go buy another litre of this latex paint and some painters tape and paint all the brown linen-pattern paneling. Bob the RV guy says if I don't and and prime the wall the paint will come off. I have news for him. I sanded and primed all the walls in the Tinpalace, and that paint came off like it was painted on a teflon pan. This couldn't be any worse. At least it has a woven pattern which grabs the paint.

At the end of the visit Ian also came up with a clever idea to fix my upper cupboard problems. Picture a six foot run of cupboards with three 12" doors. Each cupboard door has a 12" space between it and its neighbour. And everything you put in the cupboard immediately begins to inch into the nigh inaccessible spots between the doors.

So he suggested tearing out the doors and the spacers, and either adding more doors or put in sliding doors, Japanese style. I've had those before and I very much like them. So I'm thinking that would be a great idea.

I also bought a couple of nice, comfortable dining room chairs and now must shop for a table. I know what I want, it's just finding it.

In the bathroom we have a new toilet, higher and easier for old folks with somewhat wonkified legs to get on and off. After Bob the RV man told us we cannot replace the tub with a more accessible shower stall he suggested a built-in step which would take the step-over down from 17" to 7". He is replacing the tap and we will get a bath chair. All this in aid of husband's safety and mobility.

Other projects slated are:

1) replacement of the sofa
2) the building of a storage drawer in the empty, but now inaccessible space beneath the sofa.
3) a platform to compensate for an inconvenient wheel well, so that our secretary desk and drawer unit can sit on top of it, next to the wall, instead of 9" from the wall, and at a space-hogging angle.
4) a movable bracket for our wee flat screen TV to make it easier for Tony to watch.

This will probably take a year's worth of visits, but the year will go by, whether we improve or not. Might as well go for it.

Pictures later.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

That Kind of Day

Mr. Blue is the neighbour's cat. He's still a kitten really, only about nine months old, but he's allowed to run loose because he is number one top mouser of all times. He has cleaned up the mouse problem which developed after Elvis and Priscilla, the park's previous mousers, moved away. He's a pretty cat, grey blue, nice dense coat, and as agile as any monkey. He's also smart, as he's learned to ring a set of chimes hanging by the door when he wants to come inside.

He and Sal play through the netting around the deck. When Sal is outside Blue stays well out of reach, since he is about five pounds of kitty and he obviously recognizes a potential danger when he sees one. I don't know that Sal would hurt Blue, but I am not eager to find out. Vet's bills are expensive.

Blue teases Sal mercilessly from the freedom side of the net. They dash back and forth the length of the deck, shadow box, and chatter to each other but recently Blue has taken to climbing on top of the clear deck roof and walking back and forth overhead, just to get on Sal's wick.

Sal will ignore him for just so long, then he watches intently for a while and finally he will scramble up his scratching post, stand on his back feet and pull on the netting, trying to get loose.

The pole climbing and net-testing were already over before I got to my camera this morning, but they went back to Cat and Cat, allowing me to get these pics. Not a great picture of Blue since I was shooting into the sun.

All this entertainment in exchange for a few cans of Fancy Feast!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gathering Leaves

Robert Frost wrote:

Spades take up leaves

No better than spoons,

And bags full of leaves

Are light as balloons.

While it's poetic, it doesn't apply to raking leaves in springtime. My little rake is a rough toothed comb on the tender earth. The leaves are sodden and sullen. They have to be pried loose from the branches of the lavender bushes and coaxed ever so patiently away from the emerging lime-coloured spears of hyacinths and the bulbous pink and white tips of the Helleborus niger. Unless it turns cold there will be blossoms before long.

The Helleborus comes up in inch-thick spears, pink as a blunt thumb fresh from a long session of dishwashing. The blossoms will come on white and darken through a long season to end up green as leaves, before falling off to reveal a handsome clutch of seed pods. The splayed leathery leaves are prehistoric looking. Touch them, they could be plastic or stiffly starched polyester on an umbrella frame.

The scent of sage and thyme envelope me as I rake the leafy cover from the green stems. Later in the year the heady fragrance will be most noticeable across the road, 40 feet away, but for now it follows me like the smoke of a campfire. Furry catnip is up and growing, as are violets and some completely unspectacular heather.

The knotted silver and green stems of dead nettle pop up as soon as the leaves are removed. No doubt looking for new territory. Dead nettle is the Vasco da Gama of my garden, always setting out for new shores, and frequently arriving there.

The bearberry is there, but the hostas are no where to be seen. After agonizing last year over whether the one survived the long, bitter winter I am not even concerned over their temporary absence now. They will be back, once the willows begin to leaf out. There will be one and then two and then an explosion of rolled cigar-like green shoots. Lovely things hosta plants.

The toad lilies are missing too, but they too should emerge in time. The mums are coming up beneath and around the old growth. (I should cut the old growth back, and will, soon.) Some of those mum shoots have buds on them, though there won't be more than handful of burgundy blossoms in May. They reserve their energy for a spectacular fall show.

I turn the rake over and use it to shovel the piles of wet, moldy leaves into bags. I'll seal them up and add them to the garden once they are turned entirely to leaf mold. A worthy harvest for an afternoon in sunny garden.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wow! Sun!

Sunthing we haven't seen in weeks!

And while the predicted high for today was seven degrees C (44.6 F) at 1:12 we are sitting at a balmy 10 C (50 F). Ahhhhh.... feels like Spring!

In the garden a few brave sprigs of green appear from under the blanket of leaves, including this "hen and chick". I buoy myself with the knowledge that gardening season is not far off now.

Yesterday was shopping and errand day. When I got to the grocer's there were no parking spots in the lot. I had to circle the lot like a vulture waiting for someone to pull out when I was close enough to get to the spot before someone else did. I ended up parking Betsy in a tight spot which had a concrete "bumper" to protect the adjacent sidewalk. When I pulled in the tires were turned slightly to the left, and when I stopped they were in place against the bumper. I should have known better -

Betsy has a weird feature. I don't know if it's common or an idiosyncratic quirk, but in certain positions the steering wheel locks in place, and when it does you can't turn the key.

I shopped, paid, loaded my groceries into the cart, and then from the cart to the back of the truck, returned my cart to the lineup and got in the truck. I was getting a bit weary by this point, as I had already run several errands before getting to the grocer.

Hoisted myself into the truck, belt on, dropped the steering wheel. The key wouldn't turn. Tried to move the wheel the inch or so it takes to unlock it normally. It would not budge. It was set in concrete.

I wrestled with the wheel, an ant against SuperTruck. Truck won. I sat with my head on the steering wheel, waiting for the pain in my chest to die down. What to do?

After a few minutes I went back into the store and asked the cashier who had just served me if there were two young strong guys I could enlist briefly. She called and two stock boys came on the trot, both about 17. I explained my situation, and that what I really needed was the truck pushed backward just the inch it took to straighten the tires.

They came and pushed, and rocked and pushed. No luck no luck no luck. But finally Betsy saw sense and at the height of one of the pushes I was able to move the wheel to the right enough to disengage the lock. Whew! I gave the boys $20. They were delighted. I was delighted.

One more errand and I was home, but done like dinner.

This morning, Salvador was being teased by "Mr Blue", the eight-month-old mouser/cat-monkey who has the run of the park. Blue is frequently seen on roof tops and up trees, and this morning he was taunting Sal (who was on the deck) by walking the edge of the roof next door.

This apparently was one taunt too many, and being something of a monkey himself, Sal put his claws to work and climbed the mesh the six feet from the covered shelving to the roof overhang, which is not meshed in. I heard his claws scrabbling at the plastic, and when I looked out all that was inside was his furry bum and tail, swishing madly.

I yelled at him. He turned and jumped back inside, but we had to keep him in, because when he went out on the deck he immediately began looking for an escape route.

So, that's why this afternoon I was on a ladder with mesh in one hand and staple gun in the other, meshing in the overhang in those places he has any possibility of breaching. He was visibly disappointed.

And now I am sitting, probably for the rest of the day. But I had my housework done anyway, and the sun is coming in the windows. And who could complain with weather like that?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

KIVA Loan for February

Not far from Naryn, a beautiful town in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, there is a little village, Kochkor, which is famous for its salt. Here lives Tursun Smanova, the leader of her borrowing group of four people.

And it is to Tursun and her three friends that we make our KIVA loan this month. We'd had some unexpected (large) expenses in January, and money is not falling from our pockets as we walk along, but I had a book order, which will offset the loan. So we loan away!

Tursun is a 64-year-old widow. She lost her husband 10 years ago; however, she has raised two children by herself. Her daughter is 12 and she goes to the local school. Her son graduated from the university and now helps his mother fatten and then sell sheep.

About 10 years ago after her husband's death she decided she could not just give up the future of her children and let life decide what to do with them. So she bought five lambs to fatten and sell. She was successful and now continues in that business. Now she and her son earn about $113 per month. Their lives are better than before and she is planning to expand her business and buy a car in the future. She asked for a loan of about $112 which she will use to buy more lambs.

The second member of the group is Asel Alapaeva. She is 40 years old and married. She has a daughter who is 11 and in fourth grade. Her son who is 10 years old is in third grade. Her husband works as a builder whose salary per month is $115.00. About six years ago, she started a little business where she sells cattle in the local market. They are building a new house, which will be finished in the future. However, they want get a loan to buy four calves to raise as breeding stock, because cattle sell well in the market right now.

The third group member is Elmira Andagulova. She is 45 and has a daughter who is 16. Her daughter helps her mother after school. Her husband works as a builder and earns $115.00 per month. Seven years ago, Elmira began a business. She sells staple foods, products that are used daily. Her profit is about $150.000 per month. Her business is growing and the income has improved her family's well being. With her loan, she wants to buy 100 kg of sugar, different cereals, vegetable oil and other staple goods.

The fourth member of the group is Musa Kurmanov, a 56-year old man whose wife is on a pension. He began this business three years ago. He raises calves and sells them at the market, earning about $90.00 a month. He is going to expand his business by increasing the size of his herd. With the loan he wants to buy a bull.

In a group loan, members know each other well, and trust each other. Each member of the group receives an individual loan but is bound by a group guarantee. Under this arrangement members of the group support one another and are responsible for paying back the loans of their fellow group members if someone is delinquent or defaults.

This is our eighth KIVA loan, and all lenders are making their repayments on time. This means that each month the payments are put into our KIVA account, and we may choose to withdraw or reloan the money. To this point we have reloaned it as it has come back. So the money we loaned is being recycled as it were, and is going back out as new loans.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A Revolution in the Fields

If you've looked recently, you may have noticed that TV is a mostly vast wasteland of mindless crap. As the fella said, "Four hundred channels and nothing on."

I turned on the set to watch the news over the weekend, forgetting that on the weekends the early news is supplanted by the emetic "Family Guy". I flicked the channel, looking for news and happened on Suzuki's "The Nature of Things".

This episode was on the Cuban agricultural revolution, and proved to be absolutely fascinating. Back in the days when the Cuban economy was propped up by the Soviets Cuba used to export sugar and citrus fruit to the Soviet Union. It imported most of its food. According to the Cuban government, they were pouring 10-15 calories of energy into the production of a single calorie of food. In other words, they were doing exactly what the rest of the industrialized world is doing now.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the ships full of oil, fertilizer, pesticides, and staple goods quit coming, Cuba's economy fell to pieces. And the agricultural system turned toes up. The calorie intake of the average Cuban fell from about 2,600 calories a day in the late 1980s to between 1,000 and 1,500 by 1993. Essentially, people had to get by on about half the food they had been eating.

So, with an US-enforced embargo cutting them off from the most basic industrialized products, they went back to basics, and prioritized food production and the small-scale farmer. With no fertilizers and pesticides, they turned to composting, vermiculture and organic methods of farming. Tractors were parked and farmers began working their fields with oxen. Elderly farmers who had worked with animals in their youth were recruited to help train a new generation of farmers.

Seed programs were started, where farmers saved seed from their most productive plants, and a free seed exchange was set up. This improves productivity for all farmers, and produces the kind of bio-diversity in plants which gives them resistance to pests.

Cuba now has over 7,000 urban allotment gardens, (called organoponicos, which fill more than 80,000 acres. Some are tiny plots in the middle of apartment-block complexes or tucked between the crumbling colonial-era homes that fill Havana. More than 200 such urban gardens in Havana supply the city with more than 90% of their fruit and vegetables.

The Vivero Organoponico Alamar is considered one of the most successful. Started less than 10 years ago, the one and three-quarter acre plot employs about 25 people and grows a variety of healthy, low-cost food for local consumption. Average daily calorie intake in Cuba is back to 2,600 a day, and what's more it's fresh, organic and almost entirely sustainable grown. Cuban food production uses just 5% of the energy used to grow food in the US and other industrialized nations.

In Cuba farming is a desirable occupation and farm communities are thriving, rather than dying, as they are where agri-business has taken over.

May be time for all of us to take a good close look at Cuba's agricultural revolution and learn a thing or two.