Friday, August 31, 2007

My Closest Neighbour

Want to meet my closest neighbour? I don't actually know if my neighbour is a he or a her, but I've been calling it "her". I haven't named "her" either, but she has a nice lace-like pattern on her abdomen, so let's call her "Lacey".

Lacey lives about a foot from my nose when I'm on my bunk. I could easily touch her if there were not a pane of glass between us. But if there were not a pane of glass between us I guarantee she would have been relocated long before now!

She started out as a tiny speck, with a body the size of a gnat's. She worked industriously to lay down a fine web which she repairs nightly. Every day she snared a gnat or two, wrapping them in silk before she had her meal. At that point she had no noticeable markings. She was just a spider.

I watched her day by day, as she grew rapidly to the size of a pin-head, and eventually brown and yellow stripes began to appear on her legs.

She hangs upside down in her web, curled somewhat as she naps. But all it takes is the wiggling of an insect in her web and she's instantly alert. Over the weeks she's grown so that her abdomen is the size of a small pea. Her face and eyes are now apparent - yellow face, black sharp eyes. Sort of cute really, if you aren't a fly.

Gnats are now "popcorn" but not much food for a spider her size. When it's been two or three days between substantial meals I begin to worry about her and I confess to dropping swatted flies into her web on several occasions. Okay, I admit I never thought I'd be feeding a spider. Spiders creep me out big time. A small one dropped down onto me from the ceiling a few days ago and brought me bolt upright screaming like a banshee!

Yesterday I gave her a fly which was dead when I found it. She tried it and threw it from the web. Today a fresher specimen was eagerly accepted. She hadn't had a fly for three days and her abdomen was shrunken and flat. She must have been pretty hungry. She had just finished it when a fly was snagged in her web. She pounced on it and wrapped it and the meal continued. She must have thought it was Thanksgiving! Dessert was a gnat.

Tonight she is fat and presumably happy, hanging head down in her web. I wonder how large she will grow? Will she find spidery love and leave a new generation of spiders? Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Long Awaited Day

Today, nine weeks to the day from when he fell and broke his leg, Tony eased down the stairs and walked around in the yard. He also figured out how to get into the truck seat and back down again. Woo-hoo!

I tackled that ceiling job yesterday, or one of them anyway. Two of them anyway - oh, three of them. I pulled down the stained paper over the banquette, where we'd had the leak, after we'd repaired that whole section. Then I caulked the seam between the new ceiling panel Ian installed and the original one. That has to dry for at least 36 hours before I can do anything further.

Then I re-caulked around the roof vent/skylight where the old caulking had come out. Then I mixed up sky blue paint from the white and dark blue paints and painted the area over the "bedroom". Once that was dry I sponged some clouds onto the blue, because I couldn't wait to see what it was going to look like. This was tough on my not-so-strong shoulder and upper arm muscles, and my neck. I had a hard time sleeping last night, but I had the reward of hearing an owl hooting from somewhere nearby at about 2:00 am. I've been down most of today, but I have been pleased to look at my lovely blue sky ceiling with fluffy white clouds. I need to do more to the clouds, but once it's all done I will try to take a picture.

I was concerned that the pattern on the vinyl ceiling would look really weird once it was painted, but surprise the pattern looks like a layer of thin clouds higher up.

Once my arms are recovered I will try repairing the ceiling over the banquette. I've got some of that roll-on fiber moosh which hopefully will cover the difference in the two panels. I've always thought that stuff was grotesque looking, but this is white, with a tiny tan fleck, so it should be unobtrusive enough once it's on.

But now, even on the grey days in winter we have a blue sky to look at!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Year in the Life...

A year ago today we pulled the Tin Palace out of our driveway in Calgary, headed west. It's been quite a year. We haven't missed the big city, though we have missed seeing Ian every couple of days. I miss our shopping trips and the sushi we used to share, but mostly our long conversations of a philosophical bent.

We've had a lovely year, barring a few pipe and plumbing mishaps with the TP, and that nasty bone-breaking thing Tony did back in June. He is now cautiously walking around in the TP without the walker, but he's certainly not ready for shopping jaunts or herding the cat. The silver lining to that cloud was an extended visit with each of our boys. We really enjoyed their company.

Living in 157 sq ft of space hasn't been as challenging as you might think. I like things to be tidy, which means that I constantly weed out anything we are done with and straighten up the rest. Cleaning is easy but constant, two things out of place and the place looks like a tornado hit it.

The only reno project on the TP which did not end up performing well was the textured paper we put on the ceiling to cover the vinyl paneling that's there now. The paper has peeled and fallen off in most spots, including where the ceiling was patched over the dining table.

I got out the paint and bought a roller and tray today. Hopefully tomorrow I can begin painting the ceiling. I am going to paint the area over our bunks in a "sky with clouds" motif. Don't know how that will work with the slight texture of the paneling, but it couldn't look worse than it does now. I will try to post pictures once I'm finished.

The summer has been wonderful, with the kind of abundance from the garden and orchard I haven't experienced since I was a girl in New Mexico and Arizona, where market gardens and orchards surrounded us.

We've enjoyed watching the baby birds brought to the feeder by their parents day after day. The different birds have different parenting styles. The sparrows are the most fun to watch, since a parent will often be mobbed by three or four frantically begging babies - babies who are perfectly able to pick feed out of the feeder or off the ground themselves. But they must like home cookin' because they beg relentlessly until the parents get fed up and beat the tar out of them.

Maud and Emmett continue to bring their two chicks to the feeder most days. The chicks are now about 2/3rds the size of their parents. I think the larger one is a male, since it often moves away from the others and assumes a watchful stance, which is typical behaviour for a male quail.

Right now we have a volunteer sunflower growing near the bird feeder. Some seeds get missed, and this one went on to grow into a nifty little sun face. At the back of the TP are some volunteer snapdragons which have come up and bloomed without any encouragement whatsoever. This morning I was once more astounded by the velvety texture of newly-opened purple petunia blossoms in my container garden. What pleasure my flowers have brought me this summer.

As summer winds down we are beginning to look forward to the arrival of our snowbird friends from across the country. Summer has many pleasures, but we miss the companionship of the dozen or so retiree couples who stay here during the winter. The weather may get cold, but the coffee is hot and the company is amiable. If you are lonesome in the winter here you've only yourself to blame.

It's been a year of firsts, a year of adventure, observation and discovery. We've learned that life is best lived in the moment, without wasting energy regretting the past, or worrying about the future. Anticipate joy, experience contentment.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Salad Days

One of the delightful perks of living here is that we are surrounded by orchards and market gardens. We have been eating well, the fruit bowl is always heaped, the fridge is full of vegies.

One of our favorite summer dinners is a sort of a Greek salad. Greek salad has red onions, but we don't particularly like raw onion, so I leave them out. We are happy to eat this salad twice a week, so I thought I'd share the recipe. I bought the ingredients for tonight's salad from the stand about a mile south of us. The tomatoes came in from the field as I selected the peppers. The peppers and cukes are grown next door.


1/2 each large green sweet pepper, large yellow sweet pepper

2 red "pimento" peppers. These are small (not even tennis ball size), deeply lobed, flat and very dark intense red with an intense flavour.

2 medium ripe tomatoes

1 medium cucumber

4 ounces feta cheese - I used an "Italian-style" one with basil and tomato.

half dozen Kalamata olives per serving.

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil

1 TBS apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp Mrs Dash garlic and herb seasoning

salt to taste


Wash vegetables. Cut peppers into cubes, core and cube tomatoes, peel cucmber, cut lengthwise in halves, then each half into four lengthwise sections. Cut across to dice.

Mix cut up vegetables in a bowl, add Mrs Dash and feta cheese. Stir. Mix olive oil and vinegar together and pour over salad, stir.

Spoon portions into bowls, serve with bread for soaking up juices.

Makes two large dinner portions or four salad portions

Magic Happens...

At night I lie and look out my window at the stars. The skies here are thick with stars one never sees in the city. During the Perseid meteor shower, earlier in August, I took my sleeping bag out to the chaise lounge and lay in the dark. At first the meteors were infrequent, but by midnight they were more or less constant, one or two every three or four minutes. Even after I went inside I saw several meteors streak across the sky.

Somehow this brings back a memory of a July evening almost 30 years ago, when we camped in a park in Oklahoma with the boys. We'd been living on an island in northern BC for years and were on our way south for a family reunion. We were camped among huge oak trees, it was humid and still and as it grew dark stars came out among the trees as well as in the skies.

Robert Frost wrote:

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.

Our northern boys had never seen fireflies before. It was as magical as if fairies had arrived in the garden. Magic happens unexpectedly and leaves a glow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Amazing Two-Legged Man

Tuesday Tony had an appointment with the surgeon who put all the hardware in his leg seven weeks ago. It's about a 45 minute drive to the hospital. We anticipated maybe a half-hour at the hospital, and 45 minutes back. It was not to be. The surgeon had been called to the OR for an emergency, and we had to wait several hours.

But the good news is that Tony's leg is healing well and he was given permission to begin walking with a walking frame. That's welcome news! He's now inching his way from his bunk to the bathroom on his own two feet, plus the granny walker.

He could move faster if Salvador didn't get in the way. Sal's very stubborn and once he's settled it takes a great deal of motivation to make him move. He'd get laid down and not want to move, so Tony started tossing a cat treat (a "cookie") out of the walker's path, and that would get Sal to jump up to get the cookie. Trouble is he quickly figured out that if he gets in the way of the walker he'll get a cookie. So now he throws himself beneath the walker as soon as Tony reaches for it! He certainly has us trained.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Red Letter Day

It was a beautiful day. Sunny, cool, breezy, a perfect day. But what made it perfect was that we figured out how to get Tony down the stairs, into the wheelchair and across the lawn to sit in the shade. It was the first time he'd been outside in six weeks, if you don't count being carried from ambulance to bed on a gurney.

I realized that while he'd been as brown as a nut when he had his accident, six weeks of lying inside has left him pale and wan-looking. Poor baby. Hopefully he'll be able to be outside a bit most days now.

I've realized that the park is like an ant hill in the summer. People are in and out constantly. Some stay a single night, others are here for a few days or a week. A site which was filled when we went to bed is empty when we get up, or vice versa.

The peaches in the commons are now ripening. The farm next door is producing beautiful peppers, red, green, yellow and the long very hot banana peppers. They also have okra and squash. I've been busy drying those peaches and nectarines. I'm on my third drier load now, each load holding about five pounds of fruit.

The days are ending with spectacular sunsets. Ahhhhhh..... the days are too short.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Drippy Elbows

It's just too bad. You can't eat a peach in this place without getting a bath in peach juice! It runs in a little river from your peach-in-hand, down your arm to drip off your elbow. Sticky stuff. You have to sponge it off or attract flies and hornets all day long. Don't you wish you had this terrible problem?

I went to the orchard today and (in a moment of wild optimism) bought a box of peaches and a box of nectarines. It's time to get serious about drying fruit! The farmer was a chatty soul and when he learned I was buying the fruit to dry said he dries fruit himself. He showed me his drier which he was filling with slices of peaches.

He offered me boxes of "seconds", fruit with a flaw on the skin, for $5.00 a box. A box contains 22 lbs (10 kilos) of fruit. So I came home with 22 pounds of peaches, 22 pounds of nectarines and five pounds of perfect "sunrise" apples for the amazing sum of $11.00. Good grief. I have NO PLACE to put all of this fruit! I have NO IDEA what possessed me!

We'll eat a good deal of it. I'll make room in the fridge for several pounds, and this afternoon I will go through and separate the ripe from the not-yet-ripe, and begin drying the ripe. (Oh boy, oh boy oh boy!)

On other fronts, things like this magnificent shrub with its gorgeous purple flowers continue to bloom like mad and the Rusty blackbirds now have a dozen or so youngsters in the flock. We had 25 Rusties in the yard this morning, diligently eating seeds and digging out grubs and other insects. They have begun to be aggressive towards the smaller birds, which I don't like. They rush at and peck any small bird that comes within a couple of feet, and I saw one Rusty grab a baby sparrow by the wing and shake the bejabbers out of it before turning it loose. But sparrows are aggressive too, and one little female, pecked by a Rusty five times her size turned on it and gave as good as she got! She had the Rusty on the run in a hurry.

The most exciting news, as far as I am concerned, is that my favorite pair of quail, Maud and Emmett, are NOT childless after all! They are both very small. Maud walks with a limp and a wobble, and they are obviously at the bottom of the pecking order as all the other quail chase them away during the covey's prime feeding times in the early morning and late afternoon. So they have come to the feeder mid-day all summer. They are always together, and they have grown pretty tolerant of my presence in a chair nearby.

A couple of weeks ago they started coming at different times, Emmett would come around by himself and feed, an hour or so later Maud would show up, alone. This continued for several days until about noon several days ago they came together, with two tiny chicks! They were hardly larger than sparrows, and in fact to start with I thought there were three chicks, until the third one turned out to be a sparrow.

The chicks are a bit bigger now, the size of baby chickens, but with longer legs and skinnier. I am so tickled that Em and Maud have their own little family. The babies are so cute, scratching in the grass under the feeder for seed. I have tried to get a picture but so far haven't been in the right place at the right time. I'll keep trying, because I want to share them with you.

Now I have to go sort peaches and nectarines and get to work!

Friday, August 03, 2007

In a Word - August

When we last left our heroine, she was held captive by the evil banker, who was threatening to repossess the fruit bowl, foreclose the mortgage on her tiny tin can and throw her into the street unless she .... wait a minute, wait a minute! That's not right! (For one thing there's no mortgage.)  

The villain, as I recall more clearly now, was "Exhaustion", something movie stars suffer and get checked into posh Hollywood hospitals for. Us common folk just go to bed and get a few nights sleep - and hire help

Ian and Zak insisted that we get some help, and Cathy recommended a local agency called "Interior Senior Care", a non-profit organization which provides services which help older people, or the disabled, remain independent and in their own homes. Can we say; Day versus Night? 

My "Assistant" is Brenda, a lovely and very pleasant young woman. She came for a visit last week and yesterday she picked me (and a pile of laundry) up and off to town we went. In two hours this whirlwind had seven loads of laundry washed and folded into bags, we had gone grocery shopping, gotten water, gone to the pharmacy and gone to the ATM. I lifted nothing, carried nothing. 

It was wonderful! When I got home I was not so tired I was sick. I did not collapse for the rest of the day. I cooked a meal, put away the laundry and food and even defrosted the fridge! 

Tony is now up on his wheeled walking frame. It has a seat so he can sit and roll himself to the bathroom and get to his computer etc. He is a very happy camper. He still can't put any weight on that broken leg, but he can use it to balance. He'll see the surgeon on the 14th and we'll see how much further he can push it then. 

This has been a beautiful day. It's been hot, not oppressively so, though yesterday came close as it was 38 C (100.4 F) . We've had a very brisk wind today, which kept us very comfortable. It's 2:00 pm and we have just now turned on the AC. 

As you can see Salvador is holding down summer. He says, "Itz hard werkz, but sumbuddy haz gotta do it." He's recovering from his nosy nature as well. He investigated a green stinkbug and got "stunk". The stinkbug produces a noxious (but harmless) spray which it emits at the boiling point, and Sal had his mouth and nose burned. I rushed him inside and washed his mouth and nose in cold water, and he was none the worse for wear, but he's more cautious about investigating bugs now. The striped winged ones sting and green ones burn!  

He's also been diligently watching the birds, making sure they are supervised. They've learned that he won't chase them, and the quail will walk right past him, and me, or approach us, just to get a closer look. 

We have a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds who visit daily. These birds are listed on the Audubon Watchlist as a declining species at risk. 

I was dismayed to look out the window a few mornings ago to see what appeared to be a dead Rusty lying in the grass. It was lying on its side, one wing stretched to the side, head flopped over, beak agape, eye open to the sun and unmoving. I wondered if it had hit the window of the big motorhome parked next to us and broken its neck. But then it gave its head a shake, shook the wing and hopped up onto its feet. I've seen this behaviour several times since. Sometimes they stretch out one wing and lie on their side, sometimes they lie on their belly and stretch out both wings, flinging their head backward till it touches their back. 

After seeing several of them do this, for 30-60 seconds at a time, I've decided they must be napping, and assume a "dead" posture, so that predator birds don't attack. Cats and other ground hunters hunt by sight, but if a bird doesn't move they are not likely to see it. Stationary objects are often overlooked. 

Adult Rusties have the most unusual brilliant yellow eyes with black pupils. Young birds have dark eyes. About a dozen Rusties visit, eating seed and digging insects from the grass where we have recently watered but there is only one juvenile bird among them. There should be lots more youngsters accompanying a flock of this size. There's an aggressive trapping campaign here, aimed at the huge flocks of starlings which decimate orchard fruit. I wonder if the young Rusties get mistaken for starlings during the nettings?

On a bright note, the American goldfinches have raised a brood of what appears to be four chicks, three males and a female. It was quite a sight to have all of them at the feeder at once. The purple finches, hoary redpolls and multitude of variety of sparrows continue to bring baby birds to the feeder, and we enjoy watching the begging and flapping and the parents' diligence at teaching their young what's for dinner. 

I didn't mention the watermelons - another post...