Thursday, October 29, 2009

Oh.... Chills and Fever

If you are of a certain vintage that will bring a song to mind. If not, never mind, it's an apt description of yours truly as she sits in her four layers of clothes, with the heating pad on her back, a blanket thrown over her legs and (for once) loving the toastiness of the laptop.

I was worried that I might be coming down with the Piggy flu but I am feeling the first prickling of a cold sore on my bottom lip. I never thought I'd be glad to realize I had a cold sore coming on! They always do this to me. As soon as the thing emerges I will feel fine again, but until then I am going to feel miserable.

I'm now trying to think what might have triggered it? Probably the barest pin-prick of a cat's claw. He pats my face at night, to wake me, and if he breaks the skin on my lip it reacts with outrage.

But never mind, more interesting things have been afoot. A few days ago the tree crew showed up to remove the dying mock cherry trees scattered around the park. Earlier Jed and crew cut the tree in front of our place, but it was easy to rope and pull over onto the road as the cut was made. No danger of it crashing into one of the units. The ones left for the arbor crew to remove were the dicey ones.

They came with a large crane and a very impressive chipper. This thing chewed through eight inch thick tree trunks with a guttural growl you could hear for blocks. They began at the lake end and moved this way, and every time they asked the people in the units on either side of the tree to clear out and get well back, so there was a gaggle of sidewalk superintendents and nervous observers.

Most of these trees were like the one between us and the next door neighbour's to the north. It was sandwiched in the pathway between our two trailers, and even an inch movement in the wrong direction would have brought it down on their deck roof.

One fellow would climb the tree and secured straps to three sturdy branches at equidistant points around the crown. Then came the cutting. They couldn't simply cut and lift, as the tree would swing as the trunk was severed. The solution here is to make a tenon cut, so the tree could be lifted up, swung over several roofs and dropped gently onto the grass across the road.

We are now two trees down, and in a much sunnier position. Now, if we could just get some sun, rather than the wind and rain that has pelted us for days.

Monday, October 19, 2009


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
one from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

~ Robert Frost

Water Water Everywhere!

Were you one of the unfortunates who had to memorize "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in grade 10 English Literature?

I still remember bits and pieces more than 45 years later, and yesterday morning when we discovered the previously reported water under (and in) the trailer is actually from a leak in the roof the trailer the verse;

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

Comes to mind. In our case the boards have not shrunk, and all we need do to have a drink is hold a glass under the tap, but the rest is definitely applicable.

Bob the RV repairman looked over the situation and pointed out a dozen possible points of entry for water. So, while I was looking forward to a quiet day of pottering in the garden I spent it hauling and carting and doing a fair amount of swearing, as everything under the bed and in the adjacent cupboards has had to be unloaded, and much of it was wet, including artwork stored in the cupboard, and important paperwork in a file box.

Then I had to clean the dead vines off the back of the trailer so Bob could access the roof more easily. This was less fun than it sounds, as much of it was above my head. This accounted for me being in my chair at 1:00 am waiting for pain pills and muscle relaxants to kick in so I could lie down.

On the good news side, the Park crew came and cut the front Mock Cherry tree a couple of days ago. I always hate to see trees cut but suddenly we have light and a view! This will be lovely over this winter, less so in summer when the morning sun will hit the front windows full force. But I will be compensated by having more sun for my plants in the front.

The plants in my vertical plant stand should be happier next summer. I'm planning to plant mesclun, kale, parsley, and spinach there next spring, all plants that don't mind a bit of shade in the afternoon, as long as they get sun in the morning.

Because of the shape, I might even be able to pop a layer of clear plastic over the front and get an early start on my hardier veggies. Even thinking about gardening makes me feel more cheerful.

Today, bless them, one of the managers and the next door neighbours came over and tarped the back half of the trailer, hoping to stop the leakage, as we have a heavy rain warning and a week of predicted rains. There is no substitute for good neighbours.

At the moment the plan is for Ian to come over at the end of the month and tarp the entire top of the trailer for the winter. Once things have dried completely out in the spring he will repair the roof. It's a rum go Guv'nor, but you does what you gotta do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

These Things Done

It was grocery day, and doctor day, and pharmacy day, and builder's mart day, and garbage day, and laundry day and fill-the-truck-with-gas day, and post-a-letter day.

I'm not sure how we planned it so that all these "days" collided. We usually try to limit the errands to three. However, we survived the process, though we will pay for a few days.

After our cold snap temperatures are back to seasonal norms. It was lovely and sunny and quite warm today - for mid-October. There's still a lot of winterizing to do but the predictions are for this warmth to last for another 10-14 days, so we have time to get the storms up.

Although you don't see it here, I need to get into the garden desperately. The frost blackened tomato vines, beans, melon vines and peppers are really dreadful looking, and need to be cleaned up. I also need to give all the still-blooming and growing plants a good drink. This requires carrying water since the hoses have been turned off for the winter. I wish I'd have known they were going to turn them off, I'd have given everything a deep soaking.

I bought a package of spring bulbs to tuck into empty spots in the shade garden. These are one of my much loved early spring bloomers, the deep purple blue Muscari Armeniacum (grape hyacinth). They will be up and over with before the trees leaf out and shade the garden. I made the mistake of buying 150 bulbs at a time about five years ago, and will never repeat it. Not only was I worn out from grubbing on my knees, I ran out of room in the flower beds and actually sneaked into the neighbour's flower beds while they were gone to plant the extra bulbs. This time I bought 20, and I still may find it challenging finding a root-free spot to plant them in.

Speaking of roots and trees, we are losing the Mock Cherry in the front. Its trunk has become dangerously rotten and unstable. The robins nest in that tree every year. I hate to have it taken down but it's going to come down on our heads one of these windy nights. The robins can move 20 feet further along and build a nest in the Mock Cherry at the end of the shade garden.

Out in the garden this week we will be able to harvest and eat bok choi, Brussels sprouts, and kale. I'm looking for ways to keep the kale alive over the winter, and found a great idea for row covers over at A Growing Tradition. I will probably put a thick blanket of leaves over the kale and cover it all, then pull it back once it starts to warm up a bit in spring, so we have an early crop of kale.

Now off for a night of well-earned sleep,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Way We Spend Our Days

Winter has descended on us unexpectedly early. Well, perhaps not "winter", but let's say we had an unseasonal cold snap that left everyone in the Valley scrambling. The temperatures dropped to all time record lows for four days in a row. The mercury dropped to -10 C (14 F) overnight on Saturday.

The grapes in the many vineyards around us had ripened early, due to a wonderful summer and a warm September. Grape harvest doesn't usually begin until late October. Now vineyard owners are working desperately against the clock to get frozen grapes in within 48 hours, before they begin to spoil.

In the garden, frost has claimed the tender plants though the brassicas have perked up and are exceeding cheerful in the chill. (More so than me.)

Before it froze I gathered in about 20 pounds of green tomatoes, mainly from the "cherry" type vines, which were loaded with tomatoes. I brought three plants inside, garlic chives, parsley and my pink mini-rose. These are on the kitchen table where they get an hour or so of sun a day, when it's sunny. It won't be enough, but it's all I can do at the moment.

We were not physically or psychologically prepared for winter. We had to quickly pack summer shorts and tee-shirts and dig out the winter clothes. We made a trip to town for a new thermostat, insulation, weatherstripping and various bits 'n bobs to keep us from becoming aged popsicles this winter.

This is the simple life. But even a cave needs a sweep and the stalagmites dusted now and again. Our little home needs constant attention. I think a very small place probably needs as much upkeep as a larger place, simply because the "wear" is concentrated in a smaller area.

We've started putting up the storm windows, to be specific we have put up one storm window. "Storm windows" in this case being that heat shrink film you tape to the sill and then tighten with heat from the hair drier. In our case it takes a while, as it's a big job for my wonky arms.

The window frames in this unit are aluminum, with no thermal break between outside and inside, so they conduct cold inside, and can even develop a layer of ice on very cold days. The difference between cold and heated air creates an uncomfortable draft. This year, rather than attaching the window film to one of the inside fins of the metal frame, leaving the outer frame exposed, I decided to add a weatherstripping gasket around the outer frame, and put the storm window plastic on top of it. Eureka! This is much better! There's no draft, and the air next to the window is as warm as the air next to the wall!

So, we need to put up storm windows, put the insulation (a layer of Reflectix) on the inside of the front door, put some additional weatherstripping on the back door, since we had a two inch build-up of ice on the bottom of the door last winter. I won't subject you to the rest of the List. It is endless, or seems so when you are underwhelmed by your ability to accomplish much in a day.

This morning I was walking the cat, and noticed that the earth along the skirting at the back right side of the trailer was wet. When we finished our walk I came back with my hoe and pulled back the top layer of dirt. It's wetter the deeper you go. We must have a leaking waterline. Oh joy.

This is a more or less fix now situation. The skirting will have to come off, the line will have to be dug up. The RV Repairman will have to be called, as this is not a job we are capable of tackling.

And so, off I go, to make the calls, to do the chores, to trace the steps that will bring me to close of day. The way we spend our days....

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

There are lots of Tiny House blogs on the web. I am guilty of sometimes neglecting my work to read about the dreams and designs, the gathering of materials, the hammering and sawing, process and progress, that go into each of these tiny places. Most are built with excitement, enthusiasm and love.

You follow, you follow, month by month and then the little house is launched into the world, into a back garden perhaps, or parked in someone's driveway. But there most Tiny House blogs stop. Few of them go on to describe what it's like to actually live day-to-day in a tiny house. This makes me wonder if they are more an expensive toy than a realistic housing solution?

The romantic dream of living in a 120 sq ft doll's house can quickly dim faced with the reality of cooking, eating, sleeping, toileting, bathing, and all the myriad activities that make up an average day, in such a cramped space.

All the gingerbread and clapboard can enclose an unexpected nightmare if you are not very careful. If you are going to live in a tiny house you'd best be prepared to:

1) jettison your stuff. My antique china, silver, furniture and art collection have been sitting in a kindly friend's garage for close to four years. I miss the familiarity of some of these things, although I don't miss the upkeep they required.

2) maintain a small wardrobe. For a tiny house we have a generous 48" closet. For two of us. We each have a drawer for foldables. Many closets are bigger than our house.

3) get along. If you or your significant other need "alone" time and "private space" you better start looking for a divorce lawyer at the time you start framing walls.

4) pick up after yourself. One thing out of place looks untidy, two things out of place looks slovenly, three things out of place will eventually turn you into a raving loony. Points at self as proof positive.

5) believe that less is really more. Ninety-nine percent of the population still believes more-is-more. You'd better be hearing that different drumbeat pretty strongly, because most people will think you are nuts and/or poverty-stricken.

6) not believe in claustrophobia. I like small spaces and feel uncomfortable in large rooms, but the "crawl-space" loft bedrooms in many tiny houses somehow remind me of the iron lung I was in when I had polio as a toddler. Panic and suffocation come to mind. At least we have a main floor bedroom with a queen size bed you can walk around. And no climbing over each other to get in and out of bed, no ladder to climb up and down in the dark when you really need to pee.

7) cook in an area the size of a cutting board. Unless you eat out all the time, which is expensive and usually overrated, you have to devote space to storing, preparing and serving food - and washing the pots and pans.

I can tell you from experience that a four cubic foot bar fridge is inadequate, two burner "stoves" suck and bowl-sized sinks are a headache, even if they are the highly polished metal-of-the-moment. I love my current kitchen which has a eight cubic foot fridge (still considered only half the minimum size required for two), a four burner stove, microwave, two sinks, and a dishwasher, even if the storage is difficult to use. This kitchen was designed by an accountant, not a cook, but it is heaven compared to the 14" of counter space I had in the 119 sq ft Tinpalace.

I'm really not trying to be an old crank. From the ages of 10 to 18 I lived in a succession of trailers, because my Dad's work kept us on the move and rental housing was hard to find and often down-at-heels. And I learned to love living in a small space.

I still marvel at how well those little trailers were designed in the 50s. They were marvels of efficiency. We had a 33 foot long, eight foot wide trailer which had a corner kitchen with full-sized appliances plus a table and chairs for four. There was a full-size bath, two bedrooms, a living room with a full size sofa bed for guests, two easy chairs, a coffee table, an end table and a TV stand. Fitted much like a yacht, not a single inch was wasted, and we had everything we needed.

No house is an end in itself, tiny or not. The adventure doesn't end when you slap the last brushful of paint on your tiny dream, or park it, or wave goodbye to your acreage of floorspace. In truth, that's when the adventure begins. It can be a life-altering, wonderful, experience. As long as you realize that the adventure is in learning to adapt to a totally new way of life.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Organizing the Bits

We've found that the secret for living in a tiny space is organized storage, i.e. not storage space like this. I have had beside my wee rocker the most unlikely "table" one could think of, a carpeted cat scratching post/hidey-hole thingie. We bought it for Salvador several years ago but he's too big to get inside it. He poked his head in, turned around and said, "What the hell?", and then ignored it. So I inherited it.

Sadly it usually looks just like it does here. Piled with books, magazines, papers, remotes, cords, and various bits and pieces, all threatening junkslide at any moment. I lose all manner of stuff inside the two cubbies and can never find anything when I want it.

It's been driving me bananas and I decided I wanted to replace it with a narrow shelf under the window. But I couldn't find a six inch deep, 32" long, 17" high shelf anywhere. So we decided to build one. When we went to town on Thursday we bought two 1 x 6 pine boards, and yesterday we measured them off and Tony cut the pieces. It was quite cold out, so we brought the pieces inside to assemble them, then I took it back outside on the deck to paint it.

My idea was to have three shelves, plus the top surface. On the top, a three inch high decorative molding (a screen door molding bought for a project almost 10 years ago and never used) will keep items from walking off the edge. This provides a spot for my coffee cup in the morning, the cell phone, the remotes, etc. Next a shelf which holds small, shallow boxes for organizing small items, like Sal's glucose monitor, a note pad, computer bits, camera, etc. The next shelf is little deeper and will hold larger boxes. I'm recycling several empty cat food cases to use as boxes. I have some pretty origami paper and will cover them, so they look nice.

The bottom shelf holds two baskets for camera charger, pens, pencils and markers, tape rolls, and the rest of the shelf is devoted to reference and paperback books. Our paperbacks take space in the larger bookcase that could be better used by larger books, and there are several reference books I like to have close at hand that have usually ended up stacked on the floor.

The cat thingie went out on the deck for Sal to sit on. I thought he might ignore it, since he never used it inside, but he immediately took up residence on it and laid there off and on all evening. So everyone's happy.

We're feeling quite proud of ourselves, because it was (for us) a big job, and it worked out exactly the way we wanted.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Goodbye Sweet Melony Goodness

We cut the watermelon yesterday. I was afraid it would be green as grass inside, but surprisingly it was red, crisp, juicy and very sweet. Oh yum!

I took this picture, but it was a heavily overcast day and the flash came on. My camera's flash and shutter have at some time in the past argued, come to a less than amicable relationship and will not work together. So when I use the flash I always get a bit of a blur, sometimes even a second "shadow" image along side the first. Oh well. I did my best. And now? The watermelon is but a fond memory, and a bad photo.

I have to say, a harvest of one watermelon was not worth the space, money, and time it consumed. Next year that spot goes to zucchini or summer squash.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Our October KIVA Investment

This month through KIVA we are investing in a young Samoan mother's business. Povalu Lova is a 25-year-old woman who lives in the town of Falseela Samoa. She is married and has a baby. Her main source of income comes from planting and harvesting taro for sale. Taro is a starchy tuber which is a staple food in the Pacific Islands. Povalu has been engaged in raising taro for less than one year and earns approximately 500 WST a month ($215 Canadian or $195 US).

A small loan in 2008 enabled Povalu to buy soil amendments to improve her field. She has paid that loan back and now has asked for a second loan to purchase gardening tools and supplies. She will use the money she earns to support her family and improve their living conditions.

KIVA allows individuals like us, who may only have a few dollars a month to spare, to pool funds with other micro-investors and provide loans to hard-working small business people around the world. As they repay their loans our investment will be returned to us, and we can invest it in another business, and thus help another person. Today a payment was made by the first person we lent money to, and it was credited to our account. We immediately put it back into circulation as part of the sum we lent to Povalu.

Unlike "aid" money handed over between governments, which often ends up in the pockets of corrupt politicians, this money goes directly to the borrower, where it is needed, and we feel privileged to be able to help. We are all connected.