Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig, Dig the Whole Day Through

It's a backwards spring. While March was warm, April has been cool, even cold (it was snowing on the hills above us today!) But we finally got a bit of rain over the last two days, which we sorely needed. Hopefully it will rain again tonight, as we have had heavily overcast skies all day.

Finally realizing that there was no way I had the strength to get my garden beds ready myself I hired a kind and willing neighbour who spent little more than half an hour doing what would have taken me a week, and left me sick to boot. I forget what it is to have strength. Then I see someone almost effortlessly do a job in a fraction of the time it would have taken me. It's hard not to be envious.

Bill, the willing neighbour, turned over the soil in my two 4 x 4 raised beds and my three foot across kiddie pool planter, adding compost, peat moss and composted "moo poo" to each. He moved the kiddie pool into a more sunny position in the community garden. He dug out the compost bin and filled a large container with finished compost so I can get to it easily, and he dug in a bag of dry leaves and got the compost bin off to a good spring start.

He laid plywood between the top level of my garden tiers in the back, creating a shelf. He placed the large container that had been on the ground on the new "shelf" where the plants will get more sun and air.

From the garden beds he took soil to fill a dozen pots, loaded them into the wheelbarrow and brought them to the front, where they can be planted with a mix of flowers and vegies. This is my neighbour Randy's area, but he said he was happy to let me use it, as he had no plans to garden there.

And all this in about 30-40 minutes. I couldn't believe it. I can plant my cool weather crops now. I just have to decide where to plant everything.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Defining Bliss

Sun, warmth, a light breeze and blossoms everywhere! I look out through the transparent deck roof to watch the flower-laden branches of the mock cherry tree toss in the wind.

Out in the greenhouse I was delighted to see numerous wee tomato plants had emerged this morning. They were planted only five days ago; these guys can't wait to get growing!

Generous friends have contributed a few new plants for my garden. Cat brought a lovely bleeding heart and a package of blue flax seeds. Ruth brought several red begonias to plant in the shady area of the garden. The two hosta plants are sending up thick spears which will soon unfurl into huge heavily ribbed leaves.

And inside, the platform for the desk is built, and the desk is on it. Moving the desk from a diagonal placement to sitting against the wall makes a huge difference. There's also a space underneath the platform which will serve as useful storage. We still need to finish the platform, i.e. cover the surface of it with flooring, and put paneling on the end, so we don't see the raw wood structure.

And, on the fourth try we finally got that dad-blamed TV bracket installed in the corner, so the TV sits diagonally above the left end of the desk. Little by little it's beginning to look more like home. When the renovation is finished I'll do a video tour.

I'm hoping to spend the next few days out in the garden, readying the raised beds and containers, planting cool weather crops and generally soaking up the dirt.

And that in only a page or two, defines bliss.

Monday, April 19, 2010

We Could Always Just Lie on the Floor

We always have a project (or a dozen) on the list. If you remember the layout of the Beach House you'll know that a wheel well, about eight inches high and 15" wide projects into the corner of the living room by about a foot. There was a cabinet there when we bought the place, but it had a single eight inch wide door on the far end, so it was essentially a waste of space. An obliging friend ripped it out for us.

We have a drop-leaf desk with three drawers in the corner, but it has to sit at an awkward, space-hogging angle, because of the wheel well. The little TV hangs on the wall above the desk, but is also awkward to watch because of all the reflections.

So, two projects are at the top of our list at the moment:

1) Install a new TV bracket which will allow us to raise the TV and tilt it so it's easier to watch. Easy peesy.

2) Build a platform over the wheel well, eight inches high, 16" deep and 36" wide. Then the desk will sit on the platform, flat against the wall and we gain several inches of floor space. (Inches count in a space this small!)

We'll start with the TV. We bought the bracket in March, and found that articulating brackets aren't cheap. This one set us back $74.99 on sale! However it's rated for a 45 pound TV set, and ours only weighs 11 pounds, so it shouldn't fall off the wall, providing we can get it on the wall in the first place. The fellow said "Keep the packaging, you can bring it back for a week if it doesn't work."

Of course first thing I did was take it out of the package to see if it would fit the spot we have for it, and somehow the packaging crept out the door in the dark of the night. (I'm not sure how this happens. The stuff I need to throw away sticks to the place like three-day-old bubble gum. Stuff I want to keep evolves legs, tendrils, wings, or some other mode of transport and disappears in the middle of the night through a locked door!)

Anyway, no problem. The bracket's going to work. Look at how nice and smooth that silvery metal is. Cool and silky... Stuff that looks good works good - right? (This does not always apply to men - or to women for that matter.)

We'd not had the energy opportunity to install it since I bought it but today is a good day! So, after lunch we dug out the instructions and studied them - four sheets of very fine line drawings filled with small details, arrows pointing in all directions, and incomprehensible symbols. Then we hauled out three tool boxes, a drill, a power screwdriver, a stepladder, and our limited stores of strength and patience and went at it. We sweated and strained and (I have to say it) screwed that thing in the spot where we wanted it. Our arm muscles shook like jello as we held the TV up to shoulder level and bolted it to the bracket. Unfortunately all this accomplished was a TV that would hold only one position - face down screen aimed directly at the floor.

We scowled at each other, said a few choice words to the hardware, and sat down with the instructions again. What did we do wrong? Well, the thing swivels so the wall attachment should be able to go on vertically or horizontally. Our space dictated a horizontal placement, but maybe that wasn't okay. We tore it all off and started over.

Now, the only place to put it vertically is not big enough to hold the attachment, so we get a big chunk of cedar and attach it as reinforcement. Great. Much smoother install! (This is as ugly as a junkyard.)

We put the TV on the bracket. It now sticks two feet out into the room. Even worse the TV slowly sinks until it is (once more) facing the floor. We raise it, adjust the tension, as per instructions (we think, hard to tell). It sits upright for about ten seconds and slides back into a face down position. We are done. Our muscles will handle no more holding TV in the air, or fussing with three-inch long screws.

Achieving this bliss of television positioning Nirvana has taken two hours, a great deal of hard work and some language best not repeated here. If we want to watch it we will have to lie on the floor. Since there's not enough room for us side by side we may have to do a double-deck arrangement, which isn't as much fun at our age as it was when we were 25 and more supple (also more... oh, I won't say that. Our children read my blog.)

Tony has gone to have a nap. I am in my chair, muscles twitching like greyhounds waiting for the rabbit to shoot out of the gate.

However the next time someone says that TV doesn't provide exercise, mental stimulation or "quality time" for a couple I will suggest they try mounting one on a articulating bracket in an RV. Who knew that a $74.99 TV bracket could be a great alternative to a $5000 home gym?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

!Por Fin!

Or for those of you who do not know two words of Spanish - "At last!"

Last week we laid out the new garden bed in front. Very simple really, just Holland pavers laid in a curved bed, and staggered brick style. No mortar, no real prep, other than pulling a flat spot out with the hoe. But that's as far as we'd gotten. Cold days and a bug sidetracked me all last week, but the weather has warmed and I feel better, so time to get to work. :)

Day before yesterday I dug out the gardening tools, plant trays, starting pots and greenhouse cover. All these were scrubbed and bleached to kill any lingering pathogens, and then left to dry overnight.

Yesterday morning I set up the table on the deck, went through my seeds and selected those I wanted to start in the greenhouse now. This means tomatoes, peppers, red onions and leeks. If I tell the truth I planted half a dozen pots of leeks, the same of onions and 30 pots of tomatoes.

I planted a mix of small "cherry" types, Mosaic Mix (three different colours), Gardener's Delight, Tumbler F1, and one I've never tried before, Chocolate Cherry.

Then for large tomatoes I planted Starfire which is always a reliable producer for me, Purple Prince a dark intensely-flavored medium-sized tomato, Red Brandywine a large, high-shouldered tomato which has a great flavour, and a mix of several colours of Brandywines, Zebra striped which is green striped, Yellow, Yellow and White. This bunch is an experiment, as I've never tried these colour variants before.

Then today we unloaded the bags of soil mix I bought last week and filled the new bed in front. I moved the Coral Bells Heuchera from the back, where it has sulked in a too-shady spot for two years. I planted the pansies and Autumn Joy Sedum I bought a few days ago, and dug up and replanted the cranesbill, catnip, heather, hen and chicks and mint that were growing in the bed before. I also had a silver and green foliage plant which I planted in one of my annual baskets last spring, and which has survived and thrived. So I popped it into the bed. It is a low-growing spreader, which should make a good ground cover for the slope coming off the new bed into the rest of the garden.

This basically means I am pooped, but I still took my new video camera and went out to film the whole thing. The Helleborus Niger Easter Rose is putting on an extravagant show with 24 blossoms! The grape hyacinths are just beginning to open.

You hear our neighbour Randy, who came out to chat while I was filming. And as I watched this afterward I remembered the phrase from Robbie Burns' poem, To a Louse; "O would some power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us."

Apparently this is exactly what today's video camera allows. Having filmed only three or four short videos I realize I have a very annoying habit of whistling under my breath all the time. Okay, I listen to a lot of classical music and there's always a concert going on in my head. I can kick in on a bar of any of 100 different pieces and hear (and apparently whistle) it right through to the end. Dear dear. I know where I got this habit. My Dad whistled non-stop. I guess I am my Father's daughter. But I think I will try to keep the music in my head from now on. I'm sure friends and family will be thrilled. LOL

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Opening Day!

The plastic covering on the deck is turning us into a hothouse. The temperature out there reads 32 C (88 F). Granted it may be cool enough in the coming week that we'll wish we hadn't taken down the storm windows, but what do you do when it's 26 C (80 F) degrees in the living room and you can't open the windows?

Outside the trees are leafing out, the mock cherries are getting ready to bloom and there are flowers all over the park.

I am anxious to get my greenhouse seeds started and my outside gardening areas prepared and planted, and I've been sick all week. At first I thought maybe it was just that I had done too much on two consecutive days (Friday and Saturday) but I'm beginning to suspect that I actually have a virus of some kind. Fever, aching muscles and joints, upset stomach and digestive tract and that "run down by a steam roller" feeling.

Fiddle. My "to-do" list is a mile long and there is no energy to work with at all. But there's not a thing I can do about it but wait to get better.

But the day is glorious. First day we've had when you could actually wear short sleeves or go outside without a hat and coat. We flipped from winter to summer in a single day. I may feel like poo on a stick, but I can't help but enjoy this beautiful day.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Wind in Our Willows

It is the time of wind. We are buffeted and rocked. The deck covering snaps and billows like the sails of a tall ship. Above us the willow branches reach after the retreating wind like forsaken lovers.

I have a new video camera, and though I'm just learning to use it I can show you the wind in our willows and the sun on the clay banks. And you can hear both the wind and the roar of traffic, which is amplified as it echoes off the cliffs.

The green blushes of our trees are early this spring. Along the road to town the apricot trees are in full bloom risking everything. This March was the warmest on record, and not just by a degree or two but by eight and ten degrees. But as April arrived the thermometer dove downward and we are now eight to ten degrees colder than average and wishing the sun of March back.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Faces Without a Name...

One of the reasons I have been so conspicuously absent these last couple of weeks is that I'm on another genealogical binge. Having failed to find hide nor hair of my George Perkins I had to find another line to work on which would cause less frustration.

So I decided to finally enter the information I have on Tony's family into the family tree program. I got into the "dead ancestors" box and dug out the family group sheets that I filled out while interviewing Tony's Mom (Kinette) in the spring of 1982. Mom's been gone for 20 years now, hardly seems possible. She and I were good friends and had a lot of fun together, even though we butted heads a good many times too.

Mom knew a great deal about her own family history, and I've been able to expand on what she knew (with help from a professional genealogist in Belgium some 10 years ago.)

But sadly she knew very little about Tony's father's family. George died within a few months of Tony's and my wedding, and I really only got to spend a short time with him. His parents had sent him off to England to a boarding school when he was five, which was what all the prosperous families with great ambitions for their only sons did. He resented the separation and was not particularly interested in talking about his family, and we didn't anticipate losing him so quickly.

When Kinette died I inherited a stack of old pictures with no names on them, and an even larger stack of questions. Who were these people? Bit by bit I figured out the relationships, but that gives me no help at all on the names.

The surnames I am wrestling with at the moment are Greant and van der Elst. Both families were wealthy. Tony's grandfather Camille's nickname in school was "the golden brick" because the family owned so much property in Brussels. (Alas, the depression and WWII took care of the family fortune.)

Margaret van der Elst (on the right with dark hair) married Camille Greant in 1902. They are Tony's paternal grandparents. This photo shows her as a composed young lady of about 14, with her younger sister (whose name I do not know). Her hair is up, and she has all the fresh beauty of a girl on the threshold of womanhood.

The other two photos were taken probably about 1916. These are contact prints, probably made with glass negatives. They are too fragile to display, lest they fade.
But they convey a sense of warmth and pride seldom seen in old photos.

I love the van der Elst grandparents, so proud of the grandchildren lined up with them. I see a distinct resemblance between Grandfather van der Elst and my own dear husband. In this photo Tony's father George is the small boy in a dark suit with the large white collar, second from the right. George's sister Simone is the tallest girl, holding a baby cousin.

The second van der Elst family photo was taken one or two years later, on a charming bridge which Kinette says was on their estate. It includes the two grandparents and their adult children and families.

It appears there are two daughters and a son, their spouses and a child or two. Tony's grandfather Camille stands with crossed arms, the only one who appears ill-at-ease. His wife Margaret stands with her elbow on the bridge railing. Their daughter Simone stands by her mother and George is at the foot of the bridge. There is also an extra woman, who appears to be the grandmother's sister, seen in the earlier photo, when they were 12 and 14.

These are treasures, but they bring with them a deep longing to know these people, to give them names and their place in the family history. For your family's sake, sit down soon and write the names on the back of your family photos. All it takes is one memory less to lose a connection that may never be forged again.

Kiva Loan for April

I have neglected my blog for too long, and I can't promise I won't continue to do so, but must report on our KIVA loan for April.

Angela Nneda lives in Lagos Nigeria. She is 35 years old and married with three children. For four years she has owned a shop where she sells groceries and textiles and other sewing supplies. She is a hardworking woman; she opens her shop every day of the week and is friendly and helpful with customers.

Angela asked for a loan of 80,000 nairas (about $500) to purchase more groceries and textiles to expand her stock. This will enable her to contribute more to help her husband in maintaining their home.
She expresses her gratitude to lenders for their financial assistance.

This is our ninth KIVA loan, and all the business people we have loaned to are paying their loans back on time.