Monday, December 31, 2007

A Winter Eden

This seems a day made for introspection, though, for all that, it's a day like any other. The marking of the ending of the old and the beginning of the "new" year is strictly an arbitrary one.

I remember at age five being allowed to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve. My father carried me outside under a star-shimmered sky and I leaned back in his arms and looked up, waiting for the stars to shower down on us and new ones to blaze into being. Waiting for the NEW to begin. I was greatly disappointed when there was no starfall, no great sheets of light and colour. Like many things in my life "New Year" was nothing like I'd imagined.

Over the years I've learned that imagination often trumps experience, except in love. That has stood the test, better than I could ever have imagined.

The day is drawing to a close, as the sun falls behind the near mountains early shortly after 2:00 pm on these short winter days.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o'clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life's while to wake and sport.
A Winter Eden ~ Robert Frost

Like any year, this one has been filled with it's share of anxiety and grief. Two good friends passed away this year. We have struggled at times with pain, weariness and uncertainty, but there was a great deal of joy, laughter and plain contentment as well. Life is a bit like a crazy quilt. The pieces are stitched as they fall, and somehow a cohesive pattern emerges in the end.



We pray for peace in this troubled world, and know our prayers will go unanswered until peace comes to every heart, for peace cannot be accomplished through violence, or achieved until we cherish our fellow man enough to lay down our weapons and speak heart to heart.

For all of you, peace in this coming year, in your deepest heart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sugar Cat

I don't think Salvador was as impressed by Christmas as I was. He was diagnosed Monday morning with feline diabetes. He didn't act sick, but in the last three or four days he'd begun to drink a great deal more water than usual, and he was filling the litter box with... well, what cats fill litter boxes with. There were puddles.

Ian helped me take Sal to the vet Monday morning, where a test showed his blood glucose level to be 26.6 m/mol. While his glucose level may have been elevated by the stress of the car ride and the vet's exam, "normal" is 3.5 - 6.5 m/mol. While he was at the vets having more tests Ian and I went to the pharmacy and bought testing supplies, needles and insulin.

For the first three days of treatment we have to monitor his blood glucose levels very carefully. This means a blood test every four hours from morning until bedtime. In a cat the blood is obtained by pricking the outer edge of the ear with a lance. The drop of blood is then drawn up the test strip by capillary action and in a few seconds you have a reading.

His readings were all pretty much the same all day yesterday, 17.00 - 18.00, but down significantly from Monday. This afternoon he had the "best" reading since we started monitoring, 15.3. The insulin we're giving him is a slow-acting form, and I had read that it would take a couple of days before the blood sugar started to drop appreciably. Hopefully it is starting to take effect.

He does not appreciate being poked though and who could blame him? I am so incompetent. I poke him, and it's too shallow, so he doesn't bleed enough to test. I have to poke him again, and again, and again... Or I poke him too hard and blood goes everywhere.

He's fed up with my clumsiness and no wonder, but I am amazed that he's already learned that I am going to poke his ear with a sharp object and then milk it for blood. He gets this resigned face on, like, "My Mama has flipped her lid, but whaddya do? She's still my Mama." He's cuddling me as soon as it's done, so he's learned that while it's unpleasant it's not diabolically painful. He pays no attention to the insulin injections. The needles these days are tiny, not much bigger than a hair. They are coated with silicone to slide in easily, and they are very sharp.

Hopefully I'll get better at it because monitoring is vital to effective management. The cat we had when the boys were small was a huge FAT creature (30 lbs). His name was Buddha John Three Fish. Buddha because he really was a Great Soul. How do you say a cat is "spiritual" without sounding like a freak? But this guy was. But he was also hungry, which is how he got the John Three Fish part of his name. He ate Ian's pet turtle, named John, and the three goldfish we bought and put in a fishbowl on the mantel.

He was a huge cat, but so very patient and gentle. Once he was outside and somehow had an encounter with a cholla cactus. This kind of cactus has barbed spines, the ends of the spines are like fishhooks. He came inside and up to me and said, "Meowff". I reached to pet his head and found him loaded with spines. Some had gone through his tongue and nailed it to the roof of his mouth, some had gone into his nose. Some were around his eyes. Many went through his cheeks. Most animals would have been wild with pain. But here he was, quietly asking for some help.

I got needlenose pliers and a pair of nail scissors. I'd cut the protruding end off of a spine, so it could collapse, and then I'd yank it out. He whimpered, but he never raised a paw to scratch me, never growled, never hissed. I took 112 spines out of him, and afterwards he curled up in my arms and purred. He was a wonderful cat.

He developed diabetes when he was nine. He did well, but it was harder to manage diabetes in those days. There were no blood glucose meters. I relied on dip sticks that you had to poke into the pee stream. (HE thought I had gone a little strange when I started following him to the litter box and poking a strip of paper under his tinkle!) But I rotated injections sites for his insulin, and he kept track of where the next shot should go, and would jump up on the counter and present the appropriate site every morning before breakfast. In those days we gave insulin once a day, now they've learned it's better to give a smaller dose twice a day.

The things we do for our beloved four-leggers.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Maybe he said, "It's a little bit more."


Remember the Grinch who stole all the Christmas trimmings from the Whos down in Whoville? And that Christmas still came for the Who, without trees and thingjanglers, snoosnufflers and bozankers?

Well, for the first time in my entire life, I didn't put up a Christmas tree, didn't string any lights, wrap a single present, though I bought a few small tokens for friends and family. I didn't bake cookies, or lay in five pounds of candy. Look at our house and you'd think if was January 11th or March 4th, neither of which have any significance whatsoever to us.

Our only Christmas activity was the communal dinner in the clubhouse, for which I made gluten-free dressing (to eat with the turkey), candied yams, and corn. You gotta eat, no matter what.

But you know what? It was a lovely Christmas. It really doesn't come from a store. I looked out the window this morning at a brief moment of sunshine shining on the snow-covered mountains, admired the hoar frost which had formed during the night, and was delighted to see a small flock of juncos (aka snowbirds) at the feeder. So far I'd only seen one, and I was beginning to wonder what had happened to the flock that was here last winter.

It was a wonderful Christmas. We are well-fed, warm, dry and love each other's company. What better gift is there?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tinpalace II



Tinpalace II arrived yesterday morning, and is now residing in the storage lot down the road. If it weren't December we'd happily move into it tomorrow.

Allow me to elaborate! "She" is 32 feet long, and very nice. Very bright inside, much more than I'd expected from the pictures.

The upholstery is teal with a grey pattern. The carpet is teal, the vinyl floor in the kitchen and entry is white.

The kitchen is in front, with a large fridge, an apt-size stove, double sinks and counter room! Whoopee! The cupboards in the kitchen are showing a little wear to the finish, but I intend to paint them anyway. This is really the only place in the trailer which has visible wear.

There's a real sofa, and a very comfy rocking chair. Sal will love it. He loves to be rocked, just like a baby, but we've had no rocking chair.

There's a tub, not quite as large as the tub in a house but big enough for me. There's a built-in shower chair for Tony. There's a very large closet, with drawers underneath. One of the three sections of the closet will accommodate a combo washer/dryer unit. Nice big medicine chest, storage everywhere.


There's some work to be done before we can move into it in the spring. There are minor repairs needed (light covers missing, taps to replace), and we want to buy a new mattress. We were assured that all mechanicals were working, so we will hope they are. Can't really check them out without firing up all the systems and we can't do that until it stops freezing.

All that said, I am just a little pleased. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toronto's Smallest House For Sale

Just to prove that I am not the only crazy person in the world.

Exhibit A:

Toronto's smallest house. Just under 300 square feet on a lot 7.25 feet (2.2 metres) wide and 113.67 feet (34.6 metres) long. Asking price $179,000. Here's the front of the house, neatly sandwiched between two large homes. It's been completely redone inside, which must have taken about three days. Like the hardwood floors. Easy to keep and oh so classy, but the decor is totally bland. I guess that's a good thing, as the new owner can do what they like. Some colour and pattern would liven things up a bit.

Here are two views of the Living room. The first is taken standing in the kitchen door looking towards the front of the house.

And from the front door, the living room looking towards the back of the house.

It's not apparent on these photos but there is a skylight running almost the entire width of the building on the right side. This makes the interior very bright and cheerful. One would hope it is not overlooked by the neighbour's windows.

Into the kitchen. There's a full-sized apt stove, and what appears to be a single sink. The camera angle must hide the refrigerator. Hopefully it is not just a bar fridge. A bar fridge would be fine for one person, for fruit and yogurt. Or it would be okay for the European style shopper, who makes a daily trek to the grocer's. There are two of us and I have to shop every third or fourth day, because our bar fridge is a bit shy on freezer space. (A bag of vegetables fills it.)

Note the washer and dryer - there's a practical streak lying deep within the designer of this dollhouse. A washer/dryer combo would have taken half the room and left the upper space for storage. You have to keep the soap somewhere!

The bedroom, with a murphy bed which folds out of the way when not in use. Best be very organized and the kind of person who can live out of a suitcase and eats 75% of your meals out.

Actually the floor space could probably have been better utilized, as I'll bet we have more storage in our 157 sq ft travel trailer and the new trailer (at about 250 sq ft) has five times the apparent storage in this wee house, plus a queen-sized bed which doesn't have to be hauled up and down every night.

And to complete the package, a small patio area out back where one can presumably house a guest in a pup tent.


It may be small but it proves that small isn't necessarily squalid. It's snug and very cute, though I think it would prove a challenge to live in for anyone other than a Zen monk. Believe it or not, this is too small for me, not because of the size, but because of the design.

And for those who are wondering, the new trailer's arrival is delayed by a day, so assuming we aren't completely buried in the white stuff which is falling from the sky, we should have good (or bad) news for our readers tomorrow.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Like Waiting for Santa!

Okay, so you know I have been pining for a couple of amenities the Tinpalace, as magical as she is, does not offer.

1) A bathtub.... I just don't love a shower in the same way that I love a soak. Mama wants a bathtub.

2) A washer and dryer.... since Tony broke his leg we've had to hire help to get our laundry done. It's wonderful to have the help, but expensive.

I will not mention being desperately desirous of more cupboard, counter and fridge/freezer space. Why would I? I have 14" of counter space, 4.4 cubic feet of fridge/freezer space and three 24" square shelves of kitchen storage. Now, what cook in her right mind could complain of that? Certainly not I! But I wouldn't shoot anyone who offered me more in the way of kitchen.

Plus, we really need to be closer to the Regional Hospital in Penticton. It's only a 70 km trip, but my arms are not up to driving 70 kms in a day anymore. We have to rely on hired drivers or friends to get us to medical appts, which is quite inconvenient.

The cluster of cottages idea seems a bit long-range for the moment and I'm really becoming fixated on the idea of a bathtub. This means we've been shopping. Since we don't want an apartment or a big mobile home and we like the community of an RV Park we thought - RV Park!

We first shopped for what is called a "Park Model" - There are two types, one type is 12' wide, has a peaked roof and looks much like a small house. The second type is 8' wide, and is shaped like a trailer. Some of these have "slides", alcove-like sections which push out and widen the room. Both types have 50 amp power and are at least 36' long.

On investigation we found that it is very difficult to find a spot to put a park model. Very few RV parks have 50 amp power hookups. Most parks which offer permanent sites lease or sell the lots. There are no such lots available in the Penticton area.

So we started looking for a newer, larger, "travel" trailer, i.e. one with 30 amp power service. We found one available permanent spot in Summerland, which is a small town just north of Penticton.

Now the fun part. We think we have found Tinpalace II. It's a 32' long, 1995 trailer with a nice big tub, a wonderfully spacious kitchen by my new standards, i.e. double sinks, fridge/freezer as large as one in a house, a 24" stove, and 10 feet of counter space! A place for a washer/dryer! Cupboards, many cupboards! Closets!!

The Oh, geez, is Santa actually going to come or not factor comes from the fact that we haven't actually seen this trailer yet, except in a series of photographs. As anyone who has seen a Hollywood "Star" in person can attest, photographs can hide a multitude of flaws. But the present owner will bring the trailer from the Kootenays (over a couple of hundred miles of mountain roads) next Tuesday. We will take the tour and check it out. If it is as described, we will pay the man the money. Internet shopping goes ballistic!

Sadly, moving into all that space will have to wait. Moving is more complex than it appears when you are not as spry or energetic as you once were. Sweet little Tinpalace is nested very tightly in this site. She has her lovely winter wooden skirting on, the water and sewer lines are wrapped in heat cables and insulation. The new trailer is too long to fit into this wee site, so we will store it until spring, and then move to Summerland.

Tinpalace will be put up for sale, hopefully to be loved as much by a new owner as we have loved her. After all this time we have finally achieved that blissful state of no leaks, and all systems go - in fact mostly all systems new with the addition of a new furnace last week! We'll never get out of it what we put into it but by the time we move we will have lived in it for 18 months, so we have no complaints. I will miss the big window above my bunk which allows me to lie and look up at the stars before I go to sleep. But the memory of all the shooting stars I've seen in the past year and a half will stay with me for a long time.

I am busy spinning decorating and color schemes for Tinpalace II. I think I have it all worked out, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stealing Trucks Won't Be My New Hobby!

Our helper comes at noon on Thursdays. She does the laundry and runs errands and such. So Thursday we had the laundry all ready to go when she called about 9:00 am to say her little boy was ill and she couldn't come.

We decided we'd do the alternate - We had to go to town to get our flu shots anyway so it was not too much out of the way to take the laundry in, leave it to be washed and folded and pick it up later. So we loaded it into the truck.

It's been cold and the truck hadn't been started in several days so it made a couple of complaining noises about being neglected. The battery doesn't charge much during my short runs to town. Occasionally I will run it up the highway a few miles and back, just to charge the battery.

When we got to the laundry we decided we'd leave the truck running for the four or five minutes it would take us inside, just to charge the battery. So we locked the doors with the engine running. Now you are thinking - they must have forgotten that they need the keys to unlock the truck - but we had the second set with us, so no problem there.

We did our laundry deal and came out. Tony clicked his remote and no joy. He clicked again. We shook it and begged it and then thought, "Dummies! Just open the door with the key!" We quickly discovered that the keys we have don't fit the door lock! Oh great. Now we have a locked, running truck and no way to get into it.

Our truck has a canopy. The back window of the cab and the front window of the canopy both slide open, but are far too small for Tony to get through, so I climbed into the truck bed and crawled on my belly like a snake over boxes of books, lawn furniture, umbrellas, bird seed, and misc. flotsam. The windows were both snowed in and frozen into position. I wedged a handle (broom, umbrella?) into the canopy window and forced it part way open. Did the same with the cab window. An opening maybe 14" square.

Tried to climb in with one leg first, but I didn't have room to fold over. (i.e. read this as "biggus buttus") Tried with both feet first, couldn't get flat enough ("too much roundus").

I finally scrabbled around until I was facing the windows and dove through head first. I pushed the console forward, got my shoulders through one at a time, wedged my upper half through the keyhole-sized space and into the cab.

There for a minute I thought I might be permanently stuck top half in the cab and bottom half in the canopy. Tony reassured me by reminding me that the ambulance station is right across the street. Some reassurance. I can see it now. Emergency measures might have included cutting off my clothes, greasing me down with a pound of Tenderflake Lard, and a great deal of pushing and shoving. Some enterprising citizen would have called CNN. I'd have made the 11:00 news, under the headline, "Elderly Woman Caught in Compromising Position While Breaking Into Truck". (Why is it that you are called "Elderly" by the media once you hit 50?)

It was something like -7 with a brisk wind and I was wringing wet under my layers. I had to sit and chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo for a bit to to kill the will to kill the FORD by bashing in the dashboard. I unlocked the passenger door and let my shivering husband inside. We tested his clicker once we got to the mall, and it snapped the locks locked and unlocked as cheerfully as a cricket's chirp. Then I just wanted to bash the clicker. Or perhaps smack the guy who replaced the doors after the previous owner's deer mishap, and didn't rekey them! (We'd never tried the keys before - who knew they didn't fit?)

I said to Tony that afterwards this would be something we'd laugh about. Later I discovered that the truck had gotten in a few licks I'd been unaware of at the time. I have bruises from shoulder to shin-bone. Nothing major, just quarter-sized blue patches dotted wherever the truck took exception to my intrusion. It put up a pretty good fight! I'll wait to laugh till the bruises fade.

I don't think stealing trucks is my calling in life. I'll take up giving myself root canals instead.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Glorious!

What a glorious morning! It snowed about an inch and a half (appx 4 cm) overnight, the sun is shining, and there's no wind. It's crisp and beautiful and I was looking for excuses to be outside.

I filled the feeders while an audience of sparrows and finches waited in the nearby cherry tree for me to go inside. Salvador sat on the porch after I'd swept the snow off but he hates to get his feet wet and cold, so he didn't venture into the yard.

While we haven't acquired the feral cat who roams the park at night, we have acquired his appetite. I can't bear to see anything go hungry, so I've been putting food out for him this past week. He shows up at 9:00 p.m., eats half and comes back at 2:00 am to eat the rest.



He's black with white paws and a white chest spot, and while I assume it's a male cat because of the breadth of the head, it could be a female. For now, "it" will be known as daw-gooth' the Skurare word for cat.

Last night, because I had mistakenly bought a can of chicken and gravy cat food, which our Feline Overlord Does Not Want, I put it out for Dawgooth. Because I knew it would freeze if I put it out ahead of time I waited till he came to eat the bowl of dry food, then I opened the door and set the bowl of canned food beside the bowl of dry. When I opened the door he scurried under the truck and hid until I was back inside, but then he approached cautiously, sniffed and dove in. He must have thought he'd died and gone to cat food heaven. He wolfed that food down and polished the bowl with his tongue. It must have seemed wonderfully warm as the wind chill was -8 at the time.

He then ate about half the dry food and slid away into the night. He came back later but by then snow had filled the bowl and for the first time he didn't eat every scrap. This morning I took Sal's plastic carrier, covered it with a black garbage bag to keep out the wet, and set it on the porch. I'll set the bowls just inside it, and hopefully they will not fill up with snow again.

Most everyone in the park has been complaining about being cold in their RVs, but we are toasty with our panel heaters. Good thing. Our old furnace - original to the Tinpalace, has packed it in and won't light. Gary the RV guy came out yesterday, tested it and declared it DEAD. You can't get parts for a 35-year-old furnace so we are now waiting for him to return with a new furnace.

Can't say I'm in mourning for the old one. You had to get down on the floor, fiddle switches, twiddle with valves and depress a spring-loaded button located in the depths of the furnace to fire the thing. The button was supposed to work after a minute, but we've depressed it for 15-20 minutes, using a hammer handle as a lever, before it would light.

This is less fun than it sounds when it's -20 and the furnace goes out in the middle of the night. In that kind of weather the floor gets freezing cold without the furnace. In fact the primary reason we run the furnace is to keep the pipes under the floor from freezing in bitter weather.

The new furnace will be controlled by the thermostat. Turn it up and the furnace will light all by itself! What a concept!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

House of Dreams



We've been looking for more permanent living quarters. It's time for a bathtub and our own washer/dryer. But we've also decided that we can't be a two hour drive from the nearest hospital or decent shopping, and that we don't want to be alone in a new town with no community around us.

Economically that boils down to a small house or a manufactured home. (These used to be called a "mobile" home but are now built without wheels and are meant to be set on a foundation and left there forever.)

We found a jewel-box of a "manufactured" home in Penticton. It had been the 2005 show home for the manufacturer, had every bell and whistle, and was a beautiful little place. We made an offer, which was quickly accepted. Then we discovered that the original delivery in 2006 was made under less than legal conditions and that it was not described properly by the sellers and realtor in the offering. It was not a "manufactured home" (built to house-code) but what is called a "Park Model", and not eligible for a mortgage. They look almost identical, the differences are in the electrical service (50 amp service) and less insulation in the walls. Sigh....

My kids say I'm an old hippy at heart. I've never smoked weed, taken illegal drugs or had any free love. But like an old hippy, I yearn for the "simple" life, i.e. a tiny house, a little garden, those half dozen chickens I keep going on about endlessly.

At this point in our lives, when health concerns make it foolhardy to be isolated or far from medical care, the ideal situation would be to own a wee house in a community cluster of small houses, with a larger building serving as a central activity centre, a garden area, some fruit trees, and the opportunity for social and neighbourly activities. In other words like snowbirds in an RV park, but with cottages rather than RVs.

There are "senior's" apartments here, and in Penticton, but the idea of living in an apartment doesn't appeal to me, nor can we afford the incredible prices asked for these places. Tack "+55" onto a building's description and add $50,000.00 to the price tag. Here in Oliver prices range from $140,000 plus for a tiny apartment in an old building to $275,000 for a spiff apartment in a new building.

So here's my pretty little dream, which may never come to fruition, but I'd sure like to try it. Find a big lot, zoned "Multi-family". Find seven other +55 couples/individuals who want to build small, but well-equipped, cottages, and form a cooperative.

Build eight small (appx 500 sq ft) cottages, in two rows facing each other across a low-maintanence landscaped common. You might attach the units at the side walls for energy-efficiency's sake, or not, depending on the size of the lot. Build a larger building at one end to serve as an activity centre. Include a garden space, maybe a sunroom corner on the activity centre.

The estimate rate for building is $100.00 a square foot, but small houses cost more per square foot because the kitchen and bathroom are the most expensive rooms to build. Building a number of houses at once should effect some economies, as buying larger quantities of supplies is always less expensive than buying smaller ones.

The use of SIPs (Structural insulated panels) for building would result in heavily-insulated, air-tight structures. These panels could cost $15,000 for a 500 sq ft house, but end up costing only a little more than conventional stick-building methods because the structure can be erected very quickly on-site. Houses of this size could probably be taken to lock-up in in less than half a day each. The extra dollars spent buildings with SIPs are recovered in greatly reduced heating and cooling.

A plan like this 336 sq ft classic little house for a single person or couple should cost no more than $45,000 to build. This includes an efficient kitchen and full bath. If desired a 12 x 12 bedroom with a stacking washer/dryer in the closet could be added, attached at the bathroom side so the area marked "storage" becomes a doorway to the bedroom. This would bring the cost to appx $60,000. This plan has lots of windows, a dutch door, an open cathedral ceiling with storage lofts, skylights and a sweet front porch to sit on.

Another plan, with a similar exterior, contains 462 sq ft and includes a bedroom in a square footprint. This one could also be built for about $60,000. Co-op members could decide on any floor plan, as long as the square footage fell within the agreed on limits and the exterior was compatible with all the other houses. Personally I'm much more partial to a traditional exterior than a stark modern one. These are illustrations of what is possible with a small, well-designed house.

Add on the shared costs of land and the activity centre and the final price of a small house in a community like this should still be much less than the $142,000 price tag for the most modest apartment in town.

It might be possible for a partnership of six couples to form a co-op, build eight units and sell the two remaining shares at 10% below market value once they are complete and still make a good profit. The profit could be put into landscaping, improvements which would benefit everyone, or divided among the partners as return on investment.

Cooperatives are run democratically. Each member (or couple) owns one share (eight units = eight shares, 10 units = 10 shares etc.). No member or couple could own more than one share. A member may sell their share to any other person who meets the co-op's criteria, i.e. of a certain age, pets under a certain size, etc. :) Members decide on the criteria as the co-op is set up. They vote on the acceptance of any potential buyer of a property and have the option to decline membership.

I've been perusing property. No idea how to get from "idea" to reality, but it's something I've thought about for the last 10 years, and maybe it's time to do more than think!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Away!


Now I out walking
The world desert,
And my shoe and my stocking
Do me no hurt.

I leave behind
Good friends in town.
Let them get well-wined
And go lie down.

Don't think I leave
For the outer dark
Like Adam and Eve
Put out of the Park

Forget the myth
There is no one I
Am put out with
Or put out by.

Unless I'm wrong
I but obey
The urge of a song:
"I'm — bound-away!"

And I may return
If dissatisfied
With what I learn
From having died.
~Robert Frost


In memory of my dear friend of 36 years, Audrey nee Alderson, 1934-2007.

Audrey Elizabeth passed away peacefully in Victoria, BC on November 5, 2007 at the age of 73. She was born in Swan River, Manitoba. She leaves to cherish her memory her loving family, four children, five grandchildren, two sisters and her dear friends. A funeral service will be held on Saturday November 10, 2007 at 12 pm at First Memorial Funeral Services, 1155 Fort Street, Victoria, BC. In lieu of flowers donations gratefully accepted to Victoria Hospice Society and BC Cancer Foundation.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Slight Misunderstanding

Picture this:

Lady, somewhat past middle age, rushes in the front door, ripping off her pants as soon as the door closes behind her, yelling "Horny! Horny!"

Well, that may have been what her her husband heard. But the real story was more like this.

Lady, somewhat past middle age, rushes in the front door, ripping off her pants as soon as the door closes behind her, yelling, "Hornet! Hornet!"

The leaves are dive-bombing off the cherry trees and falling in drifts across the garden. I was enjoying myself raking leaves with my child-size rake, and stuffing them into a big bag, when a handful contained a surprise, a hornet!

He (she?) let me know immediately that I was intruding on personal space. I dropped the leaves around my feet and the hornet disappeared. At once I felt something climbing up my leg, inside my pants. Which is why I went squealing through the door pulling off my pants as I ran.

Tony doesn't hear all that well... oh the rest is history. Poor thing, lots of excitement, just not the kind a feller hopes for when he opens his eyes and rolls out of bed in the morning.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bereft?

Robert Frost's poem Bereft is usually read as one reflecting loss, in particular the loss of a partner. Yet when I read it lately it brought to mind a different kind of loneliness. The loneliness of being alone within a relationship.

Bereft

Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and day was past.
Somber clouds in the west were massed.
Out in the porch's sagging floor,
leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

Have you ever wondered what a man (or woman) sees in their life partner? In particular what does a perfectly nice, attractive older woman see in a man who belittles her, not only to her face but to others? Why would a woman enter into a relationship with such a man at any time, let alone in the autumn of her life? Why tolerate such loneliness? I'd rather be alone all my days than live with such a person and endure such loneliness.

A man who calls his wife stupid (and worse), who treats her with open disrespect in front of others, is seriously lacking in the qualities men of intelligence used to aspire to. Nobility may be a very old-fashioned concept, but a man without nobility and honor in the dealings with the woman he loves is a poor specimen indeed. Most of these men appear to be bullies to begin with, have an inflated opinion of their importance, and love to recount how they always know better than anyone how to handle every situation. They are always telling someone off.

However, even if you are an insufferable boor in your daily interchange with strangers, it seems if there is anyone you would defend it is the person you love, your life partner. The man (or woman) for that matter, who disparages their partner to others says a great deal more about themselves than they do the partner, and what is said is none too complimentary. The impression left is negative.

I wonder how a woman is "wooed" into a relationship with a verbally abusive man? Perhaps she feels as if she deserves no better. Perhaps he wisely conceals his abusive nature early in the relationship. From what I have seen it starts slowly and builds. The time to stop it would be when it starts, but bullies have a sixth sense and can smell vulnerability. Where a woman with a healthy sense of self-esteem wouldn't stand for such treatment, the timid woman, the fearful woman, the woman who was raised by an abusive father, or has been the victim of an abusive partner before, may allow it.

Such women need all the support and encouragement we can offer. Surprisingly enough, so do their partners, but the encouragement given them is to live up to their potential as protectors, both physically and emotionally, of the family. If other men (and women) voiced intolerance of such behaviour the bullies would be forced to examine their own actions.

Once again peace, and the love of peace, begins in the heart and works its way outward. No one should be left bereft.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

In Hardwood Groves


The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up,
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world,
I know that this is the way in ours.
~Robert Frost

I've been raking leaves. They've gone from green to gold to rust, and the cherry trees are spangled green and gold and rust even now, but the leaves rain with each shiver of wind.

Autumn is a good and tidy time. You rake up the summer's green, load it into bags and send it away to the farmer who turns it into compost for next year's crops.

It would be nice if life's cares were so easily gathered together, bundled up and turned into a rich bed for new experiences. All the ragged edges and unraveled sleeves, the old angers and resentments allowed to break down in dark decay and come up again in flowers. A garden of the spirit.

This week's correspondence and conversations have reminded me that people do not allow their bitterness and grudges to go down to decay and come up in flowers. The old hurts, the bent and crippled coping mechanisms, are carefully tended. Keep them warm and dry, like museum pieces. Go back to stroke them when the pain begins to dull. Lay on hands and let the bitterness burn like a green fire. There is no going down in decay possible in the carefully tended museum of the spirit. No coming up in flowers.

It's hard to work with the curator of a museum of pain. Curators guard their collections, lest some part of it be touched, soothed, shattered. Curators love their collections, even if they are no more than a heap of old wounds and broken promises.

You look and listen while they catalogue in detail, each one. You can love a curator without loving the collection. You are patient and wait, hoping that a bright treasure lies hidden among the rubble heap. But days, months, even years, into the tour, no brightness emerges. You suggest perhaps it's time to look up from cataloging the misery to see the sun shining through the windows. But curators are focused on pain. Not to cherish it with them amounts to betrayal and abandonment in their eyes.

It's much easier to be out in the garden, tending to a cycle of life that allows the death of all things, and the subsequent flowering. Out raking leaves, in the crisp cold air.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be the Change You Want to See

Yesterday, as we were going through boxes looking for something, I discovered (to my shame) some items packed as we left Calgary and forgotten in all the hub-bub of our new and exciting life.

I opened a small box to find inside my turtle shell rattle and a feather from a certain bird which is held sacred in Native American circles. The feather was a gift from a tribal and clan kinsman who has now taken the long journey himself. He gathered it at the base of a tree wherein was a nest.

As do many Native people who still walk a traditional path, he cared for an area of forest, and for its creatures. He left gifts of fish and road kill at the base of the nesting tree, and over the years the birds had come to know him, and would sit quietly as he approached. He considered their dropped feathers their gift to him, and that gift he shared with me.

The rattle fits snugly in my hand, reminding me of the first time I ever saw what we called a "terrapin" as a child. Funny little animals. Infinitely patient. The owner of my shell had long since vacated it when I picked it up along an Arkansas creek bed. It was bleached of all color, the chalky white of bone, scribed with the irregular pattern of it's growth plates. It had a handle once (the rattle not the terrapin) but I found it awkward. I pulled it out and sealed the hole over. Now it lies in my hand in perfect ease, with a tail of beading and feathers. It whispers as I move my hand.



I took it from its wrappings and laid it on our altar between the Buddha and the prayer bowl. It is an emotional, if not a physical, link to ancestors who kept time primarily with rattles, in a homeland three thousand miles away. There is a dichotomy for you - a genetic dog's breakfast who (in blood quantum terms) is half Native American or as Canadians say "First Nations" and a Buddhist.

What is culture and what is its value? We had a rip-roaring, and at times loud discussion about culture and acceptance, or a lack thereof, at "Happy Hour" a couple of days ago. We are of a generation whose members often feel threatened by difference and diversity. Never mind the names the "others" were called. Behind it all is fear, fear and ignorance - though sometimes a willful ignorance.

If you want to see a face light up, smile at the turbaned gentleman and his wife in her sari, at the mall. Say, "Hello! How are you today? Isn't it a beautiful day?" Or greet them and tell them that their child is beautiful. I've seen tears come to the eyes of grown men, simply because they and their wife were greeted warmly. I think that's heartbreaking.

Every human life is a treasure beyond price. Every human has incredible potential for good. We are all a part of the great cycle of eternity and if we only knew so we would be filled with joy. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore expressed this idea, "The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers."

I cannot change the mind of the 70-year-old who announces that he "hates them people". His world is divided into "us" and "them". ("Them" being anyone different from himself.) However, I will not sit quietly by while he reviles "them" in my presence. I remind him that his people, his "us", the Irish, the Scot, the Pole, the German, was once the reviled immigrant.

Change must come from inside. It cannot be imposed. But the self-motivated and positive inner change of a single individual affects the larger web of life and results in the advancement of human society.

I cradle my turtle shell rattle. While I sometimes yearn for days that are gone, and songs that have been long stilled, I know that if we are to ever have peace in this world, we must renounce our tribes, the cult of "us" and "them", and simply become "us".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Along the Road to Lillooet

We came around a bend in the narrow road a few miles from Lillooet to find a small group of Dahl sheep standing at roadside. They were quite unconcerned with us and hardly even broke their chewing pattern.

Ian took this picture from the driver's side and they were on my side. I could almost have touched them. The baby was really cute and reminded me of the baby Saanen goat we had years ago, when we lived out in the middle of nowhere in the Columbia Valley. She was wild as a March Hare and quite untouchable when we first got her, as a "bonus", when we bought her mother.

The mother's name was Villanelle - which is a kind of complicated poem. A villanelle has 19 lines. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive verse and form a couplet at the end. I can testify from taking poetry classes that a decent villanelle is damn difficult to write, although many poets have taken a stab at it. The most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We called the baby Geraldine, after Skip Wilson's character whose catch phrase was, "Don' chu TOUCH me! Don' chu DARE touch me!" Both goats were both sweet as could be but they climbed like monkeys. One day we found them on the roof! They also immediately ate the 100 foot row of raspberry bushes I planted.

Vill was huge, as big as a Shetland pony. One day we had some pesky folks visit. I won't say who or what they were but they often called to force religious tracts on us and try to convince us to attend their church. In those days we were too polite to tell them to push off.

This particular day they pulled up in a brand new Honda Civic, first year Civics were built. They came in and expounded on topics of no great interest to us, but a source of some excitement to them. After a very long while they got up to leave. We stepped outside to find both goats standing on the new car, Vill, the 250 pound sumo goat, on the top, and Geraldine - who was by this point a substantial goat herself - on the hood. Each goat was standing in a sheet-metal sinkhole. They looked up and said, "Maaaaaahhhh".

The gentleman said some most uncharitable words about our goaties and rushed at the car screaming blue murder. The goats bounded away like their cousins the antelope and resumed their observations from a safe distance. If it had been up to the caller he'd have had roast goat for dinner. Happily enough having the goats stand on his new car put an end to the persecution by pamphlet we'd been enduring. Saved, or at least rescued, by goats!

And all this memory sparked by one little picture.... By the time you are 1000 years old (much like I feel some mornings) there are a great many memories flying around in your head, as useless as single socks or flat bike tires. Oh well, if I download them onto a page then there's more room for important stuff that needs remembering, like where the heck did we put the paper towels?

Monday, October 15, 2007

This One's For Dave


A few kms out of Lillooet, in the middle of nowhere, we saw this neatly shingled outhouse a couple of hundred feet off the road. It was quite a hike up a steep hill, so if you needed to go you'd certainly want to plan ahead. Pack a lunch, cancel any standing appointments....

We stopped and I took a picture for Dave, who is the local "Outhouse" expert.

Now, how many people would come to a screeching halt along the road to take a picture of an outhouse? But you know me, always thinking of others. ROFL

Friday, October 12, 2007

On the Road Again...


When the boys were children and we set off on a road trip we'd always sing an off-key version of Willie Nelson's On the Road Again. No different now. Wednesday morning Ian and I set off on an 800 km road trip to visit the small and somewhat out-of-the-way village of Lillooet BC. We got a mile or so down the highway when we looked at each other and began singing On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again....

Tony and I have decided that as much as we love the Tin Palace, it's time to put down roots again. The Okanagan is beautiful. We love Oliver and the people are wonderful. But the real estate prices are in the stratosphere and surprisingly enough, I'm finding it a bit too developed. It's an almost unbroken corridor of development from the US border to Vernon. The only thing we could possibly afford would be an apartment. Been there done that.

I am adamant. I want room for a garden, a greenhouse, a pond and a few chooks. There is nothing that says contentment for me as much as the background clucking and fussing of a few well-fed hens. I had my first flock at the age of six and I have never gotten over my love of the chicken. Chicken-kind is calling my name. Thus we have begun the search for a warm and reasonable place to buy property. Lillooet is both warm and has reasonable land prices. Hence the road trip.

It was raining when we left Oliver, rained harder on us as we headed up the Okanagan Valley, poured as we rose out of the valley and turned west, and more or less drizzled all the way to Merritt. The highway to Merritt is chopped through an ominous-looking forest of lodgepole pines. Mile after mile of sun-starved skinny trunks packed so closely together that dead trees lean on still-living neighbours but do not fall until they collapse into shards. Walking through such a forest, with spikes and splinters of deadwood thrusting in every direction, would be like facing a medieval army.

After Merritt the Nicola Valley widens out and the wall of trunks is replaced or interspersed with aspen and sumac. The autumn colours were spectacular. I took some pictures from the passenger seat, at 90 km an hour. Hard to capture the brilliance of the colours through a dirty windshield.

Somewhere along the highway between Merritt and Spence's bridge the sun came out. Spence's Bridge looked like an interesting little community, but we had no time to explore it. We pressed on through the village of Lytton and onto Highway 12, toward our destination.

The scenery between Lytton and Lillooet is nothing short of spectacular, but I was clutching the dashboard which made it hard to take pictures! The Lytton - Lillooet road is your typical Canadian mountain "highway" - two narrow lanes, no shoulder, precariously huddled between a sheer drop-off into the Fraser River on the left and unstable and menacing cliffs to the right. "Slide Area" is the most common sign.

For a short stretch a few miles this side of Lillooet the road narrows to one and a half lanes, as it traverses the area known as "The Big Slide". This is where a substantial part of the mountain above the road moved house about 1200 years ago and took up riverside accomodations. Unfortunately the mountain is still moving. It flings stray rocks (or truckloads of rocks) onto the road on an almost daily basis. (A grader is stationed permanently at the edge of the slide to keep the road cleared.)

According to locals, as you enter the Big Slide Zone you pray to whatever gods you believe in, grit your teeth and dash through as quickly as you dare, hoping you don't meet a loaded logging truck coming toward you around a hairpin curve. I guess you get to test your backing skills if that happens. There are a couple of pull-offs, where two vehicles could pass. I wouldn't want to back down the road looking for one of them!

Thankfully we met no other vehicles coming across and we were soon through what had been for me a dreaded stretch of road. Then the vista opens up. Years ago we lived in the Columbia Valley between Radium and Golden. The road into Lillooet reminds me of that same stretch. Amazing beauty, rolling green meadows on both sides of the river stretching right up to the foot of the mountain.

We entered Lillooet as the sun dipped behind the mountains. It's a funny little town. Main Street meanders and changes directions two or three times. Downtown is about two blocks wide, which is all there's room for between the banks of the Fraser and the first bench of the mountain, but it must be a couple of miles long. The shops are separated into two distinct areas, on opposite ends of Main Street. The residential streets mostly climb up the benches in terraces. It's easy to see why most of the real estate listings include the words, "River View" or "Water View". I think the modifier "spectacular" is assumed.

We checked into a motel and went to find a place to have dinner. Chinese, pizza, Greek, and any number of "regular" eating establishments were available to choose from. We chose the Greek place and were not disappointed. Excellent meal.

Thursday morning the air was crisp and squeaky-clean, the day was warm and perfectly sunny. We spent the morning exploring the town, beginning with the realtor's office. We spent time in the jade shop which is a mini-museum with a talkative and very pleasant artist/owner. We dropped into the nice museum which is jam-packed with artifacts representing Lillooet's colorful history, including a camel saddle.

We drove up and down the terraced streets directly above downtown in what might be charitably called the "working-class" neighbourhood. Not a bad neighbourhood, just small lots and older homes, interspersed with mobile homes. Some of these places were immaculate with wonderful gardens, others were "accented" by peeling paint, sagging gates and discarded car parts.

Drive-bys of several of the properties dampened any "listing-based" enthusiasm. One appeared to be a large two-story building in the photo, but turned out to be incredibly tiny, with a false-front and what appeared to be a four-foot-tall front door. We decided that the realtor must have lain down in the middle of the street to take the photo. Another house, which looked nice in the photo, appeared to be one strong puff of wind away from collapse. Another candidate was a very nice house, but is backed up against the foot of a steep slope and may very well be under it within a few years.

Another series of terraces held newer "up-scale homes", the kind with sharp edges, concrete driveways and aggressively manicured flower plantings. The lots were wider but so were the houses. Not the neighbourhood for me. I can visualize vigilante committees protesting mychickens headed up by women wearing anti-wrinkle cream and carrying "hot yoga" manuals.

I need a neighbourhood with a certain relaxed atmosphere, where no one would drop dead if my chicken crossed their road. Thus we moved our search to the semi-rural edge of town. Big lots with houses that appear to have grown a bit here, pushed out a bit there. Horses, gravel drives and big sheds. Swings in the front yards. Large and somewhat disorganized flower beds. This is more like it. I think this is the neighbourhood. It will take another trip or two to narrow down the field to any one property but we're not in a hurry, we're where we want to be, at least until next spring.

We headed for home, the long way round, passing Pavillion Lake, with water as blue-green, and as clear, as a Jamaican reef. There were boats and cabins around the lake, in a scene which could have been picked from the top of a puzzle box. The contrast between green water, cliffs dotted with dark pines, yellow aspens and brilliant red sumac was breath-taking. A painting with such colours would seem gaudy and contrived, but nature does it to perfection.

We stopped at Marble Canyon and took pictures, and saw a huge pile of very fresh bear scat full of berry seeds. This incredibly huge spire is part of Marble Canyon. We saw some nice country the rest of the way home, not as spectacular as the scenery on the way out, or through Marble Canyon, but certainly enjoyable. We had a very good trip.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Thankfully...

I feel so much better than I did a few years ago. This became obvious yesterday when Ian and I went to the grocery store, and stocked up on "Thanksgiving" fodder. We got home about 3:00 pm.

Ian has celiac so can't eat anything with wheat, so I made cornbread (substituting chickpea flour for wheat flour) and then made a cornbread dressing for the turkey. It was yummy. It contained the usual celery, onions and mushrooms. I added cooked wild rice to it, which gave it a great texture.

I also made sweet potatoes, baked regular potatoes, gravy, and a pumpkin-pecan pie with chickpea flour crust. With cranberry sauce and turkey cooked on the grill outside it was a feast fit for kings, and amazingly enough, it was ready to eat by 6:30.

A few years ago it took me two or three days to cook a holiday meal, and wore me out for a week afterward. I was fine today, made a big brunch at 11:00 and have been busy all day.

Our neighbour Stan has been working hard for several days to put the winter skirting on the Tin Palace. We bought OSB and he did a superb job. He's a meticulous worker. I painted the board before he put it on, and he fitted the pieces so carefully you couldn't slide a piece of paper between the skirt and the trailer in most places.

When he finished and I asked him to figure out his hours and let us know what we owed him he said, "Oh I don't work for money anymore. I'm retired. I just do what I like to do."

I was astounded! He has worked four long days, and I couldn't get him to take any kind of payment! We will have to think of something very nice to do for him. People can be so kind.

More snowbirds have arrived in the last couple of days. We are looking forward to lots of fun this fall and winter.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Endless Summer

Great minds are asking, "Why don't you have any pictures of fall colour on yer blog?"

Well, it might be because we don't have any! It's been warm and it's still as green here as it was in July. But that will change shortly. Today was the first cool day we've had, following a night of rain. It was cool enough this morning that there was the slightest touch of snow on the hill above us. It disappeared during the day but I was just out and it's chilly. I covered my two tomato plants, which are laden with tennis ball-sized green tomatoes, lest they be frost-nipped tonight. I'm hoping for a warm spell and a few more ripe tomatoes, but I think these greenies will be picked and brought inside to ripen. It's a shame. They don't have the same flavor vine-ripened tomatoes have when you have to pick them green.

In the front the volunteer sunflowers are blooming like crazy, their cheerful faces facing the afternoon sun. The flowers in my pots are still blooming too, though they are beginning to look a little worse for wear.

Now that I think of it I haven't seen a Rusty blackbird in days, so I guess they must have moved on toward winter quarters. The quail, finches and sparrows still gang the feeder and go through 10 pounds of birdseed a week.


The orchard behind us is groaning with apples. They are deep red, and almost ready for the pickers. I picked a half dozen apples from one of the trees here in the park yesterday. They are crisp and juicy, heady with the fragrance of roses.

I've also been picking grapes from the vine that grows on the fence at the back of the park. The clusters are gangly and sparse, but the grapes themselves are marble-sized and ever so sweet. Their sugar content is so high I can't eat many of them without dropping my potassium level.

The only fall colour we have so far is on one branch of the big maple tree which is in the dog run. The leaves at the end of that branch are a carnival in many shades of yellow, green, orange, red, violet, taupe and rust. Beneath the leaves the winged seeds are mature and waiting for a chance to fly.

The park is almost empty, or was earlier today. But Snowbirders Joy and Jim arrived today, others are expected shortly and soon our little winter community will be humming with activity. I'm glad we stayed the summer. It's been a lovely time, despite the leg mishap in June.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ahhhh.... Sweet Mystery of Life...

At last I've found you!

I love kitties. My father did not like cats, so I never had a cat as a child, but almost as soon as Tony and I were married we acquired a kitty.

But over the years I've noted a great mystery. All cats assume the "loaf" position. The mystery is; What happens to their feet?

Today at I Can Has Cheezburger? the mystery was solved.

Tada! The Loaf Foot-Tuck

My mind is free! Now I can move on to thinking about string theory and how to make a perpetual motion machine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Like the Cheerful Chickadee...

Was it Snow White who advised in a song to "Whistle while you work, just like the cheerful chickadee?"

We had some infrequent visitors to the feeder this morning, a pair of black-capped chickadees. They are so perky and cute. They grab a sunflower seed from the feeder and flit away to shell and eat it. A minute or two later they'll be back for another seed.

The much larger sparrows and finches hang on the feeder, they'll even lie down in the tray and take a nap. They fight and scrap, knock each other off, and many end up simply eating from the ground. The chickadees don't come to the feeder if there are sparrows and finches on it.

Seeing them reminded me of a lovely experience over 30 years in the past. We were living in a small house on a western slope above the Columbia River. The place had been built by a retired ornithologist who spent the last 20 years of his life there, feeding the birds off the balcony.

We had many feathered visitors to our feeders, and one cold winter morning I discovered that the chickadees were so tame that they would perch on my fingers and eat from my hand. What a thrill that was! I still remember the feeling of their little toes grasping my finger.

These chickadees are not so tame, but I always love hearing their cheerful chirping on winter mornings, and you know when their song changes from "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" to "Feeee-beee" that spring is on its way.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cooky Cooky

It was cool today. The nice thing about slightly cooler weather is that you can cook dishes you have avoided all summer. I took advantage of the piles of vegetables I bought a couple of days ago and made a vegetable curry for dinner. It was absolutely yummy, so I jotted down the recipe to share, and I took a picture. Sadly it isn't as pretty as it is delicious.

Squash, Garbanzo & Lentil Curry


Ingredients:

1/2 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (1/2 cup)
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup red lentils (cooked)
1/2 can 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 acorn squash pulp
1 tsp creamed coconut paste
1 cup water or broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 package prepared Indian Curry Paste
2 cups vegetable broth

Method:
1. Stir-fry onion and celery in water or broth in a large soup pot until tender.
2. Add bay leaves, ginger, cinnamon, curry paste, creamed coconut, vegetable broth, tomatoes, potatoes, squash pulp, lentils, and chickpeas.
3. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Serve with jasmine or Basamati rice

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Day


A vegetarian diet requires vegetables, and Tony hadn't been out to the primo organic produce stand here in Oliver before. So after breakfast we took the ten minute trip up the road to Covert Farms and Pancho's Organic Market.

Once you turn off the highway you take a steep and twisting road, narrow and sort of crumbling at the edges. Today we had the good fortune to be stuck behind a bale-laden hay mower, which was moving at the blistering speed of 10 mph. We crept along until there was a short stretch of visible road and we eased around him with a wave. This is farm country after all.

The market is a big open shed, with fresh-from-the-field produce spilling from huge wooden bins. Faced with such a feast of colours and shapes, I always go overboard and buy three times more than we can possibly eat.

Today I was bewitched by the many colours and shapes of peppers. I bought four (five?) different kinds, including a poblano which is used to make mole', but I could have gotten many more. There were five or six varieties of tomatoes, including huge beefsteak, heirloom green-striped zebras and yellow ones. We got a big bag of our favorite Romas, with their thick, meaty walls, and a container of tiny sweet "grape" tomatoes, each the size of a (!) grape.

Squash is another of my weaknesses. The pumpkins were all too large, but we got a spaghetti squash, green and yellow zuchinni, yellow pattypans, and one each of festival and delecata squash. To those we added a yellow baby watermelon.

Since it was noon by this point we decided to have lunch, and each had a bowl of the most fabulous squash soup, an order of dolmans and a teeny piece of cheesecake. The cheesecake was a tiny round, less than 4" across, topped with strawberries.

For those who would like to try the soup here's the recipe:

Pancho's Squash Soup

Ingredients:

3 Festival squash
3 Delecata squash
3 bulbs roasted garlic
3 yellow peppers
3 red peppers
1 onion
6 cups soup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
Yogurt and green onion for garnish

Method:
Bake squash open-faced with 2 tsp butter in each at 325 degrees F for 1 hour - should be very soft and slightly brown on top

roast peppers and onion on BBQ until soft.

Blend squash, garlic and peppers in food processor. Place in pot, add stock and spices.

Serve with dollop of yogurt and a few strings of green onion for garnish.
--

On the way home we stopped at Panorama for nectarines, pears and apples. Then I left Tony in the truck while I went into the grocer's for a cartload of things not to be found in produce stands.

My neighbour went to a fair farther south today and I promised to walk her dog, Doc. Doc is an Australian shepard, and a real character. He was happy to have a walk and read the news, and by the time I had walked him and come home to put away the groceries I was ready for a rest.

We had a simple dinner of herb buns, corn on the cob and a ratatouille I'd made yesterday. I walked Doc again after dinner, in that period after sundown when the sky is still luminous and full of light. As he snuffled happily in the dog run I heard strange ulating cries overhead. I looked up to see a group of about 30 sandhill cranes, close enough to see their red heads. A few minutes later one of the local red-tailed hawks landed on a fence post nearby. What a lovely day! Life might get better, but I'm not sure how!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bye Bye Spidey

Late yesterday Lacey had a moth meal, courtesy yours truly. I went down to the hot tub for a soak and found a pre-cooked moth in the tub. I fished it out with my croc and laid it aside. Once I was back home I eased it into Lacey's web and she was on it within a couple of seconds, wrapped it and spent about two hours having a really good meal.

She sat quietly in her web all evening, as I went off to sleep she was still resting. Yesterday's web had been tattered by a seed pod which landed in it during the day, and by the wind. Usually she tears down her old web and begins building a new one as soon as it gets dark, but I checked several times during the night and she had never touched the web. At 3:00 am she was hanging in the web, as it got light about 5:00 her old web had been cleared away but she was not working at building a new one.

At 8:00 am I couldn't see her from inside, which is not unusual. She often retreats to the spot between the window frames for a nap. When I went out at 9:30 to water my tomato plants I checked and she was not in the window frame, nor anywhere else I could find.

There was a long webstrand from the corner of the window to a nearby tree, so I assume she has flown our coop. While the web in the window was protected it was not in a very productive area. She probably would have either starved or moved, had I not been dropping meals into her web. Maybe she doesn't like what I catch for her.

Anyway, no more spider-watching. On the positive side we can now wash the window.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ketchup

Lacey the spider has finally recovered from the double whammy of becoming entangled in her own web during a windstorm and shedding her skin a few days later. Two nights ago she wove an incredibly fine web in the window. Last night she destroyed it and built another, in the opposite corner. There she crouches, all eyes and empty stomach.

As of yet I haven't seen her eat anything except three gnats, which are not much a meal for a spider her size. Small or not she obviously likes them. She dances around them with the finesse of a Gregory Hines and then she inhales them. But her abdomen is still flat and small, roughly triangular in shape, not the pendulous round "pea" it was before her ordeal. I was hoping that today would be a "fly" day. She could use a good meal.

I don't see myself as Spider Woman, but it would have been cool to slip into this persona this afternoon. Because, when none of the dozens of flies buzzing in the yard had put itself on the dinner menu by mid-afternoon I went out with a rolled up paper, hunted one down and dropped it into Lacey's web. It was a bit mooshed (This is probably too much information) but she didn't seem to mind. She wrapped the offering up in silk and then she chowed down. I feel better, though a little guilty about the poor fly.

The neighbours sat in their lawn chairs, a little wide-eyed, and watched me stalk and swat until I finally nailed a fly. It took a while. I hate to imagine what they were saying to each other over their wineglasses.

"Peg, the woman across the way must be crazy!! What the devil is she doing slapping the ground with a rolled up paper, with a set of BBQ tongs tucked into her belt loop?"

Oh well, I don't know them from Adam Smith. They'll all be gone in a day or two, and the crazy cat lady in the ancient trailer will make a good story to tell the folks back home.

By the time they tell the story I'll probably look something like this. All because I hunt flies for a spider. See where a little eccentricity will take you? Everyone is supposed to have their 15 minutes of fame. I might have had mine this afternoon.

Next topic!

Last Tuesday I was cooking dinner when the flame went out on the stove and would not re-light. The water heater also went out and wouldn't re-light. Time for the semi-weekly call to Gary. There seems to be no way to break the TP's ardor for Gary the repairman.

He arrived Thursday, took one of our propane bottles to be filled, fiddled with the regulator and pronounced it flawed. So he replaced it. No joy. The regulator had oil in it, a bad sign. A layer of oil floats on top of propane in a tank, and apparently some of this oil had been siphoned off into the regulator, and presumably the lines, and was now blocking the flow of propane.

So Gary got the compressor and blew out the lines. No joy. By this time it's getting dark. Gary is taking a long weekend off, so says he will be back Monday. I have an electric burner ring, an electric kettle and a microwave. We will manage. Life will go on in the civilized world.

Gary appeared this morning as I was contemplating making coffee, and in about two hours he had the problem figured out and fixed. The new propane hoses we bought in May were faulty, or had gone south - fine workmanship - both the regulator ($175.00) and hoses worked for three months. Whatever. But, at last we have hot running water and a flame on the stove. I can cook again!

Speaking of food, we have decided, for about the 14th time, to go back to a vegetarian diet. We were vegetarians for most of the years the boys were growing up, and neither of us really like eating meat. It's just that meat is often the easiest thing to fix and I have had long stretches of time when standing long enough to cook was a challenge. That's not so much of an issue now, although on days when I shop I am going to need to plan ahead if we are going to avoid the A & W "solution".

That is the ketchup. And you thought it had something to do with buns didn't you?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Stardust to Stardust

Lacey the garden orb spider was hanging in the corner of the window last night when I went to sleep, and (surprisingly) she was still there this morning when I woke up. I assumed progress, as she was moving her legs a bit - (I hoped) in preparation for spinning a web, although she has always done this at night before.

I got up and went to make coffee. When I came back, five minutes later, she was - dead? At least she appeared dead, and even more puzzling, she appeared desiccated. Her legs, almost transparent, were stretched out full-length, gathered at the tips. Where her body had been there was nothing. A lifeless black dot the size of a mung bean hung beneath the legs. It looked like the husk of a fly she had cleaned out.

Oh, dear. But I puzzled. A bird would have gobbled her whole. Only another spider could have done this and how could another spider have eaten her so quickly? I've seen her eat a fly, and it's a slow process. Half an hour at least. I'd only been gone from the window five or six minutes.

Then the black dot stirred and unfolded LEGS. I realized with a start (and some sense of relief) that I was witnessing her shed her skin! It wasn't an easy transition. She would struggle for a few seconds, pulling herself with great difficulty out of her old skin. She'd then hang motionless for five minutes. But with each struggle more of her emerged. Eventually she was free and her old skin was only a small, transparent husk, with threads for legs, and a tiny, pin-head sized shell of a body.

She hung below the empty skin, exhausted. Her legs twitched occasionally, but otherwise she didn't move. Then she drew her legs up to her body, and swung back and forth on her single thread of silk for several minutes.

We wondered. Would she eat the skin, as orb spiders eat their webs? Or would she throw it away? Slowly she climbed up to the husk, and it was hard to say what she was doing, till suddenly she had it by a single leg. She lifted it and let go, and it sailed away on the breeze.

She flexed her legs and stretched herself. Her legs are longer now, but her abdomen is empty. She will need to eat soon. But for now the morning's work is done. Time for sleep and recovery from what must have been an ordeal. She crawled away to her spot between the window frames. Tonight I am betting she will spin a new web.

In my (Tuscarora) family no one killed a spider which had gotten into the house. It was said that the "Old Ones", our ancestors, might come to visit, dressed as a spider. It was okay to put a spider outside, where it could go its way unharmed, but to kill an Old One in spider disguise would make the Heet'-nunhk (the thunder gods) angry. Mother always said when it thundered on a clear day that someone had killed an Old One.

There are reports from Europeans of Tuscarora funerals in the 1600s, where a flame rose from the departed one's body, hovered 10-15 feet over the grave during the ceremony, then rose to a height of 60-100 feet and moved into the forest. This flame was said to then turn into a spider, which held the spirit of the deceased until reincarnation into a new clan member.

Buddhist philosophy says that life and death are cyclical in nature, that life is an active phase, and death is a period of rest, a time of preparation for yet another life. Both phases, life and death, are seen as blessings. Implicit in that belief is that we not just cycle, we recycle.

Spiders are safe in my house. They do get relocated, but I didn't even kill the Black widows we found daily in our last place. It was fascinating to see Lacey go through an entirely unexpected transition. Climbing from an old skin must be something like dying and waking anew. We all cycle and recycle, stardust to spider to spaceman.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Unwebbed

I did some research on spiders and found that orb spiders have an internal "storage" organ where they load extra calories they can call on when prey is scarce. (In women these storage organs are called "hips".) As a result orb spiders can go for long periods without eating, so I can apparently stop worrying that Lacey hasn't eaten in several days. I have also determined that "it" is indeed a "she" of the species Araneus diadematus, the cross spider, aka the "European garden spider". This spider was introduced from Europe but has spread all the way across North America.

She is still retreating to the window frame during the day and emerging only after dark to hang in the corner of the window. No web spinning, but tonight a little movement, a little leg waving and symphony conducting. It's probably not the best night to build a web though. It's very windy out. But she looks perfectly normal, so I am hoping she will perhaps resume her web-building as soon as this wind dies down.

I wonder... a few days ago there was a very small spider fiddling around at the edge of her web. She didn't dart over and eat it, as she did every other insect that touched the web. The little spider wasn't caught, it moved cautiously around the outer edges. After reading more about orb spiders I am now wondering if the "little" spider wasn't a garden orb male, there to offer what passes for flowers and chocolate to our gorgeous girl?

Maybe Lacey is suffering from morning-sickness! I don't know what a pregnant spider looks like, but I guess time will tell.