Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lumber? Check.

Yesterday I attempted to get a bunch of things on my to-do list off. Filed my income tax, paid some bills, made some phone calls seeking information. Like, where can I get a kitchen compost bin for free/cheap? Where can I get topsoil cheap? When is the local sawmill open and what do they charge for the lumber I want? Can I borrow a gardening book from a neighbour today? Unlike many, I want to get on the flyer list, not off, and for the second time I phoned in a request to get on. I guess that is so unusual that they didn't believe me the first time.

Largely the info calls were unsuccessful, although after a fourth try I did get someone at the sawmill who told me to just drop by and pick up the lumber I wanted. I forgot to ask if they took credit cards (most likely they do but I just wanted to make sure) so I thought I'd drop by the bank for some cash in case they didn't. And since the post office was next door to the bank, I'd check my mail while I was at it. Here, we don't get door-to-door delivery, but have mailboxes at the post office.

Anyway, I was successful getting cash at the bank, but there was no mail for me. And when I got to the sawmill, the owner's wife told me "the boys" were in the woods and due back any time so I could wait if I wanted. After a few minutes of chatting and looking at various dusty knick-knacks around the office (handmade by customers) I said I was going down the road for tea at a friend's and could she call me when the boys showed up.

When I arrived at my friend's place she called a neighbour who whisked over and we all sat down to tea and biscuits with my friend's fine china given to her by her husband's grandmother. After a half hour or so of chatter about this that and t'other thing, I got the call from the sawmill lady, the boys were back and whenever I was finished at tea I could come on by.

Another half hour of chat and tea and I drove back to the sawmill. The owner met me on the driveway in and directed me to follow him and his giant black dog down a very muddy road behind the mill, across a creek and up the hill into a field. He pointed to a muddy wet pile of 2'x8's under a blackberry bush and told me I could take whatever I needed from that. The planks were all about 7' long, perfect for my needs, except I wanted some of them cut in half. He told me to pick out what I wanted and take the planks needing cutting to "the young feller" at the mill and he'd cut them up for me.

I wasn't sure but I gathered that he was giving me the planks, they were scrap to him, but I thought asking his young feller to cut them up was probably pushing the limits of free. Anyway, I picked out twelve planks and drove back to the mill and asked the not-so-young feller to cut four of them in half for me, which he did.

I then drove back to the sawmill office to offer payment for the job. The giant black dog bounded out from the sawmill and stood in the road in front of me, I couldn't pass him and he showed no inclination to move. Finally he spotted his master walking toward the office and slowly turned to follow him, allowing me to do the same.

When I went into the office the sawmill owner charged me $2.00 "nuisance fee". I only had $1.75 so he took that. I want to build four garden bed frames and these planks are enough to do that, $1.75 plus gas is a not-bad price.

I have an abundant source of free horse manure, some of which I have already shovelled into garbage bins awaiting the frames. I will lay down some of the cardboard from my moving boxes, put the frames on top and the manure inside. I will also need straw and topsoil, I don't expect to get a deal on the topsoil so that will be the expensive item. But I am hoping that I will only need to get topsoil once, the manure should be rotted enough by next year to not need any more store-bought topsoil. I will not use all of the garden frames this year, some of them I am starting for use next year.

On our trip down The Valley when Josh and Kim and Eva were here I noticed a small shop that sold old wooden windows; I was thinking I'd go back and pick up a few for use as cold frames, maybe my garden frames could do double duty.

I have also joined the Acadia Community Farm to get a small allotment out on the dykes and hopefully some experience and advice from fellow gardeners. The Farm has a small field divided in half, one half for personal allotments and one half for a community garden producing food for the local food bank and the university dining hall (the field is on university land). Every member is required to put in time in the community garden in addition to work on their own allotment garden. I look forward to the allotment as a great learning experience and a decent-sized garden space ready-made. In the meantime I can start a few things at home in one of the garden frames and have the rest of the frames developing for next year.

Josh and I were looking at the playset in the back yard while he was here and he suggested turning it into a greenhouse. It faces the wrong way for a greenhouse, but it could work. I am debating whether I really need a playset for grandchildren who live thousands of kilometres away, or would I be better served with a greenhouse. I'm leaning toward greenhouse.

It's A-frame shaped, so a few planks and some heavy-duty plastic thrown over the whole thing will turn it into a decent greenhouse I think. Maybe some strawbales around the base. The straw will help insulate and will generate heat as it rots, or so the theory goes.

And that will be one less plot of back yard that doesn't need mowing. My real goal in all this is to greatly reduce the amount of lawn mowing I need to do.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The to-do list

I have spent several days already poking around in my backyard to see what's there and what I want to do with it. The previous owner did a lot of planting and then left it for a few years before I came along. So some stuff has probably disappeared, other things are outrageously overgrown, and still more has survived and spread amazingly. There are some mysterious bits as well, odd placement of rocks that weren't there before.

There are tonnes and tonnes of tulips and various other spring bulb-type flowers. Some of which I can identify---crocuses and hyacinth---and others I recognize but don't know the names of. Lots of hosta too. I am not much of a flower gardener, I don't have an easy familiarity with the flower world. And not much of a vegetable gardener either, I have not had access to a good-sized bit of land in a very long time. In fact not since I last lived here 25 years ago.

A friend has been helping me poke around, she is a frustrated gardener living in an apartment in the next town. She keeps gardening tools in her car trunk, in case she happens upon a gardening opportunity. Right now I am one of her gardening opportunities. She has identified some of the plants and tried to tackle pruning various shrubs.

Another friend has offered me a sustainable source of free horse manure and a book on Lasagna Gardening. She suggests that rather than dig up my backyard that I simply lay down cardboard and spread some of her horse manure on top with various other things to create a garden without digging. The avoidance of digging sounds good to me.

But to start a garden I have to build some frames to hold all this manure and figure out best locations for these frames that will get the most sunlight. I have too many trees strategically placed to block the sunshine and don't care to cut them down. The local sawmill is closed this weekend so I have to wait until after the Easter holiday to get the lumber to build the frames.

Then I have to get containers to hold the horse manure in my truck. My friend suggests plastic tubs from Home Depot, but another friend insists that I should not buy tubs but rather get ahold of free plastic pails with lids. However she cannot suggest a good source for free plastic pails. Then she suggests feed bags from the farm where I buy eggs. She is all about free stuff. Meanwhile I am thinking that tracking down all this free stuff will take so much time, I just want to get the garden started.

While my son was visiting here the other week he pointed out that the basement toilet seal needs replacing. He said it was a fairly simple job but messy. I dutifully went off to the hardware store and bought the stuff I'd need to do the job but have put off doing it because of aforesaid messiness.

A couple of months ago I bought a new faucet for the kitchen sink, and initially had it sitting in a prominent location as a reminder to actually install it, but after a month I finally moved it to a shelf behind the furnace in the basement because I obviously was ignoring it anyway. One of these days the existing faucet will give out altogether and then maybe I'll be motivated to install the new one.

My free-stuff friend told me when I first moved in that I needed a gate on the basement stairs so that she wouldn't fall down them (she's blind). I have designed a gate and bought the lumber and cut it up but not yet assembled or installed it. Not being blind I don't fall down the stairs, and I stand in the way when my friend is visiting.

I visited a local weaver and she showed me around her studio and introduced me to her sheep, she proposed a deal to get me started weaving on my loom which I am very interested in but so far I have not acted on it.

I have a banjo under my bed that I want to learn to play and yet another friend pointed out that a very able banjo teacher lives just across the street from me. I have not contacted him.

Are you starting to get the picture? I have all these things I need or want to do and none of them are getting done! For no good reason other than laziness, procrastination and not knowing where to start.

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg, the most blatant unstarted projects. I can list off at least a half-dozen other projects without thinking, and probably a dozen more if you give me a little time to think about it. I try to list things but my lists are always incomplete, and often I only remember the stuff that I need to do when I can least do them, or even round up pen and paper to write them down.

People ask me how it feels to be back in the house that I sold so many years ago. I shrug my shoulders and say it doesn't feel like anything. I guess this house is so familiar to me that I don't have any unusual feelings about being here so what can I say? It doesn't feel odd or right or anything at all.

I think the closest I can come to identifying what it feels like is that I lived here, I went away and travelled a bit, and then I came back. I'd like to think I am here for good now, but I have learned never to say never. I might never leave again, or not.

But I must say that this is the first spring in a very long time that I have not felt a sustained deep and irresistable urge to be on the road. I get flashes of it occasionally, but nothing to get me planning for it.

I almost feel like writing emails of apology to farflung friends that I won't be visiting any time soon, except that this is one more thing to add to the list above and is being treated in much the same way.

I remember that when I left this place I was lonely and frustrated, I couldn't wait to go someplace different and start over. Loneliness continued to be a constant issue, it was always hard to create a social life for myself. I lived in several different cities over the years and came up with a rule of thumb that it generally took two years to create a social life that worked for me.

Returning here has been quite shocking in that my rule of thumb has been trashed, it is as if my social life hit the ground running. I can't keep up with it. Half the reason I don't do all the things I talk about doing is because I am wallowing in movies and concerts and dinners out and trips to the city with friends, not to mention choir and yoga. I crave downtime, and when I get it I feel guilty that I am not taking care of all the things I should be taking care of.

I started this blog living in Toronto and ironically one of my first postings was "So, having no social life I read" (also, "My so-called social life" and "January blues"). I did quite a bit of writing then. Ah those were the days...

Now I am lucky if I get to it every couple of weeks. Faced with the choice of writing a blog post or writing the damn list of things that I should be doing, the list wins. Not that it does me any good. Too many friends, too much music, too much fun.


Things I have accomplished this week: hung some pictures on the walls, assembled and setup a composter and transferred winter's accumulation of compost into it, got the computer fixed (thanks Kurt!!!).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Family visit: Days One and Two

The next few posts are photos from my family's visit in Nova Scotia last week. We did a bit of sightseeing, well actually, quite a lot of sightseeing. For one short week I think Josh, Kim and Eva saw a heck of a lot of this little province. But not nearly enough of course. We didn't even get into The City! [Nova Scotia has a couple of cities, but "The City" refers to Halifax.] Or Cape Breton!

We took a lot of photos but somehow missed photographing The Valley (Annapolis, that is). We managed to drive down a good part of it, all the way from Wolfville to Middleton. Stopped at a wonderful antique store where Kim picked up a couple of lovely large old kids' story books.

We visited Halls Harbour and took some photos there, but I am not including them here. I am sure if you google Halls Harbour you will see some good pics. Also, google the Halls Harbour webcam for really great views of the giant Fundy tides (up to 30 ft here I think).

OK, here we go with the first day.

Hanging out at home:

We walked down the hill to see the town on a cold but sunny day:

We stopped at a local farm for eggs, and the farmer gave us a tour of the barnyard and showed off his biggest lamb:

Unfortunately, Kim was ill on the second day here so we let her sleep and took a short walk to the town reservoir for the view:

This is Eva doing her incognito film star act:

Family visit: Days Three and Four

On Day Three we went to Baxter's Harbour for the fundraising Coffeehouse and Concert.

You can see more photos of the concert here.

The following day we returned to Baxter's Harbour to look around in the daylight.

We went down to the harbour itself to look around. I love the fish houses hanging off the edge here, I guess it's just a matter of time before they fall off altogether:

Josh on the rocks:

We drove into the woods to see the Garden House, the first building we put up on the land in 1975:

Josh liked the creative wiring inside:

This is Josh and me standing on the spot where my house used to stand. I built it in 1975 and it burned down in 1993:

Then we went in further into the woods to visit Mike and Ruth's place:

And of course we went to see my outhouse, built in 2009:

Family visit: Day Five, part one

On the fifth day we did a marathon trip from Wolfville down The Valley to Middleton, then across the province to Bridgewater and Lunenburg on the South Shore, along the South Shore to Peggy's Cove just outside of Halifax, and then back across the province to Wolfville. It was a very long day in lousy weather.

We walked the streets of Lunenburg in the wind and rain:

This is an old and famous church in Lunenburg, it had a fire a few years ago but has been largely restored to its former glory:

The green house on the left in this photo is the oldest house in Lunenburg, built in 1760. It is a good example of an architectural feature known as the "Lunenburg Bump". That's the gable-like feature sticking out over the front door:

Here's another example of a Lunenburg Bump:

Kim spotted this store front:

I think the reflection in the window is yet another Lunenburg Bump.

Well, by this time we were all tired and grumpy. The initial plan called for a leisurely drive along the South Shore soaking up the sights of quaint old fishing villages and white sand beaches, but at this point we were faced with the choice of returning home, or a fast highway drive to Peggy's Cove and then home.

We decided to chance the Peggy's Cove trip, hoping that our tempers and patience, not to mention Eva's temper and patience, would hold out. We got lucky.

Family visit: Day Five, part two

Peggy's Cove is a major tourist attraction in Nova Scotia. Hard to visit the province and not visit Peggy's Cove. In a way, visiting it during stormy weather is kind of neat, you get to see the big waves on the rocks, even if the wind is too strong to really spend much time outside of the car looking around.

Very fortunately for us there's a lovely restaurant and gift shop, the Sou'wester, right by the Peggy's Cove lighthouse. I'm sure that in the high season it would have been very crowded and busy, but on a stormy April Monday, the only other customers were a couple of brave bikers. There were more staff than customers!

So we got a great table and could spread out and let Eva explore:

She got to see the aquarium and the tank of live lobster. We each picked out a lobster and our waitress took our choices to the kitchen for the inevitable fate of all lobsters unlucky enough to end up in a restaurant tank:

Do I look a little skeptical? It did taste good though:

The view and the tubs of cracked lobster shell:

We left there a bit lighter in the wallet, satisfied and tired. The staff were wonderful and we very much enjoyed the experience.

Family visit: Sixth and last day

The weather was much better on my family's last day in town, I suppose it would have been nicer to do our South Shore tour in the good weather, but we were all glad to have a relaxing day at home.

We did a nice stroll around town, had dessert at the Front Street Cafe. We had been told that the Bread Pudding there was a treat and we were not disappointed.

For supper we went to Rosie's and had seafood and of course their own micro-brewed beer (I think we had the Annapolis Cream Ale, I don't remember for sure). Josh had lobster mac 'n' cheese, I had codfish cakes, and Kim had haddock fish and sweet potato chips. All good!

We also stopped at the Old Burying Grounds.

Many of the gravestones are so old and eroded you can't read the inscriptions, but some are clear.

In the old days gravestones were often marble, and unfortunately marble is very susceptible to damage from acid rain. Thankfully the acid rain is somewhat reduced now, but it has done a heck of a lot of damage.

Sadly, Josh, Kim and Eva headed home early on their seventh day here. I had a wonderful time with them and loved the time I got to spend with baby Eva. She's such a mellow and beautiful little girl!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In lieu of regular posting

I am having a hard time keeping up this blog these days. Called my brother on his birthday yesterday and he commented on how not up to date the blog was. I explained that I frequently thought about posting to it, mentally wrote the blog post in my head, but failed to actually post it because the photos for it were still on the camera. I didn't really want to post without some pictures, but I needed to download them and edit them for posting which would take hours, and that was the end of that. The photos are still on the camera, the mentally written blog posts gone wherever it is that such things go. Not anywhere retrievable.

So here's a synopsis of stuff I have not posted about. Some of the links are to photos or blog posts with photos in lieu of actually posting them here.

I did a three-day tutorial in weaving with Pia. She bought the yarn for me in Halifax (blue, green, purple and yellow cotton) and over three days we warped my loom with 6 yards of it. I started a sampler and will eventually weave placemats and a runner. The original plan was for tea towels, but the colours just seemed better suited to placemats. We had a good time and it was very satisfying to get the loom set up. Coincidentally it was during the rare conjunction of three sunny days in a row.

Yes there are photos on the camera.

I've been working on both the Acadia Community Farm (and my own little plot there) and my own garden in the back yard. On the Farm we've been digging and composting beds and planting and mulching seedlings. Because the spring here was so soggy we did not get to start until very late in May and the soil is a very heavy wet clay. While my own plot is only 10' x 10' and very quickly dug and planted, the community field is very large---I'm sure it is well over an acre---and there is no rototiller so it is all being done by hand. Very slow, backwrenching work. Most of the Farmers are young students who are up to the task, but for some of us older types this is not pleasant work at all. I put in onions, garlic, squash and beans. I was going to plant potatoes, but decided against it.

In the backyard garden I put in four garden frames and a long narrow bed against the playset. I am thinking of turning the swingset portion of the playset into a greenhouse, and thought I would plant pole beans against the south-facing A-frame of the swingset. The pole beans are not doing well. I got two garden frames set up with horse manure, topsoil and ash from the woodstove and planted a bunch of things (peas, beans, tomatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, herbs, a variety of fresh greens). I filled two more garden frames with manure intending to leave them to rot until next year, but changed my mind and decided to plant them this year. Which meant taking out some of the manure and replacing it with topsoil and wood ash. I'm about halfway through planting those frames now.

In the meantime the people who own the field behind my house mowed the field and left the mowings in windrows. I thought they were going to turn it into hay. But after a couple of days they pushed all the dried windrows into the bushes surrounding the field. So I went out with my wheelbarrow and collected a bunch of it from the bushes nearest my backyard. I've piled all that in the swingset area. Not sure yet what I will do with that, you can't really use hay for mulch because of all the grass seed in it, but at the very least it will mean I don't have to mow the grass under the swingset anymore.

My good friend Johanna came to visit for 12 days from out west. She had not been this far east since she was a teenager (she hitchhiked from Montreal to PEI at age 16 because someone told her she could get work on a farm there, that turned out to be a bit of a stretch). We spent the time visiting some of my favourite places and friends. Photos on the camera.

The weather was little better than when Sam was here in May, mostly wet and cold. Johanna packed for the trip better than Sam did so she did not have to borrow clothing as Sam did, however a lot of shorts and tanktops never got used.

The weatherman here has become totally unreliable. They change the forecast drastically on almost an hourly basis. In the morning it says it will clear and be sunny by noon, that never happens until maybe suppertime. If you're lucky. They say rainy and cold today but sunny the rest of the week, and then the next day the forecast is the same: rainy and cold today but sunny the rest of the week, WE PROMISE! We've had more actual rain and more forecasted sunniness than I can tell you.

A local friend was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, a bunch of people got together to provide meals for her and her family over the past few weeks. I managed one meal and one visit but then I had company and couldn't seem to spare the time. Her cancer progressed rapidly and she died last week at home surrounded by family. I felt badly that I did not get in to see her in the last couple of weeks, especially after I promised that I would. There will be a Celebration of Life for her later this week, she planned it before her death and requested that everyone wear bright colours and be in a celebratory mood.

The last few weeks at the film co-op they were asking for someone to volunteer to put movie trailers of upcoming films into Powerpoint to show before the feature film. I thought someone else would volunteer but no one did so finally I did, thinking how hard can it be? Well, not so easy as it turns out, but interesting. I get to spend time in the projection room fiddling with the equipment. Who knows, maybe one day I can even help select the films that are shown. In the meantime I have to get up to speed on Powerpoint; I was never that proficient with it and now, several software versions later, I am quite out of touch. But hey, how hard can it be? Don't answer that.

Skype-called Kim and got to see Eva trucking around like nobody's business. Ten months old and already standing on her own, albeit for only a few seconds at a time. She pushes a wheeled toy affair around the living room and "furniture-walks" everywhere. She and Brewster the Shih-tsu have become good buddies. Brewster has to be reminded occasionally that just because Eva is mobile does not mean he can now jump up on her, but it won't be long.

Sam liked Nova Scotia a lot (so did Johanna). So much so that he got himself a temporary job in Halifax and is coming back at the end of July. He plans to bring his two giant malamutes with him. Isaac and Gretel are also planning to visit at the end of July, and they are bringing Dobby, the giant boxer. Three giant dogs, two of whom do not play well with others. So I am scrambling to fence my yard.

Around here, fenced yards are uncommon, one could in theory walk the entire street through backyards on either side of the road. I am trying to strike some kind of balance between sturdy, not too unattractive, and cheap. Ha ha.

It is Sam's plan to leave one of his dogs with me when he returns west, as he has moved into town (Windsong) and two giant dogs are just too much to handle in his new digs. We discussed various options and solutions with their various pros and cons and this is what we have settled on. Not perfect but maybe the lesser of a bunch of evils. For some.

Isaac was telling me that he and Gretel were thinking that their life has become so stressed that they needed a break from Dobby and were hoping I would take him for a few months, however Sam got to me first and I just can't see my way to taking on two giant dogs, one of whom does not play well with others. You never know though, if Hapi and Dobby hit it off in July, I might consider it. But hard to imagine that. With Hiro around Hapi will have eyes only for him and she doesn't know they are about to be permanently separated. It's a dog's life.

Sam will be moving into my basement for three months while he works in Halifax. He will commute, hopefully by some sort of van pool. The job is minimum wage, but working on something he cares about. All told I think he will lose money on the project but there will be intangible benefits. He has thought this all through and it is after all his life.

I do fear for my garden though. Three giant dogs...

Monday, April 4, 2011


Family arrive on Wednesday (my birthday, Happy Birthday to Me!) and I am kinda busy today and tomorrow so I probably won't be posting for awhile.

My granddaughter here.... I think the photo is just tooooo cute!

My desktop computer has a serious virus or something, it is unusable for now. Fortunately I have the laptop, as yet uninfected.

The virus my computer caught is nasty. It masquerades as a Microsoft anti-virus program so at first I didn't realize what was going on. By the time I did I had already made a couple of unfortunate mistakes. But apparently the point of this particular nasty bit of malware (I am not sure if it is exactly a virus, "malware" seems to cover all kinds of computer nastiness) is to get me to go to their website and give them my credit card info. Which I was at least alert enough not to do. Anyway, I wasted a bunch of time researching what it was and how to fix it, and managed one sleepless night worrying about it. I figure I either have to reformat the hard drive or get a professional to fix it.

Ironically, I had just done a backup, so reformatting the hard drive is not as catastrophic as it might sound. However the bad news is that the portable hard drive I had backed up to was still connected to the computer when the malware took effect, so I don't know if it is affected too or not. But various people I have asked seem to think that disinfecting the portable hard drive is a little easier than disinfecting the computer. So I may be OK in that regard. If not, well, I am a great believer in redundancy and the most critical bits of data are backed up elsewhere as well. I will lose stuff that I am not happy about, but nothing catastrophic.

It's just extremely annoying and unexpectedly upsetting. One doesn't realize how attached one is to one's computer until it goes down.

We had a sort of a snowstorm over the weekend. Forecast was way worse than the storm itself, the snow---such as it was---pretty much melted away by the end of the weekend. I went to a dance at The Barn in the midst of the storm, and saw a really excellent movie last night: L'affaire "Farewell". It was a subtitled French film about Cold War spies, based on a true story. Very intense, very well done.

The thing that I most enjoyed about this film was kind of quirky, I didn't need the subtitles.

When the film started I was reading the subtitles, I didn't understand what the actors were saying in French. And then quite suddenly some switch in my brain flipped, my ancient French kicked in and it was the subtitles that were gibberish, not the spoken words. I could understand perfectly! One of the spies, a Russian, had a passion for all things French, so at one point he makes a request for tapes of the French singer Leo Ferre, and as soon as I heard that name I knew I knew him. The music took me back to my year in France, and simultaneous to seeing the images on screen I was seeing images from that time in my past running behind my eyeballs.

It was amazing. Things I have not thought about in many decades were right there, so real I could almost touch them. I fully related to the Russian and his passion for the French. So walking out of the theatre after the film had a strange dreamlike feeling, having just lived through this story of Cold War spies so well done that it felt real, and also having just lived through a year in my life so many decades ago.