Category Archives: Tumbleweeds Tumbling

The Garden of a Full Time Tumble Weed (repost from 2012)

Originally posted May 27, 2012 on Full-time Tumbleweed


I started Full-time Tumble Weeds in 2009 when we first began our great adventure as a couple living full time in an RV. We did this for five years before we settled down in a stick house and rejoined settled society. This old post is about how to have a small container garden in a small place with a small budget. I think it is still relevant so I decided to report it.

Garden? How does a full time tumbleweed manage a garden? I have a long love hate relationship with gardens. As a child we always had a small vegetable patch in the house. It was a hangover from the “victory garden” days, a habit picked up by my English maternal grandparents I think. My father was a farm boy and the family garden was a constant feature of his life. Some of the best summer treats come from the garden like strawberries put by in the summer to be eaten in the dead of winter. My father’s family was very poor in the Great Depression and the vegetable garden was not just a political statement like the victory garden. It was a necessity. They would not have made it through the winter without that vegetable garden and the hours of work that went into it.

I spent three years being a farmwife before a combination of drought, 22% interest rates and my ex husband’s drinking destroyed that life. I had a huge garden from which we got an entire year’s worth of fresh, canned and frozen veggies. Managing that garden took several hours of often back breaking work each day. I would go to the garden in the morning before the heat set in. I would weed, hoe, stake, tie and all other things gardeners must do. I would pick everything that was ready to be processed. The rest of the day would be spent in the kitchen labouring over boiling salt water for pickles, kettles of stewing tomatoes and the like. At the end of each day, after checking the seals on the Mason jars, I would carry them to the dirt basement shelving or stack them in the freezer to wait for winter when we would eat them. I was endlessly proud of the rows on rows of tomatoes, pickles, jams, jellies, sauces and my freezer full of frozen beans, carrots, peas, corn, my apple pies and peach pancake sauce and all the rest. As a farmwife I knew what my grandmother meant when she told me it was a relief when the first frost came because no matter how much you love gardening, it’s good when the season ends because you can stop working so hard.

Life changes and so did mine and we left the farm. Later, I left the drunk and I restarted school when I restarted my life. Every spring I planted a garden again. Years later, the garden became a source of shame and regret, planted each spring with only the best of intentions and then my life as a scientist left me too busy to keep it up properly. I would only harvest a few small tomatoes and some over ripe yellow beans from a bed choked with crabgrass and thistles. Giving the garden up when we gave up the house was a relief. Yet I missed it so much. I began to hunger for a garden patch.

My first return to gardening was when I purchased two containers of mixed herbs at Superstore our first summer as “full timers”. One pot was a called “Mediterranean Herbs,” a mix of cilantro, thyme, rosemary and basil.  The pot other was a “Barbecue Herb” consisting of a set of basil, oregano, chives and parsley plants. I found myself really enjoying those two pots. For not just the summer, but a whole year afterward I frequently enjoyed clipping fresh herbs from my pot and cooking with them. My greatest culinary triumph was serving company grilled lamb chops made with my own fresh rosemary and thyme in a campground outside Boston.

The herb experiment went so well that the following summer I decided to try to expand it. I bought a long shallow trough and planted beans and an eggplant and one green pepper in it. I also bought two pots with large tomatoes in them. The tomatoes gave me a great crop. I was eagerly watching 3 dozen or so romas and red early girls, just beginning to ripen, until Fred spotted them. Fred is my big indeterminate lab, shepard, pointer rescue who was deprived of food as a puppy. He eats everything but onions and orange skins. I had moved the tomatoes to a spot to get more sun and unnoticed also moved them into range of his chain. In the end Fred left us eight tomatoes.  The stuff in the trough alternated between being flooded and dried out and produced exactly four yellow beans, too old to be useful. Fred got those too but, I gave them to him. It was an experience nearly as bitter as finding my vast garden choked with weeds and grass and deciding one August I had to forever give up on the big farm garden.

Over this winter I decided to try again. My first ever big farm garden had been a smashing success. In fact, I foolishly outdid my poor mother-in-law, a mistake she never forgave me for. I did it by advance planning and research. I started by getting everyone I knew who had succeeded at gardening to give me advice, sifting through it and taking what I liked and leaving the rest. (I had no interest in lima beans.) I then borrowed books on gardening from the library, researched it all in advance and wrote everything out in a little notebook with a cute kitten on the cover. I finished my research that year when the seed catalogues arrived and I could now check hardiness zones and choose varieties. Armed with my research I had a very successful garden. I did follow some of my mother-in-law’s advice, but only some, and when I outdid her and everyone was praising my produce, I was too naive to understand how much I had hurt her. She did earn her customary first place ribbon at the local Agricultural fair for her gladiolas but, I had to say it, that was only because I didn’t bother with flowers. Oh, the self centred arrogance of a 20 year old, especially one who succeeds.

This winter I repeated the exercise only this time from the perspective of a container garden for a very small space. Also since books are heavy and take up poundage we couldn’t afford while living full time in the trailer, I used my computer and the internet to research container gardening. I learned that my shallow trough that failed did so because it was too small. Small containers dry out too quickly and can’t hold nutrients. Also I used cheap soil. In a container garden you can’t skimp on soil because that resource is already limited by the container. I decided I would use the best quality soil with those little water absorbing and releasing pellets and that has plant food worked right in it. ($7.99 a bag at Canadian Tire for a total investment of $71.91 in good soil.)

I also planned my garden content carefully. Living in a trailer I simply can’t plan on canning and my freezer barely holds two full sized loaves of bread. The most important consideration was to grow only what we could eat as it became ripe or dry and pack in small spaces. We have developed the habit of frequenting farmer’s markets where we can. I know approximately how much we can eat of any one thing before it goes bad. The days when a farmer’s market meant cheap prices are long gone. Farmer’s markets these days are now rackets with racketeers who merrily charge extraordinary premiums from city folk who want the privilege of eating locally grown produce. If you want cheap today, you have to go to the grocery store. Thus, I know what is expensive. My experience as a farm wife has taught me how much one plant can produce under good conditions. So my little container garden concentrates on herbs and greens and goes light on low-cost root veggies we eat little of or can get very cheaply. I did dedicate two pots to potatoes. Supposedly, when I flip the pot over at the end of the summer, I will find the pot full of fresh new potatoes. Nothing tastes like fresh new potatoes with the wet dirt only just washed off before they go in the cooking pot.

Life in a trailer means that the you have little space. And so I read up on how to maximize space. I designed a tiny garden that was made of containers that are set up so the total size of the garden is only 2m wide and 1.2m across (4X6ft). I then added a small 1.2m high trellis system to the plan to have plants climb up on instead of spreading over the ground. I made it with 10 raw 1X2 spruce lumber at $1.45/peice, some spare lumber in the fire bin of the campground and plastic netting at $6.99 bringing my investment in the garden to $93.40). All of this information I found from two websites. One was all about patio gardening. The other one was, of all things, for survivalists in the city after the zombies arrive and you have to grow your supply of food on an apartment balcony between battles. (You really can find anything on the internet.)

I also wanted my garden to be environmentally friendly. For me, that also must mean cheap. After pricing out official garden containers of the appropriate depth in the greenhouses, I decided they were crazy high priced. My precious cat required I produce bimonthly plastic kitty litter pails. (this was before I tilt trained him.) Instead of recycling them, as I usually do, I started collecting them. My trailer is currently full of bags of kitty litter stored in every available space because I don’t store much, being in a trailer. I soon had to buy a lot more kitty litter then I actually needed and stowed the litter elsewhere. Good thing we are not planning on moving anytime soon. I must have a hundred extra kilos of litter stashed in every nook and cranny. I also have the satisfaction of reusing the kitty litter pails and saving myself about $240 in garden containers. When the season is over I can leave the buckets in the recycle bin on my way out of the campground without regret. I did find the smiling cat on the side of the pail a bit too disconcerting and my current landlord, who is exceptionally tolerant about most things, was sending dismayed looks my way. I invested in a can of deep green spray paint and covered the kitties. (Total cost now up to $99.39 but a very substantial improvement in appearance resulting from the cosmetic touchup.)

Last, I wanted to use rainwater. My experience as a farmwife has shown me that no matter how much well water you give the garden, the plants are only sustained. To really see a leap in lush grow and get the best produce you simply must have rain. Rain in Manitoba tends to come by the deluge between long stretches of drought. I got lucky and found a portable collapsable rain barrel in a clearance bin for $10. I found some sump tubing in a garage sale for $5 and I now have a nice supply of rainwater for watering. (Total cost $104.39.)

The plants cost me the most. I found out that the lower prices of the old time farmer’s market actually can still be found in greenhouses outside the city. Instead of $15.99/planted tomato in a pot, I visited the local Ile Des Chennes greenhouse. I found six fine plants for $7.99. Since I did so well with potted herbs, I bought 12 herb plants. I also bought two cucumber plants, an eggplant, a zucchini plant, eight pepper plants of assorted types, one single seed potato cut into two, a bag of seed garlic, 100 purple set onions, and several packets of seed for lettuce, spinach, beets, climbing peas, green, yellow and pole beans. Total cost of $85. With the tomato cages, I figure I spent about $200. The final and most wonderful touch was my daughter gave me a little welcome sign and a bright windsock. Those two items added that perfect cheerful gardener’s touch.

I was fretting about the cost of my garden and telling my husband I had no idea if I could produce $200 worth of vegetable to justify the cost. He made that exasperated noise he makes when I am refusing to spend money on myself.

“Are you getting pleasure from your garden?”

“Yes, a lot.”

“And how much is your pleasure worth? Minimum wage? Figure out that.”

I laughed, recalling again how I always say you can only live in a trailer full time with someone you really like. He was reminding me yet again of why I don’t just love him, I like him. I am getting pleasure from my little garden, a lot more than $50/month worth less whatever veggies we finally eat from it.

The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.

(from the poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney)

Results of the tiny garden:

Originally Posted September 24, 2012

The air is cool here at night now and that first frost is going to come anytime. Most of the garden is winding down so it’s time to write about the outcome of my little container garden experiment.

What worked:

We had lots of tomatoes, really delicious ones. We had a lot of peppers. The smaller peppers, chillies, sweet and hot banana and jalapeno really produced well. The green onions were wonderful. The herbs did very well. I was especially pleased by my lemon thyme plant which gave us the most wonderfully flavoured lamb we ever had. We had weeks of lovely salads spiced with fresh herbs and those were a mouth watering delight. And the rain barrel? Greatest thing since my deluxe honey wagon. One good rainstorm gave me a couple of weeks of rainwater for my garden.Image

What sort of worked:

The green and yellow bean plants produced a lot in a small space. However I only had six plants so even though each plant produced a lot, there was never enough for a real meal of beans. The beans got tossed into whatever I was cooking and so I found out fresh beans in a curry or stew is just dandy. I planned on using my beets just for beet greens but they grew faster than I planned. The leaves were bitter quickly in the season so I have quite a few beets. My two cucumber plants were a surprise. One that was on the sunny side of the garden space in the big pot produced over a dozen cucumber and is still growing like crazy and will likely produce until frost. The other, getting only a little less sun and in the smaller pot did very poorly and never produced a single fruit. Lesson learned, cucumbers need full sun and the big pot. The large red pepper plant did not do well. It produced two enormous peppers, fell over and laid there for weeks before the red started showing.

What failed: I now know zucchini plants need to have the male and female flowers to cross pollinate. My one plant did marvellously well producing one glorious bloom after another, one at a time, alternating male and female so at no point did I get the required fertilization resulting in fruit. My eggplant is only now producing blooms. I fully expect frost will get it before I get any eggplants. Next year I will put in two zucchini and forget about the eggplant. The pole beans and snow peas all died from white mould before producing anything. I guess I need resistant strains or I have to give up on those. I could plant more green and yellow beans instead. I thought the potatoes did not do well in the pot. The plants grew like crazy, towered over the other stuff and then dried out too fast and died. However imagine my surprise when I dumped the pot out at clean up and found it was indeed full of lovely potatoes. And they were so delicious!

 

Final tally-I think cost wise I about broke even in terms of money spent with the salad greens pushing it all up to the top. Taste wise, of course, we came out way way ahead. I certainly got a lot of pleasure from having my wee garden. One nice little unexpected bonus was the tiny garden gave everyone an excuse to drop by and chat me up. I am a shy person, and I don’t do well with deliberately reaching out for the purpose of meeting people. However the little garden meant I always had something to talk about and I was outside to do it. Many people commented on my cheerful little garden with the bright windsock and the nice little welcome sign. My garden brought pleasure beyond just for me.  I will do it again next year.

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Installing a ceiling fan.

This is another older draft post from 2015 I didn’t finish that I am finally getting around to posting.

I have always loved ceiling fans because I find their slow movement relaxing and I like how they distribute the air and prevent hot and cold spots. When we saw a small ceiling fan, still in the box, donated old stock up for sale in the Renuzit store for $65 I simply could not resist. Installing it would be a royal pain, I knew that. Even so I wanted it.

 

In the past I have always hired an electrician to it. That was inevitably a multicuss job for them and more than once I had to have them back in because it did not work properly. I decided to give a shot myself. I have learned a lot more about electrical work since the last time I had a fan installed.

Projects like this are best handled with a lot more time spent planning than doing. I think that’s the biggest mistake I made in my early days of Doing It Myself. I’d just start and find myself missing tools, having to take things apart and put them back together again and often stuff just did not go. Since then I have learned that planning is the most important of doing.

Mount the bracket - Install Ceiling Fan

I started with with you tube videos on the topic and a video from The Home Depot. I love it when people put up clear easy to follow do it yourself videos. After watching three or four I felt this was indeed a doable job.   You put all the parts together, connect all the wires correctly and then it goes. Next step was to read the manual. I find I have to read the manual through carefully about three times checking my understanding as I go. Certain things stand out and stick with each reading. Even after that I have to consult the manual on each step along the way. Also inevitable is that you hit snags and have questions come up as you do.

My first problem was the manual clearly specifies you need to have a proper outlet box designed specifically for a ceiling fan. It must be able to hold 35 pounds of weight. (My fan is a small one. Most of them are a lot heavier than that and many are very heavy. Now the question is do I use the old outlet box or tear it out and buy a new one and instal that? After much more research on line I discovered that the old fashioned outlet steel outlet box I have is rated for 50 pounds of weight assuming it is properly installed. I also discovered this old fashioned steel box was installed by first building a wooden box of two by fours around two sides and fitting them into the corner of the joist further increasing its capacity. This gives a four sided box. This is the old fashioned way of doing things.

The new plastic boxes don’t require all that effort to install. But the new plastic boxes cannot be used for more than 7 pounds of weight. So the old fashioned way would seem to be the right way for when, some 40 years later, someone comes along to retrofit something. Everything in this old house was done right and done with love and attention to detail. The very well installed steel outlet box is just one of many examples I have come across. These old houses were built to last, often by the people who would live in them or their neighbours who would be around to complain to if the job was done wrong. So things tended to be done right. Nowadays a stranger arrives, slaps together a whole development and sells off the houses and vanishes. No one thinks about retrofitting or what will happen 40+ years later.

Permits and regulations | City of Vancouver

I digress. Having established that the old steel box can hold the fan with about 15 pounds or a 30% safety margin I began. Ceiling fans have a safety cable you attach that the whole unit can hang from. This allows two things. First you can don’t have to have someone standing and holding the dang thing while you connect wires. Second you have something so if the whole thing does give the fan shouldn’t hit the floor. So my first job after getting the old outlet cover off was to put in a special screw for the purpose of hanging the fan by the back up cable. (Not all fans have it. Some have a cup the fan sits in instead as in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVL4FdMyCfo)

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Next following the directions, I got the motor part hung. There is an upper housing that is just decorative that hides all the wires and such from view. Connecting the wire meant another pause to check on line. You see, my house has some old style thick copper wiring with red being the hot wire and black being the neutral wires and the ground is bare and attached to the steel box. All the wiring arrives on site in a long steel encased conduit. In the wiring diagram for connecting the fan that came with the manual, black is the “hot” one and it is for the fan motor, white is neutral. There is also a blue wire for the lights. There were three possible configurations for the switch. One can have an on off switch for the fan, a separate light switch and a dimmer with that. (Hence all the wires.) However the simplest of the three diagrams is to join the light and motor fan hot wires (black and blue) to the hot wire from the house (red) and just have power off and on and adjust the light and motor using the manual switches at the motor. Since doing it any other way would involve tearing up walls to reinstall all the wiring, we are going with the simplest configuration.

Connecting the wire has to be done properly. I learned from reconnecting my solar panels and my macerator pump. If the connection isn’t right you get trouble. The worst trouble is with the loose connection that lets some power in but makes the electricity have to jump over a space. That leads to heat and that leads to fire. I made  a poor connection while extending the wires on my macerator a few years ago. In rewiring my macerator I created a “hot spot” and while I did not burn myself, I sure gave myself a real scare when I was handling the wire and it was hot. The plastic electrical was partially melted. Because of that scare I had previously researched about the connecting wires. My preference is twist nuts. I used them for connecting lights and fans in outlet boxes and I had the correct sizes and types. When connected properly the nuts are solid if you give them a yank and all the wires are buried in deep with no bare wire showing.

Once the main housing was in the rest was easy. I added the fins and the light shades and then we were done. It worked! Three years later we are still enjoying the benefits of a lovely ceiling fan that keep the air moving. In a small house stale air is a constant issue so the little fan is lovely to have.

Another Garden Update June 2018

We are now in the halcyon days of late spring and early summer. It has been halcyon except for that tornado warning we had two weeks ago. (It was radar warned and did not not touch down.) I love to sit on my deck on my old-fashioned wood rocker seat and enjoy myself in my little piece of the Garden of Eden. The sun rose officially at 5:24 this morning but the dawn actually began about 4:00am when the light first begins and the birds start singing. Last night the sun took an hour and half to finally set at 10:53pm. For the hour and a half the sky was in such a glorious display of pinks, and golds on low puffy “drying clouds” after the rainstorms to the south that I couldn’t bring myself to go inside and get a camera to try to capture it. Today I decided to try to capture some of my plants beginning with my “from seed” flower experiment which has paid off handsomely.

My perennial bed continues its lovely display. Daffodils and tulips have long vanished and we are on the tail end of a glorious display of irises with yellow day lilies about to take their place on floral display. last summer I got some variegated ground cover and some ornamental grass and they taken off very nicely in a bare spot. My middle child gave me a red dwarf lily for my birthday two years ago and it is about to gift me again with orange blooms.

I have one spot that is a mix of gravel and sand and each year native annuals come up. I never know what I am going to get. Every year I have blue bells. This year there are several others. I have no idea what they are but I am hopeful they will have pretty blooms for me. I collect the seeds from local native plants and sprinkle them about. We have one one strip of tall grass we let go wild. The dandelion seeds feed flocks of yellow American goldfinches and this year our efforts to naturalize are beginning to pay off. In addition to the lady slippers (which chose not to bloom this year) we now have a lovely tall marsh grass that is found all over the ditches and wet areas. It grows taller than a man and is spectacular by fall. I tried hard to get a small plant called pineapple weed growing a bare spot near our septic tank. You find it around here growing in ugly bare spots that support nothing else. This year it has finally appeared by the septic tank and I am delighted.

The zucchinis are already producing more than we can eat. In addition to frozen zucchinni lasagna I have been unloading some with the neighbours. I have one cucumber almost ready to eat and more to come. In another week or I can start pickling baby dills. My tomatoes have green tomatoes on them but we are months yet from red ones to eat. It’s hard to wait. Nothing tastes like a tomato fresh off the fine.

The vegetable garden from seed is doing very well. I noticed the ground does well under potatoes so this year I planted potatoes all around the outer boundary of the seed garden. They are growing well. We really enjoyed the corn we got last year but it wasn’t enough so I planted double this year, Every time I look it has grown in our long summer days. Beans, carrots, peas lettuce, dill from seed, and kale also seem to be doing well. Soon we can have fresh salads.

My herb garden continues to delight. I have garlic, oregano, lemon balm, dill started indoors, and I put the peppers in that garden as well this year. I have had to harvest the oregano and its sun drying on the lid of the septic tank as I write.

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In the fruit department it looks like we will have lots of raspberries this year. it’s hard to believe my little single cane is now a full sized raspberry patch. It’s nice to share the bounty with the bumblebees. I have counted as many as forty fat bumblebees in the raspberries at one time. Last summer I planted four apricot trees of a variety that is supposedly cold tolerant to our vicious winters. Three of the four did not take and T&T seeds, my favourite seed supply company, cheerfully refunded my money. I ordered two more and both are budding green this year. I have strawberries almost ready to eat. Last year the strawberries were stunted and funny looking and the birds got most of them. This year I fertilized and watered heavily and the berries look normal and hopefully will be delicious. My Saskatoon bushes are growing my leaps and bounds and have already doubled their size but no fruit yet. My apple tree with the good apples has done very well this year. Last year we got nothing due to a late snow and heavy frost just as the blossoms started. This year we got lucky. We can look forward to a nice crop of apples for juice and pies in August. 

I am leaving the rhubarb alone this year, except for fertilizing and weeding around it. I want it to grow bigger. Same with the asparagus which started as just a single stalk three years ago and is now a big bush about to bloom for the first time. We have a long drainage ditch beside the seed garden with a steep slope that is wet after every rainfall. The should be a good place for fallen seed to take root and grow. 

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Asparagus fern

Two ornamental trees that are not native to our area have fared differently. The variegated dogwoods are dead or dying. They have  been doing that since we moved in. I am torn between trying to rescue the ones that have some life left, letting them die, or mercifully ending it by digging them up. On the other hand a small tree that blooms each year but seems to do little else was heavily infested with aphids and always on the verge of dying. Each year I worked fighting the aphids, spraying, cutting off infected leaves and poisoning the ants that tend the aphids. This year I see no signs of aphids and the tree has rather abruptly nearly doubled in size and is actually looking quite spectacular which I never thought it would. So I am leaning toward trying to save the poor dogwoods.

 

And of course there’s my husband’s pond, his addition to our life. He has a passion for diatoms and we grow a lot of them. I joke with the neighbours about he grows green slime on purpose.

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I am a very lucky person to be able to live in such a wonderful spot of God’s earth. I am richly and truly blessed. I do think the Garden of Eden was modelled on Manitoba in summer. That helps to make up for the way Dante’s ninth circle of hell, the frozen wasteland, visits this province each winter. Our seasons are a lesson in how we must seize the moment while the weather is good and enjoy nature’s bounty while we can because winter is always coming.

“The world is so full of a number of things, I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

New Storm Doors

In our continuing effort to make our little house on the prairie into a snug warm place for us in winter and a cool welcoming place is summer we recently installed two new storm doors. Inner doors are always solid and often steel with insulation to keep out the cold winter. The storm door is the outer door that faces the elements.

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Old screen door that was falling apart due to water seeping into the underlying particle board, freezing and expanding in the winter. Some of the plastic parts also broke in the cold as harsh prairie temperatures makes many plastics brittle.

We call them screen doors because they include screens so that in summer you can leave the heavy protective inner door open and let the breeze through the house while keeping insects out. We also call them storm doors because another function is to keep the wind during winter from hitting the inner door. This dramatically increases the insulation value of the inner door. For those of you from southern climates a screen door is normally a light flimsy thing, often made with pretty wood work and scrolls. Such a door would never make it through our cold winters. Snow would get in behind the screen and pile up and prevent the door from opening or closing properly. The wood would freeze and swell. Particle board is commonly used in construction of outer doors but it just can’t take our winters. Water gets in and freezes and expands and turns particle board into fragile misshapen crummy stuff in short order. The weight of snow can also break flimsy doors. Storm doors need to be sturdy and made from materials impervious to extreme cold, extreme heat and both wet and dry conditions.

I wanted was something with as much openness are possible to let lots of light and air in. When we were in the south we were drawn to the pretty white screen doors with decorative scroll work and lots of openness. I also liked the feel of the security doors we saw all over during a trip to Mexico. These doors open the whole doorway while providing security.

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Both doors are entirely impractical for our harsh climate but I was pleasantly surprised to find a perfect storm door for my tastes. It was light and open for summer with windows the entire length and a drop down screen. It was made in Canada with no flimsy particle board to get wet and fall apart. These doors were aluminum and steel and tempered glass construction perfect for our harsh Canadian climate.

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The doors are made by AluminArt. One of the nice things about their doors is they have a wonderful warranty. If you mess up on the installation they will repair or replace the door or the part. That made it even more attractive. We haven’t installed a storm door before so we that helped us to decide. One thing I really liked was the dual closure system. There are pump closers on top and bottom. This makes the door quiet and yet feels so secure. You can’t slam this door. They came with underside door sweepers so that there is a nice flap to keep the wind out on the underside where the door meets the house. In addition there is a nice steel kick plate to protect the bottom of the white painted aluminum. I added my own additional layer of weather stripping and we rescued the chain back up from the old doors.

 

We found these doors when we were out looking for flooring. We didn’t buy them right away. Our lack of unlimited wealth means we have to stick to a budget. The budget meant the doors would have to wait. It was a good thing we did wait. After we had finished the flooring, we were in the same store to pick up some hinges and we went to admire our future doors again. We found out they where on sale for 20% off. It was also no tax days. Good and Services Tax (7%) and Provincial Sales Tax (8%) always add a substantial chunk to any purchase. This “no tax day” sale saved us a total of 35%. There’s budgets and then there are time to break out the credit card and go for it. This was one of those times.

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With the screen down half the door is screen.

Installing the doors went more smoothly than I expected. I watched a couple of videos on youtube first and then I carefully read the detailed Aluminart instructions.  I was fortunate in that in spite of the poor quality of the preexisting doors, the previous owner had done a great job of installing them. Everything was all square, plomb and right. We simply had to remove the old hardware and supports and put the new ones in their place. It was not hard work. It was just tedious and demanded attention to detail. I took out a lot of screws and and put a lot of screws back in. Up down, in out, lots of drilling, lots of muscle. It took me about 12 hours to get the entire thing done. If I made my living that way I expect I could get it down to two hours per door. I sincerely hope I never have to!

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Door had dual latches so even though our dog knows how to open the upper latch she can’t open the lower one.

With the doors open we can see out to both our decks and have a lovely view of our yard. We were delighted how much more light the house has in it now.

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Our dog and cat seem to really like the doors. They can see out anytime they want to.

One more step to making our little house our perfectly lovely home. I still need to do some painting around the disturbed trim. I have some touchups to do. I have the stuff…. well do you ever get everything right in a house?

No one associated with Aluminart or the retail store I purchased these doors from gave me anything of any sort for saying these nice things about the doors in my blog.

Post I missed. Pawdi Gras 2018

In February we took our pup Misty to Pawdi Gras, an annual Humane Society fund raiser in Apalachicola Florida. We had attended the event with Fred and Trusty two years before. The two dogs had a blast, especially Trusty who could never resist an opportunity to be admired and to pose for pictures. I figured this might be fun for Misty and since she was eleven months old, also great opportunity to socialize and train her. She did indeed have a blast.

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Misty kept looking up at me with this expression of bewildered delight.

Many merchants, and other doggy type businesses put up kiosks in the park area and they sell all the things dog related. We are all there for the dogs so there is little to no evidence of the political divide. I did see one pit bull dressed up as President Trump and everyone, Republican and Democrat, laughed at that. In addition to doggy things, the event is also attended by various other wildlife and animal rescue group. A band was hired to play Mardi Gras appropriate tunes. And of course there was a lot of southern food, most of it deep fried. The crowning moment was the arrival of the King and Queen, two dogs, the longest term residents in the shelter, seeking homes.

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The event consists of everyone gathering in the town’s central park location. For $5 you can buy a wrist band that entitles you to walk your dog in the parade. For $25 you can ride the route in your golf cart. In addition assorted city officials and other dignitaries attend in floats and open cars. Everyone else lines the streets and cheers on the dogs. At the appointed time all the parade people gather in one location and everyone introduces themselves and admires everyone else dogs. We walk the six block or so of the parade route and then we hang about and chat and visit the kiosks. At least one restaurant has a dog friendly back porch so our plan was to retire there for a bite after the big event. We were delighted this year because our Florida host, Jack Rudloe of Gulf Specimen Marine Lab was in attendance with his special lady friend Jane Brandt and their two rescued part pit bulls, the ubiquitous dog of the south. We also had our guest scientist from Italy, Luiga Santella, with us to experience this insane American event.

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Jack and Rita and Jane and Belle on the dock on the Apalachicola river.

Misty was totally and absolutely enthralled by the whole thing. She had never seen so many assorted dogs in one place. No matter where she turned there were doggy noses and butts to sniff. Most of them were older well behaved dogs and she took her cue from them and sat prettily when told and otherwise stayed near me. She often looked up at me for reassurance this insanity was okay. We dressed her up in a feather boa and she didn’t mind that at all. She was really excited and occasionally trembled but she was having such a good time I decided it was a positive puppy stress. When the time came to walk the parade route she joined right in. She didn’t seem to quite know what to do since half of the people were walking and half were sitting by the side cheering. She concentrated on staying near me although she couldn’t resist running up to a few cheering children sitting the curb to bestow kisses. Since this is a doggy event, all the children present were doggy savy and they accepted her exuberant puppy kisses with delight and understanding.

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Jack, Rita and Luiga

 

Halfway through the walk Misty abruptly left the parade and lay down beside a nearby tire. I felt horrible. She was overwhelmed by Pawdi Gras and her poor puppy brain had apparently imploded. I knelt beside her and reassured her and then decided I would take her away. Kind strangers offered her a drink of water which she gratefully slurped up and a puppy treat appeared out of nowhere which she gulped down.  When I got up to go and head away from the crowd she resisted and strained to get into her place in the parade. I let her guide me back into the commotion and she was fine with it, tail wagging, eyes bright, a totally happy engaged dog. She had just needed a break from the excitement. I was very proud of her and how she handled the break.

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After the parade we dispersed and found Jack and Jane and Misty had a joyous greeting with her best buddy, Jack’s Rita and then we wandered off to eat. Misty was mostly well behaved in the restaurant porch where we had a bite to eat. She was tired and stayed quietly at my feet with only a few reminders.

We got turned around on the trip back to the truck and we couldn’t find it. I gave Misty the command “Truck! Truck!” which means run to the truck and wait there to jump in. Misty had learned that imitating Fred. Misty knew exactly where the truck was and she pulled the right way and we followed and lo and behold there was the truck. She didn’t take the most direct route, but she instead followed the route we had taken on leaving the truck so I assume she used our scent trail from earlier to back track to the truck. We were again very proud of our clever smart girl. We loaded up and headed home. Misty fell asleep immediately. She slept deeply and on return home she voluntarily went straight to her bed and, after a long drink and a snack, she slept without a peep until morning. She twitched a lot as her sleeping puppy brain absorbed that intense happy day. Hopefully, God willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say in the south, we can do Pawdi Gras again next year.

 

On contentment.

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It’s May and that means my birthday is coming up. Mother’s Day is nearby. Hubby Dearest and I are coming up on a biggie, 25 years of legal marriage. All of these dates (except possibly my birthday) are artificial constructs that have little to do with my personal reality. Still, every May I can’t help but reflect on where I am, where I am going, and where I hope to be. This May has been a rather strange one because I feel happy where I am, I feel like I do not need to go anywhere. I have no greater aspirations than to finish the renovations on my little house. I am content. It is a very strange place for me to be in.

My childhood is not something I recall with joy. Mostly it was very difficult and I was “the shit faced brat”. (That is what make Mother’s Day so difficult for me that I won’t let my children celebrate it. We celebrate my birthday instead.) I mostly got picked on and mostly tried to just vanish and avoid being noticed as a child. My twenties were a period of my greatest joy because my babies came. As I loved them and raised them I also poured love on myself and nurtured the child within me by doing so. I also finally gave up on trying to hide who and what my brain was and I started back to school to get prepped for entering university. Finally, I closed off my twenties by leaving the husband who was not right, spent some time in a shelter for battered women, and then restarted my life with a new partner who was right for me. The twenties were a period of intense personal growth and greatest pain and disillusionment with what society had told me I ought to be, as well as being the time of my greatest joy.

My thirties were pretty good. I gave up trying to conform to outside ideas about who I should be. I started university. Growing up I recall my mother saying “You have to learn to hide those brains of yours. Men don’t like women who are too smart.” The only meaning and purpose to life for a girl was catching a man and then spend the rest of her tending to him and his children. I stopped listening to her and I stopped doing that. No more having the feet knocked out from under me every time I tried to stand up. I recently bought and I am now watching the entire collection of “The Waltons” TV series. As a teenager I loved that show. My aspiration was to be an Olivia Walton and marry a John Walton. I wanted to love and be loved and have a home. In my thirties I finally stopped lying to myself and instead I was busy cramming my brain full of stuff like biochemistry of nucleic acids and statistical analysis of genetic variants. Honestly, that was far better suited for my brain than the life of an Olivia Walton. I still occasionally wished I could have been an Olivia Walton. It certainly would have been easier and if I had married a John Walton I might still be in that place. But in my thirties I gave up on trying to be what I am not.

My forties were a time of change and growth. I completed my PhD. I am very proud of that document and yet it is a source of pain to me. On the one hand it is quite an accomplishment. On the other, the realities of academia came up and smacked me in the face. While you are a student there is always room for you, mainly because as a student you are expected to put in very long hours for very low pay. Plus you have a lot of latitude to make stupid mistakes and I did make a few. One you have that PhD though everything changes. The next step is a postdoc and I did a three year one on a full scholarship. The problem is postdocs live in a nether world. They are not students, they are not staff. They have no rights. I was told if I was not in before my supervisor every day, and if I was not staying past midnight at least twice a week I was “not hungry enough”. In academia only 0.02% of new PhDs get the magic “assistant professorship” that is the key step to success in the tenure track. Because the competition is so tight, and because the entire system runs on who you know, and where you fit in, not what you are, it’s very easy to get end up in 99.8% who get shoved off the ladder. When you are in it, you never think it might happen to you. And so you have three choices when reality hits, admit the whole PhD thing is a dead end and give up the dream, live forever as a postdoc, or become a “research assistant” whose entire existence is going from grant to grant of your supervisor, often working as hard as your supervisor, and getting little credit or recognition, facing being discarded the first time the grant committee changes and decides you are expendable, all for less pay than the lab janitor. Still I had awards, I had publications and I felt I was hot and ready to make it.

Reality bites and the simple fact of the matter is that in my fifties I decided to give up. I still had teenagers at home who needed a mother, a husband who loved me as much as John loved Olivia. If I stay after midnight instead of taking a break in lab work to go home and eat and sleep, I end up making stupid errors because I am tired. I end up having to throw out reagents worth more in a single experiment than I was earning in a month. Post doc’ing was not for me. I am not hungry enough to put with that kind of abuse.

I didn’t give up all at once. I am stubborn. I needed to smash my head a few times on that glass ceiling. I would submit my CV for a job, get the telephone call, get the interview. They loved my skill set, they couldn’t wait to meet me, they talked about all kinds of things like my potential for start up grants, and it was going to be great! They were so looking forward to having me on the team. Then when I walked into the room, faces would fall. They would squirm in their seat, act all polite and uncomfortable and I would never hear from them again. You aren’t supposed to discriminate against people based on age but it happens all the time. The kindest thing anyone ever did for me in academia was when a successful professor I admired listened to me complain about the peculiarity of being so positively received right up until the interview. Even the expensive power suit I bought didn’t help. I just didn’t get it.

“No one is going to hire a 47 year old who just got her PhD into a tenure track position,” he so very bluntly said. “They will have all kinds of politically acceptable excuses for discriminating against you. They will blame the grant agencies, they will blame the system, they will quote the studies that show people are most productive in their life when they have that PhD by age 26. They will rationalize away their bigotry. I have sat in on many hiring committees. The fact is no one is ever going to hire you because you are both female and too old.” The fact that potential jobs always started out very encouraging, and then their faces would crumble just looking at me for the first time, told me my honest friend was right. (Note to aspiring women scientists: Forget the PhD unless you can finish it before you turn 26 and go get a professional degree like engineering, nursing, medicine instead and then go into research. You’ll always have protection of your profession and a fall back to lean on between grants.)

Just as I was facing this, my husband hit another academic wall, the “You are too old and it’s time to retire” one. I knew I would never make it in and he was forced out. So I decided I would retire with him. He’s 16 years older than me and it seemed far more important to be with him during his retirement while he was still young enough to enjoy it rather than take more dead end post docs where I got paid less than the woman sweeping the lab floor. And so my fifties found me “retired” without a pension or pay, dependant on my husband’s income to live. Dependant on a man was a place I never thought I allow myself to be in again but here I am. Since then I have taken a few short term jobs but only ones I was interested in and that I wanted to do. And they all paid much better than a postdoc.

The teenagers grew up and didn’t need us so much. I have been blessed with a good life, mostly good enough health, three wonderful children and a wonderful step son. I have three lovely daughters-in-law who treat me very nicely and respectfully. The kids all turned out very well. All of them tax payers, self supporting, not one in prison, and all doing well at what they are doing. We had freedom and so we decided to “follow the dream”. We spent five wonderful years living full time in our travel trailer. It has been great! We got to every state in the lower 48 and we have been blessed to see and do things most people never get to do. I wouldn’t give that up for a second. Still, after five years of arriving in winter and leaving in winter in a poorly insulated travel trailer, the rambling life got wearing and we needed a home base. So when the chance came up to purchase a little house with a big driveway for the trailer in lovely little town we jumped at it. So now we are part time full timers and part time stick house people.

The little house was well built and solid as they come and I love it. It had nothing wrong with it except for cosmetic things. And if I ever say that again I hope someone kicks me hard. However as I close in on 58 we have almost finished all that cosmetic work. The place has new windows, fresh paint, new flooring and it feels very much like our home. One room to go for the paint and two rooms for the flooring. One very nice thing that happened was hubby dearest and I wrote the book about our mutual research. We figured out differentiation and we’re right and we’re proud of it and it’s all in that book. Plus the royalties thus far paid for the new flooring in our little house.

Watching The Waltons I find myself reflecting on my life and how much it is like Olivia Walton’s now. I bake. I garden. I cook. I fix up my little house. Small town life is as slow and easy as Walton’s Mountain except that I look at Riding Mountain. Unlike Olivia Walton, I have Google Scholar and Facebook and Pubmed meaning the world is as close as my computer. I indulge my mind a few times a day. My husband spends his days deeply immersed in astrobiology. As a young man he had to choose biology or astronomy and he pursued biology because that interested him more. These days, astrobiology couldn’t be more perfect for a theoretical biologist with no lab. Our house is filled with the sounds of NASA on line conferences instead of depression era radio shows. We are both free of grant deadlines, university politics, and hiring committee meetings.

Yesterday I spent my day repotting seedling tomatoes, planning the menu for our Silver Anniversary, cutting new trim to fit over the new flooring, chatting with a neighbour, watching flocks of juncos and pine siskin feast at my bird feeders, doing a literature review on tick bourn diseases, chatting with a young woman on line about her pregnancy (which is going just fine) and debating the relative merits of pipelines versus tanker transport of crude oil. The strangest thing of all for me as I contemplate my birthday is this wonderful slow growing sensation of contentment. Back in the days, I used to watch one soap opera daily so I would have something to chat about at the Tuesday morning bible study for young mothers. (I could never discuss the stuff from the nonfiction section of the public library that I was secretly devouring hence the one soap a day.) When characters said they were happy, they were no longer interesting and they either vanished or were due for a cancer diagnosis or a terrible car crash, a kidnapping or a bad case of amnesia. But life isn’t a soap opera and so I will say it. I am content. I am happy. I have never been in this place before and I am enjoying it.

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New Flooring – Luck and the Prepared Mind.

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Our lives have been in turmoil for the last week. A big truck pulled up and delivered 23 boxes of brand spanking new vinyl plank flooring and we have been installing it. It’s not hard to do but it requires moving everything and laying the flooring and then putting everything back. But I am getting ahead of myself so let’s step back to how I chose what we eventually started laying.

You can see in this picture the original old flooring in this house. It is 9″ vinyl squares. They were installed when the house was built circa 1960 and fortunately  there has not been anything installed over that. I say fortunately because in other homes I have had to tear out stuff like avocado green shag rug from the 1970s or eleven layers just plain crap. Our original idea was to tear up the old tiles. They were cracking and coming off in pieces anyway.  However, we learned that 9″ tiles often contain asbestos and have to be removed by a hazardous material team at great cost. I went on line and found an exact match to our tiles on a searchable database and the database says our tiles don’t have asbestos. My assurances didn’t matter to installers. 9″ tiles must be removed as if they do have asbestos and they just ain’t doing it, lady.

We then began researching alternatives. It had to be something that could go over the old tiles. I am mildly asthmatic and need to avoid carpeting. The old floor was always cold so I wanted warmth. We also needed something that can handle dog traffic, hair and dog nails. Thinking longer term into our old age, we also needed whatever we finally got to be sturdy, not slippery, for diminishing sense of balance. Above all we needed easy to clean and maintain. I also wanted a certain look.

I am trying to do my home in primitive cottage style, charming but not particularly  fussy about chic, because chic changes. Remember the soft peach and cream walls of the 1980s in every new home? And then there was the old style wall paper. (How many layers of that have I stripped off?) Anyone recall “the feature wall”, fake wood panelling, or mirrored tiles? These days plain greys and blacks seems to be all the rage. The problem with fashion is it changes. I have moved into houses where I can tell when it was last painted just by the colour scheme. I wanted an ageless look that was all mine. I picked colours I loved and to hell with what was fashionable. So the house is bright sunny yellow outside and many shades of teal inside. It’s bold and beautiful it’s all mine. I love it that way.

We looked at many options for flooring. Everyone recommended some type of plank flooring. Slap it on right over the tiles and forget it. We looked very seriously at plywood flooring cut into 8″ planks and overlaid with multiple layers of urethane. That method is cheap and easy to fix if you mar the floor and I loved the look. However, I could not see me, with my wheezy lungs, being able to handle and spread 6-10 layers of urethane or living within a mile of the house during the long drying process.

I was very hesitant about commercial layered stuff. A few years ago I bought bamboo flooring and spent hours putting it down only to have it mark up within days. It was a terrible disappointment. I went into hardware stores and checked out many of the flooring available and they all failed what I call the thumb nail test. I would hold the flooring in my hand and then use my very sharp hard thumb nail to try to scratch it. If I could make a mark on the flooring with my nail, it was too fragile for our lifestyle. Everything I looked at flunked the thumb nail test. I ruled out vinyl plank flooring because of that. However, I have been recently blessed a potential son-in-law who renovates homes. I was discussing the thumb nail test and he told me there is vinyl plank flooring that is a lot tougher. The stuff I had been looking at was ‘residential grade’. I wanted ‘commercial grade’. It was like a lightbulb went off. Now I had a solution with a name on it. I began researching vinyl plank flooring sticking only to commercial grade. I soon found some that passed the thumb nail test. Not only that. I took out my truck key and (while the grouchy saleswoman was not looking) tried to scratch some of the stuff with the key and failed. I was delighted and I decided my potential son-in-law was a lot smarter than I had originally thought. (Okay I need to say that was a joke. No guy lacking brains lasts long enough with my girl  for me to actually meet him, much less enjoy a serious discussion about flooring.) Without his expert input at just the right time, I would have never have figured it out.

Now I was ready to really shop. Every chance we had I stopped into places that had flooring and bypassed the ‘residential grade’ they put up front on display and asked to see ‘commercial grade’ instead. I also shopped on line at all the major chains and I got a good handle on typical per square foot cost and what kinds of colours and styles I could expect to find. All of this research paid off because I stumbled on our flooring purely by accident on a trip for something entirely unrelated. It was the precise type of commercial grade vinyl plank flooring, in a style almost the same colour as what I wanted and exactly what my husband wanted. I hemmed and hawed and acted disinterested but eventually I had my deal. Best of all, instead of the $7/square foot original price, it was end of the batch, stuck in the rear, dusty old leftover, discontinued stuff that had not moved. They were very happy to get it out of their way and make room for new stuff that would sell. I was happy to pay $2/square foot no matter how disinterested I acted. I took the 23 boxes. I think I got it at cost. I didn’t argue about the delivery charge. I whipped out my credit card and paid in full on the spot before someone changed their mind.

Sometimes you get lucky. Luck tends to happen most often when you are prepared and ready to grab it. To have such things happen you need to do the background research on the problem. You need to consult with a few experts to get ideas and avoid silly mistakes or wasting effort reinventing the wheel. As Louis Pasteur said at a lecture at University of Lille in 1854.

Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.

Or “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

And that goes for everything from embryonic differentiation waves to finding just the right flooring at a really good price.

And since that day the truck pulled up, we have had our lives in turmoil. We had to undercut the trim on the door frames. We also had to remove all the doors and cut a half inch off the bottom. We had to fill the holes in the old vinyl tile flooring with quick drying cement. The flooring is interlocking lift, place, click stuff. It often goes in easily but other times the stuff sticks and then you have to bang and smack and cuss a bit to get it right. And of course the edges never come out perfectly even and you have to cut the stuff around doors and vents and anything else coming up out of the flooring.

There are other frustrations. We moved the fridge to lay the flooring and discovered that even though we bought that fridge just last year there is about 400 years worth of detritus packed in dog hair underneath. (EEWW!!). When we moved my desk we discovered a broken drawer than needs repair. When we moved my chair we discovered we needed to put pads on to protect the new flooring because I didn’t care about the old tile but even commercial grade can’t take bare metal scraping. Tools for the job are strew everywhere. Meanwhile there is still the need to prepare food and eat, wash dirty dishes and laundry still piles up.

The puppy loves the chaos because when we are down on our knees, we are easy targets for puppy kisses and getting hugs and pats. Nothing is more fun that snatching that tool we are using and taking off with it. She’s knows she’s too cute to get into any real trouble. The cat does not appreciate renovations so he’s in huff and is trying to both get even with us and restore order by clearing off the counters and other surfaces for us before we are ready. It is amazing how much a bowl shoved off the fridge and falling on your head can hurt. Since that experience I have been making sure to never leave a hammer up high. And then there is stubbed toes. Nothing is where you expect it to be so my husband can’t go anywhere without muttering imprecations. However, it is almost finished. It looks lovely. And soon, after I repaint and replace the baseboards, we can return our lives back to semblance of normalcy or at least as normal as my home can ever be. (I hope!)