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April 22, 2006

Too Much

We have the flu. Bleh. I all have to say is, it's really bad timing.

Really, infuriatingly bad timing.

Achoo!

Posted by anita at 7:41 PM

April 15, 2006

The Difference One Day Makes

April15-Barn-BlueSky2.jpgYesterday, my "recipe" was a hint about our progress on this weekend's project, demolishing all the bird pens around (and inside) the barn. Today you get the photojournal. Look at last weekend's entry for the "before" pictures. We're tired, sore, have just stuffed ourselves with a fabulous Easter dinner, and are heading down the street to see Cama Llama's brand new boyfriend, so I have to make this quick…

April15-BarnDemo2.jpgThat's the peacock coop roof lying on the left.

April15-BarnDemo3.jpgLook, it's a barn! With more bird cages inside. Ugh.

April15-BarnDemo6.jpg April15-BarnDemo7.jpg

April15-LlamasinAsh.jpg(The llamas rolled in yesterday's pine ashes! Beats the bugs.)

April15-Apricot2.jpgOur apricot tree is blossoming! Maybe we'll get fruit after all!

Posted by anita at 6:09 PM

April 14, 2006

Recipe For a Great Afternoon

Five enthusiastic pairs of hands, gloved

Four pairs of wire-cutters, three hammers and two crowbars

Three mountain pine beetle-infested trees, chopped

One truckload of rotting cedar boards, toasted

40 feet of chicken wire, lumber, vines, and corrugated metal roofing, separated

Two dogs, underfoot

A dash of fuel

One winch cable, wrapped around a roof beam

One video camera, on

Four cheers of destructive joy

One jug of water

Lots of elbow grease

One extra hot bonfire

Salmon dinner for six, promised

One barn, standing all by itself.

Optional: one two-month-old llama, rolled in ash, one apricot tree in full bloom, and four hours without rain.

More tomorrow, with the addition of one digital camera and turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And, hopefully, some sunshine! Happy Easter, everyone!

Posted by anita at 11:50 PM

April 9, 2006

Spring Smorgasbord

April8-Smorgasbord6.jpgMany women I know are in that stage of their lives when they suddenly realize they are becoming just like their mothers. For some it might be a phrase coming out of their mouths that they vowed they'd never use on their own daughters; for others, familiar lines or bulges that suddenly appear in the mirror. I had one of those moments of recognition yesterday, but what I saw in the mirror wasn't a physical resemblance to my mother. No, it was the dull brown clump of lilac seed husks stuck in my hair. This time of year, when I visit my mother I'm likely to pull at least one leaf or twig out of her hair after a few hours of gardening. I've never found the whole idea of leaf mold or bugs dropping on my head and the dark lines of dirt in the calluses and under the fingernails all that appealing. But even though I've straightened up from a planting bed or bout of pruning to say to myself, "There, I've finished with the yard work", within a week the sun will be shining gorgeously again and I'll find something else that needs doing. Like pruning the ancient lichen-covered lilac that last week I said would wait until next year. It's almost as if I like back-breaking labour.

Now why couldn't Richard have inherited the gardening gene from his green-thumbed mother? It's not that he doesn't appreciate plants, landscaping, even flowers – he does – but he lacks empathy for growing things. After weeks tied up with work he was ready, yesterday, to do the fruit tree pruning that should have been done before the buds came out and the sap started running. Despite all my efforts to rein him in with cautions about pruning this late, cutting down more than half the tree, and just generally fearing the affect on fruit production of another violent pruning, he did it again. More than half the cherry and the crabapple gone in a few quick swipes of the chain saw. I stood back cringing on behalf of each tree. Any time I tried to argue, Richard pointed to his earplugs and carried on. Below is a shot on the left of the crabapples a month ago, and on the right, part way through Richard's pruning job.

Mar18-Trees.jpg April8-Pruning1.jpg

April8-Pruning5.jpg It's probably a good thing that the columbine seeds I sowed beneath the crabapple didn't germinate, because I would have been more sad to see it come up only to wilt away in the heat now that there won't be any shade along that wall. I agreed that it was necessary to take out almost as much of the crabapple as we did – and the diseased one next to it had to be cut down – but this late in the spring, the neighbour confirmed that the sap will attract bugs and disease, the cuts may not callus over, and I'm worried that with the tree having been so long and leggy, there isn't enough leaf cover left to sustain the tree. The cherry, though more branches were removed, might be better off because it's still quite densely covered in buds. If it doesn't have a fit at the pruning, the remaining branches should be happy with the increased light down the centre, anyway. And if we can keep it this height, we'll actually be able to reach the cherries! (If there are any this year.)

In addition to the dying crabapple, we removed the mountain ash that was interfering with our chestnut and pine in the back, and two stumps of firs left in the front yard when we bought the place. One of the growing firs had a really long branch sticking out over the drive, which became a smorgasbord for the goats at the back fence. The rest went on the burn pile along with my lilac trimmings and a few cropped bits from the apple trees. The ashes from the bonfire were still smoking this morning despite rainfall last night, but there isn't a needle left on that six foot branch of fir. (The billy goat, Neru, is getting so big I keep thinking of the Minotaur – he looks like a bull and if I got too close he'd eat my camera.) This week we'll add all the scrap wood and twiggy weed stalks from last fall from around the barn to the pile.

April8-Burning2.jpgOur plan for Easter is another large bonfire and three more days of hard labour with Bev, Colleen and Jorge, as well as Peter, the Mulag sales rep visiting from Germany (who found himself roped into hauling wood for hours yesterday). We're going to tear down all the remaining pens from around the barn and hopefully clear out the interior as well. Here are views from the front facing the house and from the back by the rear gate. Bev helped us do all the pens on the east side last spring so she'll be an expert at chicken wire removal this time around!

I hope spending the day in the chicken coop doesn't ruin our appetites for the free-range turkey Colleen and Jorge are bringing for Easter dinner.

April8-ToDemo.jpg Mar26-BarnExt1.jpg

April8-Flora2.jpgMmm, that reminds me. What tastes great with greens? Ten-year-old fleece and new denim, of course. I was able to get a bit closer to Flora with the camera this weekend, because she wouldn't leave me alone until she'd satisfied her curiosity about the flavour of my sweatshirt, my jeans and my boot laces. Once I let her get the fabric between her teeth (after fending her off to the point where it was either be knocked over backward, just let her taste, or scare her away forever), she didn't do the quick tug technique she uses to rip lilac buds off my bushes. She just rubbed it between her bottom teeth and upper plate, not gumming it up at all, and then let go. Whew. Although it was pretty funny crouching on the lawn with my arms around her neck, laughing as I tried to keep her from taking a bite out of me. It's too bad people with cameras distract her, or that would have made an even better photo. Next weekend should be interesting, when Colleen and Jorge's dogs are here. I wonder if they'll chase Flora, or will it be Flora gleefully chasing them? She runs like a gazelle but with twisty little kicks sometimes as if her back half doesn't know where her front half is going. So much fun to watch.

April8-Flora1.jpg April8-FunnyFlora2.jpg

Posted by anita at 5:08 PM

April 6, 2006

It Could Be Worse

Sometimes there is an odd timing to unlucky happenings. In the case of happy coincidences, I've always liked the term "serendipity". My New Shorter Oxford gave me this definition: the origins of the word are the name Sarendip, a former name of Sri Lanka or Ceylon, to which Horace Walpole added "ity", based on a fairy tale called "Three Princes of Sarendip", "the heroes of which 'were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of'. (A supposed talent for) the making of happy and unexpected discoveries by accident or when looking for something else; such a discovery" is the correct definition. More loosely, "good luck, good fortune". Hm. I saw an animated children's story as a kid in which a dragon named Serendipity causes many happy coincidences, so I expected coincidence to be part of the definition, but it's not coincidence, it's "talent". While I would agree that there's no such thing as coincidence, replacing that with talent is kind of awful in the context of what I'm about to relate. So you could say finding this definition was itself an unexpected – but not necessarily happy – discovery.

The definition of "serendipitous" is "1, Of people: having a supposed talent for making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident". I guess Gary Oldman's character of Guildenstern – or at least, I always thought he was Guildenstern – was serendipitous in his scientific discoveries as they were wandering about Hamlet's castle. (If you haven't seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, go rent it, it's the perfect foil for Hamlet, and I think all the main players gave remarkable performances.) Or, "2, Of an event, discovery, meeting, etc.: occurring by (especially fortunate) chance; fortuitous." That seems to fit with my usage of the term up 'til now: when a series of happy events occurred which seemed unrelated, coincidental, my belief that things happen for a cosmic reason rather than mere chance or "accident" made me label it serendipitous. As in, the universe has conspired in my favour. But if it's down to a human talent for causing happy events, what do you call it when there's a confluence of un-happy occurrences? Is there an antonym for serendipity? I hope not. In this case, I prefer bad luck.

With all the people one knows in life all going about their business day in and day out – even without the six degrees of separation – it shouldn't be surprising that at certain times it will seem like good luck falls on everyone simultaneously. For example, in the past six month period, 5 healthy babies have been born to our friends and family, two friends extricated themselves from poisonous relationships and started their lives over at new jobs, Richard and I both made breakthroughs in getting help for our health, and although two people experienced serious heart attacks, both are recovering. One could see some serendipity in those good things all happening so close together. (Or maybe there was a long power outage in the Lower Mainland a year or so ago?) Anyway. Those are happy things which have much more to do with hard work by good people than with serendipity except in their timing. But when you turn that on its head and look at bad things happening to good people, you have to wonder if the universe is ticked for some reason, or is there a rogue dragon with less childish charm and more unassuaged rage galloping around burning holes in the normal weave of people's lives?

Take Tuesday, for instance. Allyson was having what she considered a good day, despite the fact that her workplace is a construction zone and she's trying to churn out Napoleons (Allyson, what is a Napoleon?) while tradesmen use air tools all around her. Unfortunately, a tradesman lost his grip on a large sheet of plywood just as she was loading her Napoleons into a display case nearby. Wham, right on her bent neck.

Aside from a nasty lump and a headache she'll be all right. Just bad luck. Could have been worse. He could have dropped his air nailer on her head instead of the plywood, or something. As a writer, always aware of cause and effect, and conspiring to worsen the conditions we put our characters in, I could trace backward from that situation and claim the cause was the business owner's choice to run his shop in the midst of such chaotic renovations, or trace a slightly different series of events in which Allyson might have ended up in hospital. But, since Allyson merely took the afternoon off, it will be shrugged off as an isolated incident for which the contractor is suitably apologetic.

What gets me thinking, however, is the fact that about the same time that Allyson's boss was applying ice to her neck, I was getting out of my three quarter tonne pickup (a.k.a. the tank) to examine the damage my rear passenger side fender and mudflap had just done – with an alarming sound like a bicycle being crushed – to the nose of a small black Cavalier driven by a 20-year-old boy. Whether it was all my doing as I moved over to the right turn lane, or the boy had picked up enough speed behind me approaching the light that as he tried to pass me to enter the right turning lane he couldn't avoid wedging his car into my wheel well, I'll probably never know. Given that he'd just had another accident a couple of weeks ago, I doubt he'll be entirely honest in his claim report. I had to be: with the canopy on my truck, I have a blind spot the size of a cow, and this guy's car was no taller than my fenders. He was three car lengths behind me, and then he was a black blot on my side mirror as I put the truck in park. I apologized profusely – he did not, now that I think of it – and the bill will probably be in the mail to me in a couple of months. The second bill, since back in February on another visit to Vancouver I put a crack in a parked car's bumper while navigating the wilds of Granville Island in a torrential downpour, trying to deliver my five-year-old niece to dance class. Sigh. As with the last time, there was hardly any damage to my truck, just a bend in the metal flange coming out from the wheel well where it scraped the paint off the car (mostly as I was moving the truck forward after the accident, rather than during it). Paint was the only casualty, no injuries – there wasn't even a bang, just the scraping noise. Again, could have been worse. I could have been travelling at road speed rather than slowed to a crawl for the light, in which case my tank would have crushed his car like a little black ant and him with it. So causally it was my fault, but the universe was still smiling on me because I thankfully did no worse than scrape some paint?

I guess what I'm mulling over is, does "serendipity" have an opposite? Do we have a word for people to whom bad luck gravitates as if they have a talent for it? Or days on which the bad luck concentrates in ripples? I wonder if I asked around, whether anything unexpected and "bad" (whether an injury as in Allyson's case, or merely an unfortunate expense as in mine) happened to the rest of our circle of friends around lunch hour this Tuesday? Or is it me, and the accidents are just part of this slump I'm in, where being unemployed could be said to be the root cause of the accident, since I wouldn't have been in Vancouver either time if I was busy at home with work? Then again, the worst luck Richard and I have had was just under a year ago when we headed south to California on that very expensive road trip from hell, so perhaps I should be blaming our truck! (I love my truck. Sat in a Smart Car at the auto show last Friday and felt like I was trapped in a Campbell's soup can with windows.) I guess, to go back to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, we rely on chance to be unexpected, unpredictable. When Guildenstern flips a coin, over and over, and the litany "heads… heads… heads…" has gone on so long that even preoccupied Rosencrantz takes notice, we're not amazed, we're disturbed. We can take the bad luck because we know there's an equal chance of good luck; even if we believe fate is the result of choice, we must believe our luck can simply change, for the better. And we console ourselves that it could always be worse. My stance is to work hard at getting the choices right, but to ask the universe for a little help, like with my job hunt. And to you I say, wish me luck.

Posted by anita at 11:54 AM