Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2008
Dear Diary:

The moral of the story? Always make friends with the cat.

For the last year or so the spousal unit has been doing a series of jobs for a woman about my age who has a cat named Purrlah. Purrlah, as her owner admits, is a singularly testy cat, a cat which does not have a particularly high opinion of humans.

The spousal unit shares my love of all creatures of the feline persuasion, so he made it his mission to woo Ms. Crankypants Purrlah. When it was time for his tea break, he would seek Purrlah out and scritch her head behind her ears. At lunch he would offer her little tidbits, some of which she deigned to eat.

Gradually, to her owner's amazement, Purrlah grew to enjoy the company of the spousal unit. She would actually march up to him and demand ear scritches.

A few weeks ago, the spousal unit was at the woman's house upgrading her attic insulation. As he worked, the woman was down in her kitchen two floors below him, with the radio on, gabbing with a friend while the two of them made apple jelly. They were immersed in their project.

The spousal unit finished his work, which included putting some insulating spray foam around the hatch that leads to the attic. He took all his tools out and decided to climb up into the attic one last time to make sure that he hadn't left anything behind up there.

Up he went and somehow the hatch slammed shut behind him. The insulating foam he'd put around the frame that supported the hatch had made an extremely tight fit, which would help with heat loss. Unfortunately, this tight fit meant he had no way to open the hatch from within the attic itself.

Uh oh.

The spousal unit yelled. Nothing. This was, of course, a tribute to his insulating job, which not only kept heat from escaping from the house, but also muffled all sound in the attic.

Uh oh.

The spousal unit went to Plan B and started smacking the top of the hatch to the attic, hoping that the sound and vibration would attract the two women downstairs. Nothing. The radio, their conversation, the assorted sounds of cooking jelly left the women oblivious.

Uh oh.

The spousal unit knew there were several ways he could get out of the attic, but all of them would involve damaging drywall ceilings and he wasn't interested in doing that, so he kept up yelling and pounding on the hatch.

While the women were oblivious to the situation, Purrlah wasn't. She started pacing in the kitchen. Several times she walked from the kitchen to the base of the stairs and looked upwards towards where the spousal unit was trapped.

Her owner noticed Purrlah's agitation, and went to the base of the stairs where the cat sat, staring fixedly upwards. From the base of the stairs, the woman could hear the spousal unit. She quickly went upstairs, opened the hatch and set him free.

I now think of Purrlah as a tiny, cranky feline version of Lassie. I'm sure the cat would be appalled if she knew that.

We've had an extremely long, surprisingly warm autumn here in the boonies. A rational couple would have kicked back and enjoyed it, but apparently the spousal unit and I have lost the ability to kick back.

This fall I also discovered that the secret to taking on big, fairly complex projects is to do completely inadequate research.

Why? Well, by the time you realize what you've let yourself in for, it's too late. You just have to gut things out.

I don't know why I didn't realize this, but somehow I didn't pick up that the latest pond project is basically building an enormous in ground aquarium. Our other pond has a constant flow of water in and an overflow to let water out, so the water in it changes constantly.

The new pond is, well, a hole lined with sand, felt, and rubber and topped with geotextile. It is a closed system. A complex closed system which will have to be carefully balanced to create an environment hospitable to the fish I'd like to have and the plants necessary to keep the water in balance.

There will have to be a pump and filters and probably some sort of bubbling stone system. That bubbling stone will keep oxygen in the water during the hot summer months and a hole in the ice in the winter to allow carbon dioxide to vent so the fish don't smother.

This stuff can be stupidly expensive. Plus, there's special wiring that will have to be done to run the pump, filter and bubbling stone so that people walking around my pond don't get electrocuted.

I think I speak for us all when I say that electrocuting friends is a bad thing to do.

Did I realize any of this when I charged into this project? Well, I knew the electrocuting friends thing was a bad idea, but I wasn't on the beam about the rest of it.

If I had realized the scope and complexity of this project, would I have undertaken it?

No, no I would not have.

However, now that I am the proud owner of a big, ugly, rubber lined hole full of water, there's no choice. Next summer we'll soldier on and try to get the project wrapped up.

Oh yes, you can learn a lot from me. Too bad it's more about how not to live your life than it is about constructive life experiences.

Since this seems to be confession time, I should also add that I completely and utterly underestimated how difficult it would be to create something that's visually appealing. I thought it would be easy peasy to create a natural looking fish pond.

Wander over to Google images sometime and pull up as many pictures as you can of water gardens, natural fish ponds, Japanese water gardens. Go ahead. See anything that small scale that looked remotely natural or moderately attractive? Me neither.

I had no idea how stupidly hard it is to make a man made hole in the ground look like it kind of just, uh, happened. I am up poop creek with no visible means of propulsion.

The spousal unit, bless his heart, just refuses to give up. There was one moment when the two of us, confronted the 350 pound+ rubber pond liner (which had been folded accordion like in fifths and then rolled on to a huge cardboard tube) almost waved the white flag.

After dryly asking me, "You're sure you couldn't find something a little heavier and more complicated to move?" he figured out a way for us to move it with the tractor so that it wouldn't drag on the ground and tear. Even then, it was all the two of us could do to unwind, unfold and tug the thing into place.

Ignorance. I'm living proof that if you keep yourself ignorant enough you can do anything. This only works, though, as long as you have a partner with an extremely practical bent. I'm the one who has the bright ideas and gaily waves her arms. He's the one that actually makes it happen.

Time and money have run out. Next summer we'll tackle the mechanics of it and the finishing work. Now that I've had six weeks to live with it, I can see that integrating this pond into the landscape is going to be infinitely harder than I imagined. I can see it taking me five or six years to get the plantings right.

Sigh.

A few weeks ago was the Canadian Thanksgiving. Did we spend it at a groaning table surrounded by family? Uh, no.

The daughter decided to stay in Montreal because it was her boyfriend's 25th birthday. The rest of the family is dispersed hither and yon. We'd been invited to a 60 person plus Thanksgiving party, but the spousal unit wasn't keen.

So, to mark the holiday we covered our woodshed with siding. In our world it appears that three day holiday weekends are all about half killing yourself with yet again another massive project.

I sense a theme here.

A few years ago one of our neighbours decided she was tired of painting the cedar siding on her bungalow. She decided to tear it off, reinsulate her home, and throw on plastic siding. She said the spousal unit and I could have the siding if we'd take it off.

The spousal unit went down to check out the siding, said it was in excellent shape, so we took her up on it. A morning later there we were with a buttload of siding, which we dutifully stored.

The front of the siding looked terrible. There were multiple layers of cracked and peeling paint. But the backs of the boards were fabulous bare cedar. Flip those boards over and you're looking at some excellent siding. This summer I spent four days staining the backs of all the boards.

This summer was one of the rainiest we've ever had here. Every time we'd get ready to side the woodshed, there'd be another week's rain.

Then the big rubber lined hole in the ground project intervened. We'd pretty much given up the woodshed siding project as something for next year's to do list until we saw the forecast for Thanksgiving. Three days of unseasonably warm, dry weather.

For three days we worked until dark, measuring, cutting and nailing. Oh yes, we know how to kick back and enjoy a holiday. At one point it looked as if we would run out of wood, but the spousal unit managed to just squeak it out through careful use of the boards we had.

I love projects like this because they're what living in the country is all about. Our neighbour saved the cost of having the siding taken off her house and hiring a dumpster to take the wood away. We kept this wood out of a landfill and got $1,200 worth of free siding for our labour. Everybody wins here.

Plus, it involves an insane amount of work.

BONUS!

We got our first major snow this week. Most years I mourn the coming of the snow, but this year I was grateful to see it because it signals the end of another year of insane landscaping and home improvement projects.

This winter I get to hibernate and brood over the problems of finishing off and landscaping the pond. At the moment I can't face it. I predict that by Christmas, though, I'll be all hepped up and ready to go.

Or not.

Oh, and before I forget, we decided to lay off feeding the birds for six weeks to drive off tiny cranky skunk. We figured that the birds had lots of seeds to munch in my fall gardens. It worked. We put up the feeders again two weeks ago and all our feathered buddies have returned.

Fingers crossed that tiny cranky skunk doesn't materialize again next spring. That, that would be a major buzzkill.

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 370.91 miles.

Going Nowhere Collaboration

Goal for 2008: 500 miles


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