Monday, September 12, 2011

It might as well be fall...

idyllic picture of my bungalow from the St Michael Shrine across the street

For a few days the temperature here has relented from its summer mode and the results are that of what could be considered Paradise. The sun is shining with a little less force and we have even managed a cloudy day. It has made some of us do something unthinkable: open a window. For months we have lived cocooned in our air conditioners not straying much outside except for the early hours of the morning when the temperature hovers in the mid 70's. Well, the seasons they change, change, change...

I have taken a subscription to the St. Petersburg Times which I find intellectual and uplifting and if I do say so myself, liberal and left leaning in these radical conservative times. It is a fine newspapers maybe better than those that I was used to reading back in Jersey. With the exception of the New York Times. Most of those papers were fairly uninspiring as they were produced in an environment where left leaning liberals were the norm. Here where we are rare it seems that we have a solid voice of support by this independent newspaper that is not part of any conglomerate chain and therefore has its own voice of liberal reason.

My voice was recently heard at our church as I was asked to give some explanation as to why I joined this faith. I, as the youngest member of this group and only a three year old UU had a few things to say. It was nice to hear from others who had their own revelation of the meaning of community and why they joined. Today we celebrated the 104th birthday of the oldest member of our flock, Augusta. She is quite a character with a joyous sense of life.

But in spite of Fall, cool off, or church sermons the project at hand remains to get the house up to snuff. I lived in such a wonderful space before that I am on a deadline to return myself to that environment as soon as possible. This week and for the past two weeks I have been restoring a closet that was, how shall I put it? A bit of a mess! It has a wonderful little window, but as I know from the past closets with windows are dangerous to bleaching out your clothes. So must have been the concerns of the prior owners as they nailed everything possible around the entire frame of this window to keep light out. My task has been to repair these as well as the other hundreds of holes they put in walls, frames, you name it. When fully functional I will share with you the results for now it suffices to say that this closet has a better view than most closets and better than many houses!

The project of the week has been looming for months since I first purchased the house. The central gravity flow furnace sat in the center of the house between the living room and the dining room. It measured roughly two by three feet but was about five feet tall. It hung from the floor and projected deep into the crawl space of the house sitting above the sand.

Lacking a truck or a strong enough assistant to help me get it out it has sat there until I found someone devoted enough to me and my cause who would lend the necessary muscle and pickup to get it out. I found one in a dear friend at church who borrowed a truck to help me and we got it out. On the side we noticed its patented date of 1940. Not surprising for a hundred year old house to have a 71 year old furnace. I should say that it has not been in use for quite some time. I can't say when it was last in service.

Once we got the furnace out of its hole we notice a certain rust line running about halfway up the structure. If intelligence serves me I suspect that during a storm in the past the furnace must have been inundated to about that magical rust line. If so, I am safe to think that the house has never flooded but not by much. If I project that line into the structure it would seem that water was about three feet off my porch.

As with the old A/C, the furnace has joined recycling efforts in Florida. I knew that everything was so clean down here because I saw cleaning trucks along our streets very often. In New Jersey, in spite of exorbitant taxes I could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times a saw a street sweeper. Here, they come all the time. Not only is everything clean but there is no large debris laying around anywhere. The reason for this zeal is a strong demand for recyclables and a poorer population that drags everything not bolted down to get some payment.

As you can see even golf carts seem to make it there and aluminum cans and other metals are also in high demand. My seventy plus year old furnace weighing roughly two hundred pounds provided me $20.00. Not bad for a piece of junk weighing down my floor.

On a similar subject I just saw an awe-inspiring movie of Artist Vik Muniz and his efforts to transform garbage, from Jardim Gramacho (the largest municipal dump in the world) out side of Rio de Janeiro, into art. Called Waste Land, the film is a testament to the will of humanity and its enduring strength to overcome conditions most of us can't even imagine.

On a lighter side I will tell you that the first lemon fell off my tree. Yes fall is here and citrus that flowered last winter are ripening. My efforts to feed all the plants in the yard are slowly paying dividends. The Ponderosa lemon appears to have a bumper crop and this medium-sized lemon was destined to lubricate my vodka tonic. Cheers and Happy Gardening!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One More Time Into the Fray

Jatropha multifida, this beauty native to Nigeria and cousin to Poinsettia was given to me for the garden. As you can see it likes it here.

Yes, it is one more time into the fray. I say this because I thought that all the work that I had done in restoring my house and creating the Collingswood garden would pay off for a lifetime. Guess, what? I am lucky for I have had a chance to re-invent myself yet again and dispel any silly phrases such as this.

Yesterday, I received my insurance renewal and it made me think that the one year anniversary is coming up since I bought the Tarpon House. It has been slow going as I had two houses there for awhile and then that little job and the trying to sell the Collingswood house in the middle of our lovely economy. All that has passed and I had another birthday, closer to collecting Social Security - in spite of what that other moron Perry from Texas said about it being a Ponzi scheme.

I bought this house knowing that it needed a lot of work and I have been at it. I have taken out some of the improvements that the prior owner created and returned the house to its original configuration. A hallway that once connected the master bedroom to a nursery and bathroom was reassigned as a sort of a walk in closet. Unfortunately, some people need access to the bathroom in the middle of the night and don't want to go on a tour of their house to get there. The results has brought back some of the original beauty of this old bungalow.

In the process of this restoration I took on removing the paint from the original trim. Once a grey chocolate stain covered all the woodwork in the house. During what is no doubt a few prior inhabitants, the trim went from the original stain to mustard, to shocking pink, to multiple shades and coats of white paint. This is not that many coats given that the house will be a century old next year. Some heavy elbow grease has revealed the wondrous way that the woodwork defined this house.

The nursery had stayed as a child's room or even a sewing room when I first saw the house. Needless to say, I don't have need for a nursery but certainly enjoy the proximity that it has to my bedroom and bathroom and have allocated this room as a TV/Sitting room/Library.
Due to its small size and lack of closet it makes for a cozy arrangement that I enjoy. It also overlooks the rear garden which is another work in progress.

The master bedroom has also come a long way from the way it was. I had to modernize the closet to accommodate more items (given that I only have one closet now) but with nine foot ceiling you can be creative with all these closet accessories.

None of the rooms are finished as I am having some trim recreated by a mill in Tampa that caters to owners of historic houses. They have everything you can imagine by way of original trim, floors custom milled to your needs for the same price you buy cheap pine at Home Depot or Lowes. So much for the modern supplier!

But the story continues to be about the garden. In spite of all the time I have taken ripping out walls, fixing plaster, matching woodwork, I still prefer to garden more than anything. The tropical rains have been pounding us in Florida and you all along the Northeast with regular ferocity.

When it pours I either sit and read the paper in the long porch or work on another of my interior fixes. It will be a while before the inside comes together whereas the outside is shaping up fast. With all this hot humid and constant rain you can plant anything or make cuttings and stick them in the ground to see them flourish in a few weeks.

I have slowly removed nine hibiscus plants that bordered the front of the house and were stunted with over pruning to make them fit a location where they should have never been planted. I am slowly creating a planted front yard that will softened all the pavement around my corner lot. Initially I feared that the hibiscus would not survive due to the blistering heat and the shock I anticipated from transplant. I root pruned all these about two months ago and scaled the plants back to a third their size. Little by little I tested digging them up one at a time or as much heat as I could take outside before escaping to the air conditioned comfort of interior remodeling. Somehow I have discovered that Hibiscus are very hardy plants indeed. Far more than I ever considered mollycoddling them as interior plants in New Jersey.

With the arrival of the tropical rains most of the plants did not seem to even notice that I had transplanted them and started blooming. I also received some nice plants from my friend  Julia in for my birthday. What a great idea to send someone a pineapple plant!

One of the great recoveries is that of my Plumeria that has wondered the country like me since leaving Los Angeles. It bloomed a few times in a pot while in Collingswood, but never with any vigor. Here in the tropics it has found the home it was looking for. In spite of this miserable soil lacking any nutrients it is a survivor - more than that it thrives! It has come home and has started anew.

Today is September 11 and I think of all those people who got up that day and went to work like I did, but did not get another chance to do much more than make it into our collective memory as heroes of that insanity not so long ago. So, I am very lucky to get to go once more into the fray of living and enjoying life even if it means remodeling another house and creating another garden. Happy Gardening!