Friday, May 18, 2012

What Spring?

If you thought I have been loafing around planting bulbs, even spending my time exercising on a bicycle in one of the nicest areas in the country, or better yet on a kayak throughout the network of bayous in my neighborhoods instead of writing this blog you are wrong!  Well, partly.  In fact I have enjoyed a few kayak outings as our beautiful warm weather is beginning to disappear.  Most of the Snowbirds have or are returning to their spring and summer homes up north.  As for Spring?  I don't know that it exists here.  It is a period of time located between insufferable heat and pleasently hot.  Cool exists here for days at a time and is what could be termed winter, but...

Let's see.  I left you on normal Easter and a week later the Greek community celebrated theirs with a bit of a surprise for some of us.  The Orthodox rites were celebrated with fanciful processions at the large cathedral downtown, two blocks away.  Thousands marched on Friday following the Epitaphio (pictured above) in a rite of community and worship.  For my part I met up with some Greek friends and we had a good walk around the downtown while priests and a gaggle of other chorus sang and prayed.  To my secular thinking this was another social event for the town highlighted with fancy garb and gilt miters. Other similar events ensued on Saturday. 

What I did not know, was a little custom in the islands where our Greeks come from.  At 12:01 Sunday morning two major bombs went off in proximity to the cathedral and on the roof of a neighboring bar.  Results, all kinds of injuries to merrymakers while those in the cathedral no doubt rejoiced in their tradition of replicating the thunder and earth movement supposedly experienced when Jesus resurrected.  This is all fine and dandy but BOMBS!  Are these people nuts?  Well, you move into a colorful, distinct, cultural community to be surprised by bombs.  The festivities had been going on for days with smaller bombs that sounded like big fireworks.  Our town police had their hands full.  I recommend they get a hold of the FBI and homeland security and put them to work.

Bathroom as purchased deceivingly nice
The bulk of my time has been involved in a little bathroom remodel.  When I purchased the house the toilet seem to wobble a bit more than it should and a crawl through the underpinnings of the house revealed some deficiencies in the bathroom supporting framing.  When living in a hundred year old house you forget about all the projects you have to do and concentrate on the one you are working, otherwise you might run out into the streets and set off some bombs yourself.

I will not bore you with all the details because it is safe to say I have enough material to write my own screenplay on this project alone.  Needless to say that whoever made the improvements, as this bathroom has had a prior updating, did so with chewing gum and bailing wire, or that is what was left holding things up.  Removal of two vinyl floors and 4 luan plywood  leveling sheets left the toilet floating on a toothpick beam that was rotted.  I suspect it was the cast-iron piping that actually was holding it barely together. 

Discovering what lay ahead
Removal of all these cursory materials revealed a great air conditioning supply to the house.  I say this because Florida houses from this period float on piers three or so feet off the ground and have a flared skirt siding that allows for air to enter and vent these crawl spaces that keep the houses cool.  As such the houses built out of solid materials like heart pine and cypress last forever or until the termites eat them or toilets leak and rot the wood.

Opening the chasm and getting ready from new framing

Of course when I opened the walls to figure out the plumbing connections I found electric outlets in the middle of pipes, and pipes moved to wrong places to accommodate the electric outlets.  So the fix required multiple disciplines.  
Breaking ground in new territory.  My first tile floor!
Long ago, I built a marvelous modern house in Los Angeles.  Since then I have lived in older historic houses either as a fool or to practice all that I have learned from watching This Old House for thirty plus years!  A friend in Los Angeles told me that I had earned the equivalent to Boy Scout badges in Plumbing, Electricity, Carpentry, etc.  Well, over the years I have put all these badges to work and in the process have expanded my repertoire.

I have a local transplanted New Jersyite friend who does everything himself and is a perfectionist fixer upper.  He has every tool imaginable and when you drop in on him he is often working on one of his many projects in his own 100 year old house in Seminole Heights, Tampa (Blog to come on his great neighborhood).  His wife is German with those Teutonic perfectionist urges and they are a perfect couple.  They work as a team and have done some great work in their beautiful house.  So, when I needed a tool and I knew where to go and I got me a professional wet-saw for my virginal outing into this new trade.

The results, I hope speak for themselves.  The bathroom is compact and with the new tile floor and vanity it looks like a bit of a boutique hotel item.

On the garden front I will just show off my first bumper crop of mangoes.  After much care of mulching and feeding and pruning the damaged prior years of winter damage this mango and all those in the neighborhood seem like they will explode with fruit.  A neighbor came and told me to start bracing the fruit laden branches to keep them from breaking.

At the UU Church in Clearwater there is a marvelous lotus pond.  A Buddhist UU (we are a colorful lot) upon seeing my interest offered me a piece of the lotus that for now is in a large pot.  I don't think I will have an in ground pound like I did in Collingswood again, but I am considering a container pond of sorts.   

On an earlier blog I wrote about planting some Sequoia Redwood tree seeds and putting them in the refrigerator for weeks to get activated.  I will have you know that this exercise has produced three viable plants.  I don't know if that will constitute a grove when I take them up north to plant in my friends ranch in the hills of North Carolina, but they will do, nicely!

A break from bathroom reconstruction
While I was refurbishing my bathroom I could not help but think of a family story told to me by my mother long ago.  My grandparents lived in a little town 30 miles outside of Havana.  It took hours  to get there when I was a kid, but going there was a lot of fun.  It was an old 19th century house with few modern amenities exclusive of a bathroom.  The outhouse was located in the backyard in a building opposite the chicken coop and pigeon shed.  It was a rickety old building and we as children were never allowed to go there.  We used chamber pots that were properly kept in each of the eight bedrooms.  The possibly apocryphal story was that my Grandfather Gaudioso Cabrera was on his way to church and was dressed in all his white starched linen finery when at last minute he had need to go to the outhouse and due to its decrepit state a board collapsed and my poor grandfather fell in.  I kept thinking about how my own toilet was on the verge of going through the floor and was a little concerned about having people coming over for dinner and discover more about my underpinnings than I wanted to show them. Well as it happens the world is a circle whether you believe or not.  My Grandfather came to Tampa, not to Kayak, but to earn a living in 1900 as a cigar maker.  He earned enough money to go back to Cuba and marry my grandmother Teresa Diaz and raise a family.   Who knew I would eventually come to the Tampa Bay Area to write about his outhouse story?  Happy Gardening