Friday, December 28, 2012

What happened to 2012?

We thought we had things figured out for 2012.  We were just going to steady the course, keep everything as it is, and just coast for my husband's first year of retirement. 

Instead, in our usual fashion, we changed our minds.  We decided instead to downsize and hit the floor running by announcing to our surprised children in January that we were thinking of selling our New York home of 30 years.  Then, after we decided that we should sell our home, we also decided that it was a good time to renovate our 500 square foot seasonal cottage at our lake.  Then we decided to renovate the 200 square foot guest cottage so that there would be sufficient space to have kids visit in the summer months.

Having just about filled up every waking moment with the job of examining our closets and bookshelves, throwing things out, making runs to our local  library with book donations, then driving over to Goodwill with some of our belongings, then having a garage sale for some of our furniture, and then readying our home for sale, then completing our transactions with the various contractors who did the renovation,  we decided that we should also begin looking for a condominium. 

We looked everywhere.Then we decided just to skip getting a condo.  Then we changed our minds again, and we picked up a condo in Portland, Oregon.  

By the end of 2012, we managed to sell our New York home of 30 years and complete the cottage renovation.    

I really did not believe that we could have packed much else in this first year of my husband's retirement!  Looking back at the year that I retired, I guess we did something almost equally crazy.

With respect to 2012, we are grateful for our children’s patience, for their love and support, and for our loyal group of grandchildren, who always manage to make us look on the bright side of life.  

This is best summarized, perhaps, by one of our grandsons when he and his family visited us at the cottage this summer.  He sneaked out of the main cottage where he slept with his Mom and Dad and baby sister, to knock on the door of the small wooden guest cabin to visit his Grandma and Grandpa who were sitting in bed together for their morning cup of coffee.  He crawled into bed with us, where we were surrounded by boxes, blankets and items stacked in the corner while the renovation was being completed.  The early morning sun was coming through the windows. 

He looked around and said, “This is my favorite cabin in the whole world.” 

For a couple of doting grandparents, it doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

After Sandy, What Next?

Hurricane Sandy raged through the Caribbean causing much damage, destruction and death  We wondered what she would do next as she roared up the eastern sea coast.   There was so much commotion in the news about her impending arrival

Almost exactly one year ago, we were warned about the dangers of Hurricane Irene.  Would this be a situation where the bark of the dog was bigger than its bite?  We had survived Irene relatively unscathed. Were these warnings the real thing this time?  Public news announcements and warnings continued throughout the day  and along with everybody else we prepared for the storm.  We filled up jugs of water, bought a battery operated radio, checked for candles and matches, stored some extra food and wood for the fireplace, then hunkered down and waited.

Neighbors looking over damage in front yard.
Toward evening, the winds  started to blow more incessantly.  In the early evening we looked out our window into the valley and saw what looked like fireworks as transformers exploded and sparks flew.   Soon after, we watched most of the village go black.  It was 8:25pm and most of us had no electricity.  We watched the fireworks, the whipping trees, then finally went to bed.  Then at around 3am my husband and I awoke at the sound of an enormous crash.  We looked out the windows, counted all the trees and didn't see any missing.  When we opened up the front door to see what we might see,  we heard the winds roaring over our heads, sounding like a train going by.  Eventually we went back to bed and fitfully slept, waiting for the morning light.

Down by the Hudson River, there was a lot of water damage and flooding.  I took this photo of the river from our local library.

Hudson River after the storm


Fallen tree in neighborhood

Once the rains and winds calmed down, we grabbed our jackets and went outside to see what was happening. Fallen trees and branches were all around us.  Some had fallen on cars, some on homes and some across electric lines and onto the street.  The damage was considerable.  

Cottage damaged from fallen tree
After several days, we also drove an hour away and checked out our seasonal cottage up in northwest Connecticut.  Although our little cottage was fine, our neighbor's was damaged very severely by a fallen tree. 

 On the way we witnessed lines for gasoline that were very long and sometimes used police management to keep the lines orderly.  My husband counted 52 cars in one line, just waiting for gas to be pumped. 

Line for gasoline station is on the right.

For the following week, wind and water damage and shortages of electricity, gasoline and heat was all we talked about.  We shuddered to learn of the deaths and destruction that happened, especially along the coast. Commuting stopped.  Schools were closed.  Businesses also closed, or opened their doors under difficult conditions.

Sign on front door of local store
From a personal point of view, we were very lucky. Many homes were severely damaged by water and some were destroyed. Our home was not damaged by the storm.

Here are some personal examples of ways that our own situation changed that week we had without electricity, internet, or telephone.

First, we came up with a very fancy heating system in the kitchen by filling up pots with water and heating them up on the stove and letting them radiate heat.  It sort of worked.  We felt lucky that the top of the gas range worked. We reverted to lanterns and candles for lighting.  And we went to bed early.

Lighting system

Our hot water heating system

Refrigeration system
Then, things got better for us personally, when our neighbor shared a line from his generator with us, allowing us to have a light in the kitchen and to use his internet.  That was a huge improvement.  Everybody pitched in and helped out.  On the whole, there was very little complaining and a whole lot of good spirit. 

We were also lucky because we have a gas hot water heater that continued to give us hot water.  Numerous people came over and showered at our place.  It felt good that we had something to offer.  But here we are, more than seven days away from the storm, and we still have a lot of people without heat, light, or in some cases, even a home.

There are still roughly 500 households in our little village that have no electricity, and we are expecting a pretty big storm tomorrow.  People are worried about how the northeast will handle this big storm so soon after Sandy.

We got an email message from our Hastings mayor, Peter Swiderski this evening that updates us on the situation and also very effectively summarizes the frustrations that we feel.

Here is the first part of his message:

Fellow Residents -

Perhaps the most frustrating day yet – aside from some assessment teams looking at the remaining damage, not a single restoration crew was in town today.  Not one.  Con Ed offered no good explanation other than they were allocated elsewhere and they once again proved a disconnect between what they say in the evening and what happens the next day.  Howls were met with apologetic shrugs.

The mayors of the various village and towns in the Con Edison service area are experiencing very similar frustration – teams yanked unexpectedly, unreliable predictions, poor information. When this crisis has passed, there will be hearings and inquiries on these issues – very clearly, while this storm presented a historic challenge, there are huge issues with Con Ed’s resource allocation, information provision and planning. A number of residents reported Con Ed robocalls in the evening indicating they would be lit this morning, only to wake to the crushing disappointment of nothing but cold and dark.  Cruel. I can only say that if you are without power, about the only thing Con Ed can say for certain is that it will be restored.  Believe nothing about when until the lights come on.  I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I have seen too many people just crushed.

Almost too much to consider, the upcoming storm expected tomorrow is predicted to start mid-afternoon involve rain and wind and proceed through the night.  Locally, it is likely to involve sustained winds of 20-30mph winds with gusts of forty or more.  It may turn into the a wintery mix overnight.  YOU ARE STRONGLY ADVISED TO SLEEP IN A LOWER STORY AWAY FROM POSSIBLE TREE IMPACTS if there are tall or overhanging trees in the vicinity.  They may be weakened and this may be just what they need to go over. If you are unheated, and have doubts about handling temperatures likely to dip five degrees colder than we have seen, please accept the offers of housing from the Village or your family and friends.
We can only hope and pray (hard) that the storm will stay far enough to sea so that it impact is lessened.  I hate to say it, but bring the flashlights and lanterns out, line up the batteries, and brace for impact. We just don’t know for sure, but I think we’ve learned to have an abundance of caution."

Sandy arrives

Our mayor said it perfectly.  We don't know when things will get better for our neighbors.  And we are not happy with the current outcome.  

 It is not clear what this next storm holds.  But there are predictions of snow and cold while people are still without heat.  This has been a very fragile repair job to our electric lines, to the distribution systems, roads and homes, and I am not sure that things will hold with a storm so immediately following that blast we just received from Sandy. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy is on her way

Earlier this morning, around 8am I took this shot of the sky over Hastings on Hudson.  The clouds were in long fat rolls of different shades.  There was little wind.  We expect this to be an eventful day, and we are concerned with the outcome.  But, right now, it is beautiful and quiet outside, but dark and ominous.

It is now 3:09 in the afternoon and half the sky is bright and shiny; half the sky is grey and rainy.  The winds are gusty and coming in the opposite direction from usual.  Trees are swaying.

We took precautions, as advised by our governor and our mayor of NYC.  We left Connecticut early in order to get back to New York to prepare the house for the storm.  This morning we prepared vegetarian meals to get us through a loss of electricity that is expected.  We have filled up containers with water, cleared off the decks, and are now sitting tight.

The worst thing to do now is to peek at the news to see what is coming.  It doesn't look good.  The alarms just went off in our village.   I have seen photos showing flooding by the river into our local parks.  Most of us are a bit nervous and concerned, but at this point there is little we can do beyond watch it happen.  I worry about the size of the damage that is about to be done.  Such a large area is affected by this storm.

My husband's flight to California on Wednesday was just canceled. The subways system, and all public transport in the city and areas surrounding it are stopped.  The buildings in south Manhattan where our son works are evacuated.  Wall Street is silent.  This is not a happy day.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Potholes can be pretty

According to a guerrilla group of gardeners who are gardening on public lands,   a garden can be so small that it fits in a pothole, a purse or a shoe.   Pothole Gardening: An Example   What a playful idea this is.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Learning to Live in Small Spaces

We seek  ways to make our transition easier as we move from a big home to a smaller one.  A site that is very helpful to me is the Tiny House Blog .  This blog draws attention to the many ways in which living in a small space can be both challenging and fun. 

I can vouch for one thing already.  Downsizing to a smaller home is invigorating.  It provides lots of exercise just running up and down the stairs, for example, carrying mattresses, blankets, sleeping bags, boxes of old toys.  And then there are all the pieces of furniture to move around, like dressers and couches, old cots and tons of books.  

Recycling is a very popular activity.   Yesterday, we put a sign sign saying "Free" on some items we put out in the front yard, next to the front road.  It included a large chair and ottoman, barbells and weights, and a lamp.  Much to our pleasure and surprise, they were all gone in a matter of a few hours.  It feels like a miracle to put items no longer wanted or used outside and watch them usefully disappear.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Leaving Home and Garden

It is not easy to leave our home and garden after thirty years.

View from South Deck
Our home is located in the Hudson Valley and our garden is on a long and steep slope that eventually ends up at the Hudson River, facing the Palisades. When we walk to the train station to go to the city for work, we walk 0.7 miles straight down the steep slope to the river, using a sidewalk, of course, and not by rappelling in our backyard.

Our garden is a small tamed area sitting on a slope in rather wild and natural surroundings.  It is a place to enjoy for all seasons and has a character all its own in spring, summer, fall and winter. For as long as we have lived here, we have worked on taming it, just a bit.

When we sell our home, we leave the garden behind, but we will take our gardening ideas to our next location  and will design and experiment in a new context.  We have several principles that we use in our garden that will no doubt apply to the next:  
  1. The fun never stops; 
  2. Our legs and back always ache and we are on our knees a lot; and
  3. If you water the lawn very heavily, it will rain.

We practically have no lawn on our property.  What lawn that we do have is set on a terrace and is surrounded by flowers and bushes that mingle and match in their own ways. As the years have moved along it has become quite unpredictable what flowers we will find in the spring that have settled into our lawn.

Our North Deck in Summer

The north deck overlooks the small lawn and peers out into the terraced garden.  The deck is low and faces the Palisades.  We have spent many a summer dining out here on this deck with the children.

North Deck in Spring

South Deck in Winter

The south deck overlooks the Palisades and the Hudson River and sits much higher.
South Deck in Summer
 In any season, this deck is a great spot to watch the sun set.

Our garden is sloped and terraced. 

 There are stairs to help us get from one level to the other.

  The garden shifts from tame to wild as it heads toward the woods.

We get an interesting perspective on our garden from our attic window.

The circle of bricks surrounding the bird bath out front was built by my husband as a gift to me, some ten years ago.
The plants that we have put in in the garden are not treated in any way with chemicals.  These roses are neither fertilized nor treated with chemicals, nor are they watered regularly.  Yet, for thirty years, they have grown multiplied and thrived on the slope.  At the top of the garden slope, we compost leaves, all our cuttings and vegetable scraps from our kitchen.  The result has been wonderful. 

In the autumn, the Palisades are in full view from the North Deck, as is the Hudson River, from the South Deck. 

THere is a patch of flowers left  as a gift for me in the middle of the lawn by my son when he went to college. 
He mowed around them and said to me, "Here Mom, a present, something to remember me by."  Fifteen years later, in the spring, they are still popping up in the center of the lawn.  

 It makes me smile.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fixing Up the Old Cottage

The work is begun.

We are renovating our seasonal cottage so that we can live in it comfortably in spring, summer and fall. That sounds rather simple, doesn't it?  But our goal has resulted in a pile of old materials heaped up in our yard that used to be our old interior kitchen and bathroom walls.  We will soon have new walls, freshly painted and tiled and all this rubble will be removed.  But for now, it looks pretty messy. 

We are removing old appliances such as our 1952 Frigidaire made by General Motors and still running beautifully even though it eats a generous amount of electricity and has no defrosting capabilities.  But at least it still runs after 60 years.  We have put it up for sale and I am sure someone will give it a good home. We talked about keeping this wonderful old fridge, but decided to get a new one that has a freezer on the bottom to reduce the amount of time that we spend kneeling in front of our refrigerator as though it were a sacred relic or famous religious leader.

If there is an interested buyer who is on a diet, I might add that one asset of this refrigerator is that it takes two hands (and sometimes two people) to get the door open and if you are a little kid at least one foot as well.  This reduces the amount of time spent snacking on unnecessary food items and it is also good exercise for people who need their arms (and perhaps their legs) strengthened.

If we get depressed from looking at this heap of rubble, all we do is go around the front of the cottage and look at the lake instead.  It reminds us why we are doing this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Downsizing: What does it mean?

 Our footprint is too big!  We are holding down the fort on a five bedroom, three bathroom home.   We kept the children's three bedrooms as they left them, expecting that they might come back.

For the first decade after all our kids left for college, they did come and go,dropping off more stuff in their rooms with each visit.  They came home for the summer break, and between summer internships, left for graduate school, came home for weekends and vacations, showed up for short-term jobs, and eventually got their own apartments, leaving more items at home, in their room, and in the basement. They left behind their childhood books and toys, school books, skis, sweaters, jackets, gloves, boots, sleeping bags, posters,old correspondence, lecture notes,records,CD's, and the list goes on.

Then came our second decade after our children graduated from high school and left for college.  All three or our adult children acquired their own homes or apartments and are busy with careers and jobs, their own families and friends.  We are very happy that they are all independent.  They are now making their own collections of furniture, books and children's toys.  We can visit them and read their books, sit on their furniture  and play with their kid's toys!

We are about to go into our third decade since our eldest child left for college.  We see the need to downsize our home to fit our current needs. We are two people with a large network of family and friends. Our children and friends visit, but they don't live with us except for very short periods of time. As of this year, we are both retired.

We have always had plans, goals, and things to do.  We don't expect that this will change.  We are making plans for this upcoming decade. One big plan is to have a smaller footprint.

We have a habit of sipping a cup of coffee in the morning while still sitting in bed, and talking things over.  The other day, we decided to list our current downsizing goals.  Here they are.
  1.  Have what we need; 
  2.  Need and use what we have;
  3.  Live simply and respect the environment;
  4.  Keep a place to hang our hat and call home and welcome others into it;  
  5.  Eat nutritious food, sleep well and get regular exercise;
  6.  Enjoy good friends and meet some new ones; 
  7.  Continue learning and develop new skills;
  8.  Be available to our children, grandchildren, family and friends;
  9.  Contribute to our community;
  10. Be appreciative and thankful for what we have and show our gratitude. 
1960's renovated home
Our children and grandchilddren at the beach
This decision to live more simply happened over a period of time and not overnight.  We started our retirement plan several years ago when we found a 1960's home to renovate in the Bahamas, and bought it as is, even though we were both still working at the time. It is now fully renovated and we live there during the heaviest part of winter.  We have established good friendships in the Bahamas and live in a wonderful, eclectic community.  We eat a lot of fresh fish caught locally and take our salads from our garden in the backyard and share food through exchanges with our neighbors, both Bahamian and foreign. Our adult children and their families visit us in the winter for long beach walks, ocean swimming, kayaking and family reunions and we all enjoy the respite.
As a second step in the direction of downsizing and living more simply, we are making plans to sell our home of thirty years.  It is an absolutely beautiful home, infused with sunlight, sitting on a slope with great views of The Palisades, with a lovely garden, and plenty of memories. We commuted to our jobs in New York City from this place.  We brought up our children and schooled them here.  We will always love this home.  But now we are done with the commute, we no longer need this school system and the high taxes that come with it, and we live alone. It is time to share this wonderful house with a family that can really use it.  I know that they will love it as much as we have. 

Storm damage

As a third step in this direction we are reconstructing a tiny lake cottage that we have owned and used for 20 years as a hide away and camping site.  We are taking our 500 square foot lake cottage with a 200 square foot guest cottage and reconstructing it so that we can live in it more effectively.   The cottage is seasonal, small, charming, and outdated.  Our refrigerator is fully functioning and 60 years old (American made, I might add) ; the  cottage walls are crumbling, the floors are tired and after two trees fell on our bedroom during a summer storm, it is well-ventilated It is a 1940 seasonal wooden cabin that was last renovated in 1950.  For years, I have called it "our little wooden tent". It has a great stone fireplace and terrific access to the lake.  But it needs to be brought up-to-date, and the holes in the walls sealed to keep out extra critters who visit without invitations.

We just started working on the renovation. When we are through with the renovation, it will continue to be a 500 square foot cottage with a 200 square foot guest cottage and it will still be seasonal.  It will be small, charming, and hopefully, up-to-date.  We are renewing the appliances, strengthening the walls, and preparing it to house us in the spring, summer and autumn.

When we are done with the renovation, I plan to stop calling it "our little wooden tent" and will hopefully call it instead,  "our little renovated wooden tent".

It sounds easy to make a simple plan like this.  But, of course, it gets complicated.  In all fairness, we started to downsize several years ago when we found the home to renovate in the Bahamas and chose to live in a t-shirt and shorts for most of the winter. We have now figured out where we will live in spring, summer and autumn, which includes selling our home of thirty years and setting up our new living arrangements for summertime at the cottage. One of our goals is to not own a furnace.  We are almost there.

In the process of getting ready to sell our home, we have some big steps to take.

First, we have to get busy and  sell things, give things away, recycle the rest and put as little as possible in the garbage. We don't want to downsize by filling up the dump.  That defeats our purpose.

Second, we must store items that might be useful for living in a year-round condominium at a future date and also keep certain items for our children in case they want or need them in the years to come.

Third, we will put our estate plans in order, all papers accounted for, and everything set up for easy transference if something happens to us.  And we have to locate the papers in a place where they are  readily accessible and kept up to date.

Fourth, we will expect the unexpected. Without a doubt, there are all the things that we didn't yet think about, but will realize that we should have done.  And there are all the unexpected outcomes of our current decisions that we haven't yet experienced and don't yet realize the implications.
It could get complicated, but we hope not.  After all, this is a blog about simple living for complicated people.  How complicated can it get?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Woodturning in Bahama Palm Shores

Steve Knowles
One of our neighbors down the road, Steve Knowles,has a hobby of woodturning in native Bahamian wood.  Beautiful bowls and other artifacts that he turns are then sold at local art fairs.  His workshop has become a popular stopping place for Abaco Nature Tours to visit when they bring bird watchers to Bahama Palm Shores to observe the Abaco parrots  and other birds. 

I often stop by to see what Steve is making.  Our out of town guests ask whether they might visit Steve's workshop and see what he is turning out.  They like to take Bahamian arts and crafts home with them.

Steve works with wood from a number of native trees including mahogany (Swietenia mahogany), mahoe (Hibiscus tiliaceus L. Malvaceae), tamerind (Tamarindus indica), red cedar (Juniperus bermudiana) and poison wood (Metopium toxiferum), among others.

Wood stock
Light is focused on the bowl Steve is turning.

Toy top

His workshop is filled with all kinds of equipment and tools for turning wood. Wood shavings are piled in the corners and logs are on the floor. It is a very productive and active place.
Lantern bases

There are examples of wood that he has turned into bowls, lanterns, trivets,  and tops for children, among other things.
Street signs
Lately, Steve has been making up road signs to help people figure out where they are on the way to Hole in the Wall and other places nearby, where signs are scarce. He asked whether we saw some of the signs he had put up when we went down on our tour to Hole in the Wall last week, and I told him we had seen them along the way.  It helped us to know where we were in the national forest.

He has a whole set of billy clubs that he has prepared for use by local fishermen, that are made out of a variety of woods. Of course, we always joke around about the many uses that we might find for such an item.

Then he showed us the trivets he was working on. We have  trivets that Steve made hanging in our kitchen.  They are also pretty to see on a decorated table, and are great for placing hot bowls of food.

Many of the trivets that he makes are shaped like various kinds of fish.  Sometimes he adds color to their eyes to jazz them up a bit.  Some trivets are beautifully plain and show off the grain of wood that he has used to make them.

The trivets can also be used as cutting boards and are very functional and look good when placed around the kitchen workspace.

We looked at a number of bowls that he made.  They are all so beautiful that it is difficult to decide which one is our favorite.  Here are some recent examples of his work.
Madeira Wood 2008

Fig wood 2012
Tamarind Wood 2012
Mahoe wood 2009

Fig Wood 2012
Some bowls were still poised to be turned and completed. 

Steve is also a conservationist who is concerned about native trees and protecting the local environment.  When we talk, he encourages us to be knowledgeable of and to respect native trees.  He emphasizes that the wood he gets is from trees that were felled by storms or branches that have fallen. Steve encourages the planting of native trees so that others will have the pleasure in the future of viewing them in the forests of Abaco and in our yards.

Steve Knowles is one of the many talented and interesting people living in the Bahama Palm Shores community, which makes it a very nice place to live as well as visit.