Monday, August 25, 2014

Alone in Ecuador

This is going to be a rather personal blog.  I'm not saying you should run for your Kleenex or anything unless you have a cold.  I have two heroes.  Actually, I have a hero and a heroine.  Neither one of them is with me right now, but my hero, Bob, will be here in less than a month.  I'm trying not to count the days...yet.  Then there's my heroine, Rachel.  She's with her daughter, Dad, brothers, and favorite in laws in Tulsa.  She'll be visiting her son, daughter in law and grands in Philly too.  She's going to be gone until mid October.  I'm already getting hot dog fatigue.  Hardly an hour of any day passes without me thinking of my two heroes.

Bob and I were best friends in first grade.  We even did the blood brother thing where you cut your finger and join blood.  This was before anyone ever heard of HIV.   We were inseparable.  Remember the early scenes in Pearl Harbor where the two boys were in their imaginary airplane shooting enemy aircraft?  That was Bob and me, except our fighter was an old rusty livestock watering tank.    Bob had to move away to Minnesota when we were in 4th grade.  We were two miserable boys.  For a few summers we came to visit each other but then high school set in and we got involved with sports and girls.  We were in college and in the service at the same times in our life but in different parts of the world.  We returned to the Midwest after our service time and made our families and provided for them.  We saw little of each other for years but we were always close in spirit.

Then times changed.  Adversity makes you want to be with your life long best friend again.  You wonder if communication is still possible without speaking.  That's Bob and me.  Our friendship was never broken but there was a hiatus and God wanted us to be together again.

Bob and I were best friends from the first day of first grade and now at almost 64, we are still best friends.

Bob had a chunk of his colon taken out.  He's been doing the chemo thing too.  I flew back to Minnesota in April to see Bob and make sure the doctors were doing him good.  Now he's coming to Ecuador to see me.  I've been hoping and praying that his visit would be a reality.  On September 19 it will be.  I plan to help make this his best vacation ever.

So now about my heroine.  Rachel and I had something going on early in our life too.  It was the summer of 1962.  She was from Oklahoma.  I was from Iowa.  She had a bit of a (non-Iowa) accent and was an exotic 'city' girl.  I'd never had a girlfriend before but if I was ever going to have one, I sure hoped it would be her.

She amazed me with her 'can do' attitude.  She wanted to make sure that I knew she was absolutely fearless.  Her first foray into the hog yard gave me proof positive that this young goddess wasn't all about foo foo.  Later we rode double on one of our farm horses.  47 years later we spoke of that horseback ride in an email to each other when we were wondering if there was still chemistry between us.  I asked her if she remembered whether we were with saddle or bareback.   We exchanged emails frequently to each other for several months before she finally responded to my question.  "We were bareback".  I knew then that I wasn't alone in my thoughts.

In those interim 47 years Rachel and I saw each other only once over 20 years ago.  A lot of water had passed under our bridges.   I always had in my mind what she would look like.   I knew she was a cheerleader and homecoming queen in high school.  She was a finalist in a an Oklahoma State University beauty pageant.  She was an entertainer with the USO.    I was gaga over her when we were 12 but that was puppy love.  Now we were in our early 40's.

Well, she took my breath away, again.  However, she was married with children.  

Rachel and I never connected again until I was done with my responsible life in Iowa.  I had enough of corporate banking and long Iowa winters.  I was too young to retire but too old to start over.  Maybe I should just go live in Ecuador.  That's when Rachel caught wind that I was heading to South America.  Single for 15 years Rachel had no mind to be tied down with some guy at this stage in her life.  She loved her nursing job and had extended family all close.  However, this freckled farm boy (as she remembers me) from Iowa going to South America was a bit too intriguing for this middle aged dare devil.  We started emailing and pretty soon we had a latent 47 year fever stirring up again.  Our life paths joined once again.  We decided to physically meet each other before I left for Ecuador.  The meeting went well.  A month later she came to visit me in Cuenca and we rode horses around a mountain in Vilcabamba.  If you've read this blog, you know our romance.  Two months later we were married and living in Ecuador.  

I've kept my hat, but Rachel lost the Clairol.

So now you know my hero and my heroine.  I met them both when we were kids.  The things that bound us then bind us still.  

So now we flash forward.  Bob is coming for a visit to Ecuador in less than a month.  Rachel has already been gone for what seems a lifetime and still won't be back for over a month.  I am planning Bob's visit and dreaming of Rachel's return.  To keep myself occupied I've turned to my hobby and passion out in the yard.    It is how I express myself.  It is how I keep fit.  It is how I praise God.  Rachel already knows this about me and Bob is about to find out.  Rachel asked if I could send some pictures of our Eden and to show her some of my most recent Bohemian construction projects.  For Bob, I just want him to know that his vacation will include lots of hammock times watching the hummingbirds and soaking in the Andean scenery.  For Rachel, I want her to see some of the subtle improvements I've made in her absence and to see that despite our prolonged drought, I'm keeping everything alive and well.  I'm hoping she will get just a little homesick and decide to come back a little earlier than projected.

 pictures I'm going to share I took today.  I will make comments on each one.  For those who are visual, it's ok to skip the dialogue.  For those who want detail, I'll give it to you ad nauseum. 

  Mt. Cotacachi from our terrace.  Rachel and Bob, those ugly eucalyptus trees will be removed before either of you are here!  They are coming DOWN!  Oh what a sweet view of Mt. Cotacachi we will have.

The camel back mountain in the distance is Fuja Fuja.  There is something so artistic about this ancient volcano.  It's soft shadows make it seem like an artist's brush.  Bob, you and I will go visit the crater lake there when you come. It looks like a painting.  The shadows are always amazing.  In the foreground is a recent table/umbrella stand project.

What was once a plastic tub with concrete to support an umbrella is now a mobile and very substantial table and umbrella stand.   The whole assembly I put on a half section of discarded scaffolding and put wheels under it.  Later I discovered a large round industrial strength PVC side frame for a cable roll.  After no one else claimed it, I decided it would be a wonderful under-frame for a a round table piece.  A friend made us  a beautiful round table top with a lazy Susan in the center. Pass the ketchup please.  Never mind....spin.....
  Now we have a table that Rachel can dance on.

Beside the table in the picture is another concrete tub umbrella-holder-on-wheels.  On this model I used discarded window blinds for a decorative cover.  Bohemian enough for you yet?    You can see what an uncovered plastic planter looks like (adjacent) so now you know why I cover.

The strategy on covering the plastic planters going forward is simple:  Veronica.  No, that's not a girl.  It's a nice luxurious ground cover that lazily covers anything ugly.  I will show you what I mean later.

You see the nice thing about putting wheels on terrace furniture is quite obvious.  As the sun moves, as the wind blows, as the scenes of the day change, you want to be able to situate yourself where the scene speaks to your soul.  If you want sun protection without an umbrella, you roll up that giant yucca plant and hide in it's shade.

You see those red benches?  They used to be butt-ugly white.  Before that they were just butt-ugly but sturdy.   Those benches were among the first pieces of cobbled together outdoor furniture we had.  Because of that, they are special to Rachel and me.  The 8X8 eucalyptus stubs that hold up the massive planks were cuts from our rafters.  The planks were construction discards as well.  They may be too warped for construction, but they fit our behinds just fine.   I drilled holes through the rafter stubs and drove re-rod down the center for a solid lock.  Painting them brick red just makes them look a little softer don't you think?

Our terrace is 24' X 24'.  The views are magnificent.  One problem.  Before, when you came into the 'room' from the outdoor stairway you enter into this cavernously large place without a view but without a soul. You would had the feeling of standing on a scenic roller rink.  Rachel and I figured plants, and more more plants were the answer.  Having those plants on the outside walls was ok, but it still left the room cold because of it's sheer size.   I made a plant hallway and shrunk the room by a third.  Solar lights strategically placed lends themselves to a magical experience after dark and light the way.  The yuccas give privacy, the geraniums color, the veronica will hide those plastic pots in time.  The gold and red planter stands were just a crude but effective way to elevate and display the plant life.  I could talk hours about building with non square, non uniform crude lumber but paint is the great equalizer when precision is impossible.

 My most recent Bohemian Rhapsody is actually looking like a piece of furniture.  It wasn't meant to be.  That would ruin our motif.   It is made from the same old cruddy rough boards that I get in town.  It sits on a discarded scaffold with wheels, same as his brothers and sisters.  This one has a new twist.....I got some bamboo, cut in half lengthwise and I can covered the ugly gaps created from uneven edges.  The stain won't stay for years on bamboo but when it fades or peels it will leave a contrast to the other material. I'll decide later if natural aging is a good contrast.   This little number is obviously mobile, is the perfect height for a laptop computer to be viewed while sitting at the table.  It will also serve as a rolling buffet.....but wait......there's more.....

You take off the cover and voila!  A sink!  This may be the first entirely mobile terrace top sink in Ecuador.  You can have running water in the sink anywhere on the terrace.  It is serviced by a heavy flexible hose and from the unit itself is an even more flexible pocket hose that neatly rolls up in the sink when not in use.  In use, the pocket hose waters the dozens of plants upstairs that otherwise I had to water carrying up to 30 gallons a day with two pails up the stairs.  My life is so much easier now and I can wash the floor too.

But how do you drain the sink you ask?  Elementary Watson.  You just have a flexible drain hose and shoot it out on the floor to drain to the floor drain.  It helps keep the floor clean too.

For serious retirees there must be a hammocks in your yard or terrace.  Of course if you are an anally attentive retiree you have five such hammocks and locations.  I will devote another blog to hammocks and the fine art of hammockeering some day.  I am a fourth degree black belt hammockeer and will share my secrets at a later time.

Speaking of covering ugly gaps between the boards....I thought I would take the theory to my outdoor work table and outdoor sitting bench.  The work table also serves as my wheelbarrow garage.  I wanted to be able to keep the rain and the sprinkler water off of the wheelbarrow completely.  Problem solved.  I think it makes it kind of classy in a Bohemian sort of way too, don't you?

 Here's the thing, Bob.  When you come, these hammocks all have your name on them.  I will give you a thorough safety class and by the time your two weeks are up you will fly your hammock as we once did our P-51's.  Because you will not have your electric massage chair I will show you how these hammocks can be used for self chiropractic and massage endeavors as well.

Rachel,  I know you've been missing your craft room.  When you get home you will have these purple flowers smiling at you from outside.

   I also know you've been wondering about how I got that hose up to our portable sink.  It is the most wonderful vine arbor!  Those pink flowers are going crazy on our bedroom window!  This picture was taken a few days ago so you can see the wheelbarrow garage /work table before it had it's Bohemian (bamboo adornment) upgrade.

We are in late August.  In Cotacachi, Ecuador that means dry.  We could have a break in the drought any day but no one is holding their breath.  The reality is that keeping plants alive is tricky when the wind blows 40 mph, the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity is 25%.  There's about three months of the year in this neck of the woods where your lawn and gardens own  your garden hose.  Today there were some sprinkles.  I hope it is a harbinger of good things (real rain) to come.

So here's what's surviving this long dry blast.

Those orange flowered succulents just hang in there but I've moved them from the steepest slopes so I can give them a better drink now and again.

As long as you give them a drink every day geraniums just laugh at the sun and wind.  These are in front of Dodger's house.  He likes to have his house decorated and seems to approve.

This geranium was on the stairway to the terrace.  It was without flowers for months.  Two days on the sun drenched terrace and she's popping out flowers.  This is one of those geraniums that turns into a tree.  Imagine a geranium tree on out terrace!

We have no idea what this tree is called but it attracts hummingbirds all day long.   They love the nectar in the orange flowers.   Hummingbirds are the most territorial creatures you can imagine.  They are always chasing each other.  Today, things were different.  I think it is the mating season!  There was a lot of wing flopping going on but they seemed glad to be in each other's company.  Not sure where hummingbirds nest or how but I hope they make this tree their home.

You could call this tree a spring, summer, and fall tree.  It has brand new leaves and flowers at the same time it presents autumn colors with it's yellow leaves.  It is truly an entertaining tree.

This picnic table and benches was my first shot at Ecuadorian yard furniture.  The table frame is built from two scaffold sections bolted together.  The legs are heavy eucalyptus posts.  The benches are made from eucalyptus beam stubs and window and door headers too warped even for Ecuadorian construction.  No one ever wanted to sit on the benches it seemed.  I decided to put these mas suave boards on the tops of the benches to give our bottoms a little more comfort.   I'm hoping this might become a preferred Mexican Train station.  An umbrella bracket is in my short term plans and will bring needed shade to this position.

For those who don't know what I mean by rough cut lumber, here's a close up!  Rustic, strong, practical, and a challenge to build, they are great fun.  You can see why I added the extra dimension for our posteriors. That beam was like sitting on a rail.

Benches and hammocks are a central theme in our yard.  I take lots of breaks.  I'm supposed to be retired you know.  Having places to sit down at various locations keeps your perspectives active.

Sometimes benches are just supposed to be there whether you sit on them or not

 Actually, just thinking about work makes me tired sometimes.

 Keeping the yard weed free and watered is an effort but your reward is color.  When we start getting rains again it will really come alive.

Oh, and my dear Rachel....I haven't neglected your beautiful plants in the house....they all miss you though!

By the time you get home you will no longer need blinds on your craft room windows!