Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ice and Fire Updates

On November 13 my son and his wife were back in their Westlake Village house, safe, and with no damage. Power is on. The Woolsey fire is still dangerous and still being fought, but they are safe at their home, though much is burned in three directions around them.

My daughter in law's parents at Sherwood Lake are evacuated, but safe, and their home is not threatened now. Flames in the canyon below came within yards of their house on Tuesday the 13th before countervailing winds and firefighters stopped the spread there.

On November 13 the overnight low in Santa Fe was 11 degrees. During the day it barely got above 30 degrees, and ice patches and snow linger. This is insane.

I never got the water out of Big Red The Rain Barrel, thinking I had plenty of time before Thanksgiving to drain it and tip it on its side for winter. The whole barrel is a block of ice encased in red plastic now.

Fire. Ice. November.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Song of Ice and Fire *

I woke up this morning to 21 degrees outside and this scene:

It's only mid November -- barely. There's not much of it, but it's a hard, icy snow, and as I got up and dressed I could hear the sound of scrapers on windshields as neighbors scraped their cars to get to work. I left New England because of this, you know.

In California fires continue. My son and his wife are still at her aunt's house, and safe and well cared for. They told me about evacuating their home:

What they packed
At four in the morning the choices you make are baffling. They stuffed a suitcase and a duffel bag in 20 minutes and headed out of their Westlake Village, CA home before dawn last Friday, under mandatory evacuation orders.

When they got to a relative's safe, welcoming place in Orange County, they opened their bags and discovered what they had brought so hurriedly:
Important papers, laptops and passports, a bathrobe, a down puffer coat and multiple pairs of shorts. Underwear. Nothing to wear to work the following week. Absolutely nothing to wear to court. They are both still out of their home this week and need to go to work, but wearing a down coat over shorts and a bathrobe isn't going to be appropriate.
Local services
Zaneta's mother was able to get to their house over the weekend. It's in an unburned zone, surrounded by active fires, but untouched, and still under mandatory evacuation as roads are closed and Santa Ana winds still threaten to overwhelm the neighborhood.

Her Mom checked on the house -- it's fine -- and brought in the mail. Wait, there was mail delivery during the fire event?

Tom and Z are living nicely at her aunt's house far from danger. Eating out, enjoying their hospitality, playing some golf -- although golf attire was shorts and a bathrobe.

They feel terrible about living so nicely and so comfortably, with their house intact and Friday's mail piled on the counter, while others in town have lost everything. They feel very guilty.

I had this conversation with them as we caught up on events over the phone on Sunday. While they chatted about the fire and being evacuated, hail pelted our skylights and early November snow swirled a bit outside our Santa Fe windows.

These are very strange climate times.

* Apologies to George RR Martin.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Update for Family and Friends

For those who read my blog and know my family:

Tom and Zaneta left Westlake Village (mandatory evacuation) at 4 in the morning Friday and drove down to her aunt’s in Newport Beach, where they are still staying. That’s far enough away to be out of harm’s way. 

Their house is just west of the little lake in Westlake center, and the fires were to the east and south of the lake, so it looks like their tiny bit of neighborhood is okay, if only by a mile or two. 

Tom is confident his house and immediate neighbors are not burned, but certainly the area around the town and down to Malibu are a disaster. He won’t know until they get back in, and no one can say when that will be — the 101 freeway and many roads are still closed. What a disaster.

Even the non-affected people are all disrupted — he can’t get to work and of course schools are all closed too. But I am so, so thankful Tom and Z (and her parents too) are all safe and their homes are intact.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Water in the Windows

The silicone caulking that we put all around the dining room windows to stop the leaks seems to have produced an unintended consequence. We seem to have sealed moisture inside the panes.

It's more than cold weather condensation. It's drips and streaks of water permanently inside the glass. Even after several dry sunny days with the sun beating on these dining room windows, we have a lot of water inside the panes. It doesn't go away.

It's time to go to the window store and get new windows installed. If we don't do anything we are going to be looking at dry desert scenery all winter through a veil of water. And when it gets really cold, as it can in Santa Fe in winter, we are going to be looking out through sheets of ice.

I did not expect water problems to be an issue in our new home. We have no basement to keep dry, it rarely rains, and the climate is arid. But we have water in our windows.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

I'm Beaming

There it is, the new mantel over the fireplace.

It's a beam of white fir, stained, coated with polyurethane and hung as a floating shelf on the wall, with no exterior visible brackets. It replaces the dinky painted shelf that was there.

Utterly simple in design, but what an improvement. We added stained wood strips at the front edges of the bookshelves too, and that was another plain but effective enhancement.

It's rustic, but it suits the style of the house and the western wood furniture I'm using in the living room. The chunkiness of the beam and the strips of wood on the shelves give weight to this wall. It works with the big raised hearth that juts out and the big wood rafter beams above.

The dining room side of the two way fireplace has a new, identical beam also.

It's an even simpler look, without any bookshelves on the sides, so the dining room mantel really does just float on the wall.

As simple as these beams look, they were not effortless to put up. There is nothing behind the wall over the firebox. No center studs. The entire fireplace wall is just an open shell housing the metal flue pipe, clad with sheetrock.

But our creative handyman / woodworker Tim L. found a way and he did a great job. He even spent some time on a high ladder fixing some of our door and window leaks.

There is nothing eye-catching about these plain wood mantels -- no one will walk in the house and say oooh, what great beams you got there. But by fitting in so unobtrusively, they add a nice background touch to the rustic look of our casa.

I like them. I'm beaming about my new beams!

So, a little inventory . . .
The green pitcher and the blue-green pitcher were made by Sue Sasso of Sassyblue Pottery on Cape Cod. Sue and I go waaaay back, we worked together at Cigna, literally for decades. She and Jack are potters in their retirement, and are known for their deep blue (Sassyblue) glazes.

The blue / green vase on the living room mantel is also hers. 

The tiny blue and tan smudge pot is from Rebecca, and holds just enough fragrant sage to burn when the house needs to rid itself of bad spirits, which it needs sometimes. Not often, but sometimes.

The needlework framed art is stichery by Jim's daughter Hope. She does beautiful work and has gifted us many intricate needlework pieces over the years. 

The two watercolors on the living room mantel are paintings of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, by a local artist not far from the HF Bar ranch, bought in a gallery in Buffalo, WY 30 years ago. 

The felt dolls were bought from two different Navajo dollmakers at Indian Market here in Santa Fe. 

The folded flag was presented to Jim at his father's funeral. His Dad was 97 when he died, a veteran of WWII, and honored for that. There are shell casings from the gun salute at the funeral inside the folded flag and Jim checks every once in a while to make sure they haven't fallen out and are still there. They are.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Economics of our Move

Another rainy Santa Fe day. What an October! On this dark, gloomy, end of the month morning I am paying bills and going over finances.

We've been living at Walking Rain for 15 months, and now that I have a full year of expenses to compare, excluding those first months of installation and moving costs, I can compare what it costs to live here versus Connecticut.

I compare all our cost of living bills to what we paid before the move

The verdict? It's cheaper to live here.

We pay much less for natural gas, electricity, water, sewer, and trash. It seems counterintuitive, since water rates are so high in Santa Fe and we don't have the luxury of zero electric bills because of solar panels, but when all is added up, it's less. We just don't use that much water, despite higher rates (no lawn, no baths, fewer showers, very small courtyard gardens) and in a balmier, drier, nicer climate -- at least in all those months when it didn't rain all the time -- it's all just so much less costly to run a house.

Utilities are much less expensive here

Property Taxes
So. Much. Cheaper. We pay $7,000 less annually, on a property that is smaller, but still roomy and nice. Over a few years that adds up. Really adds up. We know we get less -- schools in the state are poor, infrastructure needs work, services are short staffed, but the bubble of a city that we live in is lovely, friendly and nice.

Very cheap here. The houses in Santa Fe are a beautifully iconic style but they are basically boxes clad in cement. Not much there to replace if it gets burned down or flooded out. We save a thousand a year on home insurance.

Home Maintenance
Much cheaper. We have no snow removal bills, no lawn fertilization, or irrigation system maintenance or tree pest management / fertilization costs. No lawn mower or snowblower repairs or gas.

We don't do this anymore

I do have to pay for an ant man. We have a pest removal service that comes four times a year to eliminate the scourge of living in a sandy climate-- ants -- but it is still way less expensive than all the maintenance costs back east.

Association Dues
Our HOA fees are a lot less here and we get more -- a pool, clubhouse, walking trails. It's a much, much bigger community so costs are spread out more, and the streets are public, not privately maintained, so the economics are more efficient.

The Move
We sold our Connecticut house at a very, very big loss. We had bought it in 2004 at the height of the housing bubble, added improvements, and sold for $40,000 less than we paid. I continue to read real estate listings all the time, and prices haven't recovered in our former town in the 15 months we've been here, and it is what it was, and we lost money selling. Ooof.

Our long distance move cost a lot

Food and Entertainment and Nice Living
We eat out too much here. Too many choices, all good, some quite expensive. We spend a lot, we eat well, we travel a bit, we see movies, go to museums, and we buy stuff at the farmer's market. All fun. All costly. No savings here. Move along . . .

Cable, Shopping, Security
It's all about the same as what we paid in Connecticut. I shop for clothes and household goods online, so that's the same. We pay for a security system, -- are we more vulnerable here? We live in a city, there have been some car break ins in the neighborhood, and the mailboxes were once ransacked. I feel safe here, but we pay for security.

Groceries, gas for the car, and incidentals are all about the same as back east, maybe a bit more.

After 15 months I can say the big savings is in the ongoing running of this house. It's so much less expensive. The move itself was a loss -- the sold price of our home, the $10,000 cross country moving van, and the costs of disposing of half our household goods back east -- that was all a big financial hit.

It's home

But if we can manage to live here for a few more decades years at such lower costs, it will all have been made up.

Plus, we like it here.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Cafe Noir and Islands in the Sun

I could never grow tulips in Connecticut. Squirrels and voles dug the bulbs up, soggy winters rotted them, and deer ate any that, despite all odds, actually emerged in spring. But here, in dry sandy Santa Fe soil, in a protected, fenced courtyard with no bulb eaters around, I think I can get tulips to come up.

This fall I planted 40 bulbs -- 10 of a deep wine purple variety called 'Cafe Noir' and 30 of a warm color mix called 'Islands in the Sun' which has a few clear whites in there too.

'Cafe Noir'

'Islands in the Sun'

I mixed them all together in a short, narrow strip right up against the garage wall. They are planted among some random rocks that are behind a row of fragrant sumacs (Rhus aromatica). Right now the sumacs are showing their fall color in strange and variable shades.

In early spring, though, the sumacs will be leafless and they are very late to leaf out, not until late May. So the plan is to have the tulips have their day all along this garage wall strip without being hidden by anything else.

Then, later in spring when the tulip foliage dies back and looks ratty, the sumacs will be coming into full leaf, and will hide the decaying foliage.

I think the plan is brilliant, and I think the tulip colors will be brilliant and it's all going to work out. For the first time ever . . .

       I think I can grow tulips.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Beeps and Leaks

We love our house at Walking Rain . . . . except for the beeps and leaks.

The beep is the smoke alarm in the bedroom, which randomly goes off in the middle of the night. Not a low battery chirp, but a one-screech alarm in the middle of the night that wakes me from a sound sleep in a panic. Not every night, but enough nights that it is a real disturbance. I need my sleep.

It's unpredictable as to which nights it will happen, but highly consistent in that it only happens between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Of course.

One night it gave three rapid screeches, and since all the house units are connected, they all gave the three beep alarm, reacting to the one in the bedroom. That woke up the dead.

These are the kind of alarms that have a 10 year battery sealed in the unit, so you can't replace the battery, you have to get a whole new unit. Apparently they're more than 10 years old and a failing battery makes the alarm go off at night when the house cools off and lower temperatures cause the weakening battery to malfunction.

(We did not think to ask how old the smoke detectors were when we bought the house. We got new ones and we'll have a handyman come to install them, and I pray that makes the 4 a.m. screech stop. It must stop.)

The leaks are more insidious, not such an adrenaline shock. But, ugh, water in the house.

The dining room windows and back sliding door leak when it rains hard, which we never knew for the first 11 months we lived here, because it never rained for almost a year. It's been raining all October this year.

Acrylic caulk was squished all around each leaking area during some dry spells this month, but when it rained recently, everything still leaked. The source of the water at the back sliding door is not the door frame, but a spot where the vigas were installed in the outside wall above the transom. It's been sealed, but there's still a problem.

The source of water coming in the dining room windows is unknown. Despite lots of caulk around the frames, they still let water in.

So much rain this October. Just overnight last night we got almost 2 inches.

The house is 18 years old now. The good news is that the former homeowners just put on a new roof, and the whole house was restuccoed two years ago. The heating and hot water were upgraded and the washer and dryer are new. The house was in good shape when we bought.

But beeps and leaks persist.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Different Season

Last October, our first in this house, was warm, sunny and beautifully pleasant every day. One rainy event and then days of balmy dry weather made me marvel at the climate we had landed in.

What a difference this year. October has been cold, gray, and grimly overcast many days. On the days we get some sun it's been very cold.

My nephew and family came from Durango, Colorado to visit one weekend because their kids had lacrosse games here in Santa Fe -- and it poured rain. A full day of rain never happens here, but the day of their games it rained steadily all afternoon. And it was a cold drench.

I miss brilliant, warm mornings having coffee on my deck -- my whole reason for getting up in the morning.

Overnight lows have been consistently in the 30s -- with one night in the 20s that froze the gardens. Some dark mornings the gloom never wears off all day, and even on the sunny days there are wispy clouds that thicken during the day.

There has been snow on Mt. Baldy and the ski area for most of October.

This kind of weather happens. It's not all that unusual for northern New Mexico at times. But I was so enchanted with last year's dry (too dry) uninterrupted stretch of warmth and sunniness, that this October is a bit of a surprise.

Forecasters have been predicting a wetter season for the southwest this winter, which is a welcome promise and much needed after our severe drought conditions of the past year. Everyone is really happy about that.

But how am I supposed to enjoy my coffee outside each morning if its going to be so dreary or so cold?  Did anyone think of that before ordering up cold wet weather for the season?

Green shading shows "wetter than normal"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Few Questions

Is the Katsura tree I planted outside the back porch in Connecticut giving off its subtle burnt sugar smell this fall?

Is the sourwood tree -- how I loved that little tree -- turning vermillion red right now? Are the lily of the valley white flowers on it dangling amid its red leaves?

Do the bottlebrush buckeyes glow golden yellow in the fall sun? Has the little one, newly transplanted before we left to fill a gap in the hedge -- has that one caught up in size to the rest of the hedge?

Are the black gums -- the tupelos -- bright orange-red this year? Some years they were less so. What about this fall? Do they catch the pale autumn sunlight in the morning and light up the edge of the woods?

And the Japanese stewartia tree? Some years it was brownish, some years fire engine heart-stopping flaming scarlet in fall.

Has the flowering dogwood gone all wine colored and rich mahogany red this year?

And the low growing dwarf sumacs -- are they fiery crimson now? I planted a few in my Santa Fe garden and they do very well, but their fall color is a mottled yellow, maybe because of the alkaline soil here?

Do my trees miss me? I love our home in New Mexico and was not sad to leave our garden in New England at all. Fall color here, with golden aspens and red ash trees and blue skies, is lovely.

But sometimes, especially in autumn, I wonder. Do the trees I left behind rustle their leaves and remember me a little? I remember them.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hard Freeze Coming

Rain coming Sunday, and snow on Monday. The overnight low temperature on Monday night will be 26 degrees.

That's not a mid-October frost, that's a hard freeze. 

Time to bring the big pot of Cape plumbago inside. It's a tender perennial and won't like Monday's weather. It did beautifully all summer in the hot dry sun here, and I'd hate to lose it. 

I grew plumbago in pots outdoors in my old garden back east, and tried to winter it over each year inside, but that never worked. I ended up buying a new plant each summer and starting over.

But here in the sunny, south facing sliding glass door in my bedroom, I will try again to keep it through the winter.

This time it will be in a much sunnier spot indoors, and this time I'll keep the soil dry, and of course, this time will be different. Not to worry.

I do worry about the new things I just planted in the gardens this week -- the spindly starts of Maximilian sunflowers and a new little hosta and some other plants I got at the fall sales. They've only been in the ground a week or so, and all are little. A frost would not set them back, but it's a hard freeze coming, and snow too, and I worry about them making it through that.