January 11, 2014

Pointy Tents are Made for Babies.

I was a pretty lucky baby. My mom adored me, and I got to live in a neat tent that looked like a wizard's hat. It was comprised of big sticks that held up a triangle of canvas that had convenient flaps for going in and out. I enjoyed the experience without doing any of the hard work and was able to participate in many non traditional baby activities such as playing with matches (photo not shown, it does exist), casually posing by the screen door, playing with my giant dog who seemed to think she was my babysitter, not wearing shoes, and frequently, pants. I have two early memories. One is of soft white walls diffusing daylight, the other is eating cold sticky brown rice stuck onto the of the bottom of a pot. 
Just hangin' by my screen door
Her food looks pretty good

These memory fragments are from the time when my family lived in a tipi where I spent the first two years of my life on a field in the mountains of south eastern British Columbia. My parents were part of a subculture trend of "going back to the land", a group that was characterized by hippies and draft dodgers. My parents weren't true hippies, though many of their friends were, and our lifestyle was unconventional in the sense that we did not have electricity, running water, indoor  plumbing or rooms for a significant portion of my childhood. With the exception of a brief period on Vancouver Island where my brother was born, I did not get my own real bedroom until I was 13 years old (thankfully I got my own bedroom at 13 years old).

Idyllic now, wait for rain

Our first home was self-deprecatingly referred to as a 'white man' tipi. Perhaps this is breaking some law of political correctness, but there were a few reasons why this slur makes sense. For example, First Nations groups in that area lived in dugout homes, thus we culturally appropriated the wrong type of dwelling for our geography. In addition, it contained accoutrements of standard western living that would trigger an apoplectic fit in an anthropologist. Things like a table, a dresser, a two burner propane cooking stove, an outdoor dish washing area fashioned from an ironing board with ivory soap, an oil drum wood stove fashioned by Rattlesnake Bill (stove pipe peaking out off smoke flap) and the Ubiquitous Metal Tub. 
Ubiquitous Metal Tub makes first appearance 

And yes, we did live it in winter. The tipi was a temporary dwelling, my mother father and I lived in it for two years. During that time my father built a cabin in which we lived until I was 13.
Snow, it works as insulation

Next week, the joy of acquiring water and more about the Ubiquitous Metal Tub.
My mothers description of moving to this area can be found here: http://freegreenliving.blogspot.ca/2007_10_01_archive.html

January 4, 2014

The Covered Trench

To embellish yesterday's content and try out my new sketch app, I drew a picture of our old outhouse. My sibling says it's not gloomy enough. I told him that I don't have enough artistic capacity to be able to depict that level of gloominess though I did attempt to add some forboding vegetation. This is also why you will not be seeing sketches of the other models and why I am an academic.

January 3, 2014

Hippie Poshness as Determined by Outhouse Luxury

While some may consider all outhouses hideous affairs, there is a definite spectrum of comfort just as there would be for an indoor bathroom. Here are a few designs that existed in our neighbourhood, please use the rating guide below for easy reference.

The Swinging Bachelor- I used to visit this neighbor just so I could use his outhouse. This thing was built on a cement foundation, with a staircase leading up to the throne. It had a a door with a big wooden latch (outhouse doors are not ubiquitous), a heater, a Persian style carpet, a window for natural light and a real toilet seat that somehow didn't get cold. There were usually witty and urbane publications of a liberal political bent carefully placed in a special magazine holder. This man had no children. He had time to make his outhouse nice.

The Craftsman
- This one may have had a door, but I have many recollections of using it when the door was open. Probably because it got really dark in there with the door shut, and there was gaping black hole filled with unmentionable evil that threatened to swallow you as you did your business. This unit was made of dense thick wood that matched the main house. The seating comprised a thick bench of wood that had a reassuring solidity that could withstand a nuclear blast. The interface comprised the "proper" tear dropped shaped hole, with the elongated end at the front. Not dissimilar to a bed pans opening. It had some artfully twisted smooth elegant wood embellishments and little alcoves for decorations.

The Utilitarian - Doorless and small, but with a roof and a good solid seat that doesn't require contortions such as squatting. Opening faces away from main home to ensure privacy.

The Covered Trench (aka the van Houten) - This was the lowliest of the outhouses. The hole was not that deep to start with, probably due to the exceptional rockyness of the soil that even my fathers iron digging pole could not budge. Perhaps 5 feet or so, not deep enough for a coffin. The structural base consisted of logs laid over the ditch, which were covered with plywood. The hole, at floor level, was cut into improper rectangular shape (as opposed to tear drop, see above) right where the seams joined.   This ensured a bit of sagging when you straddled the opening. Comforting. This was not a sitting outhouse, it was a squatting outhouse though a low level seat had been fashioned from a broken RV chemical toilet. The roof was made of two premade slabs of shingle on frame and were leaned against each other like an A-frame. There was no door, but there was a back panel of plywood that protected you from bear attack while you did your business.

In defense of my father, he was trained as a geologist and picked up some basic wood working skills, whereas others inthe neighborhood could have claimed the titles of artist and Carpenter. In the style of true academics, He learned to build a house by reading a book. This outhouse structure was meant to be temporary, but became permanent when the pressures of maintaining a stable family income took over his life.

Things you probably didn't know about outhouses:

1) Most have some kind of odour, but the intensity can be controlled through chemistry, the details of which I have not bothered to learn. Usually there was bucket of ash or lime to sprinkle in there that had something to do with this.
2) Wood absorbs urine. Enough said.
3) Even people with flush toilets were subject to water availability in their wells and by the capacity and youth of their septic fields. Thus the ubiquitous quirky sign "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down". It's a bit ableist since it assumes you don't have health issues that seriously affect the hues of your waste.
4) In spite of the unflattering review I gave my childhood washroom, I would much rather use that than one of those horrible plastic port a johns.

Next time I'm in the area, I should go on a neighborhood tour to see which ones still stand.
This is why I value an indoor toilet. Next time I move, I want TWO bathrooms in my house.
Outhouse luxury rating scale. Where does yours fit in?

January 2, 2014

Blog revival! Warning: circus tents and hand waving not included.

 I am reviving my blog. 

I was half-handedly inspired by my sibling. For Xmas (the holiday not quite like Festivus) my sibling gave me a real paper book called Lets pretend this never happened, by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess found at thebloggess.com). I was surprised by the intensity of the weirdness but also by the reassuring familiarity of the weirdness. I especially enjoyed her recollections of childhood. It made me think of my rather unconventional childhood and how there might be some Tales of Interest. 

I considered starting another blog with a different title and leaving brokenmice to the recovering grad student who started it, but I like continuity and there is content here that I find amusing and uniquely myself. So brokenmice stays. 

See, there is a broken mouse on the cover!

January 1, 2014

Social Shunning by Sandwich

In my childhood brain, the perfect socially acceptable sandwich comprised three ingredients: Wonder bread, baloney, and a thin layer of iridescent yellow mustard whose name was foreign, but whose texture screamed "American". What I got: homemade bread the density of a neutron star with thick crusts that cut the roof of your mouth yet didn't actually manage to stay together and hold the contents in the sandwich. Topped with German mustard that was a dingy yellow and came in a weird mug. Meat was usually cured and bought at its own store (read 'deli') as opposed to that mysterious section of the supermarket where they sell bacon and lunch meat with pasta in it - it was usually shunned 'cause of nitrates. It was in a single thin layer. Cause of expense. This was topped with cheese that could not be pronounced in English. Garnish with green weedy stuff that came out of the ground wherever my mother would find it or big chunks of green pepper.

I could probably sell that sandwich at a posh bistro or nature cafe for 15$ and say something pithy about wild-sourced greens and artisan bread, but as a child who wanted  to "fit in"  I yearned for iceberg lettuce and an anemic slice of tomato. Apparently those were "bad foods" I might have died if I ate them. Hot dog days at school were great. Then there was the egalitarian sameness of meat in tube form that had been heated up in dubious looking greasy water and slapped on a bun with mustard of the proper nuclear colour.

I shouldn't complain though. Many people who grew up eating the 3-ingredient sandwich are fussy eaters and terrified by anything that smacks of exotic. I certainly can't claim that problem.

This sandwich from Wikipedia is too fancy. It has lettuce in and the mustard is all wrong.