A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Thursday, July 7, 2016


It's just a simple little rustic bench that gets more rustic every year. Rick made it 32 years ago from some plans that Southern Living magazine had. It has a design flaw in that it wants to tip over backwards if it's not leaning against something.

It's survived every downsizing and all the many moves - 10 of them before we finally quit hauling it everywhere and moved it out to the ranch. It's been on front porches, back patios, under the trees, and one time it even made it inside for a while. It's got some holes in the back where Rick screwed it to a tree one time to keep it from being knocked over and some more holes on the backside where I attached a 2 x 4 to keep it from tipping when it wasn't next to something it could lean on.

It was country blue for a while, "painted" with Rit dye back in my country decorating phase. Then it was yellow, then gray to fit in with some limestone rocks it was near. Today it got a bright coat of a color called "Peppery". It's going on the little back deck between the screen porch and the addition. I learned a long time ago not to waste time distressing anything I paint out here. The hot summers and the cold winters take care of that for me!

I hope it lasts another 32 years.

I'm trying to get a native South Texas wildflower, Scarlet Sage, growing in the pot next to the bench. Rick dug one up - he was always doing that! - on a hunting trip down south years ago. We had it in a big pot in Houston and elsewhere and it was beautiful all Summer. It filled the pot and it came up every year again from the many seeds it dropped. A few years back he decided to bring it out here and plant it in the ground and see if it would make it.

It did come back every year but it always stayed small and it was only one plant each time. This year I decided I'd move it back into a pot when it came up and see if it would do better. Well, a tiny little plant came up and in trying to dig it up, all the dirt fell off - I should have wet the ground first. I planted it anyway and kept it watered and I thought it might actually make it. But it didn't.

So I went online and found a place to order the seeds. I planted some and I'm waiting to see if they come up. I added a winter savory and a mint to fill out the pot. If the sage doesn't make it I'll look for something else. It has to be deer resistant so that limits things. There's a big native plant nursery in Austin, John Droomgoole's The Natural Gardener. I'm going there in a couple of weeks and they may have a Scarlet Sage plant. I hope so!

Rick came a long way in his carpenter skills from this little bench, and I came a long way from the first bench I built on my own. From there we went to cabins and bunkhouses. You don't start out building an addition; you start with something small. From there your skills improve and you become brave enough (or dumb enough) to tackle something big. I'd say that's pretty much with anything. The main thing is to start.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Release!

Exciting news for our little cabin! Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, of the blog Living Large in Our Little House fame, has a book about tiny house living coming out. The release date is tomorrow, June 7, 2016. And we're in the book!

Her book, "Living Large in Our Little House: Thriving in 480 Square Feet with Six Dogs, a Husband, and One Remote....Plus More Stories of How You Can Too" tells the story of how Kerri and her husband Dale came to make their life in a tiny lakeside house.

Interwoven into her story are stories of other tiny house dwellers. Our little cabin is one of those!

The book is a great read for anyone interested in downsizing, whether to a tiny house or just a smaller house or even just uncluttering the house you now live in. It's loaded with tips about paring down your possessions, organizing, holiday decorating, entertaining, and living a sustainable lifestyle. It's full of photos of tiny house life!

Kerri's story is told in an easy to read style, as if she were having a chat with friends. She doesn't sugarcoat anything but tells the challenges as well as the rewards.

She has treated our story, mine and Rick's, with kindness and care. I have to admit that I cried when I read it. Rick knew that she was writing the book and that our cabin would be included. He was very excited about it and proud that his tiny cabin would be one of the ones spotlighted. I'm glad that he knew this and wish he could see the finished book. I know he would love it and be touched by how our part of it was handled. Our story and little Texas cabin is interspersed throughout the book.

You can order the book from Amazon. Just click on the link below! We're hoping for a good release day showing, so if you plan to order, tomorrow is a good day to get in on the excitement! There have been a lot of pre-orders already and a good release day helps the publisher judge interest for additional printings. They've already ordered a second printing based on pre-orders! It's available in both a hardcover and a Kindle format.

Click here to order - Amazon - Living Large in Our Little House

Kerri's blog spotlighted the tiny bunkhouse this week, so check that out too! You can link to it above or here - Living Large in Our Little House - and follow her on Facebook - Living Large in Our Little House.

Thank you for your interest in our little cabin, both on my blog and in the book, and for all the kindnesses you readers have shown to me, especially as I try to go on living my life out here without Rick.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Some Gave All

The streetlights lit up the new subdivision in Southwest Houston, keeping the dark away enough that we could see each other's faces as we talked. We were hanging out by his car at the end of the driveway. We kept our voices low, though it was late and everyone in the house was asleep and there were no neighbors out.

It was 1967 and I was 17 years old. He was a few months younger than me. He was good looking, his blond hair hanging in his eyes, his face movie star handsome, his eyes kind, his laugh easy. In the slang of the day he'd be described as a "dreamboat".

I loved him fiercely and I trusted him. Trusted him with my secrets, trusted him to never ridicule my thoughts and feelings. Trusted him to tell me the truth, trusted him to treat me as an equal.

He was my cousin Tommy and he was my best friend.

He had come to live with us my senior year in high school. His family was going to move from Louisiana to Houston but not until later that year. He was having some problems there and needed a new start, a new school, new friends. He found all that. And I found a friend, a brother, a confidant.

Throughout our senior year he and his friend Johnny took my friend Beverly and I to all the teen clubs that sprang up in Houston during the late 60s, the most memorable when we saw Paul Revere and the Raiders at La Maison. We made trips to Surfside Beach near Angleton, staying until dark and heading home happy and sunburnt. We hung out at the Chuckwagon, a neighborhood burger drive-in where all the high school kids congregated in the afternoons.

He'd come home with Johnny Rivers' single 45s, saying "come listen to this, Sue." We'd play them all afternoon, listening over and over again to Mountain of Love, Secret Agent Man, and Johnny's version of Midnight Special and Suzie Q. Dancing in the living room, memorizing the words to the songs.

He spent all his other spare time taking his car apart and putting it back together, parts spread all over the driveway, arms and clothes covered with grease. Getting it running smoothly so we could all go out again on Saturday night!

I can't say my high school years were happy. There was a lot of stuff going on in the family, I was a girl without a lot of self-esteem, afraid to apply myself though the education part of school was easy for me, all the usual teenage angst. The Vietnam War was in full swing and I was just beginning to get an interest in what was going on in politics and the world. Looking back, all these times with my cousin are the times that stand out, the good times we had and the closeness we had. My brothers were either too old or two young to be my buddy. Tommy was just right and we had the bond of siblings.
Then everything changed. I got married the summer after I graduated. A year later I was a working mom and had no time for anything outside that except for the occasional family gathering. Time passed and Tommy joined the Marines. He was sent to Vietnam.

Around noon on a February day in 1970, I was feeding my baby son John, my second child, lunch when the phone rang. It was my mom. She needed a ride to Aunt Margie's house. Two Marines were there and wanted someone to come be with her before they told her their news. Which, of course, we all knew by their presence. Tommy was dead.
A two week long wait began as we waited for his body to come home. I still see him in the casket, the open area over his face sealed with glass because the bodies were frozen for the trip home and they were fragile. His Marine dress uniform making him look older than his 20 years, his sister Brenda sleeping on the floor by his casket the night before the funeral, not wanting to leave him alone.

But that's not the way I see him most of the time. Most of the time in my memories of him, we are by his car at the end of the driveway. The neighborhood asleep, our voices low and quiet. His hair hanging in his face, his words that years later come back to me and guide me. "Do what you want because YOU want to do it, not because someone else wants you to. You make the decisions for your life, darlin'. It's your life, don't let anyone tell you different."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Around The Campfire

Though the sky was mostly cloudy, there was a break in the clouds where the half moon and Jupiter could be seen. Except for a couple of stars that make up Cancer, the crab, these were the only ones we could see. The kids and I had a campfire going and a cool front had come in earlier that caused Sarah and I to grab a long sleeve shirt before we headed outside. 

The moon was so bright the live oaks in the yard threw out shadows. Even with only a half moon, we could see the yard fence and gate, the trunks of the oaks, the cabin and bunkhouse, and the firewood stacked nearby. 

The chuck-will's-widows called out their name, answering each other on all sides of us. We roasted some marshmallows and made s'mores, although most of the kids like the roasting better than the eating! Bixby was too little and the firepit is too big for his roasting wire to reach into the fire. So I went to the garden shed and cut a long piece of heavy wire for him, making a loop at the end for a handle.  

He'd had a busy day being a ranch hand - feeding the longhorns, checking on the garden, painting some birdhouses, checking out the deer blind, doing some target practice with his suction tipped plastic ammo, and just generally doing things a kid does in the country.  

As the day wound down the kids went inside to clean up for bed and I was alone at the fire. If you haven't ever sat by a campfire in the quiet of the country, away from people, away from a campground, away from neighbors, it's hard to explain the magic of it. The only sound was the chuck-will's-widows calling all around, each one answering the other as the calls circled their way around me. Though it had grown darker, the shadows of the oaks still lay on the ground and I could still see the trees in the yard. There weren't any of the noisy katydids or cicadas that often drive a person crazy during the warmer months. 

It was as if there was no one else in the world except me and the night birds. It's easy to imagine the country as it was 100 years ago and sometimes you think about the people that have called this place home over time. It many ways it hasn't changed that much out here where we are.

A few weeks ago Natalie and Zac and three of their friends came out for the weekend and we got a campfire going. The big kids do the same things the little ones do; they just don't need as much help. They've been doing it for years now and no one ever gets tired of it. We had spent the day at Fredericksburg and Luckenbach then and wrapped it up with brisket in town and some washer pitching in the back yard here. That night I left the kids alone by the fire as the evening wore on.

I don't sit out by a fire at night as often as I did when Rick was here. He could sit there all night. And we didn't have a fire as often once we built the cabin. One of the few downsides to building it. 

When the kids come they always want to have a fire and it gets me back out there. I need to make an effort to do more campfire sitting. Just me, the night sounds and shadows, and the stars. And memories. They seem to rise from the burning logs along with the smoke. And they're all good ones. Sometimes the good ones are the hardest to bear but I can't imagine the kind of life I would have lived that didn't include them.

I hope you get to spend some time by a campfire this summer. Make an effort. Find a place where you can be away from neighbors and city lights, a place where it's dark enough for the moon to make shadows of the trees and the night birds to call out to each other. Make some memories, some good ones. 

Like these, other times, other fires -

This picture of Rick and Sarah is probably the first fire we had out here. They are sitting where the cabin sidewalk is now. Some of the stones making up this first firepit are still there, too embedded in the ground to be moved by hand. They are part of the landscaping.

Sarah and I by the campfire in 1990.

Rick and Zac during hunting season in 2005. In his hunting album Rick captioned this one "End of the day. A campfire, whiskey, and good conversation." That about sums it up. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Up on the Caprock, Me and My Baby Ride

I ran across a song posted on Facebook this week by Terry Allen, a Texas singer songwriter that Rick and I love. We saw him a couple of times at the Mucky Duck pub in Houston. He has a deep understanding of the subtleties of the world and his songs tell stories. Sometimes funny, sometimes terribly sad, often irreverent, and sometimes taking a critical look at the way we look at heroes and violence in the world.

But his real songwriting talent, at least as far as I'm concerned, is taking an ordinary moment, an ordinary life, and making you stop and look at it and see the magic of ordinary things. This particular song, Flatland Boogie, was about a fella and his love driving fast across the Texas high plains as the moon lights up the caliche on the long straight road they travel down.

That song brought back memories of a vacation Rickie, Sarah, and I took about 30 years ago. It was our first trip to the Santa Fe/Taos area and we stopped at Palo Duro Canyon on the way there. Driving across the endless plains in Rick's Bronco; Sarah just 5 years old, standing up in the back seat singing cowboy songs with us as we wondered whether we would ever get over the plains.

Though we didn't go to the Four Corners area that trip, we learned about the Anasazi, the indigenous people that lived in the Four Corners area thousands of years ago. And about the mystery of where they went and what happened to them. One thing I read later that has always stuck with me was a statement attributed to the Hopi. "The Anasazi didn't disappear, we are the Anasazi."

Rick and I would have been married 35 years today. He's not here and yet he is. I still refer to the Rockin' RS as "our" place; I still say "we" when talking about things that are being done here. Though things have changed somewhat with the addition you can still tell this is his cabin when you walk in. I still call the garden Rick's garden, not mine. The leather cap he left on the truck dashboard is still there, all shrunken and twisted from the hot sun; his boots are still by the back door.

It's not that I've kept things as a shrine. It's that he is so embedded in this place that his presence is still felt. You would have to burn the whole place down, trees, vegetation, and all to remove him. Even then, he would be here. Because like the Anasazi live on in the Hopi, he lives on in me and the kids. Rick didn't disappear, we are Rick.

We do the things he used to do, we tell his stories, we teach the kids the things he knew. We remember him.

The grief still overwhelms me a lot of times, especially at night when it's quiet and I'm not busy. I'll be almost asleep and the pain will hit me like a punch in the chest and it's clear why it's called a broken heart. I wish I could say it's easier, to give hope to any of you going through the same thing. All I can say is it becomes more familiar and, along with carrying Rickie with me always, I carry the grief always. I'll be carrying them when I breathe my last.

Happy anniversary, Rickie. I wish we were riding up on the Caprock one more time.

"And yet she could feel the pain becoming a part of her, finding its indelible groove but never vanishing. Time goes by, she wrote, days spill on, routines, appointments, diversions, some fun, a trip, somebody sick, on and on, times goes and grief finds a niche, a place, and settles in and goes along, too, included in everything. 'I'm here', says Grief. 'Never mind me, just go about your business.' " David Kushner, Alligator Candy

Flatland Boogie

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cutting Cedar

When I had the cedar cleared, there was some hand cutting work to be done on the front fence line. After getting caught up on other things I decided today I would finally start on that.
It had been about a year since I used my Husqvarna cordless chain saw so I was anxious to get that going again. First thing I found out was why Rick always had a paper feed sack under his chain saws. To soak up the chain/bar oil that leaks out when it's stored! The case I have has a tray in the bottom so I was ok there. Rick had a gallon jug of the oil so I filled the oil reservoir. The battery had kept a charge all this time. I don't store it with the saw so there was no oil on it. It started right up!
I tightened the chain a bit, loaded supplies in the Mule, and went to the road. I'm starting at one end of our place and working my way across. There were a few little cedars Juan had cut that were tangled in the fence so I cut those out and threw them inside the fence.
I had a second gate put in on the road because there was no way to access half of the properly without going through the longhorns' pen. There is a cedar on each side of it just outside the gate. Juan, the contractor that cut the cedar, hand trimmed them on one side. He would have done more but I was ready to be finished with contractors.
Today I trimmed them both up. If you don't have any experience with Texas Hill Country cedar, they are hard to deal with. They don't grow with one main trunk but have multiple branches and form a round ball shape. You have to work your way in, cutting as you go. Because Juan had cut one side it was easier for me to get close and do the cutting. The small one looks kind of puny but it will grow and keep its upright look now.
I was almost finished cutting for the day when my chain jumped the bar. I got it back on and was up and running again!
Juan left one corner of the property wooded just inside the fence line and he cut a tractor size path, or sendero, through the woods. I love it in there! Cool, shady, quiet, and private. He cut a turn around at one place so I was able to drive the Mule into that and work from there.
Some of the sendero was blocked with cedars Juan had cut outside the fence and tossed over. I was able to cut these out of the way except for one place. It was a complete tree and it has to be cut up before I can move it. I saved that for another day.
There is some sandy soil in this one area and up under a pile of cut cedar you could see where water had been standing when we had rain lately. The ground was still damp and covered with a tiny green algae. A place for wildlife to find water temporarily. I like finding these little things that make this the sort of place where animals would be happy.
With cedar cutting comes cedar stacking and I did a lot of that also. That was always my job, and Sarah's too when she was home, although on big projects Rick had to stack also to keep up.
This was my first time doing the cutting. I sure missed my partner today but I found I had learned a lot working with him out here for 26 years. Of all the work we did out here, cutting cedar was the thing we loved doing the most. It gives instant gratification and opens up spaces, maybe a view. We mostly cut in the cooler months and every time a cold wind blows in I remember those times and feel the urge to load up the Mule.
We always felt closer to nature doing this than anything else we did here. Working a while, then taking a break, sitting in the shade drinking water, and listening to the wind rustling the cedars. That smell they release when they move.
There's something about sitting on the ground on the edge of the woods, wildflowers all around, some so tiny you only notice them when you get close, the air so clean, the peacefulness of it. So today I took a break and sat on the sandy soil in the wooded area, enjoying the work I was doing and the results of it.
And tomorrow and next week I hope to do more of the same!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Farm and Ranch Report

I've been gone for a few days so when I got home it seemed like the garden had really grown!

Years ago we had great success with some blackberries. For one season. After that, nothing. We replanted a couple of times and still never any blackberries. A couple of years ago we tried again. We haven't had any blooms until this year. Not many but there's hope we might have a handful!

I planted one little nasturtium for my mom, who loved them. My Papa planted them for her every year when we were kids. One of the rare tender mercies he showed his daughter. It has its first bloom!

The garden path I added has settled and hardened. When I had the new fence put up the gate was moved to the orchard end so I could get the lawnmower in there without going through the vegetable garden. I like how it adds another element to that section.

The poppies are fading and the larkspurs are taking over. Rickie always made sure we had flowers throughout the growing season from Spring through Fall. Yellow Englemann's daisies and irises are blooming now also. Later we'll have Mexican sunflowers and zinnias.

The Mexican buckeye my friend Debbie gave me in my mom's memory has lots of seed pods this year! It had two last year and none before that. Her stepfather's dad, 98 years old, grew this tree from a seed!

The Texas Bird of Paradise is showing off by the bunkhouse. It's only two years old and it can take the cold weather where the Pride of Barbados variety can't.

Antelope Horn Milkweed, a native wildflower the Monarch butterfly caterpillars need to survive. We have several that come up in the yard every year.

We've had some rain so things are green here. The live oaks have put back out and the grass is growing, making Woodrow and Gus happy.

In the vegetable garden the tomatoes are blooming, the corn and cucumbers are up, and the peppers, squash, onions, cilantro, and pinto beans are growing. Something has eaten the basil. A dill plant came up from last year's seed; I cut some to put on potatoes and green beans for supper tonight.

The grapes are loaded with little clusters of blooms and we have a few peaches, not many, and the little plum tree has lots of plums for its size.

Looks like we've got the start of a pretty good gardening year!