A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

The builder is coming out this week to get the shell for the addition started. He said it should take a week to ten days so I'll soon have my project going! I've worried some that I'm changing the feel of the cabin. This place has always been so different from the houses in the city we lived in and I don't want to lose that. It's always been a cozy comforting place. Hopefully, by using similar materials and only adding the one bedroom it will stay that way. I've also tried to position it and the windows so that I can still see the wildlife walking by and see Orion in the night sky. When I can't sleep now it sometimes helps to raise the shade and see the stars.

Week before last, after I finished the screen porch/door project, I tackled knocking down 15' of the stone skirting. It's going to be covered with the addition and I didn't want to have a stone wall in the middle of the crawl space. Plus the HVAC contractor needed room to work so he can extend the duct work to the new bedroom and bathroom.

Being petrified of spiders, respectful of rattlesnakes, and just generally scared to death of crawl spaces, I had to reach deep inside myself for courage! Armed with bug spray for spiders, scorpions, and centipedes and my little 410 for rattlesnakes, and leaving plenty of room to run, I was ready in case anything came out of there. I began with a masonry chisel and small sledgehammer but saw right away that was pointless. So I got the big sledgehammer and that worked great. I just swung it like a croquet mallet, not trying to lift it up like John Henry driving steel spikes. Once I knocked the stones loose I took the hoe and pulled them out.

I cleaned the area up, set a bug bomb off under the cabin, and then temporarily closed the opening using the corrugated metal I took off the screen porch the week before. I'll take that down when they start the addition. As with the cabin build there will be a period when the crawl space is not closed in. I have to wait on the duct work to be done before I can do that. I'm hoping no varmints go under there and tear up the ductwork I already have. I've been at war with raccoons the last few days over whether the peaches, cantaloupes, and grapes in the garden belong to them or me. They won. I'm hoping they take the victory and have the grace to leave me in peace but that's mostly wishful thinking.

I took a break from the country life and joined my family in Houston to celebrate the birthdays of my sister Kathy and her husband Derald. We had a fish fry, as we've done all our lives in my family, continuing the tradition when we left Louisiana for Houston. My brother Andy is the fisherman and the cook. Kathy's daughter-in-law Esther is the exceptional cake decorator. We caught up on what is happening in everyone's life, told stories of days past and loved ones gone, and yes, we laughed plenty. There is no comfort like that of family and old friends.

One of those old friends, in a conversation before I left town, told me something that made me smile, while breaking my heart at the same time. He said "Sue, you and Rickie had something special. You did your own thing and you didn't care what people thought. Not in a rude way, you just didn't need other people's approval to be happy and you didn't have a need to impress others."

Back here at our place, the addition that changes the tiny cabin to a small cabin wouldn't be considered impressive by anyone's standards. But it impresses me and Rickie would be impressed too. Not at the room itself, but at the years and sacrifices that led to it happening. I hope he'll be impressed with my work on it.

The heat of summer has dried the grass up and I'm seeing more deer as food gets scarce. They come into the yard and they eat the alfalfa I'm having to buy again for Woodrow and Gus. My little halfway tame cottontail, Little Bunny, has disappeared after 3 years. She would hop up to me and follow me to the shed waiting for a treat of birdseed. I watched a fox chase her one day and I guess he caught her, although she was giving it all she had. Today I saw a baby bunny by the bunkhouse and I wonder if it was one of hers. We have three baby turkeys hanging around, not as many as some years where we've had over a dozen. Life goes on.

I haven't seen Tougher Than Leather in weeks now. That's happened several times these last months since Rickie died. Then just as I think something must have happened to her she shows up, so I hope she does again. Sarah said she appears when I need her and maybe that is so. The sight of her carrying on has lifted me out of a hole several times.

These friends, family, and wildlife move in and out of my world as I do theirs. We all touch each other's lives, sometimes just for a moment, and never give it much thought. But the little things we do - hugs from loved ones, kind words from friends, a wild animal with many enemies accepting you as part of their world, fish caught and shared with the family, a little injured doe that shows up when you have given up - now those things are impressive.

And on an extremely smaller scale, I'm kind of impressed that I knocked that stone wall down!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Addition Phase 1 - A Screen Door To Nowhere

I finished some work on the back screened in porch this week. The new addition will have a small 10' x 6' deck that connects it to the screen porch. I decided it would be nice to have a screen door in that end of the porch so the deck could be accessed from there and vice versa. The addition is not going to butt up right next to the cabin but be connected by a short 6' hallway. The hallway will include a door to the deck, which will fill the space between the addition and the screen porch. (The part of the plan labeled Living Area is actually the bedroom. The room across the back will be a bathroom/utility room, although I probably won't finish that now but will use it for storage. The door from the hallway to the cabin will replace a current window by the fireplace.)

Our screen porch is 8' x 12' and two sides of it are formed by walls of the cabin, with two sides screened. Sarah and Rickie did the original screening 11 years ago when we built the cabin. A couple of years ago Rickie and I closed in one section on the side of the porch with corrugated metal to keep the hot West sun from coming in. This also allowed me to add more decorations to the little cedar Christmas tree we put up out there every year. Gave it more protection. With the addition I'll have room to put the tree inside.

The addition will shade the porch from that hot sun in the afternoon - I hope! - so I decided to take the metal panels off and put screen back up. And add a door to that side. Once I have the shell built I'll be plenty busy trying to finish it so I thought now would be a good time to do all this.

I bought a small wooden screen door for $22, a 4 x 4 cedar post, some new screen, and cedar trim boards. I got the smallest door Home Depot had, 30" wide. 

The only worry I had was that the 4 x 4 post might fall on my head when I was trying to install it! But I cut it so it fit tight - I had to hammer it in place with a mallet - so there was no danger of that!

Once I got the new screen in all the old screen looked dirty and had a few small holes. You know how one thing leads to another. So I ended up re-screening the whole porch and putting all new cedar trim on the outside. I only had two 1/8" short cuts that I didn't like and redid and was short one piece of trim (unrelated to the miscuts). So, back to Home Depot for that and the hardware I had forgotten to buy. I salute the young Home Depot employee in Kerrville that knew what a turnbuckle tension rod for the wooden door was and took me right to it! Also the employee who saw me in the parking lot and came over and helped me load the original trim and door. I've never had anybody, except other customers, help in the Houston store I used to go to.

Years ago I collected  a few old rim lock door knob sets. I used one of the rim lock parts - the part the dead bolt fits into - for the screen door handle. If I ever need it for a door, I'll just replace it with another type of handle. I have yardsticks all over the porch so I added one to the door. I'll add a few more as I get some. Helps to beef up the door and give little hands a place to push it open instead of pushing on the screen!

Phase 1 of the addition is complete. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Those Healing Hands of Time

I've started on a new project. I've been back and forth on whether to do this or not for several months. I decided last week to move forward with it. I'm going to add on to the little cabin. In a few weeks this space in the photo will be a bedroom and bathroom, connected to the cabin by a hallway and a small deck.

I've decided to do it for several reasons, none of which have anything to do with needing more room for myself. I don't. We've downsized and haven't missed anything we let go of. We didn't feel a need to conform to the norm, and we have been proud to identify ourselves as tiny house owners.

It would be nice to have more room when more than one of the kids comes, but that doesn't happen often enough to justify doing it. We've had some good times with air mattresses wall to wall in the cabin and we could do it again. 

I've been happy in the tiny cabin and Rickie and I would have been even happier. We spent a lot of our time outdoors and we liked each other's company. The comment most often made to me when people learned we were planning to retire in a 464 sq ft cabin was "How will y'all stand it with all that togetherness and no place to get away from each other?" I never understood why people asked me that. I guess for people that stay indoors a lot, and have indoor hobbies, space to do that would be important. We had 54 acres and liked to be outside, so it never even came up. One day Rickie was talking to a friend of his also approaching retirement and moving away from the city. He remarked that when you do that the key thing is that each of you like each other. And we did.

But it had been our original intention to add a bedroom on to the cabin. When we built it we had a certain amount of money and we decided rather than just building with a bedroom, and everything being smaller that we would build the part we could afford as we wanted it and add on later if we were able. And if we weren't, we would make it work. 

As we approached retirement we decided not to do it, at least not at that time. We liked the little cabin and we made adjustments, such as adding the closet and building the bunkhouse, that made it all work for us. Because the one room is square, 20 x 20, and had a fireplace centered on one wall and the kitchen all along the other there wasn't a logical way to create a bedroom out of it. But we liked sleeping by the fireplace in the winter and we liked being together. We had spent enough time apart. 

We never totally gave up on adding on though. A couple of days before Rickie died, he was putting his boots on and looking around the cabin and he said to me that if he had money to spare, he would add the bedroom. He left unfinished business, as we all will when we are gone, and we've all been trying to take care of some of that for him. Larry and Lisa have taken our camper, Bernie Ann, and promised to only go West to the places Rickie loved. Sarah and Justin are keeping chickens, the one thing Rickie wanted to do as soon as he retired. John and Zac are going to help me set up a new deer stand and John is going to be the hunting mentor now. I've talked to someone about clearing cedar and doing some fence work, and I hired someone to finish the window replacement project Rickie and I started. The uncles, aunts, and cousins are going to have to help with the most important unfinished business, which is teaching Bixby to fish. And I'm going to add the room.

But an equally important reason I'm doing it is because I need a project. The healing hands of time work better if you stay busy, or at least, that is what I've found has helped me. I find comfort in the peacefulness here but I find comfort in working also. Most days I cry as I work but I work just the same, and I don't cry all day, and to me that's the important thing. To keep going.

The same company that built the cabin and the bunkhouse shell for us, Spring Branch Trading Post, is going to build the shell for the addition. I'll get someone to do the electrical and extend the AC duct work. I'm adding a bathroom also but I don't plan to finish it right away and I may never; it's just a lot easier to add the space now than for someone to come back down the road and try to add it. 

I'm going to finish everything else that I can. Rickie and I worked together on both the cabin and the bunkhouse and there are a lot of things I can do. And I intend to do them. 

And next week I'm going to start. I'm going to remove the corrugated metal Rickie and I added to the screen porch and replace with screen as it was before. We added that because the West sun was so hot there. The addition will shade the back porch and we don't need the metal and the breeze will be nice. I'm also going to remove the stone skirting in that area so the AC ducts can be extended. I have a plan for that and I hope that plan doesn't include spiders and snakes. I've had two rattlesnake encounters the last couple of weeks and I don't want another one. 

Rickie was a driving force in our projects. He never doubted that we could do whatever we had decided on. Since I decided to go ahead with this, I've been tossing and turning and wondering what in the hell was I thinking. But he taught me to have faith in myself and if a plan doesn't work out, well, just get another plan. 

And so, this is my plan. To continue trying, to find joy when I can, to build on what we started here, to cherish my family and friends. And to trust in the hands of time to carry me forward.

They'll lead me safely through the night, and I'll follow as though blind, my future tightly clutched within, those healing hands of time.........

Spring Branch Trading Post link

Monday, May 11, 2015

Waiting For Signs

Nine years ago on our 25th anniversary, Rickie and I bought this Thompson's Yucca and planted it in the center section of the driveway. It was only about knee high when we bought it. We had paid $75 for it and were hoping it would make it. The main concern was that the deer would destroy it. They eat the heart out of the native yuccas we have and if we ever get any to bloom in the yard we have to cage them as soon as the blooms come out. But this one thrived. 

About 4 or 5 years ago it started blooming and has had a bloom stalk on it every year. By the time it first bloomed it was too tall for the deer to get to it. Three years ago we noticed the tiny beginning of another branch coming off it. This year, for the first time, it has two blooms, one on each of the "arms". I took these pictures this morning.

A quote from Craig Johnson's Longmire book series I love is "Stay calm, have courage, and wait for signs". I've had that posted on my fridge since the week of Rick's death. I take the two blooms as a sign, as I do the explosion of poppies, larkspurs, and Engelmann's daisies his garden has given me this year. 

Today would be 34 years that Rick and I were married. I found this in his writings; he wrote it a few months before he died. 

"Since Sue has retired from working in the school system and started living at the ranch, she has once again adapted to a situation different from what she was doing. She has become a local in a rural community. She has earned the respect of her neighbors. She has learned to deal with and understand 1500 pound beasts (Gus and Woodrow). She has immersed herself in the natural way of things at the ranch. She pays attention and notices the little things nature has to offer. These things she missed before but now she doesn't. She knows the names of the birds, plants, and animals. She notices the little nuances in the weather before it changes. She has dealt with her fear of darkness and spiders. She has satisfied her hunger to be a part time carpenter. It has been a joy watching her metamorphosis. Not many women or men could do this. 
It is wonderful to keep getting something new from someone when you have lived with them over a long period of time, in our case 33 years. Yes, there are a lot of things I know about Sue by now but she keeps giving me surprises."

I've thought a lot about whether my coming out here these last 4 years to live mostly by myself was the right decision. Whether, as things turned out, I should have stayed in Houston until Rick could retire and we could come out together. We talked about it a couple of times but both agreed it was to our benefit as a family that this place be considered our home and that me being here to keep things going, the garden, the longhorns, just all the things that need someone around to keep a place in shape, was the best option. 

But my own main reason for coming, and Rick knew this, was I worried that if I waited for him, it was always possible that I could die before he retired and never get to live out here and live the life I do. As a fan of Thoreau since childhood I, like him, wanted to see if I could go to the woods and learn what it had to teach, "and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." My mother had just passed away after a tough fight with Alzheimer's and it was on my mind that realistically, at my age, I had only so many productive years left. 

So, as Charlie Robison says, I packed my bags a little heavy that time and headed home to the 54 acres, the cabin, the longhorns, the garden, and the wildlife. And the longer I stayed the less I ever wanted to return to the city. When we scattered Rick's ashes back on the ridge I told family and friends that we had struggled and sacrificed to keep this place all these 27 years; that sometimes we thought we should have just waited until we retired and then bought a place. But I feel that the place a person calls home and spends time and loves defines that person. And this place defined Rick and it defines me. It allowed Rick to stay the country boy he always was while working in the city and it made a country girl out of me. I have become a different person living here and I like this person better than any other person I have been. 

And I'm thankful for the words Rick left me, his affirmation that the decision was right. I doubt I would be here now if I hadn't spent these last 4 years here. I don't know if I would have the courage to remake myself all on my own. I find comfort here that I could never find in the city and the life I lived before I came here; I would be floundering there. 

The second year we had our place we brought the deer camp style travel trailer out. I never told anyone, not even Rick, but when that happened, I said to myself "that's good because if I ever lose anyone I love I'm gonna need to come out here to stay, away from the noise and craziness of the city, close to nature, if I have any hope of surviving such a thing.

I was here when I got the call that my dad had a heart attack and died. I was here when my brother David, and Justin's mom Miriam both ended their battles with cancer the same week. It was here I came when my sister Deb slipped away and when my mom found peace at last. It was here I sat on the back porch floor and held Rickie's hand as we waited together for the coroner to come. 

And it's here I wake each morning and try to honor him and those I love by staying calm, having courage, and waiting for signs, though it's not always easy.

Happy anniversary, Rickie. I miss you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Wonders of Spring

For 30 minutes I watched the little turkey hen from the window in the cabins. She's been coming into the yard every afternoon. I'm pretty sure she is nesting somewhere nearby. The hens have broken out of the large flock of 25 or so we had earlier and gone their own way. (Photo is of another hen with babies in 2013.)

I had finished mowing the yard in between the rain showers we had yesterday. So the grass wasn't too high and the ground was soft from the rains. She worked her way around the big oak tree right outside the window, scratching the ground over and over again and eating any bugs or seeds she uncovered. A walk around the yard the last few weeks shows turkey scratchings all over the place.

Every day I've had a big gobbler coming in the yard and pasture. Unlike the hen he comes all day long. You can see him from any window at different times of day depending on whether he's headed to the water tanks or finding things to eat. He tolerates me being in the yard as long as I'm not too close and am quiet.

We have good turkey habitat here. We provide water and supplemental feed. They have cover, trees to roost in, and areas to nest in. We have some areas of ash where we've burned brush piles; these make good dust bath places. We don't have a dog to run them off. They don't mind Woodrow and Gus; they'll hang out with them in the pastures.

I'm going to have some cedar cleared this year but I'm going to try and maintain a balance so the turkeys and deer still feel welcome and yet I can keep cedar from closing off the whole property. And open a long view here and there because it's human nature to want to see as far as you can. My father-in-law Jerome used to sit on an old church pew outside the back door of his home in Mississippi and stare down the hill into the woods for hours. I know how he felt and I know what he was looking for. And I know he found it there as I find it here.

We've had a beautiful Spring. The boys have some green grass to eat and the deer have forbs. Rickie's garden is covered with red poppies that come up from seed every year since he first planted them, more than we've ever had. The larkspurs that do the same are getting ready to bloom, and the native Engleman's daisies he transplanted into the garden are full of yellow flowers. The grapes are getting blooms and we have tiny peaches and plums on the trees Rickie planted. The crapapple he planted last year is covered with blooms and bees.

Native purple verbena and mealy blue sage are blooming all over the place and we have a few bluebonnets here and there. Mexican hats are coming up and the yuccas are starting to get bloom stalks. We've never had a lavender bloom like the one by the cabin has done this year.

Doves are everywhere, cooing each evening and flying up out of the trees when you get too near them. The vermillion flycatcher swoops over the garden and the titmouses are filling the trees with their chatter. Jackrabbits have returned to the yard and a small ladderback woodpecker makes his way around the cedar posts on the porch.

I've done a couple of little paint projects. Whether it's because the kids went on vacation to Mexico, land of bright happy colors, or because it's such a beautiful Spring, or because I felt the need to offset the blackness that sometimes settles in, I don't know. But the black front door got a new coat of happy paint and so did the inside of the pantry cabinet doors.

I drained and cleaned the water tanks, something we do every year. The heron that dropped out of the sky a while back and ate my beautiful big goldfish left a few small ones. I got those divided up among the three tanks.

I tilled the garden and planted and checked out the irrigation lines, making repairs where needed. My butternut squash seeds are up and so are the sunflower seeds I planted. My Papa planted sunflowers for us when I was a little girl and Rickie has planted them for me for years. This year I plant them.

It's the season of renewal, of hope. I've seen documentaries of nuclear disaster areas that show nature moving back in. The scope of the damage is great and it's not the same, but life returns. It takes time but the natural world measures time in eons.

And out here where the scope of the damage is also great and it's not the same, life returns. Those of us who live close to the natural world know the only way to continue is the only way it's always been. The way Rick and I tried to live. To find wonder in the seed that comes up and the hen that scratches the ground looking for food. I don't measure time in eons but rather in the changing of the seasons. This Spring has brought many wonders.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Women of the Land

Back in February I was at a brush control workshop partially sponsored by Texas Wildlife Association. Checking out their website I saw they have a program called Women of the Land.
They offered workshops geared to women living on rural or ranch land, and interested in conservation, wildlife, and land management.

Some of the workshops were one day but there was one that was 3 days of presentations and hands on experience. It was held on a ranch down south of me. Some of the things they offered I was familiar with and some I wanted to learn more about. Plus the opportunity to meet and interact with a group of women with similar interests sounded like something I needed. If I'm going to stay here without Rick, and I intend to, I'm going to have to do all I can to make it work.

When I told my daughter Sarah I had signed up for the workshop, she said she wanted to go too. I'm sure some of it was just to support me but she loves this place too and she wants to step up and help more with her dad gone. As the day to go approached, I have to tell you, I was wondering why in the hell I signed up for this! I just wanted to stay home where I can cry anytime I feel like it. And in the best of times being around people I don't know for any length of time isn't something I always want to do. What if I didn't like anyone? What if I got too sad? What if I felt out of place? I almost backed out but Sarah, who was also wondering if she would like this, said no, let's go. So we did. Knowing we could just leave if we wanted to! 

So we loaded up our cordless drills, our binoculars, our work gloves, and our hunting knives and headed south with our boots and jeans. We put the truck in 4 wheel drive when we got to the muddy ranch road and pulled in just in time for the wine and cheese social! We had all brought a couple of bottles of wine, and Sarah and I had a few tiny airline size bottles of Crown Royal in our bags. For emergencies.

Some of the women were my age and some were older. There were two young wildlife biology students from Amarillo. There were some younger than me but older than Sarah. I met a couple of women that have property down the road from me! They live elsewhere but come out here when they can. Some of the women managed their own ranches and some had inherited ranches they wanted to learn to manage. One woman was a hands-on ranch owner already, one sold real estate in Central Texas. What bound us together, besides a desire to learn, was a belief that there was nothing unusual about women calculating Boone and Crockett scores or mending fences, or figuring out how much cattle forage you have available.

Our classes and presentations were varied. The ranch owners taught some, along with some of the staff and friends, and Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife personnel came in from different parts of the state to help us. Through it all we had great meals prepared by one of the young ranch owners. She worked non-stop keeping us fed and hydrated. We stayed in a nice lodge on the ranch with a beautiful great room. We usually ate outside on a flagstone patio with a huge fire pit and a stone water feature, complete with a little running creek.

The presentations included gun cleaning, optics, knife sharpening (get yourself a WartHog knife sharpener), trailer backing, chainsaw operation and maintenance (I had been particularly interested in this one. The theme of the lesson was just because you aren't able to do it all, doesn't mean you can't do some. I have a Husqvarna cordless chain saw on order at a ranch supply store. I have confidence I can do some trimming at least!), aging and scoring deer, how to use a water wagon for fire fighting or road maintenance, range plant identification, and fence mending (gotta do that constantly around here). We had classes on bats and pollinators, GPS, plant identification and cattle grazing and forage. We learned about prescribed burning and got to set some little fires with drip cans. We built bat houses.

We  got to play with the big boy toys - we drove a bulldozer, a tractor, and a bobcat, carrying sand down the road and dumping it. While we certainly didn't get qualified to be heavy equipment operators, there is nothing like driving a bulldozer to empower you! The young men that helped us with this were extremely polite and helpful, as were all the people that presented or taught at the workshop.

On our last night there we climbed into the back of three pickups to go out and do a spotlight deer survey. They made it into a contest and we had to judge range distances and count some stakes with metal tags that one of the wildlife biologists had put out to represent deer. It was a cool and clear night, perfect for riding down a ranch road in the back of a truck with ladies you had come to respect and enjoy. As we pulled out of the ranch yard, Orion and the Dog Star hanging over our heads, with Taurus and the Seven Sisters just beginning to appear, one of the women in our truck started singing "The stars at night are big and bright............." We all joined in and then sang some cowboy songs we only knew part of the words to. We seemed alone in the world, the pickups slowly crunching the caliche of the ranch road, an occasional deer, jackrabbit, longhorn, and porcupine appearing near us, the soft voices of strong women singing rising over it all.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Sarah and I made her dad proud.

(Time to head home, me and Sarah, my lips chapped from the wind, Sarah all smiles.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Shaving Kit

All the years I have known Rickie he has always kept a shaving kit stocked with everything you would find in your home bathroom. He had to go on trips for work occasionally, and family visits, and of course, hunting trips. He never wanted to pack the things he would need each time and forget something, so he just kept it up to date. Shaving stuff, Advil, shampoo, toothbrush, the usual stuff everyone needs.

Years ago, he would always try the latest men's high priced fragrance, often ones the kids and I got him for Christmas. But 10 or 15 years ago he gave up on those and stuck with Aqua Velva Ice Blue. Cheap and available at the grocery store. When he was here at the ranch he never shaved unless we were going to a friends' house for dinner or maybe to the Odeon Theater in Mason to hear Jimmie Dale Gilmore or Ruthie Foster sing. He always said when he retired he was going to grow a beard and a ponytail. A little bit redneck, a little bit hippie, the yin and yang of him.

He bought a new shaving kit a while back, camo patterned. I keep in in the closet. It has his hairbrush with the gray strands of his hair in it. The whole thing smells of Aqua Velva. Sometimes I open it and get a whiff of his fragrance; the only physical manifestation of him I have left. It makes me feel like I've been kicked in the stomach and I can't breathe. But still I do it anyway, seized, as Seth Walker says, by exquisite hurt. 

And I wonder will all the rest of my days be like this, moments of happiness but always offset by these moments of intense pain. Will that be the yin and yang of me.

It's been almost four months and I've not made it through a day without tears yet, but maybe that's not a long time in dealing with loss. Rickie had this song on his iPod and played it for me a while back; said it was a good song.