A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Shot of Crown

The cedar clearing was finished up today. Juan, the cedar fella, came back to do a little bit of hand clearing by the back walk-through gate that leads to the ridge. I left all that untouched except where the gate is.

I went back to Shotgun Ridge to talk to Rickie after Juan left. I wanted to tell him why I cleared more cedar than he would have wanted. I didn't really need to. He would know my options are limited. I couldn't do it myself; it was going to take some years of hard work for Rick and I to get it done together. And when you turn a guy loose on your place with a tractor, you're gonna get more his vision than yours. He left me buffers like I asked him to on the sides and back and across the front. And he left some big cedars just because it seemed like the thing to do. He even trimmed some up for me. So I think I got a contractor that had a feel for the land, if not just like Rickie's idea, at least not a total slash and burn guy.

I think Rickie would be happy with everything else I've done but I worried what he would think about this. I've tried to honor him by doing things the way he would have wanted. So that if he was to drive up, as I see him doing in my mind's eye many times, he would look around and say "I like what you've done to the place." My friend and neighbor Scott reminded me that 30 years ago all this wasn't here and what was here was small. So I got the photos out of the first 3 years we were here, 27 years ago. Most of the cedar here then, except the really old ones, was only a few feet high. Now, except for the few areas we were able to keep clear, it had gotten so grown up you could hardly walk over most of the place. After looking at it that way, I felt that Rickie would understand. And I appreciated Scott's kindness in reminding me of that.

Rickie never would have blamed me for not doing anything the exact way he wanted it anyway. He was realistic and he also knew that he could trust me to do the best I could. That I might not get it done exactly like he would have but I would give it my all.

But I wanted to talk it over with him so I sat a while back at Shotgun Ridge. I keep a tiny bottle of Crown back there so I can have a sip with him when I visit there. Like Augustus McCrae, he liked to sit a spell and drink some whiskey and mull over the day. The weather's been beautiful and today was no exception.

Just before Juan left I asked him to trim a couple of cedars on the fence line at the road. I'm having a gate put in there. That half of the property can only be accessed by going through the longhorns' pen and we always wanted to add a gate. The fence guy promises to be out next week.

Juan trimmed up the cedars there and he and I tossed them over the fence. After he left I drug the cut cedar out of the way. Cedar cutting by hand is hard work but Rickie and I loved to do it. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and the smells and the sunshine and the breeze - well, it's just a good way to spend the day!

This week Juan cleared a sendero for me from the new gate area all the way back to where the land starts to drop, back across from the boys' pen. It's a nice walk among tall live oaks. There is a huge live oak nearby that Rickie found many years ago. And most of the perimeter is clear now and I can drive the Mule around it. That was one thing Rickie had on his to do list so I can mark that off.

I've been working on some xeriscaping to tie the new with the old on the cabin. I put cardboard down and top it with the decomposed granite gravel. I ran out of cardboard and feed sacks so I'll have to go to town to get some.

Yesterday I cleared the dead plants from the garden. It will soon be time to plant. The new fence is supposed to be in this week, complete with two hot wires to try and keep the raccoons out.

That will complete Rickie's list of unfinished tasks as far as his little ranch goes. It's taken me a little over a year of steady hard work. When it's done I plan to sit a while on the porch and sip whiskey. And look down the twisting drive that is now cleared of cedar, wishing that Rick would show up, hay and feed piled high in the back of his pickup, big grin on his face, coming home to stay.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Cedar Project, a Barn Door, & Cost Accounting

Rick and I planned to spend our retirement clearing cedar on our place. It would have been quite an undertaking as we have so much of it and most of the cedars are pretty big. It takes a lot of work to cut one of the wide ones down. The ashe junipers we have here are not like the cedars east of us, growing with one main trunk. The growth habit of ours resembles a giant round bush. You have to fight your way in with a chain saw.

Needless to say, I can't do this with my little rechargeable Husqvarna chain saw! So I had to hire someone to do it. I've been waiting since February of last year for someone to come out. The big ranchers out here scoop up contractors and they don't let them go! We small acreage owners have to catch someone between big ranch jobs and I finally did.

It's a messy process. Unless you use one of the guys with the cedar mulchers the trees are dropped on the ground once they're cut. Some years back we talked to a cedar mulcher contractor. It was at least twice the cost of cutting and we weren't sure about the effects on the grass if the mulch was heavy. The main thing for us was the cost.

Your options with the cut trees are to pile and burn them or to let them lay on the ground. After at least two years you can get someone to haul the big ones away. They sell them to a company that processes the cedar for oil. The rate I heard was $50 a ton, so it takes a lot of work to make money off them. With the experience I've had getting contractors out for things, I'm not sure how easy it will be to get someone to come out to my small acreage.

And while I love to burn brush piles, I can't do anything on this scale. I need some experienced ranch hands for this! One of my contractors, who is also a volunteer fire fighter, said he would come burn it for me next winter when the rainy season came back around. But that's kind of scary to me.

So I'm going to do what any sensible person would do and think about that later! I like things tidy so I'm sure it will drive me crazy. It takes 75 years for a cedar tree to rot so that's not going to help me any.

I walked around to check the fence line where the fella has finished cutting, making sure we didn't have any holes the Longhorns could get through. He left a buffer zone like I asked so we still have privacy and the wildlife have a place to hide. It was nice walking up under all the oaks where we weren't able to walk before. I turned Woodrow and Gus out on the side that's done. They jumped and ran and shook their horns! I'm sure they'll be exploring all night!

On another note, I finished my barn door for the bathroom! It was a learning process but I'm happy with how it came out. My neighbors came over to help me lift it into place and do some fine tuning on it. I made a handle out of one of Rick's belts. I think the door adds some character and some "weight" to the white painted room.

I made the door from all leftover materials and ordered the hardware online at http://www.barndoorshardware.com/

For those of you considering a project like my addition, the total cost came in at less than the price of a new pickup truck. This includes all the contractor payments and supplies but not my labor. It added 344 sq ft to my tiny cabin of 464 sq ft, making a total of 808 sq ft. I think I got my money's worth.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

First You Build a Bench

When I came to live out here full time four and a half years ago, I had time finally to do some projects and try my hand at building things. I started with a simple bench for the garden, a place we could rest when we were working out there and it was 100+ degrees. We had bought a bench for the porch and I thought I could do one like that and save a lot of money. So I did.

That led to more benches, a closet on the back porch, and then the outdoor kitchen. An outside play table for Bixby, and as I learned more, such as using a pocket hole jig, a nicer play table for inside his house. During this time Rick and I worked on the bunkhouse together, as we had the cabin. But he was the one wielding the nail gun and he did most of the cutting. I did the insulation, flooring, and painting.

I never dreamed I would go from these simple tasks to what I did on the addition. At the end of the project I had cut and installed over 3800 running feet of tongue-and-groove planks on the walls and ceiling. I had framed and closed in a drop ceiling over the bathtub. I had done wall, window, and door trim, sometimes having to create nontraditional ways to finish out the look. I researched and planned how to make the corrugated metal skirting and made and installed it, with some help from my son John, grandson Zac, and grandnephews Caleb and Cameron. I installed air vents in the skirting and made some repairs to the masonry where I had knocked it down for contractor access. I cut and installed the plywood subfloor, the flooring, and the wall and ceiling insulation. I caulked and painted the walls and trim and clear coated the ceiling.

I installed an additional screen door on the back porch for access to the deck off the addition and replaced all the screen and trim on the porch. I built a small deck on the front of the addition where the new joined the old. I installed shelving in the laundry area of the bathroom. I put together a closet and bookcase, moved the bed and nightstands into the room, and painted a bench for the end of the bed.

I unloaded the bathtub, toilet, sink, and vanity by myself. I lost track of how many trips for lumber and supplies I made to Kerrville, finally getting the largest amount of lumber from a local source who delivered. When I was short after using that I made two more trips for lumber, keeping each trip manageable so I could unload it when I got home. I purchased light fixtures, hooks, shelving, and picked out tile. I bought boxes of nails and cans of paint.

I bought some new cordless tools and taught myself how to use them. I figured out how to fix mistakes so they weren't too noticeable. When lumber from one source didn't fit lumber from another, I removed the back part of one groove with wood chisels to make them work. Using a utility knife I removed some of the tongue on pieces that didn't fit right. I hung my nail gun from a belt on the ladder so I didn't have to carry it up and down, and cut the lumber into manageable lengths that I could handle alone. Using gap foam I plugged holes where plumbing and electrical came in. Even though the room was dried in from the outside, I stuffed steel wool in cracks where my cuts on the gable end walls weren't perfect before covering it with trim.

When the plumber left and the shower leaked I fixed it, as I had fixed the slight wobble in the tub using shims and gap foam. I built a wall at the end of the tub where there was a space of 9" between the tub and the outer wall. I replaced some of the electrical outlet covers with oversize ones because I had cut the holes a little big and didn't like how it looked. I installed the backsplash on the vanity top.

I climbed up and down the ladders, one of them tall enough to get to the 12' ceilings, more times than I could count. When my knees gave out, my elbow developed tendinitis making it hard to grip anything, and my back hurt so I was almost in tears, I bought some braces and took some Advil and kept working. Some nights I could barely move and some mornings I could barely get out of bed. Still I kept on. Throughout it all hay and feed had to be bought and unloaded and the boys fed. Water had to be drained when it was freezing and plants watered when it was hot.

Sometimes I cried while I worked because Rickie wasn't there working with me. Sometimes I only kept going because he was with me in spirit, telling me I could do it. I kept a picture of Elizabeth Taylor with a quote on the fridge - her telling me "You just do it. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and God damn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That's how I've done it. There's no other way."

And that's how you get it done.

Friday the plumbers came back and set the fixtures and hooked up the drain line to the septic tank. The addition is pretty much finished. I'm working on a sliding barn door for the bathroom and I have one span of skirting to put up on the back. It's cold outside and I don't like to work in the cold so I'm slowly getting these things done.

What will I do now that this is winding down? Well, I'm moving on to the garden to get it in shape. The fencing contractor came out and he's going to replace the garden fence that has seen better days. The pumphouse is going to need some roof repairs and I want to get another load of decomposed granite to move wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load to make the addition seem grounded to the original cabin. There are acres of prickly pear to dig up and the usual chores. Life goes on and we go on with it. It's just what we do.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Addition - Almost A Wrap!

I had a personal goal of finishing my part of the addition by the time one year with Rick gone rolled around, and to finish the whole project by the end of the year. I can't explain why I set these goals. I just somehow felt driven to meet them. To show him I finished one of the dreams we had together; that I took what we learned and carried on, doing by myself what we didn't get to do together.

But weeks spent waiting on supplies to come in and waiting on contractors to come out added more time than I anticipated. So I've had to be content with being close.
I've finished everything inside that I was doing except for some door work. Insulation, walls, ceilings, floors, trim, and painting. The tile man came out week before last and did the bathtub/shower surround. Now I'm just waiting on the plumber to come set the fixtures in the bathroom and hook the drain line up to the septic tank. The holidays have made these two weeks wasted for my project.

The ceiling fan I bought worked one day and quit working. A call to the company yielded me the advice to take it back to the store. I couldn't find another fan like I wanted at the big stores so I had to order one from a small lighting store in Kerrville. I like the first fan better but was leery of just replacing it with another. So I'm waiting on the electrician to come back and take the first one down and install the new one. Luckily it's not summer so I'm ok without the fan!
I got my Ikea closet and was able to put that up by myself. I bought some deer antler knobs on eBay to "ranchify" it a bit! I love them and the closet. It's the same width as the one we have in the original cabin room, just not as tall. I went with a white one. I like the peaceful feeling of the white walls and wanted to keep that.
I also bought a white bookcase from Ikea and got that up. I left the back off so my tongue and groove wood would show through. This replaced a little bookcase we had by the fireplace. I use it for our reference books - birds, wildflowers, gardening, etc - and some pricey history books and some photos. A few years ago we started gathering photos of Rick with each of the grandkids. We didn't have a lot of room for photos in the little cabin but I wanted some of family and this was the theme we decided on. I'm so glad we did.
I only got one 36" wide bookcase because I'm going to use the other space for the sliding barn door to the bathroom. I've ordered my hardware and I'll get to work on the door next week. I have enough tongue and groove left to build one. I think I'll stain it dark for some contrast.

I had room for a little table and chairs in the corner of the bedroom. I'll use it for writing, reading, puzzles, and sitting and staring out the front window!
I got some shelves up in the laundry area and my new washer and dryer delivered. I've been without a working washer for a couple of months now. I didn't have enough amps to add an additional 220 plug so the electrician moved the one I had. This left the stackable unit in the cabin nonfunctional. The new appliances were delivered a few weeks ago but the drain line isn't hooked up to the septic yet. I am so anxious to get the plumbing finished.
Outside I have most of the corrugated metal skirting up. I left some on the back open waiting on the plumbers in case they need to get in there. I repaired a bit of masonry to square up a couple of holes I had knocked out and to close in some narrow spaces by the front and back decks. I had a skunk hanging around right outside the bedroom window. I was worried he might get cozy under the addition so I put some mothballs under there. Which I immediately regretted. They made the house smell. I think I prefer the shrunk smell to the mothballs. It'll eventually go away and hopefully it has kept him out of there. I haven't seen him or the holes he's been digging in about a week. So he's either moved on or he's gone to sleep up under the room.
When you build in the country near only a small town, you have to be able to do some things yourself. There is a real problem getting contractors to come out. There's not a long list of ones to call if the first one is too busy. The small town attitude that makes living in one enjoyable plays against you when you are trying to finish a project. The promise to come by on a Monday turns into a week from Thursday, with no call to let you know. Other than the framers, who did show up when promised and finished in a week, I've only had to use a plumber, electrical/AC contractor, and a tile installer. In a pinch I could have probably done the tile but not the plumbing and electrical.

So I wait. The fellas have all treated me kindly, almost as if I was their mom or grandmother, and gone above and beyond in doing the job. But it is a small town and if a relative or big rancher they've know all their lives calls, or someone has an emergency problem, my little project gets pushed back. But I'm hoping to get it wrapped up soon! I'll make calls next week after the holidays. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Year Later

"Sarah and I are on the road today, each carrying material components of the man we love, leaving behind in Houston only those family and friends he treasured. Thank you to everyone who helped us and supported us and sent your love while we were here; it carries us home. ❤️"

This was my Facebook post a year ago. Sarah and I had gone to clear out the apartment. We had another couple of months on the lease but I felt an urgency to gather up Rickie's things and bring them home. A need to circle my arms around everything that was left of him and keep it close.

It's heartbreaking to walk into a place that someone left expecting to return. It wasn't the big things so much; the empty leather chair or the bed he neatly made before he left, a habit he acquired over the years from me. He used to laugh at all my pillows and throws on the bed but he'd long ago gotten used to them and where they went.

It was the grocery list he'd started with just a few items on it, two envelopes labeled for the last months' rent before he retired, a scrap of paper with the name of a song he heard and liked called Always Remember Me.

Family and friends came over, bringing supper for Sarah and I, and comfort by their presence. Sometimes grief is best handled alone but sometimes the face of a loved one is the only thing keeping you going. They instinctively toss out the tiniest of lifelines and you hang on. A hug, a kindness, even a laugh at a memory. They knew when to come and they knew when to leave.

Sarah and I gave away most everything in the apartment, some things to loved ones and a pickup load to the donation center. The things we couldn't part with filled a pickup truck for each of us.

We made arrangements for a final cleaning, locked the door, and left the town I called home for most of my life.

When you lose your longtime partner, the one that understood you the best, the one that you shared the little things and the big things in life with, you don't know how you will go on. But you just get through each moment, each day, each week. And then you realize it's been a year. Family and friends fill that time and you have moments of joy with them. But no one ever fills that space left by your partner.

You talk to them still, sometimes in your head and sometimes out loud. Because they are the only one that knew you, really knew you, as you knew them. You've shared most of your life with them, the memories and the good and bad times you went through. That space they occupied will be forever empty.

You don't try to fill it. You just try to live with it.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Heading For The Hills

My people are on the move today! Not my family, although we still have a few that hit the road this time of year. But the kind of people I grew up with, sometimes worked with, hung around with, and married. The people that head for the hills (and the woods and the bayous) for opening weekend of deer hunting season.

I made a trip to Kerrville today to get some flooring material. No other time of the year will you see the traffic out this way like I saw today. And these people don't travel light! Every pickup bed has at least one big cooler - some high priced Yetis and some ancient Igloos. There are portable fence panels to keep the cattle away from the feeders; there are 4-wheelers, Gators and Mules, and duffle bags of camp clothes and boots. There are all variety of travel trailers on the road from expensive 5th wheels to ancient cabover campers.

You won't see any blinds or stands. Those were brought out weeks ago, back in September. Cedar trees trimmed to make room to slide them in; rolling secretarial chairs, the preferred seating for hunters, in place.

The pickup truck lines at the feed store I stopped at were out into the street, waiting their turn to be loaded up with deer corn. Most feed stores have some kind of hunter appreciation meal and open house today and the one I stopped at was no different. Tables loaded with food and the Meals on Wheels ladies selling baked goods on the side. In a mood of good cheer the hunters will often pay more than the asking price, helping out the local organizations. Some feed stores will have raffles and door prizes and all have sale items for today only.

These hunters have planned all year for this weekend. Some have saved and budgeted and carefully monitor their expenses. Some spend like they're rich, and many are. They all have one thing in common. They want to get away and go to the country. They want to hang out with friends and family that enjoy the same thing. They want to bring back some meat for the freezer. They want to sit around the campfire and tell stories. They want to make memories. And they're willing to make it happen, whatever it takes.

For more than half of my life this weekend has been a memorable one for me. Even back in the early days of our marriage and owning this place, back when I didn't go with Rick, there was still a flurry of activity that swooped me up and carried me along with it. If you're in a hunting family, you know what I mean. If not, you're probably wondering what I'm talking about!

This is my first opening day without Rick. He wasn't just a guy who went to work and did everyday things we all do. There was a whole slew of activity swirling around him, like Pigpen's little dust cloud in the Peanuts cartoons. When he walked into a room, especially this time of year, the whole feel of the room changed. As if it was charged with electricity, as if he brought a source of power with him. I could slip into a room without being noticed. When Rick walked in, stuff happened!

So when I lost him I lost everything that went with him. It's closing in on a year since he's been gone. The loss, the grief, the absence of my partner, the pain, it doesn't go away but I've become familiar with it.

And if there's a happy hunting ground somewhere I know Rick is there. And he's sitting quietly on the edge of a field, cedar trees at his back, a cold wind blowing from the north. Waiting.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Christmas Shopping

I was at Lowe's yesterday getting some more paint for my project and there was a couple about my age checking out next to me. Maybe a little older but in my age bracket. They had a cart with two artificial Christmas wreaths in it. Ones made of greenery with red bows. Nothing over the top, just simple wreaths.

As I was loading my paint and caulk in my truck I saw them on the next row loading their purchases in their SUV.

Something about it touched me. It was an ordinary kind of thing. They acted the way couples long together act, not much talking, a calmness about them. As if they had decided before they left home what they needed. Maybe the kids were coming over for the holidays and they wanted to freshen up the decor, buying early to beat the crazy rush later.

The kind of thing you do when you're retired and have plenty of time to think about these things and make plans. The kind of thing Rickie and I would have done. Just a little ordinary thing that goes on in the lives of people living an ordinary life.

The kind of thing I miss the most.