A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

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!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

If I Could Only Fly

Last night I dreamed again that Rickie came back. I have this dream every so often. When he first died I found myself thinking often that he would come back though I knew he wouldn't. But my mind thought it anyway. Or maybe it was my heart doing the thinking.

The rain woke me up, blowing loudly against the windows. I tried to go back to sleep, to pick the dream back up. Sometimes if I'm only half awake I can get back to my dreams. But the wind and rain were persistent and I never could go back and find him. The dream just evaporated.

It's been a crummy week. Lots of things going on that have made me feel sad and overwhelmed. Some big, some small. But even the little things seem determined to pile on. The lawnmower won't start and I'm in the process of learning to change the spark plug, waiting on the rain to clear out. Which shouldn't be hard after I've already learned to change the oil and replace the battery in the Mule. And the new washer makes a squeaking noise, like a belt squeaking or something. I'm ignoring that right now because it's not causing problems yet.

I used to have a sign that read "it's not the mountains ahead that wear you out, it's the grain of sand in your shoe." I feel like one more thing going wrong, no matter how small, will be the one that does me in.

Everyone has these weeks, I know. I'm not special in that. But it's been that kind of week for me. It'd be pretty sad if the woman who completed her room addition almost singlehandedly was done in by a squeaky washer.

This afternoon late I walked back to the ridge, hoping to find some peace. It's been cloudy all day and the low light makes all the new leaves on the oaks such a bright green it looks unreal. As if someone edited the photo to an unnatural shade. I didn't find the peace I was looking for though I found some beauty.

On the way back I stopped to pick up a little skull fragment from one of the deer Rick or the boys shot in the last few years. We had a place back on the hill where we put out the share for the scavengers. When the cedar was cut this was cleared and the bone fragments are scattered.

Like the fragments of my life.

"I almost felt you touching me just now, I wish I knew which way to turn and go.......if I could only fly, if I could only fly, I'd bid this place goodbye to come and be with you. But I can hardly stand and I got no place to run, another sinking sun and one more lonely night."


Friday, March 18, 2016

Texas Mountain Laurel

As soon as I opened the back door I could smell it. It smells just like grape Kool-Aid. It drifted up from the pasture over the whole back yard.

Our Texas Mountain Laurel had finally bloomed! We've had it for 20 years or so and most years it never blooms. When it does it's only a couple of tiny blooms and you have to stick your nose up on them to smell it. This year it's covered with the beautiful purple clusters of flowers. They drape like those of wisteria.

I had walked down the hill where it's planted a few days ago. Buzzards had been flying low over that area for a couple of days. I suspected there was a dead animal but I didn't find one. I was, however, surprised to see the mountain laurel covered with flower buds!

We originally planted it in what is now our front yard. After 4 or 5 years we decided it wasn't going to do well there so Rick moved it down the hill in hopes of it being better suited to the soil, or lack of, that it liked. Still all these years it has looked puny. Several times we thought about cutting it down just because it was annoying to see them in Kerrville, Austin, and Fredericksburg looking so huge and covered with blooms and ours looking half dead.

A few years ago the longhorns attacked it, presumably looking for grass growing up under it, and broke half the branches off. We don't prune it into tree shape since any little tree trunks are tempting to a buck as a place to rub their antlers in the Fall. So it's just a big shrub, and not all that big for its age.

Every Spring is different here and that's the wonderfulness of it. You quickly learn to treasure little things and things you realize you may never see again. Like the Clark's Nutcracker I saw in 1994, a bird rarely seen in our area, and not seen by us since. Or the year the native verbena covered the ground in a blanket of purple.

Or this week when we had over 4" of rain and the draw behind the house has been flowing ever since. In the afternoon and evening you can hear the frogs down there. They spend most of their lives waiting on rain and emerge when the water flows to lay eggs and sing the night away.

You enjoy the pink blooms covering the old peach tree more because each year may be its last. We had two and lost one in the bad drought of 2011. Rick was going to cut this surviving one down and let the shoots below the graft grow to see what we would get. But I didn't have the heart to cut it down so I cut the new shoots off and the old tree has been covered with beautiful blooms.

So I guess the moral of this story is this - never give up. Not on the old sad looking things you love that seem to be down for the count, not on the little frogs and toads that wait for months on end for rain, and not on yourself. There may yet be another glorious Spring ahead. And when it comes, grab your boots and don't let it pass unnoticed. It might never come again.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Last Unfinished Business

The fence guys finished up today. They replaced the garden fence that was falling down and added a gate at the road to the side of the property that had no access except through the longhorns' pen.

I've been disappointed in contractors not showing up when they said they would but I've not been disappointed in any of them once they made it out here, and the fence guys were no exception. They have all done what I asked and usually more and they have all treated me with kindness.

I asked the fence guys to add two electric hot wires to the fence and to add some chicken wire along the bottom to keep the rabbits out. These aren't things they usually do. They're normally working on big ranch jobs with lots of fencing and they do cedar clearing. They never gave an indication this was beneath them but really, it kind of was. It wasn't quite as bad as asking the plumber to load the
dishwasher but it was close!

I spent a little bit of time working with them today helping add the chicken wire. It was something I could do and I didn't want them to run out of time. We finished that and they added the hot wires. They didn't like the corner pieces I had bought; they felt they weren't sturdy enough. They said they'll probably come back by and bring something better.

I've got a lot of work to do in the garden. It's a mess from neglect and just after Winter. But the peach and plum trees are starting to bud out and the old peach tree has tons of flowers just showing some color!

I've got some painting to do on the fence, on the welded posts that make up the framework. I told the guys I had more free time than they did and I'd paint them. It lets them finish today and move on to another job next week. And really, I'm ready for everyone to be gone and just get back to what constitutes normal for me now.

The garden gate has a place to hang a sign. I have one I may move there, a cut iron one a friend had made when I retired. I'm indecided yet; I also like it where it is!

I've spent the last year and a bit more trying to get all the things done that Rick wanted to do and couldn't. This fence work was the last thing. I feel like I can move slower now, the urgency to get these things done before something happens to me has passed.

I still have things to do, just like everyone else. I need to paint the original cabin bathroom, get the garden in shape, cut some little cedars and some firewood, dig prickly pear, finish with the load of granite gravel I have, paint a bench, finish my defenses against skunks trying to move under the bunkhouse, etc. And down the road I'll have to find someone to haul off the cut cedar. But the list of goals for our place has been completed.

With all my heart I wish Rick and I could have accomplished these things together and that he could see how they turned out. It's as if all the years of hard work paid off and the icing on the cake was added. But we have to play the hand we're dealt. And I've tried to play this bad hand as best as I can. It's not in me to fold, as it wouldn't be in Rickie if he was trying to finish my business.

I hope it honors him, as that has been my unfinished business.

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.