A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Monday, July 30, 2012

Be It Ever So Humble

Living Large in our Little House and the Tiny House Blog, a couple of Facebook pages I love, shared some photos of our little cabin this week.  They are both great sources of information on living happily in a small house and both have blogs that you can link to from their Facebook page.

Several people asked so I thought I would share a little about how our cabin came to be. The first 15 years we had our place we had a little travel trailer we stayed in. If you have ever gone to a “good ole boys” deer or fish camp, then you have an idea of what that was like! It was not an adorable little trailer like the Sisters on the Fly (www.sistersonthefly.com) have. The ceiling was falling in, the floor was patched, and we never opened the bottom kitchen cabinets for fear of what was lurking there. Sometimes it’s just better if you don’t know!

Eight and a half years ago we built the little cabin. We had many different ideas we tossed around before we settled on the way it is. We had a certain amount to spend and we could either build a cabin with more square footage but finished with less costly materials and less energy-saving features, or we could build smaller. As smaller, we could have more small rooms or fewer big rooms. We settled on building one big “great room” that we would also sleep in. Then we could always add a bedroom later. We thought about putting a loft over the kitchen but decided against it. We didn’t want to lose the open feeling of the high ceiling or the floor space a stair would take, and we aren’t getting any younger, so climbing a ladder wasn’t appealing!

We had someone build the cabin shell for us. (http://www.springbranchtradingpost.com/index.htm) We finished what we could on the inside. We installed insulation, tongue and groove walls in the living area, beaded board on the kitchen wall and in the bathroom, and a tin ceiling in the bathroom. We put shelves in from leftover wall lumber. We sealed the walls and ceiling, painted the beaded board. We hired contractors to do what we didn't feel comfortable doing.

The cabin consists of a 20 x 20 great room, an 8 x 8 bathroom, a 6 x 20 front porch and an 8 x 12 back porch.

The kitchen island began life as an Ikea storage table. We extended the top and tiled it. The main tiles are inexpensive ones from the home store and I used some handmade Mexican tiles that I purchased in Austin as accent tiles. I closed in the bottom open shelf so that we could hide the pantry items stored there. The side facing the sink I left open. I used leftover beaded board to close it in.

We have a stackable washer/dryer combination next to the refrigerator. We originally had track lighting where the barn lights are. But they kept going out and we had to bring in a 12 foot ladder to replace them. It got to be too much trouble and again, we aren't getting any younger! We ordered these online and bought the galvanized light over the sink to match from a home store.

I made a curtain for the bathroom and we hung it on a galvanized pipe with shower curtain rings. This hides the water heater and the storage shelves. 

The tote bags hanging on the wall by the storage shelves have nail polish and supplies in one and hair brushes in the other.

I put a lot of hooks for towels in the bathroom for when we have company!

We screened in the back porch and built a broom closet there. I made the door from leftover tin, beaded board I painted red, and a burlap bag that fatwood fire starter came in. The little fence next to the closet and the old wooden whiskey crate hide the recycling bag. 

We had a stone mason do the fireplace and the cabin skirting. Since then I have tried my hand at masonry, stoning in the bottom of one of the storage buildings we have so I might try my hand at that again, but not sure I want to tackle a fireplace. 

We had hoped to make a mantel from a large elm on the property. It’s hard to find a tall straight tree in our neck of the woods and we had a couple of these elms here. But when Rickie cut it down it was rotten in the middle. So he found a place that would sell him a large unfinished piece of mesquite that had been kiln dried. He sanded it and sealed in. He installed it on two cedar supports he had cut on our place.

We bought a book called Rainwater Collection for the Mechanically Challenged. We studied it and put in gutters and a cistern. The cistern we purchased was manufactured in San Marcos and was in keeping with the style of the cabin. It's metal and has a fiberglass liner. We use it for watering our plants so we don't filter it.

I think that because we did do some of the work ourselves it means more to us than if we hadn't. It gives us a sense of satisfaction that we might not have otherwise. And because we spent so many years using the "deer camp" travel trailer we appreciate the little cabin more than we might if we just came out and built something right away. We would still love it but maybe not have some of the emotional attachment to it that we have. Getting your hands dirty with the work makes a difference! We didn't have a lot of experience when we started so don't let that keep you from trying.

The cabin was basically finished so we could live in it after 4-5 months, although we did some things later. We gave the little travel trailer to the young man that built the cabin shell and he took it off to a deer lease. And we all lived happily ever after!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Grass Is Always Greener

The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, and in this case it really was greener.

I took a trip to Mason this week to check out the antique shops there. I am in love with metal advertising signs and wanted to see what they had. I also need some old turned table legs because one day I am going to turn an old door my dad gave me into a table. 

Mason County has fields piled with gigantic pink granite boulders. In these places it looks as if you landed on another planet. It is also the only county in Texas where blue topaz, the state gemstone, is found. Most importantly, it is home to Old Yeller, whose creator Fred Gipson, grew up there.  

I made an unexpected discovery while on the square downtown. My neighbors had told me The Square Plate Café had great food. We’ve always gone to another café there and so I thought I would check out the Square Plate. I was happily surprised when I found out this is the old Engel’s Deli from Fredericksburg. It closed a few years ago and I was sad to see it go. That was the first place Sarah and I ever went to eat in Fredericksburg many years ago and it was always my favorite. A friend from Ingram took us there and it is part of that memory in my heart of “first trip to Fredericksburg ”. 

I didn’t go to the Texas Hill Country growing up. My family came from Louisiana and we lived in the Houston area always after we moved to Texas. My family felt no draw to the dry country I love. We were from a state of wetlands, swamps, deep piney woods, and an abundance of green. The Houston area provided all these things. 

That trip to Fredericksburg was part of my first visit to the Hill Country and I have not been the same since then. There was a time when I would have moved to Mississippi or to Toledo Bend Lake on the Louisiana-Texas border or any number of places closer to my roots. But once I went to the Hill Country all that changed. 

Rickie brought us here when Sarah was 4 years old. He was going on a hog hunt on the famous YO Ranch with a guide he had become friends with through his job. We stayed at their house on a hill overlooking the town of Ingram. I was in love immediately. The trip to Fredericksburg solidified my love affair with the hills and the dry climate and the old stone buildings the early German settlers built. 

The twisted live oaks, low humidity, the early fall breezes, the abundance of wildlife, the big sky, the hills, the rocks, and the clear waters all drew me in.

The morning we got up to head back home to Lafayette, where we were living at the time, it was a crisp clear 55 degrees. Before we even made it to Houston it was 92 and humid. I knew then I was never going to be happy living in a wet humid climate. We set our goal to have a place here one day. That was in 1986. In 1989 we purchased our place. Because of our jobs we have not been able to live here full time. But every chance we got, every holiday weekend, almost every vacation we have spent here. 

Of my generation in my family, I am the only one that feels this draw to a dry climate, this focus on being here no matter what. And yet even I have been longing for some greenery. Last year’s drought took its toll on everything, including me. We’ve had more rainfall this year, but when you start with dirt, it takes a long time for the land to recover. Experts say it takes at least two years. And they’re being overly optimistic, in my opinion.

Mason has had more rainfall than we have and I was pleasantly surprised to see how green it was there. The temperature was a little cooler that day and it was beautiful. The antique shops close down for lunch and as I waited for them to reopen I walked down the sidewalk on the square. 

I love looking at real estate and I am always trying to convince my sister Kathy to move close to me, so I stopped to check out the flyers in a real estate office window. There were several cute little houses and I called my sis to tell her about them. Then I called Rickie to tell him I saw a house I was in love with. I’m in love with the cabin I have, but I love cuteness in general, and old houses in particular and wanted to go see a couple of the houses. I should have been a realtor. He said to go for it!

One house was in town. It was a rock house and the outside walls were amazing! They were stone, big fossils, and petrified wood. It had a guest house and was on an acre with room for a garden and even goats or chickens. It was within walking distance of the square with antique shops, cafes, and an old theater that offers not only movies but entertainment from the likes of Asleep At The Wheel and Marcia Ball. It is perfect for my sister if only she would agree and buy it! Then we could stay with her when we go to Mason to see Marcia Ball.

The other house was full-blown, pure-dee Texas history. It was built in 1870. Mr. Favor and Rowdy were driving longhorns up the trail then. The original two rooms were thick stone walls with window wells a foot deep and high ceilings. There was a separate stone guest house and stone steps leading to a cellar. (The photo is of the guest house and cellar.) There were old outbuildings. It was a piece of Texas history from when Germans settled in the area. It was on three acres a mile from town and I was in love with it. There were big pecan trees and the grass was green. The current owners had a sprinkler going to keep it that way and apparently a well strong enough to do that.

Rickie and I actually tossed around the idea of moving to this house. Or more accurately, I tossed it around and he tossed it around because he knows I love old houses and he knows it is sometimes lonely out here in the Wild West with him working out of town, even for a gal who likes to be alone. But there were some drawbacks. There was no caliche there and we both love caliche, even the smell of it. (When I worked in Houston I kept a jar of it on my desk to smell when I was homesick for the ranch.) There was no place to cut firewood. There were no woods to go for walks in. No rocks, fossils, and Clovis points to find. No twisted live oaks. No cedar. No cliff overlooking the draw. No place to study nature and the history of the land. There were no families of wild turkeys in the yard (although they did have a chicken house and hens!). There were no does and fawns at the water tanks. No close place to go tubing with the grandkids. No place to hunt; no Shotgun Ridge and no Ten-Point Gap. There was no cabin that we had helped build with our own hands. No swing from Sarah’s childhood. No places for Bixby to follow in Sarah’s footsteps. No memories.

In the end, I realized that it is not only going to take two years for the land to recover from the drought, it is going to take me two years to recover. It’ll rain again and we’ll see grass green here. Rickie will retire and together we’ll cut some cedar and on some Saturday nights we’ll drive to Mason and Marcia Ball will play the hell out of her piano and Ray Benson will drive his Daddy to drinking because of that hotrod Lincoln. And if Kathy has bought that house, we’ll spend the night with her. And if she hasn’t, we’ll drive back under the stars big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. Back home, where the grass is always greener. Even when it’s brown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Wild and Woolly Week

The trouble started Thursday when I came back from town. Gus and Woodrow were blocking the road to the cabin, which is not unusual that time of day. They usually get rowdy when they see me coming especially if it’s past feeding time. But they looked so calm and well-behaved I thought I would get out of the truck and take their picture. They seemed to be posing! After getting a couple of shots I saw Woodrow lower his head and shake it and lift one front foot. This is his cue that he is fixing to get a little Western on me! He began his one steer stampede in my direction, while Gus thought it over. I don’t usually run from them since I think that encourages them to run with me, but I high-tailed it to the truck as quick as I could! 

I told them to “go home” and pointed my arm toward their pen, which is their command to go to where they are fed. They trotted off peaceably and I drove on into the cabin yard and fed them.

Friday morning I made the rounds as usual filling all the bird feeders and tossing some milo out for the turkeys. I have been wearing some heavy duty Bogs garden boots all summer, even with my shorts. They are thick and have good ankle support on this rocky ground. I believe they will protect me from a coral snake bite which I think about when I am scooping up mulch from under the oak trees. Probably not from a bigger snake bite, but they may lessen the grip one could get on me. Or so I hope! Friday I didn’t put them on; instead just slipped my Crocs on, which is almost like wearing house slippers. That was my first mistake. My second one was not watching the ground as I came to the last feeder. This is a wire sunflower seed feeder not far from the back porch. I also put seed on the ground under the feeder for the ground feeding birds and the squirrels. It helps keep the squirrels off the feeder. The turkeys come here also and the ground is scratched up from all the activity.

I know that snakes come to where we put seed out, looking for an easy meal of the birds that are there. A few years ago Rickie found a rattler out by the deer feeders and my neighbors have found one eating a cardinal by their feeder. So normally I watch the ground. But Friday I was looking out over the hills. All at once I heard a rustling in the leaves on the ground by me and saw a rattlesnake come out from between my feet. He turned and coiled facing me. I jumped backwards away from him and I have to tell you, I was some kind of scared. I don’t have a snake phobia like some people. I have a live and let live attitude toward snakes mostly. But as Lance Morrow said, “a rattlesnake loose in the living room tends to end all discussion of animal rights.” Substitute “back yard” for “living room” and you get my train of thought. I’ve seen the TV show about snake bite victims and it’s not pretty.

I went in the cabin and got the little single shot 410 shotgun and some shells. He was still where I left him and that’s where he died. I’ve killed snakes before but that is the first one I’ve shot. I’ve used a hoe to kill copperheads and other poisonous snakes in other yards I have lived in. I wouldn’t want to try to kill a rattlesnake with a hoe unless I had nothing else. 

I was by myself and I learned a long time ago that sometimes you have to kill your own snakes, both literally and figuratively, and I’ve done both when I had to. I've had contact with rattlesnakes before but this was my first close encounter with a rattler and it shook me up. I put the shotgun up, took the snake to the pasture for the buzzards, and poured myself a glass of Rebecca Creek Texas whiskey. My friend Lois said the whiskey manual specifies a finger of whiskey for each foot of snake and I think this is a good sound policy.

There were some dove feathers by the snake and I first thought he had eaten the dove and that might have slowed him down some and kept him from biting me. But thinking about it, the bird was a white wing dove and they are pretty big. The snake was 3’ and didn’t have a big bulge where the bird would be. So I think something else got the dove. I was lucky.

Monday we had a storm move in and with it came lightning. We are still dry from last year’s drought and there are a lot of dead cedars around. My neighbor Scott was outside and smelled smoke. He went down the road to investigate, while his wife Martha called to update me. Our neighbor Robin is on high ground and her place is the lookout point for our end of the street. Scott went there and they spotted a fire the lightning had started. He called it in and waited for help to come. The fire was put out and we had a little bit of rain that helped. After all the wildfires last year, we take these things seriously. This is the second lightning strike fire that Scott and Martha have spotted. Due to this the fires have been put out before they become big and dangerous. We need a fire tower on our street and we can take turns manning it! 

In between the rattler and the wildfire, my daughter Sarah and grandson Bixby came to visit. We took Bixby to the river so he could become an official river rat! We improvised an ice chest for a swimming pool on the back porch and gave him a bath in an old metal pan that his Pampaw used to take a bath in when he was a baby. We took his picture with his mom on the swing her dad built for her when she was 8 years old. He started his rock collection with a river rock. 

It’s been a wild and wooly week here at the ranch but all’s well that ends well, and we are ending this one with rain in the gauge!