Sunday, December 23, 2012

Views from the Back Yard

As shaggy and overgrown as it is I truly love my back yard.  This autumn I sat out with my camera and snapped photos of various things you can find around it. 
There is always a lot to see in the yard, A lot of plants that seem to have taken over the area with no regard to our wishes.  The chinese tallow tree was a kind addition - seeds dropped by the birds.  We now have several.
Bottles left from an infinished garden product that I haven't been able to work on since my leg got so bad.   The bottles seem to have multiplied on their own.
And I was blessed with an image of two woodpeckers sharing the same tree.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Our neighborhood is near Central Austin which is filled with various little communities.  The biggest and probably the nicest is Hyde Park where there are really nice little cottages, bungalows and Arts and Crafts homes... the kind that came in a kit you could order.  Sounds somewhat like it would be ugly but to my mind they are the nicest houses.  My landlady lives in one of the Victorian homes in that neighborhood. 

Our little area is not so posh but we really like it, mainly because it's a great old house despite the fact that it needs a lot done to it.  We also like our neighbors who more than make up for any problems.  Our next door neighbor is probably the nicest person I have ever met.  Her name is Kay and her house is so cute.  She really takes care of it.  We keep tabs on her mainly because she lives alone and until recently had no computer or phone at home.  She doesn't own a car and gets around walking and riding her bike.  Yet she's pretty intrepid.  She retired last year and this summer she rode her bike from Vermont to Canada by herself. She went to India for a friends wedding then joined a church group who explored parts of India.  She went on a cruise that stopped at little islands for their guests to bike all over.  I find her amazing. 

Down the street lives Eddie, the neighborhood watch (all by himself)  Eddie is at least 60-65 and was born in the same house he lives in.  He no longer owns it but the three guys who bought his house ran out of money and can't build their new houses on the lot so they are letting him live there until they get more money.  Eddie  knows everything about the neighborhood and keeps tabs on the comings and goings.  He has no qualms at yelling at fast cars or big trucks and knows the policeman who patrols our area so can get him to pay more attention to our block.  He delivers flowers for a wholesaler and sometimes if they throw slightly old flowers he gets them and gives them to Kay or me.  He has all our phone numbers and uses them to let us know if something important breaks in our part of the block.

 Fran is our other neighbor who lives at the corner.  He's pretty quiet but has lived here for quite awhile.  He's a caterer and a chef at one of the local restaurants.  When we first moved into the house, Fran had a dog named Maisie who was the friendliest old dog in the world.  She went from house to house looking for her friends (or cats- she hated cats.)  When she died, Eddie called to tell about it and how Fran was really upset.  Maisie was the only dog I knew who would get a pre-breakfast car ride and a walk, have breakfast then go for an after breakfast walk.  She had a special ledge in the van so she could lay and look out without strain.

We know some about other neighbors.  Like the girl who used to live across the street who called the fire department when our house caught on fire.  The man behind us who got in trouble with the Health Department for having a nest of cotton rats in his compost.  He told us he and his wife love to watch the squirrels and birds in our back yard who use the fallen tree for social gatherings.  And yesterday the other man in the yard next to him kindly offered to come help cut some branches with his chain saw when he saw me hand sawing. 

It takes so little to be a neighbor.  Just say hi or smile and wave.  Remark on the morning or the rain.  Try to be friendly.  Our next door neighbors on the non-Kay side have managed to not pick this up so our little cluster of neighbors really don't like them  nor do we, mainly because they throw outdoor parties until 3 in the morning on a week night outside our bedroom window. 

I often think about the old black and white movies where people know their neighbors and help out when someone is in trouble.  I saw that this week after Hurricane Sandy plowed through the Eastern Seaboard.  Some of the ones that stick in my mind are the people who would rig up generators for people to charge their phones and laptops.  People sharing heat to cook and people who just tried to help in as many different ways as they can.  I have been lucky in not being involved with a huge disaster but I know Gene and I would be there trying to help - trying to be a good neighbor.  One of my friends joined the Occupy Sandy movement and I was able to contribute through their link with Amazon. 

Robert Frost once wrote a poem where he stated something like "good fences make good neighbors.." This morning I realised I like the opposite much better.  "Good neighbors make good fences."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Visiting the beach

Since forever, Gene has been wanting to go to the beach.  Just go dip his feet into the water, get some sun and generally go on a tiny vacation. We finally made our reservations and went hopping, skipping and traveling down the back roads to Port Aransas - someplace I hadn't been to in like forever.  One of my favorite parts was going over to the Island on the public ferry - I just love ferries.  Port Aransas is a smaller laid back sort of town a little north-east from Corpus Christi.  You reach it by going over bay to where is sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay. 

We stayed at a funky little cottage style motel called A Laughing Horse Lodge, all painted in bright coast colors of hot pink, turquoise blue and lime green.   it was enjoyable in an old fashioned Texas beach town sort of way.  is the slide show of our room.  Since we had a kitchenette we cooked a bit... we're being careful with our money these days and even that was pretty fun.  I think the room was half the fun, it was so close to the beach and really nice.  We found a very simple homey restaurant that the locals eat at when they grow tired of fish (although we had some really tasty fried grouper for lunch). 

We hit the beach in the early evening and I carefully waded in the shallow part while Gene ventured out further.  It was somewhat windy but we managed to stay out for over an hour before it grew to dark and misty for us to stay out.  Our next day we ventured out  for more but before going to the actual beach we had managed to visit the Leonabelle Turnball Birding Center in Port Aransas and identified a great many birds, including hummingbirds, spoonbills, grebes, cormorants and such. It's part of the Port Aransas Wetlands Park and we did walk around the rushes and the rest of the marsh plants. Lots of both white and brown pelicans.   Gene found a friendly nature photographer who told him we needed to come out early to see the gators.  After the view from the observation piers we headed out to a glorious day of sun, sand and water. I finally thought of how to sit on the sand and let the water roll over me.  Port Aransas sand is extremely fine so it had a tendency to pull us down.  We looked for shells but saw very little although the little butterfly shells could still be found.   Later we realised in our enthusiasm we hadn't covered all of us with the proper sun screen so we both had some sunburn.  But isn't that part of the beach as well. 

Friday saw us heading out going up the coast to the Rockport-Fulton area which is a lovely town on the bay side of the Gulf.  we really loved it and have decided we need to come back and look at it slower.  It's a nice quiet fishing tourist town with some lovely vacation homes, sculptures and mounds of windswept trees rushing and mounding over the area. It's decidedly a more posh sort of area than Port A, filled with large expensive boats and huge vacation homes right on the bay itself.

 I really loved the Big Blue Crab which perches on its pedestal near the water.  This area is noted for it's Blue Crab and Stone Crab.  We decided to try to go crabbing next time on the coast. You can get a day license to fish for them and that's about all we'd need. 

 We also found places where they have tried to reuse the remains of hurricane destroyed houses to build up the shoreline.  Very practical and very sad at the same time.  I found a bit of lovely blue tile that seems to fit right in along the shore as well as a random house number.  There were a free vacant lots and open areas from previous hurricanes as well.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cooking and food

   This weekend I made a pineapple upside down cake.  It's not something I make normally but I had part of a fresh pineapple, some almond meal and the desire to use things we buy.  We get great ideas in my house... I always have something odd stuck on the shelf - either I've bought or he has "found" that sounds really good.  He teaches chess for a living and has a great many Asian and Indian students.  They are generous to their "coach" and often send home jars of sauce, or if he stops in at a small Asian market he picks up something they have at home he's liked.  If I'm making something and ask for him to pick up a random ingredient he will likely bring home two kinds unless I'm very specific.  Saturdays we usually have dinner with my best friend and his partner so I thought it would be perfect to make something for dessert.  Hence the pineapple upside down cake.  It turned out well and we all enjoyed it.

But it got me thinking about how I learned to cook...What was your first step in figuring out how to make stuff.  My family cooked - well back them processed food was more or less a luxury.  My mom and her sisters had grown up in the Depression so they made do quite a bit.  My favorite foods from my grandmother were what I now call depression foods or World War II food.  She served us corn dodgers (her version of hush puppies), spam and had mountains of canned goods.  I played build a fort with those but have a strong memory of tinned peaches.

My mom was a member of the Eastern Star and every month would help cook up the monthly dinner held by the Masonic lodge with whom her group was partnered.  She would always bring home some leftovers.  But I have no memory of her teaching me cook.  I watched her some and when I needed to earn the cooking badge for my girl scout troop she showed me how to make a variety of eggs - scrambled, fried, soft-boiled and hard-boiled. I still have her cookbook given to her by a friend when she was married in 1946.  The favorite part is eating for the war and how to save for the troops, including growing a victory garden.   Dad, coming from new Orleans would sometimes cook something like gumbo and he once made a killer orange juice cook cake that I still haven't found a recipe anywhere although a friend said his grandmother made a similar cake,

Even as a teen and living with my aunt, I didn't cook much.  It wasn't until I was on my own I started figuring out how to make things.  It started out with beans and rice since that was pretty much all I could afford, I slowly branched out and tried new things.  I joined a food co-op and bought grains and such in bulk with them.  I worked at eating places and slowly drifted into cooking.  I joined a re enactment group and learned to do a lot of major cooking for large groups. 

I just fell in love with cooking, the whole journey from raw ingredients to finished product.  I enjoy the sharing of it.  I found I love reading cookbooks and learning about cultures through their food.  Mostly I just love watching people eat when I've created. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

a few more flowers

I'm being a bit lazy so thought I'd add more flowers.  I have a few more photos of odds and ends and will get those posted soon.  I can't figure out the exact coreopsis the flowers are - I suspect there is a mixture.  I will narrow it down more shortly.  I think the majority of them are Golden Tickseed or some relative but I haven't made a final decision. 

I think this purple flowers are a Belladonna or trompillo.  I know it's related to the potato family.  

Poor thing.  It's the last bluebonnet of spring by the side of the road.  Still blooming bravely amid the yellow flowers.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Often I find that the smaller flowers are in more interesting place.  This little daisy was under a wide band of gaillardias and coreopsis.  I haven't identified them yet but I like the contrast of the limestone rocks with the greens of the plants. 
The Texas thistles were in an empty field fenced off by an assortment of wire some of it being used for what it was intended and others borrowed.  Some of the heads had gone to seed while many were in full bloom.

The hills were alive with golden flowers dotted with horsemint and thistles.  I have never seen such a solid swathe of gold before.  On the hills in the distance you could see areas of a yellow green which we figured out were actually meadows filled with the golden flowers. 

 Here and there we saw fields of the red Indian Blankets or Gaillardia - one of my favorite colors.  I found a few patches of bluebonnets that were trying to finish out in style. 

May Roadtrip - Part One - The Bat Roost

We decided to head out to the Texas Hill Country for an overnight and picked Comfort Texas because although both of us have spent considerable time in the Hill Country and we both have lived in San Antonio, we never got up to Comfort.  The Texas Hill Country is full of oddities, beauties and quite a bit of entertaining places.

borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.

My picture taking is so hit and miss.  I see things in hind sight that I should have taken.  I took almost no pictures of Comfort itself.  Comfort is a wonderful little town located in Kendall County,  It's roughly 45 miles northwest of San Antonio and 72 miles west of Austin unless, you decide to wander.  It was originally settled by German freethinkers.  These guys were mostly intellectuals who were non religious and anti slavery.  This tended to get them into trouble.  It was 1900 before the first churches were built in Comfort and during the Civil War, about 35 men were ambushed and killed while on their way to Mexico by Confederate soldiers.  The bodies, which had been left exposed were collected and buried in Comfort.   The monument is called Treuer der Union and honors these German freethinkers.

The whole main street (called High Street because it sits higher than the rest from the Cypress Creek that runs through the town) is filled with wonderful old limestone buildings.  We stayed at this really cool B&B called Meyers Bed and Breakfast which is directly on the creek.  All the rooms are in historical buildings (although the insides are remodeled and have modern features).  After we checked in we took off and went riding making a big circle from Comfort to the Bandera Pass and then back through the Lost Maples area.  We've already decided we're coming back there was so much to see and do.  Plus I can take more photos.  

One of the places quite close to Comfort was this structure called the Bat Roost.  It's technically on private property but you can see it from the road.  We got out and stared at it for quite awhile and took some photos of it.  The Bat Roost was an idea thought up by Dr. Charles Campbell in an effort to help control malaria carrying mosquitoes.  His experiment was whether bats (who eat large quantities of mosquitoes) could be raised like bees, keeping the bug population down and also providing valuable bat guano at the same time.  Since bats don't just pick any old shelter to roost in, Campbell experimented with various building shapes until he came up with one design.  Calling it the Bat Roost, he pretty much promoted the use of them with astonishing results.  You can read it here in a excellent article written by Mari Murphy for Bat Conservation International:  (look in their archives)   BCI is a wonderful organization working on appreciating how much bats help (especially in the Austin area.)

I had never heard of it but we found it in a newly planted pear orchard and took some photos from the street.  One of them is a little blurry but hopefully you can appreciate the photos.  This one located in Comfort, like I said, is on private land as is the other one somewhere in Texas. The third remaining structure is in Florida.   In the BCI article, it stated that Campbell was nominated in 1919 for a Nobel Prize.

Part Two if the Comfort trip will appear shortly. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April blooms

Last weekend we went on a drive which was lovely and sad at the same time.  The old roads are slowly changing to make way for developments and small communities of slap together almost identical buildings.  I really miss the winding roads that had few cars and lots of nature.  The up side is that Texas really loves it's roadside flowers (thanks to the prompting of Ladybird Johnson and her like minded companions).  With the solid rains we had everything is deep in bloom.

Purple verbena
Since the shoulders have become increasingly smaller and the cars going by seem to not be happy if you wander too slow, we pulled off into one of the new yet to be finished developments.  For about thirty minutes I hobbled around on the old crutches and Gene ambled in and amid the cedar and other trees.  He had had to really encourage me to get out - the trouble of getting in and out of the car sometimes makes it really difficult to be enthused.  I'm glad I did.  I found some really lovely flowers and got some fairly nice shots.  
A Texas thistle getting ready to bloom

antelope horn milkweed

I'll probably go in and edit these a bit but wanted to get some photos up in time for spring.  It goes so quickly here.  It's almost summer weather. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

An old poem found amid the treasures.


We take tea
You and I
Amid the cutlery and jam jars.
You tell me how unhappy you are
and I notice how red
the blooms on the geranium look reflecting
in the toaster.
You are always unhappy -
This time it was the man you were seeing
It could have been your car, your job --
it doesn't matter.
I sit watching changes in the weather, the clouds.
I try to listen, I try to care,
but your unhappiness just fills the room with smoke
-burning toast- I think
and then the geraniums catch my eye.

I have no idea about when I wrote this.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Scent of Spring

Having survived a rough summer last year, Austin has been rewarded with a mild winter and a sizable chunk of rain.  The result is a very lush green spring full of growth, flowers and what I consider to be the scent of what spring is here on my side of town.  Every year when the grass gets long and lush you hear the sound of the lawnmowers revving up in various parts of the neighbor hood.  Our front lawn got mowed (minus the bits of wildflowers I was allowed to leave and let bloom.  (Alas, it need mowing again although it's been about a week and a half.  Its that scent of the assorted mowed herbage that tells me it's spring. But it's one particular plant that tells me it's spring.

wild onions
 Thomas, one of my friends from way back drifted over with flower pots looking for wild plants to "borrow". We three wandered out and I found him spiderwort, pigeon berry and escapee sunflowers from the bird feeder. I also offered up the main produce from our back yard and the reason I know it's spring. Wild onions. They grow wild freely in our part of Austin - actually most of Austin . Our back yead is full of them. We dig them up and eat them. I dug some up for a co-worker (one of my fellow temps). The plants I'm growing are technically not wild onions but wild garlic or Allium canadese var. canadense - Texas has 16 varieties of wild onion throughout the state. In my neck of the woods, these take the prize. The onions not only produce underground bulbs but little flowers and bulbets on the top. All edible. They are amazingly strong but really tasty. We have other varieties including the Allium drummundii  with it's cute little pink flowers (it's milder as well)  growing near us but the canadense certainly wins as the big crop in the yard.

The back yard with its sense of abandon and mayhem has been allowed the freedom of expression.  Those dead trees make it hard to do a simple mow, not only are they big but they also drop stray branches, bits (actually chunks) of dead bark making us pick them all up before we can mow.  Since I'm not more or less on crutches until we figure out (and afford) what it is to make it better and Gene's into aversion on mowing without me for fear of cutting down the wild plant I want to keep things just don't get mowed.  So our weeds have gotten quite tall.  The onions have managed over about a third of the yard although I've found them hidden in the rosemary and culinary sage - (the survivors of last summer 100+ degree weather.  They haven't been as hearty as the ones in the main patch. 

on the left the patch of wild alliums behind the tree - ignore the weeds.
I've really enjoyed them this year.  We've used them in a number of dishes where you can use green onions or other onions.  Edible Austin had this fabulous recipe for using them in a tart (or quiche) here - 

and Edible Rhode Island had this wild onion pesto that sounds really good  on bread toasted or maybe on a baked potato.  My co-worker loves them with eggs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thinking of past Februaries

I'm sitting here celebrating my last day of freedom before I start a temp job.  I have almost given up thinking I would get a permanent job (and definitely not at the University)  Yes, I seem to have developed anger issues with a University that thinks it's God's gift to the Universe.  I mean they pay their head football coach over 6 Million a year but can't seem to remember to hire people who need jobs.  (long long story). 

But I wander.  The fact that I start work tomorrow made me think about other jobs I have had in February.

My best memory is when I worked at this little bookstore with my best friend Hal (who was also my housemate).  I actually got him hired since I worked there first.  It was originally down in south South Austin and I was happy when they moved.  However the choice (although about a mile or two from our house) was ideal - the choice was terrible for a book store.  It was linked with a gift store and a card store and the owner put them all in one huge storefront.  In a virtually empty outdoor mall.  While it was never busy, we got to read, hang out with the manager (really cool fellow named Robert) and eat at the little Bistro behind us which had the best Mulligawney Soup and a Queen Victoria cake that was sooooo good.  One February - Austin got ice and snow so the whole city closed right down. (A tendency in central and southern Texas towns.)  Eeek!  Snow - they say and all life stops.  So Hal and I - growing bored at home after two and a half days - suited up and walked to the store in the pretty empty city.  We got there made hot drinks and settled in for a few happy hours of reading, cleaning and just generally seeing things outside other windows.   So who walks in but Robert who was tired of being home as well.  We got customers who also were bored.  Still a nice day. (The store and it's other paired stores (the cards and the gifts) were eventually sold to what became a mega store by the mismanaging owner who had no business sense at all).

My other memory of work and February is the second day of work at the University.  I got there only to have them shut it down for a sever ice storm.  I managed to get on the last shuttle home and what normally takes 10 minutes to travel to home, took close to an hour.  Then I had to walk on the icy street with the crazy drivers.  The following year we had 80+ degree weather.

This year the weather has been wet but not too bad.  I will enjoy the foray out with real people who want me to do something.  I will hopefully feel appreciated out there in the workplace.  It will be good.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The sinister cedar

Every year about this time, I start hating trees.  Not all trees - just the ones who make my life miserable for a month or so.  You wouldn't think a tree could attack and win over thousands of people... knocking them low to where they lie in their beds, wishing they were dead.  You hear people on the bus, in the office or classroom, hacking, sneezing and basically looking like dead warmed over.

Enter the Mountain Cedar... (Juniperus ashei )  who during the months of December through May court and spark with the male trees dumping their pollen over the neighborhood in hopes of fathering baby cedars.  And its no light dusting.  The trees can easily look like they are on fire with the amount of pollen they dump.  Nor is it the occasional tree.  Think crab grass, or lawn weeds and you have an idea of how many we have in Austin and the Hill Country.  They have other bad habits as well - they absorb huge amounts of our ground water - especially during droughts.They choke out native hardwood trees and Blackland Prairie grasses. I think the one good thing about them is they provide shelter for songbirds in our areas.  

But in the months of December through February they are the deadliest of trees.  I think of this as I sit sneezing and feeling the pollen creeping into my body.