Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A carport! With cars in it!

We spent several hours tonight cleaning up in and around the carport, and now... check it out. We can actually park cars in the carport! What a concept!

Look! Cars in the carport instead of horses! We must be getting civilized or something!

We moved the horse trailer to the far left of the drive so that there's room for another trailer that's coming in this weekend. We cleaned out all the shavings, mats, and panels from when the horses were in the carport during the super muddy/rainy weeks earlier in the year (watch, now it will rain for a week straight since I no longer have a place to put the horses out of the mud. Haha.) We moved the camper to behind the carport so that it's less obvious from the street. The hubby also moved a pile of lumber salvaged from the carport demo to under the eves of the guest house. Finally, I spent quite some time running the magnetic sweeper around at the edges of the asphalt to pick up any leftover nails and other metal bits, so that the horses won't step on them and we won't get them stuck in a vehicle tire.

Whew, it was a very productive evening!

Stupid is as stupid does

Tonight I did something colossally stupid.

I stuck my hands in a pair of gloves that had been laying on the windowsill outside the door for the last week or two.

I know better than to do this. I grew up in the Deep South, where you check under just about everything for venomous snakes, not to mention black widow and brown recluse spiders. You check your shoes, you check your gloves. You don't stick you hand in some place you haven't already checked.

And just my luck, there was a scorpion in the left glove. A striped bark scorpion, to be exact. He stung me right on the webbing between my index and middle finger before I could get my hand out of the glove. And by stung, I mean he got me good.

I've never been stung by a scorpion before, but let me tell you it is not a fun thing. The initial pain is far beyond a bee sting - in fact, I ran back in the house holding my hand (I'd yanked the glove off) and yelling for my husband to come see what was in my glove. I washed the site with soap and water, then grabbed an ice pack, and headed out the back door in time to see the hubby shake the scorpion out of my glove. I stomped the sucker to death, then invited a chicken over to dine on the corpse. Revenge is sweet, if somewhat fleeting.

Since we were working outside this evening, I kept a cold cloth on my hand since it significantly reduced the pain. After a few minutes, a tingling/numb sensation set in around the sting site, about halfway up my index and middle finger, and along the back of my hand. Four hours later, the area is still painful and tingling, and it's a little colder than the surrounding skin.

Fortunately, I'm not allergic to scorpions,and didn't have any shortness of breath, dizziness, or other associated symptoms. However, let me tell you, I will NOT be blindly sticking my hands into any gloves without carefully inspecting them first, and I will be carefully checking over other things as well. There are plenty of scorpions in this part of Texas - we'd seen them outside when we were demolishing the front brick columns - so I need to be more aware and more careful.

To top things off, I found another one of the little buggers under the sink while I was cooking dinner. He's dead, too. And while I really don't like using pesticides, especially with the dogs, kids, and chickens, we may need to exterminate. Scorpions are just... *shudder*. Well, you get the idea.

Why I am no longer on speaking terms with my oven

Last night after dinner (the timeline is important here, so make note of this), I decided to use up the dead bananas to make some banana nut bread, a favorite around here.

I tossed the ingredients into the stand mixer, let it mix, poured the batter into the bread pan, and put it into the oven.

An hour later, kiddo#1 came in to tell me that the banana nut bread might be done, since the top of the crust was nice and golden and it was starting to smell really good.

I pulled it out of the oven, but it was gooey in the center, so I put it back in and went to take a shower.

After the shower, the hubby mentioned that the banana nut bread might be done, since it was looking so yummy. I tested again, and it was still liquid in the center. I put it back in again - at this point it had been in the oven for over an hour and a half.

At 5:38 the morning, I woke up to an oddly sweet, yet burnt, smell, and it occurred to me I'd better go take the banana nut bread out of the oven.

Banana nut bread, carbon edition.

I am not talking to this oven any more. I want my convection oven back. And my gas stove.

Did I mention I'm supposed to be cooking Easter dinner this Sunday for 9? If you're on the guest list, you might want to make alternative plans.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Water, water, everywhere?

Last week, I flew out to meet my hubby for a few days of R&R after a conference. As usual, the plane was routed through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. I was lucky to get a window seat, and on the approach I noticed something that really bugged me:

How many pools can you count in this picture? They're the little blue dots. I got to 50 and stopped counting, and that wasn't even half of the homes in this picture.

Where is all that water for those pools coming from? Well, notice how much of the shoreline of the reservoir you can see that's not covered with vegetation. I'm not sure which reservoir it is (Dallas has several), but they're all quite low.

And check out this branch of the reservoir. The water should go nearly 2/3 across the picture from right to left... but it only goes about 1/3 of the way across. Again, this reservoir is nowhere near full.

Seriously, I get antsy if we (a family of four) use more than 3000 gallons of water per month. 3500 is our absolute max, and that's for everything. We don't water the lawn or anything other than edible plants, we have low-flow toilets, faucets, and shower heads, and we don't leave the water running in the sinks. And yet, when I see lots and lots of people with huge pools and a low reservoir, I wonder if it's worth it. If we are so careful, why shouldn't they be? Central Texas had another bad drought last summer, and although we've had good rainfall so far this year, there's no guarantee that will continue. And with the population of Central Texas projected to expand significantly in the next 10-15 years, our water issues will just get worse.

In fact, while waiting for the plane, I overheard a man talking about water rights in one of the western counties. Apparently the county has no groundwater, so all their water has to be trucked or piped in. Can you imagine having water trucked in for your use? I'm sure this is the norm for some people, but if that were the case here, I'd watch every drop! And pools? You've got to be kidding. And you have to wonder how often the actually get used. Not enough to justify all the water that's being used to fill them, I bet.

Rant over - I have to go take a shower. With my low-flow shower head, of course. ;)

The Mob

Around here, there is prolific bird life this time of year. We must be on the edge of a migratory path or something, because I've seen all kinds of birds I don't normally. Living on the edge of a greenspace might have something to do with it too, but who knows.

We have the mating pair of red-shouldered hawks that live next door. One of them, I'm guessing the female, is HUGE. Perhaps some day I'll manage to get a picture of them, but usually they're too far away for my tiny telephoto lens to picture more than just a blob.

There are titmice in the oak trees to the left of the driveway. I know this because they yelled at me tonight when I brought the horses up to groom and saddle. I'm hoping they have a nest somewhere, because I just love their cheerful little crests. They are really cute birds.

I've also seen a couple of black-capped chickadees, which aren't common around here, so I'm guessing they're passing through. They're a nice change to the common brown English sparrow that seems to be in this city by the millions.

Speaking of common city birds, Austin is overrun by boat-tailed grackles. At the university, they discharge shotgun blanks into trees so the birds won't roost there; if they do, by morning the sidewalk under the tree is covered in their guano. It's pretty gross. However, we hadn't seen one here until the middle of last week, and then - get this - the chickens chased it off! It was trying to get water out of Anie's water bucket, but the chickens weren't having any of that. It left the property post-haste, and I have to say I wasn't sorry to see it go.

There are dozens of other little birds that are too fast and/or small for me to ID, but my all-time favorite for this time of year are the cedar waxwings. They tend to travel in mobs of several hundred, and their little voices are so easy to identify. They are also beautiful birds - the flash of red on the wing, the bit of yellow on the tail, the rakish black mask - so cute. They converge on a fruiting tree, eat everything they can, and then move on. I'm not entirely sure what they find so appealing about our flowering Post Oak trees, but they visit daily.

A "mob" of cedar waxwings in the front tree at our old house

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy first day of spring!

Today is the first day of spring!

Here, the day came in like a lion - a violent thunderstorm at about 6 a.m., with probably at least an inch of rain. And the high today was a whopping 56 degrees, when it's been nearing 80 for most of the week. Tonight, it's cold and windy, and I won't be surprised if there's frost on the ground in the morning. The horses have their blankets on tonight, and probably will again tomorrow night if the forecast holds true.

While the temperatures may not be very spring-like for central Texas, I am glad for the rain. After a bad drought last year, we're doing well so far this spring. It's raining almost weekly, so I'm not having to water my garden - which is a good thing, because the nearest spigot is over 100 feet away (more about that in another post). So I shall celebrate the first day of spring, here are pictures from the garden yesterday.


Snow peas

Bush beans (these were GREAT last year - one of the few things I didn't kill)

Carrots (for us, we'll share the tops with the horses)

Swiss chard

If you're growing a garden this year, what's "up" in it?

Wake-up call

This morning we got a rather startling wake-up call.

At 7:30 a.m., the phone rang. I'd been awake since 6, but the husband was warm and snoogly and it was pouring down rain and thundering outside, so I probably sounded a little sleepy when I answered it.

"Hello?" I asked, not recognizing the number on caller ID.

"Ma'am? I have your dog over in the Lowe's parking lot." Lowe's is literally down three houses and across the (busy) cross-street from us.

My brain, still groggy, wasn't functioning well. I glanced down at Elias, our resident escape artist, but he was still fast asleep in his bed, tail tucked tightly over his nose.

And then I realize: the caller meant Anie.

"Um, GOSH. Um, we'll be right there. Thanks for calling!" I'm afraid I wasn't terribly talkative, still trying to reconcile that our normally placid Great Pyrenees, who had never wandered further than the edge of the property, had made it all the way across a busy street.

The hubby and I threw some clothes on, grabbed our rain gear and hats (did I mention it was pouring and thundering and lightening?), and were out the door post-haste. We hopped in the truck and sped to Lowe's... well, as fast as you can go in a big diesel truck, anyway.

You'd think a big poofy white dog wouldn't be too hard to spot, but we actually had to ask two people if they'd seen her. The second guy was the one who had called us and pointed us in the right direction; we thanked him profusely and drove off to find her.

Poor Anie was completely drenched to the skin, muddy, and clearly lost, wandering aimlessly just behind Lowe's. She wagged her tail when we called her name and took a few steps in our direction, then the hubby managed to pick her up (all 100 lbs of her, plus 20 lbs of water) and put her in the bed of the truck. I crouched down behind the cab and held her collar while the hubby drove us home, since she seemed very agitated and we were concerned she might try to jump out.

Once we got her home, we moved her bed into the tool shed (the one with a door) and left a heat light on with her food and water. She really doesn't like to be shut up inside, but it seemed the safest place for her since it was still thundering a bit and raining. We tried to towel her off a bit but gave up - Pyr fur doesn't squeegie well, and she really didn't seem to be cold, so we didn't worry about it. We let her out about two hours later once it had mostly stopped raining. She was still damp and muddy, but seemed happy to hang around the house.

Our best guess is that she's afraid of thunder and managed to slip out of the front gate in an attempt to get away from it. She's never left the property before so this is entirely new. We are very fortunate that she didn't get hit by a car while trying to cross the road to Lowe's - she doesn't move very quickly with her arthritic hips. We're also eternally grateful to the gentleman who thought to look through her big poofy ruff for her collar - you almost can't see it because her fur is so thick - and called us to let us know where she was. I wish for good karma to follow him!

Still poofy and (sort of) white, even after this morning's expedition.

Surveying her domain.

This evening she's quite stiff and moving even more slowly than usual, so she got a double dose of glucosamine and I'll be getting some baby asprin for her later on tonight. I guess the moral of this story is to keep her in if we know it's going to be thundering, and be aware that she may try to wander. We're also going to put up some wire on the front gate to close off that escape route.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More flowers

I took a few more pictures of flowers this afternoon - they are just blooming everywhere!

Lovely white iris.

The purple isn't nearly as vivid in this picture as it is in reality.

The yellows are so bright and beautiful!

Wild primrose (I think).

I think this is Sandwort.

Are you seeing any flowers where you are? If so, what's blooming?

Flopsy, Mopsy, or Cottontail?

Tonight as we were making dinner, the hubby spied this cute little guy (girl?) right by the horse barn shed:

Cute little bugger, isn't s/he?

We spied him from the kitchen window, and then I snuck up on him to take close-up pictures. I actually got about 30 feet from him before he disappeared under the shed.

We're not sure if he's Flopsy, Mopsy, or Cottontail, or if he's got any friends (babies?). However, if he decides to start snacking on the garden - which granted, is probably 200 feet from the horse shed - it's WAR. I lost my garden last year to rats... I am NOT going to lose it this year to rabbits!

Monday, March 15, 2010


As I was walking around doing various horse and yard chores outside, I noticed the impressive variety of wildflowers just in the backyard. So I got down at flower level and took some pictures, then tried to ID them with my handy Wildflowers of Texas guide. There's nothing special in the mix, but I still enjoyed looking at them as I was working - quiet little bursts of color wherever my eyes happened to fall.

Common dandelion (aka a delicacy for the horses!)

Some sort of Primrose (I couldn't positively ID which type)

Some type of Anemone (I think); this one is white

Sandwort (I think)

Engleman's Salvia (we have a TON of this stuff)

Persian Speedwell (sadly, and introduced species, but very cute little flowers)

Carolina Anemone

The one I can't ID. It's EVERYWHERE, and the horses won't eat it. Argh! I'm down to pulling it out by hand. It'll probably take me a few years though, given how much of it there is!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adventures in plumbing

Last night, our slow-draining tub finally decided it had had enough, and stopped draining altogether. Dammit.

Now, let me point out that these sorts of things ONLY happen when the hubby is out of town. If he's out of the country, whatever goes wrong is even more catastrophic. That's just the way of things around here.

However, our experiences with the new house have led me to believe that I can fix (almost) anything, or at least try, so I dug out the snake and some gloves and went to town.

First of all, I tried to run the snake down the regular drain. No luck there, it got caught on the stopper that's controlled by the overflow valve. However, not having done this before, I'm not as familiar with the anatomy of a tub as I perhaps should have been, but a quick call to my Dad remedied this problem.

So, to get around the stopper, you remove the overflow valve. That's this doodad:

Overflow valve. When you take it off, unscrew one screw, the loosen the other one and check to see how well the overflow drain is put in behind your tub. Apparently some of them are pretty loose and can fall away from the tub if you take the screw out. In my case, the cast-iron overflow pipe was on there good and solid, so I just pulled the whole thing out. The blob at the bottom is the stopper.

Here's what the overflow drain looks like after you've taken the assembly off.

Next, I tried to use our 1/4 inch snake to snake out the drain via the overflow pipe. The snake attaches to a drill to make feeding it out and back in much faster. The problem I kept running into was that the end of the snake would hit something (I thought it was a right angle in the pipe, which I could see if I looked in the crawl space under the house) and then the snake would start looping on me. So, I wasn't able to pull anything out.

Another consultation ended in a trip to Lowe's for a slightly stiffer 3/8 inch auger. Unfortunately, I didn't have any luck with this one either.

So after about 2 hours of this fun, I called no joy and gave up. I couldn't get the end of the snakes to grab anything, and I thought they were getting stuck going around the first of the two 90 degree turns that make up the old-style P trap under our house. So, in desperation at 9:00 at night, I called a plumber.

BTW, if you need a plumber and live in the Austin area, call Jesse at ProLine Plumbing. He is AWESOME. We've dealt with him in the past and he's just fantastic - very professional and knowledgeable.

Jesse called me back early this morning and agreed to meet me during lunch to have a look at things. I described the situation to him, and he was concerned that we might have to pull pipes apart under the house (due to the age of the plumbing) if we couldn't get in there with a snake. When he arrived, I explained what I'd done, showed him my snakes, and we looked under the house. At first he told me that his snake wouldn't fit down my drains (I saw it and there was NO WAY) and to call a Roto-rooter type plumber. However, he decided to see if he could do anything with my 1/4 inch snake, and not two minutes later he pulled out a hairball.

AAARGH! On one hand, I was ecstatic - my tub was draining beautifully (you know, like tubs are supposed to). On the other hand, I was pissed - I hadn't been able to do that, and I had used the same tool! Jesse gave me a quick lesson in how to use a pipe snake, and it turns out I was using it a bit wrong. When you have a drill-style snake, the snake itself has a trigger on it. So, you feed out the snake using the trigger on the drill and the trigger on the snake until you feel blockage. Then you stop feeding out more snake, but still use the trigger on the drill to make it wiggle around in the pipe. That was my fatal mistake - I'd kept trying to feed out snake when I hit a block. Anyway, wiggle it around a bit, then pull it back out, and hopefully you've snagged something. As Alexis says, "it's all in the wrist."

So, my drain is clear and my tub no longer fills with water. Now, all I have to do is fix the tub spigot and make it snug to the wall - but that project is for another day.

Making use of the riding lawnmowers

It's starting to look a bit like spring around here. The days are longer and daylight saving time is just around the corner, it was 70 degrees for the third day in a row, and the buds are starting to come out on the trees. And of course, the grass is growing.

Now, the boys' 1/2 acre or so pasture has the look of a neatly-manicured lawn, if you don't look too closely. I've been able to more or less follow Salatin's "law of the second bite," which basically means to let your grass grow back some before a second bite gets taken out of it, or else it will have trouble reestablishing itself and its root system. With the rain we've had, the boys are in several days a week while the ground dries out, which means the grass gets a chance to grow back a bit. So, thusfar their pasture isn't really overgrazed.

However, two horses can eat waaaay faster than the grass can grow back in their smallish pasture. And meanwhile, the grass is getting higher and higher on the rest of the property. Now, I could get out the hubby's "garden tractor," except that I would have to figure out how to start the darn thing since he's currently out of the country. However, using it to mow would burn fossil fuel, take more time than I have, and waste the grass. So instead, I'm making use of the two four-footed riding lawnmowers. The only problem is keeping the semi-corralled so they don't get into areas where they could get hurt.

I started by snagging some step-in posts from the shed, along with some extra hot wire we've got. Then, I roped off a smallish area for them to munch on, with the assumption that once they're done mowing that area, I'll move them on to the next. After tying the hot wire into the main fenceline, adding a tub for water, and installing the boys, I stood back while they went to work munching:

Yuppers, them's some mighty fine riding lawnmowers we got there. Hard at work, they are.

After I was done setting up the boys, I took the opportunity to thin out some weeds in the yard. The big pile on the right is a batch that I pulled in less than 5 minutes (no, I have no idea what they are). The girls were happy to move in and snatch any buggies that were disturbed by my weed-pulling efforts.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it

Yup, somebody has to ride the horses so they get some exercise. WOE is me who gets stuck with this job. ;)

Thursday, Foxfire joined me for a ride, since he was down my way in the afternoon. Friday I took Saga out for a really long ride. We took the trails to the arena, did some dressage work, then had a slow ride back home. We ended the ride by going all the way down our street and back - I think I spent about 1.5 hours in the saddle.

Dry creek bed where we cross over.

There's some water in the creek, but it's not flowing.

Excellent spot for a bit of trot/slow canter. Footing on most of the trail is really quite good, with only small rocks.

The teeny brown spot at the end of the trail is a deer. We usually see a dozen or more of them if we ride around dusk.

The "arena" where we ride. No improved footing, but it's flat and doesn't have any holes in it. At one point it had lights, but I don't think there's power any more. The city owns this land; it used to be a privately-owned barn, but the city bought it as greenspace.

The old barn complex. Arena is on the left.

Saga's dressage work has regressed a bit. We were having some fairly major issues with him sucking WAY back on the right rein trot and doing his canter-hop garbage. To the left he was great, though, so I assume it's something I'm doing, as I know I don't ride as well to the right as I do to the left. However, I spent Friday's ride and Saturday's as well really pushing him through in the the trot right, and he was more and more consistent. I think I may be asking for too much bend right and not enough forward, because when I just concentrated on forward it went quite nicely. Saturday's ride was particularly encouraging and I feel like we're getting back on track!

Saturday morning, M.C. joined me and rode Red. I took her on the trails and we did a bit of arena work as well. It's really nice to have someone to ride with!

Saga gets in a good post-ride roll.

The horses will have off the next few days since we're supposed to get some rain, but hopefully the footing will dry out again by mid-week and I can get a few rides in. I also am hoping to get back into taking lessons since I'm now a lot closer to a lot of the big H/J and dressage barns in the area.

Better late than never

One of my goals with this new house is to have a big, productive garden that provides a lot of our family's veggies during the growing season. Down here, this is spring to early summer, then we have a second season in the fall. From mid-June to the end of August it's just too hot and dry for much to survive, so that's the lean time. I know folks also grow stuff over the winter - our neighbor has some broccoli, swiss chard, and a few other things in her garden right now that made it over the winter, despite nearly three weeks of nightly light freezes.

At the old house, I had some success with lettuces, beans, and onions. Rats (it was a long, ugly battle and I lost) got my tomatoes, squash borers killed the zucchini, and most other stuff didn't do well because it was either too dry or the ground was too hard. So I'm a little discouraged by my lack of past successes, but am hopeful because the conditions here are entirely different.

First off, I have an actual garden area, complete with raised beds and soil that looks like it's been amended for at least a few years. It's got 5' of deer fencing (not nearly high enough, but we have Anie and she'll keep the deer off the property), and although it's small, it is a garden. Plus, it's got a few volunteer onions from last year, so I've got a head start on growing something!

In my spare time this week, I've been trying to get going on the garden. Ideally I would have 6 week old seedlings ready to put outside around March 15 (yeah, that was LAST WEEK), which is our last frost date around here. Since I'm not that with it, I'm going to have to settle for some store-bought plants and then seeing what I can start from seed and manage to grow before it gets too hot.

For starting seeds, I bought a mini-greenhouse for $40 from Lowe's. The seedlings will be kept inside in a sunny window until it gets warm enough to move them out. I'm using old cardboard egg cartons for starting seeds, since they're a heck of a lot cheaper than the little seed-starting kits.

Assembled mini-greenhouse for starting seeds.

The garden is a bit odd. The bed on the left has great-looking black dirt... but there's nothing growing in it, not even a single weed. So I'm a little skeptical as to how well things are going to grow here.

And then there's the bed on the right, which is overgrowing with weeds, although you can see the volunteer onions in the middle. There's maybe a 3' walkway between the two beds, which makes for easy access.

Saturday morning I spent weeding the right side of the garden, and invited a few of the hens in to snack on bugs. Chickens make excellent assistant gardeners - assuming they don't eat the earthworms!

Once the beds were weeded, I ended up scrapping most of the greenhouse plans and just started rooting through my seed packets and planting what I had. But more on that later once the plants start coming up.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sunbeam snoozin' and a coyote

First off, yes, we've moved in. Mostly. But more about that in another post.

Today was my telecommuting day, so I enjoyed watching the rhythms of all the critters at the farmlet. Everyone was very active in the early morning, but by midmorning, things were slowing down.

And then the sunbeams came into the house, and it was all over.

Anie, the first sunbeam victim. She alternated between sunbeams and the shade around the house. Sunbeams first.

Elias never stood a chance. He passed out in the dining room next to my chair.

Bailey, my stepdaughter's cat. She managed to snag a corner of a sunbeam on my stepson's bed.

Freya watched the chickens from the comfort of a sun-drenched windowsill.

Alas, I had to make due with watching everyone else while I worked. I did take a few breaks to stroll around outside in the lovely 60-degree weather!

Today I also saw my first coyote - we've seen plenty of evidence that they're around, but never actually seen one. He (she?) was at the back northeast corner of the property, just outside the fence line on the greenbelt. The chickens were fortunately nowhere to be seen - I'm not sure if they were even awake yet even though we'd opened their coop. The coyote hung around for perhaps 30 seconds and then disappeared without coming onto the property. Interestingly, the mating pair of red-shouldered hawks that lives nearby were dive-bombing it, so I'm guessing they've got a nest going. Anie, of course, was out front, watching joggers go by. So much for a guardian dog!