Saturday, January 31, 2009

Meet Petey

It's alive! I would like you to meet the newest member of our family, Petey. I feel the need to defend my over-watering actions that Jenna mocked in a previous post. Apparently, I am more in tune with the needs of nature than either Jenna or I anticipated. Either that or lettuce is more resistent to flooding. Regardless, our 2009 garden has officially started. Hayoh!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Your Weekly Boo (and Lu)

Sadly, it was a brief weekend out at the land. I have little to report except that a suitable halter was located for Boo, which he was less than happy to wear. He expressed his annoyance through a loud snort, a sideways kick and a brief gallop into a tree. Poor Boo.

It appears he has been busy sprouting a real donkey mane. Although this is good news for Boo, I am sad to see that he won't remain a baby donkey forever.

This is my dog LuLu. She requires no explanation.

Rotten Winter Seedlings

My mother has, by all accounts, a bright green thumb. Granted, she's been able to devote some significant time over the years to weeding and composting and mulching and even (gasp) watering her garden - all steps that she claims are "necessary" to make things grow, and grow well. While I feel that, on principle, most of those steps are overrated, I haven't yet been able to prove it. My many attempts at a glorious garden have generally ended with stunted, crooked, fruitless plants and lots of weeds. Lots. Of course, there was the one year of the Magnificent Jungle Garden - 2007. But I can't take any credit for it because non-stop rains did most of the work. In fact, the garden grew so huge, tangled and verdant that it attracted wild beasts such as the dreaded Woolly Bear who moved into one of my tomato plants, the sight of which caused me to temporarily swear off the outdoors in general for three full days. Google "woolly bear + poisonous" and you will understand, and then you will shudder. But this year is different. Jeremy's announced that he's taking over the summer garden duties in an attempt to actually, well, create vegetables. Since I'm feeling rather busy, I've chosen not to be offended and instead embrace his new interest in gardening. His only requirement was to start the process from seeds - seeds! What a novel (complicated) concept! We planted an interesting assortment of heirloom veggies the other night, and the process of stuffing seeds into tiny pots at the kitchen table took us both back to our 2nd grade science projects (the bean seed in the styrofoam cup - remember??). Once safely planted, the seeds were enthusiastically watered by Jer. Three days later, they are still brimming with water. Oops. I'm not holding my breath that these guys will sprout as they have likely already drowned in the abundant water. If you feel like starting your garden from seeds this year, and are able to resist overwatering, I highly recommend Seed Savers. You will find a much more interesting assortment of veggies while also preserving vegetables breeds from small farmers across the country. Win win.

Apologies for the terrible photo. The only seed packet of note is the, and I quote, "Lazy Housewife Bean." We have no idea what this is, but obviously couldn't resist.

This was at just the moment that I calmly asked Jeremy to "put the water can DOWN." It was futile.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Do Not Like Them, Sam I Am

We got our first green egg today. I'm sure most of you understand just how exciting that is.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The View from Here

Today marked another episode in the mini-series entitled "Man vs. Himself vs. Nature vs. Machine" starring Jeremy the Engineer, set free from the confines of a cubicle to explore his true talents in a do-it-your-selfers paradise. The plot was probably exciting enough when The Hero was given a new chainsaw and 15 acres of assorted vegetation to destroy. Unfortunately, the puny chainsaw unfairly restricted the expansive goals of The Hero, and the producers decided that a larger, more powerful prop might create additional viewer interest. Enter: The Machine. This much more exciting prop finally provided The Hero with unlimited opportunities to conquer nature (The Villain). Previously simple procedures could now be executed in a more calculated, carefully engineered and incredibly drawn out manner. You see where I'm going with this?

The thing is, we want to live out in this tangle of brush and trees and weeds one day. But in order to do so, we need to figure out what the land actually looks like which requires good old fashioned clearing. This bears repeating, it's important. "Good old fashioned clearing." While I have always admired his ingenuity, the concept of simplicity does not mesh with the concept of machinery for Jeremy. You see - when the opportunity presents itself to overcome nature in the most complicated manner possible - you better believe he's going to pursue it. So began another exciting day of clearing. Jenna arrived eagerly at the edge of the woods with gloves and garden clippers, prepared to clear a path, albeit tiny, for Jer and his chainsaw. Jeremy showed up with: chainsaw (the list should stop here), tractor, 3 lengths of industrial strength chain with hooks attached, machete, 2 containers of gasoline, 1 container of diesel, and complicated looking instructions/blueprints which were explained as "Don't worry about it..." when asked what the heck they're for. The battle that ensued, though valiant, was futile. Hopefully we'll be doing things the old fashioned way, tomorrow.

The Villain:

The Hero attempts to conquer The Villain with The Machine:

The Hero fails to conquer The Villain with The Machine:

The dogs wait patiently for the nonsense to end:

And Rooney (I couldn't help myself):

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Your Weekly Boo

In case you were wondering, Boo is progressing nicely.

Although he needs a teeth cleaning.

We think his mom, Chula, taught him these interesting upper lip maneuvers.

Boo just learned to eat sweet feed and is working on proper foot placement.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Coyote. Ugly.

I didn't make it through the week. Well I mean, I made it obviously. I'm here right now, but in order to get here and not lose certain amounts of sanity and happiness I broke down (twice) for a quick trip to the land during the week (twice). This probably isn't the best use of my free, after-work time. However, it made me sleep better at night to know that the animals were still alive and well without my constant presence. Although, let's face it, my constant presence has never inspired more than excitement that I might produce the odd carrot and when I do not, I receive a quick sniff and am generally ignored. Thursday night was a necessary trip because my Tuesday trip revealed a dangerously low supply of hay, which turned out not to be that low at all, but hey - I was looking for another excuse to go back before Saturday. I hung out with the animals while Jeremy drove down the road for a few round bales of hay (locating hay during a drought deserves it's own post. Yes. It's THAT interesting). As the sun sunk behind the trees, my cattle simultaneously stood at attention, eyes fixed on the woods, not 30 feet away. Due to their obviously limited intelligence, I just figured they were fascinated with...I don't know...whatever fascinates cows. Grass? I glanced at Chula, the "guard donkey" purchased specifically to stand at attention when a threat actually exists. She was munching happily on her sweet feed, completely ignoring the woods. At this point I had become pretty impressed with the focus of my cows. Again - they are cows. COWS. I'm certain they're not good for too much, but suddenly they appeared transformed into regal guard animals. One more glance at Chula confirmed that nothing was amiss which was enough to convince me (all my online research demonstrated that nothing guards better than a donkey) that all was well. At this precise moment and in the precise spot that my cattle were staring, I heard a loud rustle, followed by the blur of a dog-sized animal jumping forward. Holy. Crap. What the...? Is that a cat (too large)? Raccoon (too large)? Fox (too large!@$!!)?? No dear people, this was a coyote, the first I'd ever experienced, the very reason I'd gotten the donkeys in the first place, and only about 30 feet from my little group of livestock. As is normal in such a situation, I screamed. This had the desired effect, sending the thing shooting off down the road. I whipped around, excited to watch Chula in all her guard animal glory (I have no idea what that looks like), but was disappointed to see her still eating the oats, oblivious to the action behind her. The sound of hooves made me turn back to the road, which now was filled with three tiny galloping cows - chasing after the coyote. All the research that went into locating the perfect guard animal to protect my diminutive, delicate cattle - pointless. Sheesh. Thanks for nothing Chula. As for the coyote, it won't come back. I'm pretty sure nothing is as frightening as a chase by three trotting cows and one screaming woman in high heels.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hello Goodbye

Regardless of age, I think we all feel the same way when vacations end and it’s time to face the music. The final day of freedom lurks somewhere in the not-so-distant future and yet we put off our vacation “to-do-list” until that final day appears. This creates a frenzied attempt to cram every last “to-do” into a 10-hour time span – no easy feat – let me tell you people. Ever tried to: detail your car, deep clean the house, create several Julia Child – inspired meals, mend a variety of decaying sweaters, knit a scarf, work at a soup kitchen, read 4 books, organize 2 closets, grocery shop, clean a chicken coop and halter break a baby donkey in a single day? I am personally impressed with my lofty goal to achieve these tasks within this time frame, since I conveniently ignored them until this morning at 8am. You see, today my vacation ends, and I’m experiencing a touch of misery as the happy holidays, the lazy mornings, and late nights recede in my mind’s rear view mirror. Does anyone else go through this every January? Hello? Anyone? I can’t remember a holiday season that’s passed without a quickly following and overwhelming melancholy. But this year – it’s worse. Tomorrow marks the beginning of a job with undefined evening and possible weekend hours, therefore infringing upon my ferociously protected free time. The days of popping into and out of the office for a whopping three-hour time span are decidedly over. And, more tragically, my ability to run off to the land whenever I want, is limited. This brings me to Boo. Boo is my baby donkey. I realize in advance the snickers this statement causes, and that’s fine because I assume few of you have ever had your very own baby donkey (if you do have one, then you understand). It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m what one might call an “animal lover.” As such, it’s tough for me not to know the state of my animal kingdom on a daily basis. It’s easy with the dogs and cats (and chickens) because they are located in the backyard, or on the floor at my feet, or in the nest box, depending on who we’re talking about. We carefully planned the livestock purchase to coincide with my vacation so that I could visit them daily and figure out exactly how one, er, takes care of livestock. The reality now of not seeing them, specifically Boo, every day makes me deeply sad. I lost the battle to make Boo a house donkey (Jeremy has very little imagination, apparently), so alas, at the land she (he) must stay. Before ending this break, I finally attempted to put a halter on the little girl (oops – guy) but misjudged the size of Boo’s face, clearly. I don’t know when I’ll see Boo again but it could be as far away as next Saturday. Next Saturday?!? That feels like forever, so long, in fact, that I’m certain he won’t even remember me. However, at that point, maybe his halter will fit.
Finally, I’d like to add my two cents about the genuinely creepy discovery of the aged wheelchair. My two cents are that it’s really creepy. I have so many questions about how (and why? why?!?) it got there. And I’d like to note that, while intended to be humorous, the squeaky wheelchair sound impressions that ensued last night were not funny, and I will now always be just a little bit scared of the woods. I did, however, appreciate that everyone’s impressions were so completely different (a la the Arrested Development family’s alternate chicken impressions). Jer stole the show though, making the sound of a, and I quote, “accelerating squeaky wheelchair,” because he thinks the idea of a quickly approaching, haunted wheelchair is terrifying. By the way, feel free to question our senses of humor, if you haven’t already.

Stupid Chickens

We had another interesting discovery yesterday which doesn’t involve the land, but it does involve the little monsters that started us down this path, so it seems appropriate to include it. Up until about 2 weeks ago, the 6 laying chickens had been averaging production of about 4-5 eggs per day. Then we noticed a significant drop off to 2-3 per day. That seemed odd, but we had read that egg production will slow down in the winter. Ok fine. So Jenna and I are sitting on the deck in the morning drinking our coffee (again it’s in the 70’s and sunny. I love Texas winters) when Lulu (our littlest dog) crawls out from under the deck with an egg in her mouth. Jenna and I look at each other as the realization hits us at the same time…they’ve been laying eggs under the deck. Jenna starts crawling around the edge of the deck with the flashlight looking for any new nests. After a few minutes, I hear Jenna utter an expletive that I won’t bother repeating, and I knew she had hit pay dirt. Back in the most inaccessible corner under the deck was a nice pile of eggs. So, I begin dismantling that corner of my deck (stupid chickens!) in order to be able to reach said eggs. When all is said and done, we recovered about 12 eggs. Great, now how do we prevent this from continuing? I immediately begin thinking of how to fortify the deck and make the underside impenetrable for even the smallest creature (I’m an engineer, I can’t help myself). As I was explaining my plans, and getting excited about my impending trip the Home Depot, she put up a hand and said something along the lines of let’s just remove all of these eggs and put a few back in the real nests to see if that encourages them to go back there. While a simpler (and cheaper) approach, I was skeptical that these animals were really that dumb, but I went along with it (only because that gave me more time to devise my under-the-deck-egg-laying-prevention-setup). So, we marked a handful of the sub-deck eggs with a “B” which stands for “Don’t Eat These”, and we placed them back in the real nests. When we returned last night, we found 6 non-B eggs in the nests. I can’t believe that worked. Now in the future when production slows, we’ll know to check elsewhere instead of blaming the weather. Stupid chickens.

Do you like scary movies?

Yesterday we had another surprise out at the land (this place is just full of surprises). While the random piles of sheet metal and old toilet paraphernalia have become common place, we stumbled upon an unexpected little jewel. A couple of friends of ours came out to visit for the first time yesterday, so we had to give them the “grand tour” which consists of walking around the brushy, cactus-y perimeter, walking into the now dry, defunct pond, walking into the “forest area”, and concluding with standing around the hay ring with one leg propped on the metal while watching the livestock chow down. While into the first leg of this tour, we are ducking and weaving through the cactus explaining some of the history of this place including stories of some of the trash piles, when Dan says “oh look, a wheelchair.” Ha ha, very funny Dan (Dan is such a kidder). Oh wait, there is something shiny poking out of an overgrown patch of mesquite bushes. What the hell? Sure enough, there was an old wheelchair nestled into some of the most overgrown area on the land without any other trash around it. This little baby looked top of the line…in 1950. Chrome wire spokes (broken and rusted) with a puke green seat and back (torn and molded). Immediately the questions started. “Why is there a wheelchair in the middle of nowhere?” “How did it get here?” And our more imaginative Jenna made the leap that sparked some entertaining conversation later “That’s creepy. Why hadn’t we seen that before? Do you think this land is haunted?” Being the impressionable person that I am, I did start to feel the hairs on my neck stand up, and now I was regretting having handled it and moving it from its resting place. Stupid Jer, why must you go disturb every supernatural artifact that you come across? Moving on, the rest of the tour went without incident. Then we proceeded to put Dan and Lisa to work, but the work was disguised as “driving Jer’s tractor.” Ok, I don’t think they were fooled, but they seemed to enjoy pulling some of those trees out that I had cut earlier in the day. At this point, the sun is starting to set, but I hated to leave the clear skies and the 73 degree air (yes, it’s really January 3rd) to head back home, so I suggested we grab some beers and hang out for a bit. A few beers in and with the moon and stars brightly shining overhead, we revisit the wheelchair discovery with the intention of trying to freak each other out. They might have been joking, but I swear I heard some squeaking of old wheels rolling off in the bushes. Good times.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

1/1/09 (jenna)

1/1/09 (jenna)
I have something only slightly less offensive/entertaining to offer today. It's the new year! What an incredible few months this has been. I am often in a state of self-imposed, poorly handled stress. In my head, I create lists of things that stress me out like: spending enough time with friends, with family, with Jeremy, with my dear dogs, exercising, eating whole foods, caring about and excelling at my job, participating in school and nurturing the little things in life I love so dearly like a good meal, a nice garden, and reading books. I've added to this list - the land. The land that fills up my mind now constantly - and the animals we've placed on it to eventually be free from high taxes. Why did we do this? And add to our collective stress? I guess we share a deeply rooted appreciation for really simple stuff - like growing things - from scratch - even if it's a tiny plant - or a baby donkey. We both grew up in Texas and admittedly took for granted the pastoral communities all around us. For some of us, that simple and slow life just sneaks under your skin. Now, after years of discussing where to live in downtown Austin, we both crave the quiet, the wild, and the idea of shaping that wilderness into something livable with respect to its natural state. Today, like most free days, was spent on the land. That means a bumpy drive up the pockmarked road, a brief pause to unlock and swing open the creaky gate, the whoosh of a hawk above, the scurry of something into the brambles, and now, the sound of tiny hooves running down the hill to greet our car. The city looms only 13 miles away - but in that first instant out of the car - my worries associated with our life in Austin - dissipate. The other night, we had drinks with friends who live in Africa and Dubai. Their stories are brilliant, amazing, colorful - and I don't envy them one bit. I feel....desperately lucky...for this little slice of land, all of these creatures, warm weather, and some nice company. It's been a great year.

1/1/09 (jer)

1/1/09 (jer)
I'm recovering from my back injury last weekend (Jer 87 - Trees 1), so we weren't very productive today. We went out around noon and fed the animals, as usual, and then just sat around watching them. They have begun greeting us on the road when we arrive and escorting us to the gate when we leave. It's amazing how animals "like" you when you provide yummy food. Well, we had a significant (and somewhat disappointing) revelation today. Jenna mentioned seeing a "mud clump" on Boo's stomach the other day. Today, while watching them mill around, I also noticed a small object dangling down from Boo's stomach, close to her haunches. As I was commenting to Jenna on the mysterious package, "she" started to relieve herself out of said object. It turns out Duendita is actually Duendito. For some inexplicable reason, Boo (an appropriately sex-less name…like Pat) lost some cuddly points, but she he is still pretty darn cute. The bashful Jenna immediately began sexually assaulting Boo while trying to feel for the remaining male parts. I had to avert my eyes, but Boo didn’t seem to mind. Apparently 2 months old is too soon for all members to be externally visible (or touchable, right Jenna?). Now, Jenna’s becoming an expert on when/how to surgically change Boo’s classification (from a Jack to a John). More to come.

Dec 2008 (jer)

Dec 2008 (jer)
We haven't been very good about frequently updating our progress, so we'll take a walk down memory lane and recount some recent developments, namely the introduction of our herd. That's right, we're officially ranchers...kind of. Jenna was finishing her fall semester finals on Dec 10, and wasn't starting work full time until the first week in January (I'm so jealous), so we decided it would be ideal to get some animals during this time for her to tame before she goes back to "real life." Of course this meant scrambling to finish fencing, find appropriate animals to purchase, and coordinate with sellers of said animals for delivery/pickup. Thus began our journey to ranch-hood. Follow me.


Luckily most of the outer perimeter was already fenced (if you count 30 year old barbed wire fused into trees as fenced) enough to keep any undetermined animals within our 15 acres. There were a few spots that needed to be touched up, but the main effort involved fencing off the inner perimeter. It's hard to explain, so I won't, but basically we had to lay about 800 feet of fence. This included several corner fence posts and a few gates. To Tractor Supply Company we go (that place is more fun than it should be). After asking a ton of questions and getting some really funny looks in the process, we walked out of there with a ton of equipment and materials (literally, that stuff is incredibly heavy). I had done a significant amount of research beforehand, so I (thought I) had a pretty good idea of what was needed. However, actually seeing all of the material crammed into the back of my dad's tahoe and stacked on my 16 foot flatbed trailer, I was a little (lot) daunted. What was I getting myself into? I recruited the help of my parents and their neighbor's 3 point post hole digger (thanks John), and we got started. The main reason I had not thrown up my hands and given up before I even started was because this was a great excuse to use my tractor in a way I hadn't before (this isn't saying a whole lot since I have a lifetime total of about 25 hours operating a tractor, 99% of which occurred in the previous 3 weekends driving it back and forth to the car to get a drink of water). Regardless, I was very excited to strap on this PHD and see what happened. This excitement lasted about 30 seconds until the auger stopped sinking after about 2 inches. Hmm...this post is supposed to go in the ground about 3 feet? Yea right! After about an hour of "drilling", lifting the auger out, breaking up the hard ground with a rock bar, and repeating, I had gone about 1 foot. Needless to say, at this point, my cubicle sitting body was exhausted. I know, let's try to start another hole for another pole, and maybe...just maybe, the auger will work better this time. Stupid, hopeful Jer. After about half a day, and 2 holes about 1 foot deep each, I gave up and started picking on poor defenseless trees with my chainsaw. That made me feel a little better. On the way home later that evening, I called John (the owner of the auger) to make sure I was using it correctly. I explained what I was doing and he said that was correct, but the ground must be very hard (oh yea, I forgot to mention that we haven't had any rain to speak of for about 10 months, so the ground is pretty dry and hard). However, he did give some tips about pouring water in the hole, using a rock bar for leverage, and rocking the boom back and forth. Long story short, the following weekend I was able to finish the 2 holes and complete 2 more using the techniques John suggested. Granted, I completely wore down a set of teeth on the auger and vowed, never to dig fence posts least not when we're 10 months into a drought. OK, fence posts are set, now let's fence. Putting up the fence actually went pretty smoothly, so smoothly Jenna even commented on the fact that it looked like I knew what I was doing. At least I was able to fool her. It's all about acting confident, right? To be perfectly honest, we did cut some corners and used several living trees as fence posts because I didn't want to drill any more damn holes. Other short cuts include the occasional 30 foot span between "fence posts" (we'll come back later with some least that's what I tell people). Lastly, the gates went up pretty easily as well...except for the two gates at the main entrance that are not level with each other. The ground sloped more than I realized...oops. I'll fix that later. Ok, fencing is done. Bring on the animals.


Jenna had coordinated with an Irish Dexter cattle breeder outside of College Station to deliver the 3 (2 steers and 1 heifer) on Thursday 12/11, and then we were going to go west to Llano on Saturday 12/13 to pick up the guard donkey and her baby. Well, Wednesday night Jenna got an e-mail saying the deliver could not happen on Thursday because of issues they were having on their farm (involving a newly born calf that was abandoned by the mother...very sad). So, delivery was rescheduled for Friday 12/12. Thursday, we got word that delivery wasn't going to happen on Friday either, but maybe she could make it out on Sunday. Being the instant gratification people that we are, we wanted our cattle NOW! So, on Friday morning we frantically called around to rent a livestock trailer. There were surprisingly few livestock trailer rental places in the central Texas area. Of those few we found, only one had a "backup" trailer available. I say backup because that is how the guy explained it to me. This is the old trailer that he keeps around for emergency situations. Hmm, doesn't sound promising, but we're not exactly being rational at this point, so sign me up! We hook up and head out for College Station to pick up our livestock by 1:00 in the afternoon. Another long story short, we showed up to find this beautiful 100+ acre farm/ranch with multiple paddocks, ponds, and barns. It was post card quality. Anyway, we backed up to their chute, opened the trailer doors, and the 3 little guys just ran in. This ranching thing is no problem, I'm thinking. Silly Jer. We easily could have been in and out in about 15 minutes, but of course we had to get a tour of the place and oogle their setup. Then we had to meet our babies' parents and say thank you. Then we had to say hi to their goats and a few other animals. When we got back on the road, it was clear we would be unloading our new "pets" in the dark, not the ideal situation for the first time ever doing this, but oh well. Luckily the trip back to our land and the unloading went without incident. We stood around for a few minutes making sure they found the water and the hay, and then we left to rest up for the second helping of collecting animals that was in store for the next day.


We got an earlier start on Saturday since we already had the trailer. Since the cattle loading and unloading went so easily, we were going to make it back to our land and have a few hours of daylight to acquaint ourselves with our new family members, right? Silly Jenna and Jer. We got to Llano by 11:00, met Julio (the donkey salesman) and then met our donkey. While Julio had a cool looking Victorian house with a southwestern twist, the facilities for loading and unloading were non-existent. Oh well, the cattle were so easy, this shouldn't be that much worse. So, Julio started luring Chula (the momma donkey we were taking home with us) into his little holding pen. Once in, I backed the trailer up to the opening and we began discussing how we were going to get Chula loaded up. Apparently Chula was not halter broken, which apparently was going to complicate things (what's a halter?). Julio tried to get a halter on her for the first time in her life, and needless to say that didn't go very well (by the way, a halter is the equivalent of a dog body harness except it fits around the animals face). So, the next step was to lasso her and restrain her enough to get a halter on her. This worked, and only took about an hour. Now, we need to get her into the trailer. So, we connect a long lead rope to the halter and run the other end through a "U" bolt at the front of the trailer. Julio explained that I will need to pull on the lead rope while he and Jenna coax Chula forward with sticks, tow straps, and whatever else. I'm nodding my head, but this seems like a really futile approach. He seems to know what he's talking about, so let's give it a shot. So I begin a tug-of-war with an animal that weighs twice as much as me and is very determined to NOT get into that strange, dark, metal enclosure. We got her about a foot from the opening of the trailer and then she decided she wasn't going any further. At this point, both Julio and Chula are breathing heavily from exertion, Jenna is on the verge of tears, and my hands are killing me from hanging on to the rope for dear life. This was going nowhere...and slowly. Then it dawned on me...I have a come-along in the car. In a truly MacGyver fashion, I explain to Julio how we could use the come-along. He smiles and through his heavy exhalations, says we should try it. Alright Chula, you stubborn (and incredibly strong) ass, let's see you compete with the ingenuity of us homo sapiens. I hook up the come along and start clicking away. It's working! We slowly get her into the trailer until (wouldn't you know it) I run out of slack with Chula keeping one desperate leg outside of the trailer. 3 of her feet, booties, hooves (whatever) are in, but she's determined to keep that one hoof out, and I'm out of clicks. In order to reset the come-along to gain more working room, I'd have to disconnect everything. Guess what Chula would do with that slack. So pull out my ratchet tie down straps to hold the rope under tension while I reset the come-along. I realized the ridiculousness of the situation, but I couldn't help but think the aforementioned 80's TV star would have been proud of me. OK, the come-along is now reset with plenty of room and I start cranking away again. We get her final leg in and right as I'm about to start celebrating she starts frantically trying to turn around inside the narrow trailer and is twisting her neck in positions that don't look comfortable or natural. Jenna is crying, Julio is calmly screaming orders, and I'm trying to release the come-along so that Chula doesn't kill herself in the trailer (what a way to go). A few minutes later we get the door shut and the come-along loose enough for Chula to move around some. We're just two steps away from being ready to head home: load up the baby and get the halter off Chula. Obviously these need to happen in this order so Chula doesn't bolt when we open the door to load up Boo (she was born on Halloween). Ok, Boo's loaded and now somebody needs to take the halter off of Chula so we can head home. Immediately, there was complete silence as the three of us were looking at each other, desperately hoping someone else would volunteer for this job. I was about to put my thumb to my forehead and yell "not it!" when Julio started to move towards the trailer. Phew! Ok, momma and baby donkey are loaded without any restraint and we're ready to head home. Holy crap, it's 3:00. What took 15 minutes with the cattle took 4 hours with the donkeys! Which meant we'd be doing a nocturnal unloading...again. The unloading went smoothly since Chula was all too happy to be out of the trailer (again Boo seemed completely oblivious to the significant changes forced upon her). I'm physically exhausted. Jenna is emotionally exhausted. It's time to go home. It's official. We're ranchers.

***For you animal lovers out there, please understand that while we did force an animal to do something against their will, their health was not in danger at any time. I won't deny that this ordeal was incredibly traumatic for Chula (Boo could care less), I think Jenna was more traumatized than anyone. In fact halfway through she told me that we should just let her go and tried to convince me we didn't need a guard donkey. At this point, my stubbornness (the ultimate clash of stubbornness: Jer vs. a donkey) was in full force and I was going to take this animal home and it WAS going to like me. (updated 1/1/09) - You'll be happy to hear she is now eating out of our hands and will let the us scratch her neck.)

Baby Donkeys are Cuter Than Your Puppy

December-ish 2008

Don't believe me? Have you ever really, I mean really looked at a baby donkey? That's ok, I'm not ashamed to be in the minority in this respect.

A lot has happened since our first weekend as new landowners and my sudden and passionate obsession with babydoll sheep (which has now only slightly subsided). America held an historic election, the economy dissolved, my sister decided to move to San Francisco, Jeremy followed an apparent lifelong dream through a tractor purchase, and I ignored school and job completely (well that's not really new). Oh. And we got cows and donkeys.

Babydoll sheep obsession required some considerations, namely, the state of our fencing (piss poor), and the size of our local coyote population (surprisingly large). I learned more about only slightly larger animals, like dairy goats, fell briefly in love with this idea (will spare those details), researched necessary guard animals such as llamas (they spit. ew) donkeys (huh?) and great pyrenees (YES PLEASE). Jeremy's thoughtful reality check, which involved a gentle shoulder shaking and a "snap out of it!", helped me realize our first venture into farmhood might require something coyote proof - or might have to wait. WAIT?!? wait?&*^? Well, he didn't know me then. I was in too deep. Forget the fact that I was fast approaching the beginning of a rather busy spring semester of full time work and school, forget the fact that we were a bit, er, fiscally challenged. We had talked about getting animals for an ag exemption and we'd talked about it NOW. No sir. We'd just have to go with something bigger. Shoot, I could love something even bigger than a babydoll sheep. This began the "Great Cattle Discussion - 2008." Yes, it was that intense. Actually, it just involved Jer finding a picture of a longhorn steer, pointing, and stating "I want that," and Jenna saying, "Heck no man" but on repeat for 2 hours. Research led me to a smaller version of longhorns (much, much smaller, mind you) which we visited the following weekend. Jeremy's previously definitive stance in favor of an oversized, aggressive longhorn suddenly turned to mush, along with his knees, at the sight of a small, horned bull. To be frank, he hid behind me and asked to leave. And that was that for large-ish cattle. Google again led me to some amazing stuff. Notably - an eerily long haired, short breed called Scottish Highland, the Belted Galloway, and finally - the small and charming Irish Dexter. Irish Dexter!!!! But - I was partly Irish, and we are certain that parts of Jeremy's family passed through Ireland at some point. That was it! We would be an endearingly small Irish farm, with small Irish cattle and we'd establish a farm logo emblazoned with 4 leaf clovers and dancing leprechauns. No. Seriously, this is how my brain works. Deciding to deal with farm marketing much, much (never) further down the road, I was happy to find several Dexter cattle breeders relatively near us. The breed is small, incredibly small (about 40" at the shoulder) famously docile, and incredibly hardy. Also, they're what's called a "heritage" breed meaning that they are close to extinction and rely on small farmers to keep them around. Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle got me hooked on the idea of heritage animal breeds and if you're at all intrigued by that or eating locally, check out the book - it's amazing. But I digress.

In 3 days flat I'd located, negotiated prices and arranged delivery/pickup for 3 baby cattle and a guard donkey and her baby (Yes, a guard donkey for cattle is only slightly and maybe totally unnecessary, but I needed one, still) - which my friends pitched in to help pay for as my birthday present. You see - I am an oddity amongst friends but I believe they keep me around for the pure amusement factor I provide. While everyone else gets spa gift cards, I get a donkey, and everyone has a good laugh.

Oct. 6, 2008

Oct. 6, 2008
Eeeesh. 15 acres of mesquite, cactus, oak clusters and cedar. Oh boy is there ever cedar. Cedar isn’t really supposed to grow here in TX and as such, it’s a water-sucking monster that towers over the native trees and robs them of everything needed to grow. During the spring it then imparts a fantastic pollen that sickens all us Texans for months. You think I’m exaggerating? Well come on down! Mesquite is something else entirely. This clever weed is completely covered in 2 inch thorns so strong they’ll go straight through a tractor tire. They drop seeds constantly which are eaten by all the lovely animals who digest and poop them out across the countryside. It’s able to grow essentially out of thin air and takes a wicked poison mixed with diesel to eventually kill. LUCKY US – we’ve got 10 acres of the lovely stuff, punctuated by towering cactus plants.

So here we are. Finally the proud owners of all this, this... Oh crap. What were we thinking?

We ventured to the land on Saturday armed with gloves, a shiny new chainsaw and some little clippers. My instructions were to “cut” in a rather non-specific manner. Feeling a bit handicapped without the help of a fancy chainsaw, I did my best. And I got better and better and better until Jeremy found me in an unimportant corner wacking away at a puny, dead branch. After being persuaded that perhaps my efforts were better utilized on a living plant that was actually in the way, I turned to leave but not without an involuntary kick at the thing. Turns out there is an alternate and darker side to myself: destructo-Jenna, who even now is sitting on the couch fidgeting and waiting until next Saturday when I can tear things down again.


It’s important, I think, to acknowledge who it is you really are. You know, like, “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I am a…..” I guess you always know certain things about your personality but it takes a LOT of maturity and meditation to finally admit it. Out loud. On a blog.

Hi. I’m Jenna. I’m obsessively obsessed. Ok – now that we have that out of the way, let’s just all acknowledge together my most prominent personality trait so we can enjoy the stories, shall we?

I say this for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of watching me go thru an entire career change in, say, 2 weeks. Or frantic days long searches for that perfect…something (please refer to first post, i.e., LAND).

This is particularly relevant now because I have officially spent one full day on the land and now must (must) decide what it will be. Will this just be a house with a really big yard? With lots of chickens? And a barn?

Or could this be something….profitable? Maybe a huge garden for veggie sales at a local farmers market (but I’d have to remember to water said garden. Scratch it.). No no, not quite right…

This goes on and on and takes me through blog after blog of hobby farmers across the country until I discover:

BABYDOLL SHEEP??!??? What the hell is that???

But I must have one. No. two at least. Upon more research, I discover, I must have a herd. These are particularly popular for their diminutive stature, excellent wool quality, parasite resistance and constant, smiling expression. I feel particularly drawn to them because they look like LuLu, after a shave.

Sept 2008

Sept 08
Did you feel that? Hell has just frozen over – obviously – as Jer’s just announced that he’s selling his beloved motorcycle and Element. To buy a tractor. And junky old truck. It’s finally happened. We’ve become so cliché. You know…just another twenty-something suburbanite couple trading their luxury vehicles for pickups and running off to the sticks for solitude and sustainability. No? Was “cliché” the wrong word there?

I spent the morning flirting with the local ag exempt agent in order to get rid of the high dollar property taxes associated with land in this county. All this schooling and only my inherent feminine charms will have any future value. Not that it took much charm. Apparently the guy’s a sucker for hearing a woman giggle while inquiring about pound per hoof ratios and the amount of cow droppings necessary to indicate recent grazing. Oh, the multi-faceted and twisted world of agriculture.

I guess this means we bought the land, right? And that everything’s moving forward, and I’m dropping out of school, Jer’s quitting his silly job and we’re moving into the dilapidated mobile home the previous owners kindly left on the property? Not quite.

So we saw the land. We saw the encouraging developments nearby (beautiful new park across the street complete with two, 2!!!, soccer fields), we analyzed the distance from the land and the nearest coffee shop (12.2 miles – acceptable), and we, quite literally, fell in love. Next steps included a frantic search for financing and a frantic hike through all 10 acres which turned out to be half junkyard, half forest and, actually, 15 acres. Acknowledging the enormity of the land’s potential along with the enormity of the work it would require, we made an offer. This offer included a series of attached stipulations:

a. Seller will move septic tank off land
b. Seller will help Buyer maintain the shared driveway
c. Seller will pay for land cleanup
d. ALL land cleanup
e. Even the circa 1983 taxicab parked on our potential homesite.
f. Seller will keep his/her innovative “bathtub” garden within the confines of his/her own property. Which would require moving the bathtub that also resides on future homesite.
g. Please? And thank you.

As expected, the sellers enthusiastically (*read*: sarcasm) agreed to our terms, although we elected to make a last minute addendum.

h. Seller will NOT tear down the bright purple shed/stable/pen contraption within which another bathtub is located.

Because, come on, you never know when you’ll need another bathtub. In a purple shed.

Aug. 19 2008

Jeremy suggested that I start documenting the process of talking about (fighting about?) searching for, falling-in-love-with, and hopefully, ultimately, purchasing some land upon which we will eventually build our dream home, and populate with livestock that will inevitably make us rich. But I digress.

To begin with, I write this as a mildly violent rainstorm pelts the house and yard making me anxious for the well-being of our little chickens in the backyard. All evidence points to their lack of any intelligence so I imagine they won’t seek shelter, and I feel guilty for the millionth time about not providing them with a proper barn-like coop. Hence the initial search for land. It all began with those damn chickens, you see…..

Growing up in rural Georgetown, TX it wasn’t odd at all to live “downtown” but also have a feed store just around the corner. As such, we had easy access to baby chicks, rabbits, hay, tack, equine wormer, etc and all the other farm implements you’d expect. We had a double lot with an old shed in the back and my big city-bred mother yearned to raise some livestock right there in the city. After all we were in TX and after all there WAS a nifty feed store around the corner so why the heck not. I’d always demonstrated more of an affinity for getting my hands dirty as compared to my more squeamish sister, and was naturally excited to tag along when Mom decided that we’d raise a few chickens in the backyard. Was that what planted this little seed within me? The chickens I hand raised as a girl? Or was it the goats and sheep that soon followed? Maybe it was the horse-back riding lessons I took through middle school that led me to love the smell of leather, sweat, and old livestock poop. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the …. egg (sorry). Regardless, I know that there’s never been a time when I haven’t preferred the country and all that it entails.

So when Jeremy mentioned self-sustainability and the need to live off our meager land (suburban backyard) I jumped at the opportunity to once again pick out a few peeping baby chicks and carry them home in my little cardboard box. Oh! The joy of little peeping balls of fluff on uncertain feet! Oh! The happiness when they first peck food from your hand! Oh! Etc, etc, etc. Needless to say, our initial chicken “project” of 3 to 4 chicks grew to an unstoppable obsession bolstered by and fed by my need to avoid graduate school final exams. We currently have 9 hens installed in the backyard (on the wood pile, in the trees, on top of the coop) and our poor dogs have lost their playground to my new pet chickens.

So, I have my chickens. And my less than prolific garden. The next logical step? Land! (obviously). Before venturing further into this highly addictive story of two people’s overly ambitious foray into country living, I should explain the chronology of events.

• Age 5: First livestock experience via feed-store purchased chickens.
• Age 28.5, Spring 2008: buy a few (ok, many) chicks (this represents my 2nd substantial encounter with livestock b/c I guess driving past the Lubbock stockyards doesn’t count).
• May 2008: Jeremy and Jenna lay out a very level-headed “5 Year Plan,” already doomed by Jenna’s secret, late night google searches for property.
• June 2008: Jenna is in summer school, which correlates to high intensity google searching and low intensity summer schooling. Again, all performed in secrecy.
• July 2008: Land search hits fever pitch and the “5 Year Plan” is completely ignored by one of the two aforementioned individuals. Hints are dropped that perhaps the “5 Year Plan” is completely ludicrous and stupid and anyone who would wait that long to buy land is a pansy.
• End of July 2008: A leisurely Sunday afternoon drive accidentally leads the lovely couple to a lot conveniently close to Austin and conveniently close to soccer fields. Can a compromise be reached?