Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nightswimming and Rooney 2.0

We finally camped at the land this weekend, but this wasn't your average night of roughing it at a campsite.

With a tractor (that has headlights!) at our disposal, we grabbed our Lone Stars and took a ride down to the pit/pond that still contains a few drops of smelly water. Unlike myself, the dogs have no fear of dark water and swam in circles until we made them leave. Although I was surprised by the level of night "noise" on the land (whippoorwills, coyote, and crickets(oy, the crickets)) the activity around the pit/pond was shocking. We counted at least four different types of frogs, and one type that literally sounded like a group of baby animals crying (utterly creepy). This was interrupted by intermittent screeches that remain unexplained but caused the dogs to stop their swimming and focus on a specific spot in the woods (ew). Turns out I am only camping material if all sounds can be identified - or if I've had enough beer to no longer question the origin of sounds. I'll try that approach next time.

This overnight stay made us realize something that is, let's face it, not that important, but worth a mention anyway. Of all of our tiny cows, Rooney is truly tiny - disproportionately so. We think his particularly small stature led to a more timid nature and tendency to get pushed around by: Seamus, Matilda, Chula, the baby donkey, Winston and...frankly, I saw a bird scare him once. Aside from this characteristic, we've also noticed the lopsided shape of his belly, and the growth of his horns - straight backwards.

The overall package, while endearing, does not create an impressive presentation. Little Rooney gallops behind the others, with his crooked belly bouncing, and backwards horns that give the impression he's stuck in a strong breeze.

Which is why he caught our attention this weekend. Shy little Rooney has established himself as, still a small and slightly awkward guy, but more dominant and very vocal - new and improved. Rooney 2.0.

(Notice his eery, light-up eyes?)

No longer does he cower behind Seamus (or a tree) when approached by a person or animal. Rooney 2.0 trots right past you, stops long enough for a quick look back over his shoulder, and lets out a bellowing "mmmMMMoooOOOOOOaaaAA#$#@%#*&!!!" That is exactly how he sounds. But it doesn't end there. Aside from the startling screams, an improved feature on this model also includes a stream of varied vocalizations. Basically, he talks to himself. He talks while walking to the hay, talks while grabbing hay, talks while chewing, swallowing - you get the point. This dialog with himself is quieter and softer and never ending (mooohheeeewwhooochewchewchewooomooohoochewswallowmoo).

We have decided that Rooney, small and timid as he is, was not receiving the attention he (thought he) deserved. Rooney 2.0 realized that by being a bit more bossy and noisy, he would never be overlooked.

I cannot say that it was a refreshing or restful night at the land. Between the damn crickets, Rooney 2.0's constant muttering, and the donkeys' snorting (both of whom snuggled against the outside of our tent until dawn), it was a night of little sleep. Overall, I would rate the evening an 8 out of 10, in terms of entertainment, and a 1.3 in terms of sleep and comfort. But I give the sunrise an 11.

The sunrise alone is worth another camping trip, so we'll be back out there this weekend.

(Photo credit here goes to Jeremy who graciously took the picture when I opened my eyes at 6a.m. long enough to slur "OHmygosh therskys sooo perdy youhafta gettapictures! snore." Thanks Jer.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dogs+Pit+Water = Joy

It's a very simple equation. So simple, in fact, that I almost can't believe I didn't put it all together sooner. My dogs' happiness is, pathetically, a priority in my life. So, after a long and dusty day of burning piles this weekend, I remembered that the pit was still filled with its last few drops of brown and slightly putrid water. I weighed the advantage of scum-filled-pond-dog-swimming against the disadvantages of, you know, transporting the scum-covered-dogs home on my fabric car seats and my weak, dog-lover side won (as always). Down the path we went and around the bend until Winston (our water obsessed Labrador) spotted the first sparkle of water. His eyes literally bugged out of his head for a split second, cartoon-style, and off he went, sliding down the bank and into the deep end, a la Seamus.

What followed is probably equivalent to a fantastic Hawaiian vacation for a person. I guess. I've never been to Hawaii, but when I go, I assume I'll be just as excited.

Although I might not bound through water to retrieve sticks (this requires teamwork).

It was a long, exhausting afternoon of turtle-hunting (Don't worry - no turtles harmed. Only one turtle maybe slightly frightened), swimming in slow, small circles (by Romeo, the introspective dog).....

and group stick fetching.

Followed by more group stick fetching...

Was it worth the pungent and permanent smell in my car? Probably not.

But when it's obvious how happy it made these stinky guys, if only for an hour, do you really think I care?

Probably not.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Local Flavor-The "homecoming"

Another doozy.

Just as soon as we posted photos of our neighboring church's insightful signage, they stopped changing the sign. (COINCIDENCE?!? Most definitely.) Which is why we were happy to see a sign one week ago announcing a church "homecoming." I can only assume this means the entire church was away and has now returned. I don't really care where they went - I only care that they're back. Obviously, I've been feeling a bit misguided without the weekly, marquis-posted advice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Your Weekly Boo: It's a Hard Knock Life

Wow! Can you believe I just used a line from Annie?? Me neither. Don't hold it against me.

But facts are facts, and Boo's got it rough lately since his grumpy mom Chula gave him the boot. And by boot, I'm talking about the cold shoulder, kicked to the curb, tough love - you know what I mean? Or maybe you don't. Basically......she weaned him.

I can't be sure how this monumental event occurred but think it has to do with Chula standing her ground. Previously, she would gently kick at him when he tried to nurse, and as soon as he started kicking her back, she'd give up and sit there forlorn and pissed off, frankly, to have lost the battle. Something must have clicked and she learned that by kicking him back and harder, he would eventually give up.

He's learning to fend for himself now and trying new types of food. But getting those leaves off the bushes is no easy feat.

He's mastered the art of grabbing the to pull them off the pesky branch?

Boo put forth a valiant effort.

And turned his head every which way.

But the branch was just a little stronger than the baby donkey. Better luck next time, Boo.

That's life kid.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Part II - The Pit Fulfills its True Purpose

After a: very hot shower, 2-hour nap, third meal, coffee, several moments of kicking and screaming - we went back. After all, my car was still, you know, stuck in the mud, and I had left the halter on Boo which is not safe when the little guy is running through the tangled trees and brush. We returned just as the storm passed through the area which took several hours, as it turns out.

Upon return we found the donkeys calmly munching hay and no cows in sight. Just as I un-clasped Boo's halter, we heard three drawn out "MoooorOOOOooommmmm"'s in the distance (We knew this was Seamus as he distinctively ends his moo's with a closed mouth which leaves you with a "mooom." Am I the only one who finds this charming?). This was followed by the sound of galloping hooves and at the bottom of the hill emerged three tiny cows running at full speed towards the gate, kicking their back legs, and shaking their heads all at once. Frolicking. They appeared at the fence, drenched and hopeful for treats (no luck).

We chalked their oddly enthusiastic behavior up to the refreshing rain and decided to inspect the damage that 15 acres worth of river might impart. Our first stop was to the dusty pit at the base of a densely covered path. The pit was, if we're being honest, the reason Jeremy ever even considered the land. He has unfulfilled dreams of fishing off of a small pier situated near his front porch. The dusty pit offered a hope that someday, this might be possible. However, we've been out to the land in the aftermath of some nasty storms and only found the pit to be slightly less dusty.

As Jeremy walked up the lip of the pit, he spun around and shouted "WATER!!!!" which I assumed was a joke, because he is hilarious in that way. Turns out, it was no joke, and the pit had finally found its purpose. We had, if only for a few days, a legitimate pond.

While we surveyed the pond in shock, we heard the same little galloping hooves from a few minutes before, followed by Seamus's low and close-mouthed "MoooOOOOmmmmm!!" What ensued is nearly impossible to explain (Lucky you! I will try). The cows again came hurtling towards us, this time slipping and sliding down the path, tearing past us and sprinting three full times around the pond with intermittent back leg kicks. This ended with a very calculated maneuver on Seamus's part in which he skidded to a stop at the deep end of the pond and paused (This part happened in slow motion. I promise.), before bending his knees and gracefully launching himself into the middle of the pond.

And then he was gone, horns, tail and all, completely submerged, and only a million bubbles in his place.

Jer and I simultaneously gasped, grabbed each other, and cursed, knowing that a tiny-cow-water-rescue was likely in our immediate future. And just as we pictured the entire ordeal involving Dwayne, the tractor, and a lot of rope, Seamus sprang from the water, galloped up the side of the pond, and tore away into the woods.

You see - they had already discovered the pond, that much was obvious. This discovery had caused a joy so great that our tiny, round cows could not stop running happily (Frolicking. There it is again. Sorry.) around the property.

Needless to say, I couldn't speak for several minutes due to uncontrollable laughter and self-loathing because I had no camera to capture the only truly noteworthy event that had occurred at the land thus far.

Obviously, the water looks unappealing and puny but the theme of our entire story boils down to squinting and imagination. The pit/pond is no different. The point is that, like the whole place, it seems to have potential.

As for Seamus and his posse, they were only slightly less excited today about the prospect of a pond for swimming or, actually, diving. Instead, they chose to spend their time on land for some nice face scratches.

Part I -Stick in the Mud

Actually, stuck in the mud is a more accurate description of how this weekend left me. Car tires stuck in the mud with wilted looking farm animals frolicking, literally, frolicking around us. If ever there were an appropriate time to use that word, this is it.

Lemme back up.

You see, in our overzealous desire to set the land on fire, we woke up quite early to begin burning with the goal of finishing off most of the piles by sundown. All of this planning took place without regard to the weather, which is silly since it's May and we know better. Therefore, when ominous clouds rolled in above our nicely burning piles, we just shrugged and assumed it would blow over without so much as a rumble and drizzle. Because, hey, there's always the 50/50 chance around these parts that low black clouds will only block the sun (the other 50% of the time they, of course, lead to tornadoes and total devastation, but why be pessimistic?)

After using his well-honed meteorological skills, Jer determined that the clouds would blow over and bring in a pleasant cool front for the rest of the day. Cool front? Check. Blow over?


Lo and behold, what began as a nice little spit soon turned into a torrential downpour complete with high winds, continuous lightening, grape sized rain drops - you know - you're average "indoor weather." This was our first real rain to witness at the land, which isn't that important, except it educated us about a few essential pieces of information: 1) Our clay based soil does not absorb water; 2) Our location partially on a hill and partially downhill equates to fast rivers (really. rivers!) of water over the majority of the property; 3) These two nuggets - combined - mean that car tires sink quickly amidst rushing water. OOPS.

Since I have my priorities straight, I made a beeline to the car (while it visibly sank) in order to retrieve our carefully packed lunch. In perilous situations, you can be sure I'll remember to eat. I sprinted up the hill with the precious meal and soggy dogs in tow, while Jer stood watch over the fire that somehow refused to de-flame in the downpour. The purple shed, which I once again was thankful for having, has a large overhang under which I managed to eat lunch. Keep in mind, the shed is slightly on the downhill side of the property and water began to pool around my toes, my get the point.

Just as the storm seemed to retreat, it would quickly build energy again and the water, oh my, the water was now completely around my ankles and encircling the bodies of my shivering dogs who were attempting to sleep through the storm on top of piles of old hay.

Jeremy soon appeared on Bambi and reported that the fire had only just sputtered out after what had been 30 minutes of a hard rain. He also asked why I didn't save him a sandwich. Apparently I am a nervous eater.

Our plan to burn for the day was over just when it started, and we loaded the mud-covered dogs into Jeremy's car (which miraculously was not stuck) and decided to sell the land and move into an apartment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

View from the Tree House

As a follow-up to the enlightening explanation of our barndo (This is short for "BARNDOMINIUM" because I'm sure my abbreviation was confusing), I think it's important to share some views of its future/potential site. Buckle up guys. This is exciting stuff.

Ok - it is essential that before viewing the pictures you sort of cross your eyes, or just shut them completely, and picture grass, no stumps, etc etc.... It's all about imagination. Also, I'm giving the house the endearing nickname "tree house" to distract from the fact that it will be a rectangular piece of metal plopped down into a bunch of trees. Clever, no?

Driveway/Garage Area leading to house area (There will be several "areas.")

Just around the bend of the trees is the....

Front yard! This is riveting.

And now for the Backyard Area.

I use "backyard" loosely because it's mostly just the woods which I currently refuse to enter due to snakes. This might be problematic when we move to the land and I never leave the house. I choose to worry about this later.

We will eventually build another metal structure to use for it's true purpose: a barn (with no attached apartment near the animals, thank you very much).

Hazy Barn View.

You are very welcome for this tour. And there is absolutely no way I can give back the 2 minutes you just wasted.

Your Weekly Boo: Bravery in The Burn

In case you haven't been paying attention or just don't care, Texas has only recently received rain. This means that up until about one month ago, the entire state was a tinder box. This is always a problem for obvious reasons, including daily brush fires that occur along the highway in such conditions. Brush fires along the highway cause traffic. And traffic really screws up my mood at 8:30 a.m. when I'm trying to remain chipper about heading into the office. Of course, the lack of rain is a problem for slightly more serious reasons as well such as....hmmm....drought. Forest fires. It's nothing to joke about people.

What I didn't realize is that it would pose a serious problem for us at the land as we cleared brush and trees and cactus. There are only so many piles that one can create. Also, large brush/tree piles make cozy homes for snakes and rats, the two least savory characters in the country. Therefore, Jeremy announced that as soon as the burn ban (imposed in our area for over a year) was lifted we would burn the crap out of those piles. The weather refused to change but in our characteristically patient style, we checked the ban status daily.

And then one day it rained, and rained. And rained. Burn ban = lifted.

The joy this caused for Jeremy is indescribable, but I'll go ahead and describe it. It turns out that creating large amounts of controlled FIRE is nearly equivalent to owning a TRACTOR in Jeremy's list of THINGS THAT ARE AMAZING. To illustrate, I've included a picture of the three of them together.

However, the most entertaining aspect of the Great Burn May 9, 2009 was caused by, as always, the animals. It was a true test of courage for the little guys. The cows' insatiable curiosity (read: stupidity) leads them into all sorts of trouble as documented here. This caused them to get too close to the fire:

Which led to them scurrying up the hill and into the purple shed for safety.

Boo, however (Yes. This post is actually about the baby donkey) exhibited a perfect balance between bravery and intellect. Like most baby donkeys (I guess) he was obviously curious about the smoke, the fire - the general drama of the situation. So, he cautiously checked it all out.

After this photo was taken Boo slowly walked down the hill towards the smoke but quickly became aware of its danger. He retreated to a safe distance but within viewing range, while the cows cowered in the the shed for the entire afternoon. And now I give you Boo the Brave Baby Donkey.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mini Sirloin Burgers

Some people have given us a hard time about the size of our Irish Dexter cattle. I'll admit they are a little on the small side, but a recent Jack In The Box commercial made me realize how trendy these little cows can be. Thanks Jack.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What would you get if a metal barn and a condo had a baby?

And now that I have your attention (Jeff - this one's for you):

Anyone who's been within two feet of me over the past few weeks sadly knows the answer to this question, without ever having wanted the answer. Sorry. But back to the question, what would you get? Why - a BARNDOMINIUM, of course! I cannot take credit for the name, although I would desperately like to.

Shall I back up? Please refer to every third post (or, don't, actually) and you will notice an emerging pattern that involves my goal of moving to the land. I'm quite the go-getter when it comes to achieving goals, which means that when I have a personal mission, I feel it justifies neglecting every other aspect of my life to focus only on the goal. Impressive - right?

My point is this: I've been researching the crap out of building, preparing land for building, temporary/moveable housing, financing for temporary housing, financing for permanent housing, and making any of these options attractive to Jeremy. For example, I read an obscure article recently about people who convert old grain bins (picture a large cylindrical metal contraption) into temporary housing - so I immediately got onto Craigslist and typed "grain bin." No luck.

In my search I've realized two things: 1) building ain't cheap and 2) we truly don't want anything fancy. In sharing my views with a builder friend, he casually suggested that I consider a "barndominium," and began to tick of the reasons for their ever-growing popularity (incredibly energy efficient, lower building costs, virtually indestructible, flexibility with floorplan design, low insurance because of durability). Of course, he had me at the word "barndominium," but I let him continue to try and sell me on it anyway.

These are pretty cool suckers if you can get over having a metal exterior, because the exterior is the only thing that makes them untraditional. Essentially, they are structures built with a steel frame, opposed to traditionally built, wooden-framed homes (wood=not cheap). The steel frame means that all load bearing walls are the four external walls, thus allowing for a wiiiide open interior that provides limitless options in terms of floor plans. You design the floor plan and order an exterior metal building to fit your plan so that it has holes for the windows and doors. Once the building arrives, a contractor puts it all together and builds your interior with a traditional stick frame. The metal exterior and steel frame create a fire and termite resistant building that provides lots of space to add extra insulation between the outside and the stick framed walls inside (energy efficiency=green! We are all about the green). Ultimately they cost, literally, a fraction of a traditionally built home and come with all of these benefits. WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE? Why don't we all live in metal houses (don't answer that)??

These derive from the idea of having a metal barn with a little apartment or living space upstairs due to the obvious importance of living within three feet of your pigs and horses. I'm guessing that someone like ourselves did the math one day and realized that, by deleting the farm animals and expanding the apartment, they could have a pretty cool home on a budget. And the barndominium was born.

Of course now, I am noticing metal buildings everywhere! The tire store, the Jiffy Lube, and just about every other warehouse along the road is made of metal (I'm really not selling this idea, am I?). What I've realized is that, by squinting a little and conjuring up some creativity, I can visualize the NTB store with floor to ceiling windows, wraparound porches and a nice big fireplace. Just as I saw past the bathtubs and taxicab littering the land, I can see past an old metal building.

Jeremy and I have done a lot of squinting and visualizing lately, and so far the results have exceeded our expectations. So when people criticize this new idea of going for a non-traditional building plan, we just shrug. Tradition shmradition - it's overrated.