Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scenes from a No Name Farm/Ranch

Just a little of this and that from around the place.

Jer demonstrates the life-altering benefits of owning a hay spear. Hay spears change lives.

Seamus completely non-plussed at the sight of his Person perched atop the bale. But then, nothing really impresses Seamus, probably because he is a cow.

Boo contemplates life.

Noni and Jezebel pose.

And Noni skillfully demonstrates the chubby-donkey-roll.

Our New Place! & Scheming

Lucky for us, we've located our dream property a mere 1 mile down the road from our current place. Seeing this haven from the road, we are grateful that the house build has fallen to pieces so that now we can buy this amazing property!

Do you see the red barn? Be still my heart.

She even comes with cows. More cows!

Rolling pasture. White picket fences.

Thick forest!! And is that a donkey in the pasture? Do you like our new place?! We're very, very excited. We'll be even more excited if it ever goes up for sale. 'Til then....

we're scheming, planning, and making a list of "if yes, then" and "if no, then" charts so that we can make some sensible decisions without messy emotions getting in the way. For example, today we'll likely learn whether the sweet-talked appraiser manages to add more value to his appraisal so that the bank will lend. If "yes" he does, then the cabin's a go. If "no" he doesn't (which is what will happen) then we go back to a builder waiting in the wings to use his metal sided home bid. And then we start over. New lender. New appraisal. Fingers crossed. Again, again, again.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Homesteading Tuesday

We had a very homesteading night last night. It started with us both in the kitchen. Jenna was pulling out the frozen, cooked chicken carcass and left over vegetables from a roasted chicken dinner she made last week in order to make a nice soup for this wintery night. I was at the kitchen table cutting the meat off the deer quarters I had killed this weekend. While Jenna prepared the soup, I hacked away at the meat. A few hours later, most of the meat was cut up, with some marinating for jerky I will be dehydrating. We just finished the delicious soup, and Jenna pulled out her knitting to round out the evening while I cleaned up the kitchen. Overall, a pretty productive night. My granny would have been proud.

That's One Way To Meet Your Neighbors

Well, she did it again yesterday morning. We woke up to the sound of a distressed chicken making her obnoxious noise right about sunrise yesterday. The featherless Tila Tequila got confused or fell into the neighbor's yard again. Unfortunately this time it was a little bit earlier in the morning and she was walking around in the main part of the yard not 15 feet away from their back door. I wasn't too keen on hopping the 6 foot privacy fence and chasing that chicken around their yard right in plain view. We couldn't coax her into the corner where we performed the previous rescue, so it was off to meet the neighbors at 7:30am. Jenna and I run around the block (we're in a cul-d-sac so this particular neighbor is behind us and therefore around the block) in our PJ's. It wasn't obvious if anyone was up yet, but they were going to be soon because of Tila's racket. So we knock gently and hope the occupants don't answer the door with a gun or something. Nothing. Jenna knocks again and a woman answers with a "what-the-heck-are-you-doing-at-my-front-door-at-7:30am" look on her face, understandably so. We quickly explain that we have a chicken in the back yard and need to fetch her. She nods, still looking confused, and points to the gate on the side of the house. We head back there, but Tila was none too eager to let us pick her up, so we spent a few minutes entertaining our neighbor with the chicken chase. We finally get her, drop her over the fence and head home. Last night, I put her in the coop and shut the door before she had a chance to get in her tree. I guess we'll have to do that for a while until she grows her feathers back. Ah, the joys of owning chickens in the burbs.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Feathers and Ladders and Merry Xmas

Tila Tequila, our most prolific laying hen, has lost her feathers. She molted a month later than the others this winter and not in the normal way which is by dropping one feather here and one feather there. Instead, she dropped them all at once overnight and has been careening awkwardly around the backyard, with feathers wringing her neck and a few stragglers sticking sideways from her wings. It's...a little creepy, if I'm being honest. Reminds me of Dumbledore's phoenix who exploded into smoke and was reborn a new, naked chick. (And no, I won't apologize for the Harry Potter reference). I'm not so bothered by Tila's stubbly naked body except for one thing - without feathers, a chicken can't fly. This is troublesome if the naked chicken sleeps in trees. It means that, although she can easily hop into the limbs, she cannot easily control her flight down from the tree in the early morning when the birds wake up to stomp around the backyard. That's why we woke this morning to pained screeching from the neighbor's yard where she landed, since she couldn't navigate her path back down into our yard. And that's why we had to run for the ladder and argue over which poor soul would scale the fence, toss her over, and then scramble back up the other side. In my defense, I DID try to be the brave one. I climbed the ladder and perched atop the fence but imagined my ankles breaking on the other side and refused to jump over. Let's face it, I've never been anyone's hero so Jer pushed me aside with a grumble and climbed the ladder, jumped over, snatched the chicken (sssqqqqwwwwAAAAAACK!!!) and tossed her over. 28 degrees and in our pj's, it was a truly splendid post-Christmas morning. Which reminds me: Merry Holidays! I hope yours were warm and free of chicken rescues.

Friday, December 24, 2010

For Mature Audiences Only

I think the ladies were in heat this weekend. How do I know this? Well it's because of the donkey orgy that took place while I was putting out more hay. The 4 ladies, 3 mini's and 1 standard, took turns mounting each other. Ironically Boo, the closest thing we have to a male, was more interested in getting his butt scratched and staying out of the way of his crazy companions than participating in this not-so-natural act. Below are some videos so you know we aren't making this up.

This is just awkward.

Jezebel got a little turned around here.

The asexual Boo was content with a good butt scratch. Life must be so much simpler without any hormones.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Chill Weekend

After all of the drama recently, we took this last weekend to relax at the property and remind ourselves why this patch of dirt is worth fighting for. We got to spend some relaxing time with the animals and traipsing through the woods followed by sitting around a campfire with some friends and family. Overall, a really good weekend at the land. I think Jenna's coming back around. :) Below are a couple of videos from this weekend.

A girl and her Boo.

My Saturday evening.

Boo Naps

Donkey life is exhausting.

It Tasted So Familiar

These days it doesn't take much for me to become a blubbering mess. But Jenna's recent post over at Cold Antler knocked me down like a punch in the gut. If you also suffer from the Barnheart disease she so eloquently defined, then head to her blog and check out the video montage of her first year as a farmer.

Cheers to all of us searching for our own patch of dirt, this scrappy group, with the country in our blood and bones.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Break-Up

Over the weekend I dumped the land. To my credit, I arrived at this decision in an incredibly mature fashion which involved a pros and cons list and a game of rock-paper-scissors with Jeremy. I won. Meaning: although we had a good run together, it may be time to part ways with the property.

Jeremy was (is) not ready to kick her to the curb just yet. The sweat and blood equity he's invested is exponentially greater than mine. They went through a lot together, Jer and the 15 acres. Together they've weathered drought, a broken tractor, and a recession. It's fair to say that I also have invested deeply in those acres, more emotionally than physically. But my eye wanders. It always has. And I'm prone to reach a tipping point after so much disappointment. The thing is, it might be..well..we're just not that compatible and have grown apart. I think it's over between us.

Well - at least - that was my stance by Sunday night. Sunday afternoon I spent cheating. Drove around the other side of this county and scoped out available properties. With houses. AG EXEMPT. Fantastic school districts. Shining tube fences. Horse properties. Our land can't compete - it's a no-contest situation.

I scrapped together a list of available properties, picked three contenders, and developed an argument to force Jer's consideration. But his devotion is powerful. He's a second-and-third-chance type of guy. I both love and hate this about him. His argument against the break-up was also powerful by simply stating that most other land is out of our league. "We're scrappy people," he reminded me, "and so we need scrappy land." Who needs horse fencing, standing homes - running water?! Isn't half of the thrill in the blank canvas we've been given? Utilities and barns already prepared and ready for us?! WHO WANTS THAT?! - he questioned.

I question.

I've questioned a lot over the course of this most troublesome half-week, during which our options are simultaneously seriously limited, but possibly also re-opened for consideration. We can roll the dice with our current situation. Submit appraisal after appraisal. Move from lender to lender until the stars align and someone finds sufficient value in our pocket of the county to provide a loan. We can do that. Or we can pat our backs for a job well-done, pack all of the lessons learned away into storage, and move on down the road to something already, well, READY. A spot with a house, utilities, a barn, some fencing. That sounds like a lovely relationship.

In a single day I fluctuate between wanting to completely divorce myself from the land, to feeling snively about the thought of losing it all because of one lousy little recession. The emotional separation has begun, and I can picture my life without it. But I know I'd have regrets. So there it is; an update without an update. A break-up being reconsidered. Or rather, a relationship on the brink. If possible, I'd like to work through this in therapy; me and the land together. Primarily I'd like to know why it makes forward progress so incredibly difficult and how it keeps us too enthralled to walk away. Evil seductress.

Most stories have one beginning and end. Ours seems to have many.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It Never Occurred to Me

(Image source:

In the process of putting floor plans together, interviewing builders, going through soil tests, receiving bids on electric, septic, water, researching land slope, considering angles of the sun, assessing equity - we never imagined that the appraiser would undervalue the cost of building.

Today, the appraisal was completed, submitted, and reviewed. Our land is at its highest historical value. Fantastic! And our house plans were valued at less - MUCH LESS - than the actual cost to build the house. Fantastic! Values have receded nationally - we all know this. However, in every possible configuration of how the house build might play out, it never occurred to me that the appraiser would tell us that the house would be worth a fraction of its cost to build. After interviewing 10 builders and receiving 6 bids, it never occurred to me that our lowest, and arguably fairest, bid would still be considerably higher than local values. Meaning? No loan. No house. No build. Until markets recover or a wealthy relative leaves us a large sum of money - no house.

An interesting realization on this day, the anniversary of my birth, in which I (we) feel so very ready for the next phase of life, whatever that may bring, to discover that we're more deeply rooted than ever in our current situation. Here in suburbia it seems we're planted, despite the daydreams of land and forest and donkeys and tractors. At what point does one heed the warnings and retreat? This might be the wrong property. Building might not be an option. I looked at real estate listings tonight for 15 acres with a house. They're out there. They might be the next step. 2 years of planning, scheming, organizing, interviewing, drawing, re-drawing - culminate in this most disappointing revelation. Onto the next phase. We'll let you know when we figure out what that happens to be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Time to Move: Reason #672

4:30 am. Chickens screaming in the backyard of our suburban neighborhood. Fumbling in the morning darkness to find bathrobes and jogging shoes. Turned on porchlight and found hens scattered around backyard, screaming and walking stiffly, looking in all directions.

Since I didn't have time to put in the contact lenses, I walked blindly into the backyard and listened as Jer told me where the chickens were located. I shrieked repeatedly, "Are they OK because I can't SEE any of them?! Where are they?! WHERE ARE THE FREAKING CHICKENS??" Jer calmly reported the location of each (3 at my feet, 3 in the tree and 2 on the coop) and marveled yet again at my incredible lack of vision.

Our best guess is a hungry raccoon made a misguided attempt to snag one of the hens last night. Chances are it will return, therefore, chances are we'll spend many more frantic early mornings running through our backyard shushing hens, half clothed, in 30 degree weather for the next few months. If you ever wondered how I look in a robe and jogging shoes, I can assure you it's pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Into the Woods

5 acres of the property are woods. There's nothing spectacular about that little parcel aside from the stark contrast it strikes against the 10 acres that roll out before it to the east. A soils report we pulled shows a distinct line at the edge of the woods where the soils change. Clay turns to sandy loam. Mesquite disappears and oaks suddenly shoot 40 feet into the air.

The ground is sliced with deep, dry creek beds. Berries and vines creep around the elm, crawl along the ground, slither over roots. This place is alive. Originally, we did not want the woods. We showed up to view the 10 acres listed in the real estate ad, but while on our "tour" of the place, the agent just kept walking - up a hill and into the dense woods, announcing that "this is for sale too," and "it's actually 15 acres I'm selling." Ooops. It's real important to proof read those real estate ads.

We actually tried to negotiate for the original 10 acres proclaiming, "Woods??!? Who needs 'em?" Now I can't imagine being out there without that patch of trees, the sideways stumps standing crooked from the ground, the wood pecker nests, and the oak leaves that swirl down and crunch underfoot all year long. We're building our house in the woods.

This weekend we focused on cutting and burning in the homesite area, making way for the septic field and "front yard"; the notion of which seems pretty silly out there. (At the end of the day, we're still fairly conventional people.) This means of course that Jer cut, and I pulled a limb or two into a pile before slipping silently into the woods when the tractor needed repair. The dogs followed along, running and sliding down the slope of the creek beds. It's their favorite place too, this new backyard. If not for the realtor's typo, the property would not have come up on our land search. The fortuitous omission of "5" led us out there in the first place; the missing 5 becoming home.

2nd Anniversary: Animal Edition

(Guess who.)

It's been exactly 2 years since we backed the little trailer up to the round pen, opened the back door, and livestock spilled forth into our lives. Sometimes we ask the other, "How did we used to spend Saturdays?" We don't remember. Whatever it is we did, we're not missing very much.

To all the four legged creatures that have helped transform our lives (head count: Chula, Boo, Seamus, Matilda, Rooney - and now Jezebel, Noni, and Brownie) - thanks guys. You're awfully expensive entertainment but, eh, you're worth it.

Cow stretch.

Cow scratch.

Jezebel before yawn.

(Bookmark this page. Better yet, print this picture. Put it in your wallet. View repeatedly on a bad day. Day = better. Problem solved.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Chore of Wednesdays....And Other Complaints

For almost two years now I've made a trip to the land every Wednesday afternoon. I have missed only two Wednesday trips; the first of which led to a fairly traumatic cow illness. Rest assured, it was more traumatic for me than the cow. The second missed Wednesday led to nothing in particular except more gas in the tank and, therefore, extra money in my pocket. Oops - does that make it sound as if I'm complaining about my Wednesday trips to the land? Does it?!

That's because I am.

Don't get me wrong, being at the land is the only place I want to be in most situations. I love the look of it, feel of it, smell of it - but I don't like leaving it. In the middle of a day that falls in the middle of a week, hopping into the car down the long roads that point towards country, I feel more trapped than free. It's another commitment that I fear I've half-a$ed because I'm fitting it in between things, peeking my head over a fence, patting a donkey head, and waving goodbye before I'm out of the car. Another example of the dual life dilemma that hopefully does, in fact, have a happy ending. But 'til then I feel guilty driving all that way just to count animals and check pulses, only to turn around and leave again. This doesn't rival the magnitude of natural disasters and federal economic crises - but on a personal scale - it's a responsibility that feels more chore than privilege. So today I made it more privilege than chore. I spent some extra time giving the animals treats so I could walk around undisturbed. Followed a path down to the "pond" (transformed back to dust pit). Watched as woodpeckers hammered into dead trees, their red mohawks gleaming in the sun. Walked to the homesite and back to the animals where I found the cows had chased the donkeys off into the pasture. Wandering makes Wednesday less of a chore. But it doesn't make the leaving any easier.

While there I snapped a shot of one of the many doors that needs to somehow get sanded, primed, and painted (hardware replaced, cleaned, blah blah). I like this one an awful lot for some reason, which just figures since it's in the worst shape.

I also found the most unusual and stout berry/grape type of plant growing in the middle of the homesite. Let me know if you can identify the thing. It seemed to bloom and wither in a matter of 48 hours. Is it poisonous? Medicinal? Delicious?

But now it's the end of Wednesday. And it's cold outside. I know this for two reasons. 1) Jeremy made a fire, and 2) Simon the cat is glaring at me through the back door. See, we've decided that our cat Simon only appears on the back stoop, quietly mewing (Not to be mistaken with a meow. This version is waaay more pathetic) - if it's at or below 45 degrees. The cat doesn't tolerate chilly weather. As I type, I see the glow of 2 little eyes peering through the door. And I hear him too, "meeewwwwww. sniff. meww" Yes Simon, it's cold. Thank you for the weather update.

It's almost Thursday (Friday, Saturday!). Cheers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Yesterday we had a state-of-the-union address type conversation in order to sort out what needs to get done. I'm not talking about things like taking out the trash, cleaning gutters, and vacuuming. I'm talking about real dirt-under-your-nails type of activities - things we've shrugged off and ignored for, oh, years. For example, about 5 years ago we decided to rip up the filthy "white" carpet in our house and replace every last inch of the place with saltillo tile. In a sneaky effort to save money, Jer convinced me that laying the tile ourselves would allow us to "take more pride" in our home. Obviously, that's total crap since the labor I put into the floors only makes me resent them. But I digress. The point is that we spent months working on the tile and decided to take a small break from the work before putting in base boards. 5 years later, Jeremy says the break is over (what a task master!) and that it's time to complete the project. At some distant point in the past we also started scraping the 1980's popcorn off of our ceiling and never finished. Add to the list repairs of chicken-pecked house siding and torn window screens (culprit? also chickens). And on and on. And on. Oh folks - that's just the house list.

IF we begin construction in June, we've signed on for site prep duties for the homesite along with the task of trenching in and laying water pipes, clearing a path for electric poles, clearing the large septic field. Making a driveway. Starting/finishing work on all 14 doors. Re-wiring old lights. Re-furbishing the old oven. Researching the actual meaning of "refurbishing" an old oven.

It's quite ludicrous when I see this all written down.

Due to this ludicrous-ness (Yep, it's a word. I just made it up) we felt a "To-Do" list of epic proportions was in order. I rattled off this list while driving to another family Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. Jer recorded the list while I drove and sent it to me via email. I have yet to open the email. I am intimidated.

Which got me thinking. What's the deal with to-do lists anyway? Are they really all that useful? Don't they just create undue stress in an already tense situation (life)? What's with all the added pressure?! Because, come on, if stuff's really that important, don't we usually get around to it in the end? Can I get an amen?

Tonight I am alone in the house while Jer spends the night at the land. It's the perfect opportunity to crack open the list he sent me, face my demons, act like an adult and get moving. But I've been sidetracked by a glass(es) of wine and the Coal Miner's Daughter. And I'd rather work on a very different list.

After careful consideration I've created the following list to help guide me through the spring - if not life. Feel free to use this as your own general road map, and please do re-prioritize as you see fit.


1. DON'T pass up a glass of wine for any reason. Unless it's a really good reason.

2. DON'T over-clean your house. Clean it once in awhile and feel quite proud of your work. Then just forget about it until someone complains.

3. DON'T live by lists. If you feel the urge to create one, just jot stuff down on a post-it and leave it lying around the house. At some point in the future, find the post-it stuck under a magazine. Say "Oops, I forgot to do that" and then shrug your shoulders. It's therapeutic.

4. DON'T, as they say, sweat the small stuff. If you do sweat the small stuff, like myself, then refer to #1.

5. DON'T forget to repeat #4.

6. DON'T ever go through life without a pet or access to some sort of animal.

7. DON'T get pushed around. In any situation.

8. DON'T just trust your instincts; follow them.

9. DON'T pass up a glass of wine for any reason. Oh! I already said that.

10. DON'T listen to me. I'm still working on achieving most of these. But doesn't this beat the hell out of a TO-DO list?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bad, Bad Boo: In Which Boo is Very Bad (Rated PG-13)

Boo is, as you know by now, very bad. But he was not always so tremendously obnoxious. Boo came into our lives as a tiny bundle of fluff from which two extraordinary ears stuck straight out, his body perched precariously atop four knock-kneed, wobbling, and spindled legs. By any measure, Boo was ridiculous. At the time, Boo was named for his birthday, which is Halloween, and being such a teeny bean of a donkey, anything longer than one syllable seemed too overwhelming. Since those early days, however, Boo has earned the name for very unfortunate reasons. As in: "Surprise! I'm right behind you!" or "Surprise! I've been following you this whole time and magically have your entire boot in my mouth!" or (the crowd pleasing) "Surprise! Yes! I am actually biting your ass right now." (And not to digress, but I can now verify the root of the name "ass" for a donkey. It's not because they're stupid - hint, hint). Boo got the right name because of his most prominent characteristic and not because of his birthday, as it turns out. He likes to shock and surprise the hell out of everyone. Boo! (jerk).

I take all of this in stride. As an avid animal lover, I find his behavior endearing since I generally know how to control it and because I'm confident that I am the master of this particular beast. Yes - he's a biter, a surpriser, a puller, pusher, tugger, chewer. But 99% of the time, I know what he's about to do before he does it, and I'm prepared by pushing back or getting him in a little headlock to keep the offending teeth away from people's delicate bits.

99% of the time. That leaves a whole percentage point open for error. When you're talking about a donkey, that's a vast expanse. This long-winded story set-up leads us to a recent day at the land. Jer and I were patting the donkey herd through the "newly" built fence. At this particular moment, we were remarking on the wonderful invention of fences and the beautiful safety and freedom this fence afforded us so as not to always be worried about the donkey sneak attacks we'd grown so accustomed to. With the fence, we created a "controlled environment" in which The Humans exert their power and superiority over The Asses. Order was restored. The world was right. I was enthusiastically discussing the fact of how we so cleverly created a safe distinction between Us and Them; a designated animal space on these wild acres that had gone untended for so many years. At this precise moment I felt something grab me in the most unfortunate place. My eyes shot down in a panic to see that Boo had managed to quietly push his gigantic head through the narrow gate bars while we talked, had managed to slowly crane his neck waaaaaay out towards my chest, had managed to grab onto something and, once there, managed to tug backwards ever. so. slightly.

HOLY OUCH. Needless to say, I screamed and flicked him hard between the eyes until he finally let go, snorting proudly at this crowning attack to top all previous sneak attacks.

We called him Boo for his birthday and then Boo because of how he continually shows up and surprises us. But now? Now, we just call him Boob.

For the Love of Dairy

Big news in the world of cheesemaking (did I lose you already?)!! Here in Austin we are lucky to be down the road from a nationally acclaimed artisinal dairy goat farm, Pure Luck Dairy. Each year, the farm opens its doors for a 3 day, intensive cheese-making workshop that takes particapants from pasture to milk parlor for the full caprine dairy experience. You better believe I've been waiting to sign up for one of these classes. After a long hiatus, Pure Luck recently announced its upcoming winter/spring workshops, and I've already secured a spot. When I explain the workshop, a few folks wrinkle their nose at the prospect of shelling out decent cash to experience goat milking, followed by milk sanitizing, followed by...well, you get the point. This isn't for everyone. But for me it's an exciting step and a real investment in the land.

Remember the land? It's that big lump of dirt that we have to somehow make useful. It's gotten a little lost in the excitement of Marta and the cabin but it's still out there, costing money and growing more tangled by the day. Perhaps my contributions will emerge through goat handling/cheesemaking since my fence-mending and post-hole digging "skills" are just crap. Perhaps a few goats will lead to selling raw milk and fresh cheeses. It won't pay all the bills, but it could bring a bit of spare change and make this girl very happy, to boot.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rollin' in My Massey

Totally stole this from my favorite farm girl blogger over at Cold Antler.

"The milk's chilled" - Aaawww yea, check it:

Friday, November 19, 2010


We just signed and sent off the pre-agreement to build the cabin. Start date: June 2011. There are approximately 53 things that could stop this from happening - the appraisal being the next and biggest obstacle of all. But still, for better or worse, contract's been signed and we're committed. I'll get excited after the appraisal is done. 'Til then, I'll try very hard not to imagine Thanksgiving 2011 at my house.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

Since it's usually dark when we arrive at the land on Fridays, and since we've decided the entire population of central TX coyote lives on our 15 acres, we don't leave the trailer at night without the essentials. Yes. That's right folks. A gun and a flashlight. I thought we looked like a couple of bada$$ mothers the other night before heading out for a night walk in the woods and decided we should take a very serious photo to illustrate the extent of our bada$$ness. Jer was feeling so legit with his little gun and holster that he couldn't manage a tough guy face. This is the best I could get out of him. We'll have to work on that if he wants to be taken seriously whilst brandishing The Judge (Yes, that is the gun's scientific name). We're not totally country. Yet.

The Swallows

About a month ago my sister, mother, and I took a day trip to a little out-of-the-way town off an out-of-the-way road for some good 'ol fashioned antiquing. One of the vendors we visited specialized in hand painted prints from mid-19th century natural science books. Her booth was smothered in carefully protected images of flowers blooming, snails sliding, fish jumping, and birds floating - wings spread - their anatomy dissected on the page for the hobby-naturalist to enjoy. Mom bought two of the little pictures for me; images I admired but couldn't bring myself to purchase even for their measly price of $20. What did I need with another old picture anyway? But as soon as I got home I immediately placed each into an individual wooden frame. Stuck them on the wall by the couch and realize now I can't pass by the spot without looking at them for a moment. Each picture is a swallow in flight. Although they are painted, the colors are drab; yellowed background with the look of tobacco stains and the birds themselves no more than blackish/gray streaks. From the standpoint of color and interest - they're not much to look at. But there they are everyday, hanging mid-air, so much energy contained in the tiny images, caged within a small frame. Nowhere to go. Ambition-turned-frustration, captured.

When I think about the past year, things I've mentioned and things I haven't, I understand why the pictures hold a smidge of significance. There have been so many stops and starts, and the gathering of energy for some sort of venture, adventure, or change. Then the inevitable obstacle that always lurks and not knowing what form it will take. Maybe it's just the head cold I've been trapped under for days, but lately it feels like I walk within a frame. Like the little swallows. Mustering the nerve for forward motion but not enough to overcome the confines.

There is a Cow in My Canoe

That there's Matilda inspecting the overturned canoe after managing to knock it off its side where it leaned against a tree. She put both front legs in it right after the photo was snapped, trying it out for size, but decided it might not hold her. Mostly I enjoy Seamus's "been there, done that" attitude towards the entire situation. Ah, cows = endless entertainment. Or is that just me?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Change of Name

Slowly, a new routine has emerged. The unspoken agreement is that weekends in our current home are over. We never discussed this fact, yet it's clear that by Friday afternoon, bags and food will be packed, and we'll kiss the chickens and cat goodbye until Sunday evening. No words were necessary to understand that once the trailer arrived, life would shift ever so slightly. But a shift all the same.

Aside from numerous electrical and other tasks involving switches and hoses (I'm already bored with this sentence), one of the first jobs was a new floor. Marta came to us a little more shabby than chic and the state of her floors elicited a slight gag reflex when I first stepped upon them in bare feet. Imagine the filthiest gym shower stall you've seen, but with 3 more years worth of grime and old cheese smell. Yep. Once the 'ol peel and stick "wood" floors were in place, we decided the next upgrade would be an addition to the "kitchen" (I use all room related words loosely when it comes to the trailer. Including the bathroom. Sigh). Jer's magnificent engineering skills were put to good use when he whipped up a new butcher block/table, tripling counterspace, and generally sprucing up the joint.

I don't even have a counter this nice at home! Thank you Ikea/Jer! Thank you very much.

Marta has taken most of Jer's time, which reminds me how useless I still am at the land. I have yet to impressively weild a chainsaw or other sharp instrument. My fence-building skills are limited to "dirt-packing" and "moral support," so unless one of the hoof stock requires individual attention, I'm sort of at a loss. If Jer's not spearheading and overseeing a project, then I'm usually just staring at a tree, and you can only be so discreet when doing this. So, eventually, Jeremy notices that I'm staring at trees, wandering in the woods, collecting Indian tools, and watching the dogs - having a pretty awesome time- and decides a new project must begin.

(I thought that wearing gloves would effectively feign productivity. But he called my bluff since I clearly only wore them to admire my dogs.)

So last weekend we commenced the Great Lean-To Build, 2010. This means that Jenna gets to man the tractor/auger in order to dig post holes while Jeremy breaks up rock and unruly clay. It's a job that involves a lot of cursing and sweating, on his part, and a lot of pulling levers, on mine. As farm tasks go, digging post holes ranks up there with watching a donkey castration. It's best to do no more than once a year.

And yes we did, oh yes we did, meet with the cabin builder. We met for over 2 hours and walked through their model cabins once again, as we did almost two year ago (pulls out hair). And would you believe it?! We love the damn things as much as we did the first time. And would you believe it?! We might be signing a building contract with them in a few weeks. And starting in June. But don't hold us to that, as plans are malleable around here.

So there are lots of changes. Change of house plans, change of routine, and changes of name. I've spent considerable time with the donkey herd, particularly the minis who are rarely mentioned here because I'm so very partial to the original star, Boo. However, those three ladies certainly have distinct enough personalities to merit a few name changes. Regardless of their high intellect, donkeys don't know their names (or, mine don't) so new names are basically symbolic. Fiona becomes Noni, to better suit her curmudgeony demeanor and short stocky physique (think: small Italian grandma). And Jasmine is easily a Jezebel since her....well..ok, she's basically an aggressive b*&%h and just trust that the name fits. And Brownie remains Brownie. The name I hated the most stays the same. She sidles up to everyone without stirring the pot or throwing things off kilter, just like the name of the dessert that everyone brings to potlucks. It (she) goes with everything.

Martha also underwent a change after our recent and manic bout of re-watching Arrested Development. From here on out we'll call her Marta. And yes I am talking about an inanimate object so if you're trying to follow a stream of logic, there is none.

But really the biggest change has to do with a definition. The home pictured in my mind for so long is now completely erased. Home is a cedar cabin. Home is a trailer. Home is the land.

Donkey Sunrise

The donkey herd habitually arrives at the front pasture upon sunrise, which they announce with an alarming amount of synchronicity. Tucked away in Marta, the world is silent, until suddenly five ragged, screeching voices blare from the east. It's a pretty impressive alarm clock, if you're needing to be shocked out of bed at 6am on a Saturday morning. Once their work is done, they promptly curl up and snooze until mid-morning. An odd ritual. But then, an odd creature, so what do you expect.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Wild Life

The coyotes stalked our "neighborhood" this weekend. I'm sure it's like this every night, that no one pays them any mind, and that eventually they'll fade into background night noise for us, too. But we're in the early stages of becoming acquainted with night noise in the wilderness. And the coyote songs are chilling. Last night they howled early, just as the last pink ray of sunlight slipped away from the hills, we heard the bark. I was in Martha working on dinner and Jeremy called from outside, "Do you hear them? They're everywhere." It always starts with one, the pack leader? Many, many join in with a howl and it ends with the crescendo yipping. But last night ended with the distinct sound of something being attacked - a brief, shrill cry. Then. Silence. How appropriate to hear, on this Halloween eve, the gruesome drama play out so near us, the noises making the event sound bloodier than it likely was.

And in lighter news - our first civilized dinner in Martha! Ta da.

The dogs also spent nights in the trailer for the first time. We were worried about the limited space, but they didn't let the size cramp their style.

Although, I must say that having dog heads pop up under the bathroom partition is slightly unsettling. Personal space is important especially in 100 sq. feet.

In house news, there's news (ihopeihopeihope!). We received a rather expensive bid on Friday, so expensive we simultaneously fell over laughing until laughter turned to tears, and tears turned into comments about how suddenly Martha plays a starring role in our five year plan. As I shuddered at the thought of my dogs' heads popping up under the bathroom partition for the whole of my thirties - a foggy memory suddenly floated into my mind. It was a memory of a small road trip Jer and I took almost two years ago to a cedar cabin building company in Smithville, just down the road from our land. I suddenly remembered their "package deals," their impressive and sustainable building methods and, overall, the incredible natural beauty of the structures. We dropped that idea when we believed we could build a metal home for half the price.

HA! HAHA!! AAAAHAHAHA! Oh boy, if I could only reach out to the Jenna of two years ago, pat her on the head and say, "Awww, it's cute when you think you know something about building!"

Fast forward to Friday night, mouths agape at the new bid, minds boggled at the prospect of the back and forth with the builder trying to understand the costs, knowing that the other forthcoming bids will be similar. Once and for all, crying uncle. We give. We have an appointment next weekend with the cabin maker, the very first place we visited on our quest to find the right home for our little acreage. Some people find that coming "full circle" in this way is somehow comforting, but to me it feels a little like a punch in the gut. However, the prospect of going back, aaaallll the way back to what we wanted in the beginning, is awfully exciting. Living in a house filled with the warmth of woods grown and harvested sustainably right here in Texas, handmade by craftsmen from only one town over, and nestled into the trees on piers and beams (and NOT on a massive bed of concrete, thank you very much) feels - right.

Finally, and arguably the biggest news of all, our Boo turned 2 years old today. He would have received his very own birthday apple but Jasmine kicked him just as I stretched my hand over the fence to shove the present in his mouth. He bit her neck, was kicked again, and then suddenly 5 donkeys stood in a circle, heads pointed out, kicking each other angrily. Such is a birthday, if you're a donkey. Anyway, happy birthday Boo. We are grateful for all of the humor, scars, and torment you have brought to our lives.

(If you can guess which of these is Boo, I'll give you a donkey)

There is no photo to better epitomize Boo. Here he is attempting to snack on my elbow after having just nipped Seamus on the nose. Seamus, I'm sorry.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's not Me, It's You

If you happen to be reading and you happen to be a member of the building/design/construction/real estate community and you happen to have a sensitive spot, then cover your eyes, or just go ahead and read another story. Bye! See you here later.

(For the record, this is off the record.)

So here we are in month 15.62 of the House Build. We are 1 (2, 3, 4, ?) contractors + 2 designers + 2 foundation engineers down and the only place it's gotten us is up sh$t creek. We've received a preliminary bid of the new (purportedly "cheaper") foundation plan, only to find that it saves a whopping nothing and still comprises almost 1/2 of the budget. This means that the original floor plan (which has been worked on by 2 - count 'em! 2!) designers may be scrapped. Of course by "scrapped" I mean lovingly rolled up and dipped in bronze, encased in glass, and placed on the mantel since they cost too damn much to scrap.

It's an ambiguous science, this. The timing has to be correct in terms of personal finances and their alignment with interest rates. The relationship between our greed and our reality must be rock solid. Along with the relationship between our reality and the builder's reality; understanding what we want, what we can do ourselves, the definition of a "budget." In the end we're like freaking Goldilocks. We need to find something that's juuuuust right.

Oh no! I'm not complaining mind you! No, no, no sir. Things are splendid with the trailer, the lingering promise that someday it'll work out, the stars will align and the urge to jump ship will subside. But 'til it passes, I am done. Kaput. I can't even get excited about paint chips these days. Or old hinges. I've lost my will, my nerve. Jeremy's too busy to steer and more at ease with the back-and-forth of this life; city weeks vs. country weekends. But all this stagnant, non-movement leaves me nauseous.

Not to play the blame game, but lately I've wondered where we went wrong as two wide-eyed newbies navigating the world of construction. Of course by "wondered" I do mean that I've devoted extraordinary amounts of time, list-making, chart-making, poll-taking to this endeavor. And I've finally come up with the completely justifiable and absolutely academic conclusion that WE do not have the problem here! We did it all right! From day one, even!! I mean, what are the odds that two novices would make all of the right decisions from the very beginning?! Shocking, I know. So, it's not our problem. Therefore, someone else has to fix it. You know how to contact me if you figure it out.

From the Hills

A few weeks ago I promised stories, but when it's all said and done, I have few. Man Week was not so productive, if we're being honest. Martha needs more work than anticipated, and aside from spreading the necessary fall rye seed for winter grass, Jer paid most attention to her. I dropped in and out throughout the week and applied new "wood" floor to her old and putrid linoleum. One week later remnants of the peel 'n stick adhesive are balled up like sticky dirt in the crevices of my palm. In terms of storytelling, it was a disappointment.

But who cares. The really interesting stuff emerges when I'm back here in this suburban wasteland of postage stamp yards, emerald green with their artificial, over-watering, framed by privacy fences, encircled in concrete sidewalk. The really interesting stuff is the concept of there vs. here; this sprawling suburb. A group of friends came out for the Day of Dwayne Sunday and while we walked down a trail in some woods, behind the horses, one friend remarked on the wildness of the place. The wildness of the landscape surprised her in its contrast and proximity to town. And that comment just shook me because finally someone identified the IT; the reason the property lingers in my head during these too long weeks. That boundless, all-encompassing, unfurled, rolling, swaying - wilderness. It stops me, literally stops me, each time I drive down the little road and look out to the hills from the front pasture.

So yes, yes, there was the Day of Dwayne. There were two days of Dwayne, as it turned out. The first included horses, hoof-picking (be still my heart), bbq, and some extremely patient friends. After a few rides and a few strolls along the wooded trails, Dwayne grilled twice the amount of food needed (as usual) and threatened anyone who attempted to leave without leftovers. He also paused to educate us all on a surefire way to determine a horse's value (the number of times it rolls back and forth in the dirt, fyi). A few days later Jer and I joined him for a late dinner around the outdoor table. We showed up at his place just as he arrived from a friend's ranch where he helped rescue a newborn calf from the creek. We drank beer, played fetch with the dogs, and spent time patting the horses. He told stories from "way back" when he was a PI, finding smoking guns, cracking cases and what not. The moon came out full after waxing all week long. We said goodbye, bewildered as always to spend another evening in the woods with this truly generous cowboy, and headed next door to our place.

Maybe it was the full moon. Or October. Patterns change and animal senses are acutely tuned to every breeze. But something caused the autumnal symphony. First the crickets, a stray cicada hanging onto the last warm breath of summer, the bass of a toad, and then the coyote. One voice barked out, then another, one more, until a pack barked together, howled the chorus, with a staccato yip! yip! yip! to punctuate their song. For minutes this lasted, their voices impossible to pinpoint and coming from behind, then the woods to our right, our left, but always from the hills. They were out there. Reminded us where we were for that moment, and with an ache so deep it physically hurt (still hurts), reminded us how desperately we'd like to stay.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Keepin' It Classy

Just a few odds and ends, bits of news, bragging rights, etc:

Martha arrived safely "home" last night into the front pasture. An old friend hauled her down the little driveway at 7:30 last night and unhitched the old gal where she promptly settled down into the dirt with a little sigh. The sight of her at the land brought a tear to my eye for two conflicting reasons. 1) It appears I'm moving into a trailer, and 2) Something definite is happening with our land progress. Get it? Personal conflict. We proceeded to crawl around the inside of her by flashlight and mutually agreed that yet again, perhaps we jumped too soon and paid too much, considering her shabby shape. We also mutually agreed that we probably really love her.

Next week marks the beginning of a now annual event: Man Week - '10 - in which Jer moves onto the land for one week and attempts to merge with nature and singlehandedly clear the land. I expect to receive many obnoxious photos of mimosa's prepared at the new kitchen table. Jerk.

Also: this weekend we're devoting a whole day to Dee-you-Wayne. All Dwayne, all day. Slow smoked ribs, corn on the cob, and horses- my god will there be horses. I have timidly invited a few friends and my sister along, carefully warning them that this fellow ain't for the faint of heart. But all are secure in their ability to pull off cowboy conversations plus the bbq/horseriding thing is a powerful incentive. I look forward to finally getting some outside perspective on this man who has easily become the most interesting character in our double life story.

Finally, and therefore most importantly: I am happy to report that my (newly) well-trained eye fell upon the most unique old piece of hardware I've seen (That's saying something. I've seen an embarrassing amount of old hardware).

Covered in decades of orange-y/green rust and hardly passable, I devoted an afternoon recently to soaking, scrubbing (and repeat) this gem that had been tossed into a pile of weeds at the Roundtop Antique Show a few weekends ago. It's a little turn of the century fixture and turned out to be, under the years of grime, made of:


..................(anyone?)..........................................(cough, cough).................................................................

Ok. This means nothing to you - but it was a sweet find and a surprisingly satisfying way to spend an afternoon. *Jenna pats self on back.*

So there ya go. In light of the trailer, the Day of Dwayne, and the Man Week, it's likely there will be some interesting notes forthcoming that go beyond cleaned up old faucets. But don't hold your breath.