Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Day in the Life

Another ridiculous day that makes us forget we had snow flurries a mere three weeks ago. Bright sun, no clouds, breezes and green, green grass due to months of rain. This is the first time we've seen the land bloom after so much rain and the scene is entirely different from last spring, in the midst of a drought. Wildflowers abound and grasses grow thigh high in the places the animals can't reach. I'm pretty damn excited about this weather.

Mostly I'm excited that the animals have access to ample grazing and a pond to drink from, making their existence a little more sustainable (i.e. - cheaper) and a lot more fun to watch. I don't know if it's the weather. I don't know if it's the sweet grasses, but they're the happiest I've seen them. Happy livestock on a beautiful day are a fine sight for even the most sophisticated person. I promise.

To provide a snapshot of this happiness, I followed Boo throughout the day and chronicled the multi-layered joy that is being a baby donkey on 15 acres of varied pasture in the mild spring. Enjoy.

It began with the shock and wonder of seeing his People floating in a canoe on the Giant Trough.

This led to a trip (he galloped) up the road to the front pasture for three full minutes of cow watching. It's not clear why he urgently needed to run to the front pasture for this activity. We may never know.

Sneaky glove-removal-maneuver from the Person's pocket.


Followed by confusion and uncertainty about what exactly one does with a glove.

Momentary despair once glove is retrieved by the Person.

I believe it was around this time he took a random jog around the hay ring. An arbitrary kick and a buck. And then...grass-eating.

Which leads us to the highlight of every donkeys complex life: Rolling.

Dust baths provide the structure and backbone needed in an otherwise chaotic life.

With all of the eating, the wandering, drinking, biting - the kicking - it's no wonder these creatures rely on some sort of stability and routine.

Sometimes dust baths have to be fit in quickly between other important activities (ex: hee-hawing in a general direction). Today, however, was Sunday which justified a few stolen moments of relaxation after the bath.

One more roll for good measure.

And a big yawn to indicate the extent of his exhaustion.

Tough life kid.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Verdant Spring (S P R I N G!)

It's finally here people. I have proof.

Monday, March 22, 2010


the newest member of our livestock family:

This is Jasmine. She is a mini donkey and was offered to us by a family friend needing to re-home her youngest mini donkey.

I said "YES PLEASE!" without thinking. Then I stopped and thought. Then I asked if we could take all three of her little female donkeys.

We'll see how this all pans out....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Google SketchUp - Round 2

We recently had Rudy redraw the layout to take into account some of the aspects of a metal building that our high priced architect hadn't, like thicker walls, support beam placement, etc. Not that I'm bitter or anything. With this redraw, we had to revisit our window placement and size. I was having a hard time visualizing some of the changes, so I pulled up the free tool provided by Google. I think you see where this is going. What started as a rough mock up to help us place windows, morphed into a multi-hour project where I was frequently asking the question "what else can I do with SketchUp?"

Yes, this is how I spent my Saturday night. Don't judge me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Waiting

There are many challenges in life I've never had to face; a luxury for which I am incredibly grateful. And there are some challenges I've been forced to face and handled in my usual, graceless fashion. But the ones that have stumped me the most every time are, without question, the waiting times.

I'm not your run-of-the-mill "laid back" type of person to begin with. Let's just get that out in the open and acknowledge who we're dealing with. I'm also not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type either. This isn't to say I'm completely joyless, but I really don't ever see the point in twiddling my thumbs to see how things "pan out." Nor do I like to take things "one day at a time." In my opinion stuff works better when you make a plan, execute said plan, proceed with life.

Lately, I've been getting tripped up with that third step, especially when there's very little control over the execution of plans. There is a lot that we're waiting for at the moment. Primarily this has to do with hearing from the bank to better understand our building options and timeline. Just getting to this point required heroic levels of patience, determination, organization, research, sheer will power (not to toot my own horn but, in a nutshell, I am awesome). But where did it get us? Maybe not very far, maybe far, maybe...? Millions of scenarios are possible and none of them are tragic but none of them are certain. That's tough. It's difficult to "proceed with life" without knowing what's next.

This isn't limited to the house. It also has someting to do with the reality of getting out there and doing what we want while also leading somewhat conventional, professional lives. That's really tough. We're waiting on some changes in that respect, too.

The waiting is all-consuming for me, in particular. Up at night, as soon as my eyes open in the morning, while feeding the animals, sitting in traffic - waiting has become a physical presence in my mind. When some of these questions are resolved I worry how the waiting space in my head will be filled. But I don't worry if I'll miss it.

This weekend was, well, glorious. The first few pristine days of spring before humidity and mosquitos move in, and just a slight chill in the air to require pants with the flip flops. I spent some time filling a bucket with composted manure and hay for our garden at home. Sounds like smelly work, but it wasn't. Each time I dug the pitchfork into the pile I pulled out coal-black crumbles of lovely dirt created by the animals, the hay, the rain. My view was the front pasture and of the of the neighbor's rolling pasture beyond. A hawk called and circled above and the robins jumped in the brush nearby. I think a bee buzzed - then a slight breeze through the trees. The dogs, wet from the pond, snoozed at my feet.

Idyllic, in my opinion, and worthy of a pause under a tall elm with some Lonestar.

It's hard during the week to remember those moments sitting in stillness and in quiet calm at the land. Monday is a quick return to the waiting and the distinct feeling of leading a split existence. The fact is - I can't be there right now all the time. And even if I could, I couldn't spend all my time staring at leaves budding in the trees. So the waiting is what it is and it ends, it always does. Questions are answered, adjustments are made, life moves. But for now - I'm suspended in anticipation - between things. Trying hard to remember that the hammock in the forest will be hung up again next weekend, beer will be chilled, gloves will be worn, chainsaw started. Despite the waiting, there's work to do.

Friday, March 12, 2010


A couple of months ago, I started taking pics from a few spots on the land with the intention of creating a kind of time-lapse set of pics. I picked a couple of markers so I can get roughly the same orientation each time. Recently, I went back and found some very early shots from approximately the same spots to compare the changes over the last 1.5 years. Both Jenna and I got a laugh when we revisited some of those original pictures. We both commented at about the same time, something along the lines of "what were we thinking?" But, 1.5 years later, things are looking significantly better.

It's easy to forget the original state of the place and lose perspective on how much we've accomplished, which is why I wanted to capture the time-lapse images. I need to start to doing that in the other areas of the land that we are now working. Anyway, just a gratifying trip down memory lane. But seriously, what were we thinking?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Grass IS Always Greener (or) The Great Escape, part deux

Some stories - the really epic ones - have not one but two morals. I believe this is such a story. For those of you with better things to do (all of you), I'll spare you the time and trouble and give you the morals now. They are as follows:

1) No matter what the idiom tells us, the grass is, in fact, always greener on the other side. Literally, if you have livestock, the grass is probably more bountiful on the other side of the fence and you should bear this in mind as you build fences. And you must never forget.

2) The only way to get what you want is to have what others want. This is a general rule of thumb and applies, I think, to every situation. I mean, there are other ways to get what you want - but this is a pretty sure fire method, in most cases.

Ok. That's all you need to know.....unless you are exceedingly bored in which case you can stick around for the actual story.

Actual story:
On Sunday we planned to swing by the land long enough for the dogs to romp through the woods and for Jeremy to have a few more hours pushing dirt around atop the beloved tractor. Both are sacred rituals, and while we still spend time packing the car with food and tools, it's always meant to be a more leisurely day than Saturdays. Which is why I felt my eyes inadvertantly roll all the way back in my head when my forest hike with the dogs brought us to the frontmost, northern corner of our property. There stood Seamus, wild eyed and bellowing, next to Matilda and Rooney. Only, Seamus stood alone on our side of the fence and property. The others were deep into an afternoon snack of the neigbor's knee high grass. On the other side of the fence. Sigh. I was not up for "an adventure."

I quickly spotted the culprit, a gaping hole in the corner, large enough for the two to slip through but just a hair too small for our largest cow. My tried and true response to such situations, (tears and shrieking) didn't even occur to me. I felt completely, eerily calm because both of the escapees were just on the edge of the property and therefore, easily retrieved. I looked at that hole, those cows and said "pppsshhhhaaa," shrugged my shoulders and walked leisurely through the woods to report the issue to Jeremy. We gathered materials to patch the fence and, most importantly, I filled the little red bucket with the items that cows desire above all else: range cubes and sweet feed (please see moral #2). I had this situation in the bag.

(What the cows want.)

We turned and walked back into the woods, with a screaming Seamus tearing behind us, absolutely horrified by the separation from his stinky buddies. I made my way back to the hole, jumping vines and limbs, only to look up and find the two little cows were gone. A quick look left, right, and behind me confirmed they were absolutely gone. Just. Gone. All that stood before me was a crooked fence and tangle of trees and overgrown brush that I couldn't see through. Countless acres ahead. The Great Cow Retrieval 2010 must commence, whether or not I cared to participate.

(Neighbor's property = Evil seductress)

I believe it was around this point that I squeaked to Jeremy (who was somewhere in the trees behind me) that the "d*mn cows are gone and holy CR*P this is going to be a sh*t day and.." etc, and so forth. I'm pretty sure I dramatically peeled of my sweat shirt, then dramatically tore off my long sleeve shirt and flung them on the barbed wire fence, before army crawling through the hole with the precious bucket in hand- a martyr venturing into the deep unknown. (If you ever wondered, I have the unnecessary-drama-role down pat. It really adds that extra special something to otherwise crappy situations.)

Anyway, there I was, belly down on the neighbor's land, a rush of adrenaline overtaking my senses as various scenarios began to race wildly through my head. They involved a jaunt into overgrown woods with no exit. Picture The Blair Witch Project only minus the video camera and, you know, with cows. I imagined a journey through this foreign pasture only to discover a lack of fencing and open road beyond, tiny cows lost forever. Worse yet, I envisioned an encounter with the herd of hog whose hoof prints are left all over our place, their path onto our land obviously derives from this very plot of land. Tusks. Wiry hair. Angry disgusting beasts. A little scream started to well up in the back of my throat until I looked down and saw a very fresh pile of cow manure...a fresh hoof print, another, and another. There was a clear trail.

I jogged along the northern fence line, expecting them to come bounding from the deep woods, tails wagging. I shook the bucket, a sound they seem to always hear acres away. I rattled the fence, paused, heard the crackle of something behind me, whirled around to see a small limb falling, something rustle in the distance, chills down my spine, something was definitely watching me. This was a dead end. Or maybe it wasn't, but I felt creepy and decided to try another direction. I turned and ran screaming and shouting, rustling trees, thinking this wild attempt would somehow draw them towards me. Nothing. And now there were new hoofprints in the opposite direction along the fence by our place. How, HOW?! did they move so quickly? These are not agile creatures! I followed this other trail finding one print after another in a meandering path only slightly aware of the fact that the hoof prints were getting smaller and smaller until suddenly realizing none were larger than that of a cat. Baby hogs next to adult hogs. This was a hog path and the cow prints had ended 5 minutes ago. Now I was lost. Screaming for Jeremy elicited nothing except the scatter of animals in the brush that I could hardly see. I spun around and tore back in a general direction hoping it would lead me to familiar ground, the cows clearly gone forever. Suddenly I heard Seamus's cries again and they were answered by a hysterical "mooooOOOOOOAAAHHHOOOOOOoooooo!" They're back!! Oh fantastic, beautiful - they were back!! I sprinted to the fence, happily calling for Jeremy, only to find Seamus nose to nose with another neighbor's baby longhorn. They were mournfully crying at each other. This was useless.

(Baby longhorn)

I vaguely recall barking orders at Jeremy who was standing at the hole with the dogs. Something about crawling through the fence, splitting up, bringing the dogs, hunting them down, by God we would FIND THEM!!!!, I thundered. Jeremy blinked a few times, hung his head, mumbled that I should calm down and squirmed through the hole while the dogs pushed past him. He kicked a rock, muttered something distasteful, and slumped his shoulders. "Whaddayouwantmetodoanyways? Wheredoyawantmetogo?" He mumbled, officially annoyed by this ridiculous task. I had already set out along the north fence again, shouting something over my shoulder about finding the cows if it was the last thing we did and even if the sun set and even if it rained and even if we had to call in sick tomorrow.

I did not see him again for some time.

This is a truly expansive property. It is puncuated with towering cactus but primarily is an overgrown oak and elm forest, wild grape vines as thick as my arm hang down and cross the paths, brush at the base of every tree - I literally could not see through it. We circled that place for a long time, an hour? I don't know. It was ridiculous, really, and in retrospect the drama of it all is hilarious. I'm fairly certain at one point I called to Jeremy to "follow my voice!!!!" assuming he was hugging a tree somewhere, terrified of the unknown wilderness, until he strolled up to me lazily and shrugged, "What's up? I didn't see them." It was at that exact moment when we met again, that I saw the blur of something move behind a nearby cactus. And there stood Matilda, grass sticking out of her mouth, eyes wide open, shocked to see me. Busted.

I was out of breath, sticks in my hair, ripped tshirt, chest heaving, my pathetic bucket still clutched in my hands. I shook it tentatively. She raised her nose and sniffed the air, pursed her lips, a quiet "mooo" escaped and she slowly ambled towards me. Like it was nothin'. Like we hadn't just risked life and limb, outsmarted who-knows-how-many-horrifying-mythical-forest- creatures for this moment of rescue. Nothin'.

The rest happened quickly. Rooney, with his head in a bush 20 feet behind Matilda, quickly followed behind until suddenly both were trotting behind me. I found the fence, followed it up to the hole, rolled through the jagged opening and carefully lured both out - dumping the contents at the edge of the creek. Jeremy quickly repaired the fence

while the dogs stared alternately at me, slumped against a cedar tree, and the cows, joyfully munching their prize.

So there you have it. The grass actually is much greener on the other side. I don't know the origins of this saying but am fairly certain the original author had cows.

The last great escape also took place in March - last March when the three found a weak spot in the fence that borders another lush bundle of grasses. We learn as we go, but it's not a tricky science. They love the glorious, bountiful grass that sprouts on all the neighboring pastures, except ours. In the spring, when it grows again, it's time to check fences in earnest. And keep some treats handy.

I leave you with this heartbreaking video of Seamus in peril:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Make Nice with Your Local Ag Guy/Gal

This is a very heroic picture- as if Jeremy just grew, cut, baled, and loaded the hay with his own two hands. That's not really how it happened but let's give him some credit anyway. Good job Jeremy! You look fantastic up there. We bought a few fresh bales two weeks ago from a propane dealer down the road from our land. Yes, here in the country one can make a tidy profit from selling both propane AND round bales.

After recovering from my shock and awe over this multi-faceted business (did I forget to mention it also contains a car wash? On the edge of a cow pasture, mind you, as nothing suits a car better after loading hay and re-filling propane tanks near a cow field, then a wash. God bless you, Texas.), I snapped a few pictures of yet another adventure-in-hay-buying. I swear I'll never get used to it. Each time we do this a flash of realization washes over me that holy sh*t my life choices have led me to this field with this farmer and this wad of cash, for that 1,500 pound ball of grass. I will never tire of that feeling.

Things move quickly here when the weather changes and we were fortunate for lovely days over the past few weekends. Pasture clearing is in full swing and Jeremy and I attacked this project like all of them - aggressively ambitious for about 45 minutes, until the tractor runs over someone's sunglasses and we require a beer break. Progress happens in fits and starts. Speaking of appears we've achived some level of harmony among the livestock creatures.

I believe this has happened for two reasons: 1) Boo is finally large enough to demand some respect from the others, and 2) Rooney has stopped peeing in the water when they all gather at the edge for a drink.

There is still a chill in the air which justifies many mini burn piles around mesquite stumps. We also do this to observe our mini cow's fascination with fire.

Seamus fell asleep sitting between two small campfires

while Matilda was served roasted cactus - a delicacy. The needles melt right off in the fire and only the crisped but juicy cactus meat remains. Apparently a delicious treat. Campfire cows and hand-fed heifers. If any of you have cattle please speak up and assure me this is normal behavior.
Most importantly - I befriended the local ag extension agent. Well, to be more accurate, I sent him an email and he wrote back.
Somewhere I heard that county ag offices offer a menu of free services to help with land evaluations. As it turns out, our county extension office refers people to the federal ag office, something called the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Ever heard of it? Me neither. But my budding friendship with the local ag guy led me to NRCS with whom Jer and I met today. Our meeting was brief but long enough to leave us armed with topographical and soil maps of our land, a meeting AT the land next week for extensive analysis, and the promise of some aerial photos...FOR FREE! Who. Knew. I happily pay my taxes this season knowing a small portion goes to staff and resource these offices throughout the country, helping to support and promote small scale agriculture.
Of course, his information was fairly dismal. Something about extensive soil erosion and "bad" soil in our area and I quietly kicked myself under the table at our lack of research before getting into the land business. Not that I'd do anything differently. We're in a prime location after all, 20 minutes from the city but only 2 minutes from a hay-selling-propane-dealing-car-wash. That alone is worth the bad soil.


I have a bit of an obsession.

Old things. Creaky things. Recycled house parts.

1930's sink. $25 bucks at Habitat for Humanity - sells for $400 at salvage shops. Beautiful.

A door hinge made in 1910. It could use a bath, but I'm fond of the patina and grime.

Chipped and peeling clawfeet from our circa 1872 tub (the one I hauled from Dallas in a business suit).
1940's oven peeks out from beneath a blanket where it lives in the garage temporarily, next to the motorcycle. It is maybe a little crazy to refurbish an old stove. But then, they don't make 'em like that anymore. Look at those chrome handles! I feel faint.
Why is it I'm determined to build this house from pieces of other peoples' pasts? Is it the quality of their construction? Or the mystery of their origins?
Every corner of our place is filled with salvaged house parts found in dusty shops and from Craigslist, of course. They just need a house.
What began as an innocent purchase this summer, a symbolic gesture of beginnings when we signed the architect's contract - has now ballooned into something much, much more. I could happily devote my life to the deconstruction of old places in order to keep them out of landfills and make them beautiful again.

A name scrawled on one of the many doors pulled from an old insane asylum in Brady. True story - I am not making this up. (Cue creepy background music.) Mr....Anderson? Mr. W. William Anderson? (Creepy music gets louder). Who were you?
Ok. Ew. I scared myself.