Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two Years

Saturday was the second anniversary of the land purchase. Ironically, we spent it out of town, on someone else's property in the hill country. A totally opposite type of land than our little parcel out east. Our mini-break was bittersweet. Spending time on different land, near a different town, surrounded by dramatically different views causes one to....well...reconsider....? Just reconsider. But on Sunday we woke up as the sun rose, jumped in the car, stopped for donuts - and headed east. Driving down the bumpy lane to our already rusting metal gate has started to feel just about right. The place is rough around the edges, near a crumbling little town, and surrounded by some questionable characters. So it's easy for those things to overshadow everything we've already put onto it and into it. I'm glad we got away, if only for a moment, to compare and contrast. Rough or no - it's our patch of dirt.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

You better sit down for this

We are calling about, and possibly making an offer on, this guy:

No. For serious. I didn't even have a drink tonight and Jeremy convinced me that this, THIS, my friends was the absolute best if not the only logical next step on our journey to the land. We get to live out there pronto and hopefully rent our current home somewhat immediately, thus saving boatloads of moolah (or at least a tad more than we're saving now). We'd simplify life for awhile and truly learn to appreciate nature, since I doubt we'd want to spend much quality time together crammed in the trailer.

And the amazing part of all this?! The absolutely shocking realization is that I felt excited, HAPPY almost at the prospect. I'm a little bored right now, if we're being honest, as if we pushed an enormous "pause" button on plans (life) about a year ago. This feels like, or could be, and might cause: progress.

Is this an act of desperation or genius? Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not From Around Here

Whether or not you're gonna admit it, we've all had those moments where something uncomfortably embarrassing happens and we desperately hope no one saw it. For example, my jr. high school had a set of stairs at the end of a hallway, tucked back from the main thoroughfare. One day I was on these stairs alone walking to the second floor. And for some reason I slipped, tottered around for a split second, and face planted on the stairwell - body splayed in four directions. Among stair-fall maneuvers, this one was truly epic. Despite the bleeding forehead, throbbing pain in both kneecaps, etc, I remember jumping straight up and nervously looking all around me (pretty sure I even looked at the ceiling) to be sure no one saw me. Thank god no one did and my impeccably cool reputation remained intact (I bet you think I'm being sarcastic but I peaked socially somewhere in 8th grade. I'm mature enough now to admit this).

So it was funny to find myself in a similarly awkward position just one day ago, many many years after the jr. high fall and to realize, I handled it the same damn way. Jer was out of town this weekend frolicking with his college friends and I devoted Saturday morning to long and thoughtful walks around the property. I really wanted to immerse myself in the land. Enjoy the views. Embrace nature. It makes me feel like a legit country dweller for some reason. So there I was with my large walking stick meant to fend off snakes, rogue donkeys, and most importantly, to break up the massive spiderwebs that hang just about everywhere right now. From a distance I imagine the scene would have been quite convincing: Confident rancher walks slowly to survey her land, pausing now and then to lean over and pick up a rock, then tosses the rock. Leans casually on walking stick, then pats a passing cow, totally un-intimidated by its massive horns. She kicks at a cactus. Puts her hand on her hip and shakes a fence post with the other just to confirm it's firmly placed. Basically, she's completely at home in this environment, and possibly was raised in the country: a fearless land owner. She walks forward, and uses the stick to break up a spider web, then keeps on walking. But then she stops suddenly and slowly turns her head to look at the large, black, and shiny thing perched on her shoulder. She does a double take and proceeds to, well, lose her sh*t.

Oh folks, it was a true and total meltdown. Arms flailed, the stick went flying, hands slapped at the back, there was spinning in circles, shaking of the head, jumping up in down - all the while screaming. S C R E A M I N G.

As soon as the horrifically large spider was off my back, I nervously looked in all directions to make sure no one actually saw this incredibly pathetic display. We have land for chrissake! Rattlesnakes, coyote, and horrific spiders are all part of the deal. I knew this when we signed up for the gig. But knowing it and having one of the land creatures on your back are two very different things. Luckily, as with jr. high, no neighbors were present to question my behavior. With them, I hope to always maintain some amount of street cred. But here I have no one to impress. And anyone who reads this little story realizes that while we're not phonies, we're definitely not "from around here" when it comes to country living.

In moments like this I wonder how Dee-you-wayne would handle the situation. What would he do with a spider on his back? Most likely he'd name it "Ol' Black" and keep it as a pet. I just can't pull that off.

It's a Mess

Considering the fact that my "office" looks like this:

my recent purchase of this:

seems somewhat unjustifiable. Not only is my "office" literally packed full of old house stuff including lights, boxes of knobs, hinges, backplates, marble shards, paint samples, an art deco toilet paper dispenser (Hahaha! It seems even more ridiculous to own such a thing when I see it written), but most corners of the house hold some object serving no current purpose but is earmarked for the future place. I passed the point of ridiculous approximately 7 months ago, so now it's futile to exercise reason or good sense. These attributes are clearly lost on me. And the greatest irony of all is that I've waited for the entirety of my professional life to work from home. Now that I finally DO, my "office" has become a storage unit and my workday takes place somewhere between the living room couch and dining room table.

What I'm trying to say is that it's a mess over here. Too many projects planned and only a fraction started, with none completed. We have spray cans littering the garage next to piles of chipped paint and house parts in various stages of refurbishment. In the midst of this self-imposed chaos I decided to go ahead and plant a fall garden after all. This means that I turned the soil, bought the plants, and now they languish on the front porch, nowhere near the garden. Simon sampled (destroyed) the catnip I never planted, reminding me again that follow-through is important. If the thing were already rooted in a deep, permanent pot, it might stand a chance, but now:

Sigh. At least Simon had one fabulous day hyped up on kitty crack which caused him to slap LuLu three times in the face run in a circle, bite her leg, and saunter away. In its brief life here, the catnip was a big hit.

And then there's this:

The biggest mess of all. While plants sit dwindling in their tiny plastic containers, old house parts remain encased in rust and lead paint, and laundry needs washing at my current place - the land lives quietly on without us. Its presence a constant whether or not we are physically there. And it represents the worst kind of "messiness." Projects with no end coupled with an addiction to the place that keeps us coming back to attempt the impossible. New holes to patch in the fence at every visit, fresh trash emerges from the ground after each gentle rain, animals that are never satiated - the perfect jumble of chaos. But I'm starting to get it now. There's not really a point in life where we grab hold of these messes and set them straight. Life is, after all, one big perfect jumble of chaos, isn't it? As long as we (ok, I) develop some method to this madness, then it should be a spectacular ride. But definitely no more catnip for this household. And no more sinks. Lord help me, no more sinks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


This is what a long walk alone in the country sounds like.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summer Ends

Well, sort of. The summer garden is kaput although the summer humidity remains and has mildewed most of our spirits and definitely all of our summer gardens.

I hoped that the biblical rains we received this week, thanks to tropical storm Hermine, might provide one last jolt of energy into an otherwise exhausted garden. But alas she rotted it, effectively ending the garden for the season. This can only mean one thing:

Summer ends with the garden door ceremoniously swinging wide open so 8 obnoxious hens can saunter in and tear the place to shreds. Their entrance ushers in a new season, every season, and they get the job of weed-eating, turning the top soil, and fertilizing done in about a week.

It doesn't rival a shmancy landscaping/gardening service, but it does the trick, and they earn their keep in the process. Good chicken.

ad·dic·tion    [uh-dik-shuhn]

"the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma."

The reality of my problem finally sunk in once I perused this weekend's land pics. I looked at the pictures of places where some of my gem-like old house parts live and realized I've restored the spot to its original beauty. But by "restored," I mean destroyed. And by "beauty," I mean crap. Oh dear. You see, looking at these photos reminds me of what we saw on our first trip out there: piles of nonsensical garbage strewn about an inordinate amount of old house parts in varying degrees of decay. (To be fair, those old house parts were on the order of torn sheetrock, broken tile, rotting shingles. You know, actual crap). My old house parts are dusty flowers requiring some elbow grease to eventually become functional, meaningful parts of a house someday. No, seriously.

You may be thinking the problem lies in my inability to say "NO" to anything with a bit of mold, rust, or lead paint. And you would be correct. Take my latest finds, for example. I grabbed them up from Laura over at The East Side Hovel and never looked back. Never considered a spot for a single one of those little doors, just saw a deal on some old 5 panels and couldn't resist. She even threw in a small lot of sweet old fashioned hexagonal tile (you rock Laura) and the pallets, to boot. Laura = happy, Jenna = happy. Win win. Now stop with all the judging.

The point is this: I have certainly tapped into a deeply buried but apparently quite strong obsession and concern with the anatomy of a home. I consider each part carefully; its purpose and aesthetic. Then I consider whether it's better old, or better new. Then I find it. This is a skill I've yet to make lucrative - but I'm workin' on it...

And just when I thought were was no way to top my exciting weekend of dumpster (or in this case backyard) diving, our friend gifted us with a (really very) early house warming present:

I have actually been quite desperate for a shady spot to enjoy the view. Thanks Joe! You really shouldn't have.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The barndo's back, baby!

We find is mildly hilarious that this little blog only gets real "traffic" on one particular post. A year or so ago I wrote a scientific description of the anatomy of a barndominium and a select group of folks seem to accidentally stumble upon us when doing their own research on this mysterious building concept. And by "select" I mean the type of person who is probably just as desperate as us to set up shop on a budget. Apparently, we are among the elite (crazy?) few willing to consider this option and, as such, have actually contributed to the paltry body of "literature" on the subject. Well. Isn't that something.

(Matilda stands in the background and dons her usual shock-and-awe expression)

See, once we lost our builder (the man who was one of the only who had built many of these structures in our area) and once we'd licked our wounds from the insults added to the injury of his disappearance, we pretty much gave up on the barndominium. My weeks long assault on the entire building community via email blast-like requests for bids revealed the truth about unconventional building methods. It's just not all that appealing to builders. After many (oh. so many) meetings with various companies and contractors, we heard a variety of reasons why our idea was stupid. It would "cost more" (truth: you can't beat the price of a pre-fab metal building for exterior materials. You just can't). It would "fall apart" (truth: A building made of steel beams and metal, secured into a several foot deep bed of concrete really, really isn't going anywhere. Really). It was "confusing" (truth: If you're confused then let's just shake hands and say goodbye right now).

It just wasn't something that anyone wanted to tackle. Weeks of these conversations, which usually culminated with my dramatic interpretation of how one actually builds a barndo (imagine my arm being the crane and my head being the roof), ended with Jer and I screaming "uncle." We give. Or we gave. We caved and agreed to the whole notion of a traditional (and pricier) stick frame construction but wrapped in metal as the exterior material. Hmph.

(A triumphant flower in the August heat)

In fact, we even signed some contracts, news I haven't shared yet because I'm confident it may still end badly. No building contracts but agreements to finally complete the design that our wayward architect did not. Agreements to refine the overly engineered foundation plan that our wayward foundation engineers (you know, the one's who threatened to put a lien on our property? The root of The Messiness? Oh, you didn't know because I didn't tell you? Well there you have it) did not complete. We found a builder who gave me warm fuzzies mostly because he has yet to slobber on and on about all of his past work and continues to find the prospect of our project interesting. And even he scratched his head over the barndo, considered it, thought it was tricky, and talked me into the conventional build. Until yesterday. Yesterday he called to explain that he too had done some research, spoken to metal builders, other general contractors and the like and that he wanted to move forward with a, (he giggled when he said it), "barndominium."

Don't go throwing me a pre-fab metal building party just yet. All this means is that we'll move forward with pricing this option. So it's likely we may end up with something else. And at this point, not a single thing would surprise me. But when it's all said and done, hopefully it will be shelter enough. Barndo or no, metal or wood.

(Boo tries desperately to come home with us and live the posh life of a suburban donkey.)

Boy Howdy

I lived here a full 20 years before understanding that phrase, something Jer's aunt uses to emphasize things that require, well, emphasis. It's the Texan way to say something is really damn...something - an underline beneath a word. As in, "Boy howdy it's hot, ya'll!" or "Did you see that football game? Boy howdy!" In some cultures and parts of the country the same effect is achieved through the use of "Oy" but in the Texan language things are generally drawn out and exaggerated a touch. Just the way I like it.

I only mention this because this morning I found myself walking the aisles of the most magnificent store in Austin. It's a place I visited a few times as a girl when I rode horses and when we kept some hoof stock in our backyard, right there in downtown Georgetown. If the small feed store in our area didn't have just the right item needed, we'd make the trek down south to Callahan's General Store and, boy howdy, I've had a place in my heart for it ever since.

The store is massive and easily covers a few acres. Half is just a warehouse stuffed full of every type of animal feed imaginable along with adult poultry species if you're not in the market for the baby peeps they always stock inside. Feed bins, head gates, fencing material, and every other sort of farm accessory is housed in the glorious expanse of the warehouse. But it's the inside of this store that lures me out despite the drive, especially on days when I just feel like crap and need a little boost. Maybe it's the simplicity of it all. The concept is based on old fashioned general stores. Here you find a one stop shop to cure all that ails you and grow all that feeds you. Shoot ya'll, there's even a section devoted entirely to jeans and boots. Old fashioned stoves and fridges. Hardware. Saddles. Honey. Cheesemaking equipment. And did I mention the family that serves up fresh bbq in the parking lot all weekend long? Did I mention that??

I used to look at that store longingly any time I found myself in the area, pressed my face against the car window and wondered how to be a member of the club that shops at Callahan's. Sure, you can go in anytime regardless of your "status" in the ag world, but unless you have a lot of confidence, you'll feel a little silly. So on days like today when I'm a little run down, a little dark about our progress towards building that damn house and waking up daily on the land, I find a stroll through Callahan's to be just the tonic needed. Because I'm a member now. I can order breeder cubes and Blue Lotion with the best of 'em. I can plunk down a tub of udder balm and layer pellets at the register like I mean it, grab some pickling salts, and a pair of cowhide work gloves to boot. Regardless of where I wake up in the mornings, I've still got cattle to tend, hay to haul, and donkeys to groom (don't even think of judging).

(Yep, it's true. That man's wearing suspenders and a cowboy hat while leaning on a cage of chickens.)

It's not a house on a hill but damn it feels good to walk around that place with a purpose. Oh - the healing powers of bbq bought in a dusty parking lot next to real-deal cowboys! Boy. Howdy.