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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Being 8

Some recent events in non-land related parts of life forced me into a brief but serious period of self-examination in which I asked Self some pretty important questions. We all know that our current situations in life are a result of various decisions, obstacles, accidents, bad/good advice, and bad/good luck. In fact, after conducting a scientific poll of friends and acquaintances, I learned that very few are now doing exactly what it is they started out loving. And that made me sad. So I dug deep and thought about a time in life when what I loved and made me happy was pure and virgin territory; not yet shaped by cultural/societal expectations or tainted by outside opinions and advice. It's just what made my world.....bright. I was about 8 years old.

So Self made a list of what was so great about life when it was 8 years old. This required some determined concentration in order to roll away lots of years and strip things down to bones. I absolutely recommend attempting this exercise. It's best to do old school style. Dust off a notebook, dig out a pencil, and pour a (few) glass(es) of wine. Then, remember.


It turns out my list was pretty short and quite simple. I loved horses, apparently very much, because it was the first thing my hand scrawled out when thinking as my 8 yr old self. Followed by "quiet, open spaces," "being with animals," "finding old things," and finally my "best friend." That's about it. That's basically all it took to rock my world when I was 8, and upon reflection, I realized that's exactly the same stuff that matters to me now. And it probably appears that I'm happily flitting around enjoying the same things I loved then that I love now.

Not so much. The reality is that all this stuff gets buried along the way, doesn't it. I'll spare you the over-examined list of responsibilities that plagues all adults. We've all been there (we are there!). It wasn't until we brought home that first little box of peeps almost 3 years ago that something, all of those little things, were rekindled. Literally it was as if I remembered 'Oh yes! I DO LOVE CHICKENS! And BARNYARDS! Pastures! Rolling pastures!!!! Holy crap. Where have you been all of these years?' The chickens, at the time, they were a small thing - but they led to the land, led to the fence-building, the animals, the remembering.

The point, oh yes, there is one - the point is that forgetting what causes joy, the pure kind we experienced before maturity set in, that forgetting sure comes easy. And I, for one, have had enough of that. In small ways it's comforting to remember who you were, what you loved, waaay back, and to realize you're still in there. I happily checked off each item on my list (save for "horses" but the donkeys are at least a poor substitute for now).

Each of these pieces are slowly creeping back into my world, and some of them never left. So when people ask (and boy do they ask) why we bought the land, spend weekends in manure, and spend good money on hay I know the answer now is- very simply-it's what I always loved.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Just Because

Neighbor's gate.

Eye of the Tiger: Life in < 250 sq. ft.

Even though the purchase isn't complete, we've already named her Martha. We've located a friend with a truck strong enough to haul her. Jer's busy researching generators, and I am finally browsing the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for a concrete purpose: laminate trailer flooring. Normally I wander the aisles in search of old house part treasures that a) aren't needed b) are totally useless.

Things are rolling along.

But no permanent moves will happen yet. For now, Martha is for weekends, maybe even a weeknight here and there. When (if if IF) construction begins the plan is to sort through our obnoxious piles of stuff that fill this house and move into the trailer with only a few boxes of belongings. The prospect of a move into such cramped quarters has already caused me to look around the current house and give most of our things the stink eye. Each item must now prove its value and if it cannot, into a storage unit, recycling bin, or donation pile it must go. If you know me, then you know I will fail miserably at this futile exercise since I'm a hoarder by nature. And also since, for me, even the process of scrambling eggs requires pans, spatulas, whisks, jars, a knife, several plates, a microwave, an oven, a cheese grater, and a chicken. It's just really, really difficult for me to keep it simple.

True to form, I'm already panicked about my life in less than 250 sq. ft. I've pondered the living quarters, the tiny bathroom, the stove size, lack of dishwasher, the very small bathroom, twin sized beds, lack of cabinetry, and the truly tiny bathroom. Even though Martha finally (hallelujah) represents progress, I've gone ahead and started freaking out about the reality of living in her for a period of time. That sounds about right, doesn't it? Complain about our stagnant situation and then immediately worry when we forge ahead. Yep.

From here on out, I am determined to overcome my paralyzing fear of small spaces, of choosing which precious pot and pan (singular) will live with me in the trailer, how many pairs of underwear can fit in my drawer (singular), and deciding who gets dibs on the bathroom (singular) in the morning. I will keep my eye on the prize and I will hum Survivor's classic ballad whenever regret washes over me. Eye of the Tiger, baby. Jenna vs. Martha. Let's do this.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ta Da!

Oh yes.

Seein' is believin'

Ain't she cute? There was a time when the prospect of trailer living would have caused me to temporarily shake violently. But times, oh how they have changed. So now, to quote Jer's favorite movie: bring it on.

My Hipstamatic Weekend

In chronological order:

Round Top - White picket fences.

Round Top - Antique jumble.

Chula in the morning.

Seamus at rest.

Rooney on fire.

Watching UT's tragic loss, country style.

Good Luck Grill - Sunset and guitar player.

That about brings us up to date. If only real life were as dreamy, but oddly vivid, as a hipstamatic photo.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hipsta Chick

I jumped on the hipstamatic bandwagon. Prepare for many, many nostalgia-tinged photos.