Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in the Saddle

It's been a bumpy few weeks in the way of land progress which now is all mixed up with life progress. We officially parted ways with our builder. However, since we can't actually reach the builder (one direct cause for the break-up) it's possible that he has no idea we've officially parted ways. On the other hand, it could be that he parted ways with us long ago and cleverly avoided an awkward conversation by simply ending communication. Kinda like those old jr. high school breakups I mentioned earlier (yes, my sick analogy is back again). Just as immature, and most definitely unprofessional. After several weeks of creative speculation regarding his whereabouts, Jer and I decided to pull the plug for our (ok, my) own emotional well-being. Which means, buckle your seatbelts folks: we're back in the saddle again.

What's this mean for you, you ask? Not much at all aside from the torment of my forthcoming stories about endless meetings with builders who never return calls and the song and dances performed by yours truly in order to get someone interested enough in this project to oh, I don't know, follow-up. Also, the last time I read Huffington Post, watched CNN, and checked the stock market it appeared that we are still in the midst of a (double dip?) recession, sliding backwards, and clinging to the hope that Americans will spend, use credit, and build houses. Right?! Anyone?

Jeremy and I decided that our downfall with builders comes from two places: 1) having a plan & 2) having a budget. Our many ill-fated attempts to create a meaningful relationship with someone seems to end once it's established that we know exactly what we want within a certain price range. (YES. The relationship analogy again. But honestly, finding a builder is like going on a blind date and then beginning an awkward long distance relationship with someone you're only mildly attracted to but who has promised you free dinner at a mid-range Mexican restaurant - just for example).

So: new strategy commences today at my first of many face-to-face meetings with one of the 10 companies who have received a request for bids. Today I will play dumb. I will shrug my shoulders when they ask what type of home we're looking to build. I will say "Hadn't considered one!" (with a giggle) when asked about our budget. I will twirl my hair around my finger and play on my iPhone throughout the meeting. In short: I will act as uninvolved, uninformed, and unprepared as possible. It's a scientific experiment, really. Do these creatures (contractors/builders) respond more enthusiastically when approached by clients who have absolutely no information (i.e., are easily manipulated?). Results will be posted later. Stay tuned. I hope you don't lose any sleep in anticipation.

Other land news is equally disturbing. We have become, and I am not exaggerating, overrun with freakishly large garden spiders. They appear to view the entire 15 acres as a huge fly and have attempted to encase the whole place in their webs. This is one small example of an unfriendly spider I met yesterday. Neither of us was happy to meet the other:

Also, we recently made a creepy discovery at our property line. Last weekend a group of Jeremy's friends came out to drink beer, dig holes, and charm snakes (I think you know who you are, Jeff. I'm talking about Jeff). During the course of this incredibly stimulating evening, we all stomped around the place together and came upon a large group of vultures at one of the property lines. The vultures flew away at our approach and revealed a freshly dead pit bull which had clearly been dumped in a trash bag and dragged out by the buzzards. This is a disturbing sight in any setting but was particularly creepy because of it's location deep into a 30 acre lot owned by a church, in the midst of a densely overgrown forest with no clear path, well, anywhere. Who dragged this large dog thirty acres into the woods and placed it along the property line? More importantly - WHY? I know this is a mystery not worth solving and may have something to do with country living. But I am unsettled and unsure of what other country culture-shocks I have yet to encounter.

For now, we're still in the suburbs, and by the looks of things, we're not getting out to the country anytime soon. Optimistic Jenna says that this allows more time for the reality of country life to sink in slowly, more time to save, more time to enjoy the creature comforts of subdivision living.

Pessimistic Jenna says that she can deal with the culture shock of country living (even mysteriously dead dogs on the property), we can save while we're there too, and that she's just about sick of waking up to chickens snoozing on the back porch. After 2 years, one grows tired of sharing personal space with one's hens.

(Smudgy glass due to three dog noses constantly pressed there to observe the chickens living in their backyard. Sigh). So I complained a lot this morning. If there's any lesson to be gleaned from our story, I hope you gleaned it, and I hope you'll let me know what the heck it is. I can say this: it's never boring. These choices we chose keep me up at night and invade every inch of my spare thinking space during the day. But it is never boring, and that's something.

Friday, July 23, 2010


HOT, hot. So hot, in fact, that I keep catching myself drawling "It's hawwt, ya'll" to no one in particular at work, at home, and in general. I'm pretty sure my new summer land gear isn't quite kosher. But then again, there's no one to impress out there.

In other news, the new work from home gig has been swell. And by gig, I mean all-encompassing new job, and by swell I mean actuallyreallyfreakingawesome BECAUSE I am able to work from home part time. A work lunch downtown now is easily followed by a leisurely midday trip to the land - right there on a work day, without keeping a close eye on the clock. This means I have to pack some land clothes accordingly to easily move from work to land. OR I just have to shrug my shoulders about whatever shmancy-ish ensemble I've got on and cross my fingers that cow drool doesn't stain. (Results so far prove that it does not). So there I go from a work lunch discussing conferences, trainings, meetings, and marketing tactics, right onto the main road that runs through the heart of the city, takes me east, and delivers me home. It's an odd feeling to leave tightly wound meetings for a hop into the car and straight into farm country. I physically feel the day fall away and behind me, leaving that stress somewhere at the edge of the county line. Nothing metaphysical actually happens at that distinct point where the city smudges into farmland, but I feel it. The sky is bigger, air is sweeter, wind cooler.

It's a small thing, really, but it matters tremendously to know that I can easily leave the work for a moment and briefly check in on this other life.

Also, I have a No Name Farm/Ranch: Hollywood Edition Update of mind-boggling proportions. Today a small film crew stood at the edge of the land we covet and that plays a minor role in the best show on modern television. It appeared they were testing the light and having heated cell phone conversations with important folks. Probably with the casting director. Probably complaining that the land was missing the presence of, oh I don't know, a native Texas girl in boots? I almost screeched the brakes obnoxiously to see if there was some way I might help. But better sense and shyness forced me to move on down the road. On my way back to Austin, I drove again by the land, hoping to see some actual filming. But the crew was gone, and the field was empty, save for the very distinct beat up old black truck that is owned by Tim Riggins. Riggins!! Rest assured, I will make several more casual drivebys over the weekend, my behavior perhaps bordering on creepy. But you only live once and, if given the chance, you'd probably try to meet Tim Riggins, too.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Numbered days

We've had the land now for almost two years and the animals for one and a half. That equals something like 25 round bales, 30 bags of range cubes, 10 salt and mineral blocks, and countless hours worrying. Day to day I forget why we purchased the animals. I forget about ag exemptions and all the rules that go along with them. I forget that they are cattle; not pets. I forget on purpose.

Tonight Jeremy brought up the inevitable discussion that I had forgotten was coming. Or, rather, I hoped he would forget. We talked about selling Rooney for beef. Maybe you're already familiar with the ins and outs of livestock; those that are worth a lot for many reasons, and those that are worth a little for only one. The steers are worth a little for meat and only meat. They were castrated at a young age and cannot be used for breeding. They were born and bred for food.

And yes I knew this jumping in. Intellectually, I understood where steers fit into the food chain. Emotionally, I was hooked as soon as they had names and let me scratch their ears. Naming livestock is a tricky business. Our new country friends advised that the only names a steer should have are of your favorite cut. For example: Dwayne's little steer is Porterhouse and Keith's is T-bone. This was among the stupidest concepts suggested for breaking the natural inclination to love the animal. Now I understand that it defines them as food from the beginning. Pet them all you want - they still have but one purpose.

For many, this is an incredibly sensitive subject, especially the notion that a castrated animal serves only the purpose of food. I wholeheartedly understand this sentiment, and I used to agree. But also like many I choose to eat meat, and because I love animals, I want my food dollars to support humanely raised, healthy meat. Food contributions we make with our beef, albeit small, keeps one other family's food dollars out of feed lots. I can support that.

Rooney has, by all accounts, lived one hell of a lovely life. He has had all of the sweet grass, fresh hay, clean water, and space to roam that a tiny cow could want. And after spending time with cows I am certain that this is all they want. I am on the fence about the whole thing, but the fence is leaning, and I know what we must do. It's one thing to quote The Omnivore's Dilemma from my soap box but it's a rare chance to, well, put my money where my mouth is. As a practicing omnivore, this is my personal opportunity to get behind what I support and encourage friends and family to spend their food dollars on local, healthy beef from an animal raised with care and appreciation. Maybe not such a dilemma after all.

(I'm sorry if this was offensive. It's not a decision we take lightly, and it's not a decision that's been made.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Happiest Hour

One of the worst ways to end the work week is with a call from the sheriff. I mean, that basically applies at all times. Generally, you'd rather not receive a call from a law enforcement official. We're all unanimous in this feeling, right?

Around 4pm on Friday, just as I was about to break into a happy hour cocktail by myself at the house (I work from home sometimes and call it quits a little early every now and then. Sue me.), I received a call from a neighbor who immediately handed the phone to the sheriff who was apparently standing in his living room.

Him: "Ma'am, this is the sheriff."

Jenna: "Uh-oh"

Him: "Do you have cows?"

Jenna: "Maybe. Why do you ask?"

Him: "Do you or don't you?"

Jenna: Sigh. "yes" (almost inaudible.)

Him: "Are they very short and very fat?"

Jenna: "Maybe. Why do you ask?" Whatever they had done, I didn't want to get pegged with it.

Him: "Well, the neighbors said there's no question that the cows in the road are yours. You better come and get them. Thanks ma'am."

Dial tone.......With shaking hands, I dialed Jer's number at work and squeaked out the fact that wehadthestupidestcowsinthewholedamnworldandthattheywereruiningourlivesandicouldn'tdeal-

Pretty sure he didn't understand a word I said. But he recognized the tone of my voice and the words "stupidest" and "cows" and quickly headed over.

What ensued was the same old story we've shared now several times. A bucket was filled with feed. Seamus, the good cow, was inconsolable and shrieking on our side of the fence (he seems to rarely bust out), and the others were MIA. By the time we arrived, the sheriff had shooed Rooney and Matilda into a neighbor's pasture, as they were previously standing stupidly in the road. We found them there, munching weeds happily, Seamus's pained cries floating out from the woods behind them. The only way back to our property was out the gate, along the somewhat busy road, and down our long driveway. Lots of things could go wrong but it's not like we had, you know, options at that point. So out the gate we went.

Jer served as traffic cop, carrying a large stick (?) and holding his hand up in the air at approaching vehicles. Each person who passed us slowed down enough for a good long stare at the amateur ranchers taking their cows on a walk. We got lots of waves and smiles. I have a feeling this wasn't the first roadside cow retrieval these country dwellers had seen.

Once safely back behind our (apparently piss-poor) fence, we searched the property for holes and escape routes but came up with nothing. Needless to say, we've spent the majority of this weekend feeling nervous, confused, and afraid to answer the phone. For now, the fence has held them. I have another happy hour scheduled tomorrow afternoon (the real kind. with other people.) so I fully expect to receive another call from the sheriff around that time, right on cue.


Donkeys in general don't respect personal space. Miniature donkeys specifically have absolutely no grasp on boundaries. And our baby mini, Jasmine, (By the way - we didn't name these guys. Just sayin') has a tendency to really get all up in your face and stare. It can, at times, be a bit awkward.

Jer is clearly not totally comfortable with this situation.

Note: While we do love America as much as the next guy, Jer's hat isn't really a special tribute as much as a cheap gas station purchase years ago on the way to tube a local river. Makes a good land hat, too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No Name Farm/Ranch: Hollywood Edition

Let's be honest. We all have a variety of little obsessions. I've already aired most of my dirty laundry when I shared my moldy door fetish, topped only by my love for rusted sinks. Does it get much more embarrassing than that?!?

Well, yes.

For anyone who's ever watched the NBC drama Friday Night Lights, you can probably understand why it is, hands down, my favorite show. Not only is the plot tightly focused around three important topics (the character Tim Riggins, a small Texas town, the character Tim Riggins), but it's also filmed locally and features lots of the places us central Texans pass by daily. Ok, to be fair, it also has a lot to do with football, high school angst, and bbq but these plot points are far less crucial than my hero, Tim Riggins.

Since it is filmed locally, each show is dotted with familiar streets, shops and the like. So it should have been no surprise when, in a recent, episode, Jer and I both recognized some landscape in the background of an important scene.

You see, our (my) hero (potential husband should things turn sour in my current situation. Oh Jer I'm KIDDING mostly!) took a drive through the countryside outside of the fictional town Dillon (Austin) and fell in love with a gorgeous parcel of land that just happens to be for sale.

Just so happens to be the same parcel we noticed on our first trip to our property. It caught our eye too. And it's just a short jog down the road, across from our land. Its presence on the show basically confirms the awesomeness of that parcel and the general area. We have no idea when they filmed the scenes there, but yesterday we noticed the fictional "for sale" sign up again near the road. The crew must have lost the original sign since the one in place now is slightly different. But it's back up, and it's ready for more filming, and I plan to camp at the land continuously in order to finally meet Riggins. It's good to have a plan, no?

So here they are in all their glory; photos of the new sign above a still of the first scene displaying the land. And yes, I really did spend an hour going through old episodes to find this scene - that's why it's called an obsession, right?

My shot of the new sign, ready for filming.

Tim Riggins contemplating life and looking down the road towards our driveway (Tim Riggins looked at our driveway!). Photo courtesy of NBC. Thank you NBC for the photo and for Friday Night Lights.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Field Trippin'

What's a girl to do on a rainy Friday?

Yea, yea. I get that most folks find more conventional ways to blow off some steam after a rough week of work. Happy hours, pedicures, movies: just not my style. After a tiring week of constant schmoozing, the only thing that sounded relaxing was a long solo drive, a country road, and antique shops. To be precise: salvage shops. I grabbed my purse this morning and headed out to Gonzales which, as you TX history buffs are aware, is the "Birthplace of Texas Freedom." I vaguely remember a story of a cannon and a flag above it saying Come and Take It. And whoever They were (Mexico), couldn't come and take it. And TX won. And we were free. And God Bless TX. 4th grade state history class escapes me.

The reason Gonzales is significant to me is because it's home to my two favorite places; a high end salvage shop and a low end junk shop. The best of their kind in the same old town in the middle of nowhere but near the state's watermelon and BBQ capitols. (Apparently, the watermelon capitol, Luling, recently crowned its watermelon queen, affectionately referred to as the "thump queen." Judging by the signs strewn around the town, the thump queen's name is Brittany. Go get 'em Brittany). A trip to Gonzales means lots of gorgeous country views and lots of gorgeous BBQ in Lockhart. Can I get a what what? If you've ever stopped by Black's, Smitty's Market, or Kreuz's then you know what I'm saying.

But back to all that old house stuff.

This is the Hall of Doors. Sounds like something out of a J.K. Rowling book, no? It is, literally, a museum of doors although, of course, each artifact is for sale. Most periods from the mid-18th century to retro 1960's are represented here. Don't know why but doors have always held a certain intrigue for me. I've taken a few trips to Europe and while my traveling companions bring back grand pictures of cathedrals and castles, I seem to only photograph the old doorways on side streets. Something about the mystery of what's going on behind them? Haven't seriously considered my obsession, and not about to start now, but I really do love an old creaky door.

Rooms to the left of the Hall of Doors house the Hall of Tubs and Sinks (and assorted bathroom accessories). Sigh. Cast iron encased in baked-on porcelain. They don't make 'em like this anymore. And although it's not represented here, there was a certain attention to the aesthetic in earlier pieces that doesn't exist now. We can't blame it on mass production, because this stuff was relatively mass produced. What was it then? Have we modern consumers lost our taste for careful style (and quality)?

Street view of this glorious shop.

Even the gas stations in this town are vintage and, therefore, awesome. Take note of the Hurricane Alex-related ominous clouds. Driving south towards the remnants of a tropical storm was probably a little stupid. But then, when one has their heart set on picking through junk and eating BBQ, one cannot be deterred.

The next shop is my hands-down favorite junk shop destination. I have found more outrageous deals at this place than any other, and its location inside an incredibly creepy 1880's building is a bonus. It's the kind of place you enter and are suddenly certain that at one time it was a brothel. It's got that kind of vibe. It's also got a snowman for sale near a picture of Jesus.

The second story is haunted. I have no proof but I've now been here four times and have officially felt something watching me from a particular doorway up there each time. I suppose it's my own greed and curiosity that forces me to walk up those creaky stairs despite the distinct feeling that ghosts lurk up above.

The day would have been incomplete without a stop for, as I've repeatedly mentioned, BBQ. Let us pause for a moment and give thanks for BBQ.

You complete me. Or you completed this field trip, at least.

The grand square in Lockhart, BBQ capitol of TX:

This particular dining establishment expertly achieves Feng Shui with the assorted antlers, photography, and local diners.

Pretty perfect day in terms of pickin'. I scored a gorgeous old marble slab, a metal shelf/stand from the haunted second floor of the junk shop, and 4 antique school house lights - all pieces needed for the house build and purchased for a fraction of new ones. Oh, and a chopped beef sandwich (needed to help keep up my strength to think about the house build). Absolutely worth the long drive in hurricane force rains. Absolutely.