Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Oh what a beautiful morning . . . "

Last night, we fell asleep to the sound of a lovely rain, monotonously drumming on the tin roof. 

Look closely - see steam curling off the left trunk?

When we awoke, the rainy weather had moved on, leaving 1.4" of water in the gauge and a lovely morning.  It was that sort of morning when colors are vivid, water drops are sparkling everywhere, and the air smells clean.

As I looked out the window (the beauty distracted me from my book and coffee!), I noticed steam curling off the trunk of a tree. That did it. I grabbed the camera and headed out in my robe, slippers and curlers. (I didn't really have curlers in, but it makes a great visual, doesn't it?)

Here's how it looked on the hill this morning. Enjoy!

Seedlings by the

This fellow stopped by
while I was out taking photos.

Beautiful green yarrow, . . . 

. . . wet shiny stones . . . 

 . . . and rusty hues of prairie flame-leaf sumac.
The full effect - fall color central Texas style!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"All I want for Christmas . . . "

The lobbying began before Thanksgiving, complete with song: 

            “All I want for Christmas is a real Christmas tree,
            A real Christmas tree, oh, a real Christmas tree.”

I think you know the tune.

The mighty woodsman chopping down
our Christmas tree.
Several years ago we had a lean Christmas, and decided that instead of spending scarce funds on a store-bought tree, we would cut a tree from our land.

Mind you, Christmas trees in the traditional sense do not grow on our land. We have Ashe junipers. Because they tend to grow in thickets, they are shaped by their quest for the sun: thinly branched and leaved, usually lopsided, with very long lower branches. When brought into the house, some might consider them . . . ugly.

In my eye, once one is hung with ornaments (some handmade, some sentimental favorites), strung with small white and multi-colored lights, swaddled in the tree skirt I crocheted early in our marriage, and topped with the angel Dan and I bought our first Christmas, it becomes beautiful. It is a cheerful symbol of the love in our family.

Once we broke that tradition of visiting the Christmas tree lot, wandering among the lovely evergreens, then dropping $75 on a tree that would die within a month, it was hard to go back. In prior posts, we have established that I am a cheapskate.

More importantly, it feels more Christmas-like to walk out the door and wander our land in search of the perfect – well, somewhat perfect – tree, cut it down, drag it to the house, wedge it into the tree stand, and decorate it. It looks like the appropriate tree for our house. It feels homey. It feels right.

My daughter yearns to hang ornaments on those thick evergreen branches once more. To her, our spindly cedar trees aren’t green enough, thick enough, or lush enough to qualify as perfect Christmas trees. As I write this, I feel a twinge of sympathy for her and her vision of Christmas. Maybe next year we will give in and go find that perfect tree at a lot. 

But when she’s grown with her own family, I hope she will fondly remember those years when we put on coats, grabbed the chainsaw and headed for the woods to choose a Christmas tree. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life on the frontier

Thursday, I was a pioneer woman.

Or at least as close to one as I’ll ever be.

First, I arose before daylight to get my daughter off to school. I usually poke up the fire in the woodstove at this point, but with pleasant weather we haven’t needed the heat. I prepared a nutritious breakfast (frozen waffle) and filled her lunch pail (a purple plaid insulated bag). We saddled up our ride (SUV) and rode off to school, eight miles away.

When I returned to the homestead, the chickens needed tending. Usually this is the husband’s job, but he was not available this day. I fed and watered them, then discovered a dead chicken in the coop. After examining it for cause of death – undetermined – I tossed it out in the woods. Returning to the coop, I gathered four brown and green eggs, and trudged back up the hill to the house.

Death is part of life here on the frontier. This chicken was one of our meat birds, however, so I was unhappy about losing the investment.

Next, I consulted with the well digger (more on that in a later post).

Time to bake bread! Can you see me, leaning over a floured board with sleeves rolled up, wearing a white apron, hair in a messy bun, sweat beading my brow as I vigorously knead dough? Oh wait, that wasn’t me. I made pumpkin bread – no kneading required.

My bones and rheumatism told me that rain followed by cold were imminent (those and the local weatherman), so I tied my bootlaces, left the bread baking and ventured forth to gather firewood. We don’t own a mule or horse, despite living in Texas. I really, really wish I could fashion a harness for Iris the dog to help drag loads. Short of these options, I was reduced to using the wheelbarrow. I did not have to cut or split the firewood (though I have wielded an ax before – scary, I know), just trundle my barrow out to the piles located here and there, load up, then return and stack logs on the wood rack.

At one point, logs and brush piles sited to slow water run-off distracted me. I moved a few logs around . . .

. . . only to arrive back at the house and find I had come perilously close to burning the bread.  I rescued it in the nick of time. Just a little burn smell tinged the pumpkin bread fragrance. It dissipated quickly. No one will notice.

Lunchtime. And naptime. And a Facebook check. What? Pioneer women didn’t have Facebook? Lord, they were deprived.

Next, I needed to plant vegetable seeds in the garden before the aforementioned rain fell.  I gathered my gloves and seed packets, collected one of my buckets of worm dirt, and followed the path to the vegetable garden. Usually this is my husband’s domain, also.  This day, Pioneer Woman was in charge.

I turned the soil, pulling out weeds and mixing in dried chicken poop and worm dirt. I carefully placed seeds for mixed lettuce greens, spinach, turnips and Swiss chard. I offered a benediction over the garden, something like this:  “Please grow. Rain’s coming. Good luck.”

In the middle of planting, I saddled the SUV again, retrieved my daughter from school and fed her a picnic supper, and delivered her to an evening commitment.

Final chore of the day was to prepare a home-cooked meal for my hard-working husband who had been out laboring in the fields all day. Or maybe he was riding on an airplane, returning from a business trip. On the menu:  turkey tenderloin topped with pecans, sautéed spinach and salad. Welcome home, honey!

My day of pioneering was fun. When I imagine doing all that and much, much more in a long skirt and bonnet, with no electric appliances, grocery stores, neighbors, gas-powered transportation or indoor bathrooms – jumpin’ Jehosaphat. I’m happy to be a pioneer woman on my own terms, assisted by modern conveniences.

Favorite spot in the garden:

A prior resident planted this Moses’ boat (Tradescantia spathacea, I think!) in small beds under trees, and they are flourishing with no attention from me. They have been doing well with our recent rains, but their days are numbered as surely a freeze is near.

Other names for this beauty are Moses-in-a-boat, Moses-in-a-basket, boatlily or oyster plant. According to Dave's Garden,  it is invasive in Florida, and contact with leaves can cause an allergic reaction.