“From dangers untold and hardships unnumbered…”

…we’ve made it through the labyrinth that was acquiring our dream home and property.

Leona House 1

I’m one of those Aries people. You know the kind: impatient, direct, uninhibited, aggressive assertive, opinionated independent, lets just get things DONE and get the ball moving…so on and so forth… so going through the fire that was the process of bank loans, bank credit, bank approval, appraisals, paperwork, federal bureaucracy (curse Doddsesses and Franksesses, we hates them forever!), and closing, was a real trial. People would ask “are you done….” and I’d launch into a vent. Hubby was far more circumspect…most of the time…and Mom was “it’ll happen, I just know it.” But having to wait for months….MONTHS…to start something new was real torture. That’s what I DO: start new projects. I’m a master at it. And when I get the idea to START, I want to start NOW. After all of the breakdowns and upheavals of the last year and a half, I felt I had gotten the Message from You Know Who loud and clear: time to move into a new era for your life. I was all : ok, God. I Am Ready! LET’S GO!

Wait…wut?! Oh…maaaaaaan.

But I’m still goin’ with the Wisdom of the Ages here – despite the fact that we finally closed so late in the spring season (well, spring for Texas at any rate), thereby ruining any chance I might have had at starting a small vegetable garden and bring in my first crop of watermelon and purple hull peas.  The delay is actually still a sign that I’m still not quite “there” yet. There’s a lot to be done, namely restoring quite a bit to the farmhouse and repairing any neglected areas, as well as prepping our current home for sale. There’s the business of sending off my baby bird to school, her first foray into a life away from our home…and there’s still just the general business of watching and waiting to see where *I* will land once all business is taken care of. Will I get a job? Will I acclimate well to our new place? I can barely manage a large backyard – what the hay am I going to do with 20 acres? Will I be able to integrate into a small town? I have memories of growing up in a small town –  so I’m thinking it won’t be entirely unfamiliar – but I have been living in the urbanization of the area of the last 20 years, and things are quite a bit different now.

These ARE all things I’m having to deal with, whether or not I want to. I’d really rather play in the dirt, but that’s life. And the Wisdom of the Ages apparently has all my priorities lined up for me, so I guess I gotta trust in that before I can even think about getting a crop going.

Still, its finally here, the big ball I want to start pushing. And its already begun: Chief has already spent a Saturday to begin the process, and it has started with the most basic step for transformation: paint.


I’ll try to post updates on our progress. I have such plans for that front yard! From the front porch we will be moving backwards to the back of the house, which will get progressively trickier, as there will have to be some structural considerations to deal with. I still cling to the hope, however that among all this DIY reno, I will still be able to set up a plot and enjoy the fruits later on this year.


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In The Throes of An Icepocalypse

Northerners who move to Texas, especially the coastal and southern parts, are usually amused and disgusted by the reactions we natives have to any temperatures that fall below 50 on any given ‘winter’ day. The last couple of ‘blue northers’ we’ve had in the last week or so has provided ample opportunity for good-natured ribbing and just a bit of mockery, with arctic fronts finally reaching their fingers into our latitudes and sending those of us not used to extreme cold into a kind of bewildered state of affairs.


Not only has Texas been in dire need of water, but the more coastal/southern portions have not seen severe winter weather in well over 20 years.  Oh sure, we had that fantastic freak snowfall that covered the south by southeastern portions of the state as well as northern Mexico on Christmas Eve back in 2005, but for us Texans that was a matter of looking at our wrists and shrugging “yeah, ’bout time we had our 100 year snow storm.” But true “blue northers” have almost become a thing of the hazy past for us on the Gulf coast, something you annoy the current millinnial generation with rehashings of what it was like when you were young. “Why when I was your age, we had to hunker down and wait for those winds to finish screaming over our house…”

Put those winds in a 90-100 degree temperature range and package into a nice swirling ball of rainclouds, we’ll give it a name and throw it a party.

Anyway, January always seems to be a month of recovery for me: recovery from the onslaught of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas, recovery from as-yet-to-be-accomplished marathon baking of cookies, cakes, and treats; but the month never quite escapes without the first tinges of spring fever creeping into my thoughts, no matter how blue the norther or well-stocked my pantry. When those seed catalogues start showing up in my mail box, I start stalking them. It’s therapy!

That’s my reason and I’m sticking to it.

What’s even more enticing this year is that we are in the completion stages of purchasing about 23 acres of family property on the prairie edge of East Texas. It has taken us a while to get to this point. A desire for a bit of earth bigger than the corner of a postage stamp has been with hubby and I since we started talking matrimony. Two years ago, we had a five year plan in place to put ourselves in a position to buy the land we dreamed of.  As fate would have it, hubby’s family provided us with the perfect opportunity – – three years early. So we’ve been scrambling to make the necessary…*ahem*…arrangements, and here we are, waiting on an appraiser to finalize the sale. Once that’s signed, sealed, and delivered, there will be a massive transition put into effect. With a fallow cattle pen behind the house that hadn’t seen cultivation in several decades, you can well imagine how my spring fever has been jump started.

So here’s the lineup I’ve got in store already. I ordered the following from Baker Creek Rare and Heirloom Seed Company:

  1. Jubilee Bush watermelon
  2. Moon and Stars watermelon, yellow variety
  3. Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpea
  4. Bohemian Cowpea
  5. Butter King lettuce
  6. Old Homestead (Kentucky Wonder) green bean
  7. Golden Bantam 12 Row Corn
  8. Country Gentleman sweet corn
  9. American Legion poppy
  10. Mammoth Grey Striped sunflower
  11. Anise hyssop
  12. Moldavian Balm Dragonhead
  13. Free bonus : Lemon Squash

I have been told that watermelon grows famously in the red soil of the county where we will be living.  This shouldn’t surprise me as Hempstead is just ‘down the road a fur piece’ and those watermelons are a kind of well known secret in these parts. Purple hull peas are also supposed to be prolific. This is a favorite of mine, as they are not regularly sold in either the local nurseries/garden centers, or the produce section of the store. I don’t know if its because they’re no longer fashionable or if the ‘furriners’ that have been moving into the area are just not familiar with this Southern favorite. But they have a sweet green taste that are unmatched by any other pea crop. I’m looking forward to sitting on the front porch and shelling them.  I bought a second variety called Bohemian, brought to America by Czechs from Prague in the early 1800s.

I bought a more common lettuce type to grow, a variety that I hope will bear up to Texas summers, but I am also purchasing (from a different source) a variety known as Crawford lettuce, one that has apparently adapted extremely well to Texas. I remember my father introduced me to this lettuce several years ago but I never did take it up as a crop for my own garden. I really wish I had. If you’re interested in this variety, you can write to the folks who have curated this special little lettuce here.

The part I’m really excited about is starting a new herb garden. I have planted anise hyssop every year that Ive had a garden because the leaves make the best natural sweetener and add a nice anise flavor to iced tea (if you like that sort of thing.) And the bees love anise hyssop, as they do poppies and balm. Since hubby has been making noises about setting up an apiary, I’ve been trying to think of various plants that would encourage bees to hang out.  I’ll have the usual basil, thyme, and sage on hand – the previous owner had planted a rosemary by the old well, which has grown into a very large bush, but I am always looking for exotic plants to try out. I havent quite decided where I will put the herb garden. There is a nice little landscaped square by the house that would be ideal…if it weren’t for the fact that I am already imagining a tall white pergola in that spot.

And then there’s the issue of where exactly am I going to install the labyrinth I’ve always wanted…?


See what happens when spring fever starts to climb?

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Rocks In My Garden

I got my first comment!!  A happy welcome to Mo, of A Small Holding, a gardener in South Yorkshire – a part of England I would LOVE to visit one day – I have already had the opportunity of visiting England back in 2009.  Unfortunately, it was only for a week and had to spend one day of it laid out sick in the flat we rented because of a disastrous experience in Bath the day before.  (It started out well enough, but went south very quickly on the trip home, to the point where I found myself stretched out on the bathroom floor of the Paddington Station Hyatt, singing praises to a cool, STILL marble floor and my traveling partner calling for a taxi because I knew there’d be no way I would make it through the tubes without disgracing myself again).  All in all, I did get to see some lovely parts of London and England, and am already planning a return trip for 2014. Anyway, I digress.

Thank you, Mo, for dropping by!

Actual gardening has come to a bit of a halt for the moment, as the focus this week has been on homeschooling and house-cleaning, plus a trip to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, always a huge event in these parts this time of the year.  Fortunately the weather has been extremely nice and I’ve been able to go out and muddle around a bit.   What I really should be doing is finishing the weeding, but I’m so pleased with myself for finally finishing up the section for my lettuce garden, I want to bask in the accomplishment a bit before I confront the trouble spots once more.

My lettuce patch

Lettuces can be tricky here.  Typically, the best time is to grow the lettuces in the fall, as our heat can cause the lettuces to harden and bolt.  I was very careful to research the kinds of lettuces for a summer, kinds that don’t mind the heat.  If worse comes to worse, I can just dig out the ones that don’t do well, and wait until the fall to plant differently.  This section used to be my ‘tea garden’ but I never really did use any of the herbs to make actual teas, with the exception of anise hyssop, which I love in a tall glass of iced tea (house wine of the South.)  I had bee balm, which was more a novelty because of its association with the American Revolution and that it might attract hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, the bee balm would perversely bloom AFTER the hummingbirds left for the winter.  I do still have a couple of bee balm plants in a small corner, but more out of a need to fill some space and add a bit of variety.  No, this year, I’m hoping the fact that this side garden is on the east of my house, with morning sun, and that will give the lettuces a better edge for a Texas summer. Continue reading

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Looking Ahead

Well…that was last year.  This year, the Hobbit House is definitely looking abandoned and forlorn…

Hobbit House March 2011

Winter was not kind...

Much of the dirt that had been laid in place is still there, even though the house itself is looking balding and unprotected.  Its still a little frosty for even a hungry armadillo who knows where the golden treasure of earthworms can be found (my garden), so there is still a chance that this can be rejuvenated to its full potential.  On the left of the house are my hydrangea plants popping out with leaves, and to the left are daylilies and lovage. The daylilies may suffer execution if they do not produce flowers this spring again.  They have been there three years, and I have yet to see but one bud since I planted them.  I can be quite ruthless when clearing out things that don’t work.

I was cruising around the web and came across a couple of sites that reminded me of an intersect between gardening and anthropology: bottle trees.  I used to drive around the back roads of coastal Texas and come across these unique displays of folk-art.  Before college, I thought them hideous; afterwards, I was delighted because I had learned they are actual remnants of cultural diffusion and not some gardener’s cheap idea of decoration.  Bottle trees (in America, at least) are leftover evidence of African tribal beliefs brought by slaves to the New World – although it is also noted that folk traditions from Europe related to witch balls have had influence in this interesting tradition as well.  Ultimately, the idea was to protect the residents from wandering evil spirits who searched for unwary souls to seize, utilizing a deception that would be to the disadvantage of said evil spirits by tempting them into a pretty little trap.  Spirits apparently cannot resist clear glass, a substance that we today take so much for granted because it is so easily made.  But for the ancients, so used to fired clay as part of their every day usages, glass was a magical substance – hard as brick but with a lovely clarity that on a sunny day cast prisms and color in what must have been drab environments.  If the living eye could appreciate it, why couldnt the undead/spirit?  So containers became a method of tripping up a predator that a living human had very little defense against.

So now I’m eyeballing a potential bottle tree myself.  I have one bottle saved up already, courtesy of a lovely Gerwutztraminer wine we enjoyed one evening.  Blue is the usual color of choice, largely because the color is so unique in nature – I would imagine people liked the visual pun of a substance that looked like water, yet had heft and substance.  If one could capture the color of the sky in glass, one could capture the vague blue spirit of the Other World.  And to have LOTS of bottles in your yard was super protection!  I have also seen bottle trees with green glass and even yellow and orange and red.  Glass is pretty, especially when light shines through. Why not make it yard art?

Rose Bench

Early spring for my rose bench

Note the blue bottle, my one contribution to a prospective bottle tree.  Guess I’ll have to start drinking more wine?  (This blog/site/garden a work in progress)

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Looking Back

I mentioned my ‘hobbit house’…

I don’t always think of dirt. I am often quite attracted to the tchotchkies and doo-dads that garden centers often supply the wandering customer.  There is no escaping it on the internet either.  After hearing my daughter talk of taking scavanged materials from nature walks and building a fairy house or a pavilion, I cheated: I did a search for anyone on line who might have come up with these charming little houses to sell to lazy people like me. We have a wooded area behind our house, but seldom does it carry any of the requisite items for a truly thoughtful fairy house.  Mostly noxious weeds and sticks.  No nice mosses, or unusual shaped leaves, or nutshells.  I do believe in Providence – this search led me to something far more unique than trying to balance odd shaped sticks with only materials fit for The Folk – a hobbit house, one that I could position in an advantageous part of the garden, cover with dirt and plants and pretend that Bilbo Baggins was overseeing my selections for the garden.

Hobbit House - 2010

If he ever lived there, I’ll never know.  There was an Unfortunate Event with a local armadillo, who was dubbed Smaug because of the devastation wreaked upon the quiet little home.  But that’s a tale for another time.

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When Spring Fever Hits

I go nuts. I really do.  My mantra becomes “Must. Get. Dirt.” and even though I SWEAR to my poor beleagured husband that I will ONLY ever get dirt when I leave for the local nursery, I end up grabbing up several herbs or plants that call to me the minute I arrive.  I mean how often does a nursery have Green Lime Thyme?  Or Tea Hyssop? or that really cute miniature plant that will go perfectly in front  of my hobbit house (picture forthcoming)?  Never is our pocketbook more in danger than when I start to sniff the air sometime in February, or spend hours highlighting something on practically every page of the seed catalogues that inundate our mail box.

And it’s a given in my family now that the standard response to anyone who wants to know what I want for my birthday is simply “dirt.” Loamy earth is precious in an area that is known for its ‘black gumbo’ and filler for subdivision lots.

I also have  a favorite saying : “if it doesnt involve dirt, I’m not interested.” Usually, that is more a reference to my love of archaeology rather than my garden proclivities, but its really all the same.  I even found a way to combine the two one time: after spending hours sifting the dirt that the diggers brought from their pit, I noted that the excess dirt was getting hauled off to an out of the way corner of the site.  Shamelessly, I begged to be allowed some of it to take home – the excavation wasn’t going to be filled back in because of future landscaping plans, so why not?

Anyway, this endeavor is largely because of a conversation with a Dutch friend of mine, on a totally unrelated inspiration.  Well, I say unrelated – we can get pretty imaginative when it comes to discussing our favorite nautical books by Patrick O’Brian.  Something about garden art in the form of a Royal Navy sea captain…but I plan for this to be a family blog, so I’ll stop here.  At any rate, words flung about were “dirty!” (what else is a gardener?) and “tart” and so I declared I would start a new blog. I havent done one of these in a while, and I am always of the need to write something.  Am also thinking if I do this blog, it will compel me to be more persistent in my gardening, as June/July/August in Texas has a way of persuading even a native Texan that there are more worthwhile endeavors to be pursued in the cool comfort of air conditioning.  By the time one returns to the welcome of a cool evening in the garden, the weeds are like a jungle unto itself, and all the backbreaking work of the spring was for naught.  So you shrug and think “I’ll wait til February when I get spring fever again.”

So right now, my thoughts on the purpose of the blog are that 1) chronicle my progress in knocking into shape the abandoned vegetable plots and the entangled herb beds and perhaps even show recipes that use the products of my garden and 2) I can write about things that I love to research and learn about gardening…which includes the meals that one can make.  I am not a great foodie: I tend to lose patience with cooking if I am not familiar with the recipe, and as my husband and child have a tendency to run away whenever I get the mind to try something new (read=Mom’s been messing around with the herbs again) – so this blog will be less about gourmand recipes, more about whatever about the plants or recipes that strike me as interesting.

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