Friday, October 19, 2007

LIFE AT SEASONALITY, Or "Are We Having Fun Yet?" (7/05)

Growing up in Dallas, I was deathly afraid of most everything out of doors. I remember at one point, wishing that we could just pour concrete everywhere, so there would be no more bugs, snakes or poison ivy left to worry about. Eventually, when I had my mid-life transformation and fell madly in love with gardening, I overcame most of those fears, and managed to find a healthy balance between curiosity and self-preservation. For example, when I first saw the throbbing masses of Daddy-Long-Legs spiders that like to congregate in the corners of our porch here in Wimberley, and who have the unnerving habit of doing synchronized, pulsating push-ups whenever humans are near, I found them rather unsettling. However, our friend Tim explained to me that although they have a deadly venom, their mouths are so tiny they are incapable of biting you, and they eat lots of mosquitoes. Now, my buddy Tim is notorious for his hatred of spiders, so if he doesn't mind these, then I can live with them too (although I'm ever watchful for ones with overly large mouths). The same is true for the occasional bat seen lurking up in the eaves. As long as he doesn't try to dive-bomb my Big Texas Hair, I can live with him. But when I came out one morning and found a huge, hairy black spider the size of my fist, I didn't bother to get a closer look to see what kind it was - I just got-the-hell-out-of-Dodge! You see, I have a healthy balance between curiosity and self-preservation.

I sometimes wonder if men aren't genetically deficient when it comes to this trait. Maybe, when God was creating our genetic code, he thought to himself "Well, I only have so much room on this thing. If I'm going to give the males an extra super-duper urge to go out and multiply, I'll have to delete something else. I suppose I can take away some of their common sense, and give it to the females instead. That way, the women will have enough for both of them."

I first started wondering about this dilemma when I heard the story of the ancient countries that had been at war for generations. One day the women on both sides were finally fed up with the situation, and agreed to meet and discuss their options. They made a pact to refuse to have sex with any of the men, as long as the fighting continued. Voila! The war ended.

My doubts were further strengthened when I first saw one of the Darwin Awards books, and realized that the male idiots out-numbered the females about ten to one. My theory was clinched after hearing the stories my husband and his buddies would swap concerning their high school escapades. I mean, who else but a teen-aged boy would run around naked on the roof of the school on Easter Sunday? My daughter has always been rather mature for her age, and had very little patience for the antics of teen boys she knew. One evening at dinner, she was complaining about some who were bragging about getting naked on the roof of the school over the weekend. First my husband's face turned blood red, then we made the mistake of making eye contact, and both burst out in guffaws, spewing food across the table. Alexis just stared in horror, then said slowly, in a voice dripping with disgust "Oh-God-Please-No!" When asked what on earth possessed him to do such an idiotic thing, John replied with a perfectly dead-pan expression "Not much else to do in Odessa on Easter Sunday."

When our friends Mark and Ann, who have lived in the Hill Country for years, first came to visit us at Seasonality, they had lots of good tips to share with us. OK, I could have done without the snake stories, but being a woman with common sense, I just made some adjustments to how I was planning my garden. Originally, I was going to have large island beds packed full with perennials and ornamental grasses. Trouble with that is, they would be perfect hiding places for who knows what, and I would have to be poking my hands into them all the time, in order to trim the perennials. My revised plans are for a xeriscape garden using lots of sculptural plants, with plenty of space between them for me to see where my hands are going!

My husband had a different reaction to their advice. When we were showing them around the property, they pointed to some Salt Cedar plants and said "You'll want to get rid of those. They're pretty invasive." The next day, he went out during the hottest part of the day, and started yanking clumps out with his bare hands. Of course, he was sweating like a pig, so he then used those same hands to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Not long after that, he came into the house complaining that his eyes were starting to burn and water. He took one of his allergy pills, but that didn't help at all, and things went from bad to worse. I took him into town to see the pharmacist, who recommended Benedryl and eye drops. He barely made it through dinner, then said his eyes felt like they were on fire, and he didn't think he could take it much longer. I decided I'd better haul him to the emergency room over in San Marcos, and luckily, they were able to give him some drops to deaden the pain, until the reaction eventually died away.

The next weekend, my common sense approach actually did more harm than good. We were expecting house guests momentarily, when John decided to take his new mucho-macho-weed-whacker out to play, and started chopping down all the tall grasses up close to the house, again in the hottest part of the day. Since my John is a real-men-don't-wear-goggles kind of guy, I wasn't too surprised when he came back in dripping blood a short while later. Apparently, the weed-eater had caused something to fly up and nick the inside edge of his nose. Unfortunately, he's also a cardiovascular disease, blood-thinner taking kind of guy, and when the bleeding still hadn't stopped a half hour later, I started trying every old fashioned remedy I could think of. I made him stick his head down between his knees, had him squeeze his nose shut, and even dropped ice-cold car keys down the back of his shirt. When nothing worked, I called our friendly pharmacist again, and she told me to stuff his nose with cotton and apply ice. Still no luck. Finally I gave my daughter the choice of staying home to entertain our guests when they arrived, or taking John back to the emergency room. She chose to make the ER run. I stood watching them drive down the hill, and just as they reached the main road, she suddenly stopped. I feared that John had started to hemorrhage or had passed out, but the car turned around and made its way back up the hill. Apparently, once John was able to stand up and take his head out from between his knees, the bleeding stopped.

The next day, when we were regaling our guests with this story, they said "Cold keys? Where on earth did you ever get that idea?" Actually, I saw someone do it to my sister Carolyn one time, and it worked like a charm, but as I was recalling this, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps it wasn't for a nose-bleed. Maybe it was for the hiccups. An interesting aside to this story is that by cutting down the grasses around our house, John instigated a massive invasion of scorpions over the next few days. I doubt seriously if those particular house-guests will be back to see us any time soon.

Did I mention the time that I caught him using a big propane blow torch to kill weeds on our property? Luckily, there had been a lot of rain recently, so he didn't burn the entire place down. Unfortunately, once again he wasn't wearing gloves, and the handles of the torch got so cold, they actually burned huge blisters on his palms. I just pray that he doesn't end up as an entry in the next edition of The Darwin Awards.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Well, I was right. Carolyn and I did have a blast while she was here. We did so many fun things - went to play Bingo at the VFW hall (where I won $120!); went to the Corral Theater - an outdoor, walk-in movie theater, where you sit in lawn chairs and a family of four can see a first run movie and get all their snacks for about twenty bucks; went to Wimberley Market Days and shopped 'til we dropped. We tried out several neat restaurants in the area, and went to farmer's markets both here and in Blanco, to get fabulous fresh stuff for our own little front-porch-feasts. In fact, we ate anything we wanted, took naps in the afternoon, and I still managed to lose a little weight at the end of the week! I was amazed - there must be something in the air here that agrees with me. It was very hard going back to Houston at the end of the week, even though I was quite anxious to see John after being apart for almost a month. I'm not a person who shifts gears and focus easily. I seem to really immerse myself in whatever I'm doing, and trying to transition to something else is about like trying to swim up from the bottom of the ocean. Thank goodness I have Mondays off. That gives me a little time to segue back into work mode.

Now that John has started a consulting business, the first adjustment will be getting used to having him work from the townhouse we have rented in Houston. I think I could grow to like it. It's certainly better than having him out of the country all of the time. I don't ever want to get used to that again - way too hard on a marriage! On Monday , we both finished up what we needed to do by mid-afternoon, so we decided to walk over to the hardware store together, then stopped at the gourmet deli next door to get a couple of things to go with our dinner. I started thinking, "Yeah, I could really get used to being right in the middle of things like this, being able to walk to grocery stores, the library, restaurants, ice cream or gelato parlors, or just about anything else I need, having a beautiful pool and park-like area right outside my front door, that someone else has to take care of. This is the life!" I worked Tuesday and Thursday at the nursery, and spent Wednesday meeting with a couple of people who wanted me to do garden designs for them. I got totally immersed in all of that, then suddenly it was Friday, we were on our way back to Wimberley, and I was fretting because I wasn't able to jump right in and start on those designs while everything the clients and I discussed was still fresh in my mind. Paula and Tim are arriving today, and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm sure we will have a wonderful weekend, but by Monday I will probably have forgotten everything the clients said, and will have to do that long swim back up to the surface again. Will I ever get accustomed to making these constant transitions? I'm beginning to wonder.

* * * * *

Sundays just plain suck - trying to psyche myself up for going back to Houston and to work, when I feel like I've just barely arrived in Wimberley and started to settle in. There are so many projects here I'd like to do, people I'd like to get to know, places I'd like to explore. But I never seem to accomplish much of anything before it's time to head back. You spend the first day cleaning, then you have to go to the grocery store, the hardware store, the emergency room (more about that later). Thank goodness we've been able to have three-day weekends of late, so we can get most of that out of the way on Fridays. On Saturday, you have a tug-of-war with your conscience - do I do something from my list of chores and projects, or do I do something fun? Since I'm a firm believer in the "moderation in all things" policy, I try to keep a balance and do a little of both. In fact, I was reading something about Thomas Jefferson recently, where he was describing his life at Monticello, after he retired from politics. He said he had developed a routine where he spent the time from dawn until breakfast on writing and correspondence. The hours between breakfast and lunch were spent working about his property. Afternoons and early evenings were spent visiting and dining with friends. After that, he read until bedtime. Sounds like a brilliant plan to me, and one I hope to adopt when we finally move up here full-time.

But now it's Sunday morning, and time to pack up and head back to Houston. Again I'm torn in two. I don't actually have to work at the nursery on Mondays, so theoretically, I could stay here a day longer. But it's so hard to just jump directly from this life back into my other one. It helps, knowing I still have a day off when I get back, in which to do laundry, pick up around the townhouse, get groceries, and work on garden designs.

* * * * *

My life seems to be just full of transitions these days. I go back and forth between working as a merchandiser at the garden center, doing garden designs, and writing. I go from a townhouse in Houston to a country house in Wimberley. I swing back and forth from having a house full of kids in summer and on holidays, to being an empty nester the rest of the time. How did I get myself into this fix? What was I thinking? Probably this. Life at the townhouse is convenient, but Wimberley feeds my soul. It is now Friday, and normally I am off work from the nursery, but today I have a workshop to go to. The car is loaded though, and the minute I get out, we are heading for the hills. I can't wait. After all, seven days away from the Hill Country makes one weak! All joking aside, being there really does seem to feed and invigorate me. Not just physically, but creatively as well. When I'm up there, ideas are just popping into my head right and left, and I can't seem to get them down on paper fast enough. There's a bit of residual glow left when I first get back to Houston, but then it gradually fades away. I know it's completely gone when I can't think of anything better to do in the evenings than to sit in front of the television.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I'm so excited! After we bought this house, with the great view and the fabulous porches, I started picturing long tables out on the upper porch, surrounded by an eclectic group of interesting people. Maybe we'd get together about once a month, to have one of those Tuscan-style feasts - the kind where everyone arrives mid-afternoon, each bringing a special dish based on what's in season or made or grown locally. We would sit down to eat late-afternoon, and we'd stay there eating, visiting, laughing and sipping wine, until after the sun goes down. Then perhaps we would adjourn to the outdoor fire-pit for coffee and more laughter. Well, the first official front-porch-feast is about to take place! Paula and Tim are coming to stay with us on the 10th, and Mark and Ann will be driving in from their home in Oatmeal for the day. I think the first feast will be a Mexican pot luck. I can get an assortment of fabulous handmade tamales at Gringo's Gourmet in town, and I'll make my Mexican Brownies for dessert. We will be having the second feast on the 4th of July weekend, when my sister Kathy and her husband are here. Of course, the theme for that one will have to be barbecue. For August we might do a meal based on summer's harvest, then in September perhaps we will have an Italian feast. If these turn out to be even half as much fun as I'm imagining, they will be a blast!

And speaking of blasts, my sister Carolyn comes to town today, and will be staying through the weekend, so we've got four or five full days to just hang out together and do "chick" things (John's out of the country on business most of this month). I can't believe I finally get to stay here long enough to actually do some exploring in the surrounding areas. So far it's been nothing but quick trips in and out, where we spent the entire time unpacking and trying to get things organized. This is also the first time anyone in my family has actually seen the place, so I'm pretty excited about that, too.

1 family-size chocolate chunk brownie mix
1/2 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 oz. Mexican chocolate (such as the Popular brand, in the flat orange and white box)

Mix brownies according to package directions, but adding in the almond extract and cinnamon. Spread in prepared 9 x 13" pan. In food processor, whirl the flour and brown sugar together until well blended. Add butter and whirl again. Pulse in coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate. Squeeze handfuls of streusel mixture until it sticks together, then crumble into chunks evenly over surface of batter. Bake according to directions on box, until a wooden skewer comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let cool in pan on a rack for at least 20 minutes. If making up to one day ahead, cool completely, then wrap uncut brownies airtight.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Well, we finally did it. We actually closed on a house in Wimberley the week before Christmas! As much as we would love to go ahead and move to Wimberley full time, we have two kids in college now, and can't afford to quit our day jobs just yet. However, we are having an excellent time here on weekends, and since Alexis attends school in San Marcos, only fifteen miles away, she has agreed to move in and act as caretaker until she graduates next December. Even though we have only stayed in the house twice, just a few days each time, our days are already beginning to fall into a pattern. One of the things I am most excited about, is being able to sleep with our windows open. I loved doing that as a kid, but gave it up long ago due to safety concerns in the big city. On our first morning here, I thought I heard rain. After listening carefully for a bit longer, I realized it wasn't rain, it was the sound of the little waterfalls on our creek. At that time of day, with no competition from the sound of cars passing on the highway, you could hear it quite clearly. I couldn't resist getting up, fixing a big steaming mug of chai, and going out on the upper porch to listen to the stream and watch the sun rise from behind the hills. Next thing I knew, He-Who-Hates-Mornings had joined me. Once the sun was full up, and we had finished our tea, He-Who-Never-Exercises actually suggested that we go for a walk! This exertion, though, unlike going to a gym or using a treadmill, was pure pleasure, as we were exploring our new environs. Even though it was mid-January, the temperature was perfect, with just enough of a breeze to be pleasant. His reward for all of his exertion was getting to go into town to the Cypress Creek Cafe for a hearty breakfast. We were assured by our realtor that this cafe is where all the old geezers here-abouts hang out every morning (and some young ones too!). Since then, that is how we have started most of our days.

I have never understood exactly what it is that keeps calling me back to the Texas Hill Country. A friend said she read somewhere that we are often drawn to places that resemble the favorite vacation spots of our childhood. Since my family spent most every vacation in a cabin in Creede, Colorado, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, there may be some truth in that. When I was wandering around outside the other day, on the hills behind our house, the smell of cedar and the sound of the rushing creek suddenly overtook me. I closed my eyes, and all at once I was thirteen again, and my sister and I had climbed the hill behind our cabin in Creede, and were sitting there braiding flowers in our hair, a la Heidi!

I guess I have more in common with my father than I realized. I certainly understand better now why, despite our frequent begging to try somewhere different for a change, he kept dragging us back to the same old place, year after year. I am also beginning to understand, much to my dismay, just how devastated he must have felt, the day he realized that he was no longer capable of making the long trip out to Creede, and that he had seen it for the last time.

I still can't believe we were lucky enough to buy this place - that John even agreed to start seriously looking with me, that we found one so fabulous that was even close to our price range, that the owners turned out to be old friends of my sister-in-law's parents and that they accepted our low-ball offer, that we had a little money left to us by John's parents to use as a down-payment... So many factors came into play, but everything just fell into place like it was meant to be. Ever since I was a young teen reading Gothic romances, I have always wanted to live in a house that actually had a name. So, I here-by dub thee SEASONALITY!