Trying to grow things in Texas can be heartbreaking. It's been hot and dry, dry, dry for much of the year lately. I was getting discouraged for a while, but this year I decided to try again, and try harder.
First, I bought two more rain barrels so I could store the water when it does rain. (They sat empty for three months, but we finally had a storm last month.)
Then Eric bought me a giant compost tumbler for Christmas, which was a very romantic gift in that it was exactly what I wanted.
It didn't fit under the tree, or really anywhere except the backyard, so for present-opening time Eric wrapped a tiny box with this card inside. Hooray!
I got to researching and ran across the concept of hugelkultur. Basically the idea is you build a raised garden bed on a base of rotted wood--if the wood is old enough it's able to soak up moisture like a sponge and release it back into the garden over time.
We happened to have a big, extremely rotten tree trunk that had made up a portion of the crummy old fence we replaced in the fall, plus the remnants of a youngish pecan tree we lost to the series of droughts. (Like I said, it's heartbreaking.) That seemed like a good start for a tiny bed.
Soon Kristy mentioned the number of leaves she'd been raking and bagging from the many trees in her yard, so I offered to take them off her hands. She began saving them for me, and when this is done I'll use them to make compost for some other, as-yet-unplanned project.
Somewhere in all that, Lei-Leen sent me a link about keyhole gardening, which has been used to great effect here in Texas. The idea is that you have a round, built-up garden with a compost basket in the middle to toss your kitchen scraps in. You water the garden through the basket, pushing the moisture and nutrients below the soil's surface, which is supposed to reduce evaporation and encourage roots to grow deeply.
I had already started heaping up wood and leaves for a hugelkultur bed and was amassing extra kitchen scraps as we waited for the first batch of compost to cook, so I decided to make a hybrid of the two.
At first it looked like a complete shitty mess (especially compared to what it replaced). The white stuff is flour, which this blog taught me is a good way to sketch outlines in the yard (and also reassured me that it's fine to adapt these principles according to what you already have and can feasibly do).
Today we moved the original wood/leaf/hay/dirt pile forward to join the keyhole bed. Eric broke up the big tree trunk so it would fit in the circle, and we began to build the rock border.
We soaked it halfway through to get as much water into the base as possible.
It still looks kind of shitty and messy, but you can see where we're going with this. We'll slowly build up both the soil and the rock wall over the next six weeks or so until it's time to plant spring vegetables. Hopefully between the soaked wood and the center basket and the mulch I plan on spreading, I'll be able to grow even in a really dry spring.
Will this work? Hell, I don't know! I guess if it doesn't we can always throw some ollas into the mix and turn it into a drought-fighting collossus.
Or maybe it'll rain every day for three months and everything will turn to mush and rot. If that happens I will give up on gardening in Texas forever, secure in the knowledge I did everything I could with the hand I was dealt.
I lost a pair of jeans last year, and after all that time I still marveled that they had never turned up. I was truly mystified.
Last week I was trying to fix my dresser drawer and keep it from catching on the slides (cheap IKEA crap grumble grumble), so I yanked it out, and my long-lost jeans fell from where they'd been wedged onto the floor. They still fit. So I guess the moral of the story is never give up.
Actually, that's terrible advice; it's sometimes best to cut your losses, walk away, and never look back!
Ok, then, the moral of the story really is if you can't find an article of clothing anywhere and you only wore it like twice and know for a fact you never took it off outside your house, check behind your dresser drawers. (I also found three socks and a camisole.)
They are pretty. And delicious!
Infuse vodka with frozen cherries. (Eric is on a liquor-infusion kick right now. We need to free up a few bottles so he can try a batch with this year's habanero peppers.)
Make Meyer lemon simple syrup: Simmer and stir one part sugar and one part water with the zest of a lemon or three until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool, then strain out the zest. (Regular lemon simple syrup will be ok too if Meyers aren't in season.)
Fill a big glass with ice.
Pour 2 oz. cherry vodka over the ice.
Pour 1 oz. simple syrup into the glass.
Squeeze half a regular lemon over that.
Top with fizzy water. (We like Topo Chico.)
Drink way too fast and make another.
It's pretty good with regular or raspberry vodka too. It would probably also be good with bourbon, but I haven't tried that.
If you're not feeling boozy, you can leave the vodka out altogether and have a nice kinda-fancy lemonade.
Oh, hey, my glass is getting low. See you later.
I have four and a half days left of vacation, and I am not making any plans for them. I would like to read the rest of Moby Dick. I would like to get my new compost bin set up and started. I would like to plan my next mosaic project (you can see the latest one here; it was a present for Eric's mom and a pleasure to make). I would like to think about what all I want to do next year and how I can do it. I would like to take some walks and naps.
Actually, hold up, that seems like way too many things already. Really if I can just finish that damn whale book by January 2, I'll be satisfied.
I just finished my beginning improv class. I didn't uncover any hidden comedic talents or anything, but that's okay. It was good, hard work and a lot of fun. The class was eight two-hour sessions and culminates with a 20-minute set in front of an audience.
I wasn't going to tell anyone at all about it. Come on, it's a beginning improv class performance. The potential for embarrassment is pretty damn extreme. But one of the reasons I took this class was to try to shake this pointless and inconvenient self consciousness that's been dogging me throughout my adulthood. And it would be nice to see some friendly faces in the audience. So I'm telling everyone:
Wednesday, December 12, at 8 p.m.
616 Lavaca Street
My class, which is full of interesting, funny people, is opening for this act, which I have not seen but I'm sure is great.
It might be hilarious! It will almost certainly be awkward! You should go!
Now. I must pivot to the topic of whooping cranes. Whooping cranes, which are rare, huge, beautiful, and amazing, tend to winter on the coast around Aransas Bay. That's about a four-hour drive from Austin, but you can take a whooping crane boat tour and enjoy low hotel rates and walk on empty beaches and eat fresh oysters and all that great winter beachy kind of stuff. It's well worth the trip. But if you don't have time for that, this year there are a few whooping crane families that are hanging out at Granger Lake, about 30 miles east of Georgetown and an hour from Austin.
I read this article about them in the Statesman on Sunday afternoon, and twenty minutes later we were in the car heading north. Eric, who loves all creatures and giant birds best of all, had never seen a whooping crane in person.
We didn't get any pictures. The birds were either too far or too fast for that. But they are definitely hanging out around the lake.
We took the (lovely, largely empty) back roads from east Austin to Granger Dam, then parked at Friendship Park. The boat ramp was a good place to watch from, and we saw a group of whoopers in the distance from the swimming beach. You can't get very close, so definitely bring good binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens. (Our binoculars kind of suck, but a nice man there let us look through his scope.) Also, I'm not sure if they are spending the whole winter there like they did last year or just taking a break, so maybe look online to make sure before you head out.
So, yeah. Some things to consider if you don't already have enough to do this month.
Sunday night I bought a whole chicken at Central Market and roasted it. Eric made a really nice gravy from the pan drippings; it tasted fancy and delicious.
Monday we had leftover chicken and gravy and also chicken sandwiches.
Tuesday we made enchiladas verdes with half the leftover chicken and saved the rest. I put the carcass in with vegetables to boil for stock.
We both tended the stock all Tuesday night and through Wednesday; last night I strained and finished it and set aside some of the spent meat and fat for cat and dog treats.
Tonight I made tortilla soup with the stock and the rest of the leftover chicken. We will have tortilla soup for lunch and probably dinner tomorrow. We will divide up the rest of the stock and freeze it for later.
I am not yet tired of chicken. But I am really, really fed up with being in the kitchen, so much so that I would as soon chop the place up with an axe as spend one more second in there.
Two adults got about six good meals each from one chicken, plus stock for future cooking. That seems like a pretty good deal, plus it was fun (until it wasn't). It was also a lot of damn work. I'm glad we managed to use the whole chicken and the price of an organic bird seems much less insane when it can feed our little household so well for a week.
Still, I would like to go out to eat a lot this weekend.
"How now," he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, "this smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring,—aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble. What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I'll smoke no more—"
Seems fitting to have reached this passage on the third anniversary of quitting smoking. But that's old news. New news: I started reading Moby Dick again for the first time since 11th grade English, when I resentfully skimmed it just enough to pass the reading quizzes.
It's awesome. Really.
It's fairly slow going, even with the help of an online annotation, but the chapters are short and holy shit, the language and the character descriptions and the scope of the thing make it so fun to read. I am indignant that no one ever told me how fun, nor how funny, at least in parts:
"Landlord," said I, going up to him as cool as Mt. Hecla in a snow storm,—"landlord, stop whittling. You and I must understand one another, and that too without delay. I come to your house and want a bed; you tell me you can only give me half a one; that the other half belongs to a certain harpooneer. And about this harpooneer, whom I have not yet seen, you persist in telling me the most mystifying and exasperating stories, tending to beget in me an uncomfortable feeling towards the man who you design for my bedfellow—a sort of connexion, landlord, which is an intimate and confidential one in the highest degree. I now demand of you to speak out and tell me who and what this harpooneer is, and whether I shall be in all respects safe to spend the night with him. And in the first place, you will be so good as to unsay that story about selling his head, which if true I take to be good evidence that this harpooneer is stark mad, and I've no idea of sleeping with a madman; and you, sir, you I mean, landlord, you, sir, by trying to induce me to do so knowingly, would thereby render yourself liable to a criminal prosecution."
"Wall," said the landlord, fetching a long breath, "that's a purty long sarmon for a chap that rips a little now and then. But be easy, be easy, this here harpooneer I have been tellin' you of has just arrived from the south seas, where he bought up a lot of 'balmed New Zealand heads (great curios, you know), and he's sold all on 'em but one, and that one he's trying to sell to-night, cause to-morrow's Sunday, and it would not do to be sellin' human heads about the streets when folks is goin' to churches. He wanted to, last Sunday, but I stopped him just as he was goin' out of the door with four heads strung on a string, for all the airth like a string of inions."
This account cleared up the otherwise unaccountable mystery, and showed that the landlord, after all, had had no idea of fooling me—but at the same time what could I think of a harpooneer who stayed out a Saturday night clean into the holy Sabbath, engaged in such a cannibal business as selling the heads of dead idolators?
"Depend upon it, landlord, that harpooneer is a dangerous man.""He pays reg'lar," was the rejoinder.
Come on, that's pretty damn funny.
On the other hand, I am currently staring down the barrel of the infamous "Cetology" chapter. You know: whales, whales, sperm whales, killer whales, doofus whales, goddamn whales; big whales, little whales, whales whales whales, for like fifteen fucking pages. I reserve the right to change my mind about this whole endeavor after that.
Hey, I tiled a table!
And then I grouted it!
I gave it to Eric, who in theory will use it to rest his tongs and plates while grilling and smoking delicious food for us to eat.
The light in the second picture is better so it's not really a fair comparison, but the grout really does make a huge difference.
I see a lot of little things I wish I'd done differently, but overall, I'm happy. This was the product of the second mosaic class I took at Laguna Gloria. (They offer a ton of different classes there. If you live in Austin and want to try something new you could do a hell of a lot worse.)
I, uh, also seem to have signed up for an improv class at the New Movement Theater. I have some real trepidation about this, but it would be really, really nice if I could feel comfortable getting up in front of people again. Anyway, the people there seem very nice. And they had a Groupon.
Oh, and I am still playing the trombone. Badly.
Now I have to leave work and get ready to go to Port Aransas for a few days. Driving! Swimming! Beer! Grilling! Watching the dog go bananas in the surf! It's going to be terrific.