Paradise = Security + Freedom

Distant Summer Storm - Before the Drought
I sit here on my deck, January 30, 2011 at noon.  It's 70 degrees and sunny.  Birds are chirping and my neighbor's peacocks are bellowing and a light breeze blows through my handmade prayer flags hanging from the metal lattice of the deck wall.  I can tell that another Texas drought has begun (or actually, continues) because the lake is bordered by, from my vantage point, what looks like white sandy beaches.  I know if I were at the water's edge that the white sands would reveal themselves to be huge limestone outcroppings uncovered as the water evaporated in the Texas sun.

Sandra the cat lounges on the deck rail, her two front legs sprawled on either side, almost as if she's hugging it.  Her crazy green eyes droop in an ongoing cat nap and I wonder if she will snooze a bit too deeply and fall off the rail and down the slope below the deck.  I should check out the video feature of my phone just in case I could capture that fun and send it in to "Funniest Home Videos" and have a chance of becoming $10,000 richer.

To my left, 20 yards or so away, is my old white wooden picnic table shaded under a canopy of live oaks and engulfed, if it was a Spring day, in a meadow of wildflowers.  When in bloom, there are thousands of Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrush, Mexican Hats, Primrose, and Bluebonnets.  The 9th grade wildflower project was tackled successfully on this acreage and the required 30 distinct blossoms were identified and mounted and submitted for grading.  Anna's teacher was skeptical that she was able to gather her lot strictly from her own "backyard" so to speak and she had to describe her home and its surroundings in order for him to understand that she did indeed select and harvest each and every one from our little four acre homestead.

My fire pit with its natural stone border and wrought iron grate is surrounded by tall dry grass.  The burn ban that has existed off and on over the past two years due to the drought, has left it lonely and untouched for long periods of time.  My Christmas tree from this year lounges near the pit awaiting a spectacular blaze on a drizzly cool night before the arrival of the dry summer heat.

The pit has provided many, many days and nights of loud and silly entertainment.  It has been used both to dispose of excess cedar and cords of wood have been purchased to feed my pyromaniacal tendencies.  New Year's Eve and the 4th of July memories, with the pit as a backdrop to my heavy artillery fireworks displays, will never be forgotten and will always be cherished.

A giggle escapes me now as I think about Jerry setting up a large artillery shell down on the first lower level  of the property below the pit, lighting it, then making a run for it up the rocky steps to watch the spectacle overhead.  Kathleen and I have enjoyed hours of fun throwing black cats one by one into the pit. It's always a surprise when they pop, because it's unpredictable when it will happen, depending on where the black cat lands in relation to the fire.  I will never forget the year that she and I sat on the deck watching Jerry and his artillery antics while Kathleen tossed M1000's over her shoulder off the edge of the deck...until one was tossed into a particularly dry heap of brush and sent me running for a bucket of water from the tank to drench the flames.  Yes...Good times!!!

Daniel's 13th Birthday -- Airsoft Party...Nice huh?

Daniel and his buddies have, at times, enjoyed this place in ways I never could have predicted. Around the 4th of July, Daniel and his best friend Paul have been know to strap tiny plastic army men to bottle rockets and launch them into outerspace.  They would do this one at a time, then go out on "recon" to locate the fallen soldier.  Daniel has had many "airsoft" parties here.  He invited usually around five guys over with their arsenals and they run around the land in teams playing games like "Normandy" with hideouts and forts and very specific rules of engagement.  This activity was all very cute and fun when they were elementary schoolers into early middle school, but the last time they did this (which was very recently) all I could see were a bunch of what appeared to be grown men in camo and goggles shooting at each other with automatic weapons!  I wondered if my neighbors would call the authorities and whether the Travis County Sheriff's SWAT team will come barreling down my easement road!

We moved onto this land about six or eight months following the F4 tornado that leveled parts of Jerrell, Texas and spawned another F4 that cut a wide swath from the edge of the lake, up the Bee Creek valley and across Highway 71 along the Pedernales River and beyond.  The kids and I, all of our pets and a few of the neighbors' dogs, spent several hours in our closet at the house we were renting at the time in Briarcliff.  While the tornado skirted us completely, it left us without phone service for several weeks as the tornado smashed through a limestone substation a half mile behind our house.

My land sits high on a hill overlooking the lake and with a very stark view, when first acquired, of the path the tornado took across the hill country.  Since I bought a manufactured home, anchored in bedrock or not, it is still vulnerable to winds unlike a stick built home. After a few weather related scares early on, I simply insisted on adding a storm shelter for peace of mind.  The only survivors of the Jerrell tornado were those in reinforced underground shelters.  It being the first day of summer vacation, many of the Jerrell victims were kids.

After a minor amount of reserach I settled on purchasing my "bunker" from a guy in Jerrell whose daughter weathered the storm alone in a shelter he had just recently built and installed.  Soon thereafter he founded "Jerrell Storm Shelters"  I call it my glorified septic tank, because that is really what it is, an eight inch thick, solid walled concrete box with a sloping front wall, creaky steel hatch, steel staircase into the chasm and turbine venting for air circulation.  In the heat of the summer with storms threatening, I ready the shelter by getting rid of any creepy crawlies lurking down there, bring down some folding lawn chairs, flashlights and pet crates, run a long extension cord from the well house and down into the vent so I can plug in a fan and my little 8 in 1 weather radio/light/tv thingy (yea, I know, I shouldn't rely on power staying on during a tornado, but this is kind of a gage of the where we are in the weather system).Generally, the steel door remains open while we monitor the sky.

Anna hates the storm shelter.  Not too many years ago, she was at home alone while some very tornadic weather rolled in late one afternoon.  The only thing I could tell her to do was to go into the shelter when she really felt in danger.  Unfortunately, I think she feels more in danger in the creepy darkness of the storm shelter than the in the deep dark green of a severe weather event.  That particular storm bypassed the house to the east and I was blessed with an incredible double rainbow as I scurried to the rescue of my daughter.  When I walked through the front door, she says, "Well that was annoying!!"

This land has provided me with some peace and tranquility and beauty for the last several years. I have always thought that, in the end, its purpose would be to provide me with some security as well.  Security along with freedom have come to mean so much to me at this point in my life.  I keep telling myself that it is time to sell this place and move forward and yet my actions are not advancing me in the direction.  Perhaps I will embrace this land just a bit longer and see where it leads me.

"Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard" (Anne Sexton, poet).



Fresh What?
I was driving home one afternoon along Southwest Parkway which is a highly travelled road that dead ends into Highway 71.  Typically at this intersection, there are a variety of handmade signs advertising garage sales, cleaning services and homes for rent.  One sign catches my eye that still leaves me scratching my says "Fresh Caviar" and a phone number.  WTF?  I kind of want to call the number.  I'm feeling like this is a trap, though.  If I call the number I'll probably be hooked up with someone wanting to reel me into Amway or Arbonne. Still, I'm very tempted to dial the number.

Fun at Work #1
When I first started working for this company, there was a big conference being held in Austin for the Texas Recreation and Parks Society.  Our office would have an exhibit booth during the conference and our marketing people from headquarters sent boxes and boxes of giveaways, brochures, and equipment for the booth.  One day Marie wheeled up a big box on a dolly and dropped it near my desk.  I was talking to Ryan about something or other when I turned my chair to see what it was that she had left for me.  To my surprise, it was a giant box with the words "Blue Balls" printed boldly across the cardboard.  A little stunned and with uncontrollable laughter threatening to spill forth,  I turned back to Ryan and he made some wisecrack like "Yours?" as my forehead hit my desktop.

Fun at Work #2
I have been given the task of getting Jim set up to go on a tubing trip down in San Marcos with a bunch of clients and colleagues.  I load up the company truck with coolers full of beer...Shiner, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Tecate.  I sliced up a big baggy full of limes for the Tecate (I was told later that that was a huge hit!) I'm digging through the marketing closet looking for doodads that Jim can hand out down there.  I find lip balm with our logo on it and fill up a bag of those. I'm searching for a particular item that would be the perfect giveaway for this event...sunscreen.  Low and behold, I find a bag full of these little silver packages that I kid you not, look like packaged condoms.  My mouth gapes and I say out loud "Oh my God! Are you kidding me?" A head pops up over the cube wall and a young Landscape Architect says to me "We've got you covered!"  I fire back, "You DID NOT just say that!"  He says "No no no!  That's what it says on the package, Nancy!"  Holy moly, yep, the condom shaped sunscreen packages have the company logo on one side and "We've Got You Covered" on the other.

Let's Talk About Ducks
This guy I know was telling me about how he has done some wood carving from time to time.  He does a lot of woodworking and teaches a continuing education class at the high school with a friend of his a couple of times a year.  Many years ago, he was learning how to carve wooden ducks and was talking to his friend about it.  Several days later that friend presented him with a bag full of frozen duck heads (apparently, they live somewhere where duck hunting is a popular sport!) Obviously, this gesture was meant to help this guy I know in his quest to carve the perfect duck...or at least the perfect duck head.  Apparently the frozen duck heads were plopped into the freezer unbeknownst to everyone living in the house, and a shocked shreak was heard, probably throughout the neighborhood, when said frozen heads were discovered by an unsuspecting member of the household.  I'm thinking about what frozen duck heads might look like and whether they would really be a valid model for his carvings.  I wonder if his duck carvings came out looking like dead ducks...maybe that's what he was going for in which case, I'm just a little creeped out.


Out to Lunch

My mission today began with driving north to Georgetown and dropping off a proposal for landscape services for a landfill in Williamson County.  Good stuff.  Then I turn and head back down south to drop off yet another hearing notice in Austin. I'm wearing my oh so comfortable Naturalizer loafers today to avoid falling off of the curb like last time.  Attractive they are not, but they go amazingly well with my chocolate brown cords, henly long sleeve top and flowery Liz Claiborn overshirt.  I'm stylish beyond belief.  I'm a vision, really.

Parking is always an issue downtown, but it's also always fun to circle up and down 6th Street and Congress Avenue and to see all of those sights.The nine foot tall "Art Guitars" peek out from the sidewalks along Congress and seem to go unnoticed by most of the people walking by them.  I park in front of The Hideout on Congress.  It is packed with workers on their lunch hour.  This is probably one of those cool coffee places I've been searching for.  It advertises live music most evenings along with coffee, food and other beverage specials. Daniel's going to the UT game tonight, which means I don't have to rush home and cook dinner, so perhaps I'll mosey down there after work today.

So many types of people wander around down here at noonish.  Of course, there are plenty of suits indicating to me only that the legislature is back in session and that lawyers still exist in Austin, Texas.  I can't picture what other businesses here require this level of formality of attire.  Plenty of other people obviously on their lunch hour are casually dressed and are pressed for time.  I see several guys on both 6th Street and Congress with guitars and guitar cases strapped to their backs like backpacks.  I wonder if they are on their way to a studio to record, are they early early to set up or rehearse for a late night gig, or are they looking for a spot to pull up and play for a little cash.

I make my delivery and retreat from downtown and end up at The Shady Grove for lunch.  It's roughly 60 degrees and sunny and the perfect time for a late lunch alone outside where I can, as always, enjoy the sights. Shady Grove is on Barton Springs Road and is just as it sounds - shady, homey and relaxed.  What is now a brand new community of condos next door was once the Shady Grove RV Park which had beautiful shade trees and many airstream trailers housing permanent residents.

An old airstream continues to welcome you in to Shady Grove and is surrounded by those bright lime green and pink steele lawn chairs like everybody's grandmother used to have in her back yard.  Red rock walls decorated with wooden wagon wheels surround the outdoor dining area, which is packed on summer nights when the "Unplugged at the Grove" concerts happen every Thursday night.  Tin roofed overhangs, strands of lights with round white bulbs hang low over the rock patios and a flag pole in the middle of everything with both the U.S. and Texas flag leave me smiling and, for some reason, nostalgic.

Two women, in their mid-fifties probably, sit at a table nearest to me smoking cigarettes.  I find it somewhat interesting that smokers still exist.  The women are dressed in old and somewhat tattered attire, each in an oversized faded baggy sweater, poorly fitting jeans and Birkenstocks with socks. They have a couple of books in front of them and they are completely and utterly immersed in their iphones.  They chat with each other blindly, never looking up to take in the sights of Shady Grove or even to make eye contact with each other.

What is it about the iphone?  It has completely changed the way that people act in public. The way I see it is that they are interacting with the world and with a gazillion friends, family and,YIKES "followers", and yet simultaneously they are completely oblivious to those in their immediate vicinity where actual human contact could occur given the opportunity.  It seems to me that the iphone could quickly become a form of electronic birth control because people ignore the fact that there is a human being lying next to them in the bed while the iphone is fired up and permanently attached to the palm of one hand.  Well, I suppose if both had their iphones turned on (bad choice of words) then there might be a chance of making the magic happen. Picture that loving communication

----"U R 2 hot I U"
---- "1 sec..bout 2 B scrabble champ".

Sorry for the soapbox on this iphone tangent...random thoughts from an overactive imagination are at work here. Could it be possible that, because I don't have an iphone, that I really am out to lunch?


Sunday Gospel Spicewood Style

Perfect. I'm still driving the truck after having it inspected this week and I get in and start it up and KVET is playing the Sunday morning Country Gospel show.  Willie's singing "What a Friend You Have In Jesus." I'm making another attempt to go for breakfast at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.  It's rainy and gray and I'm up much earlier than I normally would be on the weekends.  I have a friend who thinks I sound cute when I'm sleepy, so he calls me on the weekends at like 5:30 a.m.  Oh, yea, I am simply adorable at that hour!

I drive out Highway 71 crossing the Pedernales River, which is very low again so the boat docks sit on green grass out of the water.  It's very peaceful and few cars are on the highway as I make my way to 281. I like coming over the hill into Marble Falls and catching that first glimpse of the Colorado River.  At this time of year, it's empty, but in the spring and summer there are lots of ski boats and fishing boats out on the water.  At Christmas time if you drive into Marble Falls at night, there is a very sweet Christmas light display that reflects off of the lake.

I pull into the parking lot and am happy to see that I am here before the church crowd.  There is no line to get in like there usually is.  I enter through the back door and am promptly seated in a tiny booth next to the counter.  Coffee is plunked down in front me before I can even say I want some.  It is just assumed that I would like some coffee this morning and of course, I do.  I'm a creature of habit, so I go with a standard order of again, two eggs over medium, this time with hashbrowns, bacon and biscuits.  She says, "Gravy?" Sure, why not.  This is not the kind of place where you should turn down the gravy!

A sign blows back and forth above the doorway that says "Try some pie!"  A paper flyer on the table list the pies available today, whole or by the slice:  Apple (regular), Apple (no sugar added), Cherry, Peach, Pecan, Fudge, Peanut Butter, Coconut Cream, Coconut Meringue, Chocolate Cream, Chocolate Meringue, German Chocolate, Banana Cream, Lemon Cream and Lemon Meringue.  Holy cow!

Uh oh, the cashier (Nancy) is telling a customer they don't take plastic...I'm in trouble because I don't do cash!  Yay, there's an ATM on the porch of the building.

I am served from the closed side of my booth Waffle House style.  The waitress never has to leave the closed space that holds the coffee pots and cups and the short order window to the kitchen.  The breakfast here is like no place else.  The biscuits are yeast style rather than being made with baking powder and even the eggs taste different and delicious. If this place wasn't on Main Street I would guess that there was a chicken coop out back.  I should get Daniel a donut to go because they are also freshly made and are about the size of small pizza!  Do all waitresses on the morning shift wear Harley t-shirts, because that seems to be a trend I've been seeing lately.  Oh wait, that girl's not wearing one...she's wearing camo, of course.  The owner of the Bluebonnet stands near the register talking to the locals about the last week of hunting season, comparing notes and swapping stories.

You pay your bill up front here, old style.  On the glass top counter sits a pile of Bluebonnet Cafe Cookbooks.  The Bluebonnet has been open for 81 years.  I chat with Nancy the cashier as I pay my bill...we are entertained by our shared name.  We talk about how there aren't many of "us" around.  She says she's Nancy Gail and I tell her I'm NancyLou and she likes that a lot.  She says she's happy that she wasn't named after her aunt Gussy May!!

It's raining again as I walk to the truck and I'm very pleased that I'm wearing my leopard and pink rose printed rubber cowboy style rain boots.  It's the perfect day and absolutely the perfect town to embrace this fashion statement of mine.

Phooey!  I realize outside of town that I'm completely out of gas.  I'll make it to the Spicewood General Store.  Now this place is an experience!  The signs painted on the windows say "We do fried!" and "Beer Ammo Bait".  Inside you can order breakfast, burgers and fried catfish while you are picking up your plumbing supplies, milk and, of course, your ammo and bait.  If you have a real emergency you can duck into the ladies' room where you'll find the toilet paper hanging on a chain over the door.  Make sure you pick up a t-shirt from here for next year's White Elephant Christmas party.  They say "Spicewood, Texas" on the front and "We're all here because we're not all there!" on the back...choose your style - plain black, tie dyed or (you guessed it!) camo.

"I cling to the old rugged cross and someday I'll trade it for a crown..." twangs through the speakers as I head home.


Out of Office

I'm out of the office delivering Hearing Notices for our Right of Way guys to several places in downtown Austin.  The first stop is at a law firm at 8th and Nueces.  Parking is at street level in a carport with the offices hovering above.  I start to pull into a space closest to the staircase and there is a homeless guy sleeping right in the middle of the parking spot.  Two Keystone tall boys sit next to his head on the concrete. I move down a few spaces and feel a little weird about walking right past him and up the stairs, but I really have no choice. I hand the notice to the paralegal at the front desk and let her know about the dude down below.  She just rolls her eyes, shrugs her shoulders and laughs in a perfect gesture that says to me "What's to be done?" 

I'm hungry and think I should head to Katz's Deli which is just two blocks from here. I know it is going out of business after 30 years in Austin and I just can't remember if its final day is January 2nd or 3rd, which is today.  Apparently it was yesterday and the icon with the slogan "Katz's Never Closes" is, um...closed. Opal Divine's is next door so that's where I end up.

There are few people in here.  This is clearly a happy hour type of place.  I've been to the Marina and Penn Field locations but never to this one. My waiter is in his mid fifties with a Willy-braid down to his waist. He makes me laugh talking about his brother.  He says he is happy that the holidays are over because he needs a break from him.  His brother is so funny that he laughed so hard that he's pretty sure he has injured himself and is having a hard time standing up straight because his stomach muscles are killing him.  I get that, but usually after a long visit with my sister it's just my throat and cheeks that hurt ( yea, ok, and sometimes my head!)

After lunch I continue on my quest to deliver the notices.  The next one goes to a corporation on 7th Street.  The intersection of 7th and Brazos has been under construction for awhile, but luckily I find a parking place nearby right across from the Driscoll Hotel. The Driscoll is one of the most haunted places in Austin.  One story involves a Senator's daughter in the late 1800's who died in a tragic accident as she played with a ball on the massive granite stairway in the lobby.  People claim to hear a ball bouncing on the upper landing of the stairway.

I walk around skirting all of the construction and trip on my heels as I walk behind a Whole Foods catering van making a delivery.  "You OK girl?" I try to look cool..."Yes. Thank you. I wore the wrong shoes for this." Smooth.  I take the elevator up and remember that this is the place that only accepts notices up until 3:00.  I have plenty of time.  I walk in and drop the notice in a basket labeled for them and note the time.  I'll have to attest to my delivery of all of these doohickees later.

My last stop is just a few blocks up and to the East; the Secretary of State's Office. I like coming  here because the guard at the security check-in desk is somebody I got to know pretty well when we worked at TxDOT.  She ws the guard there when the project that I was on tanked about 7 years ago. Since I was there for almost 4 years, she and I talked a lot in passing about our kids and what not. The Secretary of State's Office is, obviously, across the street from the Texas State Capitol.  On the back side, where I parked, is St. Mary's Cathedral which is just gorgeous. It was a very scenic stroll making this last delivery.


A Typical Sunday in Austin, Texas

I have been bantering back and forth with a friend in "the great white north".  He says he loves to find dark, little known coffee shops and will always stop the car and dive into one when it appears.  I set off on a mission today to find an off the beaten path, kind of creepy coffee shop in Austin.  How hard can that be?  I zigzaged around South Lamar with just one detour which was to poke my head in Half Price Books to get a copy of The Eiger Sanction, which was unsuccessful. A coffee shop across and a little down from there intrigued me since it was next to a tattoo parlor, so I steered my car into the parking lot, but it had closed at 3:00.

Oltorf Street has potential so I make a right and head toward Congress Avenue.  Nope. No coffee on Oltorf. Ok, so I have failed so far in my quest to find a little known coffee house in Austin today.  The old parts of the city I saw today didn't have anything, and the regentrified old parts were overflowing with trendy places.  I settle for a cruise down South Congress ("SoCo") which is always a cool thing to do.

I park on the circle and walk across Congress crossing the street by Amy's Ice Cream and Joe's Coffee.  The line to Joe's is a block long, so, that's not my idea of a good time.  I should have come earlier today in time for their "Sinner's Brunch" where the morning special includes a breakfast taco, a long neck, and a cup of coffee!

I hear live music coming from Guero's Live Oak Garden so I head there.  This place is just a little garden off of the sidewalk surrounded by a low rock wall attached to Guero's mexican restaurant.  Huge oak trees shelter wooden benches and picnic tables loaded with your typical Austin crowd, which is crazy hippy looking types, a smattering of young people with dreadlocks, quirky hat wearing women, hipsters, young DINKs*, dancing toddlers and lots of dogs.Yea, this is a pretty typical Sunday afternoon in Austin, Texas.  "What are you doing this afternoon?" "Think I'll go listen to some music somewhere. You?"  Shiner Beer, chips and salsa, live music on a sunny January day under the oaks is not a bad idea, ever.

--Sittin' on the dock of the bay, wastin' time--the band sings...

The lead singer says they are going to play one more, then during the break they are going to come out and make love to everyone. How can that line not make you smile?  Keep Austin Weird, I say!!! "Oh and we play at weddings!" he says.  Via Zunica is the name of the band if you have a need.

*Double Income No Kids - a term which shows my age.


Daniel and I did some re-arranging a couple of weeks ago and he moved the L-shaped workstation that Daddy (Ernie) built out of his room and back into the game room.  He needs all kind of space for his two monitors, fancy keyboard, mouse, speakers and, of course, the iPhone.  I like looking from the kitchen and seeing my son sitting in front of something built with my dad's hands.  Daniel never met "Granddaddy Ernie", but he loves that desk. 

As a result of the change, I ended up with Daniel's little corner hutch computer workstation.  I had been working off of a little 18" x 36" folding table and Daniel needed it to put in his room to be the base of the matching desktop that Daddy built to match the workstation.  It was built to sit on top of a couple of two drawer filing cabinets, but the little folding table works perfectly as the base of the desktop.

I sit in front of my computer and look around from time to time and love what I see here. My little hutch holds a stack of journals to the left of the keyboard;  a white clay wizard that Anna made in elementary school art class stands guard over them.  The wizard has a crystal ball in front of him which was a Christmas gift to me from Daniel.

I went through Mama's jewelry box recently and pulled out a couple of things that now are randomly scattered across my desk: Mark's college ID from Western State, a brass name plate engraved with an Indy car and inscribed with the words "Built by Clyde Adams Los Angelas", and two silver plated ornaments meant to dress up a pair of Mama's pumps in the 50's.

Hovering in front of my wireless mouse is a stuffed cheetah from Nell's tapping class at the Unity of New Hope retreat last year.  This one is a hard one to explain...ya kind of had to be there. One of two little shelves holds another elementary school art project, a big green frog with blue bulging eyes, mouth wide open with a long pink tongue lapping out.  An arrow head, next to a pink ribbon pin sit beneath a framed picture of a cat that says "Precious things are few - guess that's why there's just one you"...I'm sure that was a gift from my sister. My pink patchwork scarf quilted for me by my dear friend, the pieces signed in honor of lost loved ones and survivors of breast cancer, drapes around my keepsakes.

A Waterford crystal jewelry box -- a gift from my lifelong friend Kari, a ring box full of lavendar that my "mother's rings" arrived in and a metal sculpture of two people sitting on a porch swing adorn another shelf.  Up top is a picture of Daniel dressed as "Hamilton", the rat from Charlotte's Web, taken in kindergarten.  He has Spot, his live pet rat sitting in his lap.  Spot was the hit of the day for the "dress as your favorite storybook character" hallway parade at Bee Cave Elementary.  Front and center on the top shelf is a picture of the Adams family on The Big Rock taken in the mid '80's.

To the left of me is a painting by Phil of an adobe house in a stand of aspens with a Native American spirit watching over.  On my right side, is my huge painting of Crested Butte that Daddy painted, a view of the mountain at either sunset or sunrise...very pink and purple and light.