Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rockin'-chair moments

Back in the day when this journal began, it was intended as a couple of old friends passin’ ‘round the good times and a decent screw-top bottle of wine out on the porch. Preferably the back porch as we expected there’d be bits best not exposed to the street. Let's face it. Until old men's bladders get larger or their prostates get smaller, not every urge is worth the trek into the house when the backside of a shed is so much handier.

When did we launch this journal, anyone recall? Had to be back in the River Bend days, as the journal also was conceived as observation and comment on and from Nature, a legitimate excuse for rockin' on the back porch and/or taking up camping once again. Hence the name Rolling Plains Journal. A quick glance  down the archives shows the first post in August of '08.

Sometimes you need to look at where you started to figure out where you are and which way you wanna go.  What better time than New Year's Eve--the 2011 version now some four and a half hours old as I write-- for such reflections?

I first caught the writing virus back in 1958 in Mrs. Johnson's 3rd grade class at E. 35th Street Elementary School, Kansas City. Have I ever said how much this small-town Texas boy loathed Kansas City? The afternoon before a book report was due I had yet to pick out a book, much less read the damn thing. The thinnest volume to be found among the stacks of 10-year-old approved tomes in the school library was The Old Man and the Sea. We were up all night...literally... a flashlight-under-the-covers and coffee-on-the-
hotplate kind of “all night”. By the crack of dawn "Write like Hemmingway" stood alone atop my bucket list.

Writing the "Great American Novel" fell to the wayside some decades back, but the infection to put words on paper lingers on and on. That urge seems to gnaw more persistently now that we've reconnected with the grandkids and with the first great granddaughter Maura J. due inside of three months. So it is we have dusted off the neglected journal and resolved yet again to maintain and publish in a more timely manner, shall we say?

It's all good, this New Year's Eve falling on a Saturday as it does. May go down to the Drafty Ol' Craft Shop a little while this morning to work on Maura’s new old cradle. Last report, Maura J. is expected about March 16, spookily near that Ides of March of which Mr. Shakespeare warned. Not that I'm looking for any devil's child. But knowing Maura's mamma and grandma and great grandma and great-great grandma as I do, the girl is bound to have spunk.

End of December or no, the back lot wants mowin' and Beano has left any number of dried blessings scattered across the patio deck that needs tending to as well. With an afternoon high temperature reachin' near 70 degrees, will be a good day for yard chores.

No big plans for tonight. Don’t let on to AnniePie but I suspect my boot-scootin’ days are done. Oh, I still like the music; it’s the steppin’ out that’s sorely lacking. City's finally gonna shoot off the 4th of July and Labor Day fireworks tonight that were put off because of severe drought conditions. I imagine we'll take a pass on that, too.

My old runnin’ buddy Dean and his honey might drop by. More motivation to clean the rough edges off the backyard. Deano and I keep dreaming up a campfire under a sky full of stars, but I suspect our backyard is about as close as we will get any time soon. Badly as we hate to admit it, old bones and cold, hard ground don't go together all that well. The "theme" for the evening, New Year’s Eve 2011, is straight out of John Denver's Poems, Prayers and Promises:
“...lie there by the fire 
And watch the evening tire
While all my friends and my old lady
Sit and pass the pipe around

And if it proves to be just me and Mrs. Miller tonight, well, that’s fine...not to mention dandy. This year’s closing weekend is a good time to kick back and think about where we’ve been, where we are and which way to head from here.

Thanks for droppin' by. Y'all come back now, hear?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Stars at Night....

...certainly aren't what they were on those long summer nights over on Elm Street.  Not that I have any notion of what the Texas night sky looked like over River City back when Hank Williams died, for that is stretching the old long-term memory about as far as these few remaining brain cells can take.  Back along that track, I do remember the one old lone street light; naked bulb hanging beneath a rippled metal shade that was dark green on top and white underneath.  It cast a kind of eerie yellowish light, scarcely bright enough to cast a shadow of its own pole.  With such wimpy excuses for lighting back then, the cloudless night skies had to be lousy with stars!

Mr. Beano--bad ass Beano who had a fit and went after Bob cat and got us both tossed out to The Cave--and I sat out from dusk to straight up dark last night.  First time since Annie and I moved onto this place last December that I've just sat out to watch and listen to the night settle in.  No, the mosquitoes aren't bad.  One of the few-and-far-between positive side effects of a drought!

The stars, on the other hand, are pitiful!  Just pitiful!

The fault, of course, lies not with the stars but with our way of doing urban communal living.  We so fill the night with our artificial lights that the natural lights of the sky are a wash.  None but the biggest and brightest get through, and our old familiar constellations are losing points.  Mankind's first stories are written in those myriad points of light.

 Stargazers who also are into Facebook might want to check out Star and Sky


Monday, June 27, 2011

Renovating the One-room Schoolhouse

At first glance the door seems bare-boned and sparse, something like a middle American refrigerator door with sundry notes, reminders and yesterdays' art projects neatly posted. Could this really be the front door to "America's largest classroom"?

The largest, most unpronounceable, acronyms in American media--PBS, WGBH, WNET, KET--have combined resources with the National Archives,  the Library of Congress, NPR, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Education to produce and launch  PBS LearningMedia, a free service for all teachers, students and families nationwide.

As America’s largest classroom, PBS and our local stations are helping to re-imagine classroom learning and are partnering with our producers and teachers to engage students to accelerate academic achievement,” said Paula Kerger, PBS President and CEO. “PBS LearningMedia is a key part of the solution to one of the nation’s biggest challenges – improving student progress to build our future workforce.”

My Mom began her formal education in a one-room schoolhouse on the Rolling Plains, and to this day she is one of the smartest women I know.  PBS LearningMedia today provides something akin to the solid integration of that old one-room schoolhouse in a truly global environment.  This is one giant step toward accessible, quality education for every boy, girl and undeclared in this country today.  And who knows, we so-called grown-ups might learn something from it, too, considering what Sesame Street did to and for us!

I cracked open that door to take a peek inside.  Check out what  Wynton Marsalis and his band are telling the kids about "collective improvisation".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It gets a little nuts.....

Urban, or backyard, camping, that is. Goodness knows, the last time I tried camping in the backyard John Kennedy was President. I probably showed my kids, Melissa and Brian, how to do it once; but those two were practically born in tents and raised to gather firewood, so I saw no need to stick around and coach.

Come to think about it, this whole family camping thing started because of those kids. When Joy and I had any time off from work, we rarely had money to Go or to Do anything more than a pack of wieners and a state park. Luckily, a lot of our friends at the time were ex-, unreformed Boy Scouts. Funny, sometimes, how traditions get born.

Now come Melissa's kids, Michael and Diana, 21 years since leaving Texas; and all of a sudden, it seemed, this Old Man was backyard camping again and kick-starting the Memorial Day bash without so much of the former debauchery.

Although I didn't know it at the time, preparation for this coming weekend began over last Mothers' Day weekend with a simple act of cleaning out an old garden shed; but that's another story, being told on my other blog, Miller's Cave. Consequently, some three weeks on, I've got this guy pictured above, an eastern fox squirrel, dining just outside our tent door!

Squirrels have been around for some 40 million years or better, back to the dawn of mammals. Biologists with nothing better to do break squirrels in general into 50 or so genera with about 280 species. Texas is home to two of the three species of tree squirrels, the fox (seen here) and the gray, the fox squirrel being the most commonly seen in backyards across much of the Rolling Plains.

Clearly, at least one eastern tree squirrel who roams the tree top canopy of Brook Village has a taste for black oiled sunflower seeds!

I nearly walked into this guy yesterday, and he scarcely glanced up from stuffing his cheeks. Nor did he show any concern when I stepped into the cave for my camera. Not until I was close enough to literally reach out and touch did he reluctantly take all the seeds he could carry and scamper some feet higher into the branches.

Memorial Day Weekend Campout

Lord, if ever a people needed a Memorial Day break, it's gotta be the good folks across the Midwest who have endured through weather gone wild. We will be at The Home, camping out in the comfort of our own backyard, listening to great music, probably making a few burnt offerings on the grill and sending up smoke for comfort and healing for whosoever may be hurting for whatever cause at this time.

Arlo Guthrie had his Thanksgiving Day Massacre; we had our Memorial Day Weekend Campout. Through the 1970s and '80s, we'd pack up the women, children and dogs and head out to Lake Arrowhead State Park or Hippie Holler, LBJ Grasslands or the Wichita Mountains for three or four days of burning too much meat and drinking to excess. Back then it wasn't too difficult to camp away from crowds, and we always knew of several select sites within reasonable distance of River City.

Since that time, campers have moved on, others have passed on and all the old spots have been discovered by RVers and other creatures who haven't the slightest notion what camping is about. Add aging to the mix, and it's not hard to understand why and how the MDWC fell to the wayside.

Until now. With all the tragedy that has roared across our heartland, the continuing conflicts on foreign sands putting American men and women in harms way plus a grand reunion with long lost Grandkids, we thought it was time to revamp and revise a grand old tradition.

Friends, family, followers and anyone else with nothing better to do or nowhere else to go, join us in camping out wherever you are and sharing your Memorial Day Weekend on our Facebook page, Miller's Cave.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bourbon balls found!

While cleaning in places that don’t get cleaned enough, I found a scrap of paper with a recipe for bourbon balls scrawled on it. Now, in a perfect world this bit of history would be all but undecipherable, layered with stain upon stain and brittle as grandma’s old bones; the ink a mere whisper of my very own Mamaw’s schooled penmanship. Ah, venerable ancient relic!

Truth be told, Cordie Ellen’s chicken scratch on paper was the Devil’s own chore to make out. I know, I scored countless headaches translating her love letters to W.P. into something that resembled late 19th, early 20th century Southern American English. And while Cordie fully appreciated a good bourbon...ONE good bourbon...with eggnog...on Christmas Eve...she wasn’t likely to go wasting good whiskey on a cookie. So no way this was Mamaw Saunders’ recipe. I had written it myself some three or four years ago.

Annie & I had come off the road, maybe a year earlier, I guess. Coming back to River City wasn’t exactly our first choice. More like our only choice. Times were hard, living in a poorly restored garage and both working at jobs we would have been happier without. Now throw in Christmas bearing down on us, and you’ve pretty well got the scene.

What better time for.....wait for it......BOURBON BALLS!!!

I had eaten bourbon balls. I had never made bourbon balls. Didn’t have the foggiest notion what, exactly, went into them other than the obvious. So off I went to the library’s free computer lab to consult the Oracle, Yahoo. Turned out good bourbon balls are much simpler than I had imagined.

We both pronounced that first, basic batch as surprisingly good. A little tweaking of a component here and a measure there, and the second batch did not disappoint, either. Annie took the third batch to work with her, and came home empty save requests for the recipe.

“Tell ‘em it’s a closely-guarded family secret that goes all the way back to the Great Depression,” I told her.

“They’ll just want to know what a bourbon ball recipe has to do with a big hole in the ground,” Annie said.

“Well, tell ‘em this recipe goes to my grave with me, just as I promised my Dear Old Grandmother.”

I was going to give the recipe to a few of Annie’s select acquaintances, the few who came close to being actual friends, anyway. But the scribbled recipe got tossed into a drawer and otherwise buried until and mostly forgotten.

Until today.

Humbly presented here, dear reader, for your approval, one free recipe for bourbon balls, pretty much as I scribbled it, lo, not so many years ago.

Combine 1 c v.waffer crumbs, 1 c pecans, 1 c con sugar, 2 Tblsp cocoa powder.
Blend 1/4c Jack, 1 Tblsp + 1-1/2 tsp lt cn syrup.
Stir Jack mix into dry blend.
Cover & chill, hours
Form balls & roll in con. sugar
Store in air-tight cont. in fridge
Roll in con. sugar

That second and final roll in the confectioners’ sugar is to be done just before passing these puppies around. Oh, no need to wait for the holidays.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

When it rains....

"Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, said the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." ~ Malachi 3:10
Lord, what I wouldn't have given for Google back when I thought I would make a preacher! Plug in a pinch like "...pour you out a blessing..." into search, and up pops about 3.9 million hits before you've finished typing! Ever mindful of Rev. Debbie's admonition against using quotations overly much in my writings, I do so here because this snippet above woke me this morning, and all because of an old foundling trowel on my front porch.

Yesterday was a day, wasn't it! We actually got some rain on the Rolling Plains, just about enough to wet the bottom of my rain gauge, one of Annie's old cake pans I left lying out. The rolling thunder and the lightning streaking the southeastern sky was more than excuse enough to duck into the cave and enjoy the show. I was settled, too, just inside the open door when it dawned on me to set the rain buckets out! You see, it's those little things ~ like putting out the rain buckets to catch runoff ~ one loses with lack of practice, and we have not had a good soakin' rain here goin' on nine months.

So we set all the yard buckets we had under the cave's eaves, then dashed to the house to enlist several of Annie's old plastic mixing bowls and a soup pot to collect runoff from the back porch. Got to dump three of the smaller bowls into the soup pot before it was all done and came away with nearly five gallons of water reserve for Annie's growing gardens.

For all the fun of playing in the rain, Annie was quick to remind that we had actual Old People chores to tend to; little things like delivering the rent check for another month's stay at The Home. By the time we had tacked on getting a bite to eat, it was near dark when we returned.

Lying on the front porch beside Annie's boot garden was this beautiful old trowel, heavy and well formed to fit the hand, an old school tool you can't find in today's cut rate mega markets. Some person or persons unknown clearly had come by while we were out and left this offering on our porch. But who?

Doesn't really matter who although the answer was found on Annie's cell phone much later last night. What does matter is a simple, beautiful act of paying it forward, neighbor-to-neighbor, without being asked and without expectation of return.

Thanks, Peggy!!! Your going on the Zucchini List!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deadlines and old age

What’s with missing deadlines in my old age?

Ya know, when you practice at something for 60 years, you might reasonably expect to be at the top of your game. So why is it, sitting here on the front porch of The Golden Years, I catch myself in rookie mistakes. Hell, not even mistakes, for mistakes implies the poopertrator acted in ignorance. I’ve held deadlines to be sacred since those salad days on The Rider Roundup. I can thank Mother Mac for that; the old bat drilled the fundamentals into us like a freaking’ jar head top kick minus the language, bless her heart!

Okay, thumbnail version; I put two days into building this dirt cheap mud hole in our shrub jungle, rigged up a waterfall base and trickle hose (Texas is in a record, Class Five Excessive Red Flag Flying killer of a drought, in case you did not get the memo, and the water police have eyes everywhere), stuck a self-contained solar LED lamp at its base and called it AnniePie Millers’ Mothers’ Day Garden; a fun little project that kept my now fully retired butt outside and from under foot when not actively seeking gainful employment outside The Home, don’ cha know. On or about that same time, I set a deadline to publish the next issue of this journal no later than Mom Day midnight, thinking to write a wrap up piece on Mothers' Day at Miller's Cave. You see, while Annie got a new garden out of the deal, I renovated our 8 X 12 shed into a man cave, but that's another story.

The two of you who follow this rag already know I busted deadline. Friends, the last time I recall that happening was the wee hours of April 11, 1979, when we failed to make the first early edition. There was a night!

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that I quit thinking of myself as a newspaperman when the Tribune-Chief was sold out from under me. Use it or lose it NEVER takes a day off! For the rest of it, I’ve just got to face up and fess up to the immovable truth. I am old.

I am old. I have reached the age my grandfather was when I was born; and I am here to tell you, children, that old Hardshell Baptist deacon, Wiley Preston Saunders, came into this world old and just proceeded to get better at it! Of course, he rarely hobbled himself with deadlines, choosing rather to approach his chores d'rectly ("JREC-lee", adverb, to get around to doing something when one is damned good and ready).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Invasion of the Russian Tomatoes!

Early Mothers' Day morning I'm cruising the garden section at that mega-mart everyone seems to love to hate. Freshly unemployed with much more time than money, I had launched an addition to our backyard for Annie for Mothers' Day two days before. The project was all but finished--including a fully-functioning, low maintenance, conservative-water-using water feature--and I was on one of those rare solo scouting trips, looking for finishing touches. When what to my wandering eyes should appear but a tag I certainly did not expect to see in this establishment, HEIRLOOM TOMATO!

This writer hardly expected to ever use Wal*Mart and heirloom tomato positively in the same sentence; but there it was, tucked away amid all the usual hybrid suspects. A healthy enough looking little specimen, considering where it was living, and claiming to be an old-world variety called Black Krim from Russia. Its parent supplier is an Alabama outfit called Bonnie Plants.
I have seen Bonnie's products before in Lowe's. Plants are packaged in biodegradable pots made from recycled materials, so you just plant the thing pot and all. I like that. I also like that Bonnie is bringing their products into places like Wal*Mart. Oh! If you have one of them smart phones that can read QR codes, Bonnie's plant data tags has that covered as well.

Worth a shot at three bucks! The Black Krim is billed as a chocolate beefsteak, the "chocolate" referencing its dark brownish color, from the Ukraine. Well let you know how it shakes out in a couple of months.

Also worth three bucks to check out is this self-contained, solar-powered LED landscape lamp by Westinghouse, and also available at Wal*Mart. I took one to try, installing it at the base of Annie's new water feature. It does not put out a mass of light; more like a friendly glow. I like that these can be picked up as single units and placed wherever without any need for wiring. How well they hold up to life on the Rolling Plains remains to be seen.

Man, is it getting hot out here, or is it just me!?!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kites return to the Falls

Every spring Anniepie and I look forward to the return of certain friends who mark the season and who, kind of like old mesquite trees budding out, let us know spring is settling in. Scissor-tailed flycatchers, Oklahoma's state bird, arrived some weeks ago; a trifle early this year by our reckoning--I really need to keep better notes and records--but others testify the scissor-tails were about on schedule. We spotted our first a couple Sundays ago out by Lake Wichita Park, and I have since seen them in all parts of the Falls, including one in that big old pecan tree across the street from our house.

Last evening a couple hours shy of sunset, Anniepie and I were camping out in the backyard, toasting Willie Nelson's 79th with a couple of margaritas. The winds finally had laid down to near calm, and the temperature under a pale blue, cloudless sky couldn't have been any more perfect. The seed feeders weren't getting many callers save the occasional dove, mainly because Mr. Beano Miller kept chasing after his lime green squeaky ball ever time Annie would toss it.

I happened to glance up from the dog games and spotted what I took to be a chimney swift at first. On second look, though, the bird was larger than a swift, soaring higher than I had first estimated. As my 62-year-old tri-focaled eyes adjusted to the range, I spotted another bird riding air currents at the extreme limit of unaided vision, hardly more than a speck, yet faintly recognizable. Nudging Anniepie, I pointed to the nearer bird.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Oh my god, I think so!"

Of course, about that time the bird's flight took it below the tree line, so I broke for the house to fetch the glasses. Before I returned to the yard, however, Anniepie had confirmed the Mississippi kites had returned to the Falls.

Mississippi kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, second cousin to our own bald and golden eagles, is a hawk-sized raptor dressed in shades of gray and elegantly graceful on the wing. I mean, this bird literally does "dance the sky on laughter silvered wings" so beautiful it can make a grown man get cinders in his eyes when there's not a fire within two counties. These guys spend the winter in South America. Why on Earth they return each spring to hatch and raise their young in Wichita Falls is beyond me, but I'm certainly thrilled that they do.

So Annie and I were both grovin' on our first kite sighting of the fledgling spring, watching a couple sky dance at about 10,000 feet, when another pair swooshed past us directly overhead at treetop level! I mean we heard the air whispering through their flight feathers!

"I guess they wanted to make sure we knew they were back," I said.

The literature will tell you that kites feed on insects. I'm here to tell you I watched a pair of them tag-team after a white-winged dove that only escaped by plunging into a dense cedar tree. Others swear they also will take smaller stick and disc golfers who do not keep an eye out overhead while on their rounds.

Final count right at sundown was at least a dozen birds at one time soaring over Brook Village in one of the most magnificent air displays any two-legged critter should ever hope to witness.

Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is it just me.....

Or has the heat and dry conditions come to the Rolling Plains all too early this spring? River City has seen not one but TWO daily high temperature records fall in the past week, virtually all of Texas is currently under one or another drought stage as determined by those who get paid to know, and as I type more, than 100,000 acres of land across the state are burning.

Bring into this mix an apparent spike in the numbers of natural disasters from Katrina to the current earthquakes rocking Japan, and this is the stuff conspiracy theories are written from. If I did not know better, even I might begin to suspect the Good Lord is a bit ticked off at Her children's behavior here below.

With all the dead still uncounted from the tsunami that swept Japan, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara found himself in political hot water when he opined that the tsunami might be tembatsu, "divine punishment". Of course, Glenn Beck, bless his little right-wing extremist heart, was quick to chime in that the earthquakes might have been "a message from God."

Interestingly, a recent survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that more Americans pin the causes of these disasters on natural, Earth-bound causes rather than any kind of divine punishment.

Some seven in 10 Americans believe in a personal relationship with God, according to the survey results, and nearly six in 10 believe God controls everything that happens. Nonetheless, only 38 percent believe natural disasters are a message from God, and only 29 percent believe such events are punishment for sins.

"Americans overall resist drawing a straight line from theological beliefs about a personal God to God's direct role or judgment in particular natural disasters," said Robert P. Jones, PRRI's chief executive officer. "Americans have more natural than supernatural views of disasters."

Naturally, that will fall short of convincing Beck and the End-timers crowd, but somehow I feel better.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Papas & Mamas and heirloom tomatos

That little cold snap—if it can rightly be called that—last week brought a chill to
the bones and stirred up Anniepie’s sinuses but did not seem to hurt the tomato
or zucchini seedlings. The spit of rain that came with the cold didn’t ease the
drought. We appreciate that 0.10 inch all the same, though, Lord. Always good,
from time to time, to see what we are missing. Some say this stretch of the
Rolling Plains has not been this dry since 1967.

I am reminded what a hassle growing tomatoes from seed can be, and this may
well be my last spring to mess with them. As long as Mama Cass keeps raising a
bushel of heirloom tomato varieties on her farm near Seymour, Texas, I never
need go to seed again!

She wasn’t born Mama Cass, but I wouldn’t want to be the poor soul to remind
her of that. Found her last week when I saw her ad offering heirloom tomato
plants for sale on Craig’s List. A couple of emails later we had a date for her to
bring several plants by the house Saturday. Meanwhile, I did some searching on
Facebook and discovered her groovy tribute vocal group, The Papas & Mamas.
That’s right, she is the Mama Cass of The Papas & Mamas, recently returned
from WOWing crowds in Vegas with their righteously right on California dreamy

But don’t take my word for it. Check ‘em out for your own self on YouTube.

Cass is one of those beautiful people with whom you feel an immediate
connection on first meeting. In fact, she and Anniepie killed a good ten minutes
or better trying to run down where and when they knew one another, only to
come up empty. A self-described aging hippie, she is raising chemical-free,
sustainable veggies on some 1200 acres which she further describes as “an adult
amusement park.” The Papas & Mamas, which she organized and gave birth to,
is “my day job.”

Admittedly, all I know about heirloom tomatoes is what I’ve read in magazines
like Mother Earth News. What I can share is the claim that heirloom tomatoes
and store-bought tomatoes do not inhabit the same cosmos. Heirloom tomatoes
are grown for eating. Store-bought tomatoes are grown for selling.

As the name suggests, heirloom tomatoes have their origins in those long gone
days before large-scale commercial farming and long-distance shipping. These
tomatoes were grown on small farms and in kitchen gardens by hand for one
thing above all others—flavor--the ONE thing above all others that is missing
from today’s commercially produced market tomatoes.

It’s a good week when two neat blasts from the past come calling!

I used an old pet rat cage (no longer inhabited) to hold the young plants so they can be moved inside until they have been hardened off. If you would like more information about Cass and/or her heirloom plants, leave a message with your email address here or message me on Facebook.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oklahoma Redbud

Two young Oklahoma redbud trees were on the property when we moved in last December, two Texas natives all but surrounded by invasive, non-native photinia. I took a cutting from this one Saturday, placed the cut stem in water and about a half inch of new tap root was showing Sunday! The stem was treated with root hormone powder and placed in potting soil.

Work with what you've got

Cat litter buckets, particularly flaming yellow screamers like these, may not be the most aesthetically pleasing choice for container gardening, but they serve the purpose. The price is right if one must buy cat litter, and they make themselves useful in other ways.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Project Planning...or something like it

Everything I've ever read about gardening invariably started out the same way: Plan Your Work, and Work Your Plan. I'm sure you've seen or heard the same theme, too. All them what are supposed to know always say to meticulously plan out your garden plot, neatly diagramed and labeled on graph paper, ere ever putting plowshare to dirt.


That's fine and dandy, I suppose, for all the meticulous planners and designers out there. I'm not one of those people. I tend to be, shall we say. Shoot from the hip, and let the seeds fall where they may! Yeah, yeah, yeah; I know it's far easier to correct a mistake on paper than it is in the yard, but you know what? We seedslinging, organic types don't make mistakes. We have happy accidents!

Not to say that I do not plan my work at all. I plan...sort of. My approach to planning, however, comes more from the make-it-up-as-you-go-along school.

Project in point is our new-to-us digs in the Brook Village neighborhood, and this blog will be following that project in the weeks and months to come. This Sunday morning mostly was spent preping an old flower bed along the western edge of the backyard. This area is home to a couple of rose bushes of yet-to-be-determined variety and old photinia runners along with an odd lot of velcro weed, dandilion, henbit and other assorted rascals. This week past we've evicted most of the invaders, scattered a home-tossed mix of herb seeds and installed two hills of zucchini squash.

Today we followed up on what was started by extending the concrete border blocks and working sand, humus and manure into the soil in the newly-turned section. Not sure what direction that plot will take. Leading contenders are a couple of "Silverado" sage shrubs, perhaps another yaupon, a pondling (not enough room for a legitimate pond) or other water feature and just maybe some sample stands of the taller native Texas grasses.

Both the roma and cherry tomato seedlings broke out today. Those seeds went into containers (recycled cat liter buckets) March 13. The Turtle Island water feature--a most minature pondling and place holder for a water feature to come--just happened while on a breathing break from working in the dirt. That's a big part of the appeal of my kind of planning. I'm not locked in from the git-go!
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Making rain and creating rainbows

Perhaps it is because I am a grandson of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and wartime rationing that patience never has been my long suit. I don't want much, but what I want, I want NOW.

Set up camp in the backyard Saturday morning on the pretense of "doing yard chores". That was about 10:30, and the temperature already was north of 70F degrees. Cedar row between our house and our neighbor lady to the east was cacophonous with boat-tailed grackles, but it beat all to hell whatever babble was issuing forth from the TV inside.

Right off we got the rainmaker going on the front lawn as it takes right at an hour to deliver an inch of water across the yard. No doubt you've heard by now that the Rolling Plains--all of Texas, for that matter--is facing what the folks that are paid to know are calling "moderate to worsening" drought conditions. Here in River City we're running some 7.5 inches behind our mythical annual rainfall average. When that happens responsible citizens (and I pretend to be one) begin throwing water at their lawns, mainly to keep alive turf grasses that have no business being in this part of the country. With any luck and a lot of education, we may be able to change that pig-headed behavior before we go completely dry. Anyone who cares to read more on what I'm talking about is encouraged to read Eric Berger's piece from the Houston Chronicle, "Drought's grip threatens state with arid 2011" .

But I digress, for it was not a lack of patience, waiting on the Lord to deliver rain, that got me going Saturday. It was that damned itch to scratch in the dirt. Around these parts our mythical average last frost is mid March, but everyone knows to be prepared for what is known as the "Easter Freeze". With the warmer than normal weather we have experienced for over two weeks now, I have been not entirely successfully resisting the urge to put seed in the ground. Yesterday I gave up and gave in.

The good news is if we do get that late freeze down the road, the roma and cherry tomatoes are in recycled cat litter tubs that can be brought inside. The sage, dill and poppies, however, will just have to take their chances with what Ma Nature delivers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bloomin' Redbuds

Spent the late morning and early afternoon clearing out underbrush along the back fence. A tangle of shrubs gone wild and invasive vines from who knows where, that 20-foot run was where Stanky, the outside cat, and assorted other feral felines liked to lie in wait to ambush birds coming in to the feeders. Damned cat just kept giving me the Stank Eye all the while I was trimming out his playhouse which made the chore that much more gratifying.

The calendar records today as March 5, a good ten days shy of the average final frost date for this hump on the Rolling Plains. Tackling the tangled fringes of our still new-to-us backyard is my primary strategy for not putting seed in the ground, even as the urge to sow grows with each passing day of temperatures well above seasonal normals. Yes, I know seeds could be started indoors now, but I prefer not to do that for a couple of reasons. The first is lack of space for flats of seedlings, and the other is indoor cats and a dog, all of whom would dearly love to "help" tend indoor starts.

Reckless bradford pear trees bursting into full bloom all over town do not help. Then just today I discovered that buds had erupted on two redbud saplings out back. I knew of the one along the eastern fence, but the second one was not discovered until this morning's clearing chores. Talk about pleasant surprises!

Nor is it just early-blooming ornamentals pushing the season. With consistent daytime highs pushing 80F the tank tops and hot pants are bursting out all over, too. Hell, the neighbor lady across the street already has buzzed her front lawn with the mower!

In other news from the homestead, thistle seed in the tube feeder has brought in a trio of lesser goldfinches, a male and two females. A pair of cardinals also are regulars at the pagoda feeder, along with Carolina chickadees, house finches, house sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. We brought in a ceramic fire pit a couple of weeks ago, and I now have almost resigned myself to backyard camping of an evening.

No, it's not the same, but it is convenient!