In mid december every year the local farmers would close up shop and they wouldn’t return to the little white shack where they sold their goods until mid May of the following year. Crops just didn’t grow in the winter and the new crops for spring wouldn’t be mature until May. So, in early december i would make one final run to the little white shack on the side of the grocery store parking lot. I would stock up on potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. The onions would keep for a few months in a cool dry place in the tiny house (the bottom shelf of the pantry was only about 3 inches high. you could just fit potatoes or onions or squash down there and they would keep quite a while without sprouting.). The potatoes and sweet potatoes were to go in the freezer. I could pull one out and thaw it whenever i needed throughout the rest of the winter. When i got home i already had so many things in the freezer…the frozen bananas, the compost pile scraps (to keep the ants out of them until the bag was full and ready to dump), the sumac harvest, the gluten free bread stuffs, and last year’s harvest of local barely dried beans. There wasn’t any room for the potatoes and sweet potatoes. The ice had to go in order to make room. I carried the ice into the yard and threw it. The larger piece shattered into little pieces. Cashew, who loved ice, began to vacuum them up excitedly. As far as she was concerned i might as well have just installed a ferris wheel and a couple roller coasters in the yard. She was having a blast rolling, bouncing, chasing, and chewing her ice pieces at her little self-made theme park outside under the laundry tree. The potatoes were in. I was glad she was happy and busy chewing something other than my things. We would get more ice for the freezer in the spring.
In early December on a sunny day i got a bit of news i had been waiting for. I had been praying to God feverishly for one specific thing in the darkness of the morning hours every day and in early December 2019 God answered my prayer. My sweet friend was blessed with a healthy baby girl. I sat in the rocking chair for many hours that day with the dogs beside me, staring at the window curtains and listening to the hum of the a/c wall unit. I had a smile on my face. My soul was at peace. I was in a rare mood of joy. One thought reverberated through the chambers of my mind, “God is good.”
Note the expression on her face. Both dogs were very tired of posing for my holiday pictures.
I had some rules when it came to holiday decorations, since my children were four-legged and the only one who would be taking note of said decorations was probably me. The budget was one dollar per holiday. The decoration had to have some apparatus to hang it from the hook on the door. The item had to come from the dollar general, for obvious reasons. In 2019 the decoration that ticked all of those boxes was the Christmas bell.
Keeping Cashew alive had been a full time job since day 1. As i have alluded to in the past, the dog had absolutely zero survival instinct. She had been very near death multiple times, to the point where the emergency vet in the nearest city to us said i had to stop calling because they’d given us enough free advice and from now on we had to come in and be paying customers or just call the poison hotline. I did. I owed them 75 dollars for each call and they would often leave me on hold for 15 to 30 minutes. I took a different tactic. I started getting my veterinary advice from nurses i worked with. They saved Cashew’s life a few times. So too did the use of peroxide to induce vomiting and the emergency vet in San Antonio who gave us advice on how to prevent bloat after she ate herself silly on dry food.
Below i have listed the things Cashew had ingested during her first year of life:
– extension cords
– insane amounts of dry food at once
– rubbing alcohol
– a scorpion
– crickets (probably just extra protein)
– her poop
– her sister’s poop
– other animal poop
– poisonous mushrooms
– broken glass
– aluminum cans
– bits of plastic
– a sequin covered female top with built in bra and adjustable straps
– a pee pad
Yes, i had stood there on hold to the animal poison control hotline googling whether pee pad ingredients for certain brands could be poisonous if ingested. The consensus was that while it would not kill her, i should really stop “allowing” my dog to eat pee pads. Sometimes i wished the people who judged me for my raising of Cashew could house sit for a week. I wished they could walk in my shoes and see that they might not do any better in my circumstances. Of course it would be wonderful if she could have round the clock 24/7 supervision. And how would we pay the bills? No, in this family someone had to work. God would just have to send this dog many guardian angels.
My Thanksgiving was split into two separate parts. I spent the early hours of the morning with the dogs at our property and i was invited to spend Thanksgiving with a friend and her family in a nearby town. I left for their place late in the morning. Pictured above are the girls reminding me that i spoke of them receiving turkey on this day if they were good. Being a pescatarian i did not immediately have some on hand. I had gone to the grocery deli and asked for two thick cut pieces of hickory-smoked turkey breast.
So i got up and let them out for the morning. I began breaking the slices into pieces and separating the pieces into two ziploc bags. The turkey would be spread out over the week to keep them from getting sick but they could have 4 or 5 pieces at a time.
They knew what i was doing before i even called them in. When i pulled the curtain to whistle for them they were already on the porch wagging their tails and licking their chops. They knew it was Thanksgiving. I had always given Sili boiled chicken or smoked turkey on holidays and now Cashew would be included in the tradition as well.
I let them in to the house. Both of them sat at attention next to the counter with anticipation in their eyes. I told them each Happy Thanksgiving and that i loved them and then i put one piece of turkey in each hand and fed them simultaneously. Cashew finished hers quickly each time, which i had known would happen compared to Sili’s careful precision movements to remove the turkey from my hand without so much as grazing my skin with her teeth. I used my knee to hold Cashew back as she attempted to reach the piece Sili was so delicately trying to remove from the palm of my hand. I was successful and Sili got her 5 pieces just as Cashew had hers, uninterrupted. Both dogs sat at my feet, delighted and begging for more. I said, “no, that’s enough. You’ll ruin your tummies.” They followed me around wherever i went that morning, sniffing my hands. Cashew sat beneath the refrigerator looking up. I made a mental note never to leave a towel hanging on the refrigerator door. Cashew might teach herself to open it.
I had the best most peaceful holiday of my life with my friend and her family. she had invited me the year before as well. I enjoyed their company and the wonderful grandchildren that ran about the place. They were thoughtful, compassionate, and peaceful people who seemed to enjoy each other’s company. I thanked the Lord for sending me such a friend that would let me be part of her holiday family gatherings. I felt very blessed. The year had been a good one, tumultuous as it was. The dogs were alive and i could still afford to keep them. The land was still in my name. The leak in the roof was fixed. I still had my job. And i had good friends whom i cherished.
That night i returned home smelling of my friend’s dog and both my dogs immediately came to sniff my shoes and pants legs. Sili’s tail began wagging as she recognized the familiar smells and realized where i’d been. Cashew was just happy the opener of the refrigerator had come back.
I came home one day with the intention of collecting the acorns from beneath the pin oaks. As soon as i was out there with my bucket i realized the female cedar trees had berries on them. I had paid a hefty sum of money at one point to buy cedar berries for my natural medicine cabinet. I now wondered why i’d done that. Probably because i would have been concerned there might have been a law against harvesting the berries from trees on public property. However, at this point, i owned several cedar trees that were producing berries. It seemed like i should harvest and freeze some of these berries in case i needed them for medicinal purposes later.
I crumpled the berries off the branches between my fingers with the bucket placed beneath to catch them. When i had collected all i wanted i placed them into my cardboard fruit box from the kitchen and set them on the porch to let the critters crawl out. There were centipedes, ants, and little white spiders in amongst the berries. Most of them left on their own. There were a few stragglers that i had to pick out manually. Then i poured the berries into a ziploc bag and into the freezer they went.
The pin oak acorns were all very pretty. I listened to an audio book about homesteading in the 1970s on the phone in my apron pocket as i worked. The sound traveled all over our flat land and the dogs listened too. The girl narrating was talking about the addition of her little sister to the family, a new play mate to enjoy the homestead with; Heidi, named after a movie their parents enjoyed. my thoughts drifted to my own childhood. It hadn’t been a peaceful one but there were good memories here and there if i wanted to pick at them. My sister and i coveted a small collection of troll dolls the way most children in our time had worshipped barbies. The troll dolls seemed somehow more humble and approachable. They had little hand-made clothes passed down from other generations of my mother’s family. The men had vests with arm holes and a button in the back. My favorite two troll dolls, probably the oldest, had soft rabbit hair. Their plastic skin was darkened and smudged from years of play and we make-believed that it was dirt from a long travel or hard work. My favorite male troll doll had a little felt jumpsuit with a black belt and a snap in the middle. The hat was glued to his soft blue rabbit hair. My favorite female troll doll had blonde rabbit hair with black tips. Her face was shiny and she appeared to be smiling. She had a dress. I don’t remember which color or of what material, but it had an equally delicate and curious snapping device in the back like the jumpsuit. For some of the trolls, mostly the tiny ones that we considered children, my little sister the artist would fashion garments of various styles out of green flower tape. My sister and i would create these “tree-house” towers for them, building elaborate cities out of boxes and pulley-system fruit-basket elevators on various household furniture, make-believing they were in the middle of a forest or fleeing persecution at the hands of other species that would have them wiped out because they felt they were inferior. Always, it was the same narrative. Two trolls found each other, fell madly in love, had children, then had to flee, were trying to keep the children alive and keep from being separated or killed, hiding from soldiers of the species that sought to kill them, and then foraging for food. In each tree top fortress we would create a storage cellar for food stuffs. We had this cute little “bunny house” back then. It had come with several hollow plastic chests that opened and closed. You could store things in them easily. We borrowed all the plastic chests from the bunny village and gave them to the trolls. We would then go out in the yard and collect things in our dresses to drag upstairs and fill the plastic chests with. We dug up so many wild onions. I still remember the smell of those wild onions soaked into the skin of my fingers. We would save one of the best looking onion flowers for a little wooden vase to brighten the troll dolls tree-top village. Then we would pull all the tops off the wild onions and dust the dirt off of them. We also collected snail shells. They were empty, but we make-believed they were alive and that they were the troll dolls main source of protein. We collected cedar berries. We dreamt the mama troll would make pies and then can the ones that weren’t eaten immediately. We also collected live oak acorns. We would pull the little tops off and the brown sun-baked acorns kind of looked like loaves of bread. We would gather all day in the summer and then curl our filthy dresses around our bounty and haul it all upstairs to fill the plastic chests in our treetop village. We would sigh in relief. Phew! The troll dolls had enough food to last them through the winter. It was a curious memory. As a child i had longed to be an adult so i could be in charge of myself and not at the mercy of others, but as an adult i longed to be a child one more day so that i could experience the kind of all-consuming importance of gathering wild onions where it seemed life did not exist outside of that moment.
I left Sili to guard the acorn bucket while i busied myself hunting the fallen leaves for more acorns with caps intact. It was necessary as Cashew liked to eat acorns and so she followed me everywhere trying to knock my bounty from my hands or get the ones from the ground before i saw them. she was so focused on me and what i was doing, she totally missed the fact that the bulk of the acorns were in the care of her older sister over there.
I should have popped them straight into the oven, baked them to kill the critters, then let them cool and sprayed them to seal against mold. I should have done a lot of things that month. Instead, i put them in the freezer and cast them aside for a day when less was going on in my stormy mind. Inside the refrigerator sat cedar tips that were meant for tea to cure cedar allergies and avocado seeds meant to be boiled into a syrup to add to my shampoo to make one’s hair shiny. They were all good ideas…they just might have to wait until next year.
When i bought my property the sellers had pointed to a tree visible through my kitchen window. They had said that it was a spanish oak so its leaves would be turning fire-engine red every autumn. They told me to baby it and really make sure it stayed healthy, to trim any dead branches off of it so the termites and beetles didn’t have an opportunity to settle in. I intended to take their advice. It had big pointy, jagged leaves, so clearly it was not a live oak. Growing up in austin, all i saw as a child were live oaks. I was fascinated and enchanted by other types of oak trees with their big circular acorns with hefty caps as compared to the live oaks oval shaped acorns with tiny caps. I was thrilled to have a spanish oak on the property and watched it carefully for signs of ill health all year. The tree was actually 6 little trees clustered together. They all had separate trunks but i supposed, if given enough time, they could become one at some point in the future. It probably wouldn’t be during my life time but it would likely happen if they remained healthy and were allowed to continue growing. The trees remained in good health throughout historic rain during spring and then regular drought in the summer.
When autumn arrived the trees on my back neighbor’s property began to change color. He had different types of oaks scattered here and there, but he did have a couple spanish oaks that the sun rose between in early spring when everything was still cold. They had turned a deep maroon and were very impressive and visible in contrast to my mystery oak which remained solid green at the time this was happening.
It wasn’t until the leaves on my mystery tree began to change color that i realized i did not likely have a spanish oak on my hands. But if it was not a spanish oak, then what was it? At first the leaves appeared to turn brown. I thought, “well that was rather uneventful.” I was somewhat disappointed. All my neighbors had one or two of these beautiful maroon trees and i had one that went from green to brown. After doing some research i decided it might be an english oak, as they were said to turn from green to brown in the autumn. I pouted silently in my little mood as i went through my work days. Then one afternoon i returned home to find dull brown had given way to vibrant orange!
Thrilled as i was to have a bright orange tree in my yard; how exciting, i still had no clue what kind of tree i was looking at. Pictured above is a beautiful example of one of those pretty maroon spanish oaks which was very visibly a different color from my mystery tree.
One of the neighbors with a historic farm house and proper crop fields had a good many trees that were changing color. He had browns, maroons, and oranges. I wondered if i knocked on his door if he would know what the orange ones were…
So there i was trying to figure out what in the heck i had in my yard when a thought popped into my head. Why on earth was i using the leaves to identify an oak tree? There was such a quicker and more accurate way!
It was the acorn that cracked the code. As soon as i picked it up in my hand i knew i had the answer. The tell-tale stripes down the side of the little acorn sang the song of a pin oak. I had 6 young pin oaks clustered together to make one tree. As i googled it; sure enough, pin oaks were known to turn orange in the autumn.
What luck, i thought! Though a Spanish oak would have been beautiful to look at, the pin oak’s acorns could be collected, baked, sealed, and sold on etsy for use in table-scapes around thanksgiving each year. Yet another tree that would provide me with something i could collect each year. Next to it lay the spot i had picked out for an additional tiny house when my mother or grandmother needed a carer. We would have to be sure to put in a window facing the pin oaks so the inhabitant could watch the leaves turn orange in the fall.
Even if i ever got my dryer stacked and hooked up to a power source in the tiny house, i would still only use it on rainy or icy days. There was just nothing like the laundry dried in the yard. Yes, it faded the clothing and if the neighboring properties were burning brush the garments smelled like wood smoke. However, they all came in pressed flat as if they’d been ironed and they were stiff and crunchy. Once i put the garment on it would begin to soften. Over the course of the morning the garment would become softer and softer until you couldn’t believe it was ever crunchy. I began to associate “crunchy” with “clean”. When i put on a stiff garment that crackled when i moved i felt extra clean, new, and fresh. If the weather were bad out and i had the option i’d probably use my dryer, but just for the sake of saving the bright colors…let the sun make them fade. I had become addicted to crunchy, insanely-flat clothes and it was a price i was willing to pay.
Occasionally i would get busy and the dishes would pile up on the counter. I only had about a foot of available counter space and the dogs would lick anything below that height. I didn’t have enough room to separate the dirty dishes from ones that were going to be clean in the house and at that point the dishes had to be saved for a nice day to go out and wash them in the yard. The dirty dishes would be piled in the grass and then washed with dishwashing soap in the steel basin that doubled as a bathtub for myself and the dogs and a place to hand-wash laundry. My kitchen table would be set up in the yard and i would place half the dishes on it and the other half on the porch railing to dry in the sun. As displayed above, sometimes butterflies landed on the newly cleaned dishes to get a drink.