Cedars were known for their rapid growth. Their branches were reaching out at me when i walked along the paths myself and the dogs had worn in the dirt. It was time to just trim things up so that no branches were hanging down over the laundry line, snagging clothing when i walked along the trails, or blocking sunlight to other nearby younger trees. I went to the tool shed and grabbed my bypass lopper and the wheelbarrow. As i went along snipping the branches of the cedars i noticed that cashew would come along and grab the branches in her mouth, dragging them off. I wondered if i could use this to my advantage. She did always seem to want to help. So i called her to me. When she arrived i took the branch from her mouth, threw it in the wheelbarrow, and praised her immensely. Then i pointed to another cedar branch on the ground. She picked it up. I took it from her and threw it in the wheelbarrow. She wagged her little stumpy tail. I said “go get it” and pointed. She ran and fetched a cedar tree branch. I took it from her, threw it in the wheelbarrow, and praised her immensely. This continued. I couldn’t believe it. The dog was a gem; i mean true gold. She fetched bits of trees. All you had to do was point. I’d say she brought me 80 % of the branches we cut. I piled all of them in the wheelbarrow. Then i picked out a nice big one and gave it to Cashew to chew on. She earned it.
It was Cashew who found her. She had wandered into the web stretched between the side of the shed and a tree branch. As she was making a mess of things, something was frantically running about trying to salvage what she hadn’t already trampled or eaten. At first i thought it was Charlotte. As i turned the corner to the house i looked and there was Charlotte in her web. So, if Charlotte was in her web on the house…who was on the shed? Then it hit me; two! 2 golden orb weavers! They were both females. The newcomer was slightly smaller than Charlotte but that was to be expected as Charlotte had really ballooned in size since she discovered the all-night porch-light buffet thing she had going. In all probability, these two orb weavers shared a mom. Charlotte had a sister. I agonized over what to call her. She was much more timid than Charlotte and would scurry away if i or the dogs got near her web. I couldn’t think of a proper name for her so i gave up. Then for some reason i began thinking of my Uncle’s dog of years ago. Her name was Ruby. I was not sure if Ruby would approve of my naming a spider after her but, we needed a good name and Ruby had been a good and well-loved dog. So i named Charlotte’s sister after Ruby, my Uncle’s dog of years ago.
Eventually Ruby would move her web to the front of the shed next to the door so she could catch the flies as they tried to sneak in when i opened the door. Ruby had a more timid personality than Charlotte. I said good morning to them both every day. Charlotte didn’t seem bothered one way or another. As soon as i opened my mouth and spoke Ruby scurried up her web and out of sight.
I used to be a very loyal customer of a beautiful little health foods grocery store run by a really sweet family with a lot of heart. They were incredibly excited about all the new things they were ordering. They would try things out on the shelves for a while and then carry something else. This little health food store had the new products on the market before they even hit austin. I stopped there often and tried many new health foods that i wouldn’t have otherwise known existed. It was like a neat surprise what was on the shelves each month. I remember loading my basket with goodies and going to the check out with vegan pizza, chives dip, cream cheese, yogurt, and field day garbanzo beans (the best there are). I also always bought several packages of gluten free vegan ramen noodles. I spent a great portion of my paycheck there. I bought a smoothie each time. I thought nothing of it. The field was stable and i didn’t have a mortgage. Fast forward to a year later and all sorts of changes were being made to my career field. There was a fair amount of uncertainty in my life. I had an adjustable rate mortgage, lots of payment plans to uphold, and two mouths to feed. I could no longer afford to buy luxuries like vegan waffles, chives dip, and gluten free ramen. I was ashamed. I was so very ashamed that i could not afford to contribute to their place of business like i used to; like i wanted to. I didn’t show my face there at all for a couple of months. Then one day i mustered the courage. i was focusing more on dry bulk items; things that would keep long in the pantry and give me the most amount of food for my buck. I looked for bags with large quantities of the thing inside rather than an individually wrapped item. The owners had started a “clearance basket” routine. Whatever didn’t sell in a timely manner went into the clearance basket in great quantity to make room for something that would sell better. I felt super guilty again because they were not making any profit selling me items at $1 a piece. I told them it felt like i was stealing from them. I thanked them for the items. It nearly squashed what was left of my pride when the owner produced the box of ramen saying that he thought i must not know where they were because i hadn’t tried to buy any from them in months. I bought a couple. I knew i would enjoy them, but they were not in the budget and this couldn’t happen again. Over the next few weeks i watched all the things i had once loved to buy disappear from the shelves as he gave up on me returning to my old habits. He held out longer than i expected him to wait before crossing the items i used to buy off their list. He was truly a considerate person and made every effort to allow me to purchase them before discontinuing the carrying of the items. I tried to put on a happy face every time i entered the store but my carefree days of filling my basket were over. I shopped from the clearance basket. This particular time they were getting rid of gluten free dry pasta. I spent 50 dollars and filled the trunk with two large boxes of food. It was a good deal. Then i hopped over to goodwill where all the clothes with orange tags were 50% off. I found two shirts with orange tags and 9 big band records for a collective total of 99 cents. There were 10 originally but one was missing.
Then i drove it all home and stocked the pantry.
I put on a record to listen to while i unloaded the groceries. Though the music was upbeat my heart was heavy and sad. When i got a great deal on clearance items in a chain store it felt like an accomplishment but when i knew the store owner, it just made me feel like a sorry friend. They had their obstacles and hardships just like i did mine. I wanted to support their business. These were people that had given me a free brownie to celebrate the closing of my house, who had opened their closed smoothie shop and driven a block of frozen acai berries over to make an acai bowl when i was so very sick i felt like death itself and the frozen acai berries slid down my throat in such a soothing manner. These were people who had been there to help me mark every milestone, even the landing of my side jobs. I wanted to support their business, but unfortunately, i couldn’t. I continued to dig through the clearance basket and make quiet excuses and forced smiles when they brought me the items i used to purchase regularly. My own words to the patients under my care seemed to haunt me, “if you don’t use it you lose it.” I had been talking about muscle mass but i was pretty sure it applied to beautiful family-owned health food stores in the country too.
As we slid into autumn the stores began to reflect the change in season. The pumpkins and autumn-leaf wreaths began to appear. Our budget didn’t allow for such lavish decoration as the mr. and mrs. scarecrow in the burlap pants and matching apron with the cutest plaid dress and a silk sunflower in her straw hair. However, i did find this one acorn for 1 buck at the dollar general. We could spare 1 buck for non essentials, i decided, and the acorn came home with me. It was the first time i’d had my own door to decorate. I wanted to make it festive for the changing seasons, even if only a tiny bit. When i had drilled through the door to place the curtain rod against it i found out pretty quick that it was metal, not wood as i had believed. So, i got smart (or lazy) one of the two. I bought one of those packages of stick-on hooks that you could just pull a tab to remove when you were done with them. I stuck it on the door and hung our little acorn. No mess. No fuss. Immediately i went to look for the girls so they could take a picture by the newly decorated door. Cashew was more than happy to be needed. She was always wanting a job. She was a true working dog. She was always anxiously reporting back to me as if i was going to send her on an errand, “hey there mom…need me to do something mom…huh huh, need me to do something….huh mom? Herd something…chase something…pull something…push something…? I know, dig something up…bury something…sit on something…fetch something…chew something…climb something…? Need anything done? What’s that? Can i help? Should i carry that? Shred it? Not shred it? Oops. K. Definitely not shred it then. Good to know moving forwards.” Ever seeking a task, i gave my little work horse a job, “Sit here and look at the camera.” She was so into this it was comical. I could see the light go on as her ears perked up and her eyes became bright, “I have a job!!!” She was an excellent photo model. Sili…wasn’t interested. She was sun bathing in the yard and couldn’t care less what kind of acorn i had tacked to the front door of our house. I tried coaxing her with baby talk and then whistling. She picked her head up and laid it back down again. I finally went inside and got the peanut butter treats. For a peanut butter treat sili humored her mama and joined the photo.
The chives plant that my sweet friend had given me bloomed and the honey bees that belonged to my neighbor immediately took notice. I wanted to cut the blossoms with scissors so that it would put out more long blades that i could use in cashew cheese sauces and sauteed mushrooms. However, i committed myself to waiting until the blossoms had wilted and dried and the bees were no longer interested in them. I thought about my experience with different types of raw honey and how the pollen of the plants visited changed the flavor so dramatically. I realized that my neighbor was getting chive pollen from my yard contributed to this year’s honey supply. I wasn’t sure what chive pollen would make the honey taste like but i felt it would be neat to contribute to something the bees were doing in those boxes over there and i left the flowers on the plant for them. The porch would start with one or two bees in the morning and then pretty soon 30 of them would be buzzing all around the porch, the car, the door, and the dog bowl. I would have to lay a blade of tall grass in the water bowl so they could get out without drowning. Otherwise cashew tried to drink and got a face-full of drowning bees and sili actually tried to catch them as if they were something to eat. Hey, nobody said these two had survival instinct; strength and heart yes, but survival instinct….ask the one prone to eating raw acorns and poisonous mushrooms. Sometimes the bees would pick up on my perfume and chase me about the yard trying to pollinate me at which point i’d be running as fast as one could in steel toed boots yelling to the dogs, “get the bee! Get the bee babies! Get the bee!” Both of them would set their behinds down and watch as i ran about the yard, as if someone had punched their ticket, helped them to their seats, and given them each a bag of popcorn for their enjoyment during the show. I loved bees for their pollinating abilities. They have always been truly amazing. But the first and only time i got stung i ended up with a rash that spread all the way from my foot to my underwear line. I’d been afraid of what that meant for round 2 ever since. I had a very careful and respectful relationship with honey bees. I needed them and i’d like to be a part of this complex process called making honey, but i was not seeking round 2 with the stinger end of a bee any time soon. When i lived in an apatment in the city the bees made a hive in my apartment wall. I knew they were close but didn’t realize they were living in my wall. All of my plants were pollinated immediately and i got so many vegetables that year. They would land on me to rest and i could just gently brush them from my shirt to the tablecloth i was using to cover the plants for cold weather. They were pretty tame. They rarely chased me. Somehow they just viewed me as common place. I cried the day they came in and broke up that hive. They tore into the wall. They dumped all the beeswax and the raw honey into the dirt and covered it with powder. When i got home that day it looked like a massacre. There were hundreds upon hundreds of dead honey bees and smashed, chemical covered honey comb dripping with sticky, dusty, ruined nectar. They wasted the honey and they wasted the bees. It was awful. I knelt amongst the carnage and took it all in. I took some up close pictures of the dead or dying honey bees lying on the pavement that day. People i showed them to had never seen that side of honey bees before; vulnerable, fuzzy, and helpless. I put a bumper sticker on my car that read, “save the bees”. It would be important that we make an effort to do so, for the survival of future generations.
Where i lived the pavement stopped at my property line and the road to the house was dirt. I liked it that way and i wouldn’t have changed it for the world. If you’d ever watched/smelled a crew lay down tar you knew that the stuff was not exactly organic. I’d rather have my soft dirt road, which was fine as long as i knew that when it rained my soft dirt road was going to become a soft mud road. I always kept a container of unscented kitty litter in the trunk just in case i got stuck and needed to provide something for the tires to grip. If the forecast told of heavy rain and the ground was already saturated (all through this past spring) i parked the car on top of the mulch pile so i’d be able to get it out for work the following morning. If it had been raining heavily or was still doing so when i arrived home i parked the car in the grass on the side of the property and waited for the rain to stop and the ground to firm up before trying to drive the car through the gate and down the dirt road to the house because there was no sense in getting the car stuck when i could give it a few minutes and not. I had a spot right next to a little cedar tree and some fence posts where i would sit and listen to the radio or sometimes nap while i watched the radar and waited for the rain to break so i could try the driveway. If it wasn’t going to stop raining at all for the next few hours but it was a light rain i’d chance it whispering, “c’mon baby” to the uber-heavy tank of a kia (not an insult to kia; in an accident it would save my life), and drive up onto the bank next to the road so that the left tires were on the sparse grass next to the dirt drive and the right tires were on the bit of grass growing in the middle of the road between the tire tracks. With any luck the little blades of grass struggling to survive would provide the traction the tires needed to move through the mud. I had gotten the car stuck doing this. Rarely, but it had happened. Then the kitty litter would be fetched. One time i actually just left the car where it was, walked up the dirt road to the house, went inside, and came back to move the car once the mud wasn’t so fresh. I had also parked the car outside my gate in the grass, let myself through the gate, walked to the house, and come back to the car the next morning with my work bag in tow. This was last resort behavior…since technically the car was not on private property when parked outside the gate. I did this during our record breaking rainy streak in which i thought for sure we were going to have to start building an ark. If the road had been mud for 3+ weeks, i wouldn’t recommend driving a car into it. It was all a bit of a guessing game. One just had to use their best judgment, get creative, pay attention to the weather, and make sure the vehicle was accessible for work the following morning. I never encountered a day when i had to call my neighbor for a ride to work because my car was stuck. I just had to put a little more thought into where i left it for the night, much in the way i had to decide whether i wanted to protect the car from hail or falling branches during every storm. I picked whichever one looked like it was going to be the most severe. I parked the car accordingly. If the wind was really howling i parked the car in the open field, away from heavy tree branches. If large hail was forecasted i parked the car inches from the trunks of my oak trees next to the mulch pile so that the branches would hang over the car and at least break the hail balls’ landing before they found the windshield.
As sili and i greeted the familiar cooling temperatures cashew experienced autumn for the first time.
When you decide to homestead, you have to give up or let go of a lot of 21st century luxuries most have become accustomed to. For example; dish washers, dryers, hot water, central air, toilets without a composting feature or a septic odor, and high speed internet. There is however, one unexpected luxury to be found on the homestead, and that is heated toilet paper. When i bought the property, there was no toilet paper roll in the bathroom. I didn’t think much of it because i had bigger fish to worry about like the absence of shower walls or a curtain rod. However, eventually i had to designate a place to put the toilet paper. There was a window in the bathroom so naturally i chose the window sill behind the curtain as the place to store the toilet paper. On sunny days the sun would hit the toilet paper and heat it. On cloudy days it was just plain old toilet paper but on sunny days nature provided one small luxury in an otherwise harsh environment. It wasn’t a bad perk in the winter.
Whenever the girls have to go to the vet i always text my former neighbor to see if he’s in town. Both the girls love him and i consider him a good friend. I enjoy watching their tails wag and their faces light up when they realize they’re going to see their buddy.
On this particular day they had a vet visit and i had promised them they could see their buddy at the apartments afterwards. We didn’t actually end up getting to visit him. The day we were supposed to stop by some bulls got out on one of the ranches he worked at and he had to go try to wrangle them out of the neighbor’s yard. However, both dogs recognized the parking lot we were sitting in immediately and knew who we were going to see. They were so excited standing in the trunk of the suv. I could hear their little tails hitting the door from all the wagging. It was a really good feeling to know that i had friends in life who were good to my dogs.
One day i came home to find the outdoor thermometer tube lying on the porch. I glued it back up of course but it never worked again. Something had broken internally and the mercury was no longer contained in the chanber it was meant to be. So i got online and began searching for a replacement tube. I learned very quickly that the antique outdoor thermometers like the one my grandmother had given me all had a different type of hook to hang them with so i could not merely buy another one. It wouldn’t fit the current hook system. And the tubes themselves were not sold anymore in that size. I would have had to literally buy an antique ceramic tile thermometer, carefully pry the glass tube off of it, and glue it to mine, rendering the other antique thermometer useless. It seemed like a horrible crime to rob one antique of its parts for another. So i began looking into different thermometers. I looked for a week. I could not find anything that didn’t look tacky. I was searching for “elegant”. They just didn’t make things the way they used to. I could choose between hot pink flowers or a lime green plastic one with no design. There were more of course but it was all the same; tacky or big. I was looking for petite and elegant. Finally i gave up and decided to fix it another way. I ordered ten glass thermometers with a permanent marker line drawn at 70 degrees F. They arrived in my P.O. box. I used super glue to adhere it to my thermometer tile. It was too big for the spot designated so i glued it next to that spot. Then i placed a permanent marker dot every 2 degrees from 70 degrees going up to 120 and down to 0. It still worked perfectly. I just had to look at my marker system and ignore the original one adjacent to it.