Personalizing the Porch

When i first moved over from my apartment i had a number of things i meant to hang on the porch that had been hanging above the patio at the apartment. I never got around to it because it would have involved a ladder, time, and patience, and it just took me that long to muster all 3 in the same place at the same time. I had a day off and i had finished most of my chores and i thought, “Today’s the day.” So, i climbed up the porch railing with a drill, some screws, a hammer, and some hooks, and set to work personalizing the porch. The little garden bell was a gift from my sister. Apparently in Japan you can ring the bell once and it will help the plants live harmoniously together in the garden. I ring it once a day, usually in the evening because it’s dark when i leave in the morning. It is a much cherished gift as it reminds me of my sister and brother in law whom i don’t get to visit often. The thermometer was my grandmother’s. It lived in her garden for many years and she gave it to me when she moved out of her house. They just don’t make them like that anymore. The tile depicts a scene of hummingbirds visiting flowers. I fell in love with it once at a plant nursery and it came home with me. I screwed some hooks into the porch roof for future hanging plants. I also hung my wind chimes. The blue and purple ones have been with me for years but the little silver one with a hummingbird hanging from it was a gift from my grandmother and has a higher pitched and lighter sound to it. I use the wind chimes to let me know when weather is coming. The wind always picks up when a storm or front is coming through. You just can’t trust the weathermen out here. You have got to rely on wind chimes, spiders taking down their webs, humidity, and the ability to see clouds coming from miles away over the undeveloped land to tell you everything you need to know about weather because there is one weatherman for a vast area out here and there can be a big difference between the temperature in the hills and the temperature in a valley. Frequently the weatherman tells me over the radio that the low for tonight is going to be 41. I wake up and there’s ice on everything. They can’t be trusted, especially when it comes to your young fruit trees. No, you’d better forecast the weather yourself in the hill country.

Sili’s Hurt Leg

One night i called the dogs in and only Cashew came. I knew immediately that something was wrong because Cashew was my wild child. She was the one who bucked the system. She was the one who stayed out all night and had me traipsing through the grass in the dark with a lantern, wearing pajamas and boots. She was the one who always thought we were playing a fun game when i had to chase her down to bring her in so i could go to work. Sili was my homebody, my couch potato. She was the one i had to push out the door to get some exercise because all she really wanted to do was nap at the base of my rocking chair. If Cashew came and Sili did not, she was either injured or dead somewhere. I quickly threw on my boots and grabbed the lantern and my favorite machete. I flung open the door to go look for her and then i saw her, limping towards the house ever so slowly. I searched her body for blood but found none. I wondered if she had broken or twisted something. I had to get her inside so i could properly examine her. I carried her up the stairs of the porch. I laid Sili down on the floor in the house. I held the lantern up to her, examining all her legs closely. I could not see anything abnormal. I could not see anything there. Cashew watched quietly from the corner of the room. Sili licked one of her paws constantly and refused to put weight on it. I could not get her to stop licking the leg and eventually i was forced to put a cone over her head to prevent her from creating an open sore. At first i thought it was a sprain, that she would recover if we just left it alone. However, 5 days later she was still refusing to bear weight on the affected leg. For the life of me, i couldn’t understand what she had gotten herself into. Then one day i noticed something tiny, sharp, and beige sticking out of Sili’s paw. As i touched it she began shaking and whimpering. Though i wasn’t touching her any longer she continued to shake. She appeared to be in shock or having some kind of pain response. I went to the tool box and grabbed my pliers. I pulled the tip of the little beige thing out of her paw. I couldn’t beleive what i was looking at!

It was a brown and beige needle-like spine. It had been stuck in her leg all this time! It had really been wedged deep in there. Sili began walking on it immediately after i removed the spine. She was so grateful she kept licking my face. I began googling animals with needle-like spines but it would get me nowhere. It wasn’t part of an animal. It was a defense mechanism for a cactus.

What i did not realize was that Cashew had gone through the cactus patch as well. Her paws and rump were full of spines wedged deep in her tissue and she hadn’t said a word this whole time. Cashew had a much higher pain tolerance than Sili. I could barely get a hold of the tips of the needles with the pliers to pull them out of her foot. They had almost disappeared completely under her skin. I couldn’t beleive it. Sili, my sensitive one, had come to me for help with 1 cactus spine. Cashew was riddled with them and never said a word. After all the spines were removed from both dogs i released them into the yard with the words “watch for cactus”…words they would not heed; words i would have to repeat many times in the future.

Double Rainbow

There’s always something going wrong or about to go wrong at the homestead. It’s just part of the lifestyle. Either you need a new water heater, air conditioner, refrigerator, pests are chewing through things, predators are traveling through areas you use frequently and getting too comfortable with the territory, deer are in the compost, the dogs have torn something down, the power is out, the well pump needs repair, the shed door won’t open because it’s come off the track, the septic tank needs repair, the roof is leaking, there’s broken glass and cigarette butts everywhere from motorists that threw things out the window, the holes the scorpions are coming through in the walls around the appliance plugs need sealed up, the windows need switched out, the house needs more insulation, the weather won’t cooperate, the ants are invading again, the termites are on the move, the coons spread the trash all over the ground, or random strangers are using the trash can on the surveillance camera. It’s a lifestyle of struggle and anxiety and a lot of coffee. It is wildly worth it though. There are moments of beauty, immersed in the wildness of nature where you feel so lucky just to be breathing the air and seeing the sunlight filter through the trees. One day i came home and there was a rainbow above the yard. As i looked closely i realized it was a double rainbow. There was a faintly visible second rainbow atop the first. Sometimes when everything is broken or about to be broken, God gives you a little encouragement to renew your faith.

The Roof Leak

I was lying in bed one day when i began to hear a noise. I thought it was the rain tapping against the window. However, when i got up to walk across the room i stepped in something wet. At first i thought a dog had peed but it was clear and had no odor. I laid a paper towel over it and lifted it up. It was definitely not pee. It was water. But…their water bowl was across the room. Suddenly something wet hit my head. I looked up. Sure enough, the roof was leaking. It began to rain harder and the water started to drip faster. I hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a pasta pot. I placed the pasta pot beneath the leak and stood back. For the most part, it was catching the water. The first thing i did was to call a roofer. They said they would have to charge me 500 dollars even though my roof was that of a tiny home because that was the minimum amount they were allowed to charge for any roofing jobs. They hadn’t even seen the house and had no idea what was wrong with the roof but it was already going to be at least a 500 dollar job. I called around and nobody in the area felt that they could say for certain they could beat that price. I wasn’t taking a day off work for a “maybe”. So i stuck with the second company i called; the one who assured me they would show up. You see, the first roofer i tried said they would show and never did. They did not return any of my phone calls after that. The second company assured me they would show and then didn’t. So i kept taking time off work and requesting a half day for nothing. Then i tried a different tactic. They said if i left the gate open i didn’t even have to be there. They would just let themselves onto the property, climb on the roof, assess the problem, and i could come by the office to pay and schedule the intervention day. They didn’t show. So, my gate remained open all day for nothing. The third time we attempted to meet he called and told me truthfully that he had more job offers in a nearby city than my tiny town and if he received more job offers in a city than he did in my quiet little town, he was going to stay where the work was and just keep rescheduling me. He wasn’t too sorry to see me go as a customer. It didn’t seem to phase him that i was taking my business elsewhere. I asked one of the maintenance staff if they could tell me what was leaking so i knew what to tell a repair guy if needed. He said he’d help me diagnose and fix the problem. I was delighted. He came out and had a look at the roof. After a while he said he thought he knew what was causing the problem. He said, “your house is not level.” There was a white pvc pipe sticking up out of the metal roof. Around it was a circular mound with a flap of rubber on top of it. It appeared to have some sort of residue where an adhesive had once held the rubber flap to the metal but it was all gone now. The maintenance man said there was once tar on the roof holding the flap down but it had cracked and fallen away and there was nothing left holding the flap in place. Rain was getting down inside the rubber part and running the length of the sheets of metal in the ceiling. He said that because my house wasn’t level the water droplet was traveling from the front of the house to the back to fall into the pasta pot on the floor. It made sense. The roof had never leaked before. All of a sudden it did. It made sense that it would have something to do with worn out glue on a rubber flap. So the maintenance man agreed to go with me to home depot, gather supplies, and fix the roof for a reasonable fee. But, something came up and he couldn’t make the appointment. Due to unforseen circumstances, the guy wouldn’t be able to help me for a month. It was a very wet spring for texas. There was historic flooding. It was raining nearly every day. I was having trouble finding windows in the weather to hang my laundry. I couldn’t wait a month. It was then that i decided i was going to fix my own roof. I marched myself into home depot and began picking out an adjustable ladder. I tried to buy tar from several employees but they either didn’t know what i was talking about or they knew what i was talking about but they weren’t sure where to find it. Eventually i stumbled upon a guy in an orange smock who would at least hear me out. I told him i wanted to buy tar because i was going to get a ladder, put it up to the roof, don my rubber water shoes, and tar my roof. He looked at me with an amused smile on his face. He said, “you’re going to tar your roof?” When i answered that i was he paused for a minute as if to take it all in and then began asking me a series of legitimate questions. How steep was the roof? What material was it made out of? Did the shoes have good tread? Did i want a bucket of tar or tubes? Did i already have a caulk gun or did i need one of those too? He gave me 2 tubes of tar for the caulk gun and told me multiple times to wear gloves because if i got it on my hands i would have to buy something to get it off. I thanked him for his help. He said, “Good luck” and watched me head towards the cash register with my ladder, my box cutter, and my tubes of tar. Doug proved to be most helpful for all of my later projects in that he could decipher my specifications and measurements such as “this much” “a tad” “anything remotely close to this cell phone photo” and “thinnish”. So i took my ladder and my tar home and began to plan out how i was going to execute the project the following morning at dawn. I had to plan it ahead of time because the metal roof would only be bearably cool around dawn and again around dusk. I set the ladder up and made sure it would sit well against the house without bending the sheet of metal hanging off the edge of the roof. I put my water shoes on and made sure the rubber gave me enough traction on the smooth roof. All systems were go. With everything ready and the sky darkening by the minute i put the ladder in the shed and went inside the house to sleep and wait for morning.

10 minutes before dawn the alarm clock woke me up. I yanked on my boots and headed to the shed to get the water shoes and the ladder. I laid the ladder against the side of the house and up i went. I used the rubber water shoes to climb to the top of the roof toting the caulk gun and a tube of tar. There i straddled the highest point of the metal roof. I cut the tip off the tube of tar and used an old nail to puncture it. Immediately i recognized the smell. It was tar alright. I examined the area in question. There was the pvc pipe above the kitchen. Around it was a square piece of metal bolted down to the bigger sheet of metal underneath. In the center of that was a rubber flap placed around a mound surrounding the pvc pipe. The flap had pulled away from the mound. So i took the caulk gun and placed tar everywhere i felt it should be to seal off the areas where water might find an opportunity to enter. I made a ring around the mound, securing the flap against it. I put tar over all the bolts and edges of the square piece of metal. There was also a little spot where there appeared to be an indentation in the metal where it had split. I put tar there. I smoothed it out a bit with a gloved finger. Then i climbed down and waited for the sun to dry it. For the next couple days i kept placing the ladder against the house and climbing onto the roof to check if the tar was dry. One thing i realized right away was that morning or evening, there was a great view of the property to be had from the roof. I liked being up there.

In an ironic twist it stopped raining the day i tarred the roof. It didn’t rain again for months. It had been so rainy and then all of a sudden it disappeared and texas became dry again. I wouldn’t get a chance to test the roof patch until late summer. Everyone kept asking me if i had fixed it but truthfully, i didn’t know if i had. Then one day i was lying in bed when i heard it; the most beautiful sound in the world, the sound of rain on a tin roof. I hurried over to the pot placed on the floor beneath the edge of the metal ceiling sheet. It was bone dry. Not a drop of water was in it. It stayed dry all the rest of that day, though it poured cats and dogs outside. I had done it. I had fixed the roof leak. The tiny house would live to see another day.

Homemade Antibiotics

When i came down with the upper respiratory infection i tried to ride it out with fluids and rest. It was the addition of the pink eye that forced me to the urgent care clinic. When you haven’t met your deductible the medical bills can add up. Because of how often someone working in healthcare can expect to be sick, i tried not to go unless i absolutely had to. Well, with pink eye on a saturday i had to. While i was there i mentioned the 5 day fever i just couldn’t kick. The doctor told me she’d already seen dozens of other healthcare workers come down with the same thing and none of them could kick it without antibiotics. So i sprung for the antibiotics and took them home. I read the directions on the bottle and took one pill with a small amount of food. Then i laid down for a bit. That was the wrong thing to do. I’ll spare you the specifics of what happened next. Let’s just say i would have needed 2 packs of adult diapers a day and reconstructive surgery on my butthole if i had wanted to continue taking the antibiotics and going to work. I mean, i can understand a few mild side effects but this was as if i had swallowed a thousand laxatives at once. After i had survived the experience i sat down to rest and think about what i was going to do. I knew better than to take another one of those pills. I wasn’t sure there would be anything left of the house if i were to go for round two. I had to return to work. I couldn’t get better without an antibiotic. Suddenly it became clear. I had a natural medicine cabinet in the shed. I had created it years ago, with only the finest quality herbs, leaves, and roots, more as a tribute to my mother and the way she had raised us than a practical thing to use on a regular basis. She had raised us with a book called “prescription for natural healing”. I had grown up with a vast knowledge of herbal remedies. Actually, most conventional medicines are derived from plants. They aren’t magically poofed into existence. They do come from somewhere. When i created the cabinet i never imagined how often i would come to value it in a place where stores were far away, infrequently open, and carried few items i required. But now i really needed the contents of the natural medicine cabinet as i had never needed them before.

I pulled out my own copy of “prescription for natural healing” and thumbed through the pages, making a list of herbs and roots with antibacterial properties. I was going to make my own antibiotic; a tea; one that wouldn’t have the explosive effects of a thousand laxatives swallowed at once. I made myself a list. Then i opened the drawer and the cabinets and pulled out the corresponding jars. I carried them in my shirt to the kitchen where i brought a pot of water to boil. I placed all of the ingredients with antibacterial properties into my pot and boiled the water until the kitchen smelled absolutely dreadful. Then i let the tea sit and rest for a bit. When the water had stopped bubbling i strained the tea into a cup. It was awful tasting and awful smelling, as most medicinal things are. Truthfully, i had no idea if it would work. It was an experiment. I had to try something and it certainly was not going to be another one of those pills that had rendered me beyond incontinent. I decided i would treat it like a conventional antibiotic. I would take it morning and night for 10 days in a consistent dose. If i began getting better i’d know it worked. If i still had a fever i’d know it didn’t and i’d crawl back to urgent care seeking another visit with alternative solutions to the terrifying blue capsule. Within 48 hours my fever was completely gone and my symptoms were dissipating. The doctor at the urgent care clinic told me she had seen patients that still had a fever two weeks after the onset of symptoms because they hadn’t come in for the antibiotic. I had to know for sure. I stopped drinking the tea. My fever returned. I went back to drinking the tea and continued with a consistent pattern of consumption for 10 days. The upper respiratory infection was gone. I sat back and marveled at my discovery. One could make antibiotics in the kitchen. They tasted awful and smelled worse but, it worked. I filed the recipe away in the shed. Armed with this new found skill i was never going to urgent care for antibiotics again. Weighing the options, which would you choose, a disgusting taste and a yellow tongue or a geyser of poop? It seemed like a clear enough choice to me at the time.

Discovering the Sumac Tree

The property was basically set out like a triangular ring. In the middle was an area of cleared land and all around it was a border of densely clustered trees. It was a perfect nature-made privacy fence. Every time i went exploring i found something new. The problem was there wasn’t much time for exploring. By the time i got a day off from my job in the city there were a list of backed-up projects i needed to knock out from breakfast to sundown. That’s how i went months without realizing i had 4 mimosa trees on the property and without knowing this sideways-growing tree with the slender leaves even existed. It was right near the padlocked gate where i put my trashcan out on trash day. At first its leaves reminded me of a pecan tree but vegetation was growing all around it so i knew it couldn’t be a pecan tree. I began desperately searching google for what kind of tree had long slender pointy leaves. I had to know what it was that i had. I settled upon the only possibility that seemed to fit the size, leaves, growth environment, and berries of the tree; a sumac tree. They grew wild all over texas but there was a problem to consider. So too did poison sumac trees. The sumac trees were said to grow in hot and dry climates. They were supposed to be very drought tolerant. The poison sumac trees grew near water sources like creeks or rivers, where they could keep their roots wet. The sumac tree was said to produce white flowers that turned into red berries. The poison sumac tree produced green flowers that turned into white berries. Finally, the leaves were different. The poison sumac leaves were a little bit rounder and more plump than the long slender fingers of the sumac tree’s greenery. The poison sumac tree was rumored to produce a reaction on one’s skin several times worse than poison ivy. I was pretty sure that what i was staring at was a sumac tree and not a poison sumac tree but my friends and family seemed disturbed enough by the possibilities that they decided it best not to mess with it at all. One friend told me to hire someone to cut it down just in case. The possibility of it being poisonous was enough to condemn it to death in her eyes. I was never one to operate from a place of fear. I ignored her suggestion and did my own investigating. I was looking at white flowers. That suggested the tree was not poisonous. It was growing in a dry area and had long slender leaves. Also indications that it was not poisonous. There was only one way to tell for sure. I broke off a small branch of leaves and held it in my hand. 3 days later; no reaction. I had a sumac tree. For anyone who doesn’t know what sumac is, it’s a tangy lemony spice. It is so good sprinkled over top food! You can pay a lot of money for it in the store. I just knew it as a sticky reddish brown powder in a jar. I hadn’t ever thought of where it came from. I didn’t know it was a ground berry. I looked up when to harvest the berries and google indicated they would be ready mid-august. That was right when i was scheduled to spend a week out of town. I would have to be vigilant and pray that the berries ripened before or after my trip. This first year harvesting might be an experiment to see what i wanted to do better next year (like not leave town during harvest time) but the exciting news was, i had a wild sumac tree growing on my property, it was mature enough to produce flowers that would one day become berries, and come august, i intended to harvest, dry, and grind my own sumac for the spice rack.

The Dust

I don’t really understand it. I couldn’t explain it well if i wanted to. I’m not a scientist. All i know is that somehow, during the summer, red dust makes it all the way from africa to texas in the wind. It settles on patio furniture, the car windshield, the porch railings, and anything left outside. The same thing happens when they are burning the fields down in mexico to plant new crops. Everything gets covered in ash. It’s hard to know whether what i’m looking at is dust or ash, african or mexican. Sometimes friends call me up to discuss it, “well its a bad year for the african dust don’t you think? Its all over my back patio! I’ve already had to refill the windshield wiper fluid for my car twice.” I just know it’s dusty. The problem is this:

It’s called “mr. cool”. It is a heating/cooling unit used for RVs and tiny houses. It has a filter that resembles the plastic tray from the dryer lint trap. It is hard plastic. You are meant to remove it once a month and empty the insects caught in it out in the yard. Then you rinse it under the sink, dry it, and place it back in the mr cool unit. The thing catches june bugs, not dust. Dust slides right through the small holes in the plastic “filter” tray and covers everything in the house with a fine dust. I remembered reading books about the dust bowl when i was a child. They spoke of placing towels under doors and windows and having to sweep every day to keep the dust out of the house. I just gave up on having the house clean. I mean i could sweep, mop, scrub, and polish the place every day and before the sun was down the dust would have coated everything in a thin layer once again. So i just became accustomed to seeing the can opener, the window sills, and the blender covered in dust. So too were the dogs covered in dust. Everything was touched by dust.