The first cool evening

What could be better on that first fall evening where the air turns cooler, the sky is clear and the stars are shining, and breathing deeply fills your lungs with impossibly fresh air than a good pot of soup….

…and a fire in the hearth?

Today we sowed no peas, as the errands this morning took longer than expected before I had to begin work. I did manage to turn over the soil, though, so tomorrow will be a good day to pull the clumps of grass, work in some compost, sow the peas, transplant the collards and broccoli, and in general enjoy some more playing in the dirt.

There are some properties on the “to be seen” list, one of which is 40 acres with a house and a workshop, one of which is just under 5 acres with a house and a barn, and a handful of others in between. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to start off the new year?

Getting down and dirty

Tonight we’re seeing the typical schizophrenic weather that Florida exhibits during the change of seasons: Sunday, it was 92 degrees. Monday, the forecast high is 71 degrees, with a dip into the upper 30s by Tuesday evening. There is something reassuring about knowing at some point we’ll see a change of 20 degrees or so from one day to the next at least once during a season.

Saturday afternoon, I decided that since we’re not going to find a piece of property immediately, and since we’re not going to have a greenhouse at our disposal immediately – not a decent sized greenhouse, in any event – it’s time for us to try doing some container gardening (with grow lights and possibly some warmer lights eventually) and to put in some cool/cold weather vegetables. With that in mind, mom and I took ourselves over to Lowe’s and Home Depot to pick up some supplies.

The players: several different types of tomatoes (roma, supersweet 100, red cherry, big boy hybrid), zucchini, a sweet bell pepper (california wonder), jalapeno and cayenne peppers, collards, broccoli, snow peas, two kinds of lettuce (black seed Simpson, Romaine), leeks, bunching onions, and various herbs (sweet basil, oregano, curly parsley, thyme, dill). We also picked up a kumquat tree that is small but laden with fruit, a navel orange tree, and a variegated pink lemon tree (as a whim). I also plan to try some garlic, shallots, and carrots.

That all seems like quite a lot, but at the same time seems like only a little, given that there are only one or two of each. Saturday, I started all the tomatoes and peppers, zucchini, onion, and leek from seed in peat pellets, which are currently sitting warm and toasty in a small greenhouse container on the table outside in the sunroom. Sunday, I transplanted the basil, oregano, and parsley plants into pots from their peat containers, started the lettuce and dill from seed, and watered down everyone to ensure they wouldn’t go thirsty.

By next weekend, if all goes well, we should start seeing a few shoots from our peat pellets as the seeds germinate, and the lettuces ought to be pushing their way skyward as well. I’m hoping to have settled on a compost tumbler by then too, so we can begin recycling the organic matter in addition to the other recycling we do each week already.

Monday is reserved for transplanting the collards into the ground in front of the row where the peas will be sowed – after that row is dug, of course. Our winter is forecast to be pretty mild, and I think with the grow/heat lamps on the containers and the hardier vegetables in the soil, we should see a fairly good harvest in a couple of months. Knowing the zucchini, it will probably try to crawl out of its long container to take over the world, but we’re only starting three seeds to germinate, and will pare down to two plants – so we should have a good fighting chance of not being strangled by any output the plants decide to give. If we do see a heavy load, no doubt we’ll be leaving baskets on the neighbors’ doorsteps, ringing the bell, then running away. That would be a nice problem to have.

It’s good exercise, all of this, although I’m sore as hell just from the work thus far. It’s a good soreness, though, even though it’s painful: it’s the sort of pain that lets you know you’re still alive, still able to face the world, still able to do something different than your usual routine, still able to look with pride on even the small steps you’ve made. Breaking up the things that need to be done into smaller groups allows me to get something accomplished and then go back to my regular work. There’s something to be said for that.

In the meantime, I continue to look for property, and I’m poring over seed catalogues, deciding what to do for spring while seeing what the results of the winter experiments are. And when those first signs of life poke their way through the peat and soil, I’ll have my camera ready.

The stars at night are big and bright


I suppose it is quite easy to forget, sometimes, just how large the country is until you’re driving to someplace further away than the grocery store. It probably seemed even further before the days of cars and trains, when people rode in wagons or rode horses or walked on foot from place to place. I often wonder, even as I’m driving around town here at home, just how modern people would have fared without the assistance of roadways and signs, without concrete ribbons leading us from place to place, with trees all around and only the sky above as maps of the world.

These days, though, there are signs that you have arrived at a particular destination.

And in case you’ve forgotten, Texas is the Lone Star State.

We didn’t dally long at the information center.

I know Montana is technically Big Sky country, but on this trip and on this day, Texas could very lay claim to that title as well.

The scenery along the way was much the same as it had been, with cattle…

…and rice fields.

And one unfortunate trucker, who’d managed to get himself off the road into a slight drainage ditch.

Undaunted, we made it to Houston, home of some spaghetti-like interchanges.

Beyond that, Houston was something we saw only from the highway, and like almost any other large city, seemed to be under heavy construction.

We passed through Sealy, home of the Tigers…

…who were out practicing for their next game…

…and continued onward toward our ultimate destination.

Can you guess where we stopped for gas?

Shortly after this point, we ran into swarms of butterflies, many of whom met their demise as they fluttered across the highway. The swarms were huge clouds over the roadway, making it nearly impossible to get any further shots through the front windshield. But we made it to our Point B anyway.

We found out later that due to the very dry summer in the area, the natural predator of that butterfly was not as active as it normally was, and thus the butterflies were far over their usual population numbers. Ours was not the only vehicle providing a testament to this.

The hotel is a Tuscan-inspired design, and in the outside courtyard area, had a wall of fire within a waterfall/fountain structure.

Inside, the suite was roomy and had a thermostat that could be set to 60 degrees, which meant to normal people it was like an icebox, and to my mom was still too warm for her liking.

We headed out in search of a cold drink…

…then wandered up and down the Riverwalk for a bit, trying to decide on food. Since you can’t go to Texas without trying some Texas barbeque, that was the choice for us.

Baby back ribs.

Beef ribs for mom. I had her hold up a knife to provide a scale and show how huge these were. She had ordered them because the menu said three ribs, not quite understanding just yet that everything is bigger in Texas.

There was a bit of a bite in the barbeque – not one that would tear off the top of your head immediately, but one that snuck in on you as you were finishing a bite, making its presence known. The baby backs were not as tender as I expected them to be, but tasted good enough, and the beef was good. In the mood to give them a try on dessert, and since I’m a sucker for it, we selected apple cobblers.

This was good indeed, and we all ate a healthy portion of the dessert.

Tired from our day of learning about the Atchafalaya Swamp, eating, and battling butterflies, we turned in for the night, happy to have reached our destination, and (for those of us playing tourist) excited about exploring the city and what it had to offer.