Welcome Rain

Rain may not be an exciting topic to many of you, but to ranchers in Texas, it’s pretty fascinating. The area where the Hermits’ Rest Ranch is located is midway between the very damp eastern part of Texas and the very dry western part. That means we get a medium amount of rain, averaging about 35 inches per year (according to Lee and my friend Lynn).

The street is wet.

This year, we just hit the average amount, thanks to some rain finally falling this week. It hadn’t rained significantly in a few months, so we are officially back in a drought. All the rain was really early in the year last year.

Damp squirrel

I know I’m in Texas when people run into my office, breathlessly informing me it’s raining! And then I have to go out and look outside, to verify (I also go in the little bathroom, where I can hear rain on the roof). Sort of sad what passes for excitement around here.

Listen to the rain. And see how sad the Pope house neighborhood looks.

Though it only rained a half inch over the previous couple of days, it was steady, slow rain, for the most part. That means it soaked in. When it rains hard, it all flows down to the arroyo, off to the stream, into the creek, and ends up in the Little River. That doesn’t help us much.

So, if you see me doing a rain dance, don’t be shocked. Rain is joy around here!

Return to Knitting?

Another happy story, for your Blogmas pleasure. I once knitted. A lot. Pretty much every day from high school to when I moved to the ranch, I knitted every day. It was a great way to keep my hands occupied. I taught knitting to anyone willing to learn, which felt great, because it’s like giving someone the gift of never having to be bored again. I had a knitting blog and wrote up some patterns. I enjoyed being part of the local, national, and international knitting community, where I made lifelong friends.

It’s a wrap.

I stopped knitting when it ceased to bring me joy. A few things happened that caused it, and I have written a good post on this before, so go over and read it and see more things I’ve worked on. I’ve been trying to get back into it, sporadically, but I think the start I got in Utah has worked.

It’s as tall as me, so it will stay around my shoulders. I could have made it longer, but I think it will do. This was the plan, anyway.

I seem to have my knitting muscles back in shape, so I can do it a long time with no pain, and I now WANT to knit again. Yesterday I finished the project I’d started the last week I was in Utah, which is a wrap/lap blanket in a simple slip-stitch pattern (instructions here). I love how it came out, and can’t wait to give it as a Christmas gift (I can post photos, because the recipient has already seen it).

It looks good from the front and the back. It should get larger when blocked.

When I was done, I marched over to get the super-bulky yarn for the next gift project, only to find there was no needle to knit it with! We are sure we bought one when we got the yarn, but it’s gotten lost in all the travel and car changes the family has gone through.

Kathleen went into her room one last time to see if the big ole needles were hiding in there, but nope. She did come out with some yarn she’d bought earlier, which she couldn’t remember her plans for. “Make me something,” she said. So I am making a rib-stitch scarf. I like them because they look the same on each side (K1 P1 ribbing, cast on 45 stitches). That will keep me going until I can get to Austin and find one of my numerous size 9 or 10 needles.

I do like the effect this yarn makes.

Little-known fact: I am a very relaxed knitter (other than on that runner I recently made), and always need to size my knitting needles down to sizes to get the right gauge. Luckily, gauge is not vital on scarves, wraps, and throws.

Good News

This weekend, I discovered something really good, knitting-wise! The dogs are settled down enough that I can knit with them around! I have both Carlton and Penney trained to stay down by my feet, so I can knit with my project in my lap. I just have to keep an eye on Alfred’s giant paws. Harvey doesn’t jump up on me except to greet me in the mornings and evenings, so he’s good. I’ll have to work on Vlassic if I’m ever able to take him with me to Austin again!

Good Penney.

So, as long as I make simple things that can easily be interrupted, I am back to my favorite pastime. I won’t be making lace shawls, mosaic patterns, or complex fair isle, but I’m okay with that. I no longer feel compelled to show my mastery of the craft; I just want to relax and enjoy it. And I’m even using inexpensive non-natural fiber yarn (still like expensive and natural better; I haven’t changed that much, but at least moths won’t eat acrylic!)

Why Does the Horse Pee at Me?

Apache. He’s quite a guy, with the heart shape on his chest and his pretty mane and tale. He’s also quite funny.

He likes to stand on anything that makes him look taller.

Lee tells me that while I was gone, Apache made his annoyance at not getting his hay regular enough quite clear. First there was snorting, then he snatched a big hunk before Lee could even get it down to him.

But for me, he reserves a very special message. As soon as he spots me coming down the driveway, he snickers. Then, like he’s on a schedule, he pees. That’s an impressive sight that I’ll spare you. Consider it a Blogmas gift.

I’d noticed it before, but I’ve been keeping track, and that horse has peed for me every day since I got back. I actually found a forum post on the topic, and a bunch of English people agreed that many horses “wee” from excitement to see their human friends. Aww. Happiness in horse language.

Now that I think of it, lots of female dogs pee from excitement. Or fear. Ha. I don’t think he’s afraid. Not him!

I love you, too, Apache.

I’m always glad to see him and Fiona, too. But I can hold my pee until I get home.

Fog Magic

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of sun peek out from under the clouds. I got a few photos of the sun as it slipped through the gap and disappeared behind the trees.

The sun right in the little gap between the clouds and the ridge.

Then I noticed the mist. I could actually see fog forming behind our house, above the pond, and across the field. I knew we were in a valley, and guessed it was probably clear on top of the hill where the cemetery is.

The clouds are getting lower, and you can see mist forming right above the ground over on the left.

Right after I went inside, Lee came back from the office and said he was scared to death driving along the creek bottom to get to our house. The fog had gotten so dense that he could not see the road. A while later, Chris came back from a trip to Rockdale with the same report. Deep, deep fog.

You can guess from this photo, looking toward our house from Pamela’s property, that it was darn foggy down at the creek.

About that time, Pamela texted me, “Are you living in a cloud?” I said I sure was, and she told me she’d sat behind her house and just watched the fog creep higher and higher from where I lived to the hill where she lived. This is what it looked like from her house as it came up.

Here comes the fog!

Here are two pictures of roughly the same view from her house, one taken on Thursday when I was there, and the other from last night, both around sunset.

After Pamela sent me her photos, I started seeing more and more of them in my Facebook feed. Cindy Travis, who lives to the southeast of us, shared these beautiful images from her ranch.

Another Master Naturalist friend, Phyllis, shared what the fog looked like from her vantage point. Another beautiful sight!

Foggy mystery, from Phyllis Shuffield.

Later on, I found some amazing images from another Master Naturalist friend, Larry Kocian.

This one, from when the fog was really deep, is spooky, but full of beauty.

He was on a bike ride through the fog right at sunset and really got some great images (he’s quite a skilled photographer). Here is how Larry described it:

…[T]his was taken at sunset on the Country Club golf course across the street from where I live. The fog started on the pond and it grew rapidly and enveloped the entire golf course, making it look like a Halloween theme setting. But then it felt like being in the clouds, experiencing absolute peace and happiness.

Me and my little girl Clarice, (in this photo), rode our bikes into this growing fog bank. It was a great nature experience, being at the right place, at the right time, under the right weather conditions.

There was 100s of birds (unknown species) all over this acreage, enjoying the fresh water from the rains earlier in the day. Also the saturated atmosphere here at the surface, the fog, was very refreshing. It was like refreshing lotion going into the skin. This fog hid everything on the acreage, except for these trees, making them look like they were floating in the clouds. And as you can see, the sidewalk the leads to the pond way down the way disappears into the clouds. We were floating in the clouds, enjoying this unique moment in Nature.

Thanks to Larry for sharing the photos and description! You almost feel like you were there, right along with him and Clarice. And here’s a special treat: he made a video of riding through the fog.

Well, if that doesn’t convince you that our planet is worth taking care of, I don’t know what will. Evenings like this are rare, but the memories will serve as a balm to our senses for a long time. No pandemic can take that away from us!

Once more, our Master Naturalist buddies made sure to preserve these memories. I’m grateful to Pamela, Phyllis, Cindy, and Larry for sharing with all of us, along with my dear friend, Martha.

If at First You Can’t Succeed, Throw Some Lights Around

Today is not going according to plan. In almost every meeting I’ve been to today, someone has been reprimanded for something. That usually doesn’t happen. Or, I’ve had to deliver bad news to someone, a thing I don’t enjoy at all.

My pretty corner with a very nice pinecone and pearl tree from Chelle’s.

To top all that off, I can’t get my email application to go online and get email on my laptop. I can see it on my phone, but that doesn’t let me click on Zoom links to get to meetings. I managed to get my work email via web browser, so at least I can respond that way. I will just have to do the same for my personal email, I guess. I have enough on my mind without systems going awry. Whine!

I do have a wreath and some other stuff you can see from outside my office. Next week the window glass will go in!

So, once I finally got out of meetings (some of which had been triple booked, because I’m not important enough to stop someone from booking at a time when I’m clearly busy), I gave myself permission to do something else. Meghan had brought me some Christmas lights that she wasn’t going to put up at her house this year, so I started slapping them all over the Pope Residence.

Because we aren’t spending much this year, most of our decorations are from last year. The gold tree looks good on the upstairs landing!

Since we’re closed, no one is going to see them, anyway, so once again I am decorating to cheer me up, or in this case, to take my mind off things.

Last year’s tree gets one more shot at cheering up the neighbors.

I put lights up that only a mother could love, they’re so uncoordinated, in my office window. I then draped some lights in the reception room, on the mantel, where we’d already put up the somewhat nice decorations. They don’t look horrible.

Well, we tried.

There were some red lights, so I put them on the credenza thing.

The red light district. I could have hidden that extension cord a bit better.

I put some on the hallway counter.

Making coffee and microwaving is much more festive now.

And the rest of them, I put on the stairs in a most random fashion. I figure they’ll look cheerful at night, at least. I couldn’t put any outside, since I couldn’t find an outlet anywhere. Darn.

Random lights

I did make my office a little more tasteful, with my newest Trail of Painted Ponies horse on the mantel and some other reasonable things. But, at least I got myself out of my rut and into a more cheerful space.

It looks fine.

Then it was back to thinking about work priorities! I wish I didn’t have a headache!

The weird cats are into the holiday act, too. If I’d been smart, I’d have gotten more of those tall silver things I have in Austin to put in the pots.

At Least the Dogs Love Me

One of the big highlights of coming back to the Hermits’ Rest has been enjoying the dogs. I had the best reunion with my precious Vlassic yesterday. We ran, we frolicked, we hugged, we took funny pictures. I miss that little guy so much, though I know he is doing a lot of good emotionally supporting Lee’s brother, Jim.

He still loves me!

I feel bad every time I take him with me to Austin, because Jim gets so sad. Vlassic is happy as long as he is warm, so I know he is okay. I just don’t have a snuggle buddy.

Alfred shows his love and devotion constantly, and he seems to be feeling better, because he’s been hauling himself up on the couch to sleep at night after his barking period is over. I wish that would end, but I sleep right through it now.

Yesterday he was stretched the entire length of the couch. I am glad it’s not shedding season at the moment.

Penney is still a strange little dog, but she will sleep on anyone with a lap or in a bed.

I’m aloof.

As for the rest of the animals, it’s pretty good. Apache was glad to see his food, and Fiona seemed glad to see me. They just like to eat. As for the chickens, it appears that Fancy Pants wandered off while I was gone. Jim, who was chicken caretaker, didn’t notice, so…not much I can do, but I sure do miss her hilarious running. Now the only one left of the first bunch I got last year is Bertie Lee. She is laying eggs in the garage. Sigh. But, today is the day the chicken coop gets fixed up, so we hope to change the egg-laying habits.

There are still four cows in the pasture, but from the looks of one of the big ones, there will be another one soon. And little Rip is growing just fine! The other calf is very fuzzy and round, quite cute. They are all very friendly now.

And that’s the animal report from the ranch. Hoping there’s more to come!

Disgusting Herbs and Spices: The Data

People sure had a lot of fun with my post asking what herbs and spices they didn’t like. I got enough responses to actually get some “real” data out of it. So, if you’re curious, here’s what people hate:

Least-loved spices of Suna’s friends. Since there are close to 100 responses, the percentages reflect the number of people reporting a preference fairly accurately.

Dill and tarragon, the ones I didn’t like, are not universally loathed, though I’m at least not alone in disliking dill. One thing I do know for sure, is to not load up any food I serve guests I don’t know well with cilantro or anise, because by far they are the least liked.

I can see why people don’t like sage, though I like it, but I’d forgotten caraway seeds even existed, so the number of people saying “ick” to it surprised me.

When it comes to some of the less common dislikes, I enjoyed the creative nominations like liquid smoke and calamus root. I’ve never tried the latter. So, in case you have trouble reading the chart, here are the most disliked herbs and spices, with the least favorite ones listed first:

Cilantro15
Anise14
Sage7
Caraway seed6
Dill5
Rosemary5
Fennel4
Parsley4
Bergamot3
None3
Tarragon3
Thyme3
Basil2
Bay leaves2
Lavender2
Black pepper2
Almond paste1
Bay leaf1
Calamus root1
Cardamom1
Cayenne1
Celery1
Cumin1
Hibiscus1
Liquid smoke1
Mint1
Nutmeg1
Oregano1
Tumeric1
Least-loved herbs and spices

What’s Your Least-Favorite Herb or Spice?

Where the heck did that question come from? Well, yesterday I was eating yet another healthy frozen meal, and detected a distinct note of tarragon. Ick, I am not very fond of tarragon. It’s always in there ruining the flavor of chicken or green beans. Ugh. Those thoughts surprised me, because I think of myself as someone who loves all the little plants, seeds, and tasty bits that add flavor to food.

Tarragon is lurking in here. Image by  @JosiEpic via Twenty20.

But nope, I do not like tarragon. Sorry, plant. To be honest, dill doesn’t thrill me, either. I remember a period where I was eating a lot of my step-mother’s cooking. Flo would not cook with garlic, because she said it made her stink (and as a professional photographer, she had to get close to a lot of people). Instead, she seemed to sprinkle dill on everything. I understood fish and eggs. Those commonly get covered in dill (which I remove). But she ruined her wonderful roast vegetables with it, put it on mashed potatoes, etc. I suffered in silence.

Dill is so pretty, and easy to grow, though! And butterflies/caterpillars love it. Image by  @JulieK via Twenty20

On the other hand, I love most other spices and herbs, even some of the less popular ones. And I like hot things, too. Lucky me.

Lee won’t eat anything with “curry” flavor. So there go my beloved turmeric, coriander, and cumin. He always declares that things he doesn’t like have cumin in them, even when I know there isn’t any in there.

How can you not love curry? Image by @melaniephoto via Twenty20.
Tastes like delicious to me. Lee makes them leave is mostly out in guacamole when he has a choice. Boo hoo. Image by @melaniephoto via Twenty20.

And of course, there are the people who find coriander tastes like soap. They can’t help that, it’s a gene. I admit it is a bit odd, but it’s a flavor I just love.

And some people have allergies, like my friend Elizabeth, who had to give up her dream job as a chef when she found out how super-allergic she is to rosemary.

I’m not sure why I like some flavors and not others. But, I’m curious as to what herbs and spices ruin food for the rest of you. I look forward to your responses, whether on the blog or elsewise!

Now, this was a random Blogmas topic you could use in your own blog, right? Have a spicy day!

A 2020 Kind of Christmas Hope

Enjoying a raspberry Coke on the deck.

I’m tired. I’d hit all my exercise goals by 3 pm, so you know I’ve been physically active. It’s all good, though. Some of that time I even spent walking with my son. Finally. We got to walk and chat outside. It takes a lot of coordination to get to see each other, but it’s just so nice to hear stories of his work, his friends, and normal stuff like that. It was a pretty day, too. Cloudless!

I spent much of today outside, which was much better than the hours I spent yesterday in a chilly drizzle. My decoration and home improvements have been quite 2020. Allow me to explain.

Yesterday

I worked so hard that I bruised my hands, but I got stuff done I’d been putting off, boring things like changing the air conditioning filter that’s practically inaccessible in the attic, and replacing all the burned out porch light bulbs.

Oops

Unfortunately, the teeny nut that holds one fixture together fell out of my hand and landed somewhere under the deck. Anita and I searched for it, but no luck. I tried many things to save it, but failed big time. Duct tape only lasted a few minutes.

Ahh

Finally, today it occurred to me I had wire. It worked and hardly shows. 2020 ingenuity!

The main project I worked on yesterday was outdoor lights. Our next-door neighbor, Ruth, gave us 3 boxes of icicle lights. We had another one just like it, hanging around in the Big Box of Lights. So, I set about lining a long stretch of our deck with them. I used pushpins to hold them up (one way I got bruised). I finally finished, in a dripping rain, only to realize I’d put the female end on the far side, rather than close to the extension cord. Face palm. After going inside and sulking, I figured out a way to rearrange the cords to make them plug in. A 2020 Holiday Miracle.

You can sort of see the lights. This is right after I got them working.

I also set up some lights in a different spot from usual, down by the basement, where people driving by could see them. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that before. It was a start on a winter wonderland to match my indoor stuff.

Little sparkly trees outside the door to Anita’s den.

I managed to get up lights around the front door, with Anita’s help, and think it looks cheerful.

Not perfect, but okay. And the fact that I changed the bulbs in that porch light is a mini miracle. It was not easy.

Today

At some point, I had to drag myself inside and warm up. This morning, I was back at it, driven to use every single light we have. I’m not sure why I felt so strongly about it, but I think there were two reasons. One, it cheers me up to decorate. I’m not as good, nor do I have as many nice things as a lot of people who decorate do, but I have fun and it looks like “me” when it’s over with.

Cheesy, but cheery.

The other thing is I know how I get cheered up when I see cheerful lights on houses, and I just want to give back. No one’s going to be able to enjoy our inside lights but me and Anita, so I’m sharing 2020 Christmas Hope with others by my decorations.

I did NOT get a dumpster fire ornament. Proud of myself.

The first thing I did was complete the winter wonderland. I added our snowflake lights that we’ve had a few years down at ground level. I hope they look pretty. And then I also brought down our sleigh with a tree in it, which usually sits on the deck. I had no way to light it, thanks to my icicle-light-stringing faux pas, so it didn’t hurt to give it a new spot.

Here’s how it looks in the daytime.

I put some decorations on the rocking chair area on the porch, so it didn’t look neglected, and put some stuff in my sad Texas mountain laurel at the entrance to the deck, too.

Then I went into some kind of overdrive. Honestly, I had decided to tone down my lighting this year, you know, because it’s a somber time.

Looks so exciting.

But nope, I kept thinking of Anita walking Pickle, making her tea, or whatever. She needs cheer, as hard as she works every day. So every light that was left got strung in a tree branch.

From the other direction.

It’s not a thing of true beauty, but no matter what window you look out, you’ll see lights this year. Woo!

Obviously I need another extension cord. Back deck.

Plus, it’s a family tradition to just sorta throw lights on trees and call it done. Declan remembered us doing it at our Braesgate house for many years. Back then we used brooms to get higher in the trees. No professional light-stringing service for us! And it showed. But, it was cheerful.

Yes! You can see them from the road!

What’s left now is decorating our villa-sized tree. It may be the tree’s last year, since it no longer will sit up straight in its pot. Anita tied it up with string, and at least from the front it looks all right. From the side, though, it’s a 2020 Christmas tree.

It’s just leaning a LITTLE.

I feel better having done this. And a neighbor texted that it looks good. My 2020 Christmas is just fine.

They look good from inside, too.

Do whatever works for YOU to get through the season. I will support you! Now this is a real Blogmas post!

Ready for a disco party for me, Anita, and Pickle!

The Blogmas Bandwagon (What?)

I was reading a blog I enjoy a lot, and the author said she was participating in “Blogmas” this year. Oh boy, I thought, another hashtag, another way to fill your posts or compete with others…whatever. I thought about all those people who write a novel every year for some month (see how well THAT stuck with me?) and the UU Lent thing I do on Facebook every year. They do provide writing inspiration. I like writing inspiration. So, what’s Blogmas?

If you’re wondering what Blogmas is, I completely understand. Blogmas is a trendy tag that bloggers use to compete with the algorithm each Christmas season. You’re supposed to write a post every day leading up to Christmas. I’m not really trying to compete with any algorithm, and I can’t promise that I’ll even keep up with it. But, it does seem like an easy title to give my posts for the month of December.

V, “Blogmas” Day 2

I know I lose to the mysterious algorithm, myself, by not posting enough of the right keywords, not linking enough outside my blog or inside my blog, tagging with things only Suna would care about, etc. But, I’m doing fine. V is doing much finer, with nearly 8,000 followers and 80 likes on all her posts, but she’s young and interesting, and I’m me. So, no competition.

Thanks to abrewedawakening for this nice image.

Since I write a post every day, anyway, so dedicated reader Catherine will know I’m okay, I’m gonna go ahead and tag my posts leading up to the Yule celebration. Can’t hurt.

There are zillions of “things to write about for Blogmas” links out there, but I’ll choose to ignore them unless absolutely nothing happens in my life or my mine one day. I did get a chuckle out of some bloggers who declared that Blogmas is a gift to their readers, like they are just sitting around dying to read their content. Nah, my blog is a gift to ME, and I appreciate anyone who feels like checking it out.

Now, off to write something about what’s on my mind.

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