Enchanted Rock

This last weekend, I went on a little weekend trip with my family. Mom drove Grandma back to Harlingen at the beginning of the week, and I was sad to see her go. I’ve been going out to GP to see her about three times a week for the last month. Lindsey flew there and met Mom, and they drove to San Marcos to do some outlet shopping. Dad, Lindsey’s boyfriend Shea and I drove down and met them in Llano, where we spent the night. I thought the Llano winery was there, but apparently it’s in Lubbock. Cause that makes more sense.

The next morning, everyone but Mom got up early and headed to Enchanted Rock, a giant rock in the Hill Country we Texans call a “mountain.” This is the view of a neighboring rock on the way up.img_7216

We took the straight, quick path up the rock and decided to take a longer, more circuitous way down. The hike up was fast but tough – it’s pretty steep. The rock face is pretty smooth, and there were rocks scattered around, some trees and cactus. It was early morning, so it was still pretty cool out. We stopped a lot and took pictures while we breathed and looked back at how high we’d gotten. Dad and I raced a few times, and the pictures of me sitting down on the rock in exhaustion are pretty funny, but they’re on Dad’s camera. But don’t worry – there are some embarrassing photos of me a little further on here.

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We got to the top after about an hour (maybe less), and the view was pretty spectacular, by Texas standards. The Hill Country is really one of the only areas of the state with significant heights; it’s pretty flat as a general rule. There were little craters along the top area where water pools, and there were some pretty little plants, flowers and moss ponds.

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We stayed at the top for a bit and then headed down the back side.

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This is where things started to get a little sticky. Look how happy I look – no idea the scariness that awaits me!

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The back side is extremely steep in places. I don’t know what the whole thing looks like, but in the area we were trying to get down, there were two choices for downhill terrain: climbing across giant, flat rocks with big, deep cracks, or climbing into/out of/through little cave-type areas where rocks had fallen down around each other. Here are the flat rocks.

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We decided the little caves might be a little easier than the big, flat rocks, especially since Shea told us he’s done it before. Here we are entering the mini-caves – they were actually a lot of fun to play around in, and good exercise.

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We got through several just fine, for almost an hour actually, and then, as we were getting down toward the valley between the two giant rocks, we got stuck in what Lindsey dubbed the Cave O’ Death. It was like Hotel California! We slid down into it and found no easy way out, but we had slipped down into it from such an angle that made it nearly impossible (for us amateurs) to get out. Here are Dad and Lindsey climbing down into it.That area behind her was really steep, and she had on slippery shorts!

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That’s Lindsey trying to find a way under the rock instead of over it, as Shea suggested she do. It was funny. Inside, Dad, Shea and Lindsey all made it up on this giant rock near what we thought was an exit, but I refused, seeing an 8-foot ravine right next to it. I haven’t felt that kind of primal fear many times in my life – the ominous feeling that tells you that you will die if you do what you’re about to do – but it was quite clear in telling me not to attempt it! I decided to go the other way instead, toward two teeny tiny high openings on the other side, and Dad came with me so I didn’t have to go alone. It took a while, but we shimmied up the rock wall and through a hole not much bigger than a doggie door. Only scratched my legs a little. Lindsey and Shea had a harder time of it – they met a dead end at the top of the Rock O’ Death, and I’m not quite sure how they got out – they may have climbed up the way we came in. Lindsey had to climb down and up and down again on that giant scary rock, and she scraped her arm at some point in the process. She did good, though! I was very proud of her!

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After we all made it out of and around the Cave O’ Death and down the big, flat rocks, there was another surprise waiting for us! There was a wide, flat area leading down to the valley trail. It was an extremely steep angle, and getting down it required crab walking on your butt, feet and hands. There were a few big rocks to hold onto, but they were at such weird angles that they weren’t much help. It was about 30 feet of rock face to roll down if you slipped, and I have to say, it was scary! There was a big rock wall in front of us, and I just kept picturing smashing my poor little head against it! Shea went first, then Dad, then Lindsey and then me. I just kept thinking hey, if Lindsey can do this in her slippery shorts, I can do it! I went really slow, and I eventually made it to the next area. At some point, a dude in rock-climbing shoes walked upright past me like, hey, what are you doing on the ground? It was a little embarrassing, but whatever – look at this thing! Am I crazy or does sliding down this thing on your face sound a little scary??

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It was around this point where I cut my finger on a sharp rock, and I started bleeding a little. It kind of surprised me because it didn’t really hurt, and I got blood all over my shirt and my camera before realizing it. Here’s a little of my blood that I left on the mountainside (!). To keep it from bleeding all over me, I held my finger up in the air as I climbed across the rock down to the trail below. I fully realized how stupid I looked at the time, so here are some photos Lindsey took for your heckling pleasure. Have you ever seen that episode of Frazier where Niles catches his apartment on fire with his iron while he’s cooking dinner and cuts his finger with some scissors and keeps passing out at the sight of his blood, so he holds his finger up in the air so he can’t see it? It was kind of like that, without the fainting or the Jack Russell Terrier or the fire.

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We eventually made it down to the path, much to my sad little relief. Shea gave us Band-aids and we sat and took a break before walking the trail around the whole place. The trail was much more interesting that anything around Dallas – it went up and down rock hills, over little streams, and we saw lots of different kinds of cactus, flowers, plants and trees. It was a really pretty day, sunny and cool, and aside from the scary parts, it was awesome! In recent years, my dad has turned into Awesome Mountain Man – he bikes, hikes, and kayaks on a weekly basis, weather permitting. He wants us all to try Texoma and the Fort Worth Nature Center next in preparation for a trip to Palo Duro Canyon. I told him as long as we don’t attempt amateur spelunking again, I’m good to go!

When we were done with the rock, we were rewarded with Cooper’s BBQ, which is apparently quasi-famous – W drives over from Crawford periodically (I wonder if he has to wait in line). You line up outside the restaurant, and it ends at the outdoor BBQ pit. They have every meat you could ever want, and you point at what you want, and they cut a portion of it, dip it into the sauce bucket, and slap it down onto a cafeteria-style tray. Then you carry that inside, and they weigh and price it, and you get whatever extras you want (the sweet tea was awesome). The meat comes with all-you-can-eat beans in a big pot on each side of the restaurant. But these are no ordinary beans – they’re real beans, like Mexican bean soup, complete with whole jalapenos floating in them.

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I had the brisket, which was quite amazing. But then I tried some of Dad’s chicken (the best by far of all the meat I tried there), and in my exuberance to get more spilled my ramekin of “Witches Brew,” the sauce you dip your meat in. Each table comes with its own jar of whole jalapenos. A mark of a good restaurant, in my opinion. Good stuff, that Cooper’s BBQ. All in all, a great weekend!

Community Garden: Week 4

We’re making progress in the garden! Here’s a photo of Week 4.

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We’ve got the bulk of the February/March stuff in the ground, so the last couple of weeks has been mostly about successive plantings of a few things, weeding, and taking in the 4 days of rain Mother Nature sent us last week! The free water was awesome, and our seedlings are looking very sturdy (aside from the two white cabbages that failed). Weeding in the mud showed me that I am going to need separate garden shoes and gym shoes, for sure. This is bottom of Jon’s shoe.

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Jon shored up the back wall, as it was looking a little ragged. Rob took out the cilantro and parsley in the back and made us some nice, civilized rows. Jen took the last lettuce and made an awesome-looking salad, and she made some hills and planted a yellow squash after these photos were taken, but I’m not sure what kind. So we have some more room down at the end. Not sure what will go there yet.

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We have garlic sprouts peeking out. They’re not uniform, but there are 5 or 6 of them, out of the 20 I planted. I don’t know if that means we’re seeing the early growers or if the rest failed. Anyone know? Below that, the unidentified plant/vine growing next to the garlic began to bloom. Still don’t know what it is, but it’s prettier now that it’s green.

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My favorite part of this week was our broccoli crowns! Look! We’ve seen a lot of growth just in this month, but the broccoli budding up from the center of this plant has been the highlight of it all for me. To have started this from a seedling, taken care of it, watered it, weeded around it, and then to see it turn into something identifiable as real, live food – that’s just darn cool.

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During Week 3, we planted potatoes in this chicken-wire cage. As the plant grows, we’ll add more and more soil in the barrel. A plant will grow out of the top, flower, and then supposedly when the flower withers, the potatoes will be ready. Or something like that, so sayeth Redenta’s staff. No sprouts yet.

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We finished work on our plot Sunday afternoon and stayed to help out with the herb garden area. There are going to be several pots of various herbs around this tree, and then there’s going to be an entire bed just of basil, which I’m very excited about. The first photo is Jon and Richie working on the flower bed, then Jon and Courtney wrestling an overgrown vine in the herb garden bed, and then the whole herb garden area. The basil bed is on the left side there.

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While Jon dug and hacked, I played with some of the Cabbage Patch Kids – Perl, Coleman, Henry and Genevieve.

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The one in pink is Perl. She’s my favorite (shhh). I changed her diaper, and we bonded:)

The last couple weeks have underscored for me why we’re doing this as part of a group, and why my individual attempts at growing things at home have mostly failed. For one, Jon has been working a lot, and his schedule has been tight. Then we went out of town together a couple weekends ago, and we had to shift schedules with Jen and Rob. Jen had a business trip in the middle of Week 3. Plus, it rained for 4 days, which is fairly unusual. The schedule we had begun with had to be modified to fit our individual weekly schedules and the weather. With four of us, this has been totally manageable, even with two of us living 20 minutes from the site. I also really enjoyed hanging out with the other garden folks who have been around while we were. The community aspect has been really awesome during this stage – helping and being helped to create something communal yet personal. On to Week 5!

FINALLY, a heroine I can get behind!

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I recently saw a great little movie called Happy-Go-Lucky. I’m not the hugest fan of British cinema or TV, honestly, so it was slightly annoying on that front (and to be honest, they could have cut out a good 40 minutes and it would have been even better, although I have been known to have a heavy cutting hand, so maybe that’s just me). What I really liked was the exploration of a character without the pathos of most cinematic heroines these days. So many movies these last few decades are deconstructing what it means to be a thinking adult in a very scary world, and the product is a canon of unsettling, depressing, dark celluloid. While it is a very scary world out there, it’s also a beautiful one, in my estimation, and while I understand that fact does not make for fascinating film fodder, it makes me appreciate films like this one.

Poppy is the main character, and she’s a free-spirited, elementary-school teacher with an overly-optimistic view of life. We see her in many facets of her life, how she deals with realities around her, and people in her life that do not see the world the way she does. I sometimes feel a little like this girl. Call me naive if you like, but I refuse to give in to the darkness around me just because I have a brain and can understand the realities of what is happening out there.

This is an excerpt of a review of the movie and the character of Poppy that I wanted to share! As a woman working in the media, I’d like to see more of this kind of story being told, and it’s part of my master plan to help make that happen! Kudos to Mike Leigh.

http://www.thehousenextdooronline.com/2009/03/realists-and-philosopher-kings-quiet.html

“As we get to know Poppy, we realize that she is not naïve at all but, rather, that she is simply a person who has the audacity to be emotionally mature. She has seen the world for what it is and she does have the moral wherewithal to productively deal with it. This is not a sardonic look at a world that does not accept our protagonist, who must therefore learn to “love herself,” as we see in many hit indie movies these days. Poppy is perfectly fine with who she is, and, what’s more, most of those who are close to her are perfectly fine with who she is as well. This is not because she is some lovable, quirky loser but, rather, because she is excellent at her job; because she is a good friend, an understanding sister and an attractive lover; and because she has the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with the troubling situations she encounters. Poppy is not a lovable underdog, nor is her happy demeanor a guise for some hidden failing or insecurity. Leigh’s film is very much an honest and unflinching look at what is real, but it is a different side of the real than we are accustomed to. It is a study of a character who is not emotionally damaged, or irreparably morally flawed.”

Top 5 Fabulous Things of the Week 3.15.09

1. There’s a little shop called Shambhala in Dallas’ Bishop Arts District, and I bought some lotion there for Jon’s mother’s birthday last weekend. I tried it when she opened it, and it was so wonderful that I went back there today and bought some for myself (after rifling through her closet when she was in the bathroom to get another dallop!). I have been on a life-long search for the Perfect Lotion because I have Freakishly Dry Hands, and the current title winner is unscented Fruit of the Earth Vitamin E, which you can get at Wal-mart or dollar stores, surprisingly. This locally-made, natural Shambhala lotion gives it a run for its money, and it’s got way fewer scary chemicals in it. If you’re over there, check it out. Or just go check out Bishop Arts – they’ve got all kinds of restaurants, shops, galleries, etc.

2. Last weekend was Jon’s mom’s birthday party. We drove to Austin, and everyone stayed with Jon’s sister, Jenny, and her husband, Matt. They just had a baby, Steven, and this was my first chance to meet him. We bonded. It was awesome! Oh, and I got Jon to change a diaper. That was even more awesome. And yes, there are pictures.

3. Sore arms from gardening is so much more of a fulfilling feeling than sore muscles from watching action movies at a gym.

4. Jon and I have been going to a new church for about a month, Church in the Cliff, and it’s really wonderful. It’s this really wonderful little community of people who meet in a community center in Oak Cliff. They’re, across the board, very welcoming, very intelligent, and very inclusive of a wide range of spiritual backgrounds. We’ve been to many churches over the last 6 months trying to find something that resonates for both of us, but this one is by far the best match. Have you ever met someone out in the world and knew immediately and clearly that you were meant to be friends, and it actually seemed as if you’d always known them? That’s how this community feels to me, and has from the first day. As cheesy at it sounds, I feel more like myself than I have in years, I’m really enjoying getting to know them.

5. I have found exactly one pair of khaki pants in my entire life that I have loved. I wore a hole in them years ago, long after the zipper quit working and the ends frayed, and I eventually had to give them up. I recently found a new pair at the same store, American Eagle, and I LOVE them. I don’t normally shop there, but apparently, even years later, their khakis are made for me! Yay!

Bonus #6: A quote from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which I’m re-reading as we go through the gardening seasons. “Farmers aren’t just picturesque technicians. They are memory banks, human symbionts with their ground.” As I’ve been out there, working the ground, I’ve found the strangest items in the soil: a string of chain link, a shoe sole, an animal bone, a steel wool scrubber pad, pieces of broken glass. It’s like an archaeological dig! It helps me remember that land is not something to be owned, only to be cared for and tended to for a while and then passed on to the next generation. Makes me want to make sure I’m doing as little environmental harm as possible during my little life blip, to make sure that generations from now, someone will still be able to harvest food from the ground, dig up the lip balm container that fell out of my pocket and wonder who it belonged to.

In the News

I found some great stuff online recently that I thought I’d share.

1. http://acomplaintfreeworld.org/aboutus.html

There’s a non-profit organization dedicated to the pursuit of a complaint-free world! They send out purple bracelets like the yellow LiveStrong ones to help people remind themselves not to complain, to encourage positive cooperation. How great is that? Yes, I know there’s a colored bracelet for every cause under the sun, but I think this is a great use of an over-used phenomenon. If that makes me a dirty hippie, so be it! Here’s a quote from their FAQ page:

“Complaining spreads negative energy and negative energy cannot create a positive outcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t stand before thousands in Washington, DC and shout, “Isn’t it awful how we’re being treated?” No. He shared his dream of a day when all children of all races would play and live together in peace and harmony. His vision galvanized our country and created positive change. For you to affect change, paint a bright vivid picture of the problem already solved and share this with as many people as you can.”

2. http://thesapling.tumblr.com/post/82957081/i-have-an-idea

In the same vein, check out this awesome post from “the sapling tumbles” on the power of positive thinking during the economic downturn. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hey, how ‘bout instead of telling each other how bad everything is all the time, we cut that out? What good is it doing? I mean, sure it’s good to be informed as to what’s going on, but the constant speculation that life as we know it is about to come to an end, and surely what will come after this will be horrible, and also, it’s the apocolypse and we’re all gonna die, are not helpful. If anything, the constant talking about it only adds fuel to the fire, doesn’t it? I feel like we’re all enabling each other to go ahead and panic. Let’s just stop it, shall we?”

3. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/03/endangered.species.act/index.html

President Obama (that’s still fun to say) just moved to reverse some of the ridiculous and dangerous damage the Bush administration did recently to the Endangered Species Act! This is a big deal, and it’s a policy change that will save countless species and aid our planet’s biodiversity, which will help keep us alive, too. And that’s a good thing. This is EXACTLY why I voted for this man. Score one for science and rational thought:)

“Under the Bush administration rule, there was no need for a federal agency to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Services if that agency determined that no harm would come to an endangered species as a result of its project. But the determination of what ‘no harm’ meant rested with agency bureaucrats instead of scientists. Obama issued a memorandum that effectively suspends the regulation while ordering a review to determine whether it promotes ‘the purposes of the [Endangered Species Act].’

“‘The work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected,’ Obama said. ‘For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation’s most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it.'”

Community Garden, Week 2

This weekend was mostly spent working on the garden. And that is mostly due to the fact that the soil in this part of Texas is really, really hard, rocky clay. These are just some of the rocks that we pulled out of the garden soil as we worked. It took forever to amend the soil – chipping out the clay bit by bit, removing the rocks, mixing in compost, new soil, and Redenta’s bed starter – but hopefully, we’ll get more vegetables out of it this way.

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We planted radishes and spinach from seed last week, and I got so excited over our little sprouts! Yay! It’s working!

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We decided first of all to re-work the edges of the raised bed to make it a little more orderly and pretty (I’m working with an architect and an engineer, here, so right angles and orderly rows are very important!), so we moved the boards around, added some bricks to hold them in place, and tightened up the corners. We’re going to plant flowers inside the cinder blocks when the weather warms up a bit.

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After that, we dug the asparagus bed. If you don’t know anything about asparagus, it’s one of the only vegetables that, once planted, will bear fruit year after year, whereas most crops must be replanted each season. In fact, asparagus will keep producing spears for a couple of decades if you maintain it well. If we stuck around this plot long enough, we’d have asparagus until we’re 50! Unfortunately, if you’re starting from scratch, it takes three years to grow asparagus to the point that it will give you anything. I found some root systems already developed called “crowns” that will give you asparagus after one year, so we won’t have to wait too terrible long. I know that seems like a lot of work for a payoff way too far away, but imagine 8 weeks every spring with a fresh bundle of asparagus EVERY DAY. FOR FREE. FOR TWENTY YEARS. Even if we don’t keep this plot very long, I feel like leaving a legacy of nutrition and tastiness in my wake is a good thing! The tough part is that to help the root systems develop the right way, you have to dig a foot and a half into the ground, which takes a lot of elbow grease.

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Those little oblong things there are the crowns. After the asparagus, I planted garlic, enough for about 20 heads if they all work. You plant it one unpeeled clove at a time, pointy side up, about two inches down. I think I pulled a bicep muscle doing this! I was really sore Sunday:)

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While I worked on garlic, Jon dug into the clay to prepare for the carrots we put in Sunday. The soil on the carrot end of the plot was super hard, so it was slow going and rather frustrating, but he did it. We will soon have the arms of Michelle Obama.

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We planted two kinds of carrots. One set is long like regular carrots, but they’re purple. Apparently, historically, people have been eating purple carrots far longer than the orange ones we know. Who knew? The second is an heirloom variety, and they’re going to be orange, bulby and sweet.

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That was pretty much all we got to this weekend – asparagus, garlic and carrots. We had planned on planting potatoes, as it’s about to be too late, but digging up the soil took so long that we didn’t get to it. This chicken wire is going to be the container for them, though. The lady at Redenta’s said that you kind of build up inches of soil bit by bit as the plant grows inside the barrel/container/wire. It sounds kind of complicated, but we’re going to attempt it anyway. Organic potatoes are so expensive that I think it’ll be worth it if we can get them to grow.

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If you don’t have back yard but have at least an apartment porch, you can get one of these nifty tent-material potato barrels and grow them above ground!

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We had a community garden meeting Sunday afternoon, where we met the other gardeners.  They’re all really nice. We’re the only plot of people that’s not a couple with kids. It was great to meet other people who care about food, nutrition, taste, quality, and the importance of connecting yourself and your children to your food supply. Here are a few of them working.

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We decided to go ahead with a dozen or so chickens (everyone, not just us). There’s the makings of a coop structure in the back, but we need to attach a front to it and clean the area up, fence it in, and, most importantly, learn how to take care of chickens! Anyone know??

So, it was a successful Week 2…hopefully in another week, we’ll have potatoes under way, plus another round of radishes and spinach. Have a good week! Think sprouty thoughts for our seeds!