More Wanderlust

So yesterday, I used my State Holiday Comp Time (thanks, LBJ!) and went to Enchanted Rock, outside Fredericksburg.  I hadn’t been there in about 15 years; I need to go more often.  A lot of people come to Austin to do the hipster stuff, but it really is worth it to take a day and go out there – an easy 90 minute trip.  I’d been to the Steely Dan concert two nights before, so I was jamming out to those tunes on the way down.  That was my first ‘pop music’ concert – very interesting experience.  I really enjoyed it except the woman behind me who almost perforated my ear drums with her whistling.   But I digress…

I got there about 9:30 and essentially had the park to myself until about noon.  Unfortunately, it was an ozone-action day, so a bit hazy, but otherwise very nice.  I did the four-mile loop trail first, with a detour down the Turkey Pass Trail, and then did the summit climb – 425 feet ascent in about 0.6 miles.  That was a killer.  It reminded me of when we hiked Croagh Patrick in Ireland, except that Croagh Patrick kept going on, and on, and on, and on.

Anyroad, here are some of the sights.

The Flora  I was surprised to find lots of things blooming.  We’d just had several days of rain in the Hill Country, so perhaps these plants were taking advantage of it.  Lots of cactus with ruby red tunas; it reminded me of the southwest version of the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz.  Apart from the cacti, I don’t know what any of these are.

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Loop Trail  This is a mostly flat area around the granite dome that is Enchanted Rock.  This is what Central Texas and the Hill Country is supposed to look like – a mix of prairie and various scrub oaks.  My third great uncle, James Phillips Hudson, was the State of Texas surveyor in the 1830s and 40s and surveyed most of the land that is now Gillespie, Blanco, and LLano counties, including the Enchanted Rock area.  He was also a member of the 1st Texas Legislature, representing Fayette County.  It was interesting to think I was walking in his footsteps almost 200 years later.

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This is Moses Lake.

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The Summit   After I caught my breath after getting to the top, I got some great panorama shots.

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I managed to get a photo of one of the buzzards at the ‘water holes’ on top.

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Also at the top are chasms where several of the larger boulders have crashed together as well is little ‘islands’ where yuccas and cacti have taken hold.

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Oenology

So I recently had some really great wines that I wanted to share.  I’ve always been a firm believer that some of the best wines out there are under $15 dollars.  (Now don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t turn down a Chateau Margaux 1937, but at $920 a bottle, it seems unlikely I’ll ever get that opportunity.)

Anyroad, the shear number to wines to choose from today can be overwhelming, but I’ve realized that I’m really drawn to unusual labels.  Give these a try –

 

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Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi California

Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Lodi California, Michael David Winery

This cab is wonderful – very dark colour, rich stone fruit taste.  I had this with a grilled cheeseburger (new find – chipotle cheddar – outstanding) and okra fritters, but I can see this being a great pairing with short ribs.

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Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California

Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel, 2011, Lodi California, The Other Guys Winery

Zinfandels are my favourite and this is one of the better ones out there.  Dark, luscious, and substantial, I had this with barbequed sausage and sweet potato latkes.  That sounds heavy, but it worked perfectly.  (If you can get your hands on it, I definitely recommend V & V sausage, from Cistern, Texas.  It’s exactly what sausage is supposed to be!)

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Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon, Yolo County, California

Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Yolo County, California, Toasted Head Winery

I’ve had this before and it never disappoints.  Not has dark as other cabs, but it certainly holds its own.  I had this with Cashew Pork and Edamame over Udon noodles – a great pairing.

 

 

 

Wanderlust

So last week, I went hiking in the Barton Creek Greenbelt behind the house.  I still forget how lucky I am that I can just step out my back gate and be on the trail.  A bit like Bilbo Baggins.

It was one of those “Chamber of Commerce” weather days – amazing for mid-August – low 90s, a light wind from the north and no humidity at all.  You could smell the heat  – cedar.  There’s a great map you can get from the Save Our Springs Alliance Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail Map and Recreation Guide.

So this is what it looks like just a bit further down from the house.

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About 2 miles along the trail, you come to this great vista.  I think the houses are in Lost Creek, but I’m not quite sure.  (I’m horrible with directions.)

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Another picture from the same area – mostly scrub cedar here.

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This is one of my favorite places on this hike.  The stream that made this must have been pretty substantial at one time.  I saw two deer back in the woods, but of course I wasn’t ‘camera ready.’

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This tree is about 5 miles in.  I really like the way this is shaped.

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An interesting barbed-wire fence.

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And then back home again – 10-mile roundtrip in about 2 hours, so not bad for an old man.  (At least Starflight didn’t have to come get me.)

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Gardening Inspiration – China

It wasn’t intentional, but I found that several aspects of my garden were inspired by some of trips we’ve taken.  One of the most different from southwest Austin was our 2007 trip to China.  I really liked all the variations I found on Chinese Guardian Lions, Shishi, (aka Foo Dogs).  Here’s what we have on the deck…

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And here are a couple of the inspiration pieces…

Male Shishi - Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

Male Shishi – Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

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Female Shishi – Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

The other building I loved in Beijing was the Temple of Heaven.  The blue roof was amazing.

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Temple of Heaven – Beijing, China – 2007

And here’s what’s in the back yard (ok, this one is a stretch but it’s the blue element I was after).

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There was a park just northwest of the Forbidden City – Beihai Park  – that offer the first Buddhas we’d see all over China.  First mine…

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And the inspirations –

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Buddha Shrine, Beihai Park, Beijing, China 2007

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Buddha Shrine – Great Goose Pagoda, Xian, China 2007

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The Ghost City of Fengdu was a trip and a half.  It was supposed to be ‘Chinese Hell’ I think.  (It sure felt like it; subtropical heat and humidity with no wind…yikes!).  These are the ‘Soul Judges’ the dearly departed meets in the afterlife…

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Soul Judges – Ming Hill, Fengdu Ghost City, China 2007

And finally, some landscapes from Beijing that I had in mind for the ‘Asian’ part of the yard.

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Asia in Central Texas

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Our bamboo gate in ‘Little Asia’

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Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007

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Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007

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Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007

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Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007

Staving off dotage is not for the faint-of-heart…

So for various reasons, I’ve been concerned about potentially declining memory and mental faculties.  To that end, I got a subscription to Lumosity for my birthday in June.  Lumosity is a website that has computer games that are designed to increase memory and mental acuity.  You ‘train’ everyday on five different exercises.  It calculates a ‘Brain Performance Index’ (BPI) made up of five components:  Memory, Attention, Speed, Flexibility, and Problem Solving.  (There’s a great piece in the July 29th New Yorker by Patricia Marx about all the different kinds of ‘brain training’ available.  Lumosity is just a drop in the bucket apparently. )

Anyroad, here are my current BPI indicators (this is so personal – I feel a bit like Anthony Weiner):

lumosity bpi

You’ll note that ‘Problem Solving’ is rather low.  If you delve further, you’ll find that Lumosity shows you how you compare with others in your age group and offers some words of encouragement, e.g. “You’re in a good place – now challenge yourself to get even better.”  Based upon my actual performance on the problem-solving games, I think Lumosity is dying to show this instead: “OMG!!!  Were you hit in the head with a ball-peen hammer?!?”  Sometimes I wonder.

Most of these Lumosity games I simply do not get.  Growing up in rural England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I missed out on Pac-Man and Asteroids, so video games are anathema to me.  And as a child, the extent of my other game playing was Go Fish! and Candyland – not much strategery there.  In school, we played Spanish and French BINGO!  Spanish was fine, but French is awkward.  The 70s, 80s, and 90s are too much like math; 70 is 60 +10; 80 and 90 are 4 twenties (99 is 4 twenties and 19 – wow).   We also played a variant of Scrabble in German.  It was in teams and the object was to get the longest word.  Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (speed limit) was the Holy Grail.   So in general, I’m not much of a game player.

The worst problem-solving games though are the math ones.  Uhg.  These little ‘rain drops’ are falling down the screen with math problems in them – 7+2; 5X3; 8-3; etc.  You’re supposed to solve the problem before the rain drop hits the ground.  While I vividly remember the pain of learning my times tables in 3rd Grade, apparently everything above the 5s was summarily dumped from my brain a decade later, likely to make room for the intricacies of the fief structure of the Tokugawa Shogunate for my ‘Japanese Politics’ class.  I should have retained my times tables; there’s rarely ever a need in everyday life to speak on the pros and cons of the Tozama daimyo.  But I digress… when the little rain drop math problems involve multiplication or division with 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s, I completely panic and my score plummets, thus my poor problem-solving score. 

Notwithstanding the fact that my problem-solving skills place me in the nit-wit category, my memory and flexibility are “forces to be reckoned with” according to Lumosity, so I’m not panicking yet.  And as long as I remember to put pants on when I go to work, I call it a good day.

I am a camera.

I’ve been pretty busy lately so haven’t had much time to post anything.  Brian’s parents are on their grand tour of Europe; six weeks and more countries than I can keep count of.  Each afternoon we look forward to his mother’s recap of the day.  They make me want to pack my bags.  She’s an excellent observer and I hope she takes up blogging when they return – she’s a natural.

beer can chicken

Am still playing around with the camera – hopefully I’m getting better.  So this is just a lazy-man’s post…throwing up some recent photos.  These are mostly of the yard, but some odds-and-ends as well.

 

A couple of weeks ago, we made beer-can chicken.  I’ve always wanted to do that.  It came out great, but the rub was ‘blow-your-head-off’ hot; not for the faint of heart!

Beer-Can Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1   can light lager
  • 1   3 1/2–4-lb. chicken
    2   tablespoons  4-3-2-1 Spice Rub  (4 tablespoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 2  tablespoons paprika, and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper)

Special equipment

  • A foil baking pan (for drip  pan)

Preparation

  • Pour out (or drink) half of beer.
  • Prepare grill for high, indirect heat and fit with grill pan  (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on 1 side of grill and put drip pan on empty  side; for a gas grill, leave 1 burner turned off and place drip pan over unlit  burner). Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.
  • Season chicken with 4-3-2-1 Spice Rub. Place cavity of  chicken, legs pointing down, onto open can so that it supports chicken upright.  Place can, with chicken, on grill over indirect heat (and above drip pan). Grill  chicken, 

    covered, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted  into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°, 45–60 minutes. (If using  charcoal, you may need to add more to maintain heat.) Let chicken rest 10  minutes before carving. Serve with pan drippings.

  • * Wing tip *

    Use a can opener to remove the entire top of the beer can  (pour out half). It’ll maximize the boozy vapors that make it to the  chicken.

My Evergreen Wisteria (Millettia reticulate) is blooming again.  I love this flower – it’s almost purple-black.

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Evergreen Wisteria

My Mexican Firebush (Hamelia patens); plumbago (Plumbaginaceae); lantana (verbenaceae); and shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana) are all doing very well.  Shrimp plant is another great garden workhorse I highly recommend.  It does very well in shade and blooms a dark strawberry colour during December.

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Mexican Firebush

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Lantana

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Plumbago and Daisy Bush

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Shrimp Plant

 

This was one of my inspiration pieces for the garden design – the “Provence meets  Austin backyard” theme.  Just a simple fleur de lis garden hose guard, but it really is one of my favourite things.

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My inspiration – fleur de lis hose guard

 

Out front, this is one of my other inspirations…apparently it’s called an armillary sphere – before Google, I suppose these were just thing-a-ma-bobs or doohickeys.

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Armillary Sphere

 

I really liked these photos of my meditating Buddha and one of my Indian stone wall lamps.

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Buddha in a meadow. I don’t think Bodhi trees grow in Central Texas.

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Indian wall stone lantern

I can never, ever remember the name of this shrub.  I’ve taken heaps of pictures of the label when I see it at ‘The Natural Gardener,’ but somehow, the name just doesn’t stick.  The blue glass is a shade from the old kitchen light fixtures we had; I love this colour combination.

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Shrub whose name I cannot remember.

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Just an artsy photo.

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Blue glass LED light shade from the kitchen

 

Yesterday, I hung a newly acquired suet feeder.  This one has a copper roof.  I’ve gone to great lengths to squirrel-proof it.  So far, so good.  A few days ago I saw a woodpecker in the tree; I hope this feeder keeps it around.

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My new suet feeder – bring on the woodpeckers!

 

And to conclude… A few days ago, my mother and I went on a driving tour through Fayette County.  In Flatonia, I finally found the house my grandmother was born in.  The fascinating thing about this house is that the chimney has a rock from each of the states (at that time).

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The house in Flatonia, Texas where my grandmother was born – been looking for this for ages.