Odds and Ends


I know I’ve been posting pretty erratically.  I’m still schlepping up to Abilene each week; sometimes twice.  I’ll be so glad when I can finally put that venerable city in my rear-view mirror permanently.  Ah well – that’s probably a while off for now.  Unfortunately, these Abilene sojourns are putting me way behind schedule in the garden.  I doubt I’ll be able to catch up this year – 2014 might actually end up being mulchless…sigh.

The trips to Abilene aren’t all that bad, though.  The wild flowers are stupendous this year.  Here’s a stretch on Highway 71 in Mason County between Llano and Brady.

mason county2

So, I past the half-century mark last Sunday.  Funny, I’m 50 but I feel 105.  Doubtless I’m that old geezer that yells “Hey…you kids…get off my lawn!”  I realized that I was old…really old…when I was setting up my mother’s apartment at the assisted living place and, when going through her CDs I thought, “Who listens to this rubbish?!? – AD/DC; Def Leppard; Rush; Cinderella; etc.”  My mother seems to be more hip than me.  My CD collection – vast as it is – starts with polyphonic chant from England and France and taps out at about 1938 with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey.  During a recent visit, my sister was going on about Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Kanye West.  I’m not sure I know who either of these people are.  She looked at me like I was crazy when I said that Artie Shaw had been married to both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and that Betty Grable and Harry James had been married.  I really think I’m quite fossilized.

In the yard, it’s been rather like a horror show.  Two weeks ago, I found a six-foot long shed rattlesnake skin in the storage bin where I keep some of my gardening equipment.  I needed a few stiff drinks after that.

rattle snake skin1

Rattlesnake Skin – 6-foot – YIKES!

At the same time, there was an industrious spider who build a 10-foot wide web between two trees.  The spider was about that same size as a Kennedy half-dollar – another old-geezer reference.  It was fascinating that the birds seem to be able to see the web and avoid it for the most part.

SI Exif

This evening was a big grilling event.  The main course was grilled pizza, but I didn’t get a selffeed of that.  But here are the corn, carrots, and orange bell pepper I roasted.

corn and carrots

And with the grilled pizza, I had a fantastic Pinot Noir – Arrogant Frog.  A French wine from the Laguedoc, I highly recommend it!

arrogant frog

Arrogant Frog Pinot Noir

Here are some miscellaneous photos from the garden – hope everybody is having a great June!

celtic cross

Celtic cross in buddleia and Turks’ Cap

white althea

White Althea

caladium and buddah

Caladiums and Buddah



Now is the Month of Maying

Still haven’t had much leisure time lately, but May is here and finally had a free day to work in the garden.

The end of April-beginning of May is the wrap up of the opera season in Houston.  Last weekend was ‘Das Rheingold,’ the start of HGO’s four-year Ring Cycle.  I’ve never seen ‘Rheingold’ and was really looking forward to it.  The music was great, but the staging was typically bizarre.  The Rhein  Maidens were in plexiglass boxes filled with water.  Their costumes looked like something straight out of Barbarella.  Wotan, Fricka, Donner, and Froh were wheeled about on stage in these weird looking things that look like what the power company uses to fix transformers on power lines.  Loge went riding about on stage on a Segway.  Again – bizarre.  After the opera, we ate at Cook and Collins.  A nice place, but challenging to get to.

Friday was Carmen.  What can I say – it was Carmen.  We ate at Batanga, a really interesting South American Tapas bar.  I’d go there again.

So today was my free day in the garden.  I planted a couple of things.  Most interesting was a lantana which had been trained to be a topiary – I hope I can maintain it.

SI Exif

And my clematis is doing very well this year – enjoy!

SI Exif

SI Exif


The Old Year Now is Fled Away

It’s hard to believe the year is almost gone; but Winter is definitely here.  I’m sitting outside and it’s 51F/10C, but I’m bundled up and fortified with an exceptionally large mug of glühwein.  So fortified, as a matter of fact, that I determined to honor the word of the year – selfie – with my first one.

sock monkey1

Sock Monkey Cap – Shameless

I suppose a 49-year-old man has no business wearing a sock monkey cap, but there you are.

I was finally able to get out into the garden and do some clean-up.  For the most part, December has been quite cold with several hard freezes.  There really weren’t any last year, so the garden didn’t look as desolate as it does this year.  Actually, winter really teaches me patience and to look for uncommon beauty.  Anyroad, here are some photos from the garden at the start of winter.  Luckily I have next week off, so hopefully I can provide some very delayed posts of our October vacation this year.  If I wait any longer, I’ll be posting them at the same time as next year’s trip to Germany and Norway.

Rather pedestrian, but I really enjoy getting my load of firewood for the year.  For the past several years, I’ve been using Austin Firewood.  I used to order from a place that just dumped it in the driveway, but Austin Firewood actually stacks it for you!  I think they had some problems with their website this year, but per usual, nothing but great service from them.  If you need firewood, definitely call them!

SI Exif

Half A Cord of Seasoned Oak Firewood

Since we turned the breakfast room into Brian’s aquarium last year, we can’t keep the ficus trees in there when it freezes, so we bought a portable greenhouse that I saw at the Natural Gardener.  The Flower House pop-up green house is pretty easy to put up (two people, 25 minutes – in a stiff wind, no less), and it works very well, but I have to admit, it does block the view of a large part of the garden for four months.  In the best of all possible worlds, I’d like to install a garden shed on the northwest corner that would house the plants when needed.

SI Exif

Pop-Up Green House – No Frozen Ficuses

The only remaining colour I have in the garden is from the holly trees and my Japanese maple.  I’m not sure if it’s just the species, or if the placement is bad, or what, but my Japanese maple is red only twice a year – when it leafs out in March/April and the week before Christmas, when the leaves fall off.  Anyroad, it’s stunning, particularly at night.

SI Exif

Japanese Maple

SI Exif

Holly Berries

SI Exif

Holly Berries

I am so excited because I am regularly visited by a family of wood peckers!  (Perhaps I need a social life…)  Anywho, here are some photos I got while it was feeding on the suet feeder.  There’s just something really prehistoric about these birds.

SI Exif

Red-Headed Woodpecker

SI Exif

Red-Headed Woodpecker

SI Exif

Red-Headed Woodpecker

I seem to return to familiar themes; here’s the birdhouse my great grandfather made when he was a boy.

SI Exif

Papoo’s Birdhouse

And here’s my scrap-metal chicken and an empty earn.

SI Exif

Sad Chicken and Empty Urn

And to close out with a wine recommendation.  Recently, I picked up a bottle of Caricature Red Wine from Lange Twins winery.  A cab and zinfandel blend from Lodi, it was one of the best reds I’ve had in a very long time.  I got it primarily for the papparadelle in pumpkin parmesan sauce we had.  Spicy and smoky with a full-on stone fruit taste, it worked exceptionally well with the heavy but homey sauce.  I’ll definitely get this again!  Happy Holiday to all!!




It’s Fall!

Ah, September and Fall – my favourite time of the year.  Of course in Central Texas, that means lower ’90s, but I’ll take what I can get.  Today is exceptionally beautiful.  After Friday’s rain – between five and seven inches…woo hoo! and Saturday’s transition, today turned out to be clear and fine.  And I love September light; more golden and heavy dappled through the elm tree.

The humming birds are still around, but will probably take off in the next couple of weeks.  The blue jays are more active – and more screechy…another Fall sound.  More owl activity at night, too.

The garden is still thriving.  August wasn’t overly hot, so there’s not that droopy, exhausted look you sometimes get in September.  Here are some recent photos…

A gigantic spider web I found one morning – still amazed by the engineering feat.

SI Exif

My newest tchotchke – a hanging glass sphere I got at The Natural Gardener.

SI Exif

The morning glories are coming back to life.

SI Exif

A new coleus.

SI Exif

I put out my Fall garden decorations.  I love this scrap-metal scare crow – a tea light goes in its head.

SI Exif

The black-eyed Susans still going strong.

SI Exif

And the Turk’s Caps, too.

SI Exif


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.


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.)


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


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.’

creek bed


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


An interesting barbed-wire fence.


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.)


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…

SI Exif

And here are a couple of the inspiration pieces…

Male Shishi - Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

Male Shishi – Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

SI Exif

Female Shishi – Forbidden City, Bejing, China 2007

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

SI Exif

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).

SI Exif

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…

SI Exif

And the inspirations –

SI Exif

Buddha Shrine, Beihai Park, Beijing, China 2007


Buddha Shrine – Great Goose Pagoda, Xian, China 2007


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…


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.

SI Exif

Asia in Central Texas

SI Exif

Our bamboo gate in ‘Little Asia’


Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007


Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007


Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007


Garden of Tranquil Longevity, Beijing, China 2007

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


  • 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)


  • 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.

SI Exif

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.

SI Exif

Mexican Firebush

SI Exif


SI Exif

Plumbago and Daisy Bush

SI Exif

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.

SI Exif

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.

SI Exif

Armillary Sphere


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

SI Exif

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

SI Exif

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.

SI Exif

Shrub whose name I cannot remember.

SI Exif

Just an artsy photo.

SI Exif

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.

SI Exif

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).

flatonia house

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


Birds…and one lizard

SI ExifI don’t think I’ve written about the birds in the garden yet.  I’m pretty lucky to live on the edge of the Barton Creek Greenbelt which is a nice mix of trees (a gigantic live oak; cedars; Houston Yaupon hollies; a Texas persimmon; etc.) and meadow land.  The ecology provides abundant nesting opportunities as well as great feeding.  To encourage them to visit the garden I have seven various types of feeders (two tube feeders; a thistle feeder; a suet feeder, a humming bird feeder; a corn-cob feeder; and an English titmouse feeder) and four water features.  (I get all my seed (Supreme and No-Mess) from Wild Birds Unlimited – they’re great.  And if you use their ‘seed bank,’ you can buy in bulk and just stroll into the store and pick up a bag without having to worry about storing it. ) I used to have a Purple Martin house, but I never had any luck with it.  I’ll publish an inventory of birds I’ve seen, but this is a general overview of the standard visitors.

SI ExifI actually have a murder of crows living behind the house.  I heard them at dawn a couple days ago and got a picture of one today.  I like them much better than grackles.

Like every back yard in Texas, I’ve got cardinals.  I like this time of year – midsummer – because you can see different generations.  The newly fledged ones waiting for their crests to come on look like British punks with the spiked hair.  The juvenile males are really interesting because they often look like they have blue heads!SI Exif

Perhaps my favorite birds are the blue jays.  From their colours to their screeching to their thrust-and-parry feeding methods, there’s nothing subtle about blue jays at all.  One of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of them is from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

“…and the blue jay, that noisy coxcomb, in his gay light blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bobbing and bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.”

wet blue jay

A blurry wet blue jay and my still-blooming clematis

This morning I saw a woodpecker.  These are pretty infrequent visitors, but I love them.  It’s amazing to watch them feed upside down from the suet feeder.

The black and yellow finches are fun to watch.  They’ll swarm around the feeders and the shallow ‘bird-bath’ fountain.  They’re definitely not intimidated by any of the larger birds.

While I really enjoy their calls, I’m not overly fond of the white-wing doves.  They’re a bit like flying pigs that gang up on the other birds and drain the feeders pretty dang quick.  They also have a tendency to fly into the side of the house; not an attractive sight.

This summer, I have whippoorwills living in the grove behind the house.  I love their calls but don’t ever expect to see any.

SI ExifWho doesn’t like humming birds?  But I never realized how territorial they can be.  The most I’ve ever seen is four, but there always seems to be a bully that’s keeping the others from the feeder.  That one sure seems to spend a lot of time and energy guarding that feeder.

humming bird1

Other birds I’ve seen in the past:  a red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence; a painted bunting; mocking birds; grackles (filth, filthy birds); screech owls (again, no success with an owl house); tit mouse; chickadees; and Carolina wrens (such a loud call for such a little bird).  My neighbor said he once saw a wild turkey in the back yard.  I’m really sorry I missed that.  Probably the most unusual though, was a road runner.  It was during the extreme heat wave in 2011.  This road runner hopped over the fence from the desiccated green belt; drank from one of the small bird baths; hopped/flew to the neighbors giant live oak; and then climbed the thing to the telephone wires behind.  It was amazing!

And here’s the promised lizard…

SI Exif

SI Exif

Happy 4th!

So it’s the 4th of July – one of my favourite holidays.  Didn’t do much today but putz around the garden, rearranging and pruning a bit.  I’ve been practicing with the camera; here are some odds-and-ends that came out half-way decent.  Gotta go fire up the grill in a minute – we’re having fajitas and beans…woo hoo!  (Last year when we were in Toronto on Dieciséis de Septiembre, we went to a Mexican restaurant.  The food was pretty good , but I nearly spit up my margarita when the table next to us ordered “fa-JEYE-tas”)

I’m nothing if not patriotic.

SI Exif

So I’m a complete luddite – technology is definitely not my thing.  I don’t believe I qualify to have a smartphone.  I find it fascinating when folks are always chasing down the latest gadget/upgrade/app.  App-shcmapp, give me low-tech any day.  These for example…clay pot feet shaped like reposing lions.  I just love these things but have never been able to find more like this.

SI Exif

They’re supporting a pot of caladiums I got yesterday.

SI Exif

I also spruced up and put out more of my tchotchkes.  I did realize how many Buddhas I had.

SI Exif

This is my pink ‘Rose of Sharon’ – it’s doing exceptionally well; much better than the ones on the Capitol grounds.

SI Exif

This bird house reminds me of 4th of July at my great grandparents’ house in San Antonio when I was a really little kid.  My great grandfather, Hugh Brunnemann, made this out of bits of quartz and a roof shingle when he was little – more than 100 years ago.

SI Exif

And here’s my attempt at ‘sunrise.’  I’m probably better at ‘Tequila Sunrises,’ but I’ll keep trying.

SI Exif

Hope everybody has a great 4th and wakes up on the 5th with all fingers in tact…