Friday, April 29, 2011

Where Did All This Junk Come From?

You can learn a great deal about yourself from moving.

Donna and I are currently preparing our household to move. If anyone came into our house right now, they'd think we have a serious drinking problem. The house is full of liquor boxes. We have found that liquor boxes are some of the best boxes for packing. They are sturdy, the perfect size for older people (large enough to pack numerous books and other smaller articles, but small enough so that they are not too heavy), and most have slots or cubicles, which are perfect for packing glasses and other items.

One thing I've discovered is that we don't own our possessions; rather, our possessions own us. Over the years, we accumulate junk of all kinds. And when it comes right down to it, is this junk really worthwhile? Most junk we accumulate has meaning only for us, and we haul it from house to house (or apartment to apartment) . When our time comes and our daughter commits us to the home, I'm sure most of these possessions will find their way to a garage sale or the local landfill. So, we're trying to beat her to it and we are really scaling down our possessions.

Several years ago, we bought a massive bedroom suite. This is really solid, quality furniture. It contains a king bed, 2 night tables, a large dresser, and a 2-piece armoir. The mattress itself is over a foot thick, and it is now nearly impossible for two aging Baby Boomers to flip. The furniture crowds our bedroom so much that we must weave our way around and through it. The buyers for the house have agreed to buy our bedroom suite (they're young and don't know any better yet), so we get to leave it here. Our new house is a bit smaller than our current house, so we are happy to scale down. We'll buy something more practical when we get to San Angelo and get settled.

We also bought some overstuffed recliners a few years back. We are selling these to our buyers, too. They are more difficult to get out of each day, and I really prefer something that is more erect and provides more support. In fact, I find myself using the recliner feature less and less. And again, they are just a nuisance to move around due to their bulky size.

In recent years, I've discovered I really don't need much to be happy. In fact, I've devised a list of those things I cherish the most. Here is that list, in no set order.
  1. An efficient kitchen with a decent pantry for storing food, especially canned goods. When living on a fixed income, it's wise to buy non-perishable or long life items in quantity when they are on sale or good coupons are available. I like the feeling of having a good store of food available. But I need very little space to prepare that food.
  2. I love my books, and I like to have them arranged in bookshelves for easy retrieval. I spend at least some time each day reading.
  3. Good light is essential as my eyesight slowly deteriorates. I love windows that let in the light.
  4. I like a good bed. In fact, the queen bed we have in our guest room is much more comfortable than the Goliath bed in our master bedroom. I don't need big -- I just need comfortable.
  5. I like a good chair for sitting and reading or watching television, and I watch very little television these days. My TV attention span is very short, it seems. A good rocking chair would suit me just fine.
  6. I love a good yard. Our current lot is one-fourth acre, and our new house sits on one-fifth acre. I love to garden, and I truly enjoy mowing. I find great satisfaction in doing work where I can see an immediate improvement. I look forward to the challenge of seeing how much food I can grow in our new yard.
Aside from these items, I really don't require much else. One of the tests I perform when I consider an object is how often it is used. This is especially true in the kitchen. How many appliances do we all have in our kitchens that get used just 2 or 3 times a year? Yet, these items often take up much counter space and contribute very little, if anything, to our quality of life.

And I guess that is the real issue here. What do we need to have a good quality of life? What do we need to be truly happy? For me, I don't need much.

My perfect house, in fact, would have very little living space but massive quantities of storage space. It would also have a screened-in porch, and I would do most of my living out there, both summer and winter. In fact, I'd sleep out there many nights.

So, as we pack away, we find ourselves taking more and more items to Goodwill and our local Crisis Center. This afternoon, I'll put a load of junk no one in their right minds would want into the back of my Tundra and head out to the landfill early tomorrow.

And you know what? Once all these items are gone, I'm sure our quality of life will be every bit as good as before, if not better.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Good Eats -- Southside Market, Elgin, Texas

Recently, we traveled from San Angelo to Conroe. If you view a map, there is really no direct route for that trip. And that can be a good thing, for it gave me an excuse to pass through Elgin, Texas.

I spent my career as an educator. In other words, I moved a lot and made very little money. My father before me was an educator. In other words, as I was growing up we moved a lot and Dad didn't make much money. As a result, I really don't have a hometown as many people do, but I did get to see a good part of Texas, and I have a lot of experiences as a result.

During my 4th and 5th grade years, Dad was superintendent of schools in Elgin, Texas, which is located about 24 miles east of Austin on U.S. 290. While there, we rented a house from a lady named Stach, who lived next door to us -- or rather, we lived next door to her. We lived in the poor house while she lived in the big house.

Our house in Elgin, Texas, from 1966-68
At that time, Mrs. Stach was a widow, and she controlled her husband's interest in Southside Market, a BBQ institution in Elgin. As kids, my friends and I would peddle our bicycles downtown, cross the railroad to the southside of the tracks (hence the name, "Southside" Market), and enjoy the hot sausage. We'd order the hot sausage, crackers, cheese, and some ice cold RC Cola on summer days and enjoy the eats.

Over the years, Southside Market has changed owners a time or two or three and has moved from its old downtown location out to Highway 290. It's a big place. Southside Market today bills itself as the oldest BBQ joint in Texas, and claims to have been founded in 1882. There are many travelers on Highway 290 who make it a point to stop at this "BBQ joint" to enjoy the good eats there everytime they pass through Elgin.

When I'm hungry for BBQ, I'm hungry for BBQ. I don't care about potato salad, cole slaw, beans and other sides -- I want smoked meat. So when Donna and I passed through recently, we bellied up to the counter and ordered old style: one-fourth pound sliced brisket, one-fourth pound traditional hot sausage, one-fourth pound jalapeno-cheese sausage, and cheese, all served on butcher paper -- no plates. Crackers these days are complimentary. We doused the sausage with the hot sauce provided at the tables and dined in style. We were stuffed, all for about $11.

Are you hungry yet?

If you've never tried Southside Market, visit the link provided in this post and start making plans. You won't be sorry!

I'm already planning my next trip through Elgin. Gosh, I love Texas!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Finding a House

We've been planning our retirement for the past 2 years. We knew that once we retired, we would probably return to West Texas because we love the area, but more specifically to be closer to our daughter and her family.

We looked at all our options. For a while, we thought about purchasing some acreage and immersing ourselves in gardening and rural living. But we decided that would be too much work and might interfere with all the playing we wanted to do, so we then began focusing on finding a place in a town. We felt we needed to locate in a large town for medical services, shopping, and other conveniences, and, since we wanted to be in West Texas, that didn't leave too many options. We spent at least some time looking at Lubbock, Abilene, Midland, and San Angelo.

We've never spent much time in Abilene, so after a trip there about a year ago, we ruled it out -- it just didn't feel like home. We also made a trip to Lubbock, which had been our "shopping town" for several years from 1979 to 1987. I like Lubbock, and it has everything we need. However, it has grown so much in the 20+ years since we've lived in the area that it just no longer had that right feel, either. Besides, it does get cold up on those South Plains, and we really don't care for those dust storms.

So that left Midland and San Angelo. We lived in Midland for 5 years before, and we really like that town. However, housing prices have really gone up since we sold our home there in 2002. And Midland is really a one-dimensional town, too -- it goes as the oil market goes, so to speak. So we decided against Midland, despite all the wonderful things that city has to offer.

So, after much looking about, we signed a contract last week on a new home in San Angelo; it is due to be complete in late June. We'll be moving out there in about 2 weeks. Our current house is due to close soon, so we will have to move our household belongings to storage temporarily until our new house is complete. We will live temporarily in our trailer.

Although we've never lived in Angelo, it was our shopping town for the 8 years we lived in Ozona, a small ranching community about 75 miles to the southwest. We've always liked San Angelo; in fact, we purchased some acreage in the Dove Creek rural subdivision there in the 1990s, only to sell the property when we moved to Midland. There have been several times when we wished we had kept that tract of land.

We were able to contract our house in time to make all the important selections for tile, carpet, counter tops, brick, paint, fixtures, and other items, so we look forward to getting out there to watch the house being completed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Is a Drought?

In my last post, I addressed the dry conditions and wild fires in West Texas. It is clear that the state is in the midst of a drought. Many people have a misconception of what a drought is, though. For them, a drought is a period of time of no rain. However, a drought is actually an extended period of time when a region has a deficiency in rain.

During a drought, there may be periods of rain, but this rain does little or nothing to relieve the existing dry conditions. In our modern urban society, many people are not even aware when drought conditions exist; however, those involved in agriculture certainly are aware of drought conditions.

The best way to learn about a drought is to read Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. Mr. Kelton, who passed away August 22, 2009, was a native of West Texas and spent the bulk of his years in San Angelo, Texas. He was considered by many, including me, to be the greatest Western writer of all time, and he won numerous awards throughout his dignified career.

The Time It Never Rained was set against the background of the 1950s drought, considered by many to be the worst drought in the last 70 or 80 years. Charlie Flagg, the central chracter, was one of a dying breed of men who worked the harsh West Texas land. Ever independent, Charlie refused government aid and suffered through the drought as best he could. It is this struggle that forms the basis of the novel, but the real focus of the novel is the character of Charlie Flagg. In many ways, he is a brother to Homer Bannon, the proud and moral character in Larry McMurtry's Horseman Pass By, which was later made into a movie called Hud, starring Melvyn Douglas and Paul Newman.

What separates the Western writings of Mr. Kelton from others, such as Louis L'Amour, is his emphasis on characterization and his dedication to historical accuracy. Mr. Kelton once said, "I can't write about heroes 7 feet tall and invincible. I write about people 5-foot-8 and nervous." If you want to learn about the Texas Revolution, then read After the Bugles or Massacre at Goliad. If you want to learn about the Texas Rangers, then read Ranger's Trail, Texas Vendetta, or The Way of the Coyote. If you want to learn about drought and its affects, then read The Time It Never Rained.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

House Hunting

We spent 5 days in San Angelo last week looking at houses and preparing for the move there we expect to make in May. We secured a postal box, opened a bank account, found a storage facility for our trailer, and bought a new house. Our new home is still under construction and is due to be completed by June 30. We are, needless to say, very excited.

The first night we were there, a storm passed through the area. Sometime during the night, there was a lightning strike northwest of town that started a fire. The foreman at the ranch saw the strike, checked the fire, and then reported it. Firefighting crews thought they had contained the fire during the night, but the next morning the fire gained new life. We watched the smoke intensify throughout the day as we rode around town looking at houses. This fire was called the Encino Ranch fire, and it was soon contained. Recently, a much larger fire to the north of San Angelo has emerged, called the Wildcat Fire, and it is still doing considerable damage to the countryside as I write this.

It is difficult to express just how dry that country is. I thought the best way would be to show a picture. While in Angelo, we drove through San Angelo State Park, which is on the western edge of the city. The park lies along the shoreline of O. C. Fisher Lake, which is formed by the North Concho River. If you look at a map of this area, you will see that the lake appears to be quite large:

San Angelo, Texas; OC Fisher Lake to the west
The map above makes the lake look quite large. Below are some pictures I took of the lake as we drove around the park.

Boat ramp to dry lake bed

Boat ramp and dam

Body of lake
I read an article in a local paper on Sunday about the wild fires occuring across the state. At the time, there were 47 fires in progress -- 31 in East Texas and 16 in West Texas. The whole state is dry. Temperatures in the San Angelo area are approaching 100 degrees, and we are still in April. Winds across the state are almost constant, and they -- along with lower humidity levels -- continue to dry out grass, shrubs, and trees. It's a tinder box out there.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

House for Sale

I've neglected to update the blog recently because we have been quite busy. In the next few days, I'll try to relate what we have been doing the past few weeks.

We put our house on the market when we retired earlier this year. We had our first offer in March, though we were unable to come to terms with the prospective buyer. However, a second buyer happened along and we were able to agree on a price and move forward. The house is now under contract and has been inspected. Unless something out of the ordinary occurs, it appears that we may be moving soon.

We moved to East Texas in 2002. Up to that time, we had spent most of our adult lives either abroad or in West Texas. In fact, our daughter was born in Plainview, Texas, (north of Lubbock) in 1980. She now lives in the Big Spring area with her husband and son. She considers West Texas to be home.

Although Donna and I both grew up in the eastern part of the state, we have always preferred the west ever since we first moved there in 1979. We only returned home in 2002 to be near my father when his health began to fail. Now that he is gone and we have retired, we are ready to return to the part of the state we now consider home.

So, we're now collecting boxes, packing away our household belongings, and getting ready for the next phase of our lives. In the next few postings, I'll relate details concerning our new home.