Sunday, July 28, 2013

Recent Rains

We were blessed with 3 inches of rain about 2 weeks ago. Surrounding areas received about the same, though amounts varied. Heavier rains fell farther east, which does not do much for our watershed, but we'll take what we can get. The nice thing about this rain was that is was spread over 4 days, thus giving time for the rain to soak in. The temperatures remained well below normal, with highs just below 70 on one day. What a treat for us in July. The rains were also peaceful. Most of our rains, it seems, bring lightning, loud thunder, and heavy winds, but these rains just fell gently to the earth. It was  nice.

On July 16, Lake O.H. Ivie, San Angelo's primary source of water, was down to 96,007 acre feet, which is 17% of capacity. Following the rains, on July 22, after runoff had time to reach the lake, the level had risen to 103,613 acre feet, which is 19% of capacity. This gives us another 1 to 2 months of water. Lake O.H. Ivie is fed primarily by the upper Colorado River and the Concho River.

We currently have a 16 or 17 month water supply. Of course, whenever it rains substantially, that time span is extended. Even with the good rains we recently received, we are still below our average for this time of year.

Immediately after the rain, Donna and I drove out to San Angelo State Park to see how much water had accumulated in O.C. Fisher. We were surprised that there was no standing water in the lake bed, as water has pooled there at other times that we received even less rain than fell this time. We did get to see some of the longhorns that call the park home, though, so that was a treat. Everything looks pretty green around here for this time of year.

I wish this fellow would have turned, for he had the most impressive set of horns of the group.

I love the traditional spotty coloring of longhorns.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New Sheriff in Town

Yeah, we've got a new sheriff in town, and he's already bossing everyone around. His name is Camden Dean, and he was born yesterday (July 24) about 3:15 PM. He came into this world at 19½ inches long, and he weighed 8 pounds 1 ounce. Right now, his eyes appear blue and his hair looks dark. Whom he looks like depends upon whom you talk to, so I guess the jury is still out on the new sheriff.

Here are some pictures taken over the past 2 days:

The very first picture of the little scamp as he rests in his mother's lap immediately after being born.
The sheriff resting easy with his mother. Notice his eyes are open. He likes to be held, it seems.
The sheriff is using his official "I'm in charge" face on Gamma. Probably, he can't figure out what she is.
Grandson #1 holding his new little brother.

The new sheriff is resting easy in Gamma's arms.

You can bet there will be more pictures to come, but I wanted to post these ASAP.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yard Update

I'm really pleased with my selection of Celebration Bermuda for the grass in my side yard (See "Instant Yard" for history). It really has done well. In the last few days, we received a good amount of rain, but prior to that we had gone a month or more without any rain. We are restricted to watering only once a week. I have my sprinklers set to run for 3 sessions on the day I choose to water. Each session lasts for 4 minutes, and they are spaced 2 hours apart. This allows time for the water to soak in and avoids wasteful runoff. Water conservation in West Texas is really getting serious, especially now that the oil boom is here and oil companies are using extensive amounts of water in their various pursuits.

Because of water restrictions, I was not able to water heavily after I put in the sod. Luckily, we had a series of scattered rains spread nicely that helped establish the grass. Still, it would have been good to water more heavily to completely establish the grass. Despite this, the grass seems healthy with the exception of 2 or 3 spots. 

This picture was taken a few days before our recent heavy rains, and the grass was still holding its green color.

Compare the photo above to those shown in "Blessed Rain", posted more than a month ago following a good rain. You'll see that the yard has held up well despite only once a week watering.

Front of our house.
In a recent entry, I provided pictures of low-maintenance yards around the neighborhood, so it's only fair to show my yard again. Compare this to the similar picture near the end of "Instand Yard" posted about 3 months ago. You'll see that all the plants have grown some, but most noticeably the 2 sage bushes. They are still small and may be difficult to see in the picture above. One is directly in front of the center of the house. The other is behind the yucca in the left of the picture, in the shaded area. They have grown and filled out nicely, so I have started trimming them to ensure a nice, well-rounded shape. When maintained, sage bushes can be quite pretty, especially in bloom.

Our little sage bush has quite a few blooms. It had even more a day or two later.
I'd like to do some work in the front yard this winter. First, I'd like to find a good desert-type tree to go in the center of the yard to the right of the sidewalk, perhaps a palo verde. I'd also like to wrap a bed around the front of the house from the right in the picture to the front door. Finally, I'd like to put in cement borders as I did in our previous house (see "New Curbing").

Even though this is a low maintenance yard, I do weed pulling a couple of times each week. If I stay on top of it, it literally takes only 2 or 3 minutes each time. About once a month, I use a grass rake to rake my rocks. Dogs and people often walk in the yard for various reasons, and this causes depressions in the rocks, so I rake to smooth it out. I also have to sweep the small rocks off the sidewalk about once a month. And I do try to water the plants once a week. I figure I can reduce this watering schedule when fall arrives and they are more securely established. And that's about all I have to do to the front yard.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Stroll Around the Neighborhood

I try to walk several times each week. Donna and I have a 3 mile route we follow that weaves through our neighborhood, though we occasionally walk other places, such as the walk along the river downtown. When we walk in our neighborhood, we are basically walking in an area with homes under 20 years of age. The older homes have mature trees and lawns, either with Bermuda or St. Augustine grass.

However, things have been changing during the past few years with drought conditions becoming so dominant in our area. Most homes built in the last 2 or 3 years are putting in low-maintenance yards, and even some of the older homes are converting their yards to low-maintenance. Many houses are like ours, with a low-maintenance yard in front and a traditional grass yard in the small side area.

But low-maintenance is not no-maintenance. There is still a bit of work to do. However, very little watering is required, and that is the big thing for our area. There are weeds and grass to get rid of. Some folks have allowed their low-maintenance yards to be overrun with grass and weeds; you really have to stay on top of things. I usually try to get out for just 2 or 3 minutes a couple of days each week. I normally boil a kettle of water and take with me. When I pull up a weed, I pour a cup or so of boiling water on its stem. I hate to use chemicals, so I try to take a more organic approach to weed control. For weeds and grass along the edge of my yard, where they come up outside the tarp, I just dig down and try to get the entire root system out.

Below are some pictures of homes on my neighborhood walk to give an idea of low-maintenance yards.

This is an older home in the process of converting its grass lawn to low-maintenance. A weed-blocking (yeah, right!) tarp is being set in place. Where tarp meets curb or sidewalk is wear pesky weeds and grass find a place to crop up.

Many of the original low-maintenance yards look something like this, basically just rock and more rock, usually using larger rocks. Although neat and well maintained, they lack any real landscaping.

Some of the older homes with low-maintenance lawns really went overboard with desert plants. This yard has ocotillo, chollas, and numerous other desert plants. Also, notice the different types of rock on either side of the sidewalk.
Example of a low-maintenance yard receiving no maintenance. Most weeds will come up along the edges of the tarp, as in this yard (along curb, sidewalk, etc.)

This yard has some landscaping, but notice all the grass growing up in scattered bunches around the yard.

Here are some of my favorites.

I like this yard. I prefer smaller rocks to larger ones. There is a cement border separating this yard from the neighbor to the left to keep the grass out. There are nice borders around the trees and the bed in front of the house. There are no weeds. There are some plants, but not too many. Notice that the sage is blooming.
Both of these yards are neat and tidy. There's not much in them, but they have a clean appearance.

This one is a bit different, but it seems to work. There are no weeds or grass. The low-lying cedar shrubs give it a look not quite of the desert like most low-maintenance yards in the area.

No plants in the yard itself for this one, but the color in the bed is nice. Very neat appearance.

And to finish off, here is one that is a bit different.

This one mixes the rock landscaping with artificial grass. Several properties around town have begun to use artificial grass, but it is quite expensive.
Our neighborhood mainly consists of patio homes. Originally, most of the residents were retirees who were looking for smaller yards to maintain. These retirees were also attracted to the area by proximity to good shopping, with Walmart, Sam's Club, Sunset Mall, and many other major stores (Academy, Best Buy, Target, Lowe's, etc.) and eateries (Red Lobster, Chili's, CiCi's Pizza, etc.) no more than 2 miles away.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Hate Painting

I really hate painting. During my early years of teaching, I picked up extra money by painting during my summers as well as many days after school. As a result, I try to avoid anything remotely resembling painting these days.

But I felt that I needed to put something on the fence of our new house. As I drove up and down our alley, I noticed the fences of our neighbors. Most had stained or painted their fences, and they were holding up well under the constant West Texas sun. The few fences that had not been treated really stood out, like the one below.

Unpainted neighbor's fence really shows weathering of just a few years.
Now, I could have hired professionals to do my fence, but I'm something of a cheapskate. And I really hate to pay people for something that I am fully capable of doing. So, I moseyed down to my local Lowe's and picked up a combination semi-transparent stain and sealant with a cedar tint. I spent 2 days applying the stain, and I was quite sore afterwards from using the roller. But I'm happy with the results.

My fence on the left. My neighbor stained his fence much darker, but I wanted to see the lines of the wood and used a more neutral, transparent color. That is a mirror on my neighbor's fence, to help him back out.

My fence on the right. The fence beyond mine is on a new house. In other words, that is what my fence looked like prior to the work I did on it. The inset in the fence is where the gas meter is located. It is also spacious enough to store garbage for collection pickup.

Another chore out of the way.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Night at the Theater: Tuna Does Vegas, by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams

Donna and I attended a play at the San Angelo Civic Theater over the weekend: Tuna Does Vegas, by Ed Howard, Joe Sears, and Jaston Williams.

Here is the promotional blurb from the theater's website regarding the play:

"Meet the lovable and eccentric characters from Tuna, “third smallest town in Texas”, reunite as they take a hilarious romp in Sin City. The hilarity begins when oddball-conservative radio host Arles Struvie announces on air that he and his wife Bertha Bumiller are heading to Vegas to renew their wedding vows...but everyone in Tuna, Texas goes along for the ride!"

The "Tuna" plays are a series, which include Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White and Tuna as well as Tuna Does Vegas. The series of plays was written by the authors named above, and all plays are set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas, the "third-smallest" town in the state. This is the second Tuna play we've seen; from our experience, it appears that Tuna is located somewhere in the western portion of the state, as references are made to Lubbock, Amarillo, and even Midland.

In addition to the setting in the fictional town of Tuna, what makes the series unique is that 2 men play all the parts, both male and female. This also causes much of the humor, as some of the costumes are quite colorful, to say the least.

The plays satirize small town Southern life and attitudes. The scripts can be quite witty, and the plots must be cleverly written to allow one actor to move offstage to change outfits while the other actor remains on stage holding the audience's attention. Each actor may play a dozen or so characters.

I thought the actors portraying the parts in our local production did a fine job. Of course, they bring much more life to some characters than to others. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Last Ride of Big T

We said goodbye to another good friend yesterday -- our Toyota Tundra, also known affectionately as Big T to us. Big T was a loyal friend, and he took us to a lot of fun places. During the time we had him, we visited a number of states: Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and of course, Texas. He never gave us a bit of trouble, and was always ready to go.

Since we sold our trailer in May, there was really no reason for us to keep Big T, though. The Tundra is a big truck, and driving on some of the city streets with narrow lanes was a bit trying. And lots of parking spaces just aren't really big enough for the bigger trucks. In the city, we were averaging about 15 mpg, and highway driving was not much better at about 20 mpg. The last time we replaced the tires cost us almost $1,000.

It was time to make a change to something more efficient. So yesterday we traded in Big T for a Toyota Camry. City mpg is 25 on this car, while highway is 35 mpg. That's a big improvement. The ride is so much smoother compared to the Tundra, and handling is much easier. And we have so much more room in our garage now. The Tundra just barely fit, but the Camry seems a mere speck in comparison.

Before buying Big T, we had normally driven fuel efficient cars. The very first car I bought on my own was a 4 cylinder way back in 1973. I actually prefer a 6 cylinder and think it is the best blend of fuel efficiency and smooth ride with sufficient power. But many models are phasing out 6 cylinders it seems.

We considered a small SUV, such as we've enjoyed in the past. We looked at the Ford Escape and other similar SUVs, and we tested the Toyota RAV4. We really didn't care for the ride, though, so we opted for the smaller Camry.

I think we will be happy with our choice, and we're looking forward to our first road trip. At this time, we don't have anything scheduled until late September, so we may have a long wait. Our new grandbaby will be arriving any day now, so all of our time for the next two months will be scheduled with him in mind..

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Good Reads: Flames After Midnight, by Monte Akers

I was born in Freestone County, which is about 90 miles south/southeast of Dallas. I spent most of my early years in that county, primarily in Fairfield, though we did move around a bit while Dad worked his way up the job ladder. But Fairfield is home. Dad was born near the west county line (near Limestone County) and graduated from Teague High School in the 1940s, and Mom grew up in Kirvin (spelled Kirven in the old days). I have many, many family members resting in the rural cemeteries that dot the county. So Freestone County is really home to me.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I finally got around to reading Flames After Midnight, by Monte Akers. I was sort of afraid of what I might learn. The book explores the grisly murder of a 17-year old girl near Kirven in May 1922 and the events resulting from that horrible crime. In the aftermath, 3 Negroes were burned alive in Kirven by a lawless mob, and in the days and weeks afterward, other killings occurred.

At the time of the events in the book, thankfully my family did not live in Kirven. They did not arrive in the area until the end of that decade. My mother was not alive at the time, nor was my father. But in reading the book, I recognized lots of familiar names.

Growing up, the events of that terrible May were kept quiet. It was not until I was older -- in high school, I think -- that I ever even heard of the incident. And then I only heard whispers.

I like to think we've come a long way since those days. I began my school career in segregated schools. It was not until my sophomore year that we fully desegregated in Fairfield. Dad was the superintendent during those turbulent times, and I know this was probably his greatest professional challenge. We got lots of threatening phone calls in our home then, usually late at night, and they didn't care which of us picked up the phone. I learned lots of new and colorful words from those callers.

The value of history is that we learn from it, and we refrain from repeating the same mistakes again and again. I'm glad I read this book now. Yes, there are lots of holes in the events from that time, and we will never know the truth. Forensics weren't what they are today, and due process really never had a chance in this situation. But I know more now than I did.

If nothing else, I have even more respect for my father and how he guided our schools and community through the turbulent period of desegregation.

If you do happen to read this book and have an interest in in, you might also be interested in reading Kirvin and Streetman: A New History of the Northwest Section of Freestone County, 1900-1950, which is a thesis written by Fairfield native in pursuit of her MA from Baylor University. This thesis focuses on how the event influenced the decline of Kirven. In the days prior to the incident, Kirven was on its way to becoming a boom town. Following the incident, the town gradually died. Today, little remains except for a small convenience store, a couple of churches, and some houses. It once was quite a lively place, rivaling or even surpassing the other major towns of the county.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Wild Road

On our last 2 trips east -- to Conroe in May and more recently to Shreveport a week or more ago -- we have started our journey by taking a "road less traveled".

FM 765 heads due east from San Angelo and continues in more or less a straight line until it ends at Ranch Road 45 about halfway between Richland Springs and Brownwood.  A short jaunt north at this time takes you over the Colorado River before turning east again on FM 574 for the final 25 miles or so to Goldthwaite. Total distance for this route is 122 miles. Along the way, there is not a single town over 200 souls. In fact, the only towns are Eola and Millersview.

For the first few miles, this is a good road. The road is straight, the surface is good and the shoulders are generous. After passing through farmland of the area known as Lipan Flats, which includes northern portions of the Wall community, the quality of the road begins to deteriorate. The shoulders give way, the road begins to curve and dip a bit, and the clean farmland is replaced by trees, grass, and other vegetation that creeps up to the edge of the road.

On our trip in May, we saw countless deer and turkey along the roadway, and birds were everywhere, even causing us to slow down a number of times as they swooped in front feeding on insects after the recent rains. On the latest trip, we didn't see as much wildlife, but we saw enough.

I've never hit a deer in all my years of driving, and I've spent lots of hours on back country roads. I'm usually pretty good about spotting deer far enough away and then slowing down. On this trip, though, the grass was very tall next to the road. A doe was feeding near a small bridge as we approached. When I saw her, I immediately slowed, but it was too late, I suppose. She spotted me, froze for a moment, then made a mad dash across the road in front of me. Because of the small bridge, I was unable to veer off the road. I braked as quickly as possible and eased as far as I could to my right, but she continued on her suicide run.

I didn't actually hit the deer. She ended up right in front of me, on the front right of our truck. By that time, I had slowed enough that I actually more or less pushed her for several feet, then she somehow freed herself and got away. I was unable to see where she went, though she was not in the roadway. We pulled over as soon as we safely could and inspected the truck. We found no damage whatsoever.

That was enough for me. I'll not drive this road again, at least, not early in the morning. But if you want to see lots of wildlife, lots of uninhabited country, and little traffic, it's a good east/west road.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Good Eats: Athena Greek and Lebanese Grill, Shreveport, LA

Whenever we are in the Shreveport/ Bossier City area, we like to eat at Athena Greek and Lebanese Grill. We developed a taste for both of these cuisines when we lived in the Middle East in the 1980s, and anytime we have a chance to eat Greek or Lebanese food, we take advantage of it.

When eating out, we normally try to eat around noon. Many places have a lunch menu with cheaper prices, including Athena (Go to for their lunch menu). Our favorite dish is the Gyros Plate, which consists of spiced lamb and beef, hummus, rice, salad, and pita bread. We really like gyro meat, but then we enjoy lamb. Many Americans, especially in the South, do not care much for lamb. We've not had the schwarma at Athena's yet, but as a big fan of schwarmas, I do want to try it.

The restaurant usually has Greek or Arabic music playing in the background, which adds greatly to the experience. I really enjoy ethnic music. During my days in the Middle East, I spent a great deal of time on public transportation, and Arabic music was played quite a bit on the buses. I learned to appreciate it, and I enjoy listening to it while I eat food from that part of the world.

There is also a small grocery in the back of the restaurant where we've picked up tahini, grape leaves, and other food items.

And if you are really adventurous, you might want to try a hookah later in the day.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Good Eats: Bodacious BBQ, Kilgore, Texas

On our way to Shreveport on our recent trip, we stopped for lunch at the Bodacious BBQ restaurant on I-20 just north of Kilgore on Highway 42. When we lived in Kilgore, we ate at this restaurant from time to time over the years, so we felt comfortable stopping here.

Bodacious is a BBQ chain that began about 1965 in Longview. Most franchises are located in East Texas, though we do have a Bodacious -- which we've yet to try -- in San Angelo. Now, if you're a long-time reader of this blog, you know I love BBQ, and my favorite BBQ is in the meat markets scattered about the small towns of Central Texas in places like Lockhart and Luling. But I can't go to Lockhart every time I want BBQ, so sometimes I end up visiting other BBQ joins around the state. Sometimes I'm disappointed and sometimes I'm delighted. Seldom have I found anything as good as the meat markets of Central Texas.

Over the years, I've found Bodacious to be pretty consistent. Although I don't consider it the best BBQ I've ever had, I'm usually satisfied with what I get.

On this trip, we decided to eat as we do at the Central Texas markets; that is, skip any side dishes and just order meat. We ordered half a pound of brisket, half a pound of sausage, and half a pound of pork ribs. I usually don't eat ribs much, but that was the best part of our lunch this time. They had a slightly sweet taste, and the meat pulled cleanly from the bones. The brisket was a bit dry, though it had a good flavor. The sausage was your standard store bought sausage, so nothing unusual there.

All in all it was a good meal, and just about the right amount of food for 2 hungry travelers.