Barrels Full of Periwinkles

Barrels Full of Periwinkles
Barrels Full of Periwinkles

Another thing Glenn really wanted to do when he first moved here, was to fix up the yard. One day he was walking around the property and he found some half-whiskey barrels back behind the building.  They were quite old, but still serviceable.  There were 7 in all. Mom had once planted them with roses, but no longer used them. They were just laying around, so he loaded them on the truck and brought them to our yard.

The first year, we planted marigolds and zinnias, and arranged them kind of in the middle of the yard.  And each year, we tried something a little different.  We tried petunias and even poppys.  On the third year, we decided to line them up in a row on the edge of our yard, bordering the road.  They looked really nice like that and though we have replaced them with new ones and added four more to the number, we have kept them in that same general configuration, ever since.

The flower we have had the greatest success growing in these barrels, has been the periwinkle (scientific name – Vinca).  These flowers are very well adapted to our Central Texas climate.  They are beautiful, prolific bloomers that begin in late spring and finally slow down with the first cool spells of late fall.  They thrive in the extreme heat, just be sure they get their water.

It has been an ongoing experiment, figuring out how to best care for these whiskey barrels.  They need to be kept moist to ensure a long life.  The first ones were over 20 years old and after a winter dry spell, they fell all to pieces.  But in other years, we have lost our flowers due to poor drainage.

Last year, we began addressing the drainage problems.  We lifted the heavy barrels with a log and an iron pipe and placed 5 retaining wall bricks under each one.  This reduced the problem, but did not eliminate it.  This year, we filled them half-way with rocks, but that has not been very desirable.  The soil sometimes washes through the rocks and when that happens, the water runs off. To remedy this, we filled the washed out areas with peat moss, which stabilized things. We have also used pea gravel.  The next time we do this, we will fill the bottom half of the barrels with sphagnum moss.  This would keep them moist and there would be no wash outs.  And I think we would still have good drainage.

Despite our difficulties, the barrels did really well this year, the best they have ever done.  Those rocks provide excellent drainage.  We used a soil mix of half sandy loam and half mushroom compost.  And they billowed over the sides of the barrels with vibrant color.  Not a single barrel was lost all season.

Watering these barrels on a regular basis has also been an experiment over time. After all, there are 11 of them and they sit up off the ground.  This year I used 3 – 50 ft. sections of hose.  I began with a leader hose that was fitted with a solid brass quick connect. And I placed the same quick connects between each 50 ft. section and at the end of the furthest one.  This kept me from having to drag heavy hoses.  I used a tiny little sprinkler with a quick connect on the end and would just disconnect the hose and place the sprinkler along as needed.

I would start watering on the south end one time, and the the next time I watered, I would start at the north end, which saved me lots of steps.  And I left the hoses on the ground and wrapped the ends around the furthest barrels when finished. It worked quite well.  I used very low water pressure and watered each barrel between 5 – 8 minutes, depending on how hot it was outside.

Barrels full of periwinkles have become a tradition at our home. They are so, very beautiful!  When I walk down to Mom and Dad’s house, I don’t take the shortcut through the grass during periwinkle season, I go out on the road and enjoy my flowers!

Periwinkles (Vinca)
Periwinkles (Vinca)

The Garden Stone

Stephen and Charlotte 1-1-11
Stephen and Charlotte 1-1-11

This is the story of two people who were destined to be together nearly 100 years before they ever met.  A love story, replete of hometown history and family.

Charlotte, a fiery, petite beauty with dark hair and big, brown, almond-shaped eyes, and  Stephen, a handsome Greek, a brave US Marine , met 10 years ago after Stephen had returned from his first deployment to Iraq.  Both living in the Dallas area at the time, they were introduced by a mutual friend. Their relationship flourished and when Stephen left for his second deployment, Charlotte waited for him.  By the grace of God, he returned.  They were reunited and spent much of their time together.

Their story is beautiful, alas, it is a private affair.  I will just say that they found out they love each other.  And when Stephen asked Charlotte for her hand. She accepted, happily.

Charlotte’s grandparents have almost always lived in Milam County. They had a farm in Cameron during the early years of their marriage, and moved to Rockdale later on. About 15 years ago they decided they would spend their golden years at their nearby property in the country. There is an old school here. They built a nice home on the old playground, amidst a grove of tall oaks.

Charlotte is my daughter.  I live here also, with my love, Glenn. We actually reside in the old school.  It was built by the local men as one of FDR’s work projects back in the era of the Great Depression.  It burned to the ground before they ever held a class and they built it all over again. They carried on the business of education here for many years, but eventually the old school closed down and they began busing all the children to Rockdale. It changed hands a couple of times before my Dad acquired the building at auction about 45 years ago.  He converted some of the classrooms into living spaces, and Glenn and I have a comfortable home here.

Charlotte lived in Rockdale until she was four, when our family moved to the Dallas area.  But the first time Stephen came to visit and met the family, we learned that he too, has roots in Milam County. His grandfather actually grew up in Cameron.  Furthermore, Stephen and Dad compared military records, and found many similarities. Both are marines from the 4th division, who specialized in communications and reconnaissance, and proudly wear the purple heart medal. It was a great visit.  We all liked Stephen, and I felt very happy for Charlotte.

Now, Glenn likes gardening and one day he decided to make an asparagus bed. There was a row of huge old piers bordering a flower bed in our front yard, probably 10 of them.  Dad had put them there soon after he bought the building. They came from the foundation of the old gymnasium which had been sold off separately and moved before he ever acquired it. That spot is now home to our vegetable garden.

The piers really didn’t look that great in our front yard. So Glenn decided to make a raised bed with them for the asparagus.  It required a tractor to move them. So one by one, he picked them up, carried them to the garden and sat them down at their new resting place.  He made a rectangular border and filled it with rich, black dirt that he found down by the pond. We bought nice, big crowns and he planted them just exactly how his research told him to, by digging a trench and making hills for them to rest on. We had ferns in no time. And now, this garden produces a lot of asparagus.

Luckily, my Dad is a very observant fellow.  One day he was out watering the asparagus, when he looked down and discovered that on the right, front cornerstone of the border that Glenn built, there was something inscribed in the cement.  He splashed water on it, as to read it more easily.  Written on the stone was “YA Gjeddi 1929”. He thought about this for a minute and recalled that Stephen’s mother was a Gjeddi.

So we asked her about it.  It turns out that YA, also known as Yancy Gjeddi, was Stephen’s great uncle!  There were eight Gjeddi boys that grew up in Cameron back then.  They were all adopted and all went by their initials. My mother went to school with these boys. And Stephen’s grandfather was one of them.  It’s been said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, I believe this!

Almost 100 years ago, Yancy must have worked at the place where that cement was poured.  I wonder if he knew it was important that he inscribe that stone? Glenn never saw it, he just stacked the stones at random.  But this wound up on the right, front corner, facing outward!!  And was discovered around the time of Stephen and Charlotte’s wedding, two people who met in a totally different part of the state, and never knew before, of all these amazing coincidences. Perhaps Yancy wanted to express his approval of this union.  I find it amazing and beautiful.  I wish I had a photo of Yancy.  If I ever find one, it will go here.

2016 New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

The last week of December has been great fun! Our family Christmas gathering on Saturday was so nice! I saw cousins, nieces and nephews, my son-in-law, and I especially enjoyed spending some time with my precious daughter. Glenn and I spent Sunday afternoon remembering 2015, a good idea for a year-end tradition! After that, everything has been forward-looking. I put a lot of thought into how I hope next year will unfold, and how I might help my goals succeed. Then I got busy tying up the loose ends of 2015, so that the new year could arrive on a clean plate.

There were just a few things we needed, to clear the way for 2016.  I’d rather not be sitting there when the ball drops, holding my old tired list of things that still need doing.  So we just got busy and cranked out some work. Glenn and I got the flu shots that we forgot in October. He tackled a big computer repair job and fixed everything good as new! I got the house cleaned back up after the holiday; handled important phone calls, mail, filing, online account maintenance, changed out filters, batteries and hard-to-reach light bulbs; laundry; an impromptu doctor’s appointment; cleaned the coffee pot.  I would have put away the Christmas decorations, but Glenn is still enjoying them 🙂 Now we are as ready as we can be!

It required a lot of reflection and consideration, but I narrowed it down to just a few things that I consider to be the most important goals for the new year. These are the things that I will get busy working on.

  • Weight Loss – I got a late start on this in 2015, but I am glad I did it. Because I lost almost 20#, which is that much I will not have to lose this year. I worked out some kinks and developed my rhythm for this task, as well. I’ll keep on calorie counting because it is working for me, and I will add a fitness work-out in the very near future.
  • Financial Stability – I have been dependent on credit cards way too many times in my life.  They are an alluring crutch. I have managed to get myself out of debt numerous times, only to repeat the cycle over and over. We put the cards away, and will do this one more time by postponing every expense that we can possibly live without. Upon reaching our goal, we will open an account to cover unexpected expenses. By the end of this year, everything will be arranged so that we no longer need credit cards.
  • Time Management – According to my Dad, repetition is necessary to train the mind.  I can use that.  I have a real problem with my unruly mind sometimes! I avoid things that are important; things that I desire to be good habits in my life. It’s like sometimes I can only be content to work against myself 🙁 So I am attempting to get on a schedule.  There are things I will do each morning, at mid-day, and in the evening.  I’ll do certain things on certain days of the week. I think someone might have to dangle some kind of carrot in my face.  Some days, this will be very difficult! But if I succeed, it will be such a positive change, full of important rewards.

Not many things can compare to the faith and hope generated with ushering in a sparkling, fresh new year! These are my 3 big goals for 2016.  And each of them can be broken into smaller goals. So there are a lot of great things here, to be accomplished. When it comes to new years resolutions, I generally, always make progress. For that reason, I feel confident that at least some of these goals will make it to my reality over the course of this year.  And once they get there, I will own them 🙂 How exciting! I can’t wait to get started!


Christmas Traditions

I don’t know a whole lot of Christmas traditions, just the ones we use in our family. But I’m always interested in learning and sharing ideas for making the most of the holiday season. Listed here are some of the ways we bring tradition into our holiday.

Simple Popcorn Garland
Simple Popcorn Garland

Decorating:  I have always loved Christmas decorating though I try to keep it pretty simple. Many years ago I started making popcorn garland for the Christmas tree. Very delicate, very pretty. It takes about 2 hours to make everything I need for our medium sized tree. So it’s not a big time issue, nor does it require a lot of expense.  A little work and you have something very special, that cannot be easily found in a store . I use a hot air popper and fishing line, and I turn the country Christmas tunes on satellite. Before you know it, I’m putting it on the tree.  You end up with something very, very pretty and unique. Glenn and his sister share this memory from childhood.  They always strung popcorn garland with their mother and other siblings, and they added cranberries here and there. That sounds lovely, I never tried cranberries. But I think I will add them next year. And perhaps my grandchildren can get in on the fun! When the season is past, and it is time to put things away, I cut the line. The popcorn slides right off to feed the birds, out in the  yard.

Cornbread Dressing
Cornbread Dressing

Cooking:  I am always asked to make the dressing for the family Christmas dinner.  I enjoy doing it because I have been trying for 20 years to learn how to make good dressing.  It’s difficult when you only make it once a year. Though dryness can be a problem, mine seemed to always to be a bit on the wet side.  A couple of years ago I stumbled across 2 techniques that have enabled me to make good dressing, reliably. These are very simple tips worth sharing.

  • I used to make up the cornbread several days in advance and let it dry out on the counter, but this presents some problems.  One year it molded before I got the dressing made, so it was a total flop before I could even get started. Also, it is always possible that a little mouse could get in the house or a roach and they would make a beeline for that cornbread. I now prefer to make it the night before, cutting it into 1 inch squares and keeping it overnight in a sealed container. This is safer and more sanitary. On the morning before the meal, I pile it all on a broiler pan and dry it out in a 225 degree oven, along with the white breads, stirring every hour. The white breads (placed on bare oven racks) only take an hour and they are like croutons.  The cornbread takes about 3 hours.  It’s fresher! And since all the moisture which will go back into that bread is made of broth, rather than just water, this method makes a richer, tastier dressing.
  • Estimate the amount of broth you think you will need, add it to the dried out breads and the rest of your recipe, and stir it all up. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes. Afterwards, inspect your raw dressing and use clean paper towels to soak up any excess liquid (puddles), before dumping everything in the dish for baking. This is a fail-proof method for eliminating the problem of heavy, soggy dressing. And since I have been doing this I have been able to produce a much better result. It may also work well to dip out the dressing into the baking dish, using a slotted spoon. This might eliminate any hidden puddles and I am going to try it this year.
Family time at Christmas.
Family time at Christmas.

Family Socializing:  A few years ago, my sister began a really nice tradition for our family Christmas gathering.  Early in the year, she solicited our help through email, asking us to send her our family stories.  When Christmas came, she had compiled them and made a game with them. She presented a sketchy event and we all guessed who it was about. After we found out, that person told the full story and we all learned a lot about each other.  We have played this game several years now and it is a lovely tradition.  The first year was absolutely magical!

Where do I want to be, this time, next year?
Where do I want to be, this time, next year?

New Years Reflection:  I never plan to, but the last 10 days or so, of each year, I find myself thinking a lot about the year to come. What are my hopes for the new year? Where do I want to be, this time, next year? I don’t try to figure out how to make any of it happen at this point, but I spend time thinking about my hopes and dreams.  I may even make a list, so that when the new year does arrive, I have something to look at and start working on.  It helps me decide my direction for the next twelve months; it keeps me in a positive, forward-looking frame of mind; it inspires me toward the coming year.

Have a very merry Christmas!
Have a very merry Christmas!

I am having  fun with my new blog and I want to thank you for reading and commenting.  Wishing you a merry, merry Christmas and a joyous, new year!

The Hen House

Foghorn Leghorn in the in the hen house.
Foghorn Leghorn in the in the hen house.

I ate a cinnamon roll yesterday. It was 450 calories and I counted it. In the end, I actually wound up having a perfect calorie counting day! Enough of that subject!  I would rather talk about this great holiday season.

Though I began this month feeling kind of like Scrooge, December has turned out to be a great month for getting things done. Some of my kids will be here for Christmas, so I want the place to sparkle! After all, why decorate the house if the house is a mess? It got a good cleaning. Yesterday and today we have been cleaning up outside. This evening we were ready to decorate the porch. It looks and sounds very festive 🙂 , with pretty lights and country Christmas tunes piped through the outdoor speakers. I’m sporting a spiffy new hair-do, which I love, thanks to my very talented niece. But my favorite project so far this season, has been the quail room, which our plumber dubbed, “the hen house”.

More of Foghorn.
More of Foghorn.

It was quite the mess, and took about a week to get into shape, but it has really turned out nice. About a year ago, Glenn hung 5 big Boston ferns from the 11 foot ceiling, along the 20 foot expanse of south exposure windows. They let in a lot of light.  So the ferns have done well, as have all the other plants. The roses, hibiscus, and lantana are blooming.  Our new little hens have been moved from brooder to cages and are just starting to lay their first eggs. All but a couple of roosters are in a separate pen.

The tornado from this past spring left some damage, and now, all the broken windows have been replaced.  New plumbing pipes were run to the room so it is super easy to water the plants as well as fill the buckets for the brand new watering system. Now the new little hens and roosters drink from a small, no mess cup, rather than the filthy jars they once used. A rat got in earlier this year, tore open some bags of mushroom compost and left some droppings. That’s all cleaned up now.  As for the potting station, the soil amendments (including our first load of compost made with our new compost tumbler) are in nice, galvanized cans. And I’ve implemented a new system for cleaning cages that cuts way down on the mess and keeps life simple.

The retirees have a special deal. After my quail are one year old, I start a new hatch, and the old ones become members of the elite group who are allowed to live out the rest of their days cage-free, out in the room. I spread Aspen shred everywhere, and brought in piles of fresh cut winter grass for nesting. There is a plastic swimming pool full of sand and logs, for them to clean themselves. They have the water run-off in the plant saucers to drink. They eat very little feed in an arrangement like this, so they are not a drain, economically. The life expectancy of a quail is about 2 years and their egg production drops off drastically after about a year. The meat of an older bird is a bit tough, so I can’t see the point of butchering them. And since I have the luxury of this room, it just makes sense to do it this way.

Foghorn Leghorn.
Foghorn Leghorn.

It’s really a  pleasure to spend time here now. There are still more improvements to come but we got a lot of really good stuff done for the quail, this year. Now that we are at a stopping place, we can move onto the next project.  And we will be busy right up until everyone gets here. The honey room needs cleaning. There are tons of boxes to break down and shred in the hallway. Once that’s done we can start a new load in the compost tumbler. I’m making the dressing, gravy, and carrots for the big family gathering.  And if there is any time left, I want to stock up my cottage kitchen.

Now that the kids are grown and gone, with full lives of their own, Christmas is quite different than it used to be; different, but still really, really good! It’s been a joy getting things looking good and functioning around here, in preparation for our anxiously awaited guests. One last chance to make the most of a good year; the best holiday season I can recall in a long time.


The reason for the season.
The reason for the season.

My young cousin was just saying on Facebook that their home is now, officially decorated for Christmas.  And she added how much she loves to decorate for Christmas, it being her favorite time of year. Immediately, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, I have to do that too”! Honestly, this was the first time I had even thought about it.  That’s really weird, because I used to be just like my young cousin when it comes to Christmas decorating.  This year it has lost it’s place in my priorities.

Now-a-days, I stay on guard over stress issues, trying not to over-extend as much as possible.  The kids are grown, the grand-kids aren’t coming this year, and there are several things on my agenda that take priority over Christmas decorating; things I am not willing to sacrifice. I’m not going to rule out the possibility, but it may turn out that I do not get it done this year. It’s been a tradition, so I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Several things would have to come to pass before I would even be ready to decorate. I would have to get the house clean, and I am behind on that. As I recall, the lights on the tree need some repair. I have outdoor decorations too, so I would need to clean up the yard and the porch, and I would have to work around the weather. I was really kind of focused on other projects! We are getting ready to move my new quail from the brooder to the cages and we are setting up a new automatic watering system.  They have grown up and are cramped in the brooder.  That whole project absolutely must take priority, but we can’t do it until our supplies arrive in the mail on Monday.

To be honest, the whole task of Christmas decorating would probably only take about 7 hours of my time.  Taking it all down might require another 3.  Then we could enjoy the nice ambiance for the  duration of the season.  And when my daughter comes to visit this year, she will truly enjoy it.

I remember Christmastime when she and her brother were little. Great times!! We would decorate the tree together, each of us taking care of the portions we could reach, while their dad climbed on the roof with staple gun in hand, to hang lights off the eaves. We had a huge calico cat named Patches, and after the tree was decorated, but before we put any presents under it, she would spend time lying on her back on top of the tree skirt and stare up through the middle, seemingly mesmerized by the affect of the lights. The kids would make  cute little handmade decorations in school, and bring them home to brighten up the house. And I always found them the cutest little Christmas pjs that they wore during the season.  We read books at bedtime, with great expression.  A favorite was “T’was the night before Christmas”.  Another was “The Velveteen Rabbit”.  I remember staying up all night on Christmas Eve with their dad and putting toys together. And seeing their bright eyes and happy faces at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning,… mountains of used wrapping paper all over the den, after they opened their presents. Times like these pass too quickly.

Charlotte and Dusty in their   Christmas PJs.
Charlotte and Dusty in their
Christmas PJs.

Christmas is a special time of year, and Christmas decorating is a kind of magical, creative endeavor.  It is not an absolute necessity, but for those who love a warm and comfortable home, a few hours of effort will brighten the spirit of the holiday for everyone it reaches, transforming everyday surroundings into a place of loving warmth and beauty. It will touch the child within us and remind us of days gone by. It is one way some of us give of ourselves throughout the holiday; an expression of our love for Christ.

I suppose I can re-arrange my schedule  🙂

Creepy October

Black cats are being overlooked in favour of more selfiegenic ones.I suppose it is fitting, that October would go this way. It has truly been creepy so far! The disasters began right at the beginning of the month,…

It is my custom to walk down to Mom and Dad’s house each evening and tend to their needs before bed. This night was no different. We took care of the meds, the kitchen, caught up on the events of the day, said our “i love you’s” and then I went on back home.

At this point, I will add that Glenn and I live in an old school building. It’s enormous and sits on a very large and deep, pier and beam foundation. Here and there, at the ground level of the bricks, there are little vent areas where you can observe underneath. When my Dad bought this building, he turned some of the classrooms into living spaces. He crawled under the building and put down all the pipe for the plumbing himself, and it held up for a long time. But this is 45 years later, …

So, I had walked home from Mom and Dad’s that evening. And as I passed by the vent area in the bricks, I could hear a gushing of water coming from underneath the building, obviously a busted pipe. We don’t know how long it had been like that, could have been days, we haven’t got the water bill yet. Glenn went out to turn off the cut-off, but the water still poured. He turned things off at the meter and the water still poured. Finally he turned off the hot water heater and that stopped it. When he went down under the next morning, he found things extremely wet. So he put several fans down there to dry things out. It turned out to be a major plumbing job, replacing old, worn out pipes. The whole thing really scared me. I was worried about the foundation, but I guess it’s ok. We still have the fans blowing down there, 2 weeks later.

So we got past that disaster. Then last night, as I was leaving out to go to Mom and Dad’s, there was a rattlesnake on our porch steps. Not a real big one, about 15 inches long. But they say those are the most dangerous! Glenn got a shovel and chopped it’s head off. It’s still out there, the ants are eating it. We got past that.

Tonight, I was driving home from a Master Gardener meeting, about 9:00 pm. I had just entered a stretch of road that was very curvy when my tire blew out, in the pitch dark middle of nowhere! I got out my phone, no service. Looked around, no houses that I could see. Talk about creepy! Well, thank goodness, after an uncomfortable 10 minutes or so, 2 bars of service showed up and I was able to get through to Glenn! He came really fast in Dad’s truck and put on the spare. Glenn saves my life on a regular basis.  Just before he was going to follow me home, I said to him, “Did you know that there is a garden trailer hooked to the back of the truck”? He had not noticed. So anyway, we got into our vehicles and took off down the dark road.

After a few minutes of driving, I noticed that he was no longer close behind me, but way back there, and appeared to be stopped, so I turned around and went back. He said the trailer had broken and sent me up the road to see if I could find any parts strung out on the highway, about a 10 mile round trip. As for Glenn, the back of the truck was full of stuff, and besides, it was too heavy anyway, so he had no choice but to drive home going about 5 miles an hour, dragging a trailer with no axel.

So anyway, how’s your October going?