Wednesday, June 27, 2012

# 294 - Small Steps Toward the Country

The backside of our property has a springfed lake and it makes for the perfect picnic spot. I look forward to the day a table is sitting near the edge of the lake, under a shade tree, and fresh fish is on the lakeside grill.

Who could want more? We always wanted waterfront property...well...we've got it. The problem is being able to relocate to our acreage so we can actually enjoy it on a daily basis.

Winter shot of the lake at back of our property.

This economy is making it more difficult for us to sell our house. Due to several points, it seems to be wise for us to temporarily take the house off the market. First, our oldest daughter's wedding is coming up in October. We are having a wedding shower at our house in August --- we need a house for us to hold a shower for the entire family to attend. Also, we don't want to end up selling in the middle of August and trying to move a household and start the construction process during the worst heat of the year...August in Texas can be brutal. Finally, we think it's best to at least have the barn constructed before we get into a contract to sell this house. We're going to build the barn/workshop with an "apartment" so that we can have a place to stay WITH the animals out on the acreage while the house is put on the market again. Having to deal with three dogs and six chickens for every showing is very stressful.

So, we're going to focus on barn/workshop construction so that we can be on the property more often and make a smoother transition. Everything happens for a reason.

That being said, we've had a young couple very interested in our house. We decided that if they made an offer that is solid, we will move forward with selling right now. However, if that offer doesn't come through, we will give ourselves a bit of time to construct the barn...after the high heat of summer is over. The good news is that the barn site already has major preparations ready for its construction...the septic system is in place, the utility poles are nearby, so we will only have to be concerned with digging a well.

And, I will have a bit more time to keep working on trying to purchase the acre and a half next door.

That little piece of property would be worth the purchase because it would cut down on fencing issues, access road issues would be greatly reduced and we'd not have to worry about someone constructing something so close to our home-site.

Anyway, there's so much to do still. We need to make a daytrip to the property very soon or get an a/c unit to hook up to the generator so we can have cooled air on the nights when it will likely be around 90 degrees. Depending on the heat of the summer, we will see how it goes. It will be a good time to get the foundation for the barn/workshop poured because the summer heat makes the access road more stable for the heavy equipment that would be needed for this stage of construction.

I have a feeling it will all work out perfectly. Even so, I wish the acreage was my permanent address, starting tomorrow morning. However, all of the things we have approaching in our lives makes this a more difficult time to sell the house. If it had sold back in April or the start of May, it could have been more manageable. I hope we will be able to start finishing the barn by the time Fall is beginning to arrive and after my oldest daughter's wedding has taken place, we will be able to focus more fully on the other construction efforts that will follow.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for each step along the way. Selling a house these days is not always an easy task. Truthfully, if they raised the interest rates a tad, there would be more banks willing to make loans because they would actually be making a good income on giving out those loans, in addition, our investments would be increasing at higher interest rates. Not that I want a HIGH interest rate, but just high enough to stimulate the economy into having the motivation to bankroll loans.

This past week, we had a potential buyer ask us if we'd personally carry the loan on our house for them and that they'd pay a balloon payment at the end of a three year period. No thanks.

Regardless, with a daughter getting married, things are very busy. On that front, our family is set to air on TLC's show, "Randy to the Rescue" in the next week or two. I'm not exactly sure. We sit down every Friday night to see if our family is going to pop up. They did extensive filming of my daughter at various locations, so we're curious to see how they will put it all together for the show.

I'm sure it will give us lots of reasons to laugh with gusto. We'll see...we'll see.

Okay, barn/workshop plans are the priority for our transition. Gotta get that barn built. Then, we can put in fencing for the dogs and start on a chicken coop so we can get the chickens moved.

I think we're figuring it out...each step is important. Sometimes, jumping in headfirst is not the wisest way to jump. Since I can't really jump any longer, I'm all for taking lots of small steps!

Monday, June 25, 2012

# 293 - The Biggest Bouquet in Texas

The Hill Country of Texas can often look like a vibrant painted canvas during Springtime. The coloring that carpets the ground from various wildflowers is a sight to behold. While growing up, my parents would take many road trips, these included weekend jaunts with the sole aim to see the wildflowers in full bloom.

In fact, people travel from all over the world to come to the Texas Hill Country during Bluebonnet season. The rolling hills are blanketed in these violet blue flowers dotted with white accents that have petals and a structure appearing most unusual.

One of the most loving things I can remember passing between my parents was during each Spring as they readied to leave for one of these trips. After we kids grew up and left home, my dad and mother continued taking those trips simply to go see the wildflowers. They'd pack a bag and leave the house, heading for the Brenham area in general, but without any particular destination in mind. The only thing propelling them forward was the chance to see the hills covered in flowers as far as the eye can see.

In this Hill Country, even small spots of available earth are crammed with wildflowers. You see highway overpasses skirted with wildflowers. Driving down the road, it's almost as if there is a sea of flowers spread before you, it's indescribable. There are bursts of color in nearly every conceivable place that has dirt.

In fact, the sight strikes my heart deeply because I always find it amazing that such beauty can spring forth from brown, colorless dirt. I guess we all come from humble beginnings and to the same we will one day return.

Most of all, these flowers remind me of a kind of love that carries such a sweeping depth of sweetness. Even though my mother had so many tribulations in her earthly body, my father looked upon her as his wife and a woman with more to give than a woman who could be defined by her condition. Even in her worst moments of being overwhelmed with uncontrollable pain and suffering resulting from her body being riddled and left forever marked by Polio, he believed in her strength.

Even though she had the dreaded title of "Polio Victim" from a young age, he never accused her of being a "victim" or of having "victim mentality." In fact, when she did have moments of weakness, he did not belittle her for being human. Better yet, he could've easily used this dreaded word against her during their worst moments as a couple, but he never tried to punish her further for something she had absolutely no control over. I've found that a person who is close to another enduring major health challenges is given their own opportunity to show uncanny strength and to shine in their own way. I am glad to have never heard my father accuse my mother of being a "victim." Sure, she'd sometimes cry and feel extremely frustrated during certain moments of her life and things were not always rosy, but he did not try to capitalize upon her weaknesses. If anything, his downfall would be that he could not see her weaknesses clearly enough and she liked it that way.

I thank my father for never making my mother feel as if she were a victim...not of her own weakness as a human and not of the failings of her body. It takes a big man indeed to let his woman have weak moments without taking advantage of the same for his own ego.

It's wonderful that we, as a family, celebrated her triumphant nature. She was a fighter. And the wildflowers remind me that instead of doing things for her with a mindset of pity or with a hidden heart of feeling nothing more than charity, he did things with her out of true love, mutual enjoyment, and out of seeing her as his partner with a smile.

Together, they savored the wildflowers. He may have not have sent many flowers to her in their lifetime from a florist in a glass vase, but every year he never missed a chance to personally escort her to the biggest, boldest bouquet in Texas. There will be no one else in his life with whom he can share the wildflowers like he did with the wife of his youth and of his increasing years. He's tried, but he's found it to be disappointing because the wildflowers just aren't as pretty or as enjoyable without her by his side. No one else has the child-like excitement about those flowers as she had so willingly and openly expressed. To me, it makes me happy to know that it is a tradition that he still can't find as complete without my mother and that is an authentic expression of his heart.

I'm so happy to know that every year my mother was able to fill her mind and spirit with a beauty that only nature can provide. And now, her strength is my strength. Her determination is my determination. Her willingness to sacrifice, even when others were blinded and could not be gracious about it, she continued to sacrifice...that is my legacy.

It's a good one, and I am fulfilled. For the flowers and for so much more...I am grateful.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

# 292 - Creatures that Sting and Panic!

Today I read a lovely blog by Ian from  and enjoyed the visit, as always. He had zoom photos of a winged insect that I initially thought was a bee, until I read the comments. Then, it appeared that the nectar drinking insect was actually some sort of moth.


I had to leave him a comment about my fear of bees. It's something I've battled ever since I was a little kid. The fear developed after I had a particularly bad sting that was very traumatic. Ever since then, I've felt the need to flee from a buzzing bee or wasp. To combat this urge, I always wear a hat or hold one in my hand so I can use it to gently wave away any inquisitive insects with big stingers on their rear.

As for my panic, it began after I was about 6 six years old. I'd been playing in the backyard on my beloved swingset. This swing set had two independent swings, a slide and the bench swing that had two seats that faced each other along with a ladder on one end, for monkeys, like me.

My best-friend, Kelly, and I are swinging.
Our favorite thing to do at this age.
One day I had climbed to the top of the slide and was standing on the top rung, ready to get into place to enjoy a fast ride down. Standing on that top rung, I looked over toward the top metal pipe that all the fun things were attached to --- the pipe that held everything together.

No surprise to my blog buddies, my curiosity got the best of me and my innocence was dented. The end of the pipe was open; there wasn't a plug of any sort at the end; it looked like a big black hole that needed to be explored, so I kept putting my eye against it...trying to see into the dark abyss. I would press my face against the pipe, trying to manuever this way and that so I could catch a good view inside of the pipe. What was in there?

I even hollered into it a couple of times, "Anybody Home???" Then, I'd try to look inside the hollow pipe again. I thought I heard something moving inside the pipe. Birds? I tried harder to focus my eye to see what I could see.

Little did I know that there were stinging creatures living in that pipe and they didn't like to have a Peeping Tom looking in on them.

You probably already know what's going to happen.

As I pressed my eye against the pipe for another good look, a load of these mean, angry, territorial, monsters with buzzing wngs went into attack mode and the first one trying to exit the pipe stung me. This is the kicker. It didn't just sting me in the face, but the first stinger went directly into my eyeball, into the corner of my eyeball, inside my eye.

Yep, my first experience at being stung was in the eyeball. The subsequent stings that happened around my eye and face were nothing compared to being temporarily blinded by being stung. It was terrifying. I ran screaming for the backdoor, barely able to see, and for my mother who came hobbling out in a rush to save me, yet again, from my latest disaster. By the way, my mom had caught the Polio Virus as a child and as we politically incorrect people like mother would say...she was "crippled."

However, let it be known that she was NEVER anything but completely NORMAL in her family's eyes. The outside world saw her as crippled and we knew it. Her left arm was paralyzed and smaller than her right, and her right leg was paralyzed and dragged behind with a brace to lock it into place with a shoe attached to the brace, kind of like a false "outer" leg to support the other ruined by Polio. She could not run, but she could move around easier in her younger days and this was one of the times I could have SWORN I saw my mother RUN!

After some tender loving care, which actually included meat tenderizer and a cold compress, I ended up with a nasty looking black eye for a couple of weeks that made people cringe at hearing it was caused by a sting.

In the eyeball! In the eyeball! In the eyeball!

For a while, I avoided by beloved swingset. I didn't trust it. At any time, those flying beasts could decide to attack again. I'm a nature-loving, outdoor type of gal, but for a couple of weeks after that sting, I found lots to do inside the house.

A most unusual thing happened after this sting. My grand-father, who could barely stay sober to walk straight, ended up coming over to help my mom with my infested swingset. My grand-father was a master plumber, he had me point out where the insects came from, then he stood up there and held some kind of torch up to that pipe and blew fire into the pipe while reciting a few cuss words, then he took wads and wads of newspaper and plugged every hole in sight. He didn't have to tell me twice to never remove that paper!

It was sweet of him to do this for me and for my mother. After all, my father had moved to Europe, so it was just us kids with our mom, at least until we could fly over to join him. I know it was difficult for my mom to call her father for his help, but I'm sure a part of him loved to do whatever she needed, even if he couldn't do it without a drink.

He had his good moments. This was one of them that I'll always remember with love in my heart.

So folks, I never even got a chance to see what stung me on that day because they took out my vision in one swift attack. My eyeball did recover. Everyone teased me and said I looked like a baseball player while healing.

Maybe that's why I feel comfortable wearing mostly baseball caps when out on our acreage --- it makes me feel empowered to be able to reach up and grab my hat and to gently sway it back and forth to keep the poot-heads away from me.

Over the years, I've become less afraid of bees. I still have the urge to run like a madwoman. Make no mistake, Deputy Dave has stood by and watched me act like a loon as I am running from a bee, swinging my hat and screaming, "Help! Help! I can't tell which way it went!!" He shakes his head and says, "Quit running, you're going to run straight into that bee and that's how you'll get stung."

Through the years of panic and fleeing and appearing to be a crazy woman at every state park we've visited, I've not been stung again. My first episode taught me well. I don't look into dark holes any longer. Knowing my luck, the next time a rattle snake will strike my nose. No thank you.

As for Ian's blog, the insect that I thought was a bee is some kind of moth and that made me smile. I don't think these would have stingers. Aren't moths delicate creatures?

I left his blog very happy and without the urge to run in circles while tripping on my own feet. That's always a nice feeling.

Friday, June 22, 2012

# 291 - Tax Points - Overview and Registration Number Requirement

This blogpost is going to be for more serious farmers and ranchers who are looking for tax credits. I'm giving you the Texas version, but you can find similar information for your own state that will probably closely mirror those in Texas and this will likely give you a good start.

If you are farming and ranching, you had to get started with that lifestyle at some point in your life. I've seen some novice ranchers and farmers who were clearly born to do what they're doing. Then, some of us have met the kaput rancher who has been "on the job" for generations, but appears to have stepped out of the loop at some point. Giving each other support is one aspect of this type of life that is beautiful. I've found that many friends and family we know who are farmers and ranchers are eager to help the next person as they try to learn the ropes, literally.

Regardless, some people never learn to take advantage of the benefits that are offered to them as farmers and ranchers. That's plain silly. Deputy Dave and I plan on becoming very aware of any benefits and exemptions that we might be eligible to employ.

As for farming, I never take it forgranted that my ancestors were farmers. My grandmother could wring the neck of a chicken and have it plucked for dinner with no trouble. My mother grew up eating chicken from their farm, prepared by her grandmother. I have abundant beautiful memories of sitting on the porch shucking corn and popping peas out of their pods with my Nanny. This kind of work never got old to me; I loved it. After my Nanny died, all of those front porch moments with the veggies disappeared, at least until I began to grow my own vegetable garden as a teenager. So, I guess I'm a little bit country and a little bit of rock-n-roll and a little bit classical.

A lot of us came from farming families. My husband grew up in a country setting, playing in a trough during the hot summer. He grew up with large gardens on acreage that grew home-grown goodness to be served on the table. He enjoyed being in FFA; he raised pigs and cattle and rabbits. far as my IMMEDIATE family went, yes, I grew up with significant parts of my life spent in the country and then on the water, surrounded by fisherman. We'd go from the woods to the water, from the water to the woods. Our family fish camp was tucked into the woods of the Big Thicket in Texas, on a property that is only a few short miles from our acreage. Someone else now owns that piece of woods that I grew up playing in, but my childhood handprints and initials are still impressed into the concrete patio.

So, a life of farming and ranching is something rather new for me because my country land moments involved more of a wilderness type of lifestyle instead of farming. Needless to say, I am completely at ease in the midst of a dense forest with wild animals. I felt completely at home in the woods. Not even Big Foot can scare me away.


Back on track...part of my Farm Life Lessons is to learn about the tax benefits for farmers and ranchers. I am NOT a tax expert, but I am going to pass along information I come across because I know it will be helpful for several of my blog buddies, if they aren't already knowledgeable about these things.

A wonderful website with valuable information that I will try to condense into this blog is: and it also provides other links to more valuable sites. Of course, your state will have similar websites.

If you grow plants to sell to others, if you sell eggs, raise chickens or rabbits to sell to others, or do a multitude of other agricultural or timber related activities, you might be eligible for making a lot of purchases TAX-FREE. All of the tax free benefits described below can really add up within a year's time.

According to House Bill 268, a new rule took effect as of January 1, 2012, which states that you will be REQUIRED to get registered for your agriculture exemption. Here in Texas, you go to to register for your agricultural exemption REGISTRATION NUMBER which will allow you to make purchases for qualifying items to be used only on a farm or ranch in the production of agricultural products for sale. You go online, do the paperwork right there and get your registration number by the end of your online session. Easy as pie.

The number renews every four years --- it's not a number that expires four years from the date of issue, it's a number that is set to renew after a set period of four years across the board, no matter when you register. It's set to renew in 2015. So, if you get your registration number for agricultural exemption in 2013, it will still need to be renewed in 2015.

Who is eligible for this tax exemption? You qualify if you are farming and ranching and:
- engage in the production of agriculture or timber products for sale
- raise agricuture products to sell to others
- are a custom harvester
- are engaged in agricultural aircraft operations (crop dusting)
- have commercial nurseries to grow plants for sale, stock from seed, cuttings, replanting seedlings  
  into larger containers, etc.,
- are involved with timber products, including contract lumberjacks

You don't qualify if you only have a home garden; are into horses for racing purposes; are a florist or a store that only holds plants temporarily; if you are into wildlife or land conservation and/or maintenance; are into fishing/hunting leases; horse riding, boarding. or trails; involved with commercial fishing; are engaged with pet breeding or boarding or training; and you get the idea.

Inch by inch, I plug along to learn my
Farm Life Lessons.

These purchases would include machinery and equipment used exclusively for farming and ranching operations that result in the production of agricultural products for sale, to include ATV's. Ya for ATV's!!!! However, you technically can't use the ATV for off-site fishing or recreational use or it disqualifies the ATV from being free of taxes. You can use an ATV to get around the farm to feed livestock, for a modern way of herding livestock or to run fences. Most farms these days have an ATV to get around quickly instead of having to saddle the horse to get around tight spots and to do regular checks along fencelines that run for several acres.

An ATV is fun horse-power on four wheels!!!

Of course, I discovered that the gravel we will purchase for our country roads that will give access to our farm operations will be tax-free, as long as the roads are not connected to residential areas.
Delivery would be tax-free and installation should be tax-free, as long as it is new construction for farm activity.

A barn does not seem to be tax exempt because it is a general purpose structure, it can be used for many things. However, structures used for specific purposes in farming and ranching, such as a laying house, a commercial greenhouse, farrowing houses, sprinkler systems, portable irrigation systems are TAX-FREE. Get the picture now?

Qualified herding dogs are eligible to have their dog food purchased tax-free. Regular pet food is not tax-free. All herding animals, farm and ranch WORKING animals are eligible to have tax-free feed purchased for them.

Feed purchased for animals destined to be sold for human consumption or for animals that will be sold to others should be tax-free. Rabbits and chickens, even if kept without the desire to process them for food can be raised to be sold to others and this would enable you to buy their feed tax-free as it is an agricultural activity to produce items for sale.

Fences, cattle guards, gates and chutes used to contain livestock, or to enclose fields or pastures do qualify as exempt machinery and equipment, that means it's all TAX-FREE. Well, except if any of it is used to enclose a residential yard, then you must pay taxes. Remember, everything must be designated for NEW CONSTRUCTION ITEMS and not for patches, renovations or repairs ---- that kind of use comes with taxes. However, if purchasing these items for new construction, then the materials and labor to install all of it is tax-free.

Rule of thumb: repair or renovation materials are taxable, but new construction for ag/timber purposes involved with producing products IS tax-exemptable. This means, the chicken house for the laying hens, to keep the eggs you will be selling is tax-exempt, but repairs to the hen house are taxable. Don't quote me, but this is how it appears to be with how the code is written.

Finally, the definition of a ranch or farm is as follows: (cut and pasted directly)

A farm or ranch is defined in Tax Code Section 151.316(c)(1) as “one or more tracts of land used, in whole or in part, in the production of crops, livestock or other agricultural products held for sale in the regular course of business.” This definition includes feed lots, dairy farms, poultry farms, commercial orchards, commercial nurseries, and similar commercial agricultural operations. The term “farm or ranch” does not include home or community gardens, kennels, zoos, parks, horse racing stables, horse boarding and training facilities, timber operations, or similar operations that are not engaged in the production of agricultural products for sale. Open or undeveloped areas; land used for hunting or fishing leases; and wildlife preserves are not farms or ranches for sales tax purposes, even if the land has received an agricultural appraisal for property tax purposes.
While timber operations are not farms or ranches, they do qualify for exemption under Tax Code Section 151.3162 when purchasing qualifying items used exclusively in the production of timber for sale. See Rule 3.367 for more information.

I will be studying all of this and keeping up with it. Hopefully it will help others find their own benefits so more people can save their hard-earned money and increase their profit margin, even if they are a small-time farmer.

Heck, being tax-exempt of many items might take the sting out of the bill-bee.

# 290 - Rural Living - Driveway Top Surface Selection

My last post, #289, discussed the challenges with trying to decide upon which kind of road material we need to use for the private roads on our property. The comments after my last post gave me fantastic inspiration and direction for me to conduct further research on the topic. That research blossomed into other areas of research and a chain reaction had begun. By the end of the night, I'd felt like I'd been to a very informative class for Farm Life Lessons.

I can't wait to pass on much of the information I've learned because it just might help you with your own farming and ranching endeavors to save you M-O-N-E-Y, compliments of Uncle Sam.

Not really dressed for this kind of work, but my
gloves are on, my pink flip flops are under pressure
and I'm digging to plant my bulbs as we are driving
on our way out of the property to head back to
the Greater Houston area. You can see
our culvert down at the other end, bright white concrete.

First, I would like to back-track and make it known that my original dilemma in post #289 was tied to trying to decide which surface would be best for our private road on our acreage...concrete, asphalt, crushed shell, gravel, recycled tires or one of many other choices. Which way should I go?
The comments to that post were fantastic, there might still be more to come, but TEXAN from made a very good point about taxes. TEXAN recommends being thoughtful about your construction process with regards to property taxes that your structure might require, year to year.

I also found it a relief to read comments by Tombstone Livestock from about their own driveway made of gravel. They put some of my concerns at ease and prompted me to do further research on the topic of graveled roads which ended up helping me come to a decision for our acreage roads. There is no doubt, the selection for top surface materials on rural property roads is an important choice for any land-owner.

It appears that a gravelled road is in the top running for our land. But, let's go over some facts for gravelled roads.

#1 Gravel is substantially lower in price for installation when compared to concrete and asphalt

#2 Gravel can be installed properly to support cars, SUV's, RV's and not have ruts

#3 Gravel gives a porous top surface to allow runoff to be distributed into the ground

#4 Gravel can provide the rustic appearance for our country setting that I wish to maintain

#5 Gravel has a lifespan of approximately 60 years compared to 8-15 years for asphalt and 2-25 years for concrete.

#6 Gravel is rather easy to maintain, requiring replenishing for low spots about once every 8 years

#7 Gravel, as a desiccant (drying agent) might be eligible for an environmental upgrade tax break

#8 Gravel of appropriate weight is less likely to wash away and less suscepible to erosion

My research seemed to consistently highlight the fact that concrete is expensive, yet not always consistent in performance, even if poured expertly. Since our land is with hills and raw land that is covered with layers of natural compost, it might be more of a challenge to go with concrete, especially for the amount we will need. Also, concrete is very "invasive" to the earth as it covers it completely and requires rain runoff to find the nearest area of natural earth for absorption, which can create imbalance for drainage. Concrete is susceptible to cracking due to ground movement, again, our land is raw and very soft because it has either been tread lightly or not at all.

Best yet, if your purchased gravel is used for Farm and Ranch purposes, such as for access roads to areas of agricultural production or for livestock pens as a desiccant (drying agent), then it would be tax-free.


Later, in the next day or so, I will be posting a blog strictly on how to apply for a farm and ranch registration number that will allow you to make tax-free purchases on items directly related to agricultural production.

Also, delivery charges of this gravel would be tax-free because people furnishing, delivering or hauling dirt, sand, gravel or similar unprocessed materials are performing a NON-TAXABLE SERVICE!! Now, I am not a tax expert, but it appears that repairs and renovations are not exempt, so you would have to pay tax for that kind of work, but new roads and new construction with gravel is non-taxable, if you have the proper exemption certificate (which I will be writing about this week so you can get your form ready, if you don't have it already). Upon time of purchase, you provide this form and/or your Farm and Ranch Registration Number and fill out any paperwork needed by the supplier, then it is accepted in lieu of paying sale's tax when purchasing gravel for farm and ranch production purposes.


Our private road that will lead to our barn.

One thing that I am currently researching is the type of gravel to be used for the top surface. It's sort of like a Goldilocks situation, you don't want it too big, yet you don't want it too small...the size must be JUST RIGHT.

With my OCD, Micro-managing, anal-retentive personality, I have a strong need to understand this entire job. It's also imperative that I understand it because the facts are that I will probably be the one on the acreage who is providing construction over-sight. I've done it many times before and am willing and able to do it again. I need to understand enough details so that I can be aware enough to  double-check as the contractors are on the job.

For the record, when we were re-building our home after Hurricane Ike, we had a HORRIBLE sheetrock contractor on the job who didn't speak much English. I was complaining about his crooked lines at sheetrock corners. He was doing a terrible job in areas very visible to anyone walking into the house. He was purposefully sputtering in Spanish that he didn't know how to run a straight line and was doing "his best." Man...was he shocked as I began to speak Spanish good enough to get MY point straight. Then, in front of him and his entire crew, I grabbed my OWN sheetrock chalk line and popped a nice, clear red line by myself and said, "There's your straight line. A woman had to show you how to do it. Congratulations."

I walked off as all the guys were laughing and ribbing the "supervisor" of the sheetrock crew. I'm sure he never lived it down. But, I got my sheetrock line floated straight, finally. Of course, I know how to do these things because Deputy Dave usually does them and he sometimes lets me play alongside him as he does the sweaty stuff. But, I do pay attention. I ask, he teaches, and I remember.

Regardless, Tombstone Livestock gave some important information about actually living with a gravelled road to include a bit of maintenance details, and I appreciate it.

It appears that your gravel should be heavy enough to be less likely of being spun-out by a heavy gas pedal, which would also make it less likely for your vehicle's paint to be chipped. Also, the proper weight and size of the gravel would make it more difficult for a storm to wash it away and less likely for normal erosion to negatively impact your graveled road. The heavier it is, the more stable road material it will make.

On that note, it appears that crushed concrete has been suggested by some, but it has been mentioned that truckloads might give you chunks that are too large to use and the inconsistent size of the concrete pieces may create a nightmare.

Gravel is long-lasting, it is affordable, and since any dirt road will eventually settle, no matter how well it is compacted, gravel is a road surface that would be fairly easy to fill in at low points over the years.

I had previously considered asphalt, but after thinking about it more carefully, I considered the same aspects of asphalt when compared to gravel. Asphalt is more costly; it requires more maintenance; asphalt processing is damaging to the environment (STINKY!); after installation, asphalt leaches pollutants into the soil and groundwater; asphalt becomes very hot and in Texas, that is a major consideration because the asphalt could have melting tar seep back to the surface in very hot weather and this can become a messy issue in many areas; plus asphalt gives poor traction in winter. Finally, asphalt is not porous and would increase run-off issues, as would concrete.

We've also used crushed granite in some projects around our current house and it is pretty, for a while, but it washes out too easily. Therefore, it's out of the running completely. Limestone we've used on the property and it does harden to a concrete-type level, but still has considerable dust and is pricey.

On an interesting note with laying a gravelled road, an old "Hillbilly" method is to have loads of old carpeting on hand. Prepare the area for the graveled road, clear it out, compact the soil, then lay the old carpeting, cut to fit and put the gravel on top about 2 inches thick. Supposedly, the old carpeting works as a great base stabilzer. What do you think about that?

I'm all for supporting Hillbilly methods.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

# 289 - Country Road Consideration

First off the bat, an update on the sale of our home...we are having showings just about daily right now. We had some good buyers come through the house yesterday they seemed liked potential new residents. I could picture them here in this house. AND, they weren't afraid of the chickens or the dogs. How about that?

I love it when I meet fellow country-loving people here in the suburbs. We have another showing appointment set for this's staying busy and the National Associaion of Realtor statistics have shown a marked increase in real estate sales for our area, the best stats since 2008. That's reason to celebrate! I guess the market is indeed picking up, but I'm not clear if it's for houses at our price-point. Regardless, I can see it happening and am doing EVERYTHING I can to not have to turn away a potential buyer. In the end, I leave it in God's hands. I guess we're doing our part and He'll do the rest...He'll be behind-the-scenes orchestrating all that I ask him to guide us in. I must keep faith that everything will be in His perfect timing and remind myself to remain patient. For me, that's a TALL order.

Who knows? Maybe one of these potential buyers will be moving us outta here very soon!


A major concern and a hefty expense for acreage owners is their need to put in roads and driveways. Trying to decide upon the kind of materials you need for your acreage, your climate, conditions and for your land purpose is a challenge. Personally, I'd like to lessen the side-effects that a world of concrete brings to those having to live around it. It is not permeable, so runoff from concrete must go somewhere and having too much hard surface means a lot of water is having to flow off the hardened surface to find a ground surface to absorb it. Sometimes that puts a lot of absorption stress on natural areas surrounding concrete zones.

Going into our property, toward the location where
we set up camp. During the Spring and Summer, it
is luxurious and full of greenery.

Often, you see people in the country using crushed rock as a driveway product or they might be using remnants of recycled tires, which offers a low-impact driveway that looks good and supposedly is affordable in bulk, others might have a driveway with crushed limestone; then crushed seashell is another option we see frequently in our area. On our land, there will definitely be areas where we will need to have a concrete surface for our vehicles since a solid surface is needed for vehicle maintenance and for ease of cleaning vehicles so we can make sure it rains the next day.

Here is our country road when it needs a good mowing and
we can see that someone has trespassed during wet
weather to leave us deep rivets that we'll
need to shovel flat. The same road is below,
after it is mowed.

I think I've ruled out having a road surface that would simply transfer more dirt and dust back onto the vehicle. That probably leaves me with crushed shell and recycled tire material. We have many friends who have crushed limestone and crushed rock for their private road, we've often seen them wet down the road so the dust won't kick up so bad as they're driving down it. Nope, I don't want to be forced to wet down my road to avoid dust for incoming company --- I can think of other things I'd rather be doing. However, I don't want to get recycled tire material only to discover that it absorbs heat more readily than all other surfaces.

Then again, our acreage has this awesome benefit called "shade" from a multitude of beautiful trees. In our current area, we don't really have any area near us with such heavily wooded zones because we are a coastal town. Many seafaring communities aren't exactly forested due to coastal storms, regular strong coastal winds, and hurricanes that blow down more trees than can be replaced.

Deputy Dave walking toward the front
of our property, on our country road, toward
the front entrance with the trellis.

I don't want to create the problem of having increased runoff on our land trying to find its way to our ditches and creek. I'd rather have large permeable road surfaces play a part in absorption than playing a part in creating issues with runoff.

This is an entrance lacking a culvert, but the dip to
get onto the property is minimal. However, you
can see the country road ahead on our property.
It's grass and dirt with some limestone material
mixed in from a few years back. However, it's
still unstable during the winter months.

Our property has two sections with two entrances. That means we will have to maintain two entrances. At our 2nd entrance, there is already a new culvert, built about two years ago, and it is very nice. I'm thinking we'll build another just like it at the other entrance.

Having a solid culvert that is wide enough to take on the Dodge
is nice. It is appealing as well, looks solid and long-lasting.
I'd like to put one of these in on the other side of the
property, at the other entrance to our land.

Our frontage is narrow and the land opens up HUGELY, which I love. From
the position I am standing to take this photo, we will need to put in front
fencing and run it all the way to our culvert, which is nearly 400 feet away.
Frontage fencing with gates will need to be addressed rather quickly.

The picture below shows how beautiful the land is during the growing season. You can barely see the truck for all of the branches heavy with leaves.

However, in the winter months, the land can almost seem eerie with barren trees. A few conifers give some evergreen beauty, but winter months definitely make it seem like the wilderness has been stripped of life. The good side of this equation is that winter months on acreage will mean that we get a huge break in maintaining the property because there will be much less to cut and nothing will be growing out of control. It is cool, peaceful and will be time for us to handle other things that can't be done in the hottest summer months, such as building structures and fences.

You can see the growth or the lack of growth by gauging the electrical pole as your landmark.

We will only be able to do one thing at a time on our land, but I have a feeling we'll do what we always do...try to fit in taking care of 15 things at one time.

But, I also remember the words of one of my best-friends, "If you do too much at one time, you end up doing everything half-ass."

Yep, that's what I'd like to avoid, but I doubt it will be avoidable, at least in the beginning years of us living in the country. Once we're living on site, it will be so wonderful to finally start doing all the things we've wanted to do out there. But, today I'm doing more research on road materials. Non-dusty road materials, permeable road materials, long-lasting road materials.

If I had to decide upon a hard surfaced road for our property, I do think I'd go with asphalt. It's not as harsh looking as concrete and it is rather inexpensive to have put in, to patch and to repair. I'm still weighing the options for this big undertaking. Gotta have the ability to drive to the barn and to the cabin, even in the soggy winter months.

For anyone with details or opinions on this matter --- also, if you have experience with any of these road surfaces, please pass on what you think with the pros and cons. Don't be short and sweet, be clear and take as much room as you need to let me know what you think about road surfacing materials for this acreage.

Maybe, sometime this year, Deputy Dave and I will have roads on our property that will be more than dirt, a bit of limestone and grass. It sure would be nice to not have to mow the long driveway and to not worry about getting bogged down in the muck!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

# 288 - Third Arm Fertilizer

Fishing in the same kayak that sank a few weeks ago, at the end of May, has become a bit easier for Deputy Dave. He's been sticking closer to shore since that incident which reminded him of how small he can be in the middle of the ocean. But, I am thankful he's still enjoying his #1 hobby of fishing.

Contending with sudden harsh waves is something every fisherman dreads. To have rather calm waters around you, then to be hit by hard hitting waves is disconcerting. However, we've all heard the stories where it goes beyond a little boat being hit, there have been ships that have rolled due to rogue waves.

Still, seafaring people driven to be on the water will continue forward, in spite of fears. It's kind of like getting back on the horse after being bucked off. You shake in your boots a little, but haul yourself back onto the saddle for another ride.

Here is one of the channel markers near our house.

Deputy Dave paddles beneath an overpass and gets to see many Swallow nests.

These birds are amazing. I find it fascinating that these birds create homes that are tucked into places most creatures cannot access.

Deputy Dave continues paddling between the two overpasses.

Of course, since he's fishing and kayaking nearby, there are definite signs of industry all around the coastline. After all, this is the Greater Houston area and we all know what that means...OIL INDUSTRY.

Yes, we have these famous icons of Texas oil all over the place.

Like a moving work of art, they plunge into the depths of the earth and pull back to start all over again.

Here's another one in the photo below, but the drab appearance of this rig is not as "pretty" when lacking the brilliant red coating.

Along with industry comes pollution. This area, near Baytown, Texas, has warnings for fisherman to not eat the fish from this area very often. For some, there is a warning to NEVER eat the fish or crab from this area. That's kind of scary. The fish in this location consistently test positive for heavy metals and other toxins.

Needless to say, there are no "keepers" brought home from this area, but it's still a great place to explore and to fish for sport.

Again, I can't wait to explore Lake Livingston once we get moved to the country. Lake fishing is definitely different from fishing in the ocean. Deputy Dave is accustomed to sharks and is not deterred by their presence. However, I must say that I am personally TERRIFIED of alligators. Here in Texas, on many trips in and around several bodies of water, I have come across some VERY LARGE alligators who are fierce looking and it is clear you'd not have a chance to escape their jaws, if you were to get too close.

To be fair to saltwater in our area, there are places that have saltwater alligators. So, I guess either lake water or saltwater may have predators lurking beneath the surface that I would like to avoid.

However, since Lake Livingston has been known to be home to rather massive alligators, I'm still opting for a REAL boat once we move to Livingston. Yes, I have kayaked around Lake Livingston and have paddled back into the recesses of inlets that look more like swamp water than lake water, but after I stop for too long to ponder my surroundings or after I see a log partially exposed from beneath the water...I begin to see alligators all around.


Yes, a boat will be high on my list. I will be eager to have catfish in my freezer for a variety of meals, but I am not eager to come across an alligator while catching that dinner.

Then again, once we're moved to the country and fishing on the lake, we will be away from waters that are continuously inundated with toxins. At that time, I guess the third arm growing out of my back won't get its city fertilizer any longer. Darn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

# 287 - Roseate Spoonbill Moment is Needed!

Deputy Dave has been enjoying this bright, beautiful weather here in Texas because it allows him to go fishing more often. We've been having a few storm systems move through, but they usually pass fast to leave a sunny day remaining. Since he's working so hard, due to a lot of over-time required of many deputies working for the Sheriff's Department that is publicly known as being undermanned, he's needing to blow off some steam on the weekends.

Some deputies rush away from their department job because they have extra jobs in the private sector to attend, but Deputy Dave is one of the guys who stays free from outside commitments, so he's one of the deputies able to fulfill over-time demands, even when he's dog-tired. He's loyal to his job.

He likes to says he's going "fishing" but to not expect him to come home with fish to eat or he'd call the outing "catching" instead of "fishing." We have a freezer full of fish froze while extremely fresh. So, we're not in need of more fresh fish and it's sometimes great to get out on the water and to simply enjoy being in the midst of nature, especially after having to work in downtown Houston every day, inside a skyscraper. It's great to get away from the coldness of working near the 20th floor and to instead enjoy floating on the water while getting back in touch with the more basic aspects of life.

In the distance, he spies a Roseate Spoonbill which is a brilliant bird with pink plumage. Their eyes and legs are red. The younger the bird, the paler the color. You can see the red legs in the photos below. It's interesting to me, as a Texan, that breeding of these birds in North America is limited to coastal regions of Texas, Louisiana and Florida. They feed in both saltwater and freshwater while traveling in a flock and can weigh up to four pounds.

These birds are fascinating to me because they find a mate, court each other with awesome rituals, build a nest together, they mate in the prepared nest (after he carried her over the threshold) and soon, 2-5 eggs are laid. Both Momma Bird and Daddy Bird take turns sitting on the eggs until hatching occurs, then they take turns caring for and feeding the chicks for six weeks. At that time, they can both experience the empty nest syndrome together as well.

(Internet Photo to give close-up of bird.)

It's easy to see why the feathers of these birds were highly prized for use in a lady's fan at the turn of the century, which made them sought after by "plume hunters" and decimated their numbers. Fortunately, they are making a comeback. And yes, Flamingos are a close relative of the Roseate Spoonbill.

This odd bird's diet consists of crustaceans, aquatic insects, small frogs, small fish, and such. They wade in the shallows and keep their bill beneath the surface of the water while swinging it back and forth until they find something to snap in their bill for lunch.

Moments like these make a day out with God's goodness even more exciting. I can tell you that special moments such as these, with a Roseate Spoonbill is much more joyful to Deputy Dave than to be watching inmates in orange jumpers all week, attorneys in their high dollar threads, and politics swirling in the air to make everyone tense at the criminal courthouse.

With that said, it appears the current District Attorney in Harris County Texas is on her way out the door and one of the judges in the courthouse is up for the seat. A lot of people are expected to lose their jobs after the new District Attorney is officially on the job. Sadly, if you campaigned for the losing side, you might lose your job or your position could be impacted. The smart attorneys at the courthouse keep their voting preferences close to their heart and away from their mouths.

Pat Lykos has been our District Attorney. Personally, I like her a lot and am sad to see her being ushered out for someone else to clog the court system that Pat has worked so hard to get moving efficiently. She is also the D.A. in our county who set up a team of investigators to work cold files, I believe they've now solved over 50 cold cases. To me, that is amazing.

So, the tension in the courthouse is thick. Besides politics, the courthouse had yet another bomb scare and partial evacuation this past week. in the big city. Working in this kind of environment introduces a high level of stress for those who are dealing with the most unstable part of society.

I think that's why he loves to go kayaking, fishing and to simply be at peace while observing everything in nature that works harmoniously together, except when the shark makes an appearance.

For the moment, all of the concerns of yesterday are melting away.

And then it is over as fast as it began, with a surprise. She shared her unique beauty and is now on her way to offer a delighted exhale of content for the next onlooker to savor. She's a powerful beauty with pink vibrancy. Spoonbills fly with their necks outstretched and glide majestically upon the winds.

Away she carries a man's stress, his discouragement with humanity and his emptiness after being drained by too much work and after being too close to the tragic side of life. This feathered friend leaves him feeling renewed at being reminded that there are innocent creatures sharing the environment with us and his contentment with life begins to surge again. Such is the many cycles of life.

This cycle is about balance.

Working or living in a highly stressful environment requires a person to decompress or they will end up like the hot kettle blowing on the stove, eventually the building pressure will start to seep out. It's better to allow the seeping to happen in a way that is positive and in your control.

Take charge of your decompression.

Laugh with your friends, spend some time with the chickens, play a video game or get out the cards or dominoes, listen to some hard at working hard, but don't forget to work just as hard at playing. You never get too old to play. If you have forgotten how to play, then you have become truly "old."

I hope you have a magnificent "Spoonbill Moment" very soon!

Friday, June 15, 2012

# 286 - Going Full Circle

Our family has moved around through the years; we've lived in several houses during our 26 years of marriage. However, the house that we now have for sale is one that we've enjoyed immensely...we love the neighbors, the floorplan is awesome, it's great being close to downtown Houston while also being close to Galveston, but it's time to move on.

Our two kids are grown. These days, it's just Deputy Dave and myself; it's back to just the two of us, the way we started. So we don't need this big house!

The four of us outside our current house, pre-landscaped shot.
Our first home together was in Germany. The streets around our residence were picturesque. I'm VERY THANKFUL that I was able to experience living in a European village for a few years. I walked everywhere, mostly to the local bakery. But, that phone booth in the corner of the shot...there was one Christmas Day when I dug through my purse and our money jar for spare pfennigs (German coins of the era) and I called my parents and bawled like a little baby because I missed them almost more than I could bear. The sudden distance of thousands of miles was not easy to accept, especially during times when we didn't have computers, nor Internet access, nor cell phones...basically, we hand snail mail and those trips to the post office on base were the highlight of my life. And you can bet that I did my part and wrote plenty of letters to my friends and family.

I missed my little brother and little sister so much that my heart felt as if it were cut. My brother was 14 when I left home and my little Sissy was only 11 years old. I remember that being my most difficult transition of being married so young...I truly had NOT thought about me having to leave home and having to be away from my little sister. I guess I never pictured us being apart. Same for my brother, we were extremely close and protective of each other.

Anyway, in that old-fashioned phone booth, on a snowy, freezing night in 1986...I stood huddled in a German phone booth, talking with my mother --- in between my sobs --- forced to end the conversation abruptly when I was out of pfennigs --- that one phone call was extremely short, but cost as much as it would have if we had been out on the town and enjoyed dinner for two.

After that traumatic night, in a foreign village, trying to simply tell everyone I loved them...I learned to deal with my heartache because I could not afford to finance those brief moments of being able to hear the voices of my family members every time I felt sad.

During those days, International calls were absolutely cost prohibitive. Instead, you sat down to write a letter as your tears fell onto the paper, but you knew it'd take about three weeks for that letter to reach the one you were writing. The words would be old news by the time it reached them. But, you didn't care. You wrote and eagerly looked forward to reading every single word they'd write to you. I treasured my letters. To this day, I still have all of the letters that were sent to me while I lived in Germany. Yes, those are treasures.

Every year, our town in Germany would have a hot air balloon festival. The balloons would be launched from the field behind our house and from the front area of our home. Since our residence was located on the edge of the village, we had a first-rate view of balloons all around. It was exciting.

This is the view from the front yard of our home in Germany.

This shot is taken from our back patio, Heather and us are having
a picnic on the back patio as we're watching the balloon launch.
You can see the clothes lines I would use during the summer and the veggie
garden of our landlord, Peter is also in the background.
The yard with the high hedges belongs to a German neighbor.

Here's a shot further out with the phone booth in it. I always loved the trees, such
unusual trees compared to home. Also, the homes are so beautiful. I always admired the way a family would
simply build onto their home after one of their children got married...most families stayed together.

The villages managed to look unique while still appearing uniform, I guess from the stucco siding. I love Italian Cypress trees and will have a load of them planted on our property this coming year. Germany had so many various kinds of conifers that there was always an evergreen landscape beneath the heavy snows that hit this area every year. When we were in Germany, I felt as if I lived in a middle of a postcard.

Directional signs. I NEVER UNDERSTOOD why America doesn't employ
a simple and CLEAR signage system such as used in Germany.

This little doll of mine came from our "honeymoon" in Germany.
We were American citizens living abroad, so our daughter was
considered "Born Abroad" by American parents.
But, she still learned to speak German.

Here we are, well, I'm the one BEHIND the camera taking all
the photos, but I'm definitely ON SCENE --- this is the little pond that had
a walking trail across the street from our home in Germany. Heather and I
spent many fun afternoons in this area, walking, playing, and feeding the ducks.

The house seen in the picture above is a neighbor's house. The parking
lot for all of our cars is against the neighbor's house. The house we
lived in was next to the parking lot. And Heather's hair was super fine and short
 on top, so I could keep a barrette in her hair by using this method,
which earned her the nickname "Pebbles" by all the military guys.

Here I am holding my baby! My bird legs are still here, somewhere.
I look at where we started, 26 years ago, and I look at where we are seems we're wanting to return to the tranquil setting we started out enjoying for the first few years of our marriage. Back then, we though it was SO BORING to be in the middle of farmland, tucked away in a remote European village. Talk about culture shock! Admittedly, deep down, I knew it was an incredible experience and I'd sometimes look around at my surroundings and I'd focus intensely on all of it because I knew there are so many people who never get to see this side of the world. There were times, even back then, when I'd tell Deputy Dave, "We're going to look back on this one day and wish we had appreciated living here a lot more than we do." Of course, it was difficult to stay in full appreciation mode for so many years...we missed our family more than can be expressed.

Good news...we had each other. And while in Germany, we made another little human being in the midst of all that "boredom."

Even though I still consider Germany to be one of the most beautiful places I've seen, I do remember the every day tedious activities that life continued to pile upon us. Sometimes, living in the midst of a postcard setting doesn't show the parts that include dirty dishes and dirty diapers and an income that is equivalent to living below poverty level. Let's be truly fair about the entire experience.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

However, it sure is nice to wash those dirty dishes as you are savoring an awesome view. It's wonderful to walk out your front door and feel as if the scenery is ever changing because you are surrounded by nature's constant re-dress...more leaves, less leaves, broken branches, growth, blossoms and high winds can make it a new view every day.

I guess the bottom line is that we've lived the city life. We've also had our years of living the country life. In between, it did serve us well to have access to downtown as we were building our careers. For early retirement, we're trying to become established on our acreage. With that said, let me make it clear...People are fantastic; we have lots of family and lots of friends who we love, but day by day, I guess we've hit the age where we enjoy being with people, but we treasure our peace.

I hope to one day soon, maybe in 2012, if we're include a photo of our cabin in the woods as our last home. I'm not saying it will be our "only" home, but I do believe our home in the woods will be our last home. Heck, I have to be open-minded, we might win the Texas Lottery next week.