Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yorktown Thanksgiving—Surprise!

Friday Morning

One of the good things about having an RV is that you can be flexible. We certainly found out about that over the Thanksgiving weekend. We started off after my early dismissal from work on Wednesday, since Lee had the whole week off from his generous employer. By the time we got all the errands taken care of (which I handled gracefully, having finally figured out that “leaving” doesn’t mean heading for your destination, but doing a couple of hours’ worth of errands I didn’t know were coming up, THEN leaving), it was around 4 pm.

We didn’t take any pictures on the trip out, but this one from the Robert’s Steak House web site should help you find a good meal on I-10. This photo from Wikipedia is just a reminder of what put Shiner on the map—other than the Lutheran retired preacher’s home.

We were, at that point, heading toward Angleton to spent the night at Chris’s house, then go to the family Thanksgiving dinner at Lee’s brother’s house (Chris’s dad). We had not been through the Bastrop area since before the huge fire there, but by the time we got to that part, it was too dark to really see anything. The traffic through Bastrop was pretty incredible, and we enjoyed watching people attempt to get ahead by driving on the access road that they didn’t realize veered off from the main highway. At some point, Lee had me look at his phone because he saw a text had come through, and realized Chris had been trying to get in touch with him. It turned out that Ernest Sr. did not want to go to the family Thanksgiving after all, so we decided to turn Ursula around and head to Yorktown, so we could stay with Lee’s dad and let Chris go to Angleton and see his family for the holiday—he now works in Yorktown, so any chance to see them is good.

Turning around meant that we embarked on an adventure in driving down secondary [and tertiary] highways in pitch darkness in a huge vehicle. [Across the railroad tracks from FM154 a few minutes out of West Point, we saw huge piles of smoldering embers. Remnants from the Bastrop fire?] Luckily Lee was up to it and Ursula did just fine.

When we got to the scenic town of Flatonia (really, it was scenic from what I could tell in the dark) we stopped at Robert’s Steak House just off I-10. [It really is unusual to find food this good abutting a truck stop. Take note trucker friends!] We had a really good time bantering with the saucy and very sparkly waitress (she had the biggest earrings I ever saw, avery shiny nose piercing, and shiny hair doo-dads), watching a family patiently taking their potty training twins back and forth to the bathroom over and over, and eating some truly delicious meat. I had kabobs made with filet, and wow they were fine. [I was not able to finish my New York strip, so we had the leftovers in eggs for breakfast the next day. It was all the seasoning the eggs needed.]

We got to drive through Shiner, Texas and see where all that yummy Shiner Bock beer comes from—the brewery was already nicely lit up for Christmas, as was the whole town. I loved their d├ęcor—simple strands of colored lights across the streets.

We eventually made it to the farm around 9 pm, long after Ernest Sr. had gone to bed, so we parked and listened to the owls and coyotes. Let me tell you, both of them have been quite loud on this trip. HOOT HOOT HOOT YIP YIP YIP. In the morning, we found evidence of some coyote fun—a whole bunch of really pretty feathers from what appeared to be a former caracara bird (Mexican eagle). I am not sure what happened to it, but it didn’t look good.

Above: Suna holds one of the caracara feathers. Right: Suna made some of the feathers into this bouquet in a paper “vase” that came from Dad and Flo’s house. Below: One of the feathers as the coyotes left it.

By the time we were up and active Thanksgiving morning, Lee’s dad was already out in his New Tractor and plowing away at a field. For someone who wasn’t feeling too well, he certainly had a lot of plowing in him. He plowed at least 6 hours. He has already plowed a bunch more today, too. [If you’re interested in more about Dad’s current status, I posted an update to The Hermitage.]

Dad loves to do things in his new tractor. He just loves everything to do with farming. He often quotes a former neighbor, “If you love what you do, it ain’t work.”

Lee and I checked out the baby bunny they had rescued last time he was here. Bun Bun seems fine. All the cattle seem fine, but I was sad to hear that #10 lost another calf this week, so she is doomed as a chronic aborter. She is the nicest one. I wish I could keep her as a pet. Sigh. You can’t be sentimental about livestock, I know.

I didn’t get any new pictures of the bunny, but this little feller was very perky. He was very persistent at chewing walnuts and thawing the shell remnants at us or Ursula. Can you say, “Cute?”

Lee cooked us some egg sandwiches with leftover steak in them—that tided us over until time to feed Ernest Sr. We had figured we would “get” to go to Victoria and eat at the Furr’s cafeteria. I remember the other time we did that—just about the most miserable meal I ever ate, though Lee and his dad liked it just fine. It was just so sad seeing all the old folks being-taken out of their nursing homes for a meal, all the sad people who were unable to make a meal for themselves, and the poor folk having to work that day (who were quite cheery about it). And argh, that food just is not of the Canova Anderson Kendall (Mom) quality I remember from childhood. So when it was declared that no, he didn’t want to go to Victoria either, I was pleased.

Suna is either checking her email or posting to Facebook. Look how happy she is!

Then I realized I needed to make something for dinner. I had just about settled on festive macaroni and cheese when it hit me that I just about had a Thanksgiving dinner in Ursula. I rummaged through the pantry and discovered that yes, indeed, I had bought a thing of Stovetop Stuffing at some point. And we had delicious turkey lunch meat! And 5 leftover rolls from dinnerTuesday night! Plus, there was the stuff I had intended to contribute to the family dinner we were originally going to. So, I made home-made cranberry-orange sauce first.

Here is how to make that:

    Cook one bag of cranberries and one cup of sugar or equivalent together with a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. Put some of the orange pulp in there, too. (Optional is bits of candied ginger. ) Cook on high until the cranberries pop and turn the liquid red. Cook a few more minutes until the sauce get a bit thick. Cool in refrigerator, which will thicken it more. This is so good.

    After the cranberries went into the fridge, I went to work on the sweet potatoes that Lee had baked Wednesday morning while I was at work. I mashed them up (had brought the masher with me, thankfully) and added a tablespoon of cinnamon and a stick (yep) of butter. It looked like it needed a bit more liquid. The only milk product I had was caramel latte flavored creamer(the kind with real cream) that I had brought for my coffee. I put about a half-cup of that in there and mixed it all up. I then put it in the new baking dish we had bought, and made Lee figure out how to light the oven pilot light. We got that going, then, oops. The pan was too big for the little RV oven. But, the stuff heated up OK with the door slightly ajar. And we didn’t asphyxiate or anything.

    While that was cooking I washed dishes. That is how we know there is a leak in the water line somewhere. Ursula has to go back in the shop, because we could not find it without moving the fridge. Good thing we have old towels.

Can you see the dog?

Moving along, I set the table nicely and decorated with some wildflowers I picked when we were out looking at the oil wells earlier, and the feather bouquet. I lit a candle, too, so it was all quite festive. We ended up having a fine feast, even if the turkey was lunch meat, and Lee had to eat a sausage because that’s all we had! Oh, and I had bought some dates rolled in almonds, so we even had dessert. I was really proud of myself for cobbling together a meal for the three of us, just like in the tradition of Thanksgiving. I may not like the “exploitation of Native Americans” aspect of the holiday, but I do like the family nature of it, and the focus on being thankful for what you have. It’s a good thing to remind ourselves of, perhaps more than once a year, even. [Yeah, a wise person once said, “It’s not so important to have what you want. It’s more important to want what you have.” How many of us clutter our lives with unimportant things we don’t even want once we acquire them?]

The flowers I put in with my poor plant, which is sprouting from its roots. Note we have a Christmas Tree!

Lee’s dad went to bed real early, so we finally broke in theTV and watched football and some other stuff. It was quite homey! More later…

We were treated to a really spectacular sunset.

Saturday Morning

Yesterday was a pretty lazy day, at least for us. Lee’s dad continued to plow another field. He felt better for doing it, too--it is so good to see him feeling stronger, so maybe he will be able to do all his treatments starting next week. I was not feeling too great, on the other hand, so mostly took it easy. Lee and I did go for a drive in the Prius, and we got some fencing to make the bunny a little cage to hop around outdoors in. We also got materials to make spaghetti for dinner. The spaghetti also went over well. Lee’s dad said I was “a good girl,” which means I did well, I guess. [It does. It also means he likes you.]

We took it easy, but bird drama ensued.

We spent the evening watching Iron Man on the television, since we can’t get ESPN on the rabbit ears and Chris decided not to show up after all. I also read a most informative issue of Mother Earth News. I guess we need to subscribe to that, since it has so many ads for utility vehicles, small tractors, chicken houses and other accoutrements of gentle-person ranchers.

These guys were not impressed by the drama unfolding above them. They didn’t even take bets on the outcome.

We spent the evening watching Iron Man on the television, since we can’t get ESPN on the rabbit ears and Chris decided not to show up after all. I also read a most informative issue of Mother Earth News. I guess we need to subscribe to that, since it has so many ads for utility vehicles, small tractors, chicken houses and other accoutrements of gentle-person ranchers.

It was eerily quiet much of last night. The harsh winds of the day completely died down and it was deathly still. For the longest time there were no birds, coyotes or cattle noises. There was just the distant sound of a well getting fracked a few miles away, emitting a sort of spooky, foggy glow. And it was hot. We awoke to cloudy skies, and a front has just rolled through, bringing some welcome rain. Luckily the plowing got finished just in time!

Lee is taking the rain as an opportunity to give Ursula a good bath. She gets lots of bugs on that huge windshield. Even if we drive through mud on the way out of here, her screens and such will be cleaner—they got pretty dusty over the long, dry summer. I straightened up Ursula, but figure there is no use vacuuming if Chris will eventually get here, and the guys will come in with rainy shoes on. Might get another dose of cow poop on the carpet.

Nothing witty to say about this one.

Saturday Night

I went on a walk once it stopped raining, to see if it would help whatever ails me. It was breezy, but a nice walk around the property with nice birds and fresh air.

The tractor tire is taller than me, even with the hat.

By then Chris had indeed showed up, so we all chatted about how happy we are to have jobs, because, well, we are. It has been a rough few years! Then Lee and Chris decided to go put in some more fence posts. So I got to see Lee in action driving the tractor! Go Lee! It mostly went quite smoothly, except a couple of the posts hit rocks, which caused the metal posts to bend, then reverberate, leading to Chris getting bonked on the head by the shovel attachment. They eventually took it off. I know I am proving I am quite a city girl for saying this, but wow, tractors are powerful. And it is cool to see all the delicate things you can make them do. All of this time, the cows watched us carefully.

Lee not bonking Chris on the head with that shovel-y thing. In the foreground is the next pole to be driven in.

Actually, they were following us around all afternoon. I think they know something's up. The calves are going to new homes next week—turns out they BOTH get to be professional cow daddies. Unfortunately, #10 has to go be someone's dinner, because she can't seem to bear calves. I tried to argue for keeping her as a pet, but it didn't work. City girl. The other two cows get to have new little ones around January, with the big gray Brahma as the father. I can't wait to see them! And apparently three more cows are coming, which have a white bull as the father. At least there will be more cow variety next year.

This patient mama is still nursing two full-grown bull calves, only one of which is hers. She does draw the line when they try to mount her—at least for now. That’s why they’re going elsewhere to be daddies.
This is some of what can happen when you find a rock a couple of feet underground.

We needed to head out around 5, so off we went. Unfortunately, the wind had not died down. Driving a large rectangular object down the road in gale winds is not fun, judging from watching Lee do just that. It took so much effort and concentration to keep her on the road and not against a guardrail or other car. And we also had to dodge various items that had fallen off someone's vehicle in the wind. A set of steps, a folding chair, a small baseball bat. We were very happy to arrive home and see the happy young people. Ahh. I am thankful that I get to try to make a more "normal" Thanksgiving meal tomorrow.

If anyone other than Lee or I reads this, I hope you had a reasonable Thanksgiving. It has been a bit hard on me with my dad gone, and not being able to be with my kids, but on the other hand, Lee and his dad seem really happy, and that is wonderful. I think it was much better to stay on the farm than to try to make him travel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More Non-Ursula Travel

In the last post, Suna mentioned that I traveled to Yorktown this weekend without Suna and Ursula. I posted the results in my personal blog since they are more related to Dad, his struggle with cancer, and things that happened on the farm—and it wasn’t a pleasure trip in Ursula.

If you’re interested (there are lots of pictures posted there), here are the links:

  • I arrived in time to check Dad out of the hospital, see his new tractor delivered, fight a fire, and check him back in to the hospital.
  • Chris and I brought Dad back home. Then we all fell over.
  • Chris and I hung two gates, planted fence posts, and rescued a bunny.
  • The test results show Dad is doing much better than we had originally been lead to believe.

This wouldn’t be an Ursula post without a picture, so here’s one now:

Dad admires his new tractor.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Ranching, November 5-6

It’s been a busy couple of weeks—lots going on with Lee’s dad, which will be another post, and while he was gone I was partying all last weekend (really, three parties in three days—that never happens!). This is why I have not managed to post about our most recent trip in Ursula until now!

We had planned to head back to Wild Type Ranch in early November, but we realized it would be a good idea to wait until Saturday morning to head out, rather than Friday evening after work. It just didn’t sound fun to try to navigate an unfamiliar cow pasture in the dark, and dark is coming earlier and earlier these days [thanks to the disappearance of Daylight Savings Time! Why can’t they just leave time alone? (L:)].

This is one that really interested me. On the ranch, it could use off-road diesel, which would pay for the difference in cost over time. There’s also a 6x6 that has twice the cargo capacity of the 4x4s. Photo courtesy of Central Texas Power Sports

On Saturday we did get out fairly early, for us, but we made a lot of stops. One was a fun stop. We visited the place that sells "mules," those little vehicles you drive around on your farm or ranch and use to do work. It was fun looking at all the options, and looking at what was available helped us narrow down what we think we will need when/if we have the property to drive one on. The diesel ones were cool, but they only come in the large size that costs as much as a small car. I was pleased that you can get windshields on them. My poor hair has enough issues, even with the new cowboy hat. It looks like if Lee trades in his motorcycle, we won’t even have to shell out bucks, too. That is nice.

After other errands, such as putting gas in Ursula, we finally lumbered our way to Milam County. Some of those roads are not fun in an immense vehicle. On the other hand it’s fun scenery. We made it to the ranch by mid afternoon, and got Ursula all situated in a beautiful spot next to the woods, with a view of my favorite tank (a tank is a man-made pond, in Texan).

Ursula looking spectacular next to pretty woods and clouds

The spot we parked in was perfect. The dining area window looked out on the woods, and the front was perfect for watching little birds in the area between the woods and the field. It was also fairly level, which worked out well. Once there is electricity out there, it will be fun to listen to all the nature sounds from there. On the other hand, there was evidence of feral hogs on the other side of the woods—I would be OK not hearing those.

My favorite tank. I hope the willows come back.

Lots and lots of birds come to the water around here. I saw a whole bunch Sunday morning when I just went over and sat quietly for about an hour. There was a cool curlew looking for something in the mud, a flicker, a tiny hawk (forgot what that one is), and all kinds of sparrows in a mixed flock. They were taking baths at the side of the water and looked like they were having so much fun. Of course there were many doves, meadowlarks and such. My idea of a good time, anyway.

Look here’s one now…It isn’t by the tank, but you can see the wire oscillating from the bird’s immediate departure.

Anyway, once we were all settled in we ambled over to the barn and visited with Sara and Ralph. She was sorting beef deliveries out of the many freezers o’ beef, and he’d been messing with the cattle that are still there (lots had left the day before, to lands where grass still exists). He showed us the incredibly cool scaffolding kind of thing he had made from scraps lying around the place.

Scaffolding demo

It’s a platform that the front loader attaches to, creating a very sturdy surface for painting the steel framework of the house that’s exposed over the porches. No moving of ladders necessary! It also angles further up for tree trimming (there are slats on the floor to keep you from falling). What I like about it is that he had painted all the metal to match the house, and stained all the wood parts. It has both utility and craftsmanship. And, I suspect, it is a lot of fun. Between Ralph and Lee’s nephew Chris, I think they could make almost anything.

The cow dog puppies. There mother is off searching for a ball.

We went for a visit to see the progress on the really interesting house they are building. It’s a metal frame building with amazing insulation. It is totally silent inside. I can’t wait to see how it finishes! And it is way bigger than their current cabin, to which we returned to chat, fetch eggs (yay I like that part), and pet the horses (I also like that part). Both Sara’s horses are lovely, and she is doing a great job with them.

I didn’t get any pictures of the house, but here is one of a hawk. “House…” “Hawk…” They both start with “H.”

We then had another delicious dinner cooked by Ralph, and fun conversation. It was so relaxing in so many ways. They are great hosts.

I got up pretty early the next day and made coffee so I could stare at birds. Lee and I also walked a lot, checking out the terrain, climbing in the areas that eventually will be water, and just breathing in quiet.

This view is just one of the reasons why we love this place. There is also a sense of peace I have only found a few other places.

Later in the morning, Sara went riding.

Around that time, a guy came over to practice falconry in the next field. To so this, he put a big red and white kite high in the air, with a big old hunk of meat hanging off it. He then got the falcon out of the car, put it on his gloved hand, took off its hood, and sent it up. After a couple of screeches, it spotted the food and went for it. Lasted about a minute, I guess. Then it ate for quite a while. He brought the bird over for us to meet her. That’s her there.

The bird also has a faithful companion.
The bird’s place in the back of the SUV
I thought I had a picture of the falcon striking, but damned if I can find it! This one is just after, and the falcon is on the way to the ground with its “prey.”

It turns out the falconry guy used to be a horse trainer, too, so he talked to Sara about the gentle way she is teaching her horses to do things. It’s like a partnership, and you have to understand what is going on in the horse’s mind.

Discussing horsey things. Note the horse is participating.

It was fun watching Sara convince the horse to approach Ursula. I am sure the noisy box was not his idea of a good time, but eventually, he went up to her. It was two steps forward, one step back. During all this time, the poor other horse was not pleased. He missed his friend and was not happy to not be the center of attention. He kept running up and down his field, flinging his beautiful tail and neighing as if to say, “Look at me! I am over here! I am very pretty!” [And he was, too! (L:))]

It’s a good thing horses are telepathetic. Otherwise, how would we have known the unridden one was unhappy—except by listening to his frantic whinnying and watching him run around like a border collie fenced next to a busy road.

Before we left, we went on another long walk. Below is a nice photo of some of the land we were wandering around on. It was nice and cloudy, too, so not too hot.

The creek and hay field.

We were pleased that it did not rain, even though the rain is needed, since getting Ursula off that field when it became mud would be a challenge. But we did it! Lee is a great off-road driver of immense vehicles!