Painted Churches, St John the Baptist

This is one of the many beautiful painted churches in central Texas. The early settlers from Czechoslovakia and Germany hand-painted their new places of worship in the style of the places that they came from. The churches are off the beaten track, in rural areas, and a joy to behold. I like to call this one the ‘peach church’ but it is really St. John the Baptist, a Czech Catholic Church, in the hamlet of Ammannsville (closer to San Antonio than Austin but in the central area otherwise known as the hill country).

Not only did the beautiful stained glass windows have Czech names on them but the stages of the cross were also annotated in Czech. It struck me that the original settlers probably only spoke Czech for at least one generation, if not longer. Each community is separate, if only by a few miles. Perhaps they learned German before English to communicate with fellow settlers? It’s remarkable and heart warming that they are so well maintained. The original building dates from 1890, it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909 and this current building is from 1917.

It was another cloudy but warm day in May. The dark clouds give the church an ominous look as did the thousands of tussock moth caterpillars that covered the church and surrounding area. You couldn’t help standing on them or them dropping on your head – eek! My dopey husband wanted to touch their furry bodies but I stopped him in time. Their cute little fur spikes are poisonous, causing a nasty rash, and no doubt he would have ended up in ER (he is highly allergic to bug bites).

Holy Caterpillars! Zoom in, if you dare….

Country Matters

This is the last post from the involuntary vacation series. Our final coffee stop was at a pretty little hill country town named La Grange, settled by Czech immigrants in 1850. We were so enamored with its charming town square that we made a second trip two months later. One this first visit, I nosed around the town square looking at the historical markers and town public notices. This notice, below, about intended treatment of Boll weevil insect in the cotton fields fascinated me. By chance, I had been reading about the recent Texas wines in the Panhandle region.  One of the wine growers’ major problems is that chemicals used to treat the cotton can drift and kill the vines.

I recently read this review, in red, by the Chalk Report of a winery in Loop, a remote area in north west Texas.  ‘Texas Wine wins Double Gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition’ Climate change is affecting wine growing here, as it is in the rest of the world.  There are some wineries just north of us but now the Panhandle area is producing some of the best medal winners.  Cool nights, hot days and low humidity create a good environment for growth.  Tempranillo and Bordeaux seem to suit this climate region. On a nostalgic segue, in Scotland we eagerly awaited the new Beaujolais Bordeaux every year – a bright, vibrant new pressing.  Bordeaux is called Claret.  I know you think that Scots just drink whisky and eat haggis but our wine drinking is an elegant legacy of the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France. 

Courtesy of Zeesstof on Flickr

My husband took this fabulous photo of a Red Brangus bull with egret friend in Port Aransas.  If you read the lost cattle notice beneath it, you can see someone has lost a Red Brangus bull.  How??  It’s not like losing your tabby cat.  They weigh up to 3000 lbs. and are worth between $7000 and $16,000.  When we lived on a farm in Scotland, the drunk neighbor did not adequately fence in his bullocks.  They all ran straight down our drive and galloped through the open door into the glass sunporch – talk about bulls in a China shop!  I know it’s not PC but I had to smack their bottoms with a broom to get them out of the house – I swear they laughed at me.  Then I chased them back home and woke up the sozzled farmer (perhaps he had found some Beaujolais Bordeaux?).  I had a few choice words for him…

Ah, I miss some aspects of living a truly rural life.

Flower Hydrant

On our recent trip to La Grange in the Texas hill country, I noticed the quirkily painted fire hydrants. I love this one because it is surrounded by our most famous wildflower, the Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, an indigenous wild lupin. In Spring the fallow fields in central Texas become Monet paintings – sometimes just bluebonnets but also swathes of red, yellow and orange wildflowers. They took my breath away as we drove past them; one of nature’s wonders.

This one was less flowery but full of art – even on the pavement… I did wonder if local children helped decorate them. It made me smile. In our forest retreat hydrants and signs are painted brown or green so as to blend with the trees. It helps keep burglaries down because no one can figure out where they are, especially at night with the low lighting!

Lighting the Menorah in Texas

This is the first year that I have attended our township’s lighting of the Menorah to celebrate Chanukah. My heart was touched by the humanity of the celebration. Every ethnicity was represented, Jewish and not. We have a large population of Latin Americans so many of the Jewish people were from that continent. The Rabbi spoke beautifully with warmth and enthusiasm. As he started to light the Menorah, he asked us to think of someone close to us who needed healing. So many of us do this year. Below, the Rabbi is singing the blessings between lighting each candle, culminating in the 8th one to represent the 8 days of Chanukah.

As you can hear, it was a vibrant crowd with children running around with dreidels and shields. Some attendees were Orthodox Jews but others were Reform. There was even a lapsed Catholic with tears in her eyes remembering the community feel of her old church. The band was Hasidic and amazingly good. I will post videos in future posts but in this last video below they are singing about Chanukah.

HAPPY CHANUKAH!!

The Hawk Conundrum

I walked into the living room and wondered why I was there.  As I tried to retrace my steps in my befuddled head, I could sense someone watching me intently.  Turning around to look out the window, I spotted a beautiful red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence.  This one was fully grown with a white and brown knitted vest – very fashionable this year.  She was communing with me, as follows.

HAWK – Hello Squirrel Lady.

KERRY – Hello Magnificent Hunter of squirrels.

HAWK – May I have one of your squirrels?

KERRY – They are not available on demand but you can hunt them when I am not looking.

HAWK – Thank you.

Then it flew off, leaving me laughing.  I have started feeding the squirrels again as winter beckons and it is bloody freezing.  They are getting nice and fat at Kerry’s organic squirrel farm.  The hawk has been screeching and I wonder if there is a late born baby.  The weather has been very mild until now.  Now I listen for screeching and feed the squirrels under the chairs or bushes.  It’s a win-win.

It has been a strange week.  Today I have my first in person appointment with my psychiatrist in two years.  I was offered a job through Linked In last week but it was in Austin.  On Friday I have my first contract job since the Pandemic started – unless they cancel the flight because of the Omicron variant.  On Sunday Teddy drove off with a friend’s fully packed car and trailer to Washington State – he is currently in New Mexico or Utah.  You should have seen us physically move the trailer down our sloped drive to the awaiting car – fitter than we thought!

This is a throw back photo to a fabulous trip to Abu Dhabi where I held my first falcon. Pala was boarding at the most luxurious falcon resort until her owner went hunting with her again. Pala was worth considerably more than me… As a child and young woman I had a phobia about birds and would run screaming from a pigeon in a square. Exposure therapy really works.

Floral Spike with Bee

One of my most popular posts of late was Floral Spike. After reading all the comments from avid gardeners, I decided to allow my Coleus to spike even if that led to the plant’s death. My reasons were that it would likely die in the winter and that the spikes attract butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. I managed to snap this busy little bee foraging. Texas bees were ravaged by the February Freeze – about 25% died. This particular Coleus does look a little sad but she has fed so many garden visitors.

The Honey Bee, Apis mellifera Linnaeus, is upside down in the spike, trying to avoid my nosy gaze. In the last few weeks my other Lime Green and Maroon Coleus has also started to spike.

It almost looks like a Texas bluebonnet but the Coleus spikes are often blue. Like the other Coleus, I shall allow it to spike and feed our garden friends.

This Coleus grew from a tiny plant pot to this verdant bush in just 6 months and is still popping out little ones at the back. Being part lizard, I feel that winter has arrived and I am sitting with a fleece in front of the gas fire. It is 77 F outside…

Cute Baby Animals!

I felt like I needed an antidote to my last post…  Over the past few weeks, I noticed that the water in the Infinity Pool and Blue Lagoon was murky.  I had my suspicions so we put the night camera out.  My heart melted when I saw these baby raccoon kits.  The next night we put out some of our old cat’s toys and the kits didn’t disappoint.  It has been really hot so they loved having a wee bath. Perhaps they are bathed more than Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’ kids?

Raccoons are part of the Procyonidae family widely spread through North and South America.  There are 7 species, from Alaska to Argentina, and include Coatimundi and Kinkajou.   Their original Latin name, Ursus Lotor, referred to their perceived habit of washing their paws.  As omnivores they will eat food in shallow water but the real reason for them moving their webbed paws in a washing motion is because they use them as vibration sensors.  Our kits were about the size of the Pyrex dish (although apparently two can fit at a push…)  In my mind, they look like a cute little bear/cat/dog hybrid.

Mother raccoon did not appear on camera so she was probably resting in the reserve, leaving the kits in the Garden of Raccoon Delights.  Raccoons usually have 2 to 8 kits but it’s likely that our 6 kits are cousins. Female raccoons sometimes live together to raise their kits – the original Sister Wives?  The biggest raccoon I have seen in our yard was as big as a Bulldog – their weight ranges from 5 to over 50 lbs.  Mrs Stripe, who was a street cat from Egypt, looked at it with utter astonishment.  It didn’t smell like a dog or a cat, so what was it??

Striped tails are my weakness so I smile every time I look at the video.  They are so small, fluffy and playful!  In another video we heard them whining for Mama.  It sounded like a puppy whining softly.  In general raccoons can make a variety of noises – yowling, growling, hissing, purring, chirping and cooing.  This litter was really quiet and I couldn’t hear them even though they were feet away from my bed.  What goes on in our yard at night?  It’s a magical, if occasionally stinky, place.

Fancy Women

One of the many aspects of Texas that I love are the signs. This one tickled me and I wonder what constitutes a fancy woman? This is actually a sign from our next door neighbor, Louisiana. I noticed plenty of ‘fancy women’ in New Orleans….most were drunk as skunks and flashing their boobs from balconies in Bourbon Street.

I like to think of myself as a fancy woman but in the nicest possible way… This is the ‘skirt that disappeared’. Just before the Pandemic started I ordered a maxi skirt from American Eagle. After some weeks they got in touch to say that the skirt was no longer available. I completely understood given the chaotic situation but eventually started to wonder when I would get my refund. Just as I was getting ready to complain, my skirt arrived in the mail three months later. I had absolutely nowhere to wear it but finally it came out on my birthday, one year later.

This sign was on the Cantina next to our Cajun restaurant. It reminded me of a sign on a major toll road in Houston that made me laugh every time I saw it. It was a ramshackle old sign with mismatched letters leading to a very insalubrious bar in an industrial area, along the train tracks. “Our beer is colder than your ex wife’s heart…” I imagine that only ‘fancy women’ would ever dare go there!

As for the Cantina, all margaritas make you sexier. They didn’t reference the type of meat – that’s always suspicious…

I love marinas and this one at Lake Conroe has got way fancier as the decades have passed. Last year there was a Trump rally in boats on the lake – there was another on Lake Travis in the north of Texas where 4 of the boats sank. I will leave you to imagine how I felt but let’s just say schadenfreude was involved. Before you ask, no one died – there was too many boats on the lake at the same time. The Devil looks after his own…

A leopard hopped…

This is a Southern Leopard Frog.  Isn’t he perfectly camouflaged in the mulch beside the Blue Lagoon (former Infinity Pool)?  Teddy and I were so excited about a new garden pet and ran for cameras.  ‘Leo’ sat patiently and posed for the paparazzi.  Then we Googled him.  They are indigenous and live in the south east portion of the US.  There are 23 types of Leopard frog in the Americas – who knew?  I loved the names of the unusual species such as Bigfoot Leopard Frog, Vegas Valley Leopard Frog and my favorite, Montezuma’s Leopard Frog.

They need to live by water so I guess the containment pond is close enough.  He has a very distinctive call – Their croaking, chuckling call has been compared to the sound of rubbing an inflated balloon.  That is one of the many reasons why I have to wear earplugs at night…  Judging the cacophony outside my window there are thousands hundreds living in our reserve.

National Geographic states:

Leopard frogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They sit still and wait for prey to happen by, then pounce with their powerful legs. They eat beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs, including their own species, and even birds, and garter snakes.

WOW!  That is an impressive little predator with quite an appetite – and most welcome in our well stocked jungle preserve.

Then Teddy and I realized we had seen a leopard frog before.  When we first moved into the street, I was enchanted by all the pumpkins you could buy in autumn.  It was a very hot, steamy October and we kept hearing frogs outside the front door.  Later we realized that the wee pumpkins had rotted with delicious larvae inside, attracting all the frogs.  Even Tim Burton couldn’t create a Halloween scenario like that one!

In retrospect, we wonder if this little green tree frog was hopping away from the gluttonous leopard frog near the pumpkins… It really is a jungle out there!

This is our delightful Frog Lady guide on a trip to El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rica. The Coqui Frog is the symbol of Puerto Rico and sings all night long. This is a link to my post about El Yunque.

references – National Geographic, USNF and Wikipedia

Blue Lagoon

It’s official – Infinity is a bust!  More precisely, our Pyrex Infinity Pool was not appreciated by our garden critters.  We watched as they walked cautiously around it, looking at it suspiciously. “What did the People do with the old bowl???”  I think they couldn’t see the bottom of it or the edge and it made them wary about how deep it was.  The critters had spoken and we trekked off to our favorite ‘antique’ shop in Tomball  to replace their pool.  We enjoyed our antiquing but you know it is time to stop when you wonder if they would like our stuff…  The precious bowl Blue Lagoon was actually found at the church shop and cost $2.

Infinity’s a bust!

I was tickled that it was a genuine ceramic from the Coushatta Casino Resort in Louisiana. The Coushatta Tribe moved from their home base in south west Louisiana to Alabama to avoid Spanish explorer Hernandez DeSoto after an encounter in 1540.  They relocated back to their homelands and some live in East Texas.  Gambling casinos are illegal in Texas despite a recent bill in the Texas Senate.  Teddy felt that we should have made some miniature roulette tables to our lagoon but it is too hot to be bothered now!

The new Blue Lagoon is a hit with the garden critters as you can see at the top and below with the infra- red camera.  That is an indigenous pack rat sitting on the diving rock.  Given his occupation, he would have loved rummaging through the antique shop.  My favorite find was a George Bush doll! 

Perfect for a pack rat!

Does anyone else remember old school desks that still had the inkwell in them?  By the 60s we had stopped using the inkwell but I do remember having a few fountain pens.  It was a really hot sticky day so Teddy and I enjoyed a wee glass of Pinot Grigio at this lovely outside bar.  Afterwards we realized we hadn’t had any breakfast – we are turning into retired reprobates.

Cheers!! Sláinte!! Salud!! Prost!!