Monday, April 25, 2016

Bluebonnets are the color of Texas

Folks come to the HIll Country for the rocky heights and rivered depths, the feeling of the road racing away like the passage of time, and the crest of the hill a gateway to mystery. 

 And in very special Springtimes, for living blue blanketing the roadsides. 

The blue is fading now but we remember the hue of March. 

Copyright 2009-2016 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Yellow-headed Blackbird -- just passing through

Look who stopped by our neighborhood last Friday--a Yellow-headed Blackbird!

 My generous neighbor Gail Gardner called me over to see him at her feeder--you know your neighborhood is good when someone calls you to come see a bird.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds aren't rare but the only chance to see them here is during migration. 

And I've never seen one before, which made Friday a great day.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the birds range north into Canada and west into Pacific coast states to breed in summer.  For more about these gorgeous migrants, check out this link: Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds.

Then hang out your seed feeders and have your binoculars ready.  You never know what you might see in the Texas Hill Country.

Copyright 2009-2016 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Small space, big joy

We started with a vision--birds, butterflies and flowers with a sprinkling of herbs and vegetables; places for the birds to nest and rest plus water to drink and bathe. Greenery summer and winter.  Lush but still water-wise, with drip irrigation so we could travel in summer without coming back to crispy critter plants.

When we bought the house, the backyard had good bones--trees around the back fence and shading the porch -- but the center was bermuda grass, as invasive as roaches.

Our first conversion step was easy to figure out: surround the yard with beds of flowering bushes and trees, infrastructure to provide shelter and food for the birds. We pickaxed our way around the yard, planting favorites like firebush, American beauty berry, Turk's Cap and more, edging the beds with the limestone rocks we dug up. Some of those plants were offspring of plants from our last place.  I love the living sequence in the garden.

The vision for the biggest area in the center was not so clear, engendering a number of (heated) family discussions before we happened on an image of a formal parterre garden with a center urn circled by herb beds.

I've been more of a wildscape gardener in past but small areas need more structure. Not to mention paths for access, terracing to cope with the slope, raised beds for planting.  And a fountain in the center because water enlivens any space.    

Denny said he could do the hard part, leveling the slope, building the beds, running electricity for the fountain. I would pickaxe to break up the limestone, then plan and plant the greenery.  But first we'd have to kill the infernal bermuda grass.

Once we found the fountain, we were motivated.

We decided on materials, then all we had to do was do it. Every day for hours. In August.  And in the middle we decided to stain the fence too. If you're thinking we were crazy, you're right.

But within four months we'd stained the fence and built and planted the beds, with drip installed for everything but the bit of remaining lawn (soon to be converted to a fairly drought-tolerant and less invasive strain of St. Augustine).  

Every morning when I looked out the window I was happy.

Of course there were the day it rained 5" in a few hours and I realized we didn't have a drainage pipe through the bed...see the water coming to crest the lower bed?

The pipe went in when the paths and patio were installed.

I used a number of evergreen plants for year-round color and planted for a three-season bloom span, although this winter was so warm few plants died back and several bloomed all winter.

We're happy and the garden has truly become a bird, butterfly and bee retreat. 

Copyright 2009-2016 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Entwined -- A Farmer's Market Find

Almost 7 months ago I stopped writing pieces for Hill Country Mysteries.  It was more of a drop than a stop, unintentional.  Mom's stroke made the year hard emotionally and we spent a lot of time away with her. Fortunately she's recovered well and we celebrated her 90th birthday early this year. 

After the hardest part of Mom's recovery was over, Denny and I embarked on an ambitious garden plan ... I was so fatigued for months that it seemed too hard to climb the stairs and do brain-work in my office.  

And life continued to happen--family events and trips, volunteer work and visits...along with a growing inertia as I wondered how to break the ice of absence.  

But I've missed you and I'm happy to get back to sharing life in the Texas Hill Country and beyond.

Almost every Saturday morning, Denny and I go to the New Braunfels Farmer's Market for the best fresh food in the region, grown by farmers within 100 miles of town. It's not a chore like the grocery store, more like an extended family gathering. We wander the aisles, tasting and visiting. And after years of purchasing, I think of the sellers as 'our' farmers.  We know them and often their families, where they live, what they raise and how they farm.  I love buying from the producers--we're getting great food and our purchases help to feed their families.

But the market is more than food.  There are woodworkers, jewelry-makers, kombucha producers and other artisans, such as Karen Davis and her angora rabbit Ashford.

On a small farm near the local airport, Karen cares for a hairy menagerie of goats, great pyrenees dogs, llamas, alpacas and angora rabbits, brushing and shearing them for the hair she uses to spin yarn she weaves into scarves. Or instead of spinning, felts into sturdy stylish hats.  

When you rise in the morning to feed and groom your raw materials, your work is as much a way of life as a craft.

Ashford allowed me, and anyone else who wandered up, to pet her.  Karen says angora rabbits are bred as much for placid dispositions as bountiful hair, a necessity for an animal handled often for brushing and shearing. 

Of course everyone who petted Ashford smiled; soft imaginary-looking creatures provoke happiness.

Every hat and scarf is unique, worth the more-than-massed-produced but probably too low prices Karen charges for the items.  And how often can a person buy clothing that comes with a load of good karma?

If you'd like to see Karen's work, stop by her booth, Entwined Fiber and Wire

at the New Braunfels Farmers Market, on Castell Street a block east of San Antonio St., Saturdays from 9am-1pm.  Or visit her website (link above) for contact info.

In case you can't wait, here's a video snippet of Karen and Ashford spinning hair into yarn:

If I'm lucky, I'll run into you at Karen's booth.  Hope so.

Copyright 2009-2016 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Everyone has a soft spot

Ours is Alexa.

She follows Denny around like a dog, spending most days in his office. 

And looks down on him from the wall via the portrait I gave him for his birthday, commissioned from our artist-friend Mary Riddle. 

Isn't it gorgeous?  

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Barn Swallows, Texas Hill Country summer residents

Our measure of time runs to autumn's gold leaves in the cedar elms, winter's first fire in the fireplace, spring daffodils blooming like shining faces over dead-brown beds. 

We know summer is coming when the barn swallows arrive. Denny and I are lucky to live in a neighborhood of high-ceilinged porches, perfect territory for barn swallow nests.

"Our" 2014 male swallow, keeping watch over the female and babies.
Last year's swallows reared two families in their nest on our porch. The pair seemed like new parents, unsure of the process, and we weren't sure they'd manage.  But both clutches fledged.

"Mama feed me!" (7/9/2014)
A trio of fledgling swallows sits on the edge of their corner nest, one day before first flight. (8/26/14)

The swallows start showing up in late spring to early summer.  Pairs scope out nest sites, twitter-warbling as they fly into porches to check potential homes.  According to All About Birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website"Both male and female build the nest cup using mud. They collect mud in their bills and often mix it with grass stems to make pellets. They first construct a small shelf to sit on, then build up the nest’s sides. If built against a wall or other vertical surface the result is a semicircular, half-cup shape."

Some pairs return to the same porch every year, although most homeowners take down the nests after the swallows have left for the winter. I hated taking down last year's nest. Just look at the weaving of mud and grass and think how many trips they flew to the pond to dip mud from the edge. But we were planning to paint the porch...and I'd read that nests may become infested with mites, bad for new babies.

In 2015, a pair of swallows built a nest next to the 2014 nest site. The pair had a single clutch of two, pictured here (7/17/15) shortly before they fledged. 

The nests look different, in part due to location.  The 2014 nest was in a corner so it was a quarter round, 2015's nest was flat against the wall so it was a semi-circle.  

I think the color was different year to year because weather dictated a change in material. We had rain in 2015 and the banks of the pond where the birds got mud in 2014 were underwater.  I wondered how the birds would manage until I passed a new home site where groups of swallows were dipping for mud. The 2015 nest also seems to incorporate more grass, maybe the mud at the construction site needed more reinforcement?

Swallow droppings make a mess on the porch--the young know not to soil the nest, hanging their back ends over the side to do their business. But washing the floor is a small price for the entertainment of watching the birds. 

As a bonus, swallows are flying insect-eaters and keep the porch clear of mosquitoes.

This year's parents had only the one clutch but the juveniles hang out with other young swallows, resting in porch shade on hot afternoons, sometimes 10 birds together, twittering.  

We're hoping they survive the arduous migration to wintering grounds in Central And South America, and come back to us next year.
Hope you get a chance too to welcome barn swallow beauty to your own yard.

Migration map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

It was a good day

I was hungry and my wine stash was depleted. 

Michael, the cooking and wine expert at my local HEB, watched me pick up a budget-priced Vinho Verde from Portugal.  "Do you drink champagne?" he said.

He must have seen the look on my face. "Well, the wine department is closing out Roederer Estate at $8.08 a bottle. If you're interested I'll show you where it is." 

I may not remember my next door neighbor's name but I know the retail price range of my favorite wines, and Roederer Estate runs $18-$22 in our area.  

So I picked myself off the floor and we trotted three aisles over. In a surgical strike, I liberated all the orphans on that shelf, including two Mumm Brut non-vintage standing with the Roederer Estate.  

Then I trundled my cart to the checkout counter before the authorities could change their minds.

And yes, it was a good day.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Sound of Summer

I was watering in the back garden when this guy crawled from a crack in the clay.  King of summer sounds, the cicada. 

And I'll share his serenade with you. Just click here Cicada songs via  and scroll down to the sound gallery.  You're welcome.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

BBQ Love--a hot Texas tasting

Colorful team names are plentiful on the BBQ cook-off circuit.

You might think you have to be an expert to score a judging seat in an official BBQ competition. Nope; at least not in the beginning rounds. Anyone who can read and eat can volunteer.

On a sweltering Texas Saturday afternoon I passed judgement on 21 bites of BBQ pork ribs followed by 15 bites of chili; 36 bites in all--washed down with 4 bottles of water and a light beer. 

Each contestant submits his or her entry in an identical container, which is assigned a number by the organizers to preserve anonymity. The boxes are then passed around the judging table. Using a new plastic utensil to keep from spreading germs, each judge cuts off a bite (or dips it out if you're tasting chili or beans) and scores it based on aroma, appearance, texture, taste and overall impression. Gotta' think fast, the next plate is coming.

About ten minutes into the rib round, a fellow judge, one of the old salts in the BBQ competition 'bidness', told me, "You don't have to eat it if it don't look right." 

I wished he'd said that a few minutes earlier, when I cut into a not-quite-done rib that might have come from a cook who'd had too fine a Friday night resulting in too late a start on Saturday morning. 

But the chili made the biggest impression. You wouldn't think 15 little bites would blaze a trail through your innards.  

You'd be wrong.  
Chili waiting to be tasted.  

Even if none of 'em burned your taste buds off, the accumulation of spicy spoon-dips would coat your tract all the way to the gut and maybe then some. 

By the end you might not want to eat again for a couple of days.

But when you recover you'll think maybe next time you'll go for the brisket panel. There's nothin' prettier than pink smoke rings, visual messengers of flavor.

And if you do judge chili, you'll know to drink a whole lotta beer to cut the grease and keep up your hydration. And you'll bring your spouse to drive you home.

So while you're thinking about it, check out the schedules for Texas BBQ cook-offs: Lonestar BBQ Society, Central Texas Barbeque Association, Texas Gulf Coast BBQ Cookers Association, and these other places too: BBQ Cooking Contests and Events.

When it's over you'll remember the people you met and stories they told and Texas-good time you had.  

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Faust Hotel & Brewery Co.

Walter Faust, Sr. must have been a determined man. In 1929, two weeks before the stock market crash, he opened a splendid four-story brick hotel in the little Texas town of New Braunfels. And somehow kept it open through the Depression, blights and World War II.  

The hotel is owned by others now, but Walter's portrait hangs in the lobby and the Faust Hotel still welcomes guests. The rooms are small by modern standards and wear the marks of time but folks come for the downtown location, historic feel and fine brewed-on-site beer.

And although Walter is long gone from this earth, visitors sometimes report seeing a dapper gent in a three piece suit wandering the lobby; a man they say looks just like the portrait. 

We didn't see him when we stayed there, but you're welcome to check for yourself.

The Faust Hotel & Brewery Co. 
240 South Seguin Ave., New Braunfels, TX 78130

Oh yeah, don't forget the beer.

Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.