Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Everyday Investment

If you ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it...But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.

--Frank Lloyd Wright

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Firecracker Bush (Russelia sarmentosa)

Firecracker Bush is a hummingbird and butterfly magnet from April through November--or it would be if the hummingbirds hadn't migrated by October.

A few years ago I planted three Firecracker bushes outside my office window. They now take up 36 square feet of steep slope. The stems grow about six feet long, arching up three feet and then leaning down to the ground. New plants grow where they touch.

Drought tolerant, deer-resistant, doesn't require winter pruning. Firecracker is hardy within zones 8B-10 and evergreen except in record winters.

Ernest likes them too --or maybe just the hummingbirds they bring to his window...

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Urban Unknown

Some time back I went for a walk on the downtown-side of the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin. The trail erupts to streetside for a short way and we walkers, runners, and strollers hold our noses against car exhaust until we descend to the greenly quiet waterside.

I didn't look forward to that section. Until the morning an Urban Chicken stalked the stretch.

You just never know, do you?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gruene Hall

I've written before about research for my book. I favor the going-out-and-doing kind. And I'm lucky to have set the book in a place overflowing with lived-in character.

My last jaunt was to Gruene Hall, a famous almost-dive on the edge of New Braunfels. Early stomping grounds of Willie and everybody. So a few weeks ago, fueled by a beer and a good band, we walked into the setting of a confrontation in Chapter 24. I walked out knowing how Selby Wade, my mid-thirties finding-herself main character, would see it:

"Five minutes later Selby emerged from her house newly showered, hair in a high ponytail, wearing jeans and a fitted red t-shirt that said “Aged to Perfection” under a sketch of a wine bottle. She climbed into the little red truck and turned the radio volume up to ‘blast’ before weaving through downtown, out Common Street, then left on to Gruene Road. The truck skidded to a stop a block from Gruene Hall, exactly eighteen minutes from the time she hung up the phone.

Down the street, she could see the ramshackle white front of Gruene Hall. The establishment took pride in being the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas. It looked the same as it had a hundred years ago—rusty metal roof, chicken-wire windows with slat-board shutters, and creaky hand-sawn floors. But it booked the up-and-coming in the Texas music scene, and it packed in patrons from all over Texas--which was enough to renew a person’s faith in the power of music.

Selby pulled open the 1940’s era screened door and walked into the front room. A chalkboard sign behind the bar read Cash$ Only!$ and rough plank walls were lined with black and white pictures of musicians past. A young guy in a green Mid-Tech ball cap manned the cash register, dispensing beers as fast as he could get the money. A short line of college-aged kids in jeans snaked out from his station. Other patrons wandered between the front room and the big hall.

She joined the line in time to see a bearded face appear in the open window between the bar and the main hall. “How ‘bout a long-neck?”

The Mid-Tech student reached into the cooler. “Coming right up.”

The ball cap turned to Selby, “What’ll you have?”

“What’s going on today?”

“CD debut party, the Texas Crazies.”

“When does the music start?”

“Whenever they get around to it, I guess. What’ll you have?”

She read the labels on the row of empty bottles on the bar behind him. “Shiner Bock.”

He pulled out a bottle and popped the top.

She gave him a bill, putting change in a jar on the counter before taking her beer and wandering into the warehouse-sized music hall. The shutters were flipped down against the building outside and sunlight spilled through the wide openings, lighting long rows of narrow tables and benches.

Over the years patrons had carved their initials and romances into the tables until the carvings formed a hieroglyphic of beer-fueled history. Except for that, the scene reminded Selby of an old-fashioned camp revival meeting hall. Everything was hand-hewn—walls, ceilings, floors, tables and benches. The idea made her smile. A been-there-and-back temple to music.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Welcome Home

I've never welcomed the coming of Autumn. It seemed more an end than a beginning--erosion of long days and warm weather, 'our' hummingbirds moving on to tropical climes.

But this year Fall feels like a beginning. Finally, more moderate temperatures--we can garden and walk and watch sunsets from the porch again. And even as 'our' hummers left, a blizzard of others spent weeks here filling up on nectar and sugar for the long flight south.

They're gone now but yesterday was one of the best birding afternoons since we moved to Texas--in our own back yard! We'd never seen a Bell's Vireo or Olive-sided Flycatcher before, and they came after the Wilson's Warbler and Nashville Warbler and Yellow Warbler. Our bird list for this home is 82 species now.

Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii)
Click here to enjoy more bird photos from mountainpath2001

Just last week, my fall flowers began blooming and fall butterflies flying.

Best of all, I'm moving into writing the end of my book. Only two more chapters. Big, fun, wild, sweet entangling conclusion--with a hint of new beginning. It will be fun to write and I get to start tomorrow.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Serendipity 9-19-09

One day at the edge of a pond, when I looked away from my thoughts, Mother Nature's extravagance lightened my eyes.

Male Wood Duck at Landa Park in New Braunfels, TX

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Smoothie Delicious

Sometime in August, when I had begun to think that my desperate daily mantra, "August won't last forever" was wrong, I started a new tradition of afternoon cool.

Now in mid-afternoon when the hungries sneak up, I head for the refrigerator. Pop a few things in the blender and we sip cool bliss.

The funny thing is, it's good for us too.

Peach Smoothie
2 generous servings

3/4 cup lowfat milk (we use 1%)
1/2 cup fatfree/lowfat yogurt (plain, vanilla or flavored, your choice)
1 banana, in chunks
1 or 2 peaches/nectarines (including skin)** or mangoes (peeled), cut in chunks
--amount equal to 2 cups of chunks
pinch kosher salt
dash vanilla
7 ice cubes

**Note: Peaches and nectarines are on the 'dirty dozen' list for pesticide retention--even through the skins--so we buy organic, on the theory that we don't need to eat poison.

I put it all in the blender on the 'ice crusher' speed and let it run until the clinking sound from ice shards fades, then a quick whir on 'puree' to incorporate air, maybe 5 seconds. Or hum a snatch of a song, which is refreshing in its own way. Pour into tall glasses and savor.

The day I was out of fresh fruit I used frozen mango & omitted the ice cubes. Thicker and delicious. When peach season is over, I'll probably venture into frozen berries.

For all the thick frothy feeling of indulgence, this treat also scores calcium, probiotics, vitamins and minerals. Hard to beat that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oxblood Lilies - Sign of the Season

The first blooms of our oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida) opened on September 4th. Folks in these parts call them Schoolhouse Lilies because they bloom the week that children go back to class.

The original bulbs were brought to the Texas Hill Country by German settlers well over a century ago. It's amazing to think that the bulbs survived the journey, the planting in alien soil and then over one hundred years of volatile Texas weather. Now every September, the older Hill Country towns light up with lilies, red waves of friendship flowing from neighbors dividing and sharing decade after decade.

What a present our blooms were after so many months of drought! I originally planted the bulbs in a front bed three years ago--before I knew the books were wrong, the books that said deer don't eat lilies. Mine were regularly grazed and never had a chance to bloom. But amazingly, they didn't die.

So this year at Easter, a time before we knew the coming months would be a blast furnace, we renovated the front bed and transplanted the lilies to a bed where they got better soil and were surrounded by plants deer don't like. The lily-snacking ended. But in the scorch of summer, the foliage died to the ground. And I knew the lilies had finally given up. Too much too hard too long.

Then on September 4th, when we walked out for our first sunset-porch-sit since May, we found the flowers radiant in ruby glory, testament to the power of life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eating Like We Mean It

I've been a scuba diver longer than a good percentage of our population has lived, a comment on my age and my passion. In the 1980's I left Texas, and everyone I knew and loved, for Miami where I could dive without getting into an airplane first.

I dove every weekend the wind didn't blow. And I loved every dive, even rubble dives.

An underwater moment with my sister. 

But the times a shark showed up were special.

I know the idea of being underwater with a shark sounds scary. And it could be. But it never was. We were lucky. And smart. We didn't fish, so no blood in the water. And with good visibility, we could see them coming, and they could see us.

Divers don't look like shark food, or sound like it either. We breathe through regulators, which on intake make a fuzzy sucking swishing sound and on exhale emit a soft trail of bubbles. 

Most of the time if sharks see or hear a diver, they cut the other direction, so fast they're gone before the diver can even point at them.

Denny and I don't eat shark now. The numbers are declining faster than they can reproduce and the oceans need sharks for balance. We don't eat grouper either. I've been face to face with goliath groupers twice my size, and shared hollows with Nassau, tiger and black groupers longer than my legs. It's hard to look into a placid big-lipped face and think about eating it. Grouper numbers are declining too.

It turns out that many marine species are in danger--overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction. I don't want to contribute to the problem. But it's hard to keep up with all the species... so I was glad to find this Seafood Guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The guide is easy to use and folds small enough to fit in a wallet. Click the link, there are lots of good choices.

Happy eating. And I hope you get the chance someday to meet a grouper face to face.

This fabulous Nassau grouper is from Scubaben's Flikr stream. To see more: Nassau Grouper by Scubaben.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 11, 2009


When I forget that life is a miracle, and every day a gift of possibilities, I go outside and look around... and remember transformation.

Gulf Frittilary caterpillar.

Newly emerged Gulf Frittilary butterfly at right, empty chrysalis underneath.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is There Magic To The Date?

Today's date is 09/09/09. I don't have any idea if the sequence has an esoteric meaning, but I'm leaning in the direction of mysticism...because today there was RAIN!!! in our parched Texas Hill Country.

I've written before about how Hill Country denizens feel about rain (the naked dancing and all that). And it's all true, the bit about being more valuable than oil, everything. Even more true now as deeper cracks have opened in our land after 100+ days of temperatures over 100 degrees.

My friends in Florida and the soggy northeast, where it has rained every day for months, might want to scroll down now to my prior post this morning, a country-music-writing-beer musing.

But for all you Texans who have lived a scorched summer, here it is, a brief sample of what 1" of water from the sky looks and sounds like.
Feel free to take off your clothes and revel.

That Last Glass Music

Every morning I read over what I wrote the day before as a start to the new day's work. Puts me back in the frame and lets me fix yesterday's blind spots.

Today, one of yesterday's sentences sounded like a country music song. It's from Chapter 24, lined out the way the phrases sound when I read it:

She couldn’t think now
why she’d thought last night
that the last glass
was such a good idea.

Sounds like a refrain, I think, with an up-and-down on 'idea'. I can almost hear the music...

Locally brewed bock beer at the Faust Hotel in New Braunfels.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hummingbird Fall Migration

We live with hummingbirds eight months of the year.

Actually, I should say we serve hummingbirds. 'Their' sprawling beds of plants require watering, pruning and feeding...and the six feeders want daily attention.

In return we lose ourselves in the miracle of 3,000 wing beats per minute as fluffs of iridescent feathers chase, hover and fight, owning every sip in sight.

It's too good to keep to ourselves...so I captured a migration minute for you:

Monday, September 7, 2009


One evening last week, Denny and I sat on the front porch to watch the sunset. Sunset watching is meditation for me. I've never learned indoor meditation. When I sit still, silent and thoughtless, I fall asleep.

But I can sit with a glass of wine, my eyes resting on the changing sky, and see, think, be the glowing, transforming color. My timeless time begins when the first slanting golden rays edge the land in shine. And ends in the deepening blue-purple advent of night. Every sunset is different and every one is beautiful.

This was the first sunset hour we'd spent on the porch since early May. It was the first evening in over 100 days when the needle on my porch thermometer rested south of 99F, the first break from a brutal summer of heat and drought.

On this day, we were gifted with a cold front and the air dropped to a cool 85F. We wondered whether we'd need sweaters.

To celebrate, we opened our only bottle of Terra Valentine 2007 Rose of Red Wine from Napa Valley, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Sangiovese, 100% delicious. Richly fruity but not sweet--a strawberry nose and cherry finish, it was perfect.

The hummingbirds swirled around our porch feeders, the cardinals picked seed from the rocks, we sipped in contented silence as the planet rotated toward night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sometimes It's as Easy as Breakfast

One of my favorite parts of writing is when little stories pop up in the narrative--unexpected detours that color the world as the lines play out. I don't always know where those stories come from. Some of them are so far from anything I've lived that I'm shocked as the words tap out on the keyboard.

But sometimes the setting jogs a vignette into being. I'm lucky that New Braunfels is a colorful town; it's fun to occasionally put my characters into places I've been. We've eaten breakfast at the Union Street Station, and I might have seen a group like the one gathered around the table in the following excerpt.

She stayed with her folks during the renovations, which took twice as long as she’d planned and cost twice as much as she’d budgeted. Selby worked on the renovation like a job, riding her bike up to the house by eight in the morning, lunch sack in her basket. She wanted to do most of the work herself, hiring help only when she needed it. And when she started on the kitchen, she needed it.

Her father kept his weekly breakfast group updated on her progress and pitfalls. The guys met every Friday morning at Union Street Station, home of “56 Varieties of Omelet and Don’t Ask for a Substitution” fame. Evan Schwartz, a stout, red-faced Rotarian who kept up with everyone else’s lives and never tired of his own opinions, thought she ought to hire his son-in-law, Lucas. “So he can afford to send my granddaughter away for camp.” The group guffawed since the son-in-law’s inadequacies were one of Evan’s favorite themes. However, after the huevos rancheros and Denver omelets had passed into history, Adam Zimmerman, a professor at Mid-Tech in San Marcos, leaned over to her father. “I’ve got a construction student that Selby ought to talk to. He’s got good skills. And he works hard.”

And with that, one of the most important characters--and one of my favorites, gained entrance to the book.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Raspberry Heaven

Christmas arrived in July, a package from our friends Bob and Alison. A year or two ago, we spent an extraordinary few days with them in the beautiful Washington countryside. I ate a quart of raspberries every day from their organic vines.

Bob is a chef and winemaker and gardener. Alison is a financial wizard who also gardens and weaves baskets and does everything Bob doesn't do.

Their package was heavy and tightly packed. I jumped up and down when I finally got the wrapping off. Magic potions! Alison's ruby raspberry jam, made with raspberries from their organic garden. PLUS a jar of raspberry honey, redolent of warm sun and whispering fruit. The flavors linger on the tongue in a silky essence of life.

Alison says anyone can make the jam. She shared her recipe, below. The part she didn't say, is that in the crucible of bubbling sugar, the berries from their garden transcend until you can taste the fire of the ancient volcano whose stony magma lies beneath the garden--and the sweetness of the nourishing love between the gardeners.

In Alison's words:

Raspberry jam is super easy, once you pick the raspberries! I crush the berries through a strainer to get out most of the seeds. Measure 5 cups of prepared fruit into a sauce pan. Measure 4 cups of sugar into a bowl and add one package of pectin. ... Bring the fruit to a rolling boil, then quickly stir in the sugar and pectin. Bring that to a rolling boil and continue stirring for one minute.

Ladle the jam into sterilized jars and top with lids and screw rings. Invert the jars for five minutes then turn them over and let cool. The upside down thing seals the jars so you don't need to put them through a boiling water process. Easy, yum!