Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tweet Mystery

We never know what we'll see when we walk out our front door.  I like that.  I want my life to encompass the unexpected.
Last Friday, at sunset-happy-hour time, Denny and I took libations to the back porch for front-row seats at the evening hummingbird wars.  Fall migration is in full swing and hummers exercise feisty, and often competing, ownership of our feeders and flowers.  The swooping-chattering-diving spectacle holds us captive.

But that day, farther out, a mystery alighted. 

See the bird pecking on the rock in the photo above, white with gray and blue patches?  About the size of a cardinal, longish tail, pink legs.  Chirps like a parakeet...

How did he arrive in our arid Texas hills?

What larger-than-a-pet-store-budgie species is he?  

Will he stay?  If he does, how will he survive the winter?

Some mysteries are solved by time, while others remain forever a reason to walk out the door, eyes open. 

September 1, 2010:  Thanks to new friend Deb of Front Porch Perspectives for identifying our visitor as a pied-budgie! 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bunny Gets It Done

Okay, today's post is inspiration, Texas-style.  

For all my friends who can use a chuckle along with a "You can do it" today, take a peek. 


Now go chase your snakes.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mighty Pink Anyway

Texans are serious about their fun.  If you don't believe it, make a disparaging remark about one or another Texas sports team.

I wouldn't do it, myself, since I'm not a defensively-skilled person.  But it might be entertaining to watch if someone else did it and I was far enough away not to be hit by flying beer.
In a gentler appreciation of Texas idiosyncracy, the South Texas Botanical Garden in Corpus Christi is currently indulging in a Flamingo Fandango.  One hundred, give or take a few.

Many outfitted by local artists, like this patriotic bird.

And this homage to the mighty University of Texas Longhorn.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hill Country Margarita Madness

 In cold climes, winters drive people bonkers before the snow melts.  "Cabin Fever" it's called, and people are reported driven to bizarre behavior like shooting their refrigerators.

Here in the Texas Hill Country, we suffer an opposite-season malady, arising when triple digits have driven us to live like moles, scurrying out of our air-conditioned burrows only at dawn and dusk when our skin won't burn from the rays reflected off the sidewalk.  

We call the malady Margarita Madness.  

And the time is now.  So I'm sharing my favorite margarita with youSome folks might quibble with the proportions or ingredients and they're entitled to their opinions.  But until someone pours a finer light-green beverage in my glass, I'm sold on this one.

You don't need a jigger, just use the same  thimble/cup/glass for each ingredient and the flavors will balance.  My favorite measurer is a crooked-soldier liqueur glass I brought back from Mexico decades ago after watching artisans in Tlaquepaque make them from smashed-and-melted coke bottles rimmed in the cobalt blue of smashed-and-melted Pepto-Bismal bottles.  I liked seeing something good come out of all those bouts of Tourista.

Margarita Commandments
It's all about good ingredients and proper proportion.  The liquids need to balance in intensity.  If you use a light tequila, go with a lighter density orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec), and vice versa.  

Freshly squeezed lime juice is a Law.  The lime will be better if it has never seen refrigeration, it sat on your counter until softly ripe, and you rolled it on the cutting board to loosen the juices before you cut it open.

Please read this sentence out loud (including the period): 
Frozen Lime Drinks Are Not Real Margaritas. 

Here are things that are NOT commandments:  
Salt or not--I think it's better with salt but this one didn't come down from on high.
Kind of glass--I like a wide bowl for the fun of swirling but you can use whatever shaped glass you like to hold.

Hill Country Margarita

1 portion decent tequila (mid-range quality is fine)
1 & 1/2 portion orange liqueur
1 portion (scant) freshly-squeezed lime juice (juice of 3/4 - 1 lime for mine)
coarse salt for the rim

Squeeze lime.  Run lime around rim of glass, wetting inner and outer rim.  Dip glass in coarse salt and twirl to coat edge.

Fill shaker with ice.
Measure tequila and pour into shaker.  Measure orange liqueur and pour into shaker.  Measure lime juice and pour into shaker.  Put top on shaker and bounce that baby back and forth for about the time it takes you to sing a line from your favorite song.  Taste.  Add a little triple sec or lime juice if it makes you happy.  Shake again and pour into salt-rimmed glass.  

Turn the music up and dance, returning to the glass from time to time for a sip.  Smack your lips and remember that August doesn't last forever.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chinese Salad

 I've been visiting my parents this weekend. Mom always plans special meals when a daughter comes to visit. 

When my sisters and I were growing up, Mom did weekly Adventures in Eating nights, trying dishes far afield of Texas.  Mom says now that it was a budget-stretcher move, but the end result was that her three daughters like trying new things.

Chinese Salad is not Chinese but it tastes good so we let the name slide.  It came from Alice Clower, sister of Dad's friend Clark, and is one of the recipes Mom liked enough to record in the family cookbook.  

I never met Alice. Clark passed away at age 95 some years back, but the way he pursued life still makes me smile.  In his 70's he took up photography.  New camera, courses at the community college.  Mom was delighted when he volunteered to take a Scott family portrait at Christmas.  Some of the shots were blurry and heads were cut off in others but we had a good time and the pictures from that year still get a giggle. 

Judging from this recipe, Alice liked trying new things too.  I was surprised when I read the ingredient list and directions but the finished dish has pop and flavor and even cabbage-haters like it.

Serves a lot of people modest servings or 6-8 cabbage lovers.

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup oil (Mom uses canola)
1/2 cup sugar
2 T soy sauce

Bring to a boil, then cool.

1 pkg Ramen noodles (uncooked), broken into bits about 1/2"
2 oz. sliced almonds (she buys a small package of pre-sliced almonds)

Brown in a little oil until noodles are crunchy.  Cool.

1 head Napa Cabbage, diced into pieces about 1/4"
Optional:  diced red green pepper and spring onions

Put cabbage (and other vegetables if you use them) into bowl.  Mix in ramen noodles and almonds.  Toss with dressing.  

Mom's Note:  Wait until you are ready to serve to assemble because if you do it too far ahead of time the noodles get soft. 

Kathleen's Note:  Enjoy the crunch, color and flavor and make happy dinner memories with your loved ones.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Smell

You take your old car to the oil-change place.  They tell you oil is streaming from a hole in the oil pan. They recommend a repair shop two blocks away.  You wonder if it's owned by their brother-in-law who needs a new boat.

The dealership to which you have the car towed calls and says a new engine is $3,000-$5,000; the current value of your vehicle is $50.

Three days later, you're driving a new car.  New to you, that is.  It could have been worse-- the car you located had 13,000 miles, great price, great condition.  They also guaranteed to remove the Cigarette Smell to your satisfaction.

First Stage: 
When you pick up the car, you can no longer see the air inside and the Smell is down to a whisper.  You drive 200 miles blasting outside air through the cabin.

Second Stage:
The next morning the Smell lurks and the big-city dealership is hours away.  You hang a tree-shaped car deodorizer labeled New Car Scent from the rear-view mirror, open four boxes of baking soda, mist the seats and carpet with Febreeze, then blast outside air as you drive about your business.

Third Stage:  
When you next open the car, the Smell is overlaid by an aroma like rotting mango crossed with hot plastic.  You remove the New Car Scent tree.

Fourth Stage:
New Car Scent-the Smell permeates the garage.  You leave the garage door open when you go to spend $50 at the auto parts store.  When you get home, you change the car's air conditioning filter.  You squirt Auto-Febreeze until your finger cramps, douse the carpets with baking soda followed by vacuuming, put new soda cartons in side pockets, and add pronged odor-eater deodorizers to all air vents.  You roll down the car windows so that the seats can dry of Febreeze.
Fifth Stage:
You've banished New Car Scent but the Smell rises every time you get in the car.  You are not personally religious but you think perhaps the car is demon-Smell possessed.  You persuade a friend to "borrow" a bottle of holy water.  You hope you won't have to spray so much that you create a Mold problem, which might be worse than the Smell.  

And then you ask your friends:  Any other ideas?

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Man's Perspective

The conversation from the older-middle-aged men's table at the cafe has been in summer doldrums. 

But this week the lawyer walked in wearing a blue-flowered Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sandals. "I don't have much time with you guys today, I've got an 8:30 appointment." 

The musician asked, "Who you representing, Don Ho?"

Guffaws all 'round.

"As long as my client gets his divorce quick, he doesn't care what I wear."

Spoken in true Hill Country fashion.


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Longhorn Cavern

Aeons ago, the coastal plains of Texas bent downward.  A Central Texas area known as the Llano Uplift remained stable and the Hill Country was born.
  Map from University of Texas at Austin website Geologic Wonders of Texas

Over time, soil eroded.  Water percolated through the limestone.  Caves were formed as the rock dissolved.  And in a few places, underground rivers carved dramatic flowing caverns.

Longhorn Cavern is one of those.  About 14 miles northwest of Marble Falls, visitors step down into geologic time.  

Sunlight faded as Denny and I joined ten other mortals for a visit to nature's negative space.
One and a quarter miles of wandering through cool damp otherworld. 

Past angel-wings of stone dripping into being,

a water-carved terrier,

and crystals glittering overhead.

One massive inner cathedral extended up beyond light.

The guide told stories.  Hidden outlaw treasure, a Saturday-night speakeasy frequented by church members who gathered there the next morning.  

We walked, our hearts beating slower as time receded into the reality of rock.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Man vs. Mountain

Remains of officer's quarters at Fort Davis in the Davis Mountains, far west Texas.

When the bricks are dust, the mountains will stand.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)

 A few years ago I bought a bird house at the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio.  I hoped it would attract Bewick's Wrens.  I knew it fit BW specs because I saw two Bewick's Wrens  building competing nests in houses nailed back-to-back on a post.  One wren would fly into the house on the left with nest material and fly away for more.  The other wren would then pop into the house on the left, emerge with a beak of material and disappear into the house on the right.

We'd never seen a Bewick's Wren until we moved to the Hill Country. The species is declining in the Eastern U.S.; loss of habitat mostly, combined with widespread pesticide use.  We don't poison our gardens (OK, we do poison fire ants if they build mounds in my raised beds).  For everything else, we hope the compost and good bugs and birds balance out the bad bugs. The wrens are doing their part.

We put our new birdhouse up in the woods and waited.  A pair of Summer Tanagers plucked the decorative moss from the house to line their nest somewhere in the thicket.  No wren interest.

This year Denny moved it to the back porch and we saw wrens.  Not enough to call it occupied, more like a second home. 

Until July 10th, when we saw two little heads peeking from the house.

Momma and Daddy perched nearby chirping encouragement.  

When that didn't work, they flew into the garden and came back with food.

The first step is scary.

And first flight uncertain.

Ernest and I watched it all. 

Until Momma and Daddy and little ones were launched into the trees for the first lesson in life beyond the nest.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Harry's Last Day

It's hard to say goodbye to a friend.  Harder when you've comforted each other in times of pain, made hurricane evacuations and cross-country moves, laughed and played and lived together for more than twenty years.

Harry could still get around on his own but we could tell he was in pain.  We knew when we took him to the vet today he might not come home with us.  When the vet said Harry's failing kidneys precluded pain meds, we thought it was time to let him go.

He had a good morning, laptime and petting and birdwatching between snoozes. We held him and scratched his head and he purred. 

Harry in the early days.------------------>

Harry had a good life, longer and better than I could have imagined the day he showed up at my back door in Miami, skinny and ravenous.  For more than 20 years, he gave and received love.  

We're both sad. We miss him. But I'm glad he's not hurting.  And I'll look into the little memorial garden we'll plant with his ashes and see him in the sweetness of the flowers.  

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.