Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Longest Night

We buried Max's ashes today, on the Winter Solstice, the day of the longest night of the year.

Max and Denny adopted each other 14 years ago, a long time to be friends.  We're lucky, I guess, although it doesn't feel like it today, a week after the sudden illness that took him.
Max was the smart one, the diplomat, the one who watched basketball with Denny and kept me company in the kitchen.  He loved baskets and boxes, he ate shoelaces and chased feathers.  He owned the red chair next to the fireplace and the sunny window with a view of birds and deer. His purr was almost inaudible but he always meowed when we spoke his name.

We miss him. 

I'm glad the days start getting longer tomorrow.

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mom Knows the Difference

Last weekend I went to my folks' house to help Mom prepare for a family gathering.  She'd sprained her foot a few days before and the doctor had immobilized it in a bulky black boot with enough straps to secure a rocket to the launchpad.

That didn't stop her from going to HEB,  where she hopped on a motorized cart and we came home loaded.  But when food prep started, there was a glitch. 
"Mom, I can do this, why don't you go sit down?"

"Mom, really, go put your foot up."



"Mother, you don't listen very well."

She turned around and grinned.

"I listen fine.  I just don't mind very well."

And she wonders where her daughters got their Texas streaks...

Doesn't Mom have the best smile?------------->

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

East Austin Studio Tour 2011

Everyone has a different idea of art, but whether it's avant garde or classic, you love it or you hate it, art stimulates. And there was plenty of stimulation at this year's East Austin Studio Tour.

Each November more than 300 area artist studios and exhibition spaces open for 9 days of celebrating art and the people who make it.  Many of the studios treat it like a party, with live music, beer/wine and munchies.

The artists are on hand in the studios to talk about (and sell) their work.  No middle-men, just Art from the Artists. 

Glass is one of my favorite mediums.  I love the physicality and play of light.  Glenda Kronke's sea-inspired glasswork took my mind to the reefs. She shares space with Flo Ulrich, whose fused glass pieces reminded me of earth and sky.  Fellow artist Morgan Graff blew ethereal globes and spires and offers glass-blowing classes. 

East By SouthEast Studios, 1406-B Smith Rd. Austin, TX 78721 (512) 600-0103. See Facebook page or

Bits of newsprint flowed up the trees in Judy Paul's mixed medium painting.

Judy Paul at Big Medium, 5305 Bolm Road, Austin, TX 78721, 512-507-8199,

Former wine bottles gained new life as cut and etched vase/decanter/candle holders.

Imagination isn't limited to formal settings.

For the garden, Fence Art... 
For vegetarians, a living 'window treatment'.  Both at Big Red Sun Design+Build+Nursery. 

And for laughs, a teeter-totter with grandma.

I only had a couple of hours to tour.  Next year I'll put aside a weekend.  See you there?

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

Monday, November 28, 2011


 I haven't written about the Austin older-middle-aged-men's group in ages as their cafe conversation has been mired in sports talk and local politics.  But you never know what life has in store so I haven't given up.

Lately I've been taking a book to the cafe with me, opening my ears at the end of each page to see if the guys are going anywhere.  

I'm reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, an exploration and love letter to Utah's high desert.  Denny and I spent our honeymoon in a Utah fantasy region of rock, wind and time.  I love the earth's sculpture. 

Life stretching from a slot canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park. ---->

I chose Abbey's book because the writing is beautiful, like High Street Chocolate--smooth and sumptuous and so rich I can only eat a few bites at a time.  

And I've been wondering if our Hill Country home is evolving to desert, although I'm more hopeful today with another 1 3/4" of rain last week.  That makes a total of 12.2" in the last 13 months, still squarely within the average rainfall of the west Texas Chihuahua Desert...but I can see tiny wildflower plants poking through the crust in my front swale. With one more good rain in December/January, spring could bloom.

Last week, finally, I heard promise from the older-middle-aged-men when the subject turned to T-shirt sayings. The lawyer said, "Well I only wear shirts that say what I really think."

The group chuckled, knowing the lawyer's thoughts are as unpredictable as rain here.

"I wear this one when UT loses a football game: 'I'm only wearing black until I find something darker.'"

Smiles and an 'Amen'.

"And  I wore 'Future Dead Person' to the office about three weeks after I'd been diagnosed with cancer."

Silence.  Followed by grins.  It must have been a while back.  The t-shirt is still true, but he's here today.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happiness is Contagious

  Four generations are reason to celebrate.

 Wishing you and yours a happy holiday,

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dinner Music

 I love small-town Texas.  There's a relaxation to living at a slower pace. 

One of my regular pleasures is going to the feed store. Before you ask, yes, every Texas burg large enough to be called a town has a feed store--along with a Main Street and the Dairy Queen.

I'm a little slow about my feed store errands.  It's hard to hurry past the open-topped glass cases just inside the entrance, where ferrets and bunnies hang out until families take them home. 

Yesterday four ferrets nuzzled my hand before commencing a race up my arm, provoking a vision of a squeaky squabble on top of my head.  I thought for a moment they were going to make it, but I managed to extricate my arm ferret-less from the box.

Beyond the bunnies are small birds. My current favorites are a pair of exotic green, red and blue parakeets who seem to think Beethovan's Ninth Symphony is good dinner music.  I know this because I whistle a bit of the Ninth to them every time we go in. 

Beethoven's Ninth is the music that runs in the background of my mind, rolling into my consciousness when I'm not paying attention to anything else.  It's been there since January 2003, when I had a stressful time and needed calming. The Ninth entered my sleep one night and I woke feeling so refreshed that the music made itself to home.

So of course that's what I whistle to the birds.  One of them does a little bob-dancing at first but they generally end up at the feed tray, crunching to the tune.

And I finish my errands with a smile on my face.

I thought you might like a smile too, so here's 50 seconds from one of my parrot concerts.

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hill Country Fall

In the Hill Country, we don't call this season Autumn.  We call it Fall...because the leaves just turn brown and fall off. 

But we mark the season in other ways.
The arrival of the first chipping sparrow, early for the rave.  By February's Great American Bird Count , we'll see hundreds from the kitchen window.
And it's don't-walk-outside-at night time, AKA rutting season.  Deer are running the roads and woods around our house, doe in the lead, buck panting after her.

A doe would probably shy away if she saw you in time.  But a buck in mating has just one thing in mind. A person who ended up between him and satisfaction might be in for a fight, and the odds aren't in two-legged favor.

Hope you're enjoying the change of seasons, however you mark them. 

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October Color

I love October. The relief of escaping summer without dessication. In October we take our first  breaths since May.  It's a good time to be alive.

Enjoying early October story research.-------->

October used to be an orange and black month, now it's pink.  Everywhere. On everything.  Pink isn't my favorite color but I love it in October.  

In September 1996 I walked into a bookstore looking for a book on breast cancer and treatment.  The woman at the front desk asked if she could help me.  

I opened my mouth and nothing came out.  Finally, "Could you direct me to the (long pause) women's illness section?"  

I couldn't say the words 'breast cancer'.  Maybe I could have, if the request had been for someone else, if I hadn't been the one with a hard lump in my breast. 

Pink wasn't a big deal in those days.  Yes there were fund-raising walks in a few cities.  And pink ribbons in the chemo ward.  But outside of cancer sisters and their families, the disease and the women it had invaded were invisible.

Today, pink is everywhere and no one is ashamed to admit she has breast cancer.  Breast cancer deaths have declined.  It's not a coincidence.  

Fifteen years later, I love pink in October.

Two weeks after the surgery, Denny and I married on the dock behind our home.  He nurtured me during that hard year, and still does. 

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cedar Fever Potion

Denny and I took our  annual dose of Cedar Fever Potion last night.  Woke up this morning feeling good.

When my friends first hear about the potion, they wonder.  Watch me from the corners of their eyes to see if I'm more than normally irrational.

Leaves and berry of Ashe Juniper, (Juniperus ashei) AKA Damn Cedar --->

But once friends experience a bout of Cedar Fever, the mid-December to late-March malady that slams Texas Hill Country residents, they want to know about the Potion.

If you live in the Hill Country, you can't get away from the Fever.  It's a reaction to the annual mating ritual of the Ashe Juniper trees that cover our hills. From December through March, male trees explode pollen--trees releasing here and there, not all at once.  No, the other males nearby hold off, firing days, weeks or months later.  It's a coordinated plot for a fourth-month yellow mist of misery.

Ashe Juniper thicket behind our home.  Yes, we could cut it down to clear the air-space.  But I believe every yard needs a sanctuary.  Small birds shelter in the thicket when hawks fly overhead or bad weather blasts.  And others, like our seasonal black-chin hummingbirds and year-round cardinals, nest there. 

A continuous rain of pollen may be good for the female trees, but humans burn and shiver, sinuses swell until heads explode, and folks think about dying as a form of relief. I only know this from personal, pre-potion experience.

You might be wondering about the potion. It's a folk remedy passed on by David Will, noted horticulturalist, who knows nearly everything about native plants of this region.  He's not a doctor but I couldn't find any reference saying a dilute solution would harm us.

We're not doctors either but after four years of potion, we're not dead, for whatever that's worth.  

So if you want to check it out for yourself, the recipe is here: Cedar Fever Cure, but you're on your own with risk and all that.

The Fever is a drawback to living in the Hill Country but other places have hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, mudslides and earthquakes.  I'll take the quirky beauty of the Texas Hill Country. 

And the potion.  

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

We Were Here

Traveling is like getting a new pair of sunglasses.  Different color, different view.

I've been out of town three of the last four weeks. As I sort pictures and memories now, I'm happy to share the fun.  

Asheville, North Carolina is known as the Austin of the East. Truly, even to local Carolinians. Quirky, musical, artistic and beer-loving.  Not to mention beautiful.  

Denny and I stayed at the historic Grove Park Inn on a hill north of downtown Asheville.

Built in 1912 by hand from boulders (not stones, boulders) quarried at nearby Sunset Mountain.  

When I walked into the soaring big-timbered lobby, it felt like entering a Harry Potter mountain lodge.  The cage-fronted elevator, hand operated by a cheerful staffer, opens from a side door into a massive stone fireplace...the closest we'll ever get to travel by flue.      Grove Park Inn elevator entrance--->

Our room was near F. Scott Fitzgerald's favorite room, which he chose for the view of arriving coaches from which he could spec potential feminine companionship. Zelda was resident in Asheville's Highland Mental Hospital at the time.

View toward Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains,  on the opposite side of the Inn from Mr. Fitzgerald's favorite view.

If you ever visit Asheville, take the Grove Park Inn's historical tour, followed by lunch on Sunset Terrace for the view aboveMargaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind, spent her honeymoon at the Grove Park.  There are stories of presidential visits past and present. And you'll want to hear about the The Pink Lady, resident ghost of room 545.  She's said to be flirtatious and to show up in photographs.  Not mine. 

Then stop in at the two galleries on the property, Gallery of the Mountains inside the hotel and Grovewood Gallery next door. I plan to buy everything in the galleries when I win the lottery.  But especially the gorgeous and original woven bead jewelry of Amolia Willowsong. (Gallery of the Mountains) 

<---Willowsong's Southern Skies necklace, photo by Cheryl Lincoln.

And a couple of these hand-carved hardwood rockers by retired surgeon Joe Godfrey (Grovewood Gallery).  Carved to comfort your spine, I'm pretty sure the rocking does the same for the soul.

Speaking of comforting, downtown's Tupelo Honey Cafe offers the world's best way to break the fast.  Yes, I said WORLD'S best (world being even bigger than Texas). 

If you plan to go on a weekend, take yourself early or expect to wait because a big congregation believes in the Cafe's Sweet Potato Pancake.  Fluffy but substantial buttermilk batter underwritten by sweet orange goodness with just enough spice, then jazzed by Grandma's Maple Granola inside.  Cooked up, then topped by a dollop of whipped peach-butter surrounded by a generous handful of spiced pecans, it's the definition of righteousness.  Add a light drizzle of orange-blossom-scented Tupelo Honey and you've got heaven.

Plan on taking half of it home with you--you'll be able to keep your jeans buttoned and it's just as good the next day.

Afterward you'll want a little walk to enjoy the mountain air.  

And the sights.  If you're lucky, the Flying Nun will bless you as he makes his rounds.
Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa)

I've been doing a Plant of the Month handout for our local garden club for more than a year but just realized I could have been sharing these great plants with my blog-friends too, as most of the featured plants will grow in a range of zones. 

And I'll admit to liking the idea of spreading the Hill Country around.  With a few plants, a substantial margarita and a sunset, you can feel the Hill Country magic too.
So look for more POMs in occasional posts.  My emphasis is on water-wise perennials providing some form of habitat for birds, butterflies, bees or wildlife.
I have a special fondness for Mexican Buckeyes--they were the first trees I planted in our Hill Country yard.  Planted before I knew we'd have years with almost no rain, in the back woodland where I wouldn't be watering.  After five years my little 18" trees have grown to five feet with next-to-no care.  You've got to love survivors. 
Mexican Buckeye is a small tree for shady spaces, the kind you plant when you don’t want a lot of maintenance but you’d like spring blooms and fragrance.  
Despite the name, the tree is native to Texas and New Mexico, common in rocky canyons and on slopes and ridges in South, Central, and West Texas.  As you’d guess from the habitat, it's drought-tolerant (once established) and acclimated to Hill Country climate cycles.  Hardy in zones 7a-9b.
Height is normally 8-12 feet but may reach 30 feet in optimum conditions.  Requires well-draining alkaline soil but isn't picky about soil type--will live in rocky areas, sand, loam, clay and caliche.  To plant in clay, site on a slope for drainage. 
Mexican buckeye does best in part-shade but will survive sun with regular watering.  The leaves fall in autumn but return in spring along with fragrant pink blossoms, more blooms in years with rain.   
Modest deer resistance, fencing is suggested until the tree is tall enough for the canopy to be above browsing reach. 
Parents and pet-owners please note, Mexican buckeye seeds are attractive to little ones but poisonous to eat.  The dark 'beads' in this appealing necklace are Mexican Buckeye seeds, the red are Texas Mountain Laurel, both poisonous to eat (but OK to wear).  For more cool natural jewelry, check out Austin jewelry designer Kathy Sahagian's website
Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There and Back

Max & Ernest rest from bird-watching out the window.

We're home after ten days in North Carolina and Virginia.  

I was excited about the trip and afraid to go.  From the preparations, you'd have thought we were leaving for the moon.  

Two days before we left, I opened a safe deposit box at a bank only a block from the fire station.  Hunted down all the important papers of the last five years and personal history from forever, plus sentimental jewelry and photographs. Took second-most-important papers and back-up hard drives for our computers the next day.

We moved burnables away from the house--patio furniture into the living room, propane tank behind a stone wall.  

Denny cut back the foundation plantings so nothing touched the house.  I heavy-watered the beds, thankful for the hot hours spent earlier this summer installing drip and soaker.

The part that made my heart thump was setting up the cat carriers on the dining room table so our next door neighbors could be out the door with our cat family in less than five minutes.

You think I'm afraid of wildfire?

Aerial view of Bastrop fire destruction, by William Luther for the San Antonio Express-News.

The week we left, fires burned in San Antonio and Austin.  The Bastrop fire, burning since Labor Day weekend about an hour's drive from here, is 98% contained today, after burning about 55 square miles including more than 1,600 homes, killing two people and who knows how many farm animals and wildlife. And pretty much all of the country's westernmost loblolly pine forest in (formerly) beautiful Bastrop State Park.

We came home after 10 dampish, rainy days in a land of big-leaf trees like green towers cloaking mountain and roadside. Living glory.
View from our hotel toward Asheville, NC and Blue Ridge Mountains.

The cats are satisfied to have live-in servants again.  The orioles and most hummingbirds have flown on.  While we were gone, deer began eating my potted porch plants.  

We have a home, we're good.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011


We put out feeders and plant flowers for hummingbirds.  They come.

Female Black-chinned hummingbird on Firebush (Hamelia patens).

Female Black-chinned rests between sips.

This year, the hottest summer in Texas history stressed every living thing. 

Throughout the Hill Country, the only reliable flowers were those in home gardens where water still flowed.  

Honeybees, deprived of nectar, and desperate for energy and moisture to cool their hives, thronged our hummingbird feeders and found small sips around the edges of the yellow bee guards. 

The hummingbirds adapted, thrusting beaks between bees and guards to feed. 
Until waves of migrating orioles dropped in hungry. After they'd eaten the ripe beauty berries behind our house, they pulled bee guards off feeders to sip sugar-water.  

Young Baltimore Oriole maleSee the bees on the guardless port to the left?  And those waiting for him to leave.
The hummingbirds, wary of big pointed beaks, worked harder now for a drink, circling feeders, dodging bees, squeaking for a turn at the energy to power their hundreds-of-miles-flight yet to come.

But guard-less ports spilled pools of nectar and swarms of bees piled the feeders, some ascending through ports into the syrup, forcing me into rescue duty for drunken swimmers,  followed by search-duty for bee guards tossed from impatient beaks.


In late afternoon, Summer Tanagers took possession atop the feeders for easy snatches of errant bees, a tanager's favorite food.

The orioles AND the hummingbirds waited for turns at the feeders.

Soon, the birds will continue south. This notch on the cycle will move out of sight, the passing of time more a passage of being.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An Oriole Irruption

Irruption--an irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, usually motivated by the search for food. 

A young male Baltimore Oriole pauses before plucking out the bee-guard so he can sip with ease.  Later the bees will make use of his effort.

We've been having spring weather -- that would be high temps in the 90's instead of 110F -- and I'm filling the hummer feeders all the way up now that the food doesn't ferment by 3:00pm. Good thing, since we've had some unexpected visitors.

Over the Labor Day weekend I started seeing birds in the American Beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana) by the bedroom window.  Small greeny-yellow birds with wingbars.  Warblers? 

But the beak was the wrong shape.  Warblers have thin little beaks for eating bugs, not berries.

Female Orchard Oriole, the smallest member of the North American oriole family.

Then we started seeing orioles from all the windows...

Male Baltimore Oriole eating seeds of Big Red Sage (Salvia penstemonoides).

 Female Baltimore Oriole in blooming Firebush (Hamelia patens).

Young male Baltimore Oriole protecting 'his' hummingbird feeder.

Male Baltimore oriole snacking on ripe purple berries in the American Beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana)

Most of the orioles have moved on now, which is probably just fine with the dozens of migrating hummingbirds that have shown up in the past two days.  

The orioles were the first we've seen in our five years here and there were more than just a stray or two. I'm guessing they're part of an irruption from the historical migration pattern. 

Did the scorched-earth drought make them hug the Hill Country rivers on their southbound journey?  Perhaps columns of smoke sent them our way.

We'll never know.  But I do know this, I'm glad we had berries, feeders and water on offer.  The flash of sunset feathers in the foliage is like seeing hope.  And we can all use more of that.

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