Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy Resolutions


I believe in resolutions.  At least the do-able ones.  

I will lose five pounds in January.  I know I can, I've done it at least three times this year, the same five pounds.  
 
I'll write.  
 
And I'll keep this annual resolution, at which I've been spectacularly successful:  

To Make New Mistakes Next Year
  

Feel free to take that one for yourself.
  
Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gruene Lights

I love twinkling lights around Christmas, for the fairyland feel in the bare time of year.

In Gruene, a village built by settlers more than 150 years ago and revitalized in the 1970's by a man's devotion to music and history, Gruene Hall  is decked for the season.   

Texas musicians know they've 'arrived' when they play Gruene Hall, the oldest continuously operating dancehall in Texas.  It's not fancy--you'll dance on the original scarred floors, there's no glass in the windows, no heat or AC, but people come from around the state to hear future legends play. 

Of course there's more to Gruene than the Hall.  Dancers need fuel and Gruene holds a number of eateries including the old Gristmill perched above the Guadalupe River. Get a table outside with a river-view in warm weather and inside by the fire when it's not.

Or sip a Texas wine from a spot on the Grapevine's friendly porch.  If you like that idea, take my advice and go for a bottle of anything made by Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, especially the Albarino. You're welcome.

A Gruene night--good food, delicious wine and toe-tapping music--might be the best gift you give yourself all year.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

'Tis the Season

I woke up at daylight this morning to movement in the yard.  Five deer were running one after the other, backyard to front, front yard to back.  Three were does, two were bucks.

Halloween is over but not for the does--a buck is her nightmare.  He'll chase her until she's too tired to move and then he'll mount her.  She'll bear hoof marks on her sides for a month and later a swollen belly.

 If the months ahead are hard and dry she'll have a single fawn.  In a good one, twins.  And they'll drink out of our birdbaths, poach the birdseed and munch our plants.


So I'm not too fond of that buck either.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

More Rufous Hummingbirds

Subadult Rufous Hummingbird

The last ruby-throated and blackchinned hummingbirds passed through here weeks ago.  Hopefully they're well along the way to buggy, flowery wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. 

But two new hummingbirds flew in a couple of weeks ago--both subadult rufous hummingbirds (male I think).  They've been here at least a week now.  

Same thing happened last year and one stayed all winter.  Nobody told him that we're not on his migratory route and even if we were, he's supposed to keep going before cold kills the bugs and flowers in our garden.

I'm hoping these two are just topping up their tanks before they move along.   

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Five Plants for Fall Color

Gone are triple-digit thermometer readings and the tension that wires my shoulders.  It's Autumn in the Texas Hill Country.   

 
Have the trees turned to flame?  No. But in my garden, color smiles from blooms, seeds and berries year after year in five native perennials I shared with readers of the San Antonio Express-NewsDress your landscape in fall colors .  

 



Birds and butterflies like them too. 

Click the link above to plant a mental seed for fall color in your landscape.



Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Galveston -- Ghost Queen of the Coast

Denny and I just got back from Galveston, one of the oldest and finest towns in Texas.  It's only 45 minutes from downtown Houston but a million cultural miles away.




Sandy beaches, palm trees and fresh salty air surround historic island architecture.









Early architecture in The Strand's 26 square block Historic Landmark area.

I loved the feel of a slightly-skewed culture, where the unexpected is more normal than not. 

Galveston is known as one of the ghostiest towns in America, which was my excuse for the visit, research for an assignment about ghosts. 

Galveston's past lends itself to uneasy spirits, as the island hosted cannibalistic natives, pirates, civil war battles and casualties, a yellow fever epidemic, mysterious fires, and in 1900 a Cat 5 hurricane that covered the island in saltwater, scouring a third of the town from its foundations and killing more than 6,000 people, including all but three in a sizable orphanage.

I found more, much more, than I could use.  Perhaps the most well-known teller of tales was a tall blonde man in a long dark coat.  Dash Beardsley started his ghost tour of The Strand as night fell.  

In daylight you wouldn't think of The Strand as haunted. People stroll the historic streets enjoying boutiques, restaurants, antique shops and bars.  

But Dash knows dozens of tales.

I also heard residents' stories. A ticket-seller at the Pier 21 movie theater had a visit from his deceased mother naming her murderer, a waiter at Gaido's (fine-dining seafood, don't miss the best crabcakes in Texas) wondered if wraiths near his mid-town place were spirits still wandering after their bodies were burned where they had washed up in the 1900 hurricane. 


At The Grand 1894 Opera House, folks have heard strange noises and footsteps in deserted areas,felt moving cold spots in upper regions and seen people wearing turn-of-the-century dress waiting for the curtain to go up when the opera was not in session.

You know a town is good when folks don't want to leave even after they're dead.
We stayed in the Hotel Galvez, a century-old beach-side beauty known for comfort and hauntings.  Our room was across the hall from the one favored by the hotel's most famous spirit, the Ghost Bride

No noises or scents of gardenia or shadow-people interrupted our sleep.  I'm thinking maybe we should go back and give her another chance, in the name of research of course, nothing to do with the pleasure or the waterfront view from our room...

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gulf Frittilary and the Cycle of Life

Gulf Frittilary Butterfly on Lantana--the underwing markings shine like mother-of-pearl.
This summer brought more Gulf Frittilary butterflies than we've ever seen in our Texas Hill Country yard.  The conditions were right--a cool summer, 90's instead of 110, and our host-plant native passion vines were hardy from spring rains.

The vines have been ragged all summer as Gulf Frittilary caterpillars feasted.
 
The caterpillar's spiny projections may provide protection from being eaten by birds.

 
The caterpillars grow fast, moulting several times before achieving full growth.  Then they attach to a structure (preferably in a shady spot), curl upward into a J position, and harden into a pupa.  

Pupa in process of formation. 

Gulf Frittilary pupas look a bit like a cross between a dead leaf and a bird dropping--a good disguise from hungry birds.

In two weeks, the butterfly will emerge from the hardened shell and the cycle will spin again.

 Gulf Frittilary Butterfly on Pride of Barbados.
If you'd like to see Gulf Frittilaries in your yard, plant a native passionvine like the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) and wait.  They'll find you.
 
Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Things I learned from my yard

 Hope is the vision to plant a seed.

  
<--Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis rubra)from seeds strewn near the end of a horrible drought, before we knew it was the end.






Not everything that interrupts a plan is a weed.

Antelope Horns (Asclepius asperula), a native milkweed, host to Monarch butterflies.---->






Beauty that is nurtured grows.  

Fifty years ago, my mother's mother grew daylillies. Forty years ago my mother planted pass-alongs in her yard.  Many years later, descendents bloom in mine.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hummingbird Fall Migration 2012

When I walked out this morning carrying the hummingbird feeders, I was greeted by hovering chatter.  I hadn't missed dawn by long but the birds were ready.

Males and females, ruby-throated, black-chinned and a few rufous are journeying south and every one is hungry.

So I captured a minute of hummingbird magic to share with you.  It starts slow but picks up as the seconds tick by.  Click the arrow to enjoy a flying minute in your day.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Learning His Way Around

From a perch on our shady porch, a young black-crested titmouse takes a daily break for bugs and water.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tropical Shrimp Pineapple and Bacon Pasta

Sometimes my best ideas are accidents. Last night's accident was a collision of leftovers plus Denny's desire to avoid grilling outdoors in 100 degree heat. As I said goodby to chili garlic grilled shrimp, I wondered what else to do with the beauties. 

Here's what I found in the refrigerator:  cooked whole wheat spaghetti (about half a package), red bell pepper, a small slab of fresh pineapple, 2 slices of peppered lean bacon, and a clutch of cilantro.  Add the pantry and ingenuity and the result was a winner.  Colorful, sweet, a little smoky and tangy with a hit of hot, a vacation of a dish.

Makes 3-4 servings.  Takes about 40 minutes start to finish.

Ingredients
1 lb large shrimp
~ 1/4 to 1/3 cup white Worcestershire sauce (also labelled as Chicken Marinade)
2 slices lean bacon
~ 1 cup pineapple chunks (fresh is best but canned in juice is ok)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
~ 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, less if you don't like heat
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 tblsp sherry (drinking sherry, not cooking sherry) Sherry gives a hint of nutty flavor but if you don't have it on hand, use white wine or pineapple juice.
~ 1 tsp ginger, grated (I keep a knob in the freezer, it lasts longer and frozen is easier to peel & grate) 
Salt & pepper to taste
a handful of cilantro, chopped
3-4 servings of cooked whole wheat spaghetti or whatever shape you prefer

Instructions
1) Peel & halve shrimp lengthwise, removing vein (halving creates more surface for flavor).  
2) Put shrimp in a zipper bag with white Worcestershire, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes.  Squish bag around until all pieces are sauced then return to fridge for 15 minutes.
3) Cook bacon in large nonstick skillet until crispy. If you have more than about a tablespoon of drippings, pour off extra.
4)  Add pineapple and red bell pepper to the bacon drippings in the hot skillet.  
5)  When pepper has begun to brown, deglaze pan with sherry (start with 2 tblsp, add more if needed) stirring until sherry is mostly evaporated.
6) Add shrimp in sauce and stir to mix. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp is opaque.  Sauce will reduce. Take off the fire as soon as shrimp is opaque (keeps it tender). 
7) Crumble bacon and add with cooked pasta, mixing everything in well (OK if pasta is cold, it will warm in the pan). Taste, add salt and pepper to preference. Dish up and sprinkle with cilantro.

I roasted aspargus for a side dish. An Acacia Chardonnay complemented the meal with crisp pear and apple flavors and a whisper of toast.

We'll have this again, any time I want a vacation.


Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Creating a Hummingbird Hotspot

I've written a few posts about hummingbird plants like Hummingbird Bush , Standing Cypress,   Firebush, and Mexican Oregano. 

But I hadn't written a blueprint for making your yard a hummingbird hotspot, until now--via this hummingbird haven article I wrote for the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.  

The article has design criteria, considerations and feeder technique in addition to a plant list.

Divided into sun and shade, the list includes scientific names, notes about water requirements, deciduous-ness (I know, but it should be a word), deer resistance and alkaline soil if needed.  

Most of the plants are zones 8-11 although some will take more cold.  A few species should have been noted as annuals (standing cypress and pentas, and pineapple sage might be an annual depending on winter.)

I know all the plants in the article attract hummingbirds, we've grown them and seen hummingbirds hover at them. 

Our back garden,today. Can you spot seven hummingbird plants?

Watching hummingbirds frees the mind to fly.  I hope there's room for hummingbird habitat in your space--for your health and theirs.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum

The entrance to the oasis is almost hidden off a busy road in central Austin, but the search is worth it.  Three acres of green, jeweled by imagination made bronze and stone--48 sculptures of pain, love and joy, belief and whimsy amid tall trees and slow water. 

Charles Umlauf taught art and created sculpture at the University of Texas over a span of 40 years, eventually donating approximately 100 pieces and his 3 acre garden to the city of Austin.  His work graces national and international sites, but the Umlauf Sculpture Garden holds the largest collection. 


He was a master of the human figure and of conveying emotion.  


The earlier pieces on display express the pain and despair of WWII atrocities. The gaunt figures and haunted faces of those sculptures still speak.








Later, love was a favorite theme.


He must have loved the love between mother and child,

the pleasure
and the joy of romantic love.


Some works are philosophical.



Man's desire to transcend.


















And the risk.

Around a bend in the path, animals frolic.

A rhino ponders.





And a hippo smiles.









For $3 you can gift yourself with a few hours of pleasure at Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, 605 Robert E. Lee Road, Austin, UmlaufSculpture.org, 512-445-5582.

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Rio Grande Racecourse

Overhead is a clear blue sky, a blue that takes your mind to forever.

Except you can't keep your eyes off the high desert hills, jagged pink and brown cones, remnants of ancient seabeds thrust high by geologic collision. 

The road runs miles beside the uneven edge of hot rock against blue sky. The constant line of  contrast and clarity clears the mind's clutter. After a half-hour's drive, you're awake to the moment. 

Even an impending whitewater moment, when your raft rocks in a sideways slide over unseen rocks and you wonder if this is the time you'll flip. 

You don't, today. 



But your heart pounds and you dig your paddle in deep, and you whoop as you plunge over a drop. And at the end of the ride you can't stop smiling.







To gift yourself with a river experience, call (800) 544-1181 or click Los Rios River Runners.  Then go. 

Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red, White & Blue

The locals take to the water to beat Hill Country holiday heat.
Summer Tanager

Ladderback Woodpecker
 
Western Scrubjay

And Painted Bunting wanting to know if a guy could get a little privacy here. 

Happy Fourth to you and yours, hope you're cool too. 


Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grafton, Vermont

New England felt like a lush foreign country.  We left a brown Texas landscape in Stage II drought with afternoons soaring toward 100 degrees.  It rained in Vermont and then in Maine for nine straight days, everything was green and I needed a coat most of the time.  

Our Vermont visit was so great I'm sharing a bit of Grafton, Vermont with my Hill Country friends, knowing they'll appreciate views cool and green.
Grafton, Vermont, home of 600 people, 40+ sheep and Saxtons River.  You can see why they're named the Green Mountains.

 The White Church, built in the early 1800's.  Simple, serene, lovely setting for a wedding. 
Also home to a chipmunk... churchmunk?
















In the center of town, the old-fashioned post office.   

There has been worry it might be closed.


We saw McWilliams Covered Bridge.  It's newish--about 50 years old, a youngster in the world of covered bridges--named for a local farming family.


And lovely old homes, square and white, many preserved and owned by the Windham Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving rural Vermont. This is the Grafton Library, originally the Butterfield House, circa 1811.




Three museums!  Nature, history and minerals.




A petrified wood spirit.













Plus a working forge, multiple art galleries, hiking trails, a genuine swimming pond and air so sweet it tasted like dessert. 

The Windham Sheep exhibition might have been my favorite.  The residents gave us a Texas welcome.









And at the end of the day, sweet dreams at the Grafton Inn.  The Inn has been bedding travelers for more than 200 years, including luminaries like Thoreau and Kipling.  

I understand why. The rooms and common areas felt like home--only nicer--the beds were the best I've ever slept in, and they served fabulous blueberry pancakes made with local berries topped by maple syrup made right down the road.

Yes, I'd go back.
Copyright 2009-2012 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.