Monsters Carrying Gnome

The yard art going on in Texas was off the charts (or Yard Hoarding as Amanda called it). Some of it was tastefully done, some more resembled the local junkyard. This particular yard was whimsical and fun.

Day One in Texas – San Antonio

San Antonio's Riverwalk, right outside our hotel

Our first day here in Texas was a bit disjointed. By the time India and I arrived in San Antonio Friday night around 7:00 p.m., got our bags, rental car and waited the additional hour for Amanda’s flight to arrive, drove into town and checked into our hotel, we were all pretty exhausted. We got room service and fell into bed.

Our sleep was disrupted by 3 loud drunks partying to loud music in the room directly next to us. Finally in desperation I called the front desk and they promptly sent somebody up to put an end to the partying. It didn’t completely stop, but it did get much quieter.

I awoke to housekeeping knocking on the door at what I felt certain must have been 7 a.m. but turned out to be 10 a.m. to an empty hotel room. I quickly showered, dressed & located Amanda and India, who were off on a brief walk in search of coffee and sniffing out the city. Apparently several weeks of excessive amounts of lack of sleep and incredible stress levels had caught up with me.

We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Yummmmm.

It was a beautiful day as we set off to go to the San Antonio Zoo, but by the time we actually arrived there the parking lots were so full and the entrance line was so long we decided to abandon that plan and come back again earlier the next day.

This is where things fell apart – just a little bit – but this is a pretty typical first day of a vacation for me and the kids.

First we went out in search of the Cavender’s Super Western World, or at least that’s what I thought we were in search of, as I had researched it before I left. It turned out to be a Shepler’s Western World, but hey, it was late when I was looking this stuff up. Unfortunately their boot selection wasn’t what I was hoping for, but India did manage to get some new western shirts for camp this summer and I got myself a new belt and India and I both got a new dress, which is, well, just really odd because we both don’t ever wear dresses. These were just too perfect for both of us, so we’re stepping out of our comfort zone on these.

We also discovered that San Antonio is one big city that is really spread out. There are highways and byways leading everywhere and you cannot even be having a conversation with your kids or you just might miss one little GPS direction and get shot off into some wrong direction. Trust me on this one. It happened many times on Saturday. Needless to say there’s not a lot of loud singing to country music going on in the car like there is at home (where I know where I’m going).

Next Amanda wanted to get some “fishing” shirts at the Bass Pro Shops – who would have thought ever that this Darien-raised-Lily Pulitzer-wearing girl of mine would ever be wearing T-shirts with fish on them or sporting attire of any kind, but I’m not complaining. This was like no other Bass Pro Shops I’ve ever been to – it was their “Outdoor World” and may have been bigger than the biggest Cabela’s I’ve ever been in. Unfortunately, by that point India had pretty much had her fill of wandering the highways of San Antonio in search of peculiar shopping items so Amanda and I had to cut our fun short. There was a shooting range in there that I wanted to try. Alas, another time.

We drove back to our hotel where we deposited India to relax and do whatever it is she does on her computer. Amanda and I went out for a walk along the Riverwalk and along the streets of San Antonio for a little while.

The water in the river along the Riverwalk was amazingly clean and the most beautiful color

A Riverwalk Bridge Statue

Abandoned Warehouse Window along the RIverwalk

I’d planned ahead and made massage appointments for all 3 of us at a day spa. My back has been in excruciating pain for the past few weeks and Amanda gets terrible debilitating shoulder pain from stress. With finals just over I knew that she would be really appreciate this.

As we stepped out of the car in the (amazing) mall where this spa was located — again another terrifying journey on the highways and byways of San Antonio freeways — India quickly noticed that the grass was actually green and lush there. We haven’t seen lush green grass in a long time in Connecticut.

Lush Green Grass

I tried to get something simple for India like a pedicure, but they don’t allow minors to have any treatments without a parent present, so she had to get a massage in the same room with me. She’s incredible ticklish, so I anticipated her giggling throughout the entire session, but I didn’t hear a peep from her and she loved it. Mine was delightful but also somewhat painful as he worked all of the knots our of my back, neck and shoulders. We left feeling a whole lot better than we did going into the place.

Our dinner was at a restaurant literally next-door to the hotel, which was convenient. The appetizers were delicious but the chicken enchiladas in Salsa Verde were pretty mediocre. But it was convenient and we’d had a long day, so were happy to be back in our hotel room within minutes of paying for our meal.

The last few days have been extremely busy. Our next day in San Antonio was much more productive. This morning we left early and drove to Austin for the afternoon and then continued on to Fredericksburg, Texas in the Hill Country. Tomorrow we will spend here in Fredericksburg until early afternoon and then head back to the Hotel Valencia in San Antonio again for our last night in town. Wednesday we’ll have part of the day to finish doing and seeing things we ran out of time to see or do in the first two days before heading back home to Connecticut on a late afternoon flights.

I’ll try to post more tomorrow night.

Fountain at Hotel Valencia

When you walk into the lower level entryway of the Hotel Valencia here in San Antonio, Texas, there is a very cool fountain.

Just to give you some examples of how a flash can change a picture (usually for the worse), I took the same shot with my flash.

And here’s picture of a bigger area of the same fountain showing the difference.

My point here is when in doubt, I’ll take the same shot twice – one with and one without. I usually end up using the shot without the flash, but not all the time. And you may like the lighter, more grey photos with taken with the flash on. Photography is a very personal thing.

Cannot wait to see what I can find to photograph today in San Antonio!


A Fence in South Dakota

Red Barn with an Apple Tree

I took this photo in Vermont a few years ago when I took Jim away for a birthday surprise.

My Retro Egg Cartons

When I attended the 3rd annual Young Farmer’s Conference in December  one of the most interesting classes that I attended was called “Designing and Running an Animal Welfare Approved Pastured Egg Operation”. It was a really interesting presentation and you can get Animal Welfare Approved certificates for the following species:  Chickens, hogs, beef cattle, dairy cattle, meat sheep, dairy sheep, meat goats, dairy goats, turkeys, ducks & bison. Having this label certifies that you raise your animals only on pasture or range and that you treat your animals with respect and compassion. It is also USDA approved. The organization charges nothing for their services. Once they determine that your farm – big or small – fits their criteria they will come out and audit your farm. If your farm meets their requirements they will help you with label design and any other materials that you require and help you every step of the way.

There is significant data that shows that people are willing to pay more for something that they know is humanely raised, even if it ends up on their dinner table. I’m a meat eater. I don’t see that changing any time soon. However, I am willing to pay more money for a product that I know was raised in a humane way and slaughtered compassionately (is that an oxymoron?). And don’t fool yourself when you’re buying your eggs in the grocery store and reach for the “free range eggs”. The USDA guidelines for free-range eggs is that “the chickens have a door that allows them access to the outside.” At a large-scale factory farm in a barn with thousands of chickens one door might allow them the ‘opportunity’ to go outside, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll have access to grass, weed seeds or insects; It may only be a concrete slab. For chickens to produce the most healthful and flavorful eggs and meat, they need to be able to eat a variety of green plants, seeds and bugs. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell how the chickens live by reading the package in a store. I’d encourage you to find a local farmer who raises poultry on pasture. You can read more information on this on Mother Earth News. One day (if you don’t own your own chickens), pick some up at your local farmer’s market and compare it to your normal run-of-the-mill grocery store egg. Look at the difference in the yolk color. factory farmed eggs’ yolks are a very pale yellow. Fresh pasture-raised eggs are a vibrant orange color. pastured eggs we offer have more beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E and Omega-3’s and less cholesterol and saturated fat than factory farm eggs

One of the lovely presenters at this class was a woman named Georgia who owned Kinderhook Farm in Ghent, New York. She was so enthusiastic about her farm and the program. She raises laying chickens, beef cattle and sheep on a 100% grass and legume diet and all of her animals are Animal Welfare Approved. She was currently working on adding meat chickens to her operation. Her farm is definitely someplace I will visit this spring to see how she runs everything.

She had on display the egg cartons that she was using for her eggs that she sold directly from her farm store. They were apparently a retro design of an old-style egg carton and I just loved the different shape. I thought they would stand out from other cartons. She bought them on so I of course ran home and ordered some.

By this summer I will be selling my eggs. I’ve got 27 female chickens that are laying (although it’s always pretty slow in the winter months). Come April or so I’ll be drowning in eggs and am excited to be able to offer them for sale finally. The big question that I haven’t figured out the answer to is how to package them. I have a fair amount of bantam chickens that lay tiny eggs, and the rest of the chickens lay what would be considered “large” eggs by egg classification standards in colors of white, brown and varying shades of blue. I will most likely do some as mixed boxes of varying size eggs and some of just small bantam eggs. They certainly all taste the same.

This is the design I came up for a label. This is just a rough idea as I’m not sure what the proper wording should be yet.

It’s Who I Am

Below is an actual scan of diary pages of mine from when I was 12 years old. I was living with my father at the time and we weren’t on the best of terms so our therapist (whom I despised) recommended that we keep a journal with each other. When I wanted to discuss something with him I would write it down and leave it on his pillow. He would write back to me and leave the journal on my pillow. All these years later I would still prefer to write down my feelings regarding a difficult issue than to discuss so it face to face. I’m getting better at it, but it’s taken a long time.

When I read this now I am horrified at how bad my english and grammar was at 12!

But, the point is is that at 12 years old I had, on my own, called the zoning board in Stamford (where I grew up) and gotten zoning permission to own a goat where we lived. On my own I called feed stores and researched the cost of feed and hay. I had researched breeders. All of this was presented to my father in this journal that we kept.

There was no response to this entry in our journal to show you, so I’m guessing he just told me no directly to my face — no goat for me.

I’m on the left with my stepbrother in front of me, my sister in the middle and our friend Hilary on the right

All through my childhood I loved animals. We always had a dog, but they were mutts that my grandmother would pick up and bring to us (whether we wanted them or not). We had a vicious pekinese named Fancy forever. We had a dachsund that peed on the floor all the time named Rocky. We always had a cat or two. Back in those days there were no leash laws, so pity any dog that wandered too close to my house. I would snatch him up and carry him home and beg to keep him. I never was allowed to of course, as they already had one and just happened be walking by the house. This happened time and time again.

I also had a lot of other animals. I had rabbits, guinea pigs, a pair of mice that turned into a family of mice with babies that turned into multiple families with babies. I think by the time I got rid of them all the count was up to 76. I had finches for a long time. I loved the quiet peeping noises they made and they would lay little eggs for me occasionally but would never sit on them. I had doves that made the most delightful cooing noise (which was probably why I was so smitten with Carrie, our injured pigeon last year).

About 10 years ago I proposed getting some chickens to Jim. I’d wanted chickens for years. We had an old playhouse out in the yard that the kids never used that would be perfect as a chicken coop. I would do all of the work in taking care of them.

Jim told me no. We would not be having any chickens.

I ordered 25 day-old chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery anyway. I picked Silver Laced Wyandotte’s because they were beautiful and were good egg layers.

I knew what I was doing was wrong. Jim had said no. (By the way, we’re working on that whole ‘getting approval’ situation – and the ‘me going behind his back and doing things anyway’ through therapy) I carefully cut boards to fit into the windows of the chicken coop to hide the fact that there was a heat lamp with baby chicks in there. I got away with it for a few weeks before Jim figured it out — then the feathers really flew.

I got to keep the chickens in the end, and true to my word Jim does not have to care for them. He’s even come to grown quite fond of the chickens over the years and really loves the fresh eggs. He enjoys having watching them wander around the yard looking for tasty bugs and they have an odd habit of going up and pecking on his home office door, like they want to come in.

I wish i’d kept count of how many chickens we’ve actually had over the years. We’ve lost so many to predators. We’ve lost chickens to dogs, fox, raccoons, possum, skunks and who knows what else. Sometimes we’ll lose one. Sometimes we’ll lose many. It was heartbreaking at first, and it still is, but I have learned it up to the circle of life and have gotten a bit of a farming mentality about it.

I was born an animal lover. I’m going to explore a little bit of what’s happened along the way and how that’s evolved in coming posts.