Friday, May 27, 2011

Closing the loop on tying the knot

Today we filed a piece of paper with the County Clerk finally registering our common-law marriage.  This option was philosophically favored by Libertarian-minded Lawrence, as it consists of an act in which we tell the government what we've already done, rather than the government giving us its permission to do something (i.e., via a marriage "license").

Common law marriage is fully legal in Texas, but the devil is in the details: it can be difficult to establish rights without going to Court to prove each and every separate instance in which those rights apply.  So if I got hit by a bus, it might be difficult for Lawrence to make medical decisions for me, even though I assigned him medical Power of Attorney several years ago which theoretically should be valid regardless of our marital status. And if I kicked the bucket, he'd have a hell of a time trying to collect survivor benefits from Social Security if he couldn't produce a registration or license.

For those reasons, a registration route exists by which a common-law marriage to a state-sanctioned marriage but without formality and without endorsement by a third party.  In a hold-over from its frontier days,Texas may be unique in the extent to which self-declared marriages are recognized legally: all a couple need do is live together and represent that they are married, and they are married, by law.  But it's administratively more efficient when the marriage is registered.

It's a bit of a tricky concept.  Thus far, Cayley has been the shrewdest in grasping where this option fits on the continuum of "togetherness".  The first words out of her mouth were, "So if you guys broke up now, would you need to file for a divorce?"  Answer:  Yes, absolutely.  And that, of course, is the ultimate litmus test for whether a state-sanctioned marriage has actually formed.

I'm SO romantic, ain't I??  Well, I've got a hell of an appropriate bedfellow to continue having and holding in that regard.  I won't even bother telling the entire story about how Lawrence contemplated declaring our anniversary as coinciding with the calendar date upon which Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schrodinger published his famous "Schrodinger's cat" manuscript, because I seriously doubt that anyone could comprehend his rationale.

So how's this for romantic:
What could possibly be more romantic than 6AI4V ASTM Grade 5 (aircraft-quality) titanium with a Gibeon meteorite inlay showing its signature Widmanstatten pattern?

Yeah, I know, I know.  Not everybody's cup of tea, but we thought it was absolutely delightful, and an appropriate nod to Lawrence's aerospace engineering education and current career as an ISS Flight Controller.

Actually, Lawrence's invoking Schrodinger's cat during this process was more a propos than it might first appear, because when we would sit down to plan any kind of conventional marriage, it felt like we were trying to herd cats.  Talk about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle!  Every time I'd get one or two of those cats corralled, another few would go flying off in another direction - a quantum quandary metaphorically manifest in socio-consanguineous n-dimensional space!  

So by letting the situation naturally evolve this way, we have removed one pesky layer of complexity from our equation.  We reserve all future rights to ceremoniously reinforce this commitment that we made to each other and to Cayley several years back, to re-take publicly the private vows that have long since characterized our union.  But now we have the option of doing that in a less-loaded framework of expectations (whew!).

And - oh yeah! - in case it hasn't been obvious during the past four years, we're very happy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nature takes it back

So I recently spent forty-five bucks getting one of these:
Only to witness this:

So not only is it my tomatoes they are thrashing, it's my lily pond also (I've gone into the backyard in the mornings to find plants torn up, flowers broken off, etc).  I thought it was animals that were doing the damage, but apparently it's birds.  They'd rather risk coming right up to the house to use the pond, instead of availing themselves of their own private bath on the other side of the yard. 

As usual, Nature does not conform to our human expectations.  Maybe with the passage of time, they'll get used to the bird bath and see it as a viable option. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Onion harvest

Now THIS is a quintessential Aggie scene:
Organic Texas 1015's and that class ring is so a propos!

(For those of you not familiar with Texas A&M University, that's where this famous 1015 onion cultivar was developed.)
We have now moved from the status of virgin farmers to virgin harvesters.  Having cherrypicked from several sources of wisdom on how to prep these for long-term storage, we laid them out on a grate for sun drying (but not too much sun... according to some sources, you're supposed to lay the crowns of one onion across the bulb of its neighbor for a bit of protection, which I did, except strong winds today blew them around).
I'm not sure how to handle the phase that follows, which is long-term storage.  It seems that every which way I try to store onions, they moulder very quickly.  In the fridge, they moulder.  Out of the fridge in wire baskets, they moulder.  Is that because they were shipped to the grocery stores improperly dried?  I don't know.  I just hope we have better luck storing these, the fruits of our labor.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Subconscious surprise

Home design has really been fun for us precisely because we are not skilled at it.  We usually don't know in advance what any particular space will call for, but we know we can figure it out, because the old adage holds true:  where good design is concerned, we'll know it when we see it.

Quite often, the results of this fumbling-toward-artistry process are totally unpredictable, and thus provide us with the sheer joy of discovery.

Take the case of our little game table, for instance.  For months, this thing has been whispering to me that it needs something very specific on the wall above it:  three cheap back-of-the-bedroom-door mirrors lined up side by side.

What?!?  No kidding - that's what it told me it needed.  Logically, this didn't make any sense to me, but finally I succumbed yesterday and brought three door-mirrors home from the hardware store (one can always return things that do not work in a space).  They cost a whopping $9.99 apiece.
It looks a bit bizarre in isolation,
but read on.
When I first started rough-fitting these things, I said to Cayley and Lawrence, "I don't know about this... does it look too 1970's Grandma-style?  Too busy?  Do I need to return these to Lowes and get a real mirror custom cut?"

Immediately the both of them issued an emphatic NO, especially to the idea of a solid mirror.  They agreed that the space needed a series of long skinny mirrors and that a custom-sized mirror would look too chunky.

I know when I hear immediate reactions from them both like that, I have to listen, because they're onto something, even if none of us consciously realizes what that is.

And so it was.  Once I got the door-mirrors dry-fit to the wall, the subconscious integration broke through and the logical explanation hit me firmly upside the head.  At that point I asked, "Lawee, why do the three skinny mirrors look right?"  He replied, "Because they cross-reference the three windows opposite them."  And I said, "No, that's actually not the answer at all.  Look again."

Can you see the answer yet?
Lemme help ya...
The aspect ratio of the long skinny mirrors was repeated in all the inset panels of the kitchen cabinets...
...and prior to the addition of the long skinny mirrors, there was no consistency and the resulting view was improperly weighted.  The eye was not able to travel across all three walls and register spatial balance.  And if there's one thing that the subconscious brain (aka "the gut") objects to, it's discord of any kind.  So what my brain was REALLY whispering to me was, "You need to finish this array by repeating the motif."  
Inside each of our brains is a distinct separate identity who engages in a thought process completely independent of our more conscious lines of reasoning.  Those other identities are very primitive and they don't speak English, but they are extremely wise and totally aware of the world around us.  And if we listen carefully, they can tell us some surprisingly delightful stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tomato wars

I'm trying new methods to dissuade the birds and other critters from pecking holes in every last tomato we've got.

We've shrouded our five vines, which helps but which is putting obvious stress upon them.
The three-vine stock tank, with the white shroud temporarily lifted and tossed over the fence behind it.
I also tried putting some of the half-eaten tomatoes up on the fence for easier animal access, so that hopefully they will leave the more-difficult-to-access shrouded tomatoes alone:
I've never been a big fan of minimalist art.
It didn't work - they still keep going after the hidden vine tomatoes, even though these fence tomatoes are immediately accessible.

Suddenly it occurred to me what part of the issue is: these wild creatures don't all want the tomatoes per se.  They want the water IN the tomatoes, because we're in the most extreme drought that has occurred since human recordkeeping began.  THAT is why they keep going to great lengths to open new tomatoes even when I put the damaged ones within their easy reach.

So I bought an additional water source:
Wildlife Rehab & Education stresses that birds like to have rocks in the middle of bird baths.  They find it more natural that way.
I'm not sure yet if this will improve the situation, but we'll see.  Meanwhile, we are still managing to harvest an average of seventeen unpecked tomatoes per day, and the hauls often look something like this:
Yesterday I used a bunch of 'em plus one of our two-pound organic onions in some Texas chili, which turned out wonderfully:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One giant leap for urban homesteading kind!

Woo-hoo!!  Our stock tank gardens post is now NUMERO UNO in Google, at least in a few geographic areas and at least with respect to some specific traffic patterns, and at least as of this very moment (fame is fleeting...).   Granted, this is a narrowly-defined and specialized topic, but number one is number one!

Friday, May 6, 2011

No more titty trees!

I call them "titty trees" - two builder-grade live oaks poking unceremoniously out of the front lawn of each tract home, right in the very center of the lawn, and in a line parallel to the house.
Aerial view, a bit oblique so mostly you see the tree shadows rther than the trees themselves, but they were planted where the circles are.
This generic planting practice violates every known rule of artistry, including the Rule of Thirds and the Diagonal Method.   It looks absolutely dreadful.  Unfortunately, we were not able to intercept our builder's landscape contractor before he accomplished this little aesthetic disaster.  There were just too many other things going on around the time of house completion. 

But that doesn't mean we have to live with it, and so yesterday we had one of the trees shifted. 
It would have been artistically ideal to move BOTH trees, but for realization of the cost sweet-spot (because it's not cheap to move trees), we decided to follow the 80/20 rule and shift just one.  Here you see the new spot stripped of sod, which we saved for re-laying in the spot from which the tree was to be taken. 
Most home improvements we DIY, but this job called for some hydraulic power:
Hail the tree-mover!
I expected Sigorney Weaver to appear at any moment.
First, a plug of soil was removed to make way for the tree.
Then the tree was lifted from its original location.
And then the tree was set into the new hole. 
The abandoned hole was filled by the machine, and then we restored the sod on top of it, for the final result!
You can already see that the yard has now been opened up, and has new potential because it's not chopped directly in half and blocked by the trees.  I can develop landscaping off the shallow diagonal element that this has created, and actually have that landscaping turn out well, which would not have been possible originally.  I'm very glad we paid to have the tree-mover come, instead of living with the previous ridiculous-looking set-up!! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A League City of Our Own

First, for necessary perspective on this blog post, you need to calibrate your mind by revisiting one of the greatest scenes in cinematographic history (for those of you on dial-up who cannot view it, it's Tom Hanks's famous "no crying in baseball" rant from the movie A League of Their Own):
Now, substitute the phrase "Swiss chard" for "crying" and "Houston" for "baseball". 

In other words, in your imagination, you should be bellowing at the top of your lungs:


Yes, it's true that I was able to grow the stuff, and quite huge at that:
I took a pic of the damned stock tank in the dark just to prove it.
And this was taken AFTER I chopped off a huge amount.
But do you suppose they call it SWISS chard for nothing??  Swiss as in freeze-your-ass-off Switzerland.  Mountains.  The Alpen that I tragically did not catch a single glimpse of while in Memmingen Germany last year because we were socked in for an entire week with bone-chilling fog and rain. 

In other words, this is a cold-climate vegetable.  It needs cold weather to form proper biochemistry.  I know this painfully from experience.  Many a historical time I spent five optimistic bucks on a precious handful of Swiss chard at Whole Foods, only to toss the entire thing into the trash because it was too bitter to eat (because it was grown in too warm a location).  Hope springs eternal, but not where chard is concerned.  I planted some in my stock tank mainly to admire it, because I figured it would taste like Tom Hanks's proverbial pile of pig sh*t. 

Except my uncle recently reported that he grew Swiss chard in Mississippi.  But the climate in Mississippi is very similar to Houston, leading me to conclude, "THERE'S NO SWISS CHARD IN MISSISSIPPI!!  THERE'S NO SWISS CHARD IN MISSISSIPPI!!" 

Or is there?  He said it tasted really good.  So that gave me the courage to cut some of my own and try it.
Was it the best Swiss chard I've ever had?  Not by a bloody long shot.  But it was worth eating, and better than anything I've ever bought at Whole Foods.  How is this possible?  I don't know.  But apparently there can be Swiss chard, or an acceptable facsimilie, in Houston afterall.