Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to Work, Already?...

It is not uncommon to see these really massive entry gates at farms and ranches along the highways and back roads of Medina, Frio, Atascosa and Bexar counties.  Some are designed simply to provide some structural integrity to the gate where others can be really ornate with true craftsmanship in design and artistic beauty.
I like the ones that catch your eye for something goofy. Do you suppose they have a 10 year-old daughter who can't seem to locate the toy horse she got last Christmas?
Speaking of catching your eye...  We stopped in at the new Jim's that opened up on 1604 at Potranco so we could grab a bite to eat before an important round of shopping at HEB Plus.  As you would expect, they still have some training to do, so if you are in a hurry for your vittles, give it a few more weeks. But that wasn't caught my wife's eye.
This was.  For the love of God, people, can we please refrain from exposing the crack?  Suspenders for everyone!
And speaking of things that don't fit.  Seriously?  We saw this guy headed north into San Antonio on I-35.  I don't wish to stereotype, but this is the sort of vehicle the State Troopers should be pulling over.  If that truck isn't loaded with foreign exchange students or bales of reefer, they should at least ticket the owner for inappropriate buffoonery on the roadway.
 You may not see this everyday in San Antonio, but in Lytle at the True Value, purchasing 2 x 4's in leather chaps is quite normal.  You never know when you might have to hog tie something out here. 


I had to go back to work today to recover from all the work I did over the Memorial Day weekend.  As a veteran, you wouldn't think I was lazy if I just sat at home and reflected on the sacrifice of others while enjoying an iced tea and re-runs of American Pickers on the History Channel, right?  Instead, we moved 4 yards of decayed crushed granite, installed 50 feet of cement curb, ran 160 feet of new water pipe out to the back, and ran 75 feet of underground electrical to our newest landscaping feature. 
 Since everything has to have a name (so says my wife), we decided on Gracie Land for this little piece of peacefulness.  Of course, our big dog is named Gracie, and she loves lying down in the cool crushed decayed granite.  
 The main thing to note is that we have the swinging tire, and baby swing to entertain any babies that visit us, and a glider that allows to people to comfortably swing back and forth.  During the naming process, Eva suggested "Swinger's Island".  I didn't even get a raised eyebrow lifted to full arch before she quickly decided that might not be a good idea.  Gracie Land it is.

You probably recognize that we have a whole lot of sand and very little grass.  As long as there is a drought going on, it will stay that way.  So, we figure we may as well get all the landscaping done now so we don't put down grass only to pave over it later. 

But one thing Eva did to spiff things up during my several trips back and forth to haul the rock was to stack firewood.  Doesn't that look really nice?
And this is what it looked like as soon as she started the riding mower next to the beautiful stack.  Somebody call OSHA!  So, after re-stacking, I put some wire fencing around it.  Problem solved.

Of course, not everything was hard labor in our camp.  For some yet to be determined reason, I was talked into roller skates.  
 I'm sore enough from the ditch-digging I did this weekend.  I'll tackle the pain and suffering from re-learning how to skate next week, maybe.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day...

We make the most of time off from work and I even threw some corn on the grill to roast and some chicken to burn to a barbeque crispy yumminess yesterday.  Who doesn't love a long weekend, regardless of the reason?

At some point during the day, I hope you might join us in taking just a minute from the fun to think about our service folks who didn't get the day off.  In the states, someone still has to man the front gate at each of our bases, medical personnel have to man the emergency rooms and the firefighters and police won't be taking much of a break.  You need look no further than today's headlines to realize that we have men and women working non-stop overseas in harms way.  And before them, so many have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Let us not forget them.

My daughter is currently deployed some 5,000 miles from home, and as I type this, my son is airborne, on his way to a short deployment in another state.  But they are doing what they enjoy, and Eva and I think of them daily, not just on designated weekends.

Please don't forget the ones who didn't make it back...

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Round-Up of Sorts...

Has it really been more than 10 days since my last post?  I suppose it has.  Busy beavers, we are.  There is no such thing as an eight hour work day it seems, and there is no end to the things that must, or should, or could be done, once I get home.  But since I have a minute or two before I go unload cement and 2X4's from my truck on this rare day off, I offer a quick round-up of activities.

Did I mention I got a speeding ticket on a federal installation?  30 in a 20 is what they claim.  And $115.00 is what they get.  Good googly-moogly.  I did find out this morning when I plugged in my Garmin that my speedometer is off.  Yes, when I bought a new set of tires for my truck, the salesman who talked me into the bigger set of tires did not mention that it might require a speedometer adjustment.  So this morning when I was passing a guy on a small two-lane back road in Medina County at what I thought was about 85 mph, the Garmin let me know that I was doing 93.  Oops.   I might have to do some Internet research on the topic.  

You might ask why it is that I was on a small two-lane back road in Medina County, so I'll tell you.  First, I do live in Medina County these days, so that pretty much clears it up. 

But to offer a bit more, I was on my way to Hondo, the county seat, where the land appraisal office is.  Turns out that a lot of the forms and paperwork I had faxed to said appraisal office when we first bought our house never made it to the people who needed it.
My only experience with these things have been with Bexar County in San Antonio.  As we military folk are fond of saying, "Hurry up and wait".  When I walked into the the Medina Land Appraisal place, there was no line and as I waited for some ladies to finish up on the phone, a nice man came up and asked me how he could help.  I explained that I had received my appraisal for taxes in the mail and it appeared that they did not have my exemptions listed.  In a matter of a few minutes, one of the ladies came up, had me fill out a few simple forms, and the exemptions were on the way.  

Since I had all my house closing paper work with me, the man asked if he could see what I paid for the house.  He then asked me who the builder was and I told him, and he said oh yea, you got a good deal but we've appraised you too high.  He asked if I wanted him to fix it.  

This is usually where I expect a son of Allen Funt to jump from behind a large plastic Hibiscus and yell "Smile..."!   Instead, a few minutes later my tax assessment had just dropped close to a thousand dollars a year!  No need to file a protest, no need to call my Senator, the guy just pulled up the other homes that my builder had built near me and lowered my taxable home value by over $15K. I am pleased to say the least.
I left Hondo with the idea that I would return to Devine via Highway 173, but then I saw a sign for the town of Yancey.  I have been wanting to go to Yancey for years, just so I could see what was there.  

 On the way there, I saw a really spiffy entrance to a ranch.  I hope these folks aren't on the witness protection program, but I just thought it was pretty cool.  
So I get to the big town of Yancey, and I know I and there because they have a post office and a zip code.  The other half of the town was located right next door to the post office.
Honestly, this is all there is of Yancey.  The post office and the Yancey Country Store.  I stopped in to grab a can of Mango Iced Tea, and I asked the very nice lady behind the counter if there was anything besides her store in Yancey.  She asked, "Did you see the post office?"  I just love country folk.
 As I was leaving, this guy pulled in to the store.  I guess that's one way to get around if you run out of gas out here.

I also learned that the town was at one time called Tehuacana. The creek is still there.  What there is of the creek anyway.  Don't forget your fishing pole.
In addition to my business in Hondo, I also needed to get an inspection sticker for my truck.  I was back in Natalia when I saw this place with one of the state inspection signs out front.  I did have to honk the horn a few times to alert the guard dog that he should bark in order to arouse the owners from whatever they may have been doing away from the shop.  In a few minutes, we were in business and my truck was being inspected with great attention to detail, I'm sure.  Very fine work, indeed.  Naturally, I'll be returning here next year.  By the way, though I offer this in the same paragraph, I'm not necessarily saying there is any relation to Swamp People.  I'll just leave it at that...
Oh, the cement and the 2X4's? Yes, we are on another building spree here.  Not anything big or even good, but Eva and I have caught curb fever, and we have been making cement borders around our hedges and such. 
We also put a curb around our favorite tree to keep in the crushed decayed granite, and the next project is to create the same type of area under a set of trees on the other side of the yard.
I'm thinking the sun might need to go down a bit though, before I unload 12 eighty-pound bags of cement.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Property Owners Association Meeting Notes...

We've been out here since December and finally made it to the first meeting of our Property Owner's Association.  When we moved in, I had been told that the board of directors meets once a month and that they hold an annual membership meeting.  I called the management company and asked about attending the monthly meetings, just as an interested member but was told that unless there was an issue that I wanted to speak on, residents didn't normally attend the meetings.  Fast forward to earlier this week; signs were posted in the area advertising the meeting to be held at Eatza Pizza, so we attended.

The whole thing was awkward at first.  We just assumed that the meeting would be held in the back private party room, but when we walked back there, we found that some sort of Texas Minuteman meeting or some successionest thing was going on.  We then recognized a guy who I know from work and asked him about it.  He introduced us to the board members and invited to join them.  Having served on a BOD for an association, I really didn't want to just jump right into the meeting, especially since it seemed as though we were the only residents/non-board members attending.  Eventually, though two other couples showed up and we didn't feel as uncomfortable.

So the long and the short of it is, like any other board, these folks had an agenda of items to discuss.  They made introductions and us and the other residents all introduced ourselves to each other and the entire thing was very casual and free flowing.  I couldn't help but reflect on what a nightmare this would have been at our old HOA.  The board members freely discussed the business (excluding some personnel matters that were saved for "executive session") and welcomed the input of the few members at the table.  People seemed respectful.

There were a few interesting things that really stood out to me.  One was that the board had received complaints regarding a homeowner near the entrance to the subdivision who had a vehicle parked on the side of his house.  Because it is a corner lot, the vehicle is visible to anyone driving by on either street.  One resident questioned why anybody would care - the vehicle is on the homeowner's property and it should be none of anybody else's business.   I suddenly got this feeling in the pit of my stomach that things were going to get ugly, but instead, when a few board members pointed out that the intent of the deed restrictions was to maintain the appearance of the subdivision to keep home values up, and apparently abandoned vehicles did not help, the lady was satisfied and things moved on.

There were several Architectural Control requests - mostly revolving around people who had built something on their property and were now coming back to ask for forgiveness after the fact.  It was clear that the board and the ACC simply want people to follow the rules.  In one case though, a potential property buyer was requesting to build a big metal building as a work shop.  There was much careful discussion on this topic; were metal buildings allowed etc, and much quoting of the deed restrictions.  

In the end, I couldn't help but offer some advice from my previous board experience.  I simply stated that the decisions the board makes now on cases like this are decisions that the association will have to live with 25 years from now.  I was not advocating for or against the approval, but that the request to build should come with much greater detail so that the board can make an informed decision either way.  They did decide (whether due to my input or not) that they needed more information on the design and such before they could approve the request.

We were really glad we went - if only to meet the people who are on the board and some other neighbors.  It was a bit sad that there weren't more residents coming out to see the meeting, but my experience with our old association should have clued me into the fact that people really don't care about these types of things. Perhaps that makes us different.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Nature: Good & Bad...

We bought one of these humming bird feeder stands from Tractor Supply last week and it has provide quite a bit of entertainment for my wife and the dogs, all peering through the window for a gander.
It is hard not to find these little guys interesting.  We try to keep lots of bird seed out and our bird baths filled for the huge contingent of birds that keep our yard entertaining.  Of course with the heat and severe drought, things go dry quickly.

A while back, we ran a water line to the back of the property just to make it easier to water the trees and such.  Who would have thought that some little creature was so thirsty, he would actually bite through the hose trying to get a drink. 
Little bastard! 

Dinner Report: Mama Lee's Soul Food on Valley Hi...

Eva has been watching our newest little grand-niece a few days a week and to save everyone a long drive, we have been driving to the Valley Hi HEB for the baby exchange.  On Friday, we realized that we needed to get some vittles for dinner, so why not drop into Mama Lee's Soul Food located in that small strip center near the HEB?
There was a sign above the door that listed multiple food selections, but Mama Lee had me at Catfish.  
Inside, the dining room is small and clean, and the waitress was as friendly as could be.  We were among three other tables of diners as well as another guy who came in for a to-go order, so I just assumed there would be a wait for our food, but surprisingly, the food was served just minutes after we got our iced teas.
Of course, I had the catfish and for sides, I selected the mac & cheese and some red beans.  A cornbread muffin was included.  When I took a bite of the catfish, my first thought was of Acadiana.  It was almost that good.  Instead of just being fried up and making you rely on tarter sauce for flavor, there was a blend of spices that really worked well.  The mac & cheese was brilliant.  Sorry the picture doesn't show it well, but this is not Kraft in a box, it is some form of baked multi-cheese situation and it alone is worth the trip.  The corn bread was not what I expected.  It was more like a cupcake to me.  Oh sure, I ate it.  The only real disappointment was the red beans.  I took two bites and lost interest.
Eva ordered up the fried chicken.  Of course I had a bite.  So tender and juicy, you could easily forgo the catfish in favor of the chicken.  It had a very thin coating that was nicely seasoned reminiscent of The Colonel, but the huge difference was that the chicken itself must have been marinated in something really good.  There is a better look at the delicious mac & cheese in this picture.

Dinner came out to about $10 a piece, not including tip, but the quick and friendly service made it worth the above fast-food prices. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Don't Forget to Shut the Gate...

We were driving down a street in the small town of La Coste on Sunday and saw something giggle-worthy.
I do understand that some home improvements have to come a little bit at a time as money is available.  From a security standpoint, I'm not so sure the gate by itself will keep people from coming in your yard.

Clearly, we are easily amused.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Flea Market Report: Traders Village - San Antonio...

Someone had suggested that my wife and I ought to be celebrating our anniversary by taking a cruise or something really romantic.  We opted for a short drive into San Antonio's south side and a look at the fairly new Traders Village flea market.  Only the best for my bride.
I have to admit, I was pretty much pulled kicking and screaming into this one.  The entire concept of what equates to a mall for crappy dollar stores full of plastic crap made in China and sold out of boxes lined up in an open space just really doesn't appeal to me.  When I think of a flea market, I'm thinking of Bussey's or the place we found in Devine.  
Nothing against the fine folks who bring us the chain of Traders Village, but I would like to see a bunch of junk brought in the back of an old station wagon and laid out on a table with a guy willing to deal as if it was a garage sale, not a bunch of shops that could easily fit in to the crappy section of Ingram Park Mall or any number of strip malls with constant turnover.  I mean seriously, a Famsa at a flea market?
 There is something to be said about standing there and chatting with a guy trying to sell a few old items from his garage next to some crafts his wife made while he sips on a beer from a Styro-foam cup.  Flea markets tend to attract characters as merchants, and even if you don't buy a thing during your visit, you leave having enjoyed the walk and the people you met along the way.  
 The whole idea of Traders Village is in reality just a different business model for people looking for lower rents on their shop space.  If I sold stuff, I would probably give it a shot since the owners have gone out of their way to make an inviting environment for people who don't want the dusty experience of an open air market and appreciate clean restrooms, covered walkways, sports bars and lots of parking.
 So, having made my opinion clear, I have to tell you that we actually enjoyed Trader's Village, and though it probably won't be with any regularity, we'll probably go back again from time to time.   There was one guy who really made for an irritating experience, and that was the guy with the bullhorn yelling out in Spanish every item he had for sale in his store.  And when he wasn't enticing customers with barker-like shouting, he was using the sound effects on the bullhorn to make piercing siren and car alarm sounds.  Geeze.

But we did meet some friendly people - in fact one guy we met, a retired school teacher from Devine talked about the new antique shop he is opening between Natalia and Devine on Hiway 132.  He was trying to make enough money at Trader's Village to pay the insurance bill for his new shop so he could open the doors.
We found another interesting antiques dealer who had some good stuff in his shop, a mixture of real antiques and commercial crafts.  I don't know if this was an actual artist of any fame, but his depiction of Jesus with a floating eye was pretty entertaining. 
Parents will appreciate that TV has several ride attractions including a small train ride, carousel, helicopters and a sort of Ferris wheel that  goes around horizontally instead of up and down.  Basically, you get a really nice view of the the market from overhead and if you look hard, you can see the Clovell Gardens landfill off in the distance.
 We did not eat there, but there was plenty of food options including roasted corn and burgers.  Maybe next time.  
Flea Market purists will understandably scoff at the Traders Village concept and should probably stick to places like Bussey's to the north of San Antonio.  But if you just want to get out for a walk and maybe see a few odds and ends, the $2.00 entry fee for parking is not gonna break the bank.

Here is a link to the Flickr page and the photos I took if you want to see it all.