Sunday, March 14, 2021

Why We Call It The Island...

 One of the first landscaping projects we took on when we moved to our house in Natalia back in 2010 was to build a fire pit back away from the back of the house.  We set up some lawn-chairs and found ourselves enjoying the evenings around the fire, listening to deer try to sneak through the trees behind us unnoticed.  

Our good dog, Gracie would find a cool spot and lay there napping as we enjoyed a few beers and appreciate the lack of the sirens, traffic, and just the noise you hear in a neighborhood in the city.  It was as if you had found yourself on an island without going on vacation, and the fact that we had used landscaping materials to create a separated feature from the rest of the yard, the name, Stoney Island, just took.

When we moved to Helotes and traded our beautiful space for a much smaller yard for the convenience of being closer to grandkids, we tried to recreate that same feel, and it was nice, but frankly, as much as we liked our neighbors, you have that sense of people being on top of you all the time.  It just isn't the same. 

So now, back out here, over the last few weekends, ten bags of quickcrete, three full yards of decayed crushed granite,  and lots of sore muscles, we have finally gotten this version of the island up and running.

I started out by measuring out where I wanted to outer ring to be.  I had to take into account where my sprinkler system was because, let's be honest, covering a sprinkler head would be bad.  What I don't have pictures of is all the prep work prior to the next step of taking down the grass that was inside the area and then applying a really heavy coat of grass and weed killer.  

During this part, I was by myself and it was pretty windy, so I had to put down the weed barrier a few rows at a time, then put rock on it to keep it from flying up.  I looked like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.  No offense to any one-legged readers.  

My little trailer is good for hauling about a yard of material at a time, but the place I buy from closes at 2PM on Saturdays, so I needed to get the first yard unloaded and back over there before they closed.  This process of putting down weed barrier and unloading, then more weed barrier was a pain.  By late afternoon, I had both yards of material down but had concluded that doing the concrete curbs around the edges was going to have to wait for Eva.  

 Thursday and Friday evening, we did all the cement work (sorry, I forgot to take pictures of the progress) and Saturday morning, I went to get one more yard of decayed crushed granite to really fill out the area.  

These are some of the original Adirondack chairs I built back in 2011 or 2012 for the original island.  What I have learned is, when you purchase wood from a good supplier, you get really good wood.  When you purchase lumber from the big box stores, you get what you pay for.  Two of these chairs will go on the fire pit tonight.  he other two (the very first two I built) will continue to provide safe seating for another several years.  
I have found that in spite of two new knees, I am just too old and fat to really get out of the Adirondack chairs easily these days, so on Saturday, we went and purchased some new chairs that are easier on my knees.  

When I look back at the original, I feel like we have a lot of landscaping to do, but then again, this property is not that property, this house is not that house, this island is not that island.  We'll get there, or we'll get somewhere and it will be someplace that works for us. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Bakery Pub in Lytle...

 No, we don't have another wintery snow storm prompting another blog post in under a month, but we did get to see a sneak preview of something very special coming to our small town that I felt was worth reporting to the local populace.  

We've talked a lot about how Eva and I love (pre-COVID) visiting small towns and enjoying local shops and eateries and places that make it worth the trip.  Think places like Fredericksburg, Boerne, or Kerrville, where you can park your car and walk along the street, stopping in shops and grabbing a coffee or a beer.  What we've thought for the last decade is that Lytle could have that , if someone would just get it started.

Folks, someone is making the effort.  A group of friends have gone into business to take a long time bakery on the main street of Lytle and turn it into a small pub.  What better name than, The Bakery Pub

They have a Facebook page here.  

I've mentioned Josh Walker before.  He is the guy who flies his drone around and takes really cool videos of the area and posts them on his YouTube channel.  He was also featured on the front page of the Devine Newspaper during the big snow storm with a great aerial shot of the Lytle water tower and the surrounding area.  So a week ago as we were just recovering from the big snow storm, he was posting some live video as they were doing some work on the pub to get thing ready.  I made a comment and a few minutes later, I got a message from Josh asking us to stop by and he'd give us a tour.  Eva and I put on our shoes and went.  

I apologize in advance that my pictures came out pretty crappy, mostly because we were so amazed at the place and I felt a little embarrassed about whipping out my phone and taking pictures.  

First off, these are super nice people.  I think they have the personalities you need to take on a venture like this.  Hardworking people, motivated to bring something good to a small town as a boost to encourage other entrepreneurs to bring in businesses that will create the foot traffic needed to be the next smaller version of those towns I mentioned. Right now, people come to Lytle to visit the HEB Plus and the What-a-Burger.

After more than a year of e-mails and messaging, Josh and I met in person.

Inside, the pub is bigger than it looks from the outside. What was really cool was the open ceiling concept and not visible here is lighting that can be turned on inside the rafters for a very interesting look.

When we drive by this place, we always get the idea that it is way too small, but in actuality, it really isn't.  Plus, having lived in England, (yes, I'm dropping the "I've really lived in the UK card"), this pub is bigger than most.

As you would expect, there is an outdoor seating area.  Again, when you drive by, it appears much smaller, but standing there, you get a much larger feel.  I can't wait to sit our here in the late afternoon as the sun starts to go down and enjoy a nice cool IPA.

The plan is to work with some food trucks in order to have food service available which will be great.  The team has several folks lined up and it all sounds like things are really coming together well.  

Back inside.  The important stuff.

The plan is to have some standards and then a rotating offering of craft beers on tap as well as more specialties in the beer case.  I think there will be something for everyone.  A wine, too.  I feel really bad that I didn't get a good shot of the reclaimed wood bar as well as the bar top they made.  

This is Josh and his wife Dawn, half of the amazing team of great people putting this all together.  

And finally, I leave with a few pictures of photos that come from the history of the previous incarnations of the bakery.  We wish them luck in this venture and we hope it is just the beginning of good things to come for the small but growing town of Lytle.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

SNOWVIDGEDDIN or Whatever Fancy Phrase You Choose...

We Survived! And in fact, we made it through barely unscathed when you consider the hardships that so many of our fellow Texans have endured during this last week.  

If you have no idea of what I am referring to, I'm talking about the freak six inches of snow we received and the accompanying temps that dipped down to as low as 10 degrees, but mainly stayed around 28 degrees for the week.  

You know, we often visit my daughter and her family up in Michigan, and we love the beauty of East Lansing, but we've said that the snow and cold weather is the thing that keeps us from ever considering it as a place to live.  Unless, of course,  I won the big Powerball and could afford to live in multiple homes.  But to find ourselves looking at a snowed in driveway and my Alexa device reporting 10 degrees, in Lytle, TX?  That is just Crazy!

I took this picture Monday morning, President's Day.  We had no idea what was about to come.

On Monday, it was just really a nice snowy day and a chance for us to take some pictures of the property and for Eva to make a snowman or snowcouple.  

She'll need to work on technique during the next big storm.

As we sat at home, warm and cozy, watching TV and hearing about people in San Antonio losing power, we wondered if our little outpost so far south of town would be spared from the rolling blackouts.  Meanwhile, my son and his family were without power and my wife had urged them to come stay with us, but they just assumed the power would be on "soon".  

This forecast was very, very inaccurate. The lows were much lower!

I can tell you this: There was zero chance that I'd be using the outdoor shower.  And in fact, because I guess you are supposed to totally disconnect the shower hose from the heater when it gets really cold, the shower head froze right off!  Oops.

Tuesday my son decided to bring his family to our house (wife, two kids, two dogs), and literally, as they pulled into the driveway, we lost power.  But, we have a fireplace (wood).  So, we got the fire going and set up a tailgating propane stove on the back patio and as it snowed, grilled dinner.  The kids played games and between batteries and using the cars to charge phones and portable DVD players and such, everyone was occupied.

The power came back on for one full hour at 930PM which was perfect to get the kids ready for bed and everyone settled.  The house didn't get fully warm, but once you are in bed, it is warm anyway.  

So the power came back on at 0530 the next morning and we thought, okay, great, it is over.  Nope.  Thankfully, we got breakfast, warmed the house, showered and poof, back off at about 0930.  We did not get electricity again until Thursday around 1100.

Meanwhile, the snow had stopped so my son, his wife and I drove to his house to grab his father-in-law's generator that was in his garage and grab some more supplies.  His neighbor told him that they had had electricity overnight, but it was off again.  But they had no water.  We got the supplies, then headed back home, hooked up the generator and warmed up the house for the kids.  We really didn't use the generator non-stop - one because it is loud, and two because we have the fireplace.  But we did use it to make coffee and my wife hooked up a toaster oven and a skillet to it and made pancakes for the kids.

By Thursday morning, I was reading in the local news on my phone that most people were getting power back. I went online to the CPS Energy website and reported us as having an outage. In under an hour the CPS guys up and told me we had power.  We walked out to the main breakers, and sure enough, the main breaker had tripped.  My guess is, when the power came back on, we had too much going with the heater and the hot tub and everything else.  So we did it to ourselves overnight.  If I'm being honest, overnight is better than during the day.   

We had a good laugh at our idiocy and lack of common sense but I posted a note to basically saying, don't be a dummy like me.  Several people thanked me saying they had done the same thing, and later, I saw on the news that they were telling people to check their breakers, so at least I'm not the only idiot in Texas.  Funny thing.  My wife found a delayed text from a neighbor from 8:30 Wednesday evening asking us if we had power because they didn't see any lights at our house.  Oh well.  We are regular survivalists!

Finally, as we were getting back to normal, it started to snow again.  But the power was good.  With four adults and two grandkids, people were using the bathroom, taking showers doing laundry and all of the sudden, the shower filled with sewage.  Our septic was backed up.  I called a friend who is a plumber and he came by to auger it, and no luck. He suggested I call Roto Rooter since they have those camera systems.  I did.

By the time they came out, my wife had run a load of hot laundry to clean towels that had been used to clean up the - uh dirty water -  and magically, the shower drained.  Seems the lines had frozen and the hot water cleared them.

When the Roto Rooter guy got here, he did the same thing my neighbor did and concluded, yea, lines were probably frozen.  No charge.  We haven't had a problem since.

I'm not gonna lie, we had a pretty hectic week, but by Thursday, we were through the thick of it, had power and water (and septic) and aside from the fact that we still have to boil the water (thank goodness for bottled water and Brita filters) we are good.  I know this, we have been far more fortunate than so many people, simply because we didn't have pipes burst.  I have countless co-workers that are in that situation and as you have no doubt seen on the news, getting a plumber out is tough, and getting pipe is tougher.

I know there is a lot of political fallout coming from all this.  I'll pass on that discussion.  But what I can say is that we witnessed first hand so many neighbors and strangers reaching out to help one another.  A man who I just met a few weeks ago who owns the property down the street from us and hasn't yet built his house called me to ask how we were and asked if we needed anything.  Can you imagine what a good neighbor this guy is going to be for years to come?  

For every bad thing we saw on the news about the state agencies screwing things up, we saw local and commercial entities like HEB, our local grocery chain, and fast food places, and Tractor Supply and the hardware stores just pulling out all stops to get it done.  

I went into the True Value hardware store in Castroville to buy some heavy duty extension cords for the generator.  No power at all.  A man guided me to another guy with a flashlight who guided me to the power cords.  I found the ones I needed, he gave me a price, then I followed the lights back to the registers and paid with a card using someones card reader on their cell phone.  People just making it work to keep Texans going.  


I'm sorry for the long delay between posts.  I really enjoy writing about the things that happen out here and the work we put into this place.  There is a never ending list of things that need to get done, but I can tell you, when the days begin to cool down, we really spend more time sitting in front of the TV.  

I hope to post a drone video I took of the yard from the first day it snowed.  We'll see how the Internet holds out!  UPDATE:  You can see the video by clicking here.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The New Carport at Stoney Island...

The entire job took about a week and a half, total.  We were very pleased with our contractor, Rene's Custom Work.  He and his team came in, did exactly what we asked for, they were super clean in terms of picking up at the end of each day.  

The end product matches our house and overall, we couldn't be happier.  

Without further ado, I present to you the new carport at Stoney Island.

If the video doesn't appear above this text, you can just click here!

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Man Cave is Up and Operational, With Carpet!

 You've been waiting and so have we.

I present to you the new Stoney Island III Man Cave.

We could not be happier.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

It Can't Possibly be August...

 And yet, here we are, still going at it with "Everything Going On".  

I've been wanting to sit down and tell you all about the Man Cave and how it is coming along. For the most part it is done. We had been put on a waiting list to get the floor done and now, I'm happy to report that almost a month from now, the folks will be in to install the carpet.  

In the mean time, I have been taking pictures of the progress and will eventually compile a short video to show how it all came together.  As a little teaser, I'm sharing a few pictures today.

This is what the new entrance looks like.  It used to be a garage door.  Now, it's just a door.

And this is what it looked like from the inside before we did the texture and paint.
This is a view of my very big yet inexpensive screen, covered before I texture the walls.
And this is us figuring out where things will be once we get a floor.
You can see there is some tightening up to do on the adjustment of the projector.  It takes a lot of patience and an occasional referencing back to the owner's manual to get the keystone adjusted for this size of screen.  
I'm not sure why I have such a blurry picture here. But in case you are wondering, yes, that is a 132 inch diagonal screen I made from sheetrock and a special paint sold by Sherwin-Williams.  Thank you, Google!  The little coffee table holding the receiver is just temporary.  Once we get the flooring in,  we'll put the rest of the system in on a regular stand.  This works for now.

And finally, this is why my wife wants such a huge screen.  So she can watch Hamilton, over and over again.  Really loud.  It's not like we have any football anytime soon.

Stay safe out there.  Wear a mask, even if you think it is stupid.  And if you are stuck at home, enjoy the little things like ducks walking around in the yard!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Lunch Report: The Railhead Cafe Revisited...

So I'm not even going to link to it, but when my wife and I first moved to Natalia back in 2010 or 2011, we started hitting all the restaurants in the area, near and far, just because we are huge fans of supporting local and local area businesses.  This particular place is located on the main thoroughfare in Lytle, and I have to be honest, our single experience in January of 2011 caused us to never return, until a few days ago. 

Look, we have had places that were a favorite, and then all of a sudden, they start to lose the charm, or the food goes downhill.  There are any number of reasons why a place goes from a favorite to not so hot.  But I believe the opposite can be true.

On Monday, Eva just had to get out of the house and instead of doing takeout, we decided if we could find a place that was slow, we'd eat inside.  I looked online at reviews and to my surprise, The Railhead Cafe popped up with mostly positive reviews on both service and food quality.  I couldn't believe it, so decided we had to try it ourselves. 
First, when we walked in, we were immediately met with a cleaning station and instructions to sanitize hands, wear face masks, and take pictures of the menus if we needed to look at them.  Smart.  There were two other couples in the place, spread far apart.  Our waitress took our order, then seated us far from the others, who by the way all pretty much were gone by the time we got our food.

Eva went for a chicken fried steak.  Forget anything you have read here or anywhere else, this, this Railhead Chicken Fried Steak was top notch.  In fact, she actually whispered that it was the best she had had in quite a long time. I'm sorry I didn't take a better picture, but the steak was plenty enough for a serving.

I went with the catfish platter, had onion rings and their version of mac & cheese.

 First and foremost, my complaint back in 2011 was the catfish appeared to be filets you might pull out of a frozen bag and plopped in some dirty oil for a few minutes.  They have now switched to nuggets and they are not only very good, but it was a shock that I could finish it all.  And look at those huge onion rings.  Of course I shared at least one with Eva.  They were light and fluffy in batter, and done just right. 

I think the key thing we noted (besides the food being very, very good) was that the place was in much better shape than when we visited close to a decade ago.  The main reason we never went back was because it was as if you could feel the grease in the air when you walked in.  Not so anymore. 

Finally a word about service.  We want to support the local economy and we definitely do our part with take out, but the one thing that can stop us at the door is if the waitstaff is not wearing a mask.  We encountered three different employees at Railhead, all of whom were wearing masks the entire time.  Additionally, these folks cleaned and sanitized every table in the place.  They were quick to refill my unsweet tea and ready to go when I was ready to pay. 
I promise, it will not be another decade before we return to Railhead.  Great, safety conscious service and fantastic food.  I want to try more but it is hard for me to pass up catfish when I can get it.  That my friends, is a Tasty Treat!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My Daily Deer and Other Things...

Okay, I'll try to knock this out and add pictures in a quick and efficient manner while avoiding a weird runny nose that is sure to ruin my expensive iMac keyboard.  Mac Snob's.  Ugh. 

So before the pictures of deers and ducks, I have to tell you that I have made zero progress on my Man Cave.  We made it safely through the 4th of July weekend without a single incident, aside from me nearly killing myself via heat stroke as I worked out in the 101 degree (probably 105) heat, to put in a much needed addition to my sprinkler system. 

Wives everywhere need to know, when you yell for your husband to get out of the hot sun, that is a signal to us that you appreciate our willingness to work hard, in spite of the horrible work conditions. I mean, think about all the coal miners who had a wife say, You shouldn't go back there and get that black lung.

As a husband, we see these remarks as challenges to be met, and for my part, I was completely useless on Monday.  But dammit, I planted some trees, some wagon wheels, and a new set of sprinklers on Sunday.

You know I miss my dog Gracie.  we have really toyed around with the idea of getting another, but I honestly think that this weekend, we decided we just aren't going to do it.  Eva had to actually disconnect from a constant feed of shelters sharing pictures and details of these poor dogs that need homes.  But we just can't do it for the time being.

My mom was kind enough to send us a check to buy a tree to plant Gracie under.  We took it and bought four fruit trees.  A peach, some sort of orange, a Meyer's lemon, and a key lime.  I can say that we still haven't placed Gracie under one of those trees, but perhaps someday.  For now, she rests peacefully above our fire place on a mantel where she haunts my son every time he comes over. 

It's true.  You can believe in dog spirits or not, but Gracie's was beside my bedside for quite a few nights and every once in a while I wake up in the middle of the night and feel her.  But my son spent the night with his kids over here and he ended up on the couch in the living room.  Gracie kept him up all night.  Her shadow walking back and forth.  I don't believe in ghosts, but what are you going to do about a dog who wants to stay?  During her last few months, she was a pacer.  The poor thing was out of her mind and I constantly regret not acting sooner.  But she did love it here.  That we know.

So let's talk about the deer.  We have been slowly moving the deer feed and my camera closer to the house.  For us, the grand plan is to sit in the hot tub and stare out into the yard while the deer come in, eat some corn and move along.  We have experienced that exact thing several times now, and I think my most recent move (this afternoon) has us where the deer and the ducks can get a free meal while we can sit back and enjoy.  The pictures are a bonus, when they come out. 

I did tell you that a fox came into the yard in the middle of the day, ate something then smiled at us looking at him through binoculars, then left. Right?

The deer are a little more timid during the late afternoon.  I've determined that we have three regulars and maybe a few occasional visitors.  The ducks on the other hand bring the whole flock.  Eva sat in the hot tub and counted about 32 ducks in one sitting. 

So either way, please enjoy a few pictures.  I'll also add a video on YouTube when I can put it together.  I used a cast iron griddle tonight to whip up a few steaks for us.  My work day went on from 0530 to just after 1630 today.  I needed to eat and Eva was ready to smash the screen on my laptop if people at work didn't stop calling me.  Better to be needed on the job than not.