Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Back Yard

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New Porch and Sidewalk

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Chewed up and spit out.

Today was one of those days when you feel like you have been chewed up and spit out by the end of the day. Whew, but we got a lot done!

Todd got here early this morning, and we loaded up two truck loads of boxes and furniture to go to storage, drove to Burnet Road Storage, unloaded, went to the other unit, loaded some of that to bring to the house for the yard sale, came back to Vine Street, and staged it all in the front room. We moved almost everything that's to be sold into the same space. We're hoping for clear weather on Saturday, but if not, we will still be able to have the sale.

As part of the moving, we re-arranged the boxes of flooring that need to come here soon for installation. That's work, let me tell you, but it was better to move it forward to be easy to get to NOW, rather than later. Each box weighs over 40 pounds. I've moved them twice now!

The stone masons got here shortly after Todd, and they got very busy today. I'm going to post pics of the new installations in a few minutes. This afternoon, they ran out of rock, and Lonnie and I drove out 2222 to 620, turned West, and drove past Mansfield Dam to the rock yard.

I was absolutely stunned at the development out there. It has been almost forty years since I drove out that far, and it's not the same. Where there were wild hills of brush and rocks and trees, now multi-million dollar homes line the hilltops. Part of the new neighborhoods look like ancient cliff dwellings, and there is NO way the residents can navigate those roads in one of our mid-winter ice storms.

After we got back, Todd was finishing up the closet painting, the masons finished the rock in the front, and we started sweeping sand into the cracks of the paver patio. This is a LONG slow process. Sweep, sprinkle with water, let set, sweep, water, let set, repeat. Tonight was just sweeping. We'll do step two tomorrow.

Our feet hurt, but it's a healthy, satisfactory feeling today.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Great Wall of Vine Street. Posted by Picasa

The Very Red Mrs. Ellis - August 7, 1993 obituary

From the obituary in the Austin American Statesman, dated August 7, 1993, of my grandmother's half sister. Kathy and I remember her as "Maimie" with the fine house, formal Southern manners, and a domestic servant who served meals.

"She looks like a porcelain doll in her August 1902 wedding photo, her delicate neck rising from a stiff collar and her waist probably cinched in a tight corset under all those tucks and ruffles. But, Mary Heard Ellis was hardly a fragile doll. She was an outspoken Austin suffragette who later became an officer in the League of Women Voters.

Ellis was clearly a woman ahead of her time. A newspaper article once reported that, while trudging door-to-doorin Hude Park, making a survey of reactions to women's suffrage, she got the following response: "Yes, I think women should have the vote," said one man, with all seriousness. "That is, if they are people."

Ellis clearly qualified, and lived as a bonifide person until the ripe old age of 83. A close friend described her as a woman who "wouldn't waste her time on bridge and was too intellectual to sew." But she did enjoy plays, political gathering, and dressing well. A newspaper article about her as an octogenarian characterized her thus: "Mrs. Ellis likes to wear handsome clothes. For a dinner the other night, it was a simple dress - but very red."

(Mary's husband, Caswell Ellis, was a pioneer in his own right. He introduced the first abnormal psychology course at the University of Texas at the turn of the century and was a leader in the field of mental health.)

It's "worker central" again!

Today we have the stone masons back, finishing the wall and the paver patio in the back, the sidewalk in the front, and giving me an estimate on the flower bed border that I'm adding to the project. Jesse's going to do an S shaped walkway from the back door to the steps in the wall, too. He's really an artist.

We had a metal roof estimator. Not going there. Just can't spend $12,000 in that one spot, when a 30 year shingle roof is so much less. Also getting radiant barrier paint under the roof deck, ridge vent, and radiant paint on the inside of the garage door. It should help keep Terese's utility expenses down.

Todd is over at the O'Dell house, cleaning and finishing up the paint job there. He's just a great worker. Tomorrow, he is coming over to help us move furniture to storage. We have him reserved all day.

We hope to have the O'Dell house rented again within a couple of weeks.

We went to a belly dancing exhibition on Saturday evening and had a FANTASTIC time. Terese showed me the basic moves yesterday, and it makes you feel very, very flexible. I may go to a class with her in the future.

The weather has warmed up and is sunny. It's just delightful. The mountain laurel is in full bloom and covered with bees.

There are so many remodeling projects in the neighborhood that the air just vibrates with the sound of machinery and hammers. Springtime in Austin!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Absolutely Incredible Enchiladas, etc.

Austin Fire Department Engine No. 2 has gained some renown as the vegan fire house. Read their story here: http://engine2.org/index.asp

On their website is a recipe for Paul McCartney Enchiladas. It's a vegan recipe, so I'll post that version first, then my modifications.


Ingredients (use vegan versions):

  • 1 pound cramine or portabella mushroom
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 or more clove of garlic
  • 1 cup dry textured soy protein
  • 1 cup veggie broth 1 package Taco seasoning
  • 1 large can or 2 cups of enchilada sauce 8 to 10 corn tortillas shredded vegan cheese alternative of choice, if desired


Heat oven to 375

Mince mushroom to fine consistency Chop onion to desired size Mince garlic
In medium sauce pan on low, heat enchilada sauce till warm. Remove from heat. In large skillet on medium high add mushrooms, saute till tender. Add onions and garlic, saute till desired doneness. Add textured soy protein (if skillet is dry add a spray of a non stick fat-free spray to the pan then add textured soy protein) and mix well.

Add taco seasoning and mix till completely coated.

Add veggie broth and mix well (I like my textured soy protein soft, so if needed add extra veggie broth 1 tablespoon at a time).

Pull skillet off heat and let sit for a couple minuets mixing a couple times till textured soy protein is well hydrated.

Coat both sides of tortilla by dipping in the warm sauce. Place desired amount of filling in a line in the middle of tortilla. (3 or 4 tablespoons). Take left edge of tortilla and tuck under right edge so your tortilla rolls up and place seam side down in pan. Repeat till all filling is used.

Top enchiladas with left over sauce

Top with your favorite vegan cheese alternative if desired

Place pan in oven for 15 to 20 min

The warm sauce helps soften the tortilla so you can roll them with out breaking. If tortilla is really dry have a pan of hot water near that you can dip tortilla in to soften, then dip in sauce.

I build my enchiladas in the pan I am going to bake them in so all I have to do is roll the tortilla over seam side down and slide into place.

Now the Finnabair Pendragon version of Portobello Enchiladas...

  • two large portabella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 or more clove of garlic, mashed
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 package Taco seasoning
  • 1 small can V-8 juice
  • 1 large can or 2 cups of enchilada sauce ( I used Hatch Fire Roasted Tomato Enchilada Sauce with Peppers)
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • shredded cheddar cheese


Heat oven to 350

In medium sauce pan on low, heat enchilada sauce till warm. Remove from heat.

In large skillet on medium high, saute onions and garlic. Add portobello mushrooms (if skillet is dry add a spray of a non stick fat-free spray to the pan) and mix well.

Add taco seasoning and mix till completely coated.

Add V-8 juice and mix well.

Coat both sides of tortilla by dipping in the warm sauce. Place desired amount of filling in a line in the middle of tortilla. (3 or 4 tablespoons). Take left edge of tortilla and tuck under right edge so your tortilla rolls up and place seam side down in pan. Repeat till all filling is used.

Top enchiladas with left over sauce

Top with cheddar cheese.

Place pan in oven for 15 to 20 min

These are the BEST enchiladas I have ever made. Give them a try!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We have HEAT!

After four days of incredible activity, noise, and commotion, we finally have Central Heat at the Vine Street house! Thank you to Christianson AC, Allison Electric, and Precision Plumbing. What a wonderful team of professionals we had working long hours to retrofit this old home with a modern central heat and air system.

Today we had everyone from those companies here at one time or another, plus the city inspector, plus the rock mason and his crew, and two estimators for other improvements. There were fourteen workers in and around the house today, and that's not counting Lonnie as he took down the stove vent hood, painted, replaced old electrical outlets, and kept an eye on those other folks. I managed to get a few more boxes sorted through, too, finding more of Mom's poetry and some documents from 1883.

Vine Street House Activity

Some days you don’t feel like you have accomplished much, but you’ve been busy. Today has been a day of supervision, coordination, and support activities, but not a whole lot of ‘work.’

At the Vine Street house, we had the AC crew for the third day, the electrical crew for the second day, and the plumbers…all engaged in getting the central unit installed, wired, and plumbed. Eight crewmen scurrying around and in the house, in the attic, on the roof, making noise and dust as they accomplish each task that brings this house closer to a modern condition.

Jesse, the rock mason has been here twice. He came this morning to get a sample of the existing rock to carry with him to match as he selected the rock for our new decorative terrace wall in the back yard and the facing of the extended porch at the front of the house. The only loose rock was on the barbecue pit in the back. He took a chunk of the old stone for a sample, and said that he would repair the barbecue pit when he did the rest of the job.

He returned in the afternoon with a sample of the stone he had found. It looks great, and he plans to be here at 9:00 in the morning to start working. He may be done by the weekend!

This afternoon the locksmiths from Cothron’s met us at the O’Dell house to change the locks. It only took them about 30 minutes to get that job done, but we had the opportunity to visit with the next door neighbor who works at the highway department. He referred us to a good auctioneer who may be able to help us get rid of some of the remaining items in the house.

While the locksmith was finishing up, Joe, the boss of the AC crew, called and said they were running to catch another job while the electricians were getting the wiring re-connected. We came back to the Vine Street house just in time for Jesse’s second visit with a sample of the new stone. It’s a close match, especially considering that it’s been 47 years since these rocks were put in place.

One of the things we do for people who work for us is provide lunch. Each day that the AC crew was here, we provided a different meal. Monday was hamburgers; Tuesday was Taco Bell; and today was Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches from Texadelphia. Having that sit-down time with the crew gives us the opportunity to talk with the workers and develop a rapport that leads to a better working climate and a higher level of productivity.

One of the AC crewmember’s name was Roberto. He didn’t speak much English, but he has a fantastic sense of humor. When we told them the first day that we were buying hamburgers, and he said he wanted steak. We told him that his burger was a steak burger. Next day, we got Taco Bell lunch, and we got him a Steak Nachos Bell Grande. Wednesday’s Philly Cheese Steak was right up his alley!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Family Medical History

I knew Mom had headaches. I had heard stories of my grandmother's headaches. What I found today were letters written in 1886 to my great grandmother by her doctor, recommending various remedies for her debilitating headaches.

The paper is fragile and brittle
, but the handwriting is beautiful and sweeping. The gentle swish of a quill pen across the page is almost audible as I read the words that have survived 120 years.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Transition Day

Today is President's Day, and about all that is different is that the banks and post offices are closed. For me, at the Vine Street house, it's Transition Day. The air conditioner installation crew arrived just after 9:00 this morning to install the ductwork and set the unit in the attic. They have been going back and forth through the garage and house with ducts, insulation, metal tape, ladders, wire ties, etc etc etc.

We discovered that the attic space is quite small. The slope of the roof is so minimal that there isn't much room for them to work or to run ducts. I'm glad I'm not the one in the attic this time.

While they are working, Lonnie and I are delving into the last of the master bedroom closet shelves. Today's treasures included a Time magazine from when Charles Whitman shot students from the U.T. tower and Life magazines documenting President Kennedy's assination. There were also lots of family pictures, some newspaper clippings, and a picture of the house that Daddy built out in Lakeway.

Mom's art work has come to light, too. I have never seen the watercolor wildflowers that were painted at the Grand Canyon in 1947. There's also a pencil sketch of a fireplace at Hermit's Rest at one of the Grand Canyon lodges. I found a picture online that confirms Mom's sketch as extremely accurate. There are pencil sketches that we will get framed to put up at home, at the cabin, and at my new office in Ganado.

The Monopoly game that we modified with Braille lettering was in the living room closet. Also a small bowling alley game that will go over to Kathy's house.

We took one load over to the storage unit today, and we have another staged and ready to go if it ever warms up here!! We're starting a junk pile on the North side of the house, and I'll be calling someone to haul all that off.

James came by yesterday to scout the cleanup in the back yard. I'll be scanning and sending him a picture of Nana and Mom, as he wants to post on his new real estate website that he has worked for three generations of the same family.

It's still very cold outside, in the 40's, drizzling, cloudy. If it freezes tonight, the roads are going to be SLICK in the morning.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shifting Gears / Multi-tasking

The last year and a half has a time of tremendous change for me. The process is ongoing as I finalize Mom's estate and move ahead with learning to deal with the business of the Trust. I am in the position of making decisions every day that weren't even on my radar screen two years ago.

When I quit my teaching job, I had a vision of what my life was going to be like managing my rental properties and tending to whatever projects came my way. Now, I can barely remember what that vision was.

One of the most difficult tasks is shifting gears as I multi-task. Going home to Ganado throws me into one set of roles and activities, and I am totally immersed in them, but the rest of the projects are in my mind, distracting me and calling for attention. In Austin, boxing up and disbursing Mom's possessions is daunting and stressful, expecially with tax-season duties shrieking in the background. When I'm in the Ozarks, the peaceful forest calls to me, and the desire to garden and landscape are siren songs that lure me from the obligations of paperwork.

I try to focus on whichever task is at hand, but there's this niggly thought that no matter *what* I'm doing.....I should be doing something else.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

One Computer Is Not Enough

Last week my laptop crashed, and although the Flashback Data folks did a good job recovering the files, restoring them to the computer has been more of a challenge. I don't have the disks here with MS Money and Quickbooks. I went to Office Depot and got the new MS Money 2006. MISTAKE!! It won't open any of the backup files. I fought it for an hour or so by myself, then for a couple of hours with two separate tech reps on the phone.

After giving up and uninstalling MS Money, I took my back up disks over to Mom's really old Dell that had the original financial software on it. Guess what!! It opened them just fine.

I'm going to be making more regular back ups, both on discs, and on the computer in the office at home. You just can't have too many backups...or computers. :-)

Something is seriously wrong with MS Money, and I think I'm not using it any more. I had trouble with it last year when I upgraded from '04 to '05.

That wasn't enough for today. After I got back to Kathy and Audley's house from changing out their TV cable box (which went very smoothly), the electronic key for my Tundra quit. When that happens, you can't start the truck, either. Sigh. Luckily, Lonnie was not far away at Lowes, and he had the spare key. Then, a trip to the dealership to get the key replaced. I guess you can't have too many spare keys, either!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Many cultures use circles as symbols of the cycle of life, of the seasons, and of unity.

As we clean Mom's house, I have discovered another kind of circle/cycle. I am discovering information hidden in boxes and bags that reveal aspects of Mom's life experiences that she hadn't shared before her passing. Each of those items has a life of its own, and the determination must be made to keep it for another generation or allow it to pass gently into the silence of the past. Many objects were actually my grandmother's, obviously kept by her, then uncovered by *my* mother as she dealt with her mother's estate. They were evaluated and saved and hidden again. I am the third generation to make these decisions!

There are items that will, of course, be kept.

My grandfather's letters from France to his mother during WW I. He was very grateful for the socks.

Our parents' wedding rings, hand made by each for the other. Kathy has Daddy's; I have Mom's.

There's a desk that I remember from my grandmother's house, but I suspect it dates farther back than that because the papers in it go back into the mid 1800's.

Old and yellowed crocheted placemats are responding well to Oxy-clean and will grace a dining table again.

There are other things that are more difficult. Mom had let us know that there was conflict between her parents and my father. Mom was raised by her parents NOT to marry. She was supposed to take over the family business and take care of her parents. She met and married my father when she was in her 30's, and my grandparents didn't take it well. Mom never revealed details, but now a letter gives testimony. My mother wrote it while still on her honeymoon, pledging her undying love and devotion to her parents, but never mentioning her new husband. The groveling woman in the letter is not the strong woman I knew. The decision about whether to keep this item has not been made yet.

February 12, 2006 - one of Mom's poems

Today is Sunday, so it seems appropriate to post this poem written by Kathrin Gann on August 21, 1989.

True Church

Arches of oak boughs, mimosa and elm,
On cultured plots or wilder places
Briefer colors than stained glass,
Hymns in the whisper and sigh of wind in the branches
Solos by jubilant mocker and cardinal,
Incense of honeysuckle and magnolia for thanksgiving,
These are the true temple for worship.

Noises of denominations
Are mere disturbances of air,
Futile wastes of energy needed
For the practice of belief.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

February 11, 2006 - Whole Foods and The Herb Bar

This morning, Lonnie and I spent a couple of hours walking in the 'new' Whole Foods store near downtown. This is the ultimate luxury food store. Almost all the vegetables are organic, there are more types of seafood available than you can imagine, and the freshly cooked food kiosks are overwhelming. You can wander around for hours and not see the whole store. Imported foods are the norm rather than the exception. I do wish they would do more samples around the store.

After that, we made a quick dash through the Farmer's Market on 4th and Guadalupe. It was MUCH too cold to be out for more than mere moments, but we were hoping for goat cheese. Unfortunately, the goat cheese folks weren't there, so we settled (HA!) for El Salvadoran tamales and fresh beets.

I had to call my friend, Sebastian, for directions to The Herb Bar on Mary St at First Street. This is because I forgot that there are two First Streets in Austin, and I was looking on the wrong one. After getting landmarks to look for from Sebastian (who is in Missouri), we found the vine covered cottage that is The Herb Bar. What a wonderful place! It's full of herbs, tinctures, aromatherapy supplies, crystals, art, books, tea, and serenity. Thank you Sebastian, for introducing us to another of Austin's unique shopping experiences!

Then on to Randalls for the normal grocery shopping. We have just about given up on H.E.B. because the one near Mom's house is not being kept clean, and there are often hookers shopping. Seriously. It's rather disconcerting. I'm sure they are nice ladies, but not exactly the company I'm looking for in the grocery aisles. Randall's is always clean, the people are VERY nice, and we can get fresh seafood and nice veggies there, too.

Friday, February 10, 2006

February 10, 2006 - Estimates

Today was the day for contractors coming by to look at the Vine Street house and prepare estimates for the work we are having done.

The AC guy had been by earlier in the week, but he sent the electrician and plumber to bid their parts. The electrician was a friendly gentleman, and we chatted as he looked over the situation. When he spotted the deer heads on the wall, he commented on how old they were. I said yes, but that I could tell him the story of when and where they were harvested near Fredericksburg. Turned out that one of his co-workers is a descendant of the owners of the ranch where the deer came from. While he was talking to his friend on the phone, I offered to let them have the racks back, and he was very eager to have them for their hunting cabin. So, after 55 years, the deer are going home.

Then came the stone mason who is going to extend the front porch, put in a curved sidewalk, build a wall in the back yard that will create a terrace, and put in a paver patio. He's a tall, red haired, tobacco chewing country boy from the Buda area where my dad grew up. We looked over the drawings, stomped around in the rain, measured, discussed, and agreed on a plan of action. He hopes to begin work in two or three weeks. He said that Daddy selected a very fine grade of Oklahoma stone for the rock on the front of the house, and that finding some to match at a reasonable price will take him a bit of effort. The face of the wall in the back yard and the face of the new front porch extension will match the Oklahoma stone. It's going to be fantastic. I do need to find someone to build the arbor that will shade the front porch and keep the living room cooler in the summers.

In the afternoon the plumber came who will be making the changes in the gas lines to comply with city code and to provide gas for the new central heating system. Code requires that the bathroom wall heaters be disconnected, but I have requested that they be left in place for aesthetic reasons. I simply like them! The big wall heater in the den will, however, be disconnected and removed, and we are considering building a set of shelves there.

This was a day of sorting and packing. I can't tell you how many boxes of junk we have unearthed in the closets, sorted through, and disposed of. Mom had a love of paper, and whether newspapers, magazines, recipes, or coupons, she kept it. In amongst the debris are a few gems. I have found my grandfather's letters home to his mother at the start of WW I, and an envelope of pictures of my grandfather as a child and young man. What a blessing that the gene for his ears did NOT pass down. His ears stand out from his head like sails in the wind. Sorry, Poppy, but truth is truth.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

February 09, 2006 - After a pause, I'm blogging

I started this blog long ago, in another lifetime, it seems... before Mom passed away. I'll fill in some of the missing events as I go, so if you see new posts that seem dated in the past, that's why.

I'm back in Austin, cleaning Mom's house for the last time. It's been almost a year since she passed, and it is time to get everything out so that the house can be rented. Hopefully, my friend Terese is moving in next month.

My intention is to post thoughts about the experience of 'deconstructing' Mom's life as we sort her possessions and decide what to keep, what to discard, and what to distribute to family and friends. It is not an easy job, even with the passage of time. Almost every day something comes to light that triggers memories or sheds light into events of the past of which I was unaware.

Today a box of pictures that I had never seen was discovered in the top of the closet of the smaller bedroom. Many of them predate even my sister's birth. There are pictures of my grandparents when their hair wasn't grey, pictures of Mom and Daddy fishing and deer hunting, and lots of pictures of Kathy as a young child. It is especially touching to see her with our dad; his love for her shines through the years, even in black and white photos.