Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

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April 2, 2014

Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest

The Splendid Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest – Spring 2014

by Celia Hayes

All right then – I confess that after last year’s disastrous tomato adventure – in which that which wasn’t killed by the heat was demolished by invading rats – I could be forgiven for giving up entirely. But darn it, the year before was so bountiful … well, not really all that bountiful, but a good many dinners enlivened with fresh sliced tomatoes on the salad. I hunger for fresh garden tomatoes, and it’s too darned far to drive down to Trader Joe’s for a box of their assorted baby heirloom tomatoes every day or so, with gas over $3.00 a gallon. I stocked up at Rainbow Gardens on a wide assortment of heirloom tomato starts, after the unseasonable hard freeze at the end of February, and embarked again on the adventure of a thriving backyard garden.

Some of the tomatoes are growing in the hanging containers, or in single surviving Topsy-Turvy, but most are in large pots, or in a pair of round raised beds – the suggestion of a commenter on a gardening discussion forum. It seems that you can take a length of hardware cloth or other wire mesh, or even chicken wire, make a circular form about the size of an oil drum with it, line with landscape fabric or weed barrier, dump leaves, grass, twigs, etc to fill it up to within ten inches of the top, then fill the rest with garden soil or potting mix. The stuff underneath composts merrily away, even as the vegetables grow … and in colder climates, the rotting compost even keeps the tomatoes going well into late fall. Lord knows, I have a sufficiency of leaves, what with the Arizona trashtree, and my next door neighbors’ oak molting frequently and generously, and little space to compost them. May as well put them to use as a basis for raised beds

The good garden news this week is that the two sapling fruit trees I bought at Sam’s Club for a pittance sometime in January have both begun to put out tiny green leaves. I thought the peach tree would be OK, as it had noticeable buds swelling the ends of the branches, and when I cautiously pruned an end of the branch, it was supple and green underneath, but the plum was more of an enduring question. It just sat there, sullenly, week after week, all bare twiggy limbs long after the peach began putting forth tiny green leaves. This week, the plum began bringing forth leaves of its own, and I was relieved. Naturally, it will be years before we have any fruit from them, but the speed at which the two crepe myrtle trees and the fig tree grew encourages me no end.

The new flowerbed by the front door – that one which my daughter and I built up when we re-did the brick step – is also doing very, very well. All of the bulbs have come up, the rose bush is thriving mightily, some of the scattered seeds have produced … well, something, and the four narrow planters where I planted mesclun salad greens have done well enough to have been harvested for salads several times already. I planted another round of mesclun greens in back, in two lengths of guttering nailed to the fence – another suggestion from an on-line garden discussion. Cap off the ends of a length of gutter, fill with garden soil, and there you have – a vertical garden. I’d really like to have this be the year that I hardly have to purchase any produce at all.

 

Posted in Gardening
March 18, 2014

Renaissance Fair

Ren Faire

by Celia Hayes

I've always thought there was a need in these mostly settled American late 20th century time for people to dress up and be something else for a while. There are local hard-core historical reenactors who do get very, very deep into this, in part to educate people generally about specific events and times in American history. Then there is the Society for Creative Anachronism, where lurk those folks who do more of the European medieval thing, with jousting and swordfights and all that. And the science fiction conventions, where fans of particular movies and TV shows costume for the duration, and take it all very seriously. My daughter and I had a friend through the Salt Lake City con who routinely dressed as a Klingon. One year he came as a Star Fleet officer, and we didn't recognize him at all, until he spoke – he had a strong Scots accent. But then there are those who just get into it for fun at a Renaissance fair, where the costumes and gear are required for performers and vendors, and optional for the rest of us.

I only did the full Tudor/Elizabethan costume once – when Mom took us to the original and founding Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California, sometime in the late 1960s. Which was held at that time in a dusty and live-oak grown park in Agoura, a place which so little looked like England that it may as well have been a tropical island in the South Pacific. By which I mean, it didn't much look like England at all. But the enthusiasts set up booths and pavilions and tents, and there were jesters and jugglers and Queen Elizabeth's court, all in heavy brocade and velvet costumes, and vendors selling whole roasted turkey legs, and pastries made with whole wheat flour – which tasted pretty much like cardboard. Banners flew in the clear California summer air, there was heraldry everywhere, and some kind of Rennaissance-ish costume was encouraged.

I made costumes for my younger sister and myself. Mom had sacrificed a couple of tablecloths, a sheet or two, and I had bought a couple of packets of RIT dye – my usual raw materials when it came to costumes – and a large roll of gold fabric upholstery braid bought from a small upholstery shop on Foothill Boulevard which was going out of business. Their bad fortune, but my good, for I paid only a couple of dollars for the roll of braid, and it was enough to lavishly trim a pair of Tudor-style gowns – with matching French hoods. I think I drew up the patterns by eye from a costume book, inspired by having watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on the local public channel. We brought our costumes and changed in the ladies' lavatory ... and then sweltered for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how the performers in heavier costumes with the required underpinnings of corsets, bum-rolls and multiple petticoats suffered in the heat, all day and every day.

This weekend, though – we're getting back into a little of that, with the Lost in Wonderland event – a tribute to Tim Burton movies, by the look of their Facebook page, but it looks like a gathering for the same kind of fans of the SCA, Ren-Faire and cons. And next month – there will be a local Ren Faire at St. Francis Episcopal Church. There is a discount for coming in costume, but my daughter absolutely refuses to play.

March 13, 2014

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it's time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years' disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit ... well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so -- survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves ... alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I've only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I've gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I'm also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There's a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise. And that is my week in the garden – yours?

Posted in Gardening
March 2, 2014

Gardens and Dog Parks and Market Days

Of Gardens and Dog Parks and Market Days, Oh, My!

by Celia Hayes

 

Alas, now that it was in the high 90's on Sunday afternoon, I must yield and submit to summer. Yes, it's here. Likely I will not see a cool night, and sleep with an open window and properly under the feather comforter until somewhere the far side of September. I just hope that the Deity doesn't decide to turn the temperature all the way up to broil, now that the tomatoes are lavishly in bloom, and the biggest and sturdiest of them are adorned with tiny green tomatoes, the size of pearls and grapes. Daily temps in the three digits would pretty well bake what is coming on so very, very well. Darn it, I have too good a start on the vegetable garden to be completely detached about watching it all shrivel up in the scorching heat. (Reminder; Get another jug of that insecticide – once the white-fly gets ahold of the tomatoes and beans, that's the long slow slide towards resignedly uprooting the lot and hoping to do better next year.)

The pole beans are leaping up the poles, the tomatillo plants look to be turning into shrubs, the eggplants are burgeoning, and the very expensive cornichon gherkin seeds that I ordered from Amazon at a cost of about .17 cents a seed, plus another .15 cents shipping and handling – fourteen of them have put up sprouts. Yes, I want to make proper French Cornichon pickles this year ... but I will so let at least one of the cornichon gherkins go to seed so that I don't have to order them next year. The salad greens and lettuces are doing pretty well, too – at least, the ones that I have in pots and water every day without fail. We get a nice serving of salad greens about every two days. As for beans, I hope for enough for a side dish of them every day or so. In a spirit of resignation, I planted two packets of patty-pan squash and some kind of hot-weather zucchini in one of the wire-form raised beds. Everyone says that you are supposed to be overwhelmed with squash from a back-yard garden, but so far, I am distinctly underwhelmed. Hope springs eternal in the breast of the home gardener, though.

We ventured out this weekend to the Universal City dog park; a hop, skip and a jump away, in Universal City, which is small, but choice. It is adorned with enough rocks and small trees to give Connor and Nemo a chance to empty every drop from their bladders in a heroic attempt to mark every single one. Nemo thinks that every dog he meets is his newest, bestest friend in all the world. The last time we took him to the dog park at Hardberger Park there were just too many bigger dogs interested in chasing him. Once he realized that he was basically the 'rabbit' – and got bowled over by the bigger dogs several times – he lost all interest. This time, Connor, the Malti-Poo, our old man of dogs and usually not interested in romping, made friends with a Min-Pin who loved to chase a thrown rubber ball. Over and over again, the Min-Pin chased the ball and brought it back, with Connor toddling gamely after. An excellent hour of a morning spent – the dogs all nicely tired out.

And finally – preparations for our participation in the Bulverde/Spring Branch Spring Market Day continue. We will have a joint booth; my books and my daughter's origami art at the Spring market on May 10, in the parking lot of Bealls at Hwy 46 and Bulverde Crossing. Look for the shrieking pink pavilion with the zebra-striped top. We just got it this week, and set it up briefly in the driveway. You will not be able to miss it, even though there are supposed to be scores of other vendors there.

Feb. 24, 2014

Comfort Food – Part 2

Comfort Food – Part 2

It seems, we were having winter during the week, and something like spring on the weekends. It was warm enough to get out and do a little yard work and consider all those wonderful garden plans ... before the relatively icy cold drove us indoors again, and to consider hearty, warming comfort food for dinner. Nope, winter is not the time for Salad Nicoise, or for gazpacho. Those are summer dishes; winter is for fortifying soups and stews, for sturdy casseroles of macaroni and cheese ... and meat loaf.

The classic meatloaf that Mom used to make was based on ground beef; back in the day, ground beef was about the cheapest meat protein out there. Mom and other frugal cooks had extensive repertoires of main dishes utilizing it; no cook with any pride needed Hamburger Helper back then. The version of meat loaf that I grew up on usually only contained 50 per cent meat, though. The rest was chopped onions and celery, maybe a can of tomatoes, filled out with bread crumbs and/or oatmeal, bound together with a couple of eggs, a splash of milk, and topped with a spritz of ketchup and a slice of bacon for flavor down the middle of the loaf. There are all kinds of variations on it, depending on the state of your pocketbook and pantry – but come out pretty much tasting the same.

Not so one of my own favorite meat loaf recipes; I think I found it in one of the cooking magazines which had a feature on wild rice. I copied the most intriguing of them into my own hand-written book of recipes, and promptly forgot the name of the magazine. The original version called for ground pork, which made it altogether too fatty and rich.

Simmer ½ cup wild rice in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes until barely tender. Cool (the original recipe directed the cook to drain the rice – but added ¼ water or milk. Why waste the rice liquid anyway, since it has lots of flavor in it?)

Combine the cooked rice and liquid with 1 cup soft bread crumbs, two beaten eggs, ½ cup rolled oats, one medium onion chopped very fine, 1 ½ teasp dried ground sage, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, and a pound of ground pork or turkey – or ½ pound each ground pork and ground turkey.
Form into a 7x4 inch loaf shape, and bake in a 350 degree oven until juices run clear. (About 1 ¼ hours). Serve with a sauce of 8 ounces sour cream mixed with 2 TBsp Dijon mustard. It's great, served with mashed garlic potatoes – which are just your average mashed potatoes, only the potatoes boiled together with 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped. Now – there is some comfort food for a cold winter day

Posted in Other
Feb. 17, 2014

Lets Rodeo San Antonio

At the Stock Show and Rodeo

by Celia Hayes

 

This wasn't something that we had thought about for ourselves – going to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo at the AT&T Center – but a friend of ours had two tickets for Sunday, couldn't use them, and offered them to us. In spite of having grown up riding horses, and with neighbors who kept horses and the occasional cow, and chickens, et center – we had never been to a rodeo. In spite of writing extensively about cowboys, cattle drives and livestock ranching in South Texas, I had never been to the San Antonio Stock Show, either. So – it was about time. A particularly handy bit of advice came from another neighbor; don't drive down to the AT&T Center/Freeman Coliseum, he said; go to Randolph Park and Ride and take the shuttle bus. $5 per person round trip beats what we saw local entrepreneurs along New Braunfels Street advertising - $20 a vehicle.

The shuttle bus dropped us off right at the main gate to the carnival area – right by the big Ferris wheel, which made it easy to locate the shuttle bus stop again when we were ready to go. The fairway was pretty extensive – one of the largest that I had ever seen, with an awesome assortment of fairground rides, and by late afternoon it was jammed with families. But that wasn't the end of it; there were extensive halls of retailers of cowboy-themed stuff, Western attire and accessories of every description, from belt-buckles all the way to those fancy trailers which haul stock in the back and have living quarters in the back. Well, I had always wanted to know what the inside of those look like, having passed or been stuck behind many on the various highways around South Texas. Talk about custom and luxurious – the bathroom was so palatial, I believe I'd almost rather live in the trailer.

We didn't get very far into the stock exhibition barns – only as far as where a handful of horses were on display, including a black Percheron named Andy, fully 18 hands and some tall, and looking to be as large as an elephant, although exceedingly mellow about being petted. My daughter was quite taken with him. Like Crocodile Dundee said of another item, "Now, THAT'S a horse!" And as a girl next to us said in awe, "His eye is as big as my brain, practically!"

On to the AT&T center for the rodeo, where it turned out that our seats where high in the nosebleed section, about four rows from where the ceiling began. I will have to say that the view of the arena was excellent, once we climbed up there and got over the unsettling notion that if we should happen to topple over forward, we would bounce all the wa-a-a-ay down to the arena floor.

Just about all the rodeo events – that is, the ones that aren't intended for kids, like the mutton—busting and calf-wrangling – started the real world of working cattle from horseback in the 19th century. Calves and young cattle had to be lassoed and branded, and being able to do it swiftly and efficiently meant that a cowhand was good at his job. Being able to last a good few rounds on the back of a fractious horse was also a useful skill, but I am just not all that sure that staying on the back of a bucking steer was all that useful. On the other hand, life likely got pretty boring around the ranch of a winter, before social media and all.

The stock show and rodeo lasts through the 23rd, with a full schedule of competitions, exhibitions and displays. Take my advice though – take the shuttle bus.

 

Feb. 12, 2014

The Guadalupe River Texas Parks and Wildlife

The Guadalupe River

This story traces the Guadalupe River from its headwaters all the way down to the Gulf, highlighting some of the things you see and can do along the way. For more on Texas rivers, see http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/

 

Posted in Other
Feb. 10, 2014

Front Porch Finale

Leaping into Spring Projects

by Celia Hayes

In between those days of bone-chilling cold, my daughter and I finished up the raised flower-bed part of the entryway to the house this week. The stump of the photinia is buried deep in garden soil, home-brewed compost, with a layer of weed barrier on top of that, and a thin layer of river rock on top of that. We visited Lowe's over the weekend and were sorely tempted – and succumbed to several interesting varieties of day-lily and gladiola corms, and a rose-bush. I might, at a later date, put in some lavender plants, as the soil mix in the raised bed is just what they like; sandy, easily drained, full of good nutritious compost – the very opposite of the heavy clay which occurs naturally around here.

We raked in some good rose-food, planted the corms and the rose bush – and for good measure, my daughter scattered seeds from of a good handful of packets of annuals around the edge of the weed barrier, covered it all in river-rock ... oh, we'll need to go and get a few bags more of the river rock. We always under-estimate these things. The tools are cleared away, the empty sacks removed and the sand swept up – and the front entryway now looks pretty good. Not Parade of Homes quality, but still pretty good. There aren't quite enough bricks left to continue paving over the narrow little flowerbed which runs along the side of the house between the walkway and the exterior wall of the garage. This has always been an annoyance for me; when I first bought the house it was filled with ivy. It took five or six years to eradicate the ivy. Now there are a couple of rosemary bushes, and a climbing rose that goes along the house wall – but the base of the bed always looked a mess; leaves blew in and it was a chore to rake them from underneath the rosemary. We'll pave it with the last bricks, augmented with concrete pavers, leaving small square areas filled with more gravel around those established plants – which ought to reduce the mess-quotient by several degrees.

The cold snaps this winter have done a pretty thorough job of killing off everything that wasn't sheltered in the greenhouse. Likely we will have to start all over again with Bell and jalapeno peppers. Among the other temptations in the garden section at Lowe's was a good assortment of seed potatoes. I'm hoping that when the weather lets up a little I can plant them – and do better than last year. I'd like to eat more produce from my own garden than I buy at the grocery store, but so far, the only thing that flourished regularly were salad greens.

Potatoes weren't the only temptation in the spring starts, seeds and roots – I committed to another grape vine; this one I intend to train up on wires strung between eye-bolts screwed into the back fence. My neighbors with the beautiful garden had done this; why not go vertical, in a small enclosure. My daughter bought a blackberry vine – and that will also go up on the trellis wires. Finally – among the stock at Sam's Club last weekend; young fruit trees; apple, apricot, plum and peach, for a very reasonable price. Yeah, I bought two of them; when we lived in Utah, it seemed like every house of a certain age had at least one bearing fruit tree in the yard. With the mulberry cut back, I think there will be sunshine enough for the peach and plum saplings. So, that's my plan for this spring in the garden...

 

 

Posted in Other
Jan. 30, 2014

Front Porch

The Shape of the Porch to Come

by Celia Hayes

All righty, then – last week to Lowe’s for two bags of mortar mix and an inexpensive bricklayer’s trowel, so that we could complete two segments of the porch project. For reasons known only to the original developer, the basic plan of my house (and a handful of other small garden cottages in Spring Creek Forest) were built with the front door actually about half-way along one side of a long narrow house – with a kind of square divot indented into the side. A third of a divot was made into a small, covered front porch and the rest just left open. Most people chose to make it into a flower bed, although the whole thing in concrete would have made a generous porch with wide steps going down to the walk.

The original owner planted a photinia in it, which eventually quite overwhelmed the raised flower bed that I made of that space and turning the room behind it into a cave. Finally I had the tree guys take the whole thing out, cutting the stump back to ground level. My daughter and I re-vamped the raised flower bed a couple of weekends ago, laying most of the bricks in a bed of leveled sand – but those along the edge needed to be mortared together, for stable footing, and three courses needed also to be made into a low wall to surround a smaller raised bed.

So, we split the effort; my daughter did the edge, and I began on the low wall. This is one of those things which looks so easy when the professionals do it, but it is possible to do it yourself with satisfactory results … although it will be a bit messy at first, and likely every professional bricklayer in town will be rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably at your efforts. Spraying down the bricks first with water will make the mortar stick to where it should, and a certain degree of obsession-compulsion when it comes to keeping things in a regular, tidy, symmetrical pattern will come in handy. So will a level and a mallet; the first to ensure that the bricks are indeed level, and the mallet for whamming them into place. Sprinkle with water, spread with mortar, wham the next brick into place, scrape off the excess mortar … and repeat as needed, several hundred times. Let set, sweep away the excess sand and crumbs of mortar, and there you are.

We plan to fill the raised bed with a mixture of sand, compost and garden soil, topped with gravel to keep the rainwater falling from the roof edge from splashing dirt onto the side of the house. Since it faces south and is a very sheltered space, we’ll plant it with sun-loving, flowering plants like lantana, salvia and Russian sage. There’s a concrete bird-bath to go in the middle of it – just about where the stump of the photinia will – we hope – peacefully will rot away. I also have a number of low, rectangular terracotta planters that will fit nicely at the foot of the raised bed – that’s where the mixed lettuces and salad greens will grow, as soon as it is warm enough to set out seeds. And that’s the plan – next weekend should see it all complete.

 

Posted in Other
Jan. 15, 2014

Grocery Coupons and Saving Money

Eye on the Bottom Line

by Celia Hayes

An eye on the bottom line of the receipts at the grocery store, of course. I've been through a good few years of this, after being well-trained by my mother and grandmothers. All of them were disposed to pinch pennies until Lincoln begged for mercy, although they took slightly different ways to go about it. Grandma Dodie did coupons and sales; when she and Grandpa finally sold their house and moved into a retirement community, there was a stash of canned goods in the garage which would have fed a family for a couple of years. Grannie Jessie, the country girl, kept chickens, did a lot of preserves and pickles, and saved Green Stamps to purchase certain useful appliances, furniture and luxury goods. My mother eschewed coupons, chickens, Green Stamps and the preserving kettle; she preferred a membership in a food coop, which offered bargains on meats, fruits, grains and vegetables, and making almost everything – even granola – from scratch. It was her opinion, which I found to be a pretty well-grounded one, that unless you used the coupon for something which you would have bought anyway, it was a waste of money and effort. We did wind up eating some very strange things from the coop, though. I recall beef hearts, and rabbit, and other odd cuts of meat.

I saved on the grocery bill myself by patronizing the street markets when living overseas; once a week, the farmers and vendors in Greece would set up tables in a two-block length of street and sell produce straight off the farm. In Spain there was a central farmer's market downtown, in an ornate cast-iron and stone Art Nouveau style building – and besides that, there was always the military commissary. By the time I settled down in Texas, though, the commissaries were less and less of a bargain, and my default money-saving strategy was based on a Sam's Club membership and purchasing certain stapes in bulk ... and in hitting the reduced-for-quick-sale racks at the HEB. All this, let it be clear, usually meant stocks of canned goods, paper towels, oils, beans and grains, sugar and flour. Until lately, coupons on offer were for prepared foods – which, as my mother trained me well – we avoided, mostly.

Curiously, in recent months, it seems like HEB has been producing specialty coupons at the check-stand for us, based on some mysterious algorithm which reflects what we have actually bought. Suddenly, we have a number of coupons offering discounts, or even free items; milk, eggs, salad greens, and pet food. And you can bet that we have made full use of them. The last two times we hit our local HEB, the eventual bill after the coupons were tallied up and deducted was reduced by nearly a third of what it had been at the start through using them. Considering how the price of many grocery items has been creeping up – or the actual package size of the items has been creeping down while the price remained the same – this is a very good thing. I won't be holding my breath for it to last for long, but we'll be making the best of it while it does.

Posted in Other