Quick Update

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Tomato Plot

Have I never posted a full bed shot of these? Huh, I guess not!

 

So you can see I now have “Tomato Towers” on the right hand side- fancy name for two tomato cages zip tied together. These are now 8′ tall and they mean I MIGHT just stand a chance of harvesting some higher up tomatoes once the toddler catches wind of what these plants actually are.

From left to right we have: Bobcat, HM 1823, Sungold, and Sweet 100. In the background we have a weedy yard with only a peach tree, a pomegranate, and a sycamore tree in view. Considering the whole thing was long neglected NOTHING when we moved in, even they are an improvement, I promise. Goal is to not have but a sliver of grass left along the back and a big patio with gardens and trails around it. We have a LOT of work ahead of us…

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Tomato-paloza May 20th

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Filling in nicely- dahlias really coming in along the back- not that you can see from this shot or anything…

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3rd deadhead of these guys and the May Night Salvia just won’t stop with the blooms. Also, I’m starting to regret the placement of that native monarda (common name horse mint) in the front corner… bit of a beast

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Sweet 100- starting to rain so I couldn’t be bothered to crop out the weedy yard… 4′ tomato cage.

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Sungold- can we talk about the size of this thing in a MONTH? Lord. That’s a 4′ tomato cage and a 6′ t-post.

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HM 1823- I should look something up that happened in 1823. Should. (These are the littler 3′ tomato cages…

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And Bobcat- lookin’ purdy. 3′ tomato cage

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Arty shot of the antique roses- brought inside to save them from getting ruined in the storm. Stupid Coors light can ruining my arty shot…

The Garden on Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day!

We’re just back from a camping trip with a group of our friends- 12 adults and 16 kids out in Junction, TX. I broke my fishing pole but landed the fish that broke it. And the campsite one over from us had a 4′ rattlesnake that had to be relocated by the park ranger- our girls and their cousin were the ones that found it. Two out of our 3 children refused to wear shoes. And we took a canoe trip with most of the group and all of the toddlers.

There was a toddler overboard moment (wear your life jackets, folks. he was fine.) and a couple or four crying toddlers (ours was one of those.) Though I asked her the next day and she said she loved the boats, sooo… don’t let it stop you from doing stuff like that with them. Toddlers are resilient and selectively forgetful.) Packs of children running around like indians. Campfire coffee and smoke and hammocks and fun. All capped off with an hour-too-long sunburned drive home. But it was awesome and the setting of a river among arid hills is my very, very favorite.

While we were away, the tomatoes are growing like gangbusters:

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Sweet 100

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Sungold

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Sungold wins for the first set of the season!

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HM 1823- And, a tomato setting on this one too!

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Bobcat- stocky and looking good!

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The older new garden. Triangle garden? Office window garden? Am I going to have to name these things?

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View down on the Mexican Olive Tree in the middle of the bronze fennel

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Mexican Hat along the new fence

Weekly Ramblings

Guess what we’ve been up to this weekend? GUESS! If you guessed gardening, you win! Also, rewatching Singing in the Rain- for the third time. WHICH OH MY GOD IS SO GOOD AND FUNNY AND WATCH IT! If anyone doubts the “youth of today”- please know that it is the girls’ favorite movie, and they shared it this weekend with their 11 year old cousin, who also loved it, and  who’s previous favorite movie was Newsies. The youngest got up to dance along to every musical number. My theory is that generations move in a cyclical fashion, so we’re coming up on a Greatest Generation’s revival- but without the racism and unquestioning belief in the government… so just you wait and see- and have faith in the future.

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Sooo the sidewalk chalk is back. I should really take these at the same time of day so the exposure and shadows don’t bounce around so much. I should do lots of things.

Does the bronze fennel look slightly smaller this week? Well that is thanks to my favorite thing ever- my Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. So we had four of them- and what a great picture that would have been! They’re yellow black and white striped… and it should be obvious by now that if I had a picture I’d totally be sharing it. But when I went out to get some shots… nowhere to be found. For the first time ever I did find one setting up for a chrysalis though, all the way on the other side of the yard. They travelled far. Anyway- I’ll take pics of the next group.

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White Mistflower shrub. I just googled it and do you know what the other common name is? Havana Snakeroot! Hardcore! Poor thing, it’s like having Spike for a nickname and everyone calling you Susan.

So do you know how unusual these flowers are? Why are they unusual? Normal bloom time? October to November! So yeah. Keep it up there, Susan.

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Stop standing in your own light while taking pictures, you.

In front of the white mist flower are 3 clumps of Mexican Mint Marigold. Supposedly edible, other common name is Texas Tarragon, but I just grow it as an ornamental. Because here’s the thing- it’s supposed to be the warm weather alternative to Tarragon- but who the hell like’s tarragon? I can’t get onboard.

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Sweet 100!

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Sungold!

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HM 1823! Almost didn’t include this shot due to it being out of focus, but then realized a fuzzy picture tells you exactly the same amount as a crisp one, my god they’re just tomatoes.

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Bobcat. creeping Oregano in front of it. English thyme blending in with the grass behind it. Last tomato picture, I swear. For this week…

So the tomatoes are coming along awesomely- I’m so happy- I love everything about growing tomatoes. I swear tomato leaves are one of my favorite smells in the world. Had a bit of a rough week at work, and there was a day where I walked out from my office just to go bruise a leaf and smell it. Grounding and reminding that life is bigger and work is just so very small. That’s my kind of aromatherapy right there- and it worked like a charm. I can’t get onboard with the essential oils trend… but if they make a tomato leaf one I’d be down.

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And the newest bed with my Mother’s Day gift! Yes it’s early, but that is a Mexican Redbud we couldn’t constrain ourself another week before getting. Salvia Gauranitica  underneath it. Weird how this works- my husband and I call salvias by their latin names. Because we could call it Black and Blue salvia… or Majestic Sage… but we don’t? I honestly think it’s a holdover from when I worked at a garden center and so I must have imprinted like a baby chick on using the latin names and then he picked it up from me… but I only ever do it for salvias? Life is weird.

I know that seems planted too close to the house- but there is method to our madness, I swear. Mexican redbuds reach out and are airy and tend to have leaves only on the top of the branches when they mature (very Seusian) and we want it to reach up and out (we’ll train it away from the house) and then the oldest daughter gets to look through interesting branch structures out her window. The husband and I got the idea while seeing one at a restaurant on our anniversary date, and the hunt was on to find one- we just had to get it. And the Salvia Guaranitica will get about 3′ tall and fill in the whole area underneath it. We had it at our old house and probably had 20′ of it by the time we moved.

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Close up of the Mexican redbud leaves with droplets of water… so arty over here.

Garden Watch, 2018

So… lot of gardening going on lately, to the detriment of the bank account, but for the benefit of muscles and souls; so it’s a good tradeoff. Besides, what else is money for? Oh, the mortgage,  right.

So here’s what we’re going to do- I’ll be posting updates on the gardens, to record them as they grow in; and on the specific tomato plants, to track their progress and because I have 3 varieties I’ve never tried before this year. And because I make the calls around this here blog, so yall just enjoy a week by week tracking of tomatoes until you resolve to never come back, m’kay?

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So, if you recall, this is the garden about a week after planting April 7th-ish

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And here it is April 29th. And we picked up some of the sidewalk chalk and the racket finally!

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Sweet 100 cherry tomato April 15th

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Sweet 100 on April 29th

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New one to me… HM 1823. We’ll see.

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Mine eyes have never seen a more beautiful tomato plant… it’s called Bobcat… I really need to get a cage, but it’s awfully nice and stocky. Not pictured is the other new tomato called Sungold- it’s a cherry too.

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Good fences make good and non-visible neighbors. And we did it ourself! Oh the pride… the PRIDE!

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Francis Dubriel Rose- lovely and fragrant… awfully disease resistant so far. What? It’s gotta be constant with the zippy comments? I do what I want.

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Dinnerplate Dahlia bulbs coming up… these are called Thomas Edison. Turns out he was a bit of a douchebag, but that isn’t the flowers’ fault

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My husband and I love gardening together so much, looks like our pitchforks got married too! He’s wearing a simple bottle cap band, whereas she’s in a lovely impaled penny

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The new garden on the other side of the deck. Can you believe we agonized for months on the new house color… and then ended up picking a color that was an exact match to the AC unit? 

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And the cats. The calico does have a tail… she’s just embarrassed and sitting on it due to the competition she faces on the daily round the other two

Spring

A blog you say? I have one, do I?

The Tile:

So spring has sprung and what that means is that I’m less apt to sit here on the weekends and more likely to be found gardening or cleaning. (It’s a “yay” response to that statement. I know that seems unlikely, but it’s true.) A few weeks ago I hand scrubbed 40 square feet of white subway tile from a stepladder on my counter.

I’d always hated that tile. It runs from our stove all the way to the 12’/ 16’/ “I should really measure this one day” ceiling. And it sounds like I shouldn’t have hated it. It, in fact, sounds right up my alley. But oh how it wasn’t. The people who flipped our house (aka Those Jackasses) did a pisspoor job on everything. Painting. Floors. Exterior Painting. Installing Cabinets. Wired in fire alarms that were wired wrong so THEY were a fire hazard. Jesus don’t get me started on the incorrectly installed french door that’s molding or the bathrooms that are going to have to be a complete tear out. So the Jackasses installed this huge counter to ceiling swatch of subway tile in the kitchen, and thanks to the open concept of our house there it was, staring me in the face every time I sat on the couch, ate dinner, cooked dinner, or peed with the bathroom door open when no one else was home.

And what was the problem with the tile? Well, as I mentioned it’s really hard to reach. Which explains why they never properly scrubbed the grout off. There was a mattifying haze of it left all over the top 4 feet. And just a badly cleaned job on the areas that were reachable. My husband and I had installed tile at our last house. We knew how to do it correctly. This was not.

And I CLEANED it before, don’t get me wrong. The thing got half assed wiped down a few times in the 2 years we’ve been here, we’re not monsters. But one recent random Saturday I just grabbed a bucket and a scrub pad and I LAID into those tiles. It honestly took hard scrubbing EVERY damn tile, all the way to the ceiling. And almost working by feel- you can feel the tile turn from gritty to smooth. I grabbed a butter knife for some excessively gritty corners. And I have NO idea how long it took to do. An hour? Two? Shorter than the two years I’d been hating it though.

And what do you know, I like that tile now. It no longer is a testament/monument to “you live in someone else’s house/ they did this” and made it ours. I felt that same feeling at the last house too- it took touching and changing literally every surface before it felt “us.” This is the same, just a dauntingly bigger place, and the beginning started out hugely pregnant and then dealing with an infant so we had no choice but to let it lie for a while. But now? We’re on a roll.

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SOOO carefully cropped to not show dirty counters…

And that has been what these past weeks have felt like. We’ve reorganized our bedroom. I cleaned out and organized my closet. We’ve gardened and gardened and gardened. We’ve put up a fence that almost caused an international event. (good fences make good neighbors my ASS, Frost. It’s fine. Yes a lawyer were briefly involved.)

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Texans be serious ’bout them property lines. Bless that we had a handy copy of the survey at the ready…

 

And now, there the tile sits, way up there. Gleaming. And I smile at it, because it is mine.

The Garden:

And… that felt like the end of the blog post actually. Bt the gardening… I just want to say we’ve gotten the side garden/ Japanese maple garden rocking these days. The husband and I got each other Japanese maples for our 14 year anniversary this week- brings the total to 8. We’re close to running out of space in the perfect high dappled shade of the pecan trees over there- but if conditions allowed the entire yard would be Japanese maples.

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We hang out here a lot talking about how nice it is. Might be why the neighbors sold there house and moved. It’s better looking in real life.  *bare patch in the front left is a Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub that we cut to the ground when we transplanted it in the fall. It’s coming back. (Yes, that actually is it’s name)

A few weeks ago we dug up the entirety of this awkward triangle section of yard between the carport slab and house and made a garden of it- antique rose, white mistflower shrub, dinner plate dahlias, pineapple sage, coreopsis transplanted from the wildflower area, rosemary, a different colored may night salvia (not the standard pink or two shades of purple. This one’s fuchsia with flower stalks twice their normal size)…

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Put up or shut up about the May Night Salvia, I know, I know.

native monarda, spirea, a Mexican Olive Tree, Mexican Mint Marigolds (aka Texas Tarragon aka not related to any plant in it’s common names…), and bronze fennel (my FAVORITE ornamental herb). The husband has a gift for rocks, so there is a cool stone border and a nice walkway through it. It’s a very “us” garden… what predominates is it better not have any of the standard garden center bedding plants we see around here. We like the unusual or old fashioned, or at least unusual for TEXAS (sure other regions do NOT consider pineapple sage or may night salvia unusual… I get it. They make the cut ’round these here parts though).

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Did I oversell it? Because I feel like I oversold it…

But having worked in a garden center for a while, I HATE all the plants that are on the market for no reason other than that they’ll flower in six packs. Plants should do well in the GARDEN not on the shelf… I am very anti-standard plant offerings- if there was some kind of a walkout or march, or plant hat to crochet I totally would- this is an issue that speaks to me, dig? What I’m saying is if you EVER find a petunia or salvia greggii in my garden it’s because I’m DEAD and the next wife has no idea what she’s doing, the whore.

In the backyard this weekend the husband planted a new pomegranate tree, the needle palm we’ve had in a pot for years, and a vitex tree. They were big pots. They were HUGE holes. The toddler fell in one and almost couldn’t get out, if that conveys the concept… And I dug up a three foot by twelve foot section of the yard to put in tomatoes. I don’t think writing that out quite conveys the hours and hours we spent yesterday fighting the hard ground to accomplish those tasks… it was way more difficult than it sounds, promise.

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Is that a 6′ T post driven into the middle of that 4′ tomato cage? You bet your ass it is. Sweet 100 cherry tomato is a BEAST. The T post still won’t be enough… grow my pretty, GROW!

Weirdly the section I dug up for tomatoes was super sandy (still rock hard? Not sure how that works, but it was). I feel like maybe it was the floor for some old pigeon coop that had been torn down or a sand floored shed. There are a couple of cut off to ground level cedar posts close by to give credence to that theory. And I unearthed a 70s astroturf doormat while digging. WEIRD to think there we were, mowing over a welcome mat buried 2 inches down this whole time. But again, it’s the same feeling: we’re slowly making it ours through blood, sweat, tears and the occasional demolished lower back. And FINALLY we can see the shape of the garden coming together… we’re well on our way.

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Picture of front porch pots for no reason related to narrative whatsoever. Mint, Italian Parsley, and a tuberous begonia

Linked up with Samantha @ Fake Fabulous HERE!

Caramelized Onion and Jack Cheese Chicken Breasts

Okay, see, I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t be giving these recipes more obscure names. Like, should I call this Arroyo Ojo Chicken and have you think it’s something I ate in an exotic location in the Southwest? Because the truth is this is one where I started yet another late afternoon staring into a fridge and coming up with something; in this instance it was 2 chicken breasts, some leftover jack cheese from another meal, and a whole heap of onions because I forgot I had bought a bag and then bought ANOTHER bag two days later.

So let’s give it a shot here and say I’m typing this next to an adobe hacienda, sitting in the shaded courtyard, eating this chicken, drinking a michilada and staring across at the Arroyo Ojo. There’s… cactus. Some lizards maybe? Sierra Nevada’s in the distance. And I, your ever vigilant author, am thinking I should adapt such an exquisite meal for my loyal readers once my husband and I are back from our three week vacation.

Yeah. That’s the ticket.

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Looking at it right now. Swear.

Cooking time: neighborhood of 45 minutes

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to ½ inch and cut into 4 pieces, total
1 and a half onions, sliced thinly
Jack cheese, either thin sliced or shredded
Cumin
Adobo seasoning (if you have it)
Mexican oregano
Salt
Pepper
Olive Oil

Serve with sour cream, lime, and sliced avocado

Slice the onions and add to a pan with 2 glugs (about 3 tablespoons) of olive oil over medium heat. You’re going to want to cook these, without burning them, for 10 to 15 minutes. The good news here is that you don’t need to stir them constantly, just stir occasionally and make sure they’re getting brown, not black. Once they’re caramelized remove them to a bowl, wipe out the pan, and return it to the stove, turning the heat up to medium high. Pound the chicken while the onions are caramelizing to ½ inch thick. It will plump back up a bit as it shrinks during cooking, so really wail on it. Cut each breast in half to make a total of four pieces. Season liberally (how much? Free college and outlawing assault rifles liberal) on both sides with cumin, adobo seasoning (If you have it), Mexican oregano, and salt and pepper. Add another couple of glugs of olive oil to the pan as it heats, and once hot add the chicken in batches. Cook for 4 minutes (plus/minus) per side, flipping a couple more times if needed to cook through.

Remove chicken to a cookie sheet, arrange onions liberally on top, then cover in cheese. Place cookie sheet in oven under broiler to melt cheese for just a minute or two- make sure you watch this step LIKE A HAWK! Serve with sliced avocado and dob with sour cream, then squeeze a lime on top.

Impress your spouse! Impress your mother in law! Boggle the minds of your friends! And your kids will eat it in spite of the vast amount of onions!

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

The NRA is SOOOOOOO powerful… how can we ever beat it? We can’t because they’re SOOOOOO powerful… right? Except, huh… not really? Because…

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NRA Spending in 2016

Dude. That’s WAY lower than I was thinking, right? One million in direct spending, in $8,000 increments per candidate. And 3.6 million in lobbying… do we just not have a concept of how far so little money goes? We could beat that with $1 a person in TEXAS who wants to outlaw assault rifles! What in the literal hell is stopping us?I mean Jesus… we could kick their ass with concerted effort and Oprah! Gun Lobby Influence Sminfluence!

What was that John Oliver said? There are more members of Planet Fitness gyms then there are members of the NRA!? I’m tired of getting pushed around by these assholes! Who’s with me!

John Oliver on the NRA…

 

Almost a Valentine’s Day Article…

So I entered a submission for “love stories pertaining to bodies of water” (specific, don’t I know it) from a Canadian environmental magazine. Now, I work for a Canadian manufacturer in the environmental field even though I am based out of Texas, so that’s how I can see these sorts of things. And lo and behold- I DO have a love story that pertains to a body of water… it just happened to be in Texas. Unfortunately the whole article concept was scrapped because I was the only one who submitted anything and a lone Texas story in a Canadian magazine wasn’t really what they were after. But I’ll be damned if I won’t share it here! So I give you… a love story.

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Judging by my penchant for wearing a bandana instead of a cap I peg this as 2000 or 2001.

 

I love rivers. My husband loves the ocean. It makes perfect, if slightly ironic sense that we met at a lake.

I had moved to Austin for college and was going through water withdrawal. I grew up in a town with 2 rivers running through it; I was never more than five minutes away from jumping in cool water on a hot summer day for all of those early years. And Austin is a green city, with a river running through the middle… but water you don’t want to jump in was a new one to me. Town Lake (inventive name, Austin) is the section of the Colorado River that runs through town, of course. I crossed it every day on my way to and from school. But there would be no swimming in Town Lake… it wasn’t THAT kind of lake. In fact, today I’m impressed with the courage of folks who paddle-board on it. What if you fall in, people? That is more faith in balance skills than I have, personally. So I saw water every day… but I couldn’t touch it, and I thought it was the only water around. I felt like I lived in a desert, honestly, in those early days in my new home.

Then one spring night my brother and I went camping at Lake Travis, just outside of Austin, with a large group of waiters from his work and their friends. There was a campfire. A guitar. Laughing. Talking. Stars overhead and a lake near at hand. It was too cold to go swimming, but THIS was water you could touch if you wanted to. It was a revelation- I hadn’t even know about this lake before that night! Driving home the next day, with classes to try to make, my brother turned to me and said “That Luke would make a good brother-in-law.” I do believe my response was to ask which one was Luke? But once a name was put with the handsome face… I didn’t disagree. Now mind you, I hadn’t said much to this stranger, it wasn’t like we stayed up all night talking and staring moodily into each others eyes or anything. He was just the shining star on the other side of a campfire, lighting up that night on top of the cliffs overlooking Lake Travis.

Soon afterwards this stranger with the wild bachelor reputation and I met again. And I can be forgiven for asking “which one was Luke” considering he called me Beth on our second meeting. He redeemed himself enough for us to wind up dancing that night, outside of the show we were both at. An official first date would follow, after some cajoling on his part. I was 19 and he felt like destiny- to say finding him so young wasn’t in the plan would be an understatement. And I was right about that too, because at the end of that first date he picked me up and swung me around and said he was going to marry me- and I told him that yes, he most certainly was.

And so it went- we spent many of our next years living in Austin and driving to Lake Travis every chance we got. I never got used to the fact that it took us 45 minutes to get to swimmable water, but at least there WAS water to swim in! We cooked, we swam, we camped, we laughed, and we lived… and 4 years later, exactly on the cliff overlooking Lake Travis where we met, he asked me to marry him. He seemed quite nervous honestly, considering the answer would have never been anything but yes.

And we are water folk to this day- fishing, paddling, camping, tubing, and swimming. When life picks up speed and it goes too long without it we feel it in our bones- and getting “on the water” becomes a priority. Our toddler loves her life jacket so much she wears it around the house and our older girls learned to swim against the current of the clean and clear San Marcos river. Water runs through our life like…well. You know.

And so we love the ocean. And we love the rivers. And we also still love one very special lake… where it all began all those 19 years ago.