First Fruits of the Warm Season

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First fruits from the garden this season – beets, tomato, banana pepper and french green beans

p.s. and a Very Happy Birthday to my daughter Genevieve!

Wild Kingdom: Who do we root for?

Gecko on the front porch
A lizard friend.


Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an episode of “Wild Kingdom”. We’re blessed (it’s a mixed blessing, to be sure)  to live on the banks of a creek, which provides a natural wildlife corridor and habitat. The creek is spring-fed and never runs dry even in our worst droughts which means we always have small fish, frogs, snakes and other water critters. Each year the return of wood ducks silently paddling up and down our stretch of the creek means Spring is here. During the summer a couple of different species of herons hang out on large rocks fishing. We’ve got large and small turtles, possums, raccoons, even an armadillo. Some of my favorite wildlife are the birds, especially cardinals, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, as well as butterflies, dragonflies, and my little buddies the geckos. Less welcome are the coyotes and ubiquitous squirrels. Lately, Mr. ‘Dillo has become a major pest by digging holes in the front yard every night.

When we bought this property 10 years ago I committed to being a good creekside neighbor. Part of that commitment was landscaping with native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife. We certified our yard as a National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Habitat. Sometimes that means uncomfortable encounters with that wildlife, such as when a coyote attacked a neighbor’s pet cat in our front yard. Our dog scared off the coyote but the cat ultimately did not survive its wounds.

Red Striped Ribbon Snake (Photo by Adam Dawson

This weekend I was cleaning leaves from one of the front gardens when I encountered a red striped ribbon snake. I’ve seen them around the yard numerous times because they like to eat frogs and fish, which the creek provides in abundance. This snake, though, had a large toad in its tiny little mouth. It looked like the hind right leg of the toad was firmly caught. Now, snakes give me the heebie jeebies, even though intellectually I know they are beneficial creatures. I thought about interfering, but the score seemed to be Snake 1, Toad 0. I called my son Tristan out to take a look and he asked me “Who do we root for?”.

We just let them be.

19 Reasons To Love Working From Home

A volunteer in the garden
A cheery volunteer in the garden

Tomorrow is Monday and I’ll be off to work my one day a week in an office in downtown Austin. Mondays always remind me of all the reasons I love working from home the other 4 days of the week. So here’s my little list as inspiration.

  1. No dress code.  Now there are times when I like to dress up, but most days I just want to be comfortable, especially in the heat of summer (which in Texas lasts from May until November).
  2. No need for shoes.  I alternate between fur lined slippers in the winter and flip-flops the rest of the year.
  3. Define your own work hours. I aim to work between the hours of 9 and 4, but if something comes up I can make up the time when I choose.
  4. Take a break whenever you want.  I love being able to step outside and enjoy a beautiful day. Have you ever stared outside your office window at a beautiful day and then realized you missed it all?
  5. Control the thermostat! This is HUGE for me. I get so cold working in an office. They always seem to be over-air-conditioned. I’ve had to resort to taping over the air vents, keeping socks in my desk drawer and taking a sweater or jacket to wear INSIDE the office during the summer
  6. Save money on food. Coffee, lunch, snacks at home save a LOT of money over a coffee shop or restaurant
  7. No commute! Which leads to #8….
  8. No road rage! Have you ever stopped to evaluate how much bad traffic and long commutes affect your stress level and mood?
  9. Save money on transportation. Save money on gas and parking and put fewer miles on your car, or save money on transit. My bus ticket costs between $2.50 and $3.50 a day and that adds up.
  10. Gain extra time by not commuting. I’ve recovered about 2 hours of my day by eliminating the commute.
  11. Privacy.  No one is looking over your shoulder; you can have sensitive phone conversations without anyone listening in. Really, some folks have phone conversations in the bathroom stalls, or out in the elevator lobby.
  12. It’s quieter.  My desk space in the office is located next to the office kitchen and get incredibly noisy. I’ve also been located with the marketing department or other folks who are on conference calls all day. As rush hour starts we also get a lot of traffic noise. And it’s Austin, so sometimes in the middle of the afternoon we have rock bands rehearsing at the bar next door!
  13. Accomplish some household tasks.  I can put in several loads of laundry or get the dishwasher running without interfering with my work rhythm.
  14. Be available for home service appointments. Is the repair man coming sometime between 12 and 5? No problem because I’m already home.
  15. Easier to make it to medical or vet appointments. It’s a whole lot easier getting a child to an appointment or a pet to the vet if I’m starting off my trip from home in the first place.
  16. Home security. My neighborhood is the target of a lot of break-ins, especially during the holidays. There’s also been a rash of cases where delivery packages are stolen off the front stoop. By working at home I don’t have an empty house that could be a target for criminal mischief.
  17. More flexibility to respond to the unexpected. Homework assignment left on the printer? Child gets sick and needs to be picked up? Or maybe something awesome pops up, like an unexpected visitor.
  18. Volunteer opportunities. This is something I haven’t taken advantage of yet, but I hope to. Lots of organizations need volunteers during weekday hours. With flexible work hours you can do something meaningful that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
  19. The pets are happy because their peeps are home. No more lonely or scared pets. Our dog Bella is particularly scared of thunderstorms and needs her “baby gate” removed so that she can take refuge in a windowless hallway. I don’t really need to confine the dog that much anymore since I’m home and can keep an eye on her.




down·shift verb To voluntarily change from a work-focused lifestyle in order to simplify life, prioritize passions, and seek a fulfilling, balanced life

Last Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. I set off on foot from my house in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin, Texas, headed for an appointment at my gym. After a productive workout I stopped in at a local coffee store, filled up my coffee bin with a pound of fresh roasted Italian espresso beans and headed off home again. Along the way I walked the hike-and-bike trail along Shoal Creek, took photographs of trees and bushes that I found interesting, and enjoyed connecting with my environment and neighborhood.

By 10 a.m. I was in my little office space in the former garage at home on a conference call with my co-worker Richard. Throughout the day, in addition to engineering tasks for my paid work I did various household tasks such as laundry, yard work and cleaning. Late in the afternoon, I rode my bicycle to the grocery store to buy a few more ingredients, then walked the dog and prepared dinner while waiting for my husband and son to get home. All-in-all it was a fairly productive and satisfying day.

Just a few years ago my day would have gone very differently – rushing to carpool my kids to school, fighting rush hour traffic to and from my full-time job downtown, driving kids to after school activities – always on a deadline to get someplace, or already late. I was stressed out by Austin’s awful traffic and usually arrived home wondering what in the world I was going to buy and/or make for dinner. Life was full of anxiety and there was always an element of guilt for any family appointments or household crises that required taking time off from work. At home there was never enough time to devote to cleaning, organizing, and upkeep.

Something had to give, and for a variety of  reasons it made more sense for me to make a shift than Rich, my husband. I dropped my work hours from 40+ hours a week to 30 and became an hourly contractor. This did eliminate some of the burden of tasks and responsibilities . My time was just as occupied as ever with family activities, but at least I didn’t have to feel guilty about missing work time. So I downshifted my work, in a sense, but life didn’t get any slower and I didn’t really “upshift” any other aspect of my life.

Enter Fall of 2015 and my first child went off to college, followed a few months later by my second child (finally!) earning his driver’s license.  Wow! Life is changing. I sometimes have “free time”. I don’t have to drive all over town – in fact, most of the time I don’t even have a car. And I have realized that my temporary downshift will be permanent. My career is still a satisfying creative and intellectual pursuit but it doesn’t feed my soul. My heart wants to be at home.

At the top of this post I have made a stab at defining what downshifting means to me. This is my downshift. I am working fewer hours, working from home as much as possible and focusing on new priorities. I want to make sure that we are conserving resources and protecting the environment, spending our money wisely and being good stewards of all that life has given us. I aim to serve healthy, real food and remove toxic chemicals from our home. And above all I hope to create a slower life that we can enjoy at home and with friends.

The purpose of this blog is to share changes and experiences as I explore interests in sustainable living, organic and native plant gardening, homemaking, decluttering and minimalism, life in general, and, above all to have fun!


How we spend our days is how we spend our lives
Annie Dillard