This Old House: Say Hello To My Little Friends

I apologize in advance to my Mom for posting this as I know she is already hesitant to visit us in our new house after listening to all my stories about the critters I have encountered. Sorry Mom, details and photographic evidence are about to follow.

Amazingly, when we moved to our new house last summer, we only moved about 3 miles down the road. I am amazed mainly because those 3 short miles mark the difference between southwest suburbia and the outskirts of the hill country. I often feared I had taken a wrong turn and was headed straight to the boonies due to the change in topography and the fact that there seemed to be a lot of horses grazing in open fields. Since when did I live in the country?

On the first few trips to the new house, we encountered several deer, a fox and a road runner. All were completely unaware of how out of place they seemed in the hip, urban live music capital of the world. Hmmmm. Let’s say hello to a few of my little friends.

Striped Bark Scorpion


This ugly creature was my first uninvited houseguest.  The movers pointed out a dead one as they were unloading our boxes, and it immediately struck fear in my heart. I dismissed it as a fluke- probably snuck in with all the activity of the previous owners moving out and us moving in. The very next day, our nanny ran into a live one in the kitchen and so it began. Apparently, the striped bark scorpion is a relatively common unwanted pest in areas of Austin abundant with trees and wild life. It is not dangerous like its cousin the Arizona bark scorpion, but as my husband can attest, delivers a powerful sting more uncomfortable than that of a bee sting. It is best treated with a paste of meat tenderizer and baking soda, and the pain typically passes in 15-20 min. Small children who are stung should be taken to the ER according to my pediatrician.  There may be residual numbness or tingling over the next 24-48 hrs.

I am on a mission to completely annihilate them from my home through a combination of pest control, natural remedies and fortification of all potential entry points.  I could easily dedicate a whole post to talking about this. They freak me out that much. Yuck! Here’s a picture I snapped of a dead one outside our garage a few days after a pest control treatment. Another one bites the dust.


Texas Brown Tarantula

photo-12I was unloading groceries from the car when I ran into this not so little spider outside the garage. I quickly scooped up my child and closed the garage door as I would absolutely spend the night in a hotel if I thought this fella was on the loose inside the house. Apparently, I was overreacting a little bit as these tarantulas are quite docile and in the rare case that they do bite, it is not normally harmful to humans. Around here, people take care of them by scooping them up in a cup and gently depositing them back in nature. I plead the 5th as to whether or not this is what I did. Momma Bear tends to be overprotective of her young.

Texas White-Tailed Deer 

photo-15In Austin, deer are regarded as pests. That is because they can take down your landscape overnight and have a habit of wandering into the middle of the street without a care in the world. There were deer in our old neighborhood, although I never saw one in the vicinity of our house. I did, however, hit one on my way home from HEB. It was quite a surprise being in a commercial area, and I did not see him coming as he was racing uphill and did not make it into my periphery until too late. Fortunately for both of us, I was not traveling very fast and he rolled across my hood and went on his merry way. Both the deer and my car sustained minor damages. The deer here are tiny compared to deer up north. The drought leaves them looking emaciated at times and I thought the deer I hit was a greyhound dog at first glance.

We have a family of 8-10 deer in our new neighborhood. They do not speed up to cross the road when they see a car coming. You have to stop and patiently wait for them to get a clue. The male buck hisses at me when I shoo him out of the yard at night and shut the gate. We have planted mainly deer-resistant plants, but they have made it impossible for my knock out roses to get a fair start in life.  Once, we were awoken by an awful animal cry and ran outdoors to see a neighbor’s dog attempting to hunt a deer in our yard. Life is never dull in the woods.

Greater Roadrunner


My favorite new friend is the roadrunner. I have seen several in the neighborhood and love to watch them run across the street or lawn. I was also surprised to see that they can fly and also scale our fence and run along it. J is as fond of them as I am. She is too young to know of the roadrunner cartoon character yet, but is readily amused by the real thing. As a bonus, they eat scorpions. Perhaps I should domesticate one? Our nanny snapped this picture of this bold little guy hanging out on the patio.

Gray Fox


Another of my favorites is this beautiful creature. Dean discovered three of them hanging out by my garden boxes one morning. They surprised him and scared the dickens out of my nanny who kept J inside for the remainder of the day. A little research on google revealed that they are fairly harmless to people and were probably more interested in my compost pile than my vegetables. They resemble a dog but move like a cat. I had the pleasure of watching two play out in the back yard one day. One was chasing the other and they were running and leaping quite fast. All of a sudden one magically appeared on the other side of the wrought iron fence around the pool. Before I could fathom how that happened, I saw the second do the same thing and realized that they could make themselves skinny enough to run between the slats. Amazing! They seem unfazed by our presence, watching us cautiously but going about their business as if they own the place. I have yet to snap a picture of our foxes but found this one on the Visit Wimberley website.

Eastern Cottontail

eastern_cottontailWith the help of this little cutie, we were able to prove to J that the Easter Bunny is indeed always watching to see if she is being a good little girl. He was a frequent visitor to the yard for a while. I was a bit concerned after seeing the foxes. However, he has resurfaced unharmed since that time. We have had a creature digging shallow holes in our yard for some time. I was putting the blame on this guy, but have since learned that they do not dig their own burrows or dig for roots and bulbs. They are a pest in my neighbor’s garden but seem to leave my raised beds alone- even the carrots 🙂

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

turkeyNot to be outdone by my parents and grandparents in NH, we too have turkeys. Upon moving in, I kept waking up in the middle of the night hearing a strange sound. It sounded like the gobble, gobble of a turkey but I had no idea they were abundant in Texas. I thought perhaps I was crazy until I later spotted at least 40 turkeys hanging out in the open park in our development. I was unable to get a close up shot but if you squint you might be able to make them out roosting in the grass. Predators include our friend the gray fox, raccoons, rat snakes, feral hogs (more on those next) and bobcats. Perhaps we will not have to travel as far as Whole Foods to get a 20 lb turkey this year? Kidding!


Wild Hogs


While I have certainly not seen on of these creatures wandering around in my development, I did recently see a rather large one keeled over on the side of the road- presumedly hit by a car. In retelling the story to a patient, he said that wild hogs are terrorizing some neighborhoods as relayed in this Smithsonion article A Plague of Pigs in Texas.  The state of Texas estimates that wild hogs cause $200 in property damage per hog per year and have issued a bounty of $2 per kill. I certainly hope this is not my backyard digger. They are nocturnal. The holes we found, while plentiful, were pretty shallow, so my money is still on an armadillo. Either way, just the sight of one so close to home brings new meaning to The Other White Meat.


800px-Nine-banded_ArmadilloThese creatures are nocturnal, so I have yet to see one live in person. I have seen plenty as roadkill. They love to dig small holes in peoples lawns as they root for bugs and grubs. I think he is likely our little digger.  I just need to catch him in action. Some good tips on dealing with armadillo problems are found here.

Those are all my little friends at the moment. Have yet to run into a snake (aside from a garter snake here and there), but would not be surprised to come across a rattlesnake or coral snake some day soon. Yikes!


Shower in the Sun

In my last post prior to going dark, I was discussing the woes of living on a septic system and my fears about having 19 house guests utilize my septic over a 7-10 day period. After all, the average person uses 50 gallons per day so that would be nearly 1000 gallons per day! Showers use the most water, by far, so I came up with the brilliant idea of installing an outdoor shower. Originally, we discussed putting up a temporary structure. They sell solar shower bags and shower enclosure tents like this at most camping supply stores.



Ultimately, we decided we wanted something a little more permanent that we could utilize poolside year round. You can see some of my favorite inspiration showers on my outdoor living Pinterest page found here.

Even though it is 100+ degrees in Austin during the summer, we wanted the shower to be heated. That way we could use it even in the winter. At first, I looked strictly at pool solar showers. The majority of them are composed of a black PVC column with shower head and hose hook up. They hold between 5.5-9.5 gallons of water depending on the size, which is enough for 2-4 quick showers, respectively. Most of them had a hot/cold adjustment, which is necessary in Austin where the water would heat up very quickly in full summer sun. Models with good reviews ranged from just under $200 and quickly jumped up to $300+ the more aesthetically pleasing they were.


The problem for us with this type of shower was two-fold. First, the number of people utilizing it. With nearly 20 people, the stand would run out of heated water quickly and we would have to wait until it heated back up again for the next people to shower. Secondly, due to being solar powered, it would put a real limit on showers after dark as the water would likely cool down rather quickly.

Plumbing a shower from inside of the house was not a task or expense we wanted to undertake. Besides, it would still mean nearly 20 people on our hot water heater, which we found to run out of hot water quickly with our previous record 6 visitors. Luckily, I stumbled upon several acceptable portable hot water heaters. They are designed for camping and run off a 20 gallon propane tank just like your gas grill.

The two top brands are Camp Chef and Eccotemp. You can follow the links to read Amazon reviews of both 5 liter models. I tended to lean towards the less expensive Camp Chef , which had a fold up stand should you want to set it up on the ground, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing box and shower head and a 1.5 gallon per minute rating. I think I ultimately ended up going with the 1.4 gpm Eccotemp because it had a vent shield and a bracket for hanging up the hand held shower. Both had solid 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and cost just over $100 (plus the cost of a propane tank and propane gas).


The reviews were very helpful in installation. It is pictured installed on a house and this is what we intended. However, after firing up the unit and more closely reading the instructions, a 2″ clearance is needed at the back of the unit. This was easily fixed by attached two 2×4 boards to the house and affixing the unit to the boards. That way the unit does not pose a fire hazard as it heats up. The unit is rated for 20-80 PSIs, and our water pressure runs slightly higher. We discovered that this rendered the hand held shower useless as the hose popped off on its very first use, was difficult to put back on and would likely just pop off again. My FIL and BIL have a lot of plumbing experience and decided to hook up PVC pipe to a shower head and install a red cut off valve to start/stop the flow of water. In my opinion, this is much easier to operate. Be warned, the shower can get VERY hot, especially with your hose heating up  in the sun. We have it set at minimum gas flow rate and also do not fully open up the gas valve or hose. You especially need to be careful when folks are taking showers back to back as the leftover water in the tank will be heated back up- and thus hotter- before new water entering the tank can cool it down. It is best to let it run a minute and test it out before jumping in. Having said that, we were very pleased with its performance. We had no issues with the pilot blowing out, and all 19 of us were able to shower every day without running out of water even with consecutive showers. The unit will shut off after 20 min of use as a safety. We have not seen that feature yet as no one took a shower that long. Also, it uses very little propane. Our tank is still nearly full!


The next two issues were drainage and enclosure. Obviously, 19 people taking serious showers is different than rinsing off after getting out of the pool. We were just about to have a landscape project completed in the back yard and did not want to risk washing out all that hard work. We ended up having our mason, Juan from CM Masonry, come out and expand our patio walkway to accomodate the enclosure and install a drain. Next, the landscaper made a gravel landscape bed where the drainage pipe exits. We have had no problems with drainage, although I was picking out hair (ewww) from the gravel for several days after the reunion.  As for an enclosure, we discussed building a permanent wooden structure. However, we were unsure how the shower would work out. If it was a total fail, it made no sense to put in the effort and expense of building a permanent structure that would also somewhat be blocking that entrance to the pool.  After showing several examples on Pinterest, I convinced my husband and FIL to build me a curved shower rod for a simple shower curtain.  I saw several indoor/outdoor U-shaped curtain rods online such as this one:


Most were at least $100. My FIL felt pretty confident that he could make it out of galvanized metal pipe and flange fittings if only he had brought with him a device called a hickey to bend the pipe. Not easily discouraged, he found all his supplies between Lowes and Home Depot and then used a hickey off the shelf to bend the pipe while in the store. I kid you not!!! He used wire to provide extra support should any little kids I know go tugging on the curtain panels.


Sunbrella outdoor panels are suggested for use as outdoor shower curtains. They are quite expensive and based on the size of our shower rod, we needed at least 2-3 panels. My temporary solution was to find the sturdiest polyester shower curtain I could for $20 at Target. I purchased two as well as two liners. I sprayed the curtain with waterproofer, weighed it down with fishing sinkers and hoped for the best.  The shower is under the overhang, which protects it somewhat from the rain. I am sure the curtains will not stand up to the elements over time, but I can always buy new ones or invest in true outdoor fabric in the future.

The finishing touch was a shelf my FIL built to hold shampoo, soap, etc.


We are very pleased with the shower. We had no septic issues during the reunion, and I credit the shower and good conservation on the part of our guests. We use the shower nearly every time we swim in the pool, and I think it is the best thing ever to be able to shower comfortably in the great outdoors. Love it!