A Farmgirl Goes Home

Living in Connecticut, I don’t  see relatives as often as I’d like. For my daughter’s Spring Break, my hubby suggested she and I spend a week with my family. Take a “Farmgirl” trip with me as we head to the Great State of Texas!

I’ve lived longer on the East Coast than in Texas, but I’ll consider myself a Texan ‘til the day I die.  It’s not that I don’t love Connecticut (and New York, too), but there’s something about Texas. Dan Rather put it right in an interview when he said he wasn’t “from” Texas, but “of” Texas.  It stays in your blood.  I’ve been fortunate to see much of the world, but there’s nothing as great as headin’ “home”.

My darlin’ husband drove us at the crack of dawn to Newark, New Jersey, for our flight.  We arrived in Houston around lunch, to see my dad, Charlie, and his wife, Karen. The first thing they did was take us for bar-b-que!  Now, there’s NOTHIN’  like TEXAS bar-b-que.  My favorite is a chopped  beef sandwich smothered in sauce, with a side of potato salad and a trough of unsweetened iced tea!  Is your mouth watering?  It should be! Texas smoked brisket is heavenly. After lunch, the four of us and ‘the boys” (dad’s two rat terriers) headed to the “Farm”.

The “Farm”, officially named “Quail Run Ranch” is located in the breathtaking Texas hill country.  Dad purchased the ranch when I was a baby, and I spent most weekends and holidays there ‘til my teens.  It’s country… with woods, wildlife, and quaint dirt roads – the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.  I’ve only gotten to go back a few times.  Last time, we didn’t go to the ranch because of heavy rains.  We were last there when Audrey was three;  too young to remember.  I hoped now she’d get to make memories to last a lifetime.  I was not disappointed.

Once out of the city, the route is scattered with farms and ranches. Turning off the main highway, the dirt roads are lovely, sprinkled with Texas wildflowers.  Too late for the bluebonnets, we  saw wildflower patches of Indian paintbrush, black-eyed Susan, and  wild sunflowers.

I admit I sometimes struggle with my garden.  In the TX hill country, flowers like this bloom wild, with little water and sandy conditions.  Go figure!


Dad named the ranch “Quail Run” because the property used to be home to wild Bobwhite Quail.  The house is the same house that my dad and brother built together when I was a baby.  It was special being able to say to my daughter, “This was my room when I was a kid.”  Some of the house has changed, but much is the same.  The claw-foot cast-iron stove looked smaller to me as an adult.  There’s the wooden rocking chair my mom rocked me in.  Heading outside, the little trees I climbed as a kid are now big “grandfathers”.  The baby pines we spent countless hours planting are now huge, well over thirty years old.  Right off the bat, in the back of the house we spotted a  wild bunny.

These are some of the trees I planted as a kid.

Next, we headed down to the “tank”. I spent good chunks of time there as a child, fishing for catfish or paddling around in a canoe. Due to the drought Texas suffered recently, the water level is low. Audrey delighted in feeding the fish with Papa Charlie.

The water level is low, but that’s all the Texas drought caused at Quail Run.  Thankfully, the ranch was not affected by the horrific wildfires that ravaged much of the surrounding area last year.

It was a short trip there, just two days, but we packed in as much fun as possible!  We visited neighbors, Jackie and Tom Knight, III, whose grandparents I used to visit as a child.  Jackie’s a true “Farmgirl” – very creative!  Karen says she gets much inspiration from Jackie’s cooking and gardening.   While we were there, she showed us one of her latest projects, re-purposing wood from downed trees into wind chimes.   We also visited with another ranch owner, Roger.  His sweet dachshund, Daffy, was so loveable, we warned him he’d need to check our luggage for her before we left!  He helped Dad clear some dead trees with his front-loader.  Good neighbors and great friends!  We also had a great time visiting neighbors at the next ranch over, the Hogans. Audrey’s had a dream of goin’ fishin’ with her grandpa, and they graciously invited us to their lake to fish. (I’ll introduce you more to this neat couple next  blog…)

Jackie re-purposed a fallen tree as a planter at her front gate for wild cactus.

An animal lover as well, Jackie rescued these two beauties, who are “Keepers of the Gate”.

Taking an early morning walk with Jackie, we spied some of her cattle.

It was surreal seeing my daughter run free as a bird, like I did as a child. We marveled at butterflies, caterpillars, cactus, flowers, and birds, (always watching for snakes and blister bushes). Surprisingly, we didn’t see any wild boar, a nuisance in Texas, nor did I see much of the great menace, fire ants.  Audrey was able to do things she doesn’t get to do in the suburbs, like ride on her Papa’s John Deere tractor.

Papa and granddaughter pose on the tractor.

Grooming one of Jackie’s horses made her day!

Dawn: we woke up to the sound of a lone Whippoorwill.

Fishing at the Hogan Ranch.

Caterpillar buffet

The earth there is rocky and sandy, a mix of white sand and red clay. Much of the acreage is wooded and brushy.  The ranch is in Caldwell County, where the “Battle of Plum Creek”, (between the Texans and Tonkawa against the Comanche), took place in 1840, near Lockhart, Texas.  Dad told Audrey of some of the rich Texas history.  She was fascinated  that Native Americans once roamed the area.  As a child, I remember finding all sorts of arrowheads in the dirt, among the rock. Audrey’s heart sunk when Papa Charlie told her no arrowheads were found in over twenty years.  We were amazed when Audrey did discover one with her eagle eyes – a shocking, awesome surprise!

While exploring, we also found a rusty, metal piece.  Dad speculated it’s some kind of antique piece off of a frontier wagon.  Crudely made, hand-forged, and very heavy, who knows how long it sat in the ground, finally unearthed after rain.

When it was time to leave, it seemed we’d been there longer than two days. Heading back to Houston, the rest of the trip was spent enjoying the warm weather.  So much more is blooming than up North, and Dad and Karen’s tomatoes and carrots are already grown.  There’s fruit on the lemon and lime trees, too.

Dad and Karen’s cutting garden at their suburban Houston home.  The rocks came from the ranch.  Dad built these rock fences all over the ranch when I was young, and inspired me to do the same around my flowerbeds in CT.

Can you spy the little critter hiding in this photo?

We ended our trip with a few days’ visit with my brother.  Russell and his wife, Ruvidia, treated us to a Tex-Mex lunch and a dinner of Texas-sized Chicken Fried Steaks, served on a platter not a plate. (Heaven’s filled with fried food, I just know it).  Like when we were kids, my brother and I stayed up late playing dominoes, with a neck-to-neck match.   Victory was short-lived: my nine year old beat me the next day by eighty points – twice.  On the last day Russell smoked melt-in-your-mouth chicken on the barbeque.

The week flew by, and we headed back to New England. Back home, there’s much to do. Are you far from family?  What do you miss most?

Here’s some great Texas recipes to make at your neck o’ the woods.

Y’All Enjoy!

Karen’s Classic Coleslaw

  • 1 head green cabbage (can use some red, too)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 can crushed pineapple, including juice (two cans if using a large head of cabbage)
  • 1 TBSP Mayo (prefer Miracle Whip – sweeter is better here)
  • 1 tsp white sugar

Mix everything together in a bowl. If it’s dry, add more mayo, sour, a tad more sugar.

Texas King Ranch Casserole

  • 2-4 chicken breasts, boiled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (or ⅔ carton organic version)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (or ⅔ carton organic version)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chiles*
  • 12 large corn tortillas, torn into bite size pieces
  • ½ lb grated cheddar cheese

In dutch oven, saute onion in 2 TBSP butter. Add soups and broth. Drain tomatoes and add.  Add tortillas. Mix well. Put in greased 9×13 casserole dish. Top with grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 mins.

*Can substitute 1 can tomatoes  drained plus 1 can green chiles drained.

  1. Charles LaGroue says:

    Like always your visit was so short lived. As always your visit brought back so many memories. I hope your trip did the same for you and Audrey. Never say you can’t go home, as time stands still at Ouail Run-you can. Hope you enjoyed your trip. As the sign says YOU’ALL COME BACK!
    Love, Dad

    Thanks Daddy.  And thanks for all of your wonderful hospitality.  We had so much fun.  Audrey and I are still talking about it.  It was a perfect trip.  Be back as soon as we can.  Miss you so much!
    I love you!  -Nicole

  2. Karen says:

    Like many of the Texas sayings….you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl…that’s very evident from the story.
    My favorite acronym is "GRITS". Girls Raised In The South!!! We are proud of that title at any age. To me: a well rounded person, knows and loves the arts, fashion, technology and so much more, but they live to be out in the country to reconnect to themselves and what is real. Nicole, you have done this so well and it shows in your daughter. Keep up the good work with her and yourself no matter what tries to slow you down, she will thank you later in her life.

    The visit was short but a lot of good memories were made and a lot of good memories were revisited as it should be. I"m sure not much has changed from your childhood but your perspective. We love doing things around the farm for the wildlife and for mother nature. It’s not work it’s a labor of love given with no strings and it is returned in so many ways to us. I have learned so much from neighbors/friends and you! I am so grateful for the sharing of thoughts and ideas.

    So keep telling the stories so our childrens’ children will have a connection to their past and understand why they love the great outdoors so much!

    Thanks, Karen!  Didn’t we have a blast?  Such a sweet comment you made here, means a lot. And you should be proud of your flowers and garden at home – looks great!  Love y’all! Thanks for the recipe – best coleslaw I ever ate.  (It was her grandmother’s and mother’s and handed down.  Those are the best!) -Nicole

  3. Debbie Shue says:

    I too am from Texas but have lived in Washington state for the past 21 years. But Texas is HOME. I don’t get back there as often as I would like either. When I do, the time just flies by. Texas and Washington are very different but but both are beautiful in their special way. Texas people and the food are the best. Thanks for sharing your trip home with me.

    Thanks, Debbie!  Hope you enjoyed it.  I’ve never been to Washington state yet, but have a friend there who says it is a nice place to live and visit.  Thanks for reading and commenting!  -Nicole

  4. Claudia says:

    I remember when they brought my grandma’s cook stove to my house for me to have. I told my husband that couldn’t possibly be my grandma’s stove because it was a lot bigger. He assured me it was. What a wonderful place and visit. Good for you and your family!

    Claudia, what a great story!  Thanks so much for sharing it here. It’s funny how we remember things from the perspective of how we were as a child.  I remember the rock fences at the Farm being so much taller, too, and they aren’t very tall at all! -Nicole

  5. HerbMagik says:

    Thanks for sharing a little bit of TEXAS! 🙂 I am from Germany, and will always be German, no matter how long I live here :). I was laughing, whenever I go home, or tell stories, it centers around food. Looks like you and your daughter had a wonderful time, something you will probably have to repeat often now that she has a taste!
    FarmGirl #2245

    Thanks for commenting!  My husband is from Denmark, and the same holds true for him – stories and visits center around food most often!  Thanks for reading and commenting.  By the way, some of the best German food I ever ate was up near the Texas Hill Country in a town we’d visit, Fredericksburg, Texas.  We used to stop and eat at a German restaurant there.  Thanks for commenting!  Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  6. MaryBeth Schwarz says:

    There’s nothing quite like the Texas country with the mix of trees, cactus, and wildflowers (like the Indian Blankets you show in the picture), not to mention beautiful rocks and fossils! Sounds like you had a great visit and hit all the high points. Y’all come back soon! MB

    Thanks, MaryBeth!  Like Dorothy says, ‘There’s no place like home…" -Nicole

  7. bonnie ellis says:

    Wow! Thanks for a trip back to Hill Country. My husband is a relative of Sam Houston and our son lives in Austin. Hill Country is my favorite! We see why you love it. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

    Hi Bonnie!  How cool is that, your husband being related to Sam Houston!  I hope you get to visit Austin often.  It’s so pretty there.  Quail Run is close, and I am familiar with all the towns around there.  Maybe next trip I will have more time and can go visit some of the areas, although, we didn’t want to leave the ranch once we got there!  Thanks for commenting. Take care, Nicole

  8. Rachelle says:

    Howdy! Well you weren’t too far from me. I’m out in Montgomery Texas just north west of Houston. Yes, there is nothing like Texas. I call it home as well. Glad you got to come for visit and get your fill of good southern cookin! Most my immediate family all live within an hour of me, so that is nice. Enjoyed your article and pictures!

    Rachelle, I was close!  Missing Texas today, we have wet, grey and chilly weather.  Course, come July it’ll be paradise here in CT, too.  Yes, there is nothin’ like southern cooking, for sure!   Have a chopped beef sandwich for me, will you?  Thanks for reading and commenting, glad you stopped by the blog! -Nicole

  9. Carol says:

    What a wonderful "going back home" story! And better yet, you got to share it with your daughter. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Carol, thanks for reading and commenting! -Nicole

  10. Eileen says:

    Your descriptive writing took me back home again! I’m living in the Willamette Valley of Oregon now but grew up in Austin. Most of my family now lives in Cedar Creek, not far from Quail Run! The pictures looked so comfortingly familiar. Thank you!

    Oh, Eileen, my pleasure! Oregon is another state I’ve only read but have yet to visit.  Glad you enjoyed the blog. Thanks for commenting!  -Nicole

  11. Kristy says:

    I grew up in Connecticut and am now in the Midwest. Lake County Indiana is a lot like CT, hilly, green and with a ton of older buildings. I’m not very homesick, which is good because I have no family there to visit now.

    Loved the GRITS.

    I did not know that about that area (the Midwest).  I have yet to visit that way, but want to someday. Thanks for commenting, Kristy!  -Nicole

  12. Karin thomas says:

    Thanks for the visit to Texas. We moved from there a month ago and I am still very homesick. Did you ever see the bumper sticker "I’m not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could"? That’s me. Originally from Indiana, we moved back after many, many years. But somehow , Texas is home. We too had great German food in Fredericksburg many times. I’m thinking I’ll have to make a visit soon.

    Karin, I love the bumper sticker saying! Never heard that one before – made me smile.  Thanks for commenting. Hope you get to visit Frederiksburg soon.  -Nicole

  13. Shery says:

    LOVED all the great photos. Thank you for taking us along. How thrilling for your daughter to spy a great arrowhead. That really is a rare find nowadays!! She’ll cherish it forever and it will be a tangible symbol of a trip she’ll remember all the days of her life.

    Thanks, Shery! You’re right… I still can’t believe she found that arrowhead!  No one has found one in years.  The whole trip was such a memorable one.  Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  14. Rose says:

    I am glad that you and Audrey got to spend some time in Texas with your dad! You packed a lot of fun activities in a short period of time. Audrey will have some great memories of her grandfather!

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