Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yule Blog

Our Christmas update is below. If you prefer it in a more traditional Christmas-cardy look, click the pic below for a full-size greeting-card style text. Otherwise, scroll down for our Christmas blog.

The Year of the House

It's been a pretty outstanding year for the Ménage à M. We finally became homeowners, buying a dear little early-20c. farmhouse in Elgin last March. It's got a stone façade, almost half an acre of land, and 9½-ft ceilings. We've spent almost all our free time, money, and energy refurbishing it, from floor to ceiling. And although by now I've now got latex paint instead of blood running through my veins, we're nowhere near done.

Fortunately, we've had a lot of support from our friends and family. One of the really neat things about our house is that every room has been touched by someone's generosity, from the Fulda's paint to Mattchew & Bianca's herb garden, Keith's outlets, Kate's yellow closets, Cathy's trim, Ladonna's curtains, Chuck's electrical work, and Mom and Dad's antique doors.

In light of this DIY frenzy, it's fortunate that I found a new job. No more red shoes! My old contracting company called me up and offered me a permanent position. I'm now with a much more flexible, creative, and versatile company, working on technologically hip projects. No more lacerating my self-respect every day in a toxic atmosphere of fear and mismanagement! It's a good thing. And the pay is better, which helps with all the new light fixtures and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Matt's managing a landscape crew at a home for the cognitively challenged. His job involves training the residents, and he really gets a kick out of working with them, in spite (or perhaps because?) of all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Which is a good thing, because his ongoing quest to find a job with competent, sane management seems doomed to failure. So at least there are compensations.

He's also been working on his business, which now has a name and website (—check out the cool logo our friend Linda made for us). He's been moving part of his growing operation to Elgin and is finishing a greenhouse in the back yard. In addition, Mom and Dad gave him their old Jeep and he bought a trailer, so all in all it's been a good year for the infrastructure.

This year we also got our first pet, a slightly deranged polydactyl kitten named Po. He's a very cute little tabby with giant clodhopper feet and, apparently, voices in his head. That's okay. We like him like that.

Preternaturally well-adjusted, Stepford-sounding holiday newsletters really creep me out, so I'll just mention that on the down side, we got carpenter ants this year, we gouged a few planks of our new bamboo floors, I'm still allergic to housework, and Matt still won't eat his vegetables.

We hope you have a warm and happy holiday season!


Matt and Mel

To Do Before Xmas

Okay, as blog entries go, this one is pretty lame. But I need a central location to track everything I think I'm going to do in the next 5 days (ha!):

  • Paint furring strip in bathroom
  • Touch up living room baseboards
  • Clean upstairs carpet
  • Sort out guest room
  • More edging/mulch?
  • Prep xmas food for Vests/Ulrichs
  • Paint dining room ceiling
  • Move baseboards to hall
  • Install quarter-round
  • vacuum sofa
  • clean guest bath
  • Remove Poindexter's nub (heh heh.Actually just part of a door renovation project)
  • Move outdoor fridge
  • Move plants to orangery
  • Bathe cat
  • Clean study
  • Pick up linens
  • Clean indoor fridge
  • Install guest sink
  • Install guest toilet
  • Install guest tub

Once again, I have latex in my hair. I've been working on painting some baseboards that I had somehow never gotten to before. In the den, this entails painting around and under the Christmas tree, so you can imagine the opportunities for smearing latex all over the place.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Season of Mists and Malevolent Fungalness

Up till around 9am today, I would have said that this was a pretty darn good weekend. Let's start with the good stuff.

Turkey Fryers for Everyone!

Care to fry a turkey? Or three? Bonus points if you can spot the naughty kitty.

I ordered a turkey fryer for Matt for Christmas. As of last night, three turkey-frying sets had shown up on our front door step. I had initially ordered a set from 1 company who told me that the model I wanted had been discontinued. So then I ordered a different model from a 2nd company. Apparently, the first company found a couple of the discontinued units and mailed the to me anyway (Why 2 though? No one knows). Meanwhile, the second company shipped me their model. I'm supposed to mail the first 2 back (and get a reimbursement) but until then, if you have an urgent need to fry 3 large turkeys all at once, you know whom to call.

A juvenile aside: check out the logo from company #1. Is that as wrong as I think it is?

I'm not sure this is legal in Texas.

Let There Be Light
Matt installed the new dimmer switch for our chandelier and got everything up and running. It looks terrific, I think. We still have to patch the sheet rock, but this project is very close to happy completion.

Our new chandelier

You can also see in this picture that I've finally pulled down the tissue paper we'd been using as curtains. As a temporary but less objectionable solution, I draped a couple of panels from previous residences over suspension rods. It's less déclassé than the paper, and it should hold us through late spring, when I will (hopefully) be able to buy custom shutters.

At the same time, I dragged out all the Christmas stuff and altered it to fit the new house--we have garland out front with twinkle lights and faux luminaries (I have mixed feelings about these, but they were just so much more practical than the real thing. And Santa Fe uses faux luminaries, so I guess if they're good enough for Santa Fe, they should be good enough for me and Elgin.) So the house is looking all pretty and illuminated.

Our modest Christmas decorations

New Knobs
It is a curious fact that the four exterior doors on our house are not keyed to the same keys. In fact, the deadbolts and knobs on some of the individual doors don't even match each other. When we moved in, we were given a key that opens the kitchen knob and the living room bolt and that's it. The rest of the locks effectively operate as deadbolts. We could have just gotten everything re-keyed, but they were also in mis-matched finishes, and none of the finishes were at all stylish, so we are instead replacing them.

So on Saturday we picked up our first installment of brand-new knobs and bolts in utterly au courant oil-rubbed bronze finish. The installation was more or less painless, and our house is now that much more genteel.

A new knob

The Orangery
Meanwhile, the Orangery is making good progress. Matt used pipes from the old hurricane fence that he had dismantled as the frame and today attached PVC pipes to hold up the roof. He'll hopefully have it covered by tonight, keeping our citruses and his propagules nice and warm.

In future years, we hope to build a more permanent structure out of cinderblocks and recycled windows (following the example at the San Antonio Antique Rose Emporium and the smaller, cuter version at the Independence ARE), but this early prototype will do for this winter.

...And that brings me to the bad news.

Rose Death
That horrible fungus that attacked the roses earlier this summer has returned. I noticed this morning that our lovely mystery red rose had a bunch of dead stems; when I investigated the rest of the garden, I found signs of this supercharged canker/dieback on most of the roses. Some were minor; I could just cut back the stems and the plants will probably be good as new. But some of them had developed fungus in those little short stems right near the crown; I can cut off the stems, but the fungus has probably already begun to invade the rest of the plant through the crown.

The mystery rose was pretty far gone; I didn't really have any choice but to dig it up. I did take some cuttings from the healthy side of the plant, but I think we need to be prepared for the worst. In imminent danger due to the location of the canker on the plants are one of the Cramoisu Superieurs, Graham Thomas, both Duchers, Buff Beauty, and one of the Green Ices.

I also dug up the roses that had already died this year (which I obviously should have done a long time ago). Here's a roll-call of the honorable dead:
2 gorgeous red cabbagey mystery roses
1 Spice

1 the pink miniature that John & Ann gave us (neighbors back at Wolverton)

1 Belinda's Dream
1 Climbing Peace
1 Penelope
1 Will Fleming yaupon (possible victim of same disease)

The only roses that appear untouched are the neat striped rose that was here when we moved in and the thrice-accursed Knockout. I know I shouldn't hate Knockout. I mean, how perverse is it to resent a plant on the grounds that it is healthy, has an attractive form, and blooms constantly? Particularly as these are the same reasons I love roses like Mutabilis, Cramoisi, and Old Blush. But it's such a strident shade of pink, and the flower form is so bleh; and because it blooms so much, it feels somehow artificial. It's not a sincere rose, like those old-school Chinas that I love. Which is perfectly ridiculous and utterly Luddite, but there's nothing I can do about it. I don't like Knockout, and I don't think I ever will. Although in 6 months' time, it may be the only rose left in my garden.

In other News of the Weird...

The Ladybugs are Swarming
I didn't know ladybugs could swarm, but they're crawling all over the kitchen and study doors (perhaps they came to admire the new knob and bolt in stylish oil-rubbed bronze?). We also have some 2 or 3 dozen inside the doors, which conclusively answers the question, "Are my exterior doors weatherproof?" They're not even laydbugproof, so I guess fixing the weatherstripping and trim around our doors needs to go on my to-do list.

Many, many ladybugs inside the house

Hmmm... hadn't quite realized how this pic would show off the remaining tissue paper shades... A little shaming. The study is the last untamed room. Everything else had assumed some kind of order and has moved on from the tissue paper stage; the study is still a bit of a wilderness. I'll get to working on that... sooner or later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Success! At Last!

Tubly Triumph
Sweet success!

I finally got the epoxy to dry properly, so the upstairs tub is finally, finally, finally done.

Over the course of this deeply frustrating project, my standards have gotten lower and lower and lower. I used to worry about evenness of coverage, getting the color to match the woodwork, smoothness of texture, et cetera. Now my standard for success is "Is it dry?"

Which--huzzah!--it is! Blotchy and (oddly) variably shiny, but still--dry!

Matt is as tired of hearing about this project as I am of working on it, so he suggested that we leave it as is and consider having the tub professionally refinished a few years down the line. This seems like an eminently sensible solution. In the interim, the tub is completely covered, and it's nice and clean. Welcome, guests. Soak long, soak deep.

The dazzling adequate new tub finish.

Ashes to Ashes (heh)
In other news, we've been chopping and burning the remains of that ash tree. (Matt's been doing all the manly chopping; I've been doing the twiggy, dainty, chopping. From each according to her ability...) I think I've never really given ashes (messy, short-lived, limb-dropping) the respect they deserve. They are hard. Matt's ax keeps bouncing off of the wood. And they burn hot and bright. Thus far, we've been having very utilitarian fires to try to reduce the huge piles of twigs in our yard--we haven't really had the time to sit and enjoy, which is a shame--the weather's just right for it: snappy, but not bitter. (When you're burning a twig fire, you have to keep feeding it incessantly, so there isn't much time for zenning out with a mug of hot chocolate.)

Towards a New Chandelier
Matt's also been spearheading the chandelier installation initiative. It's been vexatious, but we've finally got the wires sorted out and poking through the right holes. We just need to buy a special screw and everything should come together. (However, there will still be a big hole in the ceiling where the fan used to be. Eh, well. We'll deal with that eventually.) The chandelier will be attached to a dimmer switch so--oooo!--mood lighting!

Master Plan
And finally, I've committed our long-range landscape plan to computer. Matt & I have had countless garden planning conversations, with hastily scrawled diagrams drawn on odd pieces of paper, and we never remember what decisions we reached or where exactly everything goes. So here it is: the master plan (click for a legible size).

Our Master Landscape Plan

The pink is crushed granite to be used for new walkways and to improve the weed-ridden driveway. Orange plants still have to be bought; blue plants will be transplanted from their current location to the spot indicated on the map.

W = White oak
L = Lacey oak
CM = Crape myrtle
M = 'Little Gem' Magnolia
BC = Bald cypress
J = Juniper
R = 'Forest Pansy' redbud (purple-leaved)
P = Persimmon
B = Bur oak
Li = Ligustrum
S = Eve's necklace (Sophora sp)
CP = Chinese Pistache
R = Red oak (Q shumardii/texana)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Whole Lot o' Shakin' Goin' On

Yowza. It's been a month since my last entry. Various excuses: (I didn't say they were good excuses.)

The happy thing is that I've got quite the backlog of news to share (some of it has becomes olds in the interim, but whatever.)

Introducing... Po!
The most important thing: the house has acquired a kitten! Matt was seduced by a little feral tabby at his work, and next thing you know, we're cat-owners. His name is Po--mostly named after Lightnin' Hopkins who frequently referred to himself in the 3rd person as "Po' Lightnin'." As we got him the night before Halloween--on All Hallow's Eve Eve, if you will--his name is also a nod to the poet laureate of Halloween, Edgar Allen Poe. And lastly, and most implausibly, since I am an italophile, and there is a river somewhere in Italy called the Po, his name is also an homage to the land of pasta and expensive footwear.

He is ferocious cute. Check him out:
Po, our very cute kitten.

He's also a freak mutant. He's a polydactyl cat, which means he's got a weird toe deformation that gives him, in effect, thumbs. He's got giant clodhopper feet, too. Our little clydesdale.

Matt's totally besotted. Which, in itself, is actually even cuter than the kitten.

Matt & Po

So far, I've had very few allergy problems. We bathe Po and keep him out of the bedrooms, so that probably helps. I think I've mostly outgrown the cat allergy, fortunately. (The oak allergy, on the other hand, is still going strong. If I could sell phlegm the way other people sell plasma or sperm, I'd have already paid off my student loans.)

My name is Ozymandias, tree of trees
In other news, we have finally pulled down both our dead trees. The chinaberry came down a while ago, but we just toppled the ash on Sunday. It was a fighter. And nerve-wracking, because it was right next to the garage. However, we used guy-lines and a sort of a pully thing to hold it in the right direction. And then Matt went after it with a chainsaw very, very carefully. To our delighted incredulity, it came down with textbook exactitude: It didn't fall on the garage, the fence, the sapling bur oak, nor on our elderly neighbor who insisted on standing unnervingly close to the thing to watch it come down. The wood was very, very hard--poor Matt got tennis elbow dealing with it. But now we have a yard full of high-quality firewood--we shall have fires in the fire pit this winter! And drink hot libations while looking at the stars. Splendid!

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Also, Matt's been working on installing our chandelier in the dining room. You may remember that the fan that had been in there was off-center, so we had to cut a new hole and thread the wires over to it. That part went fine--Matt just reached into the ceiling and pulled the wires over. The weird bit is that there were six sets of wires feeding into the old fan. Six! So he's having to test to figure out which are live, and that has been complicated. (Matt doesn't like volt-meters--he doesn't trust them. Much the way I feel about tire gauges, I think. I just never feel confident that they're measuring accurately.) So we're going to have to patch up the spare wire and plaster over the hole and do some more testing and then--hey presto!--new chandelier.

See all the freaky wires coming out of the old hole (foreground)? That pink stuff coming out of the new hole is wads of plastic--Matt says it's something to do with the insulation.

What, you may ask, have I been doing while Matt risks life and limb chopping down trees and fiddling with electricity? I've been "spotting" him (yeah, it's a pretty cush job) and working on that misbegotten incubus, the epoxy. I've been scrubbing off the old, sticky epoxy preparatory to yet another desperate attempt to refinish the pedestal tub. I'll be tackling the new epoxy soon. And that, my friends, is the last time. If I can't get it to work this go-round, I'll be hiring a professional to handle it for me. It ain't cheap, but I can't afford to lose many more brain cells to epoxy fumes.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New (Old) Doors!

This post has been a while coming. A couple of weeks ago, Mom & Dad took us to the big antique show at Round Top. It's an annual event that attracts vendors from all over the US, who rent tent- and hall-space in the fields around the tiny hamlet of Round Top.

Our goal was 2-fold: to find some antique doors and door knobs to begin replacing the hideous and dinky modern doors at Chez M, and to get a little education about armoires, which we will hopefully be buying next year. (We don't have anything like enough closet space in the master bed, so Matt's been storing his clothes in a hand-me-down Elfa unit in the hall. It's bohemian-industrial-yuppie chic.)

Imagine our surprise and delight when Mom & Dad called to tell us that they'd gone up to Round Top early, scouted around, and already found a whole set of doors that matched the style and measurements we sought. They also learned some stuff. For example, the two remaining original doors in the house (the mudroom door and the study door) are raised 5-panel doors. This helps to date them, say the antique guys, because doors with 5 panels that don't have a raised rectangle in the middle are characteristic of a slightly later period. Our doors, they say, date from ~1903-1907. Yet another tantalizing piece of data about our home's age! Mom & Dad also offered to buy the lot for us as an early Christmas present, which made us happier still.

The doors Mom & Dad found are varnished and made of pine. They're really in pretty good shape--we'll need to strip, sand, and paint them, but on the whole, they're beautiful doors--so much so that I'm tempted to re-varnish them instead of painting, only then they wouldn't match any of the trim or woodwork in the rest of the house. I named them Dottie, Greg, and Ezekiel.

(We're like a university--if you give us goodies, we'll name them after you. [Ezekiel isn't named after anyone--it just sounded like a turn-of-the-century sort of name to me.] So we've also got The Dottie & Greg Ulrich trellis, The Aunt Pauline and Big David paint jobs, The Chuck Vest outlets, and The Ladonna Vest valances. Matt & Bianca gave us a very generous Lowe's card when they came up to visit, so we're probably going to add The Matt and Bianca sawhorses to the collection tomorrow.)

Dottie, Greg, and Ezekiel

Three of our door frames were too small for most 5-panel doors, according to the antique guy. He said the size we were looking for didn't become common until later, when door styles had changed. As the doors go to our built-in in the bedroom and the hot water closet--all later additions--this isn't surprising.

He did, however, have 3 mahagony (!) doors from the 1920s from an old hotel in Columbia, South Carolina. These were in a different style, but they did fit the frames. Meet Pointdexter, Edith, and Flossie.

Poindexter, Edith, and Flossie

We also really cleaned up on door knobs. We found complete matching sets of steel plates and knobs for the 5-panel doors, and we got some crystal knobs (I do love crystal knobs--they were positively sparkling in the sun when I took these pictures) to go with the plates that came with the hotel doors. I especially like that combination--the plates have a charming Edwardian flourishiness--not the full-on Victorian ornateness, but definitely plenty of art nouveau flair.

Poindexter's plate

You'll notice, as well, that two of the knobs are a match set, which is kind of nifty. We could have gotten a third that also matched, but I was drawn to a slightly more curlicue version (middle below) that we'll be using in our bedroom. Matching is overrated, anyway.

Steels knobs and plates, along with crystal knobs and assorted hardware

Dad has compounded his kindness by offering to do the restoration work on the hardware, which will entail polishing them on a wheel and putting a protective finish on them. As we have plenty of toilet-installing, edging, mulching, and electrical work to keep us busy over the next several months, we were more than happy to turn the goodies over to him.

Ooooo! Sparkley knobs!

In other news, Matt successfully pulled down the rest of the chinaberry yesterday--its defeated corpse lies in pieces all over the back yard. As it fell, it sent bushels of half-rotten fruit flying, with the result that our side yard smells like putrid apples. Truly disagreeable trees, chinaberries, in life and in death.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Evolution of a Bathroom

I'd like to take a moment to rest on our laurels.

It's not that the bathroom's done, but it's so much doner than it has been. Compare, if you will, where we were and where we now are.

March 29 vs. Oct 10

Fresh paint, nice tile, new countertop, new light fixture, new cabinet knobs, painted shutters, new faucet, new mirror and frame...

It's so gratifying. Just so I can really glory in the transformation, I've recapped the evolution of the bathroom over the past 6 months in pictures.

Step 1: paint anything that stands still

Step 2: Replace hideous old tile counter and rotten grout.

Step 3: Replace depressing "Hollywood-style" light bar with shiny new brushed nickel fixture

Step 4: Add new framed mirror

Of course, we're not through. We still need to have the grey backsplash and tub surround re-finished to match the trim, we need to install a light/vent combo by the tub, I need to make the valance for the window, and we need to put in a modest crown molding.

Still, it's finally beginning to gesture towards what it will look like when it's complete, and it no longer has that makeshift, construction-project feel to it.

Coming soon: The Doors, live.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


This weekend we squeezed in some long-awaited prettification.

We bought some baseboards for the master bedroom. Unlike the front rooms of the house, with their 9" plank baseboards, the back rooms don't require freakishly tall moldings. Since planks-as-moldings have some significant problems (they're hard to cut straight and they're weirdly thick), we wanted to go with more traditional baseboards here.

As you can see, thanks to some holes and other imperfections in the walls, we did still need some height. And the fact that the ceilings are so high means that we need baseboards that are in scale. Below are the boards we ended up with. I think Matt's right that they're a little too elaborate for the style of our house, but there weren't any other >4 1/2" options.

We ran into difficulties cutting these boards, too--they're too tall for our miter saw, and, we realized, we're going to have to bite the bullet and replace a crunched piece of wallboard before trying to install baseboards there. As a result, we got exactly 2 pieces of baseboard nailed in; the rest to be added later after corrections and modifications have been made.

Death to Preval
I found the two missing air vents (master bed and study), so I decided to spray them to match the ceiling, as I had done with our other 5 vents. I got out my trusty Preval paint sprayer and... nothing came out. Change canister, repeat... nothing. Thin paint further, change canister, repeat... nothing. Blow out the plastic straw, disassemble the cartridge, and scrape out all orifices with a twig, repeat... nothing.

I know I've said it before, but this time the iron has entered my soul. No more Preval today, no more Preval tomorrow, no more Preval forever. The product is a menace. I ended up painting the vents with a brush, which of course means a thicker and more texturey finish than a metal air vent ought to have. Next time I need to convert a paint to spray, I'm going the whole hog and buying a sprayer and air compressor.

(Note: for the benefit of any Feds who may be trolling the backwaters of the internet in search of potential domestic terrorists, I meant "Death to Preval" in the rhetorical-flight-of-fancy sense, not in the stockpiling-fertilizers-and-disassembled-cell-phones sense. Peace, out.)

Bit... by... bit...

Matt installed our new fixture in the bathroom. It's brushed nickel--so nice! And it matches our new facet, our stylish drawer pulls, and the frame we bought empty that will someday hold a mirror (picture to come later).

We still need to buy glass shades for the fixture, a mirror for the frame, a vent/light combo, and to refinish the tub. I'm kind of amazed at the quantity of work we've lavished on the bathroom. How, after this much money, energy, and love, the thing has the nerve to not be finished, I'll never know.

Here Matt is after having moved the electrical box. You can see the white strip where the hideous old wooden bar of "Hollywood-style" lights used to be. (By "old," I mean from 1985. Not "old" in the sense of charming, quaint, or delightful.)

Weed barrier!
While he was wrestling with that (and an intransigent project it turned out to be--apparently, the colors of the wires are all wrong, making hooking them up a real challenge) I worked on putting down more weed barrier. Our gazebo is ultimately going to have an herb & wildflower bed around it. For the moment, it's mostly just got the ratty leftovers of the rest of the garden--the sickly Will Flemings we brought from Wolverton, a pitiful convalescent Climbing Peace (we don't even like hybrid teas) and a miscellaneous collection of sulky rosemary and reject peppermints and lemon balms from Matt's old nursery.

Hopefully, the weed barrier will give a little assistance to some of our weaker plants. If nothing else, it will keep the area a little tidier until we can begin to work it properly. Next spring: larkspur, poppies, basil, and oregano!

We also have a half-hearted little bed with a few roses by the light pole. I weed-barriered that, too, just to tide it over until we can really kick it into shape.

Finally, here's Matt's little hobby greenhouse, built right on top of our horrible oubliette.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tres Chic

Check it out! We've got a new grown-up-sized bed--with memory foam! We don't actually have a headboard or frame for it yet, however. Poco a poco.

Note as well the stylin' nifty new blinds that open from the top or bottom. Ooo-la-la! Our neighbors must be so relieved to see the tissue paper go.

New queen-sized, memory-foamed mattress in front of stylish new "top-down, bottom-up" cellular shades.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Half a Chandelier

"You won't get half done," said Marilla pessimistically. "I never yet planned to do a lot of things but something happened to prevent me."
--Anne of Green Gables--L.M. Montgomery

After a burst of horticultural virtue, I've been kicking back a bit. Matt's been putting in his cactus bed, which is no mean feat, but even he's not quite up to full steam. (The previous owners had installed a big ~8' square sandbox on top of part of the cement pad where the shed used to be. Matt has a thing for cacti and other perverse succulents, so all that sand is perfect for him. He's been shoveling it out of the sandbox and into a bed he's edged out in the back yard.)

Meanwhile, several big projects have been in abeyance:
  1. put down baseboards in the master bed, study, and hall
  2. finish all edging, weed-barriering, and mulching everywhere
  3. finish the !3@#$ bath tubs. I may have to sacrifice a chicken and summon demonic aid to do it, though. There are parts that still aren't dry from the last coat a month or more ago. I'm going to have to strip those bits with xylene and replace them with the thinnest possible faint sheen of epoxy--how, I don't know.
  4. various electrical projects, including the chandelier, additional outlets, and the bathroom fixture.
At present, we've uninstalled the fan in the dining room. However, it was installed off-center, so we need to move the electrical socket-thingy to the middle of the room and hang the chandelier there, which will entail a whole passel of other bother, so the project's been suffered to take a short sabbatical while we gird up our loins.

Matt contemplates a caddywumpus electrical connection with quiet despair. The new chandelier (sans shades) is partially visible behind him on the table.

The old ceiling fan will replace the noisy fan in the study, which will in turn go to Cathy, whose house is sadly lacking in ceiling fans--and thus the cycle of life continues.

In other news, we've finally ordered a new Queen-sized mattress to replace the sadly puny and archaic full that I've had since my undergrad days. It's to be delivered next Tuesday and has--oooo!--memory foam! I'll finally be able to flail about freely in my sleep and Matt and I won't have any more arguments about bed-hogging. Or maybe we will, but it will be just for the fun of it and not because our bed is too darn small.

We also ordered a set of honeycomb blinds for the master bedroom (no more tissue paper and painter's tape--yay!). I was going to get plantation blinds like we got for the living room, but was having a sale on these cool blinds that open from the top. I wanted something like that because we have a lot of pretty greenness outside of our bedroom window but I hadn't thought I could afford them. However, these were something like 1/6 the price of the ones I had initially considered, so I jumped at the chance. Here's a picture:

Honeycomb blinds with top down/bottom up upgrade.

And finally, we've had some lawn mower difficulties lately. Matt struggled valiantly to beat the beasts into submission. (Here he is fixing the lawn mower with--yes, that's right--duct tape. It worked for a while, but he was only able to stave off the inevitable for so long.) Fortunately, his folks have another spare riding lawn mower that we can have. I'm told this one is decorated with painted-on flames. I can't wait--it's a muscle lawn mower. If only it had a horn that played "Dixie"...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

How Does Our Garden Grow?

Lacking the willpower for any major projects this weekend, I decided that "documentation" was a key and productive component of home renovation and accordingly dedicated myself to taking pretty pictures.

This batch is all garden pix--I've also got a few indoor pix that I'll post in a later entry.

The Rose Bed and the Croquet Lawn

We've added a U-shaped bed that encloses the Croquet Lawn (Matt says I can't call it that. But Matt's in the study, right now, probably watching old episodes of The Office online. So I'll call it a Croquet Lawn if I want--so there. We've got a Croquet Lawn, and it's located just north of the Orangery and the Oubliette.) It's mostly a hedge of roses with a few other odds and ends tossed in. This is the area we worked so hard to hoe, poison, weed-barrier, mulch, and edge. As we just added the eastern leg of the U, there's plenty more to do in the way of edging and weed-fighting.

Front of house, with Croquet Lawn and rose bed on right.

One of the plants in the rose bed is this stylish number, the 'Fruit Cocktail' shrimp plant. We discovered it in San Diego, and it's still extremely rare in Texas. Its darling cherry pink-and-apple-green flowers are just so now. After some initial sulks, they've really begun to pick up and bloom perkily.

'Fruit Cocktail' shrimp plant

Here's another member of the rose bed, the very antique antique rose, Autumn Damask. Rumor would have it that this rose grew in the gardens of Pompeii. I don't know about all that, but I think it's true that it's pretty darn old. The fragrance is heavenly.

'Autumn Damask'

Anchoring the new eastern leg of the rose bed is this rose, allegedly 'Duchesse de Brabant.' So far both the color and shape of the flower are weird for 'Duchesse,' which is usually a deeper pink with a cupped, loosely cabbagy petal arrangement, but I'm hoping it's just the stress of being transplanted, and that it will shape up in time.

'Duchesse de Brabant' or vile perpetrator of identity theft?

And here's the purported 'Duchesse' in her new bed, along with David Austin's 'Graham Thomas' and some wildly overgrown and chaotic tomatoes.

New east leg of the U
Matt finished bringing over the flagstone for our little eating area by the kitchen (in between the Orangery and the Oubliette.) We can't seem to figure out what to call it--the name "patio" is already taken by the thing at the front of the house, and while it will serve a deckish purpose, I think a deck has to be made of wood. It's sort of like a terrace, only it isn't, you know, actually terraced. So for now it's "that flagstone thingy by the kitchen." We need to put down crushed granite and install one of those disappearing fountains and build a pergola over it, so this project is pretty much in the fetal state and likely to remain that way for a while.

New flagstone thingy

Abelia Hedge
The plants on this property have the oddest way of knowing when they aren't wanted and obligingly dying off. We purported plant-people have witnessed the deaths of:
1 chinaberry
1 oleander
1 ash
and now a whole hedge of abelia.

They aren't dead yet, but there's just the thinnest veneer of leaves floating above their emaciated, skeletal forms. S'okay. We were planning to replace them with a hedge of roses anyway (yeah, we rather like roses. We did first meet at the Antique Rose Emporium, y'know.) But still, watching a whole hedge of very mature and hitherto hearty abelia suddenly just waste away does give a person pause.

Mysteriously moribund abelia. WTF?

Here's one of the replacement roses--we don't know what it is, but it's very free-blooming, smells nice and peppery, has that lovely old rose look, and forms a nice, healthy shrub. I suspect a modern crossed with an antique, maybe a David Austin. It's just a terrific little fella, even if we haven't a clue what it is.

Fabulous mystery rose

And on the subject of death...

The Oddly Ailing Trees of Chez M

A troubled lacey oak

Although I gloried in all the rain this year, it's just possible that the plants got fed up long before I did. The oaks, in particular, look like hell, and not just in our yard. There's a monster Q. macrocarpa a few blocks away whose leaves are entirely rusty--from the road, it looks like there's something coating the surface of the leaves. One of our lacey oaks has burned leaf margins; another has tiny angular chlorotic dots on its leaves. Our white oak has the same tiny yellow spots, and our red oak has brown leaves.

Whiny ginkgo

Our mature pecan is aborting all its fruit and has clusters of dead leaves randomly interspersed in its canopy. Our pear keeps dropping its leaves, and our ginkgo--which has never looked happy since we took it out of its pot--is yellow, burnt, and droopy.

We've tried a range of approaches, from coddling with compost and mulch to benign neglect. Results were all uniformly discouraging. I'm hoping that this is something that the winter dormant period will cure.

At the same time, one of the roses that's meant to replace the sickly abelia has developed some horrible vascular disease that kills stems simultaneously from the tip and base, blackening both and leaving the middle (briefly) green. It was free, and we weren't deeply attached to it, but still, inexplicable plant death just doesn't feel good. One of our Will Fleming yaupons is exhibiting similar symptoms. Oy veh.

As an interesting bit of lagniappe, below is the remaining half of a chinaberry. That weird gash is where the tree had grown into the roof of the now dismantled shed. Matt's planning to chop the thing down when the weather cools off a little. I'm wondering if a good hard shove wouldn't solve our problem just as well.

Half a chinaberry with a roof indentation

Nice Things
To give credit where it's due, our garden has also had some quite nice surprises for us lately.

For example, our red-leafed crinum (C. amabile), which is about to bloom for the 3rd time this summer, put out a couple of pollinated fruit. With a little luck, we may be able to turn them into baby crinums. Plus they're just fascinating and pretty in they're own right.

Crinum amabile fruit

Matt's curcuma (AKA "hidden lily"--so well hidden that I didn't even know it existed till a couple of days ago) has put out a lovely pink flower.


And, best of all, we discovered that our yard has several Oxblood lily bulbs (Rhodophiala bifida) scattered around. Oxblood lilies are these really cool antique amaryllids (related to the amaryllis you buy as an indoor blooming plant) that are both very hardy and very difficult to find commercially. They persist forever in spite of neglect, and they're the prettiest shade of dark red. They've long been a favorite of ours, so we were totally thrilled to find some growing on our property.
Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida)


Here are the remains of the shed Matt tore down. He'll be using the L-shaped cement pad for a couple of greenhouses--one for his business, and one for our fun stuff (that's the Orangery). The trapdoor under the ladder in the pic leads to our horrible, insect-seething, stagnant-water-collecting Oubliette.

Future site of greenhouses plus entry to horrible Oubliette

When we moved in, we had a modest "water feature" in the backyard--a disfunctional little fountain and pond with pretty little waterlilies blooming inside. Since then, it's rained, and the ligustrum behind the pond was apparently motivated to new heights--it's eaten the poor little pond. We'll do something about this... eventually.

Can you kinda see some shiny green things at the base of the ligustrum? Those are our water lilies.
Finally, we used the Lowe's gift certificate Mom & Dad gave us as an anniversary present to buy the makings for the first of four projected trellises. Matt (so industrious) knocked it out this afternoon, and tomorrow we're going to sink it. It'll be home to a 'Red Cascade' climbing rose, which has been flopping about bonelessly, like an octopus out of water, waiting for us to install some kind of support.

Front of house with new trellis (not yet installed--just propped in place)

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