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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