Friday, January 25, 2008

Study Curtains: The Concept

So I'm looking ahead to making some curtains for the study. Not something we'll be doing till the shelves are in place, but it's good to plan ahead.

Here's the challenge. The study has east-facing and south-facing windows. To the east, it looks on lots of lovely, verdant foliage at the top, and on the property and varied automobiles of Mr. Ugly Car at the bottom. So on the east we want to be able to see out of the top, but permanently block the bottom.

To the south, there aren't any trees and the sun comes blaring through the windows like an eighteen-wheeler on I-10 all afternoon and evening in the summer. So we need to be able to block the light coming through those windows almost completely.

I think I may have found the solution for the east-facing windows, but I'm not sure how to integrate the needs of the south-facing windows.

I got the idea from the restaurant Chez Zee in Austin (delicious fried pickles, over-hyped blandly sweet desserts, really tasty dipping oil.) Each panel is made up of 3 parts: a velvet side panel, a sheer top piece, and a semi-opaque main section. (You can click any of the pix to see very blurry enlargements, though I wouldn't particularly recommend it.)

Clever multi-panel curtains at Chez Zee.

The velvet side pieces are hung on the same rod with the rest of the curtain--there is a slight overlap somehow, but the pieces are separate and the main panel ends at the side panels (saving money$$!)

See how there's actually an opening between the side panels and the main body?

Where the side bits meet the main part of the curtain.

Here's how it all hangs on the rod. Note that there are also sheers behind the whole thing.

Closeup of rod

Actually, these sheers give me an idea for the south-facing window. I think I may have solved the problem! Here's the idea: We hang a set of thin, opaque panels on a parallel rod behind the pretty front part. Usually, they'll be pulled over to the sides behind the velvet bits. But when it's hot, Matt (who sits by the window) can reach between the velvet and the main panel to grab the back panels and pull them shut behind the pretty decorative bit! Brilliant!

The next hurdle would be finding 4 fabrics that look good together, complement the room, and all function appropriately (super-sheer, heavy opaque (for the main piece--to act as insulation), thin opaque, and velvet). Will solve that problem later.

Chez Zee: major supporters of America's powerful twinkle-lights lobby.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Impending Bookshelves

We finally found a carpenter in Elgin. The listing agent who sold us the house, Paige Johns, passed some names on to us, and their prices were MUCH more reasonable than the cabinet studio guys we had spoken to before. We're going with a guy called Javier* whose price was good and who also just felt reliable to Matt & me in some undefinable way.

So to help him draw up an estimate, I threw together a quick mockup in Photoshop. I mention this not to show off my mad Photoshop skills (ha!), but to give a general idea of what we're looking for. (In my defense, I had to toss the whole thing together in a few spare minutes at work, so I didn't have much time for beautification or accuracy or other such frippery considerations.)

Anyway. The key elements are a floor-to-ceiling bookcase on the right, over-the-window shelves, and a window seat with lateral file drawers below. The picture maybe gives the impression that the bookshelves will somehow be recessed into the wall. That is not the case. The shelves will be 12.5" deep and the window seat will be 21" deep. Also, the shelves and window seat will actually be made of the same wood and the same stain. (Just thought I'd better clarify.)

One way we're keeping costs down is that Matt & I will do the staining ourselves. So this should be an adventure. I've stained bookshelves before, but never built-ins, and nothing this extensive. The opportunities for personal growth when you own your own house just never stop coming!

I'm awfully pleased about the shelves, though. The study still looks like Dresden in 1945--it kind of looks like a small city exploded in our study. We can't put anything away because there isn't enough space, and then the cat does his whirling dervish impression among the heaps of books, papers, and office supplies, and the result is a maelstrom of officey detritus. But once we get the extra shelf space that comes with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, we'll finally be able to sort and store everything, clear the crap off the floor, and liberate our horizontal surfaces. Yay!

And then perhaps we'll tackle the problem of window coverings. The study is currently the coldest room in the house, and I suspect part of the problem is the lack of window coverings (others than pieces of crepe paper, that is.) We've had a week in the 30s and 40s, and this drafty old house with its (lovely, but very chilly) high ceilings is a beast to try to heat. Another day, another project.

(I still love you, house. You're very, very chilly, but I still love you.)

* Technically, Javier is from Bastrop, not Elgin. Close enough, though.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pond, Gazebo, and LOTS of Compost

Do you remember that scene at the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral where the girl who is supposed to marry the main guy looks at herself in her bridal regalia and takes this deep, satisfied inhalation through her nostrils? That's exactly how I feel.

We raked that yard, my friends. Even with the two of us working together it took all afternoon. Plus, we had to leap on the leaf pile a bunch to compress it down enough the fit in our (actually rather roomy) compost bin. (Do you want to see action shots of Matt compressing the leaves? I assure you, you do. Scroll down to the bottom for a blow-by-blow photo essay on poetry in motion.) But the yard looks SO nice and clean, and the weather was glorious--brisk and breezy and blue and sunny.
This was our main--not our only-- pile of leaves.

Matt was in charge of dumping the leaves (I'm not strong enough to lift a wheelbarrow full of leaves high into the air to dump on top of the compost pile). While he was trekking back and forth to the backyard, I kept getting inspiration for new projects.

For example, I finally took a pair of loppers to that out-control-ligustrum that was eating our pond. Suddenly, I can imagine the pond being a really nice feature, rather than just a weirdly placed anomaly.

The pond, pruned

I dismembered the boxwood so Matt could dig up its carcass and haul it off.

The Twig Formerly Known as Boxwood

In the course of digging, he broke that cheapo shovel I bought for $12 this summer. (I knew it was a mistake while I was doing it, but I was unpleasantly constrained by fiscal realities.) So tomorrow we'll replace it so that we can finally get our camellia, 'Yuletide,' in the ground in lieu of the boring boxwood. Such a trooper, that camellia, and so hardy--it's blooming its little head off as we speak.

'Yuletide'--the only camellia that thrives in Austin (and, we hope, Elgin)

And finally, and most gloriously, we finally sawed the back railing off the gazebo. (How I hate saws! What a clumsy, awkward, barely functional tool! So hard to use, so difficult to control, so slow to complete the task at hand!) You see, the gazebo is about 10' away from our back door. You walk out the door, and the sidewalk leads dead into the gazebo. Which then dead ends 6 feet later in a railing. Even though there's tons of yard on the other side, the gazebo stops you cold, less than 20' from the back door. So stupid.

This gazebo says, "You shall not pass!" (The dark fire shall not avail you)

I've been wanting to dismantle that back railing for months and months so that the gazebo, instead of preventing you from entering the yard, would urge you onward, welcoming you, tantalizing you with views of the pond and the trees beyond. With its (currently non-functional, but nevermind that) porch swing, the gazebo now says, "Enjoy the yard as much as you like! Venture all the way out in search of new experiences, or linger in the familiar comfort of my environs--I accommodate myself to your comfort!" That's what the gazebo says.

Now the gazebo says, "Enjoy the yard as much as you like! Venture all the way, &c." Or it would say that, if we hadn't left a trailer in the middle of the yard, blocking the view.

We also came up with a clear plan for starting our shade patio, a paved area under the cottonwood that takes advantage of the coolest part of the yard. We'll have to do it in stages, of course, but it should ultimately be a great place to have dinner, read a book, or snooze in the hammock that Mattchew and Bianca gave us for Christmas.

AND we made tentative plans to put in a walk from the pond, through the gazebo, all the way to the shade bed, reusing stones that are already on the property.

So all in all, a really great day. I am fairly simmering with a pleasant combination of satisfaction and anticipation.

Here's Matt, perfecting the art of the leafjump. My camera has a setting for taking a sequence of pictures in rapid succession, so I just held down the shutter and chanted, "Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!"

Yes, really. Not staged--that's what happened. Matt jumped. Matt disappeared. Only his feet were visible. Priceless.

Also unscripted. It's really hard to get to your feet in a leaf pile.

Edith Returns; So Does Mr. Ugly Car

Naked Came Edith
We sent Edith off to Elgin Furniture Refinishers to be dipped and stripped. Edith is one of the tall, narrow, painted antique doors that we'll be using for our closets. We retrieved Edith today and sent off Flossie in her place. The cost only came to about $56 each, so it was definitely worth it when you consider the time it would have taken to strip the many layers of paint off by hand.
That's Edith as she originally looked on the left; stripped, on the right.

She turned out handsomely, though the refinishing guy told us she was made of pine, not mahogany. Bit of a downer, that, but she'll still make a very attractive, period-appropriate addition to the house (and I was a little doubtful about the mahogany claim). We'll need to get the paint out of the crevices ourselves (the guy recommended using a dental pick), then hire a carpenter to cut the doors to size, then sand, stain, and varnish them. Then we'll install the hardware and get a carpenter to hang them.
Edith, closeup

So this project could go on for a while.

A complicating factor is that we can't seem to find a bloody carpenter anywhere in Elgin. We have an immediate need for one to make us some built-in shelves in the study (for which Chuck & Ladonna gave us a very generous Christmas present). So far, the only people I've come across are affiliated with "design studios" and cabinetry shops. As you might imagine, these people are well outside of our price range ($3,500 for a bookshelf?!?). I don't need a shop, fer cryin out loud--I need a dude with a tool belt and a saw. So the search continues.

Mr. Ugly Car: 1, Plucky 1st-time Homeowners: 0
Meanwhile, the Battle of the Buick drags on. I may or may not have mentioned that for a while Mr. Ugly Car appeared to have moved out. We thought: divorce! Hurrah! No more hideous Buick! But then he moved back in (and brought his sofa with him). Not good. Once more various cars were parked on our property, wearing ruts in our sod and flipping us the metaphorical bird. But then we hadn't seen him for a while and last weekend some of the women of the house apparently summoned the cops. We though: Restraining order! Excellent! (Not to seem to bloodthirsty: no one appeared in any way damaged during the cop-summoning incident). But now he's back, parked in our yard again, and what's worse, he's been leaving Corona bottles at the base of our Chinese tallow!

The vile handiwork of Mr. Ugly Car

There's a cache of about 4 or 5 empty bottles nestled at the base of the tree where he parks. From this, we must deduce that he knocks back a bottle or two on the way home, doesn't want the Old Lady to know about it, and as a genial 'fuck you' to Matt and me, stashes the evidence in our yard.

What sort of knuckle-dragging barbarian does these things?!?

We ♥ Mother Earth; Mother Earth ♥s Us
Incidentally, we only found out about the Coronas because we finally decided to attack the east side of the house. The pecans and the cottonwood have been shedding like mad--there was a 6-inch crust of leaves covering most of the east yard. There was no point raking until the trees were bare--our yard is huge; it's not the sort of thing you want to do more than once per year. Now that it's January, we figured it was time. So I started dragging off branches (cottonwoods drop branches like you wouldn't believe) and Matt raked. Thus the Corona bottles.

A happier by-product is that the leaves inspired Matt to make a compost heap. It's the sort of thing all gardeners ought to have, but we haven't been able to before now (because of renting, apartment-dwelling, &c.) He knocked it together in no time out of spare fencing components from the partial dismantlement of the hurricane fence. Clever Matt! We're so green! (Go to our next entry and scroll to the bottom to see the compost heap in action)

So today we transport the 5 metric tons of leaves from the side yard to the compost bin. Yeehaw.

Snapshots of Winter in Elgin

The baby Bur Oak Mom & Dad gave us. Check out the fall/winter color!

Glass slag hanging from the gazebo. We get our slag (yes, we have a slag habit) from The Living Desert on Hwy 71, SW of Austin.

Our big, old, not very productive, but venerable pecan.

A little bit of New Orleans in Elgin--I made two king cakes with cream cheese filling (1 for work, 1 for us). I had to make my own purple using blue sprinkles mixed with a lot of red food color. Turned out pretty freakin' awesome, if I say so myself--tender, moist, sweet--YUMMY.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: CHECK

The key to New Year's resolutions is to make them short, one-time activities, instead of chronic, life-changing shifts in habit and discipline. Flossing every day, balancing your checkbook weekly, consuming 5 servings of vegetables per day? Not going to happen, my friend.

Cleaning out the garage, on the other hand--that's manageable.

The last leg of our move-in back in April was, frankly, a bit rushed, so at a certain point we just started shoving stuff in the garage. There were so many variables and so many things dependent on other projects (to pick an example, we can't set up my stained glass-making station until we tar the garage roof, gut the craft room, install new sheetrock, and paint, maybe tossing in some new linoleum just to mix things up) that all the unfinished odds and ends just piled up. There were 2 desks, a shelving unit, a large gas grill, TWO superfluous microwaves, an extra dryer and TWO extra washers, a second fridge, two bikes with deflated tires, and six antique doors awaiting restoration. Plus a heterogeneous collection of tools and hardware scattered indiscriminately among the nice wooden bins that line the garage walls.

Sweet Jehoshaphat.

What's worse, it was a depressing accumulation of decaying good intentions, a reproachful, pulsating blob of creeping guilt every time we opened the doors.

And there were cockroaches. I hate cockroaches.

SO, we decided to take control. At first our conflicting problem-solving methods were a source of friction (I wanted to strategize, Matt just wanted to move shit out of the way), but finally I settled down to labeling the bins for maximum efficiency and ease of use (I love labeling things!) and let Matt shove heavy things around to his heart's content.

And at the end of the day, we had all our tools, hardware, and other maintenance doo-dads (two sets of casters, anyone?) neatly organized in a logical, and clearly marked order. Ah, the sweet and balmy breath of organization! We found things long missing, completely cleared the floor, and 86'd some of our duplicate appliances.

Not the washers and dryer, though. I think there is an ancestral drive in the Vest line--perhaps acquired during the abstemious days of the Great Depression?--to accumulate capital in the form of extraneous appliances and vehicles. (I know, I know, acquired traits are not inheritable--THANK you, Dr Lysenko.) And this drive of his is running afoul of my own--rarely expressed--genetic predisposition to eradicate unnecessary stuff. (That particular gene comes from my clutter-loathing mother and spends most of its time with its eyes screwed shut and its fingers in its ears, trying to ignore the cheerful shambles in which the rest of my DNA is happy to live.) But I've had to accept that the only way I'll get the washers/dryer out of the garage is if I pry them out of his cold, dead hands. I'm not quite there yet, so the machines recline in triumph, smugly and pointlessly consuming 56 cubic feet of precious garage space. (Can that be right? 56 cubic feet? My math gene has absconded with my tidiness gene for a much-needed sabbatical in Havana.)

Nevertheless, it was a good day on the local freecycle.

We also pruned the big ligustrum on the east side of the house (not for beauty, but to foil any carpenter ants who thought they could sneak in via the roof), and Matt added some poles to his greenhouse for his hanging baskets.

The ligustrum, partly pruned. Looks a little lopsided, but we gave those ants what for.

So our garage is navigable and orderly, and as of the evening of Jan 01, I had completely accomplished my (short) list of 2008 New Year's resolutions.

I feel smug.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Holiday Recap

One of our more spirited Elgin neighbors. I counted eleven inflatables. Whoa.

Quick overview of the holidays.

We had the Ulrich side over for Christmas this year, for a grand total of SEVEN people at Christmas dinner. Hermit that I am, this was an almost-overwhelming flood of humanity. Not only challenging to my limited extroversion, but also to our modest infrastructure. We don't have enough chairs, glasses, teaspoons, or a large enough tea pitcher for 7 people at once. Sad, but true.

But fortunately, our 5 guests were very gracious and didn't grumble at all about the mis-matched tablecloths draped together to cover the dinner table/card table hybrid, the rocking chair Dad had to sit in for dinner, or the fact that you have to turn the hot water to the guest tub on and off at the wall, as the faucet isn't really up to the task.

Dad, Mattchew, Bianca, Matt, Grandpa, Mom

And it really was fun. I enjoyed showing off the bits of the house that are functional and everyone ooo'd about how much it had changed in the past nine months, so it was all very gratifying. And even without matching glassware, entertaining your family for the holidays feels so very grown up.

We had a fried turkey. The dangers associated with turkey frying had been forcefully impressed upon us by various safety-conscious friends and family, so we prepared by reading the instruction manual cover to cover, researching on the internet, and watching Alton Brown on YouTube.

We also bought a fire extinguisher.

Alton uses this complicated contraption made with pulleys and an aluminum ladder to lower the turkey into the hot oil. We didn't have the resources to make our own Turkey Derrick(TM), but in the spirit of kindred dweebiness, we made a little device of our own for lowering the turkey at a safe distance. We used one of the poles from the hurricane fence we've been slowly dismantling, drilled a hole in it, and bolted on a hook. We suspended the turkey from the hook and carried the whole thing on our shoulders, like cannibals proudly dragging their victims to the spit. Then we got on either side of the turkey fryer, and s-l-o-w-l-y lowered in the 21-lb. beast. Easy peasy!

It did actually fit in the pot just fine--the wings and legs folded in as we lowered the bird into the pot.

And here's the finished bird, prior to carving.

The final destiny of the turkey--some of the best-smelling stock I've ever made.

My biggest present was the refinished hardware for Dottie, Greg, Ezekial, Flossie, Ethel, and Poindexter (our new/old doors). Dad went through a painstaking process to strip, clean, and polish the hardware, with lovely results. Compare to how they looked when we first bought them. The steel plates and knobs turned a pretty, satiny goldy-grey, especially the one in the middle, which had a little bit of brass plating left on it.

The Edwardian plates that go on the closet doors (that is, Flossie, Ethel, and Poindexter) amazed us all by transmogrifying into gorgeous solid brass. (Check out what they used to look like.) Fancy! Fortunately for us, the crystal knobs that we had chosen to go with them were also solid brass, so they match beautifully. We're really looking forward to installing them, but it isn't going to happen right away. We need to refinish the doors, have them cut to fit the frame, and have them installed--so we need to find a reliable carpenter for the job.

Dad was particularly pleased with the smooth mechanism and heavy-gauge brass used in the locks for the closet doors. I can't wait to find out whether or not they are actually mahogany.

In the same category of major house aquisitions, Matt's bday/xmas gift to me was this awesome Tiffany reproduction lamp, which goes really well with the paint job in the dining room. In addition to a very intricate stained glass shade with waterlilies, the lamp also has this nifty flowy voluptuous art nouveau stand (with eggplants? or gourds? we're not entirely sure) and a tiled base in the prettiest shade of green. The whole thing is very serene and lovely and watery and cool.

Our lovely new lamp. To the right is Matt's gourd art, Henri #1

With the fancy-pants chandelier and the table runner and potted plants, doesn't the lamp give the illusion that we have Arrived?

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