Saturday, April 25, 2009

Field Trip: Discovery Architectural Antiques

Matt & I hadn't gone on any little weekend adventures lately, so we decided to make a field trip down to Gonzales to check out a big architectural antiques (i.e., antique building supplies) store called Discovery Architectural Antiques.

It was totally the mother lode. In fact, they had even more stuff than Adkins Architectural Antiques in Houston, which is saying something. They had lots of lovely stained glass.

They had pressed tin ceiling tiles.

They had bunches of light fixtures,

strangely pretty commodes,

strangely tiny bathtubs,

and creepy Masonic doorknobs

They had oddly adorable radiators (this one reminds me of a piglet somehow, but in a good way).

But most of all, they had doors. This place was the Khazad-dûm of doors.

Left: Discovery door warehouse; right: Khazad-dûm

Normal doors,

big doors,

and turquoise doors.

They had a special complex of slightly scary and ramshackle warehouses separate from the main store that had hundreds and hundreds of doors (actually, over 6,000, according to the sales dude.) It's pretty amazing.

The prices, on the other hand, weren't as good as you would expect, given the huge warehouses of inventory. Raised 5-panel doors like ours cost close to $300--Mom & Dad bought ours at Round Top for (if memory serves) $80 a piece. Even taking into account Dad's special bargaining gene and the fact that we bought several at once, the average human should be able to do a lot better than $300.

However, if you really need at 9-foot tall door with a stained glass inset and a gothic point at the top, for example, you're probably willing to pay $2,000. In other words, if your need is really particular, this place may be your salvation.

And also, on an unrelated note, Gonzales is home to two free-range tortoises promenading solemnly down avenues of bonzais (only one visible below). Odd but true. And now Matt wants one.

Nice lamp

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Study Curtains--The Final Product

The New Curtains
Here they are!--the finished curtains, achieved by my mother with blood, sweat, and tears. Or the seamstressy version thereof.

Here they are on the double windows to the east.

New curtains on the east windows

And here they are on the door and south window.

New curtains on the door and south window

I think they look pretty frickin awesome. I think the blue really works with the orangey-tan walls, and the brown keeps their exuberance within reasonable limits.

Nice, no?

While on Mom-related themes, Mom had inquired about the identities of a few of our plants, so I thought I'd post them here.

Plant ID for Mom
First there is this hardy red amaryllis (Hippeastrum x johnsonii). They're a bit hard to find in the nursery trade, though I believe the Southern Bulb folks have them, and also Austin's Natural Gardener. Better still is to cozy up to someone who has a bunch of these in their yard and see if they'll give you a few. However, you don't often see them in suburbs--you find them in little old towns with lots of old houses and old plantings.

Hardy red amaryllis (Hippeastrum x johnsonii)

She also liked the looks of 'Belinda's Dream,' which has a modern rose's shape with an antique's vigor and attractive bush form. BD i s one of Matt's favorites, too, though he recently told me that his very favorite is 'Duchesse de Brabant.' Just like Teddy Roosevelt.

Belinda's Dream

Linden, Cordia, and other Garden News
In non-curtain-related news, our little baby cordia (Cordia boissieri) is blooming its first blooms. It was a jittery little thing in the evening breeze, and wouldn't sit still to take a proper picture.

Cordia boissieri

The linden (Tilia sp.) we bought from Medina Gardens in the fall is making a shapely looking little sapling. I learned all sorts of fascinating things about lindens the other day (courtesy of wikipedia). I had no idea they were so rich in folklore and history. And they can live over a millenium! That is an advanced level of awesomeness--the kind of awesomeness I usually associate with oaks and baldcypresses and sequoias. Lindens (also known as basswoods here in the US and "limes" in the UK--no relation to the citrus) have a number of medicinal uses, make great honey, are a versatile wood, make good musical instruments, make good charcoal, are the national symbols of several east European countries, were sacred to pre-Christian Germanic peoples, and figure in Wagner, Ovid, Homer, Horace, Virgil, and Pliny. A 900-year-old specimen in Germany was supposedly planted by the Empress Cunigunde.

Tilia sp.

Also, our 'Fourth of July' roses are blooming vigorously, which is very pleasing. As usual, my camera--which is great at green--can't quite capture the deep crimson of the real thing.

'Fourth of July' roses

And it's not just the FoJ that's blooming. Actually, all the roses are in bloom, with 3 exceptions: 'Lichterloh,' which is just starting to look as though it may choose life, 'Buff Beauty,' which has been oddly standoffish since it was planted, and 'Ferdinand Pichard,' which suffered some major RoundUp damage last year. RU damage in roses, interestingly, doesn't always show up right away--you often see it the following spring, when new leaves are trying to emerge. They get this scrawny witchy look to the new leaves and the flowers are spoiled. I dumped a bunch of compost on FP in compensation, but he's still looking pretty miserable. I'm sure he'll pull through, but right now he'd hating life.

'Ferdinand Pichard' with severe RoundUp damage

FP aside, and if we ignore the existence of pollen, it's a glorious time of year--temperate weather, actual rain, green in the median strips, and flowers everywhere in the garden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Continuation


Work on the curtains continues.

My admirable mother, with equal parts nobility and doggedness, is still sewing away. One of the interesting things about sewing is that you have to do everything twice (or more). You measure several times, cut out and sew muslins before sewing the real thing, hang without hemming and measure, then iron before re-hanging and remeasuring, then machine-sew part of the way, then hand sew the rest. An exercise that very clearly elucidates some of the differences in personality between my mother and myself, as I would have safety pinned the fabric together, thrown it over the rods, and called it a done deal about 2 hours into the project. Fortunately, I'm not the Chief Architect on this one.

Mom, hand-stitching one of the brown panels

Moreover, I seem to have chosen the fiddliest possible fabrics to work with. I helped Mom with cutting the organza-ish stuff on Sunday. It absolutely does not form a square. You lay it out as smoothly as possible, and it still forms ripples and bulges in the middle and weird S-curves along the selvage edges. And then you cut it (it all the while writhing and wriggling all over the place), and it shape-shifts into something completely un-rectangular. We had to tape pieces of posterboard to the floor to give a perpendicular baseline for measuring and cutting.

The Organza System

We also instituted a sophisticated system of soup cans to hold the stuff in place. Mom tells me that sewing the organza was even more fun than cutting and measuring it, but she got it miraculously parallel somehow.

The embroidered blue is also annoying because the embroidery bulges, making measuring and folding a challenge, while the silky blue background slithers all over the place.

Meanwhile, the thickness of the ultrasuede makes it especially difficult to hand-stitch.

Lining the blue

This hand stitching, which I've now done quite a bit of, isn't as onerous as I expected. It's just very, very difficult to make the stitches anything like regular or even. I'm lousy at anything that requires consistency, so having to make stitches the same length the same distance from the edge is... frustrating. Happily, the stitches are rather magically invisible, so no one will know how far I fell from the Mary Ingalls standard of stitchery.

The good news is that the curtains seem to be turning out very well, and all the working and re-working Mom's been painstakingly doing is yielding wonderfully professional results. I know I say that as a person who's had an old fitted sheet and a dismembered seat cover hanging in her window for over a year--i.e., as a person eminently not qualified to judge--but it all looks so marvelously crisp and regular and perpendicular. Moreover, my faith in my vision seems to have been justified--the colors all go together really well. The blue is comlplements the orangey-tan as well as I had hoped, while the brown harmonizes with the bookcase and frames the curtains nicely. The brown also adds an element of austerity that tames the exuberance of the embroidered pattern. And the organza lets us have a clear view of the trees outside our windows. All very, very handsome.

Here's the first completed window, with a piece of fabric hung behind it to partially simulate the under-panels that will provide extra insulation and sunblocking come August.

The first completed curtain, with pretend partial under-panel

In other news, I popped a few more crinum in the ground this morning (my state agency is closed today in celebration of San Jacinto Day. I kid you not. And me without a single traditional San Jacinto Day cake in the house nor an album of beloved San Jacinto Day carols to play on the stereo.) I had ordered a Crinum jagus scillifolia from the Southern Bulb Company last fall. The bulbs weren't as big as the growers had anticipated by the ship date this spring, so they nicely sent me a regular Crinum jagus, a Crinum × powellii 'Album', and three Lycoris radiata in addition to the rather petite little C.j.s. I felt amply compensated. So I planted them all this morning. Which was nice, up to the point that my head exploded. Oak pollen is up today, and I forgot to take a Claritin before going out, and I've spent the rest of the day sneezing violently, snuffling, and trying to avoid dripping trails of snot on the fabric. I've used up over half of a brand new (large) box of Puffs already. Ug. Pity me. Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.....

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Weekend of Intensive Draping

Mom, at the Triangle Shirtwaist and Curtain Factory. Sew faster, wench!

So Mom's in the dining room/sweatshop, sewing curtains for the study, and I'm... on the sofa, blogging.

Mom got here last night to spend a weekend sewing like mad. An activity she's not actually all that fond of, but finds herself doing from time to time because she has the misfortune of knowing how. What an exemplary mom!

I bought the last pieces of fabric for the project: chocolate brown "ultra-suede" for the panels and a pale steel blue faux-organza-looking thing for the sheer at the top. (Quick refresher: the curtains will exist in three parts: brown ultra-suede side panels and a central combination panel with sheer ersatz organza at the top and embroidered blue faux-silk for the bottom three-quarters.)

I had meant for the organza to be brown, but couldn't find a good match for the shade of brown in the ultra-suede. While drifting despairingly down the sheers aisle, the blue happened to catch my eye, and I realized that it would be even better than a matching brown because it would accent that hep blue-and-brown color scheme we've got going on that's so killingly stylish right now.

As we remeasured the windows and hung the muslin (that's a "mockup" for us non-seamstressy types), we realized that more fabric would be needed, which resulted my dashing madly one Hancock to another in Austin trying to find 7 more yards of the u-s. So that's been my contribution. I took us to Chez Zee last night to look at the model for this whole project (which, as luck would have it, was closed off for a private party), and I raced around town today for more fabric. Other than that, I don't have much to contribute--partly because I don't know enough to be useful, and partly because Mom has to retreat to the special sewing place in her brain without interruption from callow novices.

However, I just learned that my skills(?) shall be requisitioned for some hand stitching on the lining. Hand stitching! How very Laura Ingalls Wilder. How Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. How Anne of Green Gables. How Caddie Woodlawn. Laura always used to lament that her stitches were all big and sloppy compared to the dainty, regular stitches of Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes, Mary (till Mary got scarlet fever, that is, and went blind. Suck on that, Mary!) Anyway, I shall endeavor to make my stitches small.

Meanwhile, I have learned that sewing takes some insane amount of math. When I have tried to explain these curtains to people, I get a lot of weird looks, which I couldn't understand. I mean, it's three rectangles, for goodness' sake. Then I tried to replicate the calculations Mom was making in Excel so we could jimmy with the proportions ("If we make the rod pocket 4 inches, instead of 6, how much ultra-suede will we need?") without having to hand-calculate all the variations. I'm not a complete slouch at the Excel, but figuring out how to cut the pieces out of the material in such a way as to minimize yardage and then calculate the yardage was more than my spreadsheet could handle, not to mention having to remember to fold in seam allowances (times 2!), headers (times 2!), hems, rod pockets, and so on. How could men possibly justify dismissing female intelligence, mathematical aptitude, and spatial intelligence when we have apparently been grinding our way through these kinds of exercises for centuries? Do they have any idea what a squirrely pain in the ass this is?

Cute--but doomed--brown caterpillars

I also helped by cutting the fuzzy edge of the selvage off of the brown. The 13.5 yards of brown. Oy veh. It made piles and piles of fuzzy brown caterpillars. They're so amusingly fuzzy that I wonder if I shouldn't reclaim them and turn them into something. Since I'm neither Martha Stewart nor McGyver, though, I think that impulse had best be abandoned.

Meanwhile, Mom has cut and hemmed the first panel and its lining and is now working on the finishing hand stitching. Go Mom!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guest Bedroom Blinds

Some time this year, I'd like to buy some cellular blinds for the guest room. I'm keeping the stats here so I don't forget.

21-3/4" x 45-1/2"
color: almond

Sunday, April 12, 2009

X Chitalpa tashkentensis 'Morning Cloud'

Our new chitalpa

We finally bought that chitalpa at what is, from a tree-planting-in-Central-Texas perspective, more or less the 11th hour for 2009. I'd called around town 3 times before and no one had them in stock except Shoal Creek, for $58, which was a bit rich for my blood. Finally this past Friday--after another fruitless round of calling and a trip to Shed's, which promised me a chitalpa over the phone but only actually had a catalpa--I bit the bullet and went to SC. And even they only had one left in stock, although it was fortunately a good specimen.

A Rant
I had never thought chitalpas were all that rare, but when I'd ask for them, most nursery workers would say, "a what?" and "How do spell that?" or "Do you mean catalpa?" Very depressing. I always tell people to buy their plants at local nurseries because they (a) take better care of their inventory, (b) know what's actually adapted to the area, and (c) are much more knowledgeable than Lowe's/Home Depot/(God forbid) Wal-mart. (a) still holds. I was at Lowe's today, where they had slightly reduced the price on some mostly dead parlor palms that no one had apparently ever bothered to water--and that is absolutely characteristic. (b) and (c) though... I'm starting to wonder. I think it might be more fair to say that local nurseries are more likely to carry plants that are suitable to our climate. Sometimes they also carry fuschias and filberts. And while it's still true to say that they know more than big box employees, that particular bar is awfully low. Some local nursery workers are real experts--others, really, really not.

Incidentally, chitalpa (X Chitalpa tashkentensis) is an intergeneric hybrid of the extremely common desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and Catalpa bignoniodes. I'd have been happy with one of those nice burgundy desert willows, but Matt finds them intolerably weedy. I don't know why the specific epithet is "tashkentensis"... okay, just googled--so named because it was hybridized in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. How about that?

Anyway, I bought the little fella--who, to be fair about the price, is a good 6' or more tall--and popped him in the ground today with some disreputable "cow manure" from Lowe's (only folks open on Easter) and a generous coat of mulch. It's a bit skinny for the moment, but I'm hoping it will fill out and nicely bracket the entire western side of the house.

The cultivar is not, Matt tells me, the one most commonly commercially available, 'Pink Dawn,' but is rather the less well known 'Morning Cloud.' We got lucky there, I think, as Pink Dawn is (surprise!) baby pink, while 'Morning Cloud' is white with maroon streaks. I'm not a huge fan of baby pink, so this is a good thing. And some websites say that MC is less susceptible to powdery mildew.

I also bought a Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) for the herb garden, which is currently a pretty single-minded celebration of the rosemary (i.e., the only herb that hasn't died on us). Spanish lavender is supposed to be one of the toughest lavenders around, but they resemble rosemary in that they reach their breaking point rather abruptly, and once they're good and pissy, there's almost no recalling them to health. This worries me a little--I like plants that give you infinite second chances, like basil and spathephyllum.

Project Updates
We still have to do the fascia on the east side of the house, but progress has been made on the doors. I think we've got most of the paint out of the cracks of Flossie, Edith, and Poindexter. They still need to be sanded, and I think some spots may need another round of paint remover, but we did a big push last week and are now over the hump. Hopefully, we'll have Javier the Carpenter install them in June.

I also RoundUp'd today. Partly because some of the more stubborn weeds are having the temerity to poke their little heads through the 2 feet of expensive, deluxe mulch we laid down in the shade garden--and that's not on, as the British so adorably say--and partly in tribute to Mom's impending curtain-making visit. I'm ambivalent about RoundUp, which had damaged some of our roses (most notably 'Ferdinand Pichard') in the past (see example). To try to reduce unwanted drift this time, I cut the bottom out of one of our kitty litter buckets, placed it over the intended target, and then sprayed, hopefully shielding the nearby good plants.

Also, I've been working on installing the garden spotlights Mom & Dad gave us. We've got all the fixtures assembled and placed, and we (Matt) tunneled under the front sidewalk and installed a pipe to run the cable from one bed to the other, but we had to add on to the cable, and nothing downstream of the connection between the cables seems to be working. One half of the front yard is all illuminated and fancy looking, and the other half is black as Tartarus. Bother.

Curtain Stats

Looking back, I didn't do a very good job of organizing information in my last entry. In preparation for Mom's big sewing visit next weekend, I'm going to tidy up all the curtain info in this entry.

Embroidered blue pseudo-silk ("Belvedere Federal Blue") - 26' 10" long, 59" wide - very little gathering/bunching
brown gauze - 5' 9" long, 59" wide
brown chenille/ultrasuede/velvet/what-have-you - ? - 10" panels on either side of the blue on the east/8" on the south, to bunched/gathered 2.5 x the width
curtain backing for blue panels - 26' 10" long
curtain backing for brown panels - ?

Belvedere Federal Blue fabric sample

Velvet/velvetine/velour/chenille brown panels on the sides, the same material as rod pockets, and central panels made of opaque blue embroidered "silk" on the bottom and super-sheer brown gauze at the top.

Detail of the multi-panel curtains at Chez Zee, which are the models for our curtains


Closeup of rod we'll be using--obviously in need of improved finial. Note that curtains--unlike old sheets--will hang via pockets, not clamps.

View 2 of curtain rod

Shopping List

Mom's Questions
For the south side door and window-

For the east side window-

Here are the window measurements we took last year.

East side double window. Note that the window cavity is taller on one side than on other--house is a wee bit crooked.
South side window and door

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Big Plans

We have made good progress on the fascia. Matt is, as we speak, banging the new bits above the front porch, and I spent all yesterday painting the effing things. (And, once again, I have paint in my hair. This is yet another inconvenience attendant upon having frizzy hair. Stupid DNA.)

So we're getting quite close to being done--Matt may finish it up today, even. That just leaves the purchase and installation of the gutters themselves--surely that can't be more annoying than the demolition, painting, and installation of fascia?

Study Curtains
So we can turn our attention to other house projects. Matt wants us to focus on the interior for a while, and Mom has generously pledged to lead the study curtain initiative, so that will be our next big thing.

Here's what they'll look like, more or less. Velvet/velvetine/velour/chenille brown panels on the sides, the same material over the rods, and central panels made of opaque blue embroidered "silk" on the bottom and super-sheer brown gauze at the top.

  • All to be hung on the same rod
  • The brown panels to overlap the blue panels slightly (by an inch or so?)
  • To be lined (to help with insulation)
  • The south-facing window to have a second rod with an opaque sheet hung on it that can be pulled behind the brown-and-blue for extra insulation/sun-blocking in the summer--probably to be made of same brown velvet/velour/chenille
  • To hang with about 1/2" clearance above window seat--to keep them out of cats' way
  • blue panels to hang flat; brown to be more crunched
  • 3 windows need curtains in the above pattern; door window to have a sheet stretched over 2 u-rods. Not sure if I meant for this to be brown or blue. Brown probly the better choice.
That's all the details I can think of, though Mom will undoubtedly have many more technical questions.

Still need to procure:
  • brown fuzzy fabric--2.5 x the width of east side panels 10” of brown per side—consider ultrasuede. Maybe 8” per side for the side panels on south window
  • sheer brown gauze
  • lining fabric - confer with someone at Calico Corner
  • rod for south window
  • u-rods for window in door
  • thread for all
  • other curtain-related items I know not of?
Blue fabric sample

Update: Mom's Questions:
For the south side door and window-

  • Are we doing the same treatment with the 2 sheers on both of these windows? WINDOW ONLY—for door, use gathered door curtain
  • What fabric are you planning to use for the rod pocket for the south side? I am asking this because your drawing for the east side shows the brown fabric being used for the rod pocket. YES

For the east side window-

  • Your blog for today says that the side brown panels will slightly overlap the center, sheer panel. I don't know how we can accomplish that since they are both on the same rod. SEW THEM OVER EACH OTHER 1-2 inches just over the rod pocket
  • I am trying to remember the top sheer fabric. Is it the one that is a coordinate fabric to the blue fabric on the bottom? TOP FABRIC WILL BE SHEER BROWN; BENEATH IS BLUE.

To Do:

  • Email a picture of the curtain rod you have as well as the fabric you have bought?
  • Measure the 2 fabrics and tell me how much we bought?

Other Projects

We're also ramping up for more baseboard work. Somehow, we never finished the quarter-round in the dining room or living room. Matt bought some romex to wire in a couple more outlets in the den, and I bought and painted some quarter-round to go over it.

We're also looking at getting the first round of door hangings done in mid-May, which means increased work on the stripping front, starting tomorrow night. TEDIOUS. But necessary. The paint is really stubborn about coming out of those little crevices--every coat takes forever to process.

Once that's done, we're going to enlarge the pond, whose cracked plastic liner needs to be replaced anyway. We'll yank the ligustrum (which ate the pond liner in the first place) and dig a very, very, very big hole (see projection below.)

We went to a pond store in Austin for their advice on how to carry this project out (two layers of carpet remnants topped by 45mL rubber liner) and I was inspired. We may have to make the pond a wee bit larger than even in the picture above. The bigger the pond, the more powerful the effect. Little ponds aren't nearly so magically transformative. Plus, if it were more visible from the kitchen patio, we'd get even more pleasure from it.

While at the pond store, I impulse bought this nifty little spotted fellow: Drimiopsis maculata, a South African member of the hyacinth family (see the write-up at YuccaDo) I was reassured to find the plant at YuccaDo--I trust them to sell things that actually grow here. That pond store, on the other hand, was bursting with Japanese maples, fuschias (fuschias! I ask you!), and even those neat contorted filberts. I've never heard of growing filberts down here, but they had the face to charge $150 for a 5-gal! So I'm not entirely confident of their plant expertise, but the little Drimiopsis was just too cute. And the pot also held a stowaway palmetto, which is a nice bonus. I popped the two into the shade garden and am looking forward to seeing how they do.

Drimiopsis maculata ("spotted little soldiers")

Baby palmetto

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Much Mulch

We ordered 3 yards of mulch delivered from Bert's Dirts to mulch in the new shade garden. One of the tricky things about ordering mulch is figuring out what 1 yard (the base unit of bulk mulch) looks like. In the end, we let our checking account decide how much to order, which turned out to be their minimum delivery of 3 yards. Sadly, 3 yards of mulch isn't quite as much as you might think it would be from the price tag ($185 or thereabouts, with delivery).

However, we did lay it on pretty thick since the shade garden was a wee bit weedy. An hour of shoveling later, and here's what 3 yards of mulch gets you:

The east side of the shade garden...

...the west side of the shade garden...

...and the south bit where the shade ends, plus one rose bush.

Since we have <--pause for counting on mental fingers --> something like 9 more flower beds that could use some mulch, I guess we should have ordered about 20 yards instead of 3.


Next time, we'll have to see if we can pick the mulch up ourselves and load it into Matt's trailer (which is enclosed--not sure how that's going to work) to save some rhino.

The roses are doing absolutely beautifully. The shrubs are filling out nicely and laden with buds and blossoms. The excellent 'Duchesse de Brabant' and 'Cramoisi Superieur' are being especially generous with the blooms. However, I'm most transfixed by one of our mystery roses. Last year, it gave us a single, large, crushed raspberry-pink bloom. This year, it's giving us this:

Fabulous mystery rose - 'Alfred Colomb'?


For once, my camera captured a red more or less accurately. The flower is a sumptuous deep red with washes of purple and brown--it's incredible--very decadent. Matt has no idea what it is. I said, "Maybe 'Souvenir du Docteur Jamain'?" He said, "Sure."

Though now that I've thumbed (virtually) through ARE's catalog, I wonder if it's not either 'Alfred Colomb' or 'Duke of Edinburgh.' Either way, I'm thinking it's a Hybrid Perp, though Matt leans toward the Bourbons.

Spring! So nice (aside from the brain-clogging allergies, that is. Live oaks, I love you--why don't you love me back?). Everything is green and perky and so full of sap and shiny newness that all the young leaves glisten in the sun. Matt took The Pony out and then weed-eated (weed-ate?), and we both weeded (some of) the beds, so things are unusually bright and tidy and colorful and altogether lovely. We've even been getting rain! The US Seasonal Drought Monitor for April through June actually predicts "Some improvement (drought ongoing)"!
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