Sunday, May 31, 2009

Vacationing in Rockport-Fulton

Just got back from our weekend trip to Rockport-Fulton. We haven't gone on vacation since last October's trip to Comfort, and we were looking for a low-key getaway. I wanted to go to the coast, as it's been literally years since I've seen the ocean.

Also, I was looking to recapture this feeling, alluded to in some of my favorite childhood novels:
"Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realise that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer."
--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

"But at last it was June. At last school was over and summer, huge as an ocean, leay before them. 'September is forever away!' sang Portia, sitting on her suitcase to shut it. 'Forever and ever and ever away!'"
-- Return to Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

"They leaned their arms on the window sill and looked at the world; so changed, so beautiful, in this strange light. The water lapped and purred against the rocks, and the breeze that cooled their faces smelled of honeysuckle and salt marshes. 'Now it's going to be Saturday every day all summer long,' said Randy, and yawned a wide, happy, peaceful yawn."
--The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
It's harder to pick a beach in Texas than you might suppose. If you google something like "best beaches in texas," every site you find will inform you that although people don't often think of Texas as a beach destination, it has over [enter large number here] miles of coast. So, the articles say, it's obvious that Texas must have some good beaches. For example, it has Galveston, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, and South Padre. Or, as other sites will point out, it has Corpus Christi, South Padre, Port Aransas, and Galveston. Or perhaps you might want to try Port Aransas, South Padre, Galveston, or Corpus Christi.


We were, in fact, looking to avoid densely packed beaches, hoards of teenagers, hoards of any kind, and tchotchke shops every 2 yards. Which more or less rules out G, CC, PA, and SP.

My template for a successful beach is (of course) Grand Isle, Louisiana, which has never been able to support any great richness of tchotchkes and is never terribly crowded (except during the Tarpon Rodeo). The sand isn't especially white, the water isn't especially blue, and the beach isn't particularly clean, but you know what it is? It's sincere. There are real shrimp boats plying the waters and selling their wares at the real docks, real oil rigs on the horizons, and most of the people on the beach work on one or the other. Creosote and tar are significant components of the bouquet of Grand Isle. And, of course, seafood--all kinds, in all stages of seafoodly existence, from still kicking to boiling to a heap of bones and shells bleaching in the sun. I had been expounding on this subject to Matt (perhaps at great length?) and he happened shortly after to mention someone's sincerity--"And by 'sincere,'" he added, "I don't mean 'grungy.'"

Fair enough. I suppose it's possible to be shellacked, airbrushed, highlighted, and glossy and still be sincere. I guess. But in beach communities there seems to be an implicit tendency toward a kind of indiscriminate, utterly phoney pan-coastal pseudo-culture. Everyone seems to want to signify that you're at the beach by selling/naming things after pirates, Maine lobstermen, sanddollars, and striped lighthouses, regardless of the relevance or otherwise of those cultural manifestations to whatever stretch of coast is under consideration. I mean, fishermen in the Gulf don't wear yellow slickers, fer crying out loud. If they did, they'd be parboiled in their own sweat in less than an hour. And exactly what pirates ever visited Port Aransas, I'd like to know? Nor did I ever find any sanddollars on the beach there. And striped lighthouses are rather thin on the ground in Texas (I was just at a maritime museum this morning that had an exhibit on lighthouses in Texas--there may be all of two striped ones in the whole state.) And then you go to a restaurant to eat some fresh-from-the-ocean seafood
and they serve you a plate of fried cod.

Not sincere

Unfortunately, googling "most sincere beach in texas" gets you exactly bupkes, so we had to go by guesswork and inference. Thus Rockport-Fulton. It's not as sincere as Grand Isle, of course. Like so many seaside communities, it's been tainted by its own financial success. There were bandanas for sale sporting the skull and crossbones and the request "Show me your booty." But the area is actually a little short on beaches and long on fishing piers. It serves people who pretty much just want to fish. Period. Whereas, about 30 minutes up the road, Port Aransas has something like an 18-mile long beach. R-F is fortunate enough to be overshadowed by its glossier big sister.

One of the many fishing piers in Fulton

We stayed in a "bungalow," which in this context means a little 1-room cabin, did some running about in the mornings, had a good long siesta punctuated by lunch, and emerged in the evenings for dinner and walking. Pretty restful. I brought a stack of books longer than my forearm, and our bungalow was armed with cable and air conditioning, so were were able to siesta in style. (A most civilized tradition, the siesta. When, oh when will it become standard practice in the working world?)

Fulton Beach Bungalow #8

The largest drawback was that it was a long way to drive to do a lot of nothing, however enjoyable that nothing is. Also, we didn't really know what we were doing or where we were going, so there was some flailing about and guesswork that impeded our ability to do nothing with maximum efficiency. Also, there were jellyfish at the Rockport Beach this morning in the deep area past the sandbars--I think that's unusual, but it was definitely a downer. And the number of restaurants is limited, with none that we tried being really stellar.

Still, the fuss was minimum, the famous oaks were weirder and more interesting than expected, the pace was slow, the bungalow was comfortable, and the beaches--most importantly--were fairly thinly populated, at least at the hour my pallid complexion allows me to be on the beach--around 8am. If we were into fishing, were would probably have been even more delighted, as there are plenty of marinas and boat launches. The bungalow village even has a little special parking for boats.

The famous(ish) contorted oaks of Fulton

Stuff I'd Recommend:
  • The Maritime Museum--has actual stuff from one of LaSalle's ships! The narratives are a bit discontinuous and sometimes presented without context, but there was a lot of interesting material covering--at least lightly--most of the nautical history of post-Anglo Texas. Pretty good production values. The bookstore/giftshop is modest (nothing like the Newport News, VA, Maritime Museum, the memory of whose two-story bookshop still makes me drool slightly. We bought a Navy recruitment poster ("I wish I were a man! I'd join the NAVY!"), Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity--not as titillating as it sounds--and The Virginia Adventure: Roanoke to James Towne: An Archaeological and Historical Odyssey--every bit as scholarly as it sounds, but quite interesting.) Admission: $4
  • The Rockport Beach Park (on non-jellyfish days)--clean, spacious, not overly crowded (in the morning, at least) with incredibly long shallows, suitable for small children.
  • The art gallery/jewelry shop downtown where the proprietor puts any pieces that don't sell within two weeks at a really steep discount--I got a long jasper chip necklace and a golden jade chip necklace for $6 apiece!
  • The Fulton Beach Bungalows (no kids allowed)--quiet area, pleasantly funky-kitschy aesthetic, nice oaks, attractive rooms. Our bungalow (#8) has both a front and a back back porch. However, the coffeemaker doesn't actually come with any coffee--that was a distinct letdown. You will also need to bring your own sugar and cream. If swimming is your main activity, you may also want to consider whether the lower price is worth not being in walking distance of a beach. For some people, it may be worth the extra ooftish to lodge somewhere closer to downtown. A good choice for fisherfolk. Rate: $130/night

Fulton Beach Bungalow #8 interior
  • Strolling the marinas, which lodge both modest yachts and working shrimp trawlers. Cost: $ø
A great big heron on a shrimp trawler
  • The 1000+ year old Lamar oak on the other side of Copano Bay. Big old gnarly thing. Cost: $ø
"The Big Tree" in Lamar

Stuff We Missed:
The Rockport aquarium.
The Latitude ##, ## gallery and restaurant
The Fulton Mansion
Fishing of any description
Birdwatching tours
Wildlife preserves

Stuff That Was Okay-ish:
  • Alice Faye's on the Bay - fried fresh seafood--breadcrumb batter--not a ton of flavor, but pleasantly crispy. Not bad.
  • Charlotte Plummers - Odd calimari--Matt posited that it might have been "kalimari" with a "K." Crab stuffing that was all bread, no crab, ceviche that was pico de gallo with some chopped shrimp dumped in (not bad, just nothing special). Meh.

Stuff That Was Bad:

  • The mosquitos--big, hungry, numerous
  • The Boiling Pot--Hooters for seafood. Recently pubescent high schoolers are offered up in tight tees ("What's hot?" written across the breasts) and short-shorts for the delectation of the clientele. Loud music of a variety Matt calls "frat-boy blues." The waitresses tie bibs around your neck without warning. Slightly over-cooked shrimp, oddly bologna-like sausage, and rock crabs (bleh) instead of blue crabs (yum!). Melted margarine for dipping the crab.

Relatively sincere beach bling--there are actual pelicans at Rockport-Fulton. Also, I think it's kind of cute.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Floral Purpitude

Busy Memorial Day weekend. I added a bunch of plants to the blue & purple garden, which has hitherto been a bit sparse. I planted
(1) leadwort
(2) society garlic
(3) 'Ophelia' egglplant
(4) 'Twinkle' eggplant
(5) 'Classic' eggplant
(6) mystery plum-colored perennial

The existing plants were
(1) Blue butterfly plant (Clerodendrum ugandense)
(2) white-flowered jasmine
(3) plumbago
(4) Crinum macowanii
(5) young X Chitalpa tree

When we (someday) build an arbor over the kitchen patio, we'll grow skyvine up it, producing even more lovely bluey-purple. It shall be SO serene.

Door Work
So that was Saturday. Sunday I sanded the three antique doors that Javier sized for us. I used 220 on problem areas (stains, bits of paint, &c.) and 600 everywhere else. I used my little hand sander, which really works reasonably well, though it was an undeniably long and tedious process to finish all three doors.

Then on Monday I stained (using a color called "Gunstock," to match the shelves in the study. Sheesh, that name is silly. If the stain could talk, it would say to me, "Wal, howdy ma'am." See? Silly.) The door to the master bed was darker than all the rest when stripped, so it naturally came out darkest when stained. The others are not only lighter, but brighter, so I'm thinking of applying a quick coat of a color I think was called "American Cherry." Inexplicably, it was quite light and distinctly greyish in color (shouldn't a "cherry" stain be dark and red?). I'm hoping that little bit of grey will dull down the orangey red a bit--but only a bit. Best test on the hinge side first.

The varnish will have to await our next paycheck (not to mention a resurgence of motivation). At the moment, the mere thought makes me despair (multiple coats, complete sanding of all sides between coats--faugh!--as medieval knights sometimes say when faced with a particularly foul-breathed dragon).

Even in their incomplete state, though, the doors look ever so handsome. I've always appreciated them as being solidly built, pretty, strong chunks of wood, but it wasn't until I was vacuuming off the dust--painstakingly, inch by inch--that I was really struck by how very solid they are, how smooth and satiny the surface is, how perpendicular all the pieces of wood are, and just in general how very satisfying and admirable the doors are, particularly when you consider that--unlike contemporary doors--they weren't extruded from some machine and steam-molded into a flimsy simulacrum of wood. Some person or people shaped them by hand. And--amazingly--everything fits together and all the angles are square and nothing is warped or caddywhompus. The things some people know how to do.

The Bard
And finally, I witnessed my new favorite Shakespearean reference of the year the other day. Jon Stewart and John Oliver were discussing the expenses abuse scandal in Britain:
JO: I'm from England, Jon. And even mid-scandal, I'm proud of this royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle and its moats, yay, its unwittingly public-funded moats—
JS: You—you’re gonna go Richard II on the moats thing?
JO: Fuck, yeah. Strap in.
Sing it, baby.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Paint Chips, Field Trip to Finch's Farm

Painting the mudroom reminded me that I wanted to organize my paint chips. At this point, most of the colors I used have been discontinued, so I'm including the codes, too, which (I hope) will still be in the computer at Lowe's if we need more. I scanned in the paint chips and used Photoshop's color dropper to paint each room. Worked well except for the whites, which didn't scan correctly at all.

Elgin House: The Color Scheme. Click for bigness.

In other news, it's hot. Gah. Hot, steamy, and sticky.

Field Trip to Finch's Farm
Also, Matt & I took a field trip to a little nursery on FM 1660 between Coupland and Rice's Crossing called Finch's Farm. We've passed it any number of times on the way to Hutto, but we never had time to drop in, and they're closed on Sundays.

Anyway, we finally made it over there, and it was actually much nicer than I had anticipated. It's bigger than it looks from the road, and it's the sort of small starter nursery in which the owner is happy to hang out and chat as long as you like. Since this kind of operation always makes me very curious, I take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions. I always want to know how business is, how long they've been open, how much of their own propagating they do...

This one has been open since 2001, I think, and has been growing gradually over the years. What I thought was really neat about Finch's is that he has a number of acres to play with, and he's using them to test his plants, especially trees. It's sort of like an extension agent's test garden. At the moment, most of his trees are smallish (maybe 4" in diameter?), but I love the idea. In addition to oaks and similar landscape trees, he has a few apples, peaches, walnuts, citruses, and, interestingly, olives in the ground.

Another reason I like visiting with small nursery owners is that you learn such interesting and random things. He gets his olives from an olive farmer south of San Antonio--who knew such a thing existed? He also knows of someone in Manor who has acres of olives, although he's only harvested 10 lbs so far. Again, who'd've thought? He also told us that he's had great luck with companionate planting of garlic amongst his peaches. Apparently, it's done a great job for him of keeping the insects off the fruit.

As a side note, he also raises bees, though he's not planning to harvest honey again till 2010--last year was apparently tough on the bees, and he wants to give them a break.

All in all, it seemed absolutely idyllic--acres to play with as your giant horticultural laboratory; room to dabble in other hobbies, like bees or chickens or goats or or quail; and (as he's a retired dude who is presumably doing this as supplemental income) the leisure to work as hard or as little as he likes. Since he inherited the land and got the greenhouses free, his financial risk is limited. And 1660 is really a very pretty road--farms, old houses, and hedges of trees. All in all, an enviable existence.

Awfully far from Central Market, though.

Bought an unlabeled plum-colored perennial from Finch's--must go plant it and my eggplants in the blue-and-purple garden (by the kitchen patio). It shall be a tranquil pool of indigo loveliness. Eventually.

PS--I hear thunder--perhaps we'll get some rain! I LOVE rain!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Operation "Whoa, That's a Lot of Purple" Completed

Matt hauls off the Late Lamented. Shower remnants visible on the right.

Phew. Busy day. Tackled the mudroom renovation. Matt capped off the plumbing (which, lucky for us, came through the water heater closet, so he was able to do his plumbing in there) to the old shower and then pulled out what was left of the stall. Then he cleaned what appeared to be years of grime, dryer fluff, dust, and a recent overlayment of cat hair. Not going to dwell on all that. Makes me feel kind of queasy.

I was in charge of removing everything from the walls, spackling, and painting. Just like back in the early days of Elgin House, every, every surface had to be coated, from the air vent in the ceiling on down. While I was at it, I also painted the inside and out of the exterior door, which had been a lovely combination of taupe and pale mustard (WTF?) And once you paint the door, you really need to paint the trim around the door or you'll end up with clashing shades of white, or, in this case, clashing shades of "Betsy's Linen" and grimy, moldy, filthy off-white. So I was at it all day.

Nine rooms after I first raised a brush in this house, and I've finally learned some things about painting.

(1) Use thick coats on the ceiling. Doesn't really matter if it takes ages to dry, after all. Much preferable to applying multiple coats.
(2) Should have bought paint from Ace's from the start. The Lowe's stuff I used for everything else took 2 or often 3 coats to cover the white underneath. Ace's brand takes 1 coat, and the cost is fairly close.
(3) Give up on all the stupid little gimmicks and tools for painting straight lines--none of them work; they all end up seeping and blobbing. Get a good quality chisel-tip brush and freehand it as best you can. Faster and less heart-breaking. Press the brush forcefully against the wall near the line you need to paint. The brush should fan out slightly. Carefully move into place, always tracking the location of the outermost set of bristles as those are the ones that will form the edge. Don't breathe.

Matt, somewhat to my surprise, didn't make any protest when I informed him I'd be painting the laudry room "Globe Thistle." Other than a slightly sardonic expression around the eyebrows, anyway. It's a really lovely color--a sort of lilac with a touch of grey. But zowie, it's powerful in large quantities. Something a little more tame might have been a better choice, but we've got two cans of the stuff--we're sticking with "Globe Thistle," dammit.

New "Globe Thistle" walls

So there it is. It's improved in terms of grime, but it's hardly white-glove clean, largely because the disintegrating linoleum is so foul. Also, I need to put a second coat on the trim and do some more work behind the dryer *shudder*.

However, as you can see, there is now space for the washer where the shower used to be. Will order tomorrow--very exciting.

Future plans:
(1) Replace nasty linoleum
(2) Buy dryer to match front-loading washer and stack the two units over by the window.
(3) Get Javier to build a laundry station to the right of the machines. Will have cabinets going all the way up to the ceiling, a pull-out counter for folding, a bar for hanging clothes while drying, and a space at the bottom for tucking away the Beasts' litterbox nicely out of sight.
(4) Buy and install chandelier (with little dangly crystal bits!) to replace grotty, half-shorted-out old "brass" fixture.

For the moment, I've had all the fun with laundry renovation I can stand, though. Going to be aggressively lazy for the next few days. Other than catching up on a bunch of laundry, anyway.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

5-Panel Doors & Other Interior Excitement

Antique raised 5-panel doors: Installed! Master bed, study closet, bathroom

And Matt said he thought we weren't doing enough on the inside of the house...

Three Doors Hung
Javier the Carpenter installed three of our antique doors today for us: Dottie, Greg, and Ezekial, which are the three raised five-panel doors. Now that they've been trimmed and the hardware applied, we need to stain and varnish them. On the whole, it seemed to go smoothly, but as is always the case with our house, Javier was challenged by its lack of perpendicularity. He hung the doors level, but the frames into which he had to fit them are sort of trapezoidal, which is interesting. This is particularly noticeable in the master bedroom, so he's going to bring a wedge-shaped piece of trim to offset the gap at the top right.

Rimlock Reassembled

The mechanism of the reassembled rimlock. Click for bigness.

Inspired by the general door-related hustle and bustle, Matt finally got the old rimlock that came with the house to work. This took so long (we both worked on it most of the morning), and there is so little guidance on the internet about how to reassemble a rimlock with all its pesky springs that we decided to make a video for the benefit of other DIYers. Matt was the talent. I directed. If Blogger ever succeeds in uploading the darn thing, I'll post it below.

How to Reassemble a Rimlock: The Movie

A side note about the rimlock. There is no company name on this one, but there are numbers. Several of the components are stamped "1085" (or "1035"--hard to tell which), and the back plate is also stamped with an "8." The front plate bears a number "2", and both front and back have these odd braille-y looking marks: eight dots on the back; six dots on the front. Not sure what it means, but is interesting.

Interesting markings on the rimlock

You Have Been Diverted...
In other news, our washer motor went out a week or so ago. We figured we have 3 options: (1) repair it, which Matt thinks would be a waste of money, (2) replace it with a cheapo stop-gap piece o' crap, which seems to me wasteful and galling, or (3) bite the bullet and get one of those fancy-dan front loaders I've been yearning after for ages. Guess which one we (I) chose. (It's good for the environment! Reduces your utility bills! Looks super-sexy!)

There is, however, a wrinkle. The mudroom has always been this weird hybrid. It had a door to the outside, a washer and dryer, a shower, a toilet, a sink, and the water heater. I think it may have been the house's original front entry, which explains why it also has the fancy portico and a sidewalk that dead-ends in the middle of the east yard.

Somewhere along the way, it was demoted from front door to side door, and it was a steady downhill slide from there. The reason for the laundry appliances is clear enough, but I have no idea why an extra bathroom--in the laundry room-slash-mudroom--was necessary. We long ago yanked the toilet and sink in the interest of simply being able to navigate the room, but the shower is still there in a partially assembled state. The old washer is currently sitting in it.

This looks not entirely genteel (by which I mean "is gross" and also "looks icky"), the new washer will need more space, and the shower surround cuts into the room in an utterly gratuitous manner. So now seems like an opportune moment to rip out the shower, clean the scuzz off the walls (it's the one room in our house that has never felt the tender caress of my latex-laden brush), paint, and generally try to make the place look less likely to incubate the latest variant of swine flu or SARS or bird flu or whatever the CDC's flavor of the month happens to be. Because right now, there's a deeply ground-in, decades-old grodiness that no mere mop or broom can vanquish.

We were going to try to hit a daylily open house tomorrow, but I think we'd better spend that time on the laundry room instead. The laundry project also pre-empts any staining, gutter-hanging, bermudagrass-fighting plans we had. Resources hastily re-allocated. Attention re-focused. Vision re-imagineered. We used laundromats for years. No way they genie's going back in that grimy, over-priced, time-sucking bottle with uncomfortable plastic chairs.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bloom Digest

Enthusiastic Echinacea purpurea (presumably)

Hurrah for April! It's May at the moment, but much of what's blooming now is gliding on the momentum of April (except the echinacea, of course--that's just warming up). Summer and fall flushes of flowers can't match the juicy and exuberant profuseness of April. Already we're past the big flush of blooms for the roses. There are still roses in bloom, but not as jubilantly as a week ago.

In happy news, 'Lichterloh' is finally blooming. It took two years of grumpy stasis, but it's finally decided to act like an antique. I don't think the problem is with the cultivar itself: I suspect I just did a sloppy job of planting it or it got a particularly lousy bit of soil. I grew it for years and years in a big pot and it never complained--so I know it's normally tough.

'Lichterloh' finally blooms--and it's acting like it means it.

In other notable rose news, I got a decent picture of 'New Dawn.' 'New Dawn' is very prolific and very pretty from a distance, where you see masses of flesh-pale flowers on a glossy dark background. Up close, though, the flowers always seem to look a little faded and browned. However, I was taking pictures at 8:30 this morning, and I actually caught several especially fresh blossoms. Here are two.

'New Dawn,' looking especially crisp and fresh

It's been a good several weeks for the amaryllids. Almost all of my Hippeastrum have bloomed.

Miniature 'Pamela' in bloom. Sorry for the blurriness--but the color is accurate, anyway.

The Aztec lily (AKA Jacobean lily, AKA Sprekelia formosissima) is currently in bloom, looking as fantastical and improbable as ever. I don't know why people don't grow these more often. They're so very showy and striking.

Sprekelia formosissima in bloom

And there are crinum buds and blooms all over the place. The first to bloom so far are the C. × powellii by the study door.

We've also got some trees in bloom. The 'Little Gem' magnolia has more buds now than it did last year, though the tree itself is still a bit thin in terms of leaf cover. It's awfully airy for a M. grandiflora, which should be a dense pillar of dark greenness. Still. Happy to see the flowers.

And the new chitalpa is blooming like nuts, apparently oblivious to the fact that I just put it in the ground! What a trooper. The cordia is also stalwartly blooming, despite being young and scrawny. Attaboy!

Chitalpa tashkentensis 'Morning Cloud' isn't at all bothered by being transplanted.

Status Updates
From here on out, to be honest, the pictures get a lot less interesting. I'm tracking the status of some of my plants. From a horticultural perspective, "Yay! They're taller and greener!" From a photographic perspective, "Oh, look. It's a small green blob. How thrilling." You see what I mean? I won't hold it against you if you surf on at this point.

First bit of good news: The Meyer lemon still has lemons on it. Last year, we lost them all to the drought. Fingers are crossed that this year the weather gods will be kinder.

Three cheers for Eve's Necklace (Sophora affinis)! This plant gets the Most Abused Plant That Actually Lived award. We chucked it in the ground, didn't give it enough water, dug it up, chucked it elsewhere, still didn't give it enough water, and then subjected it to a drought. We've treated other plants that way. They're all dead (Pistacia texensis, we hardly knew ya...).

Sophora affinis--small, but doughty

The vegetable... it's not even a garden. The vegetable accumulation. The vegetable optimism. The vegetable petiteness. There's row of microscopic tomato seedlings on the right. There are several pots of somewhat promising tomatillos. There's a handful of tiny little fragile-looking chile sprouts. And there are some eggplants somewhere in there (I hope). (Apparently, I only grow members of the tomato family, the solanaceae. I can't explain it--it just happened.)

Behold! The mighty vegetable patch!

And finally, my "dark purple" passionflower from Garden of the Ancients has come back. A promising beginning.

The elegant curl of an adolescent passionflower
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