Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in San Antonio

The awesome Tree of Tillandsia with a neat statue at the SA Botanical Gardens

Jingle BELL time / Is a SWELL time...
Matt and I just got back from our annual(ish) Christmas trip to San Antonio to see the lights on the Riverwalk. Every year SA hangs these big C9-style lights in Mexicanish colors (red AND fuchsia, plus gold, blue and green) in the giant old baldcypresses on the Riverwalk. There are luminaries (real ones, with candles--take that, Santa Fe!) and the bridges are outlined in lights and everything reflects in swirly patterns in the water. It's a totally artificial environment (the "river" closely resembles the water rides at Epcot), but that doesn't really matter because it's so sparkly and otherworldly.

This year we decided to spend the night. We paid for a room a couple months in advance through Expedia (the only way to handle the expense at this already pricey time of year) at the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed at: the toiletries were by Aveda! I came away with about $30 in travel products after just a single night's stay. It was called the Hotel Contessa and is directly on the river, which was our principle criterion. We had big windows looking right down on the Riverwalk, which was a neat, if somewhat underutilized, feature. This was our sitting room (yeah, that's right: a sitting room. It's where we entertained visiting business tycoons and foreign dignitaries).

Well, where would YOU entertain the ambassador from Lesotho?

The Windcrest Light Up
First we drove through the Windcrest lights display. Windcrest is a town/neighborhood in SA that's famous for its lights. We didn't have good directions and drove around for a while in this rather lame neighborhood near Windcrest thinking, "Wow, this place is really overrated." Then we found the right spot and it took about 30 minutes in line to get in. Tip #1 for Windcrest visitors: get a reliable map and go in one of the side ways--the front way (by the Presbyterian church on Midcrown) is a mad, homicidal crush.

Some of the displays were pretty impressive, but it was spotty--there were definitely some unspirited backwaters. Tip #2: download Windcrest's map of their winning homes and draw out a route to follow--otherwise you'll wander aimlessly like Rapunzel's boyfriend in the wilderness.

The best--in my opinion--was the massive light display choreographed to this Michael Bay-esque rendering of Christmas carols--full orchestra, fast paced, lots of percussion, and gratuitous explosions (just kidding about that last). It sounded like the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, but it was actually "The Little Drummer Boy." There was a tree made of several layers of lights that lit in independent spirals going in opposite directions, there was a waterwall effect of lights draped over the front of the house, there were stars on the roof that each came on independently, and there were copious tree and bush wrappings. And it was all linked to the music. We've got a choreographed display here in Elgin, but I gotta tell you, the Michael Bay Christmas was all that, squared, with fudge sauce and a cherry.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens
And then we went to the SA Botanical Gardens this morning, which was fun. Even though many of the plants were frost-nipped, the weather was so crisp and blue and cool that this was easily my favorite visit to the SABOT ever (all previous visits involved buckets of sweat).

They had a new (to us) series of entomological sculptures made of wood. Here, Matt shakes his fist defiantly at one of three giant invading ants. I'm sorry to say that the ant looked completely unfazed.

Man vs. Nature: Matt and the giant invader ants.

The conservatory complex had some of the most interesting displays, I thought. Here's a sculpture/fountain by the conservatory pond.

"Cupid's Fountain" by Susan Budge in a shady nook at the conservatory pond

And here's an absolutely ass-kicking Tillandsia sp. [?] from the main conservatory, seen from below. (Unmarked. Naturally. It's always the ones you're most interested in that are unlabeled.)

A Tillandsia [?] from below

The Tillandsia was from this fantastic tree full of them (and other bromeliads) in the conservatory. I thought the statue was pretty darn cool, too, though she has a bunch of upsetting spiky things inside the aperture in her head. The sculptor, Susan Budge, seems very interested in the idea of the vagina dentata (a meme that pops up in different time periods around the globe, positing the notion that some women's special equipment comes enhanced with teeth. That's right--teeth. I'm not making this up--see Wikipedia for details. Men can be so weird sometimes.) I kinda get wanting to play with this particular phobia (as the bad fairy in Shrek II maliciously says, "Let's explore that, shall we?"), but the upshot is a little more disruptive than I usually like my bromediad experiences--although those also tend to involve toothed apertures (Mother Nature--so kinky!) In any event: pretty neat statue from the outside. Just don't peer too closely into its face.

The Tree of Tillandsia, which looks absolutely gorgeous with the grey-aqua of this kinky statue

SABOT has a number of Crinum in their "Old-Fashioned Garden" (naturally, but sadly, not in bloom now), but they also had this blooming apparition veiled in mist in the Fern house.

Crinum in the mist

Other items of interest
I am so fond of this shrimp plant. It's not as awesome as my favorite, 'Fruit Cocktail,' but it's a pretty strong contender, with its luminous ivory bracts, lightly tinted with green.

Ivory shrimp plant

Also, Matt and I were impressed with someone's inventiveness in applying plant materials from around the gardens to a wreath. The brown comes from the trunk of palm trees, the blue is from Arizona Cypress, the green is (presumably) some other kind of cypress, and the palm fronds are, well, palm fronds. All embellished with ball moss--not as pretty as Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), but much more authentic to the area.

Wreath from garden materials

We also enjoyed the demonstration gardens with the tiny, tiny houses. They're meant to showcase different waterwise landscaping styles (our landscape--by happenstance, not intention--is largely cottage, with a pinch of wildlife-friendly).

As sometime plant snobs, we were particularly amused by the unspoken commentary on the conventional, suburban landscape--the lot representing this "style" had the dullest house, painted the dullest color, with a big flat stretch of St Augustine, capped off with a row of boxwoods and another row of redtips (two of the dullest foundation shrubs available).

Message: you can be funky-cool like the xeriscapic house, innovative and integrated into nature like the wildlife and Hill Country houses, soulful like the Mexican courtyard house, or drearily conformist and white bread, like the dead-eyed automata at the traditional house.

The tiny, tiny houselets of "Watersaver Lane" Patio Man and the Sprawl People live in the beige house behind the Photinia. The Hill Country and Wildlife houses are beyond.

...And then home again this afternoon in time to upload some pix and blog about it.

Giant philodendron in the Fern house

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Catch Up

Half-frozen 'Cramoisi Superieur' buds

Garden Update
It's been a rough several weeks from a blogly perspective. I had to work late a lot, it's dark all the damn time as far as I can tell, and on the few occasions that I'm out during the daylight, it's dull and washy, through a dense curtain of frigid mist (that's "frigid" as defined in the South--low 40s to low 30s--not Minnesota frigid, which I gather makes the ice planet of Hoth look like the Garden of Eden).

Needless to say, we have not spent a lot of time in the garden lately. And the news from the garden is not particularly fun, anyway. We got our first hard freeze a week or so ago, and it caught 'Cramoisi Superieur' and 'Duchesse de Brabant' with bushes heavy with buds, all now dangling dully from their stems. 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' had several big, fat, petally blossoms and buds, which froze into solid wilted blobs that are now rotting on the ground.

A couple of hopeless 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' buds

But now that heavy-hitting bloomers like Cramoisi and the Duchesse have been in the ground for over 2 years, I think they'll probably rebound and bloom again if we have a long enough period above freezing. After all, they're finally getting rain, a fact that is probably making the sap rush deleriously through their half-dessicated xylem and phloem.

'Green Ice,' that miniature paragon, is chugging along, undaunted. As usual, it is completely outblooming the tiresome parvenu 'Knockout.'

In House News
We finally replaced the tap in the guest bath. It look a long time because there is no such thing as a cheap faucet for pedestal or claw-footed tubs. They're all painfully expensive. I finally found the model I wanted (Barclay Products Limited 4025PL Wall Mounted Tub Filler w/Hand Shower) on eBay for $125--over $100 dollars cheaper than the nearest competitor.

Handsome new "tub filler" (what's up with that name, anyway? Is "faucet" insufficiently smarmy?)

And we also got some cellular shades for the window, so now our guests can be both clean and private. The room's not done (needs a new mirror, a new bath shelf, some sort of stool or small stand, a small antique dresser or bachelor chest, and the A/C vent needs to be moved about 7 feet toward the door so it doesn't blow on people's faces at night.

Nevertheless. Good progress. Rome wasn't built in a day. From little acorns mighty oak trees grow. Slow and steady wins the race. Or, as Jon Stewart puts it, "Keep fuckin' that chicken."

The other big house new is that we're planning to install a ventless gas fireplace in the living room as our Christmas present to each other. This is going to be a many-stage process because we want a custom surround and, ultimately, a pair of built-in bookshelves on either side. This is all going to take a very long time, so we're just going to start with a wooden platform and the firebox. Below is a composite of fireplaces I found online that looks more or less like what we're going for.

The long-term goal, more or less. Brought to you by the magic of Photoshop.

We've already bought 6 vintage Helman Art Nouveau tiles to go above the fireplace--we'll find some (cheaper) coordinating modern tiles to go around that. Shout-out to the folks who sold us the tiles, by the way: we love the tiles--they're even prettier in real life than they were on the web; they're in terrific condition; and when the shipping came out to more than they had estimated, they reduced the cost of the tiles so that the total remained the same. They company's called Recycling the Past, and they have a great selection and really good prices. Love them.

Our lovely period tile from Recycling the Past

In Culinary News

After Thanksgiving our local HEB had pork loin half off, at which point I fell off the local meat wagon and bought one. Because look at that thing--it's longer than my arm!

I brined it and then we grilled it per the directions at the Grilling Companion, and it turned out completely delectable--juicy, smoky, fork-tender, and flavorful. I think pork is in the process of becoming my Second Meat: first chicken, then pork, then beef or lamb. (Lamb would be my Second Meat, if it weren't so darn expensive.) Must go back to buying it locally, though.

And Finally, the Big News
I bought a car! I've been saving up for ages, and I finally bought a replacement for my late lamented 1995 Accord: a 2010 Honda Insight (hybrid). It's lovely and complex, and I think it's even rather sporty. I'm still amazed that I'm sufficiently adult and responsible that financing companies want to give me cars, but hey, I'm not gonna complain.

My new baby. It was rather cold out, as you may have inferred.

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