31 July 2010

Pump Up the Volume

We knew living in this house would be a new experience, but I didn't expect that sounds would sound different here. Sure, the metal roof makes rain a bit louder (don't believe anyone who says you won't hear rain on a metal roof), and better insulation and windows keep street noise way down, but that's not all that's different.

We've never lived anywhere big enough that we couldn't talk to each other across the house. Now, when I'm in the office and Steve is in the master (or vice versa), we can barely hear each other. Any farther, and we have to get up and walk over to have a conversation. (On the other hand, I don't need to worry about turning down the volume when I'm watching video on the computer while Steve is sleeping in the next room, or vice versa.)

Another weird auditory experience is that I keep hearing bathroom vent fans on and thinking that Steve forgot to turn them off. Then I remember that they're on timers:

For instance, this one is set to operate for 15 minutes, turning off a few minutes after we get out of the shower. (A couple of the fans aren't on timers. The main master bath fan and the mudroom shower fan are humidity-sensing, so we won't need to turn them on and off -- like motion-detector lights, we just leave the switch on, and the fans work whenever they need to.)

And on the subject of lights, some of our rooms are daylit so well that I reach to turn off the switch as I leave, only to discover that it's not on. Then there's the pantry and the entry closet, which have hinge switches to light up automatically when we open the door. Maybe we make up for all of the additional walking by not having to reach for switches as much?

29 July 2010

Blast From The Past

Tonight, while I was eating dinner and watching Dateline*, there was a knock at the door. I first thought the two women standing on our front porch were neighbors stopping by to say hi -- but when the first one introduced herself, I immediately recognized her last name.

By random coincidence, our house designer's office manager's roommate (no kidding) was the daughter of the woman who lived in the old house (Mildred). We met the office manager, Julia, last summer while we were working on our plans, and she told us how excited her roommate, Nancy, was about the prospect of something better taking the place of the old house. Julia told us that Nancy would love to see the new house before we moved in, and we agreed. By the end of the design process, we weren't in touch with Janet anymore and it would have been awkward to call her to arrange a looksee, so it never happened.

You've probably figured out that the two women at our door tonight were Julia and Nancy. They were passing through the area and wanted to check on the house, thinking it was still under construction. When they saw lights on, they realized we had already moved in and decided to knock on the door.

I invited them in and gave them a tour. They managed to see past our disorganization and gushed about the wood floors, the fireplace, the door hardware, the light fixtures, the hexagon tile, the window trim -- so many different aspects of the house, I've already forgotten. Julia remembered the bunny room from our plans, even asking which bunny was Millie (and then they both held her and pretty much fell in love). One thing I found interesting was how Nancy commented about the openness of the great room -- by comparing it to the living room of the old house. I guess I don't think about it as a dichotomy of two houses as much as a progression from a severely fire-damaged house (since I never knew the old house in its pre-fire state) to an empty lot and then to the new house. Our experiences really shape our perception of the world.

In the final years of Mildred's life, her relationship with her children was strained, to say the least (as we understand it, they were estranged and Mildred ended up cutting them out of her will). So talking about (or around) the tragic circumstances of last January was awkward. But regardless of the family dynamic, it's great to know that what we created met with the approval (and then some) of someone who not only lost her mother but also her childhood home in the fire.

*Okay, I was watching an online rerun of America's Next Top Model. I just can't turn my eyes away. Those girls want it so bad.

28 July 2010

Is This Anything?

With due credit to David Letterman and his "Is This Anything?" segment....

We have a whole mess of weeds out back (and a few in front, too). I worry that I'm not smart enough to tell the weeds from the actual, you know, plants, so I'm asking for your help in determining whether some of the flora in our yard are weeds or desirable plants. So...is this anything?


B. (I know the next two pictures are something -- R2 told me they're baby trees -- but I don't remember if he said oak, elm, or something else)

C. (Nandina?)

In landscaping-related news, I was inspired today to rescue the master bathroom mirror boxes from the recycling bin and use them as the bottom layer of a mulch path that will eventually go to the compost area.

The backyard has gotten pretty unruly (it's clear that these weeds aren't anything), and this is the first step toward returning it to the blank slate it was this winter. (The large pile you see at the top left is extra construction mulch; just to the right of that is the second of our three compost piles; and the pile you can sort of see toward the right is leftover decomposed granite from when we did the driveway and front walkway.) Good news about our compost: it seems to work -- the weeds are tallest, greenest, and healthiest by the compost. (Another point in favor of the above-ground compost tumbler, I guess.)

26 July 2010

When Does Sixty-One Cents Equal Thirty-Eight Dollars?

When you let the gas company do the math, apparently.

We got our first gas bill today. We used $.61 in gas...but with all of the fees and taxes (including the $25 "account setup" fee), our bill came to $37.93.

I'm all for paying my fair share, but that's ridiculous.

(In case you're wondering, the $.61 was from our range. Since our medium-term goal is to satisfy all of our electricity needs through solar power, we got an electric dryer and electric water heater. We also put in a gas line on the back porch to fuel a grill, but we won't be using that until we upgrade our grill (which is, at this point, about our two hundred fiftieth priority).)

I look forward to this time next month, when we will have received regular gas and electric bills and can really assess our usage. (We have received a partial month electric bill, but between start-up fees and the week we weren't living here, it's hard to draw any conclusions from it.)

25 July 2010

I'd Like to Make a Toast

...which is so easy to do, since we put an outlet in the pantry and keep the toaster plugged in on a shelf:


I'd like to clear a space next to the toaster so I can put down a plate next to it. Over the years, R has developed a standardized pantry plan, including depths and heights of shelves, but he modified the plan to give us more space on the toaster shelf. I'd like to keep more appliances plugged in in the pantry (we love the convenience without cluttering up the counters), but I'm not sure there's anything else that would work. The blender is probably our second most used small appliance but wouldn't make sense in there.

If you've wondered why we haven't started posting pictures of rooms as we've added furniture, etc., it's because they all look pretty much like this shelf of the pantry. (Not full of crackers and granola bars, of course -- mostly room-appropriate clutter in desperate need of organization.)

In other news, this morning we took our first post-move bike ride. Just 12 miles (although a hard, hilly 12 miles), but it felt great to be back out there...even though it was 95 degrees by the time we hit the road.

24 July 2010

Bunny Poops

This post isn't really about bunny poop, exactly, but referencing my favorite compost ingredient was the only way I could think of to bring a little bit of cuteness to the subject of composting. And really, what's cuter than bunnies?

This morning we went to City Hall for a class on composting. Being seasoned composters, we already knew most of the information that was covered, but the (free) class was a requirement to qualify for a new City of Austin composter rebate (and for someone new to composting, the class really was very good). Now that we've taken the class, we can buy a composter and get a 75% rebate (up to $75) from the city.

Let's back up a bit. You already know how progressive Austin is when it comes to incentives for various household measures that reduce the need for city utility services. We've taken advantage of rebates for our high efficiency (and low-water) washing machine and our geothermal HVAC system, we're about to send in the form for a rainbarrel rebate, and we've got our eyes on the solar panel rebate program (and then there are those free trees...). But the city also knows that landfill space isn't infinite, and they're encouraging folks to throw less stuff in the garbage. Last year, the city established a goal of reducing the amount that goes to the landfill by 90% by 2040. The city offers single-stream recycling (we dump all of our recyclables into a single bin, which is picked up and sorted every other week), and there are three sizes of garbage cans, with the largest costing about $20/month versus $4.75 for the smallest). So, with an eye toward reducing what goes into the garbage, the city has recently unveiled this new program to encourage the diversion of even more waste away from our garbage cans.

In order to get the rebate, we were required to go to the class (done) and to downsize to the smallest garbage can (we've always had the smallest, so done). Now we just need to find the right composter, buy it, and request our rebate.

I'll admit that I'm a little conflicted about this. Our composting to date has consisted of three piles on the ground -- one started last August, which is fully composted, the second one started around December, which is currently brewing, and the third, started around April, to which we are still adding. (The three-pile system is a well-established way of composting.) Anyway, I'm basically fine with the piles, but Steve isn't too excited about it and has wanted to switch to a more structured system for a while. I never thought it made much sense to spend at least $100 on a container to do what we can do just fine for free, but with the rebate, it's a little easier to justify. So we're planning to get a tumbler-style composter (like this one), which makes it a lot easier to turn the compost (an important part of composting, so that the microbes that help everything break down will have oxygen to fuel the process). Since the frequency of turning can make the difference between compost taking a month to break down versus six months, I anticipate that the tumbler will take the place of one of the piles, and we may even be able to go down to a two-phase composting system.

Anyway, back to class. Everyone who attended (did I mention it was free?) got a compost bucket for kitchen scraps, plus a little booklet on composting and some other information from the city's Solid Waste Services department.

Our class was videotaped and will be put online for anyone (in Austin or elsewhere) to watch, and if you're local and are interested in taking advantage of the rebate, you can find more information on the city's website right here.

22 July 2010

One Tree, Two Tree...

...three tree, free tree....

Yesterday the City of Austin stopped by and planted three yellow flags in our yard:

Well actually, they planted them in the right-of-way, which in our case is the first eighteen feet back from the curb. Here's a close-up:

And they left this at our door:

As you may recall, we've been planning to put some kind of oak tree in our front yard. We had planned to plant it last winter, but construction ended up taking over the entire yard, so there was no way a tree would have survived. There's no point planting trees in Austin during the summer, so the tree plan was pushed back to this coming winter (along with the rest of the landscaping). It was a terrific surprise to find that the city wants to give us trees -- just the kind we were wanting to buy -- as long as we'll plant them where they want...hence the yellow flags. All we have to do is mail the card back, and sometime between October and March (ideal planting time), they'll drop off up to three trees of our choice (our options are live oak, lacey oak, chinquapin oak, and elm). We do have to plant them, though, and promise to water them about weekly for two years...which we would do for any tree we bought, so no problem there. We already had plans for next weekend to go to a talk by the arborist we consulted last summer (so we could ask him afterward for a landscape designer referral), so we'll also ask him which kind of tree(s) he recommends.

The locations are all in the right-of-way so they will provide shade to the street (and, eventually, some morning shade on the house, but mostly for the street). As we learned when the neighborhood association had the city arborist as a guest speaker last fall, a good tree canopy is an important part of keeping the entire city cooler, since the dark street would otherwise absorb tons of heat from the sun. As we've learned, the city of Austin and the city-owned utility company, Austin Energy, are very forward-thinking in terms of reducing the need for electricity so they don't have to build another power plant. I didn't know about this program until they dropped off the flags and card (how did they find us? Building permit records?), but I'm not at all surprised that Austin would have such a program.

I apologize, City of Austin, for all of the bad things I've said about you over the last year. Except for the bad things that were warranted...which is pretty much all of them. (In all fairness, the bad things have pretty much all been about the building permit department. Although you'd think they would work together, there's quite a contrast between Austin Energy and the permitting folks.)

21 July 2010

More Splashing and Dashing

Last night was the July Splash and Dash.

I can't say enough about the fabulous venue at the lake behind my gym, Pure Austin:

I splashed:

I dashed (on the trail around the lake):

And my brother, Kevin, was there to capture the whole thing on film. (Yes, I did realize that our names rhyme...and no, you're not the first person to find that funny.)

And while we're on the subject of dashing...I signed up for marathon training for the Austin marathon in February. So I really need to get serious about running more than two miles at a time.

Edit: Check out this video from another Splash and Dash last year. (I was wearing the same suit...which is pretty much the only thing my performance this week had in common with last year.)

18 July 2010

Moonlighting and Daylighting

Last night we finally installed the mirrors in our bathroom. We bought two Studio mirrors from Pottery Barn the weekend that we moved in, but we were holding off on installing them until the bathroom floors were finished. Remember the problem with the radiant floors (which delayed our move-in by a week)? Since they knew we were moving in, and in an attempt to give us back our bathroom as quickly as possible, the tilers apparently grouted too soon after laying the tile, and the grout didn't dry properly. The color gradually lightened over more than a week (during which we didn't use our shower) but remained dark and splotchy. We gave it another week (during which we continued not using our shower), and then it took another week (during which we still didn't use our shower) to remove all of the grout and redo it. So here we are, three weeks after move-in, and apart from the toekick needing to be painted and the potty closet vent fan still lacking a timer, our bathroom is finally finished. So we put on our handyman hats last night and got them installed (a more serious undertaking than we expected, since they're really heavy, had special mounting hardware, and needed to be hung at the exact same height). But we got 'er done:

Switching gears, let's talk about those skinny windows way up high in the bathroom. We put them in as a "daylighting" measure -- windows used for natural light, placed high enough that they don't need window coverings. We did the same thing in two of the other bathrooms and in the office, and during the day, pretty much the only lights we ever need to turn on are in the mudroom (where we should have put a solar tube but didn't) and some of the closets. The front bath, which has been our primary bathroom while work was going on in ours, has a good-sized window in the shower, which (since there's no eave hanging over it) provides a better-than-expected view of the sky and the neighbor's trees.

Daylighting isn't limited to new construction, though. You can turn any window into a "daylighting" window by hanging "top down/bottom up" shades, like we did in the kitchen of our old condo:

We had a view of the dumpsters right out the window, and these cellular shades, which we could raise from the bottom or lower from the top, let us block that view while still preserving the view of the trees and allowing light to come in. We just thought it was a practical solution; we had no idea we were being green!

13 July 2010

In The Kitchen

More than two weeks in, and I've unpacked a lot...but I'm still finding empty drawers in the kitchen!

11 July 2010

The First Thing We Saw This Morning

This is the view out our bedroom window.

09 July 2010

Sad Mailbox

Here is the mailbox that we selected after (of course) a painfully exhaustive search.

We love the charm of a wall-mount mailbox, and since that's what the rest of the neighborhood has, we didn't think the mail lady would object. So, after looking at all of the options, we honed in on this Craftsman-looking style with nine holes in the front. (We just thought they looked neat, but they actually serve the secondary purpose of letting you see whether you have any mail.) It came in a bunch of colors, and we narrowed it down to three -- a black pewter (to match the light fixtures), antique copper (to sort of match the "distressed" parts of the door hardware, but mostly to look amazing), and bronze (to match the rest of the door hardware and doorbell). We chose the option in the middle -- bronze -- and are really happy with our choice.

We're less happy about its contents. In the ten days or so since I turned in our change of address card, we've received about five pieces of mail. We seem to be getting only mail that's addressed to the new house. Nothing forwarded from the old house...and it's not being delivered there, either.

Please, USPS, bring us our mail!

04 July 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

Since we moved in, it's been interesting to see the wildlife that comes into our yard, undeterred by the total lack of any kind of intentional landscaping.

Today we had a squirrel, a hummingbird, a dragonfly, butterflies, (Steve says) some kind of very tall bird, and a frog that was sitting outside the front door, forcing us to enter through the garage side door lest he hop right into the house when we opened the door.

We also had a visit today from the family across the street. The three girls were wearing matching red, white, and blue dresses and are pretty much the sweetest little girls in town. They brought us these welcome gifts:

Because of the wood windows, our windowsills are extremely shallow, but this little vase fits perfectly in the kitchen window. The card says (not quite in this order), "Welcome to your new house!!! Have a great summr in your new house. And your bunneys. Love, Alice, Lillian, and Eleanor." The 3-D art below is a cardboard take-out cup holder. It's painted more brightly on the other side. I think they're hinting that we should bring them coffee. (I think their parents had a hand in that one.)

This week our Neighborhood Watch block captain, Carri, sent out e-mail to the block and mentioned that we had moved in. I took the opportunity to "reply all" and introduce ourselves to those neighbors we hadn't yet met, and I received a handful of "welcome" responses. There was also a last-minute e-mail effort last night to get a group together from the street to participate in the neighborhood Fourth of July parade (there was even talk of matching t-shirts). This is pretty much the first time in my adult life that I've lived in a real neighborhood, and I'm blown away by the feeling of community.

02 July 2010

I'd Like to Thank The Academy...

It truly took a village to raise this house. So many people made contributions, big and small, that I couldn't possibly list them all -- but I'm going to try anyway. So, in no particular order, I want to thank:
  • Mom, Greg, Scott, Xiao Chun, Regina, and Kevin for helping us move
  • R (and R2) for creating such a special home (despite the various challenges we have faced, the bottom line is that it's a fantastic, incredibly well-built house)
  • Every subcontractor and every worker who contributed to our home (with the exception of one...you know who I'm talking about)
  • Although they're already included above, special shout outs to Mark Yeagley at Lighting Inc., Jamie Lamprecht at Floor King (the north location), and Tim Teague at BMC Hardware, each of whom went above and beyond in helping us find just the right lighting, tile, and door hardware, respectively
  • Ross, the demo guy we didn't hire, for suggesting that we keep the driveway during construction (little did he know that we'd keep it for the foreseeable future after construction, too)
  • Our house designer, Janet, for suggesting that we enlarge and screen in the back porch
  • My co-workers and bosses for being so tolerant of all the times I've had to sneak away from the office to take care of house tasks...and for listening to me complain every time we hit a speed bump
  • The Mooressells for renting their tear-down to us (still one of our luckiest breaks of this whole series-of-fortunate-events) and for allowing us unrestricted access to their truck (and tool shed) while we were wiring
  • Larry Foster, grandfather of home inspection in Texas, for referring us to R and for double-checking his work through phase inspections
  • Construction lawyer (and UT Law professor) William Allensworth for his legal guidance
  • Tutu and Dad for their "bridge loans" last summer
  • Mortgage broker Ed Solter of Fairway Mortgage for wrangling us a 4.375% interest rate (but not for calling me "girlfriend"...'cause only Suze Orman gets to call me that)
  • Our new neighbors for their patience, enthusiasm for our home, and warm welcome to the neighborhood
  • My amazing husband, Steve, for daring to think that two little people could do something so big