31 October 2010

Halloweekend Recap

This was our first real Halloween -- we've always lived behind a gate or, last year, on a cul-de-sac off of a pretty big road that wasn't conducive to trick or treaters. Tonight, all told, we probably had about 30 kids come by, and with the help of some intel from a neighbor that guided our candy purchase, we managed to end up with just a few pieces left over. Good times. (Definitely better than last Halloween, when the temporary house tried to kill me and I had a run-in with a cockroach.)

This morning was the 10-miler in the series of races leading up to the marathon, which meant that I got to skip my long (14-mile) training run yesterday in favor of an easy 3-mile run...after which I was full of energy to do some more work on the jungle out back:


Now that Halloween is over and I don't need to worry about kids tripping in our front yard, I can start taking the cut branches to the front so they'll be ready for large brush pickup in a couple of weeks.

But back to the race. I've done it twice before, and the second time (2008) I cut about a minute per mile off of my time. I knew I wouldn't be able to match my best time (8:05 per mile), and I didn't think I was even in good enough shape to hit my 2007 time (9:04 per mile)...but I did and was thrilled to see that I had an 8:27 pace in me. (This is exciting because I had thought that missing most of the 2009/2010 season had set me back to 2007 or even further, but today's race suggests that I've managed to regain the fitness I had in about spring 2008, making this whole marathon thing perhaps not as much of an uphill battle as I had feared. Nevertheless, it's clear that my legs are going to be sore tomorrow!)

Switching gears...when I went to take the picture above, I found this hanging out on the bedroom window and immediately knew you needed to see it, too:


And in other bathrooms-you-can-see-from-living-spaces news: I realized that the rarely-used powder room in the mudroom is also visible from the master bedroom hall and parts of the great room. Heck, the powder room and front bathroom can practically see each other. The only bathroom with any privacy at all (I mean, apart from the doors) is in the guest room.

30 October 2010

Status Saturday: The Attic

As I mentioned during construction, we opted for a "sealed attic," which means that the insulation (spray foam) is applied to the underside of the roof instead of the attic side of the ceiling. That puts the attic within the "thermal envelope," keeping the attic space within 5-10 degrees of the rest of the house, instead of allowing it to reach 130 degrees or higher like most attics in Texas. It also means that the air conditioning ducts are pumping cool air through a space that's just a little warmer than the space it's cooling, instead of wasting energy by pumping cool air through an oven. (Additionally, it means that any inevitable duct leakage stays within the thermal envelope.)

We also opted to use "attic trusses," manufactured trusses that were designed with spaces where flooring would be put down so we can store things up there. In our case, that translates to a space of about 8'x40' where we can store boxes, holiday decorations, extra paint, etc. And it's been an absolute godsend. So as we've been clearing out the exercise room and unpacking various things, it's been great to have the attic to hold...well, all of the stuff that goes in the attic.

So far we've just been stashing things anywhere we can find space, which has resulted in this:


And from the other end (standing by the HVAC unit):


Once we have more or less everything up there that is going to go up there, we'll strategize how to organize the space, install shelves, etc....but for now, there's a lot of messy going on in our attic.

27 October 2010

@#&!$ Stole My Soup

From time to time, we order soup and other food items from the Soup Peddler. Last Saturday was one of those times, and today was our scheduled delivery day, so I left a cooler on our front porch, as per the Peddler's procedures.

When I got home, the cooler was GONE. So was our door mat.

I immediately called the Soup Peddler to ask if they had already made the delivery, if they had perhaps moved the cooler, etc. They said they had delivered the soup about an hour earlier, so we honed in on a 45-minute window when we believe the crime was committed. The Peddler graciously agreed to re-deliver our order tomorrow (even though we no longer have a cooler in which to receive it) or to credit our account if they don't have adequate stock.

The police dispatcher I spoke with was very professional, asking questions like, "Can you describe the cooler?" and "Did the soup have any value?" (Um, hello? It was brand new soup, and the amount I had paid for the order is a pretty good indication of its value.) Nevertheless, I got the feeling that, as soon as we hung up, he was going to tell all of his dispatcher friends about his ridiculous soup theft call.

Now, it's not like I think the police are going to get right on it and crack this case, returning the soup to me for my dining pleasure. But I do think it's important to report any theft, as the police use this data to allocate their resources around town. Taking anything from someone else's porch suggests a lack of respect for others that could lead to other, more serious crimes, so if my silly report can help get our neighborhood more police presence and prevent other crimes, it's worth doing.

26 October 2010

Lines of Sight

Our house design came together in record time, thanks to buying CAD files from the internet, hiring a local designer to make changes to the original plans, and having definite ideas about what we wanted. (The reason we went that route was that I fell in love with the exterior, but the efficiency was definitely a nice side effect.) Consequently, our plans were 99% final in about two months...but I do wonder if taking more time would have eliminated some of the...funny...vistas in and around the house.

Here's one I discovered while, um, availing myself of the front bathroom.


At the risk of divulging more information than you bargained for, we tend not to close the the bathroom door all the way when we're the only ones in the house. Pushing it most of the way closed has usually been fine everywhere we've lived (including, fortunately, the potty closet in our new master bathroom). In this bathroom, though, if the door is even the slightest bit ajar, there's a clear view all the way across the great room, down the master bedroom hall, and into the mudroom...which means that, if the door isn't closed, everything going on in the bathroom is visible from the mudroom. Case in point:


Yeah, that's the toilet in there...and yeah, you can see it within a step or two of coming into the mudroom from the garage.

Another example is the master bathroom. Upon moving in, we quickly discovered that, with the door open, you can see all the way from inside the shower out to the master bedroom, to the outside, through the screened porch, outside again, and all the way into the guest room. Yes, these next pictures were taken from inside the shower...which means that someone in the guest room, the screened porch, or outside can see straight into the shower when the bathroom door is open.



(The long, dark rectangle to the right of center in the picture above is the edge of the guest room window, surrounded by white trim and green siding.)

Part of the solution to these issues arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago and went up last night...


...not that anyone is currently occupying the guest room (although we expect a visitor from England in a few weeks). You can see the new cellular shade from master shower here:


And from the master bedroom here:


And here:


Of course, that doesn't take care of the issue of random peepers looking into the master bedroom/bathroom/shower. For that, we finally, belatedly, ordered window coverings for the master windows last night.

But even once the master windows are covered, there remains another master bathroom issue, this time thanks to those lovely mirrors. Here's another shot from the shower:


One of the mirrors reflects the showering person right through the master bedroom and into the sight of anyone standing in the master/mudroom hall. (That's the doorway from the master to the hall in the center of the picture above.) Even pushing the bathroom door mostly closed doesn't fix this one. The open master door is still right there.


In case you're wondering, yes, it would have been fun to position Steve in these pictures (a picture being worth a thousand words and all), but no, I didn't ask him to be our showering guinea pig.

24 October 2010

Large Brush Pickup

Twice a year, the city comes to our neighborhood to pick up tree branches (or entire trees, etc. -- whatever you want to cut down and arrange to the city's specifications along the street. Year round, on garbage day, they will pick up leaves and smaller branches and turn them into compost and/or mulch, but you have to cram everything into garbage cans for that). Last week, we received a postcard announcing large brush pickup in Allandale the week of November 15. Since part of our no-plan landscaping plan is to remove the trees along the side and back fence lines so that we can put in a real, wooden fence (many of the trees are directly along the property line or otherwise interfere with the installation of a fence), we jumped at the opportunity to get the city to take the trees away for us. Which means that we need to cut/remove everything by the 15th.

And since I hate getting perfectly good, clean clothes dirty (I prefer to do yard work after I've already been out sweating), after this morning's ride and run I spent some time in the back yard with the loppers and accomplished this:


I didn't have the good sense to take a "before" picture, but you can see the pile of branches on the ground. Starting on the right side (closer to the house), I removed everything I could reach in half an hour (with the exception of our neighbor's lovely oleander). The next step will require our trusty pole saw so we can reach the higher branches.

I'm going to wait until after Halloween to take everything to the front yard. I'm hoping a bunch of kids will come by this year, and our yard is scary enough without adding an element of danger with piles of branches.

20 October 2010

Holy Window Covering, Batman!

Our first four cellular shades arrived yesterday, and we installed the first one -- a single-cell shade in the exercise room. We need to make a slight modification to the windows before we can permanently install them, but we're satisfied with our selection.


Because of the light coming in the windows when I took the picture, the room looks really dark...but it's not. The shades actually allow a lot of light in (they also make a "blackout" variety). Using the flash probably would have yielded a better picture, but I don't like using the flash and was in a hurry to get the pictures before I had to leave for my running workout. Working full-time (and then some), training for a marathon, and trying to keep up a blog is HARD.

The other two shades are for the guest room. Since it receives the most direct afternoon light in the house, we ordered double-cell shades (which are more insulating) for that room. We're pretty much set on ordering the same kind of shades for the rest of the house, but we need to get the guest room shades up to see if we want double-cell in the master as well (everywhere else will be single-cell).

16 October 2010

No One Told Me Marathon Training Would Require Flower Arranging Skills

Tomorrow is the IBM 10k, the first race in the 2010-11 Austin Distance Challenge, so I invited my marathon training friends, Kelli and Christina, to join us for homemade pasta tonight. With that in mind, I was drawn in by Costco's flower stand and decided to buy a bouquet. (Yes, I'm prettying things up so my friends will think we're the kind of people who always have fresh flowers...and make our bed...and clean up after ourselves....)

But I didn't want to just buy a bunch of flowers and throw them in a vase. (And although Costco has great prices, I can't help thinking $15 is kind of a lot for a single "everyday" bouquet.) So I grabbed a few different vases, took the bunch apart, and got to work making three arrangements:


Here's what I ended up with on the dining table:


It's not too different from the original bouquet, although I think I cut the stems too short (I'm the worst flower arranger in the world). The lilies have started to open, so it's prettier now.

One of the smaller bouquets went in a ceramic Ikea vase in the front bathroom (the one that day guests use):


I think it brings a nice pop of color to a black and white room. It's basically just one frilly flower plus some interesting pieces of "garnish" that came with the bouquet.


A slightly larger mini-arrangement in a white glass vase (also from Ikea) went on the side table in the great room:


It took a good half-hour to make the three arrangements (like I said, worst flower arranger in the world), but I think it was worth the time and the $15. (Now it's more like $9, $4, and $2 for the three, which seems a lot more reasonable.)

If you noticed that the lampshade is unusually shiny, that's because it's still in its wrapper. I'm trying to decide whether to keep it. I really like it but think it's too dark, so I'm leaning toward returning it. I love the color/pattern of the old lampshade but really want to change to a drum-style shade. If only I could find that shape in this:


But alas....

12 October 2010

The No-Plan Landscaping Plan

We're coming to terms with the fact that we have neither the time nor the energy to tackle the landscaping (which includes a sprinkler system, fence, driveway, and rainwater collection system) this fall. So we have a new plan: rye grass.

In these here parts, rye grass is often used to overseed yards when the full-time grass turns brown in the winter. I'm not sure how well it will take on our strip-mined yard,* but I'm sure our neighbors are beyond looking for perfection at this point.

So, in light of the revised plan, the short-term goals are to:
1. Finish removing and disposing of the construction silt fence. (We've pulled most of it out of the ground and have been cutting it apart to fit into our smallish garbage can to be taken away, bit by bit, each week.)
2. Pull the weeds in the front yard.
3. Seed the rye grass. (That's probably 3.1. 3 is actually to research the proper time to do that. All I know so far is that we need to use annual rye grass, not perennial, so it will take care of itself next spring.)
4. Deal with (plant, I suppose) the free trees that the city should be dropping off next month.

Number 4 is happening sooner than we'd like, but we don't control when they bring us the trees. (I already talked them into pushing back the delivery from last week and can't do any more than that.) Ideally, I'd like to get the sprinkler system installed before the trees go in (so we won't be digging up the yard after they've been planted), but that hinges on figuring out a landscaping plan so we know what kind of sprinklers to put where, and that's not likely to happen in the next six weeks.

The next phase of prep work, over the winter, will include (in no particular order):
1. Cutting and removing virtually all of the trees ("volunteers") that have taken up residence along the side and back property lines (so we can put in a new fence without obstacles).
2. Leveling and removing the dirt pile left over from construction (chalk that one up to a miscommunication while we were in Hawaii).
3. Pulling the weeds in the back yard.
4. Getting a landscaping plan down on paper so we can hit the ground running in the spring.

So that's the plan. If you're thinking that this amounts to a plan to push back the planning...well, you're right. That's what we're doing. Give us a break; we're still unpacking.

*Side note: the Chilean miners are being rescued tonight! I don't know what it is about that story that feels so good, but it really, really does.

05 October 2010

Compare and Contrast

I recently realized that I didn't have any good pictures of the exterior. Lots of progress photos, but nothing recent. So...well, with the landscaping situation (which might aptly be referred to as "none"), I wouldn't exactly call this a good picture, but at least the construction debris is gone...mostly...anyway, just take a look:


We've been spreading ground up drywall around the yard, slowly but surely (it's supposed to be good for breaking up the clay soil), but the pile is still there. The vegetation in the foreground is more weeds than grass. The green cylinder next to the garage is a rain barrel that will eventually go in the back yard (it's there for now to help with the drainage issue going on in front of the bunny room). In short, we're a long way from anything final, but if you ignore all of that, it does look like the rendering, which was what made me fall in love with this design as our starting point in the first place.

03 October 2010

Green House, Good Life

I see you found the new URL. So...why "Green House, Good Life"?

As I mentioned, "Green House" and "Green, Green House" were both taken on Blogger. And, in the end, I'm fine with that. This blog is definitely about our house, which is green in both color and energy-efficiency. However, it's also about the life we live in and around the house. We are absolutely blessed to have a great life, and I love sharing those stories as well.

Today was my only triathlon of the season. It's hard coming back, not only because of the physical challenges, but also because so much goes into a successful triathlon. I've forgotten my pre-race breakfast and mid-race nutrition routines, was afraid I'd forget to pack one of the hundred necessary pieces of gear, and am out of practice making quick transitions from the swim to the bike and the bike to the run. I was prepared for a disappointing performance.

This was a small race, so multiple age groups were combined into each swim wave, which means that you can't tell by looking at the colors of swim caps how many of your age group are ahead of you. I'm definitely slower in the water than I used to be, but I was fairly satisfied with my swim. I had a relatively quick transition to the bike and started tackling the rolling hills, still out of breath from the swim but riding as hard as I could (and dreading the run, since my legs were already exhausted from yesterday's 10 miles in marathon training). I checked the age written on the calf of each girl who passed me and was relieved every time I saw an age group other than mine (although I was passed by a 62-year-old, which was sort of worse). But a mile or two from the end of the bike, a "31" wearing a fast-looking black and yellow tri suit passed me. I began an internal dialogue about whether I should try to keep up or whether she would just take off on the run anyway. As I caught up to and passed her on a downhill (or was it an uphill?), I said, "tell me you're lightning fast on the run so there's no point trying to keep up." She insisted that she's not a fast runner, but I didn't believe her...but I also knew that I was riding as hard as I could, so if she got away, she got away, and there was nothing I could do about it. I think she passed me again, and then I may have passed her again before the end of the bike.

For the last couple of years, I've used the advanced technique of leaving my bike shoes clipped into my pedals, running my bike out of the transition area in bare feet, hopping on the bike, and putting my feet into my shoes after I've gotten going. At the end of the bike, I take my feet back out, setting them on top of my shoes for the last couple hundred yards of the race, jumping off of the bike while it's still moving, and running my bike back to my spot. I'm pretty good at this, and I often have one of the fastest bike-run transition times of anyone in a race (important, as transitions count toward the total time, and seconds can make the difference). Today, I did a perfect "flying dismount," garnering cheers from the spectators and totaling 38 seconds to run my bike into the transition area, put it back on the rack, put my running shoes on (with special laces that don't need to be tied), grab my visor and race number belt, and head out the other end of the transition area. And running was indeed hard. And I wasn't fast. And it was getting warm, and it was going to be a long few miles. But about a minute in, "31" caught up to me and said, "See? I'm not fast," to which I responded, "apparently you are, since you're passing me." She explained that she pushed the pace to catch up because she doesn't like to run alone, and then she ran alongside me. We spent the whole run chatting and distracting each other from the discomfort of running. (You might think that I could have run faster if I hadn't been talking the whole time, but today I really needed her to take my mind off of my legs, which felt like lead, and I'm sure I ran faster with her than I would have without.) When I told her my name, she remembered it from race results because we frequently have similar times. Indeed, as we chatted further, we discovered that we were first and second place in our age group at this same race last year. We tried to figure out how many others in our age group might be ahead of us -- since we knew from last year that the top three would win a free entry into next year's race -- but we had no way of knowing if we might be contenders. At one point in the last mile, she said, "oh no," and I saw that another girl with "32" on her calf had run by. I took off to try to pass again, but 32 was too fast. When the last hundred yards or so came up, 31 (whose actual name is Justine) gave me some encouraging words and started her sprint, crossing the first timing mat just ahead of me...but that wasn't the actual mat, and I don't think she heard the person telling us that the next mat was the end of the race. So officially I beat her by a hair, but she really beat me...or we tied. It wasn't until the official results were posted that we discovered that 32 was the only person in our age group ahead of us, so we both won free entries. (When I got home, I looked up the detailed results online and found that we are so well matched that we also had the exact same swim time.) Thanks to Justine, it was probably the most fun I've ever had at a triathlon, and I'm sad my season started and ended in the same day.

Today was also a reminder of the sacrifices we made to be able to build the house. I missed out on a full year of serious training and racing. (Friends of mine have literally had babies and returned to racing faster. One friend actually won a big triathlon this spring while on maternity leave.) The accomplishment of hauling your body across 16 (or more) miles of the world, the feeling of finishing the bike and then the run without ever having caught your breath from the swim, and the happy ache of sore muscles afterward are like nothing else. I can't wait for next season to begin.

Good life indeed.

02 October 2010

Status Saturday: The Exercise Room/Box Farm (Part 1)

As promised, here's a view of the exercise room, which has been serving as a holding pen for boxes since we moved in.




You will note that I didn't tidy up or even close the closet doors for these pictures. No sugar-coating here. (I do it for you, dear reader.)

I took these pictures this morning. Then I had to go to the office for a few hours this afternoon. When I returned, Steve had made a significant dent in the remaining boxes, but I'm not taking another round of pictures. (You'll have to wait until the next time the Status Saturday photography crew visits the exercise room...by which time we should also have blinds on the windows and a pretty neat piece of art on the wall, which we recently ordered and I'm super excited about.)

Today has been kind of a wild day. I was up at 6 to run 10 miles, then picked up my packet for tomorrow's triathlon and did some recycling while I was in the area (did you know there are places you can recycle those metallic-lined energy bar/granola bar wrappers?), then ran (drove) home and did some chores, then headed up to the gym for the last day of the 20-day challenge (swam a lap in the lake, which has been my fall-back activity when I haven't had the energy for anything more rigorous), then came home and had a noontime French toast breakfast with Steve before going to work from about 1-4:30. Whew. By the way, my weekly totals are 2 miles of swimming and 22.5 miles of running (plus some spinning and core work...but no actual bicycle time). That's not a lot for some people, but it's a lot for me. Especially with a triathlon starting at 8 am tomorrow (my first in over a year). Details to come, I'm sure.

01 October 2010

Green Moving...and Slow Moving

Today I read about a relatively new concept in moving -- reusable plastic bins that you rent instead of buying and assembling cardboard boxes. I've seen corporate movers using these, but apparently there are companies that will also rent them out for house moves. The website focuses on three main benefits -- cost, convenience, and greenness. Cardboard boxes do get expensive when you're buying a whole houseful of them, but when we moved we used free boxes from friends and our offices. Most of them were also preassembled, so we saved the time and hassle (and tape) of putting them together. My favorite boxes, though, are those office paper boxes (the kind that hold about 10 reams) because they come with lids and are a great size for carrying. And when we were finished with the boxes, we passed many of them on (we took about 20-30 of them back to the temporary house and posted them on Craigslist; they were gone within a couple of hours) and are recycling the rest as we empty them.

The thing that struck me about this rental concept is that the company rents the boxes for two weeks -- "two full weeks to pack and move," they generously proclaim. Were we expected to move in two weeks? Is that typical? 'Cause we're three months in, and there's still plenty to unpack (stay tuned for this weekend's Status S-whichever-day). And we also took more than a week on the packing side of things.

These crates are a neat concept, but we'd have to be a whole lot more (a) organized and (b) motivated to make it work for us.