28 November 2010

Intermission

Posts are going to be sparse this week -- we're busy preparing (by which I mean "making a last-ditch effort to organize some of the areas that are still in disarray") for my birthday party next weekend.

While we're tidying up, cleaning, and cooking for guests, we decided it was finally time to invite the neighbors over, too. The city-owned utility company (which administers Austin's green building program) hosts a green home tour (called the "cool house tour") every year, and we had thought about applying to be on the tour, but I think we're too private to want the public at large traipsing through our home. We do want to share our home with our neighbors, though (and we're happy to satisfy any lingering curiosity about what we built), so hosting our own "cool house tour" is the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Austin Energy even sent me a PowerPoint file of the signs they put up to explain each green feature on the real tour.

25 November 2010

Thanks to Costco for the Flowers

First things first. We foolishly neglected to take any pictures of our Thanksgiving dinner, or of the friends with whom we shared the wonderful meal.

But we did take pictures of the table:


We bought another bouquet of flowers from Costco and divided it into smaller arrangements. With blue and white dishes, the fallish colors of the flowers were perfect to give the table more of a Thanksgiving look...and since we served the food from one of the kitchen counters, we were able to keep these three little bunches (in Ikea vases) on the dining table throughout the meal (along with a basket of rolls, a bottle of wine, and a pitcher of water):


A larger one went on the coffee table (where we ended up playing Taboo for a couple of hours after dinner):


And I put another small arrangement in the front bathroom (the one right off of the living room):


Five floral arrangements: $15. Heaps and heaps of delicious food: $100 (give or take). Spending time with friends we don't see nearly enough: priceless.

We hope your Thanksgiving was as good as ours. Happy shopping! (Or avoiding the shopping, as is our preference.)

24 November 2010

Status: Master Bedroom (Part 2, "Status Wednesday" Doesn't Have the Same Ring)

Since our first master bedroom status post, we've made a bit of progress. I dragged my feet on hanging the picture I had intended to put over the bed, and finally I realized that my hesitation was because it wasn't right for the space. (Too big, and too bright, I think.) Instead, I hung it above the reading chair:


And that feels right.

We also put up the cellular shades.


It's nice to have privacy again...and to be able to adjust for the shifting sun (which is why the far left one is so far up in this picture). But it makes for a huge wall of beige. We're looking for some kind of window treatment solution that will fancy it up a bit, while not blocking the perfect, simple trim detail above.

So, in conclusion, we're still on the lookout for art over the bed, and our peeper is out of business.

20 November 2010

Boulder, Day 4

Day 4 was the sad day. (Because I had to leave, of course.)

I woke up early(ish), had my usual pre-race breakfast, and headed out to Longmont with Jessica. It was really cold (in the 20s, I think), so Jessica didn't stay to watch. We said goodbye, and I handed her off to her dad (who was visiting from Washington). As for the race -- the Longmont 10k Turkey Trot -- it was HARD. 10ks always are, but at a mile high, it was impossible to maintain the 8:30 pace I had hoped for. I barely kept the miles under 9s, and although I did gain some time toward the end, my placement (within my age group, gender, and overall) wasn't what I'm used to. But I had to get a run in somehow, and running with a thousand of my closest strangers is always better than running alone, so I'm glad I did it.

On the way back to Boulder, I stopped by Julie's house to see her once more and check in with her boys, whom I hadn't seen in five years. They are as sweet as ever.


Then I headed back to Chautauqua one last time (four times in four days!) to finally get a picture of the Flatirons. Although it was overcast again, I finally did capture the massive protruding rocks on film.


And one more for good measure:


I had tried to go for a hike on Day 3, but the snow earlier in my trip had made the trail quite muddy, and I didn't get very far.

After that, it was back to Patti's to do some laundry and pack, and then back to the airport. (Denver's airport is on the faaaar side from Boulder, and it takes about an hour to get there. Figuring in the possibility of traffic, plus time to return the car, take the shuttle to the airport, get my bags checked in, pass through security, take the train to the terminal, and find my gate...well, I left Boulder at 2 for a 4:40 flight (and then had time to spare, as none of the potential bottlenecks turned out to be). Denver could really use a Love Field-type airport on the near side of town. (So if any government officials responsible for that sort of thing happen to be reading...I'd appreciate if you would get right on that. Thanks.)

In conclusion, well, there's really no way to sum up four days in the place where I really think I am supposed to be. Every moment felt right; even the cold mountain air felt right. Thank you, Jessica, for giving me an excuse to get back there. Just say the word, and I'll do it again in a heartbeat.

19 November 2010

Boulder, Day 3

Day 3 was the beautiful day.

Now, technically, Boulder is as beautiful as it is magical*, but it's at its best when the sky is that lovely, deep, crisp blue that you only find at altitude. But Boulder can also be a bit fickle, and if I were more in sync with its moods, I would have rushed out as soon as I saw the blue sky to get the picture of the Flatirons that I was after. (Sure, I have others from when I lived there, and there are post cards, etc., but I always seem to want to capture my own.) But I had a busy morning and wasn't so tuned in to the Flatirons, and by the time I made it to Chautauqua, the sun had shifted and I could only get this:


"Only." A bad picture of Boulder's backdrop is still lovelier than pretty much anything in Austin...but the definition of the Flatirons themselves was lost. Looking toward the north, the mountains aren't as impressive, but the lighting conditions were better:


See the three houses at the base of the hill in the foreground? The left-most one belongs (or belonged at the time, anyway) to the surgeon who saved my life when I was ten. (Okay, it was just appendicitis...but I would have died if my defective appendix hadn't been removed, so technically the good doctor did save my life.)

But let's rewind to the beginning of Day 3.

I started the day over coffee/cocoa with my dear old friend Julie (proving that not all of my friends are professors). When I finally had to let Julie get back to work, I met Patti at the gym for a swim (about a mile) while she did her workout, and then we had lunch at Moe's Bagels (my all-time favorite bagel establishment). After lunch, Patti and I parted ways, and I went back to Pearl Street to make a purchase.

One of my goals for the trip was to buy a piece of art. I especially wanted to find something to go over the guest room bed, but I was open to whatever struck me. Patti and I had looked at several of the shops on Pearl Street the day I arrived, but I didn't find anything that grabbed me. I was beginning to think that art was like love -- you won't find it if you're looking. There were some cool, modern poster-type prints of Boulder by Steve Lowtwait, and I thought one of them might be nice in the exercise room (it has a bicycle on it!), so that was in the back of my mind as a decent back-up plan if I couldn't find anything that really spoke to me. So by the end of the second-to-last day of my trip, I was running out of time and decided to go back for that print. But, proving my theory, I happened upon a beautiful numbered print of aspen trees in a shop on my way back to buy the poster, and the search for art came to a lovely conclusion. (It will be a while, I'm sure, before it's framed and hung, but you'll see it someday.)

On the way back to Patti's, I decided to swing by the condo I lived in from age ten to seventeen. So here it is, the place where I spent a big part of my childhood:


It ain't pretty, but it was a fine place to grow up. But I only had a minute to contemplate that before I had to get back to Patti's to prepare for our night out. My last evening there was the first night of Boulder's "restaurant week" (which they call "First Bite"), and while Jessica spent some quality time at her brother's place, I took Patti and Robin out for one of the event's prix fixe, 3-course dinners (only $27 per person!). I let Patti choose the restaurant, and her choice, Alba, turned out to be the reincarnation of my favorite restaurant in town, The Full Moon Grill. While it had a new location and a special First Bite menu, it was as delicious as ever. Especially the apple tarte with creme anglaise.

For weeks before the trip, Jessica and I had been planning to go to the CU planetarium for a laser show. That night was our only opportunity, and with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at 9:30 and U2 at 10:45, we were resigned to the RHCP show because, well, we're old and can't stay up that late. But after falling asleep around 9:30 the first two nights we were in town, we realized that we'd be beyond exhausted if we tried to see either show. Next time, Jessica. Next time.

And, laser show or no laser show, it was another fantastic day in Boulder. (But really, is there any other kind of day in Boulder?)

* There. I said "magical" again.

18 November 2010

Boulder, Day 2

My second day in Boulder was as full and perfect as the first.

I woke up to this:


If I lived there, I'm sure the snow and cold would get really old, really fast, but on an occasional basis, it's magical. (Yes, I realize that I have now used the word "magical" in two of two posts about Boulder. That's just how magical the place is. I'll see if I can work it into the remaining posts about my trip...which shouldn't be hard, given how magical Boulder is.)

Anyway. After a lazy morning, Jessica headed to campus and Patti and I went to her gym for water aerobics. Don't laugh; water puts up a lot of resistance, and water aerobics is HARD if you do it right. I actually dropped out about two-thirds of the way through class, put my goggles on, and swam about half a mile instead, while Patti and the other ladies (and one dude) splashed about in the next lane.

My old law school friend Ian, who moved to Denver this spring to teach at the DU law school, picked me up at the gym, and we drove up Flagstaff Mountain so he could get an aerial view of the city. While the grey day kept the city from looking its best, snow on trees never disappoints:


And just to prove that Ian was really there:


As I mentioned, I love the way snow looks on branches. As I prepared to take this next picture, I commented to Ian that I always try but can never capture on film whatever it is that makes snow on branches so special. But here's the picture anyway:


We drove down the mountain and had pizza on Pearl Street, then ran around the corner for dessert crepes. Mine had sugar, cinnamon, butter, chunks of angel food cake, caramel, and Grand Marnier. Mmmm. After a late lunch, and crepes that took longer than expected, we had to rush back to Patti's so Ian could get back to Denver.

And although I was stuffed with pizza and crepe goodness, it was soon dinner time...and although I ate a ton, I never felt full after dinner (must have been the missing cake...or the marathon training).

Day 2 was also when the Scrabble really got going. Patti has been playing Scrabble with my cousin Matt on their phones. I don't know much about how these things work, but apparently there's an app for that. (Apple, please don't sue me for using your catchphrase.) The game is set up so that, once you play your word, the other person has 48 hours to make their play, so you never know when the next turn will come. (They usually play within a few hours.) Matt routinely beats Patti, so Jessica and I thought maybe we could help. And apparently a Ph.D., a J.D., a Fulbright Scholar (also Jessica), and a Mom are a pretty good match for Matt. If it weren't for his 50-point bonus for using all of his letters to spell "scanner," we would have beaten him. (You may think of this as "cheating," but we don't know for sure that he doesn't have three Ph.D.'s, an M.D., and a Rhodes Scholar on his team, so I'm going to call it simply "leveling the playing field.") It added a bit of unexpected fun to the trip and meant that there was always something to do if there was a lull in the conversation. And it felt a little bit like spending some time with Matt (who lives in San Francisco)...even if he didn't know it.

17 November 2010

Time for a Vacation

Last week I spent four days in Boulder, Colorado, where I lived from when I was ten until I went to college in Virginia. Boulder is a magical place. When I'm away, my soul aches to be there, and on the rare occasion when I am in town, I dream of moving back.

It was in the upper 70s a few days before I arrived...but I landed to this:


When I got into Boulder (at 9 a.m., thanks to the miracle of the direct flight and an insanely early departure time), one of my first stops was...well, I don't know what the neighborhood is called -- the area across Baseline Road from Chautauqua park. It's a great old neighborhood to walk around in -- despite the temperatures in the 40s -- and I had some time to kill, so I took a walk toward Chautauqua.

Since I was last in Boulder five years ago, a lot of the houses in that area have been torn down and replaced with new homes, like this one:


I loved the red bushes out front, and the cool gate with the cross pattern that plays off of the cross pattern on the highest gable. And how the gate is freestanding, with the red bushes forming the rest of the fence.

Since it had been so warm, some of the trees still had green leaves. The overnight snow must have weighed them down, making a neat effect where some of the leaves on the ground were green, some were yellow, and some were brown:




And some of the leaves couldn't decide what color they should be:


When I got to Chautauqua, at the base of Boulder's iconic Flatirons, well, they weren't looking so iconic:


See the fog? That's where the Flatirons should be.

But the Chautauqua Dining Hall was looking lovely as ever:


As I made my way along the winding road through the park, I came across this lovely cottage:


If it were mine (which I understand would set me back quite a pretty penny), I'd paint it lighter, brighter colors, but there's something irresistible about the contrast of the yellow leaves against the brown steps:


Moving along...after my walk and a stop on Pearl Street for lunch, it was time to check out the redeveloped 29th Street shopping area. It was a little disappointing to see so many chain stores in the heart of Boulder (there's even a Home Depot there now), but it was cool to see this inside a women's athletic apparel shop:


That's right -- a clothing store with recycling and composting bins! So, if I happened to be eating an apple as I shopped, the core would be composted without needing to take it home (like I frequently do...I take recyclables and compostables home from work, from races, from restaurants, etc.). It's that kind of thing that makes me say Austin is about as progressive (or, rather, has progressed about as much) as Boulder 20 years ago.

But what Austin lacks in progressiveness, it makes up for in oxygen content in the air. I was supposed to do about a 6-mile run that first day, including intervals at marathon and half-marathon pace (8 and 9 minutes/mile), but after about four miles above 9-minute pace, I called it a day.

And now for the real reason for my trip -- this lady:


The one on the left, I mean. (I see the one on the right all the time.) That's Jessica, my best friend from high school. She moved to Bangkok a couple of years ago, and now she's a fancy professor at a university whose name I can't remember (it's something like "Chalupa Corn"). She was back in the States on official business and asked if I wanted to meet her in Boulder. Anyone who's ever been there knows there's only one answer to that question. I didn't even have to think about it. And I was shocked to find that my round-trip ticket cost only $130 with taxes and everything! For direct flights! The cost of my rental car made up for it, though. But the best part of the whole arrangement was that Jessica and I were able to stay together with my aunt and uncle, Patti and Robin. Jessica was busy all day with appointments on campus, so it was great to be able to stay in the same place as her (instead of her being at her brother's place in a stinky suburb) and have leisurely dinners and sleepy breakfasts together. The picture above was taken after the first fantastic meal they served us. My only complaint about their accommodations is that I was promised a cake, but no cake was forthcoming. (Fortunately, there's a race in Boulder next May that I'd like to compete in, so maybe I'll get my cake when I'm back then.)

16 November 2010

One Year Ago Today...

...our lot was bare except for this.

Today, the view is somewhat different:


Yes, one year ago today, we had just arrived in Hawaii, where we spent the first three weeks of construction. Today we are ready for large brush pickup, with almost as many branches piled up just outside the left side of the picture as you can see to the right of the driveway. Once they're picked up (sometime this week), we'll be able to take a good look at what we're dealing with, and maybe we'll work up the motivation to get back to working on a landscaping plan.

15 November 2010

Utility Update

For the period from October 10 to November 7, our total actual electric usage (not including customer charges, etc.) came in at $28.48. And since we still haven't turned on the heater, the next bill should be even better. (With the outdoor temperature currently at 58 degrees, it's holding steady at 74 inside.)

Unfortunately, despite having only $34.08 in actual utility usage (electricity, water, and wastewater...gas is billed separately), our utility bill came to $93.04 due to all of the various additional charges. Seems like, if Austin Energy were serious about encouraging customers to curb their usage, they would adjust that balance so $5.60 in water/wastewater wouldn't be accompanied by a fixed $17.95 in customer charges. And so on.

14 November 2010

Ready for Large Brush Pickup

Thanks to the kick in the pants provided by the city's large brush pickup schedule, our side fence area has gone from this:


to this:


And looking across the yard from the guest room:


Sure will make it easier to replace the fence when the time comes. I can see across the next two yards now -- all the way to a fence with vertical slats (just like we want to put in).

When I asked our neighbor, John, for permission to cut the trees along the fence that were on his side (many of which were growing right through the fence, blurring the line between "ours" and "his" anyway), he not only said that was fine, but he even called in his landscape guy to take care of some of the removal. (John said it was long overdue and needed to happen so that the grass would grow back on the (formerly) shady side of his yard.)

09 November 2010

Statuesday: The Guest Room (Part 1, Feeling Guesty)

Statusday? Sta-tues-day? Forgive me for being three days late with this post? (Two if you accept that it's pretty much always going to slide to Sunday.)

We had some work to do before we could show off the status of the guest room...for anyone who's planning to be a guest in the near future. It's got some work to do, but as far as these things go, I'd say it's pretty inviting:


We definitely need some art over the bed, and the left (non-pear) lamp is pretty lackluster, but it's a good start.

By the way, I don't think I ever did an "inspiration" post on the guest room. The inspiration for the guest room was...our old guest room:


You can't tell from these pictures, but it's the same paint color. (In the afternoon during the summer, the new guest room looks brrriiiight yellow, but now that the light is softer, it's looking more buttery.) I loved our old guest room. The curtains are from Pottery Barn, and my grandmother cut them down to the right length. They were one of the things I told our buyers that I'd love to have back if they ever didn't want...but they're so perfect in there, I don't expect that will ever happen.

Anyway, back to the present. Here's the guest room sitting area:


These pictures really drive home how much we need to start making decisions about art.

Here's the wall between the closet and bathroom doors.


The tall unit is a wooden shelf from Hold Everything (a chain that I don't think exists anymore) with a canvas slipcover that conceals my sewing things. The bins on top are from L.L. Bean and hold more sewing things. The luggage rack is a $5 garage sale find from a few weeks ago (I've started stopping by some garage sales on my way home from my long runs. In my car, I mean). It has a lovely yellow needlepoint flower pattern on it, and with a guest coming from across the pond next week, the timing couldn't be better.

But lest you think that the luggage rack is my best garage sale find in the guest room, I present this:


Currently hidden away in a drawer, this spare clock set me back just ONE DOLLAR! (The thing I've discovered about garage sales is that some people just don't know when they're sitting on a gold mine.)

06 November 2010

Just Like You Can't Undo a Haircut...

This morning, after my excruciating 16-mile run*, I planned to spend a few minutes hauling to the front yard all of the tree branches I've cut over the last couple of weeks (which I left in the back so kids wouldn't get hurt as they ran across our yard in the dark on Halloween). Now, I tend to underestimate how long things will take, so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised when it ended up taking about two hours to clear all of the branches out.


But looking at the pile of branches lined up along the curb, it still doesn't look like it should have taken that long:


Now to the inspiration for the title of this post. After cutting a lot of the branches away from the back fence line, we have a much clearer view of the house behind us. And it ain't pretty:



Kind of hard to see, I know. Now that they can see us as clearly as we can see them, I didn't want to head out back and snap a picture of their house from the fence. So if you're thinking that it's hard to make out walls versus windows versus doors, trust me, it's not much to see. So, for that reason, and since that is the last house before the park on the street behind us, we're going to leave the rest of the trees along the back fence line until we're closer to actually replacing the fence (with something like this).

If you're wondering, the garbage and recycling bins are from the old house. We stashed them back there before demolition, forgot about them, and found them again when we (I) started cutting the trees. I need to call 311 to have them picked up.

* Seriously? I'm supposed to do what I did today, plus another 10 miles? 10.2, actually? Really? And at about a minute per mile faster pace than I did today? I'll believe that when I see it.

03 November 2010

Cooling Down and Heating Up

Fall has finally come to Austin. Right now it's about 55 degrees and drizzly. The cooler temperatures are making for chilly runs -- I've had to break out the running tights (capri, but still) and mittens.

What we haven't had to do yet is turn on the heater. Friday night, when it got down in to the low 40s, the house only lost three degrees overnight (from 78 to 75). We might have to crank up the heat tonight...even though it's going to warm up to almost 70 tomorrow. The sun has shifted so that, in the afternoon, light pours into the master and guest room, warming the house through 100% free "passive solar." (During the summer, the sun passes higher in the sky, and the eaves block most of the direct sun.)