30 January 2012

A Tiny Blog Tweak

I made a little change to the blog over the weekend. I was poking around in Blogger's design options and decided it was high time Green House, Good Life got a personalized favicon.

If that term is as foreign to you as it was to me, a favicon is the little (I mean tiny) icon that appears in your browser just before a website address and on the left side of each tab:

Blogger's default favicon is this orange and white "B":

Not so exciting, and certainly doesn't capture to essence of Green House, Good Life. Because of their size (smaller than your pinkie nail), favicons are easiest to see when they're a single letter (like the Blogger "B" or the Facebook "f"). But since a "G" didn't seem so cute (and "GHGL" wouldn't fit), I first tried this picture of the front porch area...

...but it was too detailed to be identifiable at favicon size.

So I started thinking about what else might work, and that's when the stained glass in our front door came to mind:

The design was called "California Poppy." I cropped it to a single poppy, lightened it, and cleaned it up by removing the metal trim (called "caming") between the pieces of glass...and that's how a logo (of sorts) was born.

The poppies were already pretty abstract in the stained glass (in fact, they've been mistaken for martini glasses...not unlike the windows on this gorgeous 1920s bungalow), and it's even a little more abstract as a favicon:

But I dig it -- especially since the header photo doesn't show this feature that is one of my very favorite parts of the house.

27 January 2012

Coloring in the Caretaker's Quarters

I would have sworn I posted about this last fall, but I just checked and couldn't find it, so here's the latest in the guest room (or caretaker's quarters, once I've completely lost my mind).

Remember the art over the bed?

The colors in the piece on the left (a watercolor of a waterfall on Kauai) didn't really work with the black-and-white-ness in the piece on the left (a photo of my college campus that I took and developed myself), so I got out my colored pencils and turned this...

...into this...

Yup, I colored right over the black and white photo. Colored pencils do a decent job of bringing back some of the color of the original subject. You can still tell it's not a color photo, but it has more dimension than the original picture, and it's really easy to do. The key is to use even pressure on the pencil -- it's hard to mess up when you're coloring green over a bunch of dark ivy, but you don't want to introduce streaks into, for instance, a light blue sky.

With that little change, the art above the bed is looking more balanced (sorry about the angle -- that's the only way I could get rid of the glare):

I still have plans for new/different nightstands and some modifications to the headboard (plus a rug and some other changes to parts of the room that aren't visible from this angle), but it's coming along....

On the subject of changes to other parts of the room, we've brought in a spare dining chair, a garden stool, and a new floor lamp (from Lowe's!) to create a little sitting area:

Oh, and a linen curtain...just one for now...it's a prototype....eventually both windows will have them on both sides....

And across the room, between the closet and bathroom doors, is the beginning of a display area. We will eventually replace the bookshelf with a different piece of furniture (we loved this Ikea sideboard, but it's a bit too wide), and the stuff is sort of a mish-mash -- even the plants on top are only there for the winter -- but the art above, a photograph of my aunt Patti's bees, is a keeper.

So that's what's been going on in the guest room over the last few months. Does any of that look familiar? I'd still swear I already posted about it.

25 January 2012

The Leaf, Part II (Still Not a Landscaping Post)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Nissan Leaf test drive we had signed up to take. Now that we've done it, here's the scoop.

The test drive began with a short presentation about the car and included this visual to answer the inevitable question, "Where's the battery?" (plus a bunch of much nerdier questions).

There are actually 48 batteries, and they are arranged under the car, as shown in the display.

The batteries on the left are under the front seats, and the row standing on end are under the back seats.

The 48 batteries provide about 100 miles of range. For that reason, while an all-electric car is really tempting, I don't think we would buy a Leaf. (When we go on road trips, we take our newer car. If we bought a Leaf, we'd be stuck taking our (much) older car on road trips, which we don't want to do.) I asked about the future prospects for increasing range, though, and was told that it's just a matter of the price of batteries coming down, which they eventually will. (I had thought it might be an issue of the size or weight of the battery pack, but the much-more-expensive Tesla can drive about 250 miles on a charge, so apparently it's not.)

To answer another frequently asked question -- "How do you charge it?" -- we moved on to an actual Leaf. Adorably, its hood has a hood -- and that's where the charger goes.

The mini-hood has two charging ports:

The port on the right works with the gun-like plug shown that goes to the 120-volt charger that comes with the car or with a 240-volt charging station. The 120-volt charger charges so slowly that it's not practical to use on a day-to-day basis (it's mostly to keep in the trunk for emergencies), so most owners would get a 240-volt charging station:

It takes about 7 hours to fully charge and can be programmed to charge at night (to take advantage of lower off-peak electric rates -- which Austin doesn't currently have -- or just to alleviate demand at peak hours). Although this charger usually costs about $2,000, Nissan has an arrangement with the charger manufacturer so that they will only cost about $700 plus installation. It has to be hard-wired on a 240-volt outlet, but since our garage already has a 240-volt outlet on its own circuit, installation likely wouldn't cost anything.

But remember how the mini-hood had a second outlet (the big one on the left)? It's for a 480-volt quick charger like those that are starting to appear at gas stations (mostly in California for now). A quick charger takes 30 minutes to get the battery pack to an 80% charge. Theoretically, quick chargers at gas stations (and elsewhere) could be the answer to the road trip problem, but I wouldn't want to count on it.

So that covers the mini-hood. Under the main hood, the Leaf looks pretty much like any other new car, right down to a regular old battery (for the air conditioning, radio, etc.).

And once we started the test drive, it actually felt like a regular car, too. Here's the car we drove:

And the interior:

It had the same kinds of electric feedback displays as hybrids (showing how much energy you are using (and generating -- braking actually returns some power to the batteries), etc.):

The only thing that was really pretty weird about it was the shifter. You just tap it whichever way you want to shift, but the shifter stays in the center:

On the road -- a set course of about a mile in downtown Austin -- the "gas" pedal was actually more responsive than a gasoline car (since nothing has to combust before the wheels start turning faster). Otherwise, it felt like any other car. No complaints here. (Except for the range issue.)

Even though a Leaf isn't in our future (at least, not for a while), Steve followed up his test-drive with a test-drive of the battery packs:

23 January 2012

Swing and a Miss

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the nothing-special-but-stuff-we've-been-needing gifts that Steve and I exchanged for Christmas, there was one thing (actually, six of the same thing) that I got for him that I left out of the post. I don't know why I didn't include them, but it's just as well, 'cause they aren't gonna work for us.

What I got him was six of these:

The goal was to have the exterior lights go on automatically at dusk and turn off at dawn. (Side note: this is one area where the green building community is at odds with the law enforcement community. The police advise keeping houses well-lit at night, which is effortless with dusk-to-dawn sensors; our utility company (which administers Austin's green building program) sees this as a big waste of electricity. We tend to side with the police on this one, so dusk-to-dawn sensors have been on our to-do list for a while.)

Unfortunately, they didn't work for us. For two reasons, actually. First, this:

This is what the front porch looked like during the day. All day. The lights never turned off. The porch provided too much shade, so the sensors always thought it was dusk.

Second, the style of lights we have on the front of the house are designed so that you kind of see the bulb through two layers of glass. The glow of the bulb is supposed to be in the middle, but the light sensors bumped the bulbs down a couple of inches. (Up close, you could actually see the CFLs poking out the bottom.) No bueno.

So back to Home Depot they went. And now the lights are back to their former glory:

So we're on the hunt for different sensors that are more sensitive and aren't nearly as bulky. I don't know if they exist. (But I didn't know that an MP3 player that you could use underwater existed when I asked Steve for just such a device for my birthday a few years ago, and that didn't stop him from finding me this miracle of engineering.)

18 January 2012

House Fetish

Last fall, when Kelly over at Simply Kelly put together a dining room design for us, she suggested that it might be neat to use some construction photos as wall art. I LOVED that idea, and I've been working on it intermittently since then, sifting through thousands of construction pictures (as I previewed here) and amassing matching frames.

In the end, though, I decided that construction pictures would be better somewhere a little less prominent, so I ended up hanging three pairs of pictures in the hallway just off of the dining room.

But before we get down to the details, let's take a quick ride in the Green House time machine. In our old condo, we had a big hallway that we called "the gallery" because we hung a bunch of art (primarily consisting of framed Kandinsky, Picasso, and Duchamp posters):

(It's also where we hung delicates to dry -- I really miss having that long half-wall....) Of the three big "paintings" in the hall, I think my favorite is Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, which we hung over the staircase. (Too literal?) Now that we don't have stairs, I'm still looking for a good spot for it.

Anyway, even though our house is twice as big as our old condo, there's actually less wall space, so even this little hallway is precious wall real estate:

It was great to be able to put these narrow strips of wall to use:

(Yeah, I started this project before putting away the Christmas decorations. Don't judge.)

And here's the hall, all dressed up:

This is the view from the dining area -- still visible, but without screaming "our house is a shrine to...our house!":

One note -- a review I read on the Target website noted that these frames are a pain to hang because of their hangers:

And it's true -- it took a total of six nail holes to get the first two frames to hang relatively straight...but I blame myself for not figuring out that I should have just bought some picture wire to make them into normal one-nail frames, which I did after those first two frames:

Once that light bulb went off, hanging the third through sixth frames went a lot more smoothly. And we love seeing the construction pictures as much as we love finally having one more area decorated -- even if it's just a 30-square-foot hallway.

17 January 2012

Beet This

You know how, as kids, we learn/decide that certain vegetables are gross? And then we grow up and discover that some of them aren't really? Sweet potatoes (although technically not a vegetable, I guess) used to be on that list for me, but fortunately I "discovered" them several years ago. More recently, thanks to the Soup Peddler and their delicious oven-roasted vegetables, beets have gone from "yuck" to "yum." And since it seemed easy enough to oven-roast some vegetables, I thought I'd give it a try. (BTW, the oven-roasted veggies are available for order this week, for delivery or pickup next week...mmmm.)

Although the Soup Peddler's oven-roasted vegetables include new potatoes, red onions, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, and beets, I decided to start with just carrots and beets. (Next time I'll add new potatoes and onions. Zucchini and yellow squash, I can do without.) I found this recipe on epicurious.com and mostly followed it, except that, at the suggestion of some of the commenters on the recipe, I added some thyme. (It wasn't until I referred to the Soup Peddler website in writing this post that I realized that they list out the seasonings...so next time I'll add garlic, rosemary, and paprika instead of the thyme.) Here they are:

Some observations:

1. They took forever to make -- between the beets, the carrots, and then the beets and carrots together, nearly two hours in the oven.

2. Beets are seriously messy. Slicing them after the first round of baking temporarily stained my fingers, and the cutting board ended up looking like a crime scene. (That's also why eating beets makes your lips look so pretty.)

3. Beet skins peel off really easily. If you've ever roasted peppers and then attempted to remove the skins, you know what a chore it can be. Not so with beets.

4. They're so tasty, you might be inclined to eat so much that you give yourself a tummyache. Resist the temptation. Trust me; I speak from experience.

15 January 2012

Flowers in January

On Saturday we went to a birthday party for our little friend Lily, who was turning five. In addition to some fun little Hello Kitty things, we took her this sweet mini-arrangement:

From our own garden! In January!

I had noticed that our verbena still had some flowers on it, which I thought would make a nice little gift for our purple-loving friend. Once I went out back with my scissors, though, I realized that there were fewer viable flowers than I had thought, so I used what I could and also tucked in some sprigs of rosemary and lavender. (When we gave it to Lily, we showed her how to pull off a little piece of a leaf and crumple it in her fingers to get a good whiff of the herbs.)

I think the arrangement was a hit, although Lily's favorite part seemed to be that she got to keep the vase (which, being glass, we talked about how it would be best to let her mom store somewhere safe). I anticipate a series of little arrangements from her own garden next spring.

11 January 2012

A Note About Fire Safety

Since our house journey began with a tragic fire, we're hypersensitive to fire safety issues. So it really hit us hard when this happened on Monday in our neighborhood:

Our old neighborhood, about a mile away, but still. Crestview will always have a special place in our hearts.

Unlike the fire that destroyed the house that we ended up buying (which could have been rebuilt), that house exploded due to a gas leak. Apparently the owner had been smelling gas since October and called the gas company at least once, but the response was wholly inadequate. They came out just before New Year's, poked around a bit, and couldn't get at the leak; they said they would come back with the right equipment (most likely to dig up the driveway), but in the meantime...

...the house was reduced to rubble before the fire trucks even arrived on the scene.

So scary. I guess I think about gas leaks originating in the house, at appliances, where it's easier to detect and keep up on them. (You'd smell a leak at the stove, right?) I take some comfort in knowing that our risk of a gas leak is minimized because we only have about half the gas appliances that most houses have (due to our geothermal heat pump, which also powers the water heater). But gas leaks that originate outside seem harder to detect, and you're at the mercy of the gas company to fix them. (Several years ago, back at the condo, I smelled a gas leak on the side of one of the other buildings. I called the gas company, and I assume they came out to investigate, but the smell was never resolved, and I'm ashamed to admit that I never followed up.) I'd like to believe the repair folks triage as well as they can given their staff limitations (rather than just not caring), but when you're talking about highly explosive substances, triage is not enough.

It's been more than 48 hours since the explosion -- which killed the owner and blew out all of the windows of the house next door -- and the whole block is still without gas (and therefore heat as well). The Texas Railroad Commission, which (oddly) regulates gas pipelines, has taken over the investigation and repair work, and they've dug this huge hole looking for the leak:

While I don't know what kind of pipe actually had the leak, that hole is reminiscent of the 30" gas pipeline that blew up outside of San Francisco in 2010, destroying dozens of houses and killing four people. I don't know if this involves a major transmission line or "just" the individual service line to that house, but it's scary to think that this could happen to anyone. Even someone who did the responsible thing and called the gas company about the problem. So it goes without saying: if you smell gas, leave the house (and don't use your phone anywhere near the source) call 911, and don't stop calling until it has been fixed.

(More pictures and information here.)