30 March 2012

Everything Old is New Again

Okay, maybe not everything, but definitely this:

When I first saw the cabinet at my neighborhood junk store, I knew it had the potential to look amazing, but I'm pretty blown away by the transformation (and it's not even finished).

Details coming soon.

28 March 2012

The Greenest Construction in the 'Hood

Earlier in the week, when I wrote about some of the houses being built or remodeled in Allandale, I left out my favorite one so I could feature it separately.  I think you'll agree that it's the prettiest.

And it demonstrates several green building principles, too.

But let's start at the beginning.  Around Christmas, one of our neighbors (let's call him "Dad") decided to build a playhouse for his daughters.  I doubted that it would be finished before they went off to college, but Dad got right on it.

The backyard got pretty treacherous for a while there....

In addition to being small (which is inherently green because less material went into it) and energy-efficient (no HVAC, obviously), some rather creative repurposing of materials went into the super-sweet interior.

They brought in the toddler bed they no longer need, as well as a table, chairs, and a play kitchen, and it's already getting tons of use.

But back to the creative repurposing.  Maybe repurposing isn't the right word.  After all, the materials are being used for the same purpose as they were when they were used in our house -- because we gave them some of our leftover construction materials!

First, leftover tongue and groove boards from our porch ceiling.

Dad was thrilled to have them.  (They were up in our garage attic from construction, and they were 16' long.  When I went to get them down, I realized that they must have been put up there before our walls and ceiling went up.  They wouldn't fit through the little attic access port, so we had to cut them to size before bringing them down.)

But that's not all we contributed to the cause.  Notice any similarities between the playhouse and our guest room?

Dad had asked about the color we used because they wanted to put the same color on the interior walls.  It's Parchment, an old Sherwin-Williams color that they can still make if you ask, but since Dad was going to use Olympic no-VOC paint, I needed to find or make them a swatch to match to.  As I was finishing painting them a little swatch on an index card, I realized that we had more than enough leftover paint, so I just gave them some of ours.

Seriously, does it get any better than that?  A pink and yellow playhouse that's also green?  Nope, it just doesn't get any better.

26 March 2012

Construction in the 'Hood

When we started our design/building process (nearly three years ago now!), ours was one of the only construction sites in the neighborhood. But now they're popping up all over, and of course I love watching their progress. I've been taking pictures for a really long time, and I could keep waiting to write about this until more of them are complete, but then there would be more houses under construction, and it would be never-ending. So I'm calling the construction in the 'hood photo project done. (At least for now.)

Jumping right in, here's a "before" that was calling out for an "after":

It was taken down to the studs and de-Addams-Family-ified...

...and now looks 1,000 percent better:

In pretty big news for our quiet little neighborhood, an already rough-looking house a few blocks away was (allegedly) burned down by its tenant the day before he was scheduled to be evicted. A builder snapped up the corner lot, tore down what was left of the old structure, and got to work:

The resulting home -- one of the biggest in the neighborhood -- sold in record time. (Like ours, construction wrapped up during the summer, and it went the whole first year without landscaping.)

Although the neighborhood is from the 1950s and early 1960s, there are some fun new modern houses going in, too.

I didn't find this one until the tail end of construction, but it was fun to watch because they used Marvin Integrity windows like we did, and the "mortarless" stone work was really well done (and I know from experience how labor-intensive it is -- which is why only our fireplace is mortarless).

Here's another remodel, which took a traditional ranch (unfortunately, I don't have any befores)...

worked with (and emphasized) the linear aspects of it...

...added this funky angular entry area...

...and turned it into a modern home with, as my friend Bubba over at Austin Cubed would say, a case of the horizontals:

This one is also technically a remodel...

...with precious little left of the old bungalow (just the brick part on the left?):

Remodeling green is technically greener than building green (because you're not tearing everything out and sending it to the landfill; you're keeping what's good about the structure and updating it with energy-efficient materials, etc.). I haven't been inside, but judging by the geothermal lines we've seen going in in the front yard, I'd say it's going to be a pretty efficient house.

This one has been going on for a while. It started by taking the old house down to the studs...

...and rebuilding in every direction:

Then there's this.

It's similar to the other traditional-ranch-to-modern-single-story above (but with a more serious case of the horizontals), but I swear it's been at the house wrap stage for over a year. I don't know what's going on -- foreclosure? Bankruptcy? Contractor dispute? Lack of will to go on? -- but I'm ever hopeful that this house will someday fulfill its modern destiny.

Wow, I didn't realize how many of the projects in the neighborhood are quite modern. So far, though, they're still few enough and far enough between that the 'hood hasn't lost any of its charm. What's clear, though, is that the wave of remodels/teardowns is moving north into Allandale, and ten or fifteen years from now, it's going to be a pretty different place.

22 March 2012

Agave Update

A couple weeks ago, Steve and I went to a plant talk by our local Monrovia representative at Shoal Creek Nursery. He had lots of good information, showed us a bunch of nifty plants, etc., but what really matters is that Steve ended up winning me this agave:

Yes! He won it for me! By proving his smarts by asking lots of good questions during the talk! (Really...at the end of the presentation, the Monrovia guy set it down next to Steve and said it was for asking such good questions.)

It's only about 8" across, but it was selling for $40, so I'm thrilled that it came into our lives for free. It's an agave parryi, commonly called an artichoke agave, and it will grow to two or three feet across.

We planted it in front of the house, in the corner by the bunny ears cactus and the agave we planted last summer. We also planted a little Queen Victoria agave that we bought a month or two ago:

It's even smaller than the artichoke -- maybe 6" across, and likely to grow to about two feet. When full grown, Queen Victorias have the most amazing round, geometric shape:

Instead of placing the new agaves where they would be prominent from the street, we decided to focus on making them look good from the house, so we arranged them with the view from inside in mind:

So that's our expanding Texas zone. Now that we have my three favorite agaves and the most awesome variety of cactus (bunny ears), it's time to sit back and watch how they grow and fill out that corner of the planting bed. Not that they aren't already really fun to look at -- here's the view from above:

But that's not all that's going on in agaveland. Remember the baby I moved from the big agave to a pot in the fall?

I wasn't at all confident it would survive being transplanted, but it seems to be thriving.

We plan to plant it in back by the roses this summer, where we can admire it from the bedroom windows. And then we'll start the process all over again, 'cause we recently spotted two more babies sprouting under their mama. I wonder where we'll put them....

17 March 2012

The 'Bines

Now that we're living on one income, we're being a lot more judicious with our spending...but that didn't stop this from happening yesterday:

Three bulbines to replace the ones we lost last summer, plus five columbines for the nook by the front door (big Colorado-style ones to supplement our diminutive yellow and red Hill Country ones).  I can't wait to get them in the ground.

14 March 2012

Happy Pi Day!

If you're kind of nerdy, you probably know that today is Pi Day (March 14...3/14...pi is 3.14...).  If you're not kind of nerdy, you're fashionably late to the party.  Welcome!

Steve's office (full of nerds, which I say with nothing but love) is having a Pi Day celebration, including the traditional Pi Day pie baking contest.  Obviously I thought Steve should enter, so I made him this (it's cool -- proxy bakers are allowed):

And then I decided it's high time I share the recipe with all of you.

It's pretty much the recipe that came with our Cuisinart, but with some changes to save time and increase yumminess.  First you make the pie dough (which is really flaky and delicious, and people are always really impressed that it's homemade, but it's super-easy!).

Pie dough ingredients
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1" chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ice water

Use the metal blade of the Cuisinart to process the flour, butter, and salt until the butter is all chopped up and the mixture is like coarse meal.  Add ice water and pulse until the dough clumps into a few big clumps.  Here's where the recipe says to take it out (careful not to slice your fingers on the blade!) and knead it, but I skip the kneading and just divide it roughly equally into two sandwich bags, making each half as round as possible and then flattening them into discs about 3/-1" thick.  Put the discs into the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour (overnight is fine).  Once it's chilled, it's time to assemble the pie.

Apple pie filling ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon FRESHLY GROUND nutmeg (you won't regret this)
2 pounds apples, peeled and sliced into 8-10 slices each (I use five Granny Smith apples)

Roll out the first dough packet so it's big enough to fill your pie pan (I just tear the sandwich bag off*) and place it in the pan.  Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl.  Arrange the apple slices in the bottom crust.  Then pour the sugar mixture evenly over the apples.  Next roll out the second dough packet and place it on top of the pie, securing the edges (I'm no good at this.  I kind of just tuck them into the side of the pan).  Sprinkle some water on top of the pie and then sprinkle sugar on top, then make five or six slits into the top of the pie so steam can escape.  Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

The process isn't tidy.  Midway through, your kitchen probably looksa little something like this:

But that's okay, because at the end you get this:

And I dare say it tastes better than it looks!

* Yes, I waste two ziploc bags every time I make an apple pie.  I don't feel good about it.  If you have a better suggestion for how to package the dough to chill, I'm all ears.

12 March 2012

The Family Tree

My uncle Jerry is a sculptor in Hawaii.  He works mostly in native wood and volcanic rock, and a few years ago he gave me this little bowl:

It's lovely and special, but I've never known quite what to do with it...until last week, when I realized it would make a perfect succulent container (after seeing a ton of examples on Pinterest).

We bought five succulents at Shoal Creek Nursery, thinking that three of them -- one of the tall ones, the round one, and one of the groundcovers -- would fit in it (we had other plans for the last two):

Once we got them home, we realized that we had misjudged the size of Jerry's bowl, so we made a little on-the-fly adjustment and decided to go with these two:

In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to take on this project on the kitchen island, but at least I had laid out some paper under my work area:

The main reason it got really messy was that the bigger pot was a lot deeper than the bowl, so I had to remove about half of the soil before planting it.  Since there were so many roots, a lot of them came off with the soil, but hopefully that won't be a problem....

Even after taking off the bottom half of the soil, I still had to cram the two plants in, but eventually I got 'er done.

There's NO WAY three would have fit.

So...where to put it?

After a failed attempt in the terrarium (Steve decided to steal one of the succulents I had in there...something about it technically belonging to him, and wanting to take it to his office), I tried the counter in the front bathroom:

That was okay, but I preferred it on the back of the toilet (and relocated the burro tail that had been there):

Total cost, if you're wondering: two dollars per succulent, for a grand total of four bucks!