Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A pair of visitors

We're always excited to have takers on our offer of guest room and this weekend in particular we had a couple of excellent guests: my parents. They were in town just for a visit but they also took us out for some excellent meals, entertained me on my last summer Friday, and graciously put in several hours of assembly work for a rather large Bard's Cards order. Thanks for that!

While they were here, we visited the Blanton and the Ransom Center. Our year long membership is nearly up at the Blanton, and I can't say we've ever really taken advantage of it. It's not a huge museum, and they don't have anything well known in their collection, but it's still worth popping in from time to time. Also on Friday, after dinner, we stopped by to see the bats come out. The last time I'd tried, the bats came out too late and it was too dark to really see them. This time we were right in the high season. They really are quite a sight. 

People, and some bats, as taken from Sam's iphone. I would be interested to see more of the pics/videos my dad took on his fancy camera

Us waiting fairly patiently for the bats to make their appearance. Unfortunately, you can't set your clock by bats. 
On Saturday, we had two excellent meals. In between, to work up an appetite for the next eating occasion, we went to UT to see the tower. I'd never been up in it, and really is a pretty nice view of the city. The tour didn't go into some of the darker parts of the tower's history, but the amount of security you go through to get up there covers that well enough.
View from the top! Not that you can really see the view behind us. 
Thanks again for coming to visit, parents! We'll try to return the favor and make it out to Houston sometime soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A watery weekend

Last weekend (that is the one prior to this one) we were lucky enough to visit my grandmother and aunt in Arlington. I foolishly didn't take any photos of our trip which is why I didn't post of it. Other than the outrageously high temperatures while we were there, it was a lovely visit. It's a definite advantage of living close by now. Seeing my grandmother in the summer, reminded me of her wonderful peach ice cream. I tried making some of my own last week. It turned out pretty well, but I did determine my ice cream maker may be on its last legs.

 Last week, it was also incredibly hot, but I'd been wanting to go to Blues on the Green all summer and it was the last one. Blues on the Green is a free concert series in Zilker Park. Tons of people go and parking can be an issue. We ended up parking about 20 minutes away and walking through the park. It was fun to see parts of the park I'd never seen before, but it was also 100 degrees which  made the walk seem longer than it needed to be. I enjoyed hanging out and listening to music, but I also ended up desperately spending $5 on a snow cone (well, plus a $4 ATM fee...so really: $9 on a snow cone).  

Austinites ready to listen to Shakey Graves
Anyway, after three weeks or so of highs in the low 100s, the fever that had settled on central Texas finally broke this weekend. This weekend and the whole week has been highs in the upper 90s, and I never thought I would appreciate them as much as I do. We went out to Jacob's Well near Wimberly on Saturday. It's a spring fed swimming hole, so it's always cold water. When I say "swimming hole," it actually is just a really deep underwater cave. A number of people have gone cave diving down there and apparently many have died. There were signs entering the park warning that scuba diving was illegal. This article has some interesting background about their attempts to keep inexperienced people from potentially killing themselves. Experienced cave divers have mapped it though and the passageways extend for many thousands of feet.

Sam with scones on the walk about to Jacob's Well. Can't so swimming without scones!
 There's a great jumping rock right about the well. It's nice to know you can jump in and have no fear of hitting the bottom. The problem is when you're up on the rock, you get nervous about hitting the cliff on the way down. You only have to jump out a tiny bit to clear it, but it's enough to get in your head. The first time I jumped, I spent a good 5 minutes standing up there contemplating.

A girl making the running leap.
 Sam jumped from a lower rock, unfortunately at the exact same moment as another girl (a miscommunication on her part). I captured the near calamity below. Luckily both were fine.

I also captured a nice bit of my finger. 
 On Sunday the weather continued to be lovely, so we took to the water again. Some friends own a boat and took us out to Lake Austin for some floating and general merriment. There's definitely a culture to boat ownership. We had a lot of fun. Sam tried wakeboarding, although I didn't. He didn't stay up too long, but if the water was less choppy (i.e. when there are fewer other boats), he has the makings of a natural wakeboarder. I declined to wakeboard, but I did do some rope swings that were hanging from the shore. Jumping off stuff into water is definitely more my speed.

Sam, the wakeboarder. 
So far this week is continuing to be mild. Fingers crossed the waning days of summer will continue to be kind to us.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The out-of-towner

This past weekend and a bit of this week we had a visitor in from up north. Sam's niece joined us for a long weekend. I don't think she was totally prepared for the scorching heat (it was a high of at least 100 every day she was here), but we managed to have some fun. She's a budding photographer, so she took most of the pictures while she was here. It's funny how much her photography skills take after Sam. Both of them will photograph a beautiful view only when prompted but love taking photos of interesting signs or little details. I feel like looking at their photos at the end of the day, I always notice things I wouldn't have picked up otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn't think to get any photos off of her, and because I'm less the consummate photographer, I only have a few to share.  

Sam was working the first day she was in town, but I took her to Barton Springs, to get ramen, and to the shops of South Congress. Sam joined us after work and we got tacos and went up to Mount Bonnell to watch the sunset. I managed to capture a rare photo of Sam as well.

On Saturday we sent stand-up paddle boarding on Town Lake followed by horseback riding. We went horseback riding in what was unfortunately the hottest part of the day. There was a bit of a breeze for some of it and I always enjoy riding, so it didn't turn out to be as miserable as I thought it would be. Sam was riding in the back, so naturally he took a million photos, much like this one, of us riding in front of him. 

We kind of overdid it on Saturday, so Sunday and Monday we took it very easy. Monday we visited the graffiti walls of the Hope Outdoor Gallery and the downtown Whole Foods as well as a few shops and sites downtown. Our guest had no interest in touring the capitol building, which is a position I quite respect, although we did glance at it from afar. She also had no interest in seeing the bats of the South Congress bridge. This makes her officially the third visitor we've had that said they were scared of bats. I guess I need a better way to market bats to people.

All in all, it was an enjoyable visit. We'd welcome her back any time, although I have a feeling she'll opt for the more reasonable October to March months next time. Austin summer is no joke.

Monday, July 27, 2015

South of the city

This weekend we made the journey south on 35 to New Braunfels to the much ballyhooed Schiltterbahn. It was a nice way to beat the heat, but I didn't take any photos. (Water parks are no place for cell phones). Instead, I'm finally posting some photos taken from our last jaunt south to San Antonio and Greune (so pretty much New Braunfels) the weekend before Sam's birthday. 

Sam is now an official Texan after experiencing the timeless passage of being underwhelmed by the Alamo. 
 We didn't really have too many plans for our brief time in San Antonio. Mostly we just went to the Alamo and did the obligatory walking in circles along the Riverwalk for a while. I'm sure there are other things to do in San Antonio; I just don't know what they are.

A pretty impressive wall sized mosaic under a bridge on the Riverwalk.
Riverwalk, in all its glory. 
 Rather than eat dinner in San Antonio, we decided to stop in Gruene to go to the Gristmill. I had fond memories of that place from a trip I took with friends after prom in high school. One of my friends got together with her husband on that trip. Although in my case the main thing I remember is the delicious chicken fried steak and the lovely river views. Sam is nothing if not a fan of steak (chicken fried, or otherwise_, so I figured we should stop in and see if it lived up to my memories. You couldn't see the river from where we were seated, but the chicken fried steaks were suitably massive.
Supposedly Gruene Hall is one of the oldest continuously operating dance halls in Texas.

Picturesque Gruene
We were really just stopping by Gruene for dinner on the way out of town, but I'd like to check it out more in the future. Especially since it's only about 45 minutes from us. It has a number of cute little shops and restaurants worth a look. And now at last, I'm all caught up on blogging. And a good thing too as we have a visitor coming this weekend, so I suspect we'll doing plenty of photogenic and blog-worthy things.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I don't hate California

Prior to the wedding, we had a few days to spend in California. We spent them in Mountain View, San Francisco, and the cute wine country and coastal areas around Occidental. I hadn't been out to California in about four years, which made me realize I've been pretty lax about visiting. I suppose my sister should get married more often. I am also committed to coming for the first niece or nephew. In the meantime, it really is a beautiful place and earthquakes, drought, and high cost of living aside, I can't help wondering why everyone doesn't live there. Everywhere you look are stunning vistas, perfectly rolling hills, and lovely and diverse flora. Not too shabby, northern California. 

My mom and I in the Mission.

These are a bit out of order, but we spent one day in San Francisco. On the advice of my parents, we checked out the free San Francisco Cable Car Museum. It's small, but very interesting. They have a real cable car bell you can ring which is surprisingly loud and gets quite old when kids won't stop ringing it. It was also just very interesting to read about how the city changed and rebuilt after the earthquake and fire destroyed it in the early 20th century. Perhaps the coolest thing though is that you can see the actual sheaves (a new word I learned; pronounced 'shiv') and cables running the eight cable car lines in the city. It's a pretty impressive show of simple but powerful machines at work.

Sheaves and cables, labeled by line
 After the transportation museum and a quick pop in to Grace Cathedral, we commenced our much-missed favorite activity of city walking. We walked to Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square and from there down to the Ferry Building for snacks. Completing the giant loop, we stopped in Chinatown for dim sum and returned to our hotel in Nob Hill for a break because I had a tiki bar crawl bachelorette party to attend that night.

We took a bunch of pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, but those are all overdone. This is my favorite picture from our city walk. 
 The day before all this (I was just too lazy to re-sort the pictures when they loaded like this), we went out to Silicon Valley to a party at my sister's then-future-and-now-current in-laws place for a party.

The stunning view from their house. Their neighbors have their own small vineyard.
 On the way out, so as to beat the apparently notorious traffic out of San Francisco, we stopped in Mountain View to visit the Computer History Museum. This museum made me realize just how much of computer technology is over my head, but it is a very interesting museum and very well organized. We only had about an hour before it closed, and I think I spent a little too much time puttering around the early stages of computer development and didn't get to appreciate the later stuff. Luckily, I did at least make time to sit in the self-driving car.

Sam took many artsy pictures of the displays at the Computer History Museum. 
 After our time in the Bay Area, we headed north to Occidental for wedding-central. The day before we had some time to go wine tasting and to visit a grove of Redwoods nearby. The Inn kindly provided us some passes for a few free tastings.

At a winery with my parents and cousin Mark. I realize, per the usual, Sam is in none of these photos.

Family amongst the trees. 

On the morning of the wedding, a few of us took a quick jaunt to Bodega Bay and to see the Pacific. It really made me miss seeing the ocean every day. I usually don't think about living in a landlocked city now, but there's something very refreshing about being so close to the crashing waves.
The mighty Pacific.
That basically wraps up our trip. It was nice to be able see some family, I don't get to see very often. And the wedding was of course the highlight, but the whole vacation was a nice getaway. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Double the brides, double the fun

I've gotten terribly behind on writing about all the busy and important things in my life because I was obviously off doing busy and important things. The last two weekends have been full of fun things at least, but then this week I was too busy due to less fun things like catching up on all the work that accumulated while I was away. That said, catch up I will! I feel like each event deserves its own post, so I hope to post several times over the next few days and in reverse chronological order: wedding, trip to California, and Sam's birthday. This is not to say that the latter is the least important, of course, just that in reverse chronological order it shall come last.

This post, however, will focus on my sister's wedding to her longtime girlfriend (and all around awesome lady) Aileen. They got married on July 11, which makes for not only a memorable date, but also will entitle them to free slurpees at all participating 7/11s on their anniversary. The wedding was in a gorgeous bed and breakfast in the small town of Occidental. In addition to being an idyllic wedding locale, it was also the perfect location for going both wine tasting and visiting the coast (both of which we did, and will be covered in the upcoming vacation post). Sam took a bunch of pictures as is his way, but I'm only adding a few because I'm holding out to see what the professional photographer came up with. He seemed to be everywhere all the time, so I imagine they got a few hundred excellent shots.

As part of their ceremony, the brides had a water communion. It's a Unitarian Universalist tradition, or at least it was done at my parent's church growing up. People would bring water from their travels over the summer and pour it into one bowl to symbolize coming back together each new year. Wedding guests were instructed to bring water from their homes or place of meaning to them. I collected some from Barton Creek here in Austin the week before the wedding. Guests could pour the water into either Aileen or Carolyn's vase (or some in both if you were a mutual friend). Then during the ceremony they poured the two vases of water together. They actually ended up with too much water which added another nice layer of symbolism. Their cup runneth over with love and also their friends and family are very good at following directions.

My mom pouring her Houston water. 
During the ceremony itself, photography was verboten so as to better appreciate the service, therefore the rest of the photos I have are from the reception. Sam took this photo of the courtyard from above. The space looked so small without tables that we were amazed everyone could fit, but it turned out to be absolutely perfect. Another bridesmaid and I took bets to see which guest would get too tipsy and fall in the fountain, but, as was probably for the best, no one did.

The courtyard. Our table was later moved so people could dance.
The beautiful brides! You can also see a corner of the cool succulent centerpieces they made. I wish I could have taken one home. 
My one job (other than a short reading in the ceremony) was to give a toast, but I totally botched it. I had come up with some ideas of what I wanted to say, but then for some reason decided I could otherwise wing it. I'm not a great public speaker, but I figured the problem would be nerves and forgetting some of what I wanted to say. What I didn't anticipate was that I would get emotional and totally lose it up there in front of 80 people, some of whom I had just met. A bit embarrassing, and if I'm ever asked to do a toast again, I will be rehearsing it until I can recite it robotically in my sleep. Nevertheless, the gist of what I wanted to say, since I don't know that any of it came across through the blubbering, is that I feel very lucky to have had Carolyn as a sister and I'm so excited to have another sister in Aileen now. And that seeing them together is a wonderful thing because it's clear not only how much they love each other but how much they like each other and the genuine pleasure they get from being together, even just doing everyday things.

Aileen's dad Hoover, giving a toast like a champ in a not-at-all embarrassing way. 
My parents at the reception. Just thought it was a good shot of you two.
I realize I don't have any pictures of me from this wedding. The only ones Sam took were of me walking down the aisle pre-ceremony, but I didn't want to post those because he was not supposed to be taking photos. And again, I suspect the professional photographer may have gotten a shot or two of me. All in all, it was a wonderful wedding, and I'm so happy we were able to be a part of it. Now, stay tuned, as I'll try to post about all these other things over the next few days. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A porch reborn

Mostly for my own pride in homeownership, I wanted to post a recent project Sam and I conquered. When we bought this house, there was a wooden deck in the back. It wasn't a major selling point for the house or anything, but it did seem nice to have an elevated place to put a table and grill. In fact, one of our earliest new home purchases was to buy a table and umbrella to rest on this deck. 

It wasn't too long after that that we noticed it was rotting. It turns out the wood was never weather treated (one of the many rather confusing choices of the previous homeowners). That combined with the lack of gutter on the back of the house dumping water straight onto it, led to pretty fast deterioration. We considered painting it to slow the rot at least on the top side, although then it would still be getting moisture underneath. Before we could begin this project though, we had some people over at the house for a dinner party. It was our first time hosting people and since some of them were smokers, they spent a fair amount of time enjoying the chairs and table on the back porch. Then Sam went to turn the lights on for them, and his foot went right through the porch. 

It was at this point that we figured we might as well demolish the rest of the thing as it was now dangerous, as well as unsightly. Sam was between jobs at the time, so he was able to devote himself full time to the demolition of the deck. 

About half done. 
Ripping up all the boards with a crowbar and sledge took about a week. The deck had a pretty simple construction, but it did have five cement blocks to anchor it, so those had to be dug up as well. I will say, seeing all the wood and screws that went into constructing it, as we removed each individual board, it really compounds my fascination that someone would go through all that trouble and then not make sure it was actually weather proofed. 

Once the deck was gone, and the rotting wood hauled away, we realized we still needed something in its place. The demolition of the deck uncovered a small cement slab porch, which would have sufficed for a couple of chairs. Since we already had an outdoor dining set that wouldn't fit on the existing slab, we needed a way to extend it. We didn't want to sink the money into building a new deck (and definitely wouldn't invest in one without also getting gutters). As a temporary solution, we decided to gravel a larger area around the slab.

First we needed to level the area with some dirt. We made a perimeter with some landscaping border and filled it in with excess dirt from our extensive plumbing repairs. Always nice to save a little money with free dirt (or $15K dirt, depending on how you look at it). We then covered the dirt with landscaping fabric. 
Free dirt! This is pre-landscaping fabric and before Sam had a chance to tamp everything down. 
The last step was buying gravel. We'd originally decided on pea gravel, but after I accidentally bought 10 bags of Colorado river rocks and lugged them home, we decided to switch to that. To save on the delivery fee and because we weren't sure exactly how much gravel we would need (my estimations turned out to be way too high), we just made multiple trips over the course of a week until the entire area was graveled. We also put up a wooden border to hide the ugly landscaping border and keep the rocks from spilling over. 

The finished product
It started out as a temporary solution, but I actually really like the way it came out. I'm also hopeful it will take care of some of the mosquito problem we were experiencing because I think water was pooling up in places under the porch. Now we just need to get that BBQ grill and we're ready for summer in our backyard.