Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Big Bending

This past weekend, I journeyed far into West Texas, a distance that in New England would take you through several states, to Big Bend National Park (which is itself the size of Rhode Island, apparently). It's safe to say that the majority of the people reading this were also on this trip, but since we all have slightly different photos of the same majestic rock formations, it's still nice to record the trip. Also, for posterity. This blog is nothing if not about recording things for posterity.

On our way to the park, we stopped in Marfa, Texas, best known for the mysterious Marfa lights and Prada Marfa, neither of which we actually saw. It has blossomed into an artsy community in its own right complete with hipster bookstores, excellent lunch places, artisan soap makers, and galleries. We tried to go to the Chinati Foundation, but apparently it is only open by guided tour which only happen once or twice a day. We settled for walking around the one exhibit you could see self guided which was a large series of cement boxes. A book on Marfa (acquired at the aforementioned hipster bookstore) said the name came from a servant in The Brother's Karamazov, but this dude believes that they got the wrong Russian novel, and it's actually from a Jules Verne book that's set in Russia. The world may never know.

A nice summation of our trip to Marfa. 

Leaving Marfa, we arrived at our little casitas at the excellent Far Flung Outdoors Center (they don't pay me to say such things, although this blog would totally not be above sponsorship, should someone ever offer it). There we had a nice BBQ and some high end s'more making that has made Sam and I consider getting a fire pit in our own yard (once we beat back the weeds enough to avoid brush fire, of course). The next morning, we journeyed into the park for some scenic drives and hikes. These sites included, but were not limited to: the Santa Elena Canyon, the Chisos Mountains and Basin, the Chimneys, the fleeting tail of a jackrabbit, and a very drunk man having trouble staying on a horse.

I'm blinking in this one, but it's a nice view of the Window in the Chisos Basin and 5/6th of the group, so I'm including it anyway. 

A view from the Chimneys Trail. We hiked 5 miles round trip to see the same thing we could see from the trailhead, but it was a lovely walk. 

Atop a "chimney." 
That night we went to the Starlight Theater in Terlingua Ghost Town to hear some music and (in my case, at least, to try some Chicken Fried Wild Boar). Sam got one of the largest burgers I've seen, which alas I got no pictures of. If the taker of that one (I think, Aileen?) would like to send it, I will lobby for it to be his next Facebook photo.

On our second day, we went for a canoe trip on the Rio Grande. Originally we thought it was a morning trip, but quickly discovered we were booked in the afternoon. Since we were up anyway, we went into the park for a quick hike out to the Hot Springs for a soak. The afternoon canoe trip actually went into Big Bend State Park, which is beautiful in its own right. The wildflowers were at their peak and positively sensational.
The remains of an old grocery store, near the hot springs. 

The water can apparently get up to 105 degrees, but felt somewhat cooler that day. 

A view from our canoe. I believe that's Carolyn and Aileen in front of us, and Mom in the canoe to the right. Dad got one knee in the photo. 

We stopped briefly on the Mexican side of the river for a snack. Sam wanted a photo to commemorate his time in Mexico. 
 On our last day at Big Bend, our group split up with some going for more hiking and the rest (those without horse allergies) going for a ride outside the park. We had a nice three hour ride through the deserts and along a fairly steep ridge. This portion of the trip was not favored by those in the group with a fear of heights, but it did make for some lovely vistas.
The group atop our mounts. Mine was named Tiffany and was somewhat out of shape. 

It seemed just like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had that movie been filmed in Texas and at a slow walk. 
Alas we had to leave the park and return to regular life today. Yesterday was spent almost entirely driving and through large swaths of Texas with very little in them. We did manage a little stop in Fredricksburg for lunch before returning to the plaintive cries of our long suffering cat. It's nice to be back, but I will miss our desert life. 
As a final photo: a different 5/6ths of the group at the Rio Grande Overlook. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


This will just be a short post, but I wanted to share the photos of the kitchen since they didn't make it into the rest of the house update. First of all, it's important to share the before picture: 

Formerly, my least favorite room in the house. 
The above galley kitchen felt very small. I mean, to be fair, it is pretty small, but we wanted to brighten things up. This is what we ended up doing (or, for the most part: hiring other people to do):

  • Changing the faux wood laminate counter to granite (not as cost prohibitive as I would have thought, given the small area to cover)
  • Updating the ugly florescent light fixture (which you can't really see that well) with track lighting.
  • Painting the cabinets white to brighten the space up a bit. Also adding hardware to the cabinets and drawers.
  • Adding a glass tile backsplash.
  • Updating the sink to a deeper undermount. 
  • Getting rid of the green paint and replacing it with a bright yellow.

Behold, the after!
From the breakfast nook.
From the hallway. 
This is now my favorite room in the house. Which is good because I tend to spend a lot of time in my kitchen. 

Now that you've seen it looking its best, here's one more bonus picture of the during process. The kitchen as it's worst...
We've come a long way. 
We still have a few things left to do. We'll be adding some shelves over the sink and doing a little touch up painting, but other than that, this kitchen is pretty much done.

Monday, March 2, 2015

House: After!

I know some have been waiting patiently for photos of the house, but it's taken us a bit to get things looking okay. We've now owned the house for over a month and lived in it for over a week, so things are finally starting to come together. Alas, you'll still have to wait for the kitchen, which has definitely had the biggest transformation. But it's so close to done, and I should be able to devote a post to that later in the week. Before the photos though, just wanted to give a quick shout out to one reader whose birthday is today (well, in addition to the state of Texas, of course). Happy birthday, Dad!

Aside from the kitchen, most of our changes have just been to the paint color and, in some cases to the flooring, but it really makes such a difference. I'm including some photos from the post I did a few weeks ago for reference. First, the living room:
...and After

All we really did there was lighten up the wall color and add furniture, although even just doing that makes me hate the fireplace a little less. Those following along at home will note we also finally bought a TV. Next, the dining room:

Before! (I realized I didn't get a good shot of the dining room before, so this is as good as it gets)
and After!
 The above will not be the final dining room table for that room, but it will suffice for now because we're going to start taking a break from spending scads of money all the time. The office and guest room, I didn't have any before pictures of but they were both painted yellow and with a tile floor. I still don't have an after picture of the guest room because it's still fairly undecorated, but here's the office with darker paint color and carpet:

The office.
And finally, the master bedroom:

And after!
I realized photos really can't capture the colors all that well. The above looks grey, but it's really more of a grey/blue/purple. Also, it's photographed at a completely different angle than the before picture. Either way, you can tell that the cold tile is gone, as is the ugly brown. 

Stay tuned for the kitchen update, which is my favorite update of all. Fingers crossed it should be coming very soon...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valentines delayed

I hope all my readers had an excellent Valentines Day and an all right President's Day. I wanted to give a special shout out to one reader who may be reading this on her brand new iPad. Glad to hear you're doing better, and I'll write you a proper message soon!

Still life. Cat with Valentines flowers and assorted mail. 
I had planned a little weekend getaway to San Antonio with Sam for Valentines, but it was delayed by the necessity of house stuff. Instead we had a little weekend jaunt to Houston to pick up some furniture from my parents (thanks, parents!). While there they took us out for a Valentines dinner (which is like dinner on a regular night except that it costs more and you have fewer choices). All and all, it was a fun trip, although it's easier for me to say that because I wasn't the one driving a 14-foot Uhaul truck back on 290.
Apparently, this is where the kids take all their prom pictures. We decided to get one too.

Sam and I on Valentines Day. One of the advantages of Houston is you can eat outside in February. One of the disadvantages of Houston is the other 11 months of the year. 
Yesterday, I had the day off and I spent the entire time inside painting cabinets while a crew removed all the tile flooring from the bedrooms. Today, and in fact any minute now, we should be getting carpet and counter tops. "After" pictures of the house may just be a week or so away!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Yard: Before

Haven't updated in a bit because we've been hard at work on the house. I'm not going to post progress pictures right now because most of the ones I took were poorly lit. Will definitely promise to up my smartphone photography game in time for the before and after posts. That said, while there is no photographic proof of such, we are making some headway. We've painted pretty much every wall in the house at this point (one last bedroom to go!). We hadn't planned to paint it all, but once you paint one room and realize what a difference a fresh coat of paint really does make, it's hard not to keep expanding. Also, what's the fun of going to Home Depot if you don't spend at least $200? So far we've painted the hall and living room a beige (well specifically: "arid landscape" which seems fitting for Austin), the dining room cranberry, the kitchen yellow, our bedroom a blue/purple/greyish color, and the office a dark blue grey. We'd planned to paint the guest bedroom the dark grey as well, but decided it's a bit much. Plus we still have an extra gallon of the arid landscape, and waste not, want not.

We have a number of projects for this week. After we finish the last bedroom, we want to paint the wooden cabinets in the kitchen. Then they'll be set next week when the countertop guys come. We went with a black granite. At first I thought granite would be prohibitively expensive, but it turns out one of the advantages of having a tiny kitchen with limited counter space is that it's cheap to resurface. And if I'm going to work in a small kitchen, it might as well have beautiful counter tops. After the cabinets and countertops are in place, I want to tackle putting up a subway tile backsplash and changing the fluorescent lighting fixture. We shall see how that goes. It is definitely a more ambitious DIY than painting.

Anyway, since I'm not posting pictures of the house, I thought I'd post some pictures of the yard. That will be our next project once we move in. Or my next project anyway.

From the back porch. Lawn could use some work, but we've got a couple of nice trees on the property.

One side of the house. 

From the other side of the yard looking back at the porch.

Other side of the house. 
It's kind of a blank slate, so any advice would be much appreciated. My aunt loaned me some landscaping books (thanks again!), but I'm still a bit at a loss of where to start. The two things I know I want to do are to build a compost structure in the garden area and fix up those beds. Possibly even plant some things. Beyond that, I don't know. I'm thinking of calling in some experts for consultation.

Anyway, hopefully next post, I'll have some proper progress to show you. Until then, it's back to painting...

Friday, January 30, 2015

House: Before

Exciting news, which no doubt all of my readers already know: Sam and I finally closed on our house! It's the first home purchase for both of us, and we're both very excited/overwhelmed. I know at least one reader has been eagerly asking for pictures, so I wanted to post a few. I'm considering these mostly "before" pictures because we have a lot of minor renovations we want to make. Ideally some of them can happen before we move in at the end of February. Truth be told, I think these projects will be the main subject of this blog for the next few months. So far, all we've done is change the locks, but we have many DIY journeys ahead of us.

The outside
 This picture was taken the afternoon of the closing. Right when we got the keys, I had to run to an eye appointment, so it was late in the day by the time we finally made it there. I only got this one picture out front because these little girls on bicycles came by asking if we were the new neighbors. The previous owners had a young daughter, so hopefully they won't be too disappointed to find out we don't.

The living room
Above is the main room of the house. The blinds are closed on the back window, but it looks out on the backyard (that will have to be its own post later because it's been dark every time we've made it over there). We plan to paint this room for sure. Still trying to think of a color concept, but right now either a taupe or a warm beige to brighten things up a bit. We're also going to reface the fireplace at some point, but that's a little farther off.

Dining room from living room
This is taken from the living room looking into the dining room (with Sam for scale). You can't really tell, but it's a green which will also be going. Maybe replaced with a peachy color or yellow?

Kitchen looking into the breakfast nook (which faces the front of the house)
The kitchen is where most of our work will be focused. Luckily (in terms of renovations, at least), it's really small, so at least there's less to do. Plan is to replace the countertops with a dark/black granite or quartz, paint the cabinets white and add hardware, and put up a subway tile backsplash. We're also planning to update the florescent lighting fixture, not that you can really see it here. Trust me, it's ugly. The aforementioned green from the dining room will be gone. We'd hoped to move the fridge and extend the cabinets on that side, but alas we forgot that it's hooked up through water lines (automatic ice maker). We have some other ideas to increase counter/storage space though.

The master bedroom!
 This one doesn't look like much now. I didn't photograph the other bedrooms because they look pretty similar, just smaller. We're going to repaint in here as well--something in a serene blue/grey, probably. The bathroom (which I forgot to photograph) has this bright blue tile in it, so I think a more toned down blue in the bedroom will tie into that. We're also replacing the tile in all three bedrooms with carpet.

First house selfie!
Our realtor gave us a gift basket at closing that included some prosecco and champagne glasses, so we had a little toast in the new place. Certainly made changing the locks a little more fun. 

Anyway, thanks for all the well wishes. Stay tuned for more updates and hopefully (some day) a few after shots...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Earning our daily breakfast taco

Every so often it really feels like winter here. The last couple of weeks, it's been consistently cold, damp, and overall dreary. However, this weekend the Sun broke through and was yet another reminder that winter is more of a suggestion than an actual season here. We celebrated by going for a hike Saturday and generally spending as much time outdoors as possible. On Sunday, we decided to check out this obstacle course place that we'd seen the weekend before (it's across from McKinney Falls State Park). It's a 75-acre hilly area with wooden pillars and walls and other obstacles for you to run, climb, and balance on. Or essentially, a playground for adults.

I'd been wanting to try it because some of the obstacles looked like the ones on American Ninja Warrior. For those not familiar with the show, it's basically watching people take on a really difficult obstacle course. Some of the obstacles involve balance, most involve a ton of upper body and grip strength, and a few just involve a willingness to throw yourself at something and potentially end up getting hurt (these would the ones I would be worst at). I'm not sure why I find it entertaining to watch, but I do.
I made the mistake of climbing the rope that didn't have a bell to ring at the top. What's the fun in that? 
Anyway, as regards this obstacle course, during the week they have classes, but on the weekends (when there isn't some office team building) it's open to the public. On this particular weekend, we were the only people on the course, which was kind of fun. There were some people taking some sort of Spartan Race certification class, but they were away from the course, listening to a lecture, and taking notes. They could see us some of the time though, and I can't help but think they thought we were rubes because we were taking pictures instead of being super hardcore.

I like that it looks like Sam is tearing the wall in two in this photo. 
Overall, most of the stuff was doable. We weren't able to climb over the taller walls, or do the inclining monkey bars, and I stopped pretty quickly into an obstacle that involved jumping from narrow pillar to narrow pillar because that seemed like a dumbass way to break an ankle. Still, I was happy with the obstacles we were able to make it through. And overall, it was a pretty good workout, although probably mostly because we did a few hill sprints and ran around a lot. Either way, afterward we felt entitled to a trip to Donut Taco Palace 1 (the poorly named, but delicious, taco/donut place by our apartment).
I didn't make it much farther than this. 
I don't think I'll be making to the next season of American Ninja Warrior anytime soon, or even doing an actual obstacle race, but it definitely wasn't a bad way to spend a beautiful Sunday morning. Nor was eating a bunch of breakfast tacos and donuts afterward.

View from the top of the hill. Well not so much a the "view" as some birds Sam took a shine to.