Monday, April 20, 2015

Art, horsemanship, and other poorly photographed things

 I feel like I haven't been taking as many pictures lately, or not any good ones, but I've decided that shouldn't stop me from blogging. There's a particularly photogenic part of my last couple of weeks, that I don't think I'll ever be able to capture. I've been taking horseback riding lessons (well really just a four week class) at these stables a 15-minute drive south of us. (As a side note: one of the things I love about Austin is that I can drive 15 minutes one direction and be in the heart of downtown and 15 minutes another and be in the middle of the country). The drive down is pretty unremarkable until you turn off onto a narrow gravel road that leads down to the stables. You have to drive 10 miles an hour for most of it as horses roam freely in the area. To one side there's a random emu farm which currently has the cutest little emu chicks, or more like adolescent emus, running around. Past that there's a beautiful field of wildflowers. Perhaps I've belabored this point too much already, but the wildflowers are really killing it this year. Due to driving, I'm unable to photograph any of this. I did however manage this poorly captured image while trying to take a photo of the horse way in the background bathed in light:

So you can't actually see the horse I was trying to photograph, but he's back there. 
In other mostly un-photographed moments from the weekend, I met a friend at a gallery show on Saturday night. The theme of the show was "bees" in that all the work was made with encaustic (beeswax based paint) and also featured bees in the images. They also had some lives bees there on display. I wasn't so impressed with the works themselves, but I did feel like I learned a bit about bees. Also, it was a fun night because it turned out that gallery was part of a little nest of galleries, so we were able to do a little gallery hopping. One of the openings had a person mixing very nice, fancy cocktails, which was a nice step up from the usual wine in plastic cups at these things.

This was a bunch of flowers hanging between the galleries, that I thought looked cool. Now I'm not so sure.
In other art news, Sam and I ventured downtown to check out Austin's Contemporary Art Museum. I wasn't terribly impressed. It has quite a small exhibit space and no permanent collection. I think it goes down with PS1 in Long Island City as one of those museums where the building is much cooler than the art inside it.
Contemporary art, such as it is. 
I feel this post is a bit meandering. I also still feel like if I'd taken better photos that that might have saved things. Perhaps that's something I'll work on this week, or perhaps I'll just write something more interesting.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

In remembrance

Yesterday, we had a wonderful celebration for the life of my 97-year-old grandfather. It was sad, yes, but also nice to hear stories about him and his parents, some of which I knew, and some which I had never heard before. I don't really have that much to say about the service, but I wanted to post these wonderful photos, so that I'll always know where to find them. 

You were loved and will be missed by many, Gordon Teague. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

On peafowl and pressing on

This past week was not a very good one. In fact, I think it would be fair to say it was a shitty one. A series of unfortunate events---some frustrating, some angering, and some just incredibly sad--combined to make me especially happy to see Friday roll around. The one bright spot is that the weekend was lovely and the wildflowers are blowing up. We're trying to save money right now (to pay for the more frustrating/anger-inducing things), so we committed to finding some free things to do. It helped that some friends were hosting an Easter BBQ on Sunday (well not so much an Easter BBQ as a BBQ with no religious significance that happened to be on Easter, but there were marshmallow Peeps present, at least). 

It further helped, that this weekend was Bank of American's Museum's on Us weekend. I feel it's an important public service announcement to make that Bank of America offers free admission to a number of museums all over the country on the first weekend of every month. I don't think it's a perk they advertise very well, and very few of the museums I've ever gone to under this promotion have had any signage about it. (Just when they tell you how much admission is, you have to sheepishly ask "Is it Bank of America free weekend?"). So yes, if you, like me, support corporate greed by keeping your money in giant faceless Bank of American instead of a local credit union, then you should definitely enjoy going on a few art outings when the first weekend rolls around.

Museum's on Us covers four museums in Austin, but the one we decided to check out was the Laguna Gloria. It's the sculpture park off shoot of the Contemporary Museum of Austin. Instead of being downtown, it's out of the way a little along Lake Austin and surrounded by some beautiful scenery. Since the weather was perfect, that was the main reason we chose it. I thought the sculptures themselves were sort of hit or miss, but the grounds were lovely. While we there, they were setting up for a wedding. I could definitely see it as a lovely place to get married. It was full of those long twisty-armed oaks and fields of bluebonnets along a long path that winds through the grounds.
Sam mocks this poor crying bunny fountain. 

This one doesn't look that cool, but if you're up close you can see it's made of very beautiful polished wood. 
On the way back, and because it was right next door to the Laguna Gloria, we spontaneously decided to go for a quick walk in the Mayfield Nature Preserve. The area is a 21-acre park with a number of trails, but the entrance to the preserve is perhaps the most fun part. It's a park with a couple dozen peacocks (or rather a combination of peafowl: both peacocks and the less showy peahens). They're quite accustomed to people and especially to young children running amongst them. Other than one bird that was screeching most of the time we were there, they seem quite content to sun themselves in the trees of the park.
I wish I could have seen how they get up there. 

I call this one "Peafowls in Love"

So yes, it was a very good weekend, and I hope it sets the tenor for the week and month to come. I'm looking forward to seeing many family members in the next couple of days. Even though it's for a sad reason, it is still always nice to see loved ones.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Picking asparagus while the sun shines

It's been a couple of weeks, but in my defense, it's hard to follow up a post on the excitement of vacation. This past week was also rather full of unfortunate and non-blog-worthy things (mostly regarding some of the darker sides of home ownership). That said, I'm starting this week on an optimistic note because it was a glorious weekend. It was the type of weekend where the weather was so nice that I felt guilty every time I went inside. In my efforts to stay outside, I managed to get some yard work done, along with plenty of ice tea drinking on the back porch.

We have a table now, which makes porch sitting nicer.

On Saturday, we had a much-looked-forward-to picnic with friends. Franklin BBQ is a restaurant in Austin that people get up at 6 am to wait in line for. They cook up 1,800 lbs of meat per day, open at 11, and sell out by around 3 every day they're open. I'm not someone who waits in line for food if I can help it (Shakespeare, yes; food, no). I discovered it was possible to skip the whole line business if you were willing to email your order in advance. They still had very precise ordering deadlines (had to be at exactly 9 am on a certain date more than a month out), but in the end we got about 12 lbs of delicious meat to-go. Since Sam and I cannot eat 12 lbs of meat, no matter how delicious, we had organized to share it with friends while also potlucking together some sides. All and all, it was a delicious meal. I'm not sure I would ever wake up early for it, but rather waiting in line or waiting passively for a month and a half, I do think the anticipation helps it live up to the hype.

That's some good brisket right there.
On Sunday, before doing some more gardening, we checked out my new favorite place in Austin: The Natural Gardener. It's this awesome nursery that has everything you need for organic gardening, plus a bunch of things you don't. A labyrinth, fields of wild flowers, chickens, goats, and a couple of donkeys, to name a few. You can save money by shoveling and bagging your own garden soil and mulch, which has the advantage of making me feel somewhat more hardcore. They also had at least 30 different types of heirloom tomato plants. We now have an entire bed devoted just to tomatoes. I don't even like tomatoes! That's the power of the gardening store.

Not found at your average organic gardening superstore.
My garden so far. Herbs in the front right, tomatoes and peppers beyond that. Carrots and beets (seedlings) in the front left and assorted vegetables behind that. Also, my newly built compost heap!
So far the thing that's growing the best in my garden is the asparagus that some previous owner of the house must have planted. Somewhat is survived my raising of all living things from the beds and laying down fresh soil, because we're getting a few new shoots a day. Unfortunately, a few shoots of asparagus is kind of useless in terms of eating it, but it's still given me some joy to actually harvest something.

Hopefully we'll have more photos of the backyard once we can afford to buy plants and stuff again. Til' next time...

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...