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...