My interest in profiling lame, crappy, and boring presidents never was rekindled, alas, but this New York Times article about George Washington's slaveholding is well worth the time today.
For the fourth time, my friends--Friendly Friends--and I are exhibiting art together at End of an Ear, Austin's finest independent record shop, and we're having a closing party Tuesday evening from 6-8. We are showing paintings by Krotpong, photos by Dan Machold, hand-drawn masks by Katherine, and relief prints by me.
I also have a few colorful mosaic necklace hangers for sale there. Hand-tiled! $50 each! And somewhat useful!
In keeping with the Before and After theme, check out this stunning transformation:
Ugh, what a terrible mess. I wish I were dead!
Wow, so neatly and attractively organized. I'm gonna outlive the sun!
Of course you don't have to buy anything at all, just come on down and say hi, drink a beer, maybe see what's new in the world of music. It'll be fun.
You like before-and-after pictures?* Woohoo! I have a few more since we did a minor kitchen facelift in September.
Here is our kitchen as it'd been for the past seven years. It's okay, right? I like the gray-green and zzzzzz.
Yeah, it is kind of drab, and we're extremely clumsy cooks. It would be pretty sweet to be able to wipe up all the grease, dough, blood, and whatnot that gets flung around in there.
Two weekends of taping, painting, tiling, grouting, and so much cussing later:
More interesting, and also so much brighter. Between the black counters and the green walls, all the light just got sucked out of the room. Now we are ready for a winter's worth of baking, brining, and sausage making!
*I was so excited to see there were comments on my blog after such a long time away. Thanks, y'all!
How did Joolie's yard turn out? you have almost certainly asked yourself on those nights when you wake up at 3 am for no reason that you can discern, laying flat on your slightly damp mattress, staring up at nothing, hoping that sleep will overtake you before your ceiling fan resumes the intermittent clacking sound that you never noticed until just a minute ago. What does her yard look like now, a year after she did all that crap to it?
It looks pretty good, I think! We planted new grass in April, moved some things around, and replaced the palms with some nice Texas sotol. Other than that it's just been doing its thing with a minimum of weeding and watering.
The yard last October, right after I planted everything.
The yard this morning.
And, just for fun, the yard the summer before I started working on it. Puke-o-rama, right? (Actually, it was fine. But it's better now.)
Yesterday Eric and I checked out the newly opened segment of the Southern Walnut Creek Hike and Bike Trail in East Austin. When completed, the trail will span from Govalle Park to Johnny Morris Road and will eventually connect to a planned path all the way out to Manor.
The trail is well east of our house and doesn't really go anywhere I need to be. Still, it's an awesome recreational amenity that winds through a somewhat neglected part of town.
I'm especially excited about it because I know lots of people who enjoy riding bikes but (understandably) aren't comfortable riding in Austin traffic or on the completely-packed-with-humanity trail along Lady Bird Lake.
This trail is perfect for casual riders. It's wide, smooth, safe, and well graded. Major roads and the railroad tracks are avoided by underpasses. There are a few hills, but they're manageable and add some interest to the ride.
We felt kind of lame putting our bikes in the truck and driving over to the trailhead instead of riding there, but crossing 183 on a bike is no damn fun at best. We parked at the back of the lot at the YMCA on East 51st. The trail is right there, along the soccer fields. (You can pick it up at Loyola Lane too, but the Y seemed easier.)
Most of the trail runs parallel to Walnut Creek...
...which is admittedly not very lovely. The creek isn't visible for most of the way, though, and the trail is lined with trees that will provide beauty and shade in spring.
Riding under 183 was kind of cool. I have crossed that bridge on my car many times and always liked looking down at Boggy Creek. It was fun to finally get down there.
It only took us a half an hour to zip from 183/51st to the current terminus at Jain Lane, so on the way back we decided to take a detour on a wooded path that split off the trail just west of Jain.
I don't know who maintains the decomposed granite path there, or why, but it was fun as hell riding through the dim, slightly creepy woods.
We saw a ton of birds on the ride, too. Hawks (BEEEEE-Yaw!), black vultures, cardinals, jays, doves, crows, and an egret. We also heard a critter crashing around in the brush so clumsily that it had to be an armadillo.
If you want an easy, somewhat secluded place to ride in Austin, I can't recommend this trail enough. I'm looking forward to riding it again already.
I finally finished Moby Dick during a slow afternoon on my last day of work in 2013. It took me over a year to read it, including a long stretch this spring and summer when I put it down because I had more than enough to read at work and no thank you.
If you haven't read it, I recommend it. It's meditative and funny and human and at times really beautiful. It does live up to its reputation as a slog at times, but it's one of those books you sort of teach yourself to read as you go. I found it much easier going once I was immersed.
I read the whole thing, but I wouldn't judge anyone for skimming some of the slower chapters; if you cut out all the musings on whale anatomy and taxonomy, you'd probably end up with a zippy novella about a chase at sea.
After I finished, I wandered into my coworkers' office to show off the certificate the Power Moby-Dick site awards you after you ace their reading quiz. They were--or at least acted--impressed, and then Sam asked what I was going to read next.
I said I didn't know, what should I read next? Lei-Leen turned to their shared bookshelf and slammed this down on the table in front of me with a decisive FWUNK:
So I guess I know what I'm reading for the rest of the year. I got the Kindle version for the iPad to supplement the hard copy so I can more easily navigate the endnotes. I'll let you know how it is in 2015.
As part of my quest to constantly try new things in order to avoid acknowledging the terrifying vacancy that I imagine is at the center of every human life because there seems to be no real reason for any one of us to be here on this planet--just kidding, hahaha! ha.--I bought a meat grinder attachment for our mixer last week.
Eric and I then spent most of the weekend making sausage. First a basic breakfast sausage, which we left loose and found tasty, and then a much more exciting hot Italian sausage, which we made into links and found incredibly delicious.
I hear the old saw about laws and sausage all the time in my line of work, and I can now tell you that watching legislation get made is the much more distasteful spectacle. I mean, sausage making is pretty gross, but in a very cool way, plus at the end you have sausage, which is great. When you make it yourself you have complete control over the ingredients and the cleanliness of your tools and work area, which is reassuring. The post-grinding cleanup freaks me out a little, though; how do you even begin to get things clean when almost every single thing in your kitchen is coated in raw pork?
Pictures? Wanna see pictures?
The storm dropped about 3.5 inches at our house in a couple of hours. That wasn't nearly as much as other places around town--my sister's house got almost eight inches and water was lapping at her foundation--but enough that I felt the new beds were put to the test.
I'd had visions of tons--literally* tons!--of granite washing out into the street and finding all the plants uprooted and crammed up against the back gate, but this was the only real damage.
It's a strip about two feet wide where water running down the driveway finds a spot to make a sharp turn down to the yard below. We'll put down some larger rocks and coarser, heavier gravel to give that water something to run through, then maybe top it off with some good old decomposed granite to make it look finished. No big deal.
Considering how much damage was done to other parts of the area, this is very small potatoes indeed.
Thanks to everyone for the feedback and nice words, on the blog and off. You guys are nice.
*I mean "literally" in the literal sense of the word.
I finished thirteen straight days of yardwork yesterday. Holy shit, that was so much fun. It was also more physical labor than I've ever done in my life.
Tomorrow I go back to work, so today I treated my weary self to a classic Austin weekday off: sleep late, drink too much coffee, take a dip in Big Stacy pool, and eat a late lunch of enchiladas and avocado margaritas at Curra's.
Anyway, I think--I hope--it was worth the time, money, and vacation hours spent. I finally like my front yard now, and I'll like it a lot more once the plants start growing and filling in that expanse of decomposed granite.
Speaking of which, I'm hoping the big storm that's predicted for tomorrow dumps a ton of rain right over Lake Travis and gives us a more modest amount over here. The plants and granite are not settled yet, so I worry that too much rain could wash our hard work away.
A little about the plants: I tried to pick things that are either native or well adapted to the area and that are drought resistant but will also flourish with some rainfall. Most of what I planted I have grown before, so I know it's all okay with the conditions around our house.
One exception is the ocotillo, which my friend Katherine and I had to build a gravelly mound for so it can drain properly. They hate wet soil, and we are on the very eastern edge of where they will grow at all. They're not really suited for Austin's climate and soils, but I love them so much when we go out to West Texas that I really wanted to try one for my yard.
I was also originally going to go for a lusher look, not quite so desert-y, but we had so many nice agave pups and underappreciated cacti in the backyard that it would have been silly not to incorporate them. I'll see how everything does over the winter and fill in any gaps in the spring.
I bought most of the plants at Great Outdoors, which is my favorite all-purpose nursery in Austin: lovely and inspiring grounds, quality plants, nice people. (Natural Gardener would be a close contender if it weren't practically a day trip from my house.)
A plant list, for the curious:
Monterey Oak tree
Pride of Barbados (Some friends gave us seedlings. We like those people.)
Something that kind of looks like P of B but has larger leaves; I think it might be a candlebush but I don't remember. (From the same friends; they rock.)
Henry Duelberg sage (I like the backstory at this link.)
A dark-green agave that I don't know the actual species of, but it's beautiful and sharp and grows aggressively so we gave it a corner with lots of room.
Well, damn, I guess that's it for the big yard project--except of course the real "after" picture won't be available until two or three years from now, when we see what plants made it and what plants weren't quite up to hanging out in our front yard.
Anyway, this was fun. Maybe I'll blog some more soon.
Tree power! Yeah!
We got the oak in the ground today. I think it will look splendid there.
It doesn't look like we've done much else out there since the granite got here, but my back and limbs tell me differently. Mostly we've been moving heavy things around. Mostly granite and soil.
Yesterday I bought plants; tomorrow I will start putting them in the ground. Things will start coming together more quickly after that, or at least they'd better. Otherwise I may begin to get discouraged.
Since we moved in this house, I've done most of my gardening in the back yard, and when we go outside we invariably hang out on the back deck. So it's been really interesting to spend a whole week of workdays out front.
Our street is not especially busy, but it does link two of the larger thoroughfares in our neighborhood. It's also part of a bike route and hilly enough that serious cyclists use it for training, so there's a steady stream of activity all day.
I was encouraged by the number of pedestrians and bikes I saw cruising by all day, and I was discouraged by the number of people I watched slow wayyyy down when they saw our garage door open, then immediately speed back up once they saw me.*
I've talked to my next-door neighbor every day this week when I usually only see her every other Saturday or so, and today we made plans to hand out candy together on Halloween. I discovered that one of my friends drives by our house every day on the way home from work, so we made plans to have drinks some evening soon.
I observed that no one stops at the three-way stop sign in front of our house, ever. Well, save for the elderly lady who lives a few doors down, and I suspect that's just because she pauses there to light a cigarette.
We are now on waving terms with the UPS guy, and this afternoon a school bus driver paused in front of our house and opened the door to compliment us on our progress, which she'd been watching all week.
I don't know, it's just nice watching everyone go by. This shouldn't be news; I used to be a rather dedicated front-porch sitter. But now I don't smoke** and anyway, we don't really have a front porch here, just some narrow chairs we put on the driveway apron so it wouldn't look so forlorn.
Maybe we'll want to sit out there at least every once in a while once it's all spruced up. We'll find out in a few days, I guess.
*This happened at least three times a day, all in the late morning or early afternoon. I'm not sure if people are actively cruising for targets or just opportunists, but either way I now feel my let's-loop-around-the-block-and-just-make-sure compulsion about making sure the garage door is closed is not so irrational.
**Weird, now that I think about it I quit four years ago today. YES.