I don’t feel great about the nearly one month that has passed since my last post, especially since I have, in this blogger’s opinion, actually accomplished some pretty magnificent things… I made some cool bathroom art, learned to cook Pad Thai, and downloaded the new Beyonce album… you know, the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. But in all seriousness, I’m painfully aware that I’ve let the blog kind of fall by the wayside over the past couple of months. Because of the holidays, maybe? Or lack of inspiration? Busy schedule? I can’t pin down the precise reason, but dang if I’m not going to do better in ’14, starting now with the obligatory look back at the best and worst of our escapades in the past year.
Proudest Accomplishment: Kitchen Overhaul
In April, we put the finishing touches on our once beige and boring kitchen.
This project is/was the most time and energy intensive DIY renovation we’ve sunk our teeth into, but it has also been the most gratifying. It started before we officially moved in when I painted the walls a nearly day-glow shade of green called “Spritz of Lime” which just seemed an appropriate if not nauseating color choice for a kitchen. From there, we—to be read in one breath now—replaced the florescent lighting, striped and restained the cabinets and added new hardware, removed the wood paneling from the wall and added custom shelving, replaced the faucet and added water cut offs, demolished the countertops, replaced the countertops, and…gasp…retiled the backsplash. A project more than a year in the making, it felt indecently good to marvel at the successful culmination of a lot of hard work.
Biggest Transformation: Hardwoods in the Living Room
Thanks to a ridiculous sale on laminate flooring at our local Habitat for Humanity Restore, what started as a routine Saturday errand resulted in Heath and I throwing caution to the wind and just doing it already—”it” being ripping out the carpet in our living room and replacing it with some sweet, sweet laminate wood flooring. Oooh. That is fresh.
Biggest headache: Rebuilding the chicken coop
After finding a possum in the chicken coop one evening, we knew we had to prioritize a task we had long been delaying—rebuilding the chicken coop, a project that literally stinks, is labor intensive and painful. We finished it in a day, and the coop is certainly in better shape now than it was before, but it didn’t go down, or rather up , smoothly. We endured cuts, scrapes, mosquito bites, sun burns and blows to our egos along the way, but at day’s end, a bigger, brighter, possum-free coup stood triumphantly in the dh backyard.
Riskiest project: The stencil wall
It was nearly a year ago exactly that I finished totally weirding out our living room by painting an accent wall with a scallop stencil. It was kind of a gamble as a floor-to-ceiling geometric pattern could potentially be overwhelming, but there is something hypnotic and appealing about the repetitive nature of geometric prints. Since geometric scribbles practically dominate all of my handouts of staff meeting agendas, I thought I should take the concept that had been gnawing away at my subconscious to heart and put that idea on the wall. A year later, I still get lost in the rhythm of the green scallops and love it as much as the day I started painting.
Biggest fail: the garden
2013 was not the year of the garden for House Doodle. Because of the heat and other various preoccupations, we slowly stopped tending to our veggies and other flora. Next we knew, a once lush and sustainable backyard paradise transformed to a desolate and pathetic excuse for a garden. As it turns out, plants don’t respond well to gross neglect. It is was not our finest hour.
Greatest discovery: Homebrew
At the recommendation of some dear friends, Heath picked up brewing beer at home as a new hobby, and boy have we enjoyed it. We cooked up our first batch in February, and by June we committed to going full throttle when we installed kegerator in our kitchen so we could enjoy draft homebrew at our leisure. Yes, we’ve officially crossed the beer snob threshold, and it’s delicious.
We saw triumphs and tribulations in our home projects this year, but 2013 was also a year of significant personal achievement, loss and transition: Heath conquered a mountain when he hiked 26 miles through the Weminuche Wilderness, we bid farewell to a beloved home from my childhood, my always bro/sometime roommate joined the navy, and I left my communications job with the school district. Good/bad/ugly/beautiful….2013 was peppered with experiences that will stick with us for awhile.
Dear Backyard Garden,
Remember when you and I were tight and would hang out all the time?
We had so much in common, so much to learn from each other. Those were the good good old days. But I don’t think you or I can deny for any longer the fact that lately we’ve been growing apart. Well, I’ve been growing apart. You have not been growing much of anything. But I understand. Especially with you, veggies.
I have to take some of the blame. I wasn’t there for you and I’m sorry. But I hope you know that it’s not forever, I am just going through a tough time right now what with this heat and all. And I know, I know, before you say anything, I am fully aware of the fact that there are other gardeners who treat their plants nice even in the summer. But I’m not other gardeners. When it’s sweaty out there, and the raindrops are replaced by mosquitoes and we experience 40 days of triple digit temperatures, I’m just not woman enough to be there for you. I can’t make excuses. I am a weak person. I don’t feel great about it, and it’s time that I come clean and admit that my neglect has changed you.
But as for the rest of you plants, I think you need to take some responsibility for your actions.
I’m looking at you loquat tree. You hurt me. You hurt me bad. We were so good together! When you first started acting sad, I did everything I could to make you happy. Remember the daily dates with the water hose? If not, maybe the $400 utility bill will jog your memory. What did I do wrong? Why do you refuse to cooperate? I am beginning to feel really jilted by how much you take-take-take without giving back.
And you, yaupon holly? You’re a native! You should know better than to behave like a tropical, which you have to admit you have been these days with the water business. I’ll keep it coming, but get real, this weather is suppose to be your jam! I expect you to behave better and maybe act grateful for the attention you’ve been getting. What would veggies say if they they knew you were acting like this?What am I doing? This isn’t me. I didn’t mean to point fingers. This is my fault. I’ll try and be better. I promise you. I’ll turn over a new leaf, and I hope you will consider growing some in return. I love you garden. Maybe in time, we can get back to where we were.
It’s not my cup of tea, but the chickens love a good dust bath in the summer.
The sounds of distressed clucking and squawking began to drift into the living room sometime between 10 and 11 at night—long after the hours when the “bukbukbukbukbukbuuuuuuuuuuuk” from Frannie Sue’s tiny but powerful lungs is considered appropriate. The dogs lifted their heads, tilted their ears backward and let out a low, slow growl. I muted my episode of The West Wing and strained to listen in with them. Silence. Then, THUD. WHACK. SQUAAAAAKSQUAAACKBUUUUUUUUUK. CRASH.
“Moosh!” I bellowed toward the bedroom in Heath’s direction. “The chickens! Something’s happening to the chickens!”
Not bothering to put on shoes, I scurried out the side door and stepped awkwardly on the balls of my feet, over twigs and stepping-stones through the backyard to the chicken coop. I didn’t have my flashlight, but I didn’t need it. Even in the dark, I knew what I saw crawling eerily from the chicken coop door.
A few seconds later, also shoeless, Heath came stumbling out into the darkness with rake and flashlight in hand, ready for battle. Except for the shoe thing.
“What is it? Can you see?” Heath asked me, his voice relaying equal parts concern over the mysteries that lay hidden in the darkness and frustration for being pulled from his cozy slumber into the uncertain, barefoot night.
I pointed to the varmint that clung ferociously to the inside wire of the chicken coop, activating the same defense used by Sam Neil’s character in Jurasic Park. “He can’t see us if we don’t move.”
But we saw him, his naked tail, his glowing eyes, his face that would have been cute in a different context. There was a possum in our chicken coop.
We would have to rebuild.
Our coop had been through much iteration over the years. We built it at our old house, repurposing wood and other materials from the original coop to save costs. Then we hauled it across the highway to our new place before then making one, two, three more additions and modifications to the original plan. We added on a wing, converted it to a duplex and moved doors around from side to side without investing in new materials to get the constantly evolving coop up to snuff. And now we had egg snatching, chicken pestering possums to answer to.
Forgetting that, just weeks ago we were much more a threat to chickens than this 8-pound marsupial, we vowed to spend our weekend reinforcing the coop to make it into a chicken’s fortress. We would plan incessantly, measure meticulously and level ground furiously to create a coop we could be proud of.
Saturday morning, as usual, came earlier than expected. And despite a late night crawl down Rainey St. comprised of pickle-flavored shots, lewd gestures in photo booths and chicken-and-waffle food trailer eats, Heath and I managed to pull ourselves out of bed and into the backyard. Even the White Rabbit would have scoffed at our poor timing, which found us deconstructing the original coop under the incessant and unforgiving noon sun without even a hint of a shade to ease our discomfort. As we pulled and prodded and pried the coop apart, the backyard began to look more and more like a WWI battle field with dismantled structures, entangled metal wires and the sounds of hopeless humans moaning with pain.
Are the chickens even worth it? Maybe it would be cool to start raising possums instead. I could name them after Downtown Abbey characters. Cousin Matthew. Lady Sybil. That would be fun.
We endured repeated trips to Home Depot and lost battery life to our drill at least twice (perhaps a bigger momentum killer than my tooth-hurty joke). We put up and took down support beams at least a dozen times and suffered approximately 87 mosquito bites and 33 chicken wire lacerations to the gams. And we snipped at each other more than I’m proud to admit.
“I don’t work well in groups.”
“Well, I don’t understand why you don’t understand.”
The whole “during” phase of the coop construction was unceasingly frustrating. Less team building and more scream building. But when we stapled that last piece of chicken wire, laid down the hay, and stood back to marvel at the handsome hut, we felt pretty proud of each other for conquering the beast.
“Good job Moosh,” we both said, arms around the other’s sweaty, dirty, sun burned waists.
We stood in silence for a moment; relieved the endeavor was finished and grateful for the promise of sweet, sweet air conditioning in our very near future. Finally, coop complete, we retreated indoors and collapsed in a tizzy of laughter on the couch. The chickens on the other hand, never made a peep that night.
Last summer, good ole Gretchen (my garden guru) came to stay with us for a week to help us garden beginners install her customized landscape plan in our front yard. The visit was a great success and we went from dead, brown and lackluster to manicured, verdant and promising.
We couldn’t have asked for a better change (an upgrade that felt even better since we shed our own sweat to achieve it), but nearly a year later, it’s pretty magnificent to see how the plan has really taken shape.
Watching the garden morph through the seasons has been more than gratifying, it’s been a valuable learning experience. Through trial and error, we’ve gotten used to practicing regular weeding, pruning, re-mulching and other necessary upkeep tricks of the trade. What fun it’s been to figure out how to keep a garden alive, happy and thriving.
We’ve also experimented with ways to make watering more efficient. In the front bed, Heath repurposed an old pvc pipe to make an irrigation system we can effortlessly hook up to the hose for hassle-free watering.
We can only guess how it will change from now til next year.
There is about a 3-4 week period in the spring where, in Austin, we experience essentially the opposite of the perfect storm:
- We enjoy moderate rainfall several times a month
- The average temperature ranges between 50 and 80 degrees
- The sun’s rays bathe the garden until around 8:30 p.m.
- The threat of a late winter freeze is virtually non existent
- Mosquitoes and other pesky insects have not yet metamorphosed from their larva state
It’s absolutely the best 3-4 weeks of the year where the temps are perfect, the insects are minimal and plant life is stunning. Without question, this is the happiest of times for man, beast and plant. I’m going to document this moment like crazy because I won’t see it again for 12 months.
All the blooms make it ideal for picking centerpiece bouquets, a hobby we can really only enjoy during this brief window of opportunity.
I love the buds and blooms that spring brings, but walking through our neighborhood yesterday, it was hard not to notice another type of dramatic foliage. The cactus. As a native Texan, cacti have always held a special place in my heart. Along with blue bonnets and live oaks, to me they are indicative of home. And maybe that is why I am especially prone to studying their varied and stunning architecture. Architecture that swoops, and climbs, and dives, and sprawls. Whether donning incendiary blooms, staccato quills or fluid curves, there is something magnetic about cacti.
From my iPhone on yesterday’s walk…