Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring scenery

It's springtime and everyone is ga ga over gardening, even if they don't like gardening but instead just like the idea of gardening.  So I have to issue forth some new content on this theme, mostly in the form of pretty pictures, because that's what spring is all about.

We are again in a serious drought, but our nights have not been too obscenely warm.  For those reasons, I managed to cop a late-season broccoli last weekend, and I've got one more cauliflower that just might make it to maturity.  As I mentioned in previous posts, cruciferous vegetables are winter crops in the Houston area, not spring crops. 
Broccoli maketh healthy meals for teenagers.  So far we've had about eight person-servings from that one late-season bonus broccoli. 
There are two sure signs of spring in our back yard:  First, mourning doves nesting in one of our hanging baskets. 

What I've noticed is that they tend to raise two chicks at the start of the season, but just one chick on the second laying as summer approaches. 
And two, it wouldn't be spring unless we were raising Monarch butterflies, as we did last year.  Those milkweed starts I distributed to my neighbors... remember, besides looking pretty as potted plants, one of the primary purposes of those things is to sustain migrating Monarchs.  The caterpillars will strip the entire plants clean of leaves and flowers, but you can just trim them back and they'll regenerate quickly. 
We have an extraordinary number of Monarch caterpillars right now.  I almost wonder if there is a geographic memory that gets laid down in this species, like salmon returning to their birthplace to spawn. 
Some people are hunting Easter eggs today, but we are hunting Monarch cocoons.  We have two attached to our fence thus far, but most of these things are extremely difficult to locate.  The caterpillars slink off and cocoon in concealed locations most of the time. 
On the subject of milkweed, I resolved to expand our repertoire, so my daughter and I went to Maas Nursery yesterday to see what we could find, as we only have one variety in our yard right now. 
If you haven't been to Maas, you're missing out, big time.  It's extraordinary. 
As it happens, Maas did not have any milkweed in stock except for the cultivar we already grow.  A salesperson reported to me that they literally sell out of it faster than their grower can produce it.  But then we got into a discussion about Monarchs, and I got into the middle of a debate that two salespeople were having.  They'd located a caterpillar on a dill plant.  One thought it was a Monarch.  The other thought it was a swallow tail.  I was requested to pronounce on the matter.
It's a black swallowtail.  They love dill.  Monarchs cannot eat dill.  Monarchs cannot eat anything but milkweed, which is why their future is uncertain.   
I can safely say that in my 20+ years of going to Maas, that's the first time anyone asked me for advice on any gardening matter.  Most emphatically, it's usually the other way around. 

Anyway, I'll have more to say about spring gardening in a subsequent post, but it's now time for church.  I will close with a ladybug and a contented smile, because there's always room for both.
Cruising around some of my tomato volunteers. 
One of the cool mini-garden arrangements for sale in Maas Nursery.  He looks like the stone equivalent of a stoner. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Woman of Steele

Yet another post under the heading "one-of-a-kind home design solutions" here.  This will be some fun eyeball-surfing because I can trace the development of this design element literally from our house in stick-stage to final result three years later. 

First, a little background. 

I mentioned previously that my husband and I were intimately involved in the finish design and construction of our house.  The builder's architects and engineers were responsible for the structural design, but I believe we had sixty-eight extra fee items in our contract for options and modifications.  And that barely scratches the surface of the changes we made to our property.  That's not counting the customizations we did after closing on the house. 

And of the one hundred or so days it took to build this place, I showed up on site for approximately ninety-seven of those days.  I got to know every nail and splinter.  I was sick when they did the electrical wiring and I missed much of that, which I regret to this day.  There's a gaping hole in my photo library. 

Because of that unusually-intense involvement, we got to know the tradesmen.   Our constantly-smiling lead framer in particular was not shy about approaching us and asking how we wanted things done, in those cases where there was room for interpretation on what the engineers had specified.

One day, he came up to my husband and I and asked if we wanted a completely-vaulted north wall, or only a partial vault? 

It was the home-building equivalent of asking, "Do you want fries with that?!"  My husband and I scratched our heads for a few minutes, and then logically concluded that we could close up the space later if we wanted to, but we couldn't open it up later, because the frame would have been set by then.  Therefore, we told him to leave it open and do only a partial vault.
The right side of this eight-foot stud wall has an obligatory vault up to the ten-foot ceiling because of the roof line. 

But the left side, above the door and left-most window, could have either continued that same slope straight across, or have instead been squared off as a purely-vertical wall (i.e., left open), as was done here. 

For all of you reading from points north, those many grey strips you see are hurricane straps. 
Here it is after drywalling.  The resulting configuration was a little bit unusual.  Like, where's the other half of our ceiling pitch?! 
Most of the other builds of this same architectural model have one continuous vault all the way across, but with our intentionally-smaller-than-average house, we were interested in developing as much non-square-footage storage space as possible, so we figured we could make use of that extra space. 

To start with, I knew I was going to finish this resulting vault-gap with an Elfa Platinum shelf, especially because I have Elfa Platinum in the open space above our refrigerator on the kitchen wall opposite this one.  Therefore the two shelf units would cross-reference and balance each other out. 
Container Store's Elfa Platinum page had a five-star rating on one hundred product reviews.  You don't see that every day.  People who like Elfa like it a lot.   
So the shelf I installed fit the space perfectly, but then the difficulty started:  I needed really large storage bins to put on top of that shelf, because it was a two-foot-high space.  And what I initially found in the consumer market was not good, my friend.
Oh no, no, no, no no.  This is what the consumer market conceives of as "large storage bins".  Ugh.  This isn't suitable for contemporary open-shelf storage.  This stuff belongs in the closet, garage, or the attic. 
I did a whole lot of footwork trying to solve this predicament, both brick-and-mortar shopping and online shopping.  Everybody had the same plastic stuff.  And nothing but plastic stuff. 
Seriously - if you search for 'large storage bin' or any related terms, virtually all of what you find is either (a) plastic or (b) not larger than a letter-sized file box!  A file box isn't large!!
I can't even re-create the convoluted search pathway that finally, mercifully, led me to this site:
Steele Canvas Basket in Chelsea Massachusetts. 

As soon as I saw this marketing image on their homepage, I was sold.  (A few of you are snickering right now, but I swear, all I was looking for was a decent large basket.) 
I use the design word "contemporary" a lot, but my style actually leans organic industrial.  Here's how this product works in the space:

Do you see how the balance and cross-referencing now make sense?  I have three white squares on the right (the windows) and three white squares on the left (the Steele Canvas baskets).  Furthermore, they jointly suggest an artistic diagonal of the type that I talked about in this post

FINALLY, three years after we ordered this structural configuration along this roof-line, I have THE product that completes the space.  The exact product that the space called for.  This space now looks like it was always meant to be that way, rather than looking like a half-done vault. 

That's the Death Star hanging in the middle.  In Morse Code, the resulting shapes array spells "OJ", but we'll ignore that part. 
You may be wondering what on earth I would put in those storage baskets shelved way up high.  Answer:  All kinds of annoying-but-necessary loose crap that doesn't sit very well on shelves and that doesn't need to be accessed very often (I use a kitchen step-stool to get up there). 
Vacuum cleaner parts.  Vacuum cleaners are like newborn babies - they come into your house with a lot of attachments and accessories. 
Disposable party serving ware.  Paper plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons, bowls, etc. 
Gift bags and papers, bubble wrap, and mailing supplies. 
I've basically got six bushels of storage, the size of a small closet, in a space that otherwise would have been forfeited to a framing facade. 

Here's a close-up that shows how well Steele Canvas products go with Elfa Platinum:
Now you can immediately see why I chose the Steele two-bushel carry baskets that have these wooden runners on the bottom:  I plan to stain those runners the same color as my two-inch wooden blinds on the window immediately below.  They don't look bad here but they'll look even better after they are color-matched.  Again, cross-referencing: repetition of elements (long narrow strips of the same colored wood) convinces your subconscious mind that the whole thing is one tightly-designed unit, no matter how non-traditional it is. 

Notice also how the metal frame and grey trim pieces on the baskets echo the top track, the shelving, the brackets, and standard elements of the Elfa Platinum.  These two products look like they were intentionally made for each other, in my opinion. 

It also doesn't hurt that the basket canvas is virtually the same shade of cream as the wood trim in the house.  It stands out from the light taupe wall color just as the trim does. 
So there's the long story of an unusual but successful design solution and how one southern suburban woman came to be won over by a little New England corporation called Steele.  Of course, these baskets are not the only items I've purchased from this company thus far, so you'll have to stay tuned to future posts to hear more. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Annual POA meeting, Part 2: New trash vendor complaints

Following up on this introductory post, I'm going to re-cap more of the content from the other night's POA meeting.  Recall as I said previously that this blog does not represent the positions of Centerpointe POA.  I'm an independent blogger who lives in the subdivision. 

Numerous residents voiced opinions about the new trash vendor recently contracted by League City.  Those opinions included, but were not necessarily limited to, the following:

(1) The workers were alleged to be sloppy.  One woman complained about her trash can being left a considerable distance out in the roadway instead of right at the curb, at the foot of the driveway, or in the hell strip
Is it too much to ask for that the cans and recycle boxes be placed neatly in an upright position instead of being scattered about?  It's bad enough that we now have to look at the containers three days a week instead of two, as was the case previously.  Can we not at least minimize the trashy appearance? 
Your blogger (who self-identified during the meeting, by the way) voiced the opinion that the workers do not always pick up stray pieces of trash that get loose during the loading process.  I had previously snapped a few pics to illustrate this point, but hadn't gotten around to publishing them, so here they are now. 
Yum!!  This sub-headline reads:
TV Dinner Makes Encore Appearance on Front Lawn.

One of my neighbors likes snacking on Pringles, apparently.  You have no secrets here - wwwwah hah hah hah hah!!
This kind of general neatness may seem like a minor thing, but here's what happens.  My dog, like all proud members of her species, passionately believes in eating first and asking questions later.  So if she comes across a nice stinky piece of plastic trash on the ground, she will gobble it up gleefully and without a second thought. 

And then the next thing I'll see is her scraping her anus across the ground, and I'm wondering if she'll be able to pass that piece of plastic, or will I need to incur a very large veterinarian bill to get it dealt with. 
(2)  The trucks were observed to come at unpredictable times, sometimes very late in the day.  Several attendees made this observation and noted that they missed having Ameriwaste pick up trash early in the day so that it is promptly over and done with.  They noted that Ameriwaste was very consistent in this regard. 

Having attended one of the trash-related City Council meetings, I remember clearly that one of Republic Waste's service superiority arguments was that they would not do collection on Saturdays (as Ameriwaste did) because of the safety factor with children expected to be outside at that time.  Well, guess what??  I've instead seen the trucks in Section 9 when the elementary school bus is off-loading in the afternoon.  So we've gone from having trash trucks cruising around when children might be outside to having them cruise around when young children are guaranteed to be outside.  Fabulouso

(3) The vendor was alleged to be noncommunicative and unhelpful, with service plans not specified.  One man questioned whether they would issue their own trash cans, the kind suitable for use with the automatic dumpers.  He wanted to know the answer because he wasn't sure whether he should invest in a new can for himself. 
When I published this post a few days ago, I was assuming that these kinds of cans would not be issued - because nothing that I know of has been said to that effect.

But another man noted that he had seen the vendor using automated trucks and vendor-issued cans in another subdivision - if memory serves me, I think he cited Countryside

I haven't confirmed any of this, but it's a good question: are we going to be issued cans?  Have other subdivisions been issued cans?  If so, how were those decisions made as to who got cans and who did not? 
(4) Alleged intentional non-collection.  One man described chasing down a trash crew after they failed to dispose of all of his trash.  Reportedly, the crew then explained to him that there were some items which they had been instructed not to pick up from homeowners.  It was noted that no such conflicts were known to have occurred with Ameriwaste. 

Given the chorus of complaints expressed in that meeting, the POA stated that they intend to take up these vendor issues with League City directly, so stay tuned for further developments. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Annual POA meeting, Part 1: In general

Centerpointe POA's annual meeting was last night, and was well-attended, with both a quorum of residents and a special guest (the League City Assistant Chief of Police) in attendance.
438 families.
One POA.
One unaffiliated blogger.
An out-sized local presence. 

Screengrab from Googlemaps
I'll have a series of upcoming posts that cover some interesting highlights of that meeting, which are too numerous for one blog post. 

In the meantime, I'd like to re-emphasize two points as follows:

(1) Centerpointe Communicator is not an instrument of the Centerpointe POA.  The blog merely incorporated the geographic place name in its title because your friendly neighborhood blogger lives here and is concerned about issues that directly and indirectly impact this area.  Last night, one resident asked why the POA cannot be more involved with certain "issues" that affect us.  The answer is that some of that potential involvement clearly would be beyond their authority.  The POA is an incorporated entity responsible for the administration and maintenance of this subdivision.  To expand that presence beyond its legally-mandated role would expose it to liability.  The POA cannot editorialize.  The POA cannot even provide a web link to this blog for fear that it would be construed as endorsing certain political positions for which it might then be liable.  Certain "issues" are therefore the purview of other independent groups including (but not limited to) this blog, rather than the POA. 

Last night, someone offered the perspective that the POA is "for the subdivision" whereas the blog is "for the residents".  I had never conceived of the distinction as succinctly as that, but I like it. 

This is also the reason why your blogger can't serve on the POA.  I've been asked to do that by a number of residents in the past, but it would clearly represent an unacceptable conflict of interest. 

(2) Thanks to everyone who feeds me tidbits of information.  Because the POA and the blog are unrelated and unaffiliated, we "run in different circles", so to speak.  As a result of this, we occasionally get exposed to the same rumors originating from different sources.
Two entities hearing the same information from different sources can help with the truth triangulation process. 

Microsoft clip art.
I've learned over the past few years that bloggers are defined as much by what they don't say out loud as by what they do transmit in the form of blog posts.  There are a number of pending local issues right now - a number of them - about which I haven't spoken because, at this early point, it wouldn't do anyone any good to go there.  I need to see which way those cookies start crumbling before I issue any alerts or voice any opinions on them.  But being tipped off in advance helps keep my mental satellite dish pointed in the directions from which further signals will most likely originate. 

So thanks, and thanks, and stay tuned for more. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Laundry room makeover, Part 2

In this previous post, I described how we maximized space on the east side of our 45-square-foot laundry room.  Now for a description of the west side, but the explanation of that design first needs an amusing preface. 

I grew up in very modest and conservative circumstances.  My family could not afford a clothes dryer.
Most families obtain one of each, but we only had the washer part.  We hung our clothing to air dry. 
I was almost nineteen years old before I ever put a single article of clothing into a clothes dryer.  That only happened when I moved into residence in my freshman year of university.

(Now, you may be wondering... if we had no money for a clothes dryer (!), how on earth did I get to university?  Answer:  Tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Best money I ever spent, hands down.  And then after establishing a strong performance in undergraduate, my private-school graduate degree and living expenses were 100% funded by scholarships, so my whole educational ride was very do-able.)

When I got to university, I figured I had hit the Big Time.  Woo-hoo!!  I finally had access to a clothes dryer, just like everyone else!!

My elation quickly turned to despair as I discovered that clothes dryers are very hard on clothes.  They shrank things.  They warped things.  They created annoying fabric pills.  The friction wore stuff out prematurely and my clothing all began looking ragged before its time.  Sometimes an arm of a shirt would get tangled around the leg of a pant, and the stuff would be damaged beyond repair.

The Eternal Clothesline of the Spotless Mind.

Screengrabbed from a page titled "Building plan for a wall clothes rack". 
I felt so violated.  All those years of my tender, innocent childhood, people had been touting the benefits and conveniences of clothes dryers.  And it was all a deception.  I hadn't hit the Big Time - I had been suckered by the Big Lie.  I had to go into psychotherapy to cope with my grief and disorientation. 

Not.  But I did resume air drying my clothing once again.  And a few years ago when we were scoping this house, I designed a special place to do just that, which is what I'm going to talk about next. 

At this point, you may find yourself wanting to say, "Waitaminute - this is Houston, Home of World's Highest Humidity.  Even with the a/c running, you can't air dry clothing here in any practical way."

Oh yes you can, assuming that you exhaust a twenty-two-ton freezer into your semi-confined drying space.

Well, it's not actually a twenty-two-ton freezer.  More like a twenty-two-cubic-foot freezer.  It's that enormous black thing at photo right, with the two magnetic hanger bars on it for my yoga clothing, which is the very last stuff I'd ever throw into the mauling jaws of a deceptive dryer. 

This space is so small that I cannot back far enough away to get everything into the photo frame, but you get the idea.  Freezer on the right.  Drying racks on the left. 
Incidentally, I didn't want a trendy stainless steel upright freezer because I fully intended to refer to it as The Monolith, like in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wanted to be able to run around annoying people by exclaiming,  "MY GOD - IT'S FULL OF FOOD!" And for that, I needed a black one.  Which was also a hell of a lot cheaper than stainless steel, by the way. 

Monolith image screengrabbed from this site.  And here's that famous movie line, in case you would like to review it:

Enough of my manic asides.  Let's examine that photo once again:
I had our builder install an electrical outlet on this wall of the laundry room, because the house plan did not specify one in that location.  As I explained in the Part 1 post, we also ordered this room without any shelving, so that there's be room for the freezer. I then installed four linear feet of hanging shelving in this double-layer config to the left of it.  The right side of the dryer is close to the opposite wall of the laundry room.  That means that the heat exhausted from the freezer has basically no choice but to mostly exit around these drying racks to the left. 

And you'd be amazed at how quickly a set-up like this will air dry clothing.  The Monolith exhausts a lot of heat energy.  Do you see the digital thermometer on the upper part of it?  It reads 2 degrees F in this picture.  It takes a lot of energy to drop the internal temperature by that much, and that differential gets exhausted as heat.  With more delicate pieces of clothing, drying in this way is almost as fast as the clothes dryer itself.  But it's a much kinder, gentler heat that does no damage to the clothing. 

Use common sense with this kind of thing, people.  Don't develop the type of space that is so confining that you create a fire hazard.  In our set-up, the heat can also exhaust into the two-foot freeboard above the freezer, but we are very careful not to constrict this drying area with too much clothing.  We don't stuff it full and we are careful not to let anything fall behind The Monolith.  Air has to be able to move freely among the pieces of clothing to dry them - they have to be spaced apart.  Space Odyssey'd apart. 

My teenager was exasperated with me for doing this.  "We don't have to hang our clothes to dry any more, Mom," she sighed in amused annoyance.  "This is the 21st century - we have technology for that."

Ah, but guess what??  She does her own laundry, and sometimes I catch her in the act:
Mmm hmm.  The teenager's wet clothing, voluntarily assembled by her own guilty hand, because she doesn't like the wear and tear that the clothes dryer inflicts upon her stuff.  Notice how it's all spaced neatly so that the warm air can circulate among the items. 

Another benefit to this approach: Greater handling efficiency.  If one simply hangs up wet clothes, it economizes the number of times they need to be handled.  And they don't sit in a crumpled mass at the bottom of the dryer getting wrinkled after the cycle has finished.  They get efficiently shifted from this area directly to the closet once they are dry.  We replenish the stock of empty hangers every time we drag dirty laundry to the room. 
Let me re-iterate about the safety part:  Don't screw an idea like this up and create a fire hazard for yourself.  I'm not an engineer, but my common sense tells me that you cannot safely block heat coming from a major appliance.  But if you're careful and creative, you might be able to make use of that heat.  You did, after all, pay handsomely for the energy that it represents.  In my case, I've chosen to use that energy twice over, first to preserve our food and then to dry my clothing.   

More on The Monolith in a later post, because it figures prominently in our lives.  In the meantime, happy (and safe) drying. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Quorum quandary

The annual POA meeting is tomorrow night...
Screengrabbed from the announcement. 
Aaaand once again, they don't have enough proxy sheets at this point:
Here's a screengrab... not the greatest quality, but you can read it.

You can get more info on the meeting by clicking the link on the POA homepage
This is a problem because unless they get at least X number of these things returned, they can't take action on anything.  X is 10% of the total homeowners, which is somewhere north of 40.  As of today, HAR says we have 405 homes, but I don't believe that's been updated to reflect all of Section 9. 

The Associa website doesn't seem to have anything on this meeting, but I believe you can email completed forms to our facilitator, or submit by FAX to 281-218-6973 by 5 pm tomorrow (Tuesday).  

Or, just to make it easy, you can also stop by J's house and sign one of the blank forms hanging in the Walmart shopping bag on the doorknob. 

Or, you could just come to the meeting!!  I've been to them in years past.  They aren't that bad.  Really. 

This blog, by the way, is not associated with the Centerpointe POA.  The POA is a legal entity charged with fulfilling certain logistical functions for this subdivision.  I'm simply one of the mouthpieces who happens to live here. 

Trash transformation

After all I said a few months ago about the League City trash contract, let me post-script with this next bit. 

Here is the bottom line of what I suspect.  I have no proof of any of this, but having watched in detail as several of the City Council sessions unfolded, having observed the resulting choreography (especially the unspoken foot moves) surrounding that entire transaction, this is what my common-sense brain suspects:

I suspect League City got suckered on that contract.  The video footage makes it appear that City Council was presented with a seemingly-great rate structure, if only they signed the contract quickly.  Then upon realizing their error, they were stuck in an irreversible situation because the contract was trip-wired with too many legal hazards to make backing out of it a financially-supportable decision. 

I suspect that they fell for the classic "limited time offer" sales job, which the contractor leveed to his advantage.  Here is an example website explaining how to rig the headspace of such a ploy.  Quoth, "Psychologists and sales people know that if you give people a yes or no decision to make, it’s more likely to turn out in your favor if it’s made quickly." 

Here's another explanation of this classic sales manoeuvre.  And another.  And another

This is a Microsoft clip art that I retrieved using the key word "sales".  It's apparently intended to illustrate that our happy salesman is approaching Cloud 9 because his sales are going so well - he's riding a wave of sales successes to the stratosphere.  Yippee!!! 

But if you ponder this seemingly-innocent image, it could be construed to be incorporating another facet to its message, could it not?  I get the sense that more than this man's sales numbers might be trending upward.  Something else might be trending upward, perhaps with a hint of Peyronie's disease, and his customers might be due for one hell of an over-sized screwing as a result.
I have no proof of any of that stuff I said above and it's just my personal opinion, but here is the take-away: 
  • Is City Council going to take a similar tact five years from now when the contract is re-upped? 
  • Or will there be anyone left at the helm with any institutional knowledge of how it went down this time around?  Will they know to be on guard the next time? 
  • Will City Council be able to see through the veil of common sales ploys that will likely manifest, and will they be able to apply the level of sophistication to their decision that an eight-figure contract (!!) rightfully demands?
You can bet yourself one thing.  You can bet that, if I'm still around in five years, they'll all be hearing from me pro-actively, before the contracting process even begins.  I've already Outlook'd the next trash contract renewal dates.  Yes.  I am that much of a nerd.  I have indeed Outlook'd the next League City trash contract five years ahead of time.  And the very first thing I'll be sending to Council is a link to this blog post, if I'm still around. 

OK, having spouted all that personal opinion, I thought I'd now address the derivations of my done-deal trash contract acceptance headspace. 

This particular image from our recent SusFest visit stuck with me:
Trash carts re-interpreted by high school students and entered into a City of Houston competition. 
This got me to thinking:  what else might be achieved using the average trash rolly cart?  What other uses might it be good for?  Because under League City's new contract, I certainly don't need anything remotely resembling our existing behemoth trash cart, which was originally designed for use with automated collection systems.
It's very robust, heavy, and was designed to withstand one of these gripper machines, which we certainly don't have.
Screengrabbed from this site
And frankly, I'm more than sick of dragging the heavy, awkward thing from our microscopic back yard, through our microscopic gate, across our microscopic side yard, and to the curb.  And I don't need anything remotely that size, especially with the bothersome twice-per-week collection scheme now being guaranteed for another five years. 

But I didn't want to get rid of it entirely.  I might need a larger can at some future point.  So what to do with it in the meantime? 

Then it hit me like a ton of mulch.
Literally, a ton of mulch.  It's that time of year - time to mulch the beds and replenish the gardens with fresh soil.  That's mulch on the left, and less-than-ideal soil on the right.  
I have always, always wanted a place to store a bit of mulch in reserve, for those minor landscaping repairs and augmentations that are needed throughout the year.  But because our yard is so incredibly microscopic, I can't leave a pile of it anywhere on the ground.  There isn't room for that. 
But I can store it in a 96-gallon trash rolly which (according to its lid) is rated for a 350 pound load.  And I can roll it around to wherever in the yard it needs to be spotted when I'm taking material out of it. 
This may sound a little over-cautious, but having never stored mulch in a rolly cart before, I wondered about the heat entrapment potential.  Mulch does give off decompositional heat when stored in large quantities, but internet sources such as this one don't suggest that such a small volume could pose a combustion risk.  Fires seem to occur in cases where an ignition source is introduced from the outside, or where composters have intentionally used accelerants, as was reportedly the recent case at an Austin-area municipal facility

However, in rare cases, conspiracies of circumstances have been reported to set fire to mulch that has already been spread on the ground, and there is debate about spontaneous combustion potential (but mostly for very large piles that build up their own internal heat).  I'll be keeping my rolly mulch wetted down just to be on the safe side. 

And for the next five years, I'll be managing household trash in a much smaller rolly that is far easier to move around. 
About one-third the volume of its grey big brother on the left.  Approximately twenty bucks at Lowes. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Law of the landscaping

Here's where I have to issue the standard disclaimer about me not being a legal expert and all that jazz, but when I spied the Chronicle article titled "Texas homeowners may have drought-resistant lawns", I had to look into it. 

This watershed bill (pun intended) was authored by Senator Kirk Watson.  You can track the progress of the thing here, and this is a screen-shot of what I think it looks like in its current incarnation:
Short, sweet, and to the point - in contrast to common bureaucratic paradigm.  Reportedly, all that remains is for the Gov to sign it, and we're off to the races.  Screengrabbed from this site on March 24, 2013.
For all its intentional brevity, this is a far-reaching bill.  It basically guarantees that people like me will be able to continue doing stuff like this:
My beloved Earth Machine, from a post titled "Successful composting in the suburbs".  Since the publication date of that post, high-quality compost has risen from about $12 per bag to about $16 per bag.  There's about $30 worth of home-made compost just in this one wheelbarrow. 
It also guarantees that I'll be able to continue doing some other stuff that I haven't even showcased on this blog because I'm endeavoring to position that content in a more far-reaching social forum. 

And it also seals the deal on my front-yard plans.  Remember back in this post, I was complaining about having to chinch-proof my nasty St. Augustine front lawn, despite my imminent plans to rip out that lawn almost in its entirety and replace it with a design that makes far better use of both water and space resources.  Well, it's now nine months later and I still haven't got that job done yet.  Our POA has been entirely reasonable and approved my original design plans even without being compelled to do so by this new state law, but I'm hampered by the fact that my current design has simply never been done before - not even on any of those endless home improvement shows that I keep watching.  It's so unique that I can't simply hire a landscape contractor and tell them to build it - I will have to micromanage both the sourcing and the execution, because the contractor will be flummoxed by the scope of work for lack of precedent.  And that kind of micromanagement takes time - time I don't have right now.  It's easy for me to sit down every morning with my pot of green tea and write blog posts as my favorite pooch-screwing hobby.  It's another thing entirely to keep a major construction project from running off the rails.

And I can't fail to knock it out of the park, eh?  I can't be one of the first homeowners in north Galveston County to rip out my front lawn almost entirely and not have the result be a hands-down winner.  It has to be done right.

Anyway, Senate Bill 198 has even further emboldened me.  So I think I'll revert and expand my design yet again. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wine and refine

Have you ever had the pleasure of watching people talk to their TV sets?  I have such enduring fond childhood memories of my father jumping up and down and yelling things like "WHOA - off-side!" and "Interception!" as he watched football games. 
It actually does talk back, at least in a sense.

Microsoft clip art. 
Well, I popped into the world as a female and I'm not interested in football, but I do have plenty of feedback to offer to my favorite TV genre, which is home improvement shows.  And so it was that I recently heard the mesmerizing Jonathan Scott advise one of his on-screen clients to refurbish rather than replace their existing kitchen cabinets.  Paraphrased: "Why would you want to get rid of these?  New cabinets are made out of cardboard!"

Upon hearing this, I jumped up and down and yelled at my TV, "WHOA - dude - off-side!!  Liability alert!!  What are you, from freakin' Canada or something where they don't have as many lawsuits?!" 

The mesmerizing Mr. Scott was bluntly referring to what many people believe but few have the guts to offer in the way of a personal opinion:  current day kitchen cabinet construction is arguably not as robust as it potentially could be, and not as robust as it generally had been at different times in the past.
Coincidentally, one year ago, I waded into that same treacherous territory when I published a post on the importance of installing drawer and cabinet pulls
Incidentally, I know that I read this quote online at some point within the past year, but today when I go looking for it, I can't find it.  Perhaps the guy who said it got sued and had to remove it from publication.   
So Jonathan's point was that it's arguably a better investment to rehab existing solid wood or plywood cabinets, instead of buying new ones that are constructed largely of particle board

Three years ago when we were building this house, I took a slightly different tact.  Given that ours was a new build, we had no choice but to accept what the market offered in the way of cabinets.  And given that it was intentionally toward the "starter home" end of the size spectrum (i.e., much smaller than many surrounding homes), I concluded that installing anything of custom quality would not be a good investment. 

For those reasons and with a nod toward European sensibilities where they often take their kitchens with them when they move, I decided to augment rather than upgrade the cabinets that the builder installed. 
I've claimed previously that nothing comes into our house without first being cut out of either paper or cardboard, so that we can evaluate the suitability of the piece in the space prior to purchasing it.  I lied.  Sometimes I do mock-ups using other materials - in this case, a scrap of carpet underlayment fits the footprint of the unusually-large sideboard that I purchased as our house was under construction.  I needed to confirm that it would be properly proportioned for this wall, which faces the house's sole dining area. 

The behemoth sideboard was intended to seriously augment storage for this "starter home" kitchen.  What you see is what we got - there is only this small amount of upper cabinetry, and given that the under-counter area must incorporate sink, dishwasher, and oven, there aren't many lower cabinets either. 
I don't have a good full frontal pic of that massive sideboard at this point, but I got it from one of Houston's coolest import stores, which is Home Source, and it's made of reclaimed solid teak.  Not particle board. 

Anyway, it's not my purpose to talk about the sideboard itself, but rather, something we recently added to it.  I had been storing wine bottles in one of its open cubbies, but this uncontrolled stack had proven to be rather hazardous.  The problem is that, because the diameter decreases toward the cork ends of the bottles, they had a tendency to toboggan off the front of the shelf and come crashing down onto the ceramic tile floor.  Very bad situations involving broken glass were the result.  Yet simultaneously, I could not find a decent wine rack that I could insert into this cubby and have it look like it belonged there. 

Until now...
Enter the solution.  While watching yet another home improvement show, I learned about this product which is called Wine Hive
Especially given that we are a science and engineering household, we were suckers for this sales pitch.  Wine Hive is engineered as only one structural unit which builds out into any number of different configurations.  The structural members are made of heavy aluminum with amazingly tight tolerances.  This is a close-up pic of the joinery.  It's an expensive product but the high quality is clear to see. 

It's also an American design by an American micro-entrepreneur and manufactured in America, which appeals to me.  Apparently the designer launched with the help of Kickstarter.  I've funded a couple of Kickstarter projects in the past, but I hadn't heard of this one.   
It was modeled on honeycomb, which is one of the most efficient structures found in nature. 
Design-wise, when you have something old like reclaimed teak, it works best to balance it out with something hyper-new, like a high-tech wine rack. 
Definite improvement, eh?  No more sliding bottles.  And it looks cool. 

The one potential drawback of this design is the same limitation that affects many other wine racks: the holes are best suited to small-diameter bottles.  You can see that I've wedged an oversized bottle between the rack and the cubby wall to the right.  But if a partially-open configuration is constructed instead, some of those larger bottles can be accomodated by this product.  We needed a compact configuration here, obviously. 
And as a footnote...
...notice that I used the same contemporary knobs on both the kitchen cabinetry and on the drawers in the sideboard.  Cross-referencing is you-know-what.  This helps to unify the overall impression from kitchen to dining area, even though the wood species are different. 

Pic from this post on installing cabinet pulls