Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bamboo landscaping

We received our shipment of Bambusa Tuldoides (Punting Pole Bamboo) from Bamboo Texas on Thursday. I was pretty excited and ready to plant them right away. I called Sean and told him to pick up some cow manure (not something a girl normally asks for...) on his way home. I went ahead and unpacked the plants, misted the leaves, and wet the rootball, then waited for Sean to get home.

We planted on into the night, since the days are getting shorter. The light from our back patio was all we had. We both slid downhill a few times. It's a tricky slope. And when we were done mulching, I watered the plants and called it a day.

We had another bamboo plant that I wanted to plant behind the fence on our property, but we had to wait since we had to take out a few pickets to get there.

Last night, we were pretty pooped, so we decided to our once a week date night, pick up some supplies from Home Depot and Lowes, then went to La Feria in Bee Cave. My friend, Julie and her husband Andy were coming up from Houston to stay for the night, so we didn't want to do anything too intense.

But today, we worked quite a bit on the backyard. Sean went to the old house this morning to pick up some things. I popped out two pickets of the fence to get to the other side, then dug a hole and planted the sixth bamboo plant. I saw that the mulch from plants on the slope had slid downhill, so on this one, I used some rocks I found and built a little retaining wall for the mulch.

My idea/plan is to terrace for the bamboo plants themselves, even out the slope a bit so that it's not so extreme, put down a grass barrier on the edges, put down weedcloth, use gravel and rocks as landscaping, then cut out chunks of land/dirt to make stairs where I'll use stone. That way, you'll be able to walk down the hill rather than sketchily slide down hill.

I ran over to Home Depot to buy a staple gun and staples for putting the reed shade against the fence and to buy topsoil. We frequent HD so much that a lot of their staff know us, so I said hello to one of the cashiers we see all the time.

Long story short, we were really productive today. I put down the grass barrier next to the fence, filled in some dirt; built a mound for a retaining wall around 1 plant (only enough time to do 1!), put some weed cloth down around it, used rocks to build a retaining wall; Sean weedwacked the back yard; and we put up the reed shade along the fence. By that time, it was already past 7pm and we had been rained on a few times throughout the day.

Retaining wall

Reed fence up - A little hard to see the bamboo plants since they're still small, but hopefully they'll do well!

So far, it looks really good. There is still tons of work to do in the whole scheme of things, but we made really good progress today alone.

PS. Here's a before picture of the backyard...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And so it goes, with the ownership of two houses...incessant home improvements for 3 months solid...working, working, working...

We've sunk in a lot of money into the old house, fixing it up, painting rooms, and updating it quite a bit -- fixtures and whatnot. Today, I planted some lantanas in the front planter and then mulched it. It needed it badly.

As for the new house, besides all the painting and landscaping we've done...our washing machine decided to die on us. It had died earlier, actually, when we were still in Leander. It was leaving black spots on our clothes, that don't wash out easily. Sean did some research and found that it is not worth having it fixed because it would cost a few hundred dollars to fix it. So we have to buy a new machine.

And also, our toilets in the new house suck. When we moved in, we noticed that they all (3) smelled like old urine. I cleaned the hell out of them. A few weeks later, the old urine smell was back. We weren't sure if it was something to do with our septic system, the water...our septic checked out fine. Scrubbed the toilets down again. A few weeks later...urine smell again. We've cleaned these toilets what seems to be a million times now. And Sean has gotten down on his hands and knees, with rubber gloves on and shoved a scouring pad up the rim using hydrochloric?? acid. He did some research and found that it's the way the toilet is built. There is a rim in the inside, where the water swooshes out of it. But it never really gets clean since not much water swooshes out of it. And when boys pee, they tend to splash, so the old pee goes up the inside of the rim, where it is more difficult to clean. We refuse to clean toilets the way Sean cleaned them last time. That's just too damn difficult! So we're on the search for three new toilets. We went to both Home Depot and Lowes on our search, and found that Home Depot had some decent ones for a better price than Lowes. Really, we're looking for cheap, but that doesn't have that crappy rim were old pee can fester. But nevertheless, that will be some few hundred dollars on new toilets.

Thank goodness we're both somewhat handy. We've done all the improvements ourselves (except for the carpet at the old house), and plan to do as many of them as we can. Cause hiring someone to do it is waaaaay too expensive!

Needless to say, we've been hemmorhaging money lately, for the past 3 months. And the hemmorhaging doesn't stop, especially since we're making two mortgage payments. Have to get the old house done ASAP! But we're almost there...just a few things left...

More hemmorhaging...Yesterday, we went to look at bamboo at Plantescapes and The Great Outdoors. Wow, bamboo locally and everywhere is expensive. Neither had quite what we were looking for. So I ended up ordering some online from Bamboo Texas. I ordered 6 of Babusa Tuldoides (punting pole bamboo) in 5 gallon sizes. The total cost, bamboo, shipping, and taxes...$423. Yup, that's more than my weekly income. But I told Sean that I'd pick up the cost of the plants since he's picked up thousands of dollars of cost on improvements for both the new and old house.

It's hard to just spend $400+ on plants, just like that. But the thing is...the longer I wait to do it..the longer it'll take to grow. Then I'll have to see the emptiness of the land next to us, then the house that is going to be right in our view. So it is justifiable. I haven't spent much on myself in these past few months at all. I told Sean that I wanted new clothes, so I started digging through my pattern files. I'll use what I have, fabric-wise, so I don't spend too much. Luckily, I've got a pretty full stash of fabric, thread, zippers, and that should get me through.

I've learned quite a few things with our second house. We lived in the old house for 5 years, and didn't do much to it. About a year ago, we planted about 8 crepe myrtles. We planted them post blooming season. And finally, they started to bloom about a week ago. But we're not there to enjoy it. Although our neighbor loves them :) For other projects, we never did until now..when we have to. We painted quite a bit, finally installed the cabinets and countertop in the master bathroom (a 2 year work in progress when we were living there), updated some light fixtures. And now the old house looks awesome...

So with the new house, I am much more motivated to put in the work, effort, and money early on, so that we can enjoy it while we're here. We'll probably be here for a while, since it is much prettier. And with the thought of surround sound construction, the landscaping is a high priority. I should be getting the bamboo sometime maybe late next week, so I'll get on that asap. And come springtime, I'll work on the other side of the fence, where the other builder will be deforesting. Trellisses and vines are my idea. A lot of work to be done...

Okay, I'm done ranting on and on...I need to put in some sewing time...I want some new clothes!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Clumping bamboo it is!

I had planted 8 crepe myrtles over the past few days to put some greenery and color into the side yards. The biggest question to address would be what to plant along the fence where the lot is cleared. We'll have a clear view of the construction and the house that will be built there. Do we really want to see someone else's house? No.

I was watering in some of the plants that we just put in the ground, and my neighbor passed by with his dog. We chatted a bit, and he said that he wanted to plant bamboo. That got me kick started again into thinking bamboo. So we talked a bit about bamboo.

After I was done watering, I went to my back patio, looked along the fence and at the cleared lot. I guestimated and thought that we'd need bamboo that grew to *at least* 20 feet tall because of the slope in the yard. I talked to Sean about it, and he okayed it. We agreed to look for clumping bamboo that grows from around 20 feet to 40 feet tall. That would be a good screen from the neighbors.

Of course, it won't be instantly tall. We'll have to buy small plants since bamboo is expensive and we'd need many it may take a while to be screened from our neighbors. So we'll still see the construction, I'm sure.

I'm on the hunt for the right species of bamboo...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More lot clearing, the burning desire to landscape

After the first day of the lot clearing next door (builder T), I thought that would be all that was cleared. Boy was I wrong! Three more long days of intense deforestation went on. Now, it is a barren land with a few trees. And I have a great view of it all!

My view of the cleared lot -- from my back patio. Unfortunately, there will most likely be a house right smack in that cleared area

Long story short, I had a friend resurvey my land, find the corners, then I strung up green string in the back, where we own the land. Before, the contractor looked like he was clearing anything in the way, and was pushing all rocks down hill. A huge boulder was pushed over to my lot, by a few feet. Which is fine, because I like that boulder...I'll take it! But it just made me realize that the contractor doesn't care.

Boulder before -- note it's position in regards to the edge of the fence

Boulder after it was obviously pushed over. To the right of the green string is our land

To protect my own property and to prevent headaches for the builders, I strung the green string. I think it's worked so far. Last night, I came home to check out the scene. And there is a ton of huge rocks shoved down the hill -- outside of the green string. It serves as a visible landmark for the contractor. Plus, I'm sure he knows that we're keeping a close eye on his work. I'm sure he doesn't want to get in trouble.

I was extremely surprised at how many trees they cleared off the land. Counting 2 full dumpsters so far. So I missed the greenery and wanted some back. I planted 3 crepe myrtles on the side where the lot is being cleared. Lowe's had them for $3.33 each, and I couldn't resist. They are babies right now, really small, but give them time and they'll grow. I'll have to do some more creative landscaping on that side of the yard...I haven't quite figured out the rest yet.

On the other side of the house, where they will clear the land at some point in the near future (builder C), I planted 5 crepe myrtles tonight. They are next to our front patio and next to the house. It'll hopefully help screen out ugly construction from our front patio. They're also small. But I felt so accomplished to get them planted within the first year of living here (first 3 months, actually!).

Big crepe myrtle (came with the house) and baby crepe myrtles on side of house next to builder C

I want to plant some fast growing trees of some sort in the backyard on the side of builder T. It's nice to have privacy, especially since there will be a ton of house construction workers soon enough. But I'm sure the trees won't be that big during the construction time. Big trees cost a lot of money, plus to have them planted for you costs a lot of money as well. Plus, I have to take into consideration the allergy factor, which rules out the following: Ash, Sycamore, Mulberry, Oak, Elm, Mesquite, Pecan...what's left? not much...chances are, I'll have to plant something I'm allergic to (we're surrounded by Mountain Cedar anyways...). Just what to plant is the question...

So it's been pretty hectic around here, keeping busy digging holes, breaking rocks with a pickaxe, and planting after work. Not to mention the curtains I made for the bedroom. We've got a view of the tractor thing on the lot next door, which means you can pretty much see everything. No privacy. No more walking around naked. But now we have curtains, so we can go back to 'normal' life. We also painted the guest bedroom in anticipation of guests. Not to mention still working on the old house...

On the bright side, my little hibiscus plant had a flower that had another flower growth on it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Our new Deere and dumpster

After the construction guy and the builder left the lot next door (builder T), I harnessed Bonnie up and took her for a walk and went to spy on the lot. It looks so naked, so odd. And a dumpster *full* of trees, limbs hanging out from it.

I walked to the cul-de-sac and talked to one of my neighbors. He'd been here since the mid 90's. Everything here was so cheap then, because it was so far. He said that that lot they're building on was once deemed unbuildable because of the slope and terrain. He thought about buying the lot back then for $700. Yeah, a mere $700. But said that he didn't because it wasn't buildable. Fast forward 13 years, and here it is being cleared. And lots, even 'unbuildable' lots are going for a premium.

He has the lot with his house on it and the lot next to it. He said that many builders have approached him and have made offers. But he refuses and likes the peace. I agreed with him, and was quite glad that he's hanging on to his other lot. He says that the deer live in his second lot. It's a mom and 2 babies. Most likely the ones that I had seen in the other lot next door (the one we wanted to buy -- builder C) and also at lot builder T as well. I told him, yeah, I'll miss the deer. But if they live there, then I know where I can see them.

So here are some pictures of the deforestation going on next to us...

This view used to be covered by the trees. I don't care so much for this view, I'd rather have the trees

That's our driveway, and our new neighbors, dumpster and Deere. That whole area used to be treed and wooded. It looks extremely naked now

View from my back patio. Lovely, eh? Well, I guess it's time to make curtains for our bedroom because we can see pretty much the same view...

Dumpster stuffed *full* of trees

So that's the latest from the home front. I'll have to come up with some creative landscaping ideas!

Ah, the joys of home ownership in a hot area have begun (extreme sarcasm there)...

So as you know, we couldn't buy the lot next door to us since they were asking an outrageous amount...I passed by the lot just before getting to our house. I saw that they had a sign out with their company name on it and contact info (let's call them builder C). Sigh...

Now the lot on the other side of us had been bought by a builder (aka builder T) before we moved in, so we knew we wouldn't have a chance at buying that piece of land either...

I round the corner to get to my house and lo and behold...where did all the trees go? And now my neighbor is a huge blue dumpster. Oh yeah, Builder T has started to clear the land...deforestation is what I call it. It looks strangely naked. And I can see to the end of the cul-de-sac now. It looks very different that what it looked like this morning.

So I go inside and let the dogs out to the backyard. I'm eavesdropping completely. There is one guy (builder?) with a contracter with a huge yellow Catepillar like land clearer, but built by Deere. They are downhill from the street, and on the border of our lot as well (we have more land behind our back fence..we assume that the old owners only had a certain allowance for the fence, and didn't have enough to cover the entire lot). I hear something about pushing everything better not put their shit on our land...we'll be policing that heavily. Because that's what it seemed like he was saying. I was outside at the moment when this conversation was going on, so maybe he'll be more careful about it. Don't want any pissed of neighbors who a homebuilder, right?

Belle stared to howl at the guys (it'll be an everyday occurence, I'm sure). I did a 'friendly' wave to the guys....

Trees...alot are gone....The buzzing of the chainsaws is going on right now as is the thundering sound of the Deere moving, clearing...From our office window (second story), I can now see our street (which was previously covered by foliage), and I can also see many many miles south of us to a neighborhood on a hill in Lakeway, where they stripped the land of every tree so now there are gigantic houses on it. That view was also covered by foliage. It is an extremely strange view. I liked the trees.

Well, we'll have to figure out the lot lines for sure, and do some creative landscaping. We'll have to see how it goes, where exactly they build the house. I think it'll be pretty close to us based on what their clearing out and the lay of the land. Sean and I have been down there to inspect it to figure out how they'd build on that lot.

Well, all I can hope for is that they builders don't keep early hours (which most do...), that they keep their trash to themselves, and that in the end, we get cool neighbors on both sides, that is. And if we don't, we're going to be weird. And believe me, I can be a weird neighbor :p

On a side note, Builder C is currently building a house in the neighborhood. They're working on the foundation as of today. So we're thinking they probably schedule them out one at a time or something like that, so they don't have too much invested and oversaturate the market. That's my guess, at least. So we'll see how that house goes. Maybe they'll have bad luck and they won't be able to sell it and then they won't build next door to us (at least yet, I'm sure it will happen eventually seeing that they had a 'home designer' consulting on it already). Is it awful of me to wish bad karma upon them? I didn't want neighbors so fast...but I guess the honeymoon is over!!!

Ah well...I'll post some pictures a bit later...maybe when the worker is gone. Bye bye trees!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Living for the unknown...dreaming...

It's been about 5 months since I left Thailand. A wonderful trip, yet stressful with the wedding. It was way too short in the end. And if you know me well, you know I get itchy feet very often.

Next month, Sean and I will got to Pittsburgh for a long weekend for a friends wedding. Then spent the Christmas holidays in Arizona with his parents. But I need something more exotic...

We're going to Costa Rica in February for our friends wedding. A great reason to make a trip. Now Costa Rica is a bit more expensive, so we'll have to figure out the budget thing. But part of me tells me to just do a 'dream trip', buy a one-way ticket and make my way back home overland. It would take months to do...maybe even a half year. But something is telling me to just do it...

I just started looking in to volunteer opportunities with conservation societies and with organic farms. There's one that peaks my interest a lot -- with a turtle conservation effort. There may be some risk involved to it, as you'd be patrolling the beaches at night for illegal poachers and fishers. Which sounds a bit scary...but at the same time would be an act of selflessness that I wouldn't mind doing (within reason, of course). I could see myself spending a good month or so there, actually...

Ah...I am such a dreamer. I have enough money that could potentially last me 6-8 months travelling through Central America and Mexico. It is extremely tempting...

I've mentioned it to Sean, and he said it sounded pretty interesting. He wouldn't be able to do the whole trip with his work commitments. Plus, he's fine with just a 2-week vacation. He doesn't like to be gone that long. We could always plant to meet somewhere during the trip -- like say..I'll make it to so-and-so city by this date. Meet me there. He's always been extremely supportive of my travelling habits, letting me go without a fight. I feel like I always come back a better person than before...

And so at this moment, it's just a thought, a dream. If it'll happen, I don't know. But I will be going to Costa Rica in Feb, that's all I know. When I'm coming back...TBD...