Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My yard got chopped!

Our landscaping crew showed up yesterday to do a fall cleanup on our yard. Now keep in mind that we haven't had a spring cleanup, or a fall cleanup from the year before. To say our yard was a bit overgrown was being generous. I'd done some pruning, mostly on the evil bougainvillea plant, but I wasn't able to actually prune the palms or the bigger plants. As a consequence, our yard was getting really shady, the grass was dying and it was looking like a jungle.

So I called our landscaper and he gave me a pretty good price for pruning plus mulching. As it turns out, I think he gave me way too low a price. The estimate said 4.5 hours labor, but the guys were there from 8 am until 8 pm. There were immense piles of branches, shrubs and debris in our front yard. I couldn't believe how much they trimmed away. Admittedly, there are places where it looks like I have real landscaping now, like on the side of the house. And our 20 foot legustrum got pruned down to about 8 feet. I have sunlight coming into the two side bedrooms of our house now. I'll post some pics later tonight to show the scary amounts of brush. Hopefully they'll be able to clear them away today before the trick-or-treaters come by.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Not-so-scary failure

For years, I've been nervous doing heavy squats because I'm always worried about what happens when I fail. It's not like you can drop the bar, because when there's 200 pounds on it, you have to worry about where it's going to go. Will it hit you on the back? Will it wrench your shoulders? Will it squash your knees?

It finally happened last night. I was feeling good, and thought I could go for a new PR on my squat. I did 215 for 1 rep, my previous max, and it was fairly easy. So I added 10 more pounds, strapped on my belt and couldn't get out of the hole. Fortunately, I had a spotter, and I only needed a bit of help to stand back up. Plus I always have the safety chains up when I go over 130 pounds. I really feel like I should have gotten it, but it was very close. And failing wasn't a scary, dangerous thing at all.

My back is getting fried from the heavy lifting though. I plan to do three more days of intense lifting, then take about 5 days off to let my back recuperate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's finally done!

Hurray! The guys finally came and installed all the plants, so the water feature is done.

Here's Eric installing the plants.

And here's the final product.

Still waiting on plants plus some good news

*Sigh* Carl promised he'd have them in either Wed afternoon or Thursday. It's Friday morning and still no plants. I talked with my regular landscaper this week and got a price for him to do a cleanup on my yard. He's the most reasonable of the three companies I priced, so I told him to go ahead. So hopefully by next Tuesday, my yard will finally look nice. Woot. Plus he is going to start doing a trim service every 6 weeks for a very reasonable price in addition to our regular groundskeeping fee. Have I mentioned how nice it is to have a landscaping service here? When he came over a couple days ago, I was treated to an earful about how hard it is for him to find legal workers who are willing to do the work. He says he absolutely cannot find American workers who are willing to do landscaping work, so he's trying to get visas for immigrant workers from Mexico, and having a hard time dealing with the Government bureaucracy.

The good news is that I got my faceting machine yesterday. Aside from a broken light bulb, it appears to work just fine. I didn't work on faceting a stone yesterday, but I used the laps to rough polish an Ethiopian opal I'd picked up a couple months ago. Works great. Slow, but that's what opals need. I still cracked the surface though, so I put it up to ask the experts on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Next Step - Plants

Stopped by the nursery this morning to select plants. Finally caught up with the designer, so he walked around with me and told me about the different plants and their properties. I picked out one large pot to use as a new fish pond. I also gave him a list of plants that I liked, and then told him to select what he thought would work best out of that list. I did put down a couple that I definitely want, like asparagus fern, ginger, African iris and a couple of others. They have to be plants that are well behaved, not too big and do well in shade. I really wanted to emphasize Texas native plants, but I'm doing this very quickly, and I couldn't get hold of the native plant nursery to go through their plants, so I just picked what was available. Kind of typical, it seems. Always enough time to dream, never enough time to actually do when I'm in a crunch.

Found out that he didn't install lights or an auto-filler since he was trying to get the price down. That's okay. I can install those later and pick ones of my own choosing.

Last night, I had the window open a crack because it was rather chilly out. But it was enough to hear the stream. First time I walked in the bedroom and heard it, I got a big grin on my face, so I'm happy with it.

Some more photos of the installation:

Putting in a seating area next to the waterfall:

The finished hardscape of the waterfall. No plants yet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The landscaping continues

Don't have any pictures of it yet. Ran home at lunch to check on how the crew is doing. They were piling on the big moss rocks when I got home, and they had installed the flat rocks where the water spills from one level to the next. I thought the stream was going to curve a little more. Not sure there's anything to be done about it now.

Things still to do:
Go by the shop and pick out plants.
Look for native plants at a different local nursery.
Make sure the stream is connected to a water source for the autofill feature.
Get with Carl, the designer, and have him install the plants.
The crew has to bring in dirt and mulch.
They have to install the lights.

Finally, I need to relax!

Oh yeah, the post office has lost an $800 package I ordered 2 weeks ago. :(

Relax. Breathe. Chill out. Bleah.

My new jewelry display

Just a quickie to show off the little project I did while the guys were working in the back yard. I've always wanted a better way to see my jewelry and figure out more easily what I want to wear in the morning. So here's what I came up with.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Weather Woes

Of course, for the past month it's been beautiful weather. Hot, sunny, dry. Today, when I have a crew working in my backyard, it's about to rain. And it looks like it's going to pour. The cold front just came through and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in 10 minutes. I checked the hourly forecast. It was 81 this morning. It's going to be 53 tonight. Holy cow! Should warm back up by tomorrow though, and be nice for the next couple weeks. That's good, since my parents are coming for the Galveston Bike Rally next weekend.

The landscaping makeover begins!

The guys showed up about 30 minutes ago to start installing our new water feature in the backyard. So far, they've moved most of the rocks and bricks and gotten the old pond liner out of the ground. Seems like it wasn't too hard to get out, but I don't know where they're going to take it to throw it away.

Last night, I was having major buyer's remorse when I went to bed. Told myself that there was nothing I could do about it then, and there's nothing to do about it this morning. I already made the decision, and I try very hard to have no regrets. I know I could have done it myself and saved a lot of money, but I also know myself after all these years. If I had done it, it still would have cost a substantial amount for materials, and it would have taken me weeks, at the least, to do the installation, and I would have agonized and cheaped out over so many little material items. This way, I pay one price, and the company does everything in one day. So yes, the time and effort saved is worth the money.

It is nice to be at home during a workday, especially when Daniel is off to school, so I have the house to myself. Every once in a while, I'll pop out to take some progress pics of the pond. The guys probably think I'm a crazy woman, but then again, I'm sure they're used to people taking pictures of the installation. Times like this, I wish I could speak Spanish. They don't speak any English at all. Hopefully, they won't need anything. Carl, the designer, says they're all set, and this crew does nothing but install ponds.

Here's some preview pics.
The pond area after we drained it and before the work crew got here.

The crew starting the tear out of the old liner and rocks.

Updated edits:

Here's the basic form covered with the waterproof fabric liner.

And here's the pit with the pump installed and the pit filled in with gravel.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Squat PR!

I got a new personal record in squat tonight: 215 pounds! That's even after taking 2 weeks off of heavy squatting. I'd been doing squats, but doing volume work the last 2 weeks. Another 20 pounds and I'll be up to 2 plates on the fat bar. That's some real weight! Tomorrow starts the cutting diet again, and I'm debating on a different workout program during the week. i've just been winging it for the last 6 weeks, although I have been working really hard.

Our first major home improvement

We've tried to fix our fish pond this week. We moved our remaining fish to a temporary holding pot and bailed out the pond. Unfortunately, when we pumped it out, I could tell there was a bunch of water underneath it. Don't know how deep the hole is or how serious. Called a couple of pond landscapers, and one came out Saturday to take a look. We ended up going to his local store and taking a look at the various kinds of ponds they have installed.

After looking around, we decided to go ahead and have his company install a new waterfall feature in our back yard. Important points that sold us: Very low maintenance; they take away the old, broken pond; they can do it in a day or two; and they can have it done by the end of October. The designer is coming over Monday afternoon to work with us on designing the waterfall.

We think we've decided on a disappearing waterfall. basically, the pond section is filled in with large rocks that act as the biofilter. There's no open space for plants and fish; instead the water comes off the stream and disappears into the gravel-filled resovoir to be pumped up again. I'm excited to finally get something really nice for the house.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hugely successful milestone

I've been working on a major project at work, and yesterday, we passed a major milestone. Not only that, we ended up with a fantastic result. We ended up shaving a couple of months off our project and did something that apparently hasn't been done in 10 years. Unfortunately, I can't go into more detail because it's sensitive information, but we're all excited. Last night, I went home and did a happy dance because now I might actually get to take a real vacation. Today, we celebrate with an ice cream social. Hurray!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Touring the Solar Homes of Houston

October 6 was the solar home tour. We managed to make it to 3 of the homes around Houston. We started in Galveston at a net-zero energy home. I think it was the most conventional of the homes we saw. It had 21 solar panels that produced 2.1 kW, and when we were there, it was sending 1.9 kW back to the grid. Of course, the only thing running was the a/c unit. The guys there said the PV array cost around $24K. The house also had a wind turbine and a biodiesel generator. It was designed to be extremely airtight to minimize heat loss and a/c usage. I think it was the prettiest house we saw.

We went into Houston to see two others. They were both much more modern and industrial-looking. They were LEED certified; one was platinum. I really liked how one of them was designed to fit in with the narrow lot and take advantage of the area.

Unfortunately, it seems like being green is great when you can custom build, but we won't really make a change until we get the tract builders to start building green, and that probably won't happen for many more years.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Skip bottled water for 1 month

Carbon Conscious Consumer Logo

Take the pledge. I did. Tap water is perfectly fine. Our water system is the best in the world and it costs just pennies. I use a mug at work and a glass at home. The only drawback for me is that my cat likes to stick her paw in my water glass if I leave it unattended, so I tend to go through several glasses at home.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

When it rains, it pours

Our bad week continued in a spectacular way. By the end of the day, 6 of our 7 fish had bit the dust. Or gone belly up, to be more precise. We have one lonely fish swimming in circles. For a while, we weren't sure he was going to make it. We moved him to a smaller container while we make repairs to the big pond.

Last Friday, we headed to Fredericksburg to visit the Renewable Energy Roundup. We stopped at Whataburger for lunch. Bad idea. A couple hours later, Daniel started feeling ill, and the last 2 hours of the trip were him alternately freezing to death or being ill by the side of the road. When we got to Fredericksburg, we immediately went to the emergency room. Diagnosis? A bad case of food poisoning. So I went to the fair by myself while he watched tv in the hotel room on Saturday.

On the silver lining side, I had a great time. I met a couple at breakfast who were wildlife rehabilitators. They had brought 20 turtles (including one 60 pound box turtle) and 6 alligators from El Paso to a refuge near Austin. Also talked with a really nice shop owner who used to work for Lockheed Martin before he started a new job as a jeweler. The fair was nice, and I got some neat ideas and saw some good products.

My bad luck wasn't done yet though. Yesterday, on my way to work, my alternator stopped working. Work has been so busy I haven't even had a chance to get it to the shop, yet. I'll hopefully get it in tomorrow, so we can go on the Houston Solar Home tour this Saturday. And hopefully, I'll get a break and some time to get stuff done around the house. Like fix the fish pond.