What to do? What to Do?

I don’t want to hear anybody saying they’ve got nothing to do this weekend

Our Austin events calendar is usually pretty full — let’s face it: Austin is a VERY happenin’ city — but this weekend seems particularly packed with all kinds of cools goings-on.  Enough to warrant a post in my little blog, at least.

Presented without prejudice and in no particular order, here’s what’s going down this weekend in the ATX:

Eeyore’s Birthday — No, not exactly a kids’ event, though there’s a little something for everybody (and it’s decidedly Austin-weird).

Austin Bookstore Crawl — Celebrate Independent Bookstore Day in style!

Beast of the East Backyard BBQ Cook Off —   The name says it all.

Austin Food & Wine Festival — Food, wine, sunshine.*  What else do you need?  (*Okay, the sunshine might not happen.  Best two out of three.)

Annual Dragon Boat Festival & Races — A family-friendly event, with music and dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, Taiko Drums, Lion Dance and a Kids’ Zone with special activities for children.  All that, plus dragon boat races on Lady Bird Lake!

National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day — Barkworthie’s Chews Rescue program will be funding adoptions for all eligible dogs this weekend through Austin Pets Alive.

Jazz & Art on Main — This event in Cedar Park features arts & crafts, live music & tasty eats.

Vintage Market Days of Austin-Hill Country –  A vintage inspired open-air market in Dripping Springs featuring original art, antiques, clothing, jewelry, handmade treasures, seasonal plantings and more tasty eats.

Mommy, Daddy & Me Book Club — Featuring children’s book author Yolanda King, this book club encourages children to read with their parents.

The Grease & La La Land Double Feature Sing Along — Double feature movies, music & singing at the Blue Starlight Drive-In — what could be more fun than that?

Daniel Tosh — The star of Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 is appearing at the Frank Erwin Center.

Now, I don’t want to hear anybody saying they’ve got nothing to do this weekend!  Even if the weather is looking kinda iffy…  🙂

Have fun out there, y’all, and be safe!

 

Earth Day 2017

Showing love to the planet

My Earth Day haiku:

Tiny tomatoes
Grown in earth, round like the Earth
So perfect with salt

My garden’s first harvest

Sheer pottery, no?

Happy Earth Day, y’all, from my garden to yours!  And remember: composting is our friend…  🙂

Springtime in Central Texas

Time to get your bluebonnets on

I absolutely love living in Austin, and especially so at this time of year.  I love seeing the live oak, cedar and pecan trees get their leaves back, and all the gorgeous wildflowers come out alongside Texas’ back roads and highways (thanks, Lady Bird Johnson).  Taking pictures of your children in a glorious field of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush is pretty much an obligatory exercise for local parents, as my Facebook feed will attest to every year at this time.

Central Texas Flower Child

On a particularly fetching day last week I decided to play hooky (or do “location scouting” as I like to call it) and headed out with my camera for a road trip throughout the surrounding Hill Country area just to see what all was abloom.

Back road in Burnet County

I got off the main highway just outside of town and made my way up and down whatever roads struck my fancy.  These horses grazing in a field of bright yellow caused me to stop in the middle of the road to take their picture — of course, part of the beauty of traveling on back roads means you can easily get away with this.

Ponies & wildflowers

The first part of the day was overcast but the clouds still made for some dramatic scenery.

Windmill & wildflowers

The afternoon skies were perfect and blue with scattered puffy clouds, which made for some cool lighting.  The shadows playing on this field as I was driving past caught my eye.

Live oak trees, cloud shadows and green fields

Staying on the back roads I made my way past the Pedernales River, which was flowing nicely and looked very inviting.  (Yes, I also stopped in the middle of the bridge to take this picture.)

Crossing the Pedernales River

While much of my day was spent going wherever the road took me, I did have one destination picked out for certain: Hamilton Pool Preserve, which, if you’ve never been, NEEDS to be on your list of places to check out in the Austin area!  It was my first time to go, and it’s an amazing spot.

Hamilton Pool

If you’re unfamiliar, Hamilton Pool is a natural spring, appropriately located just outside Austin in Dripping Springs, Texas.  Jade green in color, it’s fed by an underground river and is surrounded by lush growth, making for an inviting spot for hiking, swimming or just hanging out.  The remains of a natural dome that covered the grotto before its collapse more than a century ago provides a deep shady overhang, complete with waterfall.  It really creates a stunning display, and makes me wish I were a better photographer to be able to truly capture the beauty of the area.

Behind the main waterfall at Hamilton Pool

Depending on certain bacteria levels the pool is not always open for swimming, which was the case when I went. But when swimming is allowed it is quite a popular swimming hole!  There is a bright white sandy beach area, which stands in stark contrast to the green water and  blue sky.

Hamilton Pool, taken from the beach area

It’s only about a 30-40 minute drive from Austin, and to get down to the pool there is a relatively easy 1/4 mile or so hike from where you park.  If you’re visiting during the months of May – September you must make a reservation to get in, and outside of those times you may run into a waiting line on the weekends as only a certain number of visitors are allowed in to the preserve at any given time.  But if you do like me and go mid-week in April you can pretty much waltz right on in, which is why I’m kind of ashamed of myself for not having gone before this. (Travel note: bring cash or a local check to pay the $15 parking fee; they do not accept plastic and the nearest ATM is 5 miles away.)

Again I’ll say, if you haven’t gone do make a point to do so.  You won’t be disappointed.

Sunset on a back road

I wrapped up my day’s adventure at sunset, thoroughly pleased with the whole outing and especially happy to visit some new places.  We are so fortunate to have so many gorgeous sites to visit right in our back yard — it makes me even more glad to live where I do, and to have a job where I can take advantage of them from time to time!

Happy trails, y’all!

 

Kitchen Renovation

Curse you, HGTV!

You know that feeling when you’ve been watching too much HGTV and you suddenly find yourself in the mood to undertake some major home renovations?  Well, that was me this past weekend.

While my husband has since talked me down from that particular ledge (for the time being anyway), I find I’m still craving a little bit of that fix.  So after fondly perusing a bunch of the before and after pictures from our home renovation projects last winter, I decided I’d at least blog some more about it and recreate a little of that feeling of “Look!  It’s so shiny and new!”  It’s obviously not the same, of course, but it helps placate the reno beast a little bit.

For now.

So, to that end…

In addition to making over our living room and fireplace as I wrote about previously, we did a full renovation of our kitchen and dining rooms, as well as installing new flooring throughout the whole living area.

We started out by opening up the kitchen to the rest of the living space.  Our house was built in 1979 and featured a closed-off galley kitchen, which was cute its own awkward and dysfunctional way, and came complete with washer and dryer (because who doesn’t love having their linens and towels smell like last night’s dinner?), upper cabinets that didn’t fully close (and were topped by an ugly bulkhead looming pointlessly above them) and an awkward and shallow ceramic sink not big enough to wash my pots in.  Oh, and faux wood vinyl flooring — because 1979!

Step one was actually relocating the laundry out to the garage.  We did that project first, then left the space as-was for a few months, keeping the fabulous accordion doors in place and creating a makeshift pantry/mop closet behind them.

When it came time to really tackle the kitchen, I couldn’t wait to knock that wall down and kick the ugly accordion doors to the curb.  I cannot stress enough how frustrating it was to come in from the garage and run smack dab into those doors (if you didn’t shut them just right they would pop back open and then wait there to trap the unsuspecting upon entering).

So those were eliminated first thing, and then the main wall separating the kitchen from the living room went, opening up the whole space.  My husband and I love to entertain, so our primary goal was to have an open floor plan where we (and by “we” I mean “I”) could continue to labor in the kitchen but still chat (and by “chat” I mean “drink”) with our guests.  After that, there was some shifting around of appliances (the stove/oven combo was replaced with a cooktop and the fridge was moved to the opposite wall, allowing for double ovens to be installed in its old spot), a complete cabinet remake, and the installation of a new stainless steel apron sink big enough to accommodate a Labrador Retriever, should we ever so desire.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.  First, the old kitchen:

The old galley kitchen
The old closed off galley kitchen.  At least it was colorful!

Followed by the new, open kitchen:

03-after

And the other side:

Kitchen window, and the hated ceramic sinck
Kitchen window, featuring the hated ceramic sink and treacherous accordion doors.

Which was replaced with this:

New sink, no more accordion doors
Same window, but new sink, cupboards, countertops, backsplash, and no more accordion doors.

The view of the kitchen from the living room, previously:

The very old living room, with our fancy plaid couch. Don't be jealous.
The old living room, closed off to the kitchen, with our fancy plaid couch. Don’t be jealous.

Same view, including new couch, the tea table we brought back from China, and an updated color scheme:

Seriously, is this even the same room?
Seriously, is this even the same room?

And then there is the dining room.  We went from this:

We had already started renovations when this picture was taken, so the clutter was a bit more than normal
We had already started renovations when this picture was taken, so the clutter was a bit more than normal. But still.

To this:

08-after-08
Built-in buffet, bar area, wine rack and wine fridge. We are seriously set up for entertaining!  Not to mention we have curtains now.

Among the other little gems from the redo was our idea for open appliance shelves.  They are located next to the garage door so access is quite easy, but they aren’t visible from the living room.  I LOVE them! Not having to dig out the Cuisinart or my CrockPot from the very back of the lower cabinets every time I want to use them is such a blessing for my poor, put-upon lower back!

07-after
Open shelving for our large appliances = happiness!

Taking in the whole space, from the living room area:

01-after
Looking at the newly open kitchen, including the new vent hood and pendant lights over the bar top counter.

Taking it all in

fp6

We are delighted with how the project turned out, and I have to give a shout out again to our contractor, Karl Hanson at H & H Design & Construction.  It took about 11 weeks start to finish and it came out almost exactly like the plans we drew up beforehand. (We did our own drawings, picked our own design and finishes and did some of our own demo, but Karl and his team did all the hard work.)  It was a royal pain to live in a construction zone for close to 3 months and we went a little bit over our original budget, but for us it was well worth it in the end!

Now if I can just stop watching “Fixer Upper” we should be good for a while…

🙂

 

 

Why I Love Working With First-Time Home Buyers

Almost as exciting for me as it is for them

I love working with first time home buyers!

I love guiding them carefully through what can be a daunting and confusing process… and then slowly begin burying them under a silent avalanche of paperwork to read, contracts to sign, listings to pour over.

I like watching them struggle to memorize a whole array of terms they’ve never had use for before: appraised value, restrictive covenants, earnest money, warranty deed.

I love getting to know their likes and dislikes as we tour properties, gently reminding that that hideous sofa isn’t actually staying with the house, or that garden gnomes are not immovable fixtures.

I love trapping them in my car to tour just one more property before we call it a day.  Because this one might be THE ONE.

I love seeing their eyes light up when they finally find the right house, like a little kid on Christmas morning spotting a new bike under the tree.  Then, of course, watching that light flicker and dim while we await the seller’s response to our offer.

I love learning new vocabulary words from them in reference to dawdling and obstinate sellers.

I love their sigh of relief when the offer is accepted, and again when the house finally appraises at the right value.  (When I can then much more easily blame any further delays on the mortgage company.)

And I love closing day, when their excitement can’t even be crushed by the titanic mound of papers facing them, each one requiring their signature, culminating in a handover of keys into their eager hands, at least one of which now features acute, tendonitis-like pain.

And finally, because once it’s all done they let you pose them with silly props…

closed-jt
Oh the thrill of new home ownership and balloons

Even upside down props! (Which you are laughing too hard to even notice the fact that it’s upside down…)

closed-al
The key to happiness, or to my room at the loony bin

All kidding aside, it truly does tickle me to work with first time buyers.  Even in our age of HGTV-educated consumers, a lot of folks are still almost completely unfamiliar with the whole process; getting to walk with them through what will likely be one of the biggest –if not THE biggest — purchases of their life is almost as exciting for me as it is for them.

Bless their hearts. 🙂

 

Nose Reacquainted With Grindstone / Happy New Year!

Where DID all the time go?

Was it just me, or did everybody’s 2016 year end come racing into 2017 like its feet were on fire and its pants were catching?!  All of of sudden, here it is the middle of January — what?!  Where did all the time go?

We had a wonderful if a bit frantic holiday here in Austin.  We had family in from Seattle and France for lengthy stays, and seemingly some sort of social event every other night!  It was fun and chaotic, with lots of friends and family around, great food, plenty of wine, Christmas lights, cookies galore, presents, curiously-stuffed stockings, and best of all, lots of laughter.

Oh, and my pretty tree!  We spent a few happy hours drinking eggnog and listening to French rap while decorating the tree.  Because, you know, nothing says Christmas like MC Solaar.

christmas-tree-16

But now that the holidays have passed, the tree is down and all the Christmas lights, associated decor and Christmas baking accouterments have been put away — and my husband’s and my own early-January birthdays have gone likewise by — it’s finally time to get back to work!  I’ve been particularly slow this year to ramp back up to full speed, but my grind is now firmly planted on the old nose-stone and it’s off to the races!

Happy New Year, y’all!

Giving Back/Small Kindnesses

A lovely reminder that kindness is not lost

This past weekend I had the privilege of volunteering at the Austin Junior League’s Coats for Kids drive, which is an annual event designed to get warm coats to kids in need of them whose families can’t necessarily afford to buy them.  Traditionally, we don’t have a lot of cold weather here in Central Texas, but for the 6 weeks or so that we do, we really do!  We are all about weather extremes in our neck of the woods!

For years JB Goodwin Realtors (where I happily work) has been a big participant in this charity event, donating coats, time, and money.  And although I’ve donated coats in the past, this was the first year that I’ve also been part of the on-site crew helping families “shop” for coats.

It was a rewarding experience, as you might imagine.  It can be a lot of work: the coats are for ages 0 – 18, so there is an endless variety of sizes and styles to sort through.  But everybody is grateful: the parents are thrilled and the kids are so excited to be getting a new coat.  And it’s wonderful for the volunteers too.  It is honestly humbling to be part of an event where you can really connect with people, even for a short time.  I’ve been very blessed; it was a great feeling to be able to give back to those in the community less fortunate, as cliché as that might sound.

Of all the lovely, human moments throughout the day there was one in particular that stood out for me.  I had a Muslim family I was paired with to help search the racks for coats for their three boys.  The boys — aged 10, 11 and 13 — were very friendly and polite, but the oldest boy, Muhammad by name, I was especially taken with.  His manner was quite sweet, and he was outgoing and chatty.  He found a coat he liked in short order, then turned his attention to his brothers.  He was great with the two younger boys, offering fashion advice as well prompting them to search for sizes they wouldn’t grow out of too soon.  He was very mature for his age (though he did at one point put the middle brother in a playful headlock when the boy suggested he had stinky armpits, demonstrating he still also knew how to just be a 13-year old boy).

While the boys were trying on various coats, their mother happened to see a very nice long coat that looked to be her size.  She just sort of idly tried it on and it actually fit her beautifully.  She seemed almost surprised by how nice it looked on her.  She asked me if there was any way she could get the coat for herself and I unfortunately had to tell her no, as we could only give them the 3 coats they were allotted.  She was gracious and said of course she understood, but I couldn’t help but see that she was a bit disappointed.

Muhammad noticed as well.  So when he thought his mother was out of earshot he came up to me and asked if he could give back his coat so that she could keep the one she had tried on.  Before I could even answer — I was honestly gobsmacked for a moment — his mother, employing her preternaturally keen mom ears, immediately rushed over and said, “No, baby.  I won’t let you do that.  But thank you.”  In that moment her look said everything about how touched she was, and how proud of her boy.

Like his mother, I was also touched by the kind and selfless gesture of this young man.  It was a small thing, I guess, but also huge.  And for me it was a lovely reminder that kindness is not lost, and that the desire to give back and to make someone else’s day a little brighter (or a little warmer, in this case) isn’t just limited to those with the apparent means to do so.