This Old House: Pool-Patio Makeover

The money shot for the realty listing of our new house was clearly this pic of the backyard pool. Dean was instantly sold. I had some concerns about Juliette’s safety and the work that goes into caring for a pool, but the idea of sipping margaritas by said pool eventually won me over.

lab23a543-m0xOnce we moved in, we were dazzled by our first few swims in the pool but were less than impressed by the lack of functionality of the seating area. You might remember a previous post in which I griped about a few off them. Our main complaints were:

  • No railing on upper patio. Plantar boxes with overgrown bushes served as pseudo railings.
  • Large sweeping staircase that terminated within a foot of the pool. Railing was lacking here as well.
  • Pool plaster was showing its age with exposed gunite in areas.
  • Lower seating area was on two levels due to a spa that was removed a long time ago.
  • Feature palm tree met its demise years ago and its skeleton was just hanging around.
  • Narrow walk ways around pool perimeter and very little room for seating.
  • Fountain leaked out the back and looked like a pile of turds (no exaggeration).
  • Landscaping was non-existent in some areas, overgrown in others.
  • Decking material was exposed aggregate, popular because it is nonskid but not our taste.

Here are some BEFORE pictures to back me up:

We had a parade of contractors out to look at the pool- pool builders, patio & landscape companies and stone masons. We thought the job would be as easy as covering the old cement surface with a new flagstone surface. Unfortunately, the way the flagstone coping had been incorporated into the cement surround, it would need to be saw cut out and pretty much all the decking except for that anchoring the pool needed to be ripped out. In addition, to make it all one level and still maintain drainage away from the pool, we needed to raise the skimmers up by a few inches. We ended up choosing a stone mason we trusted (and who is most highly recommended by the place where we purchase our stone) who also has had experience working with two local pool builders. It is a bit of a no, no to go with someone other than a pool builder. There are many, many things that can go wrong with your pool and repairs can be costly. So we crossed our fingers and they broke ground at the end of June. Hello hot summer. Bye, bye pool to refresh in.

Here are some of the DURING shots. This project was supposed to take 4 wks and ended up taking nearly 8. Oye!

At the end of August, while J and I were in New England, all was finished and Dean started filling the pool. Here is where we ran into a few problems:

  • Pump did not work. Likely some cement got into it during the demo. Needed to replace pump ASAP.
  • Skimmers were not pulling. Turns out a tree branch had grown into one of the skimmer lines and a large leak became apparent once we began trouble shooting it.
  • Pebble looked a little mottled. This is an issue we hope goes away over time with brushing and managing our pH. Perhaps we should have gone with Pebble Tec. Hind sight is 20/20.
  • Fountain still leaks out the back. Looks like it is an issue with the original plumbing and something we will address next season.

I must admit I still curse this pool on a weekly basis. Keeping our chemistry in balance with new plaster has been challenging. I am always worried that we have a leak somewhere, and the frog population living around our pool has jumped from 1 frog to 10. Seriously! But we now have our own back yard oasis. We still have some landscaping to do, but overall we are pleased with the results. Sadly, we only had the chance to enjoy swimming in the pool for a month before pool season ended but we are really looking forward to next year. And the weather is nice here in Austin so you can sip margaritas on the patio nearly year round.


Pool party anyone?


Sharing The Thanks

After a lengthy (and may I add exhausting) break from blogging, I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate my return to this hobby by blogging about our recent Thanksgiving feast.

My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are many: candied yams made special by my Grammy just for my Dad, chocolate cream pie, mountains of mashed potatoes and my all important job of seeing to it that my Grammy did not burn the dinner rolls. Now that I’m an adult, you would think that I would have quite a bit of Thanksgiving experience of my own under my belt. But Dean and I live far from both our families and have been quite happy to be adopted by other people’s families (thank you Allisons and Ardolinos) or participate in a misfits Thanksgiving celebration (those are always quite fun).

This year, we were fortunate to have our friends from the UK and Netherlands visiting during Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving is obviously an American holiday and this made it even more fun to share our traditions with friends from overseas.

First came the difficult task of menu planning. It was not easy to fit this in amongst all our other sight seeing and foodie expeditions. In case you are wondering how much food it takes to feed all  your guests, Good Housekeeping has a nifty little chart that can be found here. My husband does not believe in such things, however. As hard as I tried to convince him that a 12-14 lb turkey offers 12-14 servings (for 6 adults and 1 toddler with 4 guests leaving to go back to their respective countries on Friday), he thought we might need 20-25 lbs and I think we may have compromised on 18. We had too much food as usual. Fortunately, Dean, Niels and I ran the 5 mile Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot in the morning to make room for those extra calories. Dean and Niels each sweat off 10 lbs after running in turkey costumes in the 82 degree weather.


The Brits and Finnish Minna had the bird in the oven and had started on the fixings by the time we arrived home. Our menu ended up looking like this:

Starters a.k.a Lunch:

Mussels and Clams in white wine sauce

Shrimp with cocktail sauce


The Main Event a.k.a Thanksgiving Dinner

Potato and Leek Soup (this actually became Fri lunch as we couldn’t fathom starting with soup even after several hours to digest the seafood)

Paula Deen’s Broccoli Salad

Turkey (made moist by stuffing with 2 green apples, 1 pear and 1 white onion)

Cranberry Sauce

Cornbread Stuffing

Savory Green Beans

Mashed Potatoes (with Larry’s trick of using truffle salt to make them especially yum)

Candied Sweet Potatoes


Peanut Butter Pie (an easy, easy recipe that is sure to be wildly popular with your guests)

Now you know I can’t bear a proper sit down meal without the proper table decor. I had dreams of doing several DIY autumn decor projects. I even started a pinterest board to store my ideas with the best of intentions. Alas, it was about all I could do to get the house clean, in order and somewhat decorated before our house guests arrived. In the end, I recycled some of the decor from our fall 2007 wedding. Dean and I made gorgeous Martha Steward-inspired wheat sheaf centerpieces and I sewed acorns on simple ribbon napkin rings. Paired with our wedding place settings and crystal (I jump at any opportunity to break these out of the china cabinet), we had a festive fall table in a pinch.

By the end of the day, we were all thankful for full bellies and the wonderful friendship we share. Despite the passage of time, many life changes and the miles between us, we have forged a life long bond. Thank you Brits. Thank you Dutchies. Your visit was a good one. We were grateful for the chance to host and introduce you to one of America’s most beloved holidays.

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