This Old House: Dressing Up The Exterior Part II

Last fall, both the front of our house and our front yard underwent massive makeovers. You can refresh your memory by clicking here.

This July, we had Debbie and the crew of Sagebrush Landscaping back to redesign the back yard. I must preface this post by saying that, generally speaking, it is not a good idea to be landscaping in the 100 degree heat that consumes this part of Texas June through September. It is much preferable to tackle such a project in the early spring or fall. However, hubby’s family reunion was scheduled for mid July and he really wanted the back yard to be a little more functional before the big event.

For this part of Texas, we have a pretty big yard. It was mostly dust and weeds when we moved in with patches of good grass scattered throughout. Dean would “mow” this with his riding lawn mower and create quite a dustbowl! Debbie walked us through the yard, and we told her we had two goals. First, we wanted to xeriscape wherever we could. Austin has been in a drought since we have been living here, and it is was not feasible to water all this grass. We wanted to add gravel, mulch and decomposed granite where we could to break things up and add texture.  Secondly, we wanted to actually make use of the entire yard by adding zones of interest. Our requests were a playscape area for J, a hammock area for relaxing, an area for gathering around a fire pit, a picnic table amongst the trees and a herb garden wall opposite our raised garden boxes. She incorporated all that into the design as well as adding a “man cave” area for outdoor games. We were more than impressed with the results.

Basically our backyard went from this (picture taken after grass was removed and yard was filled with base dirt):


To this:

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In addition to the xeriscaping, we took additional steps to save water by converting the garden and all landscape beds to drip and upgrading the sprinkler system over the turf to more efficient MP rotator heads. The City of Austin offers a rebate for such upgrades. Sadly, it is still more costly than I ever imagined to water the back and front yard, but once the turf is well established in both these areas, it will hopefully become more drought resistant.

Now, we actually venture into the backyard beyond the pool. We have yet to test drive the fire pit (better once the nights get cooler) and have not done nearly as much relaxing in the hammock as we would have liked BUT J loves her play area and the house with the slide that her uncles built. It gets nearly daily use.  Our only real complaint is that the back yard being on a downhill slope, rainwater tends to take the path of least resistance down the decomposed granite pathways and wash them out. This is even after all our downspouts were rerouted via drains to the turf. This picture was taken after two days of heavy rains. Not good!


We are currently trouble shooting this and will let you know how we make out. I also have been busy planting the herb garden and succulent beds. Pics to come once those projects are finished. Fall is an ideal time for planting in our neck of the woods so my green thumb should be getting a workout very soon 🙂

This Old House: Say Hello To My Little Friends

I apologize in advance to my Mom for posting this as I know she is already hesitant to visit us in our new house after listening to all my stories about the critters I have encountered. Sorry Mom, details and photographic evidence are about to follow.

Amazingly, when we moved to our new house last summer, we only moved about 3 miles down the road. I am amazed mainly because those 3 short miles mark the difference between southwest suburbia and the outskirts of the hill country. I often feared I had taken a wrong turn and was headed straight to the boonies due to the change in topography and the fact that there seemed to be a lot of horses grazing in open fields. Since when did I live in the country?

On the first few trips to the new house, we encountered several deer, a fox and a road runner. All were completely unaware of how out of place they seemed in the hip, urban live music capital of the world. Hmmmm. Let’s say hello to a few of my little friends.

Striped Bark Scorpion


This ugly creature was my first uninvited houseguest.  The movers pointed out a dead one as they were unloading our boxes, and it immediately struck fear in my heart. I dismissed it as a fluke- probably snuck in with all the activity of the previous owners moving out and us moving in. The very next day, our nanny ran into a live one in the kitchen and so it began. Apparently, the striped bark scorpion is a relatively common unwanted pest in areas of Austin abundant with trees and wild life. It is not dangerous like its cousin the Arizona bark scorpion, but as my husband can attest, delivers a powerful sting more uncomfortable than that of a bee sting. It is best treated with a paste of meat tenderizer and baking soda, and the pain typically passes in 15-20 min. Small children who are stung should be taken to the ER according to my pediatrician.  There may be residual numbness or tingling over the next 24-48 hrs.

I am on a mission to completely annihilate them from my home through a combination of pest control, natural remedies and fortification of all potential entry points.  I could easily dedicate a whole post to talking about this. They freak me out that much. Yuck! Here’s a picture I snapped of a dead one outside our garage a few days after a pest control treatment. Another one bites the dust.


Texas Brown Tarantula

photo-12I was unloading groceries from the car when I ran into this not so little spider outside the garage. I quickly scooped up my child and closed the garage door as I would absolutely spend the night in a hotel if I thought this fella was on the loose inside the house. Apparently, I was overreacting a little bit as these tarantulas are quite docile and in the rare case that they do bite, it is not normally harmful to humans. Around here, people take care of them by scooping them up in a cup and gently depositing them back in nature. I plead the 5th as to whether or not this is what I did. Momma Bear tends to be overprotective of her young.

Texas White-Tailed Deer 

photo-15In Austin, deer are regarded as pests. That is because they can take down your landscape overnight and have a habit of wandering into the middle of the street without a care in the world. There were deer in our old neighborhood, although I never saw one in the vicinity of our house. I did, however, hit one on my way home from HEB. It was quite a surprise being in a commercial area, and I did not see him coming as he was racing uphill and did not make it into my periphery until too late. Fortunately for both of us, I was not traveling very fast and he rolled across my hood and went on his merry way. Both the deer and my car sustained minor damages. The deer here are tiny compared to deer up north. The drought leaves them looking emaciated at times and I thought the deer I hit was a greyhound dog at first glance.

We have a family of 8-10 deer in our new neighborhood. They do not speed up to cross the road when they see a car coming. You have to stop and patiently wait for them to get a clue. The male buck hisses at me when I shoo him out of the yard at night and shut the gate. We have planted mainly deer-resistant plants, but they have made it impossible for my knock out roses to get a fair start in life.  Once, we were awoken by an awful animal cry and ran outdoors to see a neighbor’s dog attempting to hunt a deer in our yard. Life is never dull in the woods.

Greater Roadrunner


My favorite new friend is the roadrunner. I have seen several in the neighborhood and love to watch them run across the street or lawn. I was also surprised to see that they can fly and also scale our fence and run along it. J is as fond of them as I am. She is too young to know of the roadrunner cartoon character yet, but is readily amused by the real thing. As a bonus, they eat scorpions. Perhaps I should domesticate one? Our nanny snapped this picture of this bold little guy hanging out on the patio.

Gray Fox


Another of my favorites is this beautiful creature. Dean discovered three of them hanging out by my garden boxes one morning. They surprised him and scared the dickens out of my nanny who kept J inside for the remainder of the day. A little research on google revealed that they are fairly harmless to people and were probably more interested in my compost pile than my vegetables. They resemble a dog but move like a cat. I had the pleasure of watching two play out in the back yard one day. One was chasing the other and they were running and leaping quite fast. All of a sudden one magically appeared on the other side of the wrought iron fence around the pool. Before I could fathom how that happened, I saw the second do the same thing and realized that they could make themselves skinny enough to run between the slats. Amazing! They seem unfazed by our presence, watching us cautiously but going about their business as if they own the place. I have yet to snap a picture of our foxes but found this one on the Visit Wimberley website.

Eastern Cottontail

eastern_cottontailWith the help of this little cutie, we were able to prove to J that the Easter Bunny is indeed always watching to see if she is being a good little girl. He was a frequent visitor to the yard for a while. I was a bit concerned after seeing the foxes. However, he has resurfaced unharmed since that time. We have had a creature digging shallow holes in our yard for some time. I was putting the blame on this guy, but have since learned that they do not dig their own burrows or dig for roots and bulbs. They are a pest in my neighbor’s garden but seem to leave my raised beds alone- even the carrots 🙂

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

turkeyNot to be outdone by my parents and grandparents in NH, we too have turkeys. Upon moving in, I kept waking up in the middle of the night hearing a strange sound. It sounded like the gobble, gobble of a turkey but I had no idea they were abundant in Texas. I thought perhaps I was crazy until I later spotted at least 40 turkeys hanging out in the open park in our development. I was unable to get a close up shot but if you squint you might be able to make them out roosting in the grass. Predators include our friend the gray fox, raccoons, rat snakes, feral hogs (more on those next) and bobcats. Perhaps we will not have to travel as far as Whole Foods to get a 20 lb turkey this year? Kidding!


Wild Hogs


While I have certainly not seen on of these creatures wandering around in my development, I did recently see a rather large one keeled over on the side of the road- presumedly hit by a car. In retelling the story to a patient, he said that wild hogs are terrorizing some neighborhoods as relayed in this Smithsonion article A Plague of Pigs in Texas.  The state of Texas estimates that wild hogs cause $200 in property damage per hog per year and have issued a bounty of $2 per kill. I certainly hope this is not my backyard digger. They are nocturnal. The holes we found, while plentiful, were pretty shallow, so my money is still on an armadillo. Either way, just the sight of one so close to home brings new meaning to The Other White Meat.


800px-Nine-banded_ArmadilloThese creatures are nocturnal, so I have yet to see one live in person. I have seen plenty as roadkill. They love to dig small holes in peoples lawns as they root for bugs and grubs. I think he is likely our little digger.  I just need to catch him in action. Some good tips on dealing with armadillo problems are found here.

Those are all my little friends at the moment. Have yet to run into a snake (aside from a garter snake here and there), but would not be surprised to come across a rattlesnake or coral snake some day soon. Yikes!

Shower in the Sun

In my last post prior to going dark, I was discussing the woes of living on a septic system and my fears about having 19 house guests utilize my septic over a 7-10 day period. After all, the average person uses 50 gallons per day so that would be nearly 1000 gallons per day! Showers use the most water, by far, so I came up with the brilliant idea of installing an outdoor shower. Originally, we discussed putting up a temporary structure. They sell solar shower bags and shower enclosure tents like this at most camping supply stores.



Ultimately, we decided we wanted something a little more permanent that we could utilize poolside year round. You can see some of my favorite inspiration showers on my outdoor living Pinterest page found here.

Even though it is 100+ degrees in Austin during the summer, we wanted the shower to be heated. That way we could use it even in the winter. At first, I looked strictly at pool solar showers. The majority of them are composed of a black PVC column with shower head and hose hook up. They hold between 5.5-9.5 gallons of water depending on the size, which is enough for 2-4 quick showers, respectively. Most of them had a hot/cold adjustment, which is necessary in Austin where the water would heat up very quickly in full summer sun. Models with good reviews ranged from just under $200 and quickly jumped up to $300+ the more aesthetically pleasing they were.


The problem for us with this type of shower was two-fold. First, the number of people utilizing it. With nearly 20 people, the stand would run out of heated water quickly and we would have to wait until it heated back up again for the next people to shower. Secondly, due to being solar powered, it would put a real limit on showers after dark as the water would likely cool down rather quickly.

Plumbing a shower from inside of the house was not a task or expense we wanted to undertake. Besides, it would still mean nearly 20 people on our hot water heater, which we found to run out of hot water quickly with our previous record 6 visitors. Luckily, I stumbled upon several acceptable portable hot water heaters. They are designed for camping and run off a 20 gallon propane tank just like your gas grill.

The two top brands are Camp Chef and Eccotemp. You can follow the links to read Amazon reviews of both 5 liter models. I tended to lean towards the less expensive Camp Chef , which had a fold up stand should you want to set it up on the ground, a slightly more aesthetically pleasing box and shower head and a 1.5 gallon per minute rating. I think I ultimately ended up going with the 1.4 gpm Eccotemp because it had a vent shield and a bracket for hanging up the hand held shower. Both had solid 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and cost just over $100 (plus the cost of a propane tank and propane gas).


The reviews were very helpful in installation. It is pictured installed on a house and this is what we intended. However, after firing up the unit and more closely reading the instructions, a 2″ clearance is needed at the back of the unit. This was easily fixed by attached two 2×4 boards to the house and affixing the unit to the boards. That way the unit does not pose a fire hazard as it heats up. The unit is rated for 20-80 PSIs, and our water pressure runs slightly higher. We discovered that this rendered the hand held shower useless as the hose popped off on its very first use, was difficult to put back on and would likely just pop off again. My FIL and BIL have a lot of plumbing experience and decided to hook up PVC pipe to a shower head and install a red cut off valve to start/stop the flow of water. In my opinion, this is much easier to operate. Be warned, the shower can get VERY hot, especially with your hose heating up  in the sun. We have it set at minimum gas flow rate and also do not fully open up the gas valve or hose. You especially need to be careful when folks are taking showers back to back as the leftover water in the tank will be heated back up- and thus hotter- before new water entering the tank can cool it down. It is best to let it run a minute and test it out before jumping in. Having said that, we were very pleased with its performance. We had no issues with the pilot blowing out, and all 19 of us were able to shower every day without running out of water even with consecutive showers. The unit will shut off after 20 min of use as a safety. We have not seen that feature yet as no one took a shower that long. Also, it uses very little propane. Our tank is still nearly full!


The next two issues were drainage and enclosure. Obviously, 19 people taking serious showers is different than rinsing off after getting out of the pool. We were just about to have a landscape project completed in the back yard and did not want to risk washing out all that hard work. We ended up having our mason, Juan from CM Masonry, come out and expand our patio walkway to accomodate the enclosure and install a drain. Next, the landscaper made a gravel landscape bed where the drainage pipe exits. We have had no problems with drainage, although I was picking out hair (ewww) from the gravel for several days after the reunion.  As for an enclosure, we discussed building a permanent wooden structure. However, we were unsure how the shower would work out. If it was a total fail, it made no sense to put in the effort and expense of building a permanent structure that would also somewhat be blocking that entrance to the pool.  After showing several examples on Pinterest, I convinced my husband and FIL to build me a curved shower rod for a simple shower curtain.  I saw several indoor/outdoor U-shaped curtain rods online such as this one:


Most were at least $100. My FIL felt pretty confident that he could make it out of galvanized metal pipe and flange fittings if only he had brought with him a device called a hickey to bend the pipe. Not easily discouraged, he found all his supplies between Lowes and Home Depot and then used a hickey off the shelf to bend the pipe while in the store. I kid you not!!! He used wire to provide extra support should any little kids I know go tugging on the curtain panels.


Sunbrella outdoor panels are suggested for use as outdoor shower curtains. They are quite expensive and based on the size of our shower rod, we needed at least 2-3 panels. My temporary solution was to find the sturdiest polyester shower curtain I could for $20 at Target. I purchased two as well as two liners. I sprayed the curtain with waterproofer, weighed it down with fishing sinkers and hoped for the best.  The shower is under the overhang, which protects it somewhat from the rain. I am sure the curtains will not stand up to the elements over time, but I can always buy new ones or invest in true outdoor fabric in the future.

The finishing touch was a shelf my FIL built to hold shampoo, soap, etc.


We are very pleased with the shower. We had no septic issues during the reunion, and I credit the shower and good conservation on the part of our guests. We use the shower nearly every time we swim in the pool, and I think it is the best thing ever to be able to shower comfortably in the great outdoors. Love it!



This Old House: Sh*t Happens

How I Unwillingly Became Educated on my Septic System

Those of you who have read some of my previous This Old House posts may recall that our new house is on a septic system. That is because previous to Austin becoming this hip happening place that over 150 people move to per day, our part of town was considered out in the boonies.  I still pass by horses grazing in the pasture on my way home every day so this may not be exactly past tense.

The septic system scared us a little during the 10 day option period. After all, the useful life of a septic system is typically quoted as 25 years and the house was already at year 21 when we purchased it. But we felt reassured by the fact that my parents, grandparents and sister and brother-in-law all live on septic systems much, much older than that. In fact the only impact a septic system had on me growing up was a lack of dishwasher and garbage disposal, recycled bathwater for the kiddos and filling the sink to wash dishes rather than letting the tap run. Easy peasy. And the one time green sludge backed up into the yard, my Dad jumped on his tractor and added more lines to the leach field himself.

Our System


We have a low dosed pressure system, which consists of  two trash tanks (a main tank and a second considered a two day reserve tank), a pump tank with a pump and high water alarm and a disposal field. In our case, we have two fields, which we alternate between every 30 days. The waste water gravity feeds from the house to the main trash tank where the solids (aka poop) are deposited. The water then flows to the pump tank and once the water rises above the gray float, it is pumped to the leach field, where it eventually evaporates or percolates towards the surface. I think that is why they say the grass is always greener over the leach field. The high water alarm goes off when the pump tank gets over full.  This means immediately cease all water usage while you check things out, as it could mean a problem with the pump or the disposal field.

Our system is rated for five bedrooms, which typically means 5-6 persons. They tend to over rate water usage when designing systems, so some say there is a buffer to support up to 8 persons if the tank is pumped yearly instead of every 3-5 years.

Our Sh*tty Luck

All the previous owners had less than 5 persons residing in the house. In fact, I think the max was 3 persons like us. The owners prior to us had the high water alarm go off once. The pump ended up burning out and it was replaced just months before we moved in.

The high water alarm sounded very loudly for us a month or so after moving in. The pump was not running when I peered in the manhole cover and the repair men found that the electric was fried. The pump survived, but we ended up having  it rewired all the way back to the house. The experience taught me A LOT about septic systems. I became more water-wise and was a real stickler on planning our front yard landscape project to carefully avoid the leach field.

The second time the high water alarm went off was 8 months later. I was a pro by this time and could  easily recognize that the pump was  not running. The electric was again fried but fixed within a few minutes. The remaining problem was field one was not moving effluent (the waste water) at all and field two was doing so sluggishly. We ended up being on strict water conservation for  a week prior to and following our leach field remediation, which consisted of  hydrojetting the fields and treating them with Pro Pump bacterial cultures and root killer. They removed a lot of roots and biomat (black sludge), especially from field one.  This was not inexpensive but less costly than relocating or replacing the leach fields, which is the next resort. I am skeptic but three different septic companies as well as the septic supply store told me that the treatment we received can remediate leach fields in about 90% of cases and prolong the life of the field for an additional five years or more in conjunction with water-wise living. I also flush a Pro Pump packet monthly. There is not a lot of evidence in favor or against these cultures and they are certainly no substitute for having the tank pumped regularly, but I figure it cannot hurt. We need all the help we can get.

What I Learned

Septic Dos

  • Have septic tank inspected regularly and pump every 2 to 5 years. This chart is handy in determining how often to pump based on the size of your tank and the number of regular occupants in your home. It also contains a chart with estimated daily flow. The University of Minnesota also has a useful tool found here.
  • Direct water from downspouts and roofs away from the leach field.
  • Use less water. Excessive water use is the most common cause of leach field failure as it does not allow enough time for the tank to do its job and solids end up getting flushed out into the leach fields, clogging the pipes with icky biomat. They estimate that each full-time resident uses 50 gal/day and daytime only visitors use 15 gal/day. This calculator is handy in discovering your household’s daily use.
  • Do keep your grass healthy and growing over the leach field to help absorb some of the water and prevent erosion.
  • Spread washing machine loads out and manually clean the lint traps regularly. Lint is another leading cause of leach field failure. Many recommend installing the Filtrol 160, an in line lint filter.

Septic Don’ts

  • Do not drive or park anything heavier than a riding lawn mower over the leach field or tank. You can compact the soil, cause damage to your lateral lines or sink right into the tank.
  • Do not plant trees or shrubs with large root systems near the leach field. If already present, remove or pour root killer (copper sulfate) into your pump tank every 6 mo. Root invasion from overgrown red tip photias was a major factor for us. This fact sheet from the University of Nevada contains good information on what you can and cannot plant near or in the leach field.
  • Do not cover the leach field with impermeable material such as landscaping weed cloth. Oxygen exchange is needed in the soil in order to break down and treat sewerage.
  • Don’t use a garbage disposal. The added solids and greases can damage your drainfield and cause you to have to pump the tank 50% sooner than if you compost your food scraps. We do have an InSinkerator, which is a septic friendly disposal that has an attached septic assist. It injects a biocharge enzyme with each use of the disposal.  However, I rarely use it. My garden appreciates the compost 🙂
  • Don’t dispose of water from hot tubs or swimming pools in your septic. The chlorine will kill all your good bacteria.
  • Don’t flush any of the following in the toilet or down the sink: tampons, sanitary napkins, condoms, baby wipes (even the flushable kinds), napkins or kleenex, paint thinner, varnish, paint, diapers, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, grease or harsh chemical cleaners. Here is a list of the most septic friendly toilet paper and cleaning products. The goal is not to clog your tank or kill your bacteria.
  • Do not flush additives down your toilet. They are have not been proved to be beneficial and some can actually be harmful to your on-site sewerage system.  We break the rule here in flushing our monthly ProPump. But it was recommended by our septic repairman who gets excellent ratings. ProPump also makes it onto this approved additives list I found, so I feel good about flushing it and the yearly cost is minimal.

Our Septic Friendly Efforts

  • Spread out laundry throughout the week and wash only full loads. We have a HE washer which uses 12.68 gallons per cycle (as opposed to a 40 gallon XL load in our old toploader). I have managed to cut down to 3 loads per week in this manner for 3 persons.
  • Attempting to utilize the dishwasher over handwashing + dishwasher . The autowash cycle on the dishwasher uses 3.3-5.2 gallons per load. I try to do only two full loads per week.  Newer dishwashers are actually more effective if you do not pre-rinse the dishes. I have a hard time with this, so when I get the urge to hand wash, I fill up one side of the sink with soapy water and the other with cold rinse water rather than running the tap at 2.2 gallons per minute.
  • Install water-saving aerators on faucets and water-saving showerheads. With our kitchen at 2.2 gpm and 3 bathroom faucets at 1.5 gpm, we were already doing pretty well. I was able to obtain 1 gpm bathroom aerators for free from the City of Austin. They also have 0.5 gpm but they are only really useful for a quick hand wash. Not powerful enough to rinse toothpaste from the sink.
  • Install low flow shower heads. Our master bath had the most updated shower heads with one 2.5 gpm rain shower head and one 2.5 gpm optional hand-held. The other showerhead ratings were unknown so I picked up 1.5 gpm showerheads from the city with a soap up feature which allows you to temporarily stop the flow of water to soap up and then resume your shower. These are not the prettiest, so we will probably only use them when we have excessive house guests until we update with newer shower hardware. BUT they are a huge water saver at 22.5 vs 37.5 gallons for a 15 minute shower.
  • Check toilets for leaks using the dye test  We already have low flow toilets (1.28 and 1.6 gpf) so we were lucky in that regard. Older toilets can use up to 4-6 gpf.
  • If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. This is a practice which has always disgusted me. But when I heard it saves approximately 2, 190 gallons per person per year, I thought I’d give it a try. Some septic users take it one step further by throwing TP from #1 in the trash instead of the toilet. The verdict is still out on which is better or the environment.
  • Turn off the tap while brushing teeth or soaping up face. This saves 25 gallons per month for teeth brushing alone.
  • Be mindful when having overnight guests past your septic’s normal capacity. This is a helpful tip sheet for dealing with the holidays.  We will be putting our own system to the test very shortly with a 19 person family reunion x 1 wk. We are scrambling to install an outdoor shower that will flow into the landscape beds, have stocked up on paper plates and plastic wear and have located the nearest laundry mat.

If this (my dream outdoor shower):


can help us avoid this:


or this:


then I will be one relieved septic owner.  Will let you know how it works out!

For more information:

This Old House: Dressing Up the Exterior


To set the scene, I must replay the story of this home purchase. We were happily living in our first home. We had not quite outgrown it yet, but were keeping an eye out for something with more land- something that is scarce within the city limits. I came across the listing for this house and we were wowed by the pictures, spend all of 20 min looking at the home and immediately submitted a bid.  I am not the least bit impulsive.  In fact, the Libra in me usually has me agonizing over even the smallest of decisions. My husband is the impulsive one, and usually I consider it my duty to interject with some sound reasoning lest we act too hastily. This is the one time I went along with one of his spontaneous plans, and I think it is because I was impressed by the possibilities of this house.  I didn’t have the big vision. That is all Dean. But I could immediately tell you what I liked and did not like. And I can tell you that upon moving in, we both had a little buyer’s remorse because one of the things we did not like was the look of the house itself.

Upon closer inspection, you can see why:


First of all, the house itself is limestone, which I like, but laid out in brick rather than flagstone style, which is not as charming. Worse, the gutters and trim were printed red and the fascia burnt orange. True, we are home to the UT Longhorns, but I see no reason to drag your house into it. The existing limestone walkway was showing its age and the hedges had long become unmanageable.


Probably our least favorite part was these massive stone columns, which obscured a good part of the front windows.

photo-8 photo-9

The trees provided a lot of charm, but the landscaping left a lot to be desired, and there was an awful lot of grass beyond that to mow and water.


We decided that we wanted to tackle the landscaping in the fall.  We had some experience transforming a blank canvas in our previous home, but had never attempted such a large project. We decided we would seek help with the landscape design and implement it ourselves over time. What really happened is that we fell in love with the design and wanted to see it come to fruition a little sooner than we could manage. I love gardening so it killed me not to get my hands dirty doing it myself, but in the end, we decided to have Sagebrush Landscaping implement their design and boy are we glad we did.

At the same time, Dean was adamant that we needed to do something about the orange and the unsightly columns. We came across this house on one of our weekend rides in the TX Hill Country , and he became convinced we could achieve a similar look. In fact, that is how we found Debbie of Sagebrush. She did the landscaping for this house also. Notice all the texture she creates by mixing mulch, gravel and decomposed granite beds with the grass providing a pop of color in between.

photo-12 photo-13

First up, our trusty mason Juan of CM Masonry took down the original columns and replaced them with more eye-pleasing tapered columns with stacked stone. Our carpenter, Jonathan, gave us a nice vaulted cedar ceiling and rustic cedar shudders. When the original stone came down, we discovered the house was held up by twigs (I’m exaggerating but not my much), so we were glad to know something more structurally sound took its place. The results far exceeded my expectations. As Dean says, “I don’t know why you ever doubt me.” Good eye, Dean. Good eye.

IMG_5848 IMG_5849


I may have forgotten to mention, that we have an orange roof made more orange by the burnt orange fascia. I actually took a shingle over to Sanders at Roosters Paint and Decor on South Congress. He came up with a list of his top five brown paints that would downplay my roof and we ended up going with Benjamin Moore 1232 Fresh Brew, which is a chocolate with red undertones that looks great with the white limestone. Love that Sanders.


Benjamin Moore Fresh Brew



Debbie was no slack herself. Her crew worked its magic over the period of a week creating a front yard oasis, all while working around our septic tank and leach fields (with which I was a bit obsessed not wanting to end up with poop backed up in the front yard and all).

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We now love the rustic charm of our updated house and hope to enjoy it for many years to come!


This Old House: Color Me Beautiful

I like color. It makes me happy.  And I think painting is an inexpensive way to refresh a house and infuse it with your own personality. So you might be surprised to hear that Dean and I lived in our first house a full year before we painted a single wall. And then we painted a room here and a room there (usually to coincide with the arrival of out of town guests) before finally hiring a colorist to give us color suggestions and a painter to knock the rest of it out.

When we made the move to the new house, painting was #1 on my priority list. The majority of the house was painted in different tones of cool whites or cool beiges. The master and Juliette’s bath were painted a deep green, the master bath was a pastel green and the guest bath was the color of a caramel apple (we have been known to call this the poop bathroom because quite frankly, it’s the color of poop!). We are guessing the green and brown colors were chosen to match the multicolor slate tile which features shades of green, brown and rust. Since we are not huge fans of the tile, we began the daunting task of picking paint colors that would work with the tile and downplay it at the same time. Not easy I tell you. Luckily, I am developing a better eye for these things and both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams have excellent online tools.

I also cannot say enough good things about the staff at Rooster’s Paint and Decor (formerly known as Hill Country Paint) in Austin, TX. My love affair with this store began like this: I was desperately looking for the perfect gray for my guest bedroom. If you have ever tried to pick a gray paint, you know how excruciatingly difficult it is. Gray can look baby blue/purple/beige/pink depending upon your lighting and other factors. I wanted a true gray and and must have painted at least 13 of them on poster boards all over this room. Finally, I came upon a blog called Design Crisis in which they called upon a painting expert who suggested Abalone or Silver Fox. I headed over to Ben Moore and ran smack dab into THE expert- Sanders Gibbs. He turned me onto Harbor Gray, which was what I ended up choosing. So I must admit when I began the paint selection process this time around, I panicked when I did not run into Sanders during any of my first 3 trips into the store. I guess his son’s games coincide with when my Juliette naps and I kept missing him. Fortunately, everyone in that store has an eye for color and I was in good hands. I even visited the Westlake location and had a similar good experience. If you live in Austin, run- do not walk- to this store. You will not be disappointed. I found that they were very honest with me whether they agreed or disagreed with my selections. And that can save you from making painting mistakes (time & $). I also highly recommend buying paint samples and painting them on poster board. That way you can move them to various locations throughout your room and view the color in both natural and artificial light.

It took me three long weeks to pick out paint colors for phase I of our painting project. We chose not to DIY this time around but rather to rely upon our trusty painter Danny Wright of Wright Way Painting. I also have to plug Danny here. He has always done a great job painting our house. If you don’t believe me, read about him on Angie’s List.

Here is what we chose:


Sherwin Williams 6107: Nomadic Desert

This is on the ever popular strip 16 and a cousin of Latte which we had in the dining room of our last house. Strip 16 features warm neutrals that look good with most any other color you should choose.

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Sherwin Williams 6109: Hopsack

This is two below Nomadic Desert on strip 16.



Benjamin Moore HC-30: Philadelphia Cream

Philadelphia cream is also a warm neutral with a slight yellow hue that gives it the appearance of butter in certain light. It also looks nice beside the nomadic beige and the brandon beige in its adjoining rooms.



Benjamin Moore 977: Brandon Beige

This color is one of Dean’s picks. It was painted in a bedroom we saw on Houzz. When I saw that it goes well with both brown and gold, I had to have it for our living room as these are the accent colors we had in our existing pillows and throws. It also looks very nice with green.


Benjamin Moore 979: Stampede

This is two below Brandon Beige on the same color strip.



Benjamin Moore HC-69: Whitall Brown

This is another of Dean’s Houzz finds. Our inspiration room featured  a whitall brown accent wall and similar charcoal bedding to what we now have. This was our most daring color choice but we felt it was meant to be after the BM guys suggested dried basil for our master bath to downplay the tile in there. Dried basil  is a complementary color to whitall brown. Our only complaint about it is that being a grawn, it looked a bit purple in artificial light. This has seemed to resolve some since tearing out the tile and installing a neutral carpet, but I suspect that switching to natural light bulbs (the blue tinted ones) would also have done the trick.



Benjamin Moore 1510: Dried Basil (also known as CC-634 Herbes de Provence)

I do love green for a bathroom but the wrong green can make you appear sickly as you are admiring yourself in the vanity mirror. This was the case with the BM Bridal Bouquet that the previous owners chose. I have a tote that color and it is one of my favorites, but I could not live with it in the bathroom any longer.  The dried basil was a HUGE improvement.



Benjamin Moore 1563: Quiet Moments

This is Dean’s third and final Houzz find. It is a tranquil blue-gray. Perfect to inspire sweet dreams.




Benjamin Moore 478: Sweet Caroline


Pottery Barn Kids helped me to choose this lovely green shade for J’s room.  Blue is her favorite color, but I thought she could use a change from her nursery blue color,  and green is a close second favorite. This green pairs well with the pink in her valances and toddler bedding.

We are pleased with the results. The colors really warmed the house up, and it is finally starting to feel like home. We still have 2 more bedrooms, a bath and office to paint but I am currently taking a little break from poring over paint swatches. I am looking forward to phase II though. Color can be so much fun!

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?