Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas at Leaning Oak

We had hoped to be in our house, hosting a family reunion, for Christmas 2015.  It did not happen.  It all worked out, anyway.  That being said, 2016 is our first Christmas, and I'll admit, rushing to get decorated for the 2015 Christmas would have been painful.  I am glad this is our first Christmas at Leaning Oak.

What we realized is that this house could not use all the decorations from our previous house.  What does one do with stairway garland when there are no stairs?  How do we arrange our Dicken's Village miniatures?  What should the outside lighting be?  Will our existing ornaments and lights work well on a tree which is 50% taller?  The answer to the above questions?  AART -- Adapt, Add, Replace, Toss (as in, "toss in the trash).  The fine art of AART, at least for us, can be summarized, though not exhaustively, in the following:

Add: icicles lights along the roofline of the house, lighted swags to the coach-style security lights on the garages, potted and lighted evergreen trees for the lanai, deco-jars/lanterns for the inside fireplace, clustered ornaments for the new tree (Pam created the clusters by tying 4-6 red and gold plastic ornaments together), which has a surface area 2.3 times greater than our old tree.  The clusters act as focal points, and by adding normal ornaments around them, it is easier to appreciate the normal-sized ornaments, otherwise, they get lost in the huge surface area of the tree.

Adapt: stairway garland to mantle and table garland, which meant making shorter sections and removing lights, and morphing an eclectic collection of gold-colored trees, ornaments, and angels into a centerpiece for the kitchen island.

Replace: the Christmas tree, as we bought the new one after Christmas in 2014 in anticipation of the 2015 Christmas.  Buying the Balsam Hill tree after Christmas 2014 saved us about 40% in costs.   We converted all of our lighting to LED, replacing all incandescent Christmas lighting.  Our wire-frame outdoor nativity scene needed its incandescent rope lights replaced, which I did with new LED "strip lighting".  The strip lighting is adhesive on one side, intended as an under-the-cabinet accent light.  The adhesive side was ignored by me, as it would not endure the outdoor conditions nor stick well to the round steel of the nativity.  I strapped the lighting to the nativity using white zip ties (after repainting the nativity with a high-gloss white paint to restore the nativity and give it more reflectance).  The LED strip lighting was much more flexible than the incandescent rope light, and much easier to attach.  It it also much brighter than the old rope lights ever were.

Toss: we tossed several storage boxes of incandescent miniature string lights and net lights, a few boxes of generic ornaments we'll not need, the old tree, a couple of outdoor artificial lighted deciduous trees which really did not work for us anymore.

The pictures below give you an idea of what our first Christmas here will look like:

The tree is over 12 feet tall (3.7+ m)
and adorned with 2000 LED lights.

The tree at night, and the reddish
decorations which are visible are
the cluster ornaments, consisting
of red and gold normal-sized ornaments
tied together as one.

The Nativity as seen from the house.  I placed it in the natural grove we have preserved in the front of the property.  The
branches of the live oak and the grasses lend to the look of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus being in an ancient stable.

The Great Room is ready for Christmas.  We adapted a stairway garland for the
mantle, and placed our Dickens' Village in the shelves to the right of the
fireplace -- a forethought in our design of this room.

This is a close-up of our indoor nativity and Dickens' Village miniatures.  We
did add "street lights" so that there is not a dark hole around the skating pond area

This is the centerpiece for the kitchen island (a.k.a, the kitchen 'continent'),
surrounded by angel hair and gold garland.  There is still plenty of room to
prepare a meal, and this picture also highlights the flow from the kitchen to
the Great Room, and yes, the far side of the island allows for bar seating.

We added these small evergreens to accent the lanai area.  The lights
are on timers and are set to be on for six hours and off for 18 hours.
This is the lanai in daylight, with the trees from the previous photo at the left
of the fireplace,  We added "NOEL" pillows and a seasonal centerpiece.

We have rockers and a table on either side of the front door, and so in your
mind, mirror image this picture and you can "see" how the front porch looks.
NOEL pillows adorn the chairs, and artificial trees accent the front door.

The entrance to our house just seemed to beg for icicle lights, and I complied,
with pleasure.  The whole roofline celebrated with me.  I have been wanting to
do this since we drew-up the facade in the architectural design phase. 
As one can see, the icicle lights completely illuminate the front of the house,
and turning on the porch lights is unnecessary.  We had electrical outlets
installed in the soffits to facilitate Christmas lighting.

Silent Night.  Merry Christmas from our family to yours...

Finishing touch...

We had to re-think the area adjacent to the house where the dogs have their fenced-in area.  It was originally planted with lantana, mulched, and had four-inch flagstone laid as a footpath.  All that remained after a few months of puppies was the flagstone.  Many holes were dug, some to see what is under the flagstone, some randomly placed for fun, and some in pursuit of the drainpipe that runs along the back of the house -- they found it about two feet down.  Further, the boys remained a disaster, making it difficult to have them in the main areas of the house simply because they were always dirty or muddy.  We swept the utility room (which they access through a dog-door and where their crates abide) twice a day, sweeping up half of a dustpan worth of dirt each time.  We want the boys to spend more time inside with us, so a solution had to be found.

The solution was not easy, but has made life with the boys much fuller.  I removed the flagstone from the area of concern.  I then proceeded to use my landscaper's rake (the head of which is three feet wide (0.9m)) to level what I could.  My older daughter and I then proceeded to add 14 bags of dirt (40 pounds each (18 kg)) to fill-in and tap-down the remaining holes and areas needing leveling.  After that, we laid two four feet by 50 feet (1.2m by 15.24 m) rolls of chicken wire (a.k.a. "poultry net").  We anchored them in-place using landscaping stables.  After that, we moved the flagstone back into position.  We then covered the area with cypress mulch, which tends to stay when it gets wet as opposed to floating away as pine mulch can do.  THe result is that the boys stay much cleaner, and we can let them in at-will.

Did it stop them from digging?  Yes, once they paw through the mulch and hit the chicken wire, they stop.  They still dig in the areas not covered by the chicken wire, which are all further away from the house.  Lessons learned?  Yes, when putting down the chicken wire, using the landscape staples to hold the ends is not enough alone.  I had to go back and use straight wire to lash the chicken wire to the fence, and this kept them from pulling at the ends.  If I could have gone under the fence and put the ends and staples out of their reach, it would have been fine to just use the staples.

Here are some pictures from the project, the last major landscaping effort (and a re-do at that!) for the main campus:

You can see in this picture that all the lantana and mulch have been removed
by the presence of "the boys".  It should be noted the unevenness of the surface
which is typical throughout the area, except out of picture to the right, where
deeper holes existed.

The stones removed (ufff!), ground filled and
leveled, and now the sections of chicken wire
are in place.  The boys were with us as we worked.

The boys at the gate of the refurbished area.
They are a curious and affectionate pair.

The finished product, highlighting the restored flagstone path.  The re-do of the path helped fix some of the
shortcomings of the original effort.  The bullrocks immediately in front of the extended porch were reworked to prevent
the rocks from sinking (weed-block material was put down before laying the chicken wire) and to integrate better with
the footpath and facilitate better water run-off.

...and it is so nice to have them inside whenever I want...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rains of fall are coming...

Here in the sub-tropical climate that is the upper Texas Gulf Coast, we basically have the dry season and the wet season each year -- not nearly as defined as Central America, but we get most of our rain from November through April.  Ironically, hurricane season is basically May through October -- our hot and dry time of the year, unless a hurricane makes landfall.

Here is what we are looking toward weather-wise:

All that blue area says we will see roughly 4.5 inches (11.43 cm) of rain through the weekend, and it could be as high as 6.0 inches (15.24 cm).  This will be a big test for all the engineering we have done to manage water flow in and around the property.  Our berm does have some grass on it -- I over-seeded with annual ryegrass a couple of weeks ago and it has germinated.  The berm looks green, though the grass is still thin.  Nonetheless, there is still straw and now grass, so the berm should stand well.  There is a place adjacent to our outdoor stairs (actually, the only stairs on the property) which I will steady with some mulch today.  I am interested to see how the French drains handle the drain, as we built them with twice the water capacity of a standard drain system.

When one builds on his own property, things like drainage are serious issues for the house, driveways, sidewalks, garages, plants, and the list goes on.  Getting it right is crucial to protecting the value of the home.  When one is in a residential development, all of these things are worked out before the streets are poured.  Building on one's own lot?  It falls to the shoulders of the owner.  

If you have not yet built on your property, my advice is to go out and observe it during a heavy rain.  Put on the rubber boots and walk it, paying attention to all water flow around every contour.  Learn how water moves around and on your property.  It will be very helpful during the house-placement and construction phases, especially to insure that construction traffic does not destroy vital flow patterns (as we experienced).

Christmas decorations are up, and I will have pictures in my next post.