Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Snow on the Prairie

August is drawing to a close, and the colors along the roadsides and across the fields are starting to fade.  Hills that were painted with Texas Bluebonnets in the spring are now covered in white.  The star-like blossoms of Snow on the Prairie are suddenly everywhere.

Sometimes called Ghost Weed or Goatweed, these wildflowers reach towards four feet and will continue to bloom until the first frost.

It was difficult to get a close-up on a breezy day, so I searched the plant image site maintained by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and borrowed the photo below from the Bruce Leander Collection of wildflower images.

The delicate beauty of their color and form is striking.  Snow on the Prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) is a member of the spurge family.  An annual that is native to the American southwest, it comes to life in the hottest, driest time of year.  The sap is toxic, so cattle won't eat it, and neither will deer or rabbits. Gathering a bouquet without gloves might result in an unpleasant rash!

Mixed in with Snow on the Prairie and still going strong are the straggly arms of Neglected Sunflower (Helianthus neglectus). 

Native to Texas and New Mexico, this rugged annual is a member of the Aster family.  It thrives in the heat, and will easily reach four or five feet, even in dry conditions.

Not neglected by all, here's a happy little bee paying a visit!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Saltillo Tile

We fell in love with the beauty of Saltillo tile years ago, on our first trip to New Mexico. 
There are knock-offs, photographic reproductions on big porcelain squares, but nothing beats the saturated variations of earthy color, or the hand-made shaping, of the real item.

In the city of Saltillo, in central Mexico, freshly dug clay is soaked overnight in clay pits.  Softened and well mixed (by a worker up to his knees in heavy mud), the clay is then ready to be hand-pressed into pre-soaked wooden molds and smoothed with a wet trowel. 
After drying in the sun, the tiles are fired in a kiln, a process that takes about a week from start to finish. 
The fired tiles can be stained or left in their natural color.  Our tiles are sealed, but not stained.

Each terra cotta tile is unique.  We selected simple twelve inch squares for our house, but Saltillo tile is available in a variety of shapes and sizes. 
Laying the tiles is labor intensive as they must be soaked in water first.  Terra cotta (fired clay) is very absorbent.  In order to adhere to the wet mortar without cracking, the tiles need to be wet.

 In this close-up it is easy to spot the steady rise of air bubbles

Small white spacers are placed between the tiles to maintain a standard width for the grout.

The tile is cut to fit around corners and cabinets.  It will also be cut to create a six inch shoe molding around the walls.

Here are the wet tiles before being grouted and cleaned.  The colors vary from yellow ochre to peach to burnt sienna.

The circular holes in the floor are for electrical outlets.

 The built-ins continue to move around the house waiting to be installed in their proper places.

Here is the tile out in the guest house.  Some of the antique doors will have to be sanded down to accommodate the thicker than average size of Saltillo tiles.

On the staircase leading up to the studio, the Saltillo tile will be used along with colorful Mexican Talavera tile.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Horse Apples

Horse apples are hanging from the trees like giant grapefruit this time of year. 
These deciduous shade trees have a wonderful collection of regional names: osage-orange, hedge apple, bodark, yellow wood, naranjo chino, bow wood, and bois d'arc. 
A Texas native, Maclura pomafera is a member of the Mulberry family. 
The wood is exceptionally strong in spite of its weak root system.
Native American hunters used it to make bows, and European settlers used it for fencing, but home owners today generally remove the female trees because they are so messy.

The branches have serious thorns, but the bark is beautiful with interlacing ridges.

We don't have any of these trees on our lot, but there are a number of them on surrounding properties.  Apparently squirrels love these big yellow "apples", so (as a fan of squirrels), I hope we don't loose them all.

New to our piece of ground is some partial grading. 
The strange hillocks that dotted the yard have disappeared with the septic system installation and the finish work on the retaining walls for the pool.

We are beginning to see the garden design possibilities!

The pool decking has been finished with the rock salt treatment we used on the porches.
The salt is spread by hand onto fresh concrete where it creates small irregular holes and markings that have a nice rustic look.

The lip of the decking has a bull nose style edge.  The next step here will be to stucco the retaining wall so that it matches the garden house.

Eventually, with a level of imagination we seem to have no difficulty conjuring up, we will descend these steps to a lovely green lawn and a game of bocce!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Interior Stone Walls

This week the stone masons began their work on the interior stone walls.

We are so pleased with results! 
The rustic texture of the limestone sets off the beams and the antique doors.

I love this view into the dining area.

The kitchen is also transformed by the stone.   
I decided to forgo the more contemporary approach of having tile back splashes, or a special patterning of stone or tile under the hood.  By studying photos of old farm house kitchens in places with climates similar to Texas (Italy, France, Mexico), along with mission and ranch buildings in our south western states, I realized that the stone work inside was scaled the same as the stonework outside because the buildings were solid stone. 

We went with that idea in order to give the our house a feeling of age. 
The scale of the stone works with the scale of the old fashioned hood.

Across from the kitchen, the great room fireplace wall is almost complete.  The flanking cabinets are waiting for stone caps matching the mantel.  The doors above the mantel fold back, and will reveal a flatscreen once we move in.  The lower cabinet on the right will hold the necessary components.
The door on the left leads to the screened porch and the guest house.  The doorway on the right leads to the study.  The next step inside the house will be the saltillo tile floors.

Outside action...

...this giant hole was dug on the far side of the guest house to hold the septic tank.

Not a glamorous addition, but very necessary!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Great Blue Heron

 With a clean boat and a clean dog, we did a little exploring on the lake.

From Boot Bay, where our lot is located, we headed west up the leg of the lake that is fed by Richland Creek.  This is a tricky area to navigate because of all the sunken trees.  In thirty or forty feet of water our Boston Whaler was in a forest of tree tops.  Even with our very low draft, we had to motor with care, watching from the prow for branches hidden just under the surface. 
This part of the lake looks rather spooky, but the reward was spotting the nest of a Great Blue Heron!

We often see these giant birds around the lake, wading along the water's edge or perched on a dock.  They stand four feet or more in height, and their wings span six feet, so it is quite dramatic to see one take wing - as this one did when we got too close - with several harshly remonstrative honks.

Back at the lot, the sidewalk and fence along the sea wall were put in place during the past week.

Here's the fence in place.
Now the rebar for the pool decking is waiting to be covered over...