Archive for July, 2013

Samanthaism #11: naked Sam!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

The girls enjoy a very short, waterproof, book called, “Blue Takes a Dip,” that we inherited with some hand-me-down items. While the little book — at three panels — is quite abbreviated, we’ve taken to improvising lots of additional verbiage, and the girls often clamor for us to read “Blue Dogga.”

Maybe two months ago, Amazon announced that they had inked exclusive distribution rights for “Blue’s Clues” and several other Nickelodeon TV shows. Further, Amazon Prime customers (like us) are now able to access whole episodes for free. Cool!

I decided that the girls were verbal enough to appreciate Blue’s Clues, and downloaded a single episode, called, “Snack Time.” One Saturday afternoon in June, when I felt that they would benefit from being still, I fired up our Tivo and played the show.

Sam was ecstatic to see Blue move and bark, and repeatedly turned to me, pointed to the TV, and exclaimed, “Blue Dogga!” Cate watched the show so raptly that her eyes were dry and irritated afterward from not blinking. As soon as the 22-minute episode ended, they clamored to watch it again.

Cate and Sam *really* like watching Blue’s Clues, and often campaign for the privilege. Some of their efforts are comical. One day Cate clambered up on to the sofa, pointed my iPhone toward the TV, and pressed at it repeatedly, saying, “Blue Clues!” While their requests are super cute, I’m not eager for them to start watching much television. I have come to think of it as a zombie box.

That being said, TV is one helluva distractor. I try to reserve it for when I really want/need daytime downtime or to accomplish something brief on my computer. That means the girls get to watch the show once every week to ten days, and Wednesday was one of those days.

Up to now, the show seemed to hold their attention absolutely, but this time, it didn’t. When the final credits rolled, I went in to turn off the TV and A/V stack. I turned around and was startled to see that Sam was where I’d left her — on the black couch — but she wasn’t wearing any clothes.

I asked Sam where her clothes were, and she replied matter-of-factly, “naked Sam.” However, Sam’s naked experience today ended quite differently from the naked Cate! event I wrote about earlier.

As soon as I addressed Sam’s nakedness out loud, I perceived that Cate stopped what she was doing to start pulling off her piggy pants and diaper, too. I turned to urge Cate to keep her pants on, and Claudia hustled over to make sure that Cate did.

When I turned back to Sam a moment later, she was looking down at her now-wide stance, and proceeding to pee in the middle of the couch. Yuck! It’s a good thing we have a urea-eating bacteria product, thanks to The Cat.

* * *
Several hours later, I tried to convince Cate to wear her sleep sack to bed, so that she wouldn’t get cold overnight. I left the room, so that she could fall asleep on her own.

Five or ten minutes later, the sound of Cate crying brought me back to her bedside. It seemed that after I left, she insisted on unzipping and removing her sleep sack.

However, she didn’t stop there. She also pulled off her piggy jammies, then her diaper, and proceeded to pee in her bed.

Fortunately, Daddy Bill was home to get Cate dry and redressed while I remade her bed. And with that excitement behind us all, Cate fell asleep soon after.

ModHome: Revised conceptual drawings

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Erick Ragni, our architect, showed us the initial conceptual schematics of our future house on July 19th. We’ve been working to improve them everyday since then, because we’re trying to finalize the conceptual schematics by August 8th.

When we met last Friday, Erick brought a second, revised conceptual plan for us to consider (as always, click for larger):


Second concept, first floor


Second concept, second floor

Bill and I have been fine-tuning it nightly, Bill and Erick have been trading email day and night, and we’ll all meet again Friday. The design continues to be a work-in-progress, but here’s what we’ve got so far (as always, click for larger):


Revised entry and office

When I first told Erick that I wanted a front-facing window in the office so that I could survey the front yard and street, he expressed concern that windows look both ways. However, we’re in the floodplain, and our house must be elevated 3 feet to get above the base flood elevation (BFE). Erick realized that the bottoms of our windows will all be well above the head of all but the tallest peeper, and he’s now including a wide expanse of huge windows that look toward the street to capture tons of indirect northern light.

In addition to the big north windows, the office will have floor-to-ceiling windows looking south into the courtyard, and a high clerestory window over the eastern wall of cabinets.

Also, the office layout shows a future bathroom. The idea is that we, or a future owner, may want/need a ground-floor bedroom to support aging in place, or a so-called mother-in-law suite. We’re including a room that’s just the right size for a future bathroom, but leaving out the plumbing and fixtures for now, in favor of having a very large storage closet with a high window.

Finally, we may include a Murphy Bed in a cabinet on the east wall, so as to have one more place in the house to sleep guests. We had previously ruled out murphy beds as too expensive, but Erick alerted us that one can now buy the necessary hardware via the internet and have a local carpenter construct the cabinet.


Revised kitchen

Bill is leading design of our kitchen, and I will leave it to him to comment on the design choices we’re making here.


Revised pantry, mud room, and rear entry

Day to day, we will primarily enter the house at the rear entry from the garage. I’m clear that an awful lot of household clutter occurs when frequent-use items have no convenient home. So we’re designing what I hope will be a hyper-functional “mud room” that will include shoe storage, bench seating, hooks for jackets, shelves for daily use bags and totes, “key drop” drawers for valet items, etc.

Rather than a formal “powder room” for guests, we’re designing a single bathroom on the first floor. It will have nice, guest-worthy finishes, but it will be located in the mudroom, so that we can pee as soon as we get home. It will also include a large shower. The idea is that when Bill comes home from a bike ride drippy/muddy, or when the girls get dirty playing outside, they can rinse off as soon as they come inside, without tracking mud, etc. through the whole house. This is also where we would bathe a hypothetical future canine.


Revised master suite and media room

The master bedroom has a vast window that looks north into the courtyard. Erick’s floor plan for the master suite is clever in that the doorways are positioned such that you can’t see from one part to the next. We’re planning to include “pocket” doors in several places, but in practice, we can leave them open all the time, yet still have visual privacy.

For the master bathroom, Bill wanted his/hers sinks, and a huge soaking tub. I wanted a roomy, well-organized shower, and a ton of natural light. Erick’s plan gives us all of that.

Early in our house hunting, we toured a house that had a large triangular shower with the door in the hypotenuse, and large windows on both outside walls. The windows were as wide as the shower stall, but they started about 5 feet above the floor, which meant that I could see out well, but anyone outside could see nothing below my shoulders. We’re planning something similar for our master bath.

In addition, that bathroom we toured looked out into a fair number of urban trees, providing views of both greenery and wildlife. While our southern neighbor has a large oak tree near the property line, the southern view from our master bathroom would primarily be the roof of our garage. So I asked for a small, enclosed roof deck just outside the bathroom, that we can plant with a rich array of green, growy things.

Erick observed that if we enclose this deck with an 8-foot perimeter, it will provide lovely views of sky and tall trees, while still affording total privacy in the bathroom. He recommended that we not only include an outdoor shower head, but also bring the shower window all the way down to the level of the tub deck. Neither Bill nor I are sure we’re ready to go that far, and I still want an integral shelf for storing shampoo and conditioner. We’ll see!

It will come as no surprise that a man who used his Playstation 3 to watch movies, rather than play games, would like a dedicated media room in our new house. So at the grown-up end of the second floor, we’re building out a big dark room that Bill can equip with our projector, screen, and THX sound system.

Erick has placed the media room between the stairwell and his/hers closets, so that any bedrooms are buffered from any sound transmission. Likewise, the media room is situated over the mudroom and downstairs bathroom, where noise spillover will not be an issue.

Finally, this revision adds a small closet, that we’ll use for A/V equipment, and an en-suite bathroom, where our guests can pee during movies. But these additions mean the room will “count” as a bedroom for resale and appraisal purposes, and be useful as a nursery or fourth bedroom for a future owner.

* * *
As I mentioned earlier, we’re trying to finalize the floor plan — including placement of all walls, doors, and windows — by the end of next week. Our process is definitely benefiting from outside perspectives, and we appreciate all the feedback we have received so far. If you have suggestions for how we can make some part of this house more functional, or see something we’re missing, please send them along. Comments to the blog, email, call, or text are all welcome. Thanks!

Catherineism #11: sorry!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

One day last week, while helping girls into booster seats, I inadvertently pinched Cate’s finger in the harness buckle. Feeling very apologetic, I exclaimed, “Sorry, Catie! I didn’t mean to pinch your fingers.”

After hearing my words, Cate repeated, “sorry, sorry, sorry…” as if trying on the word for size.

Monday morning, after breakfast, we made our way to the bathroom, and Sam and Cate each peed in their Little Potties. Cate picked up her potty, caried it over to the tub, dumped her pee, and brought it back.

But then, instead of replacing the potty on the floor, she pitched it at me and it landed on my knee. I was utterly surprised — she’s never thrown a potty before — and exclaimed, “Ow, Catie, that hurt Mama!”

I paused to look hurt and sad for a moment or two before explaining again that we only throw balls,* not potties. Cate regarded me for a moment, and then said gently, “sorry, Mom.”

It was her first apology, and it was sweet!

As an aside, I make myself giggle every time I remind them, “We throw balls… because our social station requires it.” I’m guessing it will be a decade before they recognize that I’m joking.

Samanthaism #10: recycling can excitement

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

The City of Houston just expanded single-stream recycling — with the big green automated collection container — to 35,000 more households. We’re delighted that our part of Hyde Park is included!

I was excited that Monday (July 29) was the first collection for our new green recycling can. The girls were excited to see the big green truck come.

Sam and Cate have lots of reason to be excited by Mondays, too. Not only does Claudia come back, but also the City’s big blue garbage trucks swarm our neighborhood to collect garbage.

This morning, the girls had finished breakfast and made it back to our bathroom, just in time to see the green truck collect our recycling. About the time they finished pottying, we heard the big diesel engine of the first garbage truck approaching.

However, we apparently placed our two cans too close together. When the blue truck reached for the black garbage can, it knocked over our green can.

Sam was delighted and talked excitedly about what happened for more than 5 minutes. Before she was done, she mustered a four-word sentence to capture it, “Blue truck knocka can!”

ModHome: Backstory and Alternate Universes

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

I’ve used Visio for years for various job-related tasks. It’s a good tool that is much more sophisticated than PowerPoint, and much less intimidating than AutoCAD. As part of the research into our new house, I discovered a while back that Visio had the ability to create floorplans. This was largely targeted toward business users doing space planning in an office environment (or a server farm, with a different plug-in), but it did have some light options for doing residential work.

I went through a few dozen iterations of a ‘dream’ home to learn about what we wanted and how it might be laid out. Then, every time we got vaguely interested in an area, I would try to knock up a few layouts to see what a particular site and jurisdiction would allow us to build.

For those interested in our journey, attached is a subset of ideas we’ve examined for our site in Bellaire. Notably absent are the East-facing courtyard ideas. I’ll post those later.

Home Design – 5223 Locust

ModHome: First schematic design drawings!

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Friday morning, Bill and I met with our architect again. All of our previous meetings have been geared toward gathering our requirements and aspirations. This meeting was the first in which Erick brought back drawings of a preliminary Schematic Design (design phase 1) — that attempt to turn our ideas into something solid — for us to review.

We have spent a lot of time on our own, drawing and considering various floorplans that might work for us, and we were very curious to see what the professionals would devise. While it still needs much refinement, Erick’s initial design is more sophisticated than anything we conceptualized. The three of us spent the entire morning reviewing and discussing its strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Our intent is to work together over the next three weeks to finalize the conceptual house plan by August 8. In that time, we need to:

  • finalize all fixed walls and doors/windows, pinning down which rooms will be used for what and where;
  • get a rough cost estimate from the builder, to confirm how much of what we aspire to do can be done within our budget; and
  • get buy-in from a LEED-certified consultant that we’re on target toward building the most energy-efficient home we can.

Once that’s done, the architect’s team will spend the following 2-3 weeks preparing more-detailed drawings to finalize our Schematic Design. This is so exciting!

Here, for your backseat architecting entertainment, are our first draft space plans. The first floor is more coherent/refined than the second (as always, click for larger):


First floor draft plan


Second floor draft plan

To get a sense of how these two levels come together to form a whole house, here are simple 3D renderings that show the proposed massing of the space. These are only block shapes, without windows, doors, or other details, but they’re quite interesting:


East side (courtyard and hypothetical pool) rough massing


North (Locust Street) side rough massing


West (Ferris Street) side rough massing

Enjoy! And if you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

Glass half full

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The night before last was as bad as any of the earlier ones I don’t remember. I had only been asleep 20 minutes when the first girl woke crying, and it was staggeringly difficult to rouse myself and tend to her. The rest of the night was similar, and not one spell between interruptions spanned two hours.

However, at one point in the wee hours, I asked a whimpering Sam what was wrong, and whether she was cold. Sam agreed emphatically, “Mama, COLD!!!”

Ah ha! Unlike teething and separation anxiety, cold has a ready, tangible remedy!

So last night, even though it’s mid-July, we put girls to bed under flannel blankets. Sam slept through the night — more than 11 hours — for the first time in weeks and weeks. And Cate slept through, too, waking only once, when Daddy Bill got up to go pee.

As Bill said this morning when I asked him how his night went, “1000% better!”

* * *
Unsurprisingly, getting a lot more sleep, makes bad things better, and enables more good things.

When we came out this morning, The Cat had both pood and peed in the girls’ play area, again. But, he peed only inside one of the white dish tub “boats” that we use for toy storage. So it was easy to clean up. Phew!

It’s rainy and 75 today, so no walking along the bayou to watch big trucks, and no splashing in the pool. I decided to take us to Costco instead. Not only were we able to return an item we didn’t need, but they had 12-oz flats of gorgeous, organic, raspberries for just $3.99. That’s a third of what Whole Foods usually asks, so I bought 3 pounds of them, and Dad agreed to bake the girls some raspberry pie.

While we were shopping, Cate said she needed to pee. So we paid for our groceries and headed to the big restroom. With only one mishap (removing Cate’s diaper while Sam was still on the potty), both girls peed in the big potties, washed their hands, and braved the Dyson “air blade” hand dryers.

Finally, the Costco in central Houston is a vaguely “urban” store, with a four-story parking garage. After we loaded our groceries, we drove up to the third level, and cordoned off a corner by positioning my van as a blockade. We got out our big yellow CAT truck and the girls took turns pushing each other across the smooth pavement, sheltered from the rain. We then looked out across the lot below, caught rain in our hands, and watched windshield wipers swish. Fun!

[photos to follow]

When we got home, the girls devoured a bunch of the raspberries with some milk and chicken maple sausage for a snack. After pottying again, we read Byron Barton’s Boats book, sang Pete Seeger’s “Sailing up, sailing down,” and put girls to bed for what I hope will be nice, long, naps.

Great morning!

Dumps and dozer!

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Once we internalized that there are Big Trucks along Buffalo Bayou, and that the girls really enjoy seeing them, we’ve gone a bunch of times to walk along the bayou and look at the excavators and front loaders.

On July 16th, Nane and I took the girls to the Bayou on a weekday, so that we could see the Big Trucks doing stuff. There’s a huge live oak tree with a protective perimeter of orange plastic fencing. It’s hard to tell where the park turns into job site, so we just went inside the tree perimeter and found a place to settle in and watch.

In addition to excavators and front loaders, we saw a bunch of working dump trucks and a bulldozer. The extent of earth moving this project encompasses is truly impressive!

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


Early Sunday outings

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

When I shifted the girls from a two-nap schedule to a one-nap schedule, I also shifted them to a four-meal schedule.

We do breakfast, second breakfast/snack, snack/lunch, and dinner. If we do an outing, we sometimes have snack in the car on the way home. We occasionally all go out to lunch. But mostly, we eat four meals a day jammed into our tiny kitchen.

In our pre-children days, Bill used to get up early every Sunday to join the Taco Ride with the group from West End Bicycles. Ten days ago, he observed that if our girls were going to keep waking us at 6 am, then we could join the West Enders for the breakfast taco (pancake) part of the ride, if not yet the cycling part.

So last Sunday, when enough sun crept into our room (despite room-darkening foam core) to wake Sam, who in turn woke us, we decided to go. We headed to the East End in time to meet a huge group of familiar Lycra-clad riders at Dona Maria, and enjoyed pancakes and sausage, with coffee for us grown-ups.

I really enjoyed the change of venue. Sitting in our kitchen 2-3 hours a day, everyday, has long since grown tedious. If the number of mornings this week that Cate said hopefully, “outtabre’fas’?” is any indication, she and Sam enjoyed it, too!

* * *
On our way home from Houston’s East End, we passed a giant excavator, parked on Capitol St. in Downtown, where METRO is installing rail tracks for one of the new light rail lines that will open in 2014. It occurred to me that I knew where to find more.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is working with Harris County Flood Control to reshape the banks of Buffalo Bayou and add more stormwater detention. They’re also working with TxDOT to add new hike/bike trails and four pedestrian bridges between Shepherd and Sabine. All of their excavators and other big trucks sit idle on Sundays.

So on the way home, I parked at the Houston Police Officers’ monument on Memorial Drive, and we walked down to the bayou and wandered through the project site. We got up close with two or three enormous excavators, several little Bobcat front loaders, a big John Deere bulldozer, and a diesel roller. We even spotted a big rabbit nibbling greens at the edge of the trail.

I enjoyed the heck out of it. If the number of times I’ve heard tiny voices chirp, “ex-ca-va-tors!” and “by-you!” this week is any indication, Sam and Cate enjoyed it, too.

* * *
It’s Sunday again, and we decided to go out again. Though we departed before 7:30 am, we weren’t early enough to meet the Taco Riders. So we took the girls to Baby Barnaby’s for the first time instead.

When they opened at 8 am, Baby Barnaby’s was an entertaining mix of single gay men with newspapers, the occasional single woman with a newspaper, and middle-age couples like us with young children in tow. We fit right in. Apparently, the younger neighborhood hipsters breakfast later.

While Barnaby’s does have high chairs, we had never used them before, and it took us three tables before we figured out where we ought to sit so that Bill and I could reach girls at the same time that the high chairs weren’t crowding the cramped walkways. But once we sorted that out, Cate had blueberry pancake, Sam had blueberry waffle, and the three of us enjoyed some scrambled eggs and chicken maple sausage. Yum!

Afterward, we went back to the bayou for another look at the big trucks. Fun!

[Photos to follow]

Houdini-Naked Cate

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

It’s nap time, and once again, Sam made it to sleep directly, but Cate is playing in her bed for an hour and counting.

For the second time in three days, instead of winding down, Cate slipped out through the neck hole of sleep sack, removed all of her clothes and diaper, and peed in her crib. Since this necessitates changing her crib sheet and mattress cover, it’s a super effective and engaging tactic for stalling bedtime.