Garden Sculpture: My Mom is Amazing

Posted on July 3rd, 2006 in Mynagirl by mynagirl

I just have to say, I’m constantly amazed by anyone with artistic vision and a drive to create. The person that amazes me most often in this capacity is my mother — she is a non-stop creative force with endless energy and strength.

In her life, my mom has created wood carvings, jewelry, stained glass, etched glass, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, custom tiled bathrooms, tile and glass mosaics, furniture out of copper pipe, and custom wall collages. Not to mention children’s books. Oh, and she runs a Bed & Breakfast in the Texas Hill Country that’s filled with her signature custom touches, so she’s learned to be a master chef lately as well. Her latest artistic obsession is concrete — specifically, architectural concrete. For the gorgeously flowering and beautifully decorated entry way to her B&B, she decided to create a couch. Out of concrete. With a magnolia blossom made of glass.

The creation is as you see below — bolstering and all accomplished with concrete and glass accents, complete with a larger glass mosaic on the back of the couch.
Concrete Couch

Couch front
Back of Concrete Couch

Couch back
I’ve been watching the progress via emailed pictures and I did see it once in person when it was nearly complete. It’s unbelievably perfect nestled in with the garden entry way leading up to the B&B. When you hear “concrete couch” you don’t think of this gorgeous and inviting sculpture. It’s really unbelievable.

Since there’s always a possibility that Mom might want to make another creation on commission, here’s her contact information:
Sherry Gansle

Canyon Lake, Texas

210 316 6203

Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina – DeGray Lake, Arkansas

Posted on July 2nd, 2006 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Iron Mountain Resort and Marina
134 Iron Mountain Marina Drive
Arkadelphia, Arkansas 71923

For reservations call:
(870) 246-4310 in state
(800) 243-3396 out of state
http://www.iron-mountain.com/

This is the second summer that we’ve vacationed at the Iron Mountain Resort on DeGray Lake just west of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. We discovered Iron Mountain last summer, when we had originally scheduled a vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but Hurrican Dennis caused us to change our plans at the very last minute. We were driving from Houston to Indianapolis so needed something that was roughly on the way, and we knew we wanted to swim and spend time in the sun, so figured that a lake would work. Plus, other than the Gulf Coast (threatened Dennis) there isn’t really any other options for swimming between Houston and Indianapolis other than inland lakes/rivers.

So we furiously researched lakes located in the states between TX and IN, and we started with the overly optimistic goal of finding one in which we could snorkel. Searching for snorkeling in Arkansas is what lead us to DeGray Lake, based on an article about some club that snorkeled there to observe wildlife. Note: although we found DeGray Lake by searching on snorkeling, we found that it was too opaque and weedy to be any fun snorkel-wise, so we do not recommend it as a snorkeling destination, but we loved it anyway!

Once we started focusing on DeGray Lake we then started looking for accomodations. The only place with any availability was Iron Mountain, so although I’d love to say that our careful research discovered this gem, it was simply fate playing a hand.

So that’s how we found Iron Mountain last year, and we enjoyed it so much we went back this year, too. Both years we stayed in a two-bedroom, two-bath cabin, but calling it a “cabin” isn’t really accurate. One bedroom has a king size bed, the other has two full-size beds. Both bedrooms have private bathrooms/showers, as well as sliding glass doors that open to the back deck. The back deck is private and includes a hot tub and spans the length of the cabin. There’s also an open living room/dining area/full kitchen in the cabin, with pots, pans, dishes, silverware, refrigerator, dishwasher, etc, so you can stock up on food and cook for yourself if you want.

There’s also TVs with satellite channels in the master bedroom and living room, and the living room also has a DVD player and VCR. So all in all, not exactly “roughing it” as you might infer from calling it a “cabin”.

And as nice as the cabin is, our focus is the lake and boat. We rent a 29′, hard-topped pontoon boat when we’re there, which has an amazing amount of room, a stereo, and the hard top roof is load-bearing with a ladder, so you can climb up on it to sun yourself or to jump the 8′ or so down into the lake. That’s basically what we did. All day. Every day. Jump off the roof of

The Devil Wears Prada (***)

Posted on July 1st, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

The Devil Wants Starbucks

So we went to see The Devil Wears Prada and it was really good. Meryl Streep gives yet another amazing performance as the head of the world’s most influential fashion magazine. She plays the character as a cross between Cruella de Ville, Vito Corleone, and Margaret Thatcher. The movie is very biting and very funny. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with the message, but I’m at least 75% there.

The movie tells the tale of a young, earnest, pretty, smart, normal-sized girl (Size 6, maybe?…normal-sized by Hollywood standards is what I mean). She shows up for an interview for a low-on-the-totem-pole clerical opening at the world’s leading fashion magazine, specifically the assistant to the assistant to the editor in chief. The girl is very well played by Anne Hathaway (who?), and she holds her own on-screen with heavyweights La Streep and Stanley Tucci. Her character knows nothing about the fashion world and is confused by the seriousness and reverence with which the fripperies of style are looked upon by the priestesshood.

Of course, that’s where the movie starts. By the middle she has moved up to be Streep’s characters right hand gal, and becomes a starry-eyed true believer, hypnotized by the power and beauty of being in the upper echelons of the fashion world.

This being Hollywood, of course, she comes to her senses by the end and goes back to her standard-Jetta-commercial-issue boyfriend, leaves the fashion world behind, and seems to content to be an earthbound girlfriend of a wannabe-chef.

The part I’m on board with is leaving the cutthroat world of high fashion behind. But the part I’m not on board with is going right back to her starter-life with her zero boyfriend. It doesn’t help that the film doesn’t really capture any chemistry between the two.

But, this is really Ms. Streep’s film. She doesn’t chew up the scenery, she simply gives it withering looks until it self-destructs in self-defense. Her character is fully realized and completely unredeemable. She sacrifices everything (family, love, happiness) to maintain her iron grip on the helm of the fashion world, and it is her example that first dazzles Hathaway’s character, and then ultimately educates her into the true cost of “success”. That is a point with which I am very much on board – sacrificing everything for professional success is like making sure you have the largest, most impressive bucket of air. It doesn’t matter how big or fancy or jewel-encrusted or rare it is, it’s still just a container filled with nothing.

I’ll take a houseplant in a terra cotta planter, made with happiness and love, any day of the week.

That’s all.

Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro (**½)

Posted on July 1st, 2006 in Houston,Restaurant Reviews by EngineerBoy

Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro

1221 W 11th St

Houston, TX 77008

(713) 426-2750

http://www.dragonbowlbistro.com/

Dragon Bowl Asian Bistro is a new restaurant at the edge of the Heights, at the intersection of N. Shepherd and 11th. We’ve been watching them build out the space for it in the strip center and have been anxiously awaiting the opening of another nearby food choice. It finally opened recently and today we finally made it in to try it out.

All three of us got bowls, and they were pretty good. Mine was shrimp, vermicelli, assorted veggies in a citrus sauce and it was quite tasty. I had steamed dumplings as an appetizer and they were okay. The rest of the group liked their food as well, but there were no raves.

There were two issues that detracted from the dining experience. The first is that we waited over 30 minutes from the time of our order until the food was ready. I can understand that a new kitchen won’t operate at peak efficiency for a while, but that seemed a bit overlong for the simplicity of what we ordered.

The second issue was that the menu had been pared down quite a bit to match what the new kitchen was capable of producing, but even the reduced menu was overstating what they could deliver. I first ordered the tempura shrimp appetizer, and was told they weren’t currently making that. I then ordered the fried dumplings and was told they could do steamed but not fried, which didn’t make any sense to me as the obviously had the dumplings to steam and their open kitchen showed plenty of woks with oil for frying.

There were also a lot of grumbling, unhappy patrons waiting around for their food. The place is pretty small so some of them tried to engage us in the camaraderie of their shared conversation about how slow the place was, but we were giving the kitchen the benefit of the doubt seeing that it was so new, and demurred from joining into the dis-fest.

However, I will say that I agreed with their opinions, even if I felt it impolite to blather them about a small restaurant within earshot of the busy crew working in the open kitchen. Having been peripherally involved in the restaurant business I can say that their kitchen is both overstaffed and overslow, and a single well-trained chef with maybe one assistant could have produced all the food much faster than the 4-5 people they had bouncing around back there like pinballs.

The bottom line was that the food and prices were at just about the right place for us to keep Dragon Bowl on our radar, so we plan to check back after they’ve had time to work out the kinks. But for now we’re not paitent enough to beta-test this new restaurant.

Update 8/22/2006

We went back to DBAB today for lunch, and there was much improved efficiency in the preparation and delivery

HardiPlank Saga in Houston

Posted on July 1st, 2006 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

4/6/2006

Today is the first day of our quest to install HardiPlank siding on our house. We aren’t going to actually do the installation, but we will be identifying local contractors, putting out for bid, hiring someone, managing the process, and posting the progress here along the way. Currently I’m looking for recommendations for a local HardiPlank contractor in Houston, so if you’ve had some work done by somebody you’d like to recommend, please drop me a line at engineerboy@cleverdonkey.com!

Our current siding is in sad disrepair. There are several rotten places and several places with loose boards, and it just looks crappy in general. We’ve wavered at the cost of HardiPlank, but have determined that it’s a worthwhile investment. We don’t want to simply replace with wood siding, as we’d still have all the potential rot/termite problems of wood, and vinyl is just…well…vinyl. It seems like the high-end vinyl isn’t bad, but it’s still just…vinyl siding.

Today marks the first day of our quest because we have made all the necessary decisions and lined up the means to do so. We have been pondering it for quite some time, but today is the day we really start the process of getting new siding. Keep tuned here for updates!

6/12/2006

We’ve narrowed down the potential contractors and this week they’re coming out to measure and provide estimates. We’re looking at the following potential contractors:

All-Tex Exteriors
Allied Siding and Windows
Houston Siding

These seem to be the most well-recommended in the Houston area. Several years ago we got a quote from All-Tex but at the time it was cost-prohibitive, we’re hoping for better pricing this time around!

6/20/2006

Well, we’ve made our choice, and it’s Allied Siding and Windows. The price was very competitive, and we also asked them to quote alternatives of vinyl or wood, both of which were cheaper but not by much. We also asked Allied to provide a quote for replacing all of our existing windows, which are older insulated glass models that have leaked and so have a smokey or mildewy appearance between the sheets of glass, some to the point where you can’t see through them.

The bottom line for the whole project came in within our budget, so we’re having Allied do everything, as follows:

Remove and haul away the old siding and trim (which is wood and is basically disintegrating at this point)
Replace any bad/rotten studs (their quote includes up to 32 feet of stud replacement)
Wrap the house in Tyvek
Install Hardiplank siding and trim
Replace all the windows with new Simonton Reflections vinyl windows
Paint the Hardiplank, trim, existing cedar scallops, and miscellaneous remaining wood with two coats of Sherwin-Williams Superpaint

6/23/2006

We signed the paperwork and put down a deposit. Allied did not specifically require a deposit but we put one down anyway for a variety of reasons, namely that we had it available and also that if a business has some of your money it’s easier to get their attention, if needed. We don’t anticipate any issues but we