Fer sale

I forgot to tell you about a nice thing!


I have a piece for sale in the window of Kruger's Jewelers at 8th and Congress downtown.

Cactus ass

Stop by and see it if you're down there, and be sure to check out the company it's keeping, like this fantastic mosaic cactus.

Winda mirra
It looks a little plain compared to the others, but I think it holds its own okay. (That's my friend Sam in the mirror, classing up the joint.)

Class photo

The agency I work for had a group photo taken* in the Senate chamber today. It was a lovely clear morning, so we eschewed the underground tunnel that connects our building to the Capitol and walked over outside together. People were a little dressed up and there was a giddy, field-trip feel to the whole thing. You don't get that too often as an adult.

An air of release hung about the day, even after we returned to our desks after the picture was taken. Maybe office workers should have recess too.

*Or "made," if you want to be really Texan about it.

What's next, people? Self-riding bikes?

I was riding my bike to work this morning and hit a spot where the cycle track ran out at the end of the block and was replaced by a bike lane at the other side of the intersection. This was no big deal but did require me to veer slightly to the left, a little closer to the car lane.

Robot cars

(Here's a diagram, since I find it hard to visualize these things and Google Earth isn't up-to-date on the Mueller development.)

I heard a car coming up behind me right as I hit the intersection, and I fully expected it to gun past, which is what I prefer and what most drivers used to sharing the road with bicycles do. Just get past me as quickly and safely as possible and we'll be out of each others' hair forever.

This car instead slowed and hovered behind my left side as I drifted over into the bike lane. Argh, dude, just pass me! You're making me nervous.

I turned around to see how close it was and realized it was a Google self-driving car* on a test drive, cautiously waiting while I made my lane shift.

Once I realized what was going on I relaxed because I knew I wasn't in danger of being plowed into by an inexperienced driver or, worse, a texting one. Still, given how cars and bikes usually interact, the Google cars' real-world behavior could use a little finessing.

Self-driving cars are a fantastic idea, but this very brief encounter made me realize the transition period between human and robot drivers means we will have to account for two sets of behaviors and two sets of assumptions. It might get hairy for a while.

*One of the Lexuses, not the super-cute deliberately benign-looking ones. Sadly.

Seed bombs and a resolution

It finally cooled off a little and started raining in Central Texas, which means it's time to plant wildflower seeds for next spring. We had a lot of firewheel seeds left over from this spring's bloom--like a gallon container's worth--so we decided to make some seed bombs and spread the wealth around.

The idea is that you encase your seeds in some clay and some compost so they can easily be tossed wherever you want seeds to grow. The compost gives the seedlings a little boost, and the clay holds it all together and provides a planting medium, but only when conditions are right and it rains enough.

Our backyard is mostly clay, so that was easy to find. I dug a bucket of that up and mixed in a few trowels of compost from the bin. Which I hadn't finished very well, so there are eggshells and dryer lint and maybe a couple of banana stickers mixed in with the seeds. I doubt the seeds care, so I went with it. 

Once all the supplies were arranged, the rest was pretty simple. 


You take a handful of clay mixture and make a little indentation in there.


Sprinkle some seeds into the middle.

IMG_6863 (1)

Add a little water to help it bond.


Squish it into a ball.


Add it to your growing pile.

(Many thanks to my seed bomb stylist and hand model, Mr. Krotpong.) 

We have a few places in mind for these, but we're on the lookout for more, so suggestions are welcome. Wherever we toss them needs to get at least some sun and is preferably not mowed very often. That shouldn't be too hard to find around here. 

I have some extra bluebonnet seeds that I might use later, but I gotta think about that a little more. Bluebonnets are a little more finicky about sunlight and drainage than firewheels, which grow and spread like, well, wildfire. Anyway, here's hoping we can get a few blooms to brighten up the neighborhood a little, maybe give the butterflies and bees a snack while we're at it.

Oh, and a weird garden update. Remember the agave that poked me in the eye? Eric and I were having a hard time figuring out what to do with it. It's too big to move but too dangerous to stay. Really I was just putting off cutting it down, in part because removing it was going to be a sweaty, scrapy, stabby massacre, and in part because even though it's a jerk, I really loved that plant.


Well, it decided for us by rotting out right from the center and collapsing. 

I've learned a lot from this plant: Picking the right site is very important. Adequate drainage is a must for desert plants.

And despite what anyone tells you, if you wait long enough, your problems will just solve themselves. 


So the art they selected for the billboard competition is really good! As are the honorable mentions. Clearly I need to step up my game. 

I'm kind of in between projects right now. I've got some weekend trips coming up, which limits the time I have to dig in and work on anything anyway. And it's still a little hot and dry for large-scale gardening, although I did plant all my wildflower seeds on Sunday: bluebonnet, firewheel, Mexican hat, purple coneflower, and Texas paintbrush. The firewheels and bluebonnets should have self-seeded last spring, but it never hurts to provide an assist.

I'm not superstitious, but between the rain they were calling for early this week (that never materialized) and the super blood moon eclipse that night, Sunday seemed like an auspicious time to plant.

We'll see; I don't think the plants care about the moon so much as how wet it is this winter. Go, dudes, go!

Third time's...not it, either.

Each time it's offered, my friend Dan and I enter the Austin Art Boards competition, which is run by Reagan Outdoor Advertising and promotes local artists by putting their work up on billboards.

Each year, we don't win. I got two honorable mentions in years past, and Dan got honorable mention last time as well--go us!--but this year: bupkis.


My first entry. It got honorable mention.


The next year I tried again with a similar design. I tried to make it a little fancier by doing a three-color block print. Another honorable mention.


This year I didn't hear about it until a couple weeks before the deadline. I felt like the superhappy motif had maybe run its course, so I pasted a block print I'd done of a friend's cat onto a photo of the Texas sky as seen from one of our fine, sweeping overpasses.

The idea was that in the right conditions the billboard would blend into the background and it would just look like a giant cat head floating in the sky. I don't know, maybe that didn't really come across. It's also possible it just isn't that great of an image.

I still like it, though. I'm going hang the matted entry in my office at work and use it to help me think about what I should enter next year. So help me, I'm going to keep submitting these until they discontinue the contest, I win, or I die. 

All the pools in Austin! Pool five: Northwest Pool.

Nw shallow

Northwest Pool is my all-time favorite. For me, a former suburban kid who logged countless summer hours racing in deep ends and lounging in plastic chairs drinking cans of grape soda, it's my ideal big public pool.

One of my favorite things in life is to go here in the evening, swim a quick set of laps, and then drift over to the deep end and float with my ears underwater so I can't hear anything but the churn of the water. I watch people fling themselves off the diving board as the sun sets behind the pecan trees, and it's about the most relaxing thing I can think of.  

The pool: Northwest has a large shallow end for families to play in and a spacious deep end for older kids and adults to hang out in. The two sides are separated by lap lanes. It's huge, which means it's big enough that the water stays fairly cool even in the hottest part of the summer. It's got a diving board. It's great.  You should go. 

NW laps

Lap lanes: Six short lanes. They're almost always full, but with some patience you can usually snag a spot. The skill set runs the gamut from dog-paddling beginners to serious athletes, and everyone's pretty friendly.

I haven't been there for the morning lap hours in a few years, but I think they configure the lanes across the pool lengthwise, which is a hell of a workout since you can't push off the end every few yards. 

Who you callin shallow

I know you are, but what am I?

Vibe: One of the reasons I really like this pool is that it hosts a pretty representative cross-section of Austin. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds come here to hang out, and I feel like there aren't a lot of spaces in Austin you can say that of.

Since it's Austin, everyone's generally pretty nice to each other. The lifeguards do a good job overseeing such a large space without being too uptight about it. 

Nw changing

Amenities: Bleachers, benches, soda machines, and lots of shaded picnic tables. There are live oaks and pecan trees for shade and grassy areas to stretch out and doze on.

The pool has a big changing area with showers and plenty of places to put your stuff while you get dressed. It's a bit rundown but usually clean. 

The toilets in the women's room are terrible, though. Instead of doors, the stalls have flimsy shower curtains that flap around violently in the slightest breeze and stick to your sunscreened legs, which is so much worse than no partition at all. Also the back wall doesn't go all the way up to the ceiling and the front desk is directly behind the toilets, which means that the lifeguards have to hear you pee.

Not ideal. But you know, whatever; I don't come here to hang out in the bathroom. 

Details: 7000 Ardath Street. $3 for adults, $2 for teens, $1 for kids and seniors, free for babies. Closed Thursdays. Open on weekday evenings and weekends until Labor Day; open weekends only until September 30. 


All the pools in Austin! Pool four: Dick Nichols Pool.

Dick Nichols Pool in Southwest Austin is far from my daily rounds, but it's close to my friend Angela's house. She agreed to meet me there so I could review it and we could hang out.

I like swimming with friends. We'll usually futz around at the end of the lane and talk, then do a few laps, then pull up to the side and talk some more. Angela has a four-year-old son, and it's rare to get her by herself these days, so we had a lot to catch up on. We settled on a bobbing side stroke so we could swim and chat at the same time. 

The sun sank as we swam and started putting out those long, golden rays that make everything look glowy and radiant. I admired Angela down the length of the pool. When we got to the end, she directed me to switch sides with her so I too could face the light and look amazing. "You look so good!" "Oh, now you look so good too!" She's a nice friend. 


The pool: A large shallow end separated by a wall from the lap area and an ample deep end. Warm but clean water. No trees and little shade, which makes the place look a bit bleak and forbidding.

I was dumb and forgot my flip-flops*, and the sun-blasted deck burned my feet. A good-sized kiddie pool sits just apart from the shallow end. 


Lap lanes: Six of them. They were full but turnover was quick around dinnertime. We got a lane to share right away. Later we were joined by a woman who was shooed out of her lane for a swim lesson. Still, there was plenty of room for everyone.

Vibe: Family-friendly; friendly-friendly. There were swimming lessons going on when we were there, and parents congregated in camp chairs on the side, socializing as they watched their kids learn to blow bubbles underwater. The lifeguards were a bit officious but mostly unobtrusive. 

Amenities: A couple of benches and shaded picnic tables. A large, reasonably clean bathroom with six shower stalls and an overhead heater, which I'm sure is nice early in the season.

They could use more benches and changing booths, though. At closing time every available surface was covered with towels and toiletries, and I ended up sitting on the sidewalk outside the front gate to put my shoes on and comb my hair. That was okay, though--Angela and I still had things to talk about. 


Public art: Murals and tiles with a colorful fish theme dot the facility. 

Details: Free. 8011 Beckett Road. Closed Mondays. Open this year until August 22. 

*This reminds me of one of my favorite clean jokes:

Q: What do people with two left feet wear to the beach?

A: Flip-flips! 

All the pools in Austin! Pool three: Shipe Pool.

Shipe Pool was where I discovered my love of lap swimming. I went there every single day for a whole summer about 10 years ago. The legislature had been called into overtime, so I was working the evening shift all summer.

Shipe full

I would wake at 11 each day, ride my bike to Shipe, stay for an hour, ride to Fresh Plus for an Amy's frozen dinner, bike home, shower, and go to work until midnight or 2 am. Then I would come home, drink beer until I fell asleep, and start all over again the next day.

I started off being able to do maybe two laps at a time, then added laps every day until I could swim the whole hour without stopping. After two months of that I was in the best shape of my life, and despite--or maybe because of--the regimented days and relative isolation, it was one of the best summers I've ever had. 

The pool: It's a big rectangle full of water, with a deep end and a shallow end separated by a rope. I've been there a few times this summer, and the water is always murky for some reason. Despite being ringed by sycamore trees, it's bathwater warm right now, but most pools are these days.

It's a fine rectangle, but it's in poor repair and scheduled for a redesign. While I have a sentimental attachment to the pool as it is, I think it's due for one. 

There's a wading pool outside the gate, but I've never paid it much attention. It's next to the playground, and I'm sure it's fine. I think part of the redesign is meant to integrate the two pools. 

Lap lanes: One, along the length of the pool. Since everyone has to share, people are forgiving of slowpokes and beginners. If you want to do a super-duper timed power workout, I'd go elsewhere, but if you're looking for a friendly, casual place to move your limbs around, it's great. They have lap hours in the mornings, too, from 8-11. 

Vibe: Hyde Park all the way. Trendy teens, helicopter parents, sunbathers, and poolside yoga practitioners. 

Shipe can

Facilities: Some poolside benches, a low wall to sit on, and an outdoor shower head. The single-stall bathrooms are in a really cool log cabin but are frequently occupied for long stretches by the people who hang out in the park, and also the occasional mud dauber. It's not the nicest or most convenient place to change into your suit. 


Public art: Shipe Pool also boasts a huge, impressive community-built mosaic all along the wall of the structure that houses the pool equipment.  There's a nice KRLU-produced video about it here

Shipe tiles

I wish I had been involved in mosaics when they were piecing it together because it looks like it was a blast to work on. 

Details: Free. 4400 Avenue G. Closed Tuesdays. Open this year until August 22. 

All the pools in Austin! Pool two: Dottie Jordan.

Dottie Jordan Pool is a short walk from my house, so even though it's not terribly exciting as far as pools go, it's one of my all-time favorites. It's pretty great to be able to wander down for a quick dip on a hot afternoon, walk home, and get on with my day.

Pool copy

This year's Memorial Day flood brought Little Walnut Creek up through most of the park surrounding it, washing away the chain link fence and filling the pool with debris and filthy water. 


Ewww. Photo by Mr. Krotpong

The city hustled to put up a temporary fence and clean the pool, and they managed to get it running just a couple of weeks after it was supposed to open for the season. This was a pleasant surprise; I thought for sure given the extent of the damage we'd be neighborhood-pool-less all summer.

Wholepool copy

The pool: A simple 'L' shape with a deep end and a shallow end. It's not very big, so the water is tepid by July and almost hot by August. Much of the water is shaded by cedar elms and pecan trees, though, and bobbing around in the shade is rather pleasant. The water can get hazy with sunscreen at the end of a busy weekend, but on Friday afternoon it was clear and blue.

There's a baby pool, too, which is usually open.

Lap lanes: None. They used to have lap swim hours in the mornings, but that was eliminated this year as the city cut hours to save money on lifeguards. You can carve out a spot for yourself when the pool first opens if you're really determined. Otherwise, forget it.

Vibe: From tranquil to rambunctious, depending on the time of day. There are lots of unattended kids at peak times, and the lifeguards preside over them with exasperated good humor. Last time I was there, there was a massive game of Marco Polo going on in the shallow end. One kid kept yelling "Ralph Lauren!" instead of "Polo!" There's always a wise guy.

Facilities: One rickety picnic table and an outdoor shower faucet to rinse off with is about all you'll find here.

Terlits copy

There are restrooms too, but I'd wait until I got home.

Details: Free. 2803 Loyola Lane. Closed Wednesdays. Closes for the season August 16, which is way too early, considering it's still a trillion degrees outside. Ah, well. See you next year!