From Russia with love

It's cold in Houston, really cold (38 degrees kind of cold!), and what a better way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon than to wander the halls of the Museum of Natural Science.  The Museum has been recently renovated and new exhibits have been added; there is an expanded dinosaur hall and a wonderful Egyptian room (dark, cavernous, and full of treasures).  There are also several traveling exhibits: the Cave Paintings at Lascaux (which earlier this year I saw at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and I greatly recommend), Gemstone Carvings, and Faberge: A Brilliant Vision. 
I found the Faberge exhibit terribly appropriate for this time of year, a whole portion of it is dedicated to work that Faberge created for the Nobel brothers (as in Nobel prize Nobel) and which contains gorgeous diamond pieces in the shape of snow flakes.

There were also several cigarette cases and "presentation" boxes depicting beautiful scenes of Father Christmas and Old Man Winter (again, very appropriate!)

And of course, also included in the exhibit, the famous eggs and many, many sparkling beauties! 


The Spanish Revival, San Antonio edition


I love visiting San Antonio, a charming city full of history and tradition, part Spanish, part Victorian, part German, and wholly Texan.  Most people who visit San Antonio head straight for a stroll along the River Walk and a photo op at the nearby Alamo, but San Antonio de Bexar has a lot to offer; having been there and done that, John and I now prefer to spend our time in San Antonio doing "architectural tourism" and eating at quaint neighborhood cafes  in the King William neighborhood - we recommend Mad Hatters for breakfast and Azuca for a Latin fusion dinner and live salsa music and dancing.
In this trip we joined other visiting Houstonian friends, Landscape Architects Frank Brown and Mark Scioneaux, and had the opportunity to explore the city from a garden point of view, stopping along the way for Frank to take pictures of exotic plants and intricately wrought gates.  Frank and Mark also introduced us to Alamo Heights, a beautiful neighborhood set under the shadow of centenary oaks and gently rolling hills. 


Perhaps it is nostalgia for San Antonio's colonial past or simply a compliance with 1920's architectural fashion, but Alamo Heights is heavily populated with Spanish Revival houses, the kind of lovely buildings with idealized geometries that exist not in Andalucía but in the imagination of architect Addison Mizner and Maurice Fatio. Here are some of favorite, including the McNay Art Museum, former residence of oil heiress Marion Koogler McNay:
House in Alamo Heights, San Antonio, Texas
House in Alamo Heights, San Antonio, Texas.
The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.
Link to McNay Art Museum full photo album:
McNay Art Museum
McNay Art Museum Slideshow:

How does your garden grow?

We recently adopted a dog from Shaggy Dog Rescue, her name is Lilly and she is the sweetest dog you'll ever meet.  Lilly came to us with a weight problem and we immediately put her on a diet and a strict exercise regime.  Walking Lilly has opened a new world of exploring opportunities; I thought I was pretty familiar with my Houston neighborhood of The Heights, but it turns out there are streets I had never visited, parks I had never seen!
I try to take a different route every day, but after several weeks of this routine, I have found myself treading specific streets which take us by my new favorite houses and gardens; one such street is Peddie, where one morning I came upon two houses set amid beautiful English gardens.
One of the houses, it turns out, is owned by a landscape architect, and this is evident in the care and inventiveness of the flower beds and gravel paths.  Unlike most houses in the neighborhood, which are outfitted with a fence or a clear demarcation between the public and private realm, this front garden encroaches exuberantly onto the sidewalk, and welcomes the neighbors to partake in its beauty and its shade, with the charming placement of benches and follies:

Lilly enjoys this garden and its companion across the street, she enjoys the smells and the sights and if I am not careful she can get lost under the flowers searching for lizards and other critters:
Our neighborhood has a reputation of being a friendly place with a real sense of community, which I attribute to its traditional and walkable urban design, the use of porches in the houses, and the proximity between housing, culture, and entertainment. Walking Lilly is really allowing me to fully enjoy these aspects of The Heights and to discover its people who, I will confirm, are a friendly, interesting, diverse, and international bunch .
Lilly makes new friends.

Windy City

I recently went to Chicago and the visit stirred some early memories:

The Chicago skyline.
My cousin Ana Maria and I had come to spend the winter in Chicago (summer break in Nicaragua) at my aunt's house, we were 10 and as part of our entertainment we had been invited to perform folkloric dances on a children's show for the local Telemundo channel.
Navy Pier seen from the gardens of the Field Museum.
After our performances we sat down for a chat with the hostess and she asked Ana Maria and I if we were enjoying the city; we had been "everywhere", we said, seen "everything", but my favorite thing to see in Chicago, I said, were the buildings! 
The Art Deco tower that houses the Chicago Board of Trade. 
I remember thinking that the hostess was not impressed with my answer, I think my cousin's favorite Chicago moment was somehow cooler than my "I like looking at buildings"...but it was true!  I loved the massive colonial buildings in Leon, the neoclassical arcades in Granada, and the 1700th century Church of Saint Anne in our hometown in Chinandega.  The Mayan ruins in El Salvador and Guatemala from our road trip the year before had been, until now, the architectural highlight of my young life, but now Chicago presented me with buildings of a scale and intricacy I had never seen!
The Field Museum, Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago.
I liked buildings and I wanted to make buildings.  Back in Nicaragua I told my family about our adventures in the big city, and one of my aunts mentioned the word "architect" and how an architect creates buildings; I was hooked, there was no looking back...

Moving with Antiques: How to transport your most invaluable possesions

House in The Heights. Houston, Texas.
The Houston Real Estate market is very busy, particularly in "The Heights," a great historic neighborhood just north of downtown Houston, where I happen to live; it seems everybody is flocking to The Heights these days, and with so much relocation going on in our city I thought it would be a good idea to write a post and spread some advice on the matter.

As with any specialized service, moving antiques -be they furniture, jewelry, photographs, etc. - comes with a host of best practices. Losing or damaging any of the aforementioned items, especially if they have sentimental value, could be heartbreaking. Protect your antiques (and your heart) by taking the following precautions on what is arguably the most dangerous day of the year for your belongings: moving day.
17th Century French chest from Kirby Antiques in Houston.
To develop this list, I enlisted the help of Coleman American, a premier Houston Moving Company. Here's what they told us:
Packing is half the battle…
Packing your items correctly will make a profound difference. Whether you do it yourself or with the help of a professional, the materials you use can also be the difference between a successful journey and… well, the opposite of that. Depending on the antique's size, weight and fragility, you should use varying amounts of the following materials for protection:
  • Double- and triple-walled cartons
  • Cushioning wrap / stretch wrap
  • Packing tape
  • Fine tissue and craft paper
You should also label your cartons appropriately. Stickers that read Do Not Load, Fragile and Do Not Pack will give others a truly valuable frame of reference.
19th century Austrian Empire Style Vitrine from Carl Moore Antiques in Houston.
Take preemptive measures.
Smart people know that the best offense is a good defense. When it comes to transporting priceless belongings, defense (conveniently) is all you really have. The following steps will reduce the likelihood that something will go terribly wrong in transit:
  • If possible, secure any loose parts or removable pieces with none-permanent methods, i.e., no superglue.
  • Any moving parts on furniture should be held down with rubber straps or strings.
  • If possible, remove protruding pieces like drawer handles and secure them inside the same drawer for easy access.
  • Remove any exposed glass/mirrors and cover them with stretch wrap and padding.
  • Upon removing any small hardware/pieces from your antiques, place them in labeled plastic bags and then in a labeled parts box.
Painted Venetian Sofa from Kay O'Toole in Houston.
Know what should be moved by YOU.
Just because you hired a moving company doesn't mean they have to move everything. Some things, though they may not be antiques per se, still assume equal amount of importance in life. These may include:
  • Birth certificates
  • Medical records
  • Photographs
  • Essential prescription medications
  • Stock certificates, bonds and notes
All of these items are, for all intents and purposes, irreplaceable; keep them with you at all times, your inner peace will thank you.
For more moving help check out Coleman’s Ultimate Pre-move Checklist.

Bayou Bend

Some weeks ago, on a beautiful April afternoon, I visited the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, Texas Chapter.  I had visited this historic Houston house before but had spent most of my time admiring the collection of American furniture and art and had devoted little time to exploring the gardens; fortunately the purpose of this visit was to sketch on the grounds of the estate and doing so I discovered a beautiful place, perfectly balanced between the formal and the bucolic.


Bayou Bend was built in the 1920's in the Greek Revival style by Houston architect John Staub for civic leader and art patron Ima Hogg. In true country estate tradition, the house presents a private façade onto the street, with small openings and a modest entrance that give glimpses of the gardens that lay beyond. In contrast, the back of the house opens onto a two story portico from which the broad lawn of the Garden of Diana can be enjoyed.


To the left of the lawn is Clio's garden, where the muse of History sits in a parterre of manicured boxwood hedges and flower beds. The modern approach to Bayou Bend is through this formal garden, which I encounter after crossing the suspension bridge that spans the Buffalo Bayou.


Clio's image is directly oriented towards a statue of Euterpe that sits at the other extreme of Diana's lawn - (in Miss Hogg's time both muses actually faced one another).  Unlike Clio's enthronement among the hedges, Euterpe, muse of music, sits on the edge of the wood, the cadences of water rippling behind her.


Euterpe's garden makes way to the lower levels of the Woodland Ravines, which provide a smooth progression from the heavily designed environment of the goddesses' terraces to a more natural one.  From the winding path along the ravine I catch glimpses of Bayou Bend's gables and encounter some colorful but shy residents of the woods.

Carved out of the lush vegetation surrounding the ravines is the East Garden, which was the first area Miss Hogg planted at Bayou Bend.  Enclosed, private and formal, the space incorporates elements of English design and the iron fence behind the fountain depicts a lyre motif, a classical reference to Miss Hogg's love of music.


Further along the ravine and nestled among the woods, I discover the whimsical Butterfly Garden with its 350 azalea plants, which in early spring bloom in colorful stripes along the giant wings.  The body and antennae of the insect are carefully delineated in brickwork, and the area is ornamented with a small cupid figure, potted urns, and winter-blooming camellias.

We stay in the gardens until closing time and somehow I manage not to complete a single drawing, I'm too preoccupied with discovery.  I leave Bayou Bend with a faceless sketch of the Huntress and a dubious attempt at a fountain, next time I'll find a secret spot under the oaks and try my luck, watercolor perhaps...

To visit Bayou Bend contact the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.  For more images of Bayou Bend visit Dear Polia's Facebook galleries: Bayou Bend



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