13 April 2009

She Speaks, People Actually Listen

 

image This past week, Cote de Texas was thrilled to speak at her first “professional” engagement.  Yes, readers,  it is true.  She spoke, people listened, and a few actually laughed!  Poor things!   Ok, Ok, I didn’t actually choose to do this – in fact I was dragged to the event by a loyal reader who foolishly thought I might have something interesting to say, believe it or not.  My husband and friends did have trouble believing it, but, in truth, it was a valid invitation.     Last year, the loyal reader Shannon Thompson emailed me asking if I would like to speak at the The City of Southside Place Woman’s Club – their official Civic group.  “Uh...no – not really.”  (Me speak? Just the thought was positively terrifying to me!)  As luck would have it,  I was already booked for that day, WHEW!!!!!  Saved by that really all important appointment with some long forgotten client.  Thank God!!   But Shannon was persistent and asked if I could then speak at the following meeting in April.  “Oh sure – ok,  I can do that.  What, that’s about six months away?”   (She’ll forget all about it by then, I thought – ha-ha, I’m so smart - I’ll get out of this one for sure!)    Except that one week before the event, I received an email from Shannon reminding me all about it and telling me where to be and when.  OY.   Oy-vez-ez-mer, as my Bubbie would have said.   Seriously, this was really serious business.

You think The City of West University Place (it’s official title) where I live is small?  Well, The City of Southside Place is actually much smaller.  It consists of about 8 short blocks bordered by two long streets – with a total of just 430 houses.  By comparison, West U is huge with 5,286 houses!    Southside is surrounded by West U on three sides and by Houston on its 4th.  Both West U and Southside are very similar places and I suspect most Houstonians don’t even know that Southside is a separate town from West. U., unless of course, they have been stopped by the notorious police department for “driving” through either city.   Both cities make their fair share of money off traffic tickets – some would argue “bogus” traffic tickets.  In fact the day I took these pictures I was stopped by the  Southside Police for a broken tail light!    And so, although West U is small and Southside is miniscule, an invitation to speak to the Civic Club was still extremely intimidating to me, being as the only time I had spoken publically before was at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, where both Ben and I were so choked up with tears of pride that Elisabeth actually bent down in the middle of my speech and found some Kleenex in the Rabbi’s podium and dramatically handed it to us – whereas the entire congregation erupted in howls of laughter.

So, there I was the night before The Big Speech, frantically thinking about what in the heck I was going to talk about and why me?   WHY ME?  You would have thought I had just been told I had a terminal illness with all the praying and carrying on that went on that night before.    Yep – I did wait until the night before to write it.   I like to live dangerously.   I had no clue what to talk about, except my blog, which is how the Civic Club had even heard of me in the first place.   The only other viable topic was interior design.   Either one was sure to be a real winner, I thought sarcastically.  WHY ME?????   I ended up choosing to talk about my blog – that’s easy enough for me and then I decided that after the blog speech I would answer any design questions the “crowd” might have.  Of course this was their big chance to have such an esteemed and accomplished interior designer lecture to them!  Oh, the sarcasm.    I even practiced this for Ben:    “You, in the back row, with your hand up, what’s your question, please?”  Or this one:    “OK, people, now this will have to be the last question, I have my Passover Seder to go to tonight – you in the Chanel suit – what’s your question?”     I got pretty good at fielding questions from non-existent people.     Finally, I got down to business.  The speech was written, then said speech needed to be printed out – and of course there’s no ink in the printer.  You know, Murphy’s law.   Rush out, buy new cartridges.   Then I couldn’t get it to print.  Elisabeth was sound asleep at this point.  I shook her.   “Lizzy, please wake up,” I pleaded,  “I need you to print something for me on your printer.   Please.   I am begging you,”  panic rising in my voice.   “If you don’t wake up right this instant and do this for me I promise you, I will NEVER do you a favor ever again!!!!”  I screamed in her ear.   No response.  Boy, that girl can really sleep.   Back downstairs, slightly hysterical at this point, I realized I had put the new print cartridges in backwards, and  finally after untold hours, I had my infamous speech printed out and ready to go.   Except by this time it was 2:00 in the morning and I still needed to practice it at least once to see how long it was.  It looked really long on paper – who knew I had so much vital blogging information to share with Southsiders!   With a house full of sleeping people, including Lizzy’s two friends, I went outside to my car and read it out loud.  Clocked in at just over 10 minutes.  Better check that to be sure.  Read it again, with more inflection and a little humor, hey – the whole situation was hysterical, me sitting in my car in the middle of the night talking to myself about how I discovered The Peak of  Chic and Style Court, all the while hoping a serial murderer wasn’t leering at me.

 

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Cote de Texas and Shannon Thompson at the Southside Woman’s Club meeting.   Don’t worry, that’s just iced tea!

 

In the end, the event went really well – it actually turned out to be a lot of fun.  There were about 20 women there, maybe 30 – I can’t judge that.  Maybe a lot less.  Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly the size of the Democratic Convention.    It was at someone’s home, so it was all really casual.   I didn’t know anyone there except the girl who had invited me, Shannon Thompson – though in truth we had only exchanged a few emails!  And there was also Jackie Sharbrough, the girl who owns The Urban Market - she and I had exchanged about 10 emails – so I knew her much better.  Being as insecure as I am (yes folks, Cote de Texas is extremely shy and insecure!)  I stuck to my two email buds,  they were so nice and friendly.   In truth, everyone there was so warm and welcoming.    After a delicious lunch, it was time to give my “speech” and Shannon gave me such an introduction you would have thought I was Arianna Huffington herself.   The speech went off without a hitch.   I think they might have even enjoyed it.   They actually laughed at parts of it and even asked questions during it – it was all really informal.  Thank you God, again!    The questions afterward about design went even better.  Except that I’m getting so bad at quickly recalling proper nouns and  names, there was a lot of this:   “my favorite shop is that one, on, you–know, that street by, you–know,  that shop on the corner of, you-know”  - while my poor 54-year-old brain tried to fire its synapses.  Shannon quickly filled in for me whenever I got tripped up – she’s a lot younger though.   Just wait Shannon – your time will come!   When it was all over and I could finally relax, I realized I had had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed it.   I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought I would be, in fact, while speaking I wasn’t nervous at all.   The biggest thing I was worried about during the speech was if I looked fat, wait – take that back – I worried about HOW fat I looked:  really fat, just a little overweight, chubby, mildly obese, morbidly obese, or hopefully this one – pleasingly plump (pleasingly to whom, I wonder?)    I left, clutching a beautiful thank-you hydrangea plant, wishing that I lived in Southside instead of West U – I would love to be a part of their civic group, they are such a great bunch of women.    If you do live in Southside, I would heartedly suggest you join this club.  It meets nine times a year, and there is a different speaker each time.   If you are new to the area, it would be a really great way to meet your neighbors. 

 

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Moi and Jackie Sharbrough, mistress of the great Urban Market!

 

So, I suppose if I could repeat the same exact speech, Cote de Texas might be ready to go big time, like the West University Garden Club, or maybe the annual alumni meeting of my college sorority – if there was such a thing.  There’s not, hehe.      But yes, if anyone asks, I’m taking it on the road:  Cote de Texas:  A Concise History of The Blog,  followed by a question and answer session about Interior Design! What a winner!   Any takers?

 

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Reading “the speech.”  I wish there were more pictures!  Only four were taken.    I would have loved to get pictures of all the women and the house!  It was so beautiful!!!!!!

 

So what does The City of  Southside Place look like?

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Southside Place is bordered by West University Place on three sides.  The blue street sign is West U’s, while the black one is Southside’s.   West University and Southside both have installed these vintage street lights.

 

The City of Southside Place’s history began in 1925, with just three houses and a swimming pool that was installed at the large park in the middle of the town.   The park and pool remain a major selling point today.   Few of the original bungalows are still standing, having been replaced with new, much larger houses.    Originally, the city was completely barren, so a forest of Chinese Tallow trees were planted because Tallows grow so fast.  Fast growing trees aren’t long living trees, though.   West University also planted multitudes of Tallows – today these trees, now considered “trash” trees, are all on their last limb, so to speak.   The original Southside houses on large lots came with a chicken house out back along with fruit bearing fig trees.  Before air conditioning, the houses were designed to catch cross winds and most had ceiling fans, which are still very popular in Houston.  There was a back porch for block ice deliveries.   During the depression, when generations of families lived together to save money, the houses were built with one bedroom that had its own door to the outside to ensure privacy for the visiting relatives.  Southside opened with all the modern conveniences, some still new for the times:  curbs, concrete sidewalks, and storm and sanitary sewer  systems.  The lots were larger than the typical West U lot – and this was heavily advertised.   The original brochures read:   How many times have you wished for a REAL HOME, one that wasn’t crowded onto a 50 foot by 10o foot lot.   Hint, hint – like those in West U!

 

 

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An adorable original bungalow, which has been added onto on the back, preserving the vintage facade.  Love the picket fence and porch.

 

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This is an example of a larger, older home that has not been torn down.   Great curb appeal.

 

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This original two story house has been very well maintained.   Houses like these are too valuable to be torn down to make room for a newer one.

 

 

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An original style pink bungalow without much updating done, though it still retains its small-town charm. 

 

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The new houses built in Southside are not as cookie-cutter as areas of West U where in the 90s, thousands of red brick Georgians were built on the 50 x 100 lots.  This is a beautiful custom house built with shingles and a standing seam metal roof on its porches. This is a double lot – the owners probably bought the house next door to use it as extra yard space.  You can see a gazebo with its metal roof to the right of the house.  

 

 

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A close up of the extra side lot with its own charming gate.   The architect handled the problem of the double lot really well.  A large porch overlooks the side yard.   Sometimes, when the side lot is purchased after the house is built, the main house is poorly orientated to the extra yard.   Here the problem seems well addressed.

 

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 French stucco, new construction.   Again, a double lot, where the owners bought the neighboring house to increase their yard space.   To the left of the house, you can see another structure built on their side lot.   These additions can be quite awkward unless they are planned for from the start.    Here it looks like they have added a pergola to extend out into the side yard to better orient the house to the space.

   

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This family addressed the side lot issue in a unique way.  Instead of tearing down the neighboring house they recently purchased – they remodeled it and turned it into a media room/party room/pool house.  The two houses were painted the same to create a sense of continuity to the property.

 

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A closer view of the main house where it connects to what was once their neighbor’s house, but is now the pool house.  Must be nice!!!!

 

 

 

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Part Italianate, part French – I think this new construction is really beautiful.

 

 

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Many of the new houses in Southside are unique and custom designed, such as this one, rather than built on spec.   The front garden is interesting here  and quite beautiful.   A front loading garage can be a real eyesore, much less one that has three bays.  The architect handled this one beautifully I think – with custom single doors.   The garage actually becomes an asset here, a rare feat to achieve.  I really like this house, it has an Edwin Lutyens inspirational look to it, don’t you think?!

 

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This type of house is called a Texas farmhouse style inspired by German settlers that populated central Texas.   Native limestone and the metal roof are two hallmarks of this design.  Again, the garage becomes part of the design with the driveway  paved in cobbles, and curved to resemble a country road.   The front yard is planted with mostly native perennials and is quite beautiful. 

 

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Another Texas farmhouse style with native Austin limestone and metal roof.  This house looks a bit more authentic than the previous one.  Many younger people, especially those who attended the University of Texas have a  soft spot for Texas limestone – it reminds them of Austin!

 

 

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This beautiful custom  home has a fieldstone facade and a large covered porch.

 

 

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More contemporary than most – notice the front drive with a pad of stone.  The porches have pergolas instead of roofs.  And again, the roof is a standing seam metal one.

 

 

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This house looks to be an original bungalow that has been extensively added on to,  along with a second story. Very unique!

 

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A beautiful yellow craftsman style house, again, with a metal roof.   So many metal roofs in Southside!!!!

 

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Downtown Southside Place.  City Hall on the right looks like it was once a house that the city took over!   And look, even City Hall has a metal roof.  

 

 

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The original park is still the heart of Southside Place – it is in the middle of the town and is as long as one-half of an entire street and as wide as two  – really huge.  There is a new club house which you can see on the right – with the metal roof, of course, and the large pool is where the blue pavilions are.    Many teenagers who live in Southside work here in the summer as camp counselors and lifeguards.   

 

Thanks again to the Southside Woman’s Civic Club and especially to Shannon Thompson and Jackie Sharbrough for their kindness and friendship.   I had such a great time with y’all and hope to see everyone again, soon!