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Archives for November 8, 2015

Sunday Home: Work of Art – Corpus Christi Caller

David and Sara Morgan love their home on a quiet corner lot because it has two back yards, plenty of natural light and offers peace and privacy.

The 3,300-square-foot home has a chef’s kitchen with a breakfast bar, a walk-in pantry and granite countertops and the living space has two story windows and access to a covered patio.

The downstairs master suite has a tray ceiling, bamboo flooring and a two-way fireplace that can be enjoyed in the spa-like master bath.

Outside the home there is a three-car garage, parking for guests and lush landscaping.

Why did you decide on this home: Location, close to everything plus great schools, plus we wanted to live in a gated community.


Best home project I’ve completed here: Our biggest projects have been landscaping. Not only does it add to the curb appeal, but continually changing seasonal flowers always makes our home inviting to guests.


I get ideas/inspiration for my house by… a lifetime of travel to interesting cities in the (United States) and abroad as well as our love of contemporary galleries and museums. We try to get a little something from each of our favorite places. We do not like to buy everything from one store.


A home item I can’t live without: Aquiesse candles and air diffusers. They have amazing scents and cannot be purchased locally.


My home’s best feature: Our collection of modern art and glass sculptures. Places where I find home furnishings: Cantoni, Scandanavia, Copenhagen and Bobby Berk, Z Galerie.

A current home trend I like: White kitchen cabinets with island painted in dark contrasting color.

My dream home would include… A playroom for our rescue dogs so they have a safe place to play where they won’t get into trouble.


Three words that describe my home… happy, simple, contemporary.


If my kitchen walls could talk: I cannot wait to see what they are cooking tonight! They even cook for their dogs!


What I like most about my home: High ceilings and natural light.


My home’s most complimented feature… our art collection.


Favorite room: Our formal living room because it is quiet and features some beautiful furniture and art. I also love the dark grey metallic walls.


A funny story about my home: When our children were teenagers they were not allowed to wear their shoes in the house. With lots of their friends coming and going all the time, we used to count pairs of shoes at the front door on Saturday morning to know how many kids were upstairs and how many breakfast tacos to get.


Unannounced guests would find my home: Always ready. Flowers on the table, food in the fridge and a nice bottle of wine ready to share.


I can’t believe I put this in my home: An enormous original photograph of Pumpkin, the Orangutan. I fell in love with Jill Greenberg’s work during a trip to New York City and had to buy it. When it arrived, I couldn’t find a wall to put it on. When our guests see the photograph they don’t know what to say.


Biggest pet peeve about my home: Take off your shoes when you come inside and don’t pick up the glass art.


Biggest pet peeve about other people’s homes: Clutter.


Best home advice I ever received: Always keep up your maintenance. Do not wait until something breaks to replace.


I have an impressive collection of… contemporary art including artists Calder, Papart, Picasso, Jill Greenberg and Rodrigue plus a collection of glass sculptures as well.


I will always have space in my home for… a rescue dog.

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Group unveils Financial Quarter plans

An all-volunteer group of design professionals known as studioMAIN has been working for months on visual enhancements large and small that would make downtown Little Rock’s financial center more of a destination by day and increasingly so after dark. StudioMAIN recently presented its ideas to Financial Quarter businessmen and other stakeholders at a meeting at studioMAIN’s office on South Main Street.

Some 5,000 professionals work in the five office towers within the 20-block district running south from the riverfront. The towers include Regions Center at 400 W. Capitol Ave.; Union Plaza at 124 W. Capitol Ave.; Bank of America Plaza at 200 W. Capitol Ave.; Simmons Tower at 425 W. Capitol Ave.; and the Stephens Building at 111 Center St.

“That’s our captive audience,” said studioMAIN member Glen Woodruff, who also is director of business development for Wittenberg Delony Davidson Architects.

Another 1,000 hotel rooms in or adjacent to the Financial Quarter feed additional visitors to the area.

The quarter is bordered by the Arkansas River on the north, Sixth Street on the south, Broadway to the west and Main Street on the east — a significant chunk of downtown. StudioMAIN professionals said in their recent report that Capitol Avenue’s intersections with Broadway, Center Street and Main Street should be spruced up to help organize and brand the Financial District.

The formation of the Financial Quarter committee in spring 2014 was funded $7,500 with Regions Center, Simmons Tower and Union Plaza contributing $2,500 each. The pot is managed by the Little Rock Downtown Partnership.

While Financial Quarter members contemplate ideas for funding these enhancements and gaining approval from the city, they’ve taken steps toward picking a logo for the area — an identifying marker that could be painted on the street and used on banners throughout the area. Gwen Canfield of Creative Instinct presented six different logos and the Financial Quarter group voted on their three favorites. The finalists are posted on the Creative Instinct Facebook page for public view and voting.

“Graphics are a way to help people wrap their minds around how the quarter could be branded visually,” Canfield said.

The poll closes at 5 p.m. Nov. 16.

“We can talk about ideas, but at some point, when it comes to implementing the ideas, there are legal issues and money issues and street and city issues that will need to be addressed,” Woodruff said.

“This is certainly the right group to take all of that on, and this is how the River Market started,” he added.

StudioMAIN suggests enhancements to the Financial Quarter in three phases. The first phase would include a pop-up event that would include, but not be limited to, food and food trucks, music on the plazas and portions of the existing street right-of-ways, altering the existing street furniture, painting crosswalks, hanging banners, painting and wrapping trees and landscaping where needed.

The group also recommended making use of pop-up retail kiosks and pavilions that serve as public art, as well as shelter for merchants and musicians.

An event is “definitely a key next step,” Woodruff said.

“The quarter group really needs to define this,” he said. “They’ve been talking about food, entertainment and/or a retail-type event but have not really put hard ideas down. I think this will be the focus on meetings from this time forward. I think they are now talking early spring, but it could be a holiday event. ” The next meeting is set for Nov. 17 with finalized copies of the plan presented at that time.

Phase 2 presents more permanent changes: redesigning the plazas and bank lobbies, as well as creating a consistent look for street furniture — everything from seating and way-finding signs to trash receptacles and lights.

Moses Tucker Real Estate took the first tangible step with more than $800,000 in improvements to the Regions Center. Moses Tucker manages Regions Center for owner NNN 400 Capitol Center, a group of more than 30 individual investors. The owner-funded project included renovation of the first- and second-floor lobbies, modernizing it with all new materials and lighting.

The final phase, as presented by studioMAIN, suggests the guidelines for how the rest of the quarter will be built out. Ideas include parking decks with retail and housing, street designs for Center Street as it connects the Governor’s Mansion to the Old State House and high-rise housing as a means of infill development.

The plans could be incorporated into the much-discussed need for a comprehensive master plan for the area.

“If that’s what comes out of this — a real viable effort to create a master plan for downtown Little Rock so that we don’t have to react to things like Interstate 30 slamming through downtown — that would be a really good outcome,” Woodruff said.

Martin explained the underlying need for distinct identifiers for the quarter.

“What really began this conversation is how to bring activity back to the street level of the old financial core, and that’s evolved into a discussion about addressing streetscapes, the old bank lobbies, the connectors from as far [away] as the Governor’s Mansion, all the way down to the river, but really back to the River Market and Main Street,” Martin said.

“I’m pretty excited about what this could potentially be for our community,” he said. “I think it could be significant.”

SundayMonday Business on 11/08/2015

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Decorate your ho-ho-home: Business helps people get in the holiday spirit …

There’s something magical about the holiday season with the red bows, the festive wreaths and those twinkling lights.

For some, making that magic happen is a family tradition. For others? It’s a business.

Most business owners would agree that finding and retaining quality employees is of the utmost importance. Equally important is a business model that allows the business to be viable year-round — whether that includes business throughout the year or enough business during peak times to support the offseason.

Travis and Carol Wheeler are increasingly able to do both of those things after going into the business of holiday decorations.

Travis owns Rain or Shine Landscaping LLC — under which he bought into two franchises: The Grounds Guys and Christmas Decor.

He got the LLC for Rain or Shine in October 2009 — so the Wheelers have owned a landscaping company for six years — then bought into Christmas Decor a few years ago and The Grounds Guys in August.

It’s their third season doing Christmas decorations and it has allowed Travis to keep his employees through the winter months.

“Actually I saw it in a magazine. They were soliciting for new franchise owners,” Wheeler said of Christmas Decor. “The first few years with the landscaping company I would lose (employees) in the winter because I couldn’t stay busy enough. I thought, ‘I have to do something.’ Now we’re maintaining our crews through the whole year.”

So he bought into the franchise and has been steadily gaining business since.

“November and December are our busiest months” now, Carol said. “And it turns out it’s super fun. It’s a ball. The guys get to wear Santa hats and put up people’s Christmas lights.”

“We enjoy it,” added employee Arturo Espinoza, who was hanging garland at a client’s home Wednesday.

The process with Christmas Decor is relatively simple. The client contacts them and they sketch the house, including their ideas for the roof and ridge, trees and shrubs, and other aspects.

They then sit down with the client for a meeting to go over what the client is envisioning. And they’re flexible. The client can go with the full package or pieces of it.

“It’s all itemized so they can pick and choose what they want,” Travis said. “It’s not an all or nothing thing because then we might be walking out with nothing.”

Once the pieces are chosen, the clients puts down a 50 percent payment. After the installation the other 50 percent is collected. 

Travis said his crews will also “proactively” check up on the decorations, making sure timers are working and bulbs are working a couple times per season. If the client notices a piece of garland fell or a lightbulb is out, the crew will figure out a solution within 24 hours.

After the season is over Travis and his crews take everything down and store it until the next year.

“It’s a complete service model,” Carol said.

Even the colors of lights are customizable. Carol said she and Travis have purple and orange on their house for Halloween and will swap those out for Christmas colors like red and green soon. Actually, that’s a service that they are hoping to start providing next year. A client can call, have their Halloween lights installed, then have them swapped out for different colors for Christmas, then taken down after the New Year.

Travis said the first year with Christmas Decor they had 24 customers. The second year it was 48. They’re shooting for 96 this year. 

And finding new clients helps both business — Christmas decorating and landscaping.

“The businesses have built on each other,” Carol said. She said those clients, even if they don’t use both services, tell others about it.

Carol said Christmas Decor’s franchise officials tell franchisees that, going into their second year, the average renewal rate is between 40 and 50 percent. Travis’s was 75 percent. But he was quick to point out it wasn’t “his” 75 percent.

“Not mine — ours,” he said. “I can’t do this all by myself.”

Carol agreed but added it means the crews are doing a great job of installing, they’re handling the paperwork well in the office and Travis is doing well with sales.

“It makes the emphasis on getting new customers a little less stressful because we’re renewing so many,” Travis said.

As for The Grounds Guys of New Braunfels, Travis said they can do just about anything landscaping-related, whether it be maintenance or projects, and if they can’t they’ll sub-contract it out.

The service area for Christmas Decor includes almost all of Comal County and stretches north and west outside of the county — and the service area for The Grounds Guys of New Braunfels is a little smaller but similar — but both are centered in New Braunfels.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Christmas Decor, call (210) 896-8604 or email

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E.Cook committee halfway to $500K goal

The Emmeline Cook Beautification Committee is nearly halfway to its $500,000 goal to fund a facelift for the elementary school’s exterior.

Tania Harrison, co-chair of the committee, said the group has $268,000 left to go.

So many good things are going on inside of the school, she said, and the committee wants the outside of the school to reflect it.

“It’s an awesome collaborative project for the school and the community,” she said, noting curb appeal was one of the points brought up in the Oshkosh 4 Education Commission’s Report to the Community in October.

Emmeline Cook turns 60 in the spring, Harrison said.

The effort to beautify the school started about three years ago. The committee has grown to include the Millers Bay and North Shore neighborhood associations, Emmeline Cook Parent Teacher Organization, Neighbor Works Badgerland, the City of Oshkosh and the Oshkosh Area School District, she said.

The project is an opportunity for the community to come together in support of the school.

The Oshkosh Area School District has kicked in $150,000 and its Rec Department $10,000; the city of Oshkosh contributed $40,000; the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation has provided an Impact Grant of $8,000 and community donations have raised $14,000.

The students have assisted in the effort as well, raising $10,000 in a Read-A-Thon event and $2,000 in a penny war that just wrapped.

Donations can be made to the project through the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation website:

Updates to the outside of the school have already begun, Harrison said. The front driveway was extended and widened, a parking lot compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act was added on the north side of the building, the bike rack area was expanded to include more racks and on Wednesday, new lighting was being installed outside the school.

The school will get a new sign, landscaping and fencing around the perimeter of the property. In back, the playground will receive more equipment compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school gardens, grown in partnership with Growing Oshkosh Inc., will be moved and an outdoor classroom added. The area will also get a new baseball diamond and basketball hoops, she said.

Harrison said a beautiful school affects everyone in the community, from its history to visitors’ first impressions and neighborhood property values.

Reach Noell Dickmann at 920-426-6658 or; or follow her on Twitter @ONW_Noell 

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Locals learn to save water ahead of El Nino

MONTEREY, Calif. –

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District hosted a wise water workshop, teaching more 60 people about rainwater harvesting installation.

Through demonstrations and visuals, the audience learned about different capturing devices and methods to save water from downpours and potentially El Nino. 

“What a great opportunity that we’re going to have if we’re going to have all this rain,” said Dan Finklea, Handy Dan Construction and Greenwise Landscapes owner. “Instead of it running down and causing erosion, we’ll capture this water and we’ll use it again in our gardens or our households even.”

A class was also taught on greywater systems, where people use water from their laundry to landscaping.

Experts say using water twice puts less pressure on the environment and water systems that are running dry.

“So we use that to offset some of the potable water that we use in the garden,” said Finklea. “Instead of using potable water we’re using water from our laundry machine that’s pumped out into a mulch basin around trees or plants.”

Experts also say using greywater and rainwater harvesting can save someone thousands of dollars a year on water.

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Coon Rapids considers native planting rules

Coon Rapids currently has no policy to address a resident’s desire to have native plantings in their yard instead of traditional turf grass.

That could change soon following a Coon Rapids City Council work session Oct. 13 at which council members directed staff to draft a program for future action that would allow native plantings, with certain conditions, in the residential yards.

“We have been getting more and more interest from residents in a program to do this,” said Kristin DeGrande, city neighborhood coordinator, in an interview following the meeting.

Last spring, the Coon Rapids Sustainability Commission asked staff to examine policies/regulations to accommodate native plantings or landscapes to enhance environmental sustainability, according to DeGrande.

One example is pollinators, DeGrande said.

Staff researched the issue over the summer and also looked at how other communities are dealing with this issue, she told the council.

With no policy currently in place, there is some confusion among residents regarding the difference between an intentional native landscape and a poorly managed yard, DeGrande said.

The current weed and lawn care ordinance limits weeds or grass to 8 inches throughout most of the city and wide discretion is given to the weed inspector to declare a nuisance, according to DeGrande.

Under current regulations, a resident who wants to install native planting or alternative landscaping would have to successfully show that plants over 8 inches don’t constitute a detriment to the convenience or comfort, nor contribute to an undefined “general aesthetic depreciation,” DeGrande said.

As a result, city staff has to negotiate with several property owners each year on the condition of their yard and whether, given its condition, it could be an approved landscape or remain in violation of city code, she said.

Other metro area suburbs have ordinances that address native plantings to clarify and encourage the practice, DeGrande told the council.

“Setting and enforcing standards for management of private landscapes enhances the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, contributes to property values and reinforces environmental health citywide,” she said.

Community Development Director Grant Fernelius and Economic Development Intern Parker Evans presented a report to the council outlining their research on what other cities are doing and a potential sample policy or ordinance for the council to consider.

Under their proposal a native landscaping area is described as “a planned, intentional and maintained designated area where native plants are being or have been planted.”

Native plants are defined as grasses, wildflowers, forbs, ferns, shrubs that are plant species native to or naturalized to the state of Minnesota, excluding prohibited exotic species, as spelled out in state law, and weeds.

The native landscaping areas would have to be maintained and not have turf-grass lawns left unattended for the purpose of returning to a natural state, nor include plantings that, because of location and manner of growth, would be a hazard to the public.

Fernelius and Evans proposed a setback for native planting areas not less than 4 feet from the side and rear lot lines unless there is a fully opaque fence at least 4 feet high between the native plants and the side or rear lot lines or they abut a neighboring native landscaping area.

They also recommend that the native planting areas have a sign issued by the city posted on the property visible to the public advising that a native landscaping area is being established.

“Coon Rapids should search for a model that empowers the city to be aware of native landscaping sites, yet doesn’t impose overly larger barriers to installing such sites,” Fernelius and Evans wrote in their report.

According to DeGrande, the sustainability commission’s conclusion is that any ordinance should have a list of prohibited and acceptable plants, differentiate between native landscape areas and wildflower gardens and perhaps require some type of training component before a native planting area is put in place.

“The commission is very interested in the pollinator aspect,” said Colleen Sinclair, city recycling coordinator and staff liaison to the commission. “There are lot of environmental benefits and they don’t need a lot of maintenance.”

People like their lawns and he feared a native planting area would “open a whole can of worms,” said Council Member Steve Wells. “How much is enough?” he said.

Council Member Jennifer Geisler was not in favor of an ordinance, but rather “a softer approach” through a policy to allow native planting areas in yards with a sign component so that people would understand and a section on what plants would be permitted.

According to Council Member Denise Klint, she liked the idea of regulations with signs and setbacks and a minimal fee to cover the city’s costs.

“We need to have something in place to allow native plants,” Klint said. “I agree with the importance of pollinators.”

Council Member Brad Johnson was “really open” to permitting native plantings areas, he said.

As a member of the Coon Creek Watershed District board before his election to the council, he was involved in the district’s program to establish rain gardens, which are signed, on residential properties east of Foley Boulevard, Johnson said.

But in adopting a policy, the city needs to be careful of neighborhood relationships, he said.

That’s why a native plantings policy has to include setbacks, said Mayor Jerry Koch.

The city has been doing native planting in city parks, said Public Works Director Tim Himmer.

A city native plantings policy has to have consequences if property owners fail to maintain them adequately, he said.

Council Member Wade Demmer said there is a difference between a flower garden and a native planting area and any policy should reflect that. “People have different ideas on what a nice backyard is,” he said.

In an interview following the meeting, City Manager Matt Stemwedel said some ordinance revisions are likely to be necessary and a native planting policy recommendation to the council is expected to include setbacks, a limit on the size of the native landscaping area, a list of plants that are allowed and those that are not, and a sign or educational component.

In developing a native planting area program, staff will be using information available from the University of Minnesota Extension, according to DeGrande.

With a policy in place, the city will be “proactive rather than reactive,” DeGrande said after the meeting.

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Seasonal gardening tips – fall 2015


• Paperwhites

• Daffodils

• Tulips

• Iris

• Ranunculus

• Anemones

• Hyacinths

• Amaryllis

• Bluebonnets

• Wildflower mix


• Pansies

• Violas

• Lobelia

• Ornamental cabbage/kale

• Snapdragons

• Dusty Miller

• Alyssum

• Dianthus


• Lettuce

• Spinach

• Arugula

• Chard

• Kale

• Thyme

• Rosemary

• Chives

• Oregano

• Marjoram

The signs of fall are finally here. Coolness in the air seems to give everyone a spring in their step – even for our four-legged friends. Cooler temperatures are motivating for whatever it is one likes to do with his or her free time. It is ironic that this transition to the dormant time in the gardening world evokes feelings of renewed energy instead of feelings of hibernation.

Before I get in to the timely tips of this column, I want to share a little project that is great for later on when it is too cold or wet to be working outside.

Growing microgreens

I was recently reading my latest edition of Texas Gardener magazine – a really great publication I might add. There was an interesting article on microgreens. Some readers of this column are probably very familiar with this kind of produce.

They are a very tiny, tender and tasty leafy addition to your meals. To be specific, they are seedlings of leafy greens or herbs harvested within two weeks of sowing – and can be grown indoors.


All you need to grow these microgreens are seeds, clean containers, soilless mix, water and a grow light or sunny window. The soilless mix can be purchased already made or you can make your own using equal parts perlite and coconut coir and a small amount of earthworm castings (about 1 cup per five gallon bucket of soilless mix). If you cannot get the coconut coir, peat moss can be a substitute. You can check with local nurseries or garden centers and they should have what you need for the mix.


You can also check with them for the seeds but if they are not available locally, order them from Johnny’s Seed Catalog ( The current issue of Texas Gardener – November/December 2015 has some great photos explaining the process along with instructions. Go to for more information. What a wonderful way to enjoy fresh greens minutes after they have been harvested.

Fall tips for November, December

Fall is prime time for planting, and various plants thrive during this season. I will move on to some timely tips for November/December.

Cool-season crops/perennial herbs

Cool-season vegetables are harvested in November; however, gardeners in our area can continue to plant cool-season crops this month because of our mild winters. The cool-season plants will also benefit from some periodic fertilizing with the exception of peas – English, snow, and sugar snap. The peas make their own nitrogen, so extra fertilizing is not recommended. In the absence of rain, be sure and keep your garden watered. Fall is also a premier time to plant perennial herbs.

Cool-season annuals

Now is also the time to set out cool-season annuals. Pansies, violas, lobelia and ornamental cabbage/kale add color to your landscape. Snapdragons, dusty Miller, alyssum and dianthus are all great choices for our area also. You should water in these transplants with a fertilizer solution and then again weekly for the next few weeks to give them a good growing start. Do not forget the mulch for your new plants – they will need this when the cold weather hits.

Trees, shrubs, woody vines

Fall is also the best time of year to plant trees, shrubs and woody vines. These need the months ahead to establish good roots for the upcoming hot summer weather in South Texas.

Also, if you have noticed some of your plants struggling over the summer, re-evaluate their spot in your landscape. Fall is a good time to relocate struggling plants to another location. Speaking of trees, all of those dropped leaves have many of the nutrients the tree absorbed throughout the year; therefore, gather them and use them for mulch and/or composting.

Lawn care

Last but not least, fertilize your lawns now and keep the leaves raked off to allow sunlight to get to the turf. For fall fertilizers, those high in nitrogen and potassium and low in phosphorus are preferred. A 2-1-2 or 1-0-1 is a good ratio.

In the absence of rain over the winter, your lawn irrigation system can be used about once every three to four weeks throughout late fall and winter.

If you happen to notice brown patch in your St. Augustine lawn, it may be too late to apply a fungicide treatment, but try horticultural cornmeal as soon as brown patch appears to keep it from spreading. Make a note to treat the lawn area in February to prevent brown patch in the spring.

Provide for wildlife

Don’t forget to help your backyard wildlife by providing bird seed, water and host plants for butterflies.

What you do now and through the winter months will help jump start your garden/landscape for the spring. Follow the tips and timing for cool-season crops, colorful bedding plants and bulbs. Consider growing microgreens indoors when you would rather hibernate than spring into garden activities.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AM AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or


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