Friday, November 6, 2015

It' a Wrap...sort of.

Week 33 (sigh)

Well the good news is there has been huge progress since the last time I posted something...(nearly 3 months ago)!   And oh yeah -- in the interim we sold the little condo we had been busy fixing up (and living in Chaos there,  while Megachaos continued at the House).    The not-so-good news - we closed October 8 on the condo, moved out, moved our boxes back into the House, and promises of a functioning kitchen and living room are still just that.   Life behind the plastic curtain continues.   But...we're getting there, right?

Over the last couple weeks, we've converted our laundry room into a kitchenette, of sorts, and our guest bedroom into the temporary living/dining room.   Our bedroom, thankfully, is largely intact.

Our "kitchen".  Great remodel huh?

Very quickly, since the last blog -- we have walls, temporary stairs to the addition, beautiful clay on the living room walls, mostly installed cabinets and appliances (but no electricity to them yet), the outside is mostly re-stuccoed, floors -- bamboo in the kitchen, living room, and office -- a sprung eastern maple floor for the dance floor/yoga room.  The upstairs has been painted, and repainted, and repainted again (it's HARD!)   But love it now.  Lots of other changes too -- we are indeed getting close....

And oh yeah -- it's still REALLY noisy -- I spend the time at home with earplugs covered by Bose headphones...

So -- a long time ago someone asked me if I could post some house plans or something so they could better visualize what we are actually doing.   It's not perfect, but this may provide some insight for those interested:

Pre-final house renovation plans

The original plans added an upper floor that incorporated an office, dance floor, ¾ bath, stairwell, 2 decks, raised roof over the living room area, and an elevator shaft.  The actual construction of the upper floor is essentially as planned.  The original plans for the 1st floor left the living room as is, but gutted the kitchen area and pushed the Southwest corner of the house out 4 feet to the south and 5 feet to the west.  This extension was necessary to incorporate the stairwell and elevator shaft.  The original plans had a J-shaped counter in the kitchen and left the wall dividing the kitchen and living room intact.  After the kitchen was gutted we laid out the counter on the bare concrete and realized that we had much more room between the counter and the stairwell than we realized.  We made the decision to take advantage of that by creating an extended island that used that space rather than  the J-shaped counter.  Additionally, we lowered a section of the wall dividing the kitchen and living room to open that space up.

A Few Scenes of the Emerging Downstairs Renovations

Below is a shot of Michael working on the first primer coat for the clay walls in the living room. It's a very labor-intensive process requiring primer, 2 hand-troweled coats, and a final smoothing.  It was especially lengthy because we had the original ceiling moved and built a raised ceiling to bring light and space to the room -- the ceiling is now 20 feet high.   The new addition -- office and dance floor, overlooks the living room now.   We removed a wooden herringbone ceiling (which was beautiful...but dark) -- added windows, a raised ceiling/roof, and left the original vegas that supported the ceiling.

Clay - and the kiva fireplace grew!

Our granite countertops -- view of the clay living room walls and fireplace through new kitchen opening

Ed christens the countertops with a celebratory gin and tonic (with prickly pear shrub -- thanks Charles!)

And From the New Addition Upstairs

Views from upstairs into the living room


Laying the Dance Floor upstairs
- the floor is sprung by laying a lattice of planks, and gluing down 3 inch squares of compressed recycled tires

And the Nearly Finished Upstairs Addition

Looking across the dance floor from the office

And from the dance floor west to the office.   Eventually there will be stairs coming up  where the ladder is.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

HOME....Week 18

There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again.”
Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

Never my house, but a place I always felt at home.
My father's cousin, much beloved, celebrated her 100th birthday here.

“As of the end of 2014, 38 million people around the world had been forced to flee their homes by conflict and violence.  Never in the last 10 years of (the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s) global reporting, have we reported such a high estimate for the number of people newly displaced in a year. “  

I found this figure so stupefyingly tragic that it literally sucked my breath away.  These are internally displaced people -- meaning that it does not include all those who are now refugees in other countries -- such as the 4 million plus Syrian refugees now living in mostly 5 host countries, to name the currently largest heartbreaking example.  OR the millions more displaced by natural catastrophes. And, because of my own background as a biologist working to conserve ecological communities -- I also think of the of all the creatures, plant and animal, that are also displaced not only by these disasters, but by the relentless destruction that human “progress” visits upon them every single day.   What does all of this displacement do to us collectively?   

This detour in my self-examination is not to dwell on these staggering statistics of sadness - these are available to anyone with the luck and fortitude to find a reliable source of news these days -- but rather to think more deeply about what is “displacement”, and what is “home”, why are these integral concepts to our lives, and and how do I reconcile with them my life and actions every day.  I have been feeling displaced lately -- displaced from our house, our “things”, our hobbies and work, our garden, our routines, our neighbors, our peaceful quiet refuge.   Our displacement is approaching 4 months and the end is not yet in sight.   It’s a genuine feeling that I am experiencing, no matter how our circumstances pale in comparison to all that real suffering in the world -- and all I can do with it is to allow myself to feel it, examine it, and to place that feeling in perspective and empathy for others where it belongs.   

I start by trying to define my terms (as a good technical writer must):  - once you start trying to define these concepts, you can get lost for a very long time in the complexities of their meanings.  Here is my attempt to whittle it down, with some links if you want more:

 Home: -- the place or a place where one lives: have you no home to go to?  Wow -- that’s about as basic as it gets.

Displacement -- the displacing in space of one mass by another (a physics definition -- but replace the word “mass” with that of your choosing....) are my personal definitions

Home:  -- the place to which I feel rooted - and  can feel authentic, safe, and nurtured (this sometimes involves p.jays and old tee shirts).

Displacement - the state of being away from home involuntarily.   

Obviously it is all so much more complex than that.   In my meanderings on the internet the quotes that resonated most with me regarding home were attributed to the remarkable people below: 

The ache for home lives in all of us - the safe place we can go as we are and not be questioned”
Maya Angelou

If you go anywhere, even Paradise, you will miss your home
Malala Yousafzai

“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home

Here’s a whole bunch more about what home means to people...

And here's a few photographic examples of homes that some of the creatures who share our local habitat have found...adaptability is the lesson we learn from them:

Honeybees sleep in the Sacred Datura
And in the sunflowers...

The Say's phoebes nest on our front eaves annually - here's the first youngster
A western toad found our flowerpots at Cimino
a welcoming home

Sergio, a western screech owl, enjoyed our next box for several years....

And one or two from travels I can't resist:

An arrow crab finds this sponge at 60 feet below the surface in the Cayman Islands a perfect home
White storks share the steeples of homes in Transylvania -- good luck for all!

A few examples of adaptation due to voluntary displacement by our fellow humans Gene and Gayle remodeling their home....

The multi-purpose room (guest room
converted into office and dining room upstairs)

 Lovely Gayle models the dishwashing setup in the master bath

The upstairs "pantry"
The recurring themes for home are comfort, acceptance, safety, why would we (or anyone) set out to voluntarily displace ourselves, remodel our “home” -- thus making it at least for a time -- uncomfortable and unfamiliar... 

Why do this?   To make it “better”, of course.   But why?  Gale and Gene are one of  2 (couples) of our close friends that have also embarked upon a remodel of  this summer, and a third have bought an empty lot near us so they can uproot their entire quite happy lives, and move to another state and build another house.    Why?

Gotta speak strictly for ourselves, here.   Why indeed?   Some people might legitimately question why are we  “expanding” at this stage of our lives?  We are retired, mostly.   We have no children or grandchildren.  Shouldn’t we be downsizing?   What about all this small footprint/light on the environment ecobabble we espouse?   Indeed, we have wrestled with these questions ourselves.

The simple answer here is because we are not who we were (a) while we were working regular jobs and (b) before we lived together.   I lived for nine years as a veritable bio-gypsy -- following migratory birds from southeast Idaho to New Mexico -- with forays to the Northwest Territories of Canada in the summer and northern Mexico in most winters.  My “home” at that time was a 15 foot camper trailer -- and all the beautiful wild spaces in which it traveled with the birds.   After my divorce in 2003,  I lived alone and worked very long hours -- I was rarely in my house.   I lived in 709 square feet, one bedroom, a small patio, with my dog.   I loved it, and it suited me perfectly then. Not much to take care of, but it had all the feelings I needed of “home” that I needed then. Seven years later, I began to need more space and light and I bought the house that Ed and I are now renovating.  This house suited me perfectly in 2009, but after we married and I retired, we found that some modification was in order to meet the needs of us as a couple after we married.  

I actually feel that I am expanding now.  I want a space in which I can craft and nurture the different aspects of myself I’d like to explore as I enter my third stage of life.   That will involve being at home far more than I was when I worked in an office.   Writing, studying, learning to be a yoga teacher, more dancing, more entertaining, more gardening -- and who knows what else?   Ed, who is a fine craftsman of stone, metal, and wood - wants to have a  shop he can work in whenever he wants, rather than driving somewhere to do so.   Of course, we could have made it all work with the status quo -- but have decided to modify our surroundings to better suit this next chapter of our lives.   Critters do the same, you know.... Golden eagles, as one example, often return to the same nest site year after year, but will continue building upon it till it may reach six feet or more in depth.   We look forward to the next steps in our  journey (and oh yes we look forward to moving back home)  and to sharing it with all of you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015



TEAMWORK.   So, this one’s about the guys (mostly).   Our team has has consisted of Kent, the architect who brought the vision out of our minds onto paper (Environmental Dynamics Inc), Richard, our builder, (Rennaissance Man Construction), who is the well-named builder contractor pulling all the strings to make things happen at the right time, and the CREW.   These are the guys doing the on-site work day to day  -- the core of which is Michael, the foreman, Tony, and Frank.    Other guys have been around when needed for framing, concrete pouring, electrical, and digging footings, but the latter three have been so consistent they really are starting to feel like family.   And no, so far, no women on the crew.   

Kent (I think he was preparing to eat his children there)
Richard -- looking like any good manager should….

Tony on the beam
Frank, in a rare moment of repose

I have reallly been impressed by all of these folks, and especially with how the CREW works together.   It’s fascinating to me -- as a professional biologist/manager, I led lots of teams of various configurations with a variety of goals and objectives -- and outcomes.   My best experiences came when the teams were small, not laden with lot of heavy handed top-down management, had a common focus they cared about.   And of course, great people....Well lots of corporations, government agencies, and the like could take a lesson or two from this crew of 3  guys on how to work together to get something done.   As with anything, it takes a good plan, discipline, leadership, mental flexibility, attention to detail -- and most of all, a spirit of cooperation.   These guys work HARD, when it’s hot, sweaty,  
buggy, raining, cold -- whatever -- but they seem to generally have a good time doing it.   They play music (kinda loud, but that’s ok), sing along, joke, razz each other constantly - but they keep working and they keep thinking.   I’m really astonished at what changes in a few days if I don’t get to the house, and I don’t like missing out!
AND.they've been so careful to protect my mom's memorial flower garden, below - which has flourished in the midst of all this chaos.   Thanks guys!

Sunflowers guarding Dotty's garden
So, here’s a really cool example of some recent teamwork.   The design for the back of the house required 2 60-foot beams running horizontally across the top of the second story to support the cantilevered roof and the parapets on the west side.  They are 12 inches wide, and weigh about 375 lbs each.  These beams had been lying in the street running the length of our lot for several days, so I told Michael I wanted to watch, and hopefully film the process of getting them up to where they belonged, and settled into their supports.   I imagined it would talk all sorts of crane works and heavy machinery -- but no, it just took 7 guys working together.   I have some great video, but I've been unsuccessful after 2 weeks of trying to post the video on this blog.   May be able to do it later, but in the meantime, here are a few photos...

I was also thinking about teamwork over Memorial Day -- Ed and I went to Chicago, primarily to see our (great) niece play volley ball in a regional tournament.   Katelyn is just 14, topping 6 feet tall, brilliant, and a pretty amazing volleyball player.   Watching her, and her teammates -- the oldest are only 15 - work together to pull off the plays they implemented (to say nothing of their individual skills, really wowed me.  I grew up in Nebraska in the 1960’s -- feminism and women’s sports were just the proverbial gleam in America’s eye.   My school emphasized athletics for everyone, as well as academics, but even as seniors, we never approached the level of competence and confidence these girls did.  A long way baby, indeed.  

Katelyn (left) and her teammates  - GO "FREEZE"  (they're from Minnesota…..)

Oh yeah, and how about the U.S. Women's Soccer team beating Germany 2/nil in the semifinals!!!  OUTSTANDING!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There is No Peace…or Heavy Machinery Never Moves Forward

Warning - major "rich person problem" moaning below.   

NOISE.   Wow. If you have been reading my blog, you may recall that earlier I was driven out of the house and partially out of my mind by construction noise.    I can tell you right now that I'm pretty tough, and should I ever be jailed and tortured, I'd be able to hold out for a long time with food deprivation, physical pain etc.  However, one full day of unrelenting noise and light and I'd sell my only child for relief (fortunately, I don't have one).   And, remember my self-congratualtory decision way back in early April to move my writing desk to our tiny condo/rental unit (my previous home) so I could write, and think, in peace. Well, we have since moved the desk, and 15 or 20 loads of other survival gear (furniture, dishes, cleaning stuff, clothes, etc etc ad nauseum).  This migration has been taking place for the last couple weeks and we've been sleeping and cooking at the condo,  as the dust and chaos at "home" has really become too much (also we have no kitchen, or roof)

There used to be a ceiling here...

Ani protesting!
Well, the funny thing is...after letting the entire community go to pot during the last 12 years of my experience with Cimino Compund, where we are currently ensconced, the residents have finally ponied up for some much needed and VERY NOISY improvements.   Like -- trimming the trees on all 13 acres, RE-PAVING the parking lots on same -- giant trucks, asphalt smelters (or whatever you call those stinky things)  concrete grinders, bobcats, really it's like Armageddon 2  here ...and it's supposed to go on through July )-:   And then there's the little matter of the repairs on our unit -- right now there is a plumber on the roof cutting into it with some sort of mega-saw  to fix leaking pipes up there -- soon he'll be down to jackhammer the stucco to get at more leaking pipes, while the background music is all that I described in re-paving  -- with the wonderful percussive beat of BEEP BEEP BEEP of the heavy equipment backing up -- REALLY - don't they  HAVE a  forward gear?????  Yes, and special thanks to our dog, Ani, who feels compelled to help out by barking REAL LOUD AND MEAN at everyone who goes by our gate (which is LOTS of people).

So, aside from personal catharsis, why am I writing about this?   Well, in my efforts to put all things in some perspective, it's got me thinking about how lucky I am, and most of us are, to live in relative peace and quiet most of the time.   So -- all this chaos is temporary, some of it is necessary, it will (hopefully) result in something beautiful in the end.   After  all, I, and many of my friends, live in the North Valley -- what could be sweeter and more peaceful than walking along the flowing ascecias in summer, with wildflowers and butterflies and birds of all kinds -- friendly walkers or the occasional horse and rider.   All right here in the heart of our city.  We are blessed indeed.   We could be in oh, say, Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or about a hundred other places where the noise is not only jarring and constant, it could wreck your home, school, market....or kill you.    So, I remind myself, and offer to you, if you are enjoying some peace and quiet right now -- pause and savor it, be grateful, and if you have got some noisy chaos going on, you might remind yourself, as I am, how very much worse it could be.   

A few shots of peace in New Mexico follow: