Friday, February 17, 2006

Chaos reigns

Yesterday there was just SO MUCH NOISE in the house. One person was sawing and banging in a stair railing. Another was hewing beams with an electric planer. Another was taped in a closet, pumping and spraying paint. Another was watching the paint. It sounded like the dentist’s office from hell. I thought we were like a really big family, each doing our own crazy thing and each making our own big mess. The living room floor is covered in wood shavings. Gerbils anyone?

Just walked upstairs to find Kadin sitting at the table with a scrap of shim wood and a steak knife, sawing away. When asked what he was up to, he simply said: “I am making my own circle of dust.” Of course.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


There has been a new conflagration in the neighborhood between three contentious families. I don't know if it is something in the soil or something about the personal chemistry of these three families, but they live in perhaps the most disputed triangle of our development. It seems disputes have raged for decades and I am involved in the most recent because I have volunteered to be on the neighborhood's Architectural Review Committee.

The Architectural Review Committee is a bureaucratic thing that makes sure all external changes to houses in the neighborhood conform to the "Covenants and Guidelines," the documents set up to maintain a uniform appearance in the neighborhood.

I realized that all sounds hegemonic and elitist, and in many ways it is, but it also has some really positive side effects. And you could say that the process, though often a hassle, generally works. On the negative side, it limits people from doing whatever they want; it forces people to notify neighbors of exterior changes; and it forces people to jump through a few hoops in order to make any changes. On the positive side, it forces people to be "neighborly," to talk to their neighbors; it offers a way to moderate disputes; it generally gets people to rethink doing whacko things with their house that they might regret; and it has kept property values high.

The current case involves a family in a one-story house that wants to add a second story. About half-a-dozen other houses will be affected, but it is the two families in the two looming two-story houses behind them that are the most vociferous in their concerns and have gotten the lawyers involved.

The strategy of the committee is to ask the family wanting to "pop their top" to put up markers where the new corners of their house will be. In the past, that job alone has gotten people to reconsider any additions. Not so in this case. So the next step, once the markers were up, was to tour the affected houses and ascertain what the real impact would be.

This process usually results in some compromises and a happy conclusion for all. This time, because of the disputes that have gone back and forth between these three families, chances for that are low. Due both to the situation and the personalities involved, I feel a lawsuit is inevitable.

But still, I enjoyed our tour of the affected houses. We visited six houses and saw what impact the addition would have on each house. The two looming houses behind are really quite spectacular. I didn't want to go home at the end.

One of the houses we visited, less spectacular, less affected, is owned by a tiny, sweet, older couple. They did not participate in the meetings or the tour, but their son, a lawyer representing them, did. When we got to their house, their son said it was not a good day to go in, that his mother was not doing well. I gathered she sufferers from Alzheimer’s and some days she is more with it than others. But as we assembled to see the views from their front porch, we were invited in and she seemed to be having a good day after all.

The house was immaculate. That was the first thing that struck me. I am not old or infirm, but my house would never look that good. The woman was welcoming, but a bit confused. "What is this? Who are these people? What is going on?" she asked repeatedly as we thanked her and smiled on our way in. Her husband and son gently explained that there was a proposed change to the roofline across the street.

I doubt this was the first time she had heard the news, but it all seemed new to her again. "An addition? There? Across the street?" Someone asked her what she thought of the idea. She was not shy in her response. Despite the fact that she was confused and surrounded by strangers, she loudly and clearly said. "No, I don't want there to be a roof there. I think it is a terrible idea. I don't want that at all." No confusion there. She came through loud and clear on a cloudy and contentious day.

The dispute continues, with no compromise in sight. The strong old woman is but a minor part of it. But I enjoyed her ease at expressing her opinion. I think that is a gift that comes with age. You no longer have to be diplomatic. You no longer feel such a need to compromise. You know your opinion and you can voice it clearly. I can't wait.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


This is up there in the category of "least likely titles for a post in my blog," but no joke, it is about Madonna. A couple weeks ago I did two NIA classes where the teacher played all Madonna tunes. More recent Madonna stuff, not from the Like a Virgin and Material Girl era. I would not have guessed it was Madonna. The songs had the ubiquitous dance beat typical of her songs, but also chanting and world beats that gave it an Indian or African feel.

Now I don't follow Madonna and know very little about what she has been up to for the past twenty years. I know she is older now and married (how many times?), living in England, I think, and has kids. I had heard that she was into Jewish mysticism and had written some children's books. I had actually seen and bought three of her children's books at the local dollar store. She is a good storyteller and the books gave me some more insight into her creativity.

She is obviously a very talented, creative person, even if you may not have her same taste. After the first NIA class, I was surprised to learn that the music, which I thought was a compilation of world music, was all by the same artist and that that artist was Madonna. When the same music was used the next day, I thought I'd listen more carefully to see if I could glean more about what makes her tick these days, what inspires her creativity.

It was interesting. It occurred to me that a lot of the appeal of Madonna is that she dares to voice people's deepest wishes. I enjoyed exercising to her music and I was amazed at her skill at articulating dreams. The lyrics don't necessarily tell a story or make a lot of sense (to me) but there are impelling repeated words and phrases such as "soar,” “butterfly," and "remember who you are." I can't recall them all, but they gave a real impression of empowerment and self-determination with a little bit of mysticism thrown in.

I never was a big fan of Madonna, but my respect for her and her ability to invent and reinvent herself has grown. Good exercise music. Good transformation music. Good messages. I bet she is a really great mother.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The big bus adventure

The kids had the day off school and the kitchen had a Christo number done on it: wrapped from head to toe in tape and plastic. Men were walking around the house on stilts, painting mud on the walls and turning it into a dusty mess.

We had to flee so we embarked on a great bus adventure. We took the Skip, Jump, and the Hop—wrong order but works for us—as the busses in Boulder are optimistically named. Fun to launch from a Jump Stop for a change.

We dropped Kadin off at a birthday party for lunch enroute and Rees and I brought burritos to Greg's office. We reconnected, then the kids and I set off to explore the Engineering building we had enjoyed during invention day.

We spent quite a lot of time there exploring and playing with the exhibits. After, on our way to the fun-to-say Hop Stop, we ended up playing with snow in a courtyard and I noticed a place called The Discovery Center. I saw a big airplane engine in the window and, peering through, I spied what looked like an interesting gift shop inside. Curious, we found the door and went to the intruiging glass case. It turned out to be a display of all kinds of fun creations and puzzles by engineering students. There were three dimensional mazes, pop-up cards, robot-type creatures, wheels, gears, and more fascinating objects. As we were looking at them through the glass, a man came by and invited us in.

Inside was a lab with two graduate students creating colorful textile pieces. Some were sewing kits that taught kids about circuit design, another demonstrated a flashing bracelet that modeled a noble gas (not sure I understood that, but Rees, er Sonic, wants one in a big way now). Not only that, but the room contained IT: the printer that works in three dimensions. In the adjacent room, surrounded by fun toys, was a laser cutter that could make all kinds of other shapes and creations. The man who had invited us in was Michael Eisenberg, the professor who runs the lab. What a fun place! I am now inspired to look into this program some more. I will have to ask what kind of background his students have and what kinds of projects he is working on.

That was the highlight of the day for me. Everything I loved about invention day and more. Then we hopped on the Hop, transfered to the Skip, and were home by evening. In time to go out to eat. We wouldn't eat at home again for another 5 days.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Names— why l will be sainted

A couple of kids that Rees knows well have changed their names. I have been thinking about this and wondering how it feels to have a child who doesn't like the name you chose for them. I decided I wanted to take such a desire seriously, but not take it personally. There was a time in England when Rees wanted to be called Michael, and with three Reeses (Rees, Rhys, and Rhys) in his class, who could blame him? The only problem with Michael, in my opinion, is that so many people have it. But Michael is a serious, respectable name.

Rees has always had strong opinions and genearally sticks with his decisions. If the topic came up again, I told myself, I would be accepting and open. The topic came up and Rees said he wanted to change his name. "Okay," I said, "What do you want to be called?" And that's when he answered: "Sonic."

What? Sonic? Is that a name? I thought it was an adjective. If I react or refuse, he'll want it all the more. Sonic it is. But how can I call him that with a straight face?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Back injury—a new aproach

Luckily, this is all in the past,* but I did it again, tweaked my back. I had been feeling very strong and flexible until that one tiny moment when I bent over to pick up a case of water and didn't bend my knees. Twing! Oops!

I am always amazed how one second can result in a long recovery time. In the past (not that this is common, but it has happened a couple of times), I would hobble around whining and feeling sorry for myself, stoically carrying on. This time was the first time I have tweaked my back and not had a toddler to deal with as well. I have learned that the worst thing to do is sit. Standing is fine, walking is fine, lying down is fine. Getting in and out of the car is the worst.

The day after the twing, I thought I was taking it easy by driving places. Not so. It was worse by evening. The next day I walked everywhere, lay down whenever I could, and basically tried to find ways to nurture and care for my body without whining or feeling sorry for myself. It was a nice change, and, for a change, I was able to take some time for myself.

Bottom line? It worked. Pretty much all better now. Took a couple of weeks before I felt I could do everything I wanted, but it was a much more pleasant recovery period. No more soldiering on for me.

*2/6/06 Spoke too soon! Tweaked again! Either I was getting cocky and brazen or it's Kadin's determination to step on too many cracks…

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Subcontractor personalities

I am going to go off on some gross generalizations and stereotypes based on very small samples, but I find the personalities of the different subcontractor crews so interesting. I have already written about how generally pleasant and easy-to-talk to the general contractor and the main carpentry crew are. Don't know if it is typical, but their motto seems to be, "We will do whatever you want; our goal is to make you happy." That is a treat. The concrete cutters, one of the first subcontractor crews, were very different. They were large and burly, displayed no emotion, and I can't remember even a word spoken out of their mouths.

The concrete pouring crew was similarly stoic. They looked thin and wiry and had that real hardened, western kind of look like the Marlborough man. No hint of expression or emotion, just get the job done. You wouldn't even think of joking around with these guys.

The HVAC (Heating Vents and Air Conditioning? Something like that) guys were older and very friendly, but a bit comical in their stoicism. They would forget things and make mistakes, but worked hard and thoroughly without complaint. Their names were Tom and Jerry and they were soon dubbed "the Tom and Jerry show." They were not unpleasant to have around, but a bit like a cartoon with disasters and near-disasters abounding.

Then there were the electricians. They were talkative, and able to joke, but big whiners and complainers. They needed a session with Greg's cousin Marcy, so she could help them find their true path. They were clearly not happy and felt burdened by every job and request. Lots of sighing a swearing and general discontent filled the house when they were here. And it was COLD.

The roofers were, like the concrete guys, almost subhuman. They would not make eye contact and did not seem able to communicate in any way. If they spoke English, they did not let on. They suffered through snow and rain and wind storms. I felt that just about every night the wind blew off all the work they had done the night before. But they just kept at it until it was finally done.

Next came the insulators. The foam insulation guys were just a quick, smart, two-man team, one of whom owned the business. The fiberglass guys were a crew, again very efficient, not talkative. They took that icky batting and stoically stuffed it in every last crack, and topped it with plastic so that it looked like our walls were wearing a puffy pink coat.

The inspector was a nice but humorless fellow. No luck getting him to crack a smile. Sigh. But we passed.

The drywall guys have several different crews. There are the ones who come to drop off the drywall and load the requisite number of sheets in each room. There were just two or three of them and they spoke a little English then went about their work.

The next day came the crew to put up the drywall. They didn't speak much English either, and looked a little red-eyed, but they were a surprisingly lively bunch, laughing and joking in Spanish and listening to music. They brought a toaster oven for lunch on-site. And though we couldn't communicate, they seemed like real people with real emotions and real appetites.

After them came the taping and filling crew. Again, they didn't speak much English, but it was possible to communicate with them and, despite their rough job conditions, they seemed human and emotive. They are the ones who wrapped up everything in the kitchen and sanded the walls, making the house seem like the inside of a snow globe. Yuk!

The stone masons out front, though again not speaking English, have had the best lunches yet of any crew. They bring a small round griddle and toast fresh corn tortillas on them. Yum! They get to be outside in relatively pleasant conditions and seem to really enjoy and take pride in their work.

The painter is here and he loves his music (the quality of music goes up dramatically when he is around). He is very particular and loves to talk, tell stories, and offer his opinion about colors. An artist at heart. He reminds me of the painter character on Murphy Brown. He would fit right in if he moved in. It feels like he lives here already.

The flooring guy comes next week. He works alone (because he has to due to his exacting personality, says our GC). And the stone guys who will do the fireplace surround are said to be stone-like Russians. Can’t wait to see that. The indoor conditions have improved dramatically with the departure of the drywallers (and thanks to the insulators).

And so it goes, our home is not our own. Sometimes if feels like the world in miniature with different culture clashes and turf battles. Each type of work attracts and/or makes it own personality type. Each crew specializes in what they do and each has disdain for at least one other type of subcontractor. Roofers are not generally liked and the painter hates drywallers because he gets the job of cleaning up after them. Drywallers get irritated with the work of the framers. Electricians whine and moan about the framers and the architects/lighting designers, and so on.

One day I came home, long after the roof was supposed to be done, and I saw someone up there. It turned out to be one of the carpenters.

“Oh,” I said, “I thought you were a roofer.”

“Don’t call me a roofer,” came the offended reply.

Lesson learned.