Friday, March 31, 2006

Middle of nowhere

We head out on I-70 past the airport. We plan to start off the trip doing some surveying at a site Greg is working on east of Aurora. East of Aurora is synonymous with the middle of nowhere. And this isn’t just an urban bias. It is a fact that the population drops off precipitously. And to many this is a good thing. As we drive out east past the airport, just as the Interstate narrows down to four lanes, the map atlas we are using changes scale. For Eastern Colorado, there is one page of map for every four pages of map for Western Colorado. That is just how sparse it is. Big sky. Things few and far between.

I am loving it. It is great to have no traffic, no traffic lights, just wide open spaces. When we survey in the canyons, it is so quiet. No one will pass by. We can count on this. The kids even seem to enjoy it and find games to play and ways to amuse themselves. After surveying, we drive south on dirt roads for hundreds of miles. We will not see a Starbucks for five days. We encounter pronghorn, oil wells, cemeteries, cheap hotels, canyons, a roadrunner, rabbits, hare, deer, extinct volcanoes, petroglyphs, horses, mules, cattle, springs, and ruins. It is great.

Bent’s Old Fort turns out to be very nice. Closest thing to a castle in these parts. The boys love it too and want to spend lots of time exploring. Only catch (typical) is that when we finally get to the fort and settle in to watch the video, Kadin starts getting fussy and complains that his ear hurts. He can’t get comfortable and is really in pain. We have just arrived, but we have to leave. This leads Rees into a meltdown. But we have to help Kadin out of pain. Luckily, back in the car, we find the painkillers we need and 20 minutes or so later (after his father and I carry this growing 5-year-old all over the place), he seems fine again. One more dose of painkillers gets him through the night and then the problem seems to resolve itself. Phew!

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Stone is in, house is nearly done. Yes, after nine months, life might now starting to return to normal. No more strange crews in the house, no more cramped living quarters, no more other people’s music, no more dust. Yea! No more dust! Hard to imagine living without dust.

The finalé comes next week when they finish the floors and we have to evacuate. The finish, some super-duper product, has toxic fumes, so we are forced to flee for 3-5 days. Normally the word toxic would disturb me, but somehow, since it is a Swedish product, I am fine with it.

Luckily, the timing of the evacuation corresponds with spring break and our trusty cat sitters are happy to cat sit again. Only problem is, The Great Financial Debacle limits our options. First plan is a camping trip, but when we look at the weather, we find the nearest place warm enough to camp is nearly 1000 miles away. (This after freezing over the last two Spring Breaks.)

So plan B. Plan B is to go to Mesa Verde in the four corners area. Rees has been studying Mesa Verde and Southwest Native Americans so the timing seemed good. A little research shows cheap hotels in the area. A little more research shows the timing is not so good. The ruins don’t open for another couple of weeks.

So plan C. Plan C is to go to Southeast Colorado. There is very little in Southeast Colorado, but that is the point. Our plan is to go to the middle of nowhere. There we don’t know what we will find, but we hope to encounter untrammeled areas to explore and cheap hotels. I had also heard of an interesting place called Bent’s Old Fort, a reconstructed fort from the mid 1800s that was once on the Santa Fe trail and is now a living history museum. Weather forecast looks good, and since there is nothing there, expectations are low.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

He’s mine

I was walking Rees to his friend’s house. After we'd gone about a mile, a female jogger passed us, and Rees started jogging along with her. When they were about 100 yards ahead, I heard a woman out in front of her house ask the jogger, “Is he yours?” That’s odd, I thought, so I waved and yelled, “Hello! He’s mine!” Just so she could see that the young boy was not alone.

Another woman, getting into her car across the street, asked me, “Does he kill cats?”

“What?” I asked, sure I had misheard.

“Does he kill cats?”

“Kill cats?” I asked again and answered laughingly, “Nooooo, he does NOT kill cats!”

“Hmm,” she said, “Some of them do, you know.”

“Kill cats?” I said again.

She seemed really annoyed with me and observed, “I see you have him off leash.”

“Off leash?” What was she implying about my son? Was she really that scared of young boys? “You think I should put him on a leash?” I was incredulous, starting to get really angry.

And that is when I noticed the stray dog up ahead by Rees. The dog I had apparently just claimed was mine. It was okay after that. She was baffled, but we worked it out.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I had to send the stone back with the Ukrainian guys. I was so nervous when they came. I hadn’t seen the piece of stone we had picked for the fireplace for a while. And now, after weeks—months—of looking at a dusty hole, we were going to have one finished part of the living room. They brought up the side panels and they were close. They almost fit, and then, with a bit of maneuvering, kicking, and coaxing, they were in! I liked them. I liked the stone. There they were, solid and unmovable. Then came the top, a much bigger piece. They took out some of the window trim to get it in. I couldn’t watch. I had to go downstairs.

Stone, I realized, just makes me so nervous. It is heavy and permanent and hard to work with. With wood or fabric, you can stretch or bend or cut away a bit. Stone, not so much. Its weight alone is enough to break it. It is impervious. No going back. Set in stone. I heard some thumping, a crash, some loud Ukrainian expletives. Then there was a knock on the door.

I was to come and look and approve. Approve? It’s in? It’s okay? I went up to see a nice, smooth top, not broken, not chipped, fitting nicely. Wow. It was there. Solid as stone. I was pleased. I approved.

And then, getting over my initial relief, I noticed the side panels. They were wrong. Not how we wanted them. With the top on you could see where the sides were too short. It could have been meant to be that way, but I knew it wasn’t. “What?” they said, “You want us to take it all back to the shop?” Take it back? It was here, all set, take it back? “No, you keep, you like,” they said. We discussed. We debated. There had to be another way. The live-in painter, always interested in a good discussion, worked hard to mediate. They almost drove out the driveway, but then I knew we had to stop them. The painter ran out to break the bad news. They took it back.

They left the top, though. Something in Ukrainian was bantered about punctuated with the words, “Liquid Nails.” Turns out they were afraid that the top would break if they removed it because of the “Liquid Nails,” a product that apparently lives up to its name. Now I wait and wonder what they will bring back. Will it fit as well? Will it ever be right? I find I am not so fond of stone.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Great Financial Debacle

About two weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a stark realization. I had been wondering, deep down inside somewhere, why it seemed like we would not quite have enough money to finish the addition on the house. We had been comfortable with the budget the contractor gave us. We were able to pick and choose along the way which options to go with and we had been careful to stay within the budget. We had even calculated in some breathing room, knowing that projects always go over budget and that there are always extras at the end. We had added in our minds an extra cushion for that and some landscaping and maybe a few new pieces of furniture. And we had been checking along the way to make sure our money was going where we wanted it to go. After a couple of really big bills in January, though, I realized it wasn't working out as planned. Why? What happened?

And that is when the near-subconscious nocturnal thought occurred to me that, just possibly, the contractor's fee was not part of the budget. It is a "cost plus" job, which means he charges us his cost plus his fee which is an additional 18 percent. He doesn't charge us for his labor. The fee is how he gets paid.

He has worked hard, has been conscientious about staying within budget, and has been really great to deal with. We couldn't have done it without him. Bottom line: he has earned and deserves his 18 percent. Only problem is, we didn't figure that into our budget! All the while, when we were staying within budget, we should have been trying to stay 18 percent BELOW budget. Ughh. On that cold and dark February night, our extra cushion, and then some, vaporized in an instant.

So, after beating myself up for my (our, really, as Greg was just as involved in all this as I was, and just as green behind the ears) stupid mistake, the financial mistake of a lifetime, really, I tried not to think about years of austerity measures and a deferred retirement, but instead, to look on the bright side.

And believe it or not, there really is a bright side. I have lots of mixed feelings, but have felt strangely more alive since what has become known in our house as The Great Financial Debacle.

After going from "comfortable" to "pinched" in about 24 hours, I realize I feel more at home with austerity. Austerity (to a point) is familiar and feels more normal to me.

So here it is, The Bright Side:

Being constrained financially inspires me to be more creative. I realize I like the challenge of finding ways to save money. I also like inventing or making cheaper versions of things I would like to have. For example, do we really need curtains or shades on the windows or could we just temporarily glue nice rice paper on the lower portions?

In the same vein, the new austerity plan makes decisions ever so much easier. We were debating which flooring option to use in the entryway. We liked a cheap slate option, but also found a neat limestone with fossils embedded in it. We were debating whether the limestone was really three times better than the slate, when, whallah, decision made. Cheap slate it is!

I no longer have to peruse catalogs of nice, "respectable" furniture and try to decide which is best. I can now feel quite happy and lucky with a find at the local thrift store or in the back alley.

When we were "comfortable," I realize I felt a bit rudderless and burdened. Now I have clear directions and guidance.

From time to time I feel worried, like I don't know where the next meal is going to come from. Then I feel good because I think this is just the kind of stress that we humans are adapted to bear. It feels more "right" somehow.

I appreciate the things I have more. When we had (or thought we had) more leeway, we would take less time to save things or repair them. What was the point? If something was old and shoddy, well, it seemed like no big deal to replace it. In fact, I felt more compelled not to have old stuff around. Since we could (or thought we could) afford it, we were more part of the disposable culture. Now that buying a replacement is not an option, I feel closer to and more protective or our stuff. Instead of buying Rees a new dresser when his garage-sale one is falling apart, I take the time to lovingly glue it back together. I actually enjoy this. It feels grounded.

I appreciate my family more. Greg and I have been thinking about this and working on this without pointing fingers or assigning blame. We are working together to solve the problem and it has brought us closer. I really am the luckiest woman in the world.

I think about the ongoing neighborhood conflagration and can't help but reason that some of the ire comes from the fact that a lot of money is at stake. These are multi-million dollar homes that are involved and sometimes it seems that such homes, instead of contributing to peace and serenity, actually make people more greedy, vengeful, and litigious. Having just enough, but not too much, is a much more harmonious place to be.

Finally, I have been in transition mode for a while now about going back to work. Suddenly, wow! I feel much more motivated. It is not a dreamy option, it is imperative. And somehow that feels freeing too.

The bright side is that I have a great family and a great house and now have very clear goals and direction: to survive month to month and to slowly build back our savings. Seems so good, so normal.