Archive for April, 2012

The Home Stretch

April 30, 2012

Our new home is the biggest joint project Mr. WholeHog and I have taken on since our wedding three years ago, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that our remodel reminds me of wedding planning.

Like wedding planning, the work on our new home has taken over our lives. We don’t think about what we want to do these days, we think about what we need to do. Our scraps of free time together (which, since I work weekdays and Mr. WholeHog works weekends, includes: late weekend afternoons and a few weekday evenings) are usually spent running remodel-related errands. Often, we’ll meet a plumbing store on my lunch break, or I’ll pick him up after work on Saturday and we’ll try to get to a store before it closes. “At least we don’t have to go to open houses anymore,” Mr. WholeHog points out.

We’re back to negotiating what I like, what Mr. WholeHog likes, and what we can actually afford. And as with weddings, what we can afford is often different than we’d expected (I was shocked to learn that faucets can cost thousands of dollars). Even when we choose items that seem reasonably priced, all those reasonably priced things add up to a sum I can’t really wrap my head around.

There are times when the time, the cost and the stress of the remodel overrides my enthusiasm for it — another way this project is like planning a wedding. There are days when it feels like a very long time ago that I felt thrilled about owning our first home.

And especially during these low periods, I’ve found that I can be awfully sensitive to other people’s off-hand comments. I got defensive when a coworker expressed his shock that we hadn’t moved in yet. Did he really want to know what these past months have been like? I wondered. Did he want to hear about how we struggled to cut costs when the bid came in over budget? Or about the delicate balance of trying to fix the existing issues without adding new problems? Did he know about SF’s complicated permit process?  The structural issues of working on a multi-unit building? The asbestos? The setbacks?

As with weddings, it seems like everyone’s done a remodel before and has an opinion about how it should be done. “Why is it taking so long?” another coworker asked me. He’d redone a bathroom before, he said, and it had only taken a few days to complete. Why was ours taking weeks? I had no idea. Having never been through a remodel before, I don’t know if I’m doing it “right.”

Although there are days when our new house seems like The Money Pit and when it seems like the work it requires will never be done, and although the work has given me a better appreciation for the places for sale that had updated kitchens and bathrooms, when I stop by our place to see how the work is progressing, I’m reminded of all the things I like about it. I still like the layout. I still like the views and all the light it gets. I’m still looking forward to having a little extra room, to living on the top floor rather than in the middle unit, to pushing a button to start the dishwasher rather than first having to roll the dishwasher over to the sink and connect it to the faucet. As with wedding planning, even though the planning process is overwhelming and not particularly fun, the commitment still feels right.

A Spring Break

April 26, 2012

In hindsight, it seems obvious decision fatigue would set in, given all the time we’ve been spending on remodel-related errands these past few months. But because I was so consumed with the work we had to do, it took a few weeks before I realized that decision fatigue had set in.

At the time, we were in Marin where we’d actually had one of our best remodel-errand experiences yet, lucking into second-quality Heath tiles. But the rest of our to-do list that day was tiresome. We went to an appliance showroom and then a tile shop in San Rafael. Next up was an appliance outlet in Sonoma county, but the car was pointed west and we were already in San Rafael, close to so many good hiking spots, Mr. WholeHog pointed out.

So we drove out Fairfax-Bolinas Road to Lake Lagunitas and Bon Tempe lake in the Marin Municipal Water District and started out on a trail at random. We didn’t have my usual hiking book or even a map on hand. When we got there, we realized we also didn’t have Mr. WholeHog’s hiking boots. But it didn’t really matter. Just being outside and walking helped clear my head, and looking out at the spring-green hills of West Marin rather than at the knobs on a stove or the pattern on a tile made me feel sane again.

It was a windy March day, a brief pause between two storm systems, and the wind blew the water across the lake and against the shoreline. Listening to the sound of water lapping at the shore as we walked reminded me of my annual summer days at Lake Tahoe, of completely leisurely days with no to-do list.

It made me wish that we’d scheduled all of our house errands around a hike. Although it would have added yet-another decision for us to make (deciding not only what stores to go to but also what hikes were nearby), building in some time that wasn’t focused on flooring or faucets probably would have made these seemingly endless errands more enjoyable.

And I tend to need breaks built-in, since when I’m faced with a big project, like this remodel, I tend to buckle down and try to just push through the work it requires. Even when Mr. WholeHog had suggested going on a hike, I’d hesitated: we still had work to do. We weren’t DONE yet. But although it seems logical to me to work and then play, it doesn’t account for the times when I get burnt out or overwhelmed or just tired of a project.

Being out a Bon Tempe, watching the osprey circle overhead and dive into the lake, underscored the importance of getting away from a big project — whether it’s by sitting on the side of a lake, walking in the woods, watching birds, whatever – even if it goes against my (Germanic) nature and even if (maybe especially if) I don’t think I need it.

I felt very far away from kitchens and bathrooms, from the appliance and tile shops we’d been in just a few hours before. As we looped back to the parking lot and prepared to drive home, I felt a little less overwhelmed by all that we still had ahead of us.

For the Glue to Dry on Our New Creation

April 22, 2012

“Are you moved in yet?” It’s a common question I get these days — and no wonder since I ran around excitedly at the end of 2011 telling everyone who’d listen that we were buying a place. The simple answer is no, we haven’t moved in. Instead, we’ve opted to start some of the work on our new place before moving in.

It sounded so sensible at the time. We’d work on the bathroom and kitchen before we lived there and avoid the dust, the noise and the sheer inconvenience of living without access to these all-important rooms. But I didn’t realize at the time what a big project it was; I didn’t think about the timing of it, about how we’d just finished the crazy process of buying a home and that starting a remodel would mean launching into another crazy process. I was in such denial about how much work the remodel entailed that I signed up for two classes — a weekly copyediting class and a monthly gardening class — to keep me busy while I waited (!) to move in.

The idea that I would be sitting around waiting for the house to be done now seems laughable, but that’s how clueless I was. I thought Mr. WholeHog and I had done our homework. We’d pored through countless kitchens and baths in books and magazines, we’d read Consumer Reports and gone to look at appliances. Mr. WholeHog, reliving childhood dreams of being an architect, taped down a piece of paper on our dining room table and drew the bathroom and kitchen to scale. He cut out little squares of paper so we could see how much space the stove would take or how many feet there was between the sink and the refrigerator. I thought that we were prepared, that we’d just hand over our work to a professional who would put our plans into action.

But I was not prepared. (more…)

Bird Nerd

April 13, 2012

Growing up, my parents were very into birds — probably because good family friends are essentially professional birders. My childhood was full of references to “GBHs” and “TVs”, terms birders will recognize as short-hand for Great Blue herons and Turkey vultures. Although I still smirk when I hear people refer to a “titmouse,” I know that they’re talking about a bird, and not a topless rodent.

As a kid, I mostly tried not to learn about birds, but some of my parents’ lessons sunk in. While I’m still not a very good birder, I can (usually) tell a buteo from an accipter — and just knowing that terminology is probably all you need to confidently identify me as a bird nerd. My range is limited to primarily birds of prey — birds that I can generally identify without needing binoculars — and my territory these days is online.

Although I never wanted to “go birding” with my parents, I have become an avid online birder — thanks to the New York Times hawk cam, which launched last spring when two red-tailed hawks nested on a ledge of a building on the NYU campus with a view of Washington Square Park.

Violet & Pip (May 24, 2011)

I tuned in daily to watch the family of red-tailed hawks, Violet, Bobby and Pip. I loved seeing Violet and Bobby trade off egg-warming duties and watching as each hawk would rearrange parts of the nest while the other was out (Hawks — They’re Just Like Us!). I was thrilled when Pip hatched, and I tuned in every morning to watch Violet, the mama hawk, tear a dead rat into baby-sized bits. (Given my hatred/fear of rats, I find feeding time very satisfying).

Over the next month, I watched Pip grow from a little bobble-headed puffball into a fledgling. I laughed when Pip backed up and launched a projective shit at the camera after enjoying a big meal of rat, and I got choked up when Pip took flight and left the nest.

On the day Pip fledged, one of the people in the online-chat that livestreams next to the hawk cam summed up what I’ve come to love about online birding: “Isn’t nature amazing?!  All the junky stuff going on in the world… and we got to partake in a miracle.”

Two Eyasses (April 12, 2012)

If you missed last year’s miracle, you’ve got a second chance this year. Although Violet died earlier this year, Bobby and his new mate, Rosie, are back at the nest with two hatchlings and the New York Times hawk cam is there to capture their every move. Sometimes you’ll just see Rosie sitting on the nest, but tune in at the right time and you’ll see two adorable hawk babies and live rat evisceration. It’s TV worth watching.

If the webcam isn’t enough, the New York Times City blog posts about the NYU hawks and often brings in wildlife experts to answer questions about bird behavior. Last year, I learned that a baby hawk is called an eyass and that an eyass will eat until it passes out, and I learned that poisoned rats are a big risk to urban hawks.

Once I got hooked on the New York Times hawk cam, I realized San Francisco had its nest cam focused on a pair of peregrine falcons who nest downtown San Francisco on the PG&E building. Although I missed the chance to see the falcon hatchlings last year, this year there are four (!) little ones to watch.

The NYU red-tails clearly have the better nest — the falcons have what looks to be a sand/gravel pit — but one highlight of watching the falcons is that they don’t just bring in rats for the babies to eat, they bring in pigeons. (I don’t have a life list, but if I did, seeing a falcon snatch a pigeon off city streets would be on it.)

More Online Bird Watching

Once the hawk cam released my inner bird nerd, I started looking for other information on urban birds and, no surprise, there’s lots of it.

For more on NYC hawks (and owls!), go to the Urban Hawks blog. The pictures and videos are incredible. You’ll find more pictures of the NYU red-tails (watch feeding time with Rosie and Bobby’s two eyasses), and you’ll get to see other birds that are nesting in New York City, like the red-tail nest on 5th Avenue, and my very favorite nest built on a statue on St John the Devinesuch a great use of a church.

If birds of prey aren’t your thing, from the NYT hawk cam, you can click over to a webcam of Great Blue heron (GBH) nesting.