Saturday, November 22, 2008

below freezing

I survived 28 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, you Celsiusians) last night, without socks; tonight, we're supposed to be in the teens, i.e., well below freezing, and I'll be out in the tent again.

At some point, I need to do an experiment: I have to try sleeping inside my sleeping bag with a corrugated foam pad under me to see whether that'll be enough to survive harsh cold. Up to now, I've slept on top of my sleeping bag and have used the foam roll as a second pillow. But with the ground getting colder, I need slightly more insulation than the thin layer of down in my sleeping bag to keep the chill from seeping into my body. Tonight might be the night I finally unroll the pad. We'll see.

Because I'm home and therefore have a safety net, now is the perfect time to be pushing the limit on cold-weather camping, seeing how well I and my equipment can withstand harsh conditions.* What better laboratory than one's own back yard?

By the way, hats off to Dad for a great cold-weather survival tip: if your jacket's hood isn't thick enough, take a towel and insulate the inside of your hood with it. I'm using two dishrag-sized towels these days. With the towels in place and one of those lovely blankets thrown over my head, I'm toasty warm.

UPDATE: it's 28 again tonight, not the teens. Too bad. No need to unroll the foam this time around.

*I didn't do so well in Arlington, Oregon: you might recall what happened there-- a weather-related disaster of my own making.


Friday, November 21, 2008

heavy lifting done for the day

As it turned out, the only real heavy lifting involved the oven, which did indeed take four people to bring into the kitchen. I'm glad that's over.

I was impressed, earlier in the day, with the two dudes from Home Depot who brought over the new fridge, microwave, and dishwasher. To carry the fridge inside, they used funky harnesses that strap on like combat webbing; the harnesses are connected by a large cargo strap; the strap is fed under the heavy item to be lifted, and then the harnesses are adjusted. The guys straighten their knees... and the heavy item is lifted off the ground, supported by that one wide strap between their harnesses. One's arms are used solely to steady the item. Incredible: this setup almost completely eliminates the risk of back injury, because the pressure translates to the hips and legs, much the way a backpack's hip belt works. And yeah, the harnesses work fine on stairs.

We've got a lot to do this weekend. Most of the difficult deck work has been done, but it appears we'll have to buy a few more deck planks in order to finish up the plank-laying and routing of the planks' extreme edges. Over the weekend, we'll also have to empty out the two remaining bedrooms so that they can be re-floored on Monday; this shouldn't be difficult work, except that we'll have to be careful about scratching the new floor.

What a relief, though-- the oven's been put in place. I was pretty anxious about that.



We've got a mess of appliances arriving today, so I'm on tap once again for my brawn (well, such brawn as I have). The LG range/oven strikes fear into my heart; I'd lifted it once at Home Depot with the help of a staffer, and that sucker's heavy. The new fridge, which is about 1.3 times more voluminous than the other two (yes, Mom wants three fridges), promises to be more bulky than heavy. I'm assuming the microwave can be handled by a single person once it's out of its box; inside the box, it might be too bulky for one man's bear hug.

There's also a dishwasher coming, as well as a vanity, the latter having decided to throw its lot in with the appliances. We might also be getting the new upstairs toilet today; the previous new toilet was rejected by Mom once she realized it was too high for her to sit on comfortably.

Throughout all this, there's the new floor to mind: no scratches permitted! So we'll be laying down cardboard boxes along whatever paths we plan to travel. Right now, though, we're waiting for the phone call that will set this craziness in motion. Mr. Jeong and his minion, Mr. Park, are puttering around the kitchen, but they're on call for when it's go-time with the appliances. Wish us luck.


over 20 comments and still going strong

Gitcherass over there and say somethin'.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

pic dump: hiking, cooking, and renovation

Below: the beef dish ruined by Rachael Ray's awful "Asian" stir-fry sauce:

Next: the downstairs, with its new paint job:

Garbage, including the funky, blue-topped toilet:

Deck work from well over a week ago (things have progressed since this picture):

More of the deck:

The living room before the re-flooring; lots of stuff under the plastic shroud:

The hallway, primed but not yet painted:

Note the accessway to the attic, which friends will remember as having previously been perfectly square. We've got a working ladder now! Hence the new rectangular entrance:

A shot of the kitchen not long after a major sanding and painting operation (note the columns, yet to be installed):

A closer look at the four columns that will help a bit with the load-bearing as well as add a bit of dignity to the upstairs:

Mom and Mr. Jeong (right) and Mr. Park (standing) review the color wheel to select the color scheme for the various rooms:

A shot of Fort Hunt Park in the fall. I've been doing 11-mile walks that incorporate the park's one-mile loop:

Leprous cat humping the tree? Why, no, silly! 'Tis a fungus, and a right healthy one it is! Look well:

A closer look:

The taker of the pictures:

At long last, the headless deer carcass I saw on one of my walks. That thing was huge! Again, I regret not being able to take a picture of the fox that had been gnawing away at one of the ribs. I also wish I'd had a companion who could have stood by the carcass for scale:

NB: The following pics were taken by Dad.

A nice shot of the new floor as laid out in the new dining room. We're all ecstatic about how the new room-- formerly our rickety porch-- is going to look:

This is a shot from inside of the dining room, looking out at both the sliding door exit to the deck (and back yard) as well as the new, gaping access to the kitchen and living room:

Here's a shot from the kitchen toward the living room (note paint job):

A shot that catches the living room's bay window. I think Dad's intent here was to highlight the new color scheme:

A shot taken while standing near the front door, looking toward the back yard:

The funky new bathroom tile upstairs:

Another bathroom shot:

And another:

End of Dad's photos. He found his own digital camera and no longer needs to rely on mine.

Below, some dough for sujaebi. Or is it the White Tree of Gondor? Whatever it is, it looked interesting enough for me to take a shot of it:

I started laughing when I saw the new shower head for the upstairs bathroom, partly because it's so shockingly not my parents' style, but partly because I and the shower head connected instantly. As I wrote on Facebook, the thing looks like a cross between a waffle iron and a space shuttle heat shield tile:

Below: my shot of the kitchen, taken today, shows the very nice cabinet work that's gone up. Mom's not as happy with the kitchen as I thought she'd be; personally, I'm impressed with the job the crew did, but Mom's disappointed with how small the kitchen still is. I had told her, not long after my return from Walla Walla, that she and Dad should have taken advantage of the space left over from the old dining room to expand the kitchen into something of awesome size, but by the time I made my feelings known, plans had already been set in motion.

Truth be told, I agree with Mom about the smallness of the new kitchen, but I also think this problem was avoidable. The parents' own concept was simply to make the old dining room, now empty, into some sort of passageway to the new dining room. It's not a bad idea, and I think Mom will eventually come to terms with her new kitchen, which now looks pretty much like what she tentatively thought she wanted. But as I said before, she's not really into the vision thing. She knows what she doesn't want, but she's the type who doesn't know what she doesn't want until after she sees the semi-finished product. That's obviously problematic when you're renovating: it's usually a good idea to have a clear vision of what you want before you dump a lot of money into something you're not even sure you want.


Below, my own shot from near the front door, taken today:

And that's that for the moment. I still need to upload the video of Mom using the pneumatic hammer, but won't do that tonight. Tonight I'll be finishing up here, then facing below-freezing temps in my Big Agnes pup tent, a tent rated as a "three-season shelter," i.e., not for winter use. I think I'm going to wake up to snow tomorrow. The way I see it, this is good training for when I'm back in the Pacific Northwest in early March. Winter won't be over by then, I'm sure.


re-kitchening redux

The kitchen's looking mighty different, as is most of the upstairs at this point. Pretty amazing, actually. Pictures soon. Promise.


my life as an episode of "Battlestar Galactica"

Old warhorse Adama = Dad, who originally posited that "one day, the renovation will be over"; though tired and battered, to this day he still keeps the faith

The actual power in the fleet, President Roslin = Mom, who sneered at the idea of renovation ever ending, claiming that such a state of affairs was a myth; Mom eventually came around, though, and now spearheads the drive to end the renovation

Thin person (well, Cylon) most loyal to Adama in the manner of Colonel Tigh = my brother David, who, like Tigh, keeps his bizarre and unfathomable nature under wraps, but has to let it burst out on occasion; David doesn't have Tigh's drinking problem, but he does tend bar three nights a week

Viper pilot who wears his hair in that goofy rhinoceros-horn style like Lee Adama and yearns to be something kinder and gentler than a Viper pilot = my brother Sean, who plays the cello professionally and does indeed like to wear his hair, uh, forward

Plump Chief Tyrol = yours truly, stuck in the middle of the swarm of renovation activity, commanding my underlings by flinging my love handles around; like Tyrol, I pine for the unattainable Grace Park


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

don't force me to do a striptease, because it won't be pretty

Blogger Elisson has added some interesting remarks to the ongoing conversation in the comments thread of this post. What do I have to do to persuade more of you to add your two cents?

Am now strapping on my dynamite vest... let's hope this works...


slow coalescence

Things are starting to come together. The kitchen cabinets are coming in tomorrow; the kitchen area is also to be repainted. Most of the flooring will be done tomorrow; the new dining room looks amazing with its new floor. My problem is that I find hardwood floors generally unforgiving: they're cold, hard, and uncomfortable, and once you scratch them, they're a pain to maintain. I'd much rather have carpeting, despite the latter's disadvantages (trapped hair, dirt, dander, mildew, odors, etc.). From now on, the parents will have to watch every step: dropping a hard object on the new floor won't be pretty.

Dad is pooped. He's not a handyman, but he's been the main person assembling the deck, with Mr. Jeong popping up occasionally to watch Dad's progress or to teach him what to do for the next phase of deck-building. Dad's more familiar with power tools than I am; I assist him on occasion, but most of the moving and shaking is entirely up to him.

The deck's vertical posts are almost ready; after they're levelled out and securely bolted in place, we'll be able to assemble the deck kit-- the railing, the "sleeves" that will go over the posts, etc. We've got some stairs to straighten out, and the rest of the deck's floor to put in, but at this point, the deck is far enough along that it's easy to visualize the final product.

The renovators lost their December 1st contract but picked up another one, also beginning on December 1st, so it appears they'll be out of here around the end of the month. By the time they leave, about 95% of the renovation will be done; the rest will be up to us (3-prong wall sockets, new light switches, plus some frills and accessories). And once that's all done, we'll still have to bring back everything we've stored outside on those cargo skids-- i.e., half the house. Christmas promises to be very meaningful this year; it will truly be a time to kick back and relax. No one's going to have the energy to participate in the hectic nonsense of a normal American Christmas-- the shopping sprees, the baking sprees, the spastic bouts of in-home decoration, etc. That'll be a relief.

We finally turned the computer back on a day or so ago; access remains a bit shaky, as the renovators will have to re-floor the computer room sometime this week. I've got pics to upload (not to mention an old video of Mom using that pneumatic hammer), but don't hold your breath. Uploads might be a while.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

best place in Virginia to raise kids? Virginia Beach! in Maryland? Gaithersburg!

Top 3 cities to raise kids in Virginia, according to the above survey:

1. Virginia Beach
2. Dale City
3. Chesapeake

In Maryland:

1. Gaithersburg
2. Silver Spring
3. Aspen Hill

Move now. Our future is at stake.


you're missing the discussion

Interesting comments a-happening back at this post about religious harmony.

UPDATE: On a related note, Malcolm offers this post. My own mentor, Dr. Charles B. Jones of Catholic U., is less about striving to highlight interreligious commonalities than about focusing on and celebrating differences. He's not a big harmony fan, I gather.


Monday, November 17, 2008

on "sticking to your principles"

Is it always wrong to lie? We certainly teach this idea to our kids-- and with good reason-- but I think we also expect them to outgrow this simplistic ethical stance, to realize that the world isn't so much black and white as a realm of often-subtle colors, and the right thing to do in a given situation might occasionally require the violation of one or more cherished moral precepts.

In the West, for example, a whole comic tradition has been founded on the idea that men, to maintain a relationship, need to lie to women. The paradigmatic scenario that illustrates this need: responding to the question "Does my ass look fat?" One guy I know showed major cojones when he told a female friend of his, "You have attained fat"-- but most of us men have been too thoroughly socialized (i.e., whipped) ever to dare uttering such a thing. We determine very quickly that lying for a greater good is appropriate, perhaps even moral when viewed in a larger context, such as the preservation of a relationship.

The series "24" was also great at presenting its protagonists with moral dilemmas that highlighted the conflict between two ethical principles. For me, the most striking example of this happened in one of the later seasons, when Jack Bauer essentially killed his lover Audrey's husband by forcing doctors to withhold treatment from him in order to save the life of a Chinese spy with crucial information. It was a stark choice between (1) saving someone Bauer had come to respect and admire versus (2) saving someone whose knowledge could benefit the entire country. For ruthless Bauer, it wasn't much of a dilemma, but we viewers sensed the gravity of the choice and watched with bated breath. As with the "ass looks fat" situation, "24" points out that we sometimes sacrifice one principle for the sake of another, supposedly greater principle. (Movie lovers will note that "The Matrix Reloaded" features a similar choice near its end.)

Buddhism, especially in its Zen form, tends to teach people to "follow your situation," i.e., to act in awareness of the present reality, without adopting an inflexible moral stance. A famous story illustrates this: the tale of the newly minted Buddhist and the hunter. In the story, a person who has just taken the precepts is walking down a forest path that splits into two forks farther on. A rabbit suddenly whizzes past and disappears down the right fork. A hunter runs up to the Buddhist and asks, "Which fork did that rabbit go down?"

At this point, the Buddhist is faced with a dilemma. On one hand, we should refrain from killing or from allowing sentient beings to be killed. On the other hand, we are not supposed to lie, even though lying might save the rabbit's life in this case. If I'm not mistaken, the storyteller usually ends the story with the Buddhist lying to save the rabbit, as lying represents the lesser of two evils. One cannot become attached to the precepts.

(NB: Smartasses have noted that the Buddhist could have responded with silence, thereby dodging the lying problem; they also note that rabbits aren't restricted to human paths in the forest, which means that the Buddhist's actions don't guarantee the rabbit's safety. Both of these responses can make for interesting side discussions, but strike me as examples of deliberate efforts to miss the point of the original story.)

The ability to set our choices and their consequences within a larger context is what allows us some flexibility in our actions. A less charitable way to describe this state of affairs might be to say that we can rationalize anything we do, for almost any action can be made to make sense when seen from a given perspective (this might be considered a pitfall for orientational pluralism; even Satanism is rational from a certain point of view).

But there's something to be said for such moral fluidity, because experience teaches us how complex reality can be, and how imperative it often is to adapt to changing circumstances. Even those who consider themselves "principled" recognize this need. How many American Christians will, for example, dogmatically insist that killing is wrong, no matter the reasons for it? Most won't (after all, many American Christians are proud gun owners!). There is, in fact, an entire theology of "just war," usually associated with St. Augustine, to justify killing en masse. Plus, most American Christians will admit that they'd resort to deadly violence, if necessary, in defense of loved ones. Few thinking adults take "Thou shalt not kill" as an absolute, across-the-board injunction against killing.

No matter what moral precept we're talking about, we can invent or discover possible scenarios in which that precept might need to be violated. Awareness of the larger context in which we operate is the doorway to such transgressions, if transgressions they be.

What does all this mean? If no moral precept holds absolutely, are we in a state of moral freefall? I submit that we live in a universe designed for adults, one in which a facile, black-and-white approach is likely to do more harm than good. To act morally, it's up to each of us to be aware of our situation and to determine the most appropriate response to it. Dogmatically hewing to only one narrow set of ethical principles is fine when you're a child, but adults should know better. Following your situation isn't a spineless thing to do; it's usually the wisest course of action.

SEASONAL NOTE: A discussion of right and wrong from the nondualist's perspective appears in my book, Water from a Skull. I know you want a copy for Christmas. So buy one! Click the link on the sidebar, or buy a reduced-price copy from me-- see Kevin's Wares for info on the book, including page samples. Scroll waaaay down the blog to find the entries featuring my books.

SECOND NOTE: the above essay isn't implying that the black-and-white viewpoint is always wrong, for that would mean falling into the same absolutistic trap. I think there are situations in which the right course of action is clear and obvious, a point driven home when I get into arguments with Korean friends or students about what basic attitude South Koreans should take toward the North Korean government.


une perle de sagesse

From Aristotle:

That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.

Something to ponder, especially if you lean leftward. Which is usually cleaner: your bathroom or a public restroom? Most of you (except for the slobs among you) know the answer. Now reflect on why that answer is true.

(NB: I picked up the above quote while reading the Wikipedia entry on "the tragedy of the commons.")


best Food Network show ever

The best Food Network show ever is, in my opinion, "The Chef Jeff Project," which was easily the most emotionally engaging show that FN has ever produced. I didn't have the chance to watch every single episode, but the ones I did watch-- including this Sunday's finale-- left me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Hats off to Chef Jeff Henderson for giving six young, disadvantaged people a chance to make something of their lives. It was a relief finally to see a cooking show that wasn't about mind games or absurd time limits or all the other trash I normally associate with "reality" TV. And as my mother noted, "The Chef Jeff Project" didn't feature a martinet of a boss who screams obscenities at his proteges the entire hour, "Hell's Kitchen" style.

I fervently hope there'll be a Season 2 of CJP; the concept is a worthy one, and CJP is for me the perfect complement to the Travel Channel's über-introspective "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain. I like both shows, CJP and NR, though for very different reasons. Bourdain is basically a collector of experiences; his show is all about interiority. CJP features, by contrast, a host whose primary concern isn't himself so much as the young people in his care.

I imagine both shows appeal to me because I've got my self-indulgent, navel-gazing side, but I also deeply and sincerely enjoy teaching (I confess I'm a sucker for corny-but-inspirational teacher movies like "Lean on Me" and "Stand and Deliver"). Watching Chef Jeff do his thing is a pleasure. I admire his accomplishments, not only for his work with the youth but also because he had pulled himself out of a downward spiral and runs his own catering business.

Worthwhile TV. It does exist.