Saturday, October 25, 2008

in which the cat that provides the lead-in to the story does nothing

This story about a nighttime intrusion is hilarious.


the vigil

I checked the camp kitchen this morning. No problems thus far-- the rain hasn't been any trouble. Then again, it hasn't been very windy; that's supposed to happen later today. If there's a major collapse, I'll be sure to take pictures.


Friday, October 24, 2008

dude... any more transcripts on the way?

I apologize for not having put up any more transcripts of the dialogues I've engaged in, for not having finished the "irreligious religiosity" discussion, and for not having addressed any of several issues that have arisen since that post was written. Things have been extremely busy around here; as you know, we're operating with no kitchen except the makeshift one outside (which might be blown to smithereens by tomorrow evening; they're predicting rain plus gusts of up to 25mph); we have only one bathroom, and there's only one functioning bedroom. At this point, the house sports only two kinds of rooms: those that are completely empty to allow the crew to do their drywalling, and those that are completely full of boxes. The parents have their bedroom; I'll be in my tent tonight as on most other nights. It's about the only place where I can kick back and truly relax.

While the renovation's been exciting, it's also been frustrating. I haven't had the time (or energy) to sit down and write the curriculum proposal I had promised to my French student. I probably won't get to it tonight, but will try to do it tomorrow. I would also like to get back to walking long distances, even though my knee isn't 100% better. But we as a family are up at 6:30AM; the renovation crew arrives around 8 or 8:30AM, and they stay until about 7PM or even later, depending on what they hear about traffic conditions. I don't begrudge them their waiting time, but it means that our family doesn't start dinner prep until around 7PM, and we're not eating until around 7:45 or 8PM, after which we're too tired to do much else.

So that's why there have been no new transcripts or "meatier" posts. Take what religion you can from my chronicles of the mundane, and stay strong: more material will appear eventually.



A successful breakfast by yours truly and a successful lunch by the female parental unit would seem to indicate that the camp kitchen is now operational. It still needs a good bit of work, and aesthetically speaking, it's ugly as hell, but it serves the basic purpose of providing us a protected space in which to make meals.

It's supposed to begin raining tonight, with blustery winds plus rain throughout the day tomorrow, so the kitchen will also be undergoing its first real weather test. Gotta batten down the hatches!

Photos will follow sometime tonight or this weekend. Thanks, in the meantime, to Dad for his help with tarps and other protective measures.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mom's bathroom reading

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

it never stops

At least I'm getting a workout. By the end of all this, I'll finally have bigger shoulders.

Yesterday saw me and Dad carrying 12- and 16-foot boards ranging in size from 2x8 to 2x12 (that's inches for you metric folks: 2 inches by 12 inches by 12 feet). Today, we've been moving more pieces of furniture out from the downstairs and over to the cargo skids, where they'll be tarped up later to protect them (and the other boxes of possessions) from the weather.

I still haven't completed the camp kitchen, a fact that caused Mom some grief today when she heedlessly promised to make bibim-bap for the crew. She ought to have checked the facilities first, but once she'd committed herself to the project, she decided to MacGyver her way through it. With only a gas range, a laundry room basin, and almost zero cooking space, we managed to figure a way to make and serve the Korean dish (Mom did almost all the cooking this time around; she and I have very different approaches to bibim-bap).

The lack of prep space must've been frustrating for Mom. I desperately want to finish the camp kitchen, but I keep getting waylaid as renovation plans change and previously non-urgent tasks suddenly become urgent.

The crew has begun the arduous process of drywalling the downstairs ceiling. The basement looks strangely bare. At some point in the next few days, once the drywalling is done, we'll have to move everything back inside.

My brother Sean was over last night, and he remarked that, as a cello instructor who has been in plenty of houses in various states of renovation, he thinks our house is coming along faster than any he's ever seen. That could be good, or it could be very bad. The last thing the parents want is hasty, shoddy work. Thus far, things look good, but none of us in the family is an expert handyperson; we're going with our gut feeling more than anything else.

Well, there's a large, collapsible table downstairs begging to be hauled out to the camp kitchen. Gotta get back to work.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

lunch break... sort of

I dropped the 'rents off at the local Home Depot (for those non-Yanks who aren't familiar with it, Home Depot is a large chain of hardware stores), then zoomed over to Burger King with my folks' cash to buy lunch for the workers. I'm at home now, not eating, and waiting for the parents to call and ask for a ride back home.

Made an interesting lunchtime discovery the other day: Pillsbury chocolate cake icing goes extremely well with smooth peanut butter. Better than a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Am pondering whether to go down and grab a spoonful of that gloriously gooey alloy right this second.


apologies and a retraction

I got word from my brother David that one of his friends from the club-- you'll recall that two of them very kindly attended Sean's chamber concert-- didn't take kindly to my joking use of the term "David's groupies" to describe her and her friend.

By way of explanation: I'm pretty sure (though I may have misheard) that one of the friends had jokingly used this phrase, which is why I ran with it. Had I known it would cause enough discomfort to warrant a complaint, I would never have continued using the phrase.

So, to Lorraine: my most humble and abject apologies. From now on, I will either use your actual name or a term like "friend" or "acquaintance" or "regular." Whichever you prefer.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

men (and women) at work

More when I can. Hay mucho trabajo.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the longest day

Tomorrow, several things will be happening.

1. Dad has some early-morning hardware store errands to run for Mr. Jeong, who has effectively commandeered our gutted home and assumed command of the family. We are his workers. Photos, to be shown later, will prove this.

2. I've got to complete my camp kitchen, a task I've been unable to accomplish without frequent interruptions. Today (Tuesday), I was asked to take a forty-pound section of 6x6 wood and tamp down the soil around the 6x6es in the ground. According to Mr. Jeong, this minimizes the potential for excess water seepage. The rationale made sense to me, but the task had me covered in sweat within five minutes.* Each stake received anywhere from 24 to 32 ground-poundings. Strangely, I'm not sore this evening.

I'd like to get the camp kitchen finished by tomorrow night, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate. At this point, Mom has no kitchen. The old kitchen is now totally bare, as barren as Mars. Mom's relying on a coffee maker for hot water, and either take-out or sit-in restaurant food for some of our meals, despite the abundance of food in our fridges. We improvise as we can (read: cereal), but having an operational kitchen would make life a lot easier on everyone. It's on its way, Mom. Promise.

3. We will probably begin to assemble the deck's foundation. The foundation parts are arriving tomorrow. I've learned how to use the huge circular saw (did you know that carpenters first practice their sawing skills on live squirrels? that was fun!), and will likely spend a good amount of time cutting lumber down to size. Why me and not Mr. Jeong? Because deck assembly isn't part of the man's contract! He's going to teach us how to assemble the deck, then it's up to us to do it.

4. Mr. Jeong and Da Crew will be installing a spanking new drywall ceiling downstairs, and will also begin the process of spray-painting the walls, beginning with the ones in my old bedroom, a.k.a. the Dungeon. What this means for the family is that we have to finish moving everything out of the Dungeon. Along with that, we have to either remove most of the furniture from the main part of the basement, or line it up in the middle of the room to allow Mr. Jeong and his men to use a rented "lifter." This device will push the drywall up to the ceiling and hold it in place so the team can fasten it firmly overhead. Drywall is a pain to handle and very easy to damage; I keep having visions of the new ceiling crashing down on us during a movie night.

5. I know I'm forgetting something else. In the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai," isn't there a running joke to the effect that "There's always one more thing to do"?

Gotta go out to my tent now. Will write as I can tomorrow.


*Not that that's anything special: I sweat when I think too hard.


my bad

I can't believe I'd neglected to blogroll my friend Steve Honeywell, who had kindly written an article about my walk (see sidebar link). Along with being a husband and father, teaching writing, studying linguistics, and practicing martial arts, Steve also writes movie reviews at Movie Guy Steve. Go check him out and leave comments!

Sorry not to have done this earlier, Steve.


pic dump: renovation

Here are pics from yesterday's mad day of labor, labor, and more labor:


Monday, October 20, 2008

done and still undone

Constructing Mom's field kitchen proceeded well for about an hour or so. I was able to get the basic structure completed: as you'll see in upcoming photos, Mom will have plenty of shelf and counter space. Alas, I had to stop and help out with another project that consumed most of the day: laying the foundation for the new deck that will embrace two sides of our porch-turned-dining room. The deck will be L-shaped, beginning at the dining room's sliding door and moving around to the side facing the back yard, much like a miniature boardwalk.

The deck will be almost two feet off the ground, placing it slightly below the sliding door in order to keep dust and snow from too easily drifting inside the house, as would happen were the deck exactly level with the sliding door's bottom edge. Dad has to order the parts for the deck Tuesday morning; I'm not sure how long it will take for the parts to arrive. Once they're here, it'll be up to the family to assemble the deck; this particular labor isn't covered in the renovation contract, but Mr. Jeong, the Big Boss, will be teaching Dad and me how to put the deck together.

The whole thing starts with a good foundation, and that's what occupied Dad's and my time for much of today. We had to visit the local hardware store for two things: eight 6x6es, plus fifty 80-pound bags of concrete. That's right: two tons of 'crete. Dad and I went and got the 6x6es together, using Mr. Jeong's pickup. Dad did the second errand alone; the hardware store folks used a forklift to load an entire cargo skid of concrete onto the truck; when Dad got back home, he and I offloaded twenty-four of the bags.

The offloading was an adventure in itself: Mr. Jeong (who speaks to me almost entirely in Korean, even though I'm not always sure what he's saying) told me that I needed to place two bags of concrete beside each four-foot-deep hole that had been dug in the ground. These holes were an amazing accomplishment; Mr. Jeong's assistant, Mr. Park, and an extra laborer named Juan spent two or three days digging them (Juan didn't look very happy today). The holes are about two feet in diameter and, as mentioned, four feet deep. There were fourteen of them by the time Mr. Park and Juan had finished; two were possible misfires, and had been covered with our now-useless flagstones. The other twelve, though, needed two bags of concrete placed next to them. 24 bags. 1920 pounds of dry QuiKrete.

Dad had suffered a minor heart attack in 2006 on April 7, the day after his and Mom's wedding anniversary. He's been fine since then (no damage to the heart muscle, though he does have arterial stents*), but today was the first time in ages that he had pushed himself so hard. While Dad has certainly been more vigorous ever since his medical treatment and convalescence, I worry he may be exceeding his limits. But Dad and my brother David are two of a kind: they spend their lives flirting with danger. David loves mountain biking and moonlights at a dangerous** DC nightclub; Dad will stand under thunderstorms or climb onto the roof of the house to fix a shingle that hangs over a dangerous drop.

The bags of concrete were placed at the edges of each of the twelve relevant holes. Juan eventually came along with a shovel; he jabbed it into one bag, allowing the concrete to flow, gravity-impelled, into the hole. The second bag met the same fate seconds later; it was a bit like watching a pig slaughter. The concrete sacks, emptied of their contents, were collected by Dad and unceremoniously thrown away.

Once all twenty-four bags had been poured, the 6x6es, which had been cut into roughly six-foot-long sections, were pounded into the holes. Poor Juan, without whom most of today would not have been possible, ended up muscling the rest of the bags (mind you, that's twenty-six sacks this time; we'd purchased fifty sacks) over to the holes, again putting two bags at every hole, except for two holes, which received three bags of concrete. With the 6x6 poles in, and after a lengthy alignment process to straighten them, the second wave of concrete was poured in by Juan, with Mr. Jeong by his side, using our garden hose to fire water into the mix and stir the concrete. Everyone but Mr. Jeong wore a mask to protect their lungs from the smoky powder. I guess Big Bosses don' need no stinkin' masks.

After so much movement, the poles were obviously out of alignment again, but this time around, Mr. Jeong brought out a laser that worked like a horizontal plumb line, allowing its user to align the poles with great precision. Once the poles were aligned, the earth that had been dug out to form the holes was shoveled and tamped back in place; a third laser-guided realignment occurred, after which Mr. Jeong told us in Konglish, "Naeil achim ggaji touch hajimaseyo!" ("Don't touch until tomorrow morning!") The QuiKrete Dad had bought was the 24-hour variety, with firmness (mmmm... firmness) achieved within six hours.

While it's taken me only a few paragraphs to describe the foundation-making process, it actually took most of the day to do what we did-- and that's not counting the two or three previous days of hole-digging. Upshot: we had a busy day. My makeshift kitchen needs an exoskeleton, and that won't be happening until sometime tomorrow. It's also very likely that, as the weather gets colder, I'll be taking over more and more KP duty, unless by some miracle I acquire a whole slew of French students, which will mean time away from home as I drive around the DC-Metro area.

Photos-- of smoky holes, the kitchen, and people in masks-- are on their way. Don't laugh when you see the kitchen.

*Not "stints"!! A "stint" is a bit like a "gig"-- something done for a period of time, such as "a Peace Corps stint in Somalia" or "a teaching stint in rural China" or "a stint in the Foreign Legion." A "stent" is a tiny, tubular device placed inside a blood vessel to reinforce a weak spot and provide better blood flow.

Visit and see the definitions for yourself, then note the Google ads off to the side, rife with misuses of "stint." Watch them vowels!

**Dave's groupies might have a different perception of the place, but David's come home with some interesting stories about some of the more dangerous denizens of the club where he tends bar. Frankly, I'm worried sick about this, but it's David's life to live as he chooses. What, in the end, is risk-free?


uh... whoops (lunchtime edition)

We're going to see a lot more revelations like this once people begin to realize (and admit to the fact) that "green" measures aren't always as green as they initially seem. When it comes to all things green, can we have a rational discussion instead of a clash of ideologies?

I've ranted on this topic elsewhere in cyberspace. Basically, I side with Michael Crichton and George Carlin. My own take on what "Save the Planet Environmentalism" (STPE) is:

STPE is a movement whose tacit goal is the arresting or otherwise controlling, on the global level, of human and nonhuman macroprocesses to maintain an environment congenial to human existence for an indefinite period, all while claiming that the movement's actions are performed in the service of the planet and not merely of human life.

While I'm not a lefty myself, I have an interesting ally: Al Gore. I'm not sure how many non-lefties actually bothered to watch Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth," but I came away liking what he had to say. I don't know enough to quibble with the science that appears in his movie (though I am aware that there are plenty of solid reasons to doubt his claims; after you watch his movie, go watch "The Great Global Warming Swindle" to balance things out), but at the very end of the film, Gore says that we have to act on behalf of later generations, i.e., humanity basically has to save its own ass. Whether Gore intended to be so frank is debatable, but I give him credit for telling it like it is.*

You see, environmentalism is perfectly fine when viewed as a fundamentally selfish (or speciesist) project-- an attempt to stretch out this epoch in natural history for as long as possible, larger trends be damned. Such an approach is, at least, honest. But it's the height of human vanity to style our efforts as "saving the planet." Such rhetoric stinks of the arrogant paternalism that keeps me from moving beyond my political centrism to a more lefty stance.**

It's also what keeps me at a distance from most strains of environmentalism. You might reply that "save the planet" rhetoric is harmless if it's moving people in the right direction (i.e., forcing nature to remain human-friendly), but I disagree: the misguided world-saving impulse leads us too quickly to proclaim Solution X to be "green," when in fact it might not be. That was why I offered that first link for your perusal: it highlights the consequences of a surfeit of religious zeal.

There are scientifically astute environmentalists who can paint a very realistic picture of the consequences of human action, and who, at the same time, won't fall into the trap of romanticizing nature-- something that far too many other environmentalists do. Nature is red in tooth and claw; suffering is the law of the land, and disasters are part of the mix. A volcano can blast noxious vapors down its slopes and wipe out an entire ecosystem quite without human intervention; this is neither good nor bad: it just is. Humans have, in my opinion, little justification for imposing anthropocentric values on the environment at large, thinking that by saving Species X or by not building a dam in location Y, they are preserving biodiversity for biodiversity's sake. But because I'm a human myself (last I checked), I'm all for preserving biodiversity if it means that I get to live longer.

Why can't environmentalism just drop the false nobility and get behind Al Gore?

Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, "What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?" We have to hear that question from them, now.
--Al Gore, last words of "An Inconvenient Truth"

*Of course, Gore did write a book bombastically titled Earth in the Balance.

**We can talk later about what keeps me from swinging fully over to the right, but I suspect that consumers of the normal media will see abundant evidence of what's wrong on the right for themselves.



Among the two thousand projects we're engaging in today (we worked until almost midnight last night, then Dad and I got up around 6AM to haul a mass of trash down to the street), one looms large for me: constructing a "field kitchen" for Mom. We're losing the regular kitchen today; the cabinets are being ripped out and the appliances are being unplugged, all in preparation for what we hope will be the kitchen's miraculous transformation into a newer, sleeker incarnation.

Dad tells me he has two pieces of camping equipment that might be helpful in constructing a field kitchen: (1) a dining fly, and (2) a three-room(!) tent. The tent will serve as a storage space for many of Mom's cooking supplies; the dining fly will be the active kitchen. Because the dining fly is little more than tent-shaped mosquito netting, we'll have to overlay it with one or more tarps to protect the cook (me, Mom, or maybe even Dad) from the wind. As I told Mom, we're turning her into a pojang-macha ajumma.

A kitchen breaks down into at least these parts: (1) a cold prep area, (2) a washing area, (3) a plating/service area, (4) a quick-access storage area, (5) a cooking area, and (6) a garbage/disposal area. We ought to be able to set something up in the dining fly's 12'x12' area that provides most of this; the remaining functions will be fulfilled by the tent, by the downstairs pantry in the utility room, and by the two fridges. Other issues include (1) the provision of hot water, (2) interior lighting of both the dining fly (which will be dark once we overlay it with a tarp) and the storage tent, (3) a steady power supply for whatever electric equipment will come outside, (4) the most Mom-friendly setup for the makeshift counters, and (5) whatever else suddenly comes to mind.

Having noted all the above, it's time to stop farting around online and get moving. Photos of the kitchen may follow-- tomorrow, if not today. We also have plenty of furniture-moving to do today (should've been done yesterday, dammit), so this might be the only blog post for a while.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

almost nothing done today

A simple trip to see Sean's concert from 4 to 5:30PM somehow turned into a gargantuan affair that lasted us until well after 9PM. Almost nothing that needed to be done before the contractors' (and the inspector's) arrival tomorrow morning has been done. Who's captain of this ship, and where did his or her sanity go?

UPDATE (Monday morning): None of which is to say I didn't enjoy meeting and talking with some new folks yesterday, including one of the chamber group members and two of my brother David's, er, groupies. (Along with his full-time job, David bartends; two of his regulars, very nice people, showed up yesterday at Sean's concert.)


concert at 4PM today!

Just a reminder that my brother Sean is holding a concert with his chamber group, the Sage Chamber Players, today at 4PM. Location: the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Old Town, Alexandria-- here in Virginia, a.k.a. the Old Dominion. Old, old, old.

The church's website is here. Sean's concert info is at the bottom of the splash page. Sanctuary much!