Saturday, November 1, 2008

yesterday's budae-jjigae

Below are three pics of yesterday's budae-jjigae-- the first time I've made the stew in America. It was fortunate to pass muster with the Korean work crew, and even Mom-- who was originally grossed out* by the concept when I first told her about it a few years back-- ended up liking it. The huge amount I'd made is all gone now, except for a tiny bowlful.

You can read about budae-jjigae here. Take the origin stories with a grain of salt; there are so many myths and legends surrounding the beginnings of this stew that it's hard to know whom to trust on the topic. Almost everyone seems to agree, though, that the bizarre fusion of American crap (spam, hot dogs, and fatty ground beef) with traditional Korean stew ingredients had something to do with the Korean War.

What ingredients can you identify?

*Many Korean immigrants who came to America following the Korean War have not kept up with culinary trends on the peninsula. I grew up, as a result, with a very traditional idea of Korean food, and that's why I was freaked out, when I first settled into a job in Korea in the mid-90s, to discover cheese kimbap. Since then, I've been exposed to all manner of good and bad East/West Korean fusions, and it's amusing to be able to relay my discoveries to Mom. Mom, for her part, has been brought up to speed regarding most of the recent culinary trends, as many aspects of la cuisine coréenne actuelle appear on her beloved Korean cable dramas. She's quite happy we have cable again, by the way; the Verizon guy did most of the installation yesterday, and will be back for a followup visit on Monday morning.


Friday, October 31, 2008

lunch: successful

I made my first-ever batch of budae-jjigae in the United States, and it passed muster with the Korean crew, some of whom had seconds. Even Stan, the Verizon tech, ate a whole bowl of jjigae when he took a break. I asked him whether he could stand spicy food; he smiled and said, "I'm Jamaican. We love spicy."

I took a few pics of the jjigae before I'd added the broth; will append an image or two sometime later tonight.


it happens today

Verizon is arriving in a few minutes, and will be rooting around the house for a few hours, installing FiOS service for the computer and a new cable service for the downstairs TV.

Back in a while, then. Happy Halloween.


I really shouldn't compare myself to this guy, but he puts me to shame

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The above gent, Kim Gi Joon, a dude in his 30s, did the end-to-end route of the Appalachian Trail, staying on the route the entire time except when he ran out of supplies. He completed the over 2000-mile route in what is, for me, an astonishingly short amount of time: a mere 5 months. That's not five months on paved roads, folks-- that five months' hard mountain hiking. The mountains in that range aren't that high (probably nothing over 4200 feet-- mere hills by Rockies standards), but you'll come to respect them after you've tried hiking over one or two of them in a day.

Yes, Kim puts me to shame. I can try to comfort myself by noting what the article says about his training: 6th dan in seonmudo (literally, Zen martial arts), 3rd dan in hapkido, etc. The guy was obviously tough as nails going into this, even though he'd had no experience hiking such a long distance before. I can also tell myself that his purpose was simply to cross the distance, nothing else. But part of me still can't help comparing my easy trek to his feat. Of course, the flip side of my reaction isn't quite so self-centered: I admire and respect the guy for his accomplishment, and hope he ends up making some money off this experience (he'd worked in a laundromat before embarking on this hike, and said he wanted to make some money).

Pretty amazing, eh?

Side note: it's become something of a morning ritual for me to try to puzzle over the Korean newspaper, something I do with Mom's help as she's busy making herself up and I'm busy making, uh, stuff while on the pot.


a murky beginning to Halloween

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

the problem of petitionary prayer

I remember, as a second-grader who'd recently seen "Star Wars"* back in 1977, asking my dad whether God was like the Force. You might laugh, but back then I thought I saw a connection between (a) something Ben Kenobi had said and (b) the concept of petitionary prayer. Not only was the Force "an energy field created by all living things" that "surrounds us, penetrates us, [and] binds the galaxy together," but it was also something that interacted with us:

LUKE: You mean it controls your actions?
OBI-WAN: Partially. But it also obeys your commands.

Old Ben Kenobi seemed to be saying that the Force did one's bidding, and this was the possible parallel I saw with petitionary prayer. During such prayers, we ask God to do something for us:

Lord, it's been dry here for weeks. Let it rain.
Lord, it's been rainy here for weeks. Let it stop raining.
Lord, I've always been a Skins fan. Let them beat those Cowboys today.
Lord, I've always been a Cowboys fan. Let them beat those Skins today.
Lord, make me fast and accurate.
I want you to kill Peter Parker.

My dad disabused me of the idea that we mere mortals could command God, which pretty much ended that discussion. At age seven, I wasn't theologically sophisticated enough to press the issue.

Now, thirty-two years on, I find myself pondering the issue of petitionary prayer again thanks to this nonsense:

An al Qaeda leader has called for President George W. Bush and the Republicans to be "humiliated," without endorsing any party in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, according to a video posted on the Internet.

"O God, humiliate Bush and his party, O Lord of the Worlds, degrade and defy him," Abu Yahya al-Libi said at the end of sermon marking the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, in a video posted on the Internet.

Libi, one of the top al Qaeda commanders believed to be living in Afghanistan or Pakistan, called for God's wrath to be brought against Bush equating him with past tyrants in history.

The remarks were the first comments from a leading al Qaeda figure referring, albeit indirectly, to the U.S. elections. Muslim clerics often end sermons by calling on God to guide and support Muslims and help defeat their enemies.

We'll leave aside the right-wing maneuvering on the Drudge Report that made this article so prominent ("Oh, no! If Obama wins the election, we'll be overrun by Muslims!") and concentrate instead on the issue of petitionary prayer, of which the above article provides an example.

The holy scriptures of various traditions often invite us to view the divine as a source of help, comfort, and refuge, so it is perhaps only natural for people to respond to such a message by actively seeking help, comfort, and refuge from the divine. From a modern scientific perspective, however, this all begins to look more than a bit... well, controversial, to say the least. Petitionary prayer strikes me as a type of magical formula, where "magic" here refers to words, gestures, and rituals designed to produce actual physical effects-- a fairly standard definition of "magic" in fields like anthropology. Case in point: attempting to pray away a disease.

But can one truly make a claim that prayer is physically efficacious? Can you consistently pray away a storm? A drought? A raging cancer? Some people respond to the skeptic's line of questioning by suggesting that, even if there's no divine power at work, prayer is at least efficacious as an auto-suggestive technique, a sort of placebo. Personally, I think it best just to leave aside the question of divine involvement-- something that can't be conclusively proven one way or another-- and focus exclusively on whether claims about prayer are consistently true.

This is, after all, the reason why so many modern folks are skeptical about the power of prayer: there's no consistent evidence that it works. At best, the evidence we have, such as it is, is anecdotal, i.e., scientifically useless. What prayer is and does often doesn't seem to make sense, either. As Carl Sagan noted, people pray at cross-purposes: one general prays for the divine to aid his army; the opposing general requests divine aid for his army. And whether the force of a petitionary prayer is multiplied by the number of pray-ers is in doubt: if one person prays for the health of a cancer-stricken loved one, is this less powerful than twenty people praying for that person? How about a thousand? As Sagan asks: if thousands of people pray for a sick national leader, and that leader dies, does this constitute data about the efficacy of prayer?

The reason there's a discussion about prayer at all is because many people of faith insist on making the claim that "prayer does X"-- e.g., prayer heals. This is a claim about prayer's physical efficacy, which means the results of prayer should be observable and measurable (here, we're not talking about more abstractly worded prayers along the lines of "Lord, help me better understand my wife"; we're focusing purely on prayer-- or the divine-as-motivated-through-prayer-- as an instrument of physical manipulation). If the theist tries to evade systematic skeptical inquiry with a dismissive, "No, no; you're missing the point," I'd say that it's actually the theist who's missing the point: you don't make an unsubstantiated claim about the physical world ("prayer can cure cancer") and then walk away before the claim's been tested! The burden of proof lies squarely on the claimant.

The scorecard doesn't look good for prayer, if for no other reason than the fuzziness that surrounds discussion about prayer's effectiveness. Some people will, for example, claim that failed prayers, i.e., prayers that are either answered in the negative or not answered at all, produce no positive outcomes because the pray-er didn't possess enough faith, either at the time the prayer was uttered, or afterward. Such misguided rhetoric often leads innocent people to blame themselves for the death of a loved one. "If only I'd had more faith... if only I'd prayed more often..." But the main problem, for the purposes of our discussion, is that we have no way of testing whether a divinity is actually at work in answering (or not answering) prayers. Anyone can claim anything about prayer.

It gets worse for prayer, though: the stats simply don't back up the claims. Here's the beginning of a 2006 article by Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic Magazine, titled "The Verdict is in and the Results are Null" (if you visit the link, scroll down to find the article):

In a long-awaited comprehensive scientific study on the effects of intercessory prayer on the health and recovery of 1,802 patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery in six different hospitals, prayers offered by strangers had no effect. In fact, contrary to common belief, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications such as abnormal heart rhythms, possibly the result of anxiety caused by learning that they were being prayed for and thus their condition was more serious than anticipated. (italics mine)

The faithful will hear about such studies and make up ad hoc theology to refute them. Possible responses to the above:

1. Well, prayer works better when it's done by people we know, not by strangers.
2. You can't measure the power of God. Who do these doctors think they are?
3. The person being prayed for needs to know they're being prayed for; they have to choose to accept divine help!

I could go on, but you get the idea: a sufficiently determined theist will concoct any number of rationales to justify their stance on prayer.

Whether it's from an al-Qaeda goofball praying for George Bush's humiliation, a person praying for travel mercies, or someone trying to help out a sick friend or relative (or national leader), petitionary prayer often strikes me as futile. To discern the futility, one need not even address the question of whether a divine power actually exists; as you've seen, I've tried to confine the discussion to the empirical. We aren't discussing God (or Whoever); we're discussing the effectiveness of prayer-- a human action.

None of which is to say that I hate prayer or believe I can conclusively prove there's no divine reality at work behind it. I obviously can't. And truth be told, some prayers are positively beautiful, and are, in my opinion, eloquent formulae for moral guidance. My favorite is the prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love:

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A close second is, strangely enough, this prayer from the movie "The Thirteenth Warrior," uttered before the great battle:

Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things. This [battle] was not among them. But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well. For all we ought to have thought and have not thought, all we ought to have said and have not said, all we ought to have done and have not done-- I pray thee, God, for forgiveness.

You might think me cold for my analysis of one of the most intimate of sacred gestures, but for what it's worth, I am moved by the above examples of prayer. Prayer does have power, in its own weird way... just not the way some people think.

*This was before the movie had been retroactively subtitled "A New Hope" in the first of many Orwellian attempts, by George Lucas, at rewriting history.


the problem of holiness

The problem highlighted in my first "Irreligious Religiosity" post produced one overriding response: if everything is holy... what isn't holy, and does the word "holy" even mean anything?

I don't have time right now to go into this conundrum in detail, but a large part of the problem is our imprisonment in the world of language and concepts. An attempt at discursively delineating my religious position is bound to end in failure, but I take comfort in the fact that I'm not the first or only person to be "mired" (I don't really think I'm mired, but it may seem that way from a ruthlessly logical perspective) in the paradoxes produced by cleaving to a nondualistic position.* Consider the company I keep:

1. What, in Taoism, is not Tao? Does "Tao" mean anything when everything is Tao?

2. In pantheism: what isn't God? Does "God" mean anything when everything is God?

3. If, in Mahayana Buddhism, the conviction is that everyone (and, according to some masters, everything) is enlightened, what's there to strive for? Does "enlightenment" mean anything when everyone and everything is "already there"? (I see hints at an answer in places like the Heart Sutra.)

4. From a theological voluntarist perspective: if everything is the will of God, do we categorize even those things that horrify us as a function of God's will? What's the significance of doing anything, when it's all equally God's will? Philosophically speaking, how do we justify divvying up divine and human responsibility for this or that tragedy? Here we see how this problem has repercussions in theodicy.

I'm not sure that any of these riddles is soluble in a logical manner. As much as I prize logical thinking, I think we are, as some half-remembered public television science program once put it, feeling beings that happen to think. We approach reality primarily through emotional experience; logic, manifesting itself in greater and lesser degrees, is what gives that experience a specific, explicit structure.** Because logic requires premises as starting points, even logical discussion begins with something like a leap of faith. How we come to embrace the fundamental premises-- the basic convictions-- that orient our lives is most likely not a logical process, if it can be described as a process at all.

More on this later, I hope. And once I have more time, I'll be writing Part 2 of "Irreligious Religiosity."

*A long time ago, a reader questioned whether the term "nondualistic position" is even coherent. I sympathize, and have no good answer to that. Such are the pitfalls of language. We're edging ever closer to that dreaded meeting with Jacques Derrida, but when I do finally drag the old boy out of his casket, I plan on using him to my own ends.

**It's likely that the general structure of experience is hard-wired into our consciousness; the ways in which human beings approach reality are shaped and constrained by human nature, starting with the nature of the five senses and the stimuli they convey (or generate!). Contra certain schools of postmodernist thought, we aren't natureless tabula rasas immune to description by certain "totalizing metanarratives," such as the one being constructed by neuroscience. In Hindu terms, there is indeed a "dharma of being human." That dharma might not be something that can be written up in a single tech manual, but it's there. To borrow from St. Paul, this dharma is that in which we live and move and have our being.



A major hurdle has been overcome: the deck framework passed inspection with flying colors. "This is some great work," the inspector told Dad. We all took a moment to congratulate ourselves and each other; just about everyone had some role in the construction of that deck.

The next immediate step is, finally, the ordering of the actual deck, which will be fitted atop and around the framework and bolted into place. I'm impatient to see at least one part of the house completed in the next seven days, and the deck appears to be the area that will cross the finish line first. As the monkey said when it laid its tail across the train tracks: it won't be long now.


en attendant Frodo

It's after noon, and we're still waiting for the Fairfax County inspector to show up and give our deck a look-see; he was supposed to arrive at 10AM. I have little to do at the moment, but once the inspector has come and gone, I'll be helping Dad take down another major fixture from our living room: the giant mirror that has sat above our fireplace since The Beginning, when we moved here in the early 1980s (1982, I think).

In the meantime, a bit of balanced reading for you regarding Barack Obama:

1. REI guru (and CouchSurfing host) Rico points us to Andrew Sullivan's very positive take on Obama:

Those conservatives who remain convinced, as I do, that Islamist terror remains the greatest threat to the West cannot risk a perpetuation of the failed Manichean worldview of the past eight years, and cannot risk the possibility of McCain making rash decisions in the middle of a potentially catastrophic global conflict. If you are serious about the war on terror and believe it is a war we have to win, the only serious candidate is Barack Obama.

2. Canuck blogger Skippy's very negative take on Obama:

Obama has a major fundraising scandal on the horizon that would cripple his presidency if any Republicans were likely to survive next Tuesday, but that’s not going to be a problem, now is it? At this point, the Democratic nominee for president could get drunk and run over 5 pre-schoolers and Joe the Plumber with a fucking steamroller, and he’d still win the Commonwealth of Virginia by six points. [This election] is over and has been ever since the banking industry collapsed.

[A word of caution: this post contains a vulgar Mondegreen in animated GIF form. I'm a big fan of Skippy, but if you're one of my more delicate readers, you might have to steer clear of him, period.]

Don't just read the people who agree with you, especially when it comes to politics. As Michael Shermer pointed out in his lecture on "Why People Believe Weird Things," we're all prone to confirmation bias, i.e., to weeding out discomfirmatory evidence so as to focus on and remember only the evidence that confirms our basic orientation. Certain strains of environmentalism* again come to mind (see earlier discussion-- and the comments appended thereto), but this bias is just as evident in other human pursuits, like religion and politics. Whether confirmation bias is an inherently bad thing is debatable, but it is something we need to watch out for, because little good comes of being wrapped up in a world-denying cocoon.

*From the above-linked article:

One thing does seem very clear, however; science is only beginning to get a handle on the big picture of global warming. Findings like these tell us it's too early to know for sure if man's impact is affecting things at the political cry of "alarming rates." We may simply be going through another natural cycle of warmer and colder times - one that's been observed through a scientific analysis of the Earth to be naturally occuring for hundreds of thousands of years.


that's right: frost on my tent

NB: I'm still perfectly warm and dry inside the tent. The yurt-like pile of blankets keeps me snug, as long as I pull the top blanket over my head at night.

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Forget coffee: the best way to wake up is with a faceful of freezing AIR!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

dawg tahrd

Dog-tired after a long day's work. According to my brother David, I stink. We were in the car just a few minutes ago, driving around town in search of a McDonald's triple-thick chocolate shake, and my stench must have been too much for David, who doesn't normally complain about such things.

Today, we finished up the deck's foundation and Dad put in an online request for another inspection by the county tomorrow-- our eighth. We can't install the actual deck until this inspection has been passed; the final deck inspection won't happen until everything is ready to be inspected.

Finishing up the deck involved digging a deeper trench under the stairs to allow more concrete to be poured and to set beneath them. We had to nail on more braces, and also had to fill in the huge holes into which the support posts for the deck stairs had been driven. Those holes had already received their dosage of concrete, so they needed to be filled with earth, which in turn needed to be tamped down.

Tamping loose earth down into a large hole is hard work, as I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts. Today's labor involved the use of a 2x4; to fill the hole, we had to recover a lot of the earth we had shoveled against the sides of the new dining room (this was dirt from the twelve other holes that had been dug by Juan, et al.). Recovery wasn't easy because that entire area is now covered by the deck-to-be; maneuvering between those joists and shoveling out the dirt is a task for the long-legged. Dad eventually had enough and dug a separate hole in the back yard from which to gather enough earth to fill the two newest post holes.

I had to break off from work to make ddeok-bokgi for the crew. Mom had made mieok-guk for everyone; I'm not sure why we chose to offer two full-scale dishes for lunch; my dish lost out, with only yours truly eating the ddeok-bokgi at lunchtime; everyone else said they were too full. The crew didn't get to try my dish until the end of their work day, i.e., around 6PM, at which time they proclaimed my attempt at Chongno-style ddeok-bokgi "very good."

After the crew had gone, we somehow mustered the energy to make dinner. In our continuing quest to use up leftovers, we made spaghetti by using three pounds of meat (about 1.5 pounds each of ground beef and pork sausage), some leftover button mushrooms, and two bottles of Ragu spaghetti sauce. Our pantry yielded up enough pasta for several servings, and thus did we further dent our supplies.

There's a good chance that, at some point in the near future, the parents are going to end up either tenting it, like I am, or staying at a friend's house for a night for two. The dreaded sanding day is approaching; Mom remains hopeful that she and Dad will be able to remain in the house. Me, I'm betting they're going to get kicked out: the ambient dust particles will prove too dangerous.

Maqz, my brother Sean's dog, didn't enjoy today. The noise, the smells, the unfamiliar people... even though the work crew was nice to Maqz, the poor dog was obviously agitated. Mom, the designated pamperer, took as much care of the twitchy chihuahua as she could, but even that wasn't enough to calm Maqz down. At the end of the day, the boshintang jokes started up again, and Juan told me that they sometimes eat dog in Guatemala, too-- only they eat it raw. Why? Because the dog's meat tastes best right after you kill it, he said. And I thought I was brave for having tried boshintang!

Maqz can relax a bit now; the day is over. We start up again, bright and early, around 6:30 or 7AM.



We're supposed to finish up the deck's framework today, I'm told. The work crew got here about 8AM this morning, catching us a bit off guard: for the past few sessions, they've been arriving around 9AM.

The crew continues to prime and spackle. Every gap in the drywall, every depression made by a screw, must be filled to produce perfect flatness. Once this process is done, the sanding begins, at which point we'll have to move about the house in masks. Dad's currently out on another Home Depot run ("I live there," he jokes); when he gets back, he and I will be working on finishing up the deck.

Last night, my brother Sean brought his chihuahua Maqz over; Sean's off to Florida for a friend's wedding this weekend, so we're dog-sitting until Monday. Maqz has never seen the house in this state before; he's excited and scared, unsure what to make of all the activity and foreign smells. With a Korean crew here, boshintang jokes abound.

The day promises to be a full one. More later.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008 heaven?

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la cucina, as seen from the dining room

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our living room, bare and primed

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hole digging

There are two four-foot-deep holes in front of the deck-- dug by the intrepid Juan, if I remember correctly. The holes will be filled with concrete; posts will be added, and the result will be a place on which to pose the new deck stairs. Alas, the holes apparently weren't spaced quite right; Mr. Jeong's measurements were a few inches off. Something had to be done.

Now as you know, you can't grab a hole and move it the way you'd move a garbage can, but you can widen one side of it until you've got what you need. That's what Dad and I did this morning using a variety of equipment-- items with names I don't even know. One tool was a simple shovel. Another was a menacing iron bar about six feet long; it had a hexagonal cross-section, and one end was pointed like a spear while the other was flattened out like a wedge or chisel. A third tool (if my Google search is correct, it's called a post hole digger) looks like a pair of giant mutant chopsticks with duck-billed ends for gouging out cylindrical chunks of earth.

I used all three tools to widen a hole today, and came away with a great appreciation for what those dudes and dudettes on the road and at the constructions sites are doing. They might not all look like the lads and lasses on Diet Coke commercials, but I'd bet real money they've got rock-hard deltoids and trapezius muscles, and can rip your head off without much effort. Even as I type this, I'm feeling the burn of this morning's work in my unconditioned shoulders.

Today's work has been beneficial, though; along with cutting back on meals, I need to keep expending calories. I've gained back five pounds since arriving home, which isn't good news. Truth be told, I'd like to be out walking every day, but renovation-related duties here keep me pretty much bound to the house. Once all this settles down-- probably by the first week of December, as Mr. Jeong's new contract begins then-- we'll be back to more normal blogging. Hang in there. Enjoy the moment. Contemplate the Korean Zen notion of man haeng, the "ten thousand practices." Everything you do, every moment, is practice, from prayer to nose-picking to hole-digging.


just a friendly reminder

No anonymous comments, please (see comments policy; link on sidebar). And please actually read the blog before commenting.


Monday, October 27, 2008

the primed-over walls of our basement are freaking me out

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one tired (and possibly sick) Kevin after an evening of furniture-moving and tarp-wrapping

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death everywhere

My brother David sends me this link to a story about a mass murder (and fire) in Seoul.

Here in the States, we're all reading about Jennifer Hudson's family tragedy. On top of that, there's now this: tragedy strikes the campus of the University of Central Arkansas, where two people have been shot dead.


porta-johns doing latrine duty because the water's out

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the stage on which I was just sitting

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I just finished five miles of the ten-mile walk I should have done yesterday, and am tapping this post out while sitting on a concrete stage at the events pavilion of Fort Hunt Park. The park's entrance is at about Mile 2.75, but the restrooms are about a quarter-mile in, rounding my walk off at five miles.

I'll be heading back after a quick skip to ma' loo. The regular loo isn't working; the park service has a sign up saying they shut off the park's water.

This morning, poor Dad was disappointed not to have a hearty breakfast of eggs and whatnot from the camp kitchen; instead, he got cereal. But unlike me, Dad's not a grumbler, so he took the disappointment in stride. I might make him breakfast burritos for lunch. Assuming I'm back at the house in time.

Dad's on the road right now, acquiring more cargo skids on which to place, well, pretty much the rest of our house. The attic needs to be cleared out in the next couple of days, as do the living room and all the upstairs bedrooms: the upstairs is getting a brand-new hardwood floor. We'll also be taking out some more of the downstairs furniture in preparation for the dust storm I talked about in the previous post.

Right... time to mosey on back home. Ah, but first-- butt first! To the toilet, men!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

pic dump: as the renovation continues...

Here are some recent photos of the ongoing renovation project. As you'll see, Dad and Mom have been hard at work on the deck, having been conscripted by Mr. Jeong, whose contract doesn't include deck assembly. As a result, Dad has done the lion's share of joist- and post-cutting, and both he and Mom have spent hours putting in braces and learning all about Mr. Jeong's weird and wonderful power tools.

One of my favorite power tools is the pneumatic hammer, which you'll see in the photos below. You stick a nail into it so that the tip is pointing out, you press the nail onto the target surface, then let 'er rip. The loud tap-tap-tap of the hammer blats out like an immense fart, causing me no end of amusement. I wonder what the neighbors think.

Also below are pictures of the camp kitchen, which is now fully functional, though not Mom's favorite place to be. The kitchen is now well-protected from wind and weather (it survived yesterday's gusts just fine), but I don't think Mom likes crossing the distance from the house to the kitchen and back, especially when it's cold out. Can't say I blame her, but I've spent the last several months exposed to the elements, so I don't really care that much about a breezy fifteen-yard walk.

Dad, who still doesn't cook, professes amazement at what Mom and I have produced in that kitchen, but if Dad did cook he'd know that it's not a magical process at all. We're on our way to using up our enormous store of food; below, you'll see a picture of a collaborative bit of "surf n' turf" I whipped up with Mom's help: she provided the sweet potato and made the salad, while I grilled the steak and shrimp and made the salad's strawberry vinaigrette. If we weren't so tired all the time, I'd say, "Come on over and help eat us out of house and home!" We're practically "out of home" as it is!

The pic below doesn't show it clearly, but that immense pile of books at the back of the utility room, flat against the wall where the oil tank used to be, represents all my work, one of the few tasks about which I can rightfully be proud. It took all day to move thousands of books-- some Dad's, most mine-- but it was worth it, as it helped clear out the basement. In the larger scheme of things, though, Dad and Mom are doing a lot more work than I am. They've thrown themselves into demanding tasks like carpet removal, wallpaper stripping and, as you've already seen, certain aspects of deck assembly.

One more comment about the above picture: poor Aunt Gertrude! The woman deserves better treatment. She used to hang in a place of honor in our living room, but now she's relegated to keeping watch over our water heater and furnace. One day soon, she'll be back where she belongs.

A comment about the above pic: as you can see, the kitchen wasn't completely tarped over. The dining fly, essentially a gigantic mosquito net, was still exposed on its eastern and western sides, and there was no protective covering for the northern side, i.e., the entrance. This has since been taken care of. The ridge pole at the front of the tent was also taken out to allow the tarp to droop during the rain, adding a tad bit more protection. As of this writing, the kitchen is now a true pojang-macha. There's absolutely no wind when you're inside the tent.

I think the above kitchen, built by Mom, represents her lack of enthusiasm about going outside to use the other kitchen. I asked her if she wanted me to take the camp kitchen down, but she waved her hand dismissively.

Below are shots of what Dad called "literally the first fruits of the kitchen." I made breakfast for the parents: omelettes, toast, and a fruit bowl that included a chocolate sampler (Halloween candy lying around) and a chunk of Gouda.

Actually, I served Mom and Dad before I thought to take a picture of the meal, so what you see, above and below, is my meal.

Above: deck assembly continues. What you're looking at, in this series of pictures, is the process of laying out the undergirding framework for the deck. The deck itself is a prefab, pre-ordered kit that simply requires snap-in assembly, according to Mr. Jeong. I'll be participating in that project because of the lifting it involves. The deck material won't be normal wood, but some sort of pressure-treated and chemically enhanced composite that will require little to no maintenance, and which should be easy to repair, Lego-style, should any parts get damaged over the course of time.

Below: Mom with that nifty pneumatic hammer. She accidentally shot a nail across the yard-- a scary experience for her, but amusing for us guys. No one was hurt.

The above photo was dinner two nights ago. Many thanks to Dad for starting up the grill. In case you're interested: the steak was from a Costco package of New York strips-- six to a box, or something like that. I grilled two, one for me and one for Dad. Grilling the steaks simply involved rubbing salt and pepper into them and letting Mother Nature do the rest. The shrimps were a bit different; for those, I used a combination of salt, pepper, parsley, garlic, and butter. I layered tin foil onto half of the grill to keep those little guys from falling through. Dad had said "yes" to my suggestion of sprinkling bleu cheese onto the steaks, so I put the cheese onto the grilled steaks, layered the shrimp on top of that, and voilà-- family-style surf n' turf. Mom made the salad and microwaved the sweet potato that served as a baked potato surrogate; I had made the strawberry vinaigrette about a week ago, and it was still good.

More pics to come; the main basement and the Dungeon have been drywalled, so we now have the beginnings of a solid ceiling downstairs. What happens next, though, has everyone talking in fearful whispers because the basement is about to become almost totally uninhabitable.

Apparently, the cracks between the drywall panels will need filling, as the panels don't fit together with absolute precision. Given the nature of drywall, absolute precision is nearly impossible to achieve, hence the need to fill the gaps with some sort of goo. Once the filler hardens, some of it will have begun sagging due to gravity, creating unsightly bulges that will need to be sanded down.

It's the sanding-down process that has everyone fearful, because every renovation story we've heard goes the same way: the micro-particles are so light that they just hang in the air for an eternity. You don't want to be in the area, breathing that stuff in, nor do you want those particles getting into your electronics, or your furniture, or least of all, your carpet. We were asked by Mr. Jeong whether we planned to change out our current carpet for a new one. The parents' reply was "no," given the expense. Mr. Jeong and his team gave us looks that said, "OK; it's your funeral."

So we have to start thinking about either wrapping up the items that still remain in the basement (this includes the main entertainment center) or moving them somewhere safe. The carpet will have to fend for itself. I've assured the parents that my enormous Dirt Devil carpet cleaner-- a device I'd ordered from while I was living in a studio apartment close to Old Town Alexandria-- would be able to handle the mess if we did several thorough cleanings. Here's hoping I'm right.

Other major tasks still lie ahead. We have to clear out the attic soon; to this end, Dad has to go out and get more cargo skids on which to place all those boxes, and we need another mess of tarps and bungee cords. None of these items is cheap; tarps, even the flimsiest ones, can be about $25 per unit, and bungee cords are a lot more expensive than a pack of M&Ms. Also, the parents will be switching their phone and computer service entirely over to Verizon; that happens at the end of this month. Cox Cable isn't going to be happy; they still don't know about the switchover. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission, eh?

The kitchen is a story in itself. The parents have ordered their new cabinets; I'm not sure whether they ordered the countertops for the main kitchen and the new island. The new oven and stovetop, LG products this time around, are being held for us at Home Depot; I don't remember what the parents had said about their new fridge (our third!). The new kitchen sink has arrived; it's sitting in the old dining room area, still inside its box. No idea what's happening with the flooring.

We've begun joking about whether we'll have a house in which to celebrate Thanksgiving. Mom has already gotten an offer from one of her Korean friends, Ms. Lee, to go celebrate at her house. I think it'd be nice if we could celebrate in our own house, but October is waning, and there's still so much to be done. It's going to be a photo finish. I'd like to show you pics of us inside our new dining room, sitting around a table covered in food made in our new kitchen. Otherwise, it's gonna be photos of makeshift tables made of unused drywall paneling and apple boxes, which is what we're currently using downstairs this weekend.


whew, glad that's done

I just finished writing up a 49-lesson curriculum calendar for my first French tutoree. I'm relying on a Barron's book, Learn French the Fast and Fun Way, as the basal text, and am using a website run by-- of all places-- the University of Texas (Austin) for purposes of audio reinforcement. It's called Le français interactif, and despite a few typos, it seems pretty solid. I plan to toss in other multimedia resources as I can, but I don't want to inundate the woman I'm teaching.

In the morning, I plan to take a walk-- my first in over a week. Both my knees are a bit achy, but I've been itching to be out and about instead of trapped here during all the renovation. The work crew is never here over the weekend, which usually gives us a chance to relax, but I still had this curriculum to write, and that took several hours.

It's after 2AM as I write this, and I'm too tired to put up the promised pictures. The process of converting them to blog-friendly format isn't difficult, but it is time-consuming, so I'll save that project for tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll attempt to distract you with some surreal haiku:

"Don't kill me!" it cries.
My spoon stops an inch above
quivering oatmeal

drunken earthworms howl
songs of purple lust, then they
puke and stumble home

squid slips on a thong
one that was made for a beast
sporting nine crotches

I open the door
see a deer on my toilet
playing Sudoku

ponder armpit hair
or here's a better idea:
let's NOT ponder it