Friday, May 30, 2014

43 Years Old

I'm not sure if it's a function of being 43 years old, or if it's a function of having brothers and sisters-in-law who are in their 60's, or if it's a function of spending time with our godson* Axel, who is not yet one year old, but I'm finding myself thinking about the spectrum of life these days.

When I was little, I thought things were stagnant.  I thought if things were a certain way one day, they would be that way every day.  My mother and grandmother would always look the same.  My school would always stand right where it was when I attended it... I might change (I tracked my own growth by periodically inspecting my opened-flat hand and noticing it was larger than the last time I'd looked), but my experience with life was too short to see how everything around me was changing too.

My 20's and a certain amount of my 30's were spent frantically trying to keep things still.  I could see the houses and resorts being built all over Carmel Valley where nothing but wilderness and ranches had been when I was little - the most painful example of change for me at the time.  I constantly felt this breathless, tight, desperate drive to gather up everything about which I cared and put it some place where it could not be moved.  I wanted to protect everything from alteration - either by natural deterioration or some other person's idea of "progress" with which I did not agree (tacky people with money - a terrible blight).

I can't say that I've overcome this feeling of desperation yet, although I'm actively working on it.  I now see myself within that ever-changing span of time, and I've come more and more to see my time as limited - sometimes inspirationally, motivationally so, but sometimes limited in a way that leads through hopelessness to eventual quiet acceptance.

We live in a 100+ year old house.  One can say that I own it, but I know enough to know that I truly only steward this house and hope to treat it well enough so that its next residents (perhaps after Cindy and I have ended our days) might rest a little bit - not have so much to repair or restore as I have had.  But, of course, life teaches me that this house's next owners might not care about my handy-work.  They might, in fact, tear the whole thing down and do something else with this postage stamp piece of Brooklyn.

Everything changes.

Lately, I've begun to notice that the crook of my arm, when I bend my elbow, is starting to look like my grandmother's did when I was little.  I'm getting a farmer's tan - not as dark as hers, but similar.  And the skin on my arms is getting just a little more delicate, a tiny bit wrinkled.  I don't care too much about wrinkles.  If anything, they sort of fascinate me - the way time and my frequented expressions make their permanent marks on me.  I'm pretty proud of my laugh lines, come to think of it.  I see them as a sign of a life well lived and something to which everyone should aspire.  But beyond those things, I recognize myself anew by my wrinkles.  I see my grandmother when I was a little girl.

And I occasionally do math problems to orient and place myself in the spectrum of my mother's life.  She had me a couple of months before her 25th birthday.  I was 15 years old when I tee-pee'd her house in Phoenix for her 40th birthday.  I'm 43 now.  If I had lived my mom's life, I'd have an 18 year old daughter.  Etcetera.

It seems cliche to think some of the thoughts I've started thinking.  I'm noticing things about "kids today".  Large groups of college aged people seem to expect privilege, be shockingly wasteful, or to preen and display themselves in a manner that assumes everyone cares.  I'd like to go on a rant about new adults who don't see the value in real work, but that would be self-indulgent and inaccurate; I also see lots of people making innovations with next to nothing - the maker crowd is surging, and boutique businesses teaching people how to use materials to make things (nearly-forgotten arts like woodworking, boat building, sewing, leather tooling, welding, glass blowing, weaving, gardening) are growing in popularity.

So it seems once again that the best course is the middle path.  I must recognize the fact of my own aging, the fact that I and everything else around me changes (either quickly or slowly or both).  And I must remember that things (and people) are rarely all-good or all-bad, and if they are, of course, they won't always be so.  That is the truth of the matter.

That is the truth.

Sage blossoms.

*I only use "godson" as a shorthand term to convey our special relationship to Axel - there's not really a god involved, since I'm a Buddhist and Axel's father, Arsenio in particular is an atheist.  Cindy and Axel's mother, Bernadette, have more of a take-it-as-it-comes approach.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Green Roof Two Step

Hello, pals!  Here's a mid-May update on the green roof.

The last couple of weeks have been what I like to call, a "green roof two-step."  In other words, we've been going two steps forward, one step back.  Is there such a thing as a project without successes and disappointments?  I doubt it.

The first and most stress-inducing problem is that the roof hatch is letting in a slow leak when we have hard rain.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with the green roof system and is more related to the way the hatch was built and installed.  But I'm trying to get a hold of the contractor we used to re-roof the house so he can come and take care of it.  We're within the 10-year warrantee on the work.  I left him a phone message a couple of days ago (without answer), and I sent him an email last night after going up and taping some plastic around the outside of the hatch to see if I can prevent the leak in today's rain storm.  We'll see.  Here's a picture of that bummer from the last rain storm:

There are two other leaking issues that need to be addressed.  One has to do with moisture somehow coming in between our side wall and our neighbor's side wall (our two houses abut each other - I'll take a picture of that some other time).  The third issue has to do with water finding its way into the upstairs apartment's kitchen ceiling through a vent pipe boot when the silt from the drainage rock on the green roof gets washed down to the roof drain and slows the flow of the water off the roof.  For more depression, here's a picture of what that kitchen ceiling looked like in the last storm as well:

Luckily, I can prevent this leak by keeping the drainage rock cleared from the roof drain.  If you ignore the loops of cable (which is for our home-made digital TV antenna), that's the vent pipe on the left, and the water flows down to the roof drain on the right hand side of this photo.  I want to have the contractor look at this issue, because we need a more permanent fix than this.

Come to think of it. I'd say those roof leaks are more than one step back.  Let's say that's two steps back.

But, a few days later, we got some un-related good news!

News 12 Brooklyn sent a reporter, Kena Vernon, out to do a little story on the green roof!  They found us through this blog, which was really pretty neat.  If you'd like to see the story Kena did, you should be able to watch it by following this link to the News 12 Brooklyn site.  Or, here's a copy of the video right here:

Let's hear it for Cindy Keiter wearing her pink pants, ladies and gentlemen!  Also, in case you're wondering what's up with my shirt, I was wearing my roof garden shirt.  See?  There are vegetables flying off the rooftops...

But before we get too happy, and since this is a good news/bad news post, we've got more to talk about.

Now, I've been working on the wooden hand rail that goes along the top of the metal railing on the roof, and after some amount of visiting hardware stores in the area (does no one carry anything better than drywall screws these days?!), I found some self-tapping screws that I decided to use to screw the wood to the steel railing.  After a certain amount of trial and error, I finally got a little system working, and I managed to get all the pieces cut and installed for the back railing.  I'll do a full blog post about the hand rail install process later, but here's the bummer:

Went I went  up to the roof to check it out before the reporter came, I found a piece of the railing section laying on the roof - totally broken off from where I had attached it!  

Well!  At first, I thought, "Who came up here and broke this off?  Were there vandals on the roof?  Did a neighbor come up and stand on this section to look at the chimney?  What the hell happened?!"

But then I noticed that another smaller piece of wood which had been firmly screwed down was completely un-attached, but it was still resting in place.  Did someone break that too and put it back?  I ran around the roof, checking all the pots, looking in my tool bin to see if anything was stolen.  Everything was just as I had left it.  No vandals.

So I went back and looked at all the sections of wood.  A couple of the other small pieces had one of their two screws broken off - all of them broken off right at the top of the steel where the screws enter the wood.  The only answer is wood movement caused by the rain had sheared the screws off.  

I realized all the broken screw ends would have to be drilled out, and I'd have to replace the screws with something stronger, and drill wider holes in the steel to allow for more wood movement.  I calmed down, but was a little wary the whole time that the reporter was going to go to the back of the roof and see my mistake.  While I'm happy to share it with you, I was too embarrassed to have it broadcast on TV.

Luckily, she never wanted to see the back of the roof - probably because the poor dear had to lug her own camera around (I brought it up and down the ladder for her), and she didn't want to navigate the stepping stone path with it.

Then there was another Unfortunate Situation on the roof.  

A couple of days after the news story, while chatting on the phone with my mom (hi, Mom!), I was putting in some drip irrigation fittings to keep these big pots watered.  The main drip line runs behind the pots, and I was trying to keep the little individual lines to the pots semi-concealed, so it was tight quarters.

I was squatting down to do the work, and I was right in front of the first of the four pots - the one on the right.  See that?  The one right next to the skylight...?

Yup.  I cracked a pane of glass in the skylight with my butt!  Such a bummer.  I made a crack - a butt crack - in the skylight.  I put some duct-tape on my butt crack to keep it from leaking...  There's a new glass shop in the neighborhood, and they made us a replacement piece, but it took them a week.  It was a real pane!

A few days after that incident, I came up on the roof to check how the potted plants were doing.  I had moved last year's sage and lavender to two of the fabric pots, and I sewed seeds in the self-irrigating planters and the rest of the fabric pots.  I had gotten drip irrigation fittings installed on all the pots near the sitting area, and I was eager to see if any seedlings were sprouting.

The sage was busy making blossoms (wonderful news!), but the squirrels had dug holes in the soil of all the pots (boo!).  I filled all the depressing squirrel holes (squirrel depression?) before I took a picture, but at least here are the nice sage blossoms.

Ignoring the squirrels for a moment, there were a couple of other nice things.  These hairy hens-and-chicks in the back are making little satellite babies.

And here's Cindy, hand-modeling a little green strawberry:

But, the ding-dang squirrels are a problem.  So I made some chicken-wire basket things to go over the tops of the pots.  I also got some organically raised seedlings from the excellent Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the farmer's market in Union Square last weekend, and our friend Robin (hi, Robin!) came over to help me do some gardening.  I don't have enough dirt to fill all my pots yet, so we stuck some of the seedlings in with seeds I had sewed previously - I wasn't sure if the squirrels had eaten all the squash seeds I planted anyway...

As I said, I was up on the roof last night putting some plastic around the roof hatch to see if that prevents leaking when it rains today, and I took the opportunity to check all the plants with my little flashlight.  The watermelon and squash seeds I thought the squirrels had gotten are now starting to sprout.  They weren't eaten after all!  And the rest of the plants look great.  In fact, the green roof sedum are starting to bloom, and for me, that makes all our little set-backs completely wash away.

Well, not completely, but you know what I mean.

P.S. Special thanks to my dear friend Dave for the pane of glass pun.  The butt crack was entirely my own.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Paleo update

If you're wondering how our whole "paleo diet" thing is going, I'll tell ya.  It's still going.  I absolutely love it.  I can see in the mirror that I've traded some fat for some muscle.  And my clothes are fitting better.  I wouldn't mind dropping a bit more weight, but I'm not in any rush, and I don't care about it enough to make a big push (such as experimenting with intermittent fasting).  I'm staying the course.  The biggest difference for me is that my thought and hunger patterns have changed.  I rarely find myself mentally eating stuff I shouldn't have, like bread or desserts.  And I'm not negotiating with myself for permission to eat stuff I had told myself I wasn't going to have anymore.  It feels like a strange sort of freedom, and I'm learning what it's like for people who can stop eating when they're full - even if there's more food on their plate.  I am learning what it feels like to be clear of addiction thinking and to listen to my body.

Furthermore, I had a visit with my chiropractor this morning - Dr. Christopher Mango of Mango Chiropractic.  I've been seeing Dr. Mango for a while.  He is the last in a long line of doctors, physical therapists, etc. to whom I had been visiting to treat nerve pain and numbness I had in my hand and arm (history here).   I started out seeing him once a week, and there were times when I would have been happy to see him more than that.  But since getting my sugar levels under control, I can feel the difference in my arms and shoulders as my inflammation reduces.  I'm now down to visits every three months, and my joints feel progressively more oily and flexible.  I've also noticed that my recovery time from hard work is unexpectedly faster.  If you're in New York and have some stuff to work out with your health, I highly recommend visiting Dr. Mango.

Speaking of hard work, I mentioned in my 40 Paleo Days and Nights post that I don't like "working out."  I thought I'd say a couple of further words on the subject.  In my opinion, our lives are full of too much luxury.  We have machines that do almost everything for us, and that's good.  But much of the time, it's TOO good; we're getting flabby.  So then people go to the gym and lift heavy things or climb staircases that aren't there... I say we should do more real work instead.  Take walks.  Do stuff around your house.  Better yet, do favors for people!  When my neighbor's giant fallen tree branch needed to be cut up for our little backyard fire pit this weekend, I spent an hour or two breaking and sawing it into pieces by hand.  It was great!  It was also hard, but what's wrong with hard?  When you're doing hard things, you can always take breaks.  And, then, if you're like me, you can practice the art of determination, because the Sirens always come singing their Song of Lazy, trying to convince you to quit before you're done.  If you persevere, you can make a pretty little wood pile like this:

Besides using mostly hand tools around the house, I cycle commute in dry weather.  Both avenues present ample opportunities to practice patience, focus, and perseverance while allowing me to avoid the gym.  That's Buddhism on the go!

Anyway, it was a lot of sawing this weekend.  Before I started getting my sugar levels and such in order, it would have taken me days to recover.  But I woke up the morning after my sawing project pain free.  Proper diet... exercise in a way that makes the world better... this shit is starting to come together.

Cindy's also still eating mostly paleo, although she bought a box of matzoh for Passover, and she occasionally buys a sandwich or sushi for lunch.  Cindy has never had troubles with food addiction, so she is free of some of the "slippery slope" problems I have, and she can adopt a more "80% - 20%" approach.  She is also keen to lose a little weight, so she's putting a bit of effort into it and restricting her calories.  Cindy is down about 8 pounds from where she started, and she seems to be having a lot of fun.   In addition to challenges, Keiter really likes counting and keeping track of things.

There are a lot of opinions about the Paleo Diet out there - both positive and negative.  As I've said before, we got our start with and Mark Sisson's book, The Primal Blueprint.  But if you're interested in learning more about what we're doing specifically, feel free to ask us questions in the comments below.

P.S. My sincere thanks go to Bernadette, who found and recommended Dr. Mango to me a couple of years ago.  Thanks, sister.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PHL: Cindy Keiter's Upcoming Show

Life is moving pretty quickly these days.  Here's the first in a series of short posts to catch you up on some of the things we've got going on around here.

First and foremost, Cindy is in rehearsals for her next show: The Ballad of Rodrigo.  Cindy is reprising her role as "Sally the Muffin Lady," a character she played in the first of this modern film-noir style play series, Doubles Crossed, which was produced in June of 2012.  The Ballad of Rodrigo is the first time Cindy has ever done a sequel on stage, and she loves it.  Jason Grossman, the playwright, has shifted the tone of this current play away from the full-on farcical comedy of the previous edition and towards something a little darker, without losing its heart.  Cindy reports that it is working really well.

I won't read the full script; I prefer to know as little as possible about shows before I see them.  But we're now in the phase of rehearsals where I employ my old stage management skills from my pre-Blue Man days to help Cindy run her lines.  That makes spoiling some surprises unavoidable, but I can tell the script is good, because I can't wait to see how it ends.  Besides, I don't even need to see rehearsals to know that Keiter is bringing it in a Lucille-Ball-meets-Estelle-Getty sort of way!

Opening night is May 24th, and the show goes through June 22nd.

If you want to come see a great "neo-noir" thriller, this is where you make your arrangements:

Fun factoid:
I fell in love with theatre in 1975.  Cindy fell in love with theatre in 1977.  In the spirit of competition, I won.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lynne and Reka's Roof Project (A Retrospective)

Cindy asked me to do a post about this project, so I dutifully comply:

A couple of years ago, some very dear friends of ours, Lynne Boyer and Réka Domokos, asked if I could help them replace their old laundry porch roof.  Lynne is a painter, and she offered to do a trade - paintings for carpentry.  I was totally into the idea, but we had a scheduling issue, because Lynne and Réka live in Hawaii, and Cindy and I live in Brooklyn.

Cindy's mother, Lila, also lives in Hawaii, and Lila started having some health problems, so we started going to Hawaii to help her and the family quite often.  On one of those trips, I made a visit to Lynne and Réka's house to check out what was in store for me.  Here's the state of the laundry roof in 2011.  This is the view from the back yard.

There were some noteworthy problems to try to solve.  First, there were these cross beams blocking their access to the washer and dryer.  In fact, I think the beams were actively trying to hit people in the head when they weren't looking.

Then, there was the fact that the Hawaiian mist was trying to turn Lynne and Réka's laundry roof into a moss garden.

And, the exterior staircase, the one Lynn and Réka use to access their living space, was supported by these 4x4 posts.  But the interior post had somehow long ago been cut short, and a 2x4 was scabbed on to the side of it.  Lynne and Réka's stair case was sagging, and that post was a dangerous bummer.  I wish I had taken a picture of the sagging steps...

Lastly, Réka needed a place to hang her kayak, and they both needed more head room, so we decided to make the new roof slope less.

I'm used to engineering things for theatrical purposes, but I'm relatively new to permanent structures, so the project intimidated me to the point of procrastination.  I did a lot of research - looking for photos of roofs that come off the sides of buildings, etc. as we waited for the stars to align and present us with an opportunity to build the project.  When it came time for Cindy's mom to get moved from her condo into a nursing home on The Big Island, the Keiter kids convened at their parents' Kailua condo to sort through all their family stuff and get the condo ready to be sold.  I wasn't to be involved in that process, but I wanted to be nearby Cindy for moral support.  So I joined her for the trip and planned to spend my days working on Lynne and Réka's roof project while Cindy was working in the condo.  On the flight to Honolulu, I made a sketch of the plan from measurements I had taken on my previous trip:

The day after we arrived, Cindy went to work in the condo, and I went to work on the roof.  There was so much mold in the wood, I thought demolition was going to be easy.  But it turned out to be a big job for me, a borrowed crow bar, hammer, and circular saw, and my muscles, which I brought with me special - all the way from Brooklyn, New York.

I cut the roof down in chunks.  Réka took this shot of me after I'd gotten through the first couple passes.  Honestly, it was a miserable job.

And here's the whole pile of roof chunks.  Such a small pile of wood for such a lot of work.

On to construction!  The first task was to install a ledger board on the house, and on that, I nailed the rafter hangers.  In Hawaii, it's very important that structures are built to withstand high winds and termites.  So I used pressure treated lumber and lots of metal joist hardware.

 Next, I had to install the posts that would support the roof.  I wanted to transfer the weight of the staircase to the supports for the laundry roof, so I could cut that offending 4x4 post out.  I also wanted to make more un-impeded space in the laundry area, so I decided to move the support posts to the outside of the walkway.

 Cindy was on temporary work relief from her mom's condo the next afternoon, so she cheer-led and helped me mark the locations for the posts.

Réka took a lot of these photos.  She's an excellent photographer.  And there's Lynne in the back, with her million dollar smile.  I'm fiddling with the first of 3 post anchors we had to install.

I used a borrowed hammer drill to drill the bolt holes in the concrete.  This is me marking the drill bit depth with a piece of tape.  It looks like Cindy brought her muscles from Brooklyn too!

 The rains came just as we finished up.  On one of the 3 post anchors, the bolt stuck up too far, so not having a hack saw, I just drilled a hole in the end of the post so it would sleeve over the bolt.  Here's the offending post anchor:

 The rain was also pretty lucky.

 The next morning, Cindy was dressed to impress, and I got started on installing the posts.

 We made a temporary work bench for their mitre saw out of some cinder blocks and planks that were lying around.  Cindy mock-nailed the chop saw down while I got the screw gun and prepared to anchor the saw for-reals. 

Now, we were in business.

I put the two end posts in place and temporarily braced them with 2x4's.

 Then I installed the horizontal beam and braced the whole structure back to the house with the first two rafters.

The slope looked good.

I installed the 3rd post and had most of the rafters up in no-time.  Unfortunately, I made a measurement error, and the rafters weren't coming off the house at a perfect 90-degree angle, so I had to go back through, pry all the nails out, correct the problem, and re-nail the rafters to the cross beam.  That was a pretty big bummer, and I was too embarrassed with myself to take any pictures of the rafters before I corrected their position.  So here's what it looked like when I was done for the day and everyone was talking story.

The next day, I removed the cross braces from the original posts, finished installing the last of the rafters, and through-bolted the old stair support posts to the rafters.  

I also installed little cross braces at the tops of the support posts - mostly because I like that sort of style.

And a wide shot at the end of the day: 

The next step was to put the plywood on the roof.  That's pretty standard stuff.  You tack some plywood up to give yourself a walking/working surface, and then you cut plywood pieces to fit - starting from the highest side of the roof and working down the slope.

By this time, the Keiter's were through sorting their mother's condo out, so Cindy came to work with me every day for the rest of the project.

 She was an excellent assistant, although how she hammered nails in this position, I have no idea!

Here we are using a chalk line to mark where the rafters run, so we could nail the plywood down along the interior rafters as well as the edges.

Et, voila!  Shade returns to the washer and dryer.

Next came the roofing membrane.  We bought a two-part peel-and-stick system with some aluminum edging.  The manufacturer instructions specified that the layers had to be unrolled and left to flatten out in the sun for a little bit.

Then we cut the first run to length and put it in place.  When installing roofing membranes, you start with the low end of the roof so that subsequent courses overlap in the direction that the water sheets off the roof.  We also started with a skinny course of the underlayment so that the seems for that layer didn't line up with the seams for the top layer.

Cindy supervising me.

 The edging goes on before the second/top layer.   It's just tacked down with nails.

 It got pretty hot on the black roof in the sun.  Here, Lynne caught us taking a break. 

Cindy doing the peel for the second layer, which is folded in half length-wise and done in two steps.  First, the upper half.  Peeeeeeel.

Gently pick up.

Flop over, and stick.

Then, since we didn't have a big weighted roof roller, we marched over the seams with our feet to make sure it was well stuck down.  We met in the middle.


Repeat the process in the hot sun a few more times, and you've got yourself a finished roof surface!  But there was still more to do.

First, I removed the offending 4x4 stair support post with a handsaw.  Before the project, the stairs to the house had been sagging, so I jacked the post up to make the steps level before I bolted it to the rafters.  When I cut the post off below the rafters, the stairs stayed solid - much more solid than they were before, in fact.  And they were level.  A success!

I have no idea what I was doing in this photo:

I installed some new cross bracing above the new roof line, just in case.  The structure was quite solid without it, but I figured it might be helpful if a typhoon came or something... And here's Keiter with a howzit for you.

Lastly, we nailed a plywood barrier between the stair support post and the house to protect the water heater from the elements.

And, we installed some pulleys and rope cleat for Réka's kayak.

I had hoped to paint the new roof for Lynne and Réka too, but there wasn't enough time in our trip.  So Lynne and Réka took care of that part.  Here's a couple of shots of the finished project as we left it for them.

No more posts and cross braces wanting to smack your head while doing the laundry, and plenty of room for Réka's boat.

The roof was so sturdy, I really wanted to put a little green roof on it.

That little roof certainly has a lovely view - this is looking out towards Honolulu Harbor.

It was a beautiful sunset, but I also just like this picture.

Our fee?  These beautiful paintings by Lynne Boyer.  If you don't know about Lynne, she started out as a professional surfer and became the Women's World Champion in 1978 and 1979.  And now she's a full-time artist, doing paintings mainly in Hawaii and Hungary, where Réka comes from.  You can see more of Lynne's artwork at her web site:

Ta da!