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Posts from the ‘Personal’ Category

Buying a House: The Home Improvement Project That Should Not Have Been

I think it was last March now that I looked at the bricks on the street-facing front of the porch and thought, that paint is practically coming off of the bricks on its own-I bet I could scrape it down to bare brick! Jeff was away so no one was here to talk me down. I found a scraper and got to work. Forty hours and several months later, the first layer of paint was off, only to discover an unscrapable layer underneath as well as a wall in need of a serious pointing job. I should have left it alone.

It turns out that the bottom layer can be taken off with a serious power-washing effort and some potent chemicals, but this approach destroys the surface of the brick. That might not matter so much in an internal brick wall, but external brick walls need that surface to protect them from moisture and wind.

The wall behind the bushes, that I seriously cut back last winter and they never grew back so I had them pulled out, is the one that I repainted. Now I know why they had bushes there!

My consolation was that the brick wall really did need to be repointed and I would never have known the extent of the problem unless I scraped. Rest assured, I am not pursuing this further information on the other walls around the porch, though I suspect at least one is probably in the same shape. I considered pointing it myself, but by this time it was early August and I was trying to get some projects finished before classes started and prep for the coming semester. So I posted the job on Angie’s List. I had never done this before. You describe the job and Angie’s List makes it available to contractors who can do the work. I do not think that this is the best way to find a contractor, as I think it tends to send out your work to people most in need of it, which I think might be the people who aren’t getting work through word-of-mouth, which is to say, people who other people aren’t recommending to their friends. I received a call from a contractor who offered a free estimate. On the phone he was very friendly, which is fine, but it felt creepier when he got here and wanted to chat more than seemed comfortable. When he showed up he had very bloodshot eyes and one looked like a black eye, which also made me a little nervous. I don’t even think any of this would have shown up to my consciousness if the estimate hadn’t gone the way that it did. He started looking at the wall, then he went to the side wall and noted how it was buckling and said that this buckling was probably causing the siding to rot and it would need to be redone as well. Then he left me a quote about $800 for the front wall and more than 4 times that to fix the issue with the other wall that he insisted was a serious problem. He didn’t itemize the estimate to explain how he reached these numbers. Before he gave me the estimate he was talking about how he would come to the numbers and said, well, I have a team of two or a team of four, you probably wouldn’t need that many, but even if everyone isn’t working, they all have to be paid. I mean, I’m here for labor but this explanation sounded like the guy was trying to play me, rather than treat his workers fairly. This short little new homebuyer, what did she know? What I know is that my dad was a contractor and I can tell when someone is trying to make money off of me rather than do the work I need.

After pointing work.

I thanked him kindly and called someone else. They had a salesperson come out, who took a look around. I told him what the other guy told me about the side wall and how it needed to be redone because it was likely affecting the siding. This guy said that the buckle could have happened over the close to one hundred years that the house has been standing. I should take a photo of it now, he said, and see if it shifts year to year — that would be a sign that it was a problem. But if it was just a slow buckle, it probably wasn’t holding water that was damaging the wood siding. Now that’s my kind of contractor. Also my kind of mechanic. Tell me why the problem is not really a pressing problem and you have a customer for life. He counted the number of joints that needed to be redone and gave me a quote that was half of what the first guy gave me even including some other joints on the far wall.

They came and did the work and have now been harassing me to write a review for them. I was waiting until I had repainted the bricks to get up close with them and see how good the work was. I just finished the painting today. They did an ok job, but they could have mortared more joints than they did. Maybe that was why it was so much cheaper than the other guy. I’m a little afraid that I was using primer as a kind of sealant when that really should have been mortar but at this point, I’m just happy it’s done.

Cutting in.

I’ve been working on this house since we bought it while working on a project on matter and form in Aristotle’s biological and theoretical works. I keep being surprised, time and again, though I shouldn’t be, by the resistance and character of material. On a material level, bricks resist being painted. This fact should be reason enough for no one to ever paint bricks. I blame Jo and Chip Gaines. I blame HGTV. I blame anyone who ever thought bricks were unattractive. Painting bricks sentences bricks to another life, a life they were not meant to live. Painting bricks means that bricks will forever have to be painted. It means also that bricks will resist this form of life in new ways every time. Don’t paint your bricks. But if they were painted when you got to them, know that painting them well will require a kind of care and vigilance that seems overstated for the work and the benefit of having nicely painted bricks.

First coat.

I’m finished now, but my place of improvement is really just back to square one. The square one I wanted to get to was the square before the previous owners ever painted the brick. That’s the real reason this job never should have been done. I have heard people say this about home-owning, that you feel like you are just running to stay still. That’s pretty much what concluding this job has involved. Now, to stand still until I can think of what to do next.

An Appreciated Teacher

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, which frankly seems like a scheme to make the appreciation come in the form of useless cards and treats rather than cost of living raises and the securing of pensions. Apparently, it began in 1980 sanctioned by Congress originally as one day in March, but then in 1985 the AFT rallied to move it to a full week–the first full week of May. Today, May 8 is Teacher Appreciation Day.

A couple things have got me feeling particularly sympathetic to K-12 teachers this year. For one, I spent a lot of time in the last several weeks expending some effort on behalf of a student that finally came to a good result and I’m very happy about it. But this work took a considerable amount of my time at a very busy part of the semester, and up until the very end when the happy result was achieved it felt like it was going nowhere. Good teachers at underfinanced schools do this kind of thing all the time. The extent to which it was emotionally exhausting to me gave me renewed appreciation and empathy for public school teachers.

Yesterday I was going through some old papers, looking for my autograph from Ollie North on the occasion of his ascendancy to the presidency of the National Rifle Association. And I found a note that my ninth grade English teacher wrote to me when I graduated from high school (see photo above). Mr. Bender had a sign over the chalkboard in his classroom that read “Homer Nods.” Homer nods, Mr. Bender would explain to every new class of girls at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, means that even great geniuses, literary and otherwise, make mistakes. My senior year I was selected as one of the graduates to speak at graduation on the basis of my submitted speech I called “Homer nods.” I can’t even remember what it was about now. Probably something about humility amidst our capacity for greatness.

Mr. Bender would argue with me in the hallway even after I was no longer his student about the finer points of grammar. He thought I was wrong to pronounce “harassment” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. He joked about HARassing me to pronounce it correctly. I was happy to show him that the dictionary included both pronunciations. Even Homer nods.

Neither he nor I had any way of knowing that I would become a specialist in ancient Greek thinking, that whether Homer really nodded would become a live question for me, that I would become a student of those for whom Homer had been the teacher. I didn’t know then the poetry of the teacher telling the student that even the great educator of the Greeks fell short. I didn’t know how provocative the notion that the Greeks might have been educated by a nodding teacher could be, or perhaps the notion that all teachers nod.

I found this note in which Mr. Bender inverts the meaning of nod from making a mistake to signaling approval and I thought, how very Greek this poetic recasting would be.  The teacher nods and nods. And this I appreciate.

 

New Year’s Resolution Fail

I made two New Year’s Resolutions.  I’m not going to tell you what they were.  Mostly because I don’t want you to judge me.  I will say that one was about not doing something and one was about starting a new practice.  Today is January 14.  I have kept up the new practice.  I was able not to do the other thing for six days.  I haven’t given up on it.  But I also didn’t keep it.  I’m trying not to judge myself, but I think it’s pretty clear that the sheen of the resolution has worn off–it loses its ability to inspire once it has been broken.

We all know that resolutions don’t work.  They don’t really change our behavior.  I don’t usually make them — maybe one out of every three years I make some resolutions.  And yet, there’s something so attractive about the idea that a new year can bring a new you.  Just resolving that things will be different can make them so.  Much of the critique of New Year’s resolutions amount to a critique of willpower as an effective way to change our lives.  We need to engage in practices and projects because willing ourselves to be different does not work. Read more

Buying a House: Upkeep

Twas the Month before Christmas, when down in the basement, there arose such a clatter. I sprang down the steps to see what was the matter.  When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a broken down furnace making such noise.  Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be kicking air back out through its motor.

The next day we called the company that had inspected it when we first moved in.  During the summer when we moved in, they gave us a quote for replacement if we got the work done during the off season, which of course, no one does the work when they don’t need it.  We thought maybe we could just have something fixed, but the cost to fix it was about a third of the replacement cost with no guarantee some other part of it wouldn’t fall apart.  So we had to get a new furnace.

We knew when we bought the house that the mechanicals might need to be replaced.  A servicing sticker on the side of the service indicated that it was last serviced in 2007, before the last owners moved in.  And the servicing dates went back to 1977.  I think it might even have been installed before then.  It had a good run. Read more

Buying a House: The Lives of Things

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged in this series.  We closed on our house on May 3 and moved in Memorial Day weekend 2016, so this is the first spring in the house.  I am on sabbatical, so this spring, I’ve been getting up every morning, making coffee, and sitting in the dining room, gazing out the front window.  In the transition from winter to spring, the front room has become the bright, green space that sold us on the house.

I’ve never been a “lives of things” kind of philosopher.  I mean, I work on concepts of nature and I think about the ways that concepts like nature can be border markers for who or what is relevant to political and ethical questions.  But the idea that things could have lives, that they could reveal themselves, that they could have ways of resisting and conceding is not a view to which I really give my credence.  And yet, the newness of the house in springtime is making me think about the lives of things.  It’s not a different house in the springtime–I mean, it’s the same materials–and yet, it really really is a different house.   Read more

My first yoga workshop

Any day now I’m going to cry in yoga.  I’ve been having this thing happen to me where I’m holding a position and I’m sure I just cannot do it anymore and I have that emotional release that happens when you cry only I don’t cry.  I stay in the pose, and it is amazing.  Today I had that same feeling but only because I kept falling out of poses that I know I can do and it was so frustrating.  

Last week, I had a class that was really frustrating.  I didn’t seem to have my balance.  Poses that I had felt strong and successful doing in the class before were a struggle.  I was annoyed with myself.  I already mastered this!  Why do I have to deal with this again?  Lying there on my mat in shavasana in between poses it occurred to me that this is life–having the same struggle over again even though you mastered it before. Read more

Public School

I started school when I was four. At the time, my mom had four kids and I was a particularly active little kid so my mom wanted to get me out of the house. I sound bitter but I’m not upset. This meant that I was a year younger than everyone I went to school with. There were good times. I was married off to other students at recess all through first grade. But as we got older, the difference between being our ages and the meanness of kids just came out. It was a private Christian school, but the kids weren’t nice. By fifth grade I felt left out. Kids refused to speak to me. They made fun of me. I didn’t know what it meant or how to handle any of it. I didn’t know that these were things you talked to a teacher about. It was hard. Still the highlight was the ride back and forth from Olney to West Philly during which the principal who drove us taught us the Hebrew alphabet, which I can still recite.

In the middle of the year, my mother began talking about moving us to public school. I liked the idea of doing something new.  My mother talked to my first grade teacher who suggested that she hold me back a year if we switched schools so that I could catch up socially. So she did. I transferred to my local public school. I was in a class that was split 5th and 6th grades. Once I had my mother write a note saying I felt like the 5th graders were being ignored. I was like that. I made friends. Sort of. I was nervous. I didn’t know if people who didn’t go to church with me could be trusted. But mostly the students were kind. Read more

Writing, Running and Yoga: The Pain and Possibility of Perseverance

Monday night I went to a high intensity interval training pilates class.  During my third minute of elbow planks, I thought I was going to cry.  I cried once when I was running a half marathon, when in the last half mile I realized I was going to PR.  There’s something about that moment when you think you are reaching your threshold and you just cannot do anymore and then you keep doing it.  That moment is where you realize the struggle is mental.

I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  It also brings me close to tears.  Murakami makes me feel guilty for the times I have stopped because of the pain. He makes me feel bad for being a mid-distance runner and not a long-distance runner.  In the pilates class, which is grueling and unlike any pilates I have ever heard of, the teacher berates us for giving up.  I understand that.  Motivate, push yourself.  That’s all good.  But I had to learn to pay attention to pain in running and to take it easy–to do what looks like giving up, to stop feeling the exercise as demand.

At one point Murakami talks about the one time he ran an ultramarathon. After mile 34 his breathing felt good but his legs wouldn’t work, so he had to propel himself my moving his arms and hands.  Then at mile 47, he broke through a wall.  It stopped hurting.  He kept going.  He ran the next fifteen miles unencumbered.  I think I know that feeling.  It happens for me three minutes into an elbow plank.  It’s when you realize that you can persist through the pain if you tell yourself to just keep on. Read more

These are a few of my favorite gifs

 

Sometimes you need some good gifs.  All these gifs include a hand.  And there’s one for every occasion. Read more

Practicing Yoga

I joined a yoga studio in the first week of January.  It wasn’t even a New Year’s resolution.  I tried to make plans with a friend, actually a former student from Bryn Mawr, and she said she was going to the yoga studio she just joined, so I said, ok, I’ll do that.  It’s a hot yoga studio, as I mentioned in my post about how hot yoga made me think about cold running again.  It’s really hot, like 105º in 40% humidity.  The first yoga classes I ever went to were in a Baptiste studio on Walnut right down from the Penn Book Store in University City in Philadelphia.  The classes were packed.  But it felt like a serious workout.  I’d run the mile and a half from my apartment to the studio to get warmed up.  I don’t recall ever having had a conversation with a teacher there, except this one time when I was hungover and smelling of cigarette smoke when I must have looked like I was going to fall over and pass out and a teacher looked at me with a kind of smirk and asked me if I was ok.  I might have still been drunk. Read more