Wednesday, December 30, 2009

KittehWatch: tubby and healthy!

Took the kittehs to the vet yesterday, and a lousy time was had by some. We hate leaving the house, first of all, and we also hate going to the vet's office. It smells like other people and creatures, occasionally punctuated by the smell of 70% isopropyl alcohol. Bleh! And we get poked and prodded and our moufs lifted up so people can look at our teefs--wtf, Mama?!

But the vet gave Maddy and Hazel good reviews. After taking blood and urine, she snuggled Hazel a bit and pronounced that her recent addition of a tummy was a good thing, especially in her older years. And she couldn't find Maddy's lymph nodes when pushing on her stomach, just as the vet oncologist couldn't. "I don't want to get your hopes up," she told me, "but I've seen cats live three or four years on the medicine regimen she's on for her cancer." Well, every day is an extra day; I'll take what I can get.

This morning, everyone's milling around, wondering why I won't give them my cereal milk and rollrollrolling in the floor. Guy and I are heading out of town today for a li'l trip to the mountains, back in a few days. In the meantime, everyone enjoy your New Year's holiday, and have fun and stay safe!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Here and gone again 2: Electric Boogaloo

We made it back to Denver safely late Sunday afternoon, having missed most of the bad weather over the Western Plains. We hit some crappy stuff heading from St. Louis to Kansas City, where we visited a cousin of Guy's and spent the night on Saturday, but the drive on Sunday was fairly decent. Though I still feel like I'm moving....urk. Maddy and Hazel were a little shell-shocked when we finally decided to roll in this afternoon, but after some medicine, a few treats, some dinner, and some petting, they're starting to act kinda normal. Kinda normal...they're cats, you know.

Guy's going back to work tomorrow for a few days, but this week is the rest of my required furlough days. I have some writing to do, but that's about all I have mandated for myself. I might get into some sorting and cleaning of a few things, maybe scrub the back deck a little again around the cat boxes. (They keep thinking outside the box, and not in a good way, but with the same results as many corporate-speak instances of "thinking outside the box": there's crap everywhere and someone else has to clean it up.) While I've been off work, I really haven't been home and/or sitting still very much, and it's starting to catch up to me, so I look forward to the next few days.

But then it's off to the mountains about mid-week, where we rented a condo with a few friends and will be skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, cooking, drinking (a little), and goofing off again some before it's back to work. But I still have a week off, and some of it isn't all that busy. Time to sleep with a cat on my head...

...oh crap, the cats are due at the vet...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Belated Hanukkah, and stuff!

Hope everyone's having/had a great holiday. We're in St. Louis enjoying some time with Guy's family and dodging oncoming snowstorms as we go from point A to point B. Everybody eat a little and laugh a lot!

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Update: We made it to St. Louis ahead of the snow (though we spent the entirety of Kansas driving through fog and rain). We're actually having a White Christmas in STL today, so we're preparing to drive safely to loved ones' homes and to be safe. (And it's still almost warmer here than it was in GA last week. yikes!) Merry merry to all!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Here and gone again

I just got back into Denver from Georgia last night, and we're leaving today for St. Louis. We were going to leave tomorrow, but the approaching snow and ice will make driving across Kansas difficult and uncomfortable. Driving across Kansas under the best of conditions is boring and uncomfortable, so why throw black ice in there as well? Hence, we'll drive partway this afternoon/tonight after we have a late lunch with Elliot, and then we'll drive the rest of the way there tomorrow morning. So I'm not even going to have 24 hours at home. And y'all, my kittehs missed me. Well, sorta. Maddy and Hazel tolerated Papa last week, and they were sorta amused to see me last night. Maddy almost didn't know who I was, it seemed. Silleh kitteh.

The condo is kinda grody. Once I'm done posting, I've got to go sweep and Swiff this place and take out the recycling, and I had to wipe down the kitchen this morning after an hour on the treadmill. Evidently, Guy was living like a bachelor all week while I was gone, and I'm telling all of you because his mother reads my blog and I hope she gives him hell for it. (I'm kidding--no one has to heckle him; I already did last night and this morning.) But we might have Elliot come in and give Maddy and Hazel some wet food while we're gone. (Maddy just jumped in my lap and purred her agreement to this notion.)

But it was a wonderful, relaxing week in Georgia,hanging out with my sister and mom and getting lots done on my presentation that I have to do next year, donuts for breakfast and BBQ for lunch and dinner, and kittehs on the bed every morning and night while we sleep, relax, or read magazines. A few lines from the week:
  • "Did you just fart, or was that the cat?" "Which cat?"
  • "This is the Toilet Shuffle, a forgotten dance of the 1960s!"
  • Me: "Why do all my cookies look retarded?" Mom: "Operator error."
  • "Mom, what would you do if we bought you this fabric to make a dress out of?" "Disown you."
  • "Why are those two trying to reproduce?! God, now I can't eat my pasta."
  • Mom: "Don't bother the cat, she just went in her little house and went to sleep!" [cute voice] "Don't 'sturb it! Go 'way! GO 'WAY!"
  • Kitty: "I could have lived my life without ever knowing what an upstairs tenant or a hot pocket was. What has been learned cannot be unlearned." Me: "You know what we have to do now, don't you?" Kitty: "What?" Me: "Tell Mom." Kitty: "AUUUGH!"
  • Mom: "Why did you have to tell me what those were? God, I need ear bleach." [sighs] "Six years of college...twelve if you count her sister...."
See, Kitty and I have learned that we can't embarrass Mom, so now we're going for grossing her out. We can't do anything so awful or silly that she'd leave us in the middle of Target or the fabric store, so we just try to get her to give us the "why in God's name would you say/think/do that?" look. It's the best we can do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I can haz break? Yayz!

Y’all, it’s been a nice couple of days here in Georgia, not drawing anything and not fretting about flashing details. Hell, I can’t say I’ve worried about a whole lot of anything the past couple of days. I’m about to be gone from work for three weeks, and as you’ve likely been able to tell from my past few posts, I’m gone not a moment too soon. I’ve been reflexively angry at the sound of Howie’s voice, my heart immediately sinks when I see certain engineers’ names and numbers flash up on my phone’s Caller ID, and I’ve been unable to drag out of bed to go for a walk or run or do yoga or anything. How cranky do you have to be to not want to do yoga? Honestly. [shakes head and purses lips disapprovingly]

When everything leaves you flat and annoyed and inconsolable, it’s time for a break. I’m lucky Guy bought me tickets to GTFO of Colorado for a week, because having a change of pace and scenery is startlingly helpful. First of all, it truly is a change of pace. Guy and I realized it over Thanksgiving when we were here—cars drive slower and take longer to pull out of driveways and parking lots, people walk and talk slower, folks wait their turn everywhere and aren’t in a rush to get done, and so on. One of my well-traveled coworkers commented that the closer you get to the equator, the slower people move—“Maybe it’s the heat, and maybe it’s the gravitational pull, but there’s less movement and less hurrying.”

The scenery helps too. Everything’s green, like super green. It’s been raining buckets here in Georgia for a several weeks now, and the trees are amazing shades and hues of reds, yellows, and tans, while the manifold evergreens provide a lovely contrast where leaves have fallen. The humidity makes my hair curl delightfully (I don’t even have to style it, really) and makes my skin moisturized and almost dewy. I need so little lotion to be here, and I don’t wake up from sleep parched and drained. Kitty’s HKC is quiet, except for the occasional BONK! of something being knocked over by its quadripedal denizens or a long, low train whistle arcing over the still countryside as it chugs through town. We awake to the sound of Leroy the rooster “rrt-rr-rrtr-RRRR!”ing between 7am and 8am, and we drive to D2U along a two-lane country road/state highway and enjoy the rolling hills and surprise goats and sheep sightings along the way.

My posts from here to the end of the year will be irregular, but I’ll post something here and there to update my faithful dozens of readers on my little climb back to sanity and stability. And I’ll do my best to work in a Mile-High-Visitation version of Ask Mom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm not finished, but I'm done.

Seriously. I'm there.

I'll spare you the gory details because they make me so angry, but my structural consultant on TCMC (who's never given me a bit of trouble in nearly ten years) hasn't really looked at the drawings in a month until his QC guy noticed that we were removing a bunch of walls that he needed to remain in order to carry some roof loads. He notices this on Monday, and then he notices again on Wednesday when I called him to ask him about his final revisions to his plans that were due later that day. He blamed the lack of oversight on a tight budget, but come. on. We removed five exterior walls from this area of the building in the drawings two months ago. Spend half an hour with the drawing set and I think that would become clear pretty quickly.

Thing is, architecture is done, and structural is done. We're waiting on mechanical to reconfigure their ductwork with all these new walls and beams suddenly in the space where they weren't before. Mechanical has not impressed me so far on this project...well, up until now. They've really stepped up after the contortions that structural gave us so late in the game, and I appreciate it like hell. And Howie says we're probably going to owe them a li'l cash when this is over. Rightfully so--I'm sure they've gone way over their fee for reasons that were completely out of their control. But the fee thing is killing everyone these days. In order to get jobs, we're all getting paid less because every client wants a deal, like they're buying their plans at Costco or something. But the project is at the point where no one can afford to work on it, which sends it into a death spiral of poor quality, and if we do a crappy job we won't get hired again, and then we won't get work....

Furthermore, I've had it with Howie on this project. He believed that when my structural guy called up all surprised about these walls that were "suddenly" missing, I should have called him on it and made him admit that he didn't look at my drawings. I didn't do that for two reasons: one, I had problems to solve. We can point fingers later, but right now I need everyone's cooperation in order to solve it in the short amount of time we have to get this done. And second, the engineer already admitted inadvertently that he hadn't looked at my drawings--he did so on Monday when he said, "I just the report back from my QC guy, and it appears that you guys are all of a sudden now taking out all the exterior walls in this area--is that correct?" It wasn't all of a sudden; the walls have been gone for about two months. And also, your QC saw this, not you? Busted. So no, Howie, I didn't give him grief when he said it, because I used my "psychic female intuition," which is commonly called "listening" and "making logical conclusions" to figure out in about 2.3 nanoseconds just exactly how this got missed. I didn't need to engage in your particular brand of a macho-man pissing contest in order to make him admit guilt. It doesn't satisfy me the way it does you. now get the fuck out of my way and let me finish this project.

So, I'm just done.

Today, we should be getting the mechanical engineer's information, and we'll work with him some to make sure that nothing in his model is colliding with anything important in any other model, and then we'll print the drawings and be done. The submittal to the state health department will have to happen next week by someone other than me, because I'm gone-baby-gone to Georgia for a week. And if those dipshits are lucky, I'll check my email periodically to see if anyone has any questions.

Guess who needs a massage and a nap?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Still here...sorta

My deadline got pushed to Wednesday, so Intern Timmy and I still have one more day of work to do on TCMC. Turns out that our structural engineer hasn't really looked at the drawings for the past two months, and he suddenly realized that we were tearing out a lot more of the load-bearing walls than he originally thought. Plus, we finally heard back from the OR equipment company about where the surgery booms should be placed, which left the MEP engineers very little time to really revise their drawings properly for a deadline today. Hence, the delay in the deadline.

This one-day extension is good and bad. Good in that we've got a little extra time to check things, coordinate stuff, get everyone on the same page. Bad in that everyone was planning on being done today--the engineers had booked their drafters on other projects tomorrow, and Intern Timmy and I are both working overtime and need to take those hours off pretty soon. Further complicating matters is that the delay in deadline means that I have to get a package ready to go to the state health department for review, but it might not be ready to go out until next week...when I'm gone to Georgia.

My sister and I IM'd briefly today regarding our maddening end-of-year schedules, and we came to the same conclusion: we may not be finished, but we're DONE.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Justwaittiltuesday justwaittiltuesday justwaittiltuesday...

Y'all, it appears that I'm going to have to work both days this weekend, both for TCMC's Tuesday deadline and for Mickey's project that I'm helping him with, for which he has to pick up drawings from the office Sunday night to take with him on an early Monday morning flight to an all-week client meeting. And I'm so worn out from changing mental gears but racing along in 6th gear physically (occasionally with m parking brake on) for the past three days that I only have the energy to read catalogs when I get home. Not even magazines, y'all: catalogs.

Hence, I'm not gonna have anything useful or coherent to say on WAD until Wednesday. Please stand by--I'll be back soon after my deadlines have passed. Word.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Balancing acts: the irony of my expertise

Y'all know I have kvetched before about how Howie, my project manager, needs me to work no more than 18 hours a week on TCMC's surgery renovation and addition. The reason I'm annoyed by his request/demand is twofold: a) we're supposed to do to this project in less time but still maintain his standards, and b) we're supposed to do this in less time and maintain any kind of decent standards. While Intern Timmy can do a lot of drawing and figuring out some stuff without my help, I need to look at the drawings and the set one more time before this all goes out a week from today, and there are certain pieces of information of which I need to keep track (or track down). Hence, I still have to spend some time on the project, and that 18 hours can build up fast. First, I make some phone calls and review the specs with Howie. That spec review will surely spur some questions that I have to go ask of someone and research and so on, and then a day will pass and some of the phone calls get returned with actual answers and other phone calls and emails will be returned with more questions. This gets even more complicated when you remember that Howie has to know everything about the project, and so instead of being able to use one's best judgement, we now have to involve Howie. There are times when that process is helpful, and there are times when it's beyond frustrating and slows us down.

I remarked to Howie last week that I was trying desperately not to work more than 18 hrs/wk on TCMC, but that there's stuff that just has to be done, and not doing it is not an option, and handing it over to Intern Timmy isn't an option either. Howie sighed empathetically. "Yeah, that's the problem. This job can't afford you and me, but we need you and me to get the jobs." That's the sad irony of it all. In order to get work, especially in this climate, a firm needs really good, skilled, knowledgeable healthcare architects who understand a building inside and out in order to go after the work. We have to be able to walk into a room and say, "Look at these architects we have! They will design your building/department for you, and they know sooooo much about healthcare buildings!" What we don't tell them is that we bill our clients upwards of $100/hr for my time and even more for Howie's time. So we ask for a low fee in order to get the job, and then we can't even afford to work on it and use the expertise that a project like this so desperately needs. It's such an unfortunate situation that I've used the word "desperate" twice in this paragraph, not including this sentence.

So I have to find other things to do, such as work on a project with Mickey. And oddly enough, I'm fine with it, as his project has lots to do in a short amount of time, and they need the help. But it feels really weird to do interior elevation redlines for another project when your own project has a deadline less than a week away. Eeek.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Black Friday from Maddy and Hazel

Hazel (left, tabby and curled up) and Maddy (right, semi-awake) remind you to watch your budgets this year and bring water and snacks so that you don't shop hungry. Or better yet, don't go out at all. We're doing Thanksgiving on Friday this year, as Guy and I flew in on Thanksgiving in order to get a semi-cheap flight. We'll have a Spa Saturday and then maybe a Gray Sunday (which means mostly window shopping) along with lots of goofy comments and behavior. Hope y'all had a great Thanksgiving and are enjoying a little time off.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Check the oven, I think the architect is done

Is it just me, or is everyone ready for the four-day weekend? I had an all-morning coordination meeting today on TCMC, which was followed by another hour-long meeting with Howie over what he wants changed in the drawing set, because gloriosky! we couldn't possibly be done with him changing his mind with less than two weeks to go before final CDs go out. I found myself collapsed in my fancy-schmancy $750 Herman Miller Think chair and drained of all useful thought and energy. It wasn't quite a flu-like feeling, but I'm sure you've felt it. Just wiped. out.

It doesn't help that Howie wants me working no more than 18 hours a week on this project. In order to do a good job on it, I need to be able to work steadily on it in order to answer questions and fix things and look up other stuff while Intern Timmy draws and draws and draws and draws and caters to Howie's graphical whims. Thankfully, I have another project in the office that I can help on, but it seems like they only need help at almost the same time that I have a deadline. Then when I have not much to do on TCMC, they don't need me.

The sound of Howie's voice annoys me. The hum of Revit thinking as it saves back to the central file annoys me. Having to make coffee yet again because someone drained the pot and couldn't for some reason make some more French Roast annoys me. I'm done, D-U-N. I want to go home and eat my mom's Thanksgiving turkey for the first time in seven years. I want to go to the spa with m sister and then go to her little house and snuggy her menagerie of kittehs and chikinz and singular puppeh. I want to enjoy a little humidity and goof off time with my cutie pie Guy.

Meh. One more day of drawing and I'm Audi 5000. The office should be a ghost ship today, so maybe I'll actually get something done for a change.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Visual Inspiration: The Back of Your Head

When you do your hair in the morning, you spend a lot of time making the bangs fluff just right and the sides fan and curl just so. Even the top gets a little fluffing, doesn't it? But what about the back? Very few people remember that everyone sees that back of their head as well as the front, and what happens when that's a mess? (That very notion was the source of a little humor in one of the Harry Potter movies when a time-traveling Hermione sees herself from the back and is horrified to see what her hair looks like.)

Buildings are no different. We design them to be seen from a certain place or on a certain side--usually the front--and pay less attention to working out the sides and back, unless there's actually room to stand back and see what the building looks like from another side. This happens a lot more in contemporary architecture as buildings get built closer and closer together and there's less room on the sides and back for doing cool stuff and spending money. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see the Back of Your Head phenomenon with buildings, especially houses.

First off, a lovely little bungalow in Cherry Creek North. Even the side has some awnings and pitched roofs and some flair, though the house on this side is gone and a store has taken its place.

The house on the other side of this little bungalow has been removed too, and turned into an empty scraped site, awaiting development. What I found interesting was the house behind our bungalow in question. The newer light-colored house has some interesting stuff happening on its side--an extended chunk of the first floor and a chimney--but the back is pretty plain. That makes sense, given that no one's really looking at the back of this house from far away...until now, when the adjacent house is gone.

This little shop in Cherry Creek North took advantage of a projecting side wall by painting it with petroglyph shapes, which echo the theme of the store itself and provides a little passive advertising. But behind the awning and the decorative wall, you can see slivers of the green-shingled roof and the brick building beyond that makes up the rest of this store. I took this photo from the middle of the street in order to get just this glimpse. I'm pretty sure most people don't look at this building this way, so they miss the view I have above. The store gave some thought to the Back of Its Head, or at the very least, the Side of Its Head Behind the Nice Bangs.

This is a really nice house on a corner lot in a really nice neighborhood in Denver. Corner lots are fun yet challenging for architects, because now the building has two "fronts." This house seems to have provided two good fronts for itself...

...oh snap! This is the other face of that house above. It feels like the side of one face--which now has become the Back of Its Head--got chopped off by the property line and adjacent residence. The problem is, there's no avoiding seeing this if you're walking or driving. It can star in its own movie with Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, called House, Interrupted.

This Cherry Creek restaurant also has a corner condition, and it does a good job of presenting a good face to both cross streets. The tan/brown brick condo building beyond it is not so successful--a wide, flat side with a couple of forlorn windows thrown in for good measure. I've always wondered why condo buildings treat the outside side walls so crappily. If you made those units look good and have really awesome windows and sides, couldn't you charge more for those end units?

Uh-oh, looks like the restaurant forgot about the Back of Its Head. Overall, it's a nice elevation that faces its own parking lot, to be sure, but see how that light wall turns into a dark wall as you go along the driveway? That's some really nice light-colored stone facing the major street, and then it all-of-a-sudden turns into dark concrete block. Really? So you'll show pedestrians a nice face, but the people actually parking in your lot and coming to eat at your establishment aren't worth a few more nice stones on the low wall? Oh, and towards the back of your building: I can see your garage door.

The house we saw in the second picture with the flat back? I can forgive it, because it was built with other things around it to provide context. But the restaurant above was built brand new this year with aaaaaaaalllllll that space open. Is it hoping that someone will build on its parking lot and hide some of the back for them? If so, that's a pretty odd business plan.

Monday, November 16, 2009

MaddyWatch: quite well, actually.

Longtime WAD readers recall that my cat Maddy has abdominal small cell lymphosarcoma. In May, the vet oncologist said that she had four to six weeks to live.

'Twould seem Maddy had something to say about that.

Mysterious kitteh is being mysterious.

Maddy has made it fourteen months since her diagnosis and six months since the vet oncologist proclaimed her almost ready-to-go. A visit to the vet onc last month left us all in good spirits. The vet looked at Maddy, felt her tummy, and mused, "...huh. I have to really dig to feel that lymph node in her abdomen. Her bowel still feels a little thickened, but her lymph nodes have shrunken down."

"How does that work? She's not supposed to beat this cancer, is she?" I asked.

"No," replied the vet. "This type of cancer in cats sometimes ebbs and flows. Right now, hers is in ebb. It will eventually flow back and get her, but it can ebb and flow one or more times as she hangs on. How's her energy, her quality of life?"

Her quality of life is pretty damn awesome. She's at about 75% of her normal self, which means she's at about 90% of a normal cat. Maddy has been nearly up my ass for almost her entire 11 years, so the fact that she spends some time in the bathroom, in the closet, or on the chaise is amazing. Usually, she's right with me, following me and harassing me.

I noes u haz fud, Mama.

She's up to about 11.4 pounds, which is amazing. She still feels kinda bony, but she's put on some weight.

Ehn! Pie!

As has Hazel. She's getting more to eat because Maddy gets more to eat, and occasionally Hazel will push Maddy around for her noms. Just as quickly though, I'll hear a fight in the other room and come in to see Maddy kicking Hazel's ass yet again. Hazel gives me that look like "I thought you said she was dying!"

We all thought that. And she will eventually die from this cancer. But for now, she's doing quite well and enjoying life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reason #874 I married Guy

[the TV room/den/guest room, Pixie reading an issue of Yoga Journal while Guy surfs the web on the nearby computer]

Guy: So how much vacation time do you have to use up before the 24th?
Pixie: 67 hours.
Guy: Wait--like...
Pixie: As in eight days and three hours.
Guy: Damn! [pause] Huh...

[silence for about five minutes; college football plays on the TV on low volume]

Guy: So...I know we're going to St. Louis for Christmas, but...what if you went to visit your mom and sister for a while in December?
Pixie: I can't go til after the 8th--that's when Tumbleweed County's CDs are due.
Guy: Well, but maybe you could go after that, like the week before Christmas. Look, you could fly out--
Pixie: [exasperatedly drops magazine into her lap] I can't afford to fucking fly at Christmas, Guy. I checked into it--it's well over $300 to fly from Denver to Atlanta and then to St. Louis. I'm about to be out a week's worth of pay. I can't afford to go anywhere with all this time off.
Guy: Well then, I'll pay for it.
Pixie: [blank look] But...well, I don't know when I could pay you back; it'd be spring before I could.
Guy: You wouldn't have to. I owe you, actually.
Pixie: Wait, I paid you for the new iPods, but--
Guy: [turning fully to Pixie] Look: I sponged offa you for a long time. When we first moved in together, you paid way more of the bills than I did while I paid off my student loans.
Pixie: Well, you had student loans and I didn't.
Guy: Pix, I can actually afford it. I've got my emergency fund paid up, my Roth IRA is maxed out for the year, and I can even make a mortgage payment for you and buy your tickets to Atlanta.
Pixie: [pinched mouth, looking unsure]
Guy: [cute voice] Aaaall you have to do is say yeee-eeees...
Pixie: [sighs] Well....
Guy: [turns back to computer] It's decided. you're going to Georgia. You can leave the 12th and fly back on the 20th...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The curious case of forced free time

It was announced at an office meeting last week that Design Associates would not be giving out raises again this year, plus we have to take six unpaid days off: the day after Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas and New Year's (Xmas Eve + four days before Jan 1st). Also, we had to take all of our vacation days by the end of the year, and we couldn't take those days during the furlough day spans and use the furlough days elsewhere between now and December 31st--they had to be separate. Ouch. Audrey was the one who made the announcement, and as the words fell from her lips, the room got a little quieter, stiller, chillier. As we all stood up to leave the meeting, Liz murmured, "Y'know, being at 36 hours all year, we've been on furlough."

The mandatory time off leaves me with mixed emotions, mostly because I have a job to work on, and that job is for Howie. When the time comes that I have to take off my vacation time before the furlough starts, will Howie remember that it's mandatory and neither I nor anyone else is going to work for free? Remember folks--the majority of employees at DA are hourly, not salary, so we only get paid for time we work and conversely one is hard pressed to make us work hours that we're not paid for. As fees on projects have been compressed and we're all handed the typical white-collar cliches--worker smarter not harder, do more with less, optimize procedures, etc.--Howie has told us that "things have changed." Projects require that we find ways to maintain quality but don't use as much time (and therefore fee) as we used to use. Fair enough, but at some point we've squeezed out all the air. It takes what it takes to make a project solid, thorough, and well coordinated. There's no optimizing our strategic input--it takes what it takes to check four pages of interior elevations on a 20,000sf hospital expansion. But there's quality, and there's Howie quality. Quality is doing one or two sets of redlines; Howie quality is doing four or five sets of redlines that take up your entire eight-hour day working on a 6,000sf project with a super lowballed fee. We can do quality work, but if you want to fuck around with the floor plan for a whole day, it takes time...time that I have to be at the office but aren't supposed to be because I can only work 36 hours a day and have to take some of my vacation time soon. And that time translates into fee that we don't really have, do we? And we can't always be doing micromanaging maniac-style quality when we have $12.35 left in our budget. As you've said, Howie, things have changed.

I feel really bad for the interns that are left at DA. Interns Timmy and Kimmy, for example, are very fast at drawing and rendering and doing things in Photoshop and Illustrator and so on, and they bill cheaply to the client ($60-$70/hr, whereas I'm more like $100/hr). Hence, project managers are constantly keeping them busy and dragging them back into the office when they're supposed to be gone (to stay at 36 hours) to work on stuff for cheap, so then they have to keep a running tally of that time and take it later as comp time, but then yet another manager keeps them late one night and drags them in on another day they're supposed to be off, and they can never seem to take the comp time. So here these interns are with a bunch of comp time they can't take, along with a bunch of vacation time they have to take, and oh, yeah, they have some unpaid days coming up too.

The whole situation sucks. And yes, I know the city of Denver and many state employees as well have had furlough days this year, and I know that there are people who are still on unemployment after a year or more. But the fact that people have been starving in Cambodia for thirty years doesn't make the more-recently starving Somalians feel better. So it is with my colleagues and me. Guy and I are figuring out how to make the missing week's worth of pay work out for us, and I'm sure we'll get by fine. The real challenge in all of this for me is this: how do I make sure I use my forced free time for writing and working on my upcoming presentation and not spend it cleaning the grout in the bathroom floor tiles? That may be the biggest problem that I'm up against, even more so than the lack of fundage. If the guilt over my productivity doesn't kill me, the sudden unfamiliar rush of procrastination just might.

I think I have a few writers out there in teh interwebz--how do you avoid housecleaning and get your writing done instead?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where's the fun, man? Epilogue

(Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here for those who are catching up.)

So I now have multiple weapons in my arsenal to fight flab and poor health. Running, walking, swimming, dancing, yoga, and weightlifting can be mixed together to keep me active enough to maintain my weight, my health, my energy, and my mood. That's the funny thing about exercise--I started doing it to lose weight for my general health and not for vanity, but the benefits have gone much deeper. I learned firsthand about the antidepressant benefits of exercise when I sprained my ankle and was in a foul mood for a couple of months without those endorphins careening through my bloodstream on a regular basis. I've noticed that when I really don't get any exercise at all for more than a couple of days, I get cranky and listless. I have actually hankered for a salad and a walk in the past couple of years, hankered for them in the way that most people hanker for a glass of wine and some chocolate cake. Hanker.

What is most elusive for me is one of the essential components of the health equation, a factor that I referred to in my first post on this topic: rest. I'm really bad at resting, even when I know I really need to do so. Guy used to heckle me about this--I'd complain that my joints ached and my muscles felt tweaked, and he'd say with tongue planted in cheek, "Well, just make sure that you run four miles tomorrow morning--you just know that'll help you." "Ha ha, asshole," I'd reply, but he was right. I needed to rest, and yet I wouldn't. Hell, when I'm sitting around the house, I can't rest. When I decide to sit down and read a book or magazine, I sit down five or six times before I really sit down to read--I have to get up and toss out some papers, then I sit down and get up to shut off some lights and save energy, then I sit down and get up to give the cats a couple treats, then I sit down and get up to scoop the get the picture. A great deal of my identity and habits is tied up in how productive I am, so just sitting down to enjoy a magazine goes against everything I've internalized in life. It's hard to go against that.

I've been extremely run down this week, which appears to have been caused by a combination of a late night out Tuesday night (I saw Wicked!!1!!) and one drink too many (which would be two, for those keeping score at home) as well as monthly hormone fluctuations. However, I have to wonder if maybe it's just time for a rest week. The time change and the change of season usually means we're supposed to take some time for reflection and slow down along with the earth, but you wouldn't know it from the whirling dervish that I am. I resist the idea of taking a break, which probably means that I need it. I once fretted to a friend of mine that I always feared taking a break, and his response was to chuckle and say, "Pixie, you're so motivated that you can never be at rest, so don't worry--if you take a break, your mind will eventually propel you back into motion again."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where's the fun, man? Part 2 of 2

(Part 1 is here for those of you catching up.)

The search for less painful workouts has been on for at least a year now. It began a couple of years ago when I sprained my ankle really really really badly (go here for the first installment of that 31 flavors of misery), but it's become an even more urgent search with my recent general agitation and search for identity, blah blah blah. The first step in any healthy exercise regimen, which I usually forget about until Vinnie reminds me while I'm using my cold drink glass to ice a hip or ankle at the bar, is rest. The body needs rest in order to heal properly and (re)build tissues that you've worked out. Every now and then, maybe once every three or four months when I remember, I do an active rest week in place of my regular workout. I walk at a nice but not exhausting pace (about 4.0 mph, which is about how fast I walk around the office or down a sidewalk) instead of running or doing intervals, and I do yoga instead of lifting weights. I rely on movement first thing in the morning to set me up for the day, but I don't need to do tons of activity every time. Just enough that I don't fall asleep again if I lay my head back on the yoga mat while stretching or cooling down.

It's only been in the last couple of months that I realized that yoga could be a completely acceptable replacement for one of my cardio days. I generally do tough cardio M-W-F, weights with occasional yoga Tu-Th, and a long "fun" walk on Saturdays. A good yoga routine can replace one of those tough cardio days and still provide good health benefits. "You know, Pix," Vinnie said when I mentioned this back a couple of months, "we have research that shows that strength isn't built by microtears in the muscle fibers but rather by the muscle pulling away from the bone. And there are plenty of non-painful exercise that makes that happen, including yoga. It's not the worse thing you can do." So I do yoga. And when the weather's good, I can swim on the rooftop pool. But now that the weather's gone to crap, what's a girl to do for an alternative to her workouts before she loses her mind?

"When I'm in town in October," Kitty said during the summer, "I want to take a pole class. There's one not far from your condo, and it looks really fun on YouTube."

"Yeah, okay," I responded. I had zero interest in attending such an activity, but I'm glad to do what Kitty wants while she's here because my urban lifestyle affords her access to lots of things that she doesn't get living in the boonies in Georgia. So, on a cloudy and cold Saturday afternoon, we show up at the pole dancing studio in time to watch a more advanced class finish up just before our Introduction to Pole class.

And when I say pole dancing, I don't mean a bunch of Polish people dancing to a polka, which would be an honest mistake. I mean as in swinging around a pole and gyrating like you were working for tips in a g-string pole. Pole. Dancing. The room was mostly dark with loud music blaring, and there were five or six brass poles in the room braced firmly between the ceiling and the wood-look sheet vinyl floor, and there were women swirling and hanging and gyrating around and on and off these poles. Okay. Fair enough. That looked simple enough to accomplish.

Finally, it was the beginner's class' turn. We rolled out yoga mats on the floor and began stretching and doing some basic hip circles and rolls. It was at this point that I got extraordinarily uncomfortable with the whole thing. It's one thing to make these kinds of movements, it's another to make these kinds of movements in a roomful of strangers in a slightly darkened room while the class teacher keeps telling us to "go within", and it's still yet another to do all these tings with Usher and Prince playing on the iPod speakers. I don't "go within" to baby-making music, mm-kay Poopsie? Because if I do, this will turn into a very different class altogether. It's just...weird. And I'm totally comfortable with my sexuality and my identity as a woman--it's that this whole ordeal so far felt artificially intimate. I calmed myself down by telling myself that I only have to do this for two hours, and if Kitty wants to come back she can come back alone, or you can suffer another two hours, it won't be that bad.

But then, we started doing some other floor exercises, moves, and stretches that, while suggestive, were quite a workout. I mean, it really took some abdominal strength and tricep and deltoid strength to do the moves. And while they took effort, they And kinda fun.

And then we got to the pole. Turns out that picking yourself up onto a pole to swing around is really REALLY HARD. Dancers make it look easy, but it takes a lot of back and ab strength to make that move look smooth and not hurt like hell the next day. So we all tried some moves and some swirls around the poles, taking turns because there were ten people in the class and only six (I think) poles, but really getting into it. And when I say getting into it, I don't mean I was shakin' my boo-tay and thinking about getting it on or heading over to one of the strip clubs in town to see if I could pick up some extra money for the holidays, but I got into the idea of moving for the sake of moving. If, as the class instructor said, there were no rules here, then I could very well follow a butt swivel with a pointed toe leg lift like I was in ballet and then do a standing split that I learned in a yoga class in Vegas. The very notion of movement for the fun and sake of movement--and to the beat of music you liked, even!--was suddenly a really new concept to me.

Kitty and I went back a couple of days later for a private lesson with the main instructor and studio owner, and it was a blast. We learned some new strength and stretching moves, and we practiced some more with lifting up on the pole and spinning around, which was still hard to do. Our muscles ached terribly from the first class, but hell if I was going to miss the chance to throw myself into a state of centrifugal motion (as opposed to centripetal--since I was in the rotation, I was in a noninertial frame of reference, no?) and lift myself off the floor if only for a second. Also very cool were some of the conversations and philosophy that we discussed. We talked about engaging in movement for oneself and not for the pleasure of someone watching, and we also discussed taking up space, which women aren't taught to do. Think about it--if you're a girl, you're taught to take up very little space on the bus, to sit with your knees together at all times, and to move out of the way when ever someone's coming or passing. To hell with that--move the furniture out of the way and get your groove on.

Also worth noting were the women that attended the classes--our beginner's class had a size-16/18 girl with about five classes under her belt, and she could move. A superskinny librarian-looking woman pushing forty had great success in doing turns on her first try (turns is the official word for swinging around a pole), and a volleyball-player-looking Asian girl had great floor moves despite never having any dance training whatsoever. It was quite a relief for the class though when Kitty confessed that she'd daintzed before. One girl suddenly burst out "Ohthankgawd! I looked at you during the warmup and thought 'damn! I'm behind!'"

Since those lessons, I haven't been back to the dance studio, but that's because a) their classes start at 6pm, and that's about 12 hours after I start working out, but more importantly, b) I'm not much of a class taker when it comes to workouts. I prefer to lead myself most of the time, what with being the most motivated person I know. But I've been doing at least one day per week of just dancing around the living room like a goofball/exotic dancer/Paula Abdul-wannabe to playlists on my iPod...because it's fun. I get my heartrate up, and I get a good workout, but overall it's just fun. I'm so used to focusing on the "work" part of "workout" that I never realized it's not supposed to be such drudgery. I've managed to keep 20 pounds off for over four years. I think it's time to enjoy the process.

I may have to start using the raquetball court to dance in. The living room is getting too small for me to bring it old school to some Janet Jackson at 6:30am.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where's the fun, man? Part 1 of 2

I've mentioned before on this tripe of a blog that I am nearly immune to procrastination. I am quite possibly one of the most accomplished average people I know. I'm no Maya Lin or Mahatma Gandhi or Bill Gates, to be sure, but I just have a great deal of focus and drive and git-er-doneness, for lack of a better phrase. (I guess "follow-through" would be a better phrase, so I don't actually lack the word, huh?) Whether it's homework or housework, phone calls or billpaying, I make like Nike and Just Do It. (Mom: Have I always been this annoying?) This follow-through and discipline has extended to every corner of my existence. I do the code study because it's tough and rigorous; I make the phone calls to the person that no one wants to talk to because I can eventually get them to understand what we're trying to do on the project; I clean the house while doing my laundry because the mess bothers me before it bothers anyone else around here; I eat several servings of fruits and veggies a day and exercise every morning so that I can indulge in the occasional (or even daily) brownie or cookie.

It's the workout that can be a grind. Every morning, 6am: out of bed, workout gear and shoes on, on the treadmill or lifting weights and doing something pretty rigorous for about 40 or so minutes a day, six mornings a week. Did I mention I've been working out every morning for about eight years now? Yeah. I'm in good shape to be sure, but sometimes it's painful in two ways. The first source of pain is obvious--knees that have seen hundreds of miles of outdoor runs beg for the elliptical and some ice, the shoulders and lats that complain when I pull on a jacket and ask if it was really necessary to do three sets of 80-lb pulldowns in the weight room yesterday, and the ankles that cringed this afternoon during a somewhat leisurely trip to Sam's Club to pick up some more bulk supplies. The ankls asked, "Do you remember all the standing we did at the party on Friday night? Yeah, we're still kinda in pain from that. Knock that off, sister."

But it's the second type of pain that wears on you to the point of wanting to climb up in a bell tower and shoot at Spinning instructors with a high-powered rifle and scope. It's the drive in me, the taskmaster that says if you sleep in once you'll sleep in again and again and the next thing you know your ass and gut will be the size of Montana and you know what that does to your blood pressure and cholesterol and Guy deserves a much more attractive wife than that don't you think and God forbid you be heavy and unhealthy and lazy. LAZY!!! So I drag out of bed with aching abductor muscles and wincing erector spinae and stumble into the bathroom and pull on my gear and go. Again.

As I came up on my eighth year of continuous workouts, Vinnie saluted me with a highball at our favorite watering hole. "You know," he uttered, "given your Slavic genes and your height, it's a miracle that you've kept the weight off as long as you have. You're fighting against not just human biology, but genetic biology." True enough, my Polish genes would love to keep my middle thick as pudding on my 5'-0" frame, and I refuse to allow that to happen. But as hard as I work, even at the age of 34 I can feel my body occasionally rebelling, with the aching joints and tendons and muscles, and the rebellions seem to happen more and more often. I'm trying to get more out of each workout (can I get five or six moves that work my whole body in under 30 minutes?), but it seems sometimes like my body doesn't want any of it.

Support for my sort of problem is actually spotty, despite the plethora of fitness and women's health magazines out there. I've subscribed to Shape for a while now, and I've come to realize over the past four or so years that many of the workouts--especially the cardio ones--aren't nearly as tough as what I do on a regular basis. I can incorporate some of the weight moves that they show, but I have to increase the weight they use by at least three pounds per arm. The models demonstrating the moves are slightly meatier versions of magazine models--maybe they're a size 2 or 4 instead of a 0. On the other end of the scale is Muscle & Fitness Hers. I flipped through one of their issues in the airport recently, and while the moves and workouts looked pretty good, the models demonstrating them were downright horrifying, with their super-lumpy muscles and equally-overdone-and-freakish makeup and hair. One major article in that issue profiled some fitness and bikini competition in which many of the competitors looked grotesque. (I don't have a better word for it than grotesque; I really don't.) So what these magazines are telling me, evidently, is that women who are truly interested in peak performance and being really strong and in shape cannot also be into makeup or good food or other types of health news. If I'm really into being strong, says Muscle & Fitness Hers, I have to be a man with lipstick and tits, and the only other articles allowed in my 'zines discuss the value of creatine, a two-page spread of "health news", and a four page ad-that-looks-like-an-article from a supplement maker. Count me out.

So last night as we were relaxing after our trip, Guy and I somehow got on the weight discussion. "So what's my cap, cutie?" I asked Guy. "How high can I go before you get worried?"

Guy: What's the highest you've ever been?
Pixie:140. That was my peak in high school, and that's what I was in the fall of '01. [pause] And you didn't seem to be horrified. I was still gettin' laid twice a week, and I'm only gettin' it once a week now.
Guy: Tuh! I'm married, now!" Guy returned. "We gotta do this for 40 years, I'm gonna ration it!
Pixie: [chuckling] Whatever. So is 140 my cap?
Guy: I dunno...I think you could go 160 before I'd get worried.
Pixie: 160?! That's generous, honeybear! Can you imagine what I'd look like?
Guy: What are you now?
Pixie: 120-122, depending on time of day and month.
Guy: Well...[thoughtful pause] If one day when you're fifty you say, 'Guy, I want a piece of pizza,' I'm gonna say, 'okay baby, you go ahead.'
Pixie: [laughing]
Guy: Well? I think you've earned it by that time. You do what you want.

So while I have Guy's blessing to girth it up at any time, I'm not ready to yet. But if I'm not giving up my workouts, how am I supposed to make them more tolerable? And maybe even less painful?

to be continued...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Feliz cumpleanos, El Papa del Guy!

Today is Guy's dad's 70th birthday, so we're off to St. Louis for a surprise visit to celebrate. It'll be a very quick trip--in town for less than 24 hours due to Guy's really busy work schedule, but I know we'll enjoy the time while we're there.

I'm doubly thankful for the opportunity to visit and celebrate. Last week, longtime employee and architect at Design Associates, Sutherland, whom some of you might remember as the guy who hired both Guy and me at DA, passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. He was younger than El Papa del Guy, and he will be very much missed. His funeral is today, on EPdG's birthday. Such is the circle of life, I suppose. It's good to remember to appreciate our loved ones, and even our friends and acquaintances while they're still around. A few months ago, I emailed Sutherland to thank him for playing inadvertent matchmaker by hiring Guy and me. His response was kind and "aw shucks"-y, but I think he kinda appreciated it.

I know I appreciate it. Every day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The price is (almost) right

Earlier this week, we finally heard from the contractor on the DD pricing for TCMC, and we were pretty close to budget. Howie and I met with Akira from Avanta Health and several guys from the contracting company, whom I'll call Builditol Construction. Attending from Builditol was the project manager, who oversees budgets, schedules, and scope from start to finish; the main estimator, who sends out drawings and gathers bids on the work from various subcontractors; the MEP expert (for lack of a better phrase), who used to install mechanical and plumbing systems, so he knows a lot about MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) and can attest to what it takes to put those systems in a building as well as vet the prices that the subs send them; and a tech person who helped them navigate the various drawings and spreadsheets and so on that they pulled up on their laptops as we talked.

We were about 6% over construction budget, which could be accounted for partially through unforeseen issues with the project in general (like having to move a generator that we didn't think/know we'd have to move) and added scope from the owner (some extra sitework and retaining walls that they wanted in the side yard by the surgery department). It was also nice to see that Builditol included a fair amount of escalation and contingency in their original numbers from SD (which were just barely in budget) so that we had room for some additional problems that we didn't foresee and some other scope creep from the owner.

I should explain some terms here briefly, and I'll use the example of redoing a bathroom in your own home as a basis for these definitions. Let's say you decide that in 2010, you're going to remodel your master bathroom: new toilets and sinks and faucets and shower/tub and flooring and tile and even new lighting. Very cool, right? Well, let's say you decide you're going to do this yourself, so after you've drawn up plans and you know what you want where, you visit Home Depot and Lowe's and The Great Indoors, among other places, and you pick what fixtures you want and what tile you want and how much tile and so on. Then, you add up the costs of each of those items and that final number gives you your base budget. But let's think about this: if you're buying all these things in 2010 and not now, the costs may go up. Maybe when everyone starts shopping again, retailers will increase prices, or maybe the costs will go up because there won't be enough toilets to meet the demand of all the people buying them. The extra cost that contractors include to account for the price of things going up in the future is called escalation.

Now, you're looking at your bathroom, and you realize that the house is over fifty years old, and Lawd only knows what's in that wall when you tear off the tile, and Jesus, Mary, and Bob Vila help us if there's mold or evidence of a bad subfloor under there when you pull out that old tub insert. You'll need to fix those items--now you've got extra wall board or plywood subflooring to buy, maybe some sleepers to put under the existing floor joists, a little Kilz to mitigate any mild moldy funk. But uh-oh...did you account for all this extra spending? If you included contingency you did, at least to some extent. The other place that contingency gets eaten up in a project is scope creep: you decide that while you're doing the bathroom, you'll add a little wet bar in your bedroom on the other side of the bathroom wall where you're running a plumbing pipe anyway. Why not? you think. Well, at the very least, it's just adding more cost. At the worst, each bit of scope creep--adding something to the project that wasn't originally part of the project--begets new problems that require more contingency and/or scope creep. So adding that wet bar in the bedroom suddenly means that the pocket door no longer has a wall to tuck into, so now you need a new door, but because the house is so old it's settled and you have to redo the door frame and replumb it, but now you've cut a larger hole in the wall to get the new swinging door to fit so you have to redo the drywall in the bedroom, which means painting....

It's at the point when you realize that the budget is too small to do what you want that you may engage in value engineering, or VE, as we in Da Biz (un)affectionately call it. Value engineering is supposed to be a process in which the design and construction team brainstorms ways to get the project in budget but not sacrifice quality--is there a cheaper product that works just as well? Is there a supplier that can get us the product ( or a comparable one) faster or cheaper? Is there a subcontractor who can do just as good of a job for less? While this sounds fantastic, what it usually means is that we strip the building of nice finishes (say goodbye to the really cool carpet and interesting sheet vinyl patterns) and even some useful stuff ( looks like the heat and AC for the entire west portion of the admin wing gets controlled by one VAV box--good luck with that). In some VE efforts I've done, we really did get value: for example, a cabinetmaker suggested that we use regular rubber wall base as the base for some cabinets under contertops because the rubber would hold up better to being kicked than the plastic laminate would. That's a great idea! Not so great was when we superstripped the sheet vinyl brands and colors and patterns in Wheatlands--turns out we even eliminated the antistatic sheet vinyl that was required in the equipment room for the MRI. I haven't heard of anything arcing or blowing up out there, but it's only been a couple of years. So, let's say you decide you really want the wet bar, so you decide to keep the old tub and just replace the sink and toilet, and you decide to redo the walls with a less expensive tile--no glass accents like you planned previously. You'll replace the flooring, but not in this project, maybe later in 2010.

So, we got some really good news today. We're pretty close to being on budget, so next week we'll present these numbers to TCMC and ask them if they're good with us proceeding. We have our fingers crossed--Lawd knows we'd all like some work to do.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Visual Inspiration: Hidden Places

I took my digital camera along on a walk Saturday morning, and I realized how many opportunities there are in urban neighborhoods for hiding. Places and spaces are not readily seen if one is simply casting an eye about--it takes stopping and looking a little closer at what's around us. I find the notion of tucking spaces away and hiding little oases of privacy such an interesting one in these busy and closely-packed neighborhoods of central Denver. Here are a few of the hidden places and spaces I found on one walk.

This rather majestic/gothic-y house in Capitol Hill is set up on a small hill above the street, but elevating it wasn't enough--the original builders hid it behind a large wall and some rather dense trees.

Another grand turn-of-the-century house not content to hide with elevation alone. This one is ensconced behind a brick wall topped with a chain-link fence and a dense layer of trees and shrubs about 8-10 feet deep.

One house turned its garage/carriage house into another small home and even gave it its own little side yard behind a wrought iron fence with yet another layer of black mesh behind the fence. I took this through the black mesh, which is the shading around the edges of the image. It wasn't until I got back to the house that I realized there was a wire of some sort looping over the fence and into the view of the camera.

Some things hide in plain view. This old-school steakhouse in Cherry Creek North nearly disappears with its dark wood paneling and recessed facade beneath the ultra-modern metal paneling of the adjacent stores and loft-inspired condos above. I just happened to stop to check my cell phone, looked up, and realized it was there.

One of the constant bugbears of urban construction is what to do with the space on the side of your building where it comes up to the property line. Do I build right up to it? Or do I leave some space for occupation? What often happens is what you see here--both occupants leave just enough room to pass between the buildings on their side of the property line. What's interesting though is that the new mixed-use building on the left used that leftover/tucked away space to provide for little balconies for the condos above. The unintentional side effect is that passersby who care to turn their heads and look up will see galvanized roof/floor decking and drain pipes. But no matter--the only people who look up at ceilings are prostitutes and architects.

Sometimes the private space we seek out in urban areas has less to do with actual private space (like a backyard) and is simply more about separating ourselves from the public realm. Beyond these gates is the interior courtyard for about eight or ten brick townhomes, which back onto the access alleys to their respective garages. All this courtyard does is a) give them something nice to look at instead of the street, and b) give them an extra layer of protection from the madding crowd below.

I just love this. A very nice house pushed a bit off the neighborhood street, it uses a semi-circular drive to access the front door and garage. The front door is visible, but by simply layering elevation, materials, foliage, and space, the homeowners claim their space without putting up fences and gates. And it's glorious to look at in the fall.

Another li'l courtyard to about five or six small townhomes which riffs on the theme used above. There are some stucco and stone posts at the entry walkway to this courtyard, but no gate or fence--just something to say, "here's where you enter, but you really need to have some business here before you step over the threshold."

A few houses down, there's a wood fence by a duplex, and this hold is about two feet off the ground. Kneeling down and peeking through it, you can see a garden with a seated Buddha statue in it. Even cooler is that you see him from the side, not the front--you know he's facing in another direction where he's meant to be "seen", but he's also kinda meant to be peeped in on from here. If you bother to kneel down and look through the hole.

Another house had a nice yard with a stucco and iron fence around it, nicely manicured and well-kept...and then this wee statue of St. Francis under a tree almost in the side yard. Elsewhere in the yard, large dog toys were strewn about with children's toys, a happy mixture proclaiming the joy inside the home's walls. And just without the walls but within the property, a little reminder of the protection invoked onto those who dwell here stands quietly, asking those who pass by to take a second look at the yard and maybe to look out for all creatures great and small, two-footed and four-footed.