Friday, January 29, 2010

MaddyWatch: Snacky time!

Oh hai, Mama! Do yu haz nomz? I noes yu do!



Enough with the kitchen. What is there to eat out in the dining room?

Milk? Meelks?!


Ehn. Gonna have to hang out here in the closet and let that settle. Hold my calls.

Note the medicinal catnip mice at her feet. Maddy has cancer in style, peeps.

Monday, January 25, 2010

MaddyWatch: well, we knew it was coming.

The vet oncologist confirmed this afternoon that Maddy's cancer is back. There is nothing left to do but keep her comfortable and monitor her closely so that when her time comes, we can help her along in a kind and timely fashion. She made an amazing go of fighting her cancer--she lasted 18 months, which is about 12 more than they originally thought she'd live past diagnosis. Guy offered to go to today's appointment with me, but he has a deadline so I didn't make him. However, when it comes time for that final appointment, I think Guy's going to have to go with me.

Maddy and I have had a good run. This March would be12 years I've had this tortie ball of awsum and win in my life. A constant companion around the house: on the toilet, on the balcony, in the bed (much to Guy's chagrin), at the computer, wherever--there she was, meowing and purring and following and even occasionally tapping me with one of her big, white paws or even giving me a nibble on the hand or wrist, as if to say, "Knock off whatever you're doing and pet and feed me, fool!" She could be a real pain in the ass, to be sure, but ultimately it was such a wonderful thing to know that someone unequivocally loved me, missed me, and was glad to see me when I walked through the door at the end of each day. Whether she was perched in her cat tree in my cruddy ground-level cinderblock grad school apartment in Florida, snorfling up under the covers and spooning with me in my chilly downtown Denver loft, or perching on the back of the chaise here at the Happy Kitten Highrise and purring while I read, she has been a fixture in my entire adult life.

And it seems so unreal that in a time which hastens ever nearer, she--one of the few constants of the past twelve years--will be gone from that adult life. No furry, sneezing creature crawling up on the bed just before my alarm goes off, no yowling from the other side of the front door as my keys jingle to go into the lock, and only one food bowl in the dining room will be Hazel and Hazel alone. Not that Hazel will mind--Maddy's been kicking her ass ever since they met in the summer of 1998, and Hazel's probably had more than enough of it. Right now as I type this, Maddy is curled up under the heat lamp in my bathroom while Hazel lolls in the living room floor, taking a bath and occasionally chirping and rubbing her face on a catnip toy. As Maddy has declined these past couple of weeks, Hazel has become more social, more present in the public areas of the house. I wonder how she'll be after Maddy's gone. Even though Hazel seems to be enjoying her new status as soon-to-be top cat, I occasionally have seen them curled up on the futon together in the TV room, and now and again when Maddy's on my bathroom rug, Hazel is curled up on a nearby rug, about two feet away.

Maddy and I have to go through a process that may be as hard as death--we have to separate from each other over the coming days and weeks. We must adjust to the reality that she's not running to the door anymore and I'm not going to have to fight her off of whatever I'm eating if I'm on the futon watching TV. And by "we", I mean "I". She will spend more time in the closet and in my bathroom (both very warm places in the condo), and I will read alone on the chaise and only have Hazel to bother me as I work on the computer (which she has started to do, interestingly enough). It seems unreal that at some point soon, I will no longer be able to snap a picture of her or put the phone down to her so Grandma can hear her loud "MROWR!" in the kitchen. Until that time comes, I can only be as kind as possible, kinder than I've ever been. I can only attempt to repay the kindness she has shown me for the past twelve years by helping ease her pain as needed, and ultimately by letting her go.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Architect worried, please stand by...

While working on my conference presentation and meeting with Gestalt last week, I suddenly noticed that Maddy wasn't very interested in, well, anything. She's lost a pound in the past month and her appetite and activity levels have decreased, plus she's started fighting me every night when it's time for her medication--something she's rarely done. In her almost-twelve years with me, she's been an easy cat to medicate and an easy cat to find. Just turn around or look at your ankles, and there's a kitteh.

She's going to the vet oncologist Monday to be looked at and have an ultrasound done on her bibbin. While it's possible that something else is going on (cancer can weaken a creature's immune system and make them more susceptible to opportunistic illnesses), it's probably that the cancer is back, and I'm not so sure that she's going to beat it this time like she did last summer. She's already lived a year past the vet's original estimate, and it was a great year. She had put on weight and was still whippin' Hazel's ass. (Hazel would look up at me from the floor from some of those feline beat-downs as if to say, "Dammit, I thought you said she was dying?!") Sometimes she acts normal, well, low-key normal, and sometimes she acts like Things Are Not Well At All. Mostly, she's kinda meh. So, we're having her checked out to be sure.

I know that cats and dogs (and most domestic pets) aren't supposed to outlive us. We only have them for a brief amount of time, and then we must let go of them and release their little souls back to the Universe. I know that as a caretaker of such a wonderful little furry soul, it's my job to care for her as best as I can, which includes providing that release when it's time to send her on and not to prolong the agony. I am extremely thankful that I've been able to keep a job through this economy, because without it I could not have afforded the chemo meds for Maddy. Now I pray for the ability to accept her eventual passing--which has seemed so abstract for the past several months--and the wisdom to know when it's time to let her go and help her along.

Meanwhile, Maddy says, "If you're going to be sitting there sniffling, Mama, how about some more treats?"

That sweet kitteh sure is a sweet talker. =^..^=

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oooooh...shiny! (and well taken!)

Many of the websites in my sidebar are good for a mental break while I'm working on all my aforementioned deadlines. I've added a new one for your (and my) enjoyment: Photo Bludger is by this guy in Denver who has a real eye for interesting details in the built (and accidental) world around him. (Check out the picture of the Shaggy from Scooby-Doo action figure on the sidewalk--it's like something from a magazine. You could write a short story about it.) Also cool is that he describes the pictures a little bit--where they are or how they were taken--but he doesn't belabor the descriptions. They're just enough to understand what you're looking at but not so much that it detracts from the visual poetry.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Architect busy, please stand by...

So I have a deadline coming up for the industry conference thing I was accepted to last year. Plus, Gestalt wants to get rolling for the umpteenth time on their master plan of the Evans/Bierstadt campus, so all my work and free time are about to be absorbed by work, work, and work. The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty light posting here on WAD, so please be patient with me as I spend a little while getting caught up on my work and para-work obligations.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Helping out in Haiti, architect style

There are many good charities and organizations helping out in the chaos and pain that is Haiti right now, such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. I'd also like to mention Architecture For Humanity as a cause worth supporting during this and any time. Generally, AFH provides services to developing countries and communities to help them get the building and infrastructure they need to improve their citizens' lives. Right now, AFH is working towards the reconstruction and shelter effort in Haiti, since as many as 2-3 million people are living out in the elements. I know times are tight for everyone, but remember that every little bit helps your neighbors. And by neighbors, I mean fellow humans schlepping this pebble.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Neverending Maaaaster Plaaaan... (with apologies to Limahl)

A master planning project I started over a year ago has come back again, and it's back with a vengeance. I should first explain this client so I can finish the project: Gestalt HMO has several clinics in Denver and around Colorado, and DA does a lot of work for them. I'm working on a master planning project for one of their Denver campuses, which has two buildings on it: a low-rise medical office building (MOB) called Evans and a high rise MOB called Bierstadt. Gestalt tends to name its Colorado buildings after mountains. Cute.

So the master planning is really two parts. First of all, the master planning project that I was doing before is is still in place. We and the higher-ups of the Gestalt Colorado facility managers as well as the medical program higher-ups at the Evans/Bierstadt campus are all sitting down to figure out what departments need renovating and what to do with these departments while the renovation is going on. We're also having to figure out if there are any departments that should leave these clinics and if any should move into them. As we're working this stuff out, we're working with the contractor that Gestalt has selected for the remodeling projects (and with whom DA has worked many times before) to figure out the best way to sequence the construction. We can't do all the departments at one time, but doing only one at a time will take too long and cost too much in remobilization costs (i.e., the cost of bringing the same subcontractors back to the site over and over again).

The second part is that the Evans/Bierstadt campus is landlocked; no one around them wants to sell, and all that urban land is expensive. All the departments that are at that campus want to stay there, but the services are growing and the site can't handle any more building--there's no room to add on, and the buildings can't handle adding more floors (we've already added on as many as we can). So Gestalt wants to eventually replicate Evans MOB and Bierstadt MOB in another part of town, a little farther out. So they need to know how big that building will need to be. But in order for us to tell them how big it needs to be, I need to know more specifics about the new building: will you have the same number of doctors as you have now at Evans and Bierstadt? Will you literally have all the same service lines? Will you have more, less, or different services within those services lines? (For example, will you have all the same machines in the new radiology suite as you have in the old one, or will you add a PET CT, or will you have the same kinds of machines but different quantities, etc.?)

While all this is trying to be decided, the facility development and management people are trying to keep our contact with the departments to a minimum. Why? Because when lay people talk to architects about their spaces, even in the most generic of senses, they get excited and think that renovation is coming in the next year, and Gestalt doesn't want to get their hopes up. The more immediate renovations that we'll be doing will take two to three years to complete, and the duplicate version of Evans and Bierstadt could be ten years out. So because we can't really talk to anyone directly and get the info we need in one fell swoop, this master plan project is dragging on.

Not that I'm complaining. At least i have something to do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Return of the High School Interns

I have a reputation for doing a good job mentoring high school interns. It started back during my early days at DA in 2000, when my manager wasn't able to keep me busy doing work-related stuff, so when the email went out asking for volunteers to work with a high school intern, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. These high school kids spend a certain amount of hours per week in the office learning about what it is architects (or whatever profession it is) do, and they get high school credit for it. So far, I've had five interns. The first intern forger her timesheets and ended up realizing that she didn't want to be an architect. The second intern I worked with turned out to be awesome and now works at my office. The third intern lived in an untenable home situation, and I encouraged him to move out and get financial aid ASAP--that architecture would be cool and fun and that his life at the age of 18 would be the worst it ever was. Then, some of you may recall that I had two interns in 2007, and you'll recall that I had issues with keeping these gals busy. Well, it's not so much keeping them busy, but rather getting help to keep them busy, as documented here and here.

The problem with keeping high school interns busy is that it's a lot of work to monitor and teach people who know NOTHING about architecture. Added to this is the difficulty of explaining what's about to happen to them if they go to architecture school first (which is the custom in our profession): school is so vastly different from work that the student's time spent with me must be spent showing them what school is like and what work is like. And that, my peeps, is a lot of work. When I worked with Intern Kimmy and the people before and after her, I was an intern myself; I never had to go to meetings or make lots of phone calls, so I had the time to do time-intensive tasks like work with a high school kid. Plus, the economy was better, and I was allowed to bill any time spent with interns to "Other Approved Time." Nowadays? Not so much. I'm licensed and a job captain, so I'm going to meetings and handling lots of time-intensive and time-sensitive stuff, and I can't bill for that extra time I spend with interns, so giving them a good, solid education and experience is hard.

I email the entire office and explain that even if they only have an hour or two, it's great for a high school kid to learn about what/how/why we do what we do, and many hands make light work, and it's a better experience when they work with a wider variety of people. And out of 90 design staff, I get five replies--two of them are landscape and none of them are interiors. So now, I have to come up with stuff for these po chirrens to do. Fortunately, I have stuff from working with past interns, but I continuously reconsider: is this the right thing for an intern? for this intern? for my profession? And because I'm hourly and can't bill the time, I have to use my lunch breaks to work with interns. And even these lunchtime reviews aren't sufficient to really do a good job. People love to talk about how great Intern Kimmy is nowadays, but I used to spend anywhere from six to twelve hours a week with her, discussing, teaching, critiquing, listening. I don't have the time to do the job right, and it leaves a Shorty rather cranky.

Last fall, Alex, one of our firm's partners and one for whom I've done a great deal of work (including Wheatlands), asked me if I would be the mentor for a high school intern who is the son of a friend of his. I said yes, but I thought Arrrrrgh! not again!! Truly the only reason I agreed to do this is because it's a favor for a partner, who asked me because I have a reputation for working with the interns and doing a pretty good job. As far as I'm concerned, I've done my part. I no longer should be working with the high school kids--after all, I'm doing the seminar series with the actual post-college interns in our office, and that's where I'm putting my effort these days. Give me a break already.

This young man is in the office Tue-Thur, and I must say that he's a bright and pleasant young fellow who appears to be more interested in architecture the more he learns about it. Alex dropped by his desk the other day to see how things were going, and when the young man described what he was doing, Alex exclaimed, "Excellent! That's good stuff to know for school and work!" I sighed inwardly with relief--I may not like it, but I still got it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Work-life balance for architects: further thoughts

The last post on this topic certainly sparked some interesting debate about balancing work and life in the architectural profession. I appreciate everyone keeping it fairly civil, though I did feel the need to put some denouement on the comments lest they traipse into yo-momma territory. The points that all the commenters brought up are well taken, and I think to address them we need to return to a portion of Rob from St. Charles' original email and questions:

Working long hours all the time is great for me provided it's balanced with being able to enjoy life and spend time with friends and family. So any insight you care to share would be much appreciated! We all have our own perspective of what a quality of life balance is. What is that for you and your husband and do you feel it is met with your career?

"We all have our own perspective of what a quality of life balance is." Never were truer words spoken, Rob. Commenter Paul was comfortable with 60-hour workweeks, and he appeared to be in the minority amongst the commenters. Fair enough. There are people in Colorado who consider a life balance to be working as little as possible and living on barely anything--one usually finds these folks working odd jobs during the warm months and working at ski resorts during the colder months. And you know what? More power to them. I find that way of living to be as alien as working 60-hour weeks for years on end, but if it truly makes you happy and you're not using it to mask other unpleasantries in your life, rock on.

I described the comments from Wednesday's post to my husband, Guy, and I asked him for his take on work/life balance and what it means to him. His response was this: "Well, there's a firm environment for everyone. Not everybody would do well at this Paul's firm, but some people would be drawn to it and do really well in it." And there, Rob, is the first thing to keep in mind when starting out in architecture: there is a place for pretty much everyone. People have actually left Design Associates, the firm for which I work, because it was too informal and loosey-goosey. Other folks have left my firm only to realize what a great environment it is for them. I am aware that I am paid slightly less than my comparable colleagues at other firms because I work at DA, and while that pisses me off that good coworkers and a friendly atmosphere are considered perks and not a given, I also know the corollary to the "there's a place for everyone" rule: No one is keeping you where you are. Even in a shitty economy, you can leave. I know people who have left their jobs in this economy--in this economy--and have been all the happier for it. I know people who have left their jobs and realized it was a mistake. Either way, it's a choice.

The second thing to keep in mind, Rob (if you're still even reading, God love ya), is a point that commenter Chris brought up: it's not just the hours you work, but it's also the work in your hours. A couple of years ago, one of the old timers in our office was telling us younger folk about Howie back in the day, all while standing at Howie's desk. "Yeah," said the old-timer, "man, when Howie first started at DA, he was just a couple of years out of school, he was in here right at eight and outta here right at five, boy." Howie didn't even look up from his computer where he was typing up a project proposal, but with a very faint smile he said, "Yeah, but I got a lot done in those eight hours." Howie is about gittin' it done when he's at work, and according to Guy's coworkers, so is he. Guy gets a helluva lot done in his 40-50 hours a week, and that is why he's just been given construction administration duties on the CDs he's working on now--they know he can get things done, correctly and in a timely fashion, and he now has job security for the next two years. What's also amusing about the exchange between Howie and the old timer is that Howie is a good 20 years younger than that fellow but he outranks him. That old timer is in the office at 6am or 7am and leaves around 6pm each night, but he's always the one chatting about skiing or what he and his brothers used to do when they were kids or some project he worked on thirty years ago.... You get the picture.

The fact that Howie now outranks this old timer brings us to the third important thing to remember, a fact that Paul Mitchell brought up: you do have to put in the effort. I occasionally meet an intern who, when faced with having to work for more than 40 hours a week now and again, will act like they're about to invoke the Geneva Convention. And I want to smack them. Sometimes, you have to put in the time. The workload or the particular part of the project will require that you do that. So do it. Also, what some of these interns (and even some folks who have worked in architecture for a long time) don't seem to have learned is that pitching in when needed is a form of job security insurance. If you can never be counted on for more than the bare minimum, then when it's time to thin the ranks, your name might be at the top of the "To Get Rid Of" list. (I also realize that this isn't fair to people like my aunt, a single parent with a severely disabled child--she can't always stay late and do x,y, or z because she has to take care of her son, but that is our present reality in the workplace.)

I can only presume that the old-timer who failed to effectively heckle Howie does in fact pitch in and do a good job when needed, but here's the funny thing: he's also the least bitter person at my office. He's not a part-owner in DA, and he seems pretty okay with it. And that leads me to the final thing to remember: decide what quality of life means to you, define what success means to you, and then find and make the life and work that allows for that. The old timer at my office decided that the level he reached was far enough, and he still wanted to do other things outside of work, and so he does. Let's go back to the example of my aunt with my disabled cousin. While she works 40 hours a week, her hours outside of work are not all hers: she cooks and does housework, runs errands, sleeps, tries to get some exercise, and does certain types of physical and cognitive therapy with her son. Oh, and she sleeps some. While the exact list of activities may differ for you, I wager that your life is somewhat similar. Guy works, then he comes home and cooks a little, then he likes to watch sports on TV and plays video games on his computer. That's what he enjoys. I work, then I come home and cook and clean a little (the mess bothers me more than it does Guy), and I read and work on my presentation that I'm doing later this year or write or talk on the phone to my mom or sister.

On paper, I look busier, maybe even "better". I look like I have more of a work ethic, to borrow a phrase from the last post's comments. But do I? My aunt with the disabled son, Guy, and I do our jobs to the satisfaction of our employers, and we live our lives outside of work to the satisfaction of ourselves. There is no one path to success--the definitions of success are as manifold as the people who go for success. And what that definition is for you, Rob, is up to you. That definition is ultimately up to each of us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The physics of a work-life balance for architects: it doesn't require calculus

WAD reader Rob (from St. Charles, MO--what up!!!) emailed me to ask about the quality of life as an architect. In his late 20s and already working no less than 50 hrs/week as a restaurant manager, but as he puts it:

I've always said I would rather put in 70 to 80 hours of my own time into a career I love than 50 to 60 hours of someone elses structured time. I've been setting myself up to step down from management so that I have more time for school. This will inevitably lead to a pay cut while I go back to school, but I'm prepared for it. I'm aware I will spend much of my early to mid 30's just getting into the field as well, but I'm all for it!! - Provided the quality of life exists anyway. Working long hours all the time is great for me provided it's balanced with being able to enjoy life and spend time with friends and family. So any insight you care to share would be much appreciated! We all have our own perspective of what a quality of life balance is. What is that for you and your husband and do you feel it is met with your career?

While I reckon every profession has issues of finding a work/life balance, Rob's question is still a good one with regards to Da Biz. Architecture is a profession that easily swallows its followers whole, as if the difficulties of flashing details and punchlists as well as the finer points of using classical proportions in modern building types sucks architects with the gravitational pull of a collapsed star. It's easy for architects to spend lots of time day after day and night after night and weekend after weekend; there's always so much to do on a project, and sometimes you're the only person willing or available to do the work. And there's something about architecture that is all-encompassing: even when we're not at work, architects do nothing but talk about about architecture to their friends, who are all architects as well. When we go on vacations, we take 947 pictures of buildings and construction details and no people. All the magazines we get are about design and architecture. All the books we read on our shelves are about architecture and famous architects. It makes us boring, boring people, as this writer described. But the sadder version of this story are those who don't. do. anything. When all a person does is go to work for just the 40 hours a week (and by God no more than that), and then they go home and do nothing--no hobbies, no interests, no interesting experiences--then that's just as sad to see. No, you're not working 100 hours a week, but you're not exactly doing anything quality-ish with your time. And laundry doesn't count as a hobby.

What I've noticed is that architecture work tends to ebb and flow. You'll be crazy busy for one or several weeks, then you'll be barely busy for one to several weeks, and then the cycle recommences. As you get better at your job, you'll need less time to do certain tasks, which will allow you to both do more in the same amount of time and go home at a decent hour. Sometimes you'll do the former, but sometimes you really need to do the latter. As I've said here many times before, when I worked on the Wheatlands Hospital project, I worked 56-60 hrs/week (at least 7 8-hour days a week) for eight months straight while studying for, taking, and passing all nine sections of the ARE. I was in a position where there was way too much to do and not enough people in the office available to do it. So I did it. But having done it, I will never do it again. There was (and generally is) always something else to be done, but if I follow that logic to its conclusion, then I'd never leave the office doing that "something else." My husband Guy has worked his ass off before as well, and while he's worked a fair amount of weekends lately, he knows when to say when. Guy and I decided after my experience on Wheatlands that we were going to be more conscious of our work time and not let the office be our default position for more than a month at a time.

The point I'm trying to make here is that as an architect, you have to make the conscious decision to turn off the computer, leave the office, and go do other things. While there are times that you'll have to work longer days and on weekends, you don't have to that week in and week out. The good news is that the latest generation of interns entering our workforce are insisting on work/life balance and will more fiercely defend it than my Generation X brethren, so I think it's going to be easier to insist on 55 hour weeks being the exception and not the rule. However, once you've walked out the door for the day/weekend, you still need to make an effort to have a life. Get a hobby or two, and meet some people. It's a very insular profession, so you'll need to make an effort to make non-architect friends (who will vastly enrich your life). Guy plays in a pool (billiards) league twice a week, so he has a group of friends that includes appliance repairmen, accountants, videographers, and parole officers. I teach communication classes several times a year, write, and do yoga. In short, in order to have a good quality of life, Guy and I have to have a good quantity of life--not just time outside of work but also a body of things to do during that time that isn't work-related.

How about you, WAD readers? How do you ensure your quality of life in terms of work/life balance?

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's 2010 and we're hitting the ground running.

While I was out of the office, I got an email from a client looking for some clean plans of their emergency department so that they can recommence their plans to remodel it. Evidently, the project that was slated to happen last year got put off for a while and is now back. I can only hope that I get to work on this. Since TCMC finally went out last year (while I was in Georgia), I'm back to not having a whole heckuva lot to do. Well, there's some stuff to do for Sven, I presume, as one of our projects with him had come back online. But we got the call to have that re-kick-off meeting on the Thursday that I was gone (because of the whole 36-hour/week thing plus having to use all my vacation), and the meeting was possibly for the very next day (when I cold only work a half-day) or for the next week (when I was in Georgia), and I'm thinking "This project has been moving at glacial speed all year and now you want to kick butt and take names, the week before Christmas? Really?"

It seems like architecture work is feast or famine. There's little or nothing to be done, and then suddenly just as we're all accepting that things are going to be quiet, BAM! we've got more than we can handle. Yes, it's better than never being busy at all, but still.... It would be a lie to say that I haven't thought about work one bit for the past few weeks that I've been on vacation/furlough. Every couple of days, it pops up in my head that I've got stuff to fix or things to do or need to find stuff to do or need to call that guy or whatever. And I still haven't had my review with Howie yet. I've been pondering how to handle that. I presume that I'm doing a decent job since I'm still employed, but the fact that it's a crappy time to be unemployed isn't any kind of reason to act like a jerk to your employees. So I'm turning over the best way to have that conversation in my head.

At any rate, here's hoping that 2010 will be a little less painful than the preceding two years, and here's to the fantasticness to come.