Monday, December 17, 2007

i've been photographing some of adam's art. he paints on wood, sometimes on the back and sides as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I just bought this book, and am so eager to get it. Here is an article about the author, a yurt builder and simple-life-seeker. He, like me, believes in low-cost, natural housing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

today i bought a table saw and a chop saw, used. i'm hoping they work well and help me to move ahead. my other big tool purchase was this:

i took this photo, deliberately forcing my camera to blur this image. it seems more beautiful to me this way.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

black bean dip

last night i came home tired...and knowing i needed protein. i also need to make my lunch for the next day, since my income doesn't allow for buying deli sandwiches like my boss does.

black beans & rice--so easy:

2 cans of black beans
1 t paprika
1 t cumin
1 t (or less) chili powder
salt & pepper
olive oil

i blend all that in the food processor. (i probably use more seasoning than that...i just tip the spice jar and guess.)

i put some in a mason jar for later and had some for supper, with rice (wholegrain).

this dip is also handy for making burritos. Add cheese and salsa. Or with fried eggs & salsa. and there's no need to cook it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

we ventured out into a cold wet evening to see the darjeeling limited yesterday. it was full of earnest absurdity and poignant awkwardness, as well as being a visual feast of hues and textures.

another intensely colorful treat is the music of peruvian yma sumac. surprising. november can be bleak and gray...things like these are bursts of sorely needed color.

Friday, November 16, 2007

embracing imperfection

photo by nihito

i've been thinking about what i find beautiful, and why so often it is something worn, with a history. there is much that is new and perfect in the world. but i prefer to see the touch of human hands, the traces of time's passing, and nature's movement.

so much in carpentry and remodeling is about perfection..flawless finishes. yet it is too stressful to live a life where denting an object ruins it. i have made the choice to embrace scratches and stains as the truth of the history of an object. including the beet juice that dripped on the blue t-shirt i am wearing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

more inspiration, this time from Mary Oliver

(photo by me)

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Monday, November 05, 2007

from Howard Thurman

Give me the courage to live!
Really live – not merely exist.
Live dangerously,
Scorning risk!
Live honestly,
Daring the truth –
Particularly the truth of myself!
Live resiliently –
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting.
Enduring the pain of change
As though ’twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live,
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success,
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, nor grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!
Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail –
Going eagerly, joyously on,
And paying my way as I go,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full,
Head high, spirit winged, like a god –
On…on…till the shadows draw close.
Then even when darkness shuts down,
And I go out alone, as I came,
Naked and blind as I came –
Even then, gracious God, hear my prayer:
Give me the courage to live!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Thomas Merton speaks of silence

We talked about this article tonight. I'm thinking about how to put more silence, peace, into my life. Time to stare out a window and just be.

Yesterday I attended a Quaker meeting for the first time. A group of adults sat for nearly an hour in quietness. It was...good. Although...I really wanted to know what people were thinking about. However, maybe they've learned to be still, and think a little less. I was busy trying to read the titles of the books on the shelf across the room.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

to me, this is beautiful.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

third week of october

i've been working with a local contractor. my commute is about 6 minutes. he's well-educated, does beautiful work, and is interested in energy-efficient improvements in houses as well as restoration and fine cabinetry. i'm learning tons and working hard.

unlike my last two positions, this one feels somewhat secure. i can focus on trying to learn stuff rather than worrying about whether i will have a job. there is a great deal of stress involved in trying to do good work, and not take too long. i have to make myriad small decisions, and most of the time i don't know if i made the right one. i can ask about everything, but after a while it gets tiring to me as well as my boss. something as simple as whether to put a tool away. if i leave it out, he might ask me to put it away. if i put it away, he might need it.

coiling cords that tangle. trying to find an outlet to plug a tool into. finding the right case (among 10 similar plastic ones) for a particular power tool.

however, it's not all bad. i'm learning, even if i usually learn the hard way. i'm starting to be able to foresee what tools will be needed and bring them ahead of time. yesterday i did some work patching holes and insulating in a basement to save the homeowners on their energy bills. we will also be replacing windows and weather stripping doors. earlier, i scrubbed mildew off a bathroom ceiling, then scraped, spackled, sanded, and painted.

i'm trying to eat enough protein so my muscles can catch up to the demands placed on them. i found some books and magazines at the library and am trying to cram in more knowledge. i plan to start investing in some more significant tools. i'd love to have a workshop to mess around in, maybe try to make some simple furniture. i know i eventually need to have a truck so that i can buy lumber and carry more tools. it feels a little premature to invest in that, although maybe if i was bold and spent the money, it would pay off.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

i'm chuckling

have been on an organizing/eliminating binge. needed boxes. found some on side of road in recycling. minor detail: next to a bar.

also found this link for donating used bibles and christian literature (i had too many bibles).

the upshot? a heineken box full of 4 bibles, some writings of j. n. darby, and a few other tomes is on its way. wish i could see the reaction it gets. will they be worried about what the postman thinks they've been ordering?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


i hope to interview sometime this week with a company that looks perfect for me. i am really excited and i hope i can be what they need. cross your fingers for me, please!

today, i spent half a day caulking around windows. this helps with airtightness, which is essential to energy-efficiency. it also makes for a more finished look. when i went upstairs into the attic to take care of those windows, i was blown away. i climbed narrow red painted stairs to a dark, old gabled space. the ribs of the house were visible--old wood. morning light streamed in from the east. what an enchanted space--far more enticing to me than the updated floors below. definitely a highlight.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

looking at this picture makes me very happy.

painting on friday was so good. alone, with only the sounds of autumn breezes, trucks passing on residential streets, and a barely audible distant radio. i had the day to think, with a paintbrush or roller in my hands. near the end of the day i took off my shoes (my boss had left me alone for most of the day). i felt the freedom and the outdoors--exactly what i've been looking for. i'm hoping for more of the same monday, when i do the last coat.

last night, powaqqatsi was so good. i recommend it. it's a movie with images and music and not a lot of words, but very beautiful, very moving at times.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

another day of work

yesterday i called up a contractor that i'd talked to a while ago, and he said to meet him today at 7:30 to work. this is good. we spent the morning doing some work on a kitchen, and I was very impressed by what he does. i got to do a tiny bit of the trim.

in the afternoon we went to a property he manages (owns?) and i got to use a weed trimmer to mow the back yard, then rake & bag the garbage. having never used a weed whacker before, i had a rough time, revving the thing too hard, and somehow using up the plastic cord way too fast. i probably used too much gas too. it was exhausting and dirty work. the upside was that i got to use those awesome safety goggles.

i guess i'll work for him tomorrow too. we haven't decided yet what i'll get paid but i have a feeling it will be low. i need experience desperately, so i guess i have to get what i get.

yesterday i was so worried about money that i called the office of temporary employment at rutgers university and interviewed for a secretarial type job. today they offered it to me. it probably pays twice what i'll be making. but it's not on the path.

the path is charted with images like these:

and dreams of one day making my own home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

'refried' beans & rice

this is cheap food, which i am interested in because after 3 days my employment has taken a bit of a hiatus. a delay in building permits...or maybe i just don't have the skills to be a good employee for them? i'm back on the trail, searching for employment.


in a food processor, mix:
2 cans black beans, drained
3 tablespoons or so of olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

all of these amounts are approximate. if the spices seem a little weak, definitely add more. you want this to be a zingy experience. last time i made it, i lost control of the chili powder, which actually was a good thing!

this makes a tasty bean puree, which could be used in burritos, over rice, or even in a sandwich. it goes well with cheddar cheese.

i enjoyed a bowl of rice with the beans on top, and then cheese melted. very satisfying.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

mike writes

and i recommend:

What the Hell is wrong with most Christians

i especially like his use of the words inspire and expire (breathe in and breathe out).

day 3 of work as a carpenter's helper

i'm working for a man & his son who do kitchen remodeling (lots of cabinets). they also bought a run down house and are completely redoing it in order to either rent or sell.

the first day we worked on the stairs leading up to the porch of the house. i cut pieces of wood to the right width (using a table saw) and length (using a circular saw and chop saw). i helped to drill holes and nail tongue in groove pieces of wood to form the steps. we also nailed up white boards to the front of the porch to conceal the rough boards supporting it.

i do a lot of picking up trash, bringing the right boards, and getting the tools to the guy i work with. i dug dirt away from some columns, and i think more digging is to come when we work on the basement. at the end of the day i'm usually very sweaty and a little dirt-smeared.

today we spent the morning finishing a kitchen cabinet job in a pretty fancy apartment that faces the ocean. the cabinets have a bamboo face. i helped to put on trim and also to adjust the cabinet doors so they are straight and flush with each other and the cabinet body. i went back & forth unloading and loading tools in today's light drizzle.

in the afternoon we went to a different house and tore out some columns that are going to be replaced with columns of a different style. the house was lovely, and it sure didn't look like it needed remodeling. the kitchen cabinets are beautiful and look brand new, but the owners want something more their style. sometimes my employers save things they pull out of houses and re-use them. i felt like saving some of the boards i threw into the dumpster today. if i had a shed somewhere i could start a stockpile and end up with a house.

i think it's going to take a little while for it to sink in that this is my new mode of earning a living. the job doesn't take up nearly as much mind-space as teaching, although when we are on the job i try to always be thinking ahead: plug in the saw, bring a board, load nails into the nail gun, get the wood glue.

although i interact with my employers and a bit with customers, it's much more of a thing job than a people job. i am looking forward to being a more skilled carpenter. right now i do a lot of watching and assisting. i struggle with fear that i'll do something wrong. fortunately, the guy i work with is pretty relaxed and patient.

it's the start of a new school year, though, and living near rutgers i feel the beginning of a new year even though i'm no longer in academia. i'm feeling my way in this new phase of life, wondering what my goals will be, what i'll explore outside of work, what i should try to learn or accomplish. perhaps singing, pottery, writing? a bible study, or maybe waitressing on weekends?

well, for now i'm going to take a shower, because i really need one.

Friday, August 03, 2007


It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books -

Already the branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

- Jane Hirshfield

via whiskeyriver

Thursday, August 02, 2007

this is me: aug 2, 2007 (wearing strange safety goggles)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


sculpted by lew french.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


i'm wondering if a frustrated person can gather energy like a coiled spring. at the right moment, it can propel them in the direction they must travel.

if there is something in you that doesn't have freedom, the desire for self-expression intensifies.

i know that if you are frustrated too long, you can atrophy and suffer. i guess i'm just thinking about the short term type of frustration--the one i'm currently experiencing as i dream of having a shop and workbench, as i work on projects i didn't dream up.

if you always had that freedom, there might not be the burning passion driving your creative work that a once-frustrated person had. what do you think?

Monday, July 23, 2007

i took this picture when i was home. kittens are pure joy.


i had the interview; i am not sure where it will lead. i need a break, so part of me wants to delay the job hunting for a bit. it's been a very long, busy summer. i know i'm excited about working in remodeling. i hope that a job will not be too hard to find.

one more week of taking the train. new york is invigorating, but most of the time i'm too tired to take advantage of being there--and i just head home right after class. if i were more well-rested i'd check out more galleries, museums, stores, maybe a movie.

today we practiced lifting & carrying 4 by 8 sheets of dry wall and setting them down carefully. they weigh 40 lbs and are awkward. we will be framing a wall tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

possible interview!!

wow...i just talked to a contractor who does remodeling--and i may be meeting him for an interview thursday! the job doesn't pay super well, but it's exactly what i'd like to do, and the owner sounds like a good person.

in other news, i made a miniature chair from scraps of wood. i don't have my camera or i'd post a picture. i found a picture of a simple bench in a magazine and sketched it and then assembled the 8 pieces with 12 small nails. it's so exciting!

i also found a pile of great wood on the side of the street sunday evening in the trash, so i rescued it all and it's in my trunk. i really need a workshop! a workbench, a vise, power tools.

things are winding up (not down) in these last 2 weeks of class. we made frames yesterday, and today we were busy cutting wood to make a bench. when we are done, we will spend the last week at the new york distric council of carpenters where we will frame a room--studs, drywall, ceiling, and all.

i know i complained about the slow pace, but this last bit makes up for it all. the girls who have stuck it out are getting excited. it's fun to finally see good results from our work.

Monday, July 09, 2007

week 4 begins

i've been pretty frustrated & bored in class. we're learning things very slowly. the other day i was reading my "Green Home" book after finishing the assignment, and the instructor told me i had to put it away. very strange.

however, today i found true love--i was blown away by the beauty of planing wood and feeling its shape. without regard to the dimensions my pieces were required to have, i began shaving up curls of thin wisps, in search of the lovely sheen--almost a shimmer--of smooth pine.

working around knots is a challenge. maybe there are techniques to be discovered. anyway, my hands want to have a workbench, a vise, and a block plane. i'm excited about discovering this.


three more weeks? should i stick it out? i've had serious thoughts of quitting--and have looked at job ads.

but a discovery like today's that brings me profound inspiration is worth a lot. suddenly, i can imagine restoring furniture, giving boards an organic curve as my plane follows the contours of the life of a tree.

Monday, July 02, 2007

carpentry, day 1

today began the third week of the six week course. carpentry, finally! we were all pretty excited. many of the women are listing carpentry as their area of interest.

two experienced, retired union carpenters are our teachers. interesting, good people. they talked to us about what to expect on the job, benefits, retirement, career advice, work advice. we took a quiz on safety, and then headed downstairs to the workshop.

our job was to carry heavy, bulky objects up the stairs, out of the building, part way down the block, and then back inside and down the stairs again. we did this first with a 61.7 pound bucket of compound, and then with other, lighter objects such as ladders, tool boxes, a tripod, and a wretchedly heavy old pipe. two trips with each.

it's training, and after lunch we did three trips up and down three flights of stairs to top it off. then some work with fractions and measurement, and an intro to different measuring devices.

while waiting for a quiz to be graded, i sketched the work bench that we will be building. i'll put it here when i get my camera back from a friend. sketching in 3d is a challenge for me, but i love the geometry of it.

i'm anxious to start. by the end of the six weeks, i am told that we will build a room, complete with studs and dry wall and maybe a ceiling.


in other news, i just sold my air conditioner. it feels good to be rid of a bulky, electricity gobbling appliance that makes a lot of noise. more space in my closet. and i slept fine under the fan during that last big heat wave. plus, less is more. i'm hoping to need less and thus work less in the future.

my knees are worrying me a bit. stairs to the train and the subway, stairs to my apartment, back down to the basement three times for laundry, on top of all the stair work we did today. hopefully a good sleep will help with the strain i'm feeling. also the coming holiday.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

super wiped out. lots of good things are happening in my life, but there isn't much spare time or space to keep up with other good things.

4 weeks to go. after that i can get my footing back. for now, i'm sneezing, wiping my nose, and heading to bed for that early alarm.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

alternatives to vinyl siding.

i know it's affordable and easy to maintain, but vinyl siding really doesn't sit well with me. i started to write a little statement to share my reasons, but i need to think more about it. for now, check these out and observe your response to each. the first two types of house covering are quite radical. the last two are options i would seriously consider for myself.

this artist takes his inspiration from cliffs in places like venezuela and malaysia:

crushed aluminum cans of various colors, silver spring, maryland:

something a little less extreme? off the top of my head, i'm thinking of reclaimed barn planks:

then, there's also cob (a mix of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth, similar to adobe) as on this beautiful house:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

i guess it's about time i posted again...

i've been so busy this past week. training in manhattan started monday, which means leaving home at 5:50 in the morning to catch the train. a quick subway ride later, i'm walking into the building where I'm enrolled in a six week training program to prepare me for entering an apprenticeship in the union of my choice. options include electrician, painter, plumber, carpenter, elevator mechanic, and many more.

so i've completed four days. the first week consists entirely of classroom experiences; i'm excited about what next week will bring. we've been focusing on math (fractions and more fractions) as well as learning about the different trades and how a union apprenticeship works.

i'm not sure union work is for me, but i'm not going to make a definitive statement until the end of this experience. it's interesting to meet the other women in the project. there are about 16 of us in this group--one, like me, used to be a teacher, and is orthodox (!). another went AWOL from the army because her assignment was changed without her consent to drive trucks in iraq, which is a job with a lot of fatalities. some are super shy, others are boisterous. many are single moms who are looking for a better living. some of us really just want to do something different. a girl that i sit by in class used to work for verizon and commuted 2 hours each way--then she got laid off and so this is the plan.

so...that's it. next week we'll be learning about painting, or doing it--hopefully some of the latter.

my investment in this program is the 12 hour days i put in, the approximately $350 i'll pay for train fares, and six weeks of my life. at the end, i hope to have acquired more skills with tools and materials, and if nothing else, feel more confident in approaching a remodeler or contractor for a job where i can pick up skills.

my sense is that union work is highly specialized--you learn a trade and do that. personally, i'd rather have a variety of skills--some wiring, plumbing, carpentry, and landscaping, which i can offer to clients. so i'm still reading my books and researching possibilities for later.

today, over lunch, i wandered in the direction of the hudson river and came across some galleries and a bookstore in chelsea. the photo above shows "dream raft" by thomas beale (i didn't see the raft--just stole the photo). he works with wood he finds or buys from salvage places.

i think i'll do more wandering over my lunch breaks.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


yesterday i repotted plants and set them up by the window on a little bookshelf i saved from the curb. this clover is not one of them...but the green of spring is so invigorating and joyful. dirt under the nails.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

yesterday was my last teaching day. it affirmed my decision, because once again, i hated what i was teaching--hated how unnecessary so much of it is, how pointless and hard to grasp for so many of my students. the premise that the same educational process and content will work for all students is simply wrong. those who have failed at algebra repeatedly shouldn't be required to keep trying and failing in order to move on. there is other important math that they could learn. but the system is so inflexible.

some students see their hopes of a degree crumbling because they can't figure out what the heck they are supposed to do with all the x's. and this kid that will pass my class just found out that the extraordinary effort he made is not enough. now he has to pass 4 more math classes to get into the business program he is interested in.

i have two days of testing. this weekend i will write tests. i will also cart math books back to school and do more grading.

meanwhile, people who found out what my plans are have been so encouraging and supportive. i've had people tell me of home repairs they need and give me great ideas:

-"go for it! do it with all your heart!" from a wonderful colleague.

-find a company that installs solar panels. [i found one, nearby.] that way you can find environmentally minded builders as well as clients.

-take some environmental archtecture/engineering courses, so that you can be much more well-informed than the typical builder. your work will be more efficient and you will get more business as a result.

-you may eventually find yourself running a business, which you will have to learn to build. [eek!]

-make sure you know the problem is the teaching job, not you. otherwise, you will have the same problem whereever you go. [quite true.]

-"you're single, you can take the risk, so go for it!"

-"i'm so excited for you! i wish i could do something like that!"

many people suggested that i stay at the job and just do this in the summers and part time. in many ways it makes sense, but i felt that it would be the wrong decision for me at this time. it is so hard for me to make a decision like this. taking the plunge when i'm ready to and jumping into something new and exciting brings with it a certain adrenaline that i can use to propel me forward. if i kept doing what i was really sick of doing, i think it would suck too much energy out of me and cause my new venture to suffer as a result.

i'm 30. the time is now.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

herein is peace

again & again i'm reminded of how necessary it is to live with a firm grounding in truth. i'm not really referring to truth as a philosophy, although it could be that too. i mean truth as in your most honest assessment of the present moment.

i am so often tempted to "spin" the facts to my own liking, or to my own convenience. but when i do so i feel a sense of unease.

so i wrote on the palm of my hand, with a black magic marker, the words "accept reality".

after all, reality is all there is.

"cease striving, and know that i am god"
--so says the ever-existing one.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

from "the great divorce" by c. s. lewis

"Hell is a state of mind--ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind--is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself."

This reminds me of a night (several years ago) when nightmares and foreboding plagued me. I always sleep with earplugs in. It was as if I was floating wretchedly in endless space.

At dawn, I pulled out my earplugs, and what I heard was the most lovely, simple, real thing. It brought me back to earth, back from the whirling torments of a restless mind. A raindrop, landing on my wet windowsill, sounded its single perfect note.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

i haven't spent a quiet morning at home in a long while, so it's very peaceful to sit here, drinking coffee, feeling a cool breeze. the sky is overcast outside, but now that we have heat again it doesn't feel quite so ominous.

between the shootings monday and the roads closed due to the raritan river rising and rising (right behind our complex, although we are on a bluff) we were starting to feel a little spooked. add to that no heat or hot water because of flooding in our basement.

but things are back to a semblance of normal, for now. the jade plants are happy that i remembered to raise the blinds for them. just that tiny ritual of caring for two lovely little beings gives me joy.

yesterday the textbook on carpentry (for the vocational building class) arrived in the mail. it's huge, and packed with information.

the day before, my new contract for 07-08 arrived in the mail. it's sad to look at the number of dollars i'll be turning down if i don't sign it. still, my dreams are of houses.


i think there is a common thread running through my love of mathematics, of philosophy/religion, and now of building. there is a large cluster of rules--somewhat intimidating, tangled, and unnecessarily complex. and like a closet filled with some treasures and some junk and desperately in need of sorting, this body of rules draws me. i want to pull it all apart and understand each piece. then, armed with that knowledge, i want to strip the whole thing down to its essentials, so that what was complicated, ugly, and intimidating becomes simple, elegant, and accessible.

the first time i looked at a book explaining how to build a house, i was overwhelmed with the complexity. i was almost turned off. but slowly i'm growing in the hope that it can be done more simply and naturally. i'm learning which systems can be eliminated, and which are essentials.

this is a joyful process! (just as the process of simplifying my religious/philosophical views filled me with a sense of freedom and hope.) of course, there is an inherent arrogance in looking at a system and saying, "i can do it better." and that's before i know anything about it. well, at least i admit it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

what i learned about roofing today at habitat for humanity

(this is all really exciting for me. if it is boring to you, then at least you can be convinced that i have found something i love.)

tar paper goes over the wood. in areas where there's lot of water, you put another kind of tar-rier paper down. flashing goes against the wall, to keep rain from going behind the shingles closest to the wall. moisture is the enemy. it's all about keeping water out of the walls.

shingles begin at the lowest part of the roof and are gradually layered up. you put a double thickness at the beginning. the overlapping is such that everywhere, the shingles are actually two thick. 4 roofing nails to a shingle. the shingles should extend a half inch past the edge of the roof. every other "layer", or course, should begin with a short shingle so that the courses are staggered and cover the gaps between shingles.

in the "valley", the crease where two slopes meet, special 'weaving' techniques ensure that the water that gathers there will be safely funneled down. avoid nailing in the valley as the nails will be more likely to rust.

elsewhere, we make sure that the courses of shingles are well-lined up, use a chalk line and a tape measure to ensure that your shingles are parallel to the edge of the roof. it's easy to get the shingles crooked. it's also easy to erase the chalk lines with your behind if you are scared to stand up on the roof.

near the top you probably will need to trim the shingles so that they stay lined up and go all the way up to the siding (we were working on a roof of a porch, so there was wall above). keep a shingle underneath the shingle you are cutting so you don't cut through and slice your nice roofing job.

the shingles we were working with are called 'architectural shingles'. they have lots of flaps at irregular intervals, so they look fancier than the simpler ones with just three flaps each. habitat for humanity doesn't go for fancy accessories but they get lots of donations and sometimes the donations are for the high end version of a product.

i had so much fun today. i didn't wear sunscreen so i'm a bit burnt. the weather was gorgeous and i was just having the best time enjoying the air. the other people are nice. my hands are a bit raw--i really need to find a pair of gloves that fit and a tool belt. they have equipment there you can borrow, but the gloves are all enormous and the tool belts are little wimpy canvas aprons that slide everywhere.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

course description: building and construction basics

This is an introductory course designed for the person with little construction or mechanical knowledge. The course will focus on building and construction basic terminology, theory and practical application as it relates to wood framed construction of a single family dwelling. The main topics of this course will be comprehension of dimension, scheduling sequences, measuring and marking for building location, foundations, framing and sheathing. This is not an all inclusive course for construction finishing, however it touches on each and every aspect of rough construction. The course is an essential for those contemplating contracting or becoming a home inspector.

This is the course I begin this Thursday night.

I also have been accepted into NEW's pre-apprenticeship program. I have mixed feelings about it, as being a union carpenter is not really my goal. Still, it's a positive thing. The ball is rolling. I am just a little scared of making a commitment.

Monday, April 09, 2007

the trees are home.

my painting is home! i like the freshness of the air in the sky. it feels like early summer. also, i love the distant horizon. i miss that here. it's so open.

thank you so much, michael. he graciously touched up the farthest tree at my request right before i brought it home. it was cool to watch and to request red dabs. it makes me want to get some brushes and try, too. here is an earlier version michael posted about on his blog. it looks like winter. was it winter? how did the painting become summer?

maybe the next one you paint for me can be a winter one. but i'm really enjoying having this here. what did you put in its place above your table?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007


i went into the city to interview for the 6 week pre-apprenticeship program.

afterwards, i took the subway up to central park. i walked across, pausing to admire the wonderful american elms in the literary walk. i wrote:

one particular tree has tangled limbs that remind me of very long hair blowing in a seaside wind, tangling hopelessly and beautifully.

the branches are veins pulsing dark mystery into the air.

i was headed for the metropolitan museum of art. the painting above is the one that i was most struck with on this visit.

i usually am not a fan of staring at abstract art forever and trying to figure out what it means. but this one really had me. plus, it's huge and the colors are spectacular. a tempest of red, orange, pink brushstokes, and it's HUGE (112 x 148 inches). It's called 'Galisteo Creek' and Susan Rothenberg is the artist.

as a non-educated art lover, my interpretation is probably too obvious (but it's not trees). what do you see in this painting?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

this is funny/beautiful

my dream. all these humans, all these dreams. so much yearning. so much chasing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

franny & zooey

i read this a couple of years ago, but i don't know where my copy went (unless it was borrowed). so i ordered another copy and when i got home yesterday and found it in my mail, i promptly sat down and read it straight through.

in some ways it was better than i remembered, and in other ways more irritating. the narrator seems a little too enamored with his characters and their brilliance, attractiveness, and eccentric family dynamics. also with their endless cigarettes and cigars and where they are placed and how they go out and are relit and so on.

yet the frustration of these young adults with the superficialities of society and academia rings true. their critical stance, and then the realization that the disdain is itself an ugly, destructive force, and the resulting despair--all this is expressed well, even if it takes a long time, and the conversation circles and circles and circles again.

zooey and franny grapple with cliches and easy answers from their philosophical and religious upbringing and seem to arrive at a sort of peace by the last page.

i think i read it too fast, but then again, i'm not sure i could have lingered more slowly in the maddening meandering without losing the train of thought completely.

Friday, March 23, 2007

my jade plant is happy and is budding new shoots everywhere since i put it by the east window.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

whew! i just got back from working on a habitat for humanity house. i have a headache, brought on from the lethal combination of dashing out of the house without coffee, too little sleep, and the pounding of hammers & shrill whine of the saw in the next room. it was good, maybe almost fun. the two duplex buildings are getting close to completion--we nailed in the subfloor luan boards that go under linoleum in the kitchen & bathroom. that's pretty much it. nails every four inches in an entire kitchen/dining room. i was pretty bad at driving nails but improved a lot. the other people working there were pretty nice. they were all a lot older than me, many of them retired, i think. i have a lot of respect for 50-something women kneeling on the floor pounding nails.

a lot has happened in the last week. thursday i was up early and took the train into new york to attend the orientation at Nontraditional Employment for Women. they offer pre-apprenticeship training for women in the areas of carpentry, painting, and maybe other stuff like welding & electrician, i'm not sure. i think i was the only person there that was white & had a degree. i felt a little awkward, like i might get yelled at if they knew i had a teaching job and a master's degree. a young woman talked to us about what a day of work is like in these jobs. they pay well, but the work is intense, and you can face some prejudice.

we took three aptitude tests in english & math. a video they showed gave me the impression that the construction they are talking about is in large buildings, and maybe big industrial projects. that is not what i'm interested in. i left feeling a little discouraged--feeling like maybe this thing i'd been counting on to be my way into building wasn't really something i could count on or that i even wanted to be a part of. besides, this is for underprivileged people who can't do something else, right?

but the next day i got a phone call saying they wanted to interview me.

after some reflection i decided that they can disqualify me if they want to, but i'm not going to back out. i'll be open with them about what i want to do, and i think i can gain some useful skills working with them.

i spent the afternoon in brooklyn with b. and the boys. good chats, cute boys, legos, thai food, and my beautiful tree painting is nearly done. can't wait!

friday this unbelievable blizzard started dumping right as i was getting ready to drive up to vermont. i hadn't checked the weather. the internet said it would take about 6-7 hours to get there; it took 12. however, i arrived safely in the end and sank gratefully into bed at the hotel near yestermorrow.

the two-day workshop on building energy-efficient houses loaded us with information. we calculated heat loss through various materials such as wood, drywall, windows, insulation. passive solar means orienting your windows to face south and also putting awnings over your windows so that the summer sun is minimized while winter sun is maximized. you can use trig to calculate the necessary angles to achieve this.

composting toilets, super-insulating walls, stone masonry to surround a wood stove and absorb heat which is then released slowly during the night. floors that absorb winter sunlight and then release it slowly. the specific heat of a material is the rate at which it absorbs and then releases heat.

putting insulation around your foundation so that it can retain the heat that seeps out of the house. different types of foundations. making sure that water drains away from the foundation/basement. types of windows (double pane, low emissivity is pretty standard now). being aware of toxic chemicals in many building materials. arsenic & formaldehyde & carcinogens... knowing about less toxic alternatives. also being sensitive to where materials come from and the impact their manufacture has on the earth. cement isn't dangerous to be around, but the manufacture of a ton of cement releases 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere!!

about 15 people attended: a mix of builders, interns from yestermorrow, and people who have plans to build houses. the instructor was quite an interesting guy--here's the blurb about him from the yestermorrow website:

From geodesic domes in the 1970s and a community land trust homestead program in rural Maine in 1981, Robert has worked as a project manager, trainer, and consultant for non-profit building projects from inner-city Boston to the hollers of Tennessee. He has focused on passive solar super-insulated buildings, with one of his design/build projects receiving a Citation for Excellence in a national energy/resource-efficient design competition. He is also a ritual leader, vision quest guide, and rites-of-passage facilitator.

it was interesting to chat with some of the others who attended. one guy works for a building company (north of pittsburgh) that specializes in natural/environmentally sensitive building practices. he seemed to know about strawbale construction, among other things. i asked him if i could come and work/volunteer at his job & he gave me his boss's contact information.

i also asked our instructor if i could come up and work on the house he is building this summer. he gave me a less than enthusiastic yes, but it was a yes, nonetheless.

i don't think the style of houses that he builds are exactly what i have in mind, but they are certainly closer in spirit than the traditional style of building.

i want something very small and simple. exceedingly simple. i hate the idea of having so many layers and complexities in the floors and walls and ceilings of your house. however, robert told us about many things that he does not put into houses because he engineers around them. no air circulation/central heating/air conditioning system. no crawl space or basement. so i certainly picked up tips.

[by the way, i really like vermont's landscape and culture. it's a mix of what i think of as out west ruggedness with a little bit of gun rack and some folksy music and a dreadlock or two mixed in. and skiing.]

monday i got on the phone and called habitat for humanity and found options for volunteering on wednesdays and saturdays. i also called the local carpenter's union and was quite intimidated but managed to ask the guy what was involved in getting an apprenticeship. he told me that there was a paper test, a drug test, and then a probationary period (which i guess means if you are a total clutz they'll let you go). i also asked if there was demand for carpenters and he said, 'yeah, we keep pretty busy.'

meanwhile, i'm prepping for calculus, which is really taking up a lot of my time. i'm so used to teaching algebra which i can do with my eyes shut, but calculus stresses me out because i have to memorize everything, like the derivative of the arctangent of x. i can't remember this from when i had it (in 1994!) and i'm requiring my students to know it all, so i'm terrified that i'll be doing a problem at the board and not know some basic fact.

and the funny thing is that i'm enjoying my teaching quite a bit this semester. it's like now that i've stopped trying to be a model faculty member, and don't really go to the annoying faculty meetings, and i have decided that i'm just going to do what is good for my students, not what looks good for tenure...well, it's just a lot more fun.

this has me quite conflicted and confused. i have no idea if i will regret leaving this job. it's so complicated. i feel an obligation to be a sort of guardian to this generation of kids that may be somewhat neglected by their parents, by society. and yet, what am i giving them, really? how to factor a polynomial? what's the good in that? i can love them, teach them self-discipline, and allow them to crash & burn if they choose to do that. but i wish i could spend more time talking to them about life instead of variables and equations.

is it selfish to take time off to learn how to build a house? is what i really want not the actual building (i can be a clutz with a hammer), but perhaps architecture or interior design? i think of both as careers in which you work for the wealthiest 20%. I don't think I'd find it fulfilling to design an interior for an ostentatious home. i prefer the aesthetic of simple living. i'd rather build shelves or do repairs for someone who needs it. i'd like to have a say in the design of the house.

i know it's a lot harder for me to work with my hands than with my mind. and yet i crave the satisfaction of being able to see the fruit of my labors.

Monday, March 12, 2007

wow...i haven't been that sick in a very long time. after nearly an entire weekend in bed, i'm back on my feet and i feel like i'm walking on air. actually i am a little lightheaded still, but much better. good thing this is spring break. getting sick like that has zapped me of my usual drive to do a lot. i'm moving in slow motion, marching to a different drum.

Friday, March 09, 2007


this reminds me of dean's house at the coast in ecuador. of course, not terribly practical for new jersey, but lovely, lovely. remeber arboleda? it would work there, too. let the breeze blow through the walls. climb the rafters. (found online.)

see, i don't think i could do fine finish work. i prefer the rustic, simple look. but i know there's artistry in me, too. it's just not the fine woodworking kind.

don't you love that low table? and the plank-style work bench under the window at the left?

this week is spring break. i came down with something last night. even though i'm sick, i feel pretty good. i cleaned up my room and lit candles. curled up & watched a movie. i made a list of fun things to do this week. and i'm going to go to the yestermorrow workshop next weekend. and i'm going to go check out NEW in New York Thursday. i think after this week I'll have more of an idea of what my dream looks like. not much, but a little more.

a friend talked to a friend of his who is a carpenter/remodeler. this guy, chris, seemed happy to let me shadow him at his work sometime. however, he hasn't returned my call. i'm hoping it works out for me to spend time with him at his job.

i'm also reading about home building in a book. this is the update. i love the idea. i love the idea. i just have to get past thinking about this and see if i like the reality, too.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

helpful tips for life

1. do what is hard for you.
2. do what is easy for you.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

light on stone

this was taken at the exit to a market in cuzco. if i had stayed and taken more than just the one shot i might have gotten something truly spectacular. but i just clicked and walked on. always so self-conscious of being the stereotypical white tourist and not wanting to be.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

a vision

a moment

of electric-stand-out-messy

you paused in the swirling shadows
blown by snowflake gusts
a little shivery, breathless (with a half-smile)

until i'm breathless, leaning forward
with the need for you
to step into the harsh
white winter
of your windswept balcony

a silver-lighted moment
a ray reaches down, dazzles, splintering
on your shoulders

a brief glint
in the secret dark eyes is what stays with me
as you step through the door
again into the shadows

(a dense hot star spinning past my quiet orbit)

a walk at dusk

...with my camera.

I've driven past this house for 2 years and today was the first day i noticed this intricate, delightful detailing on the bannister.

this is the type of thing that warms my heart. i saw several posters on main street advertising this golden-eyed kitten than had been FOUND.

my trees and the evening sky:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ceramics update


and this

are inspirations for my technique today. all the hand-built bowls i made a few weeks ago have come through their first firing. tonight i painted each one all over with red iron oxide wash. then i glazed only the insides of each, some with white, and some with a nice green.

hopefully i'll have results in a week or two to see how it turned out. meanwhile, i really need to be making much more pottery. the semester is 1/3 over. i need to shelve everything else and focus on pottery while i've got the use of the studio at school.