Fragile Smile

When you find that being kind to others is just an item to be checked on your to-do list, it’s not a good sign. I had recently returned home from visiting Houston for the holidays to find friends at church in an uproar. My good friend from high school with whom I had a budding friendship sat down with me to say she was moving two states away to be closer to her daughter. Then another friend who moved here the same time I did, took me aside and with a fragile smile told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After hearing that my landlady was not at church because she was home with some dread disease and that her partner was due to have surgery that Tuesday for removal of a basal skin cancer, I decided I had to spring into action. That became my mission:  first the trip to Whole Foods for ingredients, next day cooking, then a trip to the bakery for accompanying bread, packing it all up in a pot with garnishes, and finding a time when one of them would be home so I could drop it. But, when asked if I might stay for a glass of wine and a visit, I had to say, “I don’t have time.” Not to have time for a word with the very people to whom you are trying to do a kindness, shows you something is not quite right…But I was moving too fast for much beyond observation. House guests fast approaching. Got to start cleaning!

Barrel Vaulted Ceiling

Barrel Vaulted Ceiling in the Dining Room

Glulam Beams

Arched glulam beams in the dining room with tongue and groove siding overhead.

Fortunately, Allan and Terry are even more driven to get things done, and the house is making rapid progress. It’s officially dried in, all the roof is on, and electricity has moved to the top of the to-do list. Allan is always thinking several steps ahead. Electricity has jumped slightly ahead because of a change to the finish of the dining room ceiling. This deserves a note because we have been waiting for a couple of weeks now for the arrival of the arched beams for the barrel-vaulted ceiling in the dining room. Glulam is short for a laminated beam the layers of which are held together with a glue refined since these were first invented in the late 19th C. The technology continues to develop and it not only saves large trees, by allowing smaller lumber to be consolidated into beams, but also allows the fabrication of fantastic shapes, such as our roof, not to mention the Pompidou Centre in Metz, France.

I had always thought of the dining room as having a smooth finished ceiling, but after Arek, Greg and Allan had labored painstakingly to expose beams in the roof eaves, and install perpendicular shiplap planking underneath, we decided to carry this theme through in the dining room. Now the arched beams have been mounted, strapped down, and the tongue and groove siding laid over top. Terry pointed out at our last meeting that it has a nautical theme because it’s like looking at the bottom of a boat. Sweet!

Twilight 20 Chandelier

Twilight 20 Chandelier

Because there is no sheet rock to hide the wires, the electricity for the dining room chandelier will have to be run in over the top of the barrel ceiling before the roof is installed, which is happening soon. But then came the classic construction problem, the chandelier we had selected did not exactly fit on the exposed beam. Laura Michaelides, our designer, had suggested a dining room chandelier that we instantly loved, the twilight-20-chandelier. It is so delicate that you hardly see much structure, just the lights that appear like stars. The escutcheon, or canopy, which houses the electronics for these 20 lights is a cylinder that is 6″ in diameter. The plan was for it to be attached to the bottom of one of the glulam arched beams, but they are only 3″ in width. Neither the architect nor I was willing to have the canopy protrude over the edges of the beam. I spent hours looking for other chandeliers, going to light stores to ask if they could alter the little cylindrical box. Finally, we solved the problem—simply. We will hang the light between the two center beams. While this will truncate by a few inches our view of the 50″ drop, the beams also manage to hide the canopy box. A trade off, but a fix at last!

LED Christmas Lights

LED Christmas Lights

Electricity is one of the things I know the least about in this world. It’s akin to magic and a little terrifying since I performed the famous knife-in-the toaster-trick at age eight. But now it is upon me–everything from high voltage to low. There have been many changes recently in lighting. Don’t even talk wattage, the amount of electricity used, speak of lumens, or light emitted. Our Houston house has the ubiquitous canned lights. Their incandescent bulbs give off so much heat they warm the room as well as light it, and that is a clue to their inefficiency. Invented 150 years ago, the incandescent bulb operates like an electric heater and actually produces more energy in heat than in light. The Department of Energy predicts that incandescent bulbs will be replaced by LEDs, which stands for light emitting diodes. That’s truly magical, not just electricity, but physics and quantum mechanics all tied up in a neat little package. This is predicted to save over $265 billion dollars in energy costs over the next 20 years.[i] LEDs are so much more efficient, they do not give off the heat, and the lumens come in all the colors of the rainbow.

Yesterday Allan and Terry and I met for the second time to review every light switch in the house and every light fixture, plug, and switch. It was a four-hour meeting during which I learned that a six-way switch, like the one for the downstairs hall lights, is one set of lights (1) with five different switch locations:  at the front door (2), both ends of the hall (3,4), when you come in the garage (5), and at the bottom of the stairs (6).

The harder part is still ahead of me and it has to do with all of the other wiring, which I have learned to call low-voltage wiring. This is for the internet, the data network, the alarm system, the phone system and the audio system and perhaps some other systems we don’t yet have on wires but that could be pulled in through the IoT, internet of things, now under discussion.

This seemed to be the one aspect of the building project that enticed our daughters to get in the mix so we planned a family outing at Thanksgiving to a high end audio/video store just to see what we could learn. I am surprised the Electrical Engineer, a graduate of Berkeley, didn’t kick us out because we were all talking so quickly and on top of each other. It gave me a headache, but afterward, Harry and our eldest daughter Samantha worked together to make a list of all the components we wanted, a budget (this was not included in our original plans), and extras we wanted to consider, like music on the back deck.

Nest Thermostat

Nest Thermostat–part of the Internet of Things for the house.

With this in hand I could go out to get a couple of bids. In preparing for a discussion with one of the bidders from StreamLife, a Monterey firm recommended by our architect, I noticed that my husband had written down thermostat in the list of items we were looking for. I apologized at the meeting saying I was sure that did not belong in specifications for an audio video bid. But, they assured me it did. Oddly, I happened to be carrying with me at the time a magazine with an article I was reading on the Internet of Things. They said that in drawing up the bid they could include the cost of a universal remote to control and monitor any security system we installed (including cameras), our thermostat when we were away, locking and unlocking the house, as well as our TV and audio systems. This off-budget item seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds. The most expensive elements of this system will be the TV and the audio speakers, which we definitely want, the rest seems like the proverbial pie in the sky at this point. On the other hand, Harry recently did get locked out of the house in Houston and had to break a window. As I sat on the phone with him listening for the shatter of glass panes, which never happened because he knocked out the entire glass panel including the sill (perhaps the glass was laminated), I began to think that an electronic code for remotely locking and unlocking the house, via Z-wave switch might not be such a bad idea after all.

The big news this week is that the windows have finally arrived! Allan noted that though it takes three months to have them manufactured and shipped, if any one of them is found to be missing or damaged it will be replaced within two weeks. Funny about that…

Not because I need more to think about, but less, I enrolled in a class on Buddhism at church. It requires that we each start a meditation practice of our own. Our interim minister Rev. Dennis Hamilton, who has had a meditation practice for decades is leading the class. He began with a quote from Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”



About Laura Nagel

I am on the verge of retirement. For the past nine years I have worked for the International Women's Convocation an organization of liberal religious women dedicated to building international partnerships to improve women's lives. I am a wife, and the mother of two grown daughters. My husband Harry and I are in the process of building a house in Monterey, CA, where I grew up, and where we are planning to retire on the beach. In July of this year, I moved with our dog Charlie to nearby Pacific Grove. For the next nine months I will be overseeing construction of the house. My plan is to blog through the changes in an effort to make sense of it all and keep my bearings while all about me is changing.
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