When I told our builder Allan that we would be gone for a day to San Francisco where Harry is being treated for prostate cancer, he said, “Oh,” a little wide-eyed, but then with a jerk of his head he said, “everybody’s got that.” We laughed about that often afterward. Harry fortunately seems to have the low grade, slow growing version of this cancer. He had a referral from MD Anderson in Houston to see an oncologist Dr. Porten at UC San Francisco medical center now located in a brand new facility in Mission Bay. It is down by the old docks in an area of the city that is being completely transformed by growth in all sectors including residential and retail but primarily driven by this new state-of-the-art facility that opened early this year. They have new treatments including one radiation treatment for prostate cancer which is done in only one day. So, it looks like we’ll be travelling up there every month for the next several months. And, we had a lovely time minus the driving part. (Is traffic every American city’s dirty little secret?)
After leaving the medical center GPS took us on highways I’d never been on before and then led us over Portola Hill to the Sunset District where we had Korean lunch of bulgogi and bibimbap. Yummy! Then we went to see a special exhibit of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings at the de Young Museum of Art in Golden Gate Park (open thru Sep). Turner is one of Harry’s favorites. We had seen his oils and water colors at the Tate in London. Turner bequeathed most of his work to the nation. PaintingSetFree is a collection of his work mostly from the Tate but also from museums across the U.S. and from private collections. You could get lost in the depths of his water colors the multi-layered washes and details so sketchy and artful and yet so clear like this one of The Rigi at Lake Lucerne in Switzerland where he scratched in Jupiter, the Evening Star, with his fingernail.
We headed back toward Monterey for a most anticipated stop in San Jose at the Yamaha Peninsula Music Center, which hosts a complete line of Yamaha hybrid pianos, next on our shopping list for the house. We had decided early on that we would replace our grand piano with a much smaller piano, called a hybrid and made by Yamaha, about which we had read very good things in The New York Times several years ago. It’s called a hybrid because it has all the action of a normal acoustic piano, but instead of hitting strings, the action, like that in other electronic instruments, releases previously recorded sounds from speakers. In this case Yamaha got special credit for recording sound from “one of the world’s finest pianos.”[i]
We walked in thinking we would buy the NU1, the least expensive of the four hybrid models ($5,400). But, as the article had suggested we were prepared to listen to them all and compare the sounds because they felt the NU1 was not quite up to the tone of the first three. The manager let us try all of them and left us alone so that we could have time trying out each of the pianos. We were still comparing when he returned. He turned all of the pianos to the same settings and compared them for us. He gave us plenty of time to think it over. He was very knowledgeable about the pianos and knew musicians who love them because they are easy to move, impervious to climate, never need tuning and can be plugged into larger sound systems directly without fear of microphone reverberations. We left having bought more piano than we anticipated but the tone for us was by far and away the most important concern. Because of its deep and rich tone we decided on the N2 at $12,349 (including shipping and taxes). In exchange for the pricier piano (still considerably less than the Bosendorfer at $250,000, dear reader), Harry made me promise to take lessons which I am happy to do after not having played for the year that I have been in California.
We headed home over the coastal range, stopping in Watsonville for a couple of beers and lovely shrimp fajitas at a Mexican seafood restaurant and home and to bed by 9 o’clock. A very good day!
Things have been really hectic at the house. Allan is pushing hard to finish. At the beginning of this month it was officially one year of construction. Subcontractors are there every day practically stepping on one another: tiles, floors, cabinets. Allan himself is doing all of the lights and he is there seven days a week. On Saturday and Sunday he says he doesn’t even bring his cell phone out of the truck because he has to concentrate utterly to install various light fixtures, plug molds, fans, switches and rheostats. He is an amazing guy. I shake my head at having to hold so many rules and regulations and so much know how in one brain.
He is now estimating that we could move in at the end of August. Harry has gotten fully into the swing of things and now both he and I work all day every day calling subcontractors, asking when we can expect delivery, paying off our final bills, and still making finishing plans.
The biggest finishing job right now is the landscaping because I figured out at one point that until Dan Finklea and his crew had laid down the pavers for the driveway, the movers would not be able to carry in our furniture without sinking into the sand under foot.
The landscaping plan remains a work in progress. In addition to the normal plantings, Dan’s contract includes the driveway, walkways, and patio in the back, a complex masonry wall outside our front door that includes vertical gardens, and an irrigation system. An issue arose in the last month about whether in addition to the grey water we had already captured on the first floor from baths, showers, and laundry, we would harvest rain water as well. And further how we could most efficiently deliver this water to all the areas of the yard. It turns out, even after adding a couple of rain barrels and pumps, we might still have to use potable water for plants on the second floor deck. This is not so much a cost issue as just a desire to use water most efficiently. But it has been a difficult calculation to estimate how much water we will need in a climate that is getting dryer. We estimate from grey water alone we will have a pretty reliable source of approximately 200 gallons per week or about 10,000 gallons of water per year. We have already plumbed for this and it will go to both sides of the house and, with the help of two inexpensive pumps, will efficiently move water to all corners of the lot.
By happenstance, our next door neighbor called me over recently, when we were in the midst of sorting out these plans, to show me a new 500 gallon rain barrel she had just installed herself, which was listing like the Tower of Pizza despite that she had laid down pavers in the sand as foundation. I was wondering to myself why she needed much water given what looked like xeriscape plants in her yard. She explained that the issue is the cypress trees on her lot which, in the year, before she had not watered and which a local arborist blamed for the tree contracting termites. This year she resolved to install the rain barrels collecting runoff from the roof, even though she had a new bug that the arborist explained came as a result of having watered. It’s a puzzlement.
Harry figured that if we had captured all of the rain from the one 4” rainfall we had last year in December, we could have harvested another 2500 gallons of rain water from our roof. So, after considering our options the most expensive of which was to install a huge tank in the ground for something over $10,000, we opted instead for a 2,800 gallon rain barrel in the corner of the backyard (est. $1,600). It will be above ground and we will landscape around it.
We had always planned to have a fountain in the backyard. We had seen one on a trip that we particularly liked made of small stones and we thought what a great way to collect stones from our journeys and bring them back to place in the fountain, or to ask our guests to bring a stone for the fountain. I have begun to think that because of the drought it would not be possible, but Dan assures us that the water will be recycled when we turn it on and it will make a nice addition to the backyard patio.