grumpy about the construction project (success at the architectural review board)

Remember my problems with the architectural review board (aka the ARB)? They wanted me to put brick where I want to put wood, in the back corner of the house. Remember that the ARB told our architect Kristi that they wouldn’t require it, but then they did.

This is a much too complicated story to bother telling accurately or fully, especially with this delicious Redemption rye in my hand distracting me, but here’s my best go at keeping it short and simple.

Not one member of the ARB who was at the first meeting showed up for the second meeting. I have no idea whether it’s because they weren’t invited by the city development guy (I’ll call him Todd, because that’s his name, and I wouldn’t go so far as to rename him “Mr. Toohey”) who caused this whole dust-up with his memo to the permit guy, or because they refused to attend and participate in an argument where they had to admit they screwed up. Todd seems to actually run the show, even though he’s not an official member of the ARB, so maybe they’re just afraid of him. Whatever. It’s LAME.

Todd came out to get us for the meeting and it went like this. He apparently told Kristi (our architect) that we weren’t going to talk about what happened at the last meeting. That’s convenient; we won’t talk about how we think Todd screwed up. Excellent news. Then he told us to come back to the room. I never met Todd before so I was still waiting for one simple nicety. I stared at him and he stared at me as we stood in the hallway. After a surprisingly long moment, I finally had to ask, “Who are you?”  He looked at me blankly. “I’m Todd,” he said, in a tone and with a stone-dumb look in his eye that suggested the following additional silent words: “how can you not already know that I am the King of England?” I held my hand out. He looked down at it. He remembered he had a hand to shake with.

We followed him into a very small, cramped conference room, where two ARB members were seated. We weren’t allowed to sit at the conference table. We had to sit along a wall. I kid you not. So there we sat, Anthony and me and Kristi, waiting for the third board member who would actually attend the meeting. When he arrived, King Todd called the meeting to order and they formally convened. Then Anthony and I and Kristi were formally invited to sit at the table. We got up from the chairs we were sitting in, took one step forward, and sat down in chairs at the table.

Then yadda yadda yadda happened, and yadda yadda. The ARB members wanted to hear from us. I opened my big big mouth. I gave them fresh color copies of our letter and powerpoint presentation. I told them I wrote the letter because that’s what lawyers do, and Anthony organized the powerpoint slides because that’s what economists and professors do. It was really snotty puffery of the worst kind. I have no idea if it intimidated them, but I hope it made a point of some kind. My skort, beach sandals, food-stained black t-shirt, and dirty hair certainly weren’t winning me any points. I didn’t mean to be unclean or sloppy. I just forgot as I was walking out of the house to put on decent shoes, and I don’t have any professional clothes that fit me anymore after a decade off the job market, and the t-shirt was dirty from feeding the kids, and the hair? Well who has time to bathe during summer vacation??

Bottom line: I don’t have to use brick anymore. Wood good. There was some banter about setting the contiguous wall back about 4 inches where there’s a change of material, and something about a shadow line, and Kristi said something along the lines of hey that’s great, it’ll look better that way and we can do that and it won’t increase costs at all — which I thought was really classy of her, because these guys really messed her about.  It’s good enough for me. Now Mr. Carpenter, can you please show up soon?

grumpy about the construction project (still waiting for total destruction)

Our foundation is dug, poured, and laid. That job wrapped up last Thursday, and now we’re waiting for the carpenter and gang to begin demolition and new building. Tick tock, tick tock. Tomorrow… carpenter Erick (hypothetically) finally begins his work.

It’s probably a good thing this part is going slow, because Anthony and I are definitely procrastinating on emptying our kitchen, which will disappear later this week under the weight of the wrecking ball. Not a real one, of course, which would trouble me no end by bringing to mind cringe-worthy images of Miley Cyrus in white undergarments and, well… ew. On the other hand, maybe it would entertain the hard-working demolition crew if Jesse and Nick and I stood out front in white t-shirts, rubbing our cheeks with our wide-open palms and bellowing “YOU CAME IN LIKE A WREEECKING BAAAAAALL…”

That’s kind of disturbing, actually. Never mind.

Sometimes I think this sort of ideation is a sign of mental illness, but another part of me says it’s just a desperate coping mechanism. I’m not sure.

Oh. Today, without any further delay, we have to bring our dining table down to the basement, empty our kitchen cupboards, and set up our alternative kitchen for the next two months. No more daydreaming about wrecking balls and Miley tears.

Meanwhile, our back yard is trashed.

We tend to keep gardens that are quite nice, in our opinion.

Oh how lovely. Look at all those textures. A little fastidious here, but it’s a young area that hasn’t filled in yet to cover all the mulch spots. Also it’s not flower season in our garden. We’re past daffodils and tulips, and not yet at our butterfly wildflowers.IMG_9354

And here are our shady spots. Boring plants to be sure, but you know, not so bad.IMG_9359 IMG_9358 IMG_9356

These are all on the east side of our property. Here’s what the west side looks like now.


That’s a “silt fence” that the city required the contractor to put up around the construction zone. I’m not sure what it’s accomplishing other than making things a bit more ugly. The giant piles of dirt were dug up for the new foundation and basement crawl space. There used to be plants where the dirt now resides. In fairness, the plants were total junk — random ground covers and weeds, and plants we dropped in there because they were dying elsewhere. I’m not that sad about the tear up, though the weeds still looked better than the dirt.

But that trashy-looking construction zone certainly sits in stark contrast to our well-tended gardens.  On the other hand, it fits perfectly with the kids’ junky plastic shit in our front yard.


Onward HO. In 3 hours we appear before the architectural review board to bitch about them requiring us to put brick on the rear elevation of our addition. I’ll be back this evening, stiff drink in hand, to tell you how that went.

Grumpy about gay marriage

I was thrilled when I learned today of the Supreme Court’s decision that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. Gay people are entitled to equal protection. They are equal to me, a straight person, when it comes to binding themselves to the loves of their lives in marriage.

It makes me seriously grumpy that this concept is big news. It makes me even more grumpy when I hear people wondering why I, a straight person, even care about the rights of gay people. Seriously?

* * * * * * * *

When I was in law school and in my mid-20’s, Anthony and I spent the Christmas holidays with my parents in California, which means my brothers and their families also congregated there. I don’t know what funky business was in the air that particular holiday, but it turned into a rip-roaring fight that ended with me not visiting again for five years. (That was a mistake, by the way. I should have relented much sooner, and I regret those lost years.)

One of the things we fought about was GAY. A day or two before Christmas, my college friend (pseudonymous) Ellen drove from the bay area to visit with me in Stockton. She brought along her partner, (pseudonymous) Kristen. I was delighted that Ellen was in a happy relationship. My family was warm and pleasant upon meeting them, which is our way. But on Christmas day, things unraveled. All sorts of homophobic comments started spilling out. Alcohol was no doubt a factor. I shouldn’t have been shocked to hear people saying that being gay was wrong, or against nature, or just gross, or whatever it was they were saying, but it upset me very much because I felt like it was because they had met my GAY friend. They were passive aggressively messaging me, I thought, and putting down my delightful and good-hearted friend. I couldn’t stand it.

I was a lawyer in training, so I lashed out. I remember practically screaming at the people I love most in the world, along these lines: Ellen and Kristen are responsible members of society who graduated from college, have jobs, pay their taxes, have never been in prison, and are not drug addicts, WHICH IS MORE THAN I CAN SAY FOR SOME MEMBERS OF THIS FAMILY! Who are we to judge them??

I remember someone adding that it’s a sin, and I got really incensed. I attacked again. Not so long ago, I argued, the law and our culture said exactly the same thing about mixed race marriages. People would have called us half-breed mongrel dogs, born of an evil marriage against the laws of God! Our parents wouldn’t have been allowed to marry!! DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT???

My mom got really mad at me then. Later that night, she apologized for only telling me to shut up, but she explained why. “You were winning, Carla. You’re better at arguing. You should have stopped.”

I may have been better at shouting down people, but the best lines of the evening didn’t go to me. I remember my sister-in-law sitting peacefully (she’s always peaceful) and waiting for a quiet moment. She said gently, “I just think… If someone is lucky enough to find someone they love, we should just be happy for them.” It was so kind, accepting, compassionate — everything this whole journey, ending with the Supreme Court’s ruling, is all about.

The other Oscar-winning line went to my own Anthony, who in one angry moment raised a didactic finger and announced, “I guarantee you, statistically speaking SOMEONE in this family is gay!”

That was a conversation ender.

The entire evening was almost a relationship ender. I guess it was one of those moments when I realized gay rights really mattered to me, not because I’m gay or because of my friends, but simply because I believe the prejudices against gay people are founded in nothing more than ignorance and fear, and are morally reprehensible.

* * * * * * * * * *

There’s a little book I read in law school, called “Should Trees Have Standing” and written by a law professor named Christopher Stone, that changed the way I saw the world. You can read the entire text here. There’s a lot of legal talk in it, but it’s a great read.

Professor Stone was addressing the question of whether the environment — the earth — should have rights in our legal system, but his ideas percolated up in my mind unbidden today as I marveled at the Supreme Court’s decision. Stone begins by reflecting on Darwin’s observation “that the history of man’s moral development has been a continual extension in the objects of his ‘social instincts and sympathies'”, moving from caring only about himself to a broader concern for others, including even ‘useless members of society” and animals. Stone observed that the law has experienced a parallel development, gradually extending rights to those who used to have no rights at all — such as children, women, blacks, Chinese, Jews — and even to inanimate beings such as corporations. (The Supreme Court knows all about that last one, since its conservative members decided corporations are people.)

It’s in this context that I celebrate the acceptance of gay marriage in America — not only in its own right, but also as a proxy for the journey that Professor Stone described, which has brought us to a place where slavery is long dead, apartheid has been rejected, women and poor people can vote, children have rights, inter-racial marriages are allowed, and on and on. We advance because eventually the right people in power realize a simple truth: we should care about each other because we should just care about each other. Justice Kennedy’s decision today represents one of humanity’s many little steps forward in search of this truth, as we embrace a broader view of justice, parity, and acceptance across age, gender, race, nationality, religion, sexuality, and wealth.

I know there will always be reactionary backward lurches, but today’s news re-energizes my hope that members of the human race can bind our lives together despite our differences — to each other, to the environment, to the earth. If we don’t destroy ourselves first, maybe there’s even hope for some lasting peace.

grumpy about the construction project (why, architectural review board, why?)

Our addition is advancing.  Last week they dug out a bunch of earth and poured concrete footings.IMG_9248

Yesterday they built the cinderblock foundation walls.IMG_9326

I don’t know what’s happening today, but it involves white gravel–looks like crushed granite. Maybe a drain field?IMG_9330

Because the location of the addition is in this cramped space between our house and garage, and because we have slopes and tight property lines to the sides of the structures, everything is being wheelbarrowed or carried to the addition space.


That work sucks. I’m keeping a cooler full of sodas and water out there for the crews, but there’s little I can do to to improve this poor mate’s plight.

Meanwhile, somewhere in La La Land, the architectural review board, aka the ARB, is giving us grief.

Pretty House

Here’s our pretty house. This is an old photo. We don’t have the red on there anymore, and we removed the shutters, and we have some dark blue trim now, and also actual gardens instead of so much grass.Untitled

But I can’t take a current photo because right now it looks like this.IMG_9249

By the way, that PODS storage box sitting in my front yard is about as attractive as a lot of additions I see in the neighborhood, all of which have been approved by the ARB of my little city.

Okay, so look up at that first photo of our house — can you see the little breezeway between the garage and the house? That’s the site of our expansion, just that little bit. An eight-foot addition, running the full depth  and height of the house. The roof line will stay exactly the same, including the shed dormer, It’s all just stretching 8 feet to the right, with a couple new windows. We’re having the cream city brick recycled from the side wall to the front, so the addition should be totally seamless. Visually, you’ll never know we added to the house.

Cream city brick is A Thing around here. Apparently it isn’t made anymore, so the only way to apply new cream city brick is to find recycled brick. Can you say cha-ching? It costs money, lots of money. Homes that have it are supposed to be awe-awe-awesome, but in this down real estate market coupled with midwestern cheapsk—- uh, frugality, no one actually is willing to pay a premium for it.

Still, we heart our house, so we’re having them put that blessed brick on the pretty front side of the addition.

Ugly House

And here’s our ugly house.IMG_9259

Can you believe that’s the same house? This is the butt end of the house, and it is butt ugly — a  three story blob hanging out in our back yard.

The side is kind of ugly too and covered in wires.


How lovely to have a second story porch staring at the roof of the garage over the breezeway. Where my children can go out and, after electrocuting themselves on the low-slung 20-kabillion-kilowatt main electrical line into the house, tumble over the railing onto the erstwhile concrete slab or stone walkway.

That side wall is coming out so the house can stretch. Bye bye cream city brick.

And here’s the breezeway we’re filling, viewed from the backyard. It’s kind of ugly from this angle too, isn’t it? I think so.


Anyway, real cream city brick veneer is so expensive. Kristi our architect told us we could save a ton by using wood siding to match the wood on the house (not vinyl or some other crappy material, mind you, but actual wood), and we said YES PLEASE in less time than it takes for my dog to sneak a puke onto the only nice wool rug in the house. We decided modern plumbing in our new kitchen was more important than non-structural brick in the back corner.

It won’t be perfect from the back. The last eight feet of the house will be clad in wood head to toe; so on the bottom half, brick will meet wood on a single contiguous wall. Meh. But honestly, it’s going to be the cramped back corner of the house, invisible from the street. And these photos, taken from the future back corner of the house, show you who will see it.

IMG_9263 IMG_9267 IMG_9265

Nobody. Just the deer, raccoons, and coyote that wander through and leave their dung for our dog to sniff. No one will ever see that back corner or care about it, except (hypothetically only) us.

Kristi went to the ARB meeting in April and thought they approved our plans. There was a Great Debate, in which everyone was like “yaaawn nice plans go for it,” except for one young fuddy-duddy architect who was all “ARCHITECTURAL INTEGRITY DEMANDS BRICK ON THE BACK AND SIDE ELEVATIONS OF THE ADDITION.” Nonetheless, the ARB told Kristi they would “recommend” brick, not require it. End of story?  Of course not. We just learned that the approval memo for the permits says “require.”

Seriously? Does this view have any architectural integrity to begin with?IMG_9259

Don’t get me wrong. I love me a beautiful building, even if it’s plain. I do see that the windows on the first floor diminish from right to left in a cute little pattern. But the windows on the second floor are randomly placed, and what’s up with those mushroom vents? It’s not plain; it’s plain ugly. It will remain plain ugly whether the left end is clad in brick or wood.

Having the ARB tell me I have to care about this back corner makes me feel a rage well up inside me against the puny-minded beaurocrats who are using my renovation as a venting point for their sorry, small-minded need to impose their vapid and emasculated will arbitrarily on thoughtful, super awesome peeps like Anthony and me.

It’s almost enough for me to feel a kinship with Ayn Rand and go dust off a copy of The Fountainhead, and then I can go into the special ARB meeting that’s being convened to address this sorry issue and bellow at the board members in symbolic protest, “I AM HOWARD ROARK!! How dare you impose your empty vision of nothingness upon my greatness??”

NOOOOO. Did I really just say all that?

No no no no no. Reboot. Ayn Rand is an over-rated woman-hating fool. Howard Roark is a smug, asshat misogynist driven by unadulterated ego and lacking what would be an attractive modicum of modesty.

Damn you, ARB, damn you for causing that shit to ever come out of my mouth!!

Hold on while I get some soap in my mouth and wipe this greasy feeling off my skin and give myself a culture war colonic.

* * * * * * *

Okay, all better. I’m back on the left where I belong. Right, so we saw the memo saying we have to apply brick and had a mini-shit fit. After a few hours of raging, I announced to Anthony, “I’m gonna write a letter! And take photos of some of the ugly renovations in our neighborhood that the ARB has approved!” Anthony chimed in. “Don’t just send them photos. Let’s make powerpoint slides!”

Never leave a lawyer and an economist alone to stew in their emotions.

grumpy about the construction project (let the big dig begin)

GAAAAAAAAAAHHH!! It’s time to panic because we really, really, really, really started this whack-a-doodle renovation thing today!

See that dark space between the garage on the left and the unattractive brick and clapboard structure on the right? That’s what we call our breezeway, and that’s what we’re filling with house (i.e., more unattractive structure).


Here’s a from-the-front-yard view of the breezeway:


A breezeway can be a nice thing, but you can see why we don’t care too much about losing this one. Somehow we just fill it with rubbish.

Here’s what it looks like cleared:


There was a steep flagstone stepway coming down the hill from the breezeway to the back yard. We knew the foundation and demolition crews would be a rough horde with much heavy work to do and powerful equipment, so we decided to pull those flagstones out ourselves in an unshattered form.

Here’s what they looked like before we pulled them up:

IMG_9222 IMG_9224 IMG_9223

And what it looked like after two or three hours of labor:


A bunch of dirt waiting to erode.

By the way, when I say “we,” I actually mean “me.” For the past two weeks Anthony has been saying we should put this particular bit of manual labor off until the last day or two before the foundation guys come. Then two days before the foundation guys came, Anthony had a massive gout attack in a knee. It was so bad he couldn’t even drive himself to work. He’s walking like an injured zombie.

Nice timing, mate.

I had to move the flagstones by myself yesterday. The bigger ones weigh anywhere between 30 and 100 pounds. I could lift and carry them up to about 60 pounds, depending on their shape — down the hill to the edge of the woods, about 30 or 40 paces, where I pieced together a rough little edge wall along a bit of shade garden we maintain there. But there were about a dozen enormous pieces that I simply couldn’t lift without doing some damage to myself. I levered them up with a shovel, and then depending on their shape I would roll them on an edge, or plop them end over end, or duck walk them zig-zag style, pausing frequently to catch my breath from the enormous effort. Each of these huge pieces took about 5 minutes to move to their new homes.

Based on estimated average weights, I calculate (conservatively) that I moved about 1600 pounds of flagstones. It was a great work out. Sort of like a prison boot camp. Or maybe some paleo thing. A good reminder that I never, ever want to be a caveman again. Forward, humans! Embrace the evolutionary path forward.

Right. This morning, the foundation crew showed up. With equipment.



Power tools are the answer to paleo.

The guy in charge of the foundation crew is named John. I think. All these contractor guys have monosyllabic names that blend together in my mind. John is a gruff, friendly fellow with a lot of facial hair and a can-do attitude. Perfect.

His crew jackhammered the concrete that I had cleared of junk, and somebody with stronger muscles than me carried those chunks of concrete to the big truck.


I wanted to give some of this equipment a go soooo bad. But I only got to watch. Here are a couple quick snaps I took from my kitchen window, which abuts the breezeway:



I was just a few envious feet from that digger as it scooped inexorably at the dirt, wreaking a small and precise devastation.

These guys were meticulous, clean, and fast, plus they had the right equipment. In the time it took me to carry 1600 pounds of flagstones away, this crew jackhammered and removed the concrete slab, dug down for the new foundation, and leveled the crawl space floor:


The photo doesn’t convey it well — that’s a level dirt slab about 5 feet below the level of the concrete that used to be there. They didn’t do any damage to the existing structures. Very cool.

My kids were a bit freaked out by the show. They stayed on the other side of the house watching a SpongeBob movie in our haven bedroom (because I’m that sort of classy mom). We could still hear the men screaming at each other over the roar of the generator and tractors, but it didn’t sound like the house was breaking. Nick and Jesse crawled up onto the kitchen counters and stared out the windows for a bit. Nick banged on the windows trying to distract the guy with the jackhammer, and Jesse got an instant little-girl crush on one of the crew guys, a youngish fellow with Australian beach bum curls:


I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but I know that Jesse hopes blondie comes back.

grumpy about the construction project (designing a good kitchen is hard)

If you’ve been following this sorry tale, you already know I hate my kitchen. In a beautiful home filled with quirky wood details and a lovely exterior, the kitchen is pure junk. Also the dishwasher has been broken for years now. In order to replace it, we would have had to pull up the renovation tile some bobo put in, trapping the existing dishwasher in place. Or we could have left the tile and ripped off the counter top. A Hobson’s choice to be sure, and expensive either way.

But I had a third option: refuse to do anything except renovate the whole fucking kitchen, and in the mean time make Anthony do as many dishes by hand as possible. Seen in that light, one could argue that this renovation and expansion is entirely about replacing the dishwasher.

This is a much more expensive option than the first two.

Anthony and I have owned four homes, and all of them have had shitty kitchens. Why is it so hard to design a good kitchen for a person who cooks a lot? Even big sunny kitchens can suck for a cook. A huge space just means more floor to clean, and more feet to traverse while carrying stuff from here to there, and more room for kids and dog to get underfoot.

I love a good galley kitchen. It’s what I’ve always wanted. A galley kitchen, with plenty of counters tight on both sides and very little floor to mop, where Anthony and I can cook and clean side-by-side, bumping into each other affectionately and sneaking in a few kisses —–

Sorry. This is probably not ideation I need to share with you here, in this special place where I explore my grumpy. But the fact is, I haven’t had a kitchen like that. For the past nine years, Anthony and I have grumbled incessantly about how much we miss cooking together, because our kitchen sucks so bad there’s only room for one cook in there. One person can’t even wash dishes while another cooks.

When I first called the designer we ended up hiring, I had drawn a picture of our kitchen. It looked something like this:

my drawing

My existing kitchen has about 2 linear feet of usable counter, once you plop down the necessary toaster, microwave, electric kettle (I’m married to an Englishman), and Cuisinart (I cook).  We wedge ourselves into our seats at the kitchen table for meals. (That’s the thing at the top of the picture. Those aren’t dancing D’s. They’re chairs.)

You can see from my drawing that there’s a breezeway between our house proper and the garage. Anthony had this brilliant idea to just fill the breezeway with house. It’s 7 or 8 feet wide, perfect for a small addition that makes room for a better kitchen. I did some drawings of how a kitchen might fit in that space. It seemed PERFECT for a galley kitchen — just throw it right in the breezeway, and then the existing kitchen area could become some sort of eating/living space.

Notwithstanding my steady hand and excellent drawings, we quickly realized we needed a professional. We ended up hiring AMETHYST DESIGN, run by a delightful woman named Kristi Minser, who is not only a project manager but also an architect. Yes, I’m shamelessly plugging her here without her knowledge or permission, because she is awesomeness. She doesn’t make me grumpy at all, which is a rare treat indeed because you know how irritable people make me. Kristi took our ideas and came up with some floor plans, and we had a very open back-and-forth with about eight iterations. In the end she came up with a plan that had very little to do with anything Anthony or I had ever envisioned, and it included stuff we never wanted, and it was perfect.

There is nothing better than paying a professional to do something way, way better than you can do it yourself. It amazes me how rare an experience that is.

Here’s Kristi’s professional drawing of our existing kitchen, in context with the whole house. That’s the garage out to the right.

existing first floor

Here’s what it’s going to look in four months, if all goes well:

new first floor

There’s my tidy galley, tucked in the back corner of the house. I’ll even have a door directly into the back yard, finally. And Kristi added an unexpected mudroom, which we can definitely use to keep our outdoor gear in check.

The squiggly counter is going to be a dropped bar alongside the cabinetry, at a regular-chair level. Because Princess Anthony doesn’t like sitting at counter-height stools.

But I’ll say no more of that because now I’m being rude, and anyway even the dropped bar is going to be pretty cool.

grumpy about Rachel … who?

I’ve been reading a bit here and there about the Rachel Doo-dad story (I have trouble remembering her last name), but only as it comes across my Facebook page — which is a lot, so I’ve read some articles from mainstream news sources, and some friends’ posts, and a few random blogs and opinion pieces… If someone asked me to sum it up right now, I would describe the situation as follows: some white lady made her hair kinky and kept a good tan and told people she was black, and she got into Howard University and was the head of the Spokane NAACP, and then her white parents OUTED her! How awesome and strange is that??

And that seems to be about the end of the story, except of course it’s not, because it was timed so perfectly with Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn Jenner, and so now everyone’s talking about why is it okay for Caitlyn to claim a different gender identity from what she was born with but not okay for Rachel to do the same with race? And everyone’s got an answer, one way or the other.

I admit, as usual, to my total ignorance of the correct and fancy way to discuss this issue. I don’t know how academics talk about social constructs and inherent identities and blah blah blah blah. I do know that I have some intuitive feelings about this story that arise out of my half-ness, half white and half Korean.

When I was a kid, my mom always told me this: “You’re not Korean. You’re American.” It was important to her. I used to believe that she was expressing patriotism toward her adopted nation. She had become an American citizen long before we had these conversations. But of course, with decades behind me, I now realize it was something more than that. She didn’t tell me, “You’re not Korean or white. You’re American.” It was important to her that I not be Korean in America. Telling me to perceive myself as “American” was the closest she could come to saying “be white,” without choking on the words. Mom has always been a pragmatist. She lived in North Carolina for a few years in the early 60’s. She quickly developed a sense of how fucked up America was. She didn’t want her kids to be disadvantaged by their not-whiteness, and she knew we could pass as white.

But she couldn’t change what was. I couldn’t hide my Korean-ness behind white skin. Or at least, I couldn’t disappear it. Because when the wrong someone spotted me as Asian, I had to deal with the weird odds and ends of bullshit. Like the guy in the bar asking Anthony, “Hey where’d your Chinese girlfriend go?” Why did the word “Chinese” fit in that sentence? What, it was necessary to distinguish me from Anthony’s other girlfriends in the bar? And when the wrong person didn’t spot me, I had to deal with hearing the racist shit that drooled out. It sucked either way.

So I tend to wear it on my sleeve now. Better to be exactly what I am – half white, half Korean. Anthony wears my race on his sleeve too, at least the Korean half. If he has to deal with a person who he’s worried might have some nasty views on race, he finds an excuse to slip in there that his wife is Korean. I noticed this a few years ago and asked him why. He told me it’s so that he doesn’t have to listen to the bullshit; people tend to bite their tongues more if they know you have a connection to a race or ethnicity they’re inclined to trash talk. (I’m pleased that Anthony never tells people he’s Korean, because that would be kind of weird.)

One of the hardest things about being white in America — the other half of my experience — is accepting the bitter significance of that racial heritage. As a Korean, I’ve kept a pretty close eye on the question of whether Japan admits its wrongs from World War II. Lots of savage and evil things were done to Koreans during the Japanese occupation. There’s simply no denying it, and I’d like to know Japan doesn’t hide from that history. Own up. It’s okay, I don’t think you’re continuing that evil today: but own up.

White folks have to do that in America too. We have to own up to the evils we’ve committed in our past, whether we agree with them or not. Sure, I would personally never lynch a black man or intentionally discriminate against someone because they’re black. But my race has done just that in America. I need to own up. I can’t pretend it’s not about me. I can’t pretend I’m not the beneficiary of my whiteness. My mom made that clear to me early on: be white, she taught me; it’s good for you in America.

I can no more decide that I’m all Korean than I can decide that I’m all white. I have to own up to what I am, what I’ve known I am since before I can remember. Bruce Jenner did that when he became Caitlyn: he owned up to what he knew he was, since before he could remember.

That Rachel chick? In my totally baseless I’ve-never-met-her-and-I’m-just-making-this-shit-up opinion, she just didn’t want to own up. She didn’t want to be who she was, face the responsibility and guilt of being white, and rise above it. And while I have some empathy for her desire not to be associated with all the wrong and evil things white people have done to blacks in America, snaking back to the days of slavery, I have no respect for her and I don’t feel the need to accommodate her desire to pass herself off as black.

But I also don’t think she’s a bad person or evil or whatever. I just think she’s sad and pathetic.

And now could we please start talking about ISIS again? Because they are really scary, and I think our energy would be better spent worrying about that than about Rachel whats-her-name.

grumpy about the construction project: good bye house (an homage to Margaret Wise Brown)

We actually closed on our renovation loan tonight. After months of fretting and planning, it all came down to signing and initialIng 4000 sheets of paper. Totally mind numbing. And now we’re good. The new foundation dig begins Thursday.

I guess it’s time for the photo book to help Jesse make her transition; but first, here’s my own transition aid.

* * * * * *

In the great green house


There was a sunflower height chart


and some weird colored mold


And a picture of —

a rainbow in a pot of gold.


And there were pink coneflowers in a field of more flowers


And carpeted stairs


and some shit piled on chairs


and an old swinging door


And an old floor


and a tree and a fan and a nasty white stove



and a quiet red ladybug whispering “just go.”


Good bye room


Good bye gold


Good bye rainbow in a pot of gold


Good bye ugly counter


and weird color mold


Good bye coneflowers


Good bye field of flowers

IMG_9106 IMG_9107 IMG_9109 IMG_9110IMG_9160

Good bye stairs


Good bye chairs


Good bye broken dishwasher


and good bye galvanized steel water


Good bye floor


and good bye door


Good bye tree


and good bye fan hole


Good bye nobody

Good bye stove


and goodbye to the ladybug whispering “just go.”


Good bye pre-construction peace

IMG_7990 10941878_10203681903554077_2801824450383877166_n

Good bye clean air


Good bye shitty kitchens everywhere.


grumpy about the construction project (final weekend thoughts)

I thought we’d close Friday on our renovation loan and then we’d spend the weekend panicking about all the preparations we have to make in anticipation of breaking ground. Instead, as my dear readers know, the mortgage-issuing bank screwed the pooch. We’re spending the weekend making preparations anyway, on the loosely optimistic assumption that everyone involved actually wants this thing to happen and will flex out as much as necessary Monday to make it so.

Remember that the delays have nothing to do with us or our contractors: our money is ready; the workers are ready; we are approved as borrowers; our contractors are approved as well. This is only about giving the underwriter documents that satisfy his anal retentive need to track how and when our money moved from our mutual funds and savings accounts to our checking account. I’ve collected all available records from the financial institutions involved and there’s nothing more that I can do. Hosebags all, these financial institutions — as difficult, rigid and challenging as a child with OCD. This is not a comparison I make lightly. I speak from maternal experience. (Except I don’t call Jesse a hosebag, not even behind her back. Most of the time, anyway.) Now it’s just up to the bank underwriter to get a grip. I hope he’s been to behavior modification therapy lately to help with that.

I’ve been considering offering the underwriter some additional data points to assist him in reaching a sound conclusion. He already has 400 years of our financials. He has our renovation contract bid and the bid reviewer’s assessment of it. He has the appraisal of our home and a bunch of photos that accompanied it. He has a variety of special-issue letters and special-issue statements from various financial establishments. As far as I know, he has a bug in my house and is in constant communication with the CIA about it all. But really, what does he know about me?

I think if things don’t work out Monday, I may offer to fly out to New York, where the underwriter works, and give him stool and urine samples. I can do it right in his office. I may also invite him to perform a proctology exam. Then maybe he’ll have all the information he needs to finally authorize us to close already on this fucking loan.

grumpy about the construction project (so you really thought we’d close on the loan today?)

We were scheduled to go to closing today at 3:00 pm. It didn’t happen. Maybe we’ll close on Monday. Maybe global warming isn’t real. Maybe dinosaurs are a hoax.

What went wrong is this: the broker set up the loan for the wrong amount, and that’s what went through underwriting. We’re actually going to finance much less and bring more money to closing. So now it aaaalll has to go through underwriting again to establish that we have as much money as they already know we have, and to establish that we transferred funds from our own savings and mutual funds accounts to our own checking account. This is entirely, and only, about the paper trail.

It turns out that paper trails are extremely hard to establish with financial institutions, if you’re asking them to provide information outside their regular statement cycles. Right now I’ve been on the phone for 29 minutes with my own bank (most of it on hold), as they figure out how (or perhaps how not) to issue an interim statement for my savings account, from which funds were transferred into my checking account. Had the correct loan amount been put through underwriting, I would have known of these issues days ago and been able (perhaps) to resolve them. But now? Who knows if I’ll be able to get what I need out of these institutions STAT.

I’m so angry about the situation that I’ve lost all sense of humor about it.

We got the draft settlement papers two hours before closing was scheduled, which is in itself a significant issue. I’m not even sure that’s legal. I spotted the problem with the loan amount immediately. But it was too late to do anything about it. Maybe they thought we’d just go for it and finance a bunch more than we intended to?? But Anthony and I are onto the mortgage business. These guys always screw something up.

The first house we bought, the mortgage company sent construction loan closing documents to the title company. Fail.

Once when we refinanced our mortgage on a home, the closing agent showed up with papers that contained the wrong terms on a loan — 15 years instead of 10, which would of course generate more income for the investors on the lending end. We were planning to curtail this particular loan (pay it off early) anyway, so we said screw it and went ahead and signed.

Once when we refinanced our mortgage on a different home, the bank screwed up with the loan amount. We found out at closing. It would have taken so long to fix the mistake that we would have lost our interest rate lock. So we shook our heads, plugged our noses, and signed for the loan. The loan amount was too much, of course (because when does a mortgage broker ever make a mistake that’s to the borrower’s benefit??), so we had to take cash home with us. I know, I know, it’s a crazy problem to have. But seriously, I didn’t want to take cash home and then pay interest on it for 30 years! Even if it was “only” a few thousand dollars…

And here we go again. Only this time we’re on a clock, because we have contractors lined up and we’re packing shit up in our house and setting up an alternative kitchen because ours is supposed to be ripped out and so on and so on.

Carla is way, way, way past grumpy. I have moved on to just plain grim. I hate the mortgage business.

Still on hold with my bank, by the way. The call has lasted 44 minutes so far. Still waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel.