Friday, April 30, 2010

Letter to a Potential Client

I was recently approached via email by a potential new client for a house.  This person had seen something I had posted online, but was not very familiar with my work, my design process, or the type of architectural services that I offer.

For most of my professional life thus far, I have worked for other architects (some very good ones, in fact) but have always done my own projects on the side also.  These have primarily come through friends, friends-of-friends, associates, or family.  It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to compose a thorough description of what I do, for the benefit of someone I didn't know well and had not had the opportunity to meet in person.

Here is what I wrote, with some very minor edits:

Dear _______

Great to hear from you.  I am very interested in helping you with your project.  Let me describe how I usually work, and ask you some basic questions about your goals, objectives, and intentions for your new home.

If I were to design you a house, it would be a custom, one-of-a-kind creation.  My goal is that every project is both integrated with its site and reflective of the owner's requirements & desires.  The various attributes of the site are crucial.  For example, are there views?  Are there neighboring houses or other structures close by?  Is it a confined city lot, or on some acreage?  Perhaps the site has special features such as a mature shade tree(s) or steep slope to be accounted for.  The movement of the sun relative to the property also has some impact on the design, as does the climate in general. 

Second, I would want to know more about you and your goals and desires for the way you want to live.  Do you live alone?  Partner/spouse?  Kids?  Pets?  And a host of other things, which we could talk over at the appropriate points in the design process.

Finally, I always aim to keep the budget in mind.  I could design a very nice, modern house of the size you describe, of simple wood frame construction, with perhaps one or two specially designed, customized touches like a fireplace or library wall, to suit a modest budget.  Alternatively, I could design a house of the same size that would be a modernist tour de force, of wood, steel, and glass, complete with custom furnishings, at 3-4x the cost.  Keeping the design appropriate to the budget is very important.

My usual approach, once an agreement has been reached as to the fees, general time line, and other particulars of our working relationship, would be to develop a basic schematic design first (or perhaps 2 or 3 different schemes, depending on the project and its complexity,) then after client approval, proceed to develop the scheme more fully.  Once the developed scheme is approved, I would move forward with turning it into construction documents.   This whole process usually takes 4-6 months. 

Then, during the construction process, I like to be as involved as possible or practical, depending on where the project is located.  A lot of little refinements are made during the construction process.  Did you see the lake house I designed in Indiana, on my web site? Here's the link:  One of the reasons it was so successful was that I was able to visit frequently during the framing stage, and keep the contractor on track.  Traditionally, the role of the architect is not only to provide a design, but to help the owner with issues of quality control during construction, and to ensure that the design intent is being executed faithfully by the contractor.

So: With all of that being said, my first questions for you would be:
1. Do you have a specific lot or piece of property in mind for the house? 
2. What is the budget you had in mind?
3. Related to #2 -- do you have a contractor in mind, or lined up?  If so, have you discussed price with them?  Usually they want to see some plans before they will get very specific about the price, but they should be able to give you some sense of price per square foot for your area. 
4. Where would the house be built?  I am in Los Angeles, but am not fazed in the least by working long-distance. Again, the lake house in Indiana is a great example.  I happen to be working on a new design for that same client, to be built in East Tennessee, about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, on 28 acres.

I have not typically been in the business of just selling floor plans, since I am really interested in the creation of something unique for each project, because every combination of client and site is totally different.  I know there are lots of websites that offer this type of service, with lots of plans to choose from.  I just wouldn't know how to do that.

However, this description of my services is what I would consider the "norm" or "ideal", but as I also said, each client's situation is different.  It is more important to me that you want to work with me because you like my work, and you like what I have written about how I work.  If you feel that we would be a good fit, I would be more than happy to put together a package of services to suit your needs.
Best regards,

Earl Parson

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Small Lesson in Leadership

Today we have a true anecdote that illustrates a lesson in leadership.

The other day at the gym, after finishing up my workout, I headed into the steam room to stretch a little bit and warm down before heading home. There was no one else in there, but another guy came in just a moment later. We'll call him "the Slob". He went and sat down on one of the benches. A couple of minutes later, a third guy came in. We'll call him "the Other Guy". He sat down and we were all minding our own business.

I was stretching and touching my toes, and couldn't see what happened next, but the audio was utterly disgusting.

I clearly heard a complete, four-part SNORT -- HACK -- SPIT -- SPLAT!

It came from the direction of the Slob.

Generally, if someone so much as coughs in the steam room, I head for the door. I don't get all in peoples' faces for coughing, since I know that sometimes a lungfull of steam can go down wrong or get caught in your throat and trigger an uncontrollable cough. I just don't want to hang around in that newly-germ-laiden air.

At this point, I was not about to hang around in there after the Slob's unbelievably crass display. But what came screeching to my conscious mind in the split second before I headed towards the door was that this guy needed to be called out on his behavior. I looked up and my gaze went from the Slob to the Other Guy.  We were looking at each other, both with the same look of disbelief that said, "did that guy really just spit in here?"

I spoke up. "Did you just spit in here?"

The Other Guy followed immediately with "Yeah, did you just spit in here?"

And what do you think happened next? Did the Slob apologize? Leave the room in embarrassment? Act with any contrition at all? Amazingly, none of the above. Rather, he got defensive and belligerent. Defensive and belligerent! It actually turned into an argument!

See why I called him "the Slob"?

After a few moments of arguing about the appropriateness of spitting in the steam room (!), during which the Other Guy and I were completely unable to convince the Slob of the inappropriateness of his behavior, the Other Guy said, "That's it. I'm reporting this to the front desk." He stormed out and I followed him, not really sure where this was all going to end up, but just kind of automatically.  I certainly wasn't going to hang around with the Slob any longer, and the Other Guy might need backup.  Plus, I wanted to complain to management too, given the argument and all.  I wasn't sure whether he was going to march all the way to the front desk right then and there -- it seemed like he was maybe going to.  He was in his swimsuit, but I was only in a towel.  Anyway, off we went to complain to someone.

Often, there will be someone on staff in the locker room, whether they're just in there to use the restroom or whatnot, but at this point none was in there.  Then the Other Guy went to the phone on the wall, right next to the entrance from the main gym. I've always seen that phone but never seen anyone use it. There was a slightly comedic moment when he went to pick up the receiver. There are no instructions or anything with the phone, no sign reading "To report a spitting incident, dial '0' for an operator". It's just a phone with a keypad and some different line buttons on it. He stared at it for a second, shrugged, dialed '0' and said "Front desk? I want to report an incident. A guy just spit in the steam room..." He described the Slob, what he looked like, what kind of shorts he was wearing, etc. He told the front desk peopleguy that he had just seen the perp leave the steam room and out towards the pool. Then he said, "If you don't believe me, here's another guy who witnessed it too; talk to him" and he handed me the phone and walked away.

I took the phone and confirmed what he had said, and told them that they should throw the guy out, or at least deal with it in some way because it was completely unacceptable.  In the end, I don't know whether they threw him out or exactly what happened.  I got dressed and left, and I think the Other Guy did the same.

But here are the lessons I took away from the incident:

1. When you see something going on that isn't right, say something. Make the effort. Take a moment to bring it to someone's attention (preferably someone in a position to do something about it.) You never know when your action might inspire someone else to take action and join your effort. If I hadn't spoken out, it's quite possible that the Other Guy wouldn't have spoken out either. I certainly hadn't planned on calling the front desk. Yet, by my speaking out, the Other Guy was inspired to take even further action on the matter than I would have done.

Also, I really like my gym, and I don't want it to be the kind of place that this sort of thing can go on.  The management and staff work really hard to make it a nice place for people to work out and improve their well being, and I don't want people like the Slob bringing it down.  Hopefully the Slob will have learned some manners, although this seems dubious to me.

2. Upon further reflection, I came up with the concept of the Threshold of Outrage. People hold their own standards of what is acceptable, what is unacceptable but not worth worrying about or mentioning, and what is beyond the pale. I find that lately I have been lowering my own T of O, and it has had a lot of benefit. Especially when I can see that I do have a positive impact on things when I make the effort.

By lowering your threshold of outrage, and making the effort to speak out, one exhibits leadership - a quality that is in desperately short supply these days.

Now, go forth and speak your mind, and feel free to do so in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Bit of Cuteness, Courtesy of P + T

Just a quick one to report that Paul has had his stitches out and is 100% back to normal.

(In case you missed it, we were attacked by a loose dog on our walk, about 2 weeks ago.)

Because he was such a good boy through the whole thing, including having to wear the dreaded Cone of Shame, he got a new toy:

A stuffed bunny from the thrift store!

The Bunny Gets It!

More cuteness:

That was last Thanksgiving when we were using the front yard as the living room.

Todd was great with the moral support!

and finally:

Paul says, "Thanks, everyone!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mohammed Boobquake Cartoon

Recently, over at Free Colorado, Ari Armstrong posted an excellent piece on censorship and the First Amendment.  After describing how Comedy Central caved and censored a recent South Park episode, he wrote:
Thankfully, not all Americans are prepared to cower in some corner as terrorist goons shred the First Amendment and impose theocratic censorship. Some Americans are taking a stand.

Dan Savage proposed May 20 as "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." This idea has been picked up by Michael Moynihan at Reason and Allahpundit at Hotair.

I propose only a slight modification to the plan: to protest death threats made by freedom-hating terrorists, Americans should draw Mohammed -- and publish their drawings -- by May 20.
I was all set to draw up a little Mohammed cartoon and put it up in time for the event.

Then, from out of nowhere, we had the BoobQuake!  Recently, an Iranian prayer leader scolded women who dressed immodestly, claiming that it was the cause of earthquakes.  One Jennifer McCreight blogged about it and then created a Facebook event around the idea, saying:

Time for a Boobqauke.

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that's your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I'm sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn't rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it'll be one involving plate tectonics.

So, who's with me? I may be a D cup, but that will probably only produce a slight tremor on its own. If you'll be joining me on twitter, use the tag #boobquake! 

She wrote up a more lengthy explanation on her blog here.   You can also read a quick summary over on Mashable, which is where I first discovered it.  I encourage you to join the Facebook group if you haven't already.

There is so much to love about the whole BoobQuake phenomenon (even for a gay guy like me!)  I normally wouldn't consider such an absurd statement out of Iran to merit the dignity of any response at all.  Yet, to meet it with such an off-the-cuff, sarcastic bit of silliness, and then to have that response take off like wildfire, like a mass demonstration, like a virtual taking to the streets of women with their cleavage -- the whole thing just restores my faith in humanity in so many ways.

When I was preparing my cartoon, I did a google image search under the cleric's name, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.  It was actually really hard to find a picture of the guy amid all the cleavage that came up!  WooHoo!

So, I figured it was time to draw that Mohammed cartoon early, and incorporate BoobQuake at the same time.  If I can't go running around showing immodest cleavage, I can at least do this.  (I am wearing a v-neck today, but it seemed pretty clear that it was womens' cleavage that caused the quakes.  Oh well.)

So, without further ado, here are Mohammed and Sedighi discussing the events of today.  Somehow my Mohammed looks a little Jesusey.  Oh well.  It's kind of hard to figure out how to show him that anyone would get who he was. 

Anyway, I hereby grant permission to reproduce the cartoon online, provided that a link is provided back to this post, and that the cartoon is presented unchanged.

This Week's Paleo Recipe: Pork in Yellow Curry

In an effort to expand my diet and get more nutritional variety from the foods I eat, I am going to post a weekly new paleo recipe here at C of P. 

The other day I was at Figueroa Produce, and, wanting to try something new, I picked up a 1-1/2 lb chunk of pork cushion meat.  It looked similar to a piece of beef chuck roast, in terms of size, shape, and fat percentage.  I figured I could at least throw it in the crock pot if I was out of time or didn't really want to spend that much effort worrying about it.  Turns out that the crock pot was an excellent choice.  

These diagrams explain a little more about where the cushion meat comes from on the pig.  It comes from the shoulder area, and is also called a 'picnic shoulder roast' or 'Boston butt'.  (I can't help but chuckle a little to myself on that last one!)

This one is from the National Pork Producers Council.

 Here is the diagram from Aus-Meat Limited (from Austrailia)

In the end, all I did was brown it on both sides in my cast-iron frying pan and throw it in the crockpot with a can of coconut milk.  I used about 2 tablespoons of this really great yellow curry paste I discovered, called Mae Ploy.  I think I over did it a bit on the curry, but you can easily adjust it to your taste.  Also, after browning, I always throw a little water (about 1/4 cup) in the frying pan and scrape up all the tasty bits that get stuck there.  I believe fancy chefs call this 'deglazing' the pan.  This gets added into the crock pot as well.

After I cooked it for 3-4 hours, I stirred it around and pulled it apart with a fork. Then I let it simmer for a couple more hours and voila!  It was really tender and delicious.  I ate it on a plate with greens, I ate it with fried eggs, I ate it cold with a spoon out of the tupperware!  (one of the advantages of living alone!)

Do you have a preparation method or recipe using Boston butt picnic cushion?  If so, let me know in the comments!

Cross-posted at Modern Paleo

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Environmental Envy: The Manhatta Project

New York City stands today as the crowning achievement of Western Civilization.  It’s population density of 71,201 residents per square mile is only possible because of the technologies of modern life.  The City’s rise to a global metropolis, housing and sustaining millions of people, in such density, in a relatively high level of comfort, would be a complete shock to the Europeans who settled there in the early 17th Century.

Recently, the Wildlife Conservation Society unveiled The Manhatta Project, led by Dr. Eric Sanderson.  They had undertaken a 10-year study to re-create Manhattan as it existed in its wilderness state, prior to its relatively rapid conversion to the thriving metropolis of New York.  Their results are presented on their website, or you can buy the book.

This project immediately begs the question: What’s the point of trying to figure all this out?  Why go to all the trouble to spend 10 years reconstructing a pre-civilized Manhattan, their “Manhatta”?  Surely there must be many other places where they could study the primitive coastal ecology of the Mid-Atlantic region, where they wouldn’t have to go to nearly so much trouble.  Why choose the one location that is the most highly developed of all possible locations, to fixate on the stark contrast between the undeveloped and the developed?  This last phrasing of the question answers itself.

In fact, this type of investigation - the recreation of a pre-civilized Manhattan -  is completly consistent with the view of environmentalism presented by Craig Biddle, over at The Objective Standard:

The basic principle of environmentalism is that nature (i.e., “the environment”) has intrinsic value—value in and of itself, value apart from and irrespective of the requirements of human life—and that this value must be protected from its only adversary: man. Rivers must be left free to flow unimpeded by human dams, which divert natural flows, alter natural landscapes, and disrupt wildlife habitats. Glaciers must be left free to grow or shrink according to natural causes, but any human activity that might affect their size must be prohibited. Naturally generated carbon dioxide (such as that emitted by oceans and volcanoes) and naturally generated methane (such as that emitted by swamps and termites) may contribute to the greenhouse effect, but such gasses must not be produced by man. The globe may warm or cool naturally (e.g., via increases or decreases in sunspot activity), but man must not do anything to affect its temperature.

From this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the environmentalists would go to all this effort to present a detailed image of the erasure New York City, and of all it represents:  the crowning achievement of the most technologically advanced civilization to have ever existed.

What do they say about their motives?  From their own website:

But why go through so much trouble to find out such detailed information about natural features that are long gone? Well, as you may have guessed, we at the Wildlife Conservation Society are interested inconserving [sic] wildlife. We know that many animal species are faltering because humans have taken over what was once wildlife habitat, converting it to cities, suburbs, farms, roads, mining operations, and other human-dominated landscapes. Of all of these types of development, cities are the most efficient at housing people. That is, cities concentrate people into a relatively small area instead of spreading them across the landscape. From a wildlife conservation perspective, that makes cities the best option for housing people. With more and more of the human population moving to cities, with several mega-cities of 10 million people or more on the horizon, and with a growing urban sprawl development pattern in the USA and elsewhere, we realize that we have the opportunity to “do” cities a better way . . . minimizing sprawl development between cities where the ecological gems, the “Mannahattas” of today, currently reside.

So, the project is aimed at coming up with new arguments for why human progress should be stopped: why "cities, suburbs, farms, roads, mining operations, and other human-dominated landscapes" should be prevented from being built.  This is what they mean by “minimizing sprawl development.”  (Sprawl is a myth, but that is another essay.)

The lesson is:  Look how great “Manhatta” used to be, before the civilized Europeans fouled it all up.  You humans should just be concentrated in cities, and all land-use decisions will be based on what’s best for the animals who live there now.

And again:

This is not merely an academic flight of fancy. Rather, . . . we will learn how to create cities that are more “livable” for people.

The Mannahatta Project began a decade ago, when landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson, a native Californian, moved to New York City to work for the world famous Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. Dr. Sanderson realized that, to fully appreciate the concrete landscape of streets and buildings that was his new home, he would have to “go back in time” to recreate the its ecology from the “ground up.”

I would suggest a different type of historical analysis by which one could undertake to better appreciate the urban landscape of New York, which might also shed some light on the types of innovations that would make the cities of the future "more 'livable' for people".

How about an historical search for the inventors of those things and processes that made the construction of the city possible: of Bessemer’s steel; of Otis’ revolutionary elevator; of Eiffel and his mastery of structural steel engineering; of John Smeaton, the first civil engineer and an early pioneer of modern concrete; of Pilkington and the Float Glass Process.  Or how about all the untold engineers, surveyors, and builders who enabled the rugged, untamed landscape to be civilized and built upon.  What of the thousands of inventors and innvoators who created devices and refinements based on the ground-breaking work of these great men, without any of which the city would have certainly been very different than it turned out to be, if not impossible altogether.

To ignore all of these great men and the technologies they invented - all, one way or another, in the name of human comfort -- and instead spend 10 years in search of a pre-civilized “Manhatta”, denuded of all traces of Modern Civilization, and then claim that this study is for the purpose of discovering “how to make cities more appealing to people” is a terrible injustice, and an insult to the efforts of these great geniuses.

In The Return of the Primitive,  Ayn Rand defined ‘envy’ as “the hatred of the good for being the good.”  The Manhatta Project illustrates the anti-civilizaton, anti-man agenda of the environmental movement as what can only be defined as “environmental envy”.

On April 22, I will be celebrating Exploit the Earth Day.  I will spend the day reading about and toasting the achievements of the Great Ones whose hard work has enabled the transformation of vast wilderness areas into our thriving, comfortable, modern society. 

I encourage you to do the same.

I Passed My CSE!

I have hit a major milestone.  Last Saturday I got the letter.

"Congratulations.  You have successfully completed your recent California Supplemental Examination with the California Architects Board.  Enclosed is an Application for Licensure."

Then, further down the page:

"As a reminder, pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 5336(a) you may not represent to the public that you are an architect, put out any device that might indicate to the public that you are qualified to engage in the practice of architecture, or perform any architectural services in California until you are licensed by this Board.  A violation of this section is a misdemeanor."

So, as it turns out, after all the years of school and internships, after passing the 9 exams administered by NCARB, and finally passing the CSE (also known as the Oral Exam, because it consists of being grilled by a panel of 3 architects for roughly 2 hours) I am still not qualified to practice architecture.  Sigh.  The license will be issued in 6-8 weeks.

Even though the license is not required to design single-family residences, it is required to be able to call yourself an architect.  Most states, including California, take this very seriously and enforce it vigorously.  I have always been careful about this, even including a clause in my standard contract that acknowledges that I am not a licensed architect.

It also has me feeling a little overwhelmed.  I think that is why it took me until today to reflect a bit on it here at the blog.  I have been gradually working towards this goal for nearly 30 years, which is a long time.  And now, here I am (well, almost.)  It is definitely time to step back, evaluate things, and make some decisions about what to do next.  The little things are obvious: keep working on the furniture designs, keep practicing my piano, keep writing it all in the blog.

But in the big picture, I need a new focus.  I want to grow my practice and build lots of fabulous houses, and I want to do a lot more writing about design and the practice of architecture.  I need to sit down and spend the time to formulate 5- and 10- year goals.

Also, I feel like I am at (or nearing)  decision point about whether or not to stay in California, and if not, where to go.  The regulatory regime in California (and LA specifically) is pretty iron-fisted; you end up spending huge amounts of time dealing with it, and virtually always to the detriment of the owner and/or the project (not to mention the heartburn and frustration it causes me.)  I have often found myself caught in between my client on the one hand, who wants nothing more than to finally realize a dream that they have been saving for, and working towards for years, or even decades, and now they have entrusted me with helping them to realize this dream; versus: a bottom-feeding bureaucrat who will only say "No, you can't do that" and is unwilling to provide a reason at all as to how or why the particular issue in question would cause a threat, nuisance, or harm to my client or anyone else.

I take my role of "dream realization agent" very seriously.  It is an honor to be chosen by someone to design a house for them.  It's not just designing a house - it is the creation of a shelter for their lives.  It is a tremendous thrill to be involved in such a positive expansion of the life of another.  And, I take property rights very, very seriously.  To have the government telling you what you can and cannot do with your property is a horrible perversion of the proper role of government.  Combine all this together, and you can probably see that I get very upset at some of the stuff I have to put up with, in order to practice my art.

And, I think I would be much happier, in the long run, if I were practicing in a place where the role of government in my day-to-day work life were more limited than it is here in Los Angeles, or in California.

I should also point out that, although I disagree with the regulation of my profession and the restriction of property rights perpetrated by the government, these are not worth being sanctioned by the State Board or getting thrown in jail.  I will practice within the law, whilst agitating for change.

I chose to become an architect, and am on the verge of finally realizing that goal.

Hooray for me!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


So here's how it all went down:

Paul and Todd were at the fence barking like mad at another dog.  I looked out to see what was going on, and it was a white boxer, wearing a collar, hanging around, interested in my dogs.  Being the good neighborly dog owner that I am, I figured that someone's pet had gotten loose and I would try to see if I could figure out if it had tags and call the owner.  If it had not had a collar on, I would not have attempted this, but it did, which to me says, "I'm someone's pet, and I'm lost."

When I opened the gate, careful to keep P + T back, it ran away from me.  That often happens with strays: their interest in Paul and Todd is overcome by their fear of me, and they run away (or follow us around on our walk but stay 3-4 houses behind.)  This dog was clearly not wanting anything to do with me.  He started off down the sidewalk, but some other person was coming towards us walking their dog, and the white boxer ran across the street and went away.

About 20 minutes later, it was almost 5:30, which means evening walk and then dinner.  In hindsight, I think there was a little voice saying, "don't go out there, there's a loose dog running around" but the fact that it ran away from me before, and that it had had plenty of time to move on by now, made me think it was probably safe to go around the block.

So off we went, just like it was going to be any other walk.  Todd yelped in excitement and did his happy dance as I reached for the leashes and hooked them up, and we were out the front gate.  Down to the end of the block and made our usual left turn, and then down the North side of our block.  As we approached the end of that segment of the block, there was a guy standing there, who said something like, "Did you see a loose dog?"

"That white dog?" I answered.

"Yeah that dog.  We're trying to catch him,"  He said.

What I thought was "good luck with that, I already tried," but what I said was "Oh, well maybe I can help" as we started around the corner.

Then he said (mumbled?) something like, 
"maybe you shouldn't go down there, 
that dog could bite you."

Gentle reader, I implore you to learn from my mistake.  If someone suggests that the loose dog running around might bite, at least inquire further before you insist that you know better and proceed anyway.  Who knows, maybe it's his own dog and he actually knows what he's talking about.

Also, if you own a dog that bites, which actually escapes and becomes a menace to the neighborhood, please be more informative and direct than this guy was in his "warning".  Say something to the effect that it is your dog and you know what you're talking about.  If you throw in that you don't want to be the responsible party to an E.R. visit, that would REALLY get my attention.

We made it about halfway down the block, past the little yappy black dog behind the gate; past the light brown dog that hurt his paw when he was a puppy and now limps, who lives in the yard with the orange trees; past the house with the weightlifting bench on the front porch that I have only seen being used once; past the house with the pretty white and pink watsonia blooming in the garden; till we were right in front of the house that used to have 2 ducks named Felicity (who turned out to be a boy, by the way) and Dharma living in the front yard.  That was where we met our Waterloo.  Right in front of formerly Felicity and Dharma's house.

The white boxer saw us and came right over to us, and if I had wanted to get away at that point it was too late.  It lunged right for Paul.  It happened so fast.  It was seriously, seriously bad.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, there was a lady yelling for someone to get a hose.  Get a hose?!  Yes, that would break up a dog fight, but really, I couldn't imagine how anyone would be able to show up with a hose in time to make a difference.  I tried to separate them, which I know you're not supposed to do, because you can be seriously mauled.  Yet, I wasn't about to have that dog hurt my best buddy Paul if I could help it, which it seemed determined to do (or worse).  At one point I had the roughly 80-lb boxer up in the air, holding him suspended by his hind foot, but I couldn't break him out of attack mode.  Plus, Paul was fully engaged at that point, which kept me from removing the other dog from the fight.  Then the bad dog had Paul by the collar and he was choking him!  It was really awful.

Then, again from out of nowhere, the nice lady who had been calling for a hose was pulling Paul out of the fracas by his hind legs.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered hearing this advice before.  Grab the hind legs and pull them out of the fight.  Easier said than done, and yet here she was, doing just that.  Suddenly, I saw an opportunity, and grabbed the boxer by the collar at the scruff of its neck.  That was really scary, because your hand is way too close to its mouth at that point.  The collar was pretty tight, but I twisted it around my clenched fist as hard as I could, and lifted the dog off the ground, his mouth facing away from me.  That finally subdued him.  I held him there, choking on his own weight.  Then, the warning guy from before was there with a leash, and took him away.

Then I gathered Paul from the nice lady who was so amazing and had known just what to do.  Then I looked up and there was Todd.  The 10-year-old daughter of the owner of the bad dog had picked up his leash and held him off to the side, keeping him out of the fight.  The nice lady was calming me down.  I looked at Paul and his ear was bleeding.  Then I realized that my right hand was bleeding.  I had 3 punctures and I had no idea which dog did it.  The nice lady wanted everyone to exchange names and phone numbers.  I took P + T home and washed my hands, then went back over to meet back up with her.

She gave me her name and explained that she was a dog person too, and happened to be installing some landscaping across the street.  She was older than me and seemed very calm and wise.  We exchanged names and phone numbers, then she took me over to the house where the guy and the bad dog lived.  I think she had followed him home when he took the dog away, and had gotten his name.  Then I realized that I see that dog every time we go on that walk, but out of context (I have only seen it from across the street, behind the fence) I didn't recognize it.  He showed me the papers for it's license and shots, and we exchanged information.

I went home and got Paul and Todd and we went to the nearby emergency veterinary clinic, which I highly recommend:  Eagle Rock Emergency Clinic

They are great.  They're only open from 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 a.m. and only take emergencies.  We got there around 6:10.  Had to wait a little bit but not too long.  I had to fill out forms while clutching a bloody rag and trying to make my shaking, punctured right hand function correctly.  The vet was really nice and she explained how they were going to have to sedate Paul so they could stitch his ear back together, and keep him overnight.  She checked out Todd too, but he was fine.  Then I had to dash to make it to the urgent care place before they closed at 7, or it would have meant the E.R.  I would have gone to the E.R. if it were my only choice; I learned that lesson when I sliced my finger open during Thanksgiving dinner preparations in 2006.  But, if I can avoid the E.R. in favor of some other option, I think it's better to leave it for people who are in imminent danger of death.  Todd waited for me in the car.

My hand was throbbing and I was really afraid the doctor (I almost wrote Vet :) ) was going to have to dig into the wounds to clean them out.  He was really nice and reassuring, and told me to just soak it in warm salt water 3x a day and watch for signs of infection.  He said that in only about 5% of the cases do dog bites get infected.  So I went home.

Having read of our plight from my facebook updates from various waiting rooms, my neighbor knocked on the door with a get-well-soon white-chocolate-raspberry-crumble bar thing.  It went down great with the bottle of Charles Shaw Cabernet I had just opened.  My other neighbors across the street and lots of friends were chiming in on facebook and, I have to say, the moral support was incredibly uplifting.

Paul is on the mend:

And Todd is standing by.

Overall, today was pretty quiet around here.

 Poor Booby looks like he's going to audition for Grey Gardens.

I was in a bit of shock myself for most of today, I think, just from the trauma of it all.  I took a nap this afternoon.  But I have to say I do feel like a bit of a badass for having subdued an 80-lb marauding boxer with my bare hands - with the help of a nice lady.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Figueroa Produce: Provisioner for my Inner Caveman

For several months, I have been transitioning my food intake (I dislike the word 'diet' because it is usually used to connote a short-term change of eating habits in effort to lose weight, which is neither my strategy nor my goal here) to correspond to what it generally described as 'paleo'. 

In short, the paleo diet food intake strategy is based on the idea that there were certain foods at the center of the diet of our ancient ancestors, as they emerged from the primeval jungles, millions of years ago, to become hunter-gatherers.  These are the foods that our bodies' DNA is coded to respond favorably towards, because these are the foods that our DNA itself was mutating and evolving in response to.  Foods in this category include fresh meats and veggies.

Then there are other foods that entered the diet later, which, although easy to grow, turn out to be pretty bad for you.  These include grains and legumes, which entered the human diet at the onset of the agricultural revolution, which was only about 10,000 years ago, roughly.  Apparently there is lots of anthropological evidence that human nutrition took a nose-dive when this happened.

Lately (and here I mean the past several decades), there have been even more additions to the diet that are also highly destructive to your metabolism, like all the modern oils derived from grains, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, processed starches, trans-fats, and the like.  For more in-depth info on all things paleo, including a blog and lots of links + resources, check out the website Modern Paleo.

So I have been transitioning to this mostly-meat-plus-some-veggies diet, and haven't felt this good in a long time.  I used to have heartburn, indigestion, and all kinds of stomach discomfort.  Now these are very rare, and are pretty much confined to lapses of judgment when I eat something completely ridiculous like pizza or pasta (and which happens less and less.) My weight has stabilized around 178, which is pretty good for being 6'-1" tall, and my body fat is pretty low.  I don't know exactly how low, but you can kinda see my abs peeking through.  My energy has been great, and I feel, overall, really healthy.

One thing that has made this whole new way of eating a really fun part of my everyday routine has been the discovery of a great little market, right in my neighborhood, called Figueroa Produce.

 They sell everything a modern-stoneage caveman could want!  

The produce is gorgeous, and they have a wide selection of both organic and regular:

They sell raw milk, Lurpak butter, and Greek Gods yogurt, in addition to a great selection of other dairy products:

But the thing that is the most amazing of all, to me, is the meat department.

They have both regular and grass-fed beef.  The grass-fed comes from a local California family farm called Open Space Meats.  I have really enjoyed the grass-fed beef, and it doesn't seem strong or gamey at all to me, like I have heard some people describe grass-fed beef can be.

 Check out that giant grass-fed marrow bone! 

But wait - it gets even better: they make all their own ground beef right there in the store, daily.  Even their regular, non-grass-fed ground beef is better than any ground beef I have bought outside the Midwest (and I have lived in California for 19 years.)  Or, if you prefer, you can ask Rick, the friendly butcher peopleguy, and he will take any cut of meat right out of the case and grind it for you on the spot!  And their prices are far lower than a certain well-known, big organic supermarket chain (that no longer sells raw dairy products by the way.)

I realize at this point this blog post is starting to sound a bit like a commercial.  That's because it is!  Seriously, I have a selfish interest in seeing this store succeed, so I can keep shopping there.  Also, there's my natural enthusiasm for seeing an enterprise start up from scratch, and watching the owners, Anthony, Luis and Ruben, in there working hard day in and day out to make it succeed.   I really value their efforts.  If anyone deserves success, they do.

One last thing, I almost forgot.  If you give them your email address, they'll email you a coupon for 10% off your entire order.  So if you live anywhere near Highland Park, South Pasadena, Pasadena, or Eagle Rock, start getting your caveman supplies at Figueroa Produce!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Light Weekend Welding: Baseplates and Barstools

For me, Easter is like the beginning of Summer.  I can skip Spring.  In L.A., there's always something blooming year round, and not many trees lose their leaves, so the traditional signals of thaw and rebirth don't really apply.

Summer, for me, means spending as much time outside as possible.  Winter is for bundling up and listening to the rain, while knitting or spending time at the piano.  Summer is for gardening and welding.  I don't abandon my piano in the summer, or set aside my yarn and needles altogether, but these activities definitely yield to the warm weather and long days.

Yesterday I had a great day in the workshop, clearing out stuff that had piled up over the winter, getting things set up to make it into a working shop once again.  Adding to the fun, my buddy Alan came over for a welding lesson in the afternoon.  It was the first time I had had someone visit and hang out in the shop with me, and we had a lot of fun.

Sometimes I go very purposefully out to the shop, to construct a design that is fully preconceived and sketched out.  Other times, I am spontaneously inspired to make something new as I look through my scrap piles and inventory of metal and parts.  Some of these impromptu creations are more successful than others, but my ratio of successes is steadily improving.

Yesterday was a good day for impromptu creations.

Generally, if I haven't welded anything in a week or longer, I take something small and simple to work on as a warm-up project.  Yesterday, after I got things organized and straightened around to where I could get to work, I decided, as my warm up, to take a little step stool I had made a couple of years ago, and weld a back onto it to make a kid's chair.

 Left: Orange chair made in 2007.  Right: Base made in 2007, back added yesterday.  

I decided the cute orange chair needed a companion, perhaps to be painted red.  These chairs are made from discarded base plate templates.  What's a base plate template, you ask?

On the right, in the photo above, is a complete base plate template. In building construction, the metal plate is used to position and hold the L-shaped bolts while concrete is being poured.  After the concrete cures, the plate is removed and discarded, and then a steel column is set into place and bolted down.

I have been using them as plant stands around my back patio ever since I scavenged rescued them from a construction site where they were being thrown out.  Apparently they had ordered too many of them, or they were the wrong size, or both.  These were in the discard pile.  That happened to be a government job.  Go figure.  I should say a special "thank you" to all the L.A. Taxpayers who funded my materials for this blog post.

Some of the plates were made into chairs, including the orange one above. These were made as kiddie chairs, specifically for my nieces and nephew when they visited (along with my sis and bro-in-law) for Thanksgiving, 2007.  But somehow, one of the chairs never got a back.  Then it just became a step stool and was languishing in the garage, until it became my warm-up project yesterday.

Here we are playing "Will It Float?" in the driveway.

We had a lot of fun making predictions and testing them out!

The kids made good use of the chairs.

My excitement over the re-discovery of the Orange Chair of Cuteness, and the creation of its mate, and a desire to make a bunch more of them, led to the dismantling of a few more plant stand/baseplate templates.

Then things took a different turn, when I looked at the growing pile of L-shaped bolt-legs sitting there, and I got a completely new idea:  I envisioned a weirdo swiveling adjustable-height bar stool, using the L-shaped bolts from the template but inverting them to become the legs for the stool.  At first it was going to have 3 legs, but when I saw that piece of square tubing, and decided to make it the seat, I realized it would look better with 4 legs.

Thus, my latest creation was, well, created:

Behold the Robot Bar Stool!

I think its best use will be as a seat at a BBQ or garden party, where you can hold a plate of food while you sit on it, and have your drink stashed inside the compartment.

Seen here with the whole gang.

Presented here by Spokesdogs Paul and Todd:

I told them to pretend it was a Calvin Klein ad.  I think they did pretty well.

And finally, demonstrated by the author:

Hi, Mom!

Showing off my latest hand-knit gloves as well!

I still want to make some more kiddie chairs. There's always next weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Delayed Moonrise

As I was watching and waiting on Monday evening for my friend Cathy to come over for dinner, the full moon rose from behind my neighbors' house across the street.  I ran for my camera and caught it just in time!  I had forgotten I had taken pictures of it until just now.

Since I don't want this blog to be only about long essays, I decided to post it.  Enjoy!