Monthly Archives: January 2015

project addition: week three

2015-01-28_1422408406 copy
Exciting news – we have the site survey!

When we last left off, we were ready to move forward with one of the three surveyors that we had contacted about doing a boundary survey and a topographic survey of our property. I contacted the company first thing the next morning, and they told us they could have a crew there the next day. Then earlier this week they had the drawings done, so they sent them over – a PDF of the property as well as a CAD drawing, both formatted in several different sheet sizes. I printed one copy out on 11×17 paper at work and brought it home to show everyone. F wasn’t super interested in it, but E loved looking at the drawing and marveling at how skinny the lot is, and how much more backyard we have than she originally pictured from just looking out the back window.

The surveyor took a lot of spot elevations around the property, and laid out the topo lines in the rear year (each curved line represents a vertical change in elevation from an established benchmark – in our case it’s at 100.00 at the front door sill). They didn’t layout out the topos in the front yard, so I emailed them back and asked for that additional information to be added and the drawings resent to us. The front yard isn’t critical for the addition work we’re doing, but we do plan to do some work out there at some point (including a new sidewalk) and anyway, a full topographic survey was in our contract with them.

Some interesting things we found on the survey:

1.  I’m familiar with various markers being found to mark property boundaries – iron pipes or crosses in a street or sidewalk or retaining wall. Property boundaries can be measured from those markers. In newer developments more temporary stakes might be used, but in old neighborhoods like ours there are all kinds of different markers. One corner is marked with an embedded cotton picker spindle in the alley, where we still have the original brick paving. Kind of cool.

2.  The white picket fence on one side and the rear of our yard was installed by the previous owners just prior to selling the property. It was never a particularly lovely fence, but it’s slowly deteriorated over the last fifteen years. Last year several of the panels fell over. M and the girls patched them together temporarily with some 2x4s so that we wouldn’t get cited by the city. It’s a great look. We all cracked up because the survey actually documents how crooked and tippy that fence is. I will relish swinging the demolition hammer at that fence when this gets started!

And something interesting we learned as well:

3. There is an eight foot + drop in elevation from our finished floor level to the alley level. This is going to be really nice for the design of the garage because the floor level of the garage will be just above the alley level, but the rear garage wall – the one we can see from the house – will act as a retaining wall for our courtyard, and only a few feet of that wall will be visible from the house. That means that we can build a 1.5 story garage that can house an in-law suite or studio/office space (or both) and the height won’t be overwhelming to the yard. If we put an exterior stair access to that upper level from the courtyard it won’t be a very tall stair at all, because that lower level (the garage level) will really be half a story in the ground.

So now we have a lot of information to work with. I’ve been organizing the Sketchup model of the existing house, and today I purchased some cardboard and chip board to work on the physical model some. We’ve got an interesting idea for the new stair that I’m excited to test out with the real elevations. Rumor has it there’s some sort of big game tomorrow, so I’m hoping to spend a nice chunk of time in the late afternoon / evening working on the project with the sound of football and commercials in the background. If it’s not too late a night, I’ll try to post how things are going.

Meeting adjourned.

widening the backdrop


I was listening to an interview with Marie Mutsuki Mockett, author of the book “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” on All Things Considered yesterday. It was broadcast in this half hour piece of the show that plays on our local station during the late afternoon, and then that same half hour is repeated later, usually when I’m in my car on my way home from work. I was partially listening the first go round – I heard enough to know that I wanted to look up the interview later and listen more carefully – but then it played again while I was in the car and I connected with her words so intensely that I started to cry in my car.

She talks about Obon – a period where the spirits of the ancestors return – during which there are lantern festivals held in many places in Japan. You can purchase a paper lantern and write down the name of the person you have lost, and you set the lantern onto the water just as the sun is setting. It’s still light, but then it’s dark, and there is this sea of light floating off towards the horizon. And suddenly your focus changes from the single lantern in front of you to the hundreds of lanterns in your wake. She talks about how she initially felt after the loss of her father – how she just wished that her pain could get smaller, shrink somehow. She eventually came to the realization that the pain would not shrink because she couldn’t love him less or miss him less, but that she could open up more to the world around her, and slowly she started to feel like that pain, although it was the exact same size, was a bit smaller in comparison with the vast world around her.


It was at that moment, with those words, that I could feel it. I could feel the very physical way that my body has curled up on itself for awhile now. I can very distinctly put myself back onto my bed in those first moments of knowing that my niece was gone, and how my body twisted into a groaning knot. I can feel how tightly coiled I was as I sat on the wooden pew at her funeral. I know how we spent that whole long winter retreating into the smallest footprint within our house, clustering together, perhaps without even realizing it. I have the imprint of the chair on my back still from where I sat and cut those evergreen paper branches for hours on end, without stretching. That feeling of tightness is so close to the surface that it can be conjured up quite easily. I told M this as I cut the wreaths and evergreen garlands for the holiday cards this year – just that act of sitting down for an hour with the same green paper and the same orange handled scissors brought it all back, the way our bodies folded in upon themselves, tighter and tighter.

She put words to the way that I’m feeling these days. Like I’m unfurling and stretching in ways that I had forgotten. I halfheartedly tried to articulate my desire to further open and strengthen myself this year in this post. Mockett’s description of that openness was exactly what I was trying to say. I have to flex that muscle a bit to get it working again – it’s been so much easier to say no, to recede, to back away. But I realize that I have to use it, and it feels good to use it. I have to stretch my body in new ways, I have to open my mind to other’s ideas that aren’t necessarily the ideas that I typically hoard and nurture within me before sharing. I have to find meaningful ways to connect to others and do things for others. I’m ready to nurture and care for this little place we call home, and make it stretch a little more to accommodate our growing girls and growing interests. We have curled into tiny corners of our home for so long, and it has waited patiently for us to return to it.

Listening to that piece made me more aware of what is driving my intentions this year – to stretch my body, to craft a home, to open up more in my writing. It has nothing to do with goals of perfection – the perfect body, the perfect kitchen, the perfect blog. It really has to do with openness. Less opening, the verb, but more openness as a practice. Widening the backdrop of this life a bit.

We have to negotiate this world where we know the worst can happen because it has, and the only way to move forward from that point is to let that pain float on an endless open sea with others.

admiring: addition inspiration

Elizabeth-Roberts-Ensemble-Architecture-Fort-Greene-Cumberland-Terrace-Remodelista-07All images in this post via Remodelista 

Project by Elizabeth Roberts Design/Ensemble Architecture DPC

A big thanks to reader Jessica for bringing this project to my attention. She said it made her think of our project, and after reading this article about it, I can see why. It’s fairly common to find modern additions to historic homes and townhomes, but many times the addition houses a new kitchen or a family room, or a combination of kitchen/breakfast/den room within in. I love and appreciate the fact that they maintained the garden level galley style kitchen (although, man, oh man, that kitchen is enormous!) and they opted to make the addition a dining room that connects with the outdoors. They did this because they find that their family spends the most time in the kitchen or around the table, and they wanted those spaces to have a real connection to the outdoors, even in the wintertime.


The house is narrow – about the size of our house, although our lot is a little wider than theirs. We’ll have a similar condition as the left side – that side of our house is our property line, and the neighbor’s house is three feet away. But we have about 6.5′ of extra garden to the right of our house (and addition), so we have some opportunity for light on the rear and the side (and the big skylight we are planning for the roof connection between new and old).


Nice Blue Star range. Yum. You should read the whole article though, and look at how huge that kitchen is.


The rest of the house is impeccable. The have the big white trim, the light gray walls, books, books and more books. I love the part in the article where it states that the architect is “a believer in a serene white bedrooms enlivened by books.” Yes, yes, I agree.


I really love the linens on this bed too. I wouldn’t mind finding some shams and a throw like these for our mostly white (with a little blue) bedroom.


I love the way the rooms uniformly incorporate storage behind simple white built-in’s. We’ve done the same throughout our house, and I’ve never regretted a penny we spent on them.


Thanks again for pointing this out Jessica. M and I are constantly sending each other images and notes and links these days as the wheels are turning. More survey updates coming soon…