Turbulent Ambiguity Essay #1: Color My World

I was walking about Portland, Oregon several years ago when I realized I’d had a familiar feeling in an unfamiliar place. The familiar feeling was a let down, but in the most positive way to take that expression. It was like the moment when I open the car door, having arrived at my favorite spot in the world, a place of pine trees, mountain air, no electricity, and quiet. When the pine scented air in drawn in with my first breath my whole body seems to relax, I feel like I’m at home.

So here was a bit of that feeling in a major west coast city and the cause was seeing so many races and types of humans. That’s when I realized that my desire for variety, for newness and change included the human realm. Coming from the very white and mid-western cities of Nebraska, I was relieved to find something else.

My first big encounter with the vagaries of race was at an international fair with the university I was attending. There was an attractive coed there from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). We struck up a conversation about how she was friends with a foreign exchange student who had attended my high school, and Arthur C Clark who had taken up permanent residence in Ceylon. The conversation ended though as I mentioned something about her being black in America at the time. Her skin color was as dark as fresh ground coffee and yet she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was as Caucasian as I was. Clearly I had hit a nerve and I was embarrassed about it. I thought about her comments and, as is my way, checked into them. Of course she was right. Her lips were thin, the hair not kinky but long and straight, and we shared the Indo-European language group. We were close cousins in the scheme of things. Clearly I needed to think bigger and look for the nuances and ambiguities.

A few years later I was touring the Smithsonian museums. A few things I remember: Peruvian tar pots (how could one ignore them?), a stump of a large tree shot clean through by the metal flying through a Civil War battlefield, Washington’s campaign tent, and a wall that had a world map and faces of people from the different regions. So many variations of race were represented on that wall one merging into another. It was clear that so many characteristics  are just a spectrum of probabilities across the map. I stared at it a good long while to try to understand it’s patterns.

Science tells us that this is due to balancing vitamin D with skin cancers and other diseases. Getting the balance right is a strong evolutionary driver for selecting skin color. And it can happen quickly, in terms of evolution and may relate to the switch to farming and increased grains in the diet. (See the Wikipedia summary on Human Skin Color.)

Firefly, a science fiction TV/show offers a glimpse of a world where transportation and living on many planets has mixed this all up. Besides the horses, six shooters, cannibalistic spacefarers, and spaceships, the colors and cultures are so interesting. It includes swearing in Mandarin, I think it’s mandarin anyway. I don’t live in one of the frontier towns they visit, but diversity of Kansas City is a relief. We have a grocery store near our home which caters to the Hispanic part of our community, sort of what I imagine a Safeway in Mexico to be like. Their just made flour and corn tortillas come out of the machines there ready to be pickup up, and cactus and mangoes are standard in the produce aisles. There’s always a smile there and people are happy to tell me what to do with the new culinary treats.

I like the place and the feelings of possibility in KC.

Urban Renewal: Fixing Up A Staircase

Stand to support the extension ladder.

Stand to support the extension ladder.

Our urban renewal continues with one of the more challenging aspects, painting above the staircase. This first required making a stand that the ladder could be put on. Wanting it to be absolutely solid for my 20′ extension ladder, it took nearly as long to make the stand as the paint the staircase (I’m told I paint fast). As you can see I made sure it had enough support, along with being screwed into the stairs.

Here I am (behind the ladder) paint the blue-aqua on the staircase.

Here I am (behind the ladder) paint the blue-aqua on the staircase.

It was interesting being that high painting in a house but the limited space actually made it seem pretty safe, there wasn’t much room for things to move around. We did the first floor in bright colors, since we were both tired of safe neutrals. My artistic son should be happy and was in part the inspiration. A person can also see through the whole house looking in the front window so the colors had to coordinate.

Upstairs we wondered about a theme for coordinating colors and ultimately were inspired by Meg’s sister’s beach photos. The sky blues, aqua greens, beige sand, white clouds seemed obvious after a while. So the bedroom is cobalt blue with white trim, the studio sky blue (with all the windows in there it made sense to extend the sky into the room), and the bathroom sand beige. We are asking Melissa to send us her pictures so we can print them and put up to honor the inspiration, maybe nine arranged on a wall.

Above the stairs we put a piece of wood I scavenged from a campground at my favorite spot that was being completely gutted because of the pine bark beetle. The wood near the chapel there was twisted and turned, I assume because of snow conditions, and it left this very interesting piece.

I call this Rising Phoenix. It's a piece of wood from my favorite place in the world.

I call this Rising Phoenix. It’s a piece of wood from my favorite place in the world.

I call this Rising Phoenix. It’s a piece of wood from my favorite place in the world.

One day I thought it looked like a bird, a natural artwork. So I’ve hung it on the wall for now. We’ve been culling out pictures of clouds from my collection and soon expect to get them printed and put up to cover the wall behind Phoenix Rising, at the same time hanging this from the ceiling a few inches in front of the pictures. That’s the plan anyway!


Home Improvements 1

This is our kitchen in daylight.

This is our kitchen in daylight. Look closely at the workbench.

Some have wondered about our new old house so I thought I’d post a couple pictures.

First our kitchen. Notice the wonderful island! It used to be called a workbench. When we got the house they were going to put in an ugly a**ed stainless steel table which seemed more suitable for autopsies. Meg and I said no thanks, and used the money for other things. But we still needed a table, and as we were thinking about where things would go when we moved in, Meg suggested using the Sears Craftsman workbench I had for the island. It had drawers, it had a solid top, and it was about the size we thought we needed from diagrams we’d drawn. Using the workbench would let us see if it was really right. It turns out that it fits just about perfectly for our needs. So now when we have money to build a wooden one, and when we have space to put the Craftsman one somewhere, we’ll  move this one out.

On the left you can see one of our two pantries we have in the house. It was originally for a small stackable washer and drier, but we needed more space, didn’t want to spend the money, and wanted the light, so our old machines went into the basement. By the way, this house is the lightest I’ve ever seen, just an amazing amount of light comes in. On the right is the pink bathroom.

Red Room, Flag, and Dragon

Red Room, Flag, and Dragon

On the right is the study with my father’s old wooden roll top desk and a dragon weathervane we hope to get on top the house someday, perhaps when my rock climbing son comes through town. I originally put it on my “permanent” house in Lincoln, but life is change so when I moved to KC I brought it along. I was born in the year of the dragon, and expect the dragon to rise again. This was the hardest room to paint. The red required five coats which made it so thick it was like a plastic film. When I pulled the masking tape off the paint film pulled away too in some spots. So I’ll be doing touch ups someday in the future.

More pictures soon!

Joining Google Fiberdom

Friday we got the card from Google. Google Fiber is getting ready to deliver their services to KC, the first in the country. What a great city! It will bring us:

  • 1 gigabit upload and download speed
  • Lots and lots of HD channels
  • Nexus 7 tablet (used as the remote and for other things)
  • TV Box
  • Storage Box (for the storage or those shows we miss while away)
  • Network Box
  • 1TB Google Drive

All for $120/mo + taxes and fees.

The interesting thing about this is Google is having a neighborhood race of sorts. To preregister takes $10. Those neighborhoods that met preregistration goals first get installed first. To see where my neighborhood is check out Strawberry Hill Fiberhood here.

Stewart the Public Artist

One of the most important and fun events of my summer was my son, Stewart Losee, coming to town and installing his new art piece, as part of a public art grant that he and a few others won.

KC Star Interview

Stewart with the KC Star reporter getting a sidewalk interview.

I was his assistant installing for 12 hours one day and another 8 hours a few days later. It was both exhausting, especially in these 100° days, and rewarding to help my son complete a major showing in his career.

KC is a big art town with one of the country’s better art schools, Stewart’s alma mater The Kansas City Art Institute, so these public art works get in the news. He was interviewed by the reporter on the sidewalk (see the Kansas City Star article) as he was scoping out the scene.

As part of his grant, and because of his own interest, Stewart built his own computer controlled router from the frame. He fabricated the pieces in New York and brought them out to KC. In the mean time a printer in KC printed his triangular plastic images and cut them out on a $2 million machine which was really a complicated X-Acto blade.

Assembling on Back Fence

Stewart assembling on the back fence.

Since his design could be configured in many ways, he started putting it together after seeing the conference center. Assembly was in the late cool(er) evenings. My back fence became an alien art show with neighbors pointing out the strange design to their young children. Unfortunately the images were just a tiny-weenie bit too big. Hours of trimming ensued.

The big twelve-hour day saw three of us (a shout out to Tim for helping) moving the assembly back to the site, more trimming, and the biggest challenge of all: lifting this now heavy beast up onto the wall of the downtown conference center. Three of us barely got the job done.

Stewart With his Former Faculty Adviser

Stewart with his former faculty adviser.

Shortly afterwards there was the party and presentation of grant winners up the block at the Folly Theater. It was a great dad moment to see my son as the youngest grant winner, him showing his former art faculty adviser his latest work, and overhearing her say she could see how he was continuing directions he’d started back in the art school. Maybe all that tuition was worth it!

He’s at stewartlosee.com.

Colorizing The House

It’s been a long time without updates to the blog. Moving in was a three truck and three month affair. Two 16′ budget trucks to move the Lincoln house (which is finally sold after 6 months). We had great friends in Lincoln to help us load up and feed us (shout out to Kelly for using his can cooker).

Our Front Porch

Our Front Porch

To move all the stuff that had accumulated at Meg’s apartment required a 24′ truck, along with two or three guys, depending on the time of day. And me. The movers thought I might have a career being a grunt.  It was a compliment but no thanks!

We are finally beginning to feel like we can expect to find something when we wonder where it is. All in all we love the house and mostly like the neighborhood. The worst part is the abandoned church across the street. A couple weeks ago they were making an independent film in there for a few days so maybe I’ll see our house in the movies someday. I’ll have to remember to watch for Kick Ass productions in the theaters.

We’re a five minute walk from Meg’s work and the library so I don’t have to get so many magazines and store so many of my own books! It’s also one minute from I-70 but because of the hills we can’t hear the road noise, only the occasional train or barge whistle (we’re two blocks from the Kansas river and only ¼ mile from where it joins the Missouri river). And we know several of our neighbors already, even being invited to an open house the other day.

Paint Cans In Front of the House

Here are some of the paint cans that have gone into the house.

I’ve painted about 25 gallons. Here’s a picture of some of those gallons. Downstairs we wanted a nice transition as you can see completely through the house from the front window. So the front room is bright red, the dining room is orange, the kitchen yellow, and pink for the bathroom. Upstairs was inspired by pictures of the ocean shore that Meg’s sister Melissa had given us: sky blue, aqua, a sand brown, cobalt blue, and lavender.

So all in all we are settling in!

This Ol’ House and Archeology

Basement Before

Before the paint. Notice the back entrance.

We were given the keys to move a few things into the new house. Those things were the washer, dryer, and stove. But the plug in for the dryer was wrong, and the plug in for the stove was wrong! Whatever. Fifty dollars later and I’ve changed the cords but then found out they wired the dryer connection wrong (with 10/2 instead of 10/3 wire if you want to know).

The future laundry area is in the basement next to the outside entrance. Yup, we have a new internal stairs but they left the older entrance to the basement, the external stairs. This is not a bad thing since it makes it much easier to get things into and out of the basement.

But the curious thing is this one room in the basement looks like it was done in stone and then coated in cement, while the rest of the basement looks like it’s poured concrete. We asked when the house was build and they aren’t sure but the guess is about 100 years ago.

Now we think we have another theory that explains this. Can you guess?

This is the basement after the paint job.

This is the basement after the paint job.

We think this laundry room of stone was a root/storm cellar with it’s typical mid-western outside access door. If you’ve watched The Wizard of Oz you know the drill, rush outside, probably in this case to the back yard, open the storm cellar door and go in before the tornado hits. And store things in it that are better kept cool. This means the previous house was small. When they built the current house they just used the previous cellar and poured a bigger one on the west end.

To improve the looks I’ve painted a waterproof coat on the older basement walls since they were a bit wet. During the process we also had a new dryer vent cut in the side of the house and replaced a joust that had old and obvious termite damage.

Here the kitchen is in the middle of being painted.

Here the kitchen is in the middle of being painted.

Leaving the rest of the basement for a while it was on to the kitchen  and its bathroom. Chosen colors were Whisper Yellow and Demure Pink. I’d love to talk to the people whose job is to pick color names. My old house had color in it but all my adult life was done in muted colors and neutrals. Time for a change by letting the color animal in me come out. Now only about 25 gallons of paint to go!


Our Urban Renewal

Front of New Old House

Front of New Old House

A new phase of my life begins.

My wife, Meg, and I are purchasing a new home, part of an urban redevelopment. It’s shown at the right. We both grew up in Nebraska suburbs. Lots of lawns, big trees, and gardens. That’s pretty much how we’ve lived our adult lives. For me that’s been in Lincoln NE, and for Meg in Omaha NE and Cheyenne WY. Meg then got a job in Kansas City, told me she loved her employer, and I needed to get my rear in gear and move to KC too!

Our goal was to not spend another miserable winter apart and finally start living together (thank you Skype for keeping us together). So I started preparing for the move last spring, started applying for jobs in June last year, and moved here at the end of October. It is so very nice to have meals together each night and then sit on a couch to watch TV.

Right now I’m looking out of a 5th floor apartment over downtown KC. It’s been fun here, just  a 10 minute walk to the Power & Light District, a major tourist and entertainment destination in the city. But we longed for more space and something that was ours. Something we could paint in whatever odd colors we wished. Someplace to put our dragon weather vane on top of again.

One of the challenges was the pedestrian issue of cost. The other major issue was the future of energy prices. They are going UP↑ As the economy recovers; as China, India, Brazil, and other nations become bigger consumers, energy costs will rise. So the era of the suburb is going to be ending since it was a product cheap energy. And the populace will return to the cities where those jobs are. I’ve already been witnessing that with young adults such as our children. So how does one get cheap housing that’s close to work to reduce that commute time and driving costs? You redevelop the city.

Back of New Old House

Back of New Old House

Life is a mix of hard work and luck, though hard work seems to attract good luck. So it’s been with us. The University of Nebraska, where I’d worked, was having more and more budget cuts making it uncomfortable. And the housing market in Lincoln has not been good, we  will certainly take a loss on my house there. An inauspicious start to getting to KC. But through being aware and looking for opportunities, and luck, this house became available.

The choice was easy. It costs less to live there and it reduces Meg’s commuting time from an 8 minute drive to a 6 minute walk. In our effort to make our lives simpler, we have the possibility of owning just one vehicle. We can have our own herb garden for the lovely smells we want to make in the kitchen. And hey! I can start making beer again! All the while making an interesting neighborhood better. Life is looking good!