Archive for December, 2010

turning the corner

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Well, the longest night came…and went. The moon was eclipsed during the solstice, an omen of some kind to be sure. Reports say it turned deep red before being completely covered by the shadow from the earth but…i missed it…

The interesting thing about the longest night is that I always feel a bit more optimistic once it passes because I know the days will grow longer now. I remember living in Fargo, where we’d be going to work in the dark, and coming home in the dark, that this little bit of knowledge, that the nights would not be so deep, made me very happy, and relieved, and optimistic because I knew it was all going to be better.

The season of the long nights is also the cold and flu season. I lived through one variant of the flu yesterday. It started sneaking up on me like the aftermath of a hard gym workout, but by noon it was clear, this was no ache and pain from a workout. The girls and I had driven south and east and were having lunch with someone I’m pretty sure will change my life (another reason for optimism!) We ended up changing plans and Erin drove me back home where I slept another 18 or so hours.

This season of the long night is also the season of giving (hoping I haven’t given my flu!) and the season of receiving.

I’ve written about receiving before, about being a good receiver, so I won’t go into that now. Gifts are a way to tell someone “I was thinking about you,” “I think about you as I made this,” it might be a scarf, or a homely table but, its the thought that counts, wait, I’ve heard that before! Thinking about someone else while making, while wrapping, while presenting the gift nervously, is all good energy sent into the cosmos. All of us sending good energy out into the world is what makes Christmas the optimistic season of giving.

Its an incredible thing really. If 200 million people in the U.S. send positive energy out across the miles its as though there’s a net of positive energy all over the place! Optimism could run rampant! True, there are tempering forces…that argument that always happens at Christmas dinner (turkey or goose?) or that thing that the guy did that kind of irritated you, or even the exuberance for a deity that you aren’t completely on board with, or the cost that’s often associated with thinking about your loved ones through gifts and such. Put all that aside in the next few days though, make cookies! eat cookies! Sit at the table together and cherish the moment. We all know these moments of peace and optimism are fleeting. Take in every smell (well ok if the flu is in the house not every smell) cherish the colors, the glimmer of the sunset on the tree filled with ornaments, the wrappings on the gifts under the tree, the sounds of Ralphie choking up in Santas lap, or of Vince Guraldi playing the Peanuts Christmas music.

Take it all in.

Be there with your loved ones.

See what you are part of, what your year has made,

and love it.

Be good to each other, I’ll talk to you again on a longer day!

energy from the twins

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The Geminids are coming!

Well they’re here, mostly this predawn and tomorrows. I’ve been out a few times tonight trying to shade my eyes from the lights of my neighbors yards and stay warm long enough to see the bits of ice and stone flare up as they scratch across our atmosphere.

You can’t stand in the cold at 2, 4, and 6 A.M. hoping to see the meteorites and not think of these words

“When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are,
Anything your heart desires will come to you.”

I think I heard these words weekly watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” just before the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday nights growing up. Its funny how when you’re 10 or 15, those words seemed meaningless but I find myself both remembering them and hoping their message is true.

“It may be its the time of year, or maybe its the time of man…” those words from Joni Mitchell are rolling around in my head too as I was waiting for a shooting star. Its a time of uncertainty, I feel it in me and in people around me, like everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop, but hoping it doesn’t. The economy is the question for most, and I couldn’t help but think how many other eyes were trained on the sky with me in the night, wishing for a few more weeks of work, or a callback from an interview, some way to put Christmas light in the lives of their children or loved one.

But it may be mostly the season of the long night that has us looking at the dark sky, hoping our eyes will adjust and catch a glimpse of the miracle of the shooting star. Most people don’t seek out the night, maybe its the way humans are wired, we try to survive the night, to work and dance in the light of day.

We use wishes to help stave off apprehension, help push back the veil of personal failings, and let us once again enter the light of grace, the light of the day, the light of family, and given how spread out most families are today, this wishing season is the season of family, and we all wish for it to be like it was, laying on the carpet around the 12 inch black and white tv, waiting for Ed Sullivan.

Yes, you’re right, I’ve avoided telling you the wishes I made tonight. You know the categories though, wishes for my daughters, wishes for the one who holds my heart and her family this week, wishes for Fred’s family this holiday, and wishes for us all that we make it through the long night and earn our way back into grace.

Tiny Tim (no not the one with the ukulele) had it right with his closing, I’ll end today being happy to share the sky with you tomorrow night when the Geminids appear in full force, wishing you all get your wish.

Bring your light to your family this holiday season, it will warm you.
Take care, be good to each other.

remembering Fred

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

A few minutes ago I received an email from my friend Steve, letting me know that a fellow who was one of my life-models, Fred, passed away this last Friday.

I first met Fred at MTL in Fargo in the summer of 1976. Fred was the quiet fellow who sat in the back of the office under the mezzanine in what was the most “permanent” of all the workstations out in the big room. That summer was filled with the excitement and terror of a first job in my profession. The partner in charge had assigned me my work schedule as he walked me to what was to be my workplace … “On mondays you build models with David, Tuesdays you follow me around jobsites, Wednesdays you pick up redlines for Fred, Thursdays you help Harold and Steve, and Fridays you work on your project, its a bank in Casselton, the owner has fired pretty much every firm in town and now its our turn and its your job.”

I was excited, and not smart enough to be worried about how much I didn’t know…yet. Drafting was not too much of a problem, and the instructions I had been given was, “whenever you don’t know something, ask Fred.”

Redlining is an easy task, which is really making corrections on drawings. The job captain, Fred, would make a set of blueline prints, or have a new person like me make them by placing the transparent drawing sheet (a two foot by three foot piece of beautiful linen fabric!) over a paper sheet with a green chemical coating on it. You’d push these two sheets through a machine that had a UV? light that burned off all the coating except what was blocked by the lines of ink or graphite. Then you’d put the sheet through the upper part of the machine which would turn the green lines to blue (or black depending on the paper) by exposing them to anyhdrous ammonia…a pretty stinky process and if you spent enough time doing it, and were exposed to ammonia long enough, can’t be great for your health either.

Once the blueline prints are prepared, my job pretty much was to put away the drawings, and give the prints to Fred, or Steve, or Harold. They’d look over the drawings very carefully, looking for incomplete thoughts, errors in materials, or assembly, or drafting errors that could cause confusion in the field. They’d mark up these drawings with a red pencil, and add the next level of detailed information to each page, then hand off the “redlined” sheet to someone like me who’d go get the right drawing page (yes, I “corrected” a drawing from the wrong building set once!) and tape it down, then erase, redraft, reletter or whatever as directed by the redline.

Fred made great redlines, so did Steve and Harold, who’d been taught by Fred, and David, and Rick, and Kerry, come to think of it, Fred taught all of us to be precise, to think, not just draw, and to stay calm. I remember my first visit to the construction site of the first project I ever had project architect responsibility for. It was a 12 unit elderly housing project in Ulen, Mn. We’d been called the day before by the builder to officially inform us they would be pouring the foundations the next day. I drove up and…clipboard in hand, walked around the formwork, looking inside as Fred had told me to, checking for pop cans, debris, souvenirs, and counting the bits of steel to make sure it was all there. I had walked by the corners a few times, and thought something wasn’t there, looked again and realized the rebar that would tie the corner together wasn’t in the form. By this time the concrete drivers had joined along as I looked, checked the drawing, looked again and almost apologetically asked the superintendent “where are the corner bars?”

The crowd got bigger as more concrete trucks arrived, the drivers being impatient to dump their loads and get on with their day. Most looked at my age and gave me improvised reasons why corner bars weren’t needed. The superintendent joined in saying the steel fabricator hadn’t sent them so they must not be needed. It was pretty intimidating, but I remember Fred saying I should call if I had a question so, I went to the job shack (no cell phones back then) and called Fred. He checked the office set and told me what was likely to happen if there were no corner bars, and that since they were on the drawings, and the drawings are part of the contract, that the builder would be in violation of the contract terms if they weren’t installed, then Fred said, “look around in the weeds, I’ll bet there all piled there.” I hung up, walked out into the crowd, walked to the tall grass around the excavation and sure enough, there were the bent rebars. I picked one up, walked back to the job shack and told the super that they bars were in the tall grass, that they must have missed them during installation and that “Fred says if there are no corner bars, we won’t be able to recommend that the owner pay at the end of the month, and will recommend removing all the concrete and starting over.” That did it. The super had his crew digging through the grass, tearing forms apart and even the concrete drivers joined in, then successfully poured the foundations.

Thanks Fred.

That was one of many many things Fred helped me learn, helped me understand that when on the job and discovering a mistake, to treat it as such, give the fellows a chance to make it right, or don’t recommend payment until its done right. No ego, no raised voices, no smugness, just facts and business. That’s when I started learning professionalism.

Fred built a cabin for his family on a beautiful Minnesota lake. I felt honored that he invited me along to help frame it on cold autumn mornings. I never saw it finished, but know that Fred did it beautifully, precisely, and without any angst. He knew how to put a building together and was happy to share that knowledge with everyone in the office.

Friday, I didn’t know he was passing away. I had spent the day sitting with students talking and sketching wall sections with them. I have a pretty good idea how to put buildings together today, and I know he taught me that. So, to Tammi, Jason, and Amy, I was channeling Fred on Friday as we spoke. I shared with you-all as Fred shared with me.

Please share what you know with those who want to learn. Its a gift and even though they don’t realize it then its a way of building a culture. Fred built us, helped all of us become some of the few who could pass the licensing exam at first sitting, and unfortunately, at the time, we didn’t credit him enough. He never sought credit, was happy doing a job well, living a life well, and as a result made the world a little better.

Thanks Fred
Share with each other, look out for each other as we approach the longest night.