CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING: Start of Rough Framing (Weeks 20-24)

A Bird’s Eye View of Construction with Second Exterior Beam bearing its Namesake

As the Bay Area was blessed with torrential rains over Thanksgiving and December, our secret hopes of a dry winter were dashed. Fortunately, the exterior foundations, concrete slab, and exterior deck framing were completed before the slushy weather soaked the property. Ironically, a 50-year old juniper tree collapsed, which was caused by the drought but too weak to be saved by the downpours.

The bids we received for rough framing often varied drastically, so we made a point to receive multiple bids for each scope. The foundation bids seemed exceptionally high, which were due in part to the difficulty of the structural design and the fact that contractors are in very high demand in the Bay Area (a natural side effect of a hot housing market and an uptick in renovations during the pandemic). In the end, we took what we could get. Knowing that the foundation is perhaps the most crucial part of a project that should not be compromised, we took a deep breath and signed on one of the higher bidders.

exterior deck and concrete slab

Once the complicated foundation was completed, we were left with a dilemma. The pier drilling took much more time and money than expected, so we rebid the rough framing work. Earlier conversations raised the possibility of self-performing some of the work. As property owners, we were allowed to serve as our own contractor.

Originally, we had considered self-performing some of the finish work. Constructing rough framing for posts and beams all by ourselves seemed like a daunting task. The thought of getting the budget back on track together with the opportunities for learning the nuts and bolts of construction made a compelling argument for pursuing self-construction.

We had already planned, designed, and prepared the detailed working drawings for the project. The permit was approved after two years of being at the forefront of complex ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) requirements. The foundation that took nearly three months was now complete. After many discussions, we collectively agreed to forge ahead and do the framing ourselves.

We drafted a written agreement among the team that mapped out the costs and schedule for Rough Framing. Each of us signed and committed to making the framing portion of the project a reality. Between three architects and a baby, we combined all our professional skills as a structural engineer, contractor, designer and planner all into one pot.

Before the December rains, we framed the exterior deck, which would serve as an extended work surface. A complicated stepped grade beam in the existing basement was still not complete. We made the most of inclement weather and built the grade beam ourselves. After some changes to the structural design, we were able to avoid a costly change order.

Interior Grade Beam Construction

First, we excavated the area surrounding an existing interior footing, around which the new grade beam would be poured. Next, we bent the reinforcing bars by hand with two hickey bars to create the rebar cage. We drilled and epoxied new rebars into the existing foundation to connect to the new cage. Our special inspector was willing to advise us on the steps needed for the work to be approved. He even complemented us on our rebar craftsmanship when he came back to see the final product!

Once the rebar cage was tied and we’d gotten the necessary inspections, we placed the formwork for the concrete.

After calculating that it would take more than 50 bags of mix-it-yourself concrete to pour the grade beam, we decided to treat ourselves to a concrete truck and pump. The pump operator gave us a few tips on how to vibrate the concrete (not too much!) so that it would settle evenly and finish nicely. Concrete is similar to baking: make sure the proportions are correct, don’t mix it too much or over-work it, and make sure to use the proper techniques to allow it cure at the given temperature.

After the concrete was poured, the formwork was removed, and voila! A grade beam!

Building the grade beam demonstrated that we could do at least some of the work ourselves! After working well into the night to make sure the rebar and formwork was ready for our concrete pour, we took a brief holiday break for Christmas and New Year’s.

Structural Steel Support

Meanwhile, we confirmed calculations with the structural engineer for a modified steel column and “Kicker Beam” which would connect the addition to the existing house. We worked directly with a structural steel fabricator in the Bayview.

The fabricator delivered the post to our site and allowed us to borrow his hoist to erect it. We built a temporary structure through the second-story window to support the hoist. The hoisting went smoothly, but once it was vertical, attaching it to the existing structure proved to be a huge challenge.

First Signs of Exterior Walls!

With the post finally installed and the sill plate anchored to the slab through a series of cast-in-place bolts, the wood framing members finally began to go up. Heavy PSL beams were set in place with the help of a rented material lift. The edge of the addition and its distance to the rear property line is now visible and a real sense of the three-dimensional space was evident. We put up the header and sill for our first window — a perfect frame for a crystal clear view of the Pacific Ocean and Point Reyes beyond.

Construction Supervision

We can’t overlook our cheerful foreman, who supervises all construction from the corner window to make sure we are on time and within budget. Here, his conscientious staff erect the first column and complete the second of three major beams as he watches from his viewing tower.

Second of three beams erected along the west face of the addition

We hope you enjoy these constructive travels! We are about one-third of the way towards our goal of completing the ADU this summer. Thanks for joining us, stay tuned, and as always, your comments are welcome!

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING: Completion of Phase I Foundation Work (Week 17-19)

Newly completed slab showing where the entry to the unit will be located

Our ground floor slab has been completed! In the photo above, me (and my shadow) are standing on the ground floor where the living/dining/kitchen space will be located. I am facing the new entry area where I will be greeting you at the door. You will be waiting outside, where the gravel is shown!

We were very relieved to finally see the results of the foundation work after several months of hand wringing. As with all construction projects, you somehow reconcile the realities of time and budget. Expectations always exceed reality, and you are forced to make some hard decisions. You learn a lot about the business of construction, the players, and the many moving parts that come into play. You come to accept and live by those hard choices that had to be made.

Difficult conditions on a small sloping site created challenges for the foundation crew. While most of the pier drilling went smoothly, there were a couple of stubborn piers in the middle that refused to cooperate. These were clearly aggravating the drilling crew, yet they pursued and prevailed. At times, no one wanted to breathe for fear of causing a collapse of the openings.

Aware of their concerns but unable to affect any change to the site conditions, I watched from the dining room window. The crew hacked away at the sandy soil, drilled through and extracted dirt and rock, force-fed the steel casings, lowered the reinforcing cages (some 30′ long), and injected the concrete.

We watched this dramatic choreographed performance unfold each day. The huge drill plowed within inches of our window. At times, I thought it would smash the window or crash into the side of the house! The exposed wall of the kitchen concerned us as a few leaks threatened to derail our comfort, and a few vibrations kept us wondering whether we were going to be shaken into homelessness.

As it stands, the foundation crew knew exactly what they were doing, where to place their equipment, and drill the holes. I was grateful to the care and precision they used. Their expertise is the lynchpin of the project.

The concrete work for the retaining wall went quickly following the pouring of the piers. Before we knew it, the slab was topped out after the layers of gravel, foam insulation, moisture barrier and rebars were set over the backfill. We could revel in the delight of finally “getting out of the ground” and declared the first phase of the ADU completed.

Phase Two Construction of Rough Framing has officially begun, with the deck supports being tied to the retaining wall. The deck framing will provide a work space for the ADU construction when framing work begins. Interior finishing will complete the project during Phase Three.

Recap of Phase I Foundation Work

This video represents a year’s end celebration of our work and efforts toward building the ADU.


We hope you have enjoyed following the journey building the addition to our house. We wish everyone a safe and joyous new year. Let’s look forward to the great new adventures ahead for all of us!

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING: How to Retain Your Form(work)—(Weeks 9-16)

While the previous two months seemed to drag with the drilling of the piers, there was a lot more to observe during these two months of construction of the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit). As the structure lifted itself from below ground, we could witness progress of the construction. We were gratified by physical signs finally appearing after two years of planning and design!

Formwork

Temporary formwork was built for a concrete retaining wall and grade beams along the perimeter of the addition. There seemed to be as much, if not more, effort put into the construction of the forms than the pouring of the concrete itself, which seemed easy after the complex engineering and layout of the entire space. Needless to say, all of the work that will ultimately not be visible—the drilling of the 30 foot piers, the intricate network of rebars, the wooden formwork that holds the wet concrete—is just as essential as what one sees.

Once the concrete was poured, the formwork was removed. It was sad to see all the hard labor put into its construction disappear so quickly.

House of Sand and Fog

Next, the sandy soil made its reappearance on the site. The backfill was compacted into the large bowl created by the concrete walls.

Layers of Icing on the Cake

Within one week, the finishing touches and crucial layers of protection under the floor were added: 6” of gravel followed by a 2” layer of insulation. Finally, the moisture barrier (yellow plastic material) was added to the underside of the slab.

Dear Little Felix had a field day watching all of the activity, keeping him entertained throughout the day. Watching and learning outside our window was a great home-bound alternative to traveling around the world to see the sights!

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING: ABS OF STEEL AND CONCRETE SOLUTIONS (Weeks 5-8)

The Dining Room Window gives us a front row seat of the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) construction in our back yard. For much of the last two months, it felt like watching the grass grow at times, and sudden operatic performance at others. There was plenty to consider, ponder, and worry. With the rainy season emerging, there are additional concerns about weather protection and drainage. Nevertheless, the substructural work inched forward with big digs, long tubes of steel linings welded end to end, gnarly steel cages, and finally concrete.

Recap of Weeks 2- 4 (The First Pour)

During the first weeks of foundation work, the crew mobilized their equipment and laid out all the positions for the piers. They began by drilling the first four pier holes along the edge of the existing house to support the addition and to underpin the existing foundation. As mentioned previously, our site is basically a sand dune and the loose soil is prone to caving. Getting to the 25+ foot depths required by the soils engineer proved to be arduous.

To reduce the risk of caving, the crew poured the piers in two stages. The initial pour included the five 25+ foot piers and seven 8′ deep deck piers. Photos below show the arrival of the truck and equipment assembled for the first concrete pour.

Most of the time, our site looked like a giant bowl of flour! In the beginning, the excavator scraped the edges of the bowl and pushed the floury dirt around. It felt even more similar to baking when the concrete was finally pumped from the hoses during our first pours. The liquified concrete pouring out of the hose looked like thick whipped cream extruded from a pastry tube, but not as appealing.

Week 5-6
Concrete being pumped from the truck to the pier holes along the side of the house

The foundation crew continued to drill holes, insert steel casings and rebar cages for seven “shallow” deck piers. These piers were drilled approximately 20 feet to bedrock. The sandy soil continued to present challenges, as the soil had no compressive strength and collapsed when drilled. Geo-grout was used to stabilize the openings so drilling could be accomplished more reliably.

It was very humbling to watch as each day’s events unfolded. Every crew member was fully engaged. The video below shows pier holes being drilled by the excavator and a crew member guiding the drill into position while another crew member cleared the sandy soil from the drill. A fourth crew member checked and adjusted the grout in one of the piers.

Messy work! Concrete poured into exterior deck piers required hand removal
before it set!
Week 7 (Pour No. 2)

The final stage of earthworks began. The crew drilled the five remaining 24″ wide holes for the piles that support the addition. The cement truck returned and issued the second installment of concrete.

As in the first pour, the geotechnical engineer, the city building inspector, and the special inspector reviewed and approved the excavation and reinforcing steel before the second concrete pour. Our construction manager choreographed the intricate dance between consultants and contractor.

Concrete being poured into pier holes
Week 8

Once the steel casings were put into place and the holes were drilled, the steel reinforcing cages were guided into place with the excavator.

Steel casings being lowered into openings

You can get a sense of the depth of the opening by the height of the caging, which in some cases were over 30 feet long. In order to lower the cages smoothly along the full depth of the opening and to ensure enough clearance for the concrete to be poured around it, the crew attached rolling spacers in intervals at vertical bars along the edge of each cage.

Daily spot checks from Foreman Felix ensured that the construction manager was on site during this stage of construction.

Foreman Felix from his perch

Coming next….Retaining Your Form

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING (Weeks 2-4)

Recap of Week 1

We mobilized our brains and prepped areas of the existing house to make room for the major home addition, which will consist of a kitchen/living dining area, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a small office in the rear yard of the property. All of the existing kitchen casework and appliances were removed for a new kitchen reconfiguration.

Week 2: Breaking Up Isn’t So Hard to Do!

First, two sets of old and deteriorated exterior stairs were taken apart to make way for the new addition. Then, the cantilevered portion of the kitchen that projected into the future new master bedroom area was demolished. Finally, the gaping hole in the middle of the house was covered with a temporary wall. We no longer felt as if we were living in a dollhouse!

Concrete patio to be removed for pier foundations

Our foundation contractors arrived to set up their work. Their first task was to remove two old juniper trees and branches that hindered access to the site. A medium-sized excavator with a jackhammer attachment arrived to cut up the concrete pad, making way for seventeen piers to support the new structure. Ten 25+ ft deep foundation piers will be cast into bedrock and seven shallower, 8 ft piers will be drilled for the deck.

With the slab broken into chunks, the excavator and bulldozer worked in tandem to remove the concrete rubble, loose rocks, tree roots, dirt and debris in a confident, orchestrated tango. Dancers, efficiency experts, and strategists could learn a lot from observing these moves, as we did.

Excavator clawing its way to happiness

With a box seat in the corner of the dining room overlooking the patio, Felix was fascinated by the unusual activity right outside the window. He watched ten minutes at a time and could have easily lasted longer. He did learn how to cover his ears, however, and practiced using his hands as sound buffers. You’ll hear more from him later.

Week 3: Holey Moley!

The foundation contractors began drilling four 18″- diameter holes up to 31 feet deep along the existing house to support concrete piers for the new addition. Six-foot long steel casings, soldered end-to-end, were immersed into the ground to prevent the soil from collapsing along the entire length of the hole.

Pier drilling along the edge of the existing house and clearing drill bit

Being only two miles from the Pacific Ocean and on a hill, our soil conditions are what you expect from a windswept, coastal environment. The original sand dunes with deep rock underneath produces fine, dry, soil with no compressive strength; it’s so loose that the drill appears to wallow in water. The excavator drilled the four piers with a rotating auger bit that avoided vibration and noise of other methods.

Only the soft whirr of the excavator could be heard during normal weekday work hours. Undeterred by noise, Felix was fascinated by the cacophony of new sights and sounds.

Felix watching generator startup for welding of casings

Coming next: Concrete solutions to constructive traveling

CONSTRUCTIVE TRAVELING

During the early days of the pandemic and restrictive travel in 2020, I republished earlier Silk Road travels taken between 2014 and 2019. They started in Mongolia and China, and followed a string of Eurasian countries through Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. Like ancient traders, Europe was the final destination.

In November, 2020, I started a Pandemic Diary that traced five months of travel in New Zealand. Our family enjoyed the luxuries of a COVID-free country, that bit the bullet early with strict lockdowns in the Spring of 2020. We went to the cinema, restaurants, performances and indoor shopping the same as we did in the States pre-COVID. As reported, being in a bubble felt strange and lonely. We were not able to share our experience with others as the rest of the world suffered.

Until now, I have recorded events and activities surrounding physical travel. We aren’t likely to see the end of the pandemic soon, so what’s next? In addition to continuing the Pandemic Diary, I’ve decided to switch to a different kind of adventure. I’m going to share Travels with Myself and Others through a building project on our property.

Like travel, construction involves planning, design, a budget, and a schedule. You meet new people, and learn about their social, political and cultural habits. These individuals impact our lives. And of course, many decisions need to be made, and changed. Stories will be hatching and churning as we continue to live in our house during construction.

What is an “ADU”?

Commonly referred to as an “in-law” unit, the ADU (accessory dwelling unit) we are building is an opportunity for residential owners to provide direly needed housing. Cities want landlords to legalize non-conforming spaces or to develop units to increase the housing supply. Both cities and the State of California offer favorable legislation to homeowners and even offer permit fee waivers to build more housing units.

Our goals for the project are to develop multi-generational housing, allow seniors to remain in place, and to provide rental housing. After two years of planning, design, and final permit approval, construction is underway. The project adds two bedrooms, two baths, and an office to the rear of our existing home on two levels.

THREE ARCHITECTS AND A BABY

My daughter, an architect, is acting as the construction manager for the project. She is job-sharing her daily tasks of looking after her one-year old baby with her partner (an architect) and me (also an architect). As Owner-Design-Builders, we are multi-multi-multi-tasking! I’ll be posting some observations through the eyes of Grandson Felix who is watching all the construction unfolding before his very eyes.

PROJECT KICK-OFF

7:45am:  Demo contractors showed up on time to start the demolition of the existing kitchen. We needed to remove a “pop-out” projection that will be displaced by future ADU space. I explained what appliances would be kept, and which ones would go. The two workmen wanted to make sure that the temporary toilet was functional.

Portable Toilet tucked under the trees

8:30am: Project Supervisor arrived to confirm where the appliances were going to be moved. They demolished the granite countertop and removed each section of cabinetry. They moved the refrigerator into the dining room. The existing cooktop and dishwasher were moved into the garage The vent hood and the sink were discarded. We were undecided about the double oven so kept it in place for the time being.

Noon: The two workmen took a lunch break and slept in their cars. There was the occasional banging from the tile or granite being cracked into pieces for removal.

4:00pm: They removed the doors to the casework and a portion of the vent duct. The plumber showed up to cap the gas and water mains to the kitchen.

When I asked the plumber for his name. He blurted out “Fong!” so of course I delighted in telling him that his last name was the same as mine. He asked me if I was from Hoi Ping (a densely populated agricultural district where many local Chinese Americans families in San Francisco are rooted). I detected a slight disappointment when I told him that I was from another district, Zhongshan. That was the end of our brief conversation in Chinese.

5:30pm: The work stopped. The photos show the countertop removed and the remains of the kitchen at the end of the day. 

Since the kitchen was going to be “down” for at least awhile, we converted the dining room to a makeshift kitchen. We purchased a used hot plate and convection oven from Facebook, an Ikea sink for $127, and recruited four existing rice cookers for active duty!

PANDEMIC DIARY SAN FRANCISCO, CA (Week 24-26)

After returning to the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago, I have reflected on the past five months in New Zealand. I was able to join my daughter Julianne and her partner Jeff, who brought a newcomer into the family. Felix, born in New Zealand in July of 2020, is the joy of my life and the flower that bloomed despite the pandemic.

Already nine months old, Felix is a thriving infant learning all the motor skills for life from crawling, scaling stairs, picking up tidbits of food from the floor, and eating drumsticks with two fists. He has manifestations of a toddler and exercises his emotions and desires. As a new mother, daughter Julianne is now an exclusive member of the club that is celebrated today on Mother’s Day.

In the two weeks I have been home, the first week was a reverse-order process to traveling to New Zealand. I self-isolated as recommended by the CDC for a week to make sure that I didn’t catch anything on the flight home from Christchurch to San Francisco. I got a COVID-19 PCR test three days before the flight and three days after the flight. And I was able to get the first dose vaccine within a few days of arrival.

Despite all the worries, the transition was very smooth. Yes, I was very nervous and anxious about coming home. The daily news feeds from both sides of the ocean kept me informed. Yet everything appeared to be calm, improving, and with reason to be cautiously optimistic.

American friends still living abroad may be curious about my experience returning to the U.S. At this moment in time and in the Bay Area, it is about as good as it gets. The Bay Area has one of the highest compliance stats in the country. However, there is no guarantee that the present is indicative of the future.

The newly formed Australia-New Zealand bubble allows travel between the two countries. My layover in Sydney occurred the first weekend the “green zone” was created. Domestic flights were busy. Most travelers were reuniting with their families. Airport lounges in both airports were operating, but the international flight from Sydney to San Francisco was nearly empty.

American Customs and Immigration was smooth for returning U.S. citizens. After a taxi ride home, I picked up my car to drive to Daughter Melissa’s apartment in Oakland to self-isolate. It was a therapeutic week in the sunny East Bay. I took daily walks through the Crocker Highlands neighborhood where I grew up and was intoxicated by frequent stands of jasmine and perfume from other Spring blooms.

Fong & Daughter Julianne reunited the second week. I was able to clutch Felix again after a brief hiatus in transit between countries. We all sighed a sign of relief once we were able to dodge yet another pandemic bullet.

We celebrated Mother’s Day by walking a mile to our Golden Gate Park, enjoying the newly minted Ferris Wheel ride, and having lunch outdoors at the DeYoung Museum. It was a day to relish among other families. They maintained clear bubble distance, both designated and unspoken, from other groups. Everyone seemed to know how precious the moments with friends and family were, and to not violate it for others.

PANDEMIC DIARY, CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: WEEK 23

(Photo above: Chestnuts foraged from hundred-year-old trees at Hagley Golf Course and Park)

In last week’s post I expected that I would be writing from home in San Francisco. Yet I want to share a few last lingering and loving thoughts about New Zealand.

I haven’t changed my mind about leaving New Zealand to return to the U.S, but I feel melancholy and wistful. Yes, it feels like I am swimming upstream and inconceivably towards more harm than away from it. For me, it is time to return to the real world, while having escaped from it for a while. I have been to the far side of paradise but I should leave it, now that I have been here.

After five months here, I relished the many positive points about this tiny island nation. Tourists rave about its pristine beauty. For those fortunate to live here beyond a dream vacation, they will find a life worth living.

Along the Avon River in Christchurch on a lazy Sunday afternoon
Pandemic Management

Today, as New Zealand joins the bubble with its big cousin, Australia, there are new protocols. Health providers must suit up fully to administer COVID tests. The requirements change frequently as the level of safety varies. Only half of the population approve of the new bubble and another quarter are ambivalent about the changes.

In my observation and experience, New Zealanders are courteous, cautious and conservative. Those have been the trademarks of managing the pandemic successfully. They wait for the science to prove itself, so there is no rush to vaccinate. Patience is a virtue. There will be enough doses for everyone, whether you hold residency or not.

Strong family values fostered by the Maori community are often mentioned in the media. Bilingual messages delivered through public media spread the latest information about COVID-10, the importance of getting vaccinated, and personal hygiene measures to avoid COVID.

Farewell to a Cute Country

New Zealand is a country I would describe as “cute”. Its people, land formations, and customs give me a warm and endearing feeling. While it’s also “rugged” or “raw”, I am drawn to its mild-mannered people, their mindfulness, and their ability to be kind.

A Dedicated Street Performer

I don’t intend to compare the pros and cons of New Zealand characteristics with ours in the US. The world can learn alot from this tiny country that could. Over the past months, I have grown fond of New Zealanders, their tenacity, and can-do mentality. I will really miss New Zealand.

Historic working trams

Yes, back to masks. And I will perhaps be deterred from many freedoms already offered here: get my hair cut, go to a movie or attend a concert, or ride the bus mask-free. Hug friends and family readily. But maybe one day. Soon.

Four Strings, A Soprano and Four Suits: a live performance in Christchurch yesterday afternoon

Farewell, New Zealand! Til we meet again.

PANDEMIC DIARY FROM CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: WEEKS 20-22

The decision has been made. I am returning to the States after nearly a half year in New Zealand. Following the news on both sides of the Pacific has been fraught with uncertainty. My reasons for returning only slightly outweigh remaining in this picture-perfect island paradise on earth.

First of all, there may not be an active vaccination program in New Zealand until July. Word has it that it can be as early as May, but there is no assurance of that. Extending a stay here to complete both vaccinations would require complicated housing, flight arrangements, and family decisions.

Returning to the States involves where, when and how to be vaccinated. With anyone over 16 being eligible, the appointments will be much more competitive. The race against variants is worrying. Flights and the quarantine process on arrival require reverse-engineering the outbound San Francisco to New Zealand process.

On return, I do not look forward to the restrictions and mask-wearing, After savoring so many natural and human facial gestures throughout New Zealand, it will take some time to readjust. I’m not sure where the real world is anymore.

As part of my farewell, I made a special purpose visit to Marlborough Country. It’s famous throughout the world for its Sauvignon Blanc wines. Similar to the Sonoma Coast, the climate is milder for producing the whites that are delicate and flavorful. The vineyards are pristine and unlike other wine regions I have seen.

It’s not the Destination, but the Journey….

One of the two great rail journeys based from Christchurch plies the northeastern coast of New Zealand to Blenheim. (The other journey is through Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth on the West Coast). This coastal journey takes about five hours, where you can opt for a four-course dining experience during the trip or enjoy coach seating with access to a cafe and outdoor car. And yes, for now people travel maskless but are very conscientious in recording their whereabouts on a contact tracing app installed on smartphones.

The pastoral landscapes with rolling hills carved by many of the rivers and 27 earthquake faults, vast farmlands along the Canterbury Plain, and direct views of the Pacific Ocean (on the east coast here) were spectacular and helped me to momentarily forget my future travel woes.

By the way, everything in New Zealand is backwards to what Americans are used to! Driving on the left side of the road, water running down the drain counterclockwise, the strongest sun in the north, and Christmas in the summer are just a few phenomena to keep you wondering and on your toes.

Cloudy Bay and Wither Hills Wineries and Vineyards
Cloudy Bay Winery, the cleanest, healthiest vines I have seen anywhere in the world

As mentioned earlier, coming to paradise with freedom to move about can be a lonely experience. Friends and family in the States are unlikely to understand or relate to my time here. Maybe astronauts who have traveled to outer space feel the same isolation. Nevertheless, I am grateful that I came and will find ways to cope.

Sketching and Exploring at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

In a recent sketching event at St. Paul’s Church in Northcote, I couldn’t help but notice the tombstones included in my sketch. It took a second visit to the church to read the epitaphs to long lost and forgotten individuals. How fleeting is a mortal life! We are specks of dust that appear and disappear in a flash of light. The stone monuments in the graveyard attempted to extend the memories of an individual, until they also eventually disappear and are forgotten.

A few of the moving epitaphs of children who died over 100 years ago are captured in the attached slide show. It may be a bit difficult to decipher, but worth zooming . A few quotes on the stones gave me a glimpse of each individual. I could sense the deep love devoted to them by their families.

More Sketching

Continuing on a roll from the 100 People One Week Challenge, I found more subjects to sketch at the Mediterranean Cafe and at the Willowbank Cafe. And continuing the Zoom Portrait Parties from the Bay Area hosted by Jen and Govind has been a godsend. I painted my interpretation of a painting by Klimt below.

Before long, I will be back in the U-S-S-A. I am somewhat sad and ambivalent about the return home, as New Zealand has provided a semblance of normality in an abnormal world. As this is probably my last post from Christchurch, New Zealand. I hope you have enjoyed them! Please let me know, and look for my report next from San Francisco!

PANDEMIC DIARY FROM CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND: WEEK 18-19

One Week 100 People

Last week was consumed with an international event for sketchers. Every year, the challenge is to draw 100 people in one week. Having done the same task last year, I was better prepared to develop a strategy to complete the exercise. First, you stake out your victims, then use the same venue each day to become familiarized with the types of poses and people you sketch.

Due to the pandemic, many people this year could only draw from photographs, magazines or online images. I was fortunate to be in a country where I could still go down the street to sketch real people in their natural environments.

I chose the Christchurch Turanga Library. It is remarkable in many ways, as a “third space” for living. It is neither home nor work, but it fills in the voids in between. It was perfect for capturing teeming humanity, primarily in the Foundation Cafe, but also at computer stations, playing chess, and at the children’s center, where tired and exhausted mothers could catch a few minutes of sleep with their infants.

The sketches provide an example of the types of characters at the library–many engaged at activities yet to be appreciated in the States–surrounded by others without distancing, staff working close together, and active conversations with friends and families while eating. Let’s hope this is a mere taste of what’s soon to come in San Francisco and elsewhere in the U.S.

The Vaccination Dilemma

Speaking of the U.S., we hear that vaccinations in California will be available to anyone over 16 by the end of April. That’s good news for my daughters. One plans to return shortly with a baby. The other daughter is comforted to know that she and her colleagues in the food business will be protected.

We are waiting to decide whether to get vaccinated in New Zealand or in the States. It’s a tricky decision that depends on where we can get inoculated first, and for both doses. There are advantages and disadvantages for either location. We are weighing them as news changes daily and impact our decision. Add a minor stress of booking tickets and accommodations timed for the yet-to-be-determined exit and you have the picture.

Willowbank Nature Reserve

In the meantime, I continued sketching with Christchurch City Sketchers, who visited Willowbank Nature Reserve outside the city last weekend. Native kiwis are featured in their natural habitat there. Unfortunately the area was pitch black so none of the four kiwis were visible!

An unusual auction of rare breeds of birds and animals was held the same day. Unfortunately, I did not take full advantage of the llamas, cows, and a Clydesdale horse on display. I focused on drawing human animals in the cafe instead. After drawing so many people the previous week, I was fixated on capturing more tantalizing eyes, noses, ears, and saggy profiles. After leaving the park, I kicked myself for missing the golden opportunity to sketch all those voluptuous animals!!

A local auction of rare birds and beasts

Being in Christchurch has filled our time with interesting activities and new adventures. I took my daughter for her first round of golf! We only did six holes, but that was plenty enough to entertain and challenge us for a solid morning at Hagley Park. A momentary hiatus in the sandpit was not enough to discourage me from future outings.

Real Time Creative and Independent World Travel