Yearly Archives: 2012

How’s the Remodel Coming?

It’s going very well indeed.  The incredible thing is that the contractor gave us a project plan in August, and here we are in December and as of last week we were slightly ahead of schedule.  I told you we hired them because of the project manager.  I asked him last week if I could tell the house cleaning service to put us back on their schedule in February and he said yes!

So as of last week:  the kitchen and half bath have been dismantled, the windows replaced, the plumbing and electrical work upgraded (plus some structural reinforcement), and the drywall put up, mudded, sanded, and primed.  The floor is insulated.  (Yay!)  The kitchen cabinet install is in process.  The upstairs has been rewired, the ceilings drywalled, the closet frame rebuilt, and everything has been patched, mudded, and primed.  The bathroom plumbing has been redone, the bathroom window is now double-paned (and with a plastic latch, which will handle all the water much better than the brass one did).

During our weekly conference last Friday, the floor guys were ripping up the second floor, which we have to replace.  Since we’re doing this because the wood is too thin to hold the boards during a refinish, all the old nails were sticking up from the subfloor, and as we got there the team was – hammering them all down.  There must have been three guys up there, all pounding nails into the subfloor at once; it sounded like an artillery range.  We were relieved when the manager went up and asked them to take a short break while we discussed some details.

We’re about halfway through this.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been in the condo for two months already, with two more to go.  The wood for the second floor has been delivered and is sitting upstairs getting acclimated, we expect that install next week.  It’s been quite an experience, and it isn’t done.

Oh, and I saw a goldeneye on Lake Merritt yesterday, along with either a horned or an eared grebe – they’re about the same size.  They’re different in detail, but I can’t see that kind of detail against water in the sun, especially when the thing is underwater half the time.  I thought it was a juvenile of a larger grebe until I looked in Sibley and saw there are two breeds that are each only about a foot long.

Posted in Personal Tagged |

Miltenberg and Wertheim

Our tour of Miltenberg, a beautifully preserved medieval village on a bend of the Main, began about 15 minutes late, not bad considering how much time we lost getting through the locks.  Here’s part of Miltenberg, showing the remains of the castle.  Our travel notes suggest that Miltenberg was pretty well settled here by about 1379.  It’s located in what’s called the “Main Square” or Mainviereck, where the river, in about 80 kilometers, makes two right angle bends.  Miltenberg is on the first bend, a very strategic spot for collecting tolls.

It still contains an inn that’s been in continual service since the 14th century and is the oldest pub in Germany.  They also note that Miltenberg flooded a lot over the years – you can see how it might.


Cologne may have been bombed flat and reconstructed, but the Allies don’t appear to have done Miltenberg any significant damage.  We toured the town you see, on the right bank (as we went upstream); Miltenberg now occupies both banks and has a population of about 10,000.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |

The Day of Locks

July 19 was the day we found out about locks – river locks, that is.  We had been on the lower and middle Rhine, which have no locks; we went through one lock in the delta, and that was it.  It scared me to death, too – it was sometime around oh-dark hundred, and the ship (which was previously as stable as the hotel in Amsterdam) suddenly lurched and clunked.  It woke me up, and being an anxious sort, I was afraid we’d hit something.  I got up and peered out the window – and saw a concrete wall less than a foot from the side of the boat, and a brightly lighted (deserted) collection of industrial structures.  I was now awake enough to realize we were in a lock, and I went back to bed.

The Main is a much smaller river than the Rhine; the banks are closer and more rural, and the whole thing feels cozier.  And it swarms with locks.  We entered the Main just before midnight the 18th and went through 4 locks in the course of the night, three of which woke me up.  Viking had a careful agenda made out, starting with a glassblowing demonstration in the lounge at 9:30, by a man from Wertheim.  At 9:15 or so we arrived at a lock, and discovered that it was occupied by a boat coming in the other direction.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |

Ducks on the Lake

I don’t have pictures, because when I walked over to the library to return some books, I didn’t think to take the camera – or the binoculars, and that was a mistake too.  I walked back along Lake Merritt (the library is right at the end of an arm), and saw several grebes, a few small ducks I’m pretty sure were scaups of some kind, and a handsome pair of canvasbacks (handsome also in the secondary sense of “moderately large” – canvasbacks are big ducks!).

I passed a woman talking on her cellphone who was shouting excitedly into it, “They’re back, they’re back, it’s early for them,” and peering out over the lake.  I interrupted her conversation to ask what she thought she saw and she said there were buffleheads out on the lake, but they were way out, and the best photos I could get with the crummy zoom in my camera were just fuzzy duck-shaped blobs.  I’ll go back with the binoculars and maybe the 300mm lens one of these days.

It’s a genuine pleasure to be able to walk along a lake full of birds any time I like.  When the remodel is over, I must come back down here more often.

Speaking of the remodel, we passed the rough inspection Friday, which means they can start covering up the walls, starting with a plywood shearwall in the kitchen.  We’re moving right along.

Posted in Neighborhood, Personal Tagged , |

The Condo

So we’re living in a rental condo while the remodel continues apace.  I haven’t lived in a rental since I think 1976.  My biggest problem before the move was the fact that we couldn’t look at the place until the day we got the key (it was occupied).  Once we saw it, it was and is very nice.

condo interior

Our house is 1,600 square feet and the condo is only 750, but our house is 2 stories, so this is about the size of our first floor.   It’s a good thing we don’t mind spending a lot of time together, there’s no room in a one-bedroom unit for a privacy freak.  There’s also (ahem!) only one toilet; we’re used to a spare on the other floor!  The kitchen is adequate (except that we both prefer gas stoves) but really not big enough for both of us to potter around in it at once.

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Posted in Neighborhood, Personal Tagged |

Thoughts About the Cruise

I want to pause in my mad posts of photos, and just discuss the cruise a little.  I've been on cruises before, and they're all different.  On this one, not only was the ship brand new (this was its first formal cruise after it was launched), the crew were all brand new, not just to the ship but in many cases to Viking.  They were very polite and very efficient but, for instance, one afternoon they advertised a "tea," and when I arrived at it and asked for a cup of tea, they said I could fetch it myself from the self-service bar, they were only serving coffee, because the program was to show the types of coffee!  (I fetched one cup myself and got a second one delivered, which I call a draw.)  I have no complaint about the service, though.  In fact, cruises like this are extremely hypnotic because everything is done for you – the food cooked and served, the bed made (and turned down), all the cleaning done when you're off having fun.

The programs sometimes suggested what Germans thought Americans might like (the passengers were largely American, with scattered Canadians and Australians), without actually knowing much about Americans.  The program one evening was labeled "food customs," in which the program director (who was Hungarian) gave a long talk which I would summarize as, "We Europeans dine in a more civilized way than you barbarous Americans."  I called her on it the next day and suggested that most major American cities have restaurants in which one can have quite as leisurely (and expensive!) a dining experience with friends as she described!  The same night they had a classical music program, with a very talented local trio (piano, clarinet, cello), who began playing light classical music but morphed into "easy listening" – Jim walked out when they started Moon River!

The cruise offered a daily Qi Gong session, at 7 AM; I went to it about half the days, it was a nice way to start the day, stretching and breathing.  It had about 4 regulars and another 4 or 5 who came occasionally.

The ship advertised "free wi-fi", and they had it, but the devil is in the details.  With a moving ship, of course, the wi-fi had to be satellite, which meant that connectivity was iffy when we were moving.  On the other hand, if we parked under a large bridge, as we did in Cologne, connectivity might be non-existent.  So I connected every couple of days, and basically spent only enough time online to delete spam and respond to absolutely critical emails.  I did not go on a cruise to stare at a computer screen!

Posted in Personal, Vacations Tagged |

Cruising the Middle Rhine

As I review my Marksburg post, I realize I misstated the smooth organization of the cruise on July 18.  I mentioned we stopped at Andernach. The daily what's-happening letter for the 18th doesn't mention Andernach at all.  We were supposed to stop at Koblenz at 8:30 AM, drop the tours for Marksburg, which would then meet the boat after the tour at Braubach, where Marksburg Castle actually is.

In theory, Embla arrived in Braubach at 11:45, we all boarded, and it left Braubach at noon, to cruise through the Mittelrhein for the rest of the day and arrive at Freudenberg about 2:30 the following afternoon. Instead, after the tour the busses took us all the way back from Braubach to Koblenz, where the boat was moored.  We got there about 11:45, and stayed through lunch and quite a bit later.  The time stamps on my photos indicate that we left around 2:30 PM. For much of this time we couldn't leave the ship, either, because we were going to embark "any minute."  We lost close to 3 hours, and it took us several days to catch it up.  My trip diary says,

The boat was supposed to sail at two or so but we've just been told that  they're having "mechanical difficulties" (on a brand new ship?) so we can all have until 2:30 to explore Koblenz and the Deutsches Eck.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |


This has been going on since the first of October, but Jim wouldn't let me blog about it because he didn't want to advertise to the world that the house was empty.  (He overestimates the audience of this blog.) Now that the contractor's sign is in the front yard and the Port-A-Potty graces the parking strip, it's ok for me to blog about the project from time to time, because anyone can tell that the house is under construction.  

We wanted new kitchen countertops and a new stove.  That's how it began.  The kitchen was last redone in 1980, and it's showing its age.  We did the usual get-3-quotes routine, and chose a local firm, largely because they assigned us an extremely competent project manager.  We paid them to do the design and plan the project before committing to it, and in the process found we could work well with them.

As anyone who's ever remodeled soon learns, it's never that simple.  Our contractor also has a very good kitchen designer with some really interesting ideas about cabinetry; and of course we had to bring the kitchen wiring and lighting up to code; and so it goes.  The last kitchen remodel turned an original built-in china cabinet into a half bath (which was very useful to me in my various knee surgeries, when I couldn't climb stairs).  The half bath was decorated to match the kitchen, so now that we're redoing the kitchen, of course we have to make the half bath match the new look…  you get the idea.

It isn't just the kitchen, of course.  The house is 95 years old, a beautiful Craftsman; the original permits were pulled in 1917.  Some things have been updated, but a lot haven't, particularly the upstairs wiring (where our computers are); we haven't painted the interior since we moved in (or the exterior in much too long); we refinished the downstairs floors 26 years ago when we moved in and they're now showing wear too.  I realize it sounds like we're redoing the whole house, but we aren't really.  None of the changes is structural (unless we find something awful inside a wall).  Compared to our neighbors, who moved out for 9 months (with 2 small children) and added a story, this is just repair work. 

I thought, when they said it would take 10-12 weeks to do the kitchen, that we should consider moving out and just doing a whole lot of stuff while living in reasonable comfort somewhere else.  It took Jim awhile to buy into that, but he did. So we have rented a small condo in Oakland's Adams Point neighborhood, a couple of blocks from Lake Merritt, and there we will stay until (we hope) the end of January.  We brought the essentials with us – I still can't believe we did it in one day.  Everything we didn't bring with us is in storage at Bekins.  And don't think I haven't heard about throwing out "stuff we don't need" when we move back in!

The original plan was 10-12 weeks beginning October 1, but that assumed nothing would go wrong, so we extended the rental through January – and suddenly the project is running through January.  I've told the project manager that I don't care what he does with the internals of the plan as long as the end date doesn't slip.  We have our first project meeting with them tomorrow; the kitchen has been stripped out to the studs, which fortunately uncovered no structural problems.

I had a terrible time doing this.  The prospect of moving out of the house just paralyzed me, I couldn't concentrate on anything for weeks.  I kept repeating, it'll look beautiful when it's done, and not believing myself.  But oddly, once we had moved into the rental, and the packing was done and the house cleared out, I found I can live with it.  I even like the condo; more on that later.  But the adventure has begun.

Posted in Personal Tagged |


On July 18, the Embla stopped at Andernach and decanted several busloads of passengers to drive to Marksburg; the ship then continued on to Koblenz where we met it later in the day.  

Boarding the bus for Marksburg

This leapfrogging was common (and didn't always work as well as it did this time!). Boats are one of humanity's oldest transportation methods, and even with modern engines, they just don't move very fast.

I was extremely interested in Marksburg.  The middle ages have been my hobby for most of my life.  Every time we've gone to Great Britain, we've toured all the castles we could find, most of them in some state of ruination.  Now, in Marksburg, I saw the only castle in Germany (possibly the only one in continental Europe) which was never taken by assault, and therefore the walls were never breached.  Here is the link to my photo gallery on Marksburg, some of which is displayed here.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |

Touring the Dom

What with our trips to England and Wales, and now to the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, I've seen a few cathedrals.  So far, the Dom in Cologne is the most vertical cathedral I've seen.  The immediate visual impression is of something huge, pointing up.  Well, it is huge; it is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires and largest facade of any church in the world.  And because the rest of Cologne is wrapped right around it, it's virtually impossible to get far enough away to get a decent photo of the entire building.  So I have a lot of detail shots.  The photos of the Dom are in the gallery Cologne Cathedral, I'll just show a few here.

Here's the south side of the Dom, including the little square next to it, with neighboring building.  This was how we approached it the first time.

South side of Cologne DOM

Yes, it was still overcast.  We didn't have a sunny day till we hit the mittelRhein.

As far as I can tell, almost no one refers to the building as "the Cathedral," or even as "St. Petrus" (the official name).  It is The Dom.  Wikipedia says blandly that "Construction of Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248 but was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished."  Our guide was a little more forthright.  They built the cathedral as long as the money was good, but in 1473 work stopped, with the construction crane still sitting on top of what was to be the south tower, and the Dom sat unfinished until the 1840s.  (The construction crane stayed there for 400 years!)  I haven't been able to identify any specific reason why money was suddenly short in Cologne, but the Hanseatic League was falling on hard times in the late 15th century, from which it never really recovered, so I'm assuming that was part of it.

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Posted in Personal, Photography, Vacations Tagged |