Residential Life

Matt and Norah’s Excellent Adventure

This morning I decided Norah and I would take a walk to the coffee shop. This is a big deal, because she’s only 5 weeks old and we’ve never gone anywhere without Candyce. After receiving authorization from a drowsy Candyce, I lifted Norah out of her bassinet and lowered her into the hammock/sling on my chest. We walked out the door into the cool morning air. She was asleep before I passed the mailbox at the end of the driveway.

Twenty minutes later, I was visiting with the Sunday morning hot rod club from my neighborhood. They sat beneath the patio umbrellas sipping coffee and admiring their fleet of cool cars  had filled the parking lot: several ’32 Fords, a sedan delivery, and a vintage Vette. We debated the merits of the rumor that Chrysler might merge with General Motors and the wily ways of Cerberus Capital Management.

Once inside, I sipped espresso and visited with neighbors while Norah snored. I flipped through the pages of the Wall Street Journal in between compliments from strangers: Your baby is so beautiful! She’s so little! She’s so precious! I have not received this much attention since I was as B-list celebrity in the year 2000.

By the time we walked back through the front door of our home, Norah and I had been gone for an hour-and-a-half. I never knew you could have so much fun doing something as simple as spending a Sunday morning with your daughter.

Thumbs Up Award® Goes to Arizona Department of Air Quality

Everyone knows how dull it is to get your emissions tested for your car. For those of you who’ve avoided this modern-day chore, this is how it goes…

You get a letter in the mail that your license plates are expiring. But before you renew your plates, you have to drive to an emissions testing station to have your car’s exhaust measured for pollution. The station is an open air garage that can service five cars at one time. Behind each service bay is usually 10 cars waiting for their turn. Imagine parallel lines of people waiting to pick up their food at the drive-thru at McDonalds. The end goal is to keep dirty cars off the streets, but the emissions testing station is one of the dirtiest spots in the city.

But the Arizona Department of Air Quality (ADAQ) is trying to solve the problem. They’ve set up webcams that update every couple of minutes that show everyone how long the lines are at each station around the city. Now you can gauge where and when you make the trip to the station. It’s a simple solution and everyone wins.

See it in action

2008: My Life So Far

It’s time to write about the subplots of my life in 2008…

1. I love being married. Candyce is the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. It’s a privilege to spend every day with her.

2. I wake up early. Since Candyce graduated college twelve months ago, her daily routine involves working at the coffee shop in the mornings and freelance graphic design in the afternoon. In late December we found out we were going to have a baby, which meant that a lot would change (for the better, of course.) One of the first changes was that Candyce can’t lift heavy things like the patio furniture and umbrellas in front of the coffee shop. So every morning since January 1st, I’ve gotten up at 5:30 AM and I am out the door by 5:45 AM. I enjoy the cool mornings and like the idea of getting a head start on the day.

3. Life takes management. An ambitious person like myself will continue to seize opportunities and pile on new projects. At the moment, my ongoing projects are remodeling my home, refreshing my landscape, preparing for a baby, and charting a financial course for my family’s future. None of this will get done unless I work hard and consistently. However, you cannot have progress on multiple projects unless you stop working and assess progress.

I take one day every two weeks to sit at my dining room table and grade myself on my progress. If I am failing on any project, then I need to recognize that and change the way I am doing things. For example…

  • In March I realized that the project was taking too long, devouring time and money. To get things on track, I opted not to build a computer docking station / office in a recess in the living room. Instead, I spruced up the wet bar that is already there with new paint and drawer pulls.
  • In April I realized that I the remodel had slowed because I was intimidated by the electrical work that needed to be done in the kitchen. I decided to call in the help of Jason Myer–handyman extraordinaire–to coach me through the first day of wiring.
  • In May, I realized that my landscape was crumbling because I was spending all of my time inside. So invited over eight friends for six hours of hard work on a Saturday morning. I called this event a “Baby Daddy Work Day.” Honestly, I hope this becomes a tradition for expectant fathers. Every guy needs a little help to get his fortress in order.

4. I don’t watch remodeling shows. Do doctors come home and watch ER? Do police officers and district attorneys unwind with an episode of Law & Order? I’ve been remodeling my house for eleven months now, and the last thing I want to do is watch someone else remodel their house. I don’t mind getting updates on real life remodeling projects from my friends, but home remodeling shows tend to be far detached from reality. (In other words, these shows make me feel bad.) Plus, the “remodeling for profit” shows stand in utter contrast to the common knowledge that the Real Estate market sucks. I wrote about this earlier in Flip This House Viewer’s Guide.

5. Breaking up with NPR. I’ve listened to National Public Radio consistently since 1998 when I was a sophomore in college. Since then, NPR has been my source for news that is not dumbed down. However, there is one consistent weak spot that frustrates me: hosts rarely challenge their guests. I’m not asking for a shouting match, but a host needs to have the confidence to challenge a guest’s research and opinions on behalf of the listeners.

The least challenged guest is the career academic who just wrote a book and is therefore ready to deliver his well-rehearsed opinions. If left unchallenged, he can (and always will) run his mouth about contentious social and cultural issues for ten minutes straight.

On a side note, I am always amused how the non-fiction books featured on NPR have the same rhythm to their titles. These are not the mysterious and succinct titles of fiction novels. No. The modern non-fiction titles are so wordy that they often warrant multiple punctuation marks. The length seems to be critical to the success of the book, because they leave no doubt as to what they’re writing about or who they are writing for. Nine times out of ten, the books featured on NPR appeal to someone’s intellectual vanity as well as their insecurity as a citizen in a world superpower. After a few minutes of searching online, I found some examples:

  1. Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium by Dick Meyer
  2. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
  3. Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America by Gustav Niebuhr

I am not well-read enough to give an informed opinion about the evolution of book titling, but it’s clear that you don’t have to look far to know that trends are trends, and no segment of pop culture can escape the desire to be cool. Trends are as rampant on NPR (my preset station #1) as they are on Power 98.3 (the hip hop station, preset #2.)

Right now on Power 98.3 everyone is little: Lil John, Lil Scrappy, Lil Wayne, Lil Mamma, Lil Flip. I searched for entertainers with the word “lil” in their name, and I found 513. If you were a rapper in the early 1990s, it was good to be the master of ceremonies: MC Hammer, Young MC, MC Lyte.

Personally, I’m rooting for the rappers and R&B singers who buck the trend and keep their birth names: Chris Brown, Jim Jones, Mike Jones. Why? My name is Matt Smith.

6. We do not drive far. In my thirteen years of driving, I’ve never witnessed such a drastic increase in gasoline prices. Over the course of four weeks at the beginning of the summer, gas prices increase from somewhere in the $2.90 per gallon to $4.25 per gallon.

As of this morning in mid August, gas prices of fallen about fifty cents per gallon to $3.75 since from the high a couple months ago. I snapped this photo on my phone on a particularly painful day at the pump:

Gas prices suck.

Gas prices suck.

Candyce and I decided to change our lifestyles to cope with the higher prices at the pump.

  1. We combine errands. We make lists of places that we each need to go to, and then we plan our trips around town together. It’s actually a lot of fun. Errands aren’t as cumbersome when you’re cruising around town with your girlfriend listening to music.
  2. We don’t drive far away from home. This is fine with me, because I moved to leafy green South Tempe because it is so pretty and close to fun stuff.
  3. We carpool with friends. I’ve always been an advocate for carpooling, but it doesn’t work unless you find someone who shares your conviction. Since everyone is feeling the pain, it’s easy to plan a night out with your friends using a single car

Every barista at the coffee shop has given up their cars altogether and now ride their bikes to work. Keep in mind…it’s summer in Phoenix, and it’s not comfortable to ride a bike under the sun. It’s cool though…the streets are more friendly when people are zipping around on bicycles.

The Chainsaw that Changed My Yard

During halftime of the Giants/Cowboys game on Sunday, my father-in-law mentioned that he had just bought a chainsaw.

Less than 10 minutes later, we were out of the house and in my front yard cutting ugly branches from my big trees. For years I’ve only used hand saws and branch clippers that looked like big scissors. You feel vintage and slightly classy when you use tools like this, but they are terribly inefficient. I got a rush seeing how fast that chainsaw melted through the branch. At that point, I knew we wouldn’t watch the last half of the game. We had more work to do.

The next 4 hours might have been the best thing that happened to me all week. There are about fifteen Oleander bushes in my backyard that have grown over 40 feet, up into the canopy created by the taller, older pine trees. This dense green made for a lot of privacy, but it made my backyard difficult to keep tidy.

Plus, I’ve always suspected that there was a desert Sasquatch out there waiting to club me with a cactus stump. And he needs to get the hell out of there because I have enough problems.

One by one, we cut down the Oleander trees back to Oleander bushes. We dragged the fallen branches to the curb until we had a stack large enough to hide a military issue Hummer. We finished the evening by slicing up a bougainvillea that’s been dumping dead leaves into my pool. I felt a little guilty tearing down the bougainvillea with it’s pretty pink leaves, but they have no place near a pool.

John came over a couple times this week to pick something up random things from our house. Each time he’s pulled the chainsaw out of the trunk of his rental car and manhandled another overgrown bush. It’s fun because each day I’ve come home from work this week, the first thing I do is hop out of the car and explore my front and back yard to discover what’s changed.

As a kid, I despised the sound of Dad’s roaring chainsaw because it was so loud and violent. (Every one of my siblings can describe my epic hate of the chainsaw.) But over the course of an hour, my hatred changed to gratitude. You can’t despise something that is making your life more manageable. It was great.

This has been a very good week.

Confessions of a House Remodeler

I’m in the middle of remodeling my house. I feel like I owe it to the world to report on the untold subplots in the story of upgrading homes and lives. These are the deleted scenes from home remodeling shows. This is the truth:

  • I don’t look cool. It’s hard to look at myself in the mirror. For most of my life I’ve prided myself in being a fashionable, well-dressed man. Man at his best. Not anymore! Since I’ll be sloshing around paint and wood stain, I wear my most unfashionable shorts or pants, the ones that I haven’t worn outside of the home in 5 years. I rip the sleeves off of my most faded or awkward shaped T-shirts. These are the staples of my remodeling wardrobe. If I saw some dude dressed like me in public, I’d pity him as a man painfully unaware of his appearance. I now understand why the professional painters who come into the coffee shop each morning wear respectable white pants and shorts. It gives dignity to the untidy trade. It keeps your spirits up.
  • People ask me a lot of irritating questions. When your life is uneventful, you start to meddle in lives of people who have more drama. I know this because I’ll have ordinary months in life, I corner someone with more action get the scoop. Since all of my friends, neighbors, and co-workers know my house is under construction, I get pegged with about 10 questions a day. Every day. I might be done with my remodeling by now if I didn’t have to stop and answer questions about why I’m not done yet.
  • I spend all my money at Lowes. If you were to make a highlight reel of the last six months of my life, you would see lots of boring footage of me looking for things on the isles of Lowes. Just me standing there silent for three minutes, scanning the wall for the right electrical outlet. Then you’d see more footage, except this time I’m swiping my credit card again and again and again. Here’s your warning: over the course of a house remodel, you’ll make 100s of trips to Lowes and spend a mind-blowing amount of money. It might make you feel better if you invest in stock of the closest hardware store before you begin remodeling.
  • I won’t be around to enjoy it. Dad encouraged me early in the construction by saying, “When this is all done, you can enjoy it for years.” I wish! Although I enjoy working on my home, I’ve postponed the true pleasure of living in my home for at least another decade. I’m not settling in this house. So any work I do here is for someone else to enjoy. I’m a contractor hired by the future home owner. So if you don’t enjoy the trades of home remodeling, your only motivation will be financial gain. And life always manages to suck when you are chasing money.
  • I feel like my life is spinning out of control. I cannot overstate this. The home is where you are sheltered from the dramas of the world throws at you. When your house is in disarray, it only adds the drama. If you live in the house you’re remodeling, you must have an endless source of mental and emotional fortitude. You have to get up in the morning and be okay with the fact that there is sawdust underneath your cereal bowl as your pour milk over your Cheerios.

I am lucky because I’m married to an awesome woman. We’re on the same team when it comes to overcoming the obstacles in life. If you and your spouse are in a rocky point in your relationship, fixing your home will break your relationship. Get your priorities straight and given your marriage an extreme makeover first.