26 June 2008

Oh yeah...

Our seats were THAT good!

The show was too!!

Thanks Guys!!

Working out in my office...

Could it be any sweeter?

Plastering on July 4th... I hope.

I guess I come by it naturally...?

We were up at my mother's house this weekend. It is a 100+ year old farm house in north Georgia. It is really lovely, though the roof is needing a bit of work. There was an addition put on about 15 years ago. . . . No air conditioning, heating with wood burning stoves, well water, septic tank. It is a great place. I'm glad she has it...

and this....

is her "shed" actually it is a little house my grandfather built about 40 years ago. When my mom had the kitchen extended, she move the "dog house" up the hill. she also put in a Jacuzzi. She uses the little house as a bedroom. It's quite lovely...

Except for the Bear.

My mother and Stephen Colbert have at least one thing in common. They are both troubled by bears. . . Though really Mom is less afraid than Colbert. And it only eats bird seed and stuff... so far...

25 June 2008

8:00 pm Wednesday Night

I'm out in my office. Yes, that office. I've been out here all day, drafting the project document for the Kura Aras project. It's one of my all time favorite projects, for so many reasons.

But it is starting to get dark. 

I'm surrounded by green. It's been warm out here today - walking into the house, the temp has to be near 97. But in my little elevated cave, it stays comfortable. I did bring the fan out today - just to get the air moving at the peak of the heat this afternoon.

Now, I know there is activity in the house. The boys are getting hungary. But I don't really want to go in. I want to linger. It occurs to me I could actually live out here if I needed to. I've escaped the ringing phone, the piles of mail on the table, the raucous chatter of the television in the next room. Out here is the whirring of the fans (computer and oscillating) and the lone call of a cardinal getting ready to go to sleep. Somewhere far away an airplane engine drones. 

It is so utterly peaceful. I don't really want to go in yet. . .

And I find myself asking: how often do other "shed workers" find themselves treasuring the last moments of solitude in the day before they stumble back into the house for life as we know it?

23 June 2008

Working IN MY OFFICE!!

As promised last week, today I actually was able to work in my office for the first time in months - really since it was a lovely little tarp tent - and I LOVED IT!!

There were a few glitches - the internet connection wasn't as strong as it used to be, and I haven't moved my desk out there yet. A wise friend once said to me "when building your own place, don't start using it until it's done, or you'll never finish it."  I'm not quite in danger of that, but I will work from a camp chair and in various yoga like positions rather than a formal desk until it's good to go. 

Really, the biggest glitch was that I had a meeting at the coffee shop at 3:00 AND I HAD TO LEAVE!!

When I got back and went back to work, I put in some good time.


And while it is a shed with an Azeri carpet, it is MY SHED with an Azeri carpet.


More soon!

22 June 2008

Distractions - both good and good

Yesterday was quiet around here. No one got moving too quickly, not much got done. About 6:00 we headed to Atlanta. We had front section and after show party tickets (complimentary) for the R.E.M. concert. It was a great show as usual. Bill had to go back stage at one point to fix a computer. We don't know the band members particularly well, but the HQ staff are great folks. It was so nice to see them all again. Anyway, the show was excellent, and going with Bill and James was awesome too!

Suffice to say we're all a little subdued this morning...

And we'll head up to my mother's for her 74th Birthday!! (HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!)

No building this weekend. Oh well....

But I did find this interesting article in the New York Times about distraction. It's something that I have been struggling with for a while- hence building my shed at the bottom of the garden. And so... here we are. 

By the way, the office/straw bale thing is remarkably sound proof!!

Fighting a War Against Distraction

The subject of focus comes up a lot in my discussions with people about work. We talk about the constant interruptions of working in the digital age, of the mistakes we make while multitasking and the efforts to find quiet places to think.

Maggie Jackson has been paying attention to these questions for quite some time, and the result is a thoughtful new book, “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age” (Prometheus).

The book promises to help us understand how we all became so distracted and how we can arrive at what she calls a “renaissance of attention.” I asked Ms. Jackson to write about this important issue for my blog. Following is what she said. MARCI ALBOHER

DISTRACTED? And how. Beeped and pinged, interrupted and inundated, overloaded and hurried — that’s how we live today. We prize knowledge work — work that relies on our intellectual abilities — and yet increasingly feel that we have no time to think. For all our connectivity, we often catch little more than snippets and glimpses of one another.

The greatest casualty of our mobile, high-tech age is attention. By fragmenting and diffusing our powers of attention, we are undermining our capacity to thrive in a complex, ever-shifting world. Consider the mounting costs of this widespread distraction:

The average knowledge worker switches tasks every three minutes, and, once distracted, a worker takes nearly a half-hour to resume the original task, according to Gloria Mark, a leader in the new field of “interruption science.”

Interruptions and the requisite recovery time now consume 28 percent of a worker’s day, the business research firm Basex estimates. The risks are clear. As one top executive told me, “Knowledge work can’t be done in sound bites.”

Employees who are routinely interrupted and lack time to focus are more apt to feel frustrated, pressured and stressed, according to separate studies by Ms. Mark and the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit group.

Under deadline pressure, workers produce creative work on days when they are focused, not when they are scattered and interrupted, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found.

In meetings where everyone is checking e-mail, opportunities for collective creative energy and critical thinking are lost, argues Nathan Zeldes, a senior engineer at Intel and a leader of the nonprofit Information Overload Research Group. At home as well, split-focus gives a clear message: “You aren’t worth my time.”

Should we blame the BlackBerry and other devices? No. The P.D.A., the cellphone and the computer did not usher in our hypermobile, split-focus, cybercentric culture. Instead, the first high-tech revolutions more than a century ago created new experiences of time and space that have intensified. Inventions like the telegraph, cinema, railroad and airplane shattered distance and upended ancient temporal rhythms. Our age of speed and overload has been building for generations.

But just as we are working toward a green earth, so we can find ways to create what I like to call “planet focus.” What’s needed is a renaissance of attention — a revaluing and cultivating of the art of attention, to help us achieve depth of thought and relations in this complex, high-tech time.

The first step is to learn to speak a language of attention. The exciting news is that the enigma of attention has just begun to be mapped, tracked and decoded by neuroscientists who now consider attention to be a trio of skills: focus, awareness and so-called executive attention. Think of it this way: You can be “aware” that you’re in a beautiful garden and then you can “focus” on an individual flower. The last piece, “executive attention,” is the ability to plan and make decisions.

Learning about the nature and mechanisms of attention has been life-changing for me. Sometimes I hopscotch distractedly through the Net. It’s fun. But now, if I’m wrestling with a problem or really want to connect with someone, I turn off the ringers, collect my racing mind and find the time and space to focus.

We are born interruption-driven — that’s how humans stay tuned to their environment. But if we jump on every e-mail message or ping, we’ll have trouble pursuing our long-term goals. To make inroads on the deep, messy work of life, we need to stay focused, bringing the spotlight of our attention back again and again to the work at hand.

Practice may help. Scientists are discovering that attention can be bolstered through training, including meditation. One study, for instance, showed that eight weeks of meditation significantly boosted focus in a group of 17 novices. Six-year-olds given computer-based attention training by the scientist Michael Posner showed a marked gain in executive attention.

TO combat overload, we also need to look to our environments. That’s why a few pioneering companies are creating places or times for uninterrupted, focused creative thought. I.B.M. employees practice “Think Fridays” worldwide, avoiding or cutting back on e-mail, meetings and interruptions. Other firms are setting aside unwired, quiet rooms.

“Wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook,” wrote William James, the father of American psychology research. Long ago, he identified the foremost challenge of our time: how to allocate our attention. And now, we’re beginning to discover what he foretold: that living distracted just isn’t smart.

(Shifting Careers, a blog by Marci Alboher, is at nytimes.com/shiftingcareers.)

21 June 2008


So, I finally got outside today. It took some doing in that my hands were hurting pretty badly this morning. I don't know if it is arthritis or just over doing, it, but it's not comfortable feeling like my fingers won't move in the right direction for several hours when I first get going.

Nonetheless, James and I got out there and got to securing the chicken wire to the bales. He left after a while to do some other things, so I had time to listen to an ALL ARETHA afternoon, and finish up. I am now done with CHICKEN WIRE!!! You have no idea how happy I am.

For securing the chicken wire to the bales, after a lot of trial and error, I finally ended up doing a reverse staple method where I would make about a 10 inch piece of 16 gauge wire into a "C" shape, and then push it through the bale. When both ends were protruding, I would then grab each with pliers and fold them inwards. It seems to do the trick.

After finishing that task, I did my Friday afternoon clean-up - swept the floor to get all the straw out, also got the loft cleaned out, and hauled everything to the deck that didn't need to be inside. A short 20 minute rest in the loft was a nice perk too. I had about 7 big burlap sacks of straw left over - so my plants have been mulched, and a bag saved in case I need it for something? I swept off the deck and got all the garbage ready to haul out. I'm proud to say that after a YEAR of working on this, I have. . . 

wait for it . . .

ONE large bag of garbage to haul out!!



It's mostly bags from insulation, cement and a few odds and ends. This girl KNOWS how to recycle!!

Of course, you have to really admire the clever use of spare bits to build my little shelve at the back of the office in the photo. Coffee cans, extra glass bricks, spare wood. Hey, Ikea has NOTHING on me!!

And the office is ready for work next week!! I'm so excited!!

Yes, yes yes, I will be working in a cave of stacked and chicken wired straw bales, sitting on the floor, and using an extension cord for power, but HEY! It finally feels like PROGRESS!!!

I am very excited.

By the way, Get Smart is a very cute movie. Steve Corell is perfect. Go see it.

It's late.

Thanks for reading.

Good night.

20 June 2008

Slow going and chicken wire is a bitch

So yesterday, after taking some good natured ribbing from a colleague in Bratislava who could tell my heart was torn between getting out to the office to work and staying in and watching the Portugal v. Germany match, I finally got outside. James was otherwise occupied so I was on my own. (To his credit, he did the grocery shopping, so I was glad to be on my own) 

We've finally cleaned out the straw on the floor. It's starting to look like a REAL office!! So exciting!!

Next week is a full work week so I'm planning on working out in the office!! 
I haven't done this before because I was concerned I'd sit out there feeling like I'd rather be working on the office. But I think I'm making enough (slow) progress that I can start taking advantage of the "focused productivity vibe" that is out there. Plus I'm working on a project I love so that will be good too.

Anyway, yesterday was a nice bit of solitude. I could listen to the music I liked - the stuff that makes James cringe because, well, I'm old and I'm his mother. 

The play list did include: Fine Young Cannibals, The Stones, Turkish Percussion Group, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Akon, Patsy Cline, George Michael, Madonna, The Clash, Aerosmith, Pete Townsend, and of course our home town boys R.E.M. Admittedly, James likes some of these, but not with his mother listening. Or dancing... ;-)

In the working, I was getting the chicken wire fixed to the inside. It's harder than I thought it would be because it's fastened at the top and bottom, and then to the sides in places (windows etc.) I haven't tied it down yet, and James and I will do it today.

The chicken wire got it's revenge on me... but fortunately, it was solved with a band aid.

The gaps are still there, but I think I have figured out a way to secure the chicken wire to the bales using the baling twine on the bales, and then using the pins/spikes as additional support. 

I'll get it going, and see how it works. And let you know.

I may not get as much done as I'd like, but I have to accept that I am just not as young as I once was. Hopefully I'm a little smarter though...

19 June 2008

Really, could he be any more beautiful?

Update on the build

Yesterday morning, I got an e-mail from the future... it was someone asking if I have finished my office build already. It was AWESOME!!

Actually, my response was that we were doing a lot of work, but it didn't really "look like it" and how many photos of chicken wire on straw bales could one paste. This devoted reader told me that it was actually interesting to know these details, and in retrospect, it seems to make sense. After all, I've been hunting all over creation trying to find this too... so maybe this will be helpful to someone.

I went to Lowe's to talk to my building guru, Mr. Smith. He's a wealth of information and extremely helpful. He's the one who helped me figure out my deck, and a lot of other things. He's very smart. He has looked at me like I was crazy when I talk about my straw bale house... but he said he saw a program on building straw bale houses on cable and was really impressed. He said the one he saw was in Arizona and that once it was finished the folks living there did not need any heating or cooling. He GOT IT!! 

In Mr. Smith's words "It looks like a really good idea, and the insulation has to be incredible. The only thing I can say is 'It looks like A LOT of work!'" 

Yes, indeed. He's special ordering the posts for mounting my mall doors (see, I knew we should have gotten the hardware when we salvaged those doors!!!!) and pricing stucco and plaster options for our building!! 

I love to hang out at Lowe's. There is an air of productivity about the place.  At least ours on the East Side...

Anyway, they were busier than I'd seen them on a week day in a long time. It turns out a couple of other suppliers have closed so Lowe's is picking up the slack.

Back at the office... James and I got busy. He was in the loft. It is so cool!! I know I'll get some good use out of it.

This is one of my build in shelves. We couldn't get a bale to fit with this cross bracing, so I am using my recycled coffee bags (from Joe's!) stuffed with straw.  In a couple places, we had big gaps but could not fill them with loose straw, so we filled burlap bags with straw and then put chicken wire over it. 

The chicken wire is stapled to the frame and the ply wood shelves will be plastered and then proper wood boards placed above them... I think.
Getting the chicken wire fixed to the inside a bit more difficult, because it gaps out, and that won't take plaster well... so we are making pins out of 16 and 20 gauge wire that are U shaped with hooks on the ends. We push those into the bales to anchor the chicken wire to the straw.

James is much better at this than I am. We'll spend the rest of today on that too...
It takes FOREVER, but it's a good way to spend time with a kid on his way off to college.

And working outside has it's advantages... like when our water main in the front yard burst, James heard it. We found the spot where the tree roots had cracked the pipe. We dug it up. This is the second time it happened. Last time was in the winter about 5 years ago and it was wicked cold. This time, it was sort of fun. James wielded the shovel. I got to find the burst pipe. 
Red Georgia clay is just that. 

At least I don't mind getting dirty once in a while...

Okay, back to work.

Keep those comments coming!


17 June 2008


Wow!! I just realized that on 15 June 2007, This blog got started... Ahhh.... such hope! such promise! So many thoughts about how quickly I'd get done. 

I was just starting out with plans this time last year. Today while sitting on on my deck I realize it had been about this long... And while I was temporarily annoyed that it felt so far away, I feel so thankful for the space that is emerging. 

The house is quieter now. Fewer dogs and in another few months I'll be down to just one man around here too. I could reclaim the room that was my office before Dad moved in. He's with my brother now - but it doesn't feel right. 

And honestly, the sweat and tears and laughter and challenge that has gone into building this office makes feel so thankful for the experience of doing it. I've learned more about myself, and I love that even though I could have had this done by professionals, I've found a certain joy in doing it on my own, for the first time.

Plus, the laughter and smiles and frustrations and challenges and solutions I've found in building this are my own and I can't imagine feeling more attached to a place or a space. 

And sitting on my deck yesterday as the sun was setting, I found the sweet solitude I've been craving in such a spectacular nook in the woods. It's been tough, and there is more to do, of course, but I'm glad I've done it.

Also, I found photos of my old office space while going through some photos for the new Tethys web page. It reminded me how much I love to have my own space for productive thinking that is mine and mine alone. 

I am looking forward to working out there tomorrow, and the next day and honestly, for many many years into the future. 

Of course the old office was pretty special - the new one will be a whole new level of cool! It's nice to be looking forward to it!

Things I love about building my own office space: (cont'd)

6. Arbitrarily deciding to put shelves in at shoulder height and being able to use spare scraps of wood to make it at no extra charge.

7. Knowing that when I look at the front east wall, I'll remember who I was thinking about when I built it that way. 

8. Finding myself perched on top of a wobbly ladder in some position worthy of some yoga guru with a drill in my outstretched hand, and getting the peepee giggles about something my 18 year-old and I have been joking about all afternoon.

12 June 2008

Things I love about building my own office space:

2. REALLY appreciating when the heat wave breaks
3. The truly refreshing feel of a summer breeze while working hard
4. The beautiful color of glowing green and the smell of the woods before an evening thunderstorm
5. Spending time with a kid about to leave for college, and knowing the time together is just that much more precious because you're building it together

09 June 2008

On that (ongoing) Heat Wave:

Another annotated thermometer

(Fahrenheit, because it is too hot to convert!)

40 F. Siberians melt. 
50 F. Scandinavians sweat. 
70 F. Alaskans declare record heatwave. Californians rise from hibernation. 
80 F. Canadians turn on the air conditioning full blast. Arizona residents stop shivering.
90 F. Death Valley residents awaken. Scandinavians go underground. 
100 F. British start sacrificing goats to make the sun go away. Californians finally turn off the heaters.
105 F [40 C!]. Texans drink coffee. Alaskans melt. 
110 F. Arabians awaken and thaw. Canadians weep. New Yorkers burst open street fire hydrants.
120 F. Australians notice the sun is out. All Europeans and Canadians spontaneously combust.
130 F. Too hot to think. Texans and Californians undo top button. Antarctica is gone, polar bears extinct.
150 F. Miami residents put on sunglasses. Texans turn on the fan.
200 F. Arizona children amuse themselves by dropping eggs on sidewalk and giggle while they fry.
212 F. [100 C!] Water boils. Death Valley residents put on deodorant.
327 F. Lead boils. Okies notice it is warm out.
345 F. Saharans comment that the sand is a little stingy today.
400 F. Camels die.
2000 F. Nuclear blast nominal yield.

Thanks to:

08 June 2008


It was hot yesterday. 

Today it topped 100 F  and I decided that working outside in this heat is a good recipe for me to really over- do it.

It's after 9:30 pm and it is still in the upper 80's here. 

It WILL cool off in a few days, but I'm really eager not to kill myself with this.

On the other hand, I want to get this place to functional in a month. 

So this is the deal. I'm going to work on working on it earlier in the day. Not 5:00 am. I don't want to alienate my neighbors if I can help it. But earlier.

Tomorrow I have a routine appointment at early in the morning. But after that... I think it's what've I've got to do... and it's what I want to do.

Any suggestions on how to do it?

07 June 2008


And it sizzled!!

This is the thermostat outside the kitchen window - on the cooler north side of our house...

This is the late afternoon look - you wouldn't know it was quite so hot out there...
and, honesty, it looks even cooler from down here...

The office was cooler, honestly, and there was a breeze. 

I'm likin' it!

Getting out the door...

It's 12:30 Saturday afternoon.

It is 91 Degrees F (33 C) outside, and feels like 95 (35 C).

I have committed to working on the office today.

One of my students from Italy is dropping by to help out (Bless her HEART!!)

And Hillary Clinton is 30 minutes late to make her endorsement speech for BARACK OBAMA!!!  That is my excuse for not being outside yet.  

I am wearing a very big grin at the moment. It's good to see things moving into the next stage!!
(I'm not gloating, I'm just very pleased to see this happening... It's been a good race! SO FAR)

I am going out there. I am going out there. I am going out there....

And In the meantime, I just read a great article on getting motivated by Leo over at Zen Habits.

Updates on my progress forthcoming...

05 June 2008

It's getting green out there:

How cool is this?

Go Arianna!

Now if Stephen Colbert would just hug a bear, I'd feel all better.

Quote of the Day:

If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done. 
- Ludwig Wittgenstein


Back at it... soon!

Hi Folks!

For those of you who want more photos and updates on the miracle that is my office, they are coming. I am finishing off one short report for work, and then my plan is to put a lot of time getting my office up to speed and actually workable.

Yes, I know I can "work" out there now, sitting amidst the loose straw and scattered tools. And I can "work" out there getting ever closer to plastering. 

But the purpose of this office is to be able to work - productively in my own space. There is a lot yet to do out there, and I'm eager to get it done. 

As soon as I get this report out, my office is mine!! (and I am my office)

thanks for your patience. It will be a day or two.

In the meantime, check out America At Home
There are some nifty shed-working spots in there too!

NOW I get it...

As I kid I remember watching TV ads and seeing normal, healthy looking people cringing and needing some sort of pain relief. These poor souls were not "old" but were definitely grown ups. And they felt SOOO much better after they took that little pill.

Now, I'm savy to the advertising messages, and all that, but the other day I was e-mailing a friend of mine I've known for about 20 years. He's about 15 years older than I am and is just taking up running. He's been walking a 9 minute mile for a year now, so running isn't a huge  move. But there are new kinds of soreness associated with it. 

I mentioned that I'd put in a long hard, HOT day on the office build and was feeling tender. My muscles ached, my hands felt bruised, every time I moved I was reminded of what I'd done...

This morning I woke up on the dreaded "Second Day". For folks who are weekend warriors or occasional athletes, you know the first day after strenuous exercise you're tender. The second day it all settles and that's where hurting happens. 

My joints across my body were a symphony of percussion as I got out of bed today.

I have become that lady in the aspirin commercial.

God help me. I'm old. 

Or at least I'm feeling it.

I think I'll go take an aspirin.

04 June 2008

Manicures? Me?

Okay, For those of you who know me personally, you know I'm not really a girly girl. I'm not a HUGE fan of doing my hair and make-up - at least not be the standards of a lot of Southern Women.

 I love nothing more than working really hard and getting so into the work that I don't realize how filthy I am until I see the mud rinsing down the shower drain. It comes from years with horses, playing outside as a kid and a general interest in what I'm doing.

BUT I also have finger nails that break with a strong breeze. Lately, they've gotten longer, and I was loath to chop them off. So I decided to do an experiment - I put on Sally Hansen's Diamond Strength Base and Top Coat, as well as the color du jour (It looks less garish without the heavy duty stapler) AND....

This is what my nails looked like after a full 8 hours of construction time with hammers, staplers, chicken wire shaping, ladder scaling, and all sorts of other things.

I have to give Sally credit - This stuff works!! Hey, maybe there is some clever use for it in my construction? coat the floors and NEVER have scratches on the wood again? I wonder if I could get volume discounts? . . . I'd only need a few gallons....

03 June 2008

Oh, on a short note...



This morning, I got out to work on the office. 

So I decided to tighten it up. Afterall, whether plaster or stucco, it needs to be secured to the bales and the frame of the building...
sooo with my trusted tools - a heavy duty staple gun, and a hammer, I climbed all over the building securing that wire mesh down,... It's ready for a hurricane!
I admit, I'm exhausted, and had a bad case of the poor-little-old-me's, working by myself. But I realize that once I get it done, I can plaster, and once I can plaster, I can take down the tarps, and really start using the space!! (She says optimistically)

Below is a view into the office proper from the east window. I LOVE MY LOFT!!! 
See the windows up top are the all of the loft!
And while my office looks like a cave at the moment, I was able to work out there in 95 degree heat (@ 36 Celsius).  My poplar tree, that I didn't want to cut down last year is very happy and providing great shade and beautiful color over the office deck.

It is a work in progress. . . 

And though it feels like it beats me sometime... 

I love it.

Round Up....

There are two things I really hate.

1. Round Up - an herbicide that the previous owner of this house used with abandon and killed all sorts of wonderful things... It's been 10 years and it's still devastating. The house was originally owned by someone in the botany department at UGA. 

2. Poison Ivy - a weedy indigenous perennial plant that has oils in the leaves which when in contact with human skin results in really bad itchy rashes that break out in little clusters of boils which spread when scratched. 

Of the two, and while it pains me to admit it, I dislike being incapacitated by poison ivy rashes which I have a REALLY BAD allergic reaction to...  the poison ivy growing near my office got it.

02 June 2008

Monday Monday

This morning I got to work on the office.

For all sorts of reasons I didn't do much over the past week - not with regards to the office at least. It was a reasonably good week, but getting back out to the office was great.

I stuffed straw. 

But really, it was pushing straw into small gaps so that there won't be any holes. 

And I wrestled chickenwire. I'm glad I have a recent tetanus shot... I think. 

More soon. And pictures. I promise.