Monday, June 24, 2013

Demolition Update II

Man, this whole flat renovation thing is no small walk in the park, is what I'm learning.  It is taking foreeeever! :(((

So, here's the absolutely up-to-date situation at the moment.

After letting the first architect go before the demolition was complete, I wanted to finish the demolition of the six small rooms so we could really get a sense of the space before finishing the plans and design of the new flat.  Problem was, simply finishing the demolition was too small a job for most construction firms to want to take on, so Szabolcs (my architect) and his friend just did it themselves.  The place is completely open now in one side of the flat, which is great.  Unfortunately, there are now bags and piles of debris everywhere, as material removal is where the costs really start piling up.  Material removal will be part of the renovation plan that will be subcontracted out to various firms.

So. This is what it looks like now:

Exciting, no?  Not to everyone, apparently...a friend who came with me to see it used a different word--"daunting," I think it was :D  To me, the only "daunting" thing about it is how long it is going to take before I can friggin move in!  Otherwise, there is the expense factor, and how costs add up, but I figure I can always do the basics, and then do other renovations after I move in.

Here are some other pics I took:

Yes, that is a cast iron bathtub in the living room.

Super panorama from the future bathroom area...

Looking into the future bathroom and dining room from the bedroom.

These windows (above) have been liberated from the tiny tiny pantry in which they were confined.

Another view to the living room from the future kitchen/dining room.

Above is the "classic" grey oak Swedish solid wood floors we have picked out to be installed through the entire flat.

Update!:  A recent wrinkle is that I've just received notice from the Hungarian tax authority that they don't believe that I really paid what is in my contract (it must have been more, they think), so they are paying me a visit to do an assessment in July.  My lawyer is definitely going to hear about this...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is the Mormon Church Promoting "Mixed Orientation" Marriages?

I want to talk about Josh and Lolly Weed.

First, let me acknowledge that I am massively (like, a year) late to the party on this.  But as we wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to hand down two rulings on the constitutionality of gay marriage this week, now is as good a time as any to check in on the prevailing position on homosexuality in the Mormon Church--an institution that had actively lobbied against the legalization of gay marriage at the state and federal level for nearly two decades.

Since the backlash suffered by the Church due to its campaign to get Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008, LDS leaders appear to have backtracked significantly—failing to back similar anti-gay marriage initiatives in the 2012 elections.  Although the Church quietly filed "friend of the court" briefs on the anti-gay side for both SP cases, there has been a simultaneous push by the leadership to remake the Church's increasingly problematic image of institutionalized homophobia. 

To this end, the Church has launched a website,, to openly encourage the membership to be tolerant of gay Mormons; they have also urged gay Mormons to come out of the closet. 
For those unfamiliar with the historic position of the Church on homosexuality, they have the same basic position as all traditional religions—from conservative Christianity to Orthodox Jews to non-reform Muslims.  This position: homosexuality deviates from God’s heterosexual plan.  Their new-ish micro-reform is to separate the "sin" from the "sinner."  

So far so good, right?  Not exactly...there appears to be a new wrinkle in the Latter-Day Saint (LDS or Mormon) Church’s position on gay Mormons--a kind of Gay Policy 2.0.  On second thought, it is less of a coherent policy than a trial balloon (perhaps one among many)--anything that gives them an interim work-around on this issue.

The Church appears to be promoting "mixed orientation" marriages between their gay and straight members.

"Mixed orientation" marriages are partnerships where the partners have differing sexual orientations--be they gay, bi, trans, straight or asexual.

The "new" deal is this: so long as you don't act on your "same-sex attraction" (for some reason, the Church now appears to favor the term "same gender attraction"), we will accept your gay identity and not try to change it (at least not through old school electro-shock or gay aversion therapy).   In fact, there has been a meaningful shift in LDS doctrine on homosexuality in the past few years: some leaders now concede that being gay may not be a "lifestyle choice" or even a "mental illness" (which could, by implication, respond to therapy).  In fact, they acknowledge that gay people may even have even been born that way.  However.  You must never ever never ever ever ever act on those feelings (psst: they also don't discourage reparative therapy).  

Bottom line: you can be openly gay in the Church, but you must remain celibate.  Eventually, God may help you sort out your same-sex attractions in this life, at which point you can try a heterosexual (or mixed orientation) marriage.  If this fails, God will definitely fix you up in the afterlife (when you will have lots of straight sex with your straight spouse, make lots of babies, and hopefully populate new worlds).

How is this different from the old policy of pressuring gay people into straight marriages?  The difference is that now gay people can be OPEN about the fact that they are in a sexually incompatible relationship.

A 2007 LDS pamphlet on the topic of gay people in the Church quotes Mormon authorities as saying:

"In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender. While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life.

"...As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children."

Got that?  The Church is saying: you may have gotten your wires crossed about whom you are attracted to in this life, and you can try to address it (through methods that are hopefully more humane than electro-shock therapy). However, if this does not work, then don't sweat it, because in the afterlife, God will "perfect" you, meaning you will be opposite gender attracted, have an opposite gender spouse and have lots of babies with that spouse in the afterlife.

Which brings me to Josh and Lolly Weed.  This time last year, Josh Weed became a minor celebrity when he blogged about how he was gay, was attracted to men and not to women, has known this fact ever since he was a kid, and decided to marry a female childhood friend (who knew he was gay) anyway.  Today, ten years later, they have a very "satisfying" sex life, three daughters, and a loving family.  They have since spoken publicly about their relationship and were recently featured in a VH1 show on unconventional marriages.  Josh Weed is also a kind of LGBT activist who gives interviews and speaks about their relationship at events.

The charitable view on this is that (1) the Weed marriage works, (2) they are genuinely interested in telling their story but not to try to convince others to follow this path (as Josh assures us on multiple occasions), (3) the Weed “model” is not being implicitly pushed by the Church.

Who knows what to make of this marriage?  I certainly have my doubts, as Josh makes it very clear that he is absolutely attracted to men and is absolutely NOT attracted to women.  It makes their claims of having a "great sex life" (which is supposedly better once you get beyond the whole attraction thing??) pretty questionable.  Still, their marriage is their business, and if it works for them, great.  

The problem comes in publicizing their marriage.  It would appear that the LDS Church is promoting this "solution" for gay people in the Church.  In fact, there are other "personal stories" like Josh and Lolly's on the Church's site.  In "Ty's Story," a man talks about his gruelling journey with same-sex attraction; just as he resigns himself to celibacy in this life, he finds a woman who is his soulmate and ends up in heterosexual marriage through a lot of prayer, study, etc., etc.  They now have a family, just like the Weeds.

More disturbingly,  Josh Weed is a licensed marriage and family therapist.  Although he claims not to want to change people's orientation (and believes this cannot be done), I would bet dollars to donuts that he provides some kind of "how-to" counselling for others who want to replicate what the Weeds are advertising: A perfect Mormon family for gay people.  This means learning how to have romantic and sexual feelings for a person you are fundamentally not attracted to.  

To see how messed up this is, straight Mormons need to imagine coaxing themselves into a romantic relationship with a gay person.  Inconceivable, right?  Maybe it can be done, maybe the Weeds are the real article, but the odds are against these "mixed orientation" relationships.  

A study of 26 gay men showed that marriages between them and straight women have a "high probability of failure," tend to be motivated by "internalized homophobia," or a desire to reconcile their belief system with their personal relationships.  Most of these marriages will end in divorce, usually after only a few years.

In the end, the problem is a belief system (or religious community) that insists on heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable romantic partnership one can have as a faithful member of the Church.  Even though the Church has made the clearly positive step of actively reaching out to openly gay people in their community, gay Mormons are condemned to a life of (1) celibacy or (2) deeply incompatible sexual/romantic pairing.  

This is not genuine tolerance or acceptance, it is asking gay Mormons to live only half a life.  Their sexual orientation ("only one part of me," according to one) is relegated to the realm of things that they can "work on" during their mortal existence.  In the worst case scenario, God will eliminate these flaws in the afterlife, making them into their "perfected" straight selves.

Nice try, but this ain't gonna cut it, Mormon Church.  Next?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Erin Gets a New Architect + Demolition Update

So there have been a few snafus in the princess palace project, mistakes that I have decided to repurpose as home design (and may even life) lessons.  These include:

(1) choose architects/designers/etc. who come well-recommended by people you personally know and trust;

(2) do not commit to anything major without getting an unbiased third party opinion;

(3) for every commitment, follow Ronald Reagans dictum: trust but verify.

Basically, I had to let go of my first architect, because I violated every one of the above rules.  I chose an architect that I had met through a real estate agency to look at a different place, and I then asked him to work for me when I found this place because I really liked his style and had hit it off with him.  I didn't know him personally, and had no connections to him other than a real estate agency that I had used to look at a different flat.  

After months of conversations about the renovations (as we waited for the deal on this flat to go through), I was so eager to move ahead with the project that I agreed to let him do the demolition (and even paid for part of it) without first getting (and vetting) his entire budget.

It was only after consulting with a number of people (including an experienced real estate developer who works for my university) that I decided that some of the figures were rather high, and I just had no control over costs. I therefore decided to cut my losses by halting the demolition, paying the first architect for services rendered, and meeting with a new architect who came highly recommended by the said real estate developer).  In the end, I don't think I lost very much money, if any, by switching architects at this point.

Second excellent recommendation from the real estate developer was to retain an architect to make the design/budget and also to supervise the renovation (ensuring cost control), but do a tender for the actual construction work.  This way, the architect has no skin in the game in developing the design and budget. Smart.

So Szabolcs (new architect) and I went to visit the flat again today.  Part of the demolition has already been done by the previous team.  Floor is dug up (turns out they used dirt as filler on some floors in these 30s buildings, as can be seen in this pic below.

Here, two walls have been demolished, opening up the kitchen/dining room area.  Below is the bathroom/pantry space, which hasn't yet been demolished, but that will be next, along with ripping up the floors.

Below you can see the holding wall, which trans-sects the flat, dividing the living room and bedroom in the front from the other 60 percent of the flat in the back.  Szabolcs is checking to see what is under the tiles and plaster, as I want to expose the brick on both sides of the holding wall.

It looked okay until we got to the other side; turns out that the brick is a bit uneven in places and has some fairly large gaps.

I am undeterred--determined to have one wall of exposed brick in every room (which I can do if I expose the brick of the holding wall on both sides).

Then we had another surprise--turns out there is some massive (and smelly!) concrete floor under the cheap-ass linoleum in the kitchen/dining area. Yuck (and may be expensive to haul out).

Random view out the living room window...

Next steps:
(1) completing the demolition of bathroom and floors and remaining walls;
(2) getting a mechanical engineer to prepare permits for the new heating system; and
(3) visiting flooring/home design stores (plus Ebay) to find lighting and electricity fixtures, bathroom and kitchen items, plus Swedish wood floors (the cost of which will be worked into the budget);

In two weeks, Szabolcs will be ready to finish the budget, which can be used to prepare the tender.  Proper renovations are unlikely to begin before then :(

All in all, I feel really comfortable with how things are developing and just as happy and excited as before!