Saturday, May 20, 2017

Our last days living in Niwot …

Not in our house! So the expression goes; often times, within the context of one sporting event or another as the home team is about to enter the field of play! It’s a cry to colleagues not to let the other side intimidate or indeed embarrass the home team in front of their fans! But it’s also a reminder that it is our home that we hold most dear to our hearts – a place of refuge and cheer. A place where we are at ease! A place we can retreat to whenever the weather worsens or the worries of the day look are overwhelming us.

The house was built on an acre plus of land purchased towards the end of 1998. Margo and I were to marry in January, 1999, and we had separate homes at the time, with Margo living in a townhouse in Saratoga, California, while I had a cottage up in the foothills of Boulder, Colorado. Both homes were ideal for us each as they were close to where we were working at the time and yet, simply moving into existing premises didn’t seem to be what we should do. As a couple in the process of being married, we wanted our own house. A house that in time we could turn into our home!

Squeezed in between the days Margo spent planning the wedding, we worked with an architect and came up with a design we really liked and, shortly after we were married, they broke ground and construction began. Margo had kept her corsage from the wedding and following the drilling of numerous caissons, that wedding corsage found its way to the bottom of the easternmost caisson. And so the emotional connection between Margo and me and the house that would be built began to develop. 

The size and scale of the house didn’t really strike home until we saw the foundations after they had been poured. According to our architect, Steve, they looked like they were “Etruscan Ruins” or so he thought and that image stayed with us throughout the building process and ended up influencing many of the design decisions we were to make. No one had ever told us that moderation is a good thing but rather, we went for elegance and classical lines to the point whenever Steve roughed out a sketch of what something might look like, Margo always responded with “make sure you classify it!” Eventually, Steve caught on to what Margo really meant.

There were two major influences too on how we went about designing the house. The first influence of decisions we took had to do with when this all took place. A quick look at the calendar will tell you that between 1998 and early 2000 we all experienced the tech boom – what we all referred to as the boom. Having sold both of our houses and in the process of participating in the sale of the company we both worked for, we found ourselves in a position where we had cash to invest. And invest we did until early 2000 when Margo suggested, prior to a lengthy business trip to Europe, we should convert all of our stock into cash. Timing is often everything and while we were attending a conference in Vienna, the market completely tanked while we had move to an all-cash position at the time. The second influence was that after we were married we took every opportunity we had to spend time in the south of France and nearby northern Italy spending most of our time in Provence and Tuscany.
We loved the homes of Tuscany but we weren’t big fans of the small windows most Tuscany homes seemed to have. On the other hand, the homes of Provence, all featured beautiful windows that towered over the rooms that they graced. These homes too featured great rooms and more often than not, deployed massive three window sets that gave their owners a view across their backyards that just as often featured pools. Anyone who has visited the Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild (open to the public) in St Jean Cap Ferret, Provence, will see some of the elements we eventually incorporated into the house.

This really was a first for Margo and me as we had never participated in a project to build a house. Yes, we were new to the whole process and while we had friends and colleagues that had built houses in the past, we really wanted to put our own stamp on the house we envisioned emerging from the blueprints. Once the foundations had been poured and the framing started, we were struck by the magnitude of what we had initiated. And yes, intimidated – what were we thinking? Our neighbors homes were of the same size but as we had excavated under the four car garage (to house our offices), there was more than one neighbor left scratching their heads. What was this house going to look like? Certainly didn’t look very much like what the locals expected to see as  typical example of Colorado architecture!

One decision made early that was a key part of pursuing classical architectural lines was to ensure that the great room became a piece of art. Dramatic in its execution even as it projected a level of elegance we wanted to create. The centerpiece soon became the tear-drop, three-story staircase that ascended to the second floor even as it descended to the lower. The wrought iron handrail capped in mahogany had to provide a delicate, lace-like, accent that hid very little of the great room – it had to be a part of the great room but essentially be transparent.

In other words, it had to be over-the-top beautiful. And we succeeded even if it took months to execute and was among the last details to be completed in the house. Oh yes, when we finally priced the completed structure we could have bought a condo in downtown Palo Alto. It turned out that the staircase was just the beginning.  No chance of backing down – the theme of the home was becoming evident and drove all of the remaining decisions.

Perhaps the first place guests walk into as they leave the great room is the kitchen. At a time when so many protagonists were lobbying for completely open floor plans, the scale of our home leant itself to having some boundaries. This certainly was the case with the kitchen that became the heart of the home and being the size of my first condo could afford to have walls. Entering though through double doors that were frequently left wide open, the centerpiece was a 72” Viking Professional range. In blue, mind you, and trimmed in quality brass – the blue and yellow one could expect to see in any French kitchen. 

The original plan called for a large island, naturally enough. But as we set about embellishing the kitchen further the island became a “continent” even as a secondary island was added. This secondary island became a bar and on nearly every occasion when we entertained, guests would station themselves at the bar to watch as Margo and I continued with the preparation and cooking of the meal. Yes, both Margo and I liked to cook and there was more than enough room to accommodate us both. Apart from the ranges pair of gas ovens we added another two electric wall ovens and for major events, we had them all fired up and fully operational.

The main floor as well as the floor above continued the theme of elegance and what Margo often referred to as “the whiteness of being!” Yes, for the most part the walls were painted galley white and became the perfect backdrop to the paintings we hung around the rooms. Where the great room and kitchen projected a contrast in colors even as they continued with the same theme, we went to great pains to ensure light flowed in everywhere – one afternoon during construction we noticed that the center of the kitchen wasn’t well illuminated so, we added a substantial skylight / light well that opened above the kitchen, two stories up! 

In our house there would always be a wine cooler nearby, a wet bar adjacent to where guests might congregate and a minibar or two in the bedroom suites. For the most part these housed bottled water and sports drinks, but when requested there would be a bottle of wine or two present as well. As we worked through the details with the architect it became almost standard practice for all the bedrooms – en-suite bathrooms, a bar and storage area, and yes, somewhere to sit and relax.

At the time, we were anticipating looking after two sets of parents – one set coming up from Sydney each year, the other, Margo’s Mom, possibly staying for extended periods of time. While my Mon and Dad did frequent the house and became known to many of our business colleagues, Margo’s Mom took one look at the finished house and dismissed it immediately as being way too far from any bus line – she did not drive, macular degeneration preventing her from this activity. But perhaps more importantly, “Richard doesn’t even dream in Polish!” 

When it came to the master bedroom suite, a return to elegance dominated the conversations with the architect. Yes, there would be a television that would rise from the foot of the bed. There would be more than one seating area. And yes, there would be a wet bar and a fireplace. There would be electronics to manage it all modeled, as it turned out, on suites we had stayed at in hotels in Singapore. Deep into the project the master bedroom become one of only two places where we contracted with an interior decorator and she understood all too well our intentions and it became our home within a home.  

If the style of the house combined both elements from Provence and Tuscany, the lower level of the home was all Italy. Having excavated under the garages, we had a hundred feet of space to work with so we turned it into an Italian village. We broke perfectly good slate and embedded it into the walls over which we troweled mortar. We then hired an artist who treated the entire wall with acids and other fluids to age it all. And then we had the same artist paint vines rich with grapes over the tops of the wall. Entrance to the wine cellar was through a set of custom, squeaky iron gates that lent the scene with just the right amount of atmosphere.

On the other hand, all the artwork was of Australia. Whether it was scenes from the Australian outback, promotional posters for late 1970s and early 1980s Americas Cup sailing events, or paintings of Sydney harbor, the lower level of the house may have been Italian but it was Sydney Italian which didn’t surprise any of my family and friends from Sydney. After all, Sydney had become the destination for many immigrants from Italy in the 1950s. Margo perhaps summed it up best when she christened the area as “the bar down under!” Across from the bar we had built the only indoor / outdoor BBQ our architect had ever constructed. While we had an outdoor kitchen next to the pool, many months are spent inside during Colorado’s winter so we wanted to have a place where we continued to grill and it worked out really well.

As for the other room where our interior decorator leant a hand, it was the theater in the home. Far removed from a home theater, it really became the place to retreat to whenever an escape was in order. Housed in a separate concrete pour as part of the original foundations, it was a perfect 24’ x 18’ room designed for no other purpose than to serve as a theatre. In time, movies gave way to concerts and theater and many evenings ended quietly watching the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac or even Talking Heads depending on the tastes of those present. 

The house we built was a first for us but once we moved in, there were several other firsts that took place. No other house in North America entertained both the volunteer boards of HPE and IBM as both ITUG and SHARE board members celebrated one occasion or another. Another first? At a time when Insession Technologies and comForte were competing in the HPE NonStop marketplace with terminal emulation, there were functions for both Insession and comForte held and as it turned out, separated by just a few years didn’t mean that there weren’t some familiar faces attending both.

Unfortunately, this week marked another first that regrettably is also an end. The moving company arrived and in just a day, packed up many of our possessions into a moving van and departed early in the evening. The house we built and turned into our home, where so much was celebrated over nearly two decades, is no longer ours. The house has been sold. Shortly we will be following our possessions as we pack ourselves into our RV and await the completion of our next house. Will we be able to turn our new house into a home? Will we still enjoy as many features as we have in the house we are leaving? Here’s the rub and, in a significant way, the answer – houses are just houses until you do make them into a home and Margo and I have no regrets whatsoever about the home we created all those years ago.

These past few weeks as the reality has set in that we are finally leaving and that this will no longer be our home, we have both been overtaken with a 
sense of melancholy. Watching a team of lads from the moving company close the doors at the back of that truck and drive away was very hard to watch. And yet, Margo and I have never truly been about things or objects as much as we have been about people and relationships. Turning that page as it were and starting afresh is now something we are really looking forward to seeing unfold.     

As many of our friends remind us we are simply embarking on yet another chapter in our lives. The home we are leaving marked the beginning of our journey together and the new home will simply be a continuation of that journey as we begin to slow down. We have grandchildren. We have an RV. And yes, we have a track car – did I say, slow down? When we socialized these words with our friends all we heard was laughter. The good kind of laughter so no, perhaps it is not a complete slow down and yet, with this new chapter, much of what has always brought us joy will continue. A home, a good bottle of wine, a couple of nice cars and, most important of all, some really good friends! But no, no longer will any of this be in this house!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ferocity, speed and the color yellow - tales of grandchildren, packing and messing about in cars!

The drive between the village of Niwot, where we have lived for almost two decades, and the township of Windsor, where our new home is under construction, is never routine. The principle highway involved is Interstate 25 (I25), an arterial highway that runs from the Mexican border all the way up to Wyoming before joining Interstate 90, which is running east to east for most of the country. I25 sees a horrendous volume of traffic and for first-timers it’s always a shock to see how average speeds have crept up to where these days, if you aren’t maintaining a speed in the mid-80s, you will surely become responsible for creating a mobile chicane.

Vehicles on this road can behave badly and oftentimes prove unpredictable so routinely there are sizable wrecks for no apparent reason other than someone was distracted. This is a straight road with really good visibility. Well, most of the time, that is. However, this week there was a storm of biblical proportions that descended onto Colorado’s front ranges and the subsequent intense hailstorm brought traffic to a standstill. Fortunately for us, we were about a half hour behind the downpour but the residual hail was still visible on the highway as well as the median strip. We knew it had to be bad when we were passed by snowplows working their way down to where the hail lay the thickest.

For a brief moment, there was no difference between the hail on the ground and what we typically see in winter – just a white vista for as far as the eye can see. The damage wreaked by the ferocity of the storm was clear when we sat down to watch the evening news – hail damage to motor vehicles on a scale that was going to cost insurance companies many millions of dollars. It was only after we had safely returned to our Niwot home and parked the car in the garage that we understood how lucky we had been. Yes, we were out and about on this interstate in our ragtop roadster Cooper S by Mini! Hail coming down with such an intensity that it left nothing standing in its path and even the local Greeley Mall had to be closed after the hail took out the Mall’s skylights.

Talking about speed and ferocity, how quickly time has passed by – this was the month our grandsons turned two. After so many issues for Mom and Dad, to see the grandsons enjoying their second birthday was a real treat for Margo and me and we took time out from packing up our Niwot home to spend with them.  Our granddaughter Ella turned four just a few days later, and her Mom, our daughter celebrated her birthday three days after Ella’s. April proved to be a busy time when it came to unwrapping gifts!

For now, our kid’s home is located mid-way between Niwot and Windsor but with the move it will necessitate many more trips on I25. Perhaps not ideal for the Mini as it barely comes up to the top of a big-rig’s wheels; once we are settled into our new Windsor home we suspect it will be the turn of the Jeep SRT to tackle the I25. At least, with the SRT, we will have both size and speed on our side and can see a lot more than just the wheels of those big-rigs. Whatever transpires in the transportation department over the summer, we will work something out as there is no way Margo will accept any barriers that prevent her from spending time with the grandchildren!

Returning to the story about the construction of our new home, it’s hard not to comment about speed. When it comes to the progress being made to date, it continues to surprise and simply amaze us as with each day there are obvious changes taking place. Our options were clearly reduced once we had decided to build a home that had already seen its foundation poured, the framing completed and the roof attached.

Nevertheless there was plenty of scope for Margo and me to add a lot of personal touches. This customization was always something we wanted to do – it just wouldn’t be any fun building another home if we couldn’t be involved every step of the way – and it’s guaranteeing that nearby, there will not be an identical home. On the contrary, while the overall “craftsman” style projects a certain image, inside it’s all urban modern that’s modeled after a hi-rise penthouse condo we once saw and very much liked.

Perhaps there is no starker portrayal of the speed of construction than what is captured in just these three photos taken over a period of just four weeks. From framing and rough-in of plumbing and electrical, to partial dry-walling and the framing of the kitchen combination island and bar to where it was being left to dry in preparation for painting (which was completed just two days after this third picture was taken).

It was as if with each passing day something magical was happening each evening. Maybe no alien to us but certainly something extraordinary as we were very familiar with the process having lived through it all as our Niwot home had been built – but nothing quite prepared us for how quickly this group of subcontractors went about their work.  Of course, focusing on the transition happening in the main room with Margo alongside the bar seemed quite natural capturing as it were Margo in her most natural of settings!

Fortunately for our family, we are being given a very sizable garage for the style and layout of the home.  It’s only a three car garage but it’s deep and very high and of course, easily capable of carrying a lift or two so that our normal practice of keeping as many as five cars at a time can be sustained for many more years to come. There is constant back and forth on this topic about just how many cars are needed but even now, after almost two decades of being happily married, we never have been able to come up with an ideal solution and with each passing car show, we seem to add one more vehicle to our wish list!

Imagine then our surprise to run across a web site advertising the sale of a 2010 Maserati GT-S finished in bright yellow adorned with black carbon-fiber accessories! I have since posted the advertisement on Facebook and I dare say a number of you have seen it. What you may not know is that from the time we bought the Maserati, in yellow, we were reminded that you needed to be confident to drive a yellow Maserati.. And yet, on the occasion of the last time former CEO of ACI Worldwide, Ray Croghan  (a more confident individual you will never come across mind you), met with us in our offices in Boulder, he arrived in a bright yellow Porsche 911 Turbo – a color Porsche described as Speed Yellow. “With a description like that,” said Ray, “I just had to buy it!” Enough said. 

The contents of our garages have always proved to be a reflection of the state of our business. Starting out in business in 2009 and immediately following the Global Financial Crises meant that the early days were pretty hard going. Compounding the situation was that we were maintaining two residences with our primary home remaining Niwot but where, out of necessity, we also had a townhouse in Simi Valley. With both Margo and I working it necessitated having two cars in each location and when you threw into the mix that we made it our routine to drive between Niwot and Simi Valley, it also necessitated we had vehicles that could handle whatever winter threw our way when we crossed the Rockies. At one point we had six cars but that proved to be overkill and a lot has changed since those times.

Returning to full time residency in Niwot saw us trim back from six to five cars and eventually, four. We went from three motorcycles to two and then, in 2014, back to just one motorcycle. But we did add an RV and a trailer so somehow, that never-ending cycle of needing to buy new tires continued unabated. Being in business has made as big an impact on what’s in the garage as has the number of residencies. As anyone who contracts their time and energy to others can confirm, there’s little stability provided even as the work is always challenging. On more than one occasion, we have walked into the garage and pointed at one car or another and remarked, “It’s time to let that one go!” Both the Viper and the Maserati met their fate as a result of such conversations but now, we are back to looking at where we will spend the winter?

It’s been covered many times in previous posts to this blog but the unanswered question had always been – when will we sell our Niwot home? The new chapter in our lives we are about to start was triggered by the sale of our Niwot home and downsizing to our new home in Windsor has given us pause to reconsider our plans for the winter. Clearly, having an RV with the option to park it anywhere for the winter, appeals to both of us. Las Vegas? Scottsdale? The Florida Keys? Depending on the duration we plan to leave two cars with the RV – one full time and one the commuter (unless of course, it’s the Keys and we fly)!

Point is, as business continues to look good and the time to move into our new home approaches, maybe, just maybe, we can re-buy “old yellow” as after all, we know who has driven it and we know how well it’s been looked after!  I guess like many others, there have been cars we owned that in hindsight, we regret ever having sold or traded so maybe, just maybe, this car finds its way back home. On the other hand, maybe not! As so many songs suggest, you can never go home.

And technology continues to move on – for almost the same price you can get a brand new Chevrolet Camaro LT1 with the 1LR track-focused option and that’s one serious car. With a back seat, too! But talking of speed and velocity and indeed ferocity, once again family discussions about cars, children and grandchildren, and yes, our soon to be new home life, this post wouldn’t be complete without a reference to our good friends Brian and Jan and their grandchild, Colton. Even as they left for a sojourn in Italy – a place they visit these days with a somewhat monotonous regularity – there aren’t all that many conversations where the topic of Colton is not included.

When it comes to messing about in cars Brian, Jan, Margo and I have certainly enjoyed our fair share of rides. From being passengers in Ferraris on a race track in Sydney to Lotus Exiges that we drove on Nürburgring’s  infamous North Loop – Grüne Hölle’s Nordschleife, to a pair or rentals on Germany’s autobahns, to travelling together in a rather small Lexus along the east coast shoreline of Australia, there hasn’t been all that much we haven’t driven. Prior to buying our Maserati, the Kennys had bought an Aston Martin and then there have been the red Corvettes we each continue to drive.

On the other hand, when it comes to Colton, the variety of cars he has driven makes whatever we want to talk about pale in comparison. A LeMans prototype (in a 25 hour endure)? Check! A first up, an international formula racing debut in Sepang, Malaysia with the AsiaCup Series, coming away with two wins and a need for a bigger suitcase? Check! The UK-based MSA Formula series and Euroformula Open Championship open wheelers? Winning numerous times? Check! A full-on Indy Lights race car? Check that too and just as importantly, he keeps on winning! 

Pictured leaving the pits at the Barber road course outside Birmingham, Alabama, it was just his second weekend of racing Indy Lights cars having come off a very successful weekend back on the street course of St Petersburg, Florida.  Only a month ago he racked up a win and a second place as he began his rookie year – only just turning 17, and setting yet another record. On this occasion it was for being the youngest ever winner of an Indy Lights race.

You could say the pressure was on Colton now as his capabilities had clearly been demonstrated to where all other competitors were no longer going to take his presence in the races for granted.
  Whereas the race weekend in St Petersburg had been held under relatively clear skies, it simply bucketed-down at Barber. Heavy rain preventing any qualifying runs for the second race of the weekend. 

Not to worry, after starting P2 in the first race and being involved in a racing incident that sent him to the back of the field, he finished in tenth place but that was enough to maintain his points lead. Which was a good thing as with qualifying washed-out, the grid position for the second race was awarded based on then-current standings in the championship. Giving the pole to Colton in this manner meant the competition really had no chance and even with one tricky full-course yellow flag restart, Colton as they say, bolted crossing the line almost ten seconds ahead of his nearest rival and extending his points lead to 16 points! 
And for that other pair of grandparents, it couldn’t have been sweeter as they had made the trip out to the Barber track just to watch him. Did we also mention that this was the 400th running of an Indy Lights race which meant Colton is written into the record books one more time? 

And when you can, check out the video Brian created
featuring highlights of all that transpired over the weekend
(and look for some cameo appearances by some famous people):

In case you were wondering about just how serious this is for Colton, they are now a quarter of the way through a sixteen race schedule and he is the only two time winner to date and the points leader. The prize? For the winner of the series there is a $1 million scholarship with a guaranteed entry in next year’s big event, the 2018 Indy 500. Only issue for Colton should he go on to win the series, he will need special dispensation because of his youth but then again, he has always had to overcome that obstacle.

Messing about in cars, watching our new home taking shape, keeping up with the grandkids while always trying to stay dry, well, it could only be springtime in the Rockies.  There continues to be a lot of packing still to do even as Margo has managed to do most of it. There will be a lot more distance covered up and down I25 before we take up residence in our new Windsor home, with or without a yellow car, even as we head into some of the stormiest weather that Colorado can produce given the ever present cycle of summer thunderstorms that arrive with clock-like regularity. Then again, would Margo and I ever see life being anything other than one terrific ride that we share with a lot of good friends? I don’t think so …