2015 Remodel

This post is about our 2015 home remodel.  We started planning for the remodel in Spring 2014 with the intention of starting the remodel in October, and finishing in March 2015.  However we spent more time in the planning process then we initially thought was needed, because we wanted to have a very solid execution plan before demolition began, to minimize the amount of time we would be without a kitchen.


We began working with an Architect (K. Price Design) and General Contractor (GC) Jim Watters in March 2014 developing plans to remodel our master bath and kitchen.  One of the key design aspects of the kitchen remodel was to open up the kitchen more to the den, to make the two rooms “flow” better.  To achieve this we hired a Structural Engineer Joshua Kardon to work with both the Architect and GC and developed a plan to remove an existing short wall between the kitchen and the den, remove the post that was at the island, replace the beam that ran across the kitchen about 2 feet below the ceiling, and install a sheer wall behind the new stove to address earthquake design criteria.

Here are plan drawings of the existing kitchen and master bathroom.


Here are plan design drawings for the new kitchen and master bathroom.


The bathroom remodel was more straightforward – we had a large bathroom but it was very outdated, including a sunken bathtub in early 80s purple tile.  Our plan was to remove the false floor at the sunken bath, install a larger shower and standing bathtub, a vanity and extra storage. Once we had the structural design finalized for the kitchen we worked through the details for both rooms including cabinet layout, appliance and counter material selection, and worked with the GC to develop a cost estimate which we received in October 2014.  Of course the estimated total cost of the job was much higher than we had budgeted – and we worried that this large investment would not be recovered when we sell the house.  So we identified scope reductions but still the estimate was higher than we felt comfortable with.   Ultimately we decided that I would be the GC, even though it would take longer with my rotational job in Kazakhstan.

When we decided to be owner/builder for our remodel of course wife Karen wanted to know when it would be done.  I shared that we would start the physical work in mid-February and I was confident we would be complete by mid-November as it was our turn to host the annual family Thanksgiving dinner at our home in 2015.  I believed we would be complete in June or July but just like all experienced Project Managers or General Contractors I did not want to initially share an optimistic schedule, particularly as I could not control the sub-contractor’s availability.  Since Karen was OK with “done by Thanksgiving” that was the official completion date.

Mid-December 2014 / Mid-January 2015 Home Rotation

I arrived home on 16Dec2014 with two goals in mind – enjoy the Holidays with our family and obtain an approved building permit before I departed for my next work rotation.  This would set us up to perform demolition the next home rotation.  So we met with our Architect Katie Price and finalized the last details on the permit drawings, first going to the City of Orinda for planning sign-off on 22Dec.  We needed to make a couple minor changes to the drawings and then brought them back to City of Orinda the morning of 23Dec; I walked out out with city planning approval that morning.  I then went to the Contra Costa County Building Department that afternoon in Martinez expecting to drop off the drawings with the hope of getting approved building permit in 2-3 weeks, hopefully before I returned to Kazkahstan.  Apparently because it was slow due to the Holidays the plan check engineer came out and reviewed our drawings and civil calculations, and approved on the spot.  Excellent – fees paid and permit in hand – we are already ahead of schedule.

With the approved building permit, and detailed construction plans – our next step was to select sub-contractors and order materials.  As we had a building permit two weeks earlier than expected I decided to arrange some work while I was in Tengiz on my next rotation, with the existing kitchen going out of service when I returned in mid-February.  I had already made some contacts in November regarding subs but now we needed to select and schedule the civil / structural work (needed for both kitchen and bathroom modifications ).  We bid out to 3 firms and selected Christensen Brothers Construction (Jesse and Josh).  We awarded  the work to Christensen Brothers just before I departed on 13Jan and arranged for them to begin the under house civil and structural work while I was away.  Christensen Brothers held a kick-off meeting with the Architect and Structural Engineer the week after I left and began preparation for the concrete work.  They received sign-off by a 3rd party inspector (Testing Engineers) on the epoxy dowel holes drilled into the existing concrete on 22Jan.

Late January / Early March 2015 Home Rotation

I was scheduled to return home on 12Feb but due to family issues (a blog post for another day) I returned home on 27Jan.  The morning I returned the concrete forms had been signed off by the county inspector – the first county inspection.  The concrete was poured on 02Feb, with the pour observed by Testing Engineers.  The Christensen Brothers framing crew mobilized on 03Feb to begin the below house structural work.  Since I was already home I decided to move the demolition up a week so the framing crew could move right into the kitchen and master bathroom once the below house work was completed.

Ramon (all crafts though his favorite is electrical), his brother Aristeo (plumbing) and son Jonathan Camacho (helper all crafts) mobilized the week of 02Feb and we began.  First we installed a temporary kitchen in the downstairs family room, reusing some kitchen cabinets.  We even relocated the dishwasher which made life a little easier for Karen (during the 1997  kitchen remodel in our Oakland house we (Karen) did dishes in the bathtub).  Karen and I worked all week cleaning out the kitchen and our bedroom, setting ourselves up in Grant’s old bedroom for the remodel duration.  09Feb we pulled the sink and dishwasher and set them up downstairs – the official kitchen “out-of-service” milestone.  The remodel clock is now ticking.

Realizing that I had another 4 full weeks before returning to Kazakhstan I decided to push the schedule and get all the framing complete (which is needed to measure for cabinet fabrication) plus all rough inspections signed off before I went back on 10Mar for my next rotation.  Since the structural / framing work was Lump Sum, and the electrical and plumbing work was Time and Material, I worked these two crafts simultaneously with the framers, probably cutting about two weeks out of the schedule (but we did have some minor rework).    The final cabinet measurement was performed on 04Mar, I signed off on the cabinet fabrication drawings on 06Mar, and the final rough inspection visit was completed on 09Mar.  Christensen Brothers Construction exceeded my expectations completing all their work in six weeks. Some memories of this first phase of the remodel:

  • Our new beam design utilized two massive glue-lamb members that are “sistered” together, and sit on two large posts just inside the exterior walls.  It was a challenging installation as it took 8 guys to carry the beams into the house, through the recently removed kitchen sink window, and then two manual lifts to move them into the ceiling after the ceiling joists were cut.  I was in my office during installation when a loud boom occurred, shaking the whole house.  I quickly raced down the stairs to the kitchen to see the framing crew standing there.  I said “Did you just make that noise?”  “Yes.”  “Was anyone hurt?”  “No.”  What happened?”  “One of the lifts failed while lifting the beams.”  These guys were professionals, they had installed cross members between the two temporary walls in case a lift failed, it would only drop the sistered beam a couple feet.  So it was just a loud building shake, thankfully.
  • The demolition of the main bathroom took a week, something that we originally thought would take 2 – 3 days.  This was due to the massive amount of tile including the sunken bathtub.  Once we got the demolition done we discovered extensive dry rot, water damage and a small amount of termite damage (we were expecting some water damage but it was more severe than anticipated).  We decided to remove the small roof just outside the bathroom so we could get to the siding where this damage was located and make sure everything was repaired.  Ramon and I knocked this out in half a day, which allowed the framing crew to replace siding and framing.  We had the right people in place to make a quality repair.
  • Ordered and received all the lighting fixtures – found a competitive internet store online (CansandFans.com) that had a great salesperson (Ryan) who helped me order and get it all shipped in a couple days.
  • One of the key reasons we were able to meet this aggressive schedule is my friend Tony Lozoya came over two weekends in a row to sort out all the electrical circuits and run the wiring to the appliances, lighting, etc.  Some of the circuit demo was done before I got home (or not paying attention when I was home) as we needed to move wiring / plumbing under the house to allow the new civil/structural work to progress.  Ramon cut several wires which we had to trace hand-over-hand back to the sub-panel to make sure it all went back together as planned.   Making the effort more difficult was the fact that circuit assignments changed significantly between the old and new kitchen, plus the existing sub-panel schedule was not current.  Anyway, Tony was key in helping us figure it all out and make it work.
  • Christensen Brothers installed the new window in the Kitchen and two new windows in the Bathroom during this period.  I had worked with the GC and Architect on my previous rotation in Kazakhstan to get them on order and they arrived in time so the framers did not have to remobilize (and I did not have gaping holes to deal with in the middle of winter (though it is mild here in CA)).
  • Tile design was approved, tile installer was selected, and tile quanties were finalized for the master bathroom and kitchen backsplash.
  • Comcast came out and ran a new internet cable to the kitchen desk area, allowing us to cut over to the new line once the kitchen cabinets are installed.
  • Before I departed Precision Cabinets did us a big favor by agreeing to shorten the cabinet fabrication time from six to five weeks by juggling other customer jobs, keeping us on schedule.

Early March / Early April Work Rotation

Ramon was left with a worklist when I departed on 10Mar.  I typically called every couple days to check with Ramon how things were moving plus talked with Karen every day.  No major issues arose while I was gone – Ramon kept things moving.  The goal for this period was to be ready for cabinet installation the Monday after I returned.

During my rotation in Kazakhstan Ramon managed to oversee completion of the following: cleaned the ceilings in the dining room and bedroom to remove rodent droppings; replaced / reinstalled the insulation; sheetrocked the kitchen and master bath; repaired the exterior siding where the windows were installed: reinstalled the roof outside the bathroom; worked on plumbing and electrical punchlist items, and obtained county sign-off of Sheer Wall Nailing, Framing, Framing Insulation, Ceiling Insulation, Rough Mechanical and Drywall.  We also ordered remaining tile and electrical materials, and arranged for the Tile Installer to begin.

Early April / Early May 2015 Home Rotation

I arrived home on 09Apr – Ramon had completed all priority punchlist items to be ready for cabinets.  Mark Andreson, Tile Installer, had also mobilized and prepared the master bath shower for inspection.  Karen had scheduled the County inspection and the day after I returned we obtained sign-off of Wet Wall and Shower Pan Leak Test in the bathroom, plus Gas Test of the new natural gas line to the stove.  As we had just a short gas line run the County Inspector allowed just a bubble test.  We now had all inspections complete except for Final.  Excellent – all that was planned while I was gone was complete.

The goal for this rotation home was cabinet installation, kitchen counter top installation, master bathroom tile installation and ktichen wood floor installation – four different sub-contractors to work in the same 3 week period.  If interested please see long reviews for each of these four sub-contractors, plus Christensen Brothers Construction, in individual posts; short reviews have been posted to Yelp.  Here is what happened this rotation home.

Precision Cabinets On Saturday 11Apr a crew of 6 arrived – was a bit challenging to get their 24 foot box truck up the hill but they managed.  In a couple hours they staged the kitchen cabinets in the den and the bathroom cabinets in the master bedroom, lifting them up through the outside deck. On Monday 13Apr a crew of five arrived.  They set up work space on the deck and split up the cabinet installation into three simultaneous work fronts: one person in the bathroom, two guys working the main kitchen cabinets and two guys working the desk.  We resolved a couple of issues:

  • Microwave outlet was inadvertently sheetrocked over; found this just before the cabinet was about to be installed.  Checking construction photos we quickly found the outlet, exposed it, and then had to relocate to the other side of the stud.  Ramon handled the fix, only held up the microwave drawer cabinet install about 30 minutes.
  • Desk did not fit as planned even though the dimensions had not changed from final cabinet measure.  Precision had to cut some of the raised floor and the sheetrock at the kitchen table area post to make it fit – these modificatins will not be noticible.
  • Gas line to new range was too low, was located at the base of the cabinet (per code there needs to be an accessible first valve before it transitions to the flexible tubing that routes to the gas range).  Also realized the cabinet we had it going into was a drawer, not a door as I thought.  We decided to relocate the gas line 180 degrees and have the first valve in the pantry.  Ramon handled this as well, holding up the lower cabinet to the right of the range about 30 minutes.

Precision met all their commitments for this initial install – our good fortunate with schedule continued – we are now in week 10 and the cabinets are installed – right on track.

Quality Tile Mark Andresen mobilized in early April, and started work in earnest with two helpers on 13Apr (same day as the cabinet installation).  All tile materials had arrived except the 3 x 6 field tile in the shower.  This tile had been held up in Customs (demonstrates we have the same problems in USA and Kazakhstan trying to get materials for a job ) and ultimately was delivered on 14Apr.  Mark was in and out my entire rotation home, primarily working on the bathroom.  He is a one-man company (with helpers) and so sometimes pulls off the job to work for another customer.  He worked long hours and weekends as needed to keep is on track – he paid attention to the overall status of our remodel and made sure his work did not hold anyone else up.

Victor Medina Granite We had lined up our Stone Counter Installer, Victor Medina, in late January – after we had selected the granite we wanted for the kitchen.  Later we selected the quartz for the master bathroom and kitchen desk, all material selection was made well in advance.  We had confirmed with Victor in early March that we would be ready for him to perform counter measurements on Wednesday 15Apr – at this point I believed the counter installation would be complete before I returned to Kazakhstan as Victor advised it would take 1-1/2 to 2 weeks from measurement to installation. Victor did get the bathroom vanity counter installed on 04May, the day before I departed, but did not finish the kitchen counters, including desk, until the week of 18May.  Partial explanation is we decided we preferred honed granite counters vs. the polished granite slabs we purchased (an extra step in fabrication for Victor).  I believe the primary reason for the delay was Victor was juggling customers and he was not dedicated to our job staring 15Apr as we had hoped.  We are very pleased with the installation of the counters as the quality if very high but we lost 2+ weeks on schedule and communication regarding installation timing was very poor with Victor – it was difficult to get him to commit to a date (believed due to juggling other customers).

Floorscapes We received a couple of wood floor installation bids before I let in early Feb, and I advised Jeff Burlison of Floorscapes that we selected his firm to perform the work in late March.  Jeff visited the house on 12Apr to make sure all was in order, and delivered the flooring material on 14Apr.  He assigned Mike to perform the installation – kitchen wood flooring was completed 27 April.  The nice touch was Floorscapes removed some floor planks in the Dining Room and installed new planks across the Dining Room / Kitchen threshold, tieing the two rooms together (another room flow trick).  Wood floor was also installed in the pantry and under the spiral staircase; both required more cutouts than a typical room. The quality of the installation was excellent.

Carpentry/Electrical/Plumbing While the four sub-contractors were working Ramon and I with help of Aristeo made steady progress on carpentry (installed the pantry barn door), plumbing (relocated a water heater) and electrical (installed lighting trims and worked on undercabinet lighting). This rotation home we made steady progress but not as much as I hoped – the delay in counter installation delayed installation of upper cabinets, etc.

May Work Rotation

Of course I left Ramon with an updated work list as well as provided Karen a sequence of sub-contractor work that would occur while I was away.  The work planned while I was away included:

  1. Kitchen / Den / Dining Room
    1. Install Granite Counters including Main Counter, Island and Desk (Victor Medina)
    2. Install Upper Cabinets at Main Counter and Desk (Precision Cabinets)
    3. Install Tile Backsplash (Quality Tile)
    4. Install Range Vent Hood duct cover (Ramon)
    5. Complete Finish Carpentry – trim kitchen window and dining room / kitchen doorway (Ramon)
    6. Refinish Hardwood Flooring in Kitchen and Den
  2. Master Bathroom / Master Bedroom
    1. Complete tile installation (Quality Tile)
    2. Install Shower Door (Diablo Glass)
    3. Install Bathroom Doors (purchased from Truitt & White) (Ramon)
    4. Trim Bathroom Doors and Windows (Ramon)
  3. Paint all rooms (Ramon and Ascension)

This rotation at work I called home almost every day, speaking both with Karen and Ramon as lots of work and lots of coordination occurred each day.  Katie Price stopped by a couple times  to see how things were progressing and so did my family, Joanne and Steve Claas.

Karen decided to hire a Interior Designer to help with paint selection – money well spent.  We did change our mind on the paint colors; believe we painted almost every surface at least twice.  But the end product looked great.  I returned home on 04Jun with the goal of completing the remodel before I went back to Kazakhstan.

June Home Rotation

The wood flooring in the kitchen and den were refinished the day before I returned; now we could move into finish mode.  Here is the summary of my punchlist I prepared the day after I got home:

  • Install Refrigerator, Range and Dishwasher
  • Finish Electrical (outlets, switches, etc)
  • Finish Carpentry (install baseboards, trim out pantry shelves, etc)
  • Complete cabinet trim now that wood flooring is complete
  • Install cabinet knobs and pulls
  • Reface Den Fireplace
  • Obtain Country Final Permit signoff
  • Clean
  • Move Back In
  • Hold Remodel Celebration

All the above was completed before I returned to Kazakhstan on 30Jun; the country final permit was signed off on 25Jun, we began moving back into the into the Kitchen and Master Bedroom / Bath the next day, and held a Remodel Celebration on 28Jun, attended by our family, neighbors, Ramon, Aristeo, and Jonathan Camacho, Katie Price, Jessie and Josh Christensen, Tony Lozoya, and JP Trevisano AND their families.

It was a steady push this home rotation, but the day I arrived home I knew we would finish before I went back.  We even had a family dinner in the new kitchen with all four kids on the Monday before I returned – it was nice to share a meal in the new kitchen.

Here are links to my Flickr account that has photo albums associated with our 2015 Remodel.

New Kitchen Photos

New Bathroom Photos

Before Remodel Photos

In Progress Remodel Photos

Remodel Celebration Photos


2014 Evans Family Holiday Letter

Hello out there,

I am half way around the world as I write this annual missive – is anyone out there?  If you are reading this maybe you received our annual Holiday Card?  When we ordered the card online we thought it came with a red background (at least I did) but Karen informed me that it is orange.  So in honor of the card background – Go SF Giants, 3rd World Series win in the last 5 years (we are very casual fans but always enjoy when a Bay Area team wins)!

Another year of milestones and changes, happiness and sadness, but also another year to count our blessings.  We hope you too have many blessings to count.  This year we will start with our sad news.

Marc’s mother Gloria passed away in June, just after her 87th birthday.  She had been in failing health the last year, and had a hard fall in April that she was unable to recover from.  We shed a lot of tears as we helped guide her to the end – she passed away at home with both her daughters holding her hands.  As everyone who has cared for an aging parent knows, it is difficult and sad to see their decline but a gift to come together as a family.  We did our best for her, just as she did her best for us during her life.  She is missed every day.

Next news is about Karen – she retired from Kaiser!  How did that happen, before Marc retired?  Unfortunately, due to a painful back.  Karen had her 4th surgery in spring of 2013 and it did not resolve her issues, so she applied and received medical retirement. We had hoped once she was retired it would be easier to manage the chronic pain – that has not been the case.  We are fortunate that we have good medical insurance but as anyone with severe chronic pain will tell you we wish we did not have to use it.  Karen is managing it the best she can but expects more surgery sometime in the future.

Zack is enjoying living in Santa Barbara – this is his second year at Santa Barbara City College.  He is zeroing in on Film Studies, enjoys his writing classes.  He is about to move to another apartment in December with a couple of buddies; in Isla Vista where most of the UC Santa Barbara students live.  He finds school challenging and the social experience excellent.  He tells us all the time he loves living in Santa Barbara – who wouldn’t?

Grant had a busy year, finishing up his college applications in late 2013 and a round of college visits in spring of this year.  Grant and Marc visited University of Colorado and University of Washington where we fit in a weekend skiing at Keystone outside Denver and visited our friends the Kachmers.  Both Universities were impressive but he chose UW because of the higher ranked Computer Science program.  We had a nice HS graduation for Grant – most of our family attended including Karen’s father.

Grant spent the summer working as a camp counselor at Galileo in nearby Lafayette – he gave it his all and came home tired every day (but never too tired to hang out with friends that night).  He moved up to UW in September and pledged Alpha Delta Phi fraternity – he lives on the top floor “porch” of the dorm with 26 other freshman.  He too finds school challenging and the social experience excellent – the fraternity does have its parties but they also have scheduled study sessions each week.  As he finishes his first quarter it appears he made a good choice.

Andrew is a sophomore this year, enjoys his computer science and Algebra / Trig classes the most.  He was a Junior Counselor at Cal Berkeley Strawberry Canyon Camp in the summer – we observed him grow in leadership and responsibility, at least that is what the camp administrators told us.  He is planning on going back next summer and looking forward to the pay increase.

Claudia continues with her dance, has been going to the same studio in Concord (about 30 minutes away in normal traffic) for 4 years now.  She has classes 4 nights per week and once or twice on weekends.  The competition season will occur in the spring with the national event in the July – this year it was held in San Diego; next year it will be in Vegas.  Claudia has several close Dance Friends, and Karen is close with their parents – known as the Dance Moms.  It is nothing like the reality shows – just a lot of young teenagers who enjoy a variety of dance styles.  Claudia has developed a lot of discipline between dance and school – it’s a pleasure to watch her grow.

Our extended families are all well – Karen’s Dad Dick Weisbaum and wife Cynthia continue to travel and enjoy living in Sedona – they visited a couple times this year.  Her brother Bruce, with Courtney and Copper, are all well in Portland – Copper graduates HS next June.

Marc’s sister Robin is contemplating retirement from Kaiser, and visits her children / grandchildren as much as possible.  Her daughter Lauren (Jamie, Rose and Beatrice) is busy with her family in Vancouver, BC and continues to visit the Bay Area a couple times each year, always a treat.  Her daughter Alison has connected with a special guy – Graeme – both live in SF.

Marc’s sister Joanne and brother-in-law Steve still have the doors of their business Claas Concepts open but are contemplating their future retirement.  They are always working on something, including managing the remodel of Marc’s mother’s home before it goes up for sale.  Their son Kevin (Tina, Christopher and Carson) live nearby – Joanne & Steve enjoy visiting their grandsons frequently.

As for Marc, I continue to work in Kazakhstan – will be 3-1/2 years at the end of 2014. My plan is to continue at least through 2016 as we have large turnarounds planned for 2015 and 2016 that I would like to see through to completion.  I enjoyed the opportunity to visit Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, in July for a recruiting trip – you can find some pictures on my Flickr account.

We hope this finds you and your family well.  We wish you the very best in 2015 and beyond.

Memories of Gloria

Gloria Courteney Evans passed away on June 6, 2014.  Please submit comments to this post and  I will cut and paste a running list of memories from whomever would like to share.

Here is a link to a photo album posted to my Flikr account in her memory – if you have a digital picture you would like to include please send it to me and I will upload your photo to this album.



Marc: Mom cooked many dinners using an electric fry pan.  The fry pan was plugged in on the counter to the left of the kitchen sink, and she would cook with her back to the kitchen table.  My sisters and I would be at the table messing around and she would tell us to stop touching / hitting each other.  We could not figure out how she could tell when we did this – she told us she had eyes in the back of her head.  I remember one time moving her coiffed hair around trying to find these back of the head eyes.  Later we learned that she used the spatula as a mirror to watch us as while cooked, and she could tell exactly who was hitting / touching whom.

2013 Evans Family Holiday Letter

Evans Kids Maui August 2013Holiday greetings to  you and your family.  Reflecting on what has transpired in the last year – we are grateful everyone in our family is healthy (at this moment) and happy (for the most part).   With children, many of our life milestones are anchored by the school year – June seems so long ago.  Will try to cover the entire year (briefly) since it is already January 2014.

Bea and Zack 2Zack – finished his freshman year at University of Arizona in May deciding this school was not the right fit for him.  He spent his summer as a camp counselor at UC Berkeley Strawberry Canyon –  his fifth year.  Zack  enjoys the “dress up” days related to camp themes – shows his creativity in costuming and allows him  to clown around and get paid.   He is now studying at Santa Barbara City College and enjoys the school and the beautiful city of Santa Barbara.  He found a great living situation near campus – walks to school.  He has gone camping a few times on weekends and also caught a concert or two in LA.

Note from Karen: the little girl with Zack is his second cousin Beatrice – not his daughter!

Grant We Want You!Grant – now in his senior year at Miramonte HS with a challenging work load.  Grant was also a summer camp counselor but at a Galileo camp in Lafayette – he really liked it and came home tired each day.  He is our second driver when I am away at work – one of the reasons he likes me being home is he gets more time to hang out with his friends.  He played  Lacrosse again his junior year in the spring but has not decided if he will his senior year (he does not intend to play in college).   Grant has all his college applications submitted – applied to west coast schools and U of Colorado.  We had planned to visit Southern California schools during Thanksgiving break but Grant was very sick – first had his appendix out and then came down with mononucleosis. We will visit schools in the next couple months depending on where he is accepted.

Claudia and Andrew at OIS GraduationAndrew – finished 8th grade with strong grades, and was rewarded with a faster computer to support his video gaming hobby (obsession?).  He also was a junior counselor at summer camp – at the same UC Berkeley camp Zack works at.  He enjoyed it – we hope he is hired there again this year.  He has struggled so far in his freshman year – his study habits are not the greatest and he enjoys goofing off in class with his friends.  We are hopeful his extra efforts he has recently been making will pay off in the second semester.



Claudia as a BirdClaudia – continues with dance, school and friends.  She has been at the same dance studio the last two years.  She really likes it and has made many friends there.  She takes about 15 classes a week – sometimes 6 or 7 days a week.  She also applies herself at school – doing well her freshman year.  She has several dance competitions in the spring and summer – last year she and Karen went down to Southern California for about a week; more coming up this year.

Marc and Karen in MauiKaren – continues as single parent for half the year without complaint.  She keeps it together but is glad to share the load when I get home.  She did have spine surgery in the spring on her neck, and was off work for 4 months.  She still has some discomfort in her lower back where she had previous surgery but continues to work 4 days / week at the Kaiser Pediatric Clinic in Walnut Creek. She has joined a book club, and enjoys a glass of wine (or two) when we get together with friends.


Our families are all well – Marc’s mother Gloria is still going at 86.  She has health problems but continues to bounce back.  Karen’s father Dick visited us over the Holidays – he has lower back surgery scheduled in January.  If all goes well he will be skiing again, at age 78!  All of our siblings and their families are well – you should be able to find a link to some photos somewhere on this blog where you can see their smiling faces.

Finally, Marc – Just finished my 17th rotation in Kazakhstan.  I am certainly used to it, know the people, know the job, know the routine.  At times it still feels unnatural working 28 days straight, living and breathing work every day with my family a half world away.  But we have phones and internet – we used facetime to connect with everyone on Christmas day.  I continue to be healthier than my days at the Richmond Refinery (diet at work, exercise when home) and I absolutely enjoy the quality time I spend with our family when I am home.

In close, hope this message finds you well.  We wish you a warm and healthy 2014!

We Suck Less

I have been mulling over this post for a while – this statement is not “politically correct.”  But I find the topic both interesting and amusing – something that could be a Dilbert comic (of which I am a big fan).

Background.  Towards the end of my first rotation in Tengiz (back in July 2011) I developed a list of Improvement Opportunities for my group.  I shared this information with my back-to-back (b2b, the person I share the DE Supervisor position with) and the Lead Engineers that report to us.  Together with my b2b we obtained feedback from the Leads, prioritized the list and then used the list as a basis for areas or opportunities we wanted to improve on in 2012, mostly around getting work done (aka driving work to completion).  As of this writing (2Q2013) some of these improvements have been completed, others are in progress, and still others we have not begun work on or we have decided to work on something else instead (that is we continue to work on improvement opportunities in 2013).  Anyway, the point is we had a prioritized list of areas we wanted to improve.  Our primary focus has been either to reduce the effort it takes to get some part of the work done (efficiency) or reduce the duration of the work (schedule reduction).  We did not identify any high priority improvement opportunities around cost reduction as Tengiz is such a profitable operation that reducing engineering cost is not a driver – instead we were looking for ways to get more work done (of course to the same high quality standards).

To put this in context the type of areas we worked on were how to reduce the time to complete an engineering deliverable, or reduce the time to order and then receive engineered material, or become more efficient or standardize across the organization to complete a required engineering or regulatory review.  When I would probe for why we did things a certain way, in my not so subtle way, the Lead Engineers would become mildly defensive.  This would manifest itself by comments from the Leads such as – “well you should have seen it when I first got here, it was much worse.” or “if you think it takes us a long time to get this done, you should see how long it takes another group to get similar work completed.”

One day during an improvement discussion, after hearing a similar tangential explanation for the umpteenth time, I responded  “so what you are telling me is we suck less?”  After a short pause both the Lead and I had a good laugh – yeah, that is what we were saying – either it used to be worse or someone else does it worse today.   These 3 words in a short and to-the-point statement recognizes that effort was being made but further improvement was possible for the specific opportunity.  Saying it out loud made me realize that I was not giving enough recognition / credit to what had been done before, and also helped the Lead realize that further improvement was possible / needed.  From that day on when I would observe our discussions veering off to these type of explanations I would say “I’m hearing we suck less again” and then guide the conversation back to what was needed to improve going forward.

For a period of time it became a bit of a running joke, and the Leads would sometimes preface a discussion by saying, “this is a we suck less topic.”  It has fallen out of use over the last couple months partly because we have been making improvements and (hopefully) because I am giving more credit to the improvements that were previously implemented.

What I find interesting is the human nature of this type of explanation.  It appears to me that when a person is being put on the defensive when exploring an improvement they invariably bring up that it was worse before or that someone else does it worse, potentially hoping that by comparison they do not look so bad?  I say this is human nature as I have seen this behavior in my own family.  I have three sons and not too long ago I was reprimanding my youngest who responded by pointing out that his two older brothers had screwed up more often and more severely.  I responded by saying that I recognize that he “sucked less” than his brothers (at least at his current age) but he was still in trouble and needed to stop whatever we were talking about.

A related human nature is gaining some level of satisfaction watching others, either individuals or groups, struggle. The observer may be unable to ascertain if the struggle is due to the challenging nature of the work, or the competency of the worker, but it is usually fairly obvious that struggles are occurring (failure is visible)   It appears irrelevant if the observer could do this work better or not (though familiarity may increase the satisfaction).  The human nature I observe is by watching others struggle an individual or group realizes some level of job satisfaction.  I call this “job satisfaction by comparison with no effort,” the best kind!

A complimentary benefit is when others struggle through situations the attention of management (or parents) is typically diverted to this situation.  This allows those that are not involved to stay “below the radar” and by comparison look good.  Sometimes I refer to this as the warm body comparison – just showing up and not struggling you may appear to be doing better than others.  My middle son explained this succinctly by saying “I’m happy that I have an older brother because I just need to show up and I look good.”  Of course I pointed out that he could do better (in school, in sports, in keeping his room clean) but for the most part it falls on deaf ears – he is very satisfied with the comparison of messing up less / doing better in school than his older brother with minimal effort.

So be honest, have you ever smiled internally when faced with a “We Suck Less” moment?

Night in Detroit

My travel plans for Wednesday 13 February looked good – heading HOME after rotation #11.  Weather was clear in Atyrau Kazakhstan, scheduled to leave at 7:30 am.  Scheduled five hour flight to Amsterdam with an 80 minute layover.   Then on a non-stop KLM flight to SFO, scheduled to arrive at 12:30 pm.  If all things went well I would then catch BART to Orinda, take a taxi home, put my things away, maybe even run an errand and then pickup Andrew from the bus stop at 4 pm.  I think it is so cool to leave Kazakhstan at 7:30 am and arrive in the Bay Area at 12:30 pm.

It did not go as planned.

When I got up in the morning at Atyrau Transit Hotel (ATH) I learned the flight to Amsterdam was delayed – no explanation but advised that it would  now depart at 10 am.  Damn, there goes the non-stop flight to San Francisco.  Good thing I had held onto the guest office key at ATH; went had breakfast then over to the office to get on-line.  So I finished a couple work notes / documents things I did not get done the  night before, that I had planned to handle once I got  home.  Probably better I did as it was still fresh in my mind.  Wrapped it all up in about two hours and then developed a list of priorities for my next rotation (feeling pretty on top of things at work).  Then I looked over my list of things I would like to do / get done when I get home (am sure Karen will add to it but good to have a plan).  Someone popped their head and told me the flight to Amsterdam would not depart until 10:40 am.  So about 9:30 I shut off the computer and walked over to the airport.

I startled myself when I saw that everyone had already checked in.  Thought maybe the flight was actually going to leave at 10 am as I originally had heard, that I misunderstood the message from the guy who poked his head in my office.  So I walk up to the counter and they tell me the flight will depart at 10:40 but they have NO business class seats left.  Great.  Now I have to ride economy and no free beer.  They said they would give me a beer :).  I did get my own row in economy so was able to nap a bit – otherwise an unevental trip to Amsterdam.

Go to the KLM transfer desk, explain the situation (delayed flight) and they rebook me on a flight to Detroit, then on to San  Francisco.  Flight leaves in about 3 hours so I  head over to KLM  lounge.  Eat  some  snacks, read the paper, drink a few Heinekens (are you seeing a theme here?), even take a shower (which was a nice refresher, good  way to kill some time).  I leave  the lounge about an hour before the fllight to Detroit is supposed to depart, then find out it is delayed about an  hour.   So I go back to the KLM lounge, another Heineken, charging of electronics, and then head to the departure  gate.

The flight I am on is operated by Delta who  is a partner with KLM. I usually think Delta is not as nice as KLM, especially since KLM gives out their cute  KLM porcelian  houses (which I now will only have 21 vs. the 22 times I have  gone back and forth to Kazakhstan – yeah I’m a bit crazy about collecting KLM houses).  But this is a nice Delta flight – the seats in business class lie flat and are positioned such that you have maximum privacy.  So I read a bit, eat the meal, take a sleeping  pill, and sleep for about 4 hours.  I woke up once, then fell back asleep.  The crew was nice, kept  bringing me waters (all those beers deyhdrated me). I would be happy to take that flight again if I had to.

So we land in Detroit, I find  a Delta Lounge so I can have a snack  and charge my iPhone.  Lounge is not as nice as KLM lounge in Amsterdam (chairs not as comfortable) but it’s fine.  I drink coffee (enough with the beer as I still have another 4+ hour flight ahead of me), make some calls home so family knows I am in the USA, and then  read, browse the internet, even write some random thoughts about family and  work.   I adjusted my watch to Chicago time and would  periodically look  at it – planned to head for the gate about an hour early.  At what I thought was 7 pm I gathered everything  up and  noticed my iPhone said 8 pm.  Oh no,  I set my watch wrong.  I rushed to the gate  but as expected  the flight had already left – I missed my damn connection.  Detriot is New York (eastern) time zone, not Chicago (central) time zone.

Now I slowly walk back across the terminal to the Delta customer desk, tell them it was my fault missing the flight, and they said they will just book me for tomorrow (no change fee since I was travelling business class).  Not sure why but it took over an hour to arrange the flight for the next day.  While waiting I asked the desk agent where I should stay and she said, oh let me take care of that for you.  She gave me a voucher to the Best Western where Delta crew stays, complimentary (so my mess up did not cost me any money, just time).  So I found the shuttle and headed over to the hotel.  Had a grilled cheese in the hotel bar with a couple more Heinekens, and off to bed.  Woke up at 4 am, took a hot bath (can’t remember the last time I have done this), cleaned / organized my back pack, and then wrote  this entry.  Boring huh?  And you thought there would be something of interest about Detroit in this entry.

Now I am going to grab some  breakfast, then  head to the airport.  Will just sit at the gate for two hours – do not  want  to miss this flight.

So what did I learn?  Make sure you know what time zone you are in, even when you are tired.  I also learned that even though I screwed up I did  not take it too hard, mostly let it go.  Makes me realize I should be less hard on the kids when they screw up.

My Friend Jeremy


If you have checked Jeremy’s website, you have learned that he passed away on 19 August 2013.  His doctor thought he would live six months when he was first diagnosed, he made it about eight.  When you read his blog (link below, it still works as of January 2014) he had ups and downs, but figured out how to live the last few months of his life to the fullest, just like he led his life before his diagnosis.

Several people have sent me condolences – I really appreciate this.  I did get a chance to see him each rotation home – unfortunately I was not able to attend his memorial service as I had just traveled back to Kazakhstan.  The visit in late May 2013 he shared how he was arranging his donations, particularly the orphanages in Laos he supported.  We went out for a walk that visit – picture below is with our common friend Mike – Jeremy in the middle.  My last visit in early August was with his great friend Andrea – we hung out and ate a little, drank some wine and Jeremy talked about how he was giving away all of his possessions to his family and his friends.  He had put a lot of thought into making sure his possessions went to people in need or would be special memory for the participant.  What is most impressive is he gave his home away to two friends who live in SF but cannot afford to purchase a house.  Generous to the end.








Original Post

He is sick.  He is going to die, maybe soon.  He has pancreatic cancer.  He is the same age as I am, 55.

Jeremy started a blog when he found out he had cancer.  The site is www.cookeatgo.com; the user name is “viewer” and the password is “horsef***er” (fill in the * with the correct letters, just can’t make myself type it out).  Makes my blog’s password of “santa” seem kinda lame, but not shocking.  Jeremy is a good writer, never knew that about him.  I log onto it periodically to see how he is doing.  Recently he learned that the light chemotherapy he was taking is helping – said he was a chemo f***ing superstar, made me laugh.

So how does having a friend who has cancer feel?  Makes me wonder how I would handle it?   What can I do to comfort him?  I need to remember to take pictures of him when I see him next. Maybe we should go on a walk and take pictures everywhere – get strangers to take pictures of us together at various spots.  Karen and I are going to visit him on Sunday, go to Glide Memorial Church with him.  Just went to Glide before Christmas, enjoy the singing but get bored by the congratulatory statements on all the good they do – feels like an infomercial. I enjoy watching the people enjoying themselves, connecting.  Jeremy writes on his blog how much he likes going to Glide – believe he liked it before but looking into death it now has more meaning to him?

Thinking about Jeremy reinforces that I want to spend time with my children, just be with them, and enjoy them.  Let go of my need to get things done and just be around them to connect and share.  Guess when a person contemplates their mortality you realize it’s the relationships that make life worth living, not the wealth or job or prestige.  Also makes me think I would like to retire sooner than later, spend time doing what I enjoy doing vs. the “stuff” that goes with working for a large company.  But that said I enjoy lots of my career with Chevron, including the people and the challenges.

So now this getting to be about me, and not Jeremy. I’m going to call him as soon as my flight lands in San Francisco and ask how he is doing.

Additional Comments

I wrote this entry while travelling home from Kazakhstan in mid-February.  We did go to Glide Memorial Church (http://www.glide.org/) with Jeremy on 17 February – he had other friends there too.  We then went out to lunch with him – learned about his travel plans and how his chemo is going (has multiple trips planned and the chemo is going great).  Will plan an outing with him next time I am home in April.

22246-183Here is a picture of Jeremy at our wedding in 1991.  We have been friends since 1981.  I remember once going to a party at his house (he’s a great host) and he introduced me as follows: “This is my friend Marc.  We have been friends so long he knew me when I was poor, fat and straight.”


We Are So Proud – Eagle Scouts

The following is a speech deliverd by Jeff Kelley at an Eagle Scout ceremony in January 2013:

Ben Johnson, Aaron Lee, Diego Rocha, Zane Samuel, Spencer Wright, and AD Will-Arrego. Congratulations on your success in earning the highest rank in scouting. I speak for the adult leaders of Troop 202, present and past, in saying that we know what you went through to earn this award, and we are justly proud of your accomplishments. I take great pleasure in this public acknowledgement of your success here today. But as your Emeritus Scoutmaster, I’d like to add a few cautionary words about success.

Most of us know that success is just the flip side of failure. One might argue that success isn’t success unless it costs us something close to what it’s worth. If it comes too easy, success begins to seem normal and loses its meaning in our lives. The process of becoming an Eagle Scout is fraught with pitfalls; it’s not meant to be easy, it’s meant to mean something, and meaning – in spite of all the cultural messages to the contrary, especially those directed toward the young – meaning is never merely success. It is, perhaps, significance of purpose, purchased at the risk of possible failure.

During this holiday season it is fitting to observe that your generation is bombarded with messages about wealth, consumption, status, style, fashion, attitude, and success.

I wonder, though, how much you hear about meaning. For if meaning is bound up with significance of purpose and its attendant risk, then there’s something else you’ll need to take with you from this place: humility. Be humble enough in your moment of accomplishment to look around you, and you will see the most important people in your lives gathered here today in your honor. Be justly proud. At the same time, look inside yourselves and you will know that the rank you now carry you did not earn alone.

If I may speak for the adults in your lives – and as one of them – let me say that what I think what we want our kids right now is to be real. To understand that the world is bigger than their personal egos and desires. That there is real danger and real hope. That trivial things are just trivial things, and that achievements of significance are hard, take time, and can only be earned.

Ben, Aaron, Diego, Zane, Spencer, Adrian – you have earned this moment – hold it close – you’ve waited a long time for it – you’ve come from far away to get it – keep it with you for the rest of your lives – keep in mind those of us who brought you here – we remember when you came – we remember when you were small – it is hard to let you go now – but we are so proud!

My Additional Comments:

Both my son Zack – friends of these boys – and I were in attendance at this Eagle Scout Ceremony.  This speech by Jeff brought tears to my eyes – his eleqouance and heart-felt words were incredibly special.  The entire ceremony was special – there was a slide show for each boy / young man, and they each also delivered a speech.  As I type this I get a little emotional thinking about these boys, their families and my own children and family – and reflect on what is meaningful in life.

I have known 5 of these boys, Ben, Aaron, Diego, Zane and Spencer for about 10 years.  I was their Den Leader (or Cubmaster)  in Cub Scouts (Pack 295 in Oakland) for each of the 5 boys, and also a soccer coach for 4 of the boys over multiple seasons.  I have a lot of shared memories of these boys growing up: Pinewood Derbies; campouts; Blue & Gold Dinners; Crocker Carnivals; soccer practices, games and playoffs.  Zack completed Cub Scouts in Spring of 2005 – he joined Boy Scouts Troop 202 in the Fall of 2005 but did not stick with it partly because we have moved from Oakland to Orinda.

Den 2 Cub Scouts 4 (021103)

This is a photo from early 2003 – the boys are showing off their Pinewood Derby cars.  In the front row, starting from the left is Aaron, Zack and Diego – Ben is on the far right.  Spencer is fifth from left in the second row.  My guess is Zane did not join Pack 295 until the next year.



I am impressed by Ben, Aaron, Diego, Zane and Spencer, and their families, for completing the Boy Scouts program and earning the Eagle Scout rank.  It takes effort, perserverance, and support – all skills that will help them be successful in adulthood.  And I am pleased with my contributions – I was part of the “village” that helped raise them.


2012 Evans Family Holiday Letter

Happy Holidays to you.  It is 3 am on 21 December 2012 as I begin writing this – winter solstice and the end of the Mayan calendar?  I’m up early because I am still adjusting my internal clock, having returned home from Kazakhstan late on 19 December.  The house is completely quiet (even the cats are sleeping) so it is a good time to reflect and write a few thoughts and messages to our friends and family.

The christmas tree has lights on it – Grant and I put them on yesterday evening.  This morning I cleaned up the living room and put the tree skirt on.  So my part of getting the tree ready is done – Karen leads the “putting on the ornaments” effort.  It’s funny how some of the holiday traditions are actually the split of responsibilities – who cooks (Karen), who cleans (Marc), who buys AND wraps presents (Karen), who shops for food (Karen), who shops for beverages (Marc) – you get the picture – it’s mostly done by Karen.  But I do handle the christmas cards, and this christmas letter – need to hurry up and finish as Karen continually checks on me until it is done.  The cards are ready to be sent (Karen put the addresses on) – they go in the mail today!

I’m maybe a bit more reflective this season as I was in Kazakhstan last Christmas, and have just arrived home.  I’m certainly not jaded by all the seasonal activities – can’t wait to hear some more christmas music.  One fun thing I did when I got home was to go through the stack of Christmas cards that we have received over the last couple weeks – getting / sending holiday cards is a tradition I think is awesome.  With our digital age not sure it will last but I truly enjoy the various cards, and pictures and notes.  Some highlights included getting a picture of a friend who was in my wedding 20+ years ago – Karen says he looks the same (heck of a compliment).  Another from a friend who pointed out that his toddler son was the one in the picture between the two dogs (I had made a mistake when sending him a congratulatory note last year by referring to the new son with one of the dog’s names).  Cards from Karen’s relatives and our friends from all over the country.  Pictures of children we have know from pregnancy.  Anyway, it’s just a great tradition that makes me feel connected with people and realize that we live a fortunate life.

Well, enough with the intro – here is our family news from 2012.

Zack is in college at University of Arizona – he was definitely challenged / struggled his first semester of his freshman year.  We are hopeful he will figure out what it takes to succeed and “bear down” in his second semester.  He worked at UC Berkeley Strawberry Canyon  camp for the fourth summer in a row and took a road trip to Southern California with friends in June after graduating from High School.  He is home for the Holidays – looking forward to spending some time with him.  We see glimmers of responsibility beginning to emerge.

Grant picked up his driver’s license just before school started in August so we again have two driver’s in the family to help while I am out of country.  He spends his time hanging with his friends, studying and lacrosse.  He has challenging classes in his junior year at Miramonte HS and is beginning to look into universities he would like to attend.  He is considering signing up as a camp counselor for next summer – that would be good.

Andrew is doing well in the 8th grade at Orinda Intermediate – he is much more on top of his homework / studying then in years past.  It helps that Claudia has the same classes (though they only share one) so he has a built-in check on what is coming up.  He continues to spend all allowed time on various video games – his dream job is a Video Game Tester (probably a long line for this position).  He wants to go to the Video Gaming camp again next summer – what a surprise.

Claudia continues to push herself, excelling in school and taking dance classes 4 nights per week.  Last count was 15 classes – hip/hop, jazz, contemporary and ballet.  She is in a couple “company” classes where they practice for performances.  She competed in Lake Tahoe this last summer, and has several competitions planned for 2013.

Karen continues at Kaiser – same group practice in Walnut Creek.  This last year she was involved in a pilot program where she provides phone advice 4 – 8 hours per week.  It gives her a bit more flexibility as she does some of it from home and gives her a small break from the relentless patient load in the clinic.  In 2012 another physical ailment has emerged – neck and shoulder pain. She was recently diagnosed with a disk problem in her neck, and just scheduled surgery for mid-February that has hopefully a six week recovery time.  She readily handles all the tasks associated with single parenting for half the year.  Can’t say it is any easier with only three at home (there is less laundry) as she  coordinates / worries about Zack away at school.

For me I just finished up my 10th rotation in Kazakstan (and proudly have collected 20 KLM houses you receive on overseas business class flights) – that’s 1-1/2 years.  I co-lead a relatively young group of engineers – enjoy the leadership responsibility and challenge along with the appreciation of working with a group of great people.  This assignment is a very good fit for me professionally and personally.  Getting used to rotation work went a lot quicker / smoother than learning how to handle the rotation home.  Entry and exit each rotation from the family has gotten easier over time but it is not natural for me.  I do appreciate the time I get to spend with our kids, picking them up, dropping them off, seeing them at every activity or just hanging out on the couch together.  I have had many laughs driving Claudia around; one of my favorite quotes was from Grant who asked if I would take him somewhere so we could spend some “quality time” together.  My plan is to work in Kazakhstan through 2013 as a minimum – not sure what I will do in 2014 except that it will continue to be with Chevron.  Retirement is on the horizon but not thinking about it too much – lots of college tuition coming our way.

Extended Family News

We had one addition in 2012 – the arrival of Beatrice Gehlen Houssian in July.  My niece Lauren and husband Jamie had their second child to go along with older sister Rose.  We saw them at Thanksgiving but they will be spending the Holidays in Vancouver with his family this year.  Our younger niece Alison is doing well working for the Gap in San Francisco – we enjoy seeing her throughout the year.  Our nephew Kevin and wife Tina have two growing boys, Christopher and Carson, both soccer players (and both coached by Kevin).  They also live in the Bay Area and we are fortunate to see them growing up.

This year we are having both sides of our family to our home for Christmas dinner.  Karen’s father Dick and wife Cynthia, brother Bruce with wife Courtney and son Cooper will all be spending several days here in the Bay Area.  My mother Gloria will be over plus my sisters Robin, Joanne and husband Steve.  We are looking forward to creating another round of family memories.

We hope this missive reaches you in fine spirits and good health.  We wish you and yours happiness and prosperity in 2013.

Karen, Marc, Zack, Grant, Andrew, and Claudia Evans

Message From Andrew (Again)

Hi!! It’s Andrew again! Life has been boring without my Dad! I really miss him! I need to spend more time with him and show him my love more. I’ve been too involved in my video games to spend enough time with him and show him the appreciation he deserves for being a great father! I really love you Dad, even if sometimes I don’t show it and I stay involved in my video games instead of with you. I feel bad and I tear up thinking about how one day you will be gone and I will regret not spending time with you. Dad, I really love you and I hope you never leave me! 😉