Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Dec '11

Western North Carolina Report – Our Yearly Christmas Letter


Signed, Sealed, Delivered

March 8, 2011 was a very good day. That afternoon, with the aroma of fresh landscape bark and drying paint wafting through the air, the moving vans arrived at our newly completed home and after a long, arduous, twenty-six months, our relocation from Seattle was complete. Okay, okay, it wasn’t quite complete (more on that, below) but it was close enough to declare victory. We were officially moved in!

The whole construction process went very well. There were a few gotcha’s and a few coulda-shoulda-woulda’s and we ended up taking eleven months instead of the planned ten, but all-in-all everything turned out great. Valerie still calls it “Ron’s house” but she kinda likes her mega-sized pantry, great kitchen, and outdoor pizza oven. We both especially love the screened porch and spent nearly every summer evening out there reading, watching TV, and listening to the cicadas.

Camp Bell – We Hardly Knew Ya

Although March 8 was a milestone for moving into our new home, we did have the little matter of selling good ol’ Camp Bell, our temporary fixer-upper house on the other side of town. Although Camp Bell had good bones, it was vintage 1975 and was fairly rough around the edges. We spent a year-plus in remodel hell (there, I said it) painting, grouting, spackling, flooring, fixing, wiring, plumbing, landscaping, etc. Our goal was to make Camp Bell spotless and move-in-ready so it would stand out from the many other comparable houses for sale in the area.

Over the year we watched the real estate sales numbers decline and cringed at our prospects. The move didn’t kill us, the construction didn’t kill us, the remodel of Camp Bell didn’t kill us, but sitting on an unsold Camp Bell in a tanking market for who-knows-how-long might do us in.

Well…Camp Bell went on the market on Monday, April 11. There was a showing on Saturday, April 16. We had an offer on Sunday, April 17. And, we closed the deal on Tuesday, May 17, five weeks after Camp Bell went up for sale. With the right house in perfect condition in the right neighborhood at the right price being marketed by a super real estate agent it is possible to sell a house in today’s tough market!

Unfinished Business

We’re not sure what took longer, packing 369 boxes or unpacking them. Needless to say, you know what we’ve been doing since we moved in. The phrase “Hey, do you remember this thing!?” has been said too many times to count. As of last week there was still one unopened box under the living room bench seat. It has a label on it so we could look up what’s inside, but, as they say, if we haven’t needed it by now…

One thing that contributed to our long unpacking process was that we chose not to finish the workshop when we finished the house. Ron had planned to work on it, himself, but March became July became September and he finally (with Valerie’s prodding) decided to just let Steve, our builder, finish it. Wow! That was a great decision. Steve does awesome finish work and the shop came out way better than we expected! We’ve spent the last few weeks unpacking those boxes, putting away long lost tools, and getting ready to be crafty, again.

Our Local Fauna – Bear and Delinquents

Although our house is just one mile from downtown Asheville we live in the woods. Lots are large and homes are sparse and the further you go up Town Mountain towards the Blue Ridge Parkway the fewer people and the more wildlife you see. Turkey, fox, coyote, bobcat, and black bear are common sights. In the late summer and fall as the bear search for food they become a bit too common. We had bear within peach-throwing distance of our house or along Serena’s walk nearly every day. Ron had to shoo one away that was sitting in our front yard eating berries off a bush, and Serena, on two occasions, chased one down the street. They are skittish and will respond to yelling and hand waving but it is a bit unnerving to walk out the door or round a bend in the road and happen upon a 250lb bear sitting there staring at you.

While the bear come from the woods, our other local fauna, delinquents, comes from downtown. We live in the only house on a dead-end street about 500’ from the end. The dead-end was created in 1977 when Interstate 240 was cut through the mountain and split Vance Gap Road. Our neighbors tell us that since then our street has been a magnet for mischief-makers. Luckily, we only had one incident during construction when someone stole the American flag from our front porch.

Wait, what? Someone stole your flag? Yep. It was a she, last January, in the dark of night. She ripped it from the flagpole and ran back to her car. We caught the whole thing with our security cameras. Ron reported it to channel 13 and sent them the video. Next thing we know the news crew is out front and Ron is being interviewed on TV to tell the sordid tale. They ran the story, “Our Top Story, Tonight”, for several days. The thief was never caught, but hopefully, with her picture splattered all over the TV, she and her family were thoroughly embarrassed.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Our neighborhood is not all bear and delinquents. The people who live here are fantastic and are a good match for us. Everyone’s laid back, friendly and inviting. Being on a quiet street, we have dog walkers going by the house throughout the day – Serena likes that. Wayne and Sally hold fantastic, over-the-top, dinner parties. We held a tamalada (a tamale making party) and have had neighbors over for ribs and pizza. Ron’s found a couple BBQ buddies and Valerie will be looking at starting a Town Mountain Book Club.

A Walk in the Woods

With our relocation fun behind us and our hiking boots unpacked we were able to get out and explore the area this summer. Every Friday the Blue Ridge Parkway rangers hold guided hikes on trails along the parkway and we made it out for at least a half dozen. The rangers talk about the history of the area, the geology of the region, and the plants and animals we might see. This was a great way for us to learn about the mountains of North Carolina and to get some exercise as well. We also went hiking several times on our own. One of our favorite hikes was on the Laurel River Trail, and old abandoned railroad bed, near the North Carolina/Tennessee line. On that hike we got to check something unique off our bucket list: “Saw a live rattlesnake in the wild!”

Other fun things we did…Asheville Tourist Baseball, Brewgrass Beer Festival, Texas Instruments/Siemens reunion, Ribfest, Asheville Food and Wine Festival, Western North Carolina Chef’s Challenge, Biltmore House, Grove Park Inn Gingerbread Festival, Belle Chere Summer Festival, Southern Highlands Craft Guild Show, Big Crafty, numerous plays and shows at the Diane Wortham Theatre, and last but not least…Discount Shoes! Hey, even Ron has been seen shopping there!

Miles and Smiles

It had been a long long time since we had been on a vacation so we made it a point to get away this year. Our first trip was to visit Cara and Mike in Phoenix. We had a great time doing the educational-tourist thing visiting Meteor Crater and the Titan Missile Museum (two must see sights). We got our vortex spiritual fulfillment walking around Sedona and, Cara and Mike, being fellow foodies, took us to several great restaurants for hot and spicy Southwest food.

In November we returned to St. John, USVI, for ten days. It was our fourth visit! We love the place for the views, beaches, snorkeling, food, and relaxation. It’s so much easier to get to now that we’re on the east coast. We rented One Particular Harbour, a house that we stayed at in 2004, high on the hill overlooking Coral Bay. On this visit we found a couple new bays to snorkel (glad we had a Jeep) and we sampled true local food at two hole-in-the-wall restaurants – Clean Plates (love that name) and Vie’s Snack Shack. We had a surprise, but very welcome, guest this time. Valerie’s sister, Pat, called the day we arrived and said she was coming, too. To quote Southwest Airlines: “Gotta Get Away!”

In June we attended a mini-reunion of a bunch of the people we worked with at TI and Siemens. My how we’ve grown up. We were just kids back then. It was great fun reminiscing old times and hearing what everyone has been doing for the last twenty years. The common theme seems to be that they’re all very ready to become empty-nesters.

Living closer to family we had lots of visitors this year: Mom and Dad Patton (twice); Linda, Steve and Sarah; Pat and Jack; Cindy and Jeremy; Aunt Edith and Cousin Denny. We also made some family visits: Ron to San Antonio and Pittsburgh and Valerie to Indiana.

Next Year

What’s in store for next year? Hmmm…Making a trip to Seattle. Crafting in our new shop. Celebrating Ron’s big Five-Oh birthday. Volunteering. Taking classes at Blue Ridge Food Ventures. Chasing Bear. Europe? Ron might even look at finding a paying gig…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Ron and Valerie

Aug '09


Here are a few other titles for this post: 

“Say What?”
“Just when you thought it was safe”
“Houston, we have a problem”
“Whoda Thunk?”
“Not so fast”
“Wow, I didn’t see that coming”
“You can’t always get what to wa-ant” (apologies to the Rolling Stones)
“What a mess”
“What now?”
“You’re serious?”
“The best laid plans of mice and men so often go astray”
“We were going to stop in Spokane, anyway”
“It’s only heart surgery”

Are you sitting down? The short story is that our cross-country driving trip is off and instead I’m going to have heart surgery ASAP in Spokane. No joke.

First a bit of background. When I was 24 and living in Johnson City, TN, I went for my first real physical outside of little Edinburg, PA. The doctor comes in, does his pleasantries, puts his stethoscope on my chest, listens, listens again, moves it around, says “hmmm,” listens some more, stands back and says, “do you know you have a heart murmur?” Never had a clue. He then asks if I would mind if his interns could listen because “it’s pretty pronounced.” A few minutes later in walk several interns, same age as me, who proceed to listen to my chest as the doctor explains what they should listen for. Fast forward to nearly every visit with a new doctor I’ve had since. Same scenario, though not always with interns. I’m told it’s nothing to worry about, that it sounds like a leaky Mitral Valve, that 5% of the people have it, and since I’m not having any symptoms (shortness of breath, dizziness, etc) that I’m fine.

Now, on a parallel track I’ve also had marginally high blood pressure — 140/90ish. I’ve never done anything for it. Doctors have always said to watch it and if it ever got higher we’d address it. Three years ago it started to creep up to 150/95ish and I had a couple instances of heart palpitation. Two years ago I went for a physical. After the nurse took my BP and the doctor (and a couple interns) listened to my heart he told me that I needed to see a cardiologist, that my high BP, my murmur, and my palpitations were likely related. Valerie had been trying to get me to go for a while so this was the push I needed.

I month later I go see a cardiologist, Rubin Maidan. After a short listen to my heart he schedules me for a stress test, electrocardiogram (EKC), and an echocardiogram. A week later I’m on the table, and on the treadmill, and on the table again while the doctor and his technician watch the EKG and the images of my heart on the screen in normal and stressed conditions. The diagnosis: MVP (Mitral Valve Prolapse with regurgitation), a very leaky mitral valve with maybe 30% regurgitation and an enlarged heart. Translation: the heart valve between the left atrium and left ventricle goes past its normal closed position and 30% of the blood flows back through. My heart has to work harder to compensate so it’s enlarging and my blood pressure is increasing. My enlarged heart is also stretching out the electrical pathways and that could be causing my occasional atrial fibrillation (A-fib). Several times during the test they ask me if I have any shortness of breath or light headedness. Nope. I do my 12 minutes on the treadmill no problem. Pretty good for a guy whose heart is only operating at 70%. I’m now on a yearly test schedule to see if my heart gets worse over time.

Last summer I have the test again. Over the previous 12 months I logged 5 instances of A-fib. The doctor thinks that’s acceptable — but if they go longer than 24 hours, I need to go to the ER. My heart looks unchanged. Blood pressure is down a bit. That’s good and is probably due to me walking every day and taking Lycopene. I will probably, eventually, maybe need to get the valve fixed in my lifetime, but for now it’s unchanged. Come back next year.

Over the last year I’ve only had 3 episodes of A-fib, though one was nearly 24 hours (see 20th Anniversary). My blood pressure is great at 120/70ish. I feel fine. I briskly walk with Serena at least 45 minutes a day. Last week we hiked around Cougar Mountain. Did I mention that I feel fine? Today’s test should be routine. Valerie didn’t come because I was so sure I was fine. We leave on Sunday for our 6+ week roadtrip to Asheville. Ha Ha Ha. Curveball.

The technician, the same one I’ve had the last two times, isn’t her usual chatty self. While she’s doing the ultrasound she asks me repeatedly if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. Nope. I ask her what she sees (as we know, she’s not allowed to say). She says that she needs to go outside to log her measurements, get the doctor, and that she’ll be right back. They come in and Dr. Maidan asks me if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. No, again. He and the tech peer over the screen and start talking medicaleeze. I hear “maxed out”, “new jet”, “increase over last year by a centimeter.” Hmmm. I get on the treadmill and begin to walk. Every minute or so it increases in speed and elevation so that by 10 minutes I’m jogging up hill at a pretty good clip. The goal is 12 minutes — which I easily did the last two years. As the minutes tick by I’m doing fine. The doctor comes in and out. I can carry on a (slightly winded) conversation. The nurse takes my BP three times. It’s fine. My heart rate hits 186 at 12 minutes and the technician reminds me that I did 12 minutes last year and wants to know if I want to try for more. At this point I think I have an idea where things are going, I need to man up and prove that I’m healthy, so I say “sure, lets go” and I run full out, up hill, for another minute and a half. Then I quickly jump off the treadmill onto the exam table where she does an ultrasound of my stressed heart.

Dr. Maiden comes back in to look at the screen where the tech has placed non-stressed and stressed images of my heart. There are two view angles for each and they are running in an endless loop of a few beats. He toggles between that view and one with color doppler (think weather radar) that shows blood flow direction, red one way and blue the other. After a minute or so he swivels the stool around, clasps his hands, looks me in the eye and says, “I’m sorry, but it’s time. You need to have your valve fixed. Your heart has enlarge 1cm over the last year. It’s now the same size at rest as it is when stressed. A second  area of regurgitation has formed because the original one has maxed out. I recommend doing this sooner than later. One year would be too long, six months too long, three months max, one month better.” Yikes! 

We discuss the fact that I feel fine. That I can do 13+ minutes on the treadmill. He tells me that most patients with my level of valve failure can’t climb a flight of stairs. My heart is compensating but it’s reached the point where it can’t compensate any more. And, my lower blood pressure may be the result of my heart not being able to keep up. It’s possible, after I get the valve fixed, that I’ll have high blood pressure again.

We talk about the valve repair surgery. He recommends getting it done in Spokane. A Dr. Leland Siwek there does it robotically through 4 dime-sized incisions. He’s done several hundred repairs this way. In hicksville Seattle they still do it the old fashioned way by sawing and cracking your chest open. Apparently, Dr. Siwek is pretty well know for this surgery. Dr. Maiden will send my info to Dr. Siwek. I need to schedule an angiogram to get a detailed map of my heart. And, I may need additional tests, but we need to hear from Dr. Siwek to see if he wants them.

So, I don’t know when this will all happen. But, it will happen soon, probably in September. We, obviously aren’t leaving on our road trip to Asheville on Sunday. We don’t know what this means for selling our house. It does mean that no matter what we won’t start construction this fall — but that wasn’t happening until we sell the house, anyway. It’s all quite the Curveball.

More coming as I learn it.

P.S. Here’s a video that talks all about the valve problem and the robotic surgery.

P.S.S. Another video from Cleveland Clinic about mitral valve repair using robotics.

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Jan '09

Designing our home

Bier Garden Napkin Sketch

First Draft - on a Napkin

Once we did due diligence (survey, geotech, utility availability, clear title, etc) on our lot and completed the purchase, our next step was to select an architect. We won’t get into all the nitty gritty details of the interview process but in short we: looked at the websites of all the Asheville architects to determine their styles, based on that had several of them answer a bunch of questions via email, talked to a couple on the phone, met with a couple in person, checked reference, and finally…drumroll…selected Steve Farrell of Stephens Smith Farrell Architecture as our architect. The thing that differentiated Steve from the others was that he really genuinely cared, he was interested, he really wanted to design our house.  The others would surely have been capable but just didn’t seem to have the desire. (Maybe that would be different now that the economy has tanked and housing starts are at historic lows…?)

In mid-October we met with Steve to sign our contract. We spent about 5 hours with him one afternoon discussing our likes and dislikes, needs and wants, and how he would approach our design. Some of that was over lunch and some was at our lot with a builder and a civil engineer to give us a sanity check on whether we could build what we were thinking.

After the meeting, Valerie and I went to the Bier Garden in downtown Asheville to have a couple beers and decompress. The above drawing is Valerie’s first draft of our home drawn on a Bier Garden napkin. We actually scanned and emailed this to Steve. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Since then we’ve exchanged tons of email and had a couple conference calls. Valerie has checked out probably 100+ design books and magazines from the library and we’ve tabbed and scanned numerous pages showing examples of what we want. Steve has sent us two drafts for comments and he’s in the process of putting together a package to submit to builders for a sanity check on cost. That should happen by January 15. Our home is really taking shape and it’s fun being able to make it our own, having it be just what we want. The picture in the upper left of this page is one view of draft 2.

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Jan '09

380 Vance Gap Road

About a year ago we started seriously researching Asheville as our new home. When it became apparent that it could be “the one” we scheduled a trip for mid-May to check it out in person. Our friends Luis and Jolie came along with us as they’re looking to relocate, too. We arranged with a real-estate agent, Shelle Ball, to show us some properties. Originally we thought we would want to be 15-20 minutes from city center, but after two days of looking at umpteen properties we found that was just too far out. The prices were right, but (no offense to those who live there) there’s not much civilization 20 minutes from Asheville. Discouraged and running out of time, the day before we were scheduled to leave, Shelle sent us a tip about a small subdivision only minutes from town. A 2-acre wooded lot had come on the market just a few days before.

One look and we were sold. It was steep but had a “shelf” where the house would go that would make it an easier build. It was heavily wooded but had great views to the east. The subdivision was small – only 10 lots and only 5 on our street. And, it was minutes to town. We could live in the woods, in the city. Very cool. Best of all, the price was right. The sellers lived in Florida and had purchased the lot from the developer. With the Florida housing marking collapsing they wouldn’t be relocating to Asheville and needed to sell. We made, what we thought was a low offer, and they accepted. 380 Vance Gap Road was ours.

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Dec '08

Welcome to our Blog!

Welcome to our blog…After several years of looking for just the right place, we’ve decided to move from Woodinville, WA, to Asheville, NC. Over the next 18 months (or so) we’ll chronicle our adventures in designing our new home, selling our current home, moving to Asheville to a temporary home, and building our new home. It should be a pretty interesting time so we thought it would be fun to record it all (the good, the bad, and the ugly) for posterity – and for your entertainment!

So, why are we moving? Well, there are three main reasons:

1. We’ve been living in the Seattle area since 1992. Over the last 16 years everything has gotten bigger and more congested. While we love the area (every time we see Mt. Rainier we still say, “Wow!”) it’s often become too much of a pain to go out and see it. Need to run an errand in Redmond three miles away at 9:00am? Better plan for a 30 minute, 10mph crawl. Have a Special Valentine’s Day dinner in Seattle at 7:00pm? Leave at 5:30 and never make it. It’s time for a slower pace.

2. Our parents are now in their mid-70′s and for us to get home in an emergency would be at least 24 hours and a long, expensive, plane ride. It would be nice to be able to jump in a car and drive there in less than a day. And, if we lived that close, then we (and they and much of our families) could visit more often.

3. Ron really wants to build a house (the scars from building our house in Johnson City in 1989 have long since healed). We seriously looked at building here, we even made an offer on some gorgeous Mt Rainier view property, but it’s just too expensive. Building a house in Seattle costs at least 50% more than in other areas of the country. If we’re going to design and build our dream house, we need to move.

Why Asheville? I guess the bottom line is that it’s a city that has a soul. We’ve visited lots of places and found that some areas have one and some don’t. It’s hard to describe exactly what we mean by that but we know it when we experience it – it’s a feeling, a culture, a lifestyle, an attitude, a pace, and a way-of-life. Asheville has a soul. We aren’t the first to discover this about Asheville as it’s appeared on countless “top-ten places to live” lists but we can definately confirm it.

Besides Asheville having a soul, we have lots of other reasons why we love it: it’s 8-9 hours from Indiana and Pennsylvania, it has a moderate climate and four seasons, the mountains are beautiful and there are unlimited outdoor activities, everything seems to be less than 15 minutes away, there are lots of great local independent restaurants, the cost-of-living is much less than in Seattle, and it’s an enclave for artists with art, art shops, and studios everywhere.  There are multiple farmer’s markets and several organic grocery stores, there’s a minor league baseball team, it has a great heart hospital, 12-Bones BBQ, it’s a day’s drive to the Outerbanks, and from Charlotte (2 hour drive) you can get a direct flight to the Virgin Islands. If they get a Costco, a Trader Joe’s, and Southwest Airlines we’ll be all set!

So that’s the story behind our move. It will be an interesting 18 months as we pack up our lives and move across the country but we’re ready (we think) for the adventure…Asheville, here we come!

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