Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Sat
31
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

Fri
14
Oct '11

Launching Romeo

Serena has a boyfriend, a six-pound rescue terrier mix named Romeo. He lives in Atlanta and belongs to the daughter of our neighbor, Donna, and he gets to visit Serena most weekends. With Serena being a muscular 60 pounds they are quite the mismatched couple, but man do they love to play together; running, rolling, fetching, chasing, tugging, go-go-go for 30 minutes to an hour. Last night they were tearing-it-up (that’s Southern talk for having a great time) on our front hillside with Valerie and Donna looking on. Serena rolled over on her back and little Romeo jumped on top of her. Serena extended her legs to push him off and, well, you gotta see what happens.

 

A longer video of just a part of their play time is at: http://youtu.be/BbSxlPu_1RE. The launch occurs at the 1:17 mark.

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Thu
13
Oct '11

Naturally Green

People often ask us why we left Seattle. Valerie always points to me and says, “because of Ron!”  Yes, I was the one who ultimately made the decision, but it wasn’t on a whim, there were lots of reasons behind it. Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times had a story about a local business, actually several local businesses, that reveals a big difference between Seattle and Asheville and exemplifies one of the reasons why I just had to move away.

Several years ago the City of Seattle, being a bastion of progressive environmentalist thinkers, determined that foam takeout containers, plastic forks and spoons, and plastic grocery bags were BAD. They don’t break down in landfills, the bags blow away in the wind becoming unsightly litter, and if they get into a body of water, can be eaten by fish and wildlife which will choke and die. If all that isn’t bad enough, being plastic, they’re manufactured from crude oil. Bad Bad Bad. So what does the City of Seattle do? Why institute a ban of course, complete with inspectors, enforcement, and hefty fines. To their credit, the City did have a public comment period (not that it mattered since they were going forward no matter what) and delayed implementing the ordinance for several months to give the restaurants and grocery stores time to prepare. Unfortunately, at the time, there weren’t many viable alternatives (I heard that the biodegradable spoons tended to melt in hot liquids) and the alternatives that did exist were very expensive. Too bad! They knew what was good for us. To paraphrase an old Seinfeld line “No Styrofoam take-out containers for you!” Restaurants, by order of the City, had to make it happen. Practicality and cost be damned. Or else!

Now, Asheville, at its core, has the same mindset as Seattle—lots of treehuggers (and I say that in a nice way). The City has talked about the issue of foam and bags at a few council meetings but rather than using a hammer to pass an ordinance banning these products, hiring inspectors, and levying fines they…drum roll…decided to do nothing! Really. And, guest what? Without government waving its fist at them, the private sector is figuring it out on its own. Nineteen local restaurants have taken it upon themselves to become Certified Green Restaurants. They will train their staff, implement processes, and purchase products to meet specific criteria for pursuing the certification; water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, responsible energy consumption, environmentally sound disposable products, and chemical and pollution reduction. To quote the owner of Tupelo Honey, “Green travelers and other people who want to support the people who are supporting the green movement will want to come to Asheville.”  My guess is that because of peer pressure many more restaurants will follow their lead and in a couple years (probably as long as it took Seattle to roll out their mandated program) most of the restaurants will go green, and they’ll probably end up being more green than if they were forced to just replace their foam, plastic, and bags.

It’s a different approach here. People do good because it’s the right thing to do, not because government is forcing them. I like it.

Read more about the Seattle approach here…

Read more about the Asheville approach here…

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Tue
4
Oct '11

Pink Tacos

Food Trucks are coming to Asheville! The City Council recently approved up to 10 permits for trucks in the downtown core. Until then, the trucks are parked in various spots just outside downtown. On Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday each week the Pink Taco Truck is located at the bottom of Town Mountain on Charlotte Street just 5 minutes from our house. Although the intentional obvious double-entendre meaning of Pink Taco yields unlimited potential for gutter humor, alas this is a family blog and mothers and mothers-in-law do read it. So, unfortunately, I can’t elaborate on how good it was to have a warm, moist, tasty, pink taco in public, on the street curb, in front of a dilapidated old gas station. I’ll have to leave that to your imagination…

 

Fri
30
Sep '11

Sam Knob

Today’s Friday hike was to the top of Sam Knob, elevation 6050′. It was 46° when we arrived at the trailhead at 9:30am. Good thing I brought my jacket (oops, I forgot). Luckily Valerie brought hers and we had an extra windbreaker and gloves in our emergency kit in the back of the Jeep (that Red Cross training comes in handy). This was a moderate 2.2mi round-trip hike with 570′ of elevation gain. The trail was a little steep and rocky but otherwise not too difficult. Despite the early morning low tempurature it was a glorious day for a hike.  The asters and goldenrods are in full bloom and some of the tree leaves have started to change. Fall is in the air.

To give you a perspective of the hike, the picture on the left has Sam Knob in the background. Note the spot where Valerie is standing on the trail. The picture on the right is from the top of Sam Knob looking back to that spot in the distance, just beyond the green meadow.

 

  

 

 

 

 

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Wed
28
Sep '11

Asheville Trash Pick Up – Old School

How long has it been since you’ve seen trash picked up this way? By hand, dumped into the back of a pickup truck? Don’t worry, this isn’t normal, even for us WNC Hillbillies. We usually have a regular garbage truck (only smaller because we live on a narrow street) that lifts and dumps the can with a hydraulic arm. However, the last few weeks I’ve noticed large oil spots in the street where the truck has stopped to load our garbage. Something mechanical was leaking pretty bad. Unfortunately, for this guy, that truck must now be out of service and he gets to load garbage the old fashioned way. Something tells me these guys aren’t union…

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Mon
26
Sep '11

Tamalada Y’all

Yesterday we hosted a neighborhood tamale making party – otherwise known as a Tamalada. Traditionally, Tamaladas are held during the Christmas season when large Mexican families get together with everyone chipping in to make dozens and dozens of tamales. Although it’s not the holidays, yet, we decided with winter coming that this would be a great way for all of us to stock up our freezers with something easy to heat-and-serve when we’re snowed in up here on Town Mountain.

We discovered that not everyone knows what a tamale is even though most everyone has heard or used the term “hot tamale” before. If you don’t know, here’s the wikipedia definition: “a tamale is a traditional Latin American dish made of masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf corn wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can themselves be filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.”

Valerie spent the last couple days preparing all the ingredients, making the masa and several fillings and sauces. Everyone who came brought something, too. Marco Garcia, Shelle’s friend and neighbor, and owner of the recently closed upscale Mexican restaurant, Curras, showed us Gringos exactly how to assemble the tamales. By the end of the night, after much beer, margaritas, and tequila shots were consumed, we had the process down. We all ate very well and everyone took home bags of leftover tamales to freeze. Next up, Pizza night!

 

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Sat
24
Sep '11

Twenty Year Bloom Cycle

We like our plants. We have plants that we’ve moved across the country—TWICE—but don’t tell the moving companies or the agriculture departments. One of them is a hoya plant. If you’re unfamiliar with a hoya, the blooms are very unique; they’re clumps of waxy, oily blooms that give off a very sweet fragrance. In our Johnson City, TN, house we kept our hoya in the sunroom and it loved it there, blooming several times. 

But, after we moved to Seattle in 1992 our hoya went dormant. It has never bloomed since. We tried different rooms, different windows, by a furnace register, away from a register, nothing worked. It was unhappy. When we moved it to Asheville in January 2010 it took a beating and Valerie spent a year nursing it back to health. Last March we moved it, again, to our new house and put it near a big east-facing window in the dining room—a spot very similar to where it was in our Johnson City house when it last bloomed twenty years ago. Guess what?

September 24                                                       October 7

 

 

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Thu
22
Sep '11

Dog Bites Bear v2.0

Serena did it again. She gets a piece of a bear’s backside at the very end of the chase. She doesn’t continue chasing him so I think she just doesn’t want bear in her yard — which runs from light-pole to light-pole. Check out her “happy dance” on the walk back.

 

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Thu
15
Sep '11

Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss

We decided to hike today because Friday is supposed to be rainy. That means we were on our own with no ranger to guide us….ooohhh. I decided to head north to the Laurel River trail near Hot Springs, NC, about 45 minutes from Asheville. It’s a relatively flat seven mile out-and-back hike along the Laurel River. Two great things about hiking along a river — since Serena LOVES to swim she has a blast and we don’t have to carry water for her!

Lots of late summer/fall flowers were in bloom. Check out the gorgeous pictures, below. The river was low but there were still several white-water areas. Supposedly in the spring this can be a class IV river and there are several outfitters that will take you rafting and kayaking. Hmmm.

The highlight of the day was that we saw our first, in-the-wild, rattlesnake. On our way in we passed a couple hikers who told us where it was sitting. Good thing, because I’m not sure I would have seen it and we had Serena off leash! About three miles in the trail goes through the old logging ghost town of Runion. As the trail passes through the ruins there’s a large tree that has been cut through to make way for the trail. Just after that tree the trail narrows to an overgrown footpath. On the left, at shoulder height about 3′ into the brush, was a timber rattler. There were berries on the bushes and we assume it was waiting for a bird to fly in for lunch — lunch for the bird and then for the snake!

He didn’t seem to care about us and never shook his rattle, even when Valerie leaned in to get pictures. He did occasionally stick out his tongue to smell us.  We continued on to the end of the trail but didn’t see any more snakes. The rattler was still there when we passed by an hour later on our way back. I took a couple pictures and, again, only got a little tongue and no tail…

We were a little worried for Serena and I had visions of me carrying a snake-bit 60lb dog on my shoulders for three miles but she’s pretty good about staying with us and coming back when called. She knows the command “LEAVE IT!” but there’s always that risk when hiking in the woods. Come to think of it, in this case, with the snake being at shoulder height in a bush we were the ones who needed to be careful! Yikes.

  

 

 

 

 

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Fri
9
Sep '11

Buck Springs Gap – Tunnel Overlook

Today was yet another perfect day for a hike. This Friday’s guided ranger hike started at the Buck Springs Gap Overlook parking lot and made several loops with a stop over one of the tunnels on the Parkway. There’s starting to be a hint of fall in the air. The mornings are brisk and the sumac and sour-wood leaves are starting to get a little bit of red coloring.

 

  

 

  

 

 

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Wed
7
Sep '11

Shop Construction Update

Below are a few pictures showing the progress on our shop. The first was taken outside the shop on the lower deck. Steve set up his temporary shop here. We’ve been having occasional showers (and the occasional hurricane remnants AKA Lee) so Steve covers everything up at night with plastic and tarps. Notice the Parker Treadwell Grubstake Supplies sign. That’s the Northern Exposure TV show sign that used to hang in our basement next to the pool table. It’s a whopping 14′ long and in our new house there’s only one possible place for it to go — the only open wall that’s over 14′ — and that’s the concrete foundation wall under the breezeway. We think it works there. We like it. 

The second picture is of our kiln area. That big kiln in the corner is shiny for a reason…it’s brand new. Well, it’s new, even though it will be two years old in December. We bought it at Seattle Pottery’s year-end sale in 2009, had them crate it and load it on our pickup, parked the pickup in the Woodinville house’s garage while we packed, moved the kiln cross-country, stored it in Camp Bell’s garage for over a year, and moved it again to our new home’s future shop. This morning, after its long (dare I say, “arduous”) trip, I uncrated it and Steve and I placed it in its forever home. I can’t wait to fire it…I’ve got a lot of liquor bottles saved up ready to be slumped. Hey, don’t judge. It’s been a looooong couple of years and I needed medicating to get through it!

The final two pictures are of the his and hers workbench wall that divides the shop. Steve’s going to build a 10′ long wrap-around workbench around the 7′ long wall. The last 3′ will be open with no divider wall so Valerie can set up her glass bead torch and not burn down the garage. Hot!

 

 

Sun
4
Sep '11

Sunday Morning Breakfast…with da Bear

This morning I was sitting at my desk (as usual) when a big black bear ambled past the house (as usual). But, this time, he decided to park in our front yard and have a Sunday morning breakfast of our Schip (Skip) Laurel berries. I shot this video out the pantry window. Eventually he started destroying the bushes so I went out the front door, armed with a large Carolina peach, and shooed him away. He left as soon as I yelled and headed down the hill behind our garage. Valerie and Serena watched from the safety of the stairwell window.
 

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Sat
3
Sep '11

Drug Drop – Not

If you’ve been following our blog you know that we occasionally have “issues” down at the end of our street – vandalism, prostitution, drugs, etc. Lately, after a year of zero-tolerance enforcement, things have been pretty quiet. We seldom have cars pass our house and, if they do, they turn around at the dead-end and head back out. The last two days, though, we’ve seen an uptick in traffic.

One of our enforcement means is a surveillance camera that views the cul-de-sac. I ran about 400′ of cable through the woods under the brush from our house to the camera. From where it’s mounted we can see everything going on down there (and trust me, we’ve seen “everything” going on down there) from the comfort of any TV in the house or any computer on the Internet. Pretty cool.

Today, several cars went by and stayed longer than it takes for a quick turn-around, so I decided to review the video to see what was going on. Around 3:45pm a silver SUV parked at the end of the street and a guy got out and wandered around. He then walked up Dave and Cindy’s driveway, walked through their back yard and over to a large tree stump. Unfortunately, a small bushy maple tree blocked my view as to what he did there, but after a couple minutes he left the stump, got back in the car and drove away.Perhaps he had to pee.

Then around 5:30pm a blue SUV parked at the end. A guy and a girl got out and the guy climbed the bank up to the same stump while the girl watched from the street below. He traipsed around then disappeared from view. A few minutes later he emerged from behind the maple, slid down the bank, jumped in the car with the girl and they left.

My first thought — Drug Drop! Some drug dealer must be using that tree stump on a dead-end to make drug transactions. Valerie, Serena, and I went down there and I looked around the stump but didn’t find anything. I assumed whatever it was must have gotten picked up, but maybe they’d use the location again. On the walk, though, we discussed another possibility; maybe someone established a geocache there. Now, the rules for a geocache state that the location must be on public property and that when a new cache is established a geocaching “reviewer” has to approve the location. For those reasons we dismissed the idea that it was a cache.

Valerie, though, as a final check, logged into her geocache account to see if there was a cache logged nearby. Sure enough, someone established a cache at that tree stump, just yesterday, and five people had already searched for and found it. The cache was named “How the Better Half Lives” (the cache’s description suggest people go further up the hill to take in the view of Asheville and see “how the better half lives.”) This morning Valerie walked with Cindy and Dave and explained the whole geocaching thing to them. They then went down to look for the cache and Dave, a complete rookie, found the duct tape covered tupperware container next to the stump.

Valerie has since notified the person who placed the cache and the reviewer that the cache was placed on private property and needs to be removed. Sorry, we’re grinches and party-poopers. Even if they did place the cache on public right-of-way at the end of our street we wouldn’t want it there because it just means more people becoming aware of a great place to hang out. Then, someone might really establish a true drug drop and there goes the neighborhood that we’ve worked so hard to clean up.

P.S. For those of you who geocache, here’s a link to the cache’s page…

P.S.S. And if you have never heard of geocache (pronounced geo-cash) and are wondering what the heck we are talking about, here’s a link to a description…

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Fri
26
Aug '11

Rattlesnake Lodge

This Friday’s Blueridge Parkway Hike of the Week was to Rattlesnake Lodge. It’s a 3 mi roundtrip hike to the remains of a vacation lodge built in 1904 by Dr. Chase P. Ambler. The lodge burned in 1926 and all that remains are the stone foundations of the structures. It was another perfect day for a hike and the trailhead for this one was only five miles from our house. Most of the other hikes have been south on the parkway and a good one-hour drive away. Being so close gave us extra time to have a sit-down breakfast at City Bakery rather than eating it on the run. Serena likes their bacon!

Most of our other hikes were all about the views but this one was more about the destination. There were lots of flowers and berries along the route, several mushrooms, and a few peek-a-boo views. No rattlesnakes, though.

And, why was the retreat called “Rattlesnake Lodge”? It’s because Dr. Ambler had a “thing” for rattlesnakes. The story is that while the lodge was being constructed 41 rattlesnakes were killed on the property. Dr. Amber paid $5 (a week’s wages) for each rattlesnake skin and people brought them in from miles around. Each skin was hung from the ceiling of the living room, covering it from wall to wall. Maybe that was one of those ideas that sounded good at first, but then after a while, not so much…

 

 

 

 

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Sun
21
Aug '11

Speaking of Physicals…

I learned something this week. It’s legal in North Carolina for a woman to “go topless.” Today was national Go Topless Day and in typical Asheville fashion, that was an excuse to raise awareness/celebrate/protest/parade/party. Remember the Zombie Parade?…

While they may be uncomfortable, they won’t be breaking the law,
according to Police Department spokesman Wally Welch.
“They can breast away,” said Lt. Welch. “It’s not a crime.”
The North Carolina statute that covers indecent exposure bans the
exposure of “private parts,” specifically “external organs of sex
or excretion.” That only covers body parts below the waist, Welch said.

What made the event all the better was that just 100 yards away, on the other side of the park, was the Gateway Christian Community Church holding its regular outdoor Sunday service. According to a city spokesman, “They’ll be some distance apart, and the church said, if necessary, they’ll completely turn their event so they’re facing the other direction.”  

Since it’s Asheville, we can’t stop the irony and strangeness there…if the church members are so afraid of seeing bare breasts wait until they learn that the founder of Go Topless is also the founder of the Raelian Movement. “The Raelian Movement teaches that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call the Elohim. Members of this species appeared human and when having personal contacts with the descendants of the humans they made, they were mistaken for angels, cherubim or gods. Raëlians believe messengers, or prophets, of the Elohim include Buddha, Jesus, and others.” Actually, their beliefs probably aren’t too far off, but I digress…

Oh, you want video? Sorry, we didn’t attend. There were a couple videos posted on YouTube but they were “…removed as a violation of YouTube’s policy on nudity and sexual content.” Apparently YouTube doesn’t have that Asheville spirit!

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Fri
19
Aug '11

Devils Courthouse

Today’s Blueridge Parkway Hike of the Week was to Devil’s Courthouse. Admittedly, it was not much of a hike because it was only one mile round trip although it was fairly steep. In the first picture, the peak behind and above the sign is where we’re headed. The weather was perfect and the views of the surrounding area all the way into Georgia and South Carolina were great.

 

 

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Wed
17
Aug '11

Let’s Get Physicals

Cardiologist. Check. Veterinarian. Check. Hair dresser. Check. Dentist. Check. Primary Care Physician. Check—Finally. It’s been a loooong time since we’ve seen a primary care doctor. I’ve had my fill of cardiologists, surgeons, and hospitals but neither Valerie nor I have been to a family doctor since, well, at least two years for her and at least three years for me. My last trip to a family doctor was when he told me “Get to a cardiologist NOW!”

We’ve been busy (no, that’s not an excuse) but we’ve also had the issue of finding a good doctor in a small practice who is accepting patients and also accepts our insurance. We’ve made calls but haven’t had any luck…and….it’s only going to get worse with Obamacare (take a number and get in line for the next available doctor). So we followed my cardiologist’s recommendation and got in to see doctors at a recently opened office on the southside of Asheville. Today was physical day for both of us. We still have some follow-up tests to get done but no news is good news. My marching orders were to exercise more, eat healthy, eat less, lose weight (per the BMI index I’m 23 lbs overweight), stay out of the sun…and next year, have a colonoscopy. “Let me hear your body talk, Your body talk, let me hear your body talk…”

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Sun
14
Aug '11

Liquor City

We’ve always said that Asheville is a lot like a mini-Portland with its culture, attitude, arts, food, and craft beer. It’s even beat out Portland for the title of “Beer City” three years in a row. Friday and Saturday was the third annual Asheville Food and Wine Festival AKA “The Grand Tasting” and we attended both days. Wow. Wow. And Wow. You pay to get in (yah, it’s steep at $45) but you can then eat and drink samples and small-bites from dozens and dozens of great restaurants, wineries, dessert makers, food producers, and this year, craft breweries and liquor distillers. It’s foodie grazing heaven. It IS NOT the circus which is Bite of Seattle. There are several new restaurants that we’ve been meaning to visit but haven’t made it to yet — no problem, we were able to sample their fare. Cúrate, yum! Here we come! The wines were excellent and we’ll be planning a trip to North Carolina Wine Country. Yes, North Carolina has a wine country. Friday night we were so sugar’d up from the desserts that we had to walk around town for an hour before driving home. But the big news is that North Carolina relaxed its liquor production laws in 2008 to permit craft distillers. There are four new distilleries coming online and two of them are in Asheville (making a moonshine and a rum). The winner, in our opinion, after much sampling is Southern Artisan Spirits’ Cardinal Gin. All of our neighbors drink gin, gin and tonics to be precise. Valerie’s hooked on it, too. Maybe it’s an over 50 thing. Most people who’ve had the low end stuff (Gordon’s, etc) say gin tastes like pine sap, which is probably true. The interesting thing about gins, though, is that they’re all different. The botanicals and herbs added during production are what give each gin its unique taste. One does not taste like the other, and they don’t all taste like a pine tree. Cardinal recently won a silver medal at the 2010 International Spirits competition for their unique taste, derived from eleven botanicals including coriander, spearmint, cloves, and Grains of Paradise. It is really good stuff and makes a really good G&T (that’s what they were serving at the event). It’ll be in the NC ABC stores beginning this week and we’ll be picking up a bottle soon. What to do, what to do, though with our 1/2 empty Costco-sized bottle of Tanqueray under the bar?

P.S. This city, this area, this state continues to surprise and impress me.

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Wed
10
Aug '11

Seven Year Itch

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been seven years since I bought a new PC and, until yesterday, I was still using Windows XP. Yes, I know. I’ll now admit it. Shame Shame Shame.

Yes, that’s right. Our main PC that we have in our office was purchased in 2004. A few years ago I added a second DVD drive, another GB of RAM (for 2 whole GB!), and a USB 2.0 card with two ports (the PC only had USB 1.0 built-in). That’s it. The dual 250GB drives (in a RAID 1 configuration because I’m paranoid) were still spinning right along. Windows XP was serving me well…until I decided to dust off my old programming skills and learn to program for the new Windows Phone. Alas, the development tools only run under Windows Vista or XP so I needed to upgrade. I’ve spent the last two days copying everything over, configuring, and networking the new PC – a spiffy 3.4GHz, 12GB, 64-bit, 2TB ZT Systems model, with Windows 7  Professional from Costco. I kept the 24″ monitor and all the other peripherals since they were working fine and they were newer than 2004. The only thing left for me to do is install a card for another couple USB 3.0 ports. This new PC has eight USB ports (six in the rear and two in the front) but it turns out I need eight in the back – mouse, keyboard, scanner, printer, UPS, external drive, bluetooth, and the monitor that has a built-in USB hub that the webcam and MP3 players connect to. My police scanner plugs into the front of the PC leaving me with one free port. Yeesh, that’s a lot of cables.

So far, everything appears to be working. I had to revert back to IE8 because the security camera software didn’t work with IE9 and Adobe Acrobat Reader 10 didn’t display PDFs properly so I had to uninstall it and revert back to v9. I also had to play with the network sharing settings since our laptops are still XP and they couldn’t see the main PC’s shared folders. My big fear was getting the antiquated Nokia sync software to work with our phones through the Bluetooth adapter but that process went flawlessly. You IT/Tester types will get a chuckle out of this…I didn’t plug in all those devices one-at-a-time, get each to work, then plug in the next. I thre caution to the wind and I plugged in EVERYTHING at once and turned on the PC. I figured, that’s what I would do at Microsoft, why not now? After about 10 minutes of driver crunching and downloading, they all worked! Windows 7 is pretty solid.

I read that there are only 1000 days left of XP support so the end is coming, it was time to upgrade. Now, what about those laptops…???

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Sun
24
Jul '11

Pappa Bear

This morning Pappa Bear lumbered past the house. He’s at least twice as big as the two-year-old bears (we call them ’teenagers’) that we frequently see and the one that Serena chased. You don’t want to mess with this big guy. I shot the picture out our office window. He’s about 75′ away. Check out the bottom of his right-rear foot.

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Sat
23
Jul '11

Graveyard Fields

Yesterday’s parkway hike was to Graveyard Fields about an hour south of us at milepost 419. Graveyard Fields got its name from the thousands of tree stumps and fallen trees that remained after a massive windstorm several hundred years ago. The foliage grew over the trees and made them look like grave humps. Then, in 1925 a huge, extremely hot-burning, forest fire incinerated everything completely away down to sterilized soil. Although that was nearly 90 years ago, the area was so devastated that it is just now coming back as a meadow. Even though the stumps and trees are long gone the Graveyard Fields name has remained.

Waterfalls are the major attraction of Graveyard Fields. Most people go to the lower falls because it’s closer to the trail head and offers large flat rocks with Yellowstone creek flowing over them – think mega-sized-slippy-slide. Our hike went to the less traveled upper falls. It was a bit warm but as we got to the falls the rains came in and cooled us off.

 

 

 

 

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Sat
16
Jul '11

Pretty Red Hourglass

On my walk with Serena, today, I noticed that one of the steel covers over a nearby water meter box was askew. Earlier this week a utility truck was parked on our street so I suspect that a worker must have done a repair and left the cover out of position. I stuck my finger in the lid’s hole to slide it back on but, first, decided to pop it off to have a look inside. Whoa! This is what I found amongst lots of webbing.

I knew black widow spiders were indigenous to the southeast as Valerie had a close call with one in our mailbox when we lived in Johnson City, but now I know they’re in Asheville, too. It’s time to spray around the house and, in the future, I’ll be careful where I stick my fingers! This big girl, though, was set free in the brush at the end of our street…

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Sat
2
Jul '11

Black Balsam and NC Arboretum

Yesterday (before the bear incident) we went hiking on one of the Blueridge Parkway ranger hikes and then on the way back stopped at the UNC Arboretum to take advantage of their free admission to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

The hike was in the Black Balsam area to Sam Knob and back (we didn’t summit Sam Knob – but we want to next time!) via Flat Laurel Creek and Sam Knob trails.

 

 

Valerie shot a few pictures of flowers at the arboretum. With flowers come bees and one got me on the knee. Otherwise, it was a fun day!

 

 

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Fri
1
Jul '11

Dog Bites Bear

It’s been a month since I last blogged (sort of a writer’s block vacation) and I had planned on catching up this holiday weekend. Tonight, though, warrants a special entry.

First, I need to tell you, before you read the rest and watch the video, this all ended well, thankfully.

Just before 9:00 tonight we were settling down in the screened porch to watch some TV and read the paper. Valerie opened the door to let Serena out onto the deck since Serena likes to lay out there while we’re in the porch. Right about then our outdoor lights popped on — something had tripped the motion sensor. At first I thought it was Serena but then I saw that she was still on the deck and nowhere near the sensor. I peeked out the porch door expecting to see some dog walkers, but there was nothing there. Weird. Then, in a flash, Serena TOOK OFF, faster than I have ever seen her run, straight out to the front yard growling and barking as she ran. Watch the video to see why and what happened…

This young bear (he’s just over a year old) may think twice before walking by our house again. He ran down the street and then down the hill to get away. We called Serena and she immediately came back and never left the street (thank you Positive Dog Training for teaching us – and her – unconditional recall!) We didn’t really know what happened, or how close she got, until we looked at the security camera footage. Yikes!

P.S. Notice any similarities with this picture…?

Mon
27
Jun '11

Max Patch

Today’s hike was to Max Patch, a bald mountain top near the Tennessee/North Carolina border, about an hour from our house. Normally, this is a great view spot offering 360° long-range views from 4600′. Unfortunately, today, some heavy weather blew in as we started our hike. We spent a good hour wondering around the various trails but high-tailed it back to the Jeep just before the rains began. Safety first. Sad story: Last June a guy was proposing to his fiance at the top of the bald when she was struck and killed by a bolt of lighting! True story…

 

 

 

 

 

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Sat
11
Jun '11

Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes – Craggy Gardens

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Asheville and we can hop on at the Craven Gap point just 5 miles northeast of our house. Each Friday during the summer and fall the parkway holds ranger guided hikes, usually within an hour of Asheville. We’re pretty adventurous and don’t mind finding an off-the-beaten-track day-hike but it’s nice to have someone who’s an expert in the local flora and fauna lead you to some interesting points that you normally wouldn’t see.

Yesterday’s hike, our first, was through the Craggy Gardens at Milepost 364.

   

    

  

 

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Mon
30
May '11

I Love Ebay

On a whim I decided to sell our broken digital camera on Ebay, that’s the camera American Express replaced under their extended warranty program. Here’s my ad:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3K 10.1 MP Digital Camera – Black
This auction is for a defective Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3K 10.1 MP Digital Camera. All pictures taken with it are slightly out of focus. This camera should only be purchased for parts – even then, there’s no guarantee that the parts you want are operational. The screen is in perfect condition as I’ve had a screen protector on it since I unboxed it. I will ship it to you with the screen protector in place. You can remove it. There is NO Battery and NO Memory Card. I’ll throw in the USB cable and the video cable. The camera is defective. It does not focus properly. Do not purchase this thinking you’ll get a working camera. There is no warranty and it it cannot be returned. Period. Check my feedback. Bid with confidence. Good Luck and thanks for looking!

The auction ended this morning after 5 days of bidding. Over that time 4 people made 23 bids. The winning bidder jumped in right at the end (that’s the way you do it) and outbid the other guy by $1. Guess how much I got for a broken digital camera that originally cost $275? A crazy, why would anyone pay that much, $76.01! That’s nuts! But I’ll take it. What makes the deal even sweeter is that the replacement camera I bought only cost $250. What could have been a frustrating replacement of a year-old camera ended up being a better, newer, camera and $100 in our pockets.

Wed
25
May '11

Run Forrest Bear, Run

There’s the old joke that you don’t need to be faster than a bear, you just need to be faster than the other guy being chased by the bear. Problem is, what if there are two bears? Check out this video of two bears running along our street and diving down the hillside next to our garage. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them. What’s the human record for a 100yard dash over rough terrain?

Unfortunately, by the time I found our digital camera they were gone, but I (and Serena who was going NUTS!) got to watch them for a few seconds playing on our hillside – a mere 20′ from our deck stairs.

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Wed
18
May '11

Fox News

I would like to dispel any myths about this blog being Fair and Balanced…last night we had a fox under our deck.

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Tue
10
May '11

Don’t Leave Home Without It

We’ve been having problems with our camera, a 13 month old Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3. Most of the pictures we’ve taken recently have been slightly out of focus. They’re okay, but it’s like the auto-focus just doesn’t quite “get there” before the camera snaps the picture. The 13 month time is important because the warranty on the camera is…one-year. Ouch. There are several mentions of this problem in Amazon’s comments about the camera and people said that if the camera is still under warranty Panasonic will swap it out with a refurbished one. If it’s out of warranty, the cost to fix it exceeds the cost of a new camera. So we were SOL. However…

Last week Valerie had an issue using her American Express card at Walmart. The system kept rejecting it and she didn’t know why. She later called Amex and learned that our new address hadn’t been updated for her card, just mine, and since the zip codes were different Walmart’s computer wouldn’t accept the charge. But, while she was on the phone the rep reminded her that when we use our Amex cards they add one-year to any product’s manufacturer’s warranty. I guess I knew this in the back of my mind, remembered reading it in the fine print when we got the cards, but I don’t think Valerie did and we’ve never taken advantage of this service. We both mentally re-filed the information under “thanks for letting us know.”

Yesterday morning I was looking at some recent pictures we took and was grumbling about the soft focus. I went to Amazon and perused the new cameras and their prices and grumbled some more. Then it hit me…we bought that camera at Costco last April using our American Express card! It’s out of the manufacturer’s warranty, but it’s now covered by Amex’s one-year extended warranty. I went to the Amex website, found the claim form, dug out the receipt (that was an adventure after moving), filled in the info and clicked the box “credit my card for the amount of the purchase.” They didn’t ask for any proof of purchase, just dates and amounts. I expected a long drawn out hassle after their review of my claim figuring I’d have to scan and fax the receipt, give more details of the problem, send in the camera for evaluation, etc. But, lo and behold, this morning, in just 24 hours, Amex sent me an email saying that they had credited my card for the full amount of the purchase! Whoa! Really? No fuss, no muss, just “here’s your money now go buy a replacement camera.”

Thank you American Express. Guess which card we’re using to purchase the replacement? Don’t leave home without it!