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
7
Oct '11

Shop Progress

Steve’s making progress on our shop. The reason it’s been a bit slow in coming is that he’s splitting his time between our project and a bathroom remodel at the Wedge Brewery. It is taking shape, though. This week he painted the walls and hung the drop ceiling and I trimmed out the electrical and assembled the cabinets. Next up for Steve is building the 10′ long his-and-hers workbench that wraps around the 7′ dividing wall. The extra 3′ of bench that won’t face a wall is where Valerie will set up her bead torch. The last big task will be laying the floor. I decided on a PVC tile product called Norsk Rhino-tec that assembles like a big puzzle of identical gray pieces. Hopefully that will go fast and we can soon (maybe next weekend, fingers crossed) start unpacking the last of our boxes and be, officially, moved in. Winter’s coming and it’s time to start crafting!

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

Thu
25
Aug '11

Thermos

It doesn’t seem like nearly a year ago but last October 13 was the point in construction when we foam insulated the house. Now, six weeks shy of a year, we’re at it again. This time it’s the shop. I debated doing this (vs installing standard fiberglass batts) because it’s more expensive, but two things, really three things, led to the decision. One, because the garage and the weight of two cars and a concrete floor is over the shop, all the ceiling and wall construction is on 12″ centers vs the normal 16″. Because of that, standard-width fiberglass batts won’t fit between the studs. We’d need to buy 24″ batts and cut them down the center which would be time-consuming and make for poor R-value because there wouldn’t always be a perfect cut and fit. Two, foam is just plain better than fiberglass for insulating because it has a greater R-value/inch and it fills every knook and cranny. We plan on having just a small propane wall heater so efficiency is king. I’d like to keep the shop warm and not worry about frozen pipes — and have a low gas bill, too. Turning our shop into a big Thermos bottle will do that. And three, Valerie said “Foam it!” Decision. Done.

Well, not exactly. It turns out that because our crawlspace under the shop is sealed it has a very slick white plastic fabric spread tightly over the dirt floor. The installation guys looked over the job and were concerned about ripping the fabric with their ladders and equipment (yes, you need a ladder to get to the ceiling in our crawlspace) so they recommended not foaming the ceiling over the crawlspace and instead using fiberglass batts. The floor joists there are 16″ on center and there are few if any wires or pipes. They claim they can easily push the standard batts into place with poles and not risk tearing the plastic that seals floor. It’s okay by me since there’s little heat loss through the floor and it’ll save a couple hundred $$. They’ll return next weeks with the fiberglass to do that work.

It took them nearly a full day to foam everything but they’re done and it looks good. On Monday the slatboard and pegboard will be  delivered and Steve will get to work finishing our shop.

 

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Fri
12
Aug '11

Shop Shop

Fall is coming and you know what that means…it’s time for arts and crafts. Oops, but wait, we never finished building our shop under the garage. We don’t have a place to do arts and crafts and all of our tools and supplies are still in boxes piled, inconveniently, in the future shop. This little bit of unfinished business has been gnawing at me because we’re technically not 100% moved in, yet, and because I can never find my screwdriver — is it in the cabinet in the mudroom, or on the temp workbench in the mechanical room, or on the rolling cart in the future shop?

I’ve been designing and sketching our future shop for the last several weeks and decided that it was time to begin work. This week we moved out all the boxes, putting them on the deck under the screened porch. It’s mostly dry under there and with the cardboard boxes against the walls and plastic totes in the front everything should stay out of the weather for a few weeks. Maybe I’ll throw a blue tarp over it for good measure.

The plan is this: I will do the electrical (lights, outlets, kiln power, etc) and plumbing (water heater, washtub, garage drainback valve, etc) and then Steve will come in and do everything else. He hasn’t started another house yet and Valerie would rather I not be readmitted to the hospital for working like a crazy man for several weeks. Fair enough. So next week I’ll work a few days doing my part and have it ready for Steve once he finishes the remodel project he’s currently on. Spray in some insulation, hang slatboard and pegboard, install a drop ceiling, put down rubber floor tile, do some trim and painting, and build the workbench (the most important piece), and we’ll soon have Shop Shop and be ready for fall and winter arts and crafts.

 

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Sat
30
Jul '11

Ribs and ‘Shine

Last night we had Lisa, Josh, and Greg (our future neighbor who just started construction on their house) over for BBQ beef ribs. Pork ribs are the defacto standard, here, and they’re good, but they’ve gotten a bit monotonous. I miss beef ribs. Luckily, we have Hickory Nut Gap Farm, a local farm that supplies pasture grass fed beef! Valerie ordered two racks and picked them up yesterday. We had to explain what we wanted (full ribs, not cut in half for short ribs) because, apparently, it’s not a typical cut outside of TX. Our cow was “harvested” on Wednesday and the ribs never went into a freezer. Valerie took a couple pictures of me doing the prep before I put the ribs into the smoker. [For all you BBQ buffs, I used a modified 3-2-1 process. We tried several different rubs and sauces.] Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of the finished product. We ate the ribs before I could get the camera and then my fingers were too covered with BBQ sauce to press the shutter button. But…they were GOO-OOD! Maybe next time I’ll get some progress shots. I did, however take a picture of the beverages. Can’t say where or how this came into my possession. It is North Carolina, after all…

  

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Thu
5
May '11

Two Months, Two Days, Two Miracles

It’s been two months and two days since we moved in. For all that time two things have stood out about our house… The pickup was parked in the driveway because one bay of the garage was packed full of “stuff” and the mini-fridge-icemaker in the kitchen was not installed because the one we received had the wrong door swing and wasn’t reversible.

Today, while Valerie drove to Haywood Appliance to pick up the replacement fridge I worked in the garage to hang up the last tools and sweep out the last bit of construction dust. In the early afternoon (it could have been around 2:00) I installed the new fridge and drove the pickup into the garage. Hooray!

Next up is for Valerie to finish painting the lazy-susan door and getting our cracked kitchen counter replaced…more on that little disaster later…

 

 

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Fri
4
Mar '11

Heart vs. Head

Here’s a snippet of script from near the end of the movie, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse

BILL (Jim and Muriel's lawyer) 
     Mind if I say something?
[ Jim and Muriel look at him curiously. ]
BILL
     You know, I've kind of been the voice 
     of doom about this whole project. 
     Every step of the way I was firmly 
     convinced you were getting fleeced, 
     bilked, rooked, flimflammed and 
     generally taken to the cleaners. And 
     maybe you were. Maybe it cost you a 
     whole lot more than you thought it 
     would. Maybe there were times when 
     you wished you'd never started the 
     whole thing. But when I look around 
     and see what you two have here -- I 
     don't know.
     (pause)
     Maybe there are some things you should 
     buy with your heart and not with 
     your head. Maybe those are the things 
     that really count...

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Thu
3
Mar '11

On March 3, 2011, Valerie Screamed

Today, at 4:30pm, we received our CO. The landscapers weren’t yet finished backfilling the top most wall but Steve called for an inspection anyway. The grading inspector came out, carried his level from the truck (uh oh), peered over the abyss (his feet never left the street), had some small talk with Steve, said “looks like you’ll finish it, I’ll okay it,” and left. He emailed in his approval and Steve picked up the CO 30 minutes (and 92 landscape timbers and 80 man hours) later.

Steve called us to let us know. Valerie screamed! I’m happy, but after this week’s unexpected and unnecessary fire drill I’m more relieved than anything else. When I get confirmation from the bank that we didn’t miss our deadline I’ll feel much better. Time to get packing and get those doggies movin’. Two trucks and four big guys arrive Tuesday morning.

Twenty-one years and 50 weeks ago we spent the first night in our new house in Johnson City. March 17, 1989.

Tue
1
Mar '11

Duet Material? Not!

We spent the day packing (I couldn’t bear going out to the house to watch the retaining walls being built). I was busy in the basement and Valerie was in the kitchen. Towards the end of they day we found ourselves singing and humming tunes…but they were noticably different.

I was locked into The Final Countdown and Valerie was tapping to I’m Walking on Sunshine. (The links will take you to the songs so you can listen for yourself.) Maybe you armchair psychiatrists can weigh in on what our song choices mean…or maybe it’s obvious.

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Mon
28
Feb '11

Woosh

In my book, in the section about project management and scheduling, I have this quote by Douglas Adams from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

The landscaping crew is working on our retaining walls…slowly. They might be done Thursday afternoon if we don’t get more torrential rains. Then we need a re-inspection and the city needs to release a CO letter. I was supposed to have our CO to the bank last Friday. Monday at 5pm is our mortgage rate lock deadline and we have to turn paperwork via FedEx by then. If the phone rings, I’m not answering it.

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Fri
25
Feb '11

Oh No, No CO

We didn’t get our certificate of occupancy, today — and it wasn’t over the stair rail. Since that’s the easy story, I’ll tell it first. On Wednesday morning the inspector’s supervisor, the stair installer company owner, and Steve met at the house to look at our stair’s offensive offending hand rail. As I expected, the city prevailed, but they did agree on a solution – simply nail a code-compliant skinnier rail on top of the existing one. It had to be secure and finished – meaning one coat of polyurethane – and not appear to be temporary. On Thursday, the stair company came out and made “the fix” using smaller rail and three small finish nails on each section to hold them down. This morning the inspector came back out. He looked at it, made a face, Steve explained that the solution was what his boss recommended and that they all agreed to. The inspector said, “Fine, then his name will be on the inspection.” He gave Steve his green tag and left. You might think you know what happened as soon as the door closed but the new rail is still attached because we have a bigger problem.

The other thing we needed for our CO was a letter from a geotech engineer stating that the fill dirt next to the garage retaining wall is stable. This is because portions of it are greater than 50% slope (1′ down for 2′ out; or 22.5 degrees). Late yesterday afternoon the geo field tech came out and bored several holes to take core samples. This afternoon we got our letter…but it didn’t say what we wanted. We failed. They claim that the fill isn’t stable and that it has to be compacted within 5′ of the wall and that the rest of it has to be removed! That’s impossible even if we had a week, but we only have a couple days – or less.

So, what to do? Well, the city says that any slope made of fill that’s greater than 50% needs a geotech’s approval. Slopes less than 50% don’t. The inspector has a digital level that he puts on the slope to measure it. Retaining walls under 4′ high are allowed without an engineer’s design. Railroad ties are relatively inexpensive. There might be some cheap labor standing around who knows how to work a shovel. Steve’s making some calls and we plan to have several retaining walls built on the hillside such that no piece of the slope is more than 50%. It’ll take a couple days, weather permitting. Those days we don’t have since we locked in our mortgage and that lock expires soon. On the day we signed off with our architect he gave me some advice, “From here on out, the most important tool you’ll have in your toolbox will be your checkbook.” How right he was.

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Thu
24
Feb '11

Pizza Stadium

The pizza oven is here! It’s awesome! Valerie did a great job and it’s the centerpiece of our front yard. But, today’s delivery was a bit stressful. We were supposed to get the oven yesterday, but the forklift wasn’t available. Then it was supposed to be this morning, but the person who rented the lift hadn’t returned it and we were told it wouldn’t arrive until the afternoon. Then we were supposed to get lots of rain, but it (thankfully) didn’t happen. Then the forklift had a nearly flat tire. Then we had to get it through the landscaping and up and over the red clay. Then, because the forklift had long tines and a higher lift it didn’t have a side-to-side control. Then the oven didn’t quite fit on the base. Then the cinder blocks on the rear of the base got bumped and broke out. And then, finally, the sausage, mushroom, and banana pepper gods had seen enough. On the umpteenth attempt, just as doubts were growing, for just a brief moment, the oven lined up and hovered perfectly over the base. Dave quickly set it down, all 4000lbs of it. Mamma Mia! and Che Bello! We have a Pizza Stadium.

 

 

 
 

Wed
23
Feb '11

Do Not Pass Go

We failed our CO (certificate of occupancy) inspection, yesterday. Plumbing passed. Electrical passed – with Steve and I running ahead of the inspector putting GFCI stickers on the GFCI outlets. HVAC passed. But…the general inspector said that we had two problems with our stairs and the grading inspector said that we need a letter from a geotechnical engineer stating that our hillside is still stable. 

First, the inspector was fine with our stairs running past the windows but code says there can only be a 4″ or less gap between the stairs and a wall (or in our case the window glass). We have about 6″. One fix would be to replace the stair treads with longer ones that protrude into the window space. That’s impossible to do immediately. The other remedy, the one we did, is to install bars across the windows so that the gap is divided in half. We had left over pieces of metal deck railing so Steve cut them up and fastened them to the interior window trim. They actually don’t look too bad, but from the outside you’d think we live in the hood (hey, our flag was stolen). The bars are securely attached but I have a feeling they might fall off after we get our CO.

Problem two is actually a bigger issue. Our stair handrails are too big. Code says that the dimensions of all four sides added together must be between 4″ and 6.25″ and that the top can’t be more than 2.5″. Ours are a little bit bigger than this – but they are stock handrails from a national stair parts manufacturer! We had the stair installer (he’s been doing this for 25 years) on the phone with the inspector and they had a pretty heated conversation. It reminded me of the old conundrum, “what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” Today, the stair installer will be calling the inspector’s supervisor. I doubt that will get him anywhere since the rails are, indeed, larger than code and a supervisor overruling an inspector would make the inspector look bad. What the stair installer really needs to do is call his supplier. That’s where the problem lies. So, what’s the fix? Replacing the rail would be near impossible. It would take days and the end result would not be pretty with the smaller rail patching into the existing posts. The inspector said that we could route out finger grooves (5/16″ deep, 3/4″ wide, and 3/4″ down) on each side of the rail so that the grip size meets code. That’s what we’re likely to do – on Thursday while the cleaning people are there.

The last issue is getting a letter from a geotechnical engineer stating that the hillside is still stable. We had a geotech study done before we bought the property so Steve called them back and the engineer is due out this morning. We did not know about this requirement until yesterday. Oops. It makes sense, though, because the city wants to make sure we didn’t turn something that was stable into something that isn’t. 

There were two other minor things. We need to install 4″ tall house numbers on the house (on a large rock out front is not sufficient) and we need to have our rainchains on site and ready to install (we were waiting because we don’t want them to be stolen).

The revised plan is: Today (Wednesday) floor finish third coat. Thursday fix the stairs, hang the doors, install the door hardware, have the house cleaned, and get our CO inspection (again). Friday bank appraisal. All next week touch up painting and punch list items. Meanwhile we’ll be packing with anticipation of moving the week of March 7. Guess I better schedule that…

Sun
20
Feb '11

Just Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fri
18
Feb '11

Push Push Push

I know we’re making progress because there’s now space in our Camp Bell garage to move around. Over the past week we’ve been emptying it of shower doors, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, bath accessories, etc. Every morning I load the pickup and take it out to the house. Tuesday was light fixture day and by playing Tetris with all the boxes I was able to load every single light fixture (except for the broken one) into the pickup’s heaping full bed. En masse it made me realize what we did to our poor UPS man over the last several months. Yikes! Of course the end result of all those boxes is that after they’re emptied you’re left with tons of foam and cardboard. Valerie spent several hours over two days just breaking them down. Steve’s dump trailer is overflowing and he’s made at least two trips in his truck to the cardboard recycling center.

On Monday the remaining appliances arrived – kitchen fridge, mini-fridge, dishwasher, and oven. Thomas, our cabinet guy, installed the oven. I helped him install the vent hood over the cooktop. Hallelujah I can’t wait to turn that thing on! No more useless downdraft (Woodinville) or recirculating hood (Camp Bell). Cooking fumes be gone! Thomas also worked on the living room bench seat and Steve finished up the dining room bench seat.

On Tuesday, the electricians arrived and started work installing all the switches, receptacles, lights, and fans. It’s a four-man team and they work quick, but there’s lots to do. If you’ve ever hung one light fixture you know what it takes…now, multiply that by dozens. Heck, we have seven ceiling fans. They saved the big stuff, the generator and breaker box, for last, and plan to work the weekend shooting for inspection on Monday or Tuesday. Our plumber works full-time at Mission Hospital so he’s only at our house part time on evenings and weekends. He’s still at it and hopes to finish up this weekend, too. All that’s left is drilling holes for the dishwasher lines and hooking up the drip irrigation in the front yard.

The stone masons capped the retaining walls and stoned the base of Valerie’s pizza oven. Once they were done and out of the way, the landscapers finished the beds. By end of day, today, they were essentially done except for adding a few more plants between the driveway and the retaining wall. Speaking of the pizza oven, Valerie put in several long days this week and finished it, today, too. She capped it off by hugging the oven, freshly coated in wet stucco, leaving her hand prints behind. Delivery and placement/dedication is planned for Wednesday..pending rental forklift availability.

Other goings on…the propane guys were in this week and installed the underground line for the generator, hooked up valves for the deck gas grill, the kitchen cooktop, water heater, and furnace. Their inspection is Monday. Our front door was hung and Woody put on several coats of poly. He’s also been painting the other exterior doors (thank goodness it’s warm this week) and between those coats continues to paint walls and trim. Woody’s starting to remind me of Eldin Bernecky, the eternal house painter in the 90’s TV show Murphy Brown. Eldin painted Murphy’s house for six seasons. This week I joked with Woody that we were going to put him on retainer…then Steve told me that we’ll probably be seeing Woody for another month. He was serious.

I finished up the closets this week after Home Depot restocked some shelves. I installed a dehumidifier in the crawl space under the shop then installed all the towel bars, TP holders, etc in the bathrooms. Now I’m working on the whole-house audio panels and as soon as the electricians install the canopy at the top of the stairwell will put the pendants on the ends of the wires. I’m taking my soldering iron out with me, tomorrow.

The plan is: Monday electrical, plumbing, furnace, gas inspections. Tuesday CO (certificate of occupancy) inspection. Wednesday wood floor light sand and final coat. Thursday professional house cleaning. Thursday or Friday appraisal inspection. Week of February 28th bank paperwork and pack. March 7 close on mortgage and move.

Look for pictures, this weekend, as soon as I get a chance to download them from the camera.

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Mon
14
Feb '11

Wood Floor Finishing Elves

We’ve been kicked out of the house for four days – since Wednesday night. While we were away the wood floor finishing elves came in and did their thing. Last night on her way back from pizza oven construction Valerie snuck in and shot a picture of the dining and living rooms from the foyer. The floor is gorgeous! It gets one more light sanding and another coating after everything else is done, hopefully mid next week.

Today the frenzy continues. Electricians, plumber, porch screeners, cabinet trimming, landscaping, painters, front door installation, and more. Valerie and I will be installing bath accessories, shower walls, low voltage wall plates, audio panels, speakers, door knobs, and hundreds of other odds and ends…and she’ll be finishing up her pizza oven!

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Fri
11
Feb '11

Hello, Lighting Universe

Yesterday, UPS delivered our dining room light from Lighting Universe.
Below is a sequence of photos I took as I opened the box.

 

 

 

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Thu
10
Feb '11

Phone Home

The old phone booth is in its final resting place, a space under the stairs leading down to the family room in our new house. Yesterday morning I rented a 24′ Budget truck with a liftgate (it was the smallest they had) and Valerie and I loaded the phone booth and several appliances. When you’re standing in the booth you don’t realize it, but that thing is a beast! It’s 7′ tall, nearly 3′ square, and weighs a couple hundred pounds. Even with a refrigerator dolly it’s tough to maneuver. It’s so tall that the hoop handles on the dolly are still a full arm’s length from its top. It was tricky, but we managed to get it loaded and strapped in.

Late in the afternoon, Steve and I wrestled the appliances out of the truck and moved them in…leaving the phone booth staring at us. The deck stairs had just been finished but the railings weren’t yet installed. The stone path from the street to the deck had just been completed, too. It was time.

There are no pictures of the process. The last thing we needed was paparazzi and flashbulbs. Valerie didn’t even watch. It was difficult and dangerous. I had visions of me backing off the stair platform and falling 25′ with the phone booth a split second behind. I hoped it would fall open side down but physics (and peanut butter sandwiches) told me that wasn’t likely. Fears aside, we “got er done.”  At the end of the move I was only bruised and battered, mainly my shoulder blades because I had to rest the top of the booth on them going down the stairs. Steve, though, smashed and cut his finger as we moved it through the door. There was at most a half-inch gap on each side, slightly less than the diameter of his right index finger. He also cut his wrist on the uncapped deck post. About 6:00pm, with the flashlight beam revealing drops of blood on the floor, we scooted the phone booth into the hole under the stairs. Phone Home.

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Wed
9
Feb '11

FRENZY!

Those of you who visited our Seattle home know about our “Funhouse” pinball machine. One of the phrases that Rudy shouts at you is “FRENZY!” That’s when several balls shoot out all at once and you’re moving the flippers like crazy to keep everything in motion. That’s a great analogy for what it was like at our house this week.

Vince and crew were building the stairs between the two deck levels. They were also installing the screens in the porch. Our driveway was poured. The landscapers were setting the stones for our path and planting shrubs. Steve was setting rail posts. The plumber was installing faucets and toilets. The painter (plus a helper now) was painting. The generator got moved down to the new deck. the heating guys installed the A/C units, thermostats, and registers. The last bits of decking were installed. The kitchen backsplash and master shower tile were sealed. The last piece of pencil tile (we needed one more) arrived. Valerie and I were outfitting the closets. And, today, we cleaned everything out of the house because the wood floor finishers arrive tomorrow morning. There were more trucks parked in the street than ever! FRENZY!

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Tue
8
Feb '11

In and Out of the Closet

I’ve been in the closet(s) several days this week…but I’m out now. Yep, that’s right…you probably didn’t expect it of me, but I’ve been busy installing all the ClosetMaid closet wire shelves, rods, and drawers in our new house. Thank goodness there are two Home Depots in Asheville because I cleaned them out of several closeting pieces. Lowes sells Rubbermaid and the two brands aren’t compatible (and I like the quality of ClosetMaid better) so it was a challenge finding all the pieces I needed to make it all fit together.

I did buy something to make the job easier – bolt cutters. The wire shelving comes in 6′ and 12′ lengths. There was no way I was going to be able to measure all the umpteen pieces and have Home Depot cut them in advance. Measuring and cutting on-site is the way to go, but a hack saw is impossible to use on wire shelves. So, for $25 at Harbor Freight I sliced through the shelves like butter and, as a side benefit, I can now cut my way through the DOT fence at the end of our street.

What was Valerie doing this week while I was in and out of the closet? Well, you probably didn’t expect it of her, either, but Valerie was in and out of the closet, too. She installed baker’s racks in the Costco Room AKA the pantry. They’re 6′ high and wrap around the room for a total of 15 linear feet of shelving. Tons and tons of storage space. I’ve heard her say ”I love it” more this week than I think I’ve ever heard. She’s discovered that she has a thing for being in the closet, too. Maybe I’ll sneak in and watch.

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Sat
5
Feb '11

If it was a snake, it would’ve bit me

About a month ago when Gary tiled our foyer he put a chipped tile right smack in the center. It was just dumb luck and he didn’t see it until it was too late. Fortunately, though, we saw it before it was grouted in and ordered a replacement. We didn’t have an extra to use, just a couple partials and damaged ones. A week later the tile came in and I took it out to the house. I left it leaning against the wall in the foyer and told Gary (jokingly) not to tell me when he was going to replace it because I didn’t want to see him smashing out the one mortared to the floor.

Since then he’s been working on the master bath and most recently the kitchen. The foyer floor has been papered over for protection. Since he was finishing up I wanted to remind him to replace the tile in the foyer. I also wanted to get the new tile out for him to use. Yesterday, while I was at the house, I looked for the tile. It wasn’t leaning against the wall, but that didn’t surprise me given all the activity. Someone probably moved it. Hmmm, it wasn’t in the nearby coat closet. It wasn’t in any of the other closets. It wasn’t anywhere and the only full tile I could find was in the mechanical room—and it had a two chips in it! I asked Steve. He didn’t know, either. He looked everywhere to no avail. Gary wasn’t working so we asked Woody, our painter, since he’s been all over the house. He said he hadn’t seen it. Rats. The tile in the mechanical room must be the new one and somehow it had gotten damaged, too. I’d have to order another one and wait a week for it to arrive. Time is short. Not good.

I called Valerie and told her the story. She asked me to look in all the standard places. Been there, done that. No new tile, just the chipped one in the mechanical room. She said that she’d call the tile store and order another. A few minutes later she calls me back and says, “It’s a nice day so I’m coming out with Serena to do some work.”

An hour later she gets to the house, walks in, looks around and says, “I’ve found the tile!” She was standing on it. Gary had installed it a while back and covered it with the protection paper. He never told anyone, he just did it (just as I had asked). The full tile in the mechanical room was an extra damaged one, not the new one. And, to top it off, when Valerie told Woody about it he said, “Oh yah, that tile. Gary fixed it one weekend when you weren’t here.” Argh.

But to even top that off…Valerie didn’t call and order the new tile because she “just knew” that Gary had done the replacement. She came out to verify her suspicion and bask in the glory. Steve, Woody, and I just stood there snake bit.

We need to finish this house asap before I end up in the mental ward.

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Fri
4
Feb '11

That’s a Pretty Fancy Deck for a Generator

Did you ever get into a big project and know early on that there was this little problem that you’d have to eventually fix? You kept moving ahead but in the back of your mind you knew that some time, before you could say “I’m Done!” that you’d have to address it? Maybe you hoped that it would go away and you wouldn’t have to deal with it.

Where to locate our two air conditioners and our generator was such a problem. We’re building on a steep slope, nearly 45 degrees. That means for every foot of horizontal run there’s a foot of vertical drop. The air conditioner units are 3′ around and need to be 1′ away from the house. The generator is 2′ deep and needs to be 18″ from the house. There was no way that we were going to build up a flat spot 4-5′ deep and 14′ long for all that equipment. We knew this back in October, heck, we knew it last April, but this week, less than a month from completion we had to face reality. We needed to build an HVAC and generator platform.

So, yesterday, that’s what Steve and I did. Well, more like Steve did…I was the flunky laborer who dug and filled the holes for the footings, drilled the holes in the concrete wall for the ledger board, scavenged for lumber, and ran tools up and down the hill. In the picture I’m holding a post hole digger. At that point I was actually moving it out of the way before I resorted to a shovel and digging bar. We needed larger holes, ones large enough to set a 12′x8″x2″ concrete block 18″ deep for the posts to sit on, and a post-hole digger wasn’t going to cut it. It took all day (and I broke Steve’s unbreakable digging bar on a large rock) but we now have a nice, sturdy, L-shaped platform large enough for the three units and the required space between them. Fancy, maybe, but necessary.

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Thu
3
Feb '11

I Fight Authority, Authority Always Wins

We’re still tiling and painting, tiling and painting. But, we’re now also landscaping and we’ve recently added driveway building, rail setting, and deck building to our list.

Work on our driveway started yesterday. Tom has it dug out, formed up and ready to pour on Monday. Thanks to the City of Asheville (COA) our driveway is a lovely hourglass shape. To quote John Mellencamp, “I fight authority, authority always wins.” COA one, Ron zero. You can see in some of our previous pictures that although we have a two car garage we have two separate doors rather than one big door. And, we set one bay farther back than the other to break up what’s typically a big massive double garage door. Well, two 9′ garage doors with an approx 1.5′ space in between is 19.5′.  Add some space on each side so you step out of a car onto the concrete and we need about 20.5′ of total width. Unfortunately, the COA only allows a driveway to be 18′ wide within 10′ of the street and it must have a curved 3′ radius at each edge. The result is what’s shown in the drawing on the left…and it’s what our final driveway will look like. I asked nicely, then firmly, then pointed out the obvious aesthetic and functional problems with such a design. And, the last word from the man with the rubber stamp was “Based on your drawing, I see no reason to grant a variance.” In other words: “Your request is DENIED!” On a positive note, we now have more room for Pizza Stadium on the right and a big boulder with our house number on it on the left. But, if you visit, be very careful backing out.

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Sat
29
Jan '11

Y’all Building a Pond?

Yep, that’s right, we’re building a see-ment pond, rye-cheer in our new front yard! Sorry, no, it may look that way, but we’re not that southern…yet. As you can probably tell from the pictures, below, the landscaping work has started. Yay! We really don’t have that much landscaping since the house is only about 23′ from the street and the side and back yards are 40 degree slopes. Everything will be bark, barked beds, gravel, or stone — super low maintenance and not a blade of grass. If one appears I’ll declare it a weed and will pull it asap.

So, if that “pond” isn’t a swimming pool for the bears, then what’s with the big pit that we dug out in the front yard and lined with boulders? Well, I just asked Valerie, and this very moment she brain-stormed a name. She hereby christenes it: “Pizza Stadium.” It’s where her pizza oven will sit, recessed down about 18″, backed up to a berm, with a gravel floor surrounded by big rocks where you, us, and I’m sure the neighbors, can sit while our pizzas bake. Love it.

Our landscaper, Jeff Seitz, owner of Appalachian Creek Nursery, is shown in a couple pictures directing Jeff Nelson on the trackhoe where to place the the boulders. He’s worked with Valerie to design a great plan for our little space. Lots of native, low maintenance plants. And, did I mention, no grass?!

 

 

Two other notable events this week…we have our garage doors and our gutters. The garage doors are custom, locally built, out of pacific northwest cedar. Believe it or not, they were actually less expensive than the Costco price from a national vendor, and they’re way prettier, too. The gutters over the front door are copper. Take a good look at the picture as that’s the shiniest they will ever be. The Statue of Liberty is copper. It’s hard to say what sort of patina they’ll take on, but that’s their charm. The couple other gutters we have, over the deck and over the back door, are brownish-black to match the eaves, but they’re round, too. It’s a great look and goes really well with the house. The downspouts in the back are 35′ long! The water ought to be going Mach 1 by the time it reaches the ground. Look out below!

 

Thu
27
Jan '11

Tiling and Painting

I haven’t blogged specifically about progress on the house because it’s been slow and boring, lately. Tiling and painting, tiling and painting. Poor Gary (now, more like rich Gary) has been camped out in our shower for several weeks. It’s a pretty complicated tile job with a vertical brick pattern and lots of glass inserts. And, he’s not been tiling every day, 8 hours a day. It’s been more like half-time because the weather has been making him really inefficient. Huh? What would the weather have to do with tiling a shower? Well, he has to cut lots of tile and he sets up his big wet messy tile saw in the front yard. Snow and below freezing temps make that impractical work so recently he’s only been “on the job” a couple days a week. He’s put on the miles, too, since the shower is on the upper floor. Each and every cut means a trip down the stairs, outside, and back, wash, rinse, repeat. Thankfully, as of today, the shower is almost done, just a couple more pieces remain before grouting. Then, it’s on to the kitchen backsplash.

Woody is a painting machine. I joke that he’s been on our payroll since Thanksgiving…and, now that I think about it, that’s no joke. I remember asking Steve if one guy could really paint our entire house – windows, doors, trim, ceilings, walls, even the exterior eaves. He said yes, that he always does, that Woody doesn’t trust other people’s work and he’d rather do it himself. So, here we are, less than 30 days from (scheduled) completion and he’s painting painting painting. The windows are done, the interior doors are mostly done, the baseboard and trim is mostly done, and he’s now painting the walls in the basement. This week I asked Steve if he thought Woody was going to make it. He said that he recently told Woody, “I have 30 days…and that means you have less.” Cute. My personal back-of-the-envelope schedule says that he has two weeks. We’ll see.

Tiling and painting.

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Mon
24
Jan '11

Viral Video

Around noon, today, we’re at Horizon Tile picking up a few extra pieces of tile we need for the shower. We’re talking with Tim and Rick and joking because Tim has noticed that I always lock our car doors when we come in the store even though we park 10′ from the front door. Tim says we still have that “big city” mentality. We proceed to tell them about our little flag incident, being on TV, etc. Two women are looking at tile across the store. One of them comes over and asks, “Are you the flag people? The ones building a house on Town Mountain?” Why, yes, we are. We ask if they saw the story on TV. Nope, they heard about it on the radio. The morning DJs on Kiss Country 99.9 picked up the story and ran it as their “DA of the Day” (DA stands for Dumb Ass). Here’s the link (scroll down on the left side)… It takes a special kind of stupid to steal an American Flag.

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Sun
23
Jan '11

Slow News Day in a Small Town

“Flag Thief” was the top story on WLOS Channel 13 at 6:00 and 11:00.

“A thief is caught in the act on surveillance video outside an Asheville home. For the homeowners, it’s what the bold criminal stole that has them scratching their heads. Ron Patton and his wife are building a home off Town Mountain Road. The house is under construction, so they have security cameras mounted to protect some equipment and material.  But there’s one item they weren’t expecting to protect: their American flag.  The couple caught a woman ripping their flag from a pole on camera. They say the flag has little monetary value, but much symbolic meaning.”

Without pictures it didn’t happen, right? So, here’s a link to the WLOS video…

Sat
22
Jan '11

Scum of the Earth Caught on Video

Front door video from 8:09pm last night. It doesn’t get much lower than stealing an American flag by ripping it off the pole.

P.S. 1/23/2010. Last night I forwarded the video to the Asheville police and WLOS Channel 13. No reply from the police (I really didn’t want or expect one, just FYI) but reporter Katie Killen called me back about 10pm. She said they “were all sitting around the office watching the video in disbelief” and want to run a story on it. She and a cameraman are coming out to the house at 3:00 today. Valerie’s in hiding. Asheville’s a small town. Maybe a friend or relative will recognize this woman. A little public embarrassment and humiliation would be proper punishment. News at 11:00.

Thu
20
Jan '11

Is this a spec house?

Valerie was at the house this afternoon meeting the cabinet delivery guys. While she was standing in the front yard talking to our landscaper a “well-to-do” looking woman drove up in a nice car, rolled down the window and asked Valerie’s nightmare question…”Is this a spec house?” Valerie picked up a 2×4, ran over and chased the woman down the street. No, really, she just screamed, “HELL NO! Get out of here and don’t you EVER come back!” No really, our landscaper politely told her that it was built for owners. The lady said she liked the ”angles” of our house, said thank you, and left.

Valerie is sooo done with building a house. There’s no price she would take to sell this one and do it all over again. Okay, she did say she has a price but it involves a very extended stay on a tropical island.

Good thing I wasn’t there. To the lady’s question, “Is this a spec house?” I’da replied, “It could be…”

Sun
16
Jan '11

The Great Stairwell Light Project

Our new house has a three story stairwell that runs from the master bedroom down to the foyer then down to the family room. It’s similar to what’s in apartment buildings where the stairs wrap around, come to a landing at a floor, then wrap around some more. Within the stairs is an opening of about four feet square that goes all the way from the cathedral ceiling to the bottom floor.

 

We arrived at this design because we had two requirements for our architect: One, we didn’t want a stairway smack in your face when you walked in the front door. That design, so popular in both old and new houses, always seemed strange to us. Guests never walk in your front door and go directly up the stairs to your bedrooms (well, maybe yours do!?) so why place the stairs like that? And two, if our stairs were in a central location and were highly visible, then they should be aesthetic, not just carpeted 2-by-10’s with painted 2-by-2 balusters. What we ended up with is fantastic. Our stairs are a show-piece and actually something we’d be proud to let people see.

All along, though, even back when we were reviewing initial sketches from the architect, we knew that lighting the stairs would be a challenge. What we would need is a multi-story fixture that hangs from the center point in the ceiling with lights hung at increasing lengths from 7’ down to 27’ – sort of a miniature (and less ornate and pretentious) version of what’s hanging in the Biltmore House.

 

If you go to Lighting Universe you’ll see that they have 16,431 chandeliers and 10,566 large pendants. I looked at the pictures for each and every one (seriously, I did, and even more at Lighting Direct). None of them would work. No one made such a unique light fixture, and worse, any fixture that even approached the size we needed was many many thousands of dollars. We couldn’t go there, but my search did get me thinking. You might say…a light bulb went on. We have season passes to the Biltmore. I remember the old Johnny Cash song about stealing a GM Cadillac in a lunch box “one piece at a time and it didn’t cost me a dime.” Hmmm. Maybe the Biltmore staff wouldn’t notice.

Unfortunately, that plan was a no-go because we needed a light in February, not in ten years…but I was on the right track. I’m a handy guy, I occasionally read Make magazine, maybe I could just build a light fixtures from pieces and parts…

I scoured Lighting Direct and Lighting Universe for ideas. I found a 21” canopy (the flat part that mounts to the ceiling) from LBL Lighting that supports seven pendants. The problem was that it claimed to only be compatible with their pendant lights – and their lights were way too expensive, especially times seven. But, what did they mean by “compatible?” It turns out that it’s all about the strain relief/bushing that the wire passes through into the canopy. Different manufactures use different size bushings and wire. Some thicker, some thinner. Okay, what if I replaced the canopy’s bushings and the wire with my own? Enter Grand Brass Lamp Parts. If you need a lamp part, they have it, no matter how obscure – armbacks, bodies, finials, flanges, swivels, nipples, nozzles, wire, and strain reliefs! They have everything one would need to construct the Biltmore chandelier from scratch – and maybe, just maybe, what I would need to build our stairwell light.

One problem remained and that was the decorative glass pendants. I still needed to find something at a reasonable price (notice I didn’t say “look good’) that could safely and securely attach to the ends of the wires. Enter Lowes. Yes, surprisingly, big-box hardware store Lowes. They sell configurable pendant lights that are fairly cheap. You buy a canopy/cord/socket set and pick one of their many decorative glass globes that are “compatible” (yah!) to screw on the end. I purchased a set and brought it home to dismantle. The light wasn’t made to be taken apart, but with the help of a utility knife, small needlenose pliers, and an itty bitty screwdriver, it did, and I found that the wire from Grand Brass Lamp Parts would attach perfectly. Back to Lowes to look at the glass options.

We didn’t like any of them.

Well, they were fine, and they were inexpensive, but they weren’t ideal, especially when there would be seven of them and we would have to like them forever and ever until we die. But there was this other pendant hanging nearby that was pretty cool. It was made from alabaster-like rock chips all fused together. It came with an “attached at the factory” canopy and cord (which I’ll throw away) and was just a few dollars more. After tearing it apart on the Lowes floor (they just love me) I decided that it would work just fine.

[Stay with me, there’s more, but we’re almost done…]

So I bought the two lights they had in stock thinking that I could pilfer the rest from the other three Lowes stores within driving distance. The next day I stopped at the south-side Lowes. They had three lights on the shelf but they were in red boxes, the two I had came in black boxes. I popped the lids and they looked okay so I brought them home. That night I unpacked them and set them up on the dining room table next to the other lights. Rats. These “red box” lights had entirely different alabaster chips from the first two. One had chips about ¼ the size of the others and another had very few chips and was mostly resin filler. Worse, when I darkened the room and put a flashlight in each one it was obvious that the resins were a different color. The manufacture didn’t just change boxes, it changed look of the lights.

I didn’t know which was newer, the black boxes or the red boxes, or when our nearby Lowes restocked which ones they would get. So, yesterday we went scavenger hunting for lights. Luckily, between the three Asheville Lowes and the Weaverville Lowes we found seven lights that are pretty consistent in their looks – all from black boxes. The only alabaster chip lights remaining within 30 miles of Asheville are red box versions – in case you’re looking, too.

Today I spent a few hours drilling out the canopy strain reliefs, replacing them with new ones that fit the new wire, and stringing out the seven cables – 9’, 11’, 15’, 19’, 21’, 25’, and 29’. Good thing I bought a 150’ roll! Tomorrow I’ll disassemble all the lights down to their raw parts and toss their canopies and wires. So far everything seems to fit together nicely. After the electricians hang the new canopy (I don’t know how they’ll get up there to do that) I’ll attach the lights to the ends of the dangling cables and flip the switch. My contraption should look pretty nice.

It’s been an adventure. A great problem to solve. Sort of fun, actually. And the best thing is, to quote Johnny cash, “…I’ll have the only one there is around.”

  

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