Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Dec '11

Western North Carolina Report – Our Yearly Christmas Letter


Signed, Sealed, Delivered

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

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

Camp Bell – We Hardly Knew Ya

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

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

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

Unfinished Business

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

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

Our Local Fauna – Bear and Delinquents

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

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

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

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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

A Walk in the Woods

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

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

Miles and Smiles

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

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

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

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

Next Year

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

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Ron and Valerie

May '11

We’re In!

Yesterday the movers spent three hours moving the last bit of furniture from Camp Bell. The most important pieces were the dining room table and the buffet. Our new dining room that Valerie feared was way too big – several Parade of Homes visitors thought it was the living room – is not. Our 5′ square table, 10′ square rug, and the buffet fill it up perfectly…and it all looks pretty good, too. Let’s eat!

Today we signed our half of the selling paperwork and Friday the buyers sign theirs. The lawyer has the check in-hand from the buyer’s bank for the down payment. Later today we’ll move out a couple plants, vacuum, and grab a pickup load of apple wood sticks from Camp Bell’s tree (for the smoker and pizza oven). We’ll leave the keys and garage door remotes on the kitchen counter and lock the doors on Camp Bell for the last time. We’re out. We’re in!

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May '11

Moving Day – Part 2

Tomorrow is Moving Day – Part 2. At 8:30 the movers arrive at Camp Bell to load up the rest of our furniture that we left behind for staging. There’s not much left, but the biggie, both figuratively and literally, is our dining room table, chairs, and buffet table. When that gets set up in our new dining room we will be officially moved into our new home. 

Unfortunately, since we did downsize from our McMansion in Woodinville, we have extra furniture. Our two big beautiful, essentially new, living room chairs have no place to go, nor does our huge umbrella plant. We’ve decided to donate them to Pet Harmony. They’ve recently remodeled and updated their store and could use them in the entrance reception area. We hate to get rid of them but we just don’t have the room. We’re also donating our mirrored dresser to Goodwill so the movers will be making multiple unloading stops on their way to our new house. After we get settled and determine exactly what we have and where it will go I think the plan is to sell a few more pieces of furniture and buy a large, comfortable, sectional sofa (with recliners) for the living room.

On Tuesday morning at 10:00 we sign the closing paperwork to sell Camp Bell. We’ll also turn over the garage remotes and keys to the lawyer. The new owners sign on Friday and at 5:00pm that day when the proceeds from the sale are wired into our account we will be – at long last – DONE relocating.

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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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Apr '11

Come on in!

One reason we moved to Asheville was to be within a day’s drive of family. We’re entering that stage of our lives where being that close will become more and more important. Looking at it from the other direction, we’re only one day’s drive for our families to come visit us. Asheville and the WNC mountains are a prime tourist area with lots of natural beauty and activities so our new home makes a great place to stay for a vacation or as a stopover en-route to somewhere else.

Last week my parents were our first guests and this week Valerie’s sister Pat, nephew Jack, and friend Maddie are here. Valerie’s sister Cindy and nephew Jeremy will be here for a night next week on their way back to Indiana from Orlando. We aren’t 100% unpacked, yet, but the house is definitely livable and guest friendly (once we moved the shower curtain rings from Camp Bell). Valerie and Mom broke in the new kitchen making stuffed cabbages, baked beans, and several other goodies to stock “Gi-gan-tor” (Valerie’s behemoth freezer in the pantry).  Dad and I unpacked the garage and made several trips to the cardboard recycling center. We did a WNC Chef’s Challenge with Pat and the kids (the secret ingrediant was mustard). And, were forced to eat happily ate at 12 Bones twice in two weeks. Yum.

Unfortunately, we really didn’t have time and the weather wasn’t ideal to do any real tourists things. Although we’ve been in Asheville for 15 months there’s still lots we haven’t seen or done (trolly tour, chimney rock, zip lining, etc) because we’ve been so busy. We’d love to play touron this summer and experience Asheville at a more relaxed pace. When you come visit don’t be shy about asking us for suggestions on things to do and, if you don’t mind, inviting us to tag along with you (just not on another walking tour of the Biltmore house :-) .)

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Apr '11

Where Oh Where has my Portafilter Gone?

It’s been a month since moving day and Valerie’s super happy because she finally (and accidentally) found her espresso machine’s portafilter. It’s been missing since we packed up Camp Bell and she’s been reduced to drinking homemade drip coffee (oh the horror) or sneaking out to City Bakery or Starbucks for a latté fix. I can’t understand how she feels because I don’t drink the stuff – just three cups ever in my life – but if you’re hooked you’re hooked.

Now, we were super organized movers. We had to be given that we moved twice and in stages over two years. Everything was boxed and labeled, color coded and numbered, and entered into a spreadsheet. If we needed something that wasn’t unpacked we looked it up in Excel, got the label color and box number and found it deep in Warehouse 13 without a problem. But, when we moved from Camp Bell last month we loosened up our standards a bit because we would soon be unpacking everything. Why carefully box and inventory something (like the coffee maker) when we’d be unboxing it in a couple days? Plus, there was no need to box 100% because we knew we’d be back and forth for several weeks and could pack the remainders in the Jeep or pickup as needed…except for the portafilter.

Apparently the day of or the day before our move Valerie made a latté, packed the cappacino machine, washed the portafilter and ”put it someplace special” so she wouldn’t forget. She put it where she “knew it would be unpacked first.” Well, after we got to the new house she unpacked all those “open immediately” boxes. Then she unpacked all the green labeled “open soon” boxes. Then she unpacked all the pink labeled “open eventually” boxes. No portafilter. Every last box with a Kitchen or Pantry label was emptied. No portafilter. Perhaps it got mixed in with some packing paper or garbage and tossed. Maybe we left it in the dishwasher, or cabinet, or under the seat of the Jeep. Nope. Gone. We were about to order a new one (yah, you coffee addicts are thinking, “I can’t believe she waited that long!”) when Valerie went to Camp Bell to do some paint touchups.

Underneath the guest bath vanity, in a plastic tote of cleaning supplies, mixed in with soap, sponges, and Windex, was…the portafilter. Flash. It’s all coming back now. On moving day morning it was sitting on the counter after drying from being washed. She remembers putting it in the tote because she knew she’d be using those items soon and probably bringing the tote out to our new house. Somehow the tote ended up under the vanity (I didn’t do it) and there it sat, for 30 caffeine-free days. Never did it cross our minds to look there…until it was accidentally rediscovered. Oh happy day.

Mar '11

What are Black Bears, Delinquent Teenagers, and Abandoned Puppies?

That’s the Jeopardy question to the answer: Three things you find along Vance Gap Road.

Over the last year I’ve written about the bears, delinquent teenagers, and abandoned puppies found along our new street. This past weekend we were back around to abandoned puppies. On Sunday morning Valerie was walking Serena and came across a scared, timid puppy (about 6 months old) hanging around the fire hydrant about 1/4 mile from our house. It took a while but with some water and food Valerie was able to get it to come to her and she was able to leash it and bring him home. [Disclaimer: No, we are not adopting it!]. It was obviously abandoned because it had no collar and was starving and thirsty. Because it was Sunday and county animal control was closed Valerie contacted Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. Typically, no-kill shelters don’t take strays, they normally need to go through the system – a three day hold at animal control to see if they’re lost, evaluation for adopt-ability, spay/neuter shots, and then moving to the Humane Society. Several times a week rescue operations such as Brother Wolf make the rounds through the shelter to get animals they think would make good pets or ones they think would eventually make good pets with some TLC. Somehow Valerie sweet-talked Brother Wolf into taking the puppy – it could have been the situation, the fact that the puppy was very timid, Valerie’s schmoozing or her $ donation.

Meanwhile, back at the Vance Gap…I get a call from Lisa who owns the other house on our street. She had guests staying the weekend. When they left they called her to say that a stray dog had been hanging out around her house. I said, “no problem, we’re already on top of it” and told her the story about Valerie and the puppy. Case close.

In the eveing I take Serena for her walk. We head on down to Lisa’s and I make a loop while Serena snorts around. I get about halfway back up the hill and notice that Serena’s missing. I call and call. No response. Weird. So, I walk back down to Lisa’s calling Serena along the way. Nothing. I walk on Lisa’s deck, peer into her screened porch and see two giddy playful dogs staring at me – Serena and puppy #2. It’s now 7:00pm and past closing time for Brother Wolf. We aren’t really setup for a rambunctious puppy to spend the night but luckily Cindy and Dave our neighbors walk by and offer their large dog crate so puppy #2 can camp in the garage.

This morning we head on down to Brother Wolf expecting to “donate” puppy #2. The drive down was an adventure. Puppy #2 pees whenever he gets excited and he’s excited 100% of the time. A brief attempt at corralling him under the tonneau cover and blankets in the back of our Jeep failed in under 10 seconds. I ended up riding in the back (not the back seat, the back back) and holdingcontaining him for the short ride to Brother Wolf. I half expected what occurred when we got there. Since it was now normal business hours and the county pound was open they wouldn’t accept puppy #2 and, to make it even better, said…”would you mind taking puppy #1 with you?” Sure, the more the merrier, right? They did let us borrow a crate that fit in the back of the Jeep which made the trip much easier and pee free.

Brother Wolf promised to ”rescue” the puppies from the county after the three day waiting period and the county will neuter and vaccinate them so Brother Wolf won’t have to. Valerie checked in the puppies and got their ID numbers and later returned the crate. She also filled out a volunteer application for walking dogs. The circle is complete.

P.S. Although we’re super busy unpacking and moving into our new house we thought nothing of taking the time to care for these dogs and making sure they go to a good place for adoption. It would have taken the person who abandoned them probably 30 minutes more to do the right thing vs. dump them on our street. I can’t comprehend the thought process of such a low-life person…probably related to the flag thief.

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Mar '11

“The mountains have always been here, and in them, the bears.”

Last night about 8:30 I walked from the living room to the stairs to carry a box up to our bedroom. There’s a window in the stairwell that looks out to the front yard and the street. As I rounded the corner something caught my eye. It was big, black, and moving. What is that? It’s a bear! I yelled to Valerie in the living room, “Hey, there’s a bear out front!” Oops. Wrong thing to say. Serena knows the word “Bear” and she proceeded to go nuts, running to the window, barking and growling. Just as Valerie got to the window another bear showed up, then another. They are the mother and year-old twins that live in the neighborhood. It was garbage night and they were out scavenging. Serena’s barking made them leave without making a mess (next week I’ll put the cans out on Wednesday morning). Unfortunately, my security cameras were set up to only record movement in the yard, not in the street, so I didn’t get them on camera out front. But I did catch them when they left and went around the house and under the deck. Needless to day, I’ll be careful and be singing a song when I take Serena out for her evening pee. I’ve changed the front cameras to record everything so next time I’ll have better video. Welcome to the neighborhood!

"The mountains have always been here, and in them, the bears."
Rick Bass - The Lost Grizzlies

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Mar '11

“There’s still blood on my number two”

That’s what Valerie told me at dinner tonight when she pulled out her cell phone to check the time…to see if we should leave Luella’s BBQ and get back to the vet to pick up Serena. Say what? Vet? Serena? Let’s back up a couple hours. Valerie was out walking Serena in our new, one-day-old, neighborhood. Serena is off-leash most of the time since Vance Gap Forest is relatively quiet and she can burn off lots of energy running through the woods. This time, though, she came back limping and bleeding – a lot. She apparently stepped on something, probably a broken bottle. Valerie called me on the phone (I learned that I’m Speed Dial #2) and I drove down to see what happened. One look at all the blood and a quick glance at the open gash on her paw and we were off to the vet, blood soaked towel and cell phone in hand. Thankfully it was before 7:00 and the vet was still open. We got in quickly.

As the vet said, “there are paw cuts that don’t require stitches and those that do.” Serena got stitched up. The vet said that when she got the wound cleaned out she could see a major vein (she called it the suicide vein) running right along the cut line, untouched. Just a teensie bit to one side and it would have been a whole lot messier than it was. Serena’s very groggy and disoriented from the anesthesia but one week of bandages and calm on-leash walking, and she’ll be fine.

My question is…who’s Speed Dial #1?


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Mar '11

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

Ah, the famous line from the movie, Jaws. But, we didn’t need a bigger boat…we needed a bigger truck. Our movers, Dave, Mitch, Brian, and Thomas arrived at 8:30 this morning. They brought one large truck and one small box truck. After a quick walk-through of Camp Bell and especially Warehouse 13, our basement long-term storage area, they called back to the office to swap out the box truck for something bigger.

Loading was quick and painless. They tackled the upstairs first then moved to the garage and Warehouse 13 on the lower level. They loaded the piano at the end of the first truck so they could unload it first at the new house. Camp Bell was emptied (except for the plants and some living and dining furniture that we’re leaving for staging) in just over three hours.

While I was supervising the load, Valerie was at the house (after dropping off Serena at Happy tails) putting down protective paper on the floors and unpacking some of the boxes we moved ourselves.

Our caravan, or is it a truckavan, arrived at 12:30. We had a quick lunch delivered from Two Guy’s Hoagies and by 1:00 our four guys got back to work. After moving a few dolly loads of boxes to clear a path in the truck they moved out the piano. It was dicey, I was worried, but they made it down the deck stairs with only one smashed finger (Mitch’s), some paint scrapes on the interior doorway, and a couple broken stair treads. No broken bones or gouged oak flooring. There is no way the piano would have made it down the interior stairs. I’m glad we designed and built the deck stairs just for this one-time event.

The rest of the move went without a hitch. The pinball machine, jukebox, poker table, furniture, and hundreds of boxes all got moved in by 5:30.  The last item off the truck was a box labeled “SHOP”. Nine hours of labor, one hour of travel and four exhausted guys added up to 40 hours, one man-week, of labor to move all of our stuff. No, we don’t need a bigger house. If it doesn’t fit, it’s getting donated or sold, and for every new thing we buy we’re getting rid of two.




Mar '11

Going Dark…Camp Bell Unplugged

Tomorrow is moving day. We won’t be on email, Internet, Facebook, blog, etc until maybe Thursday when I get things set up at the new house. Our cell phones are intermittant there, too (we have AT&T so that’s no surprise). If you call and get voicemail just leave a message and we’ll get back to you, eventually. See you on the other side…

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Mar '11

Select Permanent

Last night I filled out the USPS online form for changing our address. I emphatically checked this box:

 √  Select Permanent if you have no plans to move back to your old address
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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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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Jan '11

We Have a Date

Well, well, well. We have a date for completion…sort of. Last February, before we started construction Steve took out the builder’s risk insurance policy on our house. He recently received a letter from his agent telling him that the policy expires on February 25. Steve doesn’t want to extend the insurance or buy another policy so we need to have our CO (certificate of occupancy) by then. Sounds like a date to me.

On a parallel track, we need to lock in our mortgage interest rate. We can do that up to 60 days before completion. Yes, that’s sort of like saying, “turn 5 miles before the dead-end.” How do you really know until you’re already there? But, since we have a February 25 insurance date and that’s currently 53 days from today, I guess we can lock in anytime.

Of course, when I look around, there’s still a ton of work left to do. The deck isn’t done (still need about 10 boards put down), the deck stairs need built (that’ll take a week), the peak still needs siding, the deck and retaining wall railings need installed, the window trim needs finished, then the baseboard, all the painting, wood floor finishing, electrical and plumbing fixture installation, final grading, landscaping, driveway, stone caps on the retaining walls, garage doors, HVAC, generator, closets, oh my. A lot of this can happen in parallel. It has to. And, that reminds me, I need to order all the lights! 

P.S. In the Author section on the left side of this page it talks about our 22 month adventure. Long ago, before my heart surgery, it said 18 months. Today, I changed it to 26. But, who’s counting? I also thought it was appropriate to put the ”Moving” tag on this post in addition to the “Construction” tag. Get them doggies movin’.

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May '10

Barely Legal

I’ll admit it. We’ve been illegal aliens for the last two months. North Carolina gives you 60 days after establishing residency to obtain your driver’s license. We effectively moved to Asheville on January 15, which means that since March 15 we’ve been flouting the law! Ooooooh. Running with scissors, running with scissors. Hey, we’ve been seriously busy and wasting a couple hours sitting at the DMV hasn’t been a top priority. Plus, in NC it’s not just a paperwork transfer of your license from another state—you have to take a written test. I feel (like) so (like) 16 years old, again! Several people I talked to said that they actually failed the test the first time they took it, mainly because it’s so poorly written with tricky questions and answers.

Quick, what’s the answer?

Q: When multiple vehicles reach an uncontrolled intersection at the same time, the right-of-way belongs to? 1)The vehicle that arrives first 2)The vehicle going straight? 3)A pedestrian standing at the curb.

Q: If you feel sleepy when driving on a long trip you should? 1)Roll down the window to get fresh air. 2)Drive faster to get to your destination quicker. 3)Pull over and rest.

Q: Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit in cities and towns is? 1)25mph 2)35mph 3)55mph.

Q: The traffic violation that adds the most points to your driving record is? 1)Passing a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children 2)Driving while intoxicated 2)Reckless Driving.

Q: Identify the following road signs?

The test consists of 25 questions like these and you must get 20 correct to pass. At the examiner’s discretion, they could even make you take a driving test, too. Yeesh. Anyway, we studied the book, memorized some sample questions I found on the web, and…drum roll, passed the test (we didn’t have to drive). Our licenses should arrive in the mail next week and we can then go to the other DMV office to register our Jeep and pickup, going from barely legal to fully legal NC residents.

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Mar '10

Spring has Sprung in Asheville


Okay, so we had a bad winter in Asheville. But, that’s all a distant memory…Spring has Sprung!

Asheville weather forecast for the upcoming week…


 Woodinville weather forecast for the upcoming year month week:

Woodinville Weather

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Jan '10

The Big Orange Truck Cometh and Goeth

The trailer with our stuff (all 11,457 pounds) is schedule to arrive between 8:30 and 9:30 this morning. Yesterday I put together three more baker’s racks to stack boxes on and Valerie unpacked several boxes, relocated our “office” from the family room to the kitchen breakfast area, and made more space in the basement. I wasn’t feeling well (sinus infection and increased carvedilol dose) so I sat around much of the day. Today will be lots of running up and down the stairs, pointing to what goes where. In a few hours I’ll be having flashbacks from 1992 when the truck with our house-load of stuff unloaded into our little Redmond, WA, apartment. More to come…

11:00   The truck arrives. They were late because of the rock slide detour on I-40. I have no idea how Ernie made it into our subdivision and down our street with his huge trailer. Problem is, he pulled in and the access doors are on the opposite side from the house. He decides to back all the way out of Campbell and attempt to back in from Ballantree. He and the two helpers disappear for way too long. Kim, Valerie and I walk down to see what’s up. Ernie is getting an earful from our neighbor at the corner of Campbell and Ballantree. Ernie backed up about 6′ into his yard and left a 10′ long by 6″ deep dual tire rut in the soft grass. This guy is not happy and is saying he’s “gonna call Asheville PD!” Ernie apologizes and says that he’ll pull in again rather than back up and he’ll figure out how to get the stuff out and around the truck. I spend 5 minutes schmoozing Mr. PO’d neighbor and tell him I will personally make sure his yard gets fixed. Kim calls the office and gets a couple guys to come out tomorrow to fix it. Yeesh. Must be originally from New York.

11:30-4:30   We unload the truck, Pink labels go to the basement. Green labels go to where the label says. Kim says we’re the most organized she’s ever seen. We didn’t show her our spreadsheet that says exactly what’s in each box. One big oops. One of our dining room chairs fell about 8′ from the top of the load and landed on its legs. All four of them cracked and bent backwards. If it was a car, it might be totaled. Kim says they have great furniture repair guys and will be able to fix it or, if they have to, replace it (which is probably impossible). We’ll see. A ceramic pot fell out of a larger one and broke. No biggie. A couple wine glasses that we simply packed in the display box broke. No problem. Our huge Christmas cactus is a little worse for the wear. For some reason when they stacked its box in the kitchen they flipped it upside down. (Note that we weren’t allowed to ship plants). It’s pretty beat up but will survive and Valerie will take the broken stems and root them to make some offspring. All the furniture looks good, the pinball and juke box, too. All in all, it’s not bad considering what it went through.

5:00   We go out for a late lunch, pick up Serena, and return to unpack the plants and frozen food. Yep, we packed frozen food in a cooler and then in a box. Valerie had it at -20 when she packed it and it appears to still be frozen solid after a week going crosscountry. Don’t tell Allied…  Oh, and it all pretty much fit according to plan. The extra space in the basement is floor-to-ceiling-wall-to-wall boxes and the one garage bay is full of misc furniture but we can navigate around the boxes in the house. Now, to unpack.

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Jan '10

We’re Here…

We slept for nearly 11 hours and I honestly don’t remember falling asleep. Late Saturday morning we had a nice brunch before running a few errands and visiting with John and Jan for a couple hours. We then picked up our donations that we had left at the house, said our final goodbye, and went to the library, Good Will, and a couple other places to make drop offs. We had a Thai dinner with Luis and Jolie who then took us to the airport. We will truly miss you two and hope that someday you can make the move, too. Our red-eye flight was uneventful. We picked up Serena on the way to Camp Bell (I can’t bring myself to call it home) and fell into bed. We’re Ashevillers.

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Jan '10

Elvis Has Left The Building

At 5:30pm last night the final box had been loaded, the last bit of dirt had been swept, the final counter cleaned, and Ernie (driver), Kim (wife and assistant), and Jarred (helper) pulled away from 13404 184th Ave NE. We were officially moved out. We took another thirty minutes to load up the pickup truck with stuff we were giving to friends and to walk through the house one last time. So long old friend. 

53' of Moving Goodness

Ramblings and Observations:

Those three movers worked the hardest I have ever seen three people work – for nearly nine hours! They only stopped for lunch. And, after loading the truck they were hoping to drive 400 miles.

Although we loved our house and had done so much work on it over the last 15 years, it really became obvious once all our stuff had been removed that it was a house, not a home, any longer.

I had to remove the sliding door to the basement one last time to get the pinball machine out. Going up the steps, the top fell down from its hinged position and hit Jarred on the head, hard. He didn’t drop it, but went down to his knees and I’m sure saw stars.

We were truly BeverlyWoodinville Hillbillies when we pulled out. It was all we could do to fit in the pickup. Besides our checked bag and carry-ons we also had stuff to drop off at friends’ houses – a large oxygen tank, a couple propane tanks, a large plant, a wicker table and chairs, a shredder, and a set of power tools. We also had a 50lb bag of sandblasting grit and some “favorite” rocks. We wanted to load a bunch of stuff for charity but had to leave it on the deck for pickup on Saturday. Oh, and it was pouring down rain so we had to bag everything. There was room for a single bottle of Corona and a ziplock bag of my brisket.

I was a bit embarrassed when we pulled into the Heathman, our hotel for the night. They only have valet service and the bellhop probably thought we weren’t exactly the type of clientele they normally serve. Wonder what the valet thought when he got in the pickup and smelled the brisket?

The rain seemed appropriate for moving day.

We slept for 10+ hours.

Farewell to all our friends we left behind. We will try not be strangers. We may be back as soon as August for the jazz festival at Chateau St. Michelle. And, if you’re ever “back east” please look us up!

Jan '10

All Work and No Play…

All work and no play…Not! We’re making good progress packing. So much so that we decided to take some time to have a little fun. On Sunday we went to Mac & Jacks Brewery in Redmond. Mac and Jack’s African Mac & Jack'sAmber is THE best beer, ever, and we’re not the only ones who think that. It has an almost cult-like fan base in the northwest. The brewery was started by two guys (Mac and Jack, get it?) in their garage in 1993 and we first had it that summer at the Microsoft company picnic. Unfortunately, it’s not bottled, and the farthest east you can buy it on draft is in Idaho. It’s one of the things we will truly miss…so much so that I am going to take up beer making and attempt to reproduce it. Several people have tried and/or are working on it and they have posted their recipes and techniques on the web. So, on Sunday we (and about 50 other people) took their brewery tour. Valerie and I listened intently, typed tidbits of the tour guide’s comments into our phones, and looked at the pallets and bags to get the names of all the malts and hops they were using. We got lots of clues as to what they do and how they do it. Interestingly, the guide said that it was their yeast that made the African Amber special and that he wasn’t going to say anything more about it. Good thing I’m married to a microbiologist who knows how to culture and grow the yeast from a beer sample! Besides the free tastings and the free glasses, we also bought two growlers to help get us through the week!

Today we went to Seattle in the driving, pouring, windy, rain which made it an appropriate trip for our last week here. We went to Sengware to pick up some more plates and bowls, went to Serious Pie for lunch, and went to Seattle Pottery Supply to buy a new kiln. They are having a sale, our kiln has crumbled away and won’t make the move, and it’s cheaper to have Allied move it with our stuff than to have it shipped sometime in the future. They’ll palletize it and we’ll pick it up on Thursday. From there we went to Issaquah to get some specialty boxes and packing supplies and finally got home in the early afternoon. Remember, we only have our pickup truck, so by the time we left the packing store, poor Valerie was buried in the passenger seat holding boxes on her lap between her thighs and between her ankles.

This evening we’re back to packing boxes and building crates. It will soon be difficult to decide what to pack now and what to wait on packing until Thursday afternoon or even Friday morning. The last thing to go in the truck is the vacuum cleaner and the dust rag.

Tomorrow we’re seeing Avatar in the afternoon and in the evening Valerie’s going to her bookclub meeting and I’m going out with Luis and Al. Wednesday and Thursday we’re back to packing full-time. The truck is confirmed for Friday.

We did meet with the new owners, Jonathan and Lauren and their 5-year-old son, Alexander, yesterday, to give them a walkthrough of the house. Nice family. They’ll make the house their own and be a great addition to the neighborhood.

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Jan '10

The Final Countdown

We fly out tomorrow afternoon, arriving in Seattle at 9:08pm. It’ll be a very busy eight days getting ready for the movers who arrive on Friday, January 15th. Valerie’s to-do list is pretty much packing, packing, and more packing. My list is everything else (selling furniture, building crates, cancelling utilities, etc).

In two weeks we’ll be back in Asheville waiting on the moving truck to arrive with our stuff. Scary!

Dec '09

The Dates are Set

We fly to Seattle on Wednesday, January 6, arriving around 9pm. We’ll pack like crazy fools for eight days. The moving truck is scheduled for Friday, January 15. We’ll stay at a nice hotel (Heathman or Willows Lodge) on Friday night. We’ll visit friends on Saturday and leave on a redeye Saturday night. On Sunday morning, January 17, we’ll officially be Ashevillers.

Dec '09

Two Transplants (and not the Heart Kind)

Last Saturday we were at the Asheville City Market and saw a sign for wild salmon. One of the things Valerie says she’ll miss of Seattle is the fresh fish – particularly wild salmon – so we went up to the booth to check it out. It turns out that The Wild Salmon Company sells wild (not farm raised) salmon that they personally catch in Alaska over the summer and flash freeze. They sell mainly in Asheville at the farmer’s markets but also at a few other southeast cities. You can read about Heidi and Steve’s adventures in this WNC Magazine article. To make it a small world, Heidi used to live in Woodinville! She and Steve relocated to Asheville a couple years ago, although they probably spend half their time on a boat in Alaska. For those of you who watch the show, Deadliest Catch, Steve was on the first two seasons when he worked on a crabbing boat.

When we were at Happy Tails yesterday to drop off Serena we were telling the receptionist who we were and where we were from. She asked if Serena was social with other dogs and we started describing Marymoor Park. A guy walks out of the office and says, “I know that park. Hi, I’m Dominic, the owner. I used to live near Greenlake in Seattle.” It turns out his sister owned Happy Tails but she died, unexpectedly, a couple years ago. He decided to quit his job as the audio technician for ACT Theater and take over the business. He’s now a happy Seattle to Asheville transplant who made an interesting career switch.

P.S. Coincidentally, while we were there a reporter for the Asheville paper arrived to do an interview with Dominic about Happy Tails. Here’s a link to it…

Dec '09

Roller Coasters and Merry-Go-Rounds

Today was a sad day. We signed and mailed the closing papers on the sale of our house. Shangri-La, as Barry named it, will be transferred to Jonathan Shapiro and Lauren Williams on Monday (we have until January 21 to move out). We sat in the car for 15 minutes staring at the FedEx envelope wondering what the Sam-Hell we were doing. I actually debated whether to mail it or not. It was a pretty emotional moment in time. We kissed the envelope goodbye before we put it in the box. What made it worse is that we had just dropped off Serena at Happy Tails Country Club for her 6-hour interview. No dog. No house. Just us, sitting in the car with our future, literally, in our hands.


“You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

We drove the 50 miles down to the Spartanburg, SC, Costco to buy stuff to stock up Camp Bell. We stopped at 12-Bones on the way back before picking up Serena. She passed her interview (except for scaling the 5′ door and escaping her kennel during quiet time) and is welcome to stay at Happy Tails while we return to Seattle to pack and move.  

Tomorrow I’ll book our flights, schedule the movers, meet with our architect, and we’ll stop at the Charles Schwab office to talk about getting a construction loan/mortgage.

Target dates for being back in Seattle are January 7-18.

Roller Coasters and Merry-Go-Rounds.

Dec '09

A Little of Everything

Our friends Luis and Jolie visited Tuesday evening through Saturday morning. Luis’ mom lives in the Raleigh area and they visited her for a few days before coming over to Asheville and then heading back there for a few more days. While they were here we checked out the Gingerbread houses at the Grove Park Inn. The top 10 finalists in each category were simply amazing. Valerie was considering entering next year until we learned that many of the entrants spend 600+ hours working on their houses. That’s a bit much and hard to compete with. We also went to the Biltmore to see the decorated house. It was nice but I don’t think really remarkable – except for the 35′ tree in the banquet hall! Now, that’s a tree. We’ll try to go back for the Candlelight tour where they have choirs singing European carols, vintage ballroom dancers, and dramatic Christmas readings. That’s the nice thing about the annual pass, we can go as often as we want.

Today. we’re back to painting the bedrooms, hallway, and bathrooms of Camp Bell.

The escrow company has FedEx’d our closing paperwork. It should arrive on Monday. We sign and FedEx it back. The buyers sign and on the 21st we become renters of 13404 184th AVE NE. Incomprehensible.

We met with Steve Farrell, our architect, and Steve Williams, our builder, to knock out a few details and discuss the path forward. We may go for permit this month just to get the ball rolling and could start construction in late January. We need to meet again early next week. Still lots to do. 

We stopped in at one bank that our builder has worked with. I wasn’t too impressed with them and will talk to a couple more this coming week about their construction/mortgage programs. Interest rates are at an all-time-low and we’ll never see money this cheap again. Need to take advantage of it and lock in before rates go up to pay for TARP and Obamacare.

We and Serena have an appointment on Tuesday morning at Happy Tails Country Club to see if Serena would be a good fit to stay there while we go back to Seattle in January to pack and move. They seem to be pretty thorough and don’t take just any dog – and that’s a good thing! Our decision as to where we leave from and where Serena stays for our 2-week Seattle trip will be made after our visit.

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Dec '09

What Now?

So what happens now? Well, closing is still scheduled for Dec 21 and so far, so good on that. The buyers have closed on their house in Baltimore so their only other outstanding contingency is the appraisal. As long as it comes back more than the selling price it’s all a done deal. We’re supposed to get our paperwork FedEx’d to us next Tuesday. We’ll meet at Shelle’s office to sign and get it notarized and FedEx it back. The buyers will sign on Monday the 21st and on the 22nd we’ll be 30-day renters of 13404 184th Ave. That’s weird.

Some time the first week of January we’ll head back to Seattle and spend two weeks packing so that the TBD movers can load up the week of January 18. What we don’t know is where Serena will stay and where we’ll leave from. One option is to drive to Indianapolis and have Serena stay with Valerie’s sister or mother. We could then fly Southwest from IND to SEA. The other option is to find a caring, reliable, trustworthy, qualified dog sitter in Asheville and then leave from here. We’re going to the vet on Monday and will ask them for recommendations.

I’ve been reading the online reviews of the major moving companies. All of them are highly negative (except for ABF’s). Basically people think they hire convicts off the street who steal their stuff, pack it poorly, throw it in the truck, drive it cross-country on bumpy roads, loose it, damage it when unloading, charge them extra, hold their stuff for ransom, ignore their complaints and never reimburse them for damage and loss. I’d love to use ABF, as we did for our first load, but this load will be mostly furniture which won’t pack well in a tall truck and will require lots of blankets. We’re just going to have to chance it and use Mayflower or Allied.

Dec '09

You Know You’re an Asheviller If…

We bought our annual passes to the Biltmore, today. I also stopped in at Asheville Cardiology, filled out the new patient forms and scheduled an appointment with my new cardiologist for December 29.  We had our heating oil tank filled, subscribed to the daily paper, and have been busy working on Camp Bell. I think that makes us Ashevillers.

Oh, Asheville Cardiology is IMPRESSIVE! It encompasses an entire building. There are 29 cardiologists and they do everything heart related including stents, nuclear imaging, and pacemakers. They even have an ambulance entrance. It’s one-stop shopping for heart care. There were at least 40 people in the waiting room (as is typical, I was the youngest and most in-shape looking). Their location is now programmed into our Jeep’s GPS.

Nov '09

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Less than 48 hours after our arrival in Indiana on our way to Asheville for the holidays, because we needed to get away from the drudgery of living in a staged house with none of our stuff and having to deal with random showings…we sold our house. Yep. That’s right. We sold our house. I need to say that again so it sinks in. We sold our house. Five months of frustration and when we finally give up and leave town to clear our heads, we sell our house. If I was writing a TV drama that would be a great monkey wrench to throw in to screw with the plot—but I’m blogging our real life adventure. You can’t make this stuff up!

We’re happy (I think), relieved, sad, excited, and pondering what happens now. We watched the movie Up last night. Lots of it hit home with us. “It’s only a house.”

The offer seems solid and is only contingent on an inspection of our house and the buyers closing on their house (in two weeks) that they’ve already sold. Our closing is December 21 but the buyers are willing to let us stay in the house until January 21. Thank You! That will give us assurance that the deal will really happen before we start the ball rolling on moving, signing construction contracts, etc. and will give us time to pack and move.

Since we have that extra time, one option is to just continue on with our plan. We could stay here in Indiana through Thanksgiving then drive down to Asheville to stay through Christmas. While there we could talk to the bank for a construction loan, sign the building contract, find a cardiologist, and take in the Christmas season. If we can find a place for Serena for a couple weeks we could fly back to Seattle in early January, hire movers, pack up, say our goodbyes, then fly east. Another option is to turn the Jeep around and drive back to Seattle—now. Valerie’s not too keen on that idea. Can’t say I am, either. We don’t have to decide, today. We’ll figure it out. In the mean time, we’ll try not to stress and will enjoy Thanksgiving. We have lots to be thankful for.

Oct '09

Just Hold Your Nose and Sign It

We got an offer on our house last night from the “minivan family” (see yesterday’s blog) and we signed it. We did wait until this evening after we heard from the folks who looked at our house at 4:00. They said our house “wasn’t for them” so the decision was easy. Assuming the loan goes through and there aren’t any issues, closing is scheduled for November 25 (the day before Thanksgiving and Valerie’s birthday) or before.

Although I held my nose when I signed, it does mean that WE NO LONGER HAVE TO SHOW THE HOUSE! It also means that the next 4 weeks will be CRAZY getting ready to move.

I talked to our builder in Asheville and he’s finishing a house now and will be building a garage for his daughter next. Our architect needs to finish our plans and get them to the City for permit and I need to talk to an Asheville bank about a construction loan. Luckily mortgage interest rates are still at all-time lows and it was a very quiet hurricane season so building material prices haven’t risen since our July construction quotes. All this points to a potential construction start date the first of the year.

As for moving…we have two quotes in hand. I’ll probably go with Mayflower and will call them on Monday to see when we can get on their schedule. It also means that we have tons of stuff (furniture, generator, compressor, etc) to sell. We’ll start taking pictures and posting items on Craigslist ASAP. Does anyone need a couple old portable color TV’s that aren’t digital-ready? I didn’t think so.

If this post seems a bit glum, it is. After the foul odor from the contract wears off I’ll be okay. Valerie’s trying to put it in perspective for me saying how many people out there would be thrilled to sell their house in four months and make the profit we did in this down market. She’s right, but it still hurts. Ah, we’ll try to make up some of the $$ by putting lots of lipstick on Camp Bell before we list it for sale. It’s all good.

Aug '09


Here are a few other titles for this post: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More coming as I learn it.

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

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

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