Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Feb '10

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Today’s blog is in deference to Meatloaf’s 1977 hit song, “Two out of three ain’t bad”. The goals this week were to get our “excessive height” variance, get approval on our house plans from our developer, and receive our mortgage. Well, two out of three ain’t bad – especially if number three will happen on Monday.

Last Monday I went to the City’s variance committee board meeting with our builder, Steve. I got sworn in just in case I needed to talk, then Nathan, the City staff guy who reviewed our application, did a 5-minute presentation to the board. He described the height issue and showed a drawing of our garage on the overhead. The board chair asked me if I had anything to say. I said, “No”, figuring that nothing I’d say would help (and might hurt). One board member said, “We see this type of thing a lot.” Then one of them said, “I make a motion to approve the request.” Another said, “I second.” The clerk took a vote and all the members said “Aye.” The clerk said, “The variance is approved.” And that was that. Ten minutes tops. We were the second of only two issues on the agenda so the meeting was adjourned. Nathan told Steve and I that he’d have the building permit ready for us in a couple days (though we didn’t actually get it until Friday afternoon) but that’s one down.

I called the developer’s lawyer on Monday to ask what our status was on getting their approval of our plans. I didn’t hear anything by Wednesday and called back. He told me that we were approved and that he had emailed me the news on Monday afternoon. Huh? I didn’t get it. He checked his computer and it turns out that his email bounced back because our system thought his law firm was a spammer. He can’t send us an email. Maybe their firm is a spammer?! Anyway, he confirmed that we’re approved. That’s two down.

Number three was getting our mortgage approval. We went with Schwab because that’s who we have our investments with and because they have great rates and a good construction loan process. They also initially said they could get us approved in 3-4 weeks. After we signed the application it became 7-8 weeks. But then, because of Christmas week, because our liaison was out sick for a while (apparently without a backup), because the title search took longer than anticipated, because a fax was sent to them and lost for a week, because, because, because, we’ve been in limbo for 9+ weeks. The good news is that I made a call to our investment advisor and he “lit a fire” under the bank people. Lo-and-behold everything magically came together on Thursday and we’ll close at a local lawyer’s office on Monday morning. Three out of three!

All this means that on Monday at 11:00am, we can officially break ground. We’ll find out, soon, from Steve when that will actually be. Hooray!

Feb '10


BorschtWe had some errands to run, today, and ended up at one of Valerie’s favorite lunch spots, Tod’s Tasties. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place in the Montford area of Asheville that has a limited menu of really great, simple, food! Val’s favorite is the Chicken Salad Melt. Each time we visit she says she’ll try something new, but she can’t keep from ordering the melt. This time, though, she also ordered a cup of the soup-of-the-day which, today, happened to be Borscht. Surprisingly, the foodie that she is, she’s never had borscht. And, I, even having some Polish blood in me, have never had it either. We were pleasantly surprised. Who knew that warm beet soup could be good?  She’s going to look up some recipes and try making it herself.

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Feb '10

Drafty No More

The first big project (relatively) on Camp Bell is done. I replaced the door on the side of the garage. The original 1975 vintage wood door was severely racked, so much that there was a 1″ gap at the top and bottom. There was no threshold which meant that rain water would run underneath. One of the glass panes was broken and the wood frame was rotted where it touched the concrete floor. All in all, it was in sorry shape. After a trip to Lowes for a new insulated steel door and the lumber necessary to reframe it plus a couple hours of work, we now have a functional airtight door. No more hanging a bath towel over it to keep out the draft and prevent the pipes from freezing. After another trip to Lowes for a few trim pieces and generic white paint and the door looks like it’s always been there, only better. The next project is to replace the door that goes from the garage into the basement. Most of its bottom is missing. We think that sometime in Camp Bell’s past a pet dog tried to escape by digging through the door. No one, prior to us, has been motivated to fix it, but it will get fixed now!

Old Inside Old Outside

New Inside New Outside

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Feb '10

Camp Bell Becomes Livable

In the last week Camp Bell has become pretty livable. Since we’ve gotten back from our road trip, Valerie has been on a mission to unpack the dozens of boxes still scattered around the house and make Camp Bell less of a camp and more of a temporary home. One of the two guest bedrooms is now box-free and actually looks like a bedroom with a bed (and bedspread and pillows), chair, and nightstand. Our master bedroom and bath is completely unpacked and functional. The other bedroom is 75% there but it’s doubling as a storage room/pantry overflow with 8′ of wire racks. We’re also using its closet as our painting supply storage area. The bed is set up so it could be used as a second guest bedroom in a pinch.

The family room, our primary living space, isn’t really the right dimensions for our furniture but we’ve made do by putting the TV on top of an end table and by sticking my recliner in the corner next to it. (I now share the couch with Serena who seems to have abandoned her dog bed now that the couch is here.) We didn’t have time to paint the family room before our stuff arrived and the earthtone fabric and leather of our furniture doesn’t exactly go well with the pinkish color of the walls. But, we’ll remedy that soon. At least with all the boxes gone, it’s a real usable family room.

Valerie has the kitchen unpacked and she’s been able to use it for cooking. A small kitchen really reveals how many counter-top appliances you have and this one is tight. That’s why she’s resorted to using the racks in one of the bedrooms for overflow. She won’t have that problem at Vance Gap! The breakfast area has become the office and has a 4′ table for a desk and two half-height wire racks for “open” storage. Did I mention that the washer and dryer are in the closet in the breakfast area/kitchen? We fold clothes on the kitchen counter! Weird.

The living/dining room still needs a bit of work. Today we’ll move the table and chairs into place and over the next week or so attempt to tame the jungle of plants sitting on a camo tarp in front of the sliding doors. Our poor plants need some TLC to help them recover from the move. They’re looking a bit haggard but will hopefully recover after some pruning, fertilizer, and maybe some repotting.

The basement storage room is wall-to-wall boxes. It’s embarrassing to know that we have that much stuff that we don’t need day-to-day. The shop area is usable and Valerie has grouped the tools on the workbench in a logical fashion so finding a wrench or a staple gun isn’t difficult. The garage is the overflow and one bay holds the jukebox, pinball machine, extra couch, chairs, living room shelves, etc. I hate leaving this stuff out there, but there’s no where else to put it. Hopefully once I replace the severely aged exterior door (pictures of that project to come) the garage will not be so open to the weather.

I think that’s the tour. Camp Bell has become livable. I can’t throw my granola bar wrappers on the ground floor any more.

Feb '10

Mr. Pine’s Purple House

Lots will be happening on our house next week. On Monday, the City of Asheville Board of Adjustment will decide on our variance request for the excessive height of our garage. “Excessive height?” Well, it’s all in how you (they) look at it. Our garage is considered an “accessory building” because it’s separate from the house. Apparently it doesn’t matter that it shares a foundation wall and that it’s attached via a breezeway. The city considers it separate and it therefore has different (lesser) height limits than the house. We’re building on a hillside so the garage will have a shop under it and a crawlspace under that like we had in Woodinville. We’re going to fill in the hole from the street to the garage for our driveway and the garage will, in the end, only appear from the front to be one story high. But, for permitting, the city measures from the current ground level, not the future ground level, and that adds about 10 feet to the height. Such tall structures aren’t permitted on ridge lines because of the eyesore they create from below so we needed to ask for a variance to allow us to build the garage. Purple HouseThe staff who reviewed our request is recommending to the board that it be approved so hopefully it’ll be a rubber stamp. I’ll be going to the meeting to see sausage being made how the city government operates and to answer any questions they might have. You can see us on the COA schedule… Yes, it’s a little buracracy and yes, we had to pay some $$ to the city coffer, but it’s nothing compared to what we would have to do in King County.

We’re expecting to soon hear from our subdivision developer regarding his approval of our house plans. The covenants aren’t too restrictive but each house is reviewed to make sure it fits in to the natural surroundings. No Purple Houses!

And, finally, we should be hearing from Charles Schwab (well, not him personally) about our mortgage. We’re pre-approved for the amount we need but over the last few weeks we’ve been jumping through all kinds of hoops to get them the information they need to make sure we’re going to build what we say we’re going to build. Construction mortgages are a whole different thing than regular mortgages. The builder has to be okayed, the fictional house has to appraised, the plans and all the material selections have to be approved, etc. The bank wants to be sure they don’t give you a pile of money to build a nice house and you turn around and put up a double-wide on cinder blocks. Given today’s financial markets they are being especially careful – probably how they should have been all along so the economy didn’t get into this mess, but I digress…

Anyway, if all goes as hoped and planned, we should have everything in place to start construction by the end of next week, weather permitting. But, as I look out the window, I see that it’s snowing, again.

P.S. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Pine’s Purple House, here’s the review from Amazon:

“Mr. Pine lived on Vine Street in a little white house.” That’s all fine and dandy, but there are 50 white houses on Vine Street, all in a line, and Mr. Pine can’t tell which one is his! To distinguish his own abode, he decides to plant a little pine tree in front, but his neighbors like that idea so much, they do it, too. Even when he plants a bush next to his tree, everyone follows suit. Finally, Mr. Pine paints his house purple–and to his delight, no one else wants a purple house. His neighbors are inspired, however, to paint their own houses all different colors, their first break with conformity. (“‘Yellow for me,’ said Mrs. Green. ‘Green for me,’ said Mrs. Brown.”) First published in 1965 and out of print until recently, Leonard Kessler’s Mr. Pine’s Purple House–a story of the triumph of individualism–has crept into the hearts of thousands of readers for decades. Simple but memorable line drawings (splashed with purple), large type, and airy design combine with a meaningful story to make this a perfect choice for early readers who one day will dare to be different.

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Feb '10

R.I.P. Buffy the Guinea Pig

We arrived back in Asheville last night. The weather was great for driving – no snow! Indianapolis got a few more inches while we were there, enough to cancel schools one day and have a two-hour delay the next. Luckily it stopped snowing and the roads were cleared before we left. Because of the poor weather we ended up staying at Pat and Mike’s and only got to spend one day with Valerie’s Mom and Dad. We did get to visit with Linda and Sarah for a few hours but had to high-tail it back to north Indi before the snow rolled in.

We did have an unfortunate “incident” with Serena. Abby had (past tense) a guinea pig named Buffy who lived in a cage in Abby’s bedroom. Well, on Wednesday night, Valerie, Mike, Jack, and I we were all in the kitchen talking while Valerie was making dinner. Pat was out and Abby was at a basketball game. The three dogs typically hung out with us, but this evening Serena disappeared for a while. I didn’t think anything of it, which was a BIG mistake. After maybe 15 minutes of no Serena, she came down the stairs that lead from the kid’s bedrooms. She had an “I did something and I’m not sure you’re gonna like it” look on her face. Mike and I simultaneously knew what happened and bounded up the stairs. Abby’s door was closed but the bathroom door was open and its inner door to Abby’s bedroom was open. Buffy’s cage was tilted over and leaning on the bed. The cage had separated from the plastic pan underneath. Buffy was not inside. We started looking under the bed and behind the furniture. No Buffy. We walked out towards the hall and there was Buffy on the floor. Dead. Serena’s rodent catching skills were effective on guinea pig pets in cages. She probably caught a whiff of Buffy wafting down the stairs and went up to dispatch of it like she’s done with countless moles and mice. To her, a rodent is a rodent. Hopefully it went quickly and painlessly.

Mike and I bagged the body, cleaned up the carpet and cage, and put the cage and supplies in the garage. We waited until Abby got home for Mike to break the news to her. She cried, but handled it well. She’s okay with Serena and understands that it’s in Serena’s genes to hunt rodents. That doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is. We didn’t yell at or punish Serena. We didn’t catch her in the act so it was too late to correct her for it (the same reason why putting a dog’s nose in its poop doesn’t work for house training). Pat and Mike didn’t evict us but we’ll probably be leaving Serena at Happy Tails next time we visit. I think she’s worn out her welcome. We’re sorry, Abby.

In researching this post, I discovered that in a Spanish painting of the Last Supper, painter Marcos Zapata depicted Christ and his twelve apostles about to dine on…guinea pig.

Feb '10

Snow, Glorious Snow

We’ve been in PA visiting my parents since Monday evening and awoke this morning, our travel day to Indianapolis, to 15” of snow! Getting some snow wasn’t a surprise as the forecast was for 6-8”, but the storm hovered a bit longer than anticipated over western PA and dumped from 3:00pm yesterday to 10:00am this morning. We should be happy with just 15″ as some areas got even more. It’s beautiful and not something we get to see every day so we’re enjoying it. Dad manned the snow blower and I manned the shovel and we cleared off the driveway and the deck. Dad also did a couple of the neighbors’ driveways. Luckily it wasn’t heavy and wet so we were able to make short work of it. The state actually owns a few plows (unlike in WA and NC) so the roads were being plowed and salted all night. They were able to keep up with it. By midmorning, the asphalt was showing on the road out front so we decided to make the 360 mile trip starting around noon. The storm finished in Indiana last night so the weather and the roads should get better as we go further west. I think the snow is following us around the country. Let’s see if we get more while we’re in Indiana.

Snow Dog Only way to do it! 15 Inches

P.S. We made it to Valerie’s sister Pat’s house in Fishers, IN, at 7:00pm. Starting out, I-680 was pretty hazardous with lots of snow and ice. Once we got to I-76 and I-71 the roads became clear and dry. But, I-70 between Columbus and Indianapolis was VERY BAD. There were too many cars and trucks off the road to count. Some accidents had occured much earlier but several were very recent. The problem was that snow was drifting over the road and turning to a hard, rough, icy layer. We’d be driving along on clear pavement when all of a sudden we’d hit several inches of bumpy ice. Luckily we could see the taillights of trucks up ahead and know if they were slowing down or changing lanes. A Greyhound bus was down in the median. An Allied Van Lines truck and trailer was down there, too (I feel sorry for those people who had their household goods in that trailer). Several double trailers were way off the road – jack-knifed like an accordion and facing the wrong way. I would not want to see that happen! Cars were buried on both sides every couple miles. But we made it, despite our frozen wiper fluid and several stops to clean the windshield. The Indianapolis forecast is for another snowstorm Monday night and Tuesday morning. It has to be us!

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