Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Wed
31
Mar '10

“Could you find a steeper lot?”

We finally moved some dirt this week! It rained on Sunday and was too wet on Monday to do anything, but yesterday and today they were able to get down the hill and get their boots dirty. First up was digging the trench and laying the pipe for the sewer line from the house to the city tap-in — approximately 200′ down the hill at a 45° angle. Jeff Nelson, our backhoe operator extraordinaire, didn’t sweat it. His biggest worry wasn’t tipping over, it was throwing a track. Apparently if you turn a backhoe sideways on a steep hill and you slide, one or both of the tracks will come off. That’s a tough problem to fix halfway down a steep hill in the middle of a forest. His other problem was that because the dirt was still wet from Sunday’s rain he couldn’t go up hill, only down. He tried. No way. Zero traction. The original plan was to dig the ditch going down, lay the pipe, then climb back up, covering as he went. What he ending up doing was digging the ditch going down then following the city sewer right-of-way back around the subdivision to the street, going back onto our lot, straddling the pipe and covering it going down, again, then driving back around to the top one last time. The joke is that because our waste line is so steep our effluent will reach supersonic speeds by the time it hits the manhole at the bottom. Seriously, though, the plumber had to put a few 45° angles in the pipe to slow things down a bit. Otherwise, the solids would separate from the liquids and possibly clog the pipe. Ah, the things I’ve learned in the last year about poop and pee flowing down hill…

No problem! Steve getting his workout Steep enough for ya?

Today, the surveyor came out to re-stake the corners and the foundation crew arrived to start digging the footings. They started about 11:00 and by 3:00, when we arrived, had already gotten several sections dug. So far, they have not hit any ledges or boulders, just virgin soil. We suspect that will end when they get to the back wall of the garage. Just beyond that is a ledge that protrudes from the ground. It’s not going anywhere so if they do hit it, Steve (our builder) says they will likely drill into it and insert steel pins that will tie into the concrete footings. Boulders, if they find them, would be a problem because they have to be removed. We’ll know by Friday afternoon what they discover as they plan to be done by then, have an inspection, and pour concrete on Monday.

Construction Site Footings are started Serena, Steve, and Ron

We were standing around talking to Steve about 4:30 when the city inspector showed up to inspect the sewer line. Before he got there I asked Steve if the inspector would actually climb all the way down the hill to look at the pipe and all the connections. Steve answered, “Hell no!” Knowing that, Steve took pictures of everything before they covered the ditch so the inspector could see what they did. Steve was right. The inspector’s first comment when he stepped out of the truck was “Could you find a steeper lot?” He then went down to the “riser” that will be in the crawlspace of the house, peered down the hill, chatted with Steve, looked at the pictures and gave us a “green tag” to proceed.

But, the most important thing that happened, today…Happy 21st Anniversary, Valerie, I Love You!

Happy 21st Anniversary!

Mon
29
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…

aw

 Woodinville weather forecast for the upcoming year month week:

Woodinville Weather

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Fri
26
Mar '10

Valerie Declares, “I can live here!”

breadfestwebWe knew that Asheville would be a great place for us to live with its mountains, culture, arts, food, etc but it helps to occasionally get confirmation that we made the right decision. Last Saturday, Valerie had such a day. Asheville has an annual Artisan Bread Festival that showcases bread from all the local bakeries (there are at least 10 of them in the area) and brings in famous bread makers/chefs for seminars and demonstrations. Valerie scored a hard-to-get ticket to see Peter Reinhart and attended his Saturday afternoon class on bread making. She LOVED it! She signed up to be one of the recipe testers for his next book and got an autographed copy of his just released book, Artisan Breads Every Day. Peter’s going to be in Seattle in April to teach a class and promote his book, but little Asheville got him first, and she was here to see him. The funny thing is, the Asheville class was free (if you managed to get a ticket) but the Seattle class is $70. She came back from the class and the first thing she said to me was “I can live here!” Next up, cheese making and beer making classes.

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Wed
24
Mar '10

70 Degrees and 7.6 Miles

Serena's tongue was out all day!

Spring has sprung. We had a light dusting of snow a couple days ago but today was glorious—70 degrees and crystal blue sunny skies. Although we are deep into Camp Bell projects, Valerie working on the guest bath and me on the front living room wall, we decided to forego remodeling work for some play. Behind our subdivision is a huge swath, probably thousands of acres, of undeveloped Biltmore property. It runs parallel to and is on both sides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has several trails cut through it and although it’s posted “no trespassing” it is frequented by hikers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers, including us. Unless it has rained a lot and is excessively muddy, we take Serena there twice a day for her exercise. Up until now, however, we’ve only gone so far on the trails. The neighbors had told us that you can get to the parkway and beyond so given today’s perfect weather we decided to check it out. We ended up doing 3.8 miles each way. It’s about 3 miles from Camp Bell to the parkway. There’s a small, decommissioned, reservoir there that one of the neighbors told us used to supply the Biltmore House. Unfortunately, it’s fenced and Serena couldn’t go for a swim. We then went under the parkway and added another 0.8 miles on National Forest trails to a quiet spot where we had lunch. There were a couple 300-400′ hills (they call ‘em mountains here) along the way and we ended up getting a great first-hike-of-the-season workout. I see my cardiologist next week and will tell him I’m doing fine. Next time we’ll take a right at the Y in the trail and see where that takes us…rumor is to a lodge at the top owned by one of the Biltmore sons. Maybe security will give us a ride back down the mountain…

No excavation work over the last three days. Contractors. Love ‘em.

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Sat
20
Mar '10

Johnny on the Spot

Two big events happened this week…our lot was cleared and we got a Johnny on the Spot (portable toilet). It’s funny how every area has their own chain of toilet rental companies and all the unique names they come up with – Honey Bucket, Port-o-letCall-a-Head, Royal Flush, Tanks Alot, Oiu Oiu Enterprises, Willie Make It, and Doodie Calls. In Asheville, I’ve seen two, Jethro’s Johnnies and ours, Johnny on the Spot. The question is not, “Will Ron use it?” the question is, “Will Valerie use it?”

I learned this week why it now takes ten months to build a house (compared to the 5 1/2 it took to build our Johnson City house). It took a week, in calendar time, to clear our lot. In actual on-the-job labor time I think it took about 20 hours—4 hours last Friday, 6 hours on Monday, 2 hours on Tuesday, zero hours on Wednesday, etc. No hurries, no worries. But, that is the message we’ve given our builder. We do not have a deadline to get the house built. When given the choice, choose higher quality and lower cost over time. It’ll get done when it gets done. My that’s hard for me to say :-) .

Anyway, the construction area (house plus twenty feet or so) is cleared and ready for the footers to be dug. We didn’t have that many large trees to remove, maybe six. The rest were small scrubby trees just a few inches around. There was one large oak tree that had a split trunk about 50′ up and was severely diseased. I counted the tree rings on one of the logs and it was over 150 years old. Oh, the stories it could tell! We did have to remove two large, 75′+, healthy pines that, although not in the construction area, were leaning towards the house. The lot next to ours has one on the ground that looks to have fallen several years ago. I envisioned our house being crushed and decided they had to go. There is a third huge pine that’s straight and true and appears to be healthy so we’ll keep it and let it watch over us. Next week, weather permitting, we (the guy in the trackhoe, not Valerie and I with shovels) will dig the footers.

Johnny on the Spot Firewood for the Builder Steep Slope? No Problem.

Serena, the Construction Dog Mountain View A girl and Her Dog

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Wed
17
Mar '10

A House Built Over Time

I’ve finally gotten around to posting our house plans so y’all can see what we’re building. Below is the front view, facing east. The overall architectural concept is that of a house built over time. We didn’t come up with this, our architect did, but it seems to work well given all the wish list items we wanted in our house. The center of the house has a 2-story stone section that is considered the “original” structure. A 3-story stairwell is in that stoned area. Directly attached to it is the remainder of the original house that has our entry, foyer, powder, dining, and kitchen. Attached to the main section, to the north, is a shed-like section (remember, this house was built over time) that contains the Costco room (pantry), mudroom, and screened porch. The pantry is about 100sf and contains not just lots of shelves and storage but also a freezer and small upright washer/dryer. It reminds me of the addition on Valerie’s parent’s farm house that’s used as a pantry and entrance. The screened porch that connects to the house and to the deck is similar to the screened porch on my parent’s house. To the other side of the center section is an “addition” that was built some time later that contains our living room and office. Above is the master suite with a large shower and walk-in closet. Our touch is having the washer/dryer in the closet–where all the dirty clothes are–imagine that! On the lower level are two bedrooms, a smaller version of our Woodinville house game room, and the mechanical room. There’s also an unfinished room that could be finished and used as a fourth bedroom.

cropped_front

To the left (north) of the house is a separate garage. We really wanted this feature for two reasons. One, we think it just looks better than a house with massive garage doors on the front. Many of the houses in Seattle (and ours was one of them) have two or even three garage doors front-and-center, often making them larger than the rest of the house’s facade. Yuk. And, two, having a separate garage is much better for indoor air quaility. If the garage is attached to the house that’s typically where the furnace is placed. You pull in with your car, turn off the engine and close the garage doors. All that carbon monoxide and other gases spewing from your car then get sucked into the furnace and circulated into your house. Double yuk. We think that having the garage connected to the house via a breezeway that leads to a mudroom and pantry will make it just as convenient as having the garage as part of the house but without the negatives. Our workshop/art studio is under the garage and is accessible from the lower level of the house under the breezeway.

A couple other things to note…We are on a steep hillside which is why we ended up having three levels. For that reason, and because WE ARE NEVER MOVING AGAIN, we have an elevator shaft. Someday, if we need it, we can have an elevator installed. For now, we’ll have three extra closets. Also, because of the steepness, we need to create our front yard. We are building a concrete “tub” from the road to the front of the house and filling it in. On top of that tub will be our driveway, walk, and front yard. One cool feature our architect designed is a bridge that leads from the side of the tub to our front door. Standing there, visitors will be able to wonder how the heck this house was built on such a steep hill. Other tidbits…2997 square feet plus the garage; metal roof; pre-painted fiber-cement siding; 9′ ceilings; 6′ high windows in the back to take in the view; cherry cabinets and trim; several built-in bench window seats; two levels of deck; and many many other little features that we’ve noted and wanted “over time”.

Main Floor Plan   Upper Floor Plan   Lower Floor Plan   Front Elevation   Rear Elevation   Side Elevations

P.S. Today is an anniversary. Twenty one years ago, today, March 17, 1989, we moved into our just complete house in Johnson City, TN.

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Mon
15
Mar '10

It’s Gonna Be Fun Fixing It Up, You’ll See

One of our favorite movies is The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. It’s about a young couple who buy a fixer-upper house in hopes of making it their dream home. On the surface everything looks fine and they think they got a great deal. Once they start renovating, though, it turns out that looks can be deceiving. What should be simple repairs turn out to be much much more (ridiculously so) and every problem costs $5000 and takes two weeks to fix. Watch this movie trailer before you read on:

When we bought it, we knew that Camp Bell needed some work. We had it inspected and we knew (mostly) what we had going in. But, in the spirit of The Money Pit, we are discovering a few surprises. Today, Valerie started work on the guest bathroom. We expected to recaulk the tub and refinish some rust spots. We also planned to repaint the walls and ceiling and replace the mirror and light fixture. We also knew that the wall and floor tile needed to be regrouted and that one or two loose tiles needed to be refastened. Nothing major was planned, until Valerie popped up one loose tile, then another, then another, then another – using nothing but a thin blade and two fingers!

 

To quote Tom Hanks when the bathtub falls through the floor, “HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HEE HAW HE HAW HE HAW HA HA HA HA!”

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Sat
13
Mar '10

Ready, Set, Go!

Although we haven’t officially “broken ground” yet, you could call Friday, March 12, the start of construction. The big trackhoe was brought in and several trees were cut down. They also began putting up silt fence around the construction site to keep mud and debris from running down the hill. Once that’s all installed the city inspector will give the okay to start digging the foundation and utility ditches. Friday was a short day of work because just after lunch we had torrential rains come through. Today was rainy, too, but the weather is supposed to be drier tomorrow and then the sun is forecast to come out for the first half of next week. It’s time to get out the muck boots. Hooray!

Serena surveying her property Yes, you can build on this hill Maybe we should have put in a fireplace

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Wed
10
Mar '10

We have Stakes in the Ground, Again

Blue Stakes at the CornersAll systems are go, but we haven’t broken ground, yet. The surveyor came back out yesterday and reset the corner stakes to a slightly new location. After we looked at his previous spot we decided to rotate the house slightly counterclockwise. We are building on a steep slope and it’s steeper on one side than the other. Every foot further away from the street means more concrete foundation and more $$ so we turned the house and garage to shorten the distance on the steepest (garage) side. The new location looks great. It’s time to bring in the chainsaws and bulldozers! Our builder says that may happen tomorrow – but it’s supposed to rain. This is why it’s gonna take ten months to build.

Unfortunately, I have a problem with my time lapse camera setup. We went out, today, to check it and the battery was dead. Not only that, but the pictures it took while it was alive were essentially black and I have no idea why that’s the case. I suspected that the battery life might be a problem (which is why I’m testing it now before much happens on the lot) but didn’t think the battery would die in only two days. The camera is supposed to go into a low power “sleep mode” between pictures but apparently even then it’s using too much battery power. I brought back the battery to put on the charger and took another battery back out to replace it. I did find new camera firmware on the Kodak website that says it helps with battery life in time lapse mode so I’ll try installing that tomorrow. I may also try another battery configuration that uses six D-cells straight to the camera instead of the motorcycle battery and power converter in case it’s the converter that’s drawing the power. We’ll see.

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Tue
9
Mar '10

Brothel?

We have heard from multiple sources (architect, builder, future neighbors) that long, long, ago our lot was next to a house of ill repute. We have also heard a rumour that during prohibition there was a speakeasy, nearby. We don’t have any more specifics and we hadn’t seen any evidence of prior houses – until last week. All the leaves are off the trees and when we were walking back to the Jeep from our lot we spotted an old house down the hill. The house is below the lot next to ours and is really hidden in the trees and brush. I did some research on the county GIS website and found that there is a third-acre orphan lot that doesn’t have any street access. It’s sandwiched in between our lot, our neighbors’, and a lot below. I also found a hand drawn map from 1985 that shows a road, Boxwood Lane, that used to wind down there but no longer exists. We had to check this out in person so we climbed down the hill (you do literally climb down our hill) to see this mystery house up close. Sure enough, it’s there. It’s old. It has two trees on it and there’s not much left standing. We looked around (didn’t go inside because it’s too dangerous) but have no idea if this is “the house” everyone’s talking about. I think, though, after we get moved in and settled that we’ll be going to the library to do some research and I’ll be buying a metal detector!

IMG_1676 Brothel? Peek in the Window

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Fri
5
Mar '10

Little Pink Walls

Pink WallsI think I mentioned a while back that we were repainting the entire interior of Camp Bell. We did the ceilings and many of the walls before our stuff got moved here but there is still a lot left to do. Why repaint? Well, besides the paint being dirty and worn, much of it is PINK! Apparently, in 1992 (when we think the house was updated) pink was the hot color. In this house everything has/had a pinkish tone to it – even the off-white baseboard and trim and the kitchen countertops. Eventually it all has to go. Valerie is now working on the family room which has painted wood paneling walls. Back in 1975 it was dark walnut, the rustic type with knot holes and rough grooves between the panels. Sometime in the past it was painted over in, yes, pink. Sure, it brightened up the saloon-ish looking room, but in a Brokeback Mountain kinda way. Just repainting it with a neutral taupe would help but we’re taking the extra step of filling in the dozens of knot holes and smoothing out the grooves with plaster. After also painting the trim and windows with a snappy white it will look much more like an up-to-date sunroom. Gotta consider resale. I don’t think pink walls have wide appeal.

P.S. Nothing on construction this week. The snow is slowly melting. It’s supposed to hit 60 on Monday. Maybe we can break ground soon.

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Thu
4
Mar '10

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A couple weeks ago we noticed several “Coming Soon…Real Estate Auction” signs pointing their way to our future neighborhood. Given the state of the economy these signs aren’t scarce, but since they were pointing to our neck of the woods we followed them to see where they would lead. They took us up the hill past our subdivision to an exclusive high $$ area known as Highland Gate. Initially we couldn’t find the house the signs referred to but eventually I saw a sign laying down in the yard of a brand new California-style house. Maybe the owners didn’t want the neighbors to know that it was them and took down the sign. We went to the website for the auctioneer and discovered that the house was listed as a “seizure” by the DOJ, FBI, and ATF! WOW! Illegal Gambling HouseThat ain’t no standard foreclosure. We did some more sleuthing but couldn’t find out what the story was behind the house. The auction site said that there was going to be an open house on March 14 and a public auction on March 22 – we definitely planned to go. Nosey neighbors.

I opened the paper, today, and there’s a picture of the house and a story outlining all the gory details. In December of 2007, the Buncombe County Sheriff, Bobby Medford, and three of his officers were arrested, under federal indictment, for extorting money from illegal video poker operations. It was a BIG local story. Ex-sheriff Medford is now serving 15 years in federal prison. (Coincidentally, when we were here in May of 2008 looking for property and were playing tourist downtown there was a media circus around the courthouse and we had no idea why. It was the trial.) This house was owned, and just built last year, by one of the guys, Imran Alam, who was paying bribes to the sheriff and making money off of illegal gambling. He got caught and the feds are auctioning his house and his other property to pay off the $1.68M he made from his little operation. His sentencing is March 9.

More info:

Bobby Medford Indicted on Federal Extortion Charges

Medford Found Guilty on All Counts    

Medford Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

Home of Man Who Bribed Bobby Medford to be Auctioned

Williams & Williams Auctions (pictures of the house)

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Tue
2
Mar '10

Science Fair Project – Time Lapse Camera

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been working on a little science fair type project. I thought it would be nice to have a camera set up that would take daily snapshots of our house being built. At the end of construction I could put them all together to make a time lapse movie. To make this happen I had (at least) two big problems that needed to be overcome. First, the camera needs to be in exactly the same spot for each picture. Second, the pictures need to be taken every day, or maybe even twice a day, which means that I’d be committed to daily trips to the lot for the next ten months (no vacations, no sick days, etc).

I did some research and found that there are several pre-packaged automatic time-lapse cameras ranging from $79 to $2000. Although any of them would do the job, they all had problems that would require minor to major modification to work for our application. Our street gets frequent teenage walkers (they go out to look over the I-240 cut) so whatever camera I install would have to be camouflaged to prevent vandalism or theft. It would also need to have batteries that could be recharged or replaced without moving the camera. And, it would need to be easily accessed to periodically download the pictures – again, without moving the camera. There’s also the difficulties of where to put the camera to get a good view of the house, keeping it weatherproof, etc. There was just a long list of issues.

As cool as it would be, I didn’t think there was an easy, cheap, solution. I was going to give up but Valerie kept telling me that it was her my #1 priority. She thought that I would be sorry if I didn’t do it. So…we put our heads together, walked the isles of Lowes for inspiration, and came up with a pretty dandy solution. It came out better than I thought possible.

Unfortunately, because this is a public blog, I can’t show you the final solution without giving away what it looks like. I can tell you that it involves an eleven year old Kodak DC-290 digital camera (chosen because it has a time-lapse mode and has enough pixels for HD), a lens adapter that lets me put a wide-angle lens on the camera, a motorcycle battery, a discontinued 12volt to 7volt converter from Radio Shack, a small solar panel, and several 2×4′s, plywood, screws, and paint. Valerie dressed up its “cover” (her brilliant idea) so that it will hopefully be inconspicuous to the casual passer-by.

I had planned on going out to the lot today to “install” our contraption but IT SNOWED AGAIN! We got another 8 inches! Since I couldn’t install the camera I decided this was a prefect opportunity to test it. I set it up on the Camp Bell deck and had it shoot a picture every 10 minutes from 10:30am to 6:30pm. It captured the day’s snowfall from a trace to 8″ when it finally got too dark for a picture.

 

Maybe Friday when things warm up and the snow melts I’ll get it installed at the lot. Imagine two pictures a day taken at 10am and 2pm over the next 10+ months spliced together for a Hi-Def movie. That’s the plan. We’ll see if it works.

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