Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Fri
28
May '10

Is the Tub Half Empty or Half Full?

After eight weeks of seemingly endless foundation work, we made some great progress this week on our house. The “crawlspace” walls are done and the foundation crew is now working on the footings for the support posts both inside the foundation and outside for the deck. All the holes are dug and today they were making forms out of plywood and installing rebar. They appear to be on track to pour concrete on Monday and maybe, just maybe, all of the foundation will be complete next week.

On Wednesday, the waterproofer treated the tub wall. He sprayed on a thick, grey, goo and covered that with Styrofoam. Hey, we’re not building a house, we’re building the world’s largest Thermos bottle! Actually, the foam isn’t for insulation. It’s only used to keep the sharped-edged gravel from damaging the waterproofing goo. Yesterday, Steve installed perimeter drains—corrugated, perforated, pipe with a filter sock pulled over it. Realistically, we probably don’t need the perimeter drain since the entire tub is going to be filled with gravel—up to 1′ from the top. Rain water (or an accidentally spilled beer) that percolates into the surface will either find its way to the original sloped ground, or continue down, down, down to the very bottom of the tub and run into several 4″ pipes that exit the concrete wall out to the world. We’re installing the drain pipe, anyway, since it’s spec’d by the engineer and the city inspector will require it, but given how porous the fill will be, it’s probably not necessary.

The big news is that we started filling the tub with gravel this morning. Jeff Nelson, owner of Riverrock Construction, had already dumped two loads when I got there at 10:00. He and another driver dumped two more while I watched and were off to load up again. For now, we’re only going to fill the tub half-way. The concrete tub walls are designed to hold back a full tub of gravel but Steve wants to wait until we get the floor trusses on for even more support. Valerie and I went back out around 7:00pm and between raindrops and flashes of lightening were able to snap a few pictures of our partially filled tub AND our very first wood delivery—floor trusses! Yah, it’s time for an OBX vacation. Maybe the house will be done by the time we get back. Ha Ha.

 

 

 

Wed
26
May '10

WNC Chefs Challenge

Over the last few years, Valerie has turned into a real foodie (and I’ve come along for the scrumptious ride). Wikipedia has a great definition of a foodie: “foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news” and “foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. For this reason, foodies are sometimes viewed as obsessively interested in all things culinary.” We watch a lot of Food Network and love Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. We also occasionally watch Iron Chef. One of the reasons we like Asheville is because of all the great independent restaurants it has. Yes, the gross chains are here, too, but there are dozens and dozens of small, independently, owned eateries. And, they have VERY good food with fresh, local, organic, ingredients made by first-class chefs who probably could be working in New York, Chicago, Seattle, or Las Vegas. There are probably few, if any, cities of this size with this level of food community. We love it.

Speaking of Top Chef and Iron Chef (like that not so subtle lead in?)… this summer, Western North Carolina Magazine is holding a Chef’s Challenge with 14 local chefs competing head-to-head in single-elimination fashion, culminating with an Iron-Chef-like challenge of the final two chefs at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival in August. We have tickets to threefive preliminary rounds and last night was our first—the “Presidential Face Off”. It pitted chefs from two Asheville restaurants, the Corner Kitchen and the Sunset Terrace, where the first couple dined when they visited last month.

All I can say is Wow. Wow. And Wow. We had a blast and the food was fantastic. There were over 120 peoplefoodies there. Last week’s competition had 80 diners and there was such demand that they added 40 more seats. They’re going to try to squeeze in even more for future events because they’re all approaching sellouts. What made this really fun is that we were seated at a table with the mother (Sandy) and her friend (Bronwyn) of one of the competing chefs—Stephen Sauer of the Grove Park Inn’s Sunset Terrace. She had no idea what he was making, but she knows his style. While we were eating she was trying to not only score the dishes, but also guess which ones were his. It was interesting watching that whole mother-son thing from across the table.

So, how the competition works is this: There are two chefs, each with just two assistants. Each team makes three dishes using a secret ingredient that they don’t learn until noon on the day of the competition. The three dishes can be anything the chefs dream up, but the secret ingredient has to be used in each dish. All the other ingredients must come from the host restaurant’s (well-stocked) pantry and $100 worth of ingredients that each chef brings from his own personal stash. The dishes are presented in random order and the diners score each for appearance, smell, taste, sauce, and garnish. At the end of the night, the score sheets are tallied and the chef with the most points wins.

What did we eat? Last night’s secret ingredient was honey. We had southern fried seafood salad with shrimp, calamari, and oyster; mushroom dusted scallops with beet salad and turned potato; honey and pistachio crusted turbot with honey carrot sauce; smoked honey brined duck with a parsnip potato hash, green beans and cracklin duck; smoked pork belly and tenderloin skewer with a sweet potato salad; and a white chocolate curd sorbet with a honey hazelnut crisp and a mango honey sauce. Did I say wow, wow, and wow? The duck was the clear winner at our table for best dish of the night and even I, still having tongue scars from the simply terrible parsnips I endured as a kid (sorry, Mom), thought the parsnip potato hash was pretty darned good.

And, the winner was…Sandy’s son, Stephen Saur of the Grove Park Inn’s Sunset Terrace. One thing that the other diners didn’t know—he just graduated, last week, from culinary school! You can never guess who’s gonna win these things. The kid’s got talent! Last week’s winner was a chef from a large retirement home in Asheville. He beat a chef from a very nice restaurant in an upscale Asheville hotel. Whoda picked that?

Anyway, good fun, great times, and fantastic food. We’re looking forward to the next four events that we have reservations for (every other week) and can’t wait until the Wine and Food Festival in August. Bon Appétit! 

 

 

 

 

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Sat
22
May '10

BeerCity 2010 – We Win!

Step away from the Coors and Bud Light, even the Corona and Red Stripe. This is American Craft Beer Week. Last year (little) Asheville statistically tied with (big) Portland for the honor of BeerCity 2009. Asheville, population about 70,000, has 9 breweries with more on the way, and Portland, population 600,000 has 28. We have some really good local beer, here! Even President Obama thinks so (don’t know if that’s a plus or minus). Valerie and I recently discovered Appalachian Craft Brewery’s Copperhead Amber Ale…it, dare I say, oh it pains me to say it, rivals, but still isn’t better than, Redmond’s Mac & Jacks. And, if that’s not on tap, there’s aways the French Broad’s Wee Heavy-er or Highland Brewery’s Gaelic Ale, or many many others.

Voting is open for BeerCity 2010 and ends Sunday night at midnight.  Here’s the full story on the contest. The poll for voting is at the bottom of the article. It’s going to be a nail-biter, again, this year. The little guy, Asheville, needs your vote!

Update 5/24:  We Win! Asheville 39.9%, Portland 34.1%. Everyone else, statistically insignificant. I have no idea why there’s the fervent enthusiasm for beer in these two cities but it’s good for our tourism industry — and it means there’s great beer for us locals. Yah!

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Fri
21
May '10

Slip Slidin’ Away

It’s rained several days this week and when you add rainwater to our North Carolina clay you end up with a fairly muddy and slippery construction site. Despite the soupy red mess, the foundation crew was able to remove all the concrete forms and build a dirt ramp from the street into the crawlspace. It goes up and over the short foundation wall below the future mechanical room and allows them to get a small trackhoe “inside” the house. They’ve begun smoothing out the dirt and should, next week, dig the footings for the interior piers. We’re going to have a sealed crawlspace so the dirt floor will need to be more evenly sloped and debris-free than you would find in a normal crawlspace. That’s much easier to do with a trackhoe than by guy with a shovel. The good news (for my mental health) is that with the dirt nicely sloped and the lower interior part of the foundation filled in, it doesn’t seem as massive as it did. And, when you stand inside and imagine the basement floor above you, it really closes in—the uphill side will only be maybe 2′ from the dirt. Of course, with a 45° slope, I think the plumber will need to tie himself off to keep from sliding but, hey, it’ll drain well.

 

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Tue
18
May '10

Serenadipity

Valerie wasn’t due back from Indiana until this evening so Serena and I still had several hours to fit in a few ”Boy and His Dog” things. Over the last couple days I’ve been replacing the interior doors at Camp Bell. The old doors are flat, hollow core, luan/mahogany that at some point in their 35 year life were painted (poorly) a dull white(ish) color. They were cracked, warped, and several had roughly patched holes. None of them closed properly. They looked terrible and were really bad for Camp Bell resale. The new ones are just cheapie $25 models from Home Depot, but at least they’re modern 6-panel style and are flat and straight. Once professionally painted, by Valerie, they’ll look great. Unfortunately, I discovered that just like the old doors, the existing door frames weren’t straight either. What I had originally planned to be a one-day task of routing out the hinge recesses and hanging the new doors turned into 2+ days of cutting and sanding each new door to fit into a crooked frame. Oh, and I was doing this on the back deck and it intermittently rained all weekend. But, the job is finally done and today I needed to dispose of the old doors.

My first stop was the Habitat for Humanity store. I thought I had scored when Worker #1 came over and said “Sure, we’ll take them” and we started to unload. Just then Worker #2 ran over and said, “We don’t want those. They’re hollow core and flat” — which is exactly why I didn’t want them, but I guess even Habitat has standards. Worker #2 couldn’t offer any advice on who might take them, so…off we went to the Buncombe County Landfill.

Our landfill is out in the sticks at the very western edge of the county. It’s about 12 miles off the interstate on a curvy country road. The only traffic heading west was loaded pickup trucks and garbage trucks and the only traffic heading east was empties. I can now tell you where not to live in Buncombe County. As I pulled in I realized that in my nearly 48 years I don’t think I’ve ever been to a landfill. I’ve been to transfer stations, many times, but never to a real, live, stinky, smelly, open pit, seagulls (or whatever) circling overhead, Trashmaster packing it down, landfill. Serena sure knew where we were going. Maybe she lived in a landfill when she was a puppy. She caught wind of it at least 10 minutes before we arrived and spent the entire visit with her nose out the window taking in the “aroma.” It was a little much for me so I did a quick dump and run but did take time to snap a few pictures—to prove I was there and didn’t just throw the doors over a hill somewhere.

  

On the way back, I made a great accidental discovery. Serena LOVES to swim and used to spend nearly every morning with Valerie at the Marymoor Park Off Leash Dog Park in Redmond. She’d take running leaps off the high bank and bellyflop into the Sammamish River to fetch sticks and toys. I actually felt bad when we moved because I knew there was no other dog park like it in the US (really, there’s not). Well, about a mile from the landfill is a Buncombe County Park right on the French Broad River. We’re not talking much. It’s basically a 100′ swath of land between the main road and the river, bisected with a dirt road for access. There are individual picnic sites for several hundred yards. But, there were a few people; with dogs; off leash; playing in the river! Yes, the sign does say that dogs are supposed to be on leash, but every dog I saw was running free so…in Serena went. She had a blast. We were only there for about 30 minutes but she’s not swum in a long time and the current was a little swifter than at Marymoor. She wore herself out and slept, with a smile on her face, all the way home. Serendipity? More like Serenadipity.

  

Sun
16
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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Thu
13
May '10

Finally, Concrete…But First, Spilled Poo

Last night, Lisa, our future neighbor, emailed me saying that a relative staying at her cabin had a run-in with a couple teenagers who had ventured down her private drive. It’s gated while her cabin is unoccupied, but like bees to honey (or is it flies to poop?) they smelled an open gate and in they went. Words were exchanged. They threw away or stole the gate’s padlock (allegedly–they’re innocent until proven guilty). The police were called. By then, they had left, but the police did get a license plate number. However, this morning we go out to the lot and see Steve, our builder, with his hands on his hips looking over the hill… Our outhouse had been pushed over, again. We had the same thing happen six weeks ago, but after that incident, Steve staked it to the ground and cabled it to a tree. That, unfortunately, was not enough to stop these motivated delinquents. They pulled up the stakes and somehow wrestled it around and pushed it over. At least it couldn’t go any further because of the cable. Steve and I were able to maneuver it back up the hill without getting messy (luckily it had been cleaned on Tuesday). We re-staked it with longer rebar, re-cabled it to the tree, and added a chain to the top so it can’t be rocked side-to-side. Steve did call the police and they tied his report and last night’s report together. It may be time to get out my sleeping bag and a paintball gun. As soon as we’re dried-in I’m getting internet service and installing a webcam.

 

That story, aside, the great news is that we finally poured the tub and garage walls. Yah! They had already poured a load of concrete when we got there at 9:30am and the last load arrived around 4:00pm. Long day. Steve was out several times to inspect and says that everything looks good. Now, I’m not afraid of heights, but geeze louise, my knees were getting shaky watching these guys walk around the forms. They have catwalks connected to the walls and while those are relatively safe to walk on, they would often step up from the planks and walk across the top of the forms! Yikes! 

The concrete will partially cure overnight, enough that they’ll start removing the forms tomorrow. They plan to work Saturday, too. It’s been a huge job and a long six weeks. Their next task is to dig, form, and pour the piers for the interior supports and the deck posts. Time to bring back the mini-trackhoe. Getting that machine inside the foundation will be interesting!

 

 

 

I’m a bachelor, for a few days. Valerie drove to Indiana this morning after stopping by the lot. She’s visiting her family and going to see the Dalai Lama with her sister, Pat. It’s the first time that we’ve been apart since my heart surgery. I miss her, already. No worries, though. I’m healthy. While she’s gone I’ll try really hard to resist the temptation to walk on the top of our tub wall.

Tue
11
May '10

Southwest Airlines is Coming to Greenville!

WooHoo! Southwest Airlines is coming to Greenville, SC. GSP is 65 miles away so it’s not super convenient for us, but having Southwest fly there should put some price pressure on the other airlines serving Greenville and Asheville. If the price is right (and with Southwest, it will be) people will make the drive. The other airlines know that and will have to adjust. “Southwest’s senior VP for marketing and revenue management said that the discount carrier chooses to add destinations based on whether a city’s airport is ‘overpriced and underserved’ and does not go shopping for tax breaks and other incentives.” (For all you business majors…that’s how you do good business!)

More details…

Next up on our wish list…Costco and Trader Joes.

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Mon
10
May '10

30 Years Ago…May 1980

 

What were you doing thirty years ago? I was about to graduate high school and was working at the Lawrence Village Plaza Radio Shack—making, if I remember correctly, $3.10/hour. Mark Ferrell was my manger and his wife, Patty, sent this picture, yesterday. Thanks Patty!  That’s me, working at our TRS-80 computer display, either programming some nifty demo software or (more likely) trying to break my high score on Cosmic Fighter. In three months I was off to Penn State…and the rest, as they say, is history…

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Sun
9
May '10

So, What Else is Going On?

Here’s a rambling list of what else has been going on while we wait for our foundation to be completed.

We finished up the guest bathroom a week or so ago. We didn’t gut it down to the studs, but in retrospect, maybe we should have – it might have been easier. Valerie removed all the loose floor tile then scraped the deteriorated grout and caulk from between all the tiles surrounding the tub and regrouted it. She rebuilt the disintegrated sheetrock around the edges of the tub, removed the painted over wallpaper (two layers of paint over two layers of paper, I think), then skim coated, sanded and painted the walls. I put down a new oak-look vinyl floor, reset the toilet that I had removed, earlier, replaced the light fixture, mirror and accessories, hung a new 6-panel door and installed baseboard. Valerie painted the door and trim, put a semi-permanent matt in the tub to cover the rusty worn-through spots, and ta-da, we have a cute, usable, guest bath.

Valerie’s been working on a little garden. She took a few of the un-rotted joists from the balcony I dismantled and made a raised bed out of them. She has heirloom tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, garlic, snap peas, mizuna and more. She started most of the plants from seeds several weeks ago and this past week transplanted them to the bed. Mother’s Day is the safe planting date in Western North Carolina so fingers crossed, they should be good.

I started cleaning and repairing Camp Bell’s vinyl siding. Under all the dirt and grime we do have a white house, but in some places, it’s hard to tell. I bought an RV cleaning pole, the kind with a brush on one end and a hose attachment on the other. I’ve completed the back and it came out pretty well. There were a couple tough spots that Valerie had to scrub with a concoction of borax, bleach, and Mrs. Meyer’s liquid soap, but most of the nasty film came off. I’ve also replaced several damaged sections of siding. I bought a handy-dandy $5 vinyl siding tool that gets under a panel’s lip and unlocks it from the panel above and below. With that, and a few 12′ pieces of siding from Lowes, it’s been trivial to make the repairs.

  

Last week I broke out the smoker for the first time since we moved! We haven’t yet found a source for big chunks of apple tree (my preferred wood to smoke with) but Valerie found small bags of apple wood chips at Earthfare. She made burgers from scratch with her meat grinder and seasoned several chicken breasts. I smoked them up with some miscellaneous vegatables. Mmm. Mmm. Good.

We went to the Asheville Herb Festival where Valerie picked up a couple plants for her garden. We also went to the Home and Garden Expo and through blind luck stumbled upon the perfect color for the cedar shake sections of our new house. We are planning to use pre-painted fiber cement siding and have been wrestling with what color to paint it. At the show we saw that Certainteed sells a vinyl shake that’s a dead ringer for a real cedar shake and their Rustic Blend color is exactly what we’ve been looking for. We got a sample piece from our lumber supplier and will be taking it to Carolina Colortones to see if they can match it…if not, we may be going with these vinyl shakes – don’t tell our developer.

The torsion spring on our garage door broke a few days ago. Replacing one is not a DIY kind of thing but that’s never stopped me. It’s not overly complicated, just dangerous if you’re not careful. If you don’t buy the correct spring, unplug the opener, clamp the door to the track, clamp the bar from turning, and wind the spring properly “you could be severely injured or killed” (to quote the bright red warning tag on the spring). I ordered the correct spring off the web, watched an installation video, and completed the job in about 45 minutes. No problemo. Fixed. And, I saved at least $100 in labor costs.

Now that the guest bath is done, Valerie’s moved on to painting the door jambs. They’ve seen better days, actually 35 years of dings, dents, and scratches. They’re requiring much more than just sanding and she’s spending a lot time patching and filling before priming and painting. It’ll be nice to start checking entire rooms off as DONE!

This coming Thursday, Valerie will be going to Indiana to visit her family and to see the Dalai Lama with her sister Pat. She’s been watching flights for good deals. If she can snag a last minute discount she’ll fly, if not, she’ll drive – probably to Indianapolis on Thursday and back to Asheville on Tuesday.

We’re looking forward to our vacation at the Outerbanks the first week of June with Pat, Mike, Abby and Jack. It’s nice that we can now drive there and take what we need and not have to fly for two days with just a bag or two. We probably won’t miss much of our house construction…they’ll probably still be working on the foundation!

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Fri
7
May '10

Did I say, “Pour on Wednesday”?

Last week I predicted (hoped) that they would pour the remaining foundation walls on Wednesday. It didn’t happen. It seems that Target Foundations has scored another job at Lake Lure and is apparently splitting their crew between our job and their new one. Because of that, progress has slowed a lot. We used to have five or six guys on site. Now it’s two or three. When they need more supplies, instead of having extra hands to go get them, the whole crew leaves and nothing gets done. Argh. The latest estimate is to have an inspection on Monday and then pour the rest of the foundation on Tuesday. Steve, our builder, is getting antsy because he wants to have enough completed to be in the Parade of Homes in October. This is seriously eating into his schedule. He’s talked to Rex, the co-owner of Target, but…it is what it is. Unfortunately, getting the walls poured won’t complete the foundation. After that, there are 27 interior, deck, and bridge post footings to form and pour. Thursday is the six-week mark since they dug the first footing. I’m guessing with what work is left to do that they won’t be officially done with the foundation until the end of week seven! We’ll see.

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Thu
6
May '10

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

Our future neighbors at Vance Gap have been telling us about a mother bear and two cubs that live in the neighborhood. We figured that’s where we would eventually see “urban beer”…however, last night at 1:00am, here at Camp Bell, Serena woke us up barking like crazy. Now, Serena doesn’t bark like most dogs. Mailman, nothing. Passing kid, notta. Strange sound, ho hum. Other dog, yawn. Raccoon, woohoo, look out! Bear (a new word for her), yowza, defcon 1, sound the alarm!

Last night was garbage night. Need I say more. At 1:00am a mother bear, two cubs, and what looked like another, but older, cub were on the prowl. Serena caught a whiff of them and let us know about it. I got up to look out the window and, sure enough, there they were, working on our trash can out front. Valerie got up and we all watched them from the living room. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a picture because the only light was from the street light. I ventured out onto the balcony to get a better view. When I did, I spooked them and they ran—towards the house!—one climbing the large pine tree next to us! Needless to say, I jumped through the door and Serena let them know that bear entry into Camp Bell was not permitted.

We watched them for about 30 minutes. Luckily, for us, they only knocked over our can and carried away one bag about 50′. I guess our trash wasn’t too tasty. But, they must have scored big-time two houses down. They knocked that can over, spread the contents all over the street and driveway, and literally camped out and ate under a tree in the middle of that yard for at least 30 minutes. When they moved on down the street and out of view we went back to bed.

This morning I cleaned up our mess. The neighbors had already gotten to theirs. Serena ran around and sniffed everything. She was hackled and growling the whole time. She just learned a new word that I think will garner an even stronger reaction than “raccoon.” Bear!

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Sun
2
May '10

Higher and Higher

As the foundation crew continues, for yet another week, building forms for the foundation walls, I keep humming the 1967 Jackie Wilson song, Higher and Higher. This is nuts. I knew what we planned to do. I stood on the lot and looked up – and down. I visualized it. I reviewed the topo maps and elevations. I said ‘okay’ to the crazy idea of creating a front yard on a slope by building three walls to create a tub and filling it with gravel. I saw the engineer’s drawings. I reviewed the bids. But I didn’t imagine THIS! You can’t believe it until you see it and then you still can’t believe it after you see it. And, whatever you do, do not walk around back. You’ll throw up. These people from Seattle are wackos. Make them stop. Make them stop.

  

Ah, I feel a little better now that I got that off my chest. Yesterday, they poured the last footing, the one for the north tub wall, and plan to finish building the forms for the tub on Monday. On Tuesday they’ll carefully recheck everything and then on Wednesday they’ll have one massive concrete pour. I’m not sure if they’ll do the interior footings for the support posts then or save that work for later. After allowing the concrete to cure for a couple days they’ll remove all the forms and we’ll have our completed FEMA rated bomb shelter foundation! Maybe by the 10th?

My hope is that once the tub is filled in and we can park our car in the driveway and walk to the house (on what used to be air) it won’t be so daunting. The view of the sides from the street isn’t so bad, now, and once we backfill the perimeter and cover the walls with stone it will look like it’s all part of the surroundings. HAHA! No, really. And, when it’s complete, the views from the dining room and the deck (28’ up) will be fantastic. At least it’s not as bad as Cameron’s garage in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off