With the pending arrival of a second child, a friend recently stated interest in relocating from NYC to a variety of metro areas, one of which was Asheville. I moved to western NC in 2002 and Asheville in 2008 and am amazed at how long the area has been popular. It seems like every year, we top another travel list - from Lonely Planet's top U.S. destination of the year in 2017 to the latest installation of the New York Times' perfect 36 hours here (2007, 2010, 2016). I shouldn't be so surprised though - the Vanderbilts weren't the first, but certainly were among the most influential Yankees to move here. Make no mistake: I am not complaining. I moved here too and wouldn't have been able to stay if it weren't for the outdoor and camp industries. I am a summer camp kid who never left and worked in tourism for over 5 years here as a kayak instructor and raft guide at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, but I expected the recent popularity of this southern gem to decline. It clearly hasn't and I have spent time thinking about why. Following are my thoughts on why Asheville has remained popular from the perspective of a biologist and geographer: proximity, climate, the housing market, and quality of life.
The first ingredient in the recipe for municipal popularity is proximity. People must be able to reach you, otherwise Joseph, OR would be more popular than Asheville (don't tell anyone I told you - Joseph is Portland, Oregon's secret vacay spot). Asheville, on the other hand, is about a days drive from just about anywhere in the eastern US. The map below shows the catchment area for an 11 hour drive time from Asheville, which includes Chicago, New Orleans, the NYC metro area and south nearly to Miami. And if it is mountains you seek (perhaps for a break from the heat), we are the closest mountains for a large portion of the area.
Map made very quickly using https://www.marketmaps.com/drive-time-area-maps/
The second ingredient in making amazing vacation-town pie is nice weather and climate. The winters here aren't too bad compared to the northeast and midwest and in the summer, Asheville has a 2,200 ft. advantage in elevation over the beach, making the nights here relatively cool. Global warming is still happening up here, but we will be afforded a bit of a cushion in several climate change related areas, notably, nighttime temperatures. The figures below, from the National Climate Assessment, shows how much less our area will be impacted by rising nighttime temperatures. Other areas where we have an advantage include lower daytime temperatures and reduced mosquito habitat. Check out your area in the climate document linked above - there is a summary chapter on each region of the US and the figures are excellent.
The third reason people are still moving to Asheville is the real estate market. For those of you who live in Asheville or anywhere in western NC, you might be thinking, "Prices have gone up sooooo much! Why would anyone move here for the real estate market?" I am one of those people, but a quick glance at the national real estate data makes me realize I have had my blinders on. Thanks, Zillow!
Zillow uses sales data and other public records to estimate the value of homes and makes a surprisingly large amount of data available on their website. I chose to look at cost per square foot for sales data in multiple metropolitan areas to see how Asheville stacked up. While square footage of any house has some error associated with it and their Zestimate formula is proprietary, they have been improving their calculations in creative ways - including a $1 million contest. The data are found at the bottom of the Zillow homepage by clicking Research then Data. Or you can click here. The graph below shows median cost per square foot of home sales from 1996 to about September of 2019.
Each city has a unique shape and trajectory for its housing cost curve. Cities peaked at different times and bottomed out at slightly different times. Some have recovered, while others have not. NYC and LA are the blue and orange ones at the top and clearly much more expensive than the other metro areas. Chicago in grey hasn't recovered from the recession, nor has Las Vegas in light blue. Denver (black) has had a meteoric ascent and Asheville (green) took a small hit in the recession, but has easily surpassed the 2007 bubble. What sticks out the most to me though is how much cheaper Asheville still is compared to other cities shown. It's no surprise we have been getting folks moving from more expensive housing markets.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, quality of life here is excellent, but don't take my word for it. In his 2013 book Happy City, Charles Montgomery argues that streetcar suburbs offer the best of urban living, and although he didn't mention Asheville by name, he accurately describes myriad benefits of Asheville's largest streetcar suburb, West Asheville. West Asheville has received an influx of new folks yet still is one of the most affordable zip codes. The luxuries include yards big enough for gardening, a grid-based street network with enough alternate routes to repel traffic jams, urban density high enough to support quality restaurants and bars, urban density low enough to still make the real estate somewhat affordable, and on and on. Asheville excels in the restaurants and bar areas catching the eye of Bon Appetit for doughnuts and collards. And I am not even going to talk about beer.
The first two factors - location of the city and the climate - won't change anytime soon. But the real estate market is changing daily and if you are looking to move here, it looks like the housing market is cooling off nationally. I threw in the national home ownership rate from the St. Louis Fed. at the bottom, just for good measure. Assuming you can move here before the economy tanks and half of the restaurants close and with low interest rates, it's a good time to get into any market. That's if your employment is stable and if there isn't another housing bubble. Sigh...
Please let me know your thoughts!
Summary of the last year
I finished my Ph.D. and got my diploma in December, 2018.
I started a full time job in March, 2019 with the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources.
Our daughter, Mia, was born in May, 2019.
Susan and I celebrated 5 years married in August, 2019.
Phew. I feel better that we are all caught up!
Coming to the mountain is coming home
I wrote this summary of last weekend for the UUCA newsletter.
Last weekend, our family of four and an additional 135 members from UUCA spent the weekend at The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, NC situated atop Little Scaly Mountain (elevation 4,200’). The weekend was highlighted by wonderful music, workshops, delicious meals, and a healthy dose of humor at the talent show. People ask me how I came to live in Asheville and I simply tell them I am a summer camp kid that never left and The Mountain was the biggest part.
The Mountain started in 1979 as a UU camp and conference center and has held summer camps continuously since then. Growing up in Lancaster, PA, we lived about half-way between Star Island UU Camp in NH and The Mountain, but young members of our church went south to attend camps at The Mountain instead going north. My first impressions of The Mountain in 1993 are still accurate descriptors today: inclusive, open, loving, and breathtaking. It was the first place I experienced total lack of judgments as youth of all kinds gathered for intentional shared experiences. I knew how great The Mountain could be, but would my wife, Susan, fall in love with it the way I did? Our first trip to UUCA’s Gathering at The Mountain 4 years ago didn’t go so well: Susan worked a 12-hour day on Friday so we only came for one night, but I had a terrible cold and completely lost my voice. We tried the short Chinquapin hike, but turned back due to rain and low visibility. We were unable to enjoy the scenery and I couldn’t sing some of my favorite songs and get to know folks better.
With that less-than-ideal experience fresh in our minds, Susan and I were nervous about how the weekend would go with two kids. Would our 2 ½ year-old toddler Simon eat the meals? Would the baby sleep well in her cardboard box? Would we feel comfortable socially with so many people we didn’t know very well?
The answer to all of these questions was a resounding YES! The meals were fantastic and 5-month old baby Mia slept for 10 hours in a row! Everywhere we went, people loved Mia and wanted to hold her. She made a great centerpiece on our dining table and had attracted a troupe of groupees by the end of the weekend. Simon loved singing and playing his cardboard banjo and hiking to Chinquapin (pictured below). We attended some of the activities, but appreciated the flexibility of the a la carte schedule, which perfectly suited the needs of our family.
Our family made more connections with members of the congregation at The Mountain in a single weekend than we had in all of 2019. Susan and I were overwhelmed by the love and support of the people we already knew and new friends we met there. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is certainly accurate, but I am so happy to have found our village at UUCA. Thank you all for sharing your gifts of music, humor, and love for raising kids.
Most days, I listen to Marketplace on NPR. Their Divided Decade segments bring us stories on how the Great Recession has impacted us now that it has been 10 years since 2008. The pieces make me think about my home ownership story over the last 10 years and how the Great Recession impacted me and the conclusions that I have come to are that luck propelled me significantly through the recession and that increases in wealth have a compound effect that widen the gap between the rich and the poor.
I generally consider myself a lucky person (and was fortunate enough to marry someone who also considers themselves lucky) and prescribe to Richard Wiseman's ideas on the topic. I graduated with a master's degree in biology in May of 2008 and started a job as a research scientist at a local university in August with an annual salary of $40,000. I was ecstatic. I could afford a fixer-upper in this affordable little neighborhood called West Asheville (NC) where my group of former raft guide friends went to grow up. With my dad cracking the whip, I went to the bank the day I got my job contract - a one page, single-sided mimeograph of degraded quality with my name, salary, and year-to-year basis written in by hand. You could never get a loan with that non-sense nowadays, but I applied for a loan at the end of the glory days. With no college debt (thanks, dad, for working at a college with tuition exchange), I got approved for more than I was comfortable paying (can you imagine?), but eventually settled on an 896 sq. ft. two bedroom one bathroom 1925 bungalow that needed some TLC. OK, it needed a new kitchen, bathroom, and some minor structural work, but the walls, floors, and roof would last for a little while longer. What? You don't like your knees hitting the tub when you sit on the toilet?
So why do I mention luck? I closed on the house on September 18th, 2008. For those of you a little fuzzy on the chronology of 2008, Lehman Brothers failed the week before, or so. The image below shows the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 2008 - 2013 with September 18th highlighted by the vertical line. On a macro level, things were a little crazy and the collapse was beginning. On a micro level, the specifics of the house I had settled on were also crazy: the divorced owners of the house were living in the house, but not on speaking terms, rejected my original offer, and then countered. The house had been on the market for almost a year and with the economy tanking, I imagine their agent suggested taking what they could get. They had to sort out (in court) who had a right to the proceeds of the house. There were questions of the authenticity of some signatures on some of the documents and my agent even called me the morning of closing to say he didn't think it would happen. One of the owners was 30 minutes late. We all got settled into different rooms of the law firm and were shuttled in and out of different doors so none of us ever saw each others. I consider it dumb luck that it all worked out and I got the keys by noon. I didn't think the timing of my purchase was such a big deal at the time.
There are exceptions, but for many people (including me), the ability to purchase a house and hang onto it represents the biggest potential increase in personal wealth. Two of my family members declared bankruptcy during the recession due to underwater mortgages, lost their houses, and have only now begun to accumulate any significant wealth. My own parents were frighteningly close. I came home at Thanksgiving to visit my dad and stepmom who asked me at dinner, "What about the homeowner with an underwater mortgage? What should be done?" I was unforgiving: I said that it was their fault that they were living beyond their means and that they should have carefully calculated mortgage payments. My parents paused. My stepmom then asked, "What if someone had two underwater mortgages?" I understood that this was not hypothetical and I began to fret. My dad wanted to declare bankruptcy, but fortunately, my stepmom was able to talk him out of it. They had enough equity in the houses to use home equity lines of credit to pay bills for years while the economy improved and then sold at a profit. Their ability to hang onto the houses are what separated them from millions of others who were not. My parents aren't millionaires, but they are very comfortable in their retirement due to their optimism in the market.
Another avenue through which those that hung onto houses were able to get richer was through accessory dwelling units or ADUs. I also chose this path, but out of need. Older houses have higher maintenance costs and on a single income, if the oil furnace died or the roof needed to be replaced, I didn't have a back-up fund. I took a gamble and decided to go $35,000 further into debt to build a 300 s.f. ADU. That's pretty cheap because I did a ton of the work myself and with my then girlfriend, now wife. Homeownership was a priority for me and I made some sacrifices: terrible roommates (not you, Susan!), no kitchen for 5 years, doing the home improvements myself, building the ADU, and on and on. But now others like me are much more likely to be considered middle or upper class. I would be remiss if I did not mention that after 7 years of solo home ownership, I married someone with a good job, thereby eliminating much financial stress, but I maintain my conclusions that homeowners accumulate wealth at a faster rate than others. Authors agree (here and here), but others do not.
The compound effect of ownership on wealth is profound: since 2008, the Zillow Zestimate of the little house pictured above has doubled without considering the studio apartment. A 2 bedroom, 1 bath sub-1,000 s.f. house nearby just sold for $270,000. Appreciation is just one of the compound benefits. If I hadn't been able to keep the house, I couldn't have built the apartment. Homeownership drives the wealth gap and has widened the gap between the rich and the poor truly earning the name Divided Decade. Several of my friends in the original group that purchased around the recession have now upgraded houses, moving to larger houses while keeping the mortgage about the same time. They get richer when they do that.
So what can be done? Urban land is no longer affordable. Rents are peaking. Asheville leads the U.S. in housing stock percentage taken by short term rentals (3%). My blog post on affordable land in Asheville is a microcosm of other cities and I presented my maps to the board of trustees of Habitat for Humanity. One Habitat home owner suggested capping sales prices of homes. I pointed out their idea might be met with stiff resistance from folks who have invested a lot in their homes. Other friends of mine who rent debate the merits of home ownership and the entire model. We must be in another bubble, right? My sad and anticlimactic answer to the question of what can be done is: I don't know. I really don't know, but I do care. Send me any thoughts you have. Thanks for reading!
Post Script/Funny Aside:
Another reason I consider both the purchase of a home in 2008 to be lucky and my continued ability to afford it to be lucky is that my job was grant funded. To fund my position, wealthy donors pledged over $100,000 to the university in early 2008 and I was hired and began to be paid based on that pledge, but when the economy tanked, the donors balked and never actually gave the full amount of money to the university. (This is actually more common than you might think because no university public relations office wants to run that story.) My boss elected to pay me using a different pot of money, but I have to think that the purchase of my house was a factor in his decision. I distinctly recall being in a work meeting with the office staff sometime in November 2018. My boss interrupted me to ask, "Did you buy a house?" I stared at him and blinked, "What?" He repeated the question, "Did you buy a house?" I said, "I don't think that has to do with work." He insisted and I told him I had. In retrospect, what could he do? Lay me off? He could have and I don't think I would have blamed him, but luckily, I stayed on for almost 6 years until (prompted by the lack of grant money) I left to pursue a Ph.D. (which is going swimmingly). If I hadn't been able to keep the job, I don't know if I would have been able to keep the house.
Linville Gorge backpacking!
Susan and I have individually spent the night away from the baby, but never together (for nearly 17 months). To her credit, Susan has been adamant that we get away together for two consecutive nights and concocted a plan to hit the trail with help from our mothers. Thanks moms! The plan was simple:
Thursday: drive to Virginia to see Anna and Chad
Friday: drive somewhere else in Virginia via Harper's Ferry (quite lovely)
Saturday: Elly and Sam's wedding!!!
Sunday: pick up my mom in VA and drive to Asheville
Monday AM: tell moms all about the baby. Throw all the gear in the car. Drive to the trailhead.
At this point, so exhausted from a busy weekend of travel, we contemplated driving to a motel and turning our phones off, but where's the discomfort in all of that? Where's the challenge? No, we opted for the more difficult road. Of course, we headed directly to King Daddy's for some chicken and waffles and hit up Second Gear for a bear canister and some food for our trip and THEN drove to the trail.
We found this itinerary highlighting a 22-mile loop that looked fantastic. The excitement was plodding off into the unknown - I'd never been to Linville and Susan had been there for her first backpacking trip ever in highschool, what, 10 years ago, honey? ; ) We were greeted by signs indicating the difficulty of the terrain, that the local helicopter rescue team was excellent, and that groups unfamiliar with gorge should expect to move 1 mile per hour. Yikes! 1 MPH. We are low tech - no GPS and maps only. The signage isn't great in Linville and we did get mixed up a few times, but nothing out of the ordinary for two dithering half-wits such as ourselves.
The photos below are some of the highlights of the trip which included: two river crossings with no bridges, an 1,800 ft. climb out of the gorge on the Pinch In Trail in only 1.3 miles, meeting an impressive athlete doing all 22 miles in one day (Jay Ditty!), and appreciating our ultra-light gear.
Susan takes in the view of Hawskbill (center) and Linville Gorge. This was taken from Shortoff Mountain about 5 PM on day 1 after less than an hour of hiking - not a bad payoff. We hit the trail at 4 PM and the car said it was 90 degrees. The ascent to Shortoff was exposed with less shade than I expected. Parts of Linville were ravaged by fire in 2000, 2007, 2013, and Shortoff in 2017. The tree species composition is different than where we usually hike - southern hardwood cove oak-hickory climax - and included more Piedmont species. We didn't see Paulownia until the end. I was surprised.
Our site for night one was just off the Mountains to Sea Trail. Pictured is our sub 4 pound tent, 1 pound sleeping pads, and Susan's trusty pack. This trip also served as a trial run for boiled water only meals, which save food and fuel weight, using an Esbit pellet stove. The titanium stove is basically a glorified tripod weighing only 13 grams - yes 1/2 an ounce -and we used a little more than one 14 g fuel pellet for each meal. It worked out quite well, but the Backpacker's Pantry and Mountain House brand meal were very expensive. If anyone has ideas for DIY add water only meals, please comment! We saved the packaging from our meals hoping to build our own on our next trip. Thanks for Cabel Tutwiler and Dan Maken for telling me about Z-packs!
This is 9 AM on day two of our trip. We woke up and hiked along the ridge with the gorge on our left waiting to descend.
By about 11:30 AM, we made it to the river crossing descending the Spence Ridge trail. (We did get mixed up at the Table Rock mountain parking area and missed the Little Table Rock trail meaning we hiked on an easier trail for perhaps an extra mile.)
Visible are the footings of the Spence Ridge footbridge that was washed away a few years ago. Fortunately, someone left a taut line with a carabiner and we were able to get the packs across without any problems, but we did need to use our own parachute cord to avoid swimming over an undercut rock. We swam across, snacked, and cooled off knowing that we would later climb steeply out of the gorge. The pack is a Gossamer Gear pack given to me by Mac Johnson weighing in at about 1.5 pounds. I love it! Thanks, Mac! I was able to easily use a bear canister too.
A rather attractive river otter swimming with hiking poles.
Just after we got our packs across, we looked up at this man wearing running shoes and a water belt trying to figure out how to get his peanut butter sandwich and shoes across the river safely. He was doing our two night hike as a 22 mile day trip trail run. Turns out he's a hair boater too and and has run Linville with Drew Austell. Way to make it look easy, J-Ditty!
By the afternoon of day 2, we had reached the Pinch In trail that climbs 1,800 feet in 1.3 miles. I drank 1/2 gallon of water on the climb out. It was hot!
The second river crossing on the AM of day 3 was much easier than the first river crossing the day before. We each had packed sandals, so we just walked across very carefully. I LOVE my sandals for packbacking, which are Birkenstocks made of EVA foam.
Simon meets the AT! Yay! This was a cool office in Harper's Ferry that had photos of all the hikers that came through for over 15 years. Mom made a donation to them for my birthday. Thanks, mom!
Wedding crashers ruining a perfectly good shot of a pick-up truck at sunset.
My cousin, Emilita, passed away this morning. I was fortunate to have spent time with her at Christmas the last two years and glad she moved closer to home so that she could come to more family gatherings. I took this picture of her sitting next to my grandmother with John in her lap at our Christmas family reunion at Camp Swatara in PA. I think she had one of her children in her lap in most of my photos. I wanted to tell her a few of my favorite memories and thank her for reconnecting in the past few years and have done so in my letter to her below the photo.
To my dear cousin, Emilita -
I am so glad to have known you and am so sad that you are gone. I cried four times today, but smiled when I thought of your booming voice. Your laugh was boisterous and your strength undeniable, but in the end, it wasn't enough to keep you here on earth. I miss you and selfishly wish you were still here; selfishly because I did not know you like your students, your sisters, or your children knew you. They were so lucky.
As a boy, I remember hearing that I had cousins in Idaho and being excited that they had moved to Maryland. I remember staying up until the early morning at Camp Swatara and talking about life, college, and our dreams. I remember visiting you in Inwood before Elias was born and then in the Bronx when he was a tiny baby. I appreciated the way we stayed in touch, but I wasn't so good when I got to grad school.
I was so glad to have reconnected in these past few years and have really appreciated your phone calls asking about how my parents handled difficult situations when I was younger. It made clear to me that you strived for the best for your children and were reflective about how you could be a better mother. I can only hope to do the same as a father. What I appreciate most about you though was that you let your opinion be known. For too long I have not spoken up about my beliefs and you taught me that I should. Even when my opinion couldn't sway a decision and I spoke up, I noticed it actually made me feel stronger instead of helpless. In the future, when I swallow hard and bite my tongue, I will think of you and try to summon the strength to speak. Thank you for that courage.
I just saw you at Christmas, but as usual, the family reunion was hectic and we didn't get a long talk like we used to when we were younger and I regret not making more time to have a longer talk this year. Your passing has made me treasure what time I had with you. Thank you for the memories. I miss you and love you.
Happy 70th Birthday, Dad!
Yesterday, my father celebrated a milestone - he turned 70 - and today, he completed a marathon! All of his training has paid off and he got to check off another item on his bucket list. I am so proud of him for his perseverance by training this winter through single digit weather in PA and through all the aches and pains I look forward to in 30 years. Like one of my favorite people always says, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Thanks for the inspiration and congratulations, dad!
His wife, Laura, started planning a surprise party for him a year ago and brilliantly brought together many moving parts including: our family from Asheville, dad's best friends from college (Ron and Cindy) from Kansas City, and other loved ones from the northeast and west coasts. We all have converged in Vero Beach, Florida. Her plan was cemented in place by Thanksgiving when, around the dinner table, dad unexpectedly announced that he would complete a marathon the day after his 70th birthday. His surprise dropped many jaws and Laura did her best to be supportive, but we had some doubts.
After a private fitness consultation with my wife (with 3 marathons under her belt), we decided he was likely to reach his goal. I've always hated running and require being distracted by a ball or frisbee. It tricks my body and I don't think of soccer, basketball, or frisbee as running sports. Susan gave birth only 10 months ago and wasn't quite ready to complete her 4th marathon, so we split it. Susan did the first half with dad and I did the second half. It was 80 degrees and very humid along the water, and the heat really made things slower, but we were able to finish! Below are a few highlights from the finish line and I can honestly say that I finished a marathon with my dad. =)
the great 2018 purge
If Jack Kerouac had met Donald Trump, a conversation like this might have happened (credit Richard Humphreys). Trump brags to Kerouac about all of his amazing possessions, but Kerouac tells Trump he has something Trump never will. Trump asks, "Well what is it?" Jack replies coolly, "I have enough."
I struggle with accumulating things. Clothes, furniture, outdoor gear, and on and on. I'm not paying for most of it, mind you, but as my parents' only child living in the US, I get a lot of free stuff. Not to mention my very generous in-laws. At the end of the day, it's just stuff, but it's my stuff with my emotions and memories being dragged along and I have a hard time saying no. I do admit, however, that I am not yet sentimentally attached to the head of the parking meter my father-in-law gave me this Christmas (not even kidding - he really gave me a parking meter). I really did legitimately forget it at your house, Jim.
The 100 thing challenge is a fascinating proposal - pare down your personal belongings to 100 things. It's pretty self explanatory, but the idea is for us to focus on the important things in life: relationships. Popularized by Dave Bruno's 2010 book, the idea has attracted scores of followers (that produce lists of their 100 items) including Unitarian Reverend Jeff Jones who takes the challenge. I found his guest sermon on the topic (from September 5th, 2017 in Asheville) to be very thought provoking. A little less thought-provoking is Bravo TV's take on the topic called Stripped, which is yet another reality TV perversion of a good idea complete with, you guessed it, nudity.
Christmas is a particularly challenging time for me with regard to accumulating stuff and the addition of the baby didn't help. We took a trip to my in-laws in the Prius and returned to Asheville with two cars full of stuff. This can't continue. I will not take time for the full 100 thing challenge right now (this dissertation ain't writing itself!), but I'd like to do something. I'd like to make some sort of purge, so here goes.
I will rid myself of one item per day for the first 100 days of 2018. I will post weekly updates as a comment on this post. I will attempt to group objects and not use 43 books as the objects for the first 43 days. We will see how this goes, but I am somewhat excited and nervous. If there's anyone else out there who wants to participate (HINT HINT MOM HINT), I'd be delighted to hear your comments and about your participation. Love you!!! =)
- Taking our son on his first hiking trip
- Working for the City of Asheville
- Riding my bike to work
- Installing a maple counter top
Hiking Trip: John's Rock
We didn't let a chance of thunderstorms scare us from hiking a beautiful 6 mile loop in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, NC (45 minutes from Asheville). Simon fed before we set out, at the summit, and in the car while we waited for a tree to be cleared from the road. It rained cats and dogs on the last 2 miles of the hike. Fortunately, Susan had a pack cover that we used to cover Simon and he didn't cry. =) I carried him for the whole hike and look forward to when he has head control and we can use our backpack carrier.
Summer Job: IT division with the City of Asheville
I was thrilled to be invited back to work for the City of Asheville this summer. I have the pleasure of working in a one of the most beautiful buildings around, Asheville City Hall, on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Philadelphia and Paris trained architect Douglas Ellington and built in 1928. My major work projects included a spatial database of city maintained buildings and making maps from historical aerial photos. I will post separately about the map project, which is incredibly gratifying.
Bicycle commuting: I love it!
I have a ridden my bike to work daily this summer with exceptions of 4 days when there was rain or I need to pick up photos for work. Taking care of junior each afternoon makes it hard to find time to workout, so this is an efficient solution. Riding daily has changed how I bike and drive. I implore bicyclists to obey all traffic laws, not ride on sidewalks, and not pass cars on the right unless you have a dedicated lane. Passing cars on the inside increases chances of a right hook, when a car turns right into a cyclist. When the speed limit is 20, I can maintain my position in traffic and ride in the middle of the lane. At round-abouts and other potentially dangerous spots, I take my lane early and watch my back.
Installing the maple countertop
I bought an 8/4 (2" thick) slab of ambrosia maple from a friend who planed, sanded and treated it for boring insects. After consultation with our local wood shop, I decided to use ClearCote brand table top epoxy for a durable finish. More common is West 105, which is a marine grade product that would be overkill for this light application. After two coats, I noticed small piles of sawdust from boring insect eating their way out. My friend had not used enough Boracare on the wood. After living in the wood for 2-5 years, the larvae eat their way out and look for a new piece of wood in which to lay their eggs. I called the epoxy manufacturer who recommended fumigation, but this was prohibitively expensive. I chanced ruining the wood by kiln drying it, and it totally worked. The larvae were killed, and to my surprise, the epoxy was not ruined. One last thicker coat of the epoxy made it look like glass, which is what I wanted.
Mounting to the brick wall took a bit of time, and the iron pipe leg was cut a little short at the hardware store, so I had to shim it. I wanted to use something round and rather than cut a piece of wood, I settled on using old compact discs. They worked like a charm and Susan and I are thrilled to have a place for dinner guests to hang out that is NOT in the kitchen.
Our son is one month old today and we have been surrounded by a cocoon of love and support. The threads of that cocoon are our friends, family, and neighbors. This is an imperfect gratitude list (in somewhat chronological order), but we would be remiss if we failed to communicate our gratitude, humility, and thanks to all of you for kindnesses we have received in only the last month. Thank you. We love you.
Margot and Hadley
- banana bread in the hospital
- keeping Chloe (dog)
- grooming Chloe
- stoping by with Chloe for a visit when Susan was too weak to walk
- mowing the lawn at our new house
- mowing the lawn at our old house
- visiting Susan at the hospital allowing Adam to have a birthday drink with friends
- stopping by the recovery room on your lunch break
- cinnamon rolls and a sausage, egg, cheese biscuit
Alice and Jim
- birthday cake!
- grocery store run
- staying with us
- keeping Chloe
- garden goodies
- hemming a shower curtain
- lactation consulting
- baby swing
- breast pump
- nursing supplies
- burgers, buns, tomatoes, orzo, chocolate
Emi and Walsh
- salmon, sweet potatoes, compote, kale, rice
- more iPlay baby clothes and supplies than we could have imagined
Mom and Juergen
- baby monitor
- Netflix subscription
- baby book
- whole milk
- handmade baby sweater
- baby bib
Michael and Janna
- peanut butter balls
- milk cooler
- wonderful meal
- setting up the meal train
- baby seat connection
Ben and Juliana
- Merlefest onsie
Matt and Emily
- tommy tippie stuff
- AT hiker onsie
Alison and Robin Ray
Michael and Kate Rasche
- German food!
Dad and Laura
- handmade baby blanket
- more pretzels!
- picking up Chloe in VA
Kate and Daniel
- keeping Chloe
Christine and Mike McDonald
- breast milk supplies
Carson and Nate Ruffrage
Matt and Maggie
- tie-dye onsie
Anna and Chad
Talia, Lauren Lastinger, Jan Esker, Anna
- encouragement during during the first week (of breast feeding)
Liz and Nick
- baby soccer ball!
Aunt Jean and Nancy
- baby bath supplies
Autumn and Bart
Mac and Marcy
- Target gift card
Helen and Vivian Wampler (age 106)
- baby clothes
- baby clothes
- baby clothes
- great deal on Britax stroller and car seat
Jamie Holbrook and Drew Austell
- meeting Adam on his birthday
Bob Dylan Pandora Station
- 'nuff said
- for creating the very important series Prisonbreak
Of interest to me and hopefully at least one other person