An afternoon in Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry and Skydeck edition:

The Chicago MOSI is excellent, and very large. The main attraction for us was the U-505, a German U-boat captured in WWII, and the only ship captured by the US Navy in the last 100+ years.  The exhibit told the remarkable story of the sub’s capture, and we learned quite a bit about the use of U-boats during the war.

I think my favorite bit of information about the U-505 has to do with its restoration. After its capture in 1944, the u-boat was essentially stripped of most of its original components by the US military in the effort to learn about German technology.  After moving to Chicago, the u-boat sat outside for about 50 years before the $33 mil project was undertaken to restore and incorporate the boat into the museum. Kevin read that the gist German response to this memorial was something along the lines of: “We don’t like that you have our boat, but if you are going to keep it, then it should be a good U-boat, and a showcase of German technology.” The Germans then proceeded to send over replacement parts from the original manufacturers so that the museum exhibit would show the most accurate restoration possible. The tour is highly recommended.

Chicago’s famous Skydeck:

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Lake House Fun

An old dog with deteriorating rear legs gets to keep playing in the lake with the help of a doggie life vest:

 

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A little hike

Look who came to visit us from FL! If you are going to hike at Hanging Rock State Park in July, its definitely a good idea to go for a swim in the lake afterwards.

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MABDR – PA north to the end at the NY border

Sections 5-9 go north on mostly unpaved forest roads through PA to the end of the route at the NY border.

Early on in PA, we found this closed road on the route:

This was easy enough to route around to the west, and we joined right back up with the BDR at a closed gate on the other end.

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MABDR – MD, WV, and north through PA

Just south of the much touted Oldtown Low Water Toll Bridge, we found this little community park with a much welcome covered pavilion. This little town unexpectedly had all the amenities we could want to wait out the passing rain.

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MABDR- Headed north through VA , WV, and MD

Starting the BDR:

Its spring here in NC, which often means its wet. While we were fortunate to have multi-day stretches of great weather that weren’t too hot, riding this route in the fall definitely improves the chances for having dry weather. We delayed our trip start by half a week, avoiding a weather system that would have had us riding in the rain all day for several days. This meant we had a smaller window of opportunity to make the trip before we had to be back home, and meant we ended our trip by riding during the dreaded Memorial Day holiday weekend (dreaded if you are trying to enjoy the outdoors with the rest of the country at the same time and would like to a place to stay (including camping) without needing reservations).

We spent the morning of Day 1 on a lovely ride to the start of the BDR:

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MABDR – Moto Adventure Time

Guess what? Its moto trip time!

Those who know us know that we’ve had some obstacles in recent years that have prevented us from taking our beloved extended motorcycle trips.  As of spring 2018, however, we were able to dip our toe back in to our favorite mode of travel with a most excellent week long adventure on the MABDR.

First, some definition: MABDR stands for Mid Atlantic Back Country Discovery Route. The BDR group is a non profit organization “whose mission is to establish and preserve off-highway routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycles. Through education, advocacy, and promotion of responsible motorcycle travel, BDR seeks to preserve backcountry motorcycling opportunities for generations to come.” (BDR website here: https://ridebdr.com/About-Backcountry-Discovery-Routes)

The Mid-Atlantic BDR (MABDR) is the eighth BDR route developed for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel.

MABDR is a scenic ride for dual-sport and adventure motorcycles that uses dirt, gravel and paved roads to wind through remote parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Starting in Damascus Virginia, and ending in Lawrenceville, Tioga County, PA, this 1,080-mile route, primarily uses forest roads and rural country lanes, to lead riders through the Appalachian mountains, majestic forests, bucolic farming landscapes, Amish country, and locations that played pivotal roles in early American history.”

The mid atlantic route is their most recently developed route, and their first in the eastern part of the US (where it is admittedly much more difficult to develop off-pavement routes due to an older, denser road network that is largely paved, and much less public land).  We’ve had our eye on some of their western routes for a while, but being residents of NC, making the trip to the western states to go ride has been more of a commitment than we’ve been able to make yet. The effort to develop “adventure” routes in the eastern US was undertaken specifically for people like us, which we think is just fantastic. The route was officially made public in March of this year, so we clearly jumped at the chance to take a trip so close to home, and we’re probably among the first wave of people to ride this particular route.

The overall BDR looks like this:

To follow the route, its essential to use the GPS tracks downloaded from the BDR website. We also had the physical Bulter map, and think the trip would have suffered without it. The Butler map is incredibly well done and very useful, but there is simply no way to make a paper map with enough detail required to follow the route by that alone. It would take a stack of very detailed maps, and even then, you’d have to stop to navigate at every turn, which are sometimes in very close sequence in close proximity with many other (wrong) options to choose from. There are hundreds of turns, many on undistinguished and unlabeled forest roads. Sometimes there are only one or two roads to choose from, and the way is clear, other times, more than two roads diverged in the wood, some paralleling each other for awhile, and its not a matter of picking the one less traveled. Even with the GPS tracks, we made many a u-turn trying to stay on course (which sometimes is part of the fun).

Ok, introductory context out of the way, time to get started. Sort of. First, we needed to drop the dog off with my parents. Geographically, since we had to go there to drop the dog off anyway, it made sense to start the trip from their house. This meant we had to get both motorcycles (and all the gear), plus the (85lb) dog to their house. So, our obligatory start of the trip photo looked like this:

Kevin rode in the rain for a couple of hours, while I trucked my bike, the dog, and a bunch of stuff. Wearing my helmet while driving meant we could use the SENA radios to talk during the trip, just to make the whole affair that much more eccentric.

After all the prep and trying to make work go away long enough to take a vacation, it felt great to start riding in mostly dry weather the next morning.

 

 

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Wool Sower Gall

Nature’s classroom is right outside our door (in this case, practically in the front yard).  On one of our regular evening walks through the woods, Kevin spotted the curious white, fuzzy growth in the picture below on a small branch of an oak tree.  I encouraged him to take a picture so I could try to figure out what it was.

Google image search was a bust, (it thought it was a mushroom), but it turns out googling a phrase similar to “white fuzzy ball red spots tree” or something equally ridiculous gets you unexpectedly good results.

I found the answer halfway down this page, about 30 seconds after typing my absurd query: http://www.backyardnature.net/galls.htm

Thank you, google, for identifying that white, fuzzy, roughly golf ball size ball with reds spots on the tree branch as a wool-sower gall.  Well into my third decade on this planet, and I had no idea galls even existed until now. Its at this point I promptly fell down the rabbit hole of learning about galls.

What is a gall?, you might ask. Galls are any outgrowth on the surface of a living organism, often caused by a parasite, disease, or genetic mutation, and on plants alone, they can range in form from aesthetically pleasing to disgusting. Oaks are susceptible to a variety of galls, and if you’ve been hiking around an oak forest in the fall, it’s not uncommon to find papery brown balls on the forest floor called oak-apple galls. These galls are caused by a wasp that lays its eggs in the oak’s living tissue, as are many oak galls. ” – http://www.the-understory.com/2012/06/07/the-incredible-emergence-of-the-wool-sower-gall-wasp/

Th wool sower gall –

“…it is a gall specific to white oak trees and only found in spring. According the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Department of Entomology, this wool sower gall (sometimes called the oak seed gall) is caused by secretions of grubs of a small gall wasp, Callirhytis seminator. They lay their eggs in winter and the eggs hatch as new leaves appear on the tree in spring. Chemical secretions from the young grubs stimulate the plant to develop the gall tissue which provides protection to the developing larva and nourishing food.

If one pulls the gall apart…it would reveal seed-like structures. The gall wasps develop inside these structures. Apparently they are never enough numbers to do any harm to the oak trees. We only found two galls on one of our trees. …parasitic wasps are so incredibly fascinating. They often have pretty complex life-cycles and have co-evolved with their hosts.” – http://gardeningsoul.blogspot.com/2014/04/wool-sower-gall.html

Like many oak gall wasps, it doesn’t cause major damage nor pose a major threat to the trees on which they grow. Parasitic wasps are often very specific to their hosts, and have co-evolved all sorts of weird traits in response to their hosts, such as amazingly and creepily changing their host’s growth, behavior (if it’s another animal), and tissue. Incredible.” – http://www.the-understory.com/2012/06/07/the-incredible-emergence-of-the-wool-sower-gall-wasp/

Incredible indeed.

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Wanderers

I love this:

Found here: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180429.html

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Birds in the Wood Stove

File this under: Home Ownership Problems I Did Not Anticipate

As of last Friday, for the fourth time this season, a bird has flown/fallen down our chimney and gotten stuck in our wood stove.

Yes, really. Each time the bird has been unharmed, but also naturally does not appreciate finding itself stuck inside our wood stove, unable to get back out. The first time was somewhat alarming, and a bit amusing. It took a few minutes to consider how we might get the bird out of the wood stove and put it back outside, unharmed, without letting the now very sooty bird loose into the house. Its a bit of a trick, but we’re 4 for 4 so far. Once outside, its nice to see the bird fly away from out front porch where we let it loose, and land in a tree to shake itself off.

We’re also getting some really bizarre photos. Its difficult to take photos through the glass on the front of the wood stove:

I’ve called our wood stove installer to see about replacing the chimney cap. They generally don’t like to use screens on the chimney caps, because if you don’t have good burning practices, a screen can clog up and require more frequent chimney cleaning. However, given our bird problem, the installer seemed to think a screen was a good idea. He was surprised too; he said he’s maybe gotten four calls about birds in 20 years in the business, but this year he’s had that many this season alone. Who knew.

 

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Last snow of the season? and Links

Not much posting around these parts lately.

First, its supposedly spring, but we are getting some awfully late season snow flurries. Its not sticking today, so here are some prettier pics with a sunset, and some deer visible from my office window from earlier this month:

(Edit: the snow stuck around for one very pretty evening, and we went for a morning walk the next day before it all melted and made a muddy mess. Pic from our walk added above).

Some links that have caught my attention recently:

Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks is probably my favorite science fiction author. Maybe my favorite author period. This link does a great job explaining some of the reasons why, and is a really excellent discussion on the relationship between society/culture and technology. This article finally put into words my frustration with so much sci-fi (technologically advanced societies with inexplicably archaic social structures).

Falcon Heavy Test Launch

Success! SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy Rocket on Historic Maiden Voyage

In case you missed it (do you live under a rock?), Space X had their first test launch of the Falcon Heavy on 2/6/2018. We watched the live stream of the launch, and audibly cheered at their success. Watching the two first stage boosters land was almost unreal – like watching a science-fiction movie, only they’ve actually made it happen. The future is happening now.

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First snow of the season

Therefore, snow pictures:

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A Day in Chicago

A little sightseeing in Chicago on a day off from work:

The leaves are already starting to change. Our day included a walk in Millenium Park, which has the Cloud Gate (aka “the bean”), and the very strange crown fountain (its a giant display of faces (that change every 10 minutes or so) that appear to spit water out (its amazing). We rented bicycles on rode up and down the lakeside trail to ride the ferris wheel at the navy pier, and to spend the afternoon in the impressive Field Museum.

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White House West Wing

Here are a few pics from our visit to the White House a few weeks ago. A friend who just happens to be an officer in the Navy had a very special promotion ceremony that was held in the Vice Presidential Ceremonial Office, and we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend. He also took us on a West Wing tour of the White House the next day, which is not something just anyone has access to.

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House 2.0 – moved in!

Well, somehow its been nearly five months since I’ve posted an update about the new house. (The house we’ve now been living in for nearly that long.) We’ve been so busy (mostly with work) I might not have noticed, except that the lack of posting about my life on the internet has been pointed out to me by several people:) Ahem. So, by request, here are some highlights of house related activity since we received the CO at the end of March:

  • We’re all moved in, and loving it. The actual move happened mostly in the middle of April, although even five months later I wouldn’t say we’re all settled in. There are still many projects on the to-do list to really set up the new house properly. We’ve managed to complete a few, some of which are described below. Also, I can’t say that I recommend the moving process.
  • Water treatment – it turns out that the well at the new house has much worse water quality than the old one. It was a bit of a project to have the water tested, research and determine what water treatment systems(s) to use, source said system, and then install it. Mainly, we had hard water, and enough of an iron problem that all our white sinks, toilets, and showers were turning orange. The water softener we installed seems to have solved both the hard water scaling and iron staining problems, although we may need yet more treatment for other issues.
  • Hardscaping/driveway – lots of rain this spring and early summer caused many delays in the scheduled outdoor work around the house. Our retaining walls are now finished, and we finally have a concrete driveway, which was only poured at the end of May/beginning of June. We are both extremely relieved to be out of the mud.  For six weeks we lived a relentless battle with the mud and dirt, especially with the dog. I will be forever grateful for that giant slab of concrete out in front of our house.
  • landscaping and lawn – we now have gravel beds around the foundation, plantings in front, and the lawn has finally been seeded and covered in straw.  We are (finally!) no longer surrounded by bare dirt/mud (hallelujah!).
  • crawlspace dehumidification – Our crawlspace is a sealed space, but we knew we were likely going to need a dehumidifier down there. Getting that installed during this humid summer means we will avoid any moisture related problems. Space conditioning in general is going really well in the new house, we are able to control both temperature and humidity throughout the house at very low energy cost.
  • kitchen backsplash – the bullnose edge pieces were on back order, and only came back in stock in July. After picking up the material and selecting the grout, I was able to have that installed in early September. I’m happy to check this one off the to-do list:)
  • loft ladder handrails – this is a small project that Kevin squeezed in for me. When first making notes about what we wanted in our “dream” house, I had a category called “whimsy” with things that would be fun to include if it they could be reasonably worked into the design. One of those items was a space accessed by a ships ladder. With the completion of some handrails fabricated from iron plumbing pipe, I now have my rustic ships ladder to the loft. For such a small detail, it seems to be a highlight of the house. Almost everyone who visits, especially male people young and old alike, are drawn immediately to climbing that ladder and peering out of the small windows from on high in the loft. That part is just as we imagined:)
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2017 Moto Eclipse

Naturally, we took a small trip on the motos to go watch the much hyped 2017 solar eclipse. Kevin’s extended family own houses in the north Georgia mountains that just happened to be right in the path of totality. Not only did we get to visit with family, but some friends from FL drove up to join the party as well. I’m pretty sure my life should have more four day weekends like this one (sans rare eclipse events, of course:).

Obligatory start of trip photo – (first one from the new house:)

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House 2.0 – Certificate of Occupancy

Just over a week ago, on Friday, March 31, 2017, we received the certificate of occupancy for our new house. (*lets out a huge sigh of relief*). This last week, the painters showed up for the final touch up, and to finish a few remaining items.

After years of planning and about 14 months of construction, House v2.0 is ready to move in!

Rather anti-climatically, the to-do list doesn’t seem to care about the much sought after government permit, and seems unaware that the CO is some sort of finish line. The hard-scaping (retaining walls and concrete driveway) still haven’t been started, which is making access to the house (and thus moving in) problematic. The project of getting internet properly connected is a seemingly never ending time suck. The loft ladder still needs handrails. I haven’t selected a backsplash tile for the kitchen. There are a few punch list items that need to be addressed. And so on (you’d be terribly bored if I listed everything). HOWEVER, we can move in any time! And so we will. Moving day is coming soon! Hurray!

 

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House 2.0 – wood floor finish, appliances, driveway grading

Here is a little update on House 2.0:

The wood floors were finished a couple of weeks ago. They look great, although the process was not without some minor damage to existing trim work, posts, and kitchen cabinets:

The wood floors are 5-in white oak, and we intentionally chose a lower grade at #2. I’ve been surprised at how the flooring contractor, floor finisher, and others have commented on the floors; they seem really worried about the color variation and knots. I keep having to tell them we like that, and did it on purpose. I guess the trend is to try and have “perfect” looking wood floors? What’s the point in that? Its wood, not a synthetic material. We specifically wanted a more “rustic” look, and are pretty happy with the result. The floors are not stained, just sanded and finished with an oil based poly.

As of this week, the appliances are delivered, and installed. Except for the dishwasher, which is sitting forlornly in its packaging in the middle of the kitchen floor:

Grading – Our home site sits on  a slope, so there was some grading work to do to make the water shed properly, and have the driveway make sense. We also had to run a few of the downspout drains underground. I really like the grading contractor, those guys are excellent at what they do. They really took their time with the laser surveyors level like they actually cared about making it right:

Other milestones: Both the unsightly construction dumpster and the construction power pole are gone.

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House 2.0 – electrical fixtures, bath vanities, plumbing fixtures, hardware, screen porch, end is in sight

The end of construction is finally in sight for House 2.0. The list of items required to get the CO is getting pretty short. Once the wood floors are finished (sanded and poly), I can have the appliances delivered and installed. Then the plumbers and electricians can come back to finish a few items and install the dishwasher. The HVAC system is still missing a couple of vent covers. But that’s it. Once those items are done, we’ll be able to call for inspection. The floor finisher should be able to start next week or the following, and then we’ll have to stay out of the house for almost two weeks. So, best case is the CO is still a month out.

The house has been slowly moving along. I’m struggling mightily to maintain patience with the contractor games at this point. They swear they’ll be done in the next (insert time frame here) amount of time, and then proceed to work 1 or 2 days that week (or 1/2  a day), and then not come back and finish. Our GC has cracked the whip this week however, so the electricians, HVAC, hardware, and plumbers have all been on site recently. Landscaping plans are also in the works.

The bath vanity counters were installed a couple of weeks ago. Most of the lighting fixtures and plumbing fixtures are in. (See the pics below, I may have had some fun with some of the lighting fixtures. We live on a timber farm, so pine trees are thematic:)  We now have door handles, door stops, cabinets pulls and knobs, mirrors and medicine cabinets, and the screen porch now has a screen.

Getting close!

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House 2.0 – wood stove, bath cabs, electrical in progress

Progress on the house continues slowly along:

  • The wood stove was installed this week. I’m really looking forward to trying that out.
  • My much delayed bathroom cabinets were completed and installed. They were made by the same local cabinet guy that made my kitchen cabinets, and they look great. The delay was mostly my fault, as I decided to have those cabinets made at the last minute, instead of just buying something off the shelf. I’ve learned that you can have cabinets built locally for much higher quality and better cost than from most stores, which has been a fun discovery. I have dates scheduled in the upcoming couple of weeks to measure and install the counter tops. So, it will still be 2-3 weeks before the plumbers can start.
  • Finish electrical work is in progress – interior and exterior light fixtures, outlets, and switches. The electricians put in about a day and half this week; they installed all of the can lights, a few fixtures, and started on the switches and outlets. They seem to do nice work, I just wish they would stay on our job site and finish instead of leaving to go to other jobs.
  • The HVAC guys are still at it, and seem to come by a little bit every week. My range hood exhaust duct is now plumbed to the outside (This proved somewhat tricky due to my range location).
  • The “barn” style door to the office was installed earlier in January. It still needs to be stained and finished. Barn doors are pretty trendy right now and becoming cliche, but I don’t care. Its fun, I like it, and where its located is a pretty reasonable place for a sliding door:)
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House 2.0 – HVAC – thermal smugness

We’re indulging in a little smugness. It feels good to be right:) What follows is an explanation of the HVAC system in our new house, and the success that comes from doing some actual engineering design, as opposed to blindly applying ill-fitting and poor standard practice. The TL;DR version is that you really should run Manual J calcs on any building, including residential buildings, to determine the appropriate HVAC specs for that specific site, or you risk ending up with a really bad design that costs more and doesn’t work as well.

Basically, we were right, and everyone else was wrong, and this post is a garrulous “I told you so”. (I can’t imagine this interests very many people, consider yourself warned).

For the HVAC system at our new house, Kevin specified 2 one-ton Fujitsu ducted mini split heat pump units, one for each floor. We were told by several people, including the HVAC subcontractor, that the system would not work as designed for two reasons: 1) it wasn’t enough capacity for the size of the house, and 2) the specified ducts were too large, and therefore the air would move too slowly to ensure proper mixing. Basically, the heat pumps would not be large enough to adequately heat and cool the house, and there would be hotter and colder spots within the house. He told them to install it anyway, and we’ll see who’s right after the system is running.

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Horses in the Snow

I love watching when the neighbor’s horses are first let out after it snows. They seem to delight in it as much as dogs or kids:) It also reminds me that action photography is hard; all that galloping, bucking, rearing, rolling, and general “horsing” around is difficult to capture.

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Snow Day

First snow of the season!

(Remember, click on the photos to see them full size).

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Happy New Year 2017! (and House 2.0 update)

Happy New Year!

Obviously, our new house is not complete by the start of 2017. (Its ok, I promise). The latest estimate is that we’ll be able to get the CO in mid-February. After that, there will be many punch-list items/final details to tie up before we’ll want to move, so we’re not expecting to move for at least two months at this point.

2016-12-16_dsc09474sHowever, construction is moving along, and for that I am grateful.

  • The interior painting and staining is complete, which was a very large project. I’m very happy with the work they did, it looks great.
  • Once the few remaining lighting items have arrived, we’ll be ready for the electricians to come back to install outlets, switches, and lighting fixtures. Things I have to make decisions about this week that I’ve never thought about before include trim rings for recessed can lights.
  • We have heat! Sort of. One of the two mini-splits works great, the other has some sort of issue that needs to be resolved. The good news is that the single one-ton unit has been able to keep the house warm with temps down into the 30s, so that’s nice.
  • Gutters were installed earlier this week. Those are one of those functional things that’s not very exciting, except for the reason they were brought to our attention. Our site is often windy, and the installers apparently didn’t use enough straps to anchor the downspouts to the house. They stay in place just fine (I know where you thought this was going), but they vibrate like crazy in the wind. The downspouts are a giant Aeolian Harp (ready for your daily physics lesson?), which would be cool if it weren’t on the side of our house. Its surprisingly loud. So yeah, vibrating downspouts are a thing that needs to be fixed.
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House 2.0 – Interior staining and painting, garage doors

For those who are asking about updates: I haven’t updated on the house because there hasn’t been much to share. Progress has been very slow. We figure no one was at the house at all for five out of the last eight weeks or so. However, starting last week, several subs were on site working, and its exciting to see progress resume.

Here is the house as of this weekend:

  • The garage doors are installed (still need to be painted).
  • The interior painters have started. I don’t envy their job: they had to clean and sand the entire frame and ceiling by hand, and then apply a finishing oil to the frame (I think this was sprayed on).
  • This week, the painters are working on staining the interior trim and doors: baseboards, window trim, door trim, and all of the interior doors.
  • Some of the interior walls are primed for paint

Needless to say at this point, we will not be in by the end of the year (and that’s ok). Right now, two of my bath vanity cabinets are delayed (a bit my fault), which will delay fabricating the vanity counter tops, which will delay installing the plumbing fixtures. I think that is the limiting factor. Perhaps we will be in by the end of January, which will be exactly 12 months (which is what we were told to expect), although I won’t be surprised if we don’t move until February. Regardless, we’re getting close!

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