House 2.0 – Soapstone Kitchen Counters

The kitchen counters were installed yesterday! The pics below don’t really do them justice, partially because they are covered in dust and I haven’t cleaned them.

The kitchen counters are soapstone. For those not familiar, it is a natural stone that has been used for counter tops for over a hundred years, in farmhouse kitchens especially, and other industrial applications. When choosing a kitchen counter top material, I vacillated back and forth between quartz (industry term for man-made stone), and soapstone, and ended up doing a lot of research about the pros and cons of each material. At this point, I am really happy that I chose soapstone, as the counters are gorgeous, and I really like the way soapstone feels to touch. The counters are really, really nice.

If you are curious about soapstone, here are some pros and cons, supported by a few links at the bottom:

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Snappy Lunch

I enjoyed this article on the history of a local favorite:

Snappy Lunch’s Famous Pork Chop Sandwich
It’s the only Mount Airy business ever mentioned during the eight-year run of The Andy Griffith Show. And it’s not only the show that endures. The celebrity-endorsed pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch has a storied résumé all its own.

snap-lunch-pork-chopWe may or may not have taken a long lunch yesterday to ride up to Mt. Airy (aka  “Mayberry”) in sunny 75°F  weather on the motos specifically for this sandwich.

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House 2.0 – Exterior paint, kitchen cabinets, railing, hearth

House construction is moving along nicely:

  • Exterior painting finally happened. The crew did not mess around, and was done in 2-3 days. We’re both very happy with the results.
  • The kitchen cabinets are installed! I am absolutely delighted, the cabinets are very, very nice. They were custom made by a local cabinet shop, which was something I was surprised to learn would fit in my budget.
  • Trim carpentry continues, and is nearly complete. We now have stair railings.
  • The hearth for the wood stove is in


Fyi, the camera plays tricks with colors. On my monitor, the house looks more green in the above photo than I think it does in real life.

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House 2.0 – screen porch, stone

Happily, work on the house is picking back up again after another slow down in October; essentially nothing happened on the house for over two weeks.

Here are some pics of some masonry work in progress on the front porch, and recently constructed back screen porch:

Some of the delays are our (mostly my) fault;  we’re so busy with work (or, you know, being on vacation), that we’re (I’m) behind on providing the GC with the decisions he needs to move forward. Then there’s been what I consider typical construction/project management stuff: It turns out our little moto trip/vacation coincided with the finish/trim carpenter’s vacation. A couple of subs had scheduling issues or were just simply behind schedule. The GC made a rare mistake and didn’t estimate the painting budget correctly, and has also had a hard time lining up a painting contractor (so this line item is both over budget and “behind schedule” (ok, not really), thankfully not a regular occurrence for our GC).

Fortunately, we’re not under much time pressure. Everyone we talk to asks when we’re going to be in the house; the answer is I don’t know, and I’m not worried about it. It’ll get done eventually, and I’d rather it take longer and be right than push for some arbitrary finish date. We were told to plan on 1 year for construction, and it looks like we’re still on track, and very probably going to finish sooner than that. (Perhaps we’ll be in by the end of the year?)


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2016 Moto Alabama – Oak Ridge TN to Home

Oak Ridge was more or less “on our way” back from Alabama, and the riding in eastern TN is always something to look forward to.

The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN, while touting the area’s history and modern research applications and nuclear technology, is mostly the Manhattan Project Museum.


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2016 Moto Alabama – Birmingham, and Huntsville US Space and Rocket Center

After the noise and chaos that was the very fun Barber Vintage Fest, neither of us really wanted to spend time in a city, and would have preferred to camp somewhere quiet for a night. However, who knows when we’ll be near Birmingham, AL again, and we wanted to see at least a little bit before leaving town.

Birmingham, AL

First up – the Sloss Furnace:

Birmingham exists because it was an ideal place to site the Sloss Furnace to produce iron. Now a National Historic Landmark, the site offers self guided tours, and is also apparently a venue for events and concerts (and in October, a most excellent haunted attraction). Per the website:

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2016 Moto Alabama – 12th Annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival

2016 marks the 12th Annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama.

The Barber Motorsports Park is home to an excellent road-racing track, as well as the annual vintage festival, which has become a very large and fun event, drawing many tens of thousands of people.

20161007_dsc08590sBarber is also home to the famous Barber Motorsports Museum, which is basically the greatest tribute to the history of motorcycling possible. Its the stuff of fantasies. People have told us for years that we need to go see it, and while we believed them, words just cannot do it justice. You need to go see this place!

After changing the front tire on Kevin’s bike in Birmingham in the morning, we arrived at the motorsports park sometime in the afternoon on Friday, the first official day of the three day festival.

It was somewhat difficult to get the obligatory “in front of the museum” photo amidst the large crowds at the vintage fest:


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2016 Moto Alabama – Home to Barber Vintage Fest

Somehow, we managed to squeeze in a week+ long moto trip into 2016 after all.

The Barber Vintage Festival is an annual gathering at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. Word has it that the festival has become quite the event, and since Barber is also home to the the famous Barber Motorsports Museum (more on that later), we’ve had it on our radar to attend the festival and see the museum for some time.

We committed to the trip earlier this year by buying our tickets and camping passes (which sell out quickly!). With so little seat time this year, I was really looking forward to this trip, and just elated as we loaded up the bikes, and rode south in beautiful and sunny October weather.

10/5/2016 – Obligatory start of trip photo, loaded up and ready to go:


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House 2.0 – flooring, trim carpentry, interior doors, HVAC

House construction as of this week:

  • Wood floors are installed, including stair treads, and are ready to be finished
  • Tile flooring is installed, still needs grout
  • Trim carpentry has started, and they are making remarkably fast progress. We’re very happy with the quality of this work, which includes baseboards (w/ trim cap), window and door trim, closets, as well as some custom built-ins. It all looks really nice.
  • We have some interior doors!
  • The outside units for the mini-splits were installed. We’re very close to being able to condition the inside of the house, just in time for fall in NC, when we don’t actually need heating or cooling.


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House 2.0 – drywall finishing, grading, trenching (well, power, comms), flooring

Updates in house construction –

Drywall finishing was completed faster than I thought it would take. They did a really nice job too:

Some finish grading around the house to drain the water better, and to prepare for the driveway, landscaping, and a bit of lawn:

Kevin has been putting a bunch of time into what we’re calling the trenching project. Our house is located quite a bit back from the road, so bringing in services is more of a challenge than if we were closer. (Although the electric utility brought in power for free, which we were not expecting. We just barely came in under their cost limit for installing new service). For water supply, we’re using an existing well on the property, which naturally is located no where near the house. We have to trench some distance to pipe in water. We’re also planning for a future ground mount solar array that’s not next to the house, as well as a powered vehicle gate up by the road.  So, Kevin spent some design time to figure out how to run water, power, and comms (fiber and ethernet) between all the various locations to make it all work, and spent a lot of time on site during installation. We bought a LOT of conduit:

Lastly, our wood flooring was delivered, and installation started this week!



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House 2.0 – Drywall!

It only took two days for the drywall crew to hang the entire house this week. I’m sure finishing will take a bit longer.  Its exciting to get to this step, the house is starting to look just as we imagined it would.

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We Need More Automation Engineering Degrees

I think its hard to overstate the rising importance of automation today. Automation in manufacturing has been having an impact on society for a long time now, but in recent years, the pace of technological progress has been accelerating, which is accelerating the affects those changes are having on the types of jobs that are available. As with so many other areas, our education system is lagging. This article really hits the nail on the head:

When will we see more four-year U.S. degrees in automation engineering?

The whole article is worth reading, and describes what I’ve been saying for years:

“If Americans want to strengthen our manufacturing base, we need more engineering graduates who are focused on automation. Many schools have degrees that touch on the needs of manufacturing, but they don’t really do a deep dive into automation.”

While the article is focused on manufacturing, automation is spilling over into so many other areas. I’m telling you, if you are a young person and want to be guaranteed employment, go into automation.

The main point that really gets at my frustration:

“From my experience, many members of the higher education establishment view automation as an associate’s degree, technician-level program. They are underestimating the complexity of designing and integrating automated systems on a plant-wide basis. Automation is more than just programming or electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. It is all of these and more.”

Modern automation needs to be understood as an entire engineering discipline on its own. The subject includes mechanical and electrical engineering, programming, higher math concepts, technical knowledge of sensors and actuators, and often databases, computer networking and various internet related technologies, and more. Systems integration requires engineering design, and cannot be accomplished at the two-year technician level of training. The view of automation as a technician wiring some relays together or maybe writing some simple ladder logic is laughably outdated.

These last few quotes describe my personal experience fairly well:

“A large percentage of the recently graduated college engineers we have hired over the past five to 10 years did not specifically set out to become automation engineers…”

“Automation-related degrees aren’t adequately described. I visited one website that explains all the different possible college degrees. Automation engineering was listed as a subset of industrial engineering, which is not where most people interested in an automation career would look. It also said that pursuing a degree in automation engineering would “open up a number of career opportunities in maintenance, repair and robotics.” Again, this may be what the associate degree would prepare you for, but not the bachelor’s degree.”

“Maintenance and repair” is misleading, and would not have attracted me to automation. This was written by someone who does not understand what automation is, what it does, or how its created. Maintenance and repair of existing systems is certainly important and part of automation engineering, but someone has to DESIGN the systems first. It really is the difference between being an automotive engineer and being an auto mechanic. Both are required for the system to work.

“The only related offering in that university’s entire engineering program was one class on control system theory. Talking to one of our engineers who had taken the course, he said that it had no real relevance to the automation and controls work he is now doing for our company.”

I also had exactly one class on control system theory, and it also had almost no relevance to the work I am doing now. I strongly agree with this conclusion:

“We also have to get over the notion that automation can only be learned with hands-on experience on the job, and that it’s not possible to teach it in college. With the proper investment in labs, it can be taught, and automation engineers can come out of college without large gaps in their automation abilities (gaps either on the electrical, mechanical or programming sides).”

By working in automation, I know I have a biased viewpoint. However, what I see from my limited view within a small, niche corner of the industry, is a rising tidal wave of demand for automation. That demand won’t look like industrial automation historically has, going as far back as the 1950s.  Technology is changing rapidly, and enabling new applications and and entire categories of knowledge that could not have even been conceived before recent advances. Previously separate disciplines in mechanical, electrical, computer engineering, are joining with more modern mechatronics, robotics, data management and analysis, computer networks, software and web technology platforms. The knowledge required for modern automation systems is beyond cross-disciplinary, and in my view, has become its own entire field of engineering.

Gaining the knowledge required to work in automation is often prohibitively difficult, both via the traditional education system, and for those trying to self teach. Automated mechatronic systems are showing up in more and more applications outside of manufacturing, and the complexity  and scope of industrial automation is rapidly increasing along with demand. We need more automation engineering degrees.

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Moto Day Ride – Reed Creek Mill

Of course its a hydropower site visit, made even better because we took the bikes. On a hot summer day, we look forward to riding at higher elevations. Twisty roads in slightly cooler air in the mountains make for a great day.

I bought a top box/trunk for my TR. It looks super dorky, but is really useful. I even carried home leftovers from dinner out last night. I’ve never had one before, holding off out of principle. Top boxes look ridiculous, and my idealistic aspiration is the biker as minimalist who doesn’t need to have so much stuff. Except that both of us are well beyond any chance of looking cool, and I seem to use the top box on Kevin’s bike all the time. He wouldn’t have bought a top box either, except he bought the Multi used, and it came with one. In the years since, he’s been lured by its convenience, and has now drawn me in as well. I just finally gave in and got one for myself. Putting weight up high like that negatively affects handling, but as long as I keep the weight light while riding, its going to be nice to have a place to lock up my stuff. Yesterday was my first ride with it, and I’m glad I hardly noticed it back there.

Posted in 2013 Husqvarna TR650 Strada, Day Rides, Motorcycles | 2 Comments

House 2.0 – Inspections, insulation, septic, porch

Lots of progress on the house this week –  We passed the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, framing, and septic inspections. Rough systems are done!  That meant the insulation crew could start. They only needed two days, since most of the house is SIPS. They insulated the garage, the room over the garage, mudroom ceiling, between floors (including some in the crawl space, which was already mostly insulated from superior walls), and some interior walls between rooms to help with noise attenuation. The crew installing the septic system was done in one day, including the inspection. The porch slab also got poured – no more stepping on a bucket to go in the front door:)

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MSF – Intro to Trail Riding

Despite not having any time lately for anything but work or house build related activities, I’m really glad we made time last weekend to travel to Georgia for another moto riding clinic.

2016-07-31_MSF ITR A_sI’ve been pretty good about sticking to my “at least one moto riding class” a year goal. This year, since off-road riding is definitely my weakest area, I wanted to find an off-road oriented class. Its harder than you’d think. Most dirtbike classes are for kids, or are more moto-cross oriented, which is a bit different than what I am looking for. Trail and/or adventure riding is a slightly different skill set, and there are now several famous courses that are all available in various western states. Since we can’t make a western trip happen this year, I thought I was out of luck. Then I discovered that the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) has an Intro to Trail Riding class. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The MSF requires students to take the CRE class first, so I found some dates where we could take both classes back to back. It worked out great; we had a great trip, rode motorcycles, learned a few things, and really enjoyed our little mini vacation.

About the Classes
Day 1 was the CRE (Closed Range Excercises class), held on the fenced dirt range. Continue reading

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House 2.0 – electrical, plumbing, HVAC, systems

While there has been an occasional burst of activity on the house construction, recently there hasn’t been much progress. Over the last three weeks, our chimney for the wood stove was installed, a minor amount of plumbing and HVAC was completed, and as of this week, the electricians are mostly done with the 120vac wiring. I expect that plumbing and electrical will be ready for the rough in inspections this week or next.

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House 2.0 – roof, electrical

This week in house construction: The roof is finished! Hopefully now there will be no more leaks when it rains. Its just a black metal roof, but I’m pleased with the installation and how it looks. The electrical contractors made a bit more progress on the first floor. We have more can lights, and about half of the first floor outlets and switches are wired.

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House 2.0 – siding, HVAC, back framing, electrical, doors, roof!

Updates in house construction for the past two weeks:

Last week-

  • Siding – FYI, since there seems to be some confusion on this, the siding is NOT painted yet. What you see is just primer color. It still needs paint, and I still need to decide on colors (or rather, have someone else pick for me since I’m terrible at that). (Also, Hardie siding doesn’t actually need to be painted, it just looks nicer.)
  • The siding is just about completed. They ran out of the homelslicker (yellow moisture management layer that goes under the siding), but that crew should have all the materials they need to finish this week.
  • HVAC – this contractor has clearly been busy elsewhere, as they only seem to show up on site about once a week for the last two weeks. (So, they’ve only been on site maybe 2-3 days total since starting our house). They made really nice progress last week (the work they’ve done thus far seems fine); they’ll need to finish soon however, otherwise they’ll hold up the electrical contractor.
  • The framing crew was on site a day or two for “back framing,” I wasn’t familiar with this term, but basically, the framers come back after plumbing and HVAC are done to prepare for drywall.
  • An insulation contractor stopped by the house and is now lined up to insulate the non-SIPS/conventionally framed parts of the house (over the dining room, mudroom, and garage).
  • The woodstove/hearth/fireplace/etc. contractor also stopped by to prepare for installing the woodstove. The framing crew framed the hearth this week.
  • ELECTRICAL WALK-THROUGH – This gets caps because its how we spent most of the day last Thursday. We went through the entire house with the GC and electrical contractor discussing all the 120 VAC wiring and low voltage wiring. Basically, we decided where all of the hard wired lights, switches, and outlets will be (both inside and outside). We also discussed all the low voltage wiring: CAT5e, security, sound, smoke and CO detectors, etc. We made decisions like whether or not we want wiring for a doorbell (yes), or to run coax or phone lines (what? no, of course not).

This week –

  • Siding is finished!
  • Exterior doors – The front door is installed, and one of the garage walk doors
  • Metal Roof Installation – the roofers are about half done. We’ve had some thunderstorms with hard rain this week, and without the metal roof on, it turns out the roof does leak a bit. Looking forward to not having standing water in the house.
  • Electrical – the electricians were able start this week, even if they were only on site a short time – we have some can lights and a few outlet boxes. Looking forward to reaching the rough-in electrical milestone.
Posted in Dog Blog, Home Improvement, House 2.0 | 2 Comments

House 2.0 – siding, HVAC

House construction moved along a bit this week: the siding installation continued, and HVAC installation began. The showers are also as complete as they can get until fixtures and final finishes are installed in the bathrooms.

We’ve been pleased with the progress and quality of work on the siding. It makes such a large visual difference, the house is really starting to look finished on the outside.

HVAC for the house consists of ducted mini-split heat pumps. We originally wanted to use the duct-less type mini-splits, as they are more efficient, but the design and heating/cooling loads didn’t allow for it. The ducted type are still very efficient, and with how tight and well insulated the house is, we are expecting very low space conditioning costs.  The ducted type also have the problem of requiring space to run the ducts, which is more difficult in a timber frame vs conventional construction. I seem to be losing closet space daily as space is taken up by the heating and cooling ducts.

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House 2.0 – siding, showers

House construction slowed down the last three weeks as the framing and other contractors finished up, and the next set of contractors lined up and added our house to their schedules. Construction picked up again this week, as the siding contractors got started, and the shower materials arrived and started installation as well.

(Remember, click or tap on a photo to see them larger, then use the arrows on the right and left to scroll through the gallery of photos).

The yellow material is a type of house wrap called Home Slicker that goes underneath the Hardie board (James Hardie brand fiber cement board) siding, and is used for moisture management. Our house is using a mix of horizontal plank siding, and a vertical board and batten style. The Hardie siding came primed for paint, and eventually I will actually have to make a decision on what color to paint it.

So, siding installation is under way. The crew was even there this Saturday. Regarding showers, this is a 2.5 bath house; I expect both showers will finish being installed soon. Kevin met with the HVAC contractor this week, and he is supposed to start next week. Nice to see some progress again after a couple of weeks of very little happening. I thought I was impatient before, but the further along we get, the more I’m ready to be finished and move in. We still have a long way to go!

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I hate Microsoft and Windows 10, Part 2

At the end of last year, I bought a new laptop.  It came with windows 10. I tried to work with it as a Win 10 machine, but had nothing but problems. After many hours (days) of my time, I eventually gave up and returned the laptop (I couldn’t easily put Windows 7 on that hardware).

Since my previous machine was a desktop, and I increasingly need the portability of a laptop, I tried again last month. I bought a laptop that came with Windows 8 this time. I immediately got rid of that nonsense, and installed the last “good” operating system microsoft made, which is windows 7. Again, after many hours of my time installing the applications I need and setting it up for my purposes, I had what I thought was a stable machine. Windows 7 worked great, and I could move on with my life using my machine to do useful things, instead of spending my time fussing with the machine itself.

Then, about 3 days ago, windows decided to upgrade my computer to windows 10 without my permission. I left my computer to go run an errand, and when I came back, the welcome screen said “welcome to windows 10.”

F@!* you microsoft.

Not having control or choice in upgrading my own OS is totally unacceptable. Now, once again, I have a buggy and unstable machine. (My desktop icons keep re-shuffling again, and I’m having display problems. Other things are broken as well due to the forced upgrade, and there is lots of generally buggy behavior.) At least all of my essential applications seem to work this time. Now I have to choose between dealing with Windows 10, or trying to roll back to windows 7, which may or may not work properly. (I am really apprehensive about trying to roll back). I have work to do. Ain’t nobody got time for this. (<– here, let me google that reference for you).

I would move to a linux system in 2 seconds flat (despite the learning curve) if all of my applications were compatible. They are not.

Public service announcement: after this unapproved “upgrade,” to my machine, Kevin learned there is a utility called “Never 10” that will prevent windows from “upgrading” your OS. He’s been busy installing it on various machines, including his. Too late for me. Read the Never 10 link for a great explanation of why so many people do not want to upgrade to Windows 10, including “Microsoft’s evolution of their Windows operating system platform into a service which, among other things, aggressively monitors and reports on its users activities.” (That is amazingly not ok).

In sum, Windows is horrible, and continues to waste my time.  If you even mention anything to me about Apple products or OS X I will hit you.

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Hiking Grayson Highlands State Park

Grayson Highlands State Park in VA is a place we’ve ridden by, and sometimes to, several times on the motos, and have said for years that we should visit to go camping and hiking. Its an incredibly beautiful place. So, we decided last week to take Friday off; we loaded up our stuff and the dog in the back of my car, and made the 2.5 hr drive Thursday afternoon.

Between a smaller hike Thursday evening, and exploring various trails all day Friday, we probably only hiked about 10 miles. We were really happy that Cody was able to keep up and enjoy himself. At 9.5 years old, he’s still really enjoying his hikes, as long as we take breaks, and avoid the strenuous trails with steep elevation gain.

Also, it turns out that Grayson Highlands State Park has “wild” ponies. Who knew? (Click the continue reading link just below this sentence to see pictures of the ponies!)

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House 2.0 – front porch, plumbing, misc interior framing

As the post title says, house construction progress for this week includes: more interior framing (mostly interior doors, and modifying access under the garage stairs), the start of some plumbing, and construction of the front porch.

2016-05-15_DSC07335sThe plumbers were on site just one day, but I was really amazed at how much they got done. (Seriously, impressively fast progress. There were 4 or 5 guys, and they weren’t in the house 5 minutes before they were busy with the hole saws, and the entire house smelled like pvc glue. Most of the plumbing in the house is PEX).

Throwing in some exterior photos from the back, just because its been awhile.

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House 2.0 – interior framing and windows

House construction update for this week: Most of the interior framing is done, and all of the windows are in. The exterior door from the office and the french doors to the screen porch are in, and we have stairs in the garage to the room above.

2016-05-07_DSC07268sBonus room over the garage:

It’s a relief to be just about dried in. We’ve had a lot of rain, and it will be nice to be able to keep the water off of everything, and from blowing in and sitting on the floor. The interior walls going up made for a very dramatic change this week. That framing went really quickly!

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House 2.0 – garage and first floor framing

Fast changes on the house build this week:

2016-04-29_DSC07214sThey finished framing the room over the garage, mudroom roof, and the exterior of the house and garage is now covered in Tyvek. They also dug the footers for our front porch, which are now filled with water from all of the recent rainstorms. Our windows arrived on Wednesday. We skipped our typical daily site visit on Thursday, and were really surprised to discover that by the end of Friday, they had moved inside and completed the majority of the interior framing on the first floor, T&G loft deck, and we have stairs!

This part is going really fast, and I am getting behind on some decision making!

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