Chimney Demo

Now with the stairs in an operable state the work in the attic begins. The chimney came down, first the outside and then continued to the floor level.  We will remove the rest of the chimney to the basement during the kitchen renovation.  By removing that unused chimney we now have more floor space to give to the HVAC. Not my first choice for locating the mechanical closet but a good location since that will make the mechanical central to the house. Well balanced is efficient design for HVAC. The original intent was to align a closet with the bump out from the bathroom space and step slightly into the space behind the knee wall. The reality is that the mechanical closet turns out much larger.  This is the same battle architects have at work with engineers.  We say here is a space for the mechanical, electric and plumbing equipment and they say “I need more”.  So when our Mechanical team said the same thing on our house, I wasn’t very sympathetic. At one point they wanted to take the entire right side of the stair opening for a closet. Yikes! that no longer is a closet in my book, that then becomes a room. So no. They did, in the end, give a little and so did we. The Mechanical closet actually bumps out past the location of the chimney, but in the end it all works out.



Chimney removal continues inside the attic, brick by brick.

One of the very best recommendations that our builder saw in the space was to raise the collar ties. It never occurred to us that this could be done and how much impact that would make. In this photo the collar ties are in their original location. This would have left us with a ceiling height of 7′-4″. It would have been low but tolerable. But the builder immediately said we will come in and cut the ends of the ties and relocate them to raise the ceiling. That was brilliant! It did several things for the space.

  • It gave us a more proportional appropriate space instead of a long skinny one. The ceiling height will be 8″-6″.
  • It allowed us to have real lighting fixtures that even can hang slightly.
  • And triple bonus, it allowed the framing team to get a level line so our ceiling wouldn’t be crazy wavy.

Chimney coming down. Collar ties in original location. Bathroom starting to take shape.


View of the chimney removed. Dormers with peeling paint and rotting wood siding.


The bathroom was originally plumb in the house but never realized. A few relocations and consolidations of vent stacks.




We were so excited after the first abbreviated week’s work, little did we know it would only get better and more exciting. The stairs took shape almost instantly. I can barely remember the time when the stairs were hidden behind the closet door. Having drawn the new stair plan so many different times from the napkin sketch when the idea first crossed my thoughts to the CAD plan it appeared just as I imagined it would. In the begin of this idea I wasn’t sure if there was enough room to get the proper run to accommodate the needed rise to get to the attic.  By creating an L-shaped stair it gave us just enough room to run the treads out to a nice comfortable foyer. Seeing this idea come to life was very exciting. It has created a gracious entry and opened up the foyer.

The two closets we sacrificed will of course be missed but the funny thing about this house is that there are more hall closets than I have ever seen in any house, at least there were. Before there were 4 now only 2 remain. although temporarily we have claimed the leftover space at he bottom of the old stairs for a coat closet at least until the kitchen goes to renovation. So for the next year, most likely, we will utilize the odd but useful coat closet at the bottom of the stairs leaving us with 3 hall closets, for now.


Almost instantly they appeared. The stringer for the original stairs can be seen through the back of the new stairs.


First look from landing to front door.

With the temporary treads on and the ceiling opened up a bit, the attic is now open. With our late spring arrival the temperatures have dipped back into the 30’s, the attic is now open. The little things you don’t think about can make the biggest impacts. We improvised a solution. Nightly the opening got covered with a drop cloth and leftover piece of paneling. It made a world of difference in the comfort level and heating on the first floor. Correcting the lack of good insulation in the attic has been one of the goals of this phase of the renovation.

One of the other things we didn’t count on was that Zoe was terrified of this new obstacle between her and her humans. When we would go upstairs to marvel at the progress that had been done that day, she would just sit at the bottom and give us the look.


All cleaned up for the weekend.


Are y’all having fun up there without me?


Renovations Begin – Phase 1


The first time Matt saw the attic space and started dreaming.

One of the things that drew Matt and I to the house was its overwhelming potential, big rooms and solid construction. That was just over 4 years ago. Since that time, we have lived in the house and let it speak to us. The design ideas are somewhat different from the first days in the house and probably somewhat different from they would be if we waited 3 more years. But here we are today and the big renovation starts now.

Up until now, we have just done things in the house that were necessary and practical. We have replaced the oil burning behemoth of furnace with a high-efficiency natural gas boiler, refinished the floors, replaced the dishwasher when it finally gave up and built the infamous fence for Zoe. Just the necessities.

We first prioritized the renovations that we thought would be good to get done in the order with thought. Bathroom, Attic, Kitchen – that was the plan. But then priorities shifted and the seasons came and went and we you get the idea, now the list is Attic, Bathroom and Kitchen.  We know the Kitchen is the last piece of this puzzle but the importance of the attic became urgent when Matt landed a great job in the corporate world. He has quickly outgrown our shared office space and is ready for a real home office and the joys of central AC. Also by relocating the stairs, we set up the kitchen phase by getting the stairs out of the way of future renovations that will align the hallway.

But like most puzzles there are a lot of connected parts and pieces. Figuring out just what to include in this phase of the renovation was key to making it work. This is where we are so glad that we enlisted the help of a professional. Cornerstone Builders saw and shared our vision from the beginning, there really was no question of using anyone else.  The Cornerstone crew have all tirelessly answered endless questions and sometimes in tandem, as Matt and I are usually not in the same place during the days. They are patient and through with their answers.

So for Phase 1 of the Renovation we are including:

  • redirecting and re-configuring the stairs to the attic
  • blowing in open cell insulation
  • attic window replacement
  • removing the upper portion of a decommissioned chimney
  • replacing the deteriorated wood siding on the existing dormers
  • adding central AC to the attic with drop down vents to the 1st floor
  • adding a heat pump system to the attic

We will talk more in-depth about each one of these elements as they happen. So far the Cornerstone crew has been mobilized for two days on site and they have already made a huge impact. The two closets are gone and the foyer is ready to receive the new stairs. The builder decided to do the stairs first so the rest of the construction job would be easier to haul materials up to the upper level. We are excited to see the changes.



Closet guts gone. Protective covering on floor. Dust barriers in place.


Closets gone, making way for the new stairs. Left clean for the weekend.




Wedded Bliss – the surprise

Since we have had a few request for more information on last fall’s nuptials it felt like it was time for a blog post.  Matt and I decided to make our arrangement legal sometime back in June. We knew from the start that we didn’t want a traditional wedding with all the trimmings. We more than anything just didn’t want to put our friends, family and especially ourselves through all the fuss and muss. We wanted a simple evening with good food, family and friends to celebrate the event. So after some internet searching it seemed like a surprise wedding was exactly what we were looking for.

Our first decision was to pick a date and narrow down the exact event. How were we going to get people to come in order to surprise them? Food, we knew it had to be a celebration and good food. We first looked at several restaurants. Sampling them as we weeded them off the list.  Let me just say to the restaurateurs of the area. you never know who you are waiting on that just might be planning their next big event. We knew we were looking at spending $3,000 or so and wanted to take the burden of the day off us by going some place inclusive. A restaurant seemed the logical choice as the decor would be already in place and we would only have to show up. Several of our picks had unattractive back rooms that they would put us in, no thanks and another didn’t even call us back. It was a disappointing search.  The final choice came to a nice downtown restaurant and their room looked more like a sports bar, again no thanks. Finally, we checked out my friend Jim Schaal’s Metamorphosis in downtown.  Jim made it easy.  On a warm summer afternoon we had it figured out, the menu was partially set and away we went.

tmp_kimwedding-56That was the when and the where then it came down to the How.  How in the world were we going to get everybody together without telling them.  Of course we needed to tell the parents but after that we wanted everyone to be surprised. I turned to John Reburn at Appalachia Press. From the moment I started to describe the event he just lit up and really got into the planning and scheming. The rouse was to be a party to celebrate Kim’s recent Architectural License achievement. After all, Kim worked 15 years to get licensed and it would not be far-fetched at all to have a celebration to commemorate the event. John’s invitation design was a fun vertical tri fold that started at the top of a column and ended with the base. In the middle was the carefully worded party (in wedding style) invitation. The most fun part about this was that if anyone really thought about it and  knew me they could figure it out. I am not one to want the spotlight or talk about my achievements at length. The idea of an Architectural Presentation at 6:30 should have given it away. It didn’t 🙂  If my friends thought it was strange they were polite and played along. “Just humor her” they probably thought.  We sent them out formally exactly one month for yet another subtle clue to our participants.

Details after that all seemed to fall into place, mostly anyway.  Kim’s dress was from David’s Bridal and pretty easy. Matt bought himself a new dark grey suit. Rings took a while but we finally found the perfect ones with the lovely ladies at Jewell’s. Shoes came from Zappo’s with last minute comfort assistance by the Shoe Doctor. Best $1.69 I spent on the night.

As the planning progressed we did decide to hire a photographer for the event. Knowing that I didn’t want the full-blown wedding production photos it was a bit challenging to find the right photographer. Tiffany Maxfield fit the bill perfectly. She was luckily available for the date and very excited to help us keep the secret. We meet up for our before ceremony shots just before the guests were to arrive. No one was the wiser. She and her assistant hung out at the edge of the event with their equipment nicely tucked away until the big reveal came and were there to capture everyone’s surprise. So glad we spent that money to have the memories captured.


The cake was serious business to us. It was the one wedding to do list appointment that Matt went willingly. Lisa Link with Cakes by Lisa won us over with her sour cream icing and moist chocolate cake. Again we didn’t want the traditional wedding things. Matt and I are serious chocolate fans and wanted to indulge our guests with our over the love of all things chocolate. Since purple and grey seemed to be the color theme it seemed natural to have the chocolate cake with purple embellishments. We ended up with three tiers. The top is nicely wrapped and in the freezer for our 1 year anniversary. The middle was mousse filling and the bottom tier was ganache and raspberry filling all with ganache floated on the tops. I just can’t describe how De-lish this cake was.

For the cake topper, I found a wonderfully talented artist on Etsy to make a cake topper in the likeness of our best girl, Zoe. It was a fairly simple process, a few pictures to Twin Indigo Weddings and a few weeks later we had Zoe. The artist was also kind enough to add a small hook in the back for turning the topper into a Christmas Ornament for continued use.  I just love this idea, it commemorates both our precious pup and our first married Christmas together.

It has been almost 6 months since the wedding. Matt and I are still so happy with the wedding we had and the decision we made to go for the surprise. We had just the perfect day with the help of a handful of wonderful vendors.

Weary Traveler

Earlier today I drove to Clifton Forge, VA and picked up Matt after his long adventure out and back.  It was a very different experience from dropping him off in Staunton, VA.  Zoe went with me as she as been a little mopey since last Sunday when this whole adventure began.

The 1 hour ride to Clifton Forge is 1000 times better than the drive to Staunton on 81.  Rt 220 goes directly to Clifton Forge.  It was a delightfully scenic divided highway most of the way until the last 10 miles or so.  Going up I only passed one (maybe two) tractor trailers.  I knew I was early so I took my time and really enjoyed the scenery.  Because of weather delays coming out of Chicago the train ended up being about 3+ hours late.  I had to chuckle at the Amtrak customer service rep.  I asked when exactly the train would arrive in Clifton Forge, she said 3:30ish.  I just thought how silly that would sound to any European.  ish, now that is something I would say about when arriving for dinner but not for a train.  Seems it isn’t that much of an exact science.

Clifton Forge’s Amtrak Station/platform leaves a little something to be desired.  If you are looking for the full train platform experience then stay with Staunton.  But if it is a closer/easier commute from Roanoke with a descent parking area then opt for Clifton Forge.  The signage into the station is almost non existent.  I guess most people from there know where it is.

The town itself was a bit lost in time.  The downtown has a crazy one way two street pattern that didn’t seem to have that much traffic to control.  Not sure if we were just being directed to the second street of stores or why exactly the streets were like that.  One interesting place that caught my eye was the C & O Railway Heritage Center.  As I approached I was hoping that this was the train station.  You can see and learn about trains there but not Amtrak.  And then the other very odd thing that caught my eye was the Kroger.  The style of the building took me back to my childhood.  It was set up exactly as I remember the Kroger and SuperX (drugstore) in my neighborhood.  A long vestibule with storefront windows and then a small cramped store.  Definitely a flashback lost in time.

So after meandering around Clifton Forge for a short time Zoe and I went to find our spot to keep a lookout for Matt’s train.  First lots of CSX cars and trains at the very industrial railyard/Amtrak stop.  Then finally a light and an Amtrak train.  Matt was one of the first off.  He looked tired, dirty and very glad to be home.

With a full belly, a freshly showered Matt is already sleeping at 8:30 tonight.  Proving once again it is always so much fun to travel but even more wonderful to come home.

Butt Crack Union

Some of you may think that showing this picture is mean. But no, it’s not mean. This girl asked for it. She went out in public like this. Ya, b***h, that’s really cool. It would be easy to wind this into a “kids are so stupid” kind of thing, but the truth is that there were even more opportunities to catch adults doing dumb things. This girl just happened to sit down next to me right when I needed some comic relief. Today I’m not going to discriminate. I’ll make fun of everything today.

Usually at this time of year I’m boarding a plane, and it seems to be becoming a tradition for some thing to go wrong, like 18″ of snow in Virginia, or a bank of fog surrounds just the airport, or who knows what. This year I thought I had it all outsmarted, taking the train. But no. It still snows, and Mother Nature is maybe a little spiteful, since I outfoxed her this year. Or so I thought. The snow falls, and flights are delayed, and everybody tries to get home on the train, and of course that delays my train. So Mother Nature wins again, although not by the incredible margin she got me by last year (big snow storms on both ends of my trip, delaying departure from home and arrival home).

So because of the bad weather, and the 2 hour delay of my train, there was a crowd in the waiting area. There were about 200% too few seats. I only got to sit for about 15 minutes of the 3 hours I was there. Was I regretting not paying the extra cash for the sleeper car, which also comes with a very nice waiting area upgrade? Youbetcha. But then again I would have passed up the opportunity for gathering material.

Anyway, so there was a crowd. And I was sitting on the floor next to butt-crack betty, who was so cool by the way, which I only knew having read her shirt. And how do they have the waiting room set up? Right next to this sea of humanity, maybe 1000 people in a big waiting area that is nonetheless 1/3 the size it needed to be: A couple of union workers sitting in a huge (and empty, and roped off) waiting area full of chairs. These areas are literally right next to one another. Now putting travelers in those chairs wouldn’t have completely solved the problem of all the people without chairs, but it would have given 100 people chairs who had been sitting on the floor. And it would have given 200 people room to sit on the floor who had been standing. Go union.

It’s easy to see that someone is really in charge here at Chicago’s Union Station, because upstairs in the food court there was a big lack of tables, but I saw at least 3 areas stacked with tables with the sign “Area Closed”. Same guy running the show upstairs as down, it seems.

Do you love/hate technology?

I’m riding the train today. Trains are old-school technology. There is a lot of new technology there, to be sure, but trains may have ridden these tracks I’m riding on right now for the last 200 years, roughly unchanged from those times. A little faster. A little less coal dust, but still the same view on the world – you can travel a thousand miles without seeing a single strip mall. You’re more likely to see an orchard than an office building. You’ll go through a tunnel you never knew existed – how does someone bore a 20 foot diameter hole through a rocky hilltop without it being a big deal? You see features of the landscape that are a little bit amazing, or you wish you knew how to get back to so you could explore, little canyons carved out by creeks, and moving water always holds a fascination for me.

From the train you can see that there are people with vastly different lifestyles and values from yours or mine. A small stack of bloody animal carcasses raises the questions how did it get there. Why so much blood. Were they killed by a man or a beast? What does it take to kill something like that, and then have the presence of mind to stack it like there was not some mindless crime of passion that created that bloody scene? An execution of duty to some perhaps. The carcasses could not even be identified, dogs, deer, sheep, calves, wolves, unwelcome visitors. They were bloody, and they were peeled, and they were stacked, and I saw this from the train at 50 yards and 80 miles an hour.
But violence is not something that callous men impose on nature. No. We are part of nature, and we have learned violence from her. From my perch on the second level of the Superliner car, I see the violence of water and gravity as they carve swaths of earth, rip trees from their places, and pile their wooden carcasses unceremoniously in a pile across a creek bed. Nature is a far more brutal killer than man, and she’s senseless in the way she combines beauty with terror and death.
My train ride took me to see an 8 year old boy who could sit in a room of adults just staring at his small rectangular window into someone else’s made up world. A 3 minute attention span spent flitting between various Facebook games. He didn’t go outside. He didn’t play with the dog. He didn’t use his own imagination to build or make up stories or wonder about things, or even investigate questions about life. He stared into someone else’s made up world and followed the pre-set pathways, following the steps the game laid out for him.
His world was filled with people 70 years or more his senior. One born immediately after world war 1. These people are not prepared to direct an 8 year old’s experience with technology. Their experience with technology is a cordless phone and a microwave oven.
Of course I write this critique of technology from the train, with a laptop, using a cell phone to bring the www to where ever I am. And you are reading it on your little window into someone elses made up world. The real world out there exists as if in a museum, behind the glass windows of the train. Who is being closed in? For the electrofied among us, we have made the outside something we can understand, we have made it part of our world of technology by calling it “the environment”.
Maybe I need to go outside, sweat in the freezing weather, dare nature to take a swipe at me, do something risky or primal. And then of course take pictures of it and put it on Facebook.