Friday, May 11, 2007

What post to this blog would be complete without some gratuitous pictures of my sweet baboo Abner?

It is so boring just sitting here in the car while everyone else is walking around on a potential building site.
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For me, this last month has been a strange one. Adjusting to the sudden death of my dear friend Jean Ann Rogers on May 2nd has been and continues to be difficult. She declined so precipitously, as I indicated in my post right after she died, that it seems unreal to me. A part of me expects to walk into Carver Realty and see her sitting at the desk, facing the computer screen and looking over her shoulder with a sly smile to greet me. I know she is gone but it is very hard to digest this information.

April is kind of a blur though, because besides getting more and more information about Jean Ann’s illness, I was also juggling a few other things. I accepted an offer on my house and decided to make an offer on a piece of land in North Asheville. If this all goes through, I am hoping, in about a year or so, to be living in a brand new house with a view of the Blue Ridge all the way to Mount Pisgah. The contract on my house calls for us to close in early July, which was the earliest, I could imagine being able to move due to the schedule of visitors to which I was already committed when I got the offer. The buyers have indicated that they now want to close in early June so there are still some things to work out, but I suspect this will go ahead.

The people buying the house are a couple from Highlands, NC, which is a resort area in the higher mountains Southwest of Asheville and about a 2-hour drive from here. My understanding is that they plan to continue to live in Highlands for a few more years while still operating their businesses (she designs houses, he designs landscapes) and then move to Asheville where they already have a substantial social circle. Consequently, they weren’t planning on using the house here for much more than weekend trips initially. The upshot of this is that, if we can come to an agreement on terms, they are willing to let me live here and rent the house back from them while I build. This would be great if we can make it work. They could use the money that I would pay for adding another heating and cooling system and some other improvements they plan, and I wouldn’t have to move twice.

The land I want to buy is about an 11-minute drive from my house now and about 8 minutes from downtown. It is in North Asheville and is still in the city limits but just barely. It consists of 3 lots of roughly an acre each, all sloping fairly steeply down from the street. There are views in all directions other than east. The lots are heavily wooded but some selective clearing and raising of tree canopies would create beautiful framed views of the mountains to the Southwest. I have been to the site on clear days and Mt. Pisgah is visible somewhere between 30 and 40 miles away. My plan is to sell one of the lots to my friends Amy Musser and Matt Vande. Amy is a mechanical engineer by training and is involved in certifying energy efficient buildings. Matt is an architect who works at a local firm and has been spending most of his energy on doing schools, so a house on a hillside in the woods will be quite a departure for him. They probably won’t build for a couple of years, but it will be nice, when they do, to have friends move in as neighbors.

The third lot, I will probably have to sell on the open market. Land is skyrocketing in value here these days so I am hoping to get enough selling these two lots to pretty much pay for my own building site. If I can pull this off, I might actually end up reducing my housing costs (if I can exercise some restraint in the design of my own house). Since I really loathe moving, I am hoping to do this right so I don’t ever have to do it again.

Literally, the day that I presented my written offer to purchase this land, Jonathan Boynton and Shaghig Kodbashian arrived from Sacramento for a 4-day visit. Jonathan, who was my principal assistant for the last 3-1/2 years of my architectural practice in Sacramento, was here very briefly about a year and a half ago when he drove over from the Norfolk VA area for a 1 day visit when he was working there. Shaghig, who has been dating Jonathan for 5 years had never been here, so their visit had to be crammed with as much of Asheville as you can get into a few days. We ate (seemingly constantly) at several of my favorite local restaurants, visited Biltmore, hiked the grounds, drove a stretch of the Parkway, toured Asheville both downtown and the residential areas, hit several of the art galleries and stores, and spent some time walking on the property I am trying to buy. Weather was almost perfect the whole time they were here and the timing of their visit took my mind off Jean Ann’s worsening condition. The day Jonathan and Shaghig arrived was the same day Jean Ann went into the hospital.

We had a really great visit and I was sorry to see them go. My old Design Review buddy John Febbo had planned to come a week later after attending the Kentucky Derby but he had to cancel quite recently so I didn’t have to launder the sheets literally the minute Jonathan and Shaghig left for California. My next visitors, Mary Anne Payne and her friend Jan (whom I have not met as yet) aren’t due until the 17th of this month so I have a nice break between.

Jonathan and Shaghig headed home on Monday afternoon the 30th of April and I went to the hospital to see Jean Ann after dropping them off at the airport. Her decline in just the few days since I had last seen her was astounding. She had been on a morphine drip since Saturday and was sleeping most of the time. I spent time in her room talking with her and telling her how much I loved her. I don’t know if she knew I was there or could understand what I was saying but I am thankful that I had the chance to tell her good bye and let her know how much she has meant to me in the 2-1/2 years I have known her. One of the things that has made my move to Asheville such a happy one has been the ease with which I have formed strong friendships. My friendship with Jean Ann was one of the strongest and while I am very glad that I had it, I will miss her terribly. As I said in the post earlier this month, Jean Ann died almost exactly two days later, the evening of May 2nd. She was a few weeks short of what would have been her 57th birthday and was a remarkable woman.

The weather here has gotten quite warm for this early in the year. Abner and I are already having to select our hiking times and locations based on the heat and the altitude. All the flowers that survived the three nights of bitterly cold weather we had in early April are now either blooming or close to it. The trees in Asheville are mostly leafed out now and my view of the mountains from my office window has just about disappeared. One of the things I love most about the winter here is the openness of all the views due to the mostly deciduous trees that surround us.

The house that has been under construction next door to me for the last 13 months seems to be progressing at a glacial pace. The house is quite large and certainly out of scale with everything else on our street. It has a very suburban look in massing and style. Personally, I think it looks like a tract house on steroids and I cannot imagine what could be taking this long to finish it other than the incompetence or inattention of the builder. I hear through some of my neighbors that relations between the owners of the house and the builder are strained at best. She had promised them that they would be in by October of last year. Since I haven’t been inside since the structure was enclosed, I don’t know how much is left to do, but the owners and their builder have managed to offend everyone whose property abuts theirs at some point or other during the process of construction. It will be interesting to see what kind of relationship they will have with their new neighbors if and when they ever move in. One advantage of the trees leafing out though is that they will partially obstruct my view of this house.

I suspect I won’t ever be invited to see the place from the inside, which is probably just as well. I am a terrible liar and particularly when it comes to making kind remarks about a house that I think is a mass of mistakes. There are only so many times you can get away with saying something is interesting before people realize that it is code for blecch!

I am really looking forward to Mary Anne and her friend’s arrival here but have one bit of trepidation. We are going to Charleston for a couple of days toward the end of their visit and it could be a somewhat intense experience. For one thing, Charleston tends to be something of a sauna by this time of the year. The weather will probably be quite warm (90s are likely) and muggy (100% humidity or close to it). While I am no longer a Californian, I am not really to the point where I can handle that kind of weather without it straining my resilience. And Mary Anne and Jan will be coming from warm dry Sacramento. It will probably be an even bigger shock to their systems.

The other concern I have is that we will be there a mere 2 days before the beginning of the Spoleto Festival. This is an annual performing arts festival that draws thousands and thousands of visitors to Charleston. From what I gather, many people come several days in advance so they can do the touristy things in town before the events of the festival itself tie them up. Consequently, I am assuming the town will be teeming with people everywhere we go. I love Charleston and really am glad I get to take my friends down there, but this particular visit will probably be more challenging than usual.

Well, I will report on all that in next month’s posting. I hope you are all well and enjoying the spring wherever you are. As always, the invitation to visit is an open one. The only difference is that for the better part of the next year, I may have to be living in rented quarters and possibly won’t have guest space. Once I complete a new house though, the guest accommodations will be better than ever. Until next month. . .
While Jonathan and Shaghig were here, I took them up to see the property on which I am hoping to build a new house. These first two shots are looking down the street where I would come out of my driveway. The land I am trying to buy is on the right.

The above shot shows Shaghig and me at the street front of where the house would be. I don't think the house will be very visible from the street though. Between the density of the trees and the amount of drop there is in the terrain, I am hoping it will be largely concealed.
This is a house built directly across the street. It's kind of a cool looking contemporary. . .a distinct rarity in Asheville.
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We really lucked out with the weather for Jonathan and Shaghig's visit. This was the view to the West the day we toured Biltmore.

It was really great fun having these two here, although it was a reminder that what Jonathan lives for is to tease everyone he knows. After a few years away from him, I had almost forgotten what it is like. Still, what a great time. . .
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Shaghig, Jonathan, Abner and I stopped on the side of the Bass Pond for a group shot. Abner seemed somewhat indifferent to the process.
Despite appearances, we didn't sit down for the entire hike at Biltmore. There is a little seasonal outdoor cafe by the Winery where we did stop for a little liquid refreshment.
Abner is always happy to be along on these walks. . .even when he is with Jonathan who used to torment him mercilessly when we worked together in Sacramento.
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Jonathan Boynton and Shaghig Kodbashian, two of my friends from Sacramento, came for a 4 day visit at the end of April and hit picture perfect weather.
After touring Biltmore House, we drove back to my house, got Abner, and went back for a hike on the estate. We frequently run into other people with dogs at Biltmore and Abner usually tries to engage anyone that is remotely friendly in some kind of play. When the dog is considerably smaller, it usually consists of lying down and trying to appear vulnerable so the little dog will pretend to attack. This schnauzer was pretty cautious though and never really went for the attack.
This isn't a still from Little Shop of Horrors and Shaghig isn't being devoured by an azalea. Jonathan just likes to take corny pictures of her from time to time. . .and I like to publish them.
Here are the two of them posing at the boat house on the Bass Pond. The water level is quite low right now due to repair work being done on the dam. Most incovenient that they do this when I have guests but surprisingly they didn't call to clear it with me.
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These two shots from the Craggy Gardens overlook show Interstate 26 heading toward the Tennessee border to the North of Asheville, and below is looking South with the Parkway curling below us and a pavilion along the Craggy Gardens main trail visible on the ridge below. As you can see, at this altitude, most of the trees still haven't leafed out for spring.
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Bent Creek used to flow across Biltmore Estate in the days when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived there. It now crosses land controlled by the National Forest Service and the NC Arboretum. It is clear and beautiful year round due in part to the sense of stewardship that the people of these organizations seem to feel.
My friend Hedy Fischer and I rarely get to hike together even though we both love to do so. Hedy technically doesn't have a job but she and Randy have quite a bit of rental property that she manages so she is one busy woman. Once in a blue moon, I succeed in convinicing her to join Abner and me, and she did one day earlier this week. Above is a Trilium we found growing in the wild on a trail in Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway about 15 miles from Asheville. I, of course, had no idea what it was but Hedy either knows this stuff or sounds authoritative enough to convince me.
At the upper most point in Craggy Gardens, you are 6,085 feet above sea level and on a clear day like this one, the views are extraordinary. The lake you see is actually the reservoir that provides Asheville's water.
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When we do a hike that takes more than two hours and it is as warm as it has been, Abner gets to have some down time in a cool spot where he gets water and treats. This is one of his favorites on the verandah of the Visitors Center at the NC Arboretum. The tile is always cool.

The Arboretum has a native azalea repository that has been closed for two years. It was damaged by the flooding of Bent Creek that occurred in September or 2004 when one of the Gulf of Mexico hurricanes dumped prodigious amounts of rain on Asheville. It reopened this winter and we are now starting to see what it looks like. Many of the native azaleas are later bloomers and escapted the 3 nights of freezing weather in early April that wiped out most of the early blooming flowers.
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Pink Lady's Slipper Orchids are endangered and rare. They only grow below a specific type of Oak and have a short blooming season at this time of year. There is one area in the Arboretum along Rocky Cove Road where there are probably more than a dozen of them.

One of Abner's and my favorite hiking routes is along Bent Creek. The above shot is a tree that came down recently. The beavers started it, and nature did the rest. It is kind of amazing to see that these small animals can bring down. The shot below shows Abner heading down the Bent Creek Trail. At this time of year the foliage is very green and dense. . .we feel very private when we do this hike.
One day about a week ago, we were on the Carolina Mountain Trail (historic old trail that was overgrown and lost for years but was re-established a few years ago by the Carolina Mountain Club) and I sat down to take a cell phone call from Beth when this moth decided that Abner's Bags on Board container was a good sunbathing spot.
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As part of the ongoing effort to show pictures of Abner with all the people in Asheville (and elsewhere) who spoil him so shamelessly, I offer the above. This is Latrella McElrath who is both my personal banker and friend. Latrella has a very up close and personal relationship with Abner as you can see.
Biltmore has recently introduced a program of Segway tours. Part of each 3 hour tour is a teaching session at the beginning before the riders set off on these devices. Even though we have covered every inch of the trails that they go on, Matt, Amy, Regie, Eric and I are considering doing one of these tours just to try out the Segways. The above photo is a group being trained prior to setting off on their tour. I have told several of the people at the Outdoor Center who conduct these tours that they really shouldn't get paid for having such fun.
Spring in the Pisgah National Forest and the NC Arboretum is in full force. Above are some native azaleas that grow wild in the forest and the photo below shows Mountain Laurer about to bloom.
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Thursday, May 03, 2007

It is raining this grey afternoon is Asheville. We have been having warm and sunny weather but a front moved in today that is predicted to be with us through sometime on Sunday. It somehow seems appropriate. My dear friend Jean Ann Rogers died last night.

As some of you know, Jean Ann, her husband Jim, and I were supposed to go to Puerto Vallarta together in March for a week, but had to cancel a week or two before the trip because of Jean Ann having symptoms of an undetermined illness. She had suddenly begun retaining enormous amounts of water, predominantly in her trunk but to a lesser degree in her legs and feet. She was pretty uncomfortable starting in early or mid-February but her primary care doc didn’t feel that there was any reason to be particularly concerned. He prescribed a diuretic and said she should see how things went. By the time we were scheduled to go to PV, they had determined that the meds were of little benefit and decided to get her into a gastroenterologist. Her primary suggested that we postpone the trip until the water retention was dealt with.

She saw the gastroenterologist in early March and he scheduled her for a March 19th MRI to see if anything showed up. The radiologist read the MRI and wrote a report the next day but neither the GI doc nor her primary bothered to share the results with Jean Ann or Jim for another 8 days. On the 28th of March, after having to insist on being seen again by the GI doc, she was told that the MRI indicated what appeared to be lesions too numerous to count that appeared to be metastases on her liver. With that sentence, Jean Ann was told that she probably had cancer that was, at a minimum, second stage.

About another week and a half passed before she could get in to get a biopsy and still another 5 or 6 days before she was given the results. It showed that she had adenocarcinoma of an undetermined origin. Another delay of several days followed but by now, several of her friends, myself the most demanding, got involved. We got her in, through the back door, to see a doc generally considered to be the best oncologist in town. He reviewed all her tests and history and began to speculate on the origin of her illness. He also ordered some specialized blood work to try to determine the primary site of her cancer. When nothing conclusive emerged, he told her he wanted to start her on two chemotherapy drugs on April 30th and she was scheduled to see his PA for guidance and to work out the details a few days before she would have her first dose. That appointment was a week ago today, but Jean Ann had gone home from work on Wednesday afternoon and had an uncomfortable night, so she called on Thursday morning and asked to switch the appointment to Friday. By Friday, she was feeling so bad that Jim decided that she needed to be hospitalized and she was admitted to St. Joseph hospital a short distance from my house.

Her condition worsened dramatically after she was admitted and Saturday morning she was put on a morphine drip to control her pain which was, by then, severe. Once on the morphine, Jean Ann pretty much left us. She remained largely unconscious the rest of the time she lived. I visited Monday afternoon after taking my friends Shaghig Kodbashian and Jonathan Boynton to the airport at the end of their 4-day visit here. By the time I saw her, I don’t believe she knew anything that was going on. I spent some time in the room with her by myself and said the things to her that I wanted to say, hoping that at some level, she was aware of my being there. She fluttered her eyelids a few times, but her eyes were rolled partially back and she couldn’t look at me. I will never know whether or not she knew I was there or heard what I had said. Sometime on Monday, her kidneys stopped working and at 8:30 on Wednesday night, she finally stopped her fight and ceased breathing.

In less than a week Jean Ann went from going to the office to death. All of her friends and loved ones are stunned at the speed with which this disease took her. No one knows where this cancer started or when. What we do know is that until she saw her oncologist less than 3 weeks before she died, no one who treated her seemed to be in any hurry to find out what was wrong, communicate with her, or help ease her growing discomfort. What we did learn from the oncologist is that an MRI done in mid-November when she had a kidney stone showed clearly visible metastases and either the radiologist who read the image didn’t notice it or didn’t bother to report it. There is no way of knowing now if it would have made a difference if she had been alerted back then to her illness. If nothing else, she might not have spent so much time feeling bloated and miserable.

There will be a memorial this weekend for Jean Ann. I am thinking of wearing something cheerful. I don’t think she would have wanted a bunch of people standing around mourning for her. Jean Ann was a smart, clever, happy, funny, and very loving woman. I will miss her enormously.

Soon I will compose a happier post about many of the good things that are going on here. . .and there is much of that.