Building a house in a bunch of short trips

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This blog has been quiet for a while, but not because we haven’t been traveling. It’s just that all our trips have been short jaunts off the island rather than journeys to exotic places like China or Texas.

Ever since Island County finally agreed to let us build our house next to the “wetland,” we have been working with our contractor to make scores of decisions about things like cabinets, lighting and plumbing fixtures, tile, counters, windows and doors, fireplaces, appliances, flooring, and other materials and finishes.

In the last couple of months we have made two trips to Seattle, numerous drives to Anacortes, Burlington, and Mount Vernon (off the north end of the island), and one journey to Bellingham, even farther north.

Turn, by Lee Imonen, one of the sculptures in Big Rock Garden Park

Turn, by Lee Imonen, one of the sculptures in Big Rock Garden Park

We did make excursions out of some of these trips. In Bellingham, between stops at the closet and appliance stores, we visited our fellow former communard, Susanne Freeborn, and her husband, Dan McMullen. They showed us around Bellingham, which we liked it a lot. A highlight was Big Rock Garden Park, a lovely wooded enclave dotted with innovative sculptures. We were almost the only ones there when we visited. It is a beautiful and peaceful place. We also got a look at Bellingham’s charming waterfront, and we enjoyed Susanne and Dan’s house and garden, which they have fixed up delightfully.

When we leave the island, we try not to make single-purpose trips but to pack in as many things as we can, especially when venturing into Seattle. On our first trip to Seattle for the house, we also took the car in for service at the Lexus dealer, spent the night, and had dinner out. Robin spent the entire first day looking at tile and granite at several companies down by the airport, including four hours at one store. I had jury duty and missed out. Good thing because I would have been a basket case.

Rita and Robin on the ferry from Whidbey to Mukilteo

Rita and Robin on the ferry from Whidbey to Mukilteo

On our second Seattle trip, we took our friend Rita Moran, who had paid us a visit at the end of a whirlwind tour of the Northwest, to the airport, then went back to a tile store for refinements. We had time to kill, so we headed for the University of Washington bookstore to buy U-Dub paraphernalia for the granddaughters, part of Robin’s campaign to get them to go to college there. Then we headed for Ballard, where we were spending the night and going to a concert.

Ballard is an old section of Seattle where Robin’s grandparents once had an apartment. It has gone through a seedy period but is now somewhat gentrified, with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. It reminds me a little of downtown Durham. When we arrived at the Ballard Inn, a funky little place where we were staying, we couldn’t check in because a construction crew next door had cut a power line, knocking out electricity for most of the neighborhood. We wandered around and stopped at a coffee shop. (It may surprise you to know that Seattle has lots of places to get coffee.)

After we finally got into the inn, where we had a room with its own street entrance, we went to dinner at a bistro across the street called the Bastille Cafe and Bar. It was a great place to eat, with terrific food and attentive service. After dinner, we headed down the street to the Tractor Tavern for our evening’s entertainment.

The Tractor, as it’s called, is the kind of place that puts the rust in rustic. It’s basically a big open room with only a few places to sit. We got there when it opened, so we were able to score seats. Most people just stand around, drink beer, and listen to the music. Or not. In fact, people kept talking right through the performances, which was kind of annoying. I guess I’m used to venues like the Birchmere, where people shut up and actually listen to the music.

The T Sisters ©Jay Blakesberg

The T Sisters ©Jay Blakesberg

The opening acts were a couple of local groups, a duo called the Lowest Pair and a band called the Washover Fans. The Lowest Pair were hard to understand, with all the talking and the female singer tending to swallow her words, but the picking was good. The Washover Fans were easier to understand and hear.

The final act was the one we had come to see, the T Sisters, who we had heard and liked at the Kate Wolf Festival in June. The T’s are a trio from Oakland who are actually sisters and bill their sound as “sassy sister folk.” Their harmonies are sublime and they are very entertaining on stage. They were new to the Seattle audience and I heard one person exclaim, “They’re really good!” They also commanded the stage more than the opening acts and much of the talking actually ceased while they were performing.

The following morning we made our final stop, to try out an elevator for the new house. The county forced us to go to two and half stories, so we’re putting in an elevator to prepare for the day when we are old and infirm (which could be any day now for me).

We’ve just about finished our visits to vendors. Now we just need our contractor to gather the rest of the bids and the county to issue the actual building permit, a process that takes two months here. Then construction can begin — soon, we hope.

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