Monday, December 21, 2015

The spa project

Having a spa is not only a luxury that I've always enjoyed, but is a real boon to an athlete.  I use hot baths to loosen up pre workout and to unwind afterward.   Often, just to get warm in the cold months.

A number of challenges to get a spa at Sky Castle, the Sewanee house.  #1 was getting it on a 12' high deck near the edge of a cliff.

First, I chose a spa.  Decided to buy from a Chattanooga dealer instead of from the Nashville area.  Tri-state Pools had a good reputation and BBB A+ rating and had been in business 25 yrs.  They seem to have a good service dept. as well.   I looked at many spas, Vikings, Artisans, Hot Spots, etc... and noticed a big difference 'under the hood' with the Hot Springs Spas.   While most other spas like the Viking, were constructed on the inside of raw unpainted framing lumber, the Hot Springs Spas were all painted and well insulated.  They also carried a 5 yr parts and service warranty, best in the business.  The drawback was they were more expensive, almost double that of a budget spa.

I went with the 3 person Hot Springs 'Jettsetter' model.   It's dimensions 5'5 x 7' fit the dimensions of my deck perfectly.  It had three unique hydro therapy seats, and just the right amount of jets.  It really could fit 4 people, but is perfect for one or two.  You can select any of several color lights for under water or the top of the spa with a selector button.  Pretty cool.  It has a silent flow pump and heater that work really well... which I found out when I left the top open by mistake all night, and it stayed right at 105º.

I made a cash deal and got the Jettsetter about $1000 less than asking price (which was $7K + tax) and I was responsible for picking it up, which I did without incident.

The deck
I used intuition to upgrade the load capacity of the deck.   The main beam under the spa would be a 2x2x10 glued and bolted.  It was heavy and I needed help hanging it before getting the vertical supports under it.  I also put 4x4s under the wall plate and used 2x2x8 support beams under each end of the joists... which, with a few new added joists, were 11" apart.  In addition to lag bolting these joist support beams, I bolted 4x4 blocks under them for additional support.  Clayton, my architect friend looked at it and said it was ok but near capacity so I overkilled it by putting a 6x6 vertical support under the weight center of the main beam, and X braced it on 3 sides.  It is way more than I need.  But... with friends warning me that I'd go flying over the bluff as my deck tore away from my house, a little extra support wasn't going to hurt.  It's totally solid.  It would hold a truck.

The lift
My neighbor Larry has a big 4x4 John Deere tractor and he put forks on it for the lift.   The main issue was that the approach to the deck was off camber.  When he approached the deck, we had to level the tractor by putting 6x6 lumber under the downhill tires.  The tractor didn't have quite enough lift and the right angle to just set it down, so we had to yank it off the pallet.  What a relief when we got it - undamaged.  It was scary.

The wiring
Was going to go with a big company but I took Geoff's recommendation and hired Mark.  He scoped it out and said it would take about 3 hrs.   He quoted me a good price and I helped where I could.  He did a good job but the 3 hrs turned into almost a week.  The wiring was neat, and the placement good, the box well placed and the inspection approved.  Good that I had one circuit in the panel to use for the 50amp 230v breaker.  None to spare without sacrificing something.

The roof
Since the spa sits below the great chestnut oak which my house was built around, I decided that it needed protection from falling branches and things, so I put up a stout little metal roof.   Turned out well.

Now.. I'm enjoying the hell out this spa.  Feel like I'm living in a resort in the lap of luxury.  It's a great addition to my home life.  I built an oak table to put my computer, drinks, towel and/or reading material on.  The placement is perfect... just enough room to walk around it on all sides and to store the cover on either the side next to the house or the back rails.   It's just great.   Thanks to my Dad who contributed to the cost of the spa, perfect way to celebrate the holidays and the end of a wonderful and memorable 2015.

The lift



The roof and table

Les Alps

After winning 6 of 8 races and finishing third in two World Championship Finals at the Lyon 2015 World Masters Athletic Championships, my dad and I did a little touring.

 I wanted to see the Alps so I arbitrarily picked a town off the map... Tignes, France. What seemed like about a 3 hr drive from Lyon. It was centrally located in the heart of the French Alps near the ski town, Val d'Isère - home of legendary alpine skier, Jean-Claude Killy.

 The trip took way longer than we expected, driving almost 5 hrs, never completely sure where we were on the map, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant with a mountain view just as it got dark. After eating a spartan diet for weeks if not months, my dinner of fried fish was incredible. Finger-sized pieces of boneless perch. My dad got a huge meaty cheesy pizza... didn't look so good to me.

We finally got to Tignes around midnight or so in a thick fog. Driving through tunnels and mountains, we were deprived of the scenery in the dark. The Montana Hotel apparently has many hostels and apartments for skiers that were closed for the season and when arriving, the GPS was not real accurate and we were trying doors that were not open. Was worried we would not find a bed for the night. Finally, we found the hotel proper and checked in. I booked an extra large room, actually a room with two sections, one large bed for the adults and a set of bunks for kids. Of course my dad took the big bed and was very happy with the accommodations ... and that we even made it at all. I was very happy with the hotel and our room.

 The next day, the view of the nearby ski hill from our large sliding door was awesome ... but that was just a tiny foothill among the giant Alps. We checked out the hotel breakfast, which unlike other places, was complimentary... it was awesome. Great bread, super bean to cup coffee, pastries, potatoes, eggs, everything. Dad approved.

 We set out to explore and stopped at cafes and made it all the way into Italy over a mountain pass. I managed to find some apple pastries, and enjoyed a caprese salad with french fires and a beer. It was pretty idyllic. Interesting to see the farmers and their sheep, the ancient looking stone barns with stone roofs. The only problem was that dad is acrophobic and found the mountain roads unsettling. On the way back he just put his seat back so he wouldn't get scared.

 This place was awesome. I decided I needed to cancel my next night reservation in Paris despite the fact that I'd be charged, to stay another day and night in Tignes. It was that awesome.  The next day, more exploring and a ride up the ski gondola which was free.

Driving back to Lyon to return the car, the GPS led us onto a beautiful small road in the mountains. Turned out it was closed for paving. Wasted a lot of time, but it was a nice drive. Somewhere I got a speeding ticket, by automated devise, a camera. They sent me the ticket at home in the US... couldn't read it, it was in French. Oh well.

 I definitely want to return to Tignes. It's a hiker and mountain bikers paradise.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Fall concert tour '15

It's been an awesome year.  Memorable.  A title-winning athletic season, and a sabbatical concert tour.

After a whole summer of barely touching my guitar in the midst of 2 athletic championship events including a trip to France, I embarked on a sabbatical concert tour in late October.  The tour included University concert series events, a guitar society, school visits, masterclasses, and ending with a "Live in Studio C" performance on Nashville NPR.  I played solo classical guitar, and a short lute set.

The program
Renaissance set: 2 spanish vihuela pieces on guitar, Elizabethan lute music on lute - including Monsieur's Almaine by D. Batchelor.  Handel Suite (HWV 441), and 4 Brazilian pieces - 2 by Reis and Brasilerhino which I arranged.  Intermission.  Farruca - flamenco, Merlin's Dream by Koshkin, Frevo by Gismonti and a set of fingerstyle pieces by Hudson (Delta), J. Reed (Drive-in, Jerry's Breakdown), and S. Salz (Bluetude).

It was a really comfortable program... a mixture of a brand new piece - Merlin's Dream, and pieces I've played on and off over the years.  The big choice was whether I wanted to include Frevo or Mallorca by Albeniz, I chose Frevo because it was the faster and more lively piece.

First, I played some 'warm up gigs' at church service at Otey Parish, Adams Place retirement home, MTSU performance classes, IONA art gallery, and some late night sessions at All-Saints in Sewanee.

My last 'informal' gig was a performance at the Belmont School of Music for the Guitar Seminar class.  My colleague Robbie actually got me paid an honorarium for the gig.  It went really well.  Probably because I was relaxed and talking with the students.

Springfield, IL
Then, the tour started... thanks to MTSU for the nice new Ford Taurus motorpool car that I used for 2 weeks.  Off to Boone, NC and to see my colleague Doug at Appalachian St. University.   Concert went well, just a few brief memory slips but not bad for a first full concert.  It rained constantly and was cold in the mountains, mid 40s all day.   I left that night for Greensboro and visited Patrick Lui's at the Weaver Academy.

I played for his students, (to be interrupted by a fire drill) and it went well.   This has to be the best high school guitar program I've ever visited.  Patrick has done amazing things with these students.  Some of the 16 yr olds were playing better than my college sophomores.  Before going to an excellent Vietnamese restaurant, Patrick snapped this photo of his students and me.
Masterclass at Weaver Academy - Greensboro, NC

Continuing on toward Greenville, NC to East Carolina University and to see my colleague Elliot.  Before my concert he asked me if I wanted to stream it live on line, I said, "sure, WTH."  With very little notice, I notified my parents so they were able to watch it.  I also got an audio recording.   After listening to it, the performance seemed ok, about 98% accurate, good tempos, and some energy.

The response on FB was good, in fact one of the local people - Drew, who regularly attends guitar concerts said, "One of the best guitar recitals I've seen at Fletcher Recital Hall, and I've seen many over the past 15 years!!!!!!"  Definitely an overstatement, but nice to hear.  I had a nice hang with Elliot that night, pizza and ice cream.  And the next day I gave a masterclass.   His students played great and I met a guy I'd love to recruit as a grad student.
East Carolina Masterclass

Back to Sewanee for weekend of practice and teaching my students at the University of the South.  

Then, off to Chattanooga to visit the McCallie School where Chip Evans runs possibly the best guitar program in the state.  I played my whole program pretty much for his 2 classes and it went well.   I answered a lot of questions but didn't hear his kids play.  I know they have an excellent guitar ensemble program.

Now the long drive to Hattiesburg and my concert at Southern Miss where I stayed with Nick Ciraldo.  I have to say, this concert was my only regret, it was somewhat of a 'southern miss' (pun intended).  It wasn't terrible, but just more mistakes than the others.

Afterward, I taught a masterclass and heard some excellent doctoral level students.  One from Brazil played the Bach Chaconne.

Performance at the McCallie School - Chattanooga
Then, back to Murfreesboro to turn in the car, and back to Sewanee to host my annual fall party on the weekend.... it was a blast.  I had driven 2000 miles in 2 weeks.

I then had a week to gather myself for my last 3 performances.

Springfield, IL was a long drive.  I had the misfortune to blow a tire on the highway and had to hunt for a tire service center.   Was lucky it happened during business hours, otherwise... I'd been driving a long way on a temporary tire.

Masterclass at Univ. of Southern Mississippi
The wonderful Springfield guitar society is somewhat unique because it has many patrons who in fact do not play the guitar, but simply enjoy it.  I spent some time on Mark Pence's couch resting in the afternoon before my concert in the beautiful Grace Lutheran church.
Springfield, IL - with my trusty hot water bottle

It was a small crowd, perhaps 35-40 people, but the place sounded nice.  The concert went very well, probably one of my best, and was very well received.   I wanted some time to decompress before my last 2 concerts so I drove all night to get back to Sewanee by daybreak after returning the MTSU car.

I relaxed on Sunday and felt well prepared for my Monday night concert at St. Luke's in Sewanee.   I had a front page photo in the Sewanee Messenger to promote the concert and was happy that it was well attended, at least 60 or 70 people I think, mostly community people, friends and faculty.   It went very well.  My friend John who has seen me play for 25 yrs said, "It was my finest hour."  Don says I "nailed it," and the Music Chair Stephen thanked me for a "wonderful evening of music."

It was a 7:30pm concert and I was home before 10 pm and actually practicing for my next, last, and highest pressure concert:  my NPR show, "Live in Studio C" with Will Griffin.  I got up at 7:30am, practiced an hour and arrived at the radio station an hour ahead of time.   I was toasted so I just put my seat back and rested for 10 min before walking into the radio station.  I did not feel nervous or uptight, just wanted to make Will the host, feel at ease and have a nice short performance.  It's always a bit unnerving to play live on the air in a city like Nashville - where there are more guitarists per capita than probably anywhere on earth.  Plus, I knew the recording would be archived on the WPLN website, maybe forever.

I always like starting with the 2 Spanish Renaissance pieces I've known forever which I play with a capo.  Then, the rest of the program, I tune to drop D for the Handel, Brazilian piece, and Hudson's 'Delta.'   I didn't want to struggle on air with tuning so I brought my cheap Takamine to play the first 2 pieces with.   But it turned out that Will had brought his concert guitars in to show me.  They sounded much better than the Takamine, so I used one of them on the air.  I mentioned it in our on-the-air interview, and 'thanked him for loaning me his guitar.'   I'm sure that confused a lot of listeners... why would I play with a borrowed guitar?   Anyway, the Handel went ok... some buzzes and slight issues but no serious or discernible stops or memory slips.  I took fairly conservative tempi.   The last 2 pieces, 'Xodo de Baiana' by Reis, and 'Delta' by Hudson went really well, as did the interview.   It was a great way to end my tour and the soundfile is available to listen HERE on line.  The Sewanee Music Chair, Steve posted the link on the Sewanee Music website.  So glad it went  ok.  The tour as a whole was a success, despite the hand issues I'd been having.

St. Luke's - Sewanee

Afterward, I did not attempt to play my guitar for almost 2 weeks.   Did some construction work on my deck to get ready for a new hot tub.  Shifting my focus toward athletics and the upcoming track season.

Playing concerts is something that is in me I feel I can pull out anytime with sufficient notice.   I can get ready in 4-5 weeks to pull off a professional concert since I have a decent  foundational technique.  I've been at it a long while.   I distinctly remember staying up all night learning Guardame las Vacas as a 19 yr old, my dad leaving for work, and me still awake downstairs - telling him about the huge amount of progress I had made that night.   I played that same piece in my concerts this tour.  This concert program wasn't as difficult as some of the programs I played 15 yr ago, but still virtuosic enough, and certainly diverse... which has become a trademark of sorts for me.  Glad to have included a new work, 'Merlin's Dream' - a tremolo piece.

By contrast, athletics is more of a long term lifestyle commitment.   It doesn't take as much time on a daily basis as getting ready for a concert, but it takes more of a long term commitment - months rather than weeks.  And you can not 'cram' for a race.

It's good to have both, music and athletics.  The ancient Greeks valued both equally.     If I didn't have athletics or music, I'd find some other discipline or endeavor.  Life is a balance.   Life is definitely good.   This has been truly a great year.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

ahhh ... spring '15

Spring on the mountain.  The weather has been just awesome.  Quite dry for late April and early May.   Only a few humid days and generally cooler to seasonable.   In the past month (4/24-5/24), the high temperature was 82º and the low 41º with only 2.44" of rain.  Last Thursday, a return to fireplace weather.  Only 53º as a daytime high and 43º over night.  I had the patio fireplace going all day, and a fire inside at night.   The temperature has been so generally moderate that I haven't used my central heat or A/C for at least a month, and have slept with the windows open every night.   This last several days in Sewanee has been so beautiful.  The air smells sweet as it blows cool across my bed, all night and in the morning.  Nothing but the sound of wind and birds.  I can't imagine a better sleeping experience.  The wildflowers of April didn't disappoint.

April storm
Roya under Morgan's Steep

"Tunnel of mountain laurel" - Otey View, Perimeter trail

Big leaf magnolia blossom

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Pete

Mom and Dad under the giant kapok tree - Museum of Fine Arts, St. Pete, FL.

Mazzaro's Italian Market

Amazing place....  smelled like 'grandma's grilled chicken at the lake' as soon as I got out of the car.  The workers were speaking Italian.  It was the real deal

Fish sandwiches, cannoli, espresso!

fresh lasagna and pasta dishes - on the way to the oven

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The winter storms of '15

Anyone who knows me knows I love weather, winter storms are no exception.  I never remember MTSU being closed 4 days in one week.  I had an unexpected week vacation in Sewanee, and the weather was beautiful ... in it's own way.

Ice storm #1 was really hard on my Murfreesboro neighborhood.   Trees and branches down everywhere but my property did ok.  Arriving in Sewanee on Friday night brought a blast of beautiful big snow flakes just around dusk in storm #2.  I'm happy that I brought my truck because driving conditions required a 4x4, especially off the main road.  After putting a new starter and battery in my truck, I'm really happy to have it.

These first three photos were taken during the magic hour of dusk during the advent of the 2/20 snow/ice storm #2  It eventually turned to sleet and rain.  The flash produced an interesting effect, reflecting off of the big flakes.  One photo was taken at my Murfreesboro house after ice storm #1.

UPDATE:  The big Sewanee snow of 2/25-26 I wasn't about to miss out on so I rescheduled some students to Friday and enjoyed some 4x4 touring in the 5" of snow we got.  Murfreesboro only got an inch.  The town of Sewanee got 3-4", less on the north side of the mountain, more on the SW facing slopes like at my place.   I got up early on Thursday and hiked around by the Sewanee Cross and plowed through virgin snow all the way to the end of Brakefield road.   So glad to have a 4x4 that takes me into these wonderful wintry scenes.  

My road was still snow covered on Sat. 2/28 while the roads around the Domain of the University were mostly dry.

Another winter storm looks likely for Wednesday night!!!!  It's your birthday present, John P.

View at dusk from Sky Castle
Sky Castle during the storm
the bluff
icy beauty

happy to have lots of well seasoned firewood left
ice storm #1 in Murfreesboro

virgin snow - Brakefield Rd.

Greens View Rd

Virginia Ave