A Cottage Update

We were only a few days away from the start of construction last December when I wrote about a planned one-room addition to our cottage. Then it rained nonstop. It was a miserable winter. Exterior work came to a screeching halt, and we spent the winter working on interior projects instead.

The Kitchen

September 2017: the kitchen and living room had been added onto the cottage in the 70s, and never touched again. It’s really better that way I think. The seller had left the cottage furnished, including a rooster in the kitchen – which you can barely see above the door in the photo below. The paneling had darkened around the rooster over the years, and I put him back in exactly the same spot after the remodel.

October 2018: our initial plan was to put the cottage on the vacation rental circuit for a few years. This picture was taken just before we changed our mind and decided to live here ourselves. The kitchen’s footprint is the same, but it seems larger with the wall fully opened to the living room.

I really loved the look of the kitchen, but it had practical issues. It was difficult to completely conceal the patchwork done to the paneling after closing off the original door and window on the back wall. A marble backsplash hides this world of sins.

The next issue was the appliances. Since the refrigerator was not counter depth, it extended too far into the room. Same problem with the dishwasher – when the door was open it was impossible to move around. The ice cream parlor table and chairs are adorable, but miserably uncomfortable and too small for everyday use.

April 2019: Over the winter, we replaced the standard dishwasher with dishwasher drawers, added the Bosch refrigerator with black glass door panels, switched out the chandelier, and exchanged the rug for a cowhide. We also re-stained the vent hood a shade darker than it had been, changed out the table and chairs, and opted for blinds instead of the ‘all-or-nothing’ shade. I’m on the hunt for swing-arm sconces, and a black stove is on order.

Living Room:

September 2017: the living room was in pretty good shape. I’m not sure the fireplace had even been used. I love all of the wood in this room and the large front window. However, the fireplace isn’t center on the wall, which makes me a little crazy. And the paneling had darkened around the bookshelves leaving an outline of the shelves when they were removed – just like the rooster. Eventually we painted the back wall white, and then re-painted it a pale shade of grey-green this winter. With great hesitation, we painted the fireplace too.

January 2019: We liked the fireplace painted white, but it seemed harsh – almost too white. My husband remembered a container of black glaze in the closet from another project, and we used it over the white. This last step softened the white just enough and allowed more of the brick to show through.

We snapped this picture of Bentley playing with Mr. Boggs in January when the wall was still white and before we experimented with the fireplace.

 

After four days of excavation last week the rain started again. Dump trucks came one after the other all day every day to export dirt from behind our house to some unknown location nearby. A couple of days into the process I remembered to ask them to leave some of the rocks for landscaping, and now we have a pile of rocks so large we’ll never summon the strength to move them ourselves. The sheer number of these large rocks leave us all convinced there was a rock wall at some time in this land’s past. Otherwise, the only buried treasures were a handful of old bottles and a tire.

By this time next week, we hope the dirt will be gone, the back yard will be flat – or at least partially flat, and there will be endless days of gardening ahead of me. Said differently, I’ll be in heaven.

The 2019 Plan

Another remodeling project is taking shape. It’s like being in the early days of training for a marathon; you choose a training plan, and begin to work your way through the program that will culminate in a magical place – although finding yourself at the finish line seems so far away that it’s impossible to believe it will ever happen at all.

Most of the remodeling of our little cottage was completed in 2018. The kitchen finally escaped the 1970s, the master bath stole enough square footage from the center hall for a shower and two sink cabinets, and we converted the 2nd bedroom into a proper walk-in closet.

The next projects on our list include the addition of a 300 square foot conservatory (with all its required excavation), remodeling the hall bath, updating kitchen appliances, adding an attached carport and a she-shed for yours truly.

If you’ve tuned into The Fartlek for these occasional design and renovating stories, this could be a plentiful year. And if you’re a runner, please don’t despair. The year will be more about running than it may currently appear!

Conservatory

The 19th century was the golden age of conservatory building, primarily in England. In a residence, a conservatory would typically be attached to the house on only one side, and by definition must have more than 50% of its wall surface glazed. Our new room does not technically meet the ‘conservatory’ standard, but it’s the aesthetic we’re going for.

The conservatory will connect to the rear of the cottage through an existing closet. A vaulted ceiling, 6’ windows, a wall of bookshelves and two closets make it the most functional 300 square feet we’ve ever added to a home (a third new closet is accessible from the master bath). It will lack the feel of a full conservatory because of the wall of bookshelves, however, that side of the room only looks onto the neighbor’s house. Bookshelves are more practical. French doors at the back of the room lead to the she-shed and a view of the back garden.

Carport

originating from the French term “porte-cochère“, referring to a covered portal, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term when he used a carport in the first of his “Usonian” home designs: the house of Herbert Jacobs, built in MadisonWisconsin, in 1936 (Wikipedia).

The driveway encroaches the property’s setback restrictions on our left side, which precludes the construction of a garage. A carport complements the little cottage perfectly anyway.

Excavation

In the early 1900s, Lake Junaluska’s Epworth Lodge was built where our house now resides. I admit that I’m secretly hoping a buried treasure or rare artifact from our property’s historic past will be unearthed during excavation.

Another dozen trees were removed a few weeks ago and the excavator is scheduled for the first of the year. The plan is to tear out the tree stumps and dig out the hill to render the whole area level (i.e., flat/perfect/divine). 

A french drain will probably be required near the conservatory, but the excavator has promised to fill in with gravel throughout the yard to prevent any issues in the meantime. . . my husband was completely unsympathetic to the plight of my future garden being full of gravel.

A bucket truck was used to cut sections off the tops of the trees until they reached a manageable height, although sometimes the guys just climbed the tree to reach the top (notice the man in a yellow shirt barely visible at the top of the tree to the right).
What the back yard looks like at the moment (a.k.a. a mess).

She-Shed

We’ve decided on a combination greenhouse/shed that provides enough space for my bicycle(s) and a Kung Fu wooden dummy. We prepare the foundation and the prefabricated structure comes ready to assemble, supposedly in just two days – given the right amount of help I assume.

I have big plans for this little building.

The Kitchen

As fate would have it, Paul has helped us install tile every November for the past three years in whatever house we were remodeling at the time. This November he installed a marble backsplash in the cottage kitchen. We’re choosing black appliances to finish things off.

Space is limited so we decided to use dishwasher drawers to avoid a door that drops down into the room. The Fisher Paykel version is about the only one on the market, except they don’t come with a certified installer in our area. We’re waiting on an installer to drop by from Asheville after the holidays. Once we see the true ‘black’ of the dishwasher finish, we’ll choose the most exotic matching stove and refrigerator.

We’ve decided on the Hallman stove in either glossy or matte black to go with the Fisher Paykel double-drawer dishwasher. My new favorite refrigerator is a Gaggenau unit with antique finishes added by Italian firm, Restart Srl. . .  although at a starting price of $10,000 USD, maybe we’ll keep shopping. 🙂

The Secret Garden Cottage – Part II

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It’s been almost a year since we began renovations on this little cottage. After it spent several decades in a 1970’s decor, it has been fairly receptive to our suggestions both inside and out. Two new porches and a metal roof were added earlier this year, but it was this summer that the side yard got a total make-over, including a koi pond, stone steps, a raised flower bed, and lots of plants.

September 25, 2017: the side yard day one.

May 1, 2018

We covered a hundred years of roots (and ivy) with mulch instead of grass. I have never planted so many plants straight up in mulch rather than dirt.

July 20, 2018

There was an awkward slope up from the front of the house, and I thought it would be helpful to have a couple of steps.

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September 10, 2018

A koi pond fit perfectly in the corner, and we added five goldfish that I’ve worried over every day.

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We visited the discount rack at the Lowe’s garden center after lunch most days. If there was a perennial there, we brought it home – most of them just $1 each.

691766A7-9997-428D-AEF5-47ED892ED70FAnd I convinced my husband to rip off the lower boards of the front porch so we could crawl underneath and dig out the ferns that had been trapped there since the remodel began. Anything for a fern.

72CD9215-909A-401E-AF10-0DED18F14B4DThe flower bed was my idea for covering a set of concrete steps from a kitchen door that was closed off during the renovations. It was either build over them or take them out, and none of us seemed to want to take on that chore. Lewis did most of the carpentry work during the renovation and all of the stone work. He filled the flower bed with mulch, and I filled it with herbs.

7A8811B6-D22D-4641-939D-A53AB83B2B0CAfter a year of debating whether to paint the living room paneling, we compromised and painted one wall. Then I played musical chairs with several rooms of drapes back at home so I could move a brighter pair to the cottage, which complements a new rug. The result is a significantly brighter living room.

January 2018

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September 10, 2018

89530604-BADE-437B-9E23-C60B9897998CWe’ve also swapped out the too-small-queen-size-bed for a beautiful king bed, there’s a new fig tree – barely visible to the far right of the picture below, and plans are in the works for the next phase of construction. . . which will entirely change this little cottage yet again.

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The Great Land Grab

If curb appeal is everything, our little cottage had nothing. A nice collection of ancient trees gave the place a mystical appeal, but they denied us a driveway. There seemed to be enough room, if we could only recapture some of that land from the forest. What we didn’t realize was that taking down 12 trees would be the easy part.

Before:

B28CB8E2-4FF1-4F7A-9BE2-DB105DB839F1The cottage sits in a holler; a term used in our area for a small rising valley region between two hills or mountain often containing a creek. We’ve lived in a holler with a creek before. Moving water can wreak havoc on your landscape.5DEAB8A5-03B0-4544-90EB-32D142D5A373Starting at the top of a large hill behind the cottage, the water ran along the left side of the property. From there it found its way under the street to a creek that runs through a park in the middle of Stuart Circle. Over the decades the water had carved out a wide ditch along its route that left little room for a proper driveway.7DB520DC-C29E-4915-B530-604F3D3C2A56.jpegAn excavator worked for several weeks to take back the land from the moving water. He added a corrugated drain pipe from the top of the hill to the street with collection drains at the top and bottom. Then he moved the earth around to fill in the ditch and take the steepness out of the drive, and still he hauled away tons of dirt.542B5752-7CEA-48EA-BE3E-E5BC96A4C645Hundreds of rocks uncovered in the process now form a retaining wall.2DBEAB09-F48B-4F20-B4AC-1AB6C8817FCFWith that job finished we now realize there’s room for a driveway and a garage with a guest suite. The first land grab went quite well.78FB3E51-D2BA-43FE-B6DD-AD24C7DB3962Meanwhile, my focus had turned to a parcel of land behind the cottage. At the top of an ivy-laden hill is a small sliver of land that sits below another road up above. I wanted this sliver of land to be part of our back yard, but it wasn’t. My worry was that some day a house would go up on this land and ruin everything.0E2540BC-1E30-4A43-A98A-F619C11DEF7AThe long sliver of land was hardly wide enough to build a house given the required set-backs, but it wasn’t impossible. What it lacks in width is made up for in length. It stretches behind our property and past our neighbor’s house as well.F3FBE50A-E8F9-41CB-A90C-FF9843E776E7We found the road above our cottage where we also discovered a For Sale sign attached to that sliver of land. We called Julie, our trusted realtor, and made a ridiculously low offer – a move my husband called a defensive purchase. Julie made our case to the owner, they accepted our meager offer, and our final land grab is complete.

Now we can dig into the mountainside to have even more room for the garage – and I admit that my imagination runs away with me over what else we can do with all this extra space. The only caveat is that my husband has made me promise, for real, that this will be our last move ever. Thank goodness there seems to be enough projects left on this little cottage to last me a lifetime.

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Our Cottage Remodel: Part II

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This little cottage started its renovation under the purview of someone else. An over-ask buyer had won the bid the first day this house hit the market forcing us both to negotiate the deal a second time. There were pros and cons to this arrangement.

The good side was that our over-ask buyer discovered foundation issues during the inspection allowing her to request a tidy reduction off the purchase price to compensate for her troubles – this ultimately showed up favorably on our bottom line as well.

The con side of this ordeal was that our over-ask buyer was an interior designer/flipper, and being a highly efficient designer/flipper, she had already purchased all of the materials to create her vision: building materials, building permits, light fixtures, appliances, flooring, faucets, doors, kitchen cabinets, the kitchen sink, a shower enclosure. . .

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Which meant our purchase agreement included the repairs to the foundation, a new HVAC, a few furnishings left from the original owners, all the renovation materials, and a crew of intrepid workers barreling forward on a design I wanted to change.

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We didn’t realize until the day of closing that all of the appliances were hidden somewhere in this room of furniture.

We quickly re-arranged a couple of walls to create the floor plan I dreamed of, and then I frantically started a search for new light fixtures, plumbing hardware, kitchen cabinets, and flooring in hopes of having everything on site before the workers had to actually ask me for it.

Meanwhile, there were a few trees to take down, a driveway to create, and a porch to build.

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A rope was fastened to the tree before the top section was cut off.

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The top of the tree was set down in the road, then the rest of the tree cut down and the stump ground up (we have mulch forever). Twelve trees were taken out in all – almost every one dead or dying.

Interior changes included swapping out light fixtures:

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The electrician had added four sconces and a chandelier to the living room

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I thought the wrought iron sconces looked more original to the house. The chandelier popped up on Wayfair’s Open Box sale for $85.

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When my husband and I went to Chicago last October for my 50k race, the race was not my only priority. It was almost equally important that I take a trip to my favorite fabric warehouse for the perfect drapery material. It was simply unfortunate for me that my husband tagged along. He quickly grew impatient of my 13-room tour of fabrics, and insisted we could find the perfect drapes somewhere amid a collection of hundreds of packages of $8 pre-made drapes. I was determined an $8 drape would not dictate my entire design, but somehow each of the drapes have survived – so far.

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The white pig pitcher was one of the things left over from the original owners. One pair of the $8 drapes will close off the french doors for privacy.

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Standing in the doorway of the bedroom, a new barn door to the master bath is barely visible on the right. One of the original doors was moved to close off the new master suite, and the public bath is visible just beyond. The little black stand was also original to the house – we think it’s a smoking cabinet that has lost its ashtray.

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We created a shower with this fabulous tile I found at Home Depot. It was only after folks told me how ‘brave’ I was to use this tile that I realized maybe I could have used it only on the floor. I still love it.

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Days of torrential rain, severe cold, sudden snow storms, and then the holidays have slowed work to a crawl in recent weeks. The valve between the tandem propane tanks was accidentally shut off causing the HVAC to unknowingly stop, and the pipes were frozen for a solid week. There’s a million gazillion little things left to be done on the interior – akin to death by a thousand cuts. It’s a labor of love.

The kitchen in progress. . . (the rooster is original to the house – in that same spot).

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The Secret Garden Cottage

Just over a year ago my husband and I moved to our ‘forever’ home – the place we intended to live to our last days. Forever had lasted about six months when I had an idea.

What if we had misjudged what a forever home should be like? Was it possible we wouldn’t want a home this large? What if one of us – or both of us – didn’t want to climb stairs forever, or putz in a garden with so much grass? And if these things happened to become true, we surely wouldn’t want to do another renovation when forever had perked along for several more years.

We wouldn’t have to live in it right away, I had argued to my husband. It could be a vacation rental for awhile, or forever, if we decide not to downsize again. But, better to find a little house now. . . just in case.

We called Julie, our long-trusted realtor, and began a search for an adorable cottage. She established our MLS ‘cart’ and (intuitively) named it Secret Gardens. It had been a few weeks into the search when she sent me an email that said, “Oh my . . .”

It was the perfect little house in idyllic Lake Junaluska sitting at the end of one of the oldest streets, and next door to a garden containing plants that were once abundant, but are now rare. My heart swelled when I walked through the front door.

One family had owned it since the mid-40s as a summer cottage, and mostly left it in its original state. Character absolutely oozed out through the woodwork.

By the time we drove the 5 minutes back home, I had reworked the floor plan ever so slightly and convinced my husband to make a full-price offer. Full price wasn’t enough.

A few weeks later Julie discovered the lady that had won the bid (with her over-ask offer) was going to flip our little house. The three of us worked up a proposal, which my husband presented to this nice lady. After several conversations, he convinced her to sell us our house back.

And for the past few months we’ve been living in the fabulous land of RenovationOz.

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“Authentic and original adorable 1945 Lake Junaluska Cottage located on Stuart Circle in walking distance to all that wonderful Lake Junaluska Assembly has to offer. The Summer cottage boasts wood floors. pine paneling, 3BR/1.5BA and two fireplaces. The livable cottage needs tender loving updating and is being sold as is/where is and priced accordingly. Seller states that the electrical and plumbing have been updated. The home is adjacent to the beautiful Corneille Bryan Nature Center.”  MLS description

LIVING ROOM & KITCHEN:

These two rooms were added onto the original cottage at some point along the way. We’ve opened the wall between the two rooms to create one large space, and a doorway and window along the back wall of the kitchen have been removed.

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DINING ROOM/LIBRARY:

This room was probably the original living room before the addition. Although barely visible, there was a very dainty crown molding that the over-ask buyer had already removed. She had also replaced the window with french doors, which we thought was a splendid idea.

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Although previously used as a bedroom, it was necessary to walk through this room to reach the rest of the house, including the bathroom!

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My husband added a Victorian-style ventless heater to this fireplace, and I’m contemplating re-painting the brick. The doorway leads to the hallway.

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New french doors will lead to a deck that was in-progress before this week’s snow storm. The crown molding is a larger replica of the original molding, which I had never seen before, but reminds me of fish scale siding. The original hardwood floors were re-finished last week.

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The Library’s crown molding ready for paint.

HALLWAY BATH:

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The hallway bath keeps the same footprint, but will get a new tile floor.

MASTER SUITE:

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This room is next door to the master bedroom, and will become the master closet/laundry room.

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The future Master Bath (no kidding).

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A few inches stolen from the hallway allows for a new shower and two vanities in the master bath.

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We uncovered the original exterior wall behind this closet and evidence suggesting this may have been the kitchen at one time. Now it’s the master bedroom.

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Eliminating the closet creates room for the bed on the back wall.

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Stuart Circle is one of the oldest streets in Lake Junaluska. A stone park sits in the middle of the one-way circle where perishable foods were once stored (in the large opening on the left) so that the cool spring water kept things fresh.

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The cottage’s property line ran through the Corneille Bryan Native Garden (marked by the red flag above the sign).

Hopefully I’ll be working on the big reveal next weekend – although we said that about this weekend as well. . .  

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Ivy Hills, forever.

It has been a year since my husband and I made the drastic decision to settle into one house forever. It’s a daunting word in my world. An endless or seemingly endless period of time. I’ve never found anything even slightly interesting about forever.

Plenty of past homes have been worthy of forever. The front door of our first condo in Chicago opened onto a wall of windows that overlooked the Sears Tower. The full east side of the apartment was a wall of windows overlooking Lake Michigan, while the west side overlooked the suburbs. It was breathtaking, and so was the job offer he got from a company in Florida.

When I was in school a few years ago, my 20-something classmates were just beginning to think about their future careers. The subject came up in class one afternoon.

Our instructor would give us the floor to say whatever came to mind after we had spent the week pushing ourselves to the very edge of our personal limits jumping off telephone poles, climbing the Alpine Tower blindfolded, or for me, forcing myself to hang upside down in a kayak for as long as I could hold my breath before escaping.

On this particular day, my classmates were admitting their fear of moving away to some unknown part of the earth. Hoping to relieve their concern, I talked about how exciting it is to move to a new city and to see the world. Trevor very politely spoke up after a bit of silence to say that some people may not be afraid to move across the country, while others (particularly those in our class) may find it terrifying to move down the street.

Here we were, a class full of adventure junkies, and what scared us most was as different as night and day. Move me a hundred times between now and eternity, just don’t leave me in one place.

My husband and I seemed ready for forever though. This is our favorite spot on earth. It’s never too hot, not too cold, but just cold enough. The views will sweep you off your feet – driving down the road, sitting at a red light, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or in the parking lot at the grocery store.

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A view from the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a quaint, little community. We complain about the tourists all summer, and when they flock in for the prettiest fall colors on earth. As unlikely as it may have seemed prior to this moment, this is home.

We also seemed to be ready to stop remodeling houses, although this one will clearly take us forever to finish.

If the weather is nice, we work outside – where there’s ivy to clear, dead trees to clean up, flower beds to be designed. If a limb breaks off anything, it goes into a vase of water and we wait to see if it will take root. After all, we have forever.

 

Our neighborhood is called ‘Ivy Hills’ by the locals, for good reason. After clearing the ivy from a hidden swan on the back patio last summer, I got the worst case of poison my doctor had ever seen. At the time of this writing, I have poison ivy again on my left shin, left arm, right toe, on my neck, under my chin, and on both sides of my face. Ivy, forever.

 

Mr. Boggs, Dudley and Bentley (left to right) on the stone wall by the patio – now clear of ivy.

If the weather’s bad, we work inside – where there’s still 8 doors, 12 windows, 2 columns, the master bath, and almost every ceiling in the house to be re-painted.

When decorating previous homes, I raced to finish every room (preferably in 3 weeks or less), and once a room was finished, rarely did anything change – not one piece of furniture moved, drapes never replaced, rarely one pillow changed seats.

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Vases of something green hoping to take root in rooms here and there all over the house.

This time my husband has encouraged me to take it slow, be patient, and enjoy the process.

Suddenly, there’s a seemingly endless amount of time to watch how the sun travels across the garden, to experiment with decorating the bookshelves, or finding the best spot in the room for a plant. . . the pillows have finally changed seats.

Forever is beginning to be a little less scary. In fact, forever can be quite pleasant indeed.

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Oodles of time for cozy naps in the sun with a friend (Mr. Boggs and Bentley).