Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home Theater Build-out Begins

When we built our new house, we set aside a room in the basement to be our home theater. The builder finished the room with the standard paint, carpet, and light cans in the ceiling. Now it is time to build the room out as an actual home theater. The room is a little over 13' 2" wide and 16' 6" deep. It has a raised platform in the back that is 73" deep, enough to accomodate one row of seats. It is prewired for 4 surround speakers and a ceiling mount projector. The screen wall has unfinished space behind it so wiring the front three speakers will be easy. The biggest challenge in the room will be the window along the back wall. The framing worked out in such a way that we boxed in the window on either side. Our intent is to cover the window with a full length heavy drape, hoping that will block most or all of the light.

Right now we have a bare room with walls and carpet. Over the next month or two we will transform it in to a dedicated home theater.

Top priority is to talk to a cabinet maker about building cabinets for the screen wall. I want to enclose the front three speakers in nice cabinets that also frame the screen itself. Neext priority is to choose a color scheme and repaint the room. The ceiling is currently white, and it needs to be dark grey or black. We also want a rich color on the walls that is a few shades darker than the current yellow-tan.

My current plan for equipment is as follows:

Panasonic PT-AE3000U projector (already ordered)
Denon AVR-4810 (not available until October)
Paradigm reference studio 60 system speakers
Paradigm reference sub 15 subwoofers
Carada screen (size to be determined, approximately 100 inches diagonally)
Blu-ray player still undecided (looking at Samsung, Pioneer, and Denon)
7 reclining theater chairs: a row of 3 and a row of 4 (looking at Berkline)
Cinemar automation system

Tomorrow we are going to a store in Buckhead (near Atlanta) to look at chairs and to listen to speakers. They also have acoustical treatments which may influence our paint scheme, and they may be able to help us find a cabinetmaker.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rain and Flooding

A year ago the Atlanta area was dealing with a drought. Experts were predicting that our main reservoir (Lake Lanier) would hit record lows and that we would run out of drinking water by January. Today Lake Lanier hit record highs and the river it feeds in to has risen well above flood stage. For years we got little to no rain, and that led to one of the worst droughts ever seen in the southeastern United States. This past week we have had nonstop rain, saturating the ground. The rain reached a climax Sunday night and Monday. Heavy downpours and thunderstorms rolled through the area for nearly 2 days, and yesterday most of the area saw over 8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period (some areas saw over 12 inches). That much rain on saturated ground led to flooding, and lots of it. Hundreds of roads were closed due to rising waters in creeks and rivers. The downtown connector, I-75/85, which runs through Atlanta, was shut down for hours due to flooding. I-575 near our house was also shut down and did not reopen until this morning. I-285 (the loop around Atlanta) is currently closed over the Chatahoochee River due to flooding.

I ventured out yesterday afternoon to run an errand and could not believe what I saw. Water where it isn't supposed to be. Roads closed, creeks nearly swamping their bridges, and traffic of nightmare proportions. My wife's commute home yesterday evening took 3 hours. Most of that time was spent trying to find a passable road in to our town. With I-575 closed, there were only 5 roads leading in to town. And four of them were closed. The good news is that our house is fine. Despite all the rain we never saw floodwaters get anywhere near our house. At last report one of the closed roads was opened, and I-575 has opened. And thankfully the rain has stopped. But the waters are still very high, many creeks well above flood stage. If we get any more rain I think things will get worse very quickly.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last dinner at a fine restaurant

One of the best restaurants in Atlanta is closing at the end of this month. The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead is the only restaurant in Atlanta to receive both a Five-Star rating from Mobil and a Five-Diamond rating from AAA. Only three restaurants in the United States have received the Mobil Five-Star award for more than 10 years, including The Dining Room. It has launched the careers of several successful Atlanta-area chefs and it has been a true gem in the Atlanta restaurant scene. Sadly, The Dining Room is scheduled to close on October 1. Chef Arnaud Berthelier is moving on to Shanghai, and we don't really know what the hotel will do with the space, but we do know that The Dining Room will be greatly missed. Rowdy Food did a brief video from their recent visit.

My wife and I have dined there for most of our recent anniversary dinners. We have enjoyed the experience so much that when we heard the restaurant was closing we decided we had to go back for one last meal. That event was last night.

The service was impeccable as always. We were addressed as "the gentleman" and "the lady". The hostess knew us by name (and knew how to pronounce our name, which is quite an accomplishment). The chef had prepared a special dish to meet my wife's dietary needs, and recommended one of the menu items as an appetizer. I ordered the tasting menu. All the food was superb. The only bad mark on the evening was the wine served to my wife. Ordinarily the sommelier visits our table and recommends wine, but last night one of the waitstaff poured her a glass of Chardonnay. Despite it being a French wine it still tasted watery and unimpressive.

After an amuse-bouche, I had a golden chanterelle soup with egg, chive oil, and smoked salmon. I don't like mushrooms but as usual this dish was so delicious that I forgot I was eating them. I was served a glass of 2007 Albert Boxler Sylvaner from Alsace to go with the soup. My wife had Marble Soup with melon balls and peas. For my second tasting course I had Lobster Preserve with polenta, chanterelles, tomato, and basil. The entire dish was cooked and served in a glass preserving jar with a sealed lid. The jar was placed in front of me then unsealed by the waitress, and a broth was poured over the lobster meat. Once again, utterly delicious. The lobster may have been a touch undercooked but since I don't normally eat lobster it is difficult for me to judge. For the main course I had Beef Coulotte with foie gras, french horn and shimeji mushrooms. The meat was prepared perfectly, sliced thin, with a broth poured over at tableside. I have never tasted anything like it before. It was definitely a wow dish (although I avoided the foie gras, not being a fan). With my main dish I was served a glass of 2003 Salentein Syrah from Mendoza, Argentina. My wife was served her special entrée, which had lobster mushrooms and chantelle mushrooms, along with the vegetable salsify.

We moved on to the cheese course. I had a small cup of a creamy goat cheese. It had the consistency of a soft spread, and was served with membrillo (Quince paste), olive oil, and summer truffles. My wife got the cheese tasting tray, and the waitress selected a variety of cheeses, including some cow cheese, goat cheese, and a sheep cheese from the Pyrenees. I snuck in a few tastes too. As a pallete cleanser we both had a serving of a buttermilk panna cotta with apricot sorbet.

The dessert was just as fabulous as the rest of the meal. We both had a chocolate soufflé with crème Chantilly and a slice of chocolate served on the spoon, accompanied by a hazelnut ice cream. We broke the top of the soufflé with the spoon and put the crème and the chocolate slice inside to melt. Delicious!

The dinner was ended with a selection of petits fours and, unfortunately, the bill. As we left (with our souvenier menus and a serving of french bread to take home) we met the chef in the hallway. We thanked him for his years of fine food and wished him success in Shanghai.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Riding in my new hometown

On Sunday I took my first ride around our new hometown in suburban Georgia. Wow, this sure is different from our old place. Much hillier, with lots of rolling hills. And a few hills that are a real challenge for me. I haven't ridden since August 19, so I am out of shape. To add to my frustration, my Cateye (which tracks speed, distance, and averages) stopped working at the beginning of the ride. So I don't have any accurate numbers. According to the map I did about 15.5 miles, but it took me over an hour which puts me well below my usual pace. Riding around here feels like either I will adapt to hill climbing or I will give up riding completely.

Yesterday (Labor Day) I went for a second ride. A bit shorter this time, only 12.2 miles. But the climbing seemed harder.

There's a bike shop less than a mile from my house, and they do a group ride every Friday morning. I hope to join it regularly, but I also hope they don't leave me in the dust the first few times.

I have signed up for a 65-mile ride in Cartersville on the 19th. I hope I am in shape by then.

We Have Moved

Hard to believe, but we have been in our new house for over a week. Moving is a terribly traumatic experience, filled with a ton of work, paperwork, boxes, newsprint, and high expenditures. But it is finally finished and we are mostly settled in to our new house in suburban Atlanta.

Remember over a year ago I posted about us buying an as-yet unbuilt house. Well it took over a year with lots of bumps along the way but the house was finally finished and we were finally able to sell our previous house at an amount that fit our needs. So on Friday August 28 we simultaneously sold one house and bought another.

During the week leading up to the sale we started packing. With such a large house and all the stuff we had we knew we weren't going to be able to move ourselves. But there were some things we wanted to pack ourselves or that were easy to pack (like books). Our library took over 25 small boxes, each one of them filled to the top with books. Then on Friday the real fun began. The packers arrived and began wrapping and boxing up everything in sight. We designated a "no pack" zone for all the stuff that we wanted to have over the weekend (things like car keys, clothes, toothbrushes, ... insignificant items like that). My wife stayed at home to deal with the packers while I went to close on the old house, then later to close on the new house. The sale of our house had an extra clause that allowed us to retain possession of the property until 6 p.m. Saturday. This gave us time to move out while still giving us the funds we needed to close on the new house.

Then on Saturday the big rig—tractor trailer—arrived with 6 guys and the loading began. It took them 9 hours to load everything in to the trailer. And at hour 6 (3 p.m.) our cleaning crew arrived to get the house ready for the buyers. We knew we had a 6 p.m. deadline and initially I thought we would easily make it. But it was pretty close. They went right up to the deadline and finally buttoned up the trailer at 5:55. Unfortunately that left no time to unload anything at the new house. So with most our earthly possessions packed on to a trailer we arrived at the new place with little more than a large suitcase, toiletries, food, and the chemicals that the movers refused to touch. We grabbed pizza from a nearby Johnny's and our first meal was on the floor of the kitchen with paper plates and cups. The cleanup was certainly easy! After dinner I drove out to a nearby Target and bought pillows, blow up mattress, and sleeping bag for our daughter. That night we "camped in" our new house.

Sunday morning the tractor-trailer arrived and the unloading began. Who knew we had so much stuff? Fortunately the unloading didn't take nearly as long as the loading. But with three possible points of entry—front door, garage, and basement—it was difficult for the two of us to direct traffic as necessary. We were also trying to keep track of our 6 year old. The garage stuff came off first, including her scooter. So we sent her on her scooter down to the cul-du-sac (about 3 houses away) to play. About 30 minutes later a white car drove by heading for the cul-du-sac. Since we are near the end of a street, cars are not a common sight. I yelled down to my daughter to get out of the street, then noticed that the scooter was still in the middle of cul-du-sac. "No problem," I thought, "there's plenty of room for the car to get around the scooter." As we all watched in puzzlement, the car, doing about 5 miles an hour, slowly ran right over the scooter. It made such a loud crunching noise that I was certain the gentleman would stop and get out to see what he hit. But no, he just kept right on going as if nothing had gone wrong. It was truly surreal. As he passed by our house again I wanted to stop him and give him a earful for running over my daughter's scooter. But I figured either he was cold and heartless or he was deaf, and in both cases me talking to him would do no good. So as he drove by I merely said out loud to those around me, "I hope it broke his car." The scooter was bent beyond usability and had to be thrown away.

And about hour 3 it started to sprinkle. Then it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Unloading stuff in the rain is no fun. Between the breaks in the rain, blankets, and plastic coverings we managed to get everything in the house around mid-afternoon. We said goodbye to our movers and began the never-ending task of unpacking.

Before the move I called Comcast Cable to have our service (with internet) moved to the new address. But they couldn't find the address in their system. Since it is a new neighborhood they weren't sure if they could even give me service. The lady said she would put in a request for a survey. That was almost two weeks before the move. Even after we moved in Comcast was not able to tell me if I was worthy enough to be their customer. This forced me to use AT&T DSL for an internet connection as I can't be without that for very long. But for the television service we waited, just in case Comcast made up their collective mind.

On Tuesday we got our telephone and DSL internet connection. But the DSL didn't work. Investigation on the part of the folks at AT&T revealed that the installer did it wrong. So someone came back out Wednesday to reinstall the DSL line. By Wednesday evening I had internet working and fully functional.

By Friday I was sick of waiting for Comcast to grow a brain, so I called DirecTV. They are coming out Wednesday (tomorrow) to install a dish for me. It is not my first choice, and it requires a 2 year commitment. But I have a house full of TV addicts and they must be appeased.

In a week we (my wife, mostly) unpacked everything on the main floor and upstairs. All that remains is the basement toys and workroom. Besides rediscovering all of our belongings, we now have a very tall pile of cardboard boxes and a growing mound of trash. The amount of newsprint used to pack our stuff was enough to support a small newspaper for a year. I couldn't see just throwing it out so I made several trips to a nearby recycling bin to dispose of it all.

But with so many other things demanding my time, I still haven't put up towel racks and mirrors. That is today's assignment.