How many people have a 200 year old pee wall?

Like just about any other exercise, writing requires some muscle effort. And like any other muscles, you've got to use them to keep them in shape. 

I'm pretty out of shape. 

I've been intending to write about the house, the move, the garden, Maine, the amazing restaurant we went to last week in New Orleans, the shitty restaurant we went to last week in New Orleans, and whatever other crazy crap was going on. But somehow, I kept finding reasons not to. 

Remember the house? And how it made us lose our minds?  We've been in it a few months now, and it STILL has that effect. For different reasons. Well. For the same reasons. But also some more reasons. 

Back when I interrupted my vacation to go to the White House, we were also going through our final inspection on the renovation. (It's a tough call which one I was more excited about). We had been out of the house since Thanksgiving, 2014. Originally, we had hoped to move in by the end of May. And then maybe June. No? OK. How about July 4? Um. End of July? We ended up passing the final inspection on 31 July. 8 months after we began the tear out. 

Actually, that's not a bad timeline at all, given the extent of renovations (including a dedicated Meat Room). The crew we worked with were absolutely fantastic, entertaining and solving all kinds of problems that you find when you're tearing a 230 year old house down to the studs. 

We were committed to re-using as much of the materials as possible, and incorporating components of the house back into the renovation. I just couldn't bear to see the centuries-old lumber that we were pulling out - much of which would have been harvested and planed from trees on the original farmstead - simply tossed out and hauled off to the landfill. And this incredibly talented crew was game for every hare-brained idea we could come up with. 

In the kitchen, for example, we removed several ancient hand-planed beams from the ceiling. The timbers had been part of a post-and-beam barn on the property at one point, with hand-cut mortise and tenon joints. At some point, the beams were reclaimed and re-purposed into a barn extension that abutted the original farmhouse. (By the way, if you're interested in this architecture, you should totally check out the book 'Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn', which is a study of this particular style of home that was prevalent in northern New England). 

We could tell that these had been re-assembled, as most of the beams had been hammered in at an toe-nail angle with more modern nails. Many of the beams were twisted on their sides to provide a few extra inches of headroom in the 'cozy' room below (I had named it the hobbit kitchen, because of the low ceilings). And as you can see in the photo above, the spacing was oh-so-definitely-NOT up to code.   The whole ceiling had a kind of 'springy' effect that was mildly alarming to the building inspector. 

So we pulled them all out, and started fresh. But I couldn't bear to think of these ancient beams being tossed. So we told the crew to figure out a way to use them in the new stair case. 

'Um.. exactly how would you like us to do that?' 

'I don't know. Just make them look, you know, "posty"'

'Right...'

(Which is contractor-speak for "the homeowner is insane, and I'm going to try not to cry right now"). 

They turned out perfect. 

So we kept trying to come up with new ideas to reclaim parts of the material. 

The door to the meat room is made from internal wall planking. The kid's sink counter is made from similar material. The counter on the built in kitchen hutch is all reclaimed from sub flooring. Even the small divide between the sinks and the toilet area in the master bath is made from a reclaimed piece of scrap from the original house, and may (oddly) be my single favorite piece of reclamation in the house. 

The door to the meat room is a slider on new barn hardware. That dry sink is an Pennsylvania antique that somehow made it's way up north. 

The door to the meat room is a slider on new barn hardware. That dry sink is an Pennsylvania antique that somehow made it's way up north. 

The kids sink - the wood had original carpenter marks in it (which were, unfortunately, right where those sinks had to go. Ah well.)  

More of the newel posts from reclaimed beams. 

More of the newel posts from reclaimed beams. 

I was really not into the whole cable tie rails. This was an idea that my Bride conspired on with the Critter and a couple of the renovation crew. It's far too modern a look for me to have come up with. I can only say that I was having a weak or distracted moment when I agreed to it. 

But I have to admit, I love how it turned out.

It keeps the whole space light and airy, despite the old, dark wood we used to frame the area. It's a perfect blend of new and old, and has become one of the most commented on areas in the house. 

The hutch is a new, built in. The wood on the counter offsets the soapstone island, and looks brilliant. 

The hutch is a new, built in. The wood on the counter offsets the soapstone island, and looks brilliant. 

I'm pretty sure that the term architects use for the divider between the sink counter and your toilet area is a 'pee wall'. 

This is the wall that keeps my toothbrush from falling into the toilet. 

This is the wall that keeps my toothbrush from falling into the toilet. 

I'll try and put together some of the individual room transitions, now that I've finally corralled all the images into a single place. 

The renovation isn't 'done' - there's always more to do. And we still have a couple of rooms that we're working on. We couldn't let the crew have all the fun. It makes for a good winter time project, after all. 

But first, I've got 25 baby chicks on their way before the end of the month, and we need to finish converting the pump house into a new Chicken Fort Knox. More on that later. 

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The favorite thing I've ever written: "This is my meat room."

Despite my Southern roots insisting that Spring should be springing, there are still deep piles of snow covering most of New England. But they're a little less deep than they were a week or so ago, and have retreated from the edge of the roads. And our days are as often as not getting up over freezing. The plants may not be blooming here yet, but you can just about imagine a moment in the future where they might. 

All this good weather has made us impatient to watch the progress of the house. While the destruction & demolition took weeks and about 8 or 10 dumpster-fulls of debris, the new walls went up quickly, and the house is taking rapid shape as it returns to a single family farmhouse from its long stint as a boarding house. 

Some of the work still takes a bit of creative imagining. To move the stairs to the basement from the back of the house to the center (and get them out of the way of the kitchen), we had to cut through the floor, and a few walls, and required a couple of turns as you descend, so that we could avoid cutting a hole through a 250 year old brick foundation. This took a bit of creative partnership with our local building codes guy, and several staircase drawings on the floors and walls of the intended area, but the stairs just make more sense now, and I can now go visit my prosciutto without walking all the way around to the basement door on the back of the house. 

(That blurry fuzz ball in the bottom left is our pup, George. She's just turned a year, and her herding instincts have kicked in. All of the work at the house has provided her plenty of opportunity to boss her flock [all of the rest of us, plus the contractors, plus any stray rabbits, squirrels or low-flying birds that near our property] around.)

Hey look - a space where a kitchen will go! 

There's another new set of stairs - we moved these from the opposite side of the kitchen, and opened up the whole space. The total size of the kitchen will have grown by about 50%, plus an extra foot and a half of head room. No more hobbit kitchen! 

The whole floor you're looking at is new. It's about 5 inches higher than it used to be. And about 100x more level. It's just sub floor - and it's not plywood. Because if you are looking up at it from the basement, you don't want to see modern construction in a 1780's farmhouse. So it's all wide pine boards. On top of which we will put the actual floor (which will also be wide pine boards).  I think I mentioned that the crew that we're working with (Morse & Doak) is kind of fanatical for these kinds of details. Which helps. Because when they ask me questions like "What kind of lights would you like?" I say things like "um. Electric?" and when they ask, "Where do you want them?" I respond with things like "I was thinking in the ceiling. Probably." 

Don't get me wrong. There are a few things that I care passionately about in the renovation. It's just that for many parts of it, I am happy to go with the flow. (And by "flow" I mean "Whatever my Bride decides"). 

Let me introduce you to one of those things I care passionately about: 

This is my meat room.

It's just off the mud-room entrance (that's the new concrete poured over where the hot-tub used to be), and that door will be a sliding barn door, behind which will stand a row of freezers & refrigeration. All of that beef & pork we store each year?  It goes into one of our two upright freezers that lived in our basement. Or into the spare fridge/freezer that we used to leave in the garage. Now, I'll have a room conveniently located near the kitchen (plus a place to put recycling bins and a few other things). 

You can have the rest of the house. This is my room. 

You can see the original sheathing of the house along the back wall, and one of the lights into the basement. This whole back of the house was a separate barn, extended and connected over time. The actual level of the house floor is about 30" higher than this new concrete slab, and figuring out how to use this space was a bit of a challenge. Until our design consultant came up with the freezer room idea.

That's right. We actually hired one of those guys you see on TV. Because what the hell would you do with the lean-to add-on space formerly occupied by a drop in hot tub big enough for a small village? wasn't clever enough to come up with "meat room", and I the idiot buying freezers to jam into spare bits of our basement. 

Thank you, design guy. You are a genius.

This space right here that my Bride and the pup are in is my closet. Mine. All mine. She has her own on the other side of that plywood stiffening wall that looks almost the same. (Except hers doesn't have a window in it, and does have a chimney going up through the middle of it). 

The aforementioned Design Guy had originally drawn up a giant master bedroom, with a large-ish walk in closet. Our simultaneous reactions during the review of the updated house plans was "We shouldn't share a closet." 

(Actually mine was "Hey look! A Meat Room! Oh. And we shouldn't share a closet")

We gave up some bedroom space, and created two almost-but-not-perfectly-equal walk-ins for a his/hers, thing. And given that for the past half-dozen years in our old house, she's insisted that her closet was the same size as mine even though the realtor PROVED MATHEMATICALLY THAT IT WAS LARGER, I claimed the one without the chimney. SO SUCK IT.

A whole lot of our house still looks like this.

Old stuff. New stuff. Sistered stuff. With some support that will be hidden away once it it's all put back together. An an unfortunate amount of wallpaper that needs to be removed and destroyed. 

But the beautiful part of this picture is the plumbing. Glorious new plumbing that will bring hot water at a decent pressure from the top of my head to the bottom of my adorable man-feet. 

When we moved in, the only shower with decent pressure was one wedged into a corner bathroom above the boarders' stairs. To get to the shower, you had to walk past a large, dubious hole in the wall where the plumbing had been run. All of which was beyond one of the upstairs shared kitchenette spaces. 

I am excited about plumbing.

We've been picking up our appliances and other finishing touches as we go, and storing them here and there around the house until we're ready. 

This is our bath tub. It's in the library. But eventually it will move upstairs.

Probably - I do like to read in the tub. 

(You're welcome for that mental picture).

My Bride, meanwhile, is planning out the things she considers important. Like: where is the coffee maker going to go. (answer, there's a space next to the stairs, so she can hit it before she even makes it all the way into the kitchen.

The cabinets are under construction, and the floors are ordered. The plumbing and electrical is mostly run, and we've fixed all the holes in the roof we could find (for a house that's >225 years old, and a patchwork quilt of expansions and add-ons, there were surprisingly few). We've conceded to the building inspector a number of windows we have to replace. And on the tail end of this never-ending, science fiction winter we've just come through, we've probably over-engineered the amount of heating and insulation we're putting in place. 

And while we'll still have a list of projects a mile long that we'll want to tackle, we can, at least, start to see the shape of things to come. And the shape is starting to look pretty good. 

Next up: floors! 

The insulating properties of rat poop

I realize it's been about six weeks since I posted photos of our new, er, old farmhouse in Maine. We knew that we would be stripping back the layers of additions, extensions, ad-hoc changes, and eras of personal choices and oddities that didn't quite fit our vision or the context of the house that were the end result of decades of use as a fraternity & then boarding house for the nearby university. 

The eight person hot tub in the first floor bathroom, for example, just didn't scream 'farmhouse' to us. 

But our first problem was where the heck we were going to stay while we made chaos in the house. Our goal was to move out by Thanksgiving. 

At some point in the last decade, the previous owner had moved a dilapidated barn from the center of town, and joined it up with an existing cattle shed and another small outbuilding on the property. The first floor became his workshop, and the upper floors were a mostly-finished 1+ bedroom apartment. 

An apartment right on the property had great appeal to us - a property with an in-law solution was a major plus. And the workshop is about as large & at least as well set up as the barn at the house in Massachusetts was. 

One teensy little problem: the water was shut off to the apartment. It wasn't well insulated. And Maine has a tendency to get a little cold in the winter. And when were we planning on moving in again? Oh. That's right. The end of November. 

(I walked outside the other morning and it was -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Which is almost 40 DEGREES BELOW FREEZING. It hurt to breathe. Why am I living someplace that hurts to breathe? Breathing is kind of important. I want to go on breathing. STOP HURTING MY BREATHING, MAINE.) 

So we backed Itchy & Scratchy up to the barn, ripped the ceiling and walls out to check all the plumbing (and electrical while we were rooting around in there), and sprayed something with an 'R' value approaching 1,000, I think, and moved in the night before Thanksgiving. 

We tossed the second-hand, rusty stove & fridge that had been in the apartment as placeholders and moved the large 6 burner/2-oven Viking range (with griddle) from the house out, along with the larger fridge. Which meant we also had to convert the heating & kitchen appliances to propane from kerosene. We threw the kids up into the loft area to share a bedroom, loaded the house with a few essential bits and bobs, and were set. 

When we cooked our turkey to celebrate the holiday, we had a lot to be thankful for. Everything except a dining table. There's room for a large 4-seater table on the porch off the kitchen. But see my note about the temperatures.  We made do. 

Now we were ready to start on the house. 

The last few weeks, we've mostly been pulling pieces apart to see what we have to work with. See the hot tub and sauna above? You want them? Too bad. We cut them up into pieces. Because that was the only way we could actually remove the thing from the house. It was that big.

In fact, this whole area (which used to be two rooms, the bathroom and mudroom. See where the shovels are leaned up against the wall? That was the mudroom) was a series of lean-tos-turned-house. When we pulled all of this out and looked at what we had left, these rooms were built on 4 different levels. (note the hot tub in its sunken position. That was a knee-shattering-and-mind-boggling 3 feet drop from the floor above.)

When we pulled it all back, we could see some evidence of how it had been put together. The outlines of original exterior windows that had been blocked up. (I'm playing pretty fast & loose with the term "original" here. I'm fairly certain that the dining room that's on the other side of the wall below was added about 50 years after the original house was built). 

We also pulled a ton of granite blocks out of this area. I mean that literally. About 2,000 pounds. Maybe a little more. 

We set them aside for later use. 

Then it was time to strip back the kitchen. Remember our hobbit kitchen? It came with bricks. Lots of bricks. Bricks that didn't match. Bricks that ran in different directions. Bricks held up by sticks. Bricks for no apparent reason. 

We saved the bricks we ripped out as well. 

We turned around and started pulling down more walls, stripping everything back until we could see the original post & beam structure. 

Except it was only partly post & beam. 

I was fascinated by the connection of this part of the house - it used to be a barn. Actually more than one.  The layers and levels made that obvious. The ceiling in the kitchen that had been several inches lower than the area around it was an artifact of construction. The external beams were post & beam construction. The ones used as joists were original 10"x16" beams, notched for joists and support. But they didn't start out there.  They were reclaimed from elsewhere (probably the barn whose stacked-stone foundations were still standing in the backyard). They were twisted up on their sides and toenailed in every couple of feet. 

No wonder the ceiling used to bounce & sway like a trampoline.

We very carefully pulled these beams down and set them aside. And hey! Look! You can see up into the next level now! 

When we got up to the next level and pulled the interior walls down, we found evidence of the fire that had turned up in our pre-buying inspection report. Lots of evidence. Lots and lots of evidence. 

Not the best picture, but all of the upper timbers here are charred. Many of them all the way through. 

There was no smell of ash - the fire had been decades ago. But instead of repairing, whoever addressed it just built up around it. 

Because, you know, building codes were a bit more like 'suggestions' back then, I guess. 

By the way - the piles of dust on the floor? That's what's left of the insulation. Our contractor crew described it as "about 20% insulation, 30% squirrels' nests, and 50% rat poop." 

I wonder what R value rat poop has? 

My favorite part was jacking up the ceiling. My Bride called me one day to tell me. 

"They think we should jack up the dining room ceiling a bit." 

What do you mean a bit? Did it fall down? Holy hell. I'll be right there. 

It was fine. The house was just that out of level, and this secured things better to get let us get at more of the layers. See, right above this floor was where the master bath and rental bathrooms had been put in. And to do that, they had to insert some plumbing. Which they did by cutting large holes through the joists. 

Because that seemed like an ok thing to do? 

They haven't all been unpleasant surprises (thankfully). We pulled down the tired drop ceiling in the back of the barn extension (one of the rental areas), uncertain what to expect. 

We found these. 

Nice, eh? 

Once we opened up the walls, and pulled things back, suddenly, the whole interior of the house had more light, and even more potential. 

See this? This is the look that says "I am going to ignore the pile of rat poop at my feet, and focus on the potential." 

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We haven't really begun much construction yet. The work so far has been focused on pulling things out, looking around, and drawing up plans that fit the space. We've bought appliances and started jigsawing them together on paper. Picked out tiles and doors and had innumerable conversations about what kind of floor we will one day have. 

We only managed one real construction task pre-Christmas. We backed a concrete truck up to the house and filled in the hot tub pit. 

Progress. 

Three... I mean, er... Two little pigs

The first year I had pigs, it was on a lark. And raising our own bacon in our backyard turned out to be way easier than I expected. I fed them some grain, a ridiculous amount of peanuts, and watched them get big and docile, roaming around under the trees in our backyard. 

This year's lot, on the other hand, turned out to be more than a handful of pain-in-the-ass. 

First there was that time they went missing, and lived in the woods for a month.

Then, there was the recapturing, and building a pig pen that would make the inmates of Guantanamo give that low whistle of respect that says 'Holy shit, brother. What did you do to get put in here?'

About two hours before the 'Coppa & Collards' dinner party, two of them managed to push their way out of even that fence, and take a little walk around the yard. I managed to get them back up to the pen, and told the boy to go in and get his mother. She came outside and looked at me like "These are your pigs, mister." 

"I'll grab the front side," I told her. "You grab the rear." And before she could say anything, I reached down and grabbed the front legs of one of the pigs. 

If you haven't had occasion to wrestle a pig yourself, you should know that an upset pig can squeal loud enough to be heard for miles. The saying "squeal like a stuck pig"  could also be "squeal like a pig you just tried to pick up".  

My Bride took one look and said "I am not picking up the back end of that pig. That's where they poop." 

"Would you rather to grab the squealy, bitey end?"

There was a lot of swearing. And a lot of pushing. And some more swearing. Most of it aimed at the pigs.  But we got them back in the pen.  

When we decided to move north to Maine, the logistics were all pretty easy. Except for the pigs. 

It was a corporate relocation, so we had a packing and moving crew helping us load up and take everything to storage until we could get into our new place outside of Portland. A very nice gentleman with a large clipboard and a measuring tape came by to do the inventory of our household goods. 

"Are those pigs yours?" 

I don't get asked that question every day. It would have been awkward to deny it. 

"We can't put the pigs in storage, you know..."

Thanks, funny guy. 

Fortunately, I had a plan. I have a buddy with a trailer who likes to go to Maine. He brought the trailer over one evening so that I could load up the pigs, and we could schlep them up to the great white north the next day. Loading last year's pigs was pretty easy. I figured I could handle this. 

Nothing with this group of pigs was ever easy. 

There was more shoving. A whole lot more cursing. And I only fell in pig crap twice. I began to wish that I had never found the pigs again after their escape. But eventually, they were loaded up, and off we went. 

I had called the sellers of our new house a couple of weeks before. "Listen, Peter. I need to bargain for a favor. I need to move the pigs in before the close date."  

Just a totally typical buying a house conversation to have. 

He laughed. He used to raise pigs.

I liked the couple we were buying the house from a lot. We didn't involve the realtors.  The Critter and I showed up for a few evenings in a row and built a new pen around the barn. 

The pigs settled in. And eventually, we closed on the house and moved the rest of our household good in. And ourselves while we were at it. 

These three pigs were on the small side compared to last year. I am pretty sure the month in the woods foraging didn't help. They grew taller, but didn't put on as much weight when they were young. And maybe it's just their litter. They were smaller, and more active. They took to their pen with gusto, rooting up all the mint and clover, and enjoying themselves immensely. The end stall of the barn was theirs, so they had a place to huddle and sleep. And there is a huge oak tree across the driveway, so the kids would scoop up acorns to add to their meal. 

Other than the fact that I had to fetch water in buckets from the pond down the hill, it was a pretty terrific setup. 

Soon, though, The Spare got listless. 

She lay around for days. I wasn't sure if she was just getting lazy as she grew or if there was something wrong.  She moved. Just slower, and with less pep than the other two. 

I watched her for a while, and figured that, well, it was already early October, and they didn't have much longer before slaughter anyhow. I'd let her be. 

A week later, I was out in California for a conference and some visits with our customers. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Oakland. It was my birthday. I was celebrating by joining one of our sales team as he called on local veterinary practices. I got a call on my phone about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 

"Your f*@#ing pig is dead."

It was my Bride. She was not her normal chipper self. 

It was raining in Maine. And cold. And dark. And there was a dead, 225 lb pig in the yard. 

"How do the other pigs look?"

"They're fine. But There. Is. A. Dead. Pig." 

"I suppose we should move it out of the pen before the other pigs get to it." 

"You move it. I did NOT sign up for this. I'm f*#@ing done with f#@$ing pigs."

You people have only met the lovely, sweet, friendly woman that I married. My Bride is patient, and kind, and beautiful. And she can swear a blue streak when she encounters a large dead animal in her backyard.  I'm standing in the sunny parking lot of a small animal vet practice on the opposite coast. I wasn't in the best position to be much help.  If we were still in Massachusetts, we had enough friends with animals and a sense of humor that I could call on to help. But we had been in our new Maine house for exactly two weeks. We had met pretty much no one. 

Except. 

I did know a guy. 

"I will handle it, my love."

In my first couple of weeks at work, I had shared some stories with my colleagues. Including the whole pig/ham/bacon hobby. One guy on my team ALSO raised pigs. AND he lived in our town. 

It was a little awkward, but on the off chance he might be around, I called him. 

"Hey, Ken - aren't you in California?"

"I am. But I need a huge favor." 

I explained. I felt like I was calling The Cleaner on Pulp Fiction. 

"I'll be over in 15 minutes." 

They moved the pig out of the pen and rolled it in a tarp. I sat in the airport later on, Googling "How deep do I need to bury a dead pig?"

I am pretty sure I'm on a new list someplace now. 

Turns out, the answer is "under 4 feet of soil, and not near your drinking water." 

I'm still not sure what killed the Spare. Pigs are susceptible to pneumonia and a host of other diseases, just like any livestock. But Rocky & Tocino were both perfectly fine. It wasn't contagious. Some livestock get cancer. Or something lodged in their system that keeps them from eating. She had sat in the tarp for two days waiting for me to get home, and I wasn't really prepared to do a necroscopy to figure out what might have happened. And not knowing what took her down, we weren't going to eat her. We just chalked it up to lessons in owning livestock, and kept an eye on the other two. 

And, ok, probably naming her 'The Spare' wasn't the best karma. 

Joe and his partner Joanne came back this past weekend with their trailer. They had kindly agreed to help transport the (remaining) pigs to slaughter. Joanne quickly took charge. "Joe - stand behind the pigs and push them up where I can guide them into the trailer.  Ken - stand over there. No. Over there. More out of the way."  I held the gate so it didn't fall over. And I did it gladly.  I knew when I was in the presence of an expert. 

Tocino went more or less right in. Rocky was being his normal stubborn self. He grunted a lot. He squealed some.  Joanne stood there and let him catch his breath. Then she reached over and grabbed his front legs and hoisted him into the trailer. 

"Hey, Giuia! Come check out what Joanne just did!"

I found that funnier than my Bride did. 

This is the house that made us lose our minds

When I first got the call from what would become my company, I told my Bride, "I'm going to take the interview. But just to be nice. I'm pretty sure that nobody actually lives in Maine, other than a few stray Canadians and uncountable moose."

I had one conversation. And that led to another. And a third. Soon, I was having conversations with them along the lines of, "Look. I like you. And I like the people I've met. And the role sounds cool. But I don't know anything about Maine other than this is where people go to get a good lobster roll. I mean, I read We Took To The Woods a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it.  But I'm pretty sure that's not the book that'll convince my family."

"Come on up. Bring the family. We'll sort you out and you can check out some schools and neighborhoods." 

We've done this before, a couple of times, the last time, moving from England to Massachusetts. This time, the kids were old enough to be aware & kept in the loop. We gave the realtor a couple of basic parameters. 

  1. Don't show us anything less than 100 years old. 
  2. We prefer something with 2 or more acres. 

That's pretty much it. We started getting the listings. And running the searches ourselves. And prepping a list. 

I found this one listing that I kept coming back to. It wasn't on the realtor's list. The pictures caught my eye, and the description was just... odd. 

"1780's farmhouse. Greek Revival," it said. That part I liked. 

"Greenhouse and mature, formal garden," it said. Also in the 'win' column. 

"Period details, fireplaces & a lovely front room library," it said. Yes, yes and hell yes. 

"11 bedrooms, plus apartment," it said. Well, I suppo--  wait. What? 

I google-snooped it. Is that a parking lot?

That's a parking lot. 

What the hell is this house? I had to see it. I began lobbying my Bride. She was unconvinced. I asked the realtor about it. "It's been on the market for more than a year, and I've never shown that house before, if that tells you anything." 

But this was the lead photo. Seriously. I had to go see it. 

I had my bets on what the house was. I figured bed-and-breakfast. The listing photos showed the house staged with plenty of antiques and custom pieces. This house ended up being the first one we saw in our tour of Portland-area properties. 

It was gorgeous. My bride and I wandered around the 6+ acres, looking at sculpture and old outbuildings (there are 5), and kept speculating as to what the heck this house was. 

Sculpture in the sitting garden

Sculpture in the sitting garden

"It used to be a fraternity house." We were just down the road from the University of Southern Maine. 

"For the last 30 years, the couple that owns it has been renting out rooms to students. The couple works at the university's art department, and host gallery showings here."  Hence the sculpture. And the fact that the home had been cut up into so many individual spaces. There was a 1 bedroom apartment on the second floor, and a number of individual rooms sharing another, separate mini-kitchen. And an in-law style apartment above the barn. 

We didn't care. We turned the corner and saw the giant chestnut tree in full bloom. I've always wanted a chestnut tree. My Bride knows this about me. She knew the house had me.  Then we walked to the back, of the house, down a ways from the cutting garden, a few steps past the three-season sun room, and saw the sunken, secret fern-lined garden in the foundations of the old barn. And I knew the house had my Bride. We ducked behind a stone gate (seriously, you guys. A stone gate!) and looked at each other, whispering urgently. "Holy shit. I love this house." And then we had to do that jinx-owe-you-a-coke because we said it at the same time. 

The side path

The side path

We looked at several other houses, but we kept coming back to this one. It spoke to us. It said "buy us."

So we had it inspected. Because we're not complete idiots. 

"It's not square." It's an old house. I expected that. 

"The student apartments are sub-par." That's ok. In our heads, we've already ripped all that out and returned it to a single family home. 

"There are old marks of fire on some of the rafters." Well, it was a frat house at one point, so I suppose that's sort of understandable...

"I don't think the chimneys have been cleaned in the last century. Many of them need to be rebuilt from scratch." Ouch. 

The kitchen was built for a hobbit, with low ceilings and an oddly cut up layout. There is a hot tub in the bathroom on the first floor. A full-sized, honest-to-goodness 8 person hottub. INSIDE. And the house overall had not made it unscathed through the wallpaper-years. Oh, the wallpaper. It is plentiful and abundant in our new house. And none of it matches. Except for being mostly in the "Large and Flowery" category. 

Hobbit kitchen

Hobbit kitchen

See that lamp in the middle of the kitchen counter? That's so you can see into the sink. Because it's that dark in the kitchen. And yet somehow? There are 4 different light switches in the kitchen, each of which operate a different set of lights. 5 if you count the under-the-cabinet fluorescent. 

It was all character. The house had a name - it was owned and substantially renovated by Isaac Dyer, a prominent local attorney in the 1820's or so. It was his estate. The house has its own facebook page. It has a personality and a presence. A little 'quirkiness' is to be expected, I suppose. 

All of this got fed into the negotiations. And we knocked the price down to something we could be comfortable with, knowing we were going to start a pretty hefty renovation & update. 

We finally moved into the house about six weeks ago, and started exploring every detail. There were two rooms that we had never actually seen in person (they were student occupied when we walked through the first time). We had visited with the sellers a couple of times to share stories and sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee, but we had been negotiating through proxy, sending our inspectors back through, but never actually having walked the the whole house again. Does that sound insane? That's because it is.  Did you see the part about the INSIDE giant hot tub that we had already chosen to overlook? Besides. The sellers had let me move my pigs in a week or more before the actual close date. We had a trust thing going. 

We got moved in, and started separating the boxes we absolutely had to open (underwear) from those we didn't (paintings). We didn't really want to unpack anything that would be in the way of the renovation. Two of the rooms and one of the outbuildings became big storage lockers. And the answer to every question about where something is ends with "...it's in a box."

We started figuring out what needed to be fixed. There's a hallway light fixture that the sellers had asked to take with them. "Sure," I said. I can replace that, I figured. So a few days after we moved in, I ordered a light fixture I liked, switched off all the switches in the area, and pulled out a ladder to hook it up. (Unlike the kitchen, most of the house has high ceilings. What's up with the kitchen? I have no idea. I'll let you know when we rip apart the room to figure it out). 

The light came on. That was good. But I had switched every switch to 'off' that I could find. I climbed down from the ladder and searched for another switch for an hour before giving up. I finally called the seller and asked him. "Oh. That's a live circuit. I had the light on a pull chain." 

Oh good. That's a fun little surprise that I'm glad I managed to avoid finding out the hard way while I was installing the light. 

Remember: this is fun. Right my love?

Remember: this is fun. Right my love?

Much of the renovation we're going to hire done. We've found a Maine-based contractor team that specializes in antique homes - they've already started on the barn/in-law apartment to give us a place to stay during the peak of the renovation crazy. But some of it we'll be taking on ourselves. The fun parts that we enjoy. Either way, I'm sure I'll end up with a few stories to tell. 

We like Maine. We like the area, the company I've joined, the people we've met, the schools the kids are in. We like the pace & the interactions. We miss our friends in Massachusetts. But when I talk about having pigs in my backyard, Maine folk either nod as if that's totally normal, or shrug as if to say "Ay-yuh. Well. That's a thing some people do."

But mostly, I moved the whole family to Maine so I could finally justify buying a pair of overalls. 

Et voila.

Note the Giant & Flowery wallpaper. 

Note the Giant & Flowery wallpaper. 


Playing catch-up

It's been a while since I've had that magical combination of inspiration, energy and time to write anything much. But in the past few months, I've had both the 

 The tally for the last 90 day stretch includes:

  • Leaving my job
  • Throwing a farewell blow-out backyard pig roast 
  • Growing 'unemployment beard'
  • Stacking rocks & masterminding several clambakes on the northern shores of Maine
  • Hosting an intimate starlit dinner of homemade charcuterie & home grown victuals
  • Starting both kids in new schools
  • Starting a new job
  • Transporting 3 live pigs a hundred miles to their new home
  • Selling our house in Massachusetts
  • Buying a house in Maine
  • Moving a shit-ton of household goods onto a truck
  • Unpacking a half-shit-ton of things into a new house. And realizing we have too much stuff. 
  • (the other half are still in their boxes. And will likely stay that way for another 6 months)
  • Putting a dog down
  • Burying one pig in the new backyard after a Death Of Mysterious Cause
  • Shipping a new puppy up from Atlanta
  • Starting renovation of our new house

  The above list is more or less in order. Note that we moved the pigs to Maine BEFORE we had bought a new house. 

I will write more about a few of these over the coming days. We're well settled into our new adventure up in the great white north (there was snow yesterday. Seriously. Snow. Holy shit.) 

But for now, this is me, stacking rocks.  

I have mad skilz. ovinm

Kind of like paying the barber to make your hair look like it did when you sat down

Earlier, I talked about how we discovered, in an upfront and personal way, all the lead the old-timers used in making the inside of our house look so purty. Now that we finally knew where it all was, in excruciating, triplicate-formed detail, we had to figure out what exactly we were going to do about it. Again, there are stories out there about families spending crazy money on the process, even before you take into consideration the little things. Like the fact that you can't live in the house during the process. It becomes sort of like that scene in E.T. with the men in white suits and an air-lock instead of a front door, but no peanut-buttery Reeses Pieces to offset the discomfort. Massachusetts law requires any house built before 1978 where a six year old (or younger) lives to be certified as "lead safe". Given the median age of a house in Massachusetts is at least, oh, 80 years old, I would think that this would mean that about every fourth person you met at the grocery store would be in some way involved in the de-leading business, wouldn't you? Wrong, mein Freund. There are surprisingly few. And, it seems, most are involved in "commercial" de-leading (I think that means old warehouses-turned-apartment blocks or some such). Our main concern was that we find a way to make the place safer for the little tyke without either a) losing any of the historical bits or b) breaking the bank. For example, there's a place inside one of the cabinet doors above the fireplace mantle that someone graffiti'ed with the date... back in 1861. We're partial to ancient graffiti, I guess. We'd kind of like to keep that. And it's a pretty low-risk area, right? So we can do that. The first guy we lead through the house suggested that we could put some plastic over it 'like a poster frame'. Hmm. Not exactly the look we're going for, here. Keep walking, buddy. We'll try again. The next guy we found specializes in antique homes, and knew enough about the construction of our house to tell us where the secret room is (a small hideout in the middle of the central chimney called the "Indian room" - kind of like a Colonial 'panic room' where a family could hide if they were afraid of getting, you know, scalped and stuff). We didn't even know about the secret room. Now I know where to retreat when the Revenuers come knocking... At any rate, between his knowledge and obvious passion for old homes, and a passing reference to his connection to the founding producer of This Old House, I had a good feeling that this guy would do a pretty good job for us. I also had a good feeling that he would charge accordingly. In the end, though, we were able to pick and choose a bit of the work to make sure the essentials were done without going overboard, and end up at a price that, while more expensive than many of the cars that I've owned in my life, was tolerable (on the other hand, we've seen the kind of cars I buy). The painful part of the whole ordeal is that we're paying extra for this guy because our goal is that the finished job will look as if he had never been there... the same finish and color paint on the walls, floors, windows, etc. In other words, if it's successful, it will look like we just paid this guy a whole bucket of cash to make our house look exactly the same as it does today. Awesome. I suggested to my Bride that we could try the John Travolta, boy in a plastic bubble route for Squirmy as an alternative. He'd only have to stay in there for a few more years, and besides, then we could take those gates on our stairs down, and just sort of roll him down to breakfast in the morning. And think of all the fun we could have at the beach. Like a really big one of those hamster wheels. She wasn't convinced. So when the boy comes to us later with his big dreams of Harvard medical school or whatever, we're going to remind him that his college fund got eaten right along with all that lead he chewed off the chair rail as a baby. Mmm. Tasty.
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Pb in MA

I've been meaning to write about this for a few weeks now, but the thought of sitting down and describing the process we've been through lately with lead has been just too draining to contemplate. But enough progress has been made and alcohol has been consumed over the past few weeks to have sort of numbed us to the pain, so I think I can share now. Act I, Scene I You see, in Massachusetts, the state really wants to make sure your children are safe. And Massachusetts has lots and lots of old homes. Old homes like ours. Old homes with lead paint. (That's 'lead' as in 'dead', not 'lead' as in 'feed'.) When we bought the house, we had just about every inspection ever imagined under the sun done on the house. Carbon monoxide. We don't have none of that. Creosote. We had some of that, but we made the seller get rid of it. Termites, dry rot, earthquakes, visible signs of plagues of locusts or frogs: check. None of the above. Towards the end of the process, the seller and I were talking and he said, look, the place was built in 1739, I can't guarantee there's no lead paint in the place. I said, yeah, I know. In fact, I'm guessing there is lead paint someplace, but I'm going to try real hard to teach our children not to lick the walls. This was, after all, right after the seller agreed to rebuild the entire chimney, clean and line all the flues, which is not cheap. And that being said, we signed some papers and moved in. Scene 2: Later that month... Squirmy went to the doctor for a kind of baseline, we're-back-in-the-U.S.A., let's get checked up test. I refer you back to that statement about the Massachusetts state legislature caring a lot about whether or not I'm letting my children chew on leftover bullets after I go to the shooting range. Actually, the state only cares if your child is under 6. After that, apparently it's fine. Which means that part of the local standard battery of tests if your child is under 6 is a lead screening. Squirmy pinged 'high'. Not 'poisoned' high. Not even 'you might want to take away the mechanical pencil refills' high. Just 'hey, you may want to check and make sure he's not using the apron from the Fisher Price E-Z-X-Ray playset as a safety blanket' high. We had a good conversation with the doctor about likely causes: maybe he found a stray chip of paint lying around and thought it would make a tasty addition to his cheerios. Or maybe it's just dust. Dust from the windows opening and closing an blowing around in a kind of toxic zephyr. It's a one-off, though, and we'll keep an eye on it. Or you can pro-actively get your house screened, and see how you might address it. Also, the doctor has to let the state know the results of the test, and now, our phone is ringing off the hook with state agency people who want to help us by telling us stories about how our child might turn into a drooling drain on society if we don't let them come out and do a screen. But, oh yeah, if we let the State do it, we have to address any issue they find, whereas if we pay for the inspector ourselves, we can choose what areas we focus on. With about 30 seconds of Google-fu, I found this story. Holy crap. I think I'll pay the inspector myself, thank you. Scene next: Man with lead gun shows up... We brought out an inspector who showed up with this really cool looking Star Trek-esque ray gun. He walked around our house for several hours, pointing it at pretty much every exposed surface, and spouting off numbers to his assistant, who diligently wrote these numbers in long columns on his clipboard. Turns out, about the only way we could have more lead in our house is if we started making home-made battery acid for the entire 18-wheeler fleet of New England. There's lead on the windows. There's lead on the door frames. There's lead in the floor paint. There's lead on the fireplace bricks. There's lead with a fox. There's lead in a box. There's lead in a boat. there's lead on the goat. I do not like lead here nor there. I do not like lead anywhere. So lead-gun man walks us around the house and points out all the places where the lead paint has turned up. Of course, some of the places are the inside of cabinet doors, 6 feet off the ground. Not likely to be chewed on by your average toddler, and therefore less critical to address. This is why we hired our own inspector, so we could focus on things like, say, the window ledge next to the crib, rather than the underside of the attic storage cabinet or whatever. Still, that leaves a whole lot of house to address... End of Act I. Join us tomorrow to see how our heroes rant and rave and feed their son liquid iron and fight off the evil lead. Also. There is drinking involved.
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On cars and trucks

One of our first purchases upon arrival was my Bride's car. We had sold off mine when we left, and we gave hers to her parents as a kind of retirement gift (which was later totaled by my Bride's cousin in a moment of carelessness. Grr.) And for the past several years in England, we drove leased vehicles. So we knew we'd end up purchasing two cars on our return, a thought that filled me with a mix of anticipation and gut-wrenching nausea. I like the idea of cars. Thinking about what we could get. Spec'ing out the options. Considering things like mileage and resale value and colors and interior. But the prospect of going to a dealership, negotiating and executing the purchase is about as much fun for me as scraping my teeth clean with broken, blunt shards of glass washed up with amongst the medical waste on a Los Angeles beach. Really. I don't like it. To minimize the pain, we did a bunch of research online first, and made several phone calls to dealers before stepping outside the door. We knew what we wanted down to the model and options, and ended up driving an extra few minutes up to New Hampshire once we found a dealer willing to talk in the right price range. And that's how we met Bill. Our salesguy. Bill is not small. Nor quick. Partly because he had broken his foot doing something with a dog. I didn't quite catch the details, other than it wasn't his dog. Really, I didn't care too much. I am just there to buy a car. Bill is there to sell the car. You would think that we would be able to focus on that transaction. But Bill likes to talk. Also, Bill believes the United Nations is colluding with the Democratic Party to make Bill Clinton the first World President under a global government. We have to watch out, because they have already begun diluting the history taught to our children through insidious alteration of text books. You know how I know this? Because Bill told me. Seriously, Bill. I just want that car. The blue one. Can you have it ready by Tuesday? Great. I'm going to take my children and go away now. You frighten me just a little bit. And also, you have funny looking hair. In the meanwhile, I'm still driving a rental. The one the dog crapped in. And that I've taken to the dump several times now. Hertz is going to love me. But I'm stuck with the rental for a couple more weeks. Because that's how it goes according to my Master Plan. See, I want to buy a truck. But not a new truck. I want an old truck. One that I don't have to feel bad about taking to the dump. Or to Home Depot for several bags of concrete, some plywood and maybe a table saw. Or whatever. But also, because I like old trucks. Big, and steel, and from Detroit. Something from the '60's or '70's. They had soul. And bench seats. I miss the bench seat. The problem is, it's difficult to find something like that here in Massachusetts. Unless they were taken care of, the winter weather and copious amounts of salt spread on the roads tends to have left only a rusty outline where the old trucks used to be. So finding a good candidate in decent condition up here is way more trouble than I can really be bothered with. But that's ok, says I. I know where trucks like this are scattered across the landscape, front yards and drive ways like chiggers in a pine wood. My parents live just an hour outside of Nashville. Where people seem to feel incomplete without a truck or two in the family, sometimes collecting used examples along with their plastic Wall E novelty glass of the week from Burger King. A quick search on Craig's List later, and I had found several good candidates. Like the great example owned by Wayne below.
Wayne lives in Fayetteville. About half an hour north of the Alabama state line. Wayne also believes Democrats are up to no good. However, his answer is much simpler and involves his property line, a shotgun and his dog Blue. When I asked Wayne if the truck was in running order, he told me that him, me, and my mechanic buddy could take it out for an hour or so, and if we weren't satisfied that it would get me back to Massachusetts in one piece, he'd take me for dinner at Cracker Barrel, we'd drop the truck off, and no harm done. The purchase is cash, with no paperwork other than the title exchange. I get a cheap vehicle, right up the alley I'm looking for, and even after a bit of investment in paint and some other work (like fixing those tires. Whoever came up with the idea of the low-rider should be introduced to the business end of Wayne's dog Blue. Wayne assures me it wasn't him that did it.) I'm not sure if I'll end up with this truck or another like it, but I know this: I like Wayne. This has now spawned my Master Plan. The Critter and I are going to fly down to Nashville in a couple of weeks time. We'll spend a couple of days visiting my parents, and finding the right truck. Then, she and I will drive from Tennessee back up to Massachusetts in our new purchase. I get the truck I want and an opportunity to re-introduce my six-year-old to America through the greatest family institution around: the road trip. I am brilliant. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan. My Bride will have a complete itinerary for the trip, though, and I'll be making sure my AAA membership is up to date. Just in case.
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This is why God invented Tequila

As I mentioned, our packing process involved separating all our worldly possessions into several piles by category. Things to be discarded. Things to be put on a ship. Things to be put in our suitcases. And the in-between case: things that we-don't-need-to-carry-with-us-right-now-but-we-really-can't-live-without-them-for-two-months-while-it-crosses -the-Atlantic-and-clears-customs. This category went into a smallish grouping that was put on a plane, and would only take a couple of weeks to get to us. (1 day to make the journey. 13 days to clear customs.) It consisted of the clothes that didn't fit in our suitcase, most of our kitchenware and dishes and the like, my main computer, that type of thing. Last week, we got all excited when they called to schedule delivery of this shipment. Saturday morning, the guy with the truck pulled up, and my daughter and I ran out to meet him. She was excited because, hey, it's like Christmas. All that stuff we get to open. (Never mind that we just saw it in England two weeks ago). I was excited because, you know, it's got my computer in there. And I'm kind of going through withdrawal. Truck-Man gets out of his truck and instead of "hello" says, "There's a problem with your shipment." Uh-oh. Um. Ok. "It's all here," says Truck-Man, "it's just not all on my truck. There was a mix-up back in the warehouse, and Joey only put part of it on my truck. The rest will come out to you on Monday." Ok, whew. I can deal with this. I mean, no worries, Joey. Everybody makes mistakes. What's another two days? (You see where my polly-anna attitude is headed for a fall already, don't you? You cynic you.) So we unload the six (out of 24) boxes that we were expecting (what can I say? We've got a lot of clothes.) And we get some cool things. 1 wine glass. 1 regular glass. My main PC and monitor (but no cables or keyboard, which makes it kind of a giant paperweight). Our knife set and some clothes. Ok, cool. Monday dawns bright and clear, and everything is right in the world. Except they don't know where the rest of our stuff is. I mean, they know it's here somewhere. But it's, like, a really big warehouse. And Joey's still looking. It'll turn up, though. Don't you worry. Which is good, because I had only packed enough clothes for a limited duration, and the two pair of shorts I have are getting pretty tired. Wednesday, I hadn't heard from anybody, and I'm beginning to worry that Joey's been enjoying a new set of dishes and maybe some of my Bride's frillier underwear. Which would be fine, normally. I mean, I don't judge. But I'd really like my stuff now, you know. That's why we set it aside to get here quicker. (Meanwhile, the ship with our couch and other stuff arrived, and our household goods have begun the customs process. Which means they'll get here before the stuff that was so-expensively shipped via a plane.) Today, they called us to tell us that Joey found our stuff. And the elastic in my Bride's frilly undies weren't too badly stretched. Hooray! But, um, there's one itty-bitty problem. They had accidentally put it on a ship headed for Singapore. Singapore, Massachusetts? Um, no sir. Singapore, Singapore. Like the one in the South Pacific. WTF. No worries, though, sir. It should arrive in Singapore on the 24th of August, and we'll turn it right back around and bring it here (where it can go through customs again). At this rate, we should see our stuff some time in 2010. Dandy. Oh, and the dog shit in the front seat of my Bride's brand new Volvo. How was your day?
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Summer fun

This morning, the Critter went to her first day of summer camp. And there was much rejoicing. When I was a kid, I avoided summer camp like the plague. Of course, my athletic aptitude as a kid was slightly behind that of a somewhat ill ficus tree. (Hell, I can't even use the "as a kid" excuse. That's pretty much true today as well. Except now I'm older and with the love handles. Which adds a drag factor.) So "summer camp" for me conjured up weeks of being picked last for the canoe-volleyball-relay races and making ugly ashtrays out of clay/pipecleaners/toilet paper rolls. Fortunately for me, my parents were either moved by my annual theatrics and detailed flip-charts and graphs explaining Why Summer Camp Causes Syringomyelia And Other Reasons Not To Send Me There or, more probably, were painfully aware of my lack of ability to, you know, throw a ball. So though it was occasionally brought up as an idea, I never went. Unfortunately for her, the Critter shows a tendency more towards my athletic capabilities, rather than her mother's (who was voted "Most valuable player" and "most willing to take a hit for the team" and "most creative foul of the season" by her high school soccer team for 4 years running). It kills my Bride when she sees the Critter run like a grandmother across the yard, or when the Critter prefers to read a book or color on the bleachers, rather than play ju-jitsuball, or whatever it is the kids are playing these days. I just smile, as I totally recognize the source of the choice. And I remind my Bride that she has the boy still, so there's hope yet that we'll have birthed an athlete. All this being said, I wasn't really sure how the Critter was going to take to summer camp. Toss in a bit of her natural shyness, and I figured we stood a good chance of experiencing a meltdown in the parking lot this morning. But we deliberately chose a local camp, with the thought that this would at least give her the chance to meet some of the kids she'd be going to school with in a few weeks. And we played this up in the last month or so, trying to build her excitement. As it turned out, we needn't had bothered. We neglected to factor in what two weeks of being cooped up in the new house with no toys or furniture, and two adults that want to focus on things like room-painting or teaching the new dog not to piss on the floor (Big Dog = Big Mess) and pretty much no outlet for her six-year-old energy would do to whet her appetite for some other kids to play with. My Bride reported this morning that the Critter didn't even look back this morning. She was so excited to see another face that wasn't ours that it totally outweighed any trepidation she might have had around what she was actually going to do when she got there. She told me this evening that she already met some good people and found a good friend. She maybe could be her new best friend. What's her name? She doesn't remember. But she's really neat. And somebody else was really jealous of the watermelon we packed in her snack box. What else did they do today? Who knows. But I got a detailed report of what everybody had in their snack box. Oh yeah. That's my kid.
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Who you gonna call?

Unlike the California house, where I knocked down pretty much every non load-bearing interior wall, my Bride and I agreed up front that I'd limit my urges towards home improvement to manageable, non-structural changes for the new house. So this week, after hauling 34 boxes of books up the stairs to the room over the garage, I brought in a carpenter to see about some built-in shelf units. Hopefully in time for the additional boxes on their way from England. Joel's a good old fashioned, New Yankee type carpenter, complete with belly-expanding tool belt, and tolerant of my urge to bond over power tools. While exchanging masculine grunts and liberally exchanging dialogue including words like "kerf" and "dado", we started talking about this house, and what I would and wouldn't do myself. For example, I shared with him the plans for me to frame in part of the old attic to create a playroom space for the kids. Pseudo-Norm: Neat space, isn't it? Me: Yep. It's got great potential. The floor boards are amazing. Him: Did you notice where the past residents had carved stuff into the rafters and stuff? Me: Eh? No, I hadn't noticed. . Him: Yeah. There's that one spot where someone carved something like "Mother died here" and a date. Me: ... um... really? Him: All the contractors thought that was kind of weird. Me: ... um... Him: Isn't it a neat space? Me: ... um... Me: ... Me: ...ok. Really, all I could think was "OK: how do I tell my Bride that our house is one projectile vomit away from Amytiville?" And then I went and quietly curled into a fetal position with my crucifix. When the sun came up the next morning in a coinicidental rediscovery of my non-superstitious masculinity, I was able to creep upstairs without visions of the Omen dancing in my head. On the door to the attic, I found a series of simple, home-spun graffiti on the inside of the door, which looks like a fifth grader was practicing his cursive, and a simple, sweet rememberance of a mother's passing date scribbled in about the same way I used to secretly scribble up my textbooks. Rather than sending shivers crawling down my spine in a way that M. Knight Shyamalamadingdong can only dream of, it made me feel more connected to the families that have lived in this house in the past. In a home that is literally older than the country I hail from, we're merely the latest in a series. We're caretakers, rather than simply occupants. And rather than banishing the memories of those that came before us, we will weave our own story into the history of our home as a family. Which is an amazing kind of connection to our home that I certainly never felt in our 1950's tract-built home in California or even the several hundred year old converted potato barn we lived in during our stay in the UK. In a week and a half, I've found a deeper connection to our new home than I felt in six years in California. And if maybe there's some extra holy water, a visit from our neighborhood catholic priest, and a liberal sprinkling of garlic in our own little bit of weaving here, that's just coincidence. Happy, non-spooky coincidence. :)
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On being back

A week in to our return to the Land of Convenience, we're still hip deep in boxes and misplaced furniture. And this is only our stuff that used to be in California. We're in no way prepared to receive the bulk of furniture and things we accumulated in England that's currently crawling its way across the Atlantic in this direction. But every day, a little progress is made. We've marked each day by what we've managed to get done. Yesterday's accomplishment: installing 4 of those really cools metal & particle board shelves in the garage and basement. I've always been secretly envious of people who had those shelves. They're so tidy and industrial looking. I felt a smug sort of accomplishment when I put the first item on them (camping gear that was last used in 2001). Also, we've been exploring our local neighborhood markets figuring out what's where. It's amazing how easy it would be to slip back into old habits. In England, our location, the shops and our miniscule refrigerator caused us to build habits of shopping for less, and fresher produce. The obscene prices of eating out meant that we ate home cooked goodness for 99% of our meals. As we've been scurrying around this week to both Hither, Massachusetts and Yon, New Hampshire, it's been easy to eat out, and the prices are refreshingly low, and the portions are obnoxiously big. Yesterday, we hit a mall for a few items, and there, side by side in a food court, were a Chick-fil-a (home of the world's perfect chicken sandwich) and an Arby's (Beef and Cheddar melt. It's genius. They don't use cheddar cheese, you see, they use cheddar sauce. It's a cheese and a sauce, people. You see the genius??) But we've also found the farmer's market in our village and the town next door (which provided some of the most fantastically good tomatoes that I've eaten in a long time), and are determined to keep up the healthier eating, despite the temptation to take the easy, temptingly flavored and fried-on-a-stick road. Most importantly, we've finally gotten the whole phone/internet/cable thing sorted. We figured out that our phone came with voicemail on by default, which explained why our fancy new answering machine wasn't doing its job and, you know, answering stuff. Also, our internet connection was moved across the house and patched into a panel in my new study, meaning I don't have to be strategically positioned to get the wireless signal from the basement anymore. And after three separate visits by Comcast technicians, the cable boxes and Tivos are all working (mostly) correctly. I don't even mind too much that they had to come out a few times to get it right. After the second time we figured out that things weren't quite right, I took a chance and called after 6pm. Turns out, they're open 24x7. Never mind the sniffling, I told the Comcast Lady. These are tears of joy. If there's one thing that made me realize we're not in Europe anymore, that was it. The fact that we had to get the techs out several days in a row because they only fixed 80% of the problem each day, that could have happened anywhere. But answering the phone at 2am if I choose to call? Only in America. We've got 4 years worth of bad tv watching to make up. Never mind the summer reruns. It's all new to us. Meanwhile, Maggie has settled in beautifully. We're still struggling a bit with where and how to kennel her at night - most dog crates are rated up to 110 lbs. She's 15 weeks and over 50lbs already. Her mother was 125lbs, and her father was a staggering 180lbs. But she's already one of the family. OK, a member of the family that occasionally craps St. Bernard size poops on my floor, but Squirmy doesn't exactly have bladder control, and we're still keeping him. Yesterday, she found a new favorite place to escape the heat of the day.
Cute. But that dog's in for an awkward moment when winter kicks in.
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We're here!

Finally, we're moved in. After several months of preparation and waiting, we arrived back in the US on our last, one-way ticket this past weekend. The last day in the UK was a mix of emotion and excitement, as we expected. Picking her up from school, it was th first time I saw the Critter in tears about moving. They lasted only about as far as it took to get to the hotel we were staying in for our final night, but about two hours into the plane ride, she turned to me and said, "It's weird that we're leaving England, isn't it Daddy?" Considering that it was the only home she really remembered, I totally understand where she was coming from. Squirmy had his own seat for this trip, but insisted on climbing into my Bride's lap and sleeping there instead for the entire trip. But given that this meant the 10 month old was asleep for the duration of the flight, it was just fine with us. We rented that most American of cars from Logan airport: A Giant SUV. Primarily because between our carry-on and our checked luggage, we were carrying enough stuff to supply and clothe a small-ish village in some countries. But you never know what you're going to need before our big box of worldy possessions arrives, we figure. So yeah, let's bring that screw-driver. And the extra three pair of socks. And a corkscrew. Because the unpacking is going to involve the drinking, I'm pretty sure. Getting here was pretty magical, though. Every few miles, my Bride and I were shouting out "almost to our new home!" to the kids in the back seat, in a manic kind of crescendo. We pulled up, and there it was, our house. My Bride and I did a kind of rolling stop and hurled ourselves out of our Giant SUV and through the front door to tapdance our happiness in synchronized joy in every room of the house, while the kids watched us from the car, shaking their heads. We've spent the last several days unpacking the giant, neatly stacked piles of boxes in our garage, exploring what we had left in storage when we moved from California. My assessment, after I had waded through the cardboard and wrapping papers and bubblewrap of my 63rd box was that half of the boxes were full of books, and the others were 98% crap. For example: one box contained a lampshade that had leaned against the bulb to long and sort of had a big deformed melted spot on one side. Glad we packed that. In between dusty, crap-filled boxes, we've been exploring our surroundings. Partly because we keep realizing we need this or that little thing (I found the whole of the Critter's old crib, for instance, except the screws which held it together. That took me 3 trips to Ace Hardware to get right.) This past Monday, I made a sudden swerve in the Giant SUV when I saw the sign for the Bedford Farmer's market. Which turns out to be just a dozen stalls of locals selling whatever they grew on their allotment plot. But check out these tomatoes! I can get into a market with these kind of tomatoes.
Just to add to the crazy, day three of our new stay in America, we went out and picked up our dog. Or rather, our puppy. Our 14 week-old puppy. Our 14 week-old, St Bernard puppy. The whole way up to her New Hampshire home, I kept having buyer's remorse about the whole decision to get a dog. I mean, our house wasn't even unpacked yet, and Squirmy was having jet lag, and was pretty resentful of the whole "every room has wood floors" thing (which, if I had to crawl around on my hands and knees to get anywhere useful, would probably bother me too), and here we were, adding a puppy to the mix, what with the house-breaking and the fur, and the morning walks. Were we insane? Yeah. We were insane. But then we got there, and we picked up Maggie, our lovely little puppy. OK, "little" is a relative term here, but she is absolutely beautiful, and sweet as can be. She had literally never been on a leash before we picked her up, and she was so nervous about her first car ride that she pooped inside the back of the Giant SUV before we had left the lady's driveway. But she's already become part of the family. It wasn't just a good idea to get her, it made me realize that we had been missing something essential, in not having an animal around. So far, Squirmy is the only dissenter. He wavers between interest in the big furry thing wandering around the house, and resentement that the big furry thing might accidentally be looking at him. Make it stop looking at him. MAKE IT STOP. But give it time. Loving the animals is pretty much a requirement in this family. Soon enough, they'll be sharing the same water bowl on a consistent basis. The Critter, on the other hand, has taken right to having a dog around. All that practice on Nintendogs must be paying off.
The list of things for us to fix, buy, address, or otherwise deal with keeps growing every day, but the weather is warm and the house is slowly filling with not just our unpacked goods, but our personality, as the kids and the dog explore every corner. And each evening, my Bride and I sit exhausted on the patio, nursing our scrapes and bruises and aching muscles from moving furniture around all day, and looking out at the woods and the evening sun, we talk about how nice it is to be home.
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T -5 days and counting

Last week, we moved out of the empty shell that our house had become, and into a local-ish hotel, down the road in nearby Chester. About a day into the packing, it dawned on us that there would soon be no place to sleep other than maybe a half-empty cardboard box, as long as you didn't mind curling around some silverware, and maybe a sheet of bubble wrap. We had kind of thought that this would be an easy week in the hotel. You know: other people cooking the meals, making the beds and picking up the towels, maybe periodically giving a soft knock on our door to ask if sir would like a mint to go on his pillow? Doesn't that sound nice? What we had forgotten was that we'd be in a confined space with two small children for many, many hours in a row. Oh, and we managed to pick a hotel that, while lovely, has no room service, and the restaurant has enough linen in the table service to To combat the resulting insanity, and keep in-room breakage to a minimum, we've been seeking out Things To Do Elsewhere as much as possible. This weekend, that included our neighbor's going away party (coincidentally, the other American family in our village is headed back to the US within weeks of us, after being here for over 7 years). They asked us if we minded them putting up some marquees in our yard, since it's big and flat and open, and since we're packed and moved, and gone, we said, sure. Have at it. We'll come over and help you drink all that beer and light some fireworks to celebrate independence day. Note to self: Explain to your British neighbors why you've saved £200 worth of fireworks since last November to light off on a summer night before you wake them up with incendiary devices. Also: Bottle rockets that have come loose from that stake thing will not go straight up into the air to safely and prettily explode. Try and not light those too close to the bouncy castle next time. Or at least, get the kids off it before you do so. We've got one final week of hotel living before we board that plane back to the promised land of cheap tacos and Chinese delivery. I cannot believe I've done without both for four years without breaking down into silent sobs in front of the one, sad, stale bag of "Old El Paso" mock-tortillas in the village Co-Op. Right now, the thought of a fresh burrito the size of a small-ish Yorkshire terrier, dripping fresh guacamole and the juice of carne asada spiced within an inch of its life is all that's keeping me from duct taping the children to the inside of hotel closet for the last few days.
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Chaos

As I type this, the packers are wrapping cardboard and bubble wrap around everything around me. The whole move thing has kind of snuck up on me, truth be told, and it wasn't until yesterday that I realized we were spending our last night here in this house. A lot has happened since we moved here, four years ago. We added a son to our family. Our daughter went to her first days of school. We learned to drive on the wrong side of the road. We got a horse. We got rid of a horse.We met and became friends with a load of wonderful people. With met and made fun of a load of ridiculous people. You'll have to guess which category is which. But mostly, we just enjoyed the heck out of being here these last four years. I asked the Critter last night if she was sad to be leaving. She asked me to tell her again about the dog we are getting when we get to the new place. Then she told me that she's not really all that sad. One other thing we did here was accumulate a pant-load of crap. Seriously. The packers wrapped up the Critter's room yesterday, and ended up with a pile of boxes big enough to make even Diana Ross think, yeah, you know what? Maybe that is high enough. Obviously, we were not as successful as I would have liked when we began the Great Moving Purge. I've got a suspicion that it will carry on when it comes time to unpack at the other end. The whole house seems to be composed of piles at the moment. Piles of things to be packed for air freight. Piles of things to be put in our suitcases. Piles of things to be given away before we go. Piles of boxes already wrapped up and destined for the container ship. Last night's dinner consisted of the pile of vegetables threatening to go bad if they weren't used, along with a pile of various cuts of cow defrosted from our freezer. Over rice. Because I am married to the Super Filipino, and that's how we roll around here.
Between now and our final departure date, there's, plenty to keep us occupied. I have re-iterated to the movers about a dozen times already this morning that they're not to take the router and my laptop. I figure as long as I keep the internet alive, everything will work out just fine. I've pretty much stopped stressing about what ends up in which pile. There's plenty to keep us busy on the other end of this move, I figure. And besides, my Bride is fretting enough for the both of us. She was up until about 4am last night, moving small bits from one pile to the next and back again, and has called me three times this morning to make sure I tell the movers that the pink towel goes into air frieght, but the stock pot can be surface shipment.
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T - 1 Month til Move Day (and counting)

I love our new home. The community has a bit of Mayberry-meets-Stars Hollow feel, mixed together with New Yankee thriftiness. Even though we're still a month away from our move, my Bride and I have become avid readers of the local newspaper, The Carlisle Mosquito; the story arcs have as much intrigue and drama as any soap opera, as debates rage about school fees, a new windmill on the town's highest point, and whether the new footpaths in the town center can properly be called "sidewalks". Ok, maybe "rage" isn't the right word, exactly. How about "waxes pointed" or "incites mild passion, but not too much passion, more like a perturbed insouciance." My favorite bit to check are the Police Logs . Here are some excerpts from this last week's Carlisle Police Activity Log:
June 2 1:10 a.m. The operator of a suspicious vehicle parked at the ice cream stand on Bedford Road was asked to move the vehicle. 8:45 a.m. A bicycle accident occurred at School and Church Streets. There were no injuries and the cyclist was assisted. June 3 11:55 a.m. A late entry was made about a cut tree at Westford Street and the Flats. June 4 9:15 a.m. A turtle was reported in the road at Westford and Curve Streets. Patrol investigated and had a negative find. 2:23 p.m. A snapping turtle in the road on Brook Street was removed by patrol. June 7 11:23 a.m. A green jacket found at Lowell Street and Elizabeth Ridge Road was placed in the Lost and Found.
I can just picture Barney asking Sheriff Andy if he can load his bullet for that snapping turtle one. Those things are dangerous, you know.
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Another step closer

Earlier this week, our household goods which have been in storage in California for the past four years were delivered to our new house in Massachusetts, which represents a tremendous step forward towards our move, psychologically, as well as physically. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but knowing that the house is no longer completely empty, but has goods piled up into a somewhat precarious pyramid in the garage waiting for us to come out and re-discover and catalog all of the precious material items that we haven't needed for the past several years, but couldn't quite bear to part with altogether, somehow moves my brain one giant step further along in our move preparation. A friend of ours in the area kindly agreed to go receive all the goods (as we're all the way over here on the other side of the ocean, it would have otherwise been pretty difficult to manage), and commented that the boxes all looked very dusty and grungy, which is why she had them placed in the garage instead of trying to direct them towards vaguely the right areas of the house. Considering the goods were supposed to be stored in a "climate controlled environment" is a little irksome, but hey, at this point, I'm glad to have them arrive at all. Truth be told, we have only the fuzziest of notions as to what's actually in those boxes and plastic wrappers. A lot of books. And some power tools. A kitchen table and chairs, and some baby furniture. And my TiVo. Beyond that? I've no clue. I've got the feeling that about half of the boxes will provoke comments along the line of "why the hell were we keeping that?" I can't wait. As a next step, the movers on this side of the Atlantic came out to "survey" our goods, and get an idea of how big a container we need to shove all the accumulated crap from the last four years into. His comment on seeing our bed (one of the few pieces of furniture we brought over from the US on our move was, “Wow. That’s a big bed. Is that a super-sized bed? Like special order?” Um, no. It’s just a regular American king sized. “Wow. Over here we’d call that a super-sized bed. I mean, I've never seen a bed like that.” Ok, stranger-guy in my house. Could we get over your fascination with my bed, yeah? The only other piece of advice he gave was after poking his head into our closet where I've installed our wine rack. We'll need to be very selective about which wine we wanted to ship, as it would incur some hefty duty fees, he tells us. Which means that we'll be opening more bottles in the next few weeks, if you'd like to stop by.
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