Still enough projects left to fill a snowy day

There's one small-ish bedroom on the main floor in our old Maine farmhouse. 

It's hard to say what or how it was used. It's got a fireplace (because all the original rooms have fireplaces. It's Maine. And winters are long and cold here).  And I added a crazy complicated bauble-filled chandelier when we moved in. Because the exiting light fixture would throw the occasional spark when it was turned on. Which seemed like a bad thing.

But there was no real use for the room. We used it as a temporary guest bedroom when my Bride's parents arrived, as it meant not having to go upstairs. But it's located off the center hall near the dining room. And we have bigger, more comfortable guest bedrooms. 

Since it's located on the first floor near the dining room, and we had nothing else to do with it, we decided early on that this would be one of our project rooms. We stripped the wallpaper, and left it a blank slate. We told the crew not to do anything except touch up the plaster. We'd get to it. 

Today was one of those snowy days in Maine, when an indoor project is kind of handy. 

We had decided to make this room into a semi-formal butler's pantry. Dedicated storage for all the glass & dishware we use for entertaining. We still throw semi-regular parties on the scale of a dozen or so to a hundred-&-fifty or more. And in all that, we've managed to accumulate a fair amount of platters and what not. And since we've moved into an old, rambling house with plenty of room, we figure we could get them out of the basement, and into somewhere a little bit more accessible and less dusty. 

But first, we've got to do something about that floor. The floors in the house are a mix of woods - wide pine in the remodeled areas. Older fir and oak or other lumber in some of the less-retouched areas. It's hard to know in this many of them, as they've been painted for years. A few of the rooms had their floors painted a kind of dull maroon, looking none the better for being well worn. 

We decided the simplest thing to do would be to repaint. 

I chose another shade of a gray-green to complement some of the other, traditional colors we had used on the first floor. I wasn't terribly sure if it was quite the right color, but it was within the palette. 

I took my time cutting in the edges, and then planned to roll out the center of the floor. Fortunately, I had a helper. 

For the record, all I told the Boy was to take his nicer clothes off, and change into something he didn't mind getting messy.

He sprinted off and came back wearing what he declared to be his "paintin' clothes!"

You don't have to scratch the surface very hard to get to the Appalachia on this kid. 

The more we put on, the less sure I was I liked it. The color wasn't bad (and it was an improvement to the maroon). But it didn't seem to fit the space, or complement the trim. 

But, at the very least, I figured we were getting a coat of primer down. 

After the whole room was done, I stepped back and took it in, and decided that nope. This was not the color. 

I went through the list of colors we used in the house, and we decided to paint the floor the same as we had used in the upstairs hallway, to match the trim. The color is Concord Buff from Sherwin Williams. A simple, light buttery cream that complements a lot of the old architecture in the house. And I had 2/3 of a can of the floor paint version left in the basement from the earlier work. 

So I tried again. 

Definitely better.

Easier to envision painted cabinets in the room, with a clean, simple palette on the floor and walls. 

To paint a floor, you want something that is hard wearing and will last. Which is why folks used to put lead in their paint. Because that stuff lasts forever. 

But that's bad for our brains, so we looked for oil based paint. Which is getting harder to find. We used a gloss, oil-based marine enamel. A little tougher to work with, and clean up after. And it takes a few days to dry between coats. But it does last longer than latex, for sure. 

The trim is painted in the latex paint of the same color, so I still ended up having to carefully cut in around the edges. 

Fortunately for me, it's a big square (more or less. Nothing in this house is perfectly square anymore). Either way, though, it's just about within the realm of achievable for me. 

The lighting leaves things looking a little more yellow than it actually is - it's all that same, buttery buff, despite my poor shadowed photo above. 

I did find myself wondering while I was painting, how many layers of paint am I going over on these floors? The room I was working on was, we think, part of the early 19th century renovations. And the floor would have been original to it. 3 coats? 5? No idea. Some of the other floors had at least that many. And I've just added another 2.  

But it's done now, and ready for cabinets to be built and dishes to be stacked and ready. 

But that's a project for another snowy weekend. 

The hat skips a generation

Last fall, my mother- and father-in-law moved out from California to be nearer to us in Maine. It's been a real blessing and a privilege for many reasons, not least is that the kids get to spend more time with this set of grandparents. 

The boy has been spending a lot of time with his grandfather, Dardo. 

They look more alike every day. 


New Year's Resolution: v2016

1. Wear flannel more often, unironically.

2. Learn all the words to R.E.M. 'It's the End of the World As We Know It'

3. Call that guy from high school who thought he was so cool because he knew all the lyrics to R.E.M. 'It's the End of the World As We Know It' and I didn't. Tell him he's not. 

4. Convince Alton Brown to participate in a winner-take-all cookoff called "The Bacon Sutra"

5. Convince the executives of Netflix to sponsor my new idea for a reality show: "You probably shouldn't poke that"

6. Convince G.R.R. Martin that not finishing the 'Game of Thrones' book series in 2016 will constitute a crime against humanity under the Geneva convention. 

7. Buy a copy of Freakanomics. Leave it on my shelf with the intent to read it. Someday.

8. Find a shampoo that smells like Jovian afterglow. 

9. Learn enough about the NFL that I can use the phrase "The Gronk, ammiright?" without actually having to watch any sports on tv. 

10. Decide which of the seven bottles of salad dressing in my fridge is actually worth saving. Ruthlessly discard the rest, like I was an all-powerful medieval Japanese Shogun whose word was law within the boundaries of my demesne. 

11. Finish watching 'Shogun'. 

12.  Invent a new flavor popcorn seasoning that becomes all the rage. 

13. Introduce a foreigner to the joy that is a 'Slim Jim' meat snack. 

14. Learn how to tie a chunky man-scarf in a way that looks hip & effortless and like I'm off to fell a tree. 

15. Stop thinking of the floorboard of my car as the Home For Used Parking Vouchers. 

16. Put the smack down on an Islamophobe. 

17. Control the urge to roll my eyes at hearing the word 'signage'. 

18. Accept the fact that loyalty cards are inanimate advertising schtick, and unlikely to scream 'TRAITOR' if I weed them out of my Castanza-wallet & throw them away. 

19.  Learn a new knock-knock joke. 

20. Remind myself on a daily basis that pants are optional in your own house. 

21. Make Siri swear. 

22. Lose fifteen ten some a pound.

23. Take a vote on whether 'puce' actually refers to a reddish-brown or some sickly color yellow-green. Lobby for the latter, based on a childhood misunderstanding. 

24. Sweep the nation. 

25. Stack the Google results for 'Greatest rock band of all time' to correctly identify Styx

Home is a good place to be for the first snowfall

12440466_10153823176586197_7694732748734422346_o.jpg

This time last year, this house was basically a hollowed out shell. Thankfully, we're much more snug this winter. 

The sculpture garden that we inherited stands out from the snow and makes me smile. 

The chickens are snug in their coop. The fruit vines and greenhouse are dormant for the season. 

The snow is still falling, and I won't be going anywhere for a bit (certainly not in my Mini Cooper). So I think I'll just settle down with a cup of soup and a good book, and let the snow come on. 

A good way to end the year. 

Happy all

 Christmas, 2015

Dear friend,

I just set off all the smoke alarms in the house again.

Remember the two wood stoves we bought when we moved to Maine? Because it was cold. And burning things to generate heat, I was assured, was all the rage up here.

The stoves are very pretty. But one of them is impossible for this Georgia native to light without creating a thick, soup-like haze of smoke throughout the first floor.  A smoke that has a will of its own, escaping every crack and joint in the woodstove that I can see. And a few that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when we bought the thing.  Because I seem to be getting worse at lighting it each time I make the attempt. 

The trick, I’ve discovered, is to keep the back door open for the first fifteen or twenty minutes that I’m burning something in the stove. Eventually, it stops smoking, and the fire settles in for a bit. Of course, by that time, the cold wind has been blowing in through the back door, and is threatening to create a new arctic front in the kitchen.

The other stove has never actually been lit since we bought it. It’s too big to fit in the house anywhere except outside in our three-season porch.  The three-season porch which is intended for use from late Spring through early-ish Autumn. Which means that it’s in the one place in the house we can’t go in the one season of the year we could use the extra heat.

How big could a stove be, you ask? It’s about 5 and a half feet high. I’d describe it as more of a fanciful cast iron, wood-burning sculpture than a stove.  In the 1890’s, this thing was like the new iPad. It wasn’t about having the most practical accessory to accomplish the task. It was about having an accessory that was indisputably bigger than anyone else you knew. Never mind if you could fit it into your laptop bag. Or living room. Whatever.  All I know is that the guy at the antique store sold it to us for a song, and delivered it for free.

Yeah.  I’m sort of beginning to see why as well.

Please call me if you’d like a large, cast iron, wood-burningsculpture of your own.

I might just be persuaded to deliver it.

In the spring.

The Grady

 

Chicken Fort Knox

When we left Massachusetts, we gave away all of our remaining chickens.  I think by the time we left, we were down to a dozen or so, and were happily able to find a few folks to take them off our hands. We still had a good number of consistent layers in that bunch, and it wasn't hard to place them. 

Since we moved to Maine, we've been chicken free. Which is one less thing to worry about, on the one hand. And lord knows, we've certainly had more than a couple of things going on to keep up occupied and out of trouble. But the Critter's been bugging me for a while about sorting out the gap. Because those little feathered producers are her source of income.  We've never given the kids an allowance. So sorting out some kind of revenue stream has been at the top of her list for a while. 

I knew this summer that I didn't want to use the old chicken house that came with the property. It was run down, and the run needed some major upkeep. I had my eye on a bigger space. One of the less used buildings on the property. The old pump house. 

When it came time to construct the new coop, I wanted to incorporate the lessons from the past few years.  A few key goals: 

  • It has to be easy to clean. 
  • Predator-proofing is high on my list - secure fencing. Netted run. 
  • The run has to be big enough to accommodate a couple dozen birds. I'm not into letting them range everywhere, because I'm not into trying to find them. 
  • I hate stooping over in the run. So big is the key. 

The pump house is great in almost every way for this. It's big and roomy. (12'x12'). Well lit with several windows. Has electricity run to it already. Has a concrete knee wall (hard for predators to beat). And is pretty reasonably sited on the property (important in a snowy winter).  Plus, it's right across from the greenhouse door - so I can shoo the chickens in there during the winter if I choose, a trick I've heard from old timers up here. 

The site I chose for the run is the opposite side of the pump house from the house - and it's on a bit of a slope. Remember when I said I didn't want to have to stoop over in the run? That meant that the uphill side of the run is almost 8' high. By the time you get down hill, the posts are just about 10' out of the ground. Which means that the 4"x4" posts I had to order were HUGE. But the soil was mostly easy to dig out 2' post holes for. 

The total run space about 24' x 30' (and a little change), with the pump house occupying one interior corner (plans above). Plenty big enough for chickens to enjoy, I think. It's about 50% larger of a run than we had in Massachusetts . 

 I changed the approach to the fencing this time as well. For the bottom 30"-48" or so (it varied depending on the slope, I used a 1" mesh coated wire of a heavier gauge, buried in a 4-6" trench. (I tried for 6" consistently, but had to adjust occasionally for rocks or roots). 

For the top, I used a coated hex mesh (traditional chicken wire). It's not quite as heavy a gauge of wire, but plenty good for the purpose, and a bit cheaper and easier to maneuver than having continued the heavy gauge wire. 

I included plenty of roosts in the run - there were a few lilac stumps and the cross bracing of the posts to make it easy. And in the corners, I used a few of the larger rocks that I had dug up in the digging phase to brace and provide further predator discouragement. 

One other lesson I learned from the first coop I built was how to deal with compost. We tend to bring all the kitchen compost out to the chickens to give them some variety. (Except for anything we cook with chicken in it. Because that seems wrong). 

The problem is, the kids (who do the actual schlepping to and fro, of course) tend to dump it right inside the run's entrance. Meaning that I end up stepping into a pile of slippery whatever when I go into the run. 

Et voila: I created a compost door in the corner opposite from the chicken run main door. This keeps the compost in a neat corner well away from where I go in and out. 

Sorted. 

We had plenty of knotted netting material left to cover the run - most of the chickens I've lost over the years have been to hawks. Like 2:1 for any other cause. Keeping the chickens in the run (and the predators OUT - there was one horribly bloody afternoon when a young red tailed hawk actually followed the chickens into the old coop through the little chicken door and commenced to slaughtering. It was a very messy day) is about the best thing I can do to help. 

This netting is frightfully expensive, but comes in large lots. I had set it aside for the movers to bring up to Maine for us. Fortunately, we had some competent supervision to get it unrolled and up on the roof. 

On the inside, there were a few things I was keen to address this time around. After a few years of working in and on the old coop, I had some ideas of how to improve. Mostly around how to keep the thing clean more easily. (Even though this is the Critter's business, and she does do all of the daily watering/feeding/egg-collecting, I still seem to end up doing the majority of the coop cleanup. I'm not sure that happened. I have a sneaking suspicion it may indicate which one of us is more naturally inclined to 'management', and which one to 'grunt poop cleaner upper'). 

The inside is bright and sunny - and there's an electric overhead light as well, which I can set on a timer (important during the long winters. Chickens want more than 12 hours of light in a day to lay at peak productivity). 

I gave myself plenty of room for food and other tool storage inside the coop. And I lined the bottom of the interior partition with a knee wall to keep the shavings from spilling out quite so badly. 

You can see the handy hole for the cord of the water warmer. Again - necessary to provision for the cold winters up here. Chickens deal remarkably well with the cold - the settlers managed quite well for a long time before the convenience of heat lamps came along, after all -  but they do need a constant supply of fresh water. 

The nesting boxes are easy, but even here, I managed to incorporate an improvement or two over my previous attempts. One: sloped roof. I know.. that sounds obvious. But while I gave the hens plenty of roosting space, I don't want to encourage them to roost on top of the nesting boxes. It gets messy pretty quickly. 

Two, the roosting bar in front of the nesting boxes (a simple 2"x4" runner) is offset slightly from the front of the nesting boxes. 

IMG_9846.JPG

It's not a wide enough gap for an egg to fall through - not even a bantam egg. But it IS wide enough to easily push out the shavings from the nesting box and let them fall onto the ground. Which will make cleaning up the nesting boxes easy enough for even my daughter to take on. 

Delegation! I'm learning! 

You can still see the old pump house components on the side of the wall - this building's original purpose on the farm is still very evident. 

I'll keep that closed and out of the way. 

The concrete knee wall did mean accommodating the hatch a bit - but nothing the chickens won't easily learn to navigate. (I've seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall train his chickens to a much higher ladder)

The last major mistake-inspired-innovation was a simple way to lift and shift the roosting bars when it came time to clean. I had made the error of permanently attaching the roosting ladder to the wall in the last coop (with a simple pair of screws. But then I had to go get my drill every time it came time to clean to remove it). 

Trust me - this is the single biggest area of manure compilation, as the chickens will poop frequently while roosting. So addressing this from the beginning was high on my list. 

I used a simple pair of eye & hook latches to make it secure, but easy to lift out and hang whenever cleaning time comes around. 

That's pretty much it. The chicks have arrived - just a few to get us started (it's hard to source healthy chicks this time of year), but George has already made it known to them exactly whose herd they belong to.  

dog chicks.jpg

They're a little small yet to move in, but soon enough. 

Let's hope they enjoy their new home. 

 

Even the bacon tastes better when we cook it here

When we bought the house, there were 3 kitchen areas (and that's not counting the kitchen in the in-law apartment over the barn). One kitchen for the small apartment in the back of the house, another central 'kitchenette' for student boarders. We knew we'd be ripping both of those out as a part of the remodel. 

That left the principle house kitchen. It was dark and close, with a low, swayed ceiling. The space was tucked into the extended/converted 'back house' or barn, squeezed between the dining room and the rear stair case, and almost completely filled with a pinewood island, cabinets and tiled countertops. It did have a pretty new kick-ass professional viking stove that we ended up saving and moving into the barn's in-law apartment. But otherwise, we knew it wasn't laid out well for how we wanted to use the space.  

For example: we had this wild thought that it might be nice to have enough light to see what we were cooking.  That lamp on the counter? That was a necessary addition. Because the space was that dark.  

kitchen.jpeg

Also, see that brick wall above the range? It's kind of hard to tell from the photo, but the mortar had sort of started to fall out in chunks. Which didn't bother me too much, except for occasionally finding mortar crumbs at the bottom of my soup bowl at the end of a meal. 

Not until I came home from work one evening to my Bride's steely-eyed refusal to use the kitchen anymore. This after a family of mice poked their head out of one of the gaps in the brick, and gave her whatever the rodent equivalent of the one fingered salute is while she was trying to toss together a stir fry.  

We ate a lot of take-out after that. 

Fortunately, that was only a few days before we moved into the barn apartment, and got to some serious work on the house demolition

The end product definitely managed to tick the box of "we'd like to have some more light in this space".

20150731_145619.jpg

In many ways, this kitchen was at the heart of the house renovation.

First, it's where we end up spending the majority of our time together as a family. We all love to cook. And even more, we love to eat. The kids end up doing their homework at the counter while we make dinner. Dinner parties end up congregating around the appetizers laid out on the counter. It's the center of the house - pretty much the point you pass through to get anywhere else, one way or the other. 

Second, we knew we wanted to relocate the two stair cases that had been constraining the space. The stairs to the basement, and the back stairs to the second floor were both moved to other locations (the 'up' stairs went along the wall - as you'll see below, and the basement entrance was re-located under the front stairs, in a different part of the house entirely). 

This gave us a huge amount of freedom to design the space to our liking, with plenty of room to stretch things out as we liked.  

We sketched out some basic plans for our awesome architect, who fleshed in the details. (This was the same guy that came back to me with the idea of turning the old 'indoor hot tub' space into a meat room. I love this guy). 

We did make some changes to those planes along the way as we tore back the walls and saw what we had to work with. Those exposed beams and supports, for example - many of which still bear evidence of the whitewash applied when the building was a dairy barn - we left bare and worked into the room. 

One of my favorite ideas, though, was something we saw once on some home renovation show on cable a long time ago. My Bride & I have been joking about this idea for years, and given the opportunity, we insisted we include it from the beginning. Look again at that picture above... there are two dishwashers. 

Think about how insanely clever this is. A dishwasher is basically just a cabinet that happens to wash dishes. Stick some dirty dishes in it. Press a button, and voila: clean. I take dishes out as I need, put dirty ones in the other dishwasher. Press another button, and clean. And the cycle flips. 

Genius. 

The biggest argument we had when we sold our house in Massachusetts was that we had to leave our Aga cooker. My Bride wanted to take it with us. I argued that the people buying our house almost certainly expected to have an oven in the kitchen when they moved in. And they'd likely notice the large hole in the wall if we removed it. I wasn't sure that my Bride bought my logic, but I finally promised that we'd go find another Aga when we moved. 

This one is blue. We found it on Craigslist and brought it home. 

I'm still in love with the Aga as a cooking device, and think I always will be - an oven designed by a nobel prize winning physicist is inherently awesome. And it's even handier up here, where we're two hours closer to the north pole. The kids cuddle up next to its radiant warmth on a cold day, and it is simply lovely to never have to pre-heat the oven when I'm set to cook. 

The cabinets are all from a local place up in Bath, ME. The Kennebec guys designed these beautiful hand-planed cabinets for us to accommodate the giant slab of dark soapstone we found. And we kept the whole thing light by painting it a buttery cream. I never thought I'd end up with painted cabinets, but I love these. 

The leaded-glass hutch in the corner is another built in, incorporating material reclaimed from the home (as mentioned here). And you can see where the stairs shifted to on the other end of the kitchen, along with the little bit of remaining brick - turns out that most of the brick was simply a facade behind the original stove (which was located right in the corner where the bottom landing of those stairs ended up). The bricks that are left are exposed from the back of the dining room fireplace. 

One of the other neat features that ended up solving a problem for us was the downdraft vent behind the range top. 

We cook a lot of stir-frys and such - and while I love my Aga, there are times when you simply need an open flame. In the quest for a perfect cook top, I must have visited and researched and studied and asked around and visited some more about cook tops for months before we settled on this four-burner Wolf. But putting a range top in the island meant we had to figure out how the heck we were going to sort out ventilation. Because this thing puts out a lot of BTUs. And I didn't want to smoke us out of the house every time I turned it on. 

Enter the awesomely retractable downdraft fan. Press a button, and it rises up from the island like the monolith in 2001. (one buddy suggested I hook up a speaker to have it play the opening theme song every time it was raised. My Bride vetoed this.) Press another button and it goes away again. And the thing is powerful enough to suck all the smoke down and out through the floor, avoiding the need for an overhead hood altogether. Hell - this thing could suck the color out of paint. And still somehow quiet. 

Technology is awesome. 

We turned a portion of the side entry around, and created a pantry space off the kitchen. (The window at back leads into the mudroom now). The color was a bold choice to contrast against the light wood we had in the space, and the shelves were designed with purpose.

The back shelves hold appliances - including the power to run them, without having to move them out of their spots - and the side shelves are sized for specific needs. The visible shelves here are intended for canned and preserved goods. The opposite side (out of view) is deep enough for a large cereal box. 

Anything deeper, and we'd lose things in the clutter. This works perfectly for us. 

This kitchen turned out to be everything we could have hoped for, and immediately turned into the heart of our home that we knew that it would. It's bright in the sunshine, and warm in the evening as the autumn turns to winter. It's practically laid out, with plenty of easily accessed storage. Yes, it used up an extravagantly large amount of the back of the house, but the farmhouse is a long, rambling building, with room to spare, so why not? And because of the choice of warm materials, it managed to remain somehow cozy.  

And we haven't seen the mice since we finished. So we love it. 

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. 

FullSizeRender.jpg


And then there was that one time I was invited to the White House

Yeah. That White House. 

Last week, I was going on vacation. I hadn't taken any time off since Christmas, and what with the house renovation, the new job and all, I was feeling pretty vacation-ready. We had dropped off the kids at camp over the weekend, and were truly kid-free for the first time in about 13 years. 

I was seriously looking forward to time away. 

I told my assistant at work before I left, 'Don't call me for anything. I don't care if the place burns down. If that happens, I'll figure it out when I get back and I see a pile of ashes.'

On Wednesday, my Bride and I were driving our way out into the loveliest parts of Vermont to a beautiful inn for a few days. When we got there to check in, our room wasn't quite ready, so we wandered over to a restaurant for a leisurely late lunch on the porch.  My phone buzzed with a text from my assistant.

Shit. 

I sighed, and pulled out my phone while my Bride gave me a nearly-tolerant glare. 

Um. Ok. That makes the cut. 

Let me back up a moment. 

When we moved to Maine last year and I took up my new role as CIO at IDEXX, I spent the first few months drinking from the fire hose. Learning a new industry (it's awesome). Learning a new team (they're terrific). And engaging with a new community in Maine & the Portland area (I love it). 

Early days, I had the chance to get to know a partnership program established a couple of years ago called 'Project>Login' - a joint effort between the university system across Maine and a number of companies in the state to create & highlight new paths to technology careers. I've always been a passionate believer in the value of internships, and was glad to add my voice to the conversation around what new skills are needed in the industry, to help degree programs continue to shape and evolve the skills of graduates & make them an ever more valuable pipeline of talent. 

That's good for them, as it increases their market value. And it's good for me, as a guy responsible for making sure we've got the best talent we can get. 

More recently, Project>Login launched an effort to create new opportunities that stretch beyond the typical university path. Identifying veterans, or those with a less traditional education, but with a knack or experience-based learning that builds technical expertise. 

Since I'm both a veteran (5 years Army active duty as a translator) and a person of a less traditional educational path (I completed about 2 full years at Georgia Tech before I ran out of money and joined the aforementioned Army), I told them they could certainly count on me for whatever support I could provide. 

So they wrote up a grant application for Federal support, to which I was able to add some specific commitments from my organization. 

 

The White House liked it so much, they chose to recognize Maine as a 'Tech Hire' community, and provide support & development services to aid the training, apprenticeship and awareness efforts under the program (along with a few others like it across the country). 

When the recognition came through, the program sponsor asked if I could join him as a representative partner from the industry side. 

I looked across the lunch table at my Bride and asked her if she'd mind a bit of an interruption to our vacation schedule. You know. Just this once. Because: White House. 

She's a pretty generous girl. She said I could go.

In the morning, we arrived in Washington, and the program director and I had the chance to go sit down with Senator King, who is also the former governor of Maine. I had met him before not long after I moved to Maine, along with a handful of other senior leaders at my company when he came to tour our new campus facility. 

We talked a bit about hiring talent in Maine, our support for internships and other paths, and what we're doing to attract and retain good people. I had the chance to thank him for his past leadership in Maine in creating a program where every middle school child is given a macbook for their school work, and the digital tools are incorporated into the learning agenda (first program of its kind across the US at that comprehensive level). The Critter - now going into 8th grade - was a beneficiary of that program. 

We took the obligatory picture together, and he asked us to walk with him to his Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, where they were going to be briefed on the proposed Iran treaty. It wasn't asked for, but I asked him as a constituent, a veteran, and a former member of the intelligence community to please consider voting in favor, as my best read of the alternatives kind of suck.  He provide a very thoughtful response, indicating that at least for now, he was leaning that way. 

Damn. It felt good to interact that way with a Senator. 

The event at the White House included a few hundred people, and a list of thirty or forty start ups from all kinds of industries. Technology. Health Care. Civil Service. Bow Ties. There were entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and agency representatives from local, state & federal levels. 

And after a bit, in came President Obama to greet & talk about what was needed to continue to lead the market place & discover new talent from all walks of life, and the support we all needed to come together to provide to ensure that those opportunities exist for small businesses and new ideas to succeed.  

Look. I didn't vote for this guy either time. I'm more or less a small-government, leave-me-alone Republican.  But I'd gladly buy the guy who gave this speech a beer. Because this was on point, and right in line with what I was glad to be present to support. 

I didn't get to shake his hand, or to meet and greet - a few, select chosen were staged behind him to get that honor. But I was one of the ~400 or so in the room that got to sing 'happy birthday' to the man who holds the office. (it was actually his birthday). And that was pretty cool. 

And then, I came home to continue my vacation. Which at the moment, mostly consists of unpacking boxes now that the house is finally certified & ready for us to live in. 

I haven't written as much of late because, well, it's been busy. But I will share more of the house renovation shortly, now that it's all complete.

It's even more amazing than the White House. 

Well. Pretty close, anyway.


Springtime. One way or another.

Never mind the fact that it's actually snowing outside as I sit and write this. (It's the end of March, people. WHAT THE HELL). I'm thinking about fresh greens. Because it's the end of March, people, and that's what you do. 

One of the most compelling parts of the property that made us lose our minds is the greenhouse. A full on, proper-panes-of-glass, walk in greenhouse. The north wall is made of double-thickness brick, to absorb the sun's heat during the day and cast it back into the space. I was still harvesting greens and other vegetables out of the greenhouse after Thanksgiving last year. 

All I could think when I saw it was: Let's see the goddamned deer get to my tomatoes NOW. 

Honestly, I've barely even thought about a garden in our new space. The snow is still more than a foot thick on the ground outside, and everything is pretty dormant. Plus, my brain-space has been more than occupied between the new gig and trying to keep up with the renovation of the actual house. That and trying not to slip and bust my ass on the way out to the car every morning. (It's not easy looking graceful on black ice when you're wearing ostrich skin cowboy boots). 

But the other day I saw a new seed display at the hardware store, and it reminded me that in other parts of the country, people are not just thinking about growing things, they can actually see the dirt where they intend to put it. 

The inside of the greenhouse was a mess. The brick wall is actually covered by a grape vine - lovely white grapes that the previous owner plucked and handed to the kids to eat as we toured the property last summer. That's because the inside of the greenhouse actually gets too warm without something to diffuse the radiant heat from the brick, and the greenery of the leaves acts as a perfect balance. 

There were leftover tomato plants poking up through the center table, and straggly bits of wilted cabbage on the ground to be raked and cleaned up. But even with all the snow and ice we accumulated this winter, the greenhouse was lovely and intact. Even scraping off a little bit of snow from the sloping roof allowed enough sunlight through into the interior to warm it up above freezing, and let the remainder just melt right off. 

Yesterday, with a clear blue sky, the temperature outside was around 30 degrees when I stepped into the greenhouse. Inside, it was over 70. 

I started raking and sorting, and quickly shed both my outer coat, and then my sweater. I was down to a t-shirt in no time, and reveling in the warmth. It's no wonder the snow didn't stay long on the greenhouse roof - it is incredibly efficient. I could have probably gotten out and planted in the greenhouse a couple of weeks ago, even with thicker snow still on the ground. 

The greenhouse cleaned up pretty quickly - I pulled out all the detritus of last summer and swept the paths. The two long edges have felt paper down to keep the weeds out, and the center patch of soil - about 40" wide - is surmounted by the chickenwire frame above. It's perfect when the tomatoes come up, offering a great support trellis. 

I hadn't planned extensively on what to plant this year. Given that we only moved in last October, I don't know the property well enough to have developed an overall garden plan. There are plenty of grapevines, raspberry canes and blackberry vines to keep me busy. Plus 30 or so blueberry bushes and a smattering of fruit trees. So I figured I'd limit my annual vegetable planting to keep things manageable while I get my head around what might go where. The previous owner had a potato patch, as well as several squash varieties going behind the barn, and I'll probably do that as well. Maybe I'll go crazy and add beans or peas to the mix. But all other vegetables this year will come from the greenhouse. 

I had picked up a couple of packs of spinach and arugula, and thought I'd try my hand at starting tomatoes from seed, since I was beginning the season a bit early. Some of the seed I put into the egg carton cups with a bit of fresh soil. Others I planted underneath the framework, along with all the greens. 

After my previous pleasure at what a simple cold frame in the garden could do to extend the season a few weeks, my pleasure at getting into the greenhouse and having all that delicious room to grow things literally a month or more before I'd otherwise be able to get my hands dirty is positively visceral. 

From my initial simple list, I've added peppers to the ambition for this year, and probably one or two other staples that would be out of reach due to such a short season after The Winter That Will Not End.  But right now, I'm just daydreaming about what those first tomatoes are going to taste like, and discovering that I'm suddenly a bit more patient with the melting snow than I was before. 

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! 

And we call the snow shovel "Back talk"

One of the consequences of a construction project is a lot of spare wood lying around. Piles of it. Buckets of it. And this is Maine. We don't waste anything up here. Certainly not anything burnable. Because it was -13 degrees here this morning when I walked the dog.  And things I can burn for precious warmth are treasured commodities. 

Another consequence of Maine winter is a lot of indoor time. We have a 12 year and a 7 year old sharing the same house. Which sometimes leads to noise. And noise is not nearly as treasured. 

Our contractors (who are, by the way, fantastic), are all fathers. They understand that sometimes, a little manual labor is the perfect educational aid. We explained the situation, and made a special request. They were happy to set aside the scrap for us, and label it appropriately. 

A little too much indoor time? A little too much sniping at your younger brother? A little too much whining about what your sister said? A few too many questions about what I asked you to do the first time? 

We have the answer for all of that.

This pile is in the wrong place. Please move it over there.

All of it.

Neatly.

Until you're done. 

I feel warmer already. 

Harmonica might also have been acceptable

"Boy, it's time to choose an instrument." 

"Which instrument gets all the chicks, Daddy?"

"Banjo players get the most chicks." 

"The banjo is too heavy! I can't play that yet. What about the second most chicks?"

"Ukulele. Ukulele players get the second most chicks. After only the banjo players."

"That's it! I want to play the ukulele."

 

And the lessons begin. User your powers for good, my son. 

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." 

laundry.jpg

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. 

Merry Christmas - 2014

Dear friend

It’s snowing again. We’re in Maine now.  It does that a lot. 

There’s a family of moose outside the door, knocking to be let in. They look cold. There are 4 of them.  And they’re all bigger than I am. I’m pretty sure moose aren’t house broken. I’m not letting them in. 

We moved to Maine late this summer. We found this amazing farmhouse from the 1780’s. It’s huge. And rambling. And it has a thousand square foot greenhouse that can grow ripe tomatoes in October.  It has grapevines and apple trees. There is a 40’ tall chestnut tree and several black walnut trees that produce wheelbarrows full of black walnuts. I have never eaten a black walnut in my life, and the chestnuts turned out to be the poisonous kind. But I have always wanted a chestnut tree. So we moved. 

Winter here starts somewhere mid October.  We’ve had 4 snowfalls already, and the pond out back is frozen solid enough for the neighbor kids to walk across it. I told our children not to go near it. I grew up in Georgia, and I’m pretty sure that the ice has to be at least 4 feet thick to support the weight of an on-the-small-side second grader.  

We bought two wood stoves for the house, because it felt “in-keeping” with the home. And also because the previous owners had suggested they wanted to take their wood stoves with them.  You know why they wanted to take theirs? Because it gets pretty damn cold up here. In addition to the wood stoves, we also have an oil furnace, electric heat base boards, a kerosene heat system, and propane stoves. 

That’s right. Stoves. Because we have more than one.  We have bought a house that requires us to send money to every utility company in the state. Giuia complains that I haven’t quite figured out how to hook up the new wood stoves, and the entire house fills with smoke every time I light a fire. I tell her in Maine, we call that ‘homey’. 

Maine is a lot of things. Portland’s got a surprisingly amazing restaurant scene. It’s cool without being hipster. It’s rural urbane. People talk about “traffic” when three cars all pull over on the same stretch of road near a promising blueberry patch. People wear beards and flannel plaid unselfconsciously, and take pride in their Bean boots as a “local shop.”  (The Critter invented a new word for the ubiquitous uniform of Mainers. “Flaid”. Flannel + Plaid. Get it? We’re coining it. Feel free to use it, but she’s going to send you a bill if you do. She’s like that.) 

We’ve decided we like it. You should come by and visit.  But now I’ve got to go. The moose are knocking more insistently. I think they’re actually here to complain about the smoke from the wood-stoves. I hate impertinent wildlife. 

The Gradys.