A lesson in dumplings

Since Snowpocalypse 2016 decided to stick it to our more southerly neighbors this weekend, we took advantage of the time to get together with one of our dear friends who has been promising for years to teach us to make traditional Chinese dumplings. 

I have long considered myself something of a connoisseur of dumplings. I try them at nearly every restaurant or opportunity I get. But my expertise only extends to the eating half of the work. I've certainly never made them from scratch, and was at somewhat of a loss as how to start. Our friend asked what kind I liked to eat (since that is apparently where my expertise stops).  I like the pork & cabbage variety best. 

During our conversation about what ingredients we needed to make sure we had on hand, I asked her if she used the frozen dumpling wrappers you can buy at the Asian market. I thought I was being pretty suave demonstrating that I even knew that there was such a thing as frozen dumpling wrappers. She made a face, and shook her head at me. 

"No. We will start by making the dough." 

Um. Ok. What goes into the dough?  I was imagining a special trip to get the ingredients from New York.

Nope. Just all purpose flour and water. 

"Really? Just all purpose flour? Like.. the all purpose flour I buy all the time?" 

"What did you think it was?"

"Well.. I don't know. Magical dumpling flour?"

That prompted another 'are you ok?' face. I quickly moved on. 

"OK. How much do you put in?"

"Enough for how many dumplings you want to make." 

Well yeah. That makes sense, I suppose. 

A lot of the directions took this form. There was very little measuring involved. It was done by feel, or heft, or my favorite - by smell. 

The dough was rolled and kneaded until it was quite firm. Just room temperature water, and what I think was about 4 or so cups of flour. But maybe it was 5.  Whatever it was, it was 'enough'. 

"How much salt do you add to the meat?"

"Until it smells like it is the right amount."

The ingredients were simple:

  • Ground pork (I ground it this morning from sausage trim left from on of our pigs. This was was named Rocky). We used about 2 lbs.  
  • Chopped ginger - only about a half a thumb's worth, chopped fine
  • Chopped onion - only because I forgot to go buy scallions. I used one onion, and tossed it through the grinder at the end (a good way to push the last meat through the grinder as well). If you were using scallions, you should chop 4 or 5 very fine
  • Chopped cabbage. I used about 3/4 head of a Savoy cabbage, as it's leafier and closer to Chinese cabbage. I chopped up about a quarter of it, and was told "finer". When I got the consistency right, our friend said "Good. Now chop more."
  • A tablespoon or so of white sugar.
  • Sesame oil. Just a few drops. 
  • Canola oil. Maybe an 1/4 cup, divided into two parts. 
  • Salt & white pepper

When our friend asked for chopsticks to stir the meat, I whipped out a pair I had bought on a whim a few years ago at an Asian market. "I will use these for stir fry's!" I declared. Which I did. Once.  They have rested in our drawer from that moment until today. I was rather smug at how my laziness made me look rather clever and worldly when I could produce them on demand. 

 Our friend carefully mixed everything together until smooth. 

The ginger, pork, salt & pepper were stirred together with the sesame oil and half the canola oil. 

'Don't mix the salt & pepper in with the vegetables. It will leach the water out.'

The rest of the oil was mixed in with the cabbage (and scallions if you've added). And only then was everything mixed together.  She would pause and smell the mixture occasionally to determine if the flavors were right. If it wasn't salty enough, you wouldn't smell the sesame correctly, she said.  

When she said it was good, I leaned over the bowl and smelled the meat before nodding sagely. 

With the dough done resting, we began to roll it out and chop it into the small balls for each dumpling. I got pretty ok at this part, though I was not nearly as fast as my teacher, who could whip out a flat, perfectly circular dumpling wrapper in about 4 seconds. 

It's a two handed exercise - one hand on the rolling pin, and one on the ball of dough, stretching and spinning it a little as you go, leaving a little hump of thicker dough in the middle. 


With a few done, we started on the really hard part: stuffing and folding them. 

Each took a healthy tablespoon of filling, and with some magical twisting and finger sorcery, out popped a perfectly formed dumpling. 

Not a "that looks pretty good" dumpling (which is about as well as I ever managed). But a "looks like it just came out of the restaurant kitchen professional level" dumpling. 

She tried to teach me several times, and my big clumsy fingers managed to sort of get the knack. My Bride, on the other hand, managed pretty well after a couple of pointers.

We even had the Critter trying. 

Even with a lot of practice, you could tell which were made by whom, when they lined up on the board.  

We may, or may not have gotten a little competitive over whose looked better. 

I'll save you from guessing. These weren't mine. 

Once we had enough ready, we started test boiling a few. 

"How long will they boil?"

"Put them in the water, and then let the water come back to a boil. Then add water again so it stops boiling, and let it come back to a full boil. Do that three times." 

Wait... um. What? 

I had to stop and replay that in my head, before I could make it out. But you know what? That totally worked. They came out perfectly done, with the great quality meat and the light, vegetable notes of the cabbage and  spices all perfectly balanced. 

We served them with a dipping sauce made from lots of finely minced garlic, soy sauce and chili vinegar.  When making this at home yourself, use more vinegar than soy sauce. 

I ate so many that I felt stuffed like a dumpling myself. 

Not only were they absolutely amazing, but it was so much fun to be taught by our friend to make something her mom and grandmother had taught her (even if she did laugh herself silly at my antics trying to make my dumplings look reasonably similar to her professional ones). A wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

Only two weeks until Chinese New Year's, when dumplings are a traditional food. I think this year, we'll be able to celebrate in style! 


Eating local

I cured this de-boned ham for 21 days in a cider brine recipe taken from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book 'The River Cottage Meat Book'.

I took it out of the brine, and boiled it for 3 hours. Then roasted it for 1.5 hours wth a thick and lovely Dijon & brown sugar glaze.

Served with roast new potatoes tossed in a little sea salt. So damn delicious.  Proving once again that time & patience can yield more delicious results than any fancy recipe. 

The Boy was with standing in the kitchen when I pulled it out of the brine and asked, 'Which pig was this?'

This lovely girl was raised in our backyard about 50 yards from the oven she was cooked in. Her name was Tocino. That's some local food. 

That'll do, pig. That'll do.

Things I get asked at work

I am the CIO of a multi-billion dollar diagnostics & technology company.

If you don't know what a CIO is, that's ok. My mother doesn't either. It's shorthand for 'Chief Information Officer'.  If that explanation didn't help clarify much, see the previous comment about my mother.  It basically means I am responsible for IT, and all that computer and software stuff. I help automate, and create new ecommerce channels, and drive supply chain efficiencies, and new mobile apps, and other software kind of things. 

Which sounds fancy. But the most typical question I get asked at work by my colleagues? 

'How many pigs DO you have at home, anyway'

One of our senior recruiters asked me that yesterday. She followed it up, sort of awkwardly with '... my 4 year old son wants to know.' 

It's a hard question to answer. I have zero pigs. And one pig. And two pigs. 

Zero: the number of pigs currently alive in my backyard. 

One: the number of pigs buried near the woodline

Two: the number of pigs in my freezer(s) or hanging to cure. Well. More or less. I've been working on cutting that number down lately. I just made ~18 pounds of mexican style chorizo (the soft kind you fry up with huevos for your tortilla), as the Critter pointed out that we hadn't made any in a while, and I had a lot of sausage trim ready for grinding.  (That's not me in the picture above, by the way. But that's about the size of the batch I made).  This weekend, I'll be making two different kinds of bacon - both English, wet cure and smoked streaky bacon. 

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Pigs are born in the spring, raised during the summer, and go to slaughter in the fall. Unless you're intending to keep a breeder, there's no reason for a pig to see its first birthday. You can read more about this in a fantastic book I picked up recently on the history of the domestication of pigs, Lesser Beasts

'Er... I'm just going to tell my four year old that you'll be getting some new baby pigs in the spring.'

Wait. Come back. Why are you walking away? I am your CIO!  We haven't talked about pigs feet and pork pie yet... 

Why I gave my 8 year old a rifle for Christmas

A few weeks ago, I turned on the radio to hear some armed militants took over an abandoned visitor center on federal grounds.  A week or two before that, a couple of religious zealots 'borrowed' someone's automatic rifles, and tragically killed several people at a health center. The president recently spoke out against the ongoing incidents of gun violence. 

So what the hell was I thinking, buying my 8 year old son a rifle? 

OK. It's an air rifle. It shoots .177 caliber pellets. Or the classic, good old fashioned BB's. It's not exactly something he's about to take out and bag a deer with.  But I'm quite, quite sure that there are folks who would still raise an eyebrow.

I went to class with one of them. 

A few years ago, I took a Massachusetts certified gun safety class. It's a requirement for obtaining a gun license in Massachusetts. (Massachusetts has very interesting laws on gun licensing - beyond a couple of basic statewide rules like the safety class, the final issuance and requirements for a gun license are down to the town police chief. In our former town, the additional requirements included obtaining two letters of reference from other residents. Which I actually think is a pretty clever rule. If you're crazy, your neighbors will probably know better than anyone.) 

There were 8 or 10 of us in the class, which met in a training room in the police station. The instructor was an off duty cop, earning an extra few bucks on his weekend. I remember there were a couple of folks in their 20's. A retired Air Force colonel that I had met previously through a mutual neighbor. A 70-something farmer who had lived all his life in town, raising cattle. And a few other random residents. I put myself in that last bucket. 

There was one woman in the class who waited about half an hour into the class before making it clear that she was uncomfortable with firearms in general, and with people who liked them in particular. The instructor looked at her askew once or twice, but he was unfailingly patient and polite. An hour or two into the class, the woman told a story about a recent trip down to Florida, and her horror at the number of gun stores, and people that frequented them. 

"Those people," she said, "even bring their kids along."

Finally, even the instructor was driven to ask. "Lady, why are you here?"

"My father used to work for Colt. And I'm probably going to inherit his antique handgun collection. But I still don't like guns." 

Yeah. Ok then. 

Towards the end of class, we shifted to the practical part of the lesson.  I hadn't said much during the class. I think I was near the end of the list to load the pistols and dry fire as a demonstration that we had listened and understood the instructions. Even the colonel struggled with this. (In fairness, he was Air Force. My expectations weren't high). 

I loaded, readied and squeezed the trigger. The instructor chuckled. "Not your first time?"

"I learned to shoot from my grandfather when I was 6. I served five years active duty army. I'm from Georgia. I'm basically the guy that lady over there was talking about."

That earned me a couple of chuckles, and at least one dirty look.  

My snarkiness aside, I do find myself a bit conflicted about it all. My Bride has never been comfortable with keeping a gun in the house while the children are small. There truly are too many preventable accidents. And I'm not a gun advocate for reasons of self-defense. Or for hunting. (Though both are perfectly valid arguments). Personally, I enjoy the engineering and the craftsmanship of gun smithing. I'm an engineer by training and inclination. And operating a finely made machine of any sort is a pleasure.  There is something intimate and personal about the learning to operate a tool like a gun. It's a process that is generally taught one on one. Like my grandfather taught me in his backyard, with a .22 bolt action that he had owned for more than 40 years at the time. 

Of course, by now I also know all of the arguments against gun ownership. We lived in Europe for several years. And I still haven't bought a firearm for myself. When/as I buy one, I want it to be the right one for me (a .44 caliber Winchester 1873 rifle. I've become pretty specific in my want), but I haven't really gotten around to it. 

I am a lifetime member of the NRA, but I do believe in universal background checks. And I do believe in reasonable limits on the types of firearms that should be available to the public. I've fired fully automatic weapons of various kinds, both in and since my time in uniform. And the power is both exhilarating and terrifying. And even though we moved to a state that doesn't require a license to buy and carry a firearm, I think we probably should. If I have to take a test to get behind the wheel of a 2,000 pound potential weapon and take it out on the roads, I should probably be ok with taking a test before picking up and carrying a device intended to be a weapon. 

The Boy had taken 'riflery' at summer camp last year, firing more or less the same kind of air rifle. I was certainly supportive. He spends enough time shooting zombies, Nazis, or zombie-Nazis on video games. Understanding the difference between a gun in a video game and handling a real weapon that has no extra lives or restarts is a worthy lesson. 

And we do live in Maine. Many of his friends come from houses with guns in the home. My neighbor takes his three boys bear hunting. There's a tradition and culture of hunting and independence here that - whatever your political sway may be - you simply can't ignore. And when he's at a friend's house and sees a gun, I want him to be comfortable enough and know enough to recognize all the many reasons why his hands should stay safely away. It is not a toy. It is a responsibility. 

So when the pre-Christmas thought arose that this might be the year to bring a 'starter' rifle into our house, I broached the topic with my Bride. I was armed with all the stories, logic and arguments above. 

She was, as usual, three steps ahead of me. "Of course. That makes sense. Get it."

Yes, it's only an air rifle. And it only shoots pellets. But we established some firm, but simple rules up front.: 

  • Always treat the rifle as if it is loaded. 
  • We shoot together. He never shoots on his own.
  • The rifle stays in my office until/unless we are ready to shoot.

That's pretty much it. We reviewed safe handling, and all the components of the rifle together. He's actually a pretty good shot, considering that it's a pretty basic rifle.  It's not a toy to take out and play 'Cowboy' with.

It's a serious item, and a mark of my trust in his good judgment. And he has responded with a sense of responsibility and maturity that impressed me. He's got a very healthy sense of respect for the trust placed in him. 

The role of gun owner rights in our society is a complicated one, and considering the history, traditions, and prevalence of firearms in distribution, we're not going to solve it any time soon. (For context: there are 14.5 million hunting licenses distributed in the US last year, per the national Fish & Wildlife services. Compared to 125,000 active duty members of the Syrian Army. That's a lot of guns in distribution). 

The discussion is not a theoretical one. It's a practical one. And teaching respect & safety is core to how I want to arm our kids for handling it when it's their turn.

Pun very much intended. 

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


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. 


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. 


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.  


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".


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. 


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"'


(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. 


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.


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.


Until you're done. 

I feel warmer already.