Saturday, September 27, 2008


It's a misty, moisty morning in Maine, with the oaks and maples glowing at the edge of the fallow fields. Yesterday morning, before the rains came, I started my day with the glimpse of a very fat porcupine waddling home after a long night of carousing amongst the orchard trees. What happens to porcupines when it rains? Do their little quills soak up the water and get all soft and bendy? They look awkward enough, waddling around all spiky and dry. Being a waterlogged porcupine can't be at all comfortable.

I've been thinking a lot about staying dry--and staying warm. The hurricane season has graced New England with torrential remnants of several major storms, causing unusual flooding and big paychecks for anyone doing post-flood remediation or roof repair. To add to the fun, the just-published Farmer's Almanac for 2009 claims our coming winter will be a very cold one--at a time when heating prices are extraordinarily high. Our response has been to embark on a building project that has all the bankers scratching their heads: the conversion of an outbuilding into a serviceable, easy-to-heat house and the accompanying conversion of our 1830s farmhouse into... an outbuilding. We refer to this as "rural real estate flipping."

The out- building-- a twenty-year-old post-and-beam woodshop with a metal roof-- is being transformed with the help of many ready hands, clever minds, and some very creatively-sourced building materials. A few weeks ago, we removed the old tongue-and-groove boards that formed the woodshop's cathedral ceiling. This past week, they've been reinvented as subflooring for the 3/4 story created by dropping the ceiling down. We've also made several spelunking trips to our two nearest "ReStores.," On our first trip we scored a beautiful casement window for our woodshed-turned-bathroom. It was priced at $45, but we made use of a $10 coupon and gleefully absconded with a window worth at least $200 for a mere $35. It looked brand new, too--the ReStore gets a lot of new windows donated by contractors due to improper sizing. We are happy to take an off-size window, as we can adjust our plans to make it fit!

Rare is the home construction project that adheres to its timeline as planned. Ours is no different; the move-in date has skipped down at least one full page in the calendar. We had hoped to complete our move by November first--the Celtic New Year--but now we've set our sights on the Solstice instead. Regardless of the day we move, however, it will be a celebration of Tanksgiving. No, that's not a typo. Our move has been made possible by a very important donation by my parents: the donation of a new septic tank. There's a lovely bit of synchronicity, here, as my mother's standard requested gift for any holiday has always been "a load of manure." (She's a passionate gardener cursed with clay soil and therefore in constant need of soil amendments.) The septic tank was the one obstacle that even our most creative sourcing skills couldn't surmount. Now we can peacefully plan for its installation and forge on ahead!

Meanwhile, the old house gets colder and colder--and increasingly less functional. The bathroom floor is rotting out, the north wall is literally going north, and we don't have a single door that both latches reliably and doesn't require a series of careful tugs, lifts, and/or kicks to make it function. The soapstone stove is cracked, the kitchen faucet leaks, and the horsehair plaster ceiling drops random crumbs of plaster and chips of lead paint. See why we want to get out?

That said, we're thankful for what we have: a wonderful circle of friends to lend a hand, a beautiful expanse of land, and a good roof over our heads. We've benefited so much from the kindness and generosity of others--and we look forward to improving our lot so we can turn around and give something back. In the meantime, no matter what happens in the months ahead, at least we won't be waddling around with soggy quills!

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