And So It Begins…   Leave a comment

27 September 2018

About two years ago, after discussing plans and timing for a number of years, we decided that I would retire in late January 2019. Our retirement “plan” for almost three decades was to sell the house in Woburn and move to mid-coast Maine.  We bought a house in mid-coast Maine nine years ago – the “Ballot Box” – as part of that long-term plan, to get our foot in the door in the area to find out where we really wanted to spend our retirement.  The fact that we fell in love with the Ballot Box – in spite of all its shortcomings (most of them related to lack of space) – just made the process easier… at first.IMG_7333-c

Well-aware of the BB’s shortcomings – a great place to escape to for weekends… or weeks… or in some cases months at a time, but too small as a primary residence – we began to start getting serious.  Basically we had three options available to solve the space problem; sell the Ballot box and buy something “better,” tear the Ballot Box down and build something all new and “better,” or expand the existing structure to give us the features and space we expected we’d need – and make it “better.” We couldn’t bring ourselves to sell or tear down the Ballot Box, so that left only option 3… expand. We decided to expand!

We actually did our due diligence.  We consulted with multiple architects and architectural designers about both “replace” and “expand” options, and we spent a few months with a real estate agent friend, looking at what was on the market for purchase. None of the market offerings had all that we wanted or needed, so renovations would have to be implemented anyway.  Why not renovate what we already owned and loved?

Our needs did indeed revolve around having more “space.”  Lynn needed a quilt studio that could accommodate all her tools and materials… to include work space, room for her “stash” of cloth and other materials used in making quilts, and most importantly room for her tools: a cutting table, a piecing wall, multiple sewing machines, and a 10-foot long quilting machine.  I needed space for my computers, my genealogy research, my photography hobby, and my underutilized woodworking tools. We both needed under-cover space for our cars, especially during the winter, and we needed space for our yard tools (rakes, shovels, clippers, trimmers, lawn mowers, snow blowers, wheel barrows, etc.). Most importantly, we needed welcoming space for visitors.  We also wanted (reluctantly) to add a first-floor bedroom suite to make our lives easier when our legs started giving out and climbing up a flight of stairs became too much of a chore in our dotage.

We consulted with one architect who just didn’t seem interested in a measly house expansion.  He said the right things, but in a bland monotone. Not our style.  We contracted with a local architectural firm to get preliminary sketches of possible designs, but they couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that we wanted maximum natural light. They insisted on putting the garage directly south of the house, blocking most of the sunlight from getting to the windows. No thanks.

A long-time friend who had been the general contractor for construction jobs for a few of our friends suggested we talk to an architectural designer for a local lumber company that he had worked with many times, with the added incentive that if we proceeded with construction and used that lumber company for materials, her services would be free.  She was great to work with, listened to us, and had some great ideas of her own. We started working with her in October 2017, went through four iterations of the plans, and we hired our GC-friend as the general contractor for our project too!

The biggest change in the plans came between rev.s #2 and #3.  Lynn understood the reason why we were planning a first floor bedroom suite, but just wasn’t happy about the concept. It also bothered her that we were taking up most of the new floor-space on the first floor and dedicating it to non-daytime use.  Then we had an epiphany and decided to make that space into a 4-season sun-room that could eventually and easily be converted into a bedroom if and when needed. Eureka!

Rev. 4 – the final rev – looks like this, and will include the finishing of the original house basement into a guest suite.

They broke ground on 17 September, excavating the cellar for the sun-room and the front bump-out and the footings for garage and breezeway.  We were able to watch the frenetic activity live via webcam for a day or so, until they had to cut power to the house which took down the webcams.  One update needed to be an increase of the electrical service from 100 amps to 200 amps, to accommodate the heat pumps we are installing.  That required digging a new underground conduit from the telephone pole to the house.  Also, the well water-line and power to the well pump passed through the space that needed to become the cellar for the sun-room, and the septic tank was in the way of the breezeway and had to be moved, so water in and water out was also shut down.  My carefully crafted entryway deck was also in the way of the breezeway, so what took me 4 months to build got removed in about ten minutes… intact (I plan on converting it to a tent platform in the yard for visiting campers).

We’ll probably be visiting even more frequently than we did before construction.  The plan is to build and button up all the outside work (sun-room, front bump-out, breezeway, garage) before the snow flies, and then do the interior work during the winter. We were assured it would be done by the first of May.  I’m tracking progress in pictures on a “Changes” page on the web site.  We also need to focus on cleaning out and prepping the southern house for sale in the spring.  Tell us again how relaxing retirement will be??

Posted 27 September 2018 by Gene Vogt in Home Ownership, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box

“All God’s Critters Got a Place in the House!” *   2 comments

* with apologies to Bill Staines

17 June 2018

Baby SquirrelBack a couple of visits ago, we found a baby squirrel, dead, in the wastebasket by Lynn’s side of the bed when we first arrived at the Ballot Box for the weekend. To us that meant a mother squirrel had gotten in and had her babies somewhere in the house. We don’t have an attic in this house so we were (and still are) a bit puzzled about where the nest might be. According to some quick research, squirrels have 3-4 offspring in a brood, so there might be more. We were also a bit confused about *how* they might have gotten in. We have occasional trouble with Meadow Voles (a.k.a. American field mice) as the fall turns to winter, but mousetraps seem to be able to stem any possible tide of Microtus pennsylvanicus.

Our next visit was for a week-long stay in conjunction with the Memorial Day holiday. We throw a “Start of Summer” party for Lynn’s side of the family each year on the Sunday before the holiday, and this was the week. We got up on the Thursday before and began plans and preparations for the party. The next morning after Lynn had taken her shower, she went back to the bedroom from the bathroom (Au Naturale, of course) and grabbed a big canvas LLBean Tote in the hall that we often use as an overflow suitcase. She went into the bedroom and plopped the bag down on the padded hassock/bench in front of the window, and out jumped another juvenile squirrel that started running around the bedroom – with Lynn as naked as a jaybird. Needless to say she was a bit Victor Mouse Trapstartled and perplexed. So was Lynn! The squirrel retreated to under a half-height folding bookcase full of shoes in the corner, and Lynn got dressed quicker than she ever had before, giving the bookcase a wide berth! We moved the bookcase to see if he was still there, but the squirrel had apparently retreated from that hiding place to a different one. We set out a couple of mousetraps in the upstairs hall soon after that episode.

That night we heard some rustling and rummaging around upstairs while we were watching TV, and then a “SNAP!” and a wailing ruckus from upstairs, so I went up to investigate and a baby squirrel – we assumed THE baby squirrel – was thrashing around in the hallway. It was a bit too big for the mousetrap but still was caught by the leg. I tried to put a wastebasket over it but as I approached it got loose and scurried into the bedroom, again under the bookcase. We slowly moved away all the stuff in the corner near the bookcase, and then Lynn stood with a blanket poised to throw and I moved the bookcase to reveal the wounded squirrel. Lynn threw the blanket over the squirrel and I tried to stun it under the blanket to keep it from escaping as we tried to bundle it up in the blanket and take it outside. We tossed the blanket containing the squirrel into a trashcan and carried it outside. When I unfurled the blanket the squirrel fell out, dead. That was two…

During the rest of the week (after the party) I noticed mouse movement along the top of the foundation, emanating from one specific corner of the house, while I sat at my desk in the cellar working at my computer, so I figured that the critters had found a way in at that corner of the foundation, up under the trim-boards that box in each corner of the house and run up the side of the house to the roof. I went out to that corner during the daylight hours (ostensibly while the critters were out and about) and jammed a bunch of steel wool up into that trim-board corner to block re-entry with something that can’t be chewed.

The next trip up (two weeks later) we found a dead mouse in the upstairs bathroom wastebasket (they sometimes fall in and can’t get out, not unusual), but there was stuff askew and knocked around all over the house; a walking stick had been tipped over by the door, the umbrella in the corner of the downstairs bathroom was on the floor, a vase had been knocked off the kitchen counter, a greeting card had been knocked off the hutch, and the upstairs bathroom had been “ransacked,” the cup of toothbrushes knocked on the floor, all the accouterments in the shower (soap, shampoo bottles, a plastic pitcher for rinsing the tub after a shower, facecloths, etc.) had been knocked off their shelves and into the tub. So we started investigating… and also found a hole had been chewed in the inside fiberglass screen on one of the closed casement windows in our bedroom. We considered booking a room in a B&B for the night (we had arrived ~9 pm and it was getting late) but none of the B&Bs in the area were taking guests yet. So we went to bed, wondering if a squirrel was going to attack us as we slept.

Nothing happened during the night, and the next day (Friday) we started a deeper search of the upstairs. Eventually Lynn found a “lump” under the guest bed bed-covers so we carefully cleared everything off the bed and slowly peeled off the puff… to reveal the third baby squirrel… dead. Apparently there was still a baby squirrel IN the house when I plugged the entry/exit with steel wool, and it made a mess of the bathroom and other parts of the house looking for food and water and another way out. It finally died of starvation after tucking itself into bed in the guest bed. We bundled the mattress cover and the puff (with the squirrel carcass) into a trash bag and tossed it in the trash at the dump/transfer station, and peeled off the foam egg-crates that were on the bed under the mattress pad and put them out on the deck to get aired out or more likely pitched another day.

havahartOn the outside chance there’s yet another one still in the house we set a “small squirrel” hav-a-hart trap in the upstairs hallway when we left, to be checked when we return. Remember, our research revealed that squirrels broods are 3-4 in size… we found three…

Never a dull moment in the woods of Maine!

UPDATE 1 July 2018

On returning to the Ballot Box after two weeks away, the hav-a-hart trap was still empty, the bait carrot was dried up and wizzled and untouched.  We did catch one field mouse in one of the two baited mousetraps we left, but the 2nd one was untouched, so I’m declaring victory over the squirrels in the house, and a stalemate with the mice (which is all one can ask for).

Bird-Friendly Bird-Lovers, Bordering on Bird-Voyeurs…   4 comments

24 February 2018

We have a number of bird nesting facilities at the Ballot Box, and I suspect we’ll have even more once we move up here permanently.  Our first accommodation was a swallow house that we mount on a fence-post each spring.  It’s been used every year so far, is visible from our dining area table and is great entertainment as spring progresses.  We soon added a wren house on a post at the edge of the woods on the other side of the leach field that is also heavily used, and a couple of generic houses on trees just into the woods on the deck side of the house, by the brook.

Our most recent addition is a phoebe 2018-02-24 15.21.39 50pct20xshelf that we added before last spring, mounted up under the deck and between the joists at the Ballot Box.  It got used a lot – at least two sets of fledges, maybe more! We tried to peek down through the deck boards at the nest with mediocre success, but it was busy most of the spring and into the early summer.

In an initially unrelated event, I bought a USB video borescope (sometimes incorrectly called an endoscope) over the winter to experiment with, and after playing with it I immediately got the idea to set it up to monitor the phoebe nesting shelf for the coming season, hopefully giving us undisruptive visual access to the nesting activities!  Mostly we wanted to be able to observe the fledges without disturbing them, and the borescope (a tiny USB-based video camera about the size of the eraser on a wooden pencil, mounted on a long flexible cable) seemed like the ideal tool to accomplish that at an extremely reasonable price (~$15 on Woot!).

2018-02-24 15.23.00 50pct20xAnnotatedFirst I configured a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (a 3.4″ x 2.2″ $35 Linux computer about the size of a deck of cards that can run without keyboard or screen) to capture an image from the borescope once every five minutes and upload it over the internet to the BallotBox web site.  Then I set the “Pi” up on a small shelf between the joists in the Ballot Box basement, drilled a small 5/16ths inch hole in the sill by the phoebe shelf and snaked the borescope through the sill hole and out to the phoebe shelf. Finally I built a “NestCam” web page that displayed the current uploaded image, and refreshed itself every two minutes to display the newest image recently uploaded.  The borescope didn’t break the bank (remember, ~$15) so the resolution from dusk until dawn is anywhere from mediocre to non-existent, even though it does have LEDs encircling the camera lens (not InfraRed/NightVision, though). Don’t expect to see much at night!  Perhaps I’ll adjust the snapshot-saving to only occur during daylight… we’ll see.

And that’s how we came to host the NestCam!  Enjoy!!

BIRD SIGHTING UPDATE 20180305

Reference the SWALLOW HOUSE mentioned in the first paragraph above, we lost last year’s fledges to a predatory animal (likely a raccoon) who knocked the house off the post, ripped the bottom off the house, and decimated the nest inside, so during my last weekend up north I rebuilt and fortified the house (which is actually a bluebird house but the swallows always beat the bluebirds to it each spring).  Surprise surprise – just a week later (Lynn was up for the weekend with her sister but I was not) bluebirds have been spotted checking out the house!! We’ve still got snowbanks on the ground in places, but Spring is on it’s way!!!

No sign of the phoebes yet, but I keep checking the NestCam and live in hope!

BIRD SIGHTING UPDATE #2 20180506

Up at the Ballot Box this weekend, had at least three swallow pairs fighting over the two birdhouses (the one on the fence, and the one on the post on the far side of the leach field), saw hummingbirds so the nectar feeders got prepped and hung, and the phoebes are fluttering around the deck but haven’t found the Nestcam nest… yet!  Also heard a few pileated woodpeckers beating the crap out of trees in the woods.  Spring has arrived!

BIRD SIGHTING UPDATE #3 20180601

We had a prospective tenant checking out the digs recently… evidently didn’t like the color scheme since she didn’t move in.  Real Estate can be a cut-throat business!!

 

 

Posted 24 February 2018 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Best-Laid Schemes…   Leave a comment

7 January 2018

Robert Burns was right… Plan all you want, you’re not in control. OUR well-laid plan was to celebrate Christmas with the family (or however many were around) and head north to the Ballot Box on the day after (Tuesday).  BUT… Lynn contracted a fast-acting norovirus stomach ailment – probably on Christmas Eve – and by Christmas night it was raging in full force.  Luckily I did not contract it so I was able to play the Florence Nightingale role for her while we waited it out.  We hung back until Friday and then headed north once Lynn felt like she could do without a bathroom for an hour or two.

IMG_7924a-33pct25xWe arrived at the house around 3pm – before dark – so the drive up was without incident, but it was C-O-L-D up in mid-coast Maine.  I snapped a photo of the thermometer on the north side of the house at 7:30am on Saturday the 30th… -21°F (-30°C)! A bit chilly!  We’re “weekenders” at the house so we don’t use heating fuel (propane) at the same rate as if we were permanent residents.  We heat with two Rinnai wall furnaces (one in the basement, one on the first floor) and turn them down to the lowest setting – but not off – when we’re not there, so our consumption is less than the average customer.  BUT we only have one 100-gallon propane bottle so we get deliveries at the usual rate during the winter – scheduled for every two weeks. Well, it’s been COLD up in mid-coast Maine lately, and I have a habit of checking the tank gauge when we arrive for a weekend visit. On Friday afternoon it showed about 40%.

Because it was so cold, I would check the gauge each day and watch it go down at a rate that didn’t give me confidence that it would last until next Wednesday (our next scheduled delivery date).  By Tuesday morning of the day we planned on heading south it was below 5% so I called and asked to schedule delivery a day early (for an extra fee, naturally).  We turned the Rinnai’s down to almost the lowest setting, bundled up, and hunkered down to wait for the delivery truck.  Our plan to hit the road by noon was a bust.

Delivery guy finally came about 7:30pm and said he was looking at his 3rd 16-hour day. Yikes! Delivery took about 15 minutes (only 3 of which was actually pumping propane into the bottle/tank), then we set the thermostats to low, shut off the well pump (don’t want it pumping water into the house if a pipe freezes), shut off the water heater (no sense heating water in an unoccupied house), flushed the toilet tanks empty (so they wouldn’t freeze and crack if we did lose heat), packed the car and hit the road.  Got home before 11pm.

Posted 7 January 2018 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

To Every Thing (Turn, Turn, Turn)…   Leave a comment

1 December 2017

There is a season… and this season’s “thing” is preparation.  Winters in Maine carry the threat of being harsh, though along the coast I think it’s tempered a bit by that large body of salt water to the east.  We don’t see ten feet of snow very often in the mid-coast region, but it’s not a tropical paradise either.

Our recent visit (21-28 November) was my first since mid-October, so the winter prep chores were way over-due.  I took down and put away the window and door screens, mounted the glass storm insert on the entryway door, weatherstripped all the double-hung windows on both floors, stored all the deck furniture in the cellar, took down the music speakers on the deck and coiled up the speaker wires from the stereo, and pounded holes for and set the snow stakes along the driveway for the snow plow.  Then we set to work putting up our modest Christmas decorations; 300 traditional white Christmas mini-lights on the (getting large) arborvitae out front (set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), more (solar-powered) mini-LED lights along the the picket fence (also set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), a balsam wreath on the 26197859_10214936381309007_3932977264586496989_oentryway door, a dozen crystal plastic snowflakes in the dining area picture window (click on photo, right, for a clearer view), electric candle-lights in the windows (also set to go on at dusk with no human intervention), a Christmas Packages quilt on the wall in the living room, a small collection of Christmas trinkets scattered around the first floor, and my Dad’s tabletop Christmas Tree (complete with lights and ornaments and presents under the tree) in the living room. Quite festive.  Then we did a deep-clean of both floors – dusting and vacuuming – and dusted and vacuumed the stairway and railings.

In between all the prepping and decorating and cleaning we consulted with our architectural designer about the first batch of proposed plans for the renovation and expansion of the Ballot Box in preparation for our eventual permanent relocation, and just to keep all options on the table we spent time with our friend/real-estate-agent looking at current real estate offerings on the market in the area. That, plus enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner with some family at the Squire Tarbox Inn and Restaurant on Westport Island in Wiscasset and meeting friends for dinner at a local favorite restaurant.  We were busy, but it was a long visit so it was restful and refreshing as well.

We’ll likely get up one more weekend in December, then our traditional last week of the year visit, when we come up on the day after Christmas and stay until a day or two after New Year’s… toasting in 2018 with our traditional Dinner For One video, a tradition we picked up while living in Germany in the 90’s and continue even now.

Posted 1 December 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Where’d the Sign Go… This Time??   Leave a comment

8 October 2017

The IMG_20150815_112732264a-25pct20x“Ballot Box” sign is gone again.  The sign was a gift from Lynn for Christmas 2009.  I had planted a 4×4 post at the end of the driveway by the road to hold the address numerals, and we hung the sign on that post to declare the nickname for our newly-acquired escape destination.  It also helped visitors coming to visit for the first time to find the right driveway in the woods.

BB SignThe sign manned it’s “post” (pun intended) for six years, but back in the summer of 2015 it was showing it’s age a bit – the Maine seasons had faded it a bit and some wood-rot had started to creep in – so I took it down for a month or so while I refurbished it.

My 2015 refurbishment didn’t last as long as the initial stint.  It’s showing it’s age even worse than before, so we’ve taken it down again in preparation for a winter-long restoration.  Not sure how long it’ll be in the shop, but it will return – probably by spring at the latest.  Until then the post will have to go a bit naked.

My chore list for this slightly longer visit started to get end-of-summer-ish, with prepare-for-winter entries.  (I decided to stay up through Columbus Day even though I don’t get it off as a holiday – I plan on telecommuting during the morning before we hit the road south and join all the leaf-peepers heading back to the rat race).  We removed and stowed the window air conditioning units, did some garden cleanup, shut off the drip watering system for the deck plants, paid the annual bill at the post office for the P.O. box rental, and did some house-cleaning.  We also discovered the Ballot Box fridge is failing.  Usually a failing fridge just can’t keep stuff cold anymore, but this fridge’s symptom is that it doesn’t cycle off and on anymore so stuff in the fridge-section freezes.  We set the dial to OFF and it still freezes the milk.  I rigged a heavy-duty extension cord to come up to the top of the fridge and plugged it in that way, so we can reach the plug and are able to unplug the fridge without pulling the fridge out away from the wall.  That’s let’s us cycle it off and on manually at least.  We want to avoid having to buy a new fridge right now as we’re planning on doing pre-move renovations that will include redoing the kitchen so we want to wait until we know what the new kitchen will look like before buying a new fridge.  Timing is everything!

Next trip up will be for the annual Goods From the Woods festival at the local brewery, so there won’t be too many chores taken care of on that trip!

 

9 March 2018 Update (five months and a day later…)

2018-03-09 10.07.39 Refurbished Ballot Box SignThe sign is back… again. I spent most of the winter staring at the beat-up sign, trying to screw up my courage to try and touch up the lettering on the sign, but distrusting my skill and hand-steadiness to repaint it.  After a few false starts (erased with turpentine before the paint dried) I decided to punt and just re-edge the sign in fresh black paint and then urethane it with 5-6 coats of marine spar for weather-proofing.  Our only disappointment is that the spar dried with a yellowish tinge to it so the sign is no longer a gray that matches the color of the house.  Bummer.

Now I see that I need to refurbish the black band and the address numbers on the post. My chores never end!  🙂

Posted 8 October 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

A First for Everything…   Leave a comment

18 September 2017

We had a first-time experience this past weekend.  I guess there’s a first time for everything if you live long enough, and on a scale of one to ten this was not an eleven, but neither Lynn nor I had experienced it before. We had a bat in the house.  It was Friday night. We had just gotten back from a comfort-food dinner (open-faced turkey sandwiches with mashed and veg) at Moody’s Diner 13 miles north of our house (in Waldoboro), and had settled in front of the TV for our usual evening ritual, when we got buzzed by a bat… in the living room.

While Lynn called for her hat from the couch, I stood by the stairs (intending to play “goalie” and keep the bat on the first floor) and researched solutions on my phone.

Basically, there seemed to be four approaches; catch it with a butterfly net (nix that one, no butterfly net available), direct it to an open door or window (if you can), catch it in a blanket (risking injury to the fragile-boned creature), or keep it flying until its exhausted and collapses – then plop a bowl over it, slide cardboard under the bowl, carry the whole rig outside and release it back into the wild.  Option one (butterfly net) was a non-starter, so we opted for option two (direct it to an open door).  Once we had hung a curtain-like arrangement in the stairway in an attempt to keep the unwanted visitor downstairs, I opened the deck door and tried to herd it towards the open door with a straw broom. It must have been funny to watch.  I kept it flying but it was not wanting to be herded anywhere.  Does the phrase “Brownian Motion” ring a bell?

Neither of us were fond of option three (throw a blanket on it), and since the difference between option two (herd it) and option four (tucker it out) seemed insignificant at this point, we closed the deck door (would the ultra-sonic ruckus attract other bats??) and I just kept it flying in the hopes that it would run out of steam.  Sure enough, after what seemed like hours (but was probably only 10-15 minutes) of waving the broom at the bat, it collapsed on the floor, exhausted.  I quickly grabbed a plastic bowl from the cabinet and plopped it down on the floor, over the bat.  There was a few seconds of bat-squawks (I think I was being cursed in bat-talk) but the invader had been corralled.  I found a sufficiently-large piece of cardboard in the cellar, slid it gently under the bowl (a few more bat-curses were heard), carried the whole shebang outside and released the bat on the deck.

It tried to fly through the balusters of the railing, and failing that, it sat down on the deck to catch it’s breath.  I retreated to the inside of the house. We congratulated ourselves on a successful catch-and-release, and settled down to finally watch some TV.  …And of course during the TV show I began thinking about how bat-boy got into the house, and if there were any more hiding above us……  !!

Mice are much easier to deal with… SNAP!

bat30pct

 

Posted 18 September 2017 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized