Feels Like Treading Water   2 comments

[30 August 2020] Lynn and I are wrapping up August, the sixth month of the COVID pandemic. We’re still married [ 🙂 ], still retired, still on speaking terms! We’re working down a final punch list for the house construction, the “terraforming” stage of the landscaping (“reshaping the earth”) is done, and the “gussy up” stage of the landscaping (shrubbery, flowerbeds, ornamental trees, etc.) is just beginning. Neither of us is getting any younger, and the thought of planting possibly dozens of shrubs and laying out possibly a half-dozen flowerbeds makes my back ache just thinking about it, so we’re hiring young muscle to assist us. If not, it could take years for us to get to it all, if ever! We’re too impatient for that!

Lynn’s been having a rough six months. On top of the stress of the effects of the pandemic on everyday life and the unexpected and devastating effects of the family discord with our children, she’s been coping with a half-completed surgical procedure that got interrupted by the pandemic and it’s effects on elective surgical procedures, and got blindsided by a somewhat rare and extremely annoying affliction.

The surgical procedure was/is cataract surgery. In February of this year she had the first of two surgeries on cataracts that she has been dealing with for a few years now. We wonder if the onset was accelerated by the auto accident in 2014. Anyway, the worst eye was repaired in mid-February, and the results were amazing… clearer sight, more vibrant colors, just magic. The second eye was scheduled for repair in mid-March. Mid-March…

By mid-March all “elective” surgeries had been cancelled, with no hint of when they could be rescheduled, so Lynn has been walking around for the past six months with one eye in superb shape, and the other with a bit of a hazy veil over it. Luckily, she had the worst eye done first, where the cataract was so serious that she was approaching the point where out-patient surgery would not be possible. But still, it’s been an unpleasant six months, sight-wise, for her.

Finally, elective surgeries have been recently re-allowed, so she’s on the calendar to have it done soon. She does have to work a dovetail in to fit the surgery in during a quiet time in her 30-year battle with a neuro-esophageal condition that brings on 6-8 weeks of violent bouts of coughing between 3-4 weeks of relative quiet – not good for surgical stitches, especially microscopic ones inside an eye.

And if that wasn’t enough, she got hit with a bout of Bell’s Palsy last month. Bell’s Palsy (aka idiopathic facial paralysis) is a sudden weakness in the muscles on one half of the face, possibly a reaction to a viral infection. It is characterized by muscle weakness that causes one half of the face to droop. And just to kick the anxiety meter up a few notches, the symptoms can mimic those of a stroke. Her symptoms (inability to: blink her left eye, smile symmetrically, move the lips normally on the left side of her mouth [she bit her lip a lot when eating]) manifested themselves on a Sunday (primary Doctor’s office closed, of course), so we headed off to the local Emergency Room (at Miles Memorial Hospital, 4 miles away in the next town over) to get a professional diagnosis. Lots of tests to rule out stroke later, it was confirmed as Bell’s. She was prescribed a week’s course of Prednisone™ (a corticosteroid, used to treat nerve inflammation). Worst-case infections could last up to six months, but hers was mostly gone in about three weeks. Her ability to fully close her eye when blinking is still a bit deficient, so her eye waters more than before.

Our last construction phase – the Guest Suite – is finally done, except for installing a heat-pump “head” in the room for heat & A/C. We’re working on it. There was heat in that space (via a Rinnai propane furnace) but no A/C or dehumidifying, so we had the Rinnai removed – it was in front of one of the new windows – and diverted the propane line out to the deck to connect up the grille. No more 20-lb tanks for the grill!! Once the heat pump head is installed we’ll furnish it and it’ll be ready for guests (if Maine ever lets certain out-of-staters back in again!)

Lynn got her birthday present – 3 months late – recently. Her 2016 Mazda CX-5 got washed, waxed, and fully detailed! Four years of boot- and shoe-dirt removed from the inside – four years of paint oxidation removed from the outside… it looks brand new again! Even the grocery-carriage scratches disappeared!

Posted 30 August 2020 by Gene Vogt in General, Maine, The Ballot Box

Three Months Have Passed… Did You Notice??   Leave a comment

[23 June 2020] So… the Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting social distancing and sheltering-in-place has consumed a third of a year so far with no real end in sight. The new norm is much more boring for sure… for months we didn’t go out or see anyone. Gene did the grocery shopping, once a week, with a mask. Getting used to managed traffic patterns inside the store was bumpy (one-way aisles, single queue for check-out aisles, etc.); temporary shut-down of the deli, fish-market, and butcher shop counters was understandable but disappointing; unexpected (and mostly unexplained) shortages of certain staple items (necessities like TP and tissues) made grocery shopping into a bit of a lottery of sorts. If nothing else, humans can adapt… but not without a grumble or three.

We finally ventured out for take-out when things started opening up just a bit… our big treat was to pick up sandwiches at a semi-gourmet sandwich shop in the neighboring town and take them down to the municipal parking lot by the river and eat them in the car while looking out over the river’s tidal motion.

Over-arching the pandemic excitement – and everything else for quite a while now – has been our multi-faceted epic adventure of house reconstruction, retirement, and moving. Our epic really began when we bought a tiny little 1860s carriage-house in mid-coast Maine in 2009 as an experiment to see if we wanted to retire and live the rest of our lives in this location. We spent vacations and long weekends and holidays up here and quickly fell in love with the location and the environment and the house.

Things really began to get interesting back in 2016 when we started considering our options for life-after-work… how did we want to sculpt our entry into the retirement phase of our lives. The four words (“Let’s Retire to Maine”) we uttered oh so many years ago had unimagined logistical impact.

Lynn had slipped out of the workforce a few years ago, her last paying job being a clerk and teacher at a quilt shop in Cambridge MA. That gave her the opportunity to spend long stretches of time at the Ballot Box, sometimes a month or more at a time. When she was “in-residence” at the Ballot Box I would take the “DownEaster” Amtrak train up to the end-of-the-line Brunswick ME station from the Woburn MA station on Thursdays after work, leaving my car in Woburn. Lynn’s sister and her partner lived in Brunswick, so Lynn would visit while waiting for the train, pick me up and we’d drive the 45 more minutes further north to the Ballot Box. It actually was cheaper to take the train than to drive alone, factoring in gas and tolls and factoring out the cost of parking at the Woburn station.

We made the decision that I would retire when I qualified for full social security, which for a baby-boomer born in 1953 was 66 years, zero months. Born in January, retired in January… on my birth date. We made this decision 3-4 years prior to that date, which gave us general targets for precursor actions, like when to start renovations on the soon-to-be retirement home up in Maine. We figured a year for construction… it took two. That saga had numerous twists and turns, and is well-documented elsewhere.

So we took up full-time residence in Maine in August 2019, sold the Woburn house in November 2019, and then March 2020 hit.

Posted 23 June 2020 by Gene Vogt in Home Ownership, Newcastle, Retirement

Social Distancing is a Lot Like Being Retired… Without the Socializing and Occasional Lunches Out…   Leave a comment

[28 March 2020] Sheltering-In-Place has been a bit annoying, but we haven’t been too inconvenienced… it’s a lot like being retired!

Our life has been reduced to a trip to the post office every day or two to pick up the mail, and a weekly trip to the grocery store to pick up essentials and marvel at the empty or almost-empty shelves of certain puzzling things.  We miss socializing IN PERSON with friends, and hitting a local restaurant for lunch on occasion (especially our in-town Publick House with lots of rotating taps to try), and we’ve been doing this since we moved up here. Our usual daily schedule is not strenuous: get up when we wake up, get coffee and breakfast, read online newspapers and email, work on hobbies and interests and emptying moving boxes (still!), read books and magazines and web sites, keep up with email, eat lunch at the usual time, eat dinner at the usual time, watch TV after dinner, go to bed, repeat.  The only thing missing now is the occasional lunch or dinner out with friends or relatives.  Lynn’s even keeping up with at least ONE of her two quilt groups via SKYPE!

Our Phase-Two renovations (converting the lower level¹ into a guest suite with full bath and separate entrance) continue.  The walls are up and sheet-rocked and primed, the electrical wiring has been roughed in, the sewer pump² and under-concrete-flooring pipes are installed (that noisy effort [ jack-hammering trenches into the concrete floor ] inspired us to take a day-trip to Bangor for the day), the one outside-facing wall with new windows and a new door has been completely rebuilt (used to be three double-French-doors, only one of which worked, and not too well) and has been sided on the outside that matches the same new siding on the rest of the house (LP® SmartSide®). The workers come and go through the separate entrance so we hardly ever see them anymore, but we hear them!

IMG_9893-4-5-6_stitch enh 25pct25x

In spite of the 6-inches of snow we got Monday night (on the left is the webcam archived photo from noon on 23 March 2020, on the right is a webcam-captured snap from 8:34 am the next day), winter is definitely losing its grip here:

Winter ain't over yetIt was sunny and in the 50s the next few days after that, and the snow was gone by Thursday (photo comparison courtesy of the BallotBox webcam & archives). This has got us thinking about spring and all the landscaping and hardscaping work that remains to be done. Last fall we had the driveway realigned with the garage and graded with crushed stone, and the front yard leveled and de-bouldered a bit from the 18 months of construction trucks driving willy-nilly over the area, but establishing a new lawn and landscaping, setting hardscape walkways in places, building a patio outside the sunroom (the big boulders in the photos are destined for the patio construction), and paving the house end of the driveway, was postponed until this spring, which is targeted to recommence sometime in June.  It’ll be *so* nice when it’s not all mud and rocks anymore and we have lawn and gardens to enjoy!

So, social isolation continues for now.  Keep safe, and keep sane!

1 – We’ve decided to call it the “lower level” instead of the cellar or basement (which it was and still is – 3 walls of concrete foundation) because it sounds draconian to make house-guests sleep in the “cellar,” and besides, it’s no longer a damp dingy cellar like it was… it’s a bright (big windows) and warm (has it’s own Rinnai heater) area with windows and a separate covered entrance (under the existing deck).  NOTHING like it was when it was my office for ten years!
2 – The sewer pump is needed to pump the guest-suite-bathroom sewage from the lower level up 5 feet to get to the septic tank entry pipe.

Posted 28 March 2020 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box

Happy New Year!   Leave a comment

19 January 2020

We made it to another year. This will be our first full year as residents of Maine – MAINIACS! (better than being Massholes…)

We’re still getting the GC to attend to “finishing touches” type stuff and still working on stuff that became “secondary” to the primary stuff… like postponing wallboarding the woodworking shop and tool shed (off the garage) with pegboard and installing the ceilings in those rooms in favor of getting the upstairs bathroom fully functional and getting dead outlets working.

BallotBox 19Jan2020 15pct

The Expanded Ballot Box after a light January Snow

The holidays took all the steam out of the push to clean out the garage to get the cars under cover for the winter.  Cleaning snow off the cars was “situation normal” down south so we just continue as it was… AND I don’t have to be in an office at 7:30am so brushing off the cars can usually wait!

The front entry deck installation and the back “party” deck replacement still remain (and will be worked on this week – in the snow!), so what floor-space I *did* open up in the garage is now taken up by the multi-square-footage of 28-foot TREX™ decking planks. Two steps forward, two steps back!  The pressure-treated under-structure boards are out on the front yard.

Phase 2 construction (a guest suite on the lower level with it’s own patio) should start soon, with most work done during the winter.

Our power-outage-insurance purchase (a 20KV propane generator and a 320 gallon torpedo tank to feed it) is in place and is just waiting on a connecting hose and a tank fill to go operational.  According to the electrician the cutover when we lose power will be under 10 seconds, so I’ll still have to reset digital clocks, but the cable modem, router, phones, and computers are all on UPS’s so there should be no disruption there.

Phase 1 of the landscaping was completed in November, with a rebuilt crushed rock driveway laid down – with slight location changes to line up with the garage doors – and a drip-edge around the house (no gutters – they’re more trouble than they’re worth up here in Maine).  Phase 2 will pick back up in spring, with loam and grass and hardscape and gardens laid out.

We passed papers and sold the Woburn house back on November 25th so the hassle of owning (and paying for) two homes is over.  We owned two houses for ten years (having bought the Maine house back in 2009 as a getaway/vacation home), so it’s kinda nice to have only one dwelling to worry about – and furnish and maintain!

Posted 19 January 2020 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

Landmark #1…   Leave a comment

7 September 2019

We moved. Our STUFF hasn’t moved (or rather, hasn’t finished moving), but we moved. Post Office change of address notice has been filed, MA auto plates cancelled, ME auto plates attached, we moved.  We are residents of Maine, as of 30 August.  But we’re not really Mainers.  We’ll always be “…from away*.”

The move itself turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.  We wanted to get the Massachusetts house on the market and sold, but the Maine house wasn’t done yet, so it couldn’t be a “pick up stakes in Woburn and set them down in Newcastle” move.  We decided to use PODs™ instead of a traditional “pick-it-up, drive-it, drop-it-off” mover ’cause we couldn’t drop it off yet.

We did have a place to stay, though. We had the builders finish the quilt studio over the garage first because it has a “half-bath” (better to call it a “no-bath”… toilet, sink, no-bath), and we use that space as a studio apartment of sorts, with a bed and some clothes storage space. That way we didn’t have to pay in-season inn rates when we were up to check on progress.  We’re still camping there while the bathroom flooring (needed for the rest of the toilets to be put in place) and the heating system (Mitsubishi heat pumps; two compressors, five heads) gets installed.  Other than that, some electrical fixture installations, the 2nd bannister on the main house stairwell, and a deep cleaning, the house is basically done.

Our schedule for the move depended on a lot of independant moving parts meshing together (we call that “choreography”), and it didn’t choreograph quite as well as we hoped and planned.  Our PODs™ were to be delivered on Wednesday the 21st of August, with the packers/movers scheduled to do their magic on the 22nd, the filled PODs™ scheduled to be picked up on the Friday the 23rd and brought to Portland ME to be put in storage for a month or two, the whole-house cleaners scheduled to do their thing Saturday the 24th, and the carpet cleaners scheduled to swing through on Tuesday the 27th.

There was also a family party in Portland on Sunday the 25th that Lynn would attend while I stayed south to babysit the carpet cleaners.

But, as they so-often say, the “best-laid plans” often go awry… The PODs™ were delivered Wednesday as scheduled. That was the last thing to be on-schedule. The packers/movers were scheduled to arrive at noon or Thursday.  We got a call around 11:30am saying they’d be there at 4pm. When they hadn’t arrived by 5:30pm, I decided to call the PODs™ folks to reschedule the next-day PODs™ pickup, just in case. Next available pickup was Monday, but they were parked in the driveway so their presence wouldn’t disrupt anyone else. That reschedule was prescient.

The three mover/packers arrived at 7pm, exhausted, having started their day at 5am (supposedly). By 10:30pm they quit, saying they couldn’t do any more and our neighbors were probably annoyed at the noise. They had packed only one POD™ (it was well-packed, to their credit). We expected them to come back the next day (Friday), but they couldn’t come back until Sunday afternoon, so that meant the cleaners had to be rescheduled too; they could come Monday afternoon.

Friday and Saturday was spent in limbo, half-packed, with the house in a bit of a shambles. Lynn headed north Saturday to spend the night at her sister’s and they both went to the Sunday family party together, after which Lynn drove the rest of the way to the Maine house and set up camp.

Two of the three mover/packers returned Sunday (in a minivan instead of a moving van) around 1pm, filled the 2nd POD™, ran out of boxes and packing paper, and left – leaving the job unfinished. The rest was left to me. I scooted out to the local U-Haul store and bought boxes and paper, came back and picked up where they left off, packing stuff. Luckily most of the furniture that was being moved (some was left for “staging” when the house got on the market) was in the PODs™ and stored in Portland, waiting for our word to have it delivered to the new Ballot Box once it’s ready for full occupancy.

So we have our Maine license plates, will soon get our Maine licenses, have filed “change of address” notices with most of the people and companies that need to know.  We live in Maine now!


* “From Away” – Anyone not born in Maine.  Sometimes carries with it the connotation that you’re not really welcome and don’t know scratch.

Posted 7 September 2019 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized