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

And So It Continues to Continue…   2 comments

27 July 2019

Two months past the target date, and still not done. We want to be done.

“Sherman, set the ‘Way-Back’ machine to September 2016…”

Once we had committed to a target retirement date (my 66th birthday, in early 2019), we began pulling the string on that deceptively enormous ball of yarn that is “relocating.” First we had to decide WHERE to relocate. We knew we wanted to live in the area where the Ballot Box was, but could we live full-time in the Ballot Box as it was? An easy question, because the answer was obvious… no. We each had hobbies and other parts of our lives that had physical accoutrements that we kept in the southern house (an 11-room 2,000 sq. ft. 5-bedroom split-level ranch with a huge living room, full kitchen, dining room, downstairs family room, 2nd kitchen, no basement, and an oversized detached 2-car garage with loft) that had no place to be stored… and used… at the Ballot Box (a 900 sq. ft. 2-bedroom carriage house with an open 1st floor layout with living room, galley-style kitchen, and dining nook… effectively a 3-room house). We’d need more space.

Se we consulted architects for ideas but the best ideas came from an architectural designer who worked for a building supply company, and her services were gratis if the raw materials were obtained from them. We had our general contractor lined up and we pulled the trigger using the architectural designer’s plans (see below).


The plan was to start construction in mid-July, but the first thing that had to be done – excavating, needed to set the forms for the foundations for the new construction – was delayed because of an AWOL excavator. The GC finally found another excavator and work began 18 September 2018, two months behind schedule from the get-go.  A blow-by-blow report on progress – with photos – can be found on the web site’s CHANGES page.

So we’ve been waiting… past the first completion target (1 May), past other hoped-for targets, and still we wait. Six months since I retired, 2+ months since we were supposed to be in the new house, we’ve been trying to get the southern house ready to be put on the market with showings and such, but lots of stuff has been packed up with no place to put the boxes so its in no condition to “show” from a real estate point of view.  In truth it looks like a few FedEx trucks dumped their contents all over the house!

We want to be done.



Posted 27 July 2019 by Gene Vogt in Uncategorized

And So It Continues…   Leave a comment

28 February 2019

Five months (and about $120k) into the big adventure… we’ve got almost all the new construction built out; the 2-story garage is framed, roofed, and mostly buttoned up, the whole-front bump-out is framed, roofed and insulated, the entirely-new sun-room is framed, roofed and insulated, the front dormers have been rebuilt and roofed with the rest of the original roof front, and the connecting mudroom between the original house and the new garage has been framed and roofed.  New siding has been installed on most of the new construction and some of the old (all exterior walls will eventually get new siding).  The windows have been ordered, delivered, and installed.  We’re waiting on the two new exterior doors (being painted), the front bay window (in-hand but the window cut-out is the only way into the bump-out area until they break through the existing wall), and the rebuild of the back dormer in the master bedroom.  A hell of a lot has been accomplished in 5 months, but there’s a hell of a lot more work to do.

At first we were able to stay in the house while work was being done (once the water got turned back on and the septic tank was re-attached after being moved), but the house became uninhabitable fairly quickly with frequent power outages and water shut-offs.  We were able to stay at some friends’ house while they were away for 2+ months, and after that we’ve been alternating between staying with Lynn’s sister who lives in Brunswick (about 28 miles south of the Ballot Box) or staying at the Cod Cove Inn in Edgecomb (about 5 miles south of the Ballot Box).

Lynn’s been wrestling with kitchen issues; layout, cabinets, appliances, lighting, and more.  Lots of moving parts here.  She’s also been grappling with what kind of floor we want; solid wood, laminate, etc.  Lots of decisions.

The outside rendering from the architectural designer is online here (yellow shows the original structure we started with), and progressive sets of photos of the progress can be seen on the website’s “Changes Are Afoot” page, that get’s updated every week or two when we drive up to check on progress or consult with the General Contractor or need to research fixtures or cabinets or need to talk with the electrician.

The GC is still saying the house will be able to host the tenth annual Lobster Feed that we throw for Lynn’s side of the family on Memorial Day weekend.  We’ll take him at his word.

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 what we THOUGHT was 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).


We’ve been corrected… what we thought were baby squirrels were actually adult “flying squirrels,” most likely “southern flying squirrels.”  We found two more in the house during construction on the house in preparation for our moving here permanently.