Archive for the ‘Newcastle’ Category

Welcoming Another Summer, and Beginning to Plan for the Endless Vacation…   Leave a comment

14 June 2017

IMG_7346The Memorial Day holiday offered a perfect excuse to head to the Ballot Box for nine (should have been ten) days. We celebrated the start to another summer season, with our eighth annual Memorial Day Weekend Lobster-Fest on Sunday for Lynn’s side of the family. ‘Twas a smaller crowd than in some past years, but what we were lacking in numbers we make up for in festivity. We had local beer (growlers and bottles) and wine and mimosas and seltzer, 3 dozen Glidden Point Select Oysters (fresh-shucked by yours truly, the amateur shucker) garnished with a choice of fresh lemon juice or Tabasco™ sauce or some locally-distilled horseradish-infused vodka, fruit salad, veggie salad, lobsters, Scottish salmon, hanger steak (for the seafood-averse), and a myriad of desserts. The weather, which had been borderline miserable for the days before, came through splendiferously for the actual day – warm (but not too warm), sunny, and light breezes to keep the bugs mostly at bay.  Pre-party photos (I forgot to take pictures during the party!) can be viewed here.

IMG_20170530_090715099_HDRWe all mourned the loss of our fencepost-mounted swallow-house, which was ripped off the mount the night before the party and raided – the eggs were destroyed. Mr. & Mrs.  Swallow were in shock and hung around the now-vacant fencepost for the rest of the week, looking forlorn. Images of 2014’s fledge-tending can be viewed here.

Our planned visit during the week with long-time friends who live year-round on Little-Sebago Lake in Gray ME was postponed when Lynn found an embedded deer tick on her body the day of the scheduled visit. We decided to visit a walk-in clinic instead and get the tick professionally removed. She got prescribed a dose of Doxycycline for Lyme Disease prevention but we missed a day visiting friends [Editor’s followup: no symptoms!]. We’ll visit another time; we know where they live! [Editor’s followup: and we did!]

The other notable activity during the week was the start of our getting serious about how we want to live up in Maine once retirement (aka The Endless Vacation) finally commences. We’ve had the Ballot Box as a vacation home for eight years now, with lots of weekend visits, some week-long visits, and a few extended (weeks into months) times with Lynn being in-residence. What we’ve come to realize is that the Ballot Box is a bit small (about 950 sq. ft.) for full-time year-round residence for the two of us. We need a bit more space (we both have a lot of toys). Not a lot, but more than what’s here now, so we’ve started exploring possible solutions to the dilemma, which include renovations, additions, or even replacement. We’ve started making lists of nice-to-haves and necessities, and we’re setting up appointments with architects and builders to pick their brains on what’s possible and practical. Nothing concrete yet, we’re in sponge-mode and trying to figure out what we really need. We crossed the swimming pool off the list right away! 😉


Posted 14 June 2017 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box

Winter Finally Arrived… WHAM!   Leave a comment

5 March 2017

2017-02-17_07-41-19-50pct20x_It was an uneventful start to the new year until recently.  Light flurries, not much snow, so little in fact that I kept forgetting to attach the snow measurement stake to the fence post so we could gauge the approximate snow depth using the webcam image.  Finally attached it on the 15th of January (first appearing on the next day’s noon snap archive) – still mostly bare ground.

Got dustings that hung around for a day or two until the 7th of February, when we got about 6 inches that prompted a visit from my plow man. From then it snowed 6-8 inches every few days so that by the time we showed up on the evening of the 16th of February there was close to 2 feet of snow on open ground. My plow guy kept up with it all (six visits over eight days), but I didn’t contract with him to shovel a path to the door, so that was my job upon arrival… in the dark.

The snow density was significant. It didn’t fall light and fluffy, there was some moisture in it.  Then the temperature must’ve fallen because the snow ended up being a bit stiff.  The best technique for shoveling was to cut the snow into shovel-sized blocks first, then shovel the cut blocks off to the side.  The snow was deeper than a shovel-thrust, so I cut two levels of courses each time.  It took a while, but the blocks were stable so the shoveling only required lifting, not lifting and balancing.

The next morning was a workday for me (Friday telecommuting – thank goodness for the internet!), but about 6:45am there was a knock on the door and the propane delivery guy was there, saying the snow was too deep to drag the propane hose around the back of the house to fill the tank.  I asked if he could come back tomorrow morning and I would shovel a path around the back of the house for him by then. So every couple of hours I would take a break from the computer and go out to shovel more igloo blocks out of the snow in a path around the back of the house.  Lynn took care of shoveling off the deck so we could refill the bird feeders. It was a bit of work to hand-shovel the paths, but I know how to shovel with my legs instead of my back and I took frequent breaks (I had telecommuting work to do as well), so it ended up ALMOST being enjoyable – out in the bright cold air, getting exercise!  The propane guy delivered without a problem the next (Saturday) morning. A full set of pictures (it was pretty in spite of the work) can be viewed here.

Once we left and headed back south, Mother Nature teased the mid-coast area with 3-4 days of late-Spring-like weather (sunny, temperature hitting 65°F), so the ground is back to being mostly bare.  Perhaps winter is over, but one can never be sure.  I’ll put the shovels away sometime in May…

Posted 5 March 2017 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box, Winter

Ten Days of Relaxation…   Leave a comment

5 JUNE 2016

 We wrapped up ten straight days at the Ballot Box, and felt a bit melancholy about heading back south. All good things must come to an end, I guess.  Sigh!  The good news is that we’ll be back for occasional weekends throughout the summer and fall (and winter and spring, for that matter!).

We headed north a week ago Thursday (26 May) afternoon.  I left work a bit early to run the lawn mower around the yard before departing for a week-plus. Mulch-mowing is much faster than bagging as long as the grass isn’t too long (it was right at the edge of being too long, but…). I got the whole lawn mowed in a tad over an hour, mowing non-stop.

We got on the road a little after 4:00 pm. The ride up was amazingly easy; there was traffic, but nowhere near as bad as we suspected for the start of the Memorial Day weekend. We slipped off Route 95 at exit 7 in Maine (“The Yorks, Ogunquit”) just before the tolls to look for some place to stop for dinner and ended up at Wild Willy’s Burgers on Route 1 in York ME.  ‘Twas our first time there and a good find.  Turns out it’s a small chain with five locations; York ME, Rochester NH, and Worcester, Watertown, and Quincy MA. Very good burgers, definitely a place we’ll return to.  Back on the highway, we got to the Ballot Box at 8:31 pm (according to the time-stamp on the webcam-captured image), unpacked the car, aired out the house (a bit stuffy from being closed up), and settled in for some TV – our routine lately is to watch various episodes of British mystery shows (Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Vera, Crossing Lines, Wallander, etc.) on Netflix™ or Amazon Prime™ or Acorn™ via Roku™.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning was spent preparing for our seventh annual Family Lobster Feed™, held on the Sunday before Memorial Day each May.  We had fifteen guests this year – Audrey & Todd, Megan & Dan, Marcia & Tom, Jan & Joyce, Gail & Cam, Kristine, Dylan, Mark, and of course Gene & Lynn. We provided Damariscotta River oysters on the half-shell and fresh tuna sashimi for appetizers, local Maine lobsters, grilled Faroe Island salmon, grilled rib-eye steaks for the seafood-haters for the main meal, and growlers of Oxbow beer (Farmhouse Pale Ale and Freestyle 35 – a dry-hopped German-style pilsner) to wash it all down.  Guests brought everything from work-of-art salad, spicy shrimp appetizers, wine, desserts, and other sundries. A fine time was had by all.  We managed to snap a few photos during the party, but we were a bit busy otherwise!

IMG_2018a 20pctMonday – Memorial Day – was a lazy day after the party. We mostly puttered with cleaning up and putting things away.  I had intentionally over-bought on the lobsters so we would have leftovers for lobster rolls and other things, and I made the most of it with a lobster “triple play”; a lobster omelet for breakfast, a lobster roll for lunch, and one-and-a-half lobster rolls for dinner!

Tuesday I started a long-discussed (and likely to be a long-in-process) yard project – thinning and clearing the young stand of trees on the street-side of the house into a contemplative birch grove.  There are lots of young trees over there, some poplar, some white pine, some unidentified, but there is a significant number of white birches in there as well.  We want to clear out all but the birches, lay down some walking paths, place a few benches at various locations, and make it a peaceful place for restful contemplation.  This will be a long-duration project for sure, but it becomes usable fairly quickly while the work is in progress, so we should be able to start enjoying it fairly soon.  I took down a few trees with my almost-a-toy $65 Homelite chainsaw (until the original chain finally wore out – it was heavily-used this spring) and also ordered a lever-based pry bar device called an UpRooter for pulling up small-to-medium saplings to clear out an area. I’ll report back on how it works when I get my hands on it and try it out.  Steak and salmon leftovers from the Sunday party were on the menu for dinner.

Lynn and I had made arrangements last week to meet up with old friends Martha and Gary at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on Wednesday (Lynn and I are contributing members so we each get free admission and each of us gets to bring a guest in free as well, whenever we go). Martha was Lynn’s maid of honor at our wedding, oh so many years ago.  Wednesday turned out to be a gem of a day for garden-gazing… IMG_2087-©-20pct20xbright sun, no humidity, low 70s, light breeze!  We first ate lunch in the café overlooking the main lawn and central gardens at the visitor’s center, then we headed out.  Naturally, I slung my camera bag over my shoulder (didn’t need both flashes so I left one home).  Look what I found in the woods!

Lynn and I treated ourselves to breakfast out Thursday morning; we went to Crissy’s Breakfast and Coffee Bar in Damariscotta. The Eggs Benedict with hash-browns and a side of bacon spoke to us both.  It was another nice day so we worked some more out in the yard and set the first of many granite 5x5x9 edging blocks along the peony garden at the front of the house.  We’ll use the same kind of blocks to edge all the gardens and the to-be-built walkway from the driveway to the small deck at the door, eventually.

Friday ended up being a pretty nice day, weather-wise, so we puttered out in the yard some more.  We got an invitation to dinner and Parcheesi lessons at friends David and Betty Lu’s house in Damariscotta Mills.  Betty Lu made a delicious curry-based shrimp over rice dish for dinner – we brought a growler of Oxbow’s Freestyle 35 to contribute.

Saturday was another half-speed day (isn’t that what vacations are for?).  We lolled around in the morning, then I went out and got some mulch for the gardens in two 17-gallon muck-buckets (to be spread on a future weekend visit), grabbed a couple of Subway™ sandwiches for lunch, and we continued our yard-puttering and deck-flowers-puttering.  In the afternoon I went out and bought picked lobster meat and we treated ourselves to lobster rolls for our last dinner at the house this vacation.

Sunday was our last day on vacation.  We packed up and headed out to meet up with Jan and Joyce for lunch and a visit to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art which is celebrating the acquisition of a supposedly hauntingly lovely mummy portrait, made 2,000 years ago somewhere on the Nile River.

Posted 5 June 2016 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box

A Quiet and Relaxing Turn of the Calendar…   Leave a comment

14 JANUARY 2016

Another “last week of the year” spent at our getaway in the meadow by the brook – our favorite way to ring in a new year.

As is our pattern and preference, Lynn and I spent Christmas down south with the family, and headed north the day after.  Christmas Eve was spent at Megan & Dan’s house in Lowell with the usual crowd (Dan’s parents Paul and Susan, sister Anna and her husband James, Audrey and Todd), and with new invitees this year; Gail and Cam came down from NH, Kris came down from Maine, Dylan came up on the train from Boston, and Megan and Dan’s friends Jessica, Ashley, Jeremiah, Brianna, Morgan, and Morgan Jr. joined us for a relaxing and enjoyable evening.  Good food, good drink, good company, good conversation!

Gail and Cam came back to the TreeHouse with us to stay overnight, while Kris and Dylan bunked out at Megan and Dan’s, and we all re-convened at our southern house for Christmas morning  stockings, breakfast, and under-tree presents.  The meal was a feast of breakfast pies (two quiches and a French-toast casserole) and our traditional Christmas breakfast treat of bagels and cream cheese with Nova Lox – and red onion for those that wanted it.  The overnight visitors departed for homes about when the girls and spouse/fiancée departed for in-laws/future-in-laws.  Later in the day we wandered down the street to my sister’s house for a while, delivering the grand-nieces’ and grand-nephews’ presents, then back to the house for a light supper.

Saturday morning we packed the car for eight days in Maine and aimed the CX-5 north.  Lunch at the Kennebunk exit rest area (mile marker 24) broke up the drive nicely (we – or at least I – have a soft spot in our palate for Popeye’s Fried Chicken, especially the biscuits). We stopped at the Shaw’s supermarket in Wiscasset for a first round of provisions (milk, eggs, salmon and a veggie for dinner, etc.), and got to the Ballot Box around 4:30 pm.  The salmon we bought was fresh farm-raised, and I grilled it in my usual way (grilled on very high heat, basting frequently with seasoned lemon-butter), but it just wasn’t as good as our usual Faroe Island salmon that we get from the fish market at the bridge in Damariscotta, but of course not as expensive, either!  That meant we’d have to be sure to do another slab of the good stuff during the week, which we did!

The rest of the week was relaxing and low-key.  We cooked all our meals at home until the last few days, listened to a lot of music, read books, watched TV, I did some tele-work, Lynn did a lot of quilting, I changed all the smoke-detector batteries on New Years’ Day (the replaced batteries had an installed-on date of March 2013 – shame on me!!), I worked on getting the daily noon snap image capture from the webcam working for the new exterior webcam rather than the window webcam, and then rewrote the display page to pull the image from the appropriate web site subdirectory based on the date (pre-2016, pull from the old webcam archive; 2016-and-beyond, pull from the new webcam archive).  I love JavaScript!

Thursday (New Year’s Eve) we met Jan and Joyce at Mae’s Café in Bath for lunch, stopped afterwards at the Reny’s in Bath to look for some specific items the Reny’s in Damariscotta didn’t have, discovered that the quilt shop in Bath appears to have vanished, and headed back to the Ballot Box to mix up our traditional New Year’s Eve clam dip (a can of chopped clams, a brick of Philly Cream Cheese, Worcestershire Sauce and salt to taste), and try to stay awake until midnight.  Ordinarily we would also watch our 20+ year old recording of Dinner For One, but we decided to loan our DVD copy to Jan and Joyce so they could experience it, so we watched a movie on Netflix and a PBS special, then flipped channels between the ball dropping and other stuff while eating chips and clam dip.

New Year’s Day was also pleasantly quiet.  We initially headed for Crissy’s Breakfast and Coffee Bar in Damariscotta for lunch, but they were closed (as were most shops in downtown Damariscotta) so we headed to Sarah’s Café in Wiscasset to enjoy their soup and bread bar – haddock chowder for Lynn, beefy chili for Gene.  Back to the house for more relaxing activities, then off to the Newcastle Publick House for a delightful New Year’s dinner – petite beef wellington to share as an appetizer, seafood pasta for Lynn, lamb rack chops for Gene, all from the daily specials menu.

Saturday was also quiet and relaxing. I got a second “noon-time web-snap” from the exterior webcam, which made me feel a bit more confident that I had cracked the code on how to capture and archive a noon-time snap from the hi-res exterior webcam to the web site.  I had had it working since 2 July 2011 on the low-res indoor webcam that looks out the front window over the front lawn and driveway, and I’ve made rapid-snap year-long videos of that view to watch a year go by in about 4 minutes (set to music, of course), but I wanted to transition over to the hi-res webcam on the first of the year; Dec. 31, 2015 and earlier would be low-res, Jan 1, 2016 and later would be hi-res.  To do that cleanly I needed to overlap for a short period of time; dual noon-time snaps, one from each webcam.  I cut it a little closer than I wanted to with the new webcam, getting it snapping at (or about) noon with just 2 days to spare.

Sunday we reluctantly packed up and headed south; our 8-day-escape was over.  BUT… we get to go back up 15-18 January because I get MLK Day off!

Posted 14 January 2016 by Gene Vogt in General, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box, Winter

Busy Spring and Summer…   Leave a comment

16 JULY 2015

No blog entries since the end of March – I’ve been derelict in my duties!  We haven’t been up to the Ballot Box much this spring and summer.  After our end-of-March visit we didn’t make it back up until 24-26 April.  The month of May gave us a lot of days in Maine as we spent the weekend of 15-17 May and the WEEK of 22-30 May, which included Memorial Day and our 6th annual Memorial Day Weekend Summer Kickoff Lobster Feed for Lynn’s side of the family. The party was a bit smaller than in other years as both our girls and their beaus had to miss the festivities.  I volunteered to eat their lobsters!  I also installed and wired a new weather-proof hi-def power-over-Ethernet (PoE) webcam under the front eaves of the house to replace the webcam we’ve had in the front window for over four years.  Unfortunately the webcam was weather-proof but the RJ-45 Ethernet connection – which carries network signal and power in a PoE installation – was not. The camera connector shorted out in a rainstorm so I dismounted it and sent it back to the manufacturer for repair.  As of today it’s still not back so we’re back to depending on the front window webcam for visibility until the repaired camera returns.  It will get some waterproof tape applied when it’s reinstalled.

Only one trip north in June (17-21), but it was an emotional visit.  As many of you know, Lynn is an active quilter and actually teaches quilting to beginners occasionally.  She belongs to two quilt guilds, one in MA and one in ME, and soon after Lynn’s automobile accident one of her Maine quilt buddies (Meredith) contacted me to collect email addresses of Lynn’s quilter-friends in MA and elsewhere so she could contact them to see if anyone would be willing to make a quilt block (quilters, you know what that is) to be sewn into a commemorative thank-you quilt to be given to the Rockport Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad (the people who rescued Lynn after the crash).  Meredith collected numerous blocks from thirteen quilters living in at least four states.  She received enough blocks to make two full quilts plus two throw pillows to go on the couch in the fire department lounge/break room.  Lynn is actually alive today because an off-duty Rockland policeman and volunteer Rockport fireman and EMT (one man, two jobs) named Billy Smith, and his RN wife.  He and his wife came upon the accident just after it happened (they were heading out to dinner at a local restaurant that night).  Billy found Lynn unconscious and not breathing.  He cleared her air passageway and sat behind her in the wrecked car, holding her head up so she could breathe until the full complement of the rescue crew arrived to attend to Lynn, cut her out of the car, and take her to the local emergency room.  Meredith arranged with Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley to present the quilts at the department’s June meeting on the afternoon of the 18th. This link leads to the pictures from the presentation of the quilts (click on any small picture to bring up the larger version of the picture along with the description and Exif photo details below the picture; hover to the right of the picture to make a right-arrow appear, and click it to advance to the next picture).

We spent an extra day at the BB for the July 4th holiday weekend, heading up on the Wednesday before instead of Thursday (Friday was the holiday for me).  Audrey and fiancé Todd joined us on Thursday and we all gathered at Lynn’s sister Jan and Joyce’s place in Brunswick for a holiday cookout.  A nice way to spend our 41st anniversary.

That’s pretty much it for the Ballot Box visits in the 3+ months since the last blog entry.  We’re off to Montana the end of July for a family wedding, then we’ll attempt to resume our regular schedule of every-other-weekend in Maine.

Posted 16 July 2015 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, Summer, The Ballot Box

All’s Well at the Ballot Box…   Leave a comment

10 FEBRUARY 2015

This has been a winter like no other for a number of reasons – a long stretch (until the end of January) with very cold temperatures but very LITTLE snow; then more snow in a 7-day stretch than the Boston area has EVER seen since snowfall has been recorded, and about 6 feet has fallen over a 30-day period, beating the previous record of 58.5 inches, which was set in 1978.  And mid-coast Maine has endured the same pattern, though because of Lynn’s auto accident and recovery (which is progressing, thank goodness) neither of us has been up to the Ballot Box since the morning of the accident for Lynn and a few days after the accident for me.  Because of the storm in Maine November 2-4, the Ballot Box was without power for about five days, and lost power a couple of times in the weeks after (I know when the power goes out because both webcams stop transmitting images to the web site).  There was no power at the house while I was up there collecting essentials for Lynn, so I did my retrievals with a flashlight, and did what I could to prep the house for a possibly long period of time with no occupants.  We have not done a hard winterization of the house in the past because we would head up every two or three weeks for a long weekend and go up for the entire week (and then some) between Christmas and New Year’s.  We leave the heat on low (set at 46°F), turn the well pump and the hot water heater off, drain the pipes and empty the toilet tanks, but we don’t drain the hot water heater or put anti-freeze in the toilets and traps which would be necessary to endure a hard freeze.  This year has been different.  I left it as we usually do in case we or the kids wanted to use the house, but no-one did.

We’ve not been back up yet since the accident, but we had two disconcerting episodes with our propane delivery this winter (ran out twice, not sure why and wasn’t sure if any cold-related damage was done).  We recently adjusted our delivery to every two weeks during the winter, but I was getting anxious about why we ran out at all (was there a leak in the line?) and whether there was any damage, so I headed up this past Friday afternoon by myself – initially intending to stay the weekend but planning on leaving early if the new storm that was a possibility became more of a probability.  All was well at the house; nothing froze, everything was working except the light bulbs in the exterior light fixture by the door were all burned out (must’ve been on when I was up there during the power failure so I didn’t think to turn them off… they were probably on for three months straight!) and the webcam that aims out the deck door at the bird feeders has had a nervous breakdown and keeps cycling on and off so I unplugged it.

The threatening storm did become a likely storm, so I headed back Saturday afternoon to avoid driving 3+ hours Sunday in a snowstorm, but it was gorgeous and sunny Saturday morning so I took a walk along the driveway and shoveled footpaths taking some pictures

Posted 10 February 2015 by Gene Vogt in Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box, Winter

Replacing the Entryway (was: I Love Power Tools)…   2 comments

(click on any photo thumbnail to see a full-size image)

12 JULY 2014

I have seen the light.  I have been converted.  I am a believer in the convenience and benefit of power tools, and I’ll tell you why.  Back in 2002, I took a summer (and then some) and repaired/rebuilt the 16-foot by 20-foot deck on the house in Woburn.  Everything on the deck was replaced except the joists and the ledger.  The four concrete-filled metal posts holding the deck up along the far end were planted on a concrete wall about two feet below grade (i.e., underground), so the posts simply “disappeared” into the ground rather than being mounted on footings.  The span of the deck (16 feet) was too far for the posts as positioned, so the deck had a lot of “spring” to it when one walked across the decking.  I dug and mixed and poured concrete footings where the posts disappeared into the ground down to that subterranean concrete wall, then replaced the four metal posts with 6×6 pressure-treated wooden posts.  I also dug and mixed and poured three additional footings along the center span in order to add a beam in the center of the deck to get rid of the deck “spring.”

I dug these seven footings by hand.  I drilled holes and set rebar into the subterranean concrete wall to anchor four of the new footings to the existing wall.  I mixed the cement a bag at a time (how many bags is lost in antiquity, but in excess of 20) in a mixing trough with a hoe, and shoveled the wet cement into the sonotubes.

It took a few months to get all seven footings poured and cured.  It was backbreaking work.

IMG_7804Fast-forward twelve years, and the Ballot Box in Maine needs to have the entryway landing replaced.  It is too small (see photo at left); to open the screen/storm door you have to step backwards DOWN the stairs to let the door swing by you.  And it is just sitting on the ground, so in the early spring the platform shifts as the ground-frost melts on the side facing southeast that gets more sun.  The obvious solution is to build a larger deck-like landing on footings set down beneath the frostline.  And the landing cannot be attached to the house via ledger because the Ballot Box has the original (now decorative) “carriage house” sliding door that covered the entrance to the former carriage house for the carriages (and maybe horses) to be moved in and out.  A free-standing deck on four footings was the only way to go.  That means digging and mixing and pouring four footings.

IMG_7810I decided to rent an auger to bore the footing holes, and rent a cement mixer to mix the concrete. Oh… My… God…

I picked up the Stihl one-man auger at the local rental center on Thursday morning (10 July), and was able to bore all four footing holes 4+ feet deep, with assistance from a 6-foot 16-pound pry bar and a post-hole digger – and clean up – by 5pm.  We had a guest coming over for dinner at 6pm and with a little fluorescent orange CAUTION tape around the open holes by the stairs we were ready.

IMG_7817Friday morning (11 July) I turned in the auger and picked up a sweet cement mixer that looked like the bastard offspring of a cement truck and a wheelbarrow.  Electric, easily maneuverable, it was an absolute delight to use, ESPECIALLY when compared to what I was familiar with – a trough, a hoe and a lot of elbow grease.  I was able to prep the holes with sonotubes, mix up sixteen bags of concrete, dump each of the mixed bags into a cement trough (what I formerly used to mix cement in by hand), shovel the wet cement into the sonotubes, set an anchor bolt into the wet cement at the top of each footing  – and clean up  – again by 5pm.  This night we had made arrangements to meet some good friends in Brunswick for dinner at 6:30, and we made it!IMG_7800

On Saturday morning I returned the cement mixer to the tool rental place, cleaned up the excess dirt around the now-hardening footings, put the wooden walkway back in place, and covered the curing footings with plastic bags to retain moisture.  I got more done in these two days than I ever could have in two weeks doing things by hand like I used to do.  I love power tools!!

And now I wait.

EPILOGUE #1 – 10 August 2014

Isnapshot_00626E492392_20140804093313 let the footings cure for 3+ weeks while I spent time attending to yard work down south, then I came up the first weekend in August, intending to start the actual construction.  I drove up Thursday (31 July) after work, and hit the lumberyard Friday morning to order the pressure treated lumber I needed, with the hope that it would be delivered Saturday.  No such luck; the earliest available delivery date was Monday morning, so I got no construction work done this weekend.  The lumber was delivered Monday by a nifty truck with a built-in pallet crane (see photo at left), but I was back south so I had to watch on the webcam and wait until the next weekend to start in earnest.

IMG_8248b-33pct20xI drove up again on Thursday (7 August) after work, and spent most of Friday building sizing jigs to get the four IMG_8116a-25pct20xfooting posts the right length for a level deck surface at the right height relative to the door.  Our weekend visitors arrived Friday night so my deck work was put on hold until Sunday afternoon.  With the posts sized I was able to place the two load-bearing beams (double 10-foot 5-inch 2-by-10’s, bolted together with heavy-gauge construction screws).  The outside beam will have joist hangers to hold the joists flush with the top of the beam, but the inside beam will be a joist’s width lower so the joist will sit on top of the inside beam and hang over a bit.  This will allow me to have the deck freestanding, not touching the house, as the carriage-house sliding door is in the way of a few feet of the deck.  The joists at the entryway door will extend closer to the house than the other joists so the decking will be close to the house at the entryway and not have much of a gap between the house and the decking, but the joists at the carriage-house sliding door will be a bit further away to avoid having the door bang up against the deck, as it moves a bit in a strong wind.

I worked on the deck all day Monday and Tuesday (11 & 12 August), with the goal of getting the deck usable before I headed south (“usable” being defined as allowing ingress and egress through the door without having to resort to using the basement door as the only lockable entrance).  I mounted 2-by-8 PT joists every 12 inches, and cut and mounted all the railing posts Monday in preparation for screwing down the decking boards and building stairs Tuesday.  My initial plan was to get the deck “usable” by mid-day Tuesday and head south Tuesday afternoon, but the blade on my skil-saw had other plans.

IMG_8263a-25pct20xCutting pressure-treated wood is noxious to saw blades, dulling them much quicker than when cutting regular wood.  I forgot this, and left my blade-changing wrenches down south, so when the already-well-used skil-saw blade gave up the ghost after cutting the basic shapes of the three stair risers (cut from a 16-foot PT 2-by-12), I wasn’t able to cut the tread notches without the blade binding in the damp PT wood.  Plan B was to use temporary tread blocks in half of the 3-riser set, providing a narrow temporary stair up to the new deck (see photo at left).

Once the stairs were functional I began cutting notches in the decking boards for the railing posts and  screwing down the rest of the decking boards.  I finished up around 6pm by screwing 2-by-4’s on top of the railing posts as a temporary railing until I can build true railings with 2-by-4’s and balusters to match what is on the other deck.

Left to do at this point:

  • Build the permanent stairs (i.e., cut the notches in the three stair risers and lay in decking for stair treads)
  • Snap a chalk-line on the left and right side of the decking and trim the decking boards (with a newly replaced blade in the skil-saw)
  • Buy 1-by-8 PT boards and make a skirt around the deck just under the decking boards to hide the brackets and recessed lag bolts
  • Build a railing to match the railing on the other deck in the background (long-term, may take most of the autumn)

EPILOGUE #2 – Labor Day Weekend 2014

IMG_8424a-33pct20xMore than two weeks have passed since I was up north and working on the deck.  I spent two weekends at the southern house catching up on yard chores (mowing the lawn – twice, hedge-clipping all the shrubbery, staining some of the lower half of the deck, power-washing the vinyl siding on the north side of the house, etc.) but now it’s Labor Day weekend and I’m back north. I came up Wednesday after work, telecommuted back to work for parts of Thursday and Friday, hit the lumberyard to buy more PT wood (1-by-8s for the deck skirt and stair kick plates, 2-by-12s for a landing at the bottom of the new stairs, and three more pieces of 2-by-12 for stair stringer re-dos – I cut the first ones incorrectly), and worked on the stairs for the other parts of Thursday and Friday.  By Friday evening we had permanent full-width stairs (see photo at right)!

These were the first stairs I’ve ever built (and first stair stringers I’ve ever cut), and it was a bit nerve-wracking.  Cutting wood on 90° or 45° angles with a miter saw is a no-brainer, but slicing up PT 2-by-12 planks at odd angles with a hand-held skil-saw, and getting the rise (height of each step) and run (depth of the step surface where your foot lands) correct is NOT a no-brainer.  I screwed up on the first set of stringers (I beveled the back of the stringer too much where it attaches to the deck, and cut the rise too high) so I did have to buy another set of three stair stringer planks again.  Not as catastrophic as some deck-building mistakes I could’ve made, but it annoys me when I mess up.  I spend far too much time planning out projects like this in my head, partly to avoid stupid mistakes, so it really pisses me off when I goof up in spite of the thinking and planning.  Oh well.  Proves I’m not perfeckt.

IMG_8433AND… as of Saturday evening the deck was essentially completed (see photo at left); left- and right-side of the decking boards trimmed, and a skirt under the decking installed to hide brackets and lag bolts.  I needed to install one more handrail on the left side of the stairs and build the permanent railings (with balusters) and install lattice underneath, but it’s a functional deck that could weather the winter as is. The permanent railings will be a project for the autumn… no hurry.  We also need to redo the wooden walkway from the driveway to the base of the stairs.  Right now it’s a little askew as it sits aside the first segment of the walkway that is deeply embedded in the grass.  If we pull it up to align it better with the stairs it would sit crooked and look horrible since all the grass UNDER the walkway is dead.  We’ll probably reshuffle the two halves of the walkway to line up with the new stairs just before the snow flies so it’ll have all winter to resettle.

IMG_8460a-33pct20x - CopyrightSunday was a day of rest – we had a Sunday-to-Monday overnight visitor and extra guests for Sunday dinner (a big slab of Scottish salmon grilled to perfection, boiled Maine potatoes, and a delightful salad with multiple kinds of oil and vinegar for salad dressing) – but I spent most of the Monday holiday working some of the finishing touches for the deck – I installed the second railing on the steps, custom-cut and installed the last little piece of decking by the door, built a jig to standardize baluster placement on the permanent railings to be built, beveled all the 2-by-4s that will be used for the permanent railings, and installed the smallest part of the permanent railing (the segment with only two balusters) to the left of the stairs.  Monday night we went to Damariscotta River Grill to celebrate our postponed 40th anniversary dinner out.  A delightful day, with lots accomplished and lots enjoyed.

EPILOGUE #3 – 19-21 September Weekend 2014

This was supposed to be an alternative activity weekend, but I managed to squeeze in a little deck work on Saturday.  I came up Wednesday night to attend a talk in Brunswick ME given to the Maine AMC club by my brother-in-law, who has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail; the triple-crown of hiking. I tele-commuted Thursday and Friday, then Saturday was supposed to be a day at the Common Ground Country Fair, put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, but a migraine kyboshed that plan.

IMG_8518So Saturday was chore and puttering day. I picked up the mail at the post office; I brought trash and recycling to the transfer station; I dropped off the bags of deposit bottles at the grocery store; I picked up more 6-inch construction screws at the lumberyard for the deck railings; I configured a new weatherproof power-over-Ethernet webcam (Foscam FI9805E) that will eventually get mounted outside under the eaves and replace the webcam that’s inside the house looking out over the front yard. But I did find a bit of time to work on the deck too; I built and attached another section of permanent railing (see photo at right).

I was planning on working on the last two sections Sunday, but as of 8am Sunday morning it was raining, so I guess I won’t work on that today.  I won’t be up under the eaves on a ladder stringing Ethernet cable either.

EPILOGUE #4 (and last) – 3-5 October Weekend 2014

IMG_9196a-cClosure!  Completeness!  I finished the last two sections of railing Friday (3 October), and found and installed wooden end-caps for the railing posts Saturday.  I declare the deck done!  I’ll let it sit and season for the winter and paint the railings and skirt next spring or summer (not the walked-on surfaces; they’ll get clear water-seal).  We got the signed building permit on 9 July, literally “broke ground” by using the auger to drill the footing holes on 10 July, and put the finishing touches on the completed deck on 4 October.  Not bad for a construction project 160 miles from the primary residence!  I have to admit, I enjoyed this project!  I had to have a solid idea of how I wanted to build the entryway so I could draw it out and describe it on the building permit; I had to provide a list of materials on the permit so I had to know roughly how much of what kind of lumber to buy, and the work fell into clean delineated chunks (dig and pour the footings, build the frame, build the platform, build the stairs, build the railings).  Progress was made in weekend spurts, with extended (usually 2 week) breaks between, but I was down south at the primary residence so I didn’t have to see the unfinished work every day.

Cost of materials and tool rental and new saw blades and the building permit, etc. – in other words, the cost of the deck not counting labor – was $1,538.87.  I over-bought a bit on the pressure-treated wood (three extra 12-foot decking boards, two extra 8-foot 1x8s, six balusters) but not a lot.

EPILOGUE #5 (truly the last) – 30 August 2015

IIMG_20150830_154012319at’s the end of the following summer, the deck has seasoned, I filled most of the screw-holes with Plastic-Wood® a few weeks ago, sanding them smooth a few days ago, and we primed and painted the railings, kickboards, and skirts this weekend, finishing up today before I rode south on the DownEaster to get ready for the work week.  And here is how the final product looks:


As always, I try to photo-document progress on projects like this, so the ever-expanding collection of photos with more detail can be seen here

Posted 12 July 2014 by Gene Vogt in Home Ownership, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box