Work in progress – the Studio

Our studio is slowly taking shape down the hill in the swamp. The 14′ x 20′ frame was completed last week.

new studio 1

The large opening on the second floor front will frame the sliders that open on to my studio space via an outside staircase. Below is the door to R’s space on the first floor.

new studio front

Nice view out the first floor windows to the swamp. I’ll have one large window on that side, but wasn’t up for climbing the ladder to the second floor.

post and beam studio interior

And, for old time’s sake, a photo of the old studio before we tore it down and started this one in almost the same spot. 10 x 12, one story on posts, it served the purpose for a long time – now on to something new and much better insulated!

before picture

Hot water good

Isn’t this a beautiful thing? It’s our new Rinnai on demand hot water heater, and spreading out all around it is a plumbing sculpture made of pipes, vents, valves and wiring. It’s even more beautiful to me because we went without hot water for two weeks while we figured out whether we could repair the old one, and when that didn’t work, what we should replace it with. And by “we”, I mean my husband. We trade off on a lot of chores around the house but plumbing? I go to work and he talks to Randy Sprague.

The new Rennai is 1/4 size the size of the old one – which was significantly smaller than a regular tanked hot water heater. It hangs on the wall and frees up a lot of space around it, which I have already sworn to my self and family that I will not fill up with canning jars or historical documents. Really.

Infrastructure is important. Small living space, insulation, and efficient appliances allow us to live well for very little, both in terms of finances and footprint. Now for a shower…

Cumulative gardening

This is a view of the south side of the garden circa 1994. We built the house in ’93 and by June of 94 I had portioned out the land that we cleared to put in a well into garden space. My four-year-old son and I built the little compost bin out of scrap pieces of boarding boards from the house construction, and that’s the same wheelbarrow I used this afternoon, albeit a brighter blue back then. Those are our neighbor’s geese running into the woods that we took down in 2010.

I took this photo earlier today trying to find a like vantage point but not quite getting there because now there’s a cherry tree in the way. I’ve accumulated some plant life over the years but the path is almost in the same place it was twenty years ago. It won’t be there in 2013 – I plan to do that part of the garden over into keyhole beds using Hugelkultur.



Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Washington hawthorn

Crataegus phaenopyrum is a beautiful small and multi-trunked tree with pink flowers, red fruit in fall, and prodigious thorns.

The thorns are really immature branches, but that nicety doesn’t matter much in the real world. They are two inches long, needle sharp and sturdy enough to do real damage to mammals, thereby both providing songbirds with excellent nesting habitat and making them hazardous to the gardener. I am growing three specimens as a barrier fence on the driveway side of the garden. It was difficult to get a clear picture with all the green-on-green in the summer garden – there will be a follow up post in December that shows more structure.

These trees are very sensitive to salt so I don’t plan to use them next to the road, but they’ve survived along the driveway. The two trees in the foreground are 6 years old and have a main trunk caliper of 4″. I’ve pruned them to 8′ – do I wish I’d pruned them shorter? Yes, but I’m afraid that opportunity has passed a few years back – I’m not getting into the middle of these even with my long handled loppers. I’ll begin to tie the widest branches together to make a fence  this spring, and at 8′ by 3′ deep I think it will be as effective against deer as Sleeping Beauty’s hedge of hawthorns was against the her suitors.


Five people for risotto, green bean salad, herbed bread and peach ice cream – it must be August. Somehow, this puts me in the mood for the “Song of the Open Road”. Somehow the last lines have been with me all day today. Apologies, for the excerpting, to Walt Whitman.

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!

Traveling with me you find what never tires.

The earth never tires,

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here,

However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,

However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,

However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Ghost apples

Today I finished spraying the fruit trees (and roses, grape vines and brussels sprouts) with Surround CP. Surround is made from white kaolin clay and food-grade wax – a wonderfully effective pesticide that coats leaves and fruit with a thin layer of what is  essentially, porcelain. Insects are put off by the material, and those that ingest it, die.  I’ve found it works well as a fungicide as well, protecting my hybrid fruit crops from the rusts and fungi carried by their wild cousins that grow rampant around my garden. The beauty of Surround is that it is completely passive, aside from the rather startling sight of ghostly grey foliage. I grow everything in close quarters and can’t afford to spray a poison on a tree that will kill the strawberries growing under the branches – and that’s aside from the considerations about my well, that is under the entire garden.

I chose a calm, sunny day – fortunately a day I had off from work, and my backpack sprayer and I made the rounds.

Pictured is a little Liberty apple tree with a sad backstory.  This was one of my first fruit trees, purchased in 2004 when we were building the house. I planted it a safe distance from the construction and our septic field and planned to move it to a more advantageous position later on. Years went by and the spruce and pines grew up around the little tree that didn’t die, but did not get appreciably bigger either. I moved it in 2009 and you can tell from the photo below that it is still small. It bore for the first time this year and reminds me of a quince bonsai I saw at Longwood Gardens – a delicate structure with outlandishly disproportionate fruit.

Big Rock redux

Last month our neighbors gifted us with a Significant Rock. It came on a Big Boom Truck – possibly the biggest vehicle to ever climb up our gravel road and I’ll stop with the capital letters now. The rock  has a rather formal placement exactly perpendicular to the front of the house and lined up with one of the window bays. People have actually stopped their cars in the road and commented on it. Then they go on to mention the garden, and their garden back home, and then inquire after lobster, and really, it takes an awesome rock to stop tourists in their pursuit of local seafood. This weekend our neighbors called; “Did our rock want a life partner?”. Of course we said “Yes!”.

K’s boom truck showed up on Sunday afternoon in the pouring rain. I was on my third pair of shoes and already soaking wet, so a little more water wasn’t a problem.

Now reach into the truck. . .

And pull out a rock. . .

And confab on the placement. Because it’s not going anywhere after that webbing comes off.

A beautiful rock, nestled in blueberries. Note the worked edge – this might have been part of a foundation for a Bar Harbor “cottage” lost in the Great Fire. Now it resides with us, forever or until boom truck do us part.

New rock

Our neighbors across the road are moving. They’ve been wonderful neighbors and we’ll miss them, but as it happens their new home is only 10 minutes away. I don’t get out much, but I think I can still manage to visit. And they’ve promised to come back to Trick or Treat.

Like many households, they are distributing some of their belongings before they move. Unlike lots of folks, they have rocks. Big rocks, all over the lower driveway and they are taking some with them to the new place, and they gave one to us. It is a thing of beauty – 6′ x 2′ by 2′, grey with a few lichen spots and partly cut. S. told me the Japanese term for part smooth/part natural surface, and I’ve forgotten it already. Fortunately, you don’t need to know the word to appreciate the effect.

The New Rock sits partially across the straight-line access to the house, in line with the south window bay. The driveway used to come right up to the house – or rather, the front yard was an empty stretch of fill from nearby Lamoine that one could drive over.  Somehow that open avenue has remained even as the space was populated with peach and pear trees, vegetable beds and a hoop house. This is a “before” photo of the front of the house.

This is the big truck that picked up the stone and dropped it (carefully) here. That’s a big truck.

Here’s the after photo with the stone in place. Rock solid, as they say.

Screen door season

Today we put up the screen door. (That’s the royal we.) The screen door goes on at exactly the cusp between “too cold to leave the door open” and “full on bug assault”. Living at the edge of a swamp in coastal Maine, that change can happen over the course of a single day. Now the house is open to the breeze (and closed to the mosquitoes) until that afternoon in November comes around that looks like snow.

And with the screen door comes the odd, alien bloom of the Gunnera, at least a week before the huge leaves poke through.

While the south slope of the garden is covered in bee fodder: dandelion, forget-me-not, plum and peach blossoms.