Sunday, March 30, 2008


I'm beat after a rough day bouncing around in the excavator, and I don't have much to show for it. That's not entirely true. I actually accomplished almost everything I set out to do. There were a few stubborn stumps frozen in place. And I dug drainage trenches and holes where I wanted to. I fixed much of the road coming in. But the mud! I nearly buried the excavator in mud on more than one occasion. The rich clay soil is saturated with thawing water creating a viscous muck a couple feet deep. The more you mess with it, the worse it gets. Right where our driveway ends is a natural drainage site. Working in that area I came dangerously close to getting hopelessly stuck. The trenches should help to drain the water away and down the hill. But the depressing fact is that mud season is upon us, and it will be a few weeks before it gets any better. Right around the time the roads become unposted. When I wrote that I don't have much to show for it, I was referring to the appearance of the place. It looks like a disaster area. Not much can be done about it until things dry out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Excavator Is My Friend

The rental place delivered a small excavator to Sedgwick this afternoon. After a two minute lesson on what levers did what, I was left to figure out the rest on my own. Professional operators certainly make it look easy. Swift, fluid motions. An economy of movement. This sort of blending of operator and machine comes with hours and hours of practice. In the hands of a skilled operator the jaws of the bucket are as nimble as a forefinger and thumb. But in my hands the bucket was all thumbs. After three hours of practice, I was getting the hang of it, and by the end of tomorrow I expect I'll be fairly confident about my ability to dig a 400' trench to bury the power to the house site. I rented the machine for eight hours of running time. I thought this meant that I could have the machine running for eight hours after which I'd have to pay additionally by the hour. Running time, however, is at full throttle. If I turned it on and let it idle for three hours, for example, it would only clock one hour of running time. To get eight hours of running time into a day makes for a long day. That's what I've got ahead of me tomorrow.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Snow Again

I shopped around in Ellsworth for the various things we'll have to rent, and I have an excavator all lined up for delivery tomorrow. Then I woke up this morning to a few inches of snow on the ground and it's still falling steadily. I'll have to cancel the excavator or at least try to delay it for a day; I'd like to be able to see the ground I'm excavating. At least the forecast is for a significant warming trend over the next week. At this pace we won't be driving nails until the end of May.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Last night at a stirring lecture on the fate of the Canada Lynx, I received a complaint about the frequency of my postings. So now,with a small glass of scotch to keep me company, I'm here for an update. Faithful readers must understand that no matter how much I want to have something to write about our construction project, the weather couldn't care less. Right now it's dipping below 20 and blowing. Not good news for a break in the freeze/thaw cycle. I did manage to get over to Sedgwick today for a few hours of dragging dead Christmas trees to a more chipper accessible spot. We'll probably rent a chipper next weekend.

Got a call from a plumber this week about an estimate. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $23,000. A number like that prompted a visit to another plumber for a second opinion. I want to choose my battles carefully, and plumbing is one I'd rather not tackle. The learning curve would be too long and painful for the tight schedule we're facing. Our first estimate did come with some suggestions to help bring the number down. We thought-- wouldn't it be nice to have a laundry facility upstairs. But then we found out how much it would cost.

I also chatted with a guy who installs solar domestic hot water systems. A state-of-the-art system sufficient for a family of four runs about $10,000. State rebates and federal tax credits bring that number down a few thousand. Seems like solar hot water gives the bigger bang for the buck compared to solar electric.

After receiving two estimates involving 5 digit numbers, I quickly added up several of the other 5 digit estimates we've gotten, and came up with $65,000. This total does not include important things like lumber and a roof. It's no wonder that housing prices are high. Even a modest project like ours will end up costing around $200,000 (land but not labor included).

The list of possible road names is getting shorter. One of the favorites is Porcupine Ln., suggested by Aidan and inspired by a resident porcupine. I would be tempted to spell it with a K. We do, after all, pine for pork. Or, even better, porkewepine.

That's all, Meggan. My glass is empty.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I've been busy making the forms for the foundation for the last few days. Easy but monotonous work. I started by ripping 27 sheets of 3/4 inch CDX plywood in half. Then, like I was building a two foot wall, I cut 2x6's (2@8', 4@21") and screw the whole thing together. One form takes about 15-20 minutes. I have about 50 to make, and I'm more than half done.

Still waiting for the ground to thaw. Temperatures in the teens at night aren't helping matters. Between the frost in the ground and the posting of roads, I'm beginning to wonder when a foundation will happen.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Old and Out of Shape

After two hours of nurturing, the tower of flames I was hoping for was looking more like a smudge and a failing one at that. The spot I chose to start the fire turned out to be a poor one; it was too densely packed with wet branches and fir needles. I was about to give up altogether when I decided to give it one more shot in another location. There was a slight breeze working in my favor. Soon I had a real self-sustaining fire. The rest of the day was spent hauling more brush and small fir trees and throwing them on. A green fir tree will burn as if it were soaked in gasoline. The pitch snaps and crackles and goes up in a ball of flames. Unfortunately, after a day of heat and flames the biggest stumps on the pile still sat in a blacked heap, and I doubt it's worth the effort to try again. The smart thing to do would be to have someone haul them away.

By five o'clock I was totally exhausted. Molly, Eric, Cyrus, Michelle, Chloe and Hazel were on their way to revive me with pizza and beer. After a hard day I was feeling old and out of shape. My hands were black with pitch and covered in small wounds. Walking was an effort. Some of this may be from the lingering effects of a cold I'd had in the previous few days, but there's no denying that three years of sailmaking has left me a little soft.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tower of Flames

Tomorrow morning I'm going to light a match and see if I can get an enormous pile of brush and stumps to go up in flames. The evergreen needles will go up in a blaze of glory, but I'm hoping that the rest of it, as wet as it is, will catch on and burn nicely. Otherwise, I'll be left with an enormous pile of slightly charred brush and stumps.

Tomorrow also marks the transfer of a 1/2 acre of land from our neighbors to us. Though I fully expected this transaction to move flawlessly, there is a small amount of relief involved. After all, we did go ahead and get a septic system installed an part of that 1/2 acre, and the cleared space for the house sits right on the line between the two properties. Tomorrow it will be official. Michelle and I already have a small orchard (10 trees) and about 350 square ft of garden space mapped out where there are now a number of christmas trees filling the pasture. An 80' hedge of raspberries! Asparagus is on order!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Home Delivery

The weather today was less than favorable to receive a delivery of lumber and plywood. In anticipation of a nasty day today, the delivery in question was supposed to happen tomorrow. So when the phone rang and I learned that there was a delivery truck at the top of the driveway wary of the trip down, I wondered out loud why he was there at all. A night of sleet and freezing rain had made our driveway uninviting, and the driver was reluctant to give it a shot. When I hung up the phone, I understood that he'd come back tomorrow. But an hour later I heard a truck outside ready to dump its sodden load. I spent the rest of my morning getting thoroughly soaked while loading all the stuff into the garage.

This past weekend we had the Fernandez clan for a breakfast of crepes with raspberry maple syrup. We got together to talk about chickens. I know very little about raising chickens; my input was minimal. That left Michelle, with Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens under her belt but no practical experience, and Chris, with a history other people messing with his chicken raising method, to squabble over flock size and coop requirements. Another topic that morning was coming up with a name for our shared entry to Sis Porter Rd. Any drive way with more than one house needs its own street address. Anna suggested coming up with a name using all the first letters of our names. MMCCAANH. My favorite was MacManch. But just before I fell asleep one night it came to me-- Chicken Run. Apt, funny, easy to spell over the phone. Couldn't ask for more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


My three years as a sailmaker have come to an end. Michelle thinks I have a hard time doing anything for more than three years. I reminded her that this month we will have been married for 7 years. Some of my work history does have a common thread though. My total of a dozen years in front of an oven, behind a sewing machine and swinging a hammer could constitute a degree in home economics. Maybe someday I'll be up for an honorary degree from the Betty Crocker Institute.
We completed our first materials purchase today: twenty-six sheets of 3/4" plywood and 126 8' 2x6's. This stuff will make the forms for the foundation and be re-used in the frame. I will be making the forms here at the house we're renting so I can plug in and use the circular saw. Mother Nature will determine the time for setting those forms and pouring the concrete.