Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lazy Pigs

I'm trying not to make this into a blog about pigs, but I do know that pig related news is popular with certain readers. Observation #1: My pigs sleep considerably more than half the day; the sun has not yet set and they've settled in for the night and won't wake up for another 12 hours. During the day they follow a pattern of rooting and napping, but they seem to prefer napping. I've put them to work digging up the stump of a fir tree. I read that poking holes around a stump (I use a heavy metal bar.) and filling the holes with feed corn is a good way to pull a stump and keep your pigs busy. Idle snouts are the devil's workshop. They're warming up to me after a couple days of keeping their distance; I had them eating corn out of my hand, and now it's clear to them that my presence means not danger but tasty treats.

The plumber was here first thing this morning to establish the placement for the plumbing vents. The roofers need holes poked in the roof to flash to. I gave the roofers a one week notice of readiness. Hopefully, they'll have a hole in their schedule to squeeze me in over the next few weeks. Spent nearly $800 at the wood stove shop on pipe and through-the-roof accessories so that when the metal roof goes on I'll be able to install the stove pipe through the roof at the same time and be done with it. I have about a day's work to finish trimming and wrapping the house. Getting the floor ready to pour is next.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Piglets: Part 2

Off to Ellsworth this morning to fetch some piglets in the Volvo. Chloe and Nadya (friend and neighbor) came along for the ride. When I think of piglets, I imagine something on the smallish side. Something that might fit on your lap. Chloe wanted to hold one of them. Not till we get home, I told her. So I was more than a little surprised when the first pig was fetched, squealing bloody murder, out of the livestock truck. It was considerably larger than a sit-on-your-lap sized piglet. It was considerably larger than Chloe, certainly heavier. The three of them are in the 50-60 pound range, and while it wasn't a tight squeeze in the back of the Volvo, if they had decided to revolt on the ride home we could have had trouble. Chloe and Nadya, strapped into their car seats, would have been our first line of defense.

While Chloe and Nadya couldn't stop complaining about the stench of fresh pig excrement, there was not a peep out of the pigs. They were too busy defecating at their leisure all over back of the car. Fortunately, the Volvo's got a removable sheet of heavy gauge plastic in the back, and I can't help but think that those clever Swedes had just this purpose in mind. Unfortunately, the plastic did not extend up the sides of the car to a level at or above the rear end height of a large piglet. I backed the Volvo right up to the fence and didn't have too much trouble grabbing and lowering them into their new home. Pig's paradise. They have spent the last several hours roaming about the pen stopping every so often to root up a tasty treat. As I write, they're resting under the lean-to I made for them. So far so good. With a little daily fence inspection to see that they're not up to mischief, I think we'll get along just fine.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


When I put my name on the sign-up sheet at Feed N' Seed for some piglets, I half expected that it wouldn't happen. It was their third order of piglets this year, and it was only going to happen if there was enough interest. They said I'd get a phone call. When, after a few weeks passed, I didn't get the call, I'd more or less forgotten about it. The call came yesterday. My three piglets will be ready for pick up at noon on Sunday. The enclosure needed a little more work so I set aside work on the house for a few hours to get it done before piglet mania arrives tomorrow afternoon. Pigs have a reputation for busting out of pens, and I got advice from people who swear by a number of strategies. I decided to delve deeply into pig psychology to make a pen that was sufficient to keep them in and an enclosed area that they'd never think of leaving in the first place. I fenced in an area of oak forest about a half acre in size, deeply shaded and largely free of undergrowth. More than enough space for three pigs. Maybe too much; they won't concentrate on working over one small area at a time. But they'll have fun expressing their pigness. With all that space they could even pretend to be wild pigs running free rooting for acorns, worms and grubs. The weakest link in any pig enclosure is the bottom of the fence. They're rooting around and come to a fence and keep rooting. Something needs to deter a pig from pulling up the bottom of the fence. A single strand of electrified wire or barbed wire is a typical solution. I decided to work with what I had available: lots and lots of brush and spindly fir and spruce trees that had grown up under the oaks. So I cleared the place and lined the bottom of the perimeter of the fence with enough nastiness that any pig with a shread of common sense would quickly abandon an effort to root any further. Time will tell if my strategy will work. I have a plan B. Not to worry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lose Weight Fast! Guaranteed!

I just spent a few moments looking at this blog's statistics, and was wondering if having a flashy title would bring a spike in visits. In the last month this blog had 261 visits from 68 different viewers. One person from Turkey spent 25 seconds on the site, but most of the hits from places like Latvia or Malaysia spent no time at all. The only exception to this was two short visits from Malawi when my sister-in-law Anna was there for a couple weeks. Most of the traffic comes from about 55 friends and relatives in the United States.

Lose Weight Fast! It's not just a gimmick to get more visits to the blog. I really do have a time tested, guaranteed way to shed the pounds and do something productive while you're at it. In the two-week frenzy of barn building I lost about 8 pounds. I now weigh as much as I did when I graduated from high school. Two factors are at work here. The first is logging at least 10 hours a day of hard physical labor. I know this isn't an opportunity available to the average person, but some less intense variation certainly is. Get out there and do something people! The second factor is, obviously, food related. The input part of the equation. When I'm working like this, really focused on the task at hand, I don't pay much attention to eating. I tend to eat small handfuls of dried fruit and nuts to keep me going over the course of the day, and I focus on eating high-energy content foods like a banana slathered with peanut butter. I don't sit down to eat lunch for more than a few minutes, and most of the time I don't sit down at all. So, there it is in a nutshell, the subject of countless self-help bestsellers boiled down to one simple equation:


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hip Replacement Surgery

When framing a hip roof for the first time, the sawsall is an essential power tool. Maybe something's a little odd about the layout of my porch. Maybe I erred from the very beginning. Maybe my lack of appreciation for hip roofs in general was a premonition of my trials yesterday, and I was simply fulfilling a fate destiny had prepared for me. Quick work with a sawsall took care of the problem. I will be finished with the MQP by the end of today. Trimmed and roof-ready.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's Still Raining

We haven't seen the sun in I don't know how many days. If it's not outright raining, there's a mist in the air. In no time I'm damp. My clothes feel a little heavier. Dreary weather or not, I'm making decent progress in getting the house ready for a roof. The east side is nearly covered with house wrap. In another good day's work it will be trimmed and ready. I've been chipping away at the roof framing for the MQP, and I'm ready to set the hip rafter. The south side needs a little more work. The rough openings for the bedroom windows need re-framing, but all the pieces are cut so it shouldn't take too long. Then all that's left between me and a metal roof is the trim on the end of the rafters. I may be able to call Brian Mitchell by the middle of next week.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Good with the Bad

I went to Freshwater Stone and Brick for a second look at possible counter top materials. A couple times a year this place has what they call a yard sale. Remnants and rejects are stacked outside. Materials of all shapes and sizes. Granite, marble, slate. We went to check it out on the first day of the sale with the kids in the pouring rain and came away thinking of possibilities. I did some reading about stone counter top installation online and got a better idea of what's involved, and went back by myself yesterday. Knowing that I could cut the material with a diamond blade in a circular saw there were lots more options. Looking for an attractive nine foot long piece of counter top-width stone eliminated too many possibilities. I found an nice large sheet of black stone with a honed finish (I don't know what it is.) measuring roughly 5' x 6' with a large crack running down the middle. Cutting on the crack I could get two pieces of stone of the correct width and total length. That piece was $360. The next piece we needed would make the elevated bar top on the center cooking island. So imagine a large butcher block island (4'x7') with a gas cooktop and running along one end an elevated bar stool height stone top. Where the kids will sit and pester us about being hungry as we're trying to cook. The top for this was easier to find because it was shorter and more narrow. And, for whatever reason, they sold it to me for twenty bucks. The small piece I fit in the back of the Volvo. The large one they will cut in half for me. The scoring of counter material was the Good.

On my way home I thought I'd stop in at the lumber yard to pick up some 2x4's so I could proceed with the gable-end trimming process. Ten footers just fit diagonally. Emphasis on just. When I closed the hatchback, one the 2x4's wasn't pushed in far enough. The hatchback gave it what I thought was a gentle shove (I closed it fairly gently.) on one end sending the other end against the windshield creating a large spidered crack. After using the Volvo to trailer a burdensome load from Connecticut for the second time, I mentioned to Michelle that we had to stop using our car as a truck. Breaking the windshield, a case in point, was the Bad.

I'm almost done trimming the west side gable end. Looks good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wrapped Attention

I spent the day up and down a 32' extension ladder, up and down pump jack staging on the west side of the house. House wrap, step one before window installation. Wrapping a house single-handed is not pleasant but not impossible. Typically, one person wields the hammer-stapler and the other holds the roll of wrap. Doing it by yourself requires cutting the wrap roughly to length and rolling that length up into a less cumbersome package. When you're standing there up 25' on staging (the wind is blowing; it's always blowing when it would be helpful if it didn't) one hand on a roll of wrap, one hand holding the leading edge where it needs to be and the other hand grabs the hammer-stapler and whacks in a single staple. That was my day. But the west side is covered with house wrap.

Called Eric at Viking to find out the status of the window order. A week ago I handed him a list of windows and half expected him to send me an official list and cost before the order was processed. He thought it was a go. Which it was in a sense. I expected an official printed version of the list I'd given him along with a final cost. When I asked him how the window order was coming, he said, "It's all set. Done." I had asked him about lead time and he just thought that this was the order. Which it was, sort of. I just thought I'd be able to double check it before it went through. Michelle and I waited for the e-mail to come with the $$$ at the bottom. We'd made so many changes since our initial inquiry two winters ago that I had only an educated guess at to cost. I knew it was going to be something less than $15,000. I guessed $14,500. Michelle guessed 12 something. Much to my surprise the whole thing came to $11,400. Apparently, the changes we made were to our advantage. The windows will be ready in a month. We're going out to dinner with Molly and Eric tonight as a thank-you for taking care of our cat for the winter. We'll celebrate our windfall of roughly four grand. All that means is that we'll run out of money less soon. Yesterday, I went to the lumber yard to pick up a few things to keep the process moving, and my credit card was denied. Denied? Then I thought: I've be charging up a storm lately and not paying any attention to our limit on the card. I didn't even know what it was. So I called Amazon Visa and explained the situation and I got an extension of credit in a few minutes. Maybe they're hoping that we'll start making the minimun payments instead of paying the balance every month.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


At the end of the day today, I walked into the house to the usual flutter of birds flying around and out, but this time the flying wasn't graceful and swift but awkward and erratic. I watched one fledgling alarmingly bounce around and run into things looking for a safe perch. A few hours later all three were perched on different window sills resting up for the next test flight. Though I'm fairly ignorant of the life cycle of birds, I'm pretty sure that they're close to being gone for good. We'll have to save the nest.

This afternoon I set up pump jack staging on the west side. I'll house wrap the west side and trim the gable ends then move the staging to the east and south sides for the same treatment. After all that I'll be ready to roof.

MQP (Part 2)

My earlier prediction that the walls would go up easily enough was wildly off the mark. The walls are up but not without a little redesign and considerable effort. Wood combination doors come in a few different widths. I had chosen the 3' doors when I made my (inadequately detailed) scale drawing. I ended up having to redesign to use the 2'8" doors and give them more space in between. That's fine; framing a structure with nothing but openings creates some interesting stability issues, and widening the gap in between the openings from 3" to 6" will provide a wider, and therefore stronger, nailing surface for plywood. I also had hoped to frame a simple shed roof, but the peak was going to run into the bottom of a second floor window. So it'll be a hip roof, my first, and that should be interesting.

I just got a catalog in the mail Energy Federation Incorporated, a distributor of all sorts of energy efficiency related products. They sell two part polyurethane foam kits that I could use to spray an initial layer of insulation against the wall cavity. It would be cheaper and faster than cutting rigid foam and fitting it into the spaces and provide more or less the same R-value. Can't argue with that.

Got a visit from Brian Mitchell to look at the roof. A standing seam metal roof is going to set us back $9800. That's a large chunk of change. Will we reconsider?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Rain in Maine

It's been a wet week, and as a result, I've got 90% of the excess dirt shoveled out of the first floor and my oysters are up and floating again. Yesterday, Chloe, Hazel and I went down to the Salt Pond and spent a couple hours sorting oysters. (I did the sorting. It took them both about 5 minutes to get their boots suctioned to the mud and land on their bottoms in shallow water. An ominous start to our excursion but they recovered and amused themselves through the entire sorting process.) In between raindrops and Michelle's naps (she's under the weather but now on the mend) I did manage to frame the deck of the MQP. The walls should go up easily enough. A doubled-up 2x4 separates each door panel; so it's just a matter of making a wall that's nothing but a series of openings. I'm still not firm on the way I'll frame the roof; once the walls are up I'll look at all the options. I'm leaning toward a simple shed roof that carries across the south side rather than the typical wrap-around hip roof. A little more modern and funky, and it would raise the ceiling on the south side and make some space for a little more glass facing east.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Slab Kit, Exhauast Fans, Space Heater

I spent an hour on the Houseneeds web site last night ordering stuff. Everything I need to run hydronic tubing through the slab, two bathroom exhaust fans, one through-the-wall kitchen fan, and a Rennai propane space heater for the utility room. $1700 roughly.

Friday, June 12, 2009


MQP is an acronym for Michelle's Quest for Porch. There was an MQP designed into and then out of our first house. Michelle's idea of a porch involves good morning sun and screens, a place to sit as the sun comes up and drink coffee. My problem with porches is that they, more often than not, steal sun and heat from the rest of the house. They have to be placed perfectly; otherwise, in my opinion, cost outweighs benefit. (I don't drink coffee.) This house had to have a screened-in porch; it was not a matter for debate. In the first drawings it was on the southeast side and wrapped around on the south side where there'd be access from indoors. But there it was stealing a not insignificant amount of morning and southern exposure. So I moved it to opposite side of the house. The part of the porch that wraps around the south side and opens onto the deck will only block a small amount of low western sun. The MQP will be more than a screened-in porch. I'm framing in a series of wood combination doors. Panels of screen will swap out for panels of glass come November. It'll be an ideal place to start seedlings for the garden, and in the winter it should generate a decent amount of heat. The door opening out to the porch will be the typical exterior insulated door. Steal the heat during the day; close out the cold at night. By the end of tomorrow most of the MQP should be framed.

Next week someone should be stopping by to talk about installing a standing seam metal roof. I could be ready for this in two or three weeks. I also called a recommended concrete contractor about pouring the floor. I could be ready for this by the end of the month. I've been shovelling out an excess of material inside when the weather's not good for work outside. I originally thought I'd have a 4 inch concrete slab over 2 inches of rigid insulation, but thought 4 inches of insulation would be worth the expense and trouble of shovelling out two inches of dirt over about a thousand square feet. I'm almost done.

Monday, June 8, 2009


During my first two weeks back I noticed birds flying in and out of the house but was too busy to think much about it. Then a few days ago I noticed the nest right above the header over the picture window on the first floor. I was in the process of making changes to some of the window openings and the picture window was on my list so I climbed a ladder to check out the nest and was less than pleased to find it chock full of baby birds, Eastern Phoebes to be exact. The pair of birds I'd noticed flying around the house are the proud parents. I wondered how long it would take for these little birds to learn how to fly. I wondered how long I'd have to leave them alone. The parents won't stay in the house if I walk in. They fly out and perch nearby and wait for me to leave. Today I started leveling out the floor to get ready to pour concrete, and now and then I'd look out the slider opening to see one of the parents perched outside with an insect in its beak waiting for me to vacate so the babies can receive some nourishment. They made me feel guilty. Unfortunately, I'm no baby bird killer. I have no choice but to give them some space and wait until they fly away.

Bought three cords of firewood today. Winter's right around the corner. Lots of materials arriving tomorrow. I was just about to make a prediction about progress for the month of June but decided against making any more predictions. I'll keep my expectations to myself and secretly hope to exceed them.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I have no one else to blame for the two week time frame for the construction of our barn and summer residence. Three weeks seemed too long so, when asked, I said two. Of course, I ended up squeezing three weeks of work into two. And on the second to last day Molly, Eric and Cyrus showed up on a rescue mission for installing the remainder of the roof and screening in the openings. It certainly couldn't have been possible without a framing gun; rarely did I pick up my hammer. It's a nice little barn though. To my eye it has a perfect elevation. The height to width ratio is classic.

On to bigger things. Yesterday I put up some boards under the shed roof so that in our leisure (what leisure?!) we can stack some firewood. I'll be working on finalizing the rough openings for the windows, wrapping the exterior of the house, and getting ready to pour the floor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Michelle and the girls showed up a couple days ago as I was installing the screen door. We slept in the loft that night without too much trouble. Today, day three in the barn, we got power, satellite internet access and water. All the hallmarks of modernity. There are a few more kinks to work out, but it's on to the house!