When it became apparent that winter was finally, truly over and the woodstove could now be retired until autumn, it was time for spring cleaning.
This tortuous process lasted for 2 full days and nights and included dusting, vacuuming, thoroughly cleaning out the woodstove and removing ash dust from every nook and cranny including the ceiling fans.
The sand, salt and dirt traipsed by our car into the garage was removed (along with the car) and the cement floor soaped, scrubbed and rinsed many rounds until it was clean enough to convert into a temporary bedroom, awaiting summer’s visit of eleven of my grandchildren (all at once!).
Accumulated stuff had to be tossed or rearranged and reorganized. Winter items, from heavy coats, gloves, and hats as well as crampons, down comforters, and snowshoes were put into winter boxes and summer items were reinstated to the closet. Our cement floors were re-polished.
Emergency food storage supplies were rotated.
Windows and mirrors were washed until they gleamed. Screens were cleaned.
Seeds were planted in small seed starter boxes and placed on the porch, awaiting transplantation in a few weeks’ time to a summer garden. (Although it was warm enough to take out the plexiglass panels and replace them with screens, I kept the plexi panels in so that it would have a greenhouse effect and encourage faster sprouting).
Apple trees were pruned. Old wasps nests were removed. The dog got his first heartworm and flea & tick medication, along with a summer haircut.
It was exhausting but satisfying.
In the midst of cleaning the garage, my husband, who reached a momentous birthday milestone recently, stopped to rest and, looking out onto the woods and the pond, said, “I don’t know what will be ten years from now. Will I be healthy or sick? Active and of right mind, or decrepit and feeble? But I want to remember this moment, right now, because our time in Maine has been the happiest years of my life!”
It sounds crazy, I know – – he was cleaning the garage, after all – – but it meant so much to me, and I really get it, because I feel the same way.
I took some pictures of our super-clean house because let’s face it, it ain’t gonna stay this clean very long! Have fun on the tour . . .
Enter at your own risk:
Here’s why I love my living room / dining room. Besides being cozy, comfortable and welcoming, it consists mostly of furniture from craigslist, Goodwill, and the dumpster, closeouts and contractors’ overstocks. Translation: it was cheap, but it looks great.
Sofa End Table: $20 Goodwill
Bookcases: Total of 4, $5 each from Borders Bookstore that went out of business, found on craigslist.
Mirror: $50 IKEA. Totally opens up the room, and reflects the woods.
Carpet: $50 Commercial carpet remnant from contractor’s overstock.
Solid leather recliners: $400 ea, Costco. I got these new because I couldn’t find used ones that were comfortable or didn’t smell like cigarette smoke, but in my hometown I did manage to find one on craigslist for $175 that I keep in my hometown. Recliners are the world’s best invention after the washing machine!
Old futon sofa renewed with new cover: $15 for cover, Target clearance.
That’s our soapstone woodstove in the rightmost foreground. Even though we got it on sale, it was not cheap. But a good heat source is crucial to living comfortably in Maine in the winter. We bought the best that money can buy, and we do not regret it one iota.
The floors are polished cement. Not only are they easy to keep clean, but in the summer they are cool, and in the winter, thanks to the woodstove and under-floor radiant hydronic heat, the are nice and warm. They are also inflammable and indestructible.
Paint: I love, love, love the dark accent color behind the bookcases, which works because it’s only on one wall broken up by the shelving, and the high ceilings and plentiful windows don’t make it feel like a cave. The color is called Bittersweet Chocolate – – with a name like that what’s not to love? The light color is called Bennett Grey. It’s a taupe-y neutral, but what I like most about it is that it subtly changes tone and intensity depending on season and time of day. Another great color is by the entry, a taupe-y brown called Texas Leather (not shown). It’s just very, very soothing.
My solid wood, handcrafted pine farm table, which I use as both a work table and a dining room table, was $75 on craigslist. I found the beechwood chairs left out for the trash at someone’s house in my hometown. There was nothing wrong with them other than the soiled upholstered seats. For $20 I recovered them with faux leather bought at Joanne’s Fabrics, attached with a staple gun. Since our car space is limited, we brought one or two chairs per trip when we’d travel from our hometown to Maine.
Note all the sunlight: that’s “passive solar” at work! Even on a snowy day, as long as it’s sunny, the room will get to about 65 degrees! Between the energy-efficient windows on the southern and western sides of the house, and the spray-foam insulation in the walls, the house is airtight and it stays warm on cold days! The heavy insulation and ceiling fans keep the house pleasantly cool during hot summer days.
I really like my Miele washing machine. It retails for about $2,000! I found mine on craigslist in southern New Hampshire. The guy was asking $1200, and I offered him $400. I was worried lest he be insulted by my low-ball offer, but he accepted my price. Shlepping it to Maine in our car wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was well worth it. This machine is tops for energy efficiency and quality. It uses very little electricity, and almost no water. The secret is in the spin cycles – something like 1200 revolutions per minute! After a spin cycle like that, the clothes are practically dry when the wash is done, and on a clear summer day my clothes dry outside on the line in an hour. Although this machine is much smaller than the typical American washing machine, you can really stuff the dirty clothes in tightly so actually it can handle about the same amounts as a traditional American washer. Anyone who has lived in Israel is familiar with this European style of washing machine, but Miele brand is definitely the best!
Kitchen: $1200 cabinets from IKEA, discounted for discontinued style. Big Box stores estimated $7000 for a similar kitchen!
These shelves from IKEA were actually designed as ledges to display framed artwork, but I found they work perfectly as spice racks. Yes, I really do use all those spices in my cooking on a regular basis!
Our screen porch is off the kitchen/dining room. When you are there, you feel like you are in a treehouse, in a canopy of the greenest leaves. In the autumn thru the Spring there are views of the bog below, with its amazing array of wildlife, and the surrounding mountains. What I love about our porch is that it can be used all year round. In the autumn through the Spring, it has plexiglass panels, and thanks to passive solar, it warms up beautifully when it’s sunny outside. In the summer, we take off the plexiglass panels and replace them with screen panels. With summer breezes and because it’s under the trees, it always stays cool. We also keep a futon on the porch where we sometimes read or sneak a nap. We often have our Shabbos meals on the porch. This Spring, I used the table to hold my seed starters. You are looking at future sunflowers, basil, lavender, parsley, and oregano seedlings. Once the danger of frost has passed, they will be transplanted to my garden.
One of our guests asked me if this floral arrangement came from a designer showroom in Manhattan! I had a good laugh. I bought the vase from TJ Maxx for $10. I found the piece of peeled birchbark outside our house in the woods. I cut the milkweed from a deserted field, while on a walk close to my house. Since I don’t live anywhere near a florist and I don’t like to pick wildflowers that grow on my property (many are endangered species, such as Pink Lady Slipper), this makes a nice “floral” arrangement for my Shabbos table and it lasts forever.
Okay, now on to my husband’s office. One of the great things about our life is that my husband, a computer whiz with the job title of Software Architect, works from home. The biggest risk we took in building our house out in the middle of nowhere was the possibility that there wouldn’t be good Wi-Fi connectivity for a computer, and that would mean he couldn’t work from home. (A dial-up modem would not have been fast enough to meet his needs.) Miraculously, our phone carrier offers a DSL line, even way out here in the woods!
My husband works in the basement since it’s less distracting than in the main part of the house. But it’s not all doom and gloom: since our house is built on a slope, it’s a walk-out basement and mostly above ground.
There is nothing fancy about his work environment: a folding table, chair, and computer. But the view . . . !!!!
To the left of his desk is the table holding his ham radio station. (He’s been begging me for 35+ years to get a ham radio license so we can participate in this hobby together.) From this little station he has spoken to ham radio operators from all over the world.
One thing about rural living is that property taxes might be lower, but you don’t get what you don’t pay for! We don’t have a police force (we have to call the county sheriff, and he could be between 1 – 2 hours away). Both the rescue and fire departments are run by volunteers, who might be at their workplace when you call in an emergency. So you have to wait until they get to the station, and then travel to your location, which can be 15 or more miles away. (Though neither of us suffer from heart disease B”H, we are seriously considering purchasing a defibrillator as a first line of defense.) There are no fire hydrants for the fire trucks, so when the pumper truck runs out of water, he must make a run to the lake (5 miles away) to refill the truck. (If G-d forbid you have a fire, the typical approach is unfortunately not to save the house, which under these challenging limitations is almost impossible, but simply to ensure that all occupants are safely out of the building, and that the fire is prevented from spreading to other homes or creating a forest fire.)
We also have no garbage collection; we must take all trash to the dump 8 miles away, and it is open only for limited hours a few times a week.
Let me tell you, when you are responsible for the trash you create, you create a lot less trash. Suddenly you become conscious not only of what you buy and use, but the containers things come in. What is recyclable or reusable before it has to be dumped? Also realize that there are no sewer lines, and everything that goes down the sink or toilet goes to a septic tank, which is under a “leach field.”
We cannot have a garbage disposal due to the septic system. But, we can – – and do – – have a composter. Egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, and fruit and vegetable peels all go into the composter. It’s a painless, odor-free process, and eliminates a huge amount of refuse that would otherwise go into a garbage disposal or trash can. After approximately 2 months of “stewing” the composted food waste creates a rich black humus soil that can be transferred by wheelbarrow to my garden.
We try to run the house on solar power as much as possible. Unlike most people who use solar power, we are not tied to the grid and therefore do not “sell” any energy back to the power company. What most people do not realize is that if they are tied to the grid, then if there is a power outage, you will be without power too! We wanted to have complete independence from the power company, so we opted to go “off” the grid. The solar panels generate electricity which is stored in a huge battery array located in the basement. These batteries look something like golf cart batteries. They are very heavy, and frankly, they will be a landfill nightmare when they finish their lifespan in about seven years’ time, so I hesitate to call this system “green.” We also have a backup to our backup: a propane-powered generator.
The 1000-gallon propane tank is buried under the ground.
Despite the government’s position on encouraging “green” living, did you know that you cannot get a government-backed mortgage if you run your house on solar power off the grid? We also realized that not everyone appreciates living conservatively in terms of electricity usage amounts. So we designed our house so that with a flick of the switch, we can go from solar power to being connected to Central Maine Power (CMP), our local Maine electric provider. This has come in handy when we’ve been without sunshine for a week or more, or on winter days when the days are very short and the solar panels don’t have enough daylight hours to collect any substantial electricity and we need a bit of a boost.
Here is a photo showing both our composter and our solar panels:
We spend a great deal of time in the summer months preparing our wood supply. That means cutting the downed trees into chunked logs, splitting them, drying them for 3 months to a year before they are sufficiently “seasoned” (otherwise there is too much sap and moisture and they don’t burn well), and then stacking the split and dried wood into the woodshed. I remember once upon a time, both George Bush and Ronald Reagan were shown on television at their homes in Texas and California, splitting wood with an axe and maul. This is really, really hard work, especially with the amount of wood we need to split. We pay someone to do the splitting, and he uses a massive gas-powered splitter. Each log (especially the oak) is very heavy, but shlepping them undoubtedly beats going to the gym for exercise.
Here is a picture of the back of the house (which is really the front entrance).
Many people wonder why I didn’t build a log home. Log cabins are indeed very romantic, not to mention beautiful. However, besides their tremendous expense, they are extremely high maintenance. Wood is slowly but surely constantly drying out and “shrinking.” This means that the chinking (the white filler stuff that goes between the logs) must be re-applied every few years. Also, the outside logs must be re-varnished and treated every 2 to 4 years, a big and pricey job. We assume that we will be on a very limited income once my husband retires, and won’t have the funds for major maintenance costs, so we specifically designed the house to be as maintenance-free as is humanly possible. We opted to go with fiber-cement siding for the exterior cladding. It is highly rated as a fire-retardant, but more importantly, it is guaranteed to not need repainting for 15 years! We chose the color that most resembled the color of the surrounding trees. It blends in so well with the immediate environment that you can’t see the house from the road unless you already know it’s there.
Our property is located in a very windy location. About 3 miles away, back in the 1980s, there was a historic blow-down that permanently destroyed many acres of forest landscape. In the summer there is almost always a breeze, but the wind can sound pretty scary during a storm. The roar of wind is frequent and regular, and we figured based on the noise that some of the gusts had to be at least 75 mph. We bought this anemometer (a wind-measuring device) from the store at Mt. Washington Observatory:
But it turns out that our maximum recorded wind speed so far was only 37 mph. It just sounds much louder and scarier because of all the trees. Placing the anemometer was a bit tricky, since we have to be careful that it isn’t damaged when huge sheets of snow and ice fall off the roof in the winter.
Here is a picture of my orchard. This heavily wooded area was cleared to allow for more sunshine on the solar panels. I planted 8 Honeycrisp and Macoun apple seedlings there in place of the thick stand of oak, pine, beech and birch trees that were felled. Since these semi-dwarf apple trees will only grow to about 15′ high, they won’t create shadows on the solar panels that are placed on the other side of the driveway.
Last summer I also planted 6 blueberry bushes. I also planted kale in raised beds, with great success. This past autumn I planted garlic, and it’s doing beautifully.
One corner of the orchard has 3 beehives which are not owned by me; I let someone use my property as a bee yard. He gets the honey, and I get to watch and learn about bees and my plants benefit from the pollination. At one point I thought I might get into beekeeping, but after observing the Bee Man I decided it’s more physical labor than I can realistically handle.
This is my latest future project: I am having more woods cleared to make room for a raised-bed garden. I hope to plant squash, cucumbers, herbs, beets, and kale for starters. The downed trees will not go to waste: the wood will be used to heat our home in the coming winter.
Our property sits on 5.6 acres of woods, and backs onto the White Mountain National Forest. The WMNF abounds with trout streams, ponds, bogs, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and hiking and snowmobiling trails. With each season, the landscape changes. I never get tired of the woods. Every day I thank HaShem for enabling us to experience this wonderful, spiritual, and healthy way of life in the woods of Maine.