Do Mice in Ukraine play the Balalaika?

Mice, you say? Do they? Do they really????

Judge for yourself.

This is a Ukrainian folk song. The musicians are of Ukrainian descent, but yes, they live in Maine. Mr. David Rapkievian and his lovely wife. We are doing a Ukraine benefit concert, but any such thing is not just trudging through the tunes as if you are taking distasteful medicine- it is also entertainment. I think these two “get it” – wouldn’t you agree?

I sent this as an email first

Sometimes I have sent out three versions of this, one to each group (Portland Oblast, Belfast and Ellsworth) but this time just one email to all. Please forward this to any interested parties including singers you know or anybody who wishes to contribute to the cause of peace in Ukraine using their voice and heart. 

I think we have made excellent progress in the few weeks we have started to rehearse.  Lots of enthusiasm and also a sense of focus which has been enjoyable. We have had weather challenges (and I am sure we will again). And we are still hoping to find more singers. So, you are invited to tell your friends about this and bring them along. At some point we will get all three groups together in one location (maybe on a saturday?) and work on the arrangements of the tunes, not just the singing of them.  I don’t have a date for that all-groups meeting though.

This week’s plan is: 

Tuesday Jan 31st at 6 PM in Belfast, at 17 Court st, for the Belfast group

Wednesday Feb 1st at 6:30 PM  at Linden Lea in Pownal, for the Portland Oblast group. detailed directions to Linden Lea  are to be found here:

Wednesday at 6 PM at the Saint Andrews Lutheran Church in Ellsworth, at 6 pm, for the singers from the “Mother Ship” – Hancock County and beyond.

Thursday at 6 PM in Hope Maine for The Huddled Masses Orchestra.

The song list

I will be editing what is on the YouTube playlist to reflect what Anne and Sarah and I have been thinking. 

What we have sung so far depends on each group, they are not all in sync (they don’t need to be, yet). 

Mnohaja Lita – this is the “for he’s a jolly good fellow” of Ukraine

Oi I Luzi Chervona Kralyna” – this is the rousing call to action.  we’re getting there on the pronunciation. We’ve really only focused on the first verse though

Pliny Cacha

this one is simpler than it seems, inasmuch as each verse of four lines is subdivided into 2-and-2. We plan to assign the first half of each to different soloists ( as on the Spooky Men’s Choir version). Be thinking as to whether you wish to be one of the soloists.  

O Khodyt’ Son, Kolo Vikon – the lullaby

this one has sounded magical in the two subgroups that have tried it so far.


for this one, the Belfast group had some discussion as to the best key to sing it in.  This was an example of the folk process; we don’t need to make each tune sound like the record we learned it from, there is artistic license involved and we can create together to make best use of the voices we have, not the ones we wish we had. The written key is too low for the sopranoes; but when we tried a higher key it was too high for the men in the group ( there are about seven men in the Belfast group). Anne suggested that we simply make it a song for the just the men in the group  to sing, which I think is a good idea. I am going to talk to the Low Brass players of the Huddled Masses Orchestra to see about how we can fit in as well.

O Harna –

This is one Sarah suggested and I love the message of the lyrics, as explained at the beginning of the video. We haven’t broken it out yet. 

Hey Hey Sokoli –

none of the groups has worked on this one yet. This tune has a long history, and you can find versions of it in every Slavic language. Take a minute to listen to this version if you want to meditate on the folk process.  pay attention to the part where the dad reminds them of the tempo change. 

Til now the version that has been on the playlist is the one from Pikkardiya Terskye, the men’s choir from Kiev. We think the version that most closely resembles what our choir can do is this version but some of those verses are in Polish not Ukrainian and we will adjust them. (It’s hard enough to learn Ukrainian pronunciation without also taking on the project of Polish pronunciation). we need to keep the slow verse, by the way….. 

Sholem –

 though I just said I think learning Polish pronunciation would make things too complicated, I still am lobbying to include Sholem,  which uses Yiddish in the verse. The message of the tune is to promote peace. It’s a great singalong. There is a great cantorial singer here in Maine and I emailed him to join us and lead it but have not heard back. If you haven’t heard that guy sing you are missing out. Odessa Ukraine has been a center of world Judaism for 800 years or more. 


There is a world-class balalaika player living on MDI whom I have requested to also do some tunes. see above. More on this later.

The Huddled Masses Orchestra

The H.M. O. will do one or two tunes. 

The all-important concert date

Lots of people have asked what the actual concert date will be. The simple answer is, I do not know. The original date of early March was always a “placeholder,” and I knew it was ambitious. I think it more likely we will do the concert in early June. If we try to force ourselves to perform a date before we are all ready and comfortable with the material, we will just create anxiety and a bad vibe, instead of the uplifting payoff of a job well done. Life is too short. 

In the meantime if we demonstrate that we are making a grassroots effort, this in and of itself will keep Ukraine in the news which will bolster political support for Ukraine.

Additions and subtraction to the tune list for the proposed concert?

The typical sit-down concert of this type is about an hour or maybe ninety minutes. We have nine tunes on the “reasonable target list.” Is we divide 60 by 9, that allots six and a half minutes per tune, but then you have to add in time between tunes. If I apply that calculation, we already have close to as many as we need, and these would better fit a ninety minute program. 

One way to put it in very practical terms, is that we will not be doing endless practice of new tunes. The program is getting delineated and coming into better focus. Keep working away at it!


Learning Cyrillic alphabet, the Ukrainian style, for the Maine Balkan Choir and other purposes (such as enriching your life in general).

Okay, so we always knew from the beginning that learning to sing in Ukrainian would be a challenge. Many of the singers have prior choral experience, with trained voice and can sing “solfeggio” – the style where you place the pitch aided by specific hand signals. I always envied people who could use that tool. I never was in choir in school – I played trumpet since I was ten. (and when I was twelve, I figured out what they were talking about when the subject of “tuning” came up. It was a revelation).

Transliterated lyrics

Anne and Sarah and I have set things up so that when we distribute sheet music we always include the transliterated lyrics. Converting the words into the American alphabet. Google will do it for you these days if you know which button to push. And we have also posted mp3 files of the music as presented by a native speaker. These are on a YouTube playlist so you can mimic the sounds made by native speakers on the video. Play it over and over while driving. and sing along to it. But there are some persons who are going the next step and trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet.

The other day I websearched for Cyrillic flash cards, found a set that looked good, and emailed it out. Then a return email from Val Dingle – (or if I refer to her as “Valentina Teslenko Dingle” you will know that she has “street cred” on this subject). She lives near the New Hampsha border and is a native speaker of Ukrainian who will join the Portland Oblast group. She told that Ukrainian Cyrillic is not the same as Russian Cyrillic. So I went back and re-Googled, to find a Ukrainian cyrillic set of cards.

There is a whole lot of material to be found at and that is where I got the ones I am now using.

start with this fifteen minute video.

They go through each letter thoroughly. It has English subtitles; that may seem like a drawback but it’s not – you need to start to look at words from the beginning, and you can listen to the spoken word as you read the written word.

How to get the flashcards?

go to There you will find a spot where they ask you to submit your name and email address, then they send it as an email attachment pdf file. you can print from there. This is the exact flashcard stack I used in the video I made this morning.

UkraineLessons is on Twitter. follow them at: @ukrlessons

How to use the printed out flashcards

I am old school. I have done this with other languages and there is no substitute for repetitive rote memorization. I share my tips.

Other flashcard experts speak out!

I did a Google search on how to use flashcards. Here is a good article that tells about reshuffling your deck:

Round Writing of Malayalam and Kannada

I have always loved alphabets. This reminds me of traveling in Kerala, India where they speak Malayalam. The dialect of Malayalam in Kerala is “Kannada.” The first time I saw somebody write something in “round writing,” I laughed out loud with simple happiness. Here is an example:

have a good day!

Maine-Based spoken Ukraine language course via Zoom starts March 8th via Ellsworth Adult education.

This blog has been focused on Ukrainian folk music for a few weeks as we rev up the three branches of the Maine Balkan Choir. This singing group will participate in a benefit concert of Ukrainian folk songs in spring or early summer 2023.

I am reaching out to the scattered Ukrainians and Ukrainian-Americans in Maine. I found out that there is a person in Ellsworth teaching a conversational Ukrainian course via the Adult Education department there.

Here is the blurb:

“This course gives students the opportunity to learn a language by working with an instructor who is a native Ukrainian speaker. Classes meet one hour every week in small sessions. The program uses a self-instructional method for language learning, and the focus of this method is oral proficiency. The last half hour of each session Kateryna will share the culture of her home country.  This is a live online class using ZOOM.

the course runs from March 8th to 29th, with a Makeup class, if needed, 04/05/23. The teacher’s name is Katheryna Bagrii, a Ukrainian-American who is also a Ukrainian tutor at Orono.

Online Class

For more information, call us at 207.664.7110 phone * 207.669.6247 fax

March 8th to 29th, 2023

Wed for 4 weeks from 7:00 – 8:30 pm

There is a fee of $65.

Click here for the link.

How to Maximise YouTube links when learning Slavic and Balkan singing style

We didn’t have YouTube back in the day. I don’t think it really took off until about 2008 or so. Nowadays there is useful stuff there for all kinds of things you might want to learn. I made several YouTube playlists in support of the Maine Balkan Choir and The Huddled Masses Orchestra and shared them with people. The only instruction I gave was “listen to this in your car to hear how the music is supposed to sound.” Now is time to elaborate, esp since a big storm is coming through over the weekend. You can do this while tending the fire.

Just listening to the tunes in your car is”hint number one” – about as basic a level as you can get. After a few run-throughs your eyes will glaze over and when you can hum the melody line you usually hit a plateau. The next step is to actually learn how to sing the words to the songs, and of course they are in Ukrainian. We included the “transliterated lyrics” with most songs, though the original would have generally been in Cyrillic.

Hint Number two – setting speed

The next step is to pick a song, and find it on the playlist. Get out the transliterated lyrics. Now? go to the lower right hand corner of your computer screen and you will see a small wheel for “settings.” click on that, and you will see “playback speed.” Click on playback speed and it gives you a choice of slowing it down to 75% or more, and also a choice to speed it up. If you slow it down past 75% the tone and register gets a bit too slo-mo. Sometimes this will help you as you listen intently to the way the words go and how each syllable is broken up to fit the melody.

You can try singing along at the slower speed, then speed it up.

Hint number three – closed captions

Next to settings wheel is an icon that says “CC.” Sometimes these come with auto-translation into English, but that is more likely when the language of the song is French or Spanish.

Hint Number four – closed captions in English transliteration. It is not often that you find a closed caption example in which the person is singing in Ukrainian and the caption uses transliteration. I did find one example and it is below. You can read (or sing) along the transliterations and listen to the song. These tend not to be pieces we are planning to do, but if it helps with your comfort level of transliteration, that is a good thing. if I find more I will add them. ( If you find one, send me the link).

Who is that!?!??!

The singer in the video above is quite well known, with 183,000 subscribers on YouTube. Her name is Marichka Marczyk. She is Ukrainian (of course) and has helped collect folk songs of that country for years. She lived in Toronto Canada where she was a member of The Lemon Bucket Orchestra, Toronto’s only “Balkan – Klezmer – Gypsy-Party-Punk -Super Band.” Here she sings with the band during a frenetic rendition of Tomu Kosa. Please note that she uses the classic polyphonic style and so do the other singers. This tune has been an earworm for me the past ten days. I think it broadens the idea as to the variety of genres of music in Ukraine. And Canada for that matter!

Marichka’s words of wisdom

Ms. Marczyk sings not just with LBO but also with Balaclava Blues. Below is an eight minute instructional video Ms. Marchyk made in 2020. In it, she describes Hint #5 – putting your feelings into the music and how to produce the sounds of polyphony. Actually it is more like hints #5 through #20, there is so much good advice here.

Now, the trick is, the video is in Ukrainian. BUT it does have English subtitles. If you can struggle through the subtitles it will worth it. This is a master class in polyphonic singing.

Marczyk in motion. The body language is colorful.

At the YouTube site, is a long description in Ukranian and of course, it is in Cyrillic alphabet. Did you know that if you highlight a passage in Ukrainian, there is a drop down where you can click on “translate this section into English.” When I did that, the following appeared:

(begin section by Ms. Marczyk) In this video you will learn about the technique of singing in a folk voice. It is based solely on my more than 20 years of experience singing folk songs and my observations of the processes of “extracting” an “open” “white” voice.

The concept of world perception of folk performers

The right feeling of your body in space

How to breathe

The main differences between classical vocals and folk vocals

The position of the mouth when singing

Some exercises Secrets of singing in a high voice

Safety during training (important) and much more

Of course, this is not all. But there is a beginning, I hope it will come in handy for someone. She recorded the most important video for me in my life. Far from perfect. But I did. In this video I will NOT tell you as I told my mom that I “hate folk songs” thinking it was just a throat dredge in a drunken voice how I learned to sing, closing in a narrow closet, crying into a pillow, so as not to scare the neighbors how aprons “breathe” on grandmothers when they sing – and it is immediately clear that they, like yogis, breathe in their stomachs about how you can “kill” with the power of your voice about how I received the best compliment from Georgian singers for the “right” singing technique about how the aborigines consider me to be their own and trust their secrets, because ancient Ukrainian songs arose in the same way in a deep connection with the earth and nature I didn’t understand a single word about how I went on the first folklore expedition in the songs and they all sounded “for one motive” to me. About how I realized how to sing in a high voice after only 20 years of singing in “Bass” and a lot of interesting things

BUT I would give a lot for the fact that in the years of my youth there was such a video that explains the secrets of the national spviu Therefore, I am indescribably grateful Ali Zagaykevych, composer and folklorist, who discovered folk music for me, Elena Ivanovna Murzina, for the discovery of the first expeditions for me, Evgeny Vasilyevich Efremov, who for a whole month took a man, a freshman, on an expedition to immigrants from the Chernobyl zone unlimited gratitude to the band Bozhychi and Ilya Fetisov for all expeditions, for experience, for songs, for trips and festivals. For love. You built and hardened me. My husband Mark, who opened me up, made me believe in myself and gave me peace. And to all of you, the people of the world, for the desire to learn and preserve the beautiful. I hope my experience will be useful to someone. Write your feedback and wishes – I will be happy to answer any questions. (end of translated section).

This is not a dry academic lecture about the singing, but one in which she punctuates the lesson with examples using her own voice. Very practical.

And the subtitles are in English. You can enjoy the aural music of Ukrainian, the way the words flow, and get an idea of tone and inflection. These points are true for all Slavic polyphonic singing.

I did find myself laughing out loud at the 3 minute, twentyfour second mark (3:24). Tell me what you thought when you also saw it?

Anyway, all three subgroups of the Maine Balkan Choir ( Ellsworth Oblast, Belfast Oblast, and Portland Oblast) have been launched. Bring your friends to the next rehearsal!

Ellsworth/Bar Harbor Maine Balkan Choir rehearsals start Wednesday January 25th, 6 PM

The Maine Balkan Choir has begun rehearsals in Belfast and Portland, and will now start meeting Wednesdays at the Saint Andrews Lutheran Church at 175 Acadia Highway in the parish hall. 6 to 8 PM

The Maine Balkan Choir has been on pandemic hiatus but is now coming out of hibernation to perform a concert of Ukrainian folk music. Proceeds of the spring/summer event will be donated to a Ukraine Children’s charity.

The core group has sung together since 1998. We can share our expertise with new singers. We will be singing Ukrainian folk songs, lullabies, and love songs that reflect the richness of Ukrainian culture. We invite all local singers to join us at our weekly rehearsals.

The event will be Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 PM at the Parish Hall of the Saint Andrews Lutheran Church in Ellsworth. call (808) 352 1714 for further information.

Two other subgroups

Due to wide interest around the state, two other subgroups are also practicing, one in Belfast and one in Pownal, between Portland and Brunswick (which we have jokingly referred to as Portland Oblast).

The Huddled Masses Orchestra is a full-service ethnic band in Maine. And we have returned, Jan 16th 2023

The Huddled Masses Orchestra was active in Maine from about 1994 until 2005. It hibernated for seventeen years, like a cicada. We are now emerging from the ground and ready to play. We will be playing folk dance parties; we will be part of the benefit concert for Ukrainian children along with the wonderful Maine Balkan Choir; and – We do wedding receptions. Reasonable rates! Book now for summer 2023!

We are fans of the New York-based Zlatne Uste Brass band. Here is a video that describes what they do:

The name “Huddled Masses” comes from a line in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus to be found on the base of the State of Liberty. During each wave of immigration to The Land of Opportunity, the people brought their culture. And their musical instruments.

Bringing Back Horns

Joe Niemczura on Cerveny rotary-valve trumpet

The band consists of accordion, tuba, trumpet, clarinet, and percussion. Our motto? “We play country music. From The Old Country.” which just about sums it up. We do play waltzes and polkas, and just a few things you would expect at wedding, but we are not a cover band playing Green Day, or Taylor Swift, or any Metal songs. (I spent a bit of time living outside the USA and I confess I never heard any Taylor Swift songs until recently). We play circle dances. Such things as a Greek Syrto or Hasapiko, a Bulgarian lesnoto, or a Jewish hora. Our gig is to get the guests on their feet and out on the dance floor. There are now several excellent Jewish and/or Yiddish bands in Maine, but back in the day, The Huddled Masses also did Jewish weddings in Eastern Maine and at least one Bar Mitzvah. In fall we played Oktoberfest music. We were the first to play live Zwiefachermusik at dance festivals. We played at various festivals including NEFFA.


Smartphones with good video cameras along with YouTube were not the phenomenon they are now, so I don’t have a video of us back in the day. Some things are better off not to be filmed. When we do a circle dance we focus on ones with easy steps that people can have fun with. Recently I compiled a YouTube playlist to include our folk dance repertoire. The videos in the playlist show other bands along with dancers not from Maine, but you get the idea. Usually the front man of the band serves as emcee of the event we are playing. If the couple has some specific requests for tunes to be played, we will work those out in advance and play them.

The Lady of The Harbor

My father’s parents each came to USA via New York, with Lady Liberty to greet them. My parents were from Ware and Palmer, Massachusetts, each town with a large Polish-American contingent. Family weddings in the 1950s and 1960s were held at the White Eagle Club on Pulaski Street in Ware, with (you guessed it) a polka band at the reception. My mom taught me and my siblings how to polka, waltz and oberek when I was five.

Happy Louis and his band. In dim memory I am pretty sure this was a band that played for a family wedding. The Huddled Masses were decked out in matching bowling shirts. We haven’t even talked about uniform dress code this time around.

My early memories of family weddings are a blur. Whiskey, cigar smoke and cheap men’s cologne. The guests singing and toasting to the Polish National Anthem. Going to the bar and bringing back a highball or two for my uncles. Sleeping at Babciu and Dziadjiu’s house across from the Polish church on South Street. That world was not homogeneous and neither is the one we live in today.

Actively looking for low brass players

The core group of Huddled Masses Orchestra is very flexible, but sometimes we add other musicians depending on what the job entails. When we do Oktoberfest music we add low brass. (trombones, baritone horn.) A fully-staffed low brass section produces a rippling rumbling pulsating background like the engine of a muscle car idling at a red light. If that fits you, give us a call at (808) 352 1714.

Zabave and one earworm

Helping to plan a concert of Ukrainian music has been fun. We found out that Ukraine has it’s own version of “Happy Birthday.” and also that one genre of music is called “Zabave,” which translates literally as “party.”

The Huddled Masses Orchestra was a Zabave band this whole time and we didn’t even know it.

About Пливе кача по Тисині (Plyvi Cacha Po Tysini) and Orthodox Church choral singing in #Ukraine

The Maine Balkan Choir is now rehearsing our programme of Ukrainian music for an upcoming concert to benefit a children’s charity in Ukraine. We have selected songs to reflect the wide variety of musical genres and the rich traditions of Slavic/East European choral music. We will sing mostly in Ukrainian but also in Russian and Yiddish. Pop tunes, love songs, classic folk songs and children’s lullabies make up the tapestry of sound we will present.

This week we begin one in particular that deserves explanation – “The Duck Swims.”

It’s not new to this war

The song has been around for thirty years or more. A choir in Canada sang it in 1987. The link to their essay is:

The essay referenced this version:

Pikkardiyska Tertsiya is a well-known choral group in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine started in 2014, and at that time the reality of war was driven home. The nation grieved. This song became indelibly linked to events of that period of the war. The lyrics of the song comprise a dialogue between a mother and her son as he goes off to join the military. One poignant line is when the boy asks his mother for her opinion and she says: “(There was a time when) you lay on my beating heart.” Is there a line in music that could possibly convey a mother’s love for her child better than this?

Many artists have covered this song, with many sets of visual images to convey the feeling imparted by the music. Here is one that uses scenes of families fleeing the conflict with their children.

I can’t do a better job at telling the story, but I can set the stage as to one other piece of the background. From a musicological perspective, the composition of the tune reflects a thousand years of history of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Here are two examples.

Miserere Mei Deus

A renaissance-era classic lament with a famous backstory involving Mozart (as in, Wolfgang Amadeus. that guy) and his 1770 visit to see the Roman Catholic Pope in the Sistine Chapel.

Miserere Mei Deus features the great Josephine Stevenson hitting the high notes, though in 1770 that part would have been covered by a boy. This is psalm #51 from the Bible – one of the “penitential psalms. “Have Mercy On me, O God.” It is a psalm expressing deep anguish, shame and grief.

Russian Orthodox Church/ Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Here is one from the eastern church. In this case, it is a small a capella choir of priests and nuns in Saint Petersburg. They are not singing Plivye Cacha, but rather “The Lord’s Prayer.” The lead guy is evidently singing in Aramaic, the actual language of Jesus.

A church service usually includes a psalm or two, from among the 150 presented in the Book of Psalms. It’s easy to find many examples of this style on YouTube, especially if you use search words in Cyrillic. This format for psalms is familiar in the order of Mass of the Roman Catholic church as well, where the psalm-singing is always presented in a predictable way so that the congregation might follow along with prompts from the choir.

To me, the inspiration for Pliyve Cacha comes directly from this other tradition. What makes it so powerful is that it is a secular (i.e., non-religious) song presented in this way. Can you hear what it is that I am talking about?

At the site of Top 10 Ukrainian Folk songs, it says:

“It is a farewell song. The song has become popular after the requiem for Euromaidan heroes in 2014. A duck crossing waters is a symbol of death and going to the other side.  It is a beautiful lament that speaks to the dangers and price of war.

“The language is an example of the Transcarpathian dialect, so it may be a bit hard for Ukrainian learners. That said, if there is ever a case when you don’t have to understand the lyrics to get the meaning, this may be it.

Singing a choral tune involves the mechanical learning of lyrics, melody and harmony but at the highest level, also calls out for the singer to feel it in their heart. Then, so will the audience. If you believe in the power of music, you are sending a message of love and support to Ukraine. We are not a professional ensemble, but even in the quick intro from last week’s rehearsal in Belfast I thought we could pull it off. We will refine it further.

See you in Belfast Tuesday (or Pownal Wednesday) !

Change in Meeting venue for next rehearsal of #MaineBalkanChoir Portland-area subgroup for January 18th at 6:30 PM

A group of Maine musicians and singers have gathered to prepare for a benefit concert for a Ukraine children’s charity. We believe that lifting our voices in music is a beautiful way to express the deep feelings of peace and harmony we fervently wish for Ukraine. Ukraine is a slavic country with a long tradition of folk music that expresses universal themes of family togetherness and life’s lessons. Somehow most of the longest-enduring Ukrainian tunes are love songs. Many songs celebrate the recurring seasons of the agricultural calendar. Ukraine is a leading wheat exporter and the flag of Ukraine symbolizes a wheatfield (or maybe sunflowers, they export sunflower oil too).

You too, can grow sunflowers in your own garden as a sign of solidarity.

The group originally planned to rehearse weekly in Belfast (there they meet every Tuesday at 6 PM). Singers in Southern Maine expressed the desire to also join this exciting project, but have been reluctant to commute to Belfast. A quick internet announcement attracted interest including Sarah Hipkens, a qualified choral director who had been a member of the Yale Slavic Chorus.

The song is about selling your vegetables at a public open-air market and enjoying a chat with your customers. Slavic music uses polyphonal harmonic techniques.

We held our first rehearsal in Portland. The group was enthusiastic and focused. It was apparent that singers were attracted to the fun of Slavic choral music. We realized we needed a bigger space with a lot more parking. more parking (this is a good thing!) so we have changed the location to Pownal.

Linden Lea at 655 Elmwood Rd in Pownal. Wednesday January 18th at 6:30 PM

Fortuitously, the owner of Linden Lea is a singer who promotes all kinds of traditional music in the intimate setting of a renovated barn. (it is heated). Janet Lynch is also a pretty good singer in her own right.

(The below consists of detailed directions from Janet Lynch)

Directions to “Linden Lea”, 655 Elmwood Road, Pownal, 04069: 
“Linden Lea”, the name of my farm in Pownal and its eponymous music loft, is easy to find, at 655 Elmwood Rd. in Pownal 04069, very near Bradbury Mountain State Park. Somebody recently nicked two of the street numbers off my mailbox but I will try to fix that by next week. To make it my driveway easier to find, in any case i will put out a traffic cone with a reflective sign on top of it to help you to find it next Wednesday. 

Detailed Directions:

If you are driving north/ northwest from Freeport/ Yarmouth/ 295, It is exactly 9/10 of a mile north of the blinking red light and gas station at the intersection with Route 9 in Pownal Center, past the Pownal Elementary School on the right. Also there is a yellow diamond road sign right in front of my house (just past my driveway entrance) to indicate that there are curves in the road ahead. When you see this sign, put your right blinker on. If you pass that sign, you’ve passed my driveway.

If you’re coming from the southwest (e.g. Gorham/ Windham/ Gray), take 115 to Depot Road down the dip and up the steep hill until you get to Pineland/ Route 231. Jog left on 231 and then take an IMMEDIATE right onto Allen Road. The signature white Pineland fencing will be on your right and a Pineland Garden will be on your left. Go down a hill and under a railroad bridge (CAUTION – the bridge underpass is single lane.) Continue up the hill past the Pownal Post Office and continue to a three-way STOP SIGN. That is Elmwood Rd. Take a RIGHT on Elmwood and go about a mile and a half. After you pass the intersection with Lawrence Road, go SLOWLY, as you will head down a dip over a brook. That brook is the western border of my farm, so put your left blinker on, as my driveway is at the top of the hill. 

Elmwood Road is a busy road, so please don’t park on the road for your own safety. There is ample parking is in the field adjacent to the barn, but it’s dependent on weather conditions so please wear sensible shoes and bring a flashlight or use the flashlight on your phone. There is a good deal of parking in the driveway itself, but if you can carpool that would be helpful.

Access/ toilet facilities: 
“Access to the music loft is up one standard (to code) set of stairs with a handrail. There is a composting toilet on the ground floor. If you use the composting toilet, PLEASE be sure to SIT DOWN, whatever your gender, and whatever your business. If you don’t sit down, it doesn’t work. Or you can also use the downstairs toilet in the house if you are more comfortable with that


And why not come sing with us? It’s for a good cause. You will learn a fascinating aspect of a unique world culture. You leave energized by the vibe of the group.

Report of second rehearsal of #Maine Balkan Choir in Belfast Maine, Jan 10th 2023. Portland group meets tonight, January 11th

Eighteen singers attended the second rehearsal of the Maine Balkan Choir in Belfast and got to work. As organizers of many musical events we know that the “membership” of such a choir will be fluid. It takes awhile to get the word out. People will bring their friends; others will decide its not for them. And events such as parent-teacher conferences or trips out of state during a long winter are destined to punctuate the next months as singers lead their lives.

In Belfast there was a buzz as people gathered. I was hopeful. Then Anne Tatgenhorst, the director, started the warmup and an aura of concentration hushed the room. The first exercise was for Anne to go section to section, sing the note of a chord, and activate the group. This is an ancient way to teach singing and I could imagine my Polish ancestors doing the same thing huddled around the hearthfire in their humble farmhouse in Poland a hundred years ago. Many Mainers heat their homes with cordwood to this day. Anne guided us methodically through each tune. The first chords came out and – it was beautiful from the git-go. It sounded angelic to me. I was surprised to find myself tearing up. I blinked back and tried to focus on the sounds around me. Two guys next to me were chuckling as they said “I haven’t sung in this kind of a choir since high school.”

Pork in Poland

If you are reading this but haven’t decided whether to take the next step and join us? be advised, it’s not too late. No experience necessary. People who share the gift of choral singing develop a strong bond with the people singing alongside. No, we aren’t huddling around a fire, and since is downtown Belfast, I don’t know of pigs in any nearby barn to be soothed by the music. My ancestors in Poland raised pigs on their farm, and I myself had the ludicrous thought that maybe the pigs back in Poland were soothed if they overheard the farm family singing inside. It’s one of those things we will never truly know. Where is Wilbur when we need him?

Email and contact information

We collect everyone’s info so we can inform the group electronically. I normally hide the headers of emails but I am leaving these visible so that members can communicate with each other, and trying not to accidentally omit the communication. Hey, use the delete key. you can see the names of other people who have indicated the willingness to attend. I send out helpful tips on the music, and if the tips are good, I memorialize them with a concurrent blog entry.

Portland group meets tonight, January 11th at 6 PM 

I am happy to report that the offshoot in Portland has a Director who was a member of the legendary Yale Slavic Chorus back along. She offered her living room for the first rehearsal, which is why the location is not exactly “public.” As in Belfast we will welcome walk-ins and new members in the coming weeks, but people will need to phone me so I can disclose the street address. This is for for privacy concerns. If you are thinking of joining, phone me at (808) 352 1714 and I will whisper the location to you over the phone.

The general location is in the neighborhood of Waynefleet School where there is ample parking. I will join the Portland offshoot this evening, and so will Anne Tatgenhorst. My number is (808) 352 1714 in case you are lost or confused as the time approaches. 

The Rehearsal plan

In Portland we will work on three specific tunes, and will bring sheet music etc. We are using YouTube as a vehicle to share videos of these songs being performed. Something that was not available back when I was learning how to sing in a Slavic language. Imagine what they could have done in the old days of rural Poland using YouTube.

Here are the three tunes so you can get fired up. 

Oi I Luzi Chervona Kalyna is at:

This song has an interesting history:

O Kodyt son ( The lullaby) is at:

This is a lullaby with a message of peace and hope. (“may all the babies have a warm house, a full belly, and a kitten sleeping nearby”) and showcases a style of three part harmony closely associated with Slavic village singing. More info about the tune is here:

Mnohaje Lita is at several locations. the first short version we used as a warmup is at and there is another version to be found at:

Mnohaje Lita is a phrase used in certain social situations to impart group praise to person who are being recognized, such as at a birthday, wedding or anniversary. Here is a Wikipedia link describing this tune:

As we develop each tune, it will be added to a playlist of all tunes to be performed at the spring concert. If you are curious and wish to peek ahead, go to: This playlist will be updated as tunes are added. It’s created so that singers can listen to it in their car. We do not advise any driver to read along the lyrics when they should be keeping their eyes on the road, but we will also supply transliterated lyrics.

Mnohaje Lita to the singers meeting this evening, and to Sarah Hipkens for her willing ness to lead this.

see you soon!

Maine Balkan Choir is inviting singers to join and sing Ukrainian folk songs for spring concert, in Southern Maine (around Portland)

No audition is needed and you don’t have to have prior choral experience.

A Portland sub-group will rehearse every Wednesday in Pownal, Maine (north of Portland near Freeport). SEE BELOW FOR DIRECTIONS The Maine Balkan Choir (MBC) has returned from pandemic hibernation, and had the first rehearsal in Belfast Maine with twentythree singers in attendance. The Belfast group sings every Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 PM at 17 Court St, and all singers are welcome.

We are preparing folk songs of Ukraine, and we will perform a concert in spring, with proceeds to benefit a Ukraine children’s charity. We will provide the sheet music along with lyrics transliterated from Cyrillic to the American alphabet. All singers are invited.

Music is a window into culture. We can use our collective voices to support those suffering through wartime in winter. Many Ukrainian folk songs express family values of peace and unity. We will sing from a variety of genres including love songs and lullabies.

Portland subgroup forming

Singers in Southern Maine expressed the desire to also join this exciting project, but have been reluctant to commute to Belfast. Wd held our first rehearsal in Portland and decided we need a bigger space with more parking (this is a good thing!) so we have changed the location to Pownal.

Linden Lea at 655 Elmwood Rd in Pownal.

Directions to “Linden Lea”, 655 Elmwood Road, Pownal, 04069: 
“Linden Lea”, the name of my farm in Pownal and its eponymous music loft, is easy to find, at 655 Elmwood Rd. in Pownal 04069, very near Bradbury Mountain State Park. Somebody recently nicked two of the street numbers off my mailbox but I will try to fix that by next week. To make it my driveway easier to find, in any case i will put out a traffic cone with a reflective sign on top of it to help you to find it next Wednesday. 

Detailed Directions:

If you are driving north/ northwest from Freeport/ Yarmouth/ 295, It is exactly 9/10 of a mile north of the blinking red light and gas station at the intersection with Route 9 in Pownal Center, past the Pownal Elementary School on the right. Also there is a yellow diamond road sign right in front of my house (just past my driveway entrance) to indicate that there are curves in the road ahead. When you see this sign, put your right blinker on. If you pass that sign, you’ve passed my driveway.

If you’re coming from the southwest (e.g. Gorham/ Windham/ Gray), take 115 to Depot Road down the dip and up the steep hill until you get to Pineland/ Route 231. Jog left on 231 and then take an IMMEDIATE right onto Allen Road. The signature white Pineland fencing will be on your right and a Pineland Garden will be on your left. Go down a hill and under a railroad bridge (CAUTION – the bridge underpass is single lane.) Continue up the hill past the Pownal Post Office and continue to a three-way STOP SIGN. That is Elmwood Rd. Take a RIGHT on Elmwood and go about a mile and a half. After you pass the intersection with Lawrence Road, go SLOWLY, as you will head down a dip over a brook. That brook is the western border of my farm, so put your left blinker on, as my driveway is at the top of the hill. 

Elmwood Road is a busy road, so please don’t park on the road for your own safety. There is ample parking is in the field adjacent to the barn, but it’s dependent on weather conditions so please wear sensible shoes and bring a flashlight or use the flashlight on your phone. There is a good deal of parking in the driveway itself, but if you can carpool that would be helpful.

Access/ toilet facilities: 
Access to the music loft is up one standard (to code) set of stairs with a handrail. There is a composting toilet on the ground floor. If you use the composting toilet, PLEASE be sure to SIT DOWN, whatever your gender, and whatever your business. If you don’t sit down, it doesn’t work. Or you can also use the downstairs toilet in the house if you are more comfortable with that

The Portland-area group is led by Sarah Hipkins. She is experienced in the style of singing and has an engaging approach. Ms. Hipkins is a former Director of the legendary Yale Slavic Chorus now living in Portland. She has agreed to lead the Portland group. As the concert date approaches the two groups will join forces.

How to Join, who to contact

The meeting in Pownal starts at 6:30 PM, Wednesday January 18th, and goes until 8 PM. Walk-ons are welcome. It s more fun if you bring your friends.

YouTube playlist of Ukrainian vocal repertoire

A playlist to include the songs we are working on has been set up to help singers study. You can practice at home or in your car using this tool.

Please share this widely.

Maine Balkan Choir Rehearsal Schedule for Belfast, winter 2023

Executive summary:

Twenty-three intrepid singers came to the first meeting Jan 3rd. The group was led by Anne Tatgenhorst, who has studied and performed the repertoire of Balkan music since 1998. Anne is an experienced choral director and leads in an enjoyable way with a good sense of humor. We are off to a good start!

with Elitsa Stoineva and Kim Reiss, Anne is in the middle. They performed as a trio during the choir events.

January Plans

We will continue to meet for rehearsal on the next five Tuesdays (at least) from 6:00 to 7:30 PM in the basement of Belfast Maskers building on 17 Court Street in Belfast. Also known as “The Underground Cafe” who have rented their space to us. (it is not open as a cafe during our rehearsals).

the dates are:

January 10th, 17th, 24th and 31st:

and February 14th, 21st and 28th. (The room is not available Feb 7th. We will most likely continue into February and beyond, but haven’t confirmed any March dates with the Cafe. When the Maskers calendar is set then we will know more).

It is not too late to join. You do not need prior choral experience. Bring your friends. We will supply sheet music.

The music

People ask what is the music like? Click here to see and listen to professionally performed samples of some of the tunes we are working on.


We have people who can read Cyrillic, the alphabet of many Slavic languages. Most choir members, however, do not. We still sing in Ukrainian, using transliterated lyrics. Click here to read about transliteration.

Maine Balkan Choir on FaceBook

Click here to find their FaceBook Page

Six Ukrainian Folk Dances for children, sheet music, lyrics, transliterations, translations and videos. Dec 25th.

On January 3rd in Belfast Maine we begin rehearsals for the Maine Balkan Choir to perform a benefit concert for Ukraine in March, 2023. If you happen to live in Belfast Maine or the vicinity, the time is 6 to 9 PM and the location is in a former church basement at 17 Court Street. We will meet weekly for practice.

We are doing this to promote a positive vision of Ukraine and the culture of it’s people. We don’t want the American public to forget that Ukraine exists. The Maine Balkan Choir along with the Huddled Masses Orchestra have studied and performed Slavic music for decades. Though we most frequently perform Bulgarian or Balkan music, Ukraine is in the neighborhood.

I have been on a quest to find music from the Ukrainian folk- and pop – repertoire. We are welcoming all community singers of good will to join us. This is a good way to harness energy for something positive for the situation and overcome feelings of helplessness. Singing is always a positive step.

Two resources for beginner groups

Slavic choral music often uses minor keys and plaintive melodies. The a capella tradition includes many songs shared by working people in the course of daily agricultural tradition. Small groups of women would sing together every day. A specific system of harmony developed, and collective music was a powerful source of solidarity and sisterhood. There are many Slavic choral groups in the USA.

Language Challenges

How to find the tune is the first hurdle. If you don’t read Cyrillic you don’t even know what to do a search for because the tunes are catalogued in their home language and alphabet.

I decided to find videos that help with Ukrainian children’s songs and the folk dances to accompany them.

It’s harder than you think to find sound recordings or videos, and also to use a system of transliteration of lyrics. The challenges include the practice of singing in the original language. As we embark on this project we know we need to guide new members of the choir in this area. I am spending this week developing resources.

I will now share what I found. Here they are:

YouTube List

I created a YouTube lists with six children’s songs on it. I put these in a playlist for people to sing along to while holding the sheet music, or just to listen while driving in the car. Click here to find a YouTube playlist that shows Ukrainians performing these songs.

Original Ukrainian Source? the late Leopold Yaschenko!

It’s not that these videos are rare. There is a Ukrainian-language website that is a treasure trove of more than 700 folk songs. The lyrics cover a wide range of topics and styles. Within that website is one particular page devoted to a 1962 booklet written by the Ukrainian ethnomusicologist Leopold Yaschenko. The original was written in Cyrillic cursive in a fanciful way, but somebody over there has transcribed many of the sheet music and lyrics pages into a relatively modern format. (not all, yet.) The site is in Ukrainian but you can click on a translation page to put it into English.

We will be looking at these to see which will be included in our concert program, but I am sharing this with various listserves of people who might be looking for the same material. For example, an elementary school class on Ukraine now will have enough material for a class unit on the country.

How, Where and why every choir in America can get their hands on Ukrainian Choral music. Dec 20th 2023 #standupforUkraine

I am suspending any major work on the Prayer Flag House until spring. Fingers crossed: this holds true as long as nothing breaks.

Ukraine War and American support

I am highly in favor of supporting Ukraine in their struggle to preserve their country, their culture and the people. My parents were from two small towns in western Massachusetts – Ware and Palmer – with vibrant Polish-American communities and I have vivid memories of family parties and other events celebrated by the two large families there. When I watch TeeVee about the Ukraine war, I can pick out many people who resemble my actual blood relatives in an uncanny way. It is unsettling.

The Hearts and Minds of America

The war will continue and supporters of Ukraine need to think about how to sustain America’s support of Ukraine. The war faded to the back pages of most newspapers. Right-wing politicians and media empires (I’m talking to you, Fox News) will continue to spout talking points that seem written in Moscow.

Artists can fight back and help the cause

There was a round of benefit concerts last spring when the war started. Here in Maine we got the attention of the New York Times when they wrote about the number of locals now displaying a Ukrainian flag at their house. We can support Ukraine by promoting the positive values of their culture. I am a musician and I grew up around Slavic music. In my adult life it propelled me to form a polka band (we played lots of wedding receptions) and a band that specialized in accompanying east European folk dance. The Russians are not successful at using music and song as a cultural tool; the Ukrainians have been masterful at it, and the efforts of musicians in Ukraine goes a long way to create good will toward their cause.

Choral Music

My own music group is now planning to present a benefit concert here in Maine in spring 2023. The planning includes finding written-out music for The Maine Balkan Choir (the only formal Slavic singing group here). They usually sing in Bulgarian, and they use transliterations of lyrics when practicing their tunes. Like any other choir they have a library of tunes on hand to share with new members and they have a way of group learning to adopt new repertoire. We expect to attract new members to the choir to work on this concert. It’s a small way to overcome the helplessness of watching a genocidal war unfold.

The Maine Balkan Choir. This group has been singing together since 1998.

Muzyk Publisher in Kyiv

the Muzychna Ukraine publishing company is a source for books of Ukrainian music. They have literally hundreds of folk tunes, choral works and Religious music in Ukrainian.

We have begun the process of expanding the library of tunes for the March concert. Finding the sheet music, using transliteration software on the lyrics, and the like. I am a geeky musician and this part is something I enjoy since it involves sleuthing around to find sources of tunes. The first websearch “Ukraine Folk Songs” led to a Top Ten list. I then contacted the company website, and I also cut-and-pasted the list into a YouTube playlist. They do not specialize in music per se, so they sent me a link to a Music Publisher (below).

The Big Idea and the Big Ask

Now that I am embarked on this project, I wish to share what I have learned and found with choir directors from around USA. First, some arrangements published right here in USA that you get from Some the tunes are current pop tunes (copyrighted), or have been arranged by American professional musicians (for sale at specific websites in the format used by am SATB choir), and others are in the public domain (The Ukrainian National Anthem for example.)

Disclosure: I don’t have an advertising budget, I am not doing this for pay. I have no financial relationship with any company listed here. But I do wish to get the word out which is why I am posting this on Daily KOS. Would you please share this with anybody you know who is a member of a choir, or involved with music education in any way?

Five examples

Here are examples of tunes that are already arranged for American-style choirs and available by purchasing for a small fee on the internet:

The Dream Passes by the Window

This one highlights polyphonic harmony style, with voices singing in drone, movement in the harmonic line, and minor chords. It is a famous lullaby, written many years ago, in which the mother sings words of hope for peace, warmth, and a full belly for her infant. Here is link to buy it for your choir.

Oi Luzi Chervona Kalyna

This is a rousing, lusty tune calling for people to rise up and defend. There are many versions of this out there, this is my favorite. The sheet music is professionally done and includes transliterations.


The Europop Music Awards were scheduled to be held in spring but were cancelled. This was Ukraine’s entry, and they won the 2022 prize. It has a rap interlude. My family included an aunt named Stephanie, a common name among east Europeans. (Link is to a piano transcription, I can send you the lyrics separately).

the Duck Swims (Пливе кача)

This one is simply stunning. It has echoes of liturgical settings, and in fact, has now become a staple of military funerals in Ukraine. (warning the video is NSFW unless you are okay with crying a torrent of tears at your work space).

Ukrainian National Anthem

sheet music for this in in the public domain, menaing that you can perform it without attending to copyright. Many versions out there, I like the operatic style of this version.

The Black Hen

In fact, I am still looking for a written-out version of this. If I can’t find one I will write it out myself, a laborious process. I will query my contacts in Kyiv to help me track it down as well. It is a children’s song that makes a game out of being hungry. Yes, you heard me. The verses describe ways to take your mind off eating, I am told. I like the tune and the way the musicians entertain.

Call to action?

DailyKOS has two million subscribers. I am sending this out hoping that if you know anybody in a choral group doing a concert for spring 2023, you will forward this to them and encourage them to add these tunes to the program. If they send me a message here at DailyKOS I will email some of the free material to anybody who asks. What if we got every choir or choral group in the USA to sing one or more of these tunes?

History is being made

There are many examples throughout history of music being used to strengthen the resolve of those determined to create a better world. We think of armaments, ammunition and soldiers as the instruments of victory, but music can serve to express the motivation to create a better world. Don’t overlook the need to sing these songs to counter the darkness.

Calling for #Maine singers who wish to join a benefit concert for victims of war in Ukraine. We start rehearsing Tuesday January 3rd in Belfast

Bottom Line: The first meeting will be in Belfast at 17 Court St, Tuesday January 2023 from 6 to 9 PM. RSVP to

Let’s start with this:

The lead singer is from Ukraine. The rest are Lithuanian. She was an exchange student who needed to express her love of country and hope for the future despite the invasion.

below is from the comments on YouTube, Pinned by Neringa Rekasiute

One comment cut-and-pasted from the video

The lyrics go like this:

Oh, in the meadow a red kalyna has bent down low,

For some reason, our glorious Ukraine is in sorrow.

And we’ll take that red kalyna and we will raise it up,

And, hey – hey, we shall cheer up our glorious Ukraine!

And we’ll take that red kalyna and we will raise it up,

And, hey – hey, we shall cheer up our glorious Ukraine!

You can read more about the song:

Organizing a choral singing event in Maine to take place in March 2023

We have all watched in horror as Russia sent an invading army to annex Ukraine. Their stated goals include the eradication of Ukrainian culture and language. The leaders of The Huddled Masses Orchestra and the Maine Balkan Choir have begun discussions as to how to support Ukraine. Because we are musicians who love Slavic music, we are planning a benefit concert for March 2023. The tentative day will be March 11th, 2023.

Looking for volunteer singers to join us from January to March.

The idea is simple. The Maine Balkan Choir has about a dozen members, but if there are any musical persons out there who feel the need to do something to express their support, all such persons are invited to join us. We will be singing and performing music from a variety of east European traditions, but we will especially focus on Ukrainian folk music arrangements sent to us by friends in Kiev. We will rehearse once a week in the Belfast area, and all interested singers will be welcome to join us. We are hoping for as large a volunteer contingent as possible, to create widespread support. Some prior choral singing experience is helpful but not strictly required.

Where to start( how to enroll): If you are interested, send an email with your name, email address, phone number, and town of residence to Joe Niemczura at and we will send further instructions.

We will provide the music, melody and chords, and lyrics. The words in are Ukrainian language using the Cyrillic alphabet, and we will provide transliterated lyrics (written out using English-language phonic system and alphabet.) We will also provide YouTube links to augment learning how to sing in Slavic style. Singers will be asked to contribute five dollars to defray photocopy costs and any mailing expenses that will arise.

How did we come by written-out sheet music?

Easy. In December I contacted people in Kyiv Ukraine and requested their help. Through the wonders of the internet, pdf versions of many popular folk tunes appeared in my email inbox. It was easy to find YouTube versions of each of these tunes. We are still doing transliterations of lyrics, but we expect to accomplish this soon. (the lyrics are Ukrainian, written in Cyrillic, a phonetic alphabet. Special transliteration software converts the Cyrillic to the alphabet used by English language speakers. Then it can be sung by vocalists who may not know the Ukrainian language but can make it sound as if they do).

This traditional lullaby expresses the hope of Ukrainian mothers for a safe and warm place for their baby to sleep.

Using the internet to create a large community of singers from throughout Maine

We expect to rehearse in Belfast on the mid-Coast (site to be determined). But due to Zoom and Skype, participants from other areas will be able to join us remotely during the run-up. Also, we encourage any unrelated choirs to join us. You can make huge progress with your own group and director. If we can organize this properly, we can harness the energy of a thousand singers. Naturally, we invite all Maine persons of Ukrainian or Slavic heritage to contact us and find a role in making this happen.

Folk Music is a big part of Ukrainian culture. Many Ukrainian folk songs describe events of life such as lullabies, love songs, patriotic tunes, and the like. Due to the long history of Ukraine there are also laments and melodies that give strength due to an expression of resolve and sacrifice. Other tunes are quite humorous. There is a long classical and liturgical music tradition, but Ukraine has also fostered a sort of fusion music between folk music and hip hop, as seen when a Ukraine group won the 2022 Eurovision Music Award with “Steffania.”

The Maine Balkan Choir has been singing together since 1998. This choir (originally the Maine Women’s Balkan Choir) was co-founded by the late Kirsten Stockman who was an avid folk dancer and singer. Over the course of time they performed around Maine especially at the Common Ground Fair. Past featured vocalists have included Elitsa Stoyneva, a seventime Gold Medal recipient for vocal music from Bulgaria now living in Boston. The current leader is Anne Stancioff Tatgenhorst of Winterport and Camden.

The Huddled Masses Orchestra started in 1994 as an all-service ethnic band. They play for folk dancing, Oktoberfests, wedding receptions, and other themed events. We expect other groups will join us for this event.

contact information:

Joe Niemczura

(808) 352 1714 (please note its a Hawaii area code but he lives in Thorndike these days)

Nov 17th electrical update at the Prayer Flag House

Quick Summary

In June my electrical consultant and I removed the conduit wiring from the second floor as prep for roughing in the new wiring prior to the sprayfoam application. At that time we took a more critical survey of the wiring situation and concluded that none of it was truly trustworthy. I ripped out everything behind the exterior walls, but after that place was foamed, we simply disconnected all the old wiring. In the cellar we left some that connected to the oil furnace, for example, but I replaced cellar wiring first since it connected to things like the water pump, hot water heater, sump pump, etc. We only kept what we could visually inspect for the entire run of the wire. The cellar got upgraded first. I wired one circuit to the Gallery Room with 12-2 w/grnd Romex and we ran extension cords from there to the refrigerator and other kitchen appliances as well as to whichever tools we were using that day.

The two new bedrooms on the first floor got powered up in September with plenty of wall outlets in each. In the newly-created anteroom to the Shangri-La Guest Bedroom it was easy to put new outlets that went to the kitchen but this was not the most convenient to the fridge.

This past week we replaced the kitchen ceiling lights with two “bubbi lights” – the bane of my interior design consultant. Each has three LED bulbs that really brighten up that room. Not only that, they are controlled by switches on the wall.

Honest to God I did not invent the nickname. It’s you who has their mind in the gutter. My interior design consultant lives in Florida and has an impeccable taste for creating a comfortable living space. When I told her what kind of ceiling light I bought and installed (without running it by her), she hung up the phone.

Adding the light to the mudroom created a challenge to find the old wire. This was one of the objectives of removing the boards in the Secret Room.

The theoretical goal is to tunnel along the track of the old wire, attach the “electrician’s fish” to it, and pull the new wire through with minimal disruption of the surface. Alas, the old wire took a circuitous route. Electrician’s staples secured it along the way in unreachable places. We created a large blemish in our hunt for the wire. I ended up bypassing it. The white wire is the 14-2 w/grnd Romex we installed.
Looking up at the ceiling repair. The opening was big enough to require fancier techniques of creating a sheetrock base upon which to apply mud. After three coats of mud most people would not notice that the blemish was there.
Thank you Mister Edison! Days are shorter this time of year and it’s nice to come home to a porch light.

The fridge circuit

Behind the fridge on the wall. First, I tried the easy way – using the zip tool to enlarge the opening then feeling inside to see where the wires went. they each went sideways. not a good sign. So I removed a section of paneling, then the sheetrock from underneath.

I drilled a hole from below to bring the wire up. the cross piece inside, went from one side to the other with no space left to thread the Romex, so I ended up drilling a hole through that as well. Also, there was an outlet that came down from above, in the mud room exactly opposite this outlet (that same outlet sent a branch down to the sump pump back along). They gave that other wire a creative route to get there, which was not Up To Code. Oh well. I drilled another hole through the toe rail next to the first one in case I decide to put an outlet in the mud room. And yes, I still prefer the metal boxes.

Putting the cover on

with the sawed-out pieces temporarily back in place. This will be behind the fridge. There are a variety of cosmetic approaches from a finish carpentry standpoint. How would you disguise this if you were in charge? (PS I did adjust the positioning of the outlets, so they fit better in the cover plate).

The GFCI in-line causes a non-zork

I have been in the habit of putting in GFCI outlets “upstream” on these circuits because they impart an extra layer of protection from electrical shock if used near something wet like a sink. I did that in the cellar with this circuit and chose a spot for the outlet that was in a part of the cellar that does not presently have its own light or a nearby outlet. If we are ever using power tools in that area this will be pre-placed and we will also get a light nearby without messing with extension cords.

When I flipped the switch for the whole array, I was alert for the zork sound. Nothing happened. No Zork. But when I went upstairs to check the circuit, there was no power. Now I had to troubleshoot. I used the electrical checker to determine that power was indeed getting to the line wire of the GFCI, but not to the load. After a bit of time lost in thought I recalled that a GFCI is automatically in the off position for the first powering-up. I reset it and the power-checker told me everything was getting power. I went upstairs and plugged the fridge into the new outlet. To my happiness, the fridge light was ON. However, fifteen minutes later the GFCI activated again so I put the fridge back on the other line.

I spoke later with my electrical consultant who told me people don’t usually put a GFCI on a line with a fridge; then also to go back and put electrical tape over the connector screws (something I had forgotten to do). I tried the tape idea, but the GFCI still kicked out, so I simply removed the GFCI and spliced the lines at that spot. At some future date I will go am going to applback and put a plain outlet there.

Next project? another line to the kitchen!

They say you should have two circuits to serve the food prep area, and at present the one described above is the only one. So I will put another near the present location of the microwave. For this, I plan to use conduit, bringing it up from below. I just don’t think I will ever decipher how they got the wires down through the wall from above.

Nov 15th report of last-minute weatherization and yard cleanup.

And finally we are on the cusp.

We had some really warm days here in Thorndike in November. That is about to end. Here is the forecast for the storm tomorrow. There are rumbles that we will get ten inches of snow this weekend. The light green is the transition zone between rain and wet flakes. There is always a transition zone. (image is from )

Last minute activities inside and out

I drained the residual water from the water hose, then brought it inside an outbuilding for the winter. I spent time applying putty around the windows in the gallery room and kitchen – these were windows that I did not replace this past summer. This was one of the recommendations on my EfficiencyMaine report. The putty is easily removable and reusable. I sealed up the cracks in front door but did not re-apply the large piece of styrofoam that had been in the space between the door and the storm door in previous winters. I want to be able to see out that window.

I moved dirt in the front yard the other day so the water from the roof drainage will be diverted away from the yard and into the direction of the drainage stream. Its essentially a small trench. I will line it with plastic and cover the plastic with crushed stone. I still have the pile of scrap wood next to the driveway; I will consolidate that a bit more and put my blue tarp over it. My garage consultant advised me to move the whole pile to make plowing easier. I don’t know where to move it, that’s the problem. I did not want to send it to a landfill, and I hope to cut it into smaller pieces to use for kindling in the garage woodstove.

The cellar was bone dry all summer, but water started to leak in when we had the recent rainstorms. It’s coming in from the side of the house near the back door. About an inch deep. I will put some plastic sheeting near the foundation in that area with the goal of diverting the water away from the foundation. I moved the push broom to the cellar so I can redirect the water toward the sump pump. (which is working just fine). Part of routine maintenance is to inspect the cellar regularly. I am happy that I put GFCI outlets in-line for the cellar lights and the sump pump.

Prayer Flags on front porch

These serve as the equivalent of weather rocks. A neighbor of mine got the tour last week (for the first time since my first week here). Her immediate reaction was “There used to be a drafty breeze in this place and I notice right away that the air is still.” For me, I look out the window and see that the prayer flags are wagging furiously even though there is no hint of a draft inside. This is good.

The energy audit team was two guys, and a main feature of this was to hook up the blower and measure the number of air exchanges as well as estimate leaks. We started with 9 exchanges per hour even with the new insulation. Makes me wonder what it was before! The average air exchanges of residential building in the USA is 6 per hour. After filling some air links, we got it to seven per hour. It’s a noticeable improvement.

Furnace maintenance

The stack temp of the chimney that serves the oil burner was 481 degrees. The new generation of propane-fired furnaces typically have a stack temp of 100 degrees (!). I have arranged for a technician to service the furnace and see what adjustments are needed.

I always look at the oil tank in the cellar. This shows I have used about an eighth of a tank. It was filled Oct 15th – one month ago. When I bought this house, the main strategy was to make every renovation decision based on comfort and energy efficiency. Never having lived here before, I am getting the first set of data as to how well that objective has been achieved. Very fortunate that I do not have a mortgage payment on this place. The likelihood of me getting through the entire winter at one-eighth of a tank per month? zero. It’s going to get a lot colder!

Electrical work –

I have continued to repair and re-install electrical wiring. This week my electrical consultant helped me get the triple-gang switch box hooked up and now the mud room and back entrance are on-line. It’s nice to have light esp since the days are shorter. I am working to restore the wall outlets in the kitchen – it will be nice to no longer rely on extension cords draped inside the place. I will write a separate post about this in a day or two.

About “Getting Your Wood In” Nov 4th 2022

Just to go on record, this will be brief. Maine has a high percentage of homeowners who heat their homes with wood. As in, cordwood. Cordwood is the common name for wood you get when you cut a tree down. Over the past few years, there has been a bit of a shift in preference to “pelletized” wood, because there is less physical management required to maintain a fire in the woodstove that way. But here in Waldo County at least, there are still people doing it the old fashioned way, with just one added twist: I found a woodcutter from among those listed in FaceBook Marketplace.

The Dragon

Here is the woodstove in the garage, which I have failed to assign a name. I suppose we will call it The Dragon. There is a big baffle device ( my garage consultant says it’s a catalytic converter) on the back, and when it gets fired up, the draft does not get established until after the baffle has been heated up “enough.” Meaning, it is smoky at first. This one was manufactured in Chicago and ( to me) resembles the boiler of a locomotive steam engine.

The Order

$275 for one full hardwood cord, cut, split and delivered. Unseasoned. Each of these terms has a specific definition and is part of the deal. Being an old-timer nowadays I can recall when a full cord was $60; we used to burn four cord a year in Norridgewock when we lived there. Wood delivers a palpably nice heat, and I recall many evenings spent around the woodstove with my wife sipping tea and browsing the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog that came in the mail shortly after New Year’s Day.


I thought I might be needed to help unload their truck. Two guys dropped it off, using a trailer that had a hydraulic lift like a dump truck. I should add, I specifically requested they include an unsplit round to serve as a chopping block. They brought a nice one of cherry wood. This ought to last for years.

Now my turn to do the work

what a cord of wood looks like. For the completely uninitiated, you don’t need the leaves to identify the species of tree. The bark, or the buds, are equally distinctive as the leaves would be. This was mostly maple with some oak and ash. Unseasoned wood still has moisture in it, and each chunk is heaver than an equivalent volume of seasoned wood. So, wood is sold by volume, not weight.

One Cord of wood is – ????

Four feet by four feet by eight feet.

The final stack

Hadn’t stacked wood in years and forgot some aspects of the art of stacking. First off, I like to stack it one chunk wide, so as to improve air flow between each stack and promote drying. However, I was worried that my grandson would climb on it (I just know he will) and fall in the gaps somehow. So I filled in the middle. This pile is 4 x 4 x 8, maybe a bit taller. So, it means they didn’t short me on the quantity ( which according to lore, they sometimes might try to do). I stacked it by the back door of the garage, where it will be easy to access when we need to replenish the woodstove firebox. To the right is the chopping block.

The art of Stacking

The trick is to lay some crosspieces so it is less likely to tumble. Any person who also stacks their own wood is entitled to comment or critique the job you did. It always starts with “Did you get your wood in?”

A handsome sight

My stack was okay but not as aesthetically pleasing as others. At some point when the snow is about to fly, I will put a tarp over it. I have two chimneys in the actual house but I don’t own an indoor woodstove, and even if I did, I don’t think either chimney is in good enough repair to use with a woodstove. An un-maintained chimney can easily cause a house fire. The main source of heat at the Prayer Flag house is the oil-fired furnace with ducts for “forced hot air”.

My son-in-law brought my grandson over. I told the boy it would not be a good idea to climb on the pile. I also told him to sniff the newly-split wood to enjoy the (oak) smell. My son-in-law then brought up a fact that I hadn’t considered. You can often determine what kind of wood it is, by the smell. Oak is obvious due to the tannin. But maple? sure enough, it smells sweet and faintly of maple syrup. He also pointed out the grain of a piece of cherry that was in there.

From a blog This is an example of turning a mundane project into art. Something better accomplished by a team. While I was stacking mine, a neighbor came by and helped for a bit, sharing that this was a task she always did in fall with her grandfather, and she had nice memories of it, mostly because she loved the man. memory is an odd yet wonderful thing.

Playing “Battleship” with floorboards in an attic space of an old house Oct 29th.

Surely you have played Battleship?

Its a guessing game as to finding things you can not directly visualize.

Or the surface of the ocean or a lake of pond. You know something is under the surface, but you can’t really see it

Video above: You know the leviathon is there somewhere, right? its still a thrill to see it break the surface.

Gordon Hill Road version of the game

So here was the challenge: I know I have light fixtures whose wires run through the ceiling of the kitchen (coincidentally also the floor of the secret room). I know where the light fixtures are. Each fixture is attached to a power supply and a light switch on the wall. The challenge is to figure out which floor boards need to be popped up to expose the area I want to work on.

We start with a floor that looks like this:

I did not fully realize at the time that I would need a “before” picture of the floor in the secret room. But here you can see that it’s mainly old boards.

We also know roughly, where the fixtures are, because we can measure them from below. We climb back up the stairs and retake the measurements against known landmarks. Then we apply a system to pull up the boards.

Link to a ten-minute YouTube video on the subject f finding wires under the floorboards:

This last part involves finding pairs of nails where the board crosses each joist in the floor. You never know what you will truly see crawling up from the newly-revealed space. Also, I tried to be clever by closely examining certain boards to see which ones look like they were previously pulled up then re-nailed back in place, under the supposition that there would have been a reason.

Panoramic view of the floor to the secret room. the panoramic lens makes it look bowed, but I assure you it’s level. Seeing it this way makes me want to shake my finger and say “this is what happens when you don’t brush your teeth!” We see the floor joists are 16″ on center; the cellulose is the gray fluffy stuff; and the seven dislodged boards lean against the wall ready to go back in place when I am done.

closer look into one of the gaps. You start by fishing around with your hand to move the cellulose out of the way. Somehow there were a lot more wires of indeterminate purpose, hidden here. Some of these probably supply power to the three kitchen wall outlets. I don’t want to spend time tracing these and fishing them around; I hope to do a kitchen renovation in summer of 2023.

Instead, I will bring power to new outlets in the kitchen, from below. Running the wires along the cellar joists will allow access along the wire; this would not be possible if the new wire ran under the floor in the secret room they way these wires do.

looking straight down at a spot where the wires transited one compartment to another by being laid over a beam. Just outside the hobbit door and just above the pink insulation. These wires didn’t get ground down so badly, but – never do it this way. All wires must be hidden or protected from repetitive trauma that might break them.

Who doesn’t like a treasure hunt?

Now, just a quick reminder. In July or so, my electrical consultant came over and helped me with electricity. We got a chance to discuss the state of the electrical system and the only conclusion was the the whole thing needed to be turned off as soon as possible, with the exception of wires that were visible along their entire length ( as in the cellar) or wires that I installed myself. So we made a few adjustments to disconnect all old wiring. To rewire became a main project. I bought three more flashlights. Seeing the condition of the wires in this space between the kitchen and the secret room validates that the earlier decision was wise. I uncovered many more instances of practice that would not meet the modern requirements of Code. For example, another “spider junction” that was completely hidden by the plaster and lath. lots of splices, lots of frayed wire, lots of hockey tape.

I was also amazed at the sheer volume of wires that ran this way and that. It is a mystery as to why they needed so many wires. I thought briefly about composing a diagram to show what was there and where it went in an effort to understand just what they were thinking. I quickly realized that this would take days and not lead me any closer to the rewiring that needed to be done. I will simply remove as much of the old wiring as I can and pretend that it never was there. Then at some point I will put the boards back.

View out the double window on second floor

The leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees. Today was clear and cool, last night was in the 30s. Not a cloud in the sky.

I am taking a few days away from the project list, I will be “back to the coal face” by Monday.

The Burden of Ownership in an Old House Oct 23rd

The property I am living in and working on comes with 1.0 acres of land. When the lawyers researched the title, this got highlighted in yellow on a map. It’s shaped like an arrowhead.

You would think that this makes it clear as to the boundaries of the property. On a day-to-day basis I know exactly where I live and who my neighbors are, but there are deeper forces at work here. The short summary is, the map represents the property only within the bounds of Euclidian geometry.

Transient Digression here: the rectangular part that faces the street is where the house sits. It is built on fill. There is a clear steep drop-off at the end of the fill where it joins the arrowhead section. The arrowhead section is a wetland. depending on rain and climate the water in it ebbs and flows.

Slipping the surly bonds of Euclid, his artifices, and all of his pomps.

The boundary comes alive when I share a factoid bestowed upon me by an Elder of the Town, who used to be a selectman and a land surveyor. He shall remain nameless, but like other curious residents of Thorndike he stopped by to check on the progress of the renovation. I knew from Day One that everyone was watching the progress here, though most drove by without comment. This gentleman started with pleasantries, then got down to business.

“How many survey maps did they give you?”

“I think there was a couple. Why do you ask?”

” Was wondering if you noticed the discrepancy between the surveys.”

He let that sink in, then told me that one of the surveyors did not correctly record one of the angles in the arrowhead. As that leg of the boundary went on the discrepancy got magnified.

“You may own part of the land on which the Fire Department building sits.”

I thanked him for this nugget of intrigue. On one level, the Fire Department can have the land. On the other level, I immediately thought back to Euclid. Or should I say, non-Euclid?

For those who need a refresher, non-Euclidian geometry applies to three-dimensional surfaces and Euclidian geometry applies only to flat surfaces. The Earth is in fact, non-Euclidian. It is spherical, and the curvature lends a distortion that magnifies over the distance.

The great mathematician and theoretician of planetary physics, Kurt Vonnegut, elucidated the idea that there are wrinkles in the earth where even the typical non-Euclidian principles do not apply. Kurt Vonnegut described the way the wrinkles manifested themselves in his seminal work The Sirens of Titan, and gave it a name – the Chronosynclastic Infudibulum.

Book Cover to the first paperback edition of Vonnegut’s exposition of theoretical physics. Obviously, those are his graduate students in the photo. This cover alone convinced me to buy the book when I was seventeen.

A Short video primer on Chronosynclastic Infundibulae.

Vonnegut clearly pointed out the existence of a large one in Rumford, Maine, but never gave specific directions how to find it. I used to drive on Route Two through Rumford now and again, and I never felt quite comfortable. OTOH, maybe it was just the potholes.

In the unorganized territories of Maine, the surveying process occasionally produced glaring discrepancies between surveys. If you look at a Maine map, there are locations titled “Moxie Gore” and “Coburn Gore,” for example. These may be examples of infundibulae. One alternate theory is that the surveying parties acknowledged the existence of errors in the data, but the anticipation of black flies and other denizens of the North Maine Woods decreased any motivation to go out and make a do-over.

Vonnegut explored the practical consequences of his findings, and much of the book is devoted to an episode where the hero is in a chronosynclastic infundibulum when it gets a sort of kink or twist in it. The hero is then lost in no-time and no-space, somewhere between a moon of Jupiter (Titan) and earth.

Relationship to Wormholes

The concept of warps in the fabric of time and space has captured the imagination of movie and TV scriptwriters, with entertaining and provocative results. For me, knowing that I have got a chronosynclastic infundibulum on my property, the most important question is how to protect the unsuspecting general public. I have already broken Chronosynclastic Infundibulum rule number one by even writing about it.

I thought about posting the land. As a long-time Maine resident, I could not bring myself to post the land. Not even the members of the Fire Department walk on the biggest section of it. Maybe they know something.

Ultimately, the best thing to do is to not think about it too deeply. Down that road lies madness.

Rick and Morty

Then there is this. A similar thing may happen to you if you inadvertently cross the event horizon and join me in my own personal Chronosynclastic Infundibulum. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Remember folks, actions have consequences.

Post-Script: for analysis of the above clip, click here.

Second Post script: I have never seen an episode of Rick and Morty as it was broadcast, though it was around for six seasons starting in 2013. Would I have been better off owning a Tee Vee in those days?

 The series follows the misadventures of cynical mad scientist Rick Sanchez and his good-hearted but fretful grandson Morty Smith, who split their time between domestic life and interdimensional adventures that take place across an infinite number of realities, often travelling to other planets and dimensions through portals and on Rick’s flying saucer. The general concept of Rick and Morty relies on two conflicting scenarios: domestic family drama, and an alcoholic grandfather dragging his grandson into high jinks.

OMG they defined me better than my last ten therapists…….

Taking Stock of the 2022 epic adventure in home renovation as of Oct 21st

I bought an electric blanket and ran it last night on my bed. It was delightful and relaxing. I spent a lot of yesterday raking leaves as well as shoveling dirt from the drainage ditch. Nice to spend time outside and I found myself thinking I have got to get outside more. Or to get out of the house in general. Since April 15th I have been on a chaingang of my own making.

Original modest goal

The original modest goal was to make the place as energy efficient as possible before the first snow fell in fall/winter 2022. I think I have done that. This accomplishment gets added to the list of other epic mythology-producing adventures in my life. At the end of any such thing I always wonder whether I will ever do anything as crazy/challenging/quixotic again, but then I invariably come up with something. Asian Travel? a three-hundred-mile hike of the Appalachian Trail? Moving to Hawaii? Looking back, these each had unforeseen elements that appeared along the way.

The Queen of Mud

I am actually ahead of the plan for renovation. The fortuitous appearance of local person who needed work, “The Queen of Mud,” allowed me to get through sheetrock in three of the six rooms I gutted. She is a neighbor who was looking for spending money. She did a terrific job and applied a sense of professionalism to the phases of sheetrock.

Here is the third of the three rooms:

Alas, I do not have more rooms to sheetrock right away, and so she will most likely go to her next freelance project somewhere else. The plan for me would be to continue electrical re-wiring and to put up finish carpentry in the newly redone rooms. These are more solitary pursuits. Also, though I can easily put up the usual window trim, I am thinking of doing something distinctive, but this requires dreaming it up, visualizing it, planning it out, and executing. I would love to continue with the Nepali theme, but to be honest, the typical Nepali window guy is a craftsman of world-class talent. I will need to make peace with my own limitations.

Asking the Big Questions

I woke this morning thinking to myself, why do I need to do any of these things right away? Now that the original goal is met, I have unlimited time in which to tackle these other things, and winter is coming. I don’t want to work at this same pace but I can’t simply hibernate until spring comes. I feel like I need to set up a routine where I get out of the house more. Follow the many interests that have caught my fancy at one point or another in this wild and wonderful life.

Digging a ditch

I have been raking up leaves, yes it’s true. Last week’s colorful foliage dropped to the ground in the eternal cycle. This is more of a humdrum typical suburban thing to do, and I find myself thinking back to times in childhood when I did this same thing. I have also continued to improve the drainage ditch on the east side of the property. A neighbor told me that it usually remains dry until spring thaw. This is good to know.

Not the kind of thing most people get excited about. I am cleaning it up now, but I won’t be able to gauge the result until April or May. A neighbor told the water usually runs only for a few weeks in spring, depending on snowpack and rate of thaw.

Click here to see a short video
of the ditch doing its job.
Dec 7th 2022 update. Since the earlier photo the canal has been widened and we have had more rainstorms. I find a sort of pleasure to look at this and marvel at how the water is flowing. It serves as a sort of meditation I guess. We have had a couple of rainstorms and so far the basement is okay; the sump pump still cycles on but it’s not pooling down there for long.

Reorganizing the dining room area and front bedroom Oct 16th

Today was a day to clean things. Started with going to the laundromat, then wipe the dust off furniture, sponge-mop the kitchen floor, tidy things up. I find it very important to build these days into the routine – sure it’s nice to point to something you installed, but you also need to get clean up after yourself and take stock. Once we finish mudding the upstairs room, we will need to think about the ceiling and the floor there; but very soon I will refocus on wood work (finish carpentry), and electrical work.

Weeks ago I was given the gift of a dining room table and chairs and I had it against a wall in the kitchen since then. I don’t often have guests over (as in, hardly ever) and have acquired the bad habit of eating at the computer desk while watching PBS newshour. This was about to change.
The front bedroom is now “ready” enough to move my bed in there. The bed was previously in the kitchen, I was only using a small part of the house, but I decided to put it here. There is still work to do – woodwork and trim – and the floor needs further attention (next year) but I could not resist the idea once I got it in my head.
I put up some drapes even though there is no window trim (the bedroom is on the first floor and traffic goes by.) and of course, the rug. This rug shows a Tibetan mandala of great tantric significance. It’s also a big delicate so I could not put it in a high-traffic area.
This is one of the six rooms that got demolished last spring. unlike the Shangri-La room it is outside the paneled part of the house. It is well insulated and has a heat vent. We’ll see how we do when the winter cold sets in.
I will soon return to doing more electrical, but also to applying woodwork and trim to the new rooms. My fine cabinetry consultant has generously offered to allow me to borrow his table saw and bandsaw. I have moved stuff around on the second floor and I will use it as the woodworking space. I don’t plan to extend the drywall until I have figured what exactly I want to do with this space…… This is a lot more house than I need, to tell you the truth.
This panoramic view makes the kitchen look twice as big as it really is. I still have a nice little corner to sit in and drink morning tea, but now there will be more of a formal dining area.
The table and chairs belonged for many years to Gene and Terri Doherty, a wonderful couple from Norwood Massachusetts. I shared many boisterous Sunday and holiday dinners around this table. Somehow they always found a way to give about fifteen family members and/or friends a front row seat here, I know it makes it seem crowded but it was the kind of thing that made conversational magic happen (it helps if everyone has uncorked a few). I was very happy to receive this as a gift to my house from Gene and Terri’s daughter.

Naming the new room

I have given most other rooms ( The Gallery Room, The Shangri-La Room) a name, but have yet to bestow one on the front room. I am leaning toward The Buddha Room……

Adventures in sheetrock Oct 14th 2022, the BeaverBoard room is coming together

This house has a master bedroom on the second floor, and the architectural focal point is the Big Window. The window in place upstairs when I bought the place would rattle when the wind blew and did not present much of a barrier to the cold winds of a Maine winter. The room was sheathed in “Beaverboard,” a form of cardboard that warped severely when it got wet – pieces were drooping from the ceiling. Mouse droppings filled some of the gaps in the walls to height of an African termite nest. No electrical outlets on the entire second floor, just overhead lights. There was very little insulation and what there was had not been properly installed.
Last week Hammond Lumber delivered sixteen 4 x 8 foot pieces of 1/2″ sheetrock. Six were installed in the front room and ten were brought upstairs. We started screwing it in around the Big Window.
We needed ten more pieces to finish the walls in this room, and got another delivery. I am so glad the furring is still in place, it makes it a lot easier to find places to put the screws.

Sheetrock screws

We have two drills. One is battery-powered and very sensitive to pressure on the trigger. The other (in picture above) is not really meant for drywall screws but we used it when the battery for the first one needed a recharge. It was heavy, and harder to control the speed.

It was a great feeling to complete the sheetrock of this room, which is about fifteen by twentyfour feet (largest room the house). I was only able to make progress this rapidly due to the assistance of a neighbor who had the time to help. My knee still bothers me and it gets aggravated if I have to hop on and off a stool to work up high. She started helping on this project back when we did the Shangri-La Room, and more in the front room downstairs. The final product is professional quality when she works her magic. My neighbor was eager to learn the secrets of mud application and also basic electrical wiring. In the picture above she is putting up a piece of sheetrock. She learned many phases of this trade, and applied an excellent work ethic. For me as one guy, the volume of the work to be done is daunting – after all, who in their right mind wants to demolish six rooms by themselves then load the debris into a 15 cubic yard dumpster?

Panoramic view of the downstairs east-facing front room. My assistant installed about half the outlets in this room, did all the mud and sanding, then primer and the final paint. We will do the floor and ceiling at a future date.
using the tools to twist the white wires together prior to adding the cap. The needlenose is new but the lineman’s pliers formerly belonged to my dad.

Bottom line of the electrical story?

The front room downstairs has nine outlets. I set it up then my assistant assembled the above junction box plus one other simpler one. There was short period of suspense before flipping the breaker to “ON.” It worked. I don’t have a picture of that moment, but it was nice to be able to move on to the next thing.

“Old school.” You may have wondered how a piece of sheetrock is fastened to a sloping section of wall. Yes, it gets lifted in place. But the temporary braces are used to hold it there, and no further brute strength is needed.
The south wall after the first coat of mud.

The ceiling of this room will be beadboard. (not to be confused with beaverboard!) This was chosen because it will go with the overall look of an older Maine house. However, a ceiling that uses it must the meet fire code. Long story short, we built a sheetrock lip on each end where there was a sloping section which will meet the code.

I kept the small closet and it too got sheetrocked and mudded.
this view is from the unfinished part of the second floor. This wall still awaits some outlets which can easily be set up from behind. To access this bedroom at present, you go up the stairs into the construction zone, which reminds me of the back of a movie set. Step through the door and voila!
Another panoramic view (I love that feature). It’s looking good, and later today I will make a video walk-through to show the progress. The natural light is nice.

Added 5 PM

Today my assistant applied the second coat of mud to the whole room and I wired in the seven outlets to the receptacles. It rained outside and the wind was high, yet there not a whiff of draftiness where we were.

We decided to rough in the last two outlets, these are on the wall that faces the stairs. The sheetrock is nailed to this wall, but only on the inside. we were able to approach from the other side.

I wanted my assistant to experience a wide selection of the skills she might need as an electrician’s assistant, so she drilled the holes to rough in the wire. The studs are made of hemlock, which gets hot and produces smoke. But she got them done.

we made the hole for each outlet after adding a short filler piece so the nails in the blue box would go in straight. Somehow this picture reminded me of the mice that used to share the house. Haven’t seen any yet until now!

from the other side the outlet looks great.

The East Bedroom gets its turn for the makeover, Oct 2022

This pic was in the Zillow album for the house. it is the room that faces the street and looks out to the east over the driveway. I am told the previous owner used it as a nursery for her kids (who have long since grown up and moved out). The windows were in poor shape.

May 12th video review

In May I took down the plaster and lath, exposed the chimney, and then removed the old windows. Click here to watch the baseline video!

Which windows?

Showing the windows. One of the side and two on the front.

Gutting down to the inside of the exterior sheathing.

The room was gutted along with everything else, this past summer. These are the old windows. The new ones have e-glass and all the bells and whistles of a modern window.

Dip N Dive

When the wiring for the front wall was roughed in, I had a heck of time trying to make the corner. I ended up taking a dip-n-dive into the cellar to bypass the post.

Roughing in the exterior walls

“roughing in” means placing the wires and outlets in the wall. I needed to get it done before the application of sprayfoam in early July

Spray foam

After the spray-foam. I put in the new windows and took the time to adjust the rough opening for each, especially making a level sill.

Interior Partition shared with Shangri-La Room

The back of the room shares a partition wall with the Shangri-La Room. At first, I left the lath on this because I was undecided as to whether to leave it in place or remove and create one large room. I feel I need first-floor bedroom space, so I worked on the Shangri-La Room. At this point, I decided to keep the partition, which meant to remove the lath and the blown-in cellulose, then rough in some wiring. Further down the line, I expect that a bed will go against this wall and if there is a bedside light it needs an outlet or two.

What cellulose insulation looks like when it is in place

October 1st I bit the bullet and started taking down the lath on this side. Here you can see the blown-in cellulose. It soon crumbled out onto the floor and things got messy enough that I needed a filter mask. The 2 by 4s in this partition are placed sideways, which means that I needed to find shallow boxes. I will be recycling some of the pink stuff into this partition for sound-deadening purposes.

After the removal of lath and cellulose

what it looks like with the lath and cellulose gone.
what the roughing in looks like. to run the wire you need to drill a hole in each stud. I used the trusty long drill bit for this. Hemlock is not easy to drill through.


So – I finished a hole, the bit was hot, and it was spinning as I lowered it. It caught the white wire and twisted itself along with the white wire. The heat melted a small spot on the sheath. This wire controls the emergency on-off switch to the furnace. Oh No…. sure enough, I ran down to the cellar and looked at the breaker box. it had flipped the breaker. I held my breath as I reset the breaker, then ran back upstairs to see what happened. Then tested the furnace (which had been set very low). Yes, the furnace still ran, but – take a look again at the wire. It’s twisted like a barber pole! This is a big no-no, and from birth I have been trained to rough in the wire with no twists of any kind. I spoke with my electrical consultant, and he told me I needed to replace that wire. “You should not have run it inside the wall anyway. It’s within code for that specific wire to be visible along its entire length.” So, I will re-do this. The new wire will go up on one side of the stairwell to the cellar.
Meanwhile, we put up the remaining puzzle-pieces on the front wall.

the interior walls

I started roughing in the wiring. A roll top desk will go against the wall against the stairs, so I put the outlets at 54 inches above the floor, not 12. This makes a total of nine outlets in this room. Note that the sheets of drywall awaiting placement are piled up against a work area. I hate moving these around over and over. The best solution is to put them in place, but we have work to do first!

Second go-round with mud

The Mud Queen continues her excellent work to make it all look flat and hide any seams. I remain undecided as to the ceiling. On the one hand, exposed beams are “in.” On the other hand, you can put sheetrock on a ceiling. On the third hand, lifting the new sheetrock there would require special tools which I do not have on site. So the ceiling decision will be deferred. We may put up plastic to prevent dust from raining down.

Visioning the future

Lots of work remains. We need to finish the wiring, put in the sound-deadening insulation, finish the mud, and get some sort of curtain in place (there are big windows facing the street and I don’t want the citizenry of the town peering into my bedroom).

I am thinking that so far the house is showing good heat retention. It’s been in the thirties at night and the thermostat cycles for short periods, but generally not for long. I take this as a sign that I can use more of the house than I have been. So when this room gets further along, I will move my bed in there along with the rolltop desk and other items. In turn, I will reconfigure the kitchen, moving the dining room table into the spot where my bed presently resides.

As always, stay tuned!

The Shangri-La Room is ready to accept guests in Bee Yoo Tee Full downtime Thorndike, Oct 1st 2022

Executive Summary

The house still needs a lot of work, but winter is coming and the house also needs to have people in it, chatting, sharing tea, and enjoying each other. Til now the only guest accommodations was the futon in the Gallery Room. This week we now have a reasonable guest room with a bed, desk and door. It is named “The Shangri-La Room” after the location of a Himalayan Utopia depicted by James Hilton in his 1933 bestseller “The Lost Horizon.”

Advice from Buddha?

” I never said half the things that were attributed to me”

– Buddha

Steps along the way

I put up a photo essay of steps it took to update the room. Last weekend I created the partition against which the desk is placed. We continued the mudding of the walls and ceiling and added more electric circuitry for the desk. I put two outlets at fifty four inches above the floor. These serve the plug-ins at the desk – users will be able to access the power without needing to go under the desk (a pet peeve of mine).

The centerpiece

The bed is one I found on FaceBook marketplace. It was made in 1916 in North Carolina and stayed in one family since then. Lots of good mojo with this item.

The bare minimum

Minimum requirement to host guests from away is to have a bed. This one is “full-size” also known as a double bed. The desk is one of two that I own. I have been using this one in a corner of the kitchen. I also have a roll top presently stored at my daughter’s house. I am now working on the other bedroom on the first floor, the rolltop will go in there, and so will my bed.


For this phase of the project, the mud artist has been a local person from the neighborhood. She did the best possible job of finishing the sheetrock, its professional quality and I was lucky to have her on the project. This leaves me with a dilemma. Normally I like to have wall art, the more the better, and I have a lot of pieces I have yet to find a spot for. However, in this case, the wall itself is also a display of craft. So I will put up a few things, mostly related to Buddha, but the walls will remain visible.

Maps in a Zoom background?

One of my daughters has a job where she does a lot of international travel and especially international video conferencing. She will be visiting this week. For future visits I am thinking of putting up a map of Africa to use as background. It doesn’t fit the theme but it would set a tone.

There are no maps that will show you how exactly to find Shangri-La. I cherish the three years I spent meditating there, but I have been personally pledged to secrecy by my rinpoche.

The East bedroom

We have begun the process of sheetrock for the bedroom on the east side that faces east at the front of the house. This shows the first application of mud. Yes, I will need privacy curtains here. More electric needs to be added. Two walls not pictured have been left unfinished until now.

Sheetrock upstairs?

a total of sixteen pieces were delivered the other day. Six will be used to finish the two remaining walls in the first floor bedroom, the other ten got trundled upstairs. We may start installing these as soon as this week. The focus will be the large Master Bedroom on the east side of the second floor.

For now?

Sometime today I will tilt my head back and laugh at the sky.

September 21st working on the Guest Bedroom, making mud pies

The Treasure Map of First floor. On the left is a room named ” The Long Narrow Room” and that it what I am working on this week. The goal is to be ready by Oct 7th. I may be renaming this room; I am thinking of “The Shangri-La Room.” since it will have a Himalayan theme.
This room does not get much natural light. The window was there prior to the mud room on the other side. Previous owners still used it as a bedroom. The partition to the left is non-weight-bearing and is shared with the front parlor on the east side. It had one outlet. Every time you flipped the switch to the one overhead light, it sparked. Not a good sign.
In mid-April, 2022. view to the west, the area furthest from the window. This has been one of those areas where I did a specific partial step, then worked on something else for a few weeks before returning to do the next thing.
during the demolition. They used Beaverboard here. This was applied with many more nails than sheetrock would get. Getting the Beaverboard down left me with cuts on my hands from all the nails despite leather work gloves. There was some blown-in cellulose.
There is a section of wall here that has many of the wires for the kitchen. I am leaving this section uncovered so as to run a lot of wiring to the upstairs. Ultimately, I will build a small partition to hide it in a closet. The second floor will have a subpanel, and the #8 wire to the subpanel will transit go through here when we install it (it will be awhile before we get to that point).
During demolition in May. This section faces the paneled part of the kitchen, so there is a mix of post and beam elements and regular studs. This section had plaster and you can see remnants of the old-style lath.
In May I got it cleaned up. The side window is now gone. I roughed in the electric and the wide posts were a challenge to drill holes through.
sheet rock in progress. I have since moved all furniture out of the room.
Julie came to visit in August and slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor. She is used to the vagabond travel mode, and will politely put up with inconveniences that others would reject. It made me think I need to be able to offer more than just the floor or a futon for future visitors. I browsed FaceBook marketplace and found an antique full-sized bed with classic ornaments. I will also get a rug and a desk to go in there.

Sept 22, 2022

early morning Sept 22, 2022. The first coat is applied. We decided to re-mud the sheetrock on the ceiling as well. I have had trouble getting the light replaced, and I am seriously thinking about powering the new ceiling light with conduit. The room is naturally dark.
there is/was a gap between the wall and ceiling on two sides. In the long run crown molding will cover this and nobody will know. In the short run, we stuck small pieces of the pink stuff in the gap, hopefully it will slow down the mice if they ever re-appear.
We sanded this morning, using filter masks and eye protection. we vacuumed as we went along. Here is the third coat. My assistant here is a trowel artist. She does a fine job and her work needs minimal sanding. I am thinking I would like to have a shim coat on the walls, especially the one in this picture.
Sept 21st in early morning. The third coat is on. This process takes days to do because each coat of mud needs to dry out. We sanded the previous coat, but only after adding more plastic barriers to prevent the dust from floating everywhere. While we were sanding we wore masks etc and opened the window – there was a breeze through the room that blew the dust out as opposed to blowing it further in through the rest of the house. It’s looking really good, but we will still do a “skim coat” to finish it. then we wait til it dries. Then we paint.

Electrical News

Good news and bad news from the electric front. First, I planned out what I want to do. Below is a schematic I created.

Okay, so maybe you won’t make sense out of this. But as I planned this out, a gathered the various components to make sure I actually had the parts I would need. the actual boxes were numbered according to this schematic. When you are rewiring a whole house you need to plan it out.

While my trusty assistant was applying the mud, I spent the day assembling an array of electric lines in boxes and outlets. When it came time to power this up, it shorted immediately. (the Zork sound). I put a call in to my electrical consultant. He advised to separate the two main branches of the rig, (easy enough to do at box #2) then power up the half that includes only the wall outlets in the room to see what would happen. It’s the first logical step in isolating the break in continuity. After that we get out the multimeter.

The good news? the branch that serves the room works just great and I have three more working outlets I did not have.

the bad news? The short is somewhere in the other leg. I will go back at some future date to repair the other part of the circuit. It’s distracting me from the current room, but it won’t harm anything as long as it is disconnected, so it can wait.


I bought the dehumidifier today. Turned it on and it is doing its thing. Trouble is, its raining outside and the humidity everywhere is 96%. The dehumidifier lacks the capacity to dehumidify the northern half of Waldo County, Maine. I will leave it on for 24 hours, hopefully this will get the new mud to dry faster.

September 24th Addendum

I debated to start a separate blog about this but it’s better to add here. I have decided to build a partition in the space. Normally, a carpenter or renovator would make a plan from the beginning and stick to it, but Who-ever said I was normal?

The issue is that the room is looking too good. By that I mean, the new sheetrock and window etc look great.

With the primer coat on.
Panoramic view. When the molding and trim is added it will be even better! The final coat of paint will be “Ancient Ivory,” the same tint of white as the outside of the house.

BUT I need to leave a section of the room unfinished because I will be working on the electrical system. All the wiring to the upstairs, and much of the wiring to the kitchen, runs through that section. Likewise the wall with the door in it needs to be left open for a bit. I want to build the Shangri-La Room in such a way that it sustains the illusion that at least one room is complete.

To this end I measured the space and whipped up a framing plan. I can frame a small partition with twelve studs. My carpentry consultant has an extra door being stored at his place, and he tells me it’s mine. I measured it and the plan includes the measurements.

Yes, folks I can read a blueprint (as long as somebody holds the gun to my head). And a written plan is always good. Not that I always follow it. This will take twelve 2 x 4s and two 4 x 8 sheets of half-inch sheetrock. Plus the door. My carpentry guru has a door in storage. It seemed quite wide when I looked at it (33 inches) but that is evidently the standard width these days. It comes with jamb, and the width including the jamb is 37 1/2 inches. I will leave some wiggle room in the rough opening. Its not a load-bearing partition. P.S., a hemlock milled into a 2 by 4 has a larger nominal dimension than a pine 2 by 4 these days. (here is a video to explain)

Then I went to Mac’s True-Value hardware in Unity and bought the lumber. They work with a local mill that supplies hemlock lumber of various sizes.

Two Pictures

I got the lumber into the room by passing it through the window. The horizontal piece is roughly where the partition will go. The plastic on the floor is left from the primer coat. You can see how bright the room is with new paint on the walls and ceiling. it will be roughly twelve feet in length. the door will be offset to the left.
Looking back toward the present door. The space on the other side will be about five and a half feet deep. I still need access to the spaces in those walls, but I don’t want to mostly-finish the Shangri-La Room while leaving this part incomplete. As an aside, in coming years we will do a major bathroom remodel, and we could use this space to install a temporary toilet when we pull the other one up.

Sept 25th UPDATE and two more pictures

Framing the partition according to the plan. I originally put down the toe plate in one long piece, then used the ol’ Sawzall to remove the part under the door.
sheetrock on the partition. some sections remain. For this I used two pieces of 3/8 inch sheetrock I had stored upstairs (I generally don’t keep an inventory of bulky construction materials, I hate tripping over them or repositioning them). I think this achieves the goal of hiding the part still under construction where I need electrical access. There will not be sheetrock on the other side until I have added some outlets and switches to the new wall.
For the door? My carpentry consultant told me about this door in his barn for a future project. He will sell to me, cheap. I took the measurements and planned accordingly. It’s a 36-inch door, wider than I expected. He tells me that wider doors are now the new expected standard. (recall that I already have a room with a Hobbit Door).
September 26th, with sheetrock and the first application of mud. My assistant has wanted to learn more about the sheetrock process, so she did the screws and cut some of the pieces. Also, the door is in place. Its a heavy door and well-secured to the frame. It opens outward, not inward. I will put a doorknob on in a day or two. What we have left is a) several more coats of mud on this last partition, then the primer and final paint; b) the final paint on the walls and ceiling we already did. I have a rug for this space that covers almost the entire space, so I won’t need to paint the floor just yet. I have yet to finish the electrical; I left the other side of the partition unfinished so as to allow easy access to add outlets, light switches, etc.

A challenge to my readers

Dear “Gentle Readers” – if it were you populating a guest bedroom with furniture and foofaraw, what would you put in it to make the traveler feel comfortable? The obvious answer is a bed. What else? I am taking suggestion for decor.

I will create a video that shows the room in its current state so you get the idea as to exactly what it looks like in excruciating detail. I am soliciting advice on:

a) furniture

b) final wall covering

c) wall art

d) lighting

e) wood work

f) general decor

Stay tuned.

Exterior Progress September 15th, Adios to Sanford Contracting, Part Two

Bottom Line: I highly recommend Sanford Contracting when you need work on the old house in Maine prior to winter. Here are more pictures of the outside work they did.

this is a continuation of Part One

Roof maintenance

This is the “after” photo once the goop was applied to the roof. The painted parts give a shinier appearance.
gutter over back entrance into mud room. This will divert rainwater coming down from about a third of the roof. I am so excited I can’t wait til it rains!
Pieces of gutter were pop-riveted together and glued, then on the inside this elastic rubber stuff was applied to prevent leaks from the joints. Not something you can see from the street, but a mark of quality craftsmanship.
The flashing is a sort of apron made of lead (a pliable metal) that diverts rainwater away from the interior of the house and on to the roof. You can see it in this pic (its a bit whiter than the surrounding roof). Jerome re-did the flashing on both chimneys.
Current status of the scrapwood pile on the side of the driveway. It’s the last vestige of the demolition to be seen from the outside. I already got rid of the lath pile and twelve boxes of scrapwood that were cut to stove length. Want it? come get it!
East side of house. Once-and-future perennial border. It only gets partial sun. There is some good plant material here but it all needs replanting and I hope to re-dig this in spring for a perennial border.
Haven’t discussed this at all, but my property extends to the edge of the bed of a seasonal stream on the east side. Right now it’s dry as a bone since May, but in spring this will be several feet deep and running steadily. When the spring water table is high, it contributes to the water in the basement. I want to be able to walk the length of it. Hey, maybe I will stock it with brook trout! A little further down, there is an overarching thicket to be thinned out. I want to be able to keep it clear of small blockages that cause the water to build up too much in spring. I am thinking this might lower the water table, and become one more factor in cutting down water that may get in the cellar. Somebody helped me find the surveyor’s pin, and the bed itself actually belongs to the fire department. My own property with the house is about an acre, and three-quarters of the property is also a seasonal wetland.
closer view of Big Window on second floor. The clapboards are freshly scraped and painted; the flashing is re-caulked; the gutter is in place, and the trim looks great. This faces north and when the storms come in winter it will be a fine viewpoint. (someday).

Return to Zork

Now that the outside work is done I return to the electrical. I rewired the outlet I zorked a few weeks back. It’s been waiting for me since then.

September 15th, 2022 TTFN to Sanford Contracting, Part One

For now, the front facade is done. Note the new paint, new gutters, new trim on the double window. etc There is still work to be revisited ( trim the first floor windows on left, finish fixing the posts, remove some of the cable tv apparatus on right) but this can wait.

That was now, this is then

What it looked like in March. Not as much curb appeal as it now radiates. This pic is from the Zillow portfolio.

The contractors did a super job and I highly recommend them. Jerome Sanford was the main guy. He does a lot of work on old houses, and offered lots of practical advice on aspects of how to care for an old post and beam.

Sanford Contracting brought a pickup truckload of tools, supplies and equipment. This is them reloading at the end. You want a contractor who is organized and has the tools? hire this guy. They got a lot done and there was no messing around. I had to make a run to the hardware store when we ran out of caulk, but otherwise they brought what they needed. I did a lot of this sort of work years ago but it was relying on what we had back then. The time they were on site served as a demo of the latest tools and techniques. PS the back porch gutter is in this picture. It diverts the rainwater from about a third of the roof, away from the house.
Their pipe staging. This in and of itself speeds up the work so you can get in a rhythm. We moved it around the outside as needed. I hired them because of positive recommendations, but also because I have a knee problem that has prevented me from going up and down ladders without making it worse. And, I don’t have the tools – even at my best back in the day I would have been very slow at this phase. The idea is to set up a platform on the staging to allow a variety of tools to go up to the working area.
The trim on the five upstairs windows looks great. I had already spent days putting in the windows and ensuring the were level. These are state of the art windows and they deserve state of the art installation. It will pay off with lower heating costs and more comfort in the bleak midwinter.
the grass encroached on the asphalt, and while they were working, I edged the border which now gives me a foot more space on that side of the driveway. There was so much sand leftover from winter plowing that you couldn’t see the asphalt, and I cleared a lot of that out as well. This is a sort of subliminal effort – visitors will see the straight edge but they don’t always make the connection that you need to maintain it along the way. on the left is where some perennials are planted, and next year I will revive this perennial border. Sanford Contracting has a magnetic gizmo they used to pick up every nail in the area. Hooray!
West side gutter. the roof angle at the far end served to concentrate rain runoff, causing sill damage below and a water leak into the cellar. Now the rain will go to the backyard. This will mitigate the problem. The soil on this side is piled too high against the house, and in the long run this will need leveling again. Not now though. I do have more paint though and there is time to touch up this area.
Chimney flashing is the name for the lead apron that diverts water running down the chimney away from the inside of the house and onto the roof. Sanford contracting re-flashed both chimneys. Here you can see the rusty areas that were starting. Eventually the rust will create holes in the roof and you get leaks. They used a wire brush and applied a special sealant. This adds six to ten years to the life of the roof.
No, we didn’t need the whole five gallons! this concoction is just the thing. I didn’t even know such a product existed. The gooey part settles to the bottom during storage so the first step is to mix it again. This is as sticky as it gets and they used gasoline as the solvent to get it off their hands. If you get it on your clothes it will never come out. There is a sort of insane fun to the stirring of it. They were careful not to spill any.
They used the hook ladder to access the sloping roof. The treated part of the roof is shinier than the untreated part. We used old milk jugs to bring it up the ladder, these were then disposed of. As an aside, the roof of the mud room is directly below and it has a very gentle slope. The worker was comfortable perching on the hook ladder. They would have clipped into a harness if there was more risk.

There are so many photos that I made a Part Two. Click here to follow the link.

Buttoning Up for Inclement Weather in rural Maine for autumn Sept 9th


This week the two-person team from Sanford Contracting has been working here. I needed them because I have trouble climbing ladders and I needed outside work on the second floor and roof. While they have been here I stayed around to help with small support errands (such as rigging a place to charge the batteries for their set of electric tools or going to the hardware store).


they own their own pipe-staging and set it up. This is vastly superior to working from one ladder. All the tools can be brought up to the platform, saving time.

To own your own staging will gain you friends, or at least it did for me back in the day. When I owned my own I always lent it out when somebody needed it, and it benefitted many projects. You could rent this for a month for a hundred bucks, and I considered getting it myself but I still would have needed to go up and down the ladder. Note the windows; I had set them in place but I just tacked them there with a couple nails each so they wouldn’t fall out. They did not allow rain in (fortunately) but they needed external trim and a better way to be secure.

West Facade Outcome

The finished trim on the western facade of the house. These are now secure and air- and water-tight. The windows themselves are state-of-the art for energy conservation, what with e-glass and all. One newfangled construction technology is that the trim boards are made of vinyl these days. Practically indestructible and rot-free.

Video link of house exterior from August 28th

I did a video walk-around last week, to describe issues of exterior integrity. Here is the link:

Air leaks?

There are still more steps needed before the nine windows (five up and four downstairs) are “finished” including interior trim – the woodwork to frame each window. Now that the exterior trim was on, it was time to seal the air gaps between the window and the rough opening. I bought seven cans of spray foam just for that purpose and emptied them all. There will be no leaks of cold air near any window. In the upstairs I will install a de-humidifier over the winter to prevent humid air buildup. I will work up there to upgrade the electric since many wires to the first floor run under the floorboards. But I do not plan to install sheetrock or woodwork up there in the upstairs rooms until spring.

Gutters and soffitt repair

The rain runoff for this part of the roof created rot in the soffitt and there was a small chipmunk nest as well as wasps nests under that square of white sheet metal on the roof line. This was repaired and rebuilt, then a gutter installed that will direct rainwater away from the building. At the bottom you can see the concrete pad I put in place temporarily; just above it is an area where the sill is rotted due to water contact. There are other areas of bad sills, these will get replaced next year. With many other issues to address, the sills are further down the list. I will put plastic over this area for winter.

Chipmunk nest?

damaged parts of wood soffitt were sawed out and replacements created. The chipmunks are evicted.

East Facade of house

These two upstairs windows face east. Their external trim is done. Four of the five upstairs windows are identical in size, and the crew gained in speed of installation with each subsequent window. When I do the interior trim they will all get identically-sized pieces of trim.

First floor windows

I will do the trim on the four ground-floor windows. For now, this is how they will go through the winter. The inside gaps will be sealed with the same cans of foam.

Gutter near back door & mud room

Not quite finished. This gutter will divert rain water away from the cellar. There are two other sections of gutter as well. Til now if you entered the house during a rain storm you would go through a small waterfall. Not anymore! Note the new paint on the clapboards.

TeeVee antenna

Standing proudly on the roof is a TV antenna, the kind with a motor to rotate and improve the reception. I don’t have a teevee, and most broadcasters went digital years ago. So I wanted it down.

New silhouette

Taking the antenna down improves the sight lines and makes it more elegant. Note that the trim on the Big Window is Getting There. The crew will return Monday to finish this and finish the gutters. I will dis-assemble the antenna.

Paint on North facade

The paint on the street-facing side is nearly finished. This is the west end. What remains is the east end. They will do the gutters on this side Monday. Then the rain runoff will be more favorable. The contractors reflashed the chimney near the roof too. While he was up there, a bat flew out from under the old flashing. Our extended family includes a variety of small mammals.

Magnetic gizmo to pick up nails

This crew owns a sort of sweeper with a big magnet. They run it over the ground near the work site and it picks up any nails that fell into the grass during the project.

I don’t know the brand name of the device but it is light enough to hold in one hand. She had already collected three handfuls of nails before I realized that I needed to take a photo. There were about two dozen nails in this handful! This is a great idea! They clean up after themselves like The Cat In The Hat.

In Coming Days?

I will resume electric re-wiring, and also start the process to mud the new Guest Room.

Anticipating work on the roof next week, Sept 1st,2022

This coming week the contractor to work on the roof will do his thing, and the outside of the house will be buttoned up for winter. There will be things I will need to do, but the physical work on the roof and the exterior of the second floor will be crossed off the list.

“before” taken in spring. The prayer flags were one of the first repairs I made.
“after” – or at least, the present state of the exterior.


Both chimneys need to be re-flashed. This was pointed out by the spray foam guy. For those who do not know, flashing is the malleable metal that serves as a skirt diverting water onto the roof and not allowing it to run down the chimney. Click here for a link describing the repair process.


There is an old TV antenna on the roof. This needs to go. On the front facade of the beginning next to the meter is some equipment that controls it. That will be removed.

Beginnings of rust

I have a metal roof and there are no leaks. it is galvanized. Streaks of rust are beginning. We’ll treat that to slow the process.

repair soffit

the soffitt is deteriorating in one specific spot where the water from three different parts of the roof flow together and form a small waterfall during heavy rains.


They will put up gutters on three sections of the roof to divert rainwater away from the foundation, esp on the north side. Maybe this will mitigate those times when the cellar gets water ( maybe not; we are also close to the spring water table when the seasonal brook is flowing nearby). It will preserve the paint on the clapboards and preserve the clapboards themselves.

window trim

they will put up window trim around the five windows on the second floor ( all the new ones) and make final shim adjustments if needed.


they will paint certain areas too high for me to reach from the ground.


In my younger days I owned ladders, staging, roofing jacks (both kinds) and I was spry. I like the fact that this contractor will set up staging to access all these areas. Safety is very important and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

When the time comes I will post pictures. Note: when they are working on the staging, they will move it from place to place. The staging will be accessed via ladder, but since it be will near a window much of the time, I will be able to gofer items they need by going up and down stairs and passing it through the window. That will be cool.

Other entries in the pipeline

I will write two other brief blogs later today, on the topic of structural support and also The Guest Bedroom. Stay tuned!

Aug 26th 2022 replacing front door decking with pressure-treated wood

the deck boards right in front of the door were soft an getting punky. This was a safety hazard. I took them out and assessed the situation. I learned that there is no footing under the deck. the joists were redone relatively recently, they are pressure-treated wood. But at the bottom level, they are simply laid onto the ground.

the deck

the old decking is pine. you can see the rotted sections. I got new pressure treated boards, and laid them out to see how many it would take.

The appearance of rot

we are talking wood rot here. What else would you expect from a part of the house that rarely sees sunshine?

Resisting the urge to “do it right”

okay, many of you will tell me this is a half-assed way to do it. True dat. But I am mindful of impending winter blizzards and do not presently wish to get sidetracked by re-building the porch when there are other pressing projects to weatherize the house.

Tar Paper to the rescue

Before screwing down the new decking, I laid out some tar paper atop the joists. This is intended to keep them a bit drier than they might otherwise be. On the joist in the middle, I re-piled the shim. It no longer has bounce. I don’t know how long that will last.
I painted the new boards. We just had a rainstorm since then but when the weather gets drier, I will at least paint the rest of the deck. In spring 2023 I will revisit this project.

Trick or Treat

The irony is that this side of the house will get buttoned up in six weeks, and the front door will have weatherstripping on it so that it will not be easily opened. I will close it in October and not open it again for months.

On The Other Hand, I actually live in “The Village” of Thorndike,and may get some Trick or Treaters here. I can guarantee they will not fall through a broken board on their way to frighten me.

Replacing the boards on the east end of the porch deck

one end of the porch decking was severely rotted.
I left the small square of deck board under the post, in place, and replaced the decking around it.
the new edge will be stable and sturdy.
The paint will protect the deck from future deterioration over the winter ( I hope) and so will the gutters once they are in place above. Today I also re-did the prayer flags, adding two more strings.

Wooden supplemental posts

Two of the columns have rot in them, I will be putting up some temporary posts next to each of those to get through the winter.

I also hired a contractor to add gutters, trim the second floor windows, and do some roof work. I am on track to be ready for inclement weather.

Video of exterior

This may be the only exterior video of the whole project so far. I will post another once the contractor has worked his magic. There is a limited window of opportunity to button down the outside. New England weather is fickle.

New England has one weather/climate phenomenon like no where else – “fall foliage.” I haven’t been in the region to witness fall plumage of trees in a number of years. I think every American needs to visit this region at that time of year at least once in their life.

August 23 a closer look at the Porch

Even a little bit of paint goes a long way. Note : there is a frieze above the columns. I am thinking of lettering it with an inspiring quotation. Got any ideas? something from the classics perhaps.

It rained today. A slow soaker. Painting is not recommended in this 100% humidity but I cleaned some things up and got a closer look at the porch. The concern right now is the deck boards that are rotting are a potential hazard if they break when somebody steps on them. Also, two of the columns are problematic – in the photo above, going left to right these are the first and third columns. I shared my original thoughts yesterday about whether and how to work on these, and the conclusion was that If I Could Only Make It Through the Winter and deal with it in the spring. Today I think I need to make more serious repairs for safety reasons. I am worried that the whole porch may come clattering down.

One end of the porch…

close up of the eastern end of the porch. The underlying members are pressure-treated lumber in good shape. This porch has been repaired within the last ten or fifteen years I think. The deck boards are not pressure treated. the column rests on a large beam composed of five 2 x 8s nailed together. The problem is, I don’t know how sturdy this column is. I can put a new board all the up to the edge of the column. If I choose to move the column enough to position the new board underneath it, I would need to dislodge the column from what seems to be a sturdy position and risk having the porch pull away from the house (or worse yet, collapse and bury me alive). The way to do this and minimize risk is to put up a lally post right next to the column, shifting the weight onto it. At Home Depot, to my dismay, I learned that lally posts now cost about $220. So instead of a lally post I could go with a 6 x 6 wooden post. (I have a half-dozen lally posts in the cellar, but I need to leave those right where they are because they are bolsters of structural support!)

Lally Posts

This is not my house. It shows lally columns in use. These are rated for 100 tons apiece. My porch roof does not weigh quite that much. From a construction materials company in Massachusetts.

The other end of the porch

The western edge of the porch. This end too, has the problem with water streaming down from the porch roof. The bottom three row of clapboard are rotted and punky. ( the sill underneath will need a good look come late spring). This area never sees the sun. Some of this wiring includes the controls to an old antenna on the roof not being used anymore. I have to study the array before I clip out the wires that don’t go anywhere.

Deck Boards

I used the PowerWasher yesterday and the rotted sections got washed away, exposing the support joists as if they were ribs of a mummy. There was a sort of green slimy algae on the deck boards. I debated about whether to replace them with regular dressed pine or use pressure-treated 1 x 6 boards. I have settled on the pressure-treated boards.

Column number 3

Column number three has about six inches of rot at the bottom. This will need repair. I put shims under it for now. to the left you can see more rotten boards. I need to look into the cost of a new column altogether.

The worst rot is right in front of the door

I bought enough pressure-treated lumber to replace about a dozen deck boards. (a quarter of the total). We’ll start with the ones in front of the door, and also on the eastern end of the porch. I have some plywood I can cover the deck with to get through the winter.

Reconstructive carpentry

These details illustrate the challenges of trying to improve the house on a budget. I will keep you posted as to the choices I make regarding the porch. One little ironic feature is that the front door will be sealed up tight for just about the whole winter. I suppose I will give out Halloween Candy from this porch, and I certainly will perch regally on it to watch the September 17th parade for Thorndike Days, as well as during the Common Ground Country Fair the following weekend.

Taking a break from electric and working outside before the snow falls, Aug 21st

The six weeks between August 15th and September are a time to enjoy the best of Maine climate. The humidity is lessened, and the bugs seem to die back. The air is crisp and blue skies last forever.

I am taking the time to work on some projects that would not be possible in January. Buttoning up the exterior, weatherizing, and some elementary landscaping.

The driveway

The driveway is asphalt. Little tufts of grass poked out through the seams. Last year’s sand covered the low spots and the edges of the sod were intruding on the asphalt. I used the shovel to fix up the spots and my grandson helped by letting me load dump truck so he could haul off the soil somewhere else. He loves playing with his trucks, and this gave him a job to do involving “cooperative play.”

the driveway is long and narrow until the end when it widens out for the two-bay garage. This is the “after” picture. It occurred to me that I ought to put up a basketball net, not many kids in this state have an asphalt playing surface at their house.

The front facade

A New England post-and-beam cape-style house would not have been generally built with a porch. These were often added later after about 1890. Many times, renovators will remove them, in the belief that the house is more authentic. If the porch is pulling away from the house, or if the deck sags, the renovator takes this into consideration. Fortunately, this porch seems to be solidly attached and is still plumb. So I am keeping it. I actually like sitting out there and watching the world go by.

I moved the boxes of kindling off the porch so I could access this side of the exterior. It faces north and it’s the side that passersby see. (lots of locals only paint the part of their house that can be seen from the road). For a couple of days I used a wire brush to remove the old paint, but it was making my wrist sore. Today I switched to using a PowerWasher. My automotive consultant lent me the one he got at Harbor Freight. It costs about $80 and was well worth it.

No-Ladder project

I am presently only washing and painting the parts I can reach while standing on the ground. I am too old to climb a ladder these days.

Rot on the porch

After powerwashing, you could see the greenish algae color is gone. The next question is whether to replace the decking with pressure treated 1 x 6 es, or regular pine.

At the east end of this, the decking has completely rotted, exposing the supporting joists. It’s nice to learn that these are pressure-treated, 16″ o.c., and seem in good shape.

Porch Post/ structural element

There is a structural problem after all. The easternmost column sits firmly on a section of the rotted board (the one little bit that is not rotted like the rest) and I would not be able to remove that section without temporarily removing the column. It is a load bearing element, and if I just took it out even for five minutes, I risk having the porch assembly crash onto my head. Just underneath the column is the front rail of the porch joists, which seems to be four pressure-treated 2 x 8s pushed together. To get this fixed the right way will involve constructing a supplementing column (using a “post jack”). Here is a video showing how to do it. Actually, there are lots of videos on this topic. My plan? I do not presently have the carpentry tools to do this and I would also need an assistant. It’s still August so you might think I have time, but I am going to postpone this specific thing until spring 2023.

The west side of the house

There is a twelve-foot grassy lawn space between my place and that of my neighbors. Here is a door I never use. I power washed this area today as well, since it too can be seen from the street.

The electric entrance

considerably faster and easier to prep for painting with the powerwash as opposed to wire brush. hot tip: don’t spray the 1,750 psi powerwash stream onto the meter or big wires. Like the other end of the front of the house, this area gets a lot of rain diverted onto it due to the way the porch is designed. The rain will wash away the paint layer over time, exposing the clapboards to rot and deterioration. In the long run the house needs gutters. I will get some sections of clapboard and replace the lowest rows of clapboard.

View of front after powerwash

Using the panoramic widget. In a way, this illustrates not just the feature of an old post-and-beam cape, but also the fact that Euclidian geometry is just one more illusion. Or maybe I need to see an opthalmologist. PS I want to place a sizable chunk of granite where the blocks are. It would be an awesome steppingstone, adding the je ne sais quoi so often envied.

In coming days

The plan seems to be:

  1. replace the rotten decking boards.
  2. fix the joists on the east end of the deck.
  3. paint, both the ivory-color on the clapboards and the gray color for the trim.
  4. more cowbell. (in this case, more prayer flags?)

ZORK. Return to Zork. Zorks I have known. August 17th

Spoiler:zork!” is the sound made by a spark of electrical current that escapes into the atmosphere. Usually accompanied by a spark. If your circuit breaker is not working, a zork may be the prelude to a fire at your house. “Zork” can be a noun or a verb.

Naturally there are samples of the sound available on YouTube, free:

Hot Tip for hikers near the summit of any mountain during a thunder storm:

They say that when you are hiking at or above timberline, you should seek lower altitude if a thunderstorm is happening (I once broke this rule on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. Someday I will tell that story). If your zipper starts making a buzzing sound or feels like it is tingling, you are about to be hit by lightning.

Return to Zork

When I bought our family’s first PC. in 1992, it came with a computer game titled “Return to Zork.” We struggled to make sense of how to use a computer, and RTZ was actually helpful in learning to navigate. For us the iconic scene was the rye whisky toast (below):

But I digress.

I already told how I set up two circuits in the front room, but I did not tell the full story. I was trying to use the existing holes through the paneling, and the existing track for the wires. The first one took about three hours of messing around before I had it done. I installed a double box because my consultant told me it would be easier in the eventuality that I would need to reach my hand into the box. In the Gallery Room there is a “false floor” with a gap of about three inches. This made it difficult to follow the track of the previous wires. For the first one I used the “jumper method” to wire the two outlets together.

To do the second one, I thought I would use two “heavy duty” outlets side by side. For this I used the pigtail method.

the start of the pigtail method. The line wire gets pigtailed to each of the three colors. Said to be superior. Note that a heavy duty outlet is rectangular and thicker. Because of their configuration, I wanted to install them so that they were aligned to each other – pitch, roll and yaw.
Electrician’s “I ching.” You have to create the pigtails and here they are.

Aesthetics of wall outlets.

To get them aligned so they fit the faceplate turned out to require working in increments of 1/32″ as I nudged the outlets back and forth, as well as trying to stuff everything into the box (a two-gang receptacle).

The two outlets are not perfectly aligned, a cosmetically displeasing result. Everything should be flush. I spent several hours messing around with this alignment and it seemed like the best I could do. And I cracked the face plate. “*&*&%*&%!” I was not satisfied with my own craftsmanship. And the hole to the left? we have aggressive mice around here!

The moment of truth

I got to this point and decided I would stop for the day. The following morning I looked at both of them and decided to turn the circuit on at the breaker. I should add that I wired both circuits at a junction box in the cellar which will also have two more in the future. It looks like this:

In this picture the wire nuts have been removed. Each of the wires is labelled though you can’t see it from this angle. I planned from the beginning to have this junction box right where it is.

Revisiting Zork

So when I flipped the circuit breaker, there was an immediate spark.

The sound of Zork.

….and the breaker flipped right back. This was a prime set of indicators that something is not right. I was personally okay – standing on dry ground with one hand behind my back and flipping the thing with one finger.

I admit I was a bit rattled on one level. I called my consultant, who gave me the good news: “hey, it sounds like the system is doing what it is supposed to do. The grounding system is perfect – otherwise the short circuit would have continued and caused a house fire. Instead, it turned things off just like you want.”

Howls of laughter. Now that is the kind of resilient person I want on my team. when you try something and it doesn’t quite work, you regroup, adapt and overcome. A truism in electrical work and also in nursing. He told me he would give me a multimeter. I used to have one of these decades ago.

I left the circuit breaker in the off position. Looked for some videos. Most of the YouTube videos on this are confusing since they focus on how to troubleshoot the electrical harness of a car. The next day I went to my consultant’s house where he gave me one of the four continuity checkers (a.k.a. Multimeters) he owns. Before he did, he gave it a new battery. The next day I phoned him as he was driving to church, and he walked me through the procedure to isolate a short circuit using the multimeter. This took all of five minutes. I reconnected everything else but the circuit that used the two heavy duty outlets. I will rewire it at some future date with two regular outlets. For now, I decided to move to other projects. (built another set of sawhorses to hold the canoe, then scraped and painted the garage doors and part of the front of the house).

In the meantime, the outlet with the jumper method works just fine and I no longer have extension cords leading to that room. The wiring underneath is new and safe all the way back to the service panel.

The weather

Its a bit cooler these past days. Delightful sleeping temperature. Reminds me that summer will not last forever, so I will now spend more time thinking about winterizing the outside of the house. I did some painting.

the before and after. Some parts hardly needed any scraping. Paint makes it look better but is more than just cosmetic. The clapboards will last longer if they are maintained.

Yesterday I took my grandson to the pond where he practiced wearing is Personal Flotation Device (“PFD”). Over and over he jumped off the dock into the water and got more confident. At one point I used a phrase “Hop it and jock it!” to get his attention. He practiced it in the car, over and over.

This morning I got a text from his mother saying that he awakened her this morning, and told her “hop it and jock it” and fix breakfast.

Could have been worse. At least he didn’t pick up the F word.

September 15th update

So yesterday I started in on re-doing the receptacle from a month ago, the one that inspired this blog topic.

This time I replaced the box entirely for a bigger size. I am using the metal front similar to what most people put in their workshop or garage. That means the outlets are attached to the cover. I am using a half-pigtail and half-jumper setup. I can pre-bend the wires so they fit.
When it is done this way it is wiggle-proof. Here is a tip. According to the Code, the ground wire is supposed to be below the other two. If you can’t remember? Just picture each socket as a Happy Face. 🙂
The old “2-gang” receptacle. Too small for my fingers.
With the bigger box. Room to Move! The hole in the paneling is not as evenly lined up as I would have wished, but the receptacle is secure.

Call me – The Wizard of Zork, from now on.

August 12th 2022 getting ready to move out of the cellar electric

The main service panel as of five weeks ago. It may not look much different to you, but as of today there is only one wire exiting it that has the old woven sheath, and that circuit is Off. Everything else has been replaced. The wires in the cellar are neater and safer.

Wall Outlets in The Gallery Room

In the process of rewiring the cellar I also rewired two receptacles in The Gallery Room, and also one of the receptacles in the kitchen. I am only using trustworthy wires that are grounded and no splices or weak spots, but I also need to keep the refrigerator running as well as my electronics charged. So I have a system of heavy-duty extension cords that go from the good wiring to wherever I may need it. The new outlets allow me to temporarily use fewer of the extension cords.

The Frosted lobster claw

The goal was/is to rewire the receptacle but use the same opening through the paneling when possible. I started with the lobster claw:

the old wire took a detour through the sill and into the wall. I had a lot of difficulty getting the old wire out. the two wires were jammed in there impossibly tight.

I discovered that the wire that went to the outlets was 10-2 without ground, with vinyl sheathing, and that it was spliced to the old wire. My first job was to cut these at the splice and join them together so as to bypass the receptacle (I still was relying on this wire for something downstream). Generally when you see this kind of splice, get rid of it.
I removed the outlet above and cut the wire there, then tried simply pulling on it like getting a snake out of its hole by grabbing the tail. It didn’t work.
I used a longer lever, the board is to prevent breaks in the spray foam. This did the trick.

Roto Zip Tool

The hole left by the old receptacle was too small for me to reach inside. A kind friend lent me his Roto Zip tool, and said that if I planned for a two-gang receptacle, the tool would help me enlarge the hole enough to reach in. It worked like a charm.

False Floor

Did I tell you that the part of the house with paneling has a three-inch false floor? It does. I had trouble routing the wire through this gap blindly. Looking down the track reminded me of last year’s colonoscopy. I needed to use my largest drill bit to widen the track from the old wires. I had to remove the insulation as well, reaching down in there to see if I could poke my finger through the hole inside.

I got it, eventually.

Wiring the outlets

I used the “jumper-wire” method of wiring, then this morning I was looking at videos and there was one that showed the “pigtail method,” which seems to be better.

Jumper wire method

this shows the two outlets but not the wire supplying the line current. I guess it’s still within the Code, but not considered to be as good as the pigtail method, so I will use the pigtail method from now on.

One more outlet to reconfigure

The process sounds simple, but it took me about four hours of messing around to get it done. I have a dozen more of these to go, my consultant says I will get better at it with more experience. I am working on the last of the outlets to the Gallery Room. After this the electrical work I do will be on the first floor. No more time in the cellar!

august 5th revising the Oil Furnace emergency switch

One wire at a time I am replacing the old wiring in the cellar with romex. The old ones were covered with woven material and the new ones are sheathed in vinyl.

We already cleaned up some of the tangle of wires and boxes. My s.i.l. looked at it and told me the switch at the top of the stairs was not wired properly and didn’t actually do anything. Good to know.
a closeup of the wiring. the red wires are part of the temperature fuse array. Note that the bare copper wire is routed through a cutout hole in the box, and does not use a green screw as expected. In this case the conduit is the newer stuff lighter stuff, easier to cut. The furnace itself is relatively new.
the box on the left is the one I took out. It is too small for my taste. I don’t like jamming all the wires into a box that does not have spare room. So, I am substituting the one on the right.
the red cover has duplicate screw holes depending on the size of box. This is handy. I plan to re-use the old red cover. The black part in the center is a heat sensor.
This shows the next-to-final step. I hung the red cover up so as not to lose it. I wired the switch at the top of the stairs and it uses the “two black wires” system. I used a green screw to ground the box, and I will make a pigtail when the time comes. I am presently confused as to what the green wire does (it’s green like the green screw – and there is no bare copper wire in the conduit- does that mean it is the ground? or something else.) Another way to look at it: at 9 o’clock is the wire from the switch; At 12 noon is the 2-wire with ground that brings the power; at 3 o’clock is the wire (in a conduit) that brings the power to the furnace. Hot tip: many times the wires have a similar color, but you need to play the “where does this come from and where does it go?” game. That imparts a sense of order to what would look like a tangle.

Going back upstream

The black wire carrying the power to the above array is capped off. Even if I turn the circuit on at the breaker, it will not start the oil furnace (which is good. It’s not a good idea to just fire it back up again until the furnace has been serviced by an oil burner technician. You don’t go turning it on-off-on-off a bunch of times.)

Upstream there is a junction and a 2-wire with ground goes off to power some outlets on the first floor (and God knows what else). I wish to update this and get a more clear idea as to what it does, over the weekend. If I can get the box to be grounded, I can install more three-prong plugs in the living area of the first floor and call it good. That would be nice.

One day at a time?

yes, and also

One circuit at a time!

Saturday Update:

An electrical guru has told me that the red cover has special requirements. The lozenge it holds is a heat sensor, meant to cut the circuit if there is a fire. Heat will melt it, breaking the circuit. For that reason, the Code says it needs to be placed directly over the oil furnace, horizontally. Thinking back, I have always seen them that way, but not given thought as to why. He also said the red sensor does not have to be contiguous with the rest of the electrical junction, it can be a few feet away connected by wiring. I also asked him about where the on-off switch at the top of the cellar stairs gets wired, and he pointed out that it can go anywhere since it’s wired “in series” with the rest of the array. So, I think I will put up a new box where the heat sensor goes, and still wire the switch to the box in the picture.

Monday Update Aug 9th

The early August heat wave has broken, so it is now in the 70s -a reminder that winter is just around the corner. I decided to finish this.

I needed to place the red cover (the heat sensor) directly over the oil furnace facing down. The box there was small but I thought I would just see if I could fit all the parts of the circuit into it. No go. So I stuck with the original layout. Here is the part where the emergency switch is wired into the circuit. Very easy to understand: one wire in with power; one wire out to the furnace, one wire from the switch connected in series with the two black wires.
the wire in the conduit is not part of what’s in the red box. from this angle you might think there are three wires going into the red box but one is the wire that goes to the water pump. Now, the heat sensor faces down; there is a wire coming from the service panel with the power; and there is a separate wire that goes to the other box. Splitting up the components between two boxes makes it neater. A future electrician will be easily able to figure out why I did it this way (I think).
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