Out With the Traditional Modern Kitchen

The cabinetry was hand built by Sterling in situ and dated November 16, 1960. We relocated them 51 years and one day later.

Now that I am dismantling the kitchen, I am feeling a qualm that I hadn’t ever expressed appreciation for my cabinets and their sturdy construction. I’ve lived here 31 years and these cabinets have been the set with which I did my daily choreography, my daily Tai Chi form, opening and closing cabinets, taking out dishware and putting them back. They had some ugly faux walnut varnish treatment which we removed, revealing the birch veneer and its sunny wood grain. I enjoyed working in this kitchen and made some fine meals for wonderful family and friends.

Dave Luce, of Albie Barden's team, preps the house for the Transition.

Dave Luce is an amazing person who can very tidily take a kitchen apart and make it appear somewhere else, and then, for an encore, carefully clear a staging area in the garage for the coming construction.

Funny story about constructing this, though. Dave puts together the really nice counter with stovetop and cabinet, then puts in the leg and plumbs it and declares it true, that this is its spot. So I take a pencil and I draw around the leg so if I ever knock the leg out of true, I can always push it back into its spot. Well, then Dave actually braces the leg! Twice! Way better than the saw horses I was going to use.
So, I’m contracting, packing up everything, except a wok and a tea kettle. Then, when the time comes to expand into the new space, I will mindfully and studiously, seeing what really is useful and what really is better purposed elsewhere.

I even got a lesson in how to make kindling. I thought I had a pile of kindling as I had been collecting the fine shards from the hardwood I’d been stacking. No, that is a pile of fine shards of hardwood, good to use after the kindling catches. Kindling is composed of fine shards of pine, because the pitch in the wood is a natural accelerant. So, any pine studs left from deconstructing walls and shelves are recycled, split, and kept in a dry, remote spot.
And a lesson on how to replace a broken axe handle. One has to saw off the metal part, insert the new handle into the axe head, wedge it, bang it in there, then soak it in a pail of water so everything swells and wedges nicely, insuring the axe head would not fly off when one swings it. Who knew? I quickly studied up; Wikipedia explains axes

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Water Tanks in Maine

Water Tanks stacked outside a Maine barn.

Selecting a water tank

Albie Barden selects a suitable tank for my project.

Funky stand for the water tank

Albie fits a stand to the water tank.

Here’s a slightly edited email I sent to Jeremy Brown, of Hillcrest Masonry, and Albie Barden, of Maine Wood Heat Co;
Hello, Gentlemen,
Progress of considerable proportions has occurred! Albie’s design is genius – even better than I imagined. So I contracted with him for the stove as well as the heater, no wait, make that three things; the stove, heater, and soapstone sink. Before those can be installed, however, we need to replace a few studs with non-combustible/steel, and then tile the place. Now I’m thinking of using 12” tile on the whole wall and a bit around the corner to surround the window. The tiled area will also include 26(?)” out in front of the stove and oven. I’ll include square footage at the end here. I’m not going to try to make a counter to replicate the present butcherblock which is holding up the electric cook stove – we’ll let the stove stand on it’s own, beside the heater. I am thinking of putting a counter to the right of the sink – if it goes all the way to the wall it will need a metal support tied into the proposed metal studs.
Please include the copper water jacket (which of the two can be discussed; I don’t mind dents if that one functions better ((there was a difference in where the spigots were?)) and the funky stand for the waterjacket. That copper waterjacket is gorgeous and should really be somewhere we can see it – maybe a cut-out niche in the tiled back wall which will also position the waterjacket relative to the hot water heater and the bath.
I’m finding a plumber now who wants to learn that (gravity plumbing, errr, what did you call it, Albie? The thermodynamic stuff.)
So, the first steps, then, is some more demolition and the retrofit of metal studs in the kitchen/bath wall, and a demolition and archway in the kitchen/living wall. Also, rip up the vinyl kitchen tiles and look at the underlayment of the floor relative to heater project. Jeremy, would your father be interested?
Then, Jeremy, we need to install the tile, and whatever underlayment etc – specs you and Albie discuss relative also to matching floor level of oak flooring to be installed in kitchen floor and where we tore out wall kitchen/living.
I suspect the soapstone sink will need cabinetry to sit in – I will think about the rest of the design (left side of sink) in a bit.
I may put the refirg up on a dolly and position it up against the cold back door. (then we’ll need to put in a cat door, a firewood shoot, a cold air intake…)

Edited this post to correct misnomer; those are water tanks. A water jacket is the piping that goes around the heater or stove to the tank that transfers heat to the tank.

Jeremy Brown’s Hillcrest Masonry
Albie Barden’s Maine Wood Heat Company

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And the Band Played Marching Matilda

And the Band Played Marching Matilda
In honor of all veterans, here is an anti-war song sung with all the bitterness and contempt that war deserves.

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Move Your Money Day

Invest in your community. Divest from those entities that rob us.

Corporations and banks can’t survive unless we give them our money. Where we put our money matters. By investing in our own community, we grow stronger. Slow money is revolutionary – and today we’re revolting!
Over $50 Million Withdrawn from Big Banks and Deposited Locally

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I’m dying of the irony.

Hardly two inches of snow fell, but enough to knock down branches all over New England and bring down the electric lines, incapacitating my heating oil fueled furnace, cookstove and oven. So, here I am, surrounded by wood fuel, and I’m freezing in my own home. Not the warmth security I was anticipating. But then, I don’t have the masonry heater built yet; I’m still discussing design concerns with the masons, and some things can’t be rushed. Gadzooks! I thought we had at least another month before significant snow storms show up.

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Splitting Cord Wood

So here I am with lovely piles of wood that have to be split further in order to dry more quickly and burn more efficiently, and I don’t know the first thing about splitting wood. So I go to the internet and study youtube videos of splitting wood and I see the setup of a tire on a stump. But I’m really not that good at swinging an axe. So back to the youtubes, and I see one from Finland using a weighted wedge on a long pole-type handle. This I can handle. It is twelve pounds, which is somewhat heavy, but standing up on a step and putting the tire on thin boards (to save the cutting edge from dulling on the flagstone), I can get decent work done.
Here is a quick job accomplished, as none of the blocks of wood had a knot in it, so splitting was really easy. Loud, but easy.

I believe this would be half of a day’s requirement – but this, too, we will find out for sure when we actually get the system up and running.

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Stacking Cord Wood

I remember watching “The West Wing” during the Bush years, and being bothered that sanity could be found only on TV, while irrational governing was everywhere in real life. But I wasn’t too bothered, because we’d wait for the next election, work like dogs to get out the vote, and we would get these guys out of the White House and get everything back to normal. Because enlightened governing was coming back soon enough, I didn’t think extraordinary measures were necessary.

It wasn’t until I was laid off for over 99 weeks and watched as any further unemployment insurance get traded away for tax cuts, got hired a couple of times but was quickly jettisoned when younger or more qualified candidates walked in the door, and realized that age 63, I am no longer employable. I am no longer going to have an income. Something had radically changed in the boss-employee relationship and it felt predatory. I was really shocked, having always been an ideal employee with an over-developed work ethic and having always worked with people just as good and just as qualified. How could this be happening to all of us? I started to analyze how I could possibly become self-employed.

So, I finally grasped that it was time to reassess, regroup, and retool. But what tools did I have for life with no money? What could I barter? I had installed an herb garden, mostly because the groundhog ate any vegetables I planted but left herbs alone. So I discovered a great herbal website with lots of natural homemade remedies and personal products that looked attractive. I decided to volunteer at the Farmers Market, to become acquainted with the enterprise and to scope out what demand I might be able to fill. It turns out an herbal vendor was already booked, but I worked the whole season, if only to feel that my work was worthwhile, relevant, and my work ethic demonstrable.

However, while googling for things natural, homemade, and marketable, I ran across the thoughts and actions of one Ron Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement, who tied together three difficult concepts and suggested an about-face. By disengaging from corporations and commodified consumption, by reducing one’s carbon footprint, by embracing local ‘slow money,’ one could start building a new kind of community that would rise out of the ashes of the devastation left by the banksters and oil barons. Finally, a reason to start hoping again, a break from the overwhelming sadness engendered by seeing our Earthly home burning up, and from the loneliness of being laid off from the workforce, where I had found so many friends.

In the Transition Town movement, finding alternatives to fossil fuel heating was not irrational behavior and indeed, with more people in the conversation, I heard of the Finnish wood fueled masonry heater.  I rejoiced in finding a logical means of keeping warm in the winter, a back to the future concept brilliant in it’s efficiency, something that made sense and was comforting in it’s familiarity. After years of exploring solar (too many trees to the south), passive solar (house on the north side of a slope), hydrology (stream out back too slow), wind (too intermittent), I found myself falling in love with the concept of radiant renewable wood heat. And I loved remembering my maternal grandmother who used a big cast iron kitchen wood stove and produced fantastic strawberry shortcake.

I love stacking cord wood. It’s still summertime, the sun is lovely, the breezes are refreshing, and I can pause and sniff various scents wafting from the herb garden. I am taking the physical labor slowly, appreciating each piece of wood and placing it with mindfulness in relation to the others. Wood is stored solar power, a natural battery and a beautiful one at that. I keep contemplating the stacks, so satisfied with my work, and so reassured by the security of stockpiled warmth. Stacking wood makes me happy.

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies on the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus. And you’ve got to make it stop.
— Mario Savio

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