Friday, November 7, 2014

When I first moved to Maine back in 2008 I started working for the Portland Phoenix, an alternative newsweekly similar to the publication I had worked for back in Vermont. Unfortunately - as with much of the newspaper world - the recession hit the Phoenix hard. Within nine months I had lost my job.

I always have extremely clear memories of any event that turned out to be lifechanging. So it comes as no surprise that I remember every single detail of August 12, 2009, including the difficult conversation with the newspaper's higher ups, and my tearful call to my parents.

I also clearly remember certain moments in the days that followed. One of these is the moment I sat at my dining room table and called Tom Bradbury at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. Tom is a family friend, the Trust is always in need of help, and I was - for the first time in years - bored.

I had no idea how much that phone call would influence my life in the years that followed. That day marked the start of a mutually beneficial relationship between myself and my neighbors at the headquarters down the road. I marked merchandise, they gave me a place to hang out. I filed property paperwork, and they gave me a glass of wine when I couldn't afford any! I mowed the lawn at the lighthouse, they introduced me to some of my favorite people in town.

Maybe most importantly, the Trust asked me re-mark some of their trails, and I in turn rediscovered my love for the woods. So I was beyond excited to have a chance to write about these trails for my second column in the York County Coast Star, in hopes that more neighbors will discover them as they continue to spread throughout town.

You can read more, here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dream Job

It is no secret that I am obsessed with where I live.

This goes beyond the barn, the story of Freedom Farm, the acres of protected Conservation Trust land that surround my rural corner of our bustling vacation destination. I am not just obsessed with my home, I am obsessed with Kennebunkport in general.

At times this expands to the broader Kennebunks. Over to downtown route 1 where I work my day job, or out to my brother's abode including both pigs and chickens in West K. I also can't help but love that long stretch of Arundel with it's flea markets, cheap breakfast diners, and of course Bentley's. But generally it is our humble population of around 3,500 year-round residents that I can't get enough of.

This is a good thing, since living in a small town means you get a lot of it. What is "it"? Oh, I guess the word 'gossip' could sum it up. But it's more than that. Because it's not just people talking about each other - it is people being genuinely involved in, and concerned about, each other's lives. Last winter a buddy of mine moved in. Dan is also a Kennebunkport resident and it took less than a week to have multiple people downtown ask me "when did Dan move in?" all based on seeing his truck in my driveway. Some were excited, some wondered if we were dating... others had no feeling one way or another - they just wanted to be in the loop on what was up.

The upside of such a level of involvement is that people remember you, and look out for you. Which is exactly how I earned my new title of Kennebunkport town columnist for the York County Coast Star. Back when I first moved to Kennebunkport I started working freelance for the paper - and I loved it. I stopped when I got a full time gig at the Kennebunk Post, and then stopped that job when I got a corporate job that actually paid above living wage (not common in entry-level journalism!). I have greatly missed having writing as a part of my professional life ever since.

(OK, OK, technically writing is still a part of my professional life. But corporate social media copy just isn't the same as feature stories on all the cool people who live in your neighborhood, ya know?)

Anyway. The Coast Star was in need of a new columnist, and my former editor thought of me. So now I get to balance my money-making corporate gig with what is truly my dream job: writing about this amazing place in which I live. Goooo, small town life!

You can check out my first column here.

I'm also hoping that writing regularly for the newspaper will inspire me to write more regularly in general. I mean, columns were the original blog, right? Why can't I keep up with both?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Curb appeal!

Did you know that you can recycle asphalt?

For a girl who is a reluctant user of petroleum products, this was welcome news. For a girl who's asphalt driveway was decades old, full of cracks, and sinking into a series of borderline-dangerous potholes, this was GREAT news!

I knew that I needed to replace my driveway. But acknowledging that fact was the home improvement equivalent of opening a can of worms. A can of very expensive worms. How would I tear the driveway up? What would I replace it with? How would the replacement deal with the wear and tear of winter and snowplows? What would I do with the massive amount of asphalt the project would displace?

I started my research by simply driving around town. Each street I turned down, I figured the ratio of paved driveways to dirt driveways. Admittedly math is not my strong suit, but let's just say that my very scientific research turned up that here in Kennebunkport, dirt driveways rule.

But even if I tore up all the asphalt, did I want to leave it at just dirt? Would that improve my curb appeal or downgrade it even further? What would this summer's visiting renters think?

With those questions in mind, I turned to nostalgia. I grew up in a house with a pea stone driveway. The sound of feet walking on the pea stone path to my front door always makes me remember my first home. The sound of tires on pea stone could only enhance that. I decided crushed stone was likely the way to go.

Then I turned to the Internet. RH Brown is located right down the road from my house. Their website confirmed that they sell both pea stone and loam (the loam for a new grassy area). A quick call informed me that they would also accept my old asphalt. And recycle it. For FREE.

And finally I turned to Boyfriend. He has muscles. I figured we were good to go.

Thank goodness for those muscles... and those of his helpful friends! The scope of the project was... intimidating.

And due to a terribly-timed herniated disc (or... perfectly timed?), I wasn't allowed to help. Although... I did pose for a photo anyway!

Like most Freedom Farm projects, the driveway project took place in phases. And things got a lot worse before they got better. Thank goodness for friends with tractors - the new 'friends with trucks'!

Or I guess I should really say 'thank goodness for friends with farms'... as we also took advantage of our friend's dump truck for a total of THREE full loads of asphalt down to RH Brown for recycling!

Once that was out of the way, we were ready to have our crushed stone and loam delivered.

I could not get over the size of that pile of dirt. Again, thank goodness for Boyfriend's muscles - and those of his friends - as they turned two huge piles into a whole new look for Freedom Farm.

Where there used to be asphalt there is a now a crushed stone driveway with space for three vehicles, a new lawn to separate the house from the road, and a crushed stone path to our sliding barn door.

No more asphalt and no more potholes. And thanks to the attention of our first summer tenants, our new grass is coming in beautifully.

Of course now that the project is officially wrapped up, my herniated disc is no longer considered surgical. I still can't decide if that was perfect or terrible timing - although Boyfriend would likely vote 'terrible'! I'm just excited to move back home this fall to an updated version of our barn, now with some curb appeal.

Oh, and in case you're curious... asphalt gets recycled into new roads. Seriously! Apparently the crushed asphalt kicks up less dirt than a traditional dirt road. I'm just relieved it did not end up in the landfill...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Adventures in Landlording

I've come to the realization that being a good landlord is all about having the right tenants. And boy, am I glad to have scored the family currently staying in the barn.

Wait, what? You rented out the barn?

Yes. Let me back up. Because a LOT has happened.

About a year and a half ago I met a man. We dated for three months before deciding it was serious, and then for 12 more after that before deciding we might want to move in together. Because I am a homeowner, and Boyfriend is not, it was easy deciding where to reside. Or... it could have been easy.

Except that I had the hairbrained idea that I'd like to join him on his lease and try living in Portland. And hey, my house is in Kennebunkport, so why not rent it out for the summer?

We shared our big news with our parents, and got their support. Or rather, their acknowledgement. When you're already in your thirties, your parents don't have much to say about you moving in with a man, other than, "Finally!"

Then we listed the house, and waited for interest.

What followed was a crazy few months that could have broken us, but instead made us stronger, through late night painting projects, overdrawn bank accounts, and never ending DIY home improvement.

Overdrawn bank accounts? Aren't you making crazy money?

Well, we're charging what should add up to crazy money, sure, but each penny we've collected has already been reinvested. Which is fine by us because the barn we return to will be exponentially better than the barn that we left, with new siding, new windows, and a new stove, among other things.

Other things like a new toilet. And here is where I get to my point.

My first renters, a family of five on a five-week beach vacation, have been fantastic. They love the house, they are taking amazing care of my gardens and new grass, and they are very communicative. And when something isn't acting quite right, being communicative is a really good quality in a tenant.

The email about the toilet came last Wednesday morning, a day I was already scheduled to swing by the house to meet up with my homeowners insurance company. (Insurance companies are not huge fans of my non-conforming structure, but hopefully they at least enjoyed my new windows and siding!) The family was heading out for the day and wanted to give me a heads up that the toilet appeared to have "stopped", and would I mind taking a look at it?

In the hours that passed before I made it to the barn, I imagined every scenario possible from a simple plunging job to a completely backed up septic system. The actual situation fell somewhere in between, with the ancient copper mechanism inside the tank having finally given out. I managed to get both myself, and the bathroom, covered in toilet water before calling the plumber. He pronounced the toilet "at least sixty years old" (!?) and jerry-rigged it for the night, until I could swing by Home Depot for a much younger model.

While there's a more colorful story behind the adventure of the spraying water, actually getting the plumber to come by, and buying the new toilet, the point of this story is really just to emphasize how awesome my tenants are. Because as responsive and timely as I was with addressing their issue, nobody wants to deal with a broken toilet while on a beach vacation.

Wednesday night I sent the family a long text updating them on the plumber's report and promising their new commode come morning. Their response?

text message about toilet

The fist bump is my favorite part.

Yup, I got lucky. These tenants rule.