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December 28, 2007

Who Lives Next Door?


When we moved in to this little corner of North Harbor, the neighbors were a bit shy. We weren’t introduced right away, but soon enough we began seeing the signs. First, the rabbit tracks in the snow and then the regular visits from the hares foraging and seeking shelter in the open area beneath Gypsy Rose.

As we returned home one night, a fox scampered across the driveway in the illumination of our headlights. Fat and healthy. Lots of bunnies, we remembered.

Then, on Christmas Eve, while I was getting ready to visit family, the dog from down the road came bounding across the drive, obviously on the chase. Moments later, the source of the dog’s excitement came trotting into view. The sleek red fox sat briefly in the drive, watching the dog he'd just outsmarted continue down the field.


Satisfied that the chase was over, the fox trotted toward me for a more up-close introduction. He sniffed Gypsy’s porch while I stood in the door taking pictures. Soon, he disappeared down the bank to the lake’s shore. We’ll meet again one day soon, I’m sure.


December 17, 2007

"So What Is It That You Do?"

what do you do

 “So, what is it that you do?”

How many times have we all been asked that question?

And how do we respond?

“I’m a programmer for ABComputing” or, “I’m a clerk at bigboxmart,” or, “I’m a . . . [fill in the blank].”

In neo-classical economic theory, we are referred to as “human capital,” and “factors of production.” (I saw further evidence of this dehumanizing language while doing a stint in Dilbertland. My co-workers and I were referred to as “resources” - not even “human resources,” but simply “resources”).

Is that how we define ourselves? With a job title? A functionary in the workplace?

I did not grow up dreaming about spending my life “thinking outside the box, drinking from the fire hose, brain dumping, circling back, win-winning, getting on the same page, taking it offline, defining skill sets and leveraging our core competencies  . . . blah, blah, blah.”

Where is the humanity?

what do you do

 Today, while watching a foot of new snow fall outside my window, I read “The Ecology of Work,” written by Curtis White for Orion Magazine. In it, the author writes, “We all have our place, our “job,” and it is an ever less human place. We are diligent, disciplined, and responsible, but because of these virtues we are also thoughtless.”

Mr. White does not go so far as to offer a comprehensive prescription for change, but he does suggest, “We need to insist on work that is not destructive, that deepens the worker, that encourages her creativity. Such a transformation requires a willingness to take a collective risk, a kind of risk very different from capitalist risk taking. The kind of risk I’m suggesting is no small matter. It means leaving a culture based on the idea of success as the accumulation of wealth-as-money. In its place we need a culture that understands success as life.”

What does that look like? I’m not sure. I suppose I’ll just keep looking.

After reading the article, I took a walk along my Lake Champlain backyard with Marion. We watched as the next wave of the storm poured down the Adirondacks and moved across the lake to where we stood. It’ll be a few more months before these waters warm again.

what do you do

 We turned and walked back up the path to Gypsy Rose and put the bread in the oven. I called my parents to see how they were faring through the storm. When the weather clears tomorrow, I’ll begin installing the new chimney and finally getting a fire burning in the wood stove. Maybe I’ll take a sled run down Mount Philo. I’ll continue the planning for my 2008 sea kayaking, rowing and sailing programs.

Come spring, I’ll anxiously await more of what I “do.” Just don’t ask me to sum it up in one concise phrase.

what do you do


what do you do


what do yo do


what do you do

December 11, 2007

The Story of Stuff


“Our enormously productive economy... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption...We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate."

Retailing analyst, Victor Lebow, 1955

What the . . .? That we seek our spiritual satisfaction in consumption?

‘Tis the season, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the holiday gatherings of family and friends. I never have learned restraint when it comes to the abundance of fresh-baked cookies that appear every year at this time. I look forward to notes from friends in far-away places who might otherwise be too caught up in the day-to-day activity to sit and write. I love the fresh snow and the warmth of the fire.

It’s that other part of the holiday season that I could do without. You know. It’s all the activity and anxiety that adds up to the largest single “event” in our consumer-based economy. As I watch the cars and minivans and SUV’s choking the highways more than usual, I’m seeing the annual increase in the piles of “cargo.” Gap, Toys r Us, Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy, Limited, Macy’s, Body Shop, Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma. Huge bags emblazoned with huge logos and all filled with “stuff.”

In the frenzy of it all, we even have our nation’s elected leader, President Bush, urging us to our patriotic calling, as in this December, 20th, 2006 press conference:

“A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country -- and I encourage you all to go shopping more.”


A breath of fresh air in response to a very serious problem came across my desk this weekend. I discovered a newly released film by Annie Leonard called “The Story of Stuff.” In all my years since graduating college with a degree in Natural Resource Economics, I’ve not seen such a wonderfully succinct explanation of the essence (and tragedy) of our consumer-based society. I’m hoping that all readers of this blog will be as moved as I was when I watched the film. To view the video, click here, or click on the image below.

Happy Holidays, and all that stuff . . .

The Story of Stuff 

December 04, 2007

Winter Storms and Wooden Floors


December 3rd, 2007.

At 1 a.m. I awoke to the sound of wind-driven rain against the bedroom window. Next came the sound of sleet, followed by silence as the frozen precipitation turned to snow. A winter storm was underway and I was about to drive 30 miles through it to return the flooring nailer I’d rented to install Gypsy’s hardwood floors. Before writing about the flooring project, however, I should catch you up on the various other projects and events that have escaped the attention of this blog in the preceding weeks. It seems that winter storms have worked their way into more than one episode.

While living aboard Raven in North Harbor, just down the path from Gypsy, we had much to do before completing the move ashore. First, there was the installation of the water distribution manifold. It is mounted in a wall-opening behind the stove and refrigerator. The main water supply line feeds it from the water tank (to be located under the couch). The cold water is distributed through separate lines to each fixture as well as to the hot water heater. Hot water is then returned to the manifold where it, too, is distributed through individual water lines to each fixture.


Next, came the taming of the electrical rat’s nest. Below is a photo of the two-dozen 12-volt DC wiring leads (red and black wires) before they were fed to the distribution box. The yellow wires are the AC lines which feed to the same distribution box.


 In the next photo, the walls have been insulated and sheathed in pine while the wires have all been bundled and led through a pair of holes to the back of the distribution box which contains the 30 amp AC input service and three AC distribution breakers on the left side of the panel. On the right side a DC fuse panel routes the 12-volt supply to Gypsy’s lights and outlets. The space between the refrigerator and the wall will house a bank of 12-volt deep-cycle batteries (borrowed from Raven this winter). The battery charger will be mounted on the wall beneath the distribution panel.

Eventually, we plan to capture all our electrical energy from the sun, but until the photovoltaic panels get installed we’ll have to rely on our Honda generator to recharge the battery bank.


 Refining (Changing) Our Hot Water Plans

Tank storage-type water heaters have never made sense from an energy conservation standpoint. Continuously heating and storing water in a tank is a relic of a bygone era. Ultimately, I’d like to move to a solar water heater, but, for now the “on-demand” or tankless method seems to make the most sense.

Way back when, we purchased a tankless water heater to install in Gypsy Rose. It seemed well-suited to our application until I delved into the specifics. Being completely non-electric (and hence no exhaust blower), the model I chose needs to be vented via a chimney pipe. We planned to locate the heater on the back side of the kitchen wall in the storage shed. To keep the water that remains in the heater from freezing in the cold, I built a box around the unit and insulated it to R20. By the time I had accommodated the necessary clearances for the appliance plus the insulation, the “box” was 30 inches wide by five feet tall – taking up a larger than anticipated portion of the shed.

I was feeling more and more uneasy about the installation, so before putting the hole through the shed roof to run the vent pipe I started scrutinizing the spec sheets and installation guidelines for the heater. It turned out that the unit requires more area for combustion air than the square-footage of Gypsy and therefore it is not suitable for use in homes of Gypsy’s size. We could have added an additional intake to give the heater the air it needs, but before putting any holes in the floor I decided to do a little more research.

A year ago my searches did not reveal tankless water heaters specifically designed for our tiny home, but my latest round of Internet queries led me to a product called the RV-500. It is claimed to be the only tankless water heater that is approved for RV’s and park trailers. That’s the one we need. (Although I hate to think of Gypsy Rose as an “RV” or a “park trailer,” that’s the closest comparable for design purposes.)

Anyone want to buy a very nice, never-used Bosch 1600 tankless water heater?

Putting Raven “On the Hard”

We had to put the Gypsy Rose projects on hold for a couple of weeks beginning on November 15th. It was time for the annual hauling of Raven for the winter months, followed by the Thanksgiving holiday.

Last year’s mild weather found me on Raven’s decks in a t-shirt and 60 degrees when I installed the winter cover on December 20th. This year was different. During the final three days of Raven’s stay at the Maritime Museum the winds blew strong, beginning with 30-40 knot warm air from the south. We took advantage of the protection this harbor has from southerly winds to remove the Genoa from the forestay and the mainsail from the boom before the weather turned wet.

The forecast for the day before our scheduled arrival at the Shelburne Shipyard was for 10-15 knot south winds and a good chance for rain. We decided to motor to Burlington and spend the night at our Shelburne Bay mooring before heading to the Shelburne Shipyard dock on the morning of November 16th where we would have Raven lifted onto her steel cradle.

We were ready to go and carrying our duffels down the path to the harbor by 7 a.m. on the morning of November 15th. A steady pouring rain had been falling throughout the night. The winds were not the southerlies (tail winds) that had been forecast. Foam was streaming from the whitecaps that rolled past Raven’s hull, pushed by a 25-30 knot north wind. Once aboard, Marion fired up the engine while I moved the Zodiac forward to the mooring ball and began removing our mooring lines. In a driving rain with icy water washing over the gunwales of the dinghy I struggled to free up the lines while Marion eased Raven forward to relieve the tension on the pennants. Fully exposed to the north winds and waves we had little room for error or malfunction. The waves that rolled into the harbor were breaking hard on the rocks that lay only a hundred feet behind Raven’s stern.

Once the mooring lines were free, I slipped the dinghy back to the boarding ladder at the transom, climbed aboard and throttled up the faithful auxiliary diesel. We motored out of the harbor into the face of storm. Driving rain and near-gale force winds were on our nose for the entire trip north. We pounded into the steep waves after passing the Split Rock lighthouse and our typical 6.2 knots under power was reduced to 3.8. It was going to be a slow journey.

Days like that make me grateful for the full cockpit enclosure. Although the bow was diving into the troughs and sending hundreds of gallons of water the length of the deck with every plunge, I remained dry and comfortable in the cockpit. With visibility reduced, we made our way by radar, encountering only the Charlotte to Essex ferry along the way. Marion kept the coffee flowing while she prepared breakfast below decks.

I’ve never been fond of the way a boat under power moves through weather. There is something that is just not right about it. With a throttle in hand I feel as if I’m one step removed from natural rhythms. Under sail the feeling is more synergistic as I work with the wind rather than engaging it head on with a spinning propeller.

As we moved directly into the waves in that November storm I also experienced a feeling of nakedness without sails resting on the boom or ready to set on the forestay. If the engine had failed we would have quickly been driven into rocky headlands by those north winds with only an anchor for backup. The uneasiness remained with me for the entire journey north.

As we approached Burlington the winds began to abate. We made the turn around Shelburne Point and began the coast down the bay toward our mooring. The next day’s forecast was for 30-40 knot winds out of the north. A winter storm warning was in effect. It didn’t look like it was going to be fun hauling Raven. I phoned Karen at the Shipyard as we passed by.

“It doesn’t look like the weather is going to be very cooperative for tomorrow’s scheduled haul,” I told her. “Should we consider postponing until early next week?”

“Well,” Karen replied, “Would you like to haul Raven now? I can have the guys meet you at the dock at 12:30.”

“Let’s do it.”

I dropped Marion off alongshore next to our mooring and motored back to the Shipyard while she drove her car to meet me at the dock. It was still raining, but the temperatures were in the lower 40’s. Not ideal, but much better than the 15 degrees and much stronger north winds that the next day would bring. We stood by and watched as the Shipyard crew and the marine travel-lift hoisted Raven from the water and lowered her into her cradle. By the end of the afternoon we had the oil changed and the engine’s raw water system “pinked” with antifreeze. We also drained all fresh water tanks, pumps, and hoses before finally running antifreeze through the system for the winter lay-up.

After the mild winters of the past two years I figured I’d only have to wait for temperatures to rise again before putting the winter cover on Raven. We left the rest of the winterizing project until after the Thanksgiving holiday, sure that we’d find a comfortable weather window for assembling the frame and tying on the tarps.

No such luck. Winter storms lay in the offing into the foreseeable future. The only opportunity we saw was a forecast for clear skies and light winds on November 28th. Highs were only in the upper 20’s, but it was the best we were going to get.

Snow and freezing rain the day before had left Raven’s decks covered with an inch of ice. We had to hold frozen knots in our hands in order to thaw the lines enough to untie them and remove the boom. As expected, it was not a pleasant day’s work, but we remained diligent and stuck to it for nine hours in order to get everything covered and secure before the next big storm rolled through on the following day.

Installing Gypsy’s Floor

When we began building Gypsy Rose way back when, Marion’s sister, Suzi, and husband, Gregg, generously gave us several bundles of oak flooring that they had accumulated in their basement. (They run a business installing wood floors.) Finally, the time had come for us to install it. The wood is a mix of red and white oak and we had no idea if it was going to be enough to cover our floor but we set out to see what we could make with it this past weekend.

To begin the project, the floors were covered with felt (a.k.a tar paper).


The first several rows were slow going. In addition to insuring proper alignment, we had to work the flooring around the fender wells, the loft ladder, and under the kitchen cabinet area before coming to simple end-to-end runs in open spaces. Once that point was reached, it was a pretty straight-forward process of selecting lengths that did not leave joints in close proximity to those of adjoining runs and nailing them in place.


My past experience with laying flooring had been with manual flooring nailers. When we got to the rental shop, however, I was faced with the choice of either manual or pneumatic nailers. I fussed a bit about the extra $20 cost of the pneumatic tool, but I knew that we were going to try and get all the flooring laid in a single day so I chose the more expensive option.

In retrospect I can say that it would have been a much more difficult and time-consuming project if I’d chosen the manual nailer. Working in a typical open room area, the manual tool would have been just fine, but in the tight spaces of Gypsy’s layout, the single strike of the mallet required by the air tool was what saved the day and resulted in a beautiful floor.


We finished the project in eleven hours. By 8:30 on Sunday night, Marion was preparing dinner with ¾ inch of oak flooring under foot.


The alarm went off at 5:45 the next morning. The snow was already a few inches deep in a storm that would bring from 5 to 11 inches of snow to Vermont’s north country. It took me over an hour to reach the rental shop to return the nailer, but the job was done and our floors await the protective coating of polyurethane before we leave to visit Marion’s family for a Saint Nicholas Day gathering.