Ten big renovation and maintenance projects we did

In absolute numbers, I suppose you could say we lived in the place for free, once you compare what we paid for the place and added as renovations against the selling price two decades later, but I’m not sure that would hold up if we factored in inflation or what we might have earned if we’d placed much of that money in the stock market.

Even so, here’s some of what we had done:

  1. Reshingled the roof.
  2. Lined the chimney. And then the other.
  3. Replaced the cracked boiler.
  4. Saved the barn from collapse, created a mother-in-law apartment, later removed the second-floor deck from the house to the loft, and wired the loft.
  5. Replaced the downstairs windows.
  6. Remodeled the kitchen.
  7. Remodeled the upstairs bathroom.
  8. Restored the downstairs bathroom as more of a utility room and added a kitchen pantry.
  9. Replaced the sump pump, this time sunken into the floor.
  10. Replaced the rotten bulkhead with steel.

And that’s not counting all the garden beds and plantings or tree work.

From a Jungian interpretation of the Holy Grail myth

So I lost the source, this still applies: “One of the first characteristics of a mood [the author distinguishes feeling, emotions, and moods] is that it robs us of all sense of meaning. Relatedness is necessary if we are to have a sense of meaning or fulfillment. If something is wrong with one’s ability to relate, the meaning in life is gone. So depression is another term for mood. … So a mood is a little madness, a slight psychosis that overtakes one.”

Also: “A woman is much more in control of her moods. She can use them. She tries them on and sees which one she is going to wear. A man doesn’t have as much control over his moods; in fact, he has almost no control. Many women are masters of the whole feeling department as few men ever are. Much difficulty arises because a woman presumes that a man has the same kind of control over his mood that she has over hers, but he doesn’t. She must understand and give him time, or help him a little bit. …

“There is a fine but important difference between mood and enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm is a beautiful word. In Greek it means ‘to be filled with God.’ . . . If one is filled with God, a great creativity will flow, and there will be a stability about it. If one is filled with the anima [a man’s shadow side, his feminine aspects; in a woman, it’s the animus, her male qualities] one may also feel creativity, but it will probably be gone before nightfall. One must be wise enough to know the difference between God and the anima; most men aren’t. … Laughter is positive and creative, unless it comes from a mood.”

Among the points the writer in question raises in that section is one noting the danger of a feminist stance pushing women into their animus side, which gives men no refuge. “In some respects this is necessary, but in some other respects it could be nearly fatal. Each [man and woman] should serve the other. This is the ideal. We can’t do without it. One cannot live without the service, without the love, without the nurturing and service of the other. Parsifal understands this …”

No wonder I’ve been going out of my gourd!

Farewell, Dover … in a way

It’s not like I won’t be back. My next book is a unique history of the town’s Quakers, for one thing, and I’ll be promoting it. And I’ll still be connecting with Dover Friends, especially through New England Yearly Meeting. Yes, Downeast Maine is still part of New England, thank God.

Will I miss people? Definitely. Some great neighbors, the Greek Orthodox circle, the lifeguards and fellow swimmers at the city’s indoor pool would be high on that list. My fellow musicians, on the other hand, were down in Boston, and I haven’t seen them since before Covid. Our beloved conductor even stepped down in the face of its digital demands. The local writing circle, meanwhile, adds some valued faces to the list, though I can’t say we were close or even much on the same page. But that’s where I did learn about Smashwords, where all my novels quickly appeared.

Which brings up another point. This new move would be much harder if we were leaving extended family behind or, more crucially, that rare friend who connects intimately on a range of shared interests – those things that fit one’s life mission or identity. For me, that would be a nexus of Quaker spirituality, off-beat literature, classical music, natural wonder and wilderness, back-to-the-earth awareness, even folk dancing. Things like gardening and foody smarts would be more on my wife’s side of the equation.

What, you think there are tons of people who match my varied interests? Surely, you jest.

Death has already taken a toll there, as has spiraling illness, their moving away to a distance, or even insurmountable conflict. But in my new setting, I am meeting some fascinating eccentrics. More later, I’m sure.

I do wish we had more words to describe friendships, though I’m afraid any subtlety would quickly be eroded. The fact is there are few of those soul-mate connections, especially among males of our civilized species. Women seem to be naturally inclined toward that one-special-friend connection, the kind of person you have to phone (or text) every day. Or every-other hour. Not so guys, to our own detriment. Mea culpa.

Let’s also note that Covid precautions have also already detached us. We’re rarely in physical contact, no matter how much Zoom and other platforms allow me to catch up with buddies even when I’m way up Downeast Maine. And, from everything I’m seeing, that’s likely to continue into the foreseeable future.


My wife and I have both been surprised how quickly I’ve switched into my new center. Once my workstation and files were set up in our new address, that’s where my heart was. Dover is undergoing what I expect to be an amazing rebirth, but I won’t be part of it, and I’m aware of that.

Quite simply, it’s become a great place for me to visit, but no longer home. All of my goods have ether been moved to the new address or are in the storage unit we’ve rented.

In other words, the dream has stepped on.


As I look back on my years in Dover, I realize I see I hadn’t spent as much time in neighboring Portsmouth as I’d expected or at the University of New Hampshire just a town away. Even once I’d retired from the newsroom, I was largely hunkered down in writing, revising, and publishing. So much for the writer’s life!

I can say I feel comfortable in leaving Friends Meeting in good hands and wish the best for the new owners of our old house, barn, and precious gardens.

I can say Dover’s been the best years of my life. So far. You will be seeing more from that through the coming year, here at the barn.

What would you miss most if you uprooted?


Leaving the barn behind … but not entirely

I had sweet dreams of remodeling the loft of the barn into a year-’round studio. Something like critic/professor Jack Barnes’ cozy literary digs on his farm in Hiram, Maine. Alas, it never quite happened.

Family life pushed us in other directions, and then the publishing scene also changed. I didn’t need quite so much room to spread papers or stack submissions, for one thing. More and more was on the computer, and in time, I no longer needed computer discs for storage. Remember them?

Climbing to the loft was kind of like going up into a treehouse.

When we redid the loft, it was more as a three-season space, a retreat, and it did give me the room to spread poems about when I considered the sequence for one of my chapbooks. It also allowed us to decompress a lot of the stuff we’d packed into the house. But it was, as you’ve seen, pretty funky – not the polished compartment I once desired.

At least I painted the exterior traditional New England barn red and not that loud crimson used elsewhere. Not that I could tackle that project again. I’m not sure I could even manage the ladders these days, and I definitely wouldn’t be up on the roof repairing the weather vane.

What the barn did give us was space, even though much of that soon became crowded. Garden tools and pots, shelves of canning jars, chairs that just might be re-caned or repainted, bins of Halloween, Christmas, or Easter decorations. Carpentry tools, an array of wood, and painting supplies. Picnic coolers and charcoal. Two big freezers, well stuffed, at one point, on the ground floor.

The barn did become an emblem for me, as a repository for many souvenirs from my zig-zag journey out from Ohio, and maybe even for us as “city farmers.”

And now I’m waving farewell to all that as I head off on new adventures.

So here goes. Just be warned you’ll still be reading about it and its surroundings in upcoming posts. The Red Barn is definitely continuing.

We had already moved out a lot of stuff, and the loft still looked like this.

Letting go and moving on

It’s official. We’re selling our home of the past 21 years, including the red barn and my asparagus and fern beds.

It all happened much faster than I had anticipated. In truth, I didn’t expect our dream of relocating to a remote fishing village at the other end of Maine to go into action for another two years. Even when we made our pitch for the house we landed, I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up – they’d been dashed too many times the previous time we were looking before we anchored in Dover.

But here we are, with any luck beating the crowd on that rising housing market. The trend of moving out from the big-city suburbs into smaller, more viable, pedestrian-friendly towns hasn’t yet reached fever levels in Sunrise County. It is, after all, an eight-hour drive from Boston.

And no, I’m not changing the name of this blog – the barn will live on in my memory and as a metaphor. Guess we’ll just have to get a garden shed, paint it red, and call it our new barn.


Still, the uprooting and transplanting have stirred up a lot within me.

I’m recalling one neighbor’s comment back in Manchester. “I don’t think anybody can afford to live in New Hampshire for under,” and he named a figure that would have gone up a lot under the inflation in the years since. At the time, I looked at him and replied, “But I do.”

He was shocked and maybe a tad embarrassed.

I still don’t know how most people are affording the prices of homes in much of New England or other hot spots, but they’re also being pressed by outrageous rental costs.


Reflecting on previous moves, I admit most of them were daring leaps to new jobs and dots on the map where I knew no one. This doesn’t feel so draconian. I’ve visited, after all, and have acquaintances, mostly through Quaker circles.

So now I flip between memories of places I was fond of and of others, well, there were some mean towns and economic struggles. Satellite photos reveal that a handful of the units I occupied have been demolished in the intervening years. Let’s just say that luxury rentals were beyond my means, but a few others had their funky charms or at least memories.

The Dover property was only the second I’d owned. The other was a marvelous 1920s bungalow in a Rust Belt town. (See my novel Hometown News for that one.) When that house was emptied, I sat down and wept in the aftermath of a divorce and the confusing developments with my fiancée.

This time, I’ve found myself anxious to move on. Both of us are finally admitting the shortfalls of our home of the past two decades – not just the short treads on the staircase but also the arrangement of the rooms and the fact it just wasn’t designed for our needs. We adapted to the space, and now that there were just two of us, the faults became inescapable.

On top of that, I keep seeing more repairs that are needed – some of them big ones the second time around. I’ve run out of energy. The responsibility – and expense – are simply too much.

But I’m also remembering guests who’ve stayed with us as well as our dinners and parties, not that we ever had as many as we would have liked.


One thing I have to acknowledge is the emotional weight of things I feel a responsibility for maintaining. As I shed more of them, I’m feel freer and more capable of opening to new experiences. The flip side is the question of just how much and what I might need to sustain that.

So here we go.

Let’s stick just to my end of this endeavor. I won’t get into hers.

Yes, I’m talking about downsizing for real.

In this matter of daily living, I squirreled away a lot of doodads and papers – created quite a compact puzzle arrangement, actually – but preparing to move has meant opening the proverbial Pandora’s box and watching it all jump out, well, like a jack-in-the-box explosion.

There was no way I could take all of this stuff with me. It was time to let go.

Things like the library card, my swim pass and parking permit, old insurance forms and booklets.

Clothing got touchier, as I had to ask if I really planned on wearing this item or that – did I even like it? Old pillows, too.

It was time to let go of the tape cassettes, I had nothing to play them on anyway, but I do have a neighbor who’s big into his sound system, so I’m happy to know they have a new home. I simply realized I was unlikely to listen to them again, considering my schedule, even in retirement. I’ll concentrate on my vinyl and CDs, which will likely get a pruning in the upcoming year. You know, that reality that as you clear out the debris, you discover all kinds of treasures you didn’t know you owned. Ditto for the remaining books, which did get yet another culling but need more. What am I likely to need or revisit in the next five years?

I also passed along my student violin and sheet music.

Another difficult decision was to pitch a complete set of my mimeographed Ramblers, a periodic broadside I published in my years at Wright State University, as well as a long shelf of my contributor’s copies of literary journals where I’d appeared. Plus several boxes of unsold copies of my first novel. Even several drawers of acceptance letters – the more volumous rejections went out a half-dozen years ago. Add to that old genealogy notes and correspondence. The fact was that these imposed an emotional weight on me, and now I let go.

Oh, yes, and then there were several cases of 3½-inch computer cassettes. I couldn’t even access those now if I wanted to, though I moved all of their relevant content over years ago. No problem, overboard they went. Finally.

My cross-country skis are joining the discards. I was never that good on them, and getting older, I’m deciding to shift to snowshoes. Besides, I’ve usually been out on the snow all alone, as in solo, and I need to admit that if I break a bone in a fall, I’d be in big trouble. (Yes, I do tumble.) Oh, the realities and perils of getting old.

I am planning on going through my journals in the next year, and I suspect I’ll actually wind up burning some of them – the ones that have been thoroughly mined for poetry and fiction prompts or the ones that are boringly banal.

In the back of my head are the stories of surviving family members having to clean out the possessions of a deceased parent or grandparent. So my intent is to spare my own much of that burden. Not that they won’t still have plenty to tackle.

My unexpected winter

My world took a big – and largely unexpected turn – at the beginning of December, when we closed on our bid on a house in a fishing village in Downeast Maine. Frankly, I didn’t expect the seller to accept our offer, but the housing inspector we engaged before that produced a long list of essential issues to address, even before we get to any renovations that play into our modest dreams.

Since then, I haven’t had much time to reflect on the whirlwind, much less post on the developments, and a lot of the fallout probably won’t start appearing here on the blog until next year, in part because I’m also submerged in another big and very timely writing project. Yes, you’ll be hearing about that, too.

It’s also meant getting down to seriously thinning our possessions, which wouldn’t all fit in our new abode – not without a barn for storage, especially. That’s been a rough and emotional passage, with so many things tied to memories or unfulfilled aspirations. At least I’d been working through my stuff over the past several years – decollecting, as I’ve said – but a lot had nevertheless been tucked in securely and left untouched till now. It’s more of a cliffhanger for my wife.

And then there’s the matter of getting our home of 21 years on the market. We bought the place as a fixer-upper, not that we had much to choose from, and now I’m having to face the reality that after a small fortune in upgrades, it still needs tons of work. I hope the new owners are up for that.


So I’ve been spending much of my time in one of the one hundred easternmost houses in the nation, getting a better feel for the place and a few things under control, with enough commutes back to Dover that I could have driven to San Diego instead, except that I never got further west than just over the border into New Hampshire.

Whew! It’s all happening much faster than I’d anticipated.

Even at my age.

Yes, the balconies

The old Foster’s Daily Democrat newspaper plant had been added to willy-nilly over the years, and there was no way of hiding that in the building’s transformation to multi-use tenancy. As we’ve seen in previous posts, much of its rear side facing Henry Law Park was essentially a windowless concrete block wall. Not anymore. The corner apartments were quickly rented.

I particularly like the use of balconies that overlook a state-of-the-art playground and a green park along a bend of the Cocheco River where tall ships once turned around. In contrast, the recessed balconies ofter privacy while overlooking an outdoor amphitheater where summer concerts are held and the entrance to the children’s museum.
As I was saying about the corner apartments? How about their commanding balconies?
The redesign sought to maintain downtown Dover’s historic brick storefront appearance – narrow buildings with upstairs housing set side by side.