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A few weeks ago, I woke up to the usual barrage of deep-thought, big-picture, late-evening Slack messages about user onboarding from Ian Stewart, and I couldn’t help but notice something… Ian looked different.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Was his hair grayer? No, it’d always been pretty gray. Were his eyes beadier? No, they’d always… The job had clearly taken its toll on him, he seemed to be lacking his usual depth and detail. But he somehow seemed more approachable and friendly.

What happened to you, my friend?

All kidding aside, I hate when Ian reminds me that on top of being a world-class product lead, WordPress theme OG, prolific reader, generally snazzy dresser, and a stereotypically friendly Canadian, he also has artistic skills to boot (said with some Canadian raising). So I did what any enterprising guy would do, and immediately tried to piggyback off of his talent.

Honestly, I thought he’d just laugh me off and we’d awkwardly never talk about it again. It was understandable. It was his cool new thing, done with his cool new iPad, and any typical cool kid would just hoard that cool new skill to themselves and make people jealous for months. But Ian’s a friendly guy, remember? And I’m good at asking for things politely. So with a little constant hounding…

That’s right. The hair. The glasses. The chin. Even that a-hole smirk. Perfection. Right down to the coolest detail.

What’s more, is that I’m pretty sure he drew it in the ~1hr window between me demanding and him delivering. Like “sure – just leave me alone.” And now I’m left with all these feelings that I don’t know how to deal with. “Why were you so mean about asking? Why didn’t you just let it go after he laughed you off? How can you repay him for this? You don’t have anything to offer. Does he really think of you as a friend? This is what friends do. Did he already have this on his iPad? What other Cain art does he have? Does he keep a little shrine to Cain in his basement? Are Meredith and Orvis safe?”

I hope he doesn’t hate me for writing this, because it’s actually meant to be an awkward Cain-esque thank you. I really like my new avatar, Ian. You’re an okay guy.

12 years, to the day

This morning, Meredith and I woke up and walked our old man down to the beach. We sat on the rocks, soaked up the sun, ran across the sand, and rolled in the seaweed (well one of us did, at least).

12 years passed in the blink of an eye. 12 years ago, we lived 1,000 miles away from this beach. We weren’t married. She wasn’t a photographer and I wasn’t a web developer. It’d be two years before we’d graduate and move to Maine. Three before we’d find our house near Willard beach. Seven before we’d tie the knot. We were kids, just scratching the surface of what it meant to be adults, and in a moment of serendipity, we made the best decision we’ve made in our entire lives.

Tonight, we took our buddy out to dinner and fed him deviled eggs and short ribs under our table – giggling like the kids we were 12 years ago to the day that we brought Orvis home.

Built-in Bar

You may have missed it in the flurry of posts I’ve been writing recently, but this past year, I was fortunate enough to have some time off from work. During a chunk of that time we undertook a few house projects, most notably adding a breakfast nook, exposing the beams in our living room, and converting an old, closed-off stairway/closet into a bar. Given the title of this post, I bet you can guess which one we’ll be talking about today.

For the first time in one of my house projects, I tried to document as many steps in the process as possible. I failed at that, but I was able to cobble together some images from text messages and emails after the fact. I’ve laid them out here in chronological order, complete with witty commentary, so you’ll have to scroll all the way to the bottom to see the final product.

It’s also worth noting that our house is old… 1750’s old. I know that my European teammates are mostly scoffing at this (I’m looking at you, Miguel), but Maine was a different place in the 1750’s (Literally, Massachusetts. Figuratively, the frontier). The fact that it’s even standing is odds-defying. I don’t fault its early owners for the slanting floors or unevenly-spaced wall timbers – when Maine’s winter is on the horizon and you still have to cut down the tree to build the house, you get a free pass. These early construction decisions typically dictate the direction of our projects – mid-project – and working on the house is always a fun glimpse into the past, while trying to create a more comfortable home that does its history justice. In typical Cain fashion, I digress…

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Stairway to nowhere. Old owners had closed off the top of this stairway to add space to a baby’s bedroom, and newer D.I.N.K. owners (us), made that baby’s room into a master bathroom, thus it served as an ad-hoc plumbing chase, a “pantry” to keep our booze, a breeding ground for cobwebs, and (on the reverse) a stairway down to our cellar.

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We started by removing the door and trim, and converting the small doorway to the living room into a cased opening (read: gaping hole).

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This is the process of trying to make it square. I framed a back wall and drop ceiling above (for lighting). I’ve also rough-framed the bar cabinet. Notice that the floors have already been refinished (due to my poor project time estimation) – the rest of the build out had to happen on top of moveable floor covering (so as to not UV burn the floor).

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This is normal. We found this child’s shoe and two bones when we exposed the beams in my office. After doing some reading, we learned that it was a colonial superstition to ward off evil spirits, so we’ve been looking for a way to return them to the walls. The picture of Orvis is just a note to future owners… because we’re crazy about our dog.

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Drywall. I hate drywall work.

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Book shelf installation. I built this as a separate cabinet box to help with the wine storage grid and to make everything square, and then installed with plenty of shims to square it up before trim.

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I cut a plywood “counter” to make sure our measurements for the marble would fit. Obviously Meredith couldn’t wait to get the shelves loaded up.

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Big sigh of relief when the marble counters and backsplash fit. I templated and installed them myself to get a better price on the cut. We love working with Midcoast Marble and Granite.

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I’m putting that WordPress towel to good use as a sanding surface for the new cabinet doors. These are just a basic rail and stile design with a floating plywood center panel. Sadly, this day was particularly hot, and although they were only in the sun for a couple of hours, the right door warped 1/8″ at the bottom – it’ll bug me until the day we leave this house.

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The old stairs turned out to be nice set of shelving for our booze (and Orvis’s pills).

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Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures of the shelf building process, but this is after Meredith worked her styling and photo magic.

Now that you’ve read my entertaining, 800-word step-by-step, you can have what you really came here for – the post full of Meredith’s gorgeous, styled images of the final product over on Map & Menu.

Sabbatical: Weeks 3-12

Yeah, you read that correctly – consistent blogging hasn’t been my forte for the past few months. Life got in the way, which I guess is the point of the sabbatical. In fact, I suppose you could say that the sabbatical has been my forte for the past few months.

So because headers make the post look cool…

Sabbatical Recap

When last I left you, I had slipped into a pretty deep sabbatical lifestyle. Rest and relaxation to the max. #hammocklife #rosélife #beachlife etc…

Somewhere around week 3, I relapsed. A quick Slack message to BiskoPop and an issue reported. Just like that. Then another. Old habits. I felt pretty bad afterwards. To be fair, they were just bugs from using the product, so I justified it as being a good OSS Citizen, but if the point was to distance myself from work, I was failing, and it was surprisingly easy to fail.

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The final count.

So I distanced myself from the computer. I gave up on weekly updates and only signed in to share pictures of Orvis or to update my sabbatical count. I biked a little, ran some more, and went to the beach with Orvis and Meredith almost every day for a couple of weeks. I threw myself into renovation plans, and then I threw myself into the renovation.

Meredith’s stepfather, Ed, came down in August, and for a week we worked at a crazy pace from 6am to 9pm every day. Ed is a 63 year-old construction machine, made of iron, and requiring little to no fuel or rest. I am a 31 year-old web developer, soft and pudgy, and requiring 3 square meals a day (not including snacks) and 8+ hours of sleep a night (not including naps). The generational divide was clear, but thanks to a shared love for 4 hour history podcasts and singing Jimmy Buffet lyrics off-key, we managed to knock out a huge chunk of work without knocking out each other. We tore out the plaster and lath ceiling in our living room to match my office project from a few years ago, opened up a doorway, removed the wall between our old laundry room and dining room, and installed a nice large window in our newly minted breakfast nook. After a week, Ed returned to “real work” on the farm and I returned to a more manageable “Cain pace” to finish plastering the beams, doing the trim work, and building a new bar cabinet in place of an abandoned stairway… the project still isn’t done.

Peppered in between house work, I managed to squeeze in so much more sabbatical living. Meredith, Orvis, and I took our annual trip to Vermont, and then tacked on trips to midcoast Maine and Canada (a first for both Orvis and Meredith). We resumed our almost-daily beach trips, and my dad came to visit for a week of fishing – where in typical Cain fashion, we caught very little, but had an absolute blast doing it.

I blinked, and it was over.

Sabbatical Thoughts

I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess the easiest is with a big thank you to Automattic.

Thank you, Automattic. Me

It is impossible to overstate how great of a perk the sabbatical is. For those of us not blessed with independent wealth, or that modern-day vagrant, #live[something catchy like ‘youradventure’, ‘authentic’, ‘free’, etc…] lifestyle of not caring, three months away from work, yet still having the ability to pay your bills, is a concept that’s hard to wrap your mind around.

Before my sabbatical, I had dreams of doing something inspirational book-worthy, like spending a month each in 3 different jobs – far from a computer screen – to “find my true calling”. I’m not knocking it, I just didn’t do it. When it came time to step away, I realized that what I wanted to do more than anything was to just relax, build something with my hands, and spend time with those that make me smile most. I did exactly that, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Orvis is getting old, and it’s a good possibility that he won’t be around for my next sabbatical. The time I spent on trails or at the beach, making memories with him and Meredith, is simply priceless. The days I spent with my father, standing in water up to our waists, watching fish laugh at with us, are days that I’ll never forget. I remembered that I can build things without code, and I can read things that aren’t on a screen. I slowed down on my walks, sped up on my runs, sat in the sun, and smiled. And I realized something…

There’s not a single thing stopping me from doing any of this every day of my life.

My biggest sabbatical takeaway is that I don’t need a sabbatical to take advantage of the things that are around me. I already take walks with Orvis – why not wake up a little earlier and head to a new trail? Maybe instead of rushing through lunch with Meredith to get back to Slack, I’ll take a minute to just sit and talk afterwards. I can think of more fishing holes within a 2 hour drive than I can reasonably fish in a season – if I spend a little less time on Facebook or [insert your distraction here] on Monday-Thursday, what’s stopping me from being in the water on Friday?

I’m not trying to trivialize work or the responsibilities of life, and I may be just burning bytes while waxing poetic, but if memories are the fruit of my time off, I should be doing everything I can to grow those memory trees in the time between.

I do see the irony in a 1,000-word post about creating less distractions, so this might be my last novella for a little while. I really just wanted a shortlink to share every time someone asks me what I did for my sabbatical for the next few days. So I’ll wrap it up with one more big thank you.

Thank you to Automattic for giving me this perk and the work/life balance to live it in the 5 years in between, to Matt for doing things differently enough to make it all possible, to my team for picking up even more of my slack while I was gone, to Meredith and Orvis for putting up with the #livesabbatical version of myself that didn’t shave or bathe and day-drank for 3 months, and to my friends and family that made so much of my sabbatical so very awesome – you know who you are (no, not you, Takashi).

Thanks.

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The real sabbatical anxiety.

3 for 1

Because I’m feeling particularly giving and pictures of Orvis are always particularly inspiring…

And this is just filler text because Takashi can’t design a good theme and I’d like all of my images to be full-width, instead of the first one wrapping around the post meta. Geeze, Takashi.

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You try getting into the water up to your neck and jumping out while looking this good.

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He loves me ice cream.

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This looks like we’re running together on the beach, but I’m actually chasing after him before he makes it to the top and rolls in the rotting seaweed.