Last night, I sent myself three emails while watching a movie. My mind was wandering and I needed to get them out of my mind and into a place where I could review them later. These days my mind only wanders in one direction and I’m mostly happy about that. It’s always focused on Build Livable and all that’s left to do.
Over the weekend, we had our GC, Drew, and his partner and wife, Michelle, over for a casual dinner, and afterward, I interviewed them both for a couple of hours and we recorded it all. Their advice and stories were really insightful and now, we’ll summarize it and highlight some of the great quotes.
Drew and Michelle’s interview was the most recent of those I’ve conducted so far, along with architects, designers and homeowners. The interviews help me to continue learning and to gather useful quotes and advice from experts and people with experience. I often say that I’m writing the play-by-play and the experts are confirming and adding color commentary. This is an important part of the bigger project, which is, indeed, big for the two of us. It feels all-consuming at times.
Right now, I’m taking a deep breath. Yesterday, another draft of the Complete Guide was completed. This is the version that includes most of the media, like hundreds of photos and dozens of original diagrams.
Change in Perspective
This latest version of the guide is one that changed our perception of how to teach the construction process. Originally, I organized it chronologically, by phase. It made sense at the time, but Sachi pointed out a flaw in my thinking: We’re trying to help people save time and money largely through planning. We can’t talk about countertops, for example, when they’re being installed. By then, it’s too late. We needed to frontload the guide to cover most of the process before the first wall is built.
So that’s what we did. The Complete Guide is about preparation, understanding what to expect, and how to approach each phase. That’s the foundation for helping a construction project stay on time and on budget.
This is where the curriculum stands today (subject to change).
Over the holidays, my goal is to build awareness for Build Livable. That means contacting my network, posting daily on the Build.Livable Instagram account and creating a lot of fun videos and media. I continue to believe homeowners are going to love this!
Education is the key to saving time and money on construction projects. When homeowners understand the process, they can plan effectively and optimize. Build Livable develops that understanding in the form of an always-on online course.
You’ve probably heard, but worm poop is worth its weight in gold. At least that’s how it seems. The “castings”, as they are called, make for amazing garden fertilizer that you can buy. As we’ve discovered recently, you can also make it yourself, or run your own little worm farm/production facility.
When we lived in Seattle, the city encouraged composting on a city-wide scale. Along with garbage and mixed recycling, we had a yard waste container that was picked up every two weeks. We were supposed to put compostable food in the container with plants and leaves. In fact, we could be fined for not doing so.
We kept a little bucket under the kitchen sink with a compostable bag. When making dinner, food scraps went into the bucket and eventually into the yard waste container. When we first started composting, it seemed like a time-consuming extra step, but over time it made sense. Along with helping the city turn food waste into compost instead of it going to the landfill, our normal trash stayed relatively clean and less odorous.
Then, we moved to an island. In our location, trash trucks do not arrive to cart away trash, recycling, or yard/food waste. Like so many other things, we must do it ourselves and feel motivated to make it as easy as possible. Trash and recycling are easy and much more affordable than in the city. Every six weeks or so, we load up a vehicle and go to the transfer station.
Food waste is another matter. The island waste company is in the planning stages for a facility that processes compost where residents can drop off food and yard waste along with the trash. As always, the goal is to keep materials on the island instead of having to pay to remove it by ferry.
In moving into the new house, we needed to develop a system for our food waste. We consistently cook at home and produce a good bit of the stuff. Sachi started looking into what we could do and learned about vermiculture or vermicomposting, which means using worms to process food waste and turn it into fertilizer.
The idea is pretty simple: You put thousands of earthworms, like red wigglers, into an outdoor container with food waste. The worms eat the food and turn it into gold in the form of castings. That’s the beauty of this system. It converts waste into fertilizer for the next round of crops. Win-win!
Sachi researched how to make it easier and discovered a system called Subpod. This is a milk crate type of box with two bays for the food waste and walls with worm-sized holes.
You place the box in a raised bed with the majority of the box under the surface.
Then, you add worms, shredded paper, and food waste to the box, which becomes a buffet for the worms. The rest of the bed can be used to grow food.
Back when we built raised beds, we built one specifically for composting and sized it for two Subpods, just in case. Then, we ordered the Subpod and the worms. A few days later 2,000 red wiggler worms arrived in a bag from the perfectly named Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We were in business.
They can come and go as they please in the surrounding soil and are likely to reproduce. Over time, the food waste turns into rich soil that can be transferred into a vegetable garden.
A lot of people build their own compost bins and they usually work great, but come with some issues. The food waste can attract pests and rodents, there can be unsavory odors and overall messiness. The Subpod mitigates the issues because it’s sitting in soil, with a cover.
Now that the system is rolling, we collect food waste in a small bucket under the sink, grab the coffee grounds and tear up some carbon-filled egg cartons or paper, and take them to the Subpod every couple of days. The composting process required aeration, so Subpod gave us a giant screw to mix it up and an insulating blanket to keep the compost covered so it keeps temperature and doesn’t dry out. Other than that, we just wait.
The instructions/rules for using the Subpod are handily placed on the underside of the bin:
When we give people a tour of our property, I often ask if they want to see our worm farm. And we are growing worms, but really, it’s a processing plant that processes plants.
The idea of helping homeowners understand the construction process has been on my mind for about a year. As I wrote chapter after chapter, I was looking for some kind of unifying theme. While the explanations, tips, and advice are enough, I wanted to give homeowners a perspective or even a philosophy that helped them see the big picture. I imagined finding a name that was memorable, descriptive, interesting, and hopefully available as a domain name.
Sachi’s early input was to be very direct and focus on the problem it solves or the main value it provides. I agreed and started to look at options involving phrases like “how to build a custom home”, “understand the construction process” and “learn how custom homes are built”. It was at this moment that the challenge became clear.
Home construction is a huge industry with well-established keywords and naming conventions. Virtually anything on the web involving “home construction” seemed to be dominated by much bigger, well-established brands that spend a lot of money to remain visible. Were we going to compete with them? No.
Even at a smaller scale, there are a wide variety of companies and individuals focused on modular homes, tiny homes, DIY cabins, campervan build-outs, etc. It was daunting to consider throwing something new into the mix.
We need to reach people who are planning to build a home or getting started. I know the feeling. The scale of the project and all the decisions that need to be made can feel overwhelming. Many of them are looking for tips and advice, but are unsure where to look. These are the people we need to reach.
I went back to the drawing board and we brainstormed ways to position this new resource. What could we call it? We asked: what is our philosophy? What do we believe about building a home? What’s unique about our perspective?
These questions led us into familiar territory. Big Enough, at heart, is about lifestyle. I wrote it to help business-oriented people see a different perspective about building a business that supports their lifestyle. Whether it’s businesses or buildings, lifestyle is a big part of our perspective and something we value deeply.
One of the amazing things about building a custom home is that it can be built to support the owner’s lifestyle. With a bit of planning, the owner can ensure that the house supports their day-to-day lives. A very simple example is laundry. It happens in virtually every house and a custom home is an opportunity to think about making it easy. This means thinking about where dirty clothes will collect and designing the house so that laundry is near the clothes.
When we planned Flattop, these kinds of decisions were our focus. Our experience with other construction projects helped us think through all the details and work with the pros to build the house around our lives. To me, that’s the best-case scenario for any owner: a house that’s livable.
For example, our primary bathroom shares a wall with the laundry room and we saw an opportunity to add a laundry chute between the rooms. This way, dirty clothes never collect in the bedroom or bathroom. Instead, they can go straight to the laundry room.
The idea of livability stuck with us. You can depend on builders and architects to make the house strong and beautiful. The pros will take care of building the house. But designing it to be livable is the domain of the homeowner. Only the owner knows their unique lifestyle and daily rituals. Only the owner will live in the house.
This idea had legs. Our brand could reference houses and construction, but carve out a niche around the idea of livability and encouraging homeowners to adopt it as a perspective in the design and building process. This means not only understanding every phase of the construction process, but doing within the theme of livability.
I started to look for domain names and soon found that thelivablehouse.com was available. The Livable House. I liked the sound of it and so did Sachi. My only concern is that it’s not descriptive. The name does not imply that it’s a guide to the complete construction process, but that’s okay. I think of it like the popular cookbooks called The Joy of Cooking. The books are mostly recipes, but the theme is joy.
So that’s what the new project is called: The Livable House. It can be found at thelivablehouse.com. I’d love to know what you think about the website. Please feel free to enroll in the mini-course.
A few weeks back, I shared a story called Lee Night that was, in part, about spending an evening watching boats go by our house. I wrote:
As boats float by the house, I can’t help but feel like I’m the creepy guy on the beach watching girls walk by. Every boat is different and interesting in myriad ways.
Now that Labor Day has passed and boating season is winding down, I’m taking an inventory of the interesting boats I’ve seen over the summer. After Lee Night, I admit I became a full-on boat creep, watching from my deck as they float by, unaware of my peering lens. I collected a tiny fraction of what passed, but still captured an interesting group of boats.
This summer saw heavy traffic from boats full of tourists, usually going to watch whales. The “whaleboats” as we call them are always noticeable because of their size and speed. Few recreational boaters choose to burn as much fuel.
One that always stands out is Blackfish (which is an old name for killer whales).
Another is the Western Explorer.
Sometimes the whales end up in the water in front of our house and the big whaleboats show up.
If you crop a photo just right, you can pretend that a friendly sailboat is the only boat watching the killer whales.
Tourists are also ferried around on other boats that are more focused on destinations. This is the Puget Sound Express.
The Salish Sea is a commercial waterway used by all kinds of boats, both local and international. In the distance, there are almost always huge ships traveling in Canadian waters to Canada.
We don’t see these behemoths in US waters our side of Orcas Island, but we see many barges and other large boats used for transporting items to the islands that don’t have ferry service.
You find the strangest things on barges. That’s a two-story house.
Lindsey Foss is a fire-fighting vessel.
A local service will tow you if your boat has a problem.
An sometimes a Canadian Warship goes by.
The vast majority of boats that pass our house are recreational or privately owned. Cabin cruisers are a dime a dozen, but sometimes more impressive boats pass by.
M/V Pelican is a 1930 78ft Classic wooden fisheries research vessel that recently started doing charters.
Our friends Mahlon and Deb live on this 65′ boat called Salish Song. Yes, that’s a lovely palm tree adorning their rear deck.
New Pacific is a 97′ expedition yacht that was recently refitted to have a 60kwh hybrid energy system that reduces the use of the boat’s generators.
This caravel style sailboat is one of the biggest we’ve seen.
Like cabin cruisers, sailboats are very common in all shapes and sizes.
And of course, small crafts like kayaks. Sea kayaking is one of the most popular activities in the San Juans. Jet Skis are prohibited, thankfully.
Not a boat. Or is it?
I’ll miss boating season and being on the lookout for interesting boats. They’ll be back before we know it.
My friend Tony asked, when we had just purchased property on Orcas, “What’s next? You’ll build a house and move in… then what?” Sometimes Tony’s questions seem like challenges, but I think he’s mostly looking for ideas. He was asking about something years into the future and I didn’t have an answer. I suppose I’m in the “then what?” phase now.
There is a common perception that completing a project like a house leads to a period of doldrums. The excitement of the project wanes and leaves a hole in the day-to-day that feels like something is missing. I expected to feel it by now, but it hasn’t arrived. If anything, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. The excitement of the house project came with a healthy dose of stress and anxiety for us both. The space it left in our lives is one we’re not eager to fill. Plus, there are years of house projects ahead of us, mostly in landscaping.
This all begs the answer to Tony’s question: what’s next?
A few months ago, we had a call with our friend, Dave, who now lives in rural New Hampshire. He’s a regular RFR reader who is planning a significant home remodel. He said something that had been in the back of my mind for a while, but I hadn’t fully considered it. In preparing for his house project, he looked for books and resources for people like him. He wanted to understand the construction process, what to expect, how to overcome the challenges, make decisions, etc. In his experience, there was a dearth of materials along these lines.
Dave encouraged me to take what we had learned in building Flattop and transform it into a book or something similar for people like him. That chat with Dave lit a fire under me. I’ve always been passionate about home design and the construction process. I have years of real-world experience across multiple projects. I have connections with builders, architects, and multiple homeowners who are in-process now.
So, I started writing. Through 2021, I’ve written about 70,000 words, all focused on explaining the process of building a custom home, phase by phase. Sachi has been my editor and brainstormer. Through it all, I was never sure where it would lead.
My initial thought was to make it a book and it’s currently written in that form. But that didn’t feel like the right medium. It’s not a story as much as a reference work or guide. It’s the resource you turn to when a new phase of construction is on the horizon.
I asked a couple of friends who are currently building homes about the potential they see. Our friend, James, was enthusiastic about the idea and had a suggestion. He said, “This feels more digital than a book. You’d want downloadable documents, videos, and visuals.” Yes. Yes. Yes.
Once again, a friend suggested a direction that helped us see the opportunity more clearly. All the writing could be turned into multimedia content that lives on a website instead of in a book. It could be easily updated and priced like an online course. People could access it on any device at any time.
For the last couple of months, this has been the dominant idea in my day-to-day life. When the workday is done and I’m ready to relax, this is where my mind wanders. I have to resist not working on it and I take that as a good sign. Passion, is a necessary ingredient, along with time. Best of all, in true Big Enough fashion, we can make this idea happen ourselves.
So, dear reader, this is the next thing. Many of you have been with me through the entire house project and your ideas and input have been invaluable. For this next project, I hope we can continue what we’ve started. More soon!
When building a house, it’s easy to assume that the builder and architect will account for what’s needed. You’ll surely have the desired number of bathrooms and a roof that keeps you dry. There are also things that are unique to you and your lifestyle. Daily rituals and long-standing annoyances could be improved with a bit of forethought, but only if they are communicated to the team. This is an important lesson we learned in building Flattop: Be diligent in accounting for ways the house can be designed to improve your day-to-day life. Communicate what you want and the pros will find ways to make it work.
Once the house was mostly complete, attention turned to the fencing. We shared our ideas for a small fenced area that aligned with the side of our garage. Gates flank it on the short sides of the rectangle. One gate leads to the driveway. The other leads to a larger fenced area that wraps around the house and contains our garden and back deck.
This system of fences was designed with great intention and not without a bit of confusion. You could see the questions wash over the builders as they tried to understand what we wanted. “So you want a fenced area that leads to a second fenced area? With a gate in between?” Yes. Exactly. But only four feet high.
They built it exactly as we wanted and today, the system of gates and fences is emblematic of our efforts in making the house work specifically for our lifestyle. Builders and architects can work wonders, but they won’t live in the house. They won’t use it every day. They don’t have access to the daily rituals and events that fill the day. That information is the domain of the homeowner, who must explain what is needed, a few times, to make sure the house fits with these routines.
We have dogs. We wanted Flattop to be a house that minimized the impact of PNW wet dogs and dirty feet on our nice new floors. We imagined waking up on a wet December morning and needing to let the dogs out to do their business. We could let them into the large garden area and watch them return happy and covered in mulchy mud. Or, we could leash them and walk in the rain, careful to avoid muddy areas. Or, we could design the house for this daily routine. We chose design. This meant thinking ahead about how to handle rainy days and wet dogs.
When we were in the guesthouse, we built a small enclosure that connected to the entry. In the winter rain, the dogs could go out while we stayed dry on the porch. I used a nearby pile of wood chips to cover the surface and the system worked. The dogs still got wet, but their paws remained mostly clean. This was our inspiration. Could we do the same at Flattop? Instead of releasing them into the garden, could we create a clean place for them to use every day?
Soon, a plan came together. On the garage side of the house, a door opens to the exterior. We decided to enclose it and make it a dog run that would be our primary way to let them out. Like the guesthouse, we could stay warm and dry by the door while they take care of business. The cedar chips keep their feet clean and naturally repel pests. The gates in the dog run only swing inward so the dogs can’t push them open. As an added bonus, their waste is contained in a small area for easy pickup.
If the dogs do end up muddy from walks or garden play, we have that covered, too. We added a groomer-style dog shower to the garage that makes cleaning dirty paws a breeze. It also serves as a great washbasin for crabbing gear and garden veggies.
The system is almost perfect, but there is one minor hiccup. Maybe, our oldest dog at seven years, has developed a distaste for rain and wet ground. If she looks outside and sees rain, she’ll resist going out at all. When she does venture out, she carefully steps along the wall where the overhang keeps the ground dry. As much as I want to think of our dogs as PNW rain dogs, Maybe is still too civilized. We won’t tell the other dogs on the island.
I’m sure that my first reaction was a subtle roll of my eyes or at least an imagined one. Two twin-size box springs had sat in our garage for a while and Sachi was formulating a plan. She asked around and no one needed them and she didn’t want to just take them to the dump, so she decided to try converting them into something useful. I fully support this as an idea, but I wasn’t sure a box spring could actually become anything much. With a box cutter and pliers, she got to work.
When we demolished the yurt-shaped house, we tried to salvage what we could. Anything we could give away or use was something that didn’t end up in the landfill. Being new to island culture, we hadn’t yet developed a strong sense of salvage, but we were able to do a lot. We saved many of the windows and gave away the Blaze King wood stove, cedar roof shingles, ceiling panels and more. In addition, we saved at least fourteen panels of hog wire railing material for some future project or new island owner. We had no idea how handy they would be.
Once Sachi’s vegetable garden got going, it quickly needed support, both vertically and around the edges, as squash plants spilled out over the side of the raised beds. The hog wire came to the rescue on both counts.
The hog wire also served as a moveable fence we can use to keep the dogs out of the temporary and dusty pile of dirt.
Aside from what we could salvage from the yurt, the construction project produced its own scrap and we told the crew to save everything that seemed useful. Today a pile of wood and materials lives under our house and is slowly being put to use.
A few brackets helped turn leftover trim into shelves in our garage.
Steel concrete form stakes became the weight that keeps our shrimp traps in place on the bottom. The holes are perfect for cable ties to keep the stakes in place.
When our friend, Jon, moved to Hawaii, he gave us a roll of flexible deer fence that worked perfectly to keep bird beaks out of the beets.
The more we looked around, the more it seemed everything we’d saved would someday become useful. This is the salvage sense that took time to develop. We told our contractor, Drew, about some of what we were doing and he said something that stuck with me… “If you don’t watch it, your garden can start to look like a junkyard.” Point taken. The island has plenty of these “gardens”. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and it can be a slippery slope.
With the squash supported with hog wire, Sachi turned her attention to tomatoes and peas, which needed support as they grew. The tomato cages we had from Seattle were not enough to do the job. We considered buying more, but our salvage sense started to tingle.
Off in a far corner of the property was a handful of hog wire strips from building the top part of our fence. These were small and destined for the dump until Sachi had an idea. Over the course of an afternoon, she used the scraps and garden tape to assemble frames for supporting the plants without having to buy new cages. I thought it was brilliant, if not slightly junky.
The frames needed a bit more to support the plants and that’s when the box springs started to look more useful. Sachi stripped off the fabric and noticed the bent metal springs stapled to the wooden frame. They were not easy to remove, but that was part of the fun.
In an hour or two, the box frames were disassembled and flattened, leaving us with a pile of springs and an idea. If we could attach them to the frames, they could support tomatoes and peas just like a tomato cage. And that’s exactly what happened. The frames have a beauty borne of utility and a reduction of waste. They most likely will not become permanent parts of the garden, but for a season or two while we figure out the long term plan for the garden, they will do just fine.
Before moving to Orcas, I might have questioned the reasoning of putting so much effort into using leftover material. Are tomato cages that expensive? Could time be used more productively? Of course buying cages is logical, but it’s not about that. We can calculate savings and waste reduction all day and still not account for the satisfaction we get from putting scraps to work. It takes time, but it’s fun and useful in a way that can’t be counted in dollars.
Now that the house is complete and we’re setting up our new lifestyle, we’re both motivated to see what makes sense in terms of reducing waste and reusing what we can. In the past, we had never considered washing and reusing Ziploc bags, but today it’s normal for us. Again, it’s not about the money or even trying to save the planet. If you strip that away, what’s left, I believe, is a smarter, more practical, thoughtful way to live.
Back in 2017, when we lived in the yurt-shaped house, we noticed something interesting about warm summer evenings. Just before dusk, a cool and consistent wind blew out toward the water where it created subtle waves as it landed. The wind would last into the night and be gone by morning. When we moved to the guest house during construction, it happened there too. Summer evenings ended with a cool wind whipping to the west.
The wind didn’t seem connected to weather patterns. It was smaller than that; a phenomenon that was too localized to be in a weather report. I asked our neighbors about it and they shrugged their shoulders. It’s just something that happens and always has. The more I watched the westward wind, the more evidence I saw that it was shaping the landscape around us. The tall trees on the south side of our property were bent toward the water.
Whatever the cause, the wind was reliable enough to influence the design of Flattop. A cool and reliable evening breeze at the end of a warm day should not be wasted, so we looked for ways to use it. The big idea was to use the wind to flush out the warm summer air out of the house and replace it with cool evening air. To make that happen, we added operable windows on the east and west sides. Today, I’m happy to report that the system is working. The westward wind is like an air conditioner that kicks on after sunset. All we have to do is open the windows.
This is a prime example of why it helps to live in a location before building there. Wind, sun, and rain are free resources that can be put to work. Observing them for a couple of seasons before breaking ground can be helpful in making a design more efficient.
Despite all the watching and planning, we still didn’t know why the westward wind was happening. That all changed a couple of weeks ago when we hosted a small dinner party that included a retired Coast Guard officer. We talked about the wind and he said, “Oh, that’s a land breeze”. I had heard of a sea breeze before, but never a land breeze. I had to learn more.
What I found is a simple idea. The westward wind is caused by a difference in the air temperature over the land and the sea. When the sun goes down in the summer, the air over the ground cools relatively quickly as heat rises upward. The air over the water cools more slowly. This difference in temperature (and pressure) is what causes the wind. Cool air flows out to the water at a low elevation as warm air rises and circulates back to the land.
What I’ve been calling the “westward wind” was not specifically westward at all. I just happen to live in a place with a large body of water to the west. Maybe it’s really the “waterward wind?” That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Still, it’s probably better than “land breeze” which is rather unremarkable sounding. I’m sticking with the “westward wind” for now.
The sea breeze, which we don’t notice as much, is the opposite. Sea breezes happen during the day and blow from the sea toward the land. This is because the air over the land warms more quickly than the air over the water when the sun is out. It’s also the name of a cranberry, grapefruit, and vodka cocktail that was popular in the 80s. It’s not surprising that there is no “land breeze” cocktail, because who would order that? Does it come with a garnish of dead leaves?
For now, rest assured that the mystery is solved and we’ve all learned a bit more about the weather.
Sachi’s parents arrived on the red-eye from Hawaii and she went down for a quick overnight trip to pick them up. This set me up for my first “Lee” night (a night alone) in the new house. This may not seem that remarkable, but it’s exceedingly rare. I sometimes go more than a year without being alone in our home for more than a few hours.
Leading up to nights like this, I always joke about all the fun I’m going to have and what debauchery will ensue. It will be an all-night party with all the music Sachi doesn’t prefer. I may not even be awake when she returns. Like so many things, much of the fun lies in the anticipation.
To prepare for her parents’ arrival, we washed the dogs in their dog shower and they became clean fluffy balls. My challenge was to keep them dust-free until the family arrived. This meant no rambunctious playing in the garden. Weeks of drought plus eight dog paws equals our own little dust bowl. I even debated if we should go outside at all. But the nice summer evenings are fleeting and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend it than on the deck.
I grabbed our moveable speaker, binoculars, a Rainier beer, and an adapter that allows me to connect my iPhone camera to one side of the binoculars. During the summer, a parade of boats goes by our house and I’ve become fascinated and sometimes enamored. “Oooh, look at that one.” Photos give me an opportunity to catalog what I see and feel a bit of aspiration. Someday, I’ll have a big boat too, right? I suppose I’m talking about yachts when I say “big boat”, but I can’t bring myself to aspire to something with that label. It evokes Thurston Howell III slumming it on a three-hour tour. I’ll stick with “boat”.
My friend, Mike, is well-versed in boats and is frequently trying to convince us to get a boat that we can take out for multiple days. He’s said on multiple occasions that when we’re ready, he’ll help us find the perfect boat and recently sent me links to ones I might like. It was obvious he’d been browsing and I understand. The allure is undeniable.
As boats float by the house, I can’t help but feel like I’m the creepy guy on the beach watching girls walk by. Every boat is different and interesting in myriad ways. If I identify a boat I like, I soon end up down the rabbit hole of boat websites and sales listings. It’s captivating. Someday, we may take Mike up on the offer to be a matchmaker, but for now, we’re happy with little Short Story and watching the parade.
I had sat down with my supplies for no longer than a minute before Piper leapt from the deck and took off around the corner of our house toward the garden. I protested, but she was silent aside from the footsteps. No bark, no foul. I shrugged it off.
The can of Rainier soon became a dram of bourbon. Then a Toronto cocktail, which features Fernet Branca and rye. These, among other things, are my favorite libations for a night like that one.
As I got lost sipping the cocktail and watching the boats, a thought hit: Where’s Piper? I shrugged it off. The dogs are in a fenced area. She has a history, as an adolescent, of disappearing into the forest for an hour hunting deer. I don’t think she’d do that now, but the fear lingers.
Like a child, Piper’s silence and absence were suspicious. Eventually, I had to investigate, which meant walking along the house and peering around the corner toward the garden. What did I see? Piper digging under a woodpile. She was covered in dust up to her front elbows and sticking her nose into the freshly dug hole as far as she could. Because, of course. Damn dogs.
Whatever she chased, it went under the stacked wood and evaded her attack. I called her once and she looked at me with a posture that clearly said, “Dude, this is a serious situation.” I was undeterred, “PIPER, HERE!” [downward point]. I left the scene with my intentions known and her unmoved.
She arrived at my side in a few seconds and I was proud. She clearly deserved a treat for leaving the very serious situation, so we all went inside. One treat per dog, gently accepted. We operate a fair and equitable home when it comes to treat dispensation, even when only one dog performed well.
Feeling like the woodpile was too much of an attraction, I tried leaving the dogs inside. The plan was to enjoy a worry-free evening on the deck without thinking about the dogs and their fluffy clean fur. I’d listen to an episode of 99% Invisible and chill out.
Then, just after I sat down, I heard a familiar sound from the other side of the door… Woof. Woof-woof. WOOF!
I groaned. Piper was not satisfied being inside and wasn’t likely to stop asking. Part of me thought she was having a Piper night and needed to take advantage, like me. At that moment, I realized that there was no training I could do, or maybe wanted to do, that could account for the dogs wanting to be with me. It’s not something that needs correction. If anything, it needs development. The best outcome, I think, is being outside with me, without getting into trouble.
Meanwhile, something was chirping by the garden. I don’t speak chipmunk, but I’m pretty sure it was mocking Piper…and she knew it. “Chirp-chirp. Good try, muppet.”
This situation was not sustainable, so I had to change course and went inside to get my secret weapon: peanut butter treats shaped like bones, because I’m sure our above-average dogs appreciate that.
They watched me get the treats and place them in the middle of the coffee table on the deck. This was when the waiting began. All other dog thoughts were moot. The treat was all that mattered. To calm them down, I first asked them to lay down. They did, like good dogs, and received a treat.
In the moments after that, I decided to write some notes using my phone and ignored the view I had so decisively favored an hour ago. As I wrote, I felt warm, humid air across my face in waves. At first, I ignored it, but then it came in a rhythm and smelled like a dog’s breath.
If you have dogs that are allowed on furniture, you’ve had the experience of noticing a dog in your lap with no knowledge of how it got there. Maybe’s panting felt like that, but not as stealthy. Without noticing, she quietly triangulated her position so she could keep an eye on the treats and be ready by my side if I made any moves.
“Maybe, lay down.” She lied down and one minute passed. After three minutes, my writing was interrupted again by puffs of dog breath. The treats beckoned. “MAYBE. Go. Lay. DOWN.” Piper was tuned into the treats, but not as obstinate. The treats held Piper’s attention over the menace in the woodpile, and in that way, achieved the desired outcome.
It was a battle of wills and I had had enough. Lee night was becoming more of a dog night. There was no rest, silence, or fresh air as long as the treats were in view. I split up the remaining bones and rid myself of the meddlesome beasts. The chipmunk chirped fruitlessly as the dogs remained at my feet for what was left of the evening.
At long last, I could finally enjoy the evening writing, photographing, and listening to podcasts. Then, as the sun faded, I watched the Olympic volleyball and went to bed.
Lee night was not that different from any other night, really. And for that I am thankful. As much as I joke about all the fun I’m going to have with Sachi away, I don’t behave much differently than I ordinarily would. Maybe next time, though, I’ll try to convince her to take the dogs.
Storytime is a series of brief videos focused on a single idea relating to my work and/or personal life.
This is a brief story about discovering a business model that allowed us to remain a two-person company with a product we could make once and sell multiple times. The full version of this story is told in my book Big Enough.
I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.