Plumb, Level, and Square (ish).

The renovation of the new shop is nearing a significant turning point as we finish up the rough framing phase.

Let me first back track, to bring y’all up to speed on this project. We have been focused on this building since last September, when it was decided that a modern workshop was going to be essential gear for the future of team Collins/Murphy.


Progression from clean-out to concrete

We spent much of the fall clearing the building of old lumber, shingles, tires, tin, junk, rotten shelving, barrels of mysterious liquids, old wagons, coffee cans full of you-name-it, machinery parts, tractors of both old and new vintage, and several hundred pounds of raccoon droppings. Oh, and a few treasures of course. The treasure we continually find around here will require their own essay someday. Excavating ten inches of  dirt floor unearthed an unending array of nuts, bolts, glass, washers, wire, ceramic insulators, tools, and the occasional alternator,  horseshoe, or gopher tunnel.  Gravel and form work was placed in preparation for the new concrete floor, and over Thanksgiving weekend the extended family gathered for a work party to help with the pour and get us up out of the dirt.

It feels wonderful to get to a point where there are no more secret raccoon latrines, no more surprise rotten boards to put my hammer through. What is going to be straightened up in this building is now, (mostly) straight. And best of all, I get to move into a cleaner mode of work, as the demolition and deconstruction ends, the additive, constructive work can begin.

The building, known around here as ‘the old machine shed’, was built in 1942 to the best of my knowledge. It was apparently born out of the need to house Walter’s (first?) new combine. At roughly 27’x48′ it contains 1,225 square feet of space, plus a loft, and a covered shed lean-to along one eave. Pretty spiffy workshop space. As is common for barn sheds, it is a pole barn, that is to say it was framed with posts and purlins, rather than vertical studs. It’s strength has relied on it’s tongue-and-groove vertical siding which has creaked, cracked, and racked through the years. The framing and siding throughout are primarily fir and that fact alone made this building worth saving.

When work began sections of the building were out of plumb by as much as two and one-half inches in eight feet. That is enough lean to spot from a passing car.

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Straightening walls

Horizontal sag between posts (every eight feet) was an inch and a quarter in some places.  I was able to coax all the walls back into what, by eye anyhow, can now be called ‘straight’. Not perfect, but straight. The bubble is within the lines if you know what I mean.
Megan’s uncle Jim has a knack for acquiring ‘stuff’. Sitting in the shed was a pile of (twenty!) 36″x36″ double-pane windows he had scored from a school or a church if I recall,  and I am liberally using them up. I punched three of them into places where the old windows were rotting out of their frames. Also, I have framed in for ten of them along the north wall of the building which will provide much-needed natural light to flood the building, as well as a view of the adjacent garden and cherry orchard.

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New entry door

All rotted framing has been replaced. Siding has been re-nailed all around. One 13′ sliding door has become a wall, with a new entry door and a window. The (previously undersized) main entry door has been replaced and it’s location moved. This required sawing the concrete stem-wall out for the new door opening, and forming up and pouring concrete into the old opening. Done and done. This move will allow us to build a set of stairs to the loft, replacing the ladder that had been there. Since there are technically no shear walls to prevent racking, there will be a 1″ layer of polyurethane foam sprayed on the inside of the siding which can technically stiffen the structure by 40%. Although we lean hard toward natural and organic, there is a time and a place for everything, and this seems like the time and place for some spray foam.

As I whittle away at the The List of Tasks it is sometimes difficult to stay focused. So many things to touch and to think about. In these cold winter months I have to consider in the morning, “do I dress for working or for thinking?” Many questions swirl around beyond the realm of engineering and execution. Do old buildings deserve new life?  This one does. How far does one renovate? Tough question, relative to one’s resources I suppose. How do history, aesthetics, ownership, purpose, and new ideas mix?  How does one (me) get beyond the romanticism of a wooden building and recognize it’s intrinsic value? Are those ideas even separable?  There is some poetry in every old wooden building and poetry is sometimes hard to comprehend.  I have no criticism, and only respect, for the carpenters who erected these buildings, but entropy is a formidable opponent. This building has weathered some 70 years. If my efforts give it half again as many years I will consider advising the next occupants on what to do with it. I believe the space it is providing to work within will be well utilized and allow for much creative force to flow in the future.

Here’s a song that accompanies my work space.


It’s All About Relationship

Greetings, Friends –

This morning I reread MLK’s I Have a Dream speech and was reflecting on what has changed from 1963 to the present 2018. I was feeling sad that the dream is still one to which we aspire and have a great deal of work to do in order to realize. And then I reminded myself of Aleut Elder Larry Merculieff’s wisdom and watched It’s All About Relationship to redirect my thoughts. I highly encourage you to watch his six minute piece before reading on.

What are you choosing to focus on?
Are you choosing to focus on what you’re trying to move away from? … Or are you choosing to focus on what you’re trying to move towards? No matter how well-intentioned I am, if I am focused on what I’m trying to move away from, I’m compounding the negative energy by participating in it in a negative way – I’m adding to that destruction. – Larry Merculieff

My most recent employment was coordinating a wellness coalition in Homer, AK. It’s pretty cool to get paid to do what you enjoy doing –  thinking and learning about well-being, working at the community level to improve systems for everyone’s benefit. Soon after starting this job, I gave birth to Olivine and HOLY COW! Got my very own 24-hour experiment in well-being to figure out ‘off-the-job’ at home. This juxtaposition of investigating community-level wellness while simultaneously living my crash course in individual+family-level wellness created the perfect segue to farming in Illinois.

How so, you might ask? Well, long story long… while I value the role of community-level efforts (and still have a hard time turning systems-level thinking off in my brain), I realized that it can also provide a lovely distraction to the first order of business – taking care of your self. (Cue the flight attendants so they can remind us to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting with other’s). It’s a lot easier to try and fix other peoples’ problems than your own, right?! It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with media that constantly reminds us of the problems in the world and states of being from which we are trying to move away.

Being in the parent role gave me a fresh new mirror that reflected quite a few things that I didn’t like. As Larry eloquently articulates, You can’t create anything on the outside until you’ve created it on the inside first. Shucks. I could not ignore the realization that I needed to get to work on my self. And Wow! What headway we could make if we all knew how to take care of our selves – to reactivate our inherent intelligence, as Larry puts it, tune in to our emotions and reconnect with our spirits!

So, here I am. With my incredibly supportive husband (see! he’s even willing to sport some pipe-cleaner heart glasses!) And our two kiddos. And two farm cats. And my parents down the road.

Walnut Love

Nothing like a nut to show you that beauty abounds when you adjust your radio frequency

Conducting an experiment in self and family-care and focusing on the things that I want to move towards. It’s helpful to start paying attention to the things that are beautiful instead of the things that drive me crazy… as I am frequently reminded how much beauty there is.

Thanks to Dr. Becky Bailey and Conscious Discipline, I have a prop to remind myself to see the best in others and to see the best in my self (heart glasses). To see through the eyes of spirit. This is my dream! And I believe would enable us to realize MLK’s dream, too!

This post topic was truly inspired by reading MLK’s speech this morning and had not made the draft list of blog topics. In true Megan fashion – it’s not unlike me to show my cards. Everywhere you go, there you are! Steve will be posting soon on the process/philosophy of renovating an old building – so if spirit and beauty talk doesn’t grab you, then perhaps dealing with raccoon poop will. Just kidding… it is so much more than raccoon poop. Hope you’ll join us!


Celebration of Life

Greetings, Friends –

This is our very first blog post and serves as our plunge into the public forum with this announcement: The Murphy-Collins team is giving birth to two new on-farm businesses!

These businesses have been in subconscious gestation for… years. And have come into conscious gestation a few months ago. Steve is renovating the old machine shed into an art studio / wood shop and I’m starting my farming venture with flowers. One of my goals is to share our process with others – regardless of how pretty it is (like this unfinished website going live) – and I thought it would be neat to mark this new journey as we both turn the page into 2018 and begin a new century. (I also happened to get our IL business authorization in the mail today, so it is officially official)

Baby Walter

Walter in 1918… what a cutie.

One hundred years ago today – January 6th, 1918 – my grandfather, Walter White, was born in the Illinois farmhouse that he would live in for the remainder of his 94 years. My mother was his youngest of four children and built her home within a quarter mile of this farmhouse. As the middle child of three girls, I was given the gift of growing up down the road from my grandparents and their farm.

Seven years ago I awoke in my Homer, Alaska bed and wondered, What will happen to the family farm? It was on this morning that the seed of returning to the farm was planted.

Last December, my husband and I moved with our two children from Alaska back to the family farmhouse. We weren’t sure we were moving at that point… Alaska is a hard place to leave. And diving into the family farm mix has lots of interesting layers (not talkin’ hens… yet). Still, I have felt called to this place with desires for fostering connection to my self, my family,  and to the land. There is so much to say!!! Blog security, I suppose, as it is my goal to finish this before 9:30pm so I can greet my son’s 5:30am wake up call with sleepy grace.

I cannot count the number of times that my grandfather told me to keep a journal. You will appreciate having your experiences to look back on and learn from, he would say. So, this blog is also a nod to his record-keeping affection and desire to share history with others. He also always told me to keep your nose clean. Did anyone else’s grandparent say this? Anyone?

We are at an interesting time as far as connection to the land, to our selves, to our families, and to our neighbors goes. My friend, MPhillips – superstar farm manager at Chewonki in Maine – just shared this fantastic slogan that was observed on a woman’s hat while riding a train down to DC for the women’s march: MAKE AMERICA GRACIOUS AGAIN.

Oh, that’s so good.

I’m excited about this new journey – this new century – and am so grateful for the opportunities that have been planted and tended before me, enabling me to so directly grow a relationship to the land. There is much to be learned! I hope you’ll join in the celebration!

W&V White

Happy Birthday, Grandad!