The Story Behind our Firewood – Michael Christopher

December 8th, 2014


Hi Everyone,


Michael Christopher rang the front door bell on an uneventful afternoon in spring. I went to open the door and there standing was an old man with a grey beard and dirty overall pants. He reminded me of the man from Duck Dynasty. He asked if we needed any firewood, which happened to be on my To-Do list for this spring, so I invited him into the inn.


As he came into the gathering room, he was telling me that he used to be a musician but now he cuts firewood. This caught my attention and I promptly brought out my PSR electric guitar I’ve been playing since two Christmas’ ago and handed it to him. After a quick inspection, he sat down on the couch and immediately started strumming some complex chords with 9th and 13th. In between chords, he played solo just enough for me to judge that this man can really play a guitar. Impressed with his guitar playing, I asked him where he learned to play like that. He said that his father was a musician and he grew up listening to his father play and they also listened to a lot of radio. These days he prefers to listen to extraneous sounds like wind and tree leaves chattering. And he believes in transmigration.


He said he has good hardwood that burns well. He uses a measuring cage so each cord of wood is precisely measured. No funny business. Oak, Red Maple, White Birch. No soft wood, only hardwood that puts out good heat, he said. I was sufficiently interested but before I could commit to it, I needed some more information. Before I had a chance to ask him if I could see the wood that I was buying, he told me that he did not like to sell the wood until I had a chance to look at it. Perfect! Let’s go see the wood.


He told me to call him in a week or so. We’ll meet at the gas station in Arlington and he will take me to see the wood. I thought about it a bit and wondered if it was a good idea to do any business with a complete stranger that just happened to drop in one afternoon, but then again, he is a former musician and how bad the guy could be if he can play a guitar like that. I was willing to take a chance.A week later, I called Michael Christopher and we agreed to meet at the gas station at 1:00pm. I was still not entirely comfortable meeting with a stranger and being taken somewhere to see the firewood, so I asked Diane to come with me. Just in case.
He told us to follow his truck and we drove into a back road to a small field behind someone’s backyard. There were two measuring cages, one full and the other half full. There was no sign of a wood splitter or chain saw. Michael told us that he likes to cut wood by hand. The wood was indeed beautiful, a lot of white birch, some red maple, all cut to approximately 16 inch lengths, nicely fit into a measuring cage that is 4 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet deep. I turned to Diane and asked what she thought of it. She said, “Beautiful!”

On the day of delivery, Michael Christopher came with his 80 year old father whom he calls “Pop.” In his small beat up truck, it took him three trips to deliver a full cord. I helped them unload the firewood and stack it up in a neat woodpile at the far end of the basketball court. In between trips, I invited them into the dining room for a nice cold lemon water and gave them a mini-tour of the property. They liked the inn.


Michael Christopher said that he would deliver the second cord of wood in a week or two. Since he was still cutting some more, it will be a bit greener than the first cord, but that did not bother me as I had enough wood to last for the next winter. He called about a week later to tell me that it was taking a bit longer because he was learning to cut wood by axe and he was getting good at it. He was also thinking about getting a Draft horse to get the logs out of the woods. I did not quite comprehend what impact the axe and Draft horse would have on the promised delivery, but a few weeks later, he came with his friend to deliver the wood. I was busy with the check-ins and did not see him that day. The next day, I went out to check the firewood he just delivered. The uneven chopped ends at approximately 45 degree angle unequivocally confirmed that these logs were completely hand cut by axe.


A couple of weeks later, on another calm uneventful afternoon, a hunter green Jaguar pulled into the drive way. The driver’s seat door opened and Michael Christopher came out of the car, with his grey Duck Dynasty beard and, this time, a clean pair of pants. Who are you, Michael Christopher?


He stopped by one more time that year and told me that he and Pop were going south for the winter. The cold winter in Vermont was really getting to his father and they were thinking of going down to Virginia for the winter. Besides his hands and feet were really bad shape from cutting wood in snow and he needed to give them a break this year. He said he loves Vermont and will definitely be back next summer, but for now, they were heading south.


The winter of 2013/14 was a particularly bad winter and we had a lot of snow all the way into March. Skiers and snowboarders were loving it, but it was tough for other people. It was really, really cold too and I had my face covered with the neck warmer so not an inch of skin was showing for the entire snowboarding season. There was a mound of snow in our parking lot in April, which Diane called the “glacier”, and we wondered if there would still be a snow pile in the parking lot in May.


Michael Christopher stopped by again in September of this year. He said that he was playing a guitar again. He picked up a jumbo Martin guitar with huge sound and he will never play an electric again. He told me that he and Pop went down to Florida Keys and saw the street musicians, and he was excited about the idea of playing music for random people and connecting with them through music. He came full circle as playing music on the street was something he did before he started touring with the band, he said. I was so happy to hear this and congratulated him.


I led him to the patio and I asked him to wait for me on the porch while I went back to the house to get the book that I wanted to give him. We sat on the chairs on the porch, facing the mountains, and we talked. He was once again impressed about his father’s absolute pitch when Pop named the notes he played on the previous day after hearing him play the song only once. He talked about possibly picking up a small accordion in Philadelphia for Pop on their way south. He talked about his divine love and how it will center you and you will not be affected by adverse energy out there. I told him that he is a purist. In my world, I said to him, it is more difficult to go straight on a snowboard as anything will affect my ability to remain straight, even my fear, and I will be constantly reacting. Instead I make S turns so that I am focused on each turn and initiating my action, and everything else becomes a faint noise in the background. As we sat there on the porch, on an uneventful sunny afternoon, we became friends.


Come to Ormsby Hill and enjoy uneventful sunny afternoon…


In pursuit of the best firewood…


On the Walls at Ormsby Hill

December 8th, 2014

Hi Everyone,
What makes a stay in Bed & Breakfast unique is that every B&B is decorated with a touch of the owner’s collection. Some inns have an impressive collection of original antique furniture and art collection, but for the most part, you’ll find some sort of accumulation of things that seem to reflect the owner’s life.

We have moved 18 times during our 34 years of marriage and moved across the Pacific Ocean 8 times. Every time we moved, we cleaned out things to lighten the load, but certain pieces stayed with us and survived the ocean liner container. They are not a collection of fine art or antique furniture, but our memories on the wall.
In the first living room of Ormsby Hill, we have,

Katsunori Hamanishi Japanese Print
Born in 1949, Hamanishi is one of a group of Japanese artists who have explored the rich, dark, three-dimensional effects achievable with the old European mezzotint techniques. His early subjects – twigs, branches, rice stalks, rope – are presented in a three-dimensional form on paper. We have several pieces of Hamanishi’s work which we picked up in Tokyo between 1999 and 2004. Diane says that the branches and rope reminded her of Jesse (our son) playing in our backyard in Pennsylvania, trying to make a bow and arrow, which always ended up with an inevitable break.
Japanese Woodblock Print by Kuniyoshi
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (January 1, 1797 – April 14, 1861) was one of the last great masters of the Japanese ukiyo-e style of woodblock printing. The range of Kuniyoshi’s subjects included many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, Kabuki actors, cats and mythical animals. Highly collectible now, Kabuki actor ukiyo-e prints were originally used as fliers for the Kabuki theater back in 1800s. We purchased this piece in 1984 when we lived on Kotto Dori (Antique Street) in the Aoyama district of Tokyo.

Painting from Jesse’s High School Art Class
We don’t know if Jesse was intentionally trying to make a black and white drawing that had a Japanese flavor, but it sure looks like one. When I found this piece in the portfolio bag hidden behind the bookcase, I realized that I had not seen a single piece of art he did in Mamaroneck High School before he graduated in 2000. It was a shocking realization that I practically missed 4 years of his life when I was flying back and forth between JFK and Hong Kong every six weeks, playing the life of an international executive. Hopefully he got an “A” on this one.
Photograph from Kelly’s Africa Trip
Kelly (our daughter) took many photos in Africa during her three week volunteer at a private elementary school in Ghana in 2009. There must have been a late afternoon down pour, which formed the golden puddles on the dirt road. Still strong light of the African sunset have blackened the roadside forest to the background, leaving only the rich brown reflection on the momentary water surface. Kelly always had good eyes and sense of beauty that transcends what is obviously there.

Hand Colored Photographs from Uncle George’s House
There are two hand colored photographs on the western wall of the first living room at Ormsby Hill. One on the left is titled “Juliet Escaping” and pencil-signed by David Davidson. According to Heathside (, He was considered to be one of the top two national leaders in hand colored photography, second only to Wallace Nutting, in the early 20th century. Davidson met Nutting at Brown University and learned this fine art from him. Most of the photographs are around Rhode Island and he founded the Davidson Photographic Studio in Providence, R.I. His photographs were so popular that hardly a New England wedding occurred where the bride did not receive at least one Davidson picture as a wedding gift. Interest in hand colored photographs ended in early 1940s.
The other hand colored photograph is titled “Echo Lake Franconia Notch” by Charles H. Sawyer. This appears to be one of the later images of the 1920s -1930s which is ink-signed and titled in an elegant script. It contains a label on the back, which says “The Sawyer Pictures, 55 Pleasant Street, Concord, New Hampshire”, where he had a studio. Both of these pieces ended up with us via Diane’s mother. Uncle George was a chiropractor, never got married, and quite a collector of arts and beautiful things.

There are a few more pieces in the gathering room and each object has a story behind it. We are not the American Pickers, but do ask us about any piece that piques your interest. We’ll love to tell you about it.

Also in the gathering room is some loaned art from 3 Pears Gallery and Jud Hartmann Gallery. I thank Gigi Begin for letting me use her exquisite painting of pig titled “Lard Sale” for the heading of this newsletter. Let me also tell you….. Well, Diane is calling me for dinner. We’ll catch up next time you are at the inn.
In pursuit of the best framed memories…


Inspiration at Ormsby Hill

December 8th, 2014


Hi Everyone,


When I was a young professional working in the ivory tower of Corporate America, I was amazed how brilliant everyone was. It was the late 1980s and matrix management was in full swing. Everyone had one direct reporting line boss, who had the authority to decide your bonus, but you often had one or more dotted-line reporting relationships, whose opinion could influence your future in the company. Cross-functional communication was important in such an environment; therefore, we had meetings. Lots of them.

Access to the information was carefully controlled and everyone came to the meeting equally prepared. Usually we came to the meeting with a similar pre-conclusion in mind. One might have gone one more step ahead and thought of a couple more horizontal options; however, they were all along a similar line of thought. Thus, the agreement on the next step was a fairly non-controversial gentleman’s affair.

Every once in a while, there is this person who comes to a completely different conclusion. Most people see one and two, and expect three to be the next one. But occasionally, someone declares that seven could be a possible next step. One, two, seven? What kind of logic will produce such a conclusion, though it is often a brilliant idea that catches everyone’s attention. How can I learn to think like that? Watanabe-san, my mentor at the time said that he was “training” to have inspiration. He looks at the rising sun and meditates in the morning. Wholah! He gets inspiration.


This got me thinking. I did not think that the rising sun and meditation in the morning would work for me, but surely I can do something to increase the chance of having inspiration. When and how does inspiration emerge? What are the conditions or state of being that is conducive to inspiration? What was I doing just before I had inspiration? Is a search of causation contradictory since inspiration by definition is spontaneous and nothing proceeds inspiration?


One day, I was in my gym working out as usual. I finished the treadmill and I was working on the upper body exercise machine. After a couple hours of workout, I was exhausted and sitting on the seat of the machine with a towel over my head. I was lost in time, until this inspiration came up. Ah-ha, this is it. You make your physical body so tired so that you are not even aware of what you are thinking, then your mind wonders around and bumps into an idea. That’s inspiration! Non-thinking must be the prerequisite of inspiration; therefore, it is logical to make yourself physically so tired to the point you cannot think. Then it will come.
From that day, I went to the gym everyday and practiced this process of working out to exhaustion to induce the state of non-thinking. I was successful in squeezing out an inspiration or two. I thought I was onto something. Then, it was gone. Maybe I got used to it too much. Maybe I was impatient with the process of getting myself tired and I was not tired enough. I started to workout even harder to make myself more tired so that I would reach the state of non-thinking quicker. One day, I worked out so hard that I was sitting on the seat of the machine, again with a towel over my head, patiently waiting for inspiration to come. I don’t even remember how long I was in that position, but then, one of the trainers came and tapped my shoulder. “Endo-san, are you okay? You have not moved in ten minutes.”


After my non-thinking exercise theory failed, I came upon this thought. Perhaps we are not capable of non-linear thinking. We are only capable of sequential thinking; however, we have the ability to have multiple thinking processes going simultaneously. We think of work, we think of music, we think of snowboarding, we think of family. What if we have multiple thinking paths going at the same time. While individual thought paths are sequential, each one is at a different point of thinking. You thought one-two-three on work, then skip to music thought and think two-three-four-five, and shift to golf for eight-nine, then skip back to work and land on four, but you jumped so far from golf thought to work thought that you forgot you’ve already had one-two-three. Would four then not feel as though it came out of nowhere? What if you intentionally keep the distance between one thought to the other so radically different that the wider you jump, the more inspirational it feels, even though at some point in the past you already had one-two-three.

Then it dawned on me. Is it not the same as the old saying of “Work hard, Play hard”? If your thoughts are jumping in close proximity, you cannot avoid sequential thinking and therefore all your thoughts are linear and predictable. You need to put your brain through non-related line of thoughts allowing different ideas to seep into each other. The harder you keep the distance apart, the more often you feel like you are getting fresh, non-linear, out of the box, inspirational thoughts.


The good thing about this multi-thinking and distance jumping idea as a source of inspiration is that it is trainable. You can practice the technique of multi-thinking. You can practice the technique of thought jumping. It is sort of like channel surfing on cable TV, but you are doing that with your thoughts.

Once you become trained with multi-thinking and thought jumping, you will recognize the moment when you catch an inspiration-like idea emerging. Not quite sure where it came from, but the logic of it surely feels familiar that I must have thought about it unconsciously. It is random as anything, yet they line up so beautifully that it has a clear order of sort. I love to catch my inspiration!


Come to Ormsby Hill and catch inspiration in-between your thoughts.


In pursuit of the best inspiration…


Best Coffee at Ormsby Hill

December 8th, 2014

Hi Everyone,

I was looking into coffee grinders the other day and came across this graphic. It shows visually how concentrated specialty coffee shops are in San Francisco relative to other cities. That means more competition but it also means that there is a large audience who appreciates specialty coffee. Perhaps we should hit a couple of these specialty coffee shops in San Francisco to learn more about coffee serving technique and equipment. Check this out:

We learned from Pierre Capy, the owner of Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro, VT, that the best time to brew coffee is within 2 weeks from the roasting date. That’s why we order our coffee every two weeks. I saw other people mention that the coffee pros claim that 4 days to 14 days is the best time to brew coffee. The moment after roasting, the process of oxidation starts and “oxidation” is another word for being stale. You are losing flavor as the roasted coffee becomes stale.
Now, a similar thing happens when you grind your coffee beans. By grinding your beans, you are increasing the surface area that is exposed to air which increase the loss of flavoring gas. Some of our guests mention that when we grind our coffee in the morning, the smell of coffee fills the entire house and they can smell it from their bedroom. Now that is the flavor gas of coffee beans leaking out. By grinding just before you brew, you are trying to capture some of those fleeing flavors in the brewing process.

By the way, I told some of you that Pierre used to put water through 3 water filters at his coffee shop in Brattleboro VT. By the time, water comes out from the third filter, it is pure H2O. He then reintroduced the exact mix of minerals to mimic the water in Italy, and that’s the water he used to brew his coffee. That’s pretty deep into the water dimension of brewing coffee, though an ideal cup of coffee is less than 2% coffee solubles and 98% clean hot water, so it makes sense to work on the water element.

Also you might have heard me tell the story of Mocha Joe’s technician, Benjamin. He calibrated our FETCO coffee machine to optimize the coffee extraction, testing the results with a digital refractometer to obtain the right level of TDS, i.e. total dissolved solids. Extraction is one of the most important elements of finished coffee. While coffee beans are comprised of about 70% non soluble materials and 30% that dissolve in water, not all of the 30% is desired for a good coffee. Too much extraction can give the finished product bitter flavors. Hitting the optimal balance, which is typically 18% to 22%, is what makes a great cup of coffee.

Coffee brewing is as much a science as an art; therefore, you can improve a cup of coffee with technology that leverages your knowledge of what makes the best coffee. Yet, there is variability in what coffee people like. Different types of coffee appeal to different people. Some like dark roast, some like medium roast, some like strong caffeine and a few like the mildness that acidity brings. At Ormsby Hill, we purposefully avoided defining what type of coffee is the best coffee, but instead we defined “fresh” coffee as the “best coffee” for everyone. We then pushed the definition of “fresh” coffee as not only “fresh brewed” but also “fresh roasted” and “fresh ground.”

Come to Ormsby Hill and taste Mocha Joe’s Peruvian Organic French Roast. It is guaranteed fresh.

In pursuit of the best coffee…


Music at Ormsby Hill

December 8th, 2014

Hi Everyone,

When we came to the Ormsby Hill in July 2012, there was an audio system which consisted of a Sherwood stereo amplifier and Yamaha six-disc carousel CD player. The previous owners had several six-pack cassettes of CDs, that were used as a storage device for various collections of discs. They would manually change the CDs in the carousel CD player every five hours so that the same music would not be heard that day. The next morning, they’d repeat the same routine.

On Day One at Ormsby Hill, I connected my iPod stand to the amplifier and played Pandora so that I did not have to change any CDs. I carefully scheduled Pandora stations to change every hour to reflect the cadence of the day at the inn. Music automatically comes on at 7:00 am with the lazy sound of Jazz guitar and the tempo picks up a bit to Jazz Bosa Nova around breakfast time to gently wake you up to anticipate what is to come today. Then the tempo increases and so does the sophistication, though we are still in the Jazz mode. Just when you are starting to wonder what kind of music is coming up next, it phases into the lounge BGM (Back Ground Music) in the afternoon, which brings contemporary synthetic mixture and laid back melody into this 18th century house. In the early evening, straight ahead jazz and piano trio will lightly fill the common area as you pass through to go to your room.

In Tokyo, I would go to HMV in Shibuya and spend two to three hours sampling CDs that looked good. This particular HMV store had Japanese Pop on the first floor, Rock and Soul on the second floor with a large alternative section for Acid, House, Techno, Ambiance, and Drum and Base. The third floor was all classic music and the fourth floor was the Jazz floor. I bought 5 to 10 CDs at a time as I found music that matched my mood among discs that I sampled. With Pandora, hunting for new music and sampling is so easy to the point that it became a passive activity. I miss the days when you flipped through the albums with your fingers and selected albums based on the album cover, which worked sometimes and other times it didn’t. But that’s how you discovered new music to expanded your album collection. Now, not only do you get to sample, but some algorithm picks up a song that is similar to what you’ve chosen previously without specifying what elements attracted you to that song to begin with. I still don’t know how it does it, but it seems to know my taste.

I put my old analog tube stereo system in FRANCES, so next time you have a chance, please check it out. I’ve already gone through the first set of tubes (they physically burn out after so many year’s use) and the current ones are Russian KT88s. I came to the conclusion that the inefficiency of the analog tube amplifier actually enhances the main sound element being played while dropping other noises to inaudible levels, though still present in the background. The result is a mild and comfortable rounded sound that you can listen to for hours. The digital music sometimes has too much sound data that you do not need to enjoy the recording and the unadulterated clarity gets to be tiring after a while.

In TAFT, I put a Nu Force Icon Amp connected to a pair of piano black lacquer finish Monitor Audio speakers. Weighing only one pound and measuring 6 x 4 1/2 x 1 inch, this amp was conceived to operate as an audiophile-grade desktop power amplifier. TAFT’s unique tent like ceiling architecture seems to further enhance the acoustic expansion, filling the room with breathy balanced waves… perfect BGM for a side-by-side massage or soak in the whirlpool tub.

The newest addition is NHT speakers in LIBRARY. I bought something called a digital amplifier which digitally amplifies the sound data, thus eliminating any noise. It is connected to a small tablet with WIFI connection. So far, it is not at the level of FRANCES or TAFT, but the NHT speakers are a good starting point to build another audio set. I have an analogue tube CD player kit that I bought in Tokyo 15 years ago, which is still in the box. Perhaps I should finally build this CD player to match up with the NHTs.

In pursuit of the “best” sound…

The Inn at Ormsby Hill, Manchester VT

Owen Kai Endo, 19 months old

September 23rd, 2014

Enough about gardens for a minute.  This is a very important (and long overdue) update on our grandson, Owen.  At 19 months old, he is saying lots of words and short phrases, like ” snow truck, digger, big engine…”   He loves trucks of all kinds.

Earlier this month he started preschool, and is learning to clean up after himself and doing some mysterious activities like “scooping work.”  I’m not sure what that is, but I’m sure he loves it and is very good at it.

Well, that’s just a tidbit for you. Until next time, we are proudly,

Owens Grandma and Grandpa



Owen and his Dad

Owen and his Dad

Owen and his Mom

Owen and his Mom

The Garden has Settled In…

September 10th, 2014
New gardens look like they belong

New gardens look like they belong

Many new landscapes take a while to meld seamlessly with their surroundings.  I am not a fan of this gardening technique.  The three years it takes for most perennials to mature seems too long to realize your vision.  Either way, the plants hardly ever behave exactly as you expect.  For instance, why did every ‘Overdam’ grass turn brown soon after planting?  They flowered just fine, but something seems strange.  I never used this grass before, so it will be a lesson that encompasses several growing seasons.  I have to learn the nature of this plant.

It is almost mid-September, and soon it will be time to cut back and get this new garden ready for its first winter rest.  After a brilliant birth it needs to garner strength for its juvenile season.



The Inn at Ormsby Hill: One of America’s Best Bed and Breakfasts…

July 17th, 2014

Ormsby Hill MtnView2

According to an article in USA Today, we have the honor of being one of the best B&B’s in the country.  What a great way to start our third year at Ormsby Hill.  Thank you all for being a part of our journey.


Two Year Anniversary at Ormsby Hill

July 10th, 2014

garden path

Friday, July 11 is our 2 year anniversary as owners of Ormsby Hill.  It seems we have been here a lot longer than that, especially when we try to recount all the changes we have made – big and small.  What we never wanted to change, and never will, is the character of this inn, this home. Every day we marvel at the beauty and strength inherent in this home.  We are trusted keepers (we know the house has accepted us) of the property, as well as keepers of your stay with us.  Everything ties together, as do all things in life.

Today I was thinking about our gardens (haha, no surprise there), and how I might describe their significance to anyone who asked if they had special meaning.  They do.  Every thought we have, every word we speak, every action we take adds something to the collective consciousness  of our world.  These gardens were made with love, hope, and acceptance:  my love for plants, my hope that they will grow and fulfill my expectations, and my acceptance that many things are beyond my control.

This, I believe, is also how we can describe our inn keeping over the last two years.  We love Ormsby Hill, we hope to fulfill our potential and your expectations, and we accept that we cannot control your experience.


Garden path

Garden path


Garden Update

June 6th, 2014

Today I gathered the first flower bouquet of the year from our gardens.   No more flowers from Shaw’s until frost!  That means more time moseying, gathering, and arranging.  It is so easy with flowers from your garden, because they all look good together.  I love, love, love homegrown flower displays.

First flowers from the garden for the inn.

First flowers from the garden for the inn.

The new gardens are still a work in progress.  At this time we are waiting for several more plant groups (Eupatorium ‘Little Joe’, some asters, and perovskia).  I also have to fill in the vegetable section.  All in all, it is coming along very well.  Many, many thanks again to Equinox Valley Nursery ( for searching for, gathering, and delivering plants on my list, even though it is their busiest time of the year.  They are some of the best people you could ever meet.  I hope you stop in on your next visit to the inn.

Here are a few photos Yoshio took last week of the labyrinth and new gardens.

Pathway to labyrinth connects the gardens

Pathway to labyrinth connects the gardens

Planting in progress

Planting in progress










Mostly green labyrinth, with lots of dandelions

Mostly green labyrinth with lots of dandelions


If you are not interested in gardens, please excuse me.  After almost two years at Ormsby Hill, my true nature has finally found its way home.  Indulging my passion will help me honor myself, the inn, and you too.