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Matthew Olshan

There was plenty of topspin in the way my grandfather called me “a jack of all trades, master of none.” He disliked dilettantes. Education was important, but so were credentials. He was all for learning, but in a narrowly directed way, ideally as a means to a safe and sensible career.

I’m afraid I was a disappointment to him.

I’ve always wanted to be a specialist in something – a virtuoso, really, if you want to know the truth. I may have gotten close to that ideal with my writing, but I suppose if I’m a specialist in anything, it’s in learning new things.

My education has always been curiosity-driven and – let’s be honest, here – fueled by obsession. My studies took me to Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Oxford Universities, among other august halls of learning. 

First and foremost, I consider myself a writer. I’ve written novels, books for young readers, op-eds, and the odd scholarly piece or two. I invite you to check out the fruits of my many years at my writing desk at

But writing has only ever satisfied half of my mind. Side by side with my writing life, there has been a building life. At times, I’ve made my living working with my hands. Mostly, though, I’ve used this particular restlessness to improve the homes I’ve made with my wife Shana and our Precious Bundle, Nina – who’s now old enough to be living and working on her own in London.

I grew up in Washington, D.C. I was a city boy all my life until about fifteen years ago, when we heard the siren song of country life and bought a beautiful little farm on Shermans Creek in southcentral Pennsylvania. Nina was too young at the time to pronounce the word “Pennsylvania.” She wound up calling the property “Pencil Creek,” and the name stuck. 

Over the years, we split our time between Baltimore, Maryland and Pencil Creek, building an ever more healthy and sustainable life, with an eye toward ultimately retiring here. COVID-times accelerated those plans. We’re now up at the Creek full-time, and mostly loving it. 

I look forward to sharing some of our crazy projects with you – including the ways things have sometimes gone wrong. Believe me: I make plenty of mistakes. Mistakes are fruitful. They’re precious. I’m a big proponent of doing your research, then jumping right in. There’s nothing like improvisation. In my experience, it’s almost always the best way to learn.