Receding Waters

It’s still a vast mosquito breeding ground, but we’re no longer ankle-deep in puddles. The tradeoff: a fiery sun and temps in the 90s.

Before we left for Scotland, we used the boards in this picture to walk from the driveway onto the land. The boards were submerged, but they kept our boots from hitting bottom and sinking in the mud.


We came armed with four, 80 lb. bags of Quickcrete to drop in the ruts. We didn’t need them.

In addition to this lovely “Surprise Lily,” we found our field had been bush-hogged. (Thanks again to the mayor.)

surprise lilybush-hogged field

We decided on yet another location for the cabin. The first spot had been too soggy, the second too sunny. This time, it seems just right.

A Ton of Work…Literally

5-22-15 driveway with partial rockA few days after our sinking episode, we called a gravel truck. The problem: because the clay was so soft, he couldn’t gradually release the rock so that it spread evenly. He just had to dump it. While he went for another load, we spread it with shovels, shoes, and gloved hands.

We hadn’t expected anyone to be able to come out on such short notice, much less deliver multiple loads. Otherwise, we might have had more hands on deck! Instead, it was just the two of us. We had planned to spend the day clearing the new site for the cabin, but we knew this had to be done. More rains were on the horizon, and the driveway was basically a 6’ x 22’ mud hole.

The air was cool and the day was lovely, but after spreading the third load we were worn out—and the driveway was only half done.

Then, the mayor of Higginson himself showed up—tall and serious, with a resemblance to Tommy Lee Jones. He was in the neighborhood because around the corner a stretch of houses were having some sewer problems. [With a composting toilet we won’t have to worry about that!]

He exuded silent confidence while sizing up the situation. He told us he’d be back with a backhoe, and five minutes later we watched, mouths agape, as he smoothed out the freshly-dumped load.

5-22-15 driveway with rock

We asked if we could make a donation to the town, but he wouldn’t take any money directly. Instead, he said, “If you want, go to City Hall and make a donation to the 4th of July fund.” He seems to take his civic position as one “for the people.”

Thankfully, our cabin-building schedule was only tentative, or else we’d be behind. At the moment, we’re under a severe thunderstorm warning, and up to five more inches of rain are expected this week. We’ll go out to the land on Thursday to see if our new site is still above water.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Although the driveway was still pretty wet, we thought we’d push on through in the car and save ourselves the trouble of hauling equipment over the mud puddles.

5-19-15 Car in the mud

In short, we caused ourselves more trouble than we saved.

The title of this post comes from the Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse, On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785.” He apologizes to the mouse, whose house he has accidentally destroyed at the onset of winter, then philosophizes:

 The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!

He then tells the mouse that though she’s unfortunate in the present moment, she’s still luckier than he: humans look back on a difficult past as well as anticipate future hardship.

After over an hour of futile attempts, we were soaked and muddy, spirits dashed. A kind neighbor drove by and pulled us out with a chain. It was a moment of triumph.

We then discovered that with the recent rains, our cabin site had turned into a swamp. To our credit, the house stakes were on the highest ground. Still, our “castle” doesn’t need a moat, so we’re currently looking for a new spot. We probably need more sun for the solar panels anyway.

Looking back on the mistakes we’ve made and knowing that more surprises are no doubt on the way, I can relate to Burns’ poem. But the kindness of strangers, not to mention friends and family, gives me comfort.

Composting Toilet: Not Flushing Your Money Away

When we moved into our current home, each bathroom was its own color: sky blue, bright red, and teal. That included the sink, tub, and toilet. With five people in the house, using the toilet only three times a day, multiplied by an average of four gallons per flush, we used 21,900 gallons of water a year, not including showers, laundry, or dishes.

Over the years we’ve remodeled the bathrooms, replacing the toilets with more efficient ones that use a lot less water. Still, we’re wasting thousands of gallons a year of perhaps the most precious natural resource we have.

This time we’re going with a composting toilet. It is what the name implies: waste, through various chemical processes and a little time, becomes soil.

The low end of composting toilets requires only a bucket and peat moss. A mid-range toilet requires frequent emptying, possibly before the waste has finished composting.

High grade composting toilets are expensive—relatively speaking. The one we are currently looking at is around $3,200 (on sale through tomorrow).

That is considerably more than we had wanted to spend (three times the amount of the materials for the shell of our cabin), but it’s still cheaper than a septic tank. And rather than empty the waste ourselves, a solar-powered battery will suck it out of the house and into a composter. The great thing is, it only has to be emptied once a year, after it’s through composting.

Tick Bite Gone Rogue

People have asked if I’m afraid of snakes. Arkansas is, after all, home to the copperhead, rattlesnake, and water moccasin. With a pond on one side of the land and a flood on the other, I’m sure the snakes out there are happy campers.

It’s been my experience, however, that snakes are more afraid of me than I am of them. I’m mindful of where I’m walking and where I go poking around. I don’t begrudge an angry snake—I don’t like anyone bursting in my house uninvited, so why should they?

Ticks are another matter. I am, indeed, afraid of ticks. Like snakes, they’re stealthy, but they’re out for blood whether or not they’ve been wronged.

Someone told me that ticks are bad this year. I don’t have a basis of comparison, but I know I’ve seen plenty. A bite I got on Wednesday is now about the size of a nickel and inflamed.  Granted, it’s in a sensitive place that gets a lot of movement…

Just to be safe, I went to my doctor. He’s a tall, elderly man who reminds me of Clint Eastwood. He looks to me like he’s seen a few things. I trust his opinion.

He told me to keep an eye on it and let him know if it gets worse. Though it’s unlikely that I’ll contract a tick-borne illness, I have to wait 10-14 days before I experience symptoms of a more serious condition.

The woods are not without threat, but then again neither is suburbia.

Water, Water Everywhere

driveway 5-13-15

Driveway 5-13-15 before

Driveway 5-13-15 after

Driveway 5-13-15 after

We finally made it back to the land today. Searcy has had crazy rain–6-8″ in the past seven days. A portion of the property is under water, but thankfully not where we intend to build the cabin.

Once we build the cabin and set up the rain barrel, we should be able to collect about 8,000 gallons of water a year [~250 sq. ft. of roof x .62 x 50″ annual rainfall = 7,936 gallons].

Cabin Site

Cabin Site

Next week, we’re going to brave the weather and camp on the land. We’ve cleared away all the small trees and brush; now we need a chainsaw. We’ve staked out the spot for the house and have to decide the path for the driveway. Once it’s cleared, we can have a load of gravel brought for the foundation.

Then it’ll be time to start building.

Clearing Land by Hand: Before and After


Some gasoline had spilled in the wheelbarrow, so we drove the hour to Searcy with the windows down. It was 7:00 am and a refreshing 64 degrees.

If only we had been able to go straight to work! Chuck had to give a final exam, so we didn’t get to the land until 11:00, when it was 84 degrees and the sun was almost directly overhead.

Chirping followed wherever we worked, with one bird louder than the rest. It was as if the birds had designated a reporter to keep up with our whereabouts. I’m glad we waited to bring the weed eaters, preferring to see how far the hand tools could get us.

driveway before          driveway after

Based on the before and after pictures, I think they served us well. Granted, I took a three hour nap when I got home. We still have to fill in the ruts in the “driveway.” Luckily, there’s a pile of dirt around the bend.

house area before          house area after

The blue spot in the picture is the tarp we laid over our supplies. It’ll be a few days before we get out to the land again–grading takes precedence, not to mention there’s an 80% chance of rain this weekend. Plus, we have some planning to do and decisions to make.

Things I learned: don’t forget a ponytail holder and wear long sleeves (bugs bite, branches are sharp).

Tiny Cabin

My husband Chuck and I are building a tiny cabin this summer on seven acres with a pond just outside of Searcy, Arkansas. I’m looking forward to breathing fresh air and living more sustainably.

We have a little experience with carpentry, but this will be our first ground-up project. The “Thoreau cabin” will be 10′ x 16′ with a loft. We’re also adding a small front porch and a screened-in back porch. Though we still have some details to work out, we’re going off-grid, using solar power and rain water.

We purchased the plans from solarcabin–watch his 3-minute video for the “Thoreau cabin” here:

Tomorrow we begin clearing the chosen spot. The car is loaded with shovels, a wheelbarrow, weed eaters, bug spray. and a first aid kit. What we bought: tarp, rope, gloves, clippers, stakes, a straw hat.

May in Arkansas is lovely. The weather should be great, though there’s a 20% change of a “stray thunderstorm.” Even so, it’s all part of the adventure!