Changes

Ariel and Mommy on the stoop

My husband and I recently reflected that the last seven years have been years of transition. Graduate school, job changes, cross-country moves, the death of a parent, and having a baby . . .

In 2019 it feels like we’ve landed—working at the same place, living together and in the same city in which we work. We rented for a year, hoping to finish the tiny cabin. Life, it’s no surprise, was a constant juggling act. The daycares were full, so Chuck and I alternated our teaching schedules and had students watch Ariel a few hours each week when our schedules overlapped. It was a wonderful first year as a full-time professor, and let’s just say I survived.

The cabin, among the other demands of family and work, has begun to feel like an albatross. Four years ago Chuck was driving 100 miles a day to work, and we hoped to quickly build a cabin where he could stay during the week. The two of us would rough it until we worked out the solar/water kinks. The stakes were low then, and the two of us were up for the adventure. We underestimated the task, not to mention unforeseen challenges such as Chuck falling off a ladder. With his late diagnosis of a torn bicep tendon, surgery, and months of physical therapy, we never regained our momentum, especially after I became pregnant.

In addition, these rainy years have not been kind to the low-lying delta—our land is at best muddy but more often resembles a rice paddy. It’s not exactly the pastoral scene I’d hoped for. The tiny cabin was supposed to encourage us to spend more time outside. Contending with water is bad enough without the entourage of mosquitoes that follows wherever we go. After Ariel was born we designed an addition for the cabin, but we wondered how wise it would be to sink more money into a precarious plot of land.

And let’s face it, the energy and mobility of a toddler can hardly be contained in such a space without a safe place to play outside. Had the cabin already been finished, had we been living there with our routines in place, we might have figured out how to make it work.

Ariel playing with chalk May 2019

Exploring our option felt like more of a maelstrom than a whirlwind, but to cut the saga short: we found a house we really love and bought it. We wrestled with the decision, and I’m still making peace with it. We want to finish the cabin. We want to cultivate that part us—living in the woods, being completely self-sufficient. But the decision to simply buy a house, I’ll admit, has brought relief. Ariel now spends hours outside each day playing in the back yard and making chalk drawings in the shade of our carport. We’ve also brought our three cats who’d been staying with a family member, so now we’re all back together under one roof.

Since the blog has been sporadic, the news probably feels sudden when measured against the last few posts. But the inner journey has felt long and winding, if not dizzyingly circular. I’m still measuring what building the cabin has taught me, and I’m searching for how to live by those principles.

Future cabin updates will continue to appear here, but the overall blog will now be about new adventures.

Ariel with a white cat summer 2019

Transitions and a New Year

ariel and mommy at the tiny cabin

2018 was a year of transitions. We spent January packing and repacking suitcases for Italy, trying to balance what our rapidly-growing baby would need over the course of three months and changing seasons. One year ago today we boarded a plane to Italy. We lived on a hillside just outside of Florence in a 15th century villa with 33 students, teaching courses and taking side trips to Rome, Paestum, Capri, and L’Averna. At the end of the trip, just as spring was finally taking hold, we traveled south to visit my host family for the first time in 11 years. It was a joyous reunion with them and other friends and professors, as well as a bittersweet departure.

Sometime in March, I was offered a full-time professorship that I’d interviewed for before going abroad. I began phasing out my editing business and thinking about book orders. Chuck, too, was thinking of the upcoming academic year—he’d accepted a position in the Department of Communication to start a film major, teaching a new set of classes in film production, editing, etc.

Returning to Conway, then, was both a homecoming and a farewell. We’d been weeding out our possessions since before I was pregnant, but there’s nothing like a move to force you to make hard decisions. We gave away furniture to family and had a big garage sale. We left our home semi-furnished for our renters, and there’s still a big, bad back closet of stuff we need to go through. It’s like the pink spot in The Cat in the Hat—it keeps getting pushed around from one part of the house to another. One day, maybe, it’ll vanish.

In July we moved an hour up the road to a two-bedroom apartment on Harding’s campus. The cabin is now only four miles away and living there is still our ultimate goal. But without daycare for Ariel, it has been convenient to be on campus to trade off watching her with my husband. A couple days a week when I finish my last class, Chuck hands her off to me to go teach his afternoon and evening classes. Ariel—always ready for an adventure—loves outings in the stroller. She lights up when she sees the students from our Italy trip, some of whom even babysit for us.

Ariel turned one at the end of September and we used the opportunity for an Italy reunion. A week later Ariel was walking, and she hasn’t slowed down since. That has dramatically reduced the amount of work I can do from home—now, at 16 months, she is into everything. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s doing everything she can to figure out this world and how it all works.

ariel in the reading chair

If 2018 was a year of transition, then perhaps 2019 will be a year of arrival, of becoming. Many times in 2018 I did not know where I would find the strength for the task ahead. The checklist of things that had to happen seemed impossible in the time allotted. And yet here we are. More than once I cried out of sheer exhaustion, so one of my resolutions this year is to build in more time for R&R. But more than that, I want to live in a mindset of slowing down rather than speeding up. I’ve never trusted that I could accomplish what I need to get done by slowing down; now I think that may be the one thing I’m meant to learn. Like faith, I may not be able to see it until I’ve lived its truth, and even then I may not believe it’s possible.

Chuck has been out to the cabin a few times. The rain barrels are full of water; the bathroom has a stack of tile waiting. We’d like to be done ASAP, but we’re also happy with our current living set-up. We want to add onto the cabin so Ariel can have space to move around as well as a private room of her own. But for now we want to finish the “tiny” cabin and camp out there on weekends as we perfect the amount of water and solar power we need.

Next week Chuck is taking a group of students to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, and we have a couple other trips in the works later in the year. Mainly we are looking forward to settling into our teaching positions, watching Ariel grow, seeing good movies, reading great books, and spending time with the wonderful people in our life.

Tiny Cabin…for Three?

Baby ultrasound picture

That’s right. Life is full of wonderful surprises. I’m nearly six months pregnant.

Although we’d talked about having children of our own off and on over the twelve years of our marriage, we haven’t always been on the same page. Nevertheless, when I became pregnant last July, we were overjoyed. All of the concerns we had felt insignificant compared to the new life we had made together.

Eight weeks later, I had a miscarriage. It happened just before Chuck’s bicep tendon surgery and in the midst of bad news regarding his mother’s cancer. That time is a blur for me, except for the gestures of love and support from close family and friends who helped us through.

After all that we knew we wanted a baby. We also knew we hadn’t figured out the details yet. And what about the tiny cabin?

For awhile I was still going to the land, insect repellent ready, but sheer determination only goes so far with a little one kicking inside. I listened to my body, which meant a good bit of my time was spent sitting in the shade and reminding Chuck to hydrate. We made progress surely but slowly. At first, I thought of the baby as adding pressure to the mix of all that we need to get done. Recently, however, I realized that was the wrong way to think about the new and exciting changes.

I’m due at the end of September, and there is still much to be done on the cabin which will require minor and major purchases—including an A/C system. Although our original move-in date was August 2017, I have decided that a hot cabin away from my doctor and family while I’m eight months pregnant may not be what’s best for me. And after the baby is born, I’ll want to be in my well-established nest near my mother, who has vowed to help me in the difficult first few weeks.

And if things weren’t adventurous enough, we will be teaching in Italy in Spring 2018 (baby in tow). That also takes the pressure off of finishing the cabin by the time school starts.

So we’ve taken a deep breath. We’ve set new goals.

We would like to make headway on the bathroom by the end of summer. Having a bathroom (and hopefully shower) will make working and staying at the cabin more convenient for obvious reasons while we continue finishing the kitchen, the living room shelves, the floor, and the loft. And, possibly—eventually—a baby room off the back. We’ll see.

Tiny Cabin: Ceiling

A month ago we picked Saturday, May 20th for Chuck’s cousin Scott to come down from Northern Arkansas and help us insulate and finish the tiny cabin ceiling.
In spite of a 100% chance of rain and two snakes (in passionate embrace or bloody murder) inside the cabin earlier in the week, we were not canceling.
One road into Higginson was flooded; the other was puddled but passable. Some roofs were still covered in tarps from the tornado that blew through a couple months ago. (Sometimes I wonder what plague-ridden place we’ve chosen for a simpler life.)
Scott, who roofed the cabin for us last June, has the muscle memory to do in one hour what would take us all day. He put the insulation on his back, and as he went up the ladder, slid the insulation in place until his head was supporting the last segment.

 

While the insulation is squeezed between the studs, gravity is still at work. Chuck, on a smaller ladder, stapled the bottom half of the insulation while Scott stapled the top half. My father-in-law (Charles Bane, Sr.) sliced the insulation to fit–each piece was about 9″ too long. I mainly swatted mosquitoes–“big enough to pick up a child,” as Scott said–and watched.
By early afternoon the ceiling was complete–mission accomplished!
We’ll still need to run a strip of wood up the middle to hide the seam between the two sides of the ceiling. The wood’s light color makes the cabin feel spacious and airy. As much of a pain as the steep roof has been, it’s the reason the tiny cabin doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic.
This week Chuck finished the shed and we started moving things out of the cabin. We still have cleanup and organizing to do, but we’re over a hump. With the shed in place, we can set up the compost bin for the toilet. We still need to dig a trench, run the pipes, and install the toilet–our next big hurdle.

Tiny Cabin: Summer Vacation

Between frequent rain and the busy end of the semester, we basically managed to maintain the property and insulate the walls of the tiny cabin.
We’ve ordered parts for the bathroom, including a mop sink for a shower. We couldn’t find a shower basin smaller than 32″ x 32″, and we needed something along the lines of 27″ x 27″. After a couple YouTube DIY videos, Chuck was ready to pour the concrete himself and tile it. I love his determined spirit–it is what has taken us this far–but we are ready to streamline our process. So when I ran across the mop sink for $125 and free shipping, we jumped at the chance.
The components for the bathroom are ready–they just need to be assembled. The first and greatest task is the composting toilet. The compost bin must be away from the house and sheltered from the elements, and we need to dig a trench for the piping system. I can’t remember what we were expecting when we bought the toilet two years ago, but it seems more involved now than when we purchased it.
Once assembled, we’ll need a solar panel to make the pump work. But one thing we won’t have to worry about is water–it takes only 1/4 a cup to flush.
So, last week Chuck worked first on clearing the land and then on assembling the shed which will house the compost bin. The shed will also give us a place to store other items taking up precious space in the cabin.

On different days he had help from his dad, me, and his son Geoffrey. The summer heat hasn’t arrived yet, but we did hit 86 degrees–a drastic change from the 50s and 60s of the week before.

This weekend Chuck’s cousin Scott–who roofed the cabin for us–is coming to help finish the ceiling insulation and panels. After Chuck’s fall last year, there are certain jobs on which I insist having professional help.

Tiny Cabin Exterior May 2017

We’re still dodging rain (and, now, mosquitoes), but we should have a few weeks of somewhat pleasant weather. And unlike last year at this time, the tiny cabin has a roof, so even on rainy days we can do things inside.

Tiny Cabin and Spring Break

Spring break at Harding comes early in March, so we were hoping for good weather. Some years we’ve had snow.

This year we were lucky. Not only was the weather clear, it was also unseasonably warm. On Saturday we had a team of five: Chuck, me, Geoffrey (my stepson), Angel (his girlfriend), and my brother Gabriel, who drove down from Jonesboro for his first peek at the cabin in person.

Our main objectives:

  • Hang the back door so that the seams all fit tightly.
  • Install the large glass window (a task for the whole group).

Chuck and I got the back door hung fairly quickly. Meanwhile, Geoffrey, Angel, and Gabriel were busy trimming back the ever-insidious Bradford pear trees. We needed to move a small scrap pile to the big scrap pile that we didn’t realize was on the land when we bought it. Our team cut back the Bradford pears to make that possible.

The glass window is actually a ¼” thick glass tabletop we weren’t using. It isn’t tempered, a process that both strengthens the glass and causes it to shatter in smaller, more harmless pieces should the glass break. However, we plan to place a clear or slightly-tinted film on the glass, which will offer extra support and hold the glass in place if the worst happens.

Installing the window meant one person on a ladder holding the glass, another person holding the ladder, someone trimming the window in foam, and another cutting and nailing up trim. It was truly a group effort.

We left just before sundown, everything picked up and clean except the new piles of Bradford pear branches.

Tiny cabin exterior March 2017

On Spring Break, Chuck and I finished the trim on the side of the house. The lines running up and down the siding don’t match perfectly with the puzzle pieces around them, but we were out of both siding and stain. We had had some stain mixed for the final piece of siding, but the color was slightly off. Then the siding got wet and moldy anyway. I decided I’d rather have mis-matched lines than multiple colors, and that was that. We’ll put up some trim to help cover the seams.

Our other accomplishment: start the bathroom. We brought the composting toilet from our storage room at home. The composting bin is bigger than I realized. I had also envisioned it going just outside the house, but the instructions recommend “no more than 70 feet away from the house.” Granted, we have to dig a trench for the piping, so we aren’t planning on putting it too far away. The bin also has to remain sheltered from the elements, so we’re pricing some inexpensive sheds as a quick fix. Sure, we could build one and possibly save $10, but more than that we are ready to have a functioning cabin!!!

Our goal is for the cabin to be livable this August. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we live an hour away from where my husband teaches, and he has to commute over 100 miles a day during the school year. Our goal is to live in the cabin part time until my stepson graduates high school in 2018, after which we hope to live in the cabin full time during the academic year. So, if the cabin could just be livable by fall, we could continue putting on the final finishing touches the following year. We hope to have a screened-in back porch eventually as well as a side porch for non-mosquito weather.

Now that the weather is mostly nice, there will be more updates soon!

 

Tiny Cabin Update: Exterior

After posting grades, Chuck and I went to see a couple movies and then outlined our cabin goals for the break. We had two nice days before Christmas and two the week after, during which we were able to nearly finish the exterior.

Before:

Though the shingles were nearly done, the final two rows were the hardest because every piece had to be cut to fit. Much of the scoring I did by hand since the tips of the shingles were relatively thin.

Meanwhile, Chuck, his dad, and my stepson Geoffrey worked on framing the transom window and trimming the front door to fit with the weather strip. The transom window might not have taken so long, but the glass was slightly too big. All we can guess is that some settling had occurred since we measured and ordered the glass months ago.

My brother Jared was able to help after Christmas. He’s really great at putting things together, especially when the pieces have to fit a certain way. He is also the only person I’ve ever known to successfully build a house out of cards–and one that supported weight. He was nine.

While Chuck installed the doorknob, Jared and I finished the shingles. Maybe it was the cutting, or maybe it was the wood, but we ended up with a couple dozen splinters each. Those took a bit more engineering to remove than the shingles took to put up.

We then moved to the side of the house. We finished the OSB with the random pieces we had and then put in the loft window. Our next move was to tack up the foam board. I painted the trim, and while it dried we covered the windows with plastic and painted the eaves.

We then nailed up the trim so Jared could begin the puzzle of matching the siding with other pieces.

Chuck and his dad got the back door hung, but we will still need to make some adjustments. The great window was close to being finished, but we had forgotten our plan to use the 1″ trim to frame it. The 1/2″ that they used was not quite wide enough to hold the glass in place.

We were running out of time: as soon as the sun sank behind the treeline, it got cold and increasingly hard to see. We were so close to our goal of finishing the exterior. Still, we were happy with what we had accomplished, especially compared to where we were just one year ago:

 

 

The tiny cabin’s long and winding road

tiny-cabin-11-3-16

Chuck’s arm is healing slowly but surely. He is still not allowed to lift anything, and his 24/7 brace prevents him from extending his arm more than 110 degrees. Four times a day is a physical therapy routine including ten minutes each of heat, massage, stretching, and ice. The physical therapist says everything looks the way it should, and we hope to get a good report from the surgeon next week.

Despite Chuck having only one usable arm, we planned a cabin work day with a friend who has construction experience. Our goal: to finish hanging the doors and install the great window.

But a few days before our ambitious plan, we received some bad news: my mother-in-law’s scan showed that the cancer had progressed to the extent that nothing more could be done. In truth, we had been suspecting the worst based on how she’d been feeling. More than ever, the cabin felt like it could wait.

As painful as it was, we did as she said and took down the family Bible with the funeral plans she had written out years ago.

Let me just say that Dianna Bane is the kindest person I’ve ever known. When someone has a baby and Dianna calls to share the good news, she doesn’t say, “He was born.” She says, “He’s here!” She celebrates the presence of a new life, which is the way she meets everyone—acknowledging their humanity and their integrity, speaking to the person’s best self.

She’s generous, steadfast, and abundantly loving. She brings joy to a room. She is a peacemaker. Especially lately, she’s been long-suffering and patient.

And so we were all quick to answer her one request: to gather both sides of the family and have Christmas early. From the newest addition to the family born September 9th—Gus Bane Parsley—to her great-nephew Robbie Dixon briefly home on military leave, her family will gather tomorrow for a Christmas with autumn leaves still hanging on.

Post-surgery update

First things first: Chuck is home in bed sleeping through the post-operation pain. The doctor said that everything went well: he was able to pull down the bicep, integrate the donor tissue, and attach the tendon. Presumably, the bunches of nerves that had to be moved out of the way were laid back where they should be and will, in the coming weeks, regain any lost feeling.

I can’t help but think of the children’s game Operation. I was terrified of it as a kid, and I still haven’t warmed to the idea of incisions, stitches, and the red light of pain. At least I can appreciate the miracle of science, however, and know that at some point Chuck will be able to carry his grandson without hurting, and that later in life he’ll still be able to turn the keys in the ignition. I feel gratitude for the organ donor, the medical advances that led to such a procedure, and the skilled hands that performed the operation.

 

Before the surgery, the doctor marked Chuck’s arm with a purple sharpie to make sure they operated on the correct one. Though I secretly felt squeamish the whole morning, I took comfort and even found humor in such a precaution.

chucks-arm-before-surgery

I cropped out Chuck’s face–he already had “faraway eyes,” as the Rolling Stones say. He hasn’t quite sobered up enough to be reminded of the rigid facts: the bandages (wrapped with a splint) will stay in place for two weeks until his follow-up appointment. They absolutely cannot get wet. He won’t be able to lift anything with that arm for six weeks, not even his favorite KISS coffee mug, much less play the drums.

kiss-coffee-mug

Additionally, and perhaps the hardest part, is that even after three months he will still need to lift things deliberately and with great care. We’ll know more details as his physical therapy progresses. As for cabin work, he must wait until he’s made a full recovery: six months. That’s March 22nd, which seems a world away.

Of course, the doctor added, Chuck is allowed to point while someone else works on the cabin. We’ll see if it comes to that. Right now, we have to make peace with uncertainty and instead focus on the all-important task of rebuilding a healthy body.

Tiny Cabin Update: Surgery

Although Chuck’s fall off of a ladder was over three months ago, his right (dominant) arm still hadn’t regained its strength. In fact, it hurt to lift very much, and his arm was prone to give out if he did. His other arm hurt too, in different ways—more of an acute shooting pain—so he went to see an orthopedic doctor.

After X-rays, the doctor determined that the left arm had a strained AC tendon and would benefit from a steroid shot. The other arm, he suspected, had a torn distal bicep tendon. If the remaining muscle was still healthy, surgery would be possible and would take care of the problem. If not, nothing could be done. The muscle would continue to atrophy and he would never regain the strength in his arm.

Here’s a link to a video about the condition. Warning: it’s a bit graphic at the end.

The MRI results showed that surgery is an option. The muscle had retracted 13 cm, and the doctor wanted to do the surgery as soon as possible. He will reconnect the muscle and tendon with donor tissue. After a week, Chuck will begin physical therapy. I’m not quite sure about the overall recovery time.

The surgery is scheduled for September 22nd. It is, of course, better than the alternative. However, no one looks forward to surgery.

As for the cabin, well…it looks like there will be more delays. I dreamed last night that the cabin was perched in the branches of a high tree and that I needed to unlock the door. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get in later. I’m not sure how I climbed up there, but I managed to get the door unlocked. I didn’t know when we would be back, though, and had to leave it there waiting for us.

tiny-cabin-9-9-16