Trimming the Tree. . . and Our Book Collection

Last year, after a rodent family bunked up inside the Christmas tree storage bin, our tree rained turds when I opened up the branches. The artificial tree, at nearly 25 years old, had lived a good life, even though the stand had been broken for years and we had to stabilize the tree using a trash can full of rocks.

We had thought we’d be living in the cabin this Christmas, so we didn’t worry about catching any post-Christmas sales on trees. A strand of solar powered lights sounded like a fun and surprisingly affordable way to “spruce” up a thorny Bradford pear in the absence of a good old fir tree.

But as we are still in our old, drafty, much-loved house, and since we needed to purge some books, we decided on a book tree. I didn’t construct it alone–a good friend with experience and a knack for balancing books is why it’s still standing on our unlevel floor.
It was harder but more fun than anticipated, and other than the nice leather-bound books and the Jane Austen tree topper, it’s made up of books we are getting rid of. Some of the books are duplicates, some we had read but did not intend to again, and others are only a library or a click away should we regret our parting. It’s only about 300 or so of the roughly 1800, but it was a serious start.
Last year I culled our Christmas decor, and this year less is more. We kicked off our holiday movie list with Charlie Brown, a reminder that it’s not outward appearances or commercialism that make meaning. We felt it was a fitting first movie for our little Ariel.

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 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:

 

 

Tiny Cabin: Bees, Rafters, Monkey Bars

After much debate, we decided to redo the rafters on the tiny cabin. The first time around, something was amiss. The directions said 92″ boards, but the notch didn’t line up where it was supposed to. We lowered the crossbeam in hopes of cinching everything together, but it didn’t quite work.

What we have since realized: we needed 96″ boards. (Another page of the manual had 96″ boards listed, so we think the 92″ was a typo.)

Wednesday we got an early start and managed to have all of the rafters down by afternoon. This time we had scaffolding, which made the process much easier–and far less scary. Though it was bigger and higher than the elementary school jungle gyms I grew up on, scaling it made me feel like a kid again. The hundreds of hours I spent doing daredevil tricks on the monkey bars reminded me of a time when I thought I was nearly invincible. It was just the confidence boost I needed, though my stomach wasn’t convinced enough to untie the knots.

We decided to leave the crossbeam up knowing that rain was on the way.

Rafters partly down

The first item on today’s agenda was to take down the previous crossbeam, which was hanging by a couple rafters. We sat the crossbeam on the scaffolding, and as I was banging out the nails on the final rafter, a high-pitched buzzing sounded close to my ear. I turned my head just in time to notice a perfect hole bored in the wood and a large bumblebee shooting out of it.

My jungle gym skills were put to the test as I raced down the scaffolding and ran. I had no idea how many bees were coming for me. They weren’t vengeful, though. It turned out that there were just two, and they spent the rest of the day buzzing around the cabin looking for the entrance to their former home. We propped the plank against a tree hoping they would find it, but the bees knew where their home should have been and wouldn’t look elsewhere.

Rafters Down

The hardest part was securing the crossbeam. It was a test of balance and strength (amid searching bees) as we nailed in the first couple rafters and then hoisted the crossbeam into place. The day was heating up, so we took periodic breaks in the dwindling shade.

Chuck cut the rafters while I measured and marked where they would need to go. I nailed in the ones above the loft, but I wasn’t tall enough to get a good angle on the ones above the scaffolding, so Chuck did those. I was glad–blisters had already begun popping up on my hands. We managed to put up all but one rafter–and only because the saw batteries were dead and we couldn’t finish cutting the board. At least we’ll know exactly where to begin tomorrow.

The crossbeam sits much higher now, which will give us more room in the loft. Best of all, everything lines up.

New Rafters

Our next step: the roof!

Front Wall Down

While the front wall held up in spite of storms and six inches of rain at the end of November, this time we weren’t quite so lucky. We had hoped to have the side walls framed out and the walls up by December, but the work was going slowly. I often wished I had paid more attention in high school geometry, though thankfully I hadn’t forgotten everything. I think it’s all still in my brain somewhere, beneath fifteen years of other information.

Chuck, meanwhile, figured out how to use the saw to cut boards at a 45 degree angle. But in spite of our successes, the measurements were off for our side walls. We noticed this when the studs were slanting toward each other at the top. We then realized that the base was 2″ wider than the top (116″ vs. 114″), which meant that the boards for the roof pitch were too short. We used the mallet to try to beat one of the side walls into shape, only to have the wall fall apart.

In these situations, it’s better to start over anyway. We figured out where we had gone wrong, and now we just needed to know how much longer the top boards should be. We needed Pythagoras.

Luckily, the sands of time had left the Pythagorean Theorem unburied in my mind: a^2 + b^2 = c^2 .\,  Since we had the distance for “c” (our hypotenuse) and knew that “a” and “b” had to be equal, we were able to calculate the length needed rather than “guesstimating.” 116″ x 116″ (“c” squared) = 13,456 divided by 2 = 6,728, the square root of which is 82″. For some reason, we came up with 82.5″ that day, and it worked.

The walls are nearly finished. We still have to frame out a couple of windows, but then we will be ready to raise the walls. As a precaution now that winter has begun here in Arkansas, we left the front wall down and stacked the other walls on top of it. To ensure that rain would not fill the ruts between studs, we placed OSB board on top and then the tarp.

What we need next are several nice days during which we can finish framing the windows, raise the walls, and start nailing the rafters up to support the walls. Chuck’s Spring Break is seven weeks away, but there’s no guarantee that the first week of March will be lovely, or even remotely conducive to working outdoors. Last year we had a late snow that week.

Until then, we can cut grooves in the rafters, continue planning, and rest up for our next chance!

Side Walls

We were lucky this week to have two beautiful work days. The side walls are partially framed after a good bit of figuring, deductive reasoning, and internet research. I learned what a 12/12 pitch is/looks like as well as how to cut boards at a 45 degree angle. However, I am still not bold enough to do my own cutting. Aside from being slightly terrified (remembering Frost’s poem “Out, Out”), I’m left-handed. The saw is clearly designed for the other 70% of the world.

I do, however, nail. It’s a great stress-reliever, and the metal hammer makes a lovely sound on 3” nails, like a coin hitting water in a fountain. And the pitch changes the further the nail goes in.

But in spite of my love of nailing (or perhaps because of it), I managed to pull a muscle in my armpit. It has spent the past few days randomly cramping and releasing, reminding me that not all things are “mind over matter.”

We had hoped to have all four walls up, but we ran out of 2” x 4” x 12’ boards, which was just as well since we also ran out of steam. We did, however, get the gravel pile moved to what will eventually be the back porch area (courtesy of two helpful teenagers) as well as finished weed-eating a patch of grass invading the neighbor’s yard.

Highlights included thousands of blackbirds flying overhead, finding a rain puddle that might one day make a nice koi pond, and hours of breathing fresh, clean air.

Monday kicks off three days of rain, after which holiday celebrations will fill our days. We’re hoping for rest, too, and dream of a tinier home.

Outdoor Toilet

Friends have been curious about the logistics of building a cabin while not having access to water or electricity. Our power tools are battery-operated, and we charge them at our other home. But what about when we spend the night in our camper, which we don’t currently have a generator for, much less water hookups?

Our Coleman lantern serves us well.

Sometimes we shower at a friend’s.

But there’s one thing we didn’t want to live without: a toilet.

We had a broken chair that Chuck reinforced with boards. He borrowed a jigsaw and cut a hole for a toilet seat. What’s beneath? A bucket with a little peat moss in it—magic, organic material that eliminates odor and helps with the composting.

I admit I was skeptical at first, but days later there is no smell, nor are there flies (and we’ve had some warm days). This potty chair currently sits in a private spot in the woods. We cover the chair with a tarp, but otherwise it’s open to the elements.

Most of us have heard the euphemism “when nature calls,” but an outdoor bathroom brings a whole other level of meaning to that expression.

Tiny Cabin: First Wall

We had three days off before Thanksgiving, and the weather was promising. The flood waters had receded, and our cabin had weathered it all. Schedules cleared, we set our alarms for five thirty each morning and drove an hour to the cabin site. The sun crested the God-forsaken Bradford pears to warm the 36 degree air.

The other days weren’t as cold, but they were breezy and sunless. Warming up wasn’t hard with plenty of gravel to shovel around the foundation. Six more inches of rain would soon be on the way.

Our days began and ended in the dark, a rhythm that my body actually welcomed. We were home by six with just enough energy left to eat, bathe, and fall asleep.

The first order of business was nailing down the sub-floor. If I had it all to do over, I’d buy the more expensive, sturdier boards. However, once the sturdy pallet wood floors are down, we won’t know the difference.

After buying 70+ boards, we began assembling the walls. Luckily, Chuck pays attention to measurements and drawing straight lines. I gave that up a long time ago…

We realized that the 2 ¼” nails weren’t cutting it—nailing one end loosened the other. I’m not sure why we thought they would; the directions were clear: 3 ½” nails. No problems there.

Nailing together the frame took only a matter of minutes. Framing the door and windows, however, required finesse. We had to consider not only the size, but also the placement and height, which meant we needed to know the floor plan. Anticipating this, we had already taped off the size of the cabin in our current living room. That’s right—the tiny cabin is smaller than our current living room!

We spontaneously decided that each door would have a transom window. We built the back wall as well, but we’re waiting to put it up. We covered everything with a 20’ x 30’ tarp and didn’t want it to invite a pond between the two walls.

The hard part now is coordinating time off with good weather. Three consecutive days should be enough to finish the shell, but that depends on forces beyond our control.

DIY Laundry Detergent

For some odd reason, I saw a lot of Tide detergent commercials when I was growing up. Perhaps they were sandwiched between kid shows in the hope that desperate new parents would see it as a solution to at least one of their many challenges. These commercials claimed that Tide would get clothes cleaner and keep them more vibrant. We couldn’t afford Tide, so I added this item to my ever-growing checklist of what it meant to live the dream of suburbia.

Then one day, I tried the fancy, bright orange bottle that promised to make all of my dreams come true. Eventually, I admitted that I didn’t enjoy the way it made my clothes—and therefore me—smell. And later, as I became more environmentally conscientious, I began buying brands such as Seventh Generation, which cost even more but didn’t make me stink. The liquid was also clear, as opposed to radioactive blue.

Even more than cost-saving, however, I relish being able to make my own detergent. It’s one item I never have to add to my grocery list again, and each batch makes a year’s supply. Added bonus: the bumps on the back of my arms have disappeared.

Ingredients for laundry detergent

Ingredients for laundry detergent

Ingredients:

  • Half of a grated bar of ZOTE soap
  • 1/2 C Borax 20 mule team powder
  • 1/2 C Arm & Hammer (or other brand) Super Washing Soda
  • Hot water

Other items needed:

  • A large pot
  • A large stirring spoon
  • A funnel
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Containers in which to store the detergent (old detergent containers or plastic cat litter containers such as Tidy Cats) Note: the Tidy Cats containers can become very heavy, so I fill them halfway.

What to do:

  1. Fill a very large pot (at least 4 quart) 3/4 full of water.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add grated Zote and stir until dissolved.
  4. Add 1/2 C Borax and stir until dissolved.
  5. Add 1/2 C Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and stir until dissolvedPot of Laundry Detergent on Stove
  6. Fill a 5-gallon bucket 3/4 full with hot water (it is easiest to do this under a tub faucet).
  7. Pour the contents of the pot into the bucket. Add more hot water to fill 2″ from top.
  8. Cover with lid and let sit 24 hours.
  9. Stir and pour into containers using a measuring cup (for the pour spout) and a funnel. It will be the consistency of Jello.
  10. Use a capful from your regular liquid laundry detergent. Some recipes boast that only 1/4 C is necessary, but I usually use 1/3-1/2 C. Note: sometimes I have to shake the containers if the mixture separates.

Filling the containers with laundry detergent

You can add drops of your favorite essential oil if you would like a scent. Otherwise, the detergent is ready to go!