From Big to Tiny

A lot of people have asked if the cabin is going to be a vacation home or a permanent residence. The long-term answer is: permanent residence.

But right now, Chuck’s youngest child still has two years of high school in the town where our current home is. He stays with us every other week.

The “plan” is to live in the tiny cabin every other week until Geoffrey graduates so that Chuck doesn’t have to commute two hours a day. Meanwhile, we continue getting rid of “stuff” and simplifying as much as we can.

We have nearly two years to transition from big to tiny. Our current home has been in the family since 1952. It will probably stay in the family, possibly remaining furnished, or with any heirloom furniture given to family members. The house itself is nearly 100 years old, and it needs continual TLC. Living there for the past 11 years has been a labor of love. It’s more space than we need (especially now that the kids are nearly grown) and a little more than we would like to maintain.

What about all our “stuff”? People ask me this all the time. We have over 2,000 books, and it’s been awhile since I counted. Our house is like a Poké stop for books—they find us and congregate, waiting to be collected.

We talked about going completely digital, but I can’t break the habit of holding a book and smelling its pages (not to mention my slight distrust of technology).

We’re thinking, for the long term, about a media cabin. No kitchen, shower, or loft; just a half bath, reading chairs, and wall-to-wall books. Maybe a couch with a hide-a-bed for when guests visit. We can display my grandmother’s artwork and set up our record player. With the weight of the vinyls and the books, we’ll need a strong structure, but we’ll keep it simple—simpler than our current cabin, e.g., no 12/12 pitch roof.

After all, we’ve purchased plenty of battery-powered tools and have learned a lot. But that’s on down the road.

For now, I’d like to make living in a 10 x 16 cabin work. We once rented a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment, and we had neighbors on all sides (and a bus stop out front). The small space didn’t bother us at all. Once we add the screened-in porch on the back, we’ll have even more room. But right now our focus is on getting the cabin done.

The weather briefly cooled to the 80s, but it was rainy. Yesterday the heat index hit 109. Also, school started and brought with it a 50-hour work week plus commute for Chuck. I’m teaching a class as well, in addition to managing my editing business.

Next time we go out there will be mainly mowing and maintaining the grounds. But soon, those Bradford pears that have been thorns in our side (literally) will erupt in vibrant colors, a nice backdrop for finishing the exterior and moving inside.

Tiny cabin update: then and now

On July 9, 2015, I wrote in my 5-year journal, “Worked on the land–2 tarps down and dirt where the house will be.”

Tiny Cabin Spot - June 2015

Tiny Cabin Spot – June 2015

Even though we began this adventure in May of 2015, it took us awhile to find the perfect spot and then clear it. We had hoped to complete the cabin by the time school started last year, but we didn’t finish the foundation until October or have a frame until March.

So now, one year after the first dirt was spread on the cabin site, we can see how far we’ve come. We’re not exactly putting on the “finishing touches,” but things are moving much faster now.

In the past two weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time at our current home, which has a sizable yard to maintain and wood floors crawling with dust bunnies. I had hoped to do more deep cleaning and closet organizing, but I’ve been busy freelance editing. Still, we made time for respites of play: West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet were unforgettable. We saw a 1623 First Folio as well–each state in the U.S. currently has one on display in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

This past Friday, the conditions were right for cabin work. We drove through rain hoping that it wouldn’t follow us. The morning was cloudy and comfortable, especially for July. I trimmed Bradford pears while Chuck hung the front door and framed the window.

 

Exterior doors aren’t cheap, but we got lucky. A few months ago, my brother stopped some restaurant workers from throwing two doors in a dumpster. They’re solid wood and in good shape.

Once the trim was up, we could finish the rows of shingles. We’ve ordered tempered glass for the transom windows, so our next steps are to finish the shingles, install the windows, and finish hanging the door (which will need to be filed at the bottom and possibly repainted).

From outside, our cabin is beginning to look like a house–and soon we’ll be working to make the inside a home.

Tiny Cabin Update: Walls

This week we spent three days at the land with a long list of minor and major tasks. The weather was on our side, considering it was late June. Though it reached 90 degrees a couple days, the heat index stayed under 100. One day was partly cloudy, and another had a breeze. We arrived early with the intention of quitting at lunch, but we were able to work longer without exhausting ourselves.

 

We made a big purchase this week that sped up progress: a generator. Our neighbors have been generous in letting us link extension cords to use their electricity, but we decided this would be a good investment to make sooner rather than later.

This week’s “to do” list:

  • Assemble generator
  • Frame and install bathroom window
  • Spread gravel for more even ground for scaffolding
  • Finish sub-floor (measure, cut, and nail boards)
  • Finish base walls (measure, cut, and nail boards)
  • Add foam insulation (cut, nail, and seal with tape)
  • Reinforce side wall with the “great window”
  • Buy framing supplies, trim, and paint

Aside from a few small patches high on the side walls, we accomplished all of our goals. Chuck’s dad came on Tuesday and Thursday. His know-how amazes me. Where I might hesitate on deciding the best plan of action, he acts. And once he shows me how to do something, I am more confident in my actions, not to mention more efficient.

We also plan to do pink insulation between the studs, but the foam board will create a tighter seal and add additional insulation.

I enjoyed being on the scaffolding–again, I’ve had lots of monkey-bar experience. I’m also more comfortable wielding the nail gun. Over time, my arm muscles have strengthened and my fear of the nail gun has waned. I’m happy to leave the sawing to Chuck. He’s also much better at making a pattern with the foam board nails, which will be helpful later when we’re nailing up the cedar shingles on the front and the siding on the other walls. (The panel I nailed looks like it was done by a sawed-off shotgun, and I used twice as many nails as was necessary.)

Next week the temperature will soar to 100–perfect for swimming in Lake Beaverfork or reading a good book in air conditioning. We also have tickets to see the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre‘s Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. We’ve already enjoyed the outdoor A Midsummer Night’s Dream but missed Twelfth Night, which was sold out this morning! We’re anxious to finish the cabin, but we’re also trying to find balance.

We’ll work at the land tomorrow before family comes in for the 4th. Hopefully, by the end of next week, we’ll have the trim up and at least some of the cedar shingles.

 

Tiny Cabin Update: Roof!

Chuck’s Uncle Bobby and his cousin Scott arrived at 8 am after a three-hour drive from northwest Arkansas ready to roof the tiny cabin.

The first order of business (after the hugs and handshakes) was to finish nailing the decking. Bobby and Scott then suggested screwing 2″ x 4″s along each seam to prevent sagging. Chuck cut the boards, Bobby held them to the inside of the roof, and Scott used his battery-powered drill to screw them in. The rest of us–my stepson Geoffrey, his girlfriend Angel, and I–tried to make ourselves useful.

The shade dwindled like a receding tide. We felt beached beneath the hot sun. Though the day originally promised to be “partly cloudy,” we were only lucky enough to have five glorious minutes of cloud cover around 1 pm. I was hot, so I could only imagine how Scott and Bobby felt.

I would like to say that our heroic roofers enjoyed frequent breaks in the shade, but they toughed it out. Bobby–two days shy of 61–was up and down the extension ladder helping with the drip edge, the tar paper, and the first row of shingles. Scott worked higher up and along the steep edges. We handed Bobby shingles, and he took them to Scott. Someone was always holding a ladder.

Though I mostly admired their handiwork from the ground, it was enthralling to watch them roof. Of course, I was nervous with Scott up so high. I could tell he knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t overconfident. Though he and Bobby cracked jokes to lighten the mood, they were both serious when it came to safety. In this situation, safety meant awareness–an art almost lost in our modern world of buzzing phones and constant distraction.

By a quarter to noon, they had finished the back. The air was really heating up, and the humidity didn’t help. But with the drip edge done and their system perfected, the front side only took less than an hour and a half to complete.

By now, fair-skinned Angel was resting in the shade. Geoffrey cut the 54 shingles for the peak, and Scott had them nailed in no time.

Tiny Cabin Roof Finished

With Chuck’s arm still recovering coupled with our lack of expertise, we were glad to have called in professionals. But even more than that, we were glad to be with family.

Tiny Cabin: Back in the Saddle

The first week after the accident is a blur of bandages, medicine, and doctors’ appointments. That, and kind friends and family bringing by food and checking in.

All of the various doctors–the ENT, general physician, optometrist, and chiropractor–reiterated that the fall could have been much worse. We are counting our blessings.

On other fronts, we found out that my mother-in-law’s pancreatic cancer has developed to Stage 4, and one of my step-daughters moved to South Carolina with her baby, Alex.

It would be easy to say that life moves forward and we move with it. But that glosses over the emotional processing that great (and abrupt) changes demand.

Chuck’s body is still healing–the hematoma in his right arm restricts how much he can lift, and the nerves in his face are slowly regaining feeling. The emotional wounds, however, remain fresh.

I spent several sleepless nights and red-eyed days thinking of our next move. My main concern: the 12/12 pitch roof. We went away for a couple of days to celebrate our 11th anniversary and to clear our heads.

We reached out to Chuck’s cousin, Scott, who has worked in construction and even built his own house. He was up to the challenge. Once we knew we had the roof covered, we felt we could make plans. And I could get some sleep.

It was now time to finish the decking, which would require a third person, not to mention poise on scaffolding. A colleague, Russ, volunteered to help, and we managed to tack up the rest of the decking in less than two hours. It was an enormous hurdle after we had seriously questioned whether or not we would be able to finish the cabin at all.

After the decking, our next move was to get as many walls up as possible.

We were under a heat advisory, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index over 110 degrees. Chuck and I started at 6:30 and had to quit before noon. Chuck’s shirt was soaked to the hem, and my face was puffy and red.

At first, I held the sheet of OSB while Chuck fired the nail gun. But I wasn’t strong enough to hold the full sheets straight, and Chuck’s arm was tiring out from the heavy nail gun. So we switched.

Chuck said he was glad I had gotten over my fear of the nail gun. “I wouldn’t go that far,” I replied. I’m still terrified of it, and rightfully so. But I’m less afraid when I’m the one in control of the beast. When I was holding the board, I had to wait in anticipation for the loud bang, puff of air, and cloud of displaced wood particles.

It takes both of my hands to keep the nail gun steady, but now I know what to expect–and I know when it’s going to strike.

We didn’t get as far as we had hoped, but we got our strength and momentum back.

A blog on the roof will follow soon…

 

 

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!

Tiny Cabin: Summer Growth

Just hours after Chuck posted his last grade and officially began his summer, we headed to the land with a riding mower: the yard maintenance was long overdue.

We had a tiny window before rain moved in, and it was just enough time to get the main parts of the yard under control. Once the sun comes back out, we want to be ready to do some roofing!

Tiny Cabin Garden SpotTiny Cabin Land Cleared May 2016

The riding mower worked its magic, but it couldn’t handle the Bradford pear stumps along the driveway. We alternated weed-eating and hacking with a handheld weed cutter. Our arm muscles ached back into the memory of last summer’s clearing.

driveway-before

Uncleared Driveway, May 2015

Though the cabin is just a frame–and a tiny one at that–I look back at where we were last year and remember how far we’ve come. Our first attempt at driving onto the land ended with us stuck in the mud and a good bit of our budget spent on gravel. Because the truck was unable to spread the gravel evenly, we spread most of it ourselves before the mayor showed up with a backhoe. I never mentioned it, but that day I tore my right quad. It felt like it had been ripped from my kneecap. It took over ten weeks for it to heal, but heal it did.

5-19-15 Car in the mud

May 2015

At this time last year, we cleared land deeper in the woods only to later find it had become a flooded mosquito sanctuary. By the end of June, we finally settled on the spot where the cabin is now, but soaring temperatures in July and August (among other things) kept us away.

Now the summer is just beginning, and though it’s supposed to hit 90 tomorrow, it shouldn’t stay hot long. There’s more rain sprinkled in the forecast, but soon we should have enough days to finally get the cabin “in the dry.”

 

Tiny Cabin: Fire and Rain

One week we’re burning the brush pile in 39-degree air; the next, we’re sweeping water from the cabin floor in a humid 75 degrees.

Completing the rafters last Saturday was a high point in our cabin building. My brother-in-law came to help, and by afternoon all 18 rafters were up. The day could not have been more beautiful, even if the sun left its mark on our bodies.

We knew that six straight days of rain were ahead, so we covered the cabin with a tarp and put some plastic sheeting over the floor. The rain began Tuesday night, and when we went Wednesday afternoon, the land surrounding the cabin was a lake.

The water went past our ankles and soaked Chuck’s pants to the knee. Luckily, I had my rain boots on, though I discovered the left one has a hole.

In spite of our bungee cords, the tarp had blown off one side and rain was pouring in. There were already several inches of water on the floor. Using a long pipe as an extension, we were able to move the tarp over the rafter peak and re-secure it. We splashed back to the car knowing that five more days of rain lay ahead.

There was a possibility that the water would keep rising until it engulfed the cabin floor. In that case, we decided we would haul in more dirt and rebuild. Though we would like a cabin built on land, we also considered that we might have to build on a trailer bed. We decided that at some point we would have to cut our losses and run—how many thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours are we willing to spend on a thorny Bradford pear plantation?

Thankfully, the waters receded and we didn’t have to act out any of our worst-case scenario plans–at least not yet. More rain is forecast for tonight, and we will have to see how well the floor dries out this week.

 

Tiny Cabin: Building the Bathroom Walls

I surprised myself by nailing together the bathroom walls in less than thirty minutes. However, we immediately realized that the 8′ studs were so tall that our loft would be cramped. (Though we are following a set of plans, we have made modifications, which indirectly affect other things…)

Bathroom wall

The walls came apart quickly. Chuck trimmed them down once we had settled on the best height. I put them back together, undaunted–time was on our side. Or maybe the act of banging nails was so deeply satisfying that I didn’t care.

In fact, later, as Chuck went to buy the 2′ x 6′ boards for the loft, I nailed down an additional sub-floor. The OSB we originally used had too much give, so we decided to add a layer.

We raised the bathroom walls and connected them with a small metal plate. One of the bathroom walls will brace the 2′ x 6′ loft boards in the middle. No bigger than the loft is, the boards (which will be nailed into the studs of the front and back of the cabin) would have held us without the additional support. Still, it certainly can’t hurt, and we like the aesthetics of it.

Bathroom wall upBoth bathroom walls up

Building the bathroom frame has inspired us to do more research into how we will get water to the bathroom. We have vague ideas of how to catch, filter, and heat it, but soon we will need to fine-tune our logistical plan. Luckily for us, so many others have solved these problems and generously shared their experiences. We know that it isn’t a question of if, but how.

A <2 minute video on off-grid plumbing

An article on tiny-cabin plumbing

Rain was in the forecast, so we spent nearly an hour getting the tarp over the walls. With tired arm muscles, such a task is all the more challenging.

Tarp covering the tiny cabin

Tiny Cabin: Four Walls!

Chuck and I knew that putting up the walls on the tiny cabin was (ideally) a three-person job, but until minutes before heading to the land, we thought we would be alone in our pursuit. In fact, we were debating if we should even try–it was all four walls or nothing. We didn’t want a repeat of the front wall falling over in a wind gust.

As it turned out, my father-in-law beat us to the cabin site!

The walls have been finished since December, but good weather plus time off work have not been synced. We finally had our chance: last Saturday was a nearly 70 degree day. What’s more, this week is Chuck’s spring break, so we knew we would have time (and, luckily, good weather) to continue working on the cabin after the walls were up.

I have to say–my father-in-law really knows what he’s doing. Not that we don’t have some idea, but we occasionally we hit a snag that causes us to question ourselves, which takes up time.

In a matter of hours, all four walls were up, complete with California corners and additional supports. We still have some windows to finish framing, but time, for a change, is on our side. We left when the sun began to slant below the horizon, tired yet triumphant.