End of Summer

While we didn’t get much done on the tiny cabin, we managed to do a lot around our other home—stuff we’ve been putting off for years. The improvements have been largely cosmetic (painting), though we managed a few practical ones as well (replacing broken ceiling fans and old light switches/outlets). We’ve also cleaned out closets and cabinets and–gasp–even our bookshelves (though not nearly enough).

 

All combined, this has been a lot of work. But each job actually just needed a little close attention. Sometimes I think my life can be summed up by a Gary Snyder haiku:

After weeks of watching the roof leak
I fixed it tonight
by moving a single board

I’m persnickety about many things, but other things I overlook—even if the roof leak is hitting me in the face as I try to sleep. But a life event, I’ve learned, can shake up my complacency—in this case, for the better.

My office, which has been in a perpetual state of disorder since I left for graduate school five years ago, is showing signs of organization, or at least less clutter. When my husband and I changed jobs and moved, paperwork, power cords, and junk went into boxes. I’m cleaning out tubs with bills from 2012 in them and file folders from before we married in 2005.

 

You may be wondering: this from people who want to live in a tiny house?

Let me just say that the junk is a big part of the reason I want to live in a tiny house. When I was a senior in high school, our house caught fire. Only the kitchen was destroyed, but I’ve often wondered what a relief it would have been had we lost everything. The temptation to start with a clean slate, to have a “do-over,” is strong. When I went to graduate school, I took only what I could fit in my car and lived in a 400 square ft. studio apartment. Other than loud neighbors on all sides and a bus stop outside my window where drunk college students lined up 3-4 nights a week, the place was great. Later I rented a single bedroom, windows facing a shady Florida backyard, cardboard boxes part of my décor and furniture. These were happy times—despite being in school, I seemed to have, well, time. Time to read, to walk, to clean. My daily “to do” list did not involve going through the past fifteen years of accumulated stuff. I left it all behind, and I would have been content never to see it again, to light it on fire and watch the ashes fly.

But whether it’s actual possessions or emotional baggage, I had to confront it sooner or later. And knowing that a baby will be here in roughly six weeks has brought a no-nonsense attitude toward the stuff. I feel like I’m having an “everything must go” sale except I’m just walking it out to the trash bin.

The past is useful only insofar as it doesn’t weigh me down. As Springsteen said in “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” “we’ll take what we can carry / and leave the rest.”

And right now, the only thing I want to carry is our new bundle of joy!

Some pictures from the family baby shower. My mother, craft woman extraordinaire, made the decorations.

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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:

 

 

Family Christmas and funeral

On November 5th, forty-two members of our family gathered for an early Christmas celebration. From her hospital bed in the living room, Dianna instructed the young children (as she was so well-known for doing) in the rules of dirty Santa.

Everyone cried when it came time for the carols, but she was enjoying the singing so much that we managed through the tears.

It was a tiring day for her, but it actually left her energized. For our part—the immediate family—the day left us feeling loved and supported, both by the family who drove hours to be there and by the dozens of people who brought dishes for the meal.

Less than two weeks later, Dianna slipped from us, or as I keep reminding myself, was released from her suffering.

The funeral service was beautiful—she received the honor she deserved; and in the church packed to standing-room only, we shared in laughter and catharsis.

As our procession left the church, a man walking down the road paused and took off his hat.

The drivers sharing the road, however, were not so solemn or respectful. Though we had a funeral escort, and though our procession stayed in the right lane of the freeway, a large truck tailgated our car for several miles and then floored it around us. I would say the driver was oblivious, but our vehicle was directly behind the hearse, which was directly behind the escort with flags.

We did not have a police escort for one of the traffic lights. The escort leading the procession drove through the intersection, and a few cars later the light turned red. Rather than allow the rest of the procession through, cars began honking and trying to cut off the procession.

I guess they had somewhere to be, and fast. But, if anything, pausing for the mourners of the dead is a reminder of where we’re all headed, and how little the cares of today really matter.

flowers-sunset

HOMELESS MAN

After the graveside service, the family gathered for a meal in a church across town. The church door was propped open as a gesture of welcome. Incidentally, the homeless man who had taken off his hat two hours earlier was passing by and asked if he could use the restroom. When he walked in to find our family eating, he was clearly embarrassed and tried to leave without being seen.

Of course, someone stopped him and told him to fix a plate. He declined, again embarrassed, and tried to back toward the door. We assured him, however, that it was what Dianna would have wanted.

He made a plate and sat at a table away from everyone. We couldn’t allow that. Instead, one of the people who had prepared the meal asked him to sit at their table, and it seemed he had a good time. One of the church elders and his wife quietly went around to each table and took up a collection to help him on his way to Colorado, letting him know the gift was in honor of the great lady whose life we were celebrating that day.

Two hours earlier, this man took off his hat to our funeral procession having no idea that across town he would be sharing a meal with us. He showed more respect for our family than the other strangers sharing the road, and I could not help but think of him as a man who, in spite of whatever difficulties had led him into homelessness, had not forgotten something important about our human condition.

Life is strange for us right now. We have a void that simply cannot be filled. But we do have stories, and in every act of kindness given or received I think of Dianna.

dianna-bane-flowers

 

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