No bathtub, ugly carpeting, and too-close neighbors… hooray? As it turned out, the owners also owned the trailer next door and were willing to sell it to us. They had relatives there as tenants – a red flag that turned out to be, unexpectedly… no problem at all. We started the process of buying the farm house, the trailer, the wells and septic systems for each, 46 acres, two driveways, the 5-car garage, and a dilapidated shack the insurance company requested that we incinerate ASAP. We put up our city house as collateral and signed miles of papers and got to work. We took out carpeting and re-did the pine floors, got a clawfoot tub to replace the plastic shower, moved ourselves and our 2 daughters and their collection of pink tutus in and called it home. A year later we welcomed the twins, thereby doubling our population of daughters under 6 years old, and about 6 months after that, Mr Fantastic…wait for it… lost his job.
Scenes around the farm house – Fiercely and Cleverly with hobo bags, F+C with ducks; F+C on the steps, Fiercely pushing Really in the apple tree swing, the girls and Poppa at Christmas
Lost his job?!!? Yep. Not Fantastic at all. It was January and we had twin 6-month-olds plus 2 other kids. We did have unemployment income, new freedom from childcare costs while I was in school, and fortuitously, a small inheritance that coincided with the job loss. Being the fiscal conservative in the family I thought – savings! We could have savings! But Mr Fantastic is a dreamer. He pictured a straw-bale, timberframe cabin in the brush by the big field. We had already started plans when the twins were a few days old. With all that time on his hands he could get a lot done, and with us possibly relocating for work, we could use a place to stay so we could come visit because we were not selling this property. And thus the Cabin came to be.
From piers to a platform and raising the frame
The cabin project could be a blog in itself. It was a lot of work for Mr Fantastic – digging holes for the piers (this involved a rented borer and help from a neighbor when the borer got stuck in some mud), schlepping around in snow and mud and heat, and following instructions by the excellent designer Aaron and his business Tugley Wood Timberframe. There were numerous work days with eager volunteers who wanted to learn about timberframe building. I of course was breastfeeding twins and minding my now FOUR children, and often other children whose parents came to help with the build. We mamas rotated out so I got to help with the cabin as well. Looking back, it seems to have gone quickly but I also recall that the project was far more complicated than I had imagined – I had suggested a yurt originally – but the result is truly lovely and very substantial. Timberframe construction has a long history worldwide and many examples of structures dating back to the 1700’s or earlier still stand. Strawbale insulation is effective, environmentally appropriate, and, despite what the three little pigs would have you believe, very fire resistant. The cabin turned out to be a Fantastic cozy hideaway, and hopefully will remain so for years to come.
Fiercely and Cleverly on 2nd floor with strawbale walls below, lots of straw bales, machine to mix clay, Poppa covered in clay + clay dust
So over at least a year we had several work days for the raising of the frame, placing the bales, mudding the walls (which happens in 3 stages), and other group work. In-between Poppa did many other jobs such as building the floors, roofing, and prepping for the groups. Later jobs were setting the windows, putting blown cellulose for insulation in the roof, installing and finishing the floors, and putting the final clay coating on the walls. The first year we would stay in the cabin when visiting, but more accurately we were in a tent inside the cabin since the windows were covered only with a tarp. After that, it became a nicer and nicer home away from home. Here are some more recent pics: