Cabin tour

This won't take long. Our house is basically a kitchen with some sleeping quarters attached. So to sum up a year of work into one blogpost. This is the best I've got.

Yes, we love living in the house. Yes, we are SO glad to not live in a trailer anymore. We're finally getting into a new family routine. Spring has been so beautiful here in our little valley. 

Now that the building is over, we're on to phase 2. We're planning a big ole garden and we're a tad late, but have some healthy starts going. The other big element in phase 2 is to take a swing at raising some livestock in the hopes to provide all the meat for the family. We'll start with some pigs and poultry this Spring and hope to supplement with a deer (harvested, not raised) and a cow in the pasture as the year goes on. This will be an experiment and we may very well decide to never do it again. But you don't know until you try, right?!

I've been really surprised by the amount of people who have reached out to ask about the process of building one's own home. I've been more than happy to share my fresh experience from the past year. All the way down to the expense sheet! 

For those who are interested in the construction details, you can read back through the Cabin Life category. `


I could be living a cramped, untidy life with 2 loud kids in a perpetually broken old travel trailer while my house is 2 months behind schedule. 

Or, it could be a special, challenging chapter of life when we soak up the time we have with eachother. When we grow closer, and learn what we want out of the next chapter of life. 

It's just perspective. Either way I love lazy Sundays. 


Month 9

Ok, so we're pushing 9 months since we broke ground on this house. I'm sure there is a gestational metaphor in there somewhere. Considering that my goal was to move in by Christmas, it's safe to say that I'm ready to be done! We had a nice little Christmas morning under a cedar tree in the house. That was a fun surprise for the boys!

I'm still really enjoying the process though, especially the projects I've been working on these past couple weeks. 

Here's where we're at….

The plumbing is totally wrapped up. After much consideration we decided to add a water softener. It's not that we didn't want one, we had just hoped to get by without one. With this well water, that was not an option. Since we have a grey water system, that complicates things a little. The salt that is added to the water in the softening process can have negative effects on the soil over time. But we did find that you can use potassium instead of sodium for water softening, which is fine for the soil. But, of course, it's much more expensive. We're going to have to feel that one out. 

Word to the wise. Be wary of vintage, oddball size plumbing. After this bathroom sink debacle, I'm not surprised that it took me two weeks to find the right size fittings to get this old tub connected. It wasn't a big deal, just frustrating! 

We also have all the woodwork finished and painted. We designed the house with white walls in mind. When the 1x8 pine was going up, everyone was really shocked when we told them we were going to paint it all. It almost gave us second thoughts, but now that it's all white we're glad we stuck with it. It's so bright and open. 

We used a solid color wood stain product on the shiplap walls. It's essentially a whitewash. On the cabinets and trim we did a tough enamel called Cabinet Coat. I'm such a believer in good quality paint. Painting sucks as it is, and having cheap paint makes it even worse. After painting the inside of the camper with a nice paint, I've been so impressed with how durable it is. I was pretty happy with the finish on the cabinets and doors with this Benjamin Moore enamel from Spectrum Paint here in OKC.  We've had our pine 1x12s inside acclimating for a couple months. I'm so ready to get those down so I can stop tripping over them!

So "the widow maker" scaffolding is down, and we're started on the floors. I'm hoping to have them down by this weekend, then I can move on to the thing I've been looking forward to the most. The hearth! I stoked to see how it comes out!

Thanks for tracking along with us! 




So we're finally on to some of the fun stuff!

Here's what we've been working on since my last update...

I've got out new super duper tankless gas water heater installed. I totally nerded out on the research and went back and forth before I decided on a Rheem exterior 7.5GPM model. This one mounts securely to the outside of the house, since space is at a premium it was a nice benefit. I can't wait to fire it up!

We also made the final decision on our wood stove. This may have been a little bit of a splurge, but my Dad still has his grandmother's old wood I was thinking of this as a family heirloom. Not to mention it's going to be the sole source of heat and I didn't want to have any regrets here. After lots of forum lurking and talking with some old timers, we decided on a Lopi Endeavor. It's one of the most energy efficient wood stoves made and will heat our little house easily. Especially since we are so well insulated. You can see what we're going for in this Norman Rockwellesqe product shot of the stove. It looks pretty classic, but it's a cadillac when it comes to features. We'll be putting this bad boy on a hearth made of river rocks from a stream in the Sierras. Which just so happened to be where I was standing when we decided to embark on this crazy endeavor. 

Moving on...

We got the exterior all painted. Now that the house is white and the roof is galvanized, it's super "reflective" on a sunny day. We'll probably just be a small white spot on Google maps...


We also committed to doing the greywater system that has been keeping me up nights for the past few months. I've been reading and designing this thing in my head for so long. I even called the guy who literally wrote the book on greywater recycling, Art Ludwig. It's a little bit of a gamble because of our clay soil, but I've made allowances for the low perk rate. We didn't set out to build a totally green home...but as we've gone through this design and building process we've found that often times the "green building" options just make so much more sense. A septic tank is upwards of $5k. This system cost about $200 in materials and $150 rental of the embarrassingly tiny excavator shown here. Our plan is to use all the water from our shower, washing machines and sinks to irrigate an orchard of fruit trees. The site we chose is perfect for this simple system. Here's a few shots of the carnage...

We got the place insulated with an open cell polyurethane spray foam. It's a pretty amazing process. The house is really tight now. Just closing the doors and windows after work in the evening keeps the house warm all night. Which is nice when you come back in on a chilly morning! 

The interior is coming along. We we started dreaming about this we hoped to have white wood walls throughout the interior. After putting some numbers together we ruled this out because tongue and groove pine would have been close to $10k....much less than sheetrock. Once our design was finalized and I figure the time and high cost of installing the drywall on our cathedral ceilings, it started to look like a compromise. We didn't really want the look of uniform drywall and since it was going to cost so much to have it installed, we ruled it out. I called my guy Daryl at the lumber yard I've been working with and haggled a little. We ended up getting enough 1x8 #3 pine to do the interior for just under $4k. The only catch was that we had to mould a shiplap profile into every plank...twice! Sure it added a little work to to job, and after moulding and installing almost 4500 linear feet of this stuff I can say I STILL like it much better than metal roofing. Thats including the broken finger...still better.

If anyone has any use for a truckload of pine shavings, hit me up. This would be a goldmine for a gerbil enthusiast.

One other thing we're saving money on...scaffolding. It looks alot like the set of Waterworld in there. Maybe not OSHA approved. 

We want to give a big thanks to my brother Kaleb and my friends Mckinney and Jason. I've probably kept them from a lot of time on the river with this project, but we'll make up for it! 

Stove pipe or lightning rod?

If this looks high to you, you're right. We had to run 14' of double wall stove pipe up due to the 12/12 pitch of our roof. I'm starting to realize why builder quit doing steep pitches. It really affects every aspect of the building process. Glad it's done though. I'm so "stoked" to fire up our new wood stove for the first time.   

See what I did there?  


One giant puzzle.

I've never really been a puzzle person. I think we started one on a snowy day once. We said we would leave it out on the dining room table, like grandparents would do, until we finished it. That didn't happen. I got tired of looking at it and put it away 2 days later. Building this house is much like that for me. Except instead of reaching for pieces on the table (in this metaphor the missing puzzle piece is a sink drain for an old sink), they might be at a Lowes 45 minutes away. On a bad day Lowes won't have it, so you'll have to go to a specialty plumbing store with rude, completely unhelpful employees who laugh at you. Now that you're in a really bad mood, and forgot to eat lunch….as a last resort you'll drive back across town to even fancier, snobbier "plumbing" "showroom" who has exactly what you need…. for $385! Does that sound like a good time or what?

We found this sink on Craigslist. I'd actually gone to buy a claw foot tub but bought this instead. At $50 I thought it was a steal. 


It was in serviceable shape. The trap was rusted out, but no rust had started to come through the porcelain finish yet, which is a good sign. I put it in storage and forgot all about it. Now that we're finishing the plumbing and planning the placement of our fixtures, I figure it was a good time to pull it out and replace the trap so we can use it in the bathroom. Turns out the drain hole is 2 7/8"… smaller than your normal sink drain. So I turned to google and learned they're used as mop sinks in restaurants. These sinks are selling for $800! The bad news is that the one part I need, the trap, was $380. As much as I love this sink, I don't see myself spending that money so I can have an industrial sized cast iron trap to spit mouthwash in. 

Thats when it's good to have a grinder on hand. We ever so carefully sliced about 5/8" off the bottom flange and VOILA the standard drain which costs a grand total of $12 fit like a glove!

I win!


The past couple weeks have been good. The nice weather has really helped! Here's what we have finished recently...

The roof! This was a long time coming. We finally finish all the trim and got it looking presentable. I can't tell you how glad I am that part is over. We tapped the rockies after that job. 

We trenched the main water line and the main electrical service line. That was fun. That machine is like a chainsaw for the earth. 


My government electrical engineer buddy Jason put his training to some actual use on the electrical system and helped us get the panel heated up. Katie even got in on the action and wired in a couple of plugs! Glad to say our electrical is totally done now. 

We also made some good headway on plumbing. All the supply plumbing is stubbed out and ready for cabinets and we're about 80% done with the drain plumbing. I'll have a lot more work to do our gray water recycling system next month. I'm still designing that in my head with the help of a couple library books.

We also got our well pump dropped today so now we have water. Next week we'll have the insulation sprayed in, the flu pipe for the wood stove will get installed and we'll hopefully get the exterior painting finished. I'm eager to move inside to the shiplap walls and the cabinets and trim! As they say in Game of Thrones…. "winter is coming." 

wind and water

Had a hallmark kinda trip with our buddies the McCarty's to the Newport Folk Festival. Seriously saw the majority of my top 20 favorite musicians; no hyperbole. It was awesome. We were so musically spoiled that we got up and left while Jeff Tweedy was doing new solo stuff with his 18 year old son…just cause we were ready for dinner. Under normal circumstance I'd probably drop whatever to go see that at Cains or wherever.


Being back in a sailing culture like RI, there are sailboats everywhere. People were just anchored off the shore of the festival jamming to Connor Oberst. Some serious boat lust. I decided I'm making a new family tradition of sunrise sailing every other Sunday before church. Yea it's early. Especially when I don't get home till 1 or 2 from weddings on Saturday, but it's totally worth it. And when it's 100 degrees by 10am, drinking coffee in 10 kts of 75 degree wind feels pretty damn good.  We started a couple weeks ago, it's glorious. 

house-less but not homeless

We sold our house. We sold what felt like most of our stuff. It really turned out to be just some of our stuff. We had more stuff than we thought. The point is we are in this thing pretty deep now.  We're in the camper full time now and I'm totally adapted after a week. I think the long term living in the camper with the children will be the true test. We know it's not permanent, so we're looking at is as an experiment. A lot has happened in the last month. I'm looking forward to making some big progress on the cabin in the coming weeks. 

I think the boys will miss the house, but there are a lot of woods and meadow to be explored where we're going. We took a couple photos. Just for memories. 


I've been scrambling around on this steep roof for a week trying to get the underlayment down for the metal roof. It's taking me back to my rock climbing days in college. 


Pretty much my favorite tool to date. 


Our loft bedroom view. 


The payoff. 

Quickly now...

I've been called overly ambitious. Which is really just a nice way to say unrealistic and impatient. This is the speed at which things played out in mind when I'd started to think about building this cabin. Even though we're way behind and it can be super stressful, it's really fun to see things move this fast. We brought in a framing crew that my Dad uses a lot and they did a great job. They got all this up in 2 days. I had to leave for shoots after than and of course needed my camera, so this time lapse doesn't' show the completion of the porches or roof.  It does show Dad, Kaleb and I working until 11:30 to set the huge porch post so the framers could keep working the next day. We could only afford to have them there for 2 days so we made sure they didn't have any hiccups! Now they they're done and I'm doing everything myself from here in progress has slowed to a crawl...but at least my labor is free!

Full on chaos.

We're down to it now. That last couple weeks before we move into the camper. The garage sale was a huge success. We made about $3k! That's enough to cover the roofing materials on the cabin. We sold about 80% of the stuff in our house and it felt great. Its hard to explain the feeling really. We plan to donate the rest once the dust settles and we can determine what we need. 

But for now we're living in a sea of boxes and tubs. It's chaos. Formless and void, but it's a means to an end. 



Katie and I realized the other day that we've yet to really explain exactly whats going on with us online. We've had so many personal conversations about it, but I thought we should take a minute to share what this next chapter of life is going to look like for us as a family. 

We're calling it our "life edit". 

It really started last year when we basically moved to Dallas for a month for Fischer's heart surgery. We left our house in the care of my brothers and really didn't think about any of our possessions once while we were gone. We had other things on our mind and heart. After Fish was released to come home, we came back and had a pretty rough couple of months. Fischer had to be constantly attached to an oxygen compressor, we were exhausted and emotionally fried. It was hard. Eventually we rested, he went in for a catheter procedure that opened up one of his pulmonary arteries, which allowed him to breathe at 100% by himself. The very next day after his Docs gave us the green light, we packed the car and headed our on a cross country camping trip, hopping from National Parks and ending up in California with friends. 

It's hard to explain the feeling I had when we drove out of OKC that morning. My family was together with no plans other than to camp somewhere in Santa Fe. That trip was amazing and completely restorative. Again we noticed that, when we returned we hadn't thought of our house or the house full of possessions we'd collected over 10 years of marriage even ONCE.

Dont' get me wrong. We really like our house. Infact it is a great source of pride for us. Even when Katie and I were dating we'd always talk about renovating an old house someday. I grew up on This Old House and New Yankee Workshop. For her, I think it was more of a Ryan Gosling in the Notebook thing. The point is, it was a bucket list thing for us. We spent 5 years and way too much money improving this place and we do really enjoy it. But we were starting to realize what was really a priority for us. Freedom was what made us feel good. The freedom to roam around Yosemite for a couple extra days, or to take a new highway across New Mexico. 

When we came home we started to settle into a routine. Fish was improving and Gavin started school just a couple blocks from the house. We also started looking for a patch of land with my family. Mom and Dad were ready to get out of the city, and for the first time since I left the farm in 2000 for college, I was getting tired of living in the city. We looked everywhere but finally found a nice spot in the hills of Arcadia, Ok.

Our plan was to build our dream farmhouse, maybe 2000 sq ft. We looked and looked, and couldn't find any plans that small. The smallest house plan we liked was 2500 sq ft. With the garage it was going to be kinda huge. We were excited, but we couldn't figure out what exactly we were going to do while we were building our dream house. We'd have to sell our current house to get a building loan that big so that would leave us with nowhere to live. 

We started researching the Tiny House movement. Thats a YouTube rabbit hole that will devour you. So many cool stories and lifestyles there. I kept hearing this weird term "mortgage free living". It didn't really compute. We kicked around the idea of building a tiny house to live in during the construction of our dream house, then using the tiny house as a schoolhouse for the boys. A Tiny House can still be close to $12k, thats not a small amount of money. I didn't like the idea of having a $12k shed in the backyard. Although the Tiny House movement wasn't good for us, it sparked a conversation about possessions that led us down a road to our "life edit". The conversation(s) that took place over a couple months could basically be condensed down to "We're happiest when we're together and unburdened. We hate bills. Taking care of and paying for our stuff stresses us out sometimes" 

Then we stumbled upon minimalism. Specifically the book Everything That Remains. Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the guys that wrote this book, came to Full Circle and gave a lecture on minimalism. We were at the peak of frustration with our situation and heard so many similar stories through the book and even that night from other attendees. 

So minimalism is something we're aspiring to. It takes awhile to rid a household of excess after 10 years of unchecked consumerism. We're not lavish people, we buy our furniture at garage sales…but we tend to collect stuff. Not anymore. 

So, we ditched the dream house and decided to build a cabin in the hills. Not a tiny house, but not a dream house. Best of all, it will be paid off! Because we won't have a mortgage, I won't feel so pressured to shoot every weekend. Our hope is to travel with the camper (the camper we'll be living in together after we sell the house) for a few weeks at a time between busy weddings times of the year. 

Here are a few photos of our progress on the cabin so far. It's about 1200 sq ft at the moment. The boys have a bedroom, we have a loft and the rest is open living space with 20 ft cathedral ceiling. Pretty simple. 


As our first real act as minimalists, we'll be moving into this after we sell the house. We parked it just up the hill from the building site so I can work day and night. How convenient!