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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cabin Fever

Do you get it sometimes? Cabin fever? I don't mean the claustrophobic feeling hermits and hunters and pioneers get after being "holed up" in a cabin all winter. I’m using the term as its own antithesis—the longing to be “trapped” in an old trapper’s cabin with nothing but the simplest necessities and a cracklin’ fire behind a fieldstone hearth. Not necessarily alone…but temporarily away from all the dailiness of life.
A few weeks back when I was writing about “painting by numbers,” a fellow blogger (whom I know only through kind comments) shared this original painting she entitled “Early Snow.” It reminds me of my “House in Winters Hold.” That’s what I mean by cabin fever…the need for a cabin get-away. Imagine somehow spending a long weekend in a cabin like that far from all that waits beyond the drifting snow.

Unfortunately, I do not own a cabin… nor better yet have a family cabin shared by those who value its meaning. So… about five winters ago I got that “must-do-something-ambitiously-creative” feeling and decided to build a log cabin in my unfinished basement.

[I had done something similar before. In Iowa, I knew of an old round barn that had collapsed of its own weight. The owner's children had graduated from my school, and he let me have the weathered barn doors, shake shingles, and planks to “finish” my basement. It was a perfect low maintenance, rustic, backdrop for my collection of old farm tools, saws, etc. That “basement barn” is still in that house on Berkshire to this day. Iowa is a good place for such décor, but Michigan calls for something a little more “northwoods.”]

I had been mulling over this cabin idea for two years. My biggest challenge was choice of “medium” for the logs. I knew I did not want to invest actual money in real logs or even “half-cut log siding.” That stuff is pricy. I considered 12' carpet tubes, but I was concerned about the fire hazard of cardboard, and they were too “perfect” when stacked. Logs for a cabin have to be stackable, but they can't be perfect.

Then one fall day I was looking out my office window as scores of 8 foot long blue “noodles” were being hauled to the dumpster. Years before, the school had acquired the McDonalds “Playland” from the old Muskegon Mall before it was torn down, but it came with no assembly instructions, and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put the playland together again, so… the pile of huge plastic parts sat sadly out of sight beyond the school yard. High winds were constantly blowing the foam “pipe padding” toward the new playground where the kids at recess would lovingly use them to clash and swing and chase and otherwise beat each other. This was harmless fun, but it looked a bit more Medieval than suited some parents, so it was decided to pitch them (the tubes not the parents).

As I walked to my car, I saw the blue tubes in and beside the dumpster and wondered—"Could these be my logs?" By this time they were pretty well roughed up with rips and holes and chunks of missing foam—every imperfection was perfect! I loaded the blue tubes into the back of my van (it took three trips). I stored them under the covered trampoline until I had time to stir the still-bubbling idea.

Inside our emptied double garage, I cut the foam tubes lengthwise and one at a time forced them onto a long 4” piece of black drain tile. This opened the tubes up and made them larger “logs.” I then opened the garage door for ventilation and took my hand-held propane torch and melted “wood grain” and other imperfections into the surface of the fire-proof foam. This was a free-flow-anything-goes process that gave the “shrinking-melting” surface of the tubes a harder log-like finish. Anyplace I wanted a knothole, I just left the blue flame of the torch for about two seconds. Each log took about two minutes to “melt,” AND as a double bonus, the heat made the foam tubes stay open as bigger C-shaped hollow logs.
Once I had a pile of blue “logs,” I suspended ¼ inch 4x8 OSB board from the 2x8 plate between the basement’s cement block wall and the floor joists above. On the OSB board I put a lower lip and an upper shelf. In between I affixed sawn 1” bands of the black drain pipe about two feet apart for each log to “snap on” in stacking sequence. It worked like a patented design (which I’ve actually considered). When I was done with the attachment stage, the wall was still a dark sort of Smurf” blue. Unlike some home improvement projects, this one involved lightweight work and I rarely needed to call for help, but whenever my wife and girls came downstairs, they just looked at the increasingly “committed” walls and said, “I hope you know where this is going because it still looks pretty blue to us.”

I then took that “expanding foam-in-a-can” stuff and injected it behind the logs where they snapped-on to the black drain tile clips. That stuff was perfect for this task; it wraps around everything and then solidifies. It sometimes expanded through the cracks in the logs—not a problem. I just ran a thin bead of it along all the cracks as “chinking” then wiped it down. (I also used stucco as chinking.)The two metal support posts in the center of the basement were also sheathed in foam logs to look like tree-posts with bark. (The bark was also made from “canned foam.” I just spread it all over them and as it puffed up, I pressed it down, and it took on a bark-like texture.) After all this, the long log wall still looked blue.
(There are pictures of these stages, but I don't know where they are.)

The tricky part of painting the logs was no concern. I was not relying on my one-shot “paint by number” experience from 1967, but rather on years of “set design” for the countless school plays I had directed in a former life. I had done some similar painting for the seven dwarves house. The painting was actually the fun part. Gradually the blue foam became convincing logs—right down to the last knot hole. Most people who see them for the first time have to touch them to know they're the same foam tubes their kids played on before the mall was torn down. The two support posts have also been sheathed in foam logs to look like tree-posts with bark.

My basement cabin was a two-winter project. I did one half of the basement one winter and the other half the next. The end with the window and snow shoes is actually a sliding door, behind which is the treadmill and other exercise equipment. (We slide the door open and swivel the TV toward it.) There’s also a ping-pong table, fold-away bed, and lots of other stuff stored back there behind a curtain. Beside the foosball table is another larger storage room that serves as an attic. Not pictured here is the enclosed laundry room. The white walls and lower portions of the logs walls are stucco. Because the tubes were free, I have less than $300 in the entire project (not counting the furniture, etc.). You know the Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast? I'd sometimes belt out,"I use antlers in all of my decorating..." as I worked down there.
The ceiling is not finished but covered in black, non-flammable landscaping cloth to make it “disappear.” Accent lights and hidden “rope light” around the perimeter shelf (full of antiques, old toys, and “cabiny things.”) give the room a warm sense of “someplace else.” The basement looks nothing like the rest of the house—it’s a surprise to first-time guests. The kids love to hang out down there. I sometimes "go to the cabin" to take a nap or watch a ball game. My niece, Aimee, who came for the weekend, is sleeping down there in the antique Jenny Lind feather bed right now. My girls are afraid of "real dead things" so they got me the faux bear rug last summer. It looks like it came out of a cartoon, but if it were real...they'd never step downstairs.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? All those logs are made from playland pipes? What's your next "creatively ambitious" project? I was reading a few blogs down. I didn't understand that birthday story until the end, and then when I read it again it made me feel bad. Alice is obviously spoiled by parents who don't have a clue what she is really turning out like.

17/2/07 10:58 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

I am flattered that you used my oil painting in your post about cabin fever. I have to tell you, your basement log cabin project is one for the books. You need to get your story about it published in some DIY magazine. How clever you are, sir!

I have experienced both kinds of cabin fever.

I remember one January years ago when our children were in grade school and we lived in the country. It was an especially tough January weather wise. The country grade school was closed most of that month which meant the children and I were cooped up in the house all that time. It was fun at first. We baked lots of cookies and played lots of games. That got old after a while though. Cabin fever set in, cookies became a turn-off, games became a bore, and all of us started longing for better weather and a return to our normal routine.

I have experienced the other kind of cabin fever, too, when I would feel a need to get off by myself and spend some time with my thoughts or a good book. I remember when our children were still at home and I would try to manage some well-deserved and much needed private time for myself. (A mother needs private time now and then.) With a cup of coffee in hand, I would sneak up to my bedroom to be by myself and read or merely think. Well, in no time they (the children and the dogs) would start looking for me. First one then another would show up until all three children plus the two dogs were hanging out in my bedroom and private time was no more. That's what I got for being such a popular member of the family.

17/2/07 11:42 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

What an amazingly creative project. When I first looked at the pictures, I thought it was a real cabin. I think I would be spending all my time down there. I had a friend in high school whose parents lived in a log cabin on the edge of a lake. I felt more at home there than I did anywhere else. What a wonderful atmosphere. Ever since then, whenever summer vacation time comes along, and everyone wants to take off for Europe, etc., I want to head for a log cabin on a lake somewhere.

You're a genius.


18/2/07 12:48 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

McDonalds playlands are made of metal pipes covered with foam tubes. I slit open those tubes and "melted them into the "C-shaped" logs. Nothing quite like this project is on my horizon, but my daughter's wedding is coming in June. I think I'll be involved behind the scenes with that.
I'm glad the "Oh, My Soul..." story made sense. I haven't much experience with that sort of writing.

I hadn't thought of a DIY article. I may look into that. Thanks for the use of your painting. Cabin fever can definitely go both ways. I just read that some people out east were without power for three days after that last ice storm. Primitive living in a house is less appealing than in a rustic cabin. My wife can relate to your trying to find "quiet time." She's a magnet for all the girls and the dog, too.

I have traveled to Isreal and Jordan and touched down in Amsterdam. My wife and I hope to go to Europe someday, but I must admit...I never get "Europe fever."
Can I use you for a reference on my MENSA ap? (http://www.mensa.org/index0.php?page=10). Just kidding. I think I fall short of their genius criteria, but I do enjoy bringing abstract ideas into reality. Writing sort of does that without the foam tubes... =)
Thank you all.

18/2/07 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew it, I knew it...you "are" an artist!! Having just been "introduced" to you thru "nitty.gritty" I couldn't be sure! But now I know it1
As for cabin fever...any woman whose been a stay at home mom, with one car and little money has an idea of what that could feel like. I once experienced it for what seemed like "eons" of time when my kid-lets were babies, toddlers and a bit beyond. Life back then seemed quite bleak with an un-supportive husband (whose come around wonderfully by now) and what I described a bit above.
Now though I do yearn, not for a cabin to recluse in, but a beach somewhere. The waves of the ocean lapping noisily at the sand beach and me lolling under an umbrella reading a really great novel. That is my idea of reclusing myself.

19/2/07 4:48 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

2nd Anon,
We know that kind of summer cabin fever, too, and here in West Michigan there are dozens of such beaches for just such lolling.
If my wife and I start imagining that, I'm afraid this will be a very long spring.
Today was the first day above 32 degrees in several weeks, but we know better than to think winter has gone.
Thanks for stopping by...

19/2/07 6:30 PM  

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