Summer of transitions: JUNE

wheelwell transition

One of the many transitions I dealt with this summer: the space between the sheathing and the wheel well.

This summer has been intense. Many significant life changes and lots of activity on the tiny house front as I tried to hit some self-imposed deadlines. Way too much stress, and the blog has suffered as a result. But now I’m catching my breath again and realizing a major update is in order. As I pulled photos to include, I realized that the update was going to be excessive even by my epic post standards, so I’m breaking it down into three separate entries. This one covers the month of June. July and August to follow shortly.

For those of you not familiar with my story, the quick background is that I started building a tiny house in Oregon while still living in California. I’ve spent the last year traveling back and forth doing discrete building stints. I originally thought I would move my house down to the Bay Area while I continued at my job as a grant and project manager for the Coastal Conservancy, a state agency where I’ve been for the last 25 years. However, as I got deeper into the process of building, it jumpstarted a whole re-evaluation of where I was in my life and where I wanted to be. I was about to turn 50, I wanted out of the city and the constraints of my desk job, and I really wanted to get back to my native Oregon, closer to nature and family. While normally I wouldn’t be able to live off the tiny pension I would get with early retirement, the low expenses of the tiny house should make it possible for me to piece together an alternative lifestyle I hadn’t thought possible. I’ll still need to work some (I’m retiring from state service, not retiring altogether), but by having my basic needs covered, I have much more flexibility in what I choose to do and how I incorporate my work life with the rest of my life.

All of those life changes and transitions happened this summer. It’s been a crazy time: I was simultaneously making several 12-hour trips up to either build or move belongings, transferring major work projects to new staff, cleaning out and organizing work files, saying my goodbyes to the places I’ve lived and the dear friends I’ve worked and played with for the last 25 years, coming to grips with leaving and starting over in a familiar but new place and a much different lifestyle, learning the ropes of life on a blueberry farm, getting my head around the idea of “retiring” (and all the endless bureaucratic forms that entailed!), building new friendships and connections in my home-to-be, packing up and cleaning my apartment, and actually moving and getting settled in with all that requires. On top of this, I set myself a goal of finishing the exterior of my house so that by the end of August I could move it out to it’s initial parking spot behind the barn and spend my 50th birthday night in it.

These next three posts chronicle some of that experience, as seen primarily from a tiny house perspective. Looking over the photos, I realize that in some cases I was too busy living to get pics of key moments and friends so there are some missing events. I also noticed how much we tend to only photograph the good times (of which there were many in the midst of all the chaos). What you don’t see in these posts are the agonies of indecision about how to proceed with the next step, the many months of elevated cortisol levels from too much stress, the pouring sweat from climbing up and down ladders in 100 degree weather, the few times I broke down in tears of frustration when things broke or didn’t go together as planned or deadlines passed unmet, the sore muscles, late nights, and utter exhaustion. But then, really, who wants to look at those photos? Just know that those untaken pics really should be part of this to balance what appears to be a perfectly graceful handling of major life changes. Lesson: social media never really tells the full story.  Continue reading

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Tassajara, twigs & ten tiny thoughts

tassajara gate 2014

Entrance gate to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Zenshinji means “Zen Heart-Mind Temple”.

This is another epic post that interweaves several themes lately on my mind: visceral and spiritual design, pursuing passion, connectedness, wabi sabi, reflection, simplicity and, as always, art, nature and transformations. If you are designing or about to start construction on a tiny house, and are a hurried and pragmatic sort, skip down to the 10 tiny thoughts section; otherwise, come take a meditative stroll with me and see why Tassajara has been such a formative part of my tiny house journey…

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Leaves, sneeze and at least the eaves blossom

red pie cherry buds

Burgeoning pie cherry blossoms outside my future front porch

pencil poised
nothing on the paper
but cherry petals

~ Jane Reichhold

I love the word burgeon. I use it a lot in reference to my growing tiny house. It means to bud, sprout, put forth, develop. It originates from the late 1200s, Middle English for bud or plant shoot, deriving from the Latin word burra – wool or fluff, presumably from the down covering certain buds. To me it also represents imminent potential and those powerful forces of nature that make all things come into their own.

My recent sixth building stint was both a revel in a full spring blossom riot and a lesson in accepting that everything must take its natural time and course. You can’t hurry a bud. And sometimes you are your own bud. And sometimes you just have to be patient with yourself.

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Meet Dee Williams: The Big Tiny book tour & upcoming PAD workshops in the Bay Area and beyond

Big-Tiny-Intro-Block

Dee Williams’ book, The Big Tiny, is available April 22nd – Earth Day!

To my Bay Area friends interested in tiny houses – Dee Williams will be in town twice in May! On May 4th, she will be reading from her new book, The Big Tiny, at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, and on May 17th she will be teaching a one-day tiny house workshop. This is a great opportunity to meet one of the big pioneers in the Tiny House Movement. Who knows, you might just get so inspired your life could radically change (not that I know anything about that – ha!)

The Big Tiny book launch and tour

Take a Dee Tour and shake up what you thought a life should be: Dee Williams kicks off her national book tour on Earth Day next week in Washington D.C. To read about her book, see her tour schedule, or order a copy, visit The Big Tiny page on the PAD website.

PAD Tiny House Workshops

PAD One Day Tiny House Workshop

Dee teaching a tiny house workshop

Dee will be teaching a one-day Intro to Tiny Houses workshop in the Bay Area on May 17th. If you are starting to think seriously about building a tiny house, this is a great opportunity to learn about technical and design issues that will help you be better prepared. Visit PAD’s workshop page for more information about this class, as well as the two-day workshop in Portland at the end of May.

NOTE: The early registration discount for the Bay Area class ends April 21!

Dee in the New York Times

The New York Times just did a great feature on Dee today with wonderful photos of her tiny house. Check it out here.

 

I’ll also be at the two Bay Area events along with other tiny house enthusiasts. Hope to see you there!

 

UPDATE:  I just learned that the Bay Area workshop will be at The Crucible in Oakland – very cool. There will be a mixer after the workshop for the general public (5-7pm), so come join us! I’ll share more information on this as it becomes available.

 

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Telling our stories: radical acts of inspiration

journals

Naj Haus journals

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.

~ Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living

I’ve never kept a journal. There was that little red one with silver gilt lettering I got when I was seven or eight. I kept it around for awhile because I was fascinated that it had an actual lock with a key I could hide away. I scribbled a couple deep, earth-shattering secrets in it but couldn’t be bothered after that, leaving pages and pages accusingly blank. The key got lost. I made several attempts later in high school and college but just felt way too self-conscious writing about myself. I also lack discipline. I decided I was not born to write. Continue reading

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Why tiny housers should see the movie Tracks

tracks_banner-2

Tracks opens in the US late October/early November, 2014 (release date delayed).

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Atlanta for a friend’s cd release party (check out the band Roxie Watson: “When you have a group of women who are natural story-tellers, who soothe their aggressive musical chops with beautiful harmonies, temper their rock-n-roll sensibilities with an understanding of Appalachian tradition, and come off as a little bit Keith Richards, a little bit Bill Monroe, you get Roxie Watson.” – Lisa Love, Georgia Music Magazine.)

While I was there, I was telling them about how my journey to tiny houses was influenced by Robyn Davidson’s camel trek across Australia (On camels and tiny houses) and the funny coincidences that have arisen from that (On camels, cameras, courage and kindness). This morning, up early due to jetlag, I got to wondering when the movie based on her memoir, Tracks, was due to open. I found the trailer and was very happy to see that, for the most part, the scenes and images look very true to what I pictured in my mind’s eye upon reading the National Geographic article back in 1978 when I was thirteen, and my many times reading Robyn’s book:

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On becoming

warm within naj haus

looking out from within

Something strange happened on my most recent build stint. My house became real.

I had thought it was real before, as the walls went up and the roof sheathing and layers of foam went on, but I was wrong. It took up space but it only had the faintest of heartbeats, personality, soul. It had vacant eyes and a bald purple head. I loved it anyway.

But this time, with only a little prodding from me, it came into its own. It now has a full roof and windows and a crazy smile. It’s still without siding and a door, but now there is a definite sense of interior and exterior, a defiant assertion of self. I feel like my child has just sprouted a wispy beard and gotten a driver’s license; it’s both amazing and a little terrifying.

The last few weeks have been a time of big changes and a girding of loins. Of peering through the dark. Of confronting fears and planting seeds and taking leaps of faith. As I look back on my fifth build stint and the pictures I took, there’s a preponderance of grays and black, of clouds and drizzle, of cold metal and granite rocks. Of shadows, winter twilight and aluminum crutches.

But burgeoning beneath all of this are oranges and reds, warm light and glowing wood, budding friendships, camaraderie and familial love, and the promise of spring and of becoming, bubbling up like lava, inevitable, molten, raw.

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Categories: construction, thoughts on tiny | 8 Comments

Designing viscerally

meerkats

Meerkats on the alert, just like your amygdala. Credit: Sara & Joachim, Wikimedia Commons

“My advice for designing your tiny house? Follow your gut.

There are many valid approaches to design such as the pragmatic (function) or the aesthetic (form), but these tend to be rational processes using the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of your brain.

Here’s the thing: if you want to live happily in your tiny house over the long haul, you need to tap into your amygdala. That’s the more primitive part of your brain that triggers your immediate visceral, or gut, reactions to sensory input.”

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The Introvert and the Tiny House

the introvert

The Introvert herself.

Recently there was an interesting thread of comments on Tiny House Talk’s post on John Labovitz’s house truck that highlighted some classic introvert versus extrovert perspectives. The arguments supporting John’s choice of living arrangement and lifestyle mirrored my feelings exactly, and bolstered some ideas I’ve been mulling over the last year regarding introverts and tiny houses.

So for all the introverts thinking of living tiny, I offer you this valentine and validation.

Bucking decades of negative labels, there is a burgeoning movement to acknowledge the value of introverts and the gifts we bring to the world. I have a theory that there are strong parallels with the rise of the tiny house movement. Based on the common themes I read on tiny houser blogs, I rather suspect that tiny houses innately appeal to introverts.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t extroverts living tiny – clearly there are (though as we will see, introversion is not always obvious on the outside). I just wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a high ratio of introverts to extroverts within the tiny house community. Agree? Disagree? Read on, then share your thoughts.

Why is this important? I’ve found that the more I understand my own nature, the better my tiny house design has become. I’m fairly certain that those who take the time to look inward during the design process are more likely to be happy with living tiny in the long run, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. There are big differences in how each interact with the world, and how they like to spend their energy. If you are considering living tiny, take some time to figure out what this means to you and the design of your house. This post delves into what I’m learning as I go through that process myself.

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Categories: thoughts on tiny | 5 Comments

Catching up with Naj Haus at Tiny Homes, plus big love to my peeps

tinyhomes banner

TinyHomes.com

Tiny Homes.com invited me to be a regular monthly contributor to their new tiny house site and my first post, Catching up with Naj Haus, just launched today. It’s a compilation of excerpts from some of my earlier posts, so if you’re new to Naj Haus, it’s a quick way to get up to speed on my tiny house journey. :)

Tiny Homes.com was started by Lina Menard and Kenny Bavoso to connect people interested in tiny houses. By gathering a multitude of contributors, they hope to share a wide perspective from people who are designing, building and living in tiny houses. They are also growing it into a resource hub for tiny house workshops and events around the country. Go check them out!

Putting this post together was a nice opportunity for me to see how far I’ve come over the last year, from my first tiny dream beginnings through all the experiences I’ve had along the way. I would like to once again give a big, deep, heartfelt thanks to Dee, my original inspiration, mentor and comic relief, and also to my other friends at PAD, Joan (and Rita) and Lina, all of whom I’ve known just over a year but it feels like much longer; to all of the rockstar PAD work party participants who got three of my walls up so cheerily; to Derin and Ben at Shelter Wise who are making sure I will stay warm and dry under my stellar roof; Steffen and all my other friends and neighbors who have donated expertise and wood and an extra hand or two or three; to all of the other tiny housers and bloggers  and readers out there who have become part of my tribe, sharing their knowledge and stories; to Trish for allowing me to take time off from work to do this crazy thing; to my Bay Area (and elsewhere) friends who have cheered me on and been patient and understanding as I’ve been largely missing in action; and most especially to my dear family for being so loving and supportive in ways too numerous to count.

There is no way I could have gotten this far without all of you. You’re so awesome.

Here’s to another year of adventure and friendship (and hopefully a completed house)!!!

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