What we’re up to now

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Jeannie update, so here’s a quick one:

She’s enjoying the pasture life on the same gorgeous seven acres where we built her. Nearly four years later, everything works, nothing’s fallen apart, and we love her even more than the day we dreamed her up. While Hannah, Silvia and I are working on moving into new and even more exciting adventures, we know that Jeannie is going to remain a part of our life for a long time!

So stay tuned. 🙂 Meanwhile, if you’re curious what’s going on for us, travel here:

tuula11.wordpress.com

hannahcoopersongs.com

(Silvia has no time for the internet; fall is coming and her seasonally expanding coat needs extra grooming.)

Thanks for reading!

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A Tiny House Village for the Homeless

Today I was writing an article about Portland’s new solution to their homelessness crises, using tiny houses. Here’s what I learned:

  • Portland, Oregon has a homelessness problem that puts it in the big leagues with NYC, San Francisco, D.C. and Boston. Six per every 1,000 residents are homeless (and that’s just the official count).
  • According to the UN, housing is a basic human right. That’s not some new-fangled liberal idea, that was part of a declaration in 1948.
  • People transition out of homelessness when they have a place to call home. Duh. How is anyone supposed to face the problems that made them homeless in the first place, whether it’s addiction, mental illness, or just financial problems, when they are fighting for survival every day on the street?
  • Dignity Village in Portland has been operating since the year 2000 and they have had great success in creating community for homeless folks. That sense of community is another huge factor in helping the marginalized in our society out of their situations.

So I got curious about a Tiny House Village movement I’ve been hearing about in Ashland. I’ll be honest – I didn’t think too much of the idea when it was first proposed. Hannah and I worked so hard for our little house, and continue to do so. Would it mean as much to us if it had just been handed over?

I realized today that it doesn’t matter. In our walks around South Ashland and the rural community we live in, we see tents tucked in by the railroad tracks and under the I5 bridges. These are not the “transient” kids that hang around downtown. They are families. They look like migrants and refugees from down south (although I’m just assuming that) who would have no access to the kinds of privileges and resources that Hannah and I have received. I do know that being homeless makes it nearly impossible to find steady work, let alone think about building a permanent dwelling.

Enter the Ashland Tiny House Village project. Turns out they’ve gotten funding for their piece of land, they just need city approval to move forward. They are asking Ashland residents to sign a petition.

I did that, but don’t have much faith in petitions, so I went right to the City website and emailed the Council members directly.

Here’s the text of my email, in case you would like to use it! Feel free to amend and add on as you see fit.

 

Dear City Council Members,

If you haven’t yet explored the website of Portland’s Dignity Village (https://dignityvillage.org/), I invite you to click the link right now. Go to the About page.
Thank you! Now, imagine what such a village could do for Ashland. Rather than having homeless men, women and children camping out beneath bridges and in the parks, they could have real housing that allows them to transition to a stable life.
When I first heard of the Ashland Tiny House Village project, I was thinking some of the things you might be: They could be messy; they might encourage homelessness rather than stop it. Then I read the research and the actual experiences of cities like Salt Lake City, that has cut homelessness 90%! A big part of their strategy is housing the homeless. When homeless individuals live in a community, they find the support they need to face the challenges that caused them to be homeless in the first place.
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — adopted way back in 1948! — recognizes adequate housing as a basic human right. Tiny Houses are a beautiful and efficient way to offer this human right.
Portland is building its first City-sanctioned Tiny House village to address its massive homeless problem. We could be the first innovative small town in Oregon to do the same. Thank you for considering the request of Karen Logan and the Ashland Tiny House Group to pursue their project.

Sincerely,

Tuula Rebhahn

A Little Woo Goes a Long Way (Chinese Proverb)

About a year ago, I found a book at a yard sale and became a student of feng shui. The Chinese art/science of placement appeals to my love of space, and my attraction to what some folks around here call “woo”. Energy, crystals, earth, wind, and fire (and yeah, some 60’s soft rock).

Rose of Woo.jpg

My new shower rose.

Applying feng shui to a 140-square-foot shoe box of a house also appeals to my sense of the absurd. When we created our floor plan three years ago, I would have considered feng shui to be another thing to worry about — and it was already so overwhelming to consider how to fit everything we needed into this restricted space. Now, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have made it easier. After all, I’m sure many traditional Chinese homes weren’t that much larger. We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Oh well, I believe it’s never too late! Drawing out the Bagua, or feng shui map of the home, for Jeannie made me laugh, and it also gave me some ideas for making the space more beautiful, so I thought I would write out my thought process for you all. Enjoy.

We begin in the Gua, or feng shui zone, of water. The entry. On the physical level, it appears as a front porch and a normal sized entry door, with a small clear plastic square near the bottom where the real owner of the home enters and exits.
In feng shui this area represents your career, your life path, which is the only part of the Bagua that makes logical sense. Every time we walk out this door, we face a new day, a new challenge, a new set of decisions that might lead to success or failure. Every time we go in, we make a choice to live tiny. Whatever happens out there, it climbs the non-ADA-approved wooden steps, crosses the narrow cedar boards, and wills us to put our hand on the latch of the door, sending us home.

Now. You’ve just stepped in and suddenly you’re in the Health bagua, because this is Tiny House Feng Shui and we’re going to move through quickly. This space is defined by the space around it, and there’s not much I can say about it. You’re standing in the middle. You could go to the bathroom and pee, which is what I usually do when I get home. But more about the bathroom (trouble!) in a moment. You could go upstairs and take a nap. Either way, this is the health place, so take off your shoes and try not to leave too much mud.

Looking at the map, I see that the stairs that would lead you to the loft are in the Helpful People corner, and so is the area behind the stairs, which is basically our pantry. Oh, and the place where Silvia eats her kibble. So, it’s safe to say that if we find a lack of helpful people in our lives, they have gotten the munchies, grabbed a banana or some kibble, and headed upstairs. At least, when they’re ready to help, they’ll be well fed.

Moving into the kitchen, then, creativity zone. We must be doing well in this Bagua because we’re pretty contentedly creative. I’m sitting here writing this instead of mopping the floor in my health zone, which is probably what I should do to cure my sniffles. The only hangup with the kitchen, I feel, is that there’s mold in that vinyl window at the end. Ew. It grows on the adhesive and yes, I can spray vinegar on it, but it will always come back. It isn’t crazy or anything, just dirty-looking, and I hate dirt. So I look back at my Feng Shui book and it informs me that the element for this zone is metal. Aha! Should have sprang the extra $500 for a metal window! Lesson learned. Always consult your feng shui book before building a tiny (or any house).

Not bad, though, so far. Until! Passing invisibly through the kitchen wall, heading south, we’ve reached the Love corner. AKA, the bathroom. Here, we can find such helpful (not) feng shui features as an open drain, a hanging bucket and hose, and a bucket that collects our human waste.
Having experienced some Love challenges lately, I have set about improving this corner of my house. The book says to romance it up with some red and pink hearts, lace, etc. This sounded absolutely disgusting, so I came up with my own solution and borrowed a couple of tubes of red and white paint from my generous painter friend. Two hours and a couple of glasses of wine later – voila! A giant pink rose on the shower wall, which is made of aluminum and would probably be happier in the corner where the kitchen is. Sorry, shower, you’re stuck right there, but now at least you are wearing your preferred colors.
Other than using rose petals instead of dry leaves for the compost toilet, I’m not sure what we can do about the poop in the love corner thing. Stay tuned.

We’re over halfway there! In the middle, far wall, is the Fame & Reputation Gua, and it is entirely occupied by our new hutch/wardrobe. It’s a lovely pine cabinet which we stuff with our socks, sweaters, dresses and pants and pile with hats and gloves, with hooks for jackets and scarves coming off the sides. No wonder we’re famous for our unique senses of style. NEXT!

Prosperity & Abundance is, as far as I can tell, mostly occupied by a window. It’s a really nice window, probably the best in the house — wood, with the wind-out style casement openings and phantom screens that pull down. We scored on it at the used building supply place. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a window, so according to the Chinese, all of our prosperity and abundance is liable to drift right through. There’s probably something to fix here, like adding a mirror, but I don’t have time to do it because I have to go to work — why am I always broke?

Ah, the bay window. Jewel of the home. Jeannie’s cyclops eye. Also wood, which matches the element for this Gua, the Family/Foundations Gua. I think we’re doing alright here, despite the fact that, again, it’s a window. We sit here often, on the bench, and it does feel like a foundation place. It’s cozy because there’s also a wood stove in this Gua, which means we can burn all of the letters from family members that we don’t like.

At last! We’ve reached the last Gua. Knowledge and Wisdom is, appropriately, the site of our bookshelf. Not much else though. Sometimes we keep the ottoman there. Could we improve this area? Probably. The wisdom that I have, though, tells me not to put too much into feng shui. After all, if you’ve been pooping in your love corner for the past 2.5 years, and you’re still not divorced, you’re probably doing okay.

Recommended read: Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston (the yard sale book, and as much as I poke fun at it, I’ll probably keep it forever)

Shower Power

 

showerYou both get home late after work. You hold hands as you trudge the distance between your home and the rest of the world beneath a resplendent blanket of stars.

You walk in the door. Nothing’s changed, your partner warns you, since this morning. That means the same dirty dishes in the kitchen corner, the same pile of clothes by the closet, and a lot of crumbs on the floor in between.

You don’t care. Jeannie hugs you like she always does when you first arrive, tells you to drop your bags, and you do.
The second observation is that you’re out of water, and since it’s her turn to get some, she goes. Your one aim right now is a shower, then bed, and lucky for you the crock at the kitchen sink is still half full.

You drain this water into the teapot and light the stove, then begin to undress in stages, remembering to put the yogurt in the fridge as you remove your socks, getting distracted by the dishes that are dry in the rack and putting them away before you take off your pants.
Already the world is righting. Things are straightening up inside and outside of you. Your partner returns with the water, refills the sink, and asks if there’s anything for menstrual cramps in the puzzling array of tinctures you keep. You mix her an herbal cocktail as the pot comes to a boil and one of you – whoever happens to be closer – turns it off.
Your partner starts in on the dirty dishes as you remove the rest of your clothing, feed the cat who has recently arrived on the scene, pull a couple of burrs from her burr-collecting coat.
As you pour the hot water into the shower-bucket, a cloud of steam rising pleasantly around your face, she (your partner, not the cat) announces her intention to retire to the shed, where she ritually listens to music for an hour or two before bed.
Your goal is to be asleep in the next half hour, and you tell her so as she slips out the door. You are so exhausted.
Your hair was quite dirty so you boiled a full kettle in order to have enough water available to wash it. Now you need to fetch some cool water in order to adjust the temperature.
You step outside onto the deck and note for the first time how warm your house is, just from the sun that came out and warmed it that day. No reason to dally here in the cold – you grab the plastic jug which still has half a gallon left out of three and return to the shower. You splash the cool water into the bucket and stick your hand in to test the heat. At that moment there’s a shift. An awareness. You are no longer the subject of this story, merely the observer. It is a good feeling. You detach from exhaustion.
You don’t return the empty jug to the porch but set it near the door. No wasting time now that the shower is perfectly warm. You step over the plastic threshold and – conscious of your movements now, no longer acting on reflex, although the moves are well practiced – begin pulling the bucket up on its purple cord toward the ceiling. It takes as much strength as unravelling a garden hose hung on a wheel. In all, there’s only a gallon or so of water in there.
The bucket journeys upward, passing through the hole cut in the loft above your head. The pulley attached to the ceiling makes a pleasant creaking sound as the cord runs through it. The bucket wobbles a bit when it reaches the top. You wrap the cord around a cleat at the top of the shower stall and flip the lever at the shower head to release the flow. The hose connecting the bucket to the shower head gurgles and burps up air bubbles.
The water starts out cold from the hose and you stand aside, pulling the shower curtain closed behind you. Then you step in the slow-moving warm water. What it lacks in force it makes up for in reliability. Gravity works every time. Water always seeks a level.
Water trickles through your hair, flows down your chest water over your hips. Water travels along your legs, between your toes, to the floor, then down the drain, into the happy grass below this corner of the house, and through the soil to unknown destinations. With it goes most of what you were thinking about on the way home from work, what you did while you were at work, what anxieties and ambitions you woke up with this morning.

A new notion works its way out of your skin, encouraged by the gently trickling bath. Maybe you should write this down. Maybe you have it in you to do this before bed. Yes you will, you tell the quiet shower stall. You may or may not have forgotten to wash your hair, but there are more important things. You lower the bucket, slide open the curtain, wrap the towel around you, and open your book to the better part of your day.

Life and Death of a Tiny House

I’m sitting on my front porch watching the rain gun shoot free water across the field so that our neighbors’ horses can graze the rest of the summer away. It’s a calm, still evening. I’ll sleep well tonight in our loft and be ready to hit the deck again in the morning, do my yoga routine, make my coffee on the propane stove and sip it slowly while I browse a magazine.

It’s been quiet here on the blog because the house has been such a success we barely notice her. We keep her clean, we get rid of stuff now and then, we make small adjustments. But mostly, we focus our energy elsewhere — which was the exact plan all along.

A story in the Oregonian this week gave us pause. A young couple in Portland built their own tiny house. They parked it on their parents’ property and lived happily there. They even noted to the reporter that covered their story that they liked living close to the alley at the back of the property. It got them closer to the neighbors, made them feel more like they had a community.

It made it all the more sad that the reason they got into the paper was that one of those neighbors decided they didn’t like the arrangement. They called the city, and the city said they have to move out.

Here’s the spooky part: I googled the name of the woman in the article. Turns out she used to work with Hannah. Four years ago, they were pulling espresso shots side by side at the same Eugene coffee shop. In fact, this woman, Claire, was one of many inspirational people who got us off our own butts and out into the scary DIY world. She quit the job first, moving to Portland on a whim to launch her own coffee shop.

We didn’t keep up with her or have any idea she and her partner were building their own tiny house. Small – er, tiny – world.

Or maybe this tiny house movement is bigger than we ever could have imagined.

A few weeks ago, another couple moved to “our” property (we have ownership only in the sense that this place owns us, that we love and care for it and it cares for us). They are a few decades older than us but share similar tiny house dreams: To have freedom of movement, to have a space that they designed and built around themselves, their lives. They don’t live around here, but came because they knew the land owners and it was a place they could build. Where will they go when they’re done? No one knows.

Today a co-worker also asked me if I know of any places a person could park a tiny house. I had to shake my head, no. The truth is, we don’t know where we’ll park our tiny house — sure, it’s here now, but things could change at any time. A neighbor could complain. A change in life circumstances for our elderly benefactors could tip the apple cart. Then what?

That’s the question that’s been haunting us all week. For the past several months, we’ve been dreaming of and envisioning a more permanent home for us, our little party of four — two women, one home, one cat. Because of course it’s not just land that we need. We need a place that can grow with us, one where we can put down roots safely, or with whatever safety is offered in this temporary world.

We went for a hike on Wednesday and came home to find that one of our horsey land-mates had laid down in the sun, on a patch of grass not 25 feet from our house, and died.

She was an old horse, and we knew that her days were numbered, but we usually didn’t think about that. Who reminds themselves that death is near if they can avoid it?

That morning, I’d given old Blaze a bit of a hard time. She was napping in the sun, lying on her side, on the very patch of grass that I was trying to irrigate. I moved around her saying, “Come on, I’m thirty too, cricking and cracking when I get up, but you can do it if I can.” She followed instructions. What good is it to fight, I suppose, when you know your day has come to leave this world anyhow? Anyway, I don’t think she wanted to make her transition while getting doused with pond water every thirty seconds.

So she waited until I’d turned the water off and left for the day. When we got home, we were happy to believe that she was still napping, still in the sun, although the temperature was above 90.

When we got close enough to see the flies around her eyes I dropped my bag right there among the uneaten weeds. Hannah and I both sat for a long time, sweating in the afternoon sun. We observed her gnarled old knees, her youthful mane. Her teeth were yellowed and jutting but her jaw was muscled, the namesake streak of white on her forehead perfectly whorled. When we looked away and looked back again at her generous belly, it seemed to move, but this was just an optical illusion. Our eyes were so accustomed to watching her breathe that they couldn’t not see it happening.

I considered her body’s final resting place a final blessing to us. I always feel like the horses are guarding our house in a way, their territory is the long walk from the driveway to our door, and few take that path unless we encourage them to. It is treacherous with horse manure, but we like it that way. It keeps the riffraff out.

Of all the places Old Blaze could have picked to lie down — by the pond with the willow trees, in the shade of the chestnut tree, in her favorite dirt-bath spot, why this one? Maybe she likes what we’re doing. Or maybe she was waiting for one last apple.

I had a dream a while back that we had moved Jeannie to some vacant industrial lot on the outskirts of Eugene. It was dusty and unsecured. There were no horses. I wondered, in the dream, why were we living there? Our house was as magnificent as she’d ever been. But we weren’t happy. We didn’t feel safe.

Claire and her partner, according to the news story, are currently drifting around Portland, staying on friends’ couches. They don’t know if they’ll ever get approval from the city to move back home. Tiny houses are, after all, illegal to live in.

These days, if anyone asks me about building a tiny house, I say find a piece of land first. Make sure you can stay there for a few years. Then we’ll talk. The tiny house movement is gaining traction, and that’s great. It’s proving to people that we don’t need McMansions to be happy, that less stuff is better than more. But maybe there’s more work we need to do building the laws and the social acceptability around these small, mobile villas before we build our floors, frames and roofs.

Meanwhile, Hannah understand that our situation is impermanent, and we’re okay with that. Nothing lasts forever, not a sturdy and sweet horse, not understanding neighbors, not generous landowners. Or who knows, a forest fire might take us all out next week. In the meantime, we are incredibly grateful for what we have. I don’t know how to thank the universe for this perfect evening, for the flies tickling my arms as I write, for the water spraying into the cooling air, for the beings seen and unseen that protect us and guide us. All I know is that if I had to choose, I’d rather be safe than live in my dream house, rather have a community that I trust than a parking-space-sized footprint. All movements, whether political, artistic, or architectural, have a next phase. What’s ours? Only tomorrow’s sunrise will tell.

Smells Like Human Nature

The stench had been building for days, but it was still mostly okay to ignore it.

Our first explanation was that there was something under the house – Silvia’s lair – because surely our own people-messes could not have created such a foul odor.

Hannah’s good at killing flies. I’m good at procrastinating. Tomorrow! I will put pants and gloves on and crawl under the house and find the source of the decay! And so the situation lingered…literally.

Last night I had pants on anyway and then our friends called to say they would be a few minutes late to meet us for our July 4th night hike, so I decided it was a good time to read my book.

The book is about feng shui. The author really goes on and on about the importance of not having any stagnant, dead energy around your house.

So I put the damn book down and headed into the Lair via Jeannie’s northwest tire. Ha! Found it – a small, fuzzy heap of bones and fur.

Unfortunately, after extracting the carcass with a piece of cardboard, we discovered it to be far too dry and desiccated to be breeding flies and making our house smell like death. Still, I harbored a tiny hope that we would return home from our hike to find our house smelling fresh and cedary as usual.

That was not the case, but a cool night has a way of calming both rot and ambition. We slept well and the next morning found ourselves returned to a pleasant state of denial about the whole mysterious affair.

I worked from home today, and as the sun beat down on our little abode, the dead smell cooked away until it could no longer be ignored, or tolerated. It was even keeping me from procrastinating, so I started poking around in the house. Perhaps Silvia’s victim had been alive when she brought it home, then found some unlikely place to die peacefully?

Our little house has stairs that double as cubbies, and while this area had already been checked, I lifted up the pair of shoes under the first step anyway.

Maggots.

A half dozen of them.

This job was suddenly too scary to do alone. I fetched Hannah from the shed where she’d been hiding from the smell, and together we pulled out the entry rug like the SWAT team looking for a bomb. A maggotty bomb.

Nothing. I still insisted that Hannah get the shopvac and take care of the maggots while I beat her shoes on the front porch to make them talk.

Cleaning projects have a way of spreading into nearby areas. My tactics proved fruitless but Hannah began pulling out things from the cubby behind stair-step #2. As empty shopping bags and various assorted stuff came flying out at me, I realized with dread how long it’d been since I’d really, actually looked in the back of that cubby.

I knew she’d found it when the screaming began.

I don’t know how we got this lucky, but the foulness was contained to one plastic baggie. But it was the foulest plastic baggie ever experienced by humankind.

“It moves!” she screamed.

“I’m sorry!” I yelled back, immediately assuming fault. Food is supposed to be my domain.

Still screaming, Hannah grabbed the baggie by a corner and handed it to me. Flies and maggots buzzed and dribbled from the open top. I set it on the porch, where it immediately filled the air with a stench we would later describe as Satan’s breath after a night out eating garbage.

I thought it best to go back inside to try to prevent Hannah’s total nervous collapse, but as vacuuming is a form of therapy, she didn’t need me. So I was forced to draw some very obvious conclusions about our capacity for being disgusting.

For example, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Once, I left a ziploc bag of edamame in one of the dozens of unrememberable pockets of my school backpack. I walked around for weeks wondering why everyone else smelled so bad. I’ll never forget the feeling of shame and embarrassment when I pulled out that baggie of moldy putrefied bean.

I’m sure that psychologists have examined, named and pathologized the condition, but here’s how I would describe it. It’s the Thing in our brains that does not allow us to access the truth even if we know that it’s right in front of us, hiding in plain sight. We create false fronts – the cat did it, everyone else smells – that keep us from solving our own problems and moving on.

After the mess was cleaned up, the bags sent to the washing machine, the maggots sucked away and the last fly swatted, Silvia sauntered in nonchalantly. She found her food dish and nibbled. I felt relief that it hadn’t been her fault, that she hadn’t been purposefully filling our home with her carnivorous idea of air freshener. In fact, now that I thought about it, she, too, had been avoiding the house.

On the other hand, with a nose that good, she could have at least clued us in to the source. I take it all back: It’s the cat’s fault.

It’s National Poetry Month!

Betcha didn’t know.

I’ve been working on a story for the Rogue Valley Messenger about poetry and got to talk to a few local poets and read a lot of poems. Then my pen took on a mind of its own and pulled this out of me this morning. It’s tiny house-related so here you go:

2016-04-26 18.01.31

Landings
with honk beak and whump wings and scrape claw
a pair of geese arrives on our roof beating
the thick morning air to stay put fighting gravity
and the inadequacy of their sharp cartilaginous toes
it sounds like a train wreck slowed down the screech and scrambling
while we cling to the falling threads of sleep remembering
that finding a mate can make you do silly things like building a nest
with a loft that puts your sleeping face 18 inches from the open sky
but also that falling in love means believing that together you can make
impossible possible like holding on to a sloped metal roof
wet with morning dew
so that you and your love can stand together
and watch the sunrise

Crackerjack and Teton

20160228_080418For the past few days I’ve been living in that state that comes right before a loss, when you know it’s going to happen but not sure exactly when.

When I step onto my porch in the morning and I see that they’re still there, I feel a rush of joy and comfort. I’ve begun to sentimentalize what only weeks before had been inconveniences: The startling huffs of breath that they shoot out through their gaping, soft nostrils when they’re only a few feet away and I’d forgotten about them. The aroma of freshly digested grass, neatly piled in green-brown balls just big enough to trip over on my treks across the pasture. The way they’ve searched every square foot of it this winter, finding the blades just long enough to nip off with their impossibly precise teeth.

We traded human neighbors for horsey ones and haven’t looked back since towing our home out into this field five months ago. Sure, we’ve had our disagreements. They had an unsettling way of stalking us when we would make the trip from the pasture gate to our house laden with groceries (especially apples and carrots). We waved our arms at them and shouted. Once inside the light wire fence we’d erected around our little claim of grass, we felt safer, but only until the grass out there grew thin. More than once, Crackerjack snuck in the fence behind me when I was pushing a wheelbarrow full of firewood, and it took three of us to chase him out again. Not to be deterred, he and his pal Teton reshaped the fenceline as they leaned in to snatch the tall blades that we had been coveting.

But as the months went by we found more similarities than differences between us and our huge, wandering pasture-mates. They had a charming tendency to rear up and gallop for no reason, crossing the entire pasture in the matter of a few giant steps — a bit how Hannah and I will sometimes channel our excess energy into picking each other up, the instigator pretending malicious intent, the victim crying out in distress, until we collapse into a pile of giggles. Still, life can be stressful, but Teton and Crackerjack constantly demonstrated the importance of self care, taking every dry, sunny day as an opportunity to create an automobile-sized bathtub of dust and roll in it with great delight.

On cold winter days I admired them most. Every uninitiated person around livestock has the instinct to worry about them when the temperature drops, the wind howls, and the rain, sleet and snow flies. We had a lot of that this winter. We asked their caretaker, Matt, if he didn’t also feel a bit sorry for the animals. He shook his head. He’s a horseman straight out of a western, complete with a lip full of chew and an unflappability when it comes to our unconventional lifestyle.

“These guys have about 40 different metabolic stages,” he explained, a statement which I haven’t fact-checked because I want it to be true. Horses deal with the weather simply by allowing it to affect them. While we hunched over crossing the little field on cold mornings, shivering a little in our puffy coats as we try to keep warm, Teton and Crackerjack just stood there. Unseen physiological adaptations kept them dry and comfortable; they didn’t fight the weather but turned their backs to the wind and let the snow collect in their thickly furred hide.

Now that spring is here it seems these fellows will be moving along. I’ll miss the sensation of joyfully galloping hoofbeats vibrating our little house at unexpected moments. I’ll miss the way they pee, letting down their fire hoses and blasting out a stream of bright green liquid the width of my arm. I’ll miss how visitors to our little porch will wander away, drawn to the handsome, friendly beasts outside our gate, and end up spending more time scratching their ears than filling ours. In a way, I had started to feel like they were our protectors, the alligators in our moat of grass, although they wouldn’t harm a flea. It was more the way they make our pasture humble, protecting us from pretension, from the visiting dangers of chaos and confusion. They made everything simple: Eat, walk, pee, shit, roll in the dirt.

Tonight when I entered the pasture, lit up by stars but no moon yet, I had the sinking sensation that they had finally left. Matt has said he’ll be moved into his new place by the first of the month, just three days away. I didn’t see their familiar dark shapes as I walked toward my porch lights, didn’t hear their methodical tear, tear, chew. Halfway there and still alone, I couldn’t help myself. Out of my mouth came the word I would have never expected to use toward these lumbering, seemingly useless animals.

“Friends?” A long beat of silence. The stars winked at me. I stood still for a moment.

Then, out of the darkness of the far corner, I heard that horsey lip-flapping sigh they make. I saw the outline of two ears against the night. Involuntarily, I sighed in response. Then I walked on, closed the fence behind me, and was home.

Have Wheels, Will Travel

This fall, Jeannie took on the biggest test a tiny house on wheels can endure: Moving.

For the first six months we were building her, Hannah and I heard it from a surprising number of angles: “It looks pretty heavy.” “Are you sure you can tow this thing?” “How much does it weigh?”

The underlying message was, you girls are crazy. Well, maybe we were. The truth is, we had no idea how much weight our tiny house trailer was designed to support, and we still don’t. We have no idea how much our tiny house weighs, though we estimate with the wood stove and solid 2×4 framing, she’s around 6,000-8,000 lbs. What we did know was that the double axles beneath her looked strong, the hitch was rated up to 10,000 lbs, and that if this was really that bad of an idea, something or someone would have stopped us before we got this far.

Still, the seeds of doubt had been planted, so when the opportunity came up for us to move the house a short distance, to a more elbow-roomy place across the property, we grabbed it.

Wellll, to be honest, Hannah grabbed it. I had my doubts. I’d just finished an emotionally demanding summer. We were planning to get married the following week. The easiest thing to do would have been to stay put. Why risk the house exploding, falling over, separating from the hitch, or any number of other disastrous consequences I’d envisioned as a result of us attempting to do what she had been built to do, which was to roll along her merry way to wherever location suits us best?

I was unwilling to indulge Hannah’s crazy ideas by taking time off work, but when I came home one day to find that the porch had been detached and all the stuff stored under the house piled neatly to the side, I knew she was for real. I enlisted my wonderful pal Eleanor and her little red Toyota Tacoma to move all of the stuff to the new location, out in this here pasture.

The pasture and some of our stuff.

The destination pasture and our waiting stuff.

Time until wedding: Four days.

The morning of the move, Hannah was at a guitar lesson, so I was solo and scared when our good buddy Matt, a skilled builder and a guy with a few more crazy hairs than us, plus his Toyota T100, pulled up the driveway half an hour early.

With the house parked on grass, not a solid surface, and on a hill to boot, we’d been assuming that we would need the biggest truck we could find to tow it. Maybe even a tractor. But Matt wanted to try with his little – but not quite as little as Eleanor’s Tacoma – Toyota. If he was crazy enough, then so were we.

There was no more putting it off. Together, Matt and I lowered the house down off its blocks, onto the four legs that were originally designed to hold the Airstream that the trailer used to carry. Because of the hill, the house tilted to quite the extreme angle as we lowered the lower side toward the higher side. At one point, I was holding the house up with my arm – not really, but actually putting weight against it with my hand as if I alone could prevent my dream home, my baby, from crashing into the nearby irrigation ditch.

We got it down onto the legs and then began the process of actually putting her on the brand-new tires Hannah had sneakily installed one day while I was out. First, we rested her on the bar that comes down from the tongue of the trailer. Then, with a few quick turns of the speed jack, the legs were up and she was free!

Jeannie on her wheels

In case you were wondering what a speed jack is, its that metal X in the grass and it attaches to the legs to make them go up and down.

Like a thoughtful mother ripping off the bandaid while the kid is distracted, Matt actually started pulling the house while I was putting the speed jack in a place where I would find it again. In an instant, my fears evaporated. Nothing blew up. The phantom window was flopping around gently because I’d left it open, somehow imagining that morning that the shifting house might shatter the panes and I’d wanted to preserve that one, my favorite.

Hannah arrived at that moment, and I was glad she’d missed the setup for the move. She was more of a nervous wreck than I was, and she just kept yelling “It’s moving! She’s moving! We’re moving!” while scurrying back and forth from one end of the house to the other.

 

Hannah arrives

Hannah scurries.

Matt expertly backed our house until she could make the turn around the cherry trees and toward the driveway, and then we were really moving. I walked behind and Hannah walked in front, but my excitement (and, admittedly, picture-taking) prevented me from noticing a low-hanging branch of the walnut tree that soon slammed into our chimney.

Luckily, the damage was minor. In retrospect, this was probably just cosmic justice. At least seven different types of trees were milled to make Jeannie, and who knows the actual tree-body count! Let the walnut take its piece, I say.

Tiny house move.

On our way out to the new spot, pausing to figure out where the noise is coming from.

Turns out Matt’s truck was great for moving the house, but probably not for long distances. Because he was lower than the house, the tires ended up rubbing against the wheel wells as we rolled along. No big problem to go a few hundred feet, but something to think about when we move again.

Jeannies new home

Jeannie’s new home (note the charmingly tilted rain cap on the chimney).

All in all, the move took half an hour, but it was a day I’ll never forget. It was the proof I needed that this tiny house idea was not so crazy after all. It reaffirmed my faith in Hannah and her ability to lead us when I am not able to do anything but follow. The next day, we drove to the courthouse and got our license. And three days later, this:

Partying in our great, wide, open new outdoor living room.

Partying in our great, wide, open new outdoor living room.

That’s Matt just to the right of the cute kid in green, sitting on a stool. You might say he’s pretty satisfied with himself right now. So are we. The doubters may still call us “girls”, may still question our sanity, but we know what’s possible when we put our heads together. Now there’s a reason to celebrate!

kiss

October 3rd, 2015

Thanks to all who helped us visualize, build, move and party with Jeannie. Maybe we’ll see you at the next gathering. 😀

Tiny House Life

What’s it like to live in a Tiny house?
Jeannie Sunflowers
Simple. (Henry David Thoreau once wrote:“Simplify, Simplify”. Ralph Waldo Emerson countered: “One simplify would have sufficed.”)

I used to try to do it all. Grow a food garden, work full time and freelance, cook dinner every night, and be there for my friends and family whenever they needed me.

Somehow, living in a tiny house has helped me find my priorities. Instead of planting a big garden this year, I scattered some sunflower seeds and grew some herbs in pot near my front door where nobody could forget to water them.

Pantry We keep really organized. I can’t keep a giant fridge full of food that’s on the edge of going bad, because we don’t have a giant fridge! I cook what I need and eat a lot more simply.

Mugs

When we buy something new, something else has to go (there are only eight mug hooks, and we really, really like our mugs).

Most of all, it’s magical. We named our home Jeannie because she promises to help us make our dreams come true. In lieu of paying rent, we help out around the property for Ned and Stella. Then we stash the money we would have spent in our “land fund”.

Ned, Stella, Tanja, Jennika and Silvia relaxing in our "front yard". Entertaining in a tiny house means that good weather is your friend!

Ned, Stella, Tanja, Jennika and Silvia relaxing in our “front yard”. Entertaining in a tiny house means that good weather is your friend!

It’s slow, but at least we have a plan. Like the tortise who won the race, we know that eventually, steadily, we’ll reach our goal.

In the meantime, we’re having some fun. Last summer, we sweated through each hot afternoon. When we weren’t hammering, sawing and measuring, we were combing the valley for the right pieces to put our little puzzle-house together. Then we worked on our house most of the winter to get her comfortable enough to live in.

Hannah's dad grills on our Tiny Grill

Hannah’s dad grills on our Tiny Grill

This summer, we made a conscious effort to enjoy the beautiful days, chill out by the lake when it gets hot, and take more trips. Of course, we never do as much of that as we like, but whenever we do need a break, our house is there to catch us and ground us with the smell of cedar, a fresh breeze, and a sense of order and belonging in a chaotic world.

Hammock feetNo, we’re not done with our house yet, but that’s okay. I used to dream of the day when I could call our house “finished”, but lately I’m kind of glad that she’s still a work in progress. There’s always room for improvement and more creative touches. Meanwhile, we keep writing, playing music, and living the dream! Thanks for coming on the journey with us.