Friends and relative strangers asked me to put the blog back online. Here it is, quickly edited, slightly compressed, and more or less in chronological order.
Excerpts from the blog
August 15, 2012
Sebastienne and I have decided to build our own house. A small house. Not to say tiny.
Why so tiny? 10 reasons why we choose a small house.
It is cheaper – Smaller is cheaper, not only because you need less building materials, but the small size makes it possible to do the labor yourself, which cuts the high (though often well deserved) carpenter costs. We do not want to tie ourselves down with a mortgage, credit card debts, or bank loans, and since we can pay for the house as the building progresses, we only need to rely on whatever money we are able to save up.
It is legal – If you are building a house on a normal foundation, you have a minimum square footage requirement, which was too big for our taste (and budget), but if you build it on wheels it counts as a RV, which, on the contrary, has maximum requirements: 8.6′ wide, 40′ long (ours is 34′), and 13.5′ tall.
It is mobile – Once we realized the possibility of building a house on wheels, the future seemed to open up for us. We have not decided fully yet where we want to settle down. We are committed to Carrollton until Ada, my daughter from my last marriage, finishes high school, but after that we are free to move wherever we want to. We do appreciate our current woods and neighbors, and we might stay here until we are old and gray, but it is nice to have options.
It is ours (security) – We want to feel that we actually own our home, and that we cannot lose it if we lose our jobs, get sick, or something of the kind. We want to create a life which allows us a little wiggle room, in case we want a “time out.” Sometimes we need to do nothing, but be a lot, and then it is good not to have any loan lenders knocking on our door. As long as we have a roof over our heads, we will be fine. Also, on an even more serious note, perhaps, is the thought of one of us dying, either now or later (it is bound to happen, we are told), leaving the other behind. The thought of having to deal with mortgage and a giant house by ourselves is overwhelming. To have a paid for little home to retreat to, seems just the thing. That it is on wheels means that whoever is left behind can move the house to a friend’s or family member’s backyard or further out in the wilderness, depending on the mood. It is a life insurance that we give to each other, and ourselves.
It gives more time to play – More than anything, we value time, time to play, be, breathe, pick our noses, and watch the clouds drift by. Less house requires less money, (which means less time at work) and less time to maintain. We have no desire to work more to be able to have a couple of more square feet in a home we would be too busy to spend time in. Also, though we can work hard for something that we really want (like this little house), it does not mean that we want to work all the time… A big house requires big repairs. An old house even more so. We know home owners who get stomach ache at the thought of their roof needing repair – we can fix ours ourselves, for a fraction of the time and money. A small space, with less stuff (so much less stuff), also means less cleaning… We want a house to live in, but not necessarily to live for.
“I love a broad margin to my life.” Henry David Thoreau,Walden
It is ecofriendly - In all honesty, the thought of being environmentally conscious/conscientious is not the reason why we chose a tiny house, though it is something we have often spoken about. Being small and off the grid was mostly for our own independence and practicality, but then again, we never dreamed of a giant house or three Hummers either… The idea of a creating a small environmental footprint, use solar power, a composting toilet, recycle, eat local organic food, and leave the “shop-and-throw-away-and-shop-some-more mentality” behind is all part of us wanting to live in harmony with the world around and within us.
It is a part of a political movement to encourage people to live within their means – Here, too, we cannot claim to be activists of any kind, at least not intentionally. Here we are, fumbling about on a clump of dirt tumbling about in the universe, and that any law besides gravity and relativity is enforced is…annoying. It is what it is, and most of the time we do not complain, but it does seem absurd that people are not allowed to help themselves, and that we are not permitted to build a house that is small enough to meet our needs, and not too big to break our backs, and that in “the land of the free” the state should bother about the size of our own house on our own land. It does feel like the tiny house movement is part of a larger movement toward something “better,” freer and healthier for humankind.
It is closer to nature – Back to one of the reasons why we choose to build a tiny house: To be closer to nature. Irreligious as well as apolitical, nature is the closest to a church that we come. An old tree in the backyard, or a breathtaking ocean view – as long as we are outside, we feel…good, at peace, at home, alive, vibrant, which is the opposite of how anxious and neurotic and depressed we often feel in Society. A small house out in the country will make the nature our living room, an extension of our home. The house is for shelter and warmth, a dry spot to sleep, but otherwise we want to be outside as much as possible, or at least feel less of a barrier between the inside and the outside world. We will build a front porch as big as the house.
It is beautiful – We are both great lovers of beauty, and what could be lovelier than a tiny wooden cabin? Besides the house being beautiful in itself, the fact that it is small prevent us from keepinh anything but our absolute favorite things. Our handmade quilt, a selection of favorite books, only our favorite clothes, one table, three chairs, a sofa, two reading lamps, three sets of towels, two sets of sheets, six mugs, four plates, four bowls… Everything useful, select, distinctly ours, and beautiful.
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris
It encourages letting go and living in the now – To think of moving into a space that is so small that we can only keep our most needed and precious material objects has made us acutely aware of mortality, and how little (nothing, in fact), we can take with us when we go. To live little and light makes us feel more aware of the fleetingness of it all, more in tuned with the moments that come, linger for a while, pass, and disappear beyond the horizon. Stuff does not make us more or less who we are, and all those things we have saved and dragged around with us, will all come to rot when our time is up. To live small means to live in the now. We keep some photos and journals and little memorabilia for the nostalgic in us, but it is with much more playfulness and self-humor that we carry our crosses. We choose to be attached to certain things, are amazed and amused by how stubbornly we hold on to others, and feel light and openhearted when we realize how much we can let go of.
August 18, 2013
A friend of ours, Beth, made us look up “Tumbleweed Tiny House Company,” which has been a great inspiration. The Tumbleweed houses look like real houses, not like trailers, RVs, or even cabins, but esthetically pleasing, tiny, wooden houses. Despite having decided to “go small,” we do not want to give up on our love for beautiful homes, and we really want hardwood floors, and wood casement windows, and a screened in porch, and… We quickly came to realize however that the Tumbleweeds, though gorgeous and clever, are a little too tiny even for us.
Long-term thinkers that we are, we decided that we want a proper bedroom downstairs so that we do not have to climb ladders when we are shaky old ladies. Another luxury we do not want to give up are baths, and we have sacrificed precious square footage to be able to accommodate a four foot bathtub. Last but not least, we have an almost seven foot antique sofa on which the three of us like to cuddle with the dogs, play games, drink tea, read, and watch movies. We “need” it.
A year ago these dimensions seemed ludicrous as a living space for three people, but after having seen all the miniscule places people have turned into lovely abodes (See the documentary We The Tiny House People for examples and inspiration.) our 225 square feet (plus the extra loft for Ada) now seems just about right. Quite spacious even.
August 19, 2012
At first, we feared people would think that we had finally gone off the deep end, or, at least, that our well known romanticism and dreaming had gone too far. To our great surprise, people do not even seem that surprised when we tell them about our “Tiny Grand Plan.” On the contrary, the first reaction is quite often one of happy envy, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to do that for years!,” or more often, a recognition, “Oh, yes, I heard about the tiny houses on NPR…saw that Tumbleweed guy on Oprah…a friend of a friend built one.,” or a, “Wow, cool, I lived out of a shoebox in college, and had everything I ever needed in a backpack.,” and now and then we get the laugh: “You said how big? I could never do that!,” but even the skeptics are impressed by how cute, modern, and efficient tiny house construction can be.
September 13, 2012
Our Tiny House To Be
September 19, 2012
One of the first things we did after having drawn probably hundreds of slightly different floor plans, was to look for a trailer. Never had we thought that we would become so obsessed with trailers, or that we would know the difference between a goose-neck or dovetail, a drop-deck or a deck-over… The trailer terminology still remain something of a mystery, but we did finally special order one from “Down to Earth Trailers” in Baxley, GA. As far as we have understood it, it is a drop-deck, tag along, utility trailer without decking, but with added channeling all around, so that we can build out the frame all the way to the glorious 102” edge.
Those of you familiar with tiny house building are probably saying “But wait, won’t that make your house wider than 8’6″ once you put on the paneling and roof overhang?” And the answer is, yes, it will… We reasoned that with a 34′ house, we won’t be doing much driving around anyway. With a final total width of 9’4”, we get a more spacious house (every inch counts when you go tiny!), and the only hassle is that we will need to acquire an “oversize load permit” for about $30 (per state) if we ever want to move it.
October 14, 2012
Swedish summer houses, IKEA, and the small life
As we dream of our tiny house in the woods, I have become increasingly nostalgic for Swedish summer houses, which all self-respecting Swedes run away to every summer to escape the city with its loud and busy complexity. Many people spend their vacations camping, or in other small and semi-primitive lodgings, but we do not only want to spend the vacation in our “sommarstuga” (summer house), we want to live in it. We will do what we can to recreate the feeling of ultimate ease, coziness, simplicity, and quiet country life.
With me being Swedish and all, I confess to being an IKEA fan, and as I occasionally crave the Spartan country feeling of white walls, pale wood floors and furniture, rag carpets, and stripes—we go there to get a fix. Or, more frequently, since we do not often feel like driving to Atlanta, we browse their website or catalog… As we have started to plan the interior design of our tiny-house-to be, we turn to many IKEA solutions, as their folding tables and chairs, and many other modular multi-use solutions. Their tiny apartments clearly demonstrate how large you can live in a small space.
November 7, 2012
Besides saving money for all we are worth, drawing blueprints, and buying a trailer, we also bought land… It was not part of the original plan, but when a lot across the street from some friends of ours opened up, and when another friend stepped in to help us finance, we had to go for it. Before we knew it, we were the proud owners of 5.5 acres of beautifully wooded land. Huh. The first thing (After having peed out our territory, we are quite primitive that way.) we did was to email the county to ask if it is okay for us to have an RV on our land, which is zoned agricultural, and we got the comforting reply that it should not be a problem. It helps that we have the big family house in town, since we are not allowed to live permanently in a house the size of a large RV. As long as we have our town address, keep up with our grey water, and get a permitted outhouse – the county is happy, and so are we.
This is where we will put the house! We will keep the big pines and oaks, but clear out enough of the smaller trees to have 0.5 acre of open land in the middle of the lot, which is the minimum we need to get enough sun for solar power.
Sebastienne is currently happily obsessing about solar power and electricity, reading the Solar Living Source Book, which is as inspiring as it is technical, and it helps us decide on the final design tweaks for the house. Some of them being to have the house facing south with big windows in front and minimum windows to the north, east, and west, and to have the right roof overhang to get shade in the summer and sun in the winter. We also decided to splurge on wood casement windows, which are really well insulated with low E glass that provides greater protection from solar heat gain, and they have Argon gas between the glasses, which improves thermal insulation, and Thermal spacer reduces heat transfer through the edges of glass. Well insulated windows is one of the keys in low energy living.
February 15, 2013
As owners of raw land, we bought a chainsaw, a hatchet, a couple of loppers, a come-along, matching yellow helmets, and a work gloves. Sebastienne read the manuals (I tried to be patient and pay attention) and then we got going. Months into the project we have semi-permanent muscle ache, my hands fall asleep all the time after having used the chainsaw too long, we dream of trees, and have developed a deep respect for the stubbornness of stumps, and a feeling hovering in between loathing and awe in regard to the vines thick as forearms that dangle and crawl and climb all over our woods. We are only clearing about a quarter of an acre, for now, and our much appreciated neighbor took down the biggest trees in trade for the lumber, but still – we hurt, and we love it.
Another fun aspect of being land owners is that we get in touch with people we would otherwise never have met. The creation of our driveway sure took its metaphorical village. First we cut down the trees, then we raked it (yep, we raked the woods), and crawled on our knees to find the smallest roots and vines. Everybody told us we had to grade it (something we frustratingly could not do ourselves). Luckily we are friends with farmers. One of them lent us a big scraper, and another came with his tractor to do the actual scraping (I coveted the tractor and reminisced my farming childhood), and finally, after much ado, we found a guy who was willing to bring us a load of gravel and “spread as you go” so we would not have to move it all by spade. Since my Swedish accent was not much use when it came to communicating with Georgia gravel guys, Sebastienne had to pull out her own childhood’s Southern drawl, which seemed to go over very well. We got a nice, curved, 200 foot driveway and a decent sized parking space.
The Great Stump Removal Party
Today was one of those days when we felt so lucky and grateful to be living in such a great community as the one we share in Carrollton. People actually braved snow flurries (which are rare to bordering sensational, here in Georgia) to come dig out stumps with us on a Sunday… Huge thanks to all that came! Bryan Hager and Chris Keyes get to share the gold medal for being the first and last to leave – and for their skills with their chainsaws and hatchets. Paul finally got better help than us with rolling the logs out and up on his trailer (muscle ache galore waiting to happen), which suddenly cleared out our house site tremendously. Once the snow realized that we are in Georgia, and the sun decided to listen to the meteorologist and come out after all – so did our friends. Together we managed to clear out all stumps for the house site and the road leading up to it. Now we are deliciously beat and satisfied.
March 20, 2013
We found a name for our lovely woods: The Dogwood Getaway! We have quite a few of beautiful dogwoods, and it is our “getaway” from the city, and we have “dogs (that) would get away.”
At the moment we are busy building a dog pen, a gate, and a decent size tool shed… we are totally country! We are only a month away from starting the actual framing – yay and scary! Our beautiful windows are here, we have the garage full of sheep wool insulation from “Good Shepherd Wool Insulation” in Florida, we are about to order our standing seam metal roof, Sebastienne is finally filling in the blueprints with markers (they are done!), we have commissioned one of our talented friends to build us a rustic looking front door, and we should buy lumber, and wow—it is happening!
As a last encouraging push—we went to a Tumbleweed workshop, which coincidentally happened to be at Sebastienne’s old college, Warren Wilson, outside Asheville, NC. It was so much fun and very informative, and we came back stoked and ready to go! When we first started to dream about a tiny house, we had no idea what a huge movement we were inadvertently joining. It was both eye-opening and encouraging to realize how many people there are who, like us, want to live better through a simpler lifestyle, create a smaller environmental impact, and step out of the rat race of the consumer based society.
Here we were playing house in the woods – setting up the floor plan for our dear house.
March 26, 2013
We got the trailer! (It is huge…we are building a tiny mansion!)
Wohoo, we got the trailer! Huge thanks to Dennis Zenefski for picking it up for us, and for spending hours (or what felt like it) in the dark trying to maneuver it into our rather narrow driveway. The county recently put in a new culvert, which we had asked them to, but it made the road even narrower, since now there is a distinct ditch to back into… After having tried backing in a handful of “almost-but-no-cigar” times, (and having to drive out whenever a neighbor wanted to pass), Paul came across the road to help (mostly we scratched our heads), and while I had to chainsaw down a tree in the light of the truck, Paul went to find some planks to put over the culvert. It started to snow (in the end of March?!), which added to the crazy magic of it all, but did not help to ease our anxiety. After some beard pulling (on the boys’ end), the moon came out to light the way, and Sebastienne spotted the tires while Dennis somehow managed to find enough space and gumption to get that 34 foot (it is looooooooong) 3500 pound trailer unto our property. Once in, though, we toyed with rolling around some logs, cutting down some more trees, and so on and so forth, to be able to turn that monster around, but we settled for leaving it until some sunshiny day. It is there though, and it is ours, and it is so huge we are afraid it will not classify as a tiny house anymore, it is more like a tiny mansion!
April 13, 2013
Homesteading – home is where ever I’m with you…
Homesteading. People keep on telling us that our land looks like an old homestead. A small place in a big woods. No big machines have been there. You can see our human attempts to clear out a space for ourselves, how we fought the stumps one at the time, how the ground has been raked by hand. We have an old wooden table and bench, a couple of stumps to sit upon, a fire pit, and a blue percolator. Still, we have been using a chainsaw, which is immensely labor intensive in itself and has made us incredulously impressed with Charles Ingalls (Laura’s dad, Little House series…) and all those old toughies who chopped down trees with axes and rolled the logs back home by hand. It is hard work. Your body hurts. Not only a semi-exciting muscle ache from the gym, but the kind of pain that prevents you from turning in your sleep, and makes you wake up with numb body parts. We are grateful, we have been able to go home to our “family house” to take hot baths, do the laundry, and veg out in front of a movie once the day is over, while those guys had to wipe their faces with a towel, sleep on hay, and then get up and at it at the crack of dawn. Hats off.
Besides a new and deeper appreciation and respect for physical labor, we have fallen in love with the simplicity of it all. We have said it before, and it might be redundant to repeat it, but we are really not doing all this out of any pretentious reason. We want to live our life as it suits us. I have long felt unsuited for society and mostly uninterested in the whole “unfolding of the history of humankind-thing,” and have contented myself with watching the clouds drift by and trying to mind my own business. (Though even to mind your own business is easier said than done in a globalized world in which you cannot wipe your nose without exploiting some poor sweatshop laborer…) Sebastienne has a higher tolerance for the hubbub of modern society, but also feels the challenge of living ethically within it and prefers to create an existence which is at least a little less dependent on the products of society. She thrives better out in the deep woods where she can geek out over insects and mushrooms, and finds both peace and stimulation. We work on our projects, rest in the shade, and find ourselves pleasantly carried along by these deeply satisfying rhythms.
We are complete technological savages compared to most “civilized” (?) people, we do not have the money nor the need for many gadgets, and we are conscious of how material objects affect our lives, relationships, thoughts, bodies, and dreams. It is not that we mind technology (solar power is great, a car indispensable, etc. etc…), but we are conscious of that technological “advances” do not always lead to a higher quality of life. Would a fancier cell phone make my days happier? Probably not. Would a high-quality solar-driven water pump make my days easier? Maybe. Despite these beliefs we are also aware of the addictive nature of it all, and we look forward to being less tempted by it. We will barely have any electricity and we will not have Internet at home once we move into our tiny house. And we cannot wait…to live closer to nature, to listen to the fire crackling in the winter and the cicadas playing in the summer, to watch the trees sway from our porch instead of watching yet another episode of rerun Friends (which we do like very muchm now and then). Ada (our ten-year old daughter) often does not even know what the weather is like outside, since our current house is so big and climate controlled. In our tiny house we will never be able to forget the weather. With minimal heating and cooling abilities, the weather will always be there to communicate with us, for better and worse. With lots of windows and two sky lights in our south facing house – we will quickly learn to know what time it is by watching the sun move over the trees. Lastly, we will be outside a lot…a tiny house with one door on the side and one door in the back is just waiting to spit you out.
We want to spend as much time as possible outside, working on our own projects, figuring stuff out, and digging in the dirt. Just the basic life stuff. Feed yourself. Keep yourself warm and cool enough. Love your family. Love the “it-ness” of it all. (If we were not queer, you could mistake us for conservatives with good ol’ “family values.” Hehe.) We are quite hardy, as far as comforts go, but we are looking forward to the day when we will finally get a well and have enough water to take a hot bath. We might be living quite a simple life, but we are still two girls who like good smelling lotion and silky bathrobes. We might be homesteading, but we want to do it in style.
After a lifetime, (Okay, okay, we are still in our thirties, but that is the only lifetime we have, so far), of over-thinking and trying to figure IT ALL out (that is pretty blasphemous in itself), we have found a deep peace in living. It feels revolutionary to discover that right as we thought we were stepping out of academic pursuits and mainstream society’s ideas of progress and success – we stepped into life. Ha. Who thought you could just do it? That you do not have to have all the answers to the questions regarding the meaning or lack of meaning of life before you do the dishes. That all your old wounds do not have to be psychoanalyzed and solved before you let them go. We can care and live as if we care, even though we do not know why, or what the end result may be. We can just do it. In all fairness, we do not know (and hopefully we will never have to find out) if we could do it by ourselves. Our love and togetherness gives us such strength and existential comfort that rest flows from it. As in that song “Home” – we feel at home in the world, no matter the square footage of our house, as long as we are together. Hats off to love.
Here are some of the many beautiful pictures Schellie and William Hogan from Famous William Company took of us out on our land. We got to put up the floor plan for our tiny house, put the the kitchen table at its place, our homemade quilt where the bed will be, and so on. We had so much fun playing house! (We always tell Ada that the trick to adulthood is to make your games decently profitable so that you never have to stop playing.) It might not seem like much, but we are so proud of our gravel driveway, our crooked blue farm gate, the woodshed, and every single stump.
The blueprints for our tiny house
After soon a year of plotting and planning and thinking and drawing, Sebastienne finally finished our blueprints! These are quick copies/pictures of them.
Basic info: The house is 30 feet long, plus a 4 feet screened in porch, and it is roughly 8.5 feet wide. It will have cedar siding, wood casement windows, two skylights, and an ash grey 5V crimp metal roof. Our talented carpenter friend Forrest will make us a red stained Dutch door.
Floor plan below, from left: screened porch, closet, bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen. Ada’s loft will be over the bedroom and bathroom half. The kitchen / living room will have cathedral ceilings.
April 22, 2013
Run of the mill
Paul and Terra, our lovely and multi-talented neighbors and friends, recently bought a sawmill, partly to be able to process some of the bigger trees Paul cut down on our property. Since Terra is getting too late in her pregnancy to do heavy lifting, (though she still manages to do more work with easy grace than most non-pregnant people), I helped Paul to roll the heavier logs on the mill. It was so exciting to see the whole process of the tree going from being…a tree…to a 2by6, or an 8by8. I compared it to seeing a fish being pulled out of the water and turned it into a fish-stick. And yes, there was the same feeling of morbidity and “oh, you used to be a living thing, now you are just a thing.” But also a deeper sense of connectedness and respect for “the thing” when we could so clearly remember its recent life. The woods exploded into life during the past week, as spring finally came to Georgia, and we fell in love with every single new bud, but since we are building a house, we are also very excited by 2by4… We can hold the paradox, though, and as Paul says “It’s the paradox that makes you know it’s true.”
To make the day even better, Dennis and his wife came out with their sweet girls to help us turn the trailer around and park it in its final destination. (And Forrest and his baby girl with the best cheeks in the world, also came to cheer us along.) We only had to cut down two more trees to get the trailer to turn, Dennis was really quite comfortable with that long truck and the even longer trailer. It was so fun to see it in its real place, it made it feel like home. To sit in the afternoon shade and know that it will be our future porch.
April 27, 2013
The house foundation…part 1…leveling the trailer
The 34 feet long, drop-deck, utility trailer, resting on a stumpy slope in the woods, is supposed to be the foundation for our house, so it seemed like a good idea to get it level. After some internet research, and a few rather elaborate ideas (like underground cement pillars and such), we settled for a not-so-complicated method: First of all we needed to get the trailer off the tires to prevent rot and to increase stability, and we planned to construct eight pillars total – at the corners, and on either side of the tires, since that is where most of the trailer’s weight is balanced. The plan was to build double rows of cinder-blocks and cement capstones to get the right height to lift the trailer off the wheels, and to get it as level as possible. Then we would have to top it off with 2x4s for the balancing touches and to prevent the cement from scraping the bottom of the trailer to avoid rust.
It was a two day long ordeal. We started with getting 40 cinder blocks and 10 cement capstones from Home Depot, it took two trips with the jeep, and I got mighty long arms (Sebastienne grilled delicious salmon over the fire…fair trade.) after having logged them into the car and out of it. Next came gravel, (we had bought some in bags from Home Depot, but quickly ran out, and had to steal some from our newly made driveway) to prevent too quick erosion.
To be able to work under the trailer we began by lowering the front jack as low as possible, and with help of a bottle jack (first time we had our hands on one) we lifted up the back end. It seemed insane that a jack the size of a wine bottle could lift a 3000 pounds trailer off the ground. We did giggle quite nervously as the tires started to float in the air. It did not seem right. We bemusedly confirmed that neither of us knew anything about trailers or had any real clue about what to do, and then we got going. Minus the one time when the trailer swung off the jack, jumped its bottom two feet south down the slope, and hit Sebastienne in the head, it all went well.
It was not that easy to get those cinder-blocks level, though, and after umpteen attempts, we finally accepted that our eyes could not tell level from crooked if our lives so depended on it, and we had to check everything with the leveler, which we greatly admired for its simple genius. Once we got the back decently levered, we lowered the jack in the back, and jacked up the front to fix that side of the tires, then lowered it again to adjust the back…and then the front…and the back…again and again. In the end it was a matter of 1/2inch here and there, and the thinnest adjustment we had was 1x4s, but we managed to get it level…enough. The good thing with a house on a trailer is that we can always re-level it again, whenever we need, that bottle jack can hold 12 tons, or 24,000 pounds!
We were aware that the trailer stood on a slope, but how sloped it was we did not realize until we saw that we only needed one cinder block in front, and four in the back (they are 8 inches each). 24 inches difference. Our screened in porch in the back will end up being 4 feet off the ground, it will feel like a raised deck!
Now we have to anchor it all down, though it is hard to imagine that thing going anywhere.
May 2, 2013
The Big Push – 5/9 to 5/23
We are excitingly and frighteningly close to our Big Building Push! We have practically lived at Home Depot the past weeks, and have most of our materials delivered already, both in form of a huge shipment to our land, and in form of many small packages (a whole lot of tension ties, hurricane ties, screws, bolts, etc. etc.) filling up the garage. The roof arrives on Friday, and then we should have everything we need to get the shell up—the floor, sheep wool insulation, framing lumber, plywood, house-wrap, windows, doors, roof… We do not have the cedar paneling yet, but we are waiting to see if we will have time (and money, we are getting too close for comfort) to get to it in two weeks, it might be part of our second wave.
My father (who used to be a wood shop teacher, and has not been able to stop building/renovating/remodeling his houses (yes, plural) for the past 35 years) is coming to help us get started. We have asked him to do it in form of a workshop, to teach us what to do and how to do it, but let us do most of the actual work. Sometimes we will need the extra hand, though, and if that hand is attached a foot higher on a twice as thick arm—it is even better, since we are quite small ourselves… Especially when it comes to raising the walls, and getting the roof up—the more the merrier.
We have two weeks off work to be able to build from dusk til’ dawn, or at least 8:30 am to 6:30 pm (we are semi-civilized, after all). We will have a 30×50 tarp set up over the trailer so that we can work rain or shine.
May 9, 2013
Day 1 – tarp, floor frame, and flashing. Wohoo, here we go!
After a thirteen hour work day, three trips to Home Depot, and so much excitement, I am too tired to write much. Our first day was very successful, and we got so much done already! We managed to get the tarp up (thanks to Bosse’s ladder skills and long arms), started the first part of the floor frame, tried drilling through the trailer (which was not as hard as we thought), and even got to stapling the flashing. Pooh! And wohoo! I kept humming the Indiana Jones song – the adventure is on!
Day 2 – the floor with sheep wool insulation!
Day 3 – the wall frame is coming up! (so much fun, but too tired to write…)
Day 4 – walls walls walls, a little too much rain, but lot of fun
Day 4 started a little slow, especially since I was feeling under the weather, we did not get to work until 9:30 am, which is “late” by our standards. Still, it did turn out to be a fun work day with lots of little stuff to figure out – window headers, dog door dimensions, and how to level and square and plum the wall frames…etc. etc. The whole Sjoholm-Gerhardt-Grant team works well both together and alone, which means we manage to get a whole lot done! The day’s end result was an almost finished wall frame!
We had a little “rain-aster’ as the sky opened on us and the tarp almost collapsed in on us, but Bosse managed to create an improvised roof frame to hold it up. Fingers crossed that it stands till the morning!
Also, thanks for all our sweet visitors – Paul&Terra keep on checking on us, Annie even got her hands dirty, Jeff came by to invite us for dinner, Amelia stopped by with her kiddos, and Forrest showed us pictures of our gorgeous cedar door-to-be. We are all a little crazy-eyed and work-manic, so we might not be the best hosts, but we appreciate seeing everybody’s faces.
Days 5 & 6 – finishing up the wall frame, and starting with the roof.
Day 7 – our muscles are growing with the house. The roof is coming up.
Day 8 might not have left remarkably noticeable results, since we spent the whole day doing meticulous roofing details – Sebastienne framed out the sky lights, and I created notches for the floating rafters on each gable. Both exercises that required balancing on the roof with power tools… and lots of concentration.
Day 9 was one of our best days so far, though it felt slow at times, since it was more time consuming than expected to get up all the osb roof sheathing. Lots of balancing and crawling again, and Bosse had to balance the panels while climbing the ladder. Neill and Tobin came out, and they were of tremendous help, they really knew what they were doing, and even brought their own tools. It was so great to be able to say: “Can you guys put up the sheathing on that wall, and make notches for the rafters?” and they went to work and finished the whole north-side wall with window openings and everything. Huge help.
Another enormous thank you goes to Jim and Carol Boyd, who gave us a beautiful stained glass window, which will put in the wall over the loft, facing in. It is gorgeous, and will give our house a wonderful feeling. Not only did they give us the window, though, they also brought us lunch!! We did not get to it until dinner time, when we enjoyed it very much, tired as we were. Again and again we are humbled with gratitude for this fabulous community.
Really much too tired to write, but we have had some slow, but good progress the past few days. I spent most of day 10 straddling the roof, and was grateful for a childhood riding horses, though I still got a serious cowboy muscle ache. The mosquito net / screen had to be stapled of the vented ridge, then the metal straps should be screwed on to hold both rafters and plywood in place, and finally the roof asphalt under-layment taped on. We spent a lot of time constructing scaffolding as well. And cutting the rafters. And preparing the skylights. And the gables… We did get help, though, Mary came out screw-gun in hand, and Lisa stopped by with two teenage boys in tow. Jim and Stacy brought us dinner, and Susie roses – we felt very spoiled and pleased. Forrest also came out to show us the door, which is really beautiful, but that deserves a post of its on tomorrow. Now – exhausted.
The Door – Forrest’s masterpiece
Since we started to dream about building a house, we have been talking about the front door. I have a longstanding love for front doors, French doors, Dutch doors, Hobbit doors… We knew we wanted it to stand out, to set the tone and feeling for the house, to be something special to welcome you home. We have many sides and moods, so there were many different design directions we could go, from modern to rustic, from swirly to simple, from romantic to sparse. We kept coming back to where we are – in the country, off a dirt road, in the Georgia woods, and how we want our house to fit in with its surroundings. We also want the house to be a reflection of us, or even just to fit us… Quite simple, rustic, but not heavy, feminine yet not old lady like. We will have clear stained cedar paneling on the outside, white bead board on the inside with some natural wood frames around the windows. Our design ideas narrowed down to basically country: a little bit of cozy Swedish summer cottage, and a tad of rustic Texas country cabin. Even though we have been very much the cosmopolitan vagabonds, we have maintained a soft spot for our roots. Playing it all around in our head, we started to think about Forrest.
Forrest is a dear friend of ours, who also happens to be an awesome artisan carpenter wood-smith. We admired his work, especially when his creativity gets time to play. Early on in the project, before we got gutsy enough to think we could build the house ourselves, we thought of hiring Forrest for part of the building plan. He is a very busy man, though, and we cannot pay him enough to keep him around, so we did not want to use his talent on just anything. The Door! To let him loose on creating an entrance for our home seemed just the thing for Forrest. When we spoke to him about custom making us a Dutch door (where you can open the top half separate), he got all excited and started to show us pictures of the ideas he had. We gave him the go-ahead to follow his vision (as long as it was a Dutch door with a window, and stayed within our dimensions), and he came up with a really unique and lovely design. And now it is done! He brought it out to us yesterday, all nestled among cushions and blankets, to show, even though we will not install it in yet.
Day 12 was rainy and quite stormy, but we still managed to get the roof panels up, though most of the day was spent building a “safe enough” scaffolding, since Sebastienne claimed that there was no point in having a house if you do not have a wife to put in it. Sebastienne herself spent all day sheathing the gable tops, which required plenty of math.
Day 13 was sunny, hot, and wonderful. Karen and Roger came – with a whole van full of tools, years of experience, lots of energy, and their ever sweet company. They put us all to shame by putting up the Tyvek house wrap, and putting in 5 windows in a flash. Hats off. And a huge thank you!
We are very grateful for our community. Paul and Terra have of course been crucially helpful and supportive through these weeks, too, lending us tools, bringing us treats – ice cream, carrot cake, and strawberries, and their calm and supportive presence. To have Jeff and Annie just up the road makes us feel like we already live in a neighborhood. We are lucky indeed.
I spent most of Day 13 sweating on the roof while screwing the panels nice and tight, while Bosse sweated over the skylights, and Sebastienne built a deck for our back porch. By the end of the day, – we have something like a house!
Day 14 – last official day of the Big Push
Day 14 was hot hot hot. I had more of an understanding for the cat on the hot tin roof, as she had to do the final touches with silicon and screws. In the beginning she went a bit overboard with all the screws, but as the hours went by she got less generous with them. Bosse worked on the roof trim, the ridge gap, and metal flashing around the skylights. Drinking water by the gallons, we sweated the day away, again. Sebastienne calculated and pre-cut all the sheathing for the south-facing wall. We got half the wall done, once the scaffolding was finally down.
Melissa came by to visit, and gave us our first plant! Rose of Sharon in pale pink, our favorite flower color. Since we will have such a tiny house, we cannot accept many housewarming gifts, but plants are perfect, since we have lots and lots of outdoor space. We like old fashioned and wild looking flowers, more the delicate and pale ones, rather than bold plants. Blues, whites, and soft pinks…
The push is over, but the building goes on. We are now officially broke (as we knew we would be), which means that we have to (and want to) go back to our paid jobs. The housework will slow down a little, since we have to save up enough money for the second wave, the cedar siding, and all the internal materials. We will still be out there three days a week, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and some Sundays here and there.
We did it!
We got a roof over our heads, walls to keep us in and rain out, and windows to look through! Half a day longer than planned, which is not too bad, considering most house building plans.
Josh, (one of our absolute favorites), came out to visit and see what two weeks of work can do, and was duly impressed. We are quite amazed ourselves, it all kind of went in a frenzy and a blur, and now we have a house. My parents are heading back home to Sweden tomorrow, and we are very grateful for all their help. They sure know how to work! We are exhausted, but so happy with it all.
I will probably take a blog break, too, and hide out in the woods, puttering along with the building in peace and quiet, for a while.
May 31, 2013
Phase Two – slow and sane
So…phew! A week after finishing the big push, we are still feeling a little shell-shocked and the kind of exhausted you imagine Frodo felt once the ring was gone. That is hyperbole, perhaps, but we dug from our deepest source of energy to be able to work as we did. Now we sleep like babies, go to our normal job (which feels like rest in comparison), put our home back into some sort of shape after weeks of neglect, stretch out all those building muscles, and refuse to do much of anything besides reading, watching movies, and revisiting our souls.
Building a house has brought out my strong sense of efficiency, planning, and organization, and Sebastienne’s perfectionism, and love of information and details. All excellent qualities if you want to get something done, especially if you want it done reasonably fast, and reasonably well. But… There can be too much of a good thing. There are moments when we turn into irritable little working machines, which is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve with this project. Sure, we want a beautiful and well-built house, preferably move-in-ready by Christmas, but more than anything – we want ourselves and each other. And we want us to be the soulful and sweet humans we have the ability to be, as long as we take the time to let our slowpoke and shy souls have time to catch up with us. We are giving ourselves the treatment to watch good movies (watched Les Misérables, which was wonderful), read good books (Thich Nhat Hanh is lovely), listen to music (Cohen has plenty of soul), and lay around. Nice medicine.
We did clean up the building site, and brought leftover building material back to Home Depot, which nicely tied up Phase One. Once we are back from our short beach vacation, we will be ready to launch into Phase Two, which fortunately and unfortunately will go much slower. But hopefully also saner. We did also spend some time looking in all the Swedish home decorating magazines my mother brought. Research. Beauty inspires.
July 4, 2013
Here we go again
June gave us a blessed forced vacation – without any money to continue building, we had no choice but to take a break. We are still too broke to buy the siding (we will need two more weeks of full paychecks), but we are at least able to move forward with little stuff. It felt nerve-wracking to start building again after such a long break, but as soon as we got our hands nice and dirty we were back to sweating and having fun.
A state of blissful and anti-neurotic quietness surrounds us, fills us, as we are out there, hammering away, methodically checking off our to-do-list. Spray foam around the windows. Check. Mosquito net for the vented soffits and roof. Check. Spackle on the window frames. Check. Paint the window frames white (Behr’s Polar Bear white is our favorite). Check. And the grills grey (Behr’s Creek Bend). Check (soon)…
July 6, 2013
You’re a soffit! Sometimes it just rains too much.
We have sure been getting some rain lately! The whole world is soaking. It is like living in a wet bath. Or a rain forest. Warm and dripping. The woods are so green it hurts. In a good way. But we are a little annoyed, though mostly amazed, at how much the wilderness has managed to reclaim the little lot we cleared this past winter. The new trees are already 3 feet high, and the old stumps have turned into wild bushes. Something needs to be done about that…but not now. For now we are still building. Sort of.
The rain thwarted our ambitious plans for a four day building extravaganza. In the non-pouring pockets of quiet drizzle, we did manage to get up all the strips of lath (also referred to as furring strips) for our rain screen wall. The weather loudly and clearly reminds us of the necessity for water proofing everything – we have double taped all the windows, and put foam on the inside and silicon on the outside of all edges and potential gaps. Besides preventing water from getting in the house, it also needs a way to get out in case it does come in. Here is where the rain screen wall comes in, since the strips of lath create a breathing space between the siding and the sheathing. This allows the siding to dry in case water ever finds it way behind it. It also creates a wee gap of additional insulation, which can never hurt. So we did that.
We also started to build the door frame for the porch door, and it was fun to be able to use some of the techniques we learned when we did the framing, like how to make a header, put in cripple studs, etc. The back door seems promising, though it was a lot of “it’s level but not plum,” “it’s plum but not square” “it’s bloody crooked.” It is really fun to realize how much we have learned already, though we get a bit carried away using the lingo, sometimes. Like soffit. What a great word. “That’s so soffit.” “You’re a soffit.” “No, you are a soffit!” Anyway…
Trying to get the door up turned out to be a “dear Henry/Eliza” kind of job: We could not do this until we did that, we could not do that, until we got this…and so on in absurdum. Finally the batteries for the circular saw ran out just as we were cutting the door (it will be 30”x70” – an itsy bitsy back door), and after a sigh or two we decided to take the door back home to use the electric one, but once we got home, that circular saw blade was so dull it only created smoke, whereupon we decently and cheerfully got back in the car to drive to Home Depot to get a new blade, but then the sky started vomiting cats and dogs upon us, and our windshield wipers were not working…and then we looked upon each other in silent agreement that we were, still cheerfully, going to throw in the towel for the day, go home, take a bath, make a yummy dinner, and a big pot of ginger tea. Sometimes it just rains too much.
July 14, 2013
The New Normal
One of the most important factors for evolutionary soundness is adaptability, the ability to change. To be able to roll with the punches. Not that one has to welcome change with open arms, no gratitude is required, just an acceptance of what is. More times than we are proud to confess, we have failed miserably at the seemingly simple task of shaking reality’s hand, nodding in recognition: “So this is what you look like now.” Still, one of the many qualities that hold us together, is our shared ability to wake up to the new normal, have a cup of coffee, and move on with the day. Queer theory, post-structuralism, existentialism, and Buddhism are concepts we throw around for breakfast, but it does not take nerdy queers to see that the world, life, changes. We change. Being is becoming.
Our dog, beloved beast, Mecan, who has been Sebastienne’s partner in crime for soon eleven years, got severely ill after a piece of plastic got stuck in her stomach. She needed surgery, and has been in a critical condition at the vet’s clinic for almost a week. We are still hopeful that we do not have to get used to a new normal without our orange dog. That is a change we will let stand at the door for a while before we allow it introduce itself.
The reality that we are suddenly completely broke (the surgery was not exactly free and our savings account was not exactly large) did not take us more than an afternoon to accept. We will not afford the siding for another month or two, but we both said and sincerely meant that we already have everything we want: Each other. A job we enjoy that gives us enough money to feed ourselves and pay our small bills. A roof over our heads. And a creative project that excites and stimulates us, keeps our energy flowing…our baby house!
We love to build. Even though we do not have money enough to buy the siding yet, we still have plenty of work to do, and we do not seem to get enough of it. Every time we are out there, we get into the juicy creative flow, and never want to leave. Like little kids at the playground, we beg the time-god: “Only fifteen more minutes, I need to finish this frame, a couple more screws, just…” It is plain old fun. Which is why we do not mind all the “oops, we need to redo the door frame…again.” We can take our time and do it right. For example, we tried to convince ourselves to be satisfied with the brick-mold that came with the windows, but we finally gave in to our desire and bought new trim (just simple 2×2), which meant we have to re-spackle and re-paint all 8 windows. Not that it has to be “perfect,” it is with full understanding that we aim for perfection, but land somewhere good enough. As Sebastienne says: “It will look…rustic.”
We put in the back door! Major success and pride. We cut the door, put on braces to protect the corners, installed a door frame, mortised out the hinges, and made it all fit. It closes and opens and everything! It took us awhile to get there—Sebastienne read instructions, Maria attacked with a hand saw, and…ta-da!…we have a door.
We are building a house. Our new normal. We can roll with this reality.
Not a prefab life
There are days when we halfheartedly wish we could for once do things the easy/normal/usual way. Choosing to live in a foreign country and marry a person of the same sex, is only the beginning of how we complicate our lives in a stubborn desire to create an existence suitable to our beings. It is not surprising that our house is not the prefab kind, either, or that we could not even find a design we like, but had to draw it all ourselves. Mostly we do not mind the extra labor, it is part of the fun. We do sigh, occasionally, as our geometry and carpentry skills get pushed to their mediocre limits because we cannot find a threshold we like, or a door handle, soffits, corners, or trim… Our patience grows with our skills, and slowly the house will follow.
To follow up on last month’s post: Our dog Mecan did not make it. We buried her in our woods, and hung a hammock next to the grave. We will miss our bear faced friend.
August 11, 2013
Knowing and Seeing
You know the classic phenomenon when you hear about something for the first time and then you suddenly see it everywhere, which makes you feel serendipitously touched by synchronicity? Well, the magic kind of goes out of it when it starts to happen every day. Building a house has opened up a whole new world to us, and every time we drive around, we are amazed at all the “new” things we see everywhere, which used to be invisible to us. I pride myself to be visually gifted and tend to be the first one to notice if anyone gets a haircut, and I am interested in architecture and houses, but I still somehow managed to spend 34 years without ever seeing a soffit. But lo and behold, now we see them everywhere! It was the same with fascia boards, gable rake trim, thresholds, and so on. (Not to mention how many trailers we saw back when we were looking to buy one!) Every time we start a new phase of building something we have never really noticed before, we discover that, surprisingly enough, we have lived with that very mysterious piece of carpentry in our midst. Though religiously agnostic about almost everything, we feel pretty sure that the soffits must have been there before we discovered their existence. Which leads to another eerie insight: What else are we living with that our lack of knowledge/mindfulness/interest/habit prevents us from seeing?
At the moment we are seeing gutters everywhere, since the phrase “We’ll have gutters!” is often repeated whenever we complain about how crooked our soffits and fascia boards are… Gutters, silicon, spackling paste, and vent covers – such comforts for novice carpenters!
It is in the middle of August, the heat and humidity are high, though not disturbingly so. Ada has started her homeschooling semester, and reads “Sophie’s World” and “The Sacred Depths of Nature” among building materials, tools, and sawdust. We have finished putting up and painting all the external trim, which took much more work, time, and money than we had anticipated, but we are so happy with the result – it is pretty! Next week we will build the box on the trailer tongue for the propane tank and other utilities. We plan to build it as a cabinet with front facing doors, so that we can have a garden box on top, to pick herbs from our kitchen window…cozy. Then only the siding remains, and we are finished with the outside! We are excited to see what new worlds we discover on the inside of the house…
August 17, 2013
Building a box and birthing a baby (trailer tongue box, part 1)
This week’s post was supposed to be simple and technical, going into detail about how we built a trailer tongue box, but something far more interesting happened…Terra got her baby! One of the best things with this project is that we bought the wooded lot across from Paul and Terra, and got even closer to this wonderful community. Instead of finishing up the box like we had planned, we spent yesterday assisting the welcoming of our new baby neighbor!
We were on the “farm and food team,” which meant we were in charge of feeding both the animals and the humans, and taking care of all surrounding chores. We had a couple of exciting escapades with a randy, runaway goat, but most of the day was spent chopping wood and carrying water (…), and it felt good to have something clear and useful to do. All who were there to help did their part in making the atmosphere as amazing as it was – joyful, excited, calm, and loving. Zinnia Li was born at 5 pm, surrounded by laughter and om-ing, a real birthday party!
How to build a box for our propane tank does not seem very interesting after that, huh? We might expand on the details once it is fully finished. It was fun, though, and satisfying to have a “small” project with a clear end in sight. Framing is by far our favorite part of building, you go from nothing to a 3D form in a few simple steps. We have learned a lot since we built our rickety woodshed…
August 25, 2013
This is not just a box… (trailer-tongue box, part 2)
…it is our utility room. To build the trailer tongue box was a quick review of all that we learned from the whole house building process. It seemed like such a small project, and size wise it was (2.5 x 6 feet), but it still required us to build a floor frame, add flashing, then came sub floor (osb), and wall framing, which needed some extra attention since we had to cut holes to make space for the jack handle, and we had to secure the structure with hurricane ties to the wall. After that, up came the wall sheathing, then roof rafters, left over radiant barrier osb for the roof, gluey tar paper, house wrap and tape, corner trim, vented and mosquito-netted roof, the roof panels, drip edge, fascia, and last but not least we had to build the doors. It was so much fun! We say it all the time, but truly – at the moment we cannot imagine anything more fun than to be out there, building away in peace and quiet.
And quiet it is, since we do not have a generator anymore (we only borrowed Paul and Terra’s for the two week push). All we have is one battery driven drill and one circular saw. The lack of power does limit what we can achieve in a day, since once we are out of battery power – we are down to hammering and hand sawing. To handsaw the plywood was rather time-consuming, in particular since we did not want to waste our new saw, so we muscled our way with the rusty old one. Another “time waster” (though we do not mind it in the least, so it is not really “wasted”), is that we recycled all the left over materials from the house. Nothing was the right size or the perfect fit, which meant a whole lot more thinking and measuring and sawing and gluing to do. It was like playing Tetris or laying puzzles to figure out what piece could go where, and how to utilize as much as we could from every board.
Another juggling factor is that we can only work three days per week, while also homeschooling Ada. She is a great student, and does most of the work by herself, but we do take breaks in the hammering to read with her. Slow progress, but progress it is.
August 31, 2013
Besides the exciting news that we finally got to order the cedar siding, this week was rather uneventful. We spent most of the time organizing and cleaning up: we took leftover materials (that we cannot reuse) to the dump, raked under the house, washed off and treated mold on the rafters and loft beams, and wiped off the whole outside of the house (luckily it is small) with anti-mold wash (Concrobium). Now we got a spick-and-span building site!
September 7, 2013
In love with wood and the woods
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
Sebastienne lovingly teases me for being as much of a curmudgeonly hermit as Thoreau—fonder of nature than humans, always picking a good view over a party. In my defense, it is not that I do not like company, my friends are very dear to me, rather that I so enjoy my peaceful solitude in the woods that I rarely choose to leave it.The smell of pine needles and warm dirt, the sounds of birds and cicadas, the light filtered through the leaves…and the giant, wonderful absence of everything else. No clocks. No demands. Just time and space and being.
I was seriously challenged with allergies and asthma, but managed to join Sebastienne in a dance, a twirl, and a leap when the siding finally arrived. The beveled cedar is so thin and so light, and it smells divine. It will transform our Tyvek commercial building site into a charming wooden cabin. Simple rustic beauty.
We also got the Eco Wood Treatment from Canada, which is derived from mineral and plant substances (what, they will not say) that protects the wood while letting it age naturally. We love the look of aged wood, but still wanted to treat all sides of the siding to prevent cracking or rot. This seemed like the perfect solution. It started to turn grey already as soon as it dried, but will only get better with time. With the grey roof, grey windows, and white trim, and then add Forrest’s red cedar door…it will be beautiful!
A beloved wife, a lovely daughter, a cuddly hound, and a cozy little house in the woods. What more could one wish for? That is all the marrow I care to suck.
September 15, 2013
Finally: The longed for siding and door.
John Lebowitz was a dear to come out and help us get started with the beveled cedar siding. It took a while to get rolling, there was a whole lot of head scratching and figuring out to do, but by the end of the first day we already had half of the back wall finished. Two more work days and the back and the end gable were done. It looks so pretty and it is so smooth that we keep caressing it. It is a much loved little house.
Forrest came out as well to hang his gorgeous Dutch door, which immediately transformed the house, in particular it made the inside feel inside.
October 6, 2013
Pancakes, opera, and cedar siding (unfortunately not at the same time)
The past weeks have been slow going, though not frustratingly so, everything progressed as it should, only at a timid pace. My permanently stained hands served as evidence for their frequent dips in the wood stain bucket, and my fingers still glower black like the guilty thumbs in Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.”
To put up beveled wood siding seems like fast and easy work, and it is, relatively speaking, compared to many aspects of the house building process. Still, Sebastienne had to master her suspicion of ladders to be able to measure the angles under the gable roof, and to climb up and down, cut an 1/8 of an inch here, and an 1/8 of an inch there—proved to be both challenging and time gobbling. Then we had to consider and reconsider where to do the transitions, since the planks are 8 feet long, and we did not want all the cuts to fall in the same place. It also took its sweet time to choose the right piece of wood for the right place, to vary light with dark, rough with smooth, grainy and knotty with plain. Besides the aesthetic choices, there was a whole lot of sawing and hammering. After a day’s work our right arms dangled limp and sore (we practiced hammering with our left hands, but to hit the nails seemed like a priority). Mighty satisfying work, though, and oh so pretty. And now we are done! We could not be more pleased with the cedar and the stain. Sebastienne says it reminds her of the classic Maine beach cottages with the grey, weathered wood and white trim.
So now what? We still have the top trims left, and then we will caulk all the edges and put wood putty in any empty knot holes. Then comes the soffit vent covers and the gutters, which will finish up the external look, but we also want to build a small, free standing front porch/deck and stairs, and a roof for the front door, which might take us a little while. After that we consider the outside done! (We will not build the screened-in back porch until we are done with the rest, since it is neither functional nor necessary for the house or for us being able to move in.) That will require some celebration, before we start working on the inside…
And then!..no, not “then,” that old “then” only becomes another “when,” which is now. Now we are building our house, our home. What a dream! What a project! We are attempting not to think about the finish, since the temptation to rush or push forward would be, is, too great. We do not want to ruin this experience by being hurried by the thought of when it will be done. That day will come when it is ready (next summer, we speculate…), with its potential for other experiences. If we come to enjoy those experiences or not is still uncertain. We know we enjoy this, so why rush into an unknown future? Well…human nature, perhaps, or because we do, in fact, look forward to more time to lay about nose picking. To satisfy our desire for a life with larger margins, we are intentionally taking space for long sleep-in mornings followed by pancakes (I am still European enough to call crêpes “pancakes,” and pancakes “American pancakes.”) and opera, which we all agree to be one of the greatest ways to spend a “now.”
Several Steps Up
As with almost every part of the house project, building the front steps required more time, money, and effort than anticipated, but also turned out to be even better than what we had hoped for. Since we are not supposed to have any permanent structures attached to our “RV,” we could not build a front porch and had to settle for a glorified stoop.
We did not think that a 3 feet lift to the door would require the 5 steps recommended by Home Depot’s guide for how to use the stringers, but when we saw the result, we were grateful we did not make it steeper. With the door being “outswing,” we also had to figure in enough space so as not to get knocked off the landing while opening the door. We used 1x6x8 pressure treated treadboards, which were great. We cut them in half and centered them off to the right of the door for the landing, and built a railing to prevent you from stepping off the stairs into midair.
The result is less disorienting or disturbingly asymmetric than we had feared. It looks quite cozy, even. To make it even nicer, we painted the stringers and the railing white, and stained the rest with the eco wood stain we used for the cedar, plus a wood preservative. As a finishing touch we hung a flower box on the railing with rosemary, lavender, white pansies, and dark red violets. It looks like home.
October 26, 2013
We would not be offended if someone called our Cedar Cabin a trailer-house or a mobile-home, because, well, that is what it is. Still, we call ourselves (with plenty of tongue-in-cheek) “Ragamuffin Royalty.” The ragamuffin part is relatively clear—we are building a house on a trailer in the Georgia woods, we work part-time for pretty much minimum wage, cut our own hair, and most of our clothes come from secondhand stores (and my mother). Despite our lack of a savings account, we do not consider ourselves “poor,” mostly because poverty often comes bundled up with a debilitating sense of hopelessness and stuck-ness, which we are lucky not to experience. We have family and friends, near and far, that create a social network, which gives us a sense of security, and we have been gifted with a hodgepodge of talents that occasionally provide us income, but above all, we feel that we choose this life. We are not victims of circumstance, the circumstances are the waves we ride…or as Cousin Violet of Downtown Abbey would say (and yes, I am quoting a TV show with a plot line like a soap opera, but so very gorgeous colors):
“Do not be defeatist, dear, it is very middle class.”
Ha, here comes the “royalty” part, which, from our perspective is not pretentious, since it does not involve any pretense, no sham or show to pretend to be something we are not. Just an allowance to like what we like, and be whatever we want, without the need for it all to add up. That we do not have to be well educated to be well read (Sebastienne plans to go back to grad school for a PhD, so we should not pretend to be less educated than we are…), that we like to listen to classical music, discuss philosophy, and eat fancy organic food, but likewise enjoy frozen “mac n cheese,” PBR, and Harry Potter. To allow seeming contradiction and paradox to be norm.
We love beautiful things, but we don’t need many beautiful things, we just need the things we have to be beautiful. We want “financial freedom” (to use a pop phrase), but do not only approach it by working more or earning more, rather by spending less, which leaves us with more money and time to enjoy it. That yes, we are building a mobile home, and yes, we will have an outhouse, but that will not stop us from filling our home (it will not take long to fill 225 square feet!) with antiques and decorate it royally. Sebastienne is more of a French Romantic or Victorian kind of princess with subdued but rich colors, golden trim, and lots of ornate details (which “Downton Abbey” is a perfect model for), whereas I am more of a Swedish minimalist with white walls, wood floor and metal details.
It might sound pretentious, after all, but we are only playing, and what we do have in common is that we like things old and worn, and looking well loved, even the rough kind of love that a dog might give to a sofa or a table leg…a preference that is mighty convenient when you are building your own house! We do, mostly unintentionally, make things look rather beat-up from the start. But that is just it, we take our clumsy mistakes, and turn them into something beautiful…and as we stumbled through, with more and less grace, the designing and building of the awning for the front steps, we were forced to creatively turn our mistakes into a functioning design. The fact that the door opens out, for example, made it hit the roof rafters, since we do not have much clearing, which encouraged us to cut them in a wavy pattern…and Sebastienne did end up with the ornate swirls she desired, after all! We also added white risers to the stairs, which makes them look sturdier, and stained the steps “espresso” (a blackish brown) – very classy steps for a trailer home. Ragamuffin Royalty.
November 11, 2013
The outside is done.
It was about a year ago that we first stepped foot on our land. Terra comfortably and confidently guided us along, pointing out the 5.5 acres in relation to the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west), as we stumbled over roots and got tangled up in vines. How large it seemed then and so impenetrable. We remained disoriented for quite some time, though we quickly found favorite picnic spots – the three large pines, the fallen log… Now it feels like home. We do not even live there yet, but we feel at home in the woods, we know the trees, the white oaks and red oaks, we can tell a sweetgum from a poplar, sourwood and dogwood (much thanks to Paul and Terra for sharing their knowledge).
We built a woodshed and a toolshed to get everything ready and organized before the trailer arrived in April, which got to be quite the race the closer we got to the due date. During the same time, we finished up the blue prints for the house, ordered supplies, and logged trees until our arms permanently hurt. In May, my parents came for two weeks, and Bosse (my dad) gave us a crash course as we built the floor frame, and the walls came up, the roof on, and the windows in without too many “uh-ohs.” It was a non-stop building sprint from dusk til’ dawn. We were lucky to have enthusiastic and able friends to come out and help us, too, and it was amazing to see how much we could get done in such a short time.
Since then it has been more of a marathon than a sprint, we had to find a pace we could maintain for a year (our estimated time frame). Besides needing to keep our paying job to earn money for building supplies, we also tried to add back the things we do to stay sane, like exercise, sleep in mornings, and pancake breakfasts.
Now it is November, and we finally finished the outside! (We will build a screened in porch once we are living there, and we will get gutters, too, but for now, the house is as done as we need it to be to start building the inside.)
It is incredible how time consuming the details were—the window trim and soffits, for examples, took weeks. Besides that, it was the beveled cedar siding, the utility box, the front steps with a small stoop and roof, not to mention all the touch up jobs, insect netting for the vented walls and roof, vent covers, etc. etc.
If we had been less focused on the aesthetics of it all, we probably could have sped up the process, but being as we are—we labored over each and every detail to get it just right. Luckily, our “just right” only requires certain colors (lots of white and gray), materials (wood wood wood), and shapes (simple with small ornate touches), but we feel more at home in a beat up and well-loved space than a spick-and-span, perfect one. We intentionally sanded down and beat up certain parts to make them look older and softer at the edges. Baudrillard’s “simulacra and simulations” came up more than once as we bashfully confessed that we spent two days making the new, pressure treated pine stairs look like old oak or walnut by staining them dark (espresso), then sanding it all down, and scraping of the edges, before we finally put a clear varnish on top. Same with the cedar siding: we found a great “eco stain” that turned the wood gray immediately (rather than after years, patience isn’t our strong point), before we sealed it with a clear wood varnish. At least it is all real wood, we are not using any laminates or fake siding, we are only speeding up the aging process—we want the old look, but the new functionality.
So here it is: our Cedar Cabin!
November 23, 2013
Just in the nick of time, we managed to get inside before the cold came to Georgia. With a temporary kersone heater, we manage to stay toasty, especially after a couple of hours of building. In three half days, we successfully finished the “downstairs” framing – the bedroom closet, the bathroom, and the living room / kitchen closet. We also built a small storage loft over the kitchen, and put in two cross beams in the cathedral ceiling to prevent the walls from falling out.
December 14, 2013
Life as art – framing the inside and celebrating a small Christmas.
As the year approaches its closure, we have reached yet another milestone in our tiny house building process. Without too much difficulty, we framed the inside walls of the bathroom, the bedroom and “main room” closets, built the kitchen storage loft and the ladder to Ada’s loft, and installed the stained glass window in the internal loft wall. Framing is, so far, our favorite part of building – you start with empty space and a pile of 2X4s, but very quickly get a three-dimensional form. Lego for adults! Simpson’s Framing Angles helped to speed up the work and insure stability.
The most time-consuming part was the internal loft wall, since it required many angle cuts, but with new-found patience and only a handful of retries, we managed to get it the way we wanted. And we did not even build anything in that we cannot get out…we made sure that we can get the sheep wool insulation bags up through the ladder entrance, and the floor and ceiling planks through the wall frame, before we installed the window. We got the beautifully simple stained glass window from the Boyds, and it fits perfectly, both in size and look. Ada will get a cozy reading nook in her loft, looking down into the kitchen/living room. Facing the main room, we will frame the window with built-in bookshelves. We bought 1X6 cedar planks that are amazingly light and smell divine, which we will use for both bookshelves and the closet shelves. The cedar helps repel bugs, and with it being mold resistant in itself—it is an ideal material for buggy and muggy Georgia.
The next step is to install the electricity. We do not have our solar system yet, and probably will not for quite some time, since the package we need for our (tiny) size home go for about $4000. We still need to wire everything now, before we insulate and close up the walls. Several friends (who have done it before) have assured us that wiring should be a breeze, as long as we read up on the newest requirements and regulations. Christmas reading!
Talking about Christmas… Not your traditional traditionalists, and only culturally Christian (taking solely the cozy stuff, and none of the not-cozy stuff), we still have a fuzzy, starry-eyed, irrational love of Christmas. The gingersnaps, candles, hot chocolate, stockings, saffron rolls, homemade decorations, old music, corny movies, and that soft nostalgic feeling that makes you want to wrap the whole world in a warm blanket. So…people have asked us how it will be to celebrate the holidays in 225 square feet. How to fit all the stuff that comes with it – trees and gifts and whatnots. Since we do not live there yet, we cannot say for sure, but the two rooms we currently lodge in are not much larger.
Encouraged by a wish not to contribute to excessive consumerism and the ever-increasing garbage mountains—we try to minimize the stuff-ness of Christmas. That we also have limited funds and very limited storage abilities help us keep our intentions. Environmental and practical reasons aside, most of all we long to heighten our appreciation of Christmas by making everything feel special. Excess numbs the senses. We want to be able to be really grateful for that pair of wool socks and beautiful kitchen towels. Also, tickets to experiences are great gift ideas, and we both appreciate opera and ballet and classical music – none of which create too much garbage or take space in the closet.
For Ada we “adopted” a snow owl (hush hush) via the Defenders of Wildlife , since she is such an animal aficionado. She gets a diploma and a picture of “her” animal, and we know she’ll be thrilled. Though she never was one to say no to a stuffed animal, she idealizes the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who only had one doll and a handful of treasures. Ada envies the intimate relationship with things where all of them feel special – compared to barely being able to remember what toys she has. (Besides us, she also has a dad and a step-mom and four sets of grandparents—she will not go short.) That is said to show that she is aboard our minimalistic lifestyle and our (potential) future in the little house in the woods…
Besides the gifts, there are all the decorations to fit in our yoga mat sized living room… It always feels sad to throw out the tree after the holidays, so this year we got a small Italian Stone Pine in a pot, which we can keep year after year as Christmas bonsai tree. It should fit on our kitchen counter during the winter, and its small decorations (mostly Seb’s felted inventions) does not take up more space than a shoebox. I feel very Swedish during the holidays, and the simple, homemade, spartan style is luckily not too voluptuous. “Less is more” and “quality over quantity” are helpful concepts to adopt if you want to live in a tiny house. It is not deprivation, we think of it as an act of distillation. We distil our life to get to its concentrated form. Like a good perfume.
It is not only during the holidays that we have to hold guard against the accumulation of matter. Gathering and making things seems to be a part of our nature. All of us are playful “artists,” but no big canvases will even get through the door. Instead, we have to make our life our art. Not only metaphorically, but also as folk art – to use our creative energy to make our everyday things beautiful and fun. We cannot have “art” in our house (maybe a handful of small pieces), but the entire house can be artful. Rather than having “decorations,” everything we own can be decorative – a curvy teapot, a painted chair, our homemade quilt, linen napkins, the wood stove… (Our friend John might build us one!). When Ada’s extravagant artist side awakes – we will have her building forest sculptures. She already built (with some help) a sawhorse-horse, which will live and be useful in the woodshed. Otherwise, we have to embrace the sand mandala principle of human creation—that we create not to keep or even to have, but just to create. Quoting an old favorite, Leonard Cohen:
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
And so we create a life. Maybe there will be some ash to show for it. Maybe not.
January 13, 2014
Tiny House Plan and Budget 2014
As unexciting as the title may sound, we are big fans of plans and lists and budgets, they make us feel that we know what we are doing…or at least what we are attempting to do. With such a long and multifaceted project as building a house, not to have a plan would feel like stumbling around in the jungle without a map (I am a big fan of maps, too.). Not to put inappropriate faith in the plan, or cling to it when it no longer make sense, but it is a good starting point.
Preliminary time-line and budget to finish our tiny house:
January: Electrical wiring and bathroom/toilet vent < $300
February: Insulate walls and ceiling, baffles, vapor barrier, < $1000 (We already have the sheep wool insulation for the walls, but need to buy more for the roof.)
March: Bedroom and bathroom ceiling, “sound-proofing” insulation, and loft floor. (Tongue in groove pine planks.)
April: Install tongue and groove pine planks for walls and bead board ceiling ~ $1000
May: Floor! Trim, built in shelves, closets, kitchen cabinets, electrical outlets and switches. Painting! ~$1000 Big Push!
June: Bathtub, water heater, kitchen sink, water pump, pull water from Paul and Terra…?
Primitively move in ready June 21st. (Midsummer’s Eve)
July: Screened-in porch, cont. kitchen, appliances, and all the little details etc.
August: Solar kit, hook up electricity <$4000
September: Incinerating or composting toilet ~$1800
October: Propane heater and wood stove ~$1500
It would be so easy, relatively speaking, if we had money to buy all our supplies at once, and then took a couple of months off to build. Instead, we work four days a week at our paying jobs, home school and do the normal family/house stuff, try to save $500-800 / month for building supplies, buy a box of screws and a car full of 2x4s almost every other week, and THEN we can get down to build 2-3 days/week. Not to mention that we do not have electricity or water at our building site in the woods. So…we are having a lot of fun, and things are progressing as they should, but next time (if there is a next time), we would prefer it if we can build where we live (so as not always have to pack and bring lunch, water, tea, dog, kid, school books, and battery tools) and could use electricity. To not rely on a weekly pay check to buy the materials, would be nice, too.
Of course, we could have saved a lot of money were we not so picky, both with wanting the best possible quality and with wanting things “just so.” We could have built our house a lot cheaper if we were willing to run around looking for recycled materials, but as it is, we loathe driving and shopping, and we are quite conveniently inclined… And with it being our first building project, we are not sure when it is okay to compromise with quality, and when it is important to get things right. We do know to splurge on everything that includes structural integrity, and what keeps us warm and dry, mold and leak free, and as fire proof as possible. We would be happy to find a recycled wood floor (simple pine planks), but they can be even more expensive then the new ones. So…we would like to say that everything is local and personal, but really, most of our supplies come from Home Depot, which has been very convenient and helpful.
This project has really shown us what we are and what we are not, and made us work within our means, abilities, and inclinations.
Our budget has to match our personalities, and then our pace has to match our budget. Which is also why we cannot do big expense projects back to back. For example, it would make sense to put up the wall planks and bead board ceiling right after installing the sheep wool insulation, but since both projects go on roughly $1000/each, we need a month in between. It is mildly annoying not to be able to do things in the “best” order, but we work with what we got. There is always something to do, we will not get bored…
At the moment, we are planning the electrical wiring, plumbing, and vents. We need to cut all the holes in the roof and walls before we install the insulation. It is a slow and tricky phase with little visual reward for a lot of detail work. Not our favorite, in contrast to the framing, which was so rewarding and fun. But we do need water and electricity to make it more than a glorified tent.
Floor plan. Electrical outlets, lamps, vents, and plumbing marked in red and blue.
As our plan states, we are hoping that our Cedar Cabin will be ready before Midsummer’s Eve, for our wedding anniversary getaway! It will be very primitive at first, without water or electricity. The appliances (solar kit, propane heater, wood stove, incinerating or fancy composting toilet) will hopefully not take much work, it is mostly a matter of getting them. We will be very grateful that we still have our apartment in Hannes’ and April’s house—a hot bath never seemed like such a luxury until we considered all it takes in getting one.
January 16, 2014
…so that was what the band was named after!
The past two weeks we wired the electricity, which was rather slow going, since we had to learn everything as we went. Here Sebastienne deserves a lot of credit (as her proud wife, I feel I can brag of my “wifey”) for being such an excellent autodidact, who can learn anything by researching and reading. From not knowing the first thing about electricity a couple of weeks back—she now talks (and works) like a pro. Well, almost. Close enough for us to able to wire the house ourselves.
We do like to do as much as possible ourselves. When we first thought of “building” a house a year and a half ago, we thought we would buy a ready-made one from Tumbleweed, or hire a constructor…then we thought we would buy a kit, or at least the frame… Soon we wanted to draw our own blueprints, and thought we might as well build it, too. At least we would hire someone to do the electricity and plumbing, we thought…but now we cannot help ourselves. Or, actually, that’s just what we can.
It is amazing, really, how much you can do if you read instructions carefully (everything has instructions, even the smallest outlet part), work slowly, think twice (or ten times), and work with appropriate tools. We like to figure things out ourselves, it becomes a game, a puzzle. It was fun to imagine ourselves drinking tea on the sofa (oh, we need a light there, a plug for the computer there), or reading in bed, hanging out in the kitchen, etc., so as to decide exactly where to have all outlets and light switches. There are standard heights for everything (48” from the top of the light switches to the floor, 18” for the outlets), and as much as possible we tried to stick with the norm, since it has come to feel intuitive.
We have only done the regular AC wiring, so far, but we will wire the DC next week for the propane heater, kitchen vent, and toilet vent—all RV or boat models, which require DC.
Back home in town, we flip the switches with new awareness and appreciation – there is a whole world hidden in the walls and behind those outlets.
January 31, 2014
In Defense of Dreams
Dreaming. Often, forward-looking phenomenological experiences such as anticipation, longing, and dreaming get classed as second-rate, devalued for their presumed lack of presence, or, perhaps more accurately, for their seeming lack of satisfaction with the present moment. As feelings go, anticipation is not very “Zen,” but it is not necessarily the antithesis to, or even in conflict with, a peacefully present mind. Without getting too philosophically technical or becoming too assertive about what reality is or what a life well lived looks like, we can still establish that the experience of anticipation is as real as the tea we are drinking. Unless we completely dismiss the internal world, and only value what our hands and feet are doing, some of our most sublime experiences take place within the realm of the mind. Rather than dismissing dreaming, and laugh at its questionable rationality, scold its presumptions, and send it dog-faced to the closet, maybe there is a way to enjoy it without losing touch with the world around us.
The tingling day before Christmas…planning your summer vacation in January…fantasizing of tomorrow’s sleep-in-morning… finding the music for your wedding…dreaming of the first kiss…all moments of anticipation whose enjoyment, excitement, and pleasure can rarely be beat by the actual day, thing, or experience. The common fact that “reality” rarely trumps our dreams thereof (though there are exceptions when the opposite is true, too), could make us feel embarrassed and defeated, but if we take full responsibility for our dreams and learn to love the experience of anticipation for what it is, then we can suck all the sweetness out of longing without it sucking the same out of our future.
In our dreams we are creative gods, playing with potentials, and just maybe—something may come of it. The trick is not to confuse the excitement of expectation with the very uncertain joy of getting whatever it is you are expecting. All the joy you can count on is the joy of expectation itself. The experience of dreaming, longing, planning, hoping, anticipating—is what is now, what is real. It does not necessarily relate to future events at all, but that does not have to make it less enjoyable.
For the past week, we were snowed-in in town. It does not take much to be snowed-in in Georgia, two inches and some ice is enough for the schools to close and the roads to be deserted. Not that we complain, we revel in these rare days off, take long, snowy walks with our bouncy dogs, drink hot chocolate while wrapped in blankets, and chomp away at the piles of books we both have at our bedsides. We dream of our tiny house.
To design and build your own house is one of the most fertile grounds for dreaming and planning. Apparently also for hairsplitting and divorces, we have heard, but that is far from our experience. This is the fun part! Sure, we do look forward to (…) a day when we no longer have to use every spare penny for screws, and when we actually get to live in our little house in the woods, but we are both well aware that this might be the best part. How many nights we have curled up on the sofa with a pot of tea, a pile of Swedish design and decorating magazines, the IKEA catalog, tiny house books, and the computer for the Internet research, and had as much fun as two best friends and wives can have?! This is how we play.
Once we live in the house, we start our new projects (I will write a book, and Seb will hopefully start a PhD program), though we are sure to enjoy the lived result of our dreams manifested.
It is not much different from when you were a kid and built a tree house…does anyone remember actually playing in the house once it was done? It was the idea born among friends and the adventure of building that was fun: to collect scrap wood, the precarious climb up, your father’s too heavy hammer, nails that all wanted to bend, the laughing and sweating, and the smell of sap under your fingernails. Once it was done, we sat with legs dangling among the tree tops, and dreamed of our next adventure.
February 9, 2014
Celebrating with electricity and sheep wool insulation
We had a really fun week, which for us currently means that we had a lot of visible progress on the house. I turned 35, and my generous parents gave us a generous contribution that we, of course, spent on building materials. Who would have thought that baffles (attic ventilation system), insulation, and lumber could be such a good present?! Jig worthy, even.
How lucky we are to wake up excited with that bubbling feeling of not being able to wait to rush outside. Excited or not, first we have to eat breakfast, feed chickens and dogs, make and pack lunch and tea, get on the work clothes, empty the dishwasher, and whatnot, before we can get out of the house. “We’re off like a herd of turtles,” as Sebastienne’s grandma used to say. Once we are building, though, we both get so swept up in the work that we are reluctant to take pee breaks…in the flow of satisfying work/play we are at our happiest.
We work best when we have separate projects, since we both like to decide what to do, and then do it…neither of us make very good assistants or second fiddlers. It is perfect to have the other one around for sharing a cup of tea or a kiss, but to be able to work on our own. Last week I insulated the walls, while Seb ran the DC wire and hooked up the distribution panel/breaker box. Seb had to wrestle with the thick DC wire for the propane vent, toilet vent, and stove vent (all RV or boat models that require DC), and she also hooked up a couple of DC outlets where we can charge the computer, for example.
We love the sheep wool insulation that we got from Good Shepherd Wool Insulation. Compared to itchy and gross fiberglass, it is like wrapping your house in a wool blanket. Cozy enough to snuggle with. The wool is also pest, mold and flame resistant, and regulates the humidity in the house by taking up the humidity when the air is moist (without losing its R value), and releasing it when it is dry. It arrived in bats, which were relatively easy to cut to size and staple in place.
We also put up the baffles (attic ventilation system) to be able to maintain the 1″ air gap that will vent our gabled cathedral ceiling when we later install the roof insulation. Without the air gap, our work with the soffits would have been all for naught, and we sweated enough over those soffits last summer not to ever forget them. The baffles were cheap, light, and quick to install – that’s the way we like it!
Now…damtaramtamtam…we get to order the bead board ceiling, V-planks for the walls, and white pine tongue in groove planks for the floor. Fun!
February 15, 2014
Getting Warm (insulating the roof)
Our brains seem to have a connection, which makes us know what the other will say just before she says it, dream what the other dreams. Sure, since we spend most of our time together—we do know each other’s habits and thoughts and use of words, and we get the same visual, sensory, and auditory impressions throughout the day that also affect our dreams. Still, our dreams are similar in surprising ways. Let us say that I meet a tiger in the jungle, and, at the same time, a tiger randomly pops up in Seb’s (dream-) super market, or Seb has a nostalgic dream of her old friends, and the same friends (unknown to me) make a visit in my dream, too. Brain waves jump from little spoon to big spoon.
This connection, this occasionally illuminating and occasionally muddling of brain waves, is our only explanation to why both of us could have thought that all our roof insulation would fit in the Jeep, together with us, the dog, and some groceries. For being such brainy girls, something obviously went wrong with our reasoning. It was a lack of reasoning, more likely. Six giant packs of Roxul Stone Wool insulation and twenty 4×8’ foam boards do not fit in a car. Not even close.
Standing outside Lowes with the helpful loaders, it was hard not to blush when they looked at our car, then at the mountain of insulation, and back at our car again. Oh my. It took us three loads, and it took some good pushing to fit the last wool bags, and it was only with the utmost of stubbornness that the four feet wide and eight feet long foam boards squeaked even half way into the car.
It was 9 pm, and cold, dark, and windy when we finally got the last insulation out to the land. Carrying the giant boards on our heads, I sighed good-humoredly: “We’re crazy…” Whereupon Seb replied: “Of course. We have to be to build our own house.”
There is probably some truth to that.
But we did not feel so crazy when we the next day managed to finish insulating the entire roof! One of the many benefits of building a small house is that each aspect is so very manageable, even if it does not quite fit in a car.
We did not use the sheep wool for the roof/ceiling, since we would not have been able to get a very high R-value in our limited space. We used two 0.5” foam boards (they did not come in 1”), and 3.5” of the stone wool insulation, which gave us a total 22 R-value. Not much, but the best we could do. We chose the stone wool because it is non-flammable, non-toxic, and mold resistant.
What better thing to do on Valentine’s Day than to make our house warm and cozy?
February 27, 2014
Beginning to see the light
“Well, I’m beginning to see the light…” (Velvet Underground)
As spring takes one step forward and two steps back (it was under 20 F this morning!), we are beginning to see the end. For the longest time, it made us feel faint even to try to think of finishing the house—it loomed on the other side of an unknown land filled with an impossible amount of dragons to fight, mysteries to solve, and ravines to cross. Luckily, we managed to set one foot in front of the other, and immersed ourselves with the immediate task at hand without letting the distant horizon intimidate us. We got braver with each accomplished task. Now we know that we are able finish the rest, even though we still have months of work ahead of us.
We “only” have to install the bead board ceiling, v-plank walls, and tongue and groove floor planks. Then comes the trim work, painting, cabinet and closet building, the bathroom, plumbing (we want exposed copper pipes, which is why we will do it last), water hook-up, back porch…easy…Ha. After soon a year of building, we are well aware of that each task is so much more involved than it first seems, and that it is small detail work that takes the longest.
Take Ada’s loft floor, for example. It could be as easy as putting the planks up…but it is not. Since the loft will be right on top of our bedroom, we want to make sure to soundproof it as much as possible. Ada is soon to be a teenager, and though she has good (according to us…) taste in music so far (…playing our old CDs), you never know what is coming. We started with spraying all the rafters with Concrobium (mold control spray), which helps kill and prevent mold without any toxins. Once they were dry, we stapled a plastic vapor barrier under the rafters, since my allergies and asthma make us extra aware of dust and mold. Then came the insulation – we used what was left from the walls and roof, a mix of sheep wool and stone wool. We also put foam tape on top of the rafters that will help prevent the wood on wood sound transfer. Finally, (before the actual floor), we decided to put another vapor barrier just under Ada’s floor to make sure she does not inhale any dust or mold from the rafters or insulation. It was a long debate, since we were worried that the double vapor barrier will not allow any moisture to escape if it does get into the floor.
The balance between water proofing and ventilating, keeping water out and letting it escape, has been one of our recurring challenges throughout the planning and building. Condensation and mold are among our biggest concerns in muggy Georgia, in particular in a small space. We did ventilate the external part of the roof, but put a vapor barrier in the ceiling. The walls are “airier” with an air space under the siding, though we have house wrap to protect the OSB. We chose not to put a vapor barrier on the inside of the insulation, since the sheep wool is supposed to help regulate to moisture. The final result is still left to see, but so far our house seems dry despite all the downpours we have had the past year. No more drought in Georgia, it seems.
Another long debate was what to put on the walls and ceiling. We knew wanted bead board and v-planks, since drywall or plywood would risk making it look cheaper and more like a trailer house. The planks, we thought, would make it look more like the little cedar cottage we wanted. The issue was the thickness. I have an aversion to flimsy walls, and wanted the thicker 1 x 6 x 12 Tongue & Groove Knotty Whitewood Pattern Board that have bead board on one side and v-plank style on the other, whereas Sebastienne argued for the thinner and lighter Hakwood 8 ft. x 4 in. x 5/16 in. Knotty Pine Beaded Plank Kit (6-Piece) that come in either bead board or v-plank style. In the end, the worry that our house will be too heavy to pass road inspection won over the worry that the walls would feel a little “flimsy.” We bought a trial pack to test, and because our studs are only 16″ apart on center (instead of 24″), it feels much sturdier than we thought. It looks so beautiful, and now we can barely wait to put up the rest.
We ordered a generator, too, and next week we should have power so that we can use the electric chop saw and jig saw, which will be immensely helpful for the many many cuts that awaits us. In a month or so, our house will surely be worth looking at.
We are truly beginning to see the light, but we are not hanging our hats on any exact finishing date yet (summer-ish). If we have learned anything, it is to take one day at the time, plod along, have fun building, and not to swear too much over re-dos.
The value of gumption, generators, and knotty pine
“Cowardice is the most terrible of vices.” (Mikhail Bulgakov)
“So much was uncertain, but the question wasn’t where to go or what was to be done; rather, to live a life of courage or to not.” (Andy Farkas)
Two of our most frequently quoted sayings relate to courage—we both agree with Bulgakov that cowardice is, if not the most terrible vice, at least the ruin of all things good and noble. Uncontrolled fear is not only a poor decision maker; it festers behind most hateful deeds, prejudices, resentments, and insincere and petty lives. A life lived large must be one of bravery, not necessarily a fearless or reckless life, but one where fear is ridden rather than running amok.
We borrowed the big delivery van from work to pick up the flooring from a nearby town, and as we maneuvered out of the driveway we looked at each other with excited “uh oh” faces.
“It feels like we are kids stealing a car,” I said, and Sebastienne agreed, adding that she often wonders: “Where is the adult?” Maybe it is because we are both girls and of petite stature, or because we play when others trudge, but we frequently feel like children out and about in the world without adult supervision. In our mid-thirties with surprise wrinkles a little bit here and there, with a daughter old enough to hit puberty any day, and with a tea drinking and early to bed lifestyle of two grandmas—one would think that we should feel legit by now. Instead we maintain a giddy sense of liberation, as if we sneaked out the backdoor of our parents’ house and took off on a neck breaking adventure.
That said, we do occasionally get scared, and the exhilarated “uh oh” turns into a worried “uh oh-oh no.” It is scary to build your own house without any prior experience, to wire electricity from a manual, and to spend every penny you earn on something pretty much un-insurable that could get lost in a fire or tornado, or be cut in half by a tree. Here is where courage comes in. We are the first ones to acknowledge our imperfections and weaknesses, but one of the things we respect about each other is that at least we have gumption. That no matter if we get weak-kneed and nauseated by anxiety—we still do whatever it is we want to do, say, or be. Cultivating courage does not guarantee an easy life, but it will almost most certainly inspire an interesting one.
So…the electricity worked! We are now proud owners of a propane generator, which we use until we get the solar panels, and later as a backup, and to load our batteries if needed. It felt like magic to plug in the extension cord (cut in one end) from the generator to the breaker box, flip the switch and have light. And to know that we did it!
That we now have electricity also meant that we could bring the out the chop saw and jig saw—both immensely helpful as we are installing the ceiling, walls, and floor.
Starting with the bathroom, Seb cut a hole for the vent and installed the duct, and that was one of those wide-eyed kid moments when we kept waiting for someone to come and scold us for cutting a hole in the wall.
I installed a white beaded board behind the stairs to the loft, since it will remain visible, before I stapled and taped a vapor barrier covering the whole bathroom interior: walls, ceiling, and floor. We decided on using v-groove cedar planks for both the walls and ceiling in the bathroom, since cedar is more mildew and pest resistant than the pine we use for the rest of the house. Besides being a pain in the neck, quite literally, since I had to face up the whole time I did the ceiling, the v-groove planks were relatively easy and quick to install.
The cedar smells divine, and it finally conquered the lanolin sheep wool scent that we have come to associate with home. Unfortunately, the cedar smell will most likely subside when we paint it all white—even though we love the wood, bare planks look too much like a sauna for our taste. We will use the most heavy duty water resistant paint we can find, but we still have to be careful with water, and need an all-around shower curtain for the bathtub.
Sebastienne started with the short wall in the kitchen, since she wanted some fun inspiration after weeks of time consuming electrical work that rarely gave any quick results. Once the wall and the bead board under the mini-loft were up, she installed the kitchen lamp (from IKEA), and we could stand back and Oh! and Ah! and dream of potted herbs and hanging pans.
Yesterday we finally got to pick up our pine planks for the floor from a lumber liquidation warehouse/pick up location close to Atlanta. Besides being lightweight and cheap, we settled for New England White Pine because it is bright and simple, and fits with the classic (Swedish) country look we are going for. We picked 6’’ wide and 8’ long boards, since they are the most plank-like planks we could think of. As we delivered the floor to the tiny house, we got so excited that we laid the planks out in Ada’s loft to get a sneak peak. The floor oozes summer, it is not as yellow as yellow pine, (which we do not really like), but it gives off a pale golden white shimmer. A floor to inspire bare feet.
For the economically and practically interested, here is the budget for the last part:
Floor: 430 sq. ft. (220 main level, 120 for the loft + some extra for spill etc.)New England White Pine, 6”x8’ tongue in groove planks — $1.19 / sq. ft. roughly $480
Walls: 400 sq. ft. 1/4″ thick, 4″ wide, 8 ‘ long, knotty pine edge v planks (Home Depot) $17.45/pack (includes 6 boards) $525 total
Ceiling: 400 sq. ft. knotty pine beaded planks (Home Depot) — $17.86/pack $535
Generator: Sportsman 4,000 Watt Propane Generator (Amazon) — $360
…and of course the added cost of a whole lot of finishing nails, a hole drill bit here, and some duct tape there. Still, pretty affordable for a whole house!
We hope to be able to take a week off work in the end of March or beginning of April to do another big push—now when we have the material we cannot wait to get to work. I only have to get myself healthy first, since I am back horizontal with yet another sinus infection/cold/flu like ailment. How much of humankind is held back by petty colds? I need gumption to get out of bed.
March 21, 2014
Ada’s loft – there is always spackle, paint, and “good enough.”
Hats off to real carpenters who know how to get things straight, square, and smooth. We do not. We do try our darndest to make things (the house and life in general) as perfect as possible, and pull out the most painfully bent nails and atrociously crooked planks, but we are okay with “good enough.” Throughout the building process, we sing the same old song: “We’ll have trim there.” “There is always spackle and paint.” “It’s good enough.” When things are looking particularly grim, we offer each other the ultimate permission slip: “It will look charming…homemade.” That is when you know that it is really crooked.
Building the loft was no exception, especially since I was stubborn enough to start putting up the ceiling on my own while Sebastienne installed the solar vent and worked on the short walls. The bead board planks for the ceiling are 8 feet long (I had to cut them to fit the rafters, and make sure to vary the lengths so as not make all the transitions at the same place), very wobbly, and have delicate tongues, which made them quite tricky to install. I had to lay on my back, and use knees, feet, elbows, and whatever I had available to keep the planks in place while I nailed them in. I did think that there must be an easier way…and it was! Once Sebstienne was ready with her project and came to help me, it did not only go twice as fast, but ten times. To have a pair of hands in each end made all the difference, and suddenly the planks were much more willing to cooperate. To think that I had spent a day’s worth of work doing something that could have taken a couple of hours with help was a little laughable, but at least the end result looks “good enough.” Actually, it looks beautiful.
Ada loves her new room, and is already plotting her decorating scheme to be “simple, mostly white, with a little bit of blue.” Yep, we have indoctrinated her well.
March 31, 2014
Mini building push – we got hammer hands, ceiling, and walls.
After five ten hour workdays, we got the ceiling and walls up in the kitchen / living room. As a bonus, we got “hammer hands” (something like carpal tunnel, the hands get inflamed, and the fingers fall asleep) bad enough to keep us up at night. We did not have a nail gun, and each and every plank needed two finishing nails every 16 inches (on every stud / rafter), which meant a lot (a lot) of hammering. Still, all we want to do is to keep on going. It is so fun, just plain fun!
Most of the time…there were some moments when we squeezed up under the ceiling with aching necks and flattened thumbs that were less joyous. I asked my wifey dear if she was having fun, and the response was a humorous snort: “In the broadest sense.” Sometimes it is hard, as in complicated, difficult, heavy, and physically taxing. It goes to show that hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. While huffing and puffing, sighing and swearing, we also look at each other with shiny and excited eyes. We are building our own house! Wow. With each and every plank we see our house coming into being, it is as cozy as can be, and we cannot wait to live there. We can feel the space now, and it feels like home.
April 5, 2014
5000 nails later…
Roughly calculated, we used almost 5000 1.5” finishing nails to install the beaded board ceiling and the v-groove plank walls, both tongue in groove, throughout the house. Each nail required at least three “whacks” to get in—that is a lot of hammering. I can hardly think of a more meditative job; it is tricky enough that you have to stay focused, but not so difficult that you get frustrated. Each plank leads to the next and the next and next, and so the hours pass. Sebastienne made up a little humming song, Winnie the Pooh style: “Pick it up, slide it in, waggle, waggle, waggle, whack, whack, whack, hammer, hammer, hammer, and again.” (The whacking here refers to gently using the mallet to get the tongue into the groove without damaging it.)
By late Friday afternoon, we had finished our bedroom nook and the closet, and could sit back to enjoy our progress. The spring breeze flowed in through the open Dutch door and the Dogwood trees’ white blossoms lit up the forest. All was good in the world.
We have a tiny bedroom; the emphasis is really on the bed part, rather than the room… The nook itself is 55.5” wide and 84” long, which fits, without much room to spare, a full size bed. Here I feel the need to add something for those of you who might be thinking of downsizing and/or building your own house: Our “tiny house” is almost twice the size of most houses built on wheels because we wanted to have a separate bedroom on the ground floor, plus a closed off sleeping loft for our daughter. Since we also wanted a backdoor to the porch, we did not have the option of turning the bed sideways, which is why all we can fit is a full size mattress without filling up the corridor. We are not particularly big, vertically or horizontally or circumferencely, and we are mighty fond of each other—a full size bed is all we need, but we did think over our sleeping habits and needs carefully before we made this design decision.
Another instance when size and compatibility can make a big difference is the closet. We are the same size and have, more or less unintentionally, developed an overlapping clothing style. We do not only wear the overalls and plaid shirts and whatnots we use during construction, but we tend to stay with the basics and share most of our clothes. I have a handful of favorite dresses that Sebastienne would not wear, but mostly, we have one closet instead of two. (Sometimes it is practical to have a same sex partner!) Ada would wear her black tights and grey hoodie every day if they did not have to get washed occasionally—her closet needs are miniscule.
We have been sorting through our closet regularly for the past year, slowly getting rid of everything besides our absolute favorites, those clothes that we fight over and that always seem to be in the laundry. I gave most of the dresses to my dear friend Jody, and I enjoy seeing them around town, the rest of the discards went to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. As with everything else, the more we get rid of, the more the things we keep shine. To have a closet where everything is a favorite means that our clothes resemble the love worn “Velveteen Rabbit;” threadbare and a little frayed at the edges, but it also means that they feel “real.” Our goal is that all the things and beings around us, from the teapot to the dog, will feel just as loved and appreciated. (If Alma, our hound dog, did not grow new hair, she would be naked by now after all our kisses and cuddles.)
I guess that one of the secrets to a small (large) life is to know what you love, and to love it well. Then the rest is just details.
April 26, 2014
The elasticity of time, my grandfather, and pine plank flooring.
This week we installed the white pine plank flooring, and with that, successfully finished the heavy construction part, and started the sock footed phase. I have done this before, 20 years ago, and it both feels like yesterday and an eternity ago, which made me think about time…
The infinity rubber band theory.
I do not see time as an arrow flying forward, leaving history in its wake. My experience of time is more elastic and circular—the future touches back on the past and yesterday stumbles over tomorrow. Sebastienne calls it “Maria’s rubber band infinity theory,” which I find adequately unserious.
To start with a basic thought experiment; think of the year as a circle where January resides at noon, April hangs out around 3, and October dawdles at 9. This circle is a rubber band, and as I give it a metaphorical pull and let go, this April day snaps together with October, which is both the previous one in 2013 and the coming one in 2014.
If you look at the circle as a person’s life: birth and death and all the rest are all infinitely close, entangled, and simultaneous. Our experience of time, however, is born in our now-ness, and like a rubber band it occasionally feels stretched out, sometimes all in a jumble or collapsed in a heap, and often it rests in something akin to the infinity symbol. As I stand here, rocking on my heels, today bumps into yesterday and tomorrow.
People often ask if we have any previous building experience, but so far in the construction pretty much everything has been a first. From this point on, though, I have some knowledge in my pocket. As a teenager, I spent close to three years renovating an old cottage on the farm I grew up on. With the help of my parents and my grandfather, and other helpful souls, I dug a cellar, put in new floor beams, insulation, and windows, designed and installed the kitchen and bathroom, scraped and painted the bead board ceiling, and everything else needed to make the 100 years old cottage livable. It was really cool to be able to move into my first “tiny house” when I was eighteen, even though my lust for adventure took me away from it shortly thereafter.
My grandfather,”farfar,” Olle Sjoholm, helps me dig the ditch for the waterline. Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of us laying the floor.
My grandfather, Olle Sjöholm, is dead, but my memory of him teaching me how to lay a plank floor is present enough for me to see the sweat rings on his red flannel shirt. To me, that time is not gone; it is just not where my now is. My perspective on time does not make me prone to nostalgia or sentimentality, since everything and nothing is all there and not there at the same time.
Olle, or “farfar” as I called him in Swedish, was not philosophically inclined, but he was a meticulous man, who did whatever he did with utmost care. It is a mystery to me how he always managed to keep his hands clean despite building and working on the farm. I am one to get glue behind my ears and paint in my armpits, not to mention the sad state of my hands. Not my farfar, though, he used his engineer mind and surprisingly tanned hands to plan and prepare a job down to the details. He often took as much time getting ready for the job as he took executing it. I often think of his preparation skills and clean hands, but I rarely have the patience to follow his example.
A lesson that stuck with me, though, is how to deal with cracks and gaps in a pine plank floor. I must have been 16, or so, when farfar and I installed the floor in “Kvanstugan” (The Mill Cottage). No matter how meticulously we worked, it was close to impossible to make the tongue and groove planks align and seal perfectly. When cracks inevitably happened, he gave me a conspiratorial nod, meaning that it was time for the “glue and sand technique.” First, squeeze good carpentry glue down into the crack. Second, scrape off excess glue with a spackle. Third, gently sand over the crack until it is full of sawdust. It is easier to get the sawdust in without getting the glue out if you go diagonally over the crack, but be careful not to scratch up the wood.
May 7, 2014
Spring at Dogwood Getaway (and Sebastienne’s accident)
The universe wants to be noticed, or at least it seems that way in spring when crispy green leaves roll themselves open as we walk by, wispy wild flowers wink from the side of the road, and from every mossy nest and wobbly branch tiny, wide-eyed beings demand our instant attention and adoration. It is hard to get anything done when there is so much to look at and admire. As Kenneth Graham described it in “The Wind in the Willows:” Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.” No wonder Mole abandoned his spring cleaning to chase the flirtatious wind.
Spring comes slower to our shady Dogwood Getaway than it does in town, but once it finally got warm enough the trees went from winter pale to fluorescent green in less than a week. As the pictures below show, we had jackets and hats on one week, and merely tank tops the next. Like Mole, we had a hard time focusing on inside work when the woods were begging us on its muddy knees to come out and play. Quickly seduced, we did.
While Sebastienne and I spent most of last year hammering away at the house, Ada has been exploring our land, finding clever ways of combining her school work with forest expeditions. Besides the more obviously outdoorsy classes like biology and nature studies, she found inspiration for poetry, art, and adventure stories while roaming the woods. She is now more familiar with the land than we are, and she took us on a nature walk to point out where the creek is the deepest, where the prettiest ferns grow, and where her favorite trees hold court. Violets and Trillium were treasures to discover, and each one elicited a new yelp from whoever was lucky enough to spot it. We also met a baby toad and a baby box turtle, one more shy than the other, but both equally charming to our easily endeared hearts.
Reluctant to go back inside, we decided to take the week to spring clean our woods. When we first got the land, a year and a half ago, we bought a chainsaw, taught ourselves how to use it, and cut just enough trees for the driveway, the house, and a sunny spot for the solar panels. Much of it is already overgrown again, since wet and hot Georgia is a greenhouse gone wild. The speed of growth is spectacular, as is the variety of species. It is with strange pride that we walk around and check on our favorite giant Pine, Sourwood, Dogwood, White Oak, Black Cherry, Maple, and Beech tree, which all have come to feel familial. We love our woods, and want them to stay as natural and native as possible, but we help it along by taking down the excess of teenage pines, dead or overly bushy trees, and cut back a fraction of the muscadine vines whose eerily muscular arms climb the trees and cover the ground.
My wonderfully fun friend and gardener boss Susie is a true connoisseur of plants and all that grows, and she often gives me baby trees and bushes that all come with their family history and nurturing advice. We planted three cedars and three green Japanese Maples of hers, and are excited to follow their growth through the years to come. It does feel a bit funny to cut down some trees and then plant others, as Ada pointed out, which is how I often feel about weeding in general. What is a weed, anyway? I explained it to Ada by comparing it to my take-no-prisoners attitude in regard to decorating—it is not that one color is less beautiful than another, but they do not all look beautiful together. Some “weeding” and “re-planting” is necessary for them to come to their utmost potential. All in my eyes, of course, since I am the one playing artist with my surroundings. For the woods own sake, we attempt to keep a mix of all varieties and all ages, and enough debris to feed them.
To bind the mud and break up the clay around the house and for our future garden, we planted pounds worth of clover (New Zealand White, Crimson, and Mammoth Red Clover from Johnny’s Selected Seeds at and other cover crops. Planting required that we lugged buckets of water from home, which was a bit of a pain, and made us even more motivated to finally get up the gutters and water barrels. It is already starting to sprout all around us, but we are still sliding in the mud when it rains, and following Susie’s advice, we got cypress mulch for a path, since it is supposed to stay put. She also recommended that we buy cedar shavings from the pet store to put under the trailer to keep unwanted critters, like termites, at bay. The cedar mulch you buy at the hardware store, like Home Depot, uses the bark of the cedar rather than the center of the tree, which gives it a weaker smell and is therefore less affective. The pet store clerk must have thought we have a hamster farm as we emptied the shelves of litter.
My loveliest spring moment was when I came upon a part of the woods where we rarely walk, which was covered in the darkest, deepest moss and surrounded by ferns. Enchanted, I was careful not to disturb it, but I managed to pick around the edges until I got a bucket full of moss and two delicate and whimsy looking ferns. At that moment, no treasure could have seemed richer. I brought my find back to the house to decorate a stump that is right in our view (in the shade). Here we are, in the midst of house building, and I prettify a stump… It may seem like a frivolous use of time, but I felt like a bird collecting lovely things to decorate my nest. Something eternally feminine (not as in “by female”) called me through the woods, and I felt that I, too, was part of spring.
And now for something completely different… So far we have been getting away with minor scrapes, bumps, and bruises, but spring cleaning brought with it our first real accident. With enough distance and the relief of knowing the outcome, it does not seem so bad, but it was rather scary at first. We had spent a drizzly afternoon cutting down sad-looking pine trees, and everything was going smoothly. Seb had just said how much easier it felt to handle the chainsaw, when I heard a tree fall, turned around to see my beloved wife clutching her head while the chainsaw laid on the ground. It was on, but the blade was not running, I managed to notice before I ran up to her with a beating heart. She had done everything right, and the tree had fallen as she had planned, but before it fell, it must have knocked down a dead branch from high among the tangle of crowns, which then had fallen straight on her head. (She had honestly forgotten the helmet, which we otherwise always wear.) Besides a bump and a bruise over her right eyebrow, her head was fine, and I breathed out. That was when she noticed her right hand. “I’m pretty sure I broke my thumb,” she said as a matter of fact, and it did look horribly swollen and crooked. I got her to sit down and take some ibuprofen while I planted the rose-bush that laid roots in the air where I had dropped it, locked the chainsaw in the shed, and got the dog and the kid to the car. The whole time, Sebastienne chatted on almost happily, giving us a moment to moment update on her experience.
Muddy, wet, and with pine needles in the most inappropriate places, we got to Immediate Care (cheaper than E.R.) right before closing. They could not see much on the X-ray, but they at least established that the break wasn’t at the knuckle joint, as we first had feared. In the end, all she got was something to stabilize the thumb, and the advice to take it easy.
To take it easy, is easier said than done when you are a chef at your day job, and a house builder on your days off. I have done my best to keep her still, which is easier said than done, too, but she has been using her left hand very creatively, and so far she seems to heal well. I guess I will be doing most of the hammering this week, though, and maybe I can convince her to enjoy the hammock. The spring never lasts long in Georgia, and soon the delicate spring will be taken over by the heavyset summer, which knocks you out rather than seduces. There is still time to take notice.
June 6, 2014
There is no trim for the trim
It is a year of weddings, we have no fewer than five to attend to, and though large gatherings are not usually our idea of a good time, we are nothing but overjoyed at seeing our friends shiny eyed with love (and a bit of champagne). At two out of the three weddings we attended so far, a certain Kurt Vonnegut quote circled:
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”
Your wedding day is hopefully a time for murmuring joyful vignettes, but we have already had two of those, and doubt our friends would indulge us a third. Lucky for us, to sit in the woods after a day of satisfying work with our feet high while evening birds chirp and we eat watermelon that tastes like rain and sunshine is not too bad either. We notice it.
It is a good thing that we know how to rest within our few minutes of lean-back-time, since we have worked pretty much nonstop during the past month, both at our paying jobs and our house-building, sometimes going straight from one to the other. (Which is also why I have not taken the time to write or take pictures.) We finished all the trim work—windows, doors, corners, transitions, bookshelves, the ladder to the loft… We dreaded this part, being well aware of that there is no trim for the trim, meaning that now there would be no cover up in case of mistakes. Now was the time to take the house from being functional to also looking good. It turned out to be both easier and more fun than we had anticipated, the reward being so addictive that we worked late into the evening with the motto: “Just one more window… I just want to finish this… It would look so much better if I only…” And so on.
We settled for simple square trim in the corners and between the ceiling and the wall, since it spared us all the angle cuts required for rounded trim. For the floorboards and window trim we picked super cheap pine 1x2s that cost less than a dollar for an eight foot board, compared to many of the other trim choices that cost more than that per foot. Our laziness and shortage of money turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we came to realize that the no-trim look is perfect for our house. With the house being so small, and everything from floor to ceiling pine planks in one form or another, bigger trim would have overwhelmed and cheapened the look. As it is now, the trim simply cover transitions, but does not stick out at all. It will all be painted the same white, too, which will enhance the no-trim feeling.
The thresholds were also hurdles we had conveniently avoided, but that turned out to be a fun project. During the past year we have probably bought and returned at least five different versions, none of which fit or were to our liking. We now decided to make our own, both for the inside (bedroom and bathroom transitions) and for the two external doors. For Forrest’s door, we used cedar to match the look, and I spent a day chiseling, rasping, and sanding it down, which turned out really well. For the inside, Sebastienne picked white pine to match the floor, and managed to use the circular saw to cut the angles. The porch door got a pressure treated 1×6, which we later treated with polyurethane.
Finally, we spent a week (still going at it) sanding everything from the unfinished trim to the floor. The hand-sander is easy to use, and we both fight over its satisfying efficiency, even though it is loud and sprays saw dust in all directions. Despite face masks, earplugs, glasses, head-scarves, and gloves, we still get the fine sawdust in every crevice. Ada said that we look like an unflattering mix of nurse, bandit, and bug.
The cleaning will be a full day’s work, but by the end of next week we should be ready to paint. We are excited enough to keep up the pace a little longer. This is the fun part. (Haven’t we said that all along?)
June 18, 2014
Paint push Swedish style: white eco paint and gently treated white pine floor.
I do not like labels, in particularly not the defining ones, since their lack of paradox, complexity, and changeability make them smell an awful lot like lies, or at least gross simplifications. I consider myself a human that is anatomically female and culturally cosmopolitan. The rest is details, social constructions that occasionally have something interesting to say about my experience, but most of the time hide more than they reveal. One of the details is that I was born in the part of the world that rather arbitrarily is labeled Sweden. I moved away shortly after I finished high school, which has made my lasting impression a mix of idyllic childhood memories and critical teenage disillusionment. I never got a chance to get the adult’s more nuanced perspective on the country I grew up in.
There is one thing that I have fond memories of from both my younger, home-team-supporting days, and my older, no-team days—the aesthetics. I can claim no objectivity here; I was force-fed white walls, pale pine floors, woven rugs, linen cloths, natural materials like wood, metal, and sheep skins, sparse design, pale, subdued colors and white white white. It is all about the light, about letting the sun in whenever it comes for one of its rare visits. I never got tired of the bright simplicity, and I still find Swedish design the most unpretentiously beautiful and livable.
I appreciate that it is a classless aesthetics—you can find it in Stockholm’s most fancy villas and in the smallest, summer cottage. Everybody can afford to not have too much stuff…to keep their rooms simple, open, and clean. Rich people often get too tempted to show off their wealth, which is probably why high couture and design can be so tacky, and I am sure that there are tasteless Swedes, but most of the time they use the inclination to spend their money on quality over quantity. The result is homes that you can (and should) walk barefoot in, where a jar of dandelions looks sunny on the kitchen table, and quickly boiled summer potatoes with fresh fish, a bit a butter and dill is all the feast you need.
Sebastienne and I currently live in muggy Georgia with its fireflies and ice tea, without a single reindeer in sight (Not that there were any reindeer outside Stockholm, either.) and plenty of sun to go around. We have made this part of the world our home, and though I rarely miss Sweden, I do miss its beauty. Luckily, my Texan wife, who has a (perhaps) surprising love for romantic French country-style, was easily won over to the cozy Swedish country cottage look. My mother gave us a subscription to “Landliv” (Country Life), and its monthly dose of white and wood helped to convince her. The real reason, though, is that we are going to have such a small house that almost any other style would overwhelm the space. I promised her that if we ever get a castle—she can have all the romantic swirls she likes.
First step in Swedish-ification is to paint the walls and the ceiling white. The natural wood is only kept in saunas, ski cottages, and hunters’ cabins. To pick the white was easier said than done, and took us hours of considerations. We had originally planned to use Behr’s “polar bear,” but we decided to use a more ecologically sound paint, which meant that our search for the perfect white had to be done all over. The company Sebastienne found, Yolo Color House, uses “no mutagens, no hazardous air pollutants, no ozone depleting compounds, no formaldehyde, no phthalates, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” and has amazing colors to choose from. We wanted a white that really looked white—not yellow or gray, but at the same time did not feel cold or eye-numbingly bright. The color we finally settled on, “Imagine 2,” has an almost imperceptible hint of lime green in it, like elderberry flowers, something they did not mention in the description, but which we really like—it looks bright and cheerful. The runner-up, “Air 1” ended up looking much too dark and creamy ones we saw the large paint chip. We picked semi-gloss, since it looks best on wood, and is easier to keep clean.
Compared to most paints, the YOLO paint smelled a lot less, and as a good paint should be, it covered well, and did not get streaky. The only question/complaint is that it made our nails rust and show up, which is something we are going to contact the company about, even though the second coat managed to cover most of them. Over three 10 hour work days, we got it all done. A handful of friends (Amelia, and Matt and Erin, thank you!) helped, which we were very grateful for.
The second necessity (in my opinion) is the pale, plank floor. The white pine is naturally so gorgeous that it seemed like a shame to cover it with any stain. After long research, Sebastienne (she is so good at that…) found OSMO polyx-oil, which is a natural oil stain from Germany. It is a hard wax, which means that it penetrates the wood rather than staying on the surface, and then hardens. Sebastienne also contacted the company to ask which color combination would preserve the raw wood color, and with that information in hand, we ordered a gallon and a quart of clear, matt-silk stain, and a sample of translucent white to help counteract the wet look of the clear.
The OSMO is supposed to not release any toxins, or anything unsavory at all, when dry, but while we put it on it smelled like turpentine, or something in that direction. Good ventilation is a necessity. We bought the special brush, despite that it cost $30, because we had read that it could get sticky if you did not apply it right. It was easy, though, as long as you applied it thin and really brushed it into the wood. If we saw any wet spots, we wiped them off with a rag. Something that also made a difference, is that we had used sticky, tacking cloths to clean the floors with beforehand, which helped get rid of any leftover sawdust. Once the second coat is dry, it gets lightly buffed it, and ta-da!
Once it was all done, we laid on the floor in our bedroom, soaking up the peaceful beauty, never wanting to leave. It gets harder and harder to go “home.” For our anniversary (3 years already!), we will spend our first weekend there, celebrating Midsummer’s Eve, which is second in popularity only to Christmas in Sweden. It will be a new experience to be in the house without working. To learn to love it through leisure. I am sure it will be lovely, we will build a maypole, decorate it and ourselves with flowers, eat pickled herring and salmon, and plenty of berries. I will feel very Swedish. Paradoxically, a label I do not really mind, after all.
July 27, 2014
We built a porch! (How to impress your kid.)
“…and what are you going to do today?” Ada’s voice reached me all the way from Sweden where she was visiting her grandparents.
“Build the back porch.”
“Oh, Mama, you say that as other people say that they are going grocery shopping!” She laughed pleased, and I could not help feeling very proud that my soon to be twelve years old thinks that I am cool. I know it will be harder when she is sixteen.
I remember a conversation Sebastienne and I had while driving to Asheville some time during our early courtship when we both shared the belief that our teenage selves would have been happy with how we turned out, which we took as an indicator of not being completely off track. Not that we were particularly ambitious as teenagers, I had a foggy vision of either becoming a scuba dive instructor in Thailand, a writer in an attic apartment in Berlin, a Red Cross nurse somewhere in Africa, or have a vineyard outside Siena, and I believe Sebastienne mostly wanted to leave Texas, but as most half-depressed and over-read youths we did know that we wanted something Good, something Beautiful, and something True. And Love, of course.
As most half-happy and decently well-read adults we have come to look at the world through a post-structural vantage point, and are therefore rather skeptical that there are such things as goodness, beauty, and truth, at least in any objective sense. Still, without being able to rely on any authority on the validity of human values, we feel comfortable enough that we know what ours are and we live to pursue them. And we do have Love. Our young selves with their frizzy hair, pimples, and baby chub would be glad to see that we did not settle for anything less. They would be relieved that we did not become complacent or resigned, that we still have noble heroes (Seb – Dalai Lama, M – Joan of Arc), and strive to be as giant as our 5.3 feet allow us. And they would think that we are pretty cool to be able to throw together a screened-in porch.
People often say that we must feel “so proud” to have built a whole house, and on a theoretical level, I guess we are, but the project was too long, and too broken down to be able to feel the entirety of it. Each day we worked on something small, painting a wall here, and putting up window trim there, and each task on its own seemed unremarkable and mundane. That we by the end of it got a house is difficult to comprehend. The porch, on the other hand, only took us 6 half-days to build from the time we went to Home Depot to get the lumber, down to the finishing touches. I get that.
Framing is by far our favorite part of building, to out of a pile of planks be able to build a three dimensional structure. Lego for adults. It is fun how much we have learned, now we do not need any plans, but can make things up as we go along. Play with it. The discovery of Simpson Strong-tie connectors has definitely made it easier to build things fast, straight, and strong. After the base frame, we added balusters to make the porch feel more tucked in, since it is quite far off the ground. We already had the metal roof (we bought it with the rest of the roof a year and a half ago), and chose to leave it without a sub panel or drop ceiling, so that we can hear the rain. The screen door ended up being too tall for us to get the roof angle we wanted, but Seb cut off almost a foot from its center, then hammered nails half way down one side, cut the heads off, added some glue (liquid nails) and put the pieces back together. She used pet screen on the door to make it tougher. We painted everything semi-gloss white (Behr’s “Polar bear”) except the door and the floor, which we painted high-gloss gray (Behr’s “River Bend”) to match the rest of the house. We stapled on the screen, and added pressure treated and painted 1x2s.
Now we have a cozy and bug free place to hang out, drink tea, and wonder what our eighty years old selves will think of us, and we of them.
Coming up soon (very soon): We move in on Friday August 1st, and before that we have to hook up our solar panels for the DC system, finish out the closets, polish the floor, and pack and clean!
As I write this, I sit at the kitchen table in our tiny house. It is just after 5:30 am, the dark woods are impenetrable to the eye, but I hear the neighbor’s roosters crowing hesitantly. It has rained for two days, and our solar system is running low, so I choose to write by the light of the oil lamp and a couple of candles that my mother sent us. I plug the computer straight into the DC outlet, rather than through the invertor, and I am as glad to know what I am talking about as I am that it works.
We moved into our woodsy “Getaway”! The house has reached a level of finished that we find decently comfortable to live in, but it is far from done. We do not yet have a fully functioning bathroom, our kitchen is only half set up, and we must build the internal doors, get a proper bed, buy and install the larger AC solar system, put up the gutters to collect rainwater, decide what plumbing we want, and get and install our heating and cooling apparatuses. Not to mention that we need to deal with the land itself: I would settle for a pristine forest glen full of wild flowers or an unkempt English garden or any natural looking and easily maintainable garden style, but the current mix of brush piles, leftover building materials, trash and weeds give it that rugged, not to say redneck, backwoods feel, which is not exactly what we are going for. There is still a lot of work ahead, but…we moved in, yay!
We do have “the big house” in town with Hannes and April where we use the shower, Internet, and laundry, etc., and we have Paul and Terra across the street who let us fill up our two 5 gallon water tanks, which we need to do every other day. We are grateful for friends who feel like family.
The past month was a whirl wind of work. The evidence thereof is that I am currently wearing wrist braces on both arms and am typing slowly with my pinkies. (Insomnia makes me more patient with time consuming tasks. The hours before dawn feel like bonus time.) I have a crippling combination of carpal tunnel syndrome and “tennis elbow” since I, during the last two days’ rush, built and painted a sink cabinet and two small chests/drawers, spray painted two chairs, polished the floor twice with a car buffer, and scrubbed the whole house with yummy smelling oil soap. The floor buffing is what did me in – crawling on all fours for hours while holding on to the vibrating machine intended for much shorter and upright use made my neck wish it could snap off and go and find itself a more comfortable home.
The most exciting new development is that we got our small DC solar system set up. Sebstienne deserves a load of credit for teaching herself about solar power and electricity (Paul is a good go-to for questions) and ensuring that we now have power enough to use any lamps we need, run the ceiling fan (which she also installed), use the computer (We have already watched movies in bed, which feels like utter luxury.), and almost everything we need besides the small fridge (we put ice in the freezer part) or the still non-exciting air conditioner. To get the solar panel up on the roof was tricky, but nothing compared to knowing how it works, and hooking it up to batteries and invertors and power systems.
Sebastienne has an enviable amount of patience for reading the fine prints of instruction manuals, driven by an endless curiosity to figure out the “why” and “how” of it all, which proved very useful during the house building process. Instructions make my eyelids as heavy as pregnant possums, and I have very little interest in anything that I cannot figure out by myself with the use of logical reasoning and trial and error attempts. Fortunately, there is a surprising amount of things that fall into the latter category. I have plenty of endurance and focus for the actual work, and I got us up and going every morning, which proved very useful, too. In the end, we made a house baby.
The moving day was hot and the humidity had the quality of reversed rain, which came as no surprise, seeing that it was August 1st in Georgia. I was rendered fairly useless with my gimpy arms, and it took us the whole morning to fill the small U-Haul truck. As we got to the land, John Lebowitz and Angie and her girls were there to help us unload our peach boxes full of books and tea pots, and with close to heroic effort, they managed to squeeze Ada’s mattress through the hole to the loft. Despite our skepticism, the sofa slid in through the door without much of fight, and two hours after our arrival, we were already sweatily sipping the iced green tea in the living room.
Now, a week later, Sebastienne builds a dog pen (Actually, right now, she is on the sofa with the hound, blinking sleepily and sipping the tea I made her.) so that Alma can use the dog door, but she is soon about to shift gears completely: In two weeks she will start a PhD program in psychology, and even though we still have plenty of work to do on the house, her priorities have to alter radically. Building will be an occasional weekend and break activity, rather than the all-consuming work (besides our paying jobs) of the past year and a half.
This blogging process is coming to an end as well, (I think). I intend to write one more post during the coming weeks about downsizing, how we fit all our stuff into the house, and how we live here, and there might be a handful of sporadic posts throughout the fall. As the New Year ticks awake, I will attempt to wrestle all this (house building, living small, life in the woods, etc.) into something pleasant and readable in book shape.
Home – writings from the tiny house
My world is one of beetles and clouds, blisters and stardust, the smell of coffee and endless love, the intimate and the vast.
“We are never real historians, but always near poets.” Bachelard
From a distance, the forest seems impenetrable, the ultimate Strange, but once we step in through its foliage it opens up to us, transforms itself into personable trees, possible paths, and rocks to rest on. As the branches close behind us, the forest is our new reality, and the world we left mere speculation.
“It feels like this is reality now, and everything else is just a story.” Ada mused as the three of us, Sebastienne, Ada, and I, lingered in the kitchen after dinner, sharing our experience of living in our tiny house in the woods where we so far only have limited electricity and no plumbing. Ada put words to the feeling, the realization, that once here, everything else is a there, an elsewhere, and our past only a story in the thickening history book of our lives. The past is transformed into narrative. This is our reality. With the masses of mankind, we mercifully share the ability to sink into our ever changing world, emerge ourselves in whatever circumstance we wake up to. The ones who cannot inhabit their now keep hitting their dense heads into the uncaring wall of existence that separates them from the life that was and the life that will be. What Ada meant is that it already feels completely normal to wash the dishes by hand—boil the water on the camp stove, count each precious drop, and afterward empty out the 5 gallon bucket that is beneath the sink instead of a drain. We are already used to keeping an eye on the electricity meter to make sure the battery does not drop below 12.20, and to unplug everything we do not use. Peeing in the woods have become the kind of normal that might make you want to pull down your pants in a parking lot. Something to watch out for. This life that would have seemed Strange a month ago, is now our Normal.
Already when we drew the floor plan, I imagined this to be my writing spot. I dreamed of this moment. I sit at the gate leg table in our kitchen-living room with trees peeking in through the windows, and clouds waving through the skylight. Across the table from me, my darling wife grimaces, turns her soft skinned face into a mask of furrowed concentration, mumbles quietly to herself like someone in prayer as she reads and takes notes for her consciousness class, Alma, the hound dog, rests heavy nosed and long eared on the sofa, her silky lip spilling over the edge, barely out of pinching distance, and Ada is curled up on the floor in her time machine/spaceship (the box this computer arrived in), chuckling softly at something unsanitary and maladjusted in Calvin & Hobbes, as deliciously pleased at the inappropriateness as only someone as heartbreakingly kind and sweet as Ada can be. I admire the long-legged soon to twelve years old squeezed into a paper box with her careless, deer-like beauty, her father’s one-world-removed hang dog eyes, and a stubborn and self-satisfied resistance against the preteen tendency to stop making box ships. If everyone was as easy to love as her, the world would be a very different place. A woodpecker’s echo rouses this family of dreamers, thinkers, players, and creators, our eyes smile to one another, recognizing the luxury of having built our own house in the same forest as a woodpecker builds hers. I lean back to the sink to refill the water glass, a green mason jar, special edition. Everything is so close here. My family, tea, apples, the woods. Everything is within reach. Everything is right here.
I get the image of this house being a sailboat in the ocean, and of us being its novice crew. I would not want to cross the Atlantic in a row boat, the lack of shelter would corrupt my love for the vastness of the sea into something sickening and clenching, nor would I choose the sin city of a cruise ship in which the salty air gets a refrigerated quality, smudged with smoke and carpet, and the ocean forgotten. A sailboat big enough for my family would be just the thing. I imagine us cozied down below, playing cards and reading, snuggled warm in quilted blankets. I see us on deck—wild in our faces, feet wet, hearts wide, letting the ocean enter, licking off the salt on my lips. This little house is the perfect size to shelter us without separating us from the world. The woods are always lapping at our doorstep, breaking gently at our windows. Equally encouraging us to set sail and anchor down.
Another recurring fantasy is the house as my shell, my body. I imagine my head sticking out on top with the roof for a hat, my arms reaching through the windows, legs instead of wheels, the torso nicely snuggled by cedar siding, the door for…well…this and that. Like a snail or a turtle I take my house with me as I go, tut-tuut, ready for adventure, ready for a nap.
I have always been a homebody (interesting word, come to think of it), or “cave dweller,” as I say when in a self-deprecating mood, despite the seemingly contradicting truth that I have for varying lengths of time lived and worked or studied in six different countries, starting in Sweden, lingering for a substantial time in Berlin, Germany, currently in USA, and have traveled as a tourist to more countries than I remember. No matter if I stayed in a windowless hotel room with turquoise plastic sheets in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, or a bunk bed in barrack full of drunken youths somewhere in Australia—I managed to settle in, sweep the floor, light a candle, sit down for dinner, find a reading nook. I have had the luck (or discernment) of having friends and partners of similar inclinations and talents, which is how my longtime friend Lina and I managed to make a park bench in Havana, Cuba, feel homey and civilized (only for a day, albeit), and my cousin Anna swept flowers as a practice of domesticity and meditation every morning from the Laundromat floor on an island in Greece where we spent a summer.
Homemakers. (Not to be confused with “housewife,” though I do not mind that term either, I think of it as a married version of “homebody,” which is exactly what I am.) My mother is probably the best homemaker of all (though she worked as a high school teacher), and has spent a dominating part of her life feverishly dedicated to the making of beautiful and cozy home spaces. As I tell the narrative about my mother, it is wide pride that I joke that if she was the sole survivor of Armageddon, she would make herself a home among the rubbish and ruins, sweep the floor with a branch, stack cinderblocks into a modernistic sofa, and go looking for an iron. Step 1: Make a home.
So goes my dreams of home. That is what this house feels like: Home.
Besides the obvious impact of having built the house ourselves, its diminutive size and simple setup strongly influence the feeling of home. The fact that I can probably, given some time, list every single item in this house—shows my intimate relationship with my material surroundings. I know what I have and where it is (most of the time, some things have not found their logical homes yet). Another factor is that the limited number of things make me use the ones I have more, also strengthening my bond to them, strengthening their sense of worth and purpose, and my appreciation thereof. I touch everything. I was the dishes by hand, the smooth porcelain slippery and cool, lemon zest in my nostrils. Even Ada claims to prefer hand washing to dealing with the dishwasher. Once clean, the dishes all get dry and put back in their places, something I never managed to achieve when having a big kitchen with lots of space and things to fill up said space. Similarly, the bed needs to be made for the bedroom to feel like a place of retreat whenever the living room spills over with beings, and so the cotton creases of the duvet cover gets caressed by morning palms. I also sweep the floor every morning and every night, a three minute exercise started out of necessity (dog hair and red Georgia mud), but now a satisfying finish to the dressing of the house. I never felt I could be the queen of my castle while living in a five bedroom suburban home with two living rooms, only a lost visitor and maid, my dislike of vacuum cleaners turned into hours of sweeping. 225 square feet is the size of my castle.
Upon rereading, I recognize how obnoxious my love of the domestic can seem, its country romantics and privileged poetics. Who on earth enjoys sweeping the floor? Do I not have anything more important than lemon zest going on? Answers: I do. And no. Being married to my second academic within the social sciences, I am versed with Marx, Foucault, and critical theory, hegemonies and oppression, and could perhaps write about the political and cultural system of corrupt capitalists and their lobbyists creating an unstainable world from which the poor and less fortunate have very little chance to rise. The tiny house movement is fertile ground for positive and creative resistance against an economic system based on greed and a culture of desire for More and Bigger. Not only does a small house offer wiggle room in a tight pocket, and less reliance on loans with its connected need for wage slavery, it is also one possible answer to the environmental abuse the current building industry daily deals out. So…somebody should write that book.
My world is one of beetles and clouds, blisters and stardust, the smell of coffee and endless love, the intimate and the vast. I have never been able to sustain much focus on the middle level, the one of society, history, politics, economics, and whatnot. It is not that I do not find it important, or that I deny its impact on me and everybody, or even that I put my head in the sand in regard to the issues of the world. I try to be intentional as far as which industries and companies I support by giving them my money, I have recently committed to be a fulltime vegetarian rather than the “only ethically raised meat-eater” I used to be, and I strive to treat my fellow beings with kindness and respect. Partly out of choice, partly out of my introverted nature, I have an ethics that emphasis being and virtues, an absence of harm, rather than the extrovert’s more active relationship to the world. Despite of, or because of, my own short-comings, I have no greater heroes than Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, and all the nameless non-violent peace activists who have the courage and compassion to stand where few have the heart to linger.
As I choose to spend my time writing about pine planks and inner spaciousness, I might not seem appropriately concerned with the world’s suffering, but at least I am not maudlin about in my own either. It is true that I have been spared from life’s most atrocious experiences, but I could tell tedious old stories of relative pain. None of that defines me, though, or even interests me (heartache might be an exception as far as the tendency to gingerly poke where it hurts goes), which is why I choose not to write about it. Forgive me if I seem offensively well-adjusted, I only know how to stumble toward the light, but then again, every bug knows how to do that. I hope that might at least be an inspiration to some.
People often express envy for our simplistic lifestyle, minimalistic closet, and barebones design, as well as our lack of mortgage, microwave or double car garage, but rarely without adding a serious doubt that they could ever “do it” themselves. Setting aside the common fear of the building process, people seem to doubt their actual ability to enjoy a life with less stuff and climate controlled indoor environments, which might be a completely true and legitimate concern. This is where I come in. I hope to share my experience of building and living in a tiny (though compared to the whole world throughout the history of mankind—it is quite average, but I am referring to modern Northern American standards) house, which might both distill and kindle concerns. It might show an alternative way to live, show that there are choices and possibilities beyond shared societal beliefs. Also, I suspect that you will come to see that Sebastienne and I are not necessarily such radicals or activists, that even though we spend a fair amount of our leisure time discussing virtues and we did in fact build our own house, we are also lazy and comfort seeking, buy environmentally horrible Swiffer (name brand!) sweepers because they smell like lavender and vanilla, enjoy sci-fi movies in bed, and spend as much time reading on the sofa as we possibly can. I read philosophy for fun and have a weakness for existential Russian novels, but “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” are two of my most frequently re-read books. You can wire your own electricity and use anti-wrinkle creams. You can do pretty much anything you like, using the blocks available (little hint to the Lego! movie).
I am a poet without poetry, an artist without art, a monk without meditation, a nun without God. The “without” does not necessarily refer to the lack of (poetry, art, a meditation practice, God…) as much a lack of need for (poetry, art, a meditation practice, God…). I am okay just being here. I do not feel a need to do anything in particular. I have no meaning, no goal, no purpose, no justification of being. But here I am. Hello! As I tried to explain my sense of being as experiencing, and that I feel no need to collect the experiences into something like a person, which is also why I do not feel a part of anything like the classical view of family, community, society, or history, my wife teased me, and imitated me with an impressively metallic, robotic voice: “I am a solid perceiving machine.” Which made me laugh and correct it to “solid perceiving being,” with the solid referring to being as embodiment, the flesh and blood of it all, and therefore, ironically, my own demise and impermanence. I am a breath, an ear, and an eye.
That being, sweeping the floor and enjoying the dish soap do not seem stranger or more meaningless activates than anything else. This dear little house in the woods allows me to sink into the day, sink into the world, melt into existence. To be. As Bachelard wrote in his The Poetics of Space: “The house protects the dreamer.”
(A side note: For those of you in the know, some of this may sound a bit like the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty and others in that field. I do know enough about it to know as much, but not enough to paraphrase. Not that it matters who said what and when. For me, all that counts are the ideas themselves. I do not care who had an idea “first”—that is only for those interested in academia, which is a game I choose not to play.)