Pretty, please 

Posted on June 12, 2017

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Like a flower turning its face to the sun, I have been seeking beauty for the past six months or so. I want it. I might even say I need it, I need to have pretty things in my life. Kind of a new sensation for me since I tend to go for utilitarian style more than anything else. I don’t do decorative.

Why the shift Christine? (This said in singsong. It’s me talking to myself via the baby. I do that a lot these days.) I have no doubts — it’s because of Addie. This humble, delicious work of mothering Addie has made me feel more myself, more like I was before the migraines began close to a dozen years ago. Whole, you could say. The love that I had for my little family of Seth and Lily was complete and perfect, and then it blew out beyond what I thought possible. Like Dorothy stepping from her graytone home out into Technicolor. Except that we get to live in Oz forever. 

Then there’s also living so much on the farms this season. I’m outside every day, puttering in the dirt with a baby or two, talking to farmers, watching things grow. It’s a quieter form of love, this love of earth, but strong. 

These two factors together are a dream, or more like they fill me with dreams. They make me think there is no limit to possibility, like maybe I can astral project to a stage of perfectly tuned Steinway pianos, set before a field of flowers growing through the auditorium floor, the air awash with hummingbirds dipping and swooping and trilling their funny little songs. My fingers will fly over the keys and I’ll sing along the way I used to do when I was practicing for some high school concert — singing and playing for the pleasure of it. 

In spite of, or maybe because of this  daydream, I’ve sometimes felt a flash of annoyance when I’m rushing through chores and push aside a few scraps of PVC pipe or a measuring tape.  A small voice in the back of my mind whispers that it’s hard to find pretty when living in a construction zone. 

But is it?



Warm wood. Bright windows. Open shelving showing textures and projects and some of my favorite things. All I had to do was pause in my mad rush and look around. There is beauty in this everyday life of ours, even with the construction zone. My walls are partially open and showing our insulation, and there are forever clouds of dog hair and wool insulation sheddings on the floor. But in the right light, I can see past that. And between you and me, these windows almost always let in the right light. 

Wishing you a few moments of pause and reflection this beautiful spring morning!

Knitting again

Posted on June 8, 2017

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Maybe I spoke too soon about knitting seasonally a few posts ago. After a long hiatus, I picked up this sweater I began for myself before the baby was born. The yarn is nothing special, just a recycled cotton wool blend, and the finished product is destined for fall farm work (I think I can already see a few dog hairs in there). But my hands needed something to do in the precious few oddments of time I have while Addie naps when we’re out. It’s luxurious, having this small comfort of slow process that’s just for me. I can ease it out while I’m tired or preoccupied (did I mention she’s teething?) and still come up with something beautiful. 

Knitting works that way. I can put it down and pick it up with no break in the pattern, no worries that it’s ruined. Even without the funds or energy right now for finding fancy yarn, I still have time to make something stitch by stitch, minute by minute. My hands work on autopilot. My mind quiets. Come this fall, this sweater will be just what I’m looking for. 

Life with baby in the tiny house 

Posted on June 5, 2017

The second biggest question we get about living in the tiny house is this: “How’s it going with a BABY in the TINY house?” (The first question people ask is invariably about our toilet.)

It’s going well, I think? I haven’t had kids in a standard-sized house so it’s hard to compare, but so far Addie is a happy little bug. We don’t have a ton of toys for her because we have no place to put them, which means we spend a lot of time talking to the baby and including her in our daily activities as she plays with bowls or fruit or balls of yarn. She can see us from just about anywhere we put her. She sees us in all our moods and modes, whether we’re putting away groceries, discussing the life plan, or installing a shower valve. And this in itself is a beautiful gift. Because the tiny house allows us to get by on one salary, she is with at least one of us at all times. I can’t think of anything in a bigger house that equals that in excellence. 

Gear-wise, we have the typical things you might think. For a long time Addie slept in a sidecar arrangement but now has space with us in bed. We’re looking into putting a crib mattress for her in between the bed and the wall because while we don’t mind sharing, sometimes this mama wants to spread out over more than the 15″ of mattress the baby thinks I should get. 

Addie has a bouncy chair that moves from kitchen to living area and back, depending on what we’re doing, and a high chair that clips onto the table. We’re on the cusp of switching her to cloth diapers from disposables — huzzah! She’s breastfed so there is minimal feeding stuff. However we’re quite overrun with books compared to our storage space for them, but is that really something to complain about?

Am I missing anything else? This question tends to leave me a bit stumped. A young baby is never easy, I’ve learned, even for all you tiny house dreamers instead of lifers. But having one in the tiny house suits us fine. Maybe check in once she starts crawling and we’re scrambling to cover the walls and pick up dust bunnies and dog fluff. “Don’t put that in your mouth!” I can just see it now. 

Daydreaming and handcrafting

Posted on June 2, 2017

When will I ever learn to leave the baby alone while she’s napping? We nap together, you see, and it’s so easy to lean down and kiss her head. And then she stirs and wants to nurse again. I don’t mind. Clearly I am not napping at the moment, despite Seth’s unusually strict instructions before he left for work to get some sleep today after a wakeful night with Addie. 

No, I’m dreaming instead. Of knitting and woodworking and painting and gardening. We’re at the point in our little house where we we’re close to finish-work projects. We’re not there yet; I can’t sew couch cushions or paint cabinets doors for example. But I can think about these things now that we’re getting used to functioning on our day/night schedule, and now the weather outside is green, and the baby can almost sit up on her own, leaving my arms free for minutes at a time. The migraines are an eternal presence in our life and we navigate them the way we do everything else at this point: slowly and for the most part gently, all of us together. There’s no other way to live in this tiny house. 

Sometimes I think about moving into a standard house, away from this half-built home on wheels. I like to put things away, you see. Have space to sew. All of our books on shelves instead of in boxes. But then I think about the loft beams from 1793, or the conversations I had with the guy who cut our cedar siding, or the day we popped our trailer check into the mail, or putting up the roof sheathing in the bitter cold. And I realize that I’d miss this house and the care we’ve lavished on it. The sense of belonging it’s brought us.  How strange and wonderful that a moveable house serves as a stable base for two adults who have felt adrift more times that I can count. 

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I think it lies in the making. We have always been looking for home, but now we are truly crafting the life we want. Other folks seem to have found their way sooner than us. From the outside, they have seemed comfortable and happy, while we’ve felt like the little match girl looking in. But now here we are, too, with this creating we’ve set ourselves up for. Not just the house — the baby and food and handcrafts and the farm. As I like to tell Seth, we are trending happy these days. 

Our making is somewhat cyclical with the farm season. Gone are the hygge knitting and guitar playing, as we welcome gardening (although my attempt at seed starting this spring was a failure), herbcrafting, what housework we can squeeze in on Sundays, and preserving. Is it strange that after 13 years together, I’m finally noticing this rhythm? You know what? Don’t answer that. Better late than never. 

Water usage in the tiny house

Posted on March 22, 2017

Happy world water day!  I’ve been thinking about our water usage for a while, and it seemed only fitting to write about it on the day the UN has designated to talk about the water crisis across the world.

Seth and I are lucky to be using very little water per day at the moment.  Right now our tiny house doesn’t have a working shower or sink.  We have plans for both.  I had hoped to get them in before the baby arrived, but sometimes life gets in the way.  And research!  Always with the research.  At any rate, we have water plumbed into the tiny house, but we don’t have permanent receptacles for it, and we use a composting toilet.  This makes our water usage pretty low.

All together we average about 5 gallons of water per day.  This includes hand-washing, dishes-washing, sponge bathing and drinking and cooking water for two people and an infant. We take showers and do laundry once or twice a week up the big house where our landlords live, which adds another 150-200 gallons (yikes!), bringing our total up to approximately 235 gallons per week.  We expect this to increase when we get our own shower in, which will be a super low-flow showerhead, probably this one by Bricor (non-affiliate link) because we’ll be using less water but taking more more showers.  I think we can reasonably anticipate using  about 20 gallons of water per adult per day, and 10 for the baby.  Fifty gallons of water a day!  Holy moly.

According to the EPA, the average family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day.  When you put it into perspective like that, our water usage looks pretty good.

Still, where does that water go?  In our current case, we sprinkle our wastewater in the surrounding trees and landscape.  Once we have our shower and sinks in we’ll put build a french drain type system, and I plan to collect a fair amount and use it to irrigate the garden I’ve started.  Since we use biodegradable soaps, this is a safe bet.  Other options would be to collect it into a wastewater tank and dump it into a sewer or dispose of it at the landlord’s house.

I never used to think about water usage.  Water just sort of went away after I was done with it, which I think is a pretty common sentiment.  Our society makes it awkward to reduce water.  Daily showers are expected.  Single flush toilets are standard, instead of those that have options for liquids and solids flushing.  And it’s hard to find a low-flow faucet aerator or shower head that makes you feel like you’re getting enough water to rinse off the soap.

I have no answers, only more questions.  Are there tools to measure how much you’re using per day?  Is it legal to install rainwater collection systems and graywater reuse systems?  How can non tiny-housers cut back on their water?  Just some thoughts.  What are you thinking on world water day?

The great herbalism cold and flu flow chart

Posted on March 15, 2017

I’ve been asked several times over the past few months what to do for the cold and flu.  Mostly because I’ve caught the flu twice and had a cold twice in the last few months (ah, the joys of trying to sleep while caring for a newborn), so I must have something good up my sleeve.

There are herbs that are awesome for colds and the flu!  But I’ve noticed that it does depend on what type of cold you have.  And since I was laid up again and had a lot of down time…

Cold and flu flow chart

Colds and the flu provide a low stakes way to dabble in herbs for health without spending a ton of money or getting overwhelmed.  All of these remedies are readily available at a natural foods store, pharmacy, or sometimes at your regular supermarket depending on how cool your neighborhood is.  Or you can make them yourself if you plan ahead for next season.

A note on how to use this chart: Don’t use it if you’re pregnant, lactating, have food allergies, thyroid issues, or you’re a kid younger than age 12.  Everyone should consult their doctor before taking herbs, especially if nervous about how they’ll affect you.  But I feel pretty comfortable with these remedies as they’re gentle, and I’ve recommended all of them to my family and friends.  And they work!  Better than cold medicines! Huzzah!  My favorite brands are Traditional Medicinals for the teas, Sambucol for the elderberry syrup, and homemade for fire cider (non-affiliate links).

If you’re so inclined, I’ve turned the Cold and flu flow chart into a PDF so you can print it out and stash it in your medicine cupboard.  Please use and enjoy!

Like this print-out? Click here for other offerings by Earth Morning

 

 

Seed season

Posted on March 6, 2017

We went to a greenhouse skinning operation about a week ago, full of farmers helping the farmers of Upswing, owned by Brittany and Kevin, as they venture into their first season on new land.  As always, when farm folk get together talk turns to joking about how many turnips are left in the root cellar (tons!), telling how strange it is to write yet another yearly post about CSA sign-up day, lamenting the dearth of experienced farm help, and sharing how unprepared they are for March 1, the date to seed onions in flats in greenhouses.

Across Massachusetts, farmers are sowing seeds in plastic trays with 98 cells and heating their greenhouses through what is hopefully the last cold spell so they can have spring onions.  Next come brassicas and peas and greens, some flowers, and later they move onto the sunshiney crops we all crave: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans.

 

Despite being married to a farmer, every Spring there are things I want to grow for myself.  Thankfully not tomatoes — Seth delivers the goods when it comes to tomatoes.  No, for my home garden it’s all about herbs and flowers.  These plants are my friends and herbal allies, and I miss tending them.  I want them so that in the winter when I’m tired of our four walls and cloudy skies, I can crack open my jars and relive summer.

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IMG_4155I’ve decided to try out the winter sowing method because I don’t have a greenhouse.  And even though we know enough farmers that I could probably borrow a tray’s worth of space, I want to do it myself.  Today I sowed seeds in take-out containers gleaned from the recycling bin, cut slits in the tops and bottoms, filled them with soil and seeds, watered them, and set them outside.  As it gets warmer, I’ll begin taking the tops off the containers so that the seedlings harden off and have room to grow, and when it’s time I’ll put them in the ground.  Seems easy enough.

We have another seedling in the house, a little girl named Addie.  Every morning I lay awake feeding her before the sun rises.  I run my hand over her warm, sturdy back and I think ahead to weeding in the dirt with the baby on a blanket close at hand, or watching Seth ride by on a tractor and waving to us, or laughing together as Lily chases a s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l (we don’t say that word around here unless there’s one in sight).  It’s amazing to me that Addie’s earthside and growing. She was the germ of an idea for a long, long time, and then she was a bump in this mama’s body.  And now we’re in a new farm season, in our new home, with our new tiny human in our arms.  Cheers to the promise of muddy knees and watching leaves unfurl.  Cheers to chubby baby legs.  Cheers to seed season.

Insulation and air sealing

Posted on February 27, 2017

If I’m starting to sound like a broken record, it’s because air movement is a big deal in our little house.  We seal gaps because it makes for less moisture coming in from the outside and fewer drafts, AKA a warmer, drier house with less chance of mold.  So we’ve spent a fair amount of time doing this to the inside as well as the outside.

We air sealed the inside of the house by spreading silicone sealant into gaps and cracks — most notably in the large spaces around the windows and doors.  If the gap was wider than 1/2″, we filled it with backer rod first, and then spread sealant over it.  Side note: if you ask for backer rod at Home Depot, there’s an 80 percent chance that whomever you talk to will have no idea what you’re talking about.  This is a true fact.

Backer rod is essentially rope made from closed cell foam.  It’s located in the plumbing section.  Why?  Beats me.  I don’t know what plumbers use it for. Directions for non-plumbing use: Stuff it into the gap, making sure it can’t move easily.  You want it to compress a little, no more than 20 percent.  Push it in so that the gap you now have to fill with silicone is half the depth of the total crack width, i.e. if you have a 3/4″ wide gap, push the backer rod in so that the depth of your silicone will be 3/8″.  Ta da!  You’re done.

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Spray foam is another method of sealing around windows and doors that most people seem to prefer.  It’s widely available and you don’t have to be as precise as with backer rod and silicone.  Unfortunately, it also off-gasses, and with one sensitive human and one baby living in the house, we decided that backer rod and silicone would be less likely to incur migraines/birth defects/baby popping out of mama like an alien.

Around the same time as we started interior air sealing, we began insulating the walls and roof.  Again, spray foam seems to be most people’s methods of choice.  The added bonus of spray foam insulation is that it firms up walls, so if you have a tiny house with a history of walls shifting, you might seriously consider spray foaming your wall cavities.  In lieu of spray foam, though, we chose sheep’s wool insulation for the walls, and rigid foam board for the ceiling.  Sheep’s wool because: a.) It’s sheep! It’s like wrapping our house in a sweater! and b.) It has the equivalent insulation value of fiberglass but it weighs less, it’s a renewable resource, it’s not hazardous to your health, and it manages water and bugs better than both fiberglass and cellulose.  It’s more expensive, but not by much.  We picked batts from Black Mountain Insulation, USA (non-affiliate link, just giving out their name for the curious).

These were easy to install.  Seth and our friend Kenneth stapled them into the wall cavities.  Where they didn’t fit, we tore them into pieces, including the plastic mesh screen used to give the batts some body.  It was a quick installation, and there has been minimal slumping as the house has moved and shifted.

We’re not thrilled with using rigid foam board in our ceiling, those large sheets of styrofoam.  They’re a pain in the butt to cut.  They make a mess.  They’re also not environmentally friendly, and rigid foam has a tendency to decrease in R-value over time. However, the insulation value is high even with the decrease, and we don’t have a very deep ceiling cavity.  We needed something good there to help keep us warm, and once again spray foam was off the table.  We compromised a bit here and used large sheets from Craigslist.  They’re quite old, so any off-gassing or R-value drift is done and gone.  We still have a few steps to go with the ceiling insulation though.  Our plan is to purchase 1″ rigid foam board to go up underneath the cavities, thereby creating a ceiling with no cold spots due to thermal break from the wood rafters, and then install the tongue and groove ceiling over that.  It will decrease the head space in our loft by about 2″, but I think it will be worth it.  We’ve been using an electric heater so far this winter since our fireplace isn’t ready, and our electric bills are enormous!  Thank goodness we don’t have a bigger house to heat.

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A little more on siding prep

Posted on February 17, 2017

In going over the photos for the trim post, I realized that we never mentioned the black strips that we put over the Blueskin under the siding.  This is a product called Cedarvent. It’s basically strips of plastic that are corrugated like cardboard. We’re using it here kind of like a rain screen: the siding repels most of the water from the house, but in case any rain gets behind the siding we want it to be able to drain away.  This is where Cedarvent comes in. It makes the siding sit away from the Blueskin by about 3/16″ and allows the water to roll down without soaking into the back of the cedar.

We’re not pushing the product or anything.  We purchased it outright and we’re not getting anything from the company for saying that we’re using it.  We just think it’s important for people to realize what goes into a wall assembly to make house walls weathertight.  This will help the lifespan of the cedar and the Blueskin both.  With a bit of an air gap behind the siding, the cedar will dry out more quickly after rainstorms.  It won’t be sitting wet on the Blueskin, which could rot if it stays wet for too long over a period of years.  If the Blueskin rots, water soaks into the plywood walls and forms mold.  And we want our house to last a long time.

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Products like this always make me think of how best to make our house eco-friendly.  We basically bought bits of plastic, which are not biodegradable, not recycled, and probably are manufactured in a way that’s not great for the environment.  They redeem themselves by contributing to the length of time our house will last.  So we sort of have to weigh our options here.  I don’t know though, what do you think?

 

 

At long last love has arrived

Posted on February 14, 2017

We had a baby at the end of December.  And she is the best.

Hot damn I love this kid.  It’s Valentine’s Day, so let me express my love.  It’s been almost two months and we are ridiculously happy with our little pumpkinseed.  Life is very different in its surface details.  We spend most of our time caring for a tiny human instead of building a tiny house.  A good day is one in which I get the dishes done and a load of laundry.  Our budget for sundries has gone up as we purchase disposable diapers (until we get a sink in, I keep telling myself) and one-handed snacks.

Still, Seth and I are both us, but more so.  I like to think we’re distilling ourselves down to the best parts, giving up bad habits in hopes that we don’t pass them along, while also focusing our limited free time on only the activities most important to us, because there’s just no head space anymore for binge-watching Bones and reading 14 blogs a day.  That distillation might be wishful thinking though.  Or maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking.

At any rate, today is a day dedicated to expressing love.  I love my daughter.  I also love you, reader, even if I don’t know you.  Our new political administration is trying to place the blame for our problems on immigrants, and Nasty Women and disabled folks and those of us with little money too.  Such divisive tactics coming from the top!  We don’t believe in them for a second.  We all deserve food, shelter, healthcare, and happiness.  I’m not saying that because I’m a bleeding heart pinko commie hippie environmentalist (although that’s mostly true), I’m saying it because if I think of you as family, how can I wish anything bad for you?

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

J.K. Rowling wrote a book series where love conquered all.  Numerous heroes of our time have practiced it: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Leia. Well maybe not that last one.  But I’d like to practice love too.  Joining the #LoveArmy, reading The Dandelion Insurrection.  Loving our tiny human with every fiber of my being.  And loving you too.  Happy Valentine’s Day!