Monday, September 8

Cold Showers and Other Niche Skills

This is Part 2 in a series about living in a small place. Read Part 1 if you missed it.

I chose to take a cold shower this morning. I took one yesterday, too. I have this to say: Brr.

The water heater for our building has been sputtering to a painful death for awhile now, and it finally did so early Sunday morning. Eighteen households without hot water on a day when no one is going to budge an inch to fix the problem. Our HOA elections just might have been decided this weekend.

But that was yesterday. Today maintenance was going to fix the problem. They just need to turn off the water for a "few" hours.

Gentle Readers, water is critical when there are two sticky-fingered, chalk-eating, dirt-flinging, diaper-stripping, juice-splashing children in the house.
It turns out yogurt makes some pretty nice splashes, too.

A zebra, of course.

Just thinking about it makes me want to go wash my hands and everything else the children have touched.

So yes. My options this morning were to take a cold shower before they turn off the water or to pack up the children and find the nearest heated shower with built in babysitter.

A cold shower it was.

And, it may surprise my neighbors to hear this: I survived. My hair didn't curl tighter, my fingers and toes did not get frostbite and fall off, my lungs did not get paralyzed in a permanent inhale of frigidness.

Several years ago, in the blissful idealism of youth, I once promised myself that I would take a cold shower perhaps once a month as a reminder that a warm shower is not an inalienable right. I figured the regular reminder that running water is a luxury, much more so warm running water, would keep me from getting too convinced of my entitlement to such comforts. "Don't take it for granted," and all that.

I think I kept up that plan for approximately 3 seconds.

When a warm shower is possible, a cold shower is… well, taking a cold shower is the stuff of idioms.

Ironically, earlier in the week (perhaps one of the times they turned off the water trying to fix the dying thing), I was reminded of this niche of skills I want to teach my kids. How do you survive when a water or power outage catches you off guard? How do you prepare when you know of one beforehand?

CutieLittleBoy has been carrying around a copy of a publication by the Southern California Earthquake Center, asking awed questions about the red, orange, and yellow squiggles covering the map to show the potential effects of "The Big One" all of California is dreading. That sort of preparation is important (just ask my dear, beloved SOS whose pseudonym is somehow getting more and more appropriate as time passes), but my desire to teach my kids these skills is so much greater than merely preparing them to survive the earthquake that will drop California into the sea. Yes, of course I want my kids to survive that, but I also want them to enjoy camping and traveling to places where a poorly run HOA would be an improvement on local government and infrastructure.

And that, Friends, is another reason why I count every day in our tiny house as an important inoculation against entitlement--for me and the kids. The average home price in our city straddles a million dollars and home buyers are paying about $400 per square foot. (We got a bargain!) Let's put the average home size at 2,500 square feet. In case you didn't know, that just isn't normal: not in the US, and certainly not internationally.

I may not ever choose to take a cold shower when a warm one is only a matter of finding the H in addition to the C, but at least I know I can if the situation warrants it. And maybe my kids will never choose to live in a tiny house, but at least they will know it can be done.
All cleaned up...
Could these really be the same children?

Saturday, September 6

In a Small Space (Part 1)

"Do you think it bad," SOS confided, "that one of the main motivations for wanting to invite people over to our house is to hear them say 'Woah, you guys do live in a tiny place.' Is that a problem?"

Ah yes, dear husband. I know what you mean. I've been thinking similarly. It could be pride. True. But I also feel as if we are on some sort of crusade to re-educate. When I say my house is small, I am not suffering from a false sense of modesty. Believe me.

A studio, 473 square feet. The only interior door is the one on the bathroom. Until a furniture purchase a few months ago covered a built-in, floor to ceiling mirror, it was possible to stand at the entrance and see the entire square footage, minus the bathroom. The HOA documents call our unit "Bachelor's Studio." The official website for the condominium complex doesn't even acknowledge the existence of these smaller units. The previous owner (and perhaps several more before him) was the kind of bachelor that gives single men the cringe-worthy stereotype. When we first looked at the vacated unit, there was a plate of butter in the cupboard, a half case of expired Coors Light on the porch, and piles of forgotten golf equipment in the closet. When we moved in six months later, the golf clubs were gone, the rancid butter and expired beer was not.
The kitchen before the sale went through. Notice the luxurious food prep area on the left (enough for a bottle of Tide and a Coors), and the 3/4 size stove on the right.

This is the kind of resident the studio was built for.  But Friends, Gentle Readers, this place has made a wonderful home for a young married couple with two kids.

The kitchen after we remodeled: the central area of a family home.

"They shouldn't buy a house with only two bedrooms," someone tells me of her newly married son. "When the babies come, where will they put them?"

I have nothing to say. Just blink. Blink.

I rarely ever wish for more space. (Doors, on the other hand… If I could invent a portable door that would block light and sound as well as safely contain children, I could live here indefinitely.)

I find myself in an interesting spot as the faddishness of the Tiny House Movement, minimalism, and simple living returns. The definition of a "Tiny House" is given at anything less than 1,000 feet, or sometimes, anything less than 300 square feet per person. Those within the movement talk about what a huge cost savings building a tiny house can net. And of course that's true in the everyday expenses of home ownership. A solar panel company tried to assure me of the cost benefits of going solar… until I mentioned our electricity bill rarely tops $30.

But in many other ways, tiny houses are not cheaper. And that is what motivates me on this crusade to re-educate. Since a family living in the Bachelor Pad goes against the HOA's Rules and Regulations (Shh. Don't tell anyone.), SOS and I looked into building a Tiny House not too far away. O.M.G. The building fees matched those for a mansion. No wonder developers don't like building more modest housing.

We don't even have to think as radical as building to wish for some changed perspectives on legitimatizing smaller housing. There are a number of really fantastic design ideas for furniture and room layout that could make a place of this size seem incredibly versatile. (For a fun time-waster, try searching for things like "small apartment design" or "tiny apartment transforms".) But unfortunately, until there is a greater demand for them, places like Target aren't going to try and duplicate the engineering for their Room Essentials collection. Which means only wealthy Manhattan execs can afford to maximize the space in their tiny apartment.

So, Gentle Readers, thus begins a series of posts to re-educate. Because bigger isn't always better.

Thursday, May 22

Thoughts on Packing and Traveling Home

The summer before I turned 15, I went on a mission trip to Bolivia... by way of Europe. A friend had invited me to go with her, and as she lived in the Netherlands, it made perfect sense for me to travel to the Eastern Hemisphere before traveling to the Southern Hemisphere. Well, "perfect sense" maybe not, but that is what I did.

As you might imagine, packing for a trip involving two entirely different continents can be a challenge. What made the challenge more unusual, however, is that the mission agency we were to travel with provided their own duffel bags for our use. As my departure date approached, I became more and more anxious that I had not yet seen the bag I was required to use. I understood that mailing a bag from Europe to California was somewhat cost prohibitive, but surely, it would be waiting for me at my hosts' house when I arrived.

It wasn't.

There had been some miscommunication. My friend had her bag, but mine was still on its way. Every day I eagerly watched for the delivery. "Dutch post is very quick," I was assured. "There is still time for it to get here."

There had been plenty of time for it to arrive, provided the bag had ever been put into the mail for me. But it hadn't and so the night before our flight, I packed as best I could into a suitcase and hoped I would be able to carry it suitably while everyone else hauled their duffle bags.

In all the time I spent in Holland, I never saw a traffic jam of anything larger than bicycles returning home at rush hour. But as any good Murphy's lawyer knows, that day there was horridly slow traffic all the way to the international airport.

We were so late. I worried about missing our plane, and sighed with huge relief when we walked through the doors to the terminal and saw everyone else milling around, waiting for us.

There was something else waiting for us. Or me, rather. The duffel bag.

And so in the busy international wing of Schiphol airport, as we moved through the line to check in our bags, I repacked.

To say I was stressed at this point is an understatement. Speed packing has never been my thing. Neither have large audiences. Nor having my private belongings exposed to public viewing.

And then someone asked the question, "Just think what kind of life God is preparing you for in this experience!"

I conjured up this elaborate scenario of multitudes of last minute packing jobs as I traveled from one bustling airport to another. The inevitable future lifestyle requiring such last minute flexibility and spacial reckoning only served to make the experience seem even more dramatic. Years later it occurred to me that instead of asking "What does God have in store for me that this is my practice?" I should have thought "Look at all of the practice I have had leading up to this crazy experience!" I probably would have been less stressed.

I remembered this all recently in the midst of washing dishes. A soapy cereal bowl slipped from my hands and bounced across the counter onto the floor, shattering in many tiny pieces. Once I had picked up the largest glass shards, I went to pull out the vacuum from its place, nestled between our dining table, the toy box, and the violin.

That's when it hit me. Last minute flexibility and spacial reckoning? That is my life. I don't do much packing for international travel these days, but living in a small space seems like one long stretch of packing and repacking to try and meet life's ever-changing demands. In my more frustrated moments I long for the magic solution that will finally, finally allow for a place for everything and everything in its place. But then it is for me to remember that my 473 square foot studio condo is just the duffle bag I'm using on this leg of the journey.

Tuesday, April 15

Day Five: From Trash to Treasure

You know what they say: One man's trash is a national treasure.

Or something like that.

Glass Beach is a treasure. A National Park. And since the National Park system celebrates 150 years this year, I am only stating the obvious when I say that it hasn't always been an official, nationally recognized treasure.

But most National Parks do not start out as the city dump.

In somewhat recent history, the trash was all relocated to a less picturesque location… all except for the broken glass which has been polished and wave tossed over the years. Thus its name.

To add to the irony, since this beach is now part of the National Park system, the glass is protected. Don't you even dare think about taking a piece of glass home with you.

David and I had a long debate over whether the newly abandoned beer bottle counted as part of the protected glass.

Well, no. It wasn't a long debate. It's hard to have a long debate in surroundings such as these.

Hm. That gives me an idea. Maybe more debates should take place in National Parks. Congress? What say you to that?

Monday, April 7

Day Six: Fort Bragg

Trains vs. Trees. Tell me quickly: which one is longer?

We were oh so tempted to catch the touristy Skunk Train in Fort Bragg and take it on its scenic route. We were even willing to sacrifice four hours of our precious drive-while-both-kids-sleep time to take the oldest one on a train.


But then we saw the cost and we realized we could go a lot farther on a train for that price, thankyouverymuch.

And then we saw the train.
Yep. That's it.

SOS took the kids down to the railroad crossing while I took pictures from our balcony overlooking Highway 1. CutieLittleBoy, so excited to get to see a train, was not impressed. He kept asking to go see a long train. And yes, we are glad we were not skunked by the Skunk Train. (We've been told this is one of the downsides of traveling out of peak tourist season. They use a cooler looking train at other times.)

And then we drove the Avenue of the Giants. The Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world.

If you were to zoom in on this photo, you might be able to see a small blue speck near the line of horizon. That's me standing at the base of the fallen tree. SOS took this picture while standing near (but not at) the top of the tree.

Trees beat the train by a mile. Okay, not quite a mile, but definitely a millennium.

Tuesday, March 18

Day Seven: Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon is about an hour north of Eureka.

That is, it would be an hour out of Eureka if the roads were not flooded, potholed, and occupied by the stray elk and/or tourist.

What with unruly tourists blocking the road with their car to idly wade in the middle of the creek (which coincidentally is also the middle of the road), you'd better plan for at least an hour and a half of drive time.

But once you get there, it is like stepping onto the abandoned set for Jurassic Park. Oh, that's because it is the abandoned set for Jurassic Park. Funny thing about that.

We'd been warned that we were coming too early in the year to see the canyon at it's peak, but oh. my. goodness. So beautiful.

Also, very wet.

Like dew lingering on plants in the mid afternoon wet.

Like tromping through the creek wet.

Like waterfalls oozing from the canyon walls wet.

Like CutieLittleBoy falling in the creek wet.

This was another one of those adventures where I wondered if we were foolish. So many spots on the trail seemed impassible… even after we decided we weren't going to even try to pretend to keep our shoes anything less than squishy-soggy wet.
But I was wrong. We made it through the long canyon, up the side, and back along the rim.

A great accomplishment, I tell you, especially since we passed several others who gave up long before seeing the worst of it (and also singlehandedly convincing at least two groups of people it wasn't possible by them merely observing our passing).

So let me try to compensate by convincing you to go and hike it. Go. See it. Get wet. (But not eaten by dinosaurs.)