knocking on noggins.

waiting on galley prints of my forthcoming chapter on tiny houses, but I have been seeing more and more smart critiques of tiny house living, the privileged “minimalist” movement, and the trendiness of secular asceticism. After wrestling with many of the same criticisms, I am currently of the opinion that the tiny house movement does hold radical political potential. First, the difficulty of going tiny in our current culture clarifies many of structural and systemic ideologies that prefer to be assumed ubiquitous, and – more materially – when living in a tiny space, one must confront waste (bodily and consumer) in a way virtually impossible to ignore.

These critiques are a sign, I think, that the movement and public perception of it is becoming more nuanced – itself a symptom of more engaged politics. Tough questions come from thinking harder and, in turn, make people think harder. Incisive critique creates tension for, and demands responsibility from, the ethos behind the movements. Dialogue and debate is good for the noggin (and the spirit)!

In that spirit, keep on thinking, disagreeing and demanding more from our imaginations!


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tiny finishes

Not that tiny houses are ever done – as we renegotiate, redesignate, reorganize – but, a few weeks ago, the tiny got some finishing touches. There were a number of things we didn’t get to in our rush to make the initial move. BUT! Because my buildingpartnerincrime graciously came to help a few weeks ago, we finished the tiny the way we started: brushing dust and grime off long-cornered things, making new by re-visioning old.

simple, small finishing touches do make an enormous difference in the space. Though the tiny has always felt home-y, it now feels like home. Here’s what went down: (but first a pretty picture)

She's getting spacious!

Medicine cabinet, comes from an old box found in my grandmother’s garage:

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Utensil holder, from used drawer found at Bring recyclery:


Drawers, re-sized from drawers found at Bring also:

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Tilt drawer, from the end of old wine crate also found in my grandma’s garage:

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Installed my stove cover (and sealed a friend’s ceramic tile to the top – extra pretty heat pad):


For aesthetics, this old farming-row sign adds “eye-heighth” to the room:


AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, sealed the shower (with epoxy and old washers); I tried various methods over the last year and a half, to no avail… but now it WORKS!:

IMG_4835 IMG_4837

This means that everything! everything! everything! in the tiny house works!

Hooray everything! Hope your things lead you to an everything, but are not that in themselves. Love. aa.

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“small on wheels”

the Eugene Weekly ran a great piece about the local (and national) tiny house movement; I was fortunate enough to be included in it and had a lovely time with Shannon and Todd. Read the article here.

hope the day is blessing you.

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The Oregon Extension Fall 2014 Stipend

Originally posted on The Oregon Extension:

reading2.jpgOnce again, the Oregon Extension has been awarded a development grant for the fall of 2014 from the Clif Bar Family Foundation.  Under the terms of the grant, any student who applies and is accepted for this coming fall will receive a $3,000 stipend for the semester.  The stipend may be used to pay for room, board, activities fee, books, tuition, travel, or any expenses related to the semester, after the semester begins.  This is a one-semester grant and applies only to the fall 2014 Oregon Extension program.  Spaces for the fall are limited.  The $3,000 stipend will be awarded to all fall students.

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isolating insulation

Almost record lows hit the PNW a week ago – temperatures were at -9! While an extra space heater took care of the tiny house insides, the outside pipes quickly froze.  The tiny has no foundation  and foam-insulated pipes aren’t a sufficient buffer for extreme winter conditions – freezing found the house isolated and exposed. But this problem has to come up every winter season for many, many tiny housers. What do tiny friends in colder places DO?  What are your experiences with cold temperatures? How do you care for your pipes and water heaters during cold snaps? If you’re not using running water, how isolated are you from other sources of potable?

Hope you’re keeping warm – and participating fully in a love-filled holiday season.

Blessings, April

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Much later than I had meant to write about this, but … let’s talk PLUMBING…

I’ve had an issue with water backing up into my shower instead of flowing into the drainage pit. I called many plumbers/handymen but no one would work on any structure they weren’t insured for – the inbetween tiny didn’t qualify as an RV or a house.  BUT, I was saved by an old friend from high school who is now a plumber. He graciously came on his own time and brilliantly rearranged the pipes. Now, things are smooth as can be.

Unfortunately, though, I haven’t been able to consistently use my shower since living in the tiny (I’ve adjusted – showering at the university gym or a family member’s house).  Two central problems:

1)   Because it’s a wet bath, I step into the shower every time I use the bathroom. This leads to debris (and, in this house, cat hair), which eventually clogs the drain. I now keep the drain plugged and clean the shower out before showering. And I flush the drain once a month with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water.

2)   The entire wet bath is pieced together from old aluminum ducting. Because the ducting is in strips, there are seams that have inevitably leaked. That, combined with a custom drain that is ill fitting, led to a few water bails-outs from under the sink.

- I tried sealing it all with marine grade sealant, but the sealant yellows and catches dust/hair. It was gross.

- I removed the sealant and instead primed/painted it with this (which supposedly fills seams):

After three coats, it looked solid. And it seemed to work – for the first week or so. Then the seams began to break and a very small amount of water trapped between the shower and the tank below it. Because I haven’t had the time to fix it, I haven’t showered in it since. Soon, I will try a different sealant for the big seams, and then 5 to 10 coats of the elastomeric coating over it all. Fingers crossed that I can shower here before the new year. :)

In the meantime, happyhappyhappy holidays from the tiny house! We are cozied up and hoping you are too.


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tiny aphorisms

Idealism without critique = complacency.

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Jeremy Beasley, a documentary photographer and filmmaker working on a film about the human side of the tiny house movement (check it out here). I was not only impressed by the crew themselves – Jeremy and the production manager Kelly Nardo are just LOVELY – but also the questions they asked. There was an honest responsibility to the lived tiny house experience, both the benefits and criticisms, in every one. Reflecting on our discussion, a few adages seemed to emerge:

* Every object you own is a relationship: I have mentioned before (here) that getting rid of almost everything I owned gave me a new appreciation for the truly meta – as in beyond – physical value of some possessions; some objects are not the same in memory as in your hand. Not because the object is the memory, but because the object informs the memory. You need some things. You miss some things. Yet, what’s wonderful about life in the tiny is you do really get to know your “things.” You have to consider the use value, emotional or physical, for everything you own. That awareness begins to infiltrate seemingly insignificant daily decisions.  At the end of the week, you only have a quart’s worth of garbage (that’s nice). This tiny life brings a subtly massive reorientation of perspective; small moves add up, though some objects become worth their thingy-ness because they feed what is beyond the immediate – what is a relationship between you, your possessions, and the lives beyond and before them. Tiny living means owning less stuff, but the stuff you own begins to mean more than possession.

* Our most expansive needs are not material: Many people have remarked on the “let down” of tiny house building – the abrupt transition from the communal that comes in seeking out help, expertise, tool shares and material gathers, to the actuality of living in a tiny house, typically alone, parked in solitary. I realized in talking to Jeremy and Kelly that I suffered unknowingly from that very phenomenon when I moved into the tiny. While building, life had developed a rhythm that was constantly adjusting to the many people gifting their time, energy, or gadgets. Even for a person who adores alone-time, the isolation after experiencing such generous community was an insidious infiltration into my first months of tiny living. It felt lonely. Fortunately, with the growing popularity of the movement and the desire of many current tiny-housers, there are people developing communal “parking” spaces for tiny house communities, organized around a common building.

* The smaller the space, the harder the corners:  Shared spaces for tiny houses to plant have the potential to address many of the more problematic nuances unique to tiny houses – aspects preventative to sustainable living. Two of the easiest examples are the difficulty of bulk food preparation, like canning, and bulk food/household storage. It often feels like a game of tetris to fit a small amount into the crooks of the tiny, and while that was one of my favorite video games as a child, now confinement complicates the environmentally conscious ethic of most tiny house dwellers. A communal space could simplify some of those complications.

* Screened windows are importantThey filter what comes in when the windows are open. They spread out the sounds of the seasons – tonality that drifts, like light, into our most quiet spaces, from crisp to sultry to shadowed. As my first year in the tiny rounds into my second, I am realizing how subtle – like moonlight moving in – the ease of home has settled into the expanses of the tiny (expanses, yes – even though it can’t store much, it can also feel quite spacious).  Just as many aphorisms play with juxtaposition, the tiny life is itself a continual re-acquaintance with the dialectic of human life. It makes of your porch a viewing platform for feisty squirrels, dopey opossums, and also manymany insect-y insects. It simplifies by its very nature, but confronts with the comfort-costs of simplicity. It plays with you in romance, and stubs your toe on realism. It slaps you, like a sharp and hail-filled wind as you’re distracted by the lightning’s brilliance.

So, screened windows are important. And so is the painful honesty of what it means to live the tiny life, and to fall in love with it. Idealism without critique is equivalent to complacency (and isn’t that an oft-cited precursor to divorce?).

There have been some great get-real blogs about tiny house difficulties, one of my favorites from Macy Miller here. But here and here also (about Portland and their “love” for tiny houses here). And another of mine here. Also check out the first EVER Tiny House Conference – EXCITING.

Huge blessings from the tiny house,


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gambrel plans

I can’t promote the choice of a gambrel roof enough. It gives space and style (especially with the addition of dormers). For those of you who have inquired about plans for the gambrel roof on the tiny, this looks like just the ticket HERE. Enjoy!

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happy leaning

Here in the tiny, the heat and freedom of summer is upon us. Between decompressing with friends new and old, zooming up and down Portland to Eugene, sitting in and out of spaces large and small – in the last month the tiny has informed many contrasts. It also made a few more media appearances – here and here. A good friend observed the paradox of my tiny house life: it isolates, but also forces me to seek out, interact with, and use community more. The tiny house, like much I am attracted to, is a unification of opposites- it is small, but allows a larger, more full life; it is an intimately personal choice but has great impact for public, academic and private selves; and while the tiny house seems simple, it complicates many things, theoretical and practical; it is always a recursive lesson in self-awareness. Like any good pun.

So, to all my community, near and far, I hope  summer is sending you ray-riding and reveling. The sun is definitely up!

And, I know this is a little tardy but, as promised in my last post, here are  links to information about some of my favorite talks from ASLE:

- Wes Jackson and Donald Worster of the Land Institute: These two men were wry and witty; listening to them was just like watching them on their back porch sipping ice tea and wisdom. If you are at all interested in what the brightest and most responsible minds are thinking about food supply future, check out this. (also, here is an especially good article by Donald Worster).

-  Daniel Wildcat spoke like a gentleandfirm shepherd. The audience left inspired, restored and hope-filled. His beautiful, strong heart and honest politics reminds us all what it means to honor community. Hear him speak here.

Cary Wolfe, academic crush.

Stacy Alaimo, academic crush.

* I’ve been fielding a lot of requests to read the tiny house talk that I gave (SUPER flattering) and the paper is incredibly relevant to this very recent Vermont Public Radio story, in both the show’s content and comments (fittingly, they use a picture of MY tiny house as the lead photo – COOL :) ). Soooo… I am looking in to the cross-publication guidelines in hopes of just posting the piece here in its entirety. Stay tuned. :)

In the meantime, remember “Laws, like houses, lean on one another” – Edmund Burke.

Happy leaning, April

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ASLE successes

I just returned from the major conference in my field, The Association for Literature and the Environment, where I presented on tiny house rhetoric and philosophies. (You can find the conference specifics here). I am happy to report the paper was so well received that not only did I field enthusiastic questions of interest and support, I was also asked to speak at the 2014 Sustainability Symposium at Concordia College in MN. I must say, I was very much encouraged by people’s responses. As my paper was a critique of some of the problematic and privileged romantic rhetoric surrounding the tiny house movement, I was nervous that the critique would come off as non-constructive criticism. In fact, it was just the opposite. The talk roused interest as well as very productive discussion on some of the unique potential in the movement, and how the movement might be developing.

It was also wonderful to spend quality time with the many, many University of Oregon faculty, alum and current grad students that make up such a vibrant part of the ASLE community. Proof: (and this is only SOME of us)


(Photo credit: Ashley Elaine Reis)

I mentioned that I would post the paper here, but for the sake of publication trickiness, I won’t be putting it up in its entirety. However, if you would like to read a .pdf of the talk, feel free to email me and I will send it on. In the meantime, one of the most interesting histories I ran across in my research was the very old tradition of housetrucks- here are some GREAT photos:

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These date from 1924, ’26, ’64, and roughly 1980 (from left to right, top to bottom)

Also, in a week or so I plan on posting notes from some of the most compelling talks I attended – smart people sharing smart things ROCKS.

And check out the tiny house (and me) in the UO magazine: here (page 18)

Loads of love and belief in the power of small changes,


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