Category Archives: Happiness

Small Homes

Remember when we had a friend over to take pictures of our house for possible inclusion in Lloyd Kahn’s new book, Small Homes?

We were included, and two copies of the book arrived in the mail today. Eep!

This is a cool book. We’re on pages 142-145.

It was fun to look at the pictures, which showed how the house looked in December 2015, before I redecorated four rooms, swapped out a bunch of furniture and discovered the magic of cheap IKEA shoe bins. Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come in here, and seeing old photos — accompanied by a narrative showing my thoughts at the time — gives me a nice sense of accomplishment to counterbalance all the times I walk in here, see what needs to be done and get frustrated with myself because I haven’t done it yet. (Yeah, kitchen floor, I’m lookin’ at you.)

The photos were taken near Christmas, obviously.
I’m amazed we got four whole pages. Not bad for a house we didn’t even build.

Even before all my projects last year, our house looked fairly spacious, and I’m proud to have it featured in the book, where hopefully it will inspire somebody else to experiment with minimalism and downsizing. It isn’t carved out of the side of a hill, sculpted by hand from cob, rescued from the brink of demolition or located in a picturesque forest or desert, but Kahn’s justification for its inclusion delighted me, because it sums up my reasons for sending him photos and information in the first place:

“As you may know, our building books are generally heavy on graphics and light on details. However, this meticulous rendering by Emily and Ron of their ideas for living in a small space, and the cost-conscious ways they’ve carried out their goals is rare and useful, practical information.” — LK

I hope people do find it useful and practical, and if anybody found out about this blog by way of the book, I strongly encourage you to search my Eco-Saturday and Tiny Tuesday tags to see more examples of our efforts to save space and live lightly on the planet. And, of course, if you found out about the book by way of this blog, I encourage you to support Kahn’s work by buying a copy or clicking over to The Shelter Blog to see what else he’s got up his sleeve. He’s done some great work over the last few years, and we always keep a copy of his Tiny Homes book handy to fuel our daydreams.

Oh, and mad props to our friend Laura Simon, photographer extraordinaire, who shot a bunch of the photos that ended up in the book. (We’ll be giving her the second copy of the book, of course.)

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.
I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Countdown to spring

“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past … . It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

— Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

The 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs* have announced their spring-training reporting dates. Pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Mesa on Feb. 14.

In other words: It’s 37 days to spring.

We are SO having Chicago-style hot dogs for lunch on Valentine’s Day. And probably either gooey butter cake or Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard for dessert, because Ron’s Cardinals report the same day.

Spring is coming. I am at peace.

Emily

* I promise I won’t be insufferable about this, but I really never expected to utter that phrase. Let me have my moment. If history is any indicator, it may never happen again in my lifetime.

Tiny Tuesday: Done with mirrors

Need a quick way to expand a small room without knocking out walls or building an addition to your home?

Hang a mirror.

Or two.

Or more.

By reflecting both the room and its contents — including any available light — a large mirror can make a small room look brighter and feel bigger than it really is.

My living room is decorated with mid-century modern furniture and accents. I adore it. And what I really wanted to do was install a set of large, mid-century-style mirrors in there, but I couldn’t find anything with the right proportions, so I finally gave up and decided I’d just have to settle for something from a different era.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Target and picked up a large mirror in a nondescript frame and hung it above the (also-nondescript-and-not-mid-century) piano.

It looked pretty good, but I knew I could one-up it.

As a small child, I watched a movie about Thomas Edison and became fascinated with a scene in which a young Edison used a candle and several carefully positioned mirrors to light an entire room. Thirty-five years later, the image of all those mirrors reflecting the light from that tiny flame remains lodged in my memory.

I don’t have the space to arrange my mirrors as strategically as Edison’s, but I figured several reflective surfaces on the wall opposite a window would yield more light than just one, so I spent Saturday evening shopping for the most eclectic assortment of mirrors I could come up with.

My first stop was Family Dollar, where I found a cute pair of highly geometric, quasi-mid-centuryish mirrors for $10. Score.

My next stop was Annie Laurie’s Antiques, where I’d hoped to find a vintage mirror or two. I came home with seven and managed to hang six without breaking them, which is pretty impressive for me.

I may or may not have hummed Leon Russell's "Magic Mirror" while I was hanging these.
I may or may not have hummed Leon Russell’s “Magic Mirror” while I was hanging these.

I’d like to acquire a few more as time and my budget allow, but the assortment I have now is pretty cool, and while it doesn’t exactly match the rest of the living room, it certainly reflects it nicely and extends the visual space.

You can bet when I build that tiny house in New Mexico, big mirrors are going to be part of the decor.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: The Doctor is in

I had a long list of stuff I planned to get done yesterday. I did some of it, but I ran out of steam by the end of the evening and decided it was time for a break, so I let a candy cane and three marshmallows melt into a cup of hot cocoa while I settled in for an appointment with the Third Doctor.

I can think of much worse ways to spend a cold evening than sipping cocoa and watching the Doctor’s most elegant incarnation protect the Earth from Silurians, Autons, and rogue Time Lords while my dogs sleep on the floor beside my chair.

Emily

Customer service

Several months back, I pre-ordered a Judy Collins concert DVD called “A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim.” It was still in production at the time but was supposed to be ready in a matter of weeks.

I’m really good at ordering things and then forgetting about them, so I didn’t think about it again until we got a note saying there’d been a delay, and the DVD wouldn’t be ready for a few more weeks.

A few more weeks passed. And a few more. And then one morning about a month or so ago, Ron went out to get the mail, and there was a package from Wildflower Records.

“I think your DVD is here,” he said.

I opened the package. It wasn’t the DVD. It was a copy of Ms. Collins’ latest CD, accompanied by a note from her record label apologizing for the long delay, explaining the CD was a gift to make it up to fans for having to wait so long, and assuring us the project was still in the works and should be finished shortly.

The election happened. Leonard Cohen died. Leon Russell died. I forgot about the DVD again.

Ron went out to get the mail Saturday morning, and lo and behold, there was another package from Wildflower. Inside it was the DVD, autographed and accompanied by another note apologizing for the delay, this one signed by Judy Collins herself.

I wasn’t upset about the wait, but I was impressed by the customer service.

Things go wrong. You can’t always control that. But you can control how you handle the situation. Anybody who’s ever waited tables knows the best way to keep a screwup in the kitchen from costing you a tip (and the restaurant a customer) is to apologize, maybe bring the customer an extra basket of chips, and issue regular updates on the situation so he’s not left wondering what’s going on. If you can upsize the meal or throw in a free dessert, you do that, too. Most people are pretty forgiving if you apologize and try to make it up to them, especially if they know the situation is beyond your control.

Wildflower handled this situation about as well as they possibly could: After one delay, they sent a notice. After a second delay, they sent a gift. When the product finally became available, they added value with the autograph and enclosed a note signed by the artist.

That extra effort was a classy move that showed the label — and the artist — cared enough about the fans to try to compensate for the unforeseen delay. It made me smile, but it didn’t particularly surprise me, once I thought about it.

After all, Judy Collins used to wait tables before she became famous.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Overcoming intimidation

We live in a house that was built sometime during the 1920s. It has hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms — not laminate you put down over Masonite, but actual bare floorboards. They creak when you walk over them, which I’ve always regarded as a sort of safety feature: If anyone were fool enough to break in, the floorboards would telegraph his movements, making it impossible for him to sneak up on me.

Unfortunately, some of those floorboards got a little too creaky for their own good, and a couple of them developed splits that made them feel spongy underfoot. They were starting to worry me: What if somebody stepped on them wrong and went all the way through?

Predictably, the culprits were located directly over an area in the basement where somebody had nailed a big piece of sheet metal to the joists. I had no idea what was under that metal, why it was there, or what dire fate would ensue if I removed it to get to the spongy boards. And even if I could get to them, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with them.

I ignored the problem for weeks. It got worse and worse, until I finally gave up and asked Dad to come look at it and tell me what it needed. I was afraid I’d have to hire somebody to fix it, but Dad told me the mysterious metal was just the bottom of the cold-air return for my HVAC system, and I should simply pry it off, repair the floor from the underside, and put it back on when I was finished.

I was fine with that until I realized I’d have to work around water lines, cables, and conduits full of Romex to get the metal off. I worried about that all week, but there was no choice; if I didn’t fix the floor, we were liable to crash through it, which I really didn’t need.

I looked at it again Friday, came up with a workaround Ron agreed was a good one, and spent the balance of the weekend playing with power tools.

I’m sore, scratched, bruised, and tired, but I’m also relieved, happy, and kind of proud of myself. DIY projects make me feel grown-up. I’ll try to share the details of this one tomorrow.

Emily