Hey, my name is Cat. My buddy is Cisco, or /Francisco, Caballero de las Llanuras de la Costa del Golfo/. He’s a young English Springer Spaniel mix, a rescue that was picked up in a “dump zone” near Beaumont, TX. I’ve only had him a month. I wanted to give him a proper name to reflect his Spanish heritage, something like /Don Quixote de la Mancha/. (The Gulf Coast Plains is an ecoregion that includes Beaumont.)
I own a smallish 900-sq. ft. house in south Louisiana, in the small, historic town of Grand Coteau. My interest in stewardship of the planet goes back decades. I’ve been a park ranger for the National Park Service, a systems engineer for IBM, performed in the Closing Ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympics. A life rich in experience, but not always rich financially. I’ve learned to be frugal.
In 2007, I had the good fortune to be selected to be trained by Al Gore to be a global warming presenter. Biggest surprise? He was funny! From that workshop, I met someone who told me about a two-week all women’s workshop with Solar Energy International learning photovoltaics (solar). “Wow!” I thought, “at last, I found my niche.” Leading the way, a life of sustainability. So, I formed a company, Cat Dancing Energy. Well, several years later, I’m regrouping. As someone in the industry told me, “The solar business is much more business than it is solar.” How true, running a business is far, far more work than I ever imagined...or wanted.
Working on the Brad Pitt solar project in New Orleans!
And, as a “construction” type of industry, not so easy for a woman...unless you want to do sales, or work in the office. (Which I don’t esp. want to do.) Women in the field? Not so much. Nevertheless, I’ve had some good projects, installed a solar demo project for Brad Pitt in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, did an all Women’s install with Grid Alternatives in the SF Bay area, and a variety of other installs, site analysis, designs, energy consulting, taught solar workshops.
Along the way, I discovered Tumbleweed homes, visited Jay’s home the summer of 2011, and attended a Dallas, TX workshop that year with Dee Williams. The Tumbleweeds make a lot of sense to me, and fit in with the desire of a sustainable lifestyle.
At the back of my property is a small cottage, about 10 x 15 feet. It’s something I want to convert into a Tumbleweed. One thing I’ve learned this year, thanks to the 1%, is that working hard is not the way to (necessarily) make money. So, my hope is to convert my cottage into an adorable Tumbleweed with Tuscan styling, and use it as an investment, a little guest house.
Cottage to convert
My path then has a two prong approach: continue to try to find my niche in the solar/renewable energy world with the right company, and build a Tumbleweed home. Being a native of the northeast, I typically leave Louisiana during hot summers in search of cooler climates, more mountains, hiking opportunities, solar opportunities, etc. I don’t always have a clear plan of where I’ll go until summer is upon us. Watching “Field of Dreams” tonight, Cisco curled up into my lap. (At 40 lbs, he’s a sizable lap dog.) I asked him, “Where are we going this summer? Iowa?” He just wagged his tail and looked at me with sweet, brown eyes.
Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life website has been keeping us posted about his exciting plans for a modified Fencl. In addition for guest writing for Tumbleweed, Ryan has been blogging about simple living, tiny houses, and environmentally responsible lifestyles on his website: we think he's awesome!
The devil is often said to be in the details, and this
couldn’t be any truer than in a tiny house.
Many times I have made the argument over at my blog that tiny houses are more complex and intricate to build than your standard
McMansions. This is because in a small
house, you have so little space to work with that the small facets seem to jump
out at you.
When it comes to traditional homes, mistakes are easily
covered through various tricks of the trade, but they have one major thing in
their favor, lots and lots of space.
With that space you can easily hide the mistakes. Compare that to a Tiny
House, and the tolerances are so small that sometimes being off by 1/8th
of an inch means re-doing hours of work.
It is here in the details that tiny houses have made a name
for themselves, because you have to be so intentional about how you use
space. Here are 5 tips to help you make
sure the details given the reverence they deserve.
1.Make a list of the most important activities
your home must be able to handle, form should follow that list
2.Tape out your floor plan to scale and act out a
day in it. Be sure to have extra tape because you’ll be changing it a lot!
3.Stop looking at other Tiny Houses, make your
house for you.
4.Consider storage for all your things, including
often forgotten things like trash, recycles, and dirty laundry.
5.Obsess over the look, feel and form of
everything in your house to make sure it fits in well.
Remember Molly and Zack's ski lodge on wheels? They're still going strong, winter weather and all: no storm will stop these snow-lovers. Bundle up before you read this inspiring story Molly sent us...brrr!
It was December 21, 2012. The world (or just the calendar)
was supposed to end. Ironically as skiers, our world was about to start. It was early winter and there was 10 feet of
snow on the way. But it wasn’t just that winter had arrived. The elevation of
our experience was reaching Everest proportions because of a little winter
cabin on wheels. A mere 112-square feet was going to have grand implications.
Our tiny house was going to get us stranded in the storm, with no other skiers
allowed into our powder land.
Stranded. The word beckons thoughts of despair, desperation,
and misery. It’s not something you want to be, see, or deal with. Until the
world is about to end, 10 feet of snow is predicted to fall at Mt. Baker, and
you’ve got your tiny house parked at the ski area with food and wood stocked
and the fire stoked. It is only then that “stranded” starts to sing vibrant,
melodious notes of luck, opportunity, and blessing. Then being stranded turns into
some sort of victory.
On the day the world was supposed to end, we started out by
digging a walking path from the front door of the tiny house through the four
feet of snow that had fallen overnight. It was not a tiny task, but one isn’t
given an option, when the front door is blocked by a snow bank. We shoveled and
heaved, moving mounds of the fresh snow that we would soon be skiing. The ski
area parking lot was empty, other than the plow, disappearing behind waves of
When we moved into our tiny house last year, there was the
promise of downsizing our possessions and up-scaling our experiences. We wanted
to be mobile, with the ability to sleep in ski area parking lots and find all
the deepest storms. In terms of richness, our wealth came from a bank of powder
turns, not dollar bills. As skiers, being stranded at Mt. Baker was the best we
could do in the realm of experience. It was our pot of gold. In fact, we were
living out many other skier and snowboarder’s dreams. Without our little
portable home, we would’ve never been in that spot at that time. The tiny house
had put us into position to get stranded. I guess what you’re seeking is also
In the end, we had three private days of skiing in the
forest near the Mt. Baker ski area. The Department of Transportation eventually
removed all of the one hundred plus trees that had fallen over the highway
during the apocalyptic storm. Floods of skiers came to the ski area to discover
just exactly what they had missed. We knew what they had missed. And we
reminisced as we planned to excavate the tiny house from what had become a tiny
mountain of snow in the parking lot.
Heading to warmer land
We got by with a little help from our friends. A satiating
six-pack of beer for a hard-working plow driver helped us remove some of the
snow that had piled up outside the house. By the time most skiers arrived, we’d
removed the tiny house from its’ tiny, temporary homestead and had headed to
drier, warmer elevations to celebrate the holiday with family. And to find out
that the world had not ended after all.
Here’s to another year of big experiences in our tiny
Recently, I wrote about my plans to live in a tiny house for my last semester of college. In a week's time, my Fencl will finally be arriving on my campus! You could say I'm excited- I've gained some serious calf muscles jumping
through hoops for the last two
months to make this happen. For those who are curious, especially
college students who are interested in trying something similar, here's what my
process looked like:
It began with a fairly lengthy proposal that I drafted at
home in early December. I outlined all of the reasons why my school would
benefit from the presence of a tiny house, given our emphasis on sustainability
and alternative lifestyles. I emphasized that I would not need the school's
money or resources, just their permission and support.
My beautiful view-to-be
I sent this proposal to my college's president. I never
heard back from him! Luckily, someone else in the office intercepted my
proposal and directed me towards a newfangled student project approval system.
Through this system, I was able to communicate with all of the individual staff
members on campus that would need to personally approve my project
We had a lengthy back-and-forth regarding zoning, utilities, placement, and
everything else imaginable. The staff members were interested and supportive,
but still committed to doing a very thorough job- naturally, I found this
frustrating. Even when it seemed like everyone was on board, there was no clear
sense of approval. I wanted a giant stamp of my proposal that said
I made a chart of my proposed off-grid utility usage plans,
including back-up solutions and alternate ideas. The biggest issue was, big
surprise, dealing with my own waste. Turns out this is tricky territory on a college campus.
I'd originally hoped to use a composting toilet, but health people gave that a
My generous friend- thanks Hazel!
I'm going to start the semester using a nearby friend's toilet (above), and work with
interested students throughout the semester to develop an alternative that
everyone can feel comfortable with.
Scouting it Out
Last week, I met with the guys who run facilities and
grounds. We discussed some potential solutions to my utility woes, and took a
field trip to some potential house sites. Finally, we found the perfect site- I can hook up to the school's electricity while I work on getting solar panel donations. I
did a little dance on it to mark my territory.
Waiting (Is the Hardest Part)
Squatting in the living room
Now, I'm waiting patiently. I've been squatting with three
of my friends in their bachelor pad. I thought I packed light this time around, but my possessions seem to be traveling around the apartment a bit. My scruffy friends have mentioned that they're growing tired of me. I think they'll make it one more week, as long as I do some dishes.
Stay tuned, folks in the Western Mass area- I'll be having a housewarming gathering/open house late next week!