Little Projects and Big Announcements

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We have been hard at work on a few updates to the Tiny House since I last posted. But I can say we are loving life back in our tiny home and despite issues that come up with the construction and the impending legal action (which carries on so I cannot yet discuss), the tiny house life style has been a great move for us.

On top of six recent tiny house projects we have been working on (about which I will share  below) we have been busy filing taxes, ‘estate planning,’ updating budgets, and checking off other items from a very grown up checklist. Alas, it is not that we are incredibly ambitious and productive new years resolution-ers.  Rather it is the expectation of two more family members to add to the tiny house in the coming month that has motivated us to accomplish so much!

img_7880In addition, to Jared, our two dogs, and myself, we will be welcoming Twins- as in babies- in a few short weeks.  And we are launching a new blog to chronicle what will no doubt be a shit show:  Tiny House with Twins.  Jared and I will both be contributing to the blog so you will get to benefit from his sense of humor and concise writing- brevity is not my forte.

We have communicated with many families that are raising children, even babies, in tiny homes.  But we have yet to meet another tiny houser with twins.  So decisions on house set up and what baby stuff we actually need, while well-informed by family and friends with children in regular sized houses, have been mostly on our own.  And given the recent popularity of twins- looking at you Beyonce and Amal- we figured we should document our experience to help others in the future.

So several of our recent projects have been in an attempt to make the tiny house more baby friendly but before I get into what those adjustments were, allow me to follow our big announcement with an addendum:

If you are one of  the faithful few who have read The Curious Knight Life from it’s inception, then you know that infertility has been part of our Tiny House story.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t accompany any good news I share, with the difficult journey that led up to it.

We knew almost four years ago now that we couldn’t conceive a child naturally.  That diagnosis came about 6 months after we ‘started trying.’  And while it was a tough pill to swallow, considering a round of IVF can cost upwards of $20,000-$30,000, I think we both took comfort in the fact that we knew what the ‘solution’ was.

We both poured ourselves into designing and building the tiny house of our dreams and traveling before we went back to our Reproductive Endocrinologist.  I never really considered that, even if we could find the money (and we were confident we would find a way and very thankful when we did receive financial support), that it still might not result in a child.

It was about 2 years ago when it seemed like everyone around us was getting pregnant and  we evaluated where we were. We were finally on track to move into our tiny house and had completed some pretty bad-ass trips, so we decided to make our way back to our RE and find out how to make a test tube baby!

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What a couple of thousand dollars of shots and IVF meds looks like!

We started the medications for our first round of IVF in November 2015 and excitedly moved through the process of multiple injections daily, surgery for egg retrieval, and finally implantation in December 2015.  That excitement sustained itself as we found out on Christmas Eve that we were in fact pregnant! we couldn’t wait to share our tiny life with a tiny human.

But when we went back for our 7 week ultrasound to hear the baby’s heartbeat, there was only silence.  I don’t know if I will ever find the words to describe this kind of devastation.  You start to imagine your future with this new life and all its possibilities and in an instant it vanishes.

The miscarriage was emotionally and physically  one of the most difficult experiences of my life.  But we moved forward together and were lucky enough to extra frozen embryos from our first round.  We would be able to try a frozen transfer in a few months after my body had recovered.

But grief was all too familiar last spring; we tried two additional frozen embryo transfers, neither resulting in a pregnancy.  And while I felt like I shouldn’t be as upset about these loses, considering a frozen transfer is less intense and invasive and I was never actually pregnant, each loss of another potential baby was crushing.  We lost 6 babies in the first half of 2016…3 boys and 3 girls and by June, not only was the emotional toll of all of this taking its toll, but we had also had to move out of our tiny house due to construction issues and leaks.

img_7592We took the month of June off from any IVF related treatments to regroup emotionally and physically. Then after speaking with the RE about possible reasons the transfer were not working we were ready to try one last time in July.  We did a fresh transfer like we had in late 2015 and once again my pregnancy test came back positive.  We were happy and tried not to let our previous losses temper our enthusiasm, but I know I was cautious with my heart and still tend to be guarded about the pregnancy.  At the 7 week ultrasound, when we had previously experienced such a great loss, we were able to hear 2 heartbeats and learned that we had two little scientific miracles.

I have been cautiously optimistic the whole pregnancy.  The pain of losing babies doesn’t ever fully leave you so I have been reluctant to share much publicly.  And we also know all too well the pain of seeing other people’s ‘bump pics’ and baby announcements on social media.  Although we now understand the uncontainable joy of this kind of news, we have made a conscious decision not to make this club of pregnancy and parenthood feel as elusive and exclusive as it did for us for so long.  For us, it was just the right decision to remain private and celebrate with one another.

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Try not to be too jealous of this 90s themed maternity pic.

So a year after our miscarriage I am now 8 months pregnant with twins and I am often asked what we will do with the tiny house and twins.  “Live there” I say.  We feel confident that, while it may be non-traditional and at times tough (wouldn’t life with newborn twins be tough in any location!?), it is totally doable .  We hope that staying in the tiny house will continue to mean less time cleaning and dealing with stuff and more time to spend with the babies.

So in hopes of making this whole thing work, here are our most recent projects:

The folding table

We previously owned a small folding table that we could store under our staircase.  When we converted the space under the stairs to Elfa Storage a few months ago, we realized we would need another solution for table space.  We also wanted something larger that could function as a changing table and even a second desk when one of us was working at the other one.

CJ, our contractor helped us create this two part folding table over our bookcase.  Although you can’t see our lovely books anymore, we maintained storage space and got a table back that is less cumbersome to move and store under the stairs.

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Explore

A simple addition, but one that speaks volumes about our motivations for tiny living.  These letters used to live in Jared’s 6th grade global studies classroom.  When he finished teaching last year we weren’t sure what to  do with them and they lived in a box at Jared’s parents.

Jared writing from home and travel were big benefits of going tiny.  And now he will be able to stay home with the twins while he works from home!

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Larger desk

Another fairly simple change, but we realized that our old folding table was just a little bigger than our current desk.  We decided to stain it and replace the old folding desk with just a little more square inches.

Moving the dog ‘yard’

We moved our portable dog fence to the back of the house and connected it with the fenced and roofed dog run so they would have more room to play.  When it’s nice and we are home we open the gate and give them some more space.  They have really enjoyed lounging in the sun.

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The loft gate

We have been using a baby gate since we moved back in the house before Christmas to keep the dogs from getting into the loft at night while we sleep.  We figure they need to get used to sleeping in their beds since the twins will sleep in their boxes with us once they arrive.

The baby gate was annoying to move and store and we also knew we needed something more permanent for when the twins start moving and the loft with stairs will become their loft exclusively.  Jared was the brains behind this design and worked with CJ to create folding and locking, Plexiglas gates so the babies (and dogs) can stay securely in (or out) of the loft when appropriate.

Half-ing the Nightstand

img_8359In order to fit the baby boxes into the stair loft next to our mattress we decided we needed a smaller nightstand, but wanted to keep some of the storage.  So we used a circular saw to half our lovely World Market purchase and it works perfectly.

For more twin updates, follow Tiny House with Twins, but I won’t forget to keep you informed on other tiny updates here on the Curious Knight Life!

 

 

 

Homecoming

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I write you from our tiny house- celebration dance- that’s right we moved back in the weekend prior to Christmas and were able to spend the holidays in our home!

A lovely and somewhat obvious perk of going tiny is that the moving process only took a few hours.  And the length of time is more due to the drive time than the amount of belongings we had to move.  The interesting piece of move in day was that crazy Texas weather was even crazier than normal.

The day of the move started out in the mid 70s and within the course of 6 hours dropped about 50 to 60 degrees into the teens.  This really put our NEW spray foam insulation to the test.

Let’s pause there- that’s right the spray foam job was completed which was the final hurdle before we could move back in.  And of course that process was not what we bargained for.

If you will recall, the job was postponed from Monday but our salesman felt pretty bad and said he would reach out to another spray foam company to try to complete the work that week.  And here’s the kicker- he, Frank Hargis, actually made good on that promise.

So after weeks of Comfort Saver Inc. delaying our project, our salesman was able to get Smart Seal Foam Insulation from Granbury to come out within days!  Smart Seal was able to match Comfort Savers bid and schedule us that week so our job was completed that Wednesday.  Smart Seal Foam was professional, courteous, and knowledgable.  We highly recommend them; in short, they were our saviors and the company that made it possible for me to sit here in the comfort of my tiny house and write this.

img_8108So back to our first weekend back and the crazy temperatures.  The spray foam definitely helped for where we were able to put it (floor and roof), but the difficulty remains in the walls and windows and the fact that our builders did not properly insulate there.  The windows all got frost on the inside and unfortunately our pipes froze and we lost running water.

That part may have been our fault- Watson had installed a hose bib on our water tank the week before to make it easier to let out all our old water.  And while all the other pipes and parts of the water tank were insulated, the hose bib was not.

We thought we would  just have to wait it out until Tuesday or Wednesday of last week when temps were back up in the 50s, but unfortunately the up and down temps and frozen pipes meant that when the water was able to finally run again, we discovered several burst pipes- argh!

I am happy to report that Jared, with the help of Watson’s tools and spare parts was able to fix the pipes yesterday.  And- not before he got soaking wet under the trailer in process of the repair- he has brought us back to the land of running water!!

But wait- there’s more!  We have made some really exciting updates to the inside of the house as well.  Our contractor, CJ built a shelf for our NEW vented washer/dryer combo with a cabinet above.  So now we have extra storage above and below.

We loved out Splendide, but weren’t crazy about the ventless option- because it used water to dry as well not only were we using more water per load of laundry but the clothes still came out slightly damp and were crunchy when they finally dried.  So we sold our old one on Craig’s List and bought a new vented option.

Thanks to Justin- Jared’s cousin- for help moving it onto it’s new raised shelf home. Yesterday Jared used a Milwaukee 4 inch core drill bit to cut a hole for a new vent and get the Splendide hooked up.  Review of the new unit coming once we do our first load of laundry in it!

The reconstruction of the laundry area as led us to move the drying rack/shelf to the living room which has actually worked out well for holiday decorations:

 

Other new inside additions continue to make the house more functional and homey:

  • After careful thought we decided to purchase a microwave.  We never needed one before but for reheating leftovers and cold coffee it is a bit of a luxury.  The absolute smallest that we could find.  This modern convenience also forced the move of our magnetic knife stripe but allowed for some more fun mugs to be hung!
  • We found these awesome hanging photo frames at World Market that we used to highlight some of the our travel that has been enabled by going tiny.  And we hung up two smaller bags on the bathroom door that will act as hampers for the Splendide (Jared read that these are the perfect size for a load in the Washer/Dryer):
  • Finally we added a new bookshelf to the second loft!  It functions both as extra storage and privacy.  Jared found a custom craftsman on Etsy named Tyler who made a beautiful piece for us- custom built and hand delivered. We asked him to build several compartment sized to fit these storage bins from Target.  Its very sturdy and matches our dark wood perfectly.

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All four of us- including the dogs- are happily resettling and had a lovely holiday 🙂

Ready, set, pause.

Jared and I were in the tiny house both Saturday and Sunday this past weekend, cleaning and preparing to finally move back in this upcoming weekend!  Of course, if you have followed our journey you must have already guessed it wouldn’t be that simple.

We have a spray foam insulation company scheduled to come properly insulate the trailer as our initial plans specified.  This is key especially in the winter, when the house gets pretty cold, especially the floors. So the insulation really is the lynch pin in terms of when we can move back in (check out this article on tiny house insulation options to understand why we need this!).

They were initially scheduled to to do the work the week after Thanksgiving, which got pushed back due to the company’s schedule.  Then they were supposed to be out this past Friday, but the weather was too cold (they charge an extra $300 if the work is done in under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, though I can’t quite say why), so we rescheduled for Monday- today.

When we texted our salesman to check on the time last night, he called back to inform us he had a technician quit last week and they could no longer do the work today.  Jared spoke with him and he was profusely apologetic and said he would try to get the work done this week, but without a date on the calendar and with their current track record I don’t have much confidence.

In the meantime, we have continued to make some useful and fun updates to the house:

  • A pull out trash and recycling bin for under the sink (Jared had to install some extra wood though so it would pull out over the lip our builders left on all the cabinets).

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  • A portable dog pen that we put up beside the porch so the dogs have a little more room to run.
  • A shower curtain!  Yes, we finally gave up on the shower blind.  It was a fun experiment but the curtain is just more practical. We wanted a curtain that let in enough light though because our builders did not put a light in the shower. Jared ordered this one and said Wimaha had great customer service as we tried to order just the right size for our tiny shower.  It was just a tad long though so I used fabric scissors for a little trim.

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Now, I suppose we just keep working and hope that we can get insulation before the Christmas holiday so that we can move back in.  Stay tuned…

Moving on Up!

It’s seems like the holidays have served as an encouraging push for us to get to work on the tiny house!  Sounds like the same old song as 2015, eh? Well, last year we were really waiting around for our builders to get to work. But, this year, in attempt an to correct the issues with the house that made it temporarily unlivable, we have set out with various contractors and our own bare hands to make this tiny house a home once again.

Progress is moving along nicely and we will hopefully be back in our tiny abode by Christmas.  Check out what we have been up to:

  • Re-Level

Jared has wanted to take the wheels off the house for a while, but we finally agreed to keep them on and just get wheel covers.  This meant Jared was determined to get the house level once and for all (or at least until we move).  He bought several new stands to give the trailer a bit more stability and he and Tim leveled everything a few weekends ago.

  1. We had already poured cement and leveled concrete blocks under each corner of the trailer.
  2. We rented two 20-ton bottle jacks from Sunbelt Rentals to assist our trailer jack in the leveling.
  3. We used 4 Powerzone 6-Ton jack stands on each corner of the trailer with 2 Powerzone 3-Ton jack stands in the middle for stability.
  4. We placed 6 aluminum Camco Stack Jacks at different points under the trailer to eliminate some of the shake and for peace of mind.
  5. We had never used any of the “pads” before, so we just ordered a few different kinds! The best (but also most expensive) were the Camco Flex Pads. They are flexible but durable. For less flex, go with the yellow Camco stabilizer jack pads. When you stack them, they lock into each other also, which is nice.
  • Staining and sealing the outside

We received our house in mid-December 2015, so less than a year later and we were less than pleased to see that that the original stain was almost completely worn off.  And the lumber was starting to show signs of weathering.

So we found a trusted painter who had done work for Jared’s family in the past and paid $500 to have the outside re-stained and sealed with an outdoor sealant that should last much longer than the original stain.  We were very pleased with the outcome:

Before and After the stain and seal-

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  • Sealing the Shower

A few weekimg_7970s ago we realized we had to clear out all the old water from our water tank since we hadn’t been living in the house.  The water was definitely old and smelled awful.  Jared tested the water to be sure, but the result was we had to drain and bleach the tank before refilling it.

We turned on all the faucets to speed up the draining process, including the shower. This was when we found something sadly not unexpected given the quality of work we have come to know from our original builders- the shower was leaking.  The original sealant was completely gone after only 5 months of use (remember it took us a while to get full use of the shower) and water was leaking through the walls and out the bottom of the trailer.

fullsizerender-18Jared did some research into what kind of finish we needed in a shower to prevent those kind of leaks and found that we would need some heavy duty Marine varnish, like the kind that go on boat docks!  So he went to Rockler Woodworking and Hardware in Arlington to get the right stuff- they were very helpful and Jared has put on nearly 6 coats of this stuff. We should be good to go for quite some time!

 

  • Rent to Own Porch

Last spring while driving from the tiny house to the lake house, we passed a small company in Cresson that advertised small, portable porches and buildings.  We figured when the time was right, this would be a good idea for us to look into.

Turns out after all the rain we had last spring, we realized just how crucial it is to have a little roof over your head when you are locking and unlocking the front door.  And when the weather is nice in Texas we both fantasized about having a drink on a nice, small porch.

So when Jared called the company in Cresson- Derksen’s Portable Buildings– we were beyond excited to learn that they had rent to buy options (especially great for us in case we move and can’t take the porch with us) and would deliver and set up the porch we want at no additional cost!  Game on.

Jared removed the virtually useless canopy our original builders installed and we signed on with Derksen for a rent to buy 6’x8′ porch with a roof and stairs.  A very nice Mennonite man and his son delivered and leveled the porch about a week later for about $50/month on a 2 year lease.  The quality of the porch is fantastic and the stain on the wood almost matches our house perfectly.  We couldn’t be more excited about the added outdoor square footage.  We even just went on Thanksgiving morning to enjoy a good cup of coffee on the porch 🙂

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  • Custom storage

Finally we spent some time rethinking storage  throughout the house.  We have paired down even more kitchen items we found we didn’t really use in our first 6 months living in the house and invested in some great storage units- especially Elfa from the Container Store and some select pieces from World Market and Uncommon Goods.

We placed Elfa cabinet drawers in kitchen cabinets, under the sink, and under the stairs.  And brought in Lazy Susans to help with the corner storage space we have in the kitchen.

We reconfigured our mattress in the loft to make room for this little nightstand from World Market.

img_5725 And finally we removed our larger, 4 slot toaster and moved to a 2 slot as well as caving into a coffee maker- albeit a very tiny one! As much as we love our French Press, it does take a lot longer to get to the precious coffee you crave in the mornings.

A few more steps before we are back in the house full time- including some very important insulation work and some additional storage and built-ins on this inside.  More to come on that soon!

Tiny Housers: the other 1%

I know it’s been months since I have posted about our tiny house journey- apologies!

There are several reasons I haven’t written that I hope to be able to share more about soon.  However, I am excited to say that we are making some updates and improvements on the house that I hope to share in the next month or so.  But in the meantime, I have been reading about the tiny house movement in social media quite a bit lately and I wanted to highlight two items:

  1. Legalizing tiny house living–  most cities and municipalities still don’t recognize this eco-friendly, cost efficient, and family-friendly style of living.  Sure, it’s not for everyone, but legally tiny house owners should be allowed to make this decision for themselves. If you agree and want to support the effort to incorporate Tiny Houses in the International Residence Codes please sign this petition!

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  1. Tiny house villages are the next big thing!  Although I doubt our property is big enough for more than 3 tiny houses max, I love this idea.  If any tiny housers or future tiny housers in DFW would be interested please let me know!

 

Why I Hate Guns

Yesterday was my birthday! And yes, I celebrated.

But there were so many more people yesterday who were grieving.  They were grieving lost lives and injuries from the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday.

I woke up Sunday morning and glanced at my phone.  My NPR app sends me updates so I groggily read something about a shooting in Florida.  I am ashamed to say I didn’t click on the update to read more because like so many Americans I wasn’t surprised to hear about yet another shooting.

After my morning coffee though I took the time to read through the news and slowly absorbed the gravity of this hateful event.  There has been much chatter online and on news and entertainment programs and even in Congress this week regarding gun control in the wake of this Orlando hate crime.

I think often we all feel a little powerless to have any kind of real impact with such monumental discussions.  But after signing an online White House petition to ban assault riffles, today I received this mass email from Vice President Joe Biden:

Over the past few years, we’ve watched as new horrific shootings have replaced previous ones as the deadliest in our nation’s history.

We’ve waged campaign after campaign to turn our grief into action — each time thinking maybe, just maybe, this will be the one that breaks through. This will be the one that gets through to Congress, which must ultimately act. We’ve used phrases like Now is the Time. Stop Gun Violence. Enough is Enough.

Folks, enough has been enough for a long time.

You know that. On Monday, in the wake of this latest, deadliest, mass shooting, you started this petition. You worked together, calling on your government to ban AR-15-type weapons from civilian ownership. In the days following, we have seen members of the United States Senate take and hold the floor, refusing to back down, refusing to concede that we might need to wait for an even bigger national tragedy to finally make some changes.

To the creator and signers of this petition, I want to say this as plainly and clearly as possible: The President and I agree with you. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned from civilian ownership.

When a lone gunman walked into a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, he carried a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 — a variation of the AR-15 rifle — modified to hold as many as 100 bullets. He used it to kill 12 people and injure 70.

And when a lone gunman walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, he carried a version of the AR-15. He used it — and several handguns — to kill 10 of his fellow students and injure nine.

And when a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, he carried a Bushmaster XM 15 — another version of the AR-15 — and multiple high-capacity magazines. He used it to kill 20 innocent children and six educators with 154 bullets in five minutes.

A single person killed that many people in just a few minutes. Not in a war zone. Here in America — in a classroom.

These weapons have been used to commit horrific acts. They’ve been called “the perfect killing machines.” They fire bullets at incredible speed that rip through bodies and cause devastating carnage, and can accommodate high-capacity magazines that allow them to effectively shoot up to 45 rounds per minute. We’ve seen their tragic results play out in our death tolls and in the thousands left wounded, struggling to recover.

As we learned this week from the family of the gun’s inventor, he himself did not intend that this gun be used by civilians, only by our soldiers in combat — giving them an advantage over the AK-47. He didn’t own one himself. Here is what his family said:

“We think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more, by these events.”

Right now, these weapons are on the shelves in gun shops around the country, completely legal for civilians to purchase. They can be purchased in a matter of mere minutes. That should not be so.

Here’s a start: We should renew the assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994 — but which expired ten years later. That ban, which covered 19 specific assault-style weapons, was included in a comprehensive crime bill that folded together three pieces of legislation. I remember it well. I was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. I wrote much of the bill and led it through Congress — with the help of many others, especially Senator Feinstein on the assault weapons ban. I argued strongly in favor of banning these weapons. What’s more, 46 House Republicans voted for that ban in 1994. Forty-six.

So what happened to that bill? To use a somewhat wonkish legislative term, it was “sunsetted.” That means that this bill came with an expiration date: Ten years after its passage, it would need to be renewed. Under President Bush and a Republican Congress, the bill lapsed. And it hasn’t been renewed since.

But renewing the ban on assault weapons isn’t the only thing Congress should do to help prevent the tragedy of gun violence around the country.

It could require that every buyer go through a background check before getting a gun — to make sure dangerous weapons don’t end up in the hands of criminals or other people who have long been prohibited from possessing them. It could prevent people who are suspected of having terrorist ties and can’t get on a plane from buying weapons of war — that’s just common sense. It could ensure that domestic abusers can’t go to the store to buy a gun — filling the kinds of gaps in the law that leave too many innocent victims dead. It could end the freeze on gun violence research, so our public health experts can collect data and facts that would inform strategies to deal with this epidemic. And it could give law enforcement officials the tools and resources the President requested in his budget proposal — so they can take dangerous criminals off the street and enforce our gun laws. Our Administration has done what it can. So have many cities, counties, and states.

Now it’s up to Congress to do its job.

They’ll have a good opportunity this Monday, when the Senate is set to vote on a number of different gun safety measures — votes that came about after that 15-hour filibuster, during which a series of Democratic senators refused to cede the floor. The measures they will vote on would address the fact that anyone on a terrorist watch list can still legally purchase guns and explosives. They will address the current background check requirements for prospective gun buyers.

Ahead of those votes, we’d like to invite you to join a call at 1pm EST for We the People signers with Valerie Jarrett on how we can continue to come together as citizens around this issue. Let us know you’ll be joining right here — and ask any questions you’ve got, or issues you’d like to hear raised on the call.

I encourage you to pay attention to Monday’s votes. Make yourselves aware. Use your voice. Make yourselves impossible to ignore.

Because you’re not alone in recognizing the need to act — to take steps, consistent with the Second Amendment — that will keep our children and communities safe. Here’s who else agrees with you: The Department of Justice. Dozens of United States Senators. Faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and responsible businesses. Public health experts. And the vast majority of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners in the country.

If taking commonsense steps to reduce gun violence had the potential to save even one life, it would be worth doing. But it has the potential to save far more than that.

You know that. And that is why you spoke up. That matters. But the fact is that we have three separate but equal branches of a government for a reason.

And so, to speak directly to those members of Congress who, in the wake of this most recent, most horrific killing of our citizens, might be considering stepping up and getting this done once and for all, I’d like to remind you that this will not stop on its own. It will not stop. In the three and a half years since Newtown, there have been at least 1,002 mass shootings in this country. At least 1,135 people killed, and 3,953 wounded. That includes 49 killed and 53 wounded in Orlando.

You know in your heart that this is the right thing to do. You know that by stepping up, your action has the potential to create a domino effect. Have the courage to do it.

We have done it before. We can do it again.

Finish this.

Joe
Vice President Joseph Biden
The White House
@VP

And after reading this I realized that our collective voice has power. In an increasingly divisive American electorate I may be fooling myself by believing that I can sway anyone to believe what I believe, but I am going to try anyway.  And the best way I know how is through a simple equation- logic+humor+personal experience.  So if you consider yourself an open minded reader of my blog, please follow along:

  • You may not love Samantha Bee, but I do.  She is a strong, opinionated, and smart woman.  A role model of mine who uses logic, statistics, and literature to make her point:

And if that was a just little too tongue in cheek for you, how about checking on the gun laws and gun deaths in each state in America?

Here’s Where Gun Laws Stand In Your State

Or check out your state’s gun scorecard and how it compares to other states:

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Boy, do I miss Maryland!

  • Ok, so logic and statistics aren’t for everyone….maybe you are curious about what other global cultures think about America’s gun culture? Or maybe you just need a good laugh…
  • If you choose to write off people who ‘just don’t get America’s history with guns’ then perhaps you will listen to my experience as a two year Army ROTC cadet and scholarship recipient training to be a member of the US Armed forces.

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Yes, that is me in the middle as an ROTC cadet. I learned how to shoot and care for guns. I knew how to take apart, clean, and reassemble an M-16 in minutes.  We learned how lob hand grenades and slept with our guns at night when we made camp on mock reconnaissance missions.

It was during one such ‘field weekend’ when we had a mock mission that I began to hate guns.  And not in that ‘let’s just ban the big ones’ or ‘I’m not trying to take away all your guns’ kind of way, but in the same way Australia said ‘our people getting mowed down by these weapons is shit’ and ‘there is no right that justifies this kind of death and carnage’ kind of way.

We were patrolling with M-16s and tasked with keeping our platoon safe.  Suddenly I heard guns (this was all with rubber bullets and fake amo of course) but every member my platoon  immediately dropped to the ground and tried to secure the area.  In the confusion of the scene and the struggle to protect myself and those around me I dropped to the ground as well- which, btw, is a real struggle with 40lbs of gear on your 100 lb. frame- and shot in the direction of the gunfire and at what all of my senses, innate and logical, told me was the enemy.

After the exercise was over I found out that I, in fact, had ‘shot and killed’ a (fake) member of the press who was on the mission with us. Our commanding officers joked ‘Way to go, Throne, you killed a journalist.’

I laughed along with the other cadets and officers but as I reflected back on the exercise I started to think about what that would mean in real life.  I had received copious training, I had respect for and knowledge of guns.  I was smart and logical and even fairly cool-headed is such a heated situation.  And if it had been real life I still would have taken a life.  And an innocent life.

The feeling  that left me with was so strong it spurred much of my decision to withdraw from ROTC and leave a military career a year later.  The guilt of and burden of what that could mean was more than human beings are prepared for and my situation was just an ounce of what real life would offer.

The bottom line is, I was a smart and trained individual who made a mistake that could have taken a life.  Imagine what individuals with less training and knowledge could do? Unfortunately we have seen what individuals with less mental stability can do.

In my dream world- and maybe this is an indication I should move to Australia (Luke do you read this blog?? )- there would be no guns.  But since I know that is not realistic, I suppose I could make my birthday wish this year that if you are reading this, you do not let this most recent horror pass us by without action.  Please sign a petition, write your senator, or take some kind of action to ban assault rifles and restrict access to guns for dangerous individuals.

I am a student of American history and recognize why the second amendment holds great significance for the past, but for our future and for the lost future of victims of gun violence please recognize that our human rights to life and safety outweigh our American right to bear arms.  You don’t have to hate guns like I do, but if you hate the carnage and devastation than can cause then please do something to stop it.

Join a Conversation on the Assault Weapons Ban

A Post about S**t.

I started this post months ago.  Before I even had a sense of what I really thought about using a composting toilet.  It all started with a NPR article I read about Trevor Noah, the then new host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central.

gettyimages-490454810-25_custom-72a944fd1384850826d026cf5e7404c7bcd2d7ed-s1100-c15I had just traveled to Durban, South Africa, months earlier and saw poverty in the shanty towns outside of both Durban and Cape Town.  And even more recently when I was in Lima, Peru I again witnessed how the lack of water and plumbing impacts millions in poverty.  One of my co-workers who recently hiked the Incan Trail and camped out for days was quick to express her joy over the luxury of a ‘flushing toilet.’

In all of these instances I thought “huh, I don’t feel like my lack of a flushing toilet is any kind of detriment.”  In fact, in some ways I have started to think of it as a luxury, that could be readily available to millions and would also save the incredible amounts of water that most literally flush down the toilet everyday.

Ok so let me back up and tell you that if you are a regular reader of this blog, we have in fact fixed our ‘pee pipe’ problem which is the only reason I can now tell you about our toilet and honestly say that I like it.  And the solution turned out to be remarkably simple: we just had to remove the 5 lbs. of silicone we had on it, disconnect the pipe and then use PVC cement when reconnecting it- voila!  No more pee on our floor.

I should also say we may consider our composting toilet a luxury because it’s Swedish!  That’s right, Separett waterless toilets come for a Swedish company who has been in the biz for about 30 years.  We paid just under $1400 for it, which may seem like a splurge with your average tank toilet costing between $130 and $400, but consider this:  the installation of a septic tank costs anywhere from $1500-$4000 and is a necessity for tank toilet.

So yeah Swedish things are always better than most.  But the real beauty is that not only could we go off grid with a composting toilet but it is saving a ton of water with every ‘non-flush.’  One person using a composting toilet can produce more than 80 lbs of compost (this is a good thing) and saves more than 6600 gallons a water a year. The average flush (depending on how old your toilet is) can use anywhere from 1.6 gallons to 7 gallons per flush- and  just think of how often you flush everyday!!

So here’s the thing: most of you would probably agree that a composting toilet is good for the environment and maybe even economical, but you don’t want to ‘deal with’ your waste.  It’s important to understand how the Separette works though to know that you aren’t often dealing with anything too gross.

The Separette is ergonomically designed so that all users must sit down (yes, guys this means you have to get over the idea that peeing standing up is in fact what makes you a man) so that the urine can head to the front of the unit and the solid waste goes to the back.  Urine is sterile so it just travels into a pipe that you bury in the ground.

When you sit down, your weight opens up the ‘back door’ where the solid waste goes to a bucket that has a compost bag inside.  There is also a fan inside the bucket area that removes the moisture from the solid waste to help it compost more quickly.  Believe it or not it is moisture that really makes your waste smell.  Jared and I both quickly came to realize that the worst of your ‘bathroom business meeting’ stink comes from the water in a regular toilet.  It takes some pretty impressive work to get the business done in the Separette to make the bathroom smell. Although we can tell you from experience if you stand next to the vent from the composting toilet on the outside of the house, you can very much smell the smells that have been removed from the solid waste.

Our only regret with the composting toilet is that we have it and subsequently the vent from it on the front side of our house near the front door and where we plan to build our porch.  Its only bad if the wind is blowing in juuuust the right direction but even so, in hindsight we would put it on the back side of the house.  You live and you learn.

For so many people we share our tiny house journey with, their biggest reservation is hearing about a non-flushing toilet.  And while normal plumbing or even an incinerating toilet are alternative options for a tiny house, we  couldn’t be more please with our decision.  From the money and water saved to the lack of times we’ve said “do not go in there (whooooo!)” we would highly recommend the Separette for tiny and large living and hope that the waterless toilet movement can help those living poverty as well as those living in California… ya know, cause they don’t have any water.

 

Touch Up & Settle Down

img_7183Last weekend Jared and I sat down to make a priority list of all the things we still needed to do in order to get the tiny house exactly where we want it to be.  The funny thing is, part of our move toward tiny living was to spend less time and money working on the house and yard.  But I suppose when you look for the most inexpensive builder, you get what you pay for and end up with plenty of ‘touch up’ projects to keep you busy. And the list of projects is pretty extensive.

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This weekend we once again called upon the talented and generous John Key (a parent of one of Jared’s volleyball players who is a retired master electrician).  He helped up get electricity running to the house back in December and this time came to help us set up an exhaust fan for ventilation in the bathroom (after finally getting that hot and steamy cedar shower working, we realized we needed a vent!).

So John and Jared successfully installed this bad boy in a few hours:

While John was here we had him install a dimmer on our over light and asked him to create two separate switches for our kitchen lights and track lighting.  But if you have read this blog before you must know it wasn’t that easy.

img_7130Apparently Chase and James’ electrician only used one wire for both lights and we found this empty, useless box where a light switch for the track lighting should be.  Chase and James reached out to their electrician and John said he could come back but it could be a pretty massive job if all the wiring is connected.  I guess we had to lose one battle with two other wins this weekend.

In other good news, we have almost cleared out, or at least organized the guest loft so there is plenty of room to inflate the blow up mattress (wink, friends!).

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We also installed shed doors last weekend and moved our bikes outside with weather covers and locked them to the trailer to save room in the shed for the lawn mower.

My hope is this week, we can get a company to come out and remove this brush pile and of course we still have to find a solution to the old pee pipe, which continues to leak.

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All in all, we have really settled in and are loving the tiny life.  The evening walks with the dogs have become a routine joy and have allowed us to see some of the most amazing sunsets.  Texas weather is bound to heat up soon so this may only last a little longer, but we are determined to enjoy every moment!

Travel Tuesday: Peru!

Last week I returned from a 9 day trip to Peru for work.  Myself and one of my co-workers and friends took 25 students to Lima and Cusco for a Leadership Center alternative spring break trip.

We met with business leaders and education experts; we learned about Peru’s upcoming Presidential election and their vast income disparity; we saw almost ALL the sites, from the catacombs of Lima to the ancient city of Machu Picchu.  It was amazing to experience this vibrant culture through with a Social Change lens, with 25 bright and engaged students, and with a dear friend. Viva Peru!

img_6750-1Friday March 4: Flight from DFW to Lima, non-stop.  It was a very bumpy flight and I almost got air sick.  Not much sleep was had.

 

Saturday March 5: We got in around 7am in the morning.  The traffic in Lima is crazy- there aren’t real lanes or rules for that matter.  We had brunch and then set out to explore the downtown region.  We tasted Cacao beans and chocolate and got to see the changing of the guard at the royal palace. We also got to tour the catacombs beneath the city, which were creepy and so cool!

 

Sunday March 6: We were supposed to take a boat tour of the islands off the coast of Peru but the water was too rough.  So we toured a submarine, local historic fort, and went to this incredibly ritzy mall in Miraflores (the neighborhood where we stayed).  We also went to the ‘beach’ which was sand free and incredibly pebbly! In the evening we went to the city gardens and saw a beautiful light and water show all while eating churros and drinking Chicha- a purple corn drink that is delicious!

Monday March 7: Finally on to the learning.  We went to a local egg production factory and heard from the owner who was incredibly progressive and very informed about sustainable business practices follow. Then we heard from amnesty international about the work they do in Peru, especially in jungles further east.  The political history of Peru was incredibly important in understanding the poverty we would see the next day in the ‘southern cone’ of Lima.

Tuesday March 8: We went for a service project to some of the poorest areas just south of Lima, where nearly one third of the cities population lives in shanty towns in the mountainside.  Stairs are some of the most important innovations to these neighborhoods because of how steep and dangerous it is to get to their homes.  We helped paint a staircase and toured one of the neighborhoods.

Wednesday March 9: Ensena Peru was one of learning stops and basically functions like teach for America in Peru.  We further our education on Peruvian education that day by visiting with a former Minister of Education and stopping at a technical college and touring their business incubator lab.  We went to a local community kitchen and stopped at the Indian Market before we topped the evening off with a farewell to Lima dinner where we ate a lot of traditional food and got to see performances of various Peruvian dances.

Thursday March 10: About half of our students flew back to DFW and the other half flew with us to Cusco.  When we arrived at our hotel in Cusco, which is over 11,000 ft. in elevation, they immediately gave us Coca tea to help with altitude sickness.

Friday March 11: Machu Picchu!  We started the day early- it’s about a tour hour car ride to the train station, then a tour hour train trip (all through the Incan sacred valley) followed by a 30 minute bus ride to the ancient city, but was so worth the trip.  There aren’t even words to describe what a innovative and almost magical place this is.  We were all blown away.

Saturday March 12: We took a tour of Cusco in the morning including another sacred Incan temple that overlooks the city and the local market.  Then we had to catch a flight to head back to Lima where we had an 8 hour layover!

Sunday March 13: After an extremely long layover and equally long flight, I made it back to DFW.  We dropped the students off on campus and I was able to bring back this Peruvian specialty to Jared!

 

 

Rural Recycling Request

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We can’t recycle.

This may sound like a  public declaration of impotence, but honestly, it feels a little like that.

This is a definite struggle for someone who, in part, decided to move into a tiny house because it’s more Eco-friendly.  The difficulty is that our property lies in a the ‘unincorporated’ portion of our county, outside any city limits.

So even though there are plenty of other houses and properties nearby, and plenty of different companies are willing to compete to collect our garbage, not one of the companies I have called runs a route in our zip code for recycling.

In my adult life, recycling has always just felt like a given. Wherever I have lived it has been done without any fuss.  Grant it, when I moved to Texas the institutions where I have worked have been the least conscious of sustainability in my career, they still ‘recycled’ as did the cities in which I resided.

“Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” is a phrase permanently ingrained in my psyche as a 90s adolescent. So in my struggle to recycle at our new home, I have discovered just little reducing, reusing, and recycling is happening not only in Texas but in the US in general.

According to the EPA, in 2011 on average 35% of American households and 10% of US businesses were recycling.  Those levels have not really changed since I starting hearing the ‘three R’s’ back in the 90s.  And yet, if we could reach the recycling rates of some European countries, it would be the equivalent to benefiting the environment by removing 50 million cars from the road each year.

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I think the problem with such low US recycling rates relies in the convenience factor.  You tell most people that it takes 500 years for an aluminum can to decompose, or 4000 years for glass to decompose, or that the amount of once-used wood based products that end up in American landfills each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years, and they would probably tell you that they think recycling is good!  But if there isn’t a recycling bin handy, most of those people will just end up throwing that glass bottle in the trash.

In fact, I appealed to nearby neighbors  to see what they do with their recyclable products. Many expressed a desire to recycle but very few were able to give me any alternatives as I search for a company that will come to our area to pick up recycling.

The best advice I received was from a family who said they always take their recycling to the green bin behind the YMCA that I belong to in the nearest  ‘city.’ Of course when I took my own recycling there I found there is only a small opening for broken down boxes and the sides are welded shut.  This just isn’t going to work for us.

After calling several Waste companies I have come to find out that recycling in rural Texas is “just not profitable.” Essentially I was told that there is enough open land to put trash in landfills that don’t bother people and companies just aren’t willing to spend the extra money to recycle.

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So maybe I’ll chalk it up to the availability of land that makes it so much harder to recycle in Texas than back East.  But I am not satisfied with that and I am making it my personal mission to secure affordable recycling services for all who are interested in my rural community.  This maybe be a long and red tape filled journey but wish me luck and I will keep you updated.  But in the mean time- check out this great article from Forbes about Recycling in America.