Monday, January 15, 2018

"My Tiny Perch" in The Woods


Words cannot truly describe how satisfying it feels to design and build homes,
 using only the ideas I have in my head.

"Proud" does not adequately convey my feelings toward my newest, little, yellow,18-1/2 foot long tiny house on wheels. 

What I have created with a pencil, and a ruler, and a piece of graph paper; 
is now standing, in literal living color.

And it is so bright, and lovely, that surely all who visit will never forget it.

Architectural simplicity is the order of the day.

Since there are no lofts or ladders, every thing and every room is easy to access.

Creating an inviting and approachable space, with only 148 square feet to work with, required a lot of wine and creative thinking.

And where to put the wine glasses was at the top of the list of problems to solve.

Affordable living goals were met, by sticking to our $20,000 build budget.

Like any endeavour, this one did not come without its challenges.

                                 The past 9 months have flown by, and deadlines were missed.

 Thankfully, Mark and our sponsors hung in there, always supportive, and never doubting that we               would cross the finish line with a miniscule mansion that would make them proud as well.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Living Tiny - One Year Later...

It’s been a year…

A year since I moved into my tiny house as a full time occupant...a year since my two college aged “children” moved into an apartment together…and a year since I started my new job. 

Looking back now, the ONLY thing that hasn’t changed is my relationship status. Through all the ups and downs, Mark and I are still us…still trying to make our way in this crazy world together but still living 160 miles apart from each other.

Living in my tiny house is amazing, and yet I haven’t cried this much in years.

Having so much time to myself has been really life changing, and yet I’ve never felt more alone.

Working remotely provides a lot of freedom and I am no longer tied to a desk, and yet I’ve never been more stressfully busy.

This year has truly been a transformative one, and I am sooo thankful, but also oh so tired.

Working My Priorities

Thirteen months ago I was working for a coffee roasting company. My commute, every month of my 2 year tenure, got longer and longer and I was finally spending well over 2 hours a day in the car. My work was not rewarding and my precious time was spent on behalf of someone else’s success. I made the difficult but rewarding decision to find another job and shortened my commute to only 5 minutes. And then, this past July, my commute got even shorter and I was transferred to a full-time-working-from-home status.

One of my "famous" foot selfies!

While the concept of working from wherever in the world I can find a decent wifi signal (which is more difficult than you might imagine) the reality is that my new office scenario was much more difficult to transition into than I had imagined. As a matter of fact, I am still finding a new workflow that works well for my work load as well as my personal psyche. 

When I'm not working, or traveling, I'm writing and blogging.
And that  also means taking photos like this one we took for a Tiny House Magazine article.

As I write this I am on a plane, returning from Florida where I worked for the past week; sometimes from the beach. Going where I want, when I want, without “checking in” with the boss; is truly awesome. But I also admit that I miss the comradery, the water cooler banter, and the collaboration of working in an office.

My Kids Aren’t Kids Any More

A little over 14 years ago my life imploded and I moved to Oregon with my two children, two cats, two horses, a pregnant dog; and whatever belongings we could fit into the back of a pickup truck. 

My babies, aren't babies any more...

Looking back now, it has been one of the stressful stretches of time I can remember. Sitting on the “other” side of it now, however, I realize that all the sacrifices were more than worth it. My son and daughter are both in college, they’re both living on their own (sharing an apartment) and they’re both working jobs where they have been employed now for more than 2 years.

My new role in their life is still evolving. They still “need” me without truly requiring my attention. But, recently, I have come to the conclusion that my son can still likely benefit from spending time with his mom. And, honestly, I can use the company. 


Maybe I skipped out on his emotional and social advancement a bit too early?

Or am I just feeling lonely for my role as protector and advisor?

My Tiny House Village (.com)

Twelve months ago I was living in a 1600+ square feet home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a two car garage, on a ¼ acre. I was paying almost $1,600 per month just for rent. Now I live alone in 204 square feet (384 square feet if you add the lofts) and pay only $75 per month which INCLUDES my electricity and water and wifi. At the risk of overstating the obvious, my financial obligations have drastically changed. I still pay my kids rent for their apartment, and I have taken on some credit card debt with the goal of rebuilding my credit scores, but overall my financial life bears almost NO resemblance to the paycheck-to-paycheck existence I was once accustomed to.

So, where does all my money go now?

I’m building MORE tiny houses, of course.

Finally, a roof on my 2nd tiny house: My Tiny Perch.

After having spent the past two years immersed in all-things-tiny I have come to realize that there is a tremendous opportunity for me to leverage the popularity of tiny houses; hospitality style. So, I am designing and building four tiny houses that I can rent out on AirBnB (or a similar platform) and generate a sustainable income stream. 

My 3rd tiny house, Robin Hood's Hideout, will have a rooftop deck!

I originally “gave” myself four years to complete them but so far, I am ahead of schedule. A mere 9 months after starting the build, and My Tiny Perch (my first rental unit) is almost done and Robin Hood’s Hideout (my 2nd rental unit) is almost dried in. Following an event in June of 2018 where I’ll have the Hideout in tow, I’ll have two rental units in service.

MJ The Festival Junkie

By far, however, the biggest change to my life this year has been the amount of time I have spent traveling. No longer encumbered by the need to “take care” of my kids or large house or even my cat (who goes to stay with the kids when I’m not home) I can now say “YES” to every event and festival invitation. However, learning what I can do vs. when I SHOULD do; has been the hardest learned lesson of all.

Taking a break at the Tiny House Living Festival.

I am now the proud owner of the self-proclaimed title of Most Traveled Tiny House Enthusiast in the World. Not by miles traveled, by any means, or by followers or fans or even income generated. I, however, have attended more tiny-house workshops, events, and festivals than anyone. I have met and interviewed more luminaries, builders, product suppliers, and enthusiasts via the podcast (and while sitting over an open fire or bar tab) than anyone else can claim. Even this, however, has produced some positive and negative results.

Tiny House Friends and Smiles All Around!

I have been constantly putting myself “out there” to build rapport, to help others become more educated about the tiny house movement, and to help advance builders and DIY enthusiast’s social media presence. But the side effect is that I am now finding myself uncomfortably vulnerable to the whims and moods and opinions and drama of the individuals IN the movement. 

This is, by far, the MOST frustrating thing about my life now. After having given so much of myself, I now need to force myself into being more selfish with my time and emotional energy. This isn’t natural, and it isn’t comfortable; but, it is unfortunately needed.

And In Conclusion

I’ve read blog posts about people who have “gone tiny” that primarily focus on the difficulties of downsizing and the change in their relationship with their spouse and family. And, truthfully, my story is like theirs. But in addition to mirroring their experience, the reason I’m writing this article is to acknowledge and give myself “credit” for having lived through a year’s worth of a really noteworthy transformation; and to officially give myself more time to adjust to all of these changes. 

Will I miss the spotlight? Probably...

Even as I read this I am shocked I am not curled up in a lonesome corner somewhere…or drunk more often. In addition to the somewhat “normal” changes one experiences when moving into 200 square feet, my entire life has been turned upside down.

Change takes time. And the more change we have to adjust to, the more time it will take. I have put one foot in front of the other, and stood up on stage, and spoken out through a mic, and advocated for this movement for the past two years; and now maybe it’s time to take a bit of time for me.

But with a beautiful space like this to relax in, I'll probably be fine.

I hope that in a year from now I’ll look back and read this and know that I have prioritized correctly, and that the changes I need to make now; were the right ones.

And I also hope your tiny journey continues to be bolstered by my honesty, my passion, my drive, and my advocacy. 

This is my idea of fun when I'm not doing the "tiny" thing.

And Mark, if you’re still reading this; I appreciate you.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Cheaper than T&G and Easier than Drywall - Part One

When I started out designing My Tiny Perch, I knew it wanted it to be very different from My Empty Nest.  So, any material that was expensive, time consuming to collect or procure, complex to install, or heavy; was taken OUT of the build plan. This plan, however, also meant that a whole new learning curve would need to be conquered for any installation that I hadn’t done before.

And, in summary, that means pretty much all of them.

When it came to the interior “cladding” materials (a fancy word for “walls”) I knew that although drywall was doable, and wouldn’t necessarily be eliminated for consideration due to any of the above mentioned reasons; I didn’t want to do it. It was a major pain in my backside to install, took FOREVER to mud and sand, and although the end results look OK, it’s not great.  Let me tell you, getting drywall to look perfect requires a LOT of practice.

Loaded and ready to go!

I considered using plywood, but I thought the surface texture would look pretty sloppy and the trim molding at every seam wouldn’t really give me the cohesive look I was going for.  I considered cedar T&G (tongue and groove) panel boards but they’re pretty thick, very heavy, and REALLY expensive. (And I had already set the electrical boxes for ½” cladding so I would have to move all of the boxes or find a ½” material that would work) So, I set out to do just that.

Craig is my bud, and his list is my GO TO for all things random and affordable.  Someday I’ll make a list of all of the killer deals I have scored on Craigslist. And, here goes another try… I entered “1/2 T&G” into the search box and found some flooring that I thought might work.

Wait. What? “FLOORING”?
Come one now….you know I’m a rebel….you know I think outside the box….you know I’m vested in finding the newest and coolest materials to show off in my builds….so keep reading…

This is the section of this article where I admit that taking a picture of a wall, and posting it here really won’t really elicit much excitement. Thusly, this is Part One of this story, and the final photos will be featured in Part Two. But, this part is important too.  It’s the story of how I found a very cool material to use on my walls that was much cheaper than T&G, and after a coat of primer and two coats of paint looks AMAZING!!

And on with the story…..

I contacted Alex with Lifestyle Flooring regarding my “plan”, and after we chatting a bit, I finally convinced him that using the material he was selling as flooring could be used on my walls too!  Then, I set about researching other people who’d used plywood planks. I found lots of images on Pinterest, but most of them stained the wood and I would be painting it so I have to admit I was a bit nervous about how it would look.

Pinterest Inspiration!! (not my wall)

In a nutshell, the planks are made using the best sections of ½” plywood that has been culled for other uses due to imperfections or damage. (they sort out the bad pieces and keep only the good ones.)  The edges of each plank have a bullnose edge and that makes them look like T&G once they are installed. 

Primed and Installed; Awaiting Paint Coat #1.

They can be made to any width (I chose 6” wide) and any length, up to 8 feet long. Alec recommended four foot lengths and although it was a LOT more work to install, it does add character to the walls for sure.

Step 1 - Priming them.

Step 2 - Installing them using 18 GA trim nails.

Step 3  - First coat of paint

Step 4 - Caulking any open joints (there weren’t many) and sanding drip marks from vertical seams. (again, not many)

Step 5 - Final coat of paint and……..wowee, zoweee…..I LOVE MY WALLS!!

These planks look so great, I can’t wait for you to see the final pictures in Part Two of this article.  

I’m really thrilled and I know you would be too if you were standing where I am standing…


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lessons from the Little Things

Finally, after 7 months of building, I’m finally getting down to the final details!  Yeah, I know that 7 months doesn’t sound like a long time but I had planned to have My Tiny Perch done at the end of July so it “feels” like I am running very behind schedule!

And speaking of behind schedule, it’s been waaayyy too long since I have posted here. In retrospect, I suppose it’s because one subject or issue I’ve been dealing with doesn’t really require its own article.  But there are definitely lots of little things I have been dealing with for months now that are not without their lessons to be learned so, here goes...

Where to Park the Perch

For months I have been dropping less than passive hints with my land hosts that I would like to park (and rent out) My Tiny Perch on the lower section of the property I am on now. Mostly, I have been more passive than I normally would be because I am moving so fast that I want to respect their pace of making decisions. (As you can well imagine my push-to-get-things-done pace is not comfortable for most.) But since I wasn’t making the decision-making progress I needed to, I finally called an official “meeting” at a local bar. There, after I made a very logical argument for why they would consider my tiny houses a valued addition to their property, they agreed to host not just the Perch but the Hideout as well!  Yay!! 

Almost Ready!

Next we assigned action items and made a list of TO-DO’s. As it turns out, their primary concern was who was going to pay for the gravel. So, after a bit of back and forth and a meeting with The Gravel Guy, the section is now level and the gravel is being delivered tomorrow! This is my first experience at doing this, by myself, and I’m a bit nervous that I won't be able to back The Perch into the spot where the gravel is but I am setting my trepidations aside, and going for it!

I can't wait to see My Tiny Perch parked here!

Lessons: Be logical, be persistent, and be open.

Hiring Help

Earlier this year I met a mobile tiny house "buiilder" at the North Carolina Tiny House Festival. He was the first (and only, as far as I know) truly mobile tiny house builder. He travels from town to town in his 66 sq ft tiny house on wheels, helping people build their dreams. Despite his mobility I was truly surprised to see him in Oregon at the last tiny house event. Because I’ve been running a bit behind schedule, mostly due to the restrictions of my own schedule and talents, I decided to spend a little money to speed up the build.  Honestly, I’m not sure what this says about me but hiring help has always been both a blessing and a curse. I am so passionate (read: controlling) about the work and the design and the end results that I find myself letting go of things I am not entirely comfortable with giving up.

For instance, I mentioned to him that I had envisioned building cubby shelves into an open section of the wall.  And then one day when I came back from Home Depot he had made them out of left over cladding materials. “Yay? They’re done?” But I had envisioned building them out of plywood, in one piece, that would slide in and out of the cavity giving me access to the plumbing behind them. Now I’ll have to literally tear them apart to get to the plumbing. 

The bottom line is that the end results weren’t what I had envisioned. But, rather than ask him to rip out the results of his self-directed-creative-solution. I let it go. And, there they are. On second thought, I probably could write an entire blog about the challenges of transitioning from my role of “Designer / Builder” to “Helper Guy’s Errand Runner” but let’s just say I’ve learned a few lessons and that’s what this blog is about so here goes…

Lessons: Be clear, be firm, and advocate for what’s truly important.

Working Remotely

A little over a month ago, my boss called on my vacation to let me know that they’d hired more people than they had desks for, and wanted to know if I would be OK with working remotely full time from now on.  Of course, I would. And you are likely thinking right now, “That’s awesome!”  The reality of this arrangement, however, has taken some getting used to. The process of packing up the contents of my desk and carrying them to my car, but still having a job, set off my PTSD like a bomb. It was emotional, and unexpected, but my brain couldn’t believe I was moving out but still had a job!? And, consider this….  Could you honestly sit in a 204 square foot house, all day, by yourself, and work and live there too? My tiny house wasn’t really designed to accommodate an office. 

My "office".

The upside is that I can literally work from whereever I can find a decent wifi signal (which is more challenging that you might imagine) and this means I can travel when ever and for how long as I want to.  The downside is that I find myself more scattered without the routine of a commute and am still finding a work-flow and lifestyle that gives me enough down time.  My “office” now occupies my dining table, and I often will go days without taking a shower. That’s just not like me but heck, nobody is here to notice so why take the time? 

Lessons: Life changes take time to adjust to, be patient with the results.

It Take a Tiny Village

My sponsors are the fuel to my fire, and what makes all of this possible. Without them, their support, their materials, and their enthusiasm, I wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace I have now come to consider “normal”.  However, there are so many other people who have showed up to help. And while I love to tell people I have “built” my tiny houses, the truth is that it truly takes so many more hands and so much more talent than I alone have. My boyfriend, Mark, as you know is my framer but his help extends well beyond a hammer and nails.  He’s my rock when I’m having a day when burning them all to the ground seems like a good idea.

When he's not framing, Mark's passion is photography.

My adult children, Alyssa and Wyatt, have generously donated several hours of their weekends to cut and measure and put up with my rants. My good friend Teresa, who had never used a chop saw before, was more than willing to learn and then enthusiastically show up AGAIN for day TWO!? 


And then there’s a friend of a friend who just came to fix my electrical issues this past week on a moment's notice, and my land hostess who is sewing my curtains, and Scott who finished the installation of my hot water heater last week.  I truly couldn’t do all of this without all of them.

The Most Important Lesson of All:
Take time to stop and be thankful, and TELL everyone how much I appreciate them!

Monday, July 24, 2017

FIVE REASONS to Attend the Tiny House Living Festival in Colorado - August 11th-13th

Reason #1 – MJ is in the HOUSE!?

I’m so proud to announce that I have been invited back to Colorado to be one of the Emcees for this event! I am sooooo looking forward to meeting some of my old friends, and probably making a few new ones too! The only thing I have LEFT to decide is whether or not to buy another new pair of festival boots.  

Look 'Ma, No Railings!

Reason #2 – Experience Where It Counts

Did you love the Jamboree? If you didn’t go, did you wish you had? The people behind the Tiny House Living Festival are the same driven, creative, organized, and fun people as the people that were behind the scenes at the original Jamboree.   

A Fun Loving Crowd of Tiny House Enthusiasts

Reason #3 – A “Down Home” Feel

The Tiny House Living Festival isn’t at a hotel and attendees won’t be sitting for hours in a conference room. The organizers, speakers, vendors, and sponsors are working hard to create an informal and approachable event where the attendees don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle and will have lots of time to chat and mingle with their favorite tiny house people. And did I mention there will be tiny houses to tour!?

A Few of My Tiny House People!

Reason #4  - Location, Location, Location

I’ll be flying in to Denver Airport and then taking an Uber to my AirBnB accommodations. From my “home base” I can then take light rail or WALK to and from the event at the Aspen Grove Center as well as to and from countless local restaurants.  Parking will be easy and plentiful and transit access for this event truly is SECOND TO NONE!

The Scenic Aspen Grove Center in Littleton, CO

Reason #5 – Big Bang for your Buck!

An all access weekend pass costs only $25 and parking is FREE! Whether you’re a tiny house enthusiast, planning your build, researching builders, or are just looking for inspiration to simplify your life and downsize a bit; you’ll find everything you want at the Tiny House Living Festival for less than the cost of a full tank of gas. (P.S. And there are still plenty of affordable flights into, and out of, Denver airport for that weekend!)

Tiny House Living Festival will be held on August 11th – 13th in Littleton, Colorado.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Happiness Is a State of Activity" ~ Aristotle

While sitting on a closed freeway one day, pondering “what to do next” with my life, I looked over at the car parked next to me and noticed that they were towing a teardrop. I’d always wanted a teardrop trailer but had NO idea how much they would cost. So, right then and there I went on Craigslist and found a homemade one for sale. The next day, on a somewhat-irresponsible-whim, I bought it for $1,000 (which I borrowed from my 18 year old son) from an old guy who made it in his garage, atop a pop-up camper trailer frame.

Early in that same week Mark and I had been discussing possible plans to travel the country and we had calculated that a small car or truck, and a teardrop, would be the LEAST expensive way to do so whilst still maintaining some sense of comfort. (A comfortable, dry, secure, warm, bed every night) My newest acquisition wasn’t pretty, by any means, but it was cute and sturdy and lightweight enough to pull behind my convertible.

A few months later, I loaded our two kayaks onto the top and we took it camping for the first time. And, in the end, Mark was less than impressed. Granted, he had (ironically) arrived at the camp site after 5 hours of being stuck in traffic because of an incident that had closed the freeway. He arrived, grumpy, tired, and his mood or his attitude towards my little teardrop never fully recovered. He has a good point, of course. Since there is only one door the person sleeping opposite the door (him) has to climb over the other person (me) to go to the restroom in the middle of the night. And, truly, honestly, it really is too small for two. But the upshot is that after that weekend I parked the teardrop in the garage and considered “what to do next”.

I moved that winter and the teardrop moved from the garage to the front driveway. Then it moved from the driveway to a storage lot. And, in retrospect, I trusted the maker far more than I should have. During that frantic time, I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been about keeping it fully covered, and after the move dust settled I discovered that quite a bit of water had gotten in. I doubled my efforts at keeping it not only covered but fully wrapped in a tarp, and put desiccant in to help dry it out.

In the Spring, after a MUCH more discriminating inspection, I discovered that the maker had expended NO effort in caulking any of the windows, or the door, and had actually installed one of the windows upside down. The winter rain pooled in the sill, and then leaked over and down into the walls and interior. Also, the stain he had used on the exterior contained NO sealant properties so the plywood itself had also absorbed a fair amount of moisture, was swollen, buckled, and pulling away from the frame.

As the months passed, the teardrop wasn’t completely forgotten but I knew that I couldn’t use it in its existing condition, and I couldn’t sell it. I would have to scrap it, or put some serious effort into making it weather resistant. So I decided I would try…

First, I caulked and replaced every fastener holding down the metal roof. I then dropped it off with a woodworking friend of mine to replace the dysfunctional-boat-hatch-used-as-a-door, bought some new fabric for the curtains, and inspired a seamstress to take on my project amidst her many others. Finally, I removed the metals screws (Who uses metal screws on a wood trailer?) replaced them with wood screws, caulked the heads, sanded the trailer, and SEALED IT! Then I moved on to work on my two tiny houses under construction.

I cannot control everything. I know that. But I’d like to. And, in my younger days, I would emotionally “fight” delays and push harder to “make” things happen. But lately, I have decided that a far more laid back approach is needed in my life. So, when my tiny house builds were both delayed, leaving me with more “down” time than I would prefer, instead of pushing and fretting, I turned my attention back to my little teardrop; to something I COULD control.

After the new door was done, I picked it up from my good friend Bruce at Friesian Woodcrafters; and it was then that I noticed a few mold spots under the window. Masked and determined, I demolished the entire bed frame and wiped down the interior with soapy bleach and mold prevention spray. Once again I discovered how many shortcuts the maker had made.

For the bed platform, instead of using ¾ ply, he used 3 sheets of ¼ ply, assembled in three layers, made up of different sizes and shapes (some not even attached) pieced together, and covered in carpet pad and headliner fabric. (What a mess. What was he thinking?) After demo, I then rebuilt the bed frame with slotted pine boards which would provide MUCH better airflow and access to the under bed storage, as well as give me the ability to visually monitor for any potential future moisture related issues.

Inspired by the Sisters on the Fly, I knew I wanted to have the rear of the trailer painted by an artist. I had some paint left over from another project that I originally wanted to use but, after a LOT of unexpected drama that I won’t go into here, and five time consuming coats of new paint later; it was ready for the final stroke of artistic genius.

So, in true Michelle-form, I placed an ARTIST WANTED ad on Craigslist.  Within a few hours, several local artists submitted their work, and I hired one whose work mostly closely matches my style.

That evening was so fun!  Jacob was prompt, funny, and is uber talented. He flawlessly, affordably, and easily executed my flowered vision quite perfectly in one sit-down. Free form. Color me impressed!

Inspired by Aristotle, her new official name is Aris the Hippie Teardrop.

She weights just over a 1000 lbs, sleeps two (albeit cozy-like with an 8” thick memory foam, Full size, mold resistant, Parklane mattress) and is off-grid friendly with battery powered lights. But, she also works well on-grid and plugs into campsites for full functionality.

When plugged in she cools easily with the use of a fan and heats quickly with a tiny, round, freestanding, space heater.

She boasts 56 sq feet of under-bed storage and can easily haul enough camping gear to accommodate her occupant’s enjoyment of both the convenience of teardrop camping and the primitive nature of tent camping.

I have one vice: Creative Projects. They feed my soul, keep me up at night, energize me, and fill my ongoing and quasi-insatiable need for self-validation.

Yes. I can do this. I can do anything I set my mind to.

It may not be perfect, (nor am I) and everyone may not like it, (or me) and that’s totally OK.

I know that wherever Aris goes, smiles will abound, and I hope her message will inspire others to not just dream but to “DO” what makes them the most happy.