Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tiny living secrets

Here's my cozy writing/reading/daydreaming spot: our little couch topped
 with a beautiful quilt made by my dear friend, Kathleen Brown.
Out this window is an amazing view of the Elkhorn Mountains and the lake.
Sitting on the diminutive couch in our tiny living room, my stocking feet are curled against an electric heater. My fingers, also seeking warmth, are wrapped around my coffee mug. I’m wearing three layers of clothing, including an old cashmere sweater and a thick flannel shirt lined with fleece. We've had weeks of sub-freezing weather, and even sub-zero weather. After six months of living tiny in the Eastern Oregon high desert, my body is still adjusting to the colder temperatures.

Four years ago, after some unsuccessful and mostly depressing attempts at online dating, I’d sworn off men and any hope of a romantic relationship. Instead, I concentrated on becoming an adventurous, joyful woman. But then—so very unexpectedly—I fell in love with an adventure-seeking Mountain Man who lived 300 miles away. Tired of cultivating our long-distance relationship, we decided to bridge the gap between us.

At the end of last summer, I left my newspaper reporter job and my old life in the city. Now I’m settling into my new life: living large in 323 square feet in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains in Eastern Oregon with the Mountain Man. 

Living in a small space fits who we are now. Both of us have owned houses requiring hefty mortgage payments and endless maintenance and yard work. We are both at the point in our lives that we don’t want to be tied down by possessions or lengthy to-do lists. We’ve decided to live simply while enjoying a bountiful life rich in experiences rather than material things.

We’re well on our way to succeeding. In the six months I’ve lived here, we’ve soaked in a hot springs, performed as the musical entertainment at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, hiked in the Elkhorn Mountains, had a picnic while perched on a log on the banks of an alpine lake and then did some fly fishing, paddled kayaks, danced to live music at Ten Depot in La Grande, dined at the Barley Browne’s in Baker City, visited the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker, and much more.

We’ve also spent a lot of time editing possessions and determining what's essential and what isn't. What do we really need for our comfort in our tiny space? As I write, my laptop rests on the tiny red table I found at an estate sale more than a decade ago. It takes up little floor space, but is useful for holding a laptop computer, a cup of coffee or a bowl of popcorn. In my old apartment, I had an antique desk for my laptop, but truthfully, I usually write curled up on the couch. So the little worn table with chipped red paint fits perfectly into our tiny space.

Tiny home tip: Use floor space sparingly. Use tiny furniture with multiple uses.

Here are some tiny kitchen tips we've gleaned after living tiny for six months. 

Tiny home tip: Size--and numbers--matter. Four mugs. When you live tiny, you must scrutinize every item you bring into the house and justify it taking up precious space. We have space for four mugs. When I painted this lace-covered leaf mug at a fun ceramic shop in Gig Harbor recently, I had to give the boot to my cracked Star Trek Jean-Luc Picard mug. But I couldn't completely give up Jean-Luc. He's in storage.
If you had cupboard space for only four mugs, which mugs would you choose?
Tiny home tip: Use smaller dessert plates rather than larger dinner plates. We use my dessert-size English Spode plates as dinner plates. They fit in the narrow cupboard better and it's harder to overeat. The larger dinner plates didn’t fit in the cupboard, so we are storing them.

Tiny home tip: Use vertical space to double the number of spices in the spice rack. We could fit only nine spice bottles in our tiny home’s built-in spice rack, so the Mountain Man took the built-in spice rack to his wood shop and built a second tier, essentially doubling the number of spices it holds without increasing its footprint on the counter. It allows us to keep our essential, every-day spices at hand. The rest we store in a box in an overhead cabinet in our living/dining/kitchen.
The Mountain Man took the spice rack to the wood shop
and doubled the vertical space.  Notice my kitchen towel
embellished by friend Rhona. Even in a tiny space, display
favorite, beautiful, useful things.
Tiny home tip: Edit your appliances to the essential. We use our hotpot daily to make coffee and tea. It's the only appliance that gets real estate on the tiny kitchen counter. I donated my bread machine and toaster and am storing our crock pot and blender. But lately, I’ve been hankering for one of my childhood comfort foods: cinnamon toast. Do I find a tiny toaster or toaster oven? If so, where would we store it when we aren't using it? Or do I forgo toast altogether?

Essential appliances:our hot pot plus microwave, propane range
and  oven and refrigerator. I can live without a dishwasher, but
I can't live without my morning coffee.

Tiny home tip: Tuck the cutting board away when not in use. To eliminate counter top clutter, the Mountain Man built a holder for our cutting board. When we aren’t using our 12 x 12 cutting board, it’s neatly tucked below a kitchen cabinet.

Tiny home tip: Hang the broom on the wall. We have no broom closet, so the Mountain Man built a wooden holder to hang a broom high on the wall near the ceiling. It’s out of the way, but easy to reach.

Tiny home tip:  Place the dish drainer over one side of the double sink. And wash dishes as you get them dirty. Even if you're just eating a bowl of cereal and drinking a cup of coffee, wash up after yourself. Keep your tiny counters uncluttered and ready to use. We have no dishwasher, but I don't mind hand-washing dishes.
Our tiny kitchen has a double sink. We found a stainless steel
dish drainer that fits perfectly in one sink. 
 Tiny home tip: Keep clutter off kitchen counters so you have space for cooking and meal prep--even  if it's just making a simple peanut butter sandwich. 
A bigger view of our tiny kitchen. 
 Tiny home tip: Unbreakable dishes that stack are practical and help stretch your cupboard space further.
Vintage and practical: our 1950s Italian Bascal aluminum cups and
tiny bowls stack neatly in the cupboard and take up a tiny footprint
 in our tiny kitchen.  I snagged them at an estate sale years ago.
Tiny home tip: Keep your silverware drawer neat by keeping only six knives, forks and spoons. Even though tiny home drawers are--well--tiny--measure them to find silverware trays to organize your drawers. Our trays are individual plastic trays that snap together. My standard silverware tray was much too large for our new drawers.
A bare bones silverware drawer: six forks, knives and spoons. 
Tiny home tip: Extend vertical space in cupboards with rubber-coated stackable shelving.
Two narrow shelves hold most of our dishes, including
our Spode plates and Fiestaware bowls.
Tiny home tip: Consider it a treasure hunt. Find tiny items that also are beautiful and inspiring. While browsing in Bella Main Street Market, a fantastic kitchen shop in downtown Baker City, I found these lovely little bowls hand painted in Tunisia. They were on sale, and I got three for $6. These stackable bowls are perfect for sauces, yogurt, applesauce or tomato soup.They're not dishwasher safe. No problem. No dishwasher.

Tiny home tip: Where possible, incorporate whimsy--and your personality--in practical tools.
R2-D2 egg timer at the ready in an old enamel bowl above the sink.
The droid egg timer was a gift from the Mountain Man,
I also display a Millennium Falcon serving platter.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Acclimating to my large life living tiny in Eastern Oregon

It’s a balmy 37 degrees today. We’re having a heatwave in Eastern Oregon. For the first time in a couple of months, the temperature has risen above freezing. As I’ve been walking outside today, I’ve worn a flannel shirt, but decided it wasn’t cold enough to warrant a coat, hat or gloves. That’s when I realized I’ve acclimated to life in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains.

We live at about 3,600 feet. Where it hasn’t been plowed, our accumulated snow is thigh high. The top rails of the fences are nearly buried in snow. And yet still it comes down. The Mountain Man has spent hours plowing the long driveway with his green John Deere tractor. It’s the first week of February. The groundhog saw his shadow this week. We are guaranteed for many more weeks of winter. Locals tell me this the hardest, coldest winter they’ve had in 40 years.

Inside our tiny home—a 323 square-foot camper, the temperature has soared to a toasty 63 degrees. It’s so warm today that we don’t need to turn on the propane furnace. Instead, two radiator-type electric heaters keep the temperature comfortable.

Here are some things I’ve learned after living for five months in Eastern Oregon:

  • Be prepared to drive in severe weather and really scary road conditions. I grew up on a farm in Northeastern Washington, but our roads were not as challenging as what I’ve faced on my daily commute into La Grande, 26 miles away. The freeway is often closed due to icy roads, and blowing snow that causes white-out conditions. On the way to work yesterday, I drove 35 miles per hour with my flashers on in a driving snowstorm. The snow was blowing so hard that I could barely see the road. Out here, the snowbanks drift quickly and you can get pulled into one and then you’re stuck. Yesterday after work, the freeway was closed, so I had to take the long way home through Union and Pyle’s Canyon. In some places, the snow was blowing so hard across the road that I had to stop and find the road again.
  • Be prepared to be stranded in a snowstorm—and be prepared to dig myself out. The Mountain Man’s dad encouraged me to keep my gas tank full in case I get stuck in a snowbank all night and I have to keep my motor running to keep from freezing. In my Subaru Forester I keep a snow shovel, broom, long-handled ice scraper, tire chains, snow pants, heavy gloves, hat, down vest and coat in case I get pulled into a snowbank and have to dig myself out. I use the broom to sweep snow accumulation from my car in the morning. I wear my sensible, warm snow boots wherever I go. When I get to work, I change to clogs.
  •  I keep emergency rations in my Subaru in case I get stuck in the snow overnight and have to wait until morning for help: granola bars, trail mix and a bottle of water. It immediately froze. I also have an LED flashlight that doesn’t use batteries, but is powered by winding it up.
  • When you're driving, keep an eye out for critters that might run into the road. On my first day of work, I encountered a rancher moving cattle along the road. But more often, I encounter deer, quail, wild turkeys and other wildlife crossing the road. 
  • When it was -6 degrees outside, it was getting pretty chilly inside our little camper. One brisk morning I tried to pull a fleece jacket from my closet, but it was so cold inside our house that the jacket was frozen to the closet wall. When I pulled it loose, it was covered with a layer of frost.
  • For the past two months, we have kept a faucet running to prevent our water pipes from freezing. The Mountain Man also bought a heated hose and wrapped the pipes at the source in insulation.
  •  To insulate our little camper we positioned a thick layer of straw bales all around the outside of our camper. And now, accumulated snow reaches up to the windows, adding another layer of insulation.
  •  I am grateful to concerned family members who sent us gear to keep us warm. Doug and Tara sent us slippers and a heated throw for our tiny sofa. It’s glorious to sit underneath it, drink cocoa and watch a movie. Kalyn and Mat sent us a heated mattress pad with dual controls. I turn that baby up before climbing into bed, and I have toasty toes. Mom sent me thermal top and leggings for my birthday because she’s my mommy and she worries that I’ll freeze.
  • Dress for the weather. Soft flannel shirts and down vests are a must. Keep your head covered to regulate your temperature. l ordered a beautiful handmade wool hat from my dear friend, Jean Jones, a Chewelah friend. My hat rarely leaves my head these days. Even when I’m inside.
  • Sometimes when we get up in the morning, it’s 38 degrees inside. At first, it was a shock to my system, but I’m used to it now. Turning on the propane furnace quickly heats our little home to a toasty 55 degrees. And sometimes, we even heat it to 60. A cup of hot coffee and oatmeal helps heat me up on cold mornings too.
  • Be prepared to be dazzled by gorgeous, sweeping landscapes, the immense starry skies and the kindness of the people.
  • Learn to look for the wonder all around, and you won’t be disappointed.