Monday, July 28, 2008

Cultivated Serendipity

When I was a kid, any time our family went on a vacation that required a plane flight, I would sit in the 3-seat row with my mom and brother, while my dad would sit across the aisle with whomever fate threw at him. One time, I remember a man walking onto the plane in an extravagant floor-length fur coat and sitting in the seat next to my dad. My father has never been one to shy away from conversation with anyone and he has a pretty winsome personality. So of course he struck up a conversation with the fur-coated man, and by the end of the flight, the man had invited our family to stay with them any time we wanted in Alaska. I, personally, am a little more reserved when it comes to meeting strangers and rarely audaciously approach people, but I've come to realize that Tyson has this same quality that my dad does.

Last week, the previously mentioned Jay Shafer was scheduled to be in our area with his tiny house. Earlier in July, he started on a tour from Canada to Mexico sharing his tiny house with people in all the cities in between. Though I had been planning to go to the open house in Santa Cruz, I left my phone charger in Aromas and had to make an unscheduled trip back to retrieve it and decided to stay around the next day so Tyson and I could go see the tiny house together at Google. Tyson had mentioned to me that he was going to see if Jay wanted to stay in Aromas if he didn't have anywhere else to park the house that night before heading to Santa Cruz. I, being the cynical idealist that I am, thought "uh-huh, I'm sure he has nowhere better to be" but tried not to voice that thought out loud. We drove up to Google in Mountain View on Wednesday evening and got to see the tiny house! It was awesome and just as lovely in person as it is on the site.

We took our shoes off on the porch and Jay gave us the tour inside. Tyson had many questions to ask so after getting the tour, we continued to talk to him and to Greg Johnson, co-founder of the Small House Society, who was touring with Jay. Tyson asked how they were planning to get to SC and whether they had a place to stay for the night and offered them the driveway in Aromas. He suggested that they not try to take the Epu over the somewhat treacherous Highway 17 between San Jose and Santa Cruz and take the 101 instead. Jay accepted Tyson's offer and suggestion and we all headed over to an Indian restaurant I'd found on Yelp for dinner. Throughout the meal, we had the chance to talk more in depth about our plans for the house and get to know Greg and Jay a little better.

Before I ever met Tyson, he had written to me in an email that he was thinking of becoming a hobo and possibly walking across the US to visit friends in New York. While he didn't do that, he did quit his job and live out of his car for a small time (his friends still marvel that I didn't cut and run then). He doesn't think people should live beyond their means or take up more space than they actually need, so meeting and talking with two men who were living according to these principles was absolutely thrilling. After our wonderful dinner, they gassed up and we drove behind the tiny house for an hour down the 101. During that time, I never became less shocked that I was driving behind a house on the freeway, and that it took up less space than a single lane. Cars slowed down around us and it often felt like we were part of a flight formation, with the little house leading us and everyone else flanking and following suit. It was pretty late by the time we got back to Aromas, so we stopped to take a few pictures and everyone retired to their respective sleeping places. I had to go back to SC the next day to continue packing for my impending move, so I got up and headed back around 8:30.

My friend, Katie, who lives in a tiny backyard house with her husband Matt, had offered to help me pack and needed some coffee, so I picked her up and we headed over to Coffeetopia, where Jay and Greg were with the tiny house (I'm in the plaid in the pic above and Katie's in green on the porch next to Jay- thanks Greg!). I got to say hello and goodbye to them one last time and Greg gave me a copy of his book for Tyson. During the conversation I had with Greg that morning, he talked about how much he'd enjoyed Aromas and getting to talk with us and said that Tyson's enthusiasm was "inspiring." It was the nicest compliment, which I was all too happy to convey to Tyson. Greg said he would put a link to our blog on his site and took pictures for us. Below is one of the pictures he took Wednesday night of us with Jay. I wish Greg was in some of them!

I'm going to end with an excerpt Greg wrote on his blog about meeting us, because, hey, it makes me feel good:

"Last evening, we had dinner with some local small house enthusiasts -- Tyson and Amanda. Tyson plans to live with Amanda in a small house on his Father's land. I've been living in my small house on my Father's land for five years, and enjoy being in an extended family setting while still having independence. Tyson and Amanda have recently started a really nice blog about their small house experience and journey:

Amanda is a very skilled writer and photographer with a sweet and genuine personality. Tyson is one of these guys you quickly admire and respect for his enginuity, resourcefulness, enthusiasm, positive attitude, and hard work. So they were a fun couple to get to know."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Only in Dreams

Not too long ago, I was sitting in the living room of my guy’s parents’ house in Aromas, California. I had come to hang out for a few days and get my grading done in the peace and quiet. His parents were at a graduation in SoCal and before I left and took my laptop with me, Tyson needed to get his tiny-house fix. The first thing you should know is that Tyson and I met on the internet, via Neither of us are people who expected to find ourselves on an online dating service, but he got drunk one night and joined, and I decided to do the same in November, after a couple of girlfriends had begun the process and convinced me.

We hit it off instantly and had a ridiculous rapport via e-mail. I figured it was too good to be true, but it turned out not to be. We broke a lot of the normal dating rules, beginning with me suggesting he pick me up at my house before our date, despite having never met before. He came in, was bowled over by my teeny playhouse (273-square-feet including the outdoor bathroom) and serenaded me with “Take on Me” before we went out. That was December 1st. Since then, we’ve been through quite a bit—job changes, moves, emotional and hormonal imbalances—but we seem to have ended up exactly where we want to be.

So as I was saying, Tyson was using my laptop to get his tiny-house fix. He does this through the website Tumbleweed Houses, run by Jay Shafer, the creator of extremely small, efficient, and beautiful houses, no wider than a flat-bed trailer, that are made to be moved. Tyson’s parents came home and I commented that Tyson was keeping me late so he could look at the houses. His mom asked why they were so important and, as he didn’t seem to have words, I tried to explain it to her. The tiny house was his dream, his ideal, perfection for someone who believes in smart design and utility, in reducing your negative impact on the space around you. Less than a month ago, Tyson’s dad called him to say that he had found a small building for sale in a guy’s backyard for a ridiculously cheap price. He sent pics of the building through his phone and we glanced at it mostly thinking “umm?”

Over the next few days, it began to seem like a real possibility. Tyson called the owner on the next Monday morning and that afternoon we met where the house was. We looked it over for a while, discussed moving and living options and decided to go ahead with it. The next day, Tyson went to meet the guy selling the house and along with one of the owner’s friends, they strapped the house down onto a trailer and moved it about 20 miles to Tyson’s parents’ land in Aromas. I won’t go into detail on the move, but suffice it to say that many hours were spent, fishtailing occurred, the house easily could have ended up in splinters on the highway, and by some miracle, sweat, and many trimmed tree branches, the house now rests at the base of the hill we plan to inhabit (note: not yet in its final resting place, see first picture for that).

One of the main issues with the house, as it can almost be called, is that it doesn’t have any facilities. A sink is installed near the front door, but besides that, there is no kitchen or bathroom. This is the main reason that Tyson was able to buy it for a mere $3,000. It’s 12x18 feet plus a sleeping loft. Fortunately, for the last year I have been living in extremely small spaces, with Tyson taking up quite a bit of them when he’s over. Both of us believe we can exist fairly easily in tight quarters. The house is already insulated, wired, and is structurally sound. We nailed down the layout a couple of weeks ago, and are very excited to begin work. I am still in Santa Cruz and am currently packing to move out to Aromas. At the moment, Tyson is working on stripping and sanding the rafters, as we thought it made the most sense to start at the top and work down.

I have little idea where this project will take us, probably to considerable frustration, money and time. We both enjoy design and using space efficiently. I have long wanted to have the opportunity to do home renovation, as I'm excellent at seeing the potential in something and trying to bring it to the surface. And we both love a challenge. Considering how high rents are in California and the volatility of the market right now, I think we've made a great decision. This blog is the documentation of our journey.