Fred, the Dumpster Diver


I posted in Craigs List a few weeks ago about finding salvaged, usable materials for the Bitty.  I’ve gotten a few replies, but with life and business, it’s taken me a little while to reply to some.  One response, simply said, “call me”.   Nothing More.

Of course, I have no idea who I am calling, so there is an awkward silence when he picks up.  “Fred”.  “Yes.”

“Um, I’m the one building that tiny house….the one who posted on Craiglist…the one looking for stuff….”

“Oh, yes.  I know of some insulation.  Ductwork insulation” (I’m thinking….I’m really naive about building, but don’t want to sound naive…).  “Oh, yes.  I might be able to use that”,  I say.  Fast forward to later in the conversation when he asks again what exactly I’m building, “a tiny house”.   “What do you need ductwork for?”

“Can’t I just use the insulation?”, I say.  Some of you might find this funny, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly where one uses ductwork insulation.  Please enlighten me gently, if you know.

Yes.  I’m a novice.  I should just be more upfront about it.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  Well, I have a pretty good idea actually, but not so much practical know how to support those ideas YET.  It’s a little scary (and I’m totally UP for it) being a woman builder with little experience, taking on a project like this.  I just don’t want to be talked down to because I don’t know something and that happens all to often to women with things like building or mechanics.  I told my partner I wasn’t sure if I would let men on my volunteer crew (of course, I will…I have too many friends of the male gender that I want to share this experience with…AND, more practically, I want help, all I can get.)

But, I will #1 try to have my voice, be honest about my know how and lack of know how #2 ask people (especially men) with certain know-how to show me, but not “do it for me” #3 be compassionate towards all genders that we’ve learned certain ways of being in the world, and those ways take re-learning or un-learning in order to create different relationships and skills.

So, back to Fred and my phone call.  “Are you a contractor?”  I say.

“No.” pause.  “I’m a recycler”.  Curious.  I work on a massage client who is quite LITERALLY a recycler.  She has a little business that picks up trash, recycling, and compost (which she composts herself) from the mountain communities.  However, I don’t think Fred is quite doing it as a living but as a way of life.

“I see a lot.  All the time”.  He tells me.  Whenever he sees a roll off (dumpster at a building site, I infer), he looks inside.  Or doesn’t need to even look inside, because it’s contents are spilling over.  Just like the dumpster, by Chautaqua.  He saw the glint of the ductwork insulation from afar and went in closer for another look.  “Shame, it won’t be used”, he said.

Fred dumpster dives as a social political act, an act of conscience, an act of preservation of self and earth.  He didn’t say that.  That might be in part my projection, or my tendency to make simple acts that I think are super cool into heroic acts.  Fred is just a normal guy.

So, now Fred, the dumpster diver is on the look out for tiny (and larger) pieces of my bitty house.  What on earth would I do without Craigs List?  Thanks Craig.

(Check out the movie “The Gleaners and I”.  Amazing documentary of using the leftovers…)


A Place for my Tiny House. Belonging and the Nomadic Life.

“And one day you will drive away too”, she said.  After Sue, our neighbor, told her story of dreaming of building tiny houses, one for each of her four children, five including her (and her husband’s) own tiny dwelling.  And then over the years, each one would drive away, one by one until it was “just us, left with our tiny house”.

Tips For Fall Driving & Tire Care

Standing in the big kitchen of their big (but not too big) house, she spoke those words.  Oh, how many of us dream of these new but old dreams, unconventional now, but those kinds communal compounds that I am sure some ancestor not too far back inhabited.  How many realize them?

Some people in Texas I met and stayed with for a while, had a pod for their teenage daughter, their own suite, communal space and mini dwellings for other guests.  A midwife I knew bought an old falling down house in West Philly for a dollar (city initiative) fixed it up and had so many rooms, that she was always welcoming anyone and everyone without a home (usually without rent).  Her daughter, born at home, who remembers her birth.  They slept together in the room she was born in, until she was ready to sleep alone, then her mother moved into another room leaving her with her birthing/coming into the world room as her own living in/coming of age room.

How many ways to live within four walls or six or eight?  Piled in, spread out, tiny spaces, communal spaces, spaces to gather together, places to gather oneself.  Doesn’t everyone want a space of their own?  Doesn’t everyone also want to know that they are not alone?  Do we have the courage to dream something other than the unsustaining micro-cosms of nuclear families in oversized dwellings, whether it’s intentional community, extended family, good neighbors.

“And one day you will drive away too”, Tracy said and sighed.  Sitting here thinking of these words tonight, after her husband, my landlord/friend/neighbor talked about making a place up the hill for my tiny house to inhabit.  The man with the tractor from up the road, will come and level it.  Hopefully he can, with all the stone in this mountain.  I think this was his way of saying, “I support this project”.  And I felt the settling in my heart, of having a place.

But now that my tiny home has a place, I imagine also the day that I MAY drive away.  I don’t know when that will be, maybe not for a long time.  But it will happen.  I will find land or a more permanent community or the wind will simply pull me, and I grieve to think of leaving this place that has supported me in so many ways.

I have left many places.  Many whom I have loved (two legged, four legged, plant, mountain, stream).  There are many to love no matter where I go, but there is also this longing, even deeper perhaps than the nomadic sway, to belong to the land like a tree belongs, roots dug in as deeply as trunk rising into the sky.  I am building my home on wheels because I do not belong to this place yet, despite my love of it. What does it mean to fully belong to a place?


Is it about ownership—I’ve never owned land.  Always rented.  But ownership itself is an odd idea.  That owning equals devotion, commitment, and care.  Before “ownership” of land, at least on the Front Range, the land I currently inhabit, the native people here understood place via respect, not because anyone said they owned anything but because they had walked the land long enough as a people to truly understand her.  The people and their ways were shaped by the land herself. It’s ironic that we hand over “ownership” before we’ve even inhabited a place.  Perhaps, those who moved with the plants, the storms, the cycles of seasons, had a greater feeling of belonging than many of us ever feel, even in our sedentary lives. Because they truly lived with the living earth.


Maybe that is what makes a tiny house so very precious in this sticky “I own it” world.  The opportunity to have a space that is ours, but to not live in the illusion that the places we inhabit are ours.  We have to learn to belong again to place, at least I do.

And, who know, Tracy….maybe I won’t drive away.

Taking Down and Putting Up Houses: A Culture of the Disposable


Yesterday, I collected a small door, a small sink, and a small light fixture from a home that a friend in the dance community, Steve, is doing a re-model on.  I very much like the “finds”, especially the door which is bright white and lean and tall and hung out the back of Wendy’s truck as I drove it home from the North Boulder Housing Development back to my mountain, stopping for my favorite coffee cake and a chocolate croissant (for Wendy) enroute.

Amidst the sounds of electric saws and nail guns, Steve walked me around the house quickly.  “Those windows are coming out, and that door….what about odd cuts of 2 by 4’s….plywood?  What do you need?”.  He disappeared, came back with the sink and the light, disappeared again, came back with the perfect door for my bathroom.  I feel giddy with abundance.  I felt in awe in the stream of goods that are used and then no longer needed, still shiny and not even yet old in any sense of the word.

As we loaded the skinny door into Wendy’s truck, moving aside planters and her snowboard, Steve told me that he remodeled this same house 11 years ago, and that the previous owners had to move from their much beloved abode due health issues and an order from the doctor to “move to the lowlands” immediately.  Now, the new owners, were in the process of creating a re-imagined “paradise” for themselves with the help of Steve and his crew.  And hence, my perfect door slipped into the back of my borrowed truck.

Thankful to have friends who are in the right places, and generous with their resources and know-how (maybe Steve will consult me on my house when I reach that stage), however struck by the “there will always be enough resources” mentality that takes a perfectly good home and unravels it, putting in all new manufactured things suited perfectly to the new taste of the inhabiters.  Just because, they have the apparent resources to do so.

I am not sure that the earth has the resources.

In today’s world, the life and usefulness of things must be much shorter than in eras past (or in economically poorer areas).  Just as we speed around in faster cars, on faster iphones, with faster conversations….our homes arise and fall and are re-figured faster.  Things in nature become man-made things, travel across great distances, become fancy homes, cars, furniture, clothing or cheap versions of the same.  Until we change our minds, or locations, or both.

And we, or a few of us on the planet, have the luxury to live with this relationship (or lack of relationship) to these resources.

Then there are those, like me, who get to just stand at this end of the waste stream with wide open arms and say, “YES”.  It’s not sustainable for the long haul, but for now, I take my gratitude tinged with a little cynicism, my new little door (and sink and light) and continue to create my tiny, portable house that I hope to have for a good long time as I change and grow and move through this beautiful world.

Our Bodies, Our Hands, Our Homes. My Longing.

After I gave my neighbor Tracy a massage this afternoon, she invited me up to our other neighbors house to check out the woodworking shop (where I may well be spending a fair amount time as I build my tiny house).  I’ve had dinner with these neighbors a few times, and Carl takes yoga classes from me at the YMCA but somehow I had never made the walk up the steep hill, crossed under the clothesline, and past the terraced garden with wooden hand-cut  life-size silhouettes of Vrksasana, Warrior 2, and other yoga asana.

Carl and Sue are inspiring.  I see them out on long mountain hikes.  Carl has had a dedicated yoga practice for years.  And they are in their 80’s and have lived on this mountain at least as long as having kids (who are older than me…36) and probably longer.  Now seeing their home, their woodworking studio, Sue’s weaving & sewing studio, the gardens, and all they have created on their homestead (yes, homestead it is), I get a glimpse of people who are firmly rooted with their feet on the ground. So much beauty and love here.

And I feel a surge of longing as they speak of building their house that took over ten years, through the 70’s, kids underfoot with out much to do but learn, watch, and as Sue put it, “learn to step with grace and balance so as to not trip over anything in process”.  I honestly feel a little jealousy, but in that way that jealousy is simply a path to one’s longing–a space inside waiting to be filled.

I grew up in a house also built in the 70’s, but fabricated in the way many houses in that time were.  Instead of re-used telephone poles and rough cut cedar and tiles you know someone spent much time laying in with care, my house was probably built quickly and by laborers who were building many of the same houses.  An assembly line of houses, based more on efficiency than creativity or even love.


Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t a “bad” house.  It kept us warm and dry.  It had some big trees in the yard and a red fence.  But it wasn’t a house that taught me about process or where things come from or what it might be like to live inside the unfinished creative efforts of my family and community.

Sue said they thought perhaps their children would do something different.  That they wouldn’t be attracted to the same choices, but all of them (4) in some way have chosen to build their lives and dwellings with their own hands, and I imagined , though she didn’t say, with the same love and consciousness I saw manifested without and around these four walls.  I’ve known children of the same choices.  Children who are my age, and unafraid to inhabit the world with bodies and hands, to know themselves as entirely capable in the most basic way.


I may be inserting some of the my own longing here, but those people seems to sit differently in their skin.  They feel to me like trees. My friend whose family built her house while they inhabited (a family of 4) a simple army tent.  Another man I know whose family re-created an old schoolhouse in Western Massachusetts, adding on more over the years.  Their name was “Homestead”, ironically.  Given name, not chosen.  Another friend, whose kitchen floor took at least 10 years to finally be entirely laid down.

For some, that may drive them crazy.  Even Sue said, that as they neared the end of building, she felt ready for it to be done.  But the people I know who have lived through this either by choice or necessity or because they were too stubborn to buy into a pre-fabricated life are the most real, show-up, day by day, rain or shine people whom I have the privilege to be aquainted with.  There is something about the process of living through something fully, and even inside of that something, that feeds a knowing of ourselves as being unfinished- beautiful life in process beings that needn’t and cannot be rushed or coaxed into anything but what we are.  Really building a dwelling place, building intimacy, growing your soul into the fertile earth cannot be rushed or skipped just like a plant cannot skip over being a seedling.  Too many things in my life have appeared out of thin air, and my human animal body is missing for, longing for the ancient knowledge of process.


I am tired of the supermarket. Even (or maybe especially the Whole Foods).

(BTW of course my neighbors were “up to speed” on tiny houses.  Their oldest son is a timber framer, and has the tumbleweeds book as every day reading right next to their toilet.  It’s a “tiny” world).



My partner, who is almost, or perhaps more excited than I am about this adventure bought me the book “Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter” for Christmas/Solstice.  Edited by Lloyd Kahn.  If you haven’t seen it, and are a tiny house lover, you should definitely have a look.  (not all of them are on wheels, but they are all under 500 sf and each as different as it’s builder).

So I wanted to write this post about inspiration, because when one, such as myself who has very little building experience decides to build a tiny house, it is in part because I’ve seen that others “with little or no building experience” are doing the same thing.   I am in love with people who decide “to do it anyway”.  I’m have a lot of Aries in my astrology, so I know this is an Aries trait—being good at starting things that others would deem “outside my box”.  But, really, it is only too easy in this world, to let someone else do it for you or to not have time in a busy life to figure it out. Especially, when it comes to the most basic human needs—growing food, getting water, creating shelter.  Not that we shouldn’t ask for help.  I’m all about community, but community is different than each of us having our little specialized niche and not knowing how to live outside that niche.

It is a political act to share knowledge, trade skills (and goods), ask for neighborly help (give neighborly help), and learn basic survival skills.  It is political because it frees us from a system that often exploits land and people.  It gives us choice about where to put our energy and what to support.  It uses less resources because it creates tighter systems of energy exchange, and more energy stays in the system (for those of you unfamiliar with permaculture lingo: it’s the idea that for instance, if we use wood harvested responsibly from our land to heat our homes we save the resources it would take to bring it from elsewhere.  And if we harvest well, we will increase the health of our forest.  Which will create more wood/energy over a long time…there might even be some to share or trade with a neighbor, say, for apples or apple pies).

So, here are some of the homes that have wet my appetite.

Little Yellow Door built by Ella, is definitely one of my favorite tiny houses AND it is built by a young woman who had little experience and a lot of help and enthusiasm from her family/community (like ME!).  AND I love that she gave her house a name immediately.


There is something about giving some “thing” a name that gives it a living presence even before it exists in the material world.  We, in the West, don’t tend to give much thought to the world of what we consider “objects”.  But in the indigenous world, most every”thing” is thought of an animate, possessing it’s own spirit and presence (see the book “Spell of the Sensuous”  if you want a really good read on this way of understanding).  That is a powerful way to be in the world.  Thanks, Ella!


The Hobbit House is a Cob Home in Wales built for about 3000 pounds by Simon Dale, who at the time had very little building experience.  I love this house because it is so beautifully integrated into the land, because he used so much of what was there and what he could find as materials, and because it is a hobbit house (and I am a hobbit.  Enough said.)


Jenine’s Tiny Houses.  Jenine Alexander has built 2 or 3 houses now, and I like her houses because they are built of largely salvaged materials and I like her thinking about how she chooses to use what she does—one of her houses uses denim cotton insulation.  She is a woman and a traveling puppeteer/clown (which I have also been at another point in my life).  She is definitely an out of the box thinker.

The Tiny House Family is a family of 4 living in a tiny house (in rural Virginia, I think).


I love it that a family has chosen this lifestyle.  My neighbors said to me, “that’s fine and good to build a tiny house if it is just you” and I’m even keeping my house MINE (as in, not inviting my partner to join me in making it “ours”.  That’s another conversation about intimacy Frida and Diego style).  In any case, I was inspired by their story—loosing their house, having the courage  to make other choices, and inspired by the house itself.  It’s the only house I’ve seen with a full loft, and I’ve taken quite a few ideas from it for my own design.  They also salvaged many of the materials (though the builder was quite experienced when he began.)


Mudgirls is not a house persay, or a just a business.  It is a way of life, a philosophy manifested in every day work.  Mudgirls is a collective of women in BC who build houses together made of mud and earthen materials.  They teach affordable workshops, they offer childcare at their workshops and good local food.  I get the sense they care a lot for each other.  Community at it’s finest.  Thanks Mudgirls.



That’s my list for now. There are so MANY others.  So many people making different choices, dis-arming themselves with life building and life honoring skills.  I read an article in Communities Magazine recently, about a member of Earth Haven.  He was talking about how his family of origin has thought he was crazy for what they saw as him stepping down a wrung on the ladder of class and privilege to stand more firmly on the sacred earth.

So, my question, to leave myself and you with for the evening IS

Does your life exist because your privilege puts you on the shoulders of others? Are others doing your dirty work? How much of your own dirty work are you doing and are you willing to learn how again, those forgotten simple skills of your ancestors that made their world real?  Are those shoulders that you stand upon getting paid the same wage as you or at least a fair wage, at best? Are you willing to climb down and stand on the earth again?


Hard questions.  Perhaps.  I find that much of what I am doing in this life is trying to climb back down onto the earth again.

The Gathering has Begun


Yes.  I’m calling it “gathering” on purpose.  Something akin to looking for what is available, knowing ones terrain, taking the time to find just the right thing rather than rushing over to buying what is immediate.  Gleaning the fields of the leftovers.  Taking just what I need.  Gleaning is a practice that is still on the law books in France, where it was actually illegal for farmers and vineyard owners to not give away the excess.  I live in a place where it is illegal to harvest rain water even though it is so dry here, the water will evaporate (much of it) before it makes it out to those landowners who supposedly “own” the archaic water rights out of the plains.

So, in a world hard-pressed to buy the new and shiny, I am gathering the old and the storied.  I am taking other people’s memories, their leftovers, their treasures and trash and creating my own dream.  We are always dreaming each other.  Nothing is ours.  We  borrow sunlight for heat, for wood, for power.  We walk on stones that used to be mountains.  We eat a piece of fruit that was once a seed of another piece of fruit that was the seed of another piece of fruit and on and on.  Even our flesh and bones simply borrowed– newer variation of memory and song sung by someone long ago.


I am looking for what needs a new home.  Why fill up the land with it? Like Leo’s garage full of wood and glass and projects he didn’t have the chance to finish before he foreclosed on his home.  Ironic, eh?  (yet another example of who gets left of of the modern economics of home owning).  His sister said it was meant to be because her Italian name is Maria Elena and mine is Elena Marie.  Only, I’m Greek.  She thought I was building tiny houses as in “doll houses”.  My friend Wendy asked why I didn’t correct her.  I said, “well it’s kind of a doll house.  A doll house for people.”  I liked the whimsy of it, though I thought perhaps Leo might think of building himself a tiny house, since he’s a master carpenter.  Maybe I’ll invite him to help me with mine and he’ll be inspired?

What I found in his garage:

Small windows, random pieces of wood including some interesting sounding African Hardwoods that he wasn’t ready to part ways with, leftover red carpeting with a cool retro design from the Ramada, and the best find–beautiful wood trim….


For the edge of the Loft?  I love the way the fluid practice of “gathering” stirs my imagination so much more thoroughly than the static practice of “buying”.  With buying, you generally know just what you are looking for, or at least you have a very defined sense of what is available, what colors and sizes it is available in, how much it is, etc.  With gathering, there is a sense of trust that the perfect thing is there waiting for a home, and in finding the perfect thing, I discover exactly what it is that I hadn’t yet imagined.  My dream fills out and becomes itself.

By the way, I drew a first design of my house last week (after one of those “gathering” sessions on Craiglist).  It was about one in the morning, and I’m sure no one else could read my squiggles and notes but it made me very excited.


(I promised Leo in exchange for all the good things he passed onto me,  I’d pass on his new business.  He does home casino parties.  They bring the tuxes and the cards.  Let me know if you are interested and I’ll give you his info)


What do Dragons have to do with Tiny Houses?

So, what do Dragons have to do with Tiny Houses?  And why am I calling my tiny house bitty dragon?

Honestly, I’m a little too introverted to be a blogger.  But here I am because I have a story to share. (Ironically, I think dragons are a little introverted too.  That is why they breathe fire when you get too close by. )

I was born on the first day of the fire dragon in 1976, and been riding those crazy and unpredictable impulses of life every since.   I really claimed myself as a dragon when I was 26 and my friend LOMO started calling me little dragon (she was big dragon), born 12 years before me and as wildly passionate and unpredictable as I felt, sometimes underneath thick “inherited” human skins.

She recently got back in touch with me after a number of years, just days after I decided to build a tiny house.

Ten years ago, at 26, she gave me a little apartment on the lower east side for a week for my birthday.  I sat there in retreat, in the midst of the hustle bustle of lower manhattan.  I had never been on retreat, but something in me told me to go on retreat so I did.  The apartment had a little tiny stove and a miniature cast iron tub with claw feet and a bed that just fit into the bedroom. (it was a tiny house).  Lomo gave me her homemade stuffed animals for company and other than that, I didn’t really talk to anyone but myself for that week.

Which I did quite literally.  I took on the project of reading through all my old journals and as I did, I sat with those old parts and pieces of myself.  Not an easy task.  I didn’t really know how to be emotional then either, but somehow those days in that apartment were the very beginnings of uncovering the passion living underneath my grief living underneath my numbness.  The grief of a 13 year old without a mother (or a father really), a bulimic teenager, a dis-embodied sexually confused young women.  I didn’t have any of those words then, but I still sat with each and every one of them.  Practicing some kind of tonglen (loving kindness) meditation for myself, even though I had no idea any such thing existed.

And I found there was wisdom there, in creating space.  That I knew how to be with myself.  I planted that seed. All in that tiny house. (it’s hard to run away from yourself in a tiny house)

So fast forward, 10 years, 3 communities, 2 significant life partners, a spiritual crisis, three years of intentional healing, many gardens, going back to school, graduating, a business of my own, and  a lot more that happens in the minute details of every day life.

I am still a dragon.  A little more awake and a little more wild and feet a little more on the ground.   I’m relentlessly passionate about my ideals.  I stand my ground and am stubborn in ways that often serve me and others, and sometimes don’t.  I’m generally pretty lucky and trust the signs that life puts in my path.  I dream BIG of simplicity.


Artist: Jessica Galbreth

A tiny house is my latest dream of how to inhabit this world in a more sane way, to follow my gypsy and communal impulses, and to create a small space that inspires my imagination and joy daily.  I know I am not alone in this dream (as so many of these blogs have been read by my own eyes.  Thank you for inspiring me with your words).

Tiny houses live at the edge of our cultural dream—in the fertile and free zones.  They are the rebellious stepchildren of too much linoleum, too many strip malls, illusions of stability created on top of material insanity, loans that can never be made up, and the privileges of cerebral intelligence over embodied grace.

Tiny houses live in the same world as dragons (and likely other beings, like hobbits and elves too).  They are not tied down by cement foundations, mortgages, a grid.  They are free to wander, but they are safe and protected (and cozy too.) They are whimsical.  They are intelligent.  They encourage you to wander outside your neighborhood, out in the woods, to go and try something new, to have a home but not stay home all the time, to minimize what you have and know you have all you need, and to truly inhabit the material world with respect, discernment, and wonder.  They encourage you to learn how to “be with yourself”.

For those of you who have fallen in love with the dream of tiny houses (those who have built one, are in the process of it, or simply yearning to do so) will understand that these little dwellings touch a place in the imagination that is quite different from the “bigger is better” world we inhabit right now.  As any good story needs a good beginning, and this is mine.  Or at least a perceived beginning.  The place at which this teller begins the tale.  Bitty Dragon is my bitty story of dreaming a bitty house into being.

Stay tuned for my adventures.  By the way, I have really very little building experience at all, so hats off to right on the spot learning, my ingenious and generous community, and the whimsy and luck of “doing it anyway”.   Hopefully, this will inspire you in some way, as I have been inspired.

Ships Ahoy!