Leslie's Website!

Safe House, pg. 2

November 10

The long-awaited ThermoHemp insulation arrives today.  (I've been trying to get this stuff here since July, so this is big news!)  And the roofing, which was also delayed, will be here by mid-week.  So, we should be able to really start cranking now!

(November 20 News Bulletin:  After taking all that time and money to procure this insulation, I find that I am reacting to it!   I don't know what I'm reacting to--there is certainly no preceptible chemical odor.  In fact, it smells more or less, as Tony says, like a giant Corn Flake--but I'm reacting strongly to it nonetheless.   So, it's now for sale, and I'm trying to find something else suitable.  Contact me if interested in the hemp.  There's about 1600 square feet of it available.)


And, now for the MOST VOLUNTEER HELP OF ANYBODY AWARD, which goes out to Debra Burke, seen here holding down some Tyvec on a a windy day.  (Tyvec's not being used in the construction--we just put it up temporarily to protect the larger house and its contents from the weather.)  To round out this Debra Appreciation Moment, I'd also like to thank her for going to such lengths to keep the Cinema Circle that she hosts each month as scent-free as possible, so that I'm able to attend.  That--and her many other kindnesses--have meant a lot to me over the past few years.

While I'm at it, there are a few more people I'd like to thank for their contributions to making the house happen.  They are:


  • John Berreen, for helping me survive long enough to get to build the house
  • Audrey Lawrence, my Grandma, for providing moral support every step of the way (starting even before my first steps!)
  • Peter Geiser, for being a visionary and for continually bringing people together to make good things happen
  • The Schubert family (Ginny, Margie, John H., Miriam, and the late John R.), for giving me good reason to think, a few years back, that this project might possibly be possible (and, once again, for helping me get through the tough times, so that it could be actually be actualized)
  • Jeff Perry, for using his drafting skills to make my ideas look presentable
  • Tony Kay, for handling the engineering end of the project, enduring my endless house-related enthusiasms, and just generally being the most supportive partner imaginable
  • Janet and Ben Davis, for putting the "fancypants" in our fancypants roofing
  • Larry McGrath, for devoting an entire Saturday (and a good deal of tire rubber) to laying the foundation, as it were, for the main house
  • Greg Burke, for putting up with my "hundred visions and revisions," and for bringing so much art to his craft


Here are a few more miscellaneous pictures.  Usually, it's me taking the pictures.  Which means that a) I'm not in them, and b) they show absolutely no evidence of photgraphic talent, or even ability.  This batch, however, was taken by Greg Burke, who is a professional contractor AND a professional photographer.  (For more of Greg's photos, see http://www.pbase.com/gb_photo/profile )

Yes, that door is as skinny as it looks!  Only 18" wide.  That allowed me to put a desk on one side of the door, and a closet on the other.  We found it at the local re-cycle place for cheap, and Greg put a window in it.  There are both sliding glass doors and french doors elsewhere on this unit, so I won't be trying to fit furniture through the 18" door.  :-)

This is the inside of the main unit.  It has cathedral ceilings throughout--even where the cross gable is (at the top of the photo).  This ceiling will be finished with tongue-and-groove poplar, which should bring out the complex angles beautifully.

Me, looking as happy as I feel about the fact that this dream is finally becoming a reality!


The pseudo-slate roof is on! What fun, to have a roof that looks like it's made of stone--on a trailer!  My camera died, so the three following lackluster pictures where taken with a cell phone.  Perhaps between  them, you can get some idea of what the roof is like.

Leave no photon unturned!  (Greg rides off into the sunset, putting the last touches on the roof at the end of the day.)


Well, I finally found some insulation that seems like it will work.  It's called "Latitude," and is made of wool, with borate for mildew resistance, and an acrylic binder.  While I'm not too excited about the latter two ingredients, I seem to tolerate them well, and am thrilled to have finally found something suitable.  Haven't gotten much done on the house the last couple of weeks because it was too cold to work on it where it was (off the grid, can't use space heaters) and too snowy to haul it across town, where I could use a space heater.  As soon as the snow lets up, we'll start again!

If you're interested in the Latitude insulation and can't find it your area (it's from New Zealand, and is not very widely distributed as yet), you could contact the guy I bought it from, Hopi Jenkins.  He's been very helpful, and very cool about the whole MCS thing.  You can contact him through his new business, Eco-Tec Building Supply.


While research on materials, etc., has been proceeding apace, hands-on work on the houses has stopped for the last couple of weeks, due to several factors.  Looks like we'll be picking up next week, though, with getting the insulation installed in the small unit--at which point it will be usuable as a home office for Tony.  Then I can gradually work on getting the paint, stucco, tile and trim completed, after which we can start to use it for its primary intended purpose--that of a bedroom.  Will probably take a hiatus of a month or two on the bigger house to focus on other things.  Also, it's difficult to use one's hands in this cold weather, and paints and finishes don't want to cure, etc.  It'll be a lot easier a little later.

Meanwhile, on this New Year's Day--this wonderful day with its tradition of put-down-the-to-do-list-and-look-at-the-big-picture-- I am occupying myself primarily with a study of ZenHabits.  Brain fog makes it very difficult to stay organized...and I think I've been telling myself that it makes it impossible (and adding the stress of being disorganized to my already full plate).  Really, it just means that I need good organizational skills even more than the next person.  So, today, I'm getting started on learning some!  Wish me luck!  And take me to task!  (I.e., ask me if I'm sticking to it!) 


25 January 2009

The house has now been on her maiden voyage!  We moved her 10 miles--from where the construction site was to our driveway in downtown Bend.  It's been too cold for paint, etc. to dry and the construction site was off-grid, which meant we couldn't run a space heater.

The guy we hired to move it didn't put the cotter pin in the hitch, and the house actually came off the hitch and broke the safety chains!  We couldn't have ordered a better test of the structural engineering, and the little house passed with flying colors!  We just finished taping and mudding the "drywall" (actually, Strong Enviro board).  Next up:  install the porthole window over the door, paint the interior with American Clay paint, and get the siding ordered and installed.  (Looking into Hardiboard and a couple other cement fiber-board sidings.  Heavy, yes.  But inert--and inert is job one on this project.)  Then finish up the electrical, lay some tile, and we'll be done!

06 March

Took a couple weeks off to go down to the San Francisco Bay area, where Tony had a job interview with Lawrence-Berkeley Labs.  (He nailed it. They've offered him the job, and now he has a week or two to decide whether to take it.)  While down there, we adopted a dog--because, you know, we don't have enough going on already!  :-)

We just got home with Janey yesterday.  Despite being 12 years old and arthritic, she prefers the hard concrete floor to the lovely sheepskin bed we made for her.  (You can see she's lying down right next to it, but assiduously avoids lying on it.)

In the first picture, she's chewing on a raw sweet potato that she helped herself to from a bag of groceries that we were unloading.  (I need to work with her on the food-stealing behavior, but meanwhile we did get a big kick out of the business-like manner with which she marched up to the bag, stuck her head in, and appropriated the sweet potato!  A sweet potato, of all things.  I love weird dogs, and am delighted that she's already proving herself to be one!)

One remarkable thing about Janey is that, though she is totally blind, she is utterly confident and friendly.  She walks right up to new people and dogs with an affable, interested expression; she goes for walks at a good clip, even though she can't see what's in front of her.  Despite her age, blindness, and having been abandoned at the pound by her family a couple of months ago (and then saved from euthanasia and fostered by a wonderfully compassionate private dog-rescue organization), she's about the most well-adjusted individual--of any species--that I've ever met.  She's not just my new dog; she's my new role model!

Well, I'd better stop yapping and get working on that house, in case Tony decides to take the job in Berkeley and we're needing to tow it down to the Bay Area and live in it next month.  (We already have a dog-friendly parking place for the house lined up down in Sebastopol, in the same three-acre, no spray orchard where Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Houses currently parks his house.)

20 APRIL 2009

Long time, no post.  Not much to report on the house at this juncture--I'm testing paints, since painting is next up.  Will not be moving to Berkeley/Sebastopol at this time, have been writing apps for the Google and iphone instead, from home.  (Beats dealing with a crazy commute, being a couple of hours' drive apart all week, etc.  I'm still hoping to relocate to NoCal, however.  It's too cold and dry here!)

In other news, the dog is settling in beautifully.  A couple of apparently stress-related health problems have cleared up, and she just seems more relaxed and--if tail-wagging, cuddling, and a much greater tendancy to listen and behave well are any indication--happier.  She's also figured out how to use her bed, but sometimes naps near her bowl--I suppose so that she'll be ready, just in case:

It's fun taking her for walks--hardly a one passes that she doesn't garner compliments on her good looks and temerity!  How somebody could take this dog--who is still full of vitality and joie de vivre--to the pound to to die alone is beyond me.

28 April 09

Greg's coming out tomorrow--we're going to start cranking through the final phase of Tiny House construction!  The hope is to be moved in 6 weeks from now!

06 May 09

The porthole window is in!  (With phonin' Tony for scale.)  Tyvec is covering the French doors, which were leaking because the trim and siding isn't on yet.

03 June 09

Whew!  We've been so busy with tiny house stuff that I haven't had time to post about it!

On Memorial Day weekend, we moved the house back to where it was originally built.


There were several reasons for this: the downtown neighoborhood has become so polluted that I was entirely unable to be outside to work on the hosue; there's a full shop out where it was built; and, since it's summer, and I'm having an increasingly hard time with the air quality downtown, we figured we'd just move out of down town, and sort of camp in the vicinity of the house until it's done.

Here's the outdoor kitchen, to use while we get the indoor one built:

Though only ten miles from downtown, the spot we're in now is in the desert, and quite a bit hotter.  Janey's got it all figured out, though:

01 JULY 2009

Okay!  Things are picking up.  Today, the porch swing got hung up, and I had a cup of tea while swinging and watching the sun set.  Every tiny house design I've done (and there have been hundreds--I'm a bit obsessed) has featured a porch swing.  This house was basically concieved as a place to put a porch swing.  (Well, yeah, and to provide me with the dire necessity of non-toxic housing.  But the porch swing has always been the happiest, funnest part of the whole thing for me.)  So, you can imagine how thrilling it was to actually get to swing in it after all these years of wanting one, and of going to the trouble to build this rather elaborate thing to hang it off of!

Also thrilling was the fact that I was able to sit in it the day after the wood finish was applied!  I used Vermont Natural Coatings Furniture Finish on it.  (No financial interest, other than that they were kind enough to send me a sample.  The customer service has been great.)  This stuff is so benign, I might even have gotten away with being the person applying it!  (I didn't try that, but I was in the vicinity when it was being applied, and wasn't bothered.  I can't say this of any paint I've tested, even, so it was very surprising coming from a wood finish.  They make a wood floor finish, too, which has also tested well.  In fact, I think I will now feel confident trying maple flooring in the next house, which will be a warmer alternative to the tile I'm using in the first one.)

Speaking of tile, got started in earnest on that today, too.  There will be a path of pebbles that winds through the two rooms of the house and out the door onto the porch.  The path will be strewn with slate leaves, from Accents Con Agua.

This photo shows the terra-cotta look-alike (actually, it's procelain) field tile cemented in place (but not yet grouted).  I used a mixture that was 5.5 parts sand to 4 parts portland, to .5 parts lime.  (Got this non-toxic thinset recipe from an excellent article on www.eiwellspring.org.)

Grout will be just sand and portland (in equal proportion), as recommended by both the above website, and Pete and Mokihana at Vardo for Two.  Thanks to everyone for sharing their experience!

The thinset was completely tolerable, even while wet--I was able to spend hours and hours in the room and lay the tiles myself.  Cutting the tiles was no problem for me to do either, as the water-cooled saw kept dust entirely at bay. (Noise is another matter!)  Many thanks to Rick Pugh, another local contractor who's been helping me out with various aspects of the house, and doing a great job.  He had all the tiling tools on hand and taught me how to use them, and just made the whole thing easier and more fun than it would have been otherwise. Greg, who had done the framing, roofing, and wiring, and those beautiful corbels on the porch is tied up through the summer and fall with building a couple of straw bale houses.)

07 AUGUST 09

Whew!  This finish work is slow business!  Satisfying though.  Working now on plastering the walls (not sure how this will work in a mobile environment, especially as I can't tolerate the reccommended primer, am having some trouble with the stuff not wanting to stay stuck to the wall, but am working on it).  I'm using American Clay plaster, and am totally in love with it (despite it's being expensive and MUCH more labor-intensive than paint).  It is completely inert--I'm able to apply it myself.  And it makes the walls so beautiful that you want to...hug them.  Honestly, the walls seem subtly alive (in much the manner that rocks do), and almost...loving or nuturing, or at least health-promoting.  There's just no comparison with paint.  This stuff (made of clay, sand, and mineral pigment) seems to actually improve the indoor air quality. 

Will also be putting on the trim around the windows and doors.  Am using maple for this, finished with the Vermont Natural Finsih mentioned above.

The farther I get in this project, the more I'm sure I'm going to love living in this place!  Am spending about half my nights in it lately, despite it's being a construction zone.

26 AUGUST 09
So much progress has been made!  It's so frustrating, because something is up with my website editor, and it won't let me post any pictures!!  ArghhhhH!

27 August 90

Okay--have solved the problem not by solving the problem, but by bailing to a secondary site.  For the latest, please go to Safe Spot Cottages!