Baby Blue: My first tiny home

When I was 28 years old, I purchased my first home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The home was tiny, 900 square feet on the main floor, 2 bedrooms, one bath with a one-bedroom, one bathroom, basement apartment complete with outside entrance of about 600 square feet.   The purchase price was $27,000, a princely sum at the time for such a tiny piece of real estate.  The big draw for me was the basement apartment. I had an executive job which required a lot of travel.  I knew I could rent the apartment to airmen at Warren Air force Base.  The house was only a couple blocks from the base.   In fact over the years I owned Baby Blue, I only rented to two different young men.  They obviously liked it and stayed for long periods of time. I never advertised to rent the apartment.  I simply called the base and asked them to post a notice.  The military personnel are great to rent to.  If you have any problems with payment or destruction, you can simply follow-up with the base Commander.  I never had any of these issues.  Instead, I had a steady roommate, I never saw except to say, “Hello!” The agreement was that the renter would help with snow removal and lawn mowing for reduced rent.

I bought Baby Blue without consulting anyone. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me because he felt it didn’t show that I had a long term commitment to our relationship.  My mother spent time explaining to me how difficult housing could be to sell and it could mean I was rooted to Cheyenne and/or singlehood forever.  My boyfriend was probably right about my lack of commitment and mother was dead wrong.  I think my mother’s real problem was that single women didn’t own homes of their own at that time.  I purchased the house because my accountant had suggested it for tax reasons but more importantly I wanted pets. Identifying rentals that allowed pets was extremely difficult. I had a cat.  As soon as I had my own place with a fenced yard, I got my first sheltie, Ginger Rogers.

baby-blue
House remains blue and white with black shutters 40 years later.

When I bought the house, the outside was yellow and brown. The interior was carpeted in a magenta shag rug.  There was flocked wall paper in the main bedroom that proved extremely difficult to remove with plaster beneath.  Because the house was small, major changes were relatively inexpensive. I could do some of the work myself or beg others to do it for me.  The first thing I did was paint the outside blue with white trim and added black shutters.  The color and shutters remain to this day so that choice was obviously a good one.  I’m sure it has been repainted many times in the 40 years since I first acquired Baby Blue.

 

wood-stove
My brother-in-law and friend installed the European Wood Burning Stove and brick surround. The hard woods were uncovered within weeks of moving in. These pictures are from a real estate advertisement for the house a couple years ago.  Some things in housing don’t change after 40 years.

I pulled out the shag carpet and reinstalled it in the basement apartment bedroom. I was lucky to discover beautiful hardwood floors throughout the upstairs.  I  talked my brother-in-law and a friend of his into installing a fancy European wood stove which remains to this day.  I stripped all the wall-paper myself and did all the painting.  I remember my mother came over one day only to discover me sitting on my bedroom floor, covered with plaster, glue in my hair, crying because the yellow I had picked out for the room was a horrible mustard shade instead of a bright sunshine yellow.  My mom said, “Julie, it’s only paint.  You can do it again.”   Of course she was right.  I learned a major lesson for all the future paint jobs I would do.  Test small cans of paint first.

 

The kitchen was laid out strangely. One winter day when I was snowed in with a beau, he took a chain saw to the lower cabinets to make room for a rolling dishwasher.  While the remodeling approach was impetuous and terrifying the end result was not too bad.  It did, however, lead to another break-up.  The next boyfriend helped me repaint the wood cabinets yellow and white and put on decorative wood molding and new hardware.  Steadily moving through boyfriends, the final boyfriend helped me lay new flooring in the basement for the basement apartment.  That boyfriend was a keeper.  I’ve been married to him for 27 years.  But then that is another rather long story. My husband and I dated for 10 years from when we met until we married.

basement-apartment-floor
Floor my future husband installed is still there or it looks  the same.

 

I sold the house for about $40,000 (The County Assessor appraises it today at about $130,000). Obviously, I made a good return on my investment.  I moved to another house in Cheyenne by myself. My next house was in a better neighborhood, all brick, larger, with an attached two car garage and a basement apartment. But I never loved it as much as Baby Blue.

I will always have fond memories of Baby Blue. Home ownership allowed me to assert my independence as a professional woman, provided a financial base from which to start investing since owning the home with a rental was cheaper than paying rent, allowed me to have pets who significantly improved my life and in the end allowed me to move up to the next home— following the American dream.

My husband and I talk about downsizing now. Our home is about 3200 square feet and worth a King’s ransom.  If we ever downsize, it won’t be to get money out of the house because smaller houses closer to town in Boise are going for more than our house.  Downsizing would be about the convenience of living small in walkable communities.   Small homes are easier to maintain and not being in the suburbs appeals to my small town upbringing.  For now,  we are staying put until my daughter graduates from high school and my son finds a job (hopefully my son’s job hunt is successful before my daughter graduates next year).

I feel like I have one more adventure in me. I watch International House Hunters and fantasize about living in a tiny apartment with a balcony on the coast of Spain.  Sometimes, I dream of buying an adobe house with land for a tiny horse in Sante Fe. For now Ashtree Way,  folds its arms around all of us whenever we walk in the door.  I have the same sense of being home as I did when I would walk into “Baby Blue.”  Home truly is where your heart is.

The Return of the Graduate

The blog that drew the most views (160) in 2016 was “Top 10 ways I know my son is home from college”.  This high readership is either because my son is so popular  his friends wanted to read about the chaos he creates when he returns home, a whirlwind on steroids would do less damage.  Or there are many frustrated mothers of college-age children who read my blog and were comforted to learn that they are not the only ones spending a small fortunate on their college-bond children only to have them turn into untidy aliens who lock themselves in their room and listen to loud music late into the night. Said music seeps through the floor into my office and sanctuary, making  me even more irritable than usual.

Homecoming:

I would like to tell you this is a passing phase, but my son just graduated, December 2016, and the house is even more of a wreck since he brought  his stuff home (I learned a bicycle and bed were left in Moscow to be fetched at some later date) . After spending $68,000 on his education, he “needs to decompress.”  He will be starting his job search in February because we are spending the month of January exploring Australia. He actually could have had a job. He turned down a very good job with a local company after interning there two summers because “it wasn’t interesting enough and he wants to live in Seattle.” 

The job fairy told him his first job out of college would be fascinating, with lots of challenges, great benefits and highly paid. This same  mythical creature informed him that needy employers would seek him  out making him adverse to filling out any applications. We live in a bold new world where talent seekers find us in the wilderness.  They go out into the streets of rural America and when miraculously a new college graduate is sighted  (there are very few in Idaho), they shout; “Yo! I got a good one over here.” Unfortunately, these creatures have not stopped by my house yet.  Do you think it’s because we look too well off to need  work?

Scott spent the first days after finals skiing in McCall, staying at our cabin and using a season ski pass his father bought him. When he came home from his ski vacation, he dropped everything in the front door and went back to McCall skiing.  His father and sister, serfs to my commands, transferred his many boxes of junk upstairs so our weekly cleaning crew could get into the house.  The cleaners only clean the main floor because my children “maintain” their living area, the entire upstairs.  I rarely venture upstairs into the” adult free zone”. I m always amazed at the disaster my children find is acceptable cleanliness.  Periodically, I pay extra for my cleaning crew to do the upstairs in the hopes that they will find the wild animals, vermin,  and various insects that might be residing in this delectable space before I do.  After all there is food, plates, forks, glasses, empty cans, used towels, dirty clothes, old pizza boxes and things I’d rather not identify just lying around.  Even my dogs, who are known for the devilish tricks do not venture into the “Scott Zone.”

I should not be surprised possessing a bachelors degree has not changed my son’s life style. After all, fraternity houses are probably not the place to learn  the social etiquette of maintaining a high end house. When he arrived home from school after the ski trip, he dumped everything from his  many boxes on the landing floor(he noticed his possessions had levitated to the upper regions. He acted surprised,  attributing the transfer of his possessions to the house wizard. (You know the one who did the entire pick up when he was about 3) He was looking for his toothbrush and deodorant, neither of which materialized in the pile of belongings the size of a mini Mount Everest.  After taking a new toothbrush from our stockpile. He miraculously found his deodorant (Thank you to the arm pit gods!) properly spoofed-up to be in public, he took off to see friends again, leaving his belongings unbound.

img_0114
Clothes jumping out of their baskets.  This havoc is done by the nasty basket troll.
Christmas:

On Christmas day, I moved all his stuff into the guest bedroom so his sister could get to her room unencumbered.  I was tired of hearing her daily status report.

“Mom, he has dumped more stuff!”

“ The stuff is creeping towards my room.”

“ The mountain collapsed and you can’t walk around anymore.”

“It’s awful having him home!”

“When is he going to find a job!”

The day after Christmas, he left for skiing again.  His refunds from taxes and his summer 409B plan are funding his activities. After skiing, he touched down in Boise to gather more friends and spent New Years  snow shoeing into a yurt, exact destination unspecified since he is an adult and “on his own”.

This scenario caused me to gnaw on my arm until it is bleeding, like a dog with fleas and I have a acquired a terrible pain in my neck on the right side.  Meanwhile, my 70 year-old husband goes out to work every day.  Am I wrong in thinking there is something askew in this description of familial bliss as we enter a new year.

New Years:

The first week of the New Year, he has shaved off his mustache and other facial hair revealing a new face and new attitude. He has talked to friends about living arrangements in Seattle and Boise.  He has been working on a rough agenda for our trip to Australia, a graduation gift for him and a check on life’s bucket list for me.  We are gone three weeks in January.  The creeping clothes have managed to sidle up into his drawers and his TV has been placed on a stand on his desk,  stopping the loud sounds permeating my sanctuary below. My daughter has stopped complaining about his return and gone back to lurking in her bedroom, door closed, texting friends, and reading the Harry Potter series from start to finish.

Summary: All is well that ends well.

 

 

Extravagant Tiny Houses on Tour

Last weekend, the Boise High Music Department hosted a tour of 10 tiny homes in Boise’s Historic North End as a fundraiser.  Homes ranged in size from 240 square feet for a new home on wheels, to 380 square feet for a historic house (possibly a Sears and Roebuck catalogue house), to 1000 square foot home (500 square feet on the main floor with a basement). Most of the homes were built around the turn of the century, average about 800 square feet and while small were extravagant reflecting their owners eclectic taste. Many features embodied the homes’ heritage.  For example, most had fireplaces even if they no longer were functional, many had quirky additions, and one had two front doors.  Originally, one door led to the harness shop and the other door led to the family home.  Because Boise North end is designated a district, the double doors will stay and owners need permission for remodeling. Most of the garages were stables for horses in early days.

20161015_212428
Double doors for shop and family entrances

 

Owners of these homes are a diverse bunch; a retired couple , a single woman, a young couple, a mother and teenage daughter. All impress their unique style on their homes. Since owners have to pare down to what they love to fit in their tiny abodes, tour participants learned the owner’s passion. One house made room for a four-foot baby grand, in one house there was no TV, one house had a sunny sitting room opening to a glorious garden. In another home,the owners had lovingly crafted the furniture to fit the space and the kitchen tiles were hand-made reflecting the park view out the window.

Outdoors is the biggest room in the tiny house. We saw fabulous decks, seating areas with fire pits, handcrafted  cement and glorious yards. The tiniest foundation built home (350 feet) had a wrap around porch, a yard composed  entirely of zany stepping stones, perennials and a fountain. This house had one chair inside, a recliner for it’s owner to watch TV and a single bed. The owner told us she had lived in the house 13 years and regularly entertained large groups outside in good weather. Boise has 8 months of the year when we can be outside easily. The other four are iffy. These homeowners focus outwardly.

Kitchens are made roomier by opening walls to dining and putting regular size refrigerators around the corner. We had to ask several places where the refrigerator was and found it on the porch or in a hallway.

Most houses have regulation size appliances but the two diminutive homes under 350 square feet both had regular appliances in a smaller scale.

Doors are in short supply. Closets were open or covered with  curtains. Creative storage is found in every nook and cranny.

Small does not equate with cheap. We saw exquisite chandeliers, top of the line gas ranges, handsome vanities, Bosch dishwashers, and  a gas fire place imported from England.

Everyone had laundry, sometimes popped in on a porch or in a closet or bathroom. Most were high end stackable units, some were small in size.

20161015_211330
Stackable laundry was tucked into closets, bathrooms

 

Since most houses had only one bathroom, bathrooms did double duty. Many had two doors so you could access from hall or bedroom making an en suite, some also served as laundry rooms. There were many full-sized tubs including claw foot tubs but no double sinks. Sharing brushing your teeth must be a tiny house morning ritual.

While small, these houses were not inexpensive. The North end with its walkable restaurants and shops and strong sense of historic preservation sports some the highest prices per square foot in Boise ranging from $200 a square foot up. The sample new tiny house model at 250 square feet without a parking place was $68,000.  One of the one bedroom houses was available for rent starting in April 2017 for $1400 a month.20161015_154626

20161015_130921
250 sf house on wheels for sale

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Tiny Arizona Home, the right size at the time

I am an HGTV (Home and Garden Channel) fanatic. I particularly like House Hunters International and recently, I have started watching Tiny House Hunters.

landscape-1442330245-tinyhouset
Cottage Style Tiny House on wheels

I am intrigued by all the varied designs and nooks and crannies that can be folded into 500 square feet or less. I am also fascinated by the reasons people desire tiny homes.  The premise of the show is that Americans are looking to downsize, simplify their lives, travel more, and just save money. Probably my biggest reason for being interested in tiny houses is that I lived in a tiny home before there was a tiny house movement.

 

asu-251x240
I received a masters degree in sociology in 1975.

When I was a graduate student at Arizona State University (ASU) in the mid-seventies, my first apartment by myself was a  ground-floor studio  measuring approximately 200 square feet.  A studio apartment combines living, bedroom, kitchen into one space with a separate bathroom. While the new tiny homes may have many exquisite details such as granite, wood paneling on walls and ceiling, my apartment was the scaled down version with cinder block walls, rattan furniture in the living area, a formic dining table for two, wooden beads surrounding the  double bed for privacy, regular closet and a kitchen along one wall. The piece de resistance of the kitchen was the stove with an oven above, pull-out burners and an oven below.   In 1973, microwave ovens were not ubiquitous as they are now.  They were just starting to show up in high end kitchens (first counter top micro wave was distributed by Amana in 1967).  My home had a front porch with patio furniture looking out on a shared swimming pool and a back door that opened to the parking area.  The climate in Arizona is such that having the outdoor space is the same as adding a substantial amount of square footage, especially with a swimming pool available for everyone in the complex. The apartment complex and pool were well maintained and the location was close enough to campus to bike.

I felt like a queen in my special place. One couldn’t do much decorating because of the cinder block  walls. But I did have posters scattered about.  Unlike folks who are downsizing to a tiny house, the studio was  upsizing for me from  a dorm room and then a shared two-bedroom apartment. I had plenty of space for one and I enjoyed having my own privacy.

The biggest drawback to the Arizona place was not size but no pets.  I love animals.   When I was in graduate school, I didn’t really have the time or financial resources for pets so that lack of one was not  a problem.   A few years later when I had a regular job, one of my first goals was to purchase a house so I could have animals without the restrictions placed on pets by landlords.

My memories of Arizona are magical. I loved the University, the independence, the desert, the hot days and cool nights. I have memories of playing soft ball andpar 3 golf during day. At night, we would sip wine coolers on patios warmed by fire pits and accompanied by live music.  These were all new and exotic activities as a cowgirl who grew up in Wyoming and went to a Presbyterian College in Nebraska for my first experience away from home.

While I was at ASU, I had a number of guy friends. One of them, Dave, was a desert rat. He had an orange jeep and would take us out on extreme dirt roads to view the gorgeous red mountains, cactus and wild flowers, all found in isolated, primitive areas.  After one such adventure,  I was cooking my specialty, spaghetti with red meat sauce. Actually, I am not a good cook, so this was my go-to meal for guests. Dave and I sat down to a festive Italian meal and the next thing I know he’s bolting to the bathroom sicker than a dog.

Cleaning up in a hurry, I dumped everything down the garbage disposal immediately clogging the drain. The  maintenance man, Charlie, came right over with a plumbing snake to clear the line. When he started pushing it into the drain, we heard a scream next door. Apparently, the drains were connected and the metal snake had popped out of my neighbor’s sink–a startling experience.  Meanwhile, Dave was moaning on the bed behind the beaded curtains, not enough privacy in times of distress.

Then Charlie removed the U drain below the sink, emptied the nasty red sauce and slimy pasta contents into a bucket.  He promptly stood  up and dumped the bucket into the now empty sink. At which point, the entire contents of the bucket shot through the open drain making a huge mess on the kitchen floor and splattering Charlie and I.

Dave emerged from his bead sanctuary to see what the commotion was about. When he saw the mess, he decided he was well enough to go home and recover.  Dave and I never discussed whether the illness was brought on by my cooking or a rapid stomach bug. I do know he never chose to eat with me again. The lesson from this experience is that houses are like spoiled children in need of regular attention. They have the ability to throw a tantrum by breaking down, leaking, flooding, cracking, at the most inconvenient times. Almost anything connected to a house is expensive. A good do- yourself-person in the family is a gift.

The other memory I have of my ASU home is not so amusing. One week night, I received a phone call from my former roommate, Pat, telling me she was coming right over and to tell no one. When she got to my house, she had a fellow grad student, Kathy with her. Kathy was hiding from her abusive husband. I was the only safe place the two of them could find.  I was safe because I didn’t know Kathy’s husband. Kathy and I sat up all night because Kathy was terrified.  Unfortunately, this happened more than once. I had never seen anyone so frightened as those times Kathy was escaping her raging, violent husband.

There is a happy epilogue to this story. Kathy did finally divorce her husband. She finished her  masters degree,  successfully pursued a doctorate and became an expert in the field of family violence.  As Kathy and I sat together on those terrifying nights, I made up my mind that no one should be that frightened in their home. I have spent many years in Wyoming and Idaho volunteering for and donating to programs committed to providing safe havens for women and children who are victims for domestic violence.

The lesson from my experience with Kathy is that houses (the four wall structure) are not homes (socio-cultural experiences created by the individual(s) living in the structure). Kathy had a better house than most graduate students because her husband had a regular job.  But a physical structure that does not provide safety and is not a refuge in times of trouble is not a home.  Today, in our world we have many refugees fleeing unsafe settings (estimated at about 60 million people around the globe today).  Any night in the United States, there are over half a million homeless individuals (men, women and children). Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in the United States.  In other words, there are many people in need of refuge in our world today.

My 200 square foot studio apartment provided me with a lovely home for a year when I lived in Arizona.  My home was also a place of shelter for someone else in need.  I am grateful that my life has been blessed with  many homes filled with a great deal of love. Square footage truly doesn’t matter when seeking out a house, but the strength of character  and heart of those who reside within does.

gratitude