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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Two months!!

We have our official move date - June 26, 2011!  Karl's dad will arrive on the 25th, and we'll hit the road the following day.  Knowing exactly when we'll be leaving makes it all seem so much more real - and makes me realize that we only have sixty more days to get ready!

We've definitely made a dent in the stuff we're selling, although you'd hardly be able to tell by looking at our house.  There's just so much more to do!  I want to be able to spend my last few weeks and days spending time with friends and family, not scrambling to pack and plan at the last minute.

It will all fall into place... but two months is really soon!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tiny Houses = Living Simply

I think I may have redesigned the floor plan for the cabin about 87 times...  I'm back to one floor now, and I increased the footprint to 24' x 32'.  Construction logic states that it's cheaper to build up, than out, but I'm not so sure how true that is for smaller houses.  Increasing the footprint by 8' is likely going to be a lot cheaper than adding an entire second floor, and actually results in a similar amount of usable space.  Building stairs to code takes a LOT of space!  I think a lot of us are used to steps that are a bit steeper and narrower than what is currently required for new construction.  I was losing almost 75 square feet just by putting stairs in! So the current plans afford me 768 square feet for a kitchen, dining area, living room, bathroom, laundry room, and two bedrooms.  Don't forget to cram some closets in there, too - doggie food and a vacuum has to go somewhere!

So, depending on who you ask, my little cabin in the woods might qualify as a 'tiny house,' or maybe just a 'small house.'  By comparison to some hardcore tiny house-ers, our cabin will be a mansion!

Although, I am now completely sold on the concept of building one of these on a trailer rather than shelling out $80,000+ for an RV:
So for any of you that haven't heard of the tiny house movement, there are tons of blogs and websites dedicated to the people living ultra simply.  It does make you wonder, how much do we really need?  How much furniture/clothing/stuff do you have in your house that you probably wouldn't notice if it went missing?

Sure, Karl and I could borrow a couple hundred thousand dollars and build some big house with lots of rooms we probably wouldn't go in (other than stuffing some useless junk the closet of course).  We could then pay a ton of money to heat it, and furnish it, and maintain it, and continue to slave away working to pay for the big stupid house that we don't even use because we're too busy working just to pay for it.


We can go low key.  Live simply.  Keep the things that are important to us and forget the rest.  Spend more time together, doing things we love, and with friends and family.  Limit our expenses to the things that matter and stop the incessant consumerism that is so harmful to our planet.  And stop slaving day in and day out while life passes us by.

Of course, I may be a bit more of a hippie tree hugger than the average Joe.  But I really encourage everyone to make an effort to live simply.  It's an achievable goal, while the constant more more more will never be enough.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My great idea!

I've been thinking a lot about how to afford a fence for Willow so she can have a backyard at her new home.  Obviously, that's one of the major benefits of owning your property.  However, with the huge expenses of house building, I was worried that Willow would end up with a teeny little yard because we'd only be able to afford 20 feet of fence!

Until I had my great idea:

What is made of wood, roughly 4 feet in length, and easy to get for free because most companies have to pay for disposal?

Wooden pallets!!  A surprising number of people have beat me to this great idea, which means I have lots of examples to model my fence after.  Willow will be happy that the size of her yard will only be limited by our energy to dig post holes!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Perhaps I'm starting to go overboard in my plans for a sustainable future, but I totally want to have my own chickens for eggs.  If you know me, you know I've talked about having chickens for awhile.  Having my little house in Alaska finally gives me the chance to do it!  This would probably be a plan for next spring, but I like to do lots of research so I know what I'm doing when the time comes.   I am also loving the idea of making a little chicken coop that's a mini version of the house.  Maybe Willow will have to get a matching doghouse, too (not that she'd even go near the thing - spoiled dog).

But seriously, who wouldn't want to be able to go outside and collect eggs from your own chickens?!?!  I see it the same way I see growing lettuce -  Oops, need some lettuce on your burger?  Why don't I just go outside and pick you a leaf?  Oh, scrambled eggs for breakfast?  Absolutely - no grocery store runs here!

Hmm, guess I'll need to get started on that greenhouse, too.  Definitely need to extend growing season as long as possible.

Clearly, I should have been born in like 1920.  Or 1820.  Some time period where these sorts of things were appreciated.  Even a time when striving to be a housewife was acceptable, which isn't so much the current climate in this country.  Luckily, Karl is very supportive and is cool with the idea of at least trying to live as sustainably (and therefore cheaply) as possible, thereby reducing our financial requirements.  And anyone that has spent any time considering this lifestyle knows that it is definitely still work, just a different kind!

In house building news, I'm still trying to crunch some numbers to see what kind of up front costs we're looking at.  I'm fine with leaving a lot of interior stuff until more money is available (and hello, doesn't adding shelving between exposed studs on interior walls sound totally awesome??)  What I really need to do is nail down a plan so we can figure out lumber costs, and whether we're going with a DIY raftered roof or manufactured trusses.  Karl's job will be to call Spenard Builder's Supply and get a quote on trusses so we can price that.  The other major expense will be a cistern and septic tank, so quotes will be needed on that, too.

Only ten weeks away - EEK!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So this is what I've been working on...

I've been on my computer for several hours each night, but I've been so busy trying to figure out how to build a cabin, I haven't had any time to post!  I made up some floor plans tonight, so I can show what I've come up with:
First Floor
Second Floor
The plan is for a 24' x 24' footprint, with two stories and a plain gable roof.  I've had some pretty intense building sessions with my dad, and I'm actually feeling surprisingly confident about Karl and I doing this ourselves (with some help from his dad, of course)!  Money is always an issue, so I'm trying to keep it as low cost as possible.  Most of the walls on the second floor wouldn't likely go in when we're building.  I don't mind if the upstairs is one big room if it means we can get some more important things accomplished.  Utility hookups are going to be our major expense - In Alaska, you aren't even guaranteed access to electric on any given lot!  Luckily, the area we're planning to search for land will probably have power lines, but water or natural gas is highly unlikely.  This means a really expensive cistern and bulk water delivery (rather than a really REALLY expensive well digging), and probably a pellet stove.  I kind of want a wood stove really badly, but they just aren't that efficient and can't burn unattended as long as a pellet stove can.  Check pellet stoves out here.  Kind of fits into my goal of being as environmentally friendly as possible - most pellets are made from scrap wood or sawdust.  Unfortunately, I haven't found one at less than $1500...  I'll try to document the building plans as I go, so everyone else can save up and build their cabin in the woods, too!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The more I think about the big move, the more disgusted I am at the thought of renting another house.  I seem to read about more and more people that have moved to Alaska and built themselves a small cabin, having limited finances and no prior building experience.  Well, why can't that be me?  Karl and I want to live as sustainably possible, and frankly, that gets pretty difficult when you are forced to rely on your landlord's crappy furnace, poorly insulated windows, and complete inability to install your own solar panels, geothermal heating, etc.

Also, it gets really difficult to find a place to live when you have a 65 lb. pitbull, because people seem to be convinced that she is going to eat babies and take over the world.

I'm currently in love with these:
Granted, Karl would probably not let me get one that looked like an apple.   However, these dome shelters are fully portable, can withstand subzero temperature with a small space heater, and will hold up in hurricane force winds.  There's also options available to provide all of your own cooling, heating, and water needs 100% off grid.  Cost = $15,000 to $20,000 for a 20 foot model.  ($7000 to $10000 for a 14 footer.)  These are absolutely awesome, because they're actually designed to be temporary housing for disaster areas.

Yeah, it wouldn't be huge.  I don't need huge.  When I think of our house right now, we don't really use most of the space anyway.  In fact, it's mostly furniture taking up space, so we don't have a bunch of empty rooms.  Considering we're selling most of our stuff anyhow, I'm intrigued with the idea of staying super low maintenance.

Or, do I want to build a log cabin?
The biggest problem with building is the need to purchase land, which is a big up front cost in addition to the building costs.  If we were lucky, we'd get a lot with enough trees to cut for the wood.  However, this would definitely be a long term solution, especially if we were able to be on the grid for our utilities, at least while we figured out other options.  Running a generator for a couple of years isn't a very good option.

The benefit of buying the dome is that we could hopefully put it up in Karl's Dad's backyard.  Did I mention that you can build and rebuild these domes as many times as you want??  This way, we'd still be at his dad's house, have access to his shower and kitchen, but have our own privacy and avoid paying $1500 a month for rent as soon as we moved.  Maybe this would give us a lot more time to relax and adventure, before us both being forced to have full time jobs.  Expenses would be super low (and we wouldn't be cramping his dad's style by staying in his house for months).  Willow would probably be a lot happier, too.

Decisions, decisions.  Karl is so much more go with the flow, but I thrive on the planning.  I know that I will adjust so much better in Alaska if I can use it as an opportunity to create a life I do not have here, but that I desperately want.  Alaska has so many more people homesteading and living off grid than anywhere in Pennsylvania.  I would be infinitely happy if I could have my own little cabin, work part time or sell soap out the wazoo, and reduce expenses through energy independence, having my own greenhouse, canning and preserving, making my own bread, etc.  There's people out there doing it... why can't it be me?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Willow's new friend

Or not so much... This little squirrel has tormented Willow for the last two years.  When I took this photo, I swear the squirrel was laughing at Willow from his safe perch in the tree!
Please ignore the excessive editing.  I'm having way too much fun with Photoshop, and the squirrel had a tendency to blend in with all the rest of the brown.

Off to label more soap before bed - I'm telling you, if I had started labeling through Photoshop two months ago, I could have saved myself so much time!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pretty in Pink

Karl and I went to the Tanger Outlets today, hoping to score some good deals.  The Columbia store totally pulled through, and I snagged some hot pink snow pants for $20 (originally $120).  No way was I going to get a better deal anywhere else, and I had already donated mine as they were from like 8th grade or something ridiculous like that.  I figure the color is appropriate too, so when I'm stuck in a snowbank I can be easily seen and therefore rescued.  Just a thought..

And also, take a look at my pretty new brochures, a la Photoshop:

Way cooler than a Word document!

Halfway There

We (Karl) managed to get the wiring done for the trailer yesterday!  It involved a lot of mumbo jumbo lingo that I didn't understand, but basically you take the wire that connects your two taillights, add some thingamajig that runs to the trailer and your battery, and you're good to go.  My contribution was handing Karl tools, and zip tying things under the hood that Karl's big fat man fingers couldn't reach.

We hoped to attach the hitch today, but the impending doom of thunderstorms eliminated that option.  It also looks like it's going to rain the rest of the week, too, so I looked up some stats:

Average yearly rainfall in Pittsburgh: 37.85 inches
Average yearly rainfall in Anchorage: 16.08 inches

Score one for Alaska!

Of course the average yearly snowfall is a bit different as well:
Pittsburgh: 43 inches
Anchorage: 70.6 inches

So I've been spending most of my time getting ready for the craft shows next weekend and at the end of the month and redesigning my labels and brochure since I finally broke down and bought Photoshop Elements (my old version was from 2001).  Totally worth it, by the way.

Check it out:
Whitehall Public Libary Arts & Crafts Show
Earth Day in Mt. Lebanon
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