An interesting trend in the eco-home movement is micro-homes.  The recession, and (finally) concern over climate change, seem to have provided some needed perspective on the longing to buy bigger, more luxurious, more ecologically costly homes.

The micro-home trend is a much larger pendulum swing away from the mcMansion trend than I’d ever imagined, but there’s something appealing about being able to lessen your ecological footprint, own your own home, live mortgage-free and have wonderfully low utility bills.

Micro home owners seem content to rid themselves of most of their belongings in order to fit into their new homes. Some say it’s quite freeing and they are happier now than when they had a lot more stuff and lived in a larger space.

I’ve lived in a 850 sq. ft. apartment for 15 years (10 with my husband, 5 with my husband and our son). We’ve often felt cramped, and for much of that time I envied friends who owned their own houses and had lots of space. However, my dreams of owning my own suburban house are fading: density is more green (a topic for another post). If we ever do buy, I hope it will be a town-house or apartment, ideally one with thick walls, fitted with solar panels and lots of windows, and I’d like to keep the size small: less space=lower utility costs and smaller ecological footprint.

While I know I wouldn’t want to live in homes as tiny as the ones in the videos I’ve posted below, I’m nonetheless inspired by them. My 850 sq. ft. apartment suddenly seems enormous. Now if only we could incorporate some of these wonderful space-saving technologies!

Micro-houses

  1. News segment on small (12 ft x 12ft homes) built in Twelve Cubed Homes in British Columbia
  2. A tiny home tour: living in 89 square feet
  3. PBS segment on the tiny house movement
  4. DIY House for less than $3500. I love how much of the house was built with recovered materials, and it looks great!
  5. Low rent liveaboard life in San Francisco Bay
Tiny apartments and gap-houses

Architects are also getting into the micro home movement, not only with separate houses,  but in designing homes in densely populated areas.

  1. This apartment, with a sliding wall system, can be transformed into 24 different combinations, a brilliant design by a Hong Kong. architect.
  2. A 258 sq. ft apartment inspired by yachts and Japanese apartments, the kitchen, dining room, living room and bedroom have to be “built” from various units hidden in the wall or even under the patio.
  3. Europe’s narrowest house in Europe (Kiel, Germany), a beautiful, and creatively designed home built in a gap between two old buildings.
  4. A London “Gap House,” quite a bit larger than its German counterpart.
And finally, for the tiny-home owner, space-saving furniture!
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I’m working on a new course that focuses on sustainable development and housing. I’ve come across so many interesting links, articles and videos, I decided I should share some of them here.

Time being at a premium for me these days, I may only be able to post some of my favourite videos or articles with little comment. But I hope they’ll be of interest to someone.

I’ve been particularly interested in cob or straw bale houses, homes built with minimal wood, clay and straw bales (which apparently provide a very high R value. I’d love to live in a home like these: rounded edges, earthy and creative. Couple these with some solar panelling, and it seems quite possible to go off the grid. That sounds good to me!

Papier maché helmet

Halloween is on its way.  This year, I found a second-hand child’s NASA jumpsuit on Craigslist, much to Charlie’s delight.

However, Charlie also wanted a helmet to go with his jumpsuit.  I couldn’t find a second-hand one advertised online, so I decided I would try to make my own. It wasn’t hard but does take time.

I’d like to say there are 7 easy steps, but there were quite a few more.  There is definitely an easier way to make a helmet, but I wanted to make this one look just right, complete with two visors. Here are the things I used and the steps I followed:

What You’ll Need

  1. Old newspaper or newspaper print
  2. Flour and water paste or white glue mixed with water (I opted for white glue this time, having some old bottles that I needed to use up, but in the past I’ve used a flour and water recipe from this  Papier Maché website.)
  3. Two balloons
  4. One clear plastic container (about the size of a large yoghurt container)
  5. Two transparencies for the outer visor (I used one blue and red as my art supply store didn’t have black. Also, using two makes the visor less flimsy)
  6. Acrylic Paint (white, red and blue)
  7. Varnish
  8. 2 fasteners (I found black ones at our local arts supply store)

Instructions

  1. Follow the instructions for the glue recipe found on this site.
  2. Cut 1 inch wide strips of paper of varying length.
  3. Blow up a balloon so that its diameter is a few inches more than your child’s head.
  4. Prepare the helmet’s inner visor by cutting the bottom and the top off a clear plastic container; cut it down the side so that it can open up. Trim the sides, rounding  them out as much as possible so that they can’t burst the balloon. Put aside.
  5. Dipping the paper into the glue, cover the top quarter of the balloon, leaving enough room for the plastic visor.
  6. Place the opened plastic container on the balloon.
  7. Papier maché around the edges of the container. Doing so should hold the plastic into place. You may need to flatten it with one hand, while covering its edges with the gluey paper with your other hand.
  8. Continue to cover the balloon until it begins to narrow slightly at the bottom. If you continue covering the balloon once it begins narrowing, the helmet’s neck will be too small and the helmet too short.
  9. Let the papier maché dry overnight or at least for four or five hours.
  10. Burst the balloon.
  11. Place the helmet on your child’s head to see how much more you need to papier maché so that the helmet extends beyond the chin.
  12. Place another balloon inside the helmet. As you blow it up, position it so that the middle of the balloon fits snugly at the bottom of the helmet and goes straight down for a few more inches.

    Helmet after the second balloon has been inserted and the bottom of the helmet had been completed.

  13. To make the helmet look more realistic, you can build up the base of the helmet in the front, just below the visor so that the chin section goes straight down from the visor and doesn’t narrow. I did this by taping strips of newspaper under the visor horizontally, taping them right under the visor, then covering with a layer or two of papier maché.
  14. Continue covering the balloon until  the helmet is the right size for your child’s head.

    Side view. Before I built up the helmet under the visor (on the left), it narrowed sharply. This picture was taken after I’d built up the chin and covered it with papier maché.

  15. Let the papier maché dry.
  16. Papier maché the bottom of the helmet so there are no overly thin or sharp edges. Let dry.
  17. Paint the helmet white. You will probably need two coats.
  18. Paint NASA on the sides.
  19. Paint the American flag on the top or side (or place a sticker on the helmet).
  20. Varnish the helmet. Let dry.
  21. Place the transparencies over the visor, holding them at one point on each side to see if they can be moved up from the inner visor and then down again, as though on hinges.
  22. Cut the transparencies to fit over the visor, then and glue them using double-sided tape or glue.
  23. Using a large needle, create one hole on each side of the transparencies. Place them over the visor and push the needle through each hole into the helmet.
  24. Use the fasteners to secure the transparencies to the helmet, making sure to separate the two “legs” of the fastener so that they cannot easily be pulled back through the hole.

And you’re done!

It took me several days to make the helmet, working a little bit every night. Charlie is thrilled with it, so it was well worth the effort, and fun to try to find an original way to make it.

My husband and I have practiced attachment parenting with our son, and as part of that we’ve always co-slept with him. It’s an arrangement we’ve been happy with for many reasons. However, lately our king-sized bed has begun to feel a bit small. Charlie will turn 4 soon, and he’s starting to take up more and more room. Often I wake up with feet jammed into my back or a little head ploughing its way onto my pillow.

Having read Dr. Sears’s The Baby Sleep Book, my husband and I suspected that the process of transitioning Charlie into his own bed might be a slow one. We both figured that we’d just have to deal with the lessening space while we gently and patiently tried to encourage him to take this step.

Last summer, we’d tested the waters a few times, asking if he’d like to sleep in his toddler bed. He’d blithely answer, “No. I like sleeping with Mommy and Daddy in our bed.”  He loves to camp, so we suggested he could “camp” in our bedroom, sleeping in his tent beside our bed. (The tent is so small his toddler mattress barely fits in it.) He loved the idea, so several times we set the tent up.  Each attempt ended the same way:  I’d tuck him in, make sure he knew where his flashlight was, and begin singing to him. At that point, he’d happily announce that he wanted to go back to the family bed and fall asleep next to me.  It seemed pretty clear that Charlie just wasn’t ready to transition away from co-sleeping.

But something has changed in the past week. Lately, Charlie’s been showing signs of reaching a new level of maturity. He seems more aware of what’s going on around him, more confident about his abilities, less fearful of change.  Three nights ago, without any prompting on our part, he asked if he could sleep in his tent. And he actually fell asleep! He didn’t make it through the night. Waking up sometime after midnight, he crawled back into our bed and snuggled me as though we’d been apart for over a week. But we were so proud of him for having fallen asleep in the tent, and we told him so.

The next night in the tent, he decided, while I was singing him to sleep, that he preferred to be in the family bed. I thought that might be the end of the transitioning  for a while. But tonight, he asked if he could sleep in his toddler bed in his own room. I made him a little tent over the bed to make it seem cozier, but I suspected he might balk once I tucked him in. After all, this would be the first time he’d ever gone to sleep in his own room. But I was wrong. Although it took him a lot longer to fall asleep, fall asleep he did.

He may wake up in the middle of the night and ask to come back to our bed, but even if he does, I’m so proud of him.  He’s taking such big steps on his own, without our having to coax or provide incentives. It’s encouraging to see that our gentle, patient approach to this whole process may be working well and especially gratifying to see him initiating the process himself a year or two before we expected him to.

Recently, my friend Christopher told me, “You’re a writer. I know you don’t feel like you can afford the time, but you should try to write at least 15 minutes a day.” The comment came out of the blue and, quite honestly, took me aback. I immediately thought, “A writer? Me? What makes him think so?”  I’m a college English teacher  and—unlike some of my colleagues—am not a published writer. Writing takes me time (I’m always sculpting and polishing and sculpting some more), and trying to come up with topics I think worth writing about often paralyzes me.

However, over the past year some freelance projects I’ve been working on have reminded me of just how much I love writing, how much I’ve missed it. And I’ve also realized that comparing myself to my prolific colleagues has unnecessarily discouraged me from pursuing writing for the sheer pleasure of it.

I’ve decided to try to take Christopher’s advice. For a while, I toyed with the idea of getting back to an old pet project—writing a book. But at this stage in my life, I lack the time and energy required to do it justice. I also wondered if I should write about teaching, but I haven’t taught in a classroom for several years. Instead, I’ve decided to be practical and write what I’m living.

I’m a full-time mom of a lovely three-year old.  I’ve been on leave from the college in order to be home with him. I work from home part-time writing and editing to help keep my family afloat. It seems logical, then, that I should write about what I know—the joys of raising my son and the challenges of juggling motherhood with work.

No doubt, the blog will be a mix of topics: reflective thoughts, parenting issues, recipes, craft ideas, reviews of children’s books (the only reading I have time for these days) and discussions about other issues or events on my mind.

It’s all a bit of a risk for me. I don’t like to “put myself out there”. But somehow my friend’s words keep coming back to me, and this seems like a good place to start.