Adventures with Dorothy, or Tiny Living Lite

Hi, I’m Pia, and I’d like to share with your readers how I accidentally fell headfirst into, and headlong in love with, living Tiny.

Dorothy babes love buses

Dorothy babes love buses

I had been infatuated with Tiny houses for about 5 years before I found Dorothy. I have a background in Architecture and I’ve lived in lots of beautiful and unique homes and places, though never ever for long enough. Overall, small, clever spaces just have a practical appeal, plus they’re absolutely gorgeous and romantic (tiny handcrafted wooden hobbit mound? Yes please!), and what nomad doesn’t secretly pine for a nice, lockable, four-walls-and-a-roof combination to call her own. If that particular combination happens to be technically portable, even better.

However, with custom Tinies coming in at tens of thousands of dollars, and the ideal of crafting my own being delayed by my resolute singleness and complete and comical lack of skill with heavy power tools, I’d consoled myself to Cabin Porning and Float Home-creeping and Tiny House Blogging…for the next few years, anyway.

Dorothy exterior with glorious mountainscape

Dorothy exterior with glorious mountainscape

That was until the end of the ski season in Canada had me pining for a nice, practical van to move my diverse collection of used snowboards and dancing shoes across the country. I came across and advertisement for a 1989 Chevy bus, freshly retired from ferrying disabled kids to and from school, in pristine condition, and going for a song. A vintage, golden shortbus, all boxy windows and brown vinyl interior cannot, once seen, be unseen (obviously), so I rang and emailed and rang some more, until she had been promised to me, and my plans had all changed. I was going to buy a school bus. I was going to cut out the seats and put in a bed and curtains of every color, and I was going to live in it. Because I was young and free, dammit, and I was absolutely smitten.

Dorothy exterior with riding ensemble

Dorothy exterior with riding ensemble

And guess what? In defiance of all probability and rationality, that’s exactly what I did, and it was, and is, the best thing I have ever done. I gathered handy roommates and gave them borrowed power-tools and we cut out rusted seats and fossilized bubblegum on early spring afternoons, salvaging seat-belts and selling the frames for scrap. We named her Dorothy, and cleaned her down to a blank, spare shell, then raided thrift stores and yard sales to fill her back up again. Friends heard what we were doing and turned up with blankets, houseplants, fairy lights, and candy. I had a personal shopper at Home Depot who patiently sold me, and then processed returns on, most every possible tie-down in the store, until we achieved the perfect balance of securely-anchored to girly-handmade and effortless-appearing. I tried to minimize the damage to Dorothy’s original body in our renovations, using existing bolt holes and finishes where possible, and covering things with removable screws and stickers, rather than permanent glues and paints. I knew that Dorothy would not be mine forever, and that her future owners could have as much fun taking her back to basics and working with her original bones as I was. With a lot of love, a lot of magnets, a lot of string, and a whole lot of good luck, we were ready to take her on the road within a fortnight.

Dorothy exterior with trendy vintage bike

Dorothy exterior with trendy vintage bike

Since April, Dorothy and I have stayed in ski carparks, playgrounds, backyards, driveways, RV parks, vineyards and riverbanks. We stayed, memorably, for a week in the industrial estate in Banff when her starter broke, and we’ve been towed twice, by the same handsome tow-truck driver, because I am terrible at timing stops for the auto propane she runs on/guzzles. She’s carried dogs, cats, bikes, and up to 10 people (I have wall-attached seat belts for 8), and she’s slept up to 3 people in relative (very companionable) comfort. She’s delivered us safely and uncomplainingly on a road trip through British Columbia and Washington State. And everywhere we go, she makes people smile. Little kids wave from the back window of their family wagons, and sweet gas-station attendants always have a story about their own van or caravan that they had when they were my age. If I drive her at night, drunk people always try to flag us down, and I swear I only get 20% of the parking tickets I deserve… Continue reading

A Year at Circular Lodgic

yurt and a frame

In 2012, my husband and I lived in our 18-foot yurt for seven weeks and passed the story along to Tiny House Blog. You can read that post here. Since then, we lived in the yurt in Vermont at Moosalamoo National Forest Campground and acted as campground hosts. This summer we were back in Santa Fe, enjoying another yurt summer in the Southwest, but that’s not what this story is about.

In August of 2013, we made the leap to full-time yurt living. We both left our teaching jobs so that my husband could pursue his PhD in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We bought 9 acres of land in the area for next to nothing and set about creating an off-grid setup where we’d pump water from a creek, and someday where we hope to get our power from solar and water. We quickly renovated a tiny, mouse-infested a-frame cabin (200 square feet, but a-frames waste so much space!) on the land and erected the platform for our yurt. What we thought would be a couple weeks’ worth of work spun itself into months of disasters, urgent projects, and checklists.


From building the platform in 90 degree heat and 70% humidity, to having to completely gut the cabin (surprise! there really is that much mouse piss!), to very unhappy, stressful visits from building inspectors (“yurts are not for sleeping in!”), nothing went according to plan. My father-in-law planed each piece of wood from the family tree farm for our yurt floor, and just as my husband finished putting them down, a rainstorm blew in and warped them. The building inspectors made us put in a septic system, despite having an approved composting toilet and no money. The snow came before we had the heaters all hooked up or any wood for the winter cut. EVERYONE who drove up our incredibly steep driveway swore to us that come winter, we.were.screwed. The buried water pipe that brings all our water from the creek froze, so pumping water all winter long (and remember, that’s from November to late May) meant hooking up and unrolling 100 feet of water pipe, clearing ice on the creek, boiling water to thaw the hose, and THEN pumping water. I took a dive off a loft ladder while alone, hitting my head and breaking my thumb. By the late fall, our water pipes were freezing inside our walls, so mornings might find me blow drying walls in order to get ready for work. On December 31st, before more than 300 inches of snow had insulated the cabin and yurt completely, our sewage pipe froze underneath the toilet (if you’re going to pay thousands for a septic, you might as well have a flush toilet). No plumber would come for days. We learned all about living tiny, and have oftentimes been heard sarcastically saying “tiny house!” when two humans, two poodles, and a cat get just a little too cozy.

A-frame accomplishments

If none of this sounds like “living simply in a complicated world,” that’s not lost on us, but alas, life isn’t perfect and this one is definitely a work in progress!

And despite all of the learning curves and crises, we are living our dream. We live on our own land. We survived one hell of an Upper Peninsula winter (even the locals SWEAR it’s not usually that bad). We managed to clear snow and use our driveway all winter long with very few incidents. We are living in the woods. The poodles have room to run. We are living in the round all year long. Often we fall asleep to coyote songs or owl hoots. Between the two of us, we mastered electrical, plumbing, carpentry, generator maintenance, snow removal, and many other trades. I got to know all the local hardware stores and sometimes shocked fellow shoppers with my odd knowledge of plumbing tools, despite not looking like I ought to have that knowledge. I got a teaching job and Bryan totally nailed his first year of his program. The sun started coming out more often and the snow started melting. The world eventually turned green again and I remembered that there is life again after winter.


As spring approached we started thinking about how to solve some of our more irritating problems, like strapping on mukluks and a down jacket in order to go to the bathroom. Come spring, Bryan added a screen porch that attaches the two buildings, and a platform for the next addition to Circular Lodgic: a 15-foot yurt (Nonesuch Yurt) to be attached to the backside of the big yurt. This will act as our bedroom. We’ve definitely made progress without losing sight completely of the simplicity we hoped to find, and we’ve had one hell of an adventure along the way!

A very challenging year later, I’d take the leap again. After a second summer in Santa Fe, we’re looking forward to getting back home to Circular Lodgic and heading off into year two of the yurt life.

Continue reading

“Surviving” with Mom in a Tiny House

Melia Robinson, a writer for The Business Insider, recently spend a three nights in a tiny house for rent in Plattsburgh, New York with her mom. Her reasons for doing it were simple, but her experience was far from ideal. What she and her mother experienced might explain why some people avoid moving into a tiny house or give up on the dream after just a short amount of time. Before buying or building your own tiny house—giving one or two of them a spin might give you better inside into the lifestyle and the best designs.


Melia wanted to see if size really did matter and wanted to experience what a 168 square foot “micro home” could offer. She mentioned in her article that not only are tiny homes cozy and easier to manage but monthly bills would start to look like “chump change.” Melia and her mother, Vickie, rented The Little Great Camp Cabin owned by Les Delorimier near Lake Champlain. The tiny cabin has a living and dining area with a breakfast table, a small balcony with two chairs, a sleeping loft and a small bathroom with a flush camping toilet and shower. The house was built over the course of a winter for $26,000. The house has electricity and lighting and propane for cooking and heating water.

this-is-me-and-my-mom-vicki-were-close-in-that-we-talk-on-the-phone-every-day-have-held-each-other-during-more-nicholas-sparks-movies-than-we-care-to-admit-and-share-a-hatred-of-messes-but-we-live-about-250-miles the-benefits-of-tiny-house-living-are-endless-the-homes-are-cozy-and-easy-to-manage-not-to-mention-better-for-the-environment-the-size-limitation-forces-tenants-to-declutter-their-lives-and-keep-only-the-necessit heres-a-look-inside-the-tiny-house-from-top-to-bottom-the-combination-of-wood-paneling-and-target-furniture-give-it-a-modern-rustic-feel

What Melia and her mother liked best about their stay in the tiny house was the feeling of being in a treehouse and how the small space forces you to downsize. They also appreciated how close they could be to each other and how the small space also allowed them to seek out their own relaxation areas: mother took the downstairs futon and daughter took the loft. On the other hand, what became problematic was the issue of too much stuff. Each of the women’s personal items spread around the house and Melia realized that their current lifestyle did not fit into 168 square feet.



Other issues the women faced was the feeling of being cooped up, using the more basic toilet and dealing with subsequent odors, having to take turns in the kitchen and the inability to sit or stand up in the sleeping loft. In the end, mother and daughter relished having to go back to their current homes with designated areas for sleeping, eating and going to the bathroom and admitted they were “gluttons for space.”

and-real-talk-when-someone-went-no-2-the-house-had-to-be-evacuated-the-bathrooms-proximity-to-the-kitchen-was-equally-disturbing-the-folding-door-did-not-i-repeat-did-not-seal-odors-well-and-you-had-to-wash-your- a-few-hours-later-however-our-stuff-spilled-into-disarray-were-over-packers-and-the-tiny-houses-sense-of-minimalism-didnt-necessarily-accommodate-our-lifestyle-it-made-me-uneasy-to-see-our-floor-space-disappear-s

Photos by Melia Robinson/The Business Insider


By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]