Small REAL Houses

Guys, I’ve done it.

I’m at the point where I need to pick a plan or hire someone to design a plan for my house. Once I do this, I can get bids and look for someone who can break ground in the spring. Basically, until I start making some at least basic decisions, there’s not much more that I can do (except keep saving money).


The first thing about this is that it’s terrifying. I’ve done so much thinking about what I need in a house and I know that I don’t need a big house. I don’t need a bathroom for each of my bedrooms. I don’t want it to be ugly. I don’t want it to be sterile. In some ways, buying an already built house suddenly seems appealing because fewer decisions. The reality in this area is that I can’t afford to do that. Somehow it’s still cheaper to build plus get something that doesn’t need to be remodeled, efficient, and small.

The other frustration is that I want both small and a real house.

If you get on Pinterest or browse any Tumblr of adorable small houses, at some point you realize that they’re not really lived in. The words “guest house” and “studio” and “sleeping quarters” or “cottage” start appearing.

When they do, you realize there is either a a giant 4,000sq ft monstrosity to support it just outside the frame. Or, they often have bedrooms so small they don’t have closets because they’re vacation homes where their owners store all their clothing. If you do manage to find a “full” house, in 2016 apparently “small” means less than 2,000 sq ft. TWO THOUSAND SQUARE FEET. I grew up in about 1,600 sq. ft. with a family of 4 and we had a whole giant formal living room and a big entry way we never used (and the dining room was barely touched). 

I’ve lived in 930 sq. ft. with another person and a dog and I know that we had so much wasted space. I don’t want to go too much smaller and I’m willing to consider plans up to that size but I really really don’t want to go bigger.

On The Page: The Art Of Fermentation

I have a slew of books to plow through that I already owned but after reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked, I found myself really interested in fermentation. Maybe it’s me being a science geek but I just wanted to learn more! I started baking sourdough bread but I still wanted to know more so I could experiment. Finally, I caved and bought Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.

The Art of Fermentation isn’t a cookbook. Although it contains a ton of general guides to trying different types of ferments, it does not contain classic “recipes.” Instead, Katz organizes ferments into general categories and examines how they developed throughout the world. He is clear that there is no one specific way to make any ferment and encourages the home fermenter to experiment and find a taste profile that works for them. While The Art of Fermentation discusses purchased cultures, Katz is clearly a fan of wild fermentation (he also wrote a book called Wild Fermentation).

It might seem like a boring read but I read this cover to cover. The book begins with an exploration of why we might care about fermentation; this “why” of fermenting sets the tone for the entire book. Chapter 1 is entitled “Fermentation as a Coevolutionary Force” and discusses how our digestive tracts evolved along with bacterial communities inside us and in our foods. Chapter 2 discusses the benefits of fermentation to us. Historically, the primary benefit of fermentation was the preservation of food. In our modern world, refrigeration has largely removed this imperative however those interested in more self-reliant living paradigms (modern homesteaders, preppers, etc.) may be interested in fermentation for this reason. Fermentation also is believed to have health benefits. Although the science is still developming, Katz cites peer reviewed studies that point towards boosted immune response, increased nutrient bioavailability, detoxification, and maintenance of flora in the gut. Plus, as Katz points out, the results are pretty darn delicious. It is clear that Katz is a fermentation evangelist and is interested in the entire range of fermentation procedures practiced around the world.

In nearly each and every chapter I found something that I wanted to try making (or at least find someone who had made the live culture ferment to try). I read about wines, meads, cheeses, prosciutto, I read about grain fermentations we would never normally learn about in America, I read about the history of beer like beverages in Africa, and about sauerkraut. It was incredibly hard to not feel like I could make all of the things. (I mean, I can, but I have a full time job and I only need to be growing so many things in my food on top of having worms in my laundry room.) Katz makes fermentation sound so achievable for the average person that The Art of Fermentation is powerfully inspiring. He is also realistic about the number of fermentation projects any one person can handle and encourages home fermenters to barter for ferments made by others.

I am really impressed with The Art of Fermentation (and kind of bummed that I couldn’t make it to Denver last weekend to hear Katz speak at the Cultured Colorado Festival). I am excited to be sharing some of my experimentation inspired by the book over the next few months here on 3Up Adventures (and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more real time updates). I really recommend this book to anyone but if you’re interested in the intersection between food and science this is for you. Or, if you’re interested in re-learning some fading food traditions that make us more self-sufficient, this book is for you. Or, if you’re looking for ways to make a wider variety of healthful foods, this book is for you.

DIY Vermiculture: Composting With Worms

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling a little bit frustrated about living in a rental house and not being able to have house projects to work on. (I have no idea why this is the case since I have three furniture projects in various stages of completion, a quilt in process, a blog, a hiking project, and I’d really like to read more but alas, this was how I felt.) One of the things that I’ve wanted to try for quite some time is starting to compost. I reached out to the Twitter-verse, and Modern Steader came to the rescue:

And then, the see (er, worm?) was planted.

I read lots of DIY vermiculture posts and ultimately decided to use a post from the Washington State University Extension Center in Whatcom County. (They have a whole website about composting!) This set of instructions were clear, detailed, and, as advertised, was cheap and easy to build.

I had a sort of terrible time finding the classic Rubbermaid totes that I wanted to use. Target didn’t have them. Walmart didn’t have them. I finally found them at Home Depot where they ran me about $7 each.

Once at home, I drilled a series of 1/16″ holes around the top of each bin and in one of the lids, as directed in the WSU DIY build instructions.

Next, I drilled 1/4″ holes in the bottoms of both bins:

After that, I stacked the bins on a few sour cream and cottage cheese containers and waited for my worms to arrive. I ordered my worms from Colorado VermiCulture. I am still thoroughly confused as to where these guys are based because they call themselves Colorado VermiCulture and have a 970 area code number on their website but the return address was somewhere in Pennsylvania). I thought I was buying local-ish (even if they were being shipped) but I guess not..

When the worms arrived, I excitedly made their wet newspaper bedding (that’s a lot of newspaper!) puta handful of dirt on top and sort of anxiously unpackaged my “wormies.” (Yes, I am 30 years old and referred to the Red Wigglers as “wormies.”)

I unpacked the box to learn that the worms were from “Uncle Jim’s” worm farm and happily noted that they were, in fact, still moving around. I still don’t know if I was supposed to put their peat moss into the compost bin with them but I decided that it was unlikely to matter so in they went with the peat moss.

Sprocket was thoroughly confused about the presence of worms in the house.

I fed the worms some peach peels, coffee grinds, and sweet potato skins I’d been saving for them by burying it in the newspaper then covered the newspaper with wet cardboard and nestled the other bin on top. I then moved the whole thing to the laundry room sans laundry facilities.

I was a little bit freaked out about the possibility of waking up in the morning to worms desperately attempting to escape from their plastic jail. I did a bit of Googling and turned up some helpful people suggesting that worms like it where it is dark so leaving the light on outside of the bin for a few days might help the worms adjust.

When I opened the bin the next day (I couldn’t resist!) there were several worms kind of crawling up the sides of the bin, a couple on top of the cardboard, and most were existing in two masses under the cardboard. A huge part of me was convinced they were all going to die.

Today, I fed the worms some more stuff and got excited to peek into their home. They’ve dispersed into their bedding and I’m really hoping they’re enjoying their artichoke leaves and tea bags. I’m finally feeling like they’re not going to die at any moment and I bravely have turned off the light in the laundry room the last couple of days—and no one has escaped.

It’ll be quite some time before I actually have any worm casings to use in a garden but in the meantime, I really like the awesome earthy smell when I pull off the top bin to feed my little “wormies.”

Gear Review: SKINourishment SPA Deodorant (+ a giveaway!)

My mom’s family decided a couple of years ago (in my absence) to do a White Elephant gift exchange for Christmas instead of drawing names. I actually despise this decision and participated in the White Elephant exchange this year under protest. I really enjoy picking out presents for people and White Elephants take all the fun out of it for me. I made the best of it and put together the best package of awesomeness from SKINourishment ever.

Seriously. I almost took back my own gift. Which is why I’m super pumped to be giving away an awesome package of goodies from SKINourishment as the first ever giveaway on 3Up. (Keep reading or click here to jump right to the giveaway)

Fortunately, I went ahead and purchased a climbOn lip tube and some SKINourishment SPA deodorant for myself when I made the order. I had everything shipped to my mom’s to wrap (for the gift stuff) or take home (for my stuff) when I got there.

It took about a day for my lip balm and deodorant to be swapped out for their SKINourishment counterparts. I’ve written about my love for climbOn lotion bars before and I was super excited to find more things made from natural ingredients that actually work. They’re not joking around about natural ingredients either: they use no phthalates, no petroleum byproducts, and everything is food grade. (Seriously, how awesome is it that when you find yourself with a lotion bar but no lip balm, you can just use the lotion bar?!) I have some skin sensitivity issues so I’ve been trying to make the switch to as many green products as possible. I hate seeing the looongggg list of chemicals on some of my personal care and cleaning products!

That being said, I’m not willing to change to a deodorant that just doesn’t work, you know? I’m really pleased with the performance of the deodorant so far. SKINourishment’s deodorant is not an antiperspirant, which is totally okay with me since I’ve found that most deodorant/anti-perspirant combinations don’t really stop the sweating anyway. I bought the low-scent version of the deodorant which actually has a really pleasing smell. (It can’t be “no-scent” as is pointed out on the website because that requires chemical maskers since natural ingredients have a scent.)

I’ve been wearing it for daily use for a week now and it’s been great. New Year’s Eve was the big test though: could I dance my face off for hours and not smell horrible? The answer was a resounding YES.

SKINourishment Giveaway

One of my goals for 2015 is to continue to replace chemical laden cleaning and personal care products with truly green products (I’m not content with things labeled “natural” or “green” that still have lists of synthetic chemicals a mile long.)

I’m super excited to be giving away an awesome package of SKINourishment goodies to a lucky reader to start their new year off with a new kit of awesome natural skin care products!

The package contains two mini-lotion bars (one original scent and one men’s scent…I use and adore both and couldn’t pick just one), a lip tube, a deodorant, and an awesome face wash.

Enter below! Leave me a comment about what your 2015 goals are and share via Twitter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Gear Review: J.R. Ligget Old Fashioned Shampoo

Last summer I read Green Housekeeping and started to re-evaluate the sheer amount of chemical cleaners and personal care products that I was using. One of the first things I decided to experiment with was shampoo. I dabbled with Dr. Bronner’s but didn’t really like how it left my hair feeling dry and tangled but yet somehow still not clean. (It was better when I used Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Hair Conditioning Rinse but the whole point was to eliminate products not just replace my shampoo and conditioner…) I still really like the Dr. Bronner’s (especially the Citrus Orange) soap as body wash: just a dab on a washcloth does my whole body! Still, I figured there had to be a better green shampoo alternative out there.

I used it off and on until January when I was packing for the #omnigames trip in Park City. On the way up, I was traveling with a carry-on only and hate having to pull out my little bag of liquids going through security. As I was packing, I remembered a little bar of shampoo I’d picked up at OR Show last summer and tossed it in to my bag.

Luxuriating in the nice hot shower at the Hyatt Escala Lodge in Park City, I used my J.R. Liggett shampoo bar for the first time. I was pleased to find that it formed a nice lather. As my hair dried, I was even more pleased to find that my hair was soft and looked pretty darn good without using any conditioner.

Before I got too excited about it, I figured it needed a little more testing than three days with a mini-bar in a hotel where I was showering everyday so I contacted J.R. Liggett and explained to them that I was interested in further testing their product. They sent me three different formulas plus a bar of their Fergie Dog Shampoo for Sprocket!

All of the formulas, including the dog shampoo, are free of petroleum based detergents and instead are made with natural oils and sodium hydroxide (the saponification agent for turning the oils into soap). Some of the bars, like the Tea Tree & Hemp Oil, have other oils added for additional benefits. All scents are achieved with essential oils and not artificial fragrances. Since they only use natural oils, the shampoo is 100% biodegradable which makes it ideal for use in our outdoor shower (be sure to check out tomorrow’s post for more info!).

So far, I’ve tried the Original (the mini-bar I used in Park City), Herbal Formula, and am currently using the Tea Tree & Hemp Oil formula. I still have a bar of Virgin Coconut & Argan Oil to try out but I’ve loved the first three so much I couldn’t wait to share with you. I think my favorite so far was the Herbal Formula: I really like the cedarwood scent! (Although it doesn’t really leave your hair smelling anything but “clean.”) I don’t fuss too much over having everything in my life be natural but since I use it so often, a natural shampoo seemed like a good place to start.

Sprocket and I have also tested the dog shampoo several times. I love the solid bar for washing the dog, liquid shampoo is sometimes hard to distribute all over; I always feel like I get a lot in some places and none in others. It is just a no-fragrance version of the human shampoo bars and leaves him shiny but doesn’t exacerbate his dandruff. Plus, I like that the shampoo rises out so easily!

Shampoo bars were provided by JR Liggett to 3Up Adventures for review. All opinions Beth’s.

Gear Review: climbOn! Lotion Bar

Although I’m not a climber (yet!), I bought a climbOn! bar last fall when I had dry hands that just wouldn’t heal. I’d tried all sorts of lotions but they just weren’t getting better. Finally, I broke down and ordered climbOn! because I had a sneaking suspension that chemicals and additives weren’t helping my situation. ClimbOn!’s philosophy is “if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin” which totally works for me.

The climbOn! bar comes in a small metal tin. The bar comes out, you roll it around on your hands a bit working the beeswax and oils on to your skin and then you put the bar away and work the oils into your hands some more. I was afraid that it would feel a little waxy on my hands but I found that it is absorbed pretty quickly and didn’t bother me at all. After months of battling dry, cracked hands, within just a week or so, my hands were back to being nice and smooth!

At about $10 a bar, climbOn! might seem a bit expensive but I’ve found that it lasts a long time and is totally worth the price. I’ve also heard amazing things about their lip tubes and sunscreen. ClimbOn! is available at many outdoor retails and climbing gyms. You can also order directly from SKINourishment.

Hippie Cleaning

Awhile ago, I posted about Green Housekeeping and how excited I was about implementing some of the ideas. Since we were living in a garage, the whole thing sort of got put aside. Yesterday, however, I finally rolled up my sleeves and started cleaning our new apartment. First thing first, was a trip to the store for some supplies:

The first exciting thing about my trip to the store is that I was able to walk there. (Although a construction worker on the way back thought it would be helpful to suggest a car as transportation.)

The second exciting thing was that my purchase of supplies came to less than $20. Bam.

My first task was to start cleaning our coffee maker. We purchased it used at 2nd Chance and figured a good cleaning would be the way to start. As suggested in Green Housekeeping, I added a pint of vinegar and topped off with water. I actually repeated this twice and then brewed three pots of just hot water. The pot of coffee I’m drinking right now tastes perfect.

My second task was cleaning the oven. I have no idea how long it has been since the oven was cleaned but I put a dish of ammonia in the oven overnight and most everything lifted out pretty easily with a minimum of scrubbing.

Even better: my hands didn’t start peeling from using cleaning chemicals! Oddly excited to keep trying out hints from the book!

On The Page: Green Housekeeping

I hate a dirty house.

I also hate cleaning. There’s so many other things I’d rather be doing than washing windows, scrubbing sinks, and mopping floors. (My skin also hates traditional cleaning products: if I use standard cleaning chemicals my skin starts peeling, it’s gross and painful.)

Walking through the Ridgway Library, I picked up a copy of Ellen Sandbeck’s Organic Housekeeping (released in paperback as Green Housekeeping). While reading about keeping my house clean isn’t my usual deal, the nesting instinct is kicking in a little bit now that we’re “settled” in one spot.

Sandbeck’s tips for cleaning your house start where all books about cleaning should start: organization. Forrest and I did a whole lot of paring down our stuff before we left Idaho so we have a good jump on not having too much stuff laying around. We’re working on eliminating the “horizontal file system” from our house (unfortunately we got rid of our file cabinet!)

Most excitingly for me, she covers how to clean your house without chemicals. Her cleaning tips rely pretty much exclusively on white vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap, Murphy’s oil soap, and hydrogen peroxide. I’m still working to use up my bottle of Seventh Generation disinfecting multi-surface cleaner (which doesn’t appear to irritate my skin) but then I’ll switch over to trying Sandbeck’s cleaning methods. The chapter on clothes washing was also really interesting: she discusses natural detergents, best wash cycles, line drying, natural stain removal, and snow washing.

I’m also interested to try to eliminate paper towels as one of my cleaning tools. A transition to rags may have to wait until we have a working washing machine at home but I’m intrigued!

In short, rather than feeling like I’m a miserable excuse for a housekeeper, this book left me really motivated to try new things. I’m looking forward to slowly incorporating her ideas into my routines. (Actually, I’m not just looking forward to it, I’m embarrassingly excited.) If you’re interested in cleaning more efficiently or cleaning more greenly (or both), this book is worth reading. It’s definitely one I’m going to be keeping around for reference.