Helpin’ Keep Portland Weird

Welcome to Lucky Penny

welcoming the German film team to Portland

This past spring I had the opportunity to do a video interview with an awesome German film team from WDR who were here to explore what makes Portland, OR so, well, weird!

And, of course, why we like it that way! Today they shared the video that resulted from their explorations of Portland, including footage of the World Naked Bike Ride, zoobombing, and, of course, tiny houses.

I’m proud to be featured as one of the folks keepin’ it weird in Portland. If you want to check out my part but your attention span is short after the naked people disappear, you can scroll to the 10:05 minute mark. Enjoy!


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Home Is (Still) Where Your House Is

Raffi's New View

Raffi checks out the new view from The Lucky Penny’s kitchen window

One of the perks of living in a tiny house on wheels is the ability to have a change of scenery. But I’ve gotta say, I’ve felt a little topsy –turvy in my house the past couple days!

On Sunday morning The Lucky Penny went on A Tiny Move for a Tiny House. The layout has remained exactly the same, of course, but my house was rotated 180 degrees from how it was in my previous spot. So it’s strange that I now turn west to walk through My Arched Door and east to curl up on My Pull-Out Bed! It’s not that I’m getting lost in 100 square feet, but things do feel a little backwards!

I imagine that most people wouldn’t be as disoriented as I am in my own darn house, but I’ve always associated my relative directions and the cardinal directions. It all started when I was four years old and my babysitter attempted to teach me the difference between my left and right hands. We were heading west on a walk to the park and I immediately began confusing left and right with north and south. So I got very disoriented about right and left remaining relative to my body when we were turned around and headed east while walking home. Fortunately, I got it sorted out over the years, but most days it’s still easier for me to point west than it is for me to remember which side of my body is the lefthand side!

Oak Tree through Skylight

a new view of the oak tree through my skylight

I went through as similar period of disorientation the first time I moved a tiny house. After six months of living in Bayside Bungalow, we moved the tiny house a few blocks away and oriented it 180 degrees differently. Fortunately, I’m discovering now, as I did then, that Home is Where Your House Is.

And I love my house in its new spot! It’s also now oriented for how I originally designed the house. My bed is to the east, making it easy to wake with the sun. The porch is to the west so I can enjoy sunset skies. And the kitchen is to the south so I can enjoy sunshine on my face while making lunch or I’m doing my dishes. (Also, the sun now can’t shine on my food jars and degrade the contents. I was never particularly worried about this since I eat through my dry food fairly quickly, but it’s not ideal for the sun to be beaming right on it!)

This orientation and location have a few other advantages, too:

  • Serenity via Door Window

    now I can see Serenity from my front door!

    The Lucky Penny is now closer to Karin’s house Serenity so we can say hi from our porches.

  • I have a big beautiful oak tree overhead, which will block summer sun from blazing through my skylight.
  • I’ll get more winter sun through my south window than I did when I was tucked just north of The Big House.
  • I have a great view of the community from my southern window, so I can see people coming and going.
  • I am more nestled into the garden so I’ll be more observant of it.

Thank goodness home, is (still) where your house is!

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A Tiny Move for a Tiny House

moving tiny houses sometimes requires superhero strength!

moving tiny houses sometimes requires superhero strength!

Today during our Simply Home Community Work Party, we moved my tiny house, The Lucky Penny, from its original spot, tucked between The Rustic and The Big House to another location on the property.

I had already secured things inside before our work party began. This process involved:

  • bungee-cording my tansu drawers shut,
  • setting my dish rack and toaster oven safely out of harm’s way,
  • removing heavy items from the upper cupboards and tucking them into My Teeny, Tiny Tub with my towels packed around them,
  • popping my half-pint jars into the drawers of My Plug-and-Play Kitchen, and
  • nestling the copper canisters I found on my Tiny House Treasure Hunt into the space between the mattress and the wall

maneuvering my tiny house down the path

During the work party we started out by clearing the new space and setting aside the storage totes I keep under my house. Aline and Lindsey pruned the pear and plum trees on either side of my new spot and cleared away the brush. Then we flipped up My Flip-Up Front Porch and hooked the tongue of My Custom Vardo Trailer to the tiny house mover – a power dolly that has moved many a tiny house at this point.

I was going to captain the move, but I wasn’t big enough. Really and truly. I don’t have the weight to keep the power dolly on the ground! So Tony did the maneuvering for the tiny move for my tiny house. Isha, Jake, and I spotted the front and sides of the house while Tony pulled the house out from its spot and got it pointed down the path.

Stuck In a Rut

The Hiccup = stuck in a rut!

All was going pretty well until we hit The Hiccup. (In my experience, it’s not uncommon to encounter The Hiccup when you’re moving a tiny house on a piece of property!) In this case, The Hiccup was that one of the wheels got caught in a sinkhole where the soil was loose. The whole house pitched to one side, the wheel spinning in place. The jack on one corner was nearly touching the ground and the house was so tilted to the north that all my kitchen drawers were wide open. (Fortunately, the kitchen drawers all have stops so they couldn’t actually fall out!) We were literally stuck in a rut!

We took a brief break to fortify with burritos from the place around the corner. Just then, Karin returned from a work party at Good Life Medicine Center and pointed us to The Other bottle jack. It took us nearly an hour of minuscule tweaks to jack The Lucky Penny up high enough to wedge concrete chunks underneath and get traction. Fortunately, we worked well together as a team and we managed to get the house oriented properly in its new spot just as our first guests were arriving for our monthly Tiny House Community Tour. Karin helped me level the house enough that the drawers would stay shut so people could come inside to look at her. There will still be some details to sort out as I settle into my new spot, but so far I’m enjoying A New View from the Lucky Penny!

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Simply Home Community in Mother Earth News

Simply Home Community in Springtime (photo credit: Guillaume Ditulh

Simply Home Community in Springtime (photo credit: Guillaume Ditulh)

Tonight I brought the most recent issue of Mother Earth News to Simply Home’s Community Dinner so we could all marvel at how WE’RE IN IT! How exciting!

It was fun to do the interview with K.C. Compton last spring and even more fun to see our tiny cohousing community featured in this awesome publication. Tony was especially excited because his parents actually met via the classified ads in the back of Mother Earth News several decades ago, so the magazine has a special place in his family’s heart.

Check out the Mother Earth News article Joining Forces for More Sustainable Communities to learn more about our community and the six other awesome “Homestead Hamlets.”

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Westermorrow Tiny House Design-Build

Photo Sep 10, 3 03 28 PM

The first wall goes up! Photo Credit: Julia Mallon

On Friday we wrapped up the first ever Westermorrow class – a Yestermorrow Design-Build School course taught on the West Coast. The Tiny House Design-Build class, which has been offered just once a year in VT, has filled up so quickly recently (this past year’s class filled up in just 30 minutes!) that Yestermorrow decided to offer it again here in Portland.

What an amazing experience for all of us! Patti and Lizabeth road-tripped across the country to be here. Dee Williams came down from Olympia to co-instruct with us! And our students came from California, Utah, Virginia, New York, and Illinois. We even had a student join us from South Africa and another from Montreal, Canada! In fact, the only student who was actually from Portland was our client, Merek.

We set up in St. John’s, a neighborhood in North Portland, so that we were able to build at Green Anchors (where I built my own tiny house, The Lucky Penny). We had our studio space at The Colony. And half our class stayed at Caravan – The Tiny House Hotel where they were able to try on tiny living for two weeks while building and designing. Several of them said this was a great experience and two of the seven decided that maaaybe they don’t want to live in a tiny house after all. (They both ended up designing wee houses around 600 square feet – still small enough that they’d qualify as Accessory Dwellings here in Portland, OR and a fraction the size of the average home built in America today!)

We started out our studio time with field trips and presentations covering everything from plumbing and electrical systems to regulations and interior design strategies for small spaces. In the field we started out with safety and tool orientation and then built sawhorses to practice measuring twice and cutting once. By the second week our students were shifting between the build site and the studio to move the house as far along as possible while also creating awesome tiny house designs.

There were definitely some differences between teaching the class in VT and OR. It was strange to not be on a residential campus where sleeping, eating, designing, and drafting are all just yards from each other. But it was also fun being in a more urban setting. I missed being on the scrumptious Yestermorrow meal plan, but it was fun exploring St. John’s eateries (the food carts, Proper Eats, Signal Station Pizza, Super Burrito Express, Big Kahuna’s BBQ, the baowry, etc.) And the second week, once people were comfortable with the area, I switched back to Simply Home’s Community Dinners, which are one of my favorite things!

On the build site we constructed the shell of Merek and his partner Erin’s tiny house on wheels. Their little house has a ½ and ½ roof, meaning that part of the roof is shallower and part is steeper. This allows them to have plenty of headroom in the loft and a more interesting roofline. We nailed the framing together (apparently the Doug Fir we have over here is much harder than the spruce used on the East Coast – we bent a lot of nails as we practiced!) Over here on the West Coast it seems most tiny houses are glued and screwed together instead, so we weren’t aware of this difference! We got the walls framed, sheathed, and raised and the ridge beam, roof rafters, and the first course of plywood on the steeper pitched roof before we had to turn our attention to Presentation Day.

I LOVE Presentation Day! It’s always so inspirational to see what our students create with two weeks of tiny house design and build experience (and for 7 of our students this time the experience of living in tiny houses, too!) We had awesome designs this time around, including several tiny houses on wheels (with a huge variety of layouts and roof shapes and multi-purpose furniture) and a handful of clever ground-bound houses (including an off-grid cabin with creative sleeping for the whole extended family and a small home with space for motorcycles in the living room!)

It was an honor to co-teach with some of my tiny house heros: Dee Williams, Lizabeth Moniz, and Patti Garbeck. I’m appreciative of all the folks who helped make this happen, from Mark, Dan, Luke, and Katie at Yestermorrow, to Matt, Mark, and Kevin at Green Anchors and Rita and Dana at The Colony. I’m thankful that Merek and Erin entrusted us with the beginning of their little home. And I’m especially full of gratitude for our incredible group of 14 students for inspiring me all over again! I can’t wait to follow along on their tiny house journeys! Stay tuned!

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How to Travel with Just a Carry-On

Travel with Just a Carry-On

the components of my dense packing method: mesh pouches, scrunchable bags, a clear zippered toiletry bag, etc.

I’m better at packing densely than I am at packing lightly. So as I wrap up 5 Weeks in a Carry-On with My Travel Capsule Wardrobe, I’d figured it would be nice to share my favorite tricks for packing densely and traveling savvy:

  • First things first, whether I’m traveling or not, I keep my phone, wallet, and keys all together (see Don’t Leave Home Without It & I Still Don’t Leave Home Without It) for more on that. When I’m just out and about on a summer day I slip my finger through the key loop and my pod becomes a little clutch wallet. When I’m wearing a coat my pod is usually in my pocket.
  • If I’m just headed somewhere for a week or less, my 25 L daypack is usually sufficient. I use my mesh bags (see below) with My Travel Capsule Wardrobe.
  • When I’m flying I bring one of my Gregory backpacks as my carry on. I’ve tried using a roller bag as my carry-on, but I’ve found that a backpack is much more comfortable since the conditions for rolling are often not present. It’s more frustrating to lug around an awkward suitcase than to shoulder a pack. (And Gregory packs are super comfortable, very well built, and cleverly designed. They’re one of the few brands I rely on so all three of my backpacks are Gregories!)
  • If I need to bring a sleeping bag, as I did for 5 Weeks in a Carry-On, the 50-liter Jade pack is the best fit. If I don’t need to bring a sleeping bag, the 35 L Jade will do the trick even for a multi-week trip. And if I’m just headed somewhere for a week or less, my 25 L daypack is usually sufficient. I’ve found that if I pack densely, cinch down the straps, and orient it properly, the 50 L pack fits in the tiny overhead compartments of all but the tiniest puddle-jumpers! I’ve even tucked my 35 L pack under the seat in front of me in a pinch.
  • As my personal item, I bring a scrunchable Sea to Summit bag into which I put everything I need to get through airport security quickly: my Eagle Creek shoulder bag, my 1-quart clear zippered Sea to Summit toiletry pouch, my laptop computer, my snacks, my Eagle Creek travel pillow, and my water bottle. Once I arrive at a new destination I put my laptop and toiletries into my backpack. Then I scrunch the bag back up and slip it into my shoulder bag and I’m good to go!
  • I wear my jacket onto the airplane for three reasons. First, the jacket is often one of my bulkier items but it doesn’t count if it’s on my body. Second, I often get chilled on a plane without an extra layer. Third, a jacket can be bunched up to give me more back support or to create a pillow if necessary.
  • I wear my boots on travel days when I’m on an adventure that requires them so that I don’t have to pack them. Yes, this makes the trip through security more cumbersome than if I have quick on-and-off shoes, but it’s still worth wearing my boots for the weight and the space. Any other shoes I pack are stuffed with undergarments before they’re put into my bag so that the space inside them isn’t wasted.
  • If I’m bringing my 15-degree REI Downtime sleeping bag, I use a Sea to Summit cordura compression sack to make it a wee little lump in the bottom of my pack.
  • I can’t stand the slippery inside of sleeping bags, so I use a ½ cotton and ½ silk travel sheet from Cocoon, which makes my sleeping bag tolerable.
  • I tuck a face mask and a pair of silicone ear plugs into the cover of my Eagle Creek blow up pillow so they’re handy if the person next to me is reading or if there’s a screaming baby nearby.
  • I roll my clothes and sort them into two mesh zippered pouches. (These came with my rock climbing harness and shoes years ago and I repurposed them to sort my clothes while traveling!) Depending on the trip, I may sort my mesh zippered pouches by tops and bottoms or by work clothes and play clothes or by outerwear and undergarments. I bring as few clothing items as possible, sticking to My Travel Capsule Wardrobe, and planning to wash as needed.
  • As I approach the security line I make sure I have everything I need ready and waiting.  I grab three bins: one for my laptop, one for my toiletry bag and jacket, and one for my scrunchable bag. My shoes go on the conveyor belt first so they’re the first thing to grab at the other end. Then I run my scrunchable bag bin through. I put my laptop in the middle bin so I can keep an eye on it. The toiletry kit and jacket bin goes through next and then my carry-on bag. Once I get through the screening process I put myself back together again: slip shoes on, tuck laptop and toiletry pouch into scrunchable bag, jacket on, pack on, and I’m good to go!

Give these tips a try and let me know how they work for you! And, of course, please share your favorite traveling strategies with me in the comments!

Disclaimer: I included brand names because I often want to know which brands other travelers rely on. I am not sponsored by any of these companies. I just love their stuff!

Disclaimer #2: I know, I know. I’m smaller than lots of people. I recognize that if you’re bigger than me you (and your stuff) may take up more space. Let’s just say it’s karma for all the teasing I had to endure growing up. When I started traveling I quit crying about being little!

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5 Weeks in A Carry On

Carry On

My carry-on luggage all packed up this morning for my travels

I’ll confess: I’m really excited to wear something new tomorrow! I’m writing this post on my flight home to the Pacific Northwest after five weeks of traveling with just my carry-on luggage. So I’ve worn the same outfits repeatedly and although My Travel Capsule Wardrobe has served me well, it’s going to be great to switch it up!

Over the years, doing domestic and international trips ranging from 2 days to 3 weeks, I’ve learned the difference between Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely. I’ve discovered that I don’t typically need to pack differently for 2 weeks than I do for one. I just need to make a point to do laundry.

As I explained in Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely, I haven’t checked luggage since 2003 when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. Once I learned how much more fun it is to travel with less, I started honing my packing lists.

Check out My Travel Capsule Wardrobe to see what I brought on this 5-week trip.

This may be my most Spartan packing list yet, considering all I needed to do on this trip. My five-week trip included a week taking a Cabinets & Built-Ins Class at Yestermorrow, 2-weeks teaching a Tiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow, a weekend with friends in Vermont, two days in hot and humid Atlanta, a long weekend at Tiny House Jamboree 2015, and three days attending a conference in Denver, CO. During this time I camped in a tent for three weeks, stayed in two hotels and one Airbnb, and crashed at a friend’s place for five nights (thanks, Sherry!) I worked on a construction site, instructed in a design studio, and presented on a stage. I went out to nice dinners, hung out in front of the fan sipping sweet iced tea, and hiked in beautiful places. I explored by foot, transit, and car. I traveled through warm dry places and hot humid places. I experienced almost daily afternoon thunderstorms and several cool rainy nights.

So I had to pack a variety of different things for a variety of different situations. And I still managed to fit it all in a carry on.

Check out How to Travel with Just a Carry-On and My Travel Capsule Wardrobe to learn how I did it!

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Tiny House Design-Build Class Hits the News

In late July I co-taught the Tiny House Design-Build Class at Yestermorrow in Vermont with Lizabeth Moniz and Patti Garbeck. Over the course of 2 weeks our 14 students developed designs of their own and worked together to build the shell of a small shed house on skids. During one of our morning in the second week Alexei Rubenstein of Channel 3 News stopped by to see what we were up to. And our class made the news last week. Check out the Tiny House Class video clip from Channel 3 to see what Alexei saw when he visited!

WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

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Tiny House Jamboree 2015

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Lee & Lina spoke about creating Tiny House Community

What an incredible weekend! In April, when Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios first invited me to speak with her about tiny house communities at the Tiny House Jamboree, there were 3,500 people signed up to attend. By the time she and I connected in the Denver airport and drove to Colorado Springs, there were 11,000 people pre-registered. So we figured a third of those folks would show up and that would be the largest number of tiny house enthusiasts ever in one place at one time. Little did we know. (No pun intended!) Turns out those of us who find tiny houses irresistible are in good company! By the time the three-day event wrapped up more than 40,000 people had passed through the gates of the Western Museum of Mining & Industry (which hosted the Jamboree)!

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a great crowd of tiny house enthusiasts gathered at the Gypsy Wagon Stage!

And what a great crowd! There was incredible energy since everyone I talked to was curious, excited, and exploratory. The tiny house curious folks were just beginning to dabble in the tiny house scene. The tiny house enthusiasts came with sketch books, cameras, and tape measures so they could get serious about their design ideas. One woman even showed up, checkbook in hand, ready to take a leap of faith into the little life! I met people from nearly every state and a few other countries. (Oh hey, #famousfrieda!)

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I got to meet #famousfrieda who traveled all the way from Holland

On Saturday morning during our presentation, Lee and I shared 5 Models for Tiny House Communities and 5 Steps to Create a Tiny House Community. I also got to watch and listen as other presenters shared their expertise. Molly Orendorff shared clever tips for decluttering, Damon from Trailer Made explained tiny house foundation fundamentals, Kai Rostcheck of Tiny House Dating played matchmaker for a tiny house dating game, Zack Giffin of Tiny House Nation described the increasing interest in the little life, and so much more! I even got to watch as Andrew Odom performed a vow renewal ceremony for a couple’s ten year anniversary. (And the best part? Their three year old held my hand! Eep!)

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such fine folks! (Alex Lisefski, Lina Menard & BA Norrgard)

Part of the time I tabled with Patrick from Artisan Tiny House, who created my SIPs kit and kits for two sets of clients whose houses we put up this spring. Part of the time I tabled with some other great folks who designed and built their own homes and are now helping others do the same: Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios, Alek Lisefski of The Tiny Project, Vina Lustado of Sol Haus Design, and BA Norrgard of A Bed Over My Head. When I wasn’t tabling, speaking, listening to speakers, or exploring the tiny houses, I had great conversations with great people: Gabriel Craft of Small and Tiny Home Ideas, Gabriella Stupakoff Morrison and Andrew Morrison of hOMe and Tiny House Build, Byron and Dot Fears from Simblissity, James Taylor from The Company Store on Wheels and Orlando Lakefront at College Park (an RV park turned tiny house community) and hundreds of others!

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a day exploring Wee Casa with Robin

Yesterday I spent the day with Robin, a design client of mine here in Denver. In addition to identifying next steps for her house, she also took me to see Wee Casa and invited me to speak at the Denver Tiny House Enthusiasts Meet Up. That was oodles of fun, too!

It’s thrilling to see so many people exploring intentional living through tiny houses. I don’t think the timing could be better for Ramping Up Niche Consulting LLC. I’m honored to have been part of the first Tiny House Jamboree. We’re hoping that as soon as Darin Zaruba of EcoCabins (and his team – hey, Angela Alcorn, Coles Whalen, and Marcus Alvarado!) have a chance to get some sleep they’ll decide to host the second annual Tiny House Jamboree. I’ve already marked my calendar for the first weekend of August in 2016. See you there!


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Tiny House Design-Build Wrap Up

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Cynthia sharing her fire-tower inspired library

Yesterday we wrapped up our Summer 2015 Tiny House Design-Build class at Yestermorrow. After A Week of Tiny House Design-Build our students had their noggins full of considerations and their drafting tables full of bubble diagrams, inspiration boards, and sketches. The tiny house shell we constructed had its two long walls framed and sheathed and we were ready to put up the end walls.

This past week everything seemed to accelerate. In the field, we framed and sheathed the end walls, put up the rafters, sheathed the roof, installed the storage loft joists and decking, and installed the interior walls and the bed platform. (This tiny house is available for sale! If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Mark at Yestermorrrow.)

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Eileen demonstrating how to access storage from the stairs

In the design studio, students synthesized their design ideas into drawings and models. Three special guests, Mac Rood, Kathy Myer and Chris Cook, all architects, joined me for desk critiques in the evenings to serve as sounding boards for the volley of ideas and questions. It’s always remarkable to me to see how everyone’s designs evolve over two weeks as they wrangle their hopes and needs into spaces that could facilitate the lifestyles they desire. We even snuck in another field trip to the fabulous and well-thought-out home of Ethan Waldman of The Tiny House.

As I noted last time I taught Less Is More, Presentation Day is always a bit like Xmas morning for me. There’s so much anticipation and so much delight in seeing our students designs revealed! I’m especially a sucker for the elegant details everyone comes up with!

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Austin describing his tiny farm house

This time around we had a variety of tiny houses on wheels with clever ideas such as:

  • A closet tucked under a raised bed with drawers that interact with the stairs
  • A workbench for projects the length of an end wall
  • A mosaicked shower under a sleeping loft with a peek-a-boo view
  • Rotating quarter-moon disks to increase counter space in a kitchen
  • Rock climbing holds to access a loft
  • A swooping countertop with a corner sink
  • A fabulous customized desk
  • A movable wall that transforms a space into three different rooms
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Abbie explaining how her gypsy wagon solves a problem that frustrates her in her current home

We also had a set of ground-bound structures, including:

  • A speakeasy-inspired summerhouse
  • A long rectangular house that plays with windows to bring outside in
  • A fire-tower inspired octagonal book and puzzle library
  • A backyard yoga hut
  • A family farm house with a courtyard
  • A cozy addition to a fifth generation lake house

I look forward to seeing some of these designs become reality over the next couple years!

Next up for me: spending the weekend with some VT friends (and maybe lending a hand with a tiny SIPs house), a couple days in GA to discuss tiny house feasibility in Atlanta, and then a flight to CO so I can speak about tiny house community with Lee Pera of Boneyard Studios at the Tiny House Jamboree. There are nearly 10,000 people pre-registered! See you there!

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