Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from Fy Nyth!

Merry Christmas from my cozy little house. It's certainly a white Christmas here! I hope you are all having equally cozy and beautiful days. Here's what has been happening around here over the last few days.

Right now, the sides of my paths have walls that come nearly to my shoulders! Here's a short clip that will give you an idea of how thickly it was coming down. More than an inch an hour for a while!

I never have really celebrated Christmas and never had a tree, but I do enjoy flower arranging. So I made quite a few winter pine arrangements for myself and some friends. And since I've never liked most bright colors, winter colors to me are always whites, greens, blues, and silver. Not red and green.

Over the last week, the snow has just piled up deeper and deeper around here. 

But inside is still warm and cozy! Many people who see the snow photos wonder about the inside temp. Well it's between 65 and 70 F depending where I set the thermostat. I leave it turned down a bit  when I'm gone and turn it up when I'm home for a while. 

I also made several pine swags for the sides of my door, and the entrance to my lane.

If it keeps snowing like this all winter, I won't be able to see out the windows before long! Though the forecast for almost the next month now is calling for very little snow and lots of cold clear weather. Down into the -20's F. If that is what happens, I will be very happy to have all this snow around to insulate everything.

I really do love this cozy little spot and living here.

Manipi seems to be recovering quite well from his near death by starvation. He's getting heavy and seems to be quite happy to stay here. Every time I get home he comes running for some petting and attention and often watches the world from his spot curled up on the porch.

I also made swags and arrangements for several friends. It is fun for me to get the chance to do some arranging like this again. It's a relaxing hobby. I forgot to take photos of several of them before giving them away, but here are a few examples.

The swags stay fresh for a long time outside as long as the weather doesn't get warm. And the basket arrangements will stay fresh for weeks as long as you keep the floral foam in the base wet.

Now I am planning to enjoy a quiet day of cooking, writing, and reading here and hope you all have a lovely Christmas with whatever you are doing as well!

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Tiny House Loan

Lets talk about loans. This is how I bought Fy Nyth. I've had several requests for details on how that whole process worked for me, and while I've mentioned some of it several times, I realized I never did a post just dedicated to that topic. So this is that post.

When I decided I was going to buy a tiny house in the summer of 2014, I had only a few hundred dollars in savings. Not enough to buy a house, no matter how tiny. Well maybe a doghouse... I also had no credit. Not bad credit mind you, just none at all. I generally do not like debt. I prefer to not owe anyone anything. So I have always paid for everything in my life with cash and do not have a credit card. This translates into not having a credit score.

I was looking for a loan however. Sure, I could have kept renting for years and saved up for a house. And generally that is the route I would have gone. But I live in an area where rents have sky rocketed in the last few years and this is what was making me choose to go tiny to start with. Sure, I could have moved, but this place is home to me. It's where my friends, community, and jobs are. And I didn't want to leave if I could avoid it. Paying rent around $1100 for a bedroom, on my income, would not have left me much of anything to save. There is a 400 square foot house for sale in the area right now on a small lot listed at $1,100,000.00. Yup, that's the land value here. I was clearly never going to buy a "normal" home in this area.

I chose to buy a prebuilt tiny house for several reasons. Mostly that I needed a new place to live in about a month thanks to my long term rental being sold and the above mentioned current rental prices for anything else. And that while I am pretty sure I could learn how to build a house, that is not a set of skills I currently posses. So after thinking about it, I decided that paying some interest on a loan would actually come out ahead in the end compared to my other options. So I shopped the limited number of builders that existed at the time (there are quite a few more now), settled on Tumbleweed and now I was looking for a way to get an RV loan since they are certified as RV manufacturers.

First I gave my local bank of many years a try even though I knew most regular banks didn't do RV loans on tinys. They basically were not interested and said so. After have read up on the topic a bit, I decided to try our local credit union. We only have one credit union operating in this little town and they accepted me as a member thanks to one of my employers being part of their pool. And they gave me a loan for almost the whole total. And as a side note, the credit union now gets almost all my business rather than my old bank!

When I first talked to them about a loan, I warned the lady about my total lack of credit history and said my sister had agreed to cosign if needed. This was very generous on the part of my one younger sister with a high paying nursing job and her computer programer husband. First my loan officer said she'd check to see if I could qualify on my own, but it only took her a few seconds on the computer to come back to the cosigner idea! Generally I do not like the idea of a cosigner or tangling up other people in money affairs. And while money issues can come between even the closest of friends or family members, my sister is someone I really trust. And I was pretty confident that paying it back without it ever becoming a bother to them would be well within my capabilities. After all my loan payment was going to be just over half of what I had been paying in rent for years. So we went with that option. 

My loan officer was a terrific lady who really went to bat for me on an idea that was pretty unfamiliar to the whole company. I am so thankful for her. I don't think she or anyone working at the credit union had really even heard of tiny houses before, much less been asked for a loan for one. After doing a lot of her own reading and talking to Tumbleweed multiple times, she said she'd do it! Perfect. In the mean time while waiting to hear that news, I'd got my house plans all worked out with Tumbleweed and they were ready to go. 

I borrowed what to a never-go-in-debt-or-owe-anyone person seemed like a huge amount! $74,010. I also paid a down payment, the delivery charge, sales tax to the DMV (6% here, which ends up being a lot of money on that total!) as well as buying my solar setup all in cash. Total for everything came to right around $88,500. That was for a fully finished home customized home with all the appliances etc and a large kitchen built in. This is a lot of money, and I'm sure some of you live in areas where you can buy a small farm for that amount. But for the reasons discussed earlier, I still think it was a good choice for me in my situation. Remember that small house on a tiny lot for sale here for $1,100,000.00? 

Also, if you are going to ask how I paid for all that stuff in cash when I said at the start that I had only a few hundred in savings, this is the answer. I sold a ton of stuff I owned as I rapidly downsized all my stuff to fit in a tiny house. Some of those costs were spread over two months so I worked a ton during that time and saved every penny. When my rental lease ran out, I got back my deposit on that place which was substantial. All that gave me the cash for a down payment, the delivery charge, sales tax, and my solar setup.

What I ended up with was a 15 year RV loan at 4.75% interest. There are none of those mortgage type write-offs and benefits that you get when buying a "normal" house when you get an RV loan, so be aware of that if you are thinking about going this route. My payments came out to $576 a month. About half of what renting a bedroom in this area would cost, so that seemed very doable to me. If I took a full 15 years to pay this off, I'd spend about $29,600 in interest on top of my total purchase price. Much better than your average mortgage where by the time you pay it off you will have paid nearly double the amount the house was bought for. Think paying a total of $375,000 for a house that was sold for $200,000. So while much better than a traditional mortgage, that is still a ton of money to spend on interest! It is more than fair to pay interest on someone else's money since they are letting me use it and I didn't have it on my own. But I don't care to pay any more in interest than I absolutely have to. 

So I have been paying a lot of extra to the principle every month. If you do get a loan, make sure they will let you pay down the principle without extra charges to do so. Every extra penny you can throw at a loan right from the start will save you a LOT of interest over the whole life of the loan since you start by paying most of the interest and by the end most of your money is actually going to the principle anyway. My current payment rate for example will save me over $20,000 in interest verse. just paying the required amount every month over the full 15 years. That's huge! In the first year, I paid about a quarter of the whole total off. 

I've also worked a lot in the last year to make this happen. I picked up several new odds and ends of jobs to help raise my income. I spent almost no time backpacking, reading, or doing some of my other favorite leisure activities. I pretty much only buy gas, propane, groceries, and pay down my loan right now. I have a very cheap prepaid flip phone. I drive a 21 year old van with well over 200,000 miles on it and only carry liability insurance since it's nearly worthless anyway. I don't go out to eat or watch movies unless someone else wants to take me out, (I know, I'm a woman, this probably means no dinners or movies ever if you are a guy, but they are pretty rare even for me - I'm working all the time.). I don't pay for TV. I don't buy new clothes. I grow most of my own food. I barter food and work for other things I want like maintenance, plowing, and a gym membership. I  buy almost no alcohol/coffee/anything liquid that's not water to drink. At this rate I will be debt free again in less than three years though! 

And while to some of you, that above list of things may sound like a terrible amount of hardship, it's really not for me. In fact, much of it was the way I chose to live long before going tiny. Those choices are what allowed me to do low paying jobs that I loved and not be in debt. I like my flip phone, smart phones confuse me. I love my old van that has AWD and can go through massive amounts of snow, all while holding most of my outdoor gear and two full length beds. Generally I enjoy cooking my own dinner and reading a book much more than a dinner out and a movie though that's nice every now and then. I prefer not to watch TV,  because I feel like it's killing my brain cells ever time I do. Usually I'm more likely to find clothes I like at a thrift store than a new stuff store. I love gardening. 

Plus in about three years I expect to be debt free again, own my own tiny house, and virtually not be paying anything for my housing. That is huge! I do trade work for my house parking, but that does not cost me money. Imagine what you could do if your expenses did not include any debt, rent, or house payments! What portion of your take home income do those things use up for you? People are drawn to tiny houses for many reasons, but this is a pretty big one for many of us. Since I will own my own home, and it's on wheels, I am also free to decide I no longer want to live here after all and hitch up and go where ever else. Or sell it. Or whatever else. All these things are pretty sweet.

I actually now plan to "retire" in three years. Something I never thought about before going tiny. No I don't mean go sit on a beach or play golf or something. I don't enjoy those things anyway. I mean generally, not longer doing work I don't enjoy, work at times I don't like (5am? No way. I'm naturally a night owl even though I've done early mornings for years now.) or work for people I do not enjoy being around. In fact I plan to still work hard, just doing things I do like. Like gardening for myself and some others. Some general maintenance or cleaning for a few good people, both of which are kind of satisfying projects for me. Chopping firewood which I really enjoy. Maybe cooking for more people or selling produce. Maybe pursuing photography and even selling photos in some form. And so on. 

Nope. I won't ever get rich this way. But what does being rich get anyone other than the time and resources to do what they want? To do work I find fulfilling, to watch things grow, to prepare beautiful, tasty, and nutritious food, to read a good book, to watch a sunset or a baby coyote, to go backpack in the mountains for a week or more, to sit by a fire and talk to a good friend: these are the things I want. I guess I am a real case of "That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest." - Thoreau. None of this may sound good to you at all, but this is what I enjoy so why would I want to spend my life working at other things I don't enjoy? For what? If I have a house to live in, food, and clothing, and some leisure, I'm pretty sure I am in the wealthiest one percent of humans that have ever lived on this planet. If I can keep a modest income flowing from some of these pleasurable activities, have enough for myself and a little to share, what would I want with more? 

Please note that I am not saying no one else should want other things or that people who have more of those things than me are bad. I have a sister and bro-in-law who make way more than I ever will and they are so generous with others. Doing and buying things for them like homes and cars that I will likely never be able to do. I admire what they do, but I'm also content with what I do.

I am not trying to tell anyone how to go about their own tiny house, just sharing my experience with my loan in case it's helpful to someone else. I know this post has a lot of numbers in it. To the best of my ability I got them all correct. My thoughts on why I made the choices I have, I shared in case that helps one of you think about what you really want or value in life and how that can be achieved possibly in a more out-of-the-box way than you had previously thought, even if your dreams and future do not include a tiny house.

I have now lived here in Fy Nyth for over a year and love it. For the record, I would do exactly the same thing again if I had that choice to make.

P.S. If you are exploring this whole issue of needing a loan, you might also want to check out I have personally met Kai the man behind this, and he's a great guy, but I have no affiliation with his site. I have not worked with him on a loan since I already had mine, so I do not have personal experience with that. He does not personally give loans, but works with lenders to familiarize them with this market and connect people in need of a loan to businesses willing to to lend. I understand he now has several lenders who understand this whole tiny house thing and are willing to work with us. I think at least some of them work with houses that are not being built buy RV certified builders and with DYI ones. This is pretty cool and I would have probably pursued this option had it existed when I bought my house.

Moose In The Yard

When I woke this morning, I had visitors! This mama and her baby, were wondering around and nibbling on branches. I watched them for a while. They glanced at me and my kitty on the porch, and continued to meander around the clearing. 

Right now I'm typing in my loft and looking at them bedded down at the back edge of my little clearing. Below is a shot of them from my loft window. I wonder how long they will hang out? I haven't seen a moose here since the last mama with twins, but I know there are usually some nearby.

The baby, while quite large was still more shy than his mama and stayed mostly in the trees.

Don't I live in the sweetest spot ever?

I'll just have to be sure I check where they are before I go out to shovel or hop in my van so we don't run into each other!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On-going Kitty Update

As you probably know, a few weeks ago Wynn was added to the family here at Fy Nyth. She truly is an adorable kitten! About 4 months old now and so full of energy one minute and then napping the next. She loves chasing a little blue squeaky mouse I got her around the house. 

Fitting her into the house is not a problem. I tucked both her bed and litter box into the bottom of my shower which is no problem since as you also probably know, I only use it for storage. When she is not playing or napping in her bed, she curls up on the couch, sits in the window sill, or naps in my lap for hours while I read. It does feel pretty amazing to have her soft cuddly little body curled up in my lap all relaxed and purring away. You probably also remember that I was a little concerned about being allergic to her. 

I never did let her up in my sleeping loft because of this concern. But by making sure she did not hang out where I sleep, and washing my hands immediately after petting or cuddling her, we seemed to be getting along ok. Sure, any time I'd forget and touch my face, my eyes would water, itch, and swell up. And I seemed to get a few rash-y spots on my wrists and hands. But for the most part, we were getting along ok. And did I mention she is so adorable?

Then another week went by. Despite continuing the above precautions, I seem to be really allergic to cats. I was never really sure how allergic I was to cats themselves. Growing up, almost all cats I was ever around were barn cats, and they always had hay dust on them. I know that I always have been and still am pretty severely allergic to hay. So I wandered if the cats were really the problem? Well I believe they are. I think over time, despite sweeping up daily and that Wynn is pretty short haired and doesn't shed much, those allergens were either building up in my house or just in my own immune system. 

Now being in a small space with something that makes you itch, swell up, and have a hard time breathing, is a problem! We might have been able to stay in the same house if I had ten rooms and she could have stayed in a few of those and I could have mostly avoided those. But instead, this I how life was going. 

I'd come home and she'd want attention. So I'd pet and cuddle her for a bit. Then I'd have to wash my hands and arms well, not touch her or anything in the main house again (couch, chairs, window sills, or anything else Wynn touched or sat on), race up the stairs to the loft and close my gate the keeps her out, change out of all the clothes I was wearing while petting her and into clean clothes, and hang out up there. Then if I needed to pee, get a drink or anything else not in the loft, even in the middle of the night, I'd have to change back, go downstairs and repeat the whole process again when I came back up. If I needed to go to the bathroom, I'd have to sneak in and close the door quick before she joined me. Otherwise she'd be crawling in my lap while I was on the toilet and really making me itch. If she tried to follow me and I had to pick her up and move her out of the bathroom, I'd have to go back out too so I could wash up (the only time not having a sink in my bathroom has been any kind of a problem) and then repeat the shenanigans to try to get into the bathroom by myself again. And even this process was leaving my body feeling right on the edge of being overwhelmed all the time. Because she's a kitten, which I certainly do not blame her for, she'd always come running right to me and rub on my legs, jump in my lap, and sometimes scratch me accidentally. The tiniest scratch, caused by anything else, would be no problem, but I guess whatever causes me to be allergic to cats, causes problems with this too. Even the tiniest scratches would burn and itch for hours, then get all red and puffy and weepy for a week or so. 

So, despite how totally adorable Wynn is, and how excited I was about having a new pet in my house,  and how bad I feel that it didn't work out (yeah I cried about this), she now lives next door in my friend's huge shop with his kitty. I still get to see her daily, but can wash up and go back to my once again allergy free house. The day I moved her over, Fy Nyth got the most thorough cleaning of it's life! Every pillow, couch cushion, sheet, towel, blanket, etc got washed. (Thanks to a friend for letting me use his big washer and dryer!) All the surface areas got wiped off. Every nook and cranny was vacuumed. Now I could once again sit down in my house and take a deep breath which was lovely. As a side note, all that took a total of four hours, about half of which was just waiting on the washing machine and dryer. How fast can you deep clean every fabric and hard surface in your house?

So Wynn lives next door and I can breath again. End of kitty story right? Nope. 

BEFORE I got Wynn, I had another cat. Kinda. For about 4 hours. The above and below photos were from those four hours. I had been looking for a cat and was offered an older one that needed a home due to family issues in his previous home. Great! We met up and I brought him home. He seemed calm and pretty settled about the move. Four hours later, he ran away. Nothing could convince him to come back. Not even warm tuna. There was some snow on the ground so I spent some time the next three days trying to track him, kept food and water outside, and looked everywhere I could think of that he could hide in the area. After three days of no sightings, no tracks, no food being touched, etc. I gave up. No shelter in the area had him. It was never above freezing, even during the day, and I live in the woods. Coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, eagles, pine martins, wolverines, and then the bigger stuff like wolves and mountain lions all live here. The things around here and could eat a cat are too numerous to list! So I felt terrible, but obviously he was dead. I was really sad, but don't think there was anything else I could have done. I guess I got over this and a few weeks later adopted Wynn since I was still looking forward to having a new pet. Her story turned out as described above. Obviously, I can't be a cat owner so I settled back into just having pet worms. They and I get along really well at least.

Then, a few days after resettling Wynn into her new home and adjusting to my cat-less state again, I got a call from my neighbor who Wynn lives with now. He said he was sure he had seen my first cat. Now he's someone I trust, so I was sure he'd seen an orange cat, but there was no way this could be my cat. It had been almost a month since he'd run away! Again, I live in the woods and mountains of northern WY. At this time of year it's cold out. No temps clearing freezing. And all those predators around. He was an older cat (11 or 12?) to start with and the past owners had him de-clawed so he couldn't even defend himself or climb a tree. There was just no way it could be the same cat. My friend had tried to approach this cat, but it ran away from him.

The next morning however, there was fresh cat tracks around my house. Where there had been none for all these weeks. I always pay attention to the tracks to see what is coming by, and I was sure this was a cat. It even sat on the porch for a bit and seemed to come and go from generally where my friend had seen the orange cat. So we put out a live trap with cat food to see if we could catch this one and rescue it. The next morning the food was untouched and the trap empty. But there were more fresh tracks around the house. This time when I tried to follow them, I was soon totally befuddled. They wondered back and fourth around the house, but then never went anywhere. This was not possible unless this cat had wings! The snow that morning had a nice fresh coating and tracking was not hard so what happened to it? There were no marks of an owl or something picking it up. Suddenly the other possibility occurred to me. The base of my house had been totally sealed off with snow as a skirting. But the sunny side of the house had started to melt out a little despite the temps and now there were a few gaps in that skirting. If this cat didn't have wings, it must be under the house! 

I grabbed my flashlight and tried to peek under the house. My first "here kitty, kitty" was rewarded with a meow! It took less than a minute to coax him out. Was this the same cat I'd lost? I didn't know. It was orange. But it's coat was dull and rough not sleek and shiny like my first cat. And it was nearly dead. Just a bag of bones. I don't know how much it weighed, but picking it up, it felt like a feather. Upon closer inspection, he was a male though, and had been de-clawed. It had to be the same cat!

 He did not seem scared of me at all. I gave him food and water right away and he ate like a starving animal for a minute, but then couldn't hold anymore. I'm sure his poor stomach was quite shrunken. But he seems so happy to have someone petting him and was purring away in that skeletal little body of his. I almost wanted to make him stop because he sounded like he might just rattle his bones apart!

Here you can see what he looked like that day. Gaunt even to the eye, he felt much worse if you ran a hand down his back. You could not feel any flesh on those bones even though his hair somewhat hides that. The tips of his ears were frostbitten so he'll probably loose the tips eventually and be a kind of funny looking cat. 

I so wish he could talk! Were was he all that time? How far did he go? Did he eat anything at all? How did he find anything to drink with the temps we had? How did he avoid being eaten himself? And why did he come back? My best guess is that he realized he was about to die and came back just to see if there was help here. 

He's been on a steady diet of as much rich nutrient dense food as he can hold. Fish, eggs, cream, bacon, canned cat food, kitten formula dry food, etc. He always has about three options out to pick from. And lots of water. He drinks quite a lot. His stomach seemed to expand slowly. After a few days he was able to eat a larger amount at once and more during a day. After about a week, you could actually feel him developing a gut. His bones still stuck out, but now when you picked him up, he was getting heavy.

I have never tried to make him stay again. He has never tried to leave again. After having totally confirmed that I can't have a cat in the house, I wasn't sure at first what to do with him. But I decided if he could survive that long completely on his own, he was going to make a fine outside cat. He now has his house under my house where I keep just one hole through my snow skirting for him to get in and out and where it's a good bit warmer than the outside temps. He also has a kennel over by my tool shed which you can see below, but it's been updated since. It's totally sealed in and buried under snow now creating a mini igloo with a little tunnel leading into it. And he seems to like that cozy bed. He always has food and water on the porch and in his kennel. There's a log/tree pile nearby that he can climb even minus his claws if anything shows up to chase him, but this hasn't happened yet. He alternates between hanging out under the house, sitting on the porch, or curling up in his kennel. Usually whichever one the sun is hitting at the moment. Most of his time is spent relaxing and sun bathing. 

Every time I leave the house or come home, he gets up, stretches, and walks up to me to get some petting or scratched under his chin which seems to be his favorite. He sprawls out on his side and looks totally blissful when you do that. He only comes inside for brief visits and stays on hard surfaces like the floor or this chair. He loves me running a lint roller over him so I do that as soon as he comes in and sweep up anything I missed when he goes back out. And I still am careful about washing my hands well after touching him. This setup seems to work for my allergies. And for him. 

He's either decided this is home or at least it's way better than starving to death out there somewhere on his own. Every day he puts on a little more weight. Just today I noticed when running my hands down his back the bones do not seem to protrude nearly as much and there is a little flesh there. I am hopeful that he will make a full recovery, other than maybe loosing those tips of his ears. I kinda wanted to wait to post this to see that he was going to put through after my two consecutive kitty disappointments. But he seems to be doing well. Maybe by spring, Wynn will have grown up and become tough enough to join him and live back here too! I'd love that. But this is where my kitty saga stands right now. 

So now he needs a name. I've been mulling this over since he first showed back up, but now that he seem likely to live, I need to actually settle on something. I think I've been scared to name him since I was too afraid this setup wouldn't work out either. I'm thinking along the lines of a name that means miracle, amazing, tough, or something similar. Every time I look at him, I still can't believe he's alive! Anyway, I'm leaning toward "Manipi" which is Native American for "amazing," but I've love to hear everyone else's ideas too. Let me know what you've got!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Live Tiny Legally Documentary

I try to only post other's campaigns on here if it's something I care enough about to support myself. This is one of those. I have personally met all three of the people involved in this project. And it's a project I care about. My own living situation, like most others right now, is in a grey area. It would be rather nice to see more areas make tiny life totally legal.

"Did you know that tiny houses aren’t legal in most places? Most cities don’t know how to treat tiny houses or where to put them? No definitions exist and no guidelines for zoning or safety regulations either.We’re committed to changing this by enrolling the support & telling the stories of communities who have already figured out, or want to figure out how Tiny Houses can work for their residents."

 For more info on what they are trying to do, check out the link. Like I said, I supported them and if you have a spare $1, $3, or $5, you can help too! Plus, there are lots of cool gifts in exchange including being able to join me and a ton of other folks at the Jamboree next summer!