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Happy 2014 to all you folks reading this! One of the things that has me excited about the year ahead is, of course, tiny houses and all related phenomena. So much good stuff going on in the midst of planning for my summer 2015 build — from helping organize the Greater Boston Tiny House Enthusiasts meetups  (you can find us on Facebook, too) to connecting with other tiny housers like the amazing Vera Struck. I’ve hit a $5,000 milestone in my tiny house savings, and my parents just bought a house with some land upon which I can locate my build site!

One of my favorite new things related to tiny houses is, a totally awesome new website started by Lina Menard and Kenny Bavoso. It’s a treasure trove of tiny house community — you can connect with other folks in the tiny house movement, peruse tiny house musings, and feast your eyes on some tiny house inspiration. I may be biased in my excitement, since I’m going to be a monthly blog post contributor, but it’s already shaping up to be an awesome virtual community and resource.

If you’re interested in what I have to say about tiny houses over at, check it out on the 14th day of each month! (And be sure to check it out on all the other days, too, for tidbits from folks much wiser in the ways of tiny houses than me!) My first post was a playful list of how to build a tiny house, and I just finished a post for January entitled “Can’t Have It All.”

What would you be interested in reading about over at (And here, for that matter, where I’d like to post more regularly in the coming year.)

I shall name her Rosie.

I shall name her Rosie.

Packing up for three days of tiny house learning (and sawing!) with Deek of

Over the past couple months, I’ve developed a new mantra. When I’m stressed out, when I get daydreamy, when I feel antsy, this is what comes to me:

Tiny house. Tiny house. Tiny house.

I think the first time I learned about tiny houses—the kind that are less than 200 square feet, that are built on wheels—was this video:

I was enamored with this tiny house. Over the years, I’ve quietly explored tiny houses online in admiration, but it’s only this year that I’ve started doing so with a more serious purpose: I’m going to build one myself.

Why tiny?

Well, for one thing: why not tiny?

There are so many reasons that a tiny house appeals to me. I’ve always been drawn to cozy spaces. As a kid, I loved reading in my closet with a flashlight and building tiny forts. More than that, I loved the feeling of home. I moved a lot as a kid (not to mention as an adult), so that feeling was sometimes elusive, many times interrupted. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine being tied to one place permanently. A tiny house is an elegant solution: I may move, but my home comes with me.

And my home will contain just exactly what I need. Part of the process of planning and building a tiny house is figuring out just what that is. I know I have too much—and unnecessary—stuff. And it’s weighing me down. I want to have a lighter footprint. I want to get down to the essentials. Make room for other things in my physical and mental and emotional life.

Like community. The tiny house community (so many amazing, enthusiastic people!) and the community I will build around my tiny house. This was a big topic of conversation that Dee Williams brought to the table at a workshop I attended (more on that below). I’m not going to have every single thing I need in my tiny house. Which is actually a beautiful thing. It means reaching out to other people, developing practical and meaningful two-way relationships. I also don’t want to live in the middle of nowhere all by myself. As I think about where to build and where to park my tiny house, I’m thinking about people and connection.

I used to dream of a big house with a big library—a big desk surrounded by shelves upon shelves of books, a ladder to reach them all. Now I dream of a tiny reading nook with a small bookshelf and many fruitful trips to the library—and a ladder to reach my bed.

“Growth can mean simpler lives and more livable communities. It takes work and doesn’t just come by itself. It takes labor and development of a different kind. Part of what functioning, free communities like the Occupy communities can be working for and spreading to others is just a different way of living, which is not based on maximizing consumer goods, but on maximizing values that are important to life. That’s growth, too, just growth in a different direction.”
—Noam Chomsky

But how?

I started with an amazing workshop in Portland, Oregon, with Portland Alternative Dwellings (PAD). They’re a tiny house company (check them out on Facebook, too)—owned and run by totally awesome women—that offers design and build workshops. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in tiny houses. Dee Williams, PAD founder and a leader of the tiny house movement, is one of my sheroes and a total inspiration. I learned so much at the PAD workshop, about building principles, tiny house ethos, zoning and code questions, and more. And it was really during that workshop—learning about all the details that go into building and living in a tiny house—that my thoughts went from “It would be so cool to live in a tiny house” to “It’s going to be so cool living in a tiny house.”

The hand-decorated tool belt my dear friend made for me that I shall use to build my tiny house!

Tool belt—hand-decorated by a dear friend—that I shall use to build my tiny house!

Next came:

  1. Started spreadsheets! I named my Google doc spreadsheet “Tiny House Scheming,” and it currently has nine worksheets, from “Heart-Swelling Inspiration” to “Budget”
  2. Began following all sorts of inspiring tiny house folks, like Lina Menard, who you can find over at, and Chris and Malissa Tack of the Tiny Tack House, over at They all presented at the PAD workshop I attended, and I can tell you that they (1) totally know their tiny house stuff, (2) are super friendly, and (3) are awesome people.
  3. Paid off my credit card debt, started a tiny house savings account (with no debit card to access it), and began direct depositing a bit from each paycheck into it.
  4. Registered and am currently taking a tiny house e-course with Tiny r[E]volution to explore even more of the details of building a tiny house, to keep the inspiration flowing, and connect with other folks who are into tiny houses.

It’s going to take me a few years to save up enough money to build my tiny house, but that really works out perfectly because it gives me ample time to design and plan.

In the meantime, here’s some of that heart-swelling inspiration I mentioned before:

Before I left my job as associate editor at Kripalu, I had the good fortune to take Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop. Below is a piece I wrote about the experience, just printed in the newest Kripalu catalog.

I love singing—in the shower, in the car, around my apartment—always by myself. I hate public speaking. My voice shakes, my hands tremble, my heart races. So, it logically follows that the idea of singing in front of people terrifies me, even in front of really close friends. And yet, somehow, the weekend after Thanksgiving last year, I found myself standing in front of a room of 27 strangers, staring at the floor, trying to find the strength somewhere inside of me to sing the first few lines of “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent.

I’d gotten to a point in my life where I was sick of letting my fear silence me. In all sorts of ways. So I signed up for Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop, something I had always wanted to do but never gotten up the nerve to.

The first night of the workshop, we all sat in a circle, sharing our goals, which ranged from singing karaoke to improving vocal technique to just getting started or getting back into singing again after a long break. We sang simple things together and did warm-ups and exercises to work on tone and projection. You could feel the nerves in the room calm a bit, and excitement and joy begin to bubble up.

Claude urged us to hold on to the reasons we were there. He told us that emotions would naturally come up during the weekend. “Don’t think, just sing,” he said, urging us to let our intention to sing be more powerful than anything else—more powerful than nerves, emotions, fear. Scared? Sing louder. Crying? Sing through the tears. Just keep singing, even if it’s “Row Your Boat” or “la la la.”

That’s how I found myself in front of the room, staring at the floor. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth … and nothing came out. Still looking at the floor, I took another deep breath and then sang my song quietly, hands gripping my pockets for dear life.

Claude has an uncanny ability to know just what to say, just what exercise will get you—and by you, I mean anyone—to loosen up and let it out. He knew my goal was to get past the fear that silences me, so he identified volume as the first thing to tackle. “Volume is the key today—to life, to everything,” he said, which felt so incredibly true for me.

We started with baby steps. Literally. He asked me to take a half-step toward the audience (“I don’t think you could get any further from us unless you opened that window behind you”), and then another half-step. Then I sang about what scares me, to a tune Claude provided. Half of what I sang didn’t even make sense, but I just kept on singing. When I sang that I was scared of looking silly, Claude suggested a new exercise: sing “Seasons of Love” again, only this time with the accent of a Russian from Paris who spent time in Bolivia. When I told him I’m not very good with accents, Claude said, “Perfect!” and sang with me in an accent for the first line or two. It was hilarious. And awesome.

At the end of my time in front of the group, I sang the first lines of “Seasons of Love” one more time—this time looking into the eyes of the people watching me, singing louder, smiling even. I wasn’t shaking; I felt amazing. And I sensed that I could bring this feeling back into my life—this conquering of fear, this getting past silence, this bolstering of self-confidence. Looking around the room, I saw supportive, smiling faces. No one was judging me. One woman said to me afterward, “It’s clear you have so much in there, and we could see it start to come out, and it was beautiful.”

Not only was my time in front of the group amazing, but witnessing everyone else was, too—seeing myself in others, watching people work through what came up for them, appreciating their strength and talent. Recognizing how far each of us came in our own particular ways, in such a short time, was awe-inspiring, and left me wondering what it is that silences all of us. We have things to say. We have things to sing.

Jessica L. Atcheson is a writer and editor whose work has been published in regional newspapers and online. Formerly Associate Editor at Kripalu, she now works as a writer/editor at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in Summer 2010 issue of the Kripalu catalog. Reprinted with permission.

Boston Massacre

We're not talking 1770 here.

One word: wow. Two more: totally awesome.

I was recently introduced to the wonder that is roller derby. New to the spectator stands, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect (since I’d been warned that it was nothing like Whip It), but let me tell you—it’s raucous, it’s exhilarating, it’s bad-ass. Thoroughly fun and riveting to watch.

I’ve never been a big sports fan—or a sports fan at all. But I am definitely now a fan of Boston Massacre, part of the Boston Derby Dames league. It’s a total experience. Clever derby names, loud music, and then the bouts themselves—so compelling to watch: the fast-paced intensity, the moves, the strategy, the blocking, the grace and toughness of the skaters. There are some really amazing players.

Bonus: dance party after the bouts in the red-carpeted Fez Room (yes, it’s really called the Fez Room; it’s the Shriner’s Auditorium).

Boston Massacre’s next bout: March 20. Try it; you’ll like it.

Atwood the Adorable


Jackson Covered Bridge

Welcome to Jackson!

This weekend, Giraffe took a trip to the North Country of New Hampshire as I reconnected with old friends and stomped around old haunts. Jackson has a special place in my heart. I lived there for a few years in elementary school (third through fifth-ish grades), and then I was back up in the vicinity when I was serving in the AmeriCorps Victim Assistance Program for a year after college.

Jackson Covered Bridge

The Jackson Covered Bridge is quite old. Giraffe is much younger.

There’s nothing like an old one-lane covered bridge into town to make it feel out of time, or quaint, or touristy, or all of the above. In any case, I find it endearing.

Giraffe at Jackson Falls

One of Giraffe's new favorite places.

One of my most favorite places is Jackson Falls. During AmeriCorps, I spent many afternoons there sitting in the sun, surrounded by the roar of the water, pondering all the things one ponders when you’re 22/23 and trying to figure out life and the world and people, and you’re working at a crisis center where you live in an apartment above the shelter (that is in an undisclosed location).

Jackson Falls

View down the Falls.

And one of my favorite events when I was little was the Wildquack River Festival, which involves herding hundreds of rubber duckies racing down Jackson Falls. I’m not even kidding. I had a bright orange volunteer shirt that I wore for years after I had the chance to be a duck-herder (broom in hand).

Giraffe at Falls

Giraffe takes a closer look at the Falls.

I didn’t want Giraffe to be like one of the rubber ducks and take a trip down the Falls, but Giraffe couldn’t resist getting a closer look.

Giraffe at Jackson Falls

Giraffe sunning next to the Falls.

Jackson Falls

View from the top of Jackson Falls

After some delightfully serene moments at the Falls, Giraffe and I headed back down into town.

Jackson Grammar School

Jackson Grammar School

We said hello to the Jackson Grammar School, where I started my first day with a side ponytail, had my first crush (on a pale boy named Simon), and was one of three Jessicas in a class of 10 (and that was several grades combined). It was originally a three-room schoolhouse, and if I remember correctly, while I was there, they added on an extra classroom (it’s even bigger now). My favorite classroom was up some stairs that are on the other side of the window to the right of the door.

Recess Yard Shadow

Recess Yard

We played four-square and tetherball and hopscotch and jump-rope during recess. And tunneled into the big pile of snow that the plow made in the winter.

Jackson Library

Jackson Public Library

And Mr. Poon or Mrs. Birkbeck would walk us across the street and over the bridge that crossed the Wildcat River to the teeny Jackson Public Library, where we could feast our hungry brains on the shelves of books that seemed quite adequate to us young’uns at the time (but they’re working on a big expansion right now!).

Jackson Town Hall

Jackson Town Hall

Our yearly musical productions were performed in the Jackson Town Hall, just across the street in the other direction from the school. That is where I twirled a yellow boa as I sang “Cabaret” in a production of SRO: Standing Room Only. Again, not even kidding. I guess I was too young to be paralyzed by nerves.

The Wentworth

The Wentworth

The Wentworth (across the street from the library) was one of the places that my parents worked, and we lived in one of their condos for awhile. Things of note that I remember about the Wentworth: they had hayrides in the fall, my mom built a gingerbread replica of it one holiday season, and it had a huge fire one year (I remember watching the flames shoot from the roof in the middle of the night).

So, Giraffe had quite a tour and a trip down my memory lane. Also, as a side trip, Giraffe went on safari in Conway, and came across an adorable creature named Jenna. Will the wonders of the North Country never cease?

Giraffe and Jenna

Hark! Is that a baby Jenna I see?

Girafa and Boots

Caption anyone?


“‘The brave little giraffe made it to the top of mount sneakers, cocking his head slightly so he could catch the lovely mountain breeze blow in between his ears and horns. ‘oh, my,’ he thought, gazing from the peak into the great unknown. ‘how beautiful.'” —Caption from the Letter K

A few weekends ago, I hiked Monument Mountain with my dear friend Liora. It was a beautiful day—perfect for summit sitting, wandering, talking, tree climbing, and goofiness.

Liora and Me

Liora and I

Eating apples (from the tree of knowledge?) at the summit.

Eating apples (from the tree of knowledge?) at the summit.

Looking off into... the distance? the future?

Looking off into... the distance? the future?

Tree-climber or PhD? Both!

Tree-climber or PhD? Both!


Homage to the Karate Kid.



Then, the other day I finally made my way over to East Mountain. There’s a delightfully tucked-away trail down the road, a steep climb, then a ladder up a big rock to a view of Great Barrington, the Berkshire Mountains, and the Catskills beyond. I was in a reflective, contemplating kind of mood, so the solo walk up, lunch hour (and mountain/sky/cloud-gazing) on the rock, and walk down without seeing other humans was perfect. Cell phone photos follow.

East Mountain View

View from East Mountain

Boots on the rock.

Boots on the rock.

Giraffe sighting!

Giraffe sighting!

A few weeks ago, I was handed the opportunity for a last-minute adventure. A friend who had planned a weekend getaway to see WaterFire in Providence decided that she couldn’t go and offered me her fancy hotel reservation for free. So, off went Angela and I to Rhode Island.
Free 4-Star Hotel Room

Free 4-Star Hotel Room

Our schmancy hotel was downtown, right across the street from the capitol building. How schmancy was it? There was valet parking. The front desk staffperson that checked me in had the title of “choreographer.” And the pillows on the comfy beds were huge.

A ring of fire next to the Providence capitol building.

A ring of fire next to the Providence capitol building.

The whole reason we were there, though, was WaterFire. A sculpture installation on three of Providence’s downtown rivers, WaterFire is made up of a series of 100 small bonfires that float like buoys on the meandering rivers. It’s magical—the intoxicating smell of burning wood, the sound of (dramatic) international music piped along the walkways, and most of all the sight of two mesmerizing elements (mesmerizing enough on their own, even more so in their fanciful dance).

Line of Fire

Line of Fire

I don’t know about you, but I could stare at a bonfire for hours and stare at moving water for hours, so the combination was enchanting. (It would have been more so if there weren’t hundreds of people milling about, of course, but such is the reality of WaterFire.)

Pretty lady with a flower.

Pretty lady with a flower.

Throughout the night, people were taking gondola rides down the river, and as Angela and I stopped under one of the bridges lit by old oil lamps, a gondola passed and its guide threw a flower to us. Some of the charm wore off once we read the paper tag that accompanied it—”WaterFire is sponsored by [insert the name of some corporate entity that I can’t remember].”—but still, it’s not everyday that you get a flower thrown at you from a passing gondola.

Fire and Water

Fire and Water

In order to keep the multitude of fires burning throughout the night, there is a firetender boat winding its way along the rivers. Staffed by five or six people dressed in black, the boat is full of chopped wood ready to feed the fires. There was something about the sight of the firetending that seemed ancient, primal, ritual.

Firetender Boat

Firetender Boat

Classic arms-length view of Angela and me.

Classic arms-length view of Angela and me.

So, it was a delightful random adventure. I had first heard about WaterFire from my friend Maureen, a talented photographer whose photos of the phenomenon do the magic of it much more justice. But I leave you with my best shot at capturing a bit of it:

Water and Fire

Water and Fire

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