THE ROYAL IRIS – WITH A TWIST

If you have been following the beginnings of my tiny house discovery/adventure, you may recall my mentioning an opportunity to stay at the “Royal Iris” in Mentone, Alabama. I had been wanting to go fall hiking for quite awhile so this 2-night getaway in the mountains was perfect! It was very last minute so there was no real planning for my man to join me, but it ended up being quite mentally therapeutic and an awesome little birthday gift to myself.

Mentone is pretty well known around this area, it’s about as north as you can get in Alabama and lies right on the time-zone border of Georgia (made things somewhat interesting). The tiny house check-in and out times were based in CST and the office that rents it out operates on EST. Not that it matters, it was nearly impossible to get a phone signal anywhere near the house or trails anyway. Although they made it very clear on Airbnb that this was a possibility, the hosts of the Royal Iris didn’t provide WIFI either – so basically, I was dead in the water whenever near the house – truly unplugged whether I wanted to be or not!

I drove up on a Sunday and the ride was beautiful with the leaves and colors changing; it was my main reason for taking the trip. Since I couldn’t check-in until later in the afternoon, I planned to explore some of the waterfalls and trails that were a little further out. My first stop was Little River Canyon National Preserve. The falls were easily accessible via a boarded path (that would be the easiest it would get for the rest of the trip). After about a 2 mile (easy) walk, I had worked up an appetite. I stumbled across a local lunch spot favorite as I headed towards the tiny house location – The Hatter. It looked like a cottage from the outside – I decided to go inside and grab a late lunch.

Inside – you quite literally fell down the rabbit hole. The entire place was decorated in Alice and Wonderland theme. It was over the top x10 and absolutely fantastic. In this case a picture is worth a thousand words – here are some of my favorite things inside the restaurant.

After a really fun (and tasty) lunch, I drove the last few miles to where I would be staying. The tiny house is located in a tiny house community, where pretty much every THOW on-site is rented out. It made for a less homey feel than the first RV park I stayed in while in Pensacola, but it was still a really nice location. The Royal Iris was the first house on the left and there was ample parking and a nice pathway to the front door. Of course – I couldn’t unlock it.

I knew immediately it was something I was doing wrong, but the keys were sticking. I attempted it several times before I noticed I had been trying for about 35 min and should probably call the office. How does a hearing impaired woman who uses an app call someone? Answer: she doesn’t! I walked to the road and managed to send a text (thankfully it went through). One of the owners was about 20 min away and so I just walked around a little, looking at the house from the outside (was really nice). When he got there, the first thing I said was, “I’m sure there’s some kind of trick to this, sorry about this.” He was very nice and said it had happened once before – of course the first time he tried it the door opened immediately – whatever.

The tiny house was HUGE! I couldn’t get over the high-end appliances and first real confirmation that there is more than enough space in a well-designed THOW. Even the spacious loft master bedroom reassured me that space will make a perfect office/guest room. The bathroom had a walk-in tub with jets and I may be spoiled forever now. I put all my groceries away and started to explore the finite details of the home. It was very cozy and helpful in providing ideas and inspiration for our own tiny house.

After I settled in, I decided to walk through the park and look around (plus it was the only way I could get reception to text anyone that I had arrived safely). I appreciated the park’s effort to add communal space and a dog park, but it lacked the neighborhood feeling I would want. The area was beautiful, quiet and so relaxing – but it was getting chilly very quickly. I wisely didn’t lock the tiny house when I left this time (just in case).

My evening was very laid back, snacking and watching satellite TV – there was no social media or texting because there was no service or WIFI. It was a gorgeous clear night, so even though it was chilly, I sat outside for awhile just enjoying the quiet and the amazing stars.

Then it was time to try the walk-in jetted tub. Much to my surprise, it was shaped like a throne/seat (I wouldn’t have to try to cram into the small floor space). It also had a handheld for hair washing and rinsing. The first downside to the walk-in tub was the fact that you have to sit on a cold ceramic tub naked before you can fill it up with water. Sitting on a washcloth helped but it wasn’t ideal waiting for the tub to fill. Luckily it didn’t take that long. Although it’s deep, the volume is probably equivalent to a normal sized tub due to it being fairly short and box shaped. As soon as the water level passed the jets, I turned them on. It was awesome, and I could see the TV from the bathroom. I was able to relax and wash my hair (there was plenty of hot water). I may be sold on this idea if they make a two-person walk-in tub, it is exactly what we need.

When it was time for bed, I decided to try sleeping in the loft. On the one side, the roof was high enough that I could sit straight up and not have to worry about bending my neck (it wouldn’t have worked if we had both come, one of us would be knocking ourselves out). I didn’t feel closed in at all – especially with the windows and head room. The bed was pretty comfortable and the temperature was pretty cozy. I was really happy feeling at ease in the loft because I really want that to be my office and guest space for anyone adventurous.

I woke up pretty early as I usually do in the morning and had my coffee outside watching the sunrise over the trees – it was amazing. Today was dedicated to village shopping and waterfall trails. As it turned out, I didn’t end up going shopping. With a little difficulty I found the semi out-of-the-way parking lot for the DeSoto falls – where visitors and would-be waterfall enthusiasts could “pick a path.” They essentially all go to the same waterfall, but there were/are different vantage points.

The trails were coded or labeled based on difficulty. I would soon discover that “easy” and “hard” were left open to interpretation. I chose the moderate difficult path because it would take me behind the waterfall. There were a good amount of people around and some were in worse shape than me – I was confident I chose wisely and started down the path (I had purchased some awesome new hiking boots just for the occasion). Moderate was about right – in the beginning. I am not sure why suddenly I was expected to essentially rappel myself down a 6ft rock face. A few meters in front of me I could already see a pair of women regretting their choice to continue and were struggling to find a way back up.

I decided to turn around, even though I was more than half-way there, and go back to the beginning to take the easier trail. I am not sure of the mileage my little detour added to the hike, but it was definitely not “moderate” getting back up. The “easy” path started out just as I would expect – but it definitely wasn’t smooth and anyone not used to hiking was going to have an issue. Although there were people on the trail – the trails are very long and I was hiking on a Monday morning. The thought did cross my mind, what if someone lost their footing and needed help out of here or had another medical emergency? It wouldn’t be easy.

The “easy” path was longer, but it was absolutely beautiful – I expected the trail to end with a large viewing area with lots of places to sit, but it ends on a cliff with an amazing view and the sound of rushing water. The long walk was worth it – I sat and meditated for quite some time and no one else came along to ruin the moment, it was perfect.

I started the long walk back and was excited to finish off my day shopping in the local shops and eateries. Below me on the trail I passed a family with some small kids and didn’t envy the difficulty the parents must be having in keeping their kids from falling and getting injured.

With my very next step – SNAP – the hot rush of pain flowed from my right ankle up towards my leg. My left foot failed to compensate and felt the full weight of my body squishing it between two huge rocks. I controlled the fall, amazingly not hurting anything else. Stupidly thinking it might be a “walk-it-off” I immediately tried to stand up on – it wasn’t going to happen. I sat down on the ground, grateful for Mark’s USMC army coat taking the brunt of the mud on my ass. I told myself to “relax, breathe, you’re ok.” Not sure I was “ok” but, okay.

I thought about calling to the family below, but I honestly didn’t want to attempt even an assisted walk out of the woods at that moment. So I sat there. It was early morning, tons of daylight and plenty of people within shouting distance – I wasn’t exactly stranded. I did wonder how bad it was going to be and whether or not I’d even be able to get back to my car, let alone get myself to a hospital. I needed to access the damage but I knew I couldn’t take off my hiking boot, or I’d never get it back on or be able to drive. I got myself up on my feet and estimated it was about .5 mi back to the parking lot. I’m not sure if it was sheer force of will or my body was still pumping some adrenaline, but at a certain strange angle I was able to hobble forward.

At that point, I would have accepted some help, but there wasn’t anyone heading my direction at that time (figures) so I just very carefully limped back to the car. Sitting down felt very good but I knew I’d be in for the night at this point and wanted to get some more things for the house (I needed soda and some creamer). I drove to the nearby Walmart and thought I would use the cart as a “crutch” but I couldn’t even put my foot flat on the ground. I drove myself back to the Royal Iris (it was my last night), and my 45th birthday was the next day. I parked as close to the house as I could and used my umbrella to hobble inside (had the unlocking thing down at this point, thankfully). This would be my first “real life” moment in a tiny house and it would be educational.

I made it to the couch (no pets to worry about tripping over, a plus). I carefully took off my right boot (my left foot would ironically have a worse injury, but at the time my right ankle was the one really hurting and non-functional). It swelled up pretty badly, I elevated and iced it right away. That’s the first really nice thing about staying in a tiny HOUSE vs a hotel room. Sure I could have gotten ice from the front desk or a machine but I had cold packs because I brought food so it was exactly the same set-up I would have at home. I even had pain reliever!

I texted my family but there was no use in worrying them when there was nothing they could do (and would have stressed out not hearing from me due to the lousy service in the area). I did tell my man who knew I’d be able to take care of myself and do whatever needed to be done (that’s always reassuring). It did put a slight damper on the mood of the trip, but birthdays never were super exciting after 21.

There were two bar stools in the tiny house which worked perfectly as a walker. After resting awhile, I was able to make myself spaghetti and meatballs and watch some TV to relax. The walk-in tub was a godsend as sitting in the jets soothed all the other aches and pains I wasn’t feeling while focused on my feet. Needless to say I went to bed early that night – I slept in the loft. How did I get up there you ask? Scooting up on my behind, that’s how. I’m telling you that little trick is a damn life saver. I was able to adequately get around the tiny house with little difficulty. It really was a good test; one that I could have gone without, but as always, I find a way to make things work.

The experience at the Royal Iris was a great one overall – I loved the house and got a lot of ideas for our own. I determined no matter where my THOW ends up that I’ll never be without internet or phone service (you can’t NOT have BOTH). The company the owners hired trim their trees showed up at the tiny house Tuesday morning before 8:00AM to tell me to move my car. I explained my walking situation and that I had the house until 10:00AM. I complained to the owners who were apologetic but it was really stressful. The workers proceeded to cut down limbs with my car nearby so I packed up as quickly as I could (I was pretty much ready), and hobbled to the car for the drive back.

I loved the Mentone area, but don’t really feel the need to go back or take visitors – there are a lot of other waterfalls in the country/world and I plan on seeing many more of them. And I still LOVE tiny houses, and the Royal Iris, but you won’t see us reserving another stay here in the future – the neighborhood just didn’t have a homey feel. Made for a good story with a twist ending though.

Update: Since I’ve been home my ankle(s) have improved a great deal. I probably have a long road of healing time ahead (but I am ok!) and will be following up with my doctor over the holiday break.

ATLANTA ESCAPE: THOW FESTIVAL

A tiny house festivus for the rest of us! Well, not exactly, but I had the fun opportunity to attend my very first THOW (tiny house on wheels) Festival at Avondale Estates, GA last month. After joining several social media groups for THOWs and tiny lifestyles, I stumbled across the MicroLife Institute’s event and signed up immediately. Since Atlanta is only about a 2-hr ride from Birmingham, I couldn’t miss the opportunity! I would also now have to find a tiny house to stay in (keeping with the theme).

AirBnB never disappoints so I have been using them primarily to book our tiny house adventures. There are sites out there that focus on just “unique” stays, but I find AirBnB to be user friendly and legit while some of the other sites seem hit and miss to me – but to each his own. I found Dan’s Atlanta Escape in Decatur, GA. It was a good price (I only needed to spend 2 nights) and the house itself looked adorable!

As usual, the directions and google maps led me right to the home – at first it wasn’t clear that renters were allowed to park in the driveway (that wasn’t indicated on the site), so I parked on the street and the person renting the house on the same lot showed me where the “THOW” guests park. He was so nice, and I kind of liked knowing there was a person nearby in case I needed back-up (I watch a lot of weird movies that start out with this exact scenario so it’s just my thing). Parked on a privately owned lot smack dab in residential central, it was almost too residential (little bit of a drive to really get anywhere). They did a great job with the landscaping which I appreciated. There was a nice lighted path and walkway leading right up to the door. This trip would start my “luck” with opening tiny house doors.

After about 5 tries, I re-read the check-in directions and opted to unlock the physical key box and not use the electronic keypad. It was great they had a back-up (not all places do), so I only had to text the contact to tell them I had issues with the lock and would be using the key. They were so nice and it worked out just fine. Upon entering the tiny house – I just fell in love with the entire concept all over again. This particular home originally looked like it was more RV style. Kind of a “one-room” deal without a stove or full kitchen. There was a TV, a great shower and the bed was super comfy. I definitely appreciated the option of the additional pullout bed but so far the custom made couches for tiny houses are wicked uncomfortable. I couldn’t even really sit on this couch to watch TV (luckily the bed is an inch away). I loved the all natural wood/pine walls, ceilings and floors – it just embodied the entire concept of minimalist design (almost a bit too much for my personal taste) – didn’t feel quite as homey as I know our THOW would feel. Then again – this was and still is way better than staying in hotels and I’ll book a tiny house anytime I can over a hotel any day.

The pocket lights and “internal” blinds (the ones that are installed between the window panes) are my new favorite MUST haves in our tiny house. I was obsessed with opening and closing them. I’m sure the neighbors thought I was practicing morse code or something. I didn’t love cubby holes behind my head where a headboard should be and the bathroom sink was so tiny I’m not even sure why it was there – but it was so much fun staying there – and there was also the festival!

After a restful night in the THOW, I headed to the tiny house festival around 10AM the next morning. It was wicked cold – and windy – and rained. Parking wasn’t too bad, I got pretty lucky. There were vendors with food, but I think the weather prevented some companies from attending, because there were supposed to be about 20 houses to tour – and there were only about five. That didn’t dampen my spirits! I was dressed warm and waited in the very long lines talking with other THOW lovers. Most were just interested in looking out of curiosity, a few lifers were there to offer expertise, and then there were a handful of “mes” – people just learning and loving the idea of going tiny. I listened to the solar power speech which interested me, but the guy had an agenda different from providing power for THOWS so it wasn’t super specific. There was a converted bus called The Eldon which was for sale at about $57k, it reminded me of the Partridge family bus only much smaller. Super cute, but definitely want a home if paying a price that steep, not a decked out bus – but it was really cool. There was a generic van retro-fitted out with a pullout bed!

The two homes on display that were closest to what we would want and need for our THOW were both built by Hummingbird Tiny Housing. The first is the model named The Jasper, which is used only for AirBnb rentals (as are most of their models). The main issue I had with this model was the same as most – the loft bedroom being too low to really accommodate a real lifestyle for me and my man who have limited ability to climb into our bed every night – and I’d also really like to not break my neck sitting up in the middle of the night (and has NO ONE thought about how to have sex in a loft bed…hmmmmm? That’s not happening….).

Their next house was generously shared with the public but was privately owned by a female veteran! The best way to describe the Rosebud was it was like a split level THOW. The main living area is awesome, but up in the gooseneck/loft area there is a step up bathroom AND master bedroom that you can stand in and actually walk around. I am not sure of the requirements and codes for driving a house like this down the street but it felt like it would be too big for a normal truck to pull (which is a downside for me). I don’t want to move our tiny house every month or anything – but I do like the idea of “easily” moving it when we need to – otherwise what’s the point? This home was gorgeous though, and felt like a home, which reiterated my faith that tiny living is going to be awesome for us. Before coming into this house, I noticed a young guy who was actually looking at the house set-ups like me in great detail, so I waved him up in front of me in line so we could chat and we talked about some of our thoughts on the THOWS and what we hope to do. There is definitely a community out there!

I signed my name to a list for a contest to stay in a THOW made by Hummingbird Tiny Housing – a few days later when I got home they would call me and tell me I had won a stay in the Royal Iris! (That ended up being my birthday getaway – story coming next!). I saw everything there was to see at the festival, spoke to everyone and decided not to go back the second day, but instead explored Atlanta. I “cleaned” up the tiny house and checked-out (such an easy process), it was a wonderful little Atlanta Escape. I truly hope to attend more THOW festivals in the future (hopefully even display our tiny house at one someday!). For now, the next step is going to be finding a first parking “home” for the THOW – and moving towards more detailed and serious talks with builders.

This process is going to take time, but once all the pieces fall into place hopefully it will manifest fairly quickly. I am really looking forward to the adventures this lifestyle is bringing. Next story to come: The Royal Iris in Mentone, AL.

A Big Little Impression

Timbercraft Tiny Homes, Guntersville, Alabama

It didn’t take long to communicate my big dream of tiny living to my better half and immediate family members. The countless benefits were easy to explain from affordability, to the adventure, to it being the solution to having to live apart for the moment.  Although I can clearly see the perks – I’m a big believer in figuring out the logistics of a situation by trying it first-hand. It was time to step foot in a tiny house.

Luckily for me, there is no shortage of tiny home builders in the South (or was there?). A lot of the companies I thought might still be in business (based on HGTV and some online research) were closed. Several seemed to have taken  a hit even before COVID. Of course the pandemic posed its own set of problems even as recently as  just a few months ago. Most of the working shops don’t exactly give tours (why would they?). 

I sent emails to locations that I thought might agree to meet with me, and Jamie from Timbercraft Tiny Homes in Guntersville, Alabama responded almost immediately. I was transparent about my intention, which was to step into a tiny house and see what it was like. She knew I wouldn’t be putting down a deposit during my visit, but was gracious enough to take time out of her day to meet with me – so I booked the appointment.

The drive up to Guntersville was a nice way to end my afternoon. I had been there a few years prior to visit local wineries, but forgot how gorgeous the lake is. When I turned the corner and saw the sun sparkling off the top of the water it was such a positive feeling – almost like an affirmation that my exploration would be beneficial.

Jamie was a fun and honest host. After chatting and admitting I had no idea what I was looking for (or doing), she grabbed a 3-step stool and unlocked one of their completed models for me to tour – a version of their Denali model. I knew immediately when stepping inside that it was above our budget at around $75k. It didn’t feel like I was stepping into an RV or a “tiny” anything. In fact, the first thing I said to Jamie was for us, it was too big.  It was stunning though – decorated with white wood walls, high ceilings and hardwood floors (my personal fav). The fixtures were high-end, quartz countertops and all the things you would expect to find in a fancy house. 

I especially loved the master bedroom being on the first level with space for end tables and a dresser/tv. There was even a closet! There are several reasons I don’t want a loft master bedroom – one of them being I can’t imagine getting dressed while laying down or standing in my kitchen. Overall the house was gorgeous, but not practical for my purposes. This tiny home definitely left a big impression on me, and reinforced my feeling that this is the right path. The idea of tiny living is to create memories and not memorabilia – the process of transitioning and exploring a new lifestyle is an adventure in itself, and there are so many more to come!

For more info visit Timbercraft Tiny Homes’ website.

Sic Parvis Magna – My path to tiny

“Why don’t you just get an RV?” “I could never do that, it’s so cramped!” This has been the immediate response whenever I tell someone I’ve made the decision to live in a tiny house and adopt that lifestyle. I have come to realize that it does seem to be an odd declaration to make out of the blue, so I can understand the confusion. While the choice does appear sudden, I believe tiny living is in my blood. This is a story about how recent life events have caused me to reassess what is important to me and take an intentional journey to discover what I really value in my life.

My father had a natural talent for design and construction. He made his living as a carpenter and mason most of his life. When my grandparents gave my Dad and step-mother land as a wedding gift over 40 years ago, there was really no limit to what he could have created and built. It never occurred to me until recently – he built a fairly small, rectangular, non-inspiring box – made out of brick. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful home, and has a stone fireplace like I’ve never seen anywhere else – but overall it was simple, practical and semi-small. I wouldn’t exactly say tiny – but it could have easily been much larger. It was a 3-bedroom which included a decent sized master, a larger bedroom for my older brother and a room large enough for me and my sister to share every other weekend. 

My Dad passed away suddenly in May of 2020 and it occurred to me that I never thought to ask him why he built such a small house. As a kid it did feel fairly large in comparison to my mom and step-father’s home (still another 3-bedroom), but I had pretty high expectations of my crafty Dad to have built a “mansion” of sorts. My father being the nature-oriented and old-school man he was, I believe realized, “less was more.”  I am convinced that subtle message took root early and influenced my desire to go tiny.

It is always surreal when you’re a grown-up and you visit your childhood home, especially for me since I moved out of state when I was 19 and have never really been back for longer than a week at a time. Being surrounded by all Dad’s creations and tools (and junk) in his workshop and garage (and closets, and truck) after his death was very soothing to me. Yet it’s funny, even with everything he’s made over the years the “thing” that came to my mind was a note my Dad had written on one of the studs of the house before putting up the drywall. 

Of course I took some of the beautiful pieces my father created over the years and some other mementos but that memory, which came to mind without any tangible object to trigger it, got me thinking; those memories aren’t gone or going anywhere. They are all right there, fresh for tapping whenever I need them. 

The next life event(s) nudging me closer to a tiny life, was a visit to an old high school friend, and the news that my step-father was losing his year-long battle to cancer. Soon after we knew he wouldn’t have long, I made the plan to fly up in July to see him and spend time. Meanwhile, I had rescued a litter of kittens and spontaneously decided to deliver two of them to a young couple in Missouri (only about an 8-hour drive from my house in Alabama). Everyone said I/we were crazy but in my mind it was an opportunity for a little adventure.  In addition to feeling great about finding homes for adorable cats, I got to see my dear friend’s dream come true. This girlfriend of mine has a gigantic estate in Missouri with a farm, animals, a fiance and a tiny house! I fell in love with how cute it was, and her entrepreneurial spirit to rent it out and give visitors an experience. 

This was also the same friend that inspired an article I wrote a few years ago, about “clipping coupons and going to Paris.” She really taught me that it’s ok to have fun and be a little frivolous as long as you’re smart about it. I knew she would be the one person who would know the secret significance of taking a helicopter ride over St. Louis. It was a ridiculous amount of money for a 20-min ride and I felt absolutely no buyer’s guilt or remorse for spending it – I thought about both my Dads and knew they would approve of living in the moment. 

I stayed in a pet-friendly motel outside of St. Louis where it was a little cheaper, and really enjoyed the cable TV since I haven’t splurged on cable in six-years – it was a real treat! Once I found the HGTV channel and put on the closed captions, I didn’t change it all weekend. What was playing on loop was Hometown and Tiny House Nation (you know where I’m going with this). The idea was slowly coming together in my mind, but the dots didn’t connect yet. I was thinking I’d love to just live in the middle of nowhere like my friend, where people care about you and think to check on you once in a while. I also thought it would be great if Erin Napier designed my house (but then I’d have to move to Laurel, MS). Then I remembered how I get bored – easily – and like to move around. It felt good to have this adventure and reconnect with that YOLO attitude, but it was quickly replaced with sorrow and a desire to make some sense of it all. 

Although I got to speak with him via video on Father’s Day and several times after that, my step-father passed away just one day before my flight was scheduled to land to see him.  It was tough, but as usual with these types of battles there was a lot of relief among us all that he was no longer suffering. His death started to nudge me in a different direction when it came to “stuff” – because much like my father, my step-dad had a lot of stuff.  

A LOT of STUFF. He was a Marine re-creating his Vietnam War days with his memorabilia, photos, weapons – all the history. Definitely a lot of aspects that I love, but when I was sitting and looking at all his items, it was the photos and the stories and notes he wrote that mattered (not the “stuff”). I wasn’t glad I had all this to remember him by because just like my dad, I didn’t need it. On some level it kind of pissed me off. Not that he had left it for us to deal with or anything, but at the same time it got me thinking of my own junk drawers. I’m glad these things made him happy – but what I know is that he was truly happy talking about his memories to his friends and family and telling his stories – all intangible and priceless. 

It was when I got back from his funeral that I started to really look into how I could adapt to the feelings I was experiencing. I knew I would have to be open to some non-traditional ideas in order to find my path to a new and intentional lifestyle.  Will I accomplish “great things from small beginnings” by living a tiny lifestyle?  The best way for me to answer that is to get started.