Living in a Tiny House: Part 3

I’m going to give myself a little break this lovely Sunday morning and do another blog post about living in my tiny house, and how I’m working toward my goal of subsistence farming, and independent living as a neurodivergent person.

It’s been closing in on a year since I last posted about this. Yikes! Time gets away from me when I’m so busy.

A lot has happened since my last tiny-house post. My mom had a triple bypass in February, for one. It’s really brought home the fact that all of the hardship that led me back to the family farm in the first place was well worth it, because this is where I belong. I was able to help my mom out and be there for her during her recovery, and it’s brought us closer together as a family.

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Winter on the farm

 

 

It was a beautiful fall, and an early (and pretty hard) winter. The first hard frost came early in October, and since our last one had been on June 15 (! – really, super late for this

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Tomatoes, peppers, and basil from last fall’s harvest.

area), we didn’t get enough tomatoes to can or freeze. I fried up quite a few green ones, though. Just thinking about the fried green tomato po boys and bahn mi (on homemade rolls) I ate is making me hungry right now. So good with veggie bacon and sprouts; or tofu, thin-sliced cabbage, Korean-style turnip pickles, and sriracha mayo.

 

I tried ripening some of the green tomatoes indoors, but without much success. I’ll hopefully get more ripe ones this year, but there are always some green ones left over when it freezes. I may sauce some of them this year, because green tomato puree/sauce is a great addition to soups, enchilada sauces, salsas, etc.

I did string a lot of peppers, can a lot of peaches, make jam galore, and Kid and I had

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Chestnuts and apples – gleaning leftover produce from others’ farms supplements my harvest.

plenty of dried plums, pears, and cherries to gorge ourselves on during the cold winter months and fight off ye olde scurvy. I also gleaned many pounds of chestnuts from a neighboring orchard (gleaning happens after harvest, so is not stealing. It’s produce that otherwise would have been left to rot.) I wrapped those up in tinfoil and roasted them in my potbelly woodstove, quickly learning that you have to score them beforehand or they’ll explode, sometimes right in your face, the shrapnel burning your eyeballs and curling your eyebrows. For those uninitiated, chestnuts are a little difficult to peel sometimes, but they’re SO good—really meaty and savory. I like roasting them in the oven with potatoes and root vegetables, and as a yummy addition to mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m going to experiment more next winter with grinding them into a paste to use in crusts, breads, and desserts. (Making a cookbook of all our recipes is something Kid and I are working on, but we have so much else going on, that it may take a while.)

 

IMG_2840This year is off to a great start. I’ve been working on expanding the farm business. We opened a little nursery (selling vegetable, herb, and flower starts we grew in our greenhouses). We were able to make costs (pay for the seeds and soil) plus a few hundred dollars on top of that, and we still had ample plants left over to fill our own gardens. I call that a success.

We’ll also be selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs—I’m already selling snap peas, turnips, basil, and cilantro. I have plans to start a worm farm soon, to save money on soil next year and increase our profit margin, while increasing the quantity of plants we grow.

I also hope to have enough extra eggs to sell soon, and maybe fresh chicken. The “fresh chicken” thing probably needs explanation…I used to be a vegetarian, but since my financial situation changed and I moved back to the farm, I’ve had to take a more practical approach.

This all started when (fucking asshole) neighbor dogs came in and killed a bunch of our chickens last winter. I’m so poor, that it just didn’t make good economic and moral sense to throw away good protein, so I butchered the poor things. It wasn’t too bad, though it was definitely an olfactory experience, and one that brought me into touch with my place in the food chain; as I labored at cutting out all the bad meaty/organy bits while leaving the good ones, I imagined hundreds of generations before me, working so hard just to feed themselves and their families, at peace with the fact that we are able to live

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Penguin

because other organisms die. There’s a sort of meditation to it.

 

So, anyway, still on the subject of chicken death, last year we had about thirteen chicks hatched on the farm by our own broody hens. Nine of those (eek) were roosters. They were wreaking havoc: fighting each other, brutally gang raping the hens, and traumatizing my parents’ border collie, who is autistic (this isn’t some ableist joke, nor am I comparing my dog to people to be clear—I’m serious, and I’m autistic so I have insight). She’s very noise-sensitive. Whenever the roosters would get into a kerfuffle, she’d pace and whine and be really upset. When a certain rooster crowed, it really set her off: she’d spin circles and snap at that rooster. I really felt for her, because she couldn’t walk away from the situation and it was really triggering for her.

So, before I moved back, my dad would give the roosters away to a guy down at the feed store who would slaughter them himself. I figured, if we know they’re going to be killed anyway, we should just own that fact and butcher them ourselves. My family reluctantly agreed, so we had a good old-fashioned butchering day in the spring. We rounded those cocks all up, my dad killed them and I processed them. I thought it was going to be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad because it was just family work, for a good purpose. We talked with each other so the togetherness could decrease the sting of mortality, and I just thought about those poor, gang-raped hens (it was really awful) and the poor dog, and it was a lot easier.

(Incidentally, if you’re a vegan who wants to harass me about this, I am quite literally doing what I need to survive. I’m neurodiverse, and disabled, and farming is the way I’ve come up with to make a life for myself and Kid. I’m happy to discuss the ethics of all this with you, but please don’t police my choices.)

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Nu Egg

 

I increased our chicken flock by twelve this spring by buying chicks (ten americaunas, and two silkies because I couldn’t help myself), and so far we’ve had seven chicks born on the farm. As I said, we lost some of our flock to (stupid fucking) neighbor dogs, so we’re currently standing at about 30-ish birds altogether. We eat all the eggs now ourselves, but hopefully I’ll have some extra to sell by fall.

 

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Bees!

We also got two hives of bees!! This is really exciting. I love watching them. The hives are already big enough that we had to add the second brood boxes, and hopefully we’ll be able to put on the honey supers by the end of summer. If all goes well, we’ll have honey next summer.

 

I increased my vegetable garden by 300%, tilling up a bunch more bottom land by my cabin. I’m growing lots of different stuff, including popcorn (I eat SO MUCH popcorn) and soybeans. I’ll sell some of it, but I’m digging a root cellar to store more of my vegetables and squash

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More garden!

. It got down below zero last winter, and was in the teens a lot, plus we had several feet of snow that stayed all winter, so the veggies didn’t keep in the ground at all. I was left having to go to the food bank and purchase food. I’m doing pretty well digging the hole. I’m hindered somewhat by the desire of my dog, my cat, and myself to lie in the cool dirt (which is unproductive in the traditional sense), but more by some physical problems: I’m getting a deep ache under the shoulder blade,

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Root cellar—hole in progress

and numb/tingling fingers, with an inability to grasp or lift things with that hand. It makes it hard to dig/hoe, and I have to sometimes rest for days on end (from strenuous arm-using physical labor, anyway) and drink my herbal painkilling tea. If ONLY I had a strong, sexy BOY who loved digging holes and eating fresh vegetables, and who could help me out…but I guess some people are just buttholes and don’t want to move up here, and I guess I’m not helping my cause by talking about how decrepit I am. I’ll get my hole dug by myself anyway. I don’t

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Man commonly known as Boy, here looking self-satisfied with the ocean breeze fluttering his beard

need any strong, sexy boys. *flounces*

 

As an aside, the weird thing is, if I were getting paid to dig someone else’s hole (not a euphemism), I would have quit and gotten worker’s comp for the injury, and would be in physical therapy and maybe having surgery. That would undoubtedly be the healthy thing to do, but I like digging holes if they’re my holes; I have to do it because no one else will do it for me; and I’m afraid of getting treatment because they’ll say, “stop digging darned holes, dammit” which is advice I will not heed in any event, at least not in the summer. So, I’ll soldier on and see what happens with my arm; if I need to get it looked at, I’ll do it this winter when I’m idler (as long as I get my wood all cut beforehand…and as long as Trump’s Deathcare bill hasn’t been put into effect yet CALL YOUR REPS, U.S.-IANS!)

All this farm work takes at a minimum three hours a day, often a lot more. It’s obviously not paying the bills yet (which, thankfully, are minor, because I own my car, have no debt, use barely any electricity (and we’re going solar!), have well water, etc. My only bills are my phone and my car insurance). I supplement this income with freelance editing, freelance writing, and a startup called Authordock that I’ve become involved in. It’s a website that helps writers with their publishing goals: I critique pitches, queries and first pages; give advice; direct clients to opportunities like pitch competitions; and provide resources by composing advice articles and making how-to videos…it’s a really cool project. The result of this is that, now that I’m, as people say, “lazy and unemployed”, I’m actually working 90-hour weeks, and yet making half a pittance. This is another way that disabled people end up making super-subminimum wage: the work we’re able to do isn’t something society values very much, so is underpaid.

I also have, you know, some books published (I’ve had several come out this year, and I have a short story in the next edition of a bestselling anthology, which comes out in a few days). That does bring in a little money, but I have very little time left for marketing, so not much at all. So, I’ll do that thing where I tell you I’m super poor and disabled (not that you should pity me—I love what I’m doing, I just make very little money at it). I don’t have a tip jar, so if you like hearing about my tiny-home and farming adventures, you should consider buying one of my books. People say they’re really good! And they’re ownvoices books, with neurodiverse and queer characters. They’re my way of trying to share my strange world with others. If you buy them, consider giving me a review, and/or recommending them to others who are into that sort of books.

Think of buying ownvoices books like donating to a charity, except you’re not paying forIMG_2873 marketing and executive salaries: you’re making a contribution toward someone’s independent, sustainable living and/or affirmation as an important member of society. In my case, you’re not only affirming my worth, you’re keeping me off the streets or out of an institution, making sure Kid has a stable and happy mom (and new socks when she needs them, which is too often), PLUS you get great books. This is such a win/win/win, y’all!

I’m trying to get an agent to help with the book marketing thing. My publisher is great, but their marketing apparatus isn’t really the best for my kind of books. If I had an agent directing and supporting me in my marketing efforts, I think I’d do a lot better. I have a handful of fulls out with agents right now, of my thirteenth novel—an ownvoices YA contemporary romance/magical realism about a young woman with bipolar psychosis trying to navigate high school, first love, the foster system and the mental health system. Wish me luck!

I have lots of other plans for my life—selling hand-woven baskets, and other crafts made with natural and upcycled materials, for instance, as well as the cookbook and some other things. Plus, I have a short story on contract for another anthology coming out in September, and I’m working hard on writing my seventeenth full-length novel. Another tiny house is also in the works, to give us more kitchen space and Kid her own bedroom. But I think I’ve rambled enough for this post, so I’ll talk about all that later.

Thank you for reading!

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence*). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodiverse” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those “duh” statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term “neruodiverse”. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses. “Neurodiverse” expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the neurodiverse umbrella. There’s a huge spectrum not only of different diagnoses under that umbrella, but also of levels of marginalization. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodiversity has only a minor effect on their lives.

If you have minor clinical depression, for instance, you’re neurodiverse in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of minor depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodiversity: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment for more than a few years at a time, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodiverse. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodiversity doesn’t isolate me in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with Autism, or schizoaffective disorder, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodiverse people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodiverse people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodiverse people are “doing it for attention” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodiverse) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodiverse is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.

* I don’t like that this term as much, for the silly reason that I don’t like the novel Divergent. We all have our quirks.

Renovating and Building my Tiny House

When I first opened up the door to my old cabin, it was even worse than I’d anticipated. The grime-encrusted detritus of my old life was strewn everywhere. Mouse shit piled in tall drifts on the shelves, where I’d abandoned full bags of cornmeal and raisins. I had no recollection why I’d left underwear dangling from the rafters or felt the need to keep a quart jar full of dried rose petals and Christmas lights. In the cabinets, though, the photo albums and letters were remarkably well preserved; painful reminders of my abusive and long-dead first husband, and my beloved grandmother who had died only months before.

Worse even than the memories was the extensive black mold in the drywall. If I’d hoped for a quick, cheap, and easy renovation, I’d hoped in vain.

At that point, I was really unstable. I’d attempted suicide before I left California, and I landed more than once in the mental health crisis center after reaching Washington. I needed a place where I felt safe and that I could call my own. I needed a home that was inexpensive enough so I could devote all my time to building my writing and editing career. More than that, I needed something to be proud of, something to raise my self-esteem and make me feel like a whole, capable person: when I’d told my husband I was moving back into my tiny house, he said it was a shithole and that I’d never be able to fix it up on my own. He said that, if I’d had an ounce of respect for my daughter and myself, I’d get a real job and a real apartment.

So, no matter how completely disgusting and unmanageable the job looked, I was determined to fix up my tiny house with my own hands, and I’d make it comfortable and beautiful. I’d make it my home.

I squared my shoulders and got to work.

img_1454I didn’t take any “before” pictures: I was afraid that I’d never be able to sleep there if I had a reminder of how absolutely horrifying it was. I regret it now, because it would be nice to look back and see how much I’ve accomplished. The “before” pictures I do have were taken after I’d already filled a gigantic trash hopper with garbage and debris, ripped out all the drywall and insulation (which was even harder than it should have been, because I couldn’t see with my face mask steaming up my goggles), swept it clean, and scrubbed it several times with bleach. But I guess you can get an idea.img_1455

After I gutted it I put up new insulation, my mom helped me reroof it, put up new drywall and replace one of the windows (the original window had been stolen since I’d last lived there—don’t ask). I had to do dig out and repair the water line, do some minor plumbing on the indoor sink and replace the faucet.

img_2081When the house was done, my mom helped me build a little bathroom next to it, using reclaimed wood she’d kept after doing some demo on the property. I set it up with a composting toilet, and a shower with a propane-fueled, in-line heating unit. I created a rudimentary greywater system for the indoor sink and the shower; they currently drain into the flower garden in front of my house. I have plans to expand or improve that system in the future.img_2080

My mom really loves to do home-improvement stuff, and I loved working with her. It was kind of one of those “bonding” experiences people always talk about. Plus, it made me feel like she wasn’t just tolerating me, but actually liked me being there. Plus, I felt like she loved my tiny house almost as much as I did. She didn’t seem to think I was living in “a van down by the river” because I was too immature and lazy to get a real job and an apartment. She knew that I was choosing to live this way, and she seemed to understand why I would. And that felt good.

img_2083All told, the renovation and construction only cost about $1,500.00, including the toilet and shower…most of that money, in fact, went toward the toilet. I was able to do the job pretty cheaply, and to pay for it all out of savings.img_2086

So, I moved into my tiny house and started my new life.

 

Next episode, I’ll talk about how I’ve set up my space, and how I think it might be better utilized. If you have questions about my experience with tiny house living, or if you have an issue you’d like me to address in my blog, I’d love to hear from you.

Why I Decided to Live in a Tiny House

It has been suggested to me that I blog about my experience living in a tiny house. I’m going to do that, not only because I’m having a lot of fun figuring out how to live this way, but also because I need to shift the focus of my blog for a while.

I currently live in an 11 x 14 cabin that I renovated myself, along with a 6 x 6 bathroom addition that I built mostly out of reclaimed wood. I live very cheaply, growing and preserving most of my own food. I’m not yet making perfect use of my space or my situation, but I enjoy the (constant) work in progress, and I’m having a lot of fun living this way.

This first blog post is going to detail how I came to live in a tiny house. My future blog posts will get into the nitty-gritty of my daily life: how I arrange and utilize my space; how I grow, process, and cook my food (this is mostly an excuse to take pictures of my beautiful canned goods and share my recipes); how I budget; and probably a bunch of other random stuff and off-topic tirades.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in a little house; in fact, it isn’t the first time I’ve lived in THIS house. Tiny house living is something I can honestly say I did before it was cool.

The year was 1998. I was finishing up my bachelor’s at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, which is some sort of weirdo clown college where you can “design your own education”. This means you can write a “independent study” proposal saying you want to explore the possibility of cat telepathy. The college will undoubtedly approve this proposal, so then you can spend the whole quarter lying in bed staring at your cat, write a report on the experience, and the college will give you 16 credits as long as you pay your tuition. They don’t have to pay a professor, and you don’t have to listen to one. It’s a win-win.

So, anyway, I spent the last two quarters of my senior year doing one of those independent study contracts. I moved back to my hometown in Eastern Washington State and helped my mom start a small organic farming business.

My parents live on a beautiful ten-acre fruit orchard, which is where I grew up. It’s also where my dad grew up—my grandparents owned 40 acres back then, but sold off 30 of it. It’s been a working farm for way over a hundred years, so whenever you dig in the dirt or explore the rafters of the old outbuildings you find some pretty bomb-ass stuff, like those glass beads white people used to trade to the Native Americans; and boxes of 1950s porno, which is mostly just boobs.

One of the old outbuildings is a little eleven-by-fourteen cabin built in the ‘30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of the Depression-era programs started by FDR. When I moved back home for the farming gig, I decided I’d restore it and live there.

It was a cute cabin, made of indestructible redwood, but it had been used over the years as a chicken coop and skeevy teenager hangout and a bunch of other things that involved a lot of grodyness that I had to scrape out. It also had one of those old wood-burning stoves—the kind people used to actually cook and bake—which was awesome, but it was all rusted out and no longer fire-friendly, so I had to haul that heavy metal bitch out of there and into one of the outbuildings. Then, because there is EVERY THING IMAGINABLE somewhere on my parents’ property, I found another wood stove—a cast-iron potbelly—and hauled THAT heavy metal bitch INTO the cabin.

After that, though I’d never done anything of the sort before, I reroofed it, put in insulation, drywall, plumbing (a sink with cold water only), a skylight, etc. etc. My boyfriend’s dad built me a bed that sat about four feet off the ground and had a built-in dresser and storage underneath. It was really cool.

I lived there for a couple of years. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I loved it.

A bunch of yadda-yadda happens here. I moved out, started working as a paralegal (a job I hated desperately) got married about sixty billion times, and had a kid. I lived a lot of places, and owned a couple of houses that I really liked, but I always missed my cabin. Whenever I went back to my parents’ house to visit, I’d walk by there…but I’d never open the door. I hate moving, so when I moved out, I left it a wreck, with food still on the shelves and clothes and weird shit you don’t want to know about all over the place. The fact that I’d left my peaceful little house in that state really bugged me. In fact, I had frequently-recurring dreams about having to clean it out, except it always had more rooms than I’d remembered, and a labyrinthine basement full of mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches, but I knew if I could just get it all cleaned up and in order my whole life would fall into place and be peaceful and beautiful like it had been before. (Though, let’s be honest, it never truly had been…but my cabin had been a safe place that made me feel it was.)

Even more yadda-yadda happens now, which I won’t rant about here, since I’ve spent about 906 blog posts rehashing it already. Long story short, my marriage fell apart in a blaze of glory. We had moved to California for his job, so when he served me divorce papers, I was in this weird place with like ZERO emotional resources to call upon. I mean that literally. I’m bipolar, and I was stressed out enough that I was not taking care of myself whatsoever. I was drinking almost every day, having psychotic episodes, and attempting suicide.

I didn’t know what to do with myself and my kid. All I knew is that I wanted to keep writing books. It was something I loved to do more than anything else, and something that helped me emotionally and psychologically. Plus, my husband had told me I wasn’t capable of making a living at it, and that I was wrong to want to write in the first place: that I was selfish and immature to have that dream.

I wouldn’t allow his spirit to rise up from the grave of our marriage and force me into a bitter, hopeless life working a job I hated and that I was ill-suited for. I didn’t want him to win. I wanted to be my own woman, on my own terms.

Of course, life never works out that neatly. I wasn’t able to spring triumphant from the ashes of my old life, valiant and stable and perfect. By the time my husband served me divorce papers, I had one book published, and a contract on two more, but I wasn’t making any sort of royalties. I had editing skills and was capable of setting up a freelance business to bring in some cash, but in order to make ends meet that way (at least at first) I’d have to live cheaply. Really cheaply.

I’m lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents with a beautiful 10-acre farm, and they were hinting pretty strongly that my psychotic, suicidal, rock-bottom ass needed to come back home like six months ago, along with their beautiful granddaughter.

I love my parents, and I love the farm, but I knew I couldn’t live long-term in their house. I’m a person who very much needs to have her own space. So, it was time to finally open the door of my old cabin and start mucking out the mummies and evil rodents and rotten sandwiches. It was time to finally get my life together.