Olympic Peninsula & Seattle

Ms. Bakes-A-Lot had a baby 6 months ago and asked if we could meet her in Seattle / Olympic Peninsula where her parents live this summer for our annual travel week. So we packed our bags and found a straight flight with Alaska Air to Seattle for the very first time!

Seattle in the summer is gorgeous. Lovely 70-80 degree weather, crisp air, and sunshine all day long. At Our first Airbnb in Seattle, the hosts had a giant fig tree in the backyard. The figs were the size of my fists! 

We ate a lot of dim sum and visited Pike Place Market. There is a Chinese bakery called Mee Sum which is to die for!! Living in Arkansas made me forget what really good Chinese food tastes like. We stopped at a green tea place called Nona’s Green Tea and tried a couple of the ice creams. I really thought we weren’t going to finish all of these desserts, but I was wrong. We finished every sip of this.

The second day we rode on the ferry for the first time across from Seattle to Bainbridge. It was much shorter than I thought it would take. It only takes 30 minutes on the ferry. We saw the lovely skyline of Seattle along with some cargo ships, a cruise, and many many more sail boats.

Then it’s a couple of days of hiking, walking on the beach, fish tacos, oysters, crabs, salmon, clams, and endless fields of lavender!

Here’s us hiking up Mount Townsend. We counted how many switchbacks we hiked and it’s about 35 one way… You also won’t take your legs for granted after the hike, because we were all sore for about 3 days after this hike.

From Mt. Townsend, you can see Mt Rainier (above) and Mt Baker all in a 360-degree view. It was absolutely stunning.

We also visited Dungeness Spit, a thin strip of beach filled with driftwood and seashells. We also saw a bald eagle chilling on this tree (see below on the right side of the big tree 4 branches up!)

This deer barrier sign at the master garden is hilarious. What’s more hilarious was literally within the hour we were hanging out here, there was a doe with her baby walking through this… I guess the barrier is a moo-point. 

We visited the Port Townsend library which apparently has the biggest collection of maritime related books. Ms. Bakes-a-lot got as many books as she could carry. 

We sat out on a bench and ate some freshly harvested blueberries.

On the day we travel back to Seattle, the first ferry was full so we had some spare time and went over to the Bainbridge art museum right by the ferry. I found this fantastic ceramic & copper artist Eva Funderburg. Her work is absolutely stunning!

Look at this joyous creature (second from the front) riding in the chariot!

There were so much lavender from Ms. Bakes-a-lot’s mom’s garden which I carried home in my suitcase. My entire suitcase smells like heaven. 

The Best Guide to Iceland – The Path Less Travelled

When COVID seemed like it was almost stampeded out by the newly invented vaccines in March 2021, Mr. Code Junkie and I were hopeful to go back to our normal life. So we made travel plans to go to Iceland for the first time. Little did we know, COVID came back with a vingence wrecking havic with the Delta variance as its new weapon. After debating long and hard about it, we still decided to go to Iceland and take extra precautions (and paid for cancellable flights, in case it didn’t work out.)

What type of travel style do we like?

This is not a typical “MUST DO”/”MUST SEE” itinerary trip report. We try to practice slow, eco-friendly travel while supporting-local economy. We enjoy submerge ourselves into the local living and experiencing different lifestyles and creating connection with the local communities as much as a two-week time would allow. Because of this, even though it is our first time going to Iceland, we decided to not do the ring-road or the golden-circle, and ventured into the deep Westfjord.

Itinerary In A Glance

We decided to go in the fall (a bit shoulder season for Iceland) to avoid crowd. September is also around equinox time which means we are more likely to see some good aurora performance (and we did!). 

  • September 3 – 5 Reykjavik (2 days)
  • September 5 – 9 Snaefellsnes Peninsula (4 days)
  • September 9 – 16 Isafjord/Westfjord (7 days)
  • September 16 – 18 Reykjavik (2 days)

Detailed Trip Reports

Day 1: Reykjavik

Explore Hallgrimskirkja, a Lutheran church built in 1945. 

Have a coffee at the local favorite, Reykjavik Roasters.

Buy some fresh bread from Braud & Co. for the next morning breakfast.

Grab some groceries from the famous Bonus (see my separate post on groceries in Iceland).

Day 2: Glymur, 2nd highest waterfall

Drive 45 minutes to the trailhead of Glymur.

Do some balance beam activities.

Meet some locals 🐑

Cross a freezing but shallow river. Do not suggest crossing the river barefoot while screaming, though it is good cardio and vocal exercise.

Walk back down the river while observing the “U” shape fjord cut out by glacier while dancing with two arms up. It’s a “U”!

Day 3: Snaefellsjokull

Discover a hot spring next to an un-named volcano crater.

Jump into said hot spring, and soak for a LOOOOOONNNNNNG time while watching sheep. AHHHH

Live in a lakeside cottage.

Day 4: Djupalongsandur Beach

Test your strength and see if you are ready to work on a fish boat. Mr. Code Junkie is qualified to “sit at home work on IT problems.”

Stroll by a yellow heart shaped pool with VERY questionable water. 

Feel the power of the sea as you look at the remains of a ship wreck, 1948. 

Day 5: Hike up the Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Who needs legs? Feet? Nah, I’ll just go ahead and amputate them.

Day 6: Stykkisholmur

Demolish some fish & chips @ Hafnarvagninn.

Hold your food baby, then check out this big Súgandisey Island right behind the harbor.

Watch sunset at Sheep’s waterfall.

Watch the aurora dancing across the sky with a cup of hot cocoa.

Day 7: Isafjord

5-hour drive to Isafjord.

See lots of rainbows, and wonder if there are pots of gold when you are not in Ireland?

Even though there are so few cars and so many opportunities to cross the street, the locals like to cross the street right as you pass, at 90km/h, just to test your break skills 🙂 BAAAAAAAA!

Day 8: Troll’s Seat

Hiking up Troll’s seat, hoping to find a troll, but no luck. 

Fumbling with this very well-made metal box to sign the Troll’s seat guestbook.

Hey trolls! Come out and play.

Day 9: Dynjandi Waterfall

Wondering if there is a spiritual sanctuary behind the waterfall…

Stop by the sleepy little town Flateyri with lovely wall murals.

Your newly established Icelandic parent takes you on a boat ride to see whales. You keep your eyes on the horizon looking for whales while trying to keep down your breakfast from 2005.

To avenge the sea, you decide to go to a seafood restaurant as soon as you step off the boat. You feast in the treasures of the sea. Yum.

Day 10: A rainy day to stay inside and nap

Day 11: Valagil Waterfall

Hike a waterfall in the rain.

Visit a cute fox who’s having fun digging for worms (or perhaps gold coins???)

Day 12: Brewery and Chill

Going to a brewery? We’ll decorate it with a rainbow. Velkominn to Isafjordur indeed.

Taste some local mango wheat beer.

Some intense chemistry going on over here.

Day 13: Sandafell Mountain

Hike up Sandafell Mountain with a lamb sandwich in your backpack. Summit = lunch!

Reading the sun dial. It’s wrong, Garmin watch is better.

Go to Önundarfjordur pier/beach by Holt. Discover lots of treasures on the beach.

Day 14: Reykjanes (by Reykjarfjordur)

Visit a seasalt factory, Saltverk right by Reykjanes.

Finding a geothermal beach. HOT!

Get your brain swirled and find out you do not have COVID so you can go home. Yay.

Day 15: Fagradalsfjall Volcano

Celebrate you survived the volcano with Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog.

And chips, AND milkshake.

Day 16: Flying home

Seeing Fagradalsfjall volcano from the distance while driving to the airport.

Try to spot the polar bear on Greenland glacier.

Other Helpful Resources:

Traffic:

  • Roundable rules in Iceland (note: it is like Mario Cart traffic circles)
  • There is NO turn on red in Iceland. You must only turn right when light is green.
  • If you go into a one-lane tunnel, the person who has pull-over on their right gets to yield to oncoming traffic.
  • Watch for suicidal sheep crossing

Aurora & Weather & Volcano:

COVID:

Glacier hike: Go West

Lodging (Airbnbs)

Rental Car: Blue Car Rental, highly recommend based on our experience and reddit.

Subreddit for traveling to Iceland: r/visitingiceland

Skyr is life now 🙂

On Local Community

I hated having to find a contractor when I first moved across the country to Arkansas. It wasn’t the first time I moved across the country and I know how it works. You pack up your stuff, label them on the box, put the new address into GPS and start driving.

I guess I don’t need to mention Arkansas is different than L.A., in the most obvious ways.

Arkansas does not have the beach, the sunshine, boba teas, acai bowls, or Ahi Pokes. L.A. has Trader Joes & In & Outs, and Arkansas has Walmart & Chick-fil-a. Even the smallest thing like finding a vet was difficult. My L.A. greyhound vet always told me, greyhounds process anesthesia differently, and they will not put her under while cleaning her teeth. Arkansas vet told me they MUST put my dog under regardless of breed when they clean her teeth. I still absolutely hate this.

When I first moved here, it was exhausting having to find a new grocery store that sells ribs and will cut them for you. People here don’t understand that Asians like having shorter pork ribs (so you can fit these ribs in a pot, duh!). I had to find a new dog sitter, a new car cleaner, a new mechanic, a new vet, a new apartment, a new doctor, a new dentist. In L.A., those things are easy. You just go on google or yelp and find the highest rated business nearest to you. Thousands of reviews detailed to the last review left only 5 minutes ago. If you ever felt like their service was not up to par, a 3-star could get everything fixed real quick. Arkansas was like a different country, one that was left behind by the world. Yelp only has McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-a. Google reviews were non-existing. People don’t use Meetup; they use Facebook. At the beginning, even my apartment, built 2 years ago, was NOT on google map. Imagine that. I had to put a pin and tag this pasture on google as “home” to get directions.  

Last month, I started renting my house on Airbnb while living in a rental. The day the first guest was arriving, I went over to the house in the morning to turn on the AC for her. And that was the first time this year I turned on the AC. I turned it on and left. A couple hours later around noon, I checked the thermostat temperature on my phone app. I realize it had gone up instead of down. My first guess was the thermostat must not be updating since I am not at the house. Well, you guessed it. There was nothing wrong with my thermostat; my AC was broken, dead, in the middle of a heat wave. 

That week the temperature was record high in Arkansas; temperature went up to 105 F at one point during the day. My airbnb guest surely isn’t going to pay $150 a night to be stewing in their own sweat. I called one of the AC companies from google search of nearby AC professionals, and the receiptionist immediately stopped me as soon as I said I needed someone to come and look at the AC. “We are at least a week and half out,” She told me. “Everyone is booked solid since it is so hot.” I took a deep breath trying to calm down and scrolled through my phone for other AC professional contacts in my phone.

Then I realized that there was an AC guy, David, I used for the barn. He came and connected the mini-split for the barn earlier this year. Someone from a Facebook group of local moms had recommended him (the group’s name is “Bentonville Moms in the know”, which I quite enjoy the blatant cheesiness). So I gave him a call but his receiptionist told me the same thing, everyone is swamped, but she gave me a list of other AC guys around the area to call and try my luck, and promised to put me on the waitlist for David. 

About 30 minutes later, after being rejected by probably the entire AC professionals in town, sitting in my living room, I finally broke down and started balling in tears. That’s when David called back. He said he remembered me, remembered coming to connect my barn, and he will be finishing up his work at 5pm but he understand it is urgent so he will come over on his way home to take a look. I was so thankful. It feels like someone has got my back, and wouldn’t leave me completely alone, stranded in this humid house without AC. 

David came as promised, a little after 5pm, he called and told me he was on his way to assure he was coming. When he showed up at the door, I could see there were little salt marks on his face from the dried up sweat. I can imagine he probably just got down from someone else’s attic and drove to my house. David smiled a little, took his glasses off and wiped his forehead with a hankerchift, and put his glasses back on. “Trouble with the AC, I see?” He walked in and put down his tool belt by the AC & Furnace and started working. 

I have dealt with my fair share of contractors while renovating my first house. The industry is male-dominated and with my look and my height, I felt contractors would try to upcharge because they think “this little girl doesn’t know what’s going on but she will pay us. Let’s charge her extra.” Perhaps it is cinicism, maybe there are some truth to it. Or maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know. But I’ve always been extremely cautious with contractors.

David told me that the coil for the AC was broken. I knew he was right because last year, the same thing happened but the prior AC guy pumped some freon in, and told me the leak was fixed. David asked if I knew the AC was under warranty. I said, yes I registered it myself. He was very relieved. He said, “I ALWAYS register for my customers because it saves them tons of money when parts break like this.” He said, “don’t worry, I’ll pump some freon to get you going for now and that will last you a good few weeks. And I’ll order the parts, we can schedule some time when you don’t have Airbnb guests, and fix this. My estimate of the whole thing including my labor would be $xxx.” And actually, his final numbers (he gets paid by the hour) was a little less than his estimates but almost spot on.

The entire time David was working, he hummed a very quiet and joyful tune. The fact that he wasn’t stressed made me feel like there’s hope, and that he would be able to fix this in no time and life would go back to normal again. Sometimes he stops to push his glasses back up his nose. He would walk in and out of the house frequently to get yet another gadget I can’t name, but he always closes the door behind him, to make sure he doesn’t let cool air out (not that there was much cool air to start with). He would wipe his shoes on the door mat every single time he comes in, and at the end, he took a papertowel from his truck, and wiped the dust off where he was working.

That’s one of the first times I felt Arkansas wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t so bad that Arkansas is 10 years behind the time. Because behind L.A.’s convenience, best services, best reviews, and most innovative products, much of human connections have been long lost. There is nobody like David in L.A. Everyone is out for themselves and if you want something you MUST pay. I didn’t value the community and connections when I was in L.A. because I never understood fully what it was like to have neighbors you can rely on to watch over your house, to have contractors who become friends, and friends to look after your dog when you go out of town. I was very self-sufficient in L.A., but also alone. I had to be. I have no one to rely on. Strangely in Arkansas, I can trust almost complete strangers and become friends with them. 

This is when I realized I would probably never move back to L.A. I was building a career back then in L.A., but now I am building a life. 

 

Defeating the Monster of Convenience

Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

We live in a society now that’s filled with convenience: kitchen gadgets that prepare coffee for you on a timer, uber eats delivers your food right to your door within minutes, and Amazon Now delivers within two hours after your order. Moreover, you can now have:

  • vets that come to your house to do annual exams for your dog,
  • a personal trainer that would drive work-out equipment to your house for you to work out,
  • the KitchenAid that does all of your kneadings, 
  • your smart-thermostat turns on and heats the house to the proper temperature before you get home.

Wikipedia defines convenience as a labor-saving device, service, or substance which makes a task easier or more efficient than a traditional method

Sometimes, I don’t even see the convenience anymore because it is so ingrained in our daily lives. 

I remember when I was growing up in China, we hanged our clothes to dry outside on the balcony on a bamboo rod (my parents still do this). When I was 9, we had our first landline phones installed and I called my grandma a LOT back then because it was so new and fun. The excitement of talking to my grandma through a plastic device seemed endless to a 9-year-old. Then the internet came around when I was in middle school, and I can still remember the very distinct dial tone when the modem connects through the phone lines. Our modem was so shitty that it leaked electricity on the bottom.  If you put your hand underneath it, it makes your palm tingle a little. 

Convenience is just like anything else, once you have it, you want more. Three years ago, I bought my very first house and paid contractors to renovate it. Then I excitedly put in an entire set of new appliances: fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer, and dryer all in matching colors. I love the freshly laundered and dried clothes with these new machines, and it finally doesn’t smell like that slight mildew from a rental apartment washer & dryer. It wasn’t soon that I became unsatisfied even with that. I wanted my clothes done in 5 minutes instead of an hour and a half.  I found myself start thinking similar thoughts with driving to work and making meals. I want to get to work faster. It annoyed me that it takes 5 minutes to get to work, so I’d rather work from home. I find that I am always rushing. Rushing for the laundry to be done, rushing to go to work, rushing to come home, rushing to cook quickly (or Uber Eats before I head home).  

Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences.

The Tyranny of Convenience, Tim Wu

Too much convenience takes away our ability to appreciate what we have and live in the present. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I was rushing for back then, or why I needed all those efficiencies. I didn’t have a very demanding job and my boss was beyond reasonable when it comes to clocking in and out. What I did find was that I had less and less patience for other things as well. I would get easily annoyed if someone cuts in front of me in traffic, upset about waiting in line at the grocery checkout. Even waiting for the shower to warm up seems to be too long and too inconvenient. The monster of convenience seems to be looming in the shadows around every corner.

The way to defeat the monster is to purposefully add inconvenience to your life.

One day, I thought instead of optimizing my life, maybe I’d do the opposite and see what happens. So I biked to work that week. It took a little preparation because it was in the winter. I scouted out the route the weekend before, laid all my biking clothes out, and packed my work clothes in a bag to change into. It was a liberating feeling because I had to pay very close attention to the road, the same road I drive on but now I bike. Everything passes by slower. I see the stores on the side of the streets I never noticed before. I realize there was a slight incline of the road (bike harder, legs!). I was red in the face and breathing heavily as I got into work but my head felt clearer and my mood is lifted. 

It is a lot more hassle to bike to work instead of driving, but I started to enjoy it after a month or two. The inconvenience of biking to work forced me to make it another event, one that I have to devote almost my full attention to be present. Surprisingly, adding this inconvenience makes me happier. Along the way, I picked up biking as a hobby.

Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the non-instrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies — as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing code, timing waves or facing the point when the runner’s legs and lungs begin to rebel against him.

The Tyranny of Convenience, Tim Wu

Nowadays, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by too many things we commit, going from one place to another. Yet, we don’t reflect enough on the present and live in the present.

Consciously embracing inconvenience, or better, create inconvenience is a way for us to slow down and catch ourselves from being haunted by the ghost of the past or strangled by the worries of tomorrow.

Winter Gardening in Arkansas (Garlic, Kale, and More)

Mr. Code Junkie and I went back to his parents’ for Thanksgiving for a week and a half and we ate our weight in juicy turkey and delicious stuffings. It still feels like the parents’ house is the best since they have a stocked fridge full of wonderful surprises while our fridge looks like a college student short on money.

I had hoped my garden would hold up while I was gone because for a while there, it really was doing wonderful. The bak choy is producing every single day, the tomatoes are growing mad, and so are the peppers that I started in October! I had thought about putting a hoop house on this bed while I was gone but I looked at the forecast and it says it will go down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius), and I thought my plants can handle it.

Well, they did not.

According to my friend, the week we were gone, the temperature dipped down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius). Of all things, my calendula and lupine survived. The bak choy is struggling a little, but kale and cabbages seem to love the cold very much. 

I built a hoop house after watching this video by James Prigioni on Youtube and mine came out quite like his! Although I feel like his bed is probably a lot sturdier. According to Prigioni, the hoop house adds a zone and half which makes my zone (6A) 8 and a half! 

The garlic I planted in the fall (October-ish) all sprouted because we have had a fairly warm fall here in Northwest Arkansas. I forgot who recommended this seed company called Southern Exposure, but I got my garlic and some other seeds from this company and my sprouting rate has increased drastically compared to the seeds I buy from nurseries, or worse, Home Depot. I realized you can click on the little sun icon on the left column of the website and it shows all the seeds that are suitable for the South-East region (which isn’t exactly where I live but close enough). You can also filter by “Certified Organic,” “Heirloom,” and “From Small Farm.”

 

I recently got chatting with one of the guys who run a local orchard, and he introduced me to this rather rare fruit I have never heard before, pawpaws. This opened up a new door for me to explore all the fruit-growing hipsters of the world. After discussing with him, I decided to buy two Pawpaw trees and try it out. It takes 3 years for these trees to fruit, so I can practice my patience while I wait. I also read up on these from a book called For the Love of Pawpaws by Michael Judd. Apparently, my trees are descendants of the famous trees they cultivated from the University of Kentucky! They are supposed to taste like bananas + cantaloupe but each tree may produce a slightly different flavor of the fruit. And even crazier, there are pawpaw festivals

The reason I never heard about Pawpaws is that they have a very short shelf life (2-3 days) and cannot be transported like bananas, strawberries, and other fruits. The only way you can taste a pawpaw fruit is if you have a tree, or have a friend who has a tree! 

While there isn’t a lot going on in the garden in winter, I spent my time planning out next year’s garden layout! Learning from this year’s successes and failures (mostly failures and some dumb luck), I paired up different types of vegetables that are companions with each other, and only plant veggies I like to eat. I don’t know who I was kidding, planting beef-steak tomatoes and cucumbers thinking I would convert into a vegetarian overnight.

It is the time of year where we reflect, slow down, cook soups, spend time with loved ones, and gather our hopes for the new year (though we should always do all of these things!). I hope you are cherishing what you have and taking a break from the normal busy life to enjoy a bit of gardening in the winter.

#6 Update on the Barn: Drywall

Lots of debris and tools!

We finally got some big progress on the barn – DRYWALL! Our handyman came all last week and put up all the drywall around the barn and mud the first coat for the drywall seam. 

For the drywall in the bathroom, we used this green mold-resistant drywall. The seams will be mudded twice and then it’ll be ready for prime & paint!

It was really hard to take photos while the scaffolding is up. We just need a few more days and another coat of the mudding and we shall have an almost-finished barn!

For reference, this is what the barn looked like without drywalls. It took us a lot of time and efforts to put in the wall insulation and find the right contractor for the roof insulation but we can totally tell the difference now when we are inside (see our post here)! Last week, for a few days the weather was in the upper 90s outside, while the barn still remained relatively cool. It really paid off that we put in R-39 on the roof! 

It’s fascinating that a few drywall pieces can make this much difference. What used to be just a structure with studs now looks almost livable! 

You can catch up on the entire tiny house renovation here. From when we bought it, to exterior fixes, window installations, plumbing, and concrete leveling.

#5: How I Built a Wooden Ladder to the Loft

We are in a little holding pattern right now on our barn renovation as we wait for our contractor to come back and finish the drywall. We finished the insulation in July and decided to build the ladder to the loft ourselves. It turned out to be very easy!

Here’s the video I followed to build the ladder. Shout out to this random very handy guy on YouTube that broke down the steps for making a ladder. 

I wrote out the materials I bought. I was able to get all of them from Lowe’s.

  • Speed Square $10(to make the ladder 75 degrees from the floor)
  • Timberlok screws $30 (I bought a box of 50 with the bits)
  • Power Tools $179 I have Makita and I absolutely love them
  • Lumber: 2x6x16 ~$25

One of my biggest hangups is that I don’t yet have a table saw (or any kind of wood cutting tools) and I rely heavily on Home Depot/Lowes to cut the wood for me. Here’s a step-by-step guide I followed to ensure I had a successful trip out of it.

So I asked the lovely associate working there to cut 4 blocks of 20 inches out of each 16 ft lumber, and I took the rest (about 9.5 ft) in my tiny car (sticking it out of the sunroof!) back to the barn. *Pro-tip: when cutting these steps, they don’t have to be exactly 20 inches, but they do need to be exactly the same length with each other. Once you cut the first piece, use this piece as a guideline for all other pieces that will help you build the ladder straight!

The hardest part is probably trying to screw all of the steps together which I followed the youtube guy’s suggestion but it’s a lot harder than it looks. In the end, I was able to get them semi-aligned with each other so that the steps are visually leveled. Next time, I think I’ll buy clamps like this to help align the steps before drilling and attaching the screws.

Alas, I climbed up this ladder and it didn’t collapse underneath me!

If you’d like to read more about my tiny barn building process, here are all the other articles. Happy building!

Tiny Saga #4: Framing & Insulation

When we tore out the garage door, we also demolished the second-floor subflooring. We also added 2’x2′ around the studs to make them 6′ in depth (it used to be 2’x4’s on the roof) on the roof to comply with the city inspection code on insulation later on.

We rented a local dumpster service for the demolition of the subflooring and the garage door. These guys are so professional and extended extra days because my handyman was running a little late. *Pro-tip: always negotiate (and do it nicely). Our local dumpster service guy was very friendly and told us if we rented it for a Friday pick-up, he will most likely not have time to pick it up, and leave the dumpster for the weekend and pick it up Monday. This allowed us extra days to throw all the construction trash on the weekend. Conversely, the dumpster companies are usually less busy mid-week, so negotiating Tuesday – Tuesday (8 days) rental would be a lot easier than a Friday – Monday (4 days), and sometimes they’ll even be cheaper!

The sub-floor of the loft consists of 2x8s based on the size of the loft in the building code for our area (see below). 

Because the wall studs were 20 inches apart (instead of the 16 inches for dwellings), we had to add one new stud in between each old stud in order to pass inspection. This made the space between each stud 10 inches and inevitably made insulation a lot harder. Each insulation strip we bought (store-bought is usually 16 inches) needed to be cut to 9-10 inches wide and installed. For future reference, I would have insisted on making a stud at the 16-inch mark because it would make insulation a lot faster.

The biggest hurdle we found was trying to find someone to spray open-cell insulation foam on the roof. It is hard to find anyone who wants to come and spray the foam because it is a very small area. We had one guy who bailed out on us after 5+ weeks of waiting. Eventually, we found a guy recommended by our realtor who came the next day and sprayed in the foam. It is important to note that when you ask for spray foam, make sure to ask if they are going to use their own generator because the guy who came and sprayed ours asked if he could plug into an outlet. But because he needed a 220v and we don’t have an outlet with the same voltage, he decided to just hook the spraying machine up to his generator. Had we allowed him to use the electricity in the house, we may be paying a lot more in our electric bill that month. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it would be a negotiating point for pricing at that point.

It took another two weeks for us to put in the wall insulation. We had to wear full-body suits, gloves, and masks to ensure the fiberglass doesn’t get on our skin. It is now so hot and humid in the summer of NW Arkansas, we had to take frequent breaks as we put in the insulation. Towards the end, Mr. Codejunkie and I found our rhythm: I would cut the insulation batting while he installs them and measures the next cavity length and width.

It was definitely a celebratory moment when the city inspector came in and gave us the green light for the completion of the inspection. It took the inspector a total of 2 seconds and he gave us the green slip right away!

A couple of lessons I learned was: 

  1. Always ask the inspector for ideas at the beginning of your project. 

I asked the inspector about insulation when I presented the project to him. He’s the one who told me about adding 2’x2′ on the roof studs and spray foam insulation. Had I not know that I would have found out the hard way and thinking the insulation cannot be done because prior to this, I didn’t know there was a difference between spray foam, batting, and blown-in insulation!

2. Waiting for 2 weeks is the maximum I will do for subcontractors.

Of course, this is just a general rule for dealing with new subcontractors instead of the ones I have worked with many times before. But I will not wait for a subcontractor for more than two weeks.

I would have never let this slip if I were running this construction as a business, so I should reconsider using this subcontractor after he has stood me up twice (he ended up standing me up 5+ times).

This subcontractor was recommended by my trusted electricians. He also installed the A/C and heating unit in my house. He runs a small business of insulation so he gave me a very cheap price on open-cell spray foam. He also talked about insulation and energy efficiency passionately. The only drawback my electricians warned me was that this guy is hard to get a hold of, and I just had to keep calling him. So I did. For many weeks, I called him every week around Monday, and he often told me that he’s sorry he’s busy that day, but he has it on his schedule to come out later in the week to spray the roof and ask me to call him back later in the week to remind him. I would follow up with him later in the week and he’d say, “I have another job lined up that I want to spray both yours and the other house together since you have small square footage. This way I don’t have to set up the spraying machine twice.” It made sense, so I thought I could just call back again. Usually, the project gets delayed because his other project gets canceled. I thought if I were diligent and friendly, eventually, I could get him to spray the insulation. It struck me that he had no respect for me when I called after 5+ weeks of waiting and following-up weekly, he picked up the phone and said: “are you doing your weekly call and begging me to do work for you again?”

Since then, I found another insulation contractor to spray the foam onto the ceiling and I’ve decided to put a time limit on how long I would wait for a contractor to show up for the job.

For my other tiny house articles, check out this page that contains them all.

#3 Getting on-grid: Connecting Plumbing and Electricity

After we finished the plumbing inside the barn, it was another couple of weeks of waiting until the plumber came back to connect this plumbing to the front of the house (to the city water, sewer, and electricity). Originally, I looked into being off-grid, but it was a lot of day-to-day hassle to deal with composting toilet and rainwater shower/water tower, so I decided to hook it up to the city’s sewer.

Plumber Austin trying to connect the sewer after the rain. I definitely have more respect for these guys after seeing what they go through in order to get the sewer line to work.

The electricians also needed to lay their wires in a similar route but after they inquired with the city inspector, the city inspector asked them to dig two separate trenches (which was SO UNNECESSARY!). Our electrician (and we) tried to explain to the inspector that there isn’t any space to dig two separate trenches 2 feet apart, but the inspector insisted on us digging twice. Sometimes the city rules don’t make sense in practicality, but we know the inspector wasn’t nitpicking on us as we befriended him early on in our project. It is always key to befriend your local city inspectors and meet them in person to explain your project prior to starting your project. 

We complied with the city requirements and as a bonus to this extra step, I got to ride on my electricians’ tractor for a glorified minute, dug one single scoop of dirt while Mr. B took a photo!

The yard, on the other hand, having been torn up twice in two months, was left with a yellow sandy scar throughout the summer. Tali seems to be enjoying the sandy soft ground quite a lot.

If you want to read more about our tiny barn progress, here’s ALL the articles

#2: Plumbing Update in Our Tiny Barn

While everything is happening outside with the removal of the garage door and installation of the front window, the plumbing inside the barn was underway as well. 

At first, I downloaded Sketchup and used it for free for 30 days to sketch out how the tiny barn would look like inside. I drew a downstairs (left) and upstairs loft (right) 3D model. 

Ultimately, there are other small changes made to this plan, like the bathroom and the water-heater swapped with each other. Other than that, there are no big changes.

Now it is the hard part to gather all the subcontractors around our area to do some of this work. We interviewed three plumbers around the area and got quotes from all of them. We ended up choosing this guy Trey who’s the most honest upfront with all the costs and detailed out his worn and it turns out he was totally a hidden gem. 

Here’s the areas that we needed the concrete to be cut out. 

This took us a few tries to find a contractor to be willing to come out for this job. Apparently, around this area of the town, there are so many construction sites going on, nobody wants to come out for such a small job. Eventually, we found a guy 2 hours away who’s willing to come out and bash out some concrete for us. It was rainy season in Arkansas in the Spring, and it was pretty muddy in here for a while.

At first, I really didn’t want to hire out for plumbing because it is probably one of the most expensive parts of this whole build. But once I saw how muddy and slippery the condition was when the guys were working here, I was very glad I hired out for this job. It’s like one of those scenes from Dirty Jobs!

Pros definitely got this job done a lot faster than I have imagined. This whole thing took about a day and half! Now the gravel is in to hold the pipe in place. You can see it just passed inspection (with the neon green sticker on the right pipe) and they are getting ready to pour the concrete back in.

The toilet and vanity will be on the left, and a 3’x5′ shower on the right. Here’s a much more satisfying photo of after-clean-up:

Finding yet another person to pour the concrete back. We contemplated on doing this ourselves because we couldn’t get anyone to come out. After a week of struggling, our handyman took pity on us and just poured it in for us one day. This is when the concrete was still setting. It looks satisfyingly flat and wonderful!

If you want to read more about our entire process, here’s ALL the articles we have!