Monday, May 29, 2017

Tiny trip evokes big Civil War memories

Elizabeth C. Dinger, the Poplar Grove National
Cemetery lead park ranger who oversaw the
refurbishing of the cemetery, poses with
re-enactors from Pennsylvania at the descendants’
ceremony marking the reopening
of the cemetery on April 28
    Memorial Day started as Decoration Day to honor those who died in the Civil War. So it seems fitting today to share my guest post from the Bangor (ME) Daily News blog "Maine and the Civil War."
    Thanks to the blog's creator, Brian Swartz, for including my story of my great-great-grandfather, Willard Greenleaf Delano of the First Maine Heavy Artillery, who died in the Battle of Petersburg.
    The story came out of a weekend trip we took in April to Richmond, VA, for a family ceremony at the rededication of Poplar Grove National Cemetery. We also visited with with a dear college friend and her husband, explored the history in the Virginia State Capitol and sampled the city's fine craft beer.
    Thanks to a super-cheap direct Allegiant flight (Sanford, FL to Richmond) and a very reasonable Air B&B place, the trip fit right into the tiny retirement budget.

A descendant seeks her Maine Civil War 
hero at Poplar Grove National Cemetery

    If you get to Richmond, check out the capitol for its dynamic role in our nation's founding.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tiny House Festival Has Huge Turnout

This 1962 Airstream Globe Trotter lived up
to its name with 27 vintage travel decals.
The Florida Tiny House Festival last week in St. Augustine, Florida, was anything but tiny. Over 60,000 folks swarmed into the St. Johns County Fairgrounds, just 15 minutes from my house, to explore all sorts of tiny living and lectures.

For three days, tiny houses were joined by vintage campers, teardrop trailers, skoolies (converted school buses), camper vans, and portable cabins and tiny barns. Some visitors came to be inspired, others came for specific tips for a build they’re working on. And fans of tiny house TV shows came to be entertained.

So many people, old and young, are looking at small spaces for so many reasons, and the festival had something for everyone. I even visited the on-site camping area, and had a nice visit with two women staying in camper vans, one in a classic VW camper who made the trek from California and one in a Chevy high-top morphed into a gypsy haven. The owner, Lorrie Ann Thomas, really worked magic - she won the Best Decorated Campsite Award.

Earlier this year, a tiny house was part of the fun at the grand opening of 84 Lumber near the fairgrounds in Elkton. The company sells tiny house kits, and a completed one hosted hundreds of curious guests from as far away as Orlando. St. Augustine also had a visit from the Lunsford family in the #tinylab house on their Proof Is Possible Tour. Stay tuned for detailed tiny house pictures from both events.

Meanwhile, here is a gallery of the Tiny House Festival.

Gypsy wagon built by
Trekker Trailers from Eustis, FL 
Tiny chalet selling renaissance goods
Teardrop trailer towed by vintage truck
Another teardrop trailer's kitchen
1964 Chevy Corvair Greenbrier
towing a teardrop trailer
More sleeping room in the
Greenbriar Scooby van. Drool.
Fooled me - not a VW van,
but a travel trailer by Dub Box
Dub Box interior
Portable tiny barn from
Weather King of Brooksville, FL
Harlman Outdoor Photography's
fiberglass Casita travel trailer
Tiny house and film promoting tiny
houses for people who are homeless
D & S Retrovation from
Bonita Springs, FL, had the right idea

1950s Chevy Bel Air wagon tow vehicle
Chevy Bel Air with vintage travel gear
The Bel Air's matching vintage
"canned ham" camper

Another vintage camper's kitchen
The camper's bed
The camper's dinette
Yellow and white vintage camper
The interior

Mexican themed vintage camper
with Frida Kahlo curtains
I know, right? The owners bought it decorated.
Another vintage tow vehicle -
aqua ruled the day
Happy Trails!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trending Tiny Hums Along

It's been awhile since I've posted, but stay tuned for coverage of the 2016 Florida Tiny House Festival, how to choose a small camper van and tips on renovating a retro trailer. 

In the meantime, you can fit in the Smart car to get to Thanksgiving dinner, but you might need the Hummer to make it home. Happy Turkey and Tofurkey Day!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Senior Success: Living Larger While Trending Tiny

What if life got bigger, instead of smaller, as we age? 

As we downsize our homes, possessions and expenses, can we grow socially, creatively, mentally and physically?

Aunt Tae, Wii bowling champ at age 98
Photo by Letty DiLeo
I’ve been seeing signs all over that we can. I just joined a new gym, and it has a Silver Sneakers program. Many Medicare plans include membership to this fitness program, housed in 13,000 locations all over the country. I’m not old enough to join, but when I peek in the packed studio I see not only active people, but people forging bonds and sharing laughs. One member, age 70, told me she had no time to take classes before she retired, but now attends up to six a week. She values the friendships she has made as much as the benefits of exercise.

Daniel J. Langton’s new book, 
much of it written in his 80s
A recent New York Times article, “Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind” by Abby Ellin, cites many examples of seniors who now excel at skills they developed later in life. The article quotes Karl A. Pillemer, a professor of gerontology at Cornell University: “We absolutely have to revamp this idea of a linear pattern of accomplishment that ends when you’re 50 or 60. There are simply too many examples of people who bloom late, and it’s the most extraordinary time of their life.” The examples range from the famous (Grandma Moses) to the lesser know (Jan Hively, a retired educator in Yarmouth, MA, who is quoted in the article: “I’m doing my most meaningful work at 83.”)  

Within my own family I find dear relatives over 80, some continuing to do well, or even better, what they have done for decades. Others are taking on whole new roles. My cousin Daniel J. Langton, the poet, has penned some of his richest work in his 80s. My Aunt Tae, now 100, became Wii bowling champ in her assisted living home at age 98. 

And it turns out science is on the side of seniors. The Times article points out two different types of intelligence: crystallized (general knowledge) and fluid (problem solving) intelligence. Fluid intelligence and the ability to solve problems usually peaks in our late 20s. But crystallized knowledge increases as we age. Yay! All that general knowledge is bound to find a creative outlet, especially once retirement gives you the time to think about it.

Studies also are showing you can improve fluid intelligence, the intelligence that shrinks with age, with non-academic pursuits, according to an article in Psychology Today. The author, Christopher Bergland, lists physical activity, playing a musical instrument, making art, improving motor skills, meditation, daydreaming, and getting a good night’s sleep. Sounds like a great checklist for tiny retirement to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seven Steps to Smaller Joys

The vintage North Carolina 
pottery glows against 
the wood grain.
Photos by Letty DiLeo
The bigger your house, the harder it is to trend tiny. The more stuff you have, the more difficult to downsize. This seems pretty obvious, but until you make the move, you have no idea.

And our move from our house of 2,200 square feet to one of 1,700, while not dramatic, still called for more purging than we realized. Our old house, almost 100 years old, had nooks and crannies to store all kinds of stuff accumulated over 23 years. The new house, five years old, is more sparse: spacious rooms, but far less storage. Here are the steps we took to get ready.

1. We started by making lists of major items that were coming with us, being sold, or being donated. Since we were using a moving company, we didn’t want to move even one item that would not fit in the new house. 

2. We used a floor plan and scale model rectangles of our furniture to plan out each room. 

3. In addition to lists for keeping and donating, we also had sub-lists of the best place for sale times to go. 

Even the teardrop camper has its own home in the garage, 
ready for some tiny retirement camping.
4. We decided against a yard sale as too much effort for too little return. Instead we chose two consignment stores and an auction house, and listed a few big items, like a piano and treadmill, on Craigslist. 

5. The first store offered free pickup, but was very selective in what it accepted. We got them to take as many of our nicer, bigger pieces as possible.

6.The second consignment shop was less selective, but you had to get the stuff to them. We brought in smaller, nice items that were easy to transport and likely to sell.

7. The auction house took just about anything, and offered pickup, but a small cash return since stuff sold so cheaply at auction. We offered them some bigger items and also donated many things to our favorite charity thrift shop.

It was a bit frantic at times, but finally all that remained was what we were bringing with us. I’ll skip over moving day. We liked our local movers and we were going only 15 minutes away, so it went pretty smoothly.

My pottery collection in a thrifted corner 
cabinet adds warmth, memories, and joy.
The overwhelming part was waking up to a sea of boxes. We had packed ourselves efficiently, but in the rush did not do a great job of labeling. It seemed to take forever to clear a room of boxes and find places to put three generations of stuff. I had pared down my keepsakes, but not enough. But nothing big had to go: our little rectangles had done their job. Our desks even fit into our tiny new office, a fifth the size of our old one, by mere inches.

But I had to get tougher on my boxes of tchotchkes, knickknacks and antiques that date back to my great -grandmother. I’ve now boxed up stuff I have no place for but am not quite ready to sell or give away. I also boxed things I know I want to keep but don’t have a spot for right now. I donated a bunch more things. And I chose the items I did want to display: my North Carolina pottery from my cousins, aunt, mother and grandfather. We had sold our large china cabinet, knowing it would not fit. But I went in search for a small corner cabinet and found one at the second thrift store I tried for $40. Three generations of rustic pottery now adds a homey charm to a new house that’s short on nooks and crannies.

We learned that trending smaller involves carefully curating your belongings, finding creative ways to dispose of stuff you don’t need or want, and taking time to display and enjoy things that give you joy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tiny plan provides big support

A web of support
photograph of a show performed by Fuerza Bruta 
Photo by Letty DiLeo
A plan to trend tiny may look small, scribbled on a napkin, jotted down in a note on smart phone, but it has a big impact.

Ours was short and sweet – fall in love with a smaller house and make ourselves fit into it. And we are just about there...10 days and counting. That little plan has given us a blueprint to follow over the last few months. And sometimes our goal of downsizing seemed to be the only stable thing in a whirlwind of larger life changes.

Fun with grandma
To give you an idea, our daughter's departure for college a thousand miles away happened the same day my dear mother-in-law passed away after a long illness. There we were on the road from Florida in a North Carolina motel, with the message, "She's gone," still vibrating over the phone lines and nothing we could do but get back in the car for another eight-hour drive.

It was a sad time. Our daughter is the only grandchild in the family, and grew up with grandma's spaghetti and sauce and sleepovers full of giggles. As we drove up the coast with heavy hearts, I texted our friends and family and condolences started to pour in. It gave us a warm feeling that love and technology could weave a tight web of support even roaring up I-95.

Dorm room contents 
waiting for carts
We started to tell stories about fun and funny times with Dale's mom, and soon we were all laughing more than crying. Dale pointed out a great irony: for years he had slept with his cell phone by his bed, waiting for a late night call about his mom. With one day between losing his mom and dropping his daughter off at college, for 24 hours he didn't care where his cell phone was. But the next night it was back on the bedside table.

When we move to our smaller house in 10 days, a lot of things will be gone, but that phone will still be a beacon of love and technology in the night.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Beat of Change: You Say 'Goodbye' & I Say 'Hello'

Our house of the future
Sometimes you’re so busy living life, there’s no time to reflect on it. Or blog about it. That’s been the case around here for the last three months, so it’s time to take stock.

We’ve made some decisions about our future and things are starting to happen. We realized that as we downsize, we are not quite ready to rent a house instead of owning again. We don’t need the flexibility yet: We want to keep St. Augustine as our base for a least five years. We also are not ready to go truly tiny. Our home needs room for our business and our daughter when she comes home from college. 

With that in mind, we discovered a neighborhood we had not noticed before, and it had one house for sale by owner that called our name. It is a smaller, newer version of the 1920s bungalow we live in now. We didn’t want to move until the Fall, and the homeowners didn’t either because they are building a new home. So we all got creative. We borrowed on our home, bought the house and are renting it back to the lovely couple and their two little girls.

Our house today
Over the next six months, we will continue our work of getting rid of stuff from our current house. Our daughter will leave for college, and pare down her things before she leaves. We will put our house on the market in the next few months. So we will have to live with less, which may be the only thing that will force my hand in the downsize department. Luckily, I do well under deadline.

The new place is trending tinier for us in more ways than stuff and square footage. Because it’s further from the water, it costs a lot less per square foot, and insurance is a small fraction of what we pay for our old house now. It’s more energy efficient and the upkeep will be easier and cheaper. It feels good to be buttoning things up a bit as we trend toward tiny retirement.

Housing is not the only arena that’s been in flux around here. For over 20 years, we have published, warehoused and shipped books in the disability field. Over the last few years, we’ve been converting to ebooks and on-line training. Bit by bit we downsized, reducing inventory storage units, our downtown office and shipping supplies. As we sold out of a book, rather than reprint we made the ebook version available.

The last of the shipping supplies
This week, on my daughter’s final day of high school, I shipped our last book. After two decades of shipping, and seven years of school carpooling, I wanted to do the happy dance and sing, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!” But my family frowns on my singing, which is fully justified, so I settled for just the happy dance. Now when we move, we won’t need a room dedicated to shipping and product storage. 

But don’t get me started on my daughter leaving for college. I’m not big on change, so it feels good to have some concrete plans. It’s a lot easier to say goodbye to what you’re used to when you can say hello to something new. 

You say "Yes", I say "No".
You say "Stop" and I say "Go, go, go".
Oh no.
You say "Goodbye" and I say "Hello, hello, hello".
I don't know why you say "Goodbye", I say "Hello, hello, hello".
I don't know why you say 
"Goodbye", I say "Hello".