Category Archives: work and life

Building a Window Header

A light rain was falling early this morning as Joseph and I drove to the airport.  He will be in New York until the end of the year, and I’ll be joining him there soon.  We left our tiny house behind, parked snug in the barn on the sheep ranch.  We had a lot of sheep-related work in the past few weeks, which probably slowed down our housebuilding.  But it all feels like part of the same life-building.

Yesterday while we were fixing and clearing the electrical wire that runs all around the sheep pastures and protects the sheepies from coyotes, I made up a new phrase, which will be quite useful in ranch life and building life.  We were looking at a little plastic piece which snaps onto a fence post and holds a groove for the electrical wire.  This little piece is perfectly designed to attach to the fence and to hold the wire the right distance, the right height.  It’s “Just Right Tech.”  It’s not high tech; it’s a simple plastic piece.  It’s not low tech; it’s been manufactured to snap onto a fence post in just the right way.  We’re calling it Just Right Tech, and looking forward to opportunities for adding more Just Right Tech to our tiny house.

While we are away, we’ll be updating a little less frequently but we do have some build videos all set for you and ready to send out.  Today’s video shows the process of building a header.  The header is the structural piece which distributes the weight of the roof down the studs, rather than that weight resting on your window.  We’ve built a number of headers (for just about each of our windows), and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.  Check out the video for the step-by-step process and Joseph’s explanation of headers.

And if you’re wondering about the photo at the top of the post… yes, we did bring our Lambie over to visit.  Lambs are pretty dirty, so she won’t be able to visit once we’re further along.  But we wanted her lovely lambie-ness to have been inside our home!

Moving Half a House

There we were: going along building our house, thinking about walls, about windows, about roofs… when we arrived one morning to a  Cease and Desist order from the Town of Sonoma!  What happened?

When we had researched the legality of building on our group build site everything looked good.  We found many instances in the Sonoma building code in which what we were doing was not actually “building,” because our houses are on wheels, the build site was temporary, and more.  We thought we were good to go.

However.  While we were not in violation of the rules around building, we were in violation of the rules around the stuff you can do in that zone of Sonoma.  Our build site was located in a Multi-Use Zone.  In the Multi-Use zone you can do X,Y, and Z.  And you can’t do A,B, or C.  And even if you are doing “J” or “12” or “Tiny House,” which is not specifically prohibited, since it is also not specifically allowed…. we are not allowed to do it!  After a number of long conversations with the very helpful, courteous, but firm professionals at the Sonoma City Planners Office, we accepted it.  We had to Cease and Desist; we had to build elsewhere.

So, bright and early one warm Sonoma Saturday morning, Joseph and I arrived at the build site.  We re-attached the taillights to our trailer (which required some amateur electrical re-wiring), we nailed on some kickstand 2X4s to support our two walls, we strapped our walls into place with yellow straps tested at 10,000 pounds and snugged them up tight, we piled all the materials we could manage into the bed of the truck, and we headed off on a slow journey back to the sheep ranch where we live.

Serious straps on our plywood sheathing.
Serious straps on our plywood sheathing

In case you were wondering: No, it is not a good idea to move half a house.  It is not a good idea to go flinging down the backroads of Sonoma County with two heavy walls, attached in an L-shape to each other and to your trailer.  Not recommended.  But we didn’t want to deal with taking the walls down, and then somehow getting them up again by ourselves, so we went for it.

It was a slow and occasionally harrowing journey.  At the last moment, only about 100 feet from it’s new site, one of the walls buckled and a kickstand snapped off.  But, on the whole, we got our house home in one piece.  Huge sighs of relief.

New location for the tiny house build
New location for the tiny house build

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As you may know from our last post, we live on a sheep ranch near Petaluma where we are caretakers for the sheep and the property.  The owners and leasers of the ranch were generous enough to allow us to continue our tiny house build on this property, and here we are.  Our group build-mates are not sure where they’ll move their builds.  They are still waiting on their SIPS, so they have some time to figure it out… but let us know if you have some Sonoma property where they could build!

We’re now embarking on a new stage of our build process, Group Build 2.0, so to speak.  We are still cooperating and helping each other out, but now our process is spread out across the county, with our little house going up right outside of our current house.  In the video below we show the tiny house in its new location, and talk a little bit about the pros and cons of this new situation.

Lessons learned:  Check out all applicable municipal codes very carefully.  Don’t move half a house, or if you do, breathe deeply and drive slowly!

If anyone else is planning to build in the town of Sonoma, we would be happy to send you all the relevant and well-researched details of what we know now about building there, just ask!

Life on the Sheep Ranch

There’s a ranch in Sonoma County, with sheep and cows mostly – some horses, turkeys, bobcats, jackrabbits, a family of deer, and a tall redwood where ravens harass red-tails, and owls just try to blend in.  A three-mile dirt road winds off of a twelve-mile, farm-lined paved road (that leads to ‘civilization’), and at the end of that road is the ranch, a house, and us.    We are caretakers of this land for the owners (who live elsewhere).  Our lives are rich with sheepy-details and sheepy-learnings; we are the shepherds here.

We love this place.  We love the rolling California hills, which were kelly green and smacked of Ireland when we arrived six months ago, and are now a deep, golden-brown .  Here is a little video of us and the property only a few days after we arrived.


We have both lived in plenty of off-grid situations before, but neither of us knew anything about animal husbandry.  There are two flocks of sheep we’re responsible for, one for meat, one for milk, about 150 sheep in total.  We feed them, water them, repair their barn, and generally keep an eye on them.  They tend to get their heads stuck in fences,  sprain ankles, and sometimes they escape their pastures, only to get left behind by the herd.  As herd animals, being alone is the worst.

A month or two after we arrived a mama sheep died, and we raised her baby, who we started calling Lambikin (rhymes with ramekin).  We fed her lamb formula from a bottle twice a day for about two months.  She stayed around our house and slept in a barn across from us rather than wandering with the herd.

Here is a Lambikin photo collection, from our first feeding when she was just a  baby lamb, to a photo from just the other day, where you can see her as the robust, trouble-making teenage lamb that she is now.

Lambie's first feeding. She was terrified of us at first.  But it only took a couple of days for her to change her mind about us, and soon she was following us around.
Lambie’s first feeding. She was terrified of us at first. But it only took a couple of days for her to change her mind, and soon she was following us around.
Lambs don't really like to cuddle or play the ways dogs or cats do.  We guess that as "prey" animals it feels like an attack.  But Lambikin does like having her neck scratched, she also likes bumping up against you so that she knows where you are, and resting her head in your hand.
Lambs don’t really like to cuddle or play the ways dogs or cats do. We think that as prey animals it feels like an attack. But Lambikin does like having her neck scratched, she also likes bumping up against you so that she knows where you are, and resting her head in your hand.
Kind of the best photo of Lambikin ever, with our dear friend's wonderful son.  He was scared of Lambie at first (he'd never seen such an animal before!) and she was scared of him ('cause she's scared of pretty much everything) but they got used to each other and we think they even shared some baby mammal secrets with each other.
Kind of the best photo of Lambikin ever, with our dear friend’s wonderful son. He was scared of Lambie at first (he’d never seen such an animal before!) and she was scared of him (because she’s scared of pretty much everything), but they got used to each other and we think they even shared some baby mammal secrets with each other.
A very patient lamb.
A very patient lamb.
Lambikin on the runway.
Lambikin on the runway.
Lambie is starting to get Sheepie.
Lambie is starting to get Sheepie.

Eventually, and with trepidation, we re-introduced her to the flock.   She is doing really well there.  We think she is a well-adjusted sheep.  When we go out to feed the sheep  they all run away (they always run away, that’s what they do), but Lambie runs towards us baa-ing her baa that is so distinctive only to us.  We love her the most.

This is an experiment.  Testing the waters of living off the map, with the hope of one day parking our tiny house in a place like this.  A place that has room for community; a place with open land where you don’t have to worry about running the tractor into anything and the circadian rhythm of life takes over.  A place where we can step outside and take a deep breath when we need some space to create or wander.

This is one of many seeds being sown right now.  We’re learning new skills at every turn and planning way down in the sub-conscious for something still to come.  What it looks like…well…how can we know?

Or as Lambikin would certainly say…..  Baa.