About two years ago, maybe a bit longer, I began to hear about the tiny-house movement. No, it’s not about living in the Barbie Dream House, but you’re closer to the truth than you think. The idea was that people, fed up with high mortgage payments, loads of possessions, and a high cost of living, would shed their huge houses for a tiny alternative, many of which they built themselves.
There were articles; websites; and then, after a time, TV shows about building, buying, and living in tiny houses. Now, keep in mind that most people define a tiny house as having 400 to 500 square feet of living space.
In 1978, the average American home was 1,780 square feet and, in 2013, it was 2,662 square feet, despite the shrinking of the average size of the American family. One other detail to keep in your mind: The last state room my wife and I had on a cruise ship was under 200 square feet and that included a full bathroom, queen bed, and an ocean view.
Many of the hallmarks of tiny houses are almost nautical, in that, like the accommodations on boats, every square inch of space is used in as efficient a manner as possible. Storage is found in every nook and cranny, large appliances are avoided, and many accommodations are made that most of us would find tough to live with (folding furniture, loft sleeping, one room).
And the folks in these shows and documentaries all say the same things: They want lower costs; simpler lives; fewer possessions; and a focus on experience and living life, as opposed to working non-stop to afford stuff.
You might peg these folks as crunchy-granola, left-wing, hippie folks who love kale and run vegan restaurants on the side, and, in some cases, that might be true. But mostly they just want lower bills and fewer things cluttering their lives.
I have no problem with those goals and, in light of our current economy and world situation, they seem quite sane. But, alas, the forces of capitalism have invaded and kind of hijacked the tiny-house movement.
Now a tiny house can be bought just like a regular house complete with custom finishes, multiple sizes, all sorts of gizmos and at a price that is no longer any great bargain. Many early tiny-house people were able to build or have built a livable structure under $20,000, but now you can easily spend triple that.
I even saw one model that opened at the touch of a button like the pop-out on a big travel trailer. This is not your mother’s tiny house.
Some of the shows follow people who have their houses built by “tiny house experts” but, from what I saw, the experts were just greedy carpenters who had glommed onto a new market. One guy was quoting prices so high I swear he was salivating on camera.
Now, the thing is that, while a new house for many people can cost anywhere from $275,000 to $750,000 depending on size and locale, one could look at a tiny house at $60,000 as a bargain. Well, I don’t see the bargain when one features a single tiny bathroom, many times with a composting toilet and maybe a total of 400 square feet of living space and the other features many bathrooms and 2,000 to 5,000 square feet of living space.
Some people have suggested the tiny-house people are too extreme and most Americans could never downsize that much. That might be so, but what I think we really need is a small-house movement.
What if you could buy or build a 750- to 1,000-square-foot house that featured good-quality materials, energy-saving features, and decent-quality workmanship for maybe $75,000 to $150,000 depending on size and locale?
I’m talking about a house like our parents and grandparents would have lived in. I’m talking about kitchens that don’t feature granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. Bathrooms that have sinks that look like sinks and not modern art. And houses that are built in clusters or on large lots for the sake of green space and privacy (pick your preference).
Tiny houses will never be the norm in this country but they certainly point in a positive direction. Now, if we could just get things out of the hands of the money-grubbing marketers and greedy developers and into the hands of people interested in serving the people as well as the planet, we might have something.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg notes that he and his family live in half of an 1880s-era house in the village of Altamont. They rent out the other half to a tenant. There are no granite countertops in either apartment.
Not too long ago, there was quite a little controversy when a book came out claiming that roaming cats were doing irreparable harm to the wild bird population. Cat lovers immediately jumped to the defense of their furry little carnivores and even other scientists questioned the validity of the statistical model the book was built on.
I read one or two of the stories, and, after hearing both sides, I’m going to have to agree with the skeptics on this one. However, I will say that, based on my own backyard observations, cats are a bloodthirsty lot. And, if I were a small rodent or bird, I’d be very wary.
Of our four cats, two are true indoor-outdoor models. Romeo and Sylvie spend a good portion of each day roaming outdoors and getting into all sorts of kitty mischief. Before you start in with the lectures, let me just say that both are up to date on shots and flea-tick protection, and both have collars. Romeo is microchipped, too.
And, most importantly, both want to be outside and are happiest when they can choose in or out. Of course, they tend to change their minds six times per hour, but that’s a different issue.
Getting back to my original point, both of these cats like fresh food and they’re more than capable and willing to go hunting. Of the two, I would say that Romeo is the more skilled hunter. He’s bigger than Sylvie by a good 50 percent and I’ve seen him bring down chipmunks, birds, voles, mice, at least one squirrel, and, believe it or not, a garter snake.
He’s so good, the neighbors said he’s welcome anytime as he’s been hell on their mouse population. If he could speak, he’d probably sound like Liam Neeson in “Taken”: “Now listen to me you little rodents, I have certain skills….”
Watching the cats stalk is truly reminiscent of those nature shows we used to watch as kids with the majestic lions bringing down the poor wildebeest. In this case, our not-as-majestic kitties bring down the poor whatever-they-can-get-their-claws-and-teeth-into.
But with cats, they seem to think their prey can also act as playmates. I’ve seen both Romeo and Sylvie come trotting back from a hunt with something furry and wiggling in their mouths. They’ll drop the critter, circle around it, pet it, bump it, toss it around, and play with it. Finally, when the poor thing is pretty much a goner, they’ll apologize and kill it. Then, and this gets a bit graphic, they proceed to eat it.
On a recent successful hunt, Romeo came back with a young chipmunk, which he dropped. I called to him and he came over for some petting. Meanwhile Sylvie walked over, grabbed the chipmunk, dragged it away, and ate it.
Romeo just sort of watched with an “Eh, I’ll go get another one later” kind of attitude. Sylvie was very sweet though. After eating the entire chipmunk, she proceeded to puke it up on the back porch.
If you’re so disposed, inside-out chipmunks are actually pretty interesting.
“Hey, is that a spleen over there under the leg?”
“No, I think it’s a kidney. The spleen is over by the lungs”
“Lungs? I thought that was a stomach.”
Anatomy 101 in the backyard.
The one plus is that, amid all this bloody carnage, the cats seem to understand that we prefer they keep their fresh meals outdoors. Thus, we haven’t had too many instances of walking through the kitchen and wandering through a pile of fresh entrails. Thank goodness for small favors, as getting mouse kidneys out from between your toes does require a bit of scrubbing.
Our indoor cats would obviously like to get in on the hunt, but neither Lemon or Nibbler wants to go outside and wander. We’ve let them try and both tend to come running back inside after a minute or two of wandering the back porch in hopes that a small rodent will commit suicide but jumping out of nowhere directly into their mouths.
No luck on that thus far. But woe be unto any insect in the house that gets too close to Lemon. He’s quite the fly killer.
I know many people have a real problem with their cats going out and killing things. I don’t agree. It’s sort of like criticizing Kim Kardashian for taking nude selfies; it’s just part of the DNA.
Cats are evolved to hunt and hunt they will. They’ve only been “domesticated” for a short while in comparison to how long they’ve existed, so expecting them to stop doing what they do is pretty silly.
One or our old neighbors used to have a cat that was a legend in the backyard. I once saw him bring down a hummingbird. Really. Now I love hummingbirds and feel very fortunate that we have plants they like to feed on. But, at the same time, if that cat was good enough and that bird was slow enough, well, you get the picture.
In the grand scheme of things, if your cat is outdoors and he or she likes a nice fresh meal now and again, the world will keep on spinning. We, as “civilized” animals, may not like the blood and guts of the activity, but I don’t think it’s our place to tell the cats they’re being naughty.
Besides, we’re not that civilized, we can be just as nasty, and cats, for their part, tend to eat what they kill and they don’t tend to wreck the balance of nature in the process. I’ve yet to see Romeo or Sylvie mount the head of a mouse on the wall down by their food bowls. Our little folks are not trophy hunters.
If I have to clean up the occasional pile of feathers, small intestine, or extra leg now and again then so be it. The cats are happy, there’s no shortage of small critters in the yard, and the world is still spinning along through space. Now, if I could just find a way to get squirrel lungs out of the crevices of my sneakers….
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he takes care of four cats, one aging house, and still misses the tiny dog that used to keep him company. The dog was happy with naps and cheese curls, no live food needed.
Sometime around 1986, I began to grow what would eventually become a full beard and mustache. My reasoning back then was very simple. I was fresh out of college and holding increasingly responsible positions in business, but I looked very young. I figured, if I had a beard, I’d look older and be taken more seriously. Overall it actually worked (I’m still amazed).
After awhile, I found that I had to shave less of my face, not as often. That meant that I didn’t cut myself very much, my skin was happier, and I spent very little on shaving products. So all was good with facial hair and the world. Until now.
Fast forward about 30 years: The world of facial hair has changed a great deal. These days we’re living in what could only be termed a facial-hair renaissance brought on largely by fashion and that much-maligned group, the hipsters.
To hear some critics tell it, certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn are akin to a Canadian logging camp circa 1870 due to the preponderance of flannel and huge bushy beards. The hipsters are quite convinced that they have invented facial hair but, as with flat earthers, the facts deny that belief. I mean, I’ve had a beard longer than most hipsters have been alive.
But that’s just the tip of the beardberg. We’ve also entered the realm of what I call the “weird beard,” for want of a better term. If you ever watched the Hunger Games movies you’ll know what I mean.
You have men shaving their beards into impossibly tiny lines, geometric shapes and designs that harken back to some magical realm of follicular delight. I’m waiting for a reality TV show entitled “Beard Wars” in which vast hordes of lactose-intolerant hipsters pit themselves and their facial foliage against crowds of weirdly coiffed weird bearders in a wild competition. They’ll be vying for a big prize involving artisanal shaving soap, handmade straight razors, and pedal-powered beard trimmers.
One rather irksome aspect of beard fashion is the huge crop of silly, expensive beard-related products. There are special shaving soaps made from imported Yak milk that was sustainably sourced from holistically raised Yaks.
You can buy shaving brushes handmade by Tibetan monks from the beards of holy mountain goats. There are razors made in the manner of Samurai swords that can shave incredibly close and double as surgical instruments. How about some beard oil that’s said to soften your beard, make it more manageable, and instantly resemble ZZ Top’s beards.
Beard growing is now officially a competitive sport, too. I saw a full-length documentary on the international beard competition in which men from many countries got together to compete for the title of best beard.
There were, of course, subcategories such as mustache, length, bushiness, and overall design. These guys were like many top-flight athletes in that they were driven and trained really hard.
How you train for beard competitions is still something of a mystery to me. I suppose it probably involves getting stranded on a desert island for a year or three with no access to shaving implements. You might also spend time discussing facial grooming with a coconut, too.
Getting back to some semblance of reality is tough in these oddly bearded times. But just for the sake of regular facial hair, I’m going to try. To maintain normal standards, my rapidly graying beard is kept short and neat by the use of a rechargeable, non-artisanal shaver. I use no beard oils, no colorants, and I avoid desert islands.
The fact is, beards have been around for the past 300,000 years (or as long as humanoids have avoided barber shops), just quietly in the background (like common sense or good taste). Check in at your average Harley rally and you’ll see plenty of conventional beards, too.
I guess, if we normal beard people just sit back and watch, the current fashion will probably go the way of bell-bottoms and disco suits. In the next year or two, when the hipsters take up some new fad like electric skateboarding or wearing kilts, we’ll be the last hairy people standing.
Then, those of us who sport conventional facial hair can get back to our lives and think of more important things than beard oil, yak hair brushes, and samurai razors. Maybe in true hipster fashion, when they all shave, they’ll donate their beards to some charity that will use all that fur for some good cause. Prematurely balding bearded ladies? Making hair shirts for masochists on a budget? Insulation in tiny houses? The possibilities are staggering.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says that, the first time ne shaved off his beard, his children were very scared. The second time, his wife told him to grow it back. Quickly. End of story.
OK, right up front here, I’m going to say some less-than-flattering things about a rather sacred cow, to some. I’m talking about HGTV and its plethora of shows on buying, selling, renovating, and decorating houses and apartments. My wife and I watch some of the shows now and again and she likes certain ones.
Me, well I tolerate them. We watch them on Netflix, so we get to avoid the incessant commercials (seven to nine minutes worth for a 30-minute show).
My problem with HGTV and many of the shows is that they present a very unreal, overly pricey, irritating, and taste-free approach to houses, interior design, and real estate. While I freely admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and taste is purely subjective, all the shows seem pretty stuck in a pricey frame of reference.
For instance, according to the hosts of one show, any kitchen that is done without granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances is tantamount to living in a moldering slum replete with rats, cockroaches, and cheap Wal-Mart furnishings. I had no idea. Formica is obviously the devil’s own countertop. And white appliances are a crime against all that is good and pure.
According to another show, it’s totally cool to pay more for a one-bedroom condo at or near the beach that might be used for a couple weeks every year, than many people can pay for a primary residence. In fairness, they do find some real deals.
But they’re not necessarily in places you’d want to vacation. And, with rising tides, you have to wonder just how long they’ll remain beachfront before being underwater (literally). And if, after you buy said vacation home, why do so many of the buyers feel compelled to immediately “update” things like ripping out perfectly functional kitchens because the appliances are actually not stainless steel?
Why does one have to spend another $20,000 on stainless appliances? Why must countertops be granite or industrial diamond or hand-poured artisanal concrete all at $700 per square inch? Does that make the beach better in some manner?
On another show, we get to go along for the ride as long-suffering real estate agents take newbie buyers out to look for their first place. The problem is that these buyers are usually afflicted with a) annoying personalities, b) totally insane expectations, and/or c) completely different tastes and desires (in the case of couples).
So the show can go from looking at houses to couples’ counseling very rapidly. Also, since when is a starter house supposed to have granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, a home theater, and a large perfectly landscaped lot? Am I kidding? No.
It’s like this generation of young buyers has no idea that the homes they grew up in took their parents years of saving, trading up, and renovating to achieve.
And why oh why, must paint colors be such an issue? So many buyers roll through a property barely able to keep from retching over the color of the walls. Umm, that can be changed. It’s called paint and a brush. So purple walls aren’t your gig? Cool. Paint them. Paper them. But stop rejecting whole properties because you can’t get by a color scheme (even if it was chosen by someone on strong medication).
Another reality gap in many of these stories is simply trying to figure out how some of these people can possibly afford some of these homes. We all suffered the 2008 housing collapse in various ways and many people didn’t, in point of fact, make it through.
Sadly, we’re all too familiar with stories of families losing homes to huge, unaffordable mortgages. So now I would love the show hosts to explain how a pair of 20-somethings are going to be able to afford a $350,000 starter McMansion in the ’burbs when neither one looks like they have a job that pays more than $20K at best. Oh right, they’re all secret Lotto winners. Sorry, carry on.
Even more goofy are the young couples who are buying houses and planning their over-the-top weddings at the same time. I recall one where they had to cut back on wedding expenses to help renovate their home and the bridezilla was clearly unhappy with this turn of events.
Another issue I have is with the design sense of some of these so-called interior designers. The “designers” sometimes create rooms that remind me of bad art galleries from the 1960s.
The designs are especially silly, busy and pretentious when you notice that the new homeowners invariably have two to four kids under age 6 or multiple large dogs. I’d like to see that sleek new living space a week down the road.
If I let our four cats free in some of these rooms, I’d give them a life span of maybe 20 minutes before the fake fruit was half eaten, the fuzzy furniture was shredded, and the shiny glass objects were shattered. Well, at least the shards would look artistic.
On one show, you learn about irritating buyers and crazy prices in different countries. One that stuck in my mind was a young woman who described her job as fashionista/blogger (she gets paid to get dressed?). She wanted to move in with her boyfriend in Paris and she was very picky about being in the correctly fashionable neighborhood.
Plus, she needed extra large closets (a serious rarity in most of Europe) to hold her huge collection of vintage clothing (which she looked very silly in). The prices of various rentals she was shown were in the New York City nosebleed stratosphere and the real estate agent barely concealed her loathing and disdain for this young American throughout the ordeal.
Finally, the fake drama on all these shows just gets old really fast. There’s one in which a real estate agent and an interior designer compete each episode to either renovate or sell a family home. The winner is based on the ability of the designer to update and fix all the problems with the house on a budget that’s never big enough.
She always encounters “unexpected” problems and all the while she and the real estate guy snark at each other while the homeowners bicker and complain. One spouse usually is desperate to move and the other to stay. Again, I think many of these folks need marriage counseling, not new homes
One show features what I call the Whine Cam where family members talk to the camera about their feelings and issues. These usually involve crocodile tears and laments over paint color and the crazy cost of diamond countertops.
Finally, many of these shows are shot and set in Canada (but they never tell you that) and the cities they work in have what can only be described as oddly high prices. We’re talking 100-year-old decaying duplexes where you can buy one side (not the whole building) for upwards of $400,000 and still need to spend another $75,000 to $125,000 to make it safe and livable. Really?
Does no one in Canada ever take care of, or update, their homes? And seriously, why Canada? Why not Atlanta? Houston? Berne? I know production costs are less north of the border but their housing costs have nothing to do with ours. They are, however, very polite.
HGTV is a fact of life. It exists and lots of people watch the shows and get various ideas. My very smart and creative wife says she enjoys seeing the different ways that people find to make their homes unique.
She gets ideas and just enjoys the before and after shots. Those are kind of fun where you go from graffiti-coated crack house to sexy suburban home in a mere 30 minutes. With enough money and special effects I suppose anything is possible.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has owned exactly two homes in his life. He says that neither one would qualify to be on an HGTV show; neither had granite countertops and the only stainless steel in the kitchen were the pots and pans.
Perhaps I need to consult a theoretical physicist. I think what I see every week may be some sort of violation of the laws of nature.
To put it another way, how can a single cat weighing in at perhaps 16 or 17 pounds (yes, he is a big boy), create what appears to be double his weight in cat hair without ever looking any smaller, balder, or even a bit winded? And how can said cat hair exhibit properties that seem almost magical?
Yes, we do have four cats in our home these days. All four would be what one would consider examples of the domestic short-hair variety. So again, I ask, how can one in particular, Lemon, and to a lesser degree, Romeo, create so much hair? If I vacuum the house every three to four days, I pick up enough hair each and every time, to easily construct a new cat.
Do cats have some sort of hair factory as an unnamed internal organ? They just push out new hairs on a minute-by-minute basis and so, wherever they walk, lie, groom, eat, or pretty much exist, there’s hair there.
There’s hair on the carpet, the floor, the furniture, the clothes, the towels, the counters, the chairs, and pretty much any horizontal surface. And the question is how do they manage this feat? If humans grew hair at this pace, we’d all have 20-foot ponytails every three weeks and hair stylists would be the most highly paid professionals on the planet.
And how does the hair get into places that aren’t even visited by the cats? I can open a bag of pretzels from a cabinet that’s six feet off the floor and can’t be reached by the cats (of course I could be wrong and they’re using jet packs while I’m asleep). It’s a new bag and as soon as I reach in for a pretzel, I notice a cat hair on it. Is there are cloud of cat hair invisible to the naked eye that forms and deposits anytime a person does anything? Is it like a rainstorm of cat hair that lives in the homes of cat owners?
I jokingly suggested we have the cats shaved or spray them with Nair but I suspect it still wouldn’t work. I actually met (and petted) a hairless cat last year and perhaps that’s the answer. Of course they do look rather odd, and have skin issues (sun sensitivity among others) so, if I wanted to let the cat out to roam, I’d have to hit it with a good coat of spf 30 and then reapply every so often. Yeah, not so sure that’ll work out.
So, since I can successfully vacuum up a lot of the hair, should I then start vacuuming the cats themselves? I can just see this. I walk up to the cat in question, who is stretched out in a sunbeam, fire up the utterly silent vacuum and then proceed to suck away all the loose hair.
The vacuum fills up, smoke pours from it, and I wake up from the dream. I turn over groggily, realizing that there’s no such thing as a silent vacuum.
Besides, the cats, upon seeing the vacuum, usually jet of for parts unknown within three microseconds; rendering the act pretty much pointless. I know that two or three of the four will allow themselves to be brushed at times, but the brush clogs too fast and the resulting area gets so covered in hair, that you just have to vacuum anyway.
Those large tape rollers that you use to get stuff off your clothes just before you head off to work, or the wedding, or a job interview, are interesting. The ones we have work fine to a point.
You tear off the outer sheet and proceed to roll it over the surface. After three inches, it’s covered in cat hair. You peel off the layer, keep rolling, more hair, another layer and so on until you have a perfectly clean couch cushion, and you’re standing amidst a two-foot pile of cat-hair-covered tape.
Then Lemon comes over and lies down on the clean cushion. Oh, and once you gather all the cat-hair-covered tape and toss it in the trash, Sylvie wanders over, knocks the trash over, and proceeds to chew on the tape, as she has a thing for adhesive products. Really, I’m not making this up.
So what to do about the cat hair, that sheds, rains, appears, and seems to reproduce without a cat even being nearby? Well, we have two vacuums, lint rollers, cat brushes, and special brushes designed to remove cat hair from furniture and fabrics.
We could spend several hours a day combatting the cat hair until, for at most, 65 seconds, the house is utterly cat hair free. Or, we could just vacuum a couple times a week and call it even. That’s where I’m at for now.
But my hope is that by studying the weird behavior of cat hair and making some sort of incredible discovery that sets modern theoretical physics on its ear, I’ll win the Nobel. Then I can get enough cash to hire someone to vacuum for me. I can dream.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he would have gone further with this column, but he had to go vacuum the back of a green couch that now looks white.