A day in the life

the.semitrailer.project

day 220  : :  blog post 011

This should be the start of more activity out of me as there are a few changes taking place around here. First I thought I’d embark on a little look at a typical day in our tent village as we are nearing a change to our living arrangements. This is a bit of a humorous and informative geek-out if you are interested in off-grid living, just curious what living in a tent set-up for 5 months looks like or you know me and want to see my cherubic face for awhile 😛

Long, long way to go

the.semitrailer.project

day 188  : :  blog post 010

Ugh, I cannot believe that I am 188 days into this adventure and I feel like so little has been achieved. This experience has been more daunting, complex and self-confidence-diminishing than I expected it would be, even despite my initial fears that this would actually be the case. Part of it is inexperience, sure, but also daily tent life, our location, my own mental state and the scale of the project all factor in. This might take years to complete at this rate!

I know right off the bat that some of these things are finally-crafted excuses that I have bought into, but when muddled together in a stew of depression, the crappy state of the world and a meandering aimlessness of life’s direction – well, you get the ingredients for a frustrating journey. My “excuses” I suppose would be: laziness, fear of failure, lack of tools/knowledge/materials/plan and perhaps the complexities of compromise. These are undoubtably normal complaints given that we are noobie builders living in a rural area with perfectionist tendencies. However, my brain has a tendency of being the culprit for complication whether it is that I feel unmotivated or tangled up with how to approach problems or just down in general. Part of me is profoundly disappointed when I waste time that could be spent building, but another part of me will resist being pushed into moving faster and end up resulting in a stalemate of inactivity or frustration.

It might sound like this blog is dedicated to justifying my struggles – and maybe it is to a degree (so feel free to bail out on further reading if you want) – but I think it’s just the reality setting in that building your own home in a foreign environment while living in a challenging way is never going to be a walk in the park. The people around us where we live have been terrific at helping, offering advice and being friendly faces that we have enjoyed getting to know. However, I would offer this as fair warning to anyone who is about to embark on this type of journey: expect it to be especially challenging if you change too many life aspects at once, and, are not of completely sound mind. Let’s break down some of the challenges:

Inexperience

Fairly obvious: I have limited building experience and when problems come up, I have to research every little detail, ask for help or slowly (glacially) work through it until I have a solution.

Fear of failure

Hand-in-hand with inexperience is this bastard of a problem. Not to solely blame Heidi, but there have been numerous comments about the expectation of getting into the finished home quickly and with a very high quality finish. Making it look great is a priority but if it were just me, I’d settle for rough n’ rustic. So I approach every situation with fear that I am making the right decision as everything cascades through the early decisions you make. And especially when lots of money is at stake.

Tent-life

Not to be taken lightly, there are things that pop up daily that can take a half hour or 3 hours of your time. There are disruptive weather events that can blow (pun intended) half a week with prep –> enduring –> aftermath. It could be energy issues, insects, leaks/repairs, challenging work conditions, temperature or simply chores like chopping/collecting wood and dealing with composting toilets and such.

Location

From the standpoint of collecting resources and connecting with friends in Adelaide, this one is a big time-suck too. Going to Bunnings or a salvage yard is a minimum 1.5 hour excursion but usually ends up being a half-day outing as we might throw in groceries or other errands in there. Of course, I have limited supplies on-site so if I forget an item, it’s not just a quick skip over to the local shop. Trips to Adelaide are multi-day affairs. I enjoy the serenity and natural beauty that our current home offers, but the travel might get to me in the long run.

Mental State

I’ll leave the last two big ones for last; to put it bluntly, I’ve been depressed for the better part of the past 5 or more years. That has ranged from just de-motivating daily life all the way to suicidal thoughts. The item below (Life Direction) plays into this significantly but so does the state of the country/world, veganism, loneliness, indifference and the blessing/curse of social media. Often I can just batch all my troublesome thoughts as “humanity”. It certainly leaves me each day on a knife’s edge of whether or not I will be easily derailed from being productive.

Life Direction

Almost there! Thanks for sticking with me through this downer blog post! My last struggle is where I am going in life and why should I care. I have amassed the cruel set of skills otherwise known as “the Jack-of-all-trades, expert-of-none” – all the things I have spent significant time getting good at are really just mediocre efforts at best. Worst of all, I lack that “passion” for anything in particular these days. I am searching for what gets me excited, and while there are a few possible interests, the motivation and desire needed to achieve them is laughably distant and therefore effectively unachievable.

Probably am sharing too much 🤔, but maybe this post is more about getting some thoughts out there rather than being uplifting to read. I’ll return to tiny house stuff now…

In terms of building progress, Heidi will probably say that I am being too hard on myself. In the last 5 weeks, Heidi and I have:

  • refined our house design a number of times
  • researched and ordered all the doors and windows
  • worked out an electrical plan
  • made a time schedule
  • assembled materials
  • weather-sealed the roof
  • built some ceiling panels
  • also sold a car and bought a new one

which seems like a few achievements, but I think that it could have been done in a fraction of the time. The trouble is that I can be veered off-course quite quickly when I hit a road-block and then waste hours over-thinking a solution. Maybe that’s all part of the process, I don’t know.

If I want to end this blog on a good note, I can say that:

  • I have to stop comparing to other people doing the same thing
  • live more in the moment
  • enjoy the process and make mistakes so that I feel like I’m allowed to learn
  • wind back my expectations from faultless to just good-enough.

Realistically, I am not going to solve my “humanity” or “life’s passion” problems overnight, but with any luck, I’ll turn a corner where the house itself will become motivating to get done when I see it starting to come together. But it’s a chicken and egg thing as I need to put in the hard yards to get to that corner-turn but I’m not sure where that motivation will come from.

Thanks for sticking through all that, Reader. ☺️👍

Heidi at fire

Wind, stars and focus

the.semitrailer.project

day 123  : :  blog post 006

I’m sitting at the pub typing this. It has become my weekly respite and reward for both escaping the winter of tent-living and as a treat while Heidi is in the city and I have been stuck working on the property. It is also one of the few times in the week where I can have a cold beer because yes – after nearly two months – I still don’t have a fridge in order to keep my own beers cold. Or anything else cold. Well, except that the WORLD is cold (read: winter).

The fridge thing hasn’t been a huge issue due to that fact about it being winter that I just shared. You can actually manage to keep an amazing amount of stuff cool enough not to die of salmonella poisoning when the outside temperature dips down to 3 or 4 degrees most nights and you don’t keep things for more than a couple of days. We shop frequently, eat lots of fresh veg (I don’t think meat and dairy eaters would be able to cope) or tinned beans, etc and only really have to do without things like dips or spreads plus any other long-term stuff like frozen goods.

Of course, the reason for having to live like this is a long series of stuff-ups with solar inverters that has literally dragged on for over a month. Short version: I was sent the wrong one (24V instead of 12V), changed my set-up to accomodate it, then the inverter didn’t work anyway, got bounced around by the retailer until they (an eBay store, *sigh*) finally replaced it, then they forgot to send it, it subsequently went out of stock, they refunded me at last, then I had to buy a new one and have been waiting for it to be delivered. Whew! Next week, with any luck, I will have my solar system running 100% and can write my blogs in my tent with the battery charging, lights a-blazing, stereo pumping, fridge a-chillin’, cold beers a-flowin’.

Things are settling into place otherwise with only one Interruptus Massif of late: wind. Not from too many beans (though there’s that too: Heidi and I went through a 4-bean mix phase and the 4-bean mix went through us too! I digress…) but rather from naughty, naughty cold winter fronts rolling through and wanting to rearrange our tents.

Twice so far we have had 80-100+ km/h gusts rip through on cold, wet days and nights combined with walls of sand and dust. In both instances there was a tremendous amount of profanity along with torn tents, multiple snapped guy lines at regular intervals, water ingress, sand ingress, items being hurled onto the floor of the tent, emergency bell tent collapsing… all supplied with the requisite violent canvas buckling and flapping. The first time I was stuck alone for awhile as Heidi was in the city and I was literally running from disaster to another for hours, all the while the tent was trying to jump into the nearest tree.

LRG_DSC06206Luckily the extreme wind is the exception not the rule. But it is a generally windy place, unfortunately. However, when it does get calm and clear, there is something entirely magical when the sun goes down and the inky black sky reveals a blanket of jewels. The stars here are a real treat and highlight. Before we had running water in the tent, I would pay a visit to a nearby bush to brush my teeth each night, just staring up the entire time looking at The Great Rift (that dark streak across the sky through the Milky Way) which is all completely invisible in the city. Shooting stars, dazzling planets, satellites and often colourful moon phases fill the sky while the vacuum-like silence allows you to focus at its beauty undisturbed by the noisy modern world. Even if I need to make a middle-of-the-night visit to another lucky bush for some bladder relief, my grogginess is quickly sharpened up as the impact of the glistening sky grabs my attention for a few extra moments before shuffling back to bed.

IMG_0611

Moving on from tent village set-up and the rebuilding/tweaking from wind damage has been trickier than expected. Once the immediate challenges of setting up our temporary home had mostly been sorted, I found it hard to switch gears and engage with a new and much more imposing challenge: building a house. My focus has been wavering a fair amount along with my own mental struggles playing a part as they have been the past few years. It’s easy to get caught up with daily activities and distractions of tent living, compounded by short winter daylight and general desires to hibernate rather than embark on an epic project. I’m also a poor starter: whether it is a work project or a personal hobby, I am a terrific procrastinator.

Gentle prods from the other folks in our community have helped get my engine going and this week, at long last, work began on the tiny house. It is not glamorous by any means and in some ways it is a tough way to begin: tear out the aluminium floors from the trailer so that we can start building on a bare base. These floors are warped and heavily-used, a haphazard matrix of welding patchwork, rivets, screws and decaying fibreglass underneath. However, there is a strong motivation now to get past this first test, in order to see the blank canvas and begin our creation. I’m looking forward to sharpening my focus and waking up each day with purpose. It’ll be a long road, but hopefully the start of an exciting journey!

IMG_0941

IMG_0927

Unintentional community

the.semitrailer.project

day 095  : :  blog post 004

I’m looking forward to exploring the aspect of community living at our property’s collective. We are an organically created group who have initially come together with the common interest of building tiny houses.

But I feel that there is much more to our group as interest in tiny houses usually carry a value set along with it, such as subsistence living, low-impact low-consumerism repair-culture mindset, environmental awareness, small footprint, non-mainstream thinking driven less about finances and more about interconnectedness. I haven’t had the chance to suss all this out with our group yet but I sense (with hopeful anticipation!) that a lot of this is present.

What is interesting about this is that Heidi and I have been thinking for a decade about the idea of living in an intentional community, and here we are in an unintentional one and it looks exciting. The tiny house part is of course the feature presentation and we are delighted to be neighbours with a couple of people, Pete and Rob, who have built tiny houses already. On top of that, of the 8 people who comprise our community, all but one is building semi trailer tiny houses like us. So that’s currently 4 concurrent builds. Very cool and fortuitous!

Even though we are all coming from different parts of Adelaide with a mix of previous jobs and lingering attachments to the city, we are starting to mix, share in activities and have social gatherings. Most recently, Pete and Lyn, our “landlords” (I hesitate to use such a cold label, it’s just shorter than “land owners where we are spending time during our tiny house build” ☺️) took us all on a traditional paddlewheeler cruise on the Murray River as a form of welcome to our new community. What’s nice is that personalities are meshing on top of our common interests and near 50 year age span from oldest to youngest.

Lucy and Sammy have get stuck into doing some food growing in our semi-community garden patch. Once I get my head out of being mired in getting our so-called temporary accomodation sorted, I am looking forward to getting involved in community projects and working bees, etc. like this.

In the meantime, it’s just nice knowing that we have some exciting times ahead getting to know our group, beginning cooperatively building our respective homes, learning new skills together and from one another plus involving the wider tiny house community in what we’re doing. There’s lots of space for some weekender camp-outs and tiny house events! We just have to make sure Pete and Lyn are up for all the shenanigans that we are all brewing☺️

a cosmic leap

the.semitrailer.project

day 079  : :  blog post 003

OK, so there has been a month between blog posts. Good reason for it: the “cosmic leap”. That being: the epic gulf between living in a unit with running water, electricity when you flick a switch, a place for your poo to go when you flush, things like solid walls and so on. It’s a reasonably big deal to have to fabricate this stuff quickly in a manner that will last the better part of a year of building our tiny house without feeling like we are perpetually camping. Thus the span between blog posts: I’ve been busy dammit 😝

Not only busy, but fretting about my capabilities not only in terms of our little tent village, but what I’ll be like building a “proper” dwelling. I spend countless hours frustrated with stupid tasks like figuring out how my solar panels should be mounted or how plumbing works or what a good composting toilet should function like. Everything takes WAY longer than I feel like it should. WAY.

Added bonus: it’s winter and cold with random moments of inconvenient rain and intense wind. I’d have my frustrations no other way…pile it on!

It’s not only the time taken but my mental anguish of not knowing how some basic stuff works after many decades of being on this planet. The dumbfounded looks I got at the electrical shop when I was talking about how 12V set-ups work or what material my ground wire should be makes me feel like I’ve been living in a cave. Of course it seems like every Australian goes camping and so they all are experts at 12-volt everything, but I’m just a noob who knows how to use a camera and his computer and that’s about it so it seems.

I also made the decision not to post too much about this part of the process as I wanted this to be about building a tiny house on a semi trailer, even though my new friend Rob believes that I should be showcasing the whole experience. I can say that it is definitely not for the feint of heart and I give Heidi credit for stepping away from homely comforts and embracing living in a tent for a few months and then in a tiny house. She’s taking it slowly and occasionally shakily (we did a re-design of our sleeping set-up after a recent blustery wind storm that vibrated our bell tent too much for her liking) but is still on-board with the adventure…for now! I agree with Rob in the sense that while this adventure is a definite challenge, it is worth doing these things in life to shake ourselves awake from our routine. It is good for people to see that it is possible to break loose from convention and follow our dreams, even if they seem crazy to others.

And so I continue to shape our temporary home. It is taking longer than I hoped for but I do realise that it has to be emotionally sustainable for us to do the tiny house build, and therefore has to be comfortable enough, functional and not a hindrance on a day-to-day basis. So if getting running hot and cold water, a fuss-free toilet, warm and safe shelter and reliable power takes me a bit longer, I guess it will pay off in the coming months. And I suppose (he says, trying to convince himself) I am learning transportable skills now for the tiny house, so hopefully it’s not at all going to waste!

welcome to the semitrailer project

the.semitrailer.project

day 043  : :  blog post 001

And so it begins!

We have decided to take the plunge and start building a tiny house. Heidi and I started talking about the possibility of compact living when we first met, as we loved the idea of simple living and neat designs like straw bale and cobb, cottages, cabins and other cute, handmade dwellings. Tiny houses on wheels (THOWs) came a bit later when I started looking into the work of tiny house granddaddy Jay Shafer who began to popularise the idea of living tiny on wheels around 2008.

It didn’t take us long to start dreaming of having one too, especially in the increasingly challenging Australian housing market. However, dreaming and doing are two very different things, and it took us awhile to get a combination of finances, opportunity and courage to put it all together into action.

I have cited the day as “43” here as I have unofficially made the end of a recent event the day that shifted our ambitions into gear: the first-ever Australian Tiny House Festival, in Bendigo, Victoria on 23-24th March, 2019. Once we saw all the great ideas, likeminded folks talking about it and getting excited about it, real-life houses we could walk inside and enthusiastic speakers giving inspired presentations, we felt like we had put it off long enough.

The only sad part is that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on this one but weren’t brave enough to be a pioneer and take the plunge when we first started thinking about it. Despite it seeming like a “popular” and “trendy” thing to do now, we still feel like it is an unconventional approach to solving the housing problem. Thinking about it more though, I’m sure that I am thinking it is more common than it is simply because I personally have been thinking about it for many years!

We have arrived at today, day 43, and the first entry to a journal that I aim to keep about the trials and tribulations of building not only a THOW, but one that is built from a trailer that usually sits behind a semi-rig. I’ll go into detail about this in my next blog post, but in short we heard about this approach from friends of ours and it appealed to Heidi and I because of:

  • the larger, maximised floor space
  • the pre-made outer structure that is already built to be on the road
  • the near limitless weight possibilities
  • the universal towing ease
  • the low entry price of acquiring the base trailer

among other things. We’ll soon see if this has been the right decision for us, but looking at the first trailer creation of our friend Rob, it seems like there is every chance that it will be a great canvas for us to create our very first home build!

001-delivering palletsDay 43, in practical terms, was just a day of me picking up some wood pallets (something I’m familiar with as I’ve built many an item of furnishing with them 😄)  in order to deliver them to the property where we’re doing our build and create a platform that our temporary tent home will reside on. So nothing too momentous, but a significant first step towards the big build and only 3 weeks away from living in a canvas shelter while we build for the rest of 2019!

Let the memories begin…


I’ll be throwing some photos of our journey up at our Insta site the.semitrailer.project and I’ll be documenting progress on YouTube as well (link to come)

Why do vegans eat faux-meat and mock-dairy?

A question that is frequently asked of vegans is: if you are against the idea of consuming animal flesh and think that humans don’t need it, then why do you eat pretend meat and dairy products? While not all vegans eat faux meat depending on how long they have been vegan and why they gave up meat in the first place, there is a large market for mock-meats by vegans for good reason. For the most part, this can be boiled down to tradition, flavour, protein and social-acceptance. But let’s unpack it a bit…

vegan-hot-wings-processed-stills-11

Buffalo hot “wings” recipe at The Edgy Veg

If we first dial all arguments back to core rationale, vegans are either:

  • fighting for animal cruelty to be vastly reduced,
  • environmental chaos caused by animal agriculture to be stemmed,
  • vast health improvements that can be had by reducing animal intake in humans, or
  • a combination of the first three.

The main things that meat-eaters have on their agenda besides basic sustenance are: flavour and protein. And maybe “tradition”.

Looking at faux meat and dairy strictly from the omni “flavour” perspective, the past 3 or 4 years in particular have seen an immense increase in not only the volume of great-tasting vegan products, but a rise in innovative preparation of those products which is delivering vast improvements in taste and texture.dnLzZYG

If a meat-eater hasn’t tried vegan products for over 5 or 6 years and are still claiming vegan meats are tasteless and rubbery, they are basing their assumptions on early incarnations that used more basic technology and ingredient arrays to contribute to a much less exciting flavour. To be honest, anyone would be forgiven for criticising early vegan foods, many of which are inedible by today’s high standard of gastronomic delights.

In addition to flavour, the nutritional component to many vegan products is at a very high standard. In an effort to further attract buyers that may be looking for products strictly for health rather than compassionate reasons, there are countless organic, gluten-free, preservative-free, low saturated fat and low GI foods made from whole foods which make “going vegan” an even healthier option. Given that these foods are now marrying health and full flavour to create an alternative to most meat and dairy items, there seems less and less reasons to be able to rationalise breeding, raising, feeding, torturing and slaughtering sentient beings and then storing hunks of rotting animal carcass in order to obtain something that can be done an a far more humane, efficient and nutritionally complete manner.

Speaking specifically on protein, thanks to an increasing array of comprehensive studies, we are able to confidently strike back at nay-sayers when it comes to a plant-based diet. One such large study recently compared the nutrient profiles of around 30,000 non-vegetarians to 20,000 vegetarians and around 5,000 vegans. We now know that vegans average 70% more protein than the recommendation every day (RDI). Protein is by far the most overstated nutrient. People are unnecessarily obsessed with protein – but it’s very, very difficult to actually be deficient in protein, and only people who are falling far short of their recommended daily calorie requirement (such as people with eating disorders) will be deficient in protein. It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein.

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 12.50.37 PM

@minimalistbaker on Instagram

So, back to the original question: why does faux meat and dairy even exist and why do many vegans seek these products out? The simple answer of course is that most vegans once ate meat and dairy as tradition led our parents to feed us that stuff, as well as being conditioned by the Powerful Influencers (corporate advertising). Now that we have left that cruelty mostly behind us, we are still left with familiar meals and flavours that we enjoyed. Seeing as we are unwilling to enjoy those flavours at the expense of an animal having to lose its life or be tortured, mock-meats became a suitable substitute. It’s not that we eat faux meat because we want to imagine the flesh that went along with it, its the seasoning, texture and flavour that is familiar and that we can have but without the cruelty.

The ethics and values of vegans are our strength, and we literally gave up on our so-called “favourite” foods because it wasn’t worth eating them if something had to die miserably or kill the planet in order to fulfil a selfish pleasure. I have great admiration for vegans who did this when there was no alternative (eg. 10, 20, 30 years ago) but to completely change their diets overnight and not be able to still enjoy the flavours they had become accustomed to. Of course, even worse back then was the fact that you were surrounded by meat-eaters giving you grief about your choices.

I would like to ask a few questions to meat-eaters, such as:

  • Why do meat eaters make food that doesn’t look like a piece of flesh? aka. sausage, burgers, meatloaf, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, etc. If humans were “designed to eat meat” then why aren’t pieces of animal sold with fur, hooves, etc so we can dig our big carnivore incisors into it and eat if fresh off the bone? Why disguise it?
  • Why do non-vegans kill animals in order to eat something that could be made with plants instead? Given that faux meats are now extremely similar in their characteristics to animal products, it literally makes no sense for people to eat something that tastes similar but where one requires a creature to die to satisfy one’s tastebuds.
  • Why do non-vegans make their food with vegan ingredients? Meat-eaters that give vegans grief are generally hypocrites as they will still eat bread made from grains, fries made from potatoes, lettuce and tomato on their hamburger, baked beans, vegetable-based soups, “meat and 3 veg”, etc etc. It’s not like they are eating meat with no other elements – maybe they should if they are self-professed carnivores. As one person said on Facebook: “Why not boil your… steak with blood or something… and season them with burned ashes”

The bottom line is: we don’t need meat and dairy. If you are a vegan reading this, then you are living, breathing proof that you are not currently dead because you are missing meat and dairy from your diet. For those meat-eaters who claim that it is their choice to eat meat, then I will say that your choice is a selfish one: the accumulated death, resource depletion and money tied up in health care due to your choice affects us all. It’s OUR PLANET TOO. Best yet, there are delicious alternatives so you don’t have much to give up!

Further reading on protein sources and amounts, especially if you are an athlete wondering how much to get, try the No-Meat Athlete or this guide at Healthline which shows specific food types and how much protein and other nutrients they provide.

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 12.47.36 PM

@consciouschris on Instagram