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Jennifer Langston's Posts

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Playing house: Making tiny-home living work with kids

When my husband and I bought our first house, its 800 square feet of living space was perfect for two. It was what we could afford, and it suited us. We fought rarely, lived within our means without too much trouble, loved living within easy walking distance of restaurants and parks, went away many weekends, divided up the two closets, and dumped all the extra stuff in the basement.

Then we had a kid.

living-room-toys-kid-jennifer-langston
Jennifer Langston

Daycare bills made us broke, we argued 400 percent more often, and we spent more time inside. We moved our one living room chair to make way for the baby swing. We moved the desk into our bedroom, with one inch to spare. I invented a complicated system of labels and garbage bags headed to the consignment store, full of out-of-season clothes that were too big or too small, the acres of unwanted things that people give you, and toys that I could not stand to store in my living room. This Christmas, I provoked the familial equivalent of an international incident by limiting the presents that grandparents could send.

To be clear, my family does not live in a tiny house. People raising children in New York, or in apartments everywhere, will mock me. When our home was built 100 years ago, it probably would have accommodated a family of seven. But by today’s U.S. standards, it’s small, roughly one-third of the size of the average home [PDF]. And the difference between living in it as a couple and a family of three has been palpable.

More often that not when I see stories about people living in tiny houses, it’s a single person with not much more than a shelf full of books and a teapot. Sometimes it’s a couple with low personal-space requirements. But my own situation has made me curious about families who have consciously chosen to live with a much smaller footprint. What happens when the chaos and wonder (and stuff!) that kids introduce explode all over your artfully arranged tiny house?

So I asked Hari Berzins, who writes the Tiny House Family blog and lives with her husband and two children, 8 and nearly 10, in a 168-square-foot home. They downsized, in several steps, from a 1,500-square-foot home after losing their family’s restaurant business in the most recent economic recession. It has allowed them to squirrel away her monthly salary to finance a long-term plan to build a larger, mortgage-free home. But they’ve been in this tiny house for almost two years.

The Berzins outside their 168-square-foot, mortgage-free home.
Hari Berzins
The Berzins outside their 168-square-foot, mortgage-free home.

She’s often asked what is the hardest thing about living in the tiny house. It’s hard to answer, she says, because the biggest challenges can also turn out to be unexpected blessings.

Read more: Living

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Immigrant farmers grow against the odds

Ali Isha
Jennifer Langston
Ali Isha, a Somalian refugee farmer, tried his luck growing vegetables this summer as part of a farm incubator program.

Ali Isha used to work on a large family farm in Somalia, growing maize, rice, sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, onions, tobacco, and livestock. Until the soldiers took the cows and the corn and threatened to kill his family. Civil war made it impossible to stay, so they walked for days to refugee camps at the Kenyan border.

Isha came to the U.S. nearly a decade ago, one of thousands of refugees unable to return to their home countries because of war or persecution. After a series of jobs fixing tractors, waxing hospital floors, cleaning airports, and processing meat, he wanted to grow and sell food again. Which is how he arrived this summer at a rocky farm southeast of Seattle that serves as an incubator for immigrants and other aspiring farmers.

Today, agricultural experts are looking to minority and immigrant groups -- from Latino farmworkers [PDF] to refugees starting over in this country -- to fill a looming void as aging farmers who now grow our food begin to retire in massive numbers [PDF]. They’re frequently mentioned in conversations about the new “next generation” of farmers.

It’s true that minority-operated farms were among the fastest growing from 2002 to 2007, the last year with updated data from the national Census of Agriculture [PDF]. Despite likely undercounting, it still found the number of Latino farm operators grew by 14 percent, Asian farm operators by 40 percent, and African-American farm operators by 9 percent (compared to 6 percent for white farm operators).

Read more: Food

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Better Eating Through Engineering

I've been interested in efforts to improve school lunches ever since my days as a reporter at the Seattle P-I, and here's one of the coolest ideas I've run across: the "smart cafeteria." Despite our best efforts to get kids to love jicama sticks or broccoli spears, you can't really force them to eat something they don't want to. But this nifty New York Times interactive graphic, based on research from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, demonstrates that subtle changes in the way food is presented and labeled can make a big difference in how …

Read more: Food

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Statistics help a mom cut the car seat tether

I rode the Seattle streetcar today with my nearly two-year-old daughter. It was her first "school" field trip, and her classmates had been excited about it for weeks. There were lively debates in the Rainforest Room about whether the streetcar would be purple or orange. Edie, who wore her lavender shirt for "trolley day," picked wrong but didn't mind. Her daycare class had prepared for the round-trip ride from South Lake Union to Westlake by learning about different kinds of transportation: making trains out of chairs, creating pictures with car wheels dipped in paint, watching seaplanes land in Lake Union, …

Read more: Living

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Cashed Coal Plants

As the US struggles to agree on an energy policy, Canada is telling energy providers that they'll have to gradually close their coal plants when they reach the end of their commercial life, which in most cases is 5 to 15 years from now. As a weekend story in The Globe and Mail explains, the companies would not be allowed to replace or extend the life of those coal plants without adding technology to capture and sequester carbon dioxide. It's not clear exactly how the Canadian government will achieve its goal, but it seems like the strategy is basically to …

Read more: Climate & Energy