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Lloyd House's van conversion

lloyd house van
Michael McNamara sent this photo of Lloyd's current residence. He extended the walls of a van to create this beautiful space. He was building it when I visited him a year or so ago. It was a cold day and we had some tea sitting around the little stove he'd welded up out of an old propane tank with a wok for a door. It'll be in our forthcoming book on tiny houses.

Little wooden statue

Lesley found this in a thrift shop some years ago and I just looked at it closely the other day. It seems alive. I get a tingle when I look at it. Like Lovejoy, the antique dealer/detective in the series of crime novels by Jonathan Gash. Lovejoy was a "divvy," a person who could divine authentic antiques at a glance. Lovejoy would get dizzy, sometimes almost faint, when in the presence of a real and rare antique. I feel a bit of that at times with the occasional object. There's an aura, like with this little statue.

Quail sentry

The male quail is the lookout while the female shepherds the babies around on the ground, teaching them how to scratch and eat. Quail are ground birds, like chickens or pheasants. We also have a lot of doves, and a flock of wild pigeons, which are birds of the air.
The males are so beautiful, with their top knot and  white-outlined black face feathers, they sometimes stop me in my tracks. Such perfection. There are 2 families with babies skittering through the vegetable garden now, the babies starting to fly. We walk slowly around them and they've gotten used to us, so we can get pretty close.

Virginia Jones Kahn, 1907-2010

My mother was born Virginia Essie Jones in Salt Lake City, Utah, on February 13, 1907. With the help and love of her caregiver and soulmate Clara Morales, she lived until about noon on this Monday, the day of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. She was 103 years old.
She never had a doctor (except for emergencies now and then) in her life, never took any kind of pills or medication, and - probably mostly due to her Christian Science religion, saw everything through a positive lens. Several years ago, when she was losing the ability to walk and had other physical limitations of aging, she'd say to me on the phone, "Lloyd, I've never felt better in my life!"

She lived in the Aegis Assisted Living home in Corte Madera for the last 4 years, with Clara her constant companion and later, nurse. She kept things lively right up to the end, with wit, humor, and insight. And she hung on.

Friday she went to sleep and slept for about 3 days. On Monday, Clara's son Jorgito (one of her favorites) came to see her; she opened her eyes, smiled lightly, then closed her eyes and stopped breathing. Very peaceful. No diseases, no medication.

She married my dad, Lloyd M. Kahn in 1934 and they raised us 6 kids in San Francisco. We were a lively family and she captained the ship. The stories abound. Camping at a remote lake in the Sierras, summers at the Russian River, Thanksgiving at Grandmas in Santa Rosa with our (all-boy) cousins, dinners with 6 kids a 3-ring circus, corned beef and cabbage, 26 kids on our block of Ulloa Street…it was a vibrant and rich life.

Her great-great grandfather, George Krieger, fought in the The American Revolutionary War in 1779. Her grandfather, Samuel Crager, fought in the Civil War from 1861-1864.

She was a wonderful and beautiful lady.

Exile on Main Street

With all the recent publicity about the reissue of the Stones' classic album, I realized I'd never owned it, so bought the new version. It's tote-uh-lee great. Reminds me of the days when not a few of us dope-smoking drop-outs from polite society would vicariously strut along with Mick as he sang these incredible songs with his kick-ass band. Greatest rock and roll band in the world, you bet. Unique spin-off of deep and real American blues. I remember thinking that the English no longer control the world's seas, but they have sure revolutionized music. How could white boys be so good?
I'm enjoying the heck out of it this foggy sunny morning, working on my tiny houses book. Here's an anonymous comment on the album on Amazon:
"I came to terms with Exile when asked by a friend what I thought the five all-time greatest Stones songs were — songs that will still be alive 50 years from now. My response was fairly quick — Satisfaction, Gimme Shelter, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Wild Horses, and Sympathy for the Devil. Just my opinion. But I realized immediately none were from Exile, which I think is the Stones' all-time best album. Yes, Tumbling Dice and Happy are up there, and some cuts on Exile are, IMHO, absolutely awesome (viz their cover of Robert Johnson's Stop Breaking Down) — but clearly Exile is not rich in standout hits. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Like few other albums, Exile is a world, a place I immerse myself in — a distillation of American blues and gospel and country and rock — a funky smokefilled bar or afternoon fishfry or steamy bordello, with beer and bourbon, pianos and slide guitars and hard-partying working people letting it loose, shining a light, shaking their hips, boogieing, scraping the sh*t off their shoes, rocking the joint all down the line.…"

View from ridge yesterday

In just a few weeks, the hills have gone from verdant green to golden. This is looking down at Bolinas Bay from the ridge road.

All That Jazz - "Jagger & Gideon!"

I picked this up from Gravel and Gold's blog; it's really cute.

"From "All That Jazz" 1979, directed by Bob Fosse. Joe Gideon (Roy Sheider) is treated to a performance by his daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi) and girfriend Kate (Ann Reinking)."

Me at Gravel & Gold in SF Friday night

I arrived a few hours early for my presentation at Gravel and Gold in San Francisco's Mission District. I had a problem: my new MacBook Pro laptop wouldn't accept the plug-in from my Epson projector. I'd been to the Apple store on the way over, and couldn't find the right connector. The three owners of the store, Cassie, Lisa, and Nile weren't dismayed. We tried all kinds of variations, but nothing seemed to be working. Lisa kept saying, "Don't worry we'll figure it out.” I wasn't so sure. Finally she took off in her car and came back with a borrowed projector. We transferred the data to one of their laptops, then couldn't get the projector going. We tried various combinations, with me having my doubts, but Lisa saying, “We'll get it working.”

Finally one of their friends came in and knew just what to do, and 10 minutes before starting time we were in business. I started by talking a little bit about the first Whole Earth Catalog, and how it and the Dome Cookbook by Steve Baer were my inspiration for getting into the publishing business. Then I showed slides from the three main builders featured in Builders of the Pacific Coast. Finally I showed some slides of tiny houses, the subject of my next book. (Actually, in retrospect, these were photos I grabbed at the last minute and they weren't really representative of the great material I have for this book.)

For me it was a pretty wonderful evening. The store is unique, with eclectic clothing, art, jewelry, crafts, and items you'd never think of until you see them there. Good vibes. The median age in the audience was, I'd say, 30. It's great to be connecting with this generation. Someone asked what I thought of Dwell magazine. I said I couldn't figure out who lives in those houses, but there seems to be no warmth or soul (or funk) evident in the Dwell style. Further, that people like us are interested in shelter that is full of life and warmth and the touch of the human hand.

Gravel and Gold has been mentioned in the New York Times and Vogue magazine and seems to be catching on. It's at 3266 21st St., between Mission and Valencia in San Francisco. Website here. Blog here.
Photo by Evan Kahn

Stuffed toy on fence down by tennis courts

Previous winners of Dipsea Race at 2010 ceremonies

Left to right: Shirley Matson, Christie Pastalka, Sal Vasquez. Russ Kiernan in black shirt and little girl in pink shorts is 8-year-old Reilly Johnson, spectacular winner of the age-handicapped race this year.

Housebus at Harmony Festival

Lew shot this housebus with the classic VW van sunroof at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa last weekend.

8-year old girl in spectacular Dipsea race victory

Reilly Johnson flew over the course, pig tails bobbing, to win the 100th anniversary Dipsea Race last Sunday. It was stunning to see such a young person with such determination and spirit. It's an age-handicapped race. For example, men over 74 and women over 65 get a 25 minute head start over scratch runners (like 25-year-old men). Girls 8 and under get the same 25 minutes. This pretty much evens the race out so that old and very young are on an equal footing with in-their-prime-age runners. I shot this picture of Reilly at the beginning of last year's race. Look at the joy. She's won everyone's hearts.
News story on race in Marin IJ

This and that mid-June…

The Dipsea Race was Sunday; it was the 100th anniversary of this 7½ mile cross-country race from Mill Valley over a flank of Mount Tamalpais to Stinson Beach. A month ago I was running well, but a trio of little injuries and a week in NYC took its toll. I was really slow going uphill, but still have the timing to go fast downhill. Which I did, and the next day I was on crutches from I believe some torn knee ligament fibers. Ah me. But it's healing as I speak. It was a wonderful race and I'm gonna do better next year. Plus we have a newly-constituted running group, the Pelican Inn Track Club, that has recently been infused with a bunch of blazingly fast young runners, and we are stylin. Last night there were maybe 30 of us the pub after running and the vibes were vibrant.
  • Tonight we had fresh halibut courtesy of our friend Billy, kale from the garden, and Lundberg Brothers organic brown rice. Plus local Lagunitas Brewery IPA Pale Ale. Our bantam chickens are laying so we have a good supply of fresh eggs.
  • There are two quail families running around in our garden with minute baby qualekins. They are about 2" long, maybe 6 in each family. The male with his majestic plume stands guard while the mama clucks and shuffles the babies through the brush. They're a delight to watch.
  • I just got a new iPad with 3G connectivity, which means I can get online anywhere there's a cell phone signal. Hoo boy. To tell you the truth, there are times when I wish for simpler times. I LOVE all the things I can do with my (13") MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad — not to mention the big Mac Pro I use in the office. Then there's my Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, my Canon Powershot S-90, my GoPro Helmet Hero,and my new Sony Cyber-shot panorama camera. I extol these things to my old friends, the wonderful things I can do, how I can find just about anything via Google, how I can communicate world-wide instantly, etc. But sometimes I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water. It'd be fine if everything worked smoothly, but Rick is continually bailing me out of self-created and other types of problems. Well, there's no going back and I'm gonna ride the wave. E-books here we come.
  • There's a 2-mile paddle race in town here this Saturday. I'm going to do it although I haven't trained at all. Surfers, swimmers, water people, I love these guys. I'll see some of my ex-lifeguard friends (Stinson Beach, 1960). Surfers, skaters, kayakers, people who love the beaches and woods and natural forces, kindred spirits.
  • Today my friend Michael McNamara, one of the builders in Builders of the Pacific Coast, sent me photos of the van that Lloyd House just built, and lives in (on an island in British Columbia). Lloyd is the numero uno builder in the same book, my favorite builder of all time, and this van made me smile, it was so elegant and tuned-in. It made me reflect on people that make you smile, positive forces in our lives. Can you think of people like that in your life, people who make you feel good? They're real. They're genuine. Qualities that we're seeking these days. Their energy (chi) is alive and vital, they have auras that project hope and humor and happiness.
  • The hills are rapidly turning golden from green in this warm weather.

Our booth at Harmony Festival

Lew and my son Evan set up our portable booth and sold books at The Harmony festival in Santa Rosa last weekend.

"My yurt inspired by Shelter…"

We have been getting a prodigious amount of feedback from readers of our three major building books in recent months, such as this:
"Hi, My daughter gave me your wonderful book Homework for my birthday. She had no idea your book Shelter was my inspiration for our first house that she lived in when she was only a year old. Thanks for all the amazing stories and photos, which inspire me to build more.…Thanks, Larry Behnke"

San Francisco house by beach #2

I'm doing slide show and talk about homes this Friday in San Francisco

Gravel and Gold is a shop in the heart of SF's Mission district. It's called a "Magical Outpost in the Mission" by SF Station, which writes it's "…where a hand-selected mix of artists and makers exhibit their crafts. You can find just about everything here from things to wear, to write or to work for your home." Someone on Yelp says: "The clothing is really eclectic — natural fabrics, interesting patterns and designs, local artists."
I'm going to show slides from Builders of the Pacific Coast and can talk about mini-homesteads and show some slides from our forthcoming book on tiny houses.
It's at 8PM thus Friday, June 18th at 3266 21st Street, San Francisco.
For Gravel & Gold's writeup of the event, click here.


Lavender in foreground is leaping for joy with the late rains.

Willie Brown in North Beach an hour ago

Walked into Café Roma at 6:45 this morning and Eyewitness News was interviewing Willie Brown about the California race for governor. He said that if Jerry Brown can engage Meg Whitman, he'll destroy her credibility, that Sarah Palin is coming to the valley and that all Republicans will pay homage and that it's a comic tragedy. Willie sparkles. He's a storyteller.
News video clip
At the same time Mexico is dominating South Africa in the World Cup on the large TV. Now it's 7:30 and the café is full, maybe 50 people, most cheering for Mexico. Still no score. I love North Beach and its European flavor.

Gopher-proof raised garden bed

2 rows of concrete blocks stacked on layer of ¼-inch mesh, filled with soil

Old skateboards at Trouble Coffee, San Francisco

These got soul!

Panorama of lagoon with Sony Cyber-shot

First pic using my new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7, shot an hour ago. I shoot a lot of panoramas, since I don't like wide angles of the landscape. My eyes sees the world in about the same proportion as a 50 mm lens (old-style lens measurement). I'll shoot a bunch of pictures, overlapping the edges, then stitch the shots together with Photomerge in Photoshop. A bunch of them are here and there on this blog.
I bought this little camera at B and H Photo in New York (world's most amazing photo store). For panoramas, you press the shutter button, then slowly rotate the camera, maybe 180°. I think it makes a movie, then stitches it together to make a still. It's supposed to work in very low light, and also shoots HD video. I'm just starting to explore it.

One last look at the Golden Gate Bridge

Tuesday I drove into San Francisco along the coast just after sunrise. I trurned right, right after the toll plaza and went along the ocean, then 25th Ave., then Geary out to Ocean Beach. My favorite route. Went to Trouble Coffee, had great latte and thin-sliced cinnamon toast, and had interesting discussion with the two 30-or-so -year-old guys working there about Bob Dylan and The Last Waltz. I was surprised that guys this genration knew Dylan's work so intricately.

3 more photos from the top of the Golden Gate

September 13, 2000

My trip to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge

Ten years ago, Lew's girlfriend Krystal asked if I wanted to go to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. Did I! I had connections. First, I was born in San Francisco; second, my dad had walked out to the south tower on a wooden walkway above the net when the bridge was under construction in 1934. Krystal knew the bridge's resident architect, and she and Lew had been to the top already. In mid-September I got a call and took off to meet Krystal and Bob in the parking lot on the San Francisco side. We rode in a little electric vehicle out to the south tower, and inside ascended in a tiny elevator, three of us crammed in, to the bottom plate of the top horizontal strut of the tower. From there it was a metal ladder to the top and Bob let me go first. I pushed open the hatch, climbed out, and was stunned. I was 700 feet above my hometown, seeing it from the top of this beautiful structure built 65 years earlier. It was a warm night, and we hung around up there for about 45 minutes, until the sun went down. It was surprisingly comfortable, at that height. The only scary part was when I walked out on an open-mesh metal walkway and looked down through my feet at cars 300 feet below.
Every single time I go over the bridge, or see it from the city, I think of that night.
This was the very first time I used a digital camera.
The panorama/collage is actually a 360, with Marin on the left, SF on the right. (Panoramas are way easier to do now, 10 years later.)

On top of the Golden Gate Bridge

Photo by George Steinmetz, Cortis, for National Geographic
Looking down from the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Lew spotted this on Bing,com. Made me think of the first time I ever used a digital camera, ten years ago (!), when I went up to the top of the south tower of the bridge, one of my greatest thrills ever.
Check out my writeup with photos here.

Talking on the ¼-acre homestead at the Maker Faire

Photo by Cornelia at Homegrown.org
I was sort of surprised to be invited to talk at the Maker Faire (in San Mateo, Calif, on May 23-24). It's mostly mechanical/digital inventions: robots (galore), high-tech gizmos, computer brilliance and wit. Amidst all this, Farm Aid had a flesh and blood, food and shelter corner of the fairgrounds, and it balanced out all the rest of the stuff.
It's a fascinating event, and crowded to the gills. Another coup for Tim O'Reilly and Make Magazine: O'Reilly really has his finger on today's digital pulse. There were a bunch of things there that were brilliant and amusing.
I gave a talk on "The ¼-acre Homestead," tracing my 40+ years of owner-homebuilding, small-scale farming, gardening, and related matters. The food/shelter angle; I've always tried to take care of this first, then to get along with making a living. A pretty good audience. People are (re-) interested in doing some of this stuff themselves. Can you figure out a way to have a roof overhead without borrowing from a bank or paying rent? I think you still can, and in cities as well as the country. I'm probably going to do a book along these lines, after we finish the book on tiny houses (for which I now have an overwhelming bunch of insanely great stuff).

Pelican Track Club, circa 2010

Sausages and beer last night at cabin in woods after run in 70º evening weather, and dip in creek. Our new running club. Everyone except me is honed for the Dipsea Race (June 13). This is the 100th anniversary of this tough cross-country race, and runners have been training hard and steady. Gonna be exciting…

Gettin back home

Much as I love NYC, there's no place like…. I got into San Francisco around noon on Monday. (JetBlue v. cool airline.) Cruised by Ocean Beach (surf blown out, but kite surfers stylin), got latte, coffee cake at Trouble Coffee, then headed for home. On my way over the mountain, I stopped at the creek, jumped in the pool, floated over to let the waterfall pound on my head. Cold water like a slap in the chops from Mount Tamalpais. OK, so I've mentioned this before…
When I got home, there was this little halibut caught by fisherman Andrew, part of which we had with store potatoes and salad from the garden.
The next night I went running along the coast, then on the way back on an inland trail, stopped off at the secret swimming hole, a somewhat-hidden pond in a little valley. It's lined with cattails, and protected from the wind so the water is like glass. I slipped in and swam across, there were birds swooping and singing all over the place. This is a blessed, magic planet, still alive in places here and there. Back to the pub for a pint of local Lagunitas pale ale. About 9 PM, headed home along the coast, listening to blues and country rock on Sirius radio, looking out at the sea and the still-darkening horizon.
It's been raining lightly off and on, very unusual in June. When the sun came out yesterday, the honeybees were all over the poppies.
Columnist Jon Carroll, about the best part of the San Francisco Chronicle these days, closed a recent column with this poetry by Bob Dylan:
Don't the moon look good, mama
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good, mama
Runnin' down the Double E
Don't the sun look good
Goin' down over the sea?
Don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' after me?

If you are of a certain age and inclination, do you have Dylan/Stones/Beatles lyrics engraved in yr. brain, and know when you hear the first note, what the song will be?

Our home on CBS Sunday Morning show, May 23, 2010

I was contacted a week before I left for NYC about being part of a story on the CBS Morning Show, which airs Sunday mornings at 9 PM eastern time. The particular segment was to be titled "America's Dream Homes." When I heard it included the Hearst Castle, and a multi-million dollar home in Big Sur, I had my trepidations. When the reporter and photographer got here, they seemed pretty savvy, and I told them, "This is a home built out of used lumber and windows from chicken coops, it's pretty different from these other places you're covering." They said no, this was another aspect of "dream homes," so we walked around the homestead. I showed them the outdoor solar shower, our chicken flock, the compost bins, and inside our house, and they seemed to get it.
I thought it would end up on the cutting room floor, but lo and behold, our handbuilt homestead made an appearance. Here's the piece:

The segment concluded with a poem:
Be it ever so grand (shot of multi-million dollar cliffside home in Big Sur),
Or ever so humble (shot of house built out of corrugated steel grain silos),
Home is where dreams live (shot looking in gate at our home).

What do you know?

Flatiron building and street art

My last afternoon in the city, I went down to the new skate park that just got built at Chelsea Piers. My friends, twin brothers Shelter and Ivory Serra, who grew up in Bolinas and now live in NYC, were going there to skate and I met them there and shot some movies of them skating the bowl. I marvel at the grace and skill (and guts) of all these guys that skate these steep bowls.
Here are a couple of photos from earlier that afternoon. What caught my eye at the top left side of the Flatiron Building was what looked to be a person standing, looking down (barely visible here). Turns out it's a fiberglass statue of a person by British artist Antony Gormely.
I've got an overwhelming amount of photos and experiences from the last week. but also a ton of stuff to do now that I'm back home. I'll post stuff when I get the time.