Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Our new project - a vardo!

We really loved visiting Yosemite. Hard to believe some place that beautiful and breathtaking is so close to the busy city we live in - we're so fortunate! Every curve in the road gave us a new view of something incredibly stunning:

The hard part for us was driving back to our hotel each evening -- it's quite pricey to stay in the park hotels, and any hotels nearby are also really expensive, although we wish we had been able to get a room close!  As it was, we stayed in a city about 1.5 hours away, so although the drive was nice enough, it meant we had to leave earlier than we would have liked to, and by the time we got back to our room, we were beat.

We want to go back, but next time, we'd like to be able to spend more time wandering and exploring, and with Dale's medical problems, he can't go for long periods of time - it would have been great to take a break part way through the day to stop and relax, before going back out to explore more.  We talked about getting a travel trailer - I've loved the idea of campy, gypsy-style trailers and we helped my daughter work on hers (although it's not done, yet!).  So we thought we'd look for a fixer, since we like a good project, and we're kind of picky about how we want things done.  I wanted one small enough for just the two of us, but something we could pull with our truck and leave at a campsite.  We started checking craigslist, but only found "fixers" for about $3000 -- we wanted to spend around $500 since we knew we'd be doing lots of modifications and changes.  Dale had mentioned earlier that we should just build one (or more to the point, why don't we buy a junk one, tear it down and then just build it all over again?) -- so one morning a few weeks ago, I got looking at "home-made gypsy trailers" - and ran across a whole bunch of amazing photos and instructionals and tutorials, and oh dear, that did it!

The two main kind we liked were bow-top caravans like this:

 (I love the over-the-top painting on this one!  We plan on doing things like this for ours.)

and wagon-style vardos like this:

We decided to do something like this, but along the lines of a "ledge" style wagon -- it starts off with a small footprint, then has a ledge to expand the size --

This is from an amazing project - the frame is welded 1x1 square tubing, which is beyond what we want to do - but the basic shape is what we like.

We also like the cupola on the top, or what gypsy wagons call a "mollycroft roof."  It's a place to add some windows to brighten up the interior, which looks a little dark because of the small windows. In the picture to the right, the large opening is going to have a bay window inserted, which makes the opening appear much smaller when it's finished ---

These are built on a utility trailer.  We started looking for one of those on Craigslist, and new they run around $1200 -- we still wanted to stick with our $500 starting price, knowing we'd be throwing all kinds of money at it in wood and other materials.  So we looked at Harbor Freight trailers, read up on the pros and cons, and decided to go for it.  The trailer was on sale at Harbor Freight for $369, and we had a 20% off coupon, so for under $300 we had our start.

We began by assembling the trailer -- which took us a couple of evenings.  Crawling around on the floor is not so fun and neither one of us can do that well, but we got it put together.

 A zillion bolts, wires, nuts and bars - it weighs about 250 pounds now that it's done.  We are shooting for keeping it under 1500 lbs, the closer to 1000 the better.

I sprayed the frame black, so it won't have that Harbor Freight red/orange look.  I didn't spray the center bars, since they'll be under the vardo and it would be pointless, but I got all the showing parts black. 

This week, we worked on building a platform. We decided we'd extend the back side a little to add a 2' long deck, mostly for being able to get into it, and to set things on in camp.  The bed of the trailer as it comes is 4 x 8, which is the size of a sheet of plywood, which seems really little when you think about putting a bed, a kitchen and a dinette in it!  But it will grow fast enough.

I made a mock up cardboard model so we could talk about some of the features and have an idea on how to proceed:

I want a rounded top to the door, Dale wants the mollycroft, and you can see how small the deck will be.  The outside will be covered with tongue and groove boards, and the inside will have smooth walls.  Insulation is a necessary beast - both for keeping the camper warm in the winter, but also to keep it cool in the summer.  so we insulated the platform before building on top of it:

We're using two layers of foil-backed styrofoam sheets, with one side facing up and one foil side facing down.  the uninsulated part is what will be a deck.

Keeping in mind that all materials are adding weight, we're working our best to keep both costs and weight down. 

We would love to get the basic box built this week, although I am leaving to teach in Tennessee on Friday, and then I'm off to Indiana for a week, so Dale will be on his own. I don't know if he'll be able to make any progress without a helper to hand him stuff and hold things in place, so we may not make much progress until the end of July when I return, but we're not in a big rush.  It's fun to think of all the things we have to figure out -- the floor plan, the colors, the process -- we do love a good project.  Hopefully, we'll make good progress!

Sunday, June 14, 2015


We are getting ready to go on a short trip to Sequoia National Park and Yosemite, and one of the things we'll be packing is Dale's hiking stick.  We got this last year when we were on our cross country national park tour with our friends Eric and Herbert.  Dale is struggling with some back issues and found that it was easier to hike with a walking stick - we picked this one up at Grand Canyon in the tourist shops, it was plain pine with Grand Canyon burnt into it.  Not the most thrilling thing.  But I knew I'd bring it home and make it a little more fun later.

I finally got to it over the winter, I used acrylic paints and painted bands of patterns up and down the entire stick.  After I got it done, it looked a little too colorful, so I brought it out to the garage and toned it down with a coat of stain, which did the trick.  Afterwards, I gave it a nice coat of poly so the colors wouldn't get rubbed off too easily.

In most of the parks we visited last year, we picked up a small metal emblem that is made to  hammer onto a walking stick.  Somehow we managed to misplace a couple (yellowstone?  where are you?), but they'll turn up eventually.  The ones we do have are:

Death Valley.  Dale and I went there over the winter when the weather was somewhat reasonable.  Still hot, but not bad. 

Arches National Park - this park was beautiful, but we ended up on a hike that was a little over our heads!  It was super hot that day, but we eventually got back to the car and drank down all our water!

Antelope Island - this is in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, we saw bison and antelopes and went swimming in the lake, which was absolutely hilarious.

Bryce Canyon. Dale and I visited Bryce Canyon on our way home from Indiana this past Christmas.  We only spent a day at the park, it was snow covered, we didn't want to go hiking in the snow, but we did enjoy doing sightseeing.  We'll have to go back sometime!

Mount Rushmore -- this emblem's pretty fancy schmancy, but we did enjoy this historic site, too. We spent a full day there, doing the hikes and learning about the historical aspects. 

So we'll add a couple of emblems to his walking stick this summer, and now he's got soemthing that's a little person and a lot more stylish!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Yard comparison - 2 years later

This summer will be the second year our front yard has been growing -- and growing!  We were doing some succulent trimming the other day - giving away starts and agave pups on CL Free -- and I knew I had pictures that showed how much some of the plants had grown.  The agaves in particular. So I looked through the pictures so I could do some side-by-side comparisons.

This is the view from the driveway.  You can see how full all the plants have gotten, especially the agaves. 

This is the view from the front steps:
Again, the agave has gone nuts.  The mexican feather grass gets cut back a couple times a year, but it grows fast!  It's hard to tell here, but we only have one of the 3 palms left. We planted a couple of small ones to replace the ones we had to remove, but I still have a large sago palm I may put out there as well.

I need to take some pictures of the front parking strip as well - that section of the yard does not get any water at all, and still the plants out there are doing great!  I also need a picture from the other side of the yard, I'll get that later!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Roses get a new home

A couple of years ago, we bought a climbing rose, with the intention of building an awesome trellis over the garage door.  Well, we never got around to that.  And our rose got neglected a little, and died back somewhat, but revived itself over the winter and set out new shoots. But it wasn't until a year later that we realized the new shoots were actually from the root stock, and not from the grafted canes - so they bloomed with kind of average looking red blooms rather than the gorgeous pale pink ones that we had before.  Nevertheless, we strung some wire (far cry from that cute trellis we planned on!)  And the sad little red rose dutifully climbed up.

You can see it hanging out in the background here, in a pot with it's skinny little canes growing upwards.

One of the problems, though, was that we really intended to build it a nicer box - jackhammering away the useless sidewalk and building some kind of box/bed for it.  Well -- that part we finally did this week!

First, Dale had to use the impact drill to drill a series of holes so we could punch through the sidewalk.  Of course, we decided to do it on the hottest day we've had this spring.  But that didn't take too long, then we had to whale away on it with a sledge hammer. I tried doing that part, but unfortunately, I can only use the smaller sledge hammer, so he had to smash it a couple of times with the larger one and it broke up nicely.  Then I used the crowbar to pry all the concrete chunks out, and then dug a little tunnel under to the dirt in front so I could run the irrigation up into the box.

Then I laid out a pattern of bricks to see how many we'd need.

We finally got the last of the bricks pulled up from the hell strip, and although I tried giving them away on CL Free,  I had a bunch of no-shows and one person who came and only took half.  So I had plenty.

So we brought them to the back and tried out a nice sized rectangle.  Then we had to wait for evening because by now it was really hot!

So around 6:30ish, we went out, mixed up a batch of cement (we were out of mortar, but since this is not going to be a perfect bricklaying effort, we just went with it).

I didn't take any in-progress pictures, because the cement dried pretty darn fast.  We were just lucky to get it all somewhat nicely done.  We certainly aren't going to get any jobs laying brick.

But it's tidy enough, and ready to go - it only took about an hour or so, and it had all night to set up.  So this morning I got up and gave it a coat of paint. I had painted the bricks in the front of the house, and it looked so much nicer, so I knew I was going to do that here, too - especially since I had no delusions that it was going to look great without the paint!

After we spent so much effort getting this box built and all, we should go ahead and buy a new rose (we'll plant the other one somewhere else in the yard), since I really want white roses.

So this morning, after painting, I ran out to get some nice soil for the planter box and see if I could find an iceberg white climbing rose (I looked through Pinterest to see if I could find some good leads on what I wanted -- and the Iceberg is the one that fits the list).  And I actually found one - -not at the same place I bought the rose we previously had, although that's where I went first -- but I got a really gorgeous, healthy white Iceberg climber at Home Depot.  Hmmm....

So here it all is, planted and tethered loosely to the wires.  I underplanted it with some miniature iceplant that looks nice hanging down and has tiny pink flowers, and a lantana that I might move out later, after we see how well the rose blooms down low.  I read up on how to train the long canes to encourage blooms, so we've got a plan, but climbers often get leggy and do well to have a bushy plant at the base to hide the skinny legs.

This year, this rose will spend most of its time growing long canes up the wires, all we have to do is make sure they criss-cross and stay healthy!

So - another project and this one actually kept up on!  Maybe I'll get back in the blogging habit after all...

Monday, June 08, 2015

our summer adventure plan

Last summer, we had a fantastic trip across the US with our best friends Eric and Herbert.  This year, our travel plans are a little more local - we would like to visit a few parks in CA and also, we plan on visiting all of the 21 missions in California.  Up until this year, we'd only visited one, the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which is a really beautiful place ---

This is the mission that the swallows come back to every year in March.  We haven't had the opportunity to witness that yet, but maybe this next year.  We did see swallows last month on our way down to San Diego, but not at the mission.

We visited this mission way back in 2012, but we still counted it for our total.  For this summer, that still leaves us with 20 to go.

We took a day trip down to San Diego and visited the two down south - the first mission in the California mission chain, Mission San Diego de Alcala.

Beautiful garden, and of course, those iconic bells.   At each mission, we're taking the tours, picking up a few souvenirs and taking lots of pictures.  I have an art project in mind that I'm going to work on....

Next up was Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, which is in Oceanside.  This mission was pretty massive, with an extensive cemetery which was pretty cool. 

One of things that caught our eye was the cemetery gate, in the picture above, just to the right of the church.  Here's a closeup -- a cool skull and cross bones above the arch. 

At this mission, there was a lot of historical sites - original adobe barracks and the lavendaria (washing site) down by the river. 

We also took a day to go see the two missions in the Los Angeles area -- Mission San Fernando Rey de España in LA (mission hills).  This one had two weddings going on, so we didnt get a lot of pictures.  This mission also doesn't have some of the more classic looks ---

There were various outer buildings to look at, and this shot shows off the difference in size of people in this region -- Dale is 6'2"  and clearly he doesn't fit under the doorway arch!

The strangest (to me) aspect of this mission is that Bob Hope was a big financial supporter of the restoration.  He and his wife are buried on the grounds, as are other members of his family.  There's a little Bob Hope Garden, which was just so odd to us.

That's their grave on the right.

The other LA area mission is Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. 

This one looks a little imposing from the outside, kind of jail-like, but it was calm and cool inside. 

Saint Gabriel the Arcangel is in the center top over the altar, with his wings holding him aloft.  The carvings in this church were in great shape.

The thing that fascinated us, for some reason, was the opening/closing system of the windows. The windows are high up for a couple reasons - security and because the adobe walls are incredibly heavy and thick at the base, so the window openings have to be high so the wall remains supported.  So the windows are kind of unreachable, but they have glass frames that are on a pivot - they can pull one side of the chain and it pivots open, pull the other way, and it closes.  The adobe buildings are really cool and usually a little dark inside, but this church felt light because it's extra tall.

The other mission we've visited so far is Mission Santa Barbara. Every year, this mission is the site of a sidewalk drawing competition/exhibition/fundraiser for the locals arts groups, and we went during that event.  There were big crowds, and we got to see not only the mission, which is beautiful, but a lot of really cool art, listen to some live music, and eat some yummy pasta.

It was really crowded, but fun!

 The gardens were really beautiful, and peaceful. 

These are just a couple of the chalk drawings - it was really fun to watch the artists drawing.  The one above is on it's way to being one of those cool 3-D looking things - there's a certain place you stand to get the full effect.  There were several of these in progress, and some of them had a tape X or footsteps drawn in where you should stand to take a picture.

So that's where we are so far -- we have 6 visited, 15 to go.  They extend up as far as just above San Francisco, (mission San Rafael) so we'll have to go on a multi-day trip later this month to check out those.  I'll share what I'm doing with all these later!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Catching up -- part II

I've simply gotten out of the habit of blogging. So I am going to do yet another catch-up post and highlight a few of the smaller projects we've been doing in the past year.  Even with my best intentions from January, I didn't continue, so now that it's summer and I don't have as many things on my plate, let's see if I can get back in the swing of things.

To get ready to look at catching up, I looked through the past couple of years of posts, and realized that I did a lot of little things that I never added in.  One thing that made a big difference was taking out the last two big, ugly air conditioners.  We do have one still in the bedroom, but the other two (one in the kitchen and one in the guest room) were not only ancient, but didn't even work.

The first one I took out was in the kitchen -- just had HAD it one day and I had a large sheet of glass, so we wiggled and jiggled the old behemoth out of there and reframed the open space.  I thought I had taken pictures.....but here's one of the end result.

It's so nice to have more light coming in, and to not have that unsightly AC unit there.

The other one we replaced was in the guest room.  We did this one later,  and we decided to use one of the other two glass panels that we got when we updated the front door.  So I like this one a little more.

I still have one more glass panel, and may replace the kitchen window with it, especially since sometime this spring one of the panes in the current window developed a crack somehow.  So I need to either replace that panel or just replace the whole thing.

The other big thing that we've done in the past year is to paint our bedroom.  Our bedroom is the last room that had the original beige paint.  We have a lot we want to do in here, but most of it involves adding a bathroom on and reconfiguring the room. So we were thinking that doing anything in it's current state would be a waste of time.  Then we were lying in bed, thinking yet again how much we hate the beige, and decided we should just paint since it's only 20 bucks or so and we'd feel better about it.

We wanted something fun and bright, so these are the two samples we got.  We did a quick poll on Facebook and we ended up using the one on the right.  I'd looked through a lot of Pinterest pics to see how each color would look in a room with furniture similar to ours, and we decided to go with the brighter color.

Here's what the room looked like before we got started:

Dreary, even during daytime.  We pulled all the furniture out, scrubbed everything down, then got it painted.  Soon enough - it looked so much better!

It's so much more fun to wake up to this!

One thing we did differently than in the other rooms was to not add the crown up along the top -- because we are going to redo this room eventually, I didn't want to go through the expense and hassle of putting crown molding up, but we did run a piece of molding all along the top edge about 5" down (the same as we've done in all the other rooms), and paint it and everything above white and glossy, so it has a bit of a look of a finished molding.

You can see it along the top edge here.  I also took both of the bedside lamps outside and spray painted them, from the brassy finish they had from our house on Bosart, to a nice flat black that looks more like the bedframe.

This isn't a very large room, and we've got a king sized bed in it.  So just putting this brighter color of paint has made a huge difference and made it feel so much fresher!

The other thing we did when we fixed up the room was to put a box over the ridiculously large cable unit. We built a box from some leftover plywood, then painted it to match the wall.  Not only is it large and bulky looking, it has an orange flashing light that is irritating, so this way, the box covers the whole thing and it's not as noticeable.

I would also love to take the AC unit out of the window, but with the past two summers, we're grateful to have it on hot days.  I talked with Dale about taking it out of the window and embedding it in the wall so we aren't taking up one of the windows (and maybe enlarging the window), but again, since the long-term plan for this room is to add on and make half of this room a bathroom, we don't want to put any big work into it.

Other small things we've done around the house ---
Added a ceiling fan in the living room (to replace the stupid "boob" light we had in there),

Added curtains to the patio pergola -- we got these at IKEA - some inexpensive 9.99 panels, and a wire system to hang them on.  These have been great to keep the sun at bay, and makes it really nice in the afternoons when we want to kick back and relax on the sofas --

and we got a hot tub! 

We were keeping an eye on Craigslist and one day someone had one for free -- it's a Softub, and I read into them and realized that it would be perfect for our situation - our electrical box is full and we can't add a 220.  Softubs take a regular 110 outlet, and they're super lightweight to move and take care of.  So we missed out on the one for free, but we kept our eye out and ended up getting this one for $300.  We use it pretty much every day!  We did have the motor go out last month, and that was the real test -- the repair to rebuilt the motor was $600 -- did we really want it - and we decided that yes, it was completely worth it.   I love going out there first thing in the morning and getting caught up on FB and email and everything else before getting in the shower and getting ready for the day.  And I think it's also helped my skin feel so much better.  We have the water treatment schedule down and feel great about the whole thing - so we're really glad we got this!

OK -- so that's a lot of catch up  to do.  I have more things that I've been doing, and this week, we've been working in the yard, so I can do an update on how our front yard looks two years after our initial lawn to garden conversion.  I'll also get caught up on vacations and projects -- lots to write about!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Oops! how did that happen?

Soo....August  until January, eh?  apparently I was doing NOTHING.  Well,  not exactly true --

I did finish a lot of projects, but so many of the were for Christmas gifts that I couldn't share them here since the recipients check in.  (hello family).  Maybe a short recap and then I can get back into the swing of things....

Knitting.  I spent a lot of time knitting things - some successful, some not so much.  My daughter Leslie sent me an image of a rather cool vest she wanted - based on what Katniss wore in the Hunger Games movie.  This was a lot of fun, although I had to rework it to personalize the fit after I got to Indiana (more on that annual winter trip later).

This is what the pattern she really fell in love with looked like.  But she wanted it in an oatmeal color.

What a slacker I've been about taking pictures since I've been a slacker about blogging --- I only have a couple of progress shots ---

I somehow neglected to take a picture of her wearing it.  sigh.  It went fast, I learned a couple of new techniques, and while I was in Indiana, I made another for my youngest daughter Hilary, using a lighter weight yarn.  The one I made Leslie used a super bulky yarn and it's very warm.  In fact, I had to remake the rings around the neck because although they looked nice, when you put it on, it feels like you're wearing a dog cone.

I also made what looked like it would be a cute fox cowl -- and this one turned out large, shapeless and altogether a failure.  I think it was my yarn choice - I chose something soft and cuddly, and it just lacked the body needed for the pattern to be a success.

And finally, I am still making version 4.0 of a pair of legwarmers for my oldest daughter.  She had a simple request, although she had some specific size requirements that I just couldn't get right.  I knitted and frogged 3 pairs, and I am on my fourth and this one looks like it might be right.  They were supposed to be Christmas gifts but looks like they're running late!

I also made Luna  a little coat to wear to keep her warm on our trip to the midwest. She looks good in red :)

Right now, besides knitting, I was inspired by a friend who posted a 365 challenge she's doing - she is drawing daily on a desk size calendar - it is really awesome, she's an awesome artist - and I like the daily habit as well, so instead of buying a calendar , I went looking for a calendar journal (I do love me some books!).  I didn't like any of them I saw -- and I did love her large calendar - so I made myself a large book to use. 

I just want to use this book to do a short doodle -- nothing too incredibly complex - I've got some other books I can work on for that.  I actually considered doing only zentangles in it -- which might be more interesting.  I did one of those for the last two days, so maybe a short stretch here and there.  I enjoy the mindless linework sometimes.  This book is big - the open pages measure 22" across by 15" high.  Each square is around 2.75 x 3.  So anyway, I look forward to working in this all through the year to keep my hand in.

And now that that little bit is done, I'm going to put together a couple of grandkid posts.  Now, THAT, I have lots of pictures of!

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