Thursday, April 29, 2010

Name That Wagon!

Ok, readers, we need your help! What should we name the Gypsy Wagon? This is the discovery phase--let 'er rip with your ideas and if we get enough good picks we'll put it to a vote! Please??? If we name it ourselves it's gonna be something lame like "The Gypsy Rose" or "Bessie". You've been warned.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Second wall nearing completion

The second wall is nearly done! We've got a few more boards to go above the window. Building this wall presented some engineering challenges. All of the gypsy wagons we've looked at have walls that are built straight above the edge of the trailer, allowing them to be firmly anchored in the foundation box. We designed our front wall that way, but for the rear wall we decided to make the wall jut out a foot at the level of the bed platform. This means the bed will only take up three feet of floorspace instead of 4.

That's all well and good, but how do you get the T&G wall to support itself when there is no way to anchor the upper two thirds of the wall to the floor? Our solution was to put two brackets on the inside of the shelf, spaced to form the boundaries of the bed. On the outside of the wall, we anchored 1x4s to these brackets to support the tongue and groove, like so:

Would you like some corn syrup with that honey?

A couple of high school students did an experiment using DNA testing to determine whether foods bought randomly around Manhattan were in fact what the label claimed. 11 of the 66 foods they tested were not, including sheep cheese that was really cow cheese and sturgeon caviar that was really from some inferior North American river fish.

The article I'm paraphrasing above is almost a month old, but I just read it for the first time re-printed in the local paper. Another compelling reason to eat locally and get to know your growers. Some common food fraud mentioned in the article included honey watered down with corn syrup and olive oil that is really flavored and colored soybean oil. The FDA, of course, is too overwhelmed to do much about it. Read the full article from the Washington Post here:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Brunch

This morning we had a lovely quiche and fresh-picked salad out in the garden. The quiche made use of some of the last eggs produced in our yard, as well as homegrown green onions. We added some store-brought prosciutto, cheddar and green beans and Farmer's Market oyster mushrooms. Mmmmm. The salad was composed of homegrown lettuce, arugula, sorrel, and baby kale.

By the way, if you don't already grow it, sorrel is a tasty perennial green. Ours came with the house and has put up with a lot of abuse as it's in a spot that doesn't get watered frequently. Still, it thrives. It's got a tangy zing to it and adds a lot of dimension to salads. I've read that it can be used in soups, and I can't wait to try it that way!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rear Wall Brackets

Tristan designed these purdy brackets to be reminiscent of the corbels you see here in New Mexico. We burned through our used $10 jigsaw in the process, but the Tool Library saved the day yet again and we were able to finish and install them. These brackets will support the upper portion of the wall, which juts out one foot from the end of the trailer. This design allows us to mount the bed platform one foot further back, which give us a few extra square feet of floor space (when you're building this small, every square foot counts!)

The goal for tomorrow is to get the rest of the rear wall up, and if we're lucky we may even get to cut both walls into circles!

Farewell Chickens

Chickens have been a part of our daily lives for two years now. As of today, we are completely chickenless. Our good friends Niki and Jackson, who have co-owned the chickens from the start, took the girls to their new home today. Previously, they bought food and we took care of the chickens, and we split the eggs. For the remainder of our time in Santa Fe, those roles will be reversed. No store-bought eggs for us just yet.

I already miss their constant murmur (although it always drove me crazy). The gaping hole in the backyard makes this place feel much less like home...

Friday, April 23, 2010

A home for the price of a month's rent?

Our budget for the gypsy wagon is $1500. The goal is to build a home for not much more than one month's rent, which is $1100. If we live in the gypsy wagon for two months, it will have paid for itself and will have begun to save us money. Seems like a pretty good investment to us.

The trailer had a lot of associated costs, which total just over 50% of our expenses thus far. It's tempting not to count some of the expenses, like installing a trailer hitch on my car, but for now I am counting anything that went into making this gypsy wagon possible.

So, what's the grand total so far? It hurts to say it in public. $1191.90.

We still have to purchase lumber to make the bows and purlines, the canvas for the roof, and inevitably some bits and pieces for the interior (though we are trying to use as much salvaged material as possible). If we are going to come in on budget, we have $309.10 to do it with. It's going to be tight, but it seems doable.

Goal #2 is to see how much of the total cost of the wagon we can pay for by selling our possessions. I'll update you on that goal in a future post.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


We are using Spar Urethane to finish the exterior and the floor of the gypsy wagon. It's "marine quality" polyurethane that supposedly will hold up to moisture and UV exposure well. After hemming and hawing about whether we should stain our reclaimed T&G before varnishing, we decided against it. Pine is hard to stain and it's an extra expense and time suck that we don't need. It's subtle in the picture, but the reclaimed wood has a nice golden color to it now. We have one more coat to do on the floor and 2 to go on the wall.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We have a wall

Today we finished the first wall of the gypsy wagon!!! We put the "crown board" in place, which unifies the two sides and allows us to make everything nice and square. Next we begin work on the back wall, and maybe installing the door. It's really starting to feel like a structure now.

From Whittled Down


After a hard day's work on the wagon, Tristan and I went for a hike in La Cienega, just south of Santa Fe. It was late afternoon, and the light was just right.

Olive Oil Lamp

Vegetable oil lamps are a quick and relatively easy source of light and heat. They differ from kerosene lamps in construction, which is where I went wrong when I tried to make one awhile back. Tristan had more luck. This olive oil lamp was made out of a mason jar, a denim wick, and a piece of wire hanger to hold the wick up. He used this Mother Earth News article as a guide. It burned for three hours straight with no wick adjustments and no weird smells! This project was mostly just for fun, although Tristan is interested in learning more about veggie oil heaters for possible use in the gypsy wagon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Homemade Clamps

While we were working on the front wall of the gypsy wagon, we realized we needed clamps. We don't own any, and the Tool Library wasn't open. Tristan, being the inventor of weird crap that he is, threw together these puppies. Scrap wood, some wing nuts, washers, and long bolts = quick and dirty homemade clamps. They got the job done!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First Wall Going Up

Today we made some good progress on the first end-wall of the gypsy wagon. The first part of the process was completed yesterday--measuring the rough lengths of the tongue-and-groove boards that form the wall, and cutting them all to length. We used most, but not all, of the tongue-and-groove we salvaged so we'll have to salvage more or buy the rest for the other wall. As you can see, when the boards were stacked they made a nice parabolic shape:

Today we started by squaring the 2x4s and 1x4s that make up the frame. Next, we began the process of gluing and screwing each board into place. We lost daylight before we were able to finish, but tomorrow we should be able to finish the front wall fairly quickly. Once the end-walls are on, we'll draw a circle and cut the walls into the proper curved shape.

By the way, Tristan seems to have entered the gypsy wagon twilight zone. Both yesterday and today he encountered two different gypsy wagons on the streets of Santa Fe. Both were the "Reading" style, which has full walls and a slightly curved, wooden or metal roof. Today's specimen was horse-drawn! I guess rambling gypsy-style is in the cards for us.

Tortilla Press

Tristan got me a wooden tortilla press for my birthday, and I finally got a chance to try it out! I used a sheet of saran wrap between the masa and the press, and it worked really well. I think the dough may have been a little too wet, but yummy tortillas were enjoyed nonetheless.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Hey! Our recipe for homemade goat cheese is in the current issue of Make:Magazine (Volume 22). Check out the spread here, or better yet, pick up a copy and check out the rest of the amazing projects in this issue! I wish I had discovered the magic that is chipotle goat cheese before this how-to was written...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The wagon is on the trailer!

Whew! Today we finally got the foundation of the gypsy wagon attached to the trailer. This step required a lot of math, measuring, measuring again, and other such annoyances.

The trailer has holes to bolt to all along each beam, so we planned to bolt through those using a long carriage bolt, the largest washer we could find on the top, and underneath a lock washer and a standard nut. We placed 3, 1x4 struts between the wagon and the trailer to provide clearance over the bolt heads that stick out of the trailer.

Measuring the places to drill the holes into the floor of the gypsy wagon became the biggest challenge. Because of the way the trailer is constructed, there is no way to just place the wagon on the trailer, line it up, and drill through. The hole placement had to be measured before the wagon was placed on the trailer. And to make matters worse, inconsistencies like the trailer being slightly wider and longer than the wagon required us to rethink the placement of the wagon on the trailer.

The wagon was resting on sawhorses, and we had to devise a way of getting the wagon onto the trailer with just the strength of us two. We took two sawhorses and placed a 2x4 between them, which allowed us to roll the trailer under the wagon close to all the way.

Then, with some fenagling we were able to lower first one half and then the other down onto the trailer. Then it was a simple matter of bolting everything down (after a quick trip to the hardware store, of course...)

We're sitting in the shell of the wagon now, testing out the stability of the box with our own weight for the first time. It feels really sturdy!

We think this might have been the most challenging step in the process, with the possible exception of getting the hoops in. Next up is putting up the front and back walls, which will be made out of recycled tongue and groove, and maybe a coat of varnish. Moving right along!


Pea sprouts are emerging in the garden!

And, our cherry tree is in bloom...

It's been a long, hard winter, but it looks like spring is finally here! Hip-hip-hooray!

Full Day

Today was a very full day. We got up early to set up a yard sale--a first attempt at getting rid of stuff in preparation for the move. We live on a very quiet street and the going was slow, but we made a worthwhile profit and got rid of a fair volume of stuff in the end. My cat almost went home with more than one customer after climbing through open car windows in search of warm napping spots. She also had an entertaining encounter with a 9-month-old baby. Much mutual amazement was shared. After the sale, we loaded up the less valuable remaining stuff and took it to Goodwill. Feels good to shed some volume/poundage.

Let it be said that by this point in the day I was already quite sunburned.

Then it was on to the gypsy wagon. Progress has been very slow this week as we try to figure out how to best attach the wagon foundation to the trailer frame. We spent an extremely confusing and aggravating couple of hours trying to get everything measured in order to drill holes in the right spots in the floor. Not very much fun. If the stars align properly, tomorrow we should get the wagon-thus-far onto the trailer. Keep your fingers crossed!

We also took some time today to repeatedly restore Wiley-The-Escape-Chicken to the pen. For some reason, our Buff Orpington has found a secret portal that allows her to seemingly walk straight through chain-link to terrorize our hoop house, multiple times a day. It's time to sit out there with some beer and figure out how the heck she is getting out. None of the other chickens can figure it out either.

Tonight was supposed to culminate in a contra dance, but alas we are too sunburned and tired to make it happen. Time for some aloe vera, homemade gatorade, and some serious zzzzz's.

[ Homemade Gatorade = water, lemon (less than lemonade, more than lemon water), salt (enough to be able to taste it), and honey. Really gets your electrolytes restored! ]

Thursday, April 8, 2010


We were invited to dinner with friends the other day, and we volunteered to bring the salad. I managed to fill a colander with lettuce, arugula, and spinach from the hoop house! The salad was later supplemented with Farmer's Market greens as one colander is sadly not enough greens for 5 people. I'm so thrilled with this hoop house experiment!

So far we're not seeing any problems with aphids or other pests that can overwinter along with the food, but I have a premonition that if we were to leave these plants in the ground all season, they would end up infested. Based on the few things we overwintered in a cold frame last year, which all got aphid infestations, I think it's important to plant more greens in the early spring and pull last year's once this year's are coming in. Since we're not going to be here much longer, the hoop house greens will probably be it for us this season. Let's hope they keep on cranking!

Artichoke Water

Ok. This looks disgusting, I know. What IS it, you ask? Well, you see, Tristan and I had some very tasty artichokes for dinner. We boiled them, and were left with some very nutritious-looking, DARK green water. Makes me a little sad that the good stuff didn't go directly into my tummy. Well, what's the next best thing? Feed it to the chickens! This is diluted artichoke water (plus straw! chickens are messy). We'll see how they like it. Mmmm.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Garlic is one of our best crops in Northern New Mexico. In the fall I planted about 150 cloves of garlic, and they are up and growing now. This is a local, semi-wild variety of top-setting garlic that its cultivator found growing beside an abandoned adobe house. It's going to be a race to the finish with this garlic. Last year we harvested garlic during the 3rd week of June, so if the garlic is on schedule this year we'll just have time to harvest before we leave. I'm a little worried because it's been such a cold spring, but the garlic is growing super fast--it seems to be making up for lost time. I guess we'll have a lot of garlic hanging to cure in the wagon...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bike Donations

Santa Fe is lucky to have a dedicated bunch of bike enthusiasts and activists that make up the Chainbreaker Collective. Their kick-ass mission reads thusly:

Chainbreaker is a collective of individuals from diverse backgrounds working on a volunteer basis to rescue and repair bicycles to redistribute to the Santa Fe community. We believe in empowerment through education, humane economics, sustainable ecology, and the active deconstruction of social inequalities.

Chainbreaker has a new, expanded studio right around the corner, and I'm sorry to say I hadn't been in before today. They're open several times a week, including one evening that is for Spanish-speakers only (kudos for that). Tristan and I popped over to donate some old frames and a future bike trailer (read: salvaged stroller) to the shop. The bikes will one day belong to people who put the time in to nurture them back to health, with the help of the volunteer bike experts at Chainbreaker. If you're in Santa Fe and you want to build a bike, learn how to repair your bike, or share your skillz, check it out! Really one of Santa Fe's best grassroots efforts!


We salvaged this T&G from my boss's remodel. As you can see, it's got 3 or 4 different finishes on it. These boards will form the front and back walls of the gypsy wagon, and we want them to look pretty. So we headed to the ReStore Tool Library and checked out a belt sander.

It's looking much better already. More pictures will follow once we finish it. The spring winds in New Mexico are blowing fierce and COLD today, so we aren't getting much done on the gypsy wagon. Every time we muster up the courage to brave the blustery day we are sent running back inside squealing. Brrrr....

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easy DIY Straw Mattress

We needed a lightweight, futon-like mattress for our gypsy wagon, which will have a bed platform that folds into a couch. We saw this need as an opportunity to experiment with a homemade mattress that wouldn't be pumped full of chemicals like conventional mattresses. We had seen a custom-made straw mattress on another blog, and at first I was planning to sew the tick myself. Then I realized that a commercial, 100% cotton futon cover would be just as cheap as the fabric. So a $30 futon cover plus a $5 bale of straw = a cheap, natural mattress.

Straw mattresses have a bad rap of course (bugs! rodents! itchy!) and since we've never used one before, we'll be testing ours out before we hit the road. The basic concept for care of a straw mattress goes like this. The straw needs to be replaced every few months because it compresses down and if left for too long can develop a problem with bugs nesting in it. Rodents and bugs don't get any nutrition from straw (this isn't hay--the nutritional content is pretty much zilch in straw) so they aren't attracted to it. When it's time to switch out the straw, you compost the old, the new costs $5, and you get an opportunity to wash the cover. And really, if you get sick of straw and want to invest in wool fleece or some other filler, you can do so at any time! This seems to us to be an environmentally friendly and flexible "sleep system". We'll let you know how it feels after a couple of nights.

Sweet Dreams!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wahoo! New Tool Library!

We've been patrons of the Santa Fe ReStore for a looong time. If you're not familiar with ReStores, they are the thrift stores of the construction world, and the proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity. You can check to see if there's a ReStore in your area here. These places are basically paradise for the DIY-inclined, as you can find great salvaged materials there, anything from lumber to furniture and everything in between.

Just when we thought the ReStore couldn't get any better, it did! They just opened a brand new tool lending library with an AMAZING selection of power and hand tools that can be borrowed for free after an initial membership fee of a measly $10. The lending library opened just shortly after we began to work on our gypsy wagon in earnest, and since the only power tools we own are a hand drill and a jigsaw, it's been like a gift from above. So far we've rented a circular saw, belt sander, planer, rasp, and clamps for the gypsy wagon. Oh yeah, and while this isn't the first tool lending library in the country by any means, it IS the first to be housed at a Habitat ReStore. My sincere gratitude goes to Michelle Goodman and all the good folks at Habitat who have made this resource a reality for Santa Fe.

As tends to happen to me, when we walked into the library last week were greeted by a reporter from the local paper who was doing a story on the project. Naturally, he asked us what we were building with tools from the library. I considered lying and telling him we were doing a weekend bathroom remodel, but alas, I'm honest to a fault. "You're building a what?" he asked. "You know, a gypsy wagon, like, a covered wagon. To live in." Yeah... Anyway, here's the article. Pretty much every detail about us is wrong, including the quotes, but what're you gonna do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Whittled Down House

After 2.5 years, Tristan and I are getting ready to leave our urban homestead in New Mexico in search of greener pastures in New England. To kick off this new and scary phase of our lives, Tristan and I are embarking on our biggest project yet, and boy does it ever involve Whittling Down. We're building a gypsy wagon to call home during our move and most likely beyond.

Most of you are probably at least vaguely familiar with the Tiny House movement--people building miniature houses, often on trailers, and ostensibly living in them (though it seems like an awful lot of tiny houses end up as offices or guest rooms in the back yard). I have no illusions that the tiny house lifestyle is for us--two people and a cat in under 100 sq. ft. just doesn't seem fun or necessary, at least not for the long haul. But to have a home while we move across the country and visit potential new home towns? To save on rent during the warm months by carrying our house on our backs? It sounded like a pretty good solution to us.Your typical tiny house is built like a smaller scale regular house, with a few exceptions. This means that they are heavy. I drive a Hyundai Elantra and I don't relish swapping it out for some monster truck, so I set about to research what my teeny sedan might be able to handle. The answer?

A canvas-topped gypsy wagon!
Yes folks, you heard it right. Tristan and I are building a 54 sq. ft. gypsy wagon to call home for at least the summer of 2010, if not beyond. The whole thing sits on a 4x8 utility trailer and will (we hope) weigh about 800 lbs fully loaded (my car can handle up to 1000!). We are having to purchase some materials but we're using salvaged stuff whenever possible. Here's our Google Sketchup design for the shell:

And here's what we've built so far:

And if you're interested, here are links to our 3 main resources/sources of inspiration:

We'll be posting updates on the gypsy wagon's progress regularly. Our goal is to have the exterior completed by May 31st, and the whole shebang done by the end of June, which is our target departure date.