Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tube Amp Antics

I am out of town on "business" for a couple of days. In the mean time, please enjoy this geekery, courtesy of my partner Tristan and our friend Andy:

My friends Mikey and Wendy gave me this thing they found at a yard sale. They were hoping to sell it for something on ebay, but it turned out to not have any practical purposes, since the unidentified object had tubes and speakers in it, which suggested it was an old hi-fi amplifier, but no input jacks of any sort could be found. A radio? but no tunning nob or switches. Clearly it had an amplifier in there somewhere! Read More and watch this thing in action!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The View From: Truth or Consequences

I'm going to attempt to post a shot of the view from each of our encampments on this trip. Here's our view from the hill in Truth or Consequences, NM.

Battery Swap

A few months back, Tristan traded a bunch of salvaged UPS batteries for two large 6V golf cart batteries. Our friend Mikey of Holy Scrap Hot Springs is a battery guru whose homestead runs almost entirely on solar power and thus, lots of batteries. These golf cart batteries were intended to go into a solar system of our own. Unfortunately, at over 60 lbs each, we soon realized that we couldn't afford the added weight. The other problem with these batteries was that they weren't sealed, which in a mobile situation meant a risk of spilling acid all over the place. So we trucked the batteries back down to TorC (in the passenger seat because the car rode too low with the batteries in the trunk). Mikey graciously took them back and traded us a second time, this time for a much smaller 12V sealed battery, weighing in at about 30 lbs. This 30-amp battery will suit our space limitations much better, and should still provide enough storage capacity for our needs.

Two Big for One Little

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Trading Places...

On our final evening in Santa Fe, we were treated to dinner at the Commons, one of the co-housing communities in town. After feasting on yummy food, including the best fruit salad I have ever eaten, the whole gang schlepped out to the parking lot to check out our new digs. Among the dinner guests that evening were Keith and Mary, who have just come to the end of a 9 month, cross country RV trip. They visited over 30 intentional communities along the way and blogged the trip. The weird part? We met them on the first day of our trip back to Amherst/Northampton, MA. The starting point for their journey? The very same. Insert Twilight Zone Theme here. So Santa Fe and Amherst have a net gain/loss of zero in the ramblin' eco-blogger category. We were actually living in Amherst at the same time years ago, and it's too bad that we didn't cross paths sooner. Now that we have, I'm looking forward to keeping tabs on their quest.

The Journey Begins!

It's official: we no longer live in Santa Fe. Our last few days in town were hectic, to say the least--full of sad goodbyes and hard work. Somehow we made it through, and we are now officially living in our wagon.

I know many of you are waiting for the "grand tour" of our new house on wheels. We have a few more finishing touches to get to while we are at our first stop, and once those are completed we'll show you the finished wagon, inside and out, top to bottom.

The first leg of our trip, from Santa Fe to Truth or Consequences, was frankly pretty miserable. Our poor cat was freaking out, the only route to take was a 75 mph highway on which we averaged 50 mph, and it was hot. Really hot. We stopped in Socorro to refill on water and give the car a break, but when we tried to start it again, the battery was dead. Tristan tried using our solar panel to recharge the battery, but eventually we just got a conventional jump. So, we have a battery problem to address before we continue on.

And a cat problem. I'm going to pick up some Rescue Remedy for her and see if that helps.

We'll be down in TorC for a few days. We have lots of friends here, a house-sitting gig that offers climate control and a bathroom, and being unemployed and out of Santa Fe means we can focus our full attention on improvements to the wagon. The to-do list is long, and includes mounting and wiring the solar panel, reducing our load, installing the cat enclosure for Lionshead, plumbing the sink, finalizing our water setup, and generally organizing the space and securing everything for travel. We hope that when we shove off from TorC, we will have a fully functional if not fully beautiful home.

Garlic Harvest

We had to harvest our garlic a little early this year, since we planned to leave Santa Fe just before harvest time. Something about garlic just calls for a night-time harvest. We harvested the garlic at night last year as well, not intentionally, but because we suddenly could not wait any longer to pull it out of the ground. This year we harvested about 150 bulbs of garlic. They were a little smaller than they would have been had we left them, but they were nearly ready. I tied them into bundles and they got a good day of drying time in before getting stowed in the car until we reach our next destination.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I've been wanting to write for awhile about all of the incredible help we have had on this project. Friends have donated building materials and beautiful decorations, they have lent tools, an extra hand, and expertise. We are so incredibly grateful for this help and support from the community we are leaving in Santa Fe. You know who you are. Thank you.

I wanted to include this picture of Tristan with one of our mentors for this project. Jan is a talented architect (one of his plans was featured in the excellent The Straw Bale House. He has also become a dear friend and mentor and helped us to make sure that our wagon would not fall apart on the road. At our going-away party, he said something like, "My role has been to help give you the confidence to know you are doing things well". That kind of encouragement from an expert couldn't have been more valuable. His comment really got me to thinking. When we started this project, I really didn't think we had the skills or the ability to pull this off. We have definitely poured all three of the requisite blood, sweat and tears into this thing, and here we are. I really don't think we would have done it without the help and encouragement of friends like Jan.

Monday, June 21, 2010


We still do not have a good solution for carrying water in the wagon. We want to have some kind of large-ish (3 gallon?) capacity container with a spout that is positioned over the sink to make it easy to dispense and wash dishes with, etc. Makes sense, yes? Well, since the kitchen is tiny, the spot we want to put the container is only 3-4" wide and 2' long. We need something shallow and tall, probably that mounts on the wall. I really want to avoid using a plastic water bag, but I am at a loss as to other solutions. What I picture in my head is a semi-cylinder made of stainless steel that would mount flat side to the wall, round side out. You follow me? Does anyone have any ideas of what we might use, whether it be off-the-shelf or a hack job? My googling powers have failed me on this one.

Key to our Tiny Home

It was a childhood fantasy of mine (and yours too, I bet) to have a skeleton key that opened the door to a secret garden or room. Well, now I have a skeleton key that opens the door to our new home. In an earlier post I mentioned the difficulties we've had finding a local locksmith to cut a key for a reasonable price. Finally, Tristan went to the locksmith and asked to buy just a blank, thinking he would find a way to cut the key himself. The locksmith decided to cut the key for him for the cost of the blank! I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get to learn how to make a skeleton key, but I'm relieved to have a way to lock the wagon. Right now, time and energy are at a premium around here, so any time saver is a boon.

In order to lock the wagon from the outside, we still had to cut a hole through the door for the key to fit through. I took care of that this afternoon, so aside from the cosmetics of putting a plate on the front, our door assembly is complete.

From Whittled Down

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mandatory Lanterns

We got our mandatory lanterns for the wagon. They will need to be removed while we're driving, and we installed hooks on the inside and outside of the wagon so that we can place them where they are most needed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Canvas Covered Wagon

The roof is well on its way to being done after a long day's work. We have a little more stapling to do tomorrow, and we'll need to add a layer of trim on the front and back bows as well. Here's a description of the process we ended up using:

1. Staple Canvas to length of poplar, stretching tightly.
2. Drape over the wagon to measure where to affix the second length of poplar. Remove.
3. Staple other side of canvas to second length of poplar.
4. Affix one side of the roof to the wagon, wrapping the canvas around the poplar once or twice. We used deck screws with finish washers to screw through the canvas, poplar, metal, and second layer of poplar. We took care to make sure everything was straight, centered, and flush.
5. Repeat on the other side, after pulling as tightly as possible.
6. Stretch the canvas over the front and back bows. We started at the top center on each side and worked our way outwards.

This method did result in straight, taught canvas. It felt a little scary while we were doing it, because it was hard to tell if everything would straighten out in the end. There are probably 5 million ways to do this.

Ok, on a less practical note, WE HAVE A ROOF! It is pretty. The wagon really feels like a shelter now. Tomorrow we'll be holding a going away party with friends, showing off the wagon for the first time to many of them. It's time to spruce this baby up and get her ready for her big debut!

From Whittled Down

From Whittled Down

From Whittled Down

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stretching Canvas

This is what our living room looks like right now. Boxes of stuff to ship or dispose of line the walls. In the center, the roof to our new home is being assembled. This whole canvas stretching business is complicated, but Tristan has some experience stretching canvas for painting, so we are hobbling along alright. The canvas is being attached to poplar strips that will in turn be screwed into the wagon's frame. Step one (for us, anyway) is lining the canvas up as straight as possible, stretching it as tightly as we possibly can, and stapling the whole business down. We've done this on one side, and next we'll drape everything over the wagon to finalize more measurements before we proceed on the other side.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scape Harvest!

We've actually been harvesting scapes from our 150-odd garlic plants for about a week now, but today we harvested the remaining bunch. We're still hoping we'll have some harvestable garlic by the 25th, which is our departure date. Last year we harvested our garlic on the 21st, but I think it might be a bit behind this year. If we don't have fully formed heads to harvest, we can always use it as green garlic. My favorite way to eat scapes so far this year is sauteed with butter, dill, and asparagus. Yum!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Renter Blues

Although we decided long ago to leave our home in Santa Fe, it is still heartbreaking to see the landlord undo all of the hard work we did to improve the soil. As soon as she arrived back on the scene, she hired a bunch of guys to put landscape cloth and then pecan shells down in the yard. That little outpost of garlic is our last stand. We've been given permission to keep it there until it's ready to harvest, which should be right around our departure date. Most of this was a garden last year. Now it's just another "xeriscaped" Santa Fe yard. Pity.

Visiting an Off-Grid Tiny House in Northern New Mexico

This weekend Tristan and I had the opportunity to visit a remote lake in Northern NM. It was hard to tear ourselves away from work, but our friends graciously offered us the use of their cabin and canoe, so away we went. Their cabin, built by our friends, is rustic and off the grid--propane stove, kerosene lamps, no running water or plumbing. The trip was also good practice. We now know we're able to easily fit everything we need in the car, and we got used to checking the bucket under the sink for overflow...

The lake was stunning. We saw carp spawning (video to come), a bald eagle soaring, and played board games by lamplight to the sound of thunder outside. Now we're back home for the final stretch, slightly rejuvenated. 11 days until the real adventure begins.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Field Trip! Real Gypsy Wagon

Through friendly connections, we learned that a wealthy couple owned a "real" gypsy wagon in Santa Fe. We were able to go visit it yesterday. This wagon is a different style than ours, but it is beautiful and it was inspiring to have a look around. As you can see, the wagon is fairly large and is of the horse-drawn persuasion. Unfortunately, the woman who showed it to us (wealthy couple's dog caretaker) did not know much about it, how old it was or where it came from, etc.

Most interesting to me was that several features of the wagon seemed to be made from re-purposed furniture. We have taken this approach in our wagon, but I didn't think I'd see that in an "authentic" wagon. Under the bed there is a small desk that looks like it was placed in there, and the dishes are store in what looks like the top portion of a secretary desk with the front removed. You can't see it in the picture below, but there were remnants of where the hinges used to be.

My favorite feature was the pull-out table that stores underneath the bed. We've been debating how best to work a table into the design, and after seeing this approach in action I think we'll do the same. Isn't it funny how the wagon is staged as though a romantic dinner-for-two might spontaneously erupt at any moment? The crumpled napkin is just too much!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Fix: Part 1

So as I mentioned earlier, we had this problem with the bows forcing the purlines out of whack. Thanks to those of you who offered tips--we got some great advice. In the end, we decided on a two-part solution. Part one involved reinforcing the two purlines that support the partial walls. We cut a 1x4 to the exact width of the wagon at the end wall, and affixed it to roughly the widest area, which happened to be at the bed frame. To bring the purlines in to meet the 1x4, Tristan used a technique he read about in a boat-building book.

He attached a rope to the walls and used a stick to twist the rope up, thus pulling the walls towards each other. Once the walls were brought into line, he used 2x4 blocks to secure the 1x4 to the purlines and the bed frame. What we have now are straight side walls held firmly in place, and a slightly higher bed facade.

We are still experiencing bowing with the upper purlines, but it appears that when you pull the top beam straight, all the other purlines fall into place. Part 2 of the fix will involve stiffening that top beam.

Two Weeks

Two weeks from today I will complete my last day of work in Santa Fe, and we will be officially free to hit the road. There are no plans or guarantees once we move into the wagon and put Santa Fe in the rear view mirror. Right now, it feels like there are no guarantees that we will be ABLE to put Santa Fe in the rear view mirror. There is still so much to be done, both in terms of dispatching with our possessions and finishing our new house.

I won't bore you with the details. This process has taught me that in some ways, the term "simple living" is a misnomer. Living simply requires not only a lot of knowledge (to make everything from scratch) but also quite a bit of stuff. Sure, most of the stuff might be trash-picked, thrift-stored, hand-me-down or handmade, but it is stuff nonetheless. Moving into a tiny house requires a completely different kind of simple living. We'll have to temporarily abandon practices we've kept for years (keeping chickens, brewing beer, growing food, etc.). But our cost of living will decrease dramatically, and in my book, fewer needs equals more freedom.

It's early in the morning here and we are about to get to work on the wagon to escape the brutal heat we've had here all week. The show must go on!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


We have most of the bows up now, except for the ones that go over the walls and the awnings. It turns out that the bows have created some unexpected side effects that we now have to deal with. Basically, the purlines were not strong enough to take the tension of the oak bows, which we installed without steaming now the purlines are bowing in or out in various places, and we don't have the nice straight lines that we want. We're not sure yet how we'll correct this problem. Advice is more than welcome...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

1st Bow

If Tristan looks a little grumpy in this picture, it's because we've been working hard all weekend in 95 degree heat on really annoying projects. We spent a great deal of the time sanding and varnishing (lather, rinse, repeat) which I think is a least favorite task for both of us. This evening we finally started putting the bows on the wagon. Some of the purlines were a little saggy and putting the bows in will correct this problem and provide more rigidity.

In other news, I think we are both starting to feel the exhaustion sink in after several intense weeks of moving, building, and cleaning. It's going to be a hard push to the end, but we're still optimistic that we'll be "done" by our deadline of June 25. "Done" in this case meaning road-worthy and basically functional. There may be some finishing touches to be done after we shove off. We're so close to go time. Holy moly.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Traveler Kitty

I am the mama of a very ornery former street cat. She'll be making the trip with us of course, and I'm taking measures in an attempt to have some control over her. It may all be in vain, but I'd really like to avoid spending an extra week in Nebraska searching for her. I've never had success using a cat harness on her before, but this time I'm going to make her wear it 24/7 until she gets used to it. Hopefully this will make her easier to leash/restrain. She is reacting the way many of you know cats react to such things-- she seems convinced an invisible hand is forcing her into the ground. Hopefully she gets over it. In the mean time, it's kind of funny.

It's for your own good, Lionshead.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fellow Travelers

We met some kindred spirits during our excursion to Ojo Caliente yesterday. Jenni and Doug were on Day 2 of their new life as permanent residents of their small RV! Also from Santa Fe, these two have decided to simplify their lives and take to the road. We took a tour of their home and got some great ideas for the wagon.

I haven't been inside an RV since I was probably 10 years old, and for me the most exciting thing was the chance to investigate their hookups. Since we'll be staying at RV parks while we travel, I thought it would be nice to have to option to make us of the water and electricity hookups that are typically included at an RV site. I wasn't sure how this would work, especially without a holding tank for water. Turns out it's basically as simple as installing a hose with a standard end and a standard electrical box. We're going to consider adding these hookups to allow us to conserve the energy and especially the water we bring on board with us. While we want to be as self-sufficient as possible, it would be nice to have the option.

It was great to chat with these two about all the considerations of mobile life. Us gypsies have concerns that bore most people. What's the best way to secure objects while on the move? Does that table do double duty? (It better!) Gleaning ideas from Jenni and Doug made us anxious to get home and finish our project. (But not until we'd had a nice good soak in the springs...) Happy trails, you two!

Workplace Vegetable Garden

Many of us spend many, many hours of our lives in an office setting. When I've worked for more conventional places, it always felt like a dirty little secret that I came home to chickens and homemade tempeh at the end of the day. For those of us focused on the dream of sustainable living, it can definitely be a challenge to convince your coworkers to make the office more sustainable as well.

I am a huge fan of office-based sustainability efforts. You have sort of a built-in community with common purpose and shared experiences to build on. The office carpool is of course one of the most popular (and most popularly mocked) of such efforts. When I worked at the Animal Shelter in town, I organized a bike pool with some of my coworkers. It made the 14-mile round trip a lot more bearable to have company, and HR stopped looking at me sideways once I had a whole posse of coworkers arriving for work early enough to change and shower in the locker rooms.

Currently I am fortunate enough to work in a small office housed in a historic adobe building. That means our energy usage is low, I don't have to deal with the smell of off-gassing carpet, and we cook lunch together often. Best of all, we have a vegetable garden.

Workplace veggie gardens are catching on in more corporate circles too, or so the NY Times tells me. They're cheap to "install", they give employees something rewarding to do on their breaks, and they ensure a supply of cheap local veggies for all to enjoy. I'm not sure of the square footage of ours, but it's huge, and it feeds the 3 employees here in the office, plus our 5 artists-in-residence and some of the neighbors. The garden is taking off right now, and we'll be enjoying our first salads of the season any day now.

What sustainable workplace measures do you have at the office? Any of you trying to get something started?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First overnight trip with the Whittled Down Caravan

Today we took the wagon on an hour-long drive from Santa Fe to the hot springs at Ojo Caliente. I'm blogging from our campsite!

The trip was smooth but we took it slow, trying not to exceed 50 mph. Since the tarp roof is a temporary one, we removed it for the drive and put it up when we arrived.

So were here chillin in the woods with our friend Andy, who caught us each a trout for dinner. Looking forward to soaking this evening and getting a good night's sleep in the wagon.

Photo First overnight trip
Originally uploaded by Whittled Down

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So long, house

Today we finished emptying and cleaning the 2BR house we've called home for almost two years. We're not quite ready to leave Santa Fe, but the landlord is putting the house on the market so we've been exiled to the casita on the same property for the remaining few weeks we'll be in town. It's a pain to have to move twice, but in a way it's a nice transition. The casita is probably 25% the size of the house, and our remaining belongings fit easily inside. We still have a pile of stuff to donate and stuff to ship, but we're getting there. I can taste freedom!

I have felt so burdened by stuff this week, as we've had to either throw away, donate, or move every single possession. I wrote a cheerier post about getting rid of stuff recently, but man. It is beyond me how we accumulated so much stuff in this house. I hope I never again have to spend a whole week of my life (more, really) dealing with my possessions. It's not worth it! I'm ready to start traveling light!

The Roof The Roof

Our Sunforger waterproof canvas for the roof arrived last week. As you can see from my previous sewing projects, I am not the most competent seamstress. Having a strong, watertight roof over our heads seemed kind of important, so I enlisted the help of a friend.

Susan Todd is incredibly generous for helping me with this project. We've only met a handful of times, but it turns out she's basically an old family friend. She lived in a tiny town in Vermont for many years, 2 miles from the town I grew up in. We share boatloads of acquaintances, including the family from whom we got our first puppy. Susan is an incredible artist who makes, among other things, handbags out of recycled materials. You can see them in the background there...the brightly colored ones are made out of hot air balloons!

We spent a couple of hours at Susan's studio assembling the roof. The finished roof is 13.5' x 12', which includes plenty of extra room. There are four panels sewn together using a french seam, which should improve strength and water-tightness. We're still mid-move so I'm not sure when we'll put the roof on, but I'm hoping we'll have it up by next Monday.