Thursday, June 26, 2008

Plumbing and fittings and cushions, OH MY!

It seemed like such a simple task: buy the missing pieces and put the on-board water system back together. R-i-i-i-ght! The girls and I spent two days toodling around town in search of what I thought were simple plumbing parts: hoses, clamps, fittings. Turns out part of the challenge was that no two holes on this water tank are the same size. Go figure! After stopping in to our local RV store (absolute jerks), and several hardware stores we ran into "Royce" in the plumbing department at our final hardware stop. He was tremendously helpful and in no time I had the plumbing installed.

Then I pulled the hand pump. The siphoning began. I could hear water coming up the hose. And then... nothing! The pump crapped out even before one drop of water found its way to the spigot! ARGH!

Is it a faulty pump? Are these hand pumps just crap to begin with? Should I return it to the aforementioned jerks at the RV store for refund, or exchange (maybe I just have a dud)?

Time to move on.

The lights inside weren't working when we brought the trailer home, but, when plugged in to the house, the two outlets in the trailer functioned. Mr. B mentioned that the bulbs looked like car bulbs. What a SMART GUY! Hooked up the loose wires in the cabinet to the battery (after a good charging session) and, VIOLA, lights!

I got the nerve up to try the propane system today. Two of the three burners work. It sounds like the third valve opens, but the burner just won't QUITE light. It flickers a bit, but that's it. I had just tested the windows for leaks (A-OK there), so the propane tank was wet when I turned it on. There's a leak at the handle (it's an old tank) and a leak at the regulator. Two more things to add to the replacement list.

The hitch is on its way. I thought I might have it done locally, but Dad's volunteered to help me install it. Then we'll get greasy with the repacking of wheel bearings.

Oh, and as for the the homespun reupholstering project, I built up the courage to cut the fabric but, fearing failure, have put off attempting the 36" zippers (I haven't had the greatest luck with the few zippers I've ever installed) and carrying on with that end of the project.

Maybe after Independence Day... :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Meet Junior

I had (almost) given up hope on the trailer front. We tested out our tent setup at Live Oak, came up with some tweaks that would make each day's move a bit easier, faster and happier all. With the flip of a computer switch (and a log-on, sign-in, program-opening process) EVERYTHING changed Friday night!

Several weeks ago I e-mailed a guy in Goleta about his trailer listed on CraigsList. He never responded, so I figured it was sold. Then, out of the blue, I received an e-mail Friday night saying he still had it and it was available. Despite the hour, I called Dad to ask for his expert mechanical advice...and truck (just in case). Saturday morning, Dad, M. and I enjoyed a beautiful drive south while Mr. B enjoyed a morning with our girls.

Well, the trailer, which is fiberglass, had been painted (a no-no where gel coat is concerned), and it hadn't been moved from its spot in his parents' driveway in SO long there was moss growing on the concrete alongside the tires, so there's no telling how the wheel bearings are. The cushions were, in some cases, torn, others ripped. And in an effort to create some insulation, he'd lined nearly the entire interior with a metalized bubble wrap. There were some other issues as well, but they appeared minor.

Then it came to paperwork time; the kid had NONE. In fact, he didn't know whether he'd ever registered it in his name, let alone changed the title over to his name. I wasn't about to shell out for the trailer only to find out it wasn't really his to sell, so we headed down to the Santa Barbara DMV. (It's only open ONE Saturday each month, and THIS was it. Coincidence?) Lo and behold, the trailer was officially his, so we made the sale official at the DMV, then towed that puppy home!

From Compact Jr. Upgrades

The thing that bothered me MOST about it was fixed first: the kid had painted RIGHT over the glass in all the windows. I scraped it off before I stepped inside to take on more important tasks, like checking plumbing, installing a hand pump (hoses to come tomorrow), stripping the cushions (E loved this job), repairing the ice box drainage system, and generally cleaning up (E & V both loved this part).

So far the repair seem relatively minor for a home on wheels. The table leg, for example, had to be remounted today. It shook off on our way down the road between Goleta and our house. No wonder...someone had used tiny nails to affix it the the table. Gravity took its toll in no time. Mr. B and I replaced the old nails with screws, somehow managing NOT to drive them clear through the top of the table! BONUS!

From Compact Jr. Upgrades

Long list of to-dos remains, but at least the weather's returned to normal so we can stand to be outside working again! :)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Peace. Love. Dirt.

The girls and I enjoyed another full weekend of music, crafts, games, heat, camping and friends at Live Oak Music Festival near Cachuma Lake.

Somehow this weekend always manages to bring hot weather, plenty of dust and quite a crowd, but it's all worth it. It's not a place to go if you have an aversion to crowds, heat, dust, loud noises, the sound of people partying long into the night, laughter at 4 a.m. But performances continue on any of three stages from 8 a.m. 'til midnight (and beyond if you count the all-night jams going on throughout camp every night); there's a lot for the kids to do; there are music workshops for a variety of instruments; and the company is generally entertaining. And funds raised go to our local public radio station, KCBX.

On our first night in camp, V saw something moving in the dark on the tarp outside our tent. We grabbed flashlights expecting to find a mouse. Instead, we spotted a decent-sized toad which V promptly captured. We listened to it chirp for a couple of minutes, then set it free in a puddle near our camp (possibly the only puddle in the entire campground). The following night, she caught another in the women's community shower, much to the disgust of some of the other moms in the room!

Live Oak is also a time when we relax a lot of our everyday rules. There's no bedtime (who wears a watch?), and we tend to find extra tasty, unusual (for us) snacks like this VERY colorful popsicle V enjoyed.

Both girls spend possibly MORE than their fair share of time in the birdseed box (think sandbox, but filled with birdseed instead of sand), and the crafting area. This year's addition of a wood crafting area was THE hit of the day! You want to entertain a large group of kids? Pick up scraps from the local wood yard, grab some nails and hammers, then let 'em rip. Some kids built chairs and small tables. Others built, well, it was hard to tell, but the builders were thrilled!

Join us in 2009! Live Oak is always Father's Day weekend.

110 degrees?!

Oh...My...Heavens! It's hot around here!

Today it was 109 degrees in Santa Maria, breaking the 108 record that dated back to 1929! UNbelievable! Our average high for this time of year is in the mid-70s, but we were well past that by the time the girls and I hit the door for our morning fulfilling our docent duties at the Natural History Museum of Santa Maria.

Mr. B was off work today, so I went for a midday swim with my Masters buddies. The rec. desk was having a tough time keeping up with the line of people trying to get in: one cash register, 600 people waiting to get in. Fortunately, those who held annual passes marched right in the front door and scanned themselves in at the neeto-guido scanning device.

But then there was the BBQ! Yep, just after the peak of high temps we had a retirement BBQ to attend at Pioneer Park. I was DREADING it, but Mr. B came up with a fab plan: bring the Elmo sprinkler and our short hose from home! What a difference running through the sprinklers can make. Shy? Not us! And I do believe we were the most comfortable people lounging under the oaks where it was still well into the 90s. :)

As I was driving myself to the pool, I found myself complaining (quietly to myself) about the heat. I had to laugh, though, because I often regret that the weather here is usually the same day in and day out. least today offered a change!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How do we do it?

This is a really common question, and I'm still asking OTHERS the same about their extended travel! Today I received an e-mail asking how and when we started traveling with our kids, and how we manage it, etc. Thought I'd post my response here for anyone to see.

First of all, we started getting out and about when my daughter was 4 months old with hikes and parks and other baby friendly outings in SLO County. From that arose a book, "Best Family Adventures: San Luis Obispo County." The day trips certainly built her stamina in the car seat, and taught us how to work with her in local travels before trying to make a big trip.

We took our first big road trip when our oldest daughter was 2 (to Colorado). We opted to drive at night in hopes she would sleep. Right! She was awake until about 2 a.m. having the time of her life in the back seat with random toys, lights out the window, singing along. She fell asleep at the Nevada/California state line! So...don't count on that!

The next time we drove to Colorado was when our oldest had just turned 4 and the littlest was almost 2. We decided to take the overnight route since DH was working graveyards and used to staying up all day. That worked pretty well.

When the girls were 2 1/2 and 5, I took my first really extended road trip with them: 3,000+ mile tour of Washington and Oregon. This was the first long trip I did on my own, and though it was a memorable trip, the girls remember so little of it I think that, if I were to do it again, I might wait a year or two. Then again, they brought home a lot from the trip, though, that they'll be able to use the rest of their lives. Chiefly, confidence. They both helped set up and take down camp each day, and each had chores. By the time we got home, my meek 5 year old who never did much on her own without asking for help was dragging her play tent out of the playroom closet and setting it up in the backyard, giving instruction to her sister all the while, without a single request for help from me. THIS is the kind of thing travel has done for my kids, in addition to giving them a more expansive understanding of the world in which they live. They may not remember WHERE they learned these facts of life on Earth, but they remember the information and continue to build upon it.

Affording the trips is another matter. First and most importantly, I'll make it clear that I live, at this point, through the good graces of my husband. He does the full-time, shelter-providing, food-gathering work. Any additional money I bring in with, say, book sales (hint-hint) or freelance journalism is spent on extras like travel, holiday gifts, birthday gifts...extras. So, there's some saving involved.

We also travel on a budget. We travel by tent because it's the cheapest way to go (unless you count the freebie "camping" in Wal-Mart parking lots for self-contained vehicles: trailers, campers, RVs...but then you have the terrible gas mileage, so it's probably a wash). There's free camping available in some forests, BLM land and on U.S. Corps of Engineers property. There is also low-cost camping on those lands. Then there's the full-rate campgrounds, but they can include pools, showers and laundry, so they're good to mix in as needed (or desired). Travel by tent is also the most flexible because we can get our little minivan just about anywhere while driving the behemoth RV we all envy would be a nightmare in so many places. We also pack our food and shop along the way, limiting our restaurant dining as much as possible. (It's POSSIBLE to omit dining out entirely, but realistically it's incredibly nice to have someone serve you when you've traveled all day and set up camp and torn down camp and done it all again day in, day out. Plus, it's fun to try out local favorites. I steer clear of chains as much as possible when I travel, which, when I travel without DH, means we don't do the chain thing at all.)

Then there's the matter of time. Who has this kind of time off work? Well, no one I know. More often than not we travel without DH. He's not interested in road trips per se, but he knows I love to drive, to explore, to enjoy adventures, so sends us off with hugs, kisses and best wishes. This also means that he doesn't have to use up his vacation time doing things in which he's not especially interested. (Oh, and he get the house, and his life, back to himself for awhile.) He saves up his vacation for those adventures which pique his interest - in this case, the Dakotas. Sure, it'll cost us a fair bit to fly him there, particularly this year, but that expense also means the girls and I get to continue exploring rather than spend time RACING along our intended route JUST TO GET IT DONE! Even at 60+ days, I feel like we'll be moving along, but we don't want to be gone from home (read: Daddy) any longer than two months. Plus, there's a daughter's birthday to consider, and I think she'd like to be home for it, so that's our deadline for the return home.

I know that there are many other families who travel full time, taking their jobs on the road. This might work for you if you or your husband have a job that can travel (computer programing, locksmithing, RV repair, mechanics...). I like this idea, but my DH does not have such a job, and I haven't focused on my writing enough these mothering years to make it support our travels and daily needs at home as well (house payment, insurance, etc.).

If you have any additional questions, fire away!

Scavenger Hunt

We play lots of games and do other car-friendly activities in the car while we travel. Some of them include:
- license plate game (find one from each state)
- alphabet game (find the letters from the alphabet, in order or reverse order, on anything outside the car)
- "I'm going to a picnic..." (each person adds something to the alphabetical list)
- car Bingo (spot predetermined sights along the route 'til you complete your Bingo card)
- singing
- reading aloud
- drawing or writing in our trip journals

Another traveling friend recently added some items for our Bingo card, though we'll likely use it as a scavenger hunt as she proposed. You may tailor YOUR list to fit your destination. Here are some ideas:

> orange cone
> call box
> "no U-Turn" sign
> tow truck (bonus if it is towing a vehicle)
> 18 wheeler
> El Camino Real marker (bells)
> bridge
> people on an overpass
> fire truck
> rainbow
> gas station sign
> hotel sign
> click it or ticket sign
> palm tree
> off shore oil rig
> California Historical Landmark sign
> antenna ball
> magnetic ribbon
> personalized license plate
> flag
> barn
> farm

She also sent along this link for a MORE involved scavenger hunt. Some personal favorites from the list:
> foam dice
> "wash me" written in dust in a window
> duct tape holding a part of a vehicle together
> spinner wheels
> hood ornament that does not belong on that vehicle
> four or more women only in one car
> four or more men only in one car
> dog in passenger seat in front and human in backseat
> two nerds from central casting
> driver playing a musical instrument
> driver playing a musical instrument while steering with their knees
> two people on cell phones in one vehicle
> conducting music
> playing air guitar or drums
> people taking pictures of themselves by road sign

Monday, June 9, 2008

Take me out to the ball game...

This weekend we celebrated my Birthday (yes, that's an intentional Big B, and for good reason - write if you'd like to know more) by traveling down to Los Angeles for a variety of fun. We took in a FANTASTIC performance by the Masters of Harmony, the international champion barberbshop chorus, along with University of Michigan Mens' Glee Club (fabulous in their own right). We enjoyed an evening stroll through downtown Burbank (who knew?) and a dip in the hotel pool before heading off for...drum roll...the girls' first professional baseball game: Dodgers v. Cubs at Dodger Stadium.

Mr. B has been introducing the girls to the technicalities of the game, and I think that paid off, though V was still a bit confused about which side of the field belonged to which team. (I think she understand soccer and football just fine.) It was quite toasty in our first-baseline seat, even with a 5 p.m. game start time. The crowd got much more active, interested and rowdy as the sun set.As you can see, E brought along her own entertainment for those slow times baseball provides. Yep, a baseball, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and a good book.V particularly enjoyed the cheering, the clapping and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch. :)
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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hearst Castle

Monday the girls and I visited Hearst Castle at San Simeon. E has often asked about the castle as we pass on our way to see the elephant seals or visit North Coast beaches and other points north. June 2 marked the 50th anniversary of the castle's new life as an attraction in the California State Parks system, so the parks offered free tours, including the introductory IMAX movie, "Living the Dream." How could we pass up such an opportunity?

I was afraid the place would be swamped, so we got going at a nearly decent hour and made it up there well before lunchtime to secure our tickets for the 12:10 tour. We had plenty of time to watch the movie that introduces visitors to the castle and tells a bit of Hearst history before climbing on the bus for the 5-mile ride up to the castle.

Unbeknownst to me, V had prepped for the occasion by binding together several sheets of paper with tape, and creating a cover for her new book, "Hrsss Casl." E packed a notepad and pencil. Without any prompting by me, they took notes and V drew pictures in her book to memorialize their trip.

After the 90-minute tour, both said it was too short. Gee...and there I thought it might not hold their attention! Next up: tours 2, 3, 4 and, yes, 5!

Camp packing list

You all think I'm nuts to travel the way we do, but I'll tell you someone who's even MORE brave than I am (or more nuts, depending upon how you look at it): my sister in law. And I'm really proud of her! :) This summer she'll pack up with FIVE kids ages 4-13 and trek via America's highways from California to North Dakota. She has a great plan that includes a bit of dude ranching along the way, some camping, and a family reunion at her final destination.

For her, and anyone else interested, I'm posting this packing list. I may have forgotten something here, but these are the things we typically take with us. There may be additional items that you'll want to bring to serve your personal or family needs on your own adventures.

Ice Chest:
Though you want to keep this secured and away from passengers in case of an accident, it should be accessible. We put ours at the back door so we can open it at any stop and grab sandwich makings, fruit, a cold drink or other snacks.

Top o' the heap (for easy access during travel and light enough not to kill anyone in case of an accident):
( ) Good sense of humor
( ) sleeping bags
( ) extra blankets
( ) pillows (don't forget those extra special "lovies" some kids - and adults - need to get to sleep peacefully)
( ) coats, jackets

Tucked low in the pile, but not with the food:
( ) camp stove
( ) cooking fuel or canisters that work with your stove
( ) charcoal
( ) lighter fluid for charcoal (if needed)
( ) hammer (for driving in tent stakes, if nothing else)
( ) fire extinguisher
( ) flashlights (it's nice to have one for each child, too)
( ) water (even if you're staying in an organized campground, it's good to have some water with you just in case their system is out of whack)
( ) shovel

The Kitchen Box:
( ) folding saw (much safer than ax or hatchet)
( ) matches
( ) extra batteries for flashlights
( ) first-aid kit
( ) pots/pans
( ) tongs
( ) metal spatula
( ) sharp knife
( ) can opener
( ) dish towel/hot mit
( ) marshmallow skewers
( ) paper or washable plates
( ) eating utensils
( ) cups or mugs (thick enough or with handles to protect fingers from hot chocolate or coffee)
( ) zip-closed plastic bags of various sizes
( ) aluminum foil
( ) napkins
( ) paper towels (we use these as napkins)
( ) something to use as a cutting board (I usually use my paper plates 'til I rip through them)
( ) measuring cups
( ) measuring spoons
( ) mixing bowl (or use your pot if it's large enough)
( ) rope (for hanging clothes out to dry, or tying up anything else you might need to along the way)
( ) clothes pins (would be nice, too, though we've never remembered these)
( ) plastic washtub (or use the big mixing bowl or your pots)
( ) dish soap
( ) scrubbing sponge
( ) coffee pot (if needed)
( ) garbage bags

The Pantry Box:
Check your menu shopping list. Anything that doesn't need to be refrigerated can go here.
( ) Cereal
( ) Oatmeal/Mush
( ) Bread
( ) Unopened nut butter
( ) unopened jams
( ) canned foods
( ) S'mores makings (marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars)
( ) coffee/tea/hot chocolate/hot apple cider
( ) crackers/chips
( ) unopened salsa
( ) cookies
( ) spices
( ) cooking oil/spray
( ) Anything Else you need to make the meals you've pre-planned for this trip

Livingroom pile (squeeze between everything else if you don't have room for another box...or box it):
( ) mattresses (inflatable or otherwise)
( ) chairs
( ) table (optional)
( ) extra tarp (with rope, stakes and poles to support it)
( ) games (simple board games with large pieces that won't blow away in the wind)
( ) toys (Keep this pile very small. Kids really don't need a lot of toys in camp. After all, the best toys are already at camp: rocks to stack and throw, sticks for building, leaves for weaving, water and fresh air.)

Clothes list:
( ) coats (warm & water repellent, too)
( ) hats
( ) mittens (optional, but highly suggested)
( ) hiking boots
( ) water shoes
( ) comfy shoes for easy walking (museums, camp, whathaveyou)
( ) undies
( ) short-sleeved shirts
( ) long-sleeved shirts
( ) shorts
( ) long pants
( ) swim suit/trunks
( ) diapers (as needed)
( ) towels (1/camper)
( ) washcloths (1/camper)
( ) pajamas

Bathroom bag:
( ) Toilet Paper
( ) Toothpaste
( ) Toothbrushes
( ) floss
( ) lip balm
( ) Hand soap
( ) Shampoo
( ) other personal favorite toiletries (feminine needs, birth control method, baby wipes)
( ) ibuprofen
( ) thermometer

Front seat:
( ) maps
( ) guidebooks
( ) pens (including hilighters)
( ) snack bag
( ) tunes
( ) books on tape/iPod
( ) bug repellent
( ) sun hats
( ) sunscreen

Other optional items to consider:
( ) Addresses of friends and family (so you can send postcards along the way)
( ) Post card postage stamps (so you don't have to hunt them down along the way)
( ) Books for recreational reading and relaxation
( ) Fishing gear
( ) Water toys (float tubes, inflatable rafts, etc.)
( ) bicycles or scooters
( ) guitar or other camp-friendly instruments
( ) Screen room (to keep out flying pests and bloodsuckers during mealtimes, at least)
( ) Shower Shoes
( ) Trinkets or coins from the Tooth Fairy (just in case)
( ) glow sticks
( ) pocket knife

Electronics (this list is certainly not all inclusive, but here's what we're likely to take on this LONG trip):
( ) Camera (if digital, extra memory cards if needed; if you still have a film camera, bring lots o' film)
( ) Laptop (for downloading pix from camera if you don't have enough memory cards or want to send notes home along the way)
( ) GPS receiver
( ) Battery charger (s)
( ) MP3 player, iPod, whathaveyou
( ) Power converter (for laptop, battery charger, iPod, etc.)
( ) cell phone charger
( ) Any extra batteries your equipment may require

Best wishes on your family adventures! :)

Chicken Enchiladas

Grandma Kathy liked to cook without measuring. I can't tell you how many times I tried to learn her recipes, and she'd explain them with measurements like "just a glug," or "a fistful," or "some." So, one day when she was preparing to make these yummy enchiladas, I explained my problem with following her measurements and said, "OK, I'm going to sit here and watch and write it all down so I can make them at home!"

Her response, "OH! Do you want the recipe?"

Turns out THIS recipe was one she followed to the letter, never "glugging" or "tossing" or guessing...much anyway.

The recipe originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s. It was contributed by Phyll Tolstead of Los Angeles.

1 (3 lb.) chicken
2 T chicken fat from roasting chicken
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
1/2-cup slides green olives (optional)
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T chili powder
1 T ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups water
1/4 c. chicken fat or vegetable oil
1/4 c. taco sauce
12 tortillas
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
2 c. sour cream
3 c. shredded Jack or Cheddar cheese

Roast chicken and then shred.

Heat chicken fat in large skillet. Add onion and garlic. Saute until tender. Stir in chilies, green olives, Worcestershire, chili powder, coriander and cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in shredded chicken. Remove from heat.

Heat together water, 1/4 c. chicken fat and taco sauce in large skillet until hot. Dip tortillas in hot sauce just long enough to soften. Divide chicken mixture into 12 parts. Spread chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Sprinkle about 2 T cheese over chicken in each tortilla. Roll up. Place seam side down in buttered 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Note: Because this is such a large recipe, I often divide this into two or more smaller baking dishes: one for tonight, and the others in the freezer for future meals.

Heat butter in medium sauce pan until melted. Blend in flour until smooth. Gradually blend in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir until thickened. Stir in sour cream. Pour sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese over sauce.

Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Makes 12 servings.

Serve with rice and beans, or other favorite side dishes. Top off the meal with flan for dessert! :)

Mystery Solved

The first thing I checked when I found the freezer snowing whether or not the door was sealing. It was closing and sealing just fine, and there didn't seem to be anything blocking it open.

Well, when Mr. B came home I told him about the snow. He had the answer. After I'd gone to bed the previous night, he'd had ice cream and the container had held the door open. He discovered the open freezer door in the morning, before the girls and I were up, and closed it after cleaning out quite a drift. By midday when I opened the door, the remaining snow was just swirling around in there.

All's back to normal today. Too bad! ;)

Actually, I'm REALLY glad it wasn't a sing of a fridge on the fritz. A refrigerator isn't exactly the kind of birthday present I was going for. Then again, I'm an adult now. I suppose these are just the kinds of gifts we should enjoy...right? ;)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's snowing in my fridge!

Today the girls and I made Grandma Kathy's Chicken Enchiladas. I usually make at least two trays, one for now and one for later, and today was no different EXCEPT when I opened the freezer and found it snowing!

I'm not talking about frost stuck to the sides of the freezer. There are snowflakes, and when I opened the door, several flew out as I disturbed the drift that had rested in the front righthand corner of the freezer. I've never seen anything like it in a freezer, particularly a frost-free variety!

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