Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There and Back Again.

'Don't you steal my baby, you gypsies!'

This is the first thing that our campmate, Mouse, said to us when we rolled up to Silver Channel camp at Pennsic at about 10:30 PM. It was the start of a really wonderful vacation, and a welcome relief from the stress of the past month.

Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic about the vardo, despite the fact that we had to do a little finagling to fit it into camp. (Next year will be easier.) By the end of Pennsic, our camp Mom & Dad were hatching schemes to build a shower on a trailer with a holding tank, so that we could dispense with digging the shower pit every year, which is a royal P.I.A. Another enthusiast was our friend Debra, who with her husband run both a clothing merchant and leatherworking business. (Good stuff, too - Sultry Treasures by Debra.) She's looking for a shop/wagon where she can keep her stock and pack and unpack easily.



Messy, but VERY comfortable!

My attempt at artsy photography - the Sun finial on our awning against the rising moon.
As unfinished as the vardo is - it still lacks all of its decorative trim, stain on the bays and front door, a finished interior and any kind of caulking - we got a lot of compliments. I can't wait to show them the end product!

During the last month, I'd kind of lost my vision of how cool this thing was going to be. This was due to the frustrations of some of the roadblocks we came up against and getting a little burned out on the work and worry. Well, one day at War cured all that. The first night, after we rolled in at 10 PM, instead of having to then set up a pavilion, and our bed in the dark, we simply parked the vardo and went to bed until we could set up formally the next morning. And then it rained! Torrentially! We slept on, dry and warm. Let me also add, that rain on the aluminum roof was very soothing.

Most of what I did this war was....nothing. Well, mostly sleep. Yes, we went shopping and to a couple of parties, but the majority of my time was spent either reading under my shade awning or snoozing in the vardo. Even in the direct sun, the vardo was relatively cool, as long as I left the windows open. The addition of a battery operated fan made it positively blissful.

Packing up was diabolically easy. In fact, Norm and I ended up sitting around like Statler and Waldorf in a couple of camp chairs, watching everyone else pack up in a panic ahead of a predicted downpour on Saturday. Frankly, the only reason we were still there at that point is that we were land-locked in by other people's cars, tents, etc. until about 2PM. Honestly, we could have been packed in an hour and gone. I think our camp mates might have hated us just a smidge right then. Norm helped fill in the shower pit in atonement.  Next time, maybe I should bring pie or something...

The vardo towed to and from War very well. We didn't have any problems, and according to Norm it tracks really well. The only issue we encountered is that about 100 yards from home, we hit one of our pet potholes and busted a shackle link. This is easy to fix.

I learned a few things during this shakedown:
1.  I think maybe I might reduce the amount of space that was going to be closet, because I really didn't use that much space on my clothing rod - maybe like a foot. So I don't need a 3-foot closet. I think I'll have Lars shorten the closet and turn the extra space into corner-shelving.  Shelving ROCKS. I had stuff stuck in the eaves, on the bay windowsills, and on the four shelves that Lars had put in between the studs. I want MORE!

2. I think also that I will paint or stain the wheels a brighter color so that they pop out in front of the black fabric wheel camouflage, so that the camouflaged modern wheels are less obvious.

3. I made the right call in buying such huge scissor leveling jacks. Lars thought 7500 lb jacks was overkill, and maybe it was, but I felt very secure perched on the side of the hill with one side jacked up almost a whole foot. The vardo hardly had any rock or shake at all. This helped Jenna sleep at night.

4. We need a big hook to hold the hatch open while fishing within the cargo hold.

5. We ended up buying some cement blocks to use to foot the jacks - they were cheap and they made a big difference in the vardo's stability.

We will be on a short hiatus until maybe October, when Lars is predicting he'll have some more time to work on the project, and I'll have some bucks to spend. See you then!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Here Comes the Rain AGAIN.

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you? -Eurythmics

OMG, the rain. As I type this, a day late getting going to Pennsic, the whole forest is absolutely dripping with the remains of the torrential downpour that hit us last evening just as we were getting ready to load up the vardo.
I hadn't much dwelled on it previously, but the amount of rain we've had this spring/summer has seriously fucked with our vardo-building schedule.

It rained almost non stop in April/May, which was when this project was originally slated to begin. Because of that, it got bumped forward, and in fact, bumped into Lar's other projects involving Tuxedo Renaissance Faire. Additionally, there were many days over the last few weeks where Lars had a smidge of free time, but inevitably, it would friggin' rain.

As a result, the vardo is not finished on the inside. Additionally, in order to get it roadworthy enough to take to Pennsic, Lars had to pull a 24 hour shift finishing the damn thing up.
The last straw was last night, when it was finally done, and just as Norm and I are getting ready to load it, it starts pouring torrential buckets of water all over everything.

So we threw up our hands and went to bed. What else can you do? In any case, here are some pictures of the vardo. It does look beautiful, I think - and there's more finishing detail to be done.

As you can see in the pictures, it needs some more staining and the trimwork needs to be done. Also, we didn't have time to cut the dutch door, but it's all marked and ready to be cut.
I think I need to just get our butts to Pennsic now and have some fun, and when we come back, there won't be any deadlines or immediate goals to accomplish. Creativity is much more fun that way. Hopefully, this time next year, all of the detail work and the decorating and the fun little mini-projects that I know I'll be thinking up over the winter will be done. I'm planning on keeping all of the SCA gear and garb in the vardo permanently. So all we'll have to do next year is hook up and go.

Rain or no friggin' rain! (Shakes fist at sky, Scarlett O'Hara-like.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

She's Not There.

Well let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she'd act and the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there -The Zombies.

Countdown to Jenn losing her mind:


We are in high gear now. Norm and I now have the vardo in our driveway, after a weekend fraught with peril. (Well, not really peril, but at least annoyances.)

To begin with, the truck we were going to use to take the vardo home on Thursday night blew its brakes. So we couldn't take it home until Saturday. That pretty much nixed any plans to get it weighed and go to DMV on Saturday morning. As a result, we'll have to do it Friday, thus pushing our departure for Pennsic back 1 day.

C'est la vie, I suppose.

Here are some pics of the last building session, which went on deep into the night:
Norm gives the light brackets what for with the sawzall. The lights were moved to the back of the vardo.

Lars of Midknight construction actually working at midnight. Gack!
Once we had the thing home on Saturday, we spent the remainder of the weekend staining and sealing it. Fortunately, this was not quite as labor-intensive as it sounds; we actually had some time on Sunday afternoon and evening to rest a bit while the sun was too direct. Once we got our shade back, we resumed and finished up a little before 7PM Sunday night.
The main boards are all done.
As you can see, it currently lacks both windows and doors. This will be remedied on Wednesday, when Lars is going to come chez nous with some qualified help and finish up. As I will be working in Springfield on Wednesday, I am anticipating coming home to a miraculous transformation of what looks like a woodshed on a landscaping trailer into a beautiful, livable work of art.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Building's a Mystery

Who needs sleep?

Wowzers. As I write this, on Monday evening, I am barely functioning. What an incredibly productive weekend.
Not to mention super fun! It's just that I think I could have used a little more sleep....Oh, well. I can sleep at Pennsic.

Saturday started out only moderately busy, but it seemed to pick up speed as the evening approached. It reached its apex when Norm and I loaded the old pavilion into his truck, and headed to P-Burg to deliver it to its new home.

The best thing about the pavilion's new home is that it is being adopted by some good friends of ours. So, what better excuse to get together for dinner than a pavilion delivery? Norm and I had a blast hanging out with our friends, who live in an old linen mill on what I believe is the Musconetcong River near where it joins up with the Delaware. Their house is gorgeous, all stone and wood beams, and chock full of interesting objects - everything from antiques to props that they made for the last Halloween party.

There was chips, salsa and Margaritas, as well as very good conversation. So good, that by the time I thought to check the time, it was 11:30 at night.  ACK!

We live about 1 1/2 hours from them, so getting home took us until 1AM. By the time the dogs were walked (They were very good, they waited for us!), the bunnies were fed, and the ablutions performed, it was pushing 2. Just before I lay me down to sleep, I see that there's a message on my phone.

It's Lars, our builder. He has had problems with the roof. Can we come over tomorrow and lend a hand?

Of course we will! (Mind you, I didn't call him back to tell this at 2 AM. I waited until sunup.)

6:30 AM and both Norm and I are up with the boids. Norm because he promised to help somebody move some furniture and me because I always get up to walk the puppies at that time. But, since we had stuff to do and I'd had about 4 hours sleep, I decided to not go back to bed but to simply drink a ton of coffee and hope for the best.
At 10 AM Norm and I are on the road to the builder's house. A beautiful day and a beautiful drive. Lars lives in New York State, up on a mountain. We drove through Warwick and SugarLoaf, both artsy fun towns that Norm and I love to go to. Warwick has nice little outdoor cafes and music on the green. SugarLoaf has artsy jewelry places.

But I digress.
Somewhere about 12:30-ish, we get to Lars' house. We find Lars already hard at work. With Weird Al Yankovic singing us a serenade on the boom box, Norm and I jump in.
Or rather, Norm jumps in and I try to make myself at least slightly useful.

This is what the vardo looked like when we got there.

Norm measuring the porch in order to plan a set of steps.
Norm and Lars slay another board. Take THAT!

Looking through the front door at the bed platform, window (above) and exterior cargo hatch door.
After much pounding and wrestling, all of the rafters are set in their notches.

Wrestling plywood into a curve. Goopy glue and screws followed. "Now STAY DOWN!"

The back bay window. Isn't the tongue and groove board nice? When we stain it it will be 'Sweeeeet' (according to Lars.)

Norm's better half. And a pumpkin.

Norm, being a maintenance guy, grabbed a jigsaw and started notching out rafters and suchlike to prep them for Lars' installation. I have no such skills. Not that I can't learn them, but yesterday wasn't a good opportunity to hand Jenn a saw and let her screw up a piece of wood. We simply don't have the budget.

So, I ended up doing other stuff like picking out the right size screws from a plastic Jack O'  Lantern full of random hardware, running errands, and handing up screwguns. Which made me feel a little less useless. The rest of the time I spent trying not to get in the way. I think I excelled in that area.

We worked until the sun went down (ALL the way down) at 9PM-abouts. Then, the long haul home. We made it before midnight (Yay!), walked the puppies, showered, and crashed.

I should note that the puppies, while beautifully behaved while we were gone, went out of their way to make me feel guilty last night and also this morning when I had to go to work. "You mean you're leaving us all alone AGAIN?????"

Cute puppies will conquer you with their guilt-rays! Bad hoomin!

It's looking like it's going to take another week at least to complete the vardo enough for use at Pennsic. It won't be done-done in any case; we're picking our battles at this point. But it will be done enough to use at War.
I was hoping to have more of the fine details completed, but I'm not going to get myself in a twist over it. As long as we have a roof over our heads and a comfy bed, the rest is icing. The big job that Norm and I will have to complete once we get the vardo in our driveway is staining and sealing. Everything else is details.

Lars is also going to do some more tweaking once it gets to our house, so we'll see how far we can get.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celestial Musings

Happy Fourth, Everybody!

So I dunno about you guys, but my favorite thing to do on a holiday weekend is a project. I am happy as a clam with Star Trek NG on the TV to listen to (and occasionally look up at and watch during the good parts.) My puppy dogs are also keeping me company, as is Norm in between his own putzing about the house.
So here's what I've got done so far. This is the awning/fly that goes to our pavilion. The pavilion is being sold (we already have a buyer lined up) but I'm keeping the awning. It'll attach to the side of the vardo and provide shade and an outdoor dining/kitchen area for us.

In keeping with my love of celestial themes I've painted the dagging blue and am stenciling suns and moons on the dags:
To continue the Celestial theme, I've resurrected a couple of candle holders that I bought back in the early 90's. I never did like the color (sort of patina green) so I've taken the candle parts off and painted them:

Each of these will be affixed to the top of one of the awning's support poles.

That's all for today, enjoy your holiday!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Frame ON!

Woo! Progress!

Right now this is Lars' one-man show. So I don't have much to do except pay for the materials. I have to admit, I'm chomping at the bit to get going on the ideas I have for finishing and decorating the thing. But I must be patient, I tell myself. Within a very short time I'm going to be busier than a one-armed paper hanger. But for the moment, I sit on my hands.

So we tossed a few ideas back and forth for the roofing. Ultimately we settled on aluminum. We investigated a few different sources, and Lars found this place, which was having a sale on their colored aluminum:
Diamond Life

This place had fewer color choices than some we'd looked at previously, but the price was better. We settled on blue. We talked about it and we don't think that the roof being slightly darker will impact it's tendency to absorb and retain heat that much. I didn't want white or yellow or gray which were lighter but frankly, didn't appeal to my sense of color.

Here's a picture of the proposed color scheme. Since I like the look of stained wood better than painted, we're going to stain the vardo and then seal it with spar urethane. Here's a sketch of the color layout, including which stain colors we'll be using. (All Minwax colors.)

Lars is also going to incorporate insulation in the walls and venting in the roof, so it should be fairly comfortable. Fortunately, our campsite at Pennsic has trees and is quite comfy, unlike the Ghetti where everyone gets to bake themselves. Of course, we're going to be going to other events, especially next spring and summer once we have this thing finished. So we are trying to take all sorts of different situations into account.

Hardware Wars
Not really a war, per se. I didn't have much trouble finding what I wanted. I have found some really nice stuff at this site:
Van Dyke's Restorers
Here is a picture of the door hinges I think we're going to go with:
And here is the latch for the door.
There are a few other things we're going to need, such as bolts for the door, etc. Also, we might end up using a modern casement crank for the windows. Which I don't mind, as long as we keep it black. No nickel or white. Icky.

Pennsic is looming large in the calendar already. It seemed so far off in February when we started getting this project together. Now it's fast approaching. I do have a fairly realistic idea of where we'll be at with the vardo when we go to Pennsic. I certainly don't think it'll be finished-finished. I will be happy if the outside is stained and sealed against the weather, and we have the bed-box finished so we can sleep comfortably. The rest is icing. Although I can whip up stuff like bench cushions, curtains, etc. pretty fast. But one of the fun parts of this project is the fact that it'll never be done. I'll be tweaking and styling it for well, ever.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I love Ebay!

Lookee what's going to be coming in the mail for me!
A hammered copper sink for $45!
These sort of sinks usually run about $125-$160. I won the auction at $25, and there's $20 shipping. I'm so psyched! I think this sink dropped into a cobalt-tiled counter would be beautiful. I also have a line on the most gorgeous decorative tiles..Earth Song Tiles. They're all so beautiful, it's hard to pick. But I've always been a sucker for celestial themes, so I thought cobalt blue tile with a few of their miniature sun and moon style tiles scattered randomly throughout, and one each of the big versions of the sun and moon:

 I would probably choose a gold-ish glaze for them, within a cobalt blue field of regular plain tiles. These tiles aren't cheap, so I'm using a few for accent and going economy with the plain ones. It'll cost me about $130 for two of the big tiles and six of the small ones. That should be enough for the vanity surround, and not break the bank.

 So Norm and Ian and I went to our big local camping event, the Quest for Wit and Wisdom in Neshanic, NJ. As usual, it was a blast. We didn't camp this year- we day-tripped. Mostly because we're throwing all our resources into this vardo thing, and we've basically got this 'we're not camping on the ground again!' mentality. Also, we had stuff to do on Saturday, so there you go.

Interestingly, the vardo thing seems to have infiltrated my local SCAdian group like a quiet virus. I didn't realize how many people were thinking of doing one until I talked to some friends who are in construction and one of them told me he was going to make one for somebody else. (I hadn't asked him to do mine originally simply because he's based in Philadelphia, which is pretty far from us.) There was actually a wagon present at the site, although it was a small affair, and I don't think it had any furnishings inside. It looked more like a place to toss your stuff and crash. Or maybe it was just messy. I don't know, I only saw it from a distance, and through the open door all you saw was garb strewn everywhere.

One of the best things that happened all weekend is we got a line on selling our pavilion when we're ready. Woo! The people are friends so I'm giving them a good price, and it'll go to a good home. Everybody will make out well. That's a load off my mind, I was worried we'd have to drag it to Pennsic and try and sell it there.

Construction Progress Update:
So, I met with Lars last week and gave him the windows. During our discussion over a couple plates of really good sushi, I learned that he's accomplished the following:
1. Trailer Gate Removed (a real sonufabitch, apparently, it didn't want to come off.)
2. The place where the door will be needed to have a gap cut in the trailer side rail to accomodate it. This has been done.
3. Flooring laid down.

No pictures yet, because I told him to send me one when he got a skeleton going on the thing. When I get that, I'll post it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Best Laid Plans.

Got some pictures of vardo plans for everyone today! Aren't they neat? Lars drew them up for us a week or two ago.

Since the door of the vardo is going to be over the trailer tongue, a section of the railing is going to be cut out to accommodate it. Then, the plan is to have a little porch over the trailer tongue(possibly that folds upward against the front wall for travel). The advantage to this is that I won't have to try and camouflage the trailer tongue at events; it will already be hidden under the front porch step.

Thoughts on Money and Goals
One of the best things that I've learned while putting together this project is how to set a goal and budget for it. Now, I have never been very good with my money. (Weird, considering I'm an ex-head bank teller.But oddly, my money and the bank's money were two different things in my mind, and not to be treated in the same way.) I couldn't ever get a handle on it. I was constantly overdrawing myself and the bank was constantly raping me for overdraft fees.

Let me tell you how I despise banks; having worked for one in the past, I was well aware that you must always ask yourself 'how is this bank making money off of me?' Even when the checking account is 'free', even when they're giving away free toasters, credit cards, T-shirts or super fabulous car-loans, you must always remind yourself that they would NOT be doing that if they weren't making money off of you hand-over-fist somehow. Cherchez la FEE, people.

In any case, even knowing all this, I still allowed them to regularly help themselves to the money in my checking account with a big shovel due to my own stupidity and unwillingness to sort through the mess that I'd made. Well, this project changed all that.

To begin with, I realized sometime in January I could never have this vardo if I didn't bite the bullet and get my act together. And, even though Pennsic as seen from January seems forever-and-a-day away, I also knew that paychecks come and go with frightening speed and that I'd better get my act together toute suite if I wanted to do this thing. So with a motivation that was finally big enough, I finally sat down and began figuring out how much I would need for all my expenses. At the same time, I began to obsessively start paying off past-due stuff, so that I could be all caught up.

And what do you know? It worked. Not only have I been able to set aside the money necessary to realize my dream, I also have reached a point where I haven't paid an overdraft fee since the end of January. By my calculations, that means that I've saved myself somewhere in the realm of $500. (I'm NOT kidding - in fact I may even be underestimating. I was the kind of person who'd forget the latte she got 3 days ago and get hit with $25 because it overdrew my account. That means I was paying something like $28 for a friggin' cuppa coffee.)

Now, I'm addicted to KNOWING how much I have. It's so wonderful to be able to be free of worrying if I have enough for groceries or gas. I know I do. I may not have money that day for anything else, I may have to wait until payday to buy that cute blouse, but that awful uncertain worry is gone. I even hazard to say that I'll never let things get so messed up again that I have to feel that way ever again.

As an interesting side effect to this whole budgeting thing, I've been cooking a lot more (as opposed to eating out), and trying new recipes. And what do you know? They've been coming out really good. Norm feels better, digestion-wise, and Ian loves my cooking. We've also made our meals healthier, so next step for me is tweaking the cooking habit to maybe help us all lose weight and feel better too.

So, the lesson for today is, if you want to get a habit of good financial management, I say, set a goal of something you really, really want badly. It will get you the motivation you need to build the habit. Once you're used to budgeting, and it's ingrained in you good and firmly, then you can do something you should do like save for retirement. If you do it the other way round, I have to wonder if it's enough incentive to really be good. It wasn't enough for me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fun With Windows

Don't'cha just love Ebay? Where else could you find four (count 'em FOUR) British leaded casement windows for $300?
Mind you, I saw plenty of stained glass windows on Ebay, Craigslist, and at local antique places, but a lot of them are incredibly expensive, or else the condition is poor. But these were beautiful and the price was fantastic.
I got two each of this style:
And two each of this style:
Plus this one, which will go in the back of the vardo, over the bed. This one cost $60:
Of course, I didn't want them painted white, so we had to strip 'em. Gads, what a messy job. The interior molding had to be stripped with paint-stripping-goop. By the time I was done with that, I was hot, sweaty, and stinky with paint-thinner. Here is what the windows looked like once I'd done the chemical strip:
There were about four layers of paint on these; white, yellow, green, and white again, and underneath it all, at one time they had originally been stained.

Once I had stripped the molding on the inside, Norm was able to do the flat sides with a sander.
At this point, we realized that the old glazing was falling out in chunks. So, we decided that the glazing should be chiseled out and re-done. We decided to use a more modern material for this, the silicone putty used in modern houses. It's more flexible and would withstand moisture better. Naturally, once the windows had been removed from their frames, we saw that the leading needed repair. Norm tried to do some work on them but he didn't have the right type of equipment. Here's a picture of him working on the windows:

We were very fortunate that we have in Newton a really great stained glass studio, the kind that restores church windows and such: Northeast Stained Glass. The people there were really nice; they soldered the weak spots in the edging for $20 for each window. (We didn't have to repair every one: we got away with doing 3 out of 5.)
Interestingly, the guy at the stained glass place told me that in order to make these windows from scratch it would have cost $1000. (Not sure if he meant $1000 each or $1000 for the two that he happened to be examining at the time.) But still. A pretty damn good deal, if I do say so myself.
As I mentioned, we used a more modern silicone caulk to seal the windows once they'd been nailed in and made secure. Here's a detail picture of the caulking (it already came in brown, we don't even need to paint it):

Once we had re-glazed the windows (or rather, once Norm re-glazed them), it was time for touch up paint, then stain. The touch-up involved covering any recesses that still had white paint in them with brown paint, so that when they were stained it would blend. The painted bits (nail holes, divots and such) just end up looking like a natural blemish in the wood, which is fine if you like the antique look (which I do.)  Lemme tell you, the staining is the easy part! Dip a rag, wipe it on, and ta-da! Here's the windows all nicely stained. What a difference, yes?

All that remains is to put a coat of satin spar-urethane on them. As of this writing, they need to sit for another day or two to dry out a bit more. But I am so pleased with how they came out!
So pleased, in fact, that halfway through all of this effort (about a month's worth of effort, in fact) I realized we'd better make some shutters to put over them for traveling, winter storage, etc. I do NOT want all of our hard work to be done in by a rock from a dump truck or something. We already have an idea how we're going to do the shutters. Probably plywood with two drawer-handles on to make it easy to place them, and maybe window-sash latches to keep them secure. I'll even stain and seal them so they look nice and last awhile.

The next installment won't be so long in coming, and the subject will be:
The Best Laid Plans
Ta, all!