Category Archives: Wild Tales From Trailerland

I Moved!

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been busy because…I MOVED! I’m now living on the grounds of a local resort that’s been closed for years. Some of the buildings are beautiful and up to date, but many are dilapidated and decaying, giving it a crazy awesome air of mystery. There’s also miles of hiking trails and lots of gardens, some of which I’m going to be taking care of. I’m basically doing a work exchange in return for staying there. I’m helping with the veggie and flower gardens, doing a little night security, and occasionally testing the pool. The owner is hoping to fully refurbish the resort as a center for workshops on Eastern philosophy, qi gong, yoga, and meditation; my friends who work there convinced her to let me stay on the property in my trailer. She was interested in my goal of a low-impact life. I’m still a little in disbelief this is finally happening, and I’m really grateful to my friends who convinced the property owner. Here’s a day of my routine there:

Wake up, turn on my little stove, fry a couple eggs, and brew up a pot of coffee. Sit in my canvas chair drinking coffee and eating eggs on bread, still half asleep. Fill my water bucket and my solar shower from the outdoor tap on a cabin 10 feet away from my trailer. Stumble down to the tree where I’ve rigged my aerial silks, stretch and do a few tricks-I might have to take it easy, as my hands are pretty sore. Walk to the garden, passing a giant raspberry bush and pausing to eat a few berries…spend about an hour yanking weeds  from between the herbs. It’s slow going, the sun is hot, and I’m getting a blister from weeding; still, it’s satisfying  to see the herbs freed up from their weedy tanglement. As I walk back to the trailer, I cross a field of thyme, its aromatic purple flowers visited by numerous bees. It’s good to be back in the shade under the tree where I’ve parked; I do my dishes from breakfast, only using a little water. I spend a lazy few hours reading, including a book on bike repair. I think I’ve finally figured out the brake problem on my bike. I tinker with the brakes until they’re properly aligned, slapping away bugs the whole time. Before I know it, it’s time to grab a quick avocado sandwich before heading off to work, which turns out to be 6 hours of grinding boredom; not too busy, but not slow either. After work, I’m drained. I’m also jonesing for a pizza and some mindless Netflix, but it’s too late at night for one, and I don’t have electric or internet for the other. On the other hand, I’m getting a fair tradeoff, I think, looking around at the property under the light of the quarter moon that hangs in the sky like a flake of gold. I splash myself off with tepid water from the solar shower, brush my teeth, and head off to the mansion to retrieve the keys from the key safe. My first stop is the back of the mansion, where I lock up an open door and turn off some errant lights in the beautiful wood-paneled library. Then, I slip quietly through the dark to the pool building, and check up there; the pool is beautiful but spooky in my lantern light. I make sure the sauna and lights are off, then lock up. I walk across the property to the presentation hall, AKA the Tally Ho, passing the tree where our resident owl roosts. I check for its eyeglow in my lantern light, but don’t spot it. One door of the Tally Ho is open to the night air (and marauding bugs) so I close it, suppressing a little shiver as I walk under the creepy horse head sculpture mounted above the fireplace. After finishing my rounds, I put the keys back in the key safe. My exhaustion begins to settle in for good now. I walk past one of the most extraordinary view s I’ve ever seen, the mountains to the north framed by trees and lit by the moon and stars. I wish Tim was here, but I have to leave that thought be for now, and I’m just too tired to deal; back in my trailer, I sink into bed and fall asleep ignoring the buzzing of a mosquito in my ear.

I bought a truck!

Holy shit! I am now the genuine lucky owner of a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with all the bells and whistles (V6 engine, 4-way electrical hookup for trailer lights, bed extender, extra back jump seats, 4-wheel drive, and airbags-a feature that was conspicuously absent in my 1990 Civic.) It’s obviously going to be a process getting used to driving this vehicle. For starters, it’s 12 years newer than my previous vehicle. Also, it’s as aerodynamic as a refrigerator and sits so high off the ground on its giant tires that I could slide under it and change the oil without having to put it on jackstands. But it will prove more than capable of pulling my trailer-at least that’s what the guy at the car dealership assured me. I went for a Toyota truck because they have an incredible reputation for reliability. I knew someone who had a ’92 Toyota truck with 220,000 miles on it that ran faithfully; he even slept in it for half a summer.

So I’m hoping this truck works out, especially since I paid cash for it and ended up dropping half my savings account on it. If anyone has experience towing stuff with a Toyota truck, I’d be happy to hear from you.

-Lia Pearl, Certified Truck-Driving Douchebag

 

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(With temporary plates and everything.)

I loved, I lost, I insulated some walls

In March, the love of my life went AWOL, and I insulated some walls.

Don’t talk to me, don’t ever come in my workplace again and sit there staring at me while you drink your coffee, I told you I wanted to be left alone, I told you to respect my boundaries, but you continue to ignore them, I want to remain friends with you but understand that nothing can ever happen between us again. Fine. I can live with that, because I know this has happened before, and with worse fighting, and we’ll just end up in bed together inside of 2 months when he gets lonely. I try to put away my concerns and focus on the trailer.

It’s finally starting to come together; the trailer looks more…real with the floor in place, like it could be a place to live, not a dingy mobile equipment shed. My stepdad comes over with his Sawzall to cut a hole in the side and top of the trailer to install a window and skylight. Since I can’t cut through the metal ribs that form the trailer’s frame, I chose a small window specifically designed for use in a trailer. There’s also trailer skylights available-try looking for an “RV skylight”, it’s just a specially shaped plastic bubble that can be installed on the roof of a trailer. I installed the window and skylight, sealing them against the weather with a healthy bead of caulk.

Then I started in on the insulation.

My father suffers from the after-effects of chronic Lyme disease, which he waged war against on various fronts for many years; one of these fronts, eventually, was IV antibiotics. They came packed in giant cardboard boxes, cushioned by gel refrigerant packs and squares of styrofoam. It was the foam squares I was after; we had a huge sack of this spent ordnance from the Lyme wars lying around the attic. With a little inventive measuring and cutting, the foam squares fit between the ribs of the trailer’s frame perfectly. Basically, I was following the pattern of a traditional frame wall, with a frame inside, insulation in the gaps, covered inside by paneling and outside by the trailer’s aluminum skin-an insulated, weathertight “sandwich”. I chose foam board for insulation over fiberglass or spray foam for several reasons, the most important being that it’s super easy to install and takes up very little space (important in my trailer.) I couldn’t have it sticking out past the metal ribs, because then I couldn’t attach my wall panels, so I went for the thickest piece that would work, which was about 1″. I also bought 3/4″ foam  board insulation to use on the roof, as it would bend to accommodate the slight bow in the roof. All in all, it took 1 bag of foam board squares and 3 large sheets of foam board insulation to insulate the ceiling and 3 walls (I left the back door uninsulated, planning to hang an insulating curtain in front of it so I could still use the door.)  Meanwhile, things seemed to be warming up a little between me and my angry lover. I even thought I might get to see him soon.

Motivated by foolish hope and happiness, I began to put my walls up. Most of the original paneling was in good condition, marred only by a few easily fillable dents, cheap trim, and ugly paint. I pried off the cheap plastic trim with a flat-bar and reinstalled the panels in their original locations, even using the original fasteners and pre-drilled holes (this was convenient, because the panels had to be attached to the metal frame, and drilling pilot holes into the metal was a pain. i went through many drill bits.) To fasten anything to the trailer’s frame, I had to use self-tapping screws, a type of screw that cuts threads into metal or plastic when screwed in. They’re identifiable by the small notch cut into the tip.

For the ceiling, which had previously been bare, I used sheets of 1/4″ plywood. I had to cut it into sections to be able to bend it enough. I cut it into thin strips that just spanned the gap between each set of metal ribs. Then, I covered every other section of the roof with the plywood, attaching it on both sides to the roof-ribs with 3/4″ self-tapping screws. To cover the spaces in between, I cut the 1/4″ plywood wide enough to slightly overlap the plywood I’d already attached. Obviously this didn’t look super finished and professional, but I liked the shingled look it gave my roof. Unfortunately, the wall panels didn’t reach all the way up to the ceiling, so I was left with a gap in the paneling where the top edge of the wall met the ceiling; it was at an odd angle, with nothing really to screw into. This would prove to be quite a pain later.

Then I made the worst mistake of my life: thinking he was about to come back to me. I was convinced that beyond all odds I had managed to be patient enough to merit a final chance at redeeming myself, but this was my downfall. Almost a month after he had first gone missing, he told me he was reunited with a previous girlfriend, who he had been seeing before me. He described her as the love of his life, and told me not to feel replaced because “what I have with her is nothing like what I had with you”. He reminded me that he had lived with her before moving to the area, a privilege I had never enjoyed. Every time I closed my eyes I imagined them together. It was torture, despite my daily reminders to myself that other people were far worse-off and had more difficult things to bear than I. So I tried to concentrate on building the trailer, so I could move on, away from a town where everything reminded me of him. But the construction was delayed for weeks while I flailed around helplessly in a soup of ugly feelings. Finally I managed to pull it together enough to salvage some trim from a trash pile behind a notoriously snooty local dance studio, and paint the walls with 2 coats of linen white left over from my mom’s house. Installing the trim was difficult; the trim nails were hard to drive in because the paneling behind the trim was really thin and absorbed the force of the hammer blows by bending or bouncing back. It was easy to bend a nail or smash a thumb; I did both many times. If you’re doing a trailer conversion like me, remember to nail into something solid, or consider using small screws, or use very thin trim and just attach with construction adhesive.

Anyway, I made it, and the hurt is a little less every day-even less now that I’m busier and know that I’m getting out of here soon.

 

And my walls still stand, and protect me from rain and wind just fine.

Go tiny or go home: a virtual house tour

 

Welcome to my virtual house tour, now with crummy cell phone quality photos! Enjoy all 72 glorious square feet of my humble dwelling.  Highly recommended: listening to this while viewing. I got the keys to the highway!

 

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Just inside the front door-kitchen area, waiting for the second countertop. You can see my woodstove on the left side of the picture (still have to set that up too!)

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My countertop, finished with 6 coats of tung oil. I hang napkins and towels from the hooks in the wall, and stores knives in the block in the corner.

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The shower caddy by the door holds toiletries. The cabinet has hooks on the side for hanging stuff like grocery bags up. (Don’t tell my friend Justin I still have the book he loaned me…)

 

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The kitchen cabinets and shelves are built from recycled pallets and plywood scraps, plus some flooring samples I found in a dumpster.

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I found this sink in a junkyard. It cost $12, versus $80 to buy a similar sink brand new. I’m going to hook it up to a waste water tank.

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This bedside table was constructed from a scrap of siding I dumpster-dived. The legs are laurel branches.
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This rolling shelf slides out from under my bed. I use it to store clothes and books (in the cabinet).

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Detail of bed. This decorative piece was made by drilling holes of various sizes in a piece of 1/2″ thick stock, then sanding and coating with 3 coats of tung oil. (This  was a really nice piece, found in my grandma’s garage…think it’s maple?)

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I papered the shelves with recycled gift wrap to prevent delicate fabrics from snagging on splinters or rough areas in the wood.

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There was a vent over my bed, but it was basically just a hole in the ceiling; this louvered vent cover makes it possible to open the vent or close it while driving to keep out dust and debris.

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This decorative bracket is supposed to hold a potted plant, but makes a good holder for my LED lamp or a candle.

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The view out my window: the house I grew up in. This will change soon I hope…

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Over my door. The paper cranes were a birthday gift from my sister, the dream catcher was made by my aunt.

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The view with the back ramp door down. yup, this is it!

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From the outside-with the best little car ever.

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Wish the Civic could pull it. 😦

A Floor For the Trailer

This past winter was an unusually mild one for my area, and not very snowy, so there were a few days where I could go outside and chip away at the trailer job. I was only working part-time, so I had plenty of down time. The problem was, the trailer demanded more than time, it also demanded skill, i.e. someone who knew what they were doing, i.e. not me. But I refused to be intimidated. Like I said, when I got it, the trailer was basically a box on wheels: no windows, no insulation, and a nasty, warped plywood floor. First, I had to take off the panels that came with the trailer. This was a process that took several weeks, as I could only work outside for 10-15 minutes at a time before my hands would start to go numb from cold. Also, the panels were held on with about 5 different kinds of fasteners, some of which were almost buried by a sloppy coat of paint, and some of which had to be cut with a hacksaw. My friend Tommy and my father were recruited as (occasionally reluctant) help and/or moral support.

Finally, all the panels came off, and we unscrewed the giant eye-bolts from the floor. The floor was not particularly pleasant. Full of small holes and splinters, it was also covered with a layer of rough black paint that would have been miserable under bare feet. I weighed many options for flooring before finally settling on tongue-and-groove hardwood floors. There’s several reasons I chose wood floors: I worked for a flooring installer for a summer, so I knew the basics of installation; I liked the look; and wood has a respectable R-value, so I would be providing a measure of insulation in my floor without sacrificing height-my trailer is short on the inside even for me! Plus, wood flooring is pretty durable and fairly easy to clean. The problem is, new wood flooring costs $2-$5 per square foot, meaning I would be paying at least $140 for a floor in my tiny space! Seems minor, but my inner tightwad found it unacceptable. So I turned to Craigslist to search for used flooring. I had almost given up when I looked in the “free” section on a whim and found someone offering over 120 square feet of used red oak flooring for free! I contacted the seller, and she explained that she was renovating a house she was moving her family into and wanted to re-use the floorboards she’s ripped out, but between caring for her children and running her window-washing business too, she didn’t have time to prep all the flooring. I felt like it was my lucky day. I climbed into my ancient Civic and drove halfway across the state, winding my way down 9 and weaving through wrong turns and roundabouts. When I got there, Melody, the craigslist poster, was waiting for me at the house. We laughed when we saw that we were wearing identical brown Carhartt jackets and work boots. It’s not often I meet other women who get enthusiastic over the prospect of recycling moldy old floorboards, so it’s pretty awesome when I do.

You wouldn’t believe how much flooring I managed to cram into a little car approximately the size of a loaf of bread, but I got all 120+ square feet of flooring home safe and sound (even though it took 2 trips.) Next came the step of prepping the flooring.

It was full of scary-looking nails, and in some places it was split, cracked, or eaten with mold. The first step I took was to remove the nails, which turned out to be more of a chore than I had thought. If you’ve ever installed tongue-and-groove wood flooring, you’ll know that one side of each board has a thin strip along the side that sticks out-the “tongue”-and fits into a slot on the side of the next board-the “groove”. There’s also a tongue and groove on the end of each piece.

tongue_groove1<—like so.

To attach the flooring to the subfloor below it, nails are driven through the tongue at a 45 degree angle, and the heads countersunk (made flush with the surface of the wood.) That way, the groove of the next board fits neatly over the tongue and the nails are hidden. But the tongue is very fragile and splintery, so you can’t really pull nails with a large head out. What I did was cut them off at the back and pound the stubs down flat. For those of you who want to experiment with reclaiming wood flooring, the best way to get the nails out depends on what type of nails were used. For nails with very small heads, just pull out through the back with pliers, using a small wood block for leverage if needed. For flat nails with an L-shaped, large head, or other nails with a large head, it’s best to cut the nails off very close to the back side of the board with a pair of bolt cutters and pound the stubs down. Try not to pound the nails back THROUGH the board, or the heads will pop out the other side and make it difficult to set your flooring flush against the neighboring piece. The process of removing the nails only took 4-5 hours of work, spread over several days and aided occasionally by my dad. The next step in prepping the flooring was to cut out damaged sections. Since the planks were very narrow and not too long, I did most of this on my dad’s tag-sale-acquired table saw, which didn’t see much use otherwise. Any piece with cracks, splits, broken tongue or groove, or mold or water damage was marked and cut to save the good sections and discard the damaged sections. If you don’t have access to a table saw, using a circular saw can be a cost-effective and space-efficient alternative; just make sure your flooring is secured and supported while you cut it. Also, make sure your cuts are square, not angled. Wear eye protection, and be very careful to avoid cutting through nails, as this will dull the blade very quickly and may cause the wood or the saw to “kick” back, which is dangerous

oak flooring    The finished result.

To install my flooring, I had to use a different method than what I had learned working for Floor Guy. Usually, wood flooring is installed over a plywood subfloor, with a layer of tar paper between acting as a vapor barrier (to keep moitsure out). My trailer floor was made of 5/8″ plywood, like a traditional subfloor. I also had a roll of tar paper I stapled down to cover the floor. But unlike a house, my floor had no joists under it. Joists are part of a house’s frame; they support the floor, and when installing wood flooring, you drive the nails through the flooring, through the subfloor, and into the joist for an extra secure anchor. I also didn’t have the specialized nail gun professionals use for installing wood floors. A flooring nail gun uses compressed air to drive nails into the tongue of a floorboard at the correct angle AND properly countersink them. I didn’t have the skill to do that by hand, and my floorboards were made of oak-a hard wood that’s difficult to nail into for a beginner like me. So instead of nailing through the tongue of the boards into joists and having the nails be hidden, I decided to use screws and go through the “face” (visible side) of the floor boards. Screws have greater holding power than nails, thanks to their threads, so I didn’t need joists to anchor my floorboards. And it was easy even for me to drill pilot holes through the tops of the boards, then screw them down. If you do this, be sure to use wood screws, not drywall or any other type of screws, and look for screws that are finished for outdoor use so they do not rust-you’ll be tracking a lot of dirt, moisture, etc. on your floor even if you don’t intend to. 0223161030-00

Here’s the first 4 “courses” of my floor laid out.

 

Here’s the start to finish steps I took to install my floor:

  1. Prep the subfloor. In a trailer, this is just the plywood floor that was put in the trailer by the manufacturer. Fill any small holes, patch larger holes, sweep debris out, remove any bolts, screws, etc. that are sticking up.
  2. Staple a single layer of tar paper or other vapor retarder over the subfloor. Make sure it’s even and doesn’t bubble up or gap anywhere.
  3. Snap a chalk line to mark where you’re going to lay your first line of floorboards (I started about 1″ from the wall; most people start in the middle of the room, but I’m just a weirdo)
  4. Stretch your chalk line along the line you snapped, lowering it until it’s barely touching the highest part of the floor. If there’s gaps between the floor and the line, the floor is warped; put down an extra layer of paper in low spots, or for extreme cases, shim it with really thin plywood. Repeat across the room to make sure floor is not warped (ok, maybe I fudged this bit a little.)
  5. Start by laying first course of flooring-AKA, the hardest part. Line floor boards up along chalk line, drill pilot holes through the “face” of the board about every 16″-24″ (depending on board length-some I used were very short). Screw them down.
  6. Lay out the second course of flooring next to the first; make sure that the gaps between board ends don’t line up next to each other. Make sure the second course is flush next to the first course, with no gaps/cracks. Sometimes it will need a little encouragement-take a scrap piece of flooring, fit the groove over the tongue of the good piece, and tap on the groove of the scrap piece with a hammer until the good piece of flooring scoots over and closes the gap. How close to the wall should you go with the end of each flooring course? It helps if you know what you’re using for trim. you want enough of a gap to allow for expansion (or installing wall paneling if you haven’t done that yet) but you want it small enough so it will be covered by the baseboards. I had a gap of about 3/4″.
  7. Proceed with installing your flooring across the room. when you reach the last course, next to the far wall, use a flat bar to shimmy the pieces in next to the second-to-last course. You may need to “rip” (cut lengthwise) the last course to fit it in.

 

The flooring install itself took several weeks, but probably only 10-12 hours of actual labor. Mostly it was still too cold outside to work. The sanding and finishing actually ended up taking almost as long; my friend Tommy, a professional house painter, brought over 2 orbital sanders and we spent almost 6 hours sanding the old finish off the floor. If you reclaim wood flooring that’s finished and the finish is in poor condition, it’s best to sand it off and put new coats on. You don’t have to sand off all the finish either-just the damaged layers. Still, it’s hard work, so recruit a friend with promises of sandwiches or beer or whatever it takes. First, we sanded twice with 60-grit to remove the scratched finish layers, then with 80-grit to remove the swirl marks left by the coarser sandpaper. Finally, I made a few passes with 150-grit, lightly hand sanding the floor to make it extra smooth. Most floor finishes are not something you want to breathe in, so wear a mask while sanding, and preferably eye protection too. This is not something you can do by hand; if you don’t own a power sander, consider borrowing from a friend or renting one from a tool rental business. For most tiny homes, you can use a relatively small, inexpensive one. Be sure to use a bag on the back of your sander to collect the dust.

I finished my floor with polyurethane because at the time I didn’t know any alternatives; it’s durable, water resistant, and displays the natural wood grain really well. But unfortunately it’s also nasty, toxic and persistent; and burning polyurethane produces dioxin, one of the nastiest and most persistent toxins out there. In addition the fumes are irritating to your eyes and lungs (don’t have to tell me that twice!). But it IS readily available, durable, and fairly easy to apply. If you want to go the polyurethane route, make sure the floor is ABSOLUTELY CLEAN first. Avoid dust and debris, take off your shoes, wear clean clothes, etc. and apply thin coats with a brush or lambswool applicator. 2-3 coats should be good. If you want to avoid poly, there’s alternatives-I’ve finished other wood surfaces in my trailer with a 50-50 mix of tung oil and citrus solvent sold by the real milk paint company and loved the results. 0317160841-00

And here’s the finished product! In all, my reclaimed floor took about 35-40 hours of total work, and cost about $60, between fasteners, finish and gas I burned picking up the flooring. If you’re interested in reclaimed flooring, look in the Materials section of Craigslist, your local Freecycle website, or ask someone who renovates homes (helps if you know them well first.) And last but not least, DON’T BURN SCRAPS OF FINISHED WOOD! your lungs will thank you.

 

Off-Grid Living Topic: Storing Food Without Refrigeration

I worked on a trail crew for Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in fall of 2015. We lived in the woods on a remote campsite, meaning the campsite had no access to electrical hookups, plumbing, or running water. We had a composting toilet, filtered our own water from the nearby resevoir, and stored our food without refrigeration. We also didn’t get to wear clean clothes or shower every day; there just wasn’t the facilities. Nor did we wash our hands a huge amount. Yet no one ever got sick. There are even studies that show that as long as you follow certain basic common sense rules for cleanliness and safety, a little exposure to germs and dirt will actually build up a healthy immune system. Which brings me to a discussion about storing foods without refrigeration.

FRESH FOODS

Perishable Items:

This includes fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs. Fruit and vegetables will store quite a while at room temperature. Be sure to keep them free from condensation and excess moisture, as this will make them rot faster. Use cut fruit and veggies immediately-cut surfaces will decompose faster. Do not use any produce that is slimy or has an off smell. Soft fruit like raspberries and tender greens like lettuce will last only a few days, while harder produce like apples or winter squash will last weeks, especially at cooler temperatures. Do NOT try to store raw meat or fish without refrigeration. If you buy some and don’t have refrigeration, cook it IMMEDIATELY. With dairy products, cultured ones will last longer; cheese will last up to a week, yogurt and sour cream a couple days. Don’t try to store uncultured pasteurized milk at room temp; if you take milk in your cereal or coffee, switch to almond or soy, which can be stored at room temp opened for 4-5 days (look for the shelf-stable, sealed variety.) Eggs can be stored at room temp up to a week as long as the shell isn’t cracked. To test for freshness, put egg in shell in a bowl of water; if it floats, don’t use it!

Non-Perishable Items:

These dry foods will last months without refrigeration; just keep free of moisture. Non-perishable foods include dry herbs and spices, sugar, flour, baking powder & soda, cocoa, dried milk, dry beans, nuts, grains and seeds, pasta, and canned items. Any dry prepared food is also nonperishable, like cookies or crackers. You can also find shelf-stable juice and milk that can be stored unrefrigerated until opening, but I try to avoid pre-packaged juice and snacks because they tend to be high in sugar and generate lots of trash with their packaging. Potatoes, onions and garlic kind of fall under this definition as long as you keep them dry. Garlic and onions can be hung up by the stem end, and onions and potatoes can be stored in a mesh bag in an area with good air circulation.

Prepared Foods:

Baked goods will last for days. Otherwise, try to eat leftovers within 24 hours.

Preserving Foods:

There are many many excellent resources on preserving food out there, so I’m going to cover the ups and downs of a few basic methods and trust you too look into whichever interests you most. Different people will use different methods for different needs-and don’t limit yourself to just one method of preserving.

Drying: Super easy. Can be used for almost anything except leafy greens. Tomatoes and apples dry especially well. Items for drying are sliced and dried on metal sheet pans in a very slow oven or hot sun. Pros include being one of the safest methods, easy to do with little equipment, and keeping most of the flavor. Dry food is also light and takes little storage space. Cons include needing sunny weather or lots of oven space, and foods not reconstituting to their original texture.

A comprehensive guide to solar food drying: http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Solar_food_drying

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Behold! My beloved mobile solar herb dryer (above).

comprehensive guide to drying safety procedures and general guidelines: http://www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/DRYING/dryfood.html

Fermenting or pickling: This process involves the partial digestion of food by microorganisms to change its chemical composition. Pickled items are also packed in a salty brine that helps preserve them. Pros include increased health benefits due to food becoming more digestible through fermentation and having live/active cultures, and change in flavor. (pickles are delicious!) Cons include requiring more specialized knowledge and tools, and the possibility of making yourself sick if your pickling project goes seriously wrong. Also, fermented foods prefer to be stored at cooler temperatures and don’t last as long as canned, frozen or dried foods. For two books that offer comprehensive guides to fermenting and pickling, try Nourishing Traditions  by Sally Fallon (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/nourishing%20traditions) and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/wild%20fermentation).

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Don’t these pickles just make you all hot and bothered?

Canning: This is probably the first thing you think of when you think “food preservation”, but surprisingly, canning hasn’t been around for that long. It was invented in 1803 by a French chef, Nicolas Appert, who wanted to win a cash prize offered by Napoleon to the first person to develop a new food preservation method to feed the French army. Appert’s original canned goods were heated and sealed into Champagne bottles stopped with a mixture of cheese and lime to exclude air. The basic principle of canning is to heat food up to kill bacterial growth, then seal it off in an airtight container. Many many foods can be preserved this way-meat, fish, beans, fruit, veggies…the biggest drawback to canning is that it requires a lot of equipment, attentiveness, and specialized knowledge to produce a safe and tasty product. For example, low-acid and low-sugar preparations must be processed differently than, say, jam or tomato sauce. But you can easily overcome these obstacles by working with a friend or relative who is an experienced home canner, and only buying your own equipment once you learn the ropes.

A comprehensive guide to home canning, explaining various methods and IMPORTANT safety guidelines: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

My mom is a legendary home canner. Here’s one of her favorite canning books, which covers freezing, drying, and pickling, too. There’s recipes for just about every fruit and vegetable: http://www.thebookloft.com/search/site/put%20%27em%20up

 

Freezing:  if you don’t have access to refrigeration, you probably also don’t have a freezer, so I’m just going to skip this one.

Smoking: I’ve never really tried this, but I enjoy smoked meats and fish. If you want to try, here’s a comprehensive guide from the University of Georgia that compiles a bunch of resources on procedures, types of smoked food, and safety, all in one handy location: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/lit_rev/cure_smoke_postproc.html

Anyway, that’s all for now-preserve away, and enjoy!

 

Beginning at the Beginning: Buying A Trailer

It was the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere. After being fired from my last job on a trail crew in Vermont (long story here) I was living back at home with my folks, and I had just ended an almost 3-month dry spell with work, finally winding up rolling burritos part-time in the tiny kitchen of my area’s most popular Mexican restaurant. I was basically in the same place in my life I had been a year back, when I had dropped out of college to spin pizzas at another restaurant just down the street. But worse: I wasn’t living on my own, I was driving an even older heap of a car (having wrecked the first one), and I had fallen back into the orbit of an on-again, off-again love affair that seemed to be slowly driving me crazy. And I didn’t yet have the full-time hours at the restaurant to distract myself. Something had to change.

Around the same time, I started working for a contractor who specialized in installing wood floors. I wanted the construction skills I knew I would gain; that’s how I justified the pitiful pay and put up with his overbearing personality. But it was tough; he wasn’t patient enough to teach an inexperienced person like me properly, and he would become angry when I made unintentional mistakes. If he had other workers on the site, he would angrily hush us when we tried to talk while working, even about work-related subjects. I did learn how to install wood floors though (see my future post about my floor…)

Between my two jobs, I would search Craigslist for a used cargo trailer. The cargo trailer, for me, posed several advantages over other tiny home options. Unlike a van, vehicle and living space could be detached, so in the even of a breakdown, I could still have living space while my vehicle was in the shop. Unlike a pop-up trailer, it could be insulated for use in all weather, and I could install a small wood stove. Unlike an RV or camping trailer, it was a fully customizable blank canvas. And unlike constructing a tiny frame house on a flat bed trailer, it was already a structurally sound, enclosed box on wheels-perfect for someone with my low level of construction skills (and when I say low, I basically mean zero.) Eventually I found the perfect trailer, a 6×12 enclosed Wells Cargo. Since my vehicle at the time was a 1990 Honda Civic, a tiny toy of a car that would struggle to pull so much as a skateboard, I had to get the seller to deliver-a favor for which I offered him $200 over his asking price for the trailer. I’m not exactly a fantastic negotiator. The only problem was, the day we agreed on for the trailer delivery, I was stuck working late for Floor Guy. We had to finish sanding and coating the new floor in a very fancy, very modern house miles out in the woods. He swore we would be out by 4:30, but as the hours dragged on, I began to doubt him, and he snapped at me every time I asked to leave. Finally, I called my father for a ride home, and we rushed back to the house, heedless of Floor Guy’s griping. We pulled in the driveway to find the trailer seller sitting in our driveway in his truck, in a surprisingly good mood considering we were almost 15 minutes late. I wrote him a check, filled out a bill of sale, and sat down to dinner giddy with excitement.

 

The next day, I went outside to look at my future house in the day light. It had a small door up front, a fold-down ramp door in the back, but no windows. The floor was rough plywood, painted with peeling black spray paint. The interior walls were covered with scratched, dented paneling painted a hideous industrial grey. There was no ventilation-the small vent on the roof had been blocked off-and no insulation of any kind. The trailer’s frame was made of metal ribs covered in a thin aluminum skin. The mostly-metal composition of the trailer later became my nemesis; it was impossible to attach anything securely to the wall without drilling into the metal frame. I broke many drill bits due to a combination of impatience and inexperience. But that was still a long way off; for now, the trailer was doomed to sit for almost a month, waiting for warmer weather and for me to summon the courage to pick up my (newly inherited) set of tools.

 

TO BE CONTINUED