DIY

INSIDE OUR RENOVATED HOME ON WHEELS

 

We have arrived. The view looks like burdock- and nettle-covered fields, and two buckling kids — Satchmo and Smithers, respectively. It looks like three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears bringing life and buzzing back into an unused 1986 camper; it looks like home for now. And our home's name is Pink Cameron.

To inhabit a new space is quite strange a thing. Muscle memory has yet to develop, so you hit your head on new things, and your reach for something on the counter falls an inch too short. Your body feels different in your bed, or maybe it's that your bed feels foreign to your body. Our life here has become an amalgamation of all of the things we imagined, and many that we did not.

If you have been following along with this blog for a little while, you read and witnessed our first impression of the camper. Paring back our belongings was an interest of ours, and we have both long dreamed of a composting toilet outhouse, but to claim that we chose this situation would be a falsehood. The truth is that we are extremely grateful for hot water, derive pleasure from lighting, and see nothing wrong with having a bookshelf devoted to vinyl and books. Camper life lends itself poorly to all of the above. Or at least this camper. We said yes to this opportunity because what we wanted most of all was to immerse ourselves in this dairy goat farm while not entering into poverty getting there. The owners at Consider Bardwell generously offered us their camper, on their farm, with a no-holds-barred approach to renovation.

Many skills were acquired along the way; many came too late. We yelled and cursed and sustained countless minor injuries. Without further adieu, a glimpse of Pink Cameron's interior from Dark + Outdated to Light + Fresh!

A few moments, even if brief or rare, have had us feeling like vignettes from a Wes Anderson film: lying on our bed that buts up to the window, reading and rereading recipes from a favorite cookbook while our cat sleeps on the shelf above, our transistor radio relaying all the daily happenings. These moments do exist, and we want to acknowledge their goodness; they are pure in spirit and leave us refreshed. Moments of genuine connection as husband and wife and members of the planet drive our will to make this work—to make Pink Cameron our home.

There are other moments, peppered in more frequently—yet disorienting all the same—where things go wrong. The times when you catch six mice in a day and wonder if the eyes of every mouse bulge out of their head when they die. Or when you have not yet built your cat an outdoor enclosure, and so resign yourself to a litter box that will live at the foot of your bed. And when the fuses and the wires and the converters and the lines exceed your level of know-how by so great a score that you live without electricity or a refrigerator. This all goes without mentioning that hearing, “Wow, you're still painting the inside?” was something of a daily phenomenon.

Wherever we haven't used parts from the farm's equipment shed to smatter together a makeshift version of Whatever-It-Is-We're-Building, we have more-than-likely gone without. Example: we built an outdoor shower using felled logs for the four posts, baling twine for supporting the shower curtains, and rocks from the forest as a drainage base. However, we have yet to begin building our composting toilet outhouse, opting instead to run one-hundred yards down the road to the farm whenever nature calls.

Here we cook most meals over an open fire—a few successes; several flops. We tried potatoes wrapped in foil thrown straight in the embers, and they came out charred to the point of inedibility. Rice came off the fire grate perfectly, as did green peppers—which blistered in sizzling, not smoking (!!) olive oil. Laundry gets washed by hand and dried by the wind. So do our dishes. Slowly, the cadence of daily life is making sense.

Our shelves are decorated entirely with things we use & consume: mason jars full of provisions, spices, and baking supplies; an oil lamp; a few dishes & cooking utensils; a ukulele & a few of our favorite books; our begleri and briki from Greece, plus a carpet from our time in Turkey. The wind chime that our farm friends gifted us is singing a gentle tune in the afternoon breeze and this place is beginning to feel like a home. Perhaps it is because of all the time that we spent trying to make it so. Perhaps it is simply because we have electricity and a functioning refrigerator. Either way, we have arrived at a moment of gratitude & satisfaction—however humble it may be. Here's to a tiny camper nestled in the great outdoors.


—M&S

INTRODUCING PINK CAMERON

 

Before we left our home in Ohio for farm life in Vermont, we asked our nieces and nephews to help us name the camper we will be calling home for the next several months. 'Pink Cameron' was the name matter-of-factly put forth by our four-year-old niece, Hazel. For whatever reason, the name stuck, although the camper is neither pink nor worthy of a human name—yet. We are curious what Hazel will think when she's fifteen and learns that she named a 1986 Sunline camper 'Pink Cameron'.

Ah, Pink Cameron. It's bad. It's really bad. Coming in we had some basic ideas of what needed to be ripped out and what simple renovations we could make happen. (Note: neither of us had ever renovated anything.) What we did not expect were the thousands of mouse droppings accompanied by mouse nests in the ceiling and floor. Or that each hideous curtain would have at least ten rusty staples affixing it to the wall. Or that the walls seem to be made of rotting construction paper. Two people of our paltry skill level should not be able to demolish any "home" in one day. Except, of course, the decorative piece of padded carpet above the door (?) which required calling in a skilled hand to remove. We would love to have a word with the people who made this hunk of junk. Nevertheless, we are sure we'll come to cherish our time in this camper. We have been afforded a great chance to live simply and free of charge on the farm, and for that we want to express immense gratitude.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing plenty of blog posts about our progress on the interior and the exterior. The to-do's include paint jobs, a composting toilet outhouse, an outdoor shower, learning to bake on a charcoal grill, hand washing our clothes, and all of the things we have not yet anticipated.

During times of transition, we often experience something that we like to call "the storm before the calm." Our strategy has typically been to "cleave and leave," but this move — to Vermont, to become more permanent fixtures at this farm — has asked more from us. This move has called on us as husband and wife to have stamina. This move has called on us to honor the slow goodbyes with siblings and parents, friends, priest, landscape, and even creature comforts. The farewells have been said. We are here. As we strip down our new abode in hopes of building a better Pink Cameron, we still find ourselves very much in the midst of the storm.

We have spent much of the past two years on the move: traveling, changing jobs and homes and life circumstances along the way. Throw in an engagement, a marriage, an unexpected decision to take low-paying internships on a Vermont goat dairy in wintertime, and here we are: living and working together everyday. That familiar feeling of calm that accompanies a new adventure and a new place has yet to come. Inevitably, the storm will pass. One of these days, though it seems hard to believe, we will relish the scent of fresh summer rain wafting in through the open windows of a livable Pink Cameron.


—M&S

DOWN HOMEBREW | FAT TUESDAY IPA

 

I love beer. It fascinates me, everything about it: the vast array of styles, ranging from crisp, light pilsners to thick milk stouts; the various combinations of ingredients and techniques associated with each, always centering around the same basics—water, malt, hops, and yeast; and the rich history, which includes the world's oldest continually valid food and drink regulatory law, the Reinheitsgebot. Speaking of history, did you know President Carter effectively legalized homebrewing when he signed H.R. 1337 into law in 1978? Needless to say, when it dawned on me that I could brew my own, my first thought was, "Sign me up." 

Now, before I make myself out to be some sort of beer guru, I should explain that brewing beer is actually quite simple. How To Brew author John J. Palmer sums it up best:

1. Malted grain is soaked in hot water to create fermentable sugars.
2. The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops for seasoning.
3. The solution is cooled, and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.

5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide carbonation.

That's it—people have been doing it for thousands of years, literally. Of course, the art & science of brewing has advanced much over the years, especially in recent decades. Without the craft beer revolution that has turned America into Mecca for suds & hop heads, I would have never given any more attention to beer than what is demanded by a bland adjunct lager with fewer than 100 calories (Hint: It rhymes with "mud geyser"). But after years of developing a palate for Berliner Weiss and Trappist Ales alike, touring breweries, and consulting resources like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, my desire to brew at home became too much to ignore.

Still, it took awhile for me to actually dive in. But with the help of a teacher (pictured below, with beard) and an investor (also pictured below, with flaming hat), I finally did it. We held our inaugural Wayne Co. brew day at the end of January, bottled the beer on Fat Tuesday, and cracked it open just in time for our farewell to Ohio. 

A few weeks in the making (and a few days in the drinking), I would consider our first effort a great success. We brewed an India Pale Ale, the style that made beer "click" for me four years ago. As I will do for all future Down Homebrews, I have profiled "Fat Tuesday IPA" below.


Fat Tuesday IPA

Style: American India Pale Ale (IPA)

ABV: 5.5%

Hops: Chinook.

Malt: Irish Stout, Caramel 60, Wheat, Honey.

Overall: A nice, aromatic, and highly drinkable IPA;
an encouraging first effort. The lower alcohol content
seems to bring out a more distinctive hop & malt character, resulting in a well balanced beer.

Appearance: Pours a hazy sunburst orange; topped with a pillowy, bright paper-white head.

Aroma: Notes of pine and citrus; very hoppy.

Taste: Hop forward, with a juicy, floral character; somewhat spicy, herbal; balanced by rich, toasty malt profile and a bit of honey sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium, smooth; nice, crisp carbonation and relatively low alcohol content for an IPA.


—M

OUR WEDDING: PT. 1 | THE ETHIC OF SEASONAL

 

On a not-too-cold, overcast January day, we were married. With only our nearest and dearest family and friends present, George Harrison, Marvin Gaye, and Duke Ellington sang + played all day long. We foraged, found, or borrowed everything, and we had eight pounds of coffee at the ready. There were tears—my word, so many tears—and a smooch to seal the deal. Our send off was a full group circle singalong to 'Rocky Raccoon'—a longtime dream of mine. With these things and with so much more we were wed. While I simply cannot describe the day in full, I do intend to write on the facets that made it so rich. Our inclination was correct: simplicity and joy marry quite well with sustainability and seasonality. Excuse the pun.

Save for the disposable cameras lying about, there was nothing disposable about our wedding. We spent many hours ensuring nothing—except people—traveled far to join us for our celebration. Our ethics as a couple are deeply centered around seasonality. It is our ardent belief that choice in life should be dictated by nature. Only in recent years have we even had the option of deviating from Mother Nature's seasonal offerings. The myriad of expectation that wedding websites, Instagram, and American culture place on the engaged couple are unbelievable. As for Mark and I, we are surrounded by family who believe in the ethic of small, of simple, of paring down to the necessities. Our top priorities were to remain local, to source seasonally, and to spend money on a new product if and only if it was made by an artisan we got to know personally. (To that point, I cannot wait to share in a future post about our shoes and our rings.)

leah with flowers

A branch that Mark had found out in the woods hung with prominence. Hops that I'd gathered off the table at a conference lined the table and accented my flower crown. Mark and I made french presses using locally-roasted coffee and served our loved ones as they held their mugs out. Pieces of honeycomb from our hive lined the windowsill. My mama and I picked out each plate and bowl from Goodwill, and have since donated all of them back. 

There were a smattering of cloth napkins in my great-grandma's market basket, which sat atop a wooden chair built by my great-grandpa, her husband. My new mama-in-law baked our wedding cake: her famous coconut cake, unassuming and perfect in form. All greenery and flowers were 100% in season—most everything was picked up from a nearby flower grower, and some of it was foraged. With the help of my mama-in-law and her sister, we made gorgeous, fragrant, textural bouquets. Below, I've listed everything we used to do so, just in case you get the hankering to build your own wedding / party / bouquet.


WEDDING BOUQUET: HOW-TO

In lieu of listing formal steps, my recommendation is to check out a few books on floral design from the library, try to use color and texture to accentuate your centerpiece, and play around! Take it slow and do not give up. Make floral wire your friend. Everything we used came from Karen Geiser's farm in Kidron, Ohio, unless it has an * next to it, in which case it was purchased at Local Roots in Wooster, Ohio. Working with Karen was a dream. She let my mom and I tromp around her farm in muck boots, picking out anything we wanted to use for our January wedding. She is creative, and open, and authentic. If you're an Ohio bride... I cannot recommend her enough. Email me if you're interested in working with Karen or would like to learn more about my experience.

TOOLS
floral wire - in multiple sizes
garden snips or scissors
burlap or floral ribbon
twine

 

 

GREENS + FLOWERS
kale
scented geranium
curly willow branches
dried lavender*
rosemary*
dusty miller
bamboo
scotch pine


—S
other pieces pictured: pinched cups | french press coffee paddle