from dust to dust; sawmill desolation

A few weeks ago, my friend Jaime Swick and I went on a mini adventure in Oregon.  We jumped in my car and just drove for a night eastbound.  We ventured into the Painted Hills region in eastern Oregon, which is an amazing geological site.  However, it was the small sawmill town of Mitchell, Oregon that captured my attention.  Driving into the town was like driving back in time.  Immediately we were known as tourists, and friendly greeted by a woman who has lived in the small town for over fifty years.  She ran a three-section thrift/consignment shop heated by a classic iron wood stove.  History poured from her lips, giving life to the dilapidating buildings around us.  During the prohibition the previous owner of her store made his own moonshine in the basement. The one grocery store was first started in a small box-of-a-building barely standing across the street.

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She had worked for the grocery store and said every time the owner left for a fishing trip the main sliding door would fall off the track, and everyone would have to enter through the back door until he returned to fix it.  Back in the day, Mitchell used to be a sawmill town, which shut down, leaving the town pretty desolate.  The city is celebrating 100 years this August.  I bought two small dessert recipe books from her for 84 cents.  I hope to make some cookies and bring them to their birthday party. Apparently their one cafe makes amazing milkshakes which I have yet to try.  We talked to about everyone in the cafe at once, and our shyness kept the visit short.  Driving out of the town, Jaime and I wondered how long this little town will hold on, and what is to come of places like this and people as these who are foreigners to modern culture.  As the economical gap widens in America and the globe, it feels these places are aging alongside their natives without youngins to take on the cooking and cleaning. But these people in these places seem to be going about their daily routines just fine for now. Pocketed between beautiful landscapes eases the desolate feelings, so it seems. The fog and ice alone are enough to make one feel quite content about any place, dying or thriving.

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Homesteady: Harvesting quiet nights

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“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” Mary Oliver

-The photo above is taken at Mirror Lake, Oregon of my friend Emily-

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Here I am. Standing in the camper in the early days. As you can see I put up a few shelves for clothes and for some dishes and decorations. The humble bed rests underneath a window with a similar one on the opposite side. Since this photo was taken you will see more wall decorations; I am always changing and improving something. A big change I made was renting a nail gun and installing thin wood panels to the ceiling.

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This gave the camper a much more light, fresh feeling. I was apprehensive at first, but I am happy with the effects.

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At the opposite end of the camper I built a counter top, where my computer lives and I can do art or work. Underneath the right side I took a simple bookshelf I had, cut down the legs and now use it as a shelf for my camping stove storage, iron skillets, and pots.

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Eventually I may get a different hot plate, but the camping stove I already had works fine for the moment. The curtain behind the stove I made from Pendleton wool purchased at the Pendleton Outlet. The scrap pieces of cherry colored wood for the counter creates a great natural workplace and is a great warm contrast against the light ceiling.

Having the counter with the computer also creates a great place for watching movies from the bed, which can function much like a sofa.

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This was my first official breakfast in the camper. And this was my work space for making & wrapping holiday Christmas presents.

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Pretty much an plant looks great on it as well.

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With the ceiling panels in place, I was able to place more trim in the upper corners. However, I ran into some problems with the accuracy of measurements. The panels I used didn’t flush against certain parts of the ceiling as I hoped they would. I will post later about how I fix that. My next goal is to fasten down and install more shelves to make better use of the space. I may take some thick wire to create an open holding for items of the shelf, or just have bins to store belongings if and when I ever move the camper.

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For a time I moved my electric piano into the camper. It was great being able to play music in the space. However, the shelves underneath the piano collapsed during a move and it felt a bit cluttered with how I had things situated. If I didn’t have another studio space to play music I would’ve kept it, it was great for the time. I am now in the process of putting up more shelving for books etc. instead.

Homesteady: Lying in bed staring at the ceiling because the rain, oh the rain, it sounds amazing

IMG_0091 In honor of being the first day of 2014 I’m sharing a collection of charcoal drawings I’ve done over the past year. The last year embarked a lot of change and with it came a lot of struggle, both of good and bad. My brother gave me some charcoal pencils for Christmas last year, which was especially important because I know he didn’t have a lot of money. He was into making stickers with his friends and taking printmaking classes at school. I never used charcoals before, but fell in love with them. It was one of the best presents anyone has ever given me. I think the simplicity of his stickers and prints influenced the way I use the charcoal.

Camping has always reminded me most of my family, friends and the happiest moments as a child and as an adult. One of my ex-boyfriends taught me how to surf. I had always wanted to surf, but I am so damn shy all the time that I would sit on the beach and just watch. The first time I ever went I was hooked. I learned how to surf in Oregon, which means thick wetsuit and cold air. I am still not very good because I don’t go often enough or have enough people to go with. But I don’t care that catching small waves is still difficult. Being tossed and turned by waves, having to read them to get past their breaking point, and be fast enough to catch one is one of the things in life that lets me not think about anything else. It demands all my attention, energy, and strength, which makes me respect everything about it. Oh, yeah, and it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.

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We would camp illegally somewhere on the beach or near it and surf during the day. It was a blast- I definitely recommend. Surfing also reminds me of boogie boarding in Hawaii when I was little. My dad is from Hilo, and we were in the water every second we could be when visiting our family there.  The above drawing reminds me of my brother mostly, I taught him how to surf, and he shows me cool skate videos. It’s a pretty good trade-off.

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IMG_0092 This drawing is important to me because it is of the lake at the camp my parents met at and we spent every summer on. It had this awesome tripod you could swing off into the water. My best friend’s family would also attend this camp with us. They had this backyard pond at their house, which we would swim in almost every day we weren’t at camp- so this reminds me of a blend of the two.

IMG_1243So, in the beginning this camper was serving a few needs. Financially, it’s saving me wasted rent money. It’s a creative endeavor- but what I didn’t expect was it to become a hideaway studio. Each drawing reminds me of some specific moment. Looking back at the past year, there are certain moments that cling on and last longer than some days or even weeks do. Each piece to me, is a moment. Well- a moment, or an idea, or something I thought would be pretty.

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Homesteady: …The crisp air is settling in, the fall sun wanes, winter rains are coming.

Give It Time

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The river is of the earth

and it is free. It is rigorously embanked and bound,

and yet is free.  “To hell with restraint,” it says.

“I have to be going.”

It will grind out its dams.

It will go over or around them.

They will become pieces.

-Wendell Berry

This is what I have learned: one of the hardest parts throughout this entire project has been realizing my limitations. There were moments where I knew what I was doing wrong, but I was tired and frustrated from measuring that I didn’t care to be meticulous anymore. The less meticulous I got, the more problems occurred. I grew wary when I couldn’t do something alone and relied on the helping hand of other people.

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This cotton-candy mess is the insulation. I bought it in rolls at HomeDepot. It was a touch thick- so we shoved it in and peeled off a layer here or there so the walls didn’t bulge out in some places. I am happy to report now, that packing this much insulation in is paying off in warmth during bitingly cold winter days. I kept the original wood frames in and filled in the holes around them to save me some work.

After the walls were insulated, I measured and cut thin panel boards of knotty pine wood from a local lumber store.  All the wood used for the floor and sides were left in the trailer for at least 48 hrs to adjust to the environment. It was roughly $20 a sheet, and I used about six all together. In some parts of the wall I used as many scraps I could to cover areas that wouldn’t show (under the bed). This saved me waste, money and extra trips to the store. Aesthetically it made no difference since it would be hidden. Putting up the walls was the most troubling part of this whole ordeal.

For a few of the sides we were fortunate and traced the original siding torn off. For most of it we had to make measurements, which was difficult due to the curve of the trailer and the wheels, windows and outlets.  We cut the panels on sight with both a jigsaw and a circular saw.  My friend helped me install three outlets that I am going to hook up externally to the breaker box in my friend’s house.  He has installed electricity before, and it wasn’t extremely complicated, but it would’ve been a headache to do alone.  All of this took quite a bit of time and required more than one person. During the process I painted one of the sides to not only keep me going, but to have an idea of what it will look like.

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As for the floors I used a combination of new cedar planks from Home Depot and wood boards from the local rebuilding center in Portland.  We cut them to size and alternated the new and old nailing them down with sinker nails.

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Once I installed the flooring and the wall panels I used caulk and white flexible trim (which I purchased for about $10 a piece at the local lumber store) to fill in the cracks and cover the point where new wall panels joined. I used basic white trim to match the white walls. Next I began building the bed, a counter, and shelves. I will go into more of the interior decor in the next post. The bed gradually reduced to being extremely simple. The area underneath is open completely for storage, which saves a lot of space. I was going to have the bed on hinges so I could open of the top, but I preferred to have the underneath space open instead of boxed in to slide stuff in and out.  The futon mattress is too heavy for a hinged bed to be useful. The below picture is me being completely frustrated because the first bed I had made was done in a rush and inevitably fell to the ground. This led me to the unhinged simple plank style bed.

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Also, if you can see. I really wanted to start the interior decor. And impatiently started putting up shelves before other things were completely done. I advise not to do this- however this again is my first real project ever so I gave myself a little grace. I bought planks of wood previously used in a barn for my shelves and had some iron hardware from Anthropology to secure them in. The below picture shows the first few shelves put in place. Again, in future posts I will go into more of the interior decor. My main goal was to have this space feel cozy yet open. The natural materials used and simple color palate lends the space to not feel cluttered or small; it gives more of a rustic, cabin feel.

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Homesteady: No Grime No Glory

“Talk is cheap and easy; making dreams real takes hard, humble work. Dreams in the Midwest are acceptable, just keep them to yourself. Maybe tell your family, but don’t just talk—do something about it.” Image
― Peter JenkinsLooking for Alaska

Peter Jenkins is one of my favorite authors, and in his book “A Walk Across America” he writes about this Appalachian family he stayed with in the mountains. There were pictures of this crazy-lean women who grew all of her vegetables and canned them. Her and her husband ate a feast of amazing healthy, home-grown food after a hard day’s work everyday. I remember thinking when I was 19 that I wanted to be someone like her one day. Someday.

I tell myself during the un-glamourous and straight-out disgusting parts of this project that its turning me into that hard-working person I want to be.

Trailers attract mice. So, when a vintage camper falls into your lap- gut it out completely. You’ll thank yourself after breathing in fresher air.

Grace and I took apart the trailer piece by piece. We started ripping up the floor, but decided to leave it for a base under the wood panels we were going to lay down.

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However, the walls came down. They were easy to remove since trailers are lined with thin wood paneling. Hammers and crow bars are useful tools for such tear-downs. We also wore safety glasses, gloves and dust masks. The original shelves were knocked out, but we decided to leave in the wood with the electrical drill holes. (You can see in bottom photos)

IMG_2068  This was the state of the walls before ripping them out.

Ripping out the walls allowed us to take out all the dusty, molded installation, and shot vac a horde of mouse poop. Luckily for me, the mice all congregated behind one of the fake and warped wood panels. But there was a substantial stash of mouse fertilization. The shot-vac became a critical necessity. After we did everything we could to clean and clear out any trace of critters we shot-vaced the entire trailer.  We wiped down the aluminum walls with some bleach-water and did a mop-through and a vacuum of the floor.

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Gutting the trailer was a lot of work, but rewarding. It took longer than I expected and more breaks for fresh air. But I am an impatient doer. This project is teaching me day by day to set reasonable goals and work hard, but also know when to call it a day. Things take time and rest is good.

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Homesteady

I grew up on 40 acres in southeast Wisconsin. For the first 15 years of our lives, my four siblings and I became master backyard adventurers. In the freezing cold winters we would take a lantern and hike through the snow-covered plow fields to our frozen pond in the woods for ice skating. In the summer we would ride around on the lawn mower as if it were a four-wheeler. And in the fall jump on the haystacks and collect handfuls of whatever crops were grown that year. We also had a zoo of pets- had two horses, bunnies, cats, dogs, hamsters- you name it, we had it.

For the past seven years I’ve lived within the city limits of Portland, Oregon.  Oregon is a wonderland, so getting outside the city is not difficult to do with access to a car. However, no matter how much I love the endless boutiques, coffee shops, and amazing restaurants my heart cries for the country.

When my friends offered the opportunity to remodel a vintage camper they had sitting in their 3/4 of an acre backyard, I accepted. Here I could live in my own design, garden, and walk to the Willamette River in five minutes. Sold. I have always wanted design projects, but never had the time or opportunity to get my hands dirty. I knew I was in a bit over-my-head, but reminded myself that “we all start learning somewhere.”

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These photos are what the camper looked like before I touched anything. On two walls were some janky fake-wood panels, but the rest was the original wood interior and shelving. The camper was previously used as a science lab “Poulter Lab” is painted on the outside. And a bathhouse (?). I decided to name my trailer “Fort Wilderness” after the camp in northern Wisconsin my parents worked and met at, and us five kids knew as our second home.

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My gut feeling was to rip all the walls and everything out. Especially breathing in the musty air inside the camper. My wallet told me the walls were probably fine. In the end always trust your gut. I’ll explain later what I found after completely gutting it.

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