Tag Archives: native restoration

Sustainable Living: One Sustainable Story (Week 17)

Because it’s been raining every day and most of my plants are in their forever spots, I don’t have much new to report on gardening. All my veggies are happy with the excess rain. (My tomatoes are blooming!) We don’t have a good system for collecting rain water yet (future goal), so I’ve been letting a large tote fill and then filling all the gallon jugs I’ve saved. I shouldn’t have to use my hose for a while, which is good on the water bill.

With nothing to report yet and an itch to write, I’ve decided I want to tell another of our sustainable stories from last summer. The inspiration comes from the It’s Not a Slow Car, It’s a Fast House blog. Last May, my husband and I traveled to San Clemente, CA to stay with his daughter for two weeks. She lived in a cute two-bedroom apartment near the beach and was paying $1900 a month for rent. She talked about wanting to live a simple life without all the expense. She said she wanted a small camper to live in as she traveled from place to place. She wanted to be freer and in more control of her destiny.

When we returned home and continued our weekly treks from town home to country home (100 miles apart), we encountered a 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon for sale on the side of Route 20 in Illinois (Pic 1).

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We knew immediately that it would be perfect for our daughter (technically, my stepdaughter, but I would claim her if I could). I will call her Zeedle for blogging purposes. When we looked at it, we knew it would need a ton of work to make it livable. It had been sitting in a barn for about five years, and the mice had made it their home. Every cavity had become a mouse home. We took pictures (Pics 2, 3, 4, 5), sent them to Zeedle, and asked her if she would like us to purchase it on her behalf and restore it for her to live in. She went for it, so we made an offer and worked for about a month on an acceptable price.

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Before we left California, all of us had agreed to meet at my mother’s in Colorado in August because we had purchased tickets to see The Head and the Heart with Iron and Wine at Red Rocks in Denver. So, we rearranged our plans a bit to include bringing the restored Vanagon with us to pass on to Zeedle. We would drive two vehicles to CO, and she would fly to CO and drive the Vanagon home to CA. We grossly underestimated the time it would take to restore the Vanagon, and we barely gave ourselves enough time to get it ready enough to make the trip. However, we got it to a point that Zeedle could drive it home and finish it herself.

First, we took it to a mechanic for new tires and brakes. Then, we gutted the inside down to the steel (Pics 6, 7, 8). Covering the dash with plastic, we pressure washed the inside at a car wash. We made a tiny customized vacuum attachment for the shop vac to clear the vents. I bought long cleaning tools to scrub the vents and also scrubbed every inch of the inside. We pressure washed the seats, as we wanted to let Zeedle decide on the upholstery design.

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We kept all the original cabinetry, and my husband cut out the moused parts and reconstructed them with new material. Not all of the cabinetry came with it when we bought it, so he made a new cabinet to hold the sink and refrigerator. We intended to install the stove, but Zeedle decided she would rather have the space, so we sold the stove via Craig’s List in CO.

My son had stored an old camper in our backyard with the intentions of restoring and selling it, but it became obvious that it was just going to sit there. So, we took as many parts from it as we could for the Vanagon, including water pump and pipes, lights, stove, sink, hinges, etc. (We’ve since turned the old camper into a 27-foot trailer!) We bought a solar panel, storage batteries, ac/dc/propane refrigerator, porch carpeting for lining, vinyl flooring (Pic 9), wainscoting (Pic 10) for the cab ceiling, and tons of glue. Otherwise, we repurposed material we already had. The cleaning and reupholstering took a few weeks to complete. We worked night and day for about three weeks, including a week into our vacation in CO. (Thanks, Mom, for letting us commandeer your backyard!)

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In the end, my husband had to reconfigure the starter due to a power drain on the battery. (The mechanical stuff is lost on me.) I drove the Vanagon to CO myself without brake lights, as the mechanic screwed something up on the master cylinder when putting the new brakes on. The VW dealer wanted to charge us hundreds of dollars for the part, and my husband managed to pick up the part for ten dollars from a VW restoration shop. (Always look for a second – or more – opinion!) The trip was difficult and sweltering, as the Vanagon’s top speed is about 60 mph on flat terrain. The previous owner had rebuilt the diesel motor, and that speed is all we could expect. (I induced a lot of road rage from other drivers on the trip!) It was an interesting journey, as I watched people’s reactions when they saw the Big Blue Vanagon—pure disgust to smiles and peace signs, and many people whipped out cameras to photograph it while laughing. The Vanagon was in great shape by the time Zeedle had to leave CO (Pics 11, 12, 13, 14).

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Since then, she has turned it into an adorable, inviting home for her and her cats, and she has lived in it for almost a year now (Pics 15-22). We could not be more pleased with the home she (and friends) made of that once decrepit jitney (as my grandmother called it. Those crosswords do come in handy, Granny!)

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Ultimately, I had thought that my children taught me all the patience I’d ever need, but the Vanagon trumped that notion by far. I also learned that my husband and I make an able partnership for sustainable innovation, as we both have tons of great ideas for getting the maximum use out of available resources. I am confident we have what it takes to reach our ultimate goal of starting a sustainable community. AND, my husband and I are in search of a Vanagon of our very own—to practice how we roll, one sustainable act at a time…

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Sustainable Living: Rain = Blog Time (Weeks 12/13)

Spring brings new life, including baby squirrels. It was fun to watch Mama Squirrel teaching her babies how to jump a couple weeks ago (first two pics). Our theory is that she was trying to keep them off the ground because she lost her last two litters to the neighbor’s dog. And she has been successful, as I see them hanging out in the trees at the back of our lot lately. Though, they were experimenting with climbing on the house, which Mama did not like (last two pics).

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For me, the semester ended yesterday when I posted official grades. Thus, I have lots of time to work on my sustainable living goals. Although the last two weeks have been hectic, I’ve found cooking and tending my plants a welcome escape from the inevitable end-of-semester chaos. I finally made the toaster pastries (pictured below, before and after baking). After making them, I’ve decided I need a stock of dough disks in the freezer and a stock of jam in the cupboard. Then, they would not seem so labor-intense. They were delicious! My husband and son think they need to be smaller with frosting and more jam. Aside from the jam, the recipe contains no added sugar, so I understand they want the dough to be sweeter. Fortunately, The Homemade Pantry provides a recipe for frosting.

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Now on to gardening, toward which the progress is astounding! I’m only waiting on two kinds of seeds to pop. I planted more butternut squash seeds for sharing with others, but I did not start them in eggshells this time. I’ve ended up conducting an experiment of sorts and discovered that the squash seeds I planted in eggshells popped in about three days, while the ones I did not start in eggshells have yet to emerge after at least a week. So, the eggshells really do provide a boost, at least for squash. Could the sunlight be a factor too? It has been cloudy for the last week, whereas the seeds in eggshells received many hours of constant sunshine. The other seeds I’m waiting for are lemon trees, which I just planted (in eggshells) today. Six seeds should ensure at least one good tree, and if I get more, I will give them away. I wonder if lime trees are as easy to grow.

This morning, my husband Bob put the green beans in the ground after he spent several hours over a few days constructing a pest-resistant place for them to grow (pictured below). Last week, I spaced out my carrots and kale, which made them happier (pictured below). I transplanted the largest tomato and found that some of the other tomatoes were egg bound (pictured below), so I dug them up, broke off the shells, and put them back. I added more soil to the peas and have watered them liberally. Voila, they are blooming (pictured below)! My lavender has emerged, at last. I lost my lettuce basil to overwatering and am hoping to save what’s left of my lime basil. We are preparing the mounds for putting the zucchini, butternut squash, cucumbers, and apple melons in the ground. The beefsteak tomato seedlings are growing like mad, and the beets and peppers are taking their time (pictured below). Spinach takes a few weeks to germinate but grows strong quickly.

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After cleaning out a cupboard today and finding an old bag of African violet soil, I did a little research to make sure it would be okay for roses. In the light rain, I mixed the violet soil with a bit of coffee grounds and mounded it up around my four rose bushes. I am determined to get them to bloom this season, as they didn’t last year. The lack of blooms is caused not only by my negligence but also by Asian beetles. They LOVE rose bush leaves! I will use the sack traps this year to keep the beetles off my roses, and I will apply a healthy mound of soil with a blooming agent around each bush. That should do it! A couple weeks ago, I transplanted my ferns away from the side of the house because we are installing vinyl siding and I don’t want them trampled. After transplanting, a bunch more came up than usual, and I will need to transplant them as well. My goal this week is to get my flowerbeds in shape for the season, which includes laying decorative blocks to form a berm around two old stumps and two new bushes in the very front of the house; planting all the hostas we acquired; and moving my tulips.

In closing, I want to share my Monday mini-adventure to Nachusa Grasslands, one of the most successful prairie restoration projects in the country. The best part? It is within 10 minutes of our country home. Bob, my son, and I met a class of reclamation students there Monday morning. One of the leading reclamation experts in the country took us on a tour of several areas in different stages of planting. He helped us identify a myriad of plant and animal species thriving in the conservancy. I took clippings from cream indigo and lupine (pictured on the left below) to attempt propagation for my yard. Turns out, I had no idea at the time I took the clippings that the lupine is extremely endangered and required for the sustenance of the karner blue butterfly, which the conservancy may reintroduce. The diversity of life there is magical! The next best part (okay, really the best part)? They have brought bison (a pure breed) back to the Midwest as part of this project. The bison were not visible on the tour, but afterward, the three of us took a side road in our van and were able to barely pick them out in the distance. Seeing this project gives me so much hope for the restoration of over/misused parts of the earth! I plan to volunteer at this prairie often. So much work is required to collect and process seeds not only for this site but for restorations around the world. If you love the outdoors, this is a great way to spend your time.

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Now, onto at least one of the two book reviews I’m behind on…

Thanks so much for reading!