Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Camper Project

I was nine years old when I discovered pop-up campers. We lived in a condominium complex and one of the parking spots was always taken up with a curious box on wheels that never moved. One summer day a playmate explained that it was her family's camper. Several of us expressed disbelief - how could such a small box be a camper for her family? Her dad joined us, popped the top off the box and began cranking away at a small handle. Within minutes the box had transformed into a fully functional camper, with two beds, a sink, dining table and stove. And it could all be easily pulled by their car.

I assume the "spirits" mentioned don't include alcohol or ghosts. I hope.

It was magical. I was hooked. My heart longed for a pop-up camper.

Flash forward 15 years. I love camping. TMOTH and the girls love camping. We love hiking and spending time outside and cooking over a fire and sitting out late to see the stars.

Camping at Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, 2005. (Sissy is 4 years old, Eowyn is 2 years old)

We've been on several camping trips with the girls and it's always special to see how they blossom when surrounded by nature. Up until now we've always camped with a tent - we have a two-room tent (with vestibule) that is big enough for all four of us to sleep in, with a little extra floor space for our things.

The problem is that, in my "old age," I no longer enjoy sleeping on the floor of the tent. When foot traffic shares space with sleeping zones...well, things get dirty very quickly (and I'm not talking about in a "bow chicka wow wow" way). Plus, it never fails that an air mattress leaks or suffers some sort of calamity. After two or three days I'm vehemently done with camping, due to the lack of sleep.

Camping at Scott Lake, Kansas, 2009. (Sissy is 8 years old, Eowyn is 6 years old)

Additionally, tent-camping has limited our excursions out with the girls. There have been more than a couple of camping trips that were canceled or postponed due to weather that was borderline acceptable. After a night spent tent-camping in western Kansas with severe-weather moving in from the next county, the girls and I are (understandably, I think) a little wimpy when it comes to weather concerns and tents.

Around a year ago it began to dawn on me how much we could benefit from a pop-up camper. Real beds, separate areas for storage and walking, better options in the event of rain and/or cold temperatures. Plus, our minivan could easily tow a pop-up camper.

We knew that our budget for a camper was relatively small ($1,200 or less), considering there are plenty of models that run in the $5,000 and $8,000 range. We knew we'd be looking for an older model which would probably need work. As long as the bones were good, we were willing to put some elbow grease into the camper.

In late summer I started checking Craigslist every so often, just to get a feel for what was available. There wasn't much in our price range, and if the price was reasonable the camper was not. Many of the campers had rotting floors, missing parts and/or canvas that was shredded beyond recognition.

Finally, around the first of November I saw an add for an older model pop-up that seemed to be in decent condition. After getting a tow hitch installed a week later we brought it home.

Yay! Our pop-up!

It's a 1978 Starcraft Galaxy 8 Swing-Out. The "Swing-Out" in the name refers to the fact that the cabinet that contains the sink and stove can, with the turn of a handle, be swung to the outside of the camper (it may also have been some sort of comment on social norms in the 1970s).

The awesome 1970's orange and brown color scheme carries over to the inside, too.

The camper is most definitely a fixer-upper and as such its purchase price was well below our budget limit. Which was good, because (in true Rational Living fashion), we managed to make things worse the day we brought it home.

That hanging piece of canvas is some of our handy-work.

TMOTH and I had quickly cranked up the camper in our excitement to show the girls the awesome purchased we made that day while they were at school. Unfortunately, we didn't secure the bunk-ends correctly and in a scene that looked like a cross between The Beverly Hillbillies and Titanic, we tipped the camper towards the rear and, only after one bunk-end ripped off, did the camper right itself again. Of course, in the process we shredded a considerable portion of the already-questionable canvas top.


So, right now our goal is to get enough basic repairs done by spring break so that we can take it to a local lake for a trial run. We've ordered an entirely new canvas top (which, for the love of Hawkman, cost the same amount as we paid for the camper), but before we install that TMOTH is rehabbing the roof to repair a leaky seam. Then there's some wiring to fix, door hardware to replace, a bench to rebuild, bunk-end to reinstall, cushions to recover and...

Well, we'll be plenty busy over the next month.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Blink!

We had winter this week.

Up until then winter had been mostly absent, only occasionally being found as a dusting of snow in some shaded, small crevice on cold-ish mornings.

It's been very strange. Based upon the last few years, for our first winter in the new house we anticipated snow days and sledding and looking for animal tracks and hikes out to the chicken coop in knee-deep drifts.

But this year? Nada. Zip. Zilch.

February is usually our bruiser of a winter month, when big snows are accompanied by cold temperatures that make the white stuff last for weeks.

For February this year we got what was honestly our biggest snowfall event in the last 12 months: 2 inches.

It was so little there was no chance of a snow day being called for schools. The snow began to warm and drip during the day, and our poor girls had piano lessons after school and so didn't have an honest chance to play in the snow until seven o'clock that night.

Quickly they made snowballs for throwing and feeding to the dogs and then this little gem:

Yoda-sized for easy portability.

They called him Sir George and made his eyes out of walnuts. Because there was such little snow he had bits of grass and leaves mottled into his being. Not a bad creation, considering what they were given.

Of course, with our typical Kansas weather poor Sir George didn't last 24 hours.

I guess he sums up our winter this year quite well: blink and you might miss it.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Adventures in Soap-Making

Back in October I decided that I would finally, after several years of deliberation, attempt to make soap. Real soap - with lye and oil and everything.

This was a big deal, considering I would consistently freeze up in high school chemistry lab because I was absolutely certain I would blow the entire building up with a misstep.

The thought of using lye frightened me. Prior to starting my experiment I gave a little speech to the girls informing them to call 911 if something exploded or if I started yelling. Then I put on my heavy duty vinyl gloves and Steampunk goggles. I take eye protection very seriously.

I tried two different crock pot soap recipes and managed to survive both. I had a serious case of tendinitis in my shoulder after the first batch, due to all the stirring. TMOTH was available to help me with the second batch, so that was much better.

The white soap is an olive oil based soap. The yellow-tinged soap is an oatmeal-honey mixture.

The olive oil soap was pretty much cured within a month and ready to use. It's very similar to Ivory soap and lathers well. Because it is a Castile soap it can be used in making laundry soap. The oatmeal-honey soap was very, very soft at molding and still needs another month or so to completely cure.

In the end, I survived without too much harm and made enough soap to get our household through a year's worth of showers, baths, and hand washings. And all of the supplies were much cheaper than buying bar after bar of eco-friendly soaps at the store.

There might, however, be a lye burn mark or two on the kitchen counter top.

I think it adds character.

--Rational Mama

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh, If I Only Could...

A coworker brought this to my attention.

Oh, if I only had $150 to blow I would so buy this and put it near the chicken coop.

--Rational Mama

Friday, February 3, 2012


It's been a pretty low-energy, low-expectations kinda week. I had extensive surgery last week and so have spent this week at home recovering. It was my first experience with surgery and general anesthesia. All the good points make me think of the ideal approach to time-travel: a feeling of drunkenness, followed by a sudden shift forward in time with no awareness of the passing between.

I'm not used to having so much time around the house that doesn't involved chores or tasks and such. It's kinda weird.

I've spent a decent amount of time streaming Netflix. I have worked my way through the first season of the BBC series Sherlock (Martin Freeman is my new boyfriend), and am nearly finished with the first season of PBS's Downton Abbey. I highly, highly recommend both.

Crazy Cat thinks I should watch another episode. Why not?

I have a little table set up next to the sofa so I don't have to jump up and down to get lots of little mundane things. It hosts remotes, a current embroidery project, medications and some reading materials.

More on that embroidery project later...

The table is so handy it may become a permanent fixture.

When I've managed to pry myself from the sofa I've daydreamed about the upcoming planting season. So many lists...some more reality-based than others.

I would like one of everything, please.

We've been blessed (hopefully not cursed) by some amazing end-of-January weather. Highs in the 60s and plenty of sunshine. It has served as a nice excuse to get out and take short walks to build my strength and stamina back up.

There is still a nest in this little house from last summer. Should I empty it?

My companion.

We've also had very little moisture this winter, which makes me concerned for the farmers.

Picture perfect day.

We're now half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Of course, by the time I come in from a walk I'm ready for a nap.

Or another episode of Downton Abbey.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What's the Deal with Chickens and Roads?

So last Friday evening we received a call from one of Sissy's besties. Apparently, while waiting for the bus to depart from school she noticed a feathered chicken wing in the road and its former owner in the ditch. Bestie asked if Pat was still missing.

She was. It had been exactly two weeks since Sasquatch carried her off.

After confirming the coloring of the deceased chicken matched that of Pat, TMOTH and Sissy walked the mere 1 1/2 blocks to the school to check out the carnage.

Yup, it was Pat. Apparently she attempted to cross the road (from our side of the road to that of the school) and was hit by a car. Based on the evidence it had been a pretty quick death, and it must have happened sometime during that day, since her body was not present during the morning school commute.

She was brought home and buried in the back half-acre next to a trio of rose bushes.

We were all amazed that Pat was found so close to home after so long. If she was that close she could have heard all of our calling, all of Dockers' crowing and the dinner bell ringing (we literally ring a bell when we give the chickens cracked corn - it's our Pavlovian way of making sure they all come when we need to lock them in the coop yard).

Maybe she didn't want to come home. Maybe I had it wrong all this time.

Maybe Sasquatch didn't abduct her.

Maybe she ran off with Sasquatch - a love affair otherwise forbidden by chicken sensibilities.

Don't cry, big guy. You'll love again someday.

Somewhere, a lonely 'Squatch is crying.

--Rational Mama